Author: thoughtfullydetached

Immerse Yourself in the Divine

king david in prayer

Return, my soul, where thy peace lies
(Psalm 114:7)
Be Thou the whole quest of my heart
(Psalm 118:10)
Deliver me from every false thought
(Psalm 118:29)

Catena is not a word which you come across very often these days, which is why I resisted the temptation to use it in the title of this post. It means ‘A connected series or chain‘ or more specifically ‘A connected series of texts written by early Christian theologians.‘ The first Church Fathers often used to run together a number of quotes from different parts of scripture in order to demonstrate, for example, the unity of thought or continuity of doctrine which runs through the pages of the Bible.

This is certainly a useful exercise but it is open to manipulation since one can connect together disparate texts out of context to make it appear that Sacred Scripture means something which it doesn’t mean. It worked well for the Church Fathers because their purpose was to convince the world of Christ, it works badly for theological liberals because they want to convince Christians about the world. My purpose here, however, is not to use the catena form for doctrinal but for devotional purposes.

I think that if you consider these three lines from the Psalms together then they form a coherent picture of the practice of prayer or meditation. They begin with-
Return, my soul, where thy peace lies
When we turn our attention to God we are turning it away from all that is not peace, all that is restlessness and noise and distraction. Even when we are doing this for the very first time it is always a ‘return’ because from the instant that human life begins (by which I mean the moment of conception) there is, as the Quakers say, ‘that of God’ in each of us, and since He is always there, always waiting, it is only our unconsciousness or deliberate resistance that separates us from the first truth about ourselves, namely, that He is one with us and we are one with Him.

He is the God of peace. He is peace itself. We, our souls, have gone out from Him but He has remained waiting for us. More than that He has sent us His messengers, the impulses of grace that descend upon us intangibly and the messages of grace that come to us through the acts of love and kindness we may encounter from our neighbours. Grace may come to us too from the sufferings and losses we encounter which fill us with a conviction that life must have more than this. And so, at some point we turn to Him with the petition-
Be Thou the whole quest of my heart
The Buddhists talk about ‘one pointed meditation‘ which is a useful concept. It speaks of a singular focus to the exclusion of all else upon a particular object. In speaking of the heart King David, traditionally the author of the psalms, emphasises that the entire person is directed towards God, that is, not our discursive mind only but also our deepest longings and our most profound love. We can only enter into Him if we, as it were, throw ourselves body, soul and spirit, into His arms. It is a petition not a statement of fact because we cannot will ourselves into such a state of desire, it requires a pure gift of the Holy Spirit, an act of grace, all that our will can do is form an intention, our lips can express a hope, but the final consummation rests upon His will and His act.

In returning where our peace lies we are the more likely to arrive at the destination which we seek if we lay aside all distractions which afflict us, hence-
Deliver me from every false thought
In a sinister brainwashing cult this kind of advice would have terrible implications. It suggests that entertaining certain ideas or types of knowledge is a form of what George Orwell called crimethink. However, it is important to notice that not all advice is universal. That is, while in general it is useful to be open to a free flow of ideas and to investigate all kinds of possibilities, in prayer or meditation we are undertaking a narrowly focussed task and need to exclude everything that is not immediately helpful. In the same way that, for example, someone trying to land an aeroplane after one of its engines explodes will not welcome an insistent thought about Fermat’s Last Theorem we should not be thinking about Burger King versus McDonald’s while praying.

False thoughts are a broad category. They relate not merely to conscious heresies or doubts which might trouble our minds but also, and often more fundamentally, to false evaluations about the relative importance of things. We insistently feel that the category ‘Me‘ is the most important thing in the universe and that my career, my relationships, my clothes, my children, my demands are and should be the main if not the sole quest of my heart. Again, David’s petition is for an intervention, for us to be delivered by grace from a power, the power of the self, that we cannot deliver ourselves from.

The second half of Psalm 114 verse 7 is ‘the Lord has dealt kindly with thee.‘ This perhaps is a fourth thought that we should bring into consideration when thinking about prayer or meditation. That we should in the first place be moved to pray at all is a sign of His kindness to us. Even if we spend a barren, dry, seemingly empty period of meditation where we feel no divine consolations and have gained no insights, where we think that we have been wasting our time, or even where, like St Thérèse of Lisieux, we have fallen asleep still these are sign of God’s kindness. He has moved our will so that it endures tedium if it is His will to inflict it, because He has filled our hearts with the longing that not our will but that His will be done and in doing so has dispersed the false thoughts about inhabiting a ‘Me’ centered universe.

