Tag Archives: sin

24 April: The Virtue of Prudence: I, Worth Striving for.

 

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We don’t hear much about virtue nowadays.  We hear a lot about public people who seem to have no virtue.  In some cases, they appear to be getting away with it, becoming famous, rich, glamorous people.  Yet, often they leave behind a trail of destruction, from failed relationships, to substance abuse, to the obsessive search for new medical treatments aimed at halting time’s affect on their appearance.  How can such an existence be a happy one?  Or there are others in the media whose lack of virtue leads to behaviours and attitudes that few seem to admire.  The media likes to gloat over that kind of moral failure and condemn it in huge headlines – while adverts in the same publication hypocritically try to sell us another, more glossy, version of the same vice.  We live in confusing times, and to praise someone for his or her virtue, to name the virtues and speak of them in a positive light – to talk about prudence, for example, as a quality worth striving for: well, that wouldn’t sell many newspapers.

Yet, prudence is a beautiful thing, so balanced, discerning and wise.  It is eminently worth striving for.  In the next several posts I hope to say why this is so, and make up a little for some of the silence that seems to surround the virtues in our culture.

First, the virtue of prudence is one of a cluster of four moral virtues, the other three being temperance, fortitude and justice.  As moral virtues, we must understand that these require some work on our part.  But, this is not a hopeless task: God has given us the potential to develop all the virtues through prayer, the commitment of our will, and the follow-up behaviours that are consonant with the virtue.

Before turning to prudence, it is good to reflect for a moment on the notion of virtue itself.  To speak of virtue is not to speak of an occasional good action.  We are talking about a power which the soul acquires.  A virtue is something we must exercise, yes, but in so doing, it becomes part of our very character as persons, part of our personality and nature.  It is not a mere role, or a good trick which we perform on a good day if we’ve got the energy.  Rather, a virtue becomes an outward expression of what has become intrinsic to us and part of our very identity.  It becomes a stable part of us, a habit of goodness.

SJC.

A monument to a picnic that led to the end of the Iron Curtain. The time was right, and people acted with prudence. We’ll learn more on 19 August, the anniversary of the event. Picnic monument by Kaboldy

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17th April: Losing sight of the light of the night.

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The Milky Way is lost, says Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory. Do read what he has to say about our world-wide obsession with not being in the dark and how the deeds of darkness are committed by streetlight. Did not God create and separate light and darkness, and

God said: Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years: To shine in the firmament of heaven, and to give light upon the earth. And it was so done. And God made two great lights: a greater light to rule the day; and a lesser light to rule the night: and the stars. And he set them in the firmament of heaven to shine upon the earth. And to rule the day and the night, and to divide the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:14-18

If the darkness was not good, God would have chased it away entirely. We all need it and yet we are trying to do away with it.

MMB.

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5 April: We who are made brave and afraid.

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God … Counts every tree, Makes every leaf.

Lent is a chance to sort ourselves out – a little at least. But as the first verse of Radclyffe Hall’s poem asks, ‘What can we do?’ I can remember understanding, from an early age, that there was a competitive edge to Lent: who could perform the most penances, collect the most pennies for the missions …WRONG!  the second verse reminds us to seek God in it all. Let’s not lose sight of that quest this Lent.

W

WE

 

We who are made
Brave yet afraid,
Happy yet sad,
Good and yet bad,
Sane and yet mad,
What can we do?
Turmoil and strife,
Passion and life,
Love and desire,
Can these inspire
Spiritual fire?
How can we live?
Stumbling feet,
Tasks incomplete,
Longings that kill
Even the will,
Left to fulfil,
How can we die?


Little have we
Bond and yet free,
Strong and yet weak,
Proud and yet meek,
Save but to seek
God in it all.
God with His hands
Holds all the lands;
Rules every sea,
Sets the winds free,
Counts every tree,
Makes every leaf.
Then shall we fear?
He placed us here.
If God commands
God understands,
Ponders, and plans;
Knowing it all.

 

 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/49277/49277-h/49277-h.htm

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25 March:The Annunciation.

We are told (Luke 1.29) that, at the Annunciation, Mary ‘was troubled at his (the angel’s) saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.’ The troubles did not end there, as Simeon foretold: (Luke 2:35) ‘And thy own soul a sword shall pierce.’

I would like to take a sideways look at this story with a passage from Father Andrew SDC, writing to a woman recently bereaved in World War II.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,’ (1 Corinthians 15:19) because, indeed, as S. Paul knew so well from his own experiences, our Christian hope brings us all sorts of pains which we only have because of it; I mean the pain that comes from the failure to live up to it, and the pain of sacrifices made because of it, and also as it deepens and enriches our relationships and makes our friendships much more deep and sacred, so our partings are made more poignant as each beloved one is taken from us. But it is not in this life only that we have hope in Christ, and so we can smile through our tears and be sure that our dear ones are with Christ, and nearer to him are not farther from us.

