Sunday, December 09, 2018

The grapes of indifference

Sermon for the second Sunday of Advent (Mattins)
 
Is the God that we see in the pages of the Old Testament really the same as the God that we see in the New Testament?
 
To say that they aren’t the same is to fall into the heresy of Marcionism. Marcion sees very little in common between the wrathful “God of the Old Testament” and the loving “God of the New Testament.” To help us out, he seeks to persuade us that we should jettison all those bits of Scripture that don’t really fit with how God really is. After all, Psalms 58 and 109 are far too savage to be part of the message of love, aren’t they? There’s that nasty bit at the end of Psalm 139 and another nasty bit at the end of the Venite. Why don’t we just cut them out?
 
We see a God who builds a vineyard and, because He doesn’t get what He wants, He throws a tantrum and destroys it.
 
Doesn’t He?
[PAUSE]
 
We ought to be sympathetic to Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry when all they can see is a vengeful and capricious deity throwing thunderbolts at whosoever will not obey in the tiniest detail. Indeed, the fact that “bad things happen to good people” is a barrier to many people to come to know God and has even caused people to lose their faith.
 
As we hear Isaiah pronounce the words of God Himself, we are presented with God reasoning with us. We hear Him say to us, “O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.” God is asking us to make a judgement. Indeed, Our Lord Jesus does say, “the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”
 
So, then, let us take up the legal case with Our Lord.
 
[PAUSE]
 
We have someone who plants a vineyard in order to produce lovely grapes in the same way that we might want to have a good vegetable garden, or lovely flowers. He invests a lot in the cultivation of this vineyard, gives it everything it needs, spending so much money, time and energy so that it will be the best of the best. Nothing is spared. What happens? All the grapes it produces is sour. Does the man not have the right to knock it all down?
 
Of course he does.
 
He has the right, but why would he do so? Does the sourness of the grapes really offend him that much? That would have to be truly bad fruit for the man to destroy the vineyard.
 
[PAUSE]
 
What fruit would cause God to destroy His vineyard? What would cause Him to lop branches off the vine and graft in new ones?
 
We know what fruit God wants us to bear.  St Paul tells us very clearly, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.” That’s what God wants to flourish.
 
What fruit does God not want us to bear? Again, St Paul tells us, “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.”
 
Look at this fruit. Would you want murder to continue? Would you want to allow strife to flourish? Hatred? Would you really want these to continue any more than you had to? If you had a vineyard that bore only this fruit, would you really want to keep it growing to produce more?
 
We cannot blame God for being passionate about what is truly Good. If He were so indifferent to the suffering of people from the fruits of Evil, we would not believe Him to be a God of Love. We talk of the wrath of God as something to be feared. As we stand in front of the Killing Fields in which so many people have been killed through the tyranny of other men, we realise that the wrath of God is something to be welcomed to destroy Evil completely.
 
[PAUSE]
 
Part of the problem is that, when it comes to crime and punishment, we human beings always seem to understand judgement in a legal sense, but yet there is a deeper way of thinking that goes beyond the courtroom.
 
With God, justice is not just about saying what is wrong; it is about putting it right completely and fully. It is about not tolerating the smallest atom of evil so that the love and goodness of God may be made complete in His Creation.
 
Perhaps there is something greater to be feared than the wrath of God. The god of Marcion is indifferent to the suffering of human beings. Any god that Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry would want is one that makes everything nice and thus prevent human beings from ever really know Who  God is from what He is not.
 
[PAUSE]
 
The God we see written in every page of Holy Scripture is the same One True God. He stretches through the Old Testament and into the New. His presence confounds our understanding and reasoning, but yet He still allows us to understand and reason.
 
In both Testaments, we see God’s investment in us. God Himself is prepared to struggle alongside human beings. God Himself is prepared to demonstrate that we are worth reasoning with. God Himself considers our sense of justice to be valuable even if it is imperfect. God Himself waters the Vine with His own blood. That is the investment that He makes to help us bear good fruit. Is it worth it? Well, what fruit do we bear?

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

"O” for the love of Ozanne and her curate’s egg


Honestly, I do try not to take the Church of England to task these days for the things that get preached from its pulpits and expounded as some form of “official” doctrine from its official “unofficial” spokesmen. The trouble is that, while the CofE is established, it does have a claim to be the voice of the Church even when what it preaches is deeply concerning. I will be clear: as a Christian, the CofE does NOT speak for me, nor does it speak for my Church. That it claims to do so by virtue of its establishment puts it into a rather ambiguous position. There are Christians in its membership, yet there are also atheists and heretics.
 