As is often the case the best way to summarise all that I have written is to consider the example provided to us by the Blessed Virgin Mary. St Luke tells us that she pondered in her heart the things of God, that is, she frequently returned to that place where pure peace lies. She devoted her whole life to the love of and service to Jesus, her Son and the Logos of God. Unflinching, and undistracted she stood at the foot of the Cross and watched as the most beautiful, most innocent and most beloved of all sons died a criminal’s death on the Cross. Like Abraham, preparing to sacrifice Isaac, before her she knew that the Divine promise given her anent Jesus would be fulfilled and no false thoughts about His seeming failure plagued her, if necessary, and knowing it to be God’s will, she would herself have driven the nails into His hands and feet, so sure was she about His faithfulness. And though she lived a life of sorrow, poverty and pain the Lord was indeed kind to her, He had given her Jesus as a Son and He raised her body and soul into heaven when she had finished her mortal life on earth. In contemplating Mary we contemplate perfect prayer. And may we, together with her, contemplate the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit now, in time, and forever, in eternity.
@stevhep

 

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The picture is King David in Prayer from a medieval Book of Hours.

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St Joseph: Blessed is the Man

st joseph rogier van der weyden

His mother said to him, My Son, why hast thou treated us so? Think, what anguish of mind thy father and I have endured, searching for thee.
(Luke 2:48)

In an epoch where there is much talk of sexism, patriarchy and ‘toxic masculinity’ the Church holds up to our view the figure of St Joseph as an icon of what it means to be a man, a husband, a father. Famously, the Gospels do not record him speaking and so the temptation is to contrast the presence of action and the absence of speech in his life. Certainly in everyday life it is usually more important to live out our faith in concrete deeds rather than sit around and talk about what it means. Yet there is another aspect of the holy patriarch which we might consider.

We see in him also the presence of emotions and the absence of speech. Our Lady is surely right to talk about his anguish but he says nothing. Earlier Matthew talks about St Joseph’s compassion towards Mary and his fear of Archelaus but again the Saint himself is silent about these things. It is one of the conventions of 21st century thought that the best way to deal with emotions is to talk about them, something which men are notoriously bad about doing. Regularly the cry goes up (to paraphrase Henry Higgins) “why can’t a man be more like a woman?” To which the answer, no doubt, is “because he’s a man.

Here we enter into the dark regions of masculinity turned toxic. When emotions are not expressed in words they are expressed in actions instead, violent emotions giving rise to violent actions. Often the first victim of this is the man himself, suicide rates among men are appallingly high and in many countries are among the top three causes of death for, especially young, males. Statistically the next most likely victim is another male, man on man violence and murder comes in at a rate massively higher than any other combination. Although less frequent the murderous assaults by men on women or children are still more shocking than all the other types of violence because of the inability of the victims to defend themselves. Also, it should not be forgotten, that cruelty towards animals is another symptom of repressed masculine emotion.

So, is the answer to the problem a programme of feminising boys? That is, should we teach them to behave more like girls so that when they become men they will emote publicly rather than be brutal privately? Here, I think, we run up against the limits of the theory that ‘gender is a social construct.’ It is an undoubted truth that culture and society profoundly affect the ways we behave and the thoughts which we have. But ‘profound’ does not mean ‘total.’ Some things are the way they are because that’s the way they are. Men and women are different from each other biologically and even small differences have cumulative effects over time. Of course men and women are also similar to each other and great similarities also have cumulative effects. To some extent it is guesswork deciding which differences are artificial and can be eliminated and which are natural and, ultimately, ineradicable.

In parts of the West, however, a grand social experiment has been underway over the past forty years or so aimed at getting boys to sound just like Oprah Winfrey. By and large the result has been that while they grasp the theory soundly enough they just don’t practice it because..well, because they’re boys. Humans are not infinitely protean, which means that social engineering only possesses finite possibilities. At some point social engineers have to admit that the experiment has failed and stop doubling down on their original error. Does that mean we just have to accept toxic masculinity as a fact of life and put up with it? No. There is another way, the way that St Joseph took. Let us now consider him.

The primary emotional trauma that Joseph encountered was the discovery that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant and not by him. His immediate response, the feelings that would come boiling out of his unconsciousness, would have been to do with his ego. The bruising of the ego causes resentment, anger, a sense of betrayal. Yet the Gospel records that what he actually did was seek to protect Mary from any damage to her reputation or person. What happened?

Today it is widely believed that our feelings are our feelings, we are stuck with them, we can articulate them or act them out but we can’t get rid of them. But that’s wrong, we can get rid of them, which is what St Joseph did. If men aren’t very good at articulating emotion they are capable of introspection. If we can’t control what comes from the unconscious realm we can control what comes from the conscious one. So, faced with bad emotions we can counter them with good emotions. Joseph would have noted his ego-produced anger and unleashed against it non-egoistic compassion, generosity, kindness and love. He would have taken charge of his internal economy and challenged darkness with light. And, having done so, the light won, love was victorious.

Humans are equipped with an internal monitor, which Christians call conscience and consider to be the voice and presence of the Holy Spirit within us urging upon us the claims of wisdom. The conscience can be strengthened by good doctrinal, moral and ethical formation from an early age but even if those are absent it is always present. Faced with emotional surges, which come from we know not where, we have in our conscience the potential material and energy to counter-surge with emotions which strengthen love and altruism. Speaking about these internal battles does no harm and may do good but, for most men at any rate, it may not be strictly necessary. Instead of urging boys to do something they are not built to do we may achieve more by encouraging them to listen to their conscience and to act upon what it tells them to do as well as by forming that conscience well in the first place.

Poor, inarticulate St Joseph, the ‘bad boy’ of the Holy Family is also the man who, with the help of God and His angels, conquered himself, who cherished the Blessed Virgin Mary as her beloved chaste spouse and who raised the Son of God to be a man, giving Him an example of what it means to be a man, and a good man at that. And Joseph did all that as one who listens, who struggles silently and who acts justly not as one who talks endlessly. There is a lesson in this if we choose to heed it.
@stevhep

 

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The picture is St Joseph by Rogier van der Weyden

Captive Thoughts

Desert Monk

We bring every thought into captivity and obedience to Christ.
(2 Corinthians 10:5)

It is possible to interpret St Paul here in a sinister or totalitarian way. If we make the assumption that he is referring primarily to every voluntary conscious thought then it brings up a very authoritarian image. That is, the Church should have the ultimate power over, say, scientific or historical enquiry so that any of their findings in the material world which appear to contradict the spiritual beliefs of the Church should be suppressed as unthinkable thoughts because contrary to the obedience which we owe to Christ.

As a matter of fact the Church as Church has never interpreted Paul in this way, the (much misreported) Galileo case notwithstanding. No doubt some individual members of the faith and some of the heretical sects have chosen to act thus but it has never been a formal teaching of Christianity that they should so behave. In the context of his letter to the Corinthians it is clear that the Apostle was referring specifically to spiritual doctrine and not to scientific inquiry.

I would argue, though, that if it is an error to discern an  additional layer of meaning to the text in one direction, ie. towards the world of voluntary conscious thought, it is perfectly legitimate to discern a further depth of meaning in another direction, ie. the realm of involuntary conscious thought. In the Gospel Our Lord says-
The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile.
For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy.
These are what defile a person
(Matthew 15:18-20)

Anyone who has tried Meditation or Mindfulness, or who has even just read about them, will be aware that one of the problems meditators face is a constant stream of thoughts which irrupt unwanted into the quiet space that a person tries to create within her mind. These are things which are formed below the level of consciousness, usually connected to visual images of some kind or particular memories, and which appear in our minds contrary to our express will and desire. While we may become most aware of this phenomenon precisely at the point at which we least desire it it is also the case that this happens all the time, that is, thoughts  continually bubble up and the only choice we have about them is how to respond to them; preventing them altogether is not an option.

Those Christians who fled to the Desert in ancient times to do battle with satan certainly became aware of this problem and sought to address it. St Mark the Ascetic, for example, wrote-
The soul is carried away captive through its inward assent to the thoughts with which it is constantly and sinfully occupied.
(Letter to Nicolas the Solitary)

Like the Apostle, St Mark links  the idea of thoughts to that of captivity. In this instance pointing out that if these things are not subject to Christ then the soul will be subject to these things. In line with its Incarnational perspective Christianity does not view thoughts as airy nothings which emerge from the aether. Rather it links them to the body and its desires. Many of the Desert Fathers use the word ‘passions’ interchangeably with the word ‘thoughts’ recognising that each particular thought is not weightless but is subject to the gravity exercised by the particular part of the body which produces it as an injunction to consciousness to act upon it and so fulfil the fleshly desire which it expresses.

We see, then, that thoughts form part of the battle of the Spirit against the flesh and that, when they first arise, involuntary conscious thoughts are products of the flesh which means, therefore, that if we desire the Spirit to be victorious we must take these thoughts captive and subject them to the authority of Christ precisely as St Paul suggests. The question is how?

The name ‘St Mark the Ascetic’ gives us a bit of a clue here. To prevent the mind being obedient to the body it is necessary to make the body obedient to the mind through exercising discipline over it. So our will and our voluntary conscious thoughts must be directed to overcome the body’s desires and lusts which it expresses to us through, among other things, the involuntary conscious thoughts. On its own, though, asceticism itself can become a passion, it boosts our self-esteem and pride to think that we are capable of conquering our body while our neighbours are still subject to its dictates. Therefore, if we rely wholly on our own strength to conquer the body we may well succeed in defeating its cruder manifestations, such as gluttony, but only by succumbing to its more subtle manifestations, such as pride, and so we will be as far away from the victory of the Spirit as we were at the beginning.

So, while asceticism is a necessary tool in the struggle against involuntary thoughts it is not by itself a sufficient one. Two further things are necessary, namely, Humility and Grace. Although it is we, ourselves alone, who generate all the energies needed to defeat the Spirit we do not possess the ‘ourselves alone’ capacity to ensure its victory. We need help. And before we can receive it, in a regular and sustained way, we must be aware of that need and seek that help. Which is to say, we must be humble. The help we seek comes in part from those who have preceded us in the battle and whose wisdom and experience is something we can draw upon, either in person or through the writings of Scripture and the Saints. It comes too from the sacraments of the Church which are provided precisely for the purpose of strengthening us.

Help too comes from the very Christ to whom we seek to be obedient. Without Me you can do nothing He says. (John 15:5) Grace is the one tool which is both sufficient and necessary (although it may choose to use additional tools). Apart from it not only are all our efforts vain but we would not even want to make any effort at all. Humility causes us to recognise our need for Grace (and to petition for it) and Grace, freely and spontaneously given, is the cause of our Humility. Grace and Humility combined are the only guarantor of success in our ascetic struggles. And under the banner of Grace, Humility and Asceticism we can, God willing, bring every thought into captivity and obedience to Christ.

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The picture is from the page I monaci del deserto on the Focolare site.

 

 

A Prayer to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete

pentecost virgin mary book of hours bruges 15th C

 

O Blessed Holy Spirit,

As a dove, pure and spotless, descend Thou upon me.
Bringing with You that peace beyond all peace.
May my angers, jealousies and impatiences flee from before You,
Never to return.

O Blessed Holy Spirit,

As a fire which burns but does not consume surround me with Your flame.
Warm me, transform me, with Your perfect love.
May I radiate it to all whom I encounter,
As Your ambassador.

O Blessed Holy Spirit,

As the bright cloud of glory, the Shekinah, fill Thou my Temple.
The cloud which reveals by concealing, the visible Presence which is hidden.
May I be your mirror in the midst of the world,
As You are in the midst of me.

O Blessed Holy Spirit,

As the blazing tongues which You sent to the disciples, alight Thou upon me.
Granting the gift of wise speech, words which give due honour to the Word.
May I praise, and thank, and glorify
My Saviour, Jesus Christ.

O Blessed Holy Spirit,

As the still, small, voice of God, speak Thou through me,
The whisper that follows the roaring, the calm which succeeds the turmoil.
May I bring Your hope,
To those who despair.

O Blessed Holy Spirit,

As my spouse unite Yourself to me,
So that we are no longer two but one,
May I, like the Virgin, be fruitful,
And bear Christ, and give Him to those in the shadow of death.

O Blessed Holy Spirit,

As pure light fill me with Yourself,
The crystal light that illumines from within and makes pure,
May I be invisible light on my daily journey,
So that only the glory of the Father is seen.

Grant, I beseech Thee, O Blessed Holy Spirit,

That You be the desire with which I desire Thee,
That Yours are the eyes through which I look upon the world,
That Yours are the ears with which I hear the Word proclaimed,
That Yours are the lips with which I speak peace to all whom I encounter,
That Yours are the hands with which I accomplish the daily tasks allotted to me,
That Yours is the mind with which I ponder the things of life and of God,
That You dwell forever in the heart of my heart,
Together with the Father and the Son,
From Whom You proceed, and by Whom You have been sent.

Amen.

 

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The picture, from a 15th century Book of Hours, is of Pentecost.

Silent Nights (And Days)

Georges de la tour the newborn infant nativity

He will rejoice over thee with gladness,
He will be silent in His love
(Zephaniah 3:17)

Love is not obliged to speak all the time (chronos) it is only obliged to speak when the time is right (kairos.) When the Son of God entered the world, as the Son also of Mary, in His divinity He, as it were, rejoiced with gladness that His mission to redeem and save His beloved mankind had begun. In His humanity He was silent as to the the meaning and purpose of the mystery He embodied for thirty long years. The silent love of Jesus was longer by far than His spoken love, yet it was nonetheless the most perfect of all possible loves.

The whole angelic host of heaven rejoiced with gladness over this birth into the world of the Word made flesh. Yet to us, to humanity, this rejoicing was for the most part marked by silence. As a type or figure of what was to come, and because their joy could not be wholly contained even in the vast heaven, some of them appeared to a tiny handful of shepherds. These men stood as representatives of the anawim, the humble poor, those who wait with patience and hope for the dawning of a kingdom filled with peace, and justice and love. To them the angels spoke clearly as they do still to their successors the anawim in Pakistan and Egypt and China whose lives of earthly darkness are lit by a supernatural light. More obscurely the heavens spoke to the Magi through a mysterious star so that the philosophers, scientists and students of the future would have a typical representation on the holiest of nights. Those who search the world and the skies for meaning will indeed find that true meaning when they accept the guidance of God on their journey.

Apart, though, from the shepherds and the Magi the greatest event ever to have happened in human history up to that point was marked throughout the world by the deepest of silences. The time was not right for love to speak. It was the same with the Blessed Virgin. To Gabriel she spoke. To God she spoke. To Man (male and female) she was silent. It was the Holy Spirit who told St Elizabeth about the Incarnation, not Mary. It was an angel that told St Joseph about the virginal conception, not Mary. About these mysteries Our Lady pondered in her heart and was silent. The time was not right for speech.

The silence of God is not a sign of His absence. It is one of the forms of His loving presence. The time is always right for Him to love us, and so He does. For those living a grace-filled life, redeemed by the Christ, the time is always right for Him to rejoice over them with gladness, and so He does. But the time is not always right for Him to speak. St James wrote “The trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.” (James 1:3-4) The Father does not annihilate imperfection in His children. He patiently waits for them to repent, to convert themselves from what is imperfect and turn in love towards Him who is perfection itself. The children of God who are called to be perfect even as the Father is perfect, are taught through his silence to imitate Him also in His patience.

Is it ever kairos for us to be silent towards God? Indeed it is. Not the silence of ignorance nor yet the silence of enmity but, rather, the silence that comes from the deep stillness that abides in the very centre of our hearts. That fixed point where we hold all that is too profound for words, the feelings and emotions for which there are, and can be, no words. In silence we open this central axis of our lives towards Him who, in silence, receives it. We do not wait for His speech, nor He for ours. We abide together in the love that originates ‘in the beginning.’ The love that belongs neither to chronos nor to kairos but to eternity. It was born there, it will live there, and through faith and silence we experience it now, in this piece of eternity which is the present moment.

