Tag Archives: Revelation

21 March: A modern parable for Lent.

We invite you to share this seafaring reflection from the Dean of Lichfield, a city about as far as you can get from the sea in England! He ends with these words:

Lent is a good time for self-examination on a personal and communal level.  How far have I or we mangled God’s image and likeness into my/our own limited image and likeness?  How far have my/our anxious needs for safety, belonging, esteem, or amounting to something deafened or blinded me/us to what God is putting before us?  And remember Christianity is a “revealed” faith, so it’s not so much a question of inventing the God we want, as understanding the God we have got and are getting.

Let’s journey on this Lent, personally and corporately, towards what God holds before us.  We can do no better than read and meditate on one of the Gospels – try Mark.  It’s short and punchy and lets us know why that, when the Good News is proclaimed, life isn’t settled or comfortable.

A prayer for us to say together:

We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, that you have called us to be your people.  Help us to know the greatness of our calling, so that we, having one spirit of faith and love, may live in the world as a new and holy generation.  May your eternal and righteous will be always before our eyes, so that in soberness and vigilance we may await your time, and witness to your promises, until your kingdom comes.  Amen.

With my love, prayers and blessings

Adrian Dorber
Dean of Lichfield

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December 22: He has put eternity into man’s heart.

Adam in Canterbury Cathedral. He looks as though he takes pleasure in his toil.

Ecclesiastes is one of the Wisdom books, written when the Jewish people were spread across the Mediterranean world. rubbing shoulders with all manner of folk with different ways of thinking. The writer absorbs much of their wisdom, not uncritically, but realises that human wisdom can only go so far: we need God’s revelation, his free gift. And we need – there is nothing better for us than to be joyful and to do good as long as we live.

Christmas is fast approaching but who knows who can – or even should get together for the feast? God seeks what has been driven away, and so should we, by keeping in touch by letter, card, email, phone or flowers. Over to the Preacher, Qoheleth.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. 

Ecclesiastes 3;11-15

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25 October, Traherne XXXI: God leaves room for us.

All things flow from God; all things return to him, and they can do so because he leaves room for us, gives us free will.


They that quarrel at the manner of God’s revealing Himself are troubled because He is invisible. Yet is it expedient that He should be so: for whatsoever is visible is a body; whatsoever is a body excludeth other things out of the place where itself is. If God therefore being infinite were visible He would make it impossible for anything to have a being. Besides, bulk as such in itself is dead. Whatsoever is visible is so in like manner.

That which inspireth bulk with motion, life, and sense is invisible; and in itself distinct from the bulk which it inspireth. Were God therefore pure bulk, He could neither move, nor will, nor desire anything; but being invisible; He leaveth room for and effecteth all things. He filleth nothing with a bodily presence, but includeth all. He is pure Life, Knowledge, and Desire, from which all things flow: pure Wisdom, Goodness, and Love to which all things return.

Century 2.19

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6 April: Hanging On

heart.of.pebbles

He taught in the temple every day 

(Luke. 19:47)

More wisdom from Sister Johanna, who today looks at what Jesus was doing in Holy Week.

I am often amazed at how much insight can be derived from a very few words of scripture. I sometimes take a short sentence and explore the words one by one to see what comes. The Holy Spirit never disappoints. Here we have a mere seven words from the Gospel of Luke (19:47). Let’s see what treasures can be found in He taught in the temple every day.

  • He. Who is he? We are dealing with Jesus, the Lord, here, and not just anyone. He is not a news broadcaster, an entertainer, a politician canvassing for votes and whose promises are dubious. He is not someone who should be tuned out and only half-heard while we do other things. He is not someone whose agenda is self-serving. He is the one – the only one – who deserves our full and undivided attention. He is the only one whose words are directed toward fulfilling our deepest needs, and not to furthering his own ambition; his words and deeds feed our most profound hungers – our hunger for truth, our thirst for love, our desire for eternal life. That is who ‘He’ is.

  • Taught. For all these reasons, and more, he is the teacher par excellence. Jesus’ mind is clear, beautiful, and deep – much deeper than we can imagine. He always lives on a deeper level of reality than we do, and every word of his teaching, his every observation or comment comes from the place of wisdom and deepest truth. He is never someone who just talks to fill in an awkward silence, or whose words are coming from nervousness, who is babbling. Every word he utters is full of meaning. Nor is he on the level of our peers, that we should critically examine his words for flaws, prejudices, hang-ups. We may need to study his words closely, in order to make them our own. This is the task of a good student. But he is greater than we are; we are not his equal, and in debate he will always win. The Pharisees soon discovered this when they tried to trip him up in discourse. They could never trick him, or catch him out.

