Sunday, September 29, 2013

An Angelic lack of Tinsel

I made the mistake of leaving the script of this sermon in the vestry at Mass today and, for the first time in a sermon, had to rely on Divine Guidance to preach without notes. As a result, I have had to amalgamate what I did say with what I planned to say. I hope this makes sense.
Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Feast of St Michael and All Angels.
Picture an Angel - any angel you like. Perhaps one that you’ve seen on a card or in a film, or, if you’ve been very lucky, one that you’ve met. What do you see? For many people, years of Nativity plays have taken their toll. Angels are little boys and girls dressed up in old white (usually off-white) sheets or pillow cases with a pair of cardboard wings and a halo made from a coat-hanger and tinsel. Or they are twee figures gazing out from a Christmas card merrily playing harps and pipes. 

Do you think that’s right? Where does it say in Holy Scripture that Angels have wings? Where does it say they have halos?

What is the truth about angels?


The word “angel” simply means someone who has been sent. If we look at all the appearances of angels in Holy Scripture, they always appear with a job to do. They are beings with purpose. The first angel we encounter is one of the Cherubim whom God sends to block our way back into the garden of Eden.

On several occasions, we have angels doing what they seem to be best at – announcing births! Hagar, Abraham and Sarah, Hannah, Menoah’s wife, Zachariah, and of course Our Lady - all have an angel visit them to tell them that they are going to have sons that will do marvellous things. Abraham and Sarah have Isaac, Hannah has the prophet Samuel, Menoah and his wife have Samson, Zachariah has St John the Baptist and, of course, Our Lady bears the Lord.

At that point, we then have the famous heavenly host singing “Glory be to God on High” which is where we imagine those tinsel covered angels the most.

However, angels have other messages to give than simply announcing hatches, matches and dispatches. They bear the commandments of God to key figures.  It was not the Lord in the burning bush, but His angel. It was the angel of the Lord that went before the Hebrews out of Egypt. The prophet Zechariah is instructed by an angel. It is an angel that releases St Peter from prison.

Throughout Holy Scripture, we are presented with beings that guide, prevent, announce, teach and even fight!

Fight? Is that something we expect angels to do?


In his Revelation, St John the Divine sees one of the most disturbing sights in all of Scripture - War in Heaven!  Angels fighting each other! It all makes Heaven sound just as violent as Earth.

Let’s be clear about this war in Heaven, for in it, with St John, we see St Michael fighting the dragon, Satan, and his host and casting them out of Heaven. This tells us very clearly that angels, like us, have a choice as to whether to follow God or not. It also tells us that there is no room in Heaven for anything that is Evil.

This does, however, make it rather difficult for us on Earth.

“Therefore  rejoice , ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. “

Isn’t that rather unfair on us who dwell on Earth? Do we now have to put up with Heaven’s rejects making our lives a misery with all the evil they can throw at us?


It is the Devil that accuses us before God. He is the one who tempts us into sin and rejoices when we inevitably fall into that sin. Remember that Satan seeks to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven and now, he becomes the least. It is his pleasure to take it out on us, but we should not despair.

Listen carefully to what another voice from Heaven tells us. “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down , which accused them before our God day and night.”

We are being told one of the deepest of truths here. There is Evil in our world and we fight against it and sometimes it seems that we are destroyed by it. However, if we trust God, we will not be lost. God values each human being so highly that “he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”

God sent His Son to save us from our sins and bring us back to God, and our lives are guarded by angels. While we do suffer, they protect our souls. If we trust God, it is His angels that will give us strength just as they give strength to Our Lord Jesus as He agonises in the Garden of Gethsemane about His impending crucifixion.
Angels may not prevent our pain and suffering, but they can prevent our loss if we let them. The famous anthem at a Requiem Mass says, “May angels lead thee into paradise…”
However, the sheer genius of the Angel's victory in Heaven which supports Our Lord and Saviour's victory over Sin and Death is that St Michael binds Satan's influence to our Earthly existence. Our Earthly existence ends with our physical death and, at the hands of a loving Creator, our bodily resurrection in Him where the effects of Satan cannot affect us. Satan's influence perishes with the Earthly. This is why he is fighting so hard to make us forget about God with all the fleshly temptations he can muster. Our Living Faith in God will keep us from that.

We are not often able to tell angels apart from ordinary people, indeed, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares .” We may only ever know them as folk dressed in dazzling white standing in the the Lord’s tomb, telling us that He is risen. We should however, be thankful for them and what they do for us, remembering that they, like us, serve God.

Yet we should remember that an angel is simply someone who has been sent by God. We too could become angels if God chooses to send us to do His will. This give us a choice. Do we prefer a real halo bought by serving God, or do we prefer a halo of tinsel?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Creeping Calvinism and Ambiguous Anglicanism

"Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen." (Prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer)
I am not a Calvinist for many reasons, but then I don’t think even Calvin was a Calvinist by today’s understanding and even then that view is somewhat stereotyped.  I believe that Calvinism is wrong, but then Calvinists will believe that I am wrong, so there is quite a reasonable reciprocity going on here. Are Calvinists Christian? Well, if they do truly worship Our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Man and seek to love both God and Man in their proper proportions, then the answer has to be a resounding “yes”. However, they are not Catholic or Orthodox in their beliefs. Perhaps they are proud of that. I wish them well anyway. In this post, I intend to address a more stereotypical Calvinism than is actually the case.

One very good reason that I am not a Calvinist is that I do not believe in the total depravity of man. This is supposed to be a standard doctrine of Calvinism that human beings are utterly corrupt and that the divine image given to Man in his creation was utterly abolished in the Fall. Calvin himself says:
“Here I only want to suggest briefly that the whole man is overwhelmed–as by a deluge–from head to foot, so that no part is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him is to be imputed to sin (Institutes 2.1.9, Calvin 1960:253).”
As an Orthodox Catholic, this is rather contrary to my understanding of the Creation of God. To say that “no part is immune from sin” misses a rather obvious problem when we know full well that God utterly hates sin. We know from Genesis that God created a world that was very good. The very state of being is a good, because we get that very state of existing directly from God. Just being we find a part of ourselves that is not infected by sin. God wanted to create us, therefore He created us, therefore we are inherently good in ourselves.

Of course, looking at the world with 16th Century eyes, one sees a world driven by war, a Church pervaded by worldly corruption in the hierarchy, and volatile politics making the simple act of existing a toil and despair. It is manifestly difficult to be optimistic about the inherent good of humanity when it does such a wonderful job of being inhumane. Yet, one can see the very wickedness in the world around us which Calvin saw. There is still corruption in Holy Church; still there are wars in the name of Religion and which seem not to have anything to do with any religion of love at all; still politics is volatile and the economy frail – many men and women are just in it for themselves. Many Scientists seek to reduce each human being to a predetermined destiny based on particles and chemicals and impulses. Science predestines just as much as Calvin believes God does.
How does God predestine human beings?

The Lord Himself tells us that we did not choose Him but He chose us. This we know, but if we think about this carefully, how did He make the choice?
Well, we are told that this choice happens before our creation.
“I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made : marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. My bones are not hid from thee : though I be made secretly, and fashioned beneath in the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect : and in thy book were all my members written; Which day by day were fashioned : when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm cxxxix)
“For whom he did foreknow , he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate , them healso called : and whom he called , them he also justified : and whom he justified , them he also glorified .” (Romans viii.29-30)
Yet to single some people out for Heaven and, thus by inference, others not contravenes the doctrine of God loving unconditionally since singling people out for Salvation is a condition by definition. This takes a slightly different meaning if we take into account God’s choice to create or not to create.

