Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Blogday 2015: Ten years!

This little blogling is ten years old. I can barely believe that I've been rambling on about things for an entire decade. So much has changed for me.
 
Initially, this blog happened when I accidently pressed the wrong button when trying to comment on The Continuum blog. The rest, as they say, is history and one can read that here if one is really that in need of a good night's sleep!

What have I learned in these past ten years? Well, I'm still learning these lessons.
  1.  The Love of God always surprises but never contradicts itself. It is certainly not comfortable!
  2. A State church will bow to the demands of the State. That's not a reason for hatred, but a call to seek integrity.
  3. Small is beautiful and honesty is the best policy.
  4. Time spent trying to hold the Pre-Reformation Church together with the Post-Reformation Church is valuable but very, very painful.
  5. It feels nice when you stop banging your head against a brick wall; that's not a reason to start banging your head against a brick wall.
  6. There is a fine line for the convert to tread between love for the new home and hatred for the place whence he came. One should learn to love the path behind, no matter how painful, because it is part of the path in front. As long as the light of Christ shines at the end of that path, it is a good path.
  7. There is a sense of humour in following the Tradition of Christ in His Church. It needs to be found quickly and rejoiced in at every step.
  8. Human beings are profoundly wise and profoundly stupid at the same time. No place is this more evident than in the self.
  9. I Corinthians viii.1b
  10. It is vital to know the fourteen works of mercy. These are the beginning of true theology and need to be done before quibbling about the minutiae of liturgy and ceremony.
As for the future of this blogling? No-one knows the future save the One Who Knows. Soon, I think, it will be time to stop. Until then, I'll keep looking for my Latin Dictionary.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

This little light of mine...

I'm not a great fan of popular music, less so that modern type of Christian music of the last four decades. I have heard recently that song "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." I find the tune rather annoying and it's become  a bit of an earworm, but it is one of those rare modern songs that actually has a meaningful content. Christians should let shine the light of God given to them. The light isn't mine, but I am called to bear it as my part in Holy Church's Royal Priesthood.

Fr Anthony reflects on the darkness in Europe: it is a theme that I have been thinking on, myself, as I prepare myself for spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness. That sounds dramatic, and perhaps it is, but I am increasingly sick and tired of the sheer negativity that is infecting the lives of so many people - all of whom are God's children. We do need to take this seriously in my view.

In the U.K. we are not disposed to the gun culture of the U.S. We're not convinced that gun ownership should be as open as it is across the Pond, but then such we don't have a codified constitution. However, this should not mean that we roll over and accept that which is repugnant to civilised Society. It is my view that what is truly repugnant is not as easy to put one's finger on as one might think. There are a lot of things done with the best of intentions, and I don't actually believe that he pathway to Hell is paved with good intentions, after all Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts. This is why the true intentions need to be rooted out in the light of Christ.

We cannot afford to allow ourselves to be fobbed off with apportioning the blame for the Darkness of our world simplistically. The cause of the ills in our present society is not the Liberals, the Conservatives, the Muslims, the Atheists, the CofE, or Rome, or Obama, though their actions are as clouded by the Darkness as much as anyone's, including my own. The Darkness goes much deeper than that.

Increasingly, I am being made aware of how much the Darkness plays in my life. I went to a CofE service recently and tried very hard to engage, though obviously I did not go up for communion. I loathed it, partly because of the bad memories it threw up, partly because it was so distracted away from God. The words were certainly trying to be Christian, but they lacked objectivity. There was, in my view, no practice of the presence of God. It felt like a group of people talking about someone in the room without really addressing them directly, though the words did try to do that. It seemed like visiting an extremely old relative in a nursing home. Perhaps I missed something as I wandered in the darkness, but then, if I trust the Light that I bear at all, I do believe that there was something gravely deficient in that service.

Yet, it was very clear to me also that at least there was a community willing to do something to honour God. That has to be taken into great consideration. Too often I hear shrill and unpleasant indictments of other Churches by those who really ought to know better. These are they who actually want their own way believing it to be God's way. They are the same people who make bitchy comments about any little deviation from their own.

Others believe that to let the Light shine means hooking it up to the neon signs of branding and soundbite, selling their integrity to get their image into the public psyche. They seek to make themselves look good even when there is little to look good. This isn't just true of the flashy megachurches: even some of the Traditional Catholic jurisdictions fall under the spell of believing that performance will draw crowds and that popularity will be evidence of shining the light.

No. To shine the light of Christ means first to seek purity of one's faith both in the individual and also in the Church. We must remember that it cannot be our own light that we shine. We have to be like clear light-bulb glass allowing the radiance of Christ in our hearts to sine through. Forget publicity, forget the brand, and start living humbly in the Catholic Faith of Christ. The battlefield is not the internet: the battle is not swapping bitchy comments.

We Christians are called to fight and fight actively against Sin, the World, and the Devil. This is the great and last battle and it is waged first within ourselves. We cannot afford to keep comparing ourselves with other Churches or jurisdictions, especially as there are likely to be Christians within. God is prepared to spare even Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of ten righteous men. All that we can do is measure ourselves against ourselves, perform the works of mercy, pray earnestly for the world's transformation and our own, and bear witness to the great transformation of the Mass living its reality day in, day out.

As Abba Joseph says, why not become all flame?

Friday, December 25, 2015

A demanding Christmas

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the First Mass of Christmas 
It's interesting that a newborn baby will decide that it prefers Daddy's chest to sleep on rather than the cot. It's interesting that baby will decide that five minutes' time is just not quick enough. It's interesting that baby decides to make smells just as the visitors have just sat down to tea.
Babies are demanding, but their demands come not from selfishness, nor from arbitrary whim but from sheer necessity. They truly need things done for them in order to survive. This is often at odds with what we want to give them and when it's convenient.
While they would want a proper bed, Mary and Joseph have to make do with a manger. It's not what they want but it's the best they can do. They would want a nice clean hotel room, but they have to make do with a dirty stable. It's not what they want but it's the best they can do. Circumstances make it difficult for them to meet the baby's needs, but still Our Lady and St Joseph meet them as best they can.
The fact is that Our Lord Jesus is demanding as a baby, but remains demanding. He demands much of us, not as some tyrant or despot, nor even as a benign dictator, but rather so that we may grow close to Him an live with Him forever. His demands of us to obey His commandments are to increase in Love. We must decrease so that He can increase.
Here we are in this tiny chapel. We have no great stone cathedral, nor a robed choir singing the carols, but we are here nonetheless to make present Our Lord in the darkness of the World in our sacrifice of the Mass: we do what we can. This is how we meet His demands, through keeping the Catholic Faith in love. This is not a faith that we make up for ourselves out of our own convenience ; it is a faith ruled by the demands of Christ that we might live with Him in Eternity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Antiphons in the Darkness: O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, Desire of all nations and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God.
In these times, the darkness makes us forget that God is with us. This does not just mean that He is "on our side": He is with us always even unto the end of the age. Why, then do good folk suffer such darkness? Where is the light of joy of the presence of God? How can God be forgotten? We forget because the world tries to coerce us into forgetting by distracting us from good things and from discrediting things that are good. We can only answer these questions by asking God Himself for mankind cannot provide answers which require a Divine mind. The only thing that can be done is for the Church as a collection of simple, fallible and sinful Christians to exercise her priesthood and work to direct and draw the hearts of men back to their Creator through works of His mercy. The Church cannot answer for God, but it can help them seek answers and support them on this search. The Church bears witness to the reality of God with us and bears Him ever-new in her being. The Church possesses no light of itself, merely God's marvellous light.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Antiphons in the Darkness: O Rex Gentium

O King of Nations and their Desire; the Cornerstone, who makest both one: Come and save mankind, whom thou formedst of clay.
Before it is remotely usable, a pot must be fired to make it strong. Until then, it must sit and wait in the darkness of the kiln awaiting strengthening so that its form can be fixed. Human beings, formed of the dust of the earth, wait in darkness for the time of their transformation from things of clay to things of Eternity. In this darkness rage two wars, the external war for power and the internal war for desire. As society claims its authority over us, so do our own wants claim authority over us, and the two seldom meet up. What we desire most, the law might forbid. What the law requires, we may desire the least. The fire that Christ gives is that of the Holy Spirit to burn in our hearts, giving us the opportunity to focus all our desire for the kingship of Christ. Worldly Authority claims what it can't have, and Worldly Desire promises that which it cannot give. We become peculiar people when we reject both Power and Desire and seek first the kingdom of God, concentrating our gaze upon our own fragility and praying for transformation. We become a people peculiar to God, and such peculiarity will be seen as we shine forth in a dark world with God's marvellous light.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Antiphons in the Darkness: O Oriens

O Day-spring, Brightness of the Light everlasting, and Sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
After a sleepless night, the first fingers of the dawn breaking through the curtains are the last thing that you might want to see. After a night of being awake, going over and over again in the mind the troubles of one's life and the worries for the day ahead, the dawn is an unwelcome sign that the day is here. Not only must you get up and face the dreaded day, but you have to do it unrefreshed and unnerved through lack of sleep. The darkness of the night breeds fear and worry as we focus our concerns internally. Yet, Christ bids us watch through the night. We have to be sober and vigilant, and thus we have to face the coming Day of Christ without the refreshment of sleep. Yet, if we put off from ourselves the worries of the world, then there can be no real fear and the light itself will bring refreshment from the heaviness of being sleepy. In the light, our sins will be exposed to all, but in that same light, those sins will be mended, things put right, made clear. There is nothing to fear about the dawning of that Day except for the glorious majesty of God Himself. Our challenge is, despite our tiredness, to sing the praises of the coming Christ, and let His light shine on our lives. However sinful we are, our sincere repentance and His forgiveness will bring us to that marvellous light.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Antiphons in the Darkness: O Clavis David

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel; that openest, and no man shutteth, and shuttest, and no man openeth: Come and bring the prisoner out of the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness, and the shadow of death.
The prison of our sins possesses a key. That key clearly cannot be within ourselves otherwise our sins would not imprison us. Our sins shut us away in the darkness of our own selves. We cannot look forth for the beam in our own eyes; we cannot tell right from wrong unless we are shown to be dead inside like the whitewashed sepulchre. The door can only be locked from the outside. Even then, the door is unlocked and opened, and we hear the voice calling us out of darkness, yet still we can sit and wait for the darkness to vanish. The trouble is that God is not where sin is and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we want to be with Him, we have to go out and meet Him. We can speak through the door, but we cannot be with God until we decide to take advantage of the unlocked door. We cannot live in sin and find eternal happiness in that prison. We must renounce all sin, turn and walk out through the door opened for us, to be with the One calling us into His marvellous light.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Antiphons in the Darkness: O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek; Come and deliver us, and tarry not.
Roots lie buried in the darkness and push out their shoots into the light. Likewise, the roots of our fathers lie buried in the past. Our ancestors lie buried in the earth, watered by the tears of those who love them in a tentative hope of Resurrection. The darkness of the past makes Man forget his roots. They lie covered by the weight of ages and we can only make conjectures about them until they are uncovered, piece by piece, little by little. Often our discoveries surprise us, or they make a revelation about who we are now, but the picture we get from palaeontology is only ever partial and still shrouded in darkness. Alternatively, we can know the root by the growth that springs forth into the light. If we, in our darkness nonetheless, graft ourselves into that root of faith first provided by God in Christ, then we can be sure that in Him we will grow out into the light and we shall bear good fruit in ourselves. That fruit will show the Truth of Christ even to the most powerful, and it will possess an enticing perfume. We become generated by Christ through His choice to be with His Church and it is from this root that we grow forth into His marvellous light.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Antiphons in the Darkness: O Adonai

 O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the Bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the law of Sinai: come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.
Moses was called out of darkness by a flame of fire burning, but not consuming the bush. It is from this bush that Moses catches fire and himself burns with a fire that does not consume him. This characterizes a leadership which is not his. People see in him the spirit and authority of God. We, too, are called out of darkness, a darkness in which we cling to our own authority unknowing of its transience and insubstantial nature. When the light comes, human authority will be shown up for what it is. Only those who shine with the light of God will possess anything of real worth; even then they will possess it only by virtue of the fact that it possesses them. It is in the light of God's authority that we become in Him an Holy Nation. It is not just the lamp of God's wisdom that needs to burn in our hearts and lives; it is also the fire of patriotism, seeing God as our Ruler and Christ our King. We must seek the will of God in our lives, allow ourselves to be set on fire with love for Him and, in that love, give it generously to those around us, so that they, too, can see His marvellous light.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Antiphons in the Darkness: O Sapientia

 O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily, and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.
Darkness clouds the mind. Either we see nothing and know that we see nothing, or we are even ignorant that there is actually anything to see. We are either awake and conscious in the darkness, or we are asleep and unknowing of the things around us. We are called out of the darkness, to awaken from our sleep and find ourselves alive in the darkness waiting for the dawn. In awaking from our sleep, in choosing to stir, in choosing to wrench ourselves out of the comfort of not knowing and not caring about the reality of our existence, we become like the wise virgins sitting and watching for the bridegroom to come. We hold only little candles ignited by Christ and burning with the grace of the Holy Ghost given to us by Him. While the world sleeps around us, happily indifferent to its miserable and increasingly terrible fate, so we watch and wait for the Bridegroom. Let us awake, and stir, and seek the wisdom of God, knowing that He is there in our darkness to bring us into His marvellous light.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Antiphons in the Darkness

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (I Peter ii.9)
I have often reflected on the Seven O Antiphons. I find that they draw me ever closer to Christmas and set me preparing for the great day of the Nativity. This year has been a wonderful year for me, but I am aware of the darkness that seems to be enshrouding mankind at the moment. You will have noticed my recent blogging about the Power of Darkness.


The world is now dark in the very hearts of men as we walk into a spiritual winter. The storms of power-struggles rage with the shrill winds of unkindness whirling around us and freezing the hearts of men to stone. We Christians are bound by our human condition to live in this dark time. We cannot avoid the reality of sin within us and around us; nor can we avoid the indifference of the universe to the daily suffering and misery  of its inhabitants.

We can easily miss the light of Christ coming into the world by failing to allow it to affect us, by taking on the cold indifference of a fleeting universe, by shutting our eyes and going back to sleep. 

Let us then reflect again on the Seven Os of an Advent in Darkness awaiting that marvellous light!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Powers of Lightness

Following my sermon on the battle between the powers of darkness and light, it might appear that I am exercising a more Protestant point of view of the Atonement. I think that I'm being consistent with St Anselm's ideas rather than ascribing to any particular dialogue of the sixteenth century. However, one of the points I was trying to make in that sermon is that there exist spiritual beings called Powers (in the Latin) or Authorities (in the Greek). It is my belief that there is, at present, a spiritual warfare in progress involving the Powers of Darkness.

I have said that much of this world's power is just pomp - empty bluster involving things that have no permanence or substance in Eternity. That's a very negative viewpoint of the reality of our existence which is sad, because that very existence has been brought about by the free decision and limitless power of God. There is only one power worth desiring, and it is a power that we simply cannot possess.

I was listening to Fr. (now Bishop) Robert Barron speaking on the Catholic priesthood, and he made the very good point that, often, we have the wrong idea as to what power is or that should cultivate. True power is never ours, it is always from God. The only way that we ever become powerful is by becoming saints, i.e. living out the very calling that God wants for us. God wants us to be powerful,  not with our own power but His.

Every Advent Sunday, I used to be in a choir which sang the Matin Responsory by Palestrina.




V. I look from afar, and Lo! I see the power of God coming and a cloud covering the whole earth.
R. Go ye out to meet Him and say, Tell us, art Thou He that should come to reign over thy people Israel?
V. High and low, rich and poor, one with another.
R. Go ye out to meet Him and say.
V. Hear, O Thou Shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep.
R. Tell us, art Thou He that should come to reign over thy people Israel?
V. Stir up Thy strength, O Lord and come.
R. To reign over thy people Israel!
V. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost
R. I look from afar, and Lo! I see the power of God coming and a cloud covering the whole earth.
V. Go ye out to meet Him and say,
R. Tell us, art Thou He that should come to reign over thy people Israel?

Those of us who desire power in life will always be dissatisfied with it. Those who seek the power of kings and caliphs will eventually lose what they seek. They will die in exactly the same way as the powerless. There will always be those who seek to claim the "power" of the priesthood or the "power" of bishops. This isn't the power that the world needs. Anyone who seeks power to do Good in the world must look to the sole arbiter and provider of what is truly Good. Goodness is defined by the very being of God. That will pull some people up short, especially those who believe that Goodness is a relative term. Since objective moral values exist, Goodness cannot be a relative concept.

If we seek the power to do some good in this world and to stand against the Powers of Darkness, then we have to accept that any power that we are given comes only from God. We have to look from afar and watch for the power of God coming. We have to accept His leadership of us like sheep; we have to desire His kingship over us. If we want the Powers of Light to conquer (and they will), then we have to allow that Power of Light conquer us first.

As Bishop Barron points out, the two of the most powerful saints of the Nineteenth Century were St Bernadette and St Thérèse of Lisieux, two very quiet and unassuming women. Their effect on Roman Catholicism has been huge, and it is their personal sanctity that has made them powerful, because it was the power of God that poured from them.

Our Lord bids leaders to be humble and to serve. Of course, priests and bishops exist to serve the laity. They have God's power to confect the sacraments, but that does not necessarily make them either leaders, or powerful human beings - perhaps it shouldn't. Indeed, the role of the priesthood is to help the laity to ready themselves to become full of the power of God. As Christ gives Himself on the Cross so that we might be given power to become sons of God, likewise priests must look first to their congregations and bishops to their sees to ensure that they are doing everything they can to assist the faithful laity to become filled with the power of God as befits each lay member's vocation.

If we really want to be powerful, whose power do we really want and why?

Monday, December 07, 2015

Possession, pomposity and power

The question of how we relate to authority is something that the modern generation are finding difficult to understand. I read with interest Fr Anthony's post on Christian anarchy. One might think that, as a Benedictine, I should be firmly in favour of hierarchy after all, Benedictines owe due obedience to the Abbot, don't they?

Well, that's not strictly true. A community requires an Abbot for its organization and direction, but the monastic vows are made to the community itself. The Abbot is a first among equals, recognizing his responsibility with the greatest gravity, remembering that he stands in the place of Christ as shepherd and that he has the cure of every soul in the community for which he will be made to give an account. The other monks recognize this and seek actively to help the Abbot, giving him the utmost respect for the burden that he bears. Monks are to be obedient to one another: the juniors deferring to the experience of the elders and the elders recognizing that they were once juniors and respecting that accordingly. There is a very definite sense of equality in a monastery run according to The Rule. The authority is in the Rule itself as an instrument of God's supremacy and the revelation of the Holy Ghost, the Abbot becomes just the mouthpiece of how the Rule is to be implemented. The authority is that of respect and love, not of power and coercion. All have agreed to be bound by the Rule, and all must continue in that agreement for the good of the community.

I think to myself that this is how community should be. We should all defer to each other for the common good of the community, not in obedience to an arbitrary power. While one could argue that the presence of the Abbot prevents the community from being anarchic in the literal sense, I might argue that the lack of the Abbot having any power of his own to lead the community ensures that it is not a person, but the Rule that is the governor. Yet, the Rule itself is not the supreme authority as it is deduced from the very words and principles laid down by Christ Himself.

The true idea of anarchy is that there is no leader existing over and above anyone else but rather a guiding principle that keeps the community together. The point is that no-one possesses any arbitrary power over anyone else just by being that person. Of course, monasteries are on the wane and monasticism is, itself, going through a period of "reinvention". Whether any good can come out of "reinvention" is yet to be seen. "Reinvention" may be another Nazareth; it might be another Chorazin.

What we have in the West, as Fr. Anthony points out, is the desire for power which tends to corrupt. Much of the source of this power is money. Certainly, it appears that the President of the United States is open actually only to those who can afford the running costs of the campaign, despite the theoretical possibility that any citizen could be president. In the U.K., the cost of funding the campaign is met by the richest parties. While the public are free to vote, and it is the responsibility of the public to research their vote carefully, the propaganda that accompanies the voting is designed to bias.

The fact of the matter is that the ruling powers of this world circle around St Benedict's bugbear of possession. The fact that we believe that we own anything colours our experience of living. If we embrace the idea that actually we own nothing, not even our own selves, then we do indeed find a greater freedom as we find ourselves free from the coercion of those who control possession. If we truly believe God to be the creator of all things, this must include us.

The essence of pomposity is the notion of empty or groundless power. The Church has often been accused of pomposity when a man dressed in fine, obsolete robes and a silly hat makes some moral declaration against the prevailing culture. Of course, this very much depends on what the prelate says. A good bishop will be so versed in the moral law of God and a reader of the age around him that he will be able to cut through the power of material things to the word of God in humility and love. The lie that we are being fed is that we need to possess in order to have power. Sadly, this is something we are buying into daily and it is fiendishly difficult to leave this behind.

True pomposity lies in the belief of the reality of possession. Possession of a crown, mitre, certificate, collar, piece of paper with the Queen's face on, or good looks is ultimately useless. These do not help us find out who we are supposed to be. Only God gives us any existence beyond us being creatures in creation. Without God, power can only be arbitrary and illusory.

The fact is that, as the Rich Young Man who could not give up all that he had and sell it for the poor shows, we are often possessed by our possessions. I look at what I have and I just cannot think how I would begin to just give up possessing what I claim to possess. To give things up recklessly would be to endanger my family, and I can't do that. Why? Because my family possess me too and need what I have to continue. No wonder Our Lord says that with Man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible! Yet it is their possession of me that gives me a greater sense of who I am.

If we wish to find true freedom, then we need a false anarchy in which there is no man-made leader, but only God. This anarchy would free us from the pomposity of possession and allow us not to rely on things to give us an identity we already possess in God. We will have this the more sincerely we pray "Thy Kingdom come".

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Substance in Scripture

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the second Sunday of Advent 2015


How many books of the Bible can you name? Better still, can you put them all in chronological order?

That's actually a hard task, but is it actually relevant? For the Christian, precisely when the books of the Bible were written isn't the point. However, we do run up to a little bit of a sticking point.

St Paul says in his letter to the Romans, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." In his second letter to St Timothy, he writes, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."

At the time St Paul is writing these words, most of the New Testament hadn't been written yet! If St Paul is referring to Scripture, then he can't be referring to the New Testament. Does this mean that the New Testament is not given by the inspiration of God, or that it isn't written for our learning? Have we actually got the Bible completely wrong?

[PAUSE]

Holy Scripture is the fundamental source of our understanding of God, and Christians cannot ignore it or dismiss it. It is not a scientific textbook, nor is it written to give modern man clues to predict the future. It is the infallible record of a conversation between God and His people, the Church. In that revelation, we hear that God has created us and we hear how we constantly fail God horribly. There are passages in the Bible that horrify us, and should horrify us. Some passages seem to make God out to be some kind of celestial psychopath. Yet, we understand the true goodness of God by continuing that conversation with Him as He reveals Himself to us in Our Lord Jesus Christ. We see that this "psychopathic" God allows us to consider life beyond the confines of what we now experience and challenges our perception of what is truly valuable.

It is the Church that puts the Bible together as we now have it. It does so through what it has already received and it is through what it has received that God reveals Himself to us in the New Testament.

Bible reading is something that Christians must take seriously. All too easily do we think that we have everything figured out, that we know how to behave, that we know best. Time and again we return to the Bible and find out that we're not only wrong, we're so far from right that it's embarrassing and painful.


[PAUSE]


St Benedict encourages his monks to practise Lectio Divina as a way of reading the Bible more carefully and prayerfully. He recommends that we don't read great big passages, but rather choose something short to read. We are then to read it, read it again, and read it again taking care to pray and listen to what the text is really saying to us. In so doing, we allow the Holy Ghost to inspire us, to make us question the text, to make us reflect on what the text is saying for our lives.


The Bible is a timeless record for us human beings to interact with God. Our Mass is full of direct quotations from the Bible, from the psalms, from St Paul himself and, at the heart we hear of Our Lord's words at the Last Supper which bring us the grace of His presence with us now. Truly, Our Lord reminds us that "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away."
As we prepare for Christmas, let us take up our Bibles and read the stories of the birth of Christ anew and hear how His birth will bring us to everlasting life. With Him, it is possible for us not to pass away either, because we will be full of His word!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Collecting Collects: Reviewing the year's collection

I have tried to give a reflection on each of the collects for the Sundays over the past year. Time rather forbade me from reflecting on more of the Saints' days and other places where the Prayer book gives a collect. My intention has been to demonstrate the richness of the prayers that we say at Mass and in our daily offices that carries over the time of the Reformation.


Whether or not one subscribes to the doctrine that emerged in the Church after the Reformation, one is always faced with the pain that those who prayed these collects faced. Their prayers sought God with tears, sweat and blood even as Our Lord's did in the Garden of Gethsemane on that fateful evening. While our blood, sweat and tears do not save us in themselves, it is our love for God that produces them which brings us face to face with Christ in whose sufferings we participate.


Prayer has to be hard work. We have to face the pain of our separation from God without the numbing effects of daily life and its distractions. We are fallen, but none of us is irredeemable. Our purgatory is real and necessary for us to be transformed into beings of light. Our Collects teach us about this struggle: the need to find the light, the need to follow God, the need to look to Him in the hours of darkness; the need to seek to be part of His family the Church. We pray with Gervasius, Pope St Gregory and with Archbishop Cranmer who sought to render their words into English.


These Collects do go across denominational divides and have the power to unite us if we appreciate that they can be given nuances. Even if we cannot agree on the accuracy of the variety of translations from the Latin, we need to remember that, in most Offices, the collect is preceded by the Lord's prayer which does unite Christians. If we take our time praying the Lord's Prayer rather than gabbling it through, we can actually savour the words of Our Lord Himself. These words will sanctify our prayer if we allow them and allow us to pray our collects with greater sincerity, unity and with a greater sense of their catholicity.


It is the purpose of these collects to gather us together in a singleness of intention to which the Church can testify to a darkening world. Let us then allow ourselves to be collected and raised up in our prayers to the throne of God to stand with the saints and worship Him with them.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Get a hat, get a head!



I'm very fond of my biretta. There are many Anglicans including in the ACC who would rather that I gave up the biretta on the grounds that it is too Roman and take up the good old Canterbury cap instead. Actually, I do own a Canterbury cap, the trouble is that it doesn't look as respectable on me as it does the noble Archbishop Cranmer. It seems that we've lost the art of making the Canterbury cap. Part of my trouble with it is that it is soft and not as easy to put on or take off as a biretta, and that's important. The biretta is designed to be taken off. Why should this be?

At Mass, the priest (possibly as one of three sacred ministers) enters with head covered, genuflect and in so doing uncover their heads. The reason for this is that the Mass is that one perfect sacrifice made once for all upon the Cross. There may appear to be many Masses in time, yet the fact of the matter is, theologically speaking, there is only one true Mass (namely the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the Cross) and all Masses subsequent to that sacrifice in Time are not re-enactments, nor new sacrifices, but are the same Mass as seen in the forever Now of Eternity drawn together by the presence of the Indivisible Godhead. This is a Mystery.

What's this got to do with birettas? The beginning of the Mass is the beginning of the Mystery and the beginning of the revelation of that Mystery. In removing his biretta, the priest signals the beginning of that revelation in which Man enters into the presence of God. From that moment on, the mystery of the Incarnation unfolds before our very eyes as the angels sing their Gloria in excelsis, as mankind is taught the words of life in the exposition of Holy Scripture, and when the great Salvation of mankind is wrought through the broken body of Christ upon the cross of the paten and through our taking in of His substance so that we can become like Him because we see Him as He really is. Once the revelation is over, the veil falls once more and the biretta is placed upon the priest's head as he returns into the sacristy and Mankind waits for its saviour once more.



Of course, the biretta itself is an academic cap. Its four corners represent the Quadrivium that a priest needs to know: the four disciplines of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy achieved at Masters' level. The three blades represent the three disciplines of the trivium - grammar, logic and rhetoric. A fourth blade is sometimes permitted, but who is allowed to wear one is somewhat debated. Some believe that it is only for Doctors of Divinity, others for Doctors of Canon Law and still others for any holder of a Doctoral degree. I've seen a few four blade birettas among my brethren in the ACC and they seem to hold judicial posts, so I would assume that the ACC position is that the fourth blade is for Doctors of Law, though I suspect that they should seek permission from their bishop first.

However, all this sounds a bit pernickety and pointless. It's just a hat after all. If they must observe the ceremonies used above, can't priests use any old hat, a fedora, baseball cap, or beanie?




We have to remember that the Rituals and Ceremonies in Church are sacred and not secular. It would be wrong for these to be muddled, especially in this day and age. The Traditional Church rejoices in using that which is archaic to promote the idea of eternal truth. The vestments of clergy are based on Roman dress, the dress used at the time of Our Lord's ministry to us. Our language is that, not of the present vernacular, but the vernacular of the past. Just as the Jews use Hebrew rather than Aramaic on account of its pertaining to the sacred, so do we Anglican Catholics use the language of the prayer book to lift our words through time while still being intelligible to those willing to spend a little time thinking about their meaning. For all its bizarre shape and anachronism, the square cap roots us in that time when human beings sought wisdom and knowledge about God.

The biretta is worn at absolution during the sacrament of Confession to show that the priest is in possession of authority from God and not of his own. This is the same reason why a priest wears his biretta during the sermon. The square cap, as a sign of learning, is not grown on our heads but is given to us by another authority and ultimately from God Himself. Just as the four and twenty elders cast their crowns of authority before the throne of God, the removing of the biretta signifies a casting of academic authority before the presence of Divine Knowledge. Whatever we know will vanish away in the presence of God.



There are those who would make the wearing of the mitre optional for bishops and there are many bishops who reject the wearing of the mitre altogether. For Anglican Catholics, this would be seen as a rejection of the reality of the Bishop as successor to the apostles and possessor of the full sacramental ministry ordained by God. These hats are active symbols of reality, not mere tokens of ideas.

Anachronism is important in Traditional Christianity. We are now in the days where only the present is given authority and the ideas of the past rejected for being old hat. Yet, it is the old hat that points us to the richness of the tradition that God has given us. Those who wear old-fashioned dress stand against the tyranny of Modernity. While a priest should perhaps refrain from wearing his biretta to a foot ball match (though it might be a marvellous statement of faith), to see a priest in soutane and biretta will challenge the perceptions of folk. Yes, for the most part it will inspire ridicule, but for others it might just be the catalyst that opens their eyes to the now-ness of the past and the Eternal, timeless presence of Almighty God.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Recent events in Paris

I've chosen to be rather quiet over the recent crises facing the West recently concerning the atrocities of ISIS. This is mainly because I know that I know too little about the politics of the situation and can only do what I know how to do which is to pray, albeit imperfectly, for the situation especially when it comes to discerning the will of God in the matter.

Much of the attention has spilled onto the question of what to do with those people fleeing from ISIS. Should they be allowed asylum in various countries or not? Christians are divided. Some will cite the good Samaritan and say that we need to shelter the homeless in accordance with the seven corporal works of mercy. Others will say that we should not in fear that in allowing some activists posing as refugees will then attack and kill innocent people as in Paris. We have several principles in apparent conflict here, each proceeding from the mouth of Our Lord Himself.
  1. Love thy neighbour as thyself. (St Matthew xxii.39)
  2. Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (St Matthew v.44)
  3. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (St Matthew x.16)
  4. Freely you have received, freely give. (St Matthew x.8)
  5. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (St Mark viii.36)
It is as much one's duty to protect the innocent as it is to love one's enemy and as much again to be charitable and share one's resources with those in need. All of these need to be balanced with wisdom of the world and the Divine desire to harm no-one. We have to remember that our true identity lies not with our nation but is defined by God Himself. It is noble indeed to be patriotic and to stand up for our nation and people in service for the commonwealth, but if that patriotism seeks to overwrite God's statement of our true identity, then it loses that nobility.

Should we fight ISIS? We should fight evil at all times. If the battles of the Old Testament teach us anything worth knowing about warfare it is that we need to ensure that we seek to purify ourselves of Evil in the eyes of God before we begin to tackle Evil elsewhere. Only the soldier who is first at war with the evil within himself and humbly drawing upon the strength of God to fight that internal evil can have any part to play in the conflict around him. We cannot, in our blindness to evil, just hit out and hope we destroy the enemy: that is how the innocent fall victim.

If ISIS teach us anything, it is that evil lurks within us just as much as it lurks around us even when we believe ourselves to be absolutely certain in the right. We must pray that we see the true evil and not an imagined evil arising from our flawed impressions of events.

I'll leave the decisions arising from the global issues to the politicians and those aware of the deeper ramifications of possible actions. I will also pray that they have the wisdom to act according to the Will of God first.

I pray for ISIS too, that their eyes may be opened to God and His judgments of their actions lest their souls be finally and irretrievably lost. However, first and foremost, I pray for all those victims of ISIS, whoever they may be, that they may receive the healing and know the presence of God to lift them through their suffering to the joys of eternal salvation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marriage and Monasticism

Apparently, the more lavish the wedding, the more likely the couple are to divorce. Of course, one does need to take statistics with a pinch of salt, particularly over potential confusion of correlation with causation. I think, though, there is merit in this idea.

In this day and age, the understanding of what marriage really is is getting blurred into meaninglessness. It seems that most people don't get married at all these days, they have a wedding instead. What I mean is that these folk simply invest all their resources into a single day rather than into a lifetime commitment. I find it interesting that the very people who rail against the marriage of homosexuals often remain completely silent on the question of divorce. Yet, the reasons why two people of the same sex cannot receive the sacrament of marriage are almost parallel to why a valid sacrament cannot be dissolved. The fact is that marriage as a sacrament constitutes an indissoluble heterosexual bond between two people. People who complain about the violation of one aspect of this definition often forget the other aspect. Of course, if one rejects the idea of marriage as a sacrament and asserts that it exists as a merely legal entity, then the point is moot.

It is easy then for us to regard marriage as just a legal mechanism protecting assets of the couple and ensuring the sharing of state benefits and therefore just a matter of legal paperwork to dissolve when necessary. It seems that if one can splash out on a wonderful wedding day, one can also splash out on the divorce settlement later.
No wonder then that St Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthian Church
But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. (I Cor vii.32-33)
For St Paul it seems better not to marry in order to devote oneself properly to the service of God on the grounds that the focus of one's attention becomes the spouse rather than God. This has, of course, led many people to regard celibacy as a better state than marriage, and further to limit the clergy to a life of celibacy on the grounds that their lives will be preoccupied by their families.
It is interesting, then, that the profession of a Religious is not a true sacrament. To join a monastery one takes vows before God. You can still hear the idea that a nun is married to Christ and a priest to the Church. If that is true, then the vows would surely have some sacramental quality. Yet, reading the Rule of St Benedict, it is possible (though thoroughly discouraged as inimical to the spirit of the Rule) for one to leave the community and then, presumably, to marry. Likewise, the ordination of a priest does not contain in itself a commitment to celibacy. This is a point of Canon Law and enforced practice, not part of the sacrament itself. In recognising a calling as a priest, one is binding oneself by the laws of one's jurisdiction.

 This lack of sacrament does seem to suggest that Marriage possesses a spiritual status that is not possessed by vows of celibacy.

Does this contradict St Paul?

Well, no. It looks like St Paul is issuing a sweeping generalization about married people, that it isn't possible for someone to be married and serve God fully. If he meant that, then he would contradict the blessing and sanctification of marriage made by Our Lord and thus giving marriage its sacramental character. Yet, St Paul is not making a generalization to tell folk not to marry, he is issuing a challenge to those who want to marry. When we marry, we are to do so for God's sake. God must be at the very heart of the marriage. That way He can make possible that which for human beings is impossible. He can give grace to a couple so that they can live together in love and harmony even when that love and harmony is tested by the events of living.

Marriage is just as binding if not more so than monastic vows. Just as with monastic vows, we seek actively to burn bridges, to commit wholeheartedly and without qualification. Just as the Religious takes monastic vows with the utmost gravity, we should also be taking our marriage vows with a greater gravity knowing that we hold in our hands, not just the hands of the beloved, but also the Hand of God making that indissoluble union.

Our wedding day should not happen at the expense of our marriage. Of course it should be an occasion of great joy together with great gravity. However, our marriage must also involve a sincere striving to approach God together for it to be of any true benefit, not just to us the couple, but also to the Church herself.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Collect for the Sunday next before Advent

Latin Collect
EXCITA, quæsumus Domine, tuorum fidelium voluntates ut divini operis fructum propensius exequentes, pietatis tuæ præmia majora percipiant. Per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

[My translation: Stir up, we beseech Thee O Lord, the wills of Thy faithful people that pursuing the fruit of the work of God more eagerly, they may know the greater reward of Thy kindness. Through Jesus Christ...]

Prayer book of 1549
STIERE [Stir] up we beseche thee, O Lord, the wylles of thy faythfull people, that they, plenteously bringing furth the fruite of good workes; may of thee, be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christe our Lorde. Amen.

Reflection
Things will get better. Christians always have that hope and often that hope is offensive to those who perceive it to be a glib lack of recognition of the trauma and pain of living. Looking out into a world which is becoming politically darker now since it has wandered into the realms of spiritual night, it is easy to think that such a hope cannot be anything other than futile - offensively futile.

As we pray this last collect of the liturgical year, we find the Sun's rays darkened by clouds and curtailed by the inclination of the Earth's axis. Light begins to fail again - at least it seems that way. We become sleepy and forlorn. Yet, we recognise it and seek to be released from spiritual torpor and oppression. The only way to walk during the darkness is to walk in the light of God, seeking Him in the things around us and by doing those things that He wants us to do. We are to do that one Divine work that we can; we are to spread the light through struggle and hardship, pain, loss and humiliation and in them find ourselves ever more enlightened by God Himself.

What we have of God now is a tiny, finite fraction of what He promises us. There is a greater good beyond this world which will make our pain worth every drop of blood. For every tiny child that dies through the cruelty of man or the indifference of Nature, there is an existence in which that little one does and will shine more brightly than a supernova.

The world will always turn away from the Light and in doing so,it will forget God. We will not.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Collect for the twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

Latin collect from the Sarum Missal
Absolve quesumus domine tuorum delicta populorum. et a peccatorum nostrorum nexibus quae pro nostra fragilitate contraximus tua benignitate liberemur.


[My translation: Absolve, we beseech Thee O Lord, the failings of Thy people and, from the bonds of our sins which we have wrought according to our frailty, free us by Thy goodness...]


Prayer book of 1549
LORD we beseche thee, assoyle [absolve] thy people from their offences, that through thy bountiful goodnes we maye bee delyvered from the handes of all those synnes, whiche by our frayltye we have committed : Graunt this, et c.
 

Prayer book of 1662
O LORD, we beseech thee, absolve thy people from their offences; that through thy bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.


Reflection
One of the most famous ghost stories has to be Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and in this clever little book we have the dreadful image of Jacob Marley doomed to spend undefined ages wandering the earth in chains that he has made for himself, link by link, through his meanness and unscrupulous money-lending. Dickens' point is very clear: we human beings are the authors of our own misery because we fail to see the simple delights of goodness.


Ebenezer Scrooge, himself, is the victim of neglect and abuse from his childhood and, despite the simple joys of being in employment with the jolly Mr Fezziwig, allows the hurts of his history to nurture demons of self-interest, grasping and avarice.


Like Scrooge, we walk with the scars of the failings of those around us, their injustices branded upon our memories and, even our bodies. We are justified in being angered by injustice, especially when it is against us. Yet, if we want to recover the true joy of live and of living, we have somehow to let go of that injury; we somehow have to allow it to have happened; we have to forgive even as we are forgiven. Only then can we be forgiven for the hurts we have wrought others.


For man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. By grasping the hand of God, we are pulled together and out of darkness. It is He that looses us from these chains so that we do not carry them around with us. We still have to let those chains drop, though.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Collect for the twenty-third Sunday after Trinity

Latin Collect
DEUS, nostrum refugium et virtus, adesto piis ecclesiæ tuæ precibus, auctor ipse pietatis, et præsta, ut quod fideliter petimus, efficaciter consequamur. Per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.



[My translation: God, our refuge and strength, be present to the pious prayers of Thy Church, O Author of piety itself, and grant that what we seek faithfully we may obtain effectively. Through...]

Prayer book of 1549
GOD, our refuge and strength, which art the author of all godlines, be ready to heare the devoute prayers of thy churche; and graunt that those thynges which we aske faithfully we maye obteine effectually; through Jesu Christe our lorde. Amen.


Reflection
God is Love, as St John tells us. This means that what is truly meant by Love is God. To seek the presence of God for the sake of God is what it means to love God. Likewise, to be pious is to seek truly the cause of piety, i.e. to strive to hear the word that God speaks in the heart of men. The way we are to live is defined in the very being of God. Just as God is separate from His Creation, we are to seek that which is beyond what is created.


