Tag Archives: Saint Paul

5 October. Little Flowers XXXXI. Francis and the Robbers, 2.

flowers.francis.illustrationYesterday we read how Brother Angel, the guardian, chased away the three robbers who came begging at the friary. Francis sent him to bring bread and wine to them, bread and wine that he himself had begged.

The obedient guardian came up with the robbers and offered to them the bread and the wine, and said all that Saint Francis had laid upon him.

And sith it was the will of God, these robbers as they ate the alms of Saint Francis, began to
say among themselves Woe unto us, miserable wretches! how grievous are the pains of hell that await us, who go about not only robbing our neighbours, and beating and wounding, but likewise slaying them; yet we feel no whit remorse of conscience, nor fear of God; and lo! this holy brother that hath come to us and humbly hath confessed his fault for diverse words he justly spake against our wickedness; and more than this, hath brought us bread and wine and so bounteous a promise from the holy Father; of a truth these be holy brothers of God, and merit the paradise of God; and we be sons of eternal perdition and merit the pains of hell, and every day increase our own damnation; and we know not whether we can turn us from the sins that we have done up till now. Come, what is it that we needs must do?

Let us go,” said one, “unto Saint Francis ; and if he gives us hope that we may find mercy of God for our sins, let us do whatsoever he bids us, and so deliver us. Thls counsel was pleasing unto the others; and so they all three being agreed gat them in haste to Saint Francis, and bespake him thus: “Father, for the multitude of sins and wickednesses that we have committed, we deem it not possible to return to the mercy of God; but if thou hast any hope that God will receive us into His mercy, lo! we be ready to do whatsoever thou shalt tell us, and to do penance with thee.”

Thereat Saint Francis, dealing lovingly with them and in kindly fashion, comforted them with many examples : and making them assured of the mercy of God, promised them of a surety to obtain it for them from God, and setting forth to them how that the mercy of God is infinite; and that if we had sins without number, yet the mercy of God is greater than our sins, according to the Gospel; and the Apostle Saint Paul saith: “Christ, the blessed One, came into the world to save sinners.”

Through the which words and the like admonishments, the three robbers renounced the devil and all his works. And Saint Francis admitted them into the Order.

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September 21: What is Theology Saying? XXXI,  I am capable of receiving God’s grace.

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I am created a human being, capable of receiving God’s grace. In order to give himself freely God freely creates personal beings. Thus is there union between God and humanity in Grace – somewhat analogous to the Incarnation wherein there is communion of two natures without fusion or separation. This means that in any concrete situation it is never possible to isolate what is nature from what is Grace.

Grace is the wonder of creation as evidence of God and God’s love. It is concentrated in humanity. Human charm and beauty reflect God: “Because you love me, you make me lovable” says Augustine. The reason why love of enemy is seen as grace-full is because there is no sense of recompense in it, it is entirely gratuitous, and calls for the involvement of the will.

In speaking about his own conversion [Gal.1.13-16] Paul refers to a before and an after. Nothing suggests conversion was going to happen, it came as gift. But this gift did not “begin” on that road; it was from eternity. For Paul, Grace is the experience of God desiring him.

Tradition refers to Christ and the Spirit as the two hands of God reaching out to embrace us. Unfortunately, the elaboration of the role of the Spirit did not receive the same detailed attention as did Christ. Yet both are crucial for a proper understanding of Christianity – Easter and Pentecost.

Prior to Pentecost the Spirit was experienced as a nameless force, an invisible wind. With Pentecost the Spirit is named: the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is deep within human experiences, rousing them to creativity and vitality.

AMcC

St Aloysius, Somers Town, Euston, London.

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29 August: Saint Sabina

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I doubt I’ll find out how an icon of a second century Roman martyr saint came to be displayed in a redundant church in Shropshire, but that’s where we found this image of Saint Sabina. Who was she?

A wealthy woman by all accounts, who was converted by her Syrian slave girl, Serapia. That alone makes me wonder what sort of relationships existed between Roman citizens and their slaves. But it was not a Roman, but a Victorian woman, Mrs Alexander, who wrote All things bright and beautiful, including the lines, ‘The rich man in his castle,/ The poor man at his gate,/ God made them high and lowly / And ordered their estate. 

But that’s not today’s reflection!

Sabina held Serapia dear enough to have her body rescued after she was martyred, and buried in the family tomb. Sabina herself was denounced and executed soon afterwards.

The ancient Basilica of Saint Sabina in Rome is built where her house had stood.

Serapia shows us how anyone can be a herald of the Gospel; Sabina invites us to humbly pay attention to everyone around us, to respect those who serve us. A bus driver, postman or woman, a supermarket worker or nurse; none of these is our slave but our sister or brother in Christ rendering us service. That much Sabina saw; an early step on the road to abolition. The two ideas of equality and slavery are irreconcilable, unless everyone is equally precious and everyone is also a willing slave towards their neighbours.

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.

Philippians 2:5-8

 

Photo from St Batholomew, Richard’s Castle.

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17 July, What is Theology Saying? XVII: The Eucharist 4: he is the beloved.

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There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

Scripture will have none of this – it is totally refuted by Jesus. One of the most significant comments Jesus made was the seemingly simple – the Father loves me – John.15.9. et al. Indeed his total identity as we hear at his baptism and the Transfiguration is that he is the beloved of Abba – Galatians 4.4. So, Abba can love! But God cannot love a creature as such: as we have seen, there is no equality; but there is a reality in Jesus which is beyond creaturehood. To say God loves me is to say he is divine.

Where does this leave us? In telling us that the Father loves him, Jesus – who is truly human – is telling us that the father loves everything about him – and especially the common humanity we share with him: to all who believe he gave power to know God as Abba – i.e. we are loved by God as Jesus is loved, as equals yet each one uniquely; which is why the Church always concludes worship and prayer with ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Saint Paul writes that it is the re-shaping of community that allows us to see the presence of Christ. Eucharist fails in its purpose if it allows any form of discrimination for whatever reason: 1Corinthians.11; Romans.12; Galatians.2. The Eucharist asks us individually and collectively where we are as regards God’s unconditional hospitality.

AMcC

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July 6: What do the Saints know? Part II: 6, Love and the Gift of Wisdom.

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So God makes it possible for me to love. And he has done this so well that love, in fact, is our greatest delight. Normally human beings love to love much more than we love to have faith or we love to have hope. As St Thomas puts it: “…no virtue has such a strong inclination to its act as charity, nor does any virtue perform its act with so great pleasure” (II.II.23.2).

Yet, although charity is infused into our hearts, we are nonetheless the ones who love. As St Thomas says, “Love of its very nature implies an act of the will” (II.II. 23.2). Grace makes it possible for us to love, and even connatural, but it is not inevitable. We must freely choose to do our own loving.

St. Thomas goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit augments our capacity to love by the gift of Wisdom. How does this Wisdom help us? Wisdom, says St. Thomas, “denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the eternal law” (II.II.45.2). With Wisdom, we begin, in other words, to evaluate experiences not according not to the transitory things of this life, but according to what really matters, what will matter in eternal life.

Thomas says that there are two aspects of Wisdom: one, of course, is the ability to think clearly, as we would expect. The other is to do with “a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. ….It belongs to Wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit to judge rightly about [divine things] on account of connaturality with them.”

What strikes me here is the difference between charity on one hand and faith and hope on the other. In faith and hope the Beloved is known, yes, but he is known, it seems to me, as the one who is sought. Here, in this teaching on connaturality with divine things, there is a glorious sense of finding, of possessing the Beloved. “Now this sympathy or connaturality for divine things is the result of charity, which unites us to God,” says Thomas simply. And he brings in 1Corinthians: “…he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.” This loving union, then, gives us a connaturality with God that encompases everything about us.

Moreover, in the gift of Wisdom, one not only learns about divine things, Thomas says, but also ‘suffers’ divine things – suffering in the sense of undergoing divine things. So these ‘divine things’ become not extrinsic to our deepest being, but are experienced and known right there in our deepest core, our heart of hearts.

SJC

St Francis Embraces Christ, Ste Anne de Beaupre, Canada, Christina Chase.

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4 May: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXI; the immeasurable treasure of most holy poverty.

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We continue from yesterday’s episode: Saint Francis abandons France for Rome. These Franciscans were in Kent, on pilgrimage to Canterbury.

