Tag Archives: purity

January 10, Thomas Traherne XIX: Joyful Sense And Purity

pilgrims way2

The Prospect was the Gate of Heaven, that Day
The ancient Light of Eden did convey
Into my Soul: I was an Adam there,
A little Adam in a Sphere
Of Joys! O there my Ravished sense
Was entertained in Paradise,
And had a Sight of Innocence.

All was beyond all Bound and Price.
An Antepast of Heaven sure!
I on the Earth did reign.
Within, without me, all was pure.
I must become a Child again.

Thomas Traherne

Interesting to see the Italian word ‘antipasto’, meaning appetiser or starter, was anglicised in Traherne’s day (1638-74). He was an Anglican priest whose poetry and meditations were lost till early last century. In this continuing Christmas season, it is good to be reminded to become a child again, and to accept and enjoy the moments when we find ourselves in a bubble of joy.  Just because the bubble bursts we should not think it is not real. WT.

The image shows the first prospect of Canterbury Cathedral seen from the West on the Pilgrims’ Way.

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18 November: The King II, Pilate and Jesus Meet.

cobblestones

We are preparing to look at the relationship between Jesus and Pontius Pilate with a view to exploring the theme of power as it emerges in the relevant texts of the Gospel of John (18:1 – 19:22). I would like first to summarise the passage immediately preceding the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. In John 18: 1-11we are told that Jesus had been arrested in the evening by a cohort from the Roman garrison, and a group of guards sent by the chief priests and Pharisees, all with weapons and torches – essentially, a lynch-mob. Jesus handles the mob with courtesy, cooperation and courage. Nonetheless, they bind him and, no doubt, shove and frog-march him to the palace of Annas, the high priest. Annas, probably realising after a short exchange with Jesus that he was out of his depth and could not possibly win in a dialogue with him, sends Jesus on to the next questioner. This will be Pontius Pilate and Jesus is sent to the Praetorium – his palace.

Pilate does not meet with Jesus until he meets Jesus’ captors – a rather unsatisfying encounter, I suspect, as far as Pilate is concerned. Jews were not allowed to go into the inner court of the Praetorium on pain of incurring ritual impurity, so Pilate must meet Jesus’ captors outside – a concession which must have rankled. But he complies, and questions them about the reasons for Jesus’ arrest. According to the text, they claim at this point simply that Jesus is a criminal and deserves death, and that they are not allowed by their religion to pass the death sentence. They do not specify what Jesus has done to deserve it (see Jn. 18:28-32). Pilate, none the wiser for this exchange, must now question Jesus about the reasons for his arrest.

Pilate leaves them, returns to the inner court of the Praetorium, summons Jesus and begins a highly revealing exchange with him. We see here two men who could not possibly have been more different. Pilate, with an abruptness suggesting that he is an important, busy man, asks Jesus the only question that could have any real interest to him, or any bearing on his judgement of Jesus: ‘Are you the king of the Jews?

Immediately, we see that the issue for Pilate is power, but he must hope that Jesus’ power is a trumped up affair, threatening to no one. He had probably encountered mad prophets before – they were not unusual in the Judea of Pilate’s day. So, Pilate’s question would, Pilate hopes, set such a prophet up to expose himself as a rant-and-rave religious fanatic. A wild-eyed diatribe on Jesus’ part would be most useful to Pilate and enable him quickly to dismiss Jesus as long-winded but essentially harmless; then Pilate would be free to move on to the more important business of the day. It is easy to imagine the slightly mocking tone of voice in which Pilate asked his question, much as one might use to a rather ill-behaved child, perhaps, or to someone whom one has already mentally pigeon-holed as not worth taking seriously. Pilate feels secure, powerful at this stage. Accordingly, his treatment of Jesus belittles him. We will examine Jesus’ response to this tomorrow.

Pilate went out to the street to meet the Jewish leaders.

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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.

 

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July 21, John Cassian V: What Next?

 

gate,oldgrey (517x800)

The one who has made an effort to cut down on superfluous material things will find himself less occupied by concerns about maintaining them, repairing them, updating them.  The heart begins to be free.  It becomes possible to pray more, according to John Cassian.  But this does not mean that purity of heart has now been achieved.  It is not unusual, under such circumstances, to develop a more intense awareness of one’s own weaknesses and sinful tendencies.

Rather than seeing unending streams of light proceeding from within, one may find what Cassian calls “evil thoughts” emerging.  According to Cassian, this shouldn’t come as any surprise, for Jesus himself warns us that this is what we are like: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15: 19).  Perhaps I am someone who has read that passage many times in scripture, yet, when I finally realise that this is a home truth about me, it can be shocking.

