- The Love of God always surprises but never contradicts itself. It is certainly not comfortable!
- A State church will bow to the demands of the State. That's not a reason for hatred, but a call to seek integrity.
- Small is beautiful and honesty is the best policy.
- Time spent trying to hold the Pre-Reformation Church together with the Post-Reformation Church is valuable but very, very painful.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Human beings are profoundly wise and profoundly stupid at the same time. No place is this more evident than in the self.
- I Corinthians viii.1b
- 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.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Sunday, December 27, 2015
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
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Thursday, December 10, 2015
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
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
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?
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.
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!