Tag Archives: Minster Abbey

27 January: I am a stranger with thee

chidavidwindow (585x800)Do you remember Sister Johanna writing about praying the Psalms, and how the difficult prayers that we do not agree with have a place in our own prayer life? ‘This is not pretty’, we might say, ‘but I need to tell it to someone.’ Here David wants to guard his mouth, but what comes out is the sort of confusion that springs from deep hurt as we have been touching on these last days. But ‘surely in vain is any man disquieted.’ Easier said than felt or acted upon. But saying it is  a start.

Psalm 38 (39) A canticle of David.

I said: I will take heed to my ways: that I sin not with my tongue. I have set guard to my mouth, when the sinner stood against me.

I was dumb, and was humbled, and kept silence from good things: and my sorrow was renewed.

My heart grew hot within me: and in my meditation a fire shall flame out.

I spoke with my tongue: O Lord, make me know my end. And what is the number of my days: that I may know what is wanting to me.

Behold thou hast made my days measurable: and my substance is as nothing before thee. And indeed all things are vanity: every man living.

Surely man passeth as an image: yea, and he is disquieted in vain. He storeth up: and he knoweth not for whom he shall gather these things.

And now what is my hope? is it not the Lord? and my substance is with thee.

Deliver thou me from all my iniquities: thou hast made me a reproach to the fool.

I was dumb, and I opened not my mouth, because thou hast done it.

Remove thy scourges from me. The strength of thy hand hath made me faint in rebukes:

Thou hast corrected man for iniquity. And thou hast made his soul to waste away like a spider: surely in vain is any man disquieted.

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and my supplication: give ear to my tears. Be not silent: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were.

O forgive me, that I may be refreshed, before I go hence, and be no more.

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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

 

 

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Mary, Mother and Queen

Dear Friends,

On this feast of the Mother of Our Lord  I pass on this story from the Missionaries of Africa about a new

Benedictine Abbey of sisters in Zambia.

Let us pray for them and our own sisters at Minster.

Mary Queen and Gate of Heaven, pray for them.

Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, pray for them.

Saint Mildred, pray for them.

Lord God, we ask you to bless these your servants and keep them dedicated to you. Amen.

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25 December: Christmas

acrobats 

 Can he who hurls the lightening from the top

and swirls the rain,

disarm us with a baby’s grin and stop

earth’s spin?  Then start again?

Can he be like a jester – on his head –

quite turned around?

Or is it us – bewildered thoughts unsaid –

who’re upside down?

 

Of course, the problem’s us and not with God.

We think we Know.

We think our view is true – and his plain odd.

But he’s below

so far is he above.  He is a mite,

so vast is he,

so full of life as to become finite –

a non-entity:

 

an infant God.  And poor, do not forget.

So strange, this tale.

We hear it year by year and love it, yet

we simply fail

to follow footsteps leading down.  We fall

instead – yes, all –

which is as well because the paradox, recall,

is this: God’s small.

SJC

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Interruption: Advent

hlaes-pla-single-star

Sister Johanna sent us her Advent poem a couple of weeks ago. It’s taken me too long to get to work on publishing it, but savour it – and spend a few minutes out in the dark, even if, like me, you can manage that in the evening instead of Before the day breaks.

WT

 

 

 

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Advent

dawn

that long solemn moment called Before –

Before the dawn, when deepest darkness reigns,

I rise from sleep in blackest night once more

content without sun’s reassuring flames.

 

I like to be awake to see the mild

rays begin – gently – lifting the sleeping night.

Just so, the father lifts the sleeping child.

Just so, their advent fills my sky with light.

SJC

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October 16: A week with R.S. Thomas

It has been refreshing to read the poetry of Sister Johanna (our SJC), following the offerings of her colleague at Minster Sister Mary Stephen (SMS). They have sent me back to the sources. Tempting as Dylan might be, I turned instead to his namesake, R.S. Thomas, for this week’s reflections.

R.S. was a Welsh Anglican priest who wrote in English, often challenging, often reflecting light into dark corners. I hope you will turn to his work after reading these extracts and my reflections on them.

MMB.

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October 15: CONSCIENCE VIII: Should we Beware of all Authority?

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CD.

Religious extremism, dictatorships, totalitarian systems, or simply capitulation to the moral values promulgated by the powerful voice of the mass media can desensitise our conscience.  Our conscience needs to be alive and well, and able to evaluate and resist such voices.

In saying that we need to be on our guard against dictatorships of all kinds, am I not saying that we need to be wary of all authority, even that of the Church?  How do I know whether or not the teaching authority of the Church isn’t just another form of dictatorship?  Joseph Ratzinger’s paper, ‘Conscience and Truth’ [reference, part VI], to which we have already referred in these posts, shows that our conscience holds the key to the answer.

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Let us return to what The Catechism says: in our conscience we ‘are alone with God whose voice echoes in [our] depths.’   Cardinal Ratzinger says that in our depths we have a mysterious “memory” of divine love.  This “memory” makes us alive to the fact that behind the commandments, behind the law of God, behind the moral truths enjoined on us by the Church, lies a truth that exists for us not as an imposition from without but as an expression, even a liberation, of what is deepest within the soul.

He says that this “memory” is not like the memory one might have of, say, one’s phone number, or the vocabulary of a foreign language.  It is ‘not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents.’  It is something much more profound.  It is more like the knowledge of oneself that is awakened by a very deep human love.  Human love can awaken the lover to a new depth of self-knowledge that both comes from the loved one and yet is experienced as a true aspect of oneself.  In a similar but even more profound way, the ‘god-like constitution of our being’, as Joseph Ratzinger expresses it, gives us a capacity to “hear” on the level of our conscience the voice of God – a voice which is at once other and yet is experienced as one’s deepest, truest self.  We say, “That’s it!  That is what my nature points to and seeks.”      There is a very real sense in which the truths that the Church proposes for belief liberate our true self and give us our deepest identity.

But – and this is why the authority of the Church is not a dictatorship – we cannot discover this true self and deepest identity in isolation.   Cardinal Ratzinger says that ‘The “memory” instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself.’  This assistance is what the authority of the Church gives.  It is in no way set in opposition to our deepest identity.  Rather, it awakens it and affirms it.

To grasp this is to grasp what the conscience is and is for.

SJC

Joseph Ratzinger By Manfredo Ferrari

 

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14 October: CONSCIENCE VII: THE GUILTY CONSCIENCE

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Earlier in these reflections I said that conscience shouldn’t be seen merely as an irritating little guilt generator.  I was implying that guilt often shakes an admonitory finger at us for doing things that aren’t really bad at all.  Granted, neurotic guilt is crippling and needs to be healed.  It originates in our emotions and not in our true conscience.  But not all guilt is neurotic.  The ability to experience guilt when guilt is appropriate does come from our conscience and it is vitally important.  In his paper, “Conscience and Truth”*, delivered in 1991 , the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger affirmed that guilt safeguards the health of our conscience, indeed, of our very existence.

Let us turn to St. Thomas Aquinas for a few moments.  His teaching can help us to understand Cardinal Ratzinger’s ideas.

St. Thomas Aquinas says [Summa Theologiae I, 79, 13] that our conscience is what enables us to apply our knowledge of the truth to a given situation.  It does this in several different ways.  Our conscience is what “binds” or “incites” us, says St. Thomas, when we are considering a course of action.  When our conscience judges that something should be done it “incites” us to do it; when it judges that something should not be done, it “binds” us – or keeps us from doing that thing.

Further, says Aquinas, our conscience is the part of us that “witnesses” our deeds, sees us as we live our life and attempt to negotiate all kinds of challenging situations.  If we have lied, for example, our conscience witnesses this.  After seeing us lie, our conscience doesn’t turn around and go away, it judges us, telling us that it was wrong of us to do so.  In that sense, its judgment “accuses” us, and may well “torment” us, he says, until we have made amends.

Let’s consider another, very different, situation.  Perhaps, for example, we were misinformed about something and the on the basis of the wrong information, said something that was untrue without realising it.  Fortunately, as St. Thomas teaches, under those kinds of circumstances, our conscience is the very thing that tells us not to worry.  It “excuses” the deed.  Although others may blame us for saying that untrue thing, our conscience knows that we were not lying; we were merely misinformed.  It excuses us.  But our conscience, if it is functioning properly, will surely incite us to apologize and explain to anyone we might have unknowingly misled that in fact we were misinformed.

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Something is wrong when wildflowers, like these cowslips, no longer surface. MMB

In eight words, then, St. Thomas’s teaching can be summarised: conscience binds, incites, witnesses, judges, accuses, torments, accuses and excuses.   Not every word is a word that is comfortable to consider.  We do not really want to be judged, tormented or accused.  Yet, these are words that St. Thomas uses in a positive way and in conjunction with other words that are easier to accept. They all work together to help us, if we will be open to this process of growth.

Guilt can help us to grow, then.  Paradoxically, guilt can affirm my deepest self.  It can tell me that I am alive inside, that I am there, and that I am – or can be – better, greater than one might think from looking at the wrongs I have committed.  When guilt no longer surfaces within me when I do something wrong, then something else, very basic, is very wrong.

SJC.

* [Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth, presented at the tenth Workshop for Bishops, February, 1991, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., published in On Conscience, Two Essays by Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 2007].

 

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October 13: CONSCIENCE VI: Personal Conscience and External Authority

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If our conscience needs to be formed by truths propounded by the teaching authority of the Church, how, therefore, can our conscience be said to have within it “a law inscribed by God”?  That would suggest that we don’t need anyone to tell us what the truth requires of us.  External authority shouldn’t be needed.

This is one of the points that the then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed in a paper entitled “Conscience and Truth”, delivered in 1991.*  In the paper he asks, isn’t ‘conscience the highest moral norm which man is to follow, even in opposition to authority?  Authority, in this case, the Magisterium, may well speak of matters moral, but only in the sense of presenting conscience with material for its own deliberation.  Conscience would retain … the final word.’

With a profound penetration of the subject, Cardinal Ratzinger’s paper explored the question of whether conscience exists in opposition to authority.  We need to ask ourselves, he says, what faith is for the human person?  What is truth for us?  What does it do for us?  There are those, said Joseph Ratzinger, who seem to feel that faith is a very heavy burden that makes their life difficult.  There are those who feel that people who are weak perhaps shouldn’t be asked to shoulder the burden of faith, with all its moral obligations.  For such people, he points out, it is not really the truth that sets them free; rather they somehow feel that they need to be set free from the truth in order to be happy.  However, these are the attitudes that Cardinal Ratzinger’s paper challenges.  These attitudes, he maintains, come from a misunderstanding that exists on a deeper level – in a concept of conscience that is false.  To those who feel that faith and truth are burdens, he explains the misunderstanding they have about the nature of conscience.  He says, for such people conscience

…does not appear here as a window through which one can see outward to the common truth which builds and sustains us all.  Conscience does not mean man’s openness to the ground of his being, the power of perception for what is highest and most essential.  Rather, it appears as subjectivity’s protective shell into which man can escape and there hide from reality.

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Conscience does not open the way to the redemptive road to truth – which either does not exist or, if it does, is too demanding.  It is the faculty that dispenses from truth.  It thereby becomes the justification for subjectivity, which would not like to have itself called into question.

These deep and penetrating lines perhaps need to be unpacked.  We can do this by simply reversing the negatives.  Then one begins to see the beauty of Cardinal Ratzinger’s understanding of the human conscience.  Conscience is a window onto the truth that builds and sustains all people; conscience is access to the ground of one’s being – one’s very heart; conscience is the capacity to perceive what is noblest and most vital in life; conscience is the redemptive road to truth.  Surely our conscience, rightly understood, is a part of ourselves that we cannot do without, that we should never wish to suppress.

SJC.

  • [Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth, presented at the tenth Workshop for Bishops, February, 1991, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., published in On Conscience, Two Essays by Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 2007].

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