Friday, December 31, 2010

Blogday 2010 (or thereabouts)

Well, five years ago on Wednesday I started blogging. It's been a fair old journey from where I was at the end of 2005 to where I am now. Over the course of the year, things have changed but not by much and certainly not for the better.


A good acquaintance remarked to me that these are sad times for honest men. Personally, I wonder when the honest man ever has an easy time. The trouble is, to be honest, one has to take time to seek Truth, sift through the wheat and tares and then examine what one has in order to comprehend as much as the paucity of our understanding will allow. In a time when things change so rapidly, honest men are hard pressed to get all the facts right at first glance.

Then, of course, when the honest man puts forward an unpalatable truth before the world, he is often told to go away and find a better truth, one more in keeping with the present age.

Like all Christians, I try to be as honest as possible and fail too many times. As I look back over the year that's gone, I realise that the stresses of modern living have meant that many of my posts and reflections are not as good as they could have been. I've tried to reflect more on Holy Scripture and Divine Liturgy as far as I possibly can. I've also tried to be less polemical than I have in previous years. This is largely because I haven't had time to think as deeply on the issues dividing the Church at this time, nor about the cause of unity central to the Anglican Papalist understanding of the Church.

Tomorrow, there will be five former Anglican Bishops entering into the first Ordinariates in the U.K. One is a former Rector of the Parish where I am Reader (though this appears to be in a very nominal sense) from whom I seem to have inherited this peculiarly hybrid ecclesiology and the desire to give it a rational footing. As far as I can make out (and I simply haven't had time to sit down and think about the fine details) the issue surrounding the whole Ordinariate scheme is the issue of space.

Down even to the level of single parishes, Anglo-Catholics are not being given any space to be true to themselves and the Tradition that we hold closely. I have been informed that if a Parish with the Resolutions in place falls into an interregnum, there are male priests that will refuse to give that parish a look. Actually this is a good thing in most ways, but the reason is not out of respect for the Catholic (and Conservative Evangelical) position here, but rather for fear of being associated with what is regarded as bigotry.

Bishop Broadhurst (he still is for another 6 hours!) has effectively hit the nail upon the head in that this idea of bigotry comes from a group of Christians who are building their Church from the World up, rather than God down. The fact of the matter is that "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." I can understand how to folk from a non-theist background would easily balk at the idea of following what they would perceive as the arbitrary commandments of a tyrannical deity. Yet if we believe and trust in God as a Divine Father, then our choice to believe and trust in Him restricts our freedom to choose the way we live our life, in just the same way as our choosing to remain within a happy family restricts our freedom in what we do. Freedom is probably more about free-won't rather than free-will.

The question before me is what to do with myself this year. I'm still in the Church of England - just. I know that I have been teetering for about three years now. The trouble is that being in love means that one dares even to be torn apart for the sake of the beloved. I admit that I still have feelings for my parish and for the CofE. I still have a monastery which has a claim on me - a claim that I seek to honour as best as I can, even if I fail miserably. I am still sufficiently Anglican not to regard a personal conversion to Roman Catholicism as desirable, and I see the Ordinariate as the only presently possible way for an Anglican Papalist to remain true to both identities. I should be much happier with the Ordinariate if it can be established peaceably and without the rancour of intellectuals trying to justify latent prejudices. There are plenty of trolls under the bridge across the Tiber.

I am also seriously pondering whether maintaining this blogling is a good idea. Perhaps five years is enough. If I'm not preaching or having time to think or reflect seriously on matters arising, then I should call it a day. However, we'll see what happens in the future.

So here's to 2011. May it be a very happy and joyful year for you all, and may the clouds of gloom and austerity display a lining of pure gold rather than the customary silver.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmass 2010

Here's the Christmass missive to the folks at the Anglican Diaspora. I thought it pertinent to put it here too as the sentiments are precisely the same.

It's been an astonishing year and another of great upheaval which necessarily affects our Christian brotherhood. The word of the year has clearly been "Patrimony" and it is precisely this issue of patrimony that is causing division between us: some of us are leaving to set up Ordinariates within the Roman Catholic Church whilst others of us see their identity as apart from Rome. This is causing so much tension down to the smallest of parishes, and we must each of us pray for the stability and charity for all.

If we are going to consider the word "patrimony", then surely we must focus on St Joseph who acts as the human father of Our Lord. Initially, he seeks to distance himself from Our Lady gently and trying to preserve her honour in an ambient society which would perceive her very negatively. Upon the instruction from the Angel, St Joseph is willing to take her for his wife and extend his patrimony to the Son of God. Legally, he has the right to refuse, but, out of duty to God, he accepts and, in accepting this patrimony, finds himself part of the Holy Family.

In the same way, Anglican Patrimony should be about becoming the guardians of the Christ-child together. There is so much that separates us - indeed much that seeks to separate us unjustly and unkindly - but the image of the Holy Family huddled in the corner of a stable is a sign of solidarity and mutual protection. Surely this is at the heart of the idea of any patrimony not just our Anglican identity. God is Our Father whether we are even Christian or not, and we can be sure of His patrimony - though only as adopted children - if only we would all listen to Him and align ourselves to the same inheritance that He promises. Anglican Patrimony must also seek to hold tight to that Holy Family, and in embracing those three figures around the manger, we share in the Love that binds them together, for in embracing the man and the woman, we surely also embrace the child who is God Himself.

Dear friends, may your Christmass be joyful and warm and may the Holy Family guide us all together into the patrimony of God.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Laodicia

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame , and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.


Does the door upon which the Lord knocks have a mirror on the inside? The message to the Laodicians seems to suggest that it does. We can sit comfortably in our little rooms and convince ourselves that we are the Brain of Britain, a highly toned Adonis with an eight-pack, clad in the clothes of purest silk of the latest fashion. However when that knock comes, we have to approach the door in order to open it, and we are then in danger of seeing the truth, that we are obese, clad in a tatty, stained sweatshirt and too-tight jogging bottoms, and that any intellectual prowess we believe that we have is no more than a C grade spelling test which we took when we were nine. Do we still open the door?

The truth does hurt, but it is so much better for us than deception and delusion. Christ is faithful and true and He cannot lie because He does not need to lie.Whatever we really think of ourselves, it is a distorted view of what is true. When Christ knocks we can continue in that delusion and never know Him, or we can face up to the truth and thus come face to face with the Truth.

Whatever we think of ourselves is immaterial. God created us and God redeemed us, it is impossible to get any clearer signs of His unconditional love than these. The trouble is that it's a tough love too. It does come with so many promises of hospitality, good company and holy revelry that surely facing up to the pain of the Love of God is worth it.

Prayer
Give us strength, Great King of Martyrs, to face up to Thy Truth and learn to see ourselves in Thy Light. Deliver us from the distortions of self-adulation and self-abasement, that though our sins appal us, Thy Light may enthrall us and spur us on to open the door unto Thee, Blessed Jesu Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost reignest forever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Philadephia

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth , and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.



It doesn't matter who we are, we are weak, fallible and imperfect. We can be a big cathedral community, or a little parish in the backwaters of Kent, but we are all weak and surrounded by beings which are set out to destroy us. They present themselves with faces of our ethnicity, our denomination, even tragically with the faces of our families and friends.

It's easy for us to fear. These forces are much bigger and stronger than we are and cause us to fall time and again in the same ways. We are encouraged to despair, give up and just go with the flow. So what do we do?

We present a man.

We present a weak, frail, imperfect man who through His Death was perfected and has taken back the strength and understanding that He laid aside in order to open the door to our safety. The door opens, the light floods in, and while the black catcalling mass of Darkness still pulls at us and drags us to fall again, we find our support. Like the soft, vulnerable limpet or barnacle, we harden into living rock with hearts of flesh, building and supporting each other until this impervious edifice stands immovable before the darksome world and passes into the light beyond the door which is shut to the darkness.

