Tag Archives: truth

14 September, Relics XIII: in Memory of Joan

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Joan was a loving wife, mother and grandmother, and a friend to many in Saint Thomas’ parish, On her birthday we share the remembrance card her family gave out to those attending her funeral. It is a passage from the Pilgrim’s Progress, where, facing death, Mr Valiant-for-truth says:

I am going to my Father’s, and tho’ with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the Trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My Sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my Pilgrimage, and my Courage and Skill to him that can get it. My Marks and Scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his Battles who now will be my Rewarder.

The passage concludes:

 So he passed over, and all the Trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

As, in sure and certain hope, we can say they did for Joan.

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22 August: Relics XIII, His last pint and pipe.

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Fragments of clay pipes often turn up when digging in England and Wales. Trevor, the old gardener I worked with in Wales, told me how they were sold at low prices, or even given away, by pubs to valued customers, which explained a cache in one corner of the churchyard we were restoring. The drinkers at The Three Salmons snapped their old pipes and threw them over the wall, where I found them many years later. This one is from Canterbury; a little unusual with its laurel leaf decoration. It set me thinking of John Kemble, the Martyr of the Marches.

Herefordshire is a long way from London, and the local gentry often turned a blind eye to the work of Catholic priests, even when they were officially deemed traitors. And in all honesty who would organise an invasion or coup d’etat from such a rural inland area?

John Kemble himself was from a landed family that was largely Catholic. He was ordained in France in 1625 and returned to work in his home area either side of the Anglo-Welsh border. For more than fifty years he travelled around Hereford and Monmouth ministering to the local Catholics and keeping a low profile until he was accused of being part of a non-existent Popish Plot to overthrow King Charles II in favour of his Catholic brother, James Duke of York.

This time the magistrates had to arrest him and despatch him to London where he was cleared of the plot but still found guilty of treason and sent back to Hereford to be hung drawn and quartered.

On 22 August 1679 he sat down with the executioner and bystanders for a last pipe and pint before his death, comforting his executioner:  “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.”

So, although this 3cm of clay pipe is really no sort of relic at all of Saint John Kemble, it brings him to mind: his half century of dedicated ministry and his courage and care for others at the time of his death. And I’m counting it as a relic for the blog!

MMB

 

 

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19 August. Telling the Truth X: Thanks to dedicated librarians.

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I could and should thank many librarians for their help in my research, including those in Canterbury and Folkestone who sourced books from elsewhere in Kent or other libraries in England. The small fee for interlibrary loans avoids my spending a couple of hours on trains to the British Library, and I can usually take the books home.

University libraries especially have scanned out-of-copyright works on the web. One such book Action this day by Archbishop Spellman, mentioned a Jesuit, Francis Anderson, as a connection of my subject Arthur Hughes MAfr, Internuncio to Egypt.

More search on the web led me to the Jesuit Archive in St Louis, where they hold letters from Hughes to Anderson, revealing something of himself. I know this because the good people there, Ann and Jeff, scanned them and emailed them to me.

No human can ever know or express the whole truth about anything, but we can help each other to come to a closer understanding. The paths of all genuine seekers after truth converge – scientist, historian, artist, philosopher, theologian. And the focal point of our searching is Truth itself.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.

MMB

photo from Jesuit Archives website.

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17 August: Truth telling VI: Cheating at Cards, or Deception and Self-deception.

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Apologies! This post has ended up out of sequence because a posting came our way that was topical for the day it was first scheduled. So don’t boggle when this post (VI) is followed tomorrow by IX. And we hope you enjoy both posts.

Today we move from playing with Abel to grown ups playing together, and taking card games more seriously than certain members of my family do.

But Victor Champion was family: some sort of cousin, born to what became the Australian branch in 1908, almost on the dockside after his parents’ arrival to tour the theatres with their shows. They all made their homes there.

Victor was a champion Bridge player and a bit of a philosopher. Here he is on cheating; what he says is worth applying to other areas of life; I might ask myself, what are my easy forms of dishonesty; my habitual self-deceptions?

‘To cheat at cards is generally considered to be one of the lowest forms of human depravity; and yet there are many respectable, virtuous people who constantly cheat, though they would be horrified should they be so accused.  They would be surprised to learn – they need to nevertheless – that an inflection in the voice, a gesture, a look or a pause, may be just as much an act of cheating as an ace up the sleeve – more so in fact; for, whereas few of us possess the necessary talent to keep spare aces around, the other little tricks are easy forms of dishonesty.’

(And it’s easier to photograph 5 kings than other forms of cheating at cards!)

MMB.

Follow this link to read more about cousin Victor.

 

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12 August, What is Theology Saying? XXIII: Jesus was alive and present to the disciples

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We can see in the Nicene Creed two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate. It is only in recent times we have asked if religious statements were literally true – verifiable by observation. Our technology minded age is in danger of thinking that such verification is the only criterion of truth. As a result, new questions are being asked. One item in the Nicene Creed’s account of Jesus causes a special problem. It is not self-evident that and on the third day he rose again belongs to the first or second account. Saint Paul says if Christ is not risen then our hopes are in vain. We do not know whether Paul was thinking of the resurrection in the first or second recital.

We know that everywhere in Scripture, where we have testimonies of the risen Christ, mystery language is used – dazzling light, white garments, sudden appearances, ecstatic joy. No unbelievers had seen Jesus, and the guards told a different story. In effect, it doesn’t matter whether the resurrection belongs to the first or second recital, because the important issue is that it does hold the two recitals together. The apostles spoke from a faith experience, Jesus alive and present to them: something that changed everything for them. The evidence they gave was their own lives; alive in hope, joy and freedom – no longer cringing in that locked upper room – they were now living as a community of love and trust. Because they never asked was the Resurrection true as an observable fact, it never occurred to them to answer the question, and because they never asked or answered, we shall never know.

How could Jesus be truly human? Theology is never the study of God, but the study of man and his experience of God, because this is the only experience open to us. Focussing on Jesus is on a man in whose existence we have glimpsed the invisible God whose only image is man. In the experience of the man Jesus, especially in the way he met his death and his triumph over death, we have met the image of God who gives life and gives himself in a shocking and unique way, once and for all.

AMcC

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27 July. Truth Telling VIII: Information and Truth

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This is an extract from an article by Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory. Reading the whole piece offers another insight into telling the truth. It has to do with listening as well as speaking. Follow the link above for Brother Guy’s thoughts on truthfulness in science.

Conversation, the transmission of information, is the heart of science.

That’s one difference between the real scientists and the wanna-be’s. The email writers are sure they are right; we know we aren’t, completely, and never will be. And that’s what gives us courage to believe we’re not imposters. Science is not the truth, but the search for truth.

Pope Francis understands that. “We ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas, but welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility.”

[I once heard my grad school buddy Cliff Stoll say: “Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”]

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29 June: Telling the Truth VII: the telling detail.

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With my work on Archbishop Arthur Hughes I’m finding how what is left out of a story can change the reader’s perception even without the narrator meaning to do so. I well remember how my daughters would complain if a paragraph was left out of a well-loved bedtime story!

There are details that give a more rounded picture of the human being but which are unlikely to appear in official obituaries. Arthur Hughes, as Papal Nuncio in Egypt, writing to his sister – a nun and a headmistress – about a forthcoming world heavyweight boxing match, or punning in French about his post in Egypt (before it was confirmed) ‘My position here is provisional, I am in effect near Cairo/precarious’.

Ma situation ici doit être provisoire; je suis, en effet, près Caire.’

We’ve met Fran Horner before: she works at the John Rylands library in Manchester on Dom Sylvester Houedard OSB, monk, artist and poet. Now she has turned up some odds and ends that bring him to life in ways that supplement words on a page. Read and reflect!

Dom Sylvester’s bus ticket

AWH is front row, centre; about to leave for Uganda in 1933.

MMB.

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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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15 May: Telling the Truth V: Blame it on the Vicar.

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We met the poet John Betjeman again last month. He was a devout Anglican, if one beset by awareness of his own sinfulness as well as intellectual doubts. In his autobiographical poem Summoned by Bells he wrote:

What seemed to me a greater question then

Tugged and still tugs: Is Christ the Son of God?

Betjeman was also aware of the natural aversion of people to self examination and repentance. We can see it in all sorts of situations of course; he exposes this hypocrisy in a Church community. Let’s take note, not just how we treat our clergy, but also in all our dealings. I’d recommend seeking out the poem as well. I feel I am at times guilty of trying to ‘keep us bright and undismayed’, mea culpa!

Blame the Vicar

When things go wrong it’s rather tame
To find we are ourselves to blame,
It gets the trouble over quicker
To go and blame things on the Vicar.

The Vicar, after all, is paid
To keep us bright and undismayed.

Thomas Becket did not keep King Henry bright and undismayed.

WT.

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10 May: What is theology saying? V: Development of doctrine is a work in process

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Life is always in process, and all possible developments cannot be foreseen; there is a time-lag between the first experience of a new way and the discussions of theologians, and then the new way of formulating a doctrine. This means that the practice of the faithful will be in place before official pronouncements; which means that even when the pronouncements are made, life will again have moved beyond that point and the theologians will be trying to follow life.

However, some seem to think that the developments that happened in the past completed everything, save a few minor points. Before Vatican II this was a widely accepted view; but anyone who has taken care to read the documents of Vatican II will see how development of doctrine is very much a work in process; with any issue being revisited for further discussion. As regards the past we can judge what in fact true development was. For the present and the future we must live with risk, not having access to absolute certainty. This means remaining open to truth, no matter from whom or from what it may come. Just another way of saying – we live by faith and not by sight.

Life and growth of the Church, including the development of her teaching, cannot be without conflict; sometimes conflict is painful, but need not involve bitterness or hostility – exclusions and condemnations are not necessary. Those who have most furthered the doctrine of the Church have usually been persons who acted discreetly and patiently, without fearing the truth of their own experience, insight and learning.

AMcC

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