Sunday, July 31, 2016

When Ikons become Idols

Sermon for the tenth Sunday after Trinity

In the History of the Church of England, there is a difficult question of how many Oecumenical Councils we should recognise. Many Anglicans believe that it's the first four, but we Anglican Catholics believe that we should affirm the first seven. Why?

We try not to be arbitrary in our Faith. What reason is there to stop at Four Councils? Reasons do exist and clearly do edify our brethren,  but Anglican Catholics seek the maximum amount of correspondence with the Primitive Church that we can. For us, this happens before East and West split. The supposed Eighth Council was only called Oecumenical until after the Great Schism. The supposed Ninth occured in 1123 after the Schism. We can therefore should accept Seven Councils as a doctrinally maximal solution.

Many good Protestants object to the Seventh Council because they claim that it seeks to sanction idolatry. St John Damascene takes pains to demonstrate that we do not worship the images depicted in Holy Images any more than we in our day and age might confuse a photograph of our loved one with the real loved one! Our Protestant brothers make sure that we have checks and balances on our behaviour, though. Idolatry is a sin, and they remind us to check our motives and make sure that we venerate Our Lady and not our favourite statue of her.

Yet, as Anglican Catholics, we offer our own challenge to the world. The Seventh Council charges us to look for God's presence in the world around us. We must look at the world ikonographically. To ignore the presence of God in created things is literally to look pornographically - literally looking according to the flesh. This is the problem with pornography - it dehumanises and fails to draw us to the reality beyond just what we see.

The same is true of our gifts and what we possess. We can see them only as what they are and use them selfishly for our self-gratificatoon, as St Paul says, we can recognise that "all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will."

When we seek Christ in all things, we see the world anew. We cease to see it pornographically for our own ends, and learn to see the Truth behind it, seeing it ikonographically. We need to be prepared to lose our most cherished gifts for the glory of God so that we can more truly glorify God. To fail to do so is to turn our bodies - these temples of the Holy Ghost - into dens of thieves because they seek to take glory from God.

Whatever we have and whatever we don't have suffice only to point out the reality of God in our lives. We not only need to accept our limitations but look for Our Lord through them. Then and only then will we see Him and thus find our happiness and true worth.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ordination of women: Salvation and sex

As usual, I’m going to have to raise the dead again, but I hope to do so in an edifying manner, mainly because it has been bugging me. The issue of women’s ordination is a chapter that I want to close and keep closed because I really don’t want to give the impression that this is the only reason why I’m an Anglican Catholic, and that it is the only reason that the Anglican Catholic Church exists.

Again, I will restate something that I want to make quite clear from the outset. The issue of the ordination of women is a big deal even today. Dawn French as the vicar of Dibley states that it is a small deal, but considering that it is a question  about how we understand the relationship between God and Humanity as well as between Man and Woman, it needs careful thought. In fact the Church owes it to women, especially those that it has belittled or demonised, to ensure that the reasons for asking the question “why can’t a woman be a priest?” are answered sensitively and in a way that demonstrates the humanity shared by both men and women. As a mathematician, I find the question of equality somewhat vexed, especially since human beings are not mathematical objects which can be compared absolutely. Nor can we really be reduced to measurable bits that can be compared. Personally, I’m beginning to think that the notion of equality is illusory and should be replaced with each human being seeking what we truly share with others in society. As a Benedictine, I seek to replace “equality” with “commonality”, an equivalence class with a true community.

So, as we retread some old ground, let’s return once more to Galatians iii.28:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The Catholic Church teaches that this is a statement of salvation: that all types of people are saved by sharing in Christ’s humanity. Thus, say the proponents of women’s ordination, “if women share the same humanity of Christ and thus find salvation in Him through that salvation, why can they not share the priesthood of Christ? Why cannot a woman be an ikon of Christ as priest at the altar?”

First question: do women share the same salvation as men? St Paul in this verse from Galatians gives an unequivocal “yes!” in answer. The only means of salvation is by sharing in the humanity of Jesus so that He will share His divinity with us. That divinity is not a respecter of sex.

Second question: do women need the same salvation as men? St Paul says, “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” If you remember, woman was taken out of man, Eve from Adam. What does this mean? I’m going to put aside the literal interpretation of the account in Genesis of the generation of Eve from Adam’s rib aside and look at the allegorical interpretation. In this account we have a clear statement that, first, men and women are different, second, that they share humanity, and third, God has made the man the material cause of woman (God Himself being the efficient cause here).Genesis teaches us that man is the steward of God’s creation and that woman is his helper. This sounds like a divine inequality from the outset. It sounds as if man is the boss of woman and that woman must be beneath man because she is not original.

Yet, we must look to God Himself. If God causes Man in some way to beget Woman, then neither begetter nor begotten are alternately superior and inferior. Why? Look to God. God the Father begets the Son. Yet, God the Father can only receive His identity as Father because of the existence of God the Son. Likewise with the procession of the Holy Ghost. Just because the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father does not mean He is inferior to the Father but again the Father receives identity as the source of the Holy Ghost. Their differences of identity are relational, yet they are God. That is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: it is an unfathomable mystery.

Likewise, we have the same mystery in humanity. Woman comes from Man and therefore cannot be superior to Man. Yet, it is God’s inscrutable decree that Woman comes from Man: Man is not her efficient cause – that is God alone. Therefore Man cannot be superior to women. Both Man and Woman require humility in order to relate properly to each other. Why? Humility originates from the dust: dust we are and unto dust shall we return.

Thus in Genesis, we see a fundamental difference in how men and women exist, yet share the same humanity. This is Scriptural and therefore a theological truth. I believe that this truth also exists scientifically. There are scientific, evidential differences between men and women which bear up only to say that they are different and yet are fundamentally and equally necessary for the existence of the human race.

Further, it is humanity that needs salvation from sin. Men and Women are both progenitors and victims of sin. Yet it is to be noticed that our first sins are different. For the woman Eve, it is disobedience and desire that allows her to succumb to temptation and to receive the fruit of the tree of knowledge. For the man Adam, the sin is to renounce responsibility and to blame not just the woman but God for making the woman. The sins are different yet they could have been the same. Does this mean, then, that we need salvation in different ways? We receive the same salvation – namely theosis – but in different ways. We know that our resurrection will entail our bodies as well as our spirits, and that indicates that we will still have maleness and femaleness in Heaven. After all, God created us that way. Our Lord’s resurrection body was still recognisably Him (I don’t buy into all these theories of a shape-shifting Christ). The visions of Our Lady have definitely been of her. There are male and female in Heaven: one just does not need to be one of those in order to be saved.

Third question: are men and women saved in the same way? Now that’s not a straightforward question as it looks. We are not saved as individuals but as a Church. As a Church we trust God to supply whatever is lacking and correct whatever is amiss. While we are saved only through the Divinity of Christ, we must receive that divinity by being perfected in Him. Our Purgatory is through the blood of Christ, but nonetheless, that Purgatory is particular as well as general. Look also at the prediction of our salvation in Genesis, just after our Fall.

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

It is from the woman that the destruction of Evil will come: the salvation of the woman is different from that of the man. Again, we can’t read too much into this text, but not only is this a text that predicts the fall of Satan at the hands of the Son of Mary, it shows an inequality in how evil is to be destroyed, and how our salvation occurs. Men and women each find their salvation in Christ at the level of their persons in relationship with the Holy Church. The method of that salvation is particular to each human being, and a respecter of sex. Mary plays her part in Salvation by reversing the disobedience and desire shown by Eve: she is obedient and chaste. This meekness is not mere passivity. It is an active war against temptation and the degradation of humanity as fleshy vessels that we can have sex with. It is an active war against the demotion of Woman as chattel and the defacing of Man as commander. The obedience and chastity that Our Lady embodies is a loud NO to the destruction of humanity through the loss of one's sexual identity. Our Lady is a feminist and thus honours all of humanity.

In a mirror to Eve springing forth from Adam, Christ is born of Mary and undoes Adam’s sin by taking responsibility and glorifying God. He does so by His sacrifice upon the Cross, a sacrifice that He commands His Church represent. It is Man who must take responsibility for this sacrifice in response to his first sin. The High Priest is Christ and it is His priesthood that some men are ordained to re-present.

The Christian man and Christian woman both share a complementary existence as human beings. In rejoicing in the sex that God Himself gives us as part of our God-given identity, we seek to love, honour and obey each other, to take responsibility and to serve each other according to ourselves and our calling, to respect each other sexually and asexually.  Some men are called to be priests, but as the servants of all laity. It is a question of hierarchy but not higher-than-thou-archy. Priesthood is not something that will survive Salvation as it will become redundant when we achieve our theosis in Christ Jesus.

One of the ways that the Church can respect women better is to equip them for prophecy and, further, to listen to their prophecy; even as the Apostles heard the testimony of St Mary Magdalene. If any church allows women choristers then should they not have female altar servers as well? A cantor is a much of a minor order as acolyte. That's really a different question and one that does not pose the same question as ordination to the threefold Sacred Ministry.

The Church has a duty to answer carefully why it is duty bound to restrict roles to men. She must be purged of misogyny as much as any other form of prejudice. The arguments are very sound for the male nature of the Major Orders. This does render them largely untouchable to the slippery slope arguments used against female altar servers, especially if we already allow women in what used to be known as the Minor Orders which had a very different ordination. No, the arguments against female altar servers will have to be better than that. On this question, I  have yet to settle my mind. If no good reason from Scripture, Tradition and Right Reason therefrom can be found for restricting the Minor Orders to men, then one must look critically to ensure that the Church is not engaged in misogyny.

Nonetheless, we have to see our sex as a blessing and actually rejoice in the restrictions that they possess because they are given by God as part of our identity. If there were no restrictions, then we would become amorphous and indeterminate and not really any thing. God's restrictions are for our good and we must trust Him even if we don't fully understand why He restricts us. We should rejoice in our masculinity and our femininity and obey the command to love God and neighbour. That way we cease to seek to be superior or allow ourselves to be inferior.

We are in an age in which it is now deemed good to break glass barriers. If God put the barrier there for our good, won't breaking it tear us to ribbons? Looking at the present age, I think it already is.

Why is it that we always want what we cannot have? That's what got us here in the first place!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Complaint about complaint

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

How often do you complain?

In this day and age, we seem to have a lot to complain about. There is a lot on our minds both locally and nationally. We have an idea of what it means for life to be right, and life doesn’t fit that. What do we do? We find a friend, sit down and, as the old phrase goes, put the world to rights.

We could, of course, do something about the way things are and work hard to put the world to rights. That would surely be better than complaining about it, wouldn’t it?

There is a problem, though. Can you see it?


Whose rights are we following when we put the world to rights? That’s the question we need to think about when we are tempted to complain.

St Benedict comes down very hard on people who spend their lives complaining. He sees it as a vice that needs to be stamped out thoroughly. He isn’t talking about the type of complaining which we find in the Bible when people complain to God. He isn’t talking about the type of complaining when we bring important issues to our Governors and Leaders. He’s talking about a type of complaining that exists in a society but behind closed doors.

You see, complaint behind closed doors becomes conspiracy, and conspiracy ends up becoming something dreadful. The latest atrocities in the world are caused by people who believe that the world should be aligned to their way of thinking and, through harbouring complaint in their lives, have made their actions the be-all and end-all of their existence. If we have a burning desire for the world to be the way we think it should, then we must listen to St Paul’s words:

“Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

The fact of the matter is that the World is as it is. God has created it and human beings are the ones who look after it and destroy it in seemingly equal measure. We destroy it when we seek to bend the world to our will. We look after it if we keep it along the same lines as our Creator intended. We may have legitimate cause to complain but, when we remember that God is really in control and that no Evil really can do us any permanent damage, there is nothing to worry about.

