Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Training for the evil of Murmuring?

Another long train journey home, and I hear the announcement that, due to a "lack of train staff" my train has been terminated a few stops short of its destination. I have to get off the nice, warm train and onto a cold station to await a train whose arrival no-one knows, including the train staff.

I wanted to find out if there was another train due, but when I arrived at the information desk, I was met with a lone girl whose job wasn't to man (or in this case, woman) the information desk facing a group of men who were making loud complaint about being thrown off the train because "someone couldn't be bothered to do their job." I had a certain sympathy for their complaint: it seemed strange to me why the current driver of our train was not going to end his shift at the terminus, which would have been more logical.

For once, I was only mildly irritated. At a different time, I too would have been livid at the inconvenience. In a few months, I might find myself livid at the inconvenience. Today, however, I was not that bothered. This was not the same for the blokes who were shouting at this woman. I was trying to ascertain what they were trying to achieve. They were clearly angry. They had been working hard, and they wanted to go home and have their dinner. As the result of someone "not doing their job properly", they would be late home.

Yet, what could the poor girl do? She couldn't magic up a new driver who may or may not have been delayed on another train. She couldn't give any information about the next train out because, first, she did not possess a radio and, second, the decision had not yet been made by the powers-that-be. She was there trying to help, trying to co-ordinate a difficult situation. She didn't want to cancel the train.Instead she seemed to be the one accused of cutting the budget to pay staff overtime so that they could continue the journey. I have to give her her due, she did not let this misplaced angst get to her. She dealt with it really well, and the British Transport Police managed to calm the situation.

For me, it was a fascinating study in the power of murmuring. St Benedict very clearly describes this as a vice, and it was instances like this that show his wisdom and the presence of God in his thinking. What was initially irritation worked up into a frenzy of anger as the murmurs against the situation grew and became more and more irrational.

I will admit to being a very bad Benedictine. I complain A LOT! It's something that I need to work on and, with the grace of God I shall. Sometimes, it's just a need to voice some form of dissatisfaction. Other times, as I saw today, this complaint simply doesn't do any good at all. It achieved nothing and made people feel awkward. Sometimes, we just have to accept things the way they are.

In our line of work, there are people who can really make work difficult with unreasonable demands or ill-thought through requirements, or through not doing the work they are supposed to do. There are people who are unpleasant in the way they deal with things, there are systems that seem arcane and produce more trouble than support. There are always obstacles which scupper the most reasonable of plans. We can complain and murmur, but that can't achieve much.

The trouble is that this murmuring can lead us into very dark water.

In the U.K., I voted to remain in the EU. Brexit won and yet there were complaints that this was not sufficiently democratic. Perhaps it should have required a two-thirds majority. Perhaps, now that Parliament has been given the right to vote on when Article 50 is triggered, the MPs will vote it down. Blame Boris Johnson! Blame Nigel Farage! Treachery! Treachery! What this country needs is a revolution.

And in the U.S. "Trump is not my president!" "Abolish the Electoral College!" "Democracy isn't working!" "Secede from the Union!"

No. The point is that we are all in this together. We need to get some perspective, and what murmuring fails to do is to give that whole perspective. Murmuring focusses the attention on one tiny little aspect of life that causes us wrath so that we fail to take into account the bigger picture. When we are angry, our opinions suddenly become facts with which we seek to beat to death the cause of our irritation.

The news that broke my heart this week was that a premature baby was left to die in a sluice room in a hospital. We can play the blame game, but whatever caused this tragedy doesn't undo this tragedy. Out there are two parents in the greatest pain, requiring support, seeking answers but nothing can be done. Of course, I am angry about this. It grieves me dearly. May I be angry at God for this?

The trouble is that we just cannot get the bigger picture. We can't see th system as a whole. There are probably very strict rules about how many hours a train driver can drive a train and this is for our safety as passengers. It seems daft that the driver isn't allowed to drive for another 10 minutes to reach the terminus,m but this is probably due to a coincidence of difficult scenarios and rules which work against each other. Democracy is the same, the system isn't perfect and may seem to work against us. We cannot see the bigger picture and so perhaps we should just accept that things are difficult for other people other than ourselves. Rather than tear each other apart, we need even more to pull together, to accept that the system is flawed and all of us, ALL of us, seek to do the best we can for the sake of our society and our community. That's why St Benedict hates murmuring - it does more harm than good. Far from being an outlet of one's anger and frustration, it rips the community to pieces in a welter of accusation and bitterness.

Should we be angry at God for all the Evil in the world? God is certainly big enough to cope with our tears of sheer grief and misery at the horrible situations in which human beings find themselves. The trouble is that we don't have the capacity to see the whole picture - we CAN'T have the capacity to see the whole picture. Our tears are precious to God: He does put them in a bottle presumably to take stock of how much we truly care for others. If there is any answer to the problem of the presence of Evil in the world, then that answer must be cross-shaped. The Mystery of Our Lord's Life, Death and Resurrection is to give an answer to Evil, but to understand it requires us to experience its power before we can know what true salvation is. There is no answer that we can understand, nor can the answer save us from Evil; only Our Lord can save us. His answer to Evil  is "No! These are my children!"

Sometimes, it is all we can do just to pull ourselves back from complaining. Sometimes, all we can do is just sit there open-mouthed, with wet eyes and aching hearts and pray to God, "even so, come Lord Jesus!"

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

100W Advent

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the First Sunday in Advent 2016

As you flick the switch there is a pop, a brief flash of light, and then darkness. Yes, the bulb has gone. After a few minutes of trying to find the light-switch in the other room, sorting out any trips in the fuse box, and working steadily through that box of bulbs to find one that is a screw-in and not a pin bulb, you finally replace the bulb in the socket. And the light comes on!

Of course, you’ve managed to get the wrong power bulb. It’s a 100W bulb, not the 60W bulb you were expecting. And what happens?



Bright lights do hurt eyes that have got used to the darkness. You also get those annoying after-images which obscure your vision for a little while afterwards. It takes a little while to get used to the bright light, but when you do, in all the brightness, you realise that the room isn’t as clean as you thought, there’s more dust than you thought, and the cat seems to have shed more hair than its body-weight under the front of the sofa.

Bright lights hurt, and then they show things up. Why don’t we stick to the 60W light bulb?


And yet we pray for God to “give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light”. Surely we are aware that God’s light is more powerful, more searching than any 100W light bulb. God says, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” This doesn’t sound very comfortable, does it?


The trouble is that we Christians are destined to walk in the light while the world walks in darkness, and yet our eyes all too easily acclimatise to the dark and not the light. When the light comes on, it’s painful and uncomfortable and we see ourselves for what we are. St Paul warns us, ”The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.” We need the light to show us where we are living in the darkness, the times when we are walking away from God and not towards Him.

If we love God, then we will allow Him to shine His light on us. It will hurt, but not for long if we allow our eyes through His grace to get used to His light. We will also get after-images, shadows of our past life of sin sent by the Devil to try and tempt us to shut out the light so we can’t see them. We must allow them to pass by confessing our sin and yet turning ever more fully to the light.

This Advent, let us ask God to shed His light on us and help us turn to Him more closely. Let us remember that Advent is as much a time for self-examination as Lent so that we may receive Christ anew into our hearts. That way, the lights of Christmas will shine more brightly for us as we have the Eternal Light blazing away in our lives.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Quantum Christianity and Category Error

I alluded to the findings of Quantum Mechanics in my last post. I am not as well versed in the theory of Quantum Mechanics as I'd like to be. When I have a bit more time on my hands, I'll perhaps try and get it up-to-scratch, but then I'm a (former) mathematician, not a physicist. There is a difference.

My line of work has always been in the abstract which is a lot more interesting, because in mathematics, as I said earlier, we can play with the rules and see what the outcome is. We get some beautiful ideas which we can use to solve problems. Personally, I am a bit of a mathematical Platonist in that I believe that mathematics is discovered, not invented; that numbers exist, but not as material objects. Interestingly, each branch of mathematics seems to find some physical application. Even complex numbers, and hyper-complex numbers (the quaternions) are being used in your computer right now, yet you won't be able to count apples with them.

As far as I see it, Quantum Mechanics is a remarkable theory which can predict the motions of subatomic particles with an alarming degree of accuracy. Indeed, it even gives a limit to how accurately we can ever make measurements. The idea is that energy is not a completely continuous quantity but comes in packets called quanta. Albert Einstein then demonstrates that there is an equivalence between matter and energy, and so we have a direct impact of quantum mechanics on our material world. We no longer can measure where a particle is, but only where it probably is. Thus, the Quantum Mechanic combines the certainty of classical Newtonian Mechanics with probability and statistics to formulate her theory.

There are startling conclusions to this, which prove to be troubling (I state them in their popular versions, rather than the mathematical formalism):

1) (Heisenberg uncertainty principle) We cannot simultaneously know where a particle is and where it is going. If we know one for sure, then we cannot be sure about the other.

2) It is entirely possible that while a particle is probably right in front of you, it might actually be on the Moon.

3) Our observations of a particle actually affect the motion or state of that particle.

4) (Schroedinger's Cat) "a cat imagined as being enclosed in a box with a radioactive source and a poison that will be released when the source (unpredictably) emits radiation, the cat being considered (according to quantum mechanics) to be simultaneously both dead and alive until the box is opened and the cat observed."

5) (Wave-Particle Duality and The double slit experiment) A single particle of light, when directed at an obstacle with two apertures through which it may pass, passes through both of them. Consequently light can be considered both as a wave and as a particle.

I cite the popular versions precisely because these are the versions that have filtered down into popular thinking. The calculations that this theory makes, as I said above, are supremely accurate and make it a good scientific description of the way things work. However, Quantum Mechanics seems to break down as soon as we introduce gravity, and further, breaks down when we try and reconcile it with another supremely accurate theory - General Relativity. The theory we have for the very small does not match up with the theory we have for the very large.

The five facts that I have stated above do not marry with our experiences of life, and it is how we exaggerate these ideas that perhaps makes more mockery of the beauty of Quantum Mechanics, and our experiences of reality precisely because we misinterpret them.

1) If the Uncertainty Principle could be scaled up to our level, then we would never be able to catch a ball, let alone land a man on the moon.

2) It would take a length of time longer than the lifespan of the Universe for all the particles in your body to transport you suddenly to Mars.

3) If this were scaled up, then football matches would be a hoot!

4) Bishop George Berkeley's philosophy of things existing because we observe them would make a bit of a resurgence. Perhaps this is a proof of God's existence?

5) Bilocation would not be reserved to certain saints.

The trouble is that these mathematical results have entered into our understanding of the macroscopic world in which Quantum Mechanics becomes unwieldy. Keeping track of the the billions of individual particles in your body would become very difficult, and yet we seem to be beginning to say that our common sense is wrong, because Quantum Mechanics says that it's wrong.

We now use something like the Schroedinger's cat argument in order to be comfortable saying that we are something that we are not. That's not how the argument goes. The mathematics is far more complicated and involves adding things together. There is no physical way of adding a dead cat to an alive cat: there is no way that you can be a Christian and refuse to believe in the existence of God. Many people use Schroedinger's Cat exactly for this purpose to hold together two opposite points of view, cry out that all truth is relative, and then explain away the resulting cognitive dissonance as the world "getting at them." An atheistic Christian is not the sum of a theist and an atheist - human beings aren't numbers nor quantum wave functions, so we cannot mathematically add them, nor perform a wave superposition with them. It seems that some people are labouring under a particularly insidious category error.

God either exists or He doesn't: there can't be a middle ground, though His existence is not beyond doubt - even St Thomas Aquinas grants that. There is no probability that He exists for the simple reason that if He does, He will not possess a quantum wave function describing His state. If God exists in one universe of the famous multiverse then, by the very attributes that He possesses, He must exist in every universe in the multiverse. It's also a good point to make that the existence of the multiverse is just as much a physical speculation as the existence of God. Evidence that supports the existence of the multiverse can also be explained by other things, such as the possibility that the energy is nor conserved. (How does one even prove that the total energy in the universe remains constant in the first place?) Probability requires a background framework from which values and measurements can be deduced. There can be no background framework to measure the probability of the existence of God.

It is the popular misconception of scientific method and result that gives rise to forms of pseudo-science which give justification to claims that are not only ridiculous but damaging to the framework and stability of Society. It also prevents real science from being done. Paul Feyerabend insists that Science must be a proper anarchy if it is to make inroads into the truth.

Many people now think that the truth must be relative. Mathematics refutes that. Mathematical truth is indeed truth. If one accepts the axioms and the methods of inference, then one is bound to accept the conclusion. Yet mathematics is not necessarily the only access to truth, though it needs to be proved that truth exists beyond the physical world. Physics can't prove that, so it uses Occam's razor to deny that there is anything outside physics. Mathematicians can be tempted to do the same. If we reject the idea of objective truth, then on what basis? Perhaps one needs to reject traditional logic and thus ways of engaging in communicating with other people.

Yet, in all this philosophising and discourse, we often forget something important. Human beings exist, and are not abstract. Our Lord bids us to value them because, if God exists, He wanted to create Human Beings. That's some value. In our dealings with others, we are not allowed to forget their intrinsic value and needs which trounce any theorising and abstract discovery. Love needs to be promulgated, and that's the truth.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Unity in a post-truth world

I note with a degree of agreement Fr Anthony's rather pessimistic view of the Church. I do agree that the Catholic Church is indeed in a mess and that this mess needs to be sorted out somehow for the sake of the coherence of the Catholic Faith. Fr Anthony might say that perhaps we should forget about coherence, and rather resign ourselves to the mess until the Lord comes again and sorts it out. I think he has a very good point but perhaps I'm more naïve than he. My prayer is that the mess will be sorted out, and I fully expect God to do the impossible. Obviously, He will do it on His own terms and in His inimitable fashion, but I dare to believe that it can and will be sorted somehow.

The problem lies in the fact that we live in this bizarre "Post-truth" society where biological truths such as male and female are doubted and people say that they are one thing despite living the opposite.

The interesting thing is that this is not new. There have even been attempts to force the number pi to be 3.2.

