Tag Archives: light

5 March, 1st Sunday in Lent: The Human Will.

 

imgp4475[1]

O God, who are the light of the minds that know thee,

 the warmth of the hearts that love thee and the strength of the wills that serve thee, help us so to know thee that we may perfectly love thee,

so to love thee that we may worthily serve thee, whose service is perfect freedom.

 Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine, in the beautiful prayer given here, mentions the human will and says that God is ‘the strength of the will’.  I would like to reflect on this notion of the human will in a few posts.  The Church has always given the will an important place in her teaching on the dignity of the human person, but the human will isn’t an easy thing to define.

Perhaps we don’t think about our will very much or very deeply.  We may think about our emotions, or our mind.  But the will tends to be forgotten.  So let’s start with a simple definition that may not be completely adequate, but at least is easy to understand.  The will is the part of us that assists us in sticking with our good resolutions.  But as anyone knows who has tried to stick to a diet, the will isn’t always very effective in its task.  Just when I might want my will to give me some real backbone, it is nowhere to be found.  What is going on?

I find Saint Augustine to be a great help in understanding this kind of problem.  His Confessions, written in the late fourth century, show us that some things about human nature never change: Augustine, too, had plenty of experience with the weakness of his will.  During the period in his life when he was exploring Christianity but had not yet become a Christian, Augustine felt that his will was not merely weak, but split in two.  This is how he describes it:

The enemy had my power of willing in his clutches, and from it had forged a chain to bind me.  The truth is that when [vice] is pandered to, a habit is formed; when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion.  These were like interlinking rings forming what I have described as a chain, and my harsh servitude used it to keep me under duress.

     A new will had begun to emerge in me, the will to worship you disinterestedly and enjoy you, O God,… but it was not yet capable of surmounting that earlier will strengthened by inveterate custom.  And so the two wills fought it out – the old will and the new, the one carnal, the other spiritual – and in their struggle tore my soul apart.

[Confessions, VIII:10].

Is our will really split in two?  It can seem so, and certainly seemed so to Saint Augustine.  What of these two wills, then?  And what of Augustine’s declaration that ‘the enemy’ controlled his power of willing?  Augustine gradually came to realise that his moral problems could not be blamed on an external ‘enemy’ of any sort.  What he found when he felt that his will was split in two, was that conflicting desires within his soul led him in conflicting directions.  But his insights were even deeper than that.

Here is what he says later in the Confessions

When I was making up my mind to serve the Lord my God at last, as I had long since purposed, I was the one who wanted to follow that course, and I was the one who wanted not to.  I was the only one involved.  I neither wanted it wholeheartedly nor turned from it wholeheartedly.  I was at odds with myself, and fragmenting myself.  This disintegration was occurring without my consent, but what it indicated was not the presence in me of a mind belonging to some alien nature but the punishment undergone by my own

[Confessions VIII:22].

Note the repeated use of the pronoun ‘I’ in that passage.  Augustine takes personal responsibility here for all his actions.  That no alien being could take the blame for Augustine’s weakness was a crucial realisation for him – and for us as we strive to understand what our will is like.   Furthermore, Augustine sees a sort of ‘justice’ in his personal struggles, for he realises here that the weakness in his will that he deplored was the logical consequence of living a life in which he gave priority to the pursuit of selfish pleasures.  A weak will was what he called ‘the punishment’ appropriate to and consequent upon the lifestyle he had chosen for so many years.  No one was to blame but himself, and he finally realises that clearly.  Now, all this may seems rather heavy and dreary.  But, St. Augustine shows us that there is always the possibility of the will growing stronger as we grow in grace.  In the next post, I hope to develop this idea further.

SJC.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

3 March: Going through the motions

open-hands-prayerSometimes people make an outward show of action without their heart being in it. They are ‘going through the motions’. But before we dismiss the ‘motions’ in favour of the purity of the inner spirit, it helps to remember that we are bodily people; physical actions can help make our spirit ready. This is certainly true when it come to prayer. Choosing a regular place, posture, and way of beginning and ending our prayer can provide a supportive framework for the building up of our openness to God.

Place: Making a particular room, or seat, or walking route a habitual place for prayer. Of course we can pray anywhere. But through repetition the mind and spirit begins to recognise that in entering this place I am setting myself to pray. Your ‘place’ might be your kitchen table at a quiet time of the day, a bench in a park where you walk your dog, your seat on the train on the way into work, or a corner of a room in your home that you set aside as a meeting point with God.

Greeting: To you O Lord I lift up my soul. [Psalm 25.1]

Words or gestures you use to acknowledge that you have entered God’s presence. This might be the lighting of a candle, the bowing before a cross, or the saying of a particular prayer or a verse from one of the psalms.

