Tag Archives: truth

November 6, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: vi – ‘How would he tell his own story? ‘

 

Is there a place for Jesus in today’s world? Has Evolution side-lined Christian belief? Certainly questions like these are not readily answered in terms of traditional theology. There isn’t an obvious fit between the conventional understanding of faith and the unfolding reality of the world. It might be preferable to be content with asking the questions rather than trying to provide answers!

It is clear that such questions are being asked more and more today and it is not clear whether conceptual answers are available. The questioners seem to be from a group familiar with the Christian story, but suspicious of the ways the churches tell it, or live it in a challenging way.

Scholars tend to say the Jesus story is for students and researchers of the Bible to elaborate. Jesus belongs to anyone struggling with faith – and how to live it truthfully. There is no doubt that Jesus remains a fascinating figure for many; and it is clear that many who would call themselves agnostic or even atheist actually live by values closer to the Gospel than do many Church-goers.

There’s obviously something bigger about Jesus than what is contained in doctrinal teaching. He appeals to the imagination in ways that make official teaching about him seem very bland. What is the reality of Jesus beyond dogma? He was very imaginative, to a degree more suited to story than to doctrine. How would he tell his own story?

There never has been a time when God was not fully involved with Creation. The Book of Genesis states that God takes great pleasure in the creative process – and God saw that it was very good – everything is good because it is of God, good only comes from goodness. With evolution the time came for the break away from our primate ancestors, when God adds a new dimension with the arrival of the human.

Strictly speaking this is when the Incarnation actually began – the Incarnation means God identifying with the human species. God, who created the human six million years ago did not say I’ll wait millions of years until Jesus comes before declaring salvation. Yet this has been basic to Christian faith for 2,000 years.

AMcC

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November 1, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: i – Creeds, Codes and Dogmas

relief-1Chichester Cathedral

Reading the Book of Acts we see clearly how different was the Apostles’ sense of mission to that of today’s Church. We have Creeds, Codes and doctrines – systems to follow to preach the Word – they had none of this. They went out and shared their experiences of living with Jesus, especially after the Resurrection; what it was like to be with him. This mission hasn’t changed, though how we go about it has. We no longer have people to listen to who lived with him – nor even do we know of people who were with him.

We are weighed down with centuries of doctrine and speculation. The theologian speaks a language strangers do not know. So much of what is said and written seems far removed from everyday life. Can we do anything to recapture the powerful simplicity of those early days? The answer is the same – it is Jesus whom we share. The first Christian profession of faith was not I believe in God… but Jesus is Lord! Is this my experience, or is it what I am told to say? The Jesus they shared was a man they had known and lived with – they had experienced his enthusiasm, witnessed his frustrations. He enjoyed his life, along with him they knew excitement and disappointment – he wept on hearing of a friend’s death; and died violently while still a young man – with hope seemingly shattered and promises gone.

But here was not just a young man, full of promising potential – here was the reality of what being human means. Made in the image of God, the perfection of the human consists in the degree to which it truly reflects its origin. He claimed to be one with the Father, indeed he said to see him was to see the Father – he didn’t simply reflect divine perfection, he is this perfection. His disciples – even on Good Friday – knew they had seen the premature death of a man in whom they saw no trace whatsoever of evil. They saw the question all of us ask – even the best of lives must end, even the most special people must die, is life meant to be so absurd? Are our ideas, hopes and visions a promise of something wonderful to come or is it all a delusion?

These questions were answered by the Resurrection. This man, who had lived an exemplary human life, trusting himself entirely in the providence of Abba, was not deluded; and the chasm of death was no longer impassable. His friends remembered how they first met him, when he invited them when they asked him where he lived – come and see, he said. We may not know what they actually saw, but we know what they discovered from his passing from this life into a new world was not for him alone, but a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth – Ephesians 1.10.

Just as his death asked the vital question about the meaning of life; so the Resurrection provided the answer. God’s saving plan has finally earned the response in the most perfect way possible. The human Jesus has shown the fidelity which is the only reply God was waiting to receive. Now the human race began to be glorified through one of its members entering in to the new heaven and new earth. The way was clear for the disciples, our destiny and how to achieve it is wide open to anyone sharing the same humanity. Hopes and longings were always present for some kind of happiness beyond death – but God’s plan was recognised only in vague ways. Like a group of weary and hungry people lost in a forest; hopes were occasionally raised by some who set-out to find it, but there was no news of how they got on.

AMcC

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27 October: Dylan’s Birthday.

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Mrs Turnstone and I find ourselves at the water’s edge in Wales; the sum has gone down, a half moon presides over the estuary outside our window. The birds are subdued but not far away. We should mark Dylan’s Birthday! These are the last three stanza’s of his birthday ‘Poem in October.’

And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.

May each one of us find the child’s key to heaven that opened the gate for Dylan, that day when he whispered the truth of his joy. And may he be there, singing his joy eternally! First published on Will Turnstone.

Views of Laugharne, where Dylan walked.

I hope you can listen to Dylan reading the poem here:

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28 September: Fortitude V, Fortitude and the True Self

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Today is the feast of Saint Wenceslas, King of Bohemia. Gathering around his statue helped people to develop and exercise fortitude in times of oppression and eventually to win freedom for their country.

 

What does fortitude do for us in these painful situations? Does it make us invulnerable? Does it make us completely fearless? Does it make us feel strong? The answer to all these questions is no. We will need fortitude as long as we are alive, and we will be vulnerable as long as we are alive. We will never be without the need of this virtue. Fortitude is about helping us to be strong, but it will not make us feel strong.

Then, what kind of strength are we talking about here? We do not have a “fortitude button” in our hearts, that we can turn on whenever we need it. But, fortitude does get help from the other virtues, so that it can become part of our character as a human being, part of our personality. This is where we can return to our reflections on the virtue of prudence. Prudence gives us the ability both to see reality and to see the good for which we are striving. This identification of and commitment to the good in a given situation is the vital thing that sustains us in situations requiring fortitude. Sometimes a situation is confusing, and there are several good things that seem to be in conflict. We can find it hard to identify which good thing we should be focused on. We often need the counsel of a wise person to help us sort through the confusion, and to gain clarity. Once we do, however, then we need fortitude so that we do not begin sliding back because of the pull of our emotions. Fortitude strengthens us on the level of our will, so that we become able to hold fast to that which we perceive to be good and true and worth suffering for. In this way, we become able to handle the emotional reactions that can otherwise be overwhelming in the face of danger or difficulty.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of these emotional reactions by using the concepts of fear and of daring. In his thinking, the fear and the daring are on opposite sides. Because of fear, he says, we simply want to run away from the threatening thing. If we do that, though, then as St. Thomas puts it, the will withdraws from following what the reason knows to be right, good and true. This is where fortitude helps us to become the person we really want to be, for we lose something vital here on the level of personal integrity if we run away from everything that is difficult and emotionally threatening. By holding firm to our convictions and principles, even at great personal cost, we grow. We become recognisable as someone whose actions match up to our system of values. It is not easy to be such a person. Fortitude is about this kind of growth.

At the other extreme from fear, there is the tendency to be “daring” in the face of danger – by which St. Thomas means that, rather than try to escape, we race headlong into a dangerous situation ‘without taking counsel’, and in a manner that is not helpful to anyone, but only makes the situation worse. While there can be a time when a situation truly calls for a kind of bravery that advances into battle against the enemy, for St. Thomas, this is precisely what “daring” does not do. Daring, in his thinking, seems to be another word for a knee-jerk reaction, which dashes precipitately into the face of danger, taking foolhardy risks, endangering oneself or others unnecessarily.

In other cases, as St. Thomas points out with shrewd awareness of human nature, the person reacts by both running away from and running toward danger. He quotes Aristotle here and says, ‘Some hurry to meet danger, yet fly when the danger is present. This is not the behaviour of a brave man’ (see S. T., II, II, 123, 6). This brief sketch perfectly captures the personality of someone who talks big, but cannot cope with real danger.

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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September 16. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIV: True Religion is not Nostalgia.

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Why did Christ have to die, if God afterwards resurrected him? In asking this question the early communities had not yet realised the actual saving character of the death of Jesus, that it is an integral and necessary part of salvation, and not just an unfortunate event. There were many attempts to answer this question. All interpretations were unanimous in saying that Jesus did not die because of his own sins or guilt.

The fact of Christ’s death was determined by hatred and ill-will. But Jesus did not allow himself to be determined by the priorities of others: they hated him, he did not hate them in return. He died alone so that no one else need ever do that again: whenever isolation and injustice is thrust upon people, they are in a place already visited by God, one which is part of God’s experience. If Jesus is to set us free from whatever binds us, he must set us free from death. As he redeemed life by living, so he redeemed death by dying. He died in the manner in which we must die. He chose neither the time nor the circumstances of his death.

Because of the universal rejection of Jesus and the dismissing of the call to become Kingdom, which is meant to have cosmic dimensions, it could only now be realised in a single person, Jesus of Nazareth. This means that a path was opened up for the church, this is when the church became necessary, since the offer brought by Jesus must persist for all time and must be made in the same way, through a quality of presence which matches that of Jesus and, little by little, to universalise the Kingdom. As well as furthering the call of Christ, the church is obliged to make the values of Jesus present wherever the church is present: mission and evangelisation are entirely about experiencing life as abundant.

Above all the Resurrection ensures that true religion is not nostalgia. It celebrates a present emerging from a past enroute to a wonderful future; a future able to be anticipated in many ways in the present. The Resurrection represents the total realisation of human potential: capable, through grace, of intimacy within God.

What will Resurrection mean? Paul answers: the dead will rise up, imperishable, glorious and powerful, in a human reality filled full with the Spirit of God. The human body, as it is now, cannot inherit the Kingdom. It must be changed; “to have what must die taken up into life“. When Paul speaks of “body” he does not mean a corpse, or a physical-chemical combination of cells, he is speaking of the consciousness of human matter, or the spirit manifesting and realising itself within the world. The Resurrection transforms what we mean by our corporal-spiritual “I” into the image of Christ.

Already, in its terrestrial situation the human being-body is a giving and a receiving of giving. It is the body that allows us to be present one to another. But as well as enabling communication it also gets in the way of it. We cannot be in two places at once, and communication uses codes that can often be ambiguous and misleading. All such impediments disappear in the Resurrection, when there will be total communication with persons and things; the human being, now a spiritual body will have a cosmic presence. The object of Resurrection is the human being as body, totally transfigured open to universal communion and communication.

By faith and hope, commitment to Jesus Christ, welcoming and celebrating the sacraments, the seed of Resurrection [the real presence of Christ] is present within the human body, and it is not lost in death: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life“. To be clothed with Christ is to be made new. Being in Christ is the start of Resurrected living, and death is a form of being in Christ. Just as death is a passage to eternity where there is no time, so too complete communication will be realised, with the setting free of all that is fully human. The corpse will stay behind, our true body – characterised by “I” [something much more than physical-chemical matter] will participate in eternal life:

…we do not know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away. But we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth… The expectation of a new earth must not weaken but stimulate our concern for developing this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age… On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower – Gaudium et Spes 39

AMcC  austin

Thank you Austin, I’ve enjoyed revisiting these while preparing them for publication. I shall return to Part II of Jesus Beyond Dogma in a couple of months’ time.

Maurice.

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August 25: The truth about a camp

 

milkyway

Pattie said that morning, ‘Do you know the opposite of Faith? It’s certainty.’ Perhaps, in a ‘naught for your comfort’ way, certainty belongs to hope – or deep hope against hope – rather than faith?

But this passage from Roger Deakin’s inspiring book, Wildwood – A Journey Through Trees (Penguin 2008, p 14) makes Pattie’s case very well. The writer is describing sleeping in a shed in an orchard on an August night.

To sleep half a field away from the house, tucked into the hedge, with an open door facing south into the meadow and plenty of cool night air, must surely add very much to the chances of sleep.

…There’s more truth about a camp than a house. Planning laws need not worry the improvising builder because temporary structures are more beautiful anyway, and you don’t need permission for them. There’s more truth about a camp because that is the position we are in. The house represents what we ourselves would like to be on earth: permanent rooted, here for eternity. But a camp represents the true reality of things: we’re just passing through.

And as Saint Francis would say, welcoming Sister Death: Laudato Si’ !

