Tag Archives: thought

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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14 June. What do the Saints know? V: Faith and Simplicity

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We are reflecting on the kind of knowledge that the saints have and we are looking at the theological virtue of faith. It seems to me that there is a wonderful simplicity about the quality of ‘knowing’ that goes with faith. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that God is simple: God is, he says, and “faith grasps that in a simple act” (II.II Q 1:2). Faith has content, then, and that content is God Himself.

Faith is not wishful thinking. It circumscribes and protects a relationship with God. That is what it contains. Once this content has been grasped in what Thomas calls a ‘simple act’ we also find, he says, that faith does involve knowing on a more ordinary level. Faith inspires us to learn about God and his life, to discover what He has revealed, to learn about the articles of belief, and so on. And, this kind of inquiry gives joy, I find. And increases love. Here it becomes possible to see the interconnection of theological virtues. Love of God is increased through the kinds of study that are an expression of faith.

Thomas goes on: it follows that, “…it is proper to the believer to think with assent.” Let’s pause here. It is proper to the believer to think with assent. This is not the way we learned to think in school. Ordinarily, thought means taking a stance not of assent but of disagreement. It goes something like this: ‘Why should I believe that any given statement is true? Chances are, you are trying to get something out of me that is not in my best interests to give.’ Now that may well be true, and faith does not mean that we abandon all capacity for critical distance in relation to the outside world. But faith is not really a dialogue with the outside world per se. It is a dialogue with God. Therefore, a different kind of thought process goes with it.

St. Thomas explains: “The act of believing is distinguished from all the other acts of the intellect, which are about determining the true and the false. In faith, [by contrast] we accept that what God has revealed is true” (II.II Q 2: 1). Why? Because God is Truth. It is simply not necessary to doubt this. On the contrary, faith calls us to absorb God’s truth more and more fully.

SJC

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27 May, Trinity Sunday: Doubt and Faith by Father Andrew.

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I do not fear for any honest intellectual doubter, but I do fear for any life that has lowered its standard. If i did not believe that God is Love, then I should turn the sentence round and say Love is God; but I should think Jesus a richer symbol of love than Venus.

I don’t think for a moment doubts are bad. I think, in a sense, one’s mind was made to doubt; but if ones mind was made to doubt, one’s soul was made to aspire, and if one uses both mind and soul, one will attain to a faith that is strong and true. ‘It is intolerable to think that our ideals themselves should perish, that nothing worth existing should have any continuance or growth, that the world of values should have no relation to the world of fact.

From The Life and Letters of Father Andrew, Ed Kathleen Burn, London, Mowbray, 1948, pp169-70

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12 January, Temperance VI: Temperance, Restraint and Anger.

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One of the important aspects of the virtue temperance is that it is not just about our physical appetites. It is about all our appetites, and develops our ability to handle such emotions as intense fear, desire and anger. And so, it complements moderation with something that uses perhaps more ‘muscle’ – and that something is restraint. Restraint is that power of soul whose act is to choose. In so doing, it curbs the desire for immediate gratification by showing us that we may fulfil our being more truly by making a reasoned choice than by gratifying an impulse that is coming (as in the case of anger) from a hidden desire for vengeance.

Restraint has particular relevance to the passion of anger. Anger can be a very strong passion indeed, and it is worth dwelling on it for a moment. St. Thomas grants that some forms of anger are useful: the anger that surfaces in regard to injustice, for example, and any kind of abuse. Anger is a necessary passion in these circumstances. I would go even further and say that there are some situations to which anger is the only healthy response. But, once again, anger must be directed by the light of reason. Intemperate anger can be destructive and abusive itself, and St. Thomas would not allow that it is good to fight violence with violence. This is where restraint comes in. Blind wrath, bitterness of spirit, revengeful resentment: these forms of anger are highlighted by St. Thomas as being the most dangerous aspects of anger and therefore most in need of the curbing powers of restraint. Blind wrath, he says, is anger that is immoderately fierce and destructive. Bitterness of spirit is to do with a state of anger that lasts so long that it becomes a part of one’s very character and personality. In this case the offence remains in one’s memory, and gives rise to what Thomas calls ‘lasting displeasure’ that does not stop until punishment has been inflicted. Revengeful resentment is an aspect of this ongoing bitterness in which the disposition becomes chronically sullen and the mind is endlessly preoccupied with taking revenge.

When these aspects of anger are delineated here in writing, it is easy to see how harmful they can be – to ourselves and to others – but let’s face it: we have all been there and probably done it. I don’t doubt that many of us have at times been swept away by the intensity of our feelings and indulged in precisely the kind of angry behaviour Thomas describes. These temptations are part of the weakness we have as fallen beings. But the virtue of temperance brings good things to bear on this state of affairs. Through gentleness, justice and charity we can restrain the onslaught of anger.

Gentleness, contrary to what we might think, does not mean that we never feel angry, or that if we do, we can get over it almost before we feel the full force of it. Rather, gentleness is what makes a person master of herself, and therefore master of the power of anger, according to St. Thomas – for anger is a power, and as such is capable of accomplishing something good. Gentleness is about channeling that power rightly, dealing with the cause of the anger fairly, addressing the whole situation that gave rise to the anger in such a way as to change it for the better.

In order to do this, of course, we need to enlist the aid of our reason. We are back to the need to think. Our reason then, brings justice and charity to bear upon the situation that has caused our anger. Justice and charity working together with gentleness enables us to focus on something other than our own pain. We become able to focus on the feelings of the one (or ones) who offended us, on seeing the situation from the other side, and on effecting the changes that will lead to the establishment of peace – even if some of those changes are changes that need to take place within our own heart.

SJC

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January 10: Temperance IV: Our Appetites and our Reason

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Our human nature was created by God in such a way as to insure our survival as a species. The bodily appetites that deliver the most pleasure also happen to be the very ones we most need in order to keep us going on the planet earth. In themselves, they are good, as St. Thomas affirms, and there is nothing wrong with the pleasure they give. But, paradoxically, we need some moderation in these areas in order to enjoy the pleasure they give. How do we manage this?

There is very little in our secular culture to help us here. The advertising media exploits all our appetites in order to sell its products, thereby increasing our desire to posses those products and experience those pleasures, and giving us a vague feeling of inferiority if we do not. Being sexually active is presented as the greatest and most fulfilling human experience by the story-line of most films, plays and television shows. Chastity is rarely presented at all, and almost never shown in a positive light. The pleasures of food and alcohol are raised to the level of culinary art by celebrity chefs and the entire food industry. Yet, the fact that there are a rising number of individuals pursuing Twelve Step1 programs in order to handle addictions in these areas testifies to the truth that the Church has always known and St. Thomas clearly articulated in the thirteenth century. We need self-control with regard to our pleasures.

We also need to think. Our mind, our reason is more powerful than we may realise and can give us the real guidance we need. How reassuring this information is: that we have within us the capacity to direct our growth in goodness. This is nothing to do with IQ, and everything to do with opening our mind to the truth and our heart to the promptings of grace.

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The media and pop culture rely on us not thinking very deeply – and certainly not praying – so that we may be seduced by the personalities and products the media presents, and become consumers of what they sell. If we do not think too much, then our appetite for power and pleasure and possessions will move us to buy things that the businesses supporting the media want us to buy – things that will seem to feed these appetites, and give us the illusion that we, too, look like media stars and share somehow in their life of glamour and pleasure. This is manipulation on a grand scale. This illusion is something from which we need to withdraw in order to discover our true identity. We desperately need our ability to think, we need the use of what St. Thomas would call our reason, in order to live on a level in which we see through what is fraudulent and empty. Only then will we discover the joy of living in communion with God, and with what is true, and with a set of values in which temperance as a virtue becomes possible to us.

SJC

1It is important to point out that there can be a difference between addiction and intemperance, at least where drugs and alcohol are concerned. Drug and alcohol addiction is usually considered a disease which originates in a genetic pre-disposition to it. The only “cure” is complete abstinence from all substances. This is not the place to give a full description of the characteristics of addiction. I refer those interested in learning more about this to any writings on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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23 March: Two mites.

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Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa with symbols of the gifts their congregation shared with the people of Zambia, where their Mission has been passed on to others.
Photo: Missionaries of Africa

Another word from Fr Andrew SDC:

My point about the widow’s mite was just that it is true of all things. God does not ask you to have much but to give what you have to give, if it is only two mites of money, or time, or character, or intellect, or anything else.

God bless and keep you.

Sometimes it does feel as though I need to dig deep to find anything to share with people, let alone with God, so today I’m grateful to receive Fr Andrew’s words, and glad to share them with you. And to relate his wisdom to the giving of the sisters symbolised in the picture above. My symbol today might be a hand scratching my head: I’m grateful to receive Fr Andrew’s words!

Will Turnstone.

Life and Letters of Father Andrew p98.

 

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24 January: The Gasman Cometh

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‘Twas on a  Monday morning the gas man came to call.’ (Flanders and Swan). But this one knew just what he was doing, changing the meter and leaving all safe and sound.

He called me to witness that all was safely sealed at the end of the job by observing the manometer connected to the equipment. ‘We don’t like excitement,’ he said, as the level stayed exactly the same for the required times.

‘Those rubber washers are possibly the most important part of the whole thing, they guarantee your safety. Yet they are cheap, so cheap that they send them out in packs of a hundred. They wouldn’t do that if they cost pounds each.’

Who do we rely on but never give a thought to? Make sure you acknowledge them, pass the time of day, give them a smile. I am very glad our house is safe from gas leaks and all appliances are working; thank you, Martin the gasman!

As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. 

Matthew 25:40.

 

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25 December: Christmas

acrobats 

 Can he who hurls the lightening from the top

and swirls the rain,

disarm us with a baby’s grin and stop

earth’s spin?  Then start again?

Can he be like a jester – on his head –

quite turned around?

Or is it us – bewildered thoughts unsaid –

who’re upside down?

 

Of course, the problem’s us and not with God.

We think we Know.

We think our view is true – and his plain odd.

But he’s below

so far is he above.  He is a mite,

so vast is he,

so full of life as to become finite –

a non-entity:

 

an infant God.  And poor, do not forget.

So strange, this tale.

We hear it year by year and love it, yet

we simply fail

to follow footsteps leading down.  We fall

instead – yes, all –

which is as well because the paradox, recall,

is this: God’s small.

SJC

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July 22, John Cassian VI: Conversion of Thought

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In modern language, we might say that the eight evil thoughts, as enumerated by John Cassian, are our “shadow side”, for, says Cassian, “they exist in everyone, yet no one knows of them until they are laid open by the teaching of the elders and the Word of the Lord”.

No one knows of them because, as we would say now, we deny that side of ourselves.  Yet, far from suggesting that the confrontation with our evil thoughts is a sign that we are back-sliding, Cassain tells us that this is a sign of progress.

What are these evil thoughts?  According to Cassian they are:

gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, sadness, sloth (or acedia), vainglory and pride.

mercylogoTo explore his treatment of each vice would go beyond the scope of these posts.  But, it is still worth noting that these tendencies, Cassian maintains, are just part of the human package, like it or not.  This is not such bad news, however.  The fact that we have the ability to see these tendencies within ourselves is a sign that God is there, providing the light by which they are seen (Conferences 23, XVII, 3).

SJC.

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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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