Prayer
Assist us in our weakness, Most Loving Heavenly Father, and while being impatient with our sin, help us to be patient with the frailty of ourselves and our brethren whom Thou commandest us to love; that as we reach out for Thee in the dark, we may be comforted by Thy marvellous light until such time as Thou shalt bring us through the door to Thine Eternal Glory in the mercy of Thy Son and comfort of the Holy Spirit whom with Thee art ever one God now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Sardis

And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent . If therefore thou shalt not watch , I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.


Like one that on a careless road

Enjoys his food and bed,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
And knoweth not the Second Death
Doth close behind him tread.

(With my very sincere apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge).

Back in its military history, Sardis was captured at least twice on the hop, notably by Cyrus. And here the church again is in danger of suffering the same fate for Eternity. It's all very well saying "yes, yes, yes" at the beginning, but it's seeing the task through to the bitter end in order to please the One who gave you the task at the beginning. The fact of the matter is that Sardis is not learning from its own history. This decadent, self-interested city, in its whim to fashion, does not realise that it is dying on its feet. "Faith without works is dead" says St James and the folk of Sardis are revelling in their military strength and failing to build up strength in spiritual matters.

It is the same Christ who gave the spirit to the Church in Sardis, but only a few have earned the right to wear the white robes through careful spiritual growth. It is easy to become complacent with all our physical, scientific and philosophical superiority, but the Christian knows that if he believes that Jesus Christ told the truth, then He is coming back, and will not tell us when, nor will he be alone.

Prayer
Open the eyes of Thy servants, Most Gracious Lord, to await Thy coming in the clouds. Strengthen their faith and their resolve that the stupor of materialism may not dull the keen edge of the Truth which they carry spiritually and uphold them in the times of adversity, that Thy Church throughout the world may truly work to praise Thy name, even the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Thyatira

And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication , and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak ; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers : even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

It's very tempting to make correspondences between modern public figures and the folk mentioned in the Revelation, particularly if we treat the book as the chronicle of the events to come. We may readily see Jezebels in the Church - indeed with all the changes that have been implemented in Church Doctrine recently, it's quite clear that such Jezebels exist. The Thyatiran Jezebel was obviously a woman hence the allusion to the idolatrous and scheming queen of I (or III) Kings xvi-xxi. Does it necessarily follow that the Jezebels of the modern church have to be female? And who are the Jezebels?

Christ makes it perfectly clear to the Church that anyone who tries to water down the Christian faith with the atheistic practices of an ambient society is not to be tolerated. The Church has to say NO loudly and make a clear disassociation from those who think that the Doctrine of Christ is compatible with a fallen world. It is God and God alone who will punish all who lead people astray from the Way of Salvation according to how they do so. Only Christ has the authority to do so because He and He alone has eyes that search the soul and He and He alone stands firmly and immovably.

The interesting thing is that Christ knows that His Church is going from strength to strength. We are building upon firm foundations and it is only these voices of synchretism which are causing a deviation from where we should be. If we polish our foundations, our feet will shine like brass. If we look into the eyes of Christ, our eyes will burn too and we will be able to see as He sees and bear the authority that He wants to share with us. In following Christ faithfully, we gain the sign of the coming light -Christ Himself.

Prayer
Teach us, Almighty Father, to conform to Thy ways and thus cleanse our souls. Grant us, we beseech Thee, the grace to tolerate no deviation from Thy Way and to practice the doctrine of Thy Love that Thy Church may reflect the light of Her Saviour and draw the nations to Thy Holy and Charitable Presence. We make our prayer through the same Way, even Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Pergamum

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write ; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written , which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

As Smyrna finds out, the problem of being a Christian in an inimical society is that faithful folk tend to get killed - horribly. The Church at Pergamum is in a similar predicament. This is one of the first places to practice Emperor worship and here we can identify Satan in his capacity as prince of this world. The consequence is that there is a heavy price to pay for fidelity to Christ as St Antipas has found out. Some traditions have this holy saint being burned alive on a sacrificial altar.

So what do the folk at Pergamum do? Well, it's clear that they don't deny Christ and remain faithful and true, but there appear to be those among them who are saying, "look, let's make life easy on ourselves. Let's go along as far as we can with everyone else and we won't be terribly conspicuous and get murdered horribly." Here is a church that is being tempted to adopt synchretist belief in order to make life easy on themselves, just as Balaam wanted to make life easy on himself by cursing the Israelites as a favour to Balak in return for all kinds of lovely things.

Of course God, through Balaam's ass, ensures that the Israelites are blessed by Balaam rather than cursed, and we get the impression from Numbers xxii-xxv, that Balaam isn't exactly happy to be blessing Israel either.

We cannot be Christian and expect the easy life, however nice it is when things are going smoothly and we aren't being poked fun at. Christ is perfectly clear: there is to be no compromise. The word of His mouth has the power to slice finely and carefully cutting out that which is corrupt in order to preserve the holy. The price of seeking holiness - separation from the ideals of the world - is sustenance from God, the nourishing food of the desert rather than food however sumptuous sacrificed to a false deity.

Those who seek holiness are given a new name: Conor (Latin for 'I try') becomes Victor (meaning 'conqueror') permanently etched in a stone that reflects the pure light of God as any truly white object must. It is the duty of the Christian to ensure that no practice of the modern world interferes with the true worship of God. Synchretism is an hypocrisy as well as a sin.

Prayer
O Lord God, Whose Word like a sharp sword divides Soul from Spirit, Truth from Error, and Life from Death; grant, we beseech Thee, to Thy Church the careful swordsmanship to cut away that which seeks to draw the souls of Thy little children away from Thee and we pray Thee that, nourishing Thy faithful people with Thy Heavenly food, Thou wouldst bring all souls into Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy, Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Christmas, Desire and Zigazig-a

Homily preached at Eltham College on 24th November 2010 based on St Matthew iv.1-4

Is there anyone here
who doesn’t know
what they want for Christmas?

Surely, by now,
you’ll have written down your hearts’ desires
for 25th December
in letters to Father Christmas
and addressed them to his home
in Lapland.

It’s a shame they won’t reach him really.

Everyone knows he lives at the North Pole.

So what did you ask for?


BioShock or Fallout 3?

The latest from Kings of Leon
or Taylor Swift?

The Nike ACG Wild Edge GTX trainers?

Some members of the sixth form
have asked for the Fisher Price
Bounce and Spin Zebra.

The list of desired Christmas presents seems endless!


So think now.

What do you want for Christmas?

Are you sure?

Is that what you really want?

The trouble is, you might just get it.

[PAUSE]

In 1996, five young women
asked that very same question.

Yo, I'll tell you what I want,
what I really, really want,So tell me what you want,
what you really, really want,I'll tell you what I want,
what I really, really want,So tell me what you want,
what you really, really want,I wanna, I wanna,
I wanna, I wanna,
I wanna really really really wanna
zigazig ha.

Popular opinion at the time
thought that what they
really, really wanted was a slap.

14 years of scouring
modern languages
from Sanskrit to Xhosa
as well as hours and hours
on Urban Dictionary.com
have turned up nothing,
absolutely nothing,
to shed light on what this
Zigazig-a actually is.

However, the Spice Girls
do make a very good point.

Do you really know what
you really, really want in life?
Are you able to express it?

[PAUSE]

We might want those
Nike Wild Edge Trainers,
but what about when we’ve got them?

We might want to be drinking
ice-cold cola,
eating the finest Krispy Kreme donuts
while sitting in a hot tub with the Saturdays.

But what about when the water gets cold,
the donuts have gone,
and the Saturdays have turned into
the Happy Mondays?

What have you really gained?


Did you really want those
trainers in the first place?

You know they are going to wear out
and be no more use than
the £10 trainers from George at Asda.

You can see that you get your trainers,
but in some way
your want doesn’t go away.

Once you’ve got what you want,
the want is still there.

So what is it that you want?

Can you identify what
you’re really missing in life?

[PAUSE]

It has to be admitted
that we are terribly fortunate in the West.

In fact we are spoiled rotten.

Anything we could possibly want,
there’s an outlet for it.

Perhaps that’s the problem:
we don’t really want
what we think we want,
and before we’ve found out
what we really want in life,
we’ve been distracted from it
by the comforting glow of a tactical nuke
in COD.

We don’t know what we want
because something bright
and shiny takes our mind off it.

So how do we find out what we really want?

Well, let’s take those trainers for example.

Why do we want them?
Because they’re state of the art.

Why does that matter?
Because they’re the best.

Why won’t the £10 trainers from Asda’s do?
Because they’re cheap.

But they’ll do the job won’t they?
But they’re not as nice (or siiick).
Why does that matter?
All my friends’ trainers are nice…

Before we know it,
we’ve discovered that
we believe that having the right trainers
makes us somehow socially acceptable
- a better person.

It reveals our need
to be accepted and loved,
and that we are willing
to sacrifice being who we really are to get it.


So by allowing trainers to tell us
who to be friends with,
we’ve actually completely missed
what we really want in life
– a group of good friends.

Real friends are worth more than trainers, aren’t they?

[PAUSE]

Of course,
you now realise that this changes the situation.

If we want good friends,
we need to be a good friend.

If we want to be accepted,
then we have to accept others.

If we want to learn,
then we need to study
and help people to study
in order to let them teach us.

In short, we have to do unto others
as we would want them to do to us.

St Francis reminds us that
we should not seek so much as to be loved
as to love.

We have to love first before we receive love.

Often that’s very hard
and takes a long time to achieve.

However, then we get
what we’ve worked hard for
and it is more satisfying than a pair of trainers
that will only end up smelling worse
than a long-dead fish wearing Hugo Boss.
St Augustine goes further
and suggests that all human want
is at heart the search for God.

He says to God,
“Thou hast formed us for Thyself,
and our hearts are restless
till they find rest in Thee.”

For St Augustine,
as water satisfies our thirst,
and food our hunger,
so does God satisfy any real want
that we have.

[PAUSE]

It’s true
we have to look very hard at ourselves
to discover what we really want
to have or do in life.

Each of us has something to offer others
and what we have to offer
will come out of trying to understand
our loneliness,
our sadness
and our confusion in life.
Finding out
what we really want in life
will tell us lots about who we are,
and will help us to get what we really want,
if we are prepared to look out
for what other people around us need too.

What do you want for Christmas?

Are you sure?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Smyrna

And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried ; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Poor little Smyrna. This is the Job of Churches struggling to exist among the howls of protest from its accusers, holding on as best it can in a Roman-dominated culture. Indeed, Smyrna was the place of a rather spectacular temple in worship of the Emperor Tiberius, so you can imagine certain members of the Jewish population there, wishing to ingratiate themselves with the Romans, accusing the Christians of being insurrectionists. Of course, in doing so, they separated themselves from the common God that Jews and Christians worship. Of course, if the Church in Smyrna is a type of Job (or vice versa) then the Accusers have another name too - an unpleasant name with an unpleasant fate, a name which means The Accuser.

So what is poor little Smyrna's fate? Christ prophesies more suffering - more suffering. Hasn't this little group of Christians suffered enough? Ah, but Christ does not leave them without hope. First, He shows the Church that its suffering is limited - ten days. Whether this ten days is literal or allegorical or moral or anagogical is immaterial. It points to a definite end to the Smyrnans' suffering. All human suffering is limited by the end of physical life, though the length of time that one does suffer can seem endless, daunting or extreme. Christ encourages the Smyrnans to keep on despite everything. He introduces Himself as the first and the last, the One Who was dead and is alive, the One who suffered and the One who is Crowned King of Kings. And He offers exactly the same for the Church at Smyrna, a Crown of Life and exemption from the second death. Smyrna already has these riches, invisible though they may be to the naked eye. However, this little Church brought forth many martyrs, not least St Polycarp, upon whose heads this Crown of Life now rests.

Prayer
Give grace, we pray Thee, Most Mighty Father, to endure the troubles and torments of the present age. Take note of those who suffer, those in misery and those in pain and enable Thy Church to succour them that they may endure only a short time in patient service to Thee, that in them the World may know of the Sacrifice on the Cross of Thine own dear Son, Jesus Christ, and that in dying with Him, they may rise with Him in Eternity, in Whose name we make this prayer. Amen.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Ephesus

I usually try to undertake a project for Advent. I thought it might be apposite, in this time of Ecclesiological upheaval, to reflect upon the seven churches which appear in the Apocalypse. So here is the first of seven.

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write ; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne , and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured , and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen , and repent , and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent . But this thou hast , that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate . He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.


Ephesus was a major city, home to the famous temple of Artemis and of course where Paul caused a little fracas in the acts of the Apostles. If you recall, he challenges the Ephesian idolatry and starts a riot with the cry of "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!"

The Ephesian Church clearly has much to worry about. It exists in the midst of a culture of idolatry and materialism. So it has a choice, either resist the prevailing tide of popular opinion or incorporate them into its Christian worship. Some Christians decide to do just that. They begin to eat food sacrificed to idols and practice certain immoralities, making up defences for doing so. These are the Nicolaitans whose practices Christ loathes.

So the Ephesian Church is very careful about the teaching that it hears. Any hint of heresy and idolatry is purged and the false apostles thrown out, all to preserve the Holiness of a Church that Christ holds very dear, as St Paul demonstrates in that wonderful opening to his letter to this Church. Christ Himself announces his presence to the Ephesians as the one in control of the Churches, who holds their spirits in His hand and who ensures that His Light still burns in the Church.

What has gone wrong? How has the Ephesian Church lost its first love? It is praised for its endurance, for hating detestable things, for not putting up with evil, but there is no mention of a desire to reach out and proclaim the Gospel by Holy living. This seems to be a Church which has barricaded itself in against the world and refuses to engage with anyone outside it. Perhaps it has transferred the hatred of the practices of the Nicolaitans to the hatred of the Nicolaitans themselves,. It is this that Christ contests by emphasising that it is the practices we must hate, not the people.

It is very easy for us to start to tar people with their own failings. We live in very similar circumstances now, and so it is easy to bind people to their misdeeds and to see no further than that which gives us grief. We have to endure this tendency of humanity to be misled along paths which are foolish. While we must necessarily separate our religion from that of idolatry, we must still integrate with idolaters in order to proclaim the Good News of Christ, though perhaps without causing the riots.

Prayer

Almighty God who hast called Thy people out from the World, and yet ordained them to live in the World, that through them the World may hear of its Salvation in Christ Jesus, Thy Son, Our Lord; Grant us, we beseech Thee, the gift of Love to separate a man from his deeds, that, detesting those deeds which are detestable, we may show him the same Love that Thou hast shown in the same Christ Who with Thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, One God World without end, Amen.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Conversion and Criticism

It seems to me that conversion or secession or however one refers to moving between ecclesial bodies has a very nasty side effect.

There are several correspondents from all over the blogosphere and in the press (particularly one very nasty evangelical convert to the RCC who is very clearly anti-Anglican) who turn on their former jurisdictions with a ferocity that is at best uncharitable and at worst Hellish. The reason is quite obvious.

One decides to leave a jurisdiction on the grounds of a divergence of one's personal belief from the prevailing understanding. In order to justify one's decision to oneself in a time ofr great emotional turbulence, upheaval and confusion, some folk seem to find it easy to demonise their former home accentuating the faults and playing down the strengths - this does not make for good critical decision-making and leads to a lack of charity.

Of course, if one leaves one's jurisdiction because of the heresy of that jusridiction it is correct to say why, but that doesn't mean that every member or every clergyman (whether they subscribe to the heresy or not) or every piece of headed notepaper in that jursdiction is suddenly affected with spiritual leprosy.

Personally, I do not trust the rantings of folk who, having converted, appoint themselves the arbiters of orthodoxy and do so in a manner which turns fallen human beings into the minions of Old Nick. Those who readily bring in the name of the prince of this world to describe their fellow are playing into his hands by doing precisely what he wants them to do - hate.

Intellectual Pride on the Beach

From Sermon 18: Ignorance of Evil

We know two things of the Angels—that they cry Holy, Holy, Holy, and that they do God's bidding. Worship and service make up their blessedness; and such is our blessedness in proportion as we approach them. But all exercises of mind which lead us to reflect upon and ascertain our state; to know what worship is, and why we worship; what service is, and why we serve; what our feelings imply, and what our words mean, tend to divert our minds from the one thing needful, unless we are practised and expert in using them. All proofs of religion, evidences, proofs of particular doctrines, scripture proofs, and the like,—these certainly furnish scope for the exercise of great and admirable powers of mind, and it would be fanatical to disparage or disown them; but it requires a mind rooted and grounded in love not to be dissipated by them. As for truly religious minds, they, when so engaged, instead of mere disputing, are sure to turn inquiry into meditation, exhortation into worship, and argument into teaching.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, volume 8

I shouldn't have much to add to this, mainly because the blessed cardinal shows up in me the very thing which he demonstrates to be unhelpful to faith. However, it does make me think of the way that things are.

The Anglican world is, it is fair to say, in turmoil. We have proposed ordinariates, societies, and covenants all designed to make situations very clear. The same texts are being scrutinised and used to argue for and against movements which are labelled "Traditional" or "Liberal" or "Catholic" or "Orthodox" or "Heretical". There seem to be many using the phrase "In Christ... there is no male or female" to argue for the ordained ministry of women who are missing the context and point of St Paul's discourse. Likewise there are those that use Leviticus xxii to advocate Christian hatred against homosexuals forgetting that there is no such thing as Christian hatred of another human being, only the hatred of the substance of evil. Notice that in both of these cases these is an unhealthy focus on one particular part of scripture. Rather than seeing these as part of an integrated whole, there seems to be a desire to slice and dice the word of God, to see Holy Scripture only in a historical context, or only as mystical, only as allegorical, or only as moral.

In truth, by spending too much time in focus, we stilt the Gospel. As Augustine of Dacia writes:

Lettera gesta docet,
quid credas allegoria,
moralis quid agas,

quo tendas anagogia.

The Letter teaches what's been done,
Allegory what you should believe,
Morality what you should do,
Anagogy where your life is heading.


There are probably other ways of approaching scripture, but to have all these four senses in one's mind as we read Scripture is no bad thing, as long as we read it humbly and understand that, on our own, we simply do not have the acumen to understand the Word of God. It is only in the context of the Church as a whole and her local expression in our lives, that we understand the word of God.

Here we are in this seething mass of argument, confusion, conversion and barricading. The Church is in a mess, but then it comprises of human beings, so it's quite obvious that it should be so. The blogosphere is full of self-proclaimed prophets putting forward their own divisive definitions of what it means to be Christian, or Catholic, or Protestant or Anglican, et c, and it does no good.

At the heart of any Christian theological study should be the love and respect of the other, no matter how different they are from us. St Peter, St Paul and St John remind us that we cannot walk in the same direction with those who are determined to go their own way through life and walk by their own interpretations, but we can at least keep open the possibility that in some aspects they are quite right.

It is like driving on the motorway. We could close the black-tinted side windows of our car so as to blot out the sight of those who disagree with us, who indeed may be truly heretical, and just drive straight on. Of course we will get to the Great Destination but, because we closed the window, have we missed out on those whom we thought to be travelling the wrong way, but have been driving parallel with us all the way? Have we allowed ourselves to be blinded to those travelling in the wrong direction but beating on the windows to be set free and perhaps join our caravan? Have we closed ourselves off to the possibility that with mutual consideration and gentle understanding of the other, we have helped tow someone floundering on the hard-shoulder?

I do not believe in the doctrine of taint, primarily because it leads inevitably to more and more schism. Of course, there is already a walking-apart happening in the CofE which is going to get more pronounced. This is fine, this is walking apart, a form of excommunication - so be it. However, what must not happen is for the tears and wounds that will arise from this walking apart to fester and produce the bitterness that seems endemic to the Continuum (particularly in the U.S., though ECUSA seems to be the main agent of that bitterness). We wave a tearful good-bye to our colleagues as they swim for the Ordinariates and we pray that they succeed for if so, then we have firm friends who understand each other and can at least attempt to pull two divergent ecclesial bodies together. Likewise, we pray for the Society of SS Hilda and Wilfrid that they may indeed keep the drive going to fight for a catholic identity in the CofE. But the windows must be kept open, contacts must be made stronger.

Of course, this is all up in the realms of theory and doctrine. What about at the parish level? The upheaval is bound to affect those who hear their Sunday Mass regularly and wonder about all the hoo-ha in the news. The intellectually proud are in deep danger of losing their parish if their theology does not involve the pastoral side, the day-by-day breaking of bread as well as the solemn Breaking of Bread.

And you may ask, am I Ordinariate, or am I SWASH? Well as Alan Bennet says, "Might as well ask a man dying of thirst in the desert about whether he prefers Evian or Perrier." Of course he was talking about his sexuality, I am talking about the isolation that has resulted from these schisms. In many respects I have lost my parish, and one may say that this is due to my intellectual pride. Perhaps I ought to concede that point.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Replacing the indicator light.

The bus had just arrived outside the bus garage and the drivers had just changed over ready to continue what is, for me, another hour bus journey. As a matter of protocol, the incoming bus driver went through a process of checking the bus. It was a well-drilled process which he had obviously done many times before. The trouble was that this process seemed to be taking longer than usual. After about five minutes, the driver got out, returned and got onto his cell-phone. The right-rear indicator was not working.

Clearly, it was impossible for the bus to proceed with such a vital little light out of action. Fortunately within 15 minutes and engineer had returned with a new indicator light and within 5 minutes we were off again - late, but away.

Rather an insignificant an event, you might think - a frustration for bus passengers, but on the cosmological scale, merely a blip in the eternal bus-timetable.

It did set me thinking though. That careful ritual that the driver performs means that the bus he drives is as safe as could reasonably be. The driver, fully aware that he has a duty of care for his passengers knows the importance for checking all the little lights and gadgets to ensure full safety, and that safety ranks higher on his list of priorities than getting the bus around the route on time.

It also means that this assiduous and thoroughly professional chap earned the trust of his passengers. Though we might be 20 minutes late, we were assured that we would arrive in one piece. Perhaps that's a lesson for us in our impatience with public transport. I know that I can be terribly impatient when the train does not arrive on time, but the duty of care (whether genuine or forced by legal pressure) of employees gives them better priorities. While one or two might be on the indolent side, I feel that I can trust the system the public transport has in place for ensuring my safety.

Now what of Cof E Bishops and Priests with the care of my soul?

Ah...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Disarray or datarray?

From the Forward in Faith Assembly

Resolution 2010/01
This Assembly, recognising the variety and sincerely-held convictions amongst the Members of Forward in Faith, commits itself to the prayerful support in every way both of those who are exploring the
generous provision of Anglicanorum Coetibus as well as those who are committed to remaining in the Church of England and achieving proper and adequate arrangements for all those who in conscience dissent from the ordination of women as bishops and priests.


If I'm honest, I haven't much to say on the current developments within the CofE. My own situation is rather solitary, and not through choice, though I am of course responsible for my movements within and without Anglicanism.

I am however relieved about this commitment by Forward in Faith to look after Anglo-Catholics who want to stay, and Anglo-Papalists who wish to take up the challenge of building the Ordinariates. This is just what is needed - acceptance of two different integrities in amidst great upheaval. Of course, there needs to be a final commitment made by each Anglo-Catholic according to his conscience, but he needs support from some organisation with his interests at heart, and while it isn't perfect, Forward in Faith seems at least committed to help its members find their own stability.

