Inequalities | St Matthias

I should like to think it was a whispering of the Holy Spirit that made the Institute for Fiscal Studies announce its investigation into inequalities in Britain and the risk they pose to democracy at the very time I had been musing on today’s feast of St Matthias and a few ideas culled from Thomas Picketty. I know it wasn’t, but there may still be something to be said for thinking about inequality in the context of today’s feast.

During the Easter season we are confronted with some idealised portraits of the early Church. There is the well-known account of Acts 4 which suggests that the first disciples shared everything with truly sacrificial love so that no-one was in want. Then we read St Paul or St James and encounter the familar world of squabbling and selfishness that seems to mark the Church in every age. The ideal remains an ideal, but it is not as perfectly realised as we might hope.

Then there is the election of St Matthias, as recorded in Acrs 1. I must admit to feeling sympathy with him and wonder how he got on with Peter and the rest. Was he taken for granted, treated as a hanger-on rather than as a genuine disciple until that moment when they realised they needed to make up the number of the Twelve? He had been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, but never as one of the close inner circle. Were there petty resentments and occasional harsh words — a feeling of being exclided or undervalued on one side and superiority on the other? Who knows? The apostles became saints, but they didn’t start that way.

Even now, when Matthias was to be chosen as an apostle, it was made clear his role was to make up the number of the Twelve, to replace Judas; whatever merits he possessed, he had to recognize he wasn’t the only possibility, and he was subject to scrutiny by those who had been chosen directly by the Lord. The choice between him and Barsabbas had no fore-gone conclusion. It is almost as if Matthias did not exist in his own right but was the eternal second-best. Almost, but not quite. The writer of Acts tells us that the apostles prayed and made their choice. The election of Matthias is claimed as a work of the Holy Spirit, and what higher endorsement can there be than that?

Within the Church, as within society in general, many inequalities exist and it takes wisdom as well as hard work to discern which are crippling and should be eliminated, and which are merely accidental and can’t be altered (like the fact that my sister was blessed with the fair hair I longed for as as child but wasn’t). I think today’s feast reminds us of something that may make us uncomfortable. We think a great deal about poverty and relieving the lot of the poor, but we do not always think about how we deal with inequality. Even within the Church we can ignore or undervalue those we think unimportant or take for granted, or treat some with less regard than we do others, yet it is often the steadfastness of those ‘unimportant people’ that keeps everything going. Inequality can be more dangerous than poverty, as I think both Thomas Picketty and Sir Angus Deaton would agree. It is certainly less excusable.

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What is Normal?

Having begun to emerge from my usual post-chemo yukkiness, I have been asking myself, what is normal? What is the normality to which most of us, consciously or otherwise, aspire? My ‘normal’ would probably be extremely boring to anyone half my age, especially as it is increasingly couched in negative terms: not to feel sick, not to feel tired, not to be struggling to breathe. But even as I tap out those words, I realise I am missing something. I cannot spend half my life thinking that ‘normality’ is something other than what I am experiencing. I could, of course, call it ‘the new normal’, but that is a bit of sophistry. The truth is, life embraces all sorts of experiences, good and bad, welcome and unwelcome. They make us what we are, and because we can only live in the present (we remember the past, we dream of the future, but we cannot live in them) they constitute the normality, the everyday reality, of our existence.

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Consolation or Comfort. It was a very popular devotion in the Spanish Netherlands of the seventeenth century, and it is one I have always liked. To console, to comfort, to give strength to another is the work of the Holy Spirit; but I wonder whether we often advert to the fact that it is also a work performed within us by that same Spirit. Our Lady’s life on earth was, in many ways, typical of a Palestinian Jewish woman of her time. Her ‘normal’ was just as unexciting as our own. The things we might think of as high points, the Annunciation, for example, must have been disconcerting, alarming even; but the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and gave her the strength to bear them.

Today, let us give thanks for the unexciting normality of our lives, with all their ups and downs, confident that we have Mary’s prayers and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us through.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Light for Mind and Eye

For those who haven’t seen it yet, there’s a lovely photo-article in the Huffington Post about stained glass windows. Most of us might make a different choice according to our particular favourites, but these lovely windows provide light for mind and eye: http://huff.to/1kwDVjC. Is it accidental that most of these windows are religious in inspiration and purpose? There is something about light that answers to our deepest quest for love and understanding. St Benedict wrote of the deificum lumen, the light that not only comes from God but is, in a sense, a God-making light given to us for our guidance and reassurance. Re-reading the Prologue to the Rule, as we do during these days of Eastertide, we are reminded that our whole being must become light. Hearts and minds must be transformed — easy to say, far from easy to do! It is the work of a lifetime, and we need encouragement to go on, day after day, struggling with our inner demons and never giving up. Like the stained glass window seen from the wrong side, we may at present see only a jumble of shapes and forms that look dark and sombre. One day, however, the full glory will be revealed: the work of the Holy Spirit complete in us.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail