Tag Archives: relationships

February 21. What is Theology Saying? XLVII: What if Jesus had not lived?

50.40. pilgrimage

Jesus was not just a good man who founded a great religion. He is the Son of God, sent on a mission to transform the world by changing individual lives. Imagine for a moment what your life would be like if this wonderful life hadn’t appeared.

For two thousand years, followers of the loving Christ have carried his compassion and care to peoples everywhere. Nations have been won through his love. The majority of hospitals and other ministries of compassion around the globe have been launched in his name. Where there has been devastation through natural disasters, wars, or famine, people filled with God’s love have run to alleviate human suffering via the Red Cross, World Vision, and thousands of other agencies. Where would our world be without the love of Christ as expressed through his people?

What is our relationship with our world – with government, foreign policy, political parties..? Christianity is concerned not only with religion but with all human relationships between persons and groups – large or small. It is as much concerned with war, peace, poverty and race issues as it is with holy living [preacher stick to your pulpit]. It is concerned because these are the relationships that shape our lives; our way of living together and accepting our common destiny.

In Apostolic times the writers believed that history had more or less come to an end with Christ, and the Second Coming was imminent. This was no time to worry about politics and economics. They were to preach about the world that was on its way. They knew that Jesus had resisted all attempts to align him with the Zealots, who wanted to establish God’s kingdom through war and aggression. Jesus had said his kingdom was not of this world, he could not establish the kingdom using any kind of force.

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19 February. What is Theology saying, XLV: moral law draws believers into relationship

Other than in instances of dogmatically defined doctrine, the individual conscience holds sway.

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Like all Christians, Catholics see the Ten Commandments found in the Hebrew Scriptures as the basic groundwork for moral action, which together with the life of Jesus provide a deep and abiding understanding for how to act with love and justice in the world. The Gospel of Matthew relates that upon being asked which commandment was most important, Jesus replied that all of the law is contained in the commandments to love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40).

Catholics see this as going beyond the injunctions of moral law by drawing believers into a relationship with others as well as with God, and it is the foundation of the Church’s teaching on issues of social justice.

leo XIII

Leo XIII

From the earliest days of the Church, Catholics have performed works of mercy to help those who most need it, but the Church’s current involvement in social justice issues really took form in 1891 with the promulgation of the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum. In it, Pope Leo XIII called for workers to be treated with dignity and respect, protected by the state from exploitation, and allowed to form unions.

It touched off a flowering of social encyclicals that have become central to the Church’s work in the world. Catholic social teaching focuses on the dignity of the person as the linchpin for all discussions of ethics, politics, and justice. It is central to Catholic calls for the fair treatment of workers, for political systems that recognize individual rights, for responsible scientific research, for an end to attacks on human life in the form of abortion and the death penalty, and many other teachings as well.

AMcC

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18 February: What is Theology saying, XLIV: What is Christian morality?

What is Christian morality? In terms of content there is no Christian morality distinct from human morality. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the precepts of the New Testament are simply human demands. But there is something different about Christian morality – just as people in Old Testament and New Testament times saw these human demands in the context of covenant with God and solidarity with Christ, faith today obliges us to see the demands of being fully alive as a response to the call of God.

What difference does Faith make? It puts before us the attractiveness of Christ’s life – one that bears fruit in Resurrection, and promises the same Spirit, the same energy to anyone interested. Sensitivity to his values lifts lives above the minimum of good manners – turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, foregoing legitimate rights for wider benefit. Belonging to a community of faith also makes demands – sharing a Sacramental life, which is not the case for non-believers.

Important as these differences are, the basic moral demand is to become what we are potentially – fully human: “God is praised when we are fully alive…” – Irenaeus. And we don’t grow alone. Our roots are in the earth, and life and health and growth emerge from our relationships – we are what our relationships let us be. A moral life is to be in a right relationship to all of these. Our love for God is only known via the test of service – “unless you did it to these…”!