This is the way that some human minds work as an exercise of will over what is true. Some people try to use quantum mechanics to justify holding contradictory opinions. "If Schroedinger's Cat can be both alive and dead, then I can be both a Christian and not believe in God." Yet, modern physics is not conclusive, and there are big questions that still need to be answered, despite eminent physicists claiming that philosophy is dead and its truths subsumed into physics. They maintain that there is no truth other than physical truth. How do they know that that's true? How can it be proved to be true?

The way that the Church can come together is by a concerted effort to discover the Truth. There are too many ecclesial bodies which make extraordinary claims about their identity.

I believe myself, and the jurisdiction I belong, to be properly Catholic in the sense of the Primitive Church. I am not a Roman Catholic, though I love the Roman Church very dearly and have much respect for her values. I long to be in communion with her, but I cannot assent to the idea that communion with the Holy Father defines Catholicism. Neither do the Orthodox Churches. I am an Anglican Catholic, but I am not an Anglican. If I were, then I would have to take a much more dogmatic stance on the theology of the prayer-book. I would also have to be a much more committed Augustinian in my theology.

What I do not do is pretend that I am a Roman Catholic, nor an Anglican, even though trying to explain what an Anglican Catholic is takes a bit of doing. There are groups that do revel in pretense. I notice one group that parades itself as an outfit of bishops identifying itself with Rome. Rome, however, has declared that group as being schismatic and not part of their jurisdiction. Their leader has even blagged his way around various events in the Vatican. That smacks of sheer dishonesty in its intention, indeed in its very foundation. I also notice that they excommunicate each other with an alarming frequency. In short, they make a mockery of the very thing they are claiming to hold. Their grandiose titles, claims of regularity, enormous mitres, and writs of excommunication show them up for what they are.

Another group claims to be Anglican Catholic, has even borrowed our wording from our literature (except the bits they don't agree with) and claims to be "more traditional" than us. Given that this group consists of two clergy, one of whom is female, there is still a dishonesty there. By their fruits shall they be known. If they bring folk to Christ, if they promulgate the generous blessing of God to the World, if they seek to promote true Christian Love, then they will indeed be doing something wonderful. Every Christian group needs to be doing this, but we need to be honest about where we've come from. If we're not part of the Anglican Catholic Church, then at least we should have the honesty to say that.

There are lots of Catholic jurisdictions in existence. I am pleased to be on good terms with lots of these jurisdictions and I value their warmth, goodwill, kindness, generosity, and prayer. They don't pretend to be what they are not. Our different histories mean that we walk apart for the moment, but we do walk parallel. That's just fine for now, but I pray for a more organic unity for the very reason that we are all intending from the bottom of our hearts, with every fibre of our beings, to seek first the Kingdom of God. We all have the same cross in front of us, and we are firm in our intention to simply do His will in true humility.

What is the fundamental flaw in modern thinking is that there is no such thing as objective truth. Mathematics is all about objective truths, and yet even that is being eroded by woolly thinking and opinion. There are those who would say that if you add up every possible whole number, you get the answer of a negative twelfth. That only works if one bends the rules of adding an infinite number of things, but these folk don't tell you that they are bending or changing the rules! Changing the rules is absolutely fine in Mathematics - that's where we get different theories and different structures. Incorporate a number whose square is negative one into your number system and you get something rich. Incorporate two more numbers whose square is negative one, and you get yet a richer number system, but it will be markedly different. One is not more true than the other: they are different systems. However, we have to recognise that they are different systems and not pretend that they are the same.

With fake news on social media, corrupt politicians, and excommunication-happy ecclesiarchs, it's easy to see why people cannot see the truth in the world. Opinions are presented as facts and because no-one checks, these "facts" become true by consensus rather than by objectivity. This presents us with a bit of a problem. Either we trust no-one and spend our waking hours trying to verify a truth using sources we don't actually trust, or we learn to trust something. For the Christian of any stripe, this is easy: we trust God.

We trust God to reveal Himself to us, and therefore we must trust the testimony of the Bible. But we must also trust the Church that collated this Holy Library. We can only trust so far as all Churches accepted the same doctrine, so we have good reason to trust the Oecumenical Councils which put forward that doctrine. Of course, only the first seven were truly Oecumenical. So you see that I have just described the Catholic Faith which consists of the unaltered faith of the Primitive Church. This is where Anglican Catholicism comes from as well as a whole host of good Catholic groups such as the Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholics, the Anglican Catholics, the Holy Catholics, and the Old Roman Catholics, to name but a few. If we all assent to the same thing, then we should be together, and it's my sincerest prayer that we would be. Because I make my prayer in full expectation of a miracle, I sit and wait in hope for God to do something brilliant!

The future will be bright because God will answer my prayer which is the prayer of so many others. He'll do it in His own way, and I worship Him for it!

Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Lie of Ostentation

Advent is on its way, and we ought to remember that the season of Advent is a little Lent. It must have a penitential character in order to clear out the dead wood from our lives and thus open ourselves to continually receive Christ anew. Far from Christmas decorations going up, it is perhaps more fitting that existing clutter be taken down so that the Christmas decorations may more properly take their place nearer to the great Feast of the Nativity.

In the sixth chapter of St Matthew's Gospel, we read of Our Lord's injunction against ostentation and empty practice. There are those Persons of Importance who give alms just so that people can see them give alms. Yes, that does indeed inspire other people to give alms, but not in the right way. These Persons of Importance like to say long prayers mainly because they want to be seen to be great prayers. Yes, it encourages others to say long prayers, but not in the right way. These Persons of Importance like to make a show of their fasting and their suffering so that others may think them dreadfully humble and terribly noble in their suffering. Yes, it encourages others into self-abnegation and patience, but not in the right way.

Our Lord is clear that ostentatious "piety" is more damaging to the community than the real thing. If a Pharisee shows people who to reverence God because he wants people to think him holy, then the fact is that these folk will only do so out of deference or toadying up to him rather than any honest devotion to God. To give alms just because a Person of Importance gives alms, to pray just because a Person of Importance prays, to fast because a Person of Importance fasts demonstrates a mild form of idolatry which, if unchecked, can blow into full idolatry. These folk need to give alms, pray, and fast because the One of Greatest Importance wants them to, and wants them to want Him for Who He Is. Their Salvation lies in His hands and not in their following of certain practices which have no piety in themselves.

Of course, we all have people whom we admire, yet the Holy Saints always want us to look where they are pointing rather than to look directly at them. Some of them indeed wore the gorgeous ropes of Popes, Pontiffs and Prelates, but they did not cling to them and wore them only in their duty as representing the authority of Christ. They were not known for their sartorial elegance!

Yet some Persons of Importance, the would-be ascetics ostentatiously dress themselves in rags with a silent cry of "look at me and how humble I am!" This is the Lie of Ostentation: we can (perhaps unwittingly) set ourselves up as idols for others, and thus lead them blindly into a form of idolatry.

The objects of our admiration have to be Ikons, not Idols. We have to be able to see Christ in their lives, Christ motivating them, Christ leading them, Christ shining His light through them. Never once does Christ say, "look at me, I'm humble!" or "look at me, I'm giving alms" or even "look at me, I'm healing someone!" His acts speak for themselves. He isn't ostentatious but speaks the truth and backs His words up with actions.