I find that I can’t even describe the CofE as a curate’s egg because of the ambiguity that the phrase possesses. The curate, in being polite to his bishop, says that his egg is “good in parts”. The humour arises because an egg cannot usually be good in parts: it is either rotten or perfectly edible. Yet, the phrase can be used to mean that the egg truly is good in parts. This ambiguity arises because one loses the context from the original cartoon (reproduced above) and is left with only the shell (ha ha) of the phrase “curate’s egg.”
 
We lose the meaning of the phrase because we lose the context or reinterpret it incorrectly.
 
These days for my own clarity of thought, I see the CofE as being an umbrella term or brand for groups of separate congregations. There is nothing Catholic about it apart from the word in the creeds and some pretence at apostolic succession. The CofE parish near me is a truly lovely place with some very committed and orthodox Christians who seem keen to get me back on board. If you cannot get on board with our little tiny mission here in Sheffield, then I do recommend it but I would not recommend becoming a member of the CofE. Accept the people, but not the brand!
 
 I am, however, a Catholic in the original sense of the word as first recorded by St Ignatius and expounded by St Vincent of Lerins. If I am being true to being Catholic, then I do need to commit myself to the Faith of the Church as given by Christ Himself. This means a commitment to seeking the Truth and helping others to find it. While I do try to foster bonhomie with this parish, I cannot join it because, to do so, I would disengage myself from my bishop who is a true Catholic, from my Church which seeks to be united in being Catholic, and join myself to a body which has no uniformity of belief beyond the parish level, where so many bishops and priests are obviously not Catholic and  where the very nominal head of the Church can’t make up his mind about, let alone preach on, what good Catholic Faith is.
 
Of course, the CofE doesn’t have a single mind on what “Catholic” means. It means more than just “universal”- it is literally holistic in its meaning. It cannot have the idea that everyone’s beliefs are equally acceptable. The Church is for everyone, but not everyone is for the Church. Like “Curate’s Egg,” “Catholic” is a term that is no longer used in its original sense. It means that we do not speak the same language.
 
Another word that is used to obfuscate the situation within the Church is “love” especially the translation of agape as “unconditional love.” This confusion is certainly expressed in the words of people like Jayne Ozanne, member of the CofE General Synod and “LGBT” activist. She says:

“I’ve been reflecting on why sincere Christians are doing this….and I can only believe it is because they see “the other” as someone who is outside of God’s love and care. Who represents a threat to the Gospel and is what God warns us to ‘guard against’ – they perceive this threat in real people rather than in spiritual powers.”

What she says is utterly agreeable here and a theme that I have preached on myself in the past. We do not battle human beings, but the evil spirits, powers and dominions that constantly assault Man whom God loves so much. Indeed, Ms Ozanne suggests that the healing of the conflict between progressive/liberal and conservative/traditional elements is that of seeking “love” by which she means agape. She asks which “side” God is on, and comes to the following conclusion:

“I for one believe the answer is plain and simple….which ‘side’ is the side of love? Or perhaps it’s easier to discern the opposite – which side is the view based on fear?
Unconditional love has no limits, no boundaries, no borders.
It loves all, embraces all, forgives all.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
It Just Loves…”

And yet, Ms Ozanne seems to be missing something crucial. She would thoroughly agree with me, and I her, that we must always promote the same unconditional love for other human beings as we would want them to show us.
 
Does God love Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Fred West, Jimmy Saville, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley? And Judas? If God’s love is unconditional, then the answer must be in the affirmative.  Yet, there is a big question about how God’s justice can be done without them being confronted with the painful truth of their actions. What about those who, while acting morally and even seeking justice, reject God? What about Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens who cannot belong to the category of people we class as “evil” and yet refuse to be associated with God?
 
Hell is a Gospel reality and, if there are human beings in Hell, God still loves them for His love is unconditional. I cannot but accept the existence of Hell and that it is not empty, for Our Lord speaks clearly of Eternal Life and Eternal Death. God’s love is not a barrier to Hell – in that I am in agreement with Ms Ozanne: it is our “love” that might be a barrier to Heaven. If we are commanded to be as unconditional in our love for others as God is to us, then we are faced with some rather frightening prospects.
 
If we truly love someone like Harold Shipman, the doctor who murdered so many people under the guise of respectability, then does that mean accepting their propensity to murder? Clearly not: hate the sin but love the sinner is the only way we can go. We love the sinner by trying to claw them back from a life of self-destruction. The notion is very clear: our actions are not always acceptable and that there is something within our very selves that requires excision like a cancer. Sin is spiritual cancer, practically by definition.
 
That’s very clearly extreme example, but nonetheless pertinent. While very few of us are as able to commit vile acts as Harold Shipman or Jimmy Saville, we are each of us as equally broken as they. Each one of us is infected with the consequences of being free to choose whilst being morally weakened through the influence of the evil powers that swarm around us seeking to tear us away from God and consume our being in order to satiate their hunger insatiable.
 
The fact that we can sin and choose to sin is evidence that our love is very far from being unconditional and that we need Christ to perfect that love by His example, by His teaching, by His life, by His death, by His resurrection, by His Body and Blood. We might not be a mass murderer, but that does not mean that we are not in danger of Hellfire. Again, as Our Lord tells us plainly, our very intentions can convict us of abominable crimes that we need to repent in order for them not to infect our actions. We can live a “good” life but still end up in Hell for rejecting God for Who He is.
 
The unconditional love that God wants us to show cannot allow itself to be confined to temporal affairs. The love that seeks to build Heaven on Earth is missing the point. We have to love people by being deeply concerned for their last ends not just the circumstances of their earthly living. We do not earn our way into Heaven by making Earth Heavenly – that’s impossible and heretical as Pelagianism. Our unconditional love for our neighbour must be in begging God for those who are near to Hell. Our unconditional love for our neighbour must be pleading with those who reject God to see the light. Our unconditional love for our neighbour must be in sitting down to eat with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners but still not accepting their manner of living as being right or acceptable to God. Our unconditional love for God must be not in looking for Him to be on our side, but rather for us being on His side.
 
This does mean seeing all that is human as being deficient from God. A mathematician understands infinity using the reflection principle – something that I speak of in my latest submission to Fr Chadwick’s upcoming edition of the Blue Flower. In bearing God’s image, we are imperfect reflections of God’s being in every aspect of His being. In God, love is perfect; in us, it is not but there is a reflection of it there. The trouble is that, we say that we are being loving when we allow people to “be themselves” despite the fact that it is God who says who they are and neither us nor they. That’s understandable because we value human free will which is a reflection of God’s almost paradoxical freewill. But human beings are broken and they are broken in the very power that God gives us in the second chapter of Genesis when we name the animals and thus give some definition to what they are. When that is broken, then the very act of definition becomes twisted and distorted and used for sin, even to the extent of belittling our very selves.
 
In speaking up for “LGBT” rights, Ms Ozanne has missed what love is or has at least conflated and equivocated on the meaning of the term, because a human being is not defined by their sexuality nor by their gender. Sexuality, like any other aspect of our being, is distorted and pulled this way and that by temptations. In saying to God, “to love me, you must accept my sexuality” is imposing a condition on God – it is not an unconditional love of God. It would not be an expression of unconditional love by an “LGBT” activist for an opponent of “LGBT rights” (whatever they are). The same is true for gender which is a social construction seeking to subject the biological objective of sex with a more malleable concept which can be manipulated by law and convention. To say to God, “in order to love me, you must accept my denial of what You made me” is a condition on love for God. God loves the person despite the fact that they reduce themselves to being “LGBT” and demand rights concomitant with that reduction.
 
The implications of these “rights” are frightening and impose upon rather more basic rights. Consider the lesbian who finds out that her date is actually transgender and still bears male genitalia. To refuse the advances of the transgender would be a violation of transgender “rights” because the lesbian is refusing to regard her date as a woman. Yet, to accept those advances would be an act of violence against lesbian “rights” because lesbians do not have sex with those with male genitalia – that is what genitalia are for, isn’t it? There is no right to force anyone to have sex, and yet the hierarchy of rights – in this case “transgender” over consent – almost goes against it on the grounds of discrimination. Let us be absolutely clear: there is NO right for any individual to have sex. There is no right for anyone to have their sexual desires expressed or their sexual appetites indulged. Sex is not love. Erotic love is not unconditional love. Eros is not agape.
 
