‘True love is its own satisfaction’

‘Love is a going forth of the soul, not a contract; it is not the result of a convention, and is not to be acquired by agreement; it is spontaneous in its impulses, and likens us to itself; also true love is its own satisfaction. Its recompense lies in the object of its love; for whatever be that which we seem to love, if our real object be something else, it is really that something which we love, and not that by which our heart strives to attain it.’
– St. Bernard (On the Love of God)

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Do we read the Scriptures or a translation of the Scriptures?

Is reading a translation of the Bible actually reading the Bible? Is it still the same books, the same inspired word of God? What if it’s a poor translation, or a paraphrase?

Translation will always be an exercise in interpretation and co-creation. There is no simple mapping of one language to another, not least because each language lives in the distinct, though overlapping, worlds their speakers inhabit. To faithfully translate is not just to avoid any additions, but to attempt to be united with the author, while inhabiting another world. It is a faithful translation as long as it is a co-creation, and unfaithful as far as it is a separate creation added onto the first.

An image of a pipe is not a pipe, and a translation of a book is not that book. However, to see an image of a pipe is to see a pipe, and no one has ever seen a pipe except by seeing an image of a pipe. We see the pipe through the image, even if it’s just the image in our own eyes. Similarly, we can read a book through its translation. We might also add, that even writings in our own language need to be translated into our own minds. The words may be the same, but still the meaning must be found, and every word has a slightly different meaning to every reader.

When we read our translations of the Bible, we are not reading it on our own, and that’s a good thing, because we’re actually reading it with and through the communion of the saints. Not just the translators, but all those who influenced their reading of the scriptures, and all the faithful who have together shaped how we will read it too, both by their teaching and just by their use of the same words.

The words of scripture take on new meaning in this process (though without losing the previous meaning), as often happens when we re-encounter a piece of art, and something new is picked up, perhaps even something with new meaning in our new context. It grows in meaning with each new listener, each new day, each new context. Or rather, its divine and eternal meaning is unfolded ever more fully.

With the Holy Spirit guiding our translations and interpretations through the saints, we can happily view our translations as an extension and development of the scriptures themselves.

Not one of us has ever read the Bible on our own. We are always reading with our own context, with our society, with the society that produced our Bible (the Church), and with the society it was written in. The New Testament was written by the early Church, from a common faith, through Greek and Jewish ideas and cultures, and translated and interpreted through Roman, Latin, European ideas and cultures, and then through the ideas and cultures of the New World, and then again through the modern world, always undertaken by the Church in dialogue with the world.

God bless you!

My life is not important

“What if my life isn’t important?”

This question came to me a few weeks ago, and I realised, of course it’s not important! Why would I assume that it was? How did I acquire such absurd and unjustified pride?

We can’t all be a “big deal”. Not even most of us can – there’s not enough space for so many big deals. So, what if in the course of my life, I don’t ever become a big deal? Who cares?

Why in the world would I care about being important? It doesn’t appear that many others do. At least no one else seems to have assumed they would be. It seems I’ve been thinking of myself in terms of how history will view me. But that’s not who I really am at all.

If my life is unimportant, does this mean my life is meaningless? No. But the meaning of life is no more than to live and to live fully. My purpose is not something outside of me.

We don’t have a mission from God – we are a mission from God. My mission is not to do something, but to be who I am and who I’m made to be. Our mission, our meaning, is to let God love us into being what we already are: His children. He asks nothing at all from us except ourselves. As Mother Teresa said “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.” St Therese understood this too, knowing herself as a worthless but beloved toy in the hands of the child Jesus, while also knowing that she would become a great Saint.

If God wills that we should become a “big deal”, even then it doesn’t really matter. No matter how “important” we may become, this will never be our purpose. To speak tongues and move mountains and work miracles without love is worthless. All of our importance is just grass in the fields, here today and gone tomorrow. Even work done for God, the only work that lasts, is entirely and solely His; our part is merely that of a child, in their father’s workshop, carefully guided and protected and supported at each step. We were allowed to cooperate by His grace, and should rejoice in that, but we are still just children at play.

‘The rose is without “why”; it blooms simply because it blooms. It pays no attention to itself, nor does it ask whether anyone sees it.’ – Angelius Silesius

God bless you!

What is happiness?

I had the shocking realisation a while back, that I didn’t know how to define happiness in a satisfactory way. I know that I have been happy, but what does that mean?

Is it having my desires fulfilled? Yes, but no… It has to be about more than my own will, or it is arbitrary, and I cannot be truly satisfied by something arbitrary. Is it feeling like smiling? Yes, but no… Happiness must be something more than its outward expression.

I looked it up in the dictionary, but was sorely disappointed. Finally, I have concluded that happiness is the (subjective) experience of (objective) goodness. I feel silly it took me days to work out.

This raises the question, what is goodness? I think the only decent answer to this is, that all things that are, are good, and “goodness and being are really the same, and differ only in idea” [Summa Theologica I, Q5, Art1]. (Goodness is being considered under the aspect of desire, and resides in things in so far as they are perfect, since we desire things as far as they are perfect.)

We either define goodness in terms of happiness, in which case both will be empty, and we will be miserable, or define happiness in terms of goodness, and find true happiness beyond ourselves.

So happiness is the experience of goodness, or even, the experience of being itself. Put this way, it seems absurd to ever not be happy. Why are we unhappy sometimes? Firstly, because we fail to experience. We hollow out reality, objectifying it, seeing everyone and everything only in terms of our own fears and desires, rather than loving each person/thing in themselves. We live in an illusion, and separate ourselves from reality. This is sin.

Secondly, we experience imperfection, the absence of goodness, and the brokenness of creation. Things are not as they were meant to be; we are not as we are meant to be. All things are good, but all are broken goods.

But by His life and death and resurrection Jesus Christ has overcome all unhappiness. He united Himself to us and to all in perfect love, giving Himself to us upon the Cross, suffering all of our sins, and offering us in His love to the Father. Then by that same love, that same offering, He defeated death, and rose from the grave, resurrecting all creation with Him. He has given us the absolute fulness of life. If we allow Him to love us, to unite Himself to us, we are set free from sin, and suffering itself becomes a way to unite ourselves with Jesus, uniting Himself to all and offering all to God. Evil itself has been turned to good. Jesus has won us perfect happiness.

We have access to true, divine happiness even now through Jesus, and will one day enjoy God’s own absolute, perfect happiness. By His cross and resurrection, He has set us free!

God bless you, and (sorry it’s late) happy Easter!

P.S. This wasn’t intended to be a Christian/Easter post, but it seems I can’t help myself

P.P.S. I find it strange it took me so long to find what happiness is, and wonder if it reflects how much I’ve absorbed a culture of meaninglessness…

Mary and the humility of God

Mary honoured and obeyed Jesus, her son, as her God; Jesus honoured and obeyed Mary, His creature, as His mother. In this we can see Mary’s perfect humility, and Jesus’s humility beyond perfection. Mary is as humble as humanly possible, but Jesus is as humble as only God can ever be. Mary is by grace immaculate, sinless, perfect; Jesus is by nature divine, the transcendent source and truth of all perfections.

Still today, in heaven, Mary honours and obeys Jesus, and Jesus honours and obeys Mary. Jesus is still fully human, and the fourth commandment still binds Him in heaven [though not as something external to Himself]. Their reciprocal love, honour and obedience will continue for eternity.

Why should Jesus honour Mary? Why should we honour our mothers? Because without them we would not exist. We owe absolutely everything to our mothers. Absolutely everything.

But how can I suggest that Jesus owes His existence to Mary, His own creature? How can He receive existence from one who receives existence from Him? How can a creature precede its Creator? How can the eternal Word of God depend on a temporal being? But if we deny this, we deny that she is His mother, and in doing so deny that He is truly a human. So how can I say this?

We must realise that the Word was always, eternally, Jesus. God does not suffer change. The eternal Word of God was already Jesus, son of God and son of Mary, before Jesus was conceived in Mary. Before Jesus was born in time, the eternal Word is the Jesus born in time. The gospel says, “And the Word was made flesh”, and while this was an event in time and a change in flesh, it was not an event in eternity or a change in God. The Word was eternally flesh, although that flesh was not always made.

The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, is the son of Mary, conceived in her in time. Without Mary there is no Jesus. In this way, in being His mother in time, Mary exists from eternity within her Son. But this existence from eternity within the Word is the reason and source of Mary’s creation, and so she exists because of Jesus even more than He does because of her. Mary exists for Jesus.

Still, by God’s grace and humility, Mary is Jesus’s mother. By God’s grace and humility, she is owed honour by God Himself. By God’s grace and humility, she gave life to Life Himself.

Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

God bless you!

Asceticism and holiness

In my last post, I claimed that holiness is nothing more and nothing less than abandoning your life to God. It’s not just giving yourself to Him, it’s giving yourself so completely that you are no longer your own. Your cares and worries are no longer yours to deal with. Your time, your talents, your possessions, are not yours anymore. Your will belongs to Him (though it is actually more perfectly yours in this free gift).

So what’s the point of lent then? Why bother with fasting, prayer and almsgiving? Aren’t these an attempt at making ourselves holy? Or even at saving ourselves?

They can be, if we do them incorrectly. But done right, they are precisely the training we need in self-abandonment.

We fast in order to remove the ways we rely on ourselves. We make food and other material things – things we can control – into our happiness, our comfort, and our source of strength. When we remove this, we are forced to look elsewhere.

When we pray, we are then filling that void in the way it was designed to be fulfilled. We place ourselves in God’s hands, where we belong, for Him to be our joy, our security and our strength. If we fast but don’t pray, we will certainly find another false god to fill the void. We will make ourselves a golden calf, because we can control idols.

Finally, we give alms, because we are no longer concerned for ourselves, and are now concerned with giving ourselves to God, who loves and lives in our brothers and sisters. His love is being made the source of our lives, and so we must give ourselves up to this love ever more fully. If we refuse, we refuse to be His. If we fast and pray, but don’t give alms, we are deluding ourselves. If we fast and pray but don’t give alms, the God we pray to is imaginary. He is just an idol in our heads.

Lent is a time of dying to self, and learning to belong to God. Our lenten practices earn us nothing. They accomplish nothing. But they are that death to self that gains God Himself.

God bless you!

The only sin is failing to trust God

Holiness means abandoning yourself to God. If we look at the life of any saint and ask what makes him/her a saint, we will always find it is because they handed themselves over to God, placing themselves in His hands and not their own. This abandonment of self is what drove St. Francis’s poverty, St. Ignatius’s obedience, St. Therese’s confidence, the chastity of the holy virgins, the courage of the martyrs, Mary’s fiat, and Jesus’s whole life and death upon the cross.

I don’t think there is anything more to it. We must abandon ourselves entirely to Him: our desires, our wills, our happiness, our security, our struggles, our fears, our loved ones, our futures, our pasts, our weaknesses, our strengths, our ideas, our beliefs, our good deeds, our sins, our salvation, and our everything else. That is it. Everything else is contained in this.

If we fail, then we must get up right away, and hand this failure over to Him also. We have to entrust to Him our failures to trust Him. Place everything right away in the hands of His merciful love.

And if we fall greatly, over and over again, we still can’t be discouraged. The only sin is failure to trust God. His mercy is always greater; He is always trustworthy; He is our Father, and we are His children.

In this self-abandonment, we are surrendered to God’s love for us revealed upon the cross, and we are united to Jesus’s total abandonment to the Father upon the cross.

God bless you!

Quotes

‘With what procrastinations do you wait,
since from this very moment you can love God in your heart?’
St. John of the Cross

‘For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it.’
St. Augustine of Hippo

‘Any trial whatever that comes to you can be conquered by silence.’
Abbot Pastor (Desert Father)

‘There is no delight in owning anything unshared.’
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

‘Unless we place our religion and our treasure in the same thing, religion will always be sacrificed.’
Epictetus

‘The reason is that this is our original natural state and we used to be whole creatures: “love” is the name for the desire and pursuit of wholeness.’
Plato (The Symposium)

‘It would be too tedious, in a work like this, to go through the succession lists of all the Churches. We shall, therefore, take just one, the greatest, most ancient Church, the Church known to all, the Church founded and established in Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul. By showing that the tradition which she received from the apostles, the faith which she proclaims to men, has come down to us through the succession of bishops, we confute all those who, in whatever manner, . . . set up conventicles. With this Church, because of its more excellent origin, every Church (in other words, the faithful everywhere) must agree.’
St. Irenaeus

‘Alms-giving heals the soul’s incensive power; fasting withers sensual desire; prayer purifies the intellect and prepares it for the contemplation of created beings. For the Lord has given us commandments which correspond to the powers of the soul.’
St. Maximus the Confessor (400 Texts on Love n.79, from the Philokalia)