Tag Archives: Saint Irenaeus

November 3, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: iii – ‘We are not called to sit back and watch it happen’

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Zakopane, Poland

Living Kingdom values creates true worship of God – God is praised when we are fully alive – Irenaeus. Jesus’ perfect human life, because it is the human life of God’s Word cannot be assailed by death. As the liturgy tells us, for anyone freely sharing such values life is changed, not ended. With the assurance of his promise to all who follow him – when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw you to myself – John 12.32.

Creation has reached its peak in the Word made Flesh: God wanted all perfection to be found in him – Colossians1.19. In him we have goodness made flesh – the way made flesh – Jesus didn’t say I know the way… he said I am the way – be with me and know the way. All that will be left behind is whatever is incapable of surviving death: selfishness, jealousy, envy and every kind of exclusion – he who does not love remains in death – 1John 3.14.

This, however, is not a passive experience, we are not called to sit back and watch it happen. Surely it is total gift, freely given to anyone – literally anyone – willing to receive it; but it is also a challenge, a task: if anyone wants to accept this way, renounce self, take up your cross and join me – Mark 8.34. This is not charades – not mimicry, how he looked and what he wore are irrelevant, what matters is to be as enthusiastic as he was to help others – feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned.

Paul hardly ever refers to what we call the life of Christ. For him Jesus is always the risen Lord. That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead – Philippians 3.10. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world – John 16.33.

There is an element of struggle here in words like overcome. There are elements in us which shout we do not want this man to reign over us – Luke 19.14, we have a choice to make. Because the Kingdom has come a radical change is needed: The time has come, the Kingdom is at hand – repent – Mark 1.15. God has established the Kingdom, yet I am free to say I will not serve.

AMcC

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8 March, Human Will IV: The Will and Virtue

 

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In the Church’s anthropology, our will is one.  We have ‘free will.’  Saint Irenaeus, in the third century, wrote that the human person is ‘master over his acts’ precisely because of his free will.  We are therefore responsible for our decisions and actions.  Those decisions and actions of which we are ashamed cannot be panned off on some other sort of ‘will’ present within us.

At the same time, we know that our will’s capacity to respond to the promptings of our conscience is not always immediate or consistent.  Although Augustine thought our emotions and our will can and should work as one, the fact is that sometimes the will is under the sway of our emotions.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this important observation:

Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts [no. 1734]. 

Let us pause over this sentence and savour it a bit.  It means that if we want our will to function properly with ‘mastery’ over our acts, it needs some help.  First, as the Catechism indicates, help is needed on the level of virtue.  The Church defines virtue as ‘an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.  Virtue allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself’ [Catechism, no. 1803].[1]

What is important to note here is the encouraging news that we can grow in virtue.  Each time we do something truly good, the will is strengthened by that action, and we grow in our ability to continue to do good.  We grow not only in terms of the ease with which we act in a good way, but we grow in our understanding of what we are doing and why: we grow in spiritual depth.  We thereby make real progress in virtue, and strengthen the power of our will.

The next idea in the sentence we are considering is that our will’s mastery is strengthened by our progress in ‘knowledge of the good.’  Perhaps you are someone who has been a Christian all your life, or perhaps you are someone who is just discovering God, Jesus, Christianity.  But, wherever we may be on the Christian timeline, we all need to grow in our ‘knowledge of the good.’

We do not live in a society that accepts that ‘the good’ exists in a way that makes requirements on all people.  Much of what Christianity declares to be truly good in an unchanging and universal sense, our society simply writes off as mere opinion – not binding on anyone except those who hold such opinions.  This can be confusing, both for long-term Christians, and new Christians.  To really know ‘the good’, it is necessary to turn to the teaching of the Church, to pray for understanding, and to be courageous enough to reject some counterfeit notions of goodness that are the currency of our culture.  The Church has always been counter-cultural and Christians must simply expect that the ethical and moral teachings of the Church will be a challenge to many of our society’s popular notions of morality.   As we gradually come to understand what is truly good, and live in accordance with our knowledge, our will is strengthened, and its mastery over our acts is enhanced.  We become more alive, more joyful, on a very deep level.

And lastly, our phrase from the Catechism uses the word ‘ascesis.’  What is that?  Perhaps we can call it the ability to set limits on our pleasures.  Living for mere pleasure can quickly degenerate into addiction.  And it is well known that addiction’s pleasures operate by the law of diminishing returns.  This is not to suggest that a Christian should have no pleasure, but that pleasure is the by-product of joy, and joy comes when our will, guided by our reason and informed by faith, exercises mastery over our acts.  Perhaps it is easiest to understand ascesis as self-discipline that functions for the purpose of enabling us to be free of dependences in order to live fully for God.  St. Augustine’s prayer, published at the beginning of these posts, affirms God helps us on the level of our will.  He is the strength of the will that serves him.

 

[1] This is not the place to give a detailed treatment of all the virtues, but those wishing to understand more about this subject may refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1804 – 1829.

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April 11th – Reflections on Freedom and Responsibility IX

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Light and dark on the Devil’s chair, Shropshire. MMB.

St Irenaeus, in the second century, writes this on the relationship between our capacity for freedom and for evil:

The light does not force itself on any man against his will; nor does God constrain a man, if he refuses to accept God’s working.  Therefore, all who revolt from the Father’s light, and who transgress the law of liberty, have removed themselves through their own fault, since they were created free and self-determining [Against Heresies ].

Origen, around the third century, says similarly: ‘It is laid down in the doctrine of the Church that every rational soul is possessed of free choice and will; and that it has to struggle against the devil.’

There is simply no way around it: we cannot possess our freedom by giving free reign to our every desire, no matter how selfish.  Pope Emeritus Benedict has written,

[The human person] is called to greatness, but his freedom can allow the contrary temptation, that of wanting to be great over against God….  Sometimes we feel like saying to God, If you had made man a little less great, then he wouldn’t be so dangerous.  If you hadn’t given him his freedom, then he should not be able to fall so far.  And yet, we don’t quite dare to say it in the end, because at the same time we are grateful that God did put greatness into man.’

 SJC

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15th March – Original Grace not Original Sin is our origin

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MMB.

Our hands are the hands God is waiting for, our bodies where God is at home. We are God’s seed; as the acorn becomes the oak, so God’s seed becomes for us God’s real presence. Whence came the concept that we are here on mother earth to be tested and not be found wanting. True humanness – Jesus – shows us – means getting involved [God is Relationship] with the world in so many relationship various ways prompted by our vocational calling. Remember Original Grace not Original Sin is our origin – see what we have done by missing the point. What does the expression I’m only human say to you? What God made flesh in Jesus shows us that our selfish sinfulness has us less than human. The world is always shaped by the way we live in it, and if we are living in a less than human way we get the world we make. Such a world has no room for God – literally, as the Crucifixion shows. When the world is lived-in in a truly human way [in the manner of Jesus’ value system] we have the wonderful prayer – God is praised when we are fully alive. [Irenaeus].

We are sent to get to the heart of the world with its messiness and violence as well as much more in wonder and joy. The Cloths of Heaven – Yeats – speaks God’s involvement with us beautifully

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with gold and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.

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As our relationship with God is not as one among many others – God IS; and as we are of God when we relate genuinely we are allowing our God origin to become real presence through us. It is often said: in our love for each other we found God – nice words, but somewhat erroneous. Only God is love so it is in God that we find each other. God is relationship and when we relate to affirm the goodness all around we become fully alive.

AMcC

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