Tag: theology

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)

 

thoughtfully catholic has a Facebook page.

My *other* blog is thoughtfully detached.

The picture is Newly born Infant by Georges de La Tour

Advertisements

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.

thoughtfully catholic has a Facebook page.

My *other* blog is thoughtfully detached.

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

What is the Point of Virtue?

napa vineyard

If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.
(Matthew, 19:17)

My mother’s sons turned their anger on me,
They made me look after the vineyards.
My own vineyard I had not looked after!
(Song of Solomon, 1:6)

The purpose of Our Lord’s mission is that we may have life more abundantly. One of the instruments which He offers to us in pursuit of this goal is the practice of virtue, that is, the keeping of His commandments. The promise is that if we do so not only shall we enter into His presence forever at the end of this mortal existence (which, to be sure, is a great assurance itself) but that even now, in this present time, we will experience an overflowing abundance of life.

How does that work? What is the connection between virtue and a life lived in primary colours? Catholics can offer an answer to these questions on two levels, that of Natural Law and that of Revealed Truth. On the first, where we use Reason unaided by Revelation, we can argue that virtue is intrinsically good and the source of good for each individual human person. Superadded to that we can argue from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition that a person in a state of grace receives, and gives to others, a degree of good from the practice of virtue which eye has not seen and ear has not heard.

In classical Greek philosophy it was argued that the practice of the virtues was necessary in order to achieve Eudaimonia. This is a concept often translated as ‘happiness’ but it has a richer depth of meaning than that. It carries an idea of ‘human flourishing’ and ‘fulfilment’ as well. We might think of it as having life abundantly. Aristotle in particular saw virtue as the perfect mean between excess on the one hand and defect on the other. Or, to put it in Goldilockian terms, virtue is that porridge which is neither too hot nor too cold but ‘just right‘ (I’m Scottish and writing this on St Andrew’s day, hence the porridge reference.)

Since the mean is in itself a form of perfection it follows that it must be nearer to a state of eudaimonia than any form of imperfection. More profoundly than that in order to consistently pursue such a path we must previously have secured a permanent victory in our internal civil war. Aristotle saw, with good reason, each person as being a house divided against itself. Within us we have three principle aspects of our human nature which can be understood hierarchically. At the least uniquely human is the desiring aspect which we share with the animals, from this proceeds lust, gluttony and the like. Above this is the irascible aspect which combines thought with desire, from this proceeds anger, envy, malice and the like. Top of the tree is the intellective aspect which is governed by Reason and is what makes us most distinctively human in relation to visible creation (though Reason is also a characteristic of angels.)

To be virtuous, then, and thus to enter into life, it is necessary for the intellective aspect of ourselves to battle with, and gain the mastery over, our appetitive and irascible aspects. Which brings us to the vineyards of Solomon. If our mother is the earth then the sons of the mother are of the earth earthy. That is, the passions which spring up from the lower part of our nature draw us away from the cultivation of our intellect which is of its Father, spirit not matter. In tending to the passions, nourishing them and lending our intellect to justify and rationalise their excesses and defects increasingly our own vineyard becomes, as Hamlet might put it-
…an unweeded garden
That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely
(Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2)

Yet, to experience life fully we should use that which is most characteristically human in us, the intellect, to its maximum extent. We can thus control and direct our lower aspects, desire and irascibility, so that they function to their full potential as part of a creature which is rational. Neglecting the vineyard of the mind does not mean that it cannot function at all. If we cut through the weeds and brambles we can still harvest a crop from it but they will be, to coin a phrase, sour grapes. Enough to intoxicate us perhaps, or bring us to oblivion but not of a nature to gives us the pleasure of their taste or the delight of a wine which gladdens the heart. Therefore, we should direct our energies towards the vineyard of the mind so that a rich vintage can be harvested from it. One whose taste we can enjoy while drinking it and whose effect will not be frenzy and distraction but mellow pleasure shared with friends.

What does Revelation add to this picture? The Orthodox Saint Maximos the Confessor wrote-
The divine Logos of God the Father is mystically present in each of His commandments… Thus, he who receives a divine commandment and carries it out receives the Logos of God who is in it.
(Philokalia)
Which means that one who obeys the commandments for the sake of the Kingdom receives within themselves the Ruler of that Kingdom. Christ Himself dwells within those who fulfill His Will because He is His Will as He is Love and Truth and Justice and Mercy. And where the Son is so to is the Father and the Holy Spirit whose Temple we become if we do the will of the Son, as we do the will of the Son because we have become the Temple of the Holy Spirit. From Revelation we can deduce that the difference between the eudaimonia of the rationally virtuous and the abundancy of the Christianly virtuous is that the one is energised from within, by ourselves, and the other is energised from without, by the Blessed Trinity, which becomes a within by the power of the descending Holy Spirit and the indwelling Logos of God. Or, to put it another way, if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.

 

thoughtfully catholic has a Facebook page

My *other* blog is thoughtfully detached.

The stock picture is of a vineyard in Napa

The Time is Now Past

 

queen esther the persians

His disciples came to Him,

Saying,

This is a desert place,

And the time is now past

(Matthew 14:15)

 

Turn our sorrow into joy,

That we may live,

O Lord,

And praise thy name

(Esther 13:17)

 

To be in a desert place is to be without resources to draw upon. Neither within, in our heart and mind, nor without, in the people and things surrounding us, can we find that which we need to sustain us. We have arrived at bleakness, we live and move and have our being in bleakness. Our outward state may appear to be pleasant enough, career, family, the things of life might be going along exactly as the world tells us that they should but we do not find in them the happiness promised. Or we may have suffered loss, trauma or illness and we find that there is nothing which comes to hand that can give us the strength to escape from the legacy of despair which they have left behind in our souls.

 

Compounding this we look around and sense that for us the time is past. The wrongs which we have done cannot now be undone. The wrongs which have been done to us have left scars and wounds that are beyond any power that we are aware of to heal. More than that our vision is darkened by an incoming tide of blackness to which there seems no end. Night is coming upon us and we doubt that we can survive it.

 

Although Christians might argue that objectively this state, being in a desert place with time running out, is an accurate enough description of most people in the world most of the time such people rarely experience it within themselves as a subjective reality. Sometimes, though, they do, when events, like bereavement or war, or states of being, like adolescence or sickness, lead them to contemplate the deeper realities of being which underlie all the busy doing which makes up their normal mode of living in the world.

 

Such a situation faced the Jews during the time of the Queen Consort Esther. An edict providing for their destruction and the despoiling of their property was issued. Humanly speaking there was none to save them, their neighbours, after all, stood to benefit from their possessions after the act of what we now call genocide had been committed. More than that a Law of the Medes and Persians could not be revoked having once been passed. Facing this catastrophe they found that they had no resources within themselves or in their surroundings to deal with it by any normal means.

 

Since their was nothing possible to do they turned to two impossible things, which was really one impossible thing. That is, they prayed to God for a miracle to save them and they urged Esther who was a daughter of Zion and spouse of the Great King to intercede with him on their behalf. And the two were one because it was God, heeding the prayers of suffering Israel, who granted Esther the strength to ask for remission of the sentence, at the peril of her own life, and who moved the King to respond positively to her petition.

 

The disciples too recognised that they had nothing, that they were nothing, that they could do nothing and that they were soon to be overwhelmed by night. All that remained for them was Jesus, so it was to Him that they turned. He took the few elements which they did have, sorry little things that seemed too inadequate to meet the needs which they faced. And Jesus infused His power into them. He, as it were, gave them life, He multiplied them, they became pure gift not only for the disciples but for all who surrounded them. Their sorrow was turned to joy and they praised the name of the Lord.

 

This is the work which the Christ was sent to do. To redeem the time, to bring life into the midst of death, hope where there is despair, the gift of sharing where there is selfish hoarding, to turn base metals into pure gold. But for Him to accomplish His work in us we must first look around and see that we are in a desert place indeed and that the light around us is fading fast. Only when we both know and acknowledge fully to ourselves that we are burdened and that the burden wearies us can we accept the invitation which the Son of Mary issues to us-

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,

And I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;

For I am meek and lowly in heart:

And ye shall find rest unto your souls.

(Matthew 11:28-29)

 

 

thoughtfully catholic has a Facebook page

My *other* blog is thoughtfully detached

The picture is: Queen Esther begs King Ahasver for clemency towards the Persian Jews. Page from a Megillat Esther

Wine to Gladden the Heart.

Les Trois Dames de Paris wine drinking

Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth,

 
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine,
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
(Psalm 104:15-16 RSV)

At a literal level this is clearly a song which blesses God for the fertility of the harvest and all the gifts which we as Man (male and female) derive from it. Because the psalms are divinely inspired works, though, the Church has always encouraged her children to look at the spiritual pearls which are buried in the field of Scripture. We might, for example, consider the three sacramental elements mentioned by the psalmist, wine, oil and bread, as representing the actions of the Father, Holy Spirit and Son respectively.

I shall leave you to meditate over that in your own way. Here I propose to look at the two heart relationships that are described. The divine gift which gladdens and the divine gift which strengthens. It is not fanciful to see in the wine divinity transcendent and in the bread divinity incarnate. Since these are not two divinities but the One God then responding to the one will lead us to the other. That is, loving and desiring the Transcendent One will lead us to love and desire His manifestation in the world which we physically inhabit, and not only does He have a name and a face here, Jesus Christ, but He is also present within all of us, so love of God in His illuminated transcendence leads us ineluctably to love of our neighbours. Conversely, when we have a disinterested, selfless love for our fellow creatures we will be led to love also the source of life that animates and then flows through them into the world, which is of course the Transcendent One.

Although it is the same God who is both transcendent and incarnate He is perceived by us to be operating in two different modes and so He has these two different effects upon our hearts, gladdening and strengthening. As the Transcendent One we see Him as being rather than as doing. So in gazing upon Him we are entranced by His beauty, His stillness, His silence, His infinite depth, His light, His pure love and so on. We, in a sense, drink Him in and He is a source for us of unending joy for so long as, being in a state of grace, we can contemplate Him or reminisce about our time in His presence.

As Emmanuel, God With Us, the Incarnate One has come down, so Jesus Himself tells us, as bread from heaven. In consuming Him we are strengthened, He Himself enters into us and we enter into Him. Because He is everything that we are, apart from sin, our weariness is His weariness, our sorrows are His sorrows, our weakness is His weakness. The strength that comes to us from Him lies in the truth that all of these frailties of ours proceed from our journey towards death but He is the Resurrected One, He has defeated death and lives forever and so long as we are in Him we too can share in His eternal victory starting here and now in this Today.

Insofar as love is real it is empty of Self and consists of a perpetual act of giving. Insofar as it is false it consists only of Self and aims at a perpetual state of receiving. The love of God for us, then, is an eternal giving of gifts, the wine that gladdens, the bread that strengthens. Our loving response cannot consist simply of a passive receiving but must be of the nature of a constant giving in return. St Catherine of Siena reports the Lord as saying “The service you cannot render me you must do for your neighbours.” That is, while we can directly give Him praise, thanks and worship the only way we can give Him consolation for His pain, water for His thirst and food for His hunger is through the good that we do to those whom we share the world with. So the gladness and the strength which we receive is not simply for our own benefit, so that we feel good, but for the benefit also of those around us to whom the divine gifts flow and overflow out of the abundance which we have received.

Now, you may think that all of the foregoing is mere inconsequential rambling. If so you quite possibly show good judgement. The point, however, is not how well I have carried out the exercise but the fact that I have carried it out at all. If this blog (and its predecessor Catholic Scot) has any purpose at all it is to rescue from disuse the practice of seeing Scripture as a multi-layered text which contains deep meanings that are not obvious at first glance.

Since the, ahem, changes inflicted on Christianity by Luther and his successors there has been a tendency to see literal readings of the Bible as the only legitimate form of interpretation. This has been compounded by the academic historical text criticism approach which seeks to limit Scriptural meanings to the historical context in which they were written, a context which archeology and other disciplines have increasingly recovered to a degree of fullness not previously known. All of this work is valuable and useful so far as it goes but it is too one-dimensional. The Spirit and spirituality flowed through the minds and fingers of the original authors of our sacred text. It contains depths and heights which go beyond the immediate context of their time, place and level of conscious awareness. They recorded on the pages of the books which they wrote not simply the things of which they were aware intellectually but also many things which they apprehended in ways beyond time, place and sequential thought. They left us, in the Bible, a great spiritual treasury and Christians, with the mind of the Church, should use all the tools at our disposal to unlock it.

thoughtfully catholic has a Facebook page.

My *other* blog is thoughtfully detached.

The picture is Les Trois Dames de Paris

The First One Now Will Later Be Last

 

samuel anointing david 13thC manuscript

It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God

(Romans 9:8 NRSV)

 

There is a motif which runs through the Old Testament. Very often the first born son, who by custom and law was designated to inherit the role of family head and possessor of his father’s wealth, is surpassed or supplanted by a younger sibling. Abel is preferred before Cain, Jacob before Esau, Joseph and David get to headline their respective gigs way before their many older brothers. Christians have seen in this a type or figure of the election by God of a new People of God, the Church, in place of the old People of God, Israel. This is not merely a matter of historical interest. God does not change His way of operating over time so the same principle at work then is still at work in the world today.

 

What is this principle? It is often cast as a Divine preferential option for the poor but it might equally accurately be stated as a disdain for those who have a sense of entitlement. That is, if you think that you belong to a prosperous family or a favoured nation or that you are ‘on the right side of history’ because you personally deserve it then you are rubbing the Lord up the wrong way. Grace is seldom drawn down from heaven upon those who think that they are God’s gift to the world, it is more frequently given to those who see the world as God’s gift to them (and to all of their neighbours.)

 

The Lord is not unjust, it is not that He disfavours those who are born into privilege, a child of the bourgeoisie or of the West or of liberal minded media professionals has done nothing wrong. Possessing title deeds to a life of advantage is not a crime. Believing yourself to be a special and superior kind of person just because these things have descended to you is, however, a gravely sinful attitude. If, for example, you think that your country is Number One even if you are right it is no doing of yours, not something which you can congratulate yourself upon. Instead it imposes upon you a series of obligations. Firstly gratitude to the Divine Providence which has placed you in that nation at the (no doubt brief) time of its ascendency. Then you must earnestly consider why  it is number one, what qualities have put it there? If it is the result of frugality, honesty, cooperation across partisan and community lines, integrity and faithfulness to basic moral principles then you are obliged to practice the same things yourself if you are to become truly worthy of your inheritance.  Alternatively if your nation owes its place to arrogance, violence, a casual disregard for the children of a lesser god who inhabit other parts of the globe then your duty is to work against these things and reform your country, it is better to be good and Number Ten than bad and Number One. More probably you are coming into a mixed inheritance and you must consciously strengthen the good and weaken the bad.

 

The point is that if you accept the privileges, still more if you assert and insist upon them then you will be storing up damnation for yourself if you do not with equal or greater vigour insist upon fulfilling the obligations which come with that. The same principle is at work among those who, convinced of their absolute righteousness, despise the family members who share the table of friendship with them at Thanksgiving of Christmas feasts. The ideas which millennial liberals hold are not a warrant to scorn their kinsfolk as backward hicks in need of a long spell in reeducation camps. Even supposing the ideas of feminism or intersectionality or whatever to be true these are not something young people made for themselves, they are an inheritance passed on to them by the establishment which dominated their formative years. If their first fruits are arrogance and snobbery then they might themselves be flawed, at any rate those who hold them and behave in such ways are abandoning the path of humility.

 

The pattern of God’s work in the world is of a preference for the poor in spirit. Those who see themselves as small people in a big universe have a true grasp of the way things are whether they are the children of American millionaires or farmers tilling the fields of Albania. Those who puff themselves up to ten or twenty times their real size on the basis of their family, nation, culture, political tribe, ethnicity, sex, sexuality or anything material profoundly misunderstand themselves, the world they inhabit and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ who comes to us as the Son of humble Mary and the apprentice of the carpenter Joseph. To be great, Christianly speaking, you must be small. To succeed, Christianly speaking, you must fail. To truly live, Christianly speaking, you must first truly die.

thoughtfully catholic has a Facebook page.
My *other* blog is thoughtfully detached.

The picture shows the Prophet Samuel anointing the shepherd David as King. From a 13th Century manuscript.

The Prosaic God

I recently came across this line by the Australian poet Les Murray-

‘God is the poetry caught in any religion,

caught, not imprisoned’

This, I think, speaks to the image of God fostered by the nineteenth century Romantics. He is that which is nearly but not quite seen, almost grasped but never touched. The elusive, transcendent light that somehow inspires us to grow and to seek despite the dreariness of all else.

 

He is those things certainly but He is more than that. God also ensures by His laws that toothpaste comes out of the tube (most of the time,) by His grace He enables mothers to cope kindly, even humorously, with fretful two year olds. He sends rain on to the new-mown grass and causes its scent to rise towards heaven. That is, He is the God of small things, the prose God as well as the poetry which we can catch at.

 

And for Christians He is in particular the Incarnate One, fully present in the world as the Son of Mary, Jesus Christ. He is the God who takes naps on boats, who feels hunger and thirst, who gets out of breath climbing steep hills, who feels love for His mother, who experiences the loneliness of abandonment, the pain of death. More than this of course He thinks sublime thoughts and gives us teachings of great beauty, healing is in His hands and on His tongue. He is poetry and prose and He walks among us.

 

So, if religion is that which catches the poetry that is God it is the religion of Christ which is uniquely able to catch and hold both the transcendent and the immanent One, the poetical God and the prosaic God who is one Divinity in three persons. This is, perhaps, especially clearly seen in the Catholic communion of Saints. If we honour the mystical saints like John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen who soared on the wings of love to the highest heights we honour no less the Vincent de Paul’s, Jeanne de Chantal’s, the Damien’s of Molokai and the Dorothy Day’s who immersed themselves in the dreary daily round of seemingly mundane tasks and through love transmuted their base metal into the pure gold of divine grace and divine gift.

 

We honour too those like Thérèse of Lisieux who though she lived a little life in a small world focussed on tiny details nonetheless by her death aged twenty-four had become a spiritual giant and a teacher of the universal Church. This was not despite her concentrated attention on the prosaic but because of it. She saw that poetry and prose are two things in Man (male and female) but one thing in God and through God. It is love which dissolves the barriers between the two. With her Little Way Thérèse saw that the tiniest of actions done with love becomes the greatest of symphonies. She synthesised what many knew in part so that now, through her by the grace of God, we can know it in full.

 

At the head of the communion of saints and our great exemplar in all this, as in so much else, is Mary the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven. She is the one who sang for us the great canticle of the Church the Magnificat and she is the one who fled into the night as a refugee with our Saviour, her Son, in her arms. She it was who pondered the deep things of God in her heart and she it was who saw the nails driven into the hands and feet of that same God, her Beloved One, her Jesus. If the religion of the Old Testament and the religion of Rome between them did really and truly imprison the One God it was the religion of Mary that shows us how to set Him free again, with faith, hope, love and the grace-filled promise that each Christian must offer up through every prose or poetry filled moment of their lives- Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.

thoughtfully catholic has a Facebook page.

My *other* blog is thoughtfully detached.