Friday, 20 October 2017

On Good Dogs

Every evening at the end of the day, my dog is told that he has been a good dog no matter what has happened during the day. He gets stroked and patted and assured that he’s always a good dog. That’s how he knows he has a home.
            Alas I don’t have the same conviction about myself. On the contrary, I’m sure I am and have been a sinner, and my daily experience confirms this. A survey recently wanted to know if I looked back on my life as a scene of happiness and success. Not entirely. Most of my trips to the past reveal sometimes grim mistakes and true catastrophes, enhanced by ignorance, arrogance, and greed.
            And there’s no one to tell me each day that I’ve been a good human all day long. This realistic view of my condition doesn’t lead me to feel low and depressed, though, because I have a hidden treasure. My errors comprise a lengthy list, added to by my limitations. But I am a soul for whom Christ died, and so are you, and so are all of us. You cannot be saved alone, but we live in honour nonetheless.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

On Symbols

Sacred days, dates, games; gestures, as standing (for honour), kneeling (for reverence); objects, perhaps flags, (as rainbow, Aboriginal, national); music, (as songs, anthems, carols): these are symbols, inspiration or tragedy. Prayers in schools. Anything that happens in schools. (Teaching as archetype). A wine glass held over the water glass: King over the water.
 One or two persons with a bucket of paint can get through a lot of trouble in one night, rejecting the lives of millions given to lay to rest the meaning of Swastika (‘pure Aryan masculinity’) in the last century. Whether troubled and troubling souls or real-life agitators, they forget its ancient meaning of luck and spirituality. All the examples I’ve given are in the news today, sites of confrontation and conflict (except the Jacobites, whose time has passed).    
Symbols have two parts, bringing together visible and invisible, material and image. The risk is in the hidden world. What’s actually meant here? Whose ideal is manifested? The symbol of wine and water, at its deepest level, is the only one that counts. More divine than a game, a song, even a king, even a prayer.

What are you seeing? Be aware of the invisible values.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

On Charity aka Love

Love, like friendship, seeks the good of a friend. For Aristotle, friends seek the good in one another. Charity, says Aquinas, is the friendship of man towards God, and such love is reciprocal. How did Charity, the supreme virtue, become so poisoned?
            Unlike exclusive loves, divine charity includes our fellows. All persons, neighbours, are subjects of God’s charity. How, then, did we come up with statements like ‘I love my gay friends, but…’ or ‘I love my black friends, but…’ or ‘I love my Muslim friends, but…’? And these friends are always many.
            Conditional love is judgement. I myself have been told, ‘We don’t approve of you; it doesn’t mean we don’t like you.’ Approval and disapproval are judgements. Of course you don’t like me. I feel your coldness.
            Conditional love for a child is disabling. A child who is never good enough. If only a child was different. Such love denies God’s generosity. Think of what you’ve been given in this child, faults and all. The appropriate response is gratitude.

            Think of what you’ve been given in this neighbour. This gay, black, or Muslim, disapproved of neighbour. Seek the good, earthly good, for your friend.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

On Hope

Hope is the last thing in the box. When all misfortunes are released, hope remains. Whether this was irony of the Greeks, or inspiration, is ambiguous. Yet hope is even a virtue: desire and expectation that good will arise. I wonder, though, if expectation is quite the word.
            We may hope the Earth remains when the nations have raged furiously together; that preservation of heath may become a masterpiece, an art form; that love and beauty shine out when ugliness and hate dissolve. Are these results we expect?
            Hope against hope, or beyond hope, suggests the uneasy relationship between desire and expectation. The Paul of Romans first finds belief in hope a virtue: belief in what you hope for. Without hope, which of the other virtues would follow? Hope in justice, hope lending courage, hope restraining excess and promoting wisdom: indeed, hope as wisdom under pressure.
            That thing looked for is the province of hope; it’s strongest in danger, for the comfortable complacent mind desires without need of hope. As a theological virtue, hope of eternity, divinity, confidence in salvation is given: despair is not advised. Yet all may practice hope: it’s the strength of ordinary sinners, in all circumstances

Friday, 18 August 2017

On History

It has all been said before. Historian Barbara Tuchman, still hopeful, laid it out. ‘In the United States we have a society pervaded from top to bottom by contempt for the law. Government — including the agencies of law enforcement — business, labor, students, the military, the poor no less than the rich, outdo each other in breaking the rules and violating the ethics that society has established for its protection. The average citizen … is daily knocked over by incoming waves of venality, vulgarity, irresponsibility, ignorance, ugliness and trash in all senses of the word.’[1] This view was arrived at in 1976.
            Her comprehension of history as cyclical serves as hope and warning. We’ve lived through this before. One of my history professors (an Englishman) remarked unforgettably that the United States was by far the most lawless country in the world. And the role of President is not that of Sun King, although Tuchman believed it bewitched its occupants and dazzled the public.
            I doubt that Australia needs a Presidential republic. I wonder who is fit to be head of state?

[1] Barbara Tuchman, “On Our Birthday — America As Idea,” in Practising History: Selected Essays by Barbara Tuchman (London: Macmillan, 1983), p.305.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

On Fortitude

Courage must be renewed daily. While some brave are natural heroes, some devout natural saints, many, including myself, are very ordinary sinners: for us a virtue is no gift, but a practice.  Generally, we practice what we aren’t very good at doing, having, or being.
            Holding fast before danger is more than instinct: it implies strength — of mind certainly — and persevering endurance. Courage may be employed in supporting a virtue, as Justice, or alas a vice, as domination. Persons of great violence can be courageous too. Courage is thus like fire.
Other virtues are entwined with Courage. Justice, which gives to everything that which belongs to it, requires courage in face of injustice. Temperance, or moderation, calls for fortitude turning away from excesses. Wisdom or Prudentia provides discernment to choose when acts are courageous or reckless, moderate or extreme, just or unjust.

            Courage confronts danger in spite of fear. Fear is not the enemy of courage, but its fuel. Fear of God isn’t dread of divine anger, but respect of power so great that all things are possible. The image of Courage is the lady with the lion. It is large and fierce; she has tamed it beneath her hand.

Monday, 24 July 2017

On Patience

In my sad experience, everything takes at least six months. Losing weight, learning a new piano piece, getting the roof fixed. Just about anything takes longer than you think. Patience is a virtue, also a necessity. Yet sometimes patience interferes with mercy.
            The saying ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ refers to situations where patience is applied to the wrong subject: to the oppressed rather than the oppressor. The strong want patience, while the weak need mercy now. In the matter of debts, for example, whether third world debts or welfare debts, extending patience to the debtor is merciful in the creditor. The Lord’s prayer can read ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’ and yes, this means money.
            Paul believes a God of patience requires our patience towards one another, not demanding too much speed. Some people may never be very speedy, too. But can we be too patient with sincerely unjust convictions? That domestic violence is a husband’s right, for example, or same-sex couples should be denied marriage? Should the weak show patience with power and privilege?
            The Lord is plenteous in mercy. When in doubt, find mercy. Showing patience with injustice is only confusion