Our Christmas decorations can lead us into the same trap if we are not careful. All these garish lights point to the genius of the exploiter of the National Grid rather than to the little baby whose life, death, and resurrection saves us all.

This Advent, let us examine ourselves for the things that we do in order to appear as a Person of Importance, and put aside such foolish, vain, and dangerous ideas so that we may learn greater Humility and seek first Our Lord and God so that His light might shine more purely and truly through us drawing the world to Him and the glorious Eternity He has planned for it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Confirmation and Communion

I was asked a question the other day as to whether it is proper for someone to receive communion before Confirmation. It's a good question, and there are indications that it is not necessary, though one must be careful.

First, notice that the Disciples receive communion in the last supper before they receive the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. That may not be much of a biblical precedent, but consider that Our Lord says:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved ; but he that believeth not shall be damned.(St Mark xvi.6)
We know that there is no salvation outside the Church, so it makes sense to see that Baptism does indeed form a criterion for salvation. Look carefully, though:

1) He who believes and is baptised shall be saved.
2) He who does not believe shall be damned.

What he does not say is, "he who believeth and is not baptised shall be damned," and we see that put into action on the Cross with St Dismas - the name tradition gives to the Penitent Thief who dies with Our Lord. In the words of Our Lord, We also see that he who is baptised and believes not shall be damned, because he believes not regardless of whether he is baptised or not. If we read Our Lord correctly, Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation, but the one who believes and is baptised can be assured of Salvation. What we do not know is whether such folk as St Dismas actually receive a form of Baptism directly from the hands of God - St Dismas was at least supremely fortunate enough to be talking to God directly. This, however, is God's business and not ours. However, it is clear that Our Lord emphatically presses for Baptism for very good reasons which St Paul explains:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.(Romans vi.3-9)
We see that Baptism unites us with the Body of Christ: we are baptised into him. St Paul says:"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." (I Cor xii.13) and "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."(Galatians iii.27)

It is clear, then, that Baptism marks the full reception of the individual into the Body of Christ. If that is the case, then Baptism is sufficient for the reception of the Eucharist. In writing about the duties of a priest, St John Chrysostom tells us that it is the duty of the priest to baptise and thus incorporate people as members of Christ. They become members of the Church:
These [priests] verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. (On the Priesthood Book III chap vi)
Likewise, from the Seventh Council of Carthage, we read:
Marcellus of Zama said: Since sins are not remitted saved in the baptism of the Church, he who does not baptize a heretic holds communion with a sinner.
Also from the Seventh Council of Carthage, we hear:
"Aurelius of Utica said: Since the apostle says that we are not to communicate with other people's sins, what else does he do but communicate with other people's sins, who holds communion with heretics without the Church's baptism? And therefore I judge that heretics must be baptized, that they may receive forgiveness of their sins; and thus communion may be had with them." 
The implication is that the Baptism for remission of sins brings us into the Church whence we may receive the Eucharist. And yet, the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 says: "And there shal none be admitted to the holye communion: until suche time as he be confirmed," which is modified by 1662 to "And there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed." Where has this come from? 

At a Lambeth Council in 1281, Archbishop John Peckham of Canterbury decreed that confirmation was necessary in order to receive communion primarily as an encouragement for parents to bring their children to the sacrament of Confirmation. This was published in the Lambeth Constitutions. Until then, it seems that the Church in England did not believe that it was necessary to receive Confirmation. The amendment to the rubric in the Book of Common Prayer was amended in the 1550s so that Confirmation would not be seen as a completion of Baptism but rather a mark of maturity.

Of course, the Sacrament of Confirmation of all the sacraments has a bit of a disputed purpose. In the Eastern Church, the Mystery of Chrismation (i.e. Confirmation) occurs to the newly baptised directly after their baptism. Is there a biblical warrant for Confirmation?

In the Acts we read of St Peter:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.(Acts ii.38)
Further on, we read:
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down , prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.(Acts viii.14-17)
Confirmation is indeed therefore a completion of Baptism in the sense that one has come of age and wishes to live out a lively faith as a Christian working at the coal-face of life. The Holy Spirit is required in order to consecrate that working life and thus the proper minister for Confirmation is the Bishop who has received the fullness of orders.

Confirmation should be desired by all Christians and yet, while it does make sense for the Church to restrict the Eucharist to the confirmed or those desirous of it, there does not appear to be a warrant for it within the Primitive Church, though I'm willing to be corrected on that matter. Nonetheless, Confirmation and Baptism are very different Sacraments forming different functions. In Baptism, we demonstrate our desire to believe in Our Lord Jesus, repent of sin, and renounce the Devil and are thus received into the fullness of the Body of Christ. In Confirmation, we demonstrate our desire to work to build up the Church and take greater responsibility for our service in Christ and thus receive grace through the Holy Ghost to do so. For Baptism, the proper minister is the priest who stands as the head of the little family of the parish to receive the baptised into the fullness of the Church, though of course any layman can baptise in an emergency. For Confirmation, the proper minister can only be the Bishop and there is no emergency provision needed there, as Confirmation does not technically affect one's salvation, desirable though it may be.

Of course, all believers should seek to be baptised and confirmed if they are serious in their commitment to that belief. However, St Dismas shows that all things are possible with God.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Inwards and Outwards

Question: if a sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace," doesn't the doctrine of Transusbstantiation violate this definition given that the outward sign (bread and wine) is obliterated by the presence of the Body of Christ.

It's a lovely question, but it is important that we do not allow ourselves to be influenced by a particular philosophy of physics. This is why the Roman definition of Transubstantiation causes problems with people who have a different understanding of what it is to be. It has to be remembered that we owe this definition to St Augustine of Hippo who himself is influenced heavily by Platonism, and the idea of Transubstantiation comes from St Thomas Aquinas' reading of Aristotelian physics.

Anglicans and Romans ascribe to the Augustinian definition of sacrament, and so the burden of answering the question will largely fall upon those who hold the Roman Doctrine of Transubstantiation. However, not every Transubstantiation need to be Roman. For many orthodox and catholic Christians, it is sufficient to say that before Mass they behold wafer and wine and that after Mass they say that they have truly received the Body and Blood of Christ which were indeed present in that Mass. Nonetheless the Real Presence of Christ does seem to mix up what we mean by inward and outward.

Let us therefore be as clear as we can and go back to first principles. I preached on Corpus Christi that it is the word "indeed" that is vitally important when it comes to understanding the Presence of the Lord in the Sacrament of the altar. It means that, whatever a Christian understands to be real, Christ is as present in the Elements as that Christian is in the Church. The doctrine of the Real Presence is scriptural and exists soundly within the Tradition of the Primitive Church. It is a literal presence, as Our Lord intends it to be, but it is not an observable presence as no change has occurred in the outward appearance of the Elements.

That a physicist (nor I for that matter!) would not be able to distinguish a consecrated Host from an unconsecrated wafer means that we really are pointing to a reality that exists beyond Space and Time which dwarf Space and Time so as to render them thinner than tissue paper. This gives us an interesting conundrum because, in the Reality of God, there isn't enough room "inside" our reality for God to be present. Of course, the problem goes away with the Incarnation which shows that it is entirely possible for God to be within His Creation and yet beyond it. Christ Himself becomes the Sacrament that generates all the others. As He walks among us, His human nature is the outward sign that presents itself to us allowing us to receive the "inward" spiritual grace of His Divine nature - literally Emmanuel.

Holy Scripture and the Fathers make it clear that "outwards" and "inwards" can only be used metaphorically when it comes to the relationship of God with Man. In the Holy Mass, Scripture tells us categorically that we indeed eat of the Body of Christ, that we indeed drink of the blood of Christ and that in so doing we receive the substance of God Himself. In attending our Mass and receiving these Sacred things, we are given sufficient substance to say that Christ is within us. Indeed, we actually exist more fully as a result of taking Christ into us, and plugging ourselves into the Church which is itself His Body.

Whether this actually obliterates the existence of bread and wine is difficult to determine and, in some sense, is utterly irrelevant. Before Consecration, bread and wine; After Consecration, Body and Blood - that is all that is necessary. In that sense, and perhaps Schillebeeckx might say this, the significance of the wafer and wine is completely nullified. Of course, this is unprovable, especially from Scripture. Personally, I affirm the objective obliteration of the bread and wine for the reason that I cannot understand them any further as bread and wine any more than I can understand them as bread and wine in the state of digestion within me. I affirm that what I see in the monstrance is nor wafer, but the True Christ Himself hidden "inwardly" or, more properly, beyond the evidence of my senses. I cannot require anyone to hold this view, though I believe it to be wholesome.

At the very least, one must simply embrace the mystery as a Mystery and learn to focus on what is truly necessary, namely our encounter of our not-so-real and vaguely present selves with the truly Real and objectively Present Lord and God.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

At the top of the ladder?

Having climbed all these steps of humility, therefore, the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God which casts out fear. And all those precepts which formerly he had not observed without fear, he will now begin to keep by reason of that love, without any effort, as though naturally and by habit. No longer will his motive be the fear of hell, but rather the love of Christ, good habit and delight in the virtues which the Lord will deign to show forth by the Holy Spirit in His servant now cleansed from vice and sin.
The trouble is that climbing all the steps of humility is incredibly difficult. Humility is about the truth of our human condition and its failure to conform to the sinless life. St Benedict is right that whoso does master all twelve degrees will have that coveted perfect love of God because he will have rooted out all vice and error. This is something that seems only to have been achieved by few.

However, St Benedict sees this ascent as a work in progress. We are on the road to perfection. The destiny of the Church is sainthood for all its members, and none may be excluded from membership save those who exclude themselves. St Benedict offers us a vision of ourselves and of our relationship with God to which we can aspire. We can achieve this, we shall achieve this, but only with God's presence with us.

All the way through these degrees, we have seen the relationship between humility and love. We have seen them perfectly united in Christ's two natures in one human being. He displays perfect humility and perfect love and invites us to the same. Let us always seek the truth about ourselves, and realise that God shows us that we are worth loving even in our darkest moments.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Humility in the twelfth degree

The twelfth degree of humility is that a monk not only have humility in his heart but also by his very appearance make it always manifest to those who see him. That is to say that whether he is at the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the fields or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing, he should always have his head bowed and his eyes toward the ground. Feeling the guilt of his sins at every moment, he should consider himself already present at the dread Judgment and constantly say in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said with his eyes fixed on the earth: Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up my eyes to heaven; and again with the Prophet: I am bowed down and humbled everywhere.
In short, St Benedict tells us to live our humility visibly. This is not an ostentatious humility, for Our Lord warns us against such behaviour.
...when ye fast , be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast . Verily I say unto you *, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast , but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt , and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt , and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is , there will your heart be also. (St Matthew vi.16-21)
An ostentatious humility is a false humility borne on the wings of wanting to appear impressive in our humility to others. Our Lord bids us receive humility as a treasure, something to be cherished and cultivated. As we have seen throughout this adventure through Chapter Seven of the Rule, Humility is about what is real, authentic, and true about ourselves. We are to love ourselves and we do so by cultivating humility for then we accept ourselves for who we are.

St Benedict bids our humility break out from our heart and into our lives. For the monk, this means keeping the head bowed before God - all the monks are to do that, so it will not be seen as ostentatious in a monastery. All those who behold the monks should be able to recognise the source of their humility. For those of us in the secular sphere, we have to ensure that our humility is lived out in our lives in such a way as to point away from ourselves and towards the God who loves us. We are still to feel the guilt of our sin, and to examine our consciences critically and severely. Repentance is obligatory for the Christian life. People need to see that repentance, that acknowledgement of sin, and find in that sight the fact that repentance leads to God.

If there is no love of God in our aspect, then the Light of Christ will not shine through us. This is why an ostentatious humility is an oxymoron. Humility bids us focus on our humanity so that we become receptive vessels for God's Divinity and Love.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Another Lie of Offence

One aspect about taking offence that I alluded to below is its relationship with forgiveness and with patience. Oh how we seethe when someone offends us! Oh how it becomes the sole focus of our ire to the exclusion of all else! When we take offence we narrow our horizons. In so doing we narrow our minds and, crucially, our hearts.

We do so because we go into defensive mode - that's only natural when something we hold dear is threatened. The trouble is that Love bids us do the opposite. To love someone truly means to keep oneself open to them, irrespective of who they are, what they do, or their opinions. Love doesn't bear a record of wrongs; it is patient and kind. Of course, Love rejoices in the truth, but when we are offended, our perception of what is true or real becomes pinpoint small.

The true challenge, when we are offended, is to be patient and forgive. Patience, here, means longsuffering - being prepared to stick with our offender, refusing to identify them with what is offensive. Boy, does it take some doing! But it is necessary, especially when we pray "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us". If God were to identify us with our offences, then who may abide it?

However, if we live life like that, then we are in danger of this misidentification taking us over. It is another pathway to Hell for this reason. There is a sense in which we become what we do. Our Lord makes this point when he say that those who show mercy shall receive it, those who forgive shall be forgive. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again" Our doing does influence our being, and it will be God's task to extricate the person He created from their free-actions if that is indeed possible. Our free-will does inhibit God because God's love for us inhibits God.

Of course, like Salvation, forgiveness is a process. It has to be for us little time-bound beings. Soem can forgive quickly, others slowly, depending on the magnitude of the offence. That trouble is that, in most cases, being offended by what someone says is just not as big a deal as we think. This is another aspect of the Lie of Offence. Offence blows itself out of proportion.

That's not to say that offensive words are not a serious issue. The one who says, "all gays go to Hell" is saying something unsupported by Christian doctrine, and is displaying his own hatred for a myriad of human personalities, making the inhomogeneous homogeneous. Yet, such a one is the more to be pitied for this. He is the one losing out on the warmth of God's Love from within, and preventing himself from receiving God's Love from without. Sadly, his belief in the value of this offensive statement may cause him to fall over into homophobic action. For the object of this man's hatred, his words will sting, rankle, offend, It will hurt, yet Christ bids us turn the other cheek, to stop the hatred there, put a cap on it and allow it to propagate no further. Living life despite having offensive language thrown at you is a life to which the Christian is called.

