Tag Archives: salvation

2 February: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

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The Nunc Dimittis Canticle is recited every night in the Catholic Church; in Anglican churches, such as Canterbury Cathedral, it is sung during Vespers. It is originally the Song of Simeon; the old man was overcome with joy and peace when he met the little scrap of humanity that was ‘the Salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples.’

That was the easy bit when I was asked to play Simeon in a mystery play at Canterbury Cathedral three years ago. My grandson was already too big for the part but the doll we borrowed did not steal the scene. I could concentrate on the Baby, the Father -and then Mary.

It is a massive shift of key as the prophetic revelation finds utterance, and yet we know it is true: a sword will pierce her heart – indeed there is a tradition of the seven sorrows of Mary. I had to come down from my great joy in an instant and look into Mary’s eyes with an overwhelming compassion that was neither mine, nor yet Simeon’s, but the Father’s.

Thirty years after the Presentation that compassion would be brought to practical life by John.

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This window from Saint Mary’s in Rye, Sussex shows Mary, almost blind with grief, following her adoptive son by the hand. She turns her back on the apple tree of temptation and stumbles trustingly towards the Vine.

The empty Cross is a point of light against the night sky: sorrow will be replaced by joy, overturning the order of Simeon’s vision. This is a John’s Gospel window. We also see the Great Bear in the stars. If a star told of his coming, this constellation points to the North Star by which we can find our way to him.

I am the way.

Anyone who wants to follow me must take up their cross daily and follow me.

 

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25 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 8: The Lord is my light and my salvation

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The Lord is my light and my salvation (Psalm 27:1)

  • Psalm 27:1-4

  • John 8:12-20

Starting point

Over the past eight days the churches of Indonesia have helped us consider difficult situations facing the world. Many of these have raised questions of justice. The Church has been complicit in many instances of injustice and, through that complicity, we have damaged our unity and diminished the effectiveness of our witness to the world. Christians gather for common prayer, professing common faith and to listen for God’s voice. Although the many injustices wound us, we do not lose hope, but are called to action. The Lord is our light and salvation, the stronghold of our lives. We do not fear.

Reflection

Hope

Forgive us how we’ve devalued you:

‘We live in hope’ and yet don’t hope to live,

‘Hope so’, when we have none in our hearts.

Show us who you really are:

disturb the deathly ease of our despair

and give us the courage to embrace your pain:

impudent in the face of hate,

unrelenting under oppression,

daring to resist the entropy of division.

Goad us to take up that felon’s cross

whose agony

laid empty the grave.

Prayer

God our hope,

we praise you for your loving kindness.

Uphold us when we are about to give up,

show us your light when all around seems dark.

Transform our lives that we may bring hope to others.

Help us to live united in our diversity as a witness to your communion,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

one God now and forever. Amen.

Questions

  • How has Jesus empowered you to witness to what is right?

  • Where in the life of your church or group of churches do you most need the gift of hope?

  • What is your best hope for your community?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Generate hope by sharing your actions and prayers for justice on the CTBI prayer wall using the #wpcuwall hashtag on Twitter and visit http://www.weekofprayer.org to see the actions others have taken.

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12 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 3.

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Saint Francis promised Brother Ruffino that, “this temptation will bring to thee great profit and consolation, and very shortly shalt thou prove it”. So what happened after Ruffino was utterly impolite to the devil?

The devil being exceeding wroth, gat him away incontinent with so furious a tempest and shaking of the rocks of Mount Subassio, which was hard by, that the loud noise of the rocks that fell down lasted a great while ; and so furiously did they strike the one against the other as they rolled down, that the valley was lit up with horrible flashes of fire: and at the terrible din that they made, Saint Francis and his companions came out of the House, in great amazement, for to see what strange thing had befallen; and still to this day is seen that exceeding great ruin of rocks.

Then Brother Ruffino knew of a surety that it had been the devil that had deceived him. And going back to Saint Francis, he threw himself again upon the ground, and confessed his fault; and Saint Francis comforted him with sweet words, and sent him back full of consolation to his cell, wherein as he was most devoutly praying, there appeared to him Christ, the blessed One, and rekindled all his soul with love divine and said: “Thou hast done well, my son, to believe in Saint Francis, for he that made thee His sad was the devil: but I am Christ thy Master; and to make thee sure thereof, I give thee this sign: Whilst thou dost live, thou shalt no more feel sadness nor melancholy.”

And this said, Christ departed, leaving him in such gladness and sweetness of spirit and uplifting of the mind, that day and night he was absorbed and rapt in God. And from that time forth he was
so strengthened in grace and in certainty of his salvation, that he became altogether changed into another man; and would have continued day and night in prayer and in contemplation of the things of God, if the others had suffered him. Wherefore Saint Francis said of him that Brother Ruffino was in this life canonised by Christ, and that, save in his presence, he would not doubt to call him Saint Ruffino, albeit he was still alive on earth.

Icon by CW

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10 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLIV: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 1.

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Let’s return to the Little Flowers of Saint Francis with a story that illustrates his insight into his companions’ feelings. We might be tempted to label Brother Ruffino’s temptation as a mental illness, but the thought of being on the road to eternal perdition is enough to unhinge anybody. At the end of the story we will see that Brother Ruffino was an exceptional person – and so of course was Francis, who saw his need and guided him through it.

BROTHER RUFFINO, one of the most noble citizens of Assisi and a companion of Saint Francis, a man of great sanctity, was on a time most grievously assailed and tempted in his soul, in respect of predestination; whereby he became altogether melancholy and sad; for the devil put it into his heart that he was damned and was not of those predestined to eternal life; and that all that he did in the Order was lost. And this temptation continuing day by day, he for shame told it not to Saint Francis, yet ceased not to observe the wonted prayers and fasts: wherefore the enemy began to heap on him sorrow upon sorrow, over and above the battle within, assaulting him also from without with lying apparitions.

Wherefore on a time he appeared to him in the form of the Crucified, and said to him: O
Brother Rufiino, why dost thou afflict thyself in penance and in prayer, seeing that thou art not among those predestined to eternal life? and believe me that I know whom I have elected and predestined, and believe not the son of Peter Bernardoni,1 if he tell thee the contrary, nor question him concerning this matter, for neither he nor any others know, save I alone, who am the Son of God: Brother therefore believe me of a surety that thou art of the number of the damned: and the son of Peter Bernardoni, thy Father, and also his father are damned, and whoso follows him is led astray.”

And said these words, Brother Ruffino began to be so overshadowed by the prince of darkness that he lost all the faith and love he had had for Saint Francis, and took no care to tell him aught thereof. But that which Brother Ruffino did not tell the holy father, the Holy Spirit revealed to him: wherefore Saint Francis, seeing in spirit the great danger of the said brother, sent Brother Masseo to call him; whom Brother Ruffino answered chidingly: “What have I to do with Brother Francis?” Then Brother Masseo, all filled with divine wisdom, perceiving the deception of the devil, said : “O Brother Ruffino, knowest thou not that Brother Francis is as an angel of God, who hath enlightened so many souls in the world, and through whom we have received the grace of God? wherefore I will that thou by all means come with me to him; for I clearly see that thou art deceived by the devil.”

1That is Saint Francis.
Image: Strasbourg Cathedral, the Last Judgement. MMB.

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October 20, What is Theology Saying? XXXIII: Original Sin

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Welcome back to Friar Austin and his explorations of today’s thinking theologically. 

We have all heard of Original Sin – and there is abundant evidence that it is still with us. But what is it? Let us begin with recognising the fact that there is collective and social violence accompanying everyday living [starting with Cain and Abel]. It has been called humanity’s family secret [Sebastian Moore, OSB] – it is against this backdrop that one man shedding his blood becomes real.

Salvation through shedding blood has had every possible expression and meaning. To appreciate this better we need to be more aware not so much of how we get to God, as how God gets to us. Original Sin has things to tell us about ourselves in a way that highlights the wonder of salvation.

It is only natural to assume that what I desire starts and ends with me – I know what I want. But there is a prior question: do I make my desire or does my desiring make me? My desiring first comes through being aware of some other person desiring. This prompts me to follow, even imitate, until eventually and inevitably, imitation gives way to rivalry: I may like what you are wearing enough to do the same – but then seek to justify the choice as being mine only; it is in this way that I identify myself through being me against… [X has a big house I will get a bigger one] – And that is me.

Being passed-over causes resentment, and sets me against – what makes my desire mine is that it isn’t yours! The “me” is now in place through being opposed to the other [not me] as the fruit of my desire. By contrast, Jesus sees himself as only gift – given to me by Abba, to enjoy, and to know where I’m from and where I can go. This is the crux of the matter – not me through being opposed to any other… I’m me as only gift… Given by the totally other to me. And this is not just a personal reality it is social and cultural – waiting in the wings to be kick-started by any desire intense enough to do so. [Desire is what humankind has in place of animal instinct].

AMcC

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18 September: What is Theology Saying? XXVIII: a work of Grace is a work of nature.

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The Eildon Hills in the countryside where Duns Scotus was born.

From the Second Century to the time of Saint Augustine in the Fifth, Church teaching felt it imperative to defend God in the freedom of salvation against those emphasising self-perfection through sheer moral effort. The Twelfth Century saw Grace as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, emphasising God’s initiative. Duns Scotus – at the end of the Thirteenth Century – said grace is the supernatural habit of Charity, grace is a loving disposition.

What matters is that God’s grace is necessary for everyone. It is redemptive, healing grace in a broken world in which we have never seen anyone attaining natural happiness by human effort independently of God. Karl Rahner makes two points: in the historical situation in which we find ourselves we have been called by God to a life of grace. This call applies to everyone – pure nature people did not, do not and will not exist. Secondly, if grace has any meaning at all, it is God’s invitation, working at the core of human existence – working through our humanness, spontaneity and creativity – our ability to think and take possession of our being and make appropriate decisions. This means that Grace cannot be separate from the realm of experience. It can only be a change in the way we experience life. The supernatural cannot be regarded as beyond consciousness, if it were it would make no sense.

It is not necessary to suppose that God’s offer of friendship is communicated in an extra-sensory way outside our experience. It is communicated by the happening of Jesus in the world, and by the community of believers extending through history. So if we ask what difference Grace makes, it makes all the difference in the world to everything and everybody. But if we ask someone to point out exactly the effects of grace in a situation, in contrast to natural efforts alone – it is not a valid question. Grace is not parallel to nature, but transforms and sustains it. Everything that is a work of Grace is also a work of nature, there is no way of separating them and looking at them one at a time.

AMcC

John Duns Scotus’ homeland in the Scottish borders.

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17 September: What is Theology Saying? XXVII: creation, redemption and salvation in evolution.

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Note what happened to Teilhard de Chardin – a Jesuit scientist specialising in Archaeology. He was captivated by the theory of Evolution and the various ways it might be tested. Because he was a deeply religious man, he felt driven to integrate what he was discovering from the natural sciences with his understanding of salvation in Christ. He meditated deeply on Paul’s writings and early Church commentaries on these. He developed a magnificent vision of the universe and all of history shot through with Jesus Christ. He saw creation, redemption and salvation woven together in the unified process of evolution.

He suggested that through time, inanimate [dead] matter is drawn into such complex patterns that it develops an inner spontaneity and there is a breakthrough into living things. At a further stage – a breakthrough into reflexive self-awareness – human beings. After this, the process of evolution becomes conscious, when we know and project the goals we are striving for and the changes they are trying to make. Looking forward, the next breakthrough must be the immense unity of mankind bound together in relationships of knowledge and love – what he terms the Omega Point.

He next made a bold suggestion – not as a scientist but as a Christian believer – that we have a pre-view of the Omega Point – that the whole world is being drawn towards the second coming of Christ – which will be the breakthrough, the outcome of evolution – the Church, because Jesus is already within history, which is striving towards its fulfilment, concluding with Paul that all things were made in Jesus Christ – who is the pattern of the world from the very beginning. The goal of evolution is the Christification of the world. [His thinking appears in his Phenomenon of Man, though is perhaps more readable in his The Divine Milieu – nature and grace].

When this first saw the light of day it raised concern because it sounded as if God’s self-gift to us is not a necessity for us but utterly free. In the Hebrew Scriptures the relationship between us and God was described in terms of a covenant, binding duties and sometimes as sheer favour shown us by God. Whatever God was bound to was always the result of his promise, having bound himself. The Jewish understanding of covenant always looks back to Creation as the setting-up of the covenant. It seems that God, having created humankind, has bound himself to bring us into his friendship.

AMcC

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England.

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10 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXVIII: He is called to preach and pray, II.

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So Brother Masseo departed, and according to the bidding of Saint Francis carried his message first unto Saint Clare and then unto Brother Silvester.

Who, when he had heard thereof, forthwith fell on his knees in prayer, and as he prayed received answer from God, and turned to Brother Masseo, and bespake him thus: “Thus saith the Lord: Say unto Brother Francis that God has not called to gain to this estate for himself alone, but to the souls’ end that he may gain fruit of souls, and that many through him may be saved.”

footwashWith this reply Brother Masseo returned to Saint Clare to learn what she had received of God, and she answered that God had sent to her and her companions the same reply as He had given to Brother Silvester. Whereat Brother Masseo hied him back again to Saint Francis; and Saint Francis received him with exceeding great love, washing his feet and making ready for him the meal, and after he had eaten, Saint Francis called Brother Masseo into the wood ; and there kneeled down before him and drew back his hood, stretching out his arms in the shape of a cross, and asked him: What has my Lord Jesu Christ commanded that I should do?

Replied Brother Masseo : “As unto Brother Silvester, so likewise unto Sister Clare and her sisters, has Christ made answer and revealed; that it is His will that thou go throughout the world to preach, since He hath chosen thee not for thyself alone, but also for the salvation of others.”

And then Saint Francis, when he had heard this answer and known thereby the will of Jesu Christ, rose up with fervour exceeding great, and said : “ Let us be going in the name of God”; and he took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Agnolo, holy men.

Illustration from an old edition of the Little Flowers from which this text is taken.

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December 18. Zechariah, an Unlikely Advent Star, V.

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The angel replied, “I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news (1:19).

When I read of the angel’s reply to Zechariah’s disbelief and perplexity, I do not hear a rebuke in his words, as some interpreters have done. I hear reassurance. First, the angel tells Zechariah his name. His name is Gabriel. In the bible, to know the name of another being is highly significant: the name gives the other a sort of power over the one whose name is disclosed. God refuses to tell Moses his name in order not to give Moses power over him. He refers to himself only as I AM. But here, Gabriel allows Zechariah to know not only who he is but also what he does: he “stands in the presence of God.” He, furthermore, is God’s messenger: “I have been sent to speak to you….”

I can imagine Gabriel emphasising the words “sent” and “you,” as if to respond to Zechariah’s doubts about the angel somehow getting him mixed up with another and younger man. Gabriel tells him that there is no muddle. He is obeying what Almighty God has commanded. He has the right address, and knows exactly who Zechariah is, and how old. Zechariah is emphatically the right man.

And what is the purpose of this angelic visitation? Its purpose is to bring Zechariah this good news. Perhaps Gabriel emphasises the word “good” here, to assure Zechariah that, despite his confusion and doubt, this is not a tragedy. This news is good! Gabriel’s words might be paraphrased as: ‘Zechariah, you are not Job! This is a New Beginning for all humanity, and you have been chosen to play a leading role. You will be the father of the one who will prepare the way of the Lord! The new stage in salvation history is now starting, and you and Elizabeth will be instrumental in an event of truly cosmic proportions.

My own feeling here is one of great affection for Zechariah. Surely, Gabriel cannot be displeased with this humble man. He just needs time to take in the message.

Sometimes I need time, too. Do I allow myself time when I need it? Or am I hard on myself when I cannot immediately understand what God seems to be asking of me? Or, worse, am I hard on God? Do I turn away from God in frustration when his message seems incomprehensible to me? Sometimes I need to wait and pray. Do I?

SJC

This Cornish Angel carries the name of a parishioner, inviting our prayers.

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September 19: The reality that is proclaimed

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Austin’s reflections, Constantina’s art, the Zambian Poor Clares’ dance that we saw on St Clare’s Day; these reflections too: all are intended to bear witness to – what exactly? I think we need to remind ourselves often what is the Gospel we proclaim. I was about to throw out a scrap of paper this afternoon, but held off till I’d copied this.

When preaching takes place, the ‘reality’ that is proclaimed, the crucified and risen Christ, is made present for the preacher and the hearer alike and is imparted to those who hear the preaching with faith.

Thus writes Fr Gerald O’Collins.*

He is developing an idea in Ad Gentes 9 the Vatican Council’s Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church.

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the centre and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He (God) brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker.

‘A sort of secret presence of God’ – it sounds almost like Francis Thompson! (see post on August 9th)

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Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Let’s pray for the wisdom to know how to share the many-splendoured thing, and the humility to perceive Jacob’s ladder pitched on our own pavements – and the unlikely characters shining as they ascend!

MMB.

*Vatican II and the Liturgical Presence of Christ in irish Theological Quarterly, 2/2012.

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