Tag Archives: sin

9 July: Against the destructive power.

Pope Francis embraces a child as he meets the disabled during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 13, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Pope Francis’s Laudato si’, his teaching on the environment, and how we can care for it or destroy it. Humankind, he warns, has abandoned trust in God, in each other, and in the earth we inhabit. We need to acknowledge the harm we have done and continue to do, although we are much more aware of it than just a few years ago.

Sadly, the pandemic over, it seems people are scrambling to ‘get back to normal’ when our previous way of life was definitely not normal. It lacked respect: for God and his laws, which are the laws of true human living; for our neighbours, and for our mother earth and all that lives on her. But let’s read Francis’s own words. (The footnote links lead to the original document.)

66. The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.[40] This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”,[41] and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful”.[42] The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”.[43]

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19 June: Wickedness takes the short cut

At the Last Supper scene from Strasbourg Cathedral, Judas is to the right of centre, grasping his moneybag. He has just received the piece of bread from Jesus, to the left, who has his hands clasped, his eyes turned heavenward. How did the betrayal that is about to occur come about? It doesn’t feel to me like just one more venial peccadillo, but perhaps it did to Judas. Maybe the venial peccadilloes, his stealing from the common purse, paved the way for the big one.

Here is an extract from Boswell, reporting a conversation on Skye in which Dr Johnson, The McCleod of McCleod, Rev Donald McQueen, and Boswell himself discussed human wickedness.

JOHNSON. ‘Cunning has effect from the credulity of others, rather than from the abilities of those who are cunning. It requires no extraordinary talents to lie and deceive.’

This led us to consider whether it did not require great abilities to be very wicked.

JOHNSON. ‘It requires great abilities to have the POWER of being very wicked; but not to BE very wicked. A man who has the power, which great abilities procure him, may use it well or ill; and it requires more abilities to use it well, than to use it ill. Wickedness is always easier than virtue; for it takes the short cut to every thing. It is much easier to steal a hundred pounds, than to get it by labour, or any other way.

‘Consider only what act of wickedness requires great abilities to commit it, when once the person who is to do it has the power; for THERE is the distinction. It requires great abilities to conquer an army, but none to massacre it after it is conquered.’

From “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.” by James Boswell.

More than once I have heard a preacher say that Judas was taking a short cut, contriving a showdown with the authorities that Jesus would surely win, a coup d’etat. But Jesus was not one for political short cuts; he was not a lazy thinker. Thirty pieces of silver could have been earned by hard work or by betrayal. Perhaps the moment of truth for Judas came as he kissed his master, and suddenly realised how wrong a turning he had made.

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26 April: Who should not live?

Leeds University War Memorial, Eric Gill.

It makes no sense that having Down’s syndrome is considered reason enough for an unborn child to be aborted. Not if you know one or two people with Down’s; and as Adam Rutherford reminds us:

None of the worst crimes of humanity … was perpetrated by people with Down’s syndrome … If we truly wanted to reduce the sum total of human suffering then we should eradicate the powerful, for wars are fought by people but started by leaders.

Adam Rutherford: Control: the Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics.

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19 April: No man is base

The Welsh Poet, Henry Vaughan, (d.1695) called himself a Silurist, claiming descent from a pre-Roman tribe that ruled his part of Wales. Yet he maintains that 'A noble offspring surely then without distinction are all men.' We are all of us Easter Children, children of God, each one of us nobly born. No room for racism, as Archbishop Wilson was saying yesterday; we must be children of hope, of one beginning, one birth, one resurrection.

All sorts of men, that live on Earth, 
Have one beginning and one birth. 
For all things there is one Father, 
Who lays out all, and all doth gather. 
He the warm sun with rays adorns, 
And fills with brightness the moon's horns. 
The azur'd heav'ns with stars He burnish'd, 
And the round world with creatures furnish'd. 
But men—made to inherit all— 
His own sons He was pleas'd to call, 
And that they might be so indeed, 
He gave them souls of divine seed. 
A noble offspring surely then 
Without distinction are all men. 
O, why so vainly do some boast 
Their birth and blood and a great host 
Of ancestors, whose coats and crests 
Are some rav'nous birds or beasts! 
If extraction they look for, 
And God, the great Progenitor, 
No man, though of the meanest state, 
Is base, or can degenerate, 
Unless, to vice and lewdness bent, 
He leaves and taints his true descent.

from Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist: Boethius, De Consolatione, Englished.

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April: 13 A Lenten Litany.

For you were slain and by your blood you ransomed men for God …….

For you were rejected, and through that rejection
You ransomed men for God,
           Lord have mercy.

For you were betrayed, and by that betrayal
You ransomed men for God,
          Christ have Mercy.

For you were mocked, and by that mockery
You ransomed men for God,
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were scourged, and by that brutality
You ransomed me for God,
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were clothed in purple and insulted
And by those insults you ransomed men for God,
          Christ have mercy.

For you were crowned, not with gold, but thorns.
And with that crown you ransomed men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were stripped and spat upon,
And by your humiliation you redeemed me for God.
          Christ have mercy.

You stood alone and heard the cry of 'Crucify',
And by that cry you have redeemed men for God,
          Lord have mercy.

For you were abandoned and in your abandonment
You redeemed me for God.
          Lord have mercy.

You embraced the wood of your cross,
Embracing the death that you would die
          To ransom men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

In blood and dirt from the road and pain
You met your Mother.
In that shared pain you ransomed men for God.
          Christ have mercy.

You had compassion on the thief who sought your peace,
Your compassion is the ransom of all men for God.
          Christ have mercy.

I drank water to refresh my mouth.
They gave you vinegar to drink.
You drank the searing bitterness of sin
          And by your thirst you ransomed men for God.

You died . . . as all men die . . . alone.
And by your loneliness you ransomed men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

How long those hours, so dark, until your 'hour' was done.
But through the darkness you redeemed us all.#

Christ obedient,
Christ victorious,
Christ wounded,
Christ our brother,
Offered to our Father.

Sheila Billingsley, March 2022

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5 March: Lent and Fasting

Homeless campers, St Mildred’s, Canterbury.

What is Lent all about? One answer is that it is about being conscious of our relationships with God and our neighbours. This is well expressed in the following prayer from Lenten Vespers in the Byzantine Rite:

 While fasting with the body, brothers and sisters, 
let us also fast in spirit. 
Let us loosen every bond of iniquity; 
let us undo the knots of every contact made by violence; 
let us tear up all unjust agreements; 
let us give bread to the hungry 
and welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover them, 
that we may receive mercy from Christ our God.

From The Lenten cookbook by Scott Hahn and David Geisser p31. Reviewed here on 12 February.

The churches are an important part of Canterbury’s work to get people off the streets. Being allowed to camp in the churchyard at Saint Mildred’s is perhaps as much help as these particular people can accept at this time.

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28 November, 1st Sunday of Advent: The Innocent.

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Bro Stefan Anacatrinei OFM Conv  preached this homily at FISC on the First Sunday of Advent, 2015, so its readings are repeated this year. Stefan was always worth listening to!

Welcoming the Innocent into Our Hearts

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, we begin a new liturgical year.  Yet, as we can see from today’s Gospel, the beginning of a new year is very much connected with the end.  This is the reason why today’s Gospel text is full of warnings about the end of times and about being prepared and making ourselves ready. Actually, the first two weeks of Advent continue the theme of the last coming before speaking about the first coming.

Anyway, during this season of Advent we are all called upon, and exhorted by the Church, to prepare ourselves to commemorate worthily the coming of our Brother and Saviour. We are called to welcome the baby of Bethlehem into our lives with a clean, sincere and grateful heart. This will help us to remain in close contact with the Lord, and our present lives will be sanctified. God indeed cares for our welfare and He wants us to enter deeply into His mystery. The Advent season actually is indeed nothing else than a good opportunity to make ourselves ready to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

How is this possible? I mean how can we prepare ourselves properly? What can we do to enjoy Christmas with a happy and sincere heart?

Simple. We have to purify our senses. We have to bring them back to their original state when they were not yet contaminated by sin. Like Adam and Eve, who before their fall were able to feel and to enjoy the presence of God with all their whole being – they could see Him, talk and listen to Him – we also will be able to enjoy the presence of Jesus fully and properly, if we dare to purify our sight, our hearing, touch, taste, smell and sight. I’m afraid that if we do not do this,  we will only be able to see the beautiful Christmas lights and ornaments, but not be able to glimpse of the real Jesus; we will be delighted to listen to the amazing Christmas carols, but not to hear the sweetness of the voice of Jesus in our heart; we might touch the precious gifts which we will give or receive, but never, ever touch the priceless gift of God, I mean the love of God made visible and palpable for us in his beloved Son, Jesus Christ; which, of course, we can already experience particularly in the Eucharist. He will want us to clothe his tender naked body with a pure, warm and loving heart, not a cold and indifferent worldly one. God is love and he wants us to love him. Christmas is a special time when you can say to Jesus; “I really love you” and he will say to you in your heart: ‘I love you more than you will ever know, but thank you for your love, it is very precious to me. Please keep loving me, and I will keep loving you.’

Can you imagine that someone could be foolish enough to miss such an important event, by ignoring the meaning and the task of this precious time, called the Advent season?

It is possible, but I hope that it will not be a member of this congregation, or a person who has discovered Jesus and the Good News that he brings to the world, but has since ignored it.

