Tag Archives: saints

11 June: What do the Saints know? II, What is connaturality?

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What does St. Thomas mean by the idea of connaturality? Does he use the word at all? How does it fit into his teaching?

The latin word connaturalitate comes easily sixty or so times throughout the Summa. And, it means what you would expect it to mean: it is not a mysterious or complicated concept. A connatural abililty refers to something that a being does or thinks which comes naturally to it, although the ability may not be an original part of its nature. It may be an acquired ability. Say, cooking! Or the way an actor acts a part. Or the ability to play an instrument well. Such abilities may feel strange at first, but eventually proficiency is achieved and the ability becomes connatural – or second nature. But, the level of connaturality we are considering here has to do not only with a set of physical abilities, or even mental ones. For St Thomas, connaturality goes much deeper, into a kind of sympathy with something (compassio is the latin term used by St Thomas), or a participation in something, a union with something to the point of undergoing what that thing undergoes, suffering what it suffers (patiens); an understanding of it from within.

St. Thomas uses the word connaturality a lot. He seems to like it. It is even possible to miss the use of the word connatural some of the time, because St Thomas uses it fairly unsensationally. But, eventually, when he begins to talk about faith, hope and charity – the famous ‘theological’ virtues – and to describe the effects of grace, he uses the word connatural again, to show that participating as fully as possible in our supernatural end – which is God’s very life – can become just as natural to us as living merely according to our natural tendencies. Here he is making a profound point, because he says many times that although we were created with an ‘inbuilt’ tendency toward our supernatural end, that end is beyond the reach of our fallen, un-graced, abilities. So, when he says that life with God can become connatural to us, it is something to notice. In fact, to my mind, whenever he is talking about the transforming power of grace, the idea of our arriving at a state of connaturality with divine things is implicit in an overarching way, even when he is not actually using the word.

The theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, are the root of all virtue for Thomas (II.II.4.7). They are at the beginning of the journey, not the end; they are our capacity for salutary action, and they fit us for connaturality with God, or better, they communicate God’s life to us. You might say that in the theological virtues, God is very ‘busy’ on our behalf, in Thomas’s teaching. Tomorrow we will begin to explore the virtue of faith.

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10 June: What do the Saints know? I, Introduction

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Welcome back to Sister Johanna OSB of Minster Abbey. Today we resume the Sundays in Ordinary Time after Easter, Pentecost, Trinity and Corpus Christi. And what gets us through ordinary time but the great virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, also called the Theological Virtues because they tell us about God, each one in its own way. Over to you, Sister Johanna!

St. Thomas Aquinas, Connaturality and the Theological Virtues

Part I

  1. Introduction

I was recently asked to give a talk to a group of retreatants visiting my monastery. This was a group with a particular interest in exploring the relationship between theology and prayer. The leader of the group had proposed ahead of time that we all reflect on the question, “What do the Saints Know?” and prepare a talk on this subject.

I was delighted with the question, and loved pondering it. It intrigued me to imagine the kind of knowledge of God enjoyed by the saints – I mean living saints who are walking about now on this earth and have not yet entered into eternal life with God – the ones who have struggled with the complexities of existence; the ones who desire to know God but feel that they have a long way to go. How do such strugglers arrive at sanctity? Do they develop a special ability to ‘know’ God, I wondered?

This thought led me back to something I discovered when studying the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas several years ago. St. Thomas is not always the easiest theologian to read and understand, but I have learned an enormous amount from him. I have presented some of my findings in previous posts. I think Thomas has something to offer now as we seek to understand what the saints know. This may be found in his teaching on the gift of connaturality with divine things – indeed, with God himself. This rather overlooked theme in the Summa of St Thomas underlies much of his teaching on human growth in divine grace. The reflections which will follow in the posts this week are based on Part II of the Second Part of the Summa Theologica. And they represent my personal dialogue with the text as I have read and pondered his words for my lectio divina.

Photo: On a journey. MMB.

 

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8 June: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXVI: How Saint Clare ate with Saint Francis, 3. (Shared Table XX)

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Then after some long space, Saint Francis and Saint Clare, together with all the others, returning to themselves again and feeling of good comfort from the spiritual food, took little heed of the food of the body.

And, that blessed feast thus ended, Saint Clare, escorted well, returned unto Saint Damian, whereby the sisters, beholding her, had joy exceeding great; for they feared lest Saint Francis should have sent her to rule some other convent, even as he had already sent Sister Agnes, her holy sister, as abbess to rule the convent of Monticelli at Florence: and Saint Francis on a time had said to Saint Clare: Be thou ready, if so be that I needs must send thee to some other House; and she, as a daughter of holy obedience, had made answer :
Father, I am at all times ready to go whithersoever thou mayest send me.” Wherefore the sisters rejoiced exceedingly when they saw her face again: and thenceforward Saint Clare abode in much consolation.

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June 5: Saint Boniface by Pope Benedict, 2.

Today is the Feast of Saint Boniface.

This great Bishop did not omit to encourage the foundation of various male and female monasteries so that they would become like beacons, so as to radiate human and Christian culture and the faith in the territory. He summoned monks and nuns from the Benedictine monastic communities in his homeland who gave him a most effective and invaluable help in proclaiming the Gospel and in disseminating the humanities and the arts among the population. Indeed, he rightly considered that work for the Gospel must also be work for a true human culture. Above all the Monastery of Fulda founded in about 743 was the heart and centre of outreach of religious spirituality and culture: there the monks, in prayer, work and penance, strove to achieve holiness; there they trained in the study of the sacred and profane disciplines and prepared themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel in order to be missionaries. Thus it was to the credit of Boniface, of his monks and nuns – for women too had a very important role in this work of evangelization – that human culture, which is inseparable from faith and reveals its beauty, flourished.

Although he was getting on in years (he was almost 80), he prepared himself for a new evangelizing mission: with about 50 monks he returned to Frisia where he had begun his work. Almost as a prediction of his imminent death, in alluding to the journey of life, he wrote to Bishop Lull, his disciple and successor in the see of Mainz: “I wish to bring to a conclusion the purpose of this journey; in no way can I renounce my desire to set out. The day of my end is near and the time of my death is approaching; having shed my mortal body, I shall rise to the eternal reward. May you, my dear son, ceaselessly call the people from the maze of error, complete the building of the Basilica of Fulda that has already been begun, and in it lay my body, worn out by the long years of life” (Willibald, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., p. 46). While he was beginning the celebration of Mass at Dokkum (in what today is northern Holland) on 5 June 754, he was assaulted by a band of pagans. Advancing with a serene expression he “forbade his followers from fighting saying, “cease, my sons, from fighting, give up warfare, for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil. Here is the long awaited day, the time of our end has now come; courage in the Lord!'” (ibid., pp. 49-50). These were his last words before he fell under the blows of his aggressors. The mortal remains of the Martyr Bishop were then taken to the Monastery of Fulda where they received a fitting burial.

Centuries later, what message can we gather today from the teaching and marvelous activity of this great missionary and martyr? For those who approach Boniface, an initial fact stands out: the centrality of the word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a word that he lived, preached and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so passionate about the word of God that he felt the urgent need and duty to communicate it to others, even at his own personal risk.

The second most important proof that emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central reference point of his missionary work; he always preserved this communion as a rule of his mission and left it, as it were, as his will.

Boniface also deserves our attention for a third characteristic: he encouraged the encounter between the Christian-Roman culture and the Germanic culture. Indeed, he knew that humanizing and evangelizing culture was an integral part of his mission as Bishop. In passing on the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he grafted on to the Germanic populations a new, more human lifestyle, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were more widely respected. As a true son of St Benedict, he was able to combine prayer and labour (manual and intellectual), pen and plough.

Boniface’s courageous witness is an invitation to us all to welcome God’s word into our lives as an essential reference point, to love the Church passionately, to feel co-responsible for her future, to seek her unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, by encouraging the dissemination of culture, furthers human progress. It is now up to us to be equal to such a prestigious patrimony and to make it fructify for the benefit of the generations to come.

His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again, at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.

By comparing his ardent faith, his zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time.

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May 31: R is for Rugeley

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Rugeley is a former mining town in Staffordshire, which used to have two coal-fired power stations; the second one closed in June 2017. One step towards cleaner air for the country and the planet.

Rugeley is also where Janet and I married, on this day, more than a few years ago in the Church of Saints Joseph and Etheldreda. One step forward together, and we’re still finding our way.

Unlike Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, but not the father of her child; and unlike Etheldreda (or Audrey) who was a Saxon Princess, Queen and Abbess, we got married in order to be and remain fully married and to accept the blessings of children.

Etheldreda was twice married for political reasons, but in each case she lived as a nun despite her married status – with her kingly husband’s consent each time. Except that her second husband eventually changed his mind.

Etheldreda did not change hers and ran first to Saint Ebba, whose monastery was just north of Berwick, across what is now the Scottish border, and thence to Ely, surrounded by marshes which hindered pursuit enough for her husband to  turn back to Northumberland.

Ely Abbey – for women and men, like Hilda’s Whitby – flourished under her leadership.

Let’s pray for the gift to hear what God is saying in our own hearts and the grace to follow his word.

And let’s pray that today’s church leaders will recognise the leadership gifts that many women have been given; and that innovative communities may flourish.

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19 May: Saint Dunstan, Bishop and Blacksmith. Relics XI

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It’s comforting to learn that a bishop has a hinterland, that he has not been born and bred in a purple cassock. Eric Treacy of Wakefield with his steam trains or the poet Archbishop Rowan Williams in more modern times, Peter the fisherman  and Paul the tentmaker at the beginning. But halfway between them we find Dunstan of Canterbury, bishop, blacksmith, harpist and illuminator of manuscripts. Who mentioned Dark Ages?

Back in September, Janet and I visited Canterbury Cathedral for their annual Open House day. There was a stall for the archaeologists, who had a dish of slag, the product of smelting iron from rock, just like that to be found around the tips of Merthyr Tydfil. In another dish alongside it were magnetic black chippings, typically 3mm long: these were shards of iron thrown off when a piece of hot iron was hammered on the anvil. ‘Is this from Saint Dunstan’s workshop?’ I joked. ‘Perhaps’, they said, ‘it’s certainly Saxon.’

It seems that Saxon Canterbury was a centre for fine ironwork. As that fact sank in, suddenly the portly monk was there beside us, just a few steps from his grave, wearing his leather apron, hammer in hand. Of course that was my fond imagination, though I had seen the self-portait of Dunstan kneeling before Christ when it was exhibited here and so knew what he looked like.

But those relics of manual work – maybe of Dunstan’s labour, but probably other monks’ really – said more to me than any bone in gold and crystal reliquary.

MMB.

Public Domain, Wikipedia.

 

 

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17 May: Little Flowers XXIII: How Saint Francis tamed the wild turtle-doves

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I T befell on a day that a certain young man caught many turtle-doves : and as he was carrying them for sale, Saint Francis, who had ever a tender pity for gentle creatures, met him, and looking on those turtle-doves with pitying eyes, said to the youth: “I pray thee give them me, that birds so gentle, unto which the Scripture likeneth chaste and humble and faithful souls, may not fall into the hands of cruel men that would kill them.” Forthwith, inspired of God, he gave them all to Saint Francis ; and he receiving them into his bosom, began to speak tenderly unto them:

“O my sisters, simple-minded turtle-doves, innocent and chaste, why have ye let yourselves be caught ? Now would I fain deliver you from death and make you nests, that ye may be fruitful and multiply, according to the commandments of your Creator.” And Saint Francis went and made nests for them all: and they abiding therein, began to lay their eggs and hatch them before the eyes of the brothers: and so tame were they, they dwelt with Saint Francis and all the other brothers as though they had been fowls that had always fed from their hands, and never did they go away until Saint Francis with his blessing gave them leave to go.

And to the young man who had given them to him, Saint Francis said: “My little son, thou wilt yet be a brother in this Order and do precious service unto Jesu Christ. And so it came to pass; for the said youth became a brother and lived in the Order in great sanctity,

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29 April: Saint Endellion.

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I wonder, dare I introduce yet another Celtic Princess and Saint?

Endellion was a sister to Tydfil, the South Wales Martyr; their father was King Brychan of South Wales. It seems there was a family-run mission from Wales to Cornwall – the royal family was as busy then as their descendants are today, but more directly evangelising rather than fostering good works.

