Sunday, February 26, 2017
Friday, February 24, 2017
Today we mark the feast of St Matthias. This man was the first bishop to be consecrated after the Ascension of Our Lord. His feast day therefore marks the beginning of Holy Orders as a sacrament and thus the beginning of the Apostolic Succession of Bishops.
We read that "the lot fell upon Matthias". Of course, by this we understand that Matthias was chosen from acceptable candidates by lot. He was not chosen for political means, nor for a particular movement within the Church, but rather because he had walked with the other apostles from the time that Our Lord was baptised by John, and was thus a witness to the Lord's ministry. And that's it! Matthias is mentioned only twice in Holy Scripture, both times in the first Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Then silence.
This is actually significant: it demonstrates the importance of generating bishops with the same authority that Our Lord gave to His original disciples. If St Matthias were to be a figure of Biblical proportion like St Paul, then greater mention of it would be made. Yet, St Luke includes this passage to show that this ministry of mission, teaching, and sacrament must propagate into the future for as long as humanity exists and seeks God.
Yet, if this first chapter is to be believed, Judas himself was a bishop in the same way that the other Disciples were. Why else would St Peter refer to Psalm cix.7 which in the Latin says, "fiant dies eius pauci et episcopatum eius accipiat alter" and is translated by Coverdale as, "Let his days be few and let another take his office". This son of perdition is a bishop which is truly significant as to the fate of any whose lives betray Our Lord.
Time and again will the Church see bishops who will disregard their true vocation. History is littered with bishops as fat grotesques seeking to hold political power through the governance of the souls of humble men and women. This type of medieval prince rejoices in his purple, his golden mitre, his sumptuous attire, his feasts, and his entitlement to be invited to the best feasts! One might look to Pope Alexander VI - Rodrigo Borgia - is regarded as an archetype of Papal corruption, yet his successor Pope Julius II is just as scheming and politically motivated. Do they walk with Jesus? It's hard to see how, yet they are products of their time! Do they share in the ultimate fate of Judas? We may not judge, and God is merciful to those who repent.
However, the pun is true. "The lot fell upon Matthias". The lot falls upon each person whom God calls to be a bishop, and it is a lot! Were it not for St Matthias and his episcopal brethren, there would not be a Catholic Church. Our Lord is its chief cornerstone, but the Apostles and their successors have contributed to the foundations of the Church by ministering to the Christians at the coal-face. The Bishop is not to be a commander, one puffed up with his idea of self-importance which he forces upon the clergy through Canon Law and Episcopal Mandate. He is to be an example of humility, laying aside the purple robes of state, and adopting the dirty shift of labour for the vineyard of Christ. It is his walking with Christ that will gather others around him in the same walk, every step bowed with the weight of his responsibility to those who do gather.
If tradition is correct, St Matthias founded the Church of Cappadocia. If this is true, then it is his "Bishoprick" that gave rise to the Cappadocian Fathers, St Basil, St Gregory of Nyssa, and St Gregory Nazianzus, all of whom became bishops in the fourth century and defended the Christian Faith and still inspire Christians today with their writings of such depth and spirituality which draw the soul to God. Their writings form a roadmap of their walk with God and, through the Nicene Creed, accompany us back to the Holy Trinity.
Thankfully, the days of feudalism are gone. The political authority of bishops is much less, save only in Churches where secular politics has a foothold. These days, a bishop must have an extraordinary quality whereby people see in his character, his work, his action, the love, and especially, the sacramental grace of God in his hands. He must bear the weight of that grace, that he has authority to bestow the Holy Ghost as well as to forgive and bring through the veil the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and he will be held into account for all of these. His teaching will be scrutinised and every error will be accounted to him.
Who on earth would desire such an office? Only those who in ignorance believe it to be the pathway to power and entitlement, and who will thus face a terrible fate in the wrath of God to come. Or those whom God calls and who meekly allow their backs to be bowed under the cross of Christ that they might walk with Him. A bishop should indeed be venerated by Christians, for thereby they venerate Christ Himself and receive blessings from Him regardless of the character of the bishop. As a priest, though with the fullness of God's ordination, every Bishop is an ikon of Christ and thus must be treated accordingly. However, woe betide that bishop who thinks himself worthy of the veneration of the faithful!
