Thoughts for the day from S. Francis de Sales: on gentleness and anger

‘Learn of me,’ Jesus said, ‘for I am meek and humble of heart.’ Humility perfects us towards God, mildness and gentleness towards our neighbour.

But be careful that mildness and humility are in your heart, for one of the great wiles of the enemy is to lead people to be content with external signs of these virtues, and to think that because their words and looks are gentle, therefore they themselves are humble and mild, whereas in fact they are otherwise. In spite of their show of gentleness and humility, they start up in wounded pride at the least insult or annoying word.

Present life is the road to a blessed life, so do not let us be angry with one another on the way. Never give way to anger if you can possibly avoid it; never for any reason let it enter your heart. It is safer to avoid all anger than to try and guide our anger with discretion and modesty. Directly you feel the slightest resentment, gather your powers together gently. When we are agitated by passion, we must imitate the apostles in the raging storm and call upon God to help us. He will bid our anger be still, and great will be our peace.

One form of gentleness we should practise is towards ourselves. We should never get irritable with ourselves because of our imperfections. It is reasonable to be displeased and sorry when we commit faults, but not fretful or spiteful to ourselves. Some make the the mistake of being angry because they have been angry, hurt because they have been hurt, vexed because they have been vexed. They think they are getting rid of anger, that the second remedies the first; actually, they are preparing the way for fresh anger on the first occasion. Besides this, all irritation with ourselves tends to foster pride and springs from self-love, which is displeased at finding we are not perfect.We should regard our faults with calm, collected, and firm displeasure. We correct ourselves better by a quiet persevering repentance than by an irritated, hasty, and passionate one. When your heart has fallen raise it gently, humbly yourself before God, acknowledging your fault, but not surprised at your fall. Infirmity is infirm, weakness weak, and frailty frail.

Introduction to the Devout Life III:8-9

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Fulton Sheen on the Signs of Our Times

These words were spoken in 1947, and are as true now as they were when they were first spoken. Fulton Sheen preached the truth which the world still does not wish to hear.

What can we do? Love God, and each other, and hold fast to our faith in this time of trial, safe in the knowledge that Christ has conquered sin, evil, and death. Let us be hopeful and confident.

Evensong Trinity IX (2Peter 1:1-15)


A brother came to Scetis to see abba Arsenius. Having knocked on the door, the visitor and the monk who was with him entered; the old man greeted them and they sat down without saying anything. The brother from the church said, ‘I will leave you; pray for me.’ But the visiting brother did not feel at ease with the old man and said, ‘I will come with you,’ so they left together. Then the visitor said, ‘Take me to abba Moses who used to be a robber.’ When they arrived, the father welcomed them joyfully and then took leave of them with delight… That night the father prayed to God, saying, ‘Lord explain this matter to me; for thy name’s sake one flees from men, and the other for thy name’s sake receives them with open arms.’ Then two large boats were shown him on the river, and he saw abba Arsenius and the Spirit of God sailing in one in perfect peace; and in the other was abba Moses with the angels of God, and they were all eating honey cakes.’
Receiving letters: first loves, pen friends, when you’re far away – important, meaningful, something we’ve lost in a modern world with mass instant communication.
It’s hard for us to imagine just how it felt to be a Christian in the Early Church – small isolated communities, persecuted, illegal, in desperate need of encouragement, prone to going astray. A situation with profound differences and similarities to ours, here and now.
They need help – which starts with faith – what and whom they believe in – God the Father, the Creator of all, God the Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit which sanctifies the people of God, the bond of love.
They and we become partakers of the divine nature, how and what God is , not by the abolition of our human nature, but by its transformation, through the grace, the free gift of God. Grace perfects nature, it does not abolish it. Likewise when we talk of the Incarnation of the Son of God, we should be mindful of a phrase in the Athanasian Creed ‘not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by the taking of the manhood into God’ The miracle of the incarnation is the means by which humanity can come to share in the very life of God, the fleshiness of God will lead to the Eucharist where God gives us his flesh and blood to eat and drink, so that our nature might be transformed. This is also what the Cross and the Resurrection achieve – a complete victory over this world, it makes it possible.
     So then what are we to do? We are to supplement our faith with virtue – in that human beings are creatures of habit, we become what we do often, hence the need to cultivate the practice of the moral virtues, the more that we do them the more they become not only what we do but what we are. It helps us to keep on keeping on with the Christian life , the life of faith, a process which began with our baptism, wherein we are regenerate, born again in the Spirit, freed from sin and its power, and our souls are infused with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity so that we be prepared for life forever with God.
     So far so good, in theory, but in practice it isn’t quite that simple, we need to live out our faith in our lives, we have to live with other people, and that is where it gets difficult. It always has. It would be easy to have a rose-tinted picture of Christian communities like those of the Egyptian desert, but they squabbled and quarrelled and bickered and fought just like us, they needed to be reminded of who and what they were, they needed encouragement, cheering up as they tried to live the Christian life together. They failed, as do we, which is where God’s forgiveness, and his love and mercy come in. The Cross cancels the debt we cannot pay, and if we can say sorry, and repent – make a conscious decision to turn away from sin, and to turn to Christ, then we can keep going on our journey of faith, forgiven, and forgiving others, so that we can be built up in love, a loving forgiving community which makes Jesus Christ known by what it is and what it does, that communicates the Good News of the Kingdom and shares it so that others may come to believe and give glory to…

Sermon for Evensong (2nd Sunday after Epiphany)

Our two lessons this evening provide us with contrasting pictures of people in their relationship with God and each other, understood in sexual terms. Now it is an accusation often levelled at the Church that it is all we are concerned with, though that is in fact far from the case, and whereas the Victorians pretended that sex did not exist, modern humanity especially since the 1960s has acted as though nothing else does.
       In our first lesson the Prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a future when Israel, having returned to God and been purified, is understood as a land wedded to God. It looks forward to a Messianic future, one which we as Christians see as brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who is the righteousness and the salvation of Israel, who gives himself for love of us, that we may be pure and holy and through Him. The image of married love and intimacy is profound: it speaks of mutual love and generosity, it is what God wills for our human flourishing, it is the place for children to be born and brought up, in love.
       Whereas the Church in Corinth is in a really bad way: as well as taking each other to court, Christians would appear to be behaving in a way which falls short of Christian morality. They appear to have understood freedom from the law as though it were freedom from any law: extreme antinomianism – that anything goes; that they can just do as they please. This is, however, not the case. How we live our lives, and what we do with our bodies matters. For those of us who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit, we are called to be in Christ, clothed with him, and living a new life, conformed to him and not to the ways of the world.
       There are some in the Church in Corinth who have been arguing that all things are lawful, to which Paul has to counter that while something may be lawful, it may not be advantageous, as Christians like others in the ancient world would generally subscribe to an idea of virtue ethics, put simply ‘you are what you do’ or in greater depth, our actions help form our moral character – we become what we do habitually, and thus the more we do the right thing, the more we are disposed to do such things, and thus to progress in virtue.
       While they claim the freedom from being made subject to anyone, they would appear to be subject to base appetites, to lust and gluttony, neither of which help in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus the proper place for sexual activity remains holy matrimony, where a man and woman are joined; they become one flesh, in a life-long exclusive union where children may be born.
       Christians are to love their bodies, as ours is not a spiritual religion, which despises the flesh, but which rather wishes to see it used for the glory of God and for our mutual flourishing. We receive the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity in our baptism, where we are regenerate, born anew in Christ, we are not our own in that we now live for God, and we glorify him in our bodies by how we live our lives.

       The messianic hope expressed in this evening’s first lesson finds its fulfilment in Christ and in the Church which is his body, we were bought at a price, not thirty pieces of silver, but life of God’s only-begotten Son, who suffered and died for us, for you and for me, and for the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future. How else can we begin to try and repay such love and such generosity than by living the life that God wills for our human flourishing – gentle, generous, and exhibiting the same costly love which Christ showed to us.  This glorifies God and shows due respect to the wonders of creation and salvation, it helps to form our moral character and to live out true faith and charity in our lives, supporting one another, praying for each other, forgiving one another when we fail, and being built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. And by living out our faith in our lives we will proclaim the truth and the freedom of the Gospel – others will come and see and enter into the joy of the Lord and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

A thought for the day from S. Charles Borromeo

Practise what you preach

I admit that we are all weak, but if we want help, the Lord God has given us the means to find it easily. One priest may wish to lead a good, holy life, as he knows he should. He may wish to be chaste and to reflect heavenly virtues in the way he lives. Yet he does not resolve to use suitable means, such as penance, prayer, the avoidance of evil discussions and harmful and dangerous friendships. Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?
  Would you like me to teach you how to grow from virtue to virtue and how, if you are already recollected at prayer, you can be even more attentive next time, and so give God more pleasing worship? Listen, and I will tell you. If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.
  If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.
  Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.
  My brothers, you must realise that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: I will pray, and then I will understand. When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of your people, meditate on how the Lord’s blood that has washed them clean so that all that you do becomes a work of love.
  This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work: in meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in other men.