Even so, Endellion felt the call to a quieter life, spending more time in prayer as a hermit both in Cornwall near the village which bears her name today, and more remote from humanity, on Lundy Island. She had a cow, whose milk was her principal source of nourishment. I like to think of her making cheese as well as drinking the liquid milk, and sharing cheeses with her sister and brother, Saints Dilic and Nectan, who lived nearby.

Quite a family!

The story is that Endellion was martyred by Saxon pirates and buried on a hill-top, where a church in her name stands to this day. The icon was made by John Coleman in 2005; we were glad to see such a peaceful figure in the church. Her cow is there and the symbol of themartyr’s palm, in view of her death at the hands of heathen men.

The Church hosts many concerts and arts events as well as its regular Anglican worship.

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April 15: Feeling the Fire: III

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Back to Ignatius for a final word:

Thank you Will. I don’t doubt it. Writing this post, I was reminded of all the hidden, inglorious heroes there are. The kingdom of God certainly hasn’t been conquered or even cornered. No, absolutely, “slow burn” is the opposite of lukewarm.

An LED seems to me like a more natural analogy for the false, lifeless light and heat of the world, since it has literally no fire (unless it is broken), but I take your point. The fire is amongst us still.

I think you’re right. Feeding the fire is at least the place to begin.

The funny thing I find is, whenever I face discouragement like this, I quickly get very encouraged. When the world feels coldest, the gospel feels most powerful, and the world suddenly full of the gospel.

Palm Sunday Sussundenga, Mozambique 2015 01

I think I need to revisit my memories of Krakow actually. It sort of jump-started a really awesome period in my life.

Well, if Francis counted as a youth (which he definitely did), I’m sure you do too.

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God bless!

Many thanks to Ignatius for his contribution to Agnellus’ Mirror, and to Christina also.

Do visit https://asalittlechild.wordpress.com/  and maybe share a word or ‘Comment’ with him.

PS Until I can claim to be an elder with a degree of modest wisdom, at least I have learnt, Festina Lente! Which being translated means, Make haste slowly, or ‘Slow burn!’

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25 February: Judgement I

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Saint Francis was very conscious of himself as a sinner: perhaps I should be more so. The trouble is that dwelling on personal sinfulness can be crippling: ‘I’ll never get out of this mess!’ Of course, on my own, I won’t. So who can get me out of the mess?

Canterbury’s Father Daniel Weatherley challenges us to ponder the last times in preparation for our death and resurrection, when the secrets of hearts will be laid bare. He offers us three steps on our journey through Lent.

The Cosmic Courtroom is a truly awesome scene. When Jesus comes in glory every single one of us – and everyone who has already passed through the first death – will stand before Him as one great sea of humanity. Each one willed into being by God, each one loved totally and uniquely by Him. But this is a courtroom with a difference. Not only are there no attorneys, no advocates, but there is no trial! The verdict upon each has already been decided. The proceedings consist only of the sentencing. And the pronouncement, comes as a surprise for everyone: whether it be punishment or paradise. Only then is the summing-up offered.

There are, however, witnesses. Firstly, each of us will witness the judgement of each other, as our hidden motives and acts of love (or otherwise) are laid bare. And then there is the vast array of angels, all of whom made their decision to serve, to love (or not), in the first instant of their creation. Since that moment those angels who rejected God have persistently laboured to tempt men and women to do the same – usually so subtly that it goes unnoticed. And then there are the holy angels – thankfully in the majority – who have spent their existence urging us on to lives of perfect love and selfless service, to conform ourselves to Jesus Christ. And at the same moment each of us will behold that angel which has been given to us alone as our guardian.

Jesus’ own account of how this scene will unfold is, in Matthew’s Gospel, magnificently constructed. The Lord’s authority is depicted in a rapid succession of 6 action verbs: He comes; He sits; He separates, He sets on His right and left; He speaks out and declares blessed; He commands to approach and inherit. And then comes the stunning revelation: 6 conditions of wretchedness in which He has been anonymously present with us all the time, just as He promised: hungry; thirsty; stranger; naked; sick; in prison.

 

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