Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Compensation, fairness and Katy Perry

Admittedly, this was a last minute job after a confusion of dates. Consequently, the Lenten Theme is not obvious, but I believe it's there.

Homily preached at Eltham College on 22nd and 29th February 2012 based on St Matthew xvi.24-26.

Life is unfair.

Yes, that’s a phrase that’s usually accompanied by
a lot of shouting, tears,
a frustrated run upstairs
and a slamming of the door which,
despite rattling the crockery,
taking some plaster off the ceiling into Dad’s tea
and even causing the cat to turn over in its basket,
fails to impress Mum sufficiently
for her to change her mind about
letting you go to the tattoo parlour
to get “I love Labrinth” imprinted on your shoulder.

Well, it might not be quite that exact scenario,
but there are always some rows
that you have with your parents
and all of them will involve some argument
about whether or not you are allowed to do
this that or the other.

Why is it that you’re having these arguments now?

Whose fault is it?


Life is unfair.

You’re there at the train station on time.
The train you’re waiting for
arrives at the station
and then decides to carry on past,
fleeing into the distance faster than John Terry
from a Bridge family reunion,
leaving you stranded in the pouring rain.

Twenty minutes later,
you board the next train
only for the announcement that
it’s not going to stop at your station
but the one after.

For what reason, you’re not told.

For all you know
it’s because someone’s
dropped a bottle of Hugo Boss
and the resulting chemical hazard
has closed the platform.

Who knows?

The trains are a law unto themselves.

Whose fault is it that you’re late for school?

What can you do to get those
precious minutes of your education back?

Whom do you blame?


Life is unfair.

You fall off your skateboard, landing on your nose,
completely spoiling your good looks
on the same night that you’re
taking Katy Perry out on a date
to console her from the whole
Russell Brand fiasco.

Whom do you blame?


Well, whose fault is it?

As soon as you yell that question loudly in your mind,
something truly creepy happens.

Figures begin crawling out of the shadows,
sliding out from under the doors,
oozing their way towards you,
smiling unctuously – all teeth.

As their pallid hands clutch your shoulder,
they whisper in your ear,
“claim compensation!”


Claim compensation?

One can debate whether some lawyers
are really out to help you obtain
the highest levels of justice,
genuinely helping those in need,
or whether they are a bunch of ambulance chasers
out to get money from other people’s misery.

Now is that fair?

If you have a family member in a law firm,
you will probably think not.

If you’re in a family who has been damaged by a court case,
you might agree.

What do you think?


Life is unfair,
so claim compensation!

How does that sound to you?


Clearly, it appeals to our sense of justice,
our appreciation of right and wrong.

But what do we really gain
from obtaining compensation?

If we’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence,
we can’t work anymore.

It seems reasonable that we are given some support
to help us to live,
to cope with our new disability.

If our house has been damaged by someone else,
it seems reasonable to expect some kind of help
in repair and restoration.

If we’ve got to school all soggy and miserable and late,
what compensation could we seek?

“Dear Southeastern trains,
I demand my money back,
a hot towel and an English lesson to replace the one I missed…”

If you’ve gone on your date with Katy Perry
looking like something dredged up from Luxury Comedy,
what good would compensation do you?

“Dear Council,
I demand an instant new nose with which to enchant Miss Perry.”

What compensation do you wish to claim
from your parents for the injury
that you’ve suffered in not being allowed
to sport a tattoo from the Screaming Skull Parlour?

“Dear Parents, I demand payment
for loss of status among my peers…”

“Dear Child of ours, we demand payment
for the lump of plaster that fell off the ceiling
into Dad’s tea during your last rant…”


The trouble is that some people get obsessed
with “getting what’s rightfully theirs”.

What does it mean to get what’s rightfully yours?

What do you have a right to?

Do you really know your rights?

What about those in our sister school in Kinsasa?

Do they worry about what’s rightfully theirs?

What about the poor in Calcutta?


Why, then, does someone take a council to court
for saying prayers before a meeting?

