Tag Archives: Mammon

24 April: The Virtue of Prudence: I, Worth Striving for.

 

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We don’t hear much about virtue nowadays.  We hear a lot about public people who seem to have no virtue.  In some cases, they appear to be getting away with it, becoming famous, rich, glamorous people.  Yet, often they leave behind a trail of destruction, from failed relationships, to substance abuse, to the obsessive search for new medical treatments aimed at halting time’s affect on their appearance.  How can such an existence be a happy one?  Or there are others in the media whose lack of virtue leads to behaviours and attitudes that few seem to admire.  The media likes to gloat over that kind of moral failure and condemn it in huge headlines – while adverts in the same publication hypocritically try to sell us another, more glossy, version of the same vice.  We live in confusing times, and to praise someone for his or her virtue, to name the virtues and speak of them in a positive light – to talk about prudence, for example, as a quality worth striving for: well, that wouldn’t sell many newspapers.

Yet, prudence is a beautiful thing, so balanced, discerning and wise.  It is eminently worth striving for.  In the next several posts I hope to say why this is so, and make up a little for some of the silence that seems to surround the virtues in our culture.

First, the virtue of prudence is one of a cluster of four moral virtues, the other three being temperance, fortitude and justice.  As moral virtues, we must understand that these require some work on our part.  But, this is not a hopeless task: God has given us the potential to develop all the virtues through prayer, the commitment of our will, and the follow-up behaviours that are consonant with the virtue.

Before turning to prudence, it is good to reflect for a moment on the notion of virtue itself.  To speak of virtue is not to speak of an occasional good action.  We are talking about a power which the soul acquires.  A virtue is something we must exercise, yes, but in so doing, it becomes part of our very character as persons, part of our personality and nature.  It is not a mere role, or a good trick which we perform on a good day if we’ve got the energy.  Rather, a virtue becomes an outward expression of what has become intrinsic to us and part of our very identity.  It becomes a stable part of us, a habit of goodness.

SJC.

A monument to a picnic that led to the end of the Iron Curtain. The time was right, and people acted with prudence. We’ll learn more on 19 August, the anniversary of the event. Picnic monument by Kaboldy
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12 April, Relics X: Blood Money.

judasSpy Wednesday we used to call this day, when Judas sold the Lord for a few silver coins, though he probably told himself another story to justify his betrayal.

The politicians were putting the nation first, they said, but even so they recognised that it was blood money when Judas returned the coins. It could not go back into the Temple.

Mammon had won.

But Mammon brings its own destruction with it – as Chaucer tells us in The Pardoner’s Tale, when Death claims the young men who find, but will not share, a treasure.

After the Great War, Mammon tried to rule Germany in order to obtain reparation for the death and destruction caused by the Kaiser’s war-making. The result was hyperinflation. The mark lost value, another war loomed.

A relic of that time was given to me by my c0-writer,
Fr Tom Herbst: tokens-germanythese thin, base metal tokens issued by town councils when the mint could not cope.

Pray for the people of Zimbabwe and Venezuela who have seen their money become worthless, their savings lost, their wages useless. May they not lose hope, as Judas did.

(In this carving from Strasbourg Cathedral the Lamb of God is untying Judas from the Tree and rescuing him from Hell’s mouth.)

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22 March: Wayside Pulpits

altrincham_market_cross_2-480x640Altrincham Market Cross

Early Franciscans, such as Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, our patron, often preached in the open air, maybe at a cross erected as a town’s Speakers’ Corner, like this one, reconstructed in Altrincham, Cheshire. The Reformation saw most of them demolished in England.

agnellusfullWhen we travelled to the North of England recently there were the usual old trailers, parked in fields beside the motorways and advertising  anything from the local builder to  sofas or insurance on-line. There was a cluster in West Yorkshire that reminded me of the  ‘Wayside Pulpits’ that non-conformist churches  display, with their elegant calligraphy proclaiming a Bible verse or seasonal message. ‘Prepare to meet thy God’ read one of these trailers, with a lot more text besides, too much to take in with a passing glance.

One of the firms that arrange these ads boasts that they offer 7-10 seconds of dwell time guaranteed. That’s 7-10 seconds of a driver not fully aware of the road – guaranteed.

The weather was worsening; just a few miles up the road we witnessed a collision.

I don’t suppose the church or individual who had these billboards parked there intended readers to be meeting their God so soon after reading their message, but this is irresponsible and dangerous preaching. It is also illegal. Time to stop it!

MMB.

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20 January: Inter-galactic Discoveries, XXI.

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22 December: This birth was hard

 

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It’s easy to feel smugly indignant at the commercialisation of Christmas and attempts to create an official Winter Holiday instead. I wonder whether that is a greater threat to the truth of Christmas than sentimental carols, sung unheedingly? Christmas is, as Mary herself said when she met Elizabeth before their sons were born:

He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly;

He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.

Luke 1: 52-53.

Here is one mighty one, years later, most uneasy on his throne, cast down even:

 … this birth

Was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to  our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people, clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi.

Clutching their gods? We are tattooed on God’s hand (Isaiah 49:15); he hold us, gently. May we know his presence  every day, seeing him in the eyes of every person we meet.

MMB.

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30 November Jacopone da Todi 4 :Making our Way back to God.

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Some of Jacopone’s poems work as a dialogue. This one is between a person who takes decisions carefully and develops relationships in a caring and responsible way, and his friend who is self-indulgent, living only for superficial pleasures and a worldly consumer way of life.

“O my brother, before death overtakes you

Come to terms, find your way back to God.”

“If I change my ways, brother,

What will become of these sons of mine?

Come, why not think on death, which awaits

Both father and son? Follow the path

That leads out of the labyrinth.”

“But I’ve become accustomed to being well dressed,

To a certain decorum. How can I suddenly change,

Become an object of people’s contempt,

Have them point to me as that poor idiot?

A baited hook looks good to a fish,

But once he has swallowed it

It gives him little pleasure.

Your arguments frighten me, brother;

You make me feel the wound of holy love.

The world will no longer deceive me.”

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The bait is worldly pleasures and High Street glamour. The hook is a bite of conscience about living an aimless and unmerciful existence.

We realise, however, that we share our mysterious and beautiful lives with a great expanse of fellow mortals. They, too, have buried desires for integrity and kindness poured into their hearts by God. We can only learn how to be meaningful in our relationships, and to make love our purpose, by seeing the beauty of others more clearly.

 

Chris D.

October 2016.

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15 November: Mancunian Mercy, XIX Century Style.

manc.cathedral.Sporch by David Dixon at

Back in England, an old guide book[1] tells how the South Porch of Manchester Cathedral proclaims ‘To the honour and Glory of God and in thankful acknowledgement of many mercies this porch is erected by James Jardine of Manchester and Alderley Edge in the Year of Our Lord MDCCCXCI’. A door of Mercy then?

Jardine built himself a fine villa in the clean air of Alderley Edge a few years later. He had become head of a major cotton spinning firm, Shaw, Jardine and Co, despite humble beginnings. By ‘mercies’ did he mean personal prosperity? Was that God-given or derived in part from the imposition of lower wages in the dangerous spinning mills some years before this porch was built? The owners then showed no mercy to the workers who made them prosperous.

James Jardine provided in his will for two drinking fountains to be installed in Central Manchester. A measure of mercy at least. (Matthew 25:35)

mercy.carving. (328x640)Lest we feel too smug about the attitudes of rich people a century and more ago, we too all carry the taint of Mammon; in particular it is nigh on impossible to clothe oneself without wearing something produced by underpaid workers, if not modern slaves, overseas, where we only see them briefly when their factories collapse. How do we show mercy to them?

[1] Bell’s Cathedrals of England: The Cathedral Church of Manchester by the Rev Thomas Perkins, London, George Bell and Sons, 1901, p16. At http://www.ajhw.co.uk/books/book350/book350x/book350x.html

Manchester Cathedral, S Porch by David Dixon at http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3870797 . Creative Commons Licence.

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November 10: Sacrifice and War: Pain and David Jones.

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The soldier who survives the war may suffer over and over again, in pain physical or mental. A friend told us of her father, a Great War amputee, enduring years of agony from his phantom wound.