However, as I said below, we still need to listen to those words we deem offensive, and to check ourselves that we are not in a state of sin. Not all things we believe to be offensive are truly offensive. If we have a series of one-night-stands, then we are, by definition, a fornicator. There's no two ways around that. If we force people to give us money, or overcharge them, then we are guilty of extortion. We cannot allow ourselves to hear words of criticism and immediately put them in the box marked "offensive waste" and thus try and be all self-righteous. The reality is that all those who prefer fornication to God, or money to God, or anything whatsoever else to God, will be given exactly what they want - an Eternity of it, and that is Hell! For those who repent and turn to God, there will be an Eternity of that, and that is Heaven.

We Christians are charged with the task of bringing a taste of Heaven to Earth. People will take offence at our sayings because they will go against what the world has instilled in them. We have to be prepared to be seen as offensive even when we're not. Our Lord's name even offends people these days. The key thing is to ensure that we narrow our focus to all that is true, and open our scope to allow a flow of God's Love into the world. We should not seek to offend deliberately and thus push people away by our words. Both St Benedict and St Francis agree that a life that is lived in the Love of God will draw more people to God's light, than much wordy preaching. We can only admonish those whom we know to be willing to be admonished because we have a good relationship with them.

Perhaps it's time to put the megaphones down, and seek to live what we believe. Let us think about how God's word challenges us, warns us, convicts us, offends us, and seek to submit ourselves to His judgment so that His will be done, and all people may feel the warmth of His light on them by what we do for them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Another blog

I'd just like to link to another confrere of mine, Canon Charles Nalls Obl.SB.

His blog, The Cathedral Close, is here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Humility in the eleventh degree

The eleventh degree of humility is that when a monk speaks he do so gently and without laughter, humbly and seriously, in few and sensible words, and that he be not noisy in his speech. It is written, A wise man is known by the fewness of his words
We often forget that the purpose of every Christian is to be an instrument for God's blessing on the world. It is forgetting this that takes us away from both humility and love because we forget both who we are and who God is. The Religious have a calling to become part of a community in which the focus of their lives is the life of prayer. They are the ones whose purpose is to connect with God so that we might all connect with God.

The first duty of every Christian is to pray. St Benedict says that even our words in prayer should be few so that we can listen. The Rule begins with the word "listen", and it is clear that, in order to serve God truly, we need to listen well and hard. We cannot do that if we are yammering away to each other, and even to Him.

In order to be humble and thus know ourselves, we have to listen and to make space for the voices of others, making sure that the first voice we hear is God's. In order to become loving, we need to listen and make space for the pain of others to come to our ears, and thus present these words to God. For those of us who are not cloistered, the noise of the secular world is deafening: bright neon voices, garish slogans, and over-painted soundbites constantly vie for attention, and demand a response. St Benedict tells us that we need not give a response unless our response is focussed and comes from listening carefully. We are allowed to be silent, though the world might find that rude, or even intolerable.

Religious communities exist for the good of the Church. They strip themselves of unnecessary noise and speech in order that Christians may come and visit and find their busy secular lives challenged and their spiritual prayer lives enriched. Yet, these communities are in decline and need our prayers. We need monks, nuns, friars, and sisters to continue that consecrated life for the good of the lives of all in the Church, so that all in the Church may live out their lives as a blessing for God's good world.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Lie of Offence?

I hear many things on the internet which often seem blown out of all proportion. One such story that grabbed my attention is this story of a professor being censured by New York University for being deliberately politically incorrect. He has been deemed to be offensive to the underlying received philosophy of the university.

There are three ideas behind what we mean by "offence"; it is the opposite of defence; it is an illegal act; it is a perceived personal insult. The essence in these three ideas is that of active opposition whether justified or not. For someone to take offence means that an action is perceived to be an active opposition to their views as an attack and thus feel that they have a position to defend.

The professor in question has said that does not support the idea that people should have a "safe space" in which people can be protected from "uncomfortable speech". He also objects to people being allowed to choose any alternative pronoun. The key to understanding the nature of what is offensive is in what it is saying about a person's worth.

Each of us has some set of values that we hold dear. The fact is that, given some value judgment, there is always another value judgment that goes against that. We hold different values. This can be as trivial as the rating of football teams and as serious as valuations of other human beings. The moment that two different value judgments come together spawns debate, controversy, and even demonisation. Offence comes when someone makes a statement that trivialises something we hold dear or denies something that we hold to be fundamentally true.

The trouble is that our preoccupation with abstract things such as rights, duties, privileges, and entitlements tears us away from a deeper truth that we are in discussion with another human being. Human beings disagree: this is why some form of government that permits a forum is vitally necessary in the West. It is when that discussion is shut down by people who cannot listen to what they deem to be offensive that causes the system to break down.

In recent years, there have been calls to be allowed to criticise, even ridicule, religious beliefs. The modern secularists state that our beliefs should not be immune from criticism by anyone. I quite agree. I believe that anyone can be allowed to speak out against the Church. In so doing, they can and often do reveal our shortcomings and hypocrises by measuring us up to the standard we preach. That I see as a true instrument of God's grace that He can speak to us through any of His children whether they believe in Him or not. That's not to say that it's easy listening sometimes.

I recently lost a friend on Facebook to my sorrow, because I stated that while I respected her veganism, I was not going to become one. She could not believe that I held the welfare of the unborn as a more pressing concern than that of animals going to the slaughter.  Of course, I want both! However, human beings require salvation from the evil that they propagate while animals do not.

I expect that I have just said something offensive. If you are offended, then why? What is at the heart of your offence?That I apparently don't care as much about animals and the planet as you do? If you are offended, then I'm proud of you because you actually bother to care about something, but what are you going to do with your offence? Hate me? Am I now that loathsome and incapable of doing any good ever in your eyes?

At the heart of our offence is something that we believe is not allowed to be opposed, should always be kept safe, and protected at any cost. This is noble, but it does mean that we are clinging on to something which will be broken or damaged or wounded. There are things that should offend each of us, and they should all be motivated by that most basic of human capacities - Love.

We have a love for animals, for protecting the unborn, the poor, the destitute, the despised, the broken, the marginalised. This is the testament to the innate good within each and every human being - they care about something! Yet, we disagree on what is best for these vulnerable beings. One person stands up for transgender rights; another disagrees but seeks to help those who suffer from what he believes to be a gender focussed dysmorphia.

I am a Catholic, and many people will take offence even at that. There are Roman Catholics who would deny me that because I'm not Roman. There are Protestants who would regard me as a minion of Satan himself. Rather than seek peace, they will shriek and denounce and hurl insults and spew rhetoric. I can't agree with them, and often I find myself foolishly engaged in arguments with them. I have come to the conclusion that such arguments don't get anywhere. Debate is fine in Oxbridge debating societies, but if we are to convince people that we are right, then we had better'd live out our beliefs fully and well thought through.

There is a big difference in not wanting to read an account of World War II Concentration Camps because of the terrible experiences of a beloved family member rather than refusing to do so because Fascism is offensive. To stifle debate, discussion and conversation prevents us from moving forward. If anything this is why Brexit and Mr Trump winning the presidential election came as a shock to the media. Brexit voters and Trump supporters were too scared of revealing their thoughts because of the shrill, aggressive behaviour of their opponents. That rioting has been taking place in the US shows that some people have forgotten the art of discussion in respect for the opposing position.

I see that behaviour even in the Anglican Catholic Church. I was deeply offended by the picture in one of our papers of two children holding a banner saying "Abortion kills children". I was offended because it made no mention of mothers, that children were being involved in a largely political protest, and that they were also engaged in that shrill mike-dropping put-downs which demonise others and shut out debate. Of course, I am pro-life and deeply committed to the protection of unborn babies and their mothers, but I seek to find ways of preventing the need for abortion from arising in the first place, not by demonising the vulnerable. Yes I was offended, even by my own church, but I love my church and think that the whole business of offence lies in Satan's desire to keep people separated so that the spread of God's love and grace can be stymied.

The Lie that Offence engenders is that the opposing voice is so demonic that it should not be heard. There is some truth in that: Our Lord shut the mouths of demons. So did St Paul for that matter. There are some truly offensive ideas out there, but the only way that the universality of that offense can be revealed is for it to be heard in full, its motives exposed, its ramifications probed. Yet, if the account of Job is to teach us anything, even Satan gets to have his say in God's Heavenly court.

We need to be charitable with our opponents and remember that Love does not insist on its own way. Our goal is to live in Truth AND Love. The two cannot be separated. When we engage with our opponent, we must see another human being: in fact, Our Lord would have us see our own sibling, or parent, or child in the person of our opponent.

When we are offended, we must check our pride first and see that we are not holding on to something in preference to God Himself. We need to be able to look into the eyes of our opponents and recognise not only ourselves within them, but also Our Lord Jesus Christ. Our words can be hard or cutting at times, especially when we are using the truth, but if we are working in God's love then this cutting will be seen as a way to grow further into God Himself. Let us stop burning bridges and build them to be stronger instead so that traffic can pass from side to side and thus draw us closer.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Trumping Clinton

I have no say in the U.S. Election and, given the sad spectre of Brexit in this country, I have had my share in the experience of voting for two wrong answers. The Americans have had the same problem, and the holes in the Democratic processes in both countries have become very obvious. Unlike Fr Chadwick, I do not believe that I could have voted even if I possessed the right to do so, though I applaud my confrere's ability to be able to express a coherent opinion on the matter. Perhaps I might have gone for a third party, but I know too little of them. In conscience, I could not have voted for either candidate. Perhaps that makes me a coward, but I simply could not vote for candidates whom I believe to be inappropriately chosen.

How this will affect the world is yet to be seen. However, we must remember that God sets people in authority, even the most unsuitable, in order to effect His will in the world to the eventual destruction of evil and the salvation of souls. Sometimes, we need to experience exactly how bad things can get in order to realise how far gone we are from God and thus return. We are all prodigal sons and need to become aware of our own depravity before we truly know how to repent.

Now we have Donald Trump as president of the United States, and we have a UK that is committed to leaving the European Union. These may be the beginning of our realisation of how far we fall, or they can be the active instruments for our return to God. Either way, we have lessons here that we can and must learn in order to work out our salvation in God through the movement of the Holy Ghost within us.

The two candidates have demonstrated very troubling attitudes to the human race which reflect well our own secret thoughts. I could not vote for Mrs Clinton because of her liberal views which essentially allow the Human Will to triumph over the bounds of Common Sense, and to exceed the limits of its remit. Her support of Abortion, curtailing of religious liberties, and the right of a human being to define their own gender, fly in the face of what is real and obvious: that mother and baby each have their own separate existences as living human beings; that the U.S Constitution is built on religious liberty and should thus work for cooperation of different religions, even if they are mutually antithetic, rather than override the consciences of individuals; that the vast majority of human beings are either male or female with only a few that are biologically intersex.

I could not vote for Mr Trump because of his dismissal of the sick, poor, and destitute, his raising of barriers to refugees, and his obscene attitude towards women. These, in my mind, are offences against the nature of charity, and thus just as bad as Mrs Clinton's policies. Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump, in my uneducated opinion, represent the opposite extremes of the spectrum, the acceptability of those extremes is yet to be realised. Both are equally intolerant of that which they oppose.

I say this knowing that I am not a political expert: indeed, I deny that I am a political animal, seeking rather to find ways of living under authorities that get set over me. It is possible that the only way of truly living under an authority stands as a subversion to that authority. Our Lord showed us that this was very possible.

I pray for Mr Trump in his success, for Mrs Clinton's next step, and I pray for the sovereign rule of God to be more apparent in the world. Let us all pray for the Holy Ghost not just to dwell within us, but to burn and shine more fiercely that the Kingdom of God may influence the nations to their salvation.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Humility in the tenth degree

The tenth degree of humility is that he be not ready and quick to laugh, for it is written, The fool lifts up his voice in laughter.
Whose side would Holy Father Benedict be on? William of Baskerville or the Venerable Yorge?

The question that St Benedict would want us to answer is, what purpose does laughter hold in the community? How does it build it up, edify it, bring it closer to God?

The fact of the matter, as St Paul would concur is that the Human soul is meant to rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! It's difficult to imagine joy without a smile, without laughter.  But there is another laughter too, and this is more sinister.

A joke is that which everyone who hears it would find funny. To be the butt of a joke renders the joke meaningless, not only idle but destructive. Is is funny to tease a foolish monk for being afraid of a mouse? If the murophobic monastic sees the occurrence as funny and his colleagues honestly love him, then laughter is probably the appropriate response. However, if anyone think less of the monk because of his fear of mice, love is lost, and the humour is inappropriate.

Often we tell jokes at others' expense or, by our silence, we tacitly allow such unkind humour to propagate. This is the sort of laughter that St Benedict wants stamped out, and why he is so forcefully succinct in saying so. Derogatory laughter may puncture the balloon of the proud, but to take it upon ourselves to be that drawing-pin is an act of prideful presumption and thus completely contrary to the whole business of Humility.

Love will seek to ensure that others can live with joy in their hearts. This is not something that can arise easily, but must be worked at carefully and in the fear of the Love of God. The fool certainly lifts up his voice in laughter indifferent to the cost it has for others. Yet, for fear of false inference in Holy Scripture, the wise also can lift up his voice in laughter but only in situations which true wisdom discerns to be worth laughing at. Love is the key in this discernment. It will ensure that laughter has its proper place and is controlled.

In our practice of Humility, we must look carefully at the things we find funny. If they are at another's expense, we must consider seriously whether they are willing and indeed able to meet that expense. Most of the time, they cannot. In these situations, silence is best, and the humour re-educated in the Love of God. Love breeds true joy for everyone, not sorrow for a few.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Humility in the ninth degree

The ninth degree of humility is that a monk restrain his tongue and keep silence, not speaking until he is questioned. For the Scripture shows that in much speaking there is no escape from sin and that the talkative man is not stable on the earth.
It would seem that St Benedict is so severe here, yet the question raises itself: if everyone keeps silence, then how can anyone ask a question of another? Is St Benedict be entirely serious here, or is he employing the same literary device as His master who said, "if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out"? St Benedict has the words of St James ringing in his ears:
...the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things . Behold , how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed , and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame ; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
However, surely talking is a basic means of communicating with each other. How can we offer the words "I love you" to our neighbour, or to God for that matter, without uttering those immortal words? Actually, this is the challenge that Humility throws down at us. Rather than pay-lip service, should we not actually live out our "I love you"s with sincerity and authenticity. St Benedict challenges us to guard our very words, preferring even silence to good words, because the words of true love are ultimately inexpressible.

The first Word, the Divine Logos is only uttered by God Himself in an act of pure love. This is the Eternal Begetting of the Son in which both Father and Son precisely gain their identities as Father and Son. This is wholly inexpressible in Human terms. We must pass over in silence and stand in fear and trembling before God.

The thing to note is that the magnificent presence of God is stupefying and stultifying: thought and intellect are lost, Reason loses its power, Understanding its grasp; what is left can only be Faith, Hope and Love. This is where the Christian is to live and the challenge that Humility gives us. We must prefer our actions to speak louder than our words. There is no room for disingenuous lip-service with God, nor even with our brothers. The language of True Love must be learned in silence.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Lie of Death

I hope that in my previous post, I made clear something that I believe about the passage from this life to the next: I believe in a form of Purgatory, but not really one that might be understood by Roman Doctrine. It's not a definition that I can pin down at all: Death is still a mystery to everyone except the departed, and any statements about what may happen afterwards must be questions of faith. One can understand how it can be a source of controversy both within Christianity and without.

Today is All Souls' Day in which we set time aside to pray for the dead. The Benedictine Offices are those of the Dead; Glorias are omitted; and everything concentrates on the words of Holy Scripture about this mystery. The first Nocturn consists of the words of Job, lamenting the frailty of this life and the certainty of death. The second Nocturn consists of words of St Augustine of Hippo on the fitness of praying for the dead. The third Nocturn comes from St Paul who describes the futility of being Christian if there is no resurrection from the dead.

For us who are still alive, the Mystery of Death only has the certainty of bereavement, the nature of mourning, the horror of decay. In a secular world, Death is something to run away from, to stave off as long as possible. We seek anti-aging creams and cosmetic surgery; we try to prop up that which sags, medicate to prolong life, replace faulty parts with varying degrees of success. In the UK, the old are hidden away from society in homes which do not always give them the care that they need. Death is the subject of many horror films (indeed Death is the central villain in the Final Destination series) and the fear of a life cut short affects many of us.

The Exixtentialist can only focus on the now and the absurdity of a life that will end while trying to create her own meaning of life. Such a meaning can only be arbitrary and solipsist: there is no objective meaning, no objective good and thus no good at all. In an existentialist reality, Adolph Hitler is no more or less moral than the Dalai Lama or David Cameron. All it takes is for one person to say that Hitler had sound morals and that opinion is just as valid as the one who says that Hitler was a moral monster. One subscribes to one's own moral code, but it is no more or less valid than another's. If this life is all there is, then this is all we have. Death renders all opinions irrelevant.

One thing that many people don't quite get right is the notion of the soul. Too many people go to Aristotle, or to Plato to think that a soul is independent of our physical body. We still say "body and soul" as if to render them as antitheses. The writer I will call Pseudo-C.S. Lewis put it nicely when he said, "You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." The Greek word psuche when we get psychology and psychic is being used to translate the Hebrew nephesh which really means life. Even then, when we think of life we think of the period in which we are not dead. Yet, we can still say things about dead people and refer back to their lives. We can think of the Adolph Hitler and C.S. Lewis and imagine what they would be saying or doing. While we can still do that of fictional characters, people who have existed still possess some life even after they are dead. This life comes mainly from the vivid memories that the have left behind.

The soul is more than our life on this planet. Our soul is immortal because we exist in the mind of God and God is Eternal. Our death is the end of our physical life, yet our existence is still there in Time: we just don't have the means to go back and observe it. Our Soul is us independent of Time.

This is why we should fear the second Death, for this is the Death of the Soul. It is the cutting off of of the soul from the Life given by God. It is a petrifying of existence in the Hell of our own making, stuck in the darkness perpetually able to see those in the freedom of life with God and yet unable to interact; cold from being frozen into inactivity, yet burning with hunger to exist but on one's own terms. The Second Death is both a lake of ice and fire.

Our souls pass from this world, but although we may not live and breathe, there is still a thing called "us". If Our Lord is to be believed, then this life just isn't life - it is only a half life. My soul is the totality of my life. I mentioned yesterday the Saints being pulled out from Time into Eternity. This new life is the soul: it exists timelessly and, through the Incarnation of Our Lord, in the glorious presence of God.

The Lie of Death is that it is the literal end-all of our existence. Too often, we live life as if death were the end. This is how Hitler believed he could escape judgment, by ending his life. Likewise, Judas.

Prayer for the dead then becomes an affirmation of the continued existence of life after the death of the body. No, we cannot be complete without the body, for we are indeed corporeal beings. Nor should we be afraid of the notion that our minds are linked with our brains. Our God holds our souls precious in His sight. The ministry of the Lord is clear: we are to be moral beings not for the good of society, but rather to fit us for Heaven. Our morality ultimately benefits our society, but that's not why we should be moral: we are to be moral because God is. Any human being can be good, but many are good in order to benefit from a mortal society which will look after them if they contribute. The Christian is called to be Good to be like God, for God is Love and we are to Love Him with all our soul and our neighbours as ourselves.

In praying for the dead, we do something scandalous. We are saying that we don't belong in a society which, though potentially good, will end in Death. We are declaring that we are still in solidarity with the dead, that we still care, and love them, that they are part of our greater society long after their bones have turned to dust and blown away to oblivion. We are declaring that what many perceive as Death is a release into the Freedom of Eternity of God. This means renunciation of sin, the world, the Devil, and the Lie that Death is the end.

I offered the Sacrifice of the Mass today for each and every soul, particularly remembering the souls of those dear to me and dear to my parish. I felt an intense sense of oneness with them, knowing that they are "out there, somewhere". I pray for them at their Purgatory and stand with them. I trust that they will do the same for me. We are in this together: even Death will not part us. May we all find that wonderful life beyond this existence in Our Lord and Saviour.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Humility in the eighth degree

The eighth degree of humility is that a monk do nothing except what is commended by the common Rule of the monastery and the example of the elders.
The eighth step is brief, but no less profound. We have already seen that if we want to walk with God, then we cannot walk our own way, unless our wills be perfectly aligned to God's. St Benedict points out that his Rule is for beginners, not for the adept. If our wills are perfectly aligned to God's, then we have no need of Rule, or even of Holy Scripture itself because we are already united with the Divine.

This is true for the saints, but even then the Rule is so deeply embedded in their hearts that they have no need to refer to text. We are saints in the making and thus we still need perfection. The Rule is there for us to pull us back when we stray. It is rooted in Holy Scripture so that it keeps us on the path of Salvation, guiding us and correcting us when we stray as long as we submit ourselves to its authority. The saints are our examples, our lights pointing out the way in the darkness.

Our perfection is the acquisition of Love; Love etches the Will of God into our hearts to render the Rule and Scripture part of us rather than texts to memorise, scrutinise, and study.