In the hands of the wicked
Revisiting ‘The Imitation of Christ’ after many years, in my Grandmother’s 1936 edition, I realise that it is very self-centred. Here Thomas A Kempis takes the Desert Fathers and Mothers as examples of the Christian life; ‘They hated their lives on earth that they might have life in eternity. ‘ Is that what the Lord asks of us? Do we have to be strangers to the world in order to be intimate friends of God? I think not. Walking in charity and patience surely demands that we live in the world, and love the people in it and indeed the whole of creation, and our own life in it. Loving God’s creation which we can see, is to love the God we cannot see. Love of creation, rather than contempt for it, will bring us back from the brink of destruction. But here is The Imitation: I hope the time spent reading it is profitable!
Consider the lively examples set us by the saints, who possessed the light of true perfection and religion, and you will see how little, how nearly nothing, we do. What, alas, is our life, compared with theirs?
The saints and friends of Christ served the Lord in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in work and fatigue, in vigils and fasts, in prayers and holy meditations, in persecutions and many afflictions. How many and severe were the trials they suffered — the Apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and all the rest who willed to follow in the footsteps of Christ! They hated their lives on earth that they might have life in eternity.
How strict and detached were the lives the holy hermits led in the desert! … They used all their time profitably; every hour seemed too short for serving God, and in the great sweetness of contemplation, they forgot even their bodily needs …
Strangers to the world, they were close and intimate friends of God. To themselves they seemed as nothing, and they were despised by the world, but in the eyes of God they were precious and beloved. They lived in true humility and simple obedience; they walked in charity and patience, making progress daily on the pathway of spiritual life and obtaining great favour with God. They were given as an example for all religious, and their power to stimulate us to perfection ought to be greater than that of the lukewarm to tempt us to laxity.
Taken from the translation by Aloysius Croft and Harold Bolton, Digitized by Harry Plantinga, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1994. This etext is in the public domain.
Here is Thomas Merton in January 1966, writing from his snow-bound hermitage.* A challenge to us all to root our mission in our poverty; having first accepted that innate poverty as the norm.
In all these things I see one central option for me: to let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in ‘my’ ways. What matters is to love, to be in one place in silence, if necessary in suffering, sickness, tribulation, and not try to be anybody outwardly.
Yet daily we are encouraged to ‘get somewhere’ to be someone outwardly. Love can get pushed to the margins. We can get tied to policies, mission statements, and so on. Let go!
Tomorrow we celebrate the uprooting of the Holy Family to go into suffering and tribulation. Merton had to let go in a different fashion to the man we hardly know: Joseph the carpenter.
Learning to Love, Journals Vol 6, Ed Christine M. Bochan, HarperCollins San Francisco 1999 p15
Here, as promised, is Francis as a young man giving back to his father the fine clothes he had earned or been given in the course of the family business. During Mass at the Upper Basilica in Assisi, we found ourselves seated next to this Giotto fresco. A rather worried looking bishop is covering Francis’s nakedness with a towel. I can’t help but wonder what is going through the episcopal mind: this is not an everyday scene. Was he trying to keep the peace between father and son?
Many families have moments of truth, if less dramatic. We don’t expect our children to turn their backs so determinedly on all that we parents have worked for, worked hard for in the case of the prosperous merchant: his long days of travelling, hours of hard bargaining and of learning to appreciate the skill of the weavers and embroiderers who supplied him. Perhaps the bishop’s own vestments were cut from Mr Bernadone’s cloth, but he saw that it was good, and so was the comfortable family life it brought.
Francis is not turning his back on his father and on riches, but in a gesture of prayer, he offers them to his Creator. He is learning how to be a creature, rather than a self-made man.
So who is called to sacrifice here? Francis has made his decision and by this gesture he makes it public. He will live openly dependent on God, utterly crazy in the eyes of his father who has constructed a secure home with every mod con, including servants. Peter Bernadone can see poverty any time he cares to look for it and he shuns it, the cold, filth, hunger poor people endured then.
Letting his son go must have been a wrenching, tremendous sacrifice; so I wonder who needed the bishop most, once this scene was over, the son or the father?
Abraham was called, challenged, to sacrifice his son, only for Isaac to be restored and redeemed, sent back to become a patriarch, an ancestor of God’s people. Francis was to live largely under the family’s eye, dying at the bottom of the hill on which Assisi is built, a daily challenge to his former circle.
Let us pray for the wisdom to handle moments of truth without antagonising any of the parties involved, and for the grace to be close to our families in times of trial and times of joy.
Image from Wikipedia
Filed under Daily Reflections, Mission
Tagged as Abraham Sarah, Art, Assisi, Bishop, Church, clothing, family, Isaac, peacemaker, poverty, prayer, renunciation, sacrifice, Saint Francis, work
Whether we are seeking to grow in prayer, or become free of what we have come to recognise as life-diminishing ways of acting or thinking, or to know what it is God wants us to do, it is in letting go that we make room for God. It is the Spirit that roots and grounds us in God, draws us into wholeness and guides us along the way that leads to life. If we try too hard, believing that it is only through the sheer force of our will and effort that change can happen, we leave little room for God. Everything is gift.
However ‘letting go’ is in itself a work, for our natural inclination tends towards keeping life in our minute control, depending entirely on our own resources rather than being open to another’s help, and bringing about change by the strength of our will and endeavour. To go against this instinct for self-sufficiency and self-definition can feel daunting; yet we let go not into nothingness but to ‘let God’ be active in our lives. In doing so we find that we too are alive in a way we have never been before.
- Put a stone in your hand to represent what you desire to let go to God.
- Place a candle or cross nearby to symbolize the place of letting go.
- Use the reflection below may help you to identify what you want to put in God’s hands:
We let go to God our regrets about the past – the choices we have made however we now feel about them, whatever has happened to us for good and for harm. God is in the place where we are, however we got there.
We let go to God our anxiety about the future. We cannot control what is in essence beyond our control – instead of torturing ourselves with fears that begin ‘what if…’ we let go to God who will always be alongside us in ‘what is’.
We let go to God what hurts. True we cannot switch off our painful feelings; they flow into our lives, but if we do not cling to them they will flow from us again, carried in the stream of God’s presence and care.
We let go to God our resentment. Even though the anger may not die down in our hearts we consent not to hold on to our need to get even; we give to God to heal what we cannot heal by ourselves
We let go to God our need to be good enough. God gives freely what we can never earn. We are valued, loved and believed in as we are.
We let go to God our desire for growth. It is God who continues to create us and who works to make us whole.
We let go to God the choices we face today. Though we do not know what to do, as we choose to listen, God will lead us along the unseen way.
We let go into God’s working: We consent to be drawn this day into the stream of God’s life: to become the activity of Love in that part of the world that is ours.
Filed under Daily Reflections
Tagged as anger, anxiety, Cross, emotion, fear, growth, healing, hope, light, love, passion, prayer, renunciation, resentment, sorrow
I promise you I did not know this Synod document was about to be published when I began answering your question, Is Christianity Dead? But there are good ideas in there to help address your concerns. I move on to the short paragraph entitled Going Out. I think we have to realise that when Pope Francis is talking about vocations he is by no meaning just the priesthood and religious life.
Pastoral vocational care, in this sense, means to accept the invitation of Pope Francis: “going out”, primarily, by abandoning the rigid attitudes which make the proclamation of the joy of the Gospel less credible; “going out”, leaving behind a framework which makes people feel hemmed-in; and “going out”, by giving up a way of acting as Church which at times is out-dated. “Going out” is also a sign of inner freedom from routine activities and concerns, so that young people can be leading characters in their own lives. The young will find the Church more attractive, when they see that their unique contribution is welcomed by the Christian community.
The church porch is important; each one is a door of mercy where people, old and young, should feel welcome to come in and go out freely. If that is not the case, how can it be remedied? What ways of acting do we need to give up? Pope Francis does not promise it will not be demanding.
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Tagged as care, duty of care, freedom, gift, joy, mercy, Pope Francis, renewal, renunciation, vocation, welcome, youth
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).
There is a tradition of open lectures at the Franciscan Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury, and in Fr Austin we have an interesting man who speaks from the heart but also from 60 years as a Franciscan teacher and parish minister. Not an ivory tower man. If some of these titles sound abstract, Austin makes them relevant to daily life. Discussion during and after the talks is encouraged and fruitful. I recommend these to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what on earth we Catholics are all about.
The course this term is on Thursdays from 13th October, start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation as you see fit.
The subject of the course is, “What is theology saying”:
1.Can the Church’s teaching change?
2. What did God really reveal?
3. How about Papal infallibility?
4. How should we explain the Eucharist?
5.Who is Jesus Christ?
6. What difference does Grace make?
7. What about Original Sin?
8. What morality did Jesus teach?
9. Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. Is there salvation in other religions?
Come and join us for one or more of these sessions.
Filed under Daily Reflections
Tagged as Church, Creator God, Eucharist, FISC, Franciscan International Study Centre, Franciscans, Infallibility, Jesus, morality, original sin, Popes, religion, religions, renewal, renunciation, Revelation, salvation, sin, teaching, world
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).
The 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.
Filed under Daily Reflections
Tagged as Benedictines, community, fasting, freedom, Heart, mercy, Minster Abbey, original sin, purity, renunciation, sin
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.
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Tagged as Benedictines, conversion, Heart, Minster Abbey, purity, renunciation, Saint John Cassian, Saint Matthew, sin, temptation, thought
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.
Consumerism as a prison! Family Archive.