Because it’s unfair to have Christian values shoved down your throat?


Is it therefore fair that Christians get secular values
like sex before marriage
shoved down their throats?

Ah, but Christians are wrong!


That’s an assumption that has yet to be proved.


Is it fair, that someone who devotes their life
to feeding the poor gets pilloried as a Christian fanatic
and a negative influence to real progress?

That’s what Christopher Hitchens says about Mother Theresa.

Yet, if God does exist, surely she is doing the right thing.

If you’re starving in India,
would you really care about being set free from the ravages of religion
if that very religion is actually putting
a bowl of soup into your hands?

To say that Mother Theresa is wrong
to devote time to promoting Christianity
is to assume that her belief in God was wrong
and that is something that has yet to be proved.

But life is unfair!


Mother Theresa cares not one jot about getting what is rightfully hers.

She is concerned only with giving what she has.

After all…

What good is it to demand compensation
and bankrupt a train company?

What good is it to demand payment and lose a friend?

What good is it to demand the ability
to get a tattoo and cause pain to those who really love you?

What good is it to gain the whole world, and to lose your very self?

Surely, it is better to give of yourself,
to write off some of Life’s injustices
in order to grow into a better, more loveable person.

Surely, it is better just to let others get on with
getting their just deserts,
and to live a real life without worrying about things
that are only going to fall apart,
get lost or go mouldy.

Surely, it is better to bear Life’s unfairness
in order to address the real hardship of others.

…and so many of you lot really do.

You’ll run a marathon so that some child
in Africa can get the learning you have.

You’ll embarrass yourself just so that
someone your age has got some where to go away from their abusers.

You’ll fall out of a plane so that
some person can afford an operation.

That’s why you’re brilliant
and so much better than those who will only
lift fingers to help themselves and claim compensation
for every little thing in lives which have lost all meaning.

So what is really unfair in your life?

Are you sure?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Sunday in Lent: Naughty but nice?

Cakes! Yum!

Years ago, there was a series of adverts for pastries and cakes whose slogan was "Fresh cream cakes, naughty but nice!" and the viewer would be presented with shot after shot of gorgeous delicacies -cream horns, Black Forest Gateaux, chocolate eclairs. These days, Dervla Kirwan seductively invites you into partaking of the yummy wares of Marks and Spencer and makes Advent as much a difficult time of dealing with temptation as Lent - if you regard Advent as a time of abstinence and fasting, that is!

Advertisements are, at their core, a form of temptation. They want to make you buy something, or buy into something. However, they can only really work effectively if you somehow buy into the premise that you need what they are selling.

Temptation is a very clever tool that the Devil uses because it plays upon our basic needs and wants. We're all tempted in different ways because we all have different desires and wants in our very being that need to be addressed and filled. Most of these needs are natural in origin and require a natural solution. We need to eat, therefore when we are hungry, food becomes tempting. We need to sleep, therefore when we are tired, the lure of a soft bed becomes too much to bear. We need to be loved, therefore the arms, body and warmth of our lover become more valuable than gold. All temptation plays upon our basic needs.

The trouble is that our needs become perverted. This is primarily how Original Sin manifests itself in our lives and within our society. Our weakness in balancing what we need with what we want is the cause of much iniquity in the world. The word "iniquity" carries the sense of not being equal, not being fair, not being honest, balanced or true. Our tendency to being self-serving is usually unconscious and unwitting, but nonetheless has deadly consequences.
It is worth looking at our temptations to see just what it is that we are being tempted to do and from what need this temptation springs. If we do so, we learn much about ourselves and about our relationship with God.

Let us then look at the Lord’s temptation in the fourth chapter of St Matthew’s gospel.
The Devil tempts the Lord into making bread out of stones. This plays upon the Lord’s physical hunger and the need to eat. In emptying Himself of His divinity, Jesus has made it possible for Himself to be hungry and frail and liable to die if the need for food is not met. If there is nothing to eat, then humans must accept that. For Jesus to turn stones to bread would be doing just the opposite of what His mission is.

In taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple, the Devil is playing on the human need for certainty and stability in a transient and fleeting life. How do we know there is a God? Can we trust Him? Can we draw up an experiment that will prove that God exists once and for all? In trying to get Jesus to doubt Himself and His Father, the Devil is hoping that he can provoke God into doing something rash and superficial, as well as undermining Jesus’ trust in God. In trying to break the bond between Father and Son, the Devil hopes for a victory against God.

The invitation for Jesus to bow to the Devil in exchange for the riches of the world is a temptation for Jesus to resume His rightful crown the easy way. Because Jesus is from the Father, He has a natural need and desire to return to the Father. He is aware of His Kingship and it is rightfully His. The Devil is offering Jesus a return to His rightful place but on the Devil’s terms. But Jesus has not come to exercise His rights but His love.

Each temptation of Christ is a temptation to reject what He has already accepted. In surrendering Himself to temptation, Jesus would be clinging to His Divinity and rejecting His humanity and this would be a clear betrayal of both God and Man. The Lord Jesus recognises the temptation for what it is and focusses His attention on the Divine Will, subordinating the Human Will to Providence.

We can look at our need for love and translate that into something more sensual and thus more sexual. Trying to fill the need with sex is such a sad way of living life, although it can produce wonderful sensations. Some try to fill the void with food and comfort eat themselves to death. Others will try to fill the void with religious practices and believe that they can earn God’s love or rather what they perceive of it.

Of course we all have basic needs, but we must seek them in the right place. God tells each one of us, “My grace is sufficient for thee”. We have to see in Him the fulfilment of our basic desires and needs. It will be because we look out at God for this filling the void that we will see others in need, and in need of the very things we have to offer. We look out from the introspection of our wanting, the hole in the soul as it were, into the light of Tabor, the Divine light, and we see the reason for that longing in Him. The more we can shed that light of Tabor from our living, the more will others’ find themselves touched and the less hold will the Devil’s temptations mean for us.

We pray, “Lead us not into temptation?” By this we pray, “be present with us, O Lord, in our very lives, that we may see our lives completed in Thee.”

How is that cream cake looking now?

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I'd just like to express my thanks for the kind words and congratulations I've received at becoming a licensed Lay Reader again after 11 months hiatus. It's good to be back and I look forward to adding a few more entries under the category of "Sermons" rather than just the homilies I produce for the college.

Lent and Love and Lenten love

It's very easy to dismiss the thirteenth chapter of St Paul's letter to the Corinthians due to its familiarity. If you've been to three hundred weddings or so in the CofE, this is always the text that gets read. But it is so worth sitting down and reading this carefully.

This is an excellent text to use to prepare oneself for Confession. Just try substituting your name for the word "Charity" (or "Love" if you're reading a newer translation) and then see what pricks the conscience. It's a text that can really smart!

This is one of the reasons that this text is given to us just before Lent. It's very easy to get caught up in the solemnity and fastidiousness of honouring our Lenten discipline that we forget its purpose of clear spiritual self-examination and preparation for Easter. What’s the point of giving up coffee if it makes us more of a crosspatch, or fasting if so doing focusses our attention from doing something Christian to the rumbling of our stomach. It’s surely better to eat normally and to do the will of God than to adopt an attitude of self-abnegation and narrow our vision solely to that discipline.

Of course, there is a happy medium and St Paul’s chapter on Love helps us to achieve that very balance between self-discipline and doing our Christian duty with a good attitude. Love is not passive: there is an activity to Love. It requires an object and therefore some way of affecting that object.

This is a mistake that people make when they relegate love to an emotion. Love is not just an emotion. We are told categorically that God is Love and God is by far the most active being. Love affects us at an emotional level and drives us to many actions which often apparently defy Reason. However, if Love is the Reason, then acts of Love are eminently reasonable!

This depends obviously on what we mean by Love and we could indeed traverse the familiar road discussing the four Greek words which we translate as love. Eros, Storge and Philios generate their own reasons which are largely selfish in their origin and selfish in their end. Agape does not originate in the self but has its origins in the Divine source which we acquire through God’s Grace and cultivate through our response to His agape for us.

If we therefore submit ourselves to a Lenten fast, then let it be out of Love for God and a desire to use it for the good of our neighbours. If our stomach rumbles, then let that rumble remind us of the hunger of our neighbours. If we are missing a favourite television programme, then let that sense of disappointment remind us of the how those less fortunate than ourselves find their lives thwarted by whatever poverty they suffer. If we find ourselves crosspatchy and irritable because we have a withdrawal symptom from what we have “given up for Lent” then let us think of the sadness of others and how they would welcome a cheery smile and some appreciation.

Once we have these thoughts then Love will spur us on, using our fast to address the needs of those around us. These need not be enormous acts of generosity, but rather seeds from which something more glorious can be allowed to grow in our society. Even if we reduce the levels of grudging complaint in which we often find ourselves, that will be something very positive for those around us.

What will be grown from our observation of Lent this year? Will it be Love?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

An open letter to Anglo-Catholics in the CofE

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

the proceedings of the recent General Synod have been doing the rounds of the media and no doubt you’ve been watching closely for what the future holds for you. While there is a lot of speculation and many, many commentaries and comments flying around the blogosphere, the whole matter of the presence of women in the episcopate is coming to a head this summer and, unless the vote fails in July, which seems unlikely, any hope of the sacramental validity in the CofE that Anglo-Catholicism needs will be lost. If you cannot hold to women being bishops then, in the future, you simply will not know whether a priest is truly ordained or a bishop validly consecrated if there is one female bishop in their history. What will you then do?

I would very much like to encourage you that there is hope, and a great deal of it, but it requires hard work. I was very much in the same boat as you. I was a member of the CofE for a long time and a Reader too for the best part of a decade. With all these changes and alterations to the doctrine of the CofE, I struggled to remain. I tried to be loyal even when successive alterations to the Mass, the reduction in parishes with Resolutions A,B,C, and the liberal agenda forced itself upon me and upon the local church. I am fully aware of the creeping bitterness, the headaches involved in trying to square the circle in order to continue to serve the church of my birth.

I remember how hard it was to lead Mattins and Evensong from the BCP yet being unable to go to Mass because the priest had effectively made up the liturgy. Yet despite being so unhappy, I was determined to keep going, to keep my head down and trust in God to make things better. My prayers were fervent and I clung to whatever crumb of traditional worship I could find, searching for the sincerity of what has now become regarded as “the Old Religion” again.

For me, there was a way back, and when I was forced to resign my license and leave the CofE just under a year ago, through the Grace of God, I found the Anglican Catholic Church. This was not an instant decision. I had first encountered the ACC back in 2007 but it took time (four years!) for me to think things over and work out whether this was the right thing to do. I could have found a FiF parish which is a similar distance to the parishes I go to now. I could have gone to Rome or taken up the Ordinariate, but it was not right for me to do so on the strength of my conviction of how valid Anglicanism is. So when I was made to go, I knew that my position was quite untenable in the CofE. There was no way I could reconcile my Anglo-Catholic understanding with a body committed to jettisoning Anglo-Catholicism. The ACC was a clear choice for me because it did exactly what it said and so I eventually joined.

I have not looked back. It is true; I have had to sacrifice much that I loved – the glorious buildings, the music, organs and choirs in the great Anglican tradition, the sense of establishment as a valued part of the fabric of the British constitution. However, these have been steadily eroded in the CofE any way, and so you will have experienced this too. I was fortunate to have been given a good span of time to think about my decision. How much time do you have? Just how will your Society of St Hilda and St Wilfred protect you, especially in this age of litigation and squabbles over jurisdiction? If that's the route you choose, then I pray for your success, but what will it really achieve? Will it be allowed to continue by an establishment which you know is hostile to you?

What has been preserved in the ACC is certainly the true heart of Anglicanism. What the ACC possesses is the sincerity of the Anglo-Catholic ways. The first thing I felt when I started attending was that it was what the CofE used to be. The liturgy, the sincerity, the discipline, the standards, indeed, the very ethos that I knew as a boy, all were present again – the ACC truly deserves its epithet as a Continuing Anglican Church.

Many of you will tut and shake your head and wonder what on earth I'm doing with "them". You see "them" as being disloyal to the CofE or as not being a "proper" church. There seems to be an underlying distaste and dismissal when "their" name is mentioned or "their" presence felt. I would like to suggest to you that you would do well just to listen to what "they" are trying to say and to do. They – we – are trying to do precisely what you want: to continue worshipping the One True God, Father Son and Holy Ghost according to the Anglican practice which we received from the Great Church through the lens of the Anglican tradition.

Of course, you’re loyal Anglicans. Anglo-Catholics always have been loyal to the Anglican Church. How can we be disloyal if we seek to preserve it? Our opponents just don't understand that. So, isn’t better to say “we wish you well, but we can’t walk together” to those who want women ordained as bishops, and thus demand your loyalty to something that you know isn’t Anglican, than to compromise your own integrity in going along with something you know in your heart of hearts is wrong. Believe me, I tried to do that and it hurt more than I can possibly say.

It hurt because I was trying to be in communion and not in communion at the same time. The Benedictine way has always spoken of being clear what one means and what Rule one follows. Those who are not prepared to follow the Rule are declared excommunicate, i.e. they are outside because they have placed themselves outside the rule. There is always a way back - indeed, it is very difficult to be thrown out of a Benedictine Monastery - but that way back always involves accepting the Rule: one never returns on one's own terms.

It is impossible to be simultaneously inside and outside of a room. One cannot say, "well, I'm inside this corner of the room, but not that corner" when one is still in the same room as that other corner. This was the mistake that I was making because this is not how being in communion works!

Communion means sharing the same way of life, the same rules and the same understandings and breathing the common air with all in the room and Holy Communion means holding to the same understanding of Our Lord Jesus Christ's religion as everyone in the room, breathing the same Holy Spirit who doesn't contradict Himself despite what the liberal element may say. Either one follows the rule of one's church and remains in it or one rejects the rule of one's church and thereby leaves it. Standing under the lintel of the door just blocks the way for people to enter and to leave. Indeed my own thinking blocked my own growth in the faith and it was only when I was made to leave that I could see things more clearly.

You will have to decide on what grounds you regard a church as being “proper”. If this is a purely numerical decision, then at which point in Church History did it become proper? When it consisted of just twelve? Can the CofE be “proper” when it ordains women – an action which you do not believe is what God wants? Of course, you could opt for the Ordinariate, but you’re Anglo-Catholic, not Roman Catholic, and you value your Anglicanism as much as we do. We also have a great deal of love and affection for the Roman Church, and pray for her good as well as the good of the Pope whom we regard as our patriarch, but not as our monarch. However, that being said, the Roman Church does not regard the Anglican Church as being proper; those who don’t regard the ACC as being proper do so for exactly the same wrong reason. Our prayers are the same as yours; our sacraments are identical; our Bishops are validly consecrated and you may check our lineage if you wish – we comply with the Doctrine of the Undivided Church.

Admittedly, we are tiny in the U.K. We’re larger in the United States, but everything is bigger over there. Of course, we’d like to be larger, to have enough money to buy our own church buildings, to form our own choirs, and to support our priests financially. At the moment this is a bit of a struggle, but we manage and we manage well. Indeed, we benefit from the lack of encumbrances of trying to maintain a Grade I listed building and their associated “Save the Church Roof” campaigns and the interminable wranglings of the CofE between political factions. Our small size makes it easy for us to know each other and to appreciate the value of the individuals within our parishes.

We’d very much like you seriously to consider joining us. We fully understand that would involve sacrifice on your part, the loss of buildings and that sense of presence as part of the Establishment. If you are a clergyman, we know that the sacrifice is greater since we cannot pay for our priests until we are bigger – much bigger. However we have made those sacrifices and it is worth it even on this little scale!

If you join us, you would be here to work with us, to shoulder the burden of building something of great value and to ensure that the Faith in Christ to which we cling. Further, unlike in the CofE, your efforts to build the Church would be valued, your devotion, learning and integrity would find a worthy place here and we would be able to present to a sinful World the face of Immanuel.

If you’re interested and wish to know more, our website is here.

Whatever way you choose, please be assured that you will always have my love and my prayers in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

God bless you all.

Monday, February 06, 2012

In the beginning was Septuagesima

It's Septuagesima again, so back to the beginning we go. Of course, for a Benedictine this is a daily occurrence - always we begin again.

The trouble with so many beginnings is that there are always a lot of loose ends to tie up. There are two beginnings in the Book of Genesis (ch i.1-ii.3 and ii.4-end) and of course the four beginnings of the Gospels notably that of St John. It may seem strange that we have these beginnings now at Septuagesima, but the time we get to Lent, we find ourselves at the reason why. Our Lenten fasting begins with the focus being squarely back on the Fall.

It doesn't matter how many beginnings we seem to have, we still seem to make a mess of it somehow. We wander off and find ourselves completely at odds with what God wants of us. As St Paul says, the will of the flesh is contrary to the will of the spirit and vice versa! Wouldn't it be easier if we could just jettison these sinful bodies and go off to heaven as disembodied spirits, freed from the lusts of the flesh which keep causing us to fall and fall hard?

The trouble is, this direction lies Gnosticism. Gnosticism separates spirit from flesh in an entirely draconian way. It does so because it fails to appreciate that God is actually happy with a material Creation, in fact Gnosticism demotes God to an imbecile for having created in the first place. Therein lies its heresy and its inherent breaking of the first commandment.

It's a fact that we still have Gnostic ideas floating around today, notably in the common understanding of death. The idea that when we die our soul floats up to heaven leaving our bodies behind doesn't really sit well with St Paul's notion of the corruptible body putting on the incorruptible.Both St Thomas Aquinas and the arch"dualist" Rene Descartes both viewed a human being as an indivisible fusion of body and soul - a psycho-physical unity. What this means when our body dies is uncertain - no-one can be sure of the geometry of death, save only Purgatory (more a rebuilding and re-formation) and the possibility of Heaven itself. However, the immortality of our souls is closely bound up with the fact that God remembers us, holds us in his mind and refuses to let go.

The fact that we have a body obviously does mean that it is a necessary part of us and we need to look after it as much as we look after our souls. Many people see Lent as an opportunity to flog poor "brother ass" with some unkind spiritual exercises of self-abnegation so that the soul can escape to higher planes. However, they forget that we are not just a spirit but a body too and that the health of one really does affect the health of the other. Do do Lent well, and to grow better in body and in soul, we need to prepare well. In some sense Septuagesima is the preparation for Lent which is the preparation for Easter. Boy, do we Christians do a lot of preparation!

In the Benedictine Tradition, each monk was supposed to speak with the abbot about their Lenten penance. The Gesimas provide the perfect opportunity for this to take place, to reflect on the nature of our lives and prepare ourselves to put right that which needs attention and to correct the imbalances that we have accrued since last Easter.

In bringing us back to the beginning, Septuagesima is inviting us to see where we should be. Of course, we should be in Eden walking in the Garden with God watching the Sun, Moon and Stars dance through the sky, enjoying the fresh breeze and looking after the animals. It's difficult for us really to see anything more than this picture of Eden and our idea of it may tend to cloy into a soppy Disney-style cartoon. This is because we have lost our sense of our beginnings through our Fall.

We now have the opportunity to reflect on our beginning and where we should be with God and see Lent as an opportunity for coming closer to Him. Yes, St Paul tells us that we need to discipline our bodies, but out of love, not out of a gnostic hatred. St Francis de Sales reminds us that while we are in this fallen state, we should not be surprised that we sin, but rather in seeking God's forgiveness we should learn to forgive our own weakness as well as those of our brethren and work to building up our souls and bodies together as one healthy unity.

