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Sunday 21 June 2015

A Journey into The Past: The Courage To Be Happy

While visiting my parents for Father's Day, today, I was given a medium size box by my mother of all the letters and postcards I had sent her from England, from when I moved there in the first few days of January, 1985, until I came back eleven years later. She also gave me some things from when we lived in Canada, from 2000, for a few years.

Amazing. The overwhelming message of these notes, as I pursued them this afternoon, was one of happiness at being in England, and the wonderful people I had met. Of course, after the birth of STS, most of the notes have to do with Baby.

We all have "Golden Years" in our lives. I have had many. My time at Notre Dame was magical, as all grads, even trad grads, admit. My times in England again, many years later, my months in Ireland, Malta and France likewise were wonder years. But, those early days in England have to be considered some of the happiest of my life--most likely, the happiest.

I even wrote, on December 14th, 1985, that I was "so happy here...." in Norton St. Philip.

But, happiness must be seen as only part of the warp and weft of our lives. Some mothers, and I agree wholeheartedly, look back and see the "baby-days" as some of the happiest times of their lives.

In another notes, dated June 22, 1988, almost exactly 27 years ago,  from Hayward's Heath, I wrote that baby "is so cute". He still

As one grows older, the past seems farther and farther away, as if one lived in fairyland for awhile under blue skies and puffy white clouds.

However, another thing was buried under the letters, cards, and postcards in this box, a book I bought in 1975--imagine!

The title, Seeking Purity of Heart.

The knowledge of self, the knowledge of others, and the knowledge of God form the themes in this book, just like in this blog. I bought this exactly 40 years ago, and I am marvelling that God has been so faithful in my pursuit, inconsistent as it has been, of  "the gift of ourselves to God" as the subtitle states.

Like so many of us, I wish I has paid attention to all the graces earlier, even though in 1975 I was in a lay community and in a celibate commitment for three years to that community. God has been very, very, very patient with me. I stand, still wrapped in the beginner stage of the purification, not yet moving into Illumination or Union, after all this time.

One line in this old book resonates with me today. "Repentance and conversion, ongoing for our whole lives, is the opposite side of the coin of falling in love with God."

God has been wooing me all of my life. The great happiness turned to sorrow, and then to a growing, slowing building joy which passes all understanding in the face of suffering, which most people, including myself, cannot understand. But, one must know one's self before absorbing the outpouring of God's love, as St. Bernard, and the compiler of this little book notes. Suffering unmasks the ego.

Only when one grows in sensitivity, compassion and humility, can one let go of the ego and truly love persons in and with God. This has been the long lesson of my life.

The key to real joy and holiness, as St. Bernard, and so many other saints have shared with us, is totally falling in love with God. From this experience, one desires only one thing-God Himself.

God is all I want, all I want to think about, and why I am willing to continue to ask for purity of heart and suffering.

Under all these letters, notes, cards, and postcards from some of the happiest days of my life, lies the real message--freedom in God, which includes knowledge of one's self, others, and finally, Him.

Poverty of heart leads to purity of heart. Purity of heart brings about a deep integrity of one's personhood.  Purity of heart brings real happiness. I am not afraid to be happy, despite my sins and imperfections.

I have learned what real happiness entails-the one thing necessary--sitting at the feet of Jesus, contemplating His in love and rest.

Let me end this little journey into the past, by moving up into the present moment through the words of Pope Francis, from January of this year.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Dear young men and women, as you see, this beatitude speaks directly to your lives and is a guarantee of your happiness. So once more I urge you: Have the courage to be happy!

Another Gleam of Light from Julian

I saw in truth that God does all things, however small they may be. And I saw that nothing happens by chance, but by the far-sighted wisdom of God. If it seems like chance to us, it is because we are blind and blinkered.  The things planned before the world began come upon us suddenly, so that in our blindness we say they are chance. But God knows better. Constantly and lovingly he brings all that happens to its best end.

When a soul holds on to God in trust---whether in seeking him or contemplating him--this is the highest worship it can bring.

For his soul's health a man is sometimes left on his own; but his sin is not always the cause. Bliss is lasting; pain is passing...

It is God' s will that we should rejoice with him in our salvation, and that we should be cheered and strengthened by it.,.

Happy Father's Day... all dads and to all priests and bishops, our spiritual fathers.

Remember the true Father of us all, God, Our Father, who loves each one of us dearly.

More from The Encyclical

This is the seventeenth post on the new encyclical. There will be more posts here on this work.

I do not have time to cover all the gems, but the phrase, "practical relativism" must be pondered by readers of this text.

I want to move back to the section noting St. Benedict's rule of work and prayer. This line jumps out at me, of course,

127. We are convinced that “man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life”.[100] Nonetheless, once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of work to be misunderstood.[101]

Gaudium et Spes and St. John Paul II's Centesimus Annus, as well as the Rule of St. Benedict are being used here by Francis, and as one can see, those who said this document deviated from Catholic teaching are simply wrong. Look at the points being reiterated here or implied.

The main and underlying point of all is that man is the focus of all economic and social life, not governments, not nations, not special interest groups. Added to this are these notes:
  1. Contemplation is a necessary, not a luxury, as many think it is. 
  2. Reverence flows from prayer, from reflection, from contemplation.
  3. If these reasonable gifts which belong to human beings are set aside or even lost, work is no longer seen as profitable for the soul, or as needing dignity. 
  4. Work is misunderstood, as so many jobs have become mere drudgery, or worse, inhuman.
  5. Until contemplation and reverence are restore, human beings will not be able to redeem work.
Here are some key paragraphs from the section on the ecology of daily life.

Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.

For those who are regular readers of this blog, you know this destruction of local communities has been a complaint of mine. I have written of suburbs as "demonic" structures guaranteed to destroy communal life, with no shops, no churches, no schools within walking distance. 

Daily in Malta, I would see friends just being "out and about". This is community. In England, after Mass, my little family would naturally "bump into" others walking and going to the coffee shops. A community needs a stable but open environment. 

I dislike car cultures and the lack of public transport, which also can bring people together. I remember years and years ago, meeting a dear person who I had met when he gave a lecture at my university. We met again at a train station by chance and had a lovely conversation.

The small communities are disappearing everywhere, and this loss of communal life can hardly be replicated, although some are trying to do so. Recall my many, many posts on community and podding. We lose something of the human when we all live far apart and cannot just drop in or see each other daily.

Small communities create identity. My son can identify with being from Sussex, or my mother from a particular neighborhood in St. Louis, and so on. One remembers favorite trees and lakes, small streams one used to watch wildlife live, like small molluscs or fish, or turtles. This is part of life, and the pattern of God's glory in the world.

I remember talking to a friend of mine who had never hear a morning chorus of birds until she came from the western side of the Rockies to England. She became enchanted with the early singing of the birds.

Animals, plants, people make up communities. Our lives are formed by the habits of each creature God has created.

You who read this blog know I love the sky and follow the movements of the stars and planets. All creation brings us closer to God, and those who cannot appreciate these beautiful gifts, or who are denied the possibility of loving creation become less than human. Here is Francis, again.

We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy.

I am very "zen" in my tastes and living spaces if I have a choice, which most of the time I do not. To let nature join in my space creates joy and peace. Monasteries invented cloisters, which universities took over as places of reflection and contemplation. Would that all humans had this right, this need met in their living spaces. Many humans do not and are forced to live in ugly, crowded, deteriorating habitats because of the greed of others.

Brazilian police have been documented as killing street children, to get rid of them. This is merely one example of the "practical relativism" to which the Pope refers.

One can have dignity in poverty, but only if a community supports this dignity. Too often, the poor become scapegoats of anxiety and financial depression. Too often the poor are no longer supported by families or the local communities. South Carolina made homelessness illegal last August, allowing the government to "put away" vulnerable people. The is enough room and enough natural beauty for everyone.

