Benjamin Franklin

It was Ben Franklin who, at a critical impasse during the Constitutional Convention in June 1787, attempted to introduce the practice of daily common prayer with these words:

… In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. – Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. … And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance. I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: … I therefore beg leave to move – that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.

However, the motion met with resistance and was never brought to a vote.

Franklin was an enthusiastic supporter of the evangelical minister George Whitefield during the First Great Awakening. Franklin did not subscribe to Whitefield’s theology, but he admired Whitefield for exhorting people to worship God through good works. Franklin published all of Whitefield’s sermons and journals, thereby earning a lot of money and boosting the Great Awakening.

When he stopped attending church, Franklin wrote in his autobiography:

… Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter.

Franklin retained a lifelong commitment to the Puritan virtues and political values he had grown up with, and through his civic work and publishing, he succeeded in passing these values into the American culture permanently. He had a “passion for virtue”. These Puritan values included his devotion to egalitarianism, education, industry, thrift, honesty, temperance, charity and community spirit.

The classical authors read in the Enlightenment period taught an abstract ideal of republican government based on hierarchical social orders of king, aristocracy and commoners. It was widely believed that English liberties relied on their balance of power, but also hierarchal deference to the privileged class. “Puritanism … and the epidemic evangelism of the mid-eighteenth century, had created challenges to the traditional notions of social stratification” by preaching that the Bible taught all men are equal, that the true value of a man lies in his moral behavior, not his class, and that all men can be saved. Franklin, steeped in Puritanism and an enthusiastic supporter of the evangelical movement, rejected the salvation dogma, but embraced the radical notion of egalitarian democracy.

Franklin’s commitment to teach these values was itself something he gained from his Puritan upbringing, with its stress on “inculcating virtue and character in themselves and their communities.” These Puritan values and the desire to pass them on, were one of Franklin’s quintessentially American characteristics, and helped shape the character of the nation. Franklin’s writings on virtue were derided by some European authors, such as Jackob Fugger in his critical work Portrait of American CultureMax Weber considered Franklin’s ethical writings a culmination of the Protestant ethic, which ethic created the social conditions necessary for the birth of capitalism.

One of Franklin’s notable characteristics was his respect, tolerance and promotion of all churches. Referring to his experience in Philadelphia, he wrote in his autobiography, “new Places of worship were continually wanted, and generally erected by voluntary Contribution, my Mite for such purpose, whatever might be the Sect, was never refused.” “He helped create a new type of nation that would draw strength from its religious pluralism.” The evangelical revivalists who were active mid-century, such as Franklin’s friend and preacher, George Whitefield, were the greatest advocates of religious freedom, “claiming liberty of conscience to be an ‘inalienable right of every rational creature.'” Whitefield’s supporters in Philadelphia, including Franklin, erected “a large, new hall, that … could provide a pulpit to anyone of any belief.” Franklin’s rejection of dogma and doctrine and his stress on the God of ethics and morality and civic virtue made him the “prophet of tolerance.” Franklin composed “A Parable Against Persecution”, an apocryphal 51st chapter of Genesis in which God teaches Abraham the duty of tolerance. While he was living in London in 1774, he was present at the birth of British Unitarianism, attending the inaugural session of the Essex Street Chapel, at which Theophilus Lindsey drew together the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in England; this was somewhat politically risky, and pushed religious tolerance to new boundaries, as a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity was illegal until the 1813 Act.

Although Franklin’s parents had intended for him to have a career in the Church, Franklin as a young man adopted the Enlightenment religious belief in deism, that God’s truths can be found entirely through nature and reason. “I soon became a thorough Deist.” As a young man he rejected Christian dogma in a 1725 pamphlet A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain, which he later saw as an embarrassment, while simultaneously asserting that God is “all wise, all goodall powerful.” He defended his rejection of religious dogma with these words: “I think opinions should be judged by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me.” After the disillusioning experience of seeing the decay in his own moral standards, and those of two friends in London whom he had converted to Deism, Franklin turned back to a belief in the importance of organized religion, on the pragmatic grounds that without God and organized churches, man will not be good. Moreover, because of his proposal that prayers be said in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, many have contended that in his later life Franklin became a pious Christian.