So how do we begin to begin again?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Feast of the Purification 2012: Blood and Community

The Book of Common Prayer refers to the office of the "Churching of Women". I suspect that it's not seen as being very politically correct these days to call it thus. Of course, this is only the subtitle of the service: the BCP gives it its proper title of "The Thanksgiving of Women after Child Birth". Certainly, parts of the Church will do Thanksgivings before Baptisms and often that is the only service the child will ever receive from the Church. For some, the Thanksgiving service has become the naming ceremony and many families will understand that this is the only time they need to go to Church with their child.

For the Jewish Community, the rather bloody nature of childbirth rendered a mother ritually unclean and thus unable to take part in the fulness of Jewish rites until she had been purified. This does sound rather negative, that the woman, through no fault of her own has somehow become impure simply by giving birth to her child. Many today might read into it misogynistic overtones there, of some oppression of the woman. One might suggest they read such overtones in because they want them to be there.

Considering that a mother would actually need some time to rest and recuperate, perhaps ritual impurity could be seen as a way of regaining one's strength and healing after an arduous ordeal for mother and for baby. Some time out of society would provide this.

Of course, impurity and cleanliness were important to the Jewish way of thinking. The laws which God gave the Jews were ways in which they could preserve a distinct identity as people of God. Cleanliness meant a clear identity as one of God's Chosen People and to be unclean meant the possibility of some contamination with that which was outside. Blood was seen as a venerable substance as the life force. Considering that other tribes around the Jewish Communities were blood-cults which enjoyed the spilling of human blood as part of their rites, the rather more sparing attitude of blood was God's way of telling the Jews, "you are not like them."

One can see this when Elijah confronts the Prophets of Baal. The Prophets entreat Baal to light the fire for their sacrifice and when he does not, they cut themselves in order to entice the false divinity into action. For the Jew, blood is only something that is spilled in sacred covenants and sacrifices, not to be treated frivolously or consumed or even worshipped. It was part of the pact between Israel and God, and thus only to be treated in accordance with that pact.

Thus, even when the blood is one's own, a Jew would not wish to be identified in any way with the cults of old and thus would seek to have their part in society re-established through a cleansing rite. It was something they wanted to happen - the Jewish Community was something that each individual rejoiced in.

So now here we are. Our Lady has come to be purified at the temple. Whether she needs it or not is perhaps a matter between her and God and not for our over-curious minds, but nonetheless she seeks, as any other Jewess, to be part of the Jewish Community and for her newborn son to be part of that community too. It is a community absolutely integral to her way of life and she intends fully to bring up her son in that same beloved community.

It is the aged Simeon who has the startling revelation in his Nunc Dimittis. The Child is to break through the barriers of the Jewish Community and open it to the Gentiles too. How will He do so? Answer: through the pouring out of His blood. It is startling to think that a culture which avoided blood would find itself with the opportunity to be transformed by that very substance. This is another reason why the Lord Jesus is a stumbling block for the Jews. However, the pouring out of the Blood of Christ represents a new identity for the human soul. Not a blood cult like Baal, but a New Covenant in His Blood.

Thus the Feast of the Purification becomes a prediction for the existence of the Church, of the new identity, of the Baptism into Christ and a symbol for our own part in that community.

At her Churching, a woman brings her new baby to reaffirm her identity as Christian and to introduce her Christian family to the newest member. The next step for that little one is obviously Baptism where the child is given that new identity of its own apart from the mother. If we look down on this action then we denegrate both the offering of the woman, but also of the miraculous act of childbirth peculiar to that sex.

The example of Our Lady shows a commitment to playing a part in society, of not wanting to go one's own way, or to demand one's own path in Life separate from everyone else. She is making a decidedly Anti-Individualistic statement, seeing her identity within Holy Church and only as part of that Church. Outside of Church, she is just Mary; within it she is Theotokos - the Virgin Mother of God.

How do we show a similar commitment to the good of our society?