Tag Archives: responsibility

June 22: What is Theology Saying? X: Papal Infallibility II.

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So, what about Humanae Vitae? The German bishops, advised by Rahner, issued a statement telling the people the importance of the encyclical and its primary aim to protect the person and the sanctity of marriage. They also pointed out that the encyclical did not take from them their ultimate, personal decision of conscience in the matter of birth control. Some asked how this could be when the Pope had given his judgement on the matter and the Pope is infallible.

Rahner addressed this with a simple and clear explanation. The infallibility of the Pope as recognised by Vatican I applies only to solemn statements – ex cathedra – in which the Pope explicitly claims infallibility. And he can only claim it when it is clear that he is giving expression to the faith of the whole Church, when he is speaking for the whole assembly of the faithful. Pope Paul did not claim infallibility in this statement, but simply gave his personal judgement. He could not have claimed infallibility because his commission, which had studied the tradition from the past and the evidence of the world community of the faithful, had advised him to the contrary of his own judgement.

Some have argued that even when the Pope did not explicitly claim infallibility, the faithful should consider his words infallible and end all discussion. Rahner replied: while Catholics should always listen to the teaching of the Pope with respect, they would not be obeying Christ or the Church if they made no distinction between infallible and non-infallible teachings. They would be refusing to play their own role in the development of doctrine by leaving all the responsibility, unthinkingly, to one man.

This man does not have the experience of married people and cannot even put their questions to theologians unless married people describe to him their experience and the questions arising out of this. Nor does he have the expertise and time for research that theologians have. If the whole Church waits for him to ask the right questions and find the right answers, many will be shirking their own responsibility – and perhaps would deserve to wait indefinitely for answers.

We must be sure to understand papal infallibility correctly. An easy but erroneous analogy – the Pope has a private hot-line to heaven, and when he is stuck he gets a revelation to solve the problem. The communication is not drawn from heaven but from the tradition of believers down through the ages. They were taught that public revelation ceased with the death of the apostles, in the sense that the Church would not be given special answers from heaven to new problems; there will always be the need to search the Scriptures and tradition.

AMcC

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June 19: You have to help me!

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Abel was carrying the letter to the post box for his grandad, a job he took very seriously. As we got near, he looked up and said, ‘You have to help me.’

No question of his being unable to reach; it was a statement of fact: ‘You have to help me.’

No giving up because the slot was too high: ‘You have to help me.’

No getting angry at being set an impossible task: ‘You have to help me.’

 

There’s a lesson there which I won’t spell out!

(It wasn’t this box, but Abel would have enjoyed it as much as his Grandad did!)

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October 13: Decisions

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One of the aims of L’Arche is to enable all community members to take part fully without being over-helped at every step of the way; to be able to make decisions – and sometimes to have to stick with those decisions. So if someone opts to spend time in the garden, they don’t just turn up once and expect to be able to do something different the next week. That sort of commitment is part of being human too.

I’m reminded of a story told by someone from L’Arche who briefly worked for another organisation which need not be named. In L’Arche there are discussions about where people go on holiday and with whom, and in the event, everyone seems to enjoy themselves. In this other agency, careworkers chose a destination according to their own preference and the clients’ holiday budget. If a resident hated flying or Spanish food, hard luck, but the carers enjoyed themselves.

James’ words on August 28 bear repeating:

Providing ‘care’ to someone with particular needs enables the individual to live life with more freedom and independence which in turn offers more opportunity for them to care about—and be cared for —by another human being.

Does that sound easy? I remember from many years ago a young man who would refuse to leave the care home where he lived. If staff carried him to the minibus he would cheer up within a few minutes and enjoy the outing or holiday. And he would have been helping plan it all in the preceding weeks. If he stayed at the house, there would have been nothing to do, no-one to play football with. Which course of action promoted his freedom and independence? Which would be said to protect his human rights?

It isn’t always a small and cosy world.

Pray for Wisdom!

MMB.

Mosaic at Broadstairs Baptist Church

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June 10: Justice VI: Justice, Gratitude and Religion

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Abbey of Saint Maurice, Switzerland.

We have not yet talked about justice expressed toward God, but we need to. It is of crucial importance. The Catechism’s definition of justice mentions God as the principal recipient of our justice. Why should that be so? God does not need anything from us! Isn’t justice about responding to need?

Yes, justice is about responding to need, and about paying our debts. But justice is not primarily a virtue by which we learn to add up the numbers and pay the bill. On a more fundamental level, justice is the virtue by which we become increasingly sensitive to our indebtedness. The distinction is subtle, but important. There can be a grudging quality that goes with paying a bill, as we know when we see our hard-earned money vanishing so quickly.

But, a grudge does not belong in the virtue of justice as it relates to God. In being sensitive to indebtedness, we realize how much we have been given by God. In him we have received something far beyond what we have strictly deserved – the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, the very kingdom of heaven, as Jesus expresses it.

Even if we do not acknowledge God as our loving Father, and the creator of the universe, it is hard to avoid admitting that we have been given gifts in our lifetime that are of vital importance to us, that have helped us to become ourselves. This gives us a recognition, simply put, that someone has loved us, and has shown it, and our life has changed for the better because of it. When that Someone is acknowledged as God, then we need a way that allows us to make some sort of response. Tomorrow, we shall reflect on this.

SJC

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29 April: Prudence VI, Shrewdness.

 

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In the virtue of prudence shrewdness complements teachability and limits it.  (Summa Theologica  II. II. 49:4) ‘It is a disposition to acquire a right estimate by oneself’, says St. Thomas.  In other words, after you have listened to the advice of those who are older and wiser, the obligation to arrive at a decision about what to do still rests on oneself.  Others cannot and should not decide for us.  The weight of the final decision is still a burden we must carry alone.  One can be running to this or that person forever, unable to come to a decision and rest in it.  Shrewdness knows when one has listened enough and found the answer; shrewdness accepts that the answer in this case might always contain some ambiguity, realises that a certain amount of risk and uncertainty must be borne, but that the issue is now as clear as it will ever be, and the time has come to act.  Saint Thomas will even go so far as to say that in deliberation we may take as much time as needed, but a considered act must be performed swiftly (Summa Theologica  II.II. 47:9).  There comes a time, and we must simply get on with it!

It is important to remember that prudence isn’t about being indefinitely watchful and careful.  Its most important act, for Saint Thomas, is the command.  Prudence answers a question: “What is the best course of action in this situation?”  When it discovers this answer, it commands, “Do it.”  Prudence is a “directive knowledge”, for Saint Thomas.

SJC

Carving, Chichester Cathedral. MMB

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27 April: Prudence IV, Understanding.

 

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The next step in the dance of prudence is understanding, for Saint Thomas.  Understanding gives us the ability to see how this principle applies to this case.  Each event is different from the one before.  Understanding helps us to see the differences – especially those that are not immediately obvious.  This usually requires us to think something through, and not simply react on the basis of how something appears on the surface.

Let’s go back to Jack, our small-business owner about whom we were thinking yesterday.  Let’s say he has a bookshop.  Let’s say his down-and-out employees help themselves to the cash.  Now Jack had better think this through.  He wants to help the needy – this is an important principle.  So he turns a blind eye to the disappearing cash.  But sooner or later, this is going to have an adverse effect on his business.  Sooner or later other principles, that are arguably more important, get buried – such as his obligation to support his family.  If the business suffers, he will soon be in a position to help no one, including himself.

Good people are not usually attracted to doing bad things, but to doing a good thing in an immoderate way, at the wrong time, under the wrong conditions.  With understanding we acquire the ability to set priorities, to determine which good thing I need to be doing now, to say no sometimes to one good thing in order to safe-guard a greater good, and to see what is really at stake in a given situation.

SJC

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26 April: Prudence III: Memory,

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So then, where does St. Thomas begin when he looks at the virtue of prudence?  For him, the first aspect of prudence is memory (see Summa Theologica, II.II: 49:1).  Why?  Because

…it is typical of prudence to be aware of what is true in the majority of cases.  This kind of awareness is fostered and engendered by experience and time, therefore, prudence requires the memory of many things.

Perhaps it is easier to understand this by looking at the opposite quality.  I suspect we all know someone about whom others will roll their eyes and sigh, saying, “Oh dear.  Jack never learns.”  Here, Jack is someone who makes the same big mistakes over and over: the small business person, say, who hires incompetent and dishonest employees out of a desire to help the under-dog.  These employees subsequently harm the business through irresponsibility or theft.  This becomes a pattern, though, in Jack’s business career.  He lets his need to “save” people who have a sob story get in the way of his judgement.  Repeatedly.

It is the repetition of the error that is at issue here.  Memory, says Thomas, is aided by diligence.  With diligence, we make a mental note of what happens, we put conscious effort into noticing how events unfold in matters that are important to us.  We don’t just let life go by, and let the same mistakes happen again and again.  We ask why something keeps happening.  From this, we gain some capacity to predict what is likely to happen if we do the same thing again.  ‘It behoves us to argue about the future from the past; therefore memory of the past is necessary in order to take good counsel for the future,’ says Saint Thomas.

SJC.

Prudence suggests a waterproof in Wales.

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Just Say No!

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A homily worth reading!

Just say No

Follow the link to Fr Christopher Shorrock’s wake-up call as we start Lent.

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6 March:Human Will II: The Will and the True Self

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 We are trying to understand what our will is, and are enlisting the help of St. Augustine.  Yesterday we were looking at St. Augustine’s notion of the ‘divided’ will.  In Confessions he admits that he was enamoured of this idea for a while, because in allowing himself the emotional “leeway” which the idea of a divided will gave him, he found himself in the emotionally comfortable position that comes of blaming something else for his sins and failures.  But Augustine ultimately rejected this idea. His relentless pursuit of truth just would not allow him to rest in an untruth.  Eventually, he admits that his will was one and that it was whole.

This kind of will – single and undivided – demanded that Augustine take full responsibility for all his actions.  In one way, this was a much less comfortable position for Augustine.  But by this time, he had found that, paradoxically, a certain kind emotional discomfort is no bad thing, if it enables one to come to a deeper level of personal truth.  His words in the Confessions that we looked at yesterday have a modern sound to them.  ‘I was the only one involved,’ Augustine declares, in describing his moral wrong-headedness.  He is saying here that the desire to blame his wrongdoing on a flawed will is simply a dishonest cop-out.  His words also ring with a kind of healthy, joyful spiritual freedom, as anyone will know who has begun the process of accepting the truth about himself and of undergoing a deep interior change.  Augustine lived in the fourth century, but his words and experiences are timeless.

I recall the words of a teenage boy I knew when I was a teenager – a boy who had been caught stealing on a rather grand scale.  When he finally began to turn his life around he admitted frankly, ‘I stole.  I did it because I wanted to and because I was greedy.  I deserved the punishment I received.’  The acceptance of personal responsibility for his actions, the complete absence of blaming anyone or anything else for his decision to steal, the honest naming of the greed that impelled him, paradoxically, strengthened him on the level of his will and of his true self.  This boy really did turn his life around.

So, what kind of light does this shed on the concept of the human will?  The boy’s very conversion of heart was inseparable from something that originated in his will: the act of taking personal responsibility for his behaviour and attitudes.  This resulted in giving him a sense of himself not as a thief, but as an honest person, allied to truth and goodness.  For this teenage boy, as for Augustine so many centuries before, the will was both the instrument of change and the locus of a new sense of self.  Our will, then, is quite an important endowment.

SJC

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5 March, 1st Sunday in Lent: The Human Will.

 

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O God, who are the light of the minds that know thee,

 the warmth of the hearts that love thee and the strength of the wills that serve thee, help us so to know thee that we may perfectly love thee,

so to love thee that we may worthily serve thee, whose service is perfect freedom.

 Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine, in the beautiful prayer given here, mentions the human will and says that God is ‘the strength of the will’.  I would like to reflect on this notion of the human will in a few posts.  The Church has always given the will an important place in her teaching on the dignity of the human person, but the human will isn’t an easy thing to define.

Perhaps we don’t think about our will very much or very deeply.  We may think about our emotions, or our mind.  But the will tends to be forgotten.  So let’s start with a simple definition that may not be completely adequate, but at least is easy to understand.  The will is the part of us that assists us in sticking with our good resolutions.  But as anyone knows who has tried to stick to a diet, the will isn’t always very effective in its task.  Just when I might want my will to give me some real backbone, it is nowhere to be found.  What is going on?

I find Saint Augustine to be a great help in understanding this kind of problem.  His Confessions, written in the late fourth century, show us that some things about human nature never change: Augustine, too, had plenty of experience with the weakness of his will.  During the period in his life when he was exploring Christianity but had not yet become a Christian, Augustine felt that his will was not merely weak, but split in two.  This is how he describes it:

The enemy had my power of willing in his clutches, and from it had forged a chain to bind me.  The truth is that when [vice] is pandered to, a habit is formed; when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion.  These were like interlinking rings forming what I have described as a chain, and my harsh servitude used it to keep me under duress.

     A new will had begun to emerge in me, the will to worship you disinterestedly and enjoy you, O God,… but it was not yet capable of surmounting that earlier will strengthened by inveterate custom.  And so the two wills fought it out – the old will and the new, the one carnal, the other spiritual – and in their struggle tore my soul apart.

[Confessions, VIII:10].

Is our will really split in two?  It can seem so, and certainly seemed so to Saint Augustine.  What of these two wills, then?  And what of Augustine’s declaration that ‘the enemy’ controlled his power of willing?  Augustine gradually came to realise that his moral problems could not be blamed on an external ‘enemy’ of any sort.  What he found when he felt that his will was split in two, was that conflicting desires within his soul led him in conflicting directions.  But his insights were even deeper than that.

Here is what he says later in the Confessions

When I was making up my mind to serve the Lord my God at last, as I had long since purposed, I was the one who wanted to follow that course, and I was the one who wanted not to.  I was the only one involved.  I neither wanted it wholeheartedly nor turned from it wholeheartedly.  I was at odds with myself, and fragmenting myself.  This disintegration was occurring without my consent, but what it indicated was not the presence in me of a mind belonging to some alien nature but the punishment undergone by my own

[Confessions VIII:22].

Note the repeated use of the pronoun ‘I’ in that passage.  Augustine takes personal responsibility here for all his actions.  That no alien being could take the blame for Augustine’s weakness was a crucial realisation for him – and for us as we strive to understand what our will is like.   Furthermore, Augustine sees a sort of ‘justice’ in his personal struggles, for he realises here that the weakness in his will that he deplored was the logical consequence of living a life in which he gave priority to the pursuit of selfish pleasures.  A weak will was what he called ‘the punishment’ appropriate to and consequent upon the lifestyle he had chosen for so many years.  No one was to blame but himself, and he finally realises that clearly.  Now, all this may seems rather heavy and dreary.  But, St. Augustine shows us that there is always the possibility of the will growing stronger as we grow in grace.  In the next post, I hope to develop this idea further.

SJC.

 

 

 

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