Tag Archives: life

July 16, What is Theology Saying? XVI: The Eucharist 3: No way can creature = Creator.

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Jesus told Nicodemus of our need to learn to live differently – to realise that we are gifted with ourselves in order to become gift for others – a way often called tough love; not counting the personal cost involved in being concerned primarily with mutual well-being and not just me alone. A child walks because adults wait for and expect this – often before it is physically possible! Love means not just self-giving, but expressing confidence that you will be all the better for it, and flourish accordingly. But to challenge like this presupposes trust – the trust of a child for its parents.

Our Eucharistic celebrations look very churchy and remote from everyday living – carefully choreographed rituals, strange attire worn by leaders sitting apart, scripts for designated readers only – all well-intentioned to enhance the beauty and centrality of the Eucharist – but does it? It certainly is central in our worship – but what about our everyday living? Does your Sunday Mass impact noticeably on your social, political, economic involvement?

We are celebrating the hospitality of God in a gathering in which we are invited to be co-hosts; and this happens in the real presence of Jesus. He told his disciples to continue celebrating the Last Supper, interpreting his death and Resurrection in the light of the Passover. The Exodus is central for Jewish faith – the setting free from oppression – since love depends on equality. But this not simply a one-off event of long ago – it is a permanent reminder of how God is with us, as equals.

Do we have a problem here? Equality is of the essence of love – but God cannot have any equal by definition; does this mean God cannot love? Revelation is clear about the gulf between us – no way can creature = Creator. So we seem destined for an infantile authority/obedience relationship with God through keeping the rules. There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

AMcC

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July 15: What is Theology saying today? XV: The Eucharist 2; mystery not magic.

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Gate to Jesus Hospital, Canterbury

The Eucharist is Mystery; mystery is not magic. Magic supposes there is no explanation or understanding – no way of entering-into the reality; whereas mystery invites participation in an encounter. This means a way-in to something greater than we are. Mystery is not something I can’t know anything about – but something can’t know everything about. How ludicrously wrong to say you can’t tell me anything about him – as if I can fit into my tiny mind everything about another person – when I can’t even know all about myself. Interesting to ask ourselves why did Jesus ask – who do people say I am?

To say we enter into something greater – to be with someone who can appropriately say we whereas I can only say I! What is happening for this to become my experience? The basic action of the Eucharist is sharing – not just eating. The experience this addresses in me is my experience of hunger. To be human is to be hungry, in the sense that I need more than myself to live fully – as well as food and drink, I need companionship and compassion… so many human hungers persuade me that I cannot be self-fulfilled. With all possible human hungers in mind – this is what Jesus means by I am the bread of life. Our Western culture persuades us that meal-times are essential and always available. There is no such thing as meal-time for the vast majority, who eat whenever food, affection and compassion are available.

If I am never hungry in any of these human hungers to the point of starving, it is unlikely that I feel for those who are permanently there. Compassion requires me to enter into the suffering of another simply because that is where they are [this makes sense of the ancient discipline of fasting before communion]. The obvious way to know about hunger is to be hungry. Hunger is intrusive; will not allow us to get on with anything else until it is attended to. When God created hunger he created a blessing – opportunity to experience so many good things. God created more than enough ways to satisfy every possible hunger – the fact of so much starvation serves to tell us what we have done with Creation’s good things, enough to make the experience of hunger a curse to be eradicated.

AMcC

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July 14, What is Theology Saying? XIV: Eucharist 1, We are invited to be present.

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Eucharist is how Jesus summed-up his life and death; something not nearly catered for by going to Mass! Let‘s be clear about Jesus’ life. The interpretations of the Gospel say nothing about his own experience of living in Palestine, nor indeed about the impact he made on the ordinary folk of his time. Freedom is of the essence of his presence. Unlike political liberators he didn’t have a goal to achieve. Part of the old devotions of the Way of the Cross – the Second Station – referred to him receiving the cross as the means whereby he would save the world. He didn’t come with a goal in mind – he came to live his life freely, and therefore differently – a new way of being human.

This new way – non-resistance to violence, no finger-pointing, not needing to blame – proved wonder to the few, but irksome to the many, especially the powerful, whose disenchantment turned to hate, and the compulsion to be rid of him. He didn’t come to die – nor did the Father send him to die – he came to live life and death in a new way. We tend to interpret his going to Jerusalem as seeing death as his destiny. Why are you going there, it’s full of enmity for you…? His answer makes no reference to a predestined fate – Jerusalem is where the prophets died – Luke 13.34. Prophecy is not foretelling the future but living life as it was meant to be lived.

We are invited to be present in the Eucharist as Christ is present to us – a person to be met and experienced. A Mozart Concerto can be analysed and dissected to illustrate its melodic and harmonious structure, but to be present to it as it is allows it to become an experience, a unique experience, and see how it satisfies a hunger within us; to be soothed with its harmony, surprised by its ongoing creativity.

