Monday, October 31, 2016

Eternity and Sanctity

AND I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth, and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed; and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand, of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
 Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen; Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
We know very well that the number 144,000 is largely figurative incorporating the Twelve tribes of Israel with the Twelve Apostles and the many-ness of a thousand. I could go into the study of the number from a mathematical point of view, for example that it's a square by a cube, but the point of these 144,000 people is that they are Jewish Christians whose heritage has been completed by the teaching of the twelve apostles. These are joined by a numberless group of Christians in Eternity.

Eternity is a funny thing. The Orthodox version of the Gloria Patri talks of the age of ages where the West says, "and ever shall be". That is not Eternity, for Eternity is beyond Time. God created Time, He begot His Son from beyond Time. This is so hard for us mere mortals to contemplate. All of our existence is enshrined in this thing called Time. Our mental processes follow the sequential nature of Time, yet some physicists say that it doesn't exist. This sounds like the old arguments by Zeno and Parmenides to say that change and motion are illusions. In some ways they are right.

From God's point of view Time is part of Creation, and so He must look at past, present and future as one glorious whole. The morning and the evening of the first day can only happen once God has pronounced, "Let there be light!" There is a beginning, a ne plus ultra, a North pole beyond which there is no North. To God, Time is as fleeting an aspect of His Creation as anything else. What has this to do with the saints?

The saints are holy, they are separated out of Creation to be with God. Their Theosis instils them with an aspect of God's Eternity. They view Creation just as the Holy Anchoress known as Julian of Norwich did in her vision:
"In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought "What may this be?" And it was generally answered thus: "It is all that is made." I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: "It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it."
This is the joy of the saints, for their existence intersects with Creation and yet is extended from it in God. Their work, their merits make Creation ring like a bell as the good that God does through them ripples across all that is backwards and forwards in Time. We pray by the merits of the Saints, not because we are saved by good works, but that the good that the saints have done, do and always will do, make God's presence more real to us as their first cause. The merits of the saints are devices that God uses to bring us to Him. Some of us come to faith because of another's act of selfless love, or by a sermon, by the invitation to come to Church. All of these are vehicles that the Holy Ghost uses to bring us to Salvation through the Holy Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ which itself straddles Time and Eternity. The merits of the saints are only means; the end, and the efficient cause, and the final cause is God.

And theirs is the joy to see Creation as a whole, perfected by God Himself. Thus they exist in the perpetual Now of Eternity seeing all of His intricate work falling into place. They stand with us, yet they stand beyond us, drawing our prayers from the confines of our prison out into the perfect freedom of Eternity. Yet we too, by cooperating with the Divine Will, shall find ourselves with them, through the same perfection.

We cannot say how temporal being can be made Eternal. We cannot understand how our languages with all their tenses, perfect, future, aorist, present, future-perfect, can make any sense when applied to the Great Being Himself. Any tense can only be use in analogy with Him, and our reading of Scripture must take this temporal inscrutability into account. We cannot imagine, at least not now, but we shall when now ceases to be now, but rather always now.

May all the Heavenly Host pray for us. The Angelic Choirs, all Prophets, Patriarchs, Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Virgins, Doctors, Confessors, Monks, Nuns, Widows, Holy Husbands and Wives, may they all pray for us and, through the solidarity of Church in Union with her beloved Bridegroom, may we be pulled out from Time and into the Glorious Light of God's Eternity.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Humility in the seventh degree: a personal reflection

(Image from the BBC)

It's telling when one reflects on the teaching of St Benedict about humility and then events immediately give an answer.

It is heartbreaking for a little Benedictine Oblate (a not-very-good Benedictine Oblate) like me to see the Basilica of St Benedict levelled by an Earthquake. No monks were hurt, but there were injuries elsewhere. Thankfully, no-one has died.

I could start to see judgments that might apply. St Benedict is the patron saint of Europe, and that seems to be falling apart. Is this prophetic? Is this God's judgement on the Benedictine Order?

No. It just is the way God's world works.

It's what comes out of this that matters. As St Benedict says, semper incipiemus - always we begin again.

I reflected yesterday on the nature of learning about Humility through humiliations that happen to us. This certainly brings the monastic community of Norcia back to their holy founder, back to humility, back to Christ.

Recent disaster movies have had the world boiled, the White House blown up, the Royal Family frozen to death in Balmoral, London flooded. The fact of the matter is that none of our beautiful buildings or works of art, or even computer technology will last. At the end of the game, it's all got to go back in the box. Christ bids us detach ourselves from whatever we hold dear so that we cling only to that which does not perish - God Himself.

I know this personally, though not to the same degree as my poor, dear brothers in Norcia. I find myself having left beautiful buildings, gorgeous music, and many friends to join a tiny, unknown and truth-be-told unpopular little Church in my search for Our Lord's kingdom. Sometimes it does sting when I hear Bairstow's Blessed City Heavenly Salem sung and I'm not part of it.

In the U.K., the Anglican Catholic Church sits amid the ruins of Anglicanism which is falling apart quite clearly. In the entirety of our Diocese of the United Kingdom, there are not enough of us to fill an average parish church. There are precious few laity, though the ones we have are faithful, true, and know the score, supporting their clergy well. With the few laity we have, we clergy are truly blessed.

Do I really have the gall and audacity to compare my situation with those poor people in Italy? Ah, but I'm not making a comparison - I couldn't begin to think what these poor folk are going through! For the people of Norcia, and indeed all those who have suffered from the other Earthquakes in that region, especially the loss of life, they need our support, prayers, and tender loving care. The monks will need to rebuild, reflecting carefully on the situation and seeking the Humility in the opportunity given to them. I pray earnestly for them and will be looking to see how I can help. I am not comparing: I am trying to empathise and thus find as much solidarity that I can muster for my beloved brethren.

What about the ACC's humiliation? Are we learning humility from that? We should. We have an opportunity here to do something of great worth in God's sense of the word, not ours. We are tiny, and this means we have to strip ourselves of each and every piece of bombast, bluster, and superficiality. We can aspire to a Ritual-Notes-perfect High Mass, but must learn to be content with a small pewter chalice on a trestle-table. We need to approach people with honesty, trying to find ways of explaining our confusing name with people who don't really understand the difference. There is no magic formula that will bring people into our pews. There is no catch-all apologetic that will convince the unbeliever to see us as a true expression of the Church. There is but one thing.

We need to seek out and trust the will of God. Our faith only means anything if we put it into practice, for that is how we are to be justified in the eyes of God. Our personal quests for holiness mean quiet conversations with people who have questions over a cup of tea, visits to old folk's homes, offering a kind word. Because we are tiny, we must not despise tiny things, for it is in the tiny things done well that we begin to see Christ's work. This is not newsworthy stuff: we meet with God in the ordinary and commonplace. Indeed, we must seek God in the non-newsworthy stuff because, while we may have joyful occasions, that joy is only local, not a global thing. We can't be puffed up, because there is nothing to puff up, otherwise we just look ridiculous. We can build up with Love, and that means patience and long-suffering.

