Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Seven Last Words: My God, My God

Heli Heli lema sabacthani hoc est Deus meus Deus meus ut quid dereliquisti me

Ηλι ηλι λεμα σαβαχθανι; τοῦτ' ἔστιν, Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες;

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
St Matthew xxvii.46

His faith in His Father is shaken. The final Temptation. The last attempt at diabolical forces to claim victory over God and the world as a Satanic prize. Whither can a dying man go who is gripped by the fear that all he believed, taught and invested in is worthless, empty, black? Psalm xxi(i) is surely the only place.
It speaks the truth about Jesus' present situation: pierced hands and feet, mocking mouths agape, clothes gambled for. And how He knows the truth of these words written nearly a millennium earlier!
But in remembering this psalm, the Lord cannot lose heart for it does not end in dereliction as some psalms do.

I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him

Even on the cross, the Lord can find solace in the Scriptures, just as He did when tempted in the wilderness. The final temptations are just as futile.

As is Death.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Seven Last Words: Behold Thy Son

Mulier ecce filius tuus, ecce mater tua

Γύναι, ἴδε ὁ υἱός σου, Ἴδε ἡ μήτηρ σου

Woman, behold thy son! Behold thy mother!

St John xix.26-27

Even amid His pain and suffering, even though He is scared, forsaken and so utterly alone, still He thinks of others' welfare. He sees His poor mother without husband or son to care for her now; a woman whose "yes" has threatened her reputation, caused her no end of worry, confusion, and upheaval and finally fulfilled that prophecy of the sword in her soul even as the lance in His side. Even now He cannot ignore that "yes". He turns and sees another "yes" in his disciple who has given up so much for Him, home, job and reputation, who is now without a guide, a leader, without hope - or so it seems.

Together for now as mutual support- a new family woven in grief.

Tomorrow, the Church- a new family woven in joy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Seven Last Words: With me in Paradise

Amen dico tibi hodie mecum eris in Paradiso

Ἀμήν σοι λέγω, σήμερον μετ' ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ

Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise
St Luke xxiii.43

But He wasn't in Paradise that day was He? We say in our creeds that Jesus descended into Hell before He rose again from the dead. Or is Paradise merely the same place as Hell, or rather Sheol - the place of the Dead.

Yes, there are ambiguities about what Paradise is, whether it is temporary or permanent, or Heaven or Hades or even a Persian Disney Land (Heaven forbid!). Whatever our interpretations of this saying of Our Lord, there are two key ideas that reassure the Penitent Thief at the Eleventh Hour and any one of us at our Eleventh hours. In the Vulgate, these are two words: Amen (Truly) and mecum (with me).

We do not know what death is like - we cannot know. Our Faith gives us a sufficient measure of certainty due precisely to this Amen and this Mecum.

Truly we are with Him. And He is faithful, even if we are not.

At the point of Death itself when we pour out our final breaths amid our final confessions of abject failure, our silent scream into the night that we fear, we shall hear those words meant for us - Amen mecum. Is there anywhere else that we would want to be?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Seven Last Words: Father forgive them

Pater, dimitte illis, quia nesciunt, quid faciunt

Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
St Luke xxiii.34

But surely, they knew exactly what they were doing? How can you not know exactly what you're doing when you're nailing someone's hands and feet to a block of wood? How can you not know what you're doing when you have been plotting to kill this man for ages because of the threat he poses to your stability? How can you not know what you're doing when you've acted out of anger for the disrespect he has shown you, criticising your way of life, calling you whitewashed sepulchres, foolish and perverse, men of little faith?

Far better, for the sake of the stability of the region that he die and let his teaching end there.


But they didn't know.

They haven't been listening.

You see, their malice, their hatred, their blinkered self-interest, their delight in others' pain, is directly responsible for the salvation of the souls of men. If there hadn't been sin and evil in the world, then the world would not have needed saving. As it is, what they are doing is putting an end to the Eternal effects of evil, sin and death.

While they are killing an innocent man, they are crucifying God Himself, and they don't know it.

While they watch His blood flow from His back, His forehead, His hands and feet and eventually His side, they see the New Covenant ratified, that God offers Himself to be so very vulnerable so that we can be free from the powers of Darkness, Death and the Devil, and they don't know it.

While they hear His last words and mock and jeer and spit and laugh, they hear Him offer the same forgiveness, the same freedom from sin as everyone else, they hear Him act as advocate on their behalf as He always said He would and does and will, and they don;t know it.

They are forgiven.

But they don't know it.

Who is more wretched? The bleeding, naked and pained figure dying on the cross, or they?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rocks and hard places.

I have to admit that crunch time is coming and I will have to weigh up my options shortly as my Parish enters an interregnum, not that I am particularly active within it. I am practically excommunicate from my own parish. My opponents (and there are many) will claim that this is my choice. Indeed it is: I choose to worship Christ at Mass, not have my ego massaged by dumbed-down liturgies, meaningless songs and platitudinous preaching which appears to be the staple of many services [sic] held by the CofE. If our intention is to attend Mass to feed a habit, then that is not a healthy intention for receiving the Blessed Sacrament.

If our intention is to seek the living God honestly and earnestly, in reverence humility, awe and wonder, then we stand a better chance of receiving something far more nourishing when we approach the Altar rail. It doesn't have to be Tridentine High Mass (would be nice though), but it does have to be honest and true to what the Church is. I get more and more infuriated by these folk who try to interpret the Church with their modern "scientific" mindset which they claim to be superior to Scripture and Tradition because it is so "reasonable". Balderdash!

Science is subject to fashion just as much as the High Street. Mathematics is subject to fashion. Worldviews are subject to fashion. Scripture and Tradition are not. They do not change because human beings do not fundamentally change - any glance through the minor prophets would demonstrate that. Of course Traditions grows, but growth isn't change - the roots always remain intact. The old is still there alongside the new, indeed feeding the new, neither rejected as being old-fashioned or newfangled but organically the same substance, indeed inseparable. Not so our Science. Quaternions yesterday, vectors tomorrow. Steady State on Monday, Big Bang on Thursday, D-Branes a week next Thursday. Surplices and tippets the first Sunday in Lent, chasubles and maniples Easter Saturday, but Christ the same yesterday, today and forever. What is reasonable one day will not be so tomorrow.

I limit my ministry to Offices now, mainly from the Anglican Breviary, not that I despise the Book of Common Prayer. I suspect that with my more monastic bent, the Breviary suits me better. The Book of Common Prayer does not contain little hours, or prayers during the day (except, I believe, for the rejected 1928 prayer book). It just seems so incomplete to me, though ask me what needs to complete it and I cannot find an answer for you (other than 6 monastic hours).

When I was turned down for ordination, I was told that the Church to which I was most loyal no longer existed and that I was chasing the past. I wonder how many would-be ordinands were told the same thing. I am suspicious of a form of social engineering taking place within the various boards of ministry. I suppose being rejected from ordination turned out to be the best for me, given the turmoil that exists in the CofE.

Am I waking up to the fact that I have been rather Quixotic in my ideals of trying to salvage what I can from the wreckage of the Church? Elmore is passing away. There are a few good priests, though even of them the majority accept the "priesthood" of women, but I remember that so did Fr Dearmer and so did Dom Gregory Dix - even the greatest minds can be fooled (c.f. Solomon)!

The old buildings still stand but are filled with clutter and emptiness. The CofE is just a pile of rubble which is being robbed like a Roman Villa to build lesser buildings of insipidity and politically correct niceness. In America I hear of Traditionals being forced out of their parish by the Liberal tyranny, their building sold to the Moslems and their projects for the homeless thwarted, but then the smell of brimstone permeates the hierarchy of "E"CUSA.

And the RCC aren't much better - Thiberville as just one instance! Indeed the efforts of a thoroughly traditional (and Anglican) Pope are being stymied by liberals trying to squeeze out the Traditionals. All around the Western World, in Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, Traditionals are being told "You are not wanted" forcing them between rocks (over which they stumble) and hard places (on which they land, nose first). This is another thing that I worry about Anglicanorum Cœtibus - yes we have the love and admiration of the Holy Father, but do we have the love and admiration of the Liberal Bishops when we are more traditional than they?

Is the Continuum the place? It's too divided. Certainly some American Jurisdictions are just so unpleasant and self-satisfied with their own definitions of what it means to be Anglican without the slightest idea of how we English do it (or rather did it). They shout, decry, call themselves prophets, and are so unbelievably rude that I honestly wonder whether any love actually resides in them for all their intellectual puffedness. Besides, I am too papal for most of them anyway.

So to stay CofE albeit nominally, or not? There are just a few embers that need to be extinguished before I decide where to go. However, my decision will have to come soon - rock or hard place. Either will do as long as the rock or hard place is the Rock. I expect to make that decision before Christmass (yes I have put three Ss in Christmass- it's deliberate). Like so many other Traditionals, as it were a monster I have become unto many, but God is my strong helper.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Elmore: two passings

I've been rather saddened to hear two sad things, not that either was particularly unexpected.

The first is that Br Hugh Kelly, the gloriously eccentric internal oblate at Elmore Abbey passed away on March 8th at the age of 81 after a battle with cancer. There are several stories about him which I'm only just hearing, but I remember him entering the Oratory, the wheels of his walking frame squeaking like a monastic choir of church mice, assuming his place in choir and then, emulating Corporal Jones in Dad's Army, always managing to be a beat behind everyone in the chants. I pray that his soul may be raised to the intimate community of God for Eternity.

Second, it has now been formally announced about the closure of Elmore and the movement of the monks to Salisbury, necessitated by the size of the Abbey and the scarcity of monks. It's a sad decision to have made, yet it is the right one, I am sure. I can imagine though that the Doms are going to find this inordinately stressful and destabilising. My prayers are certainly with them.

It seems that the secular age in which we live will deprive us of places of holiness if we let it. It's not that the places of holiness ever really go away, but if we refuse to see them, then we are deprived of them. I look at my parish church and see a beautiful 13th building attached to a pre-conquest tower. It ought to be an holy place, but the clutter, the various not really religious knick-knacks placed hither and thither (especially on the Lady Chapel altar!), the Clavinova instead of an organ demonstrate that there is little reverence or appreciation for what goes on therein. I do not think that my parish is unusual in that. Many parish churches in the CofE are becoming "functional" as opposed to being places of worship.

Please do pray for all monks and nuns and ask God to call more so that the U.K., and indeed all the world may have places of holiness, quietness and peace where one can occasionally be permitted to pass one's finger through the veil to touch the cheek of God.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Narrow Gate and Hyperbolic Geometry

Playfair's axiom: Given a line l and a point P not on that line, there is a unique line that passes through P that does not meet l.

Those of you of a certain age may well have been taught Euclid's five axioms of geometry. You may even be aware of the controversy of the fifth axiom, the famous "Parallel Postulate" which John Playfair expressed (in my eyes) more succinctly and elegantly than Euclid originally did.

The first four axioms were certainly reasonable enough. They remarked on things we might find quite obvious about our reality, e.g. given two points in space, there is a unique line that joins them, or that one right-angle is the same size as another right-angle. The fifth seems less so: why should it be obvious in our reality that there is only one line through P that is parallel to l?

If one considers a straight line to be the path which joins two points with the shortest distance, then the straight lines on the Earth's surface are arcs of circles with the same centre as the Planet. These are different from Euclid's straight lines, but we don't notice the difference when we are crossing the road as the crow flies to get to Tesco's. In the small scales in which we inhabit, these vast arcs of circles (Great Circles as we mathematicians- failed or otherwise- call them) appear to be no different from what Euclid described as a straight line.

The trouble is, on the Earth's surface, Playfair's (and thus Euclid's) axiom is blatantly false.

In the geometry of the Earth, the Parallel postulate is false. There are no such things as parallel lines on the Earth. Admittedly, the geometry of the Earth also breaks others of Euclid's axioms, in fact any geometry in which there are no parallel will break at least one other of the axioms.

That's not the only way that Playfair's axiom could fail: there could be more than one line through P that doesn't meet L. Here Bolyai and Lobachevsky showed that there are geometries which meet all of Euclid's axioms but not the fifth. (If the lines appear curved, that's because you're looking at them with the wrong eyes.)The most useful of these is the hyperbolic geometry which has a constant curvature, like the sphere or the plane. It's a bit tricky to describe; I suppose that the easiest way to describe it is that everywhere you look, it looks like the surface of a saddle. We usually try to flatten it out, but the lines will then look like arcs of circles which meet a boundary circle at right-angles. The boundary circle isn't really there - it's the hyperbolic version of an horizon. It's called the Poincaré disc.

So why am I going through all this mathematics? What's my point?

It's this business of "One True Church" again, the attitude of "this is the only way to God - the Way." It is clear that the way is narrow, the Lord tells us this much. Yet, I invite you to look carefully at the Poincaré disc. All those lines are straight in the reality of this disc and yet there are groups of lines (mathematically called a pencil of lines) which meet at the horizon. However, hyperbolic lines meet more truly at the horizon than lines in Euclidean space; by that I mean, the distance between those parallel lines, which are straight in this geometry, decreases the nearer they get to a common point on the horizon.

I am still trying to fathom in what way Church Unity can be achieved. If the Christian reality is hyperbolic like the Poincaré disc, then maybe we have got to make sure that if we cannot walk together as Christians, then at least we are travelling in parallel directions on an ever narrowing course to the One True Christ Who lies on the horizon of our vision. If our constant intellectualising (mea culpa) seeks to keep us apart, then let us at least have the charity to allow other Christians the opportunity to travel parallel to us in the hope that together we reach the promised land of the Love of Christ.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Homily preached at Eltham College on 1st and 2nd March 2010 based on St Luke xi.1-11.

Let us pray.

[PAUSE for shuffling]


Why did you do that?

All that shuffling and shifting in your seat,
making the benches creak and groan
like an oak tree during
the elephant nesting season.

It’s an automatic response,
a ceremony, that when someone says
“Let us pray”, everyone slumps forward
in their seat.

Does that mean that
you’ve all been hypnotised
so that when the phrase “let us pray” is uttered,
you are to believe that your spines
have turned to rice pudding?

Of course not.

That’s the way you’ve been taught to pray
– bowing your head,
putting your hands together
and perhaps closing your eyes.

And what is it that you do when you pray?


It must be difficult
if you don’t believe in God.

What do you do when others are praying?

Sit there and think,
“Oh do come on, you’re boring me silly?”
or does your mind wander
to what you have to do today:
beat year 10 to
the Krispy Kreme Doughnut sale,
create foul and pungent aromas in Chemistry
that will strip the paint off of the walls
as far as D/T
or find 100 different chat-up lines
to entice Pixie Lott out on a date with you.

Perhaps actually, you do pray.

“Please God,
let me launch a nuke tonight in COD.”

“Please God,
let there be a chocolate-covered doughnut left.”

“Please God,
don’t let the test on the subjunctive
be today.”

“Please God,
make Pixie Lott drive by in the limo,
get a puncture have to stop by the school,
just as I am there.

Please help me to lift the car up by one hand
whilst changing the wheel with my teeth,
so that she’ll think I’m hench
and thus want to go on a date with me.”

And what do you suppose
God’s reactions to these prayers are?


Perhaps you pray the prayer
that’s being prayed out loud.

Try this one for size,
and this time focus on the prayer itself.

Let us pray.

Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings
with thy most gracious favour,
and further us with thy continual help;
that in all our works,
and ended in thee,
we may glorify thy holy Name,
and finally by thy mercy
obtain everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Of course you realise that
the original meaning of "prevent"
was "go before".

How did you cope with praying that?

Oh dear, back to Miss Lott again were we?

If your mind was wandering during that,
don’t worry,
it even happens to the professionals!

St Augustine even moans about
his mind wandering.

But he uses the words
to focus his mind back to prayer.

If, however, all your prayer consists of is
“Please God let me able to do such and such”
“Please God make whosits to do blank”
then you are missing the point of prayer.

Yes, prayer is about communicating with God.

How is presenting God
with a shopping list of your requirements

Are our prayers reducing God
to the level of the Genie of the Lamp,
a being whose only purpose
is to do what we want?


So just how should we pray?

One of the disciples asks Jesus the very same question.

He replies with the Lord’s Prayer.

Now that's a homily on it's own!

While some of us know this prayer off by heart,
others of us don’t.

It’s worth looking at it carefully by yourself,
because in it we find that prayer
isn’t just about asking for help
with the problems in our lives, small or great.

It’s about asking for help to live life
with God
in a very personal and intimate relationship
despite the problems that life throws at us.

The Lord Jesus goes on to say that
God does actually know
both what we want
and what we really need
before we even ask Him.

The point is that we recognise His existence
as a figure who cares.

By asking Him for things in prayer,
we recognise that we need Him.

You might think of this as grovelling.

As Monty Python would say

O Lord, please don't burn us,
Don't grill or toast your flock,
Don't put us on a barbecue,
Or simmer us in stock,
Don't braise us or bake or boil us,
Or stir-fry us in a wok.

Oh please don't lightly poach us,
Or baste us with hot fat,
Don't fricassee or roast us,
Or boil us in a vat,
And please don't stick thy servants, Lord,
In a Rotissomat.

Do we pray like this?


The Lord Jesus tells us
that we can be bold in our prayer.

We are allowed to ask.

However, that does not automatically
mean that the answer to the prayer will be “yes”.

Sometimes the answer will be “no”
and other times it will be silence.

God is not an ogre
– He is very much concerned with that
which is really good for us,
though we can’t always see
what is really good for us.

Perhaps our prayers would be better suited
to getting to know Him

A reporter asks Mother Theresa of Calcutta
-now Blessed Theresa of Calcutta-
“what do you say to God when you pray?”

She replies “Nothing. I listen”

“And what does He say to you?”

“Nothing,” says the aged nun, “He listens.”

Yes, this does sound like
one of those useless and unfathomable pieces
of Christian mysticism,
but how do we expect to communicate wih anyone,
let alone God without actually listening
to them.


When you pray, are you always asking for something?

Or sometimes, just sometimes, do you listen?