We must weep with those who weep, cry out and lament loudly. We must complain about the injustice in the world, cry out and protest loudly. God will hear us! Our Lord Jesus lives and dies so that our lamentations from the deepest pit are heard, but His death and resurrection brings us out of that pit through His love. Likewise, we must also work hard to communicate the Love of God first and foremost of all. We need to work to end evil before it even begins, and it begins in ourselves.

If we want to work to make the world a better place, we need to begin with repentance and seeking after God. We will make the world a better place if we root out from our lives all sin.

If we believe that this world is going to Hell, then we can pull it back by leading lives of goodness, truth and beauty. We may complain and complain legitimately, but we must seek the solution of that complaint in God within ourselves.

Above all, we must not let the Church become a den of complaint. We are the Church and we seek to bring God’s blessing on the world, not be a curse. We may react against unjust laws which fallible governments pass, but these laws will pass away – God’s love won’t.

When we’re tempted to complain, let us remember St Paul’s words to us: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

We belong in Heaven, and we can bring this world closer to it, not by living our lives in complaint, but by seeing through that complaint the way of God in this world.

What do we really have to complain about?

Friday, July 22, 2016

The silence of the Magdalene

St Mary Magdalene is a wonderful supply of arguments from silence. She is regarded by too many as the wife of Our Lord, the first woman apostle and thus bishop, and an authoress of a Gospel. The trouble is that scriptural evidence for who she really was is very sketchy. Was she the prostitute who wept over the Lord’s feet? Was she the Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus? It’s all a little bit vague. One really can’t base any doctrine on the aspects of her life. Yes, she was the apostle to the apostles, but the apostles were the apostles to the whole world. Yes, she loved Jesus very much, but there is no evidence that they were romantically entwined. Yes, it’s possible that some of the facts collated in the four gospels were taken from the words of St Mary Magdalene herself; after all, how else did we get to know about the details of her story of meeting with the Risen Lord? But no reliable Gospel of hers can be found dating from her lifetime.

Yet, St Mary Magdalene has done something that St John the Baptist didn’t quite do. She has decreased so much that we know so little of her life so that Our Lord might increase. She is buried in the dusty tomes of History, but what lives on about her are the ways that she devoted herself to the Lord. She has preferred obscurity and myth to exact biography just so that the message of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, His power to heal and redeem, His power to exorcise and to cleanse might be known to us who, like her, will probably fade in the memory of History but live on in Christ Our God.

Of course, many people will look to the details and miss the real point. Of them, Our Lord quotes Isaiah and explains: “By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”

If we truly want to honour St Mary Magdalene, then we should stop speculating about her and listen to her testimony about Our Lord. We are not permitted to know her life, yet, if we continue faithful to the One to who she was faithful, then we will know her in Him.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

But while there’s moonlight…

Indeed, there may be trouble ahead. This year has seen many notable deaths, destabilisations, and demoniacal acts of wickedness. There is an increasing shift towards the political right and, I am ashamed to say, a growing intolerance for people who aren’t indigenous to this country. Where is this all coming from? Well, one only has to look to the fallen dragon trying to chase the woman clothed in the Sun and her offspring.

This image has been in my head lately. It isn’t hard to see why.
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth , and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.  And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Apocalypse xii)
I do not believe that the Apocalypse, this Revelation to St John the Divine is a book foretelling the future, but more a book that explains the present more than anything else. It puts forward almost the completeness of cause and effect. I know people who use the Apocalypse to give dire warnings about the future and who seek to marry up present events with the events of the Book so as to create a picture of the future. In some sense, they are right, but I think they might go into too much literal detail with some of the allegory. If it does see reality, then it sees it from an Eternal perspective in which Time itself goes a bit funny. Try to imagine your bedroom in every detail from no particular vantage point. That perhaps give us some idea of how St John was going through in what he sees.

Much of what he sees is symbolic. The number of the beast is either 616 or 666 (or even, I believe 606) – all of which link to the Emperor Nero. While that beast has been and gone and even potentially returned in subsequent despots, we can see that it is a figure that recurs through history. The themes keep coming back round and round again. The whole Bible describes this rather vicious circle for mankind: religious complacency –backsliding – apostasy – fall – languishing – lamentation – God’s redemption – resurrection – “Golden age” – religious complacency. It is a cycle that traces itself in our own lives as individuals, and it is a cycle that traces itself out at increasingly larger social groups, even to the World itself. It is as if the Parable of the Prodigal Son were put on loop.

So why have I quoted an entire chapter of the Apocalypse? Let’s just look at it.

A woman clothed with the sun? With her feet on the moon? With a crown of twelve stars?

There are lots of interpretations. The first is quite an obvious one. The Woman is Our Lady clothed in the light of God which shines through her through her purity. Her feet are upon the moon because she is a being that has her home in Heaven. The twelve stars are the twelve apostles who proclaim the child that she is about to bear – Christ Our Lord. This is the traditional image of the Theotokos.

Yet, we could say something else. Twelve stars are the twelve tribes of Israel and thus the woman represents Israel itself, an everlasting Israel given that it rides upon the two celestial bodies which describe the times and seasons. The child born comes from Israel. Thus we have an image of the Messiah, and the continued persecution of the Israelites.

Or the woman is the Church, et c, et c.

We should not fall into the trap of saying either/or here, but rather both/and. The symbols play out that way in order to draw us into deeper and deeper mysteries of God and His relationship with the Church.

What we have here is an Eternal image, an Ikon that stands in Holy Scripture for us to gaze into and see God at work.

Is God at work? He seems awfully quiet lately. Indeed with Church attendance falling, and secular values rising, we are tempted not to see God at work. But then we are forgetting that we see God in ikons. As a species, we have largely become blind.

I hate my short-sight and I am praying to God for healing from it, but most of all I am praying that my vision may be repaired. My physical sight may be restored, like Bartimaeus, or it may not, but my prayer is for an opening of my eyes to behold God at work. I believe that He is, but I don’t believe that He is self-evident.

What we are also failing to see is that there is joy in living! We are so serious at the moment, and rightly so. Our hearts are darkened with mourning for those being destroyed by hatred, either outwardly, or inwardly. We have darkened eyes, and thus our joy is dimmed. This year we have lost great comedians and comediennes, and this is symbolic of our loss of joy.

All of the things we take pleasure in are becoming corrupted because we abuse them, and we can have them “on-tap”. We enjoy our food, and, because in the West we are able almost to reach out our hands and have them filled, we eat and eat and forget about the real business of living. Likewise with sex, in throwing off God’s fatherly command not to fornicate, we find ourselves with sex on tap. Beautiful people making themselves less beautiful by prostituting their bodies, even their images by giving them to all and sundry, blinding themselves and those who view them to the exquisite intrinsic beauty of every human being by setting them impossible standards. Sex becomes a means to possess another, rather than a chance to give oneself deeply, intimately to another in the hope of further joy in a new life created by God and to be nurtured in the womb of a loving mother. We have truly forgotten to be joyful.

I read chapter 12 of the Apocalypse with a joy that trembles at the power of God. That joy is called awe and it is a joy that we are forgetting. I used to be in awe of bishops, and trembled as they pronounced God’s blessing, yet there are so many bishops who do not preach the majesty of God’s love, and so many people pretending to be bishops just so that they can wear a mitre and try and instil that sense of awe in others that it is so difficult to see God’s presence. These people seek an intrinsic awe – an awe for being them – rather an awe of being an ikon of the presence of Christ.

This awe needs to return for me, and I must seek to kindle it as I seek to have my eyesight improved by the Holy Ghost. A bishop must humble himself and work to become as pure as Our Lady so that the Light of the Sun of Righteousness will burst forth through him, like the glass of a lightbulb. This is why a bishop, and indeed all priests and deacons need our prayers so much. It is so difficult to be an ikon of Our Lord’s Eternal Priesthood as expounded in the Letter to the Hebrews because of our fallenness.

I also see bishops who are sad because they are frustrated by the overwhelming task ahead of them. This gives me joy because they see their own inadequacy and I know that they are praying hard and going through dark times. Of course, I pray with them and for them as I do for as many people as my feeble, stupid little frame can. Yet, these bishops need to find their joy again and they will when they see the light that pours from their hands into the hearts of all whom they bless and upon whom they bestow those peculiar and yet magnificent little things called sacraments.

Just because there is great pain does not mean that there can’t be great joy at the same time. Giving birth is really, truly painful. As a man, I can’t imagine it save for some unpleasant images which make me feel ill just by concentrating on them. There is a joy to come, though for too few people. Just one person who loses a baby is too many. Where is the joy in that? Either it doesn’t exist or it is hidden for a time. The same is true of all tragedy and the question seems utterly unanswerable, even it is even a gross insult to the mourners if we try. How can there be joy in tragedy?

There can be. It’s called Hope.

Even in the darkest moment of our lives – and our lives get pretty dark – there is always Hope in God. The loss of a baby is devastating, but we can cling to the hope that God has remembered even that child and brought her to being and, yet further, transformed her into a being of His Eternal Light. That child will not be forgotten, ever. Principally, she will never be forgotten by someOne who not only cares, but can and will do something about it. This isn’t much when it seems that all the light in the world has gone out, but it is something. Life can go on, even if we don’t want it to amid all the pain and destruction around us. The pain will give place to joy in time. We have to give it that time, not by forgetting what has gone, but by giving it to God for Him to work His wonders.

Christians are called to enjoy life and to bring God’s true joy to life for everyone. While there is even the slightest glimmer of joy in this cosmos, the terrorist, the hatemonger, the desecrator, and the Devil himself cannot win. Indeed, we can have hope that, in the end of things, these have lost entirely and are flung far away from the children of God.

“There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance, let’s face the music and dance.” What a wonderfully Christian idea!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Lenses of Passion

There is something terribly unEnglish about the power ballad. Power Ballads, I think, are a bit of an 1980s phenomenon, but they have influenced much in today’s popular music. The archetype seems to be Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. There is a lot of investment in a physical expression of the passion within the heart focussed through the lens of an ideal romantic love. Why is it unEnglish? I think my American readers would rather guffaw at the sight of Tony Blair or David Cameron belting out some power ballad on the X-Factor. Being very, very English, I would probably snigger in polite company but go into my room to let out a sizable bellow of laughter – but then again, perhaps not.

Power ballads are an expression of fervent emotion, and it’s not surprising that we get a kick out of them as they are designed to resonate with the unexpressed passions that lie within the heart. Towards the end of the night, the Karaoke floor is often occupied by someone belting out something like “Take on me” by Aha, or “Want you back” by Take That, inhibitions drowned by a plethora of alcoholic beverages. This doesn’t happen during the day, and usually not without alcohol, this is precisely when our guard is down and we cease to protect those sentiments deep within us which we would rather not express.

Well, why not?

We have passions that burn within us which do rage and clamour to be heard, begging to be expressed. There are things we’d dearly love to say, but dare not. There are songs we’d like to sing, verses we’d like to recite, great acts that we’d like to do, but we dare not, and would rather lock them away inside us, perhaps only revealing them to those we’d really trust. Like an awkward teenager struggling to find something to say to the pretty girl who has just caught his eye, we shrink with embarrassment, loathing ourselves for even feeling these passions in the first place.

