Tag Archives: temptation

5 May: Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXX: Brother Jacques’ nightmare.

Brother John was resplendent above all the rest that had more completely drunk the chalice of life, whereby he had the more deeply gazed into the abyss of the infinite light divine: and had learned therein of the adversity and the tempest that was to rise up against this tree and shake and toss its branches. For the which cause Brother John came down from the top of the branch whereon he stood; and going down below all the branches hid himself in the solid tree and was rapt in thought.

One of the brothers that had taken part of the chalice and part had spilt, climbed up on to that place, whence Brother John had come down, And the nails of his hands became iron, sharp and keen as razors: whereat he left the place to which he had climbed, and with rage, and fury sought to hurl himself upon the said Brother John for to do him hurt. But Brother John cried aloud and commended himself to Christ that sat upon the throne; and Christ called unto him Saint Francis, and gave him a sharp flint stone, and said: “Take this stone and cut off the nails of that brother, wherewith he would fain tear Brother John, so that he may do him no hurt,”
Then Saint Francis came and did even as Christ had commanded. And this done, there arose a storm of wind, and shook the tree so violently that the brothers fell down on to the ground, and first of all they that had spilled all the chalice of the spirit of life, and were carried away by the devils to places of darkness and torment.

But Brother John, together with the others that had drunk all the chalice, were borne by the angels unto the place of life, and of light eternal, and beatific splendour. And Brother Jacques, that saw the vision, understood and discerned distinctly and separately all that he saw, touching the name and and condition and state of each one of them clearly. And so long did that storm beat against the tree that it fell, and the wind carried it away.
When the storm ceased, straightway from the golden root of this tree sprang up another tree that was all of gold, which brought forth leaves and flowers and fruit of gold. Of this tree, and how it spread out its branches and fixed deep its root, and of its beauty and fragrance and virtue, it were better to keep silence than to speak.

I was weighing up a shard of flint in my hand this morning. It was a good fit for my hand, and quite sharp, even from the batterings received in its centuries as a stone. The idea of being chased by Saint Francis wanting to cut my nails is pretty scary but so is that of being chased by a maddened, jealous friar! Thirty years after the hurricane blew down trees in our street their replacements are tall and sturdy. They were paid for bby the residents and businesses along the road. Brother Jacques’ second tree would have shared that communal vigour, emerging as fire-tested gold. May we have the grace to pass through the flames unhurt.

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March 24, Desert XXVI: in the city.

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While Jesus was in the Desert, the devil took him to the top of the Temple. I feel somewhat safer in the crypt of the Cathedral: there’s not so far to fall!

And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself from hence. For it is written, that He hath given his angels charge over thee, that they keep thee. For it is written, that He hath given his angels charge over thee, that they keep thee. And that in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.

And Jesus answering, said to him: It is said: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Luke 4:9-12

I do seem to be dashing my feet against stones quite a lot these days; is that my lack of observation or the lack of footpath maintenance, or perhaps both? Anyway, the Crypt is my go-to desert place in the city. But there are other spots where the desert awaits; even passing through the old orchard grounds for instance, or seeing the hazel catkins in full bloom in various odd spots.

Forty seconds, not forty days, I spend enjoying them, but the resilience of those soft, dangling catkins in this year’s high winds has been an object lesson to me.

Laudato Si!

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25 November, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LVIII: Brother Simon 1, the distressed novice.

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ABOUT the beginning of the Order of Saint Francis and while he was still alive, there came into the Order a young man of Assisi, the which was called Brother Simon: him God adorned and endowed with so much grace, such depth of contemplation and elevation of mind, that all his life was a mirror of virtue.

Brother Simon, when he set him down at table, before he took food for the body, would take for himself and for others spiritual food, speaking of God. Through his devout discourse on a time was converted a young man of San Severino, the which in the world was a youth exceeding vain and worldly, and was of noble blood and much delicate of body; and Brother Simon receiving the said youth into the Order, put his secular clothes aside in his own charge; and the youth abode with Brother Simon to be taught by him the rules of the Order. But the devil, that striveth to thwart all good, assailed him with so fierce a temptation and so grievous a thorn in the flesh, that in no wise could he resist the same; for the which cause he went to Brother Simon, and said unto him: “Give me back my clothes that I brought with me from the world, for I can no more endure this temptation of the flesh.” And Brother Simon having great compassion on him, said: “Sit here with me a little while, my son”; and he began to speak with him of God in such sort that all temptation left him: and when after a time the temptation came back and he asked for his clothes again, Brother Simon drove it away with speech of God. And when this had been so full many a time, at last one night the said temptation assailed him so grievously, even more than it was wont, that for naught in the world could he resist it, and going to Brother Simon, demanded of him again all his secular clothes, for that in no wise could he longer stay. Then Brother Simon, even as he was wont to do, made him sit down beside him; and as he spake to him of God, the youth leaned his head upon the breast of Brother Simon, for sorrow and distress of soul. Then Brother Simon for the great pity’s sake that he had, lifted up his eyes to heaven and prayed, and as he devoutly besought the Lord for him, he was rapt in God and his prayer was heard: whenas he returned to himself again, the young man found himself altogether freed from that temptation, as though he had felt it never a whit.

