51. Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time. The export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialised north has caused harm locally, as for example in mercury pollution in gold mining or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining.
The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. There is also the damage caused by the export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing countries, and by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home. Generally, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable”.
52. The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned. In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future. The land of the southern poor is rich and mostly unpolluted, yet access to ownership of goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests”. We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalisation of indifference.
Universal Intention: – The World Of Finance Let us pray that those in charge of finance will work with governments to regulate the financial sphere and protect citizens from its dangers.
I guess Pope Francis feels he has had his share of being let down by those in charge of finance! It always seems to be the poorest who suffer most when finances go wrong, both at a personal and a national level. Company executives remain wealthy when their businesses go bust, while their workers lose jobs and the pensions they had been paying into. Indebted countries find their debts rising at the same time as opportunities vanish to earn more from trade and so pay off debts. And don’t ask about covid vaccinations!
Rich nations often owe part of their prosperity to exploitation of workers or other assets overseas; there is an obligation to restore fairness in trade and to protect citizens of this one world from the dangers of unfair trade, which may persist for generations.
Yesterday we were reflecting on the story of the rich young man, as told by Matthew (19:16-22). We saw that the young man has just asked Jesus which commandments are necessary for entry into eternal life, as though he is hoping he will not have to pay too high a price. I have read this story many times, but I was surprised, as though for the first time, to realise that Jesus does seem to reduce the price for this young man. He lists only six commandments: ‘You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false witness. Honour your father and mother. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This begins to seem like that quintessentially middle-eastern pastime: bartering and haggling. Maybe Jesus is happy to play this game a bit with the young man; maybe he hopes to win him round; perhaps we can imagine Jesus with a little smile here, a sidelong glance as he takes ten commandments and reduces them to six.
Then, astonishingly to me, the young man seems to think he’s got these six covered. I go back and reread the commandments given here and I concede that, ok, the first five of them are straightforward enough: you either have or you haven’t committed the sins they forbid. But the sixth one is, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ I wonder who can possibly boast of keeping this commandment perfectly. Human interactions are so complicated, and riddled with sad opportunities for causing offense. But the young man seems to be saying, “Easy!” to all of them. “Well, am I in?” he silently challenges. And Jesus is never at a loss to understand the unspoken question.
Not so fast, Jesus seems to say. And now we come to the place where Jesus is no longer playing. He becomes absolutely serious here. Let’s take this slowly. ‘If you wish to be perfect…’ he begins. Can there be a touch of irony here on Jesus’ part? Our rich boy thinks he’s perfect already. But Jesus will not reinforce his mistaken view of himself. He gives him a deeper challenge: ‘…go and sell your possessions….’ The man’s blood runs cold for a moment. Jesus probably detects it, and so he both appeals to his generosity and, at the same time, calls his bluff with regard to that love of neighbour he claims to have mastered. He tells the young man, ‘…give the money to the poor.’
I notice for the first time now that it is only money that is gained from selling his material possessions that the young man is told to give away. This would constitute a sort of excess, over and above the money he lives on. Jesus isn’t asking him to make himself destitute. But he is asking him something that involves a life-style change. If he sells his ‘possessions’, it probably means his house and what’s inside it. The young man would probably have thought that if those things go, what would protect him from a life of homelessness? The loss of cherished personal treasures, large and small, that give him a sense of identity, emotional comfort and security – how would he manage without all that? Jesus probably sees him turn pale, and quickly promises him a different kind of security: ‘You will have treasure in heaven,’ he offers. The young man had asked, after all, about attaining eternal life. Here is his ‘how to’ manual. This treasure in heaven, Jesus implies, is so much better than the one he is so scared to lose now. As I ponder these lines, I recall from my own experience that you simply can’t tell how freeing it is to get rid of your possessions by merely looking at it from a safe distance and trying to imagine what it will be like; this state of joyful freedom and openness to God is a gift given by Jesus’ Spirit in our hearts, but it only comes after you have made the renunciation. This is something I’d have wanted to tell the young man, had I been there. But no one else intrudes upon this, by now, intense exchange.
Finally, Jesus issues the ultimate and most privileged invitation of all. He says to the young man: ‘Come! Follow me!’ You will have a life of immense purpose and profound meaning with me. I will give you joy now, and lead you to attain what you have asked for: eternal life. But the rich young man cannot fathom this. He cannot see beyond the cost, and it costs far more than he had expected. And by now he is beyond haggling. He feels the full weight of this exchange with Jesus and it has oppressed his spirits. He turns his back on Jesus and leaves him, a very sad young man indeed.
The tragedy of the young man’s situation comes home to me again. But this time, as I see him walk away with his head down, I am suddenly reminded of other stories. First, Zacchaeus comes to mind, the rich tax collector in Luke who climbs a tree to see Jesus in the crowd, and later, invites Jesus to his home, where he throws a huge party for him, after joyfully offering to give huge amounts of his money to anyone he had cheated. The joy of Zacchaeus leaps from the pages. It’s the same with Matthew – another tax collector – called to be one of the Twelve. He throws a big party, too. Or I think of Our Lady, who gives her very body, her whole being, her life, everything: the sublime joy of her Magnificat echoes through the millennia. And her cousin Elizabeth: the unborn baby in her womb leaps for joy at the presence of the young, pregnant Mary. Elizabeth understands in her soul that Mary’s self-gift, and her own, will bring God our Saviour into the world. What greater joy can there be? I recall the overflow of loving emotion in the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. I think of the story of the prodigal son. It ends with a great celebration for the wayward son who returns to his father. The bitter, jealous elder brother excludes himself from the celebration, but the father would welcome him with joy in a moment, if he showed up at the door. Everywhere in the Gospels Jesus gives joy beyond imagining to those who surrender to his love, dedicate themselves to him, and say yes to his invitation to follow him. Only those who resist his grace are left in sorrow, but it is a sorrow of their own devising. They could end it in a moment by returning to the Lord and answering his call.
We must choose then. The deepest kind of joy is easily within our grasp. And maybe in the end, only one good deed is needed. The deed of choosing Jesus over all other things.
I love you because I love you; I see you ‘once a week’ because I cannot see you all day long; I think of you all day long, because I most certainly could not think of you once an hour less, if I tried, or went to Pisa, or ‘abroad’ (in every sense) in order to ‘be happy’ … a kind of adventure which you seem to suppose you have in some way interfered with.
Do, for this once, think, and never after, on the impossibility of your ever (you know I must talk your own language, so I shall say—) hindering any scheme of mine, stopping any supposable advancement of mine. Do you really think that before I found you, I was going about the world seeking whom I might devour, that is, be devoured by, in the shape of a wife … do you suppose I ever dreamed of marrying? What would it mean for me, with my life I am hardened in—considering the rational chances; how the land is used to furnish its contingent of Shakespeare’s women: or by ‘success,’ ‘happiness’ &c. &c. you never never can be seeing for a moment with the world’s eyes and meaning ‘getting rich’ and all that?
Yet, put that away, and what do you meet at every turn, if you are hunting about in the dusk to catch my good, but yourself?
from The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846
A few words from Robert for a change. Elizabeth must have been quite a talker in their one visit per week, his head seems to be reeling, but the love is plain enough.
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
‘That’s not a threat, it’s a promise!’ as one of my old teachers used to say, not necessarily to great effect. I wonder whether some of us are looking at our pre-lockdown lives and realising that a sense of self-importance has crept into our hearts our and veins. It’s encouraged by so many aspects of our life: the cult of celebrity and of riches — with the conspicuous spending that can go with it; competition and the riches that accompany elite sports players; the vastly higher pay given to people with clean hands.
At Pentecost time, let’s pray for wisdom as we come out of lockdown, and for a love of our planet that will provide a sustainable future for all creatures of our God and King.
Entering thus far into the nature of the sun, we may see a little Heaven in the creatures.
Were all the earth filthy mires, or devouring quicksands, firm land would be an unspeakable treasure. Were it all beaten gold it would be of no value. It is a treasure therefore of far greater value to a noble spirit than if the globe of the earth were all gold. A noble spirit being only that which can survey it all, and comprehend its uses.
The air is better being a living miracle as it now is than if it were crammed and filled with crowns and sceptres. The mountains are better than solid diamonds, and those things which scarcity maketh jewels (when you enjoy these) are yours in their places. Why should you not render thanks to God for them all?
You are the Adam or the Eve that enjoy them. Why should you not exult and triumph in His love who hath done so great things for you? Why should you not rejoice and sing His praises? Learn to enjoy what you have first, and covet more if you can afterwards.
Adam and Eve had been given all that was in the garden, except that they might not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, covetable though it was.
How long does the pleasure last when we get hold of the riches or other things we desire?
We like the idea of the living air, so we’ll return to Thomas Traherne, since his reflections challenge as well as please us; apologies that we left it so long since last time.
Images: NASA; stone at Dryburgh Abbey, Scottish Borders, MMB.
It is on this day that the people of Greenland have their first glimpse of the sun for the new year.
Place yourself therefore in the midst of the world, as if you were alone, and meditate upon all the services which it doth unto you.
Suppose the Sun were absent; and conceive the world to be a dungeon of darkness and death about you: you will then find his beams more delightful than the approach of Angels: and loath the abomination of that sinful blindness, whereby you see not the glory of so great and bright a creature, because the air is filled with its beams. Then you will think that all its light shineth for you, and confess that God hath manifested Himself indeed, in the preparation of so divine a creature.
You will abhor the madness of those who esteem a purse of gold more than it. Alas, what could a man do with a purse of gold in an everlasting dungeon? And shall we prize the sun less than it, which is the light and fountain of all our pleasures? You will then abhor the preposterous method of those, who in an evil sense are blinded with its beams, and to whom the presence of the light is the greatest darkness. For they who would repine at God without the sun, are unthankful, having it: and therefore only despise it, because it is created.
‘Repine’ here we read as ‘moan’. Better to be grateful for what is given us, and so be happy.
These four words come from the Welsh poet Vernon Watkins, a friend of Dylan Thomas who rated him highly.
In our heart we know they are true. Watkins’s poem tells us that even a miser ‘knows delight has empty hands.’ Here we see Jesus taking Adam by the hand, and Adam clasping Eve’s: the triumph on the Lord’s face, Adam’s clear delight and Eve’s quiet acceptance of her redemption.
Delight has empty hands;
hands that can give, receive, take another’s hand, leading amid th’encircling gloom.
What must I drop in order to delight in being God’s redeemed creature?
See: The Collected Poems of Vernon Watkins, Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 2000, p9.
On November 16th we visited an abandoned Methodist chapel. Albert’s comment on that post brought to mind the nearby Anglican church of which this is a feature. To make a sweeping generalisation, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Anglicans had churches, while Dissenters – Protestants who for various reasons did not accept all the traditions of Anglicanism – worshipped in buildings called chapels; that was the case here at the 12th Century church of Saint Bartholomew, right on the Shropshire-Hereford boundary.
This wooden cabin inside the church is actually a family pew for local gentry. There would have been cushions and footwarmers provided for their comfort at this time of year. Small wonder that the poor people of the parish went elsewhere, especially if they heard proclaimed these words of James Chapter 2.
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
It need not be that way. During the 1930s in Uganda, there was a great deal of unexamined racism with Europeans holding themselves aloof from the locals. They would even expect to go to Communion first in Rubaga Cathedral. One man who stood out against this was Sir Joseph Sheridan, Chief Justice of East Africa. Not only did he mix with the Africans at Communion, unlike other Europeans, he also processed barefoot at the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.
It is not just at Church that we are challenged to choose the ‘option for the poor’, though that is a good place to start. Catholics were not invited to share the sign of peace at Mass until the 1960s, but we should assert our membership of Jesus’ family by sharing it with whomsoever we are near, and maybe exchanging a word with them after Mass. People who feel cold-shouldered by congregations today may well just fade away, and not go looking for a congregation that welcomes and suits them.
But a conversation with a lonely person, a few cheerful or sympathetic words with the person on the checkout or in front of us in a queue. There are many people poor in ways other than financial.
Nigerian carvings sourced by Rupert Greville: a question of power.
Do you ask this of your own accord or have others told you about me? This is the first question Jesus puts to Pilate (John 18:33), in answer to Pilate’s question, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ In the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus, as we said yesterday, the two men are motivated by completely opposing preoccupations. For Jesus, the dialogue is about truth and freedom. For Pilate, power is the only thing he cares about. But, the question Jesus asks places Pilate at a disadvantage already. If we are looking at power, Pilate has already lost some. He is suddenly the one who must answer a difficult question, not Jesus.
And Pilate is not prepared for it. At this stage, if Pilate had been an entirely different kind of man, he might have used Jesus’ question as a springboard to ask himself: “Do I ask this of my own accord? Do I want to understand this man and his message?” In our text, Jesus pays Pilate the compliment of suggesting that such questions might be important to Pilate. But Pilate does not budge from his habitual mind-set. Rather, he exposes his superficiality by retorting testily, ‘Am I a Jew?’ Here, Pilate implies that it should be obvious to Jesus that he has no spiritual leanings towards Judaism or any of its tenets. He goes on to attempt to regain the upper hand in the conversation by declaring, ‘It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me.’
Pilate is feeling the loss of control that comes when a situation does not make sense. He is flummoxed. Jesus has been handed over by members of his own religious group. Why? Like a sniffer dog looking for drugs, Pilate gets a whiff of a level of power in Jesus that he cannot quite identify. Clearly, Jesus has some power or he would not be so threatening to the chief priests. He demands that Jesus explain: ‘What have you done?’ he asks.
Jesus cuts to the only thing Pilate could possibly care about. He doesn’t answer Pilate’s question by talking about his actions, as Pilate seems to want, but about his authority. He talks about his ‘kingdom’. He says: ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. As it is, my kingdom does not belong here.’ Jesus uses the word ‘kingdom’ three times in this brief passage. I imagine Jesus pronounced the word with that emphasis one gives to an expression being employed in a way that differs from its common usage. This subtlety was lost on Pilate. ‘My kingdom’ is a phrase Pilate understands in one way only: worldly power, riches, domination, influence, kudos. He takes note, and questions Jesus again, and surely with a sharp edge of incredulity: ‘So then! You are a king???’ [emphasis mine].
Pilate is not listening. Jesus is trying to say the exact opposite, that he is not a king in Pilate’s sense of the word, that the word ‘kingdom,’ in Pilate’s sense, does not apply to him, for he has no wealth, no soldiers, no public support of any kind. He is trying to say to Pilate that his ‘kingdom’, if the word must be used, does not operate according to the standards of this world, and it is no threat to Pilate.
But something else is being said, also. While Jesus wants Pilate to know that he desires nothing that Pilate has, Jesus is not afraid to imply that he is lord of a realm, a ‘kingdom’. It exists on a deeper level than the stage of worldly success and domination. But Pilate is out of his depth and doesn’t get it at all. Jesus is too subtle for him, too deep – and too brilliant. This world, this stage of success and domination, is the only world Pilate knows. Pilate is, again, feeling a loss of control over the whole dialogue.
He is trying to cover his confusion now, I suspect. He has no wish to appear ridiculous and precipitate to the public in his handling of this awkward situation. It is still not clear to him what the real issues are. His reputation will not be enhanced by the passing of an unjust sentence – he knows this. So, the question of Jesus’ identity needs to be answered. Is Jesus really the usurper that the Jews are making him out to be?