This is where Cassian comes to assist – not with false consolation that endeavours to sweep all the difficulties under the carpet.  He comes with true insight into the reality of our interior life.  Cassian enumerates eight principal vices, or “evil thoughts,” as he calls them.  He calls them “thoughts” because he knows that our deeds, whether good or bad, are conceived first as thoughts before they become actions.  So, it is there, on the level of our thoughts, that conversion needs to occur.

SJC.

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July 20: John Cassian IV: Renunciation Explored

me.time

John Cassian was aware that we often do not know how attached we are to something until we find ourselves deprived of it.  The resulting emotional fallout can surprise us.  This is precisely the reaction Cassian is trying to provoke.  This shows us how much our heart was filled with whatever material thing or things we are now trying to do without.

Cassian can seem to be quite radical about dispossession, but it is worth keeping in mind that he is not talking about destitution.  He is happy for us to possess those material goods that are necessary for our life, but if he were alive today, I am sure he would say, along with Pope Francis, that becoming free of “compulsive consumerism” through renunciation is vital as a first step to gaining purity of heart, and to entering into a new relationship with Christ, who was poor (Institutes 4:V).

The one who practices renunciation gives Christ greater access to his heart.  Although the person practising renunciation may have fewer material possessions than others, he is not bereft of what is most valuable, for what is most valuable is his relationship to Christ.

SJC.

Consumerism as a prison! Family Archive.

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July 18: John Cassian, II. Can my Heart Really Contain God?

 

 heart

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “…the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of ones’ being, [is] where the person decides for or against God” [no. 368].  This decision exists in the human person as a dynamic and constant impulse toward God.  In John Cassian, whose writings we are considering for a few days, the decision issues in the willingness to labour unceasingly to make the vessel of our heart able to bear the indwelling of Christ.

For Cassian, in order for this to happen, the person needs to gain insight into what he already has within the vessel of the heart.  And, recall, according to Cassian, we can’t say, “Oh, I’m not a vessel, so I don’t have to worry about this.”  For Cassian, the acknowledgement that we are vessels must be our starting point.  It’s how we’re made.  So, what’s in us, then?

Although the human person responds naturally to love, beauty, truth and goodness, and we achieve our human fulfilment through augmenting these qualities within ourselves, there is another, less sanguine aspect of our interiority to consider.  Cassian maintains that the vessel of the heart can be a place of conflict and temptation.  The decision for God must be made again and again, on ever deeper levels.  Purity of heart, therefore, is our goal, not our starting point.  This is what he says,

For the sake of [purity of heart] then, everything is to be done or desired.  This should be our principal effort, then; this should be constantly pursued as the fixed goal of our  heart, so that our mind may always be attached to divine things and to God [Conf. 1, VII: 1].

 

So, it is a given that we are vessels, but it is not a given that we are automatically pure of heart.  To become so: that is our longing; and everything we do should be done not just with this goal vaguely in the picture.  Cassian puts it more strongly.  It should be our “fixed goal”, our “principal effort”.  How do we undertake such a project?  Tomorrow we will look at one way to proceed.

SJC.

 

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Interruption: from the Rule of Saint Benedict

image by Fra Angelico

Today is the Feast of Saint Benedict, patron of Europe and one of the founders of Western Monasticism.

Here is an extract from his rule. Let my introduction be very short, for I do not claim to be inspired by divine grace, and Happy Feast to our Benedictine friends at Minster Abbey, Sisters Johanna and Mary Stephen!

Chapter 20: On Reverence in Prayer

When we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station, 

we do not presume to do so
except with humility and reverence.
How much the more, then,
are complete humility and pure devotion necessary
in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe!
And let us be assured
that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matthew 6:7),
but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction.
Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,
unless it happens to be prolonged
by an inspiration of divine grace.
In community, however, let prayer be very short,
and when the Superior gives the signal let all rise together.

Rule of St Benedict Ch XX

 

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May 22: A pure heart

raincloudsCaernarfon

Our David has returned to his Welsh roots, translating two hymns well-known in the Principality of Heaven. Here is Calon Lan, which I have set alongside verses from Psalm 51, which must have been playing somewhere in Gwyrosydd’s (Daniel James) the original writer’s head, as the verses flowed from his pen.

King David is making his peace with God after the miserable affair of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. And this is the great hero of Israel …

These pieces beautifully introduce a series of reflections from Sister Joanna Caton of Minster Abbey, on what it is to be a person.

WT.

Calon Lân – A Pure Heart.

I’m not asking for a luxurious life, the gold of the world or its pearls,

I’m asking for a happy heart, an honest heart and a pure heart.

Refrain: A pure heart full of goodness is lovelier than the lily,
Only a pure heart can sing day and night.

 

If we wish for the world’s wealth: it’s got fast wings,

But the wealth of a virtuous, pure heart brings everlasting profit.

Refrain:

 

My wish in the late morning is to ascend on wings of song

So God, for the sake of my soul, give me a pure heart.

Refrain:

Translated DBP.

Katherine Jenkins sings Calon Lan

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

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