Tag Archives: Mammon

28 September: Season of Creation, Little we see.

Two hundred years ago and more, Wordsworth witnessed some of the early stages of the Industrial Revolution and did not look favourably upon it. There is prophecy in this sonnet: ‘we are out of tune’ indeed with nature because we are too busy getting and spending. Looking at today’s society, it is often poor people in this country and overseas who are forced to lay waste their powers, that is to work till they can do no more in order to get enough money to spend on essentials.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
  Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
  Little we see in nature that is ours;
  We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
  This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
  The Winds that will be howling at all hours
  And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
  For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
  It moves us not—Great God! I’d rather be
  A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
  So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
  Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
  Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea;
  Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.”

(from “Poems in Two Volumes, Volume 1” by William Wordsworth, 1807)

Let’s get ourselves in tune with winds, rain, sunshine and moonshine. A moonlit walk along the beach would surely move us, or a stroll in the park: even half an hour out of doors or sitting at the window. I was heartened, when in hospital, by the comings and goings of a crow who appeared from time to time over a blank brick wall which was all my view!

If we were in tune with nature there would be expansion of the rain forests, pollution control measures would actually work, concrete would start to be replaced. We could all add to the list. But let’s do what we can today, and a little more tomorrow.

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12 September: the fragments that remain to us.

A defaced carving of St Mark with his lion, Canterbury.

This XIX Century passage captures a moment when attitudes to relics and pilgrimages were beginning to change. Since then the sites of many saints’ shrines have been refurbished to welcome visitors, who may be bemused, but are not as scornful as our writer feared. The modern loving inscriptions on seaside or park benches are in direct line to the shrines of saints, not to mention the verses and flower symbols carved into grave markers.

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It is not, perhaps, a difficult matter for an age which has lost all faith in saints, and almost all in the possibility of saintliness, to find ground for scornful derision in the devotion of the men of old, to the tombs of the hallowed dead; but it is, at least, open to question whether such a method of raising funds for religious purposes was not quite as legitimate and consistent as the modern fancy for the frivolity of a “Bazaar”, or the feebleness of an amateur concert.

Alas! That in speaking of the English shrines, one should have to speak always of what has been, or of the fragments, the shadows, the dry records only, that remain to us. If the veneration of centuries, if the glories of art, had no voice that could be heard against the clamorous cupidity of the despoiler, surely one might have hoped that the presence of the holy dead would have availed to arrest the royal tyrant and the puritan  bigot in their career of sacrilege and crime.

Some English Shrines by the Rev. Geo. S. Tyack, B.A. in Curious Church Gleanings, ed William Andrews, F.R.S.H., Hull, William Andrews & Co, 1896.

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17 July: Calamities in Sussex

The forest can reclaim industrial land.

Here is E.V. Lucas in the Sussex woodlands more than a century ago. The iron trade moved North as iron and coal mining techniques evolved during the Industrial Revolution. But he cites Thomas Fuller’s question as to which use of iron was the more harmful – guns or the printing press? Fuller lived in the XVII Century and witnessed the Civil War. I doubt he would maintain today that fewer lives were lost to guns than the sword. Let us pray for the beating of all weapons into instruments of peace, and for a continuing change of heart towards our sisters and brothers and our earthly home. Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury was a part-time iron worker.


St. Leonard’s Forest, and all the forests on this the forest ridge of Sussex, were of course maintained to supply wood with which to feed the furnaces of the iron masters—just as the overflow of these ponds was trained to move the machinery of the hammers for the breaking of the iron stone. The enormous consumption of wood in the iron foundries was a calamity seriously viewed by many observers, among them Michael Drayton who was, however, distressed less as a political economist than as the friend of the wood nymphs driven by the encroaching and devastating foundrymen from their native sanctuaries to the inhospitable Downs.

Jove's oak, the warlike ash, veined elm, the softer beech, 
Short hazel, maple plain, light asp, the bending wych, 
Tough holly, and smooth birch, must altogether burn; 
What should the builder serve, supplies the forger's turn, 
When under public good, base private gain takes hold, 
And we, poor woful woods, to ruin lastly sold. 

Under the heading of Sussex manufactures, Thomas Fuller writes, in the Worthies, of great guns:— “It is almost incredible how many are made of the Iron in this County.

A Monke of Mentz (some three hundred years since) is generally reputed the first Founder of them. Surely ingenuity may seem transpos’d, and to have cross’d her hands, when about the same time a Souldier found out Printing; and it is questionable which of the two Inventions hath done more good, or more harm. As for Guns, it cannot be denied, that though most behold them as Instruments of cruelty; partly, because subjecting valour to chance; partly, because Guns give no quarter (which the Sword sometimes doth); yet it will appear that, since their invention, Victory hath not stood so long a Neuter, and hath been determined with the loss of fewer lives.

from Highways and Byways in Sussex by E. V. Lucas

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12 January, Brownings XXVI: The soul in the city

I dwell amid the city,
And hear the flow of souls in act and speech,
For pomp or trade, for merrymake or folly:
I hear the confluence and sum of each,
And that is melancholy!
Thy voice is a complaint, O crownèd city,
The blue sky covering thee like God’s great pity.

.
From The Soul’s Travelling by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The City of God is a common theme in the Bible, Zion or Jerusalem, the earthly place where he lives among his people, or the Heavenly Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation. A city was, and remains, a convenient setting for a more cultured life that would not have been possible in the hinterlands. Although the airwaves bring us radio, television and the internet – and of course internet shopping – the city remains a magnet for entertainment, dining out, medical care, employment. What is Elizabeth’s problem?

Perhaps it is the flow of souls looking for pomp, trade, merriment or folly: self indulgence in other words. But whether in her 19th Century London as in the first picture, or the 21st Century city, by no means all arrivals flock there for the extras London has to offer, at a price. The city may be a relatively safe haven from war or other troubles but people still have to find a welcome; somewhere affordable to live, familiar food or the sound of their mother tongue.

Chesterton has Mary tell King Alfred about the heavenly city: “The gates of Heaven are lightly locked”, continuing:

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet 
And the sea rises higher. 

Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”

The sky in both of our pictures is more iron cope than blue cloak; we can well believe that it grows darker yet as the sea indeed rises higher. It is for each one of us to have joy without any apparent cause, and faith in God when all comfort is taken away from ourselves or the people we meet. Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom!

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November 27: Of so little use, Money.

The ladies could not, for a long time, comprehend what the merchants did with small pieces of gold and silver, or why things of so little use should be received as equivalent to the necessaries of life.

(from Rasselas by Samuel Johnson)

Samuel Johnson’s ‘Rasselas’ of 1759 takes a Prince of Abissinia, Rasselas, from his luxurious captivity, escaping out into the world, accompanied by a female cousin and her maid, all guided by a wise man who had become weary of the place as well. He takes them to Egypt, where Cairo was already a bustling metropolis. The young people have a lot to learn.

And so do we. We have seen these tokens before: they were minted in German cities after the Great War when inflation impoverished many people. And they remind us that Judas sold his Lord for a handful of silver, and that Mammon will always ‘see a market’ and persuade us that things of little use are equivalent to the necessaries of life. We sometimes waste our money, but money has wasted many people around the world since the hyperinflation of Germany in the 1920s.

If money loses the trust of people it will no longer procure the necessaries of life. Can we help provide some necessaries during this Advent, beginning tomorrow?

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29 September, Season of Creation XXX: Laudato Si’ XIV, cooperation with the Creator

78. Judaeo-Christian thought no longer saw nature as divine. But in doing so, it emphasises all the more our human responsibility for nature. If we acknowledge the value and the fragility of nature and, at the same time, our God-given abilities, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power.

80. Yet God, who wishes to work with us and who counts on our cooperation, can also bring good out of the evil we have done. “The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, including the most complex and inscrutable”. Creating a world in need of development, God in some way sought to limit himself in such a way that many of the things we think of as evils, dangers or sources of suffering, are in reality part of the pains of childbirth which he uses to draw us into the act of cooperation with the Creator. God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs. His divine presence, which ensures the subsistence and growth of each being, “continues the work of creation”.

82. When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all. Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus. As he said of the powers of his own age: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26).

Francis invites us to take the long view, both in terms of time, and of space, including what used to be called outer space. I find it frightening that rich men should be unchecked in their pursuit of profit in the sky, not just with expensive joy rides into near orbit, but also the arrays of small satellites, launched, it seems, with little regard for what is already up there, doing valuable but not necessarily dollar-earning work.

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16 May: World Communications Day.

The reader, Zakopane, Poland.

From a homily of Saint Oscar Romero, 1978, as relevant now as then.

Today the universal church celebrates World Communications Day. Let me say a few words to make all Catholics mindful of the importance of using the media of social communication in a critical and conscientious way. Through these marvellous means of communication—such as newspapers, radio, television, cinema—many ideas are communicated to large numbers of people, but often the media serve as tools of confusion. These instruments, as creators of public opinion, are often manipulated by materialist interests and are used to maintain an unjust state of affairs through falsehood and confusion. There is a lack of respect for one of the most sacred rights of the human person, the right to be well informed, the right to the truth. Each person must defend this right for himself or herself by using the media critically. Not everything in the newspapers, not everything in the movies or on television, not everything that is heard on the radio is true. Often it is just the opposite, a lie.


That is why critical people must know how to filter the media to avoid being poisoned with whatever falls into their hands. This is the type of awareness that the church wants to awaken today as we celebrate World Communications Day. We want people to read the newspapers critically and be able to say, «This is a lie! This is not the same thing that was said yesterday! This is a distortion because I have seen the opposite stated!» Being critical is a vital characteristic in our day, and because the church attempts to implant this critical awareness, she is facing some very serious conflicts. The reason is that the dominant interests want to keep people half-asleep. They do not want people who are critical and know how to discern between truth and falsehood. I believe that never before has there existed in the world, especially in a setting like ours, such a struggle—a struggle unto death—between the truth and the lie. The conflict at this time can be reduced to this: either truth or lies. Let us not forget that great saying of Christ: «The truth will set you free» (John 8:32). Let us always seek the truth!

