Saturday, 25 February 2012

Stalactites, potholes and debt

A recent sermon started with a quote from Blessed John Henry Newman which says that the only sign of life is growth. Now, I do not wish to contradict the great man, I haven't seen the quote and I don't know the context of the quote. However, had any of my younger pupils been in the congregation they may had chirped up that Miss says there are actually seven signs of life. They may have even been brave enough to be able to contradict the statement made at the start of the sermon. Often I will ask then to name things that are definitely not alive but which grow. Some good, if slightly precocious answers that I have had back have been stalactites, potholes and debt. And there is no arguing with any of that.

So the seven signs of life are:
Growth,nutrition,respiration (getting energy from food),excretion, reproduction, sensitivity and movement.
All seven need to take place for something to be classed as a living organism.

I thought it may be a profitable meander to see how these fit into the Spiritual Life.

Here I'd say growth in the spiritual life quite simply depends on a good balance of the other six taking place. So let me take a personal look at the other six:

The spiritual life needs feeding, primarily by the Word; through the Sacraments of the Church, through Scripture, through inspired pious writing and the holy and heroic actions of the saints.

Respiration (getting energy from food)
You can read and watch all you like, but unless it involves some sort of "chemical reaction" within you, you will not profit from it. This is grace. This involves practicing the presence of God. If it isn't happening a sort of "spiritual indigestion" takes place and the spiritual nutrition is totally unsatisfying and possible even wasted. Spiritual aridity, on the other hand, is simply spiritual respiration taking place but without the awareness of the soul that it is having any effect, it is often necessary (for a while) but very disconcerting and even distressing, a bit like taking an anesthetic or a medicine with nasty side effects.

There are waste products in one's spiritual life. There is a time to discard some of the elements of a childish faith to adopt a deeper more mature union with God. I'd possibly argue that (for example) whilst statues and rosaries are vitally important to our faith, sentimental attachment to a particular statue or rosary really ought to be ditched. This doesn't mean we don't care for such objects, especially if they have been blessed, but if they break, we shouldn't cry over them. Sentimentality is necessary, but like roughage, it ought to pass straight through.

If your spiritual life isn't producing fruit in other souls, then it is not as it should be. And if you are not reproducing Christ in your own spiritual life (in what ever small inadequate way) then your spiritual life is not healthy either.

The ability to respond generously to the inspirations of God and to the needs of others is a sure sign of a healthy spiritual life.

A static spiritual life is one that consists of routine that does not impinge on how you behave when doing everything else that you do, is a dead spiritual life. Movement involves a desire to move in a particular direction and also actual movement instigated through grace. The movement should be fluid and confident (faith)and accompanied by a complete distrust of self (and ones own ideas and feelings) as the path gets rockier.

So there you have seven signs of a spiritual life, based on a biology lesson for 11 year olds.

Oh how the mind wanders during sermons, sorry Fr R.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Angels and Demons

A bit of a rambling post from yours truly this week but all on the same theme:

Firstly, my Catholic witness in my place of employment has to be subtle and subversive. So I was overjoyed when some pupils, before performing in the school play, decided to pray to their guardian angels, and later tell me that it worked. I've also been encouraging prayers to St Anthony for a lost (very expensive) make-up bag, but either the girl has not taken on board my suggestion or St Anthony thinks she'd be better off without it and its contents.

A friend of mine that I see for tea about once a month told me a disturbing story from her parish about a formidable and strangely influential woman in her parish. Apparently, this woman thinks the Prayer to St Michael is theologically incorrect and that we ought to be praying for Satan and his fallen angels. I really have to ask if this woman is serving the Church. She'd get an earful from me if she started spouting that nonsense in front of me. I do wonder if Satan is strangely touched by her misguided concern for him or if he is just laughing at the damage she could do to the Church with her beliefs?

In my wanderings to Catholic churches far from here and far from orthodoxy, I heard a sermon that has left me very puzzled and for which I cannot find a suitable response. The sermon was about the devil and St Michael. The priest said that as only God is omnipotent, and the angels are not, this means that the devil can only be bothering one person at a time as he can only be in one place at any one time. Likewise with St Michael. Take this sermon's theme to its logical conclusion and it is the same with the saints; don't bother asking a popular saint for their intercession unless you are prepared to join a very long queue. Oh it is all stuff and nonsense, heaven exists outside of space and time, the supernatural is just that; supernatural. The saints and angels can do what they want for any soul that requests. Omnipotence is something else; it is more than the supernatural with the dial turned up to 11.

Lastly, I have been debating with another friend why there were so many demons around the place when Our Lord was walking this earth. We have several possible suggestions:
  • The Holy Land was just the baddest, evilest of places 2000 years ago. (We're not convinced by this argument)
  • The demons were necessary to give witness to Christ to show his dominion over everything.
  • The very bad is always attracted to and seeks out the supremely good.
  • There are just as many demons around today, but we are cr*p at recognising them and few have (or realise they have) the authority to deal with them.
  • They weren't really demons but psychological disturbances, the Gospel stories are just stories about healing. (this is the rubbish some of us were brought up to believe and ought to be consigned to the Archives of Oblivion)
What do you think?

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Surge, amica mea

On the feat of St Scholasitca, yesterday, Father reminded us of how St Benedict had the vision of his sister's soul ascending to heaven as a dove.

The folllowing came to mind:

Surge, amica mea, speciosa mea
et veni, columba mea
in foraminibus petrae
in caverna maceriae.

Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come;
my dove in the cleft of the rock,
in the hollow places in the wall.

Not because I know the Song of Songs that well, but because of the thing of beauty it has been fashioned into. Dietrich Buxtehude and St Bernard of Clairvaux joined forces to produce a profound meditation on the wound in the side of Our Lord. And maybe no coincidence, but the text forms the gradual of today's Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Just beautiful, just beautiful

Hail redeeming side,
where is concealed sweet honey;
where is laid out the vigour of love,
and whence surges forth the fountain of blood
that cleanses soiled hearts.

Behold I approach thee
-save me, Jesus, if I transgress-
my forehead bowed down,
to thee, however I come of my own accord,
to examine thy wounds.

At the hour of my death let my breath
enter, O Jesus, thy side,
that expiring it may go to thee,
lest the fierce lion invade it,
and may live eternally in thee.

Ad Jesum per Mariam

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

...the future?

Just what are the current threats to the Church from within?

I'm asking this question, because it interests me. And as blogs are entirely self-serving, here are my answers to my own question. I ask the question because whilst I know the "gates of Hell will not prevail", I'm sure that because the Church is too stubbornly human the "walls of Jerusalem" are not as strong as they ought to be. Souls are being lost and their blood is on our hands. This is my personal Anglo-centric list and you are free to disagree with it.

  • The right wing politics that is dominating the Church is a threat. Whilst naturally Catholics favour conservatism, this doesn't mean Catholics have to be Conservative. The Church needs Christian Socialists and Tory-Anarchists (but probably not greens or liberals). The Republican/Conservative self-righteous alignment of many Catholics under the banner of "traditional family values" is masking an "I'm alright Jack" mentality which flies in the face of what we ought to believe in.
  • The fact most of us are luke warm or asleep is perhaps the biggest threat.
  • Agendas are a threat. If we engage too much with the standards by which the world measures its own, we become too much like the world. Why class people as heterosexual or homosexual, for example? There are simply human beings made by God and stained by sin. Why catalogue souls? Crawling out if sin demands detachment from all labels. The only orientation needed to towards the crucifix.
  • The Catholic pro-life movement may be a threat. It is too political (but it has to be). It is too much of a cause, it is too much of a thing, it is too easily reduced to "sloganeering". The Church is not about things. The pro-life movement is a good thing, it does astonishingly good work BUT it ought to be ecumenical/inter-faith in all its endeavours, but from a standpoint of sound Catholic doctrine. If the Catholic Church is seen as just a series of good causes, then we're scuppered.
  • Our invisibility is a threat.
  • The near collapse of working class Catholicism especially in the North of England is a worry and a threat to the dynamics of Catholicism in this country.
  • Liberal-Traddie polarisation is a threat.
  • A lack of obedience is a threat. Most of this caused by a lack of leadership from those to whom obedience ought to be directed, through love of Christ and His Church.
  • The nouvelle theologie remains a threat. The Church already had a sound theology of Grace, a new one was not needed. Theologians should not be left to explain Nature, they should leave that to Scientists. The Grace/Nature mishmash of the Nouvelle Theoleogie is confused, complicated and incoherent and plays into the hands of those who wish to downplay Christ on Calvary, the role of the Sacraments and the nature of the priesthood.

So there you have it. My little blog on the periphery of a very unimportant corner of the blogworld has had its say.

I'll end with a quote from Hebrews 12:14-17

Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" spring up and cause trouble and by it the many become defiled; that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.