We have a lot of people spewing words at us through the media nowadays. So many words that we can’t, and don’t even need to, take them all in. We can entertain ourselves and others by mocking these media people, because they have little of value to say, or if they do say something important, the program has run and re-run so many times that we are sick of it. But that is emphatically not the case with Jesus. His words are life. They are living words, always revelatory, always fresh, even if we have heard them many times before. He always has something new to teach us.

  • In the temple. Jesus is IN the temple – he is in this most sacred of places. Jesus is everywhere, granted, and teaches everywhere. But the temple is a privileged place of encounter, set aside to honour God. It is a place over which, as God and Lord, Jesus rightly has ownership, it is a place where he is entitled to preside – even to reign. He claims this pre-eminent role in the absolute sense when he cleanses the temple of the vendors who had set up their booths in it. The temple is not to be turned into a profit-making venue for business people, he teaches. But the act of temple-cleansing is not merely about him. It is about us, too. In cleansing the temple Jesus is defending our right to use it as a place, above all, for prayer, against those whose avarice and insensitivity would make it noisy, irreverent, chaotic – make it a place where they make a profit for themselves rather than offer themselves lovingly to God. We have a right to a sacrosanct place set aside for encountering God. The temple is so important that Jesus is famously fierce about this and demonstrates a violence in cleansing the temple that he does not show at any other time. In this way he teaches that we must ensure that the temple is always conducive to prayer – silent, reverent, empty of all other kinds of pursuits. We need this place – perhaps much more than we realise. And Jesus defends this need. He is IN this place. This is the place where Jesus can be found.

  • Every day. This is something reliable. Jesus is there every day. He does not skip any days, or take a holiday. Jesus does not need a day off. Moreover, every day the truth is truth. Jesus, as teacher, does not have good days and bad days – perhaps like an athlete whose game is just off sometimes. Jesus is never shallow, silly or foolish. Jesus is always there, every moment of every day, ready to teach us. He never leaves us alone, never leaves us without his help.

And now, what is my response to these assertions? It is easy. St Luke shows me in the following sentence: ‘…the whole people hung on his words (19:48) [emphasis mine]. To ‘hang on’ Jesus’ words. This is the only appropriate response.

SJC

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17 March, Desert XX: travelling with Pope Francis.

We invite you to read a few extracts from Pope Francis’s Lenten Messages for 2019 and 2020, because each year he recalls the desert. In this first extract from last year’s message, he talks about redeeming creation, since through avarice and neglect we are making deserts where there ought to be forest of farmland.

1. The Redemption of Creation

The celebration of the Paschal Triduum of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection calls us yearly to undertake a journey of preparation, in the knowledge that our being conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29) is a priceless gift of God’s mercy.

When we live as children of God, redeemed, led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14) and capable of acknowledging and obeying God’s law, beginning with the law written on our hearts and in nature, we also benefit creation by cooperating in its redemption. That is why Saint Paul says that creation eagerly longs for the revelation of the children of God; in other words, that all those who enjoy the grace of Jesus’ paschal mystery may experience its fulfilment in the redemption of the human body itself.

When the love of Christ transfigures the lives of the saints in spirit, body and soul, they give praise to God. Through prayer, contemplation and art, they also include other creatures in that praise, as we see admirably expressed in the “Canticle of the Creatures” by Saint Francis of Assisi (Laudato Si’ 87). Yet in this world, the harmony generated by redemption is constantly threatened by the negative power of sin and death.

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5 February. Brownings XIX: struggling to communicate.

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Elizabeth again, on the process of writing. Where does the idea come from, how does the writer express it? Kathleen Raine would argue that certain poets, at least, had access to eternal springs that provided the light that led to their words. EBB has the same idea

“Yes, I quite believe as you do that what is called the ‘creative process’ in works of Art, is just inspiration and no less—which made somebody say to me not long since; And so you think that Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ was of the effluence of the Holy Ghost?’—rather a startling deduction, … only not quite as final as might appear to somebodies perhaps. At least it does not prevent my going on to agree with the saying of Spiridion, … do you remember?… ‘Tout ce que l’homme appelle inspiration, je l’appelle aussi revelation*,’ … if there is not something too self-evident in it after all—my sole objection!

And is it not true that your inability to analyse the mental process in question, is one of the proofs of the fact of inspiration?—as the gods were known of old by not being seen to move their feet,—coming and going in an equal sweep of radiance.—And still more wonderful than the first transient great light you speak of, … and far beyond any work of reflection, except in the pure analytical sense in which you use the word, … appears that gathering of light on light upon particular points, as you go (in composition) step by step, till you get intimately near to things, and see them in a fullness and clearness, and an intense trust in the truth of them which you have not in any sunshine of noon (called real!) but which you have then … and struggle to communicate.”

  • Whatever people call Inspiration, I also call Revelation.
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by 8Robert Browning)

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October 21. What is Theology Saying? XXXIV: My “me” is dependent on desires.

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The fact that my way is illusory means that it cannot be natural, a mistake cannot be of the essence of anything. That this is world-wide and world-old cannot make it natural. Revelation has something to tell us about living together; and we must avoid supposing an autonomy of social science, which forgets that modern social theory is formulated specifically against theology. It shares the same illusion of seeing reality as setting one against another. As a consequence of faith in the Incarnation, we receive the awareness that self-awareness comes from seeing self as total gift – no rivalry, as each one is unique.

Why does the infant struggle to repeat words and sounds; a process we take for granted? It isn’t automatic [and often missing in the Autistic]. This pull we feel confronting us as gravity is for the planets. It is a call to imitate, it is repetitive learning. We move into adult life through relating and, like gravity, such imitating both attracts and repels. We are attracted and we imitate, but eventually imitation leads to rivalry, using the same model differently. Our model is now our rival through whom we define ourselves against.

We imitate not just what the model looks like – but also what he/she has; it is this moving towards an object other than the model that we call desire. It pulls us away from the model into a kind of autonomy. But something more is required to fashion me. This involves focussing on the model as being – wanting to be who the model is. It is this imitating that eventually leads to rivalry: an impossible rivalry. Rivalry is resolved by exclusion or marginalising the victim – asserting individual self over the self of the other – I establish me through many victories gained in this way.

Does this mean we are all victimisers? The sense of self is always given – not acquired. It is the tension set in place by my sense of self as given, and as self acquired by violent means – this is the essence of Original Sin. My sense of self is unstable, changeable, other-dependent – the other who is there before me. My “me” is dependent on the desires that gave rise to it. Christian scholars understood the way in which humans relate to God in terms of where we come from, where we are going and how to get there.

AMcC

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3 August, Traherne IV: the goodness and wisdom of God made manifest.

barley-sea-waves-b-w-2-640x477

Two shorter meditations today, 9 and 10, that seem to sit well together. It is worth pondering on the idea that God wants us to enjoy creation ‘sensible of its use and value – in Divine, not financial terms. Laudato Si’!

Is it not easy to conceive the World in your Mind? To think the Heavens fair? The Sun Glorious? The Earth fruitful? The Air Pleasant? The Sea Profitable? And the Giver bountiful? Yet these are the things which it is difficult to retain. For could we always be sensible of their use and value, we should be always delighted with their wealth and glory.

To think well is to serve God in the interior court: To have a mind composed of Divine Thoughts, and set in frame, to be like Him within. To conceive aright and to enjoy the world, is to conceive the Holy Ghost, and to see His Love: which is the Mind of the Father. And this more pleaseth Him than many Worlds, could we create as fair and great as this. For when we are once acquainted with the world, you will find the goodness and wisdom of God so manifest therein, that it was impossible another, or better should be made. Which being made to be enjoyed, nothing can please or serve Him more, than the Soul that enjoys it. For that Soul doth accomplish the end of His desire in Creating it.

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June 21: What is Theology Saying? X: Papal Infallibility I.

fountain.st.peters.rome

A question you put to one side rather than asking it out loud? Friar Austin has written four posts about it, two before and two after Saint John’s day. Thank you Austin, off we go!

We have seen how Church teaching changes through the ages, and what revelation is and how it happens. But for some of the faithful the process of revelation and the development of doctrine are happenings, but they have come to an end. The end is when the Pope speaks about a matter of doctrine, and the matter is closed. When that point is reached many believe the matter in question should not be raised again; not even by a General Council or by another Pope.

Others believe that because situations change, what one Pope may have said in a given situation, may not apply currently. Culturally and socially the papacy lives in an earlier stage of history than the people say of Northern Europe and North America, and is teaching from the world it knows, and so may not appear relevant for some. Add to this the disquiet the Reformers feel on issues of the papacy – the belief that there should be no such office as pope. Things have changed – many Protestants believe all churches need a leader who is not just a functionary – like President of the World Council of Churches – but chosen, holy person set aside as a spiritual figure, voicing the conscience of the Christian community in the world – issues of peace, justice, hunger and poverty.

Many people – not Catholic – are interested in what Pope Francis is doing. They approve of what he is saying and doing, and welcome him in their own countries; especially with his desire to meet with civil and religious leaders of all faiths and none.

But there remains concern about papal infallibility; and questions are asked about the Catholic Church and its commitment to the revelation of Jesus Christ and the guiding presence of the Spirit alive in the Church in the way we regard papal teaching. Studies have taken place about what exactly the First Vatican Council meant in giving formal definition to Papal Infallibility in the Nineteenth Century. Why was it made and how does it sit with the infallibility of the Church’s General Councils, and the infallibility of faithful practice? How the claim to Roman primacy first arose, and how it was understood, have been the subject of meticulous research.

Rahner says [The Christian of the Future] that although infallible pronouncements once served the purpose of the Church, they really do not do so any longer. He sees future Popes not making such pronouncements, and infallibility will cease to be an issue. But 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.

AMcC

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May 14: What is Theology Saying IX: We participate in the event the Apostles interpret.

pieta.wf

Jesus changed radically our understanding of life in a way that will never change again. The Apostles are witnesses in a way no one else can be. Their testimony would have little or no significance today if it were simply an account of a past event. What makes it significant is the fact that we are participants in the same event the apostles interpret.

This interpretation only has meaning to the extent we share in the same happening and reflect on it and give our own prophetic interpretation, making real here and now the conversation between God and ourselves. So, what did the apostles pass on?

First and before all else – it was the happening. How do you pass on a happening? They did it through life in community, inviting others to share the way they lived, which was how they lived with Jesus, a life energised and transformed through the experience of the Resurrection. They spoke, and what they said took on meaning for their hearers.

Out of this living experience of sharing life each generation gave its own interpretation in words. Clearly, over time, the interpretation changed quite a lot. It is tempting to ask, as a consequence, where did revelation end and theology, liturgy, catechesis etc. take over? This is the Church, the struggle to live a life of love and trust – celebrating this life in the liturgy, sharing explanations through theological reflections and catechesis – this is our participation in revelation, it is revelation. Revelation is not simply a record of what was revealed before; a record playing over and over again. Revelation is the living and intensely personal reality of our communion with God, when God communicates not some factual information but his own fully alive reality – hence the relevance of a contemplative heart.

If Christian life is such a part of revelation, does this mean that every word and explanation is just as good as any other – how do we know we are not fooling ourselves, and where does the dogmatic teaching of the Church and its moral guidelines fit?

Revelation is first of all a happening – but has to be expressed in words, which is how all human understanding comes into focus. We can’t live meaningfully without such expression. Words are a community product – my words have meaning because society has agreed a common meaning for them. When the Church wishes to share its experience, it has to agree on the way it explains itself; on its common understanding of the world, history and most especially, God. It must have a statement of its prophetic interpretation of events through which God reveals in the community – the events of Jesus’ life and the original formation of the Church. It must also have an interpretation of how God self-reveals in community – through sacraments and the life of charity.

Because salvation is a community happening, it is counter-productive to promote chaos and disruptions in our search for unity through understandings of life already achieved. Our continued sharing in revelation is guaranteed in the unity of the Church – requiring continuity in teaching and authoritative judgements. This presumes that continuity is guaranteed through living dialogue and that authority is exercised as a form of serving the life. Continuity would be pointless where it an empty shell formed from the past, now withered and gone. Revelation is real when it is alive, and it is alive when people are creatively involved.

Revelation did not end when the apostles died out; because it is not a collection of factual information about happenings beyond our experience, but the self-communicating of God. Revelation is not a finished product, it does not consist of unchanging truths, but of the living reality of God-with-us. Revelation was not closed with the death of the last apostle, rather was it opened in the way of a love affair which is not completed when two people marry, but marks a real beginning.

AMcC

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