Monday, 30 September 2013

Be the hinge

In "On Detachment", Meister Eckhart discusses the problem of suffering, including the suffering of Christ and our Lady. And he makes a very helpful distinction.
"Now you should know that the outward man may be undergoing trials, although the inward man is quite free from them and immovable. Even in Christ there were an outward man and an inward man, and also in our Lady. Whatever Christ and our Lady ever said of outward things was spoken by the outer man, and the inner man dwelt in immovable detachment. It was thus that Christ said: 'My heart is sorrowful even unto death.' And however much our Lady lamented and whatever other things she said, she was always in her inmost heart in immovable detachment."
This is explained, a little, in The Radiance of Being where I talk about the inner spark of the soul, or spirit, that connects us each to God. But Eckhart makes it very practical when he uses another analogy: that of a door and its hinge.
"A door opens and shuts on a hinge. Now if I compare the outer boards of the door with the outward man, I can compare the hinge with the inner man. When the door opens and closes the outer boards move to and fro, but the hinge remains immovable in one place and it is not changes at all as a result."
To find in ourselves this detachment, even in the midst of suffering, is not merely a trick for escaping pain for a few minutes – into the eye of the storm, so to speak. It is to become open to God's will, to allow God to work in us, so that we can be one with God and – yes – ultimately share his eternal bliss. But God cannot work in us "unless he finds readiness or creates it". And mostly we are busily giving the powers of our soul over to the outward man and the five senses. "Know then that God expects every religious man to love him with all the powers of his soul. Hence he said: 'Love thy God with all thy heart.'" This is another way of reading the First Commandment, and Matthew 22:37. One way of getting started is described here.

Quotations are from Meister Eckhart, Selected Treatises and Sermons. The illustration shows the Eckhart door in Erfurt Cathedral.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

No judgement

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged" (Luke 6:37). Judging is a trap, for both parties. Have you ever felt stifled in the presence of another person, unable to be yourself, to be free, to act spontaneously, to love? Then you have felt what it is like to be inside the trap. As for the one who put you there, they may not feel it at all – just a sense of self-satisfaction, perhaps, of confidence or superiority, maybe contempt. Easy to dismiss or justify such feelings, since they don't hurt. Sometimes people keep their friends, enemies, and family members in such cages for many years.

This is a basic fact about the Christian life. We are not here to judge, and if we do we will suffer the same fate our own judgments create for others. How so? By judging others we are at the same time judging ourselves, or putting ourselves in a category – usually the category of the righteous, although there are many variations: we may be trying to drag the other person down to what we think is our level, to keep us company or else avoid confronting feelings of guilt.

The opposite attitude is Mercy, and this is the Christian attitude. Pope Francis is very conscious of this, and in 2001 as Archbishop Bergoglio wrote: “Christian morality is not a titanic effort of the will, the effort of someone who decides to be consistent and succeeds, a solitary challenge in the face of the world. No. Christian morality is simply a response. It is the heartfelt response to a surprising, unforeseeable, ‘unjust’ mercy... The surprising, unforeseeable, ‘unjust’ mercy... of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. This is why the Christian conception of morality is a revolution; it is not a never falling down but an always getting up again.”

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Knowing not just thinking

Pope Francis also said some words in a recent homily that I want to remember and live.
“Yes, you have to come to know Jesus in the Catechism – but it is not enough to know Him with the mind: it is a step. However, it is necessary to get to know Jesus in dialogue with Him, talking with Him in prayer, kneeling. If you do not pray, if you do not talk with Jesus, you do not know Him. You know things about Jesus, but you do not go with that knowledge, which He gives your heart in prayer.
There is also a third way to know Jesus: it is by following Him. "Go with Him, walk with Him."
“One cannot know Jesus without getting oneself involved with Him, without betting your life [on] Him. When so many people – including us – pose this question: ‘But, who is He?’, The Word of God responds, ‘You want to know who He is? Read what the Church tells you about Him, talk to Him in prayer and walk the street with him. Thus, will you know who this man is.’
And in a homily specifically to catechists that is well worth reading, he added: "God is the centre, but he always gives the gift of himself, he is a relationship, he is life which is passed on … This is what we become if we stay united with Christ; He draws us into this vortex of love. When Christ is truly present in one’s life, a person opens up to others, they come out of themselves and reach out to others in the name of Christ.”

It is, of course, easy to think we are doing this when things are going fairly well for us. But what is implied here without being spoken is that life is shot through with suffering – both our own, and that of others to whom we are called to reach out. It is hard to pray when in pain. That is why the Cross, and images of the Cross are so important in our lives, to remind us, to fix our gaze on him, to remind us of how to connect our suffering with his.

This was the real reason for having crucifixes as jewellery, in hospitals, in schools, in public places (even on street corners). So much will be lost in a secular society when those images are taken away – though the question has to be asked, did we appreciate, did we make use of them, did they stir us to prayer?

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Simple, profound, radiant (Spadaro interview)

In his wonderful interview with Antonio Spadaro SJ, the best comment on which can be found here, Pope Francis said,
"The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.... A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives."
The heart of the Good News is that God is love (=Trinity), that Jesus is God as well as Man, that he allowed himself to be killed horribly in order to save us from oblivion (that is, out of his love for us individually and collectively) and that he returned to life and ascended to heaven so that we could follow. But people tend to react by saying, well OK, but not so fast. Once I know what you want me to do and not do in this life, as a result of believing this nice story, then I'll think about it.

The Pope doesn't want us to play that game. The love of God comes first. The "story" comes first. We can only make sense of our lives using stories. All of us tell them, all of us believe them. They may be stories we have made up, or stories that have been imposed upon us. We reinforce their strength in our lives by an interior monologue or conversation that hardly ever stops. We may cast ourselves as hero or villain or victim, but it is based on a selective choice of material and doesn't correspond to the full reality, which only God knows. The story God tells is more complete, and it can't be disproved, though many have tried. If we want meaning, then this one has it all.

The "moral and religious imperatives" Francis speaks of are a consequence only in the sense that we will accept them as a way of defending the meaning of the story. If the story is "true" – if it conveys the greatest possible meaning to our lives, and therefore if it is is "simple, profound, radiant" – then we will want to live that way. Better that way than any other. Then we might at last try to stop that interior conversation, or change it. The Jesus Prayer is one way.

Illustration courtesy of via Wikipedia.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

No regrets

What does one do with regret? Most of us have the experience of having made some huge mistakes during our lives. The longer we live the more more likely it is that we do. These feel like mistakes that set us on a wrong track, huge decisions or reactions we would undo if we could. But we forget, perhaps, all the factors that played into those decisions at the time. Without knowing the outcome, how could we – the people we were then, with what we knew, in those circumstances – have done better? Even if we feel we could and should have, a Christian might take consolation from the following thought. We are not here to lead perfect lives, to make our lives like a work of art. We are God's work of art (Eph. 2:10). We are here to be shaped, changed, transformed; and we are shaped very largely by our mistakes. The things that have gone horribly wrong, the things we have done

Monday, 23 September 2013

Circle of life

Daniel Mitsui's artwork is amazing. Check out his website for more. This is an image used on the cover of my book All Things Made New. (Click here to get a clearer view.) But it doesn't much look like a circle. Or does it? It struck me that the image of Mary and John at the foot of the Cross is a circle of giving and receiving, each to the others. This followed on from reading the Meditation of the day from yesterday's Magnificat, by John Tauler. It included these words, referring to those who follow the Spirit and are lifted above time. "From God they accept instinctively all that happens to them, and in the same spirit they offer up all to him again, and so they abide in sweet tranquility of mind." It is a circle that we need. We receive everything from him, and we give everything that we have to him. That is why our burden is light. Most often, though, there is a blockage along the way, either in the receiving or the giving, and then grace doesn't flow. We are holding on to things.

The other interesting thing that Tauler goes on to say immediately afterwards is this. "And this is true of them even while their outward man is much disturbed and sorely pained." So we may look as if we are in pain, we probably even feel it, but inwardly (and many people have not yet discovered the "inward" he is talking about) we feel joy not suffering, hope not despair. May God help us to reach this state and dwell there.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Faith to faith

I have become convinced that what is largely missing from the Catholic scene is a serious engagement with other religions and spiritualities in the name of an uncompromising quest for the greatest possible truth. Such an endeavor is risky but necessary. I attempted such an engagement in The Radiance of Being, published by Angelico Press in May 2013. Some readers will be disturbed by the book – especially by the sympathy with which it treats Islam, not to mention problematic Christian thinkers such as Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, Valentin Tomberg, and the Russian Sophiologists. I wrestle with many of the questions I know are of great concern to others of the present generation – many of them still outside the Catholic Church, and unwilling even to consider its claims as long as these questions remain unaddressed.

The methodology is somewhat unusual for an orthodox Catholic. Whilst firmly believing that Catholic Christianity is true, I also perceive other traditions to be rich in elements of goodness, beauty, and truth. I believe that wherever

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Mary Prayer

Today being the Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary, it is appropriate to reflect on the Marian prayer that complements the Jesus Prayer, and is based around the name of Mary, though it contains both. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. The following thoughts are based on the section on the Rosary in my book All Things Made New.

Every time we repeat the words of this prayer we are trying to approach Jesus through Mary. The first words of the Hail Mary are those that were spoken by the Angel Gabriel when he appeared to her to announce the imminent conception of Christ. The words "the Lord is with thee" recall the Prologue to the Gospel of John: "the Word was with God, and the word was God." In the second sentence of this Trinitarian prayer the name of Jesus is invoked directly, so that the Mary Prayer can be said to enfold the Jesus Prayer in something like the way the Christ Child is borne in the arms of his Mother in the most familiar icons of Madonna and Child. Thus you could say the icon is a visual translation of the Hail Mary. In the third sentence, Mary's motherhood is invoked, and along with it the entire Church whose soul is the Holy Spirit.

There comes a time in the life of many Christians when the Hail Mary, brief as it is, suddenly expands until it encompasses the whole of life. It becomes possible to meditate upon it constantly. Each phrase contains a mystery that we never grow tired of gazing at. 

Hail Mary – we address her from out of our darkness; or is it that we are called by the Angel’s words into her presence? 

Full of grace – Mary’s title: she is what all of us should be, a creature brimful of her Creator.

The Lord is with thee – He is always with her, and in this "with" are the secrets of what it is to be a person.

Blessed art thou among women – a blessedness that marks her out, yet brings all other women along with her. 

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus – the hub of the mysteries, the Creator encompassed by the creature, the tree bearing fruit that contains the seed of all things.

Holy Mary, Mother of God – God has become a single cell, growing to be a child, and wakes in her arms.

Pray for us sinners now – for we are sinners now, lost in the woods, and we need her to find us.

And at the hour of our death – since death approaches all of us, and we will struggle to be born from the womb of the world.

Illustration: "Salus Populi Romani" from the Basilica of St Mary Major. See here.

Friday, 6 September 2013


Important notes and thoughts on fasting in connection with the Pope's call to pray and fast for Syria on Saturday 7 September here.