We lock them away and rely only on those who have dared to let that passion burn in public. This is why many of us need the poets, the songwriters, the artists, and the sculptors in order to give voice to what burns within us. These have the skill to tap into aspects of our humanity and focus it through a lens, a lens shaped by their exercising their special skills and thus allowing it to ignite one very particular fire.

These are brave souls.

We cannot let these passions escape because we fear their consequences. They reveal so much about our identities, our deepest desires and thus our most sensitive vulnerabilities. We conceal our passions for pretty much the same reasons that we wear clothes. Restraint of passion is as much to be expected in polite society as sobriety of dress is. It seems that we cannot deal with too much of other people’s humanity and we cannot cope with sharing too much of our own. Yet, humanity is, in the eyes of God, infinitely precious and intensely passionate. We are intended to love and express that love in a way that reaches out to others yet respects the boundaries that they set by which they cope with life. Becoming ultimately very vulnerable, naked and exposed, is an act of supreme intimacy. In some way, we all crave it, simply because we all hurt, we all want to be happy, and when we find joy, we want to express it as best we can. Yet, the poet, the composer, and the artist have their lens. It focusses the passion, gives it voice and form, and thereby prevents the fire from burning others, though it allows some heat to escape.

The destiny of each human being is to shine like a star in Eternity. Yet the burning of a star is too much for another to bear. We must acquire a lens, a focus, by which we can concentrate the heat of our humanity to burn our identity in the world to the greater glory of God and for the joy of others.
Every human being is religious – bound by a code of belief. It may be a faith in Science, or it may be a faith in God. That binding provides us with a lens by which we can focus the heat of our humanity deep within the world, revealing the joy that it is to be human in a universe that is largely indifferent to it.

Likewise, it opens ourselves up to lamentation where that is needed. We see so much that is terrible, atrocity after atrocity, torture after torture – Humanity using the heat of its being to impose its will on the innocent. We see and we wish to scream out in pain along with the victim, to voice our rage at the perpetrator, and even to the ears of God against His apparent indifference. Yet, how destructive our rage and fury! We end up committing the same atrocities with an unfocussed passion if we throw the lens away.

This is how the words of the poet are prophecy. They give us a language by which we may voice our passions in such a way as to speak yet not reveal too much of ourselves beyond that which is beneficial.

For the Christian, we have two lenses like a telescope that allow us to live human lives that burn with passion and yet express it well. The first lens is that of Holy Scripture, the greatest anthology of poetry every gathered and inspired by no less than the Holy Ghost, God Himself. Yet, this lens requires another lens to focus it, and to give it the finesse of expression that we need in order to cry out in joy and jubilation, misery and lamentation, fury and indignation to the Almighty. This is Liturgy – the “work of the people”, Holy Tradition, the teaching of the Church, the lex orandi. Through these two lenses, we cast our words out into the deep. We pray for the World and let the World hear our pray that it may have hope.

Of course, God sees the fire of our humanity, after all, He ignited it. He has also allowed Himself to be burned by it so that He can reach into the very depth of our souls and passions and redeem it from being quenched by the icy coldness of Hell. In turn, the Christian must allow himself to be burned by the heat of others’ passions. We must never lose our passion for Christ and for humanity! Nor must we squander it, nor leave it unfocussed, nor allow the fire to scorch others through unfettered intellectual or physical violence. Instead, trusting in God always, we must dare to find our lens in life by which we can focus our passions into the world and ignite the fire of Love. Love is far more than an emotion. It burns deeper than any worldly passion, but finds its expression through our deepest passions. Focussed by Scripture and Tradition, we will truly set the world on fire in the love of God!

Monday, July 18, 2016


Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

You’re looking at a flock of sheep grazing out on a field on a warm summer’s day. You see the spring lambs are fast growing up. You see the blue paint on newly shorn backs, and, every so often, you hear the familiar “baa”. As you look, you see one sheep behaving strangely. It isn’t ampling like other sheep, it’s pacing. The other sheep are grazing, this one is only pretending to graze, dipping its head to tufts of grass, every so often then looking round somewhat furtively.  It appears to be sniffing and sizing up the other sheep.

What would you say?

A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Well, indeed. But isn’t a wolf dressed up like a sheep easy to spot?


Our Lord is pretty clear that false prophets are like this wolf in sheep’s clothing. They are up to no good. We are told that we can spot them because the true intentions of a false prophet will eventually reveal themselves to us. We have to watch carefully, and as soon as we spot it, we raise the alarm.

So how does one tell a real prophet from a false prophet? What are the fruits of a good prophet?
First we do have to listen carefully to them. There is only one Catholic Faith and that is contained in the three creeds. One good thing to listen for is how they treat Our Lord’s being.


If they try to separate Our Lord’s humanity from His Divinity, they are false prophets. The Lord Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine, not by changing Divinity into Humanity, but by taking Humanity into Himself.

If they try to separate out any one aspect of Our Lord’s incarnation, they are false prophets. The entirety of the Lord Jesus’ life is for our salvation, not just one little bit. You cannot separate the Crucifixion from the Nativity, nor from the Resurrection. There is One Lord Jesus, and He is eternal and indivisible.

If they try to see any one human being as a means to an end, then they are a false prophet. Our Lord is clear that every human being is a cherished child of God and is worth His Incarnation for their salvation as much as us or anyone else.

If they try to change or alter the meanings of the Church’s teaching to suit an agenda, they are a false prophet. There is only One God and He is Eternal, saving every human being regardless of Time and Space. We learn the meaning of the Church’s teaching by reading Holy Scripture and listening to the early Christians and how they interpret them before the Eastern Church separated from the Western Church.

Finally, if they try preach the hatred of any human being rather than the hatred of the works of the Devil, they are a false prophet. All sin separates us from God, but none of us are irredeemable unless we make ourselves so by rejecting God. Even then, we still reach out to those who are seeking to lose themselves.

These are a few ways in which we can spot a false prophet, but there are others, and it is only by knowing the difference between the works of God and the works of the Devil that we will know how to spot the wolf trying to get in our midst. If we hold onto God as a loving father, we will see and be safe in Him.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Feast of St Benedict 2016: Obedience brings hope

It seems to me to be a lovely coincidence of language that the word “obedience” has relevance in both Latin and Hebrew. You will have heard of the prophet Obadiah whose name in Hebrew means “servant of YHWH” or “worshipper of YHWH”. The “Obad” bit is the Hebrew for one who waits for the command of the master or mistress to do their due service.

We get our word obedience from the Latin “obedire” which is in essence a compound of “ob” and “audire” and which also has this idea of listening and giving ear to commands issued.

On this, the Feast of St Benedict, we Benedictines give ear to the first word of The Rule “Ausculta” “Listen, my child, to the precepts of the Master.” The Benedictine way is that of listening to the world and bringing it to God as it is. All around the world, there are Benedictine monasteries, or communities bound by the Benedictine Rule, whose principle aim is to be offering the “Opus Dei” - the work of God – on behalf of the World. They exist not to be conformed to the world but to exist in some kind of scandalous defiance of Pure Love against the distractions wrought by the Devil in order to tear Man from God. These Monks and Nuns listen to their superiors who, in turn, listen to hear the voice of God in their community and draw it ever closer to the Divine presence. An abbot and an abbess must always be those who have the best hearing, and must pray and beg prayers that their hearing may be kept unimpaired.

Both the Latin and the Hebrew would have us be obedient to God, sitting at His feet like St Martha waiting for Him to command, rather than allow ourselves to become distracted by the world’s trivia.

Obedience brings hope.

There are lots of trivial things in comparison with being present with God. Yes, we have to work and cook and clean, and teach and learn, and pick up and drop off, and look after, but all earthly work is trivial in comparison to the work of God. It is obedience to the work of God that is of the greater importance. The skill of being truly obedient is quickly disappearing.

I see this most in the current political climate. A democratic vote did not go the way that nearly half the people wanted, and so there is a cry to hold another one so that we can “get the right answer”. Major political parties are tearing themselves apart because they do not have the leaders that they want. The result is instability and potential chaos.

We are living in a culture in which the individual wants its own way all the time, and tries to disguise that way as being truly democratic. We are rapidly losing the virtue of obedience, i.e. looking for ways to listen to and thus serve one another. These days, authority figures only deserve obedience if they show themselves to be truly infallible. In order to lead a country, there must be no scandal in your life otherwise the Media will pull you up for ridicule and thus question your competence to lead.

We have a democratic system which is far from perfect. As a budding anarchist, I find the prospect of democracy as being little more than a media-driven talent show based on the pithiest soundbite and the cheesiest smile. But I can’t change it. For the good of society, it is necessary to submit myself to the laws of this country because they provide some order and stability for this Country. Yet, I listen to this Country and what I hear is a cry for some certainty, some strong leadership, some reliable statement that all will be well. People want to hope, but in the absence of that hope, they busy themselves with trivia in order to drown out the cacophony in the world around them. They can’t find it because every institution they’ve encountered is corrupted by the World.

Obedience brings hope.

St John the Baptist cries, “prepare the way of the Lord!” He was not infallible, but his words have been given infallibility by the Holy Ghost. If we are listening, then we do hear these words spoken, and, if we reflect on them, we can hear that these words have divine origin through a human mouthpiece. Our Lady ponders all that her infant Lord says to her in her heart and is obedient to Him. He in turn honours His mother and His Father, and even His step-father. He is obedient to the Law of God.

In the Church, our leaders are all fallen. Even in the Catholic Church, we have had paedophile priests and hypocritical, practising-gay bishops, and shrill, unpleasant preachy laity, all who have contributed to the faithful falling away and losing themselves in trivialities of their own making. None of these have listened to the message of Love, or if they have, they have perverted it for their own ends rather than converted their lives to commitment to the Truth. It is no surprise that the Christian Faith is struggling. A Sunday morning is indeed better spent wandering the country side, or playing on swings, or reading a book rather than going to a Mass in a church that ignores the Divine Mandate of reaching out. If people do not see hope in the Church, then they have every reason NOT to enter it.

Obedience brings hope.

We Christians have to obey. We have to listen and work hard at the work that we have been given. God commands and, if we love Him, we must obey. Love breeds an obedience of her own, not born in coercion, but born in devotion, care, attention and joy.

A bishop may be corrupt, but he is still a bishop and one must pay due obedience to the office and not the person. Yet further, one must be obedient to the laity, nay to any human being whatsoever, however sinful. The obedience demanded by love will seek to listen to the Divine image resonating in that person like the chime of a bell, and in hearing that chime will obey the mandate and serve in the most appropriate way.

Obedience brings hope.

In recognising the fallen nature of the world, we can turn our gaze to the True Light and in obedience work that which will make this world better. There is healing in God for all who would obey the Divine Physician’s commands. In our sick society, we can bring healing by working to a better end, serving God first, and then the people. We listen to God through prayer, through Scripture, through the Sacraments, and through the souls around us. We listen to our leaders, disagree with them if necessary, but obey them so that society may be served. This way we can bring stability to community, and hope to all who live their frightened lives within a shell of trivia.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The List

I wonder. Does your parish have a list? 

I mean a list of names that get read out at some point during the liturgy. They seem to be the same old names week after week, and you never quite know who these people are. Why not? Because they are often too sick to come to Church, and so you never meet them. For many people, even those who have been there a long time, it seems rather odd to be praying for people whom you don't actually know and will probably never meet.

It's obvious why we do it. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves. These folk are ill. We pray to God for their healing and wholeness in the sure and certain hope through our faith that He will hear our prayer and give them that peace that the world cannot give.

I find it truly wonderful that we can still offer to God sacrifices but without the bloodshed of so many animals, Actually, that's what makes the sacrifice so great: if we hold animals to be of great value, then offering them up becomes a true sacrifice. Of course, in the Letter to the Hebrews, we know that the blood of animals is not enough to reconcile humanity with God. In the Mass, we offer the sacrifice with the Blood of Christ shed once for all upon the altar of the Cross. The Mass is a sacrifice, and the names on the list become part of our intentions for offering this One Perfect Oblation.

But what are we praying for, and why aren't we praying for everybody?

During the Offertory the Priest says, and the people pray: "We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the cup of salvation, humbly mercy: that in the sight of Thy divine majesty it may ascend as a sweet-smelling savour for our salvation and for that of the whole world."

We do indeed pray for everyone in the Canon of the Mass, the living and departed alike, for all their intentions. The purpose of Mass is to make present the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the good of the world and this does mean that we are presenting everyone's problems to Our Lord. He is concerned with our everyday lives, even at the minutiae, but the chief concern of the Christian Soul is to seek first the kingdom of God in times of trouble and in times of joy. God is an infinite resource and can micromanage things where it is necessary, but also wishes us to exercise free-will and thus may often choose to withdraw from micromanagement. The Lord is economical with His power, for our benefit.

Yes, we pray for all who suffer and we are to suffer with them. Yet it is not possible for one man in Toronto to suffer with an unknown little child in pain on the banks of the Ganges. He prays for people in such a case, but cannot single the child out. We can only do what we can. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves. Potentially, any other human being can be our neighbour, that's the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In reality, our love can only stretch as far as the people with whom we come into contact. It can intend to stretch around the globe, but in practice, only as far as we can personally experience. The Church, however, is the link between all who suffer, and it is the Church suffering with those who do suffer that can make the difference. Individual members of the Church "plug themselves" into the Church whenever they attend Mass.

So, in our parish, we can only remember those who are actually connected with the Parish in someway. The power of the laity is that they bring the memory of those who need pray to Mass. All Christians are called to be a blessing to the world, and it is by presenting the needs of those they meet to Almighty God that we make these supplications to God known in the sacrifice of the Mass. We pray for bodily relief from sickness because being ill is horrible, and we bring to God the desire for Him to bring some great good out of their illness. Sometimes that is a full healing, sometimes that is preparation for a happy death. For Christians, a happy death is guaranteed in our Faith in God, even if it is terrible for family and friends.

In remembering the suffering of others, we ourselves become not only more human, but more united as one human in one human being and thus united in God. Pain and suffering are part of the human lot, and we need to tell our priest if there is anyone who is in need of prayer as part of our Christian duty. The priest has a duty to present that prayer at the altar. This is why The List exists. Prayer will achieve something, namely the deepening of the relationship between humanity and God bringing comfort to those who need it and the hope that things will get better, even if the sickness is unto death.

The List may seem useless, but as an expression of the work of the Church, it is invaluable. It should not be used as a substitute for doing all that we can to help those who do suffer!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Reconciling Mass

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Our Lord can say some very difficult things at times. Listen to what He tells us.

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

We know that hatred of other people is something that will indeed bring us closer to Hell than to Heaven. We also know that human relationships are complicated, difficult to manage,  and desperately infuriating. There are times when the thought of a certain individual or individuals causes much emotional upheaval. Yet the Lord bids us to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Yet that's not what He's quite saying here. Who's the one who has been offended? If you listen carefully, you'll hear.

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee.


It is when we know that our brother has got something against us, not we against our brother. If we suspect that we have offended someone, then we have to sort it out. We have to seek reconciliation from our hearts. Not superficially. We have to want to be reconciled. Just as we tend to hate people only in our hearts, think them fools, imbeciles, and the lowest of the low, so in our hearts we must turn. How important is this?

Our Lord says, " Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." It's so important for us that God would forego our honouring Him in order to be reconciled with anyone we have hurt. We have to prefer our neighbour's welfare above The Mass!

Really? We have to worry about earthly things before meeting the Great God of the Universe in the Sacrament?

Of course.

God does not need our worship. What He wants is us to be reconciled with each other as well as Him. If we can't be reconciled over earthly matters, how can we expect to be reconciled with Him Who knows our sins in every horrid detail?

Our Lord's whole life has been one of reconciliation of Humanity with God. Thus our worship of God must begin with a fervent, and active desire to see the people we have hurt and to put things right. This is why there must always be a confession of sins before Mass. Our worship means less than nothing if we don't.

Less than nothing? Yes. For without recognition that we need to be reconciled with our neighbour, our offering becomes as unworthy as Cain's and that whole affair ended with Abel's blood on Cain's hands.


Reconciliation is not easy at times, but it must begin in the heart. We should say sorry to God for each time we harbour evil thoughts against our neighbour. If we are true in our resolution to love our neighbour as ourselves then that is enough. We may not be properly reconciled in this life, especially when the other person has seriously hurt us. However, the closer that Christians get to Christ, the closer we get to each other. Reconciliation then becomes almost automatic and unavoidable.

It is possible that our worst enemy gets to Heaven with us. How will we cope with that thought?

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Precious Blood: Unification through rendering

Only a few weeks ago, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart in which we say the Lord's side rent by a spear wielded by a Roman Soldier. Here we see the division of the flesh of the Body of Christ, a hole that does not appear to have healed in the Lord's post-Resurrection body. The flesh is rent apart but not in a way as to separate the holy body into two pieces. It is because of this rent that the consecration of the world comes about. The Blood of Our Lord pours out upon the earth as the Holy Sacrifice is made and through the hole in His side, the earth finds redemption and the way back to God. This is the same single sacrifice that we (re)present in our Masses. Every time we celebrate our Mass, we are here at the foot of the Cross, united by that wound in the Lord's side as well as the other precious scars that cover His body. We, in our schisms and separations are nonetheless reunited by the blood which pours from Our Lord and brings us the same New Covenant. We are united through a tear - another of God's wonderful salvific ironies.

I spoke below about how Continuing Anglicanism has had a tendency to fracture. In recent years, there have been attempts to reunite with increasing success. For me this bodes well as I am committed to the unity of all who hold the Catholic Faith. Last time, I wrote:
within the Continuing Anglican Church, St Thomas Aquinas will need to find how to sit next to St Gregory Palamas. Reason and Philosophy will have to dwell with Mystery and Unknowing. How are we going to agree on the validity or expression of doctrine of Original Sin when the East rejects it and the West affirms it? Can a soteriology based on The Day of Judgement be reconciled with one based upon a break from prison by Theosis? Personally, I believe it can, but it will take more than I could ever comprehend to work out the details. Is the movement a convergence? I pray so.
Personally, I think this is where the Continuing Anglican Movement fits in. If we really are a "Movement" rather than a "Staying-where-we-were-ment" then our movement must be in the same direction as all the Catholic Churches with a view to the visible unity of those Catholic Churches. We may be separate fingers in the Body of Christ, but we should take unity seriously.

In recent years, the ACC has been criticised for its stance on Unity: it has provided a perfectly clear statement on what it means by Church Unity and how it seeks to ensue it. As Archbishop William Temple says, "The way to the union of Christendom does not lie through committee rooms, though there is a task of formulation to be done there. It lies through personal union with the Lord so deep and real as to be comparable with His union with the Father." Unity is ultimately eschatological in nature. We become united to each other as we become united in Christ.

This is where an honest scholarship helps. Both Rome and Constantinople are united in the same Councils and yet one has an Augustinian view of soteriology. the other does not. Is St Augustine of Hippo responsible for the division between Continuing Anglicans? I would not describe myself as an Augustinian in that my views on original sin tend to be more in line with the Eastern than the Western. We inherit an affliction of the human condition caused by the first sin, not the actual guilt of Adam and Eve. Baptism is a regeneration and an incorporation of the soul into the Body of Christ and inoculates the person in the remission of sins. This we see in the outpouring of the blood of Christ. The blood is mixed with water. The Blood of the Covenant is mixed with the water of Baptism. The baptised is grafted into the Vine so that the Blood can flow into it.

The ACC is committed to Church Unity in its quest for union with God. In being Anglican in her culture, it possesses a scholarship which was once respected by theologians of every stripe until the tyranny of the living tried to usurp the democracy of the dead. Thus it does make sense for efforts to be made in this area with a view to finding the root of the divisions between Roman and Eastern Orthodoxy. As Anglican Catholics we have a peculiar position: we seek the doctrine of the Early Church having a common heritage of the first millennium with both Churches, a further half-millennium with the Roman Catholic Church, and then another half-millennium distinct from both. Yet we are committed to the long game of being part of the True Vine. We are a branch, however small, despite being disregarded by larger branches. Yet, the sap of that vine is the Blood of Christ of which, by Anglican tradition, we encourage the laity to share in that one cup.

In this unique position and with our reputation for sound scholarship, we do have an opportunity to see how to reconcile Augustinian and non-Augustinian theology and thus find the common language between East and West which will allow us to engage in fruitful dialogue with both hemispheres. We need to see how to place the theology of St Augustine in the East which didn't receive the Greek translation of his work until the 14th Century and in the West where it has been fragmented and distorted by extremists among the Reformers. The notion of Limbo has gone, replaced with Mystery. We do not know where babies who die unbaptized go. We are not provided with that information. what we are provided with is the knowledge that God is Faithful and loves His creatures. We can only leave it there.

We in the Western Church have embraced Philosophy more soundly than in the East. We do need to embrace Mystery more and remember that Reason may convince but often is more speculative than certain. Reason can only ever be at best asymptotic to the Truth. What does this mean? An asymptote is something to which we can get arbitrarily close but never reach.The Truth is closer to us than we can sometimes see and record via any theological science but theological science cannot attain that Truth. Yet, we must also realise that, with Reason firmly based on God's revelation to us both in Scripture in the greater and the World around us in the lesser as testified by Psalm xix and Roman i.18-21, our philosophical speculation does afford us an asymptote to the Truth rather than a divergence away from it. Thus, with Divine Mystery we may temper our speculations accordingly. All we have to do is look into our veins and see the the Blood of Christ coursing through them giving us life and communion with others even if they cannot see it.

Organic unity in that sense already exists, yet visibility of that unity is also a sign of hope to a darkening, bloodless world whose existence is being sucked dry by the parasitism of Evil in its futile mission to acquire some substance of its own. Churches standing together is an affront to the Devil which is why the divisions exist. We only truly embrace the Truth by embracing each other clinging to our common fallen humanity and knowing that the Church has been given the means to give the necessary grace to bring healing to a wounded world. The wound in the side of Christ was opened to repair the mortal wound in Humanity. By fastening our wounds to His, the Divine blood flows into us and makes us what God intended us to be.

Our Faith bids us believe that St Thomas Aquinas does stand with St Gregory Palamas in Heaven before the Throne. St Thomas realises how straw-like his philosophy is. St Gregory appreciates how close philosophy assists people to find God. What is Mystery in Heaven when one has God in plain sight? Surely Science and Mystery become the same thing. That's how the Church will be unified, just as Man and God are unified. It's something we must long for, but know that it's coming and rejoice! In another irony, we rejoice in the spilling of Our Saviour's blood! Would He have it any other way?