Tag Archives: nature

5 March. Chesterton: A Second Childhood

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Today’s poem also comes from The Ballad of Saint Barbara. A Second Childhood  by GK Chesterton  urges us not to ‘grow too old to see / Unearthly daylight shine’. May we, despite our sins, grow ever new as we grow old; and may we never grow too old! And may we stop and stare, and Laudato Si!

When all my days are ending
And I have no song to sing,
I think I shall not be too old
To stare at everything;
As I stared once at a nursery door
Or a tall tree and a swing.

Wherein God’s ponderous mercy hangs
On all my sins and me,
Because He does not take away
The terror from the tree
And stones still shine along the road
That are and cannot be.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for wine,
But I shall not grow too old to see
Unearthly daylight shine,
Changing my chamber’s dust to snow
Till I doubt if it be mine.

Behold, the crowning mercies melt,
The first surprises stay;
And in my dross is dropped a gift
For which I dare not pray:
That a man grow used to grief and joy
But not to night and day.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for lies;
But I shall not grow too old to see
Enormous night arise,
A cloud that is larger than the world
And a monster made of eyes.

Nor am I worthy to unloose
The latchet of my shoe;
Or shake the dust from off my feet
Or the staff that bears me through
On ground that is too good to last,
Too solid to be true.

Men grow too old to woo, my love,
Men grow too old to wed:
But I shall not grow too old to see
Hung crazily overhead
Incredible rafters when I wake
And find I am not dead.

A thrill of thunder in my hair:
Though blackening clouds be plain,
Still I am stung and startled
By the first drop of the rain:
Romance and pride and passion pass
And these are what remain.

Strange crawling carpets of the grass,
Wide windows of the sky:
So in this perilous grace of God
With all my sins go I:
And things grow new though I grow old,
Though I grow old and die.

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18 September: What is Theology Saying? XXVIII: a work of Grace is a work of nature.

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The Eildon Hills in the countryside where Duns Scotus was born.

From the Second Century to the time of Saint Augustine in the Fifth, Church teaching felt it imperative to defend God in the freedom of salvation against those emphasising self-perfection through sheer moral effort. The Twelfth Century saw Grace as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, emphasising God’s initiative. Duns Scotus – at the end of the Thirteenth Century – said grace is the supernatural habit of Charity, grace is a loving disposition.

What matters is that God’s grace is necessary for everyone. It is redemptive, healing grace in a broken world in which we have never seen anyone attaining natural happiness by human effort independently of God. Karl Rahner makes two points: in the historical situation in which we find ourselves we have been called by God to a life of grace. This call applies to everyone – pure nature people did not, do not and will not exist. Secondly, if grace has any meaning at all, it is God’s invitation, working at the core of human existence – working through our humanness, spontaneity and creativity – our ability to think and take possession of our being and make appropriate decisions. This means that Grace cannot be separate from the realm of experience. It can only be a change in the way we experience life. The supernatural cannot be regarded as beyond consciousness, if it were it would make no sense.

It is not necessary to suppose that God’s offer of friendship is communicated in an extra-sensory way outside our experience. It is communicated by the happening of Jesus in the world, and by the community of believers extending through history. So if we ask what difference Grace makes, it makes all the difference in the world to everything and everybody. But if we ask someone to point out exactly the effects of grace in a situation, in contrast to natural efforts alone – it is not a valid question. Grace is not parallel to nature, but transforms and sustains it. Everything that is a work of Grace is also a work of nature, there is no way of separating them and looking at them one at a time.

AMcC

John Duns Scotus’ homeland in the Scottish borders.

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7 July: What do the Saints know? Part II, 7; Conclusion: What do the living saints know?

What do the living saints know?

Perhaps, first, they are not afraid to know divine things with a kind of knowledge that makes room for mystery. This ‘base-note’ was sounded when we were looking at faith, and it plays continuously. Faith is the habit of mind in which we assent to what is ‘non-apparent,’ says Thomas. Our existence is usually geared to what is apparent on the level of our senses. But there is emphatically another level. St. Thomas tells us (or me, anyway) to trust it.

Second, perhaps saints on earth know – unforgettably – that they are on a trajectory headed towards the fulfilment of our deepest hopes not in this life, but in the next. Yet, surely, they are also unforgettably aware that eternal happiness has its beginnings now. St Thomas teaches that through the virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, our whole being can be directed to God – and not merely God outside and beyond us. The theological virtues tap a new spring within us where God dwells, making Himself known. Now. Today. This very moment!

Third, perhaps the saints are more aware of the gift of God. God gives us the beginnings of eternal life, He gives us His ‘wide lap’ to support us, He gives us His happiness. And Thomas makes it clear that God is not stingy with His gifts. They are for everyone.