As for me? Well, semper incipiemus, I have made a commitment which I intend to see through to the bitter end. I've yet to understand what it means for my commitment to be at an end but if the feeling in my heart is right then end is not too far away.

I pray for the vanguard who will leave to set up the Ordinariates that God would make them stout of heart and resolute of mind to build an edifice in communion with the Holy Father of true Anglican proportions. I pray for those who remain that they may have the strength and energy to continue to provide the rest of the Anglican Communion with the salt that it needs to reconsider its actions in the Love of God.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gyrovagues in the key of G

Bless, O Lord, us Thy servants,who minister in Thy temple.Grant that what we sing with our lips,we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts,we may show forth in our lives.Through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

The RSCM chorister's prayer.


If you've sung in choirs since you were small, you may well have prayed this prayer. It's a right and proper prayer for a chorister to pray. I find, however, that it is that very prayer that, these days, keeps me out of church choirs. Why should someone who loves singing be forced out of church choirs for praying this prayer?

The Anglican Church has a wonderful Choral Tradition which, to all intents and purposes, is still alive. Regularly in Anglican Cathedrals one can hear Choral Evensong and Mattins executed very well. The excellence of the Anglican Choral tradition has lasted longer than Rome's by several centuries. One can compare the music as sung for the funeral of His Holiness Pope John-Paul II and the recent services in Westminster Abbey and Cathedral at which the current Holy Father was present.

Until recently, I was, for many years, part of a Parish Church Choir which was of a cathedral standard. We would regularly sing Evensong in the Parish and frequently elsewhere in cathedrals and abbeys and the like. However, what used to be weekly was, by the time I was asked to leave, monthly but the standard remained.

These days I sing in the school choir which, although brilliant in standard, is not a Church choir. When I do go to Church, I very rarely sing. Why?

I used to pray the prayer above assiduously. Reading it carefully, you can see that we are asking to believe the words that we sing and live them out in our lives. The problem begins if the words that a Christian is being required to sing are not those that the Christian should be believing. If the words of a hymn are pretty but actually say nothing at all, then by virtue of the Chorister's Prayer, what substance is there for me to believe, and subsequently, what substance is there for the way that I live life?

The chorister, as the prayer intimates, is a Church minister. The orders may be at best minor, but it is still an important ministry to fulfill for it is how the chorister leads the congregation in song that helps reinforce the belief of the Church in the faithful in attendance. The chorister must be disciplined to obey the direction of the choirmaster at all times. When the choirmaster says sing, we must sing. As he waves his hands, so must we keep time with him so that our song is excellent in its execution and clear in its promulgation of the message. The choirmaster is under the direction of the Parish priest, and the music chosen is at the whim of the priest under the advice of the choirmaster, though the former will usually devolve much of the choice to the latter, and whatever music is put in front of the chorister, that is what the chorister is bound to sing.

This, then, is where the Christian Chorister comes unstuck. How can one who believes in the Orthodox faith be obedient to a choirmaster when what is put in front of him is something that actually contains nothing for him to believe and thus practice, or worse goes against what the Church teaches? Further, what is the effect on a congregation of a choir singing a hymn that is riddled with vapidity and nonsense? It can be the most beautiful sound imaginable with stirring chords from the organ, sixteen-part harmonies executed by a choir that would make Kings College Cambridge sound like a box of angry cats and a fox, but if it is not singing the words of Truth which are the words of love, then St Paul's words in the first letter to the Corinthians come into play: their speech is as sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.

There is also the danger that Anglican Choirs become too "good" and then go professional. Why is this bad? Well...

Quartum vero genus est monachorum quod nominatur gyrovagum, qui tota vita sua per diversas provincias ternis aut quaternis diebus per diversorum cellas hospitantur, semper vagi et numquam stabiles, et propriis voluntatibus et gulae illecebris servientes, et per omnia deteriores sarabaitis. De quorum omnium horum miserrima conversatione melius est silere quam loqui.


The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues.These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province, staying as guests in different monasteries for three or four days at a time. Always on the move, with no stability, they indulge their own wills and succumb to the allurements of gluttony, and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites. Of the miserable conduct of all such it is better to be silent than to speak.


As St Benedict intimates in his description of the gyrovague, the choir that destabilises itself by ceasing to provide a vehicle for worship in a Church service and by becoming "performers" of Church music to be heard for their beauty rather than point to the greater Glory of God are damaging the faith of those who hear them. The Mass is not a concert platform, neither are Mattins and Evensong which are solemn offerings of prayer to God.

A good voice is necessary but simply not sufficient reason to be entered into a Church choir. A good tune is necessary but simply not sufficient reason for a song to be sung in Church. The Chorister must be committed to personal discipline and growth: as a minister of the Church he must work hard to improve the mastery of his instrument and of his personal subscription to the Faith that the music should express. All church choirs should seek the best in execution and belief. The choir should see itself in the role of a group of educators (literally ones-who-draw-out) by allowing the congregation to have their worship drawn from them and directed Godward.

As St Thomas Aquinas says:

Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem.

The hymn is the Praise of God with song; but a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on Eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.

Demanding? Yes. But then, isn't the life of a Christian necessarily sacrificial in nature? Why should a choir be any less sacrificial?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sacraments: Magic or Mystery?

In a Scientific age, we are presented with the notion that all that there is can be observed or at least inferred through observation and measurement and that the existence for an unobservable reality is entirely redundant via Ockham’s razor. God is unobservable and therefore scientifically useless. Science has no need and because he does not need to exist, he does not exist, since by Norman Malcolm’s interpretation of The Ontological argument by St Anselm, the existence of God is either necessary or his nonexistence is unnecessary.

As a Christian, I do not know that God exists. Formally, I suppose that this makes me an agnostic, but then there is something in what Keith Ward (Why there almost certainly is a God) says when he argues that Personal Experience can give us a good reason for accepting the existence of God. However, my problem is that I cannot give voice to what I can only perceive as some giant wandering about in my soul. When I peer into the darkness of my interior, putting aside all thought and worry, going deeper than words, trying to make as little of myself as possible, there is still something there, or rather someone. And that someone, I somehow know to be God.

As a rational man that is somewhat disconcerting to be unable to find a language to describe it, and “I just know” is not an argument that I can really get away with unless you know me personally and trust me.

So where is all this leading? Well, I got round to thinking about sacraments and Magic following my criticism of Fr Clatworthy’s argument about magic. Often I’m presented with the notion that sacraments are like magic spells, that you just wave your hands and say the magic words and – poof – something happens. Now Sacramental theology is quite a deep area and one can plunge into it via history, or metaphysics or by mysticism or even by ecclesiology. Of course being both Anglican and Papal I come at it from both viewpoints and neither. Actually, there isn’t that great a difference. Anyway, let’s see how good my understanding of sacraments is.

As far as I can make out a Sacrament is simply an expression of Divine Love impinging on our observable reality through the Community of the Church. As the Anglican Catechism would say, an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. The Roman Catholic Catechism says something similar that a sacraments are “perceptible signs accessible to human nature” and “by the action of Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit make present efficaciously the grace they signify”. The Role of the Church is vital here since this forms as St Paul would say the “Royal Priesthood” namely that the Church as a a united body of Christians (male and female) transmits the grace of God to the world through acts of Divine Love.

So what makes a Sacrament like magic? Well, this really comes from a misunderstanding of how a sacrament appears to be effected. A sacrament needs matter, form, a minister and a recipient; it will then bestow a certain grace onto that recipient which has a specific effect.

The Holy Eucharist is one of the obvious Sacraments. The matter comprises of the bread and wine – visible elements – and the minister presents them to God with the form of (i.e. the intention) of re-presenting the Sacrifice of Christ Himself during the Last supper which is utterly inseparable from His death upon the Cross. In John chapter 6, Christ Himself demonstrates the intention of the Eucharist that we are to consume Him and thus allow Him to become part of us and thus obversely we become part of Him.