This is impossible for us as our fleeting little lives flare up so briefly in the span of the ages, like a match lit in the darkness. With God, however, all things are possible. He is our refuge and strength in our struggle to embrace being created and to embrace that which is not created. Creation separated from God is doomed to pass away and those who would try to drag us away from the Divine are many in number. We Christians do have enemies: we must not forget that! Those enemies prowl around us, infiltrating us at the most intimate levels because of our frailty and weakness. We are deceived into hating people who possess exactly the same frail nature as we do.


In God's love do we find refuge from this hatred, because there can be no hatred in God. All hatred necessarily separates from God because it seeks that which is not God. This is why we are in danger of being torn to pieces. Yet we have the spirit of God dwelling in us by our baptism and so we can never be torn apart unless we let go of Him. When we shall stand before God face-to-face, battered and torn from our battle against His enemies, we shall then receive true completeness just by being with Him.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Supersaints!

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on All Saints' Day 2015

You've heard it said that all Christians are saints in preparation. We're all supposed to be on the pathway to sainthood. Do you feel like a saint? Honestly? Why not?

[PAUSE]

We often see the world divide human beings into two categories - saint or sinner. You know that that's a rather over-simplistic way of looking at things. Yet, we are always tempted to contrast saints with sinners. Indeed, we should look to the saints for examples of how humanity should interact with God and thus officially be recognised as saints. To the world, saints never do anything wrong: they are real life superheros! We see statues and ikons of them in church and, for some people, this can be the equivalent of seeing a big red S painted on their chests.

The trouble is, if we see the saints as super-human, then we have missed the whole point of what a saint really is. To see them as somehow above what we are capable of being is to forget their struggles in life or to trivialise our own.

The fact is that the saints do not brush off temptation as easily as Superman brushes bullets off his chest of steel. They do not avoid sin faster than a speeding bullet. Every day of their lives, the saints battle sin, temptation, and spiritual turmoil just like we do. So what is the real difference between them and us?

[PAUSE]

If we truly, honestly and fully seek God and His righteousness, then there is no difference whatsoever. Remember that the title "saint" refers not to the person, but to God. To be a saint is to be set apart from the world by God. God sanctifies us continually if we let Him. Yet the fact of the matter is that, for any human being, there is conflict, struggle and failure. Listen to the Beatitudes again as Our Lord speaks to us:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Who is more blessed than the saints. All saints live this life of poverty in spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering for righteousness, mercy, purity, peacemaking, and persecution. All of these come to every Christian at one time or another, and if we embrace these, then we find ourselves in the company of the saints.

[PAUSE]

The whole point of the saints is that they once were like us, but now they are perfected in God. That's not an exclusion for us, but it is the destiny of the Church and all her members. We have to decide whether we are to live our lives in the company of saints, or not. They intercede for us because they once were like us, and still share our humanity. They are still part of our Church and they are channels for God's blessing.

We really are saints in preparation, but we have to accept that we must need perfection. That can only come about through cooperation with the grace of God. Let us therefore always reach out for God and allow His perfection to continue in our lives.

Collect for the twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Latin Collect from the missal of Leofric
Familiam tuam, quaesumus, domine, continua pietate custodi, ut a cunctis adversitatibus, te protegente, sit libera, et in bonis actibus tuo nomini sit devota. Per

[My Translation: O Lord, we beseech Thee to guard Thy family with continual piety, that with Thy protection, it may be free from every adversity and be devoted to Thy name in good works. Through...]

Prayer pook of 1549
LORDE we beseche thee to kepe thy housholde the churche in continuall godlines; that throughe thy proteccion it maye be free from al adversities, and devoutly geven to serve thee in good workes, to the glory of thy name; Through Jesus Christ our Lorde. Amen.

Reflection
The word "household" has slightly changed its meaning. It seems to be a colder, more clinical way to speak of one's home environment and the people with whom we share that environment. "Household" speaks of the people and their functions. In former days, this meant servants and even slaves in addition to the "family ", the people who were served.

Yet, a household should mean a community living in one house, each playing a valued part in the maintenance of that community. No-one in that house should be seen as a means to an end but have a value in themselves.

We, the Church, have not been great at this. We are "with schisms rent asunder and heresies oppress'd". Yet God is part of our household however we may try to exclude Him, and the Church is His household for that is the root of the word "Church". When we pray this prayer, we pray for the Church's integrity as a household even as God is a household in Himself as a single being in a Trinity of persons. We Christians cannot be part of a household and not part of a family.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Collect for the twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Prayer book of 1662
GRANT, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reflection
This collect is used in place of the absolution when a layperson leads the Office and it is clear why this is so. In order to repent of our sins, we must first know that we have sinned and then it must trouble us. We cannot repent of our actions if it does not cause us grief that we did them in the first place. That grief can be perfect in that we grieve for offending God, or it can be imperfect if we fear the consequences of our actions. Nonetheless, if we are not troubled by our sins then we are simply not repenting properly.


We pray this collect for the complete removal of our sin so that our minds can be still again and focus on the task of living a life of service to God's will. The Devil will often trouble us by bringing up past sins, sins that we regret having done, of which we have confessed, and from which we are making amendment of life - that is what it means to repent. This is one of the Devils wicked tricks against the people of God. Yes, repentance is a life-long activity and it is with God's grace that we do repent beyond just an intention. However, God has promised that repenting of our sins and living a new life in Christ Who has opened the gateway from imprisonment to sin will bring us to Eternal life with Him.


Thus, we also pray this prayer when we are troubled by past sins so that remembering them spurs us on towards God and His mercy. The Devil may say that our sin is still with us, yet we know that we are dead to sin in Christ and live to God. That sin is still with us, but only with our corpse, not with our risen selves. We should take courage when the Devil torments us with the past. If we are truly repenting, then it shows that we really do care what God thinks and, further, makes His love for us ever more real.

Power versus Authority: the real battle

Sermon prached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Feast of Christ the King 2015

These notes are a reconstruction and amplification of what I said on Sunday. At the moment, I am having to speak more ex tempore rather than scripting my sermons as I usually do. We'll see how this goes. Please do feel free to comment.

The Bible contains many wondrous creatures both physical and spiritual. Of the spiritual beings both  St Thomas Aquinas and the writer formerly known as Dionysius point to nine orders of angels such as seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, powers, virtues, principalities, archangels, and angels. We're probably most familiar with the angels, archangels and the cherubim and seraphim, but what of the others? What of the powers and dominions?

[PAUSE]

When we think of powers in a spiritual sense, we often find ourselves thinking of the Powers of Darkness. The Greek and Latin words used here are subtly different in meaning. The Latin word has the sense of force and can imply coercion, the Greek has the sense of authority. Do power and authority mean the same thing?

[PAUSE]

No. The point is subtle but they are different. Just because someone has the power to do something, does not mean that they have the authority to do it. We have the power to pick up a bag of sweets, or light a match, or to fire a gun. We can do these things - we have the power to do them. However, we do not have the authority to pick up a bag of sweets when it means we're intending to leave without paying. We do not have the authority to light a match when we intend to burn someone's house down. We do not have the authority to fire a gun at someone whom we intend to kill unlawfully.

Notice that it is the lawfulness of an action that gives it authority. Authority possesses power held legally.They have a right in themselves which is the sense of the Greek word. Authority recognises the right of the author over what has been created. Despite the outcry of her readers, J.K. Rowling has every right to kill off Dumbledore without criticism. This is why God has supreme authority as He is the author of all Creation.

. As human beings can and do create our own laws for living, they only have authority if we consent to them. If we do not consent then the rest of society may coerce us through the power of numbers, yet they cannot change the level of our consent.

The Powers of Darkness only have authority over us if we believe that they do and if they do, then they possess laws in themselves. The powers of darkness draw authority from the simple act of being against God and it is while we turn from God that we are indeed subject to darkness as an authority. We pay our dues to darkness for as long as we recognise the false authority which is not God. The Law of Satan is anything that leads to misery, pain and death, all these were paid to him by Our Lord so that we should not be bound any longer to the power of Darkness. Through the death of Christ, the Powers of Darkness have no authority over us. We can be forced to do things by powers stronger than us, but those powers have no claim on anyone who accepts the true authority of Christ.

[PAUSE]

Christ is King by authority from God in His inheritance as the Son, by human law through His lineage from King David, and by our loyalty to Him through His ransom on the Cross. The task that we face is always looking for what has His authority in our lives and what has not. Through the Divine Will, we have free-will. We can choose freely who is to be king of our lives, but we must accept the consequences of that choice in full. In Christ our King do we find the power to live lives governed by light and not by the powers of darkness. That makes us pretty powerful ourselves!



Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Holy uncertainty!

There seems to be nothing more despised in modern Western Society as being certain or convicted in your belief. As soon as you say that you believe in God, and then go on to defend that belief, you tend to get labelled as a bigot or fundamentalist. Of course, it's interesting how certain people can be that you actually are a bigot or fundamentalist, but that's not really my concern here.

If I say that I believe that homosexuals cannot receive the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and then support my argument, all well and good. The trouble is that, in so doing, I necessarily show why I believe that the opposite view is false and therefore go against the opinion of many in Society. Andrew Brown of The Guardian says that being a loud orthodox member of the Roman Catholic Church is why many are leaving, and that this orthodoxy is corrosive. He says that no church is immune.
The Church of England has its own version of this argument, which goes back to the unbelieving Bishop of Durham, a figure of legendary horror to evangelicals. This man, identified by historians as the Right Rev David Jenkins, was widely supposed to believe nothing at all of traditional Christianity, despite being the fifth most senior bishop in the hierarchy. He certainly did not believe in the virgin birth, nor in the bodily resurrection. Neither, of course, do most churchgoers. It was an article of faith among conservatives, though, that churchgoers required a bishop who would believe all the things they could not themselves suppose were true, and he was succeeded by a succession of men of unimpeachable orthodoxy. Under their stewardship, church attendance in the diocese declined by 36% in 20 years. Andrew Brown.
The first thing that I would say to this is that the Church of England (as far as I know) still holds the Catholic Creeds. If anyone in the CofE from the Archbishop of Canterbury up to the person in the pew says these creeds and denies the virgin birth or bodily resurrection, then they are either paying lip-service in the liturgy or they are crossing their fingers, or they are on autopilot and not engaging with what they are saying. In each case, there is  a question of the quality of their honesty and sincerity. Now the person in the pew is often regarded (somewhat patronizingly by the clergy) as the least theologically educated. That is not true, and many members of the laity have thought sincerely about their theology. They do have a Christian duty to inform their conscience and to play some part in teaching the Christian Faith to their families, especially when it comes to instructing the ignorant about the Christian Faith. Clergy have a vocation to teach the Christian Faith.

For deacons, the promises run as follows
IT appertaineth to the Office of a Deacon, in the Church where he shall be appointed to serve, to assist the Priest in Divine Service, and specially when he ministereth the holy Communion, and to help him in the distribution thereof; and to read Holy Scriptures and Homilies in the Church; and to instruct the youth in the Catechism; in the absence of the Priest to baptize infants; and to preach, if he be admitted thereto by the Bishop.

WILL you apply all your diligence to frame and fashion your own lives, and the lives of your families, according to the Doctrine of Christ; and to make both yourselves and them, as much as in you lieth, wholesome examples of the flock of Christ. (BCP of 1662)
For priests and priests:
WILL you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your Cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given? (BCP of 1662)
In Common Worship, we read that for deacons and priests:
Archdeacon: They have duly taken the oath of allegiance to the Sovereign and the oath of canonical obedience to the Bishop. They have affirmed and declared their belief in 'the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness'. (Common Worship)
For bishops, the affirmation in Common Worship reads:
I, AB, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.
It is clear that Clergy in the Church of England both past and present are expected to say the creeds and believe in what they contain. This includes the virgin birth ("born of the Virgin Mary")  and bodily resurrection ("the Resurrection of the Body"). It's sad to say that if Bishop David Jenkins really meant what he said when he denied these doctrines, then he could only have been a heretic in need of instruction. My point is this: if you say that you believe something, then actually believe it. Don't be dishonest with yourself, or with the community to which you're bound to believe it. Of course, we're all hypocrites and heretics in some way or other, and it takes the grace of God to convince us of that. We just have to allow Him to correct us, accept His correction and work at living our belief in Him more sincerely.

Of course, it isn't your personal belief that puts other people's back up, it's when "you try and force your beliefs on them." What does this mean?

Well, I have just said that, if you claim to be a member of the clergy, then you must believe what the Church says that it teaches. I believe what the Church teaches, therefore I have just made a statement about something I believe that you must also believe. Likewise, I do not believe in the marriage of homosexuals in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony primarily because the Catholic Church teaches that two folk of the same sex cannot enter into a sacramental union. If I say that, and you claim to be a member of the Catholic Church, then again, I am saying that you must believe the same. Is it a true coercion?

Likewise, the Law says that a woman is a man, yet when that "man" falls pregnant (as is his/her right) I cannot take seriously the law's statement. In that sense, the Law has forced the beliefs of the lawmakers on me in that, if I press the case that this man is actually a woman, I can be found liable under the Law. Likewise, if I fail to recognise lawful civil union as being marriage then, as is being shown in the courts, I become a transgressor of the Law.

What Andrew Brown seems to want is for Christians to become much less certain about their beliefs so as to function better in Society. Uncertainty for many these days, builds a little give into the system, a little slack into everyday life whereby one can say one thing, but not really mean it. That way one can say "I am a devout Catholic" and "I believe in Gay Marriage" without too much cognitive dissonance. The trouble is that this undermines the very Truth the the Lord Jesus would have us speak.

We hear Him speak to the Church of Laodicia:
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write ; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest * , I am rich, and increased with goods , and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich ; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed , and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear ; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see . As many as I love , I rebuke and chasten : be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold , I stand at the door, and knock : if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame , and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Apocalypse iii.14-end)
We are not meant to compromise on our beliefs, not one jot. We are to take up our cross and follow Christ by living the faith that He gives us. It is painful and hard, but it is not a faith of "trolls" deliberately provoking folk in order to produce a negative reaction and then cry "Persecution!" This is a faith of confronting injustice and hatred caused by the Devil in our midst. Rather than seeing Man as the Devil, we need eyes to see the Devil walking about seeking whom he might devour. We can only do this when we know what God and Evil truly are. The doctrine of Uncertainty prevents the clarity of sight and thus enables diabolical agents to do diabolical things undisturbed.

Often we look at what politicians do and think them evil or wicked for doing so. The equality of marriage between same-sex couples with that of opposite sex couples is rooted in am idea of justice whereby, in legal terms, one can ensure provision for a life-partner in the event of death, or make end-of-life decisions, et c. There is a nobility there, a care for the fact that there are people out there who have a genuine love for someone of the same sex and have made some form of life-long commitment to that someone. What we cannot do is enter into that relationship and understand it in the same terms as the couple. The only thing that the Church can do is offer up for sanctification that which it knows can be sanctified and pass over that which cannot,.trusting that God will know what is truly sanctifiable.

The Church indeed has a lot of uncertainty built into it, and necessarily so. We can be certain that, following the Catholic Faith, Christ is really present in the Host. We can be certain that the Catholic Creeds present truth and that this truth can neither be infallibly be proved true or false by human means. We can be certain that when we repent of our sins from the heart, we will be forgiven by God. However, the Church cannot see into the human mind and know the state of a person's soul - that can only be revealed by consent in the Sacrament of Confession. The Church cannot know what God knows, but must be faithful to what she has received.

St Paul writes to St Titus in chapters 2 and 3.
In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed , having no evil thing to say of you... 
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates , to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived , serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared , Not by works of righteousness which we have done , but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This gives the Church the pattern about how to be certain in the Faith she has received, but how to conduct herself in a secular society which may not hold those beliefs. We must remember that we are only as moral as any other human being. We possess a certainty of our Salvation which rests on the conviction that we have in the Faith. We have to acknowledge our uncertainty about things we cannot know, that are not revealed to us by God, and not pretend that we know them. We certainly have to acknowledge uncertainty but if we truly believe, then we have to love what we believe wholeheartedly and accept the limitations it puts on us. Limitation is the essence of Religion and it is a wonderful thing to live within one's limitations if we actually accept them.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Collect for the twentieth Sunday after Trinity

Latin Collect
OMNIPOTENS et misericors Deus, universa nobis adversantia propitiatus exclude, ut mente et corpore pariter expediti, quæ tua sunt, liberis mentibus exsequamur, Per Christum Dominum nostrum . . . Amen.

[My Translation:Almighty and Merciful God, mercifully shut out from us all things that are turned against us, that with mind and body equally prepared, we may perform those things which are Thine with free minds. Through... ]

Prayer book of 1549
ALMIGHTIE and merciful God, of thy bountiful goodnes, kepe us from all thynges that maye hurte us; that we, beyng ready bothe in body and soule, maye with free heartes accomplishe those thynges that thou wouldest have doen; Through Jesus Christ our Lorde.

Prayer book of 1662
O ALMIGHTY and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reflection
The Latin and the collect of 1549 emphasise the freedom of our minds to choose to do the will of God. For us to be able to make that choice we need God to show us that choice, and this means Him cutting through the various sounds, sights and sensations that bombard us every day. The Devil likes to throw all that He can at us so that we might be turned away from God.

Yet the mercy and the grace of God is always within us, we just have to be prepared to see them. This means having faith in God and allowing that faith to grow and prepare our hearts and minds to see whatever is right, noble, true and loving. If our hearts are free to choose God then we find good cheer at our liberation by God and live lives more fully Christ-like.

Look at Luke

Sermon preached at the parish of Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on St Luke’s day 2015

Science and religion are always presented to us as being in a battle to the death. Some would say that, because we’re in a scientific age, there is no place for God – Science explains Him away. It seems that you’re not allowed to believe in God and be a scientist.
Yet that is exactly who St Luke is.

[PAUSE]

Tradition has it that St Luke is a doctor, a physician charged with healing the sick. His science is not the same as our science. He does not have access to the medical knowledge that we have, yet he still makes people better. “Better” for St Luke might not mean the same as “better” means now, but clearly he does something to alleviate people’s suffering. His methods are clearly not perfect, so you can see how impressed he is when he interviews the witnesses the miracles of Jesus. We don’t know whether St Luke meets Jesus in his lifetime. We do know that St Luke is a disciple of St Paul. Perhaps it is because he hasn’t met Jesus that he decides to write his gospel as the results of his investigation into historical fact. He begins:
“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed .”
Many historical scholars regard St Luke as a reputable historian of the Greek tradition and this helps us to see Jesus healing the first Christians in clear light. For St Luke, there is no battle between Science and Religion. He uses his scientific training to serve God. His Gospel is the result. That's the beauty of St Luke's gospel, it is clear and it bears record to the many witnesses of Jesus' life with us. Without St Luke, we would not have the poetry of the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis or the Benedictus which are all read at Morning and Evening Prayer. He is merely reporting what people said as a good scientist or historian might.

That's where we have to be. We have to follow St Luke's example by telling what Our Lord has said and letting the beauty of God's words speak to others. Our Lord sent St Luke to be a labourer for the harvest and complains that there are too few people to take up this task. The task is simple: we need to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and our neighbours as ourselves. We do this by listening to God and simply doing what He bids us do, simply speaking what He bids us speak, and simply loving what He bids us love.
How are we to hear God's voice to us? Let's begin by reading St Luke's Gospel!


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Collect for the nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Latin Collect
DIRIGAT corda nostra, quæsumus Domine, tuæ miserationis operatio : quia tibi sine te placere non possumus. Per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum . . . Amen.

[My translation: Direct our hearts, we beseech Thee O Lord, by the operation of thy mercy: for without Thee we are not able to please Thee. Through Jesus Christ]

Prayer book of 1549 O GOD, for asmuche as without thee, we are not able to please thee; Graunte that the workyng of thy mercie maye in all thynges directe and rule our heartes; Through Jesus Christ our Lorde.

Prayer book of 1662
O GOD, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reflection
It seems to go without saying that, if God did not exist, we certainly could not please Him. However, the word "without" stands diametrically opposed to "within". In order to please God, we must be in with God. This puts a new spin on an old idea. God actually rejoices at our presence and is not pleased when we are away from Him. He does not need our presence, but rejoices in it.

It is our sin that makes us walk without God, and it is by His mercy working in us - operating in us - that we have our route back to Him. We walk through the wounds in Christ. We enter into the hoes in His hands and His side, like St Thomas. In so doing we find ourselves within God, participating in Him being Him. We take our being from God and, if our being stands apart from God, then we become nothing.

The mercy of God does indeed operate through the Holy Ghost as the modification of the 1662 collect does point out. The Holy Trinity are all involved in our existence, in our redemption and in our reunion with God. Their different personalities interact and even dance around us so that we might simply become and remain with God. We need God to show us those dance steps.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Devotion from Benediction: October 2015


There are those who would tell us that the Blessed Sacrament is not to be gazed upon nor carried about. Yet, if Christ is truly present in the Sacrament, how can we not gaze at Him? If we carry Christ about within ourselves after consuming Him, why can we not carry Him when He can be seen? We bear witness to a mystery that some would call foolish and some would call idolatry. Yet we bear witness to what we believe in our hearts, just as we have taken with our lips, a witness that Holy Church has borne from her birth, through today and into Eternity.

We stand here upon the very threshold between the physical world and the world beyond ready to bear Christ out into the world. Like Our Lady, we can bear Christ within us and live to bring His work to birth in us. Like St Francis, we bear the marks of Christ through the suffering we receive at His service. In the Sacrament of the Altar, we gaze upon His glorious scars and prepare to show Him our own that we bear for the sake of Him.

As we look now upon Christ with the eyes of our Faith, let us bring ourselves before Him, broken as we are by our sins and the sins of others and know that what we see Christ's expression of love to be with us always unto the end of the age.

Therefore we before Him bending...


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The mugness of smugness

The world would have ended today according to some Christian believers. So far I'm still here and I'm actually quite pleased about that! I do find that all these prophecies about the end of days are rather silly especially as Our Lord tells us clearly that no-one knows the time when God will put an end to things. Not even Jesus knew in His humanity when the end time would be, even though He knew in His divinity. So I guess I'm feeling rather smug that these people who state categorically when the end of the world will be have come a cropper. Is it right of me to feel smug, ever?

The answer is no, and quite categorically so. The fact that I am smug demonstrates self-righteousness and this is actually a big sin because it allies itself with pride. It is pride which caused Lucifer to fall from Heaven, and it is pride that can cost a man his soul if he refuses to let go of it.

So how does smugness work?

The essential feature of smugness is found when we are shown to be right at another's expense and derive some joy or satisfaction from that expense. There's clearly an attitude of transaction that the investment in showing oneself to be in the right is paid by another's being shown to be wrong. We see that the whole power of being smug is the pleasure of being shown to be right. It is divorced from the actual truth itself.

And this is the problem, particularly for those who are supposed to be bearing witness to the Truth.

I don't think smugness is peculiar to Christians but I do think it is very damaging to our message when we exhibit characteristics of being smug. The point is that we believe fundamentally that Our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the Way, the Truth and the Life. When we are smug, we are actually doing something very damaging to our faith.

We can debate atheists at the academic level and show them to be wrong about what we believe, but if we treat our debate like some kind of contest, then no wonder that we can be judged as being smug. We can forget a central fact that it really is not we who can convert anyone. It is only God who can turn someone to Him, and even then He has the respect enough to allow that person to choose. All the Christian should do is just bear witness, not rejoice in getting one over on another, not treat evangelism like an intellectual contest. A debate should be an honest inquiry into the truth - a dialogue in which positions can be investigated and scrutinised honestly.

The Church has a duty to combat heresy because heresy does endanger people's souls. There is only one God in three persons and that is difficult to comprehend, but the central truth of our salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ needs to be told and told well, not for our sake but for the sake of others. This is where smugness really lets us down because smugness is inherently selfish. It comes at the expense of the person to whom we are trying to minister. The moment we forget about them and where they are then we have lost the Truth and its power, but exchanged that great power for our own which is worse than useless.

Often, when someone leaves the Church we find fault with their theology. That theology may indeed be flawed but we often miss the question of what it is about the Church that has caused that person to leave. We forget that someone who leaves the Church is tacitly saying something about the way we haven't been communicating our precious Truth. If someone leaves in heresy, then it is because we have not been thinking of them and where they are, but rather basking in the warm glow of our own smugness. That is an indictment and it is a serious indictment.

What's the answer to smugness? Simple: look at the other person and put yourself where they are.

If some Christians are predicting the end of the world, one has to ask why. The answer is simple. They want the world to end, and it's not hard to see why as we watch much chaos, bloodshed and loveless behaviour spreading around the globe. What they want is not so much the end of the world but the end of mankind's cruelty and the coming of God's Kingdom. Well, I'm on board with that. I don't think it will happen the way they will. I will stand with them and say "Maranatha". Even so, come Lord Jesus.