Life and Letters of Fr Andrew, p 162.

How much pain Mary took on trust when she agreed to the angel’s request!

 

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19 March: 3rd Sunday in Lent, Jesus and the Woman at Jacob’s Well.

 

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We were bowled over by the beauties of the Baptistry of the Abbey of Saint Maurice in the Swiss town of that name. It is worth a detour, or spending a couple of hours between trains to make a journey into a pilgrimage.

In John’s Gospel, chapter 4, Jesus was returning to Galilee from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when he sat down by Jacob’s Well and asked a Samaritan woman to give him a drink of water. The well, of course, was there before the Jews and Samaritans went their separate ways: ‘Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say, that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore,’ said the woman.

Instead of getting into an argument with her, Jesus tells her:

 The hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.

This text is used for one of the Scrutinies – special prayers within the Sunday Mass for those preparing for Baptism at Easter. We can pray these words for ourselves, too:

God of power, you sent your Son to be our Saviour. Grant that these men and women, who, like the woman of Samaria, thirst for living water, may turn to the Lord as they hear his word and acknowledge the sins and weaknesses that weigh them down. Protect them from vain reliance on self and defend them from the power of Satan. Free them from the spirit of deceit, so that, admitting the wrong they have done, they may attain purity of heart and advance on the way to salvation. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Let us pray, too for the grace to treat as sisters and brothers all the baptised, of whatever Church.

Let us pray for the freedom of everyone to adore  God, in church, mosque, synagogue or temple.

 

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11 March, Human Will VII: The Will of God

 

 

What do we learn about the will of God for humanity when we ponder the sacred texts of scripture?  We find first in Genesis that we were created by God to share his life: this is his will for us.  We find that by sin we opposed God’s will and placed our will against God’s.  In consequence, we lost our closeness to God, we lost the harmony of our being, we became disordered within ourselves, and our relationships with each other became fraught and conflicted.  Our will, rather than being oriented toward God, turned in on itself.

Then began the long, long process by which God, without ever violating the freedom of our will, would lead humanity back to himself.  Scripture shows the stages in this process: the covenants with Noah and Abraham; the Exodus and journey to the Promised Land; the Law revealed to Moses; the growth of Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people, the organisation of Israel’s religious life, the building of the Temple.  In the midst of these stages, a theme emerges: God is faithful but the chosen people are wayward, contentious, fickle, heedless of God’s will, prone to idolatry.  The prophets and the psalms lament this.  Nevertheless, a new covenant is promised in which God will make possible a new depth of relationship with himself:

Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel, but not like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, a covenant which they broke….  No this is the covenant I shall make with them, Yahweh declares.  Within them I shall plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. 

(Jeremiah. 31:31-34) 

 

The other great theme that emerges in tandem with this is the prophecy of an individual man who will inaugurate this new covenant in his very person.  He will be the messiah.  He will be a king, yet he will also be a servant who will suffer.  Above all, he will be the faithful son that Israel, in her sinfulness and waywardness, had not been.  He will come for the poor and humble of God, and will himself be gentle and humble (see Isaiah 11:1-9, 42:1-9, 61:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Psalm 72; Zephaniah 2:3).

Jesus himself said that he was the fulfilment of this hope in Luke 4:16-21:

 

Jesus came to Nazara… and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did.  He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

            The spirit of the Lord is on me,

for he has anointed me

to bring the good news to the afflicted. 

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,

sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down.  And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.’

Christianity is built on the belief that what Jesus said in the synagogue that day was true, that he was the anointed one of God who would be, in his very person, the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and indeed of all the prophecies.

Christians see that the truth of Jesus’ claim is subsequently borne out in his public ministry, in everything he said and did, in his death, resurrection and ascension.  Where Israel had been a faithless and fickle son, Jesus remained faithful to the will of God, even unto death.  He, and he alone in all history, did his Father’s will.  And his own will?  It was completely united with the Father’s will, so much so that Jesus could say, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me’ (John 4.34).

Jesus, by his life and his very being, shows us the love with which he unites his will to the will of the Father.  Through his Spirit, we are able to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship written on our hearts, by which we journey to the Father.  We cannot fully fathom Jesus’ love for us in this life, but we can love him in return.  We can strive to follow him.  We can give him our will.  To do this is to do the will of God.

SJC.

 

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Review: The Methodist Art Collection comes to town.

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When we were first married we worshipped in a village Methodist Church near Margate; an austere little chapel it was, whitewashed walls and uncomfortable benches. Thank God we did not have to sit under hour long nineteenth century non-conformist sermons, but were fed with wise words from Fr Martin Symonds, of Ramsgate Abbey.