I’m sure that our presence here, in this chapel, is evidence that we are concerned about our preparation during Advent, and that we really want to welcome the Innocent with open arms and our whole heart. It is impossible for Jesus to cause any harm to anyone or anything, because that’s his nature. Jesus, the Son of God, who for our sake become man in Bethlehem. He is the Innocent par excellence.

But, even if the Innocent cannot harm, his presence is not always a pleasant experience for everyone; for example, think of King Herod, who was very disturbed simply by hearing of His existence and  so wanted to kill Him. We have to acknowledge, that those who are under the influence of sin cannot stand His presence, and think that to make themselves comfortable, they can and will destroy Him, but the Innocent is indestructible. It is true, the Innocent sometimes hurts me too, by showing the difference between what I am and what I should become. I feel, I see my vocation in his presence, I become aware that I can be a saint, although I’m not and I do not try very hard to become one.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we really want to avoid hurting ourselves, I mean feeling uncomfortable in presence of the Innocent, let us take advantage of this beautiful season for restoring our hearts and our senses, by bringing them back to their original innocence in order to be able to welcome the Innocent. The place to start is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we wash our souls in a new baptism, which will renew our thirst for God. We will then, during this beautiful and meaningful season of Advent, be able to wait for Jesus as his coming contains promise, love, preparation, prayer, new beginnings and fulfilment.

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13 November: Grief must be digested: I


While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.

From Life of Johnson, Volume 3 1776-1780″ by James Boswell.

It can be difficult to get alongside someone grieving. We want to take the pain away, but our attempts at comfort are rejected, quite possibly irritably. Johnson lost his wife young and never remarried; she had been the love of his life. Although he was a thoughtful, believing Christian, he was acutely aware of his own sinfulness, and had to make an effort to accept that God’s forgiveness was indeed extended to himself. He was melancholic and understood all too well how well-meant kind words can sound like hollow platitudes.

Waiting till grief is digested does not mean shunning a bereaved relative or friend, but something like a waiter in a restaurant: attentive waiting, not fussing. A hard role sometimes.

WT

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7 November: Rescue me from the captivity of sin.

O, GOD, giver and preserver of all life, 
by whose power I was created, and by whose providence I am sustained, 
look down upon me with tenderness and mercy; 
grant that I may not have been created to be finally destroyed; 
that I may not be preserved to add wickedness to wickedness. 

O, LORD, let me not sink into total depravity; 
look down upon me, and rescue me at last from the captivity of sin. 
Almighty and most merciful Father, 
who hast continued my life from year to year, 
grant that by longer life I may become less desirous of sinful pleasures, 
and more careful of eternal happiness. 
Let not my years be multiplied to increase my guilt; 
but as my age advances, let me become more pure in my thoughts, 
more regular in my desires, and more obedient to thy laws.

Forgive, O merciful LORD, whatever I have done contrary to thy laws. 
Give me such a sense of my wickedness as may produce true contrition and effectual repentance; 
so that when I shall be called into another state, 
I may be received among the sinners to whom sorrow and reformation have obtained pardon, 
for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. 
                                               Amen. 


From "Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784" by James Boswell

Boswell acknowledged Johnson as a most pious friend, who was by no means as wicked as the reader might imagine. Johnson was inclined to melancholy and to a deep sense of his own sinfulness, but any of us could make our own the last paragraph of this prayer.

Blake’s Jacob’s Ladder dates from some 20 years after Johnson’s prayer. May they both be received among the sinners who have obtained pardon.

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2 October, Season of Creation XXXIII, Laudato Si’ XVII: family and a secure life.

The Christian tradition has never recognised the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property. Saint John Paul II forcefully reaffirmed this teaching, stating that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone”. These are strong words. He noted that “a type of development which did not respect and promote human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples – would not be really worthy of man”. He clearly explained that “the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them”. Consequently, he maintained, “it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few”. This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity.

94. The rich and the poor have equal dignity, for “the Lord is the maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2). “He himself made both small and great” (Wisdom 6:7), and “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Matthew 5:45). This has practical consequences, such as those pointed out by the bishops of Paraguay: “Every campesino has a natural right to possess a reasonable allotment of land where he can establish his home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life. This right must be guaranteed so that its exercise is not illusory but real. That means that apart from the ownership of property, rural people must have access to means of technical education, credit, insurance, and markets”.

95. The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shall not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”.

There is a verse suppressed in modern editions of the Victorian hymn ‘All things bright and beautiful’, which runs:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

It was a struggle, led by the churches, to establish the right to universal education in Britain, a struggle they are still involved with elsewhere. ‘Instructing the Ignorant’ is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, which together with the Corporal Works of Mercy are long seen as a distillation of Christian living. Ignorance, that is lack of education, orders the lowly estate of many people.

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