Tag Archives: spirit

November 4: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: iv – Jesus Ignites a Spark


How does Jesus fit into our ever-changing world? This is a question many are asking; instead of the more helpful: how does our ever-changing world fit with Jesus Christ? There is a difference of emphasis between talking about the cosmic Christ and the Christic cosmos! How does Evolution sit with Christian faith, for example?

From a Christian point of view, those seeking this new truth tend not to be Church-goers, they are familiar with the Christian story, but suspicious of institutionalised religion being able to address this in a creative and liberating way. They say that the Jesus story is for scholars and theologians; whereas Jesus belongs to all who are struggling with faith. There is something about Jesus that is bigger and more embracing than the formalised Jesus story.

For many, Jesus grips creative imagination in ways that make formalised religion less than relevant. He ignites a spark within that seeks for much more than formalised dogma – which obviously has its place. Instead of simply reading the Gospel, use imagination and see if Jesus telling his own story has something revolutionary to say. Hear the facts about him, and let them take you beyond the words. After all, the Gospel Jesus gets rid of boundaries and conditions apply!

It is a first principle of education that we learn first from experience, and from the dialogue resulting from experience. The human search for genuine spiritual living is as old as 70,000 years – well before the 4,500 years of the existence of formal and institutional religion. This is why we must begin by appreciating the very real difference between the two. Religion refers to formally, institutionalised structures, rituals and codes of belief which are to be found in one or other of the official religious systems. Spirituality is about the ancient search for meaning and is as old as humanity itself and is part of the evolutionary process.

In modern times spirituality has been seen as an off-shoot of religion; however, research has shown that no less than two-thirds of adults have a personal spirituality, whereas fewer than one in ten go to church regularly. Spirituality is more akin to human experience than is institutional religion. There is need to reinstate true spirituality, highlighting its vital role in our search for the meaning of life. What is seen as the moral and spiritual breakdown in our time has more to do with religion than with spirituality. Spirituality today is alive and well and worth fighting for.



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August 18: An Appreciation of Francis Thompson by W.H. Davies.


Francis Thompson turned up again after I’d put his series to bed, so I’ll share this now. W. H. Davies was another poet who lived on the streets, though he was to find friendship and marriage and a long life span.

In this Davies uses his memories of seafaring and tramping to imagine Thompson’s life before he was welcomed into the life of the Meynell family. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head when he was travelling the dusty roads of Palestine. Can we see him in the homeless people we meet in the street? How best to give them bread and not stones?

Francis Thompson by W. H. Davies

Thou hadst no home, and thou couldst see
In every street the windows’ light:
Dragging thy limbs about all night,
No window kept a light for thee.

However much thou wert distressed,
Or tired of moving, and felt sick,
Thy life was on the open deck—
Thou hadst no cabin for thy rest.

Thy barque was helpless ‘neath the sky,
No pilot thought thee worth his pains
To guide for love or money gains—
Like phantom ships the rich sailed by.

Thy shadow mocked thee night and day,
Thy life’s companion, it alone;
It did not sigh, it did not moan,
But mocked thy moves in every way.

In spite of all, the mind had force,
And, like a stream whose surface flows
The wrong way when a strong wind blows,
It underneath maintained its course.

Oft didst thou think thy mind would flower
Too late for good, as some bruised tree
That blooms in Autumn, and we see
Fruit not worth picking, hard and sour.

Some poets feign their wounds and scars.
If they had known real suffering hours,
They’d show, in place of Fancy’s flowers,
More of Imagination’s stars.

So, if thy fruits of Poesy
Are rich, it is at this dear cost—
That they were nipt by Sorrow’s frost,
In nights of homeless misery.

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Autumn Evening Lectures at FISC: “What is theology saying?”

austinFr Austin McCormack will be speaking on Thursday evenings this term. I recommend these lectures to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what we Catholics are all about. Please feel free to come to as many of these lectures as interest you.
Start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation to cover expenses.
The subject of the course is:

“What is theology saying?”

6. 17/11:  What difference does Grace make?
7. 24/11: What about Original Sin?
8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?
9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?

