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October 20, What is Theology Saying? XXXIII: Original Sin

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Welcome back to Friar Austin and his explorations of today’s thinking theologically. 

We have all heard of Original Sin – and there is abundant evidence that it is still with us. But what is it? Let us begin with recognising the fact that there is collective and social violence accompanying everyday living [starting with Cain and Abel]. It has been called humanity’s family secret [Sebastian Moore, OSB] – it is against this backdrop that one man shedding his blood becomes real.

Salvation through shedding blood has had every possible expression and meaning. To appreciate this better we need to be more aware not so much of how we get to God, as how God gets to us. Original Sin has things to tell us about ourselves in a way that highlights the wonder of salvation.

It is only natural to assume that what I desire starts and ends with me – I know what I want. But there is a prior question: do I make my desire or does my desiring make me? My desiring first comes through being aware of some other person desiring. This prompts me to follow, even imitate, until eventually and inevitably, imitation gives way to rivalry: I may like what you are wearing enough to do the same – but then seek to justify the choice as being mine only; it is in this way that I identify myself through being me against… [X has a big house I will get a bigger one] – And that is me.

Being passed-over causes resentment, and sets me against – what makes my desire mine is that it isn’t yours! The “me” is now in place through being opposed to the other [not me] as the fruit of my desire. By contrast, Jesus sees himself as only gift – given to me by Abba, to enjoy, and to know where I’m from and where I can go. This is the crux of the matter – not me through being opposed to any other… I’m me as only gift… Given by the totally other to me. And this is not just a personal reality it is social and cultural – waiting in the wings to be kick-started by any desire intense enough to do so. [Desire is what humankind has in place of animal instinct].

AMcC

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4 October: Little Flowers, XXXX. Francis and the Robbers 1: better by gentleness.

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It’s St Francis’s day, so who better to continue our series on begging? This story concludes tomorrow.

Now there dwelt in those parts three notorious robbers, who wrought much evil in that country, the which came on a day to the House of the brothers, and besought Brother
Angel, the guardian, to give them food to eat; and the guardian with harsh reproof, answered them after this fashion: “Ye thieves and cruel murderers, ye be not ashamed to rob others of the fruits of their labours: but likewise, as men insolent and bold, ye would devour the alms bestowed upon the servants of God; in sooth, ye are not worthy that the earth should hold you, since ye respect nor men nor God who created you: then go your ways and see ye come not here again”; whereby they went away disquieted and full of ire.

And behold, Saint Francis returned from abroad with a wallet of bread and a little flask of wine, that he and his companion had begged: and when the guardian recounted unto him how he had driven the men away, Saint Francis reproved him sternly, saying: “Because sinners are brought back to God better by gentleness than by cruel reproofs; wherefore our master Jesu Christ, whose Gospel we have promised to observe, saith that they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick and that he was not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance: wherefore he oftentimes ate with them. Seeing then, that thou hast done against charity and against the holy Gospel of Christ, I command thee by holy obedience, that thou take this wallet of bread that I have begged and this little flask of wine, and search diligently for them over mountains and valleys until thou find them, and give them all this bread and wine as from me; and then kneel thee down before them and humbly confess thy fault of cruelty; and then pray them on my behalf that they do no more ill, but fear God nor offend Him any more: and if this they will do, I promise to provide for their needs and to give them food and drink abidingly; and when thou hast said this unto them, return hither again in all humility.”

While the guardian was going for to do his bidding, Saint Francis set himself to pray, beseeching God to soften the hearts of those robbers and convert them to penitence.

Photograph by Christina Chase, Ste Anne de Beaupré, Canada.

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September 16: What is Theology Saying? XXVI: What is Grace and what does it do?

somers.town. holy spirit

We live in secular times – in the course of the ages we have taken more and more possession of the earth and all it contains; we control much more than people of ages past. We also have better self-awareness – realising that customs, rules and ideas of order and beauty are not always shared by other societies. Customs and traditions are not the inevitable and only right way of doing things.

When we understood less we tended to see the transcendent God as the all-powerful organiser. This God made thunder when he was angry, sent plagues and disasters to punish and redressed everything that had gone wrong. God worked in unseen ways. Outwardly a man might seem good and virtuous, inwardly he could have lost God’s grace and be out of sorts with God and living in darkness. Lost God’s Grace – outwardly, before and after baptism there might be no difference in a person – inwardly there can be all the difference between night and day in that realm where God is active and inaccessible to our experience. As we began to take more control of the world, we also took more responsibility for what was going on – in the external world. We have lightening conductors replacing the sign of the cross; we have air traffic control instead of prayers for travellers; we have learned to seed clouds from the air instead of novenas for rain.

This has also made its way into the inner world of our spiritual life. We are starting to distrust ritual ways of obtaining God’s favour. We have reasoned that a person can’t receive additional charity unless we are really loving more and more. Accounts of the spiritual life, the redemptive work of Christ and the service of the Church are now sounding more like common sense psychology than strictly Christian teaching. Some are even doing away with the idea of Grace.

AMcC

Mosaic from S Aloysius, Somers Town, London, (near Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross). While I know trains are very safe, I like to make a pilgrim’s prayer if I find this church open. MMB.

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16 June. What do the Saints Know? VII: Connaturality

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So we have come to the idea of connaturality with divine things in this notion of participated likeness to God’s knowledge. For me, how wonderful and how freeing the knock-on effect of all this is. Faith’s kind of knowing is the direct opposite of the hurt and cramp of mistrust and suspicion, which the wide arena of human affairs almost obliges us to experience in order to survive in a sinful world. Faith in God is not like that. It is like a cooling breeze sweeping in after the misery of the sweltering, humid heat of August.

When I ponder the truths of the faith, I do not have to fear that I might be standing on quick-sand, or on the fault-line of an earthquake, or that I might be placing my deepest trust in someone who is liable to walk out on me. It is nothing like that at all. With faith in what God has revealed, I do not have to be suspicious, or try to ‘suss out’ the true and the false. I only have to absorb the True, and allow this to Truth to create in me a connaturality with God’s knowledge – a ‘participated likeness’ which begins now and continues – forever.

The theological virtue of faith exists in concert with the virtues of hope and charity. These will be explored in future posts.

SJC

 

Thank you again, Sister Johanna. We look forward to the next of your reflections in Agnellus’Mirror.

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June 1: S is for Sligo

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I remember Sligo for one reason especially: hospitality.

Let loose in a bookshop, even on-line, I tend to lose track of time. So it was in Sligo, all those years ago, so that when I paid over my punts, I received with my book and my change an invitation to take tea with the family.

Perhaps it’s my fond imagination, but Irish baking in those days could hit the heights of good taste. I recall a bakery in Ennis –  run by a cousin of a woman we knew up by Sligo – where the fresh brown bread was so very good, two of us had eaten the loaf within a quarter of an hour as we walked across town.

Here in Sligo it was sitting around the peat fire, a tea loaf – an Irish version of bara brith but with more butter within and more spread upon it than in Wales. And it was talk, good interesting talk it was too.

ossyrianfire

Good booksellers, like good librarians, listen to the people of the centuries, and if they speak to those of today, have wisdom to share. ‘I think you’ll like this one. You had another book by her a year ago.’ That’s the computer helping out, telling the librarian what I’ve borrowed before, but it’s a useful tool for her and her borrowers.

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May 29: Relics XII: To everything a season, turn turn.

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When L’Arche Kent were looking for a home for this machine, I remembered:
Back in November 1979, there were a few hand-powered machines on a shelf at L’Arche. Four years before, I had scrounged the shuttle for one of them from a reluctant salesman at the Singer shop in Canterbury. He could not sell me one, as fittings had changed since 1914, but we got that machine working again after he rather exasperatedly let me take the shuttle from a broken machine outside the shop door. Back then Singer’s offered £10 part-exchange on old machines for new, but destroyed the old one. Obviously there was no commission coming my transaction!
 So, in November 1979 Janet and I were visiting Little Ewell together, and she asked Sue Dolan if she could buy a machine for her own use. Sue told her to help herself to whichever she liked; the community did not need a treadle machine and three hand-powered.
Over to the workshop in the dark, and which machine did we choose?
No prize for guessing! But there was another reason for choosing it, though it was not the best of the three. This was a German machine, made around the time of the Great War, which belonged to a Mrs Day of Dover. In 1940 her daughter was a pupil at Miss Kennet’s private school out at Temple Ewell where she was when the German bomb fell on the house, killing her mother. All that was salvaged was the sewing machine; its case was beyond repair, the base badly damaged.
Miss Kennet was an early supporter of L’Arche Kent. We knew her as ‘Ken’. She had taken in the shell-shocked ‘Daisy’ – as we called Miss Day, and had looked after her ever since. In her turn Daisy cared for Ken up in Canon’s Cottage in Barfrestone Village, after they retired from the school. It was a privilege to be invited for afternoon tea.
The school house served as a base for a changing  group of Assistants until it was sold and 20 The Glen Shepherdswell, at walking distance from Barfrestone, was bought. But that’s another story or two: this one is about a relic from the earliest friends of the community. A story about The Glen was told last June, see :
MMB

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20 May: A Pentecost.

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A Pentecost
After Emily Dickinson

Your Deeds, dear Sir, no one can map
With Arithmetic rule –
Yet Dogmatists may call me Quack
For claiming – like a Fool –

To have beheld the Infinite
Whose Longitudes sublime
Marked out one day the Laundromat
That rid my clothes of grime –

Yet – truly – all who washed that day
Were Radiant – were One –
The sweetest of all Songs we sang –
Even as dryers spun –

And Glory fringed each sock and blouse –
I folded, Glory-dazed –
I walked my Glory home – I was
Half stupefied – joy-crazed –

For though the Distance was not great –
Only a mile I trod –
For – Fools – it circumnavigates
The Latitudes of God.

SJC

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10 May: What is theology saying? V: Development of doctrine is a work in process

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Life is always in process, and all possible developments cannot be foreseen; there is a time-lag between the first experience of a new way and the discussions of theologians, and then the new way of formulating a doctrine. This means that the practice of the faithful will be in place before official pronouncements; which means that even when the pronouncements are made, life will again have moved beyond that point and the theologians will be trying to follow life.

However, some seem to think that the developments that happened in the past completed everything, save a few minor points. Before Vatican II this was a widely accepted view; but anyone who has taken care to read the documents of Vatican II will see how development of doctrine is very much a work in process; with any issue being revisited for further discussion. As regards the past we can judge what in fact true development was. For the present and the future we must live with risk, not having access to absolute certainty. This means remaining open to truth, no matter from whom or from what it may come. Just another way of saying – we live by faith and not by sight.

Life and growth of the Church, including the development of her teaching, cannot be without conflict; sometimes conflict is painful, but need not involve bitterness or hostility – exclusions and condemnations are not necessary. Those who have most furthered the doctrine of the Church have usually been persons who acted discreetly and patiently, without fearing the truth of their own experience, insight and learning.

AMcC

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28 April: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XIX: The Riches of Poverty 2.

open-hands-prayer

(Continued from Yesterday) After begging through the town, Saint Francis and Brother Masseo met together to eat in a place without the city, where was a fair fountain and, hard by, a fine, broad stone ; upon the which each set the alms that he had begged.

And Saint Francis, seeing that Brother Masseo’s pieces of bread were more and finer and larger than his own, rejoiced with great joy, and said: “ O Brother Masseo, we are not worthy of such vast treasure ”: and when he repeated many times these self-same words, Brother Masseo made answer:
« Father, how can one speak of treasure where is such poverty and lack of all things whereof there is need ? Here is nor cloth, nor knife, nor plate, nor porringer, nor house, nor table, nor man-servant, nor maid-servant.”

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Quoth Saint Francis: “And this it is that I acount vast treasure, wherein is no thing at
all prepared by human hands, but whatsoe’er we have is given by God’s own providence, as
manifestly doth appear in the bread that we have begged, in the table of stone so fine, and in the fount so clear; wherefore I will that we pray unto God that He make us to love with all our
heart the treasure of holy poverty which is so noble, that thereunto did God Himself become your servitor.”

And when he had said these words, and they had done their prayer, and for refreshment of the body had taken of those pieces and drunk of that water, they rose up to journey into France.

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28 March, Stations of the Cross XI: Jesus Speaks to his Mother

 

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ELEVENTH STATION
JESUS SPEAKS TO HIS MOTHER

Usually the meeting between Jesus and Mary his mother takes place earlier on the Way of the Cross, but Saint John (19:25-27) tells us that Mary was right there beside jesus when he died, and John also tells us his last words to her; and to the beloved disciple, there beside her. Of course long tradition has it that John himself was the beloved disciple.

Mary Magdalene, who was there also, helps set the scene at the foot of the Cross, the Tree of Life. (Window from the parish church of Saint Mary, Rye.)


Mary Magdalene
I know this woman and I love her because I know and love her Son.

John
Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’

Mary Magdalene
I’ve seen her, always faithful, always at hand, even when she did not understand. The best I can do — for all I love him — is to be here. This is my mother too.


Prayer :

Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus, though your heart is broken, pierced by a sword of sorrow, help us to believe that your Son’s work is complete, and we need never fear anything, for he is with us in our pain.

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