The fire of temptation being thuswise changed into the fire of the Holy Spirit, for that he had
drawn near unto the burning coal, to wit, unto Brother Simon, he became altogether inflamed with the love of God and of his neighbour; in so much that on a time a malefactor having been taken who was to have both his eyes put out, he, to wit, the youth aforesaid, for pity’ a sake went boldly unto the governor, and in open council, and with many tears and humble prayers besought that one of his eyes might be put out and one only of the malefactor’s, for that he might not be deprived of both. But the governor and the council beholding the great fervour of the charity of this brother, forgave both the one and the other.

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20 June, Corpus Christi: Temptation lingers.

 

Our friend Christina Chase recently wrote that ‘Temptation lingers in desert spots‘ – which is perfectly true. It’s so easy to get things out of proportion.

But what did the children of Israel  wish for, out there in the desert? The fleshpots of Egypt, not a closer walk with God.

The children of Israel said, ‘Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ (Exodus 16:3)

And when they were in Egypt, they were oppressed so hard they could not stand – yet they’d rather go back to slavery than walk as free men and women with God. Of course spiritual slavery is more subtle than that. Who are the false gods we are tempted to put before the true One?

God heard his people, but did not answer their despair with thunderbolts to fulfil their death wish. No, he sent mercy, like the gentle rain from heaven, in the form of manna. He sustained them on their travels.

As we will be sustained:

[They said], Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. (John 6:31-33)

It’s a scandal that Christians are not united at the Lord’s table.

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12 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 3.

Croix Rousse large

Saint Francis promised Brother Ruffino that, “this temptation will bring to thee great profit and consolation, and very shortly shalt thou prove it”. So what happened after Ruffino was utterly impolite to the devil?

The devil being exceeding wroth, gat him away incontinent with so furious a tempest and shaking of the rocks of Mount Subassio, which was hard by, that the loud noise of the rocks that fell down lasted a great while ; and so furiously did they strike the one against the other as they rolled down, that the valley was lit up with horrible flashes of fire: and at the terrible din that they made, Saint Francis and his companions came out of the House, in great amazement, for to see what strange thing had befallen; and still to this day is seen that exceeding great ruin of rocks.

Then Brother Ruffino knew of a surety that it had been the devil that had deceived him. And going back to Saint Francis, he threw himself again upon the ground, and confessed his fault; and Saint Francis comforted him with sweet words, and sent him back full of consolation to his cell, wherein as he was most devoutly praying, there appeared to him Christ, the blessed One, and rekindled all his soul with love divine and said: “Thou hast done well, my son, to believe in Saint Francis, for he that made thee His sad was the devil: but I am Christ thy Master; and to make thee sure thereof, I give thee this sign: Whilst thou dost live, thou shalt no more feel sadness nor melancholy.”

And this said, Christ departed, leaving him in such gladness and sweetness of spirit and uplifting of the mind, that day and night he was absorbed and rapt in God. And from that time forth he was
so strengthened in grace and in certainty of his salvation, that he became altogether changed into another man; and would have continued day and night in prayer and in contemplation of the things of God, if the others had suffered him. Wherefore Saint Francis said of him that Brother Ruffino was in this life canonised by Christ, and that, save in his presence, he would not doubt to call him Saint Ruffino, albeit he was still alive on earth.

Icon by CW

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11 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLV: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 2.

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Yesterday we read how Francis was made aware of Ruffino’s belief that he was damned, and his subsequent misery. We take up the story when Brother Masseo has called Ruffino to visit Francis. Francis emulates the father of the prodigal son and then gives some very earthy advice!

Saint Francis seeing Brother Ruffino coming from afar off, began to cry out: “O thou miserable Brother Ruffino, in whom hast thou believed?” And when Brother Ruffino was come up to him, Saint Francis recounted to him in order all the temptation that he had had of the devil within and without, and showed him clearly that what had appeared to him was the devil and not Christ, and that he ought in no wise to consent unto his promptings. But when the devil should say to thee again: “Thou art damned! do thou answer : Open thy mouth, for I fain would void on thee! and this shall be to thee the sign that he is the devil and not Christ; for as soon as thou shalt give him this answer, he will flee away incontinent.

Moreover by this token shouldst thou have known that he was the devil and not Christ, in that he hardened thy heart to all goodness, the which thing is his own proper office; but Christ, the blessed One, never hardeneth the heart of the faithful, nay, rather he softeneth it, as he saith by the mouth of the prophet: I will take away the stony heart and I will give you a heart of flesh”. (Ezekiel 36:26) Then Brother Ruffino, seeing that Saint Francis told him in order all the manner of his temptation, touched to the heart by his words, began to weep bitterly, and fell down before Saint Francis and humbly confessed his fault in having kept his temptation hidden. And thus he abode altogether consoled and comforted by the admonishments of the holy father, and wholly changed for the better.

Then at the last Saint Francis said unto him: “Go, my little son, and shrive1 thee, and relax not the zeal of thy wonted prayers: and know of a surety that this temptation will bring to thee great profit and consolation, and very shortly shalt thou prove it.” So Brother Ruffino returned to his cell in the wood, and continuing in prayer with many tears, behold the enemy came to him in the form 0f Christ, as to outward semblance, and said to him: “O Brother Ruffino, have I not told thee that thou shouldest not believe the son of Peter Bernardoni, nor shouldest weary thyself in tears and prayers, seeing that thou art damned? What doth it profit thee to afflict thyself while yet alive, and then when thou shalt die thou wilt be damned?” And straightway Brother Ruffino made answer to the devil: “Open thy mouth, for I fain would void on thee.”

1Confess your sins to a priest
End Paper of The Little Flowers of Saint Francis.

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10 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLIV: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 1.

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Let’s return to the Little Flowers of Saint Francis with a story that illustrates his insight into his companions’ feelings. We might be tempted to label Brother Ruffino’s temptation as a mental illness, but the thought of being on the road to eternal perdition is enough to unhinge anybody. At the end of the story we will see that Brother Ruffino was an exceptional person – and so of course was Francis, who saw his need and guided him through it.

BROTHER RUFFINO, one of the most noble citizens of Assisi and a companion of Saint Francis, a man of great sanctity, was on a time most grievously assailed and tempted in his soul, in respect of predestination; whereby he became altogether melancholy and sad; for the devil put it into his heart that he was damned and was not of those predestined to eternal life; and that all that he did in the Order was lost. And this temptation continuing day by day, he for shame told it not to Saint Francis, yet ceased not to observe the wonted prayers and fasts: wherefore the enemy began to heap on him sorrow upon sorrow, over and above the battle within, assaulting him also from without with lying apparitions.

Wherefore on a time he appeared to him in the form of the Crucified, and said to him: O
Brother Rufiino, why dost thou afflict thyself in penance and in prayer, seeing that thou art not among those predestined to eternal life? and believe me that I know whom I have elected and predestined, and believe not the son of Peter Bernardoni,1 if he tell thee the contrary, nor question him concerning this matter, for neither he nor any others know, save I alone, who am the Son of God: Brother therefore believe me of a surety that thou art of the number of the damned: and the son of Peter Bernardoni, thy Father, and also his father are damned, and whoso follows him is led astray.”

And said these words, Brother Ruffino began to be so overshadowed by the prince of darkness that he lost all the faith and love he had had for Saint Francis, and took no care to tell him aught thereof. But that which Brother Ruffino did not tell the holy father, the Holy Spirit revealed to him: wherefore Saint Francis, seeing in spirit the great danger of the said brother, sent Brother Masseo to call him; whom Brother Ruffino answered chidingly: “What have I to do with Brother Francis?” Then Brother Masseo, all filled with divine wisdom, perceiving the deception of the devil, said : “O Brother Ruffino, knowest thou not that Brother Francis is as an angel of God, who hath enlightened so many souls in the world, and through whom we have received the grace of God? wherefore I will that thou by all means come with me to him; for I clearly see that thou art deceived by the devil.”

1That is Saint Francis.
Image: Strasbourg Cathedral, the Last Judgement. MMB.

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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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