Regular usage helps us move more quickly into prayer. We understand we are here for this purpose and for no other.

Posture: A physical way we set our bodies: sitting with hands open and resting on our laps, or, if walking, a slower, measured pace that begins to settle us down.

As these physical settings become familiar, our spirit begins to work in unison, helping us be relaxed, open and attentive.

Ending and moving on: Just as we have greeted God at the beginning of prayer, so we choose a way of closing this time, whilst remaining open to God’s presence and leading as we go about our day. Again this might be a physical action, words of prayer or a combination: blowing out the candle, bowing to a cross, or words from a psalm.

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces

February 17: The Healing Gift

crib-embroidered-cd

Only two of the gospels encourage us to see our prospect of celebrating new life as something which began when Mary’s child was a presence in Israel. The gospels begin with the death and resurrection of the Saviour. However, this is a saviour who has been incarnated before he was excarnated. The vulnerability of fleshed existence was for him a struggle to celebrate, because of the layers of heart and mind consciousness, which every child finds difficult to coordinate. None of us is sure what kind of new life God wants us to celebrate, when we acknowledge there are genuine gifts of forgiveness and healing, for instance. We feel our way, half-blind, to a greater awareness of how God acts through us. We seek to be less blind.

We are to be grateful that Jesus’ temptations, re-dramatising the Hebrew Exodus in him, were his solidarity with our half-blind condition. So was his journey with his parents through the desert to find refuge in Egypt. He beckoned to the first followers to challenge their often childish fears by feeling closer to his mission, and the courage it required. When a child beckons to us, asking us to give our full loving attention to them, we must smile with delight at such trust. Our smile of delight at oneness with the wholeness of love in Christ is the gift we need, both for our own healing, and for becoming sources of healing for others. We must delight at the potential which God has made present in each new stranger entering our lives. If we love their potential, we also love the healing which makes it real.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

5 February: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. Let it shine!

 

5th-sunday-a

Today, God is teaching me that an effective way to deal with the causes of sin in myself is to do good.

If I turn towards others and set about serving their needs instead of punishing or controlling them:

‘Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over.’                                                                                                                    (Isaiah 58:8)

What is negative in me will be shone away without my having to focus on it, as light naturally dispels darkness:

‘your light will rise in the darkness and your shadows become like noon.’                                                                                                                                                                       (Isaiah 58:10)

As St. Bonaventure taught, ‘Goodness diffuses itself’.  In other words, it is the nature of goodness to spread itself around.  The Book of Genesis, Chapter One tells us that everything God created is good, including humans.  This means it is our nature to share with the rest of creation all that we are and have by divine gift.  Jesus’ illustrates this truth with the examples of salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).  It is the nature of light to illuminate the space around it and the nature of salt to flavour the food to which it is added.  Light which is completely covered over and salt which is tasteless are useless, absurd and unnatural. So am I, when I am self-centred and lacking generosity.  But whenever I act with love, God’s light dispels my shadows.

And here is a link to an ideal soundtrack for this Sunday’s Gospel reading and blog post. 

FMSL

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

1 February: A week with Rabindranath Tagore: IV

mercy.carving. (328x640)

I cannot choose the best.

The best chooses me.

Stray Birds XX

I cannot always explain why a particular picture ends up with a post on this blog. Yesterday’s picture of the shadows was one I had on file, waiting for the right words. They came. Today’s jumped out of the file as I flicked through. ‘Of course! It’s about mercy!’ I said. The best chose me, even when I was not feeling at all capable of choosing the best. 

So, take courage. When all was about to fall apart, the best told his disciples:

You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

John 15:16.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry, Year of Mercy

29 January: A week with Rabindranath Tagore: I

venus-487x640

If you shed tears when you miss the sun,

you also miss the stars.

Stray Birds VI, Collected Poems and Plays p287.

Masefield asked for a star to steer by.

The Magi had a star to steer by.

But they could only see it in the darkness, when the sun was absent.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

26 January: In the Dark

cross.cave1

Here am I dying in the dark, and I came to bring light to the World. I am dying at the hands of hate, and I came to bring love to the world. Death is closing in on me, and I came to bring life to the world. But I remain true to my Faith; dying in the dark I believe in the Light; killed by hate I trust Love; with death closing in on me I believe in Life; on the third day I shall rise again.

In any darkness still trust the Light, in any hatred still trust love, and be sure that, though all consciousness be slipping from you and you yourself seem to be slipping into a void, eternal Life is yours.

These words of Fr Andrew SDC complement yesterday’s reflection by Tennyson. ‘Still trust the Light!’

