Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Lie of the Invisibility of the Media

I am rather ashamed to admit that I only became aware of the recent terrorist attacks in Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan sometime after Easter Eve. Yet the news last week of the attack on Brussels dominated the news to the exclusion of all other stories that day. It is somewhat depressing that while the BBC did report these attacks,  they were not as obviously reported, presumably because they were so far away. That's not an excuse on my part - the information is there but I needed to look for it.

However, I have noticed the BBC being quite selective in what it reports. Some reports about the junior doctors' strike made it seem that the doctors were striking over a reasonable adjustment to overtime. In fact, reading the new contract, it rendered those doctors dependent on overtime payments worse off. For many doctors, it represents a significant pay cut! This fact was not as loudly reported as the Minister's defence that the new contract is reasonable.

I do have friends in journalism and I know them to be reputable and responsible. Yet, it does seem that mainstream media is not as reliable as people would want. Is this The Lie? Well, everyone knows that the Media is not as infallible as they are led to believe, don't they?

I once took part in a reality television show in which I had to guide some inexperienced twenty-somethings around the business of teaching. The two blokes were pleasant and actually quite hard-working despite being plunged in the deep end into a difficult profession. For all of the valiant attempts of these two individuals, the programme makers chose to show them as workshy, indolent and generally stupid which was rather unfair. In this case, the reality being portrayed by the Media was markedly different from my experience.

Part of the problem is that, when we watch reality on television, the Media are generally invisible. We forget that we are observing reality through someone else's point of view - a point of view that is carefully constructed to make whatever appears to be happening to be taken as actually happening. When the credits fly, we only pay attention to the main cast and crew and forget the others who have helped to shape that vision. We're used to seeing the subject of paintings as 3D despite the fact that they have to be 2D. That's not a pair of parallel lines, it's two lines meeting on a horizontal line called "the horizon". That's not a cube, that's a carefully shaded hexagon. Paintings give us an illusion of what's there: the reality is much different!
At the moment, all the news I seem to be getting is some increasingly unpleasant back and forth argumentation for and against the presidential candidates in the forthcoming US election. Such are the allegations about each candidate that it appears that none are suitable for one of the most powerful positions in the World. I now have so little confidence in the reports that I consider the Media to be thoroughly unreliable in putting forward anything that pertains to the truth. I may not have a vote, but I should have an interest in who might be playing in a key position in the political arena.

Likewise, I cannot trust the British media with regard to the forthcoming EU referendum. There are too many opinions presented as facts, and suppositions presented as certainties. We have no idea what the exit from the EU might look like any more than we have an idea as to what staying in would do. I have come to the same conclusion as the Scots and think we would be better together, but I cannot trust the facts and figures that I am given. Sometimes the journalists don't ask the right questions: sometimes the politicians answer questions that have never been asked.

The Lie is that facts about the world are not presented in a vacuum. We do need to think about sources and methods before we allow ourselves to be convinced. I believe the Gospels because their writers could gain nothing from what they wrote. I distrust modern biblical scholars because they do have something to gain - reputation and accolades for exposing "the Myth". In most cases ( if not all) their scholarship is rooted in opinion and arguments from silence.

We must listen to what the Media says in order to learn about what is going on. We also have to learn how they say it as well. If we don't, the facts we hear will be as illusory as the disappearing bust of Voltaire.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Paschal Planting

Sermon reached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Feast of the Resurrection

On Friday, fear reigns. We are presented with the very things that can frighten us the most. We are presented with the ways in which Society can not only fail us, but go out of its way actively to destroy us. In that Society we can find the wayside, the rocks, the thorns all determined to kill in us the word of God. On Friday, they succeeded.

Yet the Word of God also said, "unless a seed die it cannot bear fruit". The soil of our hearts may not be perfect for growing, but as long as it receives that seed deep within and lets it die within us, then it will grow and make us more ready to bear fruit.

And this Lent, we too have tried to die so that we do not become the wayside, the rocks or among thorns. We have tried to die to the things that separate us from God. We may not have been wholly successful, but that we have honestly tried is enough: it is a beginning.

It is in us that Our Lord's Resurrection is broadcast to the world in the best news Creation has ever heard. It is in us that Society can begin to be reborn as a community in which Love can flourish and produce fruit that will gladden the hearts of men.

It is not Friday any more. Why should we fear what me can do to us? Whatever they can do must end, must give way to what is truly Eternal: Faith, Hope, Love - all tied up in the Eternal Trinity. This is the Day that has no end where no fear can be, for fear disappears in the Kingdom of Light, Truth and Love.

It is in us that God will bring this Kingdom to shine. This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fearful Friday: "God is dead, and we have killed Him."

As we stand here at the summit of Calvary gazing up at this terrible sight of three men dangling in agony on crosses, how attuned are we to the fear that surrounds us.

This method of execution is supposed to strike fear into our hearts so to remind us to fear what men can do to us. Look what they have done to the man on the cross in the middle. What was this man's crime except for embarrassing the Establishment?

Isn't the Establishment to be feared? They have taken this man away from his friends, out of his circle of trust; they have taken away his clothes, his dignity, his justice, his health, his happiness, his life. If they can do that to him, can't they do it to us?

They prey upon our fears more than anything else. We are afraid of being taken out of our comfort zone, afraid of being laughed at and mocked, afraid that noone will hear our cries for help, afraid of pain and agony, of our secret person being exposed to all only to be beaten, spat on, nailed and pierced. And we fear death. 

That's what the Establishment can do to us. If they can do that to God, what's stopping them doing it to us? Shall we then worship the Establishment?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday in Eternity

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Maundy Thursday

It says in the Missal that it is very expedient for the priest to say a few words on this most holy day. However how can I speak of unspeakable mysteries?
For we have Christ Himself transforming bread and wine into His very self. We have Christ transforming that last supper into a banquet in Heaven itself. How is this possible?
We have the mystery of Eternity which, being in Time we cannot comprehend. The words I have just spoken are irretrievably in the past and are not. The words I am yet to say are in the future and are not. We are bound by things inaccessible to us.
Yet, in Eternity there is only now...now...now. Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. All these nows are accessible to God reaching out to all humanity throughout Time at the same time. However many of us are in this little space, we are now in Heaven.
There is only one Mass, for Mass is always now, and Christ is always now so that we can be with Him in the nowness of Eternity.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ants, crabs, and the horror of Holiness

I seem to remember a nature programme in which a crab was overcome by a group of army ants and summarily taken to pieces from the inside out. My own squeamish nature prevented me from watching the whole ghastly spectacle, though, as a small boy I'd have probably watched this with some fascination. I wondered to myself, why didn't the makers of the film help the poor crab? What a horrible way to die!

Two things struck me. First, why should the camera person help the crab? Wouldn't that deprive the ants of a meal, starving their young to death? Whose life is more important, and who gets to make that decision? My emotions were with the crab because I was imagining the excruciating pain it must have been in and I wanted that pain to end. Yet somehow that pain was necessary for the ecosystem. There is no Good or Evil here, just a fight for survival. The army ant is doing exactly what the crab is doing - trying to stay alive. As Professor Richard Dawkins would say, there is nothing here apart from blind, pitiless indifference.

Second, why was the programme made in the first place? I assume that the makers were not actually interfering in the situation. If that's the case, then the crab would have met its end, cameras or no cameras. The point of the programme was to educate, to show us what Nature is like, how it works, how the animals behave. We learn about our world, its variety and colour, of the brilliant and beautiful creatures interacting and contributing to a complex ecosystem. So too, we must learn about Death in its many and varied forms. The beautiful geometry of the spider's web exists only for the painful paralysis, suffocation and digestion of the fly. We cannot have one without the other.

How can a Loving God create a world in which such horrible things happen, first to humans who might deserve it, second to beasts which don't. Does God really have to pit animal against animal in such a horrible manner?

As we walk into Holy Week with our Master riding ahead on an ass, we will be presented with the same question, "Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Where has all the love gone? Why is all brutality and pain?

The fact that Christ is our teacher does remind us that our present state is one of deep, meanugful learning to be human, of feeling our way through life to a future which is neither light or dark but bears only that dread epithet: UNKNOWN. Our Lord completes the lessons taught by the Law and the Prophets: that God exists and the meaning of our lives is to be found in our relationship with Him forged by fidelity and recognition of His Holiness. Our Lord bids us be holy for God is holy.

