Tag Archives: virtue

30 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: How Brother Masseo obtained from Christ the virtue of humility and the gift of tongues.

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The forest seems to have been a good place for the early brothers of Saint Francis to find God and their own true selves.

The first companions of St Francis set themselves with all their might to follow holy poverty with regard to earthly things, and to acquire every other virtue, as the sure means of obtaining celestial and eternal riches.  Brother Masseo, hearing wonderful things of humility, and knowing it to be one of the greatest treasures of life eternal, was so inflamed with a love and desire of this virtue of humility, that he lifted his eyes to heaven with much fervour, and made a vow and firm resolution never again to rejoice until he should feel the said virtue to be firmly established in his soul.

From that moment he was constantly shut up in his cell, macerating his body with fasts and vigils and prayers, weeping before the Lord, and earnestly imploring him to grant him this virtue, without which he felt that he was only worthy of hell.

Brother Masseo having passed several days in this state of mind, as he was entering the forest and asking the Lord, who willingly listens to the prayers of the humble, with cries and tears to grant him this divine virtue, he heard a voice from heaven, which called him twice: “Brother Masseo! Brother Masseo!” And he, knowing in his spirit that it was the voice of Christ, answered: “My Lord.” Then Christ answered: “What wilt thou give in exchange for this virtue which thou askest for?” And Brother Masseo answered: “Lord, I will willingly give the eyes out of my head.” Christ answered: “I grant thee the virtue, and command at the same time that thou keep thine eyes.”

And having said these words, the voice was silent; and Brother Masseo was so filled with the grace of humility, that from thenceforward he was constantly rejoicing. And often when he was in prayer he was heard to utter a joyful sound, like the song of a bird, resembling “U-u-u”, and his face bore a most holy and happy expression. With this he grew so humble that he esteemed himself less than all other men in the world. And Brother James of Fallerone having asked him why in his joy he used always the same sound, he replied gaily, that when in one way he found all good he saw no reason to change it.

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29 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLV: The Secrets of Hearts

 

EVEN as our Lord Jesus Christ saith in the Gospel: “I know My little sheep and they know Me,” so the good father St. Francis, like a good shepherd, knew all the merits and virtues of his companions by Divine revelation, and so likewise he knew their imperfections also; whereby he was able to provide for all of them the best remedy; to wit, humbling the proud, exalting the humble, rebuking vice, and praising virtue; as may be read in the wonderful revelations which he had concerning that first family of his.

Among the which we find that once, when St. Francis was with his said family in a Place, discoursing of God, Friar Ruffino was not with them, being in the wood in contemplation; but, while they continued to discourse of God, lo! Friar Ruffino [a noble citizen of Assisi, but a nobler servant of God, a most pure virgin, sublimated by the noble prerogative of Divine contemplation, and adorned before God and man with the flowers of odoriferous conversation] came forth from the wood and passed by at some distance from them.

Thereupon, St. Francis, beholding him, turned to his companions and asked them: “Tell me, which, think ye, is the holiest soul that God hath upon this earth?” Whereto they made answer and said that they believed it was his own. Then St. Francis said unto them: “Most dear friars, I am of myself the most unworthy and the vilest man that God hath in this world; but see ye that Friar Ruffino who is now coming forth from the wood? God hath revealed unto me that his soul is one of the three holiest souls in the world; and of a sooth I tell you that I would not fear to call him St. Ruffino while he is yet alive, inasmuch as his soul is confirmed in grace and sanctified and canonised in heaven by our Lord Jesus Christ;” but St. Francis never spake these words in the presence of the said Friar Ruffino.

judasHow St. Francis knew the imperfections of his friars was clearly seen in like manner in Friar Elias, whom he often rebuked for his pride; and in that Friar Giovanni della Cappella, unto whom he foretold that he would hang himself by the neck; and in that friar whose throat was held fast by the devil what time he was admonished for disobedience; and in many other friars whose secret defects and virtues he knew clearly by revelation of Christ.

The artist of Strasbourg Cathedral shows the Lamb of God releasing the suicide Judas ready to remove him from Hell’s Mouth.

Woodland photograph by Eleanor Billingsley

 

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January 30, From the Franciscans of Zimbabwe II: Faithful Vocations.

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Brother Givemore Mazhanje is a young Franciscan in Zimbabwe. There is a freshness in his writing which I hope you enjoy. The post is about when he attended 

A WORKSHOP ON FAITHFUL VOCATIONS

 

Mr and Mrs Musiyiwa from St Francis of Assisi Parish, Waterfalls in Harare, were the facilitators.

Firstly, they took us through reflections on our life as religious men of today, including: what is the significant contribution of my vocation to people in the Church and in society? Is my choice of vocation an informed decision? Does my vocation have a foundation in God?

One’s choice of vocation gives life to the individual and humanity only if it has God as its source of being. God is the source and summit of each and everyone’s calling. All vocations are nurtured by Him. On the other hand, it is of paramount significance that each person should cultivate some crucial values and virtues; including endurance, flexibility, dedication, commitment, truthfulness, humility, trust and self-control.

Akin to these, is the establishment of personal boundaries that a person to protect oneself and remain focused. Boundaries can be emotional, physical, psychological and material. Above all these practices, a vocation is nourished with prayer. Without prayer, religious life can be fruitless and meaningless.

Several challenges affect faithful vocations: identity crisis, health, personal doubts, the balance between prayer, study and work, family demands, cultural diversity and economic crisis among others.

Identity crisis is a question of knowing oneself. It is a challenge in religious life if one does not really know who he or she is. Yet knowing oneself requires introspection and acceptance; failure to do such, one may remain in confusion.

Another challenge is the balance between prayer, study and work. All these three are to be given suitable space and time, considering their vital roles in the life of a religious. The challenge arises when one aspect is given more time at the expense of the other. For example, it is not healthy when more time is given to study while prayer and work are suppressed; or more time is given to prayer without studying and working. What is needed is a balanced undertaking of one’s prayer life, time for work and studies.

Secondly, a religious ought to make peace with one’s past and the present so as to build a better foundation for the future. Not only that but also to attend workshops where challenges are shared and discussed so as to gain skills of conducting oneself. Reflections, recollections and retreats are also of great importance. The workshop helped us to know the foundations and importance of a vocation and how to nurture a faithful, meaningful and life-giving vocation.

Let us pray that Givemore and his fellow novices may persevere in their vocations and find the Franciscan way life-giving.

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25 November. What is Theology saying, XL: Church teaching and common sense

Friar Austin is back, talking over what Theology has to say to us today in the area of morality and responsibility.

A similar development to that around original sin is found in Church teaching on personal sin, our understanding of morality. We have had to ask how to decide what is the right thing to do in matters as yet never experienced – organ transplants, ways of controlling the frequency of births – as well as questions concerning the morality of public life. In a society that doesn’t change much a code or commandments for people to obey suffices; even without people knowing why something must or must not be done. Obey the rules and you are in harmony with God.

In the past Christian theology compiled its code, and it became very elaborate and detailed. We had volumes of moral theology textbooks. First, they were intended for confessors, to help with actions already done. However, the manuals affected preaching. Preaching and teaching are very different from what happens in the confessional. The Church turned to two sources in compiling the manuals – one was the already existing Church teaching; the other was common sense or right reason. The reason they appealed to common sense [natural law] was because morality is not arbitrary. God doesn’t invent rules at whim. The right thing to do is what is always in harmony with the plan of creation. Life is not absurd and eventually everything will make sense. Because we have reason and practical common sense, we thereby share in the creative wisdom of God, and can figure out what to do.

What we call natural law is accessible to everyone because it is a matter of reason, but it became evident that highly intelligent people did not always agree on the right answers to moral issues. Catholic theology says that our intellects are clouded by Original Sin through our involvement with the sin of the world; an unbiased judgement is by no means always possible – uninfluenced by personal likes, convenience and sympathy. This is a matter of observation – and is another aspect of our need for redemption through Grace.

AMcC

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5 November. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXXII: Two Gentlemen of Bologna, 1.

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How Saint Francis converted in Bologna two scholars, who became brothers.

SAINT FRANCIS coming on a time to Bologna, all the people of the city ran together to see him; and so great was the press that scarce with great difficulty could the people reach the square and the square being all full of men and of women and of scholars, Saint Francis stood high up m the midst of them and began to preach whatsoever the Holy Spirit taught him; and preached so marvellously that it seemed rather that an angel was preaching than a man: and his celestial words appeared even as sharp arrows piercing the hearts of them that heard him in such sort, that in that preaching a great multitude of men and women were converted into penitence. Among the which were two students, nobly born, from Ancona;and the one was named Pellegrino and the other Rinieri; the which twain by divine inspiration touched in the heart by the said preaching, came to Saint Francis saying that they wished wholly to abandon the world and be of the number of his brethren.

Samt Francis, knowing by revelation that they were sent of God, and that in the Order they would lead a holy life, and noting their great fervour, received them joyfully, saying:  “Do thou, Pellegrino, live in the Order the life of humility, and thou, Brother Rinieri, serve the brethren”; and even so it was; for Brother Pellegrino wished not to live as a priest but as a lay brother, albeit he was a great scholar and right learned in the canon law; through the which humility he attained unto such great perfection of virtue, that Brother Bernard, the first-born of Saint Francis, said of him that he was one of the most perfect brothers in the world.

And at the last, the said Brother Pellegrino, full of virtue, passed from this miserable life unto the life of the blessed, and wrought many miracles before his death and thereafter. And the said Brother Rinieri devoutly and faithfully served the brethren, dwelling in great sanctity and humility: and he became Saint Francis’ close familiar friend. Being afterwards made minister of the Province of the March of Ancona, he ruled it for a long time with the utmost peace and discretion.

Photograph: Christina Chase

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September 16: What is Theology Saying? XXVI: What is Grace and what does it do?

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We live in secular times – in the course of the ages we have taken more and more possession of the earth and all it contains; we control much more than people of ages past. We also have better self-awareness – realising that customs, rules and ideas of order and beauty are not always shared by other societies. Customs and traditions are not the inevitable and only right way of doing things.

When we understood less we tended to see the transcendent God as the all-powerful organiser. This God made thunder when he was angry, sent plagues and disasters to punish and redressed everything that had gone wrong. God worked in unseen ways. Outwardly a man might seem good and virtuous, inwardly he could have lost God’s grace and be out of sorts with God and living in darkness. Lost God’s Grace – outwardly, before and after baptism there might be no difference in a person – inwardly there can be all the difference between night and day in that realm where God is active and inaccessible to our experience. As we began to take more control of the world, we also took more responsibility for what was going on – in the external world. We have lightening conductors replacing the sign of the cross; we have air traffic control instead of prayers for travellers; we have learned to seed clouds from the air instead of novenas for rain.

This has also made its way into the inner world of our spiritual life. We are starting to distrust ritual ways of obtaining God’s favour. We have reasoned that a person can’t receive additional charity unless we are really loving more and more. Accounts of the spiritual life, the redemptive work of Christ and the service of the Church are now sounding more like common sense psychology than strictly Christian teaching. Some are even doing away with the idea of Grace.

AMcC

Mosaic from S Aloysius, Somers Town, London, (near Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross). While I know trains are very safe, I like to make a pilgrim’s prayer if I find this church open. MMB.

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5 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXIV: Crowd Control at Rieti.

And when he drew nigh to Rieti, so great a press of people came out to meet him, that he would not for this cause enter into the city; but gat him to a church that lay without the city, it might be a two miles’ space. The city folk, coming to know that he was gone to the said church, ran together for to see him, in such sort that the vineyard of the church was spoiled altogether, and the grapes of it were all plucked; whereof the priest was sore grieving in his heart, and repented him that he had received Saint Francis into the church.

The thought of the priest being revealed of God unto Saint Francis, he let call him, and said: “Dear father, how many measures of wine doth this vineyard yield thee, the year it yields its best?”

Replied the priest: “Twelve measures.” Quoth Saint Francis: “I pray thee, Father, that thou bear patiently with me if I tarry here some days, seeing that I find here much repose; and let whoso will pluck of the grapes of this thy vineyard, for the love of God and me, his poor little one; and I promise thee, in the name of my Lord Jesu Christ, that it shall yield thee twenty measures every year.” And thus did Saint Francis in return for his sojourning there, because of the great fruit of souls that was manifestly gathered of the folk that resorted thither; whereof many departed drunken with love divine, and abandoned the world.

The priest trusted the promise of Saint Francis, and freely gave up the garden unto all that came to him. And it was a marvel to see how the vineyard was all spoiled and plucked, so that
scarce any bunches of grapes were found left.

The time of the vintage came ; and the priest gathered in such bunches as remained, and put
them in the vat and trod them out, and according to the promise of Saint Francis got thereout twenty measures of the best wine. By this miracle it was manifestly set forth, for men to understand, that even as the vineyard despoiled of grapes abounded in wine, through the merits of Saint Francis; even so the Christian people, that had grown barren of virtue by reason of sin, through the merits and teaching of Saint Francis oftentimes abounded in the good fruits of penitence.

People still come looking for God’s Word to be shared with them. African pilgrims at St Maurice; L’Arche at Canterbury, and World Youth Pilgrims in Poland.

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July 5: What do the Saints Know? Part II, 5: The Theological Virtue of Charity – All Gift

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I would like now to explore how the virtue of charity sheds light on our quest to understand what the saints know. [Cf. Summa Theologiae II, II, 23:1 for much of what follows.] St. Thomas speaks of charity, both toward our neighbour and toward God in terms of friendship, not only because Aristotle does, but because Jesus does: and he quotes the gospel of John, ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends.’ Yet, his is an exalted idea of friendship, as it refers to a depth of love that brings about an experience of mutual indwelling. This friendship, to be authentic, says Thomas, must be more than mere companionship. It must be directed to what is best for the loved one, and not for the self. It must also be a relationship of mutuality, so that the communication goes both ways. And, it must reach beyond the loved one to include what the loved one loves.

Thomas points out that charity is different to faith and hope. They allow us some participation in the divine life, but at a certain ‘remove.’ Charity, on the other hand, is not ‘removed’ from God. It is God.

Going through my notes as I prepared these posts, I found myself thinking with some impatience, ‘Yes, yes. God is love. I know that.’ But then I said, ‘Do I?’ If God is love, how do I even dare to ‘go there’? St. Thomas himself even says, in effect, if you take a good, long, hard look at the human person’s un-graced capacities, we should not be able to love like this (II.II.24. 2, 3). We tend to love in a way that relates to our own need, selfishly. So often, if we are really honest with ourselves, we discover that that apparently generous thing we did for someone was actually all about me. St. Thomas calls this kind of love concupiscence and not charity. God is supremely loveable alright, but, Thomas points out, our capacities tend toward what we can see, and our self-centeredness means that we often see ourselves more than we see anything else. What to do? In one of his most important uses of the concept of connaturality, Thomas explains, “No act is perfectly produced by an actor unless it be connatural to him by reason of some inner capacity to perform that action (II.II.23.2). Therefore, the love of God must be infused into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is the love of the Father and the Son.”

Charity is founded on a supernatural friendship of God with the human person. It is God who enables us to love. The initiative is God’s: God loves us first, God gets there first, to rephrase the First Letter of John slightly. He communicates his happiness to us, says St. Thomas, and the love that we experience in response is charity. God makes love possible for us. It is all gift.

SJC

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4 July, What do the Saints Know? Part II, 4: HOPE: The Gift of Filial Fear

The image of God having a ‘lap’ that we looked at in the last post chimes with the gift of the Holy Spirit that strengthens hope. St. Thomas calls the gift “filial fear” (II.II.19:9) – the fear not of a slave for his master, but of a son/daughter, “whereby”, he continues, “what we fear is not that God may fail to help us, but that we might withdraw ourselves from his help. Wherefore filial fear and hope cling together, and perfect one another.”

This reminds me of something Jean Vanier* said in a talk once that I was privileged to hear. He said that the only thing to fear in our relationship with God is not that we might get angry with God over the sufferings we are going through. Anger with God isn’t the problem. It is the fact that we might just start to ‘tune God out’ he said, just stop turning to Him, stop praying to Him, just switch off. This fear of switching God off is an excellent description of ‘filial fear’. The saints know themselves. They know that they are at risk of turning away from God. They don’t want to.

This loving language of leaning and clinging that St. Thomas uses in writing of hope suggests connaturality again. In the virtue of hope, it becomes connatural to lean more on God than on the self. We’re looking for the kind of mentality the saints have. A certain peaceful leaning-on-God-mentality must be what becomes connatural to them as hope grows within them.

SJC

*Jean Vanier, born in 1928, is a Catholic philosopher, theologian and author. In 1964 he founded L’Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. His vision was that disabled individuals would live together in community as equals with those who are not disabled, in a sharing of life and of gifts that is profoundly healing and enriching for all community members. There are now L’Arche communities spread over thirty-seven countries. Jean Vanier has authored at least thirty books on religion, disability, community, human development. He has received numerous honours and awards, including the Community of Christ International Peace Award (2003), and the Templeton Prize (2015).

Images from L’Arche in India, England and Syria.

 

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3 July: What do the Saints Know? Part II, 3: HOPE: Hope and Divine Assistance

SCAN0066What does this have to do with our question as to what the saints know? Perhaps it is that saints, steeped in hope, are aware of what kind of answer to look for when they turn to God in prayer. What father would give his child a scorpion when he asked for an egg, as Jesus points out. Or, to turn this question slightly, what millionaire father would give his child only an egg when he asked for an egg? Would he not give him a share in his fortune? So, when God answers my prayer for an egg by giving me his fortune, it means that I get my prayer answered on a much deeper level than the one I am prepared for. A level that usually requires a new depth of obedience to the divine will, and a deeper level of faith. It can be very scary for an egg-sized mind to receive a heaven-sized answer. Perhaps we’ve all been there. But, here is another encouraging thought from St. Thomas (II.II. 17:7): “The object of hope is in one way eternal happiness and in another way divine assistance”. For the attaining of eternal life then, “divine assistance is ready for us,” he says. This line from Thomas seems to say that God knows how hard it can be for us to allow our egg-sized hopes to become wide – indeed, heaven-sized. But, don’t worry, he seems to say. Divine assistance will get us to that wide place.

This brings us back to Thomas’s idea of ‘leaning on’ God. He seems to be saying that God is always supporting us from the wide place. The idea is simple enough: keep leaning on His help, and be at peace – something like the weaned child on its mother’s lap, as one of the psalms puts it. God’s lap is wide.                                       SJC

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