Dr Richard Price, the radical minister of Newington Green Unitarian Church, holding a letter from Franklin

According to David Morgan, Franklin was a proponent of religion in general. He prayed to “Powerful Goodness” and referred to God as “the infinite”. John Adams noted that Franklin was a mirror in which people saw their own religion: “The Catholics thought him almost a Catholic. The Church of England claimed him as one of them. The Presbyterians thought him half a Presbyterian, and the Friends believed him a wet Quaker.” Whatever else Franklin was, concludes Morgan, “he was a true champion of generic religion.” In a letter to Richard Price, Franklin stated that he believed that religion should support itself without help from the government, claiming, “When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its Professors are oblig’d to call for the help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

In 1790, just about a month before he died, Franklin wrote a letter to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale University, who had asked him his views on religion:

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any particular marks of his displeasure.

On July 4, 1776, Congress appointed a three-member committee composed of Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams to design the Great Seal of the United States. Franklin’s proposal (which was not adopted) featured the motto: “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God” and a scene from the Book of Exodus, with Moses, the Israelites, the pillar of fire, and George III depicted as pharaoh. The design that was produced was never acted upon by Congress, and the Great Seal’s design was not finalized until a third committee was appointed in 1782.

Thirteen Virtues

Franklin bust in the Archives Department of Columbia University in New York City

Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of 13 virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his 13 virtues as:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
  4. “Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.”
  11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”

Franklin did not try to work on them all at once. Instead, he would work on one and only one each week “leaving all others to their ordinary chance.” While Franklin did not live completely by his virtues, and by his own admission he fell short of them many times, he believed the attempt made him a better man contributing greatly to his success and happiness, which is why in his autobiography, he devoted more pages to this plan than to any other single point; in his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”

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St. Benjamin d. 424 A.D

ST BENJAMIN, MARTYR, DEACON—424 A.D.
Feast: March 31


From Theodoret, Hist. Eccles. lib. v. c. 39, &c.Isdegerdes, son of Sapor III, put a stop to the cruel persecution against the Christians in Persia, which had been begun by Sapor II, and the church had enjoyed twelve years’ peace in that kingdom when, in 420, it was disturbed by the indiscreet zeal of one Abdas, a Christian bishop, who burned down the Pyraeum, or temple of fire, the great divinity of the Persians. King Isdegerdes threatened to demolish all the churches of the Christians unless he would rebuild it. Abdas had done ill in destroying the temple, but did well in refusing to rebuild it; for nothing can make it lawful to contribute to any act of idolatry, or to the building a temple, as Theodoret observes. Isdegerdes therefore demolished all the Christian churches in Persia, put to death Abdas, and raised a general persecution against the church, which continued forty years with great fury. Isdegerdes died the year following, in 421. But his son and successor, Varanes, carried on the persecution with greater inhumanity. The very description which Theodoret, a contemporary writer, and one that lived in the neighbourhood, gives of the cruelties he exercised on the Christians strikes us with horror: some were flayed alive in different parts of the body, and suffered all kinds of torture that could be invented: others, being stuck all over with sharp reeds, were hauled and rolled about in that condition; others were tormented divers other ways, such as nothing but the most hellish malice was capable of suggesting. Amongst these glorious champions of Christ was St. Benjamin, a deacon. The tyrant caused him to be beaten and imprisoned. He had lain a year in the dungeon when an ambassador from the emperor obtained his enlargement on condition he should never speak to any of the courtiers about religion.

The ambassador passed his word in his behalf that he would not; but Benjamin, who was a minister of the gospel, declared that he could not detain the truth in captivity, conscious to himself of the condemnation of the slothful servant for having hid his talent. He therefore neglected no opportunity of announcing Christ. The king, being informed that he still preached the faith in his kingdom, ordered him to be apprehended; but the martyr made no other reply to his threats than by putting this question to the king: What opinion he would have of any of his subjects who should renounce his allegiance to him, and join in war against him? The enraged tyrant caused reeds to be run in between the nails and the flesh both of his hands and feet, and the same to be thrust into other most tender parts, and drawn out again, and this to be frequently repeated with violence. He lastly ordered a knotty stake to be thrust into his bowels, to rend and tear them, in which torment he expired in the year 424. The Roman Martyrology places his name on the 31st of March.

St. Ephrem, considering the heroic constancy of the martyrs, makes on them the following pious reflections: “The wisdom of philosophers, and the eloquence of the greatest orators, are dumb through amazement, when they contemplate the wonderful spectacle and glorious actions of the martyrs: the tyrants and judges were not able to express their astonishment when they beheld the faith, the constancy, and the cheerfulness of these holy champions. What excuse shall we have in the dreadful day of judgment, if we, who have never been exposed to any cruel persecutions, or to the violence of such torments, shall have neglected the love of God and the care of a spiritual life? No temptations, no torments, were able to draw them from that love which they bore to God; but we, living in rest and delights, refuse to love our most merciful and gracious Lord. What shall we do in that day of terror, when the martyrs of Christ, standing with confidence near his throne, shall show the marks of their wounds? What shall we then show? Shall we present a lively faith? true charity towards God? a perfect disengagement of our affections from earthly things? souls freed from the tyranny of the passions? silence and recollection? meekness? almsdeeds? prayers poured forth with clean hearts? compunction, watchings, tears? Happy shall he be whom such good works shall attend. He will be the partner of the martyrs, and, supported by the treasure of these virtues, shall appear with equal confidence before Christ and his angels.” We entreat you, O most holy martyrs, who cheerfully suffered most cruel torments for God our Saviour and his love, on which account you are now most intimately and familiarly united to him, that you pray to the Lord for us miserable sinners, covered with filth, that he infuse into us the grace of Christ that it may enlighten our souls that we may love him, &c.”1


Endnotes

1 St. Ephrem. Hom. In SS. Martyres t 3 Op. Gr et Tat p. 251. ed. Vatic. ap. 1746.


(Taken from Vol. III of “The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints” by the Rev. Alban Butler, the 1864 edition published by D. & J. Sadlier, & Company)


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St Benjamin 31st March 

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DeaconImprisoned for a year for his faith, he was released on condition that he never speak about Christianity where he could be heard by any of the royal court. Benjamin then became a street preacher, proclaiming the word any place he could find people. For his obstinate evangelization during the persecutions of king Varanes, he was arrestedtorturedand martyred.

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Morning Offering

“Lord Jesus Christ, in union with that divine intention wherewith on earth Thou didst offer to God Thy praises through Thy Most Sacred Heart, and dost now offer them in the Sacrament of the Eucharist everywhere on earth even to the end of time, I most gladly offer Thee throughout this entire day, all my thoughts and intentions, all my affections and desires, all my words and deeds, in imitation of the most sacred Heart of the blessed and ever Virgin Mary Immaculate. Amen.” 


Latin version:
“Domine Iesu Christe, in unione illius divinae intentionis, quia in terris per sanctissimum Cor tuum laudes Deo persolvisti et nunc in Eucharistiae Sacramento ubique terrarum persolvis usque ad consummationem saeculi, ego per hanc diem integram, ad imitationem sanctissimi Cordis beatae Mariae semper Virginis immaculatae, tibi libentissime offero omnes meos intentiones et cogitationes, omnes meos affectus et desideria, omnia mea opera et verba. Amen.”

Another Common Version

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You the prayers, works, joys and suffering of this day, for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, and for our Holy Mother, the Catholic Church.  Amen.

Little Flower’s Reflection

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Exodus 32:7-14; John 5.31-47

Today we continue with yesterday’s words of Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus re-affirms that God himself is the witness – in four ways – to the truth of all that Jesus says:

  1. The testimony of John the Baptist, although that was only human testimony (vv.33-34).
  2. The works of Jesus give clear testimony of the divine origin of all that Jesus does. “The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.” The leaders could not see this but the crowds often testified to it with enthusiasm. (v.36)
  3. The Father himself has given testimony, although that has not been seen directly by some of the Jews. “The Father who sent me has testified on my behalf but you have never heard his voice nor seen his form.” (Is this a reference to Jesus’ baptism or to the Transfiguration?) (vv.37-38);
  4. A careful reading of the scriptures will show they give testimony to Jesus. “You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.” This is clearly shown later on by Jesus when explaining the scriptures to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. (vv.39-40).

Although Jesus clearly comes in the name of his Father, he is not accepted or believed in.

Yet some individual will come in his own name and they will accept him. Further they keep looking into their own traditions rather than looking further to someone who clearly comes from God.

Jesus will not accuse them before his Father. Moses, in whom they claim to believe, will be their accuser. “If you have believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you refuse to believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?”

We see Moses interceding for Israel after they apostate. Moses had just been away for few days and as they say, “When the cat us away, the rats takes over.”

Even us, how long do we hold to our faith? How long do we hold to our resolutions? Have we not broken the lenten fast even before we are in the middle of lent? How many of us after making act of contrition after confessions have managed to hold to that holiness for a day?

Lets keep on keeping on with the good fight since by Easter and the ultimate easter Jesus will have won for us last the last battle and Satan will be chained forever in the fire of hell.

Oh Lord, remember us out of the love you have for your people.

St. Theresa of Lisieux, pray for us

Little Flower’s Reflection

​Wednesday, xxix-3-mmxvii

(Isaiah ixl.viii-xv / John v.xvii-xxx

A Word is a powerful. Though untangible its effect are tangible. But not all words make sense. We read many words in the first reading and the gospel but these words will just remain as words unless we hear something more.

When we hear the voice of Jesus behind those words, then those words become powerful. Then those words become life-giving.

Jesus said that whoever listens to His words has eternal life. To have eternal life means that we will live up to our purpose. We therefore need to live a life that is free from sin and wrong-doing, so that we know what peace and joy and love and the fullness of life is all about.

And whenever we have our needs, we just have to present it to the Lord in prayer.

As the Lord said in the first reading: At the favourable time I will answer you.

Those are powerful words of God’s promises. May we listen to them, so that we will have life.

St. Theresa of Lisieux, pray for us.

Little Flower’s Reflection

Tuesday, xxviii. march mmxvii

(Ezekiel 1-9, 12 / John 5:1-3, 5-16)

Have it ever crosses your mind that the words “listen” and “silent” have the same letters just arranged differently?Yes because the two are inseparable.  In order to listen one need to be silent. I remember 2 decade ago, our professsor Tero (Muraya) used to ask the students, “Me talk you talk who hear who?”

There are many time when we don’t listen to understand but we listen to to reply and that is why even when the other person is speaking we are already shaking our lips to reply. That is a communication crime.

This lead us to a liturgical mistake that has been introduced by Vatican II implementations. Many churches nowadays provide their Christians with leaflets of the Lectionary extracts and instead of them listening they all read. What is the use of lectors?

When we do not listen we give wrong replies. Jesus is asking a straight forward question to a man who has been sick for 38 years but the man start giving unnecessary stories.

Maybe after 38 years of disappointment this has become the only thing distracting his mind. He sees no other means to his yearning but a song of “pool-shake-run-Ooh! Somebody else has entered!”

As too we may be blaidered by our problems to a point of not listening to Jesus’ question. Jesus is asking us today: Do you want to be well again?

Let us learn to be silent as we listen and ponder on that question. May we understand that question and come to experience what Jesus wants to do for us.

St. Theresa of Lisieux, pray for us.