Life and Letters of Father Andrew, p118.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

6 January: Epiphany

 

moon-bow

Even those of little faith are predisposed

on Christmas Eve for wonder, I suppose,

as night grows late and great with child.

Those shepherds of so long ago had trained their eyes

on earth: too much of gazing up at skies

and sheep go missing in the wild.

 

Thus shepherds don’t discourse with angels as a rule.

Nor I.  But I am keen on tidings yule

and probably disqualified.

Still, hear me out: I went about my routine tasks

with eyes on earth before the midnight mass,

expecting bread and wine to hide

 

not less – or more – than mystery.  Outside the door

the night was lit.  I stopped.  I’d not before

known midnight give a bird its note

as though at dawn, but softly as a lullaby –

and earth become all ear, with no reply

but something catching in the throat.

 

But if you think the wonder of the bird and song

the marvellous epiphany, you’re wrong.

It was the sky – no other place.

Susceptibility in me won’t sink so low

as claim a real miracle – oh no.

Yet, as I gazed at outer space,

 

I saw full mother-moon and off-spring aura bright,

and a second aura capture light from light –

with light-years singing in between:

Hosannas heaved.  I heard them.  Not with day-time ears,

but night-ears heard their music, calming fears

of aeons. So: epiphany.

 

I took it back inside with me as I returned

to routine tasks with thoughts of heaven.  I’d learned

to train my eyes on high surprises.

SJC

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry

26 December: Christmas Prayers.

madonna-closeup-hales-pl

hlaes-pla-single-star

This  battered Madonna and the star come from the cemetery chapel of the former French Jesuit School in Canterbury, whose pupils helped Saint Thomas’s through some lean years in early days. 

When I was writing the history of Saint Thomas’s Catholic Primary School in Canterbury I found in 1970s parish magazines these prayers written by children:

 

Dear Jesus, please help me to go to Mass at Christmas. Give my family a happy day without any fighting or fussing. – EMc

Dear Lord, please make my Christmas joyful and happy. I will try not to be greedy, but I hope I get enough. – JG.

O Lord, thank you for a happy year. I ask for 100 good new ones. – LE.

Surely LE’s childhood was happy: to ask for a hundred good new years implies that the nine or ten she had lived so far were good. Deo Gratias indeed!

JG’s prayer suggests that he knew his attitude could contribute to a joyful and happy Christmas. Perhaps greed had blighted Christmas or other times past?

Greed will never admit to having enough. Let’s pray for an attitude of gratitude! Christmas gifts should be tokens of love, not awards for being good.

I hope EMcC knew only the sibling squabbling and bossiness that drives parents mad but is not deep-dyed animosity.

He clearly valued being at Christmas Mass. When I was little, Midnight Mass was long anticipated. An army of altar servers somehow managed not to trip up each other or the priest, deacon and subdeacon. The MC had to be creative in allocating duties, so that everyone had something to do: all those torchbearers? Well, we had a place to kneel, out of the way, our hands out of mischief; perhaps those flames added a little to the solemnity?

(When Friends of FISC visited the cemetery chapel this summer, we lit candles as we prayed; they certainly added to the solemnity.)

Let’s pray, finally, for something deeper than solemnity: for awe. Awe at the bundle of cells that has become baby Jesus; awe at who Jesus is, and that his coming tells us how ridiculously the Father has loved us. 

MMB.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

24 December: Four Candles

adentwreath (684x800)

Say ‘four candles’ to ironmongers in Britain and you’ll get a weary reaction. If you don’t know why, watch the video from the link at the end of this post.

I know that reaction. Why? well, Abel’s mother inherited her grandfather’s garden fork, riddled with woodworm. Fork handles? I am serious!

Thanks to  one of an ironmonger’s fork handles, a lick of paint and a few coats of linseed oil, it looks and works as good as new.

A month ago it was the first Sunday in Advent. On the day before, Abel and his grandparents gathered greenery to make their Advent wreaths. When Grannie was not looking Abel used the secateurs; two of his hands and one of Grandad’s did the job very well. Back indoors, Abel and Grannie arranged green leaves on the wreaths, and four candles on each. Red candles on Abel’s, but purple on the old folk’s as Uncle Harry has very definite ideas about the colour of the candles.

At 18 months old Abel knows about doing things together and sharing. He knows a little bit about numbers; he enjoys candlelight and knows not to touch the flame. He knows something about waiting and the candles will help him understand this.

He’ll be learning a bit about baby Jesus, and even if things are a little bit confused in his mind this Christmas, he’ll understand that he’s in a loving human family. Not a bad start.

As for us, we have Good News to proclaim, even if people are confused about what Christmas means. A crib, candle or star in a window represents a silent but glowing witness.

WT.

And here is confusion that you can enjoy: just click on the link.

fork handles

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections