Sunday, June 24, 2012

St John the Baptist: Breathing the Orders of Prophecy

Today marks the Nativity of the Birth of St John the Baptist, the last great Old Testament Prophet who, ironically, features exclusively in the New!

It is also a time on which many Bishops ordain Deacons to the Sacred Priesthood. One such example is my good friend Fr Anthony Chadwick who celebrates the anniversary of his Priesting today. Here I  would like to publicly thank him not only for his ministry in France but also beyond to the wider world, and for his kind words and prayers for me.
The Church has often spoken of her Prophetic and Priestly ministries: she has Priests who offer the prayers of the people to God, and she has Prophets who speak the word of God to the people. Pope John Paul II spoke of the "two Lungs of the Church" being the Orthodox and Roman Churches. I'm not quite sure whether I agree with that statement entirely - I would need to think a little more on it - but I would certainly see the Prophetic and Priestly ministries as being the visible breathing of the Church. The Church breathes in the Holy Ghost in the Priestly ministry and breathes out the Holy Ghost in the Prophetic. I wonder then whether the two lungs of the Church are Holy Scripture and Tradition which operate with the diaphragm of Right Reason!

Now these Offices are part of the whole Catholic Church and thus every Christian participates in both the priestly and prophetic. In some sense, all Christians without exception have a priestly ministry of offering prayers to God every day and participating in the life of the Church through Sacrament and Fellowship - koinonia. There can be no exceptions for this because each Christian is to love both God and neighbour and to intercede for all Christians. In the Traditional St Augustine Prayerbook, there is a lovely litany for the Night in which a Christian may exercise a form of the priestly office by praying on behalf of those who have said no prayers and even to offer praise for those who have blasphemed or ignored God. We have the assurance that God hears the prayers of His Church and He will answer those prayers insofar as the free-will of man will allow.

But there is the Prophetic office too. How is a Christian to participate in this ministry? It is the duty of every Christian to discover the Will of God, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and having made that discovery to share it somehow. This does mean speaking out. It means speaking out for justice, for mercy, for truth and for charity. It means speaking out for those who have no voice. Too often the Church is perceived as speaking out against something as if it sees every development as being negative or evil. This is not always the case and people very often mishear, though perhaps Christians have not been very good at proclaiming what they are for.

The trouble is that the zeal for our house does not consume us in the same way that it consumes Our Saviour when He throws the money changers out of the temple. It is often because that zeal is not Catholic, it is not for everyone but seeks to exclude. As I said in another blog post, the Church is for everyone, because God is for everyone. Yet, our zeal has the habit of promoting a god who is not necessarily the God in Whom we believe. Our bickering often reflects a lack of belief in an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibenevolent God and the times that this has been demonstrated in the past is horrifying.

There are times when I sympathise with the late Christopher Hitchens when I hear of Christians being thoroughly beastly to each other and to the outside world. The god in whom he doesn't believe is a god in whom I do not believe, either, to paraphrase Dr Alister McGrath! I saw on Facebook a post from the Vatican explaining the decision by Dr Williams to step down from being the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first comment on that post was the single word "Heretics!"  However, I must also confess readily and to my shame that I have not been the best representative for God - in fact I often wonder whether I've done more harm than good! I am truly thankful for Romans viii.28!

However, we should remember that the Hebrews find the Ten Commandments as truly positive Laws which promote true love, peace, equality and generosity. We must ensure that our Prophetic message is truly positive and seeks to build up individuals and societies, to preach peace rather than hatred, to offer the hand of friendship rather than to denounce, and to seek to embrace rather than to push away even when we are faced with something that is truly abhorrent. Christ throws the money-changers so that people can enter the Temple to worship God. His zeal brings light to those whose lives had been darkened by the detritus of sin which He casts out. We are often called to be Christ in the darkness of the world, whether or not we are ordained. Our zeal needs to be Holy, positive and fully grounded in the Love of God if it is to be seen as true Prophecy.

Of course, the Prophetic ministry is not always popular and many prophets (St John the Baptist included) have suffered for it. This still happens and is certainly happening within Continuing Anglicanism, though this seldom ends in summary execution. It seems that many in society want the lungs of the  Church to breathe the wrong way - to breathe in the spirit of the world and then breathe it out in the face of God, like cigarette smoke! Many faithful priests have been left high-and-dry on account of their prophecy and have been hurt because they have dared to stand against a flow which they see as being contrary to the will of God. How do they know? Because they have used their connection to the lungs of the Church, Scripture and Tradition. True Prophecy requires education of the conscience, participation in the Church, and zeal to accept the consequences of receiving the Prophecy.

It is at this point that I must now announce the fact that the Anglican Catholic Church has discerned within me a vocation to Holy Orders and that Bishop Damien Mead will (subject to the Divine will) ordain me Deacon on Michaelmas Day (29th September) this year. I am deeply honoured and humbled to be receiving this ministry and look forward to seeing where God is leading me in His Service in His Church which I love. From what I have written above, I hope that I have demonstrated why I feel very unworthy of such a calling. I expect to work hard for Christ and to be beaten regularly by Sin, the World and the Devil, but I know I have the support and love of Holy Church. I pray that God would give me the ability truly to extend that support and love to those to whom I am sent.


Auriel Ragmon said...

God bless you as you persue your ministry. and I mean 'chase after it!" It will run ahead of you if you let it.

Ben Shelly said...

Congratulations, Dr. Munn. I was happy to hear that you will become a deacon.