Sin turns self into God – and pride, lust, avarice, abuse and aggression are the certain fruits. Sin is not a problem, problems can be solved, sin is an ever present mysterious reality, in the world, the Church and individuals. It is a reality to be concerned about, but not to be afraid of: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more” – Romans 5.20. Jesus is the forgiveness of sin, but unless we are convinced of our sinfulness, how do we recognise our need for him, or rejoice in what he makes possible?

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20 November: The Road to Emmaus III.

pilgrims way

And it happened that as they were talking together and discussing it, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but their eyes were prevented from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What are all these things that you are discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped, their faces downcast (Luke. 24:15-17).

This is something new. Someone comes along and walks ‘by their side’. We know, because the gospel tells us immediately, that the stranger was Jesus, but the two disciples are clueless as to the identity of this person. Why don’t they recognise their dearest friend? Why don’t they fall all over themselves embracing him? This is a question I find impossible to answer. But it is certainly another of those experiences I have had any number of times in my life.

As I muddle along through the difficulties in my life, trying to understand what seems incomprehensible, someone, or something unexpected enters my life. At times, the unexpected has come in the form of a person – a new relationship is formed. At other times, the unexpected has taken the form of a new responsibility, or set of obligations that cause me to refocus my energies and open myself to new ideas. Do I always recognise Jesus himself walking by my side in these experiences? Well, no. Not immediately.

Many times, something new is mediated through the liturgy of the Church. I am a Catholic Benedictine nun. As such, I am in church at least seven times a day for the liturgy or private prayer. This is a real encounter with the living God. But am I always sufficiently alive to this experience? Again, I must confess that I’m not. Instead, I can be preoccupied by my own thoughts, my own version of my experiences, my own hopes and disappointments.

But rather than berating myself for having missed the obvious so often, perhaps this story teaches that this is a fairly typical experience for disciples to have. It happened to Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus. It happens to me. I am not alone here. Furthermore, the Lord knows what we are like, and does not leave us in our wrongheadedness any longer than necessary. We can be hopeful in a way that the two disciples couldn’t be, for we can remember that in this story, Jesus takes the initiative and helps the disciples. He came up and walked by their side. He comes up to walk with us, too. We will explore this further tomorrow.

 

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6 October: The Beggar by the station: what would you do?

Usually the only people wanting to stop passers-by on Station Road are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they do not sit in the middle of the pavement (sidewalk) with a hat on the flagstone beside them.

Often these beggars mumble a few words, asking for change. They may look at the floor, but they do not turn away their heads. This young woman did. She looked like Ruby, but with more flesh on her bones than when I taught her; I wasn’t sure.

Deliberately, I slowed down. She twisted herself even further away from any eye contact. She did not want to speak to me. A few metres on, and I turned about. Again she was turned away from me, deliberately, in the opposite direction this time.

I felt obliged to respect this decision, whether or not it was Ruby there. But if it happens again …

Other ex-pupils have crossed the street to avoid me; some have even crossed the street to  say hello. But such friendliness is a precious gift that they can withhold or offer as they see fit. I felt obliged to respect Ruby’s decision. If it was Ruby. Or even someone else.

I shared this story with Christina, who commented: 

In my encounter with the poor man on the street, I don’t believe that I chose wisely because I made my decision based on all of the wrong reasons. I was thinking of myself more than of him. In your encounter with Ruby, however, you made your decision based on all of the right reasons, thinking of her and of what she wanted, whether she was Ruby or not. There is that saying, “Beggars can’t be choosers,” but you gave her the dignity of choice. You may have wished very much that she had chosen differently, so that you could help her in some way… I wonder if this is like God in his relationship with us. So many times, He wishes that we would look over to Him, to let Him into our lives. But sometimes we sense our nakedness too sharply and would rather hide our faces from Him. In His love, He allows us this choice, though it breaks His heart.
Pax Christi

 

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September 20: What is Theology Saying? XXX: I long for God who is freely given.

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History is not just the logical narration of events, it is about human beings fashioning themselves within the places and cultures that surround them, making choices, relating, seeking to belong. There are two aspects to this: the one [Immanence] is literally living out things as we find them; the other [Transcendence] allows us to rise above what is – I can accept or reject what is the given situation, I can be open to a future that has never happened before.

These are not separate entities, but different dimensions of one life. We are beings already fashioned yet still in the making! To speak meaningfully of God can only happen from within such experience. “Experience” is a compound of two words: “ex” [from or out-of] and periri [try, attempt, risk…], it also is associated with the Latin word peritia [knowledge gained from experience]. Experience is risk, based on some form of justifying knowledge, the radical experiences of individuals attempting to face up to life. This is how St. John talks about his awareness of Jesus: “what I have seen, touched and held in my hands, this is what I preach”.

My spirit is not a reality alongside my body. My spirit is me, the whole me, my manner of being in so far as it is open to transcendence, a yearning for the infinite. I have a natural need for “God”. But if it is natural, why is there such talk about supernatural? God created me to be one with God, and my life gives evidence of this. This is gratuitousness, it does not have to be there, and it is put there, within me. The gratuity becomes apparent from the experience itself: I long for God who is freely given, it is from love, not command or force or coercion.

AMcC

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14 August. What is Theology Saying? XXV: Jesus is the sacrament of our meeting with God.

gate,broken (800x487)

We know exactly what we mean when we say Jesus is man, and in our experience of this we have come to understand that he is divine. This understanding is not as though we grasp something beyond our experience, but it is what we meet in our experience. He is the sacrament of our meeting with God. We can’t meet God as God, because God is transcendent – which really means unmeetable! The Apostles told us that to meet Jesus was to be present to the invisible and untouchable God. In Jesus people were and are brought into contact with God – he is the encounter with God, he is divine.

Jesus knew himself as the Messiah, that in him God shares himself and communicates his presence, bringing pardon and peace to the world. But when God utters himself in a created reality it will necessarily be provisional, something finite. Any reality in the history of the world as God’s creature, is finite. If God wishes to say something definitive through reality, this reality will have to have such an association with God as to be the reality of God himself though not identical. God’s reality and Jesus’ creatureliness remain unconfused.

In Jesus we have a human being intimately one with God and at the same time in solidarity with humankind. In his death he surrenders completely to God while showing total and unswerving love for humankind. The victory of God’s forgiveness is complete and irreversible; and in God’s acceptance – the Resurrection – Jesus is confirmed as God’s self-communication to creation. But what does this mean? Any revelation revealing God through finite means thereby remains open to revision – nothing finite is necessary. Which means that if this is so, the creaturely reality [humanity of Jesus] must in some way be God’s own reality. A prophet can speak in God’s name, but remains finite and can be surpassed; only God’s Word in person can be definitive.

AMcC

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12 August, What is Theology Saying? XXIII: Jesus was alive and present to the disciples

upperroom tomdog

We can see in the Nicene Creed two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate. It is only in recent times we have asked if religious statements were literally true – verifiable by observation. Our technology minded age is in danger of thinking that such verification is the only criterion of truth. As a result, new questions are being asked. One item in the Nicene Creed’s account of Jesus causes a special problem. It is not self-evident that and on the third day he rose again belongs to the first or second account. Saint Paul says if Christ is not risen then our hopes are in vain. We do not know whether Paul was thinking of the resurrection in the first or second recital.

We know that everywhere in Scripture, where we have testimonies of the risen Christ, mystery language is used – dazzling light, white garments, sudden appearances, ecstatic joy. No unbelievers had seen Jesus, and the guards told a different story. In effect, it doesn’t matter whether the resurrection belongs to the first or second recital, because the important issue is that it does hold the two recitals together. The apostles spoke from a faith experience, Jesus alive and present to them: something that changed everything for them. The evidence they gave was their own lives; alive in hope, joy and freedom – no longer cringing in that locked upper room – they were now living as a community of love and trust. Because they never asked was the Resurrection true as an observable fact, it never occurred to them to answer the question, and because they never asked or answered, we shall never know.

How could Jesus be truly human? Theology is never the study of God, but the study of man and his experience of God, because this is the only experience open to us. Focussing on Jesus is on a man in whose existence we have glimpsed the invisible God whose only image is man. In the experience of the man Jesus, especially in the way he met his death and his triumph over death, we have met the image of God who gives life and gives himself in a shocking and unique way, once and for all.

AMcC

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July 5: What do the Saints Know? Part II, 5: The Theological Virtue of Charity – All Gift

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I would like now to explore how the virtue of charity sheds light on our quest to understand what the saints know. [Cf. Summa Theologiae II, II, 23:1 for much of what follows.] St. Thomas speaks of charity, both toward our neighbour and toward God in terms of friendship, not only because Aristotle does, but because Jesus does: and he quotes the gospel of John, ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends.’ Yet, his is an exalted idea of friendship, as it refers to a depth of love that brings about an experience of mutual indwelling. This friendship, to be authentic, says Thomas, must be more than mere companionship. It must be directed to what is best for the loved one, and not for the self. It must also be a relationship of mutuality, so that the communication goes both ways. And, it must reach beyond the loved one to include what the loved one loves.

Thomas points out that charity is different to faith and hope. They allow us some participation in the divine life, but at a certain ‘remove.’ Charity, on the other hand, is not ‘removed’ from God. It is God.

Going through my notes as I prepared these posts, I found myself thinking with some impatience, ‘Yes, yes. God is love. I know that.’ But then I said, ‘Do I?’ If God is love, how do I even dare to ‘go there’? St. Thomas himself even says, in effect, if you take a good, long, hard look at the human person’s un-graced capacities, we should not be able to love like this (II.II.24. 2, 3). We tend to love in a way that relates to our own need, selfishly. So often, if we are really honest with ourselves, we discover that that apparently generous thing we did for someone was actually all about me. St. Thomas calls this kind of love concupiscence and not charity. God is supremely loveable alright, but, Thomas points out, our capacities tend toward what we can see, and our self-centeredness means that we often see ourselves more than we see anything else. What to do? In one of his most important uses of the concept of connaturality, Thomas explains, “No act is perfectly produced by an actor unless it be connatural to him by reason of some inner capacity to perform that action (II.II.23.2). Therefore, the love of God must be infused into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is the love of the Father and the Son.”

Charity is founded on a supernatural friendship of God with the human person. It is God who enables us to love. The initiative is God’s: God loves us first, God gets there first, to rephrase the First Letter of John slightly. He communicates his happiness to us, says St. Thomas, and the love that we experience in response is charity. God makes love possible for us. It is all gift.

SJC

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23 June: What became of …

gate,broken (800x487)

Simon had been a pupil at a school where I had once taught: that’s how we got talking about the disaffected lads I had worked with. Not that sunny Simon, whom I knew before I began teaching, ever had an ounce of disaffection in him in all those forty years.

But Luke did. He was ever ready to pick a fight with another child, then try to pin the blame on them when they gave him as much of a pasting as they could before they were stopped. One day he ran away on an outing to London, but was hiding in full view of the railway station cameras, so was soon rounded up.

‘Do you know what happened to these boys?’ asked Mary.

‘Luke’, I said, hesitating; ‘Luke met a teaching colleague years later, when he was a mental health nurse.

‘And then there was Peter, who broke my ribs, aged 11. He was found to have a severe wheat intolerance and was a changed boy when he cut it out of his diet. He completed secondary school at least.

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‘I was called over to a bench on a major railway station by a young man who introduced himself as Alan West – formerly known by two completely different names. “And this is Jill, we’re getting married soon. But I’m not telling my family. Jill’s my family now – and her family accept me.”‘

prison wall

While it’s good to share these positive stories, not all were doing so well when last I heard. Tony, son of a London prostitute, was moved very much against his will and our advice, from a foster family of a different complexion to one that nearer matched his own. He was soon in a secure unit, not allowed out of the new ‘home’ he was assigned by the court. An abuse victim who came to us at 12 was incarcerated at 18 for abusing other children. A lad who won my heart was murdered by his stepfather.

Please pray for them all; may the Good Shepherd seek each one out and bring him home.

We meet another prisoner tomorrow.

MMB

 

 

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