Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hospitality and Hostile Pasties

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A bit late of me seeing that it's nearly the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. I love this simple little anthem by Gibbons primarily because of its intimacy and humility. I'm not one for the Elizabethan musical canon of one note per syllable, personally, primarily because it prevents the colourful accentuation of certain words via melismata, but I do agree that it does help a simple prayer to be prayed well by the listener.

However, Gibbons has set one of those wonderfully translated collects. I may not believe that Archbishop Cranmer's theology was sound but I do appreciate his ability to translate Latin texts into a beautiful English.

This is a prayer for each one of us. It recognises our human frailty, and the commonality of human frailty to us all. I've already suggested below that even the Lord Jesus had to contend with this very frailty, though of course He overcame it sinlessly. Of course, the use of "our" rather than "my" raises the concerns from the level of the individual to the level of humanity itself - no, not just Holy Church, but all humanity. The Church exists for all human beings and, although opinion may be divided as to whether she fulfils her raison d'ĂȘtre, she has a duty to hold up all humanity, individual by individual, to the face of God in order that humanity, individual by individual, may know the warmth of the Divine Gaze.

There is an underlying issue of hospitality here. The Benedictines are very closely attuned to the needs of hospitality, the welcoming in of those who are frail and burnt by the ravages of Sin, World and Devil. However, doing so opens us up to dangers, physical, mental and spiritual. Unconditionally giving a fiver to a beggar on the street is the Christlike thing to do. If, a week later. that same beggar then stabs you (or worse, someone else) while high on heroin which he bought with your fiver then you feel the danger of being Christlike.

There is a chance that the food we prepare for our guests will, inadvertently, poison them and our hospitality rendered null by a hostile pasty. There are dangers within us, within all of us. Original Sin may have the sting of its guilt removed at our baptism, but we still have to deal with that inner brokenness. Our hospitality towards others is going to be affected by our infirmities, dangers and necessities, and this is utterly unavoidable, certainly, if we do not pray to God for His Divine sustenance.

Conversely, why pray for protection if we are not in danger? Well, if we do not believe ourselves to be in danger then perhaps we are not looking at our lives very closely. We may not be in physical danger, but we may well, in the complacent cosiness of the couch cushion, be in grave spiritual danger by allowing the numbness of our vision to prevent us from assisting those who are in physical infirmity, danger and necessity. If we really, really, want to be Christian, then we must continually strive to be Christlike and accept the infirmities, dangers and necessities of doing so. How?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A New Blog on the Sarum Rite

I'd like to take the opportunity to advertise Fr Chadwick's New Blog on the Use of the Sarum Rite and "Northern Catholicism".

As the Sun in its orb

I urge my readers to check it out.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

the Second Sunday after the Epiphany: Private Miracles or Public Signs?

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

St John ii.1 et c.

It;s interesting to examine apparent differences between the Gospels especially when each has its distinctive take on the life of the Lord. Here we see the first miracle in St John's Gospel the transformation of the water into wine at the wedding feast. Compare that with the first miracle in the Gospel of St Mark - the casting out of the demon of a man in Capernaum. The way that miracles are treated in the Synoptic Gospels is different from that of St John. In the Synoptic Gospels, one is given a sense of Christ giving assistance to those in need spontaneously as that need presents itself. In St John, we have Christ speaking and then ramifying his speaking with a miracle or, as St John prefers, a sign.

Of course, the Gospels don't exist in isolation, their position in Holy Scripture is to bring us in to the life of Christ. While conflation may indeed confuse the distinctive voices of the Gospel writers, it is better to look at the corroboration of what they say. The question with which we are presented is: Are the Miracles intended to prove the identity of Christ?

In St John's Gospel, they are: "I am the Bread of Life" is followed by the feeding of the multitude; "I am the Resurrection and the Life" is followed by the raising of Lazarus. It would appear that Jesus is using the suffering of others to His own agenda of proving His identity. However, contrast that with the Christ in the Gospel of Mark who constantly tells the people whom he has healed not to tell anyone about it. So here is an apparent contradiction and a rather negative view of a mercenary Jesus using the sufferings of others for His own Glory. except it isn't like that at all.

The key factor to resolve this contradiction is the very person of Christ - God made Man. In casting off the trappings of Godhead to be like us, He has limited Himself to our mortal frame. This means a limit to His time and to His energy. He has a Gospel to proclaim and a Death to die and He also has love and compassion for all who come to Him in humility. Those who demand signs from Him so that they can satisfy their intellectual pride are frustrated. Christ comes to share yet another suffering with humanity, the suffering that we can't do it all in the time that we have.

St Mark almost has Jesus frazzled and worn out by ministering to the people. Every time He goes to pray by Himself another crowd pops up with genuine concerns which He meets. This may just be a feature of the breakneck speed of St Mark, but it does show us something about our own lives. We too are often busy with genuine concerns which interrupt our quiet time with God. There are times when we have to say "no" and make that time due to our human weakness.

The Jesus in St John's Gospel comments on His life with His disciples including St John. St John seems to be speaking of a more intimate Jesus comfortable with His friends around Him, explaining the happenings and their relevance to His life so that they might believe and spread the Gospel. This is not a mercenary Jesus, because, with St Mark, in St John's Gospel we still see the Messiah crucified for the whole world regardless of person or position.

In putting the Gospels together more carefully we have a better inkling of how it is that God became flesh and dwelt among us and still does if we are willing to accept it. The limitations to the ministry of Jesus are only limitations if we let Him do all the work. The point is that He established the Church in order that His ministry might be continued for everyone, that the hungry might be fed, the thirsty given something to drink, the naked clothed, the slave freed, the prisoner visited and comforted, the orphans and widows provided for and in these acts of Charity, the Gospel might be preached more effectively and really than by words, syllogism and argument.

We can turn water into wine, but not necessarily in the way we would expect.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Archepiscopal Advents

Occasionally, I like to use this little blogling for advertising important blogs/events/websites even though this is only the blogling of an individual. However, I do have something worth advertising.

This April, we in the ACC welcome most heartily our Archbishop, the Most Rev Dr Mark Haverland. Having been our episcopal visitor some time ago, it's very good to welcome him back into the country. For many of us, it will be the first time that we meet our hard-working and committed Primate and it would be really very good for him to see as many of the Diocese as possible and hopefully send him back to Georgia with some happy memories and encouraging news as well as the blessing of DUK.

It would also be an opportunity for those who are interested in the ACC to see what we are about.
All the details will be published on the ACC Website so please check there for further updates.

If you are unable to come by reason of geography, please offer your prayers for this visit and for Archbishop Mark's safe sojourn.

Monday, January 02, 2012

What are Christians for?

Yasmin Alibai-Brown is quite right: Christianity truly does deserve better worshippers. I'm sure that the late Christopher Hitchens would disagree with this statement. He would see Christianity as being the problem and not the solution. In his eyes, God is not great because of the wicked things his disciples do. Perhaps this doesn't do justice to Hitchens' rather colourful objections to religion. Certainly the whole problem of evil is something that humanity in its entirety has been struggling with since the time it was able to decide between Good and Evil. There are no answers to the problem of Evil. The Bible certainly doesn't offer anything to answer why Evil should exist -the book of Job asks more questions than it actually answers.

However, that's the point of the book of Job! It gives this wonderful language which allows humanity to discuss the problem. We have here the framework of at least discussing the problem meaningfully. That much of the book is poetry helps us to explore meaning with the four ways of interpreting Holy Scripture : literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical. I suspect that some people think that poetry is just pretty words put together to wrench feelings from the beleaguered heart! I know that my poet friend Ed Pacht would disagree with that outlook! Poetry tells the truth not just by the words by the structure of how the words are put together.

Theodicy demands a turning away from the glib. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar do present standard but intellectually glib answers for why Job is suffering. This is why they are heavily criticised at the end of the book. While the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God and the existence of evil are not mutually contradictory, there are still questions to be answered, indeed there are still questions that need to be asked. Further, the language for these questions needs to be found and used.

It seems to me to be part of the high esteem that God has for His Children that He stands back n order for us to become what He intended us to be. But this way? Why? I've got ideas but they are far from incomplete. What will help me to complete them? Well I suspect that this is why God permits atheism and agnosticism, because it is in entering into this dialogue that the questions get hammered out. Neither side will let the other off the hook - this is a good thing! One ought, however, to be very careful.

The trouble with this is that, if this dialogue is done aggressively with harsh ridicule, straw men and ad hominem attacks, then the defensive reflex is engaged. Intellectual pride and triumphalism infect the dialogue badly and cause ill-feeling on both sides. Yes we can be "absolutely right", but if our manner of being "absolutely right" belittles those who are "absolutely wrong" then any perceived "victory" is Pyrrhic. Disagreements between Christians are inevitable, but it is how those disagreements are handled that can either reveal the Christian nature or for the fallen-ness of its practitioners. What begins with different viewpoints becomes a brawl.

There are two senses of the question "What are Christians for?" I had intended to ask the question in the sense of "what are Christians for?" as opposed to "what are Christians against?" I seem to have strayed into the teleological question for the existence of Christians - what purpose do Christians serve?

The two senses are not unrelated. All Christians are for humanity and for God, and they are called to mediate and communicate these sympathies. It's how we present our sympathy for each other and for God that makes the difference to our raison d'ĂȘtre. Our fallen nature makes this difficult. Hitchens loathed Blessed Theresa of Calcutta on the grounds that he believed her to be a fanatic a fundamentalist and a fraud, more keen on opening convents than caring for the sick. There may well be some truth in this and Mother Theresa will have to answer for any inadequacies before God, but this also raises the question whether less religious organisations are any different from this.

It seems that there is a competitive nature to dialogue and that this nature is escalating into a desire to obliterate the opposition. All humanity works for the eradication of Evil. This is a vain enterprise since each of us possesses some fallibility. The eradication can only come with the Kingdom of God - as I believe as a Christian. I don't understand how the atheist or agnostic see the end of evil, principally because I do not yet understand how an atheist or agnostic views morality beyond what amounts to subjective decisions. If it is Religion that gives humanity the language for what Evil is and to find the questions that address the suffering of innocent human beings, then its eradication is not a good thing. History shows that the Western society is based on Abrahamic morality. One may question where the Decalogue came from and how its articles evolved socially, but that Decalogue was expressed in a religious framework first and foremost, not in a manner intrinsic to human thought.

With Christianity subdivided into Catholic and non-Catholic, "Catholic" and "Protestant", et c, it seems that these divisions take us out of the realm of dialogue and into competition for souls. This is natural: if we believe that we are right, then we publish our findings even as good scientists do. If we convince people of our rectitude then all well and good, but if we start coercing people to believe, then we have lost the nature of God which allows dissent. In the U.K. proselyting does not work and seeks only to drive people further away. The more that it becomes apparent that this battle is taking place within Christianity then all the more that those outside will remember the words of the Lord which have permeated even their understanding - "a house divided against itself cannot stand".

Each individual needs to examine his walk with other Christians. There is often a great deal more of what we are for than what we are against. While there is a necessity for a walking apart, that doesn't mean that we should exempt ourselves from opportunities to spend some time walking together, nor to exclude others from opportunities for which we are responsible. A "Churches Together" initiative is always worth supporting even if it puts us into the same arena as those whose expressions of Christianity are markedly different from what we know. One can take the attitude that we are in dialogue with "heretics". The word may be apposite and completely appropriate, but it is often used without just cause and too frequently in a pejorative sense whether or not it is justified. Again, we need to see what we are both for, rather than spend all our time on our conflicts.

What to do? We may have a clear idea of our identity in Christ, but that identity is only ever crystallised in the lens of what others make for us. As St Thomas Aquinas would see it, all our desires have their end in God and all matter has goodness in its very substance. We therefore have a duty to be grateful for the interaction that we have with our detractors, dissenters and our "heretics" - this will not destroy who we are provided that we hold tight to the Faith of Christ - such interaction provides us with a framework for conversation with God. If we are strong enough, we could take St Thomas' view of theodicy and see even our sufferings as drawing us nearer to God and be thankful for them. This may also be just as glib as Job's comforters, but how else are we going to find the language to ask God that question?