Would you decide to go for a walk by night near Chatham Docks? Have a little wander through the back alleys of Baghdad? A jaunt through downtown Capetown? You’ve got more sense than that.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Would you decide to go for a walk by night near Chatham Docks? Have a little wander through the back alleys of Baghdad? A jaunt through downtown Capetown? You’ve got more sense than that.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Our real need Is, at times, to put down the books and the scrolls, and the annals, and get to know God. As I’ve said before, the Creeds help us know something of the God we seek. In our prayer lives and in our spiritual being we encounter many spirits whom we must test. If the “god” we meet is not the one in the Creed, then we know that we’re on the wrong path. However, once we know we’re on the right path, we need to learn more, to become more Holy, and to relate to the One Who created us.
As this world grows darker, our inward lives need care, our spirits need nourishment, and the light needs to burn brighter. However, let us not fall into the trap of an inward looking, introspective faith. Let us remember to turn our gaze outward to those folk with dead eyes and sad faces, remembering that we must stand with them and bring them the care, light and nourishment too. Not by brow-beating, nor intellectual argument, but by good, old-fashioned loving-kindness. Let us help them to approach God in awe and wonder, not by trying to understand infinity but by just being with Him.
Monday, August 15, 2016
What we celebrate today is our destiny and we celebrate it through the one human being who had the most unique relationship with God.
The Assumption of Our Lady causes our Protestant brethren some difficulty again along the lines of idolatry. We must always listen charitably to their objections because they are valuable, allow us to check our thinking, and seek to find more common ground together in our Christian witness to the world.
What is it that they object to? The object to what they perceive to be our worship of the Blessed Virgin. They perceive that we worship her in the same way that we worship her Son. If that is true, then we are idolaters indeed. We know for a fact that Mary is not God: she is the Mother of God, because she is the mother of Jesus, and Christians believe that Jesus is God. The logic is inescapable and the Third Oecumenical Council of Ephesus ensured that this was the correct doctrine for us to follow lest we fall into Nestorianism. The Mother of God has only one nature, and that is human. She is like us and not like her Son. She is therefore not worthy of the worship that is due solely to God.
Nor can she bear the title of co-redemptrix, putting her involvement in the redemption of mankind on the same level as Our Lord. She recognises herself to be only an instrument of the will of the Lord when she says, “be it unto me according to thy word.” She is not an agent of redemption – only Our Lord is – but she is a recipient of it because of her unique involvement in that redemption.
You see, what we see in Mary we see as potentially true for ourselves. When we look at Mary, what we see is how we can be involved with God as willing instruments of His Will, yet possessing a deep relationship with Him that lifts us up from just being simple tools which can be picked up and put down without further regard. We see in Mary an alignment of the human will with the Divine surpassed only by Our Lord’s alignment of His Human Will with His Divine Will. We too can spend our lives trying to align our wills with God. The fact of our sin and failure does not inhibit this process as long as we repent and continue to repent.
Our Lady always seeks out her son. Some folk seem to think that Jesus is a naughty boy for getting lost and subsequently being found in the temple. Yet, this was not sin because first, Mary did know that her son was the Son of God and second, the Law states to love God before all else. It is because Our Lord loves His Father that He loves His mother too. Yet, the heart of a loving mother is filled with worry for her children. Our Lord did not cause the worry, it is part of Mary’s loving nature and over-riding concern for her boy that caused the worry. God has it all in hand, and Mary needs to grow in faith. The result of such devotion is that, while she spends her life seeking her son, she ends her life being sought out by her son for a particular honour open to very few human beings.
There are no bodily relics of Mary. This is highly unusual, and lends good weight to the Assumption. The Law says “Honour thy father and thy mother.” Even now Our Lord does both. In assuming his position as king of heaven, He uses that commandment to admit Our Lady as Queen of Heaven, as Queen Mother, a unique position that can only be held by one person.
Apotheosis becomes theosis. Our Lady is assumed into the Divine nature of her son. This is why her prayers are so powerful and sweet. Of course, Our Lord hears our prayer with infinite love and tenderness. Yet, in asking for Our Lady’s prayers, we come to Our Lord through her in her unique relationship. As she stands beside us praying with us, we are as close as we can be to Him because she is always standing with Him. She stands in solidarity with us, and we find Christ too in that solidarity.
What of Our Lady’s sinlessness or otherwise? The Church Fathers attest to her sinlessness but the question of her immaculate conception has been raised to the level of dogma by the Roman Church. It is a good pious opinion which makes sense and is alluded to by St Athanasius as reported by St Cyril of Alexandria when he says: “There have been many holy people, free from all sin. Jeremiah was sanctified in his mother’s womb, and John while still in the womb leaped for joy at the voice of Mary, the Mother of God.” While he may just be referring to Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Our Lord, the inclusion of Our Lady specifically by name rather than mentioning her son, does give the impression that he believed her to be holy and sinless.
We know also that she is full of grace because the Lord is with her. Does that mean that she was immaculately conceived? The question is largely irrelevant as we should not be scrutinising other people for sin but constantly working to root out sin from our lives. As far as we are concerned, unless given clear indication otherwise, we cannot rightly call anyone we meet a sinner. We might as well treat them as sinless until we have evidence of sin. But then, as they confess and repent, they return to that state of grace. Our Lady’s immaculate conception or otherwise doesn’t add anything to the faith itself: if she isn’t immaculately conceived, then her apotheosis shows that a sinner can be assumed into Heaven and continue her relationship with her son; if she is immaculately conceived, then we see the power of God’s grace over sin and His Divine foreknowledge at work. As far as we are concerned, in her Assumption, Our Lady exemplifies the purity and perfection of the human condition that is open to every human being who becomes part of the Church.
In loving Our Lady, we find ourselves better able to show the same loving tenderness to all God’s children by creation. In loving her, we love what she stands for and for whom she prays. In loving her we begin to love better the Son she bore and who redeemed us by His blood. We are helped by her prayers and, if we allow her, she can take us by the arm and present us to her Son, especially in those times we feel we cannot approach Him.
Let us pray our Hail Mary together and, in so doing, worship the Son she bore.
Friday, August 12, 2016
I was recently caught up in an argument in which someone referred to an admittedly foolish individual as an “oxygen thief”. This rather pushed my buttons for several reasons. However, the very centre of all my irritation was a disrespect for life itself.
We often bandy insults like “oxygen thief” and “waste of space” around frequently to denote our sheer frustration with someone who is exhibiting useless, lazy, or feckless behaviour. In so doing, we rather put about the idea that the resources that are used to keep someone alive would be better spent for someone else. The trouble is, for the most part, these terms come from describing human beings who are severely disabled, comatose, or even brain dead. These latter often also get described as “vegetables” indicating their complete inability to respond to external stimuli. They are still human beings: not even Death can rob us of being human, so how can we cease to be human if we are still alive?
For those who are designated brain dead, the family is often presented with an agonising decision to switch off artificial respiration and allow their loved one to die. If that family decide against doing so, it has often been heard around those who work in the hospital that the patient is an oxygen thief, using up resources better spent on people who need it to get better and who stand more of a chance of recovery.
Life is a terrible condition to pin down and understand. There are arguments about when it begins, when it ends, and what is alive in the first place. There is a biological definition of Life which will include not only animals and plants, but also bacteria and fungi and a few other organisms not as easily recognisable. While people will readily say that dogs, cats and pigs are living things, they may balk at the idea of vegetables as being alive. Yet, plants have biological processes which correspond very closely to those of animals. Genetically, human beings share between 40 and 50% of their genes with cabbages.
This gives us a bit of a wake-up call. Whatever we eat, we have destroyed its life. Something has died so that we can continue to be. This is true of all living organisms. One being must take resources from another which may include the other's very life itself: all life is in competition. The most common cause of death is suffocation complicated by digestion, i.e. the living thing gets eaten. Thus vegetarians and vegans are responsible for the deaths of plants in their millions. They may not have a central nervous system, but if it could be shown that plants feel pain, then some arguments from vegetarians and vegans would apply to plants as well. Indeed, the old “animals just don’t feel pain in the same way we do” could be easily turned into “plants just don’t feel pain in the same way we do”. This might cause some to become consumers only of berries and fruits which are designed to be eaten, but it could spell the end of the salad!
The fact is that, in order to preserve life, one necessarily has to destroy it in others. We have to live with this fact every day of our lives, yet it doesn’t bother us. Should it?
In some sense, this is the Hell of our existence – our fall from the grace of God. All the time, we fight for limited resources and grudge those who waste those resources. We all do foolish things and waste the resources that we are given. We hoard some, and others starve. This is how human beings live. This is our life, and if this is what human life means, then surely death is a merciful release both from a meaningless existence, and a release of nutrients for other living things. Yet, Hell itself is filled with those trying to devour others to eke any kind of meaningful life from their beings. The finitude of life supporting resources fuels Hell.
We are aware that the life we have will cease. We will die and our bodies return to the dust. Yet we often take the time for granted. If we wander around seeing other people as things, then we cease to appreciate life. The same is true for all forms of life, animals, plants, and fungi too. We must appreciate that, in our present existence, we each depend on each other to live and we need to respect that dependence so much. There are those who say that human beings are evolving to be vegetarian. There is no evidence for that, and seems to go against the survival of the fittest. Omnivores and herbivores are just as long-lived as each other, and both breed at the same rate.
No, we depend on consuming the lives of others in order to continue our existence, and we need to respect all life for that very reason. If we’re going to eat meat, then we need to ensure that the animals are killed humanely, quickly and without wastage. If we’re going to eat plants, then we need to ensure that the plants are grown well with respect to the environment at large so that insecticides do not damage the ecosystem. We need to recognise the life in others.
Calling someone an oxygen thief robs them of humanity and sees them only as a thing. Even the most severely disabled cannot be described as just a thing. They are still a person in their own right. This goes down even to the tiny bundle of cells that result from sperm meeting egg. An embryo is alive, a living thing. Life begins at conception, not at some legally defined date. It often surprises me why more animal rights’ activists aren’t pro-life. It may be a woman’s body, but the cells of an embryo aren’t her body. Thus we have this terrible problem about who can make the decision to end a life. A woman who terminates a pregnancy terminates a life. If the reasons that she does so are not of the gravest nature, then she commits a terrible sin. Yet too many people see a foetus as a parasite - an oxygen thief, not a human being. Yet we were all foetuses once.
The view Christianity takes is to minimise competition. We are not only to look after the worse off, but must even be prepared to give up something of ourselves for the good of others. We must be prepared to lay down our lives for our friends. The notion of sacrifice is not unknown in the animal kingdom with ants, bees and termites programmed by biological necessity to die for the hive.
Are Christians no better than ants then? God would have humanity as stewards of His creation. This means both mastery and care. The ant cannot sacrifice itself, properly speaking. Sacrifice entails making something holy, bringing it to God. Christ sacrificed Himself upon the Cross to bring God and Man together. The sacrifice of the Mass continues this for all people in Time.
Christ tells us the He is the Life. He isn't just alive - He is what it means to be alive. Even the creatures participate in His Life which seems to spring from just a tiny collection of cells and amino acids. We share life with all that is alive which means that we must treat all living things with care and respect. We recognise our dependence on the lives of other organisms to survive and realise the frailty of our condition seeking to be transformed away from an existence of mutual devouring.
There are no oxygen thieves because God gives His life to all that live just because He would have it so. To call someone an oxygen thief puts us in danger of calling God a fool for creating that person. Our Lord says:
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew v:22)
Let us then seek to love our neighbour as ourselves not by calling into question their right to exist. They, like we, have no right to exist: the right to bestow existence belongs only to God. Rather let us recognise that being alive gives us a common bond. We may act foolishly, recklessly, hatefully, and wickedly but we are all bearers of life, and life is in God. In loving others we are united with them. In loving God we will find that we have no need to compete for existence: we shall have it unconditionally in Him.
Monday, August 08, 2016
Who is Tom?
Carol says that Tom is 5’ 9” tall, is a bit tubby, is blond and has blue eyes. She says that he limps a little on his left foot after he shattered his leg in a quad biking accident. She says that he enjoys Bon Jovi, can finish a hard Su Doku in 5 minutes, and his favourite food is Sweet and Sour Pork. She also says that Tom loves animals especially dogs, loves children and is a passionate supporter of humanitarian causes.
Denise says that Tom is 5’ 9” tall, is quite slim, is a bit mousy blond and has dark blue eyes. She says that he limps a little, but can’t remember on which leg: she doesn’t know why, either. She says that he enjoys Def Leppard and does puzzles quickly. Denise says that Tom’s favourite food is Dim Sum. She also says that Tom is finds her dog intensely irritating, and keeps away her 5 month old son. To her chagrin, she finds Tom rather ambivalent to charities.
Will the real Tom please stand up?
There are a few glaring discrepancies here, and it leads to a few possibilities as to what’s going on here.
1) There are two distinct, but physically similar people called Tom.
2) Tom is being inconsistent with Denise and Carol.
3) One woman may know Tom better than the other.
Are there other possibilities? Which is the most likely?
If both Carol and Denise swear to their testimony about Tom, then we might be led to rule out (3) and look to (1) or (2). In all probability, (1) seems most likely otherwise Tom seems to be a bit of a pathological liar. We might reasonably conclude that Carol and Denise know two different people called Tom who share some characteristics and yet differ markedly in other.
We might be better persuaded that there was only one Tom if Carol and Denise agreed more about how Tom shows his character. It’s hard to see how a dog lover finds a dog irritating, but I suppose it could happen.
When it comes to different religions, we have the same problem with God.
Two religions may believe that God exists. They might agree on some of His attributes, but they clearly disagree about other things, otherwise they would be the same religion. They may agree on God being the Omnipotent Creator, but differ in the way He issues His commandments. Do they worship the same God?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. If we were to examine the God of the Hebrew Bible in comparison with the God of Christianity, there would be a lot of agreement on God’s character even down to the existence of the Messiah who, for the Hebrew Faith, has not yet appeared. We might reasonably conclude that, because Christians and Jews have the same Testament in common, it is likely that they do worship the same God.
The same can’t be said for Islam where the Bible is rejected in favour of the Q’ran. If Christians and Muslims do indeed worship the same god, then that god is capricious and contradictory. Muslims have practices that Christians do not. Christians have the Mass which the Muslims do not. There is marked disagreement about the person that both seem to refer to as Jesus. Again, we can reasonably conclude that Christians and Muslims are not likely to be worshipping the same god. I do stress the word "unlikely" - only God truly knows the hearts of men.
The same is also true with Christians and the Christian Heretics of the Primitive Church. In denying Christ’s divinity, the Arian Jesus is not the same as the Orthodox Jesus. These cannot be the same Jesus. Neither can the Apollinarian, Nestorian, or Ebionite Jesus be the Orthodox Jesus.
This is why Orthodox Christians take the Creed so seriously as indeed we must. In it, we have some way of pointing to the One we can never comprehend, and yet must be careful not to give ourselves to idolatry – the worship of gods who aren’t. While we cannot have complete knowledge of God, it is His will that we worship Him so that we can be with Him. Thus we have His revelation to us in the Bible, in the Faith of the Early Church and in the Creeds. They are vital to knowing that we are truly continually engaging ourselves in conversatio mores – constantly engaged in repentance and the search for God. We have to worship the same God as St Peter, Abraham, Judas Maccabeus, and Our Lady, as well as Linus, Cletus, Xystus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, and Chrysogonus, for that is God.
Personally, I have seen Parishes remove the Nicene Creed from their liturgy and then wonder why the congregation starts going a bit Arian. Often the creed is replaced with a statement of faith such as a simple baptismal formula. That is not enough, and many of these formulae teeter the precipice of Modalism and reduce the three persons of the Trinity to roles fulfilled by God.
If we truly want to bring Christ back into Society, then we need to have the Creeds as central to our life. Our Bible Study will point to them, our prayer life will use them to focus our attention on the God Who Is, and we will live our lives in the reality of the Faith to which we hold. Anglican Catholics live their lives by lex orandi, lex credendi. The two are inseparable because prayer recognises the truth of God and reacts to that truth.
Of course the Creeds are not inclusive! It is not always a sin to exclude! An arbitrary exclusion is sinful, but to exclude a cat from a dogs’ show is just plain common sense. Likewise, the Creeds exclude non-Christians from Christian worship. That is no sin. The modern deification of Inclusivity is another idolatry which cannot be supported by the Creeds.
If anyone says that the creeds are out of date and don’t matter, that one is wrong and in serious error.
When next you say the Creed at Mass, be glad and know that there are Christians around you throughout Time and Space who hold to the same Faith that you do and seek to draw you to the One True God Who is also drawing you by the Light He shines upon you. Be thankful for the Creeds: they exist to help you begin to love God.
Sunday, August 07, 2016
The most common reason that people give for not believing in God is that there is no evidence for His existence. For us Christians, that’s a bit odd because we have plenty of evidence if we think about it.
This doesn’t mean that we get to criticise them for their belief, but rather we should try to understand why they feel like this.
What do they need for them to see that God not only exists but loves them dearly?
Ideally, in order to say that something exists, they need some form of reliable evidence. It used to be said that all swans were white and that you’d be laughed at if you said that there was such thing a black swan. It was only when explorers found black swans in Australia that people could believe in the existence of black swans even if they hadn’t gone to Australia to see them for themselves. They trusted the testimony of the explorers.
It’s only in recent times that we can see black swans for ourselves. So what about those people who didn’t believe the original explorers? Are they really justified in not believing in black swans?
The same is true of historical events. If we do not believe the eye-witness testimony of an event, are we justified in believing that the event didn’t occur.
What many people don’t realise about the Holy Scriptures is that they were collated by the Church and finalised into what we understand to be the Bible by the fourth Century. What books made it into the Bible? St Justin Martyr tells us in the first century after the Resurrection that the Christians were reading the letters of St Paul and the Memoirs of the Apostles. These Memoirs we know to be the Gospels. Essentially, the rule has always been that the New Testament contains Gospels and letter from all those who were eyewitnesses to Our Lord.
Let’s listen to St Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians again:
BRETHREN, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand: by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures; and that he was seen of Cephas; then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep: after that, he was seen of James; then of all the Apostles: and last of all, he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
When people dismiss the Bible, they do so because they see it as mythology, but forget (or need to be taught) that, actually, the entire New Testament is a collection of historical documents bearing witness to the life and teaching of Our Lord. These documents were written while the eyewitnesses were alive and have been copied very reliably down the centuries. If someone rejects the New Testament as historical text, then they might as well just reject all references to Julius Caesar and then say that he never existed.
But why do this? Why do people not want to accept this testimony?
The reason is probably because believing
will change their lives in a way that they don’t want. So many people have a negative view of Christianity now that they just don’t want the facts to be true, and who can blame them?
What do we do?
There is only one thing we can do and that is become better Christians and bear witness to Him by living our faith deeply and truly seeking Our Lord. If people know that we are Christian and are living lives of faithfulness to Our Lord’s teaching, seeking to bring love, goodness, light, joy and peace to the world, then they will see our testimony in what we believe. If we shout, make snide comments, live a holier-than-thou attitude to life, then we will do more harm than good, not just to ourselves, but also to those around us who need to find Christ.
Saturday, August 06, 2016
Why does Our Lord’s appearance change? Why become dazzling white? Well, He is showing us Himself as He is, is He not? If Our Lord is really all dazzling white, then why does He hide Himself? If He is supposed to be the Truth and have no darkness within Him, why does He appear normal? If Peter, James and John can see this and not get burned to a crisp, then why does Our Lord effectively wear a mask?
The answer is simple. We cannot cope with the glory of God. Look at St Peter. His thinking becomes all addled just at the mere sight of this. Even then, we may suppose, this is only the fraction of Jesus’ glory that the Disciples can cope with. It is not Our Lord who has changed – it is the Disciples’ ability to see that has changed. It is the veil over their eyes that is permeated by a gift of the Holy Ghost. The Lord does not change – we do.
This makes sense. Our Lord is eternally begotten of the Father. What we call Time is just another instrument of His good pleasure. His existence is not subject to it, nor does He succumb to its effects save when He wills to be Incarnate. He is without change, but yet fully immerses Himself into a world of change and chaos, reaching out for us to take His hand and be pulled into Eternity with Him through the wounds He receives on the Cross.
This Transfiguration is Mankind being drawn near to God, for God has already drawn near to Man. Likewise, we find the same instances of Transfiguration in our Mass. The sad fact is that most of us don’t see the light, nor do we see the prophets, nor hear the voice of God thundering down from on high. Masses might be more popular if they did.
Yet, the privilege of finding ourselves transfigured is reserved for those whose lives are spent looking for Christ not just in Church, in private devotion and study, but also in their daily lives themselves. We know that the Lord still does work miracles – we often just don’t see them because we don’t allow our eyesight to be purified by the search for Jesus. For Peter, James and John, they are awarded the privilege because of their relationship with the Lord.
This relationship is not just of individuals with Christ, but of individuals with each other, seeing Our Lord’s life in the persons we meet in our everyday lives. The commandments go together: love God, love each other. There are no Christians apart from the Church. There are Christians who think that they are apart from the Church; they may even boast that they are apart from the Church. The reality is that, if they are truly Christian, behind the veil they will be shocked to find themselves within the Church. Likewise, there will be those people who believe themselves to be members of the Church who find, behind the veil, that they are not!
Transfiguration is about reality. We often only perceive what we want to perceive. Transfiguration is a gift of the Holy Ghost for all who genuinely seek Christ, and Who then holds up the window into Heaven to see Him. This will not happen on Mount Tabor, yet for those of us who are faithful, we will recognise this Transfiguration for what it is.
Let us pray to God for this to happen through the Holy Ghost, and work for Christ to ensure that we are ready for it.