A Meditation on the


A Meditation on the Meaning of Catholic

This piece from John Donne is not often considered in the light that he offers on the meaning of being part of a Catholic Church. But I think it may be one of the most beautiful things to emerge from the reading.

from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions XVII Now, this Bell tolling softly for another, saies to me, Thou must die John Donne

PERCHANCE hee for whom this Bell tolls, may be so ill, as that he knowes not it tolls for him; And perchance I may thinke my selfe so much better than I am, as that they who are about mee, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for mee, and I know not that. The Church is Catholike, universall, so are all her Actions; All that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concernes mee; for that child is thereby connected to that Head which is my Head too, and engraffed into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a Man, that action concernes me: All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated; God emploies several translators; some peeces are translated by age, some by sicknesse, some by warre, some by justice; but Gods hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves againe, for that Librarie where every booke shall lie open to one another: As therefore the Bell that rings to a Sermon, calls not upon the Preacher onely, but upon the Congregation to come; so this Bell calls us all: but how much more mee, who am brought so neere the doore by this sicknesse. There was a contention as farre as a suite, (in which both pietie and dignitie, religion, and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious Orders should ring to praiers first in the Morning; and it was that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignitie of this Belle that tolls for our evening prayer, wee would bee glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might bee ours, as wel as his, whose indeed it is. The Bell doth toll for him that thinkes it doth; and though it intermit againe, yet from that minute, that that occasion wrought upon him, hee is united to God. Who casts not up his Eye to the Sunne when it rises? but who takes off his Eye from a Comet when that breakes out? Who bends not his eare to any bell, which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a peece of himselfe out of this world? No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

One of the most beautiful thoughts in this passage occurs toward the end when Donne says "any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde." Similarly, any person's sorrows, turmoils, or difficulties, adds some little to my own burden and any person's joys, (righteous) triumphs and victories add to my own store of joy. It is part of being a communion of Saints that we either help other to carry their burdens or we unconscionably add to those burdens by our own actions. Whenever we become entangles in the affairs of the world and we participate in things that do not build up the body of Christ, we necessarily add to the burdens all of us carry. However, when we spend even a moment becoming closer to God, reflecting upon His Glory, and giving Him thanks and praise for all that He has done for us, we lighten the terrible load of every individual. Jesus tried to tell us this when He kept saying that the Kingdom of God was at hand. If that is true, so too the kingdom of the Other is at hand. Each of our choices contributes to one or the other, and in that way rings throughout eternity. How much time we spend adding to each other's burdens! How much time we spend wrangling and arguing and puffed up with pride. But, praise God, for most who read what I am writing, how much time we can spend building the Kingdom! How many opportunities we are given to forgive one another, prayer for one another, and elevate one another to bathe in God's glorious light. Given the choice of one course of the other, which seems preferable? Which seems more difficult? The truth of the matter is the second choice is both preferable, and due to our fallen human natures more difficult. But God has supplied even that need in the many channels He has provided for His sustaining grace--Eucharist, Eucharistic Adoration, Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation--all these, and many others, serve as channels for the grace to sustain us when human will is insufficient. So, it is best to remember, "No man is an iland," what we choose to so has intimate connections to every person around us and ramifications for all of humankind. (Rather mind-boggling isn't it?)

(As one example of a burden, had to post this three times after a restart of blogger, which refused to take the original. Oh the traumas of blogging!)

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 28, 2002 8:15 AM.

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