Monday, February 29, 2016
Occasionally in our prayers and reflections, we human beings can suddenly get a sense of clarity, and we realise that we have been lied to. Thus has happened to me a few times and I have tried to blog the results. Given that we should always be seeking the truth, indeed our family motto is veritas omnia vincit, I do intend to record these moments of clarity as they occur. We are being lied to, but not necessarily by other folk. Thus here begin reflections on The Lie.
You know the sort of situation. You turn onto a single lane road, only to see another car coming towards you. Someone has to back up.
Or you're in a hurry at the bank, and you're behind the little old lady who has decided to take out £100 in 10 pence pieces and the clerk is counting every wretched one.
All too often, we blame the other driver, or the old lady, or the bank clerk for our inconvenience as if they were acting with the express purpose of inconveniencing us, or at least blaming them for their selfish behaviour. Have we really thought about what is actually going on here?
One might say that everyone is naturally selfish. That's not quite true. Everyone is naturally looking out for their own ends and both society and religious practice can help train us to look out for others. Wilfully being self-serving is true selfishness having its expression in Lust, Avarice, and Gluttony. The old lady may need those 10p pieces to feed an antiquated gas meter that her stingy landlord hasn't bothered to replace. The bank clerk may be driven by professional courtesy to ensure that the old lady isn't diddled out of a single coin. The other driver may be just visiting his mother. Or they may all just be out to ruin your day. Which is most likely?
The real thing to blame is the timing. Human beings interact chaotically. Simple social rules and conventions create complex and colourful behaviour, allowing us to express ourselves and live our lives. But the complexity of living mean that we do get in each others' ways albeit for the most part unwittingly and ignorantly. Indeed, we can be at our most obstructive to others when we are actually trying to help.
We have to see the clear thing here. Unless we actually have the information in front of us, we can assume nothing about the other's motives or intentions. Any obstruction is most likely to be bad timing more than anything else.
This does mean that we have to learn to relinquish the illusion that things are deliberately out to get in our way. This illusion is born of another illusion which is more pernicious, namely the illusion that we can control every aspect of our lives. If we live with others, then the Divine mandate to love one another as ourselves compels us not just to allow those obstacles but to rejoice in them as an aspect of our and the other's shared humanity in the sight of God.
Of course, we ought not seek to obstruct others deliberately, but perhaps we should cut ourselves a little slack when we do.
There is nothing to blame here save our own propensity to be impatient and intolerant. Yet we must recognise that while our patience and tolerance are limited, God's is not.
Let us see the Lie of Deliberate Obstruction for what it is, and seek to see in others not an obstacle but an ikon of God's love.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
"If the bible said that two and two were five, I'd believe it. It would take me a while to think through what it means, but I'd believe it."
So says one "bible-believing" Christian, and he's not alone. This actually upsets me a great deal because it shows not only a misunderstanding of what the Bible really is, but that human beings are essentially trying to live lives as "brains in vats" with everything around them being pure illusion save that which is literally printed in the Bible.
Let me be clear, I am not saying that Science holds all the answers, nor am I intending to pour scorn on those who believe the literal interpretation of Genesis, but I am concerned that people believe that the Bible is to be accepted uncritically.
I am not going to be able to find a general solution of the Navier-Stokes equations in Holy Scripture. Nor should I think that I should. If the solution there, then I trust the Holy Ghost to lead me. Until then, I will rely on mathematical sources to aid me in this Quixotic quest.
My point us that, although I believe that Science and Mathematics are not capable of obtaining a monopoly on the truth, they do indeed bear witness to the truth. "The Heavens are telling the glory of God". Mathematics is infallible in the truth that it can tell, but this truth can never be complete - indeed the incompleteness of mathematics has been proved mathematically!
This incompleteness is no reason to doubt the truths uncovered by Science. Religion is impregnable to any attempts by atheists to use Science to dismiss it as false. It can't be done, and as of today, I have seen not one single coherent argument for the non-existence of God.
Yet Science does tell the truth. If you drop a vase, it will fall unless there are external entities that prevent that failure. Two and two are four and that is obvious though surprisingly not self-evident. The fact that we have observed gravitational waves almost a century after Einstein predicted them gladdens my heart, and I do thank God for the beauty of Mathematics.
The Bible says that pi is three, but if you read I Kings vii.23 & 26 carefully, this is not a collection of blueprints but a description of the glories of Solomon's temple. Even then, there are interesting features of Phoenician mathematics and mensuration that make it closer to the truth than is apparent. Again, the exact value of pi is not the point: the glory of God is.
The Cappadocian Fathers tell us to revere every word of Scripture carefully, not because it has a literal point, but rather it points to that which is deeper. St Thomas Aquinas would ensure that, following Holy Tradition, we make use of all the senses of Scripture to find the word of God.
Yet Christians must learn not to be so simple-minded as to drive people away from them sniggering at our stupidity for accepting what is manifestly incorrect. To believe that two and two are five based on Scripture really would make a mockery of Scripture. It would make God out to be a liar or at best, inconsistent. Too often, the Bible is carved up into proof-texts to prove a point as to deprive it of any context or depth, or insightful vision of the deep truths of God. We are to be as shrewd as vipers as well as being innocent as doves. This means that, in order to talk with people, to help them find the God we love, we cannot pay for two drinks each worth two pound and expect not to get a pound in change. We are already counted as fools for Christ, why be counted as a fool for oneself?
I am deeply saddened by those Christians who are anti-science, or those who do not think beyond the confines of the Textus Receptus. The integrity of Christian thought starts with Holy Scripture and ends with God. There's a massive distance there and this gap can only be bridged by living the Christian Faith in the world that God made!
While I remain a sceptic on many of the claims of Science on non - scientific issues, I find myself drawn evermore closer to God by the sheer complexity of the world around me, and the fascinating theories that lie behind that complexity.
Of course if two and two were five, then that really would prove that I am the Pope!
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Sunday, February 14, 2016
As we have already seen, if we allow the Devil to influence us, he can lead us by the wayside where we can lose God completely. We know that this is something that he wants to do. Look at the lengths he goes to to take the Word of God away! Had Jesus succumbed to temptation, then the Word of God would have been lost to us all!
By pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Many people confuse the wilderness with a desert. This isn't really that true. While the wilderness is by definition a challenging place to live, it does not challenge one's actual survival.
We go into the wilderness to think, reflect, listen, or simply realise who we are as opposed to who we think we are. It is not exactly clear how this can be accomplished if we spending the energy fighting for our lives. We know that shepherds took their flocks a way into the wilderness for them to graze. We also know that they would have to be on the lookout for the beasts like lions, which is why shepherds had to be sober and vigilant.
However, in this challenging landscape there are many places where the vegetation is lush and green, where the water runs as clear as crystal, and where the native animals live their simple little lives unencumbered by the shackles of reason, law, order, and politics. Here in the wilderness we can truly meet God being who we are, as we were created. Here is an opportunity to sit down and allow ourselves to be known by God.
As we enter the season of Lent, we embrace the challenges of asceticism in which we seek not to make ourselves uncomfortable as if to atone for the lives that God has given us, but rather to step back from ourselves as we believe ourselves to be. We allow ourselves to see beauty in the simple things in the artificial aridity of a life forgetful of God. Like the Pharisees, we can do all the right things but in forgetting the presence of God, our efforts are vain because we forget the presence of Love.
We do not fast in order to make ourselves miserable - carrying the Cross will do that for us. We do not give things up for the challenge - the testing of our faith by Sin, the World, and the Devil will do that. We do these things to strip away the encumbrances of worldly living to find freedom to be what God created, to explore God and how He has both created and redeemed us, and to do so in the presence of that loving Creator and Redeemer!
I wish you all a blessed, happy, and fulfilling Lent!
Tuesday, February 09, 2016
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Tuesday, February 02, 2016
When I was ordained a priest, I knew that the age of deference to the parish clerk had passed. Very occasionally, I will hear, "mornin' Vicar" or, "thank you, Father " but more often than not I am not recognised as a priest. I get the odd look, but nothing more than that.
In many ways this is good. No-one should be compelled to recognise or defer to a priest as part of social mores. I am a human being among others, worthy of no greater nor lesser respect than anyone else. This is exactly what Our Lord wants when he upbraids the Pharisees for wanting all the honorific titles and places of honour for very little. Earthly honors and titles are worth nothing.
In a previous post, I alluded to Boethius and his view on honours. I used to rate the Oxford DD as the most prestigious academic degree. Then Oxford University awarded that very degree to Katherine Jefferts Schori, the woman who has done most to destroy Anglicanism in America as well as besmirch the reputation of Christianity in that country. This is the essence of Boethius' proof that honour and title are not worth seeking. If that title can be given to anyone, deserving or undeserving alike, what can it really be worth? Honours are purely subjective and can have no objective existence.
Time and again do we see bishops, priests, and pastors fat with their own self - satisfaction insist that their message be heard by everyone because they are the bishop, priest, or pastor while, at the same time, either quietly hiding their hypocrisy or justifying it loudly and proudly. This was true in medieval times, and it's true now.
Yet, the priesthood is a gift of God to His people. The existence of the sacerdotal ministry is like a computer's installer. It exists in order to download and install software onto a computer. Likewise a priest is one called by God to give to His people the objective and efficient grace of His Being.
A priest is an alter Christus in that he participates in the single priesthood of Christ making real Christ in the Mass. I was once asked the question, if you meet an angel and a priest walking together down the street whom should you honour most? The answer is the priest who bears Christ in himself and makes Him present at Mass.
Like many people, I rather balked at this. It makes the priest seem superior to angelic beings, more glorious than the Cherubim. But man is lower than the angels, and in the Incarnation, Our Lord was indeed made lower than the angels. The point is that it is the presence of Christ in the priest that His people will recognise. It is His presence that is called "Father" not of the fallible little person that bears Him.
This cuts two ways. If a priest or bishop seeks the accolades proper to Christ for himself, then not only is he defrauding his congregation, he is also committing self-idolatry. That's just what the Devil did!
This, then, is where the priesthood meets Candlemas. The aged Simeon departs in peace after presenting the Christ child to God and thus to the world. Like St John the Baptist, Simeon seeks only his decrease in the light of Christ. In the ritual purification of Our Lady, Simeon's Old Testament is purified in the light of Christ. As Christ becomes the only true high priest at the altar of the Cross, so is this light shone out to the world.
This means that each priest, and more so each bishop, has a truly onerous duty. Every day the priest is confronted with, "how have you presented Christ to the world today? How have you made Him present in this dark some world?" This should terrify each cleric. If it doesn't, then he has forgotten the enormity of his orders. He is under orders, lesser than his congregation whom he serves, lesser than the society he inhabits, because he is always beneath the shadow of the cross that he bears but, by virtue of his sins, he is unworthy to bear. Thanks be to God for the grace that a priest receives in order to do this at his ordination!
The more that a priest shows the light of Christ, the more will people show the honour due not to him but to the One he bears. If people can recognise the presence of Christ, then and only then will the priest be able to depart in peace according to His Word.