Tag Archives: sympathy

9 February: Nathaniel Finds His Heart, Part I.

from FMSL

A feast of Sister Johanna’s thoughts during these few days. Today and tomorrow she invites us to sit under the fig tree with Nathaniel. Will he become a disciple of Jesus? And let’s ask ourselves as well, will we follow him?

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, starting with verse thirty-five, John gives us his account of the calling of the disciples.  I was pondering this well-known section of the gospel recently, thinking about what it must have been like to be one of those who were called.  Their life changed completely, from top to bottom, bottom to top, from the outside in and inside out – all in a matter of minutes.  The exact moment of each disciple’s encounter with Jesus, the moment when they realised that following him was the only thing that really mattered, must have been deeply inscribed within their memories.  In quiet times, they must have revisited the mysterious occasion, trying to understand its profound effect and meaning.  

I notice this time that in John’s gospel, the disciples are excited about Jesus in a way that is less evident in the other gospels.  Right from the beginning of their discipleship, they are already talking about Jesus’ identity as saviour.  Two of those called immediately tell others that Jesus is the Messiah.  Andrew, Peter’s brother, is the first to do so (see John 1:40f).  Then Philip makes the same declaration, and tells Nathaniel that they had found ‘him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote.’  And here I begin to slow down.  

Something about Nathaniel’s response to this news is absorbing my attention, and I want to explore this feeling.  Nathaniel is different.  Seemingly, he is not so ready to jump on this Jesus-bandwagon.  He is cautious.  He points out to Philip that Jesus comes from the lacklustre town of Nazareth.  Before we think how silly Nathaniel is being, let’s stop.  It can be quite a turn-off to discover that a person everybody is making such a fuss about comes from the kind of place where the only exciting thing that ever happens is… is nothing.  The people there are backward.  They have no style.  They all talk with their own uncultured accent.  They’re just losers, we might think.  In our day, such a town would probably not be a safe place to live – there’d be gangs, maybe drugs and weapons.  “From Nazareth?” Nathaniel asks.  “Can anything good come from there?”  I can think of quite a few places about which I’d be inclined to say that.  And that’s where Jesus comes from.  

Then John records the conversation that takes place between Nathaniel and Jesus.  It is an unusual one.  Interpreting it can be difficult.  I ask the Holy Spirit to inspire my imagination and then I let my thoughts play with this scene.  I first imagine Jesus speaking to Nathaniel in the rather jovial tones we often adopt in social situations when we meet a new person.  I hear Jesus now.  He’s saying in a friendly voice to Nathaniel – maybe even clapping him lightly on the back – “Nathaniel!  An Israelite in whom there is no deception!”  They’re smiling.  And they are also sizing each other up.  As I think about these words, I realise that there is a subtext here in Jesus’ introductory remark.  Jesus seems to be telling Nathaniel that he senses his hesitation about him.  But that’s not all.  Jesus’ words are not words of correction.  There is nothing threatening in them.  On the contrary, Jesus’ friendliness suggests that he likes the fact that this Israelite will think for himself and will not deceive him by pretending to be impressed just because everyone else happens to be. 

What does Nathaniel make of this?  I think he’s secretly pleased.  He’s been complimented by Jesus of Nazareth – but in an understated way.  We are usually quick to notice compliments, even understated ones.  Nathaniel is no different.  Probably taking up Jesus’ own joking tone, Nathaniel says to him, “How do you know me?”  When we receive an unexpected compliment, sometimes we try to deflect it with a little joke.  It isn’t that we don’t like praise.  We always do – but it can make us feel momentarily bashful, slightly confused.  We’re apt to cover this awkwardness with some bravado.  “Of course I’m the admirable human being you think I am!  How did you happen to find this out about me?” is what Nathaniel’s playful remark suggests to me.  

Those of you who have read my posts before know that I’m apt to take time to develop these lectio reflections so that we can enter more deeply into the sacred text by prayer.  I think we should stop here for today.  As Jesus and Nathaniel are getting to know each other perhaps we can turn to Jesus in prayer as if meeting him for the first time.  What have we heard about him?  What does he say to us?   Are we playful?  Or serious?  Tomorrow we will return to this reflection. 

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

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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.

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25 December. Five notes: Father Andrew at Christmas, III.

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More from Fr Andrew’s Introduction to his book of Carols.

The Mystery of the Incarnate Love has brought to us, first of all, a revelation of simplicity. Theology teaches us that the life of God is a simple act, and, since God is Love, that act must surely be, however expressed, an act of love; and here in the little Babe laid in the midst of the straw of our human poverty is the simple appeal and revelation of the love of God.

The second note is sympathy, and that in the direct meaning of the word – ‘suffering with.’ We cannot understand the mystery of suffering, and really there is no particular reason why we should, since God has suffered with us, and one of the sufferings of God was this very mystery of suffering, for did not He take upon His lips the great classic words of the twenty-second Psalm and cry in His own darkness, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’

The third note is joy. These poems and carols all have in them a note of joy and a note of pain. Laughter and tears are mingled in these Christmas songs.

The fourth is the sacredness of human nature. God joined together flesh and spirit. Sin put these asunder, and by the fall of man the flesh, which was only lower than spirit in condition and degree, became lower also in quality, and by the taint and twist of original sin this human nature of ours was made to seem a bad thing, as though the flesh were, in God’s intention, the enemy of spirit. In the coming of the Holy Child, when the angels sang their Gloria, once more flesh and spirit were united in perfect oblation.

The fifth note, which contains in it all else, is love. Over the cross, over the manger, over the altar, one can write the golden words, ‘God is Love.’

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2 November: All Souls

all-souls
(Image from Pinterest)

After the euphoria and rejoicing of All Saints, we contemplate, in today’s Feast, the many souls who have gone before us.  We are confronted with the reality of death.  Yet, today’s readings, which are often chosen at funerals, give us great cause for hope: we are told that the Lord will destroy death for ever, and there will be no more mourning or sadness.  Isaiah prophesies this in the Old Testament, and St. Paul confirms it in the New: Christ destroyed death by dying for sinful people. He did this because of His great love for us.

The Gospel gives us an example of this great love.   Jesus raises a young man who has died, thus turning mourning into rejoicing. St. Luke (7:11-18)tells us that Jesus gives the young man back to his mother, who is a widow. Without her son, she would have had no-one to provide for her and protect her.  This shows Jesus’ respect for a type of people who were helpless in that society: God insisted on kindness to orphans and widows, for they were all too often overlooked.  This tells us that Jesus sympathises with and mourns with those who mourn.  In another place, we are told that He wept for His friend Lazarus, who had died. (John 11)

Yes, but what about all the suffering and untimely death in the world today?  Where is God and His sympathy in all this?  I believe that He would be close to all who mourn if they would let Him into their hearts, and let the words of His Scriptures comfort them.  Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine in His Incarnation, and He endured all the suffering humans endure in His Passion.  So, He is still beside those who suffer today, suffering with them, as He was beside the widow of Naim.

FMSL

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