Personally, I don’t have a problem with people of the same sex living together in a committed and celibate lifestyle. We’ve been doing that for centuries: it’s called monasticism. It is a marriage of sorts in that it is built on promises, vows and commitments, but they are certainly not the same as those of the generative relationship that marriage is supposed to be and to which Our Lord Himself bears witness as being between a man and a woman to the extent that He makes it a sacrament. The fact that monasticism has been declining so rapidly in recent years could possibly be due to the apparent requirement that committed relationships must be sexually expressed. I appreciate that this is an unproven hunch on my part
 
To say that God does bless these same-sex marriages is based on arguments from silence. The biblical evidence is truly contrary to that argument. To say that God is like us in His unconditional acceptance of who we say we are is blatantly untrue and does not love Him because it does not accept His sovereignty which demands the submission of control of our lives and desires. His love is unconditional: His acceptance is not as the existence of Hell proves. To suffer from same sex-attraction is as much a weakness of the human condition as suffering from the tendency to want more money or to want what that woman has got over there. It is a weakness in the human condition to be suffered in the same way that we all suffer from the temptations that the Evil One sows in our lives. If people fall, then we must forgive with tenderness, kindness and generosity knowing that we need to be forgiven in our habitual failings. What we don’t do is pretend that there is no falling into sin, for then we are deceiving ourselves and blurring our fallible understanding of Who God is. Sin always separates us from God. I am a sinner and I hate my sins because they tear me from God and damage the Gospel that I try hard to proclaim. Thankfully, my sins are truly sins, and I don’t want them accepted but I rather want them removed, cut out, excised so that my love for God may be made perfect. He matters to me more than my acceptance of myself and my self-esteem.
 
If love is to be unconditional, then EVERYONE must make sure that accepting a sexual orientation or gender position does not become a condition on which love is to be based in the same way that the rich and the poor are to be loved regardless of wealth, that Jew and Palestinian are to be loved impartially, and that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are to be loved regardless of their politics.  I’m sure Ms Ozanne would agree with that. Wouldn’t she?

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Thinking Advent through

Sermon for the first Sunday in Advent (Mattins)
 
Our Faith is under attack.
 
Well, to be fair, it has been under attack from day one. From the very beginning, we have been tempted to pull God down from His heavenly throne within our hearts and replace Him with our own desire.
 
In recent years, however, it has become fashionable for people who call themselves learned, intelligent, clever, wise, or understanding, to belittle religious faith and reject the very notion of God’s existence. Apparently, it is rational not to believe in God.
 
There have been public debates between believers and non-believers. There are countless videos on YouTube which “debunk” each other. Apologies are being written every day. Science is being raised as the new religion which only “thinking” people practise.
 
The trouble is, Christians don’t actually help matters.
 
[PAUSE]
 
What if God says to us,
 
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.  And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
 
We can hear Him speak those words to those who put the letter of the Law above its spirit, but does He speak to us in those words also.
 
We see Nicodemus, who is supposed to be a Pharisee and teacher of Israel upbraided by Our Lord because he seems not to know the movement of the Holy Ghost.
 
Even we Christians can be forgetful of God and, looking at the state of the Church, we certainly can believe that. Indeed, it is because “thinking” people have tried to change what the Church believes that it is falling apart.
 
It’s easy to disbelieve in a god who is an old man in the sky: but God isn’t an old man in the sky.
 
It’s easy to disbelieve in heaven which is up there somewhere: but Heaven is not “up there somewhere.”
 
It’s easy to disbelieve in a god who rages and roars and throws people into Hell, willy nilly: but God does not seek to throw anyone into Hell; He separates out Good from Evil.
 
It’s easy to believe in a god who will accept you for who you say you are: but God will not accept you on your terms, only on His.
 
It’s easy to believe in a god who loves you and lets you do what you like just as long as you say you love Him: but God’s love is a purifying fire and will destroy all sin and, if you prefer sin to God’s love, then He will put you away from Him for your own safety.
 
It’s easy to believe in a god who doesn’t really exist except as a nice idea: but God exists and confronts us at every level with His existence and we are to wrestle and strive with Him so that we may come to love Him better for Who He Is rather than who we think He is.
 
God is terrifying because He exists beyond anything we can know, and for some that is intolerable because they seek to control their lives in the way that they want and don’t want to be reminded that they are beholden to a much higher authority.
 
[PAUSE]
 
Advent is an opportunity for us to reacquaint ourselves with God. It’s a good time for us to be sitting down with God in prayer and listening to Him speak through His words of Holy Scripture and engaging with Him in the words of the Creed. We have to prepare ourselves to be scrutinised by the Divine eye and be challenged for practising what we do. There is nothing more terrifying than the supreme, infinite, and all-powerful God opting to be born as a baby in a manger and offer Himself to an agonising death for love of us.
 
We need to let our prayer be set forth in His sight as the incense and the lifting up of our hands be an evening sacrifice. We need to pray that God will set a watch before our mouths, and keep the door of our lips. We need to examine ourselves and pray that our hearts not be inclined to any evil thing, that we should not be occupied in ungodly works with the men that work wickedness, lest we eat of such things as please them.
 
The spirit of this age will continually seek to tear us from God through temptation and coercion. We will not overcome that spirit by anything that we can do of ourselves, but we can offer up our lives to God as a sacrifice to make holy a world that is falling into ruin. Now that is a sacrifice that God will accept because it will be a sacrifice that is bound up with that of Our Lord Jesus Christ to Whom be all honour, glory, power and dominion from every creature on earth and from Whom to us sinners will be remission of all our sins forever, world without end. Amen.
 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Reclothing the drawing pin

... or, less obtusely, changing tack.

According to my present figures, I now have 245 sermons published on this little blog, and I am very grateful to hear that people have been finding them of some small use. Over the past seven years, they have been devoted to the readings for the Mass in the ACC, principally because that is where the main attendance has been.

This year, however, I was made the Warden of Readers for the Diocese and I rather feel that I need to be more supportive of Reader Ministry in this Diocese as well as beyond into the wider Church.

To this end, as we approach the beginning of the Liturgical year, I intend to publish sermons based upon the Prayer Book Offices of Mattins and Evensong which Readers can use in their ministry. I will be using the Lectionary of 1922 which I found in one of my copies of the 1662 BCP.

This also affords me the opportunity of a more formal reflection on Holy Scripture different from the readings I have been used to at Mass.

I hope that this is a move that my readers and my Readers will find helpful. They are very welcome to use them if they think fit. If not, there is also an official bank of sermons here.

Comments are always welcome.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Mistaken blessings

Sermon for the Sunday next before Advent
 
How fond are you of taking exams?
 
Clearly, it depends on the type of exam you have to sit. You might be spending three hours scribbling at a desk in the school gym, or you might be trying to manoeuvre the car around a corner, or you might be standing in front of a few academics trying to defend what you have written.
 
Some people love an exam. Some people hate them.
 
But we only take exams for a reason.
 
What if you weren’t aware you were taking an exam?
 
[PAUSE]
 
Surely, that would be rather unfair. You don’t want to be pootling your merry way down the high street with your shopping only to be confronted by a man with a clipboard telling you that you failed Life when you weren’t able to tell that bloke where Market Street was.
 
Is Jesus being unfair when He tests Philip by asking him where enough bread to feed five thousand can be found?
 
[PAUSE]
 
A test has to have a purpose. When we are tested, we find out what we know and what we do not know. We find out what we can do and what we cannot do. If we get 65% in an exam, we might pass because we know 65% of the material, but we know that we do not understand 35% of the material. If we can take the test again, then we know how we can improve.
 
So why does the Lord want to test Philip, especially as it seems it’s without his knowledge?
 
We have to look at the test itself. What is the Lord trying to test in Philip?
 
Philip is faced with the problem of knowing how to feed five thousand people. Immediately, he thinks about the economic cost. However, that is the wrong answer. To challenge that whole culture of buying and selling, Our Lord produces vast quantities of loaves and fish out of the little that he has. He might as well be buying five thousand fish and chip suppers for a penny.
 
Philip was wrong.
 
[PAUSE]
 
Well, so what? Does this mean that Philip has failed Life? Has he gone to Hell for not getting the answer correct?
 
Absolutely not!
 
Look at the lengths that the Lord goes to in order to rescue us from Hell. If only a simple verbal exam is necessary, then what is the point of the Cross? Our lives mean so much to God that an exam to get into Heaven misses the point spectacularly.
 
The fact is that Humanity is broken and God wants us fixed which He does through the Life and Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing to test here. All God wants us to do is to trust Him , to forge a relationship with Him, to be part of His Church, to receive what He gives us to keep us well in our spirits and in our bodies, and finally to be part of His Kingdom. This is why He gives us the gift of Faith and opportunities to strengthen that Faith so that we may learn to trust Him more.
 
Let’s look at Philip again. He makes a mistake, but look what happens. There is the great miracle to show that not only can Our Lord do great things, but that He can be trusted to look after us and feed us. This is a remarkable strengthening of our Faith. Philip’s wrong answer shows us, two thousand years later, what’s going on. Philip’s mistake blesses us because we learn not to treat our Salvation as a matter of Economics or Examination. And in making the mistake, Philip is also blessed in the strengthening of his faith. See how astonished he is at the feeding of the Five Thousand. See how much he gains from Our Lord’s work. See how glad he is to be wrong. And this strengthening of his faith will propel him to preach the Gospel to Greece, Syria and Phrygia and end his life crucified like Our Lord.
 
[PAUSE]
 
We remember that, in His role as our Saviour, Our Lord is a teacher. Teachers don’t just teach to test, they teach that students may learn and grow and develop using the knowledge that they have. Of course we make mistakes, and we sin sometimes truly horrifically. However, in God we have the opportunity for our errors to become our blessings if we truly learn, repent, and trust God. Life is not an exam to pass, it is a gift to be lived in God. Of course, this isn’t easy, but we know that every effort to know and love God will be rewarded, and rewarded abundantly, even more than five thousand loaves and fishes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Sharing the presentation



Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?  And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. (St Matthew xii.47-50)

Many Protestants would use this incident in St Matthew's Gospel to present an obstacle to Our Lady being the Queen of Heaven. If we can all be mothers of Jesus, then surely Mary is not special. If we can all be Mary, then we can all be queens of Heaven.

There is an obvious problem with this. First, there is the obvious fact that each one of us has only one biological mother. There is only one person who actually gave birth to us. and thus there can only be one such person. There is only one mother of Jesus and, if Jesus is God and King of Heaven, Mary must therefore be the unique Mother of God and Queen of Heaven. If the Protestant balks at this simple piece of logical deduction from Biblical premises, then he must not make in his faith any similar use of logic for fear of committing the same offence!

However, the Protestant, as always, has a very good point to make in that we cannot allow our veneration of the Virgin Mary to spill over into idolatry. We can quite easily do that if we put her up on so high a pedestal that she loses her humanity. Unlike her son, Our Lady has only a human nature - a nature which is damaged by the sinfulness of human beings. Although many in the Early Church affirm that Our Lady is sinless, the presence of sin in human nature means that she, too, requires salvation. One can easily see the effects of sin in her life when we see her watching her son crucified upon the cross. The sin of those who had Him crucified affects her, but it is her choice whether or not to allow this sin to cause her to sin. If the Early Church is to be believed, it did not.

The Protestant is right to force us to remember the humanity of Our Lady. . Indeed, St Augustine of Hippo says:

Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord Christ declared: Here are my mother and my brothers; anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and my sister and my mother. I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Savior was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her - did she not do the will of the Father? Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.

Thus, as the Protestant must recognise, the Blessed Virgin Mary is a woman of faith, indeed a complete faith in God. She is free to make the decision to bear Jesus and God who knows not only what must be but also what could be, what might be and what might not be, rewards her with the gift of His Incarnation. 

In full agreement with our Protestant, we can say categorically that Our Lord's words show us very clearly that we share in her motherhood of Christ if we do as she did and do the will of the Father. St Augustine goes on to say:

Now, beloved, give me your whole attention, for you also are members of Christ; you also are the body of Christ. Consider how you yourselves can be among those of whom the Lord said: Here are my mother and my brothers. Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ? He himself said: Whoever hears and fulfills the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother. As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone. It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with himself.

We are charged with bringing to birth the Christ that is in us and in that sense we become mothers of God. What we will not do is become His mother as Our Lady did. Christianity does not believe in reincarnation. We are born once, die and then go to judgement. Likewise, neither Our Lord, nor Our Lady will be born again save that we put on Christ in our living and become members of the Church, the Body of Christ.

We venerate Our Lady best when we seek to share with her in her motherhood of Christ, for where Christ is, Our Lady is never far away. We venerate her best when, in seeing her ikon, we resolve to live as she lived and obey as she obeyed and love as she loved. We venerate her best when we recognise her as the Queen of Heaven and worship her son who is God Himself. While we may bow the knee to her, with her we fall prostrate before Christ the King and are raised up by Him through His death and resurrection. 

Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy...