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.
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.
He is risen!
Little by little, slowly and gradually, the process of dis-covery [uncovering] is worked out to the subversion of the persecutors when the innocence of the victim becomes more and more evident: Joseph, Job, and Songs of Suffering Servant in Isaiah – when God is distinguished from the violence of the gods, and clearly on the side of the victim.
This is the genius of Judaism, having nothing equivalent elsewhere. This is what we call Revelation, God’s self-revelation by means of the innocent victim. We never reach the full revelation of this in the Old Testament, nor a full revelation of the innocence of the victim, nor a separation of God from involvement in the sacred self-deceiving violence. Such fullness occurs only in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
If we diminish the significance of Jesus’ death are we not undermining the very essence of the Resurrection? If we honour, as did Jesus, the primary role of the Kingdom, life radically lived to the full, then resurrection is not so much about the vindication of his death as about the affirmation of life fully lived. Resurrection belongs to life rather than death, an affirmation and celebration of what fully alive means.
Following Jesus has become synonymous with belonging to a denomination, and inevitably came to see Jesus as a ruling Lord – with scant reference to the freedom and empowerment of the powerless which is his hallmark. By the time of Emperor Constantine the Kingdom of God was clothed in the imperial system of Rome. Whereas the freedom Jesus brought would happen not by intervention from above but by empowerment from the ground up. The one and only time Jesus approved of them calling him king was when he chose to ride on a donkey – he embraced kingship but turned it on its head.
The Chosen People perceiving God as Creator was not done rapidly. They moved from a view that saw God as one god among many gods, towards God as the only God, Creator of all things, even Israel’s enemies. However, the fact that God created everything is not the same as God created everything out of nothing. This came later along with belief in resurrection from the dead [2Macaabees]. The order of the world does not correspond to God’s order – since those who follow God’s ordering are persecuted in this world. God is not responsible for the ordering of the world – establishing order out of chaos is the work of human violence – creation is prior to this and not party to it.
The resurrection reveals that persecution is not the monopoly of any particular group, but the consequence of the fact that all humanity is locked into violence. That this is universally so is seen in the fact that the Chosen People suffered equally, and in no way deserved what the Church used to speak of the perfidious Jews; rather is it that the very best of nations was locked into this violence also. Jesus was working to bring about what God always desired but which had become trapped into the violent charade we have made.
Creation, therefore, is not finished until Jesus dies shouting it is accomplished – opening up creation to this new yet original way. Understand creation starting in and through Jesus. God’s bringing into existence what is from nothing, is exactly the same as Jesus’ deathless self-giving out of love, breaking through the culture of death.
It is not as if creation was a different act happening alongside the salvation worked by Jesus, but this salvation was the completion of creation – the bringing into existence and making possible of human living together which knows nothing of death. Jesus was in on this from the beginning. Such is what we have done to our world that God could only be seen as Creator by means of overcoming death.
Rather than the creation-fall-redemption-heaven model we have: The redemption reveals creation by opening its fulfilment in heaven and reveals at the same time the fall as that which we are in the process of leaving behind. All these realities were discovered only through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to tell us that God is our Father. He came to create the possibility that God be our Father; it needed someone to die to have us understand better our Father – that there is no access to him except within the process of total self-giving. Jesus says he will ask the Father to send someone other than Jesus as counsellor, and when this Spirit comes he will glorify Jesus – making clear everything he said. Jesus going deliberately to his death, opens up his way of living, his self-giving to become a gift to any who seek to live in this way.
From the moment when death has its lie revealed through Jesus living as if death were not, from that moment it becomes possible for us to be possessed by his spirit – it is accomplished means that there is now a fully human way – from birth through and including death. The Spirit makes it possible to do the same for the Father as Jesus did, to live as if death is not. There are two elements to the mission of the Spirit – as advocate, and as one who leads to truth.
The Advocate absolves from accusations, whereas the Prosecution [from persecution] representing the order of this world ruthlessly seeks out a victim; and justifies the need for murder to maintain order – all the while convinced that this truly serving God. The Advocate knows the victim is hated without cause [as was Jesus] and brings this to light by constantly recalling the real memory of what happened to Jesus and why. The Spirit pleads our cause – which means forgiveness of sin. This means that forgiveness of sin and the recreating of the actual happening of the passion in the lives of disciples are one and the same.
Herbert McCabe O.P. was always thought-provoking. Nicholas Lash once laid these quotations of Herbert’s before his own readers:
Christ has a better right to appear as food and drink than bread and wine have. The doctrine of transubstantiation, as I see it, is that the bread and wine become more radically food and drink.
I am suggesting that the consecrated host exists at a level of reality at which questions of whether it is bread can not relevantly be asked.
Nicholas Lash, ‘Traveller’s Fare’, New Blackfriars, May 2007, pp129, 131.
Lash warns against the ‘reification’ of Christ in the wheaten host. In other words, I think, we must not see the host as a thing we can call Jesus. Despite the old hymn it does not ‘my very God conceal’, but it reveals him.
It reveals him as humble, as nourishing, as one who,
though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
“We, the rustling leaves, have a voice that answers the storms, but who are you, so silent?”
“I am a mere flower.”
Stray Birds XXIII
Saint Thérèse says:
‘Jesus multiplied his graces in his little flower – he who cried out during his mortal life “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”’ (Luke 10: 21)
Fr Austin McCormack will be speaking on Thursday evenings this term. I recommend these to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what we Catholics are all about.
Start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation to cover expenses.
The subject of the course is:
“What is theology saying?”
2. 20/10: What did God really reveal?
3. 27/10: How about Papal infallibility?
4. 03/11: How should we explain the Eucharist?
5. 10/11: Who is Jesus Christ?
6. 17/11: What difference does Grace make?
7. 24/11: What about Original Sin?
8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?
9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?
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.
Our writer Friar Austin (AMcC) is proposing to offer the following series of talks next term. These will be given on Monday Evenings at 7.00 from 10th October (TBC).
1. Can Church teaching change?
2. What did God really reveal?
3. What about Papal infallibility?
4. Explain the Eucharist.
5. Who is Jesus Christ?
6. What difference does Grace make?
7. Have we forgotten Original Sin?
8. What morality did Jesus teach?
9. Renounce the world or change it?
10. Is there salvation in other religions?
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5.
At the end of the Bible comes John’s vision of the City of God – cue all those resounding phrases in ‘Immortal, invisible’. But wouldn’t you want to be in a back row, like a good Catholic? Heaven sounds overwhelming, as John describes it: all those sonorous attributes! And won’t you miss a good night’s sleep?
But wait, there is room for us: John says that God’s servants … shall reign for ever and ever, even while serving him. We won’t be at a loose end, and we won’t need Peter Smith’s candles to stand in for us, as the Lord God will give us light, and we shall see his face. This, I’m sure will not be a passive experience:
In this world and time, Tito the dog actively uses nose and tongue to ‘see’ with when he comes to visit. Watching and learning from dogs and young children, we can look for God’s reflections all around us and and count our blessings. Therese says, ‘Jesus multiplied his graces in his little flower – he who cried out during his mortal life “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”’ (Luke 10: 21)
Let’s pray: ‘O help us to see ’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.’
Picture, Public Domain: Apsis mosaic, Santa Pudenziana, Rome photo Sixtus enhanced TTaylor.jpg
St Stephen the Deacon, appointed to deliver Christian Mercy, carries a basket of bread. Church of St Stephen, Hackington, Canterbury.
All the major religions – enjoying many differences – come together in accepting the Golden Rule: do not do to another what you would not want done to you. Expressed positively – do everything to others that we would relish being done to us [find the negative formulation in the Old Testament and the positive in the New]. Augustine maintains that God wrote this rule on human hearts – it is the embodiment of the Natural Law.
However, in everyday expression religions are not only ambivalent, they are also contradictory; yet do possess things in common. According to the basic tenets of religions the connection of religion with violence represents a misunderstanding of real religion. Kant calls the Golden Rule trivial because it does not specify obligation. George Bernard Shaw observed: do not treat others as you would want them to treat you. Their taste may not be the same!
How does Jesus adopt the Golden Rule? See the Sermon on the Mount and its essential link with the love commandment – including love of enemies. Christian ethics links with a religious tradition that is open and common to all religions – yet cannot be reduced to a universal humanism, as if it were an acquired value. The fact is that compassion and mercy are inbuilt universal human values. Where compassion and mutual forgiveness are lost in favour of egoism and apathy towards fellow human beings gives rise to personal relations are confined to economic exchange. Whereas Christian mercy has shaped Western culture in a decisive way.
It is a common opinion that God in the Old Testament is a vengeful and angry God, while the God of the New Testament is gracious and merciful. There are Old Testament texts that support this – which speak of killing and expulsion of paganism, including some imprecations in the Psalms. However, this does not do justice to the gradual process by which the Old Testament view of God is transformed – ultimately both testaments witness to the same God.
In the Old Testament God’s mercy serves justice – mercy is God’s justice. In Scripture, the heart is not simply a human organ; it describes the core of the person, the seat of feelings as well as power and judgement.
Compassion is not regarded as weakness or as unworthy of a true hero. We are encouraged to show feelings and sadness, joy and grief – nor be ashamed of tears. Scripture speaks of God’s heart – God chooses according to his heart; his heart is said to be deeply troubled by the impact of sin on sinners. God leads with an upright heart. Hosea speaks of God’s heart recoiling, and God’s compassion grows warm and tender.