It is not grasping the experience, but being grasped. This is what mystery means – a work of art, a unique person. Eucharist is mystery.

AMcC

Picture from Missionaries of Africa

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July 6: What do the Saints know? Part II: 6, Love and the Gift of Wisdom.

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So God makes it possible for me to love. And he has done this so well that love, in fact, is our greatest delight. Normally human beings love to love much more than we love to have faith or we love to have hope. As St Thomas puts it: “…no virtue has such a strong inclination to its act as charity, nor does any virtue perform its act with so great pleasure” (II.II.23.2).

Yet, although charity is infused into our hearts, we are nonetheless the ones who love. As St Thomas says, “Love of its very nature implies an act of the will” (II.II. 23.2). Grace makes it possible for us to love, and even connatural, but it is not inevitable. We must freely choose to do our own loving.

St. Thomas goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit augments our capacity to love by the gift of Wisdom. How does this Wisdom help us? Wisdom, says St. Thomas, “denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the eternal law” (II.II.45.2). With Wisdom, we begin, in other words, to evaluate experiences not according not to the transitory things of this life, but according to what really matters, what will matter in eternal life.

Thomas says that there are two aspects of Wisdom: one, of course, is the ability to think clearly, as we would expect. The other is to do with “a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. ….It belongs to Wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit to judge rightly about [divine things] on account of connaturality with them.”

What strikes me here is the difference between charity on one hand and faith and hope on the other. In faith and hope the Beloved is known, yes, but he is known, it seems to me, as the one who is sought. Here, in this teaching on connaturality with divine things, there is a glorious sense of finding, of possessing the Beloved. “Now this sympathy or connaturality for divine things is the result of charity, which unites us to God,” says Thomas simply. And he brings in 1Corinthians: “…he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.” This loving union, then, gives us a connaturality with God that encompases everything about us.

Moreover, in the gift of Wisdom, one not only learns about divine things, Thomas says, but also ‘suffers’ divine things – suffering in the sense of undergoing divine things. So these ‘divine things’ become not extrinsic to our deepest being, but are experienced and known right there in our deepest core, our heart of hearts.

SJC

St Francis Embraces Christ, Ste Anne de Beaupre, Canada, Christina Chase.

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3 July: What do the Saints Know? Part II, 3: HOPE: Hope and Divine Assistance

SCAN0066What does this have to do with our question as to what the saints know? Perhaps it is that saints, steeped in hope, are aware of what kind of answer to look for when they turn to God in prayer. What father would give his child a scorpion when he asked for an egg, as Jesus points out. Or, to turn this question slightly, what millionaire father would give his child only an egg when he asked for an egg? Would he not give him a share in his fortune? So, when God answers my prayer for an egg by giving me his fortune, it means that I get my prayer answered on a much deeper level than the one I am prepared for. A level that usually requires a new depth of obedience to the divine will, and a deeper level of faith. It can be very scary for an egg-sized mind to receive a heaven-sized answer. Perhaps we’ve all been there. But, here is another encouraging thought from St. Thomas (II.II. 17:7): “The object of hope is in one way eternal happiness and in another way divine assistance”. For the attaining of eternal life then, “divine assistance is ready for us,” he says. This line from Thomas seems to say that God knows how hard it can be for us to allow our egg-sized hopes to become wide – indeed, heaven-sized. But, don’t worry, he seems to say. Divine assistance will get us to that wide place.

This brings us back to Thomas’s idea of ‘leaning on’ God. He seems to be saying that God is always supporting us from the wide place. The idea is simple enough: keep leaning on His help, and be at peace – something like the weaned child on its mother’s lap, as one of the psalms puts it. God’s lap is wide.                                       SJC

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July 2: What do the Saints Know? Part II, 2: HOPE: Stretching our Soul

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We are not very well equipped to deal with the infinite – our “small durance… with the steep or deep,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses it in one of his sonnets. There are times of pure pain in our lives. How does this fit with our reflection on hope? I cannot treat here the theme of suffering in depth, but perhaps it can be integrated into these reflections by understanding suffering as the ‘education’ of our hope, as something that gradually ‘stretches’ our deepest being and equips us for the Infinite. And as something we get through only by leaning on God’s help.

St Thomas says:

For we should hope from him for nothing less than himself, since his goodness, whereby he imparts good things to his creature, is no less than his essence. Therefore the proper and principal object of hope is eternal happiness. (II. II. 17.2).

Eternal happiness is the object of hope. It is, therefore, a difficult virtue, inasmuch as it is directed to eternal life rather than this earthly life.