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October 10: CONSCIENCE III: Under the Microscope

gate,broken (800x487)

There is good news and bad news about our conscience.  The good news is that our conscience has an affinity with what is good, and on this level of our being we “are alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths,” as The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us [no. 1776].  This wonderful “sanctuary” is given to us by God, we only need to put aside our many distractions in order to enter it.

But, if that is so, then why do good people sometimes go off the rails?  Surely, so much God-given moral integrity should keep us pretty steadily on the right path in life, once we have made the decision to take it.  Thus, the bad news about our conscience is this: its wisdom can be ignored, as St. Thomas Aquinas remarks [Summa Theologia, I, 79, 13].  He points out that conscience is not like our intellect and our will, because these two faculties of the soul have permanence; the powers of our mind and will are always functioning and cannot be laid aside.    Conscience is something else again.  It requires, St. Thomas implies, a certain depth of spirituality in order to do its work well; otherwise, its promptings can simply be tuned out.

Why is this so?  Recall, we do not live in a state of harmony within ourselves.  The true voice of conscience can be out-shouted by other parts of ourselves: our emotions, for example, can, and often do, overwhelm us and can make the judgement of conscience difficult to discern.  My emotion of anger, say, when someone offends me, might cause me to fail to take into account the fact that the offender did not intend to cause hurt.  I may find myself lashing out unreasonably, without listening to my own conscience telling me to give the other person a chance to explain.  Or, say, my greed for a new, stylish pair of shoes might be more insistent than the voice of my conscience telling me that I cannot really afford these designer stilettos, and I shouldn’t add the price of them to my credit card debt.

What do we do about this state of affairs?  Perhaps we need to view our conscience as we view our muscles.  Weak muscles need exercise in order to become strong.  Our conscience is something like that.  Ignore its voice and the voice becomes weaker and harder to hear.  Seek to follow the voice of conscience, and its guiding voice will strengthen and become easier to discern.  



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9 September: After a Death

bench (800x600)

rebel rivers coil, uncoil

mountains jut and wail

range roiling range

even trees bleed

but it is finished


the shroud of sky remains a blank

no dialogue with the final call

no commerce with such completion


but the wind is fair

and the Paraclete

sails out into the deep

trawling time and more

hauling fish enough

to shift the axis

of existence

answering us

in a tongue of his own

greyfriarsaumbry (639x800)

across the spheres

planets coalesce

to pierce our sighs

dropping a silver thread

of purest song

its note alightmercy.carving. (328x640)

with the laughter

of the Son




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August 9: In and Out of Focus

lifefrancis (2)

The past goes in and out of focus according to which features we attempt to see more clearly. Here is a composite artwork showing the beginning of the pilgrim journey that was the life of St. Francis of Assisi. This is on a wall of the French Franciscan church, Notre Dame des Graces, in Brussels. In one scene we see Francis naked, having returned his clothes to his father, a cloth merchant, in order to become a humble, powerless follower of Christ. A herald of the gospel but also a pilgrim, dedicated to the merciful preaching of peace. He travelled on foot, not by horse.

Twelve years after the early friars came to Canterbury, and settled at Greyfriars, off Stour Street, they arrived in Brussels (in 1238). The friary in which they lived has, in recent times, been excavated. What remains is a few walls and ruined structures, preserved as a museum. No community lasts forever, especially in regions where wars have been frequent and destruction a large-scale reality. It is good for us to have reminders of how easily our religious ideals and convictions become casualties of mortality or a loss of spiritual liveliness.


But we need to remind each other of what brings us together to pray, collaborate, and set up a viable shared life of conversion for our own day. Community does not happen purely by accident, nor does it stay vigorous simply through the availability of a few organisers.

This is a view of that location now:



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May 26th: Personhood IV.

2shops5 (640x554)MMB.

Yesterday, in our reflection, we ended by linking the notion of personhood to love.  Here are several passages from Karol Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility that express this idea:

The person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.

Love is concerned with persons directly and immediately: the affirmation of the value of the person as such is of its essence.

To the structure of the person belongs an ‘interior,’ in which we find the elements of spiritual life, and it is this that compels us to acknowledge the spiritual nature of the human soul….  This determines the value of the person.

The fundamental ethical characteristic of love…is an affirmation of the person or else it is not love at all.  If it is informed with a proper attitude to the value of the person, it is love in all its fullness.

Love in the full sense of the word is a virtue, not just an emotion.  This virtue is produced in the will….

The will, then, is the source of the affirmation of the person which permeates all the reactions, and all the feelings, the whole behaviour of the subject.


Can there be even more?  Yes: our love, our personhood is meant to take its form from the person of Christ.  Although we are ‘not interchangeable’ with any other person on the level of our free will, we can experience union with Christ and with others.  But how can this be so?  Haven’t I just said with Karol Wojtyla that a person is “not capable of transmission”?  How then can we be united to others without losing our identity?  We will explore this question in tomorrow’s post.



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May 24th 2016: Personhood II.


We are asking what it means to be a person, and turning to Karol Wojtyla – later Pope John Paul II – for help.  In his book, Love and Responsibility, he wrote:



Harry Billingsley


The person… is distinguished even from the most advanced animals by a specific inner self, an inner life, characteristic only of persons.


Person does not mean “essence” or “nature,” but the actual unique reality of a spiritual being… and not interchangeable with any other….It is the concrete form taken by the freedom of a spiritual being, in which is based its inviolable dignity.


I like these definitions.  They suggest that there is something about our personhood that we actually create, or at least, to which we have the privilege of contributing.  In saying that our inner self, our inner life is characteristic of personhood, isn’t Wojtyla saying that to the extent that I actively work on my inner life, to the extent that I make responsible use of my freedom, to the extent that I dedicate my freedom to the pursuit of truth and goodness and spiritual reality, I am actively contributing to my own growth on the deepest level?  And indeed, I can do this much.  But in another sense, he is saying that I am not the author of my personhood, for my personhood is ‘not capable of transmission.’  Therefore, seven, or seven-hundred people can pursue truth and goodness and spiritual reality, and they will make their discoveries and integrate their findings uniquely – without even trying – because their fundamental disposition on the level of their will is uniquely their own.  But the greater use I make of my freedom, the more ardently I pursue spiritual reality, the more I can lay claim to my unique dignity as a human person.  We have a capacity for personhood that we must fulfil: we must grow into ourselves, in a sense.


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April 23, Jerusalem VII: Where is the Holy City?


Jesus told the Samaritan woman that:

The hour cometh, when you shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father. But 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. (John 4: 21-24)

Does adoring him in spirit mean not adoring him in the body by kneeling, standing or sitting cross-legged, nor by lighting a candle or burning incense or fingering beads?

No! Our spirit is not to be disconnected from our body in this life, and we will not be healed in the next till our spirits are embodied again.

We may pray almost out of the body with Blake’s angelic Londoners; with the pilgrims of Algiers, Valencia and St Omer, adding our little tokens to theirs; or quietly in our rooms at home like Daniel the prophet (Daniel Chapter 6).

Daniel in Babylon prayed facing Jerusalem (6:10) as a bodily expression of his heartfelt prayer, but Jerusalem was in his heart already.

No matter how we spend our time of prayer, we can be building the New Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land, or any other land under God’s Sun.

And we can ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!’


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March 9: Gregory of Nyssa



Today the Roman Martyrology commemorates Gregory of Nyssa, brother of Basil the Great and Macrina (see blog entries for 2-9 January 2016). Among Gregory’s most influential works are his Life of Moses and homilies on the Song of Songs. The latter were composed at the behest of a wealthy young Christian woman named Olympias who lived in Constantinople, and were delivered in the church at Nyssa during Lent, most likely in 394 or 395.

In his preface Gregory explains that although he wrote them in response to Olympias’ requests, he did so not for her benefit, since he is sure she has no need of them, but so that ‘some direction may be given to more fleshly folk for the sake of the spiritual and immaterial welfare of their souls.’

In addressing them to a congregation of ordinary churchgoers Gregory shows a confidence in the spiritual maturity of ordinary laypeople which contrasts strikingly with the reservations of his mentor Origen, who in the prologue to his own commentary on the Song ‘[advises and counsels] everyone who is not yet rid of the vexations of the flesh and blood and has not ceased to feel the passion of his bodily nature, to refrain completely from reading this little book and the things that will be said about it. For they say that with the Hebrews also care is taken to allow no one even to hold this book in his hands, who has not reached a full and ripe age.’


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