What the unaffected observer sees is the ritual of the sign of the cross being made over the elements and the words of the anamnesis – the (more than) calling to mind the events of the last supper. It looks like this is all there is.

If you think about it, it really differs from magic, doesn’t it? If a magician pulled an invisible rabbit out of a hat, you wouldn’t be particularly impressed, much in the same way as Lisa Simpson wasn’t impressed by the mathemagician who used a “magic” seven to divide into 28 three times. Perhaps then it is even more tempting to suggest that, because it is all words and bread and wine, that’s all it is.

But you see it has to be more than that.

If we honestly believe in a Transcendent God, then clearly this presents communication problems. How does a temporal being communicate with One for Whom Time is not even meaningful? If human beings exist to a Transcendent being then they exist in some kind of entirety much like a reel of film in which past present and future exist all at once. Of course, God decides that He wants to communicate and, in the glorious paradox of the incarnation, presents Himself as Christ in order to present us with the Truth. Is there any other way that God can do this? If you concede that He exists as a living being who is responsible in some way for all that exists and why it continues to be, then this is a question that needs an answer.

For the Christian, the answer is the Incarnation. So powerful is the Incarnation that it casts ripples back in Time which we see as things that “prefigure” such as the Passover as well as the effects into history. What evidence is there for this? Well there is no evidence – I’m trying to demonstrate why Sacraments are happening a priori as a reasonable hypothesis. If you think I can be absolute about things like this, then I suggest you watch me try to hold the tide in. We read the words of Christ and, in St John’s Gospel in particular, we are met with the extraordinary promise that we will become like God, that we will become Transcendent. Christians already believe in the existence of the soul, so the concept of human beings being more than observable is no problem. If we believe ourselves only to be a biological machine and our consciousness as nothing more than some electro-chemical interactions in the brain, then this seems ridiculous.

So Christ presents us with the way to become Transcendent – to be like Him by consuming Him, taking Him inside ourselves so we can become like Him. No, of course this is unobservable – we are becoming Transcendent.

Then of course, you have to realise that this consumption of God can only come about because of Christ’s sacrifice. The sacrificial system has already been prefigured in the Jewish system as an atonement (at-one-ment) for sins –i.e. those ways in which we fail to be like Him – another set of future echoes? We have to participate in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Now there was only one sacrifice which means that we who are 2000 years after the event are going to have difficulty sharing in that one sacrifice unless there is something to bind us with that sacrifice. Well, this is the Grace of Transcendent God. The Sacrament of the Eucharist provides us with the means to participate in that one sacrifice provided that we meet it in the same manner in which He showed us. Jesus does command us to “do this in remembrance of” Him. Thus we are given the form, i.e. intention, the matter, i.e bread and wine, and the minister a priest chosen by Christ to re-present the sacrifice and effectively become Christ Himself at the Last Supper. Olivier ClĂ©ment writing in On Human Being describes the celebrating priest as “the image of Christ, and Christ, while undoubtedly possessing human nature in its fullness, is a man and not a woman and not a hermaphrodite”. Likewise St Paul himself describes man as the image of God and the woman as bearing the image of man.

Obedience to the pattern set by Christ, leads us to the conclusion that provided that the priest is valid, i.e. integrated “into the orders…which permit the exercise of “sacred powers”… which comes only from Christ through the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1538)

If a sacrament is not validly performed then the grace cannot be conferred (or at least there is reason for grave doubt that it has been conferred). If one receives the flu-jab from the nurse, clearly one does not receive the effect if she fills the syringe with water and injects you (wrong matter) or injects you into your blazer pocket (wrong praxis) or waves the needle at you chanting “inoculate, inoculate” (wrong form). God of course is merciful and who can tell what He does: no-one, not even Stephen Hawking, can know the mind of God.

Thus I present what I hope can be seen as a reasonable worldview on the nature of Sacraments from what I perceive from my study of the Catholic Faith to which I subscribe, though I suspect that I have made some glaring errors and omissions. I hope that I have shown that validity is important, why sacraments are not valid and given at least some reasonable, if not entirely convincing thoughts as to why things are the way they are. I hope that you’ll let me know where my faults lie – but be gentle, I’m not a proper spokesman for the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Struggling with struggling

Homily preached on 21st September 2010 at Eltham College based on Genesis xxxii.19-30

Jubilation!

Nick, Martyn, Jo and Gabby
are dancing around,
clapping and cheering,
the like of which has not been seen
since the invention of the McFlurry.

Gerrard, of course,
is sitting grumbling into his coffee,
whilst trying to handle the disappointment
and the ribbing from the others.

Jon watches on,
completely bemused by this behaviour.

Of course,
it helps to know that the date
is 12th September 2005
and Gerrard is an Australian.

How many of you can explain this?

[PAUSE]

Jon turns to Nick.

“So what’s happened, then?”

Silence falls suddenly,
like a dropped bowl of porridge.

A cold breeze whirls around the office;
a tumbleweed rolls abjectly by.

In the distance, a bell tolls sullenly.

“Where have you been
for the last 3 months?

England have just won the Ashes!”

“Ah,” says Jon,
“is that better than or worse
than the wooden spoon?”

“What?”

“Well, we obviously didn’t get
gold, silver or bronze.

So we were in the bottom two, yes?”

“What are you talking about?

Do you even know what sport this is?”

“I assume Rugby since Gerrard isn’t looking too happy.”

There follow some interesting words and phrases
designed to demonstrate to Jon that
perhaps he ought to pay a little more attention
to the folk chasing
a hard, leather object
around a field in front of
two little wooden edifices
resembling structures
one would usually find in a prehistoric henge.

[PAUSE]

It’s a strange life when you simply
don’t understand the fuss about sport.

Why is it that people get cross
when you don’t know
how many runs there are in a wicket;
or why baseball is not the same as rounders;
or why the referee in a football match
never gets snogged after a goal is scored?

For the non-sportsman,
the exultation and elation of a win
and the misery
and almost physical pain of a defeat
can seem as relevant as
an acute accent in physics.

If Manchester United lose
to Bishop Stortford at bowls,
it’s just hard to care.

Heresy, you may say!

Is there any common ground
for the Athlete and the non-Athlete?

[PAUSE]

Of course there’s plenty of common ground:
music,
school,
the fear that you’ll end up
like one of the contestants
in “Young, Dumb and Living off Mum”

However there is a common ground
that runs deeper than that.

Indeed it is common
not just to humanity
but to all forms of life.

For every form of life,
there are three certainties:
Life, Death and Competition.



All life is in competition with itself
for some resource:
usually dinner,
trying not to be dinner
and sex.

The vast majority of animals
die in their virginity
usually by suffocation
complicated by digestion
–they get eaten when they’re young.

There is not a day in the life of any organism
without some titanic battle just to stay alive.

All this seems a far cry from the hockey court,
doesn’t it?

Does this really apply to human beings?

[PAUSE]

Well, of course and you know that.

But how aware are you
of the struggles that you are facing each day?

We’re not talking about
realising that you have the ball
and the larger lads in the rugby squad
are thundering towards you
like belligerent wasps
to a discarded Curly-Wurly.

If you think about it,
we’re engaged in a struggle
with every other human being we meet
– not all the time –
but at some point.

If we’re all different people - individuals,
then at some point
we’re going to disagree somewhere.

The struggle then is
how do we live peaceably alongside people
who differ from us in many ways?

If we take a purely sporting view,
then we can attribute
win, lose or draw to every struggle.

Trouble is,
in so doing, we miss vital information
about ourselves and whom we are opposing.

Rudyard Kipling reminds us
that “winning” and “losing”
are imposters,
merely superficial labels
that we stick on the outcomes
of our struggles.

In the grand scheme of things
there are no such things
as win, lose or draw.

[PAUSE]

Christians believe that a careful review of
what it means “to win”
is of paramount importance.

If we win,
we need to interpret that win
in the light of what we have struggled to do,
and consider its impact
on the people around us.

A win that does not
take the wellbeing of others into account
is selfish and,
in the long-run,
likely to prove to be a loss.


If we lose,
then we need only
to regard it as a true defeat
if our struggle has given us
something of less worth
than what we have struggled for.

Often,
what we gain from “losing” is bigger
and better than what we are trying to win.

The cross of Christ may be seen as a defeat
in the eyes of the world.

To the Christian, it is more than a victory.

It is how we struggle
and compete that makes us truly human beings,
not what we achieve
or fail to achieve.

To the Christian,
“winning” is about finding the meaning
of our lives in the context of living with God.

The non-Christians too must reflect on
what goals they have set for their lives.

These are struggles which
we meet day to day,
and we deal with them
according to our religion.

[PAUSE]

All of you will see struggles this year.

You all have public exams to take
which will make big influences
in your lives to come.

You may see this as a worry;
you may not even know
which goals you are aiming for;
but, your experiences in sport
have taught you that
there is a bigger picture.

You have a team to support you,
coaches to guide you
and the lessons in life
that you have already learned.

Your struggles are not worth nothing,
indeed, whatever difficulties you face in life,
it is how you approach them
which will show who you really are.

You have already achieved much of worth,
and you have many more brilliant achievements
ahead of you,
but what system of scoring are you using?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Tyranny of Equality: The Second Story

An important man holds a dinner and invites lots of guests.

"I shall be glad to see you," reads the invitation, "please be yourselves."

Eric says: "This is a fancy dress party - I'll come as Dame Edna Everage."

Kevin says: "This is a karaoke party - I'll sing Bohemian Rhapsody."

Sheila says: "I'll bring my rock-band with me."

Clarence says: "this is a formal dinner - I'll wear my robes of state and bring my entourage."

Moira says: "This is a nudist party - I won't wear anything at all."

Alice says: "This is a drinking party - I'll bring lots of barrels of beer."

Michelle says: "What a lovely invitation. I'll bring a gift."

And so the dinner happens. It's a shambles. There are arguments between Sheila and Kevin, who then try to do their thing at the same time. Clarence is clearly upset with both Moira and Eric (who, incidentally, cannot stop staring at Moira) and Alice is busy throwing up in the pot plants while the other guests get louder and rowdier on booze. Michelle is sitting there quietly and, looking at the tears in their host's eyes as he sits there wanting to talk to his guests, wanting to share with them, she puts down her knife and fork and waits for calm to be restored.

How long will she have to wait?

The Tyranny of Equality: The first Story.

John and Joyce have been attending a rally for Equality at the local council offices. In the past few minutes, John has proclaimed, wearing his chains of office, that anyone who does not accept that all human beings are equal, that all viewpoints are equal, and who proclaim one belief over others, is denying human rights and ought to be locked up. He has decried all religious folk as being enemies of peace. He has called the Catholic Church a misogynist, homophobic organisation fuelled by bitter old men whose mindset lies in the past. He has spoken loudly that Science proclaims that there is no difference between human beings and that the rights of all to be what they want to be should be respected.

Now they are in the car on the way home. John is feeling really happy, delighted with how his speech has gone down. Joyce smiles at him, "John, you were brilliant tonight. I'm so proud of you. You've shown those chauvinists that we women are just the same as men. You've shown those bigots that homosexual relationships are just the same as heterosexual relationships. You've shown that twentieth century thought is so much better than anything that has gone before. I feel so liberated! Let's have a lovely evening together."

And so when they get home, John and Joyce do have a lovely evening together with the most passionate night they've had since the were married. As he falls asleep, John looks happily at the beautiful naked body of his girlfriend and passes a quiet night.

The alarm goes off the next day, and before he even opens his eyes, he reaches out for Joyce. His arm brushes her cheek, but it feels different - it's stubbly. Confused he opens his eyes and sees something which shocks him to the core. There next to him in bed, stark naked, is a man. He looks very much like Joyce's elder brother, but subtly different. John cries out. The man awakes.

"Who the Hell are you?" asks John, somewhat conscious of his nudity. "John, what's the matter?" says the man, "it's me, Joyce!" "No, you're not. Don't be a fool!" The man looks confused and reaches for the mirror. As he does so, John notices on the man's back the same little birthmark that Joyce had, the same birthmark that John had kissed so passionately the night before. The man-Joyce cries out as he catches sight of his face in the mirror. "John, I'm a man!"

So what now for John and Joyce? Does it matter to John that his girlfriend is now male? Why should it? Men and women are equal. Can he continue to live with him-her? Well of course, homosexual relationships are the same as heterosexual relationships. Will John's modern thought allow him to continue like this, or will the instinct of ages drive him away from Joyce?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Knock, knock

Behold , I stand at the door, and knock : if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Apoc. iii.20

The questions is why there is a door there in the first place. There can only be one answer. This door is the barrier thrown up by Original Sin, what else would stand between our Lord and God? Notice that this isn't the gateway blocking us from Eden with an angelic guard standing with flaming sword. No, this is our door and it stands because of Man's first rebellion. We slammed the door, and it shuts Our Saviour out.

And He knocks, and knocks, and knocks...

Perhaps we do not think that we have the ability to open the door. We may think it heavy, a large iron gateway that will take teams of Egyptian slaves centuries to open even a tiny crack. But we forget that doors, however rusty, or large, or stiff, or weighty are designed to be opened.

The key to the door is one of the Keys that belong to the Church. The Church possesses the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and one of these keys precisely fits the doors of anyone and everyone. It is the Key of Baptism. This is the key that renders the door from being unopenable - unlocking the door is not a problem. One may think that the lock is immovable, but the waters of Baptism are able to free the lock here and render the door less of a barrier. It remains for us now to open this door. On the other side, the Saviour waits to be admitted.

By what process is the door opened? I would venture that this door is opened by the combined efforts of ourselves and Christ. If we both push at the door from both sides, then we get nowhere - we have to go in the way directed by Christ. The effort of opening the door is our daily conversion through prayer and repentance, for only by cooperating with Christ will we overcome the stiffness of the hinges and the hardness of our hearts. The more that we open the door, the more are we able to engage in dialogue with Christ, to hear Him speak the words that will give us ways to open the door wider still.

If we are lukewarm like the Laodicians then it is clear that we have not got the commitment to persevere at opening ourselves up to Christ. If we turn away with the door barely open, then how can we entertain God within us? Only a constant effort will ensure that we answer the insistent knocking from the other side.

But yet, if we reflect further, when we get the door open, we have this promise that Christ will come in and make His home with us. The Eucharist has its full effect when our door is fully open. I suspect that, for me, the door is never fully open - never quite wide enough until the last day. Purgatory will certainly open any door that has begun to be opened, and then the feasting will begin. A door that is open now allows movement in both directions, and with God, one can never be quite sure whether we were truly inside at the beginning or in fact outside. Enstasy has a habit of turning into ecstasy.

Knock, knock.

Who's there?...

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Wideness of God's Mercy

I've been reflecting on this hymn lately:

There's a wideness in God's mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven;
there is no place where earth's failings
have such kindly judgment given.

There is grace enough for thousands
of new worlds as great as this.
There is room for fresh creations
in that upper room of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.

But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify his strictness
with a zeal he will not own.

There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

'Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
it is something more than all;
Greater Good because of evil
Larger Mercy through the fall.

If our love were but more faithful,
we should take Him at His word;
and our life would be all sunshine
for the sweetness of Our Lord.

F.W.Faber

Was Fr Faber's hymn written to open the mind or stretch the heart?

It seems we have failed to integrate head and heart sufficiently. We are certainly not supposed to be hard-hearted as Ezekiel reminds us when he reminds of the need to have a heart of flesh, but St Paul and St James remind us that we should remain firm in our belief and our reasons for believing what we do lest we be blown about by winds of doctrine. Does this mean that Biblically we should be hard of mind and soft of heart?

The trouble with being hard of mind, as St Paul reminds us, is that we become conceited with intellectual pride. Now, it is one thing to say extra ecclesiam nulla salus, but quite another to condemn someone to Hell with the coolness of the intellect. It is true to say that there is no salvation outside the Christian Church. Does this mean to say that I have now condemned all Moslems, Sikhs, and Atheists to Hell? Believe it or not, this does bother me greatly. Hell is such a terrible place that I wouldn't wish anybody at all, no matter who they are or what they've done, to even spend a moment there. I still hope that Hell will be empty.

However, there's a wideness to God's mercy, and thankfully it is not any one of us who will be the one who makes that decision. Those who wilfully reject God are destined to spend Eternity without Him, and they will find out just how unpleasant that is, for that is Hell indeed. My hope is that, by living our faith as best we can and praying fervently for the salvation of those who appear to be outside the Church, they will be able to see what we see and find their Salvation with us. We should certainly pray for those who do not believe, but first let us pray that the light of God should shine in our lives and work to that end, so that our brethren without the Church may see something of the Truth which we profess to seek.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sacramental Validity: a response to the Rev Mr Clatworthy

I ought to stop reading the Thinking Anglicans blog as it raises my blood pressure too high. I just don't see how if they claim to be "Thinking" Anglicans they can't seem to think rationally from both sides of an argument. They will of course accuse us conservatives of doing the same but, hey, we're not the ones who are claiming to be able to "think". If by "thinking" they mean posting venomous and unChristian comments in comment boxes, then I think they'll find a happy home among the more crotchety Anglo-Catholic blogs.

That which has particularly caught my attention is this article by the Reverend Jonathan Clatworthy, lecturer in Ethics, and General Secretary to Modern Church.

It's a very carefully reasoned article claiming that Anglo-Catholic concerns about Sacramental Validity are unfounded and that the Anglo-Catholic worldview needs to be challenged and shown to be untenable.

Actually, I found it rather interesting to read, Fr Clatworthy writes rather well. But he's so very wrong. I had hoped that a theological brain vastly more superior than mine would have made a response to him, but I've not yet seen it. I thought then that I'd better have a go in the hope that if I make a pig's ear of it, one of my more capable readers would be inspired to address these arguments more coherently.

Fr Clatworthy’s argument runs as follows:

  1. The concept of Sacramental Validity is a construct of a 19th Century answer to the atheistic Rationalism of the Enlightenment.

  2. The 19th Century answer establishes the reality of the spiritual realm without physical evidence.

  3. Since Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, there is no need to separate physical from spiritual.
Conclusion 1: Therefore the 19th century idea of sacramental validity in the context of a separate self-contained spiritual world is pointless.


  1. God does not need our rituals and gives His grace freely.

  2. There is no traditional theology which leads us to expect that God would withhold His grace if the minister was a woman.
Conclusion 2: Any notion of Sacramental Validity does not depend on the sex of the minister.

  1. Natural phenomena are open to scientific investigation.

  2. If God created everything so that the effects of a Sacrament were the natural results of the Sacrament were being performed correctly then Science would be required to justify this.

  3. There are no observed effects of valid or invalid sacraments.

Conclusion 3. The Validity of Sacraments cannot be understood in a naturalistic framework.

Main conclusion: We cannot understand the Validity of Sacraments either naturally (which would require scientific justification) or spiritually (which is a pointless 19th century invention), thus it doesn’t matter if the minister of a sacrament be male or female.

I hope I’ve got that right.

So here goes…

As I say, I find the argument rather lovely. The problem lies in Fr. Clatworthy’s premises.

Although Fr Clatworthy does actually demonstrate that there should be some reasonable conditions that a sacrament to be ministered faithfully: “a room with a visual focus and minimum of distractions…”, “suitable music at the right moments”, something for the children…, his arguments against validity, however, seem to make it possible for a trained parrot to produce a valid sacrament. This is decidedly worrying to say the least. What if, in 500 year’s time, a convincing android ministers the sacraments? Would people be untroubled by this? No? Is it then the personal faith of the one who receives? So then the one who does not receive because it’s an android is a heretic and not to be associated with? Rather un-Anglican, methinks. Nonetheless, it’s produced a question of validity, hasn’t it?

To reject the natural view of sacraments and the spiritual world of the 19th Century on the grounds of lack of evidence seems rather to follow the line of Dawkins. Indeed doesn’t Dawkins’ argument for the non-existence of God follow Fr. Clatworthy’s worldview?

Fr. Clatworthy does say that “our host society has a worldview in which Christianity can sit comfortably.” Of course, Scripture says that it can’t in several places (St Mark viii.36, St John viii.23, St John xiv.20, xv.19, xvii.16, xviii.38, I Cor i.17-end, …) Christians are called to be in the world not of it. If Christianity is sitting comfortably with the world and not challenging its science, then it has lost its saltiness. The Bible is filled with references to an unobservable part of reality, why else with the Bible end with an Apocaylpse – an unveiling of the spiritual realms. That’s not 19th century, that’s always been.

Fr Clatworthy does not believe in a “picky” God who chooses one person over another. He clearly does not believe in the God who appears in the Bible, a God who demonstrates His personality (or personalities?) and even His humanity by selecting people for tasks, not to belittle the unselected, but rather for the edification of all. Does one need a worldview to see that in Scripture? I notice that there is no reference to scripture in his arguments.

He does, however, believe that modern worldviews of science and reality trump those of the folk who have gone before. What happens when the aforementioned android priest shows him to be wrong and thus denounces all his understanding as “old-fashioned” and “out-of-date”? If there is a figment of Eternal Truth, where is it in Fr. Clatworthy’s argument that will stop it from becoming out of date? If it is an Eternal Truth, where is the argument for women priests before the 20th century?

So where does Sacramental Validity come from? Fr Clatworthy seems to think it an invention of the 19th Century. However, the question must naturally appear in the History of Christianity in regard to any schism. Of course the Schism that he will be most interested with is the 16th Century Schism whence sprang the XXXIX articles. Before any schism, there was no need to question the validity of the sacraments because everyone could be sure that they were being correctly ministered.

As soon as there is a substantial change in praxis, people are going to wonder about why the change was necessary. (Fr. Clatworthy, like most liberals has not demonstrated why the change is necessary outside their own worldview). Some will accept the change, others won’t. The peculiar aspect of the Anglican Church was that it tried to hold together two opposing view points, and the XXXIX articles came about to try and bind Anglo-Catholic and Anglo-Puritan together. All the more reason then why Anglo-Catholics want to stay in the Church of England in honour of that aspect of Anglicanism. Of course, other Anglicans opposing Fr Clatworthy are leaving the CofE for the Continuum or for Rome. Will Fr Clatworthy not bless any of them? Those Anglo-Catholics who wish to remain in the CofE recognise that their opponents are at least sharing some common heritage with them. We are trying to continue in fellowship, even if that doesn’t make logical sense.

In order to ascertain the conditions for Validity, it is necessary to look into Church History and see what was established before the Schism. Folk on either side of the Schism will justify their arguments therefrom. The probability is more likely that only one is right, though in God the possibilities remains that both are wrong or (less likely but possible) both are right. Thus, there needs to be a Christian generosity and accommodation from both sides.

Further in discussing the notion of “contract”, Fr. Clatworthy seems to fall into the same trap as those who say “God does not need our worship”. God needs not our rituals, nor our prayers, nor our worship, but we do. The rituals, prayers and worship affect us and help us to be ready to receive the grace of God fully. Fr. Clatworthy will want me to demonstrate the evidence for this because it is essentially a naturalistic view of sacrament. All I can offer is from what I believe from Scripture that in performing the ritual I am being “transformed by the renewing of [my] mind, that [I] may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans xii.2). That is, after all, what Communion is supposed (in part) to achieve.

I hope that I, as a confused and largely uneducated Anglican Papalist, have done justice to this argument. I would welcome your thoughts.