As I prepare for pastures new, leaving my old and dearly beloved parish for uncertainty, I see my own humiliation as I seek to be a priest with no building, no congregation, and no standing in my new community. The challenge is great, and I, like my confreres, must start small, supporting my beautiful little family, and seeking out little opportunities to put a happy smile on someone's face by being an instrument of God's blessing to them. I need your prayers, but beg that you would more readily pray for my Benedictine Confraternity of Norcia in their hour of need. If you then have a prayer left over, please spare one for me.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Humility in the seventh degree

The seventh degree of humility is, when, not only with his tongue he declareth, but also in his inmost soul believeth, that he is the lowest and vilest of men, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: But I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people. I have been exalted and humbled and confounded. And also: It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I may learn Thy commandments.

In the sixth step, we learn that we are to throw out our earthly notions of worth so as to become completely indifferent to any values that Society might put upon us or require us to hold. It is one thing to be able to do this intellectually, but can we do this from the heart?

It is only from within the very depths of our heart that we can hope to meet God. If our heart is cluttered by the world, then we will not be able to see Him. It is not enough to pay lip-service to Humility, it must come from within.

This requires a purge of even our own values, even if they are good values. We must empty ourselves of all pretense and pretention. We have to believe that we are insubstantial and own up to needing God's love in order just to be.

The trouble is that while only a part of humility can be practised, the majority of it can only come through humiliation, and honestly accepting that humiliation.  Each time we are humiliated, we must recognise it as an opportunity for emptying of ourselves for the Love of God to combine with our human nature and further us on the path to theosis.

People will hate us because we love God -that's Our Lord’s promise. The resulting humiliation will only make us more like Him if we let it.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Managing Mediating Muddles

Yes, I’ve been arguing with Protestants again. There are many, many Protestants that I do really like, who appreciate that things aren’t as clear cut and with whom I disagree profoundly, yet know that they are visibly motivated by the Holy Ghost. There are others who tear their bibles to bits to prove their points and do so in a way in which they become as infallible as the Pope that they are demonising. These will rail at the “false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church” and declare that it is leading people into Hell. With the death of Jack Chick, that ardent and spectacularly ill-informed champion of all things anti-Catholic, this has been much on my mind. The tendancy that some Protestants have for throwing the baby out of the bathwater when declaring the Church of Rome "Hell-bound" is unhelpful and shortsighted.

If I believed that the Roman Catholic Church is never wrong, then I would be damnably (literally) foolish not to join her ranks. As an Anglican Papalist, though, while I stand alongside my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in many ways, there are issues which I simply cannot defend. In that sense, I believe that Rome does have false teaching which embellishes the faith more than necessary. Yet, if I were to accept the basic assumptions of the Papacy which go beyond the definitions of the Councils, logic would dictate that what the Roman Church teaches is necessarily true. It is because I believe that what she teaches is not necessarily true that I cannot accept those basic assumptions of the Papacy which go beyond the definitions of the Councils.

That makes me and the Pope mutual heretics in the technical sense of the word, but I strongly renounce any pejorative sense here.

One issue is that of the role of Our Lady. Pope St John-Paul II calls Mary the Mediatrix of all Graces, and this troubles the Protestant soul. There is also the notion of Our Lady as Coredemptrix which started out as a largely medieval expression of Our Lady’s role in our Salvation. It was this notion that certainly the Reformers took pains to reject and, it has to be said, even though it took on a louder voice at the time of the Second Vatican Council, it has never been dogmatic Roman Catholic Teaching.

The argument for the Mary the Coredemptrix can be summarised as:

1)      Mary agrees to become the mother of Jesus.
2)      Jesus is our Redeemer.
3)      In freely saying “yes”, Our Lady plays an active part in our redemption.
4)      In freely saying “yes”, Our Lady is uniquely united with her Son.
5)      Thus Our Lady shares the title of Redeemer with Our Lord.
6)      Therefore she is Coredemptrix.

The trouble is that this argument can be used of St Anne and St Joachim in respect of Our Lady, mutatis mutandis and, by an inductive argument, the whole lineage of Mary all the way back become Coredemptors and Coredemptriges.

The issues lie in 3 and 4. Our Lady is not the primary cause of our redemption. She is a secondary cause, just as her ancestry are all secondary causes. The primary cause of our redemption is Our Lord. I cannot say that the hammer is a co-smasher of the vase, nor can I say that it was my brain that smashed the vase. These are arguments that lead schoolchildren into detention!

As worthy as Our Lady is of all honour pertaining to her unique position as Theotokos, she simply cannot receive the title of Coredemptrix. This takes things too far. We are all participants in our own salvation, but not in our redemption. Lumen Gentium is very clear on the subordinate role of Mary in the ministry of Our Lord.

What about the troublesome Mediatrix of All Graces?

Again, this can be spun too much by some Catholics. Did Pope St John-Paul II go too far when he declared Our Lady to possess this title? This depends on what he means by mediation.

Catholic teaching is clear. There is only one Mediator between God and Man. St Paul, in writing to St Timothy says:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (I Tim ii.1-8)

Yet it seems there is a bit of a quandary there. At times, haven’t Moses and the prophets interceded for us? Have they not acted as mediators on our behalf? Mediation implies a two-way street between the two parties through the mediator (in the Greek literally the one standing in the middles). We have Abraham pleading for the city of Sodom. We have Moses pleading for the Israelites. Do these not count?

Not quite; they are indeed mediators in the sense of negotiation, but there is another mediation needed for our salvation. Remember that Our Lord is unique in His mediation: He stands between God and Man by being both! It is through this unique position that Man can be reconciled with God through the entirety of His Holy Incarnation and most visibly in His death on the Cross. This makes His mediation absolutely unique and absolutely effective for the salvation of all people. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, et c. could never make this mediation, nor could Our Lady.

This means that as Mediatrix, she can only ever act as a mediator between us and Christ the Mediator. She can only ever bring us to the Person who alone saves us through His mediation. This is actually vital, for St Paul in the above text urges prayer and supplication for all men. He urges all Christians to act as mediators, a knotted string of mediation that stretches back and forth through Time and Space binding people to God in Christ Jesus. This is why the Church that the Mediator built is necessary: both sides need to approach the Mediator for true mediation to occur.

But Mediatrix of All Graces? As we always say “Hail Mary, full of grace”. But how does that mean ALL graces? This, I contend, comes from her position of giving birth to Our Lord and through this act, bringing the Cause of all Grace into the world. Through this act of Our Lady’s mediation, we are given Him Who sanctifies the waters of Baptism by being Baptised, Who gives the sweet wine of Holiness to the wedding guests at Cana, Who forgives sins, Who calls disciples, Who gives the gift of the Holy Ghost, Who sanctifies the deathbed with His own body, Who gives us His very flesh and blood to eat and drink so that we might be truly whole. If there are any other graces to be received, then we receive them only at the hands of God Himself via Christ our Mediator and then through the mediation of the Church as the body of Christ.

The position of Our Lady as Mediatrix of All Graces is clear and encouraging, for we in all things should seek to emulate her example by bringing the Great Mediator to all people so that they might receive His Grace, Salvation, and Blessing. Our Lady shows our duty and our joy by showing us Christ. May we learn to do the same!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Humility in the sixth degree

The sixth degree of humility is that a monk be content with the poorest and worst of everything, and that in every occupation assigned him he consider himself a bad and worthless workman, saying with the Prophet, "I am brought to nothing and I am without understanding; I have become as a beast of burden before You, and I am always with You".

In an age in which we are encouraged to be self-affirming and self-confident in order to find peace with ourselves, St Benedict’s words seem to be severe and negative of our existence. He even seems to contradict Our Lord’s teaching that we are worth more than many sparrows. Does St Benedict really mean that we should berate ourselves, demean ourselves, wallow in a pit of being “ever so ‘umble” like the great hypocrite Uriah Heap?

Not at all, and it is misreading this verse that leads us to the idea that Humility is a constant doing ourselves down. It is not true, for this leads us to a greater pride of believing that God is wrong to love us and create us as He has.

What is St Benedict saying? What is worthless but that which has no worth attributed to it? If we attribute our own sense of worth to our actions and possessions, then we fail to see the truth of the blindness of our sight, and the fallibility of our own estimation. St Benedict challenges our whole value system of attributing worth and importance to things. It’s this that we need to shed in order to find God, for it is God that makes things truly worthy. We are to cultivate that sense of God’s worth. He does not see that worth in chasubles or chalices, but sees only the dedication that their makers have in making things beautiful for Him. He will spurn the chasuble and chalice of a heart dedicated only to “doing things right” in favour of a dirty old surplice and a tin mug of a heart in poverty, yet even seeking the Real Presence of Christ with intensity and passion.

In the Humility of losing the worth defined by the world, we gain the worth that is defined by pure Love. We know that new worth to be topsy-turvy, upending even the ladder of Humility so that ascending this ladder we end up with our feet on the ground of Truth rather than in the air of our own devices and desires.

If we take pleasure in something that we do, then let it be because we have sought God’s good pleasure first and bask in His mercy in bringing our task to its end. If we find nothing disappointment in what we do, then this is a good thing as it will teach us to find Worth where it resides more truly – in the Sacred Heart of Our Lord.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Humility in the fifth degree

The fifth degree of humility is that he hide from his Abbot none of the evil thoughts that enter his heart or the sins committed in secret, but that he humbly confess them. The Scripture urges us to this when it says, "Reveal your way to the Lord and hope in Him" and again, "Confess to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever" And the Prophet likewise says, "My offense I have made known to You, and my iniquities I have not covered up. I said: 'I will declare against myself my iniquities to the Lord;' and 'You forgave the wickedness of my heart'".

Nothing less than the truth matters in Christianity, call it Truth, Reality, Authenticity, et c, only what really is lies at the centre of the Christian life. This means that the Christian needs to take very seriously the idea that in order to love God, he must look carefully at what God has created in Him. This means delving down into the depths of one’s being and seeing what is really there, and what is really not there, and being honest about it.

On the journey into the self, we open doors behind which lie things of which we are proud. These doors are well-oiled and open easily without any difficulty. They are kept unlocked and we are very ready to open them, especially to other people. There are other doors which do not open so well and behind which lie things of which we aren’t that proud, but which people know anyway. There are also doors which are very stiff, which we open only during Confession. And there are doors in our soul which are locked and bolted, the hinges rusted, the keys lost.

In order to be ourselves in the eyes of God, to present Him with His own Creation as it really is, these doors will have to be opened too. Within there are things about ourselves which we are afraid to face up to, things we refuse to accept, things we want destroyed in ourselves. God gives us no choice. These doors must be opened too and what’s behind revealed.
God created us. Only He gets to say what must be destroyed in us. The only thing that needs to be destroyed is Evil, and the only thing that destroys Evil is Love, the presence of Almighty God Himself. Our honesty about ourselves is uncomfortable, but our continual repentance, our continual turning towards God will allow us to be filled with the Holy Ghost Who certainly dwells within every Baptised person. The more doors we open to Him, the more we allow Him to shed His life into our lives, and the more He will shine out of our lives too.
God gave us the priesthood so that if anyone needs to confess their sins, they can find the ear of Christ present in the ear of the priest. Any priest who takes that ministry lightly or, horror of horrors, as a position of power over the penitent will gravely endanger his soul. We should not then fear Confession but see it as an opportunity to force open those doors to our selves. When the final door is forced open, we will see the eye of God Himself peering back at us.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Purgatory and punishment

The question of Purgatory has vexed Christians throughout the ages. The Romans have it as part of the doctrine, yet it is rejected by the Orthodox and the Protestants. This in itself is quite reasonable: the Roman doctrine of Purgatory is largely 12th Century in origin. There are allusions to an intermediate state by Origen (whose doctrine on the Last Things was not renowned for its orthodoxy), St Ambrose, and St Gregory the Great. This is not exactly what one might call a Catholic consensus as demanded by the Vincentian Canon.

Yet, I don’t think one can just throw the concept away as easily as that. There are some very puzzling thoughts in Holy Scripture that suggest that there is an intermediate state or rather, perhaps, mode of being that will test the soul and for whom the prayers for the dead will be efficacious.

St Luke says: For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how ye hear : for whosoever hath , to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have. (viii.17-18)

St Matthew says: But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed ; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  (x.23-28)

And St Paul, famously, says on the issue: According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid , which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;  Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is . If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned , he shall suffer loss : but he himself shall be saved ; yet so as by fire. (I Corinthians iii.10-15)

Scripture seems to be quite clear. Human beings will answer for their deeds. Even in Psalm xcix, we have:

O magnify the Lord our God : and fall down before his footstool, for he is holy.
Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among such as call upon his Name : these called upon the Lord, and he heard them.
He spake unto them out of the cloudy pillar : for they kept his testimonies, and the law that he gave them.
Thou heardest them, O Lord our God : thou forgavest them, O God, and punishedst their own inventions.
O magnify the Lord our God, and worship him upon his holy hill : for the Lord our God is holy.

I mentioned below about how ferocious God is about Evil. There is war even in Heaven, but it is a foregone conclusions. The issue at hand is God’s justice as well as His mercy. Only God is capable of wielding these two ideas with appropriate deftness so as to make all things new. We really have to get out of the courtroom here. Justice is not quite the same as we might understand from the point of view of the Crown Court. Justice is synonymous with Righteousness and Righteousness burns with Pure Love. The mercy that God has shown us is that we can indeed be saved from Evil, yet if we reject His salvation, His justice cannot allow us into His Eternal presence.

What we read above is that the Lord knowest the secrets of our hearts, and that these will be revealed to the company of Heaven, and to us. Oh who may abide the day of His coming?! This should make us very uncomfortable. If we have any shame at all, then we will burn with it when these secrets are revealed in Heaven. It will be unpleasant and distressing, and yet, completely transforming! This is God at His most merciful. Just as we undress in front of the doctor, so will we be stripped in front of the company of Heaven so that the salvation of our soul can take place. It is the only way that our transformation can occur and it requires our repentance for it to work. This is probably what Purgatory is – at least in my humble reading of things.

It seems that we must be aware of this process so that we may indeed be ashamed of our sins, yet we find complete and utter acceptance in the arms of a forgiving God. We see the consequences of our actions, yet we are given the strength to bear those consequences through the love of God and the support of the Church. It seems to me that our prayers for the dead are precisely an expression of that support for all those standing before God weeping for their sins, as we all must.

Yet, Scripture is quite clear. God will wipe every tear from our eyes. He only does this because He loves us and wants for us all to be reconciled.

As I look back at my life, I see people that I even now struggle to forgive. I bear them no malice. Indeed, I pray earnestly for their eternal presence in Heaven with God, enjoying unending bliss and joy. I have absolutely no wish for them to spend even a microsecond in The Other Place. However, if I want the same for myself, then I will have to share God’s presence with them. Thus, this transformation, this final theosis, becomes vital both for me and for them if we are to spend Eternity in God’s presence and in mutual love. There will be people who will regard me in the same way, I’m sure. Reconciliation and the healing of harms have to take place for love to be perfected in us. For me, this is a comfort.

Of course, this is speculation on my reading of Scripture, and thus unlikely to be completely sound doctrine. Yet, it seems the most reasonable reading if there is to be any true notion of Justice at the end of time. For our part, we must cleanse our way even by ruling ourselves after God’s word. We must also continue to pray for the dead. That, too, is an expression of Christian Charity for we are in solidarity with all who die. Likewise, we will stand in solidarity with them before the face of Almighty God on that dread day!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

St Luke at war!

Christian, dost thou see them
on the holy ground,
how the powers of darkness
compass thee around?
Christian, up and smite them,
counting gain but loss,
smite them by the merit
of the holy cross.

Christian, dost thou feel them,
how they work within,
striving, tempting, luring,
goading into sin?
Christian, never tremble;
never be downcast;
gird thee for the battle,
watch and pray and fast.

Christian, dost thou hear them,
how they speak thee fair?
"Always fast and vigil?
Always watch and prayer?"
Christian, answer boldly:
"While I breathe I pray!"
Peace shall follow battle,
night shall end in day.

"Well I know thy trouble,
O my servant true;
thou art very weary,
I was weary, too;
But that toil shall make thee
some day all mine own,
and the end of sorrow
shall be near my throne."
Translated from the Seventh Century Greek by Fr John Mason Neale
It seems strange to reflect on these words on St Luke's Day, especially when we are celebrating a compiler of Good News. There is no good news in smiting one's enemies, is there?

One thing that St Luke presses for more than anything else is the Truth. He is a seeker of what really occurs in the life of Our Lord.
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. (St Luke i.1-4)
He speaks to the eyewitnesses, hears the narrative and even uses his own personal testimony to bring together the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He has been described as an historian in the spirit of Thucydides, an historian of great accuracy and trustworthiness. Modern historians disagree mainly on the grounds that his history makes sense only if it fits one’s worldview. A materialist would regard tales of miracle and resurrection as superstition as being historically inaccurate to say the least.

The fact of the matter is that no evidence, no matter how obvious, will convince the hardened materialist that miracles happen. Of course, they will turn that around and say of us that no scientific evidence, no matter how obvious, will convinced the hardened Christian that miracles don’t happen. Crossing the worldview is a very difficult thing to do. Some manage it, either to their cost or to their benefit.

There is more to St Luke’s truth than just meets the eye, and it is an important and unpalatable point. Until we are all perfected, Truth will be inconvenient and difficult to swallow. Our Lord is, these days, portrayed in the secular sphere as a nice guy, and in many liberal Churches as a nice guy who saved everyone from their since so that we will all go to heaven and be happy together. St Luke paints a different picture of Our Lord:
…a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in , and sat down to meat . And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have ; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done , and not to leave the other undone.  Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. (St Luke xi.37-44)
It is in St Matthew’s Gospel where the Lord calls the Pharisees children of Hell (xxiii.15). This is important. The Good News contains the truth about ourselves. It is Good News because recognising the evil that is in us is the first step to our recovery. We can only recover once we know that we are ill. The trouble is that this takes some doing.

In this passage from St Luke’s Gospel, we see the God of both the Old and New Testaments. This is a God who will not tolerate any scrap of Evil. His very being fights against it and, being the only whole substance, automatically prevails. God’s very being is an act of war against Evil and Evil must flee from His presence. This has devastating consequences for all who hold to Evil. God will not suspend His hatred of Evil in order to allow those who will not repent of sin to be part of His kingdom. If there is no desire of repentance, then there is no possibility other than Hell itself.

This is so difficult for the modern mind to hear precisely because it is so against our notions of love, compassion, and tolerance. However, think about it. Would we want a Heaven in which Joseph Stalin, Osama Bin Laden and Adolph Hitler were allowed to be present regardless of whatever atrocities they instigated in the same place as their victims? Would Heaven be Heaven if members ISIS were allowed to receive their apocryphal seventy-two virgins, just because God is good and kind? Our Lord testifies to the existence of Hell and it is to our Good News – Evil will not be tolerated! Hell is not empty – Judas Iscariot (called the son of perdition by the Lord). Lucifer and the Demons are there. We may not know who else. Without Hell, there is no justice.

We have got so used to this idea of tolerance that we are becoming intolerant of people who are intolerant. What do we mean if we are tolerant? We hear hate the sin and love the sinner. This is true. God loves even the denizens of Hell – it is because they reject Him that they suffer. However much we love the sinner, we must hate the sin. This puts a strain upon us because Love brings people together whilst Sin forces them apart. The pain of this is precisely borne upon the Cross. It is a tearing of the flesh of Christ which must take place in order for any reconciliation.

It is interesting that only St Luke records the words of the thieves crucified with Jesus. In a conversation lost to the other Gospellers amid the noise of mockery and jeering, only St Luke hears (possibly from Our Lady or St John) the salvation of a penitent thief at the eleventh hour. This is the Good News indeed! While there is life, there is hope for us! The other thief dies without the words of comfort that the penitent receives before his legs are broken and his life ebbs away next to the already dead body of Our Lord. If that thief were not penitent after that, there can be no salvation for him – but we CAN’T know that!

The Good News of St Luke and the other Evangelists is clear. We walk in darkness with its powers trying to lay claim to our lives. We walk appropriating the darkness for ourselves and call it good. The Light of God comes and shows us that we are indeed in darkness, that we love darkness, that we even revere it! He shows us that we but need only turn to the light and walk as children of the light, bringing light into the darkness. He makes the way to light through Himself – we see that light of God through the holes in Christ’s body. And then, as children of light, we rise with Christ.

We must truly and viscerally hate Evil and wickedness. We have to loathe our sins and really must seek to die before we commit them again. We have to fear that our sins have become so habitual that they have an effect on our lives. We have to worry about any stain of sin in us. We are not to judge others because we have no capacity to know their hearts. We must judge ourselves in our own actions and bitterly bewail the wrong we have done, and make true repentance!

We must also have hope. God does not desire the death of a sinner but rather he turn from his wickedness and live. If he will not turn, he will die, that’s true, however if he does turn to Christ honestly, truly, and fully, he will be saved. The hope is that any battle against Evil that we undergo for love of Christ will be met with unmitigated victory, though in the eyes of the world that victory may seem like the defeat of the Cross. We have to be deadly serious about getting rid of Evil in our lives. We must seek what is truly good, and not let the World deceive us that its good is the True Good: it is not, but rather so far from truly good as to be sickeningly twisted. The World would have us believe that morality is a human construct. It is not. Good deeds can be done by all, but only those done from good intentions will matter to God.

St Luke, the physician, brings us the Good News of our hellish sickness and its Holy Cure. Let us pay heed to its words for they come from The Word Himself. We may tire and falter in our intentions, but God really is good, a true fighter against evil and a mighty warrior in battle against the forces of darkness. Under His command, we will obtain victory, then true, lasting, loving peace.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Humility in the fourth degree

The fourth degree of humility is that he hold fast to patience with a silent mind when in this obedience he meets with difficulties and contradictions and even any kind of injustice, enduring all without growing weary or running away. For the Scripture says, The one who perseveres to the end, is the one who shall be saved; and again Let your heart take courage, and wait for the Lord"!
And to show how those who are faithful ought to endure all things, however contrary, for the Lord, the Scripture says in the person of the suffering, For Your sake we are put to death all the day long; we are considered as sheep marked for slaughter. Then, secure in their hope of a divine recompense, they go on with joy to declare, But in all these trials we conquer, through Him who has granted us His love. Again, in another place the Scripture says, You have tested us, O God; You have tried us as silver is tried, by fire; You have brought us into a snare; You have laid afflictions on our back.
And to show that we ought to be under a Superior, it goes on to say, You have set men over our heads. Moreover, by their patience those faithful ones fulfill the Lord's command in adversities and injuries: when struck on one cheek, they offer the other; when deprived of their tunic, they surrender also their cloak; when forced to go a mile, they go two; with the Apostle Paul they bear with false brethren and bless those who curse them.
So far we have seen that Humility involves the fear of losing God, that we gain freedom by finding the Reality of God's Creation in us, and that we are active in our obedience to the overarching work of Love. The fourth step brings us to the consequence of our active pursuit of Humility. We know that humility is hard to obtain, indeed perhaps the hardest virtue to obtain precisely because it exists on the knife edge of what is real and what is not. Time does not help here, as what we find to be real disappears into the past and is inaccessible to us, while the future only becomes accessible precisely when it ceases to be the future. What is appears to be in a state of flux for us.

Of course, from the point of view of God and thus also of the predestination (or, rather, the eternal destination) of the Church, Past, Present and Future are part of reality, even when they are not accessible to us. That things change around us and our perception of reality alters with that change means that we can easily fall off of the path of Humility.

St Benedict emphasises the need for patience and perseverance. Humility suffers when reality becomes distorted, when fashions raise and fall. Humility cannot be the slave of fashionable ways of viewing the world. There is only one view that matters and that is God's. That view is inaccessible to us and, while we remain blind to that view, we have to hold on to what we know to be real. God shares that view with us by His Revelation to the Whole Church in temporality and in Eternity, chiefly through Holy Scripture. This is why God's doctrine cannot change its meaning, and why fashion is inimical to our submission to God's authority.

It requires much patience. Holy Scripture does contain things that scandalise us, frighten us, confuse us, perhaps even depress us. Yet, we have to persevere, holding on to what is said and having faith that God is Love and that even the most difficult passages which we cannot understand uphold the idea of God's love for us. What we cannot do is proclaim that things have changed and that we are living in more enlightened times, thus submitting God's Revelation to our time, shaping the meaning to our ends, and thus trying to change what God has said for what we think He has said.

The Evil in the world seeks to propagate by the destruction of God's order. The practitioner of Humility remembers that it is Love that must be the constant factor in all his doings, even when it is painful to practise that Love. Patience is required to recognize that the pain we suffer is the price to pay for love, a price which God Himself pays and, in paying, destroys Evil by filling its privation with His substance. We are to persevere so as to remain constant in the conviction we have that God is Love, and that perseverance in Humility allows us to persevere in Christ's Humanity so that, at the last, He will unite us in His Divinity.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Humility in the third degree

The third degree of humility is that a person for love of God submit himself to his Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle says, He became obedient even unto death.
For those of us not in a community. it is difficult to see whom we accept in the role of Superior. Is it our parish priest? Is it our boss? Is it our spouse?

In the letter to the Hebrews, we read: " Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves : for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief : for that is unprofitable for you." Further, in the first letter to the Corinthians, we read:
Let no man therefore despise him: but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me: for I look for him with the brethren.  As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time .   Watch ye , stand fast in the faith, quit you like men , be strong .  Let all your things be done with charity.  I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)   That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth .   I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied .  For they have refreshed my spirit and yours: therefore acknowledge ye them that are such.   The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.   All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss.  The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand.  (I Cor xvi.11-21)
Imitation of Christ is an action and our actions have a purpose. Therefore, our obedience is always for a purpose, and Humility recognizes that we have responsibility to play a part in this world. Often we think of Humility as being completely passive - a mere recognition of the state of play - however it is the presence of Love that galvanises our being into action. Our Bishops have care over our souls, and the good Bishop will be weighed down with this as he seeks to be obedient to the Church. The care of his flock will be a cross which he has to bear which is why the bad bishop will be concerned more with himself and his own image rather than his flock.

The obedience that comes from humility is precisely that which realises our purpose in the Church. Our Lord demonstrates Humility by His unswerving mission to His death on the cross. For Him, this is as far from glamorous as it's possible to get. It doesn't earn Him degrees, or diplomas, it doesn't earn Him a crown, it avails Him nothing save the knowledge that He does the Father's will. The Father's will is perfect love, and it is that love that fuels Humility.

We are to be obedient to everyone, to submit ourselves to the overarching concern for their care. In the Church this is canonical obedience. Canonical obedience to the Bishop is humility framed in love for the Church, in love for the person of Christ represented by the Bishop and, indeed, any Christian.The well-being of the Church, its organisation, and its processes should be regarded as vitally important when they lead inexorably to the working of Love's purpose so that things may be done decently and in order.

To whom then should we submit? We submit ourselves to anyone who is working out Love's purpose. We need to learn to discern that in ourselves and in others. If we are working out of self-interest, self-adulation, or self-publicity, then we are not submitting ourselves to the Church's mandate to be a blessing to the world, we are not practising Humility. We should always pray for discernment and, as we learn to live in Love, this discernment and obedience will become easier.

Should we hail the Holy Queen?

I have often said that it is good that the Church has people who will call her doctrine into question. The discussions that follow are valuable and, if done in the right way, can enrich people's faith so that they can live better the Christian life.

This seems to be the situation when we come to the way in which we express our relationship with Our Lady through our prayers and our attempts to show hyperdulia - the unique veneration that we have for the Queen of Heaven. As I've said before, this is not worship.

It is quite well known that the Ave Maria is thoroughly rooted in Scripture.

Another famous prayer is the Salve Regina which we say after Compline during the summer and at the end of the Rosary. It is 12th Century in origin and therefore not a compulsory vehicle for doctrine, occurring as it does after the Great Schism.

However, let us take some time just to look at the words and see what this Marian hymn is saying.

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiæ, vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevæ, Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte; Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

Hail [Holy] Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope, hail! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we sigh, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Ah! turn, then, our [most gracious] advocate, thine eyes of [that] mercy unto us; and, after this exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O pious [loving], O sweet Virgin Mary.

The version we say today in English does embellish the original Latin and we need to ensure that our embellishments do not push us from hyperdulia to idolatry.

Let's be systematic:

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy: - If Our Lord is the King of Heaven, that necessarily makes Mary the Queen Mother. Is she holy? The Church Fathers are practically unanimous in saying that she was uniquely set apart for the birth of Our Lord and is therefore holy. Our Lord's Incarnation is an expression of God's perfect mercy on a sinful creature. To call Mary the mother of mercy is to bear witness to her son's mission on Earth.

Our life, our sweetness and our hope: - Notice that we're not saying that Mary is the cause of our life, sweetness and hope, but calling to mind the humanity that we share with her all as beings of a single nature. We call to mind that which God has given her to display. As a human being, she shares our life and lives now with God. We look to her to see how life with God can be sweet, despite the horrors of this world. We hope that we will follow her into heaven and receive that relationship that Our Lord promises for all who do the will of His father.

To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve: - Why aren't we crying to God? Why aren't we crying to Jesus? Of course we should! He will hear our prayers wherever we are and whether or not we are in a state of Grace. Sometimes though, God's holiness, Our Lord's majesty, just get the better of us. Perhaps St Peter expresses this well when he tells Jesus "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." We recognise that we, like Eve, have fallen and are sinful and know we are not worthy of the attention and love that God gives us because of sin. Sometimes it just seems that it is a struggle just to call upon God because of our sins in the blindness of our darkness. To cry to Mary is to call out to another human being who is in proximity to Jesus and, like blind Bartimaeus, be led to Our Lord by her hand, then we can address God directly. As I say, it is not necessary that anyone pray this prayer, but it would be good for some to do so.

To thee do we sigh, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears : - We remember that the sword pierced Our Lady's soul at the death of Our Lord. She knows pain and suffering and therefore stands in solidarity with us, just as all the other saints in Heaven do. We might feel we suffer alone, but we don't. At all times, we are surrounded by this cloud of witnesses, witnesses to God and witnesses of our lives. The saints willingly stand with us, and will propel us towards God. We are the Church. We are in this together, throughout time and into Eternity!

Turn, then, Most gracious advocate...: - The word "Most" is an addition to the text. Is Our Lady an advocate? The Latin advocare literally means "to call to" and has the sense of calling to someone on someone else's behalf. Thus, yes, Our Lady is indeed an advocate. She calls to her son on our behalf. Most gracious? Our Lady is full of grace - you can't get more gracious than that! Again, she is not the source of Grace, she is its vessel.

...thine eyes of mercy unto us : - The Latin is a little convoluted and embellishments have arisen here. Looking at it literally, it sort of reads "turn then those your mercies eyes". We see that the words are entwined somewhat inextricably - a device that is very potent in Latin and Greek. We could say "turn, then, your eyes; turn, then, those mercies" but we lose that intertwining, that association. What do we desire? We want Our Lady to look upon us and, in so doing, extend to us the mercies that come with her, through her, but not from her. Our Lady is mother of mercy, and she sat God's Mercy upon her knee.

and, after this exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus :-  This largely sums up what we have just said. We are, like Israel was, in exile in Babylon. Our destiny is with Christ. Using Our Lady as a signpost, we will find Him very near.

O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. : - Again, we call upon someone who shows the virtues to which we aspire. We cannot be pious without being loving. We need to be clement, not allowing the storms of this World to distract us from God so that people see in us the Holy Harbour in times of distress. We need to be sweet, so that people can taste and see how gracious the Lord is.

We do notice than in praying the Salve Regina even with its embellishments, we are not claiming that she is the source of any virtue, but that she embodies them in her single nature. We can embody virtues, too, only by being part of the Church and seeking the kingdom of God first. When we pray to Our Lady, we pray as we would ask another human being for their prayers, their solidarity, and their moral support. She will help us come to her son, because she is never far from Him.

This is a prayer of the Church within the Church for the Church to meet her bridegroom. It is not idolatry for we are always looking to the One who is beyond the Church, yet always so close.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Magic, Miracle and Mystery

Ah! Already in the social media, the little pumpkin Jack O'Lanterns are coming out to play. As always, a one day festival is strung out for a month or more, not that Hallowe'en is technically a festival, just the Eve of the Feast of All Saints. Of course, this is a time of year well steeped in ancient religion and superstition. We Christians may have plonked a major festival on top of a pagan celebration, but both do point to something, though we point in different directions.

The underlying nature and abiding atmosphere of Hallowe'en is the central mystery of life and death. We're sandwiched between two great unknowns of before-we-were-born and after-we-die and, as the nights draw in, and the chill wind blows the leaves from the trees, our minds perhaps linger more on the memories of loved ones past, and the future appointment that we have with the Grim Reaper. Yes, this time of year does point to that.

Ancient Paganism as it stood does have some resonance in Christianity. Both revere the natural processes around us, both stand as stewards of Creation. Yet, while the pagans worship divinity contained in nature, we Christians worship the One True God who cannot be contained in nature and necessarily stands apart from His Creation.

One of the themes that has come out of the Christian perception of paganism is that of magic. Christianity has always condemned the practice of magic. The idea of divination and magic are contained in Genesis with prohibitions in Leviticus xvi and Deuteronomy xviii. We see magic used to bring a message purportedly from the Ghost of Samuel conjured up by the Witch of Endor with disastrous effect in I Samuel xxviii. St Paul condemns witchcraft in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Galatians. We have also that famous and dreadful phrase "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" from Exodus xxii, a phrase that has seen bloodshed, torture, and death on a massive scale. Interestingly, the persecution of witches did not come about until after the Protestant Reformation: witch hunts were only part of the Inquisition on the grounds of heresy and the Inquisitors usually had bigger fish to fry (if you'll pardon the rather tasteless pun). The Protestant grounds were based on a reading of Exodus xxii:18 and fermented with a good rage against superstition.

What is really behind this Christian hatred of witchcraft?

Perhaps we see it most clearly when Our Lord is tempted to change stones into bread. He can do it, but He does not. Satan seeks to tempt Our Lord into using His power to force nature to do His bidding. Our Lord reminds Satan that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God". God has ordained the Laws of Physics as He has in order for the world to be as it is. Bread is bread; stone is stone. If Our Lord were to change stone into bread, it would demonstrate a caprice which would actually damage His mission to submit to nature and thus redeem the world from within. All things are created at a word from the Creator. Magic, then, seeks mastery over Creation, and seeks to manipulate Creation by force using the caprice of the magician!

What about the Lord's miracles? Are these not instances of magic? First, we see that Our Lord performs miracles in full submission to the Father. He prays, and blesses, and glorifies His Father. The miracles He performs do not pervert what His Father has created. Water is supplemented to become wine; bread and fish are extenuated; blind eyes, deaf ears, a dead body - all have life and function restored to them. There is no contravention of nature. Stones remain stones.

What about the Sacraments  - the Holy Mysteries? Are Christian Priests really magicians? We'd be the worst magicians in the world if we were! No. The Sacraments exist to give us grace to turn back to God. They change us from within: they change our hearts, minds and intentions. In the Sacraments, we effect nothing, all is done by God as part of a covenant. God is no familiar spirit, or genie, or wish-fulfilling leprechaun. It is His way or..., well there is no or.

 The Christian is to be a steward of God's world, to be a blessing to it and help it to be fruitful. There are those who want to control the world by changing it substantially. Some try to do this through sorcery and magic spells: we have the idea of the witches' coven seeking to cause mischief and ruin by convincing Macbeth to murder Duncan and proclaim himself king. We think of the magician who seeks to force his way into the beautiful woman's affections through the use of a love philtre. We see another whistling for the wind. We see the animist dancing for the reign. Each seeks to command nature by forcing their will upon it.

How familiar that sounds. Arthur C Clarke says, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Indeed. We use science to manipulate the world around us so that it does things that it isn't meant to do: roses in winter, bananas growing in Croydon, permanently lactating cows, Orcas in tiny tanks, light in darkness. While I am suspicious of scientific proclamations, I cannot help but agree that Global Warming is a fact and caused by the human lust for control over the planet, over Nature herself.

As William of Baskerville says to Adso of Melk when the latter needs to visit the little Benedictine's room, "Adso, in order to command nature, one must first learn to obey it"- a sentiment perhaps later adopted by Sir Francis Bacon. This is something that perhaps human beings have forgotten and, as a result, unwittingly inflict disasters upon ourselves. We tend to call these disasters "natural evil" but it seems all the more likely that this "natural evil" is in fact human stupidity, selfishness, and sin in disguise. What's the point of prolonging our lives if, in so doing, we withhold the privilege of life from others? What's the point of a beautiful uniform lawn, or fatter strawberries, or bigger pumpkins if it kills off all bees and other insects?

Where pagans and Christians agree is that this is a wonderful world worth taking care of and worth submitting to its rhythms and tides even if they don't always work out in our favour. I believe William of Baskerville is right, we should first seek to obey nature by obeying God's decrees, ordinances, commands and love before we learn to command nature. In doing so, we lose magic as a force against nature and recover it when we work with nature, harnessing its power. We lose Miracle as a quick fix of getting better and, instead, see it as Our Lord intended as a sign of God's mastery over Creation and His unending concern for our well-being as citizens of Time and ultimately Eternity. We lose Sacrament as a bargaining chip to keep people subjugated to a pharisaic and political religion, ruthlessly persecuting those who will not accept its rule, and see it as part of God's relationship with the Church to allow it to convey His blessing to the world and all its inhabitants.

The correct way to understand Magic, Miracle and Mystery, is through humility and obedience seeking to play the part that has been ordained for us by Almighty God. This is how the Kingdom of God is truly near us, and in us even now!

Bodily lies

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity 2016

We are constantly being lied to.

 You may think that this is coming from politicians, or people of importance, people who run this world, yet the fact is that they are being lied to, too. We are all being lied to.

This particular lie has always walked with humanity, even before Our Lord was born. It is very simple: spirit good, flesh bad. The idea is that all we see around us is inherently bad, that the world is a prison and something to escape from. The only good things are spiritual and the way to live a good life is by abandoning material things completely and live a spiritual life so that, when we die, our spirit can be free of this body of death.

The trouble is that it sounds so Christian. We can hear Our Lord saying, ”For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it,” or “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” We can hear St Paul say, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Perhaps we aren’t being lied to after all.

But we are, because we keep hearing the opposite lie, that there is no God, no such thing as the spirit, that there are only those things for which we have scientific evidence. All that exists is matter and energy and nothing else. It seems that we are being presented with a choice: reject the body and seek the spirit, or reject the spirit and seek the body. Neither are right with God.

Let us be clear. We believe in the Resurrection of the body. Look at how God has created us. We are the union of body and spirit – one soul but with two different aspects of our being. We cannot be pure spirit, nor pure body otherwise we cease to be human. We are not body and soul: we are each a soul – a living being. We have to love God more than ourselves otherwise we will lose any form of being that we have. It is our sins that make our bodies difficult to live with. It is not the world that is our prison, it is Sin.

God created our bodies to be part of ourselves. This is what God has created and He is no liar. We must not live our lives then as if our bodies are evil, treating them with contempt and wishing our lives to be over for God has given us life to enjoy with Him. Neither should we give ourselves over to worldly living as if there is nothing after death. St Paul urges us to redeem the time, “because the days are evil.” Our Lord has redeemed us by His own blood. Likewise, we are to redeem living in this world by living with Our Lord, enjoying the life that He gives us and helping others to enjoy life. Just as Our Lord’s blood gives us life and blessing, so is the Church to give life and blessing to the world so that it may be able to see the Creator within us.

Life is full of hardship, pain and loss, and realising this can send us down one of the two paths of lies. In the Holy Spirit, we can tread the narrow way back to God, remembering that we are His creation and being thankful for it. In Him every tear will be wiped away. In Him every joy will be made complete. That’s the truth.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Humility in the second degree

The second degree of humility is that a person love not his own will nor take pleasure in satisfying his desires, but model his actions on the saying of the Lord, "I have come not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. It is written also, "Self-will has its punishment, but constraint wins a crown."
St Paul tells us very clearly that Charity "seeketh not her own". It always looks to the beloved. Asan act of humility, we must recognise that what we may want to do is simply not the right thing, not matter how strongly we feel that tug. Where does this tug come from? Who is pulling our strings?

Once we realise that the temptations of the world seek to sink their claws into us, we realise that it is succumbing to these temptations that imprisons us. Humility recognises just how much we are a slave to our own desires and lusts. Taking a step back and actually examining our actions when we are faced with something we desire is enlightening. We see how the object of our desire focusses our attention solely onto that object, captivating us, like a moth to a flame. We relinquish control of ourselves so that our desires overwhelm us and distract us from who we are.

As we have seen, Humility is the search for the truth about ourselves, and we recognise that our desires stop us from being free to be ourselvesas we really are. We know that it is God who tells us who we are: He is our Creator and alone possesses the right to define us. In holding on to our own desires above Him is a serious problem, and a vice that we must seek to end in ourselves with the help of God.

If Humility is from the Human Nature, then Love is from the Divine. Our Lord gives us Love so that we can indeed free ourselves from our selfish desires and become who He created. He gives us the example of how to put aside the desires of the flesh so that He might show His love for us on the Cross. In so doing, He sets the pattern, and enables us to conquer the will of the flesh so as to be free to obey the Will of God. That is true freedom, and is available for those who seek to practise Humility in the Love of God.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Humility in the first degree

The first degree of humility, then, is that a person keep the fear of God before his eyes and beware of ever forgetting it. Let him be ever mindful of all that God has commanded; let his thoughts constantly recur to the hell-fire which will burn for their sins those who despise God, and to the life everlasting which is prepared for those who fear Him. Let him keep himself at every moment from sins and vices, whether of the mind, the tongue, the hands, the feet, or the self-will, and check also the desires of the flesh. Let a man consider that God is always looking at him from heaven, that his actions are everywhere visible to the divine eyes and are constantly being reported to God by the Angels. This is what the Prophet shows us when he represents God as ever present within our thoughts, in the words Searcher of minds and hearts is God and again in the words The Lord knows the thoughts of men. Again he says, You have read my thoughts from afar and The thoughts of people will confess to You.

In order that he may be careful about his wrongful thoughts, therefore, let the faithful brother say constantly in his heart, Then shall I be spotless before Him, if I have kept myself from my iniquity. As for self-will, we are forbidden to do our own will by the Scripture, which says to us, Turn away from your own will, and likewise by the prayer in which we ask God that His will be done in us. And rightly are we taught not to do our own will when we take heed to the warning of Scripture: There are ways which seem right, but the ends of them plunge into the depths of hell; and also when we tremble at what is said of the careless: They are corrupt and have become abominable in their will.

And as for the desires of the flesh, let us believe with the Prophet that God is ever present to us, when he says to the Lord, Every desire of mine is before You.

We must be on our guard, therefore, against evil desires, for death lies close by the gate of pleasure. Hence the Scripture gives this command: Go not after your concupiscences. So therefore, since the eyes of the Lord observe the good and the evil and the Lord is always looking down from heaven on the children of earth to see if there be anyone who understands and seeks God, and since our deeds are daily, day and night, reported to the Lord by the Angels assigned to us, we must constantly beware, brethren, as the Prophet says in the Psalm, lest at any time God see us falling into evil ways and becoming unprofitable; and lest, having spared us for the present because in His kindness He awaits our reformation, He say to us in the future, These things you did, and I held My peace. (The Rule cap vii)
How are we to understand this in the context of Our Lord being the union of God and Man, the union of Love and Humility? How can fear be associated either with Humility or Love? How can we entertain the reality of Hell with the nature of a loving God? This is the sticking point for many a person investigating the Christian Faith. We are told that God loves us and that if we don't love Him we will be sent to Hell. As Christians often say, we send ourselves to Hell by our own choice.

St Benedict charts this here. Our fear should be of losing that which we have been offered and given. We lose the precious gift that God gives us by treating it as something worthless, seeking our own way in life, preferring to attribute our own worth to things rather than to ascribe true worship to God.

The first degree of Humility is that of remembering precisely how fallen we are, and that by following our own agenda in life, we will quite literally walk away from God. Humility then requires us to recognise that we can fall from God and that we indeed will, should we not approach Him as He is, and recognising what we are. A man who has a precious jewel keeps it in a safe for fear that it be stolen from him. A man growing a rare orchid will tend it, feed it, waters it, for fear that it will die. A married couple take care to listen to each other, make compromises, love the other's weaknesses for fear of losing each other.

Likewise, we walk with God, recognising those things in ourselves which are obstacles to knowing Him and then working to give them up in His presence. Remember, we can begin nothing good without God being present from the beginning. We must therefore sit down in prayer, allow God to bring before us those things that separate us from Him, and pray earnestly for the resolve to reject them in our lives. It is a painful, fearful process as we see ourselves as we truly are.

Yet in Christ, humility is united with love. No matter how awful we think we are, no matter how ugly our sins, no matter how entrenched we are in the filth of our own depravity, we are not just lovable - we are loved! It is because of this love, that our humility will bear much fruit because it will unite us with Christ. We hear the sobering phrase Cave, Cave Deus videt (Beware, beware, God sees!) and we tremble because of our sinfulness. Submission to God, however, even in times of sin will make us ashamed and bring us back to our loving God. Stubborn pride will push us further away, further down the ladder, further down into The Pit!

It is good to be ashamed of our sins - it means we care what God thinks about us, and that care is a fragment of the love that we show Him. Our Humility will allow His Love to grow in us. That way, we can be like Him.