Tag Archives: temptation

6 November, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXXIII: Two Gentlemen of Bologna, 2.

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How Saint Francis delivered one of them from a sore temptation

Brother Rinieri devoutly and faithfully served the brethren, dwelling in great sanctity and humility: and he became Saint Francis’ close familiar friend. 

A while after, God suffered a very grievous temptation to arise within his soul: and he being in anguish and tribulation thereby, afflicted himself with fasts, with scourgings, with tears and prayers, both day and night: but for all that he could not rid him of that temptation; but
oftentimes abode in great despair, sith he deemed himself thereby abandoned of God. While he was in such despair, as a last remedy he minded to go to Saint Francis, thinking thus within himself: “If Saint Francis will look kindly on me, and show himself mine own familiar friend, as is his wont, I believe that God will yet have pity on me: but if not, it will be a sign that I shall be abandoned by God.” So he set out and came t0 Saint Francis, who at that time lay
grievously sick in the palace of the bishop of Assisi; and God revealed unto him all the manner of the temptation and the despair of the said Brother Rinieri, and of his purpose and his coming.

And straightway Saint Francis called Brother Leo and Brother Masseo, and said unto them: “Go ye out at once to meet my little son, most dear to me, brother Rinieri, and embrace him on my behalf and salute him, and tell him that among all the brothers that are in the world I love him with especial love.” So they went, and found Brother Rinieri on the way, and embraced him, saying unto him whatsoever Saint Francis had bidden them say. Whereby such consolation and sweetness filled his soul that he was as one beside himself: and giving thanks to God with all his heart, he went on and came to the place where Saint Francis lay sick.

And albeit Saint Francis was grievously sick, yet when he heard that Brother Rinieri was coming, he got up and went to meet him, and embraced him very sweetly, and said: “My little son, most dear to me, Brother Rinieri, among all the brothers that are in the world, I love thee, I love thee with especial love.” And this said, he made the sign of the most holy cross upon his brow, and kissed him thereon; and bespake him again: “My little son, most dear, God hath suffered this temptation to assail thee for thy great gain in merit, but if thou no more desire this gain, then let it be.” O marvel ! as soon as Saint Francis had said these words, incontinent departed from him all temptation, as though in all his life he had felt it not a whit, and he remained altogether comforted.

 

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28 July: The Beating Heart of Strasbourg

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The Cathedral is a heart

The Cathedral is a heart.

The tower is a bud.

Have you counted the steps

that lead to the platform?

Every night they become more and more numerous.

They grow.

The tower turns turns

and turns about itself.

It turns, it grows,

it dances with its saints

and the saints dance with their hearts.
Will it fly away with the angels,

the tower of Strasbourg Cathedral?

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

The swallows

believe in the angels amid the clouds.

The swallows don’t believe in ladders

to climb in the air.

They let themselves fall into the air

into the air interwoven

with the blue of infinity.

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

She lets herself fall into the winged sky

into the air of the angels.

 

I don’t claim to know what the sculptor Jean Arp meant by this poem; it is a poem that he let fly away once written. I did see an interview where he spoke about the saints on Strasbourg Cathedral. ‘We cannot surpass the work of the old masters’, he said of the cathedral dominating his home town. I read it as a love song.

Mediæval Cathedrals are well-loved. One expression of this is the continuing schedules of works to preserve these treasures, Canterbury always has scaffolding somewhere about its sides. We were not tempted to launch into the air from the roof platform at Strasbourg, but to have built the place so high was an act of faith by the architects, a duc in alto, putting out into the depths of space.

We should imitate Our Lord at his temptations in not taking irresponsible risks to impress the devil in us or in other people, but we should also trust him to hold us safe as we fly, ever in danger of falling, ever seeking the infinite blue of heaven.

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25 February: Judgement I

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Saint Francis was very conscious of himself as a sinner: perhaps I should be more so. The trouble is that dwelling on personal sinfulness can be crippling: ‘I’ll never get out of this mess!’ Of course, on my own, I won’t. So who can get me out of the mess?

Canterbury’s Father Daniel Weatherley challenges us to ponder the last times in preparation for our death and resurrection, when the secrets of hearts will be laid bare. He offers us three steps on our journey through Lent.