His fellow Welshman, the artist and poet David Jones, would be taken back to the trenches by a sudden noise, a slammed door, a dropped walking stick, the rumble of thunder. ‘The memory of it is like a disease.’¹

Or the phantom pain beneath the scars of a ravaged soul.

Jones wrote in In Parenthesis about his Sergeant Major’s rifle instruction:

Marry it man! Marry it!
Cherish her, she’s your very own.
Coax it man coax it–it’s delicately and ingeniously made
–it’s an instrument of precision–it costs us tax-payers,
money–I want you men to remember that.
Fondle it like a granny–talk to it–consider it as you would
a friend–

Which matters more, the soldier or the weapon, the precision instrument forged by industry?

¹Thomas Dilworth: David Jones and the Great War, London, Enitharmon Press, 2012, p204.

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November 7: Sacrifice in War II.

 

 

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Saint Helen’s, Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire, MMB.

Neither war comics, nor 1950s films nor computer games could remotely be described as subtle: the enemy does not appear as a fellow human being. The Great War poet Wilfred Owen’s dawning realisation of the humanity of his visitant in ‘Strange Meeting’ illustrates the dehumanising of the other that allows industrial slaughter to proceed.  It is not clear whether his loathly opposite, the man he had recently killed was a German, or perhaps his own true self:

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,

Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.[1]

That ‘slaughter’ should be personified as the subject of a sentence shows how war de-personalises, de-humanises people. War, conflict and death are seen as a conjunction of irresistible, superhuman powers, sweeping away combatant and civilian alike, powers that were indeed personified by the ancients, like John’s four horsemen (Revelation 6), or in Shakespeare’s play:

… Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,

With Atë by his side come hot from Hell,

Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war …  Julius Caesar III.i. 270-273.

While War and Death are personified, the enemy is depersonalised; he can then be sacrificed to Atë and Mammon and all false gods of War.

MMB.

[1]              Wilfred Owen, ‘Strange Meeting’ in ‘Poems’, Ed. Siegfried  Sassoon, 1920. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Poems, by Wilfred Owen, Produced by Alan R. Light, Gary M. Johnson, and David Widger, [EBook #1034] Release Date: August 10, 2008.

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24 October: Mammon, money, need and greed.

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God’s greatest rival: the religion of Mammon.  “You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).  This is because money has the capacity to touch the very depths of our soul.  How can it do that?  It has no poetry!  There are no poems about money: I can’t think of a single example.  It could be that it only takes over souls that have no capacity for poetry.  “If you want to see what God thinks of money,” someone said, “look at the people he gives it to.”  In itself it is not an interesting subject.  It is need and greed that lend it interest.  It is, above all, a promise: that essential of any religion.

Its promises, however, are always just for oneself (or one’s family: one’s larger self).  Listen to the advertisers.  The underlying creed is that life has nothing to offer but what can be purchased or won, and that there is nothing either good or bad beyond that.  All others are either partners or competitors: people who can help or hinder you in your search for more of the same.

I am thinking, of course, of pure devotees.  Many, as in every religion, are not true believers, or have mixed motives.  There are wealthy people who have a real care for the half of the world that is malnourished.  But there are others, like the rich man in the parable, who don’t even notice Lazarus at their door, and who are therefore able to step over him without malice, keeping their own self-esteem intact.  And there are others again who notice Lazarus but keep their self-esteem by throwing him a few scraps.

The religion of Mammon is a destructive cult.  It not only destroys the poor by enriching its devotees at their expense, but it destroys the devotees themselves.  They are creating “a great chasm” between themselves and the rest of humanity, so that “those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

Which characters does the story ask us to identify ourselves with?  The rich man, Dives?  In fact he is given no name in the gospels: ‘dives’ is just the Latin word for ‘a rich man’; the rich man has no identity except his wealth.  No, we are not being asked to see ourselves as Dives.  Lazarus, then?  No, neither is it telling us to lie down at the rich man’s door like Lazarus.

The parable is telling us that we are the rich man’s five brothers.  We have Moses and the prophets  – but above all we have Jesus  –  to tell us to live by a different religion, a subversive religion that “casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly, that fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty.”  We are not told whether the five brothers changed their lives around.  Why?  Because we are the five brothers, and the story isn’t over yet.

AMcC

By Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis

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