Tag Archives: original sin

January 9: The Virtue of Temperance, III: Temperance and Moderation.

shared-table-baptistsbroadstairs

Good food in moderation: Broadstairs Baptist Church Hall.

One of the words St Thomas Aquinas uses to speak about temperance is moderation. For St. Thomas, moderation is concerned with that place between the extremes of too much and too little. It is a ‘place’ that is not always easy to find because it requires us to make use of our reason – an extremely important notion for St. Thomas in his understanding of the human person. He emphasises repeatedly that the human being is a rational animal. In saying this he wants us to understand that as ‘animals’ we do some of the things animals do. But as rational beings, we have the capacity – indeed, it is an ontological imperative – to order our ‘animal’ life according to principles and values that mere animals cannot begin to understand.

Yet, our capacity to order our life according to the ‘good of reason’ is somewhat weak, because we are ‘fallen’ through original sin. The integrity of our being is affected, and there are times when our emotions and bodily instincts are apt to clamour for what is not truly good for us. We love pleasures of all sorts, and they are often what lead us astray. We are especially attracted to the pleasures involved with food and sex.

The pleasures of food and sex fulfil our bodily existence, and enable us to continue as a species. So far so good. The trouble is that they seem to suggest that we will be made happy by pursuing these pleasures to the exclusion of all else. But pleasures can deceive. If we follow the path of pleasure in an immoderate way, we will soon experience all the misery that comes from addictive behaviour – for the bodily appetites, if unchecked, simply cry out for more and more pleasure while these same pleasures simultaneously deliver less and less of the very pleasure they seem to promise. This kind of problem simply goes with the package of our fallen human nature. No one escapes it; we must all grapple with it. Temperance, understood as the capacity to moderate the requirements of our physical life in accord with the good of reason, is the virtue that is concerned with these matters.

SJC

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

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

dsc_0767-546x640

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.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections

September 10: Jesus beyond Dogma, VIII. The Doctrine of Original Sin is the doctrine of unnecessary death.

Adam&Eve (391x640)

Dryburgh Abbey

The Doctrine of Original Sin is the doctrine of unnecessary death. Forgiveness is not an external absolution from what we have done or failed to do it penetrates to the very core of who we are, making us able to become what we are receiving. The crucified and risen Christ reveals how wrong we are about God and ourselves with God, not wrong as in mistaken but in such a manner that we can give thanks for the joy of being wrong, and showing the non-essential nature of our mortality.

Chapter 9 of John’s Gospel redefines sin for us, with an understanding worked by Jesus. He was asked about the blind man’s affliction [whose sin was it]. Blindness was believed to be a moral defect, barring the sufferer from sharing cultic life through being unclean. Jesus heals him on the Sabbath – so much for cultic barring – then comes his exclusion. To recognise the cure would mean acknowledging Jesus as coming from God. Instead they become more aggressive in their questioning and finally throw the man out. He had never seen Jesus, his sight only returned when he washed in the pool of Siloam; but his witness increases from saying Jesus is a good man to saying he is a man from God – superior to Moses.

cave3 (391x482)

He comes more aware of Jesus during his exclusion – while the Sadducees are more and more hardened. Jesus says: for judgement I came into the world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind. Jesus has made no judgement as yet – it is by being crucified that he judges his judges. Jesus is the cause of the blind man’s exclusion – which means the blind man shares Jesus’ role as judge of those expelling him. Jesus does not do away with judgement, but with the accepted notion of judgement.

What does this say about sin? The ever increasing history of expulsions culminates on Calvary. As the story begins blindness is seen as a moral defect, making the man ritually unclean. The story finishes with sin clearly in the act of expelling. What the Gospel refers to as the sin of the world is being involved in the work of your father, the devil. Sin is the mechanism of exclusion, and they are blind sinners whoever is complicit in this. There is no problem with the partially blind – they don’t know what they are doing. The sinners are those who are, by choice, part of the exclusion process, claiming to know [see] they are doing God’s work.

Jesus doesn’t abolish sin, rather he identifies it for what it is. Sin is not what excludes [blindness] but the act of excluding by those claiming to see, and are doing God’s work. There has been blindness in the world from the beginning; only now is it identified and shows itself able to be healed – when not blocked by those claiming to know what they are doing and who persist in excluding. Peter excluded Jesus in betraying, but discovered, albeit painfully, that he could be forgiven.

We are all blind about Jesus, the light of the world come to enlighten us. He is rejected by some who, though blind, claim to see what they are doing. When the blindness in which we all share is compounded by actively excluding by any claiming to see – then is it culpable. In this 9th Chapter of John we have at once the world view of sin and the way Jesus has come to heal us of it. Human culture from its very beginning – with Cain and Abel – through our saying no to God is both murderous and mendacious.