Saint Francis said : My comrade, let us go to Saint Peter and Saint Paul and pray them to teach us and help us to possess the immeasurable treasure of most holy poverty ; for it is a treasure so high excelling and so divine that we be not worthy to lay it up in our vile vessels; since this is that celestial virtue whereby all earthly things and fleeting are trodden under foot, and whereby all hindrances are lifted from the soul, so that freely she may join herself to God eternal. And this is the virtue that makes the soul, still tied to earth, hold converse with the angels in heaven, and this it is that hung with Christ upon the cross, with Christ was buried, with Christ rose up again, with Christ ascended into heaven; the which also in this life grants to the souls that love it an easier flight to heaven ; in that it guards the arms of true humility and love. Wherefore let us pray the most holy apostles of Christ, the which were perfect lovers of this gospel pearl, that they may beg for us this grace from our Lord Jesu Christ, that of His most holy mercy He may make us worthy to become true lovers, followers, and humble disciples, of the most precious, most lovable, and gospel poverty.” 

With such converse they so fared until they came unto Rome, and went into the church of Saint Peter; and Saint Francis set himself to pray in one corner of the church, and Brother Masseo in another; and as he continued a long time in prayer with much weeping and devotion, there appeared unto Saint Francis the most holy apostles Peter and Paul in great splendour, and said “Because thou hast asked and desired to observe that which Christ and His holy apostles observed, the Lord Jesu Christ hath sent us unto thee to announce that thy prayer is heard, and that God has granted to thee and to thy followers in uttermost perfection the treasure of most holy poverty. And further we tell thee that whoso after thy pattern shall perfectly follow this desire, he is assured of the blessedness of life eternal: and blessed shalt thou and all thy followers be ”; and with these words they were away, leaving Saint Francis filled with consolation. And rising from prayer, he returned to his companion and asked him if God had revealed naught unto him; and he answered, “Naught.” Then Saint Francis told him how the holy apostles had appeared to him, and what they had revealed. Whereat they both being filled with joy resolved to return unto the valley of Spoleto, and leave their journeying into France.

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14 March: Telling the Truth, I.

samaritanwoman

Sometimes Jesus spoke the truth directly and was understood directly, as when he met the woman at the well. Even then, his talk of living water confused her (John 4). At other times he spoke the truth in parables, challenging what William Blake prized: the imagination.

We find Paul, the trained lawyer, trying to speak the truth through logical argument; the writer to the Hebrews as well. And that’s just the New Testament.

In this time of ‘fake news’ I was thinking of the problems of speaking truth so as to be understood, without watering down or distorting the message. Then I read this post  from the John Rylands Library in Manchester, looking at the problem as it concerns the librarians trying to catalogue items fully and accurately.

It’s worth reading and it’s also worth looking at the missionary slides that Jessica Smith, the writer, has been working on. I hope and pray that my researches into the archives will be interpreted faithfully and warts and all, and written with clarity and charity.

MMB

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November 19: Prisons Week – A Week of Prayer

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Prisons Week, A Week of Prayer

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. PHILIPPIANS 3 V12 (NIV)

The Apostle Paul here speaks as someone who knows the pain of endurance and hopelessness. Tortured and beaten, in prison many times for his faith, he nonetheless spoke to fellow prisoners about the hope he had found in Jesus. He had started as offender, hurting and maiming others, but found forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Yet life did not magically grow easier; instead he had to learn to live with his past, and face an uncertain present of false accusations and persecution for his faith. He was someone kept alive by hope, who endured and persevered in the face of desperate circumstances.

What better inspiration for all those connected to the criminal justice system, than Paul’s words? For the victims who struggle day by day to live with memories and scars, and hope for a better tomorrow; for the staff, who patiently come alongside broken men and women, and walk with them the slow road towards change; for prisoners themselves, trying to make sense of their lives, fighting against the scars and choices of the past and fear of the future; and for the families and friends of those in prison, faithfully visiting and supporting. Paul encourages all not to give up hope, but keep their eyes on the goal, keep going. Yet this isn’t about making efforts and working harder. It is about recognising that in Jesus, God has already ‘taken hold’ of us. That victims, prisoners, staff and families, are not walking this road alone, but God, who loves them, is ready to walk with them. In Prison Week, we stand in prayer with all who carry on in hope, that they would know they are loved by God and have the faith and courage to press on towards new life.

+ Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

A Prisons Week Prayer

Please pray for those in prison this week, using this prayer or another.

Lord, you offer freedom to all people. We pray for those in prison. Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist. Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends, prison staff and all who care. Heal those who have been wounded by the actions of others, especially the victims of crime. Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly together with Christ in his strength and in his Spirit, now and every day. Amen.

At the end of Prisons Week we will have a further reflection from a priest working with prisoners. Will T.

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November 15: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xv – ‘What now?’

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What has happened thus far is following the maxim: the whole equals the sum total of the parts – whereas the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The implications: the fixed character of reality gives way to a fluid flowing, driven by energies of which we know nothing, which we cannot control. Rational argument doesn’t work anymore – cause and effect do not work as we presumed they did. Creation is relationally friendly. Quantum vision can be summarised: Creation manifests itself; energy exists; time begins; space expands; events are uncertain; only probabilities can be measured; cause and effect are fluid; birth and death happen at the speed of light; information is to be found in energy.

No room here for power-over, only power with. Power games are alien to life. Thirst for control makes no sense, where everything exercises its own sense of control – everything is out of our control. We live in a self-organising universe, which calls for humility on our part, to submit our plans to the greater wisdom of Creation.

How do we see Jesus in this context? Maybe Saint Paul can help: So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone the new is here… 2Corinthians 5.16.

Paul is inviting us to regard Jesus differently from the prevailing norms. Christ’s coming has changed all this. All the great religions grapple with our relationship with the divine – but the desire for power gets in the way. The understanding of God as relationship is the oldest humanity has ever known – and from this issue notions of Trinity. Christian history has seen Trinity from a mathematical angle in which the individuality of the persons became more significant than their relatedness. Jesus seen as closer to the Father than to the Spirit – though New Testament has nothing of this.

Jesus belongs to the realm where the whole is greater than the sum total of the parts; he belongs to the whole Creation – he is the primary expression of divine creativity. How Jesus differs from Father and Spirit could well be a meaningless question. The need for a difference is a human patriarchal need, which gets in the way of our befriending God in a Creation-wide way.

AMcC

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November 14: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiv – ‘ A place for everyone at table.’

 

Throughout the parables and miracle stories Jesus is forever flouting rules and tradition; and offers no apology for so doing. He certainly went to the Temple to pray, but often accompanied by outcasts whose presence defiled the holy place. Jesus was committed to fullness of life above and beyond any and every system. He made people search for God not only in holy books, but principally in daily life; he uses everyday language – calling on everyday experiences; he insists we are constantly in God’s presence, not just when we formally pray – he makes care and concern for the other the key factor for kingdom living.

The Twelve certainly expected the messiah to be heroic – and they were disillusioned when he didn’t live up to expectations. Saint Paul’s vision of Church is more in line – centred on the Word in service of the community – but by the Second Century the Church was rapidly becoming institutionalised according to a shape at variance with Jesus’ own vision. This was when ecclesiastical [ritualisation] became more important than ecclesial [community in faith]. However, the original vision was never lost, nor will it ever be lost. Truth always survives, despite efforts to constrain it. What came to be known as the dark ages was when the Church had difficulty in controlling what was happening – whereas from the perspective of the Spirit it was a time of creativity and growth.

Is the real Jesus the middle-class revolutionary we have inherited? Are we true to the prophetic figure from Nazareth? Was the following of Jesus meant to be via a respectable religion? Can the freedom of the oppressed, and the empowering of the powerless happen this way? We surely should be recognised as different – to live for Jesus demands much more of us than to die for him. It means seeking justice, inclusiveness and equality – a place for everyone at table. Kingdom living was not something Jesus inaugurated for others to embrace and follow. He is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is how he lives and relates. What was he seeing that captivated him so much?

We are brought up through co-dependency – some are in charge, most aren’t. Our role is largely passive obedience. God is father, the Church is mother, making our relationship that of children. In such a setting the discipleship of equals has no chance. Adult is reserved for those in charge. Compassion is a fascinating quality in Jesus – it is always a verb, not a noun. Compassion means entering into the suffering of another, not just being there to help; and has nothing to do with pity and mercy.

AMcC

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