Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Blogday 2016: Changing and the changeless

I suspect one thing that puts people off public transport is the frequent need to change and make a connection. If you have your own car, this is not something that will affect you greatly, though you’ll have your own set of problems.

However, for those of us who rely on public transport, there is always the worry that you’ll make the right connection at the right time and in the right place. Until it’s time for that change, you can at least relax and enjoy the view.

When it comes to make the change, you then have to grab your bags, make sure that you haven’t left your phone charger in the socket, join the exodus onto the platform and, in the midst of all this confusion, seek to make your way to where you should be. This is not an easy job – in fact, if you don’t know where you are, it can be quite terrifying. The great fear is that we find ourselves on the wrong train to the wrong destination hundreds of miles from where we should be. We have a fear of getting irretrievably lost from the familiar path and from the place where we know we should be.

2016 has been a year in which many of us have had to change trains in their lives. This is so true for me. I am now preparing for a move North. I have left my parish in Rochester with heavy heart and fond memories. I leave my family and my old community behind to embrace the unfamiliar; my poor wife is in the same situation. I have left my teaching job in the South East and prepare to engage in a new job with a new boss who is very demanding, but a sheer delight to work for. I face the prospect of finding a new home, a new community, and the uphill struggle of building God’s Church on bare earth.

I truly envy the Franciscan way of life which is rooted on the idea that we are all on a journey and that we must disengage with things in order to engage with God. The same idea is true in Benedictine Spirituality, yet the notion of stability to the community usually leads to a more static location, unlike the mendicant Franciscan friars. For St Benedict, possessions are for the community, not for the individual, and the abbot must be in sole charge of things. For the Franciscan, possessions are fleeting things that come and go, and we may not cling on to them. The Benedictine seeks to put down roots, the Franciscan seeks to allow God to blow her where He wills. Both are valid spiritualities beloved by God. Both challenge the materialist view of the world. Both call people back to God, accommodating different personalities.

We see the world in a state of political flux. There has been a shift to the right further than we are perhaps comfortable with, yet we knew that there was a growing undercurrent of discontent, and political ideologies always change. We have lost a large host of treasured celebrities despite knowing that Death is certain for us all. Without their passing, Art and Entertainment cannot receive a charge of the new, even if the new is discomforting and takes some getting used to.

Yet, we know that change for the sake of change is not all it’s cracked up to be. The Christian Faith does not change because all Humanity, past, present and future needs the same Salvation through the same Saviour. Thus our rule for believing cannot change – the Nicene Creed cannot be altered. This is why we should drop thefilioque, not because it’s necessarily incorrect, but because it has not been sanctioned by the Church Catholic. This staff of changelessness, this Rock of our relationship with God, remains immutable through Time and gives us something to cling to when the Winds of Change blow roughly in our lives and in the whole world.

2017 is a time in which those winds will blow hard. They will blow hard for me in my new life. They will blow hard over the great political ocean as the storm rages for control of mankind. We must see ourselves both as fleeting creatures and as possessors of Eternity. We can dare to do this as Our Lord Jesus has given us the pattern for doing so. With His Divine and Human natures inseparably entwined in His substance as God, He shows us that our fleeting lives can hold Eternity tightly. The Church is there to care for Humanity passing through Life. It is a hospital for the souls that are dashed upon the crags of sin; it is a rock on which the uncertain can cling knowing that this Faith has not changed in the history of Mankind; it is a safehouse through which one can view the turbulence of Life; it provides the sustenance of Grace that the journey needs to continue on to its very end.

In times of our upheaval, we must look carefully to ensure that the fear of the unknown does not erode our faith that all of what happens to us in our lives – happy, sad, boring, exciting, terrifying, miserable and ecstatic – become part of our souls and present to God in His Eternity. There is nothing in this life that can separate us from His love. Even the most excruciating torture will end and pass into nothingness: Love can, and indeed, lasts beyond Time. This is why we cannot allow our lives to be defined by things temporal. If all we know is misery in life, why should we allow ourselves to be defined by that misery and let Misery win? Rather, should we not learn to rise above it by seeking that Joy which lies beyond and yet breaks though into this World to announce His Existence?

I pray that the vicissitudes of 2017 will rather edify and strengthen my dear readers in the Hope of Christ. Do please pray for me in my “interesting times” as somehow I’m going to have to practise what I preach! 

1 comment:

Fr Anthony said...

Dear Father,

Please be assured of my prayers. I too face changes and vicissitudes. Stage 1 is seeing my family in just over a week's time. My vision of the hermitage is constant and draws me. Barring unforeseen things, I even seem to have the house itself staring me in the face, the appointment of the chapel, where I will sleep and everything else. There is work to do on the plumbing, electricity and sanitation. The house will be called “Little Rievaulx” and the chapel will be dedicated to St Aelred.

I think you will find a good welcome up North. I am northern but culturally southern and pan-European, but I appreciate honesty and blunt language.

2017 is going to challenge us all, and I too observe the changes in the world from globalism to nationalism. I won’t be without difficulty even in the far reaches of western Brittany. There will be little support or “ghostly counsel”, but I have been on my own for years in spiritual terms. The Rule of St Benedict will be my lifeline.

The most important thing for you and your family is stability – material and financial. With your home, you will be able to dig in and withstand anything. I will bring you an altar in spring for your chapel. I may have other things as I downsize many of my present things. Be assured of the love and support of a brother priest.