This is the insight from the Resurrection. To believe in Jesus is to experience the forgiveness of sin, the risen victim of exclusions is forgiveness. Being wrong can be forgiven through accepting a relationship with forgiveness, it is the insistence on claiming to be right without the relationship that brings us to having no need for forgiveness – I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t need Jesus!

The first fruits of the Resurrection bring a new way of seeing God, along with a new undersaustintanding of humankind situated within death’s parameters – by our own choosing – prone to exclude in order to justify; but now revealed as capable of forgiveness for any who will accept this new way of seeing. At last, no longer clinging to I believe in God…but discovering how and why God believes in me.

 AMcC

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

19 February: Intergalactic Discoveries XXII: Peeeeeeeeeeeep! Peeeeeeeeeeep!

longshort

Peeeeeeeeeeeep! Peeeeeeeeeeep! Will Turnstone stopped walking across Margate sands and about turned. A policeman was gesturing from the promenade. ‘Are those your dogs, Sir?’ he shouted.
Will called Abel, who was leading the Chihuahuas, or were they leading him?  They all walked towards the Waste Land shelter, where the police sergeant had parked his Land Rover. ‘You should have them on the lead, you know. And surely these are not your dogs. I see them out with a tall guy with glasses. What are you doing with them?’
‘We’re walking them for Mr T while he gets some writing done, aren’t we Abel? Abel’s my grandson. And Abel had them on the lead; no case to answer, tear up your ticket.’
‘Someone said much the same to me once before, Mr Turnstone. You remember me, I’m Callum Waters from Saint Darren’s School; it’s your voice gives you away.’
‘Certainly not my grey hair,’ said Will, ‘but I could hardly forget you and Liam. I guess you’ve given up smoking now?’
‘I need to stay fit, driving round all day. But we didn’t turn out so bad; Liam was in the Marines, saw some terrible things before he left. He’s living in Donegal now.’
‘And you’ve seen your share of trouble, in your job, no doubt. I’m glad we caught up after thirty years. And one thing. Thank you for that day you told me to go home because I was still poorly. You were right. And Miss Everard was totally wrong when she told me you were a nasty piece of work. I wanted to prove her wrong, but it’s you that did that, even if she could not see it.
We’d best get these dogs home and this boy back to his parents. Put it there, Callum, you’ve made my day.’
 
 Will , Ajax and Alfie on another day. Chihuahuas hate rain or water in any form except in bowls for drinking.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

Autumn Evening Lectures at FISC: “What is theology saying?”

austinFr Austin McCormack will be speaking on Thursday evenings this term. I recommend these lectures to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what we Catholics are all about. Please feel free to come to as many of these lectures as interest you.
Start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation to cover expenses.
WT.
The subject of the course is:

“What is theology saying?”

7. 24/11: What about Original Sin?
8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?
9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

9 October: CONSCIENCE II: Presence to the Self.

Picture Friday wk 3 (1)

We are reflecting together for a few days on the notion of conscience.  Here is a passage I love from The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience.  This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection: “Return to your conscience, question it… Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness” [no. 1779].

It would seem that being present to oneself ought to be perfectly natural.  Why even mention it?  Yet, anyone who has begun to take seriously the challenge of living an interior life every day (and not just sometimes) soon discovers that it is far from easy.  Sooner or later, a painful absence of harmony within ourselves and with others becomes evident.  This is one of the results of original sin, and, as The Catechism expresses it, ‘…the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered….’ [see no. 400].

Our capacity to be present to ourselves, our capacity for true interiority is therefore impaired.  Unless we try to do something about this, we will only be living out of a small and superficial portion of ourselves.  We will be vulnerable to any fads or addictions that seem to promise release from our inner disharmony.  Without working on our interior life, without understanding what our conscience is, we will not have the strength to adhere to what is good.  We need our conscience in order to fulfil our human potential and claim our dignity as human persons.

Yet, many people today do not desire to be present to themselves.  We are apt to go to great lengths to avoid being alone with ourselves.  In the car, music must be playing, as it is in most shops.  In many homes the television is on all day long, largely unwatched, but providing background noise and the possibility of self-distraction whenever the mind is insufficiently occupied with the task at hand.  Now the Internet, with its instant communication, unlimited entertainment, and information on tap, means that some sort of contact with others whenever we want can entice us away from being present to ourselves.  Even people who have discovered how unsatisfying a life of self-distraction can be can testify that giving up their distractions was deeply challenging at first.  I doubt former ages were really very different from ours.  Our alienation from our deeper self is as old as the human race.  Self-distraction simply took other forms in other eras.

The reason we are considering the subject of presence to ourselves is to examine the necessity of living in touch with our conscience.  The quotation from The Catechism with which I began this post suggests that there is a step one and a step two with regard to conscience.  Here is step one: with Christ, with his grace, we must first work to acquire presence to ourselves.  This involves turning off the electronic media gadgets from time to time, it means self-discipline, prayer, a measure of silence and a willingness to be alone sometimes.  And step two: there must be some self-questioning going on.  We need to look at our thoughts and our instinctive drives and to ask them where they are taking us and whether they accord with true goodness.  In this way we will draw near to the reality of our conscience.  I would like to explore this in the next few posts.

SJC.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

Are we listening? Open Lectures at FISC.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

September 10: Interruption: Evening Talks at FISC this Autumn.

austin

Our writer Friar Austin (AMcC) is proposing to offer the following series of talks next term. These will be given on Monday Evenings at 7.00 from 10th October (TBC).

1.  Can Church teaching change?

2. What did God really reveal?

3. What about Papal infallibility?

4. Explain the Eucharist.

5. Who is Jesus Christ?

6. What difference does Grace make?

7. Have we forgotten Original Sin?

8. What morality did Jesus teach?

9. Renounce the world or change it?

10. Is there salvation in other religions?

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Interruptions

July 24, John Cassian VIII: Storing up Honey

 

 

Yesterday we saw that Cassian teaches the necessity of interior “fasting.”  The person who does not practice fasting from cynicism, jealousy, anger and so forth, on the level of his heart, stores up poison there.  These vices, largely connected with the way we view our neighbour, are so many offences against love of neighbour, therefore.

For Cassian in the fifth century, as for us in the twenty-first, the wisdom lies in “owning” our problems, as we say now.  Then we are less apt to project them onto a friend, spouse, colleague, son or daughter.  Cassian goes even deeper.  There is a profound benefit to be gained within the vessel of the heart if we own our problems.  It changes not only the way we look at others, it changes our very heart.  Here is what he advises:

[We] must not seek all kinds of virtue from one person.  For there is one adorned with the flowers of knowledge, another who is more strongly fortified by the practice of discretion, another who is solidly founded in patience, one who excels in the virtue of humility and another in that of abstinence, while still another is decked with the grace of simplicity.  Therefore [he] who, like a most prudent bee, is desirous of storing up spiritual honey must suck the flower of a particular virtue from those who possess it more intimately and he must lay it up carefully in the vessel of his heart (Institutes 5:IV).

If we can manage to overlook the rather flowery fifth-century language, we can see that this is good news indeed.  There is nothing unrealistic here.  The person described by Cassian knows that no one possesses every virtue in its fullness.  But rather than despairing, or posing as the perennial critic, such a person is beginning to realise that every sign of goodness he finds in others represents a great victory for grace.  He accepts that there will be a certain unevenness in the goodness of all people.  Still, to recognise what is good in others is to “store up spiritual honey.”  This bears fruit on the level of his heart.  It becomes “sweet.”

SJC.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

July 23, John Cassian VII: What are we Storing Up?

mercy.eastend (640x480) 

Say we have persevered in our endeavour to face our “shadow”, and to dispossess ourselves of superfluous material goods.  Say we have even managed to make some headway here, and have not slipped back into “compulsive consumerism”, but have gradually come to live a life of greater freedom from such an addiction.  Then, Cassian challenges us to take a closer look at the vessel of our heart.  This is what he says to those who have begun to do the real work of facing their evil thoughts:

…[W]e should not believe that mere fasting from visible food can suffice for our [purity] of heart if a fasting of the soul has not also been joined to it, for it has its own harmful foods by which it is fattened.  Its food is detraction, and it is delightful indeed.  Its food is anger, as well.  Envy is the food of the mind, corrupting it ceaselessly with someone else’s prosperity and success.  Vainglory is its food.  If, then, we abstain from these as much as we are able, we shall well and aptly observe bodily fasting (Institutes 5:21).

 

mercylogoThe heart needs to fast, according to Cassian.  Gluttony has a spiritual counterpart.  A true Christian is not one who lives and eats abstemiously, while maintaining the personality of a cynical critic.  He is a person who knows his own imperfections and is therefore able to be merciful to others as they struggle with their own weaknesses.

The question, ‘What are we storing up?’ has many layers.  Have we noticed pride in our heart, maybe?  Anger?  Impatience?  With searing insight, Cassian says,

Sometimes, when we have been overcome by pride or impatience we complain that we are in need of solitude, as if we would find the virtue of patience in a place where no one would bother us, saying that [our faults] stem not from our own impatience but from our neighbours’ faults.  But, as long as we attribute our own wrongdoing to other people, we shall never be able to get near to patience (Institutes 8: XVI).

Here, John Cassian enjoins us simply to own our problems and not pine for an existence free of all annoyances in the belief that under such circumstances our anger and impatience would disappear.  Disturbances to our supposed equilibrium do not cause our moral weaknesses, teaches Cassian; on the contrary, they merely expose them.  If we were never provoked, we would imagine ourselves to be virtuous, whereas in fact, we simply have not been put to the test.

SJC.

Picture: CD.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections