Thursday, 20 October 2016

Our Lady of Grace, Ipswich

The pilgrimage you don't know you're on until you get there is the best kind! Yesterday I made a journey for entirely mundane reasons, only to realise I had ended up in the exact place that I had been wanting to make the object of a pilgrimage for a long time.


Bear with me on this post - it does sound a bit like the sort of thing Alan Partridge might tell his PA Lynn to start off with!








Yesterday was a difficult day for my wife Lisa. Our daughter Lucia had been awake in the night and whilst I had slept in the spare room because I had work the next morning, Lisa was awake most of the night with Lucia. Consequently when I got home in the early afternoon, Lisa was very much in need of a break!



I took Lucia out for a drive to give her mum some space and in the hope that she would have a nap, which she did. I had a vague plan to go to a retail park and have a look around the John Lewis department store there. As I drove with the little one asleep in the back I realised I didn't really know the way to this store; I knew I had to go on the ring road around Ipswich, but not much more than that. Anyway, I obviously missed the turning, as I ended up driving into the centre of Ipswich. Not having done this before, I drove aimlessly along in the mid-afternoon traffic, with a vague idea that I would park somewhere near the town centre, and wait for my daughter to wake up before doing a bit of shopping.

So far, so Alan Partridge. But actually, the mundanity of the journey is a key part of its importance for me. The Marian Option is about, or one of the key things about it is, that we don't need to retreat from public spaces, from the everyday, in order for it to work - in fact it is about an inner change of attitude which can transform your relationship to the everyday.

Anyway, I decided to park up in the first car park I found in the town centre, which was called The Spiral. It is an unusual one in that it winds down underground in a large spiral, with cars parked on either side of the winding tunnel. I parked and waited for Lucia to wake up. As I sat with nothing to occupy me, I began to pray a rosary, and with the beads passing through my hands, and my thoughts focused on the sorrowful mysteries, my mind began to enter a contemplative mode.

I realised that I had passed the classic mythological threshold of adventure and peril - the descent into the earth. Maybe Dante didn't have in mind the entrance to the inferno in a car park in East Anglia, but you have to make do with what you have sometimes.

Of course, Dante had his guide Virgil to lead him through the danger, and I had my guide, the Blessed Mother to aid me as I began my daily effort at battling my vices with the graces obtained from that most powerful of prayers.

At the back of my mind I was also aware of something else that I had wanted to do for the last few months, ever since my imagination was fired by reading about the Marian shrines of East Anglia - and that is to visit the site in Ipswich of an important medieval shrine to Mary on Lady Lane. I wondered if it might be within walking distance.

When I finished my rosary I had a look at the map. The Spiral appeared to be almost directly underneath Lady Lane! When Lucia woke I put her in the buggy and ascended, crossing another car park above ground and, there it was; Lady Lane!



For the rest of this post, please see the Marian Option website here







Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Freedom and the Death of God

Pope Benedict:

"I remain in the Church because only the Church's faith saves man. That sounds very traditional, dogmatic and unreal, but it is meant quite soberly and realistically. In our world of compulsions and frustrations the longing for salvation has awakened with hurricane force. The efforts of Freud and Jung are just attempts to give redemption to the unredeemed. Marcuse, Adorno and Habermas continue in their own way, from different starting points, to seek and proclaim salvation. In the background stands Marx, and his question too, is the question of salvation. The more liberated, powerful and enlightened man becomes, the more the longing for salvation gnaws at him, the less free he finds himself. The common element in the efforts of Marx, Freud and Marcuse is that they look for salvation by striving for a world that is delivered from suffering, sickness and need.

A world free of dominion, suffering and injustice has become the great slogan of our generation; the stormy protests of the young are aimed at this promise, and the resentments of the old rage against the fact that is has not been fulfilled, that there is still dominion, injustice and suffering. To fight against suffering and injustice in the world is indeed a thoroughly Christian impulse. But the notion that one can produce a world without suffering through social reform, through the abolition of government and the legal order, and the desire to achieve that here and now are symptoms of false doctrine, of a profound misunderstanding of human nature.