Right,’ I say to myself. ‘Hope as a theological virtue is always directed to a good that has not yet been attained. In the theological virtue of hope, I hope for eternal happiness – but I’ve got to die first in order to attain it. That’s part of the problem. And the other part of the difficulty is that the theological virtue of hope places the sufferings of this life in a secondary position, as means to the end – in other words, sufferings are not always meant to be got rid of, for they have a purpose: they stretch our being, and fit it for eternal happiness. They go on for as long as God sees that they need to go on in order to fit us for Him. And that’s why hope is a virtue that must be ‘exercised’ – or worked at.

But, it’s not as grim as all that. Recall, hope is a divine gift, filled with divine life. Therefore, I have intimations of hope’s fulfilment even now, as we saw with the virtue of faith: we have “the beginnings” of eternal life. For instance, St. Thomas, in the one of the above quotations is saying that God gives us himself when we pray to him. He’s not going to give less than that, even though what we ask for is usually less than that. My capacity to recognise Him – especially in times of pain – is limited. But that does not mean that God is failing me. Rather, what comes from Him is always what will lead to a fuller share in His life: to connaturality with him – even now.

SJC

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12 June: What do the Saints know? III, Faith

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The Theological virtue of faith

What is the act of faith for St. Thomas? What is the nature of this kind of ‘knowing’? What does faith have to do with connaturality?

St. Thomas insists on the divine initiative here, as he does with all the theological virtues. Theological virtues are gifts of God. He says, “Faith is from God moving man inwardly by grace” (II.II.6.1). So faith is established in the soul by a divine infusion of grace. I love this teaching on the “infused” aspect of faith, because, that is how faith has come to me.. Faith is not something that I just decided to have one day. Nor is faith something that I have because some told me I ‘ought to’ have it because it is ‘good for me’ – like eating your vegetables. In my experience, I began to have real faith (as opposed to just going through the motions of faith) because of something that happened to me – a conversion experience, if you will. For me, faith was a gift that was a response to that other, more fundamental gift of God. Faith was a way of saying thank you to God and of acknowledging that he was now so real for me that everything else was real only in a secondary sense: because it was sustained by the Real reality, who was God. And this experience held a divine imperative – inwardly compelling and joyful – that summoned me to, you might say, ‘cultivate’ my faith and make faith a habit of existence. Cultivate is a weak word, though. My experience was more like being picked in one place and put down in another – in a whole new country! It was a change in the nature of existence; it was existence in a new ‘place’ on a new level. ‘Cultivating’ my faith means coming to know and understand this place, this level. As St. Thomas says, it has all been the gift of God, moving me inwardly by grace.

The idea of faith being a ‘place’ a ‘new country’ is expressive of the way God infused the gift of faith into my soul. For others, another image might be better. Perhaps it was slower for you, a bit by bit experience. Gentler, perhaps. Maybe it was through suffering that Faith was given and deepened. Maybe you have always had faith. Maybe you lost it – or thought you did – and then re-discovered it somehow. It might be helpful to meditate on the way you have found faith in your life – or it has found you – before we go on to explore the subject further.

A whole new country …

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May 30: P is for Portsmouth and car Parks

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This shows the Southsea end of Portsmouth from the Isle of Wight Ferry. I went to school behind those trees.

Genteel Southsea rather held its skirts away from the main city, I felt, a city that had not recovered from the Second World War and the subsequent reduction in British sea power. Once, on the way to the ferry, I took my family to sea the ugliest building in Britain, the brutalist Tricorn car park, a favourite suicide spot. Our big car park in Canterbury was not so ugly, except that it too attracted would-be suicides. Whatever the buildings’ style, they were places of great sadness; we are better off without them.

Of course getting rid of multi-storey car parks cannot take away people’s distress. But sometimes it falls to us to help, even if just to be there with them.

The rest of this post is from the Samaritans’ website. Worth reading for the odd moment when something feels not quite right.

MMB

How you can help

Suicidal feelings can be overwhelming, but they will pass.

How someone behaves in this brief window is as unique as the individual themselves. But there are signs you can look out for.

Signs someone may need help

  • Looking distant, withdrawn or upset
  • Standing alone or in an isolated spot
  • Staying on the platform for long periods of time/failing to catch trains that stop

Someone looking out of place or a feeling that ‘something isn’t quite right’. If you feel that way about someone, trust your instincts and try to help.

Approaching someone in need

We know that when a person is suicidal having someone to talk to them and listen to them, and showing that they are not alone, can encourage them to seek support. There is no evidence that talking to someone who could be at risk will ‘make things worse’.

A little small talk can be all it takes to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and help start them on a journey to recovery. If you think that someone might need help, trust your instincts and strike up a conversation, with a comment about the weather for example. Life-saving questions used by rail staff to help people have included:

  • Do you need any help?
  • What’s your name?
  • It’s a warm evening isn’t it?
  • What train are you going to get?

So strike up a conversation if you feel comfortable and it’s safe to do so. Or tell a member of staff or call 999. Your involvement could help save someone’s live.

What you can do if the person needs further help

If you sense the person might need help after your initial approach, then you could ask directly if they’re ok.

You could introduce yourself and encourage them to talk if you can, and listen. You could then offer to take them to a safer environment where you’re able to get them the right support.

Tell a member of railway staff as soon as you can, or call 999.

Rail safety

We do not recommend you make any kind of physical contact. If the situation is an emergency, eg the person in on the track, tell station staff or call 999 immediately. Do not go onto the railway line under any circumstances.

Looking after yourself

Interventions make a huge and positive difference. It can be emotional and if you feel you would like some support after making an intervention or would like to talk to someone about it, you can speak to Samaritans by calling 116 123.

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May 14: What is Theology Saying IX: We participate in the event the Apostles interpret.

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Jesus changed radically our understanding of life in a way that will never change again. The Apostles are witnesses in a way no one else can be. Their testimony would have little or no significance today if it were simply an account of a past event. What makes it significant is the fact that we are participants in the same event the apostles interpret.

This interpretation only has meaning to the extent we share in the same happening and reflect on it and give our own prophetic interpretation, making real here and now the conversation between God and ourselves. So, what did the apostles pass on?

First and before all else – it was the happening. How do you pass on a happening? They did it through life in community, inviting others to share the way they lived, which was how they lived with Jesus, a life energised and transformed through the experience of the Resurrection. They spoke, and what they said took on meaning for their hearers.

Out of this living experience of sharing life each generation gave its own interpretation in words. Clearly, over time, the interpretation changed quite a lot. It is tempting to ask, as a consequence, where did revelation end and theology, liturgy, catechesis etc. take over? This is the Church, the struggle to live a life of love and trust – celebrating this life in the liturgy, sharing explanations through theological reflections and catechesis – this is our participation in revelation, it is revelation. Revelation is not simply a record of what was revealed before; a record playing over and over again. Revelation is the living and intensely personal reality of our communion with God, when God communicates not some factual information but his own fully alive reality – hence the relevance of a contemplative heart.

If Christian life is such a part of revelation, does this mean that every word and explanation is just as good as any other – how do we know we are not fooling ourselves, and where does the dogmatic teaching of the Church and its moral guidelines fit?

Revelation is first of all a happening – but has to be expressed in words, which is how all human understanding comes into focus. We can’t live meaningfully without such expression. Words are a community product – my words have meaning because society has agreed a common meaning for them. When the Church wishes to share its experience, it has to agree on the way it explains itself; on its common understanding of the world, history and most especially, God. It must have a statement of its prophetic interpretation of events through which God reveals in the community – the events of Jesus’ life and the original formation of the Church. It must also have an interpretation of how God self-reveals in community – through sacraments and the life of charity.

Because salvation is a community happening, it is counter-productive to promote chaos and disruptions in our search for unity through understandings of life already achieved. Our continued sharing in revelation is guaranteed in the unity of the Church – requiring continuity in teaching and authoritative judgements. This presumes that continuity is guaranteed through living dialogue and that authority is exercised as a form of serving the life. Continuity would be pointless where it an empty shell formed from the past, now withered and gone. Revelation is real when it is alive, and it is alive when people are creatively involved.

Revelation did not end when the apostles died out; because it is not a collection of factual information about happenings beyond our experience, but the self-communicating of God. Revelation is not a finished product, it does not consist of unchanging truths, but of the living reality of God-with-us. Revelation was not closed with the death of the last apostle, rather was it opened in the way of a love affair which is not completed when two people marry, but marks a real beginning.

AMcC

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10 May: What is theology saying? V: Development of doctrine is a work in process

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Life is always in process, and all possible developments cannot be foreseen; there is a time-lag between the first experience of a new way and the discussions of theologians, and then the new way of formulating a doctrine. This means that the practice of the faithful will be in place before official pronouncements; which means that even when the pronouncements are made, life will again have moved beyond that point and the theologians will be trying to follow life.

However, some seem to think that the developments that happened in the past completed everything, save a few minor points. Before Vatican II this was a widely accepted view; but anyone who has taken care to read the documents of Vatican II will see how development of doctrine is very much a work in process; with any issue being revisited for further discussion. As regards the past we can judge what in fact true development was. For the present and the future we must live with risk, not having access to absolute certainty. This means remaining open to truth, no matter from whom or from what it may come. Just another way of saying – we live by faith and not by sight.

Life and growth of the Church, including the development of her teaching, cannot be without conflict; sometimes conflict is painful, but need not involve bitterness or hostility – exclusions and condemnations are not necessary. Those who have most furthered the doctrine of the Church have usually been persons who acted discreetly and patiently, without fearing the truth of their own experience, insight and learning.

AMcC

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