Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A week and a bit too early!

There is only One God in Perfect Trinity and Perfect Unity, but there seem to be several lesser holy trinities which point to the true Holy Trinity. St Paul's Faith, Hope and Love spring to mind as does St John's Spirit, water and blood. One could say that SS Peter, James and John also form a holy trinity, but that could be stretching the point: they form a triad rather than a trinity. Faith, Hope and Love seem to form a trinity because they seem to have separate identities but the same essence. The way St John speaks of Spirit, water and blood as separate entities yet sharing a unifying testimony, is a lesser trinity than that of Faith, Hope and Love, since their unity of essence is less obvious.

In my mind, there is another holy trinity. The Venerable Bede mentions in a sermon of his that the Peace "which the world cannot give" can only come about through Love. It seems to me that God provides us with a conceptual mirror of His existence in the relationships between Truth, Peace and Love, since all three are the same thing but have a separation and uniqueness of themselves.

God tells us that Love is the source of all things. It is because of Love that God creates all that is. Truth bears witness to the fact that Love exists and is real and, when it comes into contact with what has been created, Truth bears witness to the reality of Creation and the act of its creation in love. The Creature finds Peace only when it has the assurance of Truth of its creation in Love.

So we find ourselves as restless beings in various forms of agony: a cold numbness of complacency, a feverish endeavour to control things and people, a furious pushing away of that which challenges our perceptions and seeks to unseat us from our confidence that what we hold is true, a sickly obsession to finding an anodyne in what is created, and a nausea of believing that others possess the truth, love and peace that we deserve.

A search for the Truth brings Peace through Love. A desire for Peace can only be found in True Love, and Love can only ever lead us to Peace through the revelation of what is True.

Ἀγαπητοί, νῦν τέκνα θεοῦ ἐσμεν, καὶ οὔπω ἐφανερώθη τί ἐσόμεθα. οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἐὰν φανερωθῇ ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ ἐσόμεθα, ὅτι ὀψόμεθα αὐτὸν καθώς ἐστιν.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

I John iii.2

Because we were created in love, we ourselves bear in ourselves the Truth of our reality. We do seem to get confused by this, in that we can confuse our truth as an existence separate from other people, or to convince ourselves that the truth can only ever be reached by certain reductionist techniques. Our truth is totally subordinate to the Truth precisely because our truth is the Truth. The Truth of our reality can only be the Truth that God is. We seem more to be obsessed with the tiny diamonds of Truth that permeate our understanding, hoarding them, protecting them, polishing them and examining them rather than realising that these tiny fragments are merely the intersections of the Truth with our empirical reality.

The Church really does possess this Truth, because the Truth is God Himself, yet she only possesses Him in the sense that He desires the embrace of His Bride and yields to that embrace. Yet, at each instant in time, all we will be able to perceive of the Truth are the fragments we have so far collected, and the fragments that we are finding now. Our possession can never be an ownership, merely an experience of Divine Love.

Yet if the Lord Christ tells us that He is the Truth, if St John tells us that God is Love, and the Saviour also describes the Holy Ghost as a comforter, a bringer of Peace, then the trinity of Love, Truth and Peace offer us an active way of living out our belief in God as lovers, peacekeepers and proper scientists.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Trust or Trussed II: The Letter to the Gullations?

If you think about it, one of the lessons that life gives you is that people can't be trusted. However, life does not often teach you who can be trusted until it's too late and thus when you have been deceived. It is when you have been deceived and hurt by one whom you have trusted that you find yourself

  1. hating them for deceiving you;

  2. trusting less in people around you;

  3. berating yourself for being so stupid.

This raises the issue of gullibility and over-credulity in people. Can it be that actually all Christians are gullible because they spend their time being controlled by the priests and pastors. They are being told what to think by a Magisterium or by pastors under a specific interpretation of the Bible. Even in this day and age, I still meet people who say effectively: "I believe in God because the Bible tells me He exists and I believe what the Bible tells me, because God wrote it." As arguments go, this is pretty weak. At some point, the Christian must be prepared to examine his faith in exterior to the Scripture.

Moderns reject the Real Presence as a piece of supreme gullibility. The body and blood of Christ cannot be physically perceived, so the believer in the Real Presence is being required to believe in something that is not physically verifiable. This, according to some, is a sign of gullibility, that others are seeking to control others through their belief.

If this is true, then to what end? It seems a strange sort of power to control what people believe if it cannot subsequently exploit that belief to some achievable end. If one just rejoices in what one can make others believe, then surely this rejoicing is deeply limited and become unfulfilling unless it moves into some form of exploitation. That is not to say that it cannot happen. I just doubt whether such a practice would last very long.

If gullibility necessarily leads to exploitation, then under what accusation can Christian belief be seen as gullibility? The ends seem obvious; according to the teachings of Christ, Christians are required to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, forgive one's enemies - the perfect mules for the world all for the pie-in-the-sky promise of eternal life.

What fools we must be - the fools for Christ as St Paul would have it. So St Paul's statement must be the way that Christians address the question "are you not being foolish allowing yourselves to be treated in this way, and all for some vague promise that you can't even provide evidence that it exists in the first place?" This provides the unbeliever with "evidence" that Christianity builds in a failsafe to prevent the believer from realising that he is being taken in.

So are Christians merely victims of a two-millennia long fraud?

Well, I am convinced the veracity of the Scriptural evidence of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I find the testimony of St John in his first letter very compelling.

Ὃ ἦν ἀπ' ἀρχῆς, ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν, ὃ ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν, περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life,

Again, I just don't see the point in lying about such a thing as this, especially when the core doctrine of Christianity is to help people live life well.

One could refer to the Jehovah's Witnesses and their policy on blood transfusions, but then the comeback is "well, isn't this exactly the same as the Catholic stance on contraception and abortion?"

Well, I can understand the doctrine on contraception and abortion. Both contraception and abortion stem from views of the body that are inherently damaging. Yes, there are complicated factors, but again, at the heart of these issues is the question: "are we considering the welfare of all lives involved here?" As a Catholic, I believe in the well-being of the unborn as much as in the well-being of the mother. I also question whether it really is better to let lust rampage through society with the widespread use of prophylactics than to teach people to cultivate a deeper love than to scratch animal itches.

I am not convinced that the Jehovah's Witness prohibition of blood transfusion stems from a similar interest in the well-being of others. It seems more to me like an arbitrary proof of faith than a way of deciding how to live well.

It seems then, that the whole difference between cultic gullibility and religious observance lies in whether or not the practice stems from a coherent philosophy of well-being. The Mass may seem arcane and meaningless to an outsider, but its purpose is to bring people together in a state of respect, love and generosity together with the God in whose existence we believe. Yes, the Mass done properly has much intricate ritual which can confuse and annoy those who do not understand what is going on, but each ritual again stems from a desire to be well in the presence of God and this is verifiable with study. If we believe in a God who desires not only to be present with us but to make his presence objective, then this is surely reasonable. The ritual killing of one's children as practised by the followers of Moloch is not.

Of course, the question of gullibility now boils down to a value judgement. If gullibility involves being drawn into believing something "false" and, as a result of that belief, making a "foolish" action then one needs to qualify "false" and "foolish". One also needs to understand what "well-being" is. All good questions, but they do raise doubt upon the militant atheist stance that religion is the opiate of the gullible.

As a Christian, I should look to everyone's happiness - a happiness that God created each one of us to have. Of course I fail, often miserably but I do not believe that I am being conned by some maleficent conspiracy. Judging by how long the Church has existed and the number of grievous errors she has made (the Crusades and the persecution of the Jews), the fact that she still exists with the same message convinces me that the Way is the way.

Friday, May 01, 2009

What you don't really want to hear!

I used part of a previously published sermon that I did not actually preach to form the heart of this homily.

Homily preached at Eltham College on Friday 1st May 2009 based on St John v.1-16

Why is it that Christians are unpopular?

For one thing, they go on and on about
trying to lead good lives
and pointing out
everybody’s sins!

When was the last time you sinned?


That’s seems rather a rude question
to be asked first thing
on a Friday morning.

How did it make you feel?



Did you find it a laughable question?

Let’s face it.

You don’t want to be told that you’re a sinner.

Nobody does.

The question of sin is not exactly
an issue which makes
Christianity popular.

The idea of sin seems
outdated these days,
just an irrelevance.

What do you think of when you hear the word?

Something rude?

Is saying the word “bum” in chapel a sin?

Is eating too much a sin?

Can a cream bun really be sinful to eat?

Is sin what an MP does
when he runs off with his secretary?

Or is sin just a Christian’s way
of telling everyone to obey
an arbitrary and pointless set of rules
in order to spoil everybody’s fun?

If that’s the image of sin
that we Christians send out,
then we are ourselves failing
to understand what God wants for us,
and that’s a sin too.


Whether we are Christian or not,
there is a sense of
right and wrong in all of us
– within limits!

We would agree that deliberately
wiring someone to
the Van der Graaf generator in the physics lab
is clearly a case of murder
and is something
morally and ethically wrong.

Yet, is it murder
to allow a terminally ill patient to die
by turning off their life support machine?

Further than that,
is failing to hold the door open
for someone a sin?


Robert forgets to hold the door open for Nancy
and it hits her,
taking the skin off her elbow.

This puts her in a bad mood
so she shouts at her secretary Jean for being,
in her words,
“bone idle”.

Jean takes Nancy’s criticisms seriously
and tries to compensate
by working harder.

She spends more and more time at the office
trying to sort out what to do,
so much so that she forgets
about the needs of her twins
Bradley and Britney.

They crave attention from their mother
and, without her guidance,
start to wander away
from the straight and narrow.

in order to numb the pain
of being ignored by her mother,
and finding her life meaningless,
gets hooked on heroine.
Later, she is invited to an eighteenth birthday party
where she meets Taylor.

They get pally.

She introduces Taylor to heroine.

He gets hooked, loses his job
and gets kicked out of his home.

One day, he leaves his filthy squat
lined with dirty newspapers
and even filthier hypodermic needles,
in a frantic search for money
to stop the pain in his stomach.

On his way he meets Kyle.

Kyle refuses to give him any money,
so Taylor stabs him dead with his rusty penknife.

He takes from Kyle a grand total of £3.87.

Not enough.Of course, Taylor is caught
and convicted of Kyle’s murder.

Who is responsible for Kyle’s death?

Taylor? Britney? Jean? Nancy? Robert?

Do you honestly have an answer for that?


It’s being said that
it is the greed of bankers
which is to blame for the Credit Crunch.

Do you really agree with that?

But then how did the greed get there in the first place?


It could be said that sin is nothing more
than finding different ways of being selfish.

This is a vast subject
and cannot be dealt with
in a couple of sentences.

But even a little selfishness,
as we have seen,
contributes to the suffering of other people.


So it seems that sin is serious.

Worse still, we are all guilty of being selfish.

Yes, you knew it didn’t you?

Christians always tell you that you’re a sinner,
but that doesn’t mean that you’re evil.

quite the reverse,
it means you are no better,
nor worse than anyone else.

To realise that we all
contribute to the sufferings of others
is a brave thought,
and to seek to stop that suffering
is an even braver thought.


Well it’s all contained in the phrase
“Love your neighbour as yourself”.

To love our neighbours
means that in addition to enjoying our lives,
we need to include
the interests and needs of others
and build them into our enjoyment of life.

To love ourselves means that
we have to see ourselves as we really are,
and to be happy with who we really are.


Yes, we do need to recognise that
sin is a serious business,
that we do fall short in what we do,
but that is not the end of the story.

However far downhill
you think this world is heading
with corporate greed,
teenage pregnancy,
famine and poverty in the third world,
or even vile acts of genocide,
it really doesn’t have to be this way.

We can start
by following the example
of St Francis of Assisi
and look for the image of God
in every single person around us
and treating them
with compassion and interest.

Christianity is all about realising
that we need the direction of God
to prevent sin from destroying us,
and to trust Him to show us how
to limit the effects of Evil.

God has no desire to see us destroyed by sin,
and that’s why He sent Jesus Christ
to die and rise again.

What God offers all of us
is the opportunity to transform the World
into something brilliant,
free from sin and suffering.

After all, that is the message of Easter.

Isn’t it?