Tag Archives: suffering

November 10: Remembering

poppy.OTTfigure

I came across this little Staffordshire souvenir figure under a church war memorial last November. A hundred years on, it’s difficult to understand who would design such an ornament, or who would have bought it. As boys I remember us getting more run-of-the-mill designs for my mother’s collection, but we once gave her a Great War tank model, not thinking of the loss of life and all the human suffering it represented.

But what does this figure represent, other than a present from Bishop’s Stortford? Is the soldier a killer or a victim? Brave or resigned, or hoping for a ‘Blighty’ wound to get himself sent home for a month or two? Did it remind its first owner of a loved one lost? And how did it feel to see it if you were a returned front-line soldier, after the War? Pure white was not very often seen amid Flanders mud.

Caught in that moment when he goes Over The Top to kill or be killed: how do we bring this to God? This is not man-for-man fighting – the machine gun that may get him will be many yards away, and unless it comes to bayonets he won’t see the one he kills.

Perhaps it is fitting to put him down, as the parishioners did, in front of the Cross on the War Memorial; without a word, with the poppies around him.

What can we say? With our current weaponry we have no right to feel morally superior. Piloting deadly drones from hundreds of miles away or threatening to press the red button; or indeed having others do so in our name: lives on ‘our side’ are not at risk as those going over the top were.

Father forgive us for we do not want to know what we do.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

13 October: Saint John XXIII, ‘Radiate Chastity!’

john xxiii

‘Radiation’ may not be the first concept that comes to mind when thinking of chastity, but Pope John shows that chastity is not sterile egotism but a social virtue – in a similar way to  how faithfulness in marriage provides stability in the family and society.

The Gospel tells us of all that Jesus suffered, of the insults that fell upon Him. But, from Bethlehem to Calvary, the brilliance that radiates from His divine purity spread more and more and won over the crowds. So great was the austerity and the enchantment of His conduct.

So may it be with you, beloved daughters. Blessed be the discretion, the mortifications and the renouncements with which you seek to render this virtue more brilliant.

Pius XII wrote about them in a memorable encyclical letter (Sacra Virginitas). Live its teachings. May your conduct prove to all that chastity is not only a possible virtue but a social virtue, which must be strongly defended through prayer, vigilance and the mortification of the senses.

May your example show that the heart has not shut itself up in sterile egoism, but that it has chosen the condition which is necessary for it to open itself solicitously to its neighbour.

For this purpose We urge you to cultivate the rules of good conduct—We repeat it—cultivate and apply them, without giving ear to anyone who would wish to introduce into your life a conduct less befitting the thoughtfulness and reserve to which you are bound.

May each of us, whatever our state in life, open our hearts to our neighbour, and not close in on ourselves.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

September 4. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXIII: He is given a great promise.

Clare.800px-Simone_Martini_047

SAINT FRANCIS being on a time grievously afflicted in his eyes, Cardinal Ugolino, protector of the Order, for the great tenderness that he bore him, wrote unto him to come to him in Rieti, wherein dwelt most cunning physicians for the eyes. Then Saint Francis, having received the letter of the cardinal, gat him first to Saint Damian’s, where was Saint Clare, the devout bride of Christ, for to give her some consolation and thereafter go to the cardinal.

Saint Francis having won there, his eyes grew so much worse on the next ensuing night that he could not see the light a whit; wherefore he could not go upon his way. Saint Clare let build for him a little cell of reeds, wherein he might the better rest himself. But Saint Francis, what with the pain of his infirmity, and what with the multitude of rats, that did him exceeding great annoy, could find, nor day, nor night, no rest at all. And having yet more of such pains and tribulation to endure, he began to think and understand that this was a scourge from God for his sins; and to thank God with all his heart and with his mouth, and anon cried with a loud voice, saying:
«My Lord, of all this am I deserving, and much worse. My Lord Jesu Christ, Thou good Shepherd, who dost show forth Thy mercy to us sinners in diverse pains and anguish of the body, grant unto me, Thy little sheep, such grace and virtue that through no infirmity and agony or pain may I ever part from Thee.” While thus he prayed, there came a voice from heaven that said: “Francis, answer me; if all the world were gold, and all the seas and streams and fountains were balm, and all the mountains and hills and rocks were precious stones; and thou shouldst find a treasure yet more noble than these things, as much as gold is nobler than earth, and balm than water, and precious stones than mountains and rocks, and if for thine infirmity that nobler treasure were given wouldst thou not be well content therewith and right glad?”

Replied Saint Francis:
“Lord, I am not worthy of so precious a treasure”;

and the voice of God spake unto him:

“Rejoice, Francis, for this is the treasure of eternal life, the which I have laid up for
thee, and from this hour I give it thee in possession; and this infirmity and affliction is the earnest of that blessed treasure.”

Then Saint Francis called his companion, with great joy in so glorious a promise, and said: “Let us go unto the cardinal,” but first of all consoling Saint Clare with holy words, and humbly taking leave of her, he set out on the way to Rieti.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

20 August: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXII. Gatherings of the faithful.

“The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World” is the theme chosen by Pope Francis for the 9th World Meeting of Families.

Families and others from all over the world will gather in Dublin from August 21 – 26, 2018 to celebrate their lives together, to share their experiences from different parts of the world, to reflect on the different challenges they face and to grow together in faith.

As we thank God for our families and pray that this week in Dublin will bring grace to many, here is an extract from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis telling about the Chapter of the Rush Mats, when many friars gathered for a big conference, and attracted many local people who wanted to join in. These pilgrims for World Youth Day in Krakow were not dampened in spirit, rather inspired by the great company they were among.

pilgrims.wet (640x229)

No-one was wearing hi-viz jackets to restrict numbers in Saint Francis’s day! Here’s the extract.

They either prayed, or said the office, and bewailed their sins or those of their benefactors, or discoursed concerning the salvation of souls. In the camp were roofs of willows and rush-mats set apart in groups according to the brothers of diverse provinces; and thereby was this chapter called the Chapter of the Rush-mats; their bed was the bare ground, and for such as had it a little straw, their pillows were stones or logs of wood, For the which cause so great devotion towards them was felt by whoso heard or saw, and so great was the fame of their sanctity, that there came many counts, barons, and knights, and other gentle folk, and many country folk, and cardinals and bishops and abbots with many other clergy, for to see this holy gathering, so great and so humble, such as the world had never seen before, of so many holy men together: and chiefest of all they came to see the head and most holy father of that holy band, the which had robbed the world of such fair prey, and gathered together so devout and fair a flock to follow in the foot-steps of the true Shepherd Jesu Christ.

The chapter general being then all assembled, the holy father of all and minister general, Saint Francis, in fervour of spirit set forth the word of God: and preached unto them in a loud voice as the Holy Spirit made him to speak; and as argument of his sermon he set forth unto them these words: “My little children, great things have we promised unto God, much greater far hath God promised unto us, if we observe what we have promised unto Him; and of a surety shall we behold what hath been promised unto us.

Short-lived is the joy of the world; the pain that follows it is everlasting; little are the pains
of this life, but the glory of the other life is infinite.”

And on these words he comforted the brothers and to command hearts into obedience and reverence for Mother Church, and unto brotherly love, to God for all men, and to have patience in adversities of the world, and temperance in purity, to observe modesty and angelic charity and to have peace and concord with God with men and with their own conscience, and love and practice of most holy poverty. 

Frontispiece from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis; pilgrims to World Youth Meeting in Krakow, another big gathering.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

July 30: Is All Human Suffering The Same Suffering?

strasbg.harrowhell (505x394)

Strasbourg Cathedral: the risen Christ brings Adam and Eve out of Hell to Paradise.

 

Is all human suffering the same suffering

the suffering of God who is a Man?

 

Did he not exist before all of us?

Did he not live in the unfathomable joy

of endless, ceaseless, divine

love, so resplendent that it brought forth galaxies

of stars and blue and green planets

teeming with flowering, fluttering, soaring life?

And when the great joy of his creation, so wondrously beloved,

became the great pain of its falling – just in a moment

slipped

from his grasp of tender love – seeing it, feeling it, sensing it collapse

in the misery of mistakes immeasurable and immutable,

with agony as immense as the ecstasy

that rushed the universe into being, then infinity was cut through

with the loss of its loveliest part,

the part given freely and generously in

hopeful love.

Did he not suffer before all of us?

 

Did he not die before all of us,

any of us,

his beloved creatures, who ever struggled for the last earthly breath?

When he felt his own skin rip and tear with the cruelty

of the fallen, when he watched his own feet stagger in the forced death

march, when he saw his own mother weep and brave

his pain, her pain,

when he sensed the strong beat of his heart weakening

from the failing gasps of air… did we not all die?

The moment that his love sought for the lost

in the garden of his grace, the moment that

he knew that we had left him – that we were gone –

in that incalculable instant as quick and cataclysmic

as the burst of creation, he reached out for us

and fell to his knees in the gravel of Jerusalem,

his heart erupting with the affliction of love’s pain.

 

And didn’t he rise before all of us?

Before any beloved human body turned cold upon the ground,

before any mourning mother laid a wreath upon a weathered grave,

he caught hold of the beloved

and saved his exquisitely loved one from the endless falling away,

stretching out his mercy like the vast stretches of the cosmos

so that every sufferer, every pained, beleaguered,

and bewildered human creature who senses the slip from infinity,

who mourns the divide from love’s heart and home, can look up

and feel his presence within and all around, loving, caring,

carrying the soul of every hopeful home.

 

good shepherd mada3

Christina Chase

DivineIncarnate.com

4 Comments

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry

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

 _oiseaisne_ABMC_0109

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. 

Joycekilmersignature

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

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces, poetry

7 July: What do the Saints know? Part II, 7; Conclusion: What do the living saints know?

What do the living saints know?

Perhaps, first, they are not afraid to know divine things with a kind of knowledge that makes room for mystery. This ‘base-note’ was sounded when we were looking at faith, and it plays continuously. Faith is the habit of mind in which we assent to what is ‘non-apparent,’ says Thomas. Our existence is usually geared to what is apparent on the level of our senses. But there is emphatically another level. St. Thomas tells us (or me, anyway) to trust it.

Second, perhaps saints on earth know – unforgettably – that they are on a trajectory headed towards the fulfilment of our deepest hopes not in this life, but in the next. Yet, surely, they are also unforgettably aware that eternal happiness has its beginnings now. St Thomas teaches that through the virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, our whole being can be directed to God – and not merely God outside and beyond us. The theological virtues tap a new spring within us where God dwells, making Himself known. Now. Today. This very moment!

Third, perhaps the saints are more aware of the gift of God. God gives us the beginnings of eternal life, He gives us His ‘wide lap’ to support us, He gives us His happiness. And Thomas makes it clear that God is not stingy with His gifts. They are for everyone.

Lastly, perhaps the living saints are more willing to undergo the process that gives us connaturality with divine things. It strikes me that the virtues of faith, hope and charity are not so much virtues that we have, as virtues that have us. Through faith we allow God’s truth to form us. Through the virtue of hope, we allow our egg-sized hopes to be stretched to something more ‘heaven-sized’. Suffering can be seen as part of that stretching process. As we lean on God’s help, He leads us to the virtue of charity. Through the virtue of charity, we consent to ‘suffer’ divine things. The deepest, most divine thing, as we know, is Christ crucified. We learn to love as Christ loved by undergoing something of what He underwent. Through this process the Holy Spirit creates in us that connaturality with divine things for which we hunger on the deepest level of our being.

SJC

Many thanks, Sister Johanna, for this series of reflections. Maybe we now ought to read Pope Francis’s ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ to help the message sink in and stretch ourselves to eternal-life-size.                                                                                                                                WT.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

July 6: What do the Saints know? Part II: 6, Love and the Gift of Wisdom.

Francois.Anne. beaupre.1

So God makes it possible for me to love. And he has done this so well that love, in fact, is our greatest delight. Normally human beings love to love much more than we love to have faith or we love to have hope. As St Thomas puts it: “…no virtue has such a strong inclination to its act as charity, nor does any virtue perform its act with so great pleasure” (II.II.23.2).

Yet, although charity is infused into our hearts, we are nonetheless the ones who love. As St Thomas says, “Love of its very nature implies an act of the will” (II.II. 23.2). Grace makes it possible for us to love, and even connatural, but it is not inevitable. We must freely choose to do our own loving.

St. Thomas goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit augments our capacity to love by the gift of Wisdom. How does this Wisdom help us? Wisdom, says St. Thomas, “denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the eternal law” (II.II.45.2). With Wisdom, we begin, in other words, to evaluate experiences not according not to the transitory things of this life, but according to what really matters, what will matter in eternal life.

Thomas says that there are two aspects of Wisdom: one, of course, is the ability to think clearly, as we would expect. The other is to do with “a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. ….It belongs to Wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit to judge rightly about [divine things] on account of connaturality with them.”

What strikes me here is the difference between charity on one hand and faith and hope on the other. In faith and hope the Beloved is known, yes, but he is known, it seems to me, as the one who is sought. Here, in this teaching on connaturality with divine things, there is a glorious sense of finding, of possessing the Beloved. “Now this sympathy or connaturality for divine things is the result of charity, which unites us to God,” says Thomas simply. And he brings in 1Corinthians: “…he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.” This loving union, then, gives us a connaturality with God that encompases everything about us.

Moreover, in the gift of Wisdom, one not only learns about divine things, Thomas says, but also ‘suffers’ divine things – suffering in the sense of undergoing divine things. So these ‘divine things’ become not extrinsic to our deepest being, but are experienced and known right there in our deepest core, our heart of hearts.

SJC

St Francis Embraces Christ, Ste Anne de Beaupre, Canada, Christina Chase.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections

4 July, What do the Saints Know? Part II, 4: HOPE: The Gift of Filial Fear

The image of God having a ‘lap’ that we looked at in the last post chimes with the gift of the Holy Spirit that strengthens hope. St. Thomas calls the gift “filial fear” (II.II.19:9) – the fear not of a slave for his master, but of a son/daughter, “whereby”, he continues, “what we fear is not that God may fail to help us, but that we might withdraw ourselves from his help. Wherefore filial fear and hope cling together, and perfect one another.”

This reminds me of something Jean Vanier* said in a talk once that I was privileged to hear. He said that the only thing to fear in our relationship with God is not that we might get angry with God over the sufferings we are going through. Anger with God isn’t the problem. It is the fact that we might just start to ‘tune God out’ he said, just stop turning to Him, stop praying to Him, just switch off. This fear of switching God off is an excellent description of ‘filial fear’. The saints know themselves. They know that they are at risk of turning away from God. They don’t want to.

This loving language of leaning and clinging that St. Thomas uses in writing of hope suggests connaturality again. In the virtue of hope, it becomes connatural to lean more on God than on the self. We’re looking for the kind of mentality the saints have. A certain peaceful leaning-on-God-mentality must be what becomes connatural to them as hope grows within them.

SJC

*Jean Vanier, born in 1928, is a Catholic philosopher, theologian and author. In 1964 he founded L’Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. His vision was that disabled individuals would live together in community as equals with those who are not disabled, in a sharing of life and of gifts that is profoundly healing and enriching for all community members. There are now L’Arche communities spread over thirty-seven countries. Jean Vanier has authored at least thirty books on religion, disability, community, human development. He has received numerous honours and awards, including the Community of Christ International Peace Award (2003), and the Templeton Prize (2015).

Images from L’Arche in India, England and Syria.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

July 2: What do the Saints Know? Part II, 2: HOPE: Stretching our Soul

noahs-ark-lo-res-shrewsbury-cathedral-window-detail

We are not very well equipped to deal with the infinite – our “small durance… with the steep or deep,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses it in one of his sonnets. There are times of pure pain in our lives. How does this fit with our reflection on hope? I cannot treat here the theme of suffering in depth, but perhaps it can be integrated into these reflections by understanding suffering as the ‘education’ of our hope, as something that gradually ‘stretches’ our deepest being and equips us for the Infinite. And as something we get through only by leaning on God’s help.

St Thomas says:

For we should hope from him for nothing less than himself, since his goodness, whereby he imparts good things to his creature, is no less than his essence. Therefore the proper and principal object of hope is eternal happiness. (II. II. 17.2).

Eternal happiness is the object of hope. It is, therefore, a difficult virtue, inasmuch as it is directed to eternal life rather than this earthly life.

Right,’ I say to myself. ‘Hope as a theological virtue is always directed to a good that has not yet been attained. In the theological virtue of hope, I hope for eternal happiness – but I’ve got to die first in order to attain it. That’s part of the problem. And the other part of the difficulty is that the theological virtue of hope places the sufferings of this life in a secondary position, as means to the end – in other words, sufferings are not always meant to be got rid of, for they have a purpose: they stretch our being, and fit it for eternal happiness. They go on for as long as God sees that they need to go on in order to fit us for Him. And that’s why hope is a virtue that must be ‘exercised’ – or worked at.

But, it’s not as grim as all that. Recall, hope is a divine gift, filled with divine life. Therefore, I have intimations of hope’s fulfilment even now, as we saw with the virtue of faith: we have “the beginnings” of eternal life. For instance, St. Thomas, in the one of the above quotations is saying that God gives us himself when we pray to him. He’s not going to give less than that, even though what we ask for is usually less than that. My capacity to recognise Him – especially in times of pain – is limited. But that does not mean that God is failing me. Rather, what comes from Him is always what will lead to a fuller share in His life: to connaturality with him – even now.

SJC

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections