Tag Archives: self sacrifice

14 December: On fire with all love’s longing.

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For the Feast of Saint John of the Cross, here is one of his spiritual songs. This is taken from ‘San Juan de la Cruz Seven Spiritual Poems’, translated by A.S. Kline, available through Project Gutenberg. 

Song of the Soul that Delights in Reaching the Supreme State of perfection, that is, the union with God, by the path of spiritual negation.

Upon a darkened night
on fire with all love’s longing
– O joyful flight! –
I left, none noticing,
my house, in silence, resting.

Secure, devoid of light,
by secret stairway, stealing
– O joyful flight! –
in darkness self-concealing,
my house, in silence, resting.

In the joy of night,
in secret so none saw me,
no object in my sight
no other light to guide me,
but what burned here inside me.

Which solely was my guide,
more surely than noon-glow,
to where he does abide,
one whom I deeply know,
a place where none did show.

O night, my guide!
O night, far kinder than the dawn!
O night that tied
the lover to the loved,
the loved in the lover there transformed!

On my flowering breast,
that breast I kept for him alone,
there he took his rest
while I regaled my own,
in lulling breezes from the cedars blown.

The breeze, from off the tower,
as I sieved through its windings,
with calm hands, that hour,
my neck, in wounding,
left all my senses hanging.

Self abandoned, self forgot,
my face inclined to the beloved one:
all ceased, and I was not,
my cares now left behind, and gone:
there among the lilies all forgotten.

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12 December: Beautiful killers and the greatest love.

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September had turned warm again, it was a good day to enjoy a sandwich in sight of the sea near Rye Harbour, and watch the world go by.

There were fewer humans than the last time I was this way, which was in August, but there were plenty of birds, as always. What first caught my eye was a small group of sand martins, swooping and swirling, stirring themselves up for the long flight to Southern Africa. Not quite ready to go yet! Was it a family group, the parents imparting their final advice before taking off in earnest?

A cormorant passed by, purposefully facing the light westerly breeze. A different spectacle altogether: its flying looked like hard work, though we know the grace they acquire as soon as they are in their watery element.

It must have been the frequent sightings of fighter planes this Battle of Britain month that set me comparing the martins to Spitfires, all speed and aerobatics and the cormorant to a ponderous Wellington bomber: killing machines both. So are the martins and cormorant killers, but not of their own kind and no more than necessary to feed  themselves and their children.

We humans know better than that of course.

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Redemption? Half a mile away is an abandoned wooden hut, the former lifeboat station. It was from here that seventeen men sailed and rowed to their deaths early last century, setting out in a storm to rescue the crew of a stricken ship. They did not know that the men were safely on shore before they set out. Their monument says they were doing their duty.

It was rather the greatest love.

(Another day at the same place.)

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7 December: Not a pious pastime.

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I have been reading Abbot Erik Varden’s new book ‘The Shattering of Loneliness, on Christian Rememrance’, and will review it in the next few months. I wanted to share this insight as we come towards Christmas. It follows nicely from Pope Benedict’s ‘sober inebriation’ remark about music, which certainly sustained his spiritual life. On p129.

The Spiritual Life is not, cannot be, a pious pastime. It is premised on a total surrender to the promise and demands of the Gospel. it bears the imprint of the Cross and is charged with the spirit of the risen Jesus.

 

 

 

 

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11 November: Poppies for remembering

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We took a walk in South Manchester, going  to the Fletcher Moss Park along this footpath. Here it crosses over the tram lines; not only has the bridge been decorated with poppies, but where the overgrown verges of the path have been cleared, three local primary schools have sown poppy seeds, ready to come up in the next few weeks. (I was writing this in March, but the poppies did indeed flower during the summer.)

There were poems by some of the children attached to the fence, just out of sight.

On this centenary Remembrance Day, what should we teach them about events that no-one alive remembers? In an increasingly aggressive world, do we say ‘Si Vis Pacem. Pare Bellum’ – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’? That makes a certain sense, but it is not the way we expect them to behave in the playground.

A sense of injustice can lead to war; but there is also greed. And there is romanticising of self-sacrifice in battle which all too easily prevents the asking of difficult questions. (How dare you suggest my father/brother/son died for nothing.)

There were reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did not speak of their wartime experiences: because romantic it was not. As well as pain, loneliness and fear, a man had to be ready to kill fellow human beings, individually or en masse. Many hated this duty but there was also bloodlust; something we have witnessed, and continue to witness, in today’s conflicts.

Perhaps it’s good to introduce the children to the idea of self-sacrifice, while diverting them from the glorification of war and from the aggressive war games we used to play – in times when the nation had not got the Second World War out of its system. That of course is too easily said, when immersive shoot-up games are readily available on computers and on line. Do these dissipate aggression or reinforce it?

MMB

 

 

 

 

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July 30. 100 years ago today: Prayer of a Soldier in France.

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Joyce (Alfred Joyce) Kilmer was an American Catholic Poet who died at the front this day 100 years ago. He is buried at the Oise-Aisne cemetery shown above. In this poem he comes to terms with the everyday suffering of the soldier by laying it alongside the passion of Jesus. Our second post today is a response to KIlmer’s verses from a living American poet, our friend Christina Chase.

I have found it difficult to reconcile the link people have made between Christ’s sacrifice and the soldier at war, prepared to be killed but also prepared to kill, for his country. What right does the country have to demand either sacrifice?

But here is one man. One man’s pain and suffering, offered, not to his country, but to the one true Man who was the one true God. A lesson in that for each of us.

Prayer of a Soldier in France

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

I march with feet that burn and smart 

(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart). 

Men shout at me who may not speak 

(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek). 

I may not lift a hand to clear 

My eyes of salty drops that sear. 

(Then shall my fickle soul forget 

Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?) 

My rifle hand is stiff and numb 

(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come). 

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me 

Than all the hosts of land and sea. 

So let me render back again 

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen. 

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Oise-Aisne Cemetery,  official site.
Signature: Open Access, via Wikipedia  

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24 April: Intergalactic Explorations XXXII: noses to the ground

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Alfie: I really would miss Spring, if ever we went back to Ossyria! Breathe in! Spring smells different here in wet Canterbury. Plus we get some Abel time.

Ajax: Hmmmph. Don’t you get fed up of walking in the cold? Even Will’s neighbours noticed I was shivering. I could have stayed curled up on Mrs T’s sofa.

Alfie: Are you missing pod life then? I don’t remember any scraps of roast lamb there.

Ajax: True. But …

Alfie: But … Will has got himself out to give us a walk on a cold, wet morning. How can we say Thank you?

Ajax: By turning for home now?

Alfie: Don’t be soft! Now where’s he taking us? Are you telegraphing him? A short cut before the fox’s den? No, come on, pull this way. And stop.

Will, responsive to the dogs’ wishes, walked on another ten metres, then stopped while they sniffed around for the fox.

Will: White violets! Fancy that, just four yards away from the path I cycle along and I’ve never noticed them before in thirty years! Thank you guys!

And with that they turned for home.

 

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25 January: Christians together: the four chaplains.

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The research which took me behind the garage door we saw the other day led me to George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, Clark V. Poling, and John P. Washington. They were American Army Chaplains in World War II. They were travelling together, accompanying troops on their way to battle, when their ship, SS Dorchester was sunk by enemy action on February 3, 1943.

The ship went down rapidly, but the chaplains worked together to organise their flock onto the lifeboats, making sure each had a life jacket. When the supply ran out the gave their own jackets to others. Then they linked arms, and together went down with the ship.

Circumstances, evil circumstances, led to their ecumenical witness. during Church Unity Week, and approaching the anniversary of the four chaplain, what is the Spirit asking of the Churches – of you and me – today?

MMB

Photos from Wikipedia

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September 7. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 5: Perceiving God as Creator and Redeemer

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The Chosen People perceiving God as Creator was not done rapidly. They moved from a view that saw God as one god among many gods, towards God as the only God, Creator of all things, even Israel’s enemies. However, the fact that God created everything is not the same as God created everything out of nothing. This came later along with belief in resurrection from the dead [2Macaabees]. The order of the world does not correspond to God’s order – since those who follow God’s ordering are persecuted in this world. God is not responsible for the ordering of the world – establishing order out of chaos is the work of human violence – creation is prior to this and not party to it.

The resurrection reveals that persecution is not the monopoly of any particular group, but the consequence of the fact that all humanity is locked into violence. That this is universally so is seen in the fact that the Chosen People suffered equally, and in no way deserved what the Church used to speak of the perfidious Jews; rather is it that the very best of nations was locked into this violence also. Jesus was working to bring about what God always desired but which had become trapped into the violent charade we have made.

Creation, therefore, is not finished until Jesus dies shouting it is accomplished – opening up creation to this new yet original way. Understand creation starting in and through Jesus. God’s bringing into existence what is from nothing, is exactly the same as Jesus’ deathless self-giving out of love, breaking through the culture of death.

It is not as if creation was a different act happening alongside the salvation worked by Jesus, but this salvation was the completion of creation – the bringing into existence and making possible of human living together which knows nothing of death. Jesus was in on this from the beginning. Such is what we have done to our world that God could only be seen as Creator by means of overcoming death.

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Rather than the creation-fall-redemption-heaven model we have: The redemption reveals creation by opening its fulfilment in heaven and reveals at the same time the fall as that which we are in the process of leaving behind. All these realities were discovered only through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come to tell us that God is our Father. He came to create the possibility that God be our Father; it needed someone to die to have us understand better our Father – that there is no access to him except within the process of total self-giving. Jesus says he will ask the Father to send someone other than Jesus as counsellor, and when this Spirit comes he will glorify Jesus – making clear everything he said. Jesus going deliberately to his death, opens up his way of living, his self-giving to become a gift to any who seek to live in this way.

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From the moment when death has its lie revealed through Jesus living as if death were not, from that moment it becomes possible for us to be possessed by his spirit – it is accomplished means that there is now a fully human way – from birth through and including death. The Spirit makes it possible to do the same for the Father as Jesus did, to live as if death is not. There are two elements to the mission of the Spirit – as advocate, and as one who leads to truth.

The Advocate absolves from accusations, whereas the Prosecution [from persecution] representing the order of this world ruthlessly seeks out a victim; and justifies the need for murder to maintain order – all the while convinced that this truly serving God. The Advocate knows the victim is hated without cause [as was Jesus] and brings this to light by constantly recalling the real memory of what happened to Jesus and why. The Spirit pleads our cause – which means forgiveness of sin. This means that forgiveness of sin and the recreating of the actual happening of the passion in the lives of disciples are one and the same.

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August 26: We’re just passing through.

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Yesterday I alluded to ‘naught for your comfort’, hope against hope, citing this stanza from Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. You’ll find it on the Web.

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.”

The words are given to Mary, mother of Jesus, appearing to King Alfred in a vision. Later Alfred calls for support from his ally Mark, a Roman living a Roman life in Wessex, who drank his own wine when all the kings drank ale.

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“These vines be ropes that drag me hard,”
He said. “I go not far;
Where would you meet? For you must hold
Half Wiltshire and the White Horse wold,
And the Thames bank to Owsenfold,
If Wessex goes to war.

“Guthrum sits strong on either bank
And you must press his lines
Inwards, and eastward drive him down;
I doubt if you shall take the crown
Till you have taken London town.
For me, I have the vines.”

“If each man on the Judgment Day
Meet God on a plain alone,”
Said Alfred, “I will speak for you
As for myself, and call it true
That you brought all fighting folk you knew
Lined under Egbert’s Stone.

“Though I be in the dust ere then,
I know where you will be.”

And indeed the vines are not enough to hold Mark back when his duty lies with his King; after great bravery in battle he was killed and ‘died without a sound.’

Mark recognised, in rather more dramatic circumstances than Roger Deakin in yesterday’s post, that we are only passing through this world, though he dearly loved his corner of it – as Roger Deakin did.

Do read his book as well as GKC’s! Wildwood, a journey through trees, Penguin, 2008.

MMB.

 

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June 9: Justice V: The Fruits of Justice

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Because ‘the object of justice is to keep men together in society and mutual intercourse’, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, then when justice succeeds the result must surely be that society enjoys the blessing of peace. And on the personal level, holiness must be one of the fruits of this virtue. There is even an element of voluntary self-sacrifice in the virtue of justice, according to St. Thomas. He says justice ‘disregards its own profit in order to preserve the common equity’ (Q 58:11).

Perhaps one wouldn’t expect ‘justice to ‘disregard its own profit’. Doesn’t self-sacrifice go beyond justice? Wouldn’t it make more sense to place sacrifice under the virtue of charity, maybe? But, no. Not in St. Thomas’s thinking. For him, since justice deals with the rights of others, all the virtues pertaining to life with others are part of justice and enable one to exercise justice. So kindness, mercy, liberality, succouring the needy and so on are all ascribed to justice. The good person is above all the just person, says Josef Pieper, commenting on St. Thomas. ‘Justice reaches out beyond the individual subject’, he says, in order to ‘pour itself out, to work outside itself, to be shared with others, to shine forth. A thing is more eminently good the more fully and widely it radiates its goodness’ (see Josef Pieper’s book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, part 2:3). Yet, we were not wrong in seeing the close connection between the outpouring of justice and the outpouring of charity. The Catechism underlines this in the remark, ‘It is characteristic of love to think of the one whom we love’ (no. 2804). It is likewise characteristic of justice to think of the other, whom we love.

SJC.

Photo MMB, 1970, Le Melezin, Serre Eyraud.

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