Yet the office of a Bishop is a good thing to desire, for by it we are connected inescapably to Our Lord through the chains of the Apostolic Succession. To agree to God to bear our part in supporting our bishops, we are helping to attach the lives of all Christians buffeted about upon the turbulent and fearsome sea of this World to the Rock that is Christ Himself, anchoring us all to safety and to salvation. In the Episcopacy, we see the promises of God assured and, by gathering around our bishops, we can find comfort in that assurance.
On this day, may the merits of St Matthias be of great encouragement to all bishops, and with his prayers and ours, may all the bishops of God be blessed, may their hard work be lightened by the smile on Our Lord's face when he says "well done, good and faithful servant", and may the riches of God's grace which they bear at their hands be a source of their humble fulfillment. At the last, may the life of every bishop, purified by God's Holiness, shine to guide the lost back to their Creator.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
What is the point of this little blog? It's a good time for a little appraisal. First and foremost, I put my sermons here. The whole point of a sermon is to produce a connection between the hearer and God. I do have a duty to preach and it does make sense to allow others the opportunity to reflect on the word of God.
The question I have to answer seriously is whether this blog is merely my attempt to maintain an addiction to dopamine. It's an interesting fact that when people post on social media, every time that post is "liked" or given some other positive affirmation it sends a shot of dopamine into the brain. According to Psychology Today, "Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them." You can see why this is addictive, especially when Facebook and blogs actually offer a more-or-less instant gratification for every "like" or "share" or whatever. It makes me wonder whether all those who post on Facebook daily are themselves addicts to the whole pleasure-seeking nature of posting just for the sake of it. It seems just a little too onanistic, if you pardon my vulgarity.
If I therefore keep this blog going for the sake of sheer vanity, then I am doing much damage to my own soul. Vanity is formed from emptiness and, in particular an emptiness of God which we should not tolerate. In a blog there is a temptation to become the centre of one's own little universe like Edwin Abbott Abbott's God of Pointland who "cannot conceive of any other except himself – and plumes himself upon the variety of Its Thought as an instance of creative Power. Let us leave this God of Pointland to the ignorant fruition of his omnipresence and omniscience: nothing that you or I can do can rescue him from his self-satisfaction."
The word sermon is connected to the Latin sermo which is a conversation, and perhaps this is where this blog really does have a value - at least for me. Anyone who knows me knows how difficult it is to have a conversation with me. Sometimes I latch onto one idea that someone speaks to me and my mind contemplates that while missing the rest of the conversation. I have a tendency to forget what I was saying mid-conversation. This is why I was next to useless as a teacher, and that much is inevidence even in what I write. However, the written medium allows me to share thoughts and ideas with greater precision and control. On Facebook, I enjoy sharing jokes and cartoons not for dopamine, but because jokes are a way of communicating humour. I blog to share ideas, to clarify my thinking, even to repeat myself in order to test some ideas out to destruction.
But the problem is that I do get a bit of a rush whenever anyone says that they like what I post. That needs to stop! One thing I will be doing is removing the "interesting" and "helpful" buttons at the bottom of each post. While these helped me to gauge and pitch my thoughts and words, they can too easily become another outlet for dopamine addiction and blogospheric onanism - i.e. they become the reason for posting in the first place. They have outlived their purpose and - poof - are now gone.
To the same end, I am now going to request, humbly yet urgently, that, should this blogling continue, my posts are not "liked" or "shared" to my knowledge. I have had many very kind comments from people saying that they have appreciated what I have written. I have found these very uplifting, but if I write this blog in deliberate attempts to please people, then that can stem anything prophetic that needs to be said. If you do like a post genuinely then please don't press the "like" button, please don't "share" it. If you feel that I have said anything of merit or, better still, you have heard words from God speak to you upon your reflections on what I have written and want to share those thoughts, then please do so but by copying the URL directly and not by giving any fuel to this culture of dopamine addiction as evidenced by so many people (myself included) wasting their time with their eyes on their phones. I do welcome comments, but I would be grateful if they were comments of substance. I need to ensure that I deprive myself of the oxygen of seeking praise in itself, for seeking praise in itself derails my desire to please only God.
I am also grateful that I am not a popular thinking, even in the Anglican Catholic Church. I remain defiantly non-Augustinian and thus I rid myself of the whole legalistic Original Sin problem that has caused many a ruction in the Western Church. All I have seen in my studies of the first millennium is a general tendency towards theosis in a sizable number of Church Fathers. It also means that I can be at peace in my mind away from the troubling issues that Calvinism throws up. I also want to avoid the competitiveness of Internet Argumentation which usually results in someone getting deeply offended. I have been very heavy-handed in my apologetics to the extent of losing friends when I should have just shut up.
What I do want to do is LEARN! I have learned a lot from my discussions with others, and by watching others. Yet I need to eradicate from my viewpoint any argumentative one-up-manship. I had a wonderful discussion with Fr Anthony Chadwick and Fr Gregory Wassen on the Eternity or not of Hell. We disagreed profoundly! However, I learned something, and it felt good. I kept two friends and I felt that I built upon what I already knew. That is what I want to continue on this blog. No "liking", no "sharing" but learning, study, investigation and thought.
I beg your prayers that my life would be free from vanity of all kinds, especially intellectual vanity, and that I can continue to serve God in humility and truth, and bring that truth to others in His love. I pray also that society will lose its dependency on dopamine addiction.
Monday, February 20, 2017
I mentioned earlier that the whole idea of belief is becoming unpopular. If we look at the world before the Council of Nicaea in 325, we find a world in which any belief is tolerated, except for a belief that doesn't tolerate other beliefs. The Roman empire of the second and third centuries was a world full of gods and goddesses of all kinds of religion, This was fine if you believed in a pantheon, but for Christians, there was only one God and one alone! Christians were regarded as the original atheists, despite the fact that they believed in one God. This would normally be fine, except Christian life did not tolerate the worship of other gods. For a polytheist, it doesn't matter which god you're sacrificing to, it's all good! For a Christian, to sacrifice to another god who is not God, is idolatry mainly because the Christian does not believe that other gods exist. Meat offered to idols must be refused, even if the best meat at the local butcher has been offered in sacrifice. If running for political office involves a sacrifice to a god, then a Christian cannot enter local government. If the Emperor is coming, then it's best to find a hidey-hole, because he will demand worship as a god incarnate!
We look at the lives of Christians in the first few centuries, and we see lives of persecution, of punishment for transgressing the ultimatum of be part of pagan society or die. We look and we see St Valentine clubbed and beheaded, St Lawrence roasted, St Simeon crucified, St Sebastian shot with arrows before being given the coup de grace, St Agatha mutilated, St Perpetua thrown to the beasts. What can be said is that these men and women truly believed. They held something so dear as to be certain about it.
I said earlier that the word "belief" in its very origin means holding something beloved. To believe means to be convinced, to have a conviction. Ideally, is one prepared to be convicted about one's beliefs?
Few of us would risk going to gaol for the belief that it will rain tomorrow, but one might risk losing a fiver, or a day's worth of washing-up on it. For Christianity, the wager is clear: believe in God or risk eternal separation from Him. Pascal's wager may not be a watertight argument, but it does have a good convincing power.
In today's society, I believe that we find much the same thing. The plethora of beliefs, plus a force within society to regard all beliefs equally valid or invalid is very much the norm. Theological courses tend to be that of comparative religion and often encourage the student to suspend her own belief so that she can study the subject "fairly". If you are a Christian, then there is only one belief. The others are false, wrong, incorrect, incomplete, or nonsense pure and simple. That other people have the freedom not to be Christian is common sense: Christianity is about the freedom to be human and to choose. Other people have the freedom to be wrong, and we Christians believe that people who are not Christian are wrong. That doesn't mean that we believe that they are wrong about everything, though. This is why dialogue is important - not to convince each other of the correctness of one's belief, but to explain one's own belief.
Now, I have just said that as a Christian we are not to convince others of why our Faith is correct. We are witnesses to the Truth, not the Thought Police, nor the Inquisition. We can only give testimony to the Truth by the way we live our lives. What then of prophecy? Are not some Christians called to be prophets? Aren't prophets supposed to be loud and objectionable people telling passers-by that they are all sinners and going to Hell?
Actually, a prophet is simply one who speaks the will of God via the Holy Ghost. Thus a prophet can never contradict previous prophecies otherwise the Holy Ghost would be contradicting Himself and that would be nonsense. The Holy Ghost dwells within every baptised Christian and, therefore, every Christian has the propensity to be a prophet and speak prophecy. The testimony that each Christian bears is witness to the existence of a loving God. It means that each Christian must live a life with that conviction. The Christian that is not convinced or loses conviction needs to get it back and thus requires support, prayer and encouragement.
There have recently been some cases in the media where Christian retailers have been hauled through the law-courts for refusing to support a marriage of two homosexuals. The worst that I have seen is that of Irish Cake bakers who were sued for not baking a cake with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage". For the Christian, gay marriage is a logical nonsense for, in the Christian milieu, marriage is by definition between a man and a woman. Since Christians are to bear witness to the Truth, it is simply not possible for a Christian baker to support "gay marriage" without testifying to that which is not of God. The Christian that does support "gay marriage" is setting up within himself a cognitive dissonance which he can only explain away by changing the meaning of words from what they were, or by declaring that what Holy Tradition bears is either false or changes.
The choice for the Christian baker is to submit, bake the cake, and then reflect on the action, or to refuse and receive the full punishment of the law for that conviction. The law-courts will pass away, the Truth of God will not. In this day and age, it is now a frightening possibility that Christians in Western Society will find persecution by law-court. Given that the Christians in the Middle East are suffering a massive persecution which is practically ignored by Western media, the Western Christian's lot seems rather incommensurate. The Syrian Christian would, I'm sure, rather lose money to the law court than his hand, eyes and/or head. However, the Christian that is not willing to sacrifice anything for his belief in God is going to reap no reward for burying his talent.
The only belief that is being encouraged in society is that nothing is certain. That's not untrue. Certainty is a very difficult thing to establish. Logic is infallible in its grasp of certainty, but logical truths are not very interesting. Aristotelian syllogisms are certain but fail to establish any new information about the world. In order to discover new information, it seems one must sacrifice certainty. There is much logic and rational thought in Christian doctrine but it has, at its root, axioms of belief, thus logic cannot establish certainty itself. It can, however, establish conviction and thus further belief. If one accepts the Epiphany of God, this great Theophany, given in the Church and Holy Scripture, then one has the basis on which to encounter the Truth. However, one has to accept that Theophany as infallible, otherwise one compromises the whole of Christianity and runs into danger of just being another syncretist like the pagans of the AnteNicene era, and that is not what Christianity is about.
However, there is a flip-side to this. It's all very well being Christian and thus necessarily saying that Islam, Hinduism, Atheism, and Buddhism are not true, but rather inherently wrong, but the Christian faith insists - absolutely insists - that we always see people. We cannot live out the truth of Our Lord's commandments if we see people merely as embodied ideas.That reduces the great unsearchable interior of another human mind to an abstract. Thus we should not see Muslims - we should see people. We should not see Communists - we should see people. We should not see <insert your least favourite expression of Christianity here> - we should see people.
If we are seriously convicted Christians, then we should be prepared to be convicted. If we aren't showing love in our conviction, then it's not Christianity that we're convicted of!
Sunday, February 19, 2017
We’re tempted to see them as the same thing: it seems that every infirmity is a misfortune, and that misfortune is caused by an infirmity somewhere along the line. But an infirmity is something that is part of us – a weakness that often causes us to fall, often in precisely the same way. Can we really glory in our propensity to catch a cold?