In the world rejoicing and silence are thought to be enemies of each other. You can be glad or you can be silent but not both together. And in the world it is so. In God, though, it is not so. He rejoices over us with gladness, He is silent in His love. We are called to respond to Him in kind. Rejoice with gladness in our Saviour, Jesus the Son of Mary, silently contemplate Him, silently love Him, through silence become wholly united with Him such that like St Paul we can affirm ‘I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me‘ (Galatians 2:20)

 

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The picture is Newly born Infant by Georges de La Tour

The Christian Concept of Equality

saints peter and paul Мanuscrits du Maître aux-fleurs datant du XVe siècle

I have no mind that anybody should think of me except as he sees me, as he hears me talking to him.
(2 Corinthians 12:6)

The internal dissensions plaguing the Church in Corinth compelled St Paul to give a long list of reasons as to why Corinthian Christians should pay special attention to him when he gave them instructions. He ends, though, by saying that he would much prefer if they just took him as they found him. The point he is making is that people should be received not for who they are, Apostle, general, consul, slave, maidservant, but for what they are, a human person.

What he is asking for is a profoundly counter-intuitive thing for any person to request. He wants to be treated with less respect than his position apparently merits. Alongside this is another principle which is that other people should be treated with more respect than their position apparently merits. Or, to put it another way, we should see primarily the person in front of us and only secondarily the position which they may happen to hold in society or in the Church.

To you, who are reading this in the twenty-first century, this may seem such a commonplace idea with which you are so familiar that you don’t feel the need to stop and ask yourself why we should behave in this manner. It was not so in St Paul’s time. A huge proportion of the population were slaves and destined to be so for all their lives and their children after them. Among the free citizens a strict hierarchy was maintained based upon accident of birth and membership of an ethnic group or clan. And, of course, women occupied a predetermined second class status whichever in-group they happened to belong to. So, what Paul was proposing was a radical revolution in the way that people thought about and interacted with each other.

It is also true, moreover, that, even now, if we accept in theory the idea of equality of respect in practice we behave differently to people depending on where they stand in the pecking order and expect other to behave differently towards us on the same grounds. That is, equality of respect in personal behaviour does not come naturally to us. It is not ‘common sense.’ It is not something that children do instinctively and have to be socialised out of. On the contrary, we are an hierarchic species by inlination. Adults may, after deep philosophical reflection, come to the idea that humans deserve to be treated in ways that do not relate to their social status but to put such an idea into practice requires a good deal of conscious effort and, I would add as a Christian, a great deal of infused grace also.

So why should we treat each person with an equal degree of respect? The Old Testament (or, if you wish to be politically correct the Hebrew Scriptures) tells us that Man (male and female) is made in the image and likeness of God. The New Testament gives superadded value to that by showing how the Logos of God became Incarnate and died a criminal’s death upon the Cross in order to offer the gift of salvation to each human ever born. Therefore, each person whom we encounter is so beloved by the Creator of the universe that He shed His Precious Blood just to redeem that person from the shadow of death. That means every person is of infinite value and if we treat them as being less than ourselves we are, if effect, despising the blood of Christ.

This does not mean that Christianity proposes a political or economic programme of egalitarianism. In the course of any given thousand years or so schemes and systems of government or economic management appear, rise, flourish for a while and then vanish of the face of the earth forever. While they last they appear inevitable, commonsensical and eternal. Once they have passed away future generations wonder whyever people put faith in such bankrupt notions. It is not the business of the Church to shackle itself to a ship that is bound sooner or later to sink into the depths and be forgotten. It is the business of the Church to teach and hold firm to those things which are valid in every generation and in every way that society might be ordered in its time.

Which is not to say that individual Christians are or should be disbarred from campaigning for egalitarianism. What they should not do, however, is campaign in such a way as to suggest that what they conceive of as the most expedient and just way to solve today’s problems with today’s tools is somehow the one eternal truth for which Christ died. Any number of systems are more or less compatible with the aspirations of the Gospel and all of them are flawed. Heaven will never be a place on this old Earth because humans as a whole will not escape the personal consequences of Original Sin at work in each of them until the end of the age.

If equality of outcome or even, arguably, equality of opportunity are not specifically mandated by the Christian Scriptures equality of respect certainly is. This is something that the Church and each of her members should insistently advocate, pursue and carry out in the smallest interstices of our daily life as well as in the great matters of State. Be kind to each other while there is still time it is said. And I would add be loving to each other, be respectful to each other for each of us has been bought at a price which is infinite and eternal.

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The picture is of Sts Peter and Paul from Мanuscrits du Maître-aux-fleurs datant du XVe siècle

7 Sonnets for Advent & Christmastide

image

Long the journey seemed, Northward to Southward.
All but nine months gone, heavy with her child,
Weary Virgin, rich in grace, all unmarred,
Travels with her husband in country wild.

Ahead is hope fulfilled, life new begun,
Angels will rejoice, High Kings will bow low.
The child of promise, new and brighter sun.
Prophets dreamt, Mary knew it would be so.

Yet much must be endured on pilgrims way,
Winds are bitter cold, hills are hard to climb.
Tired she is, tireder each passing day.
As she draws ever nearer to her time.

Her heavy body though is light within
With a light that lights the world, frees from sin.

image

2
Short winter day drawing near to its end.
Joseph and Mary enter the city,
None will house them, neither stranger nor friend
Not for money nor for love and pity.

She has travelled so long, her time so near.
Joseph consoles the chaste bride he adores,
In dark coldness she trusts him without fear;
Love’s wings beat about him, on them he soars.

But all is not lost, a stable they find,
Poor it is and bare, no palace of kings.
Enough, though, to bring Mary peace of mind
And ease of body, here again she sings.

All now in place for the advent of He
Who is born in the shadow of the tree.

the nativity by lorenzo monaco

3
Unto us a child is given. What joy!
His love, sweeter than wine, our light of life.
He will set free those whom death would destroy.
This Jesus, Prince of peace, quelling all strife.

A newborn child, son of Mary so pure,
Gently she enfolds the heart of her heart.
The Son, the Mother, whose love will endure.
Joseph rejoicing does not stand apart.

But, all Rule will be upon His shoulders,
This helpless infant has a destiny,
The world’s burden and Rome’s cruel soldiers,
Pain, the Cross, a yelling mob’s infamy.

Today, though, be glad, a new life is here
Christmas joy, Christmas boy, the best of cheer!

shepherds angels christmas

4

Black sky bursts in sudden flame, Angels sing,
Astounded shepherds start out of their sleep,
“Glory! Sing Glory to the newborn king.”
Unveiled today a mystery so deep.

An infant you will find in swaddling wrapped,
The promised Christ has come, child of your dreams.
A poor one like you, for this is most apt.
Humble and weak yet much more than He seems.

How shall we know Him? Where shall we now seek?
Long is this night and cold has grown our hope,
Can we be sure you don’t deceive the weak?
Do you speak true or mislead with a trope?

In Bethlehem with Mary you will see
The promised child who truly sets you free

journey of the magi sassetta

5

Though Herod has lied the star has been true
Our far journey has now come to its close
The portent foretold the time fallen due
Christ child with His mother, the sweetest rose.

Light showed the path to the King of all light
The sign that we saw bore witness of God
From the East have we come to see this sight
Bringing threefold gifts, honour and all laud.

For a time we were lost and went far astray
Seeking among those of hostile intent
They gave us a map but they fear the way
Made fair-faced promises they never meant.

Presents we give to the child we adore
Which He will return us tenfold and more

flight into egypt holy family

6
Death lies behind, ahead only darkness
The sudden warning allowed no delay
‘Your foes are enraged, more than pitiless
Arise! Make haste! Be swift! Go on your way’

A child and a woman, driven to flight
With only Joseph to guard and to guide
Fear besets them as they ride through the night.
Egypt is far and the desert is wide.

But see amid fear and this cruel test
How tender the love of mother and maid
Cradling her new Son and soothing His rest
As He lies in her arms trusting her aid.

Flying for refuge, a time of great need
Will strangers be kind in word or in deed?

the innocents giotto

7

Bethlehem’s children, deep wrapped in their sleep.
Resting from play, surrounded by much care.
Suddenly awake feeling fear so deep
Herod’s harsh soldiers, their sharp swords they bare.

Fresh blood on the ground, sad mothers bereaved
The slaughter is frightful, cries rend the night.
Infants murdered that Herod be relieved.
Eyes see horror that blights the gift of sight.

Though Rachel weeps and will not be consoled
Bright Angels raise her young ones up above
New Saints they are, the first martyrs enrolled
The soldiers of hate defeated by love.

The child who escaped is He who is blessed
So let us all cry Christus natus est!

 

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