Tag Archives: riches

16 January: Thomas Traherne XXV, a little Heaven in the creatures.

earthnasa

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 Adam&Eve (391x640)to enjoy what you have first, and covet more if you can afterwards.

Meditations 2:12

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.

Will T

Images: NASA; stone at Dryburgh Abbey, Scottish Borders, MMB.

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January 13: Thomas Traherne XXII, Suppose the Sun were absent

darkevening

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.

Meditations 2:7.

‘Repine’ here we read as ‘moan’. Better to be grateful for what is given us, and so be happy.

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January 8: Delight

open-hands-prayer

Delight has empty hands.

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?

strasbg.harrowhell (505x394)

See: The Collected Poems of Vernon Watkins, Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 2000, p9.

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18 December. The ruined chapel, II: in the nearby church and in Uganda.

richards castle pew

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.

ruined chapel

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.

 

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November 20: The King IV, Over to Pilate.

 

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?

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28 September, The Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia, I: Saint Francis and Orlando.

flowers.francis.illustration

 

Among the Little Flowers of Saint Francis are Reflections on his Holy Stigmata. The first of these, which we will read in series until his feast day, tells how the Franciscan order was given Mount Alvernia as a place of penance and solitude.

Ye must needs know that Saint Francis, being forty and three years of age, in the year 1224, being inspired of God, set out from the Vale of Spoleto for to go into Romagna with Brother Leo his companion; and as they went, they passed by the foot of the Castle of Montefeltro; in the which Castle there was at that time a great company of gentlefolk, and much feasting, by reason of the knighting of one of the same Counts of Montefeltro. And Saint Francis, hearing of the festivities that were holden there and how that many gentle folk of divers countries were there gathered together, spake unto Brother Leo: “Let us go up unto this feast, for with the help of God we may win some good fruit of souls.”

Among the other gentle folk from that country, that were of that knightly company, was a great and eke a wealthy gentleman of Tuscany, by name Orlando da Chiusi, of Casentino; who by reason of the marvellous things that he had heard of the sanctity and the miracles of Saint Francis; bore him great devotion, and felt an exceeding strong desire to see him and to hear him preach.

Coming to the castle, Saint Francis entered in, and came to the courtyard where all that great company of gentle folk was gathered together, and in fervour of spirit stood up upon a parapet, and began to preach, taking as the text of his sermon these words in the vulgar tongue:

So great the joys I have in sight,

That every sorrow brings delight.


Upon this text, as the Holy Spirit gave Francis utterance, he preached so devoutly and sublimely, of the divers pains and martyrdoms of the holy Apostles and the holy Martyrs, and the hard penances of the holy Confessors, and the many tribulations and temptations of the holy Virgins and the other saints, that all the folk stood with their eyes and their minds turned towards him, and gave such heed as though it were an angel of God speaking; among the which Orlando, touched in the heart by God through the marvellous preaching of Saint Francis, set it in his heart to confer and to have speech with Saint Francis, after the sermon, touching the state of his soul, Therefore, when the preaching was done, he drew Saint Francis aside, and said unto him: “O father, I would confer with thee touching the salvation of my soul.” Replied Saint Francis: It pleaseth me right well; but go this morning and do honour to thy friends, who have called thee to the feast, and dine with them, and after thou hast dined, we will speak together as much as thou wilt.”

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13 September. Before the Cross XXIV: The Image Of Death

 

rosary.rjb

Reading this poem by Saint Robert Southwell, I at once remembered my father’s rosary, with the skull below Christ’s feet. So although Southwell does not directly refer to the crucifixion, this is the image that comes to my mind. How Dad’s fingers have eroded the figure of Christ and the skull! May he pray for us still, as he prayed for his children every day. Reginald Billingsley would have been 100 years old last New Year’s Eve. A ‘hearse’ at Southwell’s time was a frame that held candles over a coffin. Robert Southwell was a Jesuit  missionary to his native England, and a martyr at Tyburn, London in 1595.

Upon The Image Of Death

Before my face the picture hangs
That daily should put me in mind
Of those cold names and bitter pangs
That shortly I am like to find;
But yet, alas, full little I
Do think hereon that I must die.

I often look upon a face
Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin;
I often view the hollow place
Where eyes and nose had sometimes been;
I see the bones across that lie,
Yet little think that I must die.

I read the label underneath,
That telleth me whereto I must;
I see the sentence eke that saith
Remember, man, that thou art dust!
But yet, alas, but seldom I
Do think indeed that I must die.

Continually at my bed’s head
A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell
That I ere morning may be dead,
Though now I feel myself full well ;
But yet, alas, for all this, I
Have little mind that I must die.