We know that holiness is a state of separation from that which is not-God. God stands apart because He is Creator. He calls Israel to stand apart as an instrument of His blessing for all peoples. That vocation has fallen to Christians. We are to be instruments of God's blessing on this world. If we are to be holy - separated - then we must know what we are to be separated from. True freedom of will means that we have to be exposed to what is evil as well as what is good. True freedom means we have to know the brutality of mindlessness, of Nature's indifference to our lives and happiness in order to begin to know that we are alive and that we can be happy.

And we have to know our own separation from God. This is no theoretical separation, but an actual separation of creatures given freedom yet who have wilfully claimed independence from God and have fallen far into a darkness from which only God can rescue us. This is Holy Week - the week in which God has to show us that our suffering in this life is recognised and even given a value. He does this for the express purpose of reconciling the paradox of our free-will with His Divine authority, and so that we might be freed from the Hell-bound consequences of our decision to be separated from God. We could have the same existence as the ant and the crab by denying God, and He would allow this because of His love for us and the scandalous respect that He has for His Creatures.

What of the crab and the ant, living pitiless and brutal existence devouring each other oblivious to the other's pain? This is Hell, even for creatures that don't appear to be able to cry out to God. Yet even their suffering is noted. Even their tears are put into His bottle. We are told that there will be new skies and a new earth. All these former things will pass away.

Holy Week is horrible as we watch one man's life torn to pieces. This is reality in its brutality, yet through this we find ourselves aware of God in His Death and, in this death, we can a life that makes all suffering not only worthwhile, but a badge of honour!

Let us travel with Our Lord Jesus, not as viewers of His Passion, nor just as participants remembering that we are responsible for His pain, but as bearers of that pain and humanity which He decided to share with us. Let us also remember that as we watch one another suffer, trying but failing to prevent that suffering through acts of compassion, Christ is there with us completing that suffering into its Eternal significance and the infinite joy associated with it.

I wish all my readers a blessed Holy Week filled with God's presence, and offer my prayers to Him for all those in suffering and need, begging for their joy to be found and completed.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Streaming the Cross

It's a strange little vision that I have when I make the sign of the Cross over people and things. It's as if this simple little action on my part cuts a hole in my perception of reality and through this cross-shaped hole pours a river out into the world. I see this happening every time I  sign the Cross.

Then I remember that, by my sins, I have crucified Our Lord. It is my actions that have contributed to His Death two-thousand years ago and that I have wielded the spear that pierced His side from which flowed blood and water.

Although I must bear responsibility for that sin, the Sacrifice of Christ has forced all sin confessed to Him to travel in Time to that cross and be nailed there forever. Any sin that I confess now travels back in Time to that dreadful day. Any sin that I don't confess travels with me into my future to continue my separation from God.

However, as a priest, I really rejoice in being given the authority to cut the veil of reality in this way. Every time I sign the Cross,  the waters of God's blessing pour from that wound into the world. This happens because, for all my wickedness and sin, I participate in that unique priesthood of Christ through whose side His blood of the New Covenant spilled. In making benediction, Christ's grace in me is reproducing that wound so that we may be covered in that blood and find blessing and true joy therein.

I am thankful to God for these little visions and pray, albeit faltering and unworthily, that He would be pleased to continue to use me for His blessing so that more people may feel His touch of joy and peace. Therefore, I am in much need of prayer and beg my readers that they would remember me in their prayers.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The thorns of passion

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Passion Sunday

Thornbushes make up quite a bit of the vegetation of the wilderness. While He is walking there being tempted by the Devil, Our Lord encounters many of them growing from the ground and strangling the shoots of grass and other wild plants. He knows that these thorns will be plaited and jammed upon His head during His Passion. He also knows that He has to bear these thorns because we have such an ordeal bearing ours.

The parable of the Sower reminds us that it is the thorns that choke the life out of the seed of the word of God. These thorns are the cares of this life, the things that make us distract us from hearing the word of God in our lives and doing something with it. For us, perhaps,  the thorny wilderness is not out of the towns and cities,  but rather in the shopping centres and high streets where the word of God is drowned out by trivialities. The paradox is that we leave this faithless wilderness by leaving civilisation for a while. The suffering that we endure is the silence from our distractions. It is a silence that can become quite painful.

When we suffer, we are said to undergo a passion. A passion inflames the emotions which is why we say we are passionate about the things we enjoy. We can also be passionate for a cause, or against some injustice. Either way, passions need to be examined for, if they bear thorns, they will choke the word of God in us and we will not bear fruit.

When we allow life's distractions to crowd God out of our lives, we are essentially contributing to the Crown of Thorns that Our Lord wears upon His head during His Passion. We can be distracted from God, even by good things. This is why a good prayer life is so important to cultivate. Henri Nouwen suggests that, in times of distraction, we take a prayer we know off by heart and say it slowly to ourselves deep within.

We share in Our Lord's passion when we do not allow life to get in our way of worshipping God and hearing His voice. We share in His crown of Thorns when we deny ourselves some pleasure in order to sit down and pray. We share in the death of Christ when we cease to live for ourselves and our distractions, and live for God Himself!

Yes, this is hard. Thorns hurt, but God will carry us through if we do not allow those thorns to hinder our looking for Him. Christ's greatest healing took place when he was in the greatest pain. Let us look to that and His Resurrection rather than things of this world.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Faith, Fascism, and why not being Liberal is not necessarily evil

I've had to leave another Facebook group where one group of Protestants has started declaring Roman Catholics Hell- bound and not-really-Christian. I am not a Roman Catholic only insofar as I do not hold to the idea of the existence of a "Bishop of bishops" other than God, nor that Papal Infallibility can be inferred from the Doctrine of the first milennium. However, these niggles notwithstanding, I find myself standing proudly with the Roman Catholics against these unfounded Protestant allegations. I left the group because I simply cannot be bothered with the same old spiel from those who will not actually read Holy Scripture with the Holy Ghost but rather dissect it for proof-texts against all and sundry who do not share their views. It all sounds a bit Fascist!

Hang on a minute! That word gets bandied about a lot. Does it really apply here? Really, we need to determine three things. What really is Fascism? Is it necessarily evil? Is the traditional understanding of the Church Fascist?

The word Fascist seems to be used a lot by people to mean the opposite of Liberal and especially in the pejorative sense. The mainstream philosophy is Liberal and centrist. We'll have to make sure that we know what these terms mean too.

What I understand by Fascism is

1) the exaltation of  the Nation and State over and above the individual;
2) the existence of a centralised autocratic government;
3) the presence of a dictator;
4) severe economic and social regimentation;
5) the forcible suppression of opposition.

Is this an evil idea? I don't think that it's hard to see that it could ( and indeed did) lead to great evil. The trouble with working out whether it is an evil idea depends especially on what we mean by Good and Evil in the first place. Now that's a problem, especially in a morally relativitic mindset. This isn't quite what is meant by Liberal in a theological way, but rather part of the political meaning of the word. It is this confusion that causes problems.

Moral Relativism is, of course, in the strict sense self-defeating. If the individual is responsible for his own morals, then how can he object to the atrocities of ISIS if they are only following their individual morals? What is it about the Strict Moral Relativist's moral code that makes it any better than that of ISIS? If one relaxes in one's strictness of Moral Relativism,  then one still has to deal with the arbitrary nature of one's morals.

Those who insist on tolerance for their beliefs must also insist on tolerance for those who object to those beliefs. The principle must be applied because, if there are no moral objectives, then all moralities are interchangeable.

Since I believe in objective moral values and duties, I can only really judge Fascism with respect to the Christian morality that I love. Am I therefore being just as arbitrary as the Relativist? I don't believe so. Objective morality is good evidence for the existence of God and, despite people trying to show otherwise and failing miserably, History shows the existence of the person of Our Lord Jesus and bears witness of His claims to be the Son of God as authentic. There will be those who believe the modern scholars' attempt to deconstruct this view as a myth, but they are not convincing in their arguments that the Historical record be changed largely because they perform an eisegesis on a naturalist assumption that has not been proved. Thus Christian Morality is a good candidate for the objective morality. It's also worth pointing out that British Law is founded on Christian principles. While that might not be overwhelming evidence that I am not being arbitrary in my choice of morality, I think that at least makes my position reasonable.

If I assume Christian Morality is the objective morality, it may appear, then, that I will automatically acquit the Church of Fascism if Fascism turns out to be intrinsically evil. However, we know that churchmen are far from morally perfect! The beauty of Christian morality is that we are able to tell when churchmen are being far from morally perfect. It holds everyone up to the same objective standards. There are no exceptions just a rigorous scrutiny of acts, their contexts and their motives. This is how someone like Christopher Hitchens is perfectly able to call the Church into question against the standards She preaches. Under the Christian morality, atheists can be seen when they act morally and Christians when they don't and vice versa.