148. An admirable creativity and generosity is shown by persons and groups who respond to environmental limitations by alleviating the adverse effects of their surroundings and learning to orient their lives amid disorder and uncertainty. For example, in some places, where the fa├žades of buildings are derelict, people show great care for the interior of their homes, or find contentment in the kindness and friendliness of others. A wholesome social life can light up a seemingly undesirable environment. At times a commendable human ecology is practised by the poor despite numerous hardships. The feeling of asphyxiation brought on by densely populated residential areas is countered if close and warm relationships develop, if communities are created, if the limitations of the environment are compensated for in the interior of each person who feels held within a network of solidarity and belonging. In this way, any place can turn from being a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.

149. The extreme poverty experienced in areas lacking harmony, open spaces or potential for integration, can lead to incidents of brutality and to exploitation by criminal organizations. In the unstable neighbourhoods of mega-cities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behaviour and violence. Nonetheless, I wish to insist that love always proves more powerful. Many people in these conditions are able to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfishness overcome. This experience of a communitarian salvation often generates creative ideas for the improvement of a building or a neighbourhood.[117]

The poor are made invisible and considered not the gifts God has given to us all for tlc.

And, in this section, Francis reminds us of the powerful reality of the moral law, natural law, which holds together various cultures and societies, creating the basis for a shared communal life.

155. Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man”, based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will”.

...It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”.[121]

A big no to androgyny and gender confusion here....

to be continued later today....

Small Is Beautiful, and Work Is Noble---from The Encyclical

Those of us who grew up in the seventies read the great book, Small is Beautiful. I have always believed this, and knew this was part of the needed simplicity of lifestyle which is being denied by many.  For many of us, this book was our second bible. Those who formed communities, including myself, were Catholic back-to-earth types, re-learning the skills of our grandmothers and grandfathers, skills which were becoming lost in the culture. This book was written in 1973, and  I am sure this section reflects the long tradition of the Church on the nobility and peace of good, simple work.

28. We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. This is yet another way in which we can end up working against ourselves. The loss of jobs also has a negative impact on the economy “through the progressive erosion of social capital: the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence”.[104] In other words, “human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs”.[105] To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.
129. In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing. Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing smallholders to sell their land or to abandon their traditional crops. Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.

Working My Way Through

We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral. Liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm does in fact happen sometimes, for example, when cooperatives of small producers adopt less polluting means of production, and opt for a non-consumerist model of life, recreation and community. Or when technology is directed primarily to resolving people’s concrete problems, truly helping them live with more dignity and less suffering. Or indeed when the desire to create and contemplate beauty manages to overcome reductionism through a kind of salvation which occurs in beauty and in those who behold it. An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door. Will the promise last, in spite of everything, with all that is authentic rising up in stubborn resistance? Laudato si, paragraph 112

The Pope also states that technological advances have outstripped moral interpretations of such. He decries over and over again utilitarianism and the lack of reflection regarding the advances made by humans in technology. He reminds us how technology has been grossly misused in the past, against members of one's own nation, as it in Holocaust. 

And, paragraph 113---describes modern urban decay, ugliness, and gross utilitarianism.

There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate the present situation and need new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness.


Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.


A misguided anthropocentrism need not necessarily yield to “biocentrism”, for that would entail adding yet another imbalance, failing to solve present problems and adding new ones. Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued.

and, very "Benedict":

Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence.

and, very St. John Paul II:

120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away”.......................

123. The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.

This middle section is superb. And, I shall get back to my discussion on Benedictine and Ignatian communities soon.

Here is the Pope...touching on this subject.

126. We can also look to the great tradition of monasticism. Originally, it was a kind of flight from the world, an escape from the decadence of the cities. The monks sought the desert, convinced that it was the best place for encountering the presence of God. Later, Saint Benedict of Norcia proposed that his monks live in community, combining prayer and spiritual reading with manual labour (ora et labora). Seeing manual labour as spiritually meaningful proved revolutionary. Personal growth and sanctification came to be sought in the interplay of recollection and work. This way of experiencing work makes us more protective and respectful of the environment; it imbues our relationship to the world with a healthy sobriety.

To be continued....