Mother Mary, you accompanied the Lord Jesus in His infancy, in growing to be a Man, in His public Mission, in His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Please accompany me in all the stages of my life and teach me how to open my heart to the Lord. Hail Mary.
Lord Jesus, in virtue of Your Sacred Passion, please deflect all harm and ill away from my soul this day and grant me to abide in Your favour and grace, mercy and light, joy and victory. Amen.
Philosophy is related to theology like your right hand is to your left hand.
Philosophy is based on the light of human reason. So in philosophy we can ask questions like, “What is the world made of?”, “Did the world always exist or was it created?”, “How does one thing differ from another?”, “What is existence?”, “What is human nature?”, “What is the purpose of life and how do we fulfill our lives?”, “What is truth?”, “What is knowledge?”, “What is happiness and how do we find it?”, “How is it best to live our lives?”, “How should we organize our societies?”, “What is beauty? How do you define the beautiful?”, and so on. Philosophers try to sketch an answer to such questions using their own reason, and to reason and deliberate and dialogue with other philosophers in the attempt to approach the truth of these things more closely.
Theology is based on the light of faith, on faith in the Revelation of God—the event of God revealing Himself. Through the Catholic faith, for example, we know that God seeks out human beings and wants to have a relationship with them, to lead them to eternal happiness. We know that God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ into the world to show us the nature of God, that God is Trinity, that Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead, that He founded a Church, that He sent His Holy Spirit upon the Church for our salvation and sanctification and that of the whole world, and so on. Theologians seek to deepen their understanding of such truths as these which have been revealed by God and received by the Church in faith.
From this we can see that, while each has its own point of departure, philosophy (based on reason) and theology (based on faith) overlap in their fundamental concerns and, at the same time, that both disciplines are oriented to the truth about existence, human nature, and human destiny.
Moreover, each of philosophy and theology involves the cooperation of faith and reason: philosophy embraces certain premises (or beliefs) and proceeds to reason accordingly; theology believes certain precepts and proceeds to seek an understanding of them (using reason).
For all these reasons, philosophy and theology are marked not only by cooperation and complementarity; they are also, in some sense, inseparable.
We may say, therefore, that philosophy and theology are (1) one in origin (their ultimate origin is in God who gives us both the light of reason and the light of faith), (2) one in their goal (they are both oriented to truth), and (3) one in their operation (or cooperation), in the sense that they are quite inseparable.
In the life of St Francis of Assisi, arguably the world’s best loved saint, there are so many interesting and rich facets which reveal the spirit of the man. Francis’ joy gushes forth impetuously from the depths of his heart and reaches up to perfect joy, his love knows no limits and embraces the entire world, and his peace touches even the most troubled soul, if only we will dare to approach his spirit, to contemplate his life, and to submit to his humility.
The last hundred or so years have seen renewed interest in this saint and a new wave of Franciscan literature exploring the details of his life, the depths of his spirit, and the meaning of his mission. There has even been intense and ongoing debate about the exact nature of St Francis’ intention in founding a religious order.
What exactly did St Francis intend when he founded the movement now known as the Franciscan Order? This question is not so easy to answer as it may seem, and this is evidenced by the history of the Franciscan Order and by modern research. It is a difficult question especially if you consider the great conflict which erupted in Francis’ later years between himself and certain of his friars who wanted to change his Rule of life (and its consequences throughout the centuries). Such conflict lasted for more than two years and caused Francis indescribable pain and anguish. This facet of St Francis’ life cannot be omitted in any serious study of his life and mission.
In order to appreciate the spirit of Saint Francis, to begin to understand his true depth, it is necessary to consider Francis’ life as an integral whole. Who really was this man who moved the earth so profoundly and who continues to move the lives of people more than 800 years later?
We have to look beyond popular images of piety to discover the real St Francis. For here was a man who humbled himself lower than a worm of the earth and yet soared higher than an eagle in the realms of the spirit. One needs to see how the variety of events in Francis’ life refer to one another and shed light on one another. Perhaps then we might discover what was Francis’ true spirit that drove him to the summit of his ‘Calvary’ where he became known as the ‘Second Christ’.
St Francis of Assisi was not educated in the wisdom of the world, but he was initiated into the Divine wisdom. He was not merely a pious lover of creatures. And he was more than an ordinary saint. Francis embraced the poorest of all poverty and yet he enriched the world with the richest of all graces.
Shortly after his conversion, Francis obtained verbal approval from the Pope for his mission when he had only a dozen followers. A few years later he had already acquired several thousand followers.
He embraced an apostolic form of life completely conformed to the Gospel, embraced penance, poverty and humility to perfection, sent missionary friars into nearly all the known parts of the world, performed miracles, was sometimes seen raised above the ground in prayerful ecstasy, was able to move and inspire even the hardest of hearts, effectively renewed the face of the earth, and after all this he was miraculously marked with the wounds of Christ, the Stigmata, even as his soul was supereminently suffused with the passionate love of Christ.
The significance of such Stigmata can hardly be overestimated. Francis was completely and utterly transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. It is no wonder that some early records refer to him as the ‘Second Christ’.
On another interpretation, and this, I believe, is compatible with various principles given in an outstanding biography of St Francis by Johannes Jorgensen, the Stigmata represents the fulfilment of Francis’ lifelong journey to embody the Form of the Gospel in the life of the Friars Minor. When Francis had made tremendous efforts to manifest the Form of the Gospel, both in his own example and in the Rule of the Order, and when the opposition of certain of his own friars had proven very extreme, Francis finally gave in to their wishes and excused himself before the Lord, resolving to fulfil in his own person what was lacking in the Order he had founded. Such a resolve lead him ultimately to the experience of the Stigmata. What Francis was not allowed to write in the Rule, Christ Himself inscribed in the body and soul of Francis. The Stigmata represents Christ’s fulfilment of Francis’ wish to embody the Form of the Gospel, which in Francis has become definitive and irreversible, and now opens up new and hitherto unknown possibilities in Francis’ ongoing mission.
St Bonaventure, the seventh leader of the Franciscan Order, after having a mystical experience on Mount La Verna (the site of St Francis’ stigmatisation), took this even further. As Joseph Ratzinger reminds us in “The Theology of History in St Bonaventure”, the Stigmata of St Francis reveals him as the angel in the Book of Revelation who ascends ‘from the rising of the sun’ and carries ‘the seal of the living God’ and has power to seal the ‘servants of God in their foreheads’ (Revelation 7:2). St Bonaventure and Ratzinger both contend that St Francis will in the future bring about a new Order of Franciscans who will emulate the original perfection that Francis manifested and will usher in an era of Peace in the world, in preparation for the final coming of Christ.
More coming soon…
The following is a revision of a letter I composed in Rome in 2000 AD:
On Saturday, 7th October 2000 I arrived in St Peter’s Square in Rome at 5:00pm just as the prayer of the Rosary was commencing. It was the feast of the holy Rosary and had been raining all afternoon, but now for some minutes past the clouds had parted and the sun’s rays were streaming down into the Square. Continue reading St John Paul and Sister Lucia
The Divine Mercy Chaplet is prayed on the beads of the Rosary, was taught to Sister Faustina by our Lord Jesus Himself, and carries great promises and graces. Our Lord Jesus dictated this prayer to Saint Faustina on 13th September 1935 (Diary of St Faustina, paragraph 476).
Jesus said that whenever this chaplet of the Divine Mercy is prayed that His Heart is stirred to its very depths, that He will protect all who pray it during their life and especially in the hour of their death, that He will grant anything that is compatible with His Divine will through this prayer, that the whole world is brought closer to God when this Chaplet is prayed (929), and that when this prayer is said in the presence of a dying person that “I [Jesus] will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just judge but as the merciful Saviour.” (Diary of St Faustina, 1541) Continue reading The Divine Mercy Chaplet
I woke up in Assisi one morning and suddenly felt convinced that not enough is being said about the life of the soul. This was caused, in part, by a friend who had asked me a question about the spiritual life and, in part, by a general awareness of the sort of cultural climate in which we live these days.
So I decided it may be opportune to put together a little essay on the soul, to bring together onto one page a few key thoughts, perhaps some foundational thoughts on the nature of the soul, especially considering that with our busy life schedules most of us do not have the time to read huge books on the subject.
These days we are so caught up with what is visible, tangible and audible. Our senses are so engaged with hundreds or thousands of physical stimuli–they constantly impact on us from the external world. It is difficult to find time to “Be still and know that I am God”, as the Psalm (46:10) encourages us. It is easy to forget the Lord’s question, “What does it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world yet lose his own soul?” (Matt 16:26) It is even easy to forget the existence of the soul.
What is the soul? How can we say anything about the life of the soul? So much of what we know and how we come to know these days is conditioned by the progress of science and technology (which is great in itself), by what we can see or hear or touch. There are so many implicit or explicit suggestions which incline us to believe that reality is only what we can see or touch. How can we know anything about the soul which we cannot see or touch in the same way?
Being immaterial, the soul is not going to submit to the material experiments that we normally conduct in science. It is unlikely or impossible that we can ever subject the soul to the mere rigours of logic. Nevertheless, there is an amazingly beautiful and rich analogy between the body and the soul–if only we will hear the voice of faith and reason. For reason is always greater than the ingenious physical experiments that humans may devise to explore the physical cosmos. And knowledge is always greater than mere perception.
Rather than try to subject the soul to any strict logical or scientific analysis, we would do better to recognise the analogy between body and soul. Afterwards we can begin to recognise certain logical connections and relations and progressions which obtain in the life of the soul. Faith and reason work together.
We can learn a good deal about the life of the soul by considering the life of the body. The following depiction is short and to the point and omits mention of many things. My intention is, not to produce a huge work on the subject, but only to provide in a short space what may hopefully be some key or seminal thoughts on the life of the soul.
So let’s look at the life of the body. The body is conceived in its mother’s womb like a seed planted in the earth. The body is nourished with food and drink so that it may grow and develop. The body is exercised so that it grows strong and becomes fit. The body is subject to injury, wounds or disease, but is also able to be cured or healed. The body grows to optimum size and health, after which it begins to grow old and eventually dies. But the body is raised again in the Resurrection to new life in which it no longer is subject to suffering, pain or decay–if we win the crown of eternal life.
Similarly, we can say that the soul is conceived by the power of God and planted in a body to share in a life on earth. The soul is nourished with food and drink (wisdom, light, love, the word of God, the Eucharist) so that it may grow and develop and reach spiritual maturity. The soul is exercised (in prayer, in acts of love, in communicating and communing with other souls and with God) so that it grows strong and becomes fit. The soul is subject to injury, wounds or disease (sin or moral wrong, lethargy, neglect, ignorance, weakness, emotional or psychological wounds) but is also able to be cured or healed (by the Divine Mercy, the Love of God, God’s light and grace and wisdom, and by the love of fellow human beings). The soul is able to grow to optimum health (to become like Christ, in fact) and, unlike the body, may remain in optimum health (with God’s grace and a willing heart) until the body dies. The soul can potentially go to Heaven, after which it is reunited (in the fulness of time) with the body at the Resurrection.
Someone asked a question:
“Is it a bad thing if I incorporate prayer into my daily duties? To give you an example, if I’m doing push ups or walking the dog or doing the dishes, is it okay to pray during these activities? I pray a lot while walking, especially if it’s beautiful and sunny. Sometimes I feel bad, however, as though I’m not fully focussed on just praying.”
There is nothing wrong with incorporating prayer into your daily duties. However, you ought to know that in private prayer there are three different forms: vocal prayer, mental prayer, and contemplative prayer.
Vocal prayer is using your voice to pray: either existing prayers composed by others or just praying with words which come straight from your own heart. When this prayer proceeds with faith it is especially powerful.
Mental prayer includes meditation or reflection on the scriptures, on spiritual writings, or on your own personal relationship with God. It may also include prayer using the imagination to put yourself inside certain scenes or events from the Bible, especially in the life of Jesus, such as in the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola.
One form of the prayer of contemplation happens when you cease to exercise your own powers in prayer, when God takes over and prays in your own soul, so to speak. In a certain way, it is no longer your own power which prays, but it is God’s power which works within you (compare with St Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, verses 14-28).
Contemplation literally means “to see with the mind’s eye”. You can also think of it as God revealing Himself to your soul or in your heart. Remember Jesus Christ’s words: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
There are many ways and methods that God uses to pray within you, and likewise the ways in which you experience this are many and varied. St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross have written extensively on this subject. It is sometimes called mystical prayer, or the prayer of union, or silent prayer, or the prayer of recollection.
There are various stages in the life of prayer which these saints describe in their works, such as, “The Interior Castle” (St Teresa of Avila), and in the collected works of St John of the Cross.
One of the manifestations of this kind of prayer is that sometimes you feel that all the movements within your soul come to rest, and you experience a kind of peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), or you may experience new light in your understanding, or you may feel an overwhelming presence of God.
There is no limit to the number of ways in which God can work in the soul. And God, who in His mercy called us into existence from nothing, operates in our lives freely, spontaneously, and lovingly, without violating our own freedom, to lift us up to His knowledge, beatitude, and happiness. In a sense, this is the highest truth and all other truths depend on this truth: that before any creature was made God freely intended to create us out of nothing in order to share with us His Goodness, Happiness and Glory.
You cannot bring about this prayer of contemplation. Only God can make it happen. However, you can dispose yourself for this kind of prayer by practicing the first two kinds of prayer: vocal and mental prayer. In short, you can desire this prayer, you can pray for this experience, and you can dispose yourself for this prayer of contemplation, but even then God is not obliged to grant this experience.
The good news is, however, that God loves to grant us this experience. He does so inasmuch as we seek Him, obey Him, and love Him, for He does not want to force our free will. God grants this experience freely, because He loves us, not because we deserve it. Remember Jesus’ words, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
Finally, I should also mention that a life of prayer leads the soul ever closer to God, to union with God. In fact, prayer and union with God go hand-in-hand. The ultimate purpose of prayer is to unite us with God. God always wants to grant us more than we can desire at any given moment. So we should not limit our vision, but lift our eyes to God’s vision. And the ultimate purpose of God, in His infinite Mercy, is to grant us eternal happiness, Divine Life beyond our greatest dreams.
Again it is St Augustine who sums up these things so well:
“But again one might ask whether we are to pray by words or deeds and what need there is for prayer, if God already knows what is needful for us. But it is because the act of prayer clarifies and purges our heart and makes it more capable of receiving the divine gifts that are poured out for us in the spirit. God does not give heed to the ambitiousness of our prayers, because he is always ready to give to us his light, not a visible light but an intellectual and spiritual one: but we are not always ready to receive it when we turn aside and down to other things out of a desire for temporal things.
“For in prayer there occurs a turning of the heart to he who is always ready to give if we will but take what he gives: and in that turning is the purification of the inner eye when the things we crave in the temporal world are shut out; so that the vision of the pure heart can bear the pure light that shines divinely without setting or wavering: and not only bear it, but abide in it; not only without difficulty, but even with unspeakable joy, with which the blessed life is truly and genuinely brought to fulfilment.”
From St Augustine’s “On the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount”.
“Why do we suffer? Why does religion say that our pain, hardships, and the insults we face is a good thing?”
What can one say regarding suffering? It is difficult to give a final answer on the question of suffering because each instance of suffering is new. Because only the person who suffers knows how it feels to suffer. Because some forms of suffering are so extreme and unimaginable. Continue reading Why Do We Suffer?