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July 11: Saint Benedict, ‘Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.’

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Today the 11th of July, we celebrate the feast of St Benedict, Abbot. In the reading of today from the book of Proverbs,(2: 1- 9) God is telling us to take his word to heart, learn His commandments, and apply our heart to the truth. We can rest assured that God will keep watch over us. St Benedict left everything and followed Christ. Today am I setting my heart on His words asking Him to teach me? Am I turning my ear to His wisdom? St. Benedict advised:

Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.’

When I am faced with difficulties, where do I turn? St Benedict lived a life of solitude and prayer. How often do I take my time to listen to God talking to me in the busy world of today? Do I hear God calling me to bless His name at all times? Do I hear the invitation of God to taste and see the Lord is good (Psalm 33: 2-11)? As Benedict’s Rule advises, ‘Listen carefully to the Master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart.’

St Benedict discovered the love of God and left everything and followed Him. I pray that each day, I also may hear God talking to me through His creation and have the grace to respond wholeheartedly. Amen.

 

FMSL 

St Benedict at Einsiedeln Abbey, Switzerland by Roland Zh

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9 July: God favours the humble

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Sculpture at the Visitation Convent in the Holy Land, NAIB

We start the week with a welcome reflection from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton. Sister Clare, the intrepid parachute jumper, is now their Superior General, but found time to get this post to the editors. Thank you Clare!       Will T.

Zechariah 9:9-10 Matthew 11:25-30.

‘Among the pagans, their rulers Lord it over them and their great men make their authority felt.’ (Luke 22:24-25)

By contrast, truly humble people like Jesus seek the good of others, not their own power, status and comfort. Only when such a person becomes a leader is there true joy among the people. They know (s)he understands their struggles and is on their side. A humble leader, who takes on the role only to promote the good of the people, brings real hope of a better life to all together with a sense of community pride and gratitude.

Humble people do not need to reinforce or elevate their own importance. They speak the truth respectfully and consistently, even if no-one pays attention. God favours such people whom Jesus calls ‘the poor in spirit’. If they are poor, voiceless, powerless and marginalised in society, God the Father will choose to reveal His truth to them rather than the powerful, celebrated and accomplished. He will make them His messengers and instruments in the world. Both the Magnificat of Mary and Jesus’ ‘manifesto’, the Beatitudes, assure us of this.

Although humble leaders seem scarce in today’s world, Christ is the King whom Christians really serve while obeying earthly authority in everything that is right.

No worldy ruler has power to compel us because our service is freely given out of love for our true leader. His yoke feels easy and His burden, light because His is an authority we can rejoice to live under.

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Left to right: Sisters Susan, Esther, Elizabeth, Marcellina, Patricia and Clare FMSL

FMSL

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July 2: Readings from Mary Webb I. Shut in?

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It does not matter how shut in we are. Opportunity for wide experience is of small account in this as in other things; it is depth that brings understanding and life. Dawn, seen through a sick woman’s window, however narrow, pulses with the same fresh wonder as it does over the whole width of the sea. A branch of flushed wild-apple brings the same joy as the mauve trumpet-flower of the tropics. One violet is as sweet as an acre of them. And it often happens – as if by a kindly law of compensation – that those who have only one violet find the way through its narrow, purple gate into the land of God, while many who walk over dewy carpets of them do not so much as know that there is a land or a way.

Mary Webb is drawing from the same spring as William Blake:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour.

We might remember those last two lines next time we are at Mass.

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24 June: Dipped in Grey.

starburst-sjc

 

I do not

wish to write

poems dipped in Grey

that everyone

seems so wild about

today as if Grey

makes them weigh

more be more

original

have more truth

 

what about

original light?

Light is true.

So let there BE

light.  Let it pour and

let there be

more and more

 

 

lashings of it

splashing everywhere

boat-loads bath-tub loads

bus-loads of original light

slapping up the sides

sloshing over

slopping over

 

waves of it

 

flooding

city streets

mountain meadows

washing

dirty clothes

my face

streaming off

factory walls

coursing down

ditches

running off

my nose

my fingers

 

this sentiment

will not make me

popular with

other poets.

but am I

writing

for them

or for

You

SJC.

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