Lastly, perhaps the living saints are more willing to undergo the process that gives us connaturality with divine things. It strikes me that the virtues of faith, hope and charity are not so much virtues that we have, as virtues that have us. Through faith we allow God’s truth to form us. Through the virtue of hope, we allow our egg-sized hopes to be stretched to something more ‘heaven-sized’. Suffering can be seen as part of that stretching process. As we lean on God’s help, He leads us to the virtue of charity. Through the virtue of charity, we consent to ‘suffer’ divine things. The deepest, most divine thing, as we know, is Christ crucified. We learn to love as Christ loved by undergoing something of what He underwent. Through this process the Holy Spirit creates in us that connaturality with divine things for which we hunger on the deepest level of our being.

SJC

Many thanks, Sister Johanna, for this series of reflections. Maybe we now ought to read Pope Francis’s ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ to help the message sink in and stretch ourselves to eternal-life-size.                                                                                                                                WT.

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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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4 July, What do the Saints Know? Part II, 4: HOPE: The Gift of Filial Fear

The image of God having a ‘lap’ that we looked at in the last post chimes with the gift of the Holy Spirit that strengthens hope. St. Thomas calls the gift “filial fear” (II.II.19:9) – the fear not of a slave for his master, but of a son/daughter, “whereby”, he continues, “what we fear is not that God may fail to help us, but that we might withdraw ourselves from his help. Wherefore filial fear and hope cling together, and perfect one another.”

This reminds me of something Jean Vanier* said in a talk once that I was privileged to hear. He said that the only thing to fear in our relationship with God is not that we might get angry with God over the sufferings we are going through. Anger with God isn’t the problem. It is the fact that we might just start to ‘tune God out’ he said, just stop turning to Him, stop praying to Him, just switch off. This fear of switching God off is an excellent description of ‘filial fear’. The saints know themselves. They know that they are at risk of turning away from God. They don’t want to.

This loving language of leaning and clinging that St. Thomas uses in writing of hope suggests connaturality again. In the virtue of hope, it becomes connatural to lean more on God than on the self. We’re looking for the kind of mentality the saints have. A certain peaceful leaning-on-God-mentality must be what becomes connatural to them as hope grows within them.

SJC

*Jean Vanier, born in 1928, is a Catholic philosopher, theologian and author. In 1964 he founded L’Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. His vision was that disabled individuals would live together in community as equals with those who are not disabled, in a sharing of life and of gifts that is profoundly healing and enriching for all community members. There are now L’Arche communities spread over thirty-seven countries. Jean Vanier has authored at least thirty books on religion, disability, community, human development. He has received numerous honours and awards, including the Community of Christ International Peace Award (2003), and the Templeton Prize (2015).

Images from L’Arche in India, England and Syria.

 

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July 1: What do the Saints Know? Part II, Normal People.

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With great timing, Sister Johanna prepared these thoughts not long before Pope Francis issued his challenge, ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’, calling each of us to be a saint right where we are. Thank you once again, Sister!

St. Thomas Aquinas, Connaturality and the Theological Virtues

Introduction to Part II

In previous posts I explored with readers some aspects of the virtue of faith. We are looking at the question, what do the saints know? I am talking about living saints, walking about on this earth now, struggling with life’s complexities and their own weaknesses. Normal people. What do they know that enables them to become living saints, generous and joyful? We are still looking at this question, and I am using St Thomas Aquinas’s teaching in his Summa Theologiae to guide my thoughts.

When we looked at the virtue of faith, we did this through the lens of an idea of St. Thomas’s that has intrigued me for a long time: the notion of connaturality with divine things. St. Thomas describes faith, hope and charity as gifts of a loving God that are filled with his presence, and that enable us to grow in grace through a knowledge of his very being. That grace makes us participate in his life in a way that enables us to become connatural with him. We saw some ways in which the virtue of faith works upon our soul. Let us turn now to the virtue of hope.

SJC

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10 June: What do the Saints know? I, Introduction

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Welcome back to Sister Johanna OSB of Minster Abbey. Today we resume the Sundays in Ordinary Time after Easter, Pentecost, Trinity and Corpus Christi. And what gets us through ordinary time but the great virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, also called the Theological Virtues because they tell us about God, each one in its own way. Over to you, Sister Johanna!

St. Thomas Aquinas, Connaturality and the Theological Virtues

Part I

  1. Introduction

I was recently asked to give a talk to a group of retreatants visiting my monastery. This was a group with a particular interest in exploring the relationship between theology and prayer. The leader of the group had proposed ahead of time that we all reflect on the question, “What do the Saints Know?” and prepare a talk on this subject.

I was delighted with the question, and loved pondering it. It intrigued me to imagine the kind of knowledge of God enjoyed by the saints – I mean living saints who are walking about now on this earth and have not yet entered into eternal life with God – the ones who have struggled with the complexities of existence; the ones who desire to know God but feel that they have a long way to go. How do such strugglers arrive at sanctity? Do they develop a special ability to ‘know’ God, I wondered?

This thought led me back to something I discovered when studying the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas several years ago. St. Thomas is not always the easiest theologian to read and understand, but I have learned an enormous amount from him. I have presented some of my findings in previous posts. I think Thomas has something to offer now as we seek to understand what the saints know. This may be found in his teaching on the gift of connaturality with divine things – indeed, with God himself. This rather overlooked theme in the Summa of St Thomas underlies much of his teaching on human growth in divine grace. The reflections which will follow in the posts this week are based on Part II of the Second Part of the Summa Theologica. And they represent my personal dialogue with the text as I have read and pondered his words for my lectio divina.