Inequality of ownership and power, to tell the truth, are not the only causes of suffering in this world. And suffering is not just the burden that man should throw off: someone who tries to do that must flee into the illusory world of drugs so as to destroy himself in earnest and arrive at reality through the conflict.

A human being always sees only as much as he loves...there is also the clear-sightedness of denial and hatred. But they can only see what is suited to them: the negative...without a certain measure of love, one finds nothing....One thing ought to be clear: Real love is neither static nor uncritical. If there is any possibility at all of changing another human being for the better, then it is only be loving him and slowly helping him change from what he is into what he can be.

Prayer is hope in action...true reason is contained in prayer, which is why it is possible to hope: we can come into contact with the Lord of the world, He listens to us and we can listen to Him...the truly great thing in Christianity, which does not dispense one from small daily things, but must not be concealed by them either, is this ability to come into contact with God."

Nietzsche:

THE MADMAN
-Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"---As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?---Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us---for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars---and yet they have done it themselves.


It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"


Friday, 27 May 2016

Ratzinger on politics and praxis

Reading Pope emeritus Benedict XVI on Europe and politics is like breathing fresh clear mountain air after living in a smoggy city.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Lenten Reflection Part 1: Introduction to Praying The Sorrowful Mysteries

I hope here to draw out some of the ways in which the first three of the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary can be fruitful in drawing you into a closer relationship with Christ. These mysteries are profound sources of healing and refreshment if entered into in the right spirit.

My method will be to use the mystical tradition of the Church to draw out the depth of the three sets of mysteries. Traditionally the mystical path has three stages; first the Illuminative, then the Purgative, and finally the Unitive stage. These three stages correspond with the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. This ascent to God proceeds firstly through the natural graces by which the soul is initially fed by God when it begins on the spiritual path. These correspond to the earthly events of the incarnation and birth of Christ. Secondly, however, the soul begins to experience a certain dryness in prayer, and God seems to be withdrawing his graces. The enthusiasm which accompanied the beginner on the path has gone, and the soul has entered its 'dark night' of which St. John of the Cross speaks so eloquently. But this is a necessary path, because by withdrawing the more 'sensual' spiritual delights of prayer, God trains the seeker in pure faith, purging the will so that it may attain to the things of the spirit with more surety. This corresponds to the Sorrowful mysteries, and my aim here is to show how the events of Jesus' suffering and death can be a guide to our own path of salvation. Finally, when we have passed through the 'narrow gate', we are given some 'glory'. The Glorious Mysteries are stages of the Unitive path of the mystics, by which we ourselves can become 'Christ-for-others' in the world. In reality, these stages are perhaps not so linear - we are working on different aspects of them at different times. But one thing is clear - we will certainly not able to 'get some glory' (as Father Lazarus El-Antony puts it) until we have begun a life of prayer and entered with our whole being on the Way of Purgation represented by the Sorrowful mysteries. After all, didn't Christ say

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."


Introduction: Memory, Will and Imagination

The soul of every human being could be said to be a composite of memory, will and imagination. These three faculties need to be present if man is made in the image and likeness of God. The memory is our connection to the image, the will and imagination are the ways in which we can restore the likeness of God in our souls. Irenaeus said when we fell we lost the likeness but retained the image.

So memory, will and imagination are the keys to our theosis (participation in the life of God), but like all things in this fallen world, they can be misused. For example, an imagination darkened by worldliness, made impure by luxury and lust, sullied with self-indulgence, cannot attain the chastity necessary to be a light of joy to others. When we seek to privately take pleasure or use another as a tool to that pleasure we begin to destroy our natural capacity to freely participate selflessly in the joys around us. We bend our perception to our desire, and we make the world in our own image. Soon we tire of this image, and so we create more and more exotic images to substitute for the Real, but this is a fruitless quest, ending only in despair. No-one illustrates this better than Dante in the Inferno, as Charles Williams shows here:

[Talking of the lovers Paolo and Francesca]...each of the lovers had delight in the image of the other, and both of them had a mutual delight in their love. Their mutual lussuria indulged this. But lussuria cannot in fast stop there; the mutual indulgence is bound too soon to become two separate single indulgences....; they set up in the human organism a hunger for them which , from being mutual, becomes single. An appetite for the use of this Image prevails; this is Gluttony and this is the next circle of hell (VI).

The true end of imagination is beauty, which is Being as rejoiced in. The true end of memory is truth, which is Being as the unity known by the intellect, and the true end of will is goodness, which is Being as loved.

The Sorrowful Mysteries: Taking up your cross

The Sorrowful mysteries represent a way of purgation, by which we may learn to die to ourselves. If we don't die to ourselves before the separation of actual death occurs, the 'sting of death' will not be avoided. The separation of death will only be a thing to be feared if we have not made this ecstasis, this journey out of ourselves, first.

Stratford Caldecott puts it like this:

"It seems to me that death is not merely an absence of life, but its essence lies in a process of separation. Soul is separated from body, and the parts of the soul and the body from each other. It is the dissolution of wholeness and unity that we face when we face our own death. As for life, it is that which unites, binding many parts into a single whole. As such, it is memory, understanding and love to which we must look for the secret of life. When Christians speak of immortality, we are referring to the existence we receive when God remembers, understands, and loves us. And in our own love for others is revealed that interior dimension through which we ourselves are renewed and resurrected. In fact all experience, when carefully attended to, arouses this sense of an interior."

St. Paul says, "For then we shall know, even as we are known", which means that God's knowledge of us becomes our knowledge of Him, and it is in this knowing (or sharing in the divine life which is really the trinitarian mutual gift-relation of God) that we are immortal, or rather it is in this remembrance, this understanding and this love, that we exist eternally. And clearly no false or sinful part of ourselves will be taken up in this knowing, which is why we begin the rosary now, and we make it a constant weapon in the spiritual battle against the tendencies of vice which we find within and around us.

The Sorrowful mysteries, as realities which have the effect of being like 'spiritual enzymes' in our souls - promoting the fermentation by which everyday 'water' can be turned into 'spiritual wine', provide the necessary bitterness or astringency to temper our sensual natures. To turn our memory, will and understanding from the world of sense into the dark night by which it may find itself finally loosed from slavery.

The first Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden.
The spiritual fruit is the aligning of the will with that of the Father. So this mystery concerns the will. Our will is very underdeveloped when we can do whatever we want. Most people know this from experience - as soon as we get some time where we have the freedom from work to begin all those projects we always said we would, we fritter it, and end up frustrated. This is why the vow of obedience is so important. Obedience is almost completely reviled in the modern age, when the misuse of power is so widespread. But obedience, the handing over of one's autonomy to a higher centre, ie the basis of hierarchy, is an integral part of the universe. Without it we have no basis by which to value anything. Why do seekers after truth in the East search for a guru? To find someone to be obedient to. We have one Master, the Lord, and we do not need to search for Him far and wide.

 In this mystery Christ retires to a secluded olive grove outside Jerusalem. It is night and he brings only Peter, James and John. That they cannot stay awake and pray with him tells us something about the will. The faculties such as the intellect and understanding, the reasoning faculties, can only help us so much. At some point we have to relinquish them, and go into the darkness with pure intention alone. We must constantly make our intention pure through prayer, fasting and confession, and the purity and one-pointedness of our intention will bring us through the night of agony.

When you pray this mystery try to imagine the great intensity of Jesus' prayer that night in the garden. Try to feel the great struggle by which we stay awake to the spirit, by which we pray and mean 'Thy will be done'. If we truly pray this what earthly kingdom can prevail against it?

The Glorious mystery that corresponds to this is the Resurrection - the will's purification through obedience results in faith.

Part Two coming soon: The second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar. The spiritual fruit is the purification of the imagination.




Sunday, 31 January 2016

Worry

I heard someone say recently that they were going to try and give up worry for Lent. I think that's admirable but doubt it's possible. If you are by nature a worrier like myself then you will know how insidious worry can be, how it can creep up on you at 4am, how it's always really there. I'm sure I'm not alone in developing certain techniques as a worrier to try and minimise it, such as making sure I get physical outdoor exercise everyday, having a daily prayer routine (eg. saying the rosary), having creative work to throw yourself into, trying to avoid spending time on any absorbing media which might add to the worry (eg. reading certain newspapers), trying to be organised and developing a pragmatic attitude - get on with the things you can do, and forget about the things you have no control over.

I think that last one is really key, and that is where faith comes in and can make a difference to worry. Really, many worries boil down to an experience of complete helplessness in the face of events or life-situations over which we have no control. Worry is like a kind of superstition - we think if we worry about something we can exert some kind of indirect influence over it. But as Christ said:

"Which of you, by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?"

In fact the whole passage in the Sermon on the Mount on worry is one of the most beautiful passages in scripture in my opinion. We cannot help worrying I think, but we can minimise it by being open to receiving the grace of God's help in prayer, by being open to sharing in others' good fortune even if our own lives seem dark and full of trouble.

Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.













Saturday, 9 January 2016

Paolo and Francesca

I'm posting here a fairly lengthy section of Charles Williams book on Dante, The Figure of Beatrice. It is an extremely perceptive account of how the soul first begins the downward steps to sin, based on the first circles of hell from Dante's Inferno.

The Year of Mercy called by the Pope which began on 8th Dec 2015 has the admirable aim of bringing more of us back into the loving embrace of God's forgiveness. There has been much talk of 'journeying' with the sinner, of pastoral outreach, and penitential pathways. I think we are also invited this year to take a clear look at the circumstances of sin, for it is sin that ultimately can put the supreme obstacle between us and God's mercy. If this were not the case there would be no need for Christ's salvific action, for the Sacraments, or the Church.

Here we are introduced to the first choice that the soul makes in hell, which is a choice of the imagination. We are invited to see how gradual and excusable the path to sin seems, how innocently and blamelessly we might be tempted to see ourselves as we start on a path that will lead to our damnation. How important it is to be awake in the spirit, understanding that we are constantly making choices between good and evil, even just in small lazinesses and through the thoughts and desires that we entertain, and those we reject. A solid education in the human condition, in how flawed and wretched we are or can be, is not something the Church should flinch from, knowing how little the modern world likes to hear such things. It is the supremely merciful thing to do to confront the soul with the reality of its choices, and where those choices will lead.

If anyone is qualified to talk about the way Dante describes the dalliance of the soul with 'lussuria' or indulgence, sexual infidelity etc, it is Charles Williams. By all accounts an odd, charismatic man, he was a fine theologian, and his understanding of Dante impressed many, including Dorothy Sayers, who translated and annotated the Inferno. But his personal life was highly unusual to say the least, and whilst married, he carried on many romantic liaisons with women. I won't go into that here, but I believe the passage I have reproduced is evidence of the way in which:

Williams, as his interest in Dante grew and as he began to publish on the great poet, began to present him as he had “very seldom” been understood before: “as a poet among poets, creating . . . ‘an accurate image of actual experience.’” (from this excellent blog post)



From the Figure of Beatrice, by Charles Williams:

"they come to the circle where the lecherous are tossed on a storm. This is the place of what is probably the most famous episode in the whole Commedia, the episode of Paolo and Francesca - which is always quoted as an example of Dante's tenderness. So, no doubt, it is, but it is not here for that reason, nor even for the more important reason of poetically lightening the monotonous gloom of hell. It has a much more important place; it presents the first tender, passionate, and half-excusable consent of the soul to sin.

Up to this point (Inf. V) the Imagination has been in suspense; it has not chosen- whether from a shameful shrinking from choice into a spiritual cosiness, or from its not being confronted with this religious choice. It is now shown as choosing, and the choice is made as plausible as it possibly can be, Francesca's description of how she and Paolo read together, how in that reading their eyes sometimes met and their colour changed, how they came to the moment when Lancelot kissed Guinevere; how
questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,
la bocca mi bacio tutto tremante-

'he who shall never be divided from me kissed my mouth all trembling; the book was a pander, and he who wrote it; that day we read no more': Francesca's description of Love itself, with a certain reminiscence of Dante's own poem, 'Love and the gentle heart', for she says : 'Love, which quickly knows itself in the gentle heart....Love which excuses no loved one from loving....Love does not yet abandon me'- all this heightens comprehension until Dante himself sighs to think 'how many sweet thoughts, how great a desire, brought them to this dolorous state'. 

What indeed was the sin? It was a forbidden love? yes, but Dante (in the place he gives it in the Commedia) does not leave it at that. He so manages the very description, he so heightens the excuse, that the excuse reveals itself precisely as the sin. [italics mine]. The old name for lechery was luxuria; lussuria is the word Virgil uses of this circle, and it is lussuria, luxury, indulgence, self-yielding, which is the sin, and the opening out of hell. The persistent parleying with the occasion of sin, the sweet prolonged laziness of love, is the first surrender of the soul to hell - small but certain. The formal sin here is the adultery of the two lovers; the poetic sin is their shrinking from the adult love demanded of them, and their refusal of the opportunity of glory. Hell, in Dante, is in the shape of a funnel, and a funnel is exactly what hell is; and this moment of the lovers' yielding is the imagination swept around the inner edge of the funnel. Here all is still good except the very good itself; all is still valuable except value itself; 'il ben dell' intelletto' quivers and a little disintegrates. 

The adultery here is only the outer mark; the sin is a sin possible to all lovers, married or unmarried, adulterous or marital. It is a sin especially dangerous to Romantics, so much so that its essence has often been taken to be a mark of Romanticism. But this, if we allow Dante and Wordsworth to be true Romantics, it hardly is; it is much more the sign of the pseudo-Romantic- in life even more than in letters. At the Francescan moment the delay and the deceit have only begun; therefore their punishment- say their choice- has in it all the good they chose as well as all the evil. Their love is as changeless as the storm. A consolation lingers with them through the infinite 'forever'. So in the poem; and could the soft delaying indulgence of the soul so delay perpetually, the imagination and the will might also be content to lose heaven for that.

It cannot; it has entered hell. It has, as the two poets, following their own way of discovery, so well see, to lose gradually what good was still left to it. In the Francescan moment each of the lovers had delight in the image of the other, and both of them had a mutual delight in their love. Their mutual lussuria indulged this. But lussuria cannot in fast stop there; the mutual indulgence is bound too soon to become two separate single indulgences. It is true that lussuria is to be distinguished from the sollagia of the Convivio. Sollagia, with all the rest of Pleasantness, is a moral duty - to oneself as to the other; eros itself is in that sense not only permissible but must be enjoined. It is part of our 'honourable estate' - of nobility - to amuse and be amused; the Convivio is in that sense a commentary on the words used in the marriage rite according to the use of the Church of England. But when the sollagia dominate, they become lussuria; they set up in the human organism a hunger for them which , from being mutual, becomes single. An appetite for the use of this Image prevails; this is Gluttony and this is the next circle of hell (VI).

 The souls lie there under a foul and heavy rain, and below the claws of an Organism of hell, Cerberus, who deafeningly barks and sharply tears them for ever. They lie turning restlessly from side to side to shield themselves as they may. The stinking earth is more difficult lying than Francesca's bed, though if anyone were to discern a sexual interpretation in this circle, I do not know that he need be contradicted. Dante was writing about sex as well as all the rest. This is the result of prolonged incontinence, incontinence of mind as well as body; gluttony of delicacies as of vulgarities, of quality as well as quantity. The fatal development of sin in the soul might all be read in terms of gluttony as well as lechery. Over-indulgence, culpable delay, the beginning of perversion, is the same with whatever kind of flesh. Or mind or spirit.