Please pray for the 16 Catholic men in HM Prison preparing for Confirmation at 2 pm Mass on Sunday next, 27th August.
Please pray for the 16 Catholic men in HM Prison preparing for Confirmation at 2 pm Mass on Sunday next, 27th August.
This picture is too much fun to use but once, so I will say that again!
Thank you to all readers, followers, and contributors to Agnellus’ Mirror. Would you believe I only met Constantina and Sister Johanna in the last month? Yet they feel like old friends. And some of our friends ‘out there’ I’m unlikely to meet face-to-face in this life… The net is a wonderful thing!
So please do keep on reading, following and contributing; I like the kaleidoscopic reflections in Agnellus’ Mirror, and I gather that many of you do too.
God bless – and thank you again!
Is a beach, a forest, a flower beautiful when nobody is looking at it? I remember such questions being laid before us at school to get us to think.
The answer can be many layered, from ‘of course it is always beautiful’ to ‘God sees it, and everything he made is good’, to ‘We must train our eyes to see just as we must train our brains to think.’
When I first got to know the Mermaid rose it was in a pot in the garden centre, but just asking to be grown against our house wall. It is happy there, despite its being a dry spot; so happy I had to prune it quite heavily last autumn before it scratched too many passers-by. Mermaid has vicious thorns!
So the blossom is a little late this year, but plentiful. However, there is another beauty to be seen: the shoots of new growth where the bush wants to regain lost territory. What a beautiful red, but it will last no more than a few days.
The answer to the question?
What did we read yesterday: we should be grateful to Thomas for his doubts – people do not come back to life, do they?
Thomas wanted facts. Well, more facts. That his friends, whom he trusted, were so changed by what they had seen and heard that Easter day, that was not enough. He probably saw himself as a prudent, thoughtful chap. And then when the evidence is flesh-and-blood before him his prudence throws him on his knees.
He should have read Sister Johanna; she has got me thinking. I trust she’ll get you thinking as well. Her series of reflections on the Virtue of Prudence might sound a bit dry, but take it from me, you’ll find well-presented food for thought. And Thomas Aquinas follows on nicely from Thomas the Twin.
I got to choose the pictures this time – a privilege, because Sister has a good eye for a picture herself – so I allowed myself the luxury of using this one. The houses at the back of my mother’s place represent Prudence since their builders chose a site and aligned the building with prudence to capture as much light as possible for the weavers at their looms upstairs. Of course there would have been no sycamores to overshadow them in the 18th Century, but no decent artificial light either.
When the series ends, I’d recommend you go back and read them all consecutively.
Yesterday’s post ended praising the will as a vital faculty of the soul. Today we are considering the notion of renouncing the will. But why would we want to renounce something as wonderful and necessary as our will? Didn’t we establish that the will is good? That it is an ally of the reason and an enabler of the life of virtue?
It is important to reflect that when the idea of the renunciation of the will occurs in spiritual writings, the literature is not talking about the will in this vital sense, nor in the sense of willingness, as we discussed in yesterday’s reflection. The recommendation to renounce the will is referring to that in us which is turned away from God in an ongoing attitude of wilfulness.
Perhaps if we look at the use Holy Scripture makes of the concept of the will we might better understand what we are doing when we renounce the will. In both the Old and New Testament, the concept of the will is used predominantly of the will of God. In speaking of the ‘will’ of God, we mean his designs, his plan for humanity. But the bible isn’t a text-book, explaining God’s will in the abstract, as though God were one thing and his will another. As an inspired text, Scripture gives the prayerful reader an encounter with God himself. This is, in fact, an encounter with his will, for God’s will is not separate from himself: it is himself.
In the daily practice of lectio divina, which is the slow and prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture, we have the unspeakable privilege of encountering God. This is why lectio has the power to speak to us on such a deep level. This encounter with the living God elicits a response of awe, reverence, love, and above all, faith.
It is faith that is the important word in this reflection as we consider the concept of the renunciation of the will. In the faith-filled encounter with the Holy One through lectio divina we are led by the Holy Spirit to give our very self to God. This surrender of the self is not an agonised act. On the contrary, it is a spontaneous response of love to the encounter with Love himself.
Giving our very self to God: this is what is meant by the renunciation of the will. We place our whole being at God’s disposal – we give him our will. But in giving God our will, we are certainly not left with a void inside. In giving our will to God, we unite our will with God’s will, and we live from that “place” of union and love. It is the “place” the Lord himself described when he says in the Gospel of John, ‘Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home in him’ (John 14:23).
Sometimes people make an outward show of action without their heart being in it. They are ‘going through the motions’. But before we dismiss the ‘motions’ in favour of the purity of the inner spirit, it helps to remember that we are bodily people; physical actions can help make our spirit ready. This is certainly true when it come to prayer. Choosing a regular place, posture, and way of beginning and ending our prayer can provide a supportive framework for the building up of our openness to God.
Place: Making a particular room, or seat, or walking route a habitual place for prayer. Of course we can pray anywhere. But through repetition the mind and spirit begins to recognise that in entering this place I am setting myself to pray. Your ‘place’ might be your kitchen table at a quiet time of the day, a bench in a park where you walk your dog, your seat on the train on the way into work, or a corner of a room in your home that you set aside as a meeting point with God.
Greeting: To you O Lord I lift up my soul. [Psalm 25.1]
Words or gestures you use to acknowledge that you have entered God’s presence. This might be the lighting of a candle, the bowing before a cross, or the saying of a particular prayer or a verse from one of the psalms.
Regular usage helps us move more quickly into prayer. We understand we are here for this purpose and for no other.
Posture: A physical way we set our bodies: sitting with hands open and resting on our laps, or, if walking, a slower, measured pace that begins to settle us down.
As these physical settings become familiar, our spirit begins to work in unison, helping us be relaxed, open and attentive.
Ending and moving on: Just as we have greeted God at the beginning of prayer, so we choose a way of closing this time, whilst remaining open to God’s presence and leading as we go about our day. Again this might be a physical action, words of prayer or a combination: blowing out the candle, bowing to a cross, or words from a psalm.
I am driving purposefully, signalling my intentions to cars around, moving forwards towards…
Hold on…where am I going?
I am going entirely the wrong way!
The trouble was the beginning of the journey was part of a familiar route and I’d gone into automatic pilot. I didn’t need to think about where to turn and why. So when I should have turned left I carried straight on – good for the journey I’d made many times in the past but not at all related to where I had to get to today.
Lent is a time for waking from the dream and more consciously thinking about where we are going. If I carry on this way will I come to a place I really want to get to, or am I simply going with momentum – the draw of the familiar. Which way is my life facing and what will happen if I carry on moving this way? There is a sense for many of us that we fall into a path others determine for us – be that to do with job, lifestyle or the roles we play; and there is often much that is good and true and necessary about this. But is this our all?
John of the Cross wrote of how there is an alternative gravity that draws us deep within our hearts – a gravity that those who heard Jesus responded to intuitively. This gravity draws us into relationship with One leads us into meaningful living; it helps us face our lack of wholeness and our entanglement, but gives us hope of integration and freedom.
The soul feels that she is rushing toward God
as rapidly as a falling stone when nearing its centre…
She knows, too, that she is like a sketch or the first draft of a drawing
and calls out to the one who did this sketch to finish the painting and image.
[The Spiritual Canticle, chapter 13]
Mark’s Gospel summarises Jesus’ Gospel this way:
‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.’
Repentance carries with it this sense of stopping to consider where we are going; do I really want to continue in this way? Or is there another gravity that draws me? Repentance is about desire and direction, not achievement or arrival. Those who responded to Jesus’ call ‘followed him’; they probably had little sense of where that journey would take them but chose all the same to go where he went. They sensed in their own unease the draw of another, inward gravity.
‘Where am I going?’
And a nod to Saint David with our illustration!
There is a rich tradition of art in churches in Sussex – from the mediaeval frescos at St. John the Baptist, Clayton, to twentieth-century works commissioned by Dean Hussey at Chichester Cathedral, to contemporary commissions such as Maggi Hambling’s The Resurrection Spirit at St. Dunstan’s Mayfield (2013). Our art is a wonderful resource for helping us to understand and reflect upon matters of faith.
We can also draw on the rich history of religious art in museum and gallery collections in Sussex, and further afield – whether by visiting these collections, or viewing images online or in books.
These notes and questions are intended to encourage individuals and groups to engage in a contemplative way with works of art in churches and elsewhere. It suggests a series of questions to prompt reflection and/or discussion of different types of works of art.
As we begin the Year of the Bible in the Diocese of Chichester this Advent, our art can provide a powerful focus for reflection on biblical narratives. Within these pages, you will find some specific guidance for looking at biblical art, as well as for other types of art you might encounter in a religious context.
No expert knowledge is needed to appreciate art – just an openness to look and to ask questions. Through spending time looking at the art in our churches, we can not only see it more clearly, but also in doing so, as St. Richard prays, know Jesus Christ more clearly.
Naomi Billingsley, Bishop Otter Scholar, the Diocese of Chichester, Advent 2016.
Statue of Saint Richard outside Chichester Cathedral.
Download the resource here: looking-at-religious-art-_-otter-scholar
When my ten-year-old godson was baptised, he chose a new name, one that was important to him: his Father’s name.
When my son was baptised he was given names from his grandfathers and godfather. Our daughter’s names, too, were chosen to say something about who they were and where they came from.
We can learn something about a person – and their parents and ancestors – from their surnames.
And so it is when Jesus is baptised; we are told something about him: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
While John was right to say that Jesus did not need his baptism of repentance, by accepting it Jesus witnessed to his relationship with his Father – a relationship John encouraged his penitents to renew at a personal level through a symbolic death and rebirth in the water.
Let’s pray for the grace to be faithful to our baptism by daily witnessing to our relationship with the Father and by daily renewing that relationship in our moments of reflection and repentance.
Acquiring a few virtues that might make us better friends to the wandering crowds seems to many a very drawn-out process. But Jesus stays close to our half-hearted attempts. It is he who makes us capable of a thankful life caught up within the immensity of God’s goodness.
“To see my deformities in the mirror of truth,
The life of Jesus Christ,
To see them, Lord,
In that blinding light!
Once I looked upon myself as a person of some importance
And my self-esteem helped to brighten my days.
I saw my charity – Love half-spoiled;
One look and my world dissolved
In dizzying, turbulent confusion.
In that mirror I saw my notion of justice –
A denial of true virtue, robbing God of his honour.
Though outwardly orderly and composed,
The heart, ever bolder, coveted all;
Its flood waters had submerged reason,
The reason it was meant to serve.
In your light, O Lord, I have seen my nothingness,
My less than nothingness. The vision compels humility.
….I cannot be reborn unless I first die to myself.
O glorious state, in the quiet centre of the void,
The intellect and emotions at rest!
I cannot swim in that ocean of fathomless depths,
I will sink beneath the waves, a man drowned.
Overwhelmed by… my sweet Lord,
I settle into the sands at the bottom of the sea.” (Laud 39)
Gratitude for recognising Christ as Lord within the vastness of God is the fullest art of celebration.