Photo: On a journey. MMB.

 

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25 December. Five notes: Father Andrew at Christmas, III.

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More from Fr Andrew’s Introduction to his book of Carols.

The Mystery of the Incarnate Love has brought to us, first of all, a revelation of simplicity. Theology teaches us that the life of God is a simple act, and, since God is Love, that act must surely be, however expressed, an act of love; and here in the little Babe laid in the midst of the straw of our human poverty is the simple appeal and revelation of the love of God.

The second note is sympathy, and that in the direct meaning of the word – ‘suffering with.’ We cannot understand the mystery of suffering, and really there is no particular reason why we should, since God has suffered with us, and one of the sufferings of God was this very mystery of suffering, for did not He take upon His lips the great classic words of the twenty-second Psalm and cry in His own darkness, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’

The third note is joy. These poems and carols all have in them a note of joy and a note of pain. Laughter and tears are mingled in these Christmas songs.

The fourth is the sacredness of human nature. God joined together flesh and spirit. Sin put these asunder, and by the fall of man the flesh, which was only lower than spirit in condition and degree, became lower also in quality, and by the taint and twist of original sin this human nature of ours was made to seem a bad thing, as though the flesh were, in God’s intention, the enemy of spirit. In the coming of the Holy Child, when the angels sang their Gloria, once more flesh and spirit were united in perfect oblation.

The fifth note, which contains in it all else, is love. Over the cross, over the manger, over the altar, one can write the golden words, ‘God is Love.’

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November 21: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxi – ‘Challenged to respond unconditionally’.

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NASA

Faith has more to do with getting the right question, not necessarily the right answer. Nature has its own unique way of asking questions. Everything from galaxies to people is gifted in love. This is so because the relating in everything is attracted by goodness. God is unconditional love; don’t waste time trying to persuade God to love – we have always been loved. We tend to seek and offer love with conditions attached – so that unconditional love is unknown territory for us. Jesus is God’s Word that we are loved unconditionally. If I am loved unconditionally, I am being gently challenged to respond unconditionally.

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This was a step too far for the rich young man who went away – sad! This is not a request [command] from God that we must respond in the same way – what matters is that we love whatever unconditionally; there is no real experience of love where there are conditions. Loving God means being one with God in loving without conditions – notice loving, not necessarily loving God. The only way we can co-create our world is by becoming unconditional lovers.

Love changes everything – says the song [Les Miserables]. The major change is that where there is unconditional love there can be no hierarchical living, so we are now living by mutually empowering partnership. Co-dependency based on child/parent modelling has no place where adults relate inter-dependently. See the flowers of the field, the birds in the sky, they trust unconditionally so why can’t I? Love is not something to be performed, love is the unconditional response to unconditional gift.

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November 5, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: v – ‘the danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness’.

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It is far from true to say that the majority of thoughtful young adults today have abandoned religion. My experience is that it is the denominational that is the issue. They want spiritual relevance and ethical responsibility, but cannot see it in any us-and-them ideology that has accompanied so much institutional religion. While formal religion seems to be on the wane, there is certainly a resurgence of interest in things spiritual.

For many, spiritual realities do not happen apart from some kind of formal belief; whereas human experience suggests otherwise. But how do we recognise these signs, and what are they telling us? Is it possible for a genuinely spiritual person to see institutional religion as irrelevant? We have inherited formal structures which seem to suggest they are a sine qua non – monogamous marriage, the nuclear family, formal work place and religious institutions with dogmatic boundaries. These boundaries translate as rules and regulations controlling personal behaviour. On the one hand, without these boundaries there would be anarchy; on the other hand, leaving such boundaries unquestioned is a prescription for disintegration.

Personal relationship with Jesus is regarded by spiritual guides as the ultimate criterion of genuine spirituality. I have experienced the closeness of God when walking in the countryside, or meandering along the coastline, or sitting quietly in chapel. I hesitate to use a human analogy to explain this experience, because it feels as if something greater, more profound is here. My hesitancy is the possible danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness, and in some way alien to the freedom of the children of God.

Does this sound a little pagan, worshipping the elements as in primitive times? Such statements seem to carry an element of certitude and clarity of faith – we know what is right and this isn’t it. We are so much part of the system that we easily adopt its labels. Take the word pagan. It is used frequently to denote not just opposition to formal religion, but devoting one’s time and energy to worshipping what are seen as replacements for the real God. Jesus said: do not be like pagans, those who make their authority felt – Mark.10.42.

It alleges that ancient worship of sun, moon and stars is primitive when seen from our civilised times. True worship of God is only possible in a civilised world, and is monotheistic. The ability and freedom to see our past in a more favourable light is one of the spiritual challenges facing us. It is not exonerating the past, but widening our horizons and seeing the unity in creation in ever new light.

AMcC

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