That was more than a few years ago, but the austere image of Methodism is fixed in my mind, which expects churches to be bathed in coloured light from stained glass windows and peopled by statues of the saints who have gone before us.

Not all windows or statues in English Catholic churches would merit inclusion in a travelling art exhibition.

The Methodist Church has built up a collection of modern art, largely looking at Jesus, in one way or another. You can view the works here: http://www.methodist.org.uk/prayer-and-worship/mmac/index . The website will lead you to videos and other resources around these images.

Instead of hanging on church walls, the collection is sent out to proclaim the Good News in its own way; through exhibitions around the UK and in the future to Dublin, Rome and beyond. Until Saint George’s Day 2017 it is in Canterbury’s Beaney Museum.

Not all the images inspire me to ‘prayer and worship’, but I am hard-wired to David Jones, represented here by a delicate woodblock of The Three Kings, passing a David Jones signature passion-resurrection image: a war-blasted tree-cum-cross, sprouting new growth. The Magi approach a starlit Bethlehem amid Welsh hills that bring to mind a woman’s torso and raised knees at the moment of childbirth: the star’s rays beam down like a searchlight upon the haven where the Child lies, under the hill within his Mother’s womb.

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Next to Jones’s tiny, monochrome image hangs The Dalit Madonna, a big, bright work by Jyoti Sahi. While this glorious work picks up themes from Eastern and Western European tradition, such as the sun and moon in the sky, and the Babe blessing from the womb, the artist integrates these with his own Indian culture. The sun is represented by a marigold; the moon by a crescent, including Hinduism and Islam in this birth. Then the Infant is seated within an oval reminiscent of the traditional mandala of Eastern icons, yet despite his foetal position and naturalistic drawing, he is clearly blessing the viewer; he is strong but clearly dependent on his mother, who bends her body in worship and protection, her breast ready to comfort and nurture. Many Catholic preachers would tell you that Mary, who conceived Jesus before her marriage, would have been considered an outcast; an untouchable like this Dalit mother, a radiant human being who clearly loves her son, the centre of her world and being. And how many unwed mothers were condemned by the Catholic Church in recent times?

The one Old Testament story on view here is that of Cain and Abel. We could be among Jones’s Welsh hills, or the Lake District, or even the Downs of the Isle of Wight where John Reilly lived and worked. Cain is a stocky, almost Calibanesque figure, at work within the pale he has set around his neat, well-ordered, smallholding. He pauses in his digging to stare up at his brother, a slim, radiant type of the Good Shepherd, who like Abel would be killed by his own. Suddenly that spade looks menacing: a ploughshare about to become a sword. And yet one cannot help a twinge of sympathy for one who wants his world to be under control, without any disturbing incursions from his brother’s nomadic flocks; that brother who stands nearby with eyes for the far horizon, not for him.

The Lord’s eyes, too, are on a far horizon in Christ writes in the dust – the woman taken in adultery by Clive Hicks Jenkins. In a nightmare of blues, Jesus is almost cartwheeling as, with arms outstretched as on the Cross, he looks away from the scene, away from the woman and her accusers, away from us bystanders looking on. The woman, with her Magdalenesque red hair, high heels and little black dress, is bound, as Christ soon would be, a halter around her throat.The light that glows upon her skin is reflected from Christ, apart from the tiny white triangle of her underwear, visible beneath her skirt which she cannot pull down with her hands tied behind her back. It takes a few moments to see that her accusers already have rocks in their hands, awaiting the moment when Christ’s assent to her killing is given. A moment that never comes. Would we back these men up, if we were there? Were these the men who stoned Stephen? Was Paul among them? Was this the first step on the road to Damascus?

Go and sin no more, Jesus told that woman. A good motto for the Christian life.

Even in the first two pictures reviewed here, the effects of sin creep in: the tree from Flanders, the outcast mother. We see the sin in Cain’s illusory self-sufficiency and his inherent jealousy; loud and clear in those shadowy, self-righteous stones, poised for murder. But like Jones’s three kings, each of us can follow the star, which leads us to a fleshly, humble place. The damage of our sinfulness will not prevent the Cross from being the tree of Life.

If you get the chance to see this exhibition on its travels, do spend some time with a few of the works. Others among them may speak to you louder than these four have done to me. Stop, look, listen.

MMB

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6 March:Human Will II: The Will and the True Self

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 We are trying to understand what our will is, and are enlisting the help of St. Augustine.  Yesterday we were looking at St. Augustine’s notion of the ‘divided’ will.  In Confessions he admits that he was enamoured of this idea for a while, because in allowing himself the emotional “leeway” which the idea of a divided will gave him, he found himself in the emotionally comfortable position that comes of blaming something else for his sins and failures.  But Augustine ultimately rejected this idea. His relentless pursuit of truth just would not allow him to rest in an untruth.  Eventually, he admits that his will was one and that it was whole.

This kind of will – single and undivided – demanded that Augustine take full responsibility for all his actions.  In one way, this was a much less comfortable position for Augustine.  But by this time, he had found that, paradoxically, a certain kind emotional discomfort is no bad thing, if it enables one to come to a deeper level of personal truth.  His words in the Confessions that we looked at yesterday have a modern sound to them.  ‘I was the only one involved,’ Augustine declares, in describing his moral wrong-headedness.  He is saying here that the desire to blame his wrongdoing on a flawed will is simply a dishonest cop-out.  His words also ring with a kind of healthy, joyful spiritual freedom, as anyone will know who has begun the process of accepting the truth about himself and of undergoing a deep interior change.  Augustine lived in the fourth century, but his words and experiences are timeless.

I recall the words of a teenage boy I knew when I was a teenager – a boy who had been caught stealing on a rather grand scale.  When he finally began to turn his life around he admitted frankly, ‘I stole.  I did it because I wanted to and because I was greedy.  I deserved the punishment I received.’  The acceptance of personal responsibility for his actions, the complete absence of blaming anyone or anything else for his decision to steal, the honest naming of the greed that impelled him, paradoxically, strengthened him on the level of his will and of his true self.  This boy really did turn his life around.

So, what kind of light does this shed on the concept of the human will?  The boy’s very conversion of heart was inseparable from something that originated in his will: the act of taking personal responsibility for his behaviour and attitudes.  This resulted in giving him a sense of himself not as a thief, but as an honest person, allied to truth and goodness.  For this teenage boy, as for Augustine so many centuries before, the will was both the instrument of change and the locus of a new sense of self.  Our will, then, is quite an important endowment.

SJC

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2 March: We take time and love to develop…

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Once upon a time if you used a camera you’d have to wait a good while to view the final image. The method was different from the one we’re used to in a digital age. The click of the camera button exposed the photographic film to light, forming a latent image, at this stage invisible to the eye. Further exposure to light at this stage would ruin the image, so the film had to be developed in a dark room. The process involved soaking the film in a tank of developing fluid. Slowly the hidden image would be revealed, and a ‘negative’ created. Once washed, fixed and dried the image on the film was projected onto photographic paper and the image, once seen through the eye of the camera lens, was made visible in the print.

Not being someone who could do all this, I remember the long wait between taking the photos and retrieving the finished product from the chemist. That was a long time past. It’s so much more convenient and instant now. But I wonder whether the old ways are truer to our experience of development than the instant ‘click and view’.

In looking with love God creates us, each one full of the beauty and life-giving capacity that belongs to those made in the image and the likeness of the Creator. The image is there but latent, unseen by any eye but God’s. It’s going to take time, darkness, and soaking for this image to develop.

Through the years of our life God labours patiently to develop the image. We take time. We develop in the dark room of trust in God. The darkness envelops and protects us, though it might not seem that way. When we cannot see our way and when we have no means within ourselves to manage our experience, trust moves us into God, and God moves us into who we are

And there we need to soak. Prayer is not only the saying of words, or the making of requests; it is also resting our life, our times and our experience in God. Not once for all, but hour by hour, and day by day.

Slowly the image, always there but latent, begins to form. To our own eyes the image may appear to be a negative. We become more, not less aware of our frailties and our capacity for destructiveness. But now light is needed, not of our own understanding but of the love of God: the eye that first looked through the camera lens and that joys in what it beholds.

We know that more development is needed.

And it will take time, and much love.

CC.

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18 February: Convivial Grace.

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Where should we look for locations in which we experience Christ’s presence as healing, and thus as overcoming the bewilderment and fears which are too typical of our modern circumstances? Table fellowship, as some call it, table friendship, or the conviviality of a living community, happen better in some Christian settings than others.

This scene is one where barbeques have gone well, summer picnics have lasted for hours, and the spilling out of indoor celebrations have all been excellent occasions for informal interactions, concerned with inner peace and changes of direction. Unthreatening circumstances for sharing fears and bewilderment are essential for moving beyond fantasies and into strong life-affirming relationships.

But in such circumstances we must decide to put our religious self-awareness into convincing words and phrases. Perhaps we want a more sincere account of who we are than we had a month earlier. We alter our choice of adjectives. The novelist David Lodge claims that “the frequency of coincidence in fictional plots… is related to how much the writer feels he can ‘get away with’,” in order to show how vivid certain encounters or events were. Our stories told to friends may be altered also, to show how much God lets us get away with, in terms of kindness and forgiveness. On this point, David Jasper quotes Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant… The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind.”

What is more life-affirming: vivid wickedness admitted, and partly abandoned, or vivid new expressions of compassion taken totally to heart? Grace has multiple versions.

Chris D.

January 2017.

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