Sunday, February 26, 2017

Charity versus Love

Sermon for Quinquagesima

St Valentine’s Day is behind us: the roses are beginning to fall apart; the chocolates have been eaten; and the “I wuv U” teddy bear lies forgotten behind the sofa where the dog has dragged it. 

Love never ends? It hardly seems like it, does it?

The “love” that St Valentine’s Day brings us is highly superficial, and yet many people associate this sort of thing with love. For many people, love is just a feeling, a nice warm glow at the pit of the stomach. Is this the nice warm glow that St Valentine was feeling as he knelt there, battered and bruised before the sword fell on his neck?

[PAUSE]

This is the side of Love that people do not see. In fact many people are blind to what love really is, or even Who Love really is. 

Christians know full well from St John that “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” St Paul tells us that “now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.” Isn’t it interesting that in St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we hear of Charity and not Love, yet in St John’s words we hear of God being Love and not Charity. There is only one Greek word used here for both Charity and Love – the same word being used by both St Paul and St John – and yet we have translated them differently. 

Why is that?

[PAUSE]

The word Charity comes to us from a Latin word meaning dear, of great worth, precious. St Paul makes it quite clear that Charity is not an action, nor a way of speaking, because these things can be done without Love. However it is Charity that gives meaning to these acts of kindness. If we speak with Charity, then we speak with meaning, power, and giving value not just to what we say but also to the people who hear it. If we acquire knowledge and skill with Charity, then that knowledge and skill become vehicles for the presence of God in the world, strengthening and encouraging all who encounter with what we have. If we give up all that we have in the name of Charity, then we gain more than we could ever have possessed, and those for whom we give up our very lives will find Charity there declaring their value and worth.

[PAUSE]

This world is blind to its true worth in the eyes of God, that’s why it needs works of Charity to show it. Our Lord Jesus will open the eyes of anyone who is blind to His love and who dares to pray for that blindness to be healed. As we approach Lent, we approach it remembering that it is our very intention that will make our fasting, abstinence and penitence worthwhile. We fast, abstain, and repent through the Love for God. Unlike “Charity”, the word “Love” expresses the idea of desire, of longing. To say that God is Love, expresses the fact that God is the One we long for, the One we seek to return to, the One Who will make us truly joyful.

Yet, this goes the other way, for God loves us. We, too, aren’t just desirable, we are desired. God wants us for what we are, for who we are, yet knowing us more fully than we know ourselves.

[PAUSE]

As we complete our self-examination ready for Lent. Let us remember one thing. The love of God is bigger than any sin that we have committed. All we have to do is repent of all sin, and learn ever more closely what Love is and how to Love.

God is Love. God is Charity. What does this mean for your words and actions?

Friday, February 24, 2017

When a lot falls upon you



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

On the joys of not being popular!

I often wonder whether this blog is of any good. I don't get a large readership and, truth-be-told, many of my brethren in the Church dispute my views. I've wondered before whether it might be time to put dear old O Cuniculi out to pasture. It's been going for over ten years and I'm about fifty posts short of a thousand. That last sentence some of my readers might attribute to my mental state.

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

Belief, prophecy, and certainty

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

Sympathy or glory?

Sermon for Sexagesima

Some people always have it worse, don’t they?

You have a cold, but they’ve had flu. Your back is a little sore, but they’ve had lumbago. You’ve had to change a washer in the kitchen tap, but they had to call the plumber out because their boiler went wrong. It’s as if they want to compete for sympathy.

Is this what St Paul means when he says, “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities”?

[PAUSE]

Clearly not. We already know that sympathy is not something to compete for. Yet, this is the attitude that some people have towards their lot in life. They know that they can’t win the prize for being fastest, strongest, cleverest, so they seek to win at “most unfortunate”, the first prize at “I could have done that, but…” and the cup for “poor me”.

Of course, many people have a very, very tough life. You only have to walk through a city centre to see the number of beggars, buskers or homeless people to see that. Or to pass through the corridors of an intensive care unit. Or to sit in a pew at a child’s funeral. Humanity does suffer much!

Yet St Paul is not talking about misfortune: he is talking about infirmity.

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?

[PAUSE]

As we approach Lent, we are using these Sundays in Gesimatide to get to grips with the things that we want to focus on during Lent. We look for particular ways in which we can discipline ourselves better so that we can grow more in Christ Jesus. If you think about it, we can use this time to work out what our true infirmities are. We can see how angry we’ve been lately, or how we’ve allowed self-pity to rule us, or how we haven’t really forgiven Mrs Miggs for knocking the wing mirror off the car.

Knowing our infirmities allows us to grow. The misfortunes that happen to us often reveal those infirmities. Yet if we look closer and with better care, we can see the grace of God in those misfortunes. Thus our misfortunes in life can wake us up to ourselves and to the presence of Our Lord in our lives.

That’s difficult to do, but it is something that St Paul has learned to do. Just as we come to know God both by knowing where He is and where He is not, by knowing Good and knowing Evil, so we come to a better knowledge of ourselves in Him by knowing what we are and what we are not. The more we recognise our infirmity, the more that we can see God’s grace working with us, plugging the gaps, changing our point of view, setting us free. Our pain wakens us up to what is wrong, but it also wakens us up to what is right.

[PAUSE]

Glory means impact. We could glory in our infirmities by looking for the impact that they have in our lives. This will make us miserable beings competing for every scrap of sympathy that we can find.

Or, we can do what Christians do best, give God the glory. We seek the impact that God can have in our lives BECAUSE of our infirmities. In knowing where we are weak, we know that God is strong. In knowing where we are foolish, then we know that God is wise.

As we examine ourselves in preparation for Lent, we look at our fallibilities and we invite God into those fallibilities to make us more of the people He wants us to be.

Do you know who you are? Will you have a better idea by knowing who you are not?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ecclesial Myopia and Hypermetropia : an issue of focus



Of the two eye conditions, myopia is probably better known than hypermetropia. I remember one biology master being long-sighted whose glasses made his eyes look enormous! As for myopia, well, when I'm trying to see something far away, my face seems to resemble that of an overly confused mole. These are common problems in the human eye.

For the myopic, things that are near can have a staggeringly clear aspect while the periphery becomes somewhat vague. I know that I am especially clumsy with regard to things that are in my peripheral vision, and I cannot read signs until the last possible minute. For the hypermetropic, things are reversed. It is the distance that is clear, but things under the nose get missed. Apparently, this is all due to the shape of the eye and how the eye fails to be round.

I feel that the Church behaves in the same way, often to a staggeringly awful degree. There is a hypermetropia which misses people out because of looking with far too wide a range. There is a myopia that picks a person to pieces so that they cannot ever feel part of the Church. 

In a hypermetropic parish, the goal is always to look to the future, bring in new members, minister to the wider community. Posters go up, slogans are emblazoned all over the Parish Notes, initiatives are announced at the end of Mass. What gets missed are the members of the church that are already there, and need ministry themselves. I remember asking what I believed to be really important questions to my former CofE priest. Whether or not they were important, they still deserved an answer, but I got none. I saw people leave the Church, but no-one called after them, no-one tried to get them back - to my shame, that included me! I was in a position of responsibility and I failed to run after them. I should have done better.

However, I failed to run after them because of myopia. I was focussed on the details, scrutinising the orthodoxy (or lack of it), and engaging in a battle with prevailing winds, rather than focussing on what mattered - the needs of the people in the Church. In many ways, my hands were tied by my circumstances but, in retrospect, there were things that I could have done. A myopic parish will be focussed on the minutiae, the fixtures and fittings, the amount of lace on the altar and where the Gloria should come in the Mass. Again, people will lose out by being part of the picky pedantry, or by witnessing the 3" Lace Brigade clash with the 5" Lace Division. 

I have tried to learn from my failings to see people when it comes to matters ecclesiastical. I still fail - big time! Yet, all too often, the difficult person in the Church is encouraged to leave. I know: I was that difficult person. Too often, it is the one making the noise who is actually in need of ministry, not exclusion. Yet, also it is those who are silent too, who sit week after week, who lack a voice to deal with their pain in life until, one day, the priest opens his mouth in a sermon, and crushes the souls of these silent folk so that they leave and never return. This crushing can come hypermetropically and ignore them completely by trivialising something that they find precious, or it can come myopically and reduce a person to some caricature based on only one aspect of their being.

I fought, myopically, for orthodoxy. Of course, the orthodoxy is at the heart of our encounter with Christ. I do not regret trying to influence my old parish in the CofE back to orthodoxy, however flawed or useless were my endeavours. The key, though, is to use that orthodoxy as a correcting lens that will correct both myopia and hypermetropia at one fell swoop. 

This is why the doctrine of the Primitive Church is so important. The search for what is orthodox is over at the level of the Church while that Church is riven by internal schisms. It means that, if a parish wants to use that lens of orthodoxy to see what is right, it must use its scripture, its liturgy, its ritual to encourage that truly valuable person in the pew that they are in the presence of Almighty God Himself. 

Orthodoxy reigns in the excesses of the hypermetropic parish whilst opening out the vision of the myopic parish. The central message of Christian Orthodoxy is "Where are the love for God and the love of God being exhibited and distributed?" We must remember that we can only love our neighbour if we love God first. God is the source of love and only by a life directed in His worship can we hope to love those around us. At Mass, our focus is on God who, through His Grace, is present objectively and actively both for individual and for the whole Catholic Church. At every level, individual, parish, Diocese, Province, Jurisdiction, the lens of Orthodox Christian belief can reach out if we focus properly on what it means. If Christ is both human and divine, then the Church can take both the benefits of being hypermetropic and myopic together into itself too. The Church's mission to its member is vital. The Church's mission to those who aren't its members is vital. Both can be cultivated if we hold fast to the true Doctrine of the Church in the spirit in which it was given to the Church.

That spirit, of course, is the Holy Ghost Who will indeed blow where He wills, but not to the confusion of His Church!

Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.

 Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created;
And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

St Odile, pray for the vision of God's Church that it may be clear and purified.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Lie of Self-Identification

Who gets to say who you are?

The obvious answer is that you get to say who you are, but what does it even mean to say who you are?

Essentially, we use a collection of adjectives or properties to describe aspects of ourselves: what we look like, how we feel, what we do, what we like, what we don't like, et c. This way we can communicate aspects of ourselves to others. There is a problem. This whole idea of language and dialogue requires us to agree on what things mean. We have dictionaries which help us define and understand what words mean. Yet occasionally words have multiple definitions. I think the word, "set" has the most definitions in the dictionary. This does mean that misunderstandings occur, and it also means that we also obtain the humour that comes from puns. Language comes from an agreement of meaning between individuals. It is when that agreement is broken that causes the problem.

As much as I hate to admit it, I fit the definition of Protestant which means "not-a-Roman Catholic", but I deny that this is the proper definition of the word. Am I allowed to do so? Well, yes, in that I am capable of the denial, but no in the sense that the word "Protestant" has a popular meaning, i.e. a meaning that is understood by most people. It means that I have to explain myself every time I come across the word with someone new. 

The same is true of Anglican Catholic. I am not an Anglican as Fr Christopher Little would have it, but then I don't use the word Anglican as a noun, only as an adjective that qualifies my Catholicism... and that's another word that I have to qualify because of its popular meaning! 

This brings us to an important point. Should the popular voice determine what words mean? 

Of course the answer is yes because otherwise the individual loses the ability to speak with the society in which he finds himself. Often the popular voice  determines meaning misguidedly and lazily! Words exist as means of communication to an audience. It is an irritating fact that words change meaning rather more rapidly than new words are invented. However, as the words change their nuances and meanings over Time, the "Democracy of the Dead" is trounced by the "Tyranny of the Living". The Dead only get to say what words meant, the living get to say what they mean. Of course, this does mean that in order to read and understand old texts, we have to learn even our own language anew.

Of course, the popular vote depends on the society in which we find ourselves. If everyone around us is speaking French, then we must speak French in order to be understood. Likewise the Church as a community has its own language over which the indigenous society can have no jurisdiction. The popular voice of the Church does include the Dead!

Being an Anglican Catholic means that I have to explain myself in order to communicate with other people, but it doesn't bring me any rights. As an Anglican Catholic Priest, I cannot marry anyone in the legal sense. That is a right enjoyed by the Established Church. In being Anglican Catholic, I cannot have the right to marry anyone legally. Nor can I pretend that I am a clergyman of any other jurisdiction even though I am a validly ordained priest with Anglican, Old Catholic, and Polish National Catholic streams running through my orders which are indeed Apostolic. That means too little to the man on the street. My self-identification is utterly meaningless until the prevailing language makes it meaningful. I do not have the right to force my self-identification on other people. I must, therefore, accept the necessity to explain myself constantly and that other people will be confused by my being an Anglican Catholic. That is not their fault, nor is it unreasonable.

Yet it is this principle of self-identification that is making dialogue between people impossible. These days people can say that they identify with something that they are obviously not. such as Rachel Dolezal the only "black" white woman in existence in the first actual instance of trying to argue that black is white! It is not possible to perform self-definition as a Christian because we believe in "God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth" (unless you're Fr Clatworthy, in which case this statement is, was, or will be false at some time in the future). It means that as human beings we have to develop humility and drop the pride that causes us to assert an identity that we don't have. God created us, He gets to call the shots. If He creates a man, then that man cannot be a woman, or even become a woman. If He creates a sheep, then that sheep cannot become an orca. As soon as man and woman become equivalent, then language breaks down. We now have the phrase "pregnant person" because (oh how ridiculous) some "men" can have babies. Thus "man" and "woman" become utterly meaningless terms, thus fulfilling Kant's Categorical imperative! The language of millennia becomes lost or confused all because we must not be allowed to discriminate. The individual's demand for black to be white undermines the purpose of language as communication with Society. The Church has its own language which is now different from that of Secular Society. The individuals clamouring for the Church to change its language forget that the Church takes its definition from the Supreme Source and thus have no right to change it!

In all the furnace about rights, humility seems to be the ultimate loser. Life is hard because of sin and our fallen nature, and we have to stand up against that sin and fallen nature by being humble. As a result of our fallenness, life is grevously, scandalously, horrendously unfair - men cannot become women, homosexuals cannot receive the sacrament of marriage, women cannot be Catholic priests. The fallenness of our nature here is that we actively want the impossible. We want things that contradict God's revelation to us and we want the things that contradict God's will. We have to start looking beyond our wants and seeking what is actually truly Godly which exists apart from ourselves. It hurts worse than any physical pain because it strikes at our self-worth by the apparent right to self-define and self-identify. But life hurts - it's hurt every human being that ever existed! We have to learn to deal with this pain and seek its alleviation in the One Who wants us as the people He created us to be.

St Paul tells us that we can do anything we want, but he adds quickly that not everything we want is good, will build up society, will be healthy, will make things better for those who are truly in need. We are too ready to see what is unfair on our own terms without thinking about what is unfair in global terms. Yes, women's rights are indeed one of those great issues that need challenging - not subverting the will of God in the presbytery and thus causing division and confusion, but rather the fact that there are cultures that still promote women as chattel, deny their very humanity, refuse their counsel, and give them no worth whatsoever. Likewise, the rights of the homosexual are indeed a great issue that needs challenging - not by changing that which is instituted by God, but rather their protection from persecution, ridicule, and hatred of any kind and, further, assistance to help them find worth, warmth, and genuine appreciation in society as consecrated celibates. Why is it that we do not prize virginity any more? - God certainly does! It is His unconditional love that we need to propagate, but this will not come from pandering to that which is not true. Truth and Love go together - both are as embodied in Our Lord Jesus Christ as His Humanity and His Divinity. If we seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, then we will truly find precisely what we want and need!

The Lie of Self-Identification appeals to our pride and self worth, but not to beings who surrender this dubious right in recognition of themselves as creatures defined by God Himself, and thus completely sanctifiable. If we reject God's right to create us as He wants us, then we can self-define as much as we like. We just endanger our membership of the Church, that's all - unless "inside" also means "outside"!