“The blest,Into whose regions if thou then desireT’ ascend, a spirit worthier then IMust lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,Who reigns above, a rebel to his law,Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed,That to his city none through me should come.He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holdsHis citadel and throne. O happy those,Whom there he chooses!”
Tag Archives: sin
At the Cross thy station keeping
With the mournful mother weeping,
Thou, unto the sinless Son,
Weepest for thy sinful one.
Blood and water from His side
Gush; in thee the streams divide:
From thine eyes the one doth start,
But the other from thy heart.
Mary, for thy sinner, see,
To her Sinless mourns with thee:
Could that Son the son not heed,
For whom two such mothers plead?
So thy child had baptism twice,
And the whitest from thine eyes.
The floods lift up, lift up their voice,
With a many-watered noise!
Down the centuries fall those sweet
Sobbing waters to our feet,
And our laden air still keeps
Murmur of a Saint that weeps.
Teach us but, to grace our prayers,
Such divinity of tears,—
Earth should be lustrate again
With contrition of that rain:
Till celestial floods o’er rise
The high tops of Paradise.
- Lustrate – to cleanse ritually.
Selected Poems of Francis Thompson, Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1908; p127.
FT invite us to savour the likenesses and contrasts between Mary and Monica, the mother of Augustine, whose feast is tomorrow. Each woman mourns her son: Mary for Jesus dead, Monica for Augustine in the death of sin. Monica’s tears were like a second baptism for her son, Augustine, and since they led to his conversion, FT calls them the whitest baptism – a white garment is given to a newly baptised Christian to signify new life.
Monica’s tears should inspire our own – tears for our own sins, tears of contrition that may float our own ark since they are tears of grace, divine tears indeed that will cleanse our hearts and our world of sin.
The morning after I’d edited the post from Saint Jane Frances, I woke with this hymn going through my head. It is not a complete answer to the deep distress she was writing about, it is an unsentimental reflection on ‘His words so blest; “All ye that labour come to me, And I will give you rest.”
At times we have to humbly seek new grace and new hope from the Lord, and a new and better heart with which to love God and our neighbour.
1. All ye who seek a comfort sure
In trouble and distress,
Whatever sorrows vex the mind,
Or guilt the soul oppress,
2. Jesus, who gave Himself for you
Upon the cross to die,
Opens to you His sacred heart;
O to that heart draw nigh.
3. Ye hear how kindly He invites;
Ye hear His words so blest;
“All ye that labour come to me,
And I will give you rest.”
4. What meeker than the Saviour’s Heart?
As on the Cross He lay,
It did His murderers forgive,
And for their pardon pray.
5. O Heart, Thou joy of Saints on high,
Thou hope of sinners here,
Attracted by those loving words
To Thee I life my prayer.
6. Wash thou my wounds in that dear Blood,
Which forth from Thee doth flow;
New grace, new hope inspire, a new
And better heart bestow.
Quicumquae certum quaeritis, anon, 17th Century Translation by Fr. Edward Caswall (1814-1878)
When we are aware that our meagre resources seem ill suited to the enormous responsibility of mission, we are not in an unfortunate situation, rather are we not best suited for what is being asked of us? Jesus had none of the attributes proper to power in his own day. He was not outstanding by his technical competence, he did not shine because of his education or cultural training. He did not try to present logical arguments, to compete with others engaged in similar processes.
Jesus walked around unarmed and defenceless, and that is how he wanted to be. He wanted to reach people at the level of common humanity, to be relevant to the lowliest. The fact that so many responded to him suggests his success. Unarmed, with nothing to defend allowed him complete openness to truth. But it is clear that to be at the complete service of truth involves weakness and vulnerability. This also reveals the real nature of sin. Without this pre-eminence of truth being shown to us such things as lying, manipulation and the like would remain hidden under various degrees of respectability: “It is better to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed” – John.11.50.The helplessness of the victim is all too apparent.
But without such vulnerability Jesus could not have spoken to the hearts of ordinary folk. If his words were undercut by fear and by respect for the “strong”, playing it safe, then his work and his preaching would have been no more than an aid to help people integrate into the prevailing culture. This would have been true even if he had preached rebellion, since rebellion is little more than the last step in trying to integrate people.
Jesus spoke to his mother, but Peter was not beside him and Mary. Jesus asked John to care for his mother.
Scripture references: Peter a long way off: Luke 22:54-55; 23:49; Mary and John at the Cross: John 19: 25-27; Peter’s mother-in-law: Matthew 3:14-15.
I was not there, not really there. Back in the crowd I was.
I don’t think he could even see me, and no way could I hear his gasping words, but young John was there, John was listening closely.
Jesus knew John was there, and his mother, Mary. He told John to care for her.
I would have done it.
Didn’t he care for my mother-in-law?
I let him down again.
Let us pray for everyone caring for other people’s parents, and their own; for adoptive and foster children and parents, and for all who work with children.
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!
Window, St Mary, Rye, Sussex, MMB.
As a teenager I visited the resort of Tignes in France on a family skiing holiday. On our way through the French Alps from the airport, our coach crossed a dam, and we could see a large reservoir stretching up the valley to our left. Our ski rep began to tell us a story. There had been a village known as Tignes, which had been flooded and destroyed with the creation of the reservoir in 1952, and its people had been relocated to a newly built village, Tignes Les Boisses. The church there, l’église Saint Jacques de Tarentaise, had been built to a design similar to that in “Old Tignes”. All this is verifiable history. The road wound uphill, away from the dam, and we entered the purpose-built village.
Our rep related how an elderly couple, objecting to the flooding of their valley, and ignoring all the remonstrances of the EDF and local authority negotiators, had refused steadfastly to leave their home. They had drowned as the waters rose to form the new reservoir. He told us to look to our right as we drove past the church, and to notice the crucifix in front of it. The arms of Jesus had originally been nailed to the crossbeam, he said, but over the years they had dropped down to their present position, as though Jesus himself were pleading on behalf of the drowned couple. There was no scientific explanation for this extraordinary phenomenon (great solemnity and wonderment in his voice at this point); not even in the natural warping properties of wood.
The image of this cross has remained with me through my adult life, and I have retold the story of it more than once, and with equal solemnity. But I recently discovered that it wasn’t true at all. At least, I have found no evidence that the elderly couple ever existed. The crucifix itself was crafted by Jean Touret for the new church, with the arms of Jesus extended downwards in an expression of grief for the loss of the old village. It was also to represent Jesus’s welcome of visitors. He named the work ” le Christ Accueillant ” – The Welcoming Christ.
I would rather our ski rep had told us the truth surrounding this remarkable crucifix. Perhaps he believed his story. Or perhaps venturing into the “religious” subject of Christ’s welcome made him feel uncomfortable. As in so many movies, here was an invented tale designed to make is feel indignant towards big-business callousness and government collusion. And our sense of moral outrage is validated by the direct involvement of God himself. No harm in that, surely?
Jean Touret had wanted to honour a community genuinely affected by trauma and loss. His purpose had not been to elicit indignation, but to recognise that Christ stands with the broken and dispossessed. And nobody is honoured by fabricated miracle stories, least of all Jesus. The Hollywood approach fundamentally misreads what is meant in the gospels by the Kingdom of God. It would direct our disdain towards world powers and social injustices over which we have very little control. It would have us “rage against the machine” much like the zealots in Jesus’s own day.
To the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” GK Chesterton’s famous answer was “I am”. The challenge of the gospel is to grasp our own need for a saviour, and in love (rather than self-righteous indignation), to consider the world’s need for a saviour too. “Le Christ Accueillant” does indeed signify a miracle: that Jesus welcomes us today into the presence of the Loving Father. Not from the cross, but as a resurrected, living Saviour, whose brutal crucifixion made our rescue and welcome possible.
Thank you, Rupert, for another thought-provoking image and prayerful reflection. WT.
Saint Anselm’s feast falls on 21st April, Easter Day this year. So let’s visit him during Lent, reflecting on Good Friday and Easter with another Archbishop of Canterbury.
The crypt of Canterbury Cathedral was closed as they prepared for a service, so I went upstairs to Saint Anselm and sat opposite his post-war window. The focal point, it seemed to me that morning, was not the central figure of Anselm in bishop’s robes and pallium, holding his cross and giving his blessing, but the three Latin words on the book below the Saint and the descending dove of the Holy Spirit:
CUR DEUS HOMO
in English we would say, ‘Why did God become Man?’ Look again at the open book. There is also a sturdy tree on the page, a reminder of the Cross; it bears a cruciform flower. And indeed, Bishop Anselm carries a cross, not unlike the one we saw in the photograph from Algeria in the first post in this series.
in his introductory chapter, Anselm says, ‘to my mind it appears a neglect if, after we are established in the faith, we do not seek to understand what we believe.’ We cannot disagree with that, even if we find his rather legalistic argument off-putting.
Where Scotus would later argue that God wanted to become man anyway, Anselm argues that the way for sinful man to be reconciled to God was for the perfect sacrifice to be offered in atonement. A perfect sacrifice could only be offered by a perfect man, and that man was Jesus, and the perfect sacrifice was his death at the hands of sinners.
On the other hand, Anselm’s successor, Rowan Williams, argued in a Lenten talk in this cathedral that Christ lived a life-long passion: his whole life was a sacrifice, making holy the human race and all of creation. Here is Anselm (II.viii):
No man except this one ever gave to God what he was not obliged to lose, or paid a debt he did not owe. But he freely offered to the Father what there was no need of his ever losing, and paid for sinners what he owed not for himself.
We are all obliged to lose our lives, but we can learn, not just from Anselm’s writings, but from his example. He left home to travel to Bec in Normandy to become a monk; at Bec he became a teacher and leader of the community before he was sent as Archbishop to Canterbury, where he continued teaching. But as Archbishop he had other duties, and was exiled twice for opposing the Norman Kings of England, William II and Henry I. He risked the same fate as Alphege his predecessor, his successor Thomas, and his crucified Master.
‘Freely offered to the Father’ sounds like love to me, as does ‘lifelong passion’, as does Friar Austin’s view that:
Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom.
Different views of the same event, which was not Good Friday only, but the 33 years before that, and Easter Sunday and the eternity following that.
The text of Cur Deus Homo can be found here .
Today’s poem also comes from The Ballad of Saint Barbara. A Second Childhood by GK Chesterton urges us not to ‘grow too old to see / Unearthly daylight shine’. May we, despite our sins, grow ever new as we grow old; and may we never grow too old! And may we stop and stare, and Laudato Si!
When all my days are ending
And I have no song to sing,
I think I shall not be too old
To stare at everything;
As I stared once at a nursery door
Or a tall tree and a swing.
Wherein God’s ponderous mercy hangs
On all my sins and me,
Because He does not take away
The terror from the tree
And stones still shine along the road
That are and cannot be.
Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for wine,
But I shall not grow too old to see
Unearthly daylight shine,
Changing my chamber’s dust to snow
Till I doubt if it be mine.
Behold, the crowning mercies melt,
The first surprises stay;
And in my dross is dropped a gift
For which I dare not pray:
That a man grow used to grief and joy
But not to night and day.
Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for lies;
But I shall not grow too old to see
Enormous night arise,
A cloud that is larger than the world
And a monster made of eyes.
Nor am I worthy to unloose
The latchet of my shoe;
Or shake the dust from off my feet
Or the staff that bears me through
On ground that is too good to last,
Too solid to be true.
Men grow too old to woo, my love,
Men grow too old to wed:
But I shall not grow too old to see
Hung crazily overhead
Incredible rafters when I wake
And find I am not dead.
A thrill of thunder in my hair:
Though blackening clouds be plain,
Still I am stung and startled
By the first drop of the rain:
Romance and pride and passion pass
And these are what remain.
Strange crawling carpets of the grass,
Wide windows of the sky:
So in this perilous grace of God
With all my sins go I:
And things grow new though I grow old,
Though I grow old and die.
What is Christian morality? In terms of content there is no Christian morality distinct from human morality. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the precepts of the New Testament are simply human demands. But there is something different about Christian morality – just as people in Old Testament and New Testament times saw these human demands in the context of covenant with God and solidarity with Christ, faith today obliges us to see the demands of being fully alive as a response to the call of God.
What difference does Faith make? It puts before us the attractiveness of Christ’s life – one that bears fruit in Resurrection, and promises the same Spirit, the same energy to anyone interested. Sensitivity to his values lifts lives above the minimum of good manners – turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, foregoing legitimate rights for wider benefit. Belonging to a community of faith also makes demands – sharing a Sacramental life, which is not the case for non-believers.
Important as these differences are, the basic moral demand is to become what we are potentially – fully human: “God is praised when we are fully alive…” – Irenaeus. And we don’t grow alone. Our roots are in the earth, and life and health and growth emerge from our relationships – we are what our relationships let us be. A moral life is to be in a right relationship to all of these. Our love for God is only known via the test of service – “unless you did it to these…”!
Sin turns self into God – and pride, lust, avarice, abuse and aggression are the certain fruits. Sin is not a problem, problems can be solved, sin is an ever present mysterious reality, in the world, the Church and individuals. It is a reality to be concerned about, but not to be afraid of: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more” – Romans 5.20. Jesus is the forgiveness of sin, but unless we are convinced of our sinfulness, how do we recognise our need for him, or rejoice in what he makes possible?