The Cosmic Courtroom is a truly awesome scene. When Jesus comes in glory every single one of us – and everyone who has already passed through the first death – will stand before Him as one great sea of humanity. Each one willed into being by God, each one loved totally and uniquely by Him. But this is a courtroom with a difference. Not only are there no attorneys, no advocates, but there is no trial! The verdict upon each has already been decided. The proceedings consist only of the sentencing. And the pronouncement, comes as a surprise for everyone: whether it be punishment or paradise. Only then is the summing-up offered.

There are, however, witnesses. Firstly, each of us will witness the judgement of each other, as our hidden motives and acts of love (or otherwise) are laid bare. And then there is the vast array of angels, all of whom made their decision to serve, to love (or not), in the first instant of their creation. Since that moment those angels who rejected God have persistently laboured to tempt men and women to do the same – usually so subtly that it goes unnoticed. And then there are the holy angels – thankfully in the majority – who have spent their existence urging us on to lives of perfect love and selfless service, to conform ourselves to Jesus Christ. And at the same moment each of us will behold that angel which has been given to us alone as our guardian.

Jesus’ own account of how this scene will unfold is, in Matthew’s Gospel, magnificently constructed. The Lord’s authority is depicted in a rapid succession of 6 action verbs: He comes; He sits; He separates, He sets on His right and left; He speaks out and declares blessed; He commands to approach and inherit. And then comes the stunning revelation: 6 conditions of wretchedness in which He has been anonymously present with us all the time, just as He promised: hungry; thirsty; stranger; naked; sick; in prison.

 

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13 May: Time to have fun

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The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs. My childhood parish priest seemed determined to make sure we were suitably miserable. Fun was equated with self-indulgence – all too likely to carry us away into the path of sin. The eleventh commandment was ‘Thou shalt not laugh, nor enjoy thyself’.

The hangover of that upbringing is that I have sometimes struggled to allow myself to enjoy life. The notion that God is a spoiler is not one I adhere to rationally but somewhere inside that image of God must linger. And yet when I remember some of the moments of deep fun that I have known I see how they abound with love, friendship, wonder, energy, and liberation: and as I put themselves back into those times I sense the presence, joy and life of God.

  • Sledging down the snow covered slopes of Greenwich Park while the ambulances circled below
  • Playing foot ball with my nephews in a muddy field
  • Losing myself in working with clay and not minding too much what shape I came up with
  • Making music with a group using my three and a half chords on a guitar
  • Going swimming on the spur of the moment with my sister in West Wales
  • Being thrown around at a barn dance without really having much clue what steps I was supposed to be making.

What moments do you remember?

Fun can have its downsides. Making fun of another at their expense is destructive. Thrill seeking can be addictive and self-centred. But these are perversions of what is essentially good and of God.

It is through fun that we lose our self-consciousness and allow ourselves to run free.

Walls of polite distance or even hostility between people evaporate in shared laughter.

Bonds of friendship are forged.

We stop taking ourselves too seriously – as if everything depended on our performance

We discover that we are creative after all – and all we needed was the opportunity and the courage to dare to express ourselves.

We delight in life, in the company of those with us and are completely held in the moment, putting aside our fears and preoccupations.

These are good moments, God moments.

In our churches and within our neighbourhoods,

in our tired lives, and amidst our difficulties

it is time to have fun!

CC.

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Just Say No!

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A homily worth reading!

Just say No

Follow the link to Fr Christopher Shorrock’s wake-up call as we start Lent.

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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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February 17: The Healing Gift

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Only two of the gospels encourage us to see our prospect of celebrating new life as something which began when Mary’s child was a presence in Israel. The gospels begin with the death and resurrection of the Saviour. However, this is a saviour who has been incarnated before he was excarnated. The vulnerability of fleshed existence was for him a struggle to celebrate, because of the layers of heart and mind consciousness, which every child finds difficult to coordinate. None of us is sure what kind of new life God wants us to celebrate, when we acknowledge there are genuine gifts of forgiveness and healing, for instance. We feel our way, half-blind, to a greater awareness of how God acts through us. We seek to be less blind.

We are to be grateful that Jesus’ temptations, re-dramatising the Hebrew Exodus in him, were his solidarity with our half-blind condition. So was his journey with his parents through the desert to find refuge in Egypt. He beckoned to the first followers to challenge their often childish fears by feeling closer to his mission, and the courage it required. When a child beckons to us, asking us to give our full loving attention to them, we must smile with delight at such trust. Our smile of delight at oneness with the wholeness of love in Christ is the gift we need, both for our own healing, and for becoming sources of healing for others. We must delight at the potential which God has made present in each new stranger entering our lives. If we love their potential, we also love the healing which makes it real.

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July 21, John Cassian V: What Next?

 

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The one who has made an effort to cut down on superfluous material things will find himself less occupied by concerns about maintaining them, repairing them, updating them.  The heart begins to be free.  It becomes possible to pray more, according to John Cassian.  But this does not mean that purity of heart has now been achieved.  It is not unusual, under such circumstances, to develop a more intense awareness of one’s own weaknesses and sinful tendencies.

Rather than seeing unending streams of light proceeding from within, one may find what Cassian calls “evil thoughts” emerging.  According to Cassian, this shouldn’t come as any surprise, for Jesus himself warns us that this is what we are like: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15: 19).  Perhaps I am someone who has read that passage many times in scripture, yet, when I finally realise that this is a home truth about me, it can be shocking.

This is where Cassian comes to assist – not with false consolation that endeavours to sweep all the difficulties under the carpet.  He comes with true insight into the reality of our interior life.  Cassian enumerates eight principal vices, or “evil thoughts,” as he calls them.  He calls them “thoughts” because he knows that our deeds, whether good or bad, are conceived first as thoughts before they become actions.  So, it is there, on the level of our thoughts, that conversion needs to occur.

SJC.

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July 18: John Cassian, II. Can my Heart Really Contain God?

 

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The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “…the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of ones’ being, [is] where the person decides for or against God” [no. 368].  This decision exists in the human person as a dynamic and constant impulse toward God.  In John Cassian, whose writings we are considering for a few days, the decision issues in the willingness to labour unceasingly to make the vessel of our heart able to bear the indwelling of Christ.

For Cassian, in order for this to happen, the person needs to gain insight into what he already has within the vessel of the heart.  And, recall, according to Cassian, we can’t say, “Oh, I’m not a vessel, so I don’t have to worry about this.”  For Cassian, the acknowledgement that we are vessels must be our starting point.  It’s how we’re made.  So, what’s in us, then?

Although the human person responds naturally to love, beauty, truth and goodness, and we achieve our human fulfilment through augmenting these qualities within ourselves, there is another, less sanguine aspect of our interiority to consider.  Cassian maintains that the vessel of the heart can be a place of conflict and temptation.  The decision for God must be made again and again, on ever deeper levels.  Purity of heart, therefore, is our goal, not our starting point.  This is what he says,

For the sake of [purity of heart] then, everything is to be done or desired.  This should be our principal effort, then; this should be constantly pursued as the fixed goal of our  heart, so that our mind may always be attached to divine things and to God [Conf. 1, VII: 1].

 

So, it is a given that we are vessels, but it is not a given that we are automatically pure of heart.  To become so: that is our longing; and everything we do should be done not just with this goal vaguely in the picture.  Cassian puts it more strongly.  It should be our “fixed goal”, our “principal effort”.  How do we undertake such a project?  Tomorrow we will look at one way to proceed.

SJC.

 

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11th January – Christ as a Symbolic Odysseus

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Maximus, a 4th century bishop of Turin, saw preaching on charity as a medicine to cure sick souls. It could instil a commitment to inner renewal among the pagan country-folk in territory around his city. His sermons on Christ as the crucial sacrament taught awareness of the resurrection as enlivening for all areas of experience. He wanted superstitions connected with New Year’s festivities, a kind of Ouija board factor during the Kalends of January, to be overcome by Christ’s saving energies.

For more educated listeners, Maximus like to explain ways in which well-known stories from their pagan cultural past could be a first step towards a fuller appreciation of the gospels. He treats Homer’s story of Odysseus having himself bound to the mast of his ship as a symbol of Jesus Christ being tied to the Cross. Homer said that Odysseus sailed within reach of the Sirens singing, and the destructive temptation this brought with it, and was fully aware of the risk to his life. Now Scripture spoke about Jesus as “tempted in every way that we are,” yet he did not sin. His steadfastness overcame the temptations. The world was saved through the pitiful wood of the Cross, as people put it in the early Church. Like a rudder or a mast, it carries believers forwards to eternal rest, after Christ has been face to face with death.

We are able to have our hearts disentangled from the world’s snares because we trust the daring voyage of Christ.

CD.

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