Tag Archives: religion

September 16: What is Theology Saying? XXVI: What is Grace and what does it do?

somers.town. holy spirit

We live in secular times – in the course of the ages we have taken more and more possession of the earth and all it contains; we control much more than people of ages past. We also have better self-awareness – realising that customs, rules and ideas of order and beauty are not always shared by other societies. Customs and traditions are not the inevitable and only right way of doing things.

When we understood less we tended to see the transcendent God as the all-powerful organiser. This God made thunder when he was angry, sent plagues and disasters to punish and redressed everything that had gone wrong. God worked in unseen ways. Outwardly a man might seem good and virtuous, inwardly he could have lost God’s grace and be out of sorts with God and living in darkness. Lost God’s Grace – outwardly, before and after baptism there might be no difference in a person – inwardly there can be all the difference between night and day in that realm where God is active and inaccessible to our experience. As we began to take more control of the world, we also took more responsibility for what was going on – in the external world. We have lightening conductors replacing the sign of the cross; we have air traffic control instead of prayers for travellers; we have learned to seed clouds from the air instead of novenas for rain.

This has also made its way into the inner world of our spiritual life. We are starting to distrust ritual ways of obtaining God’s favour. We have reasoned that a person can’t receive additional charity unless we are really loving more and more. Accounts of the spiritual life, the redemptive work of Christ and the service of the Church are now sounding more like common sense psychology than strictly Christian teaching. Some are even doing away with the idea of Grace.

AMcC

Mosaic from S Aloysius, Somers Town, London, (near Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross). While I know trains are very safe, I like to make a pilgrim’s prayer if I find this church open. MMB.

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6 August: The Transfiguration of Our Lord.

path.charlottenberg.mausoleum

Transfiguration

Rabbis
Mullahs
Priests and Popes
All have their vesture
Set apart.

Your garment was seamless.

A gift?
Did your mother have it woven for you?
To become a lottery prize.
Where did it go
That day?

You had been dressed in purple,
Regally mocked,
Criminally whipped.

Replaced,
Your garment stained
Chafed the torn flesh.

Was it only yesterday …..
Last week?
More radiant than light
Its whiteness dazzled
Your beloved friends,
Foreseeing the blood as yet to flow,
The lottery drawn.

Would they remember
That time,
That day …… ?

Consecrated
To you
To your father
By your Spirit.

They left you
The glory of that moment fading
Overcome by the shame.
Rabbis,
Mullahs,
Popes and Priests,
Religious of all faiths
Bear your garments,
And I too,
… how can I write this? …
was given a garment,
Rough, coarse, not white.

Grey.

For my company with you,
… how can I write this? …

‘Keep it,’ you said,
For when you come.
Clean,
Fresh.
Grey against your radiance.
Surely it must be white by now …. ?
But grey, bland, indifferent grey
And greyer yet.

How can I come? So.

‘Listen to him’,
Your Son ….. Beloved.

SPB

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration. here is another of Sheila’s meditations. Speak it aloud and listen.

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1 August: Traherne II: not by the noise of bloody wars

berlin.charlottenberg.flowerbed

Thomas Traherne lived 1636-74, when the Reformation was still taking hold in England: the time of the Civil War, the Commonwealth, that joyless period, and the Restoration of the Monarchy. His fellow Herefordian, the martyr John Kemble, was a longer-lived contemporary. We will meet him later this month.

This is Traherne’s fourth meditation, heartfelt words from a man to whom the consequences of bloody wars and the dethroning of Kings were not unknown.

I will not by the noise of bloody wars and the dethroning of kings
advance you to glory: but by the gentle ways of peace and love.

As a deep friendship meditates and intends the deepest designs for the
advancement of its objects, so doth it shew itself in choosing the
sweetest and most delightful methods, whereby not to weary but please
the person it desireth to advance.

Where Love administers physic, its tenderness is expressed in balms and cordials. It hateth corrosives, and is rich in its administrations.

Even so, God designing to show His Love in exalting you hath chosen the ways of ease and repose by whichyou should ascend.

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July 31: Traherne I: We love we know not what

river.monnow.

The preacher deplored how some people claim to be ‘spiritual but not religious’; when looking at religion with something of an outsider’s eye  – as an often alienated Catholic – I have more sympathy than Father was expressing! We have to leave room for the Spirit to blow where s/he will and try not to get in the way.

Edward Thomas pointed me towards Thomas Traherne not long ago. This Meditation of his goes some way to defending the ‘spiritual but not religious’ soul. We surely cannot maintain that atheists and agnostics do not love.

Though it be a maxim in the schools that there is no Love of a thing unknown, yet I have found that things unknown have a secret influence on the soul, and like the centre of the earth unseen violently attract it.

We love we know not what, and therefore everything allures us.

As iron at a distance is drawn by the loadstone, there being some invisible communications between them, so is there in us a world of Love to somewhat, though we know not what in the world that should be. There are invisible ways of conveyance by which some great thing doth touch our souls, and by which we tend to it. Do you not feel yourself drawn by the expectation and desire of some Great Thing?

Surely the spiritual but not religious person feels so drawn? And if we church-goers are honest, at both institutional and personal levels, we have sometimes, often even, got in the way of the Spirit. Thomas Traherne’s theology of Joy seems a good way to enter the holiday month of August. Laudato Si!

WT

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10 April: More vital than cake …

These days, I guess most of us think of an indulgence as something we can enjoy but do not really need. Like a slice of cake with your cup of tea. That’s a simnel cake, a sort of  English Easter version of the German stollen.  A daffodil for the risen Lord and eleven dots for the more-or-less-faithful  Apostles.

We know that there were no recriminations from Him in those weeks after Easter. They were forgiven. Full stop.

 

upperroom tomdog

So how the situation arose where people were selling indulgences, and many more people buying them, is hard to comprehend, except that if you were led to believe that paying down a week’s wages would secure your place in Heaven, well, What price would you pay?

That was an Indulgence in mediaeval times. Follow the link to an interesting article about an Indulgence on show in Manchester. And What price would you pay?

As our contributor Tom points out, you would readily pay a week’s wages for eternal salvation.

Here then is a connection to yesterday’s post, both about wartime, but this is a story of the aftermath of the Second World War.

The same day as I read this article I was in the Archive in Westminster diocese and found a 1947 exchange of letters between Miss Winifred Callaghan, head teacher of English Martyrs’ School in York and Cardinal Griffin in Westminster.

She writes:

Most Reverend Father,

Kindly accept the enclosed £1 as a small donation to your ‘Children of Europe’ fund, from the children and some of the staff of the above school.

We would have made it more but many local calls kept us collecting. But on Friday we had a quick whip round with ‘your’ box, as we call it, and £1 resulted.

We ask your blessing and a prayer for us all please. May God bless you dear Father, from the children and teachers.

And not an indulgence in sight.

How blest the children of York, to have had such a head teacher! The generosity of many people, rich and poor, can be traced in the correspondence. They were supporting Germans, as well as Poles, Hungarians, Yugoslavians, Estonians: people exiled from their homes across Europe, Germans stranded in the New Poland, many people who could not go home to what were now Communist countries.

Forgiveness freely given towards former enemies, and plain Christian charity.

And not an indulgence in sight.

MB. TJH.

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23 March, Stations of the Cross VI: Jesus falls again.

heart.of.pebbles

SIXTH STATION
JESUS FALLS AGAIN

A Lawyer who tried to trip Jesus up in his teaching sees him fall on the way to Calvary. The story is told in Luke, 10, 25-37


I know this man, I almost wish I didn’t. I helped to bring him to this, but I never wanted it.

Look at him, covered in mud and bruises, he can hardly see for blood and sweat.

Remember the story he told when I was arguing with him? The traveller battered half to death, no-one to help him but the Samaritan.

Even with that big African helping to carry the cross, Jesus will not survive. No-one can do much for him.

At least that woman has wiped his poor face but still he falls.

And gets up and goes on.


Let us Pray :

Lord, never let us forget that you are there, even among the most desperate people, and those we seem unable to help : at home, at school, at work ; in the street and in the wider world.

Lord in your mercy, hear our Prayer.

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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

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1 December: L’Arche in India – newsletter

Dear Friends of Agnellus and Friends of L’Arche,

L’Arche Kent recently shared this newsletter from L’Arche in Bangalore, India.

asha vani_sept (1)  

I would also like to share this short video from another L’Arche community in India.

Bapi

Enjoy them both and tell us how you feel about them!

God Bless,

Maurice.

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November 30: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxx – Pray!

samaritanwomanBaptistery, Abbey of St Maurice, Switzerland

Institutional Religion at its best needs incarnational living – you say it, now live it – otherwise we will let intimacy decay into orthopraxy. This is why contemplation has a social element. The openness of the prairie alongside living in my backyard. In this way every difference can find a hearing and enjoy respect, when all becomes one in the mystery. For to know God is vital – more important than what I am going to do about it. We have differences of all kinds – this should tell us that we cannot all see God in the same way! What matters is to hear what God is asking and respond uniquely: as God has shown me what it was mine to do may God show you what is yours to do. It is we who are threatened by differences, not God.

I can trust myself because God trusts me. Nothing about me will be used against me – even my sin is forgiven! Sin shall not be your shame, but your glory – Julian of Norwich. If this isn’t good news what is? The Samaritan woman with 5 husbands doesn’t get a lecture on Canon Law; Jesus joins her where she is – by listening to her; and then invites her into freedom, and asks her to spread it around – he told me all about myself… and not just what she already knew! Do not be afraid – your life is respected and is working for your well-being. Nothing within us is as bad as our denial of it, since everything belongs.

To be aware of the presence of God is to be forgiven, to be cherished exactly as I am. To be holy [whole] is know God as total love and self as loved by God totally: You will enjoy the mystery of salvation through forgiveness of sin – cf. Luke 1.77. There is no room for forgiveness in a world of meritocracy, it can’t breathe in an atmosphere of rights. How can you have a quid-pro-quo where love and compassion are already given without the asking – fore-given!

The early Church believed universal salvation – apokatastasis – but it was never defined [or condemned]. Since I have brought good from the worst-ever evil, I want you to know I bring good out of lesser evils too – Julian of Norwich. God is the only teacher and the only lesson is love. Do I want Isis to be loved and forgiven? With the 11th hour labourers and the Prodigal along with his brother there’s no question of having to deserve. God cannot be where forgiveness is not welcome. It sets logic aside – what is appropriate is a time of quiet to make room for regret and repentance – not to gain forgiveness, but to recover self-respect.

A common feature of personal sin is the delight we seem to take in highlighting the sins of others. Forgiveness is costly, it is taking on a powerlessness by allowing nothing to keep me from being with – as God is freely and always with me – even when I am decidedly not with God [take up your cross daily]. What is at the heart of physical attraction, why are we fascinated by the image of another? How we relate to one person sets a pattern for my relating. It is bringing together our differences – human and divine, male and female, sin and forgiveness. So, who are sinners? Anyone who keeps all these things apart from each other – Religion – re-ligio means to reconnect; reconciling opposites. Christianity is the only religion believing in the full enfleshment of God – yet we seem to have problems with it.

AMcC

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November 20: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xx – ‘Self-serving paves the way for self-destruction’.

eildons (640x334)

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

 

Land still is an object of exclusiveness and power – everyone has their private property, with some having far in excess of what they need, and others deprived of basic necessities. Land is gift to be shared openly and freely. No one owns the land; to do so undermines its giftedness. Land is one, with incredible diversity, but to be fully enjoyed needs to recover its primordial unity. Likewise with buildings – every religion has its special places. But as Jesus predicted, the ancient Temple was not destroyed by external forces; it destroyed itself.

Palm Sunday Sussundenga, Mozambique 2015 01

When any institution becomes self-serving it paves the way for self-destruction. [Note much of Jesus’ ministry took place outside!]. Presence is more important than location; and the primary Revelation is Creation. Jewish faith evolved to a point where law became its central value when meaning was equated with observance; observance of law which soon became laws! This inevitably led to division between the observers and the unclean. There is only one law – unconditional love. Law has a place, provided it serves life.

For patriarchal cultures, family is the basic means of control; where children learn to obey, first the adults and then authority beyond the house; but family also suffered from power games. Once again, Creation is our primary family. We all belong where there is no place for hierarchy. We get our ability to relate not from nationality, skin colour, religious affiliation, but from our primary belonging.

The Holy Spirit is the relating power of wisdom – and is reflected in every form of birthing in Creation – the Spirit is the fundamental Wisdom that permeates everything in Creation – human intelligence derives from it. But we need to learn how to channel it properly: too much of a good thing can oppress. We read of the need to test the Spirit that is in us, to make sure we are open to the gift and not misled by our own version of it. The Spirit comes first, impregnating and bringing forth what is new.

AMcC

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