Let's make a start.

Is exalting the state or nation above the individual morally wrong? Christian Morality starts with loving God first, then the neighbour. The greatest exaltation has to be for God alone. It is when Christians exalt the Church first and then God that she begins to satisfy Fascist Criterion 1. Loving one's neighbour should form the basis of the community and the beginning of the Nation or State. The needs of the individual should not be ignored by anyone, whether in government or not. When the Church fails to do this, then She is satisfying Criterion 1. Thus, from a Christian point of view, Criterion 1 could be seen to be immoral if that exaltation of Nation and State supercedes the proper worship of God which has the consideration of the individual as its main byproduct. I don't believe that the Church does exalt herself above God, though some priests and prelates do go that far, but it is an important indicator of her spiritual health.

I suppose Criteria 2 and 3 do go together. An autocratic government will essentially be a dictator as a body. The crucial aspect of the autocrat is their motivation. There are good kings and bad kings in history, good emperors and bad emperors, good popes and bad popes. Absolute Monarchism is very much like a dictatorship, and the concept of benign dictatorship does exist. Moses, David and Elijah could be seen as such. I strongly accept the Pope as the first Bishop in the Church with all the honour and veneration that affords. Is he a dictator? Is the Sacred College an autocratic centralised government unaccountable to noone?
"In the realm of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." If the dictator is such a one as possesses a quality of sight or intellect that noone else possesses, then he is eminently qualified for the position. Yet if he is unaccountable to the people, even the most qualified dictator runs the risk of immorality. While unaccountability is not necessarily immoral, it is practically a near occasion of sin. A Synodal church in which the voices of the bishop, clergy, and laity can be heard is less likely to become a Fascist government.

It is Criteria 4 and 5 that are the most morally problematic as they stab at the heart of the freedom of the self to live a life of one's own making. Coercion and oppression may be apparently for the individual's own good but if this restricts their choice, then the ends of that coercion do not justify the means. Any regimentation must be morally justified. A prison is more regimented than a school, but both are regimented appropriately for their inmates. What makes regimentation severe? I would say that it prevents one from freely forming and working towards one's own goals in life.

Is the Church like this? A Church has laws based on Christian Morality. This includes prohibitions and regulations. The 10 Commandments explain these regulations which are expounded and clarified by Christ. In becoming Christian, we accept the kingship of Christ on His terms. This acceptance is the contract by which we may be prohibited from certain actions and required to do others. Yet, the Church has no police to enforce this law. Excommunication is possible but rescindible and, for many sadly, no hardship. Salvation is the reason why people should be in the Church, but people are now largely free to come and go as they choose. The Church should promote both corporate and personal relationship with God, but not by forcing God down people's throats in such a way as to make His Kingdom a torture.

It is probably good that the Church and the State are separate so that the Church does not get engaged in power struggles any more. Nor do we have any military strength. We must remember that the Inquisition was called by a king, and that it was the military power of kings which led to the abuses in the Crusades.

I do agree that the Church tends to authoritarianism but only legitimately possessing only the authority given to Her by Christ. The Church is not coercive enough to be Fascist nor does She forget the individual.

However, the Church is not Liberal. She possesses a morality which does not change because each human being is held to the same standard by God. Attempts by Liberals in the Church to relativise Her teaching cause people to fall away from seeking and striving for that standard of living. We do not reach the standards by our own effort but we are assisted by the Grace of God.

If the Law of God scandalises us, perhaps we are trying to hold God to a different morality from the one that really exists. Perhaps we should use that scandal to examining ourselves before charging the Church with Fascism.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Not all oxen are dumb

Today, according to my breviary  (albeit in commemoration only) marks the Feast of the Dumb Ox himself, St Thomas Aquinas.

In the light of my recent postings about Reason and Poetry, none epitomise this more for me than St Thomas. The Summa Theologiae is a wonderful read but it is taking me years to get through it given the hurly burly of life. Yet, St Thomas also has a poetic element. His liturgy for the Feast of Corpus Christi is so rooted in the presence of Christ that the heart and emotions are stirred as well as the mind.

Of course, while Anglican Catholics tend to believe in a form of Transubstantiation,  we are not bound by any particular explanation of the Mystery. Nor should we be, and even St Thomas would accept that, I think, given that, towards the end of his life, that magnificent Summa becomes a thing of straw.

Reality is deeper than just reason, yet reason is how we talk to each other. In asking St Thomas to be one of my patrons, I ask him to pray with me and for me that we may learn to communicate better at the level of the soul rather than just the mind or the heart. That way perhaps we can find that common love for each other in the light of the Love of God.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Infinity and Trinity

I've finished yet another reading of Infinity and the Mind by Rudy Rucker. As a mathematician, I always hear some strange ideas from people about infinity. Is it a number? Well, yes and no. It is not a number in the sense of standard arithmetic. In standard arithmetic, numbers can be added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided providing we are not dividing by zero. Share four cakes between two people and each person gets two cakes; i.e. 4÷2=2. Share four cakes between no people, how much does each person get? Dividing by zero is not technically infinity - it is technically meaningless.

Infinity is sort of a number when it comes to counting things. The trouble is that there are different types of infinity. Indeed there are bigger and bigger and bigger infinities until one reaches the Absolute Infinity - except we never reach the Absolute Infinity. All this is mathematically sound.

Now how do we understand infinities? We can say that they are the number of objects in a set. For the non-mathematician, a set is just a collection of specific and identifiable objects. We can call the set of numbers {1,2,3,4...} the set N for example. I call the set of all numbers which can be expressed as a decimal (which may be infinitely long,  like pi), R. It turns out that there are more numbers in R than in N.

Where on earth can this arcane discussion be going? As Rucker points out, a set is a Many that can be thought of as a One. Rather than think of all decimals, one by one, we can just conceive of R and use that to prevent ourselves from wasting intellectual resources.

The point is, we comprehend infinities by comprehending sets. Sets are the key thing here. You might think we can form a set of anything such as the set of all cats in Hull in 2016, or the set of bishop's wives - you are the set of all the cells in your body! Yet there are sets that cannot exist as sets such as the set S of all sets which don't contain themselves. That's a tricky concept and you can take time to think about it and enjoy the logical conundrum, or move on and just hold to my conclusion. There is no universal set, no set of all sets, but there is a class of all sets.

The point is that we can easily talk of the class of all sets as one object, in which case it really ought to be a set, but it can't be a set without some awful logical contradiction taking place. We can even conceive of T the class of all possible thoughts and the same thing happens. It is not a set. If a set is a Many that can be treated as a One, T is not. It is a single conceivable thing which cannot be treated as a single conceivable thing.

For the Christian, this sounds very familiar. We hold to a Unity that is a Multiplicity - a Three-in-One. Of course this is impossible by anything bound by the laws of Physics, but perhaps we see that in the laws of mathematics such a being can be possible albeit beyond finite comprehension.

I do apologise if I lost my readers along the way here. My aim was simply to show that the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, although utterly transcendent, permits itself to be seen as a shadow in mathematical thought. Beyond that we must keep silence and lift ourselves above such Earthly thoughts.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Beneath the humeral veil

I suppose that every day, somewhere in the world, a solemn High Mass is said. It is supposed to be the norm rather than the exception, but the average parish will only have a priest with no one to function as Deacon or Subdeacon. I once tried to argue the case in the CofE that the office of Reader ought to be converted into that of Subdeacon,  but the lack of interparish cohesion rather put the mockers on that idea.

The office of Subdeacon is practically extinct in itself. At High Mass, the liturgical role of Subdeacon is taken by a Deacon or Priest. The Liturgical role of Subdeacon is, like the other sacred ministers, packed with symbolism and meaning. (And, yes, I'm fully expecting to be accused of pushing the symbolism again. I  make no apologies.)

Functionally, the Subdeacon is the Deacon's deacon. His job is to be by the Deacon's side when the Deacon plays his part, holding the Gospel for him, passing things across, and standing behind him during the prayers.

It is at the Offertory when the role takes on its unique character, thanks to the humeral veil.

The veil itself should cover the credence at the beginning of High Mass. In this we see that it represents the Veil of Mystery that is uncovered in the Apocalypse. God reveals Truth to us by taking the veil away. The drama of the sacrifice of the Mass is that revelation.

The Subdeacon, then, as the sole bearer of the humeral veil takes upon the role of the vehicle of God's revelation. First, he reveals the chalice and paten at the Offertory which are taken by the Deacon to be presented to the Celebrant.

In this we essentially see the Lord's prophecy of His Death being revealed. The Chalice will become a symbol of God's covenant with us in which humanity and divinity are mixed and together become the Blood of Christ. The Paten becomes the Tomb on which the broken Body of Christ is laid. At the Offertory, this is a time of prophecy; the hour has not yet come. Thus, the Deacon returns the paten back to the Subdeacon under the veil, and the Subdeacon retires behind the Sacrifice until the hour indeed has come and the Broken Body of Christ is to lie before its resurrection in all who consume it in faith.

Further, it is the Subdeacon who distributes the Pax to the clergy in choir. Why the Subdeacon and not the Deacon? The Celebrant prepares himself to receive Christ into Himself. With the Deacon on side to help in this moment, the Subdeacon must bear the responsibility of bringing the Peace of Christ to the clergy and thus out into the world. Again, the Subdeacon is an agent of revelation and proclamation.

The loss of the Subdiaconate to the Church is unfortunate, and perhaps telling of this age's hatred of Mystery. All of Reality bears mysteries that cannot readily be solved. Yet one can understand a mystery, but not br able to communicate it. Words are not enough to explain all truth and only a life which  recognises the Cosmic Humeral Veil in humility and faith may be permitted by the Divine to peek beneath it.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Rationalising Reason

Immanuel Kant is not the easiest to read or understand, but he does raise rather interesting points when it comes to how reason does fail us at times. When two opposing sides give apparently equally compelling reasons for their cases, there must be something wrong there. The point that springs to mind is Catholic v Protestant - a deadlock about the Truth. It can only be a leap of Faith (to throw Kierkegaard into the mix) to accept one of the positions.

Ed Pacht has always played the Ubertino Da Cassale to my more scholastic leanings. We both see the limits of Reason in different ways. He reasons with the mind  of a poet, I sing with the heart of a mathematician. It's amazing how we draw the same conclusions from different approaches!

One criticism that I noticed of my previous post, is that people reject the whole necessity of reasoning. They prefer to abide by the Holy Mystery of Faith rather than the fides quaerens intellectum.

Of course that's not only a valid way of living one's life, it's recommended by saints such as St Bernard and writers such as Pseudo-Dionysius. In order to approach God, we must strip away every preconception, every means of logical deduction and enter a state of unknowing. It's something I've tried to do. But how does one talk about the Truth, or discuss it with others?

One way will be with poetry and allegory. The power of narrative is incredible and the words of Genesis gain their strength not from Science but from what it means to be human. The trouble is that not everyone sees the same thing. The inexpressible is indeed inexpressible. Well - duh! as my students will say. This can potentially lead to misunderstandings and disagreements about the nature of God and our relationship with Him on apparently subjective terms.

The rational approach gives precision and validity to the conclusions one draws. It lays the cards on the table and, if one accepts the premises and the means of inference, then one is bound by them to accept the conclusion. This indeed leaves very little wiggle-room for the colour in our lives. Further, we can use Reason to rationalise sinful behaviour.

If we openly oppose homosexual relationships then cold reason will say that we will be in the wrong if we engage in homosexual relationships even if we can rationalise them away. There have been clergymen who have hidden the fact that they are engaged in such a relationship, yet the facts that they live together and do everything together would seem to suggest otherwise. The observer cannot leap to the conclusion that such a relationship is any more than platonic because there is clearly not enough evidence to complete the chain of reasoning. However, neither can the clergyman truly square it in his conscience that he is not engaging in homosexual activity when he knows that he is. There will be a fault in the reasoning here and that flaw will be very much due to the nature of that sin and a desire not to be seen as a hypocrite. The trouble is that this very flaw can be well hidden. That's the trouble with Reason: one missing link in the chain, one hidden assumption, and the conclusion is no longer watertight.

If one lives by the Rulebook then one will die by the Rulebook. Yet if one lives purely by the heart, then everything can become subject to emotion, feeling, and whim. Reason gives structure to our understanding, Mystery gives it a colour and depth to approach the unimaginable. Neither one rules the other unnecessary; neither one can destroy the other. That's the beauty of being human. The Pastoral dimension is strengthened by Canon, and Canon is softened by the Pastoral. The priest has the unenviable task of trying to be both.

Thank God for poets and scholastics!