There is a saying of Saint Augustine that I believe is very appropriate for these times: Libenter credimus quod credere volumus, which means, «We gladly believe what we want to believe». That is why it is so difficult to believe the truth: often we don’t want to believe the truth because it disturbs our conscience. But even though the truth may disturb us, we must accept it, and we must want to believe in it so that the Lord will always bless us with the freedom of those who love the truth. We should not be among those who sell the truth or their pens or their voices or their media to the highest bidder or to materialist interests. How sad it is to see so many pens being sold, so many tongues being fed through the slanderous words broadcast on the radio. Often the truth produces not money but only bitterness, yet it is better to be free in the truth than to have great wealth in mendacity.

St Oscar Romero, Ascension of the Lord. 7 May 1978
Read or listen to the homilies of St Oscar Romero at romerotrust.org.uk

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7 May: Praying with Pope Francis

Looking from Greenwich to London’s Docklands financial sector. Saint Paul’s Cathedral is all-but invisible to the left.

Universal Intention: – The World Of Finance
Let us pray that those in charge of finance will work with governments to regulate the financial sphere and protect citizens from its dangers.

I guess Pope Francis feels he has had his share of being let down by those in charge of finance! It always seems to be the poorest who suffer most when finances go wrong, both at a personal and a national level. Company executives remain wealthy when their businesses go bust, while their workers lose jobs and the pensions they had been paying into. Indebted countries find their debts rising at the same time as opportunities vanish to earn more from trade and so pay off debts. And don’t ask about covid vaccinations!

Rich nations often owe part of their prosperity to exploitation of workers or other assets overseas; there is an obligation to restore fairness in trade and to protect citizens of this one world from the dangers of unfair trade, which may persist for generations.

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16 March: All ye that enter in at these gates. Gates V.

The word that came to Jeremias from the Lord, saying: Stand in the gate of the house of the Lord, and proclaim there this word, and say: Hear ye the word of the Lord, all ye men of Juda, that enter in at these gates, to adore the Lord.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts the God of Israel: Make your ways and your doings good: and I will dwell with you in this place. Trust not in lying words, saying: The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, it is the temple of the Lord … you put your trust in lying words, which shall not profit you:

To steal, to murder, to commit adultery, to swear falsely, to offer to Baalim, and to go after strange gods, which you know not. And you have come, and stood before me in this house, in which my name is called upon, and have said: We are delivered, because we have done all these abominations. Is this house then, in which my name hath been called upon, in your eyes become a den of robbers? I, I am he: I have seen it, saith the Lord.

Jeremiah 7:1-4;7-11.

If Jeremiah was preaching at a gateway like this, he would get noticed; even if other preachers were getting pushed to the side by impatient passers-by.

Occasionally there are preachers around Canterbury Cathedral’s main Christ Church gate: mostly they seem to be ignored, as the churches themselves are much of the time. People say I’m too nice to them if I stop and chat, or engage with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Someone Else called the Temple a den of robbers, and drove the moneychangers out of the courtyard. They were no doubt raking in a tidy profit, in effect making Mammon, or money, at home in God’s House; going after strange gods, as we are tempted to do today. We may not be directly sacrificing children to Baal or to Mammon but there are many children whose all-but slave labour contributes to our comfortable lifestyle. Think of clothes and shoes made in Asian countries.

Willy-nilly we are caught in a web of sinfulness and can do little to escape it. At least there are some fair trade products on the market that we can buy, and we can hope that the shops we use do indeed check all the way back along the supply chain to see that workers are treated fairly.

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9 February: Injustice can be brought about by law.

There has been much complaint about ‘one law for us, another for them’ during the course of the pandemic. Nothing new about that, of course. Blaise Pascal identified the problem a century before Doctor Johnson. It’s easy to see how similar assertions about being born in the wrong place at the wrong time could be used to justify slavery.

In the letter of the law injustice can come in. The pleasantries of the elders who have everything: my friend, since you were born on this side of the mountain, it’s right that your elder brother should have everything.

Pensees, 9.

But as Johnson said, you cannot argue with avarice – or unregulated capitalism. We just have to learn to live life simply, without unnecessary stuff, as to an extent we have had to these last months. As we come out of the infection and the danger of covid19, we could think more carefully about what we are buying, in particular about the costs of production in terms of human and environmental justice and peace.

Pope Gregory’s answer was not to argue with the slavers but to send Augustine to convert the English, including, no doubt, those men prepared to kidnap children and sell them on as slaves. But today we all need to convert ourselves from destroying our sisters and brothers, and destroying our common home, through what we buy. It’s not a task we’ll succeed in when life revolves around mobile phones that depend on exploited labour to extract the ores to produce the precious metals that power them. But we can do something if we reflect upon it.

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