Tag Archives: theology

28 August: A Bishop’s lot

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I went to the Bishop’s office because she needed to change an appointment: an unexpected engagement out of town that she was very much expected to attend. Her secretary apologised: ‘when we make an appointment, we keep it, no matter what comes up. As well I had set aside the day before yours, in case it was needed, so let’s fill it in.’

I could not help seeing the blocks of colour on the computer screen, showing engagement after engagement. Clearly the bishop does not work only on Sundays, as the unfair jibe would have it. ‘And it’s like that every week’, said the secretary, scrolling through screen after screen. ‘Being with people is her strength.’ As Pope Francis would say, she will smell of her sheep.

Augustine of Hippo seems to have been as busy; he was pastor and writer, producing far more than Will Turnstone ever will, and more cogently argued and more poetically expressed. So on his feast, let’s pray for all bishops, that they may be given the wisdom to do their work, capable, caring secretaries to make sure their lives are ordered without strain and stress, and friends who will make sure they know when to stop!

Of course, that meeting took place before the corona virus put a stop to any idea of pilgrimage in May, and Bishop Rose found herself in a new job where she had to put out into deep water. Hanging about the shoreline leads to rocks through the hull. But that’s a tale for another day.

The basilica of St Augustine, Annabar, Algeria: today is his feast day.

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23 August: endeavour to know the will of GOD. Johnson.

In Summer 1762, James Boswell was about to leave London for the University of Utrecht; overseas students are nothing new. His friend, Samuel Johnson was advising the traveller:

You will, perhaps, wish to ask, what study I would recommend. I shall not speak of theology, because it ought not to be considered as a question whether you shall endeavour to know the will of GOD.

Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765″ by James Boswell,.

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9 January, Book Review: My book for Lent 2020, ‘It’s good to be here’.

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It’s Good To Be Here by Christina Chase

Review by Maurice Billingsley

Regular readers will remember the thought-provoking posts that our friend Christina Chase has allowed us to share from her own blog, which you can visit from the link. You will understand how I had been waiting to see this book, and I was by no means disappointed on reading it. Christina weaves autobiography and a profound incarnational theology with a love of language and clarity of expression. This will be my Lent book for 2020.

We were led, in my pre-Vatican II childhood, to look upon Jesus as the perfect human being: ‘Little children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as he.’ Our teachers apparently forgot that it was at his Transfiguration that the Apostles saw something more and Peter said, ‘It’s good to be here.’

There are those who would contradict Chase’s assertion that it is good for her to be here, since she is profoundly disabled – she readily uses the non-PC term ‘crippled’ – with a wasting disease that ought to have killed her years ago, and that renders her unable to feed, dress, or care for herself, depending on others for such needs.

But Christina has undergone her own transfiguration; this is her story. She had no need of a Franciscan stigmata, the wounded body was hers from birth, but she has had to come to terms with the human condition in her own self, with all the frustrations writ large. And so she can write: ‘The one astonishing fact of life is that suffering, like disease, war, murder, and abuse, cannot destroy the gift that God Almighty gives, because real love never fails.’ (p18) It’s good to be here; to be human here, as Christ was. After his Baptism, ‘He stood, rising to inhale deeply and shake the dripping wetness out of his hair and off of his drenched body.’ (p38)

And this from a woman who frequently finds breathing difficult, who cannot shake her head to dry her hair! This is not a book to buy out of pity for a ‘poor, disabled woman’, but for its deep insights into the divine light that wills to brighten our days. All our days. Christina’s vision is eternal: ‘What will life be like then?’ (p124) The glimmer of an answer is to be found in our earthly, earthy lives: it’s good to be here, breathing, getting wet, enjoying the sacrament of everyday in the wondrous life God has given us.

This will be my Lent book for 2020.

You can order it now from the publisher, Sophia Institute of New Hampshire, or  their UK agents, Gracewing, or via Amazon .

 

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Prince Charles on Newman

young newman

Prince Charles represented his mother, the Queen, and the whole United Kingdom at the Canonisation of John Henry Newman. Here is an extract from Prince Charles’s reflection on the occasion; the full text can be found at the Independent Catholic News.

Whatever our own beliefs, and no matter what our own tradition may be, we can only be grateful to Newman for the gifts, rooted in his Catholic faith, which he shared with wider society: his intense and moving spiritual autobiography and his deeply-felt poetry in ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ which, set to music by Sir Edward Elgar – another Catholic of whom all Britons can be proud – gave the musical world one of its most enduring choral masterpieces.

At the climax of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ the soul, approaching heaven, perceives something of the divine vision:

a grand mysterious harmony:

It floods me, like the deep and solemn sound

Of many waters.

Harmony requires difference. The concept rests at the very heart of Christian theology in the concept of the Trinity. In the same poem, Gerontius says:

Firmly I believe and truly

God is three, and God is One;

As such, difference is not to be feared. Newman not only proved this in his theology and illustrated it in his poetry, but he also demonstrated it in his life. Under his leadership, Catholics became fully part of the wider society, which itself thereby became all the richer as a community of communities.

 

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May 19. What is Theology Saying? LVI: Salvation outside the Church V.

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When Christians begin to realise the nature of symbolism as used in religious thought, we become more cautious of speaking about false gods. The more we appreciate symbolism, the more we realise how all religions tend to worship the one God.

austinIt was this that prompted Rahner to ask: are all nations saved through Jesus Christ; or whether Jesus is not the universal saviour. His answer is simple. If only those are saved who acknowledge him by name, he cannot be the universal saviour. Yet we believe his is the focus for everyone. He says without acclaiming Jesus by name, many are in fact his followers, because they are doing the will of the Father – working towards universal reconciliation. He points to Jesus saying in the Gospel it is not those who hail him as Lord who enter the kingdom – but those who do the will of the Father.

Matthew 25 presents the Last Judgement, in which those who have cared for the sick, the hungry and imprisoned are called to the kingdom – and those who do none of these things are not – whether they recognise Jesus as Saviour or not. Not only the Hindus and Buddhists but lapsed Catholics and Communists – are called forward before Church-goers.

Salvation is not a reward for reciting the creed correctly – it is the inner fruit of life, love and welcome to all without exclusion.

AMcC

Feeding the 5,000, from Ethiopia, Missionaries of Africa, Rome.

Afterword:

Thank you, Austin, for this and all your contributions to Agnellus’ Mirror and for keeping alive the connection between the Franciscans, the blog, and the City of Canterbury. Peace and all blessings!

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12 May. What is Theology Saying? XLIX: Church and World are not mutually exclusive.

 

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With our Lenten season we have set aside our long-running series from Traherne, the Little Flowers of Francis, and from Brother Austin. Let’s remedy that last one! There’s a challenge at the end: ‘I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?’

austinWe cannot contrast Church and World. They are not mutually exclusive. The Church is supposed to be the community that makes God’s promises already present. When we celebrate the sacraments this is a pledge to what we have committed ourselves as community. There is no work blueprint, we are called to be creative through the possibilities everyday life presents. The Church cannot hand-out a programme to us telling us exactly what to do, how to do it and where. The Bible has no such blueprint. We learn more about the future when we respond to what we already know and are presenting solutions accordingly.

The early Church, seen through Paul’s writing, took slavery for granted as a feature of society – while insisting that the slave-owner respect their human dignity. Centuries later we began to realise that we must abolish slavery itself, because slavery as such is opposed to human dignity. We are also coming to realise that what we often call works of charity can be more crushing than poverty itself, that we can eliminate poverty simply by providing jobs and incomes for all. In the same way war was seen as inevitable, and not only killing but torture was therefore justified. With the formation of the UN we are starting to glimpse that war is not inevitable – Paul VI said to the UN with powerful conviction no more war, war never again.

The truth is that the “signs of the times” are those offering the church ever new opportunities to go out and meet others. Individuals may well set out believing they are going to teach, but they will end up learning, as did Paul. The church is given endless opportunities to rediscover itself in ever new light, but they do not happen every day. At certain moments of privilege, the Spirit summons the church to risk: “During the night a vision came to Paul: a Macedonian stood there appealing to him: Cross over to Macedonia and help us”. Acts.16.9.

The “signs of the times” are the external evidence of this call to Discipleship of Christ. Reasoned observation and rational planning have a place. Reason is able to perceive certain things that suggest there are changes requiring further and new steps to be taken. Different moments of time have their own signs. Not everyone sees them. Jesus criticised the Pharisees because their wisdom in this regard was deficient: “It is a wicked and Godless generation that asks for a sign; and the only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah” – Mt.12.39. There are insensitive people in every age, unable [unwilling] to see the call for something new. To them mission is no more than simply repeating what has already been achieved. This is the fear principle, prompted by the fact that I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?

Reading  the Word and the World, Zakopane, Poland.

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Daniel O’Leary RIP

Daniel O’Leary RIP

Eddie was community leader at L’Arche Kent and is still very close to the community. He now works at the Irish Chaplaincy in London, from where this blog has been taken. 

 

I was sad to hear of the death in January of Daniel O’Leary, the well-known and clearly much-loved priest, spiritual writer and retreat-giver.

Daniel was a Kerryman who spent much of his priestly ministry in the Leeds diocese and also taught theology and religious studies at St Mary’s, Strawberry Hill. His writings had a certain light touch to them, and indeed he had at one time a regular piece in ‘The tablet’ called ‘Travelling Light’; yet what he had to say was profound, very down to earth, and had an evident authenticity. There are none of us on this earth who are without our struggles, and I’m sure that Daniel had his, but he was able to make something creative from it. His slim but inspiring volume ‘The Happiness Habit’ contains, among many other gems, a wonderful piece of Hasidic wisdom:

“Rake the muck this way, rake the muck that way; it will still be muck. Instead, start dancing your life thankfully on this beautiful earth”.

The theme of thankfulness and gratitude is a common one in Daniel’s writing. He encourages us in ‘The Healing Habit’ to repeat at the beginning of every day the words ‘Thank you’, and he quotes Meister Eckhart, the 13th Century German mystic: “If the words Thank You were the only words you ever uttered, you would become a magnet for love and beauty”.

Reading some of the obituaries following Daniel’s death, I was struck by a sense of humanity and compassion; of him being always prepared to meet and accept people where they were. Jonathan Tulloch recounts in ‘The Tablet’ the joy of a neighbour when Daniel had agreed to baptise her granddaughter, which had been refused by another priest. Tulloch was later brought by this neighbour to mass at Daniel’s parish of St Wilfrid’s in Ripon. He found himself in a packed congregation amidst a troupe of Morris dancers who had been organised to accompany the offertory procession. I think I would have enjoyed a Daniel O’Leary mass!

Another common theme in Daniel’s writing is the call for us to get in touch with those places within us wherein lie our deepest longings and dreams. ‘The Happiness Habit’ begins with a quote from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”. There is an echo here for me of the American poet Mary Oliver who also died recently. Her poem ‘The Summer Day’ concludes with these lines:

Doesn’t everything dies at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

 

I give thanks for your life Daniel. You seem to have lived it well, and I am inspired by you to try and do likewise.

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17 February: What is Theology saying, XLIII: Unhelpful ‘morality’.

I hope you can forgive me for looking at other chains of thought these last two months. This was only partly due to a computer putting on a hi-vis vest and going on strike. A new hard drive sorted that out. But it is good to have Friar Austin back! I’ve taken the liberty to add a couple of footnotes. Fr Rathe’s book gives something of a flavour of the Church just before the Council, when things were already beginning to change.

Can the inspiration of God ever be in conflict with the law of the Church? The whole prophetic tradition suggests that can happen. How do we test the spirit of an inspiration that suggests breaking the law? We must judge what is in line with spirit of the law. For example, the relaxation of fasting before Communion enables more people to receive the Sacrament.1

Unhelpful are: an over-simplifying notion of moral law; a preoccupation with precise measurements; disproportionate concern with sexuality; judgement of isolated bits of behaviour divorced from the whole person; punishment of sin seen in terms of an angry God; reconciliation seen as a means of shedding guilt; blind obedience praised as good behaviour by those in authority; concentrating on private morality at the expense of the social.

The perspective of Vatican II’s Moral teaching was to reject the blue-print model of the natural law – God’s plan. It presents life as gift, a fruit of the Spirit [Lumen Gentium 7.]2, and stressing personal dignity.

Conscience is not infallible, and it can be dulled by sin. Faith is conversion from sin, not once but continually; nowhere does the Church suggest that Scripture, Teaching… provide ready-made answers; we have to discern in the everyday of life. Moral challenge is not to keep the law in order to get to heaven, but to develop the full potential of what it means for me to be a human being. Gaudium et Spes 28 emphasises human development, even to loving enemies – i.e. involvement of will. [Part 2 of Gaudium et Spes3. is a treatise on values].

AMcC

1Monsignor Landru took us into the house where we enjoyed a glass of cold water before saying Mass. I wonder if the Holy Father ever thought of the tremendous refreshment he would be giving priests like ourselves, when he said: “Water does not break the Eucharistic Fast”. You have to go to the tropics, anyway, to appreciate cold water. From ‘ Mud and Mosaics – a Missionary Journey by Fr Gerard Rathe MAfr, Published 1961, available in full at http://thepelicans.org.uk/histories/history40a6.htm#top

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December 9: The Visual Commentary on Scripture

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The Visual Commentary on Scripture
gathers a company of artists
with whom to encounter the Bible

I have passed the link to the Visual Commentary on Scripture to a few friends; they love it, as do I, even though it is only just up and running after years of preparation.

Professor Ben Quash, the Director of the Centre for Arts and the Sacred at King’s College London has gathered a company of theologians and art historians, to bring the insights of artists to preachers, teachers and anyone interested in the Bible either as the Word of God or as a subject for academic study. I am told that eventually the whole of the Bible, including the Apocrypha, will be covered.

The company of artists includes twenty-first century painters as well as old masters, and mediæval illuminators. More from without the Western European tradition would be welcome, but it is hoped that as the project gets known, other cultures will be better represented. That said, the contributors have searched wide and far for images – three to a text – to act as a springboard for reflection both directly on the Scripture passage but also on the images and the philosophy and theology underlying them.

I will let the site speak for itself. Go to https://thevcs.org/ and start exploring!

Please note that pictures on the VCS site are copyright, but the Ascension above was taken by Maurice Billingsley at Saint Bartholomew’s, Richard’s Castle and belongs to the Agnellus Mirror website – a selection of daily reflections on Scripture, prayer and the Christian life with a Franciscan flavour.

MMB

 

 

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25 November. What is Theology saying, XL: Church teaching and common sense

Friar Austin is back, talking over what Theology has to say to us today in the area of morality and responsibility.

A similar development to that around original sin is found in Church teaching on personal sin, our understanding of morality. We have had to ask how to decide what is the right thing to do in matters as yet never experienced – organ transplants, ways of controlling the frequency of births – as well as questions concerning the morality of public life. In a society that doesn’t change much a code or commandments for people to obey suffices; even without people knowing why something must or must not be done. Obey the rules and you are in harmony with God.

In the past Christian theology compiled its code, and it became very elaborate and detailed. We had volumes of moral theology textbooks. First, they were intended for confessors, to help with actions already done. However, the manuals affected preaching. Preaching and teaching are very different from what happens in the confessional. The Church turned to two sources in compiling the manuals – one was the already existing Church teaching; the other was common sense or right reason. The reason they appealed to common sense [natural law] was because morality is not arbitrary. God doesn’t invent rules at whim. The right thing to do is what is always in harmony with the plan of creation. Life is not absurd and eventually everything will make sense. Because we have reason and practical common sense, we thereby share in the creative wisdom of God, and can figure out what to do.

What we call natural law is accessible to everyone because it is a matter of reason, but it became evident that highly intelligent people did not always agree on the right answers to moral issues. Catholic theology says that our intellects are clouded by Original Sin through our involvement with the sin of the world; an unbiased judgement is by no means always possible – uninfluenced by personal likes, convenience and sympathy. This is a matter of observation – and is another aspect of our need for redemption through Grace.

AMcC

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