Tag Archives: Time

December 27: Father Andrew at Christmas, IV. Jesus Christ, The Same Yesterday, and Today, and For Ever

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We hope that  over the next days you enjoy our selection of Father Andrew’s Christmas verse to complement his thoughts before the feast. MMB.

Jesus Christ, The Same Yesterday, and Today, and For Ever

And just the same for you and me
He lives and loves as tenderly
Through years have passed away,
As when the simple shepherds saw
Their Saviour in the stable straw
On the first Christmas Day.

Fr Andrew S.D.C.

The reference is to Hebrews 13.8:
Jesus Christ, yesterday, and to day; and the same for ever.
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December 19. Zechariah, an unlikely Advent Star, VI.

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Behold, since you did not believe my words, which will come true at the appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened (1:20).

Gabriel’s words are penetrating and packed with meaning. His sees more deeply into Zechariah than Zechariah sees into himself. And so, he first reveals Zechariah’s disbelief to him: “…you did not believe my words…” I suspect that Zechariah is pretty numb by now, and, as it were, unable to get his head around anything that is happening. But Zechariah might still be capable of inwardly assenting to the truth that Gabriel speaks about himself. I see him nodding: yes, he is disbelieving, at the moment. But because we are so often mysteries to ourselves, it can be a relief sometimes to learn a ‘home’ truth. We feel the light that that truth brings and are grateful. I imagine this being so for the upright man, Zechariah.

Then the Archangel Gabriel adds the magisterial phrase “…which will come true at the appointed time….” To my mind, these words are further words of reassurance for Zechariah – and for us. No matter how weak or disbelieving we might be in the face of the unexpected and unfathomable divine command, we cannot interfere with what God ordains. The upright Zechariah desires the fulfilment of God’s word. Gabriel’s prophecy is God’s word, and it will come true at the appointed time, no matter what else is happening in Zechariah or in the world at large. Just wait and see, Zechariah, Gabriel seems to say. God’s word is always an effective word. What God says will happen will indeed happen.

Finally, Gabriel tells Zechariah that he will have no power of speech until God’s word is fulfilled. Now, I believe that the Archangel Gabriel knows exactly what kind of man he is dealing with in Zechariah, and I do not interpret the angel’s words punitively here, either. In yesterday’s post, we were meditating on our need for time and prayer when we are confronted with something from God that we cannot grasp. I therefore see the Angel’s bestowal of silence upon Zechariah as a necessary condition for absorbing what he has experienced – which is so other, so unearthly, so wonderful. This silence can be understood as an expression of God’s mercy to Zechariah. I live monastic life, after all, and monks and nuns know that silence is a privilege not a penance. Silence allows us to live in an environment that is conducive to the deepening of our relationship to God. God knows that this good and upright man needs time now, and protection from the usual trivialising tendencies of speech in order to ponder his word and absorb what has just happened to him in the temple. What’s more, I imagine Zechariah welcoming this silence in the way a thirsting man welcomes a spring.

 

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December 18. Zechariah, an Unlikely Advent Star, V.

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The angel replied, “I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news (1:19).

When I read of the angel’s reply to Zechariah’s disbelief and perplexity, I do not hear a rebuke in his words, as some interpreters have done. I hear reassurance. First, the angel tells Zechariah his name. His name is Gabriel. In the bible, to know the name of another being is highly significant: the name gives the other a sort of power over the one whose name is disclosed. God refuses to tell Moses his name in order not to give Moses power over him. He refers to himself only as I AM. But here, Gabriel allows Zechariah to know not only who he is but also what he does: he “stands in the presence of God.” He, furthermore, is God’s messenger: “I have been sent to speak to you….”

I can imagine Gabriel emphasising the words “sent” and “you,” as if to respond to Zechariah’s doubts about the angel somehow getting him mixed up with another and younger man. Gabriel tells him that there is no muddle. He is obeying what Almighty God has commanded. He has the right address, and knows exactly who Zechariah is, and how old. Zechariah is emphatically the right man.

And what is the purpose of this angelic visitation? Its purpose is to bring Zechariah this good news. Perhaps Gabriel emphasises the word “good” here, to assure Zechariah that, despite his confusion and doubt, this is not a tragedy. This news is good! Gabriel’s words might be paraphrased as: ‘Zechariah, you are not Job! This is a New Beginning for all humanity, and you have been chosen to play a leading role. You will be the father of the one who will prepare the way of the Lord! The new stage in salvation history is now starting, and you and Elizabeth will be instrumental in an event of truly cosmic proportions.

My own feeling here is one of great affection for Zechariah. Surely, Gabriel cannot be displeased with this humble man. He just needs time to take in the message.

Sometimes I need time, too. Do I allow myself time when I need it? Or am I hard on myself when I cannot immediately understand what God seems to be asking of me? Or, worse, am I hard on God? Do I turn away from God in frustration when his message seems incomprehensible to me? Sometimes I need to wait and pray. Do I?

SJC

This Cornish Angel carries the name of a parishioner, inviting our prayers.

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October 25, May we find Christ walking with us: II. On the way to church.

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walking together – a chapel lies just over the hill

 

Sometimes we meet up with a friend on the way to Church for Mass. She tends to be bursting to tell us about her past week and her hopes for the week to come. On the way home she helps carry the food bank donations to be taken to the depot later in the week.

Listening to her talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news; not the sort of preparation for Mass that would have been approved by those who taught me in primary school. As Christopher Chapman said on May 13, ‘The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs.’ But fellowship is part of the story; not just being in a big room together, performing the same actions, mouthing the same words, for an hour once a week.

In fact, here and now, fellowship is the story for all the other hours in the week. I may be sitting here alone, miss-typing this post; you may be in your armchair, on the train to work, scrolling through your messages. But together, even at a distance of time and space.

When we get to Church we are together with writers from two or three thousand years ago, as we can be in front of our screens with Bible Gateway and other sites. But that is to bring us together with the Eternal, in eternity. Listening to our friend talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news as we walk; that is the sort of preparation for Mass that makes sense to me. Did not the Lord walk with Cleophas and his companion, talking of their news, hopes and fears, before they finally knew him in the breaking of bread?

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22 October: Readings from Mary Webb, XII: Time as the Shadow of Eternity.

 

trees-reflection-chris Near Bateman’s Sussex (National Trust)

When we look down into the blueness of some little pool, rejoicing in the birdlike passage of the clouds, and then look up to the wide sky, we realise that the finite is like a lake which, as far as its capacity allows, mirrors the infinite; and when we see the foreshortened image of a poplar stretched in pale colouring beneath it, we have a sudden vision of time as the faint, straitened shadow of eternity.

Reflections in a pool give rise to a reflection in Agnellus Mirror, 100 years since Mary Webb published Springs of Joy, from which this week’s thoughts are taken.

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30 September: Fortitude VII, More Endurance.

 

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This idea of endurance is worth lingering over. When I taught this subject as a class, a student once asked, “Isn’t it better to fight for what is right, rather than just put up with something that is evil? Shouldn’t we utilize anger and aggression against an evil which threatens?” St. Thomas allows this, in fact. Moreover, he nowhere says that we should ‘put up with evil’ in a passive way. He says that in resisting evil, all the emotions of the soul can be employed by the virtuous person if they are modified according to the dictate of reason. But as for anger and aggression, they are effective only sometimes. At best, “moderate anger”, as he calls it, can be useful because it is both “moved by the commands of reason and it renders an action more prompt.” Moderate anger, then, is not a tantrum, a rage, a show of personal power. It is intelligent, it speaks without shouting, it has a rational basis for its concerns. That is what Thomas means by being “moved by the commands of reason.” Moreover, an angry person doesn’t delay and stall about doing what needs to be done: an angry person acts quickly. This can be a very good and useful thing.

Then, if the anger is under control, if one has a reasonable set of objections and can communicate them in a rational way, and without dragging one’s feet, then this would be St. Thomas’s idea of the virtuous way to utilize the emotion of anger and grow in fortitude. It might be effective if the difficulty is the type than can be resolved by reasonable argument. Some are.

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The Iron Bridge is a symbol of endurance: Abram Darby III’s endurance against scoffers, and nearly 240 years of Shropshire weather and the vagaries of the river Severn.

But, sadly, not all difficulties can be resolved in this way. For Thomas, the bottom line still seems to be that we must accept that most serious problems take a long time to resolve. This is why endurance, in his teaching, is more effective than anger – even moderate anger. Endurance isn’t merely a passive virtue, for ‘do-nothings’. Rather, endurance actively stands firm on the side of what is truly valuable and good when trials come. It does not capitulate to pressure. It keeps hold of the ethical reasons for taking the stance we take. This, as anyone knows who has ever tried it, is not easy. That is why fortitude is a virtue.

I would like to end these reflections with what The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about fortitude.

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice one’s life in defence of a just cause (no. 1809).

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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29 September: Fortitude VI, Fortitude, Justice and Endurance.

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And the virtue of justice? What does that have to do with fortitude? St Thomas says of justice that it is ‘…the lasting and constant will [to] render each his due’ (S. T., II, II, 58,1). Fortitude stands firm against whatever threatens a value. That valued thing might exist on a world scale, such as the freedom of our country, or on a personal scale, such as my right to a just wage; or on any other scale you choose, but the key word is value. By the virtue of justice, we become able to recognise what is of true value, and honour it by a certain kind of commitment to it, as appropriate. By the virtue of justice, in other words, we are able to identify what is worth the kind of self-dedication that fortitude requires.

Which brings us to the consideration of St. Thomas’s teaching on the chief “act” of fortitude. For him, fortitude is about endurance. This may be surprising. Perhaps we expected fortitude to issue in a big display of obvious power directed against something big and bad. How does endurance figure into fortitude? St. Thomas explains that endurance is “an action of the soul cleaving resolutely to good, the result being that it does not yield to fear” (S. T. II, II, 123, 6). Endurance, then, in “cleaving resolutely” to something, implies length of time. We don’t have to cleave resolutely when the difficulty disappears quickly. Resolute cleaving is only necessary when we have a difficulty that doesn’t go away.

So we see here that first of all, fortitude is a virtue for the long haul. Fortitude is what comes into play for situations that require time in order to achieve their fulfilment. Take something like marriage. The wedding day is not the fulfilment of the marriage vows. It is the golden anniversary that fulfils what the couple set out to do and become when they made their commitment to each other. In the meantime, fortitude is what helps them to weather the storms that are inevitable in a relationship between two fallible beings; it helps them to learn from their mistakes, admit their share in them, say ‘Sorry,’ and start again.

SJC

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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August 30: L’Arche and Care IV: Returning to L’Arche.

Janet and I have a little more time that we can call our own, now that we are semi-retired. Mostly it does not feel like a choice between getting on with something and taking it easy: there is always something to be done!

We find ourselves returning to our local L’Arche Kent Community. There is always something to be done there, but we often find ourselves taking it easy in the doing of it.

l’Arche is a community where people with and without learning disabilities live and work together. At totally different times we have both lived and worked in communities in England and Canada, and we have kept in touch with friends in L’Arche Kent, in my case for forty years. We are getting to know newer core members and assistants as we spend more time with them.

Time: there are moments when any of us can feel it running away, and we take account of how we spend it. As my grandmother used to recite:

How doth the little busy bee

Improve each shining hour?

She gathers honey all the day

And knocks off at half past fower.”

(My Grandmother would not have apologised to Isaac Watts, but maybe I should.)

L’Arche slows us down, reminds us that being with people is as important as doing things for them – think back to my mother’s carers we mentioned the other day. The Corporal Works of Mercy are concerned with presence: visiting the sick and those in prison spring to mind. This is not to suggest that core members of L’Arche should be considered sick or prisoners, though when I first joined to community most of our core members had been incarcerated in what were called subnormality hospitals. The very name was dehumanising. After working in one of these places for a few months, I was glad to find a better way.

MMB

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August 26: We’re just passing through.

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Yesterday I alluded to ‘naught for your comfort’, hope against hope, citing this stanza from Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. You’ll find it on the Web.

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.”

The words are given to Mary, mother of Jesus, appearing to King Alfred in a vision. Later Alfred calls for support from his ally Mark, a Roman living a Roman life in Wessex, who drank his own wine when all the kings drank ale.

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“These vines be ropes that drag me hard,”
He said. “I go not far;
Where would you meet? For you must hold
Half Wiltshire and the White Horse wold,
And the Thames bank to Owsenfold,
If Wessex goes to war.

“Guthrum sits strong on either bank
And you must press his lines
Inwards, and eastward drive him down;
I doubt if you shall take the crown
Till you have taken London town.
For me, I have the vines.”

“If each man on the Judgment Day
Meet God on a plain alone,”
Said Alfred, “I will speak for you
As for myself, and call it true
That you brought all fighting folk you knew
Lined under Egbert’s Stone.

“Though I be in the dust ere then,
I know where you will be.”

And indeed the vines are not enough to hold Mark back when his duty lies with his King; after great bravery in battle he was killed and ‘died without a sound.’

Mark recognised, in rather more dramatic circumstances than Roger Deakin in yesterday’s post, that we are only passing through this world, though he dearly loved his corner of it – as Roger Deakin did.

Do read his book as well as GKC’s! Wildwood, a journey through trees, Penguin, 2008.

MMB.

 

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August 7: Francis Thompson VI. THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: V

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My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity,
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again;
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With grooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

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