The gown which I do use to wear,
The knife wherewith I cut my meat,
And eke that old and ancient chair
Which is my only usual seat,-
All these do tell me I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

My ancestors are turned to clay,
And many of my mates are gone;
My youngers daily drop away,
And can I think to ‘scape alone?
No, no, I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Not Solomon for all his wit,
Nor Samson, though he were so strong,
No king nor person ever yet
Could ‘scape but death laid him along;
Wherefore I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Though all the East did quake to hear
Of Alexander’s dreadful name,
And all the West did likewise fear
To hear of Julius Caesar’s fame,
Yet both by death in dust now lie;
Who then can ‘scape but he must die?

If none can ‘scape death’s dreadful dart,
If rich and poor his beck obey,
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
Then I to ‘scape shall have no way.
Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I
My life may mend, sith I must die.

Saint Robert Southwell

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September 1: Devotion to truth is a devotion to God.

nasaM81galaxy

Truth can be hidden in many ways. We can so easily convince ourselves that we are more important than we are. One example of this is street and even alleyway lighting: there is more of it than we need, and because LED lamps are so economical, councils are loth to risk the ire of people who want the lights on all night. But we don’t need all those lights!

We are none of us so important that we need lights on in our street all through the night, just in case we come home late. And the lights also get in the way of a humbling fact of life: we might realise that we are small, unimportant in the universe, if only we could see the stars!

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.                                    Psalm 8.

I’ve been saving these paragraphs on Astronomy to share with you, from the Vatican Observatory blog, Sacred Space. The writer is Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Observatory.

“Why does the Vatican have an Observatory?” That common question begs the bigger one, why anyone does astronomy. Contrary to what our culture preaches, astronomy doesn’t make you rich, powerful, or sexy. (Maybe that’s why my Jesuit vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience felt so natural.) What astronomy does do, however, is give you the space to contemplate questions bigger than “what’s for lunch?”

Doing science is a way of becoming intimate with creation, and thus with the Creator. The urge to know the truth above all else is common to all scientists, even those who don’t recognize that their devotion to truth is a devotion to God. To me it is an act of prayer. 

Image from NASA

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26 July. Little Flowers of Saint Francis LIV: The courteous gentleman, 3.

 

flowers.francis.illustration

When they drew near unto the courteous gentleman’s house, Saint Francis said to his companion: “Wait here for me a little while, for I fain would first pray to God that He may prosper our journey; that Jesu Christ may be pleased to grant us, weak and poor though we be, the noble prey that we mind to snatch from the world, through the virtue of His most holy passion.”

And this said, he set himself to pray in a place where he could be seen by the said courteous
gentleman; whereby, sith it was the will of God, as he was looking hither and thither, he beheld Saint Francis praying most devoutly before Christ, who with a great brightness appeared to him in the aforesaid prayer and stood before him; and the while he saw Saint Francis for some good space uplifted bodily from the earth. For the which cause he was so touched and inspired of God to leave the world, that incontinent he came forth out of his palace and ran towards Saint Francis, and coming up to him as he was at prayer, he kneeled down at his feet, and with exceeding great fervour and devotion besought him that it would please him to receive him and to do penance together with him.

Then Saint Francis, seeing his prayer was heard of God, and that that which he himself desired, this gentle man was begging for most earnestly, lifted him up, and in fervour and gladness of spirit embraced and kissed him, devoutly giving thanks to God, who had added so worthy a knight unto his company. And quoth that gentleman to Saint Francis: “What dost thou bid me do, my Father? Lo! I am ready to do thy bidding and give to the poor whatsoever I possess, and thus disburdened of all temporal things, to follow Christ with thee.”

And even so he did, according to the counsel of Saint Francis, distributing all that he had to the poor, and entered into the Order, and lived in great penitence and holiness of life and upright conversation.

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24 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LII: the courteous gentleman, 1.

 

footwash

How Jesu Christ, the blessed One, at the prayer of St Francis, let convert a rich and gentle knight and become a brother, the which had shewn great honour and liberality unto Saint Francis

Saint Francis, the servant of Christ, coming late one evening to the house of a great gentleman and powerful, was received of him to lodge therein, both he and his companion, as if they were angels of God, with exceeding great courtesy and devotion: for the which cause Saint Francis was greatly touched with love for him, bethinking him how at their coming into the house he had embraced and kissed them lovingly, and then had washed their feet and wiped and humbly kissed them, and had kindled a great fire and made ready the table with much good food, and whilst they ate, he served them always with a joyful countenance. 

Now, when that Saint Francis and his companion had eaten, this gentle man said: “Behold, my father, I offer to thee myself and all my goods; so oft as ye have need of tunic or mantle or aught beside, buy them and I will pay for them; and behold, I am ready to provide your every need, since by the grace of God am I able, seeing that I abound in all temporal goods; and therefore, for the love of God, that hath given them me, I do good unto His poor right willingly.”

Whereby Saint Francis, seeing in him such gentle courtesy and friendliness, and so liberal an offering, conceived in his heart great love towards him.

To be continued.

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