God need not have created me at all. It is possible that I would remain one of a googolplex of possible people who have never been created and yet exist only as possibilities in the mind of God. If God has chosen to create me, then He has indeed chosen me in the same way that he has chosen you to exist. Giving us existence is the giving of a great good and evidence of la true ove which is unconditional on our part since we can do nothing to change the fact that God chose us to exist. So we did not choose Him, or bring Him into being at all. He is not, as the atheists would have us believe, the product of our imaginations or a construct to provide a crutch for our meaningless existence.
This predestination is available for us, and we can resist it in any way we choose. We have the freedom to reject the destiny to which God calls us because we have the free will to choose. Of course, our Fall has given us this tendency to prefer bad to good, largely because we have been blinded to God's existence through our attraction and subsequent attachment to fleshly pursuits.
So what does all this have to do with Anglicanism?
The Anglicanism of the Reformation is a fudge which tries to hold together the Catholic party (i.e. those seeking to preserve as much of pre-Reformation Catholicism as they could while purifying it of the excesses to which it had become prone) and the Protestants (i.e. those seeking to promulgate the Protestant doctrines of the Continent within the Church of England). The Articles of Religion are deliberately meant to allow for an ambiguous reading, though the Cranmerian homilies to which they refer certainly focus on the notion of justification by faith. The trouble is that this fudge does seem very blatantly Calvinistic in places, even if it can be given a Catholic reading.
I started with the prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer. Everything is quite reasonable until we reach "and there is no health in us". What does that mean? On first glance it really does read like the idea of total depravity that the Calvinist's TULIP posits. In the 1560 Latin edition, the phrase is "in nobis nulla est salus". This does speak of our being corrupted in every part of our being and thus follows the Calvinistic approach. It is, however, different from saying "there is no good in us". An unhealthy thing may indeed still be capable of good. A myopic eye may not see clearly, but it can still perform its tasks to an albeit diminished sense.
The Latin word "salus" is also the root of "salvation". If we understand it this way, then the phrase "there is no health in us" takes on the form "there is no way we can make ourselves better". It emphasises that we have to return to the Creator to be re-made. We are not totally depraved but we are sick with sin. The Church again is the hospital for sinners and not the hotel for saints. Reading the prayer in this way does render the prayer a Catholic sense, but that doesn't stop the words from having the Calvinistic colour to them.
Likewise with the thanksgiving after Communion:
Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of the most precious death and passion of thy dear Son. And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
we notice the phrase "spiritual food of the most precious body and blood".
Of course, there are two readings here. One is in line with the dreaded black rubric which appeared in the 1552 prayer-book and denied vehemently the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The food provided at the Lord's Supper was spiritual, and not real. Of course, spiritual things are real, what was meant in this with the black rubric was that there is no objective presence of Our Lord in the Holy Matter. Queen Elizabeth I removed the black rubric in 1559 to promote greater peace with the Catholic wing of the Church. With the 1662 prayerbook, the black rubric was back subtly altered, perhaps to allow for different ideas of how the presence of Christ was Real but not Corporal.

Again, the text does shout Protestantism at first glance, even though a Catholic will readily affirm that receiving the Body and Blood of Christ does indeed nourish the soul and thus truly is "spiritual food". It would, of course, be much more correct for a Catholic to say instead:

"Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ."

The addition of "spiritual food" does indeed give that Calvinistic slant to the whole prayer.

For Anglican Catholics, our Anglicanism stems from the fact that we are using the English liturgy with its roots in both Sarum and Gregorian Rites, and not because we subscribe to the underlying Calvinist readings of the Book of Common Prayer. It does mean that we have to be very careful in how we use the BCP and why the 1549 version, which is reasonably untouched by the prevailing winds of Continental Protestantism, is the one of the standards for worship within the Anglican Catholic Church. Clarity of liturgy does make for better teaching and fewer heresies as the CofE has found out the hard way some 500 years later. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Orders and Disorders

A bit of a photo gallery to begin today's post.

These are all supposed to be Church of England priests: St Dunstan (advising King Edgar, Archbishop Warham (the last Archbishop of Canterbury in communion with Rome), Archbishop Laud, a 17th Century service, Fr, Alfred Hope Patten (responsible for rebuilding the Shrine at Walsingham), Sally Hitchiner (The Rev wears Prada).

While I was preparing for my priesting, it struck me that if I am to share in the Priesthood of Christ, then I do run up against the fact that the Church of England through which my orders have come does indeed have a distinct Protestant thread running through it. The Articles are subtly Protestant and, although I am not bound by them, my ecclesiastical ancestors were. Somehow, I have to reconcile myself with sharing the same Priesthood as Fr. Patten, St Dunstan and the 18th Century priest caricatured above. It is quite clear that the 18th Century Priest is very different from both St Dunstan and Fr. Patten. Surely the Roman Catholics are right. Surely there has been a rupture in Anglican Orders which renders any Anglican participation in the Catholic Priesthood completely null and void.

Of course, much ink has been spilt about the question of the validity of Anglican Orders, just as much blood has been spilt by the shameful fact that Christians are divided and some have been more than willing to shed the blood of others. I am no expert on the subject, and I have much work to do to get myself to the same depth of learning and wisdom as my priestly colleagues, but I do understand that the reason why the Holy See has declared Anglican Orders null and void is the defect of intention. In short, a Roman Catholic does not believe that an Anglican presbyter participates in the Catholic Priesthood of Christ because somewhere along the line, an Anglican Bishop did not intend the person they were ordaining to be a Catholic priest.

Now, I will probably re-hash some old arguments here, but I find it worth considering several points which convince me that I and my colleagues and so many other priests who happen not to be in communion with Rome are still nonetheless Catholic Priests.

1) Anglicans have preserved tactile ordination, the episcopate, and the fact that only an ordained minister may celebrate the Eucharist. This at least provides some mechanism by which Anglicans may share the Catholic Priesthood.

2) The Anglican Ordinal of 1550 (in companion to the prayerbook of 1549) makes specific reference to the ordering of "bishoppes, priestes and deacons", and that priests are given the same authority as Our Lord gave to the first priests "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven". This provides some evidence that the intention is the same.

3) Sacraments are not comprehensible. These are gifts from God! After the consecration, both Protestant and Catholic will see a wafer. The Protestant will deny the reality of the sacramental presence of Christ since he cannot see the Truth. However, a Catholic will receive the Truth that Christ is somehow present; he may even hold to the Romish doctrine of Transubstantiation. However, neither will he grasp the extent to which Christ is present. There is always a gap between what is really there and what we see, understand and believe to be there. God is gracious far beyond the bounds of human eyes. Likewise, the nature of the Catholic priesthood is not comprehensible. The 18th Century Church of England intended to make bishoppes, priestes and deacons as much as it did in the 16th and indeed 14th and prior centuries, though it will not have comprehended, nay even denied, the full grace and effects of the sacrament to the recipient in some adherence to the Protestant cause. That does not mean that that grace and those effects have not been given. God is gracious! Is any Catholic priest fully aware of the sacramental grace that he has been given by virtue of his ordination? Is he fully aware of the presence of Christ in him as he consecrates the Eucharistic elements?

The main point is that validity is really a test for a positive, not for a negative. A much surer test is that which Our Lord Himself reminds us: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits . Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down , and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (St Matthew vii.15-20)

It is in this way that one can discern intention and even then not wholly. Thus I do believe that Anglican Orders are and always have been just as valid as any other Catholic Priest's. It is entirely possible (though I doubt it) that the Anglican Church was Protestant. However, looking at the Anglican Catholic Church, if it ever was Protestant before 1977, then it most certainly is not now. I am convinced that I am a Catholic priest, that my Bishop is a Catholic bishop, and that my colleagues all participate in the One Priesthood of Christ as do so many others, and I thank God for it.

A defect of intention is difficult to prove, but if proved does indeed nullify a sacrament. As Sally Hitchiner proves, a defect of matter is often much easier to discern.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Souls, bodies and forgetfulness

Sermon Preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on 14th Sunday after Trinity.


Have you found yourself recently?


In the 1990s and early 2000s

 there was a spate of

high-powered businessmen and women

having some form of breakdown,

 taking time off of work

 and going to hotels, resorts and retreats

to try and “find” themselves.


How on earth do you find yourself? 


Had you any inkling that you were lost in the first place,

 like car keys down the grating in a car park

 or like a biscuit under the fridge?


 Where is this real you that you need to find, anyway?


To answer that, it is said, we have to do some forgetting.


Forget about what you do for a living,

or in your spare time:

 in fact, forget about what you do do.


It doesn’t make you “you”, does it?



 Forget what you own.


Your belongings don’t make you “you”, do they?


Forget your relationships, your family and friends.


Other people don’t make you “you”, do they?


Forget about your own body; it ages and changes

and yet if you lost an arm or a leg,

you’d still be you, wouldn’t you?


 Would you still be you if you looked completely different?


Where is this “real” you?




It’s a very hard question to answer, isn’t it?


If you do not know the answer, then join the club!


We simply cannot put into words who we really are,

though some of us try to do so.


How would you describe yourself?


 Intelligent, caring, forthright, devout, gentle?


Can you sum yourself up in words?

So where do we start finding out who we are?


All things start with God.


God made you you,

and if anyone can understand who you are,

 it’s Him!


“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him

must worship him in spirit and in truth.”


 However, human beings are not just spiritual,

they are physical too.


  We are this wonderful fusion of matter and spirit;

 it’s just very often we forget this.


For most of us in the West,

we tend to forget that we have a spirit

because we are so inundated by a material world.


Things that we can catch hold of

seem to have more relevance in our lives

than the things we cannot catch hold of.


 God Himself is not graspable:

 His light shineth in the darkness

 and the darkness comprehended it not.


This means that God tends to be forgotten far too easily.

Look at the ten lepers: they are healed by Our Lord and immediately nine of them are suddenly so obsessed with their health.


They realise that they are clean and made whole,

 focus entirely on the state of their bodies,

and go on their way to the temple to show the priests

 that they are now able to be part of society.


They forget the Source of that healing.


God Himself is often forgotten

because people fail to remember

that which is truly spiritual.


Our Lord tells us,

“where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”.


If we look for material treasure,

 then material treasure will be all that we find.


Matter has a dreadful tendency to break, decay or get lost.


St Thomas Aquinas says

“The things that we love tell us who we are.”


 Our desires do shape us.


If we desire only material things,

then that’s all we’ll ever be,

subject to breakage, decay and loss.

If we desire spiritual things,

 then we will find ourselves more truly.


 We will do more justice to our existence

as both physical and spiritual beings.


Can we go too far the other way?

Can we be too spiritual?




St Paul tells us to walk in the Spirit

and we will not fulfil the lust of the Flesh.


So it seems to St Paul that we cannot be too spiritual.


However, we can become snobbish, too pious, too Holier than Thou,

 or even loathing of our own bodies

and thus of our humanity.


 Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit

and therefore worthy of respect.


You don’t knock a building down

to preserve what it contains

but neither do you let it go to rack and ruin.


St Paul tells us that the body is important.


“Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.”

To get married and have children is a wonderful thing

and St Paul tells us that should not despise that process

by which babies are made.


But then we should not regard that very process

 as the be-all and end-all of a relationship with someone.


The key thing is balance.


As we exercise the body,

so should we exercise the spirit with

 prayer, Bible study,

and building the Church,

learning to love God above all things

and other people as ourselves.


We need to become more aware of ourselves,

 of our spiritual needs as well as our physical needs.


As long as we see ourselves as a whole,

we can live our lives in God properly.


We need to be conscious

that we see and love ourselves as being

both spiritual and physical,

and balancing our lives so that we can do justice

 to the person that God has created us to be.


Which has had more exercise in your life, your body or your spirit?