Tag Archives: truth

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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23 February: Detective Stories for a Post-Truth Age

We are told that we are living in a ‘post-truth age’. The President of the United States has his staff put out alternative facts – or lies – when the verifiable truth is uncomfortable. Climate change is a conspiracy theory. The Muslims (en masse) are out to get us. A referendum is held, lies are told, 37% of people vote to leave the EU – but the people have spoken, although those living overseas could not vote, any more than Scots living in England were able to vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

1968, Czechoslovakia. The half-million strong, Russian-led Warsaw pact armies invaded to put down the Prague Spring. 18 months ago we briefly remembered that event and the Velvet Revolution that followed, before 1968 was forgotten, bringing freedom to millions. Click on  Wenceslas .

1968 – 1989 was an era of post-truth in Czechoslovakia following the “Entry of the Fraternal Armies Rendering Brotherly Help to the Czechs and Slovaks”. Jews are Zionists who want to turn the clock back and have no regard for the historical role of the working class. It is a crime to leave the country: if you do so, your family will suffer. A professor may find himself swinging a pickaxe for revisionist crimes. Others might be executed as political criminals. A policeman almost imperceptibly sinks into the grey, sad world of a class warfare he has never really believed in. Crimes his team have solved go unpunished because they are committed by people with connections.

I had never read any of Josef Skvorecky’s books till I picked up The End of Lieutenant Boruvka in a charity shop. I will be seeking out more of them. The short stories flow gently on, leading us into ever greater collusion with evil, crises of conscience sliding past as dear ones are protected, blackmail is applied.

Is there redemption? It often looks bleak for Lieutenant Boruvka, who is often hemmed in, with little choice over what to do with the results of his investigations. Find this book and read it, and pray for perseverance in seeking out and telling the truth, and in forming and following your conscience.

MMB.

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22 February: Faith and Science, hand-in-hand.

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Despite a few, often painful, boundary disputes over the years, the Church is not opposed to Science as a way of learning about Creation. There is no need to abandon the faith for that reason, as Fr James Kurzynski tells us in this article from the Vatican Observatory blog. Read and enjoy.

Faith and Astronomy

Most High God!
Thou that enkindlest
the fires of the shining stars!
O Jesus!
Thou that art peace and life and light and truth,
hear and grant our prayers.

Amen.

Saint Ambrose 

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18 February: Convivial Grace.

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Where should we look for locations in which we experience Christ’s presence as healing, and thus as overcoming the bewilderment and fears which are too typical of our modern circumstances? Table fellowship, as some call it, table friendship, or the conviviality of a living community, happen better in some Christian settings than others.

This scene is one where barbeques have gone well, summer picnics have lasted for hours, and the spilling out of indoor celebrations have all been excellent occasions for informal interactions, concerned with inner peace and changes of direction. Unthreatening circumstances for sharing fears and bewilderment are essential for moving beyond fantasies and into strong life-affirming relationships.

But in such circumstances we must decide to put our religious self-awareness into convincing words and phrases. Perhaps we want a more sincere account of who we are than we had a month earlier. We alter our choice of adjectives. The novelist David Lodge claims that “the frequency of coincidence in fictional plots… is related to how much the writer feels he can ‘get away with’,” in order to show how vivid certain encounters or events were. Our stories told to friends may be altered also, to show how much God lets us get away with, in terms of kindness and forgiveness. On this point, David Jasper quotes Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant… The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind.”

What is more life-affirming: vivid wickedness admitted, and partly abandoned, or vivid new expressions of compassion taken totally to heart? Grace has multiple versions.

Chris D.

January 2017.

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4 February, A week with Rabindranath Tagore: VII.

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If you shut your door to all errors truth will be shut out.

Stray Birds CXXX

Which is surely one reason Pope Francis called for a Year of Mercy. Any door can be a holy door, if we step through it to find truth or to share it.

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28 January: Saint Thomas Aquinas

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I’m getting better at saving snippets that might come in for the blog. I found this a month ago: a Tablet* report on Pius XI responding to a lecture on Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

” The thought rising in our mind in beholding these two great Saints is that in certain things they are capable of imitation. We see the never satisfied, indefatigable, almost infinite care of Saint Augustine in his continual revision of his writings, reading, re-reading the works he had written, reviewing, correcting and perfecting them with a diligence verily heroic, offering in such a way the admirable conjunction of unequalled care in the most minute details, with a study which mounted to the heights of genius. We mark the same thing in Saint Thomas, and we recall with pleasure the days when we were librarian at Milan and at the Vatican, and recall the autograph kept there of Saint Thomas in which we see the most precise care even of the writing itself. We see a scrupulous fidelity to the rules of writing, with the greatest care not to disturb the clearness of the writing. And [we] see the most exquisite asceticism nourished by the most solid theology. That is  how truly these two giants of study may be imitated. Study and piety, diligent fruitful study, true, profound and solid piety. Study demands from piety the divine recompense which it alone can give, piety demands from study the splendours of knowledge.

” Study and piety, these two must never be forgotten by our beloved sons, who … must have in them that which was manifested in these two great souls—the identification of study and piety—of science and charity.”

Cut through the flowery language and Pope Pius is saying something important. Prayer and study  depend on each other, as do science and love. Now there’s a thought. Precise care is a mark of science as it is of theology: what’s the quarrel about?

*10/5/30 The TABLET 10 May, 1930, p623.

Saint Thomas Aquinas by Carlo Crivelli

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9 December: Mercy, a Tentmaker of Tarsus.

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Let’s take another snapshot from Masefield’s Coming of Christ.

And also there was Paul, receiving mercy, proclaiming mercy:

A tentmaker of Tarsus,

Who will deny you and denounce your followers

To torment and to death; and then will see

Your truth by sudden lightning of the mind,

And then go through the world, telling your truth,

Through scourgings, stoning, bonds, beating with rods,

The wild beasts in the ring, worse beasts in men;

To the sharp sword outside the city gates,

Glad beyond words to drink of your sweet cup,

Lifted and lit by you, christened by you,

Made spirit by you, I who slew your saints.

(P14)

Jesus told James and John: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on my right or left hand, is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father. Matthew (20:23) We shall drink of his cup – whether sweet or bitter; we will be lifted and lit by him and strengthened to be tellers of his truth and sharers of his mercy.

WT.

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29 November: Jacopone da Todi 3. Reflections of our Divided Selves.

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If each person is like an iceberg, with 90% hidden beneath the surface, we have to decide whether we will only notice playful surface images, or peer more profoundly, helped by faith, into our buried and still unhealed depths. How important is it to us to encounter the real self, the life that is ours because it is given by God? We assume that our pleasant opinions of how homely and friendly we are can float reliably across any flow of social encounters ahead. Jacopone’s experience taught him differently. So he challenges his own soul to be honest about itself.

“Galieno, Avicenna, Hippocrates

Never understood how the ills of the body

Are linked to those of the soul.

They meet head on in anger

And create such a turbulence

That I wish I had never been born!

Up with you, accursed one, no more delays!

Our sins are inscribed on our foreheads;

What we thought we did alone,

In the privacy of our chamber,

Will now be displayed for all to see.”                       (Laud 15)

 

The thought of how God judges his life, and weighs up the love he has shared or held back runs underneath this poem. He admits his soul’s twists and turns, imagining, rationalising and quick, careless decisions, are unbeneficial. The heart, the meeting point of body and soul, cannot keep the two in harmony. Outbursts of passion or dislike begun in the body prove too much for the badly tutored soul to manage.

 

Chris D.

October 2016.

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26 November: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: XIX In the Back of a Thanet Taxi

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The fact-finding agents of the Ossyrian Confederation would have loved to stay at the monastery in Minton much longer but ‘T’ had a dental appointment back at Margate to have a crown replaced the next day. Fond farewells were said by all and promises made for a speedy return. Immediately after vespers a taxi was called and what seemed to be a very contented man with two Chihuahuas rode the flat expanse of the Thanet landscape apparently in silence, but actually in intense telepathic conversation.

‘Have you ever seen a dik-dik, ‘T’?’ Ajax continued to be fascinated by the notion of a diminutive deer no larger than himself. ‘Can’t say that I have,’ The director yawned, ‘but, then again, I’ve never been to Africa and, by all accounts, that’s where they live.’ ‘T’s never seen a dik-dik because there is no such thing!’ Alfie snorted, at which point an over-sensitive (and most likely overtired) Ajax burst into forlorn (telepathic) tears. ‘Don’tflags-welsh be so certain, little guy,’ the Director’s tone was mild but the set of his jaw boded ill for quarrelsome Chihuahuas. ‘Who would have believed in a pint-sized dog your size before Columbus discovered America?’ ‘Right,’ Alfie still wasn’t convinced, ‘And I suppose that somewhere there are dragons and maybe a herd of unicorns? (he had found a book of terrestrial fairy tales in one of the monastery guest rooms). ‘Have you ever read the Book of Job, Alfie?’ ‘No,’ beamed in a stubborn whisper. ‘Then listen carefully,’ the Director said,

         ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

         Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand; things too wonderful for me which I did not know.

         Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask you and do you instruct me. I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you.  

Job 42:3-5

The one truth, nevertheless, tells itself in many ways,’ the Director continued, ‘like colour or a sound; like a hot day or a cold night, like one bright star to rule the day and a hundred billion madly dancing to rule the night…and, make no mistake, my dear Chihuahuas; noble legends may contain truths inaccessible to newspaper reporters.’ ‘Well,’ Alfie beamed (but the fight had left him), ‘I still don’t understand.’ ‘But Alfie!!’ It was the Director’s turn to laugh, ‘recognizing that is the beginning of understanding!’

Postscript

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A week after the return of ‘T’ and the Chihuahuas from their visit to Minton, the city council of Margate- elected on promises to curb immigration (among other things)- advanced an ordinance aimed at detaining and deporting every parakeet in Thanet since, clearly, they were not native to the British Isles and, certainly, had not entered the country legally. Thankfully, the ordinance was quickly overturned due to popular outcry and it is possible to visit Hartsdown Park on All Saints Avenue for a parakeet safari (best done in the late Autumn and Winter) to this very day. dik-dik

Editor’s note: Hartsdown Park on All Saints’ Avenue: this sounds suspiciously like the territory  of a deer – perhaps the legendary and holy Boanerges?

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14 October: CONSCIENCE VII: THE GUILTY CONSCIENCE

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Earlier in these reflections I said that conscience shouldn’t be seen merely as an irritating little guilt generator.  I was implying that guilt often shakes an admonitory finger at us for doing things that aren’t really bad at all.  Granted, neurotic guilt is crippling and needs to be healed.  It originates in our emotions and not in our true conscience.  But not all guilt is neurotic.  The ability to experience guilt when guilt is appropriate does come from our conscience and it is vitally important.  In his paper, “Conscience and Truth”*, delivered in 1991 , the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger affirmed that guilt safeguards the health of our conscience, indeed, of our very existence.

Let us turn to St. Thomas Aquinas for a few moments.  His teaching can help us to understand Cardinal Ratzinger’s ideas.

St. Thomas Aquinas says [Summa Theologiae I, 79, 13] that our conscience is what enables us to apply our knowledge of the truth to a given situation.  It does this in several different ways.  Our conscience is what “binds” or “incites” us, says St. Thomas, when we are considering a course of action.  When our conscience judges that something should be done it “incites” us to do it; when it judges that something should not be done, it “binds” us – or keeps us from doing that thing.

Further, says Aquinas, our conscience is the part of us that “witnesses” our deeds, sees us as we live our life and attempt to negotiate all kinds of challenging situations.  If we have lied, for example, our conscience witnesses this.  After seeing us lie, our conscience doesn’t turn around and go away, it judges us, telling us that it was wrong of us to do so.  In that sense, its judgment “accuses” us, and may well “torment” us, he says, until we have made amends.

Let’s consider another, very different, situation.  Perhaps, for example, we were misinformed about something and the on the basis of the wrong information, said something that was untrue without realising it.  Fortunately, as St. Thomas teaches, under those kinds of circumstances, our conscience is the very thing that tells us not to worry.  It “excuses” the deed.  Although others may blame us for saying that untrue thing, our conscience knows that we were not lying; we were merely misinformed.  It excuses us.  But our conscience, if it is functioning properly, will surely incite us to apologize and explain to anyone we might have unknowingly misled that in fact we were misinformed.

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Something is wrong when wildflowers, like these cowslips, no longer surface. MMB

In eight words, then, St. Thomas’s teaching can be summarised: conscience binds, incites, witnesses, judges, accuses, torments, accuses and excuses.   Not every word is a word that is comfortable to consider.  We do not really want to be judged, tormented or accused.  Yet, these are words that St. Thomas uses in a positive way and in conjunction with other words that are easier to accept. They all work together to help us, if we will be open to this process of growth.

Guilt can help us to grow, then.  Paradoxically, guilt can affirm my deepest self.  It can tell me that I am alive inside, that I am there, and that I am – or can be – better, greater than one might think from looking at the wrongs I have committed.  When guilt no longer surfaces within me when I do something wrong, then something else, very basic, is very wrong.

SJC.

* [Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth, presented at the tenth Workshop for Bishops, February, 1991, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., published in On Conscience, Two Essays by Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 2007].

 

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