Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The End of Dives and Lazarus

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity

Usually, I concentrate my sermon on the Commemoration of the Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi. However, this does mean that I seldom get to preach on one of Our Lord’s most famous, and disturbing parables.

The sad fact of the matter is that many of the beggars on our streets today simply aren’t beggars. There seems to be a group of people who have realised that just by dressing shabbily and making oneself dirty and dishevelled, they can make £500 a day literally by asking people for money. The generous soul seeing the apparently starving creature will naturally open her purse and ensure that she gives enough, not just for a cup of tea, but also perhaps for a sandwich as well. At the end of the day, this “beggar” will wash his face, get into a car and speed off to a nice flat.

This poses us with a bit of a dilemma.

Our Lord bids us to give to whoever asks of us. Yet, most of us would recoil at funding another person’s life of luxury. What should we do? Should we give, or should we ignore the beggar at the gate?

[PAUSE]

The parable of Dives and Lazarus is unsettling as it appears that if we live comfortably now, we shall be tormented for eternity in Hell. Is this correct, is comfortable living something to be rejected in order to save our souls? We do have to be careful here, or we will fall into Pelagianism. We enter into Eternal Life by responding to God’s grace which He offers us first and freely, depending on His goodness and not by any effort on our own part. We cannot earn our way into Heaven just by being nice to beggars.

Remember that St Paul says that we can give up everything we own but if we have not Charity, this will do us nothing.

This parable is not about what we do, but rather about the attitudes that we have with regard to people and things. Look at the Rich Man whom Tradition has named Dives. What does he really value? Clearly, he values his things over the life of a poor beggar sitting in agonised penury on his doorstep. Even in his state in Hell, he refuses to see this poor man as anything other than a means to an end. This is the typical inhabitant of Hell, one who sees true humanity only in themselves and who exists as emperor over a tiny land of things that pass away.

Humanity is destined never to pass away but has an Eternal future: Eternal life with Christ in God, or Eternal Death separated from anything that expresses true love. Every single human being is an end in themselves. God is the only true End. He is in the beginning, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, He is now and ever shall be.

In this life, each one of us is a beggar, seeking for what will make us truly alive, truly ourselves, and truly happy. It is when we recognise the deficiency of things, of “fine” living, riches and slothful luxury, that we know that we are in need of the One to rescue us from this Hell of things that rot, fall to pieces and cloy. In order to find Heaven, we must become poor by realising that the riches of this world are only worth anything if they actually bring someone closer to God. Even then these riches will rust, or get stolen.

[PAUSE]

Should we then give to beggars?

If we truly seek the humanity that is within a beggar, then we will always look for that which will express the true charity that comes from God. It is better, then, to do something that will allow each individual to be raised up out of the gutter as people in their own right, to get them back on their feet rather than seek contentment in their condition. It is better to give to charities that support the homeless or, better yet, find ways of being part of charities that support the homeless. That way, those in true need will find the true hand of friendship offered to them, and those who seek to exploit the condition of the homeless deprived of that which will only make them fall further.

Yet further, we must also find a way to help bring the false beggar to salvation, for it is such a one as he who, despite his apparent poverty, is as much Hell-bound as Dives because he cannot see that he is treating others as a means to an end rather than as children of God. How can we bring Christ’s salvation to one as truly poor as Dives?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Dividing by Infinity

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi

As Anglican Catholics, we are bound to believe that what we receive in the Mass really is the true Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. So when you come forward to receive the sacrament today, which bit of the Body of Christ will you get?

Since the Body of Christ has been broken for us, which bit do we get?  Surely it must be absolutely tiny, or was Our Lord the size of a planet for His body to be broken into enough pieces for all Christians in history to receive Him?

Ah, but you already know how to answer this objection, don't you?

[PAUSE]

In your heads right now is the Lord's miracle of the loaves and fishes. You know full well that the Lord can feed multitudes with apparently meagre resources and have much left over. This miracle is repeated in the Mass as it always has been. We receive the Body of Christ which is utterly inexhaustible.

But do we know which bit of the Body we get?

When we divide things, they tend to get smaller as we break them into bits. As we have seen, this doesn't happen in the miracle we receive. It must be that each of us receives the WHOLE Body of Christ. And that just seems ridiculous. If there is only One Lord Jesus Christ, how can we each receive Him?

[PAUSE]

Recall that the Lord's Resurrection Body defies physics. It walks through walls, appears in crowded rooms, disappears in front of people. Yet, He is always recognisable. You cannot mistake Him, just as those on the road to Emmaus recognised Him in the breaking of bread.

Mathematically, it is perfectly possible to divide an object up to make two copies which are the same size as the original. Yet Our Lord goes beyond this. We are not even given copies of His Body. We are given His body - His one body, in one perfect sacrifice. It defies our understanding and common sense, yet our faith tells us it is so. Our minds tell us only that it is reasonable.

Yet further, this one Body of Christ that each of us receives actively unites us in Him. Although the Church may be divided, yet in this Holy Mass, we are all united with each and every single Catholic. It is not Our Lord Who divides Himself, He unites us and brings us together as one human being in a multiplicity of persons. It is not God who is changed: it's us! God transforms us that we might be one in Him.

Our Lord still does work glorious, transforming miracles for His church, and that means He works glorious, transforming miracles on us too, if we let Him. It is a work in progress but will ultimately lead us to the banquet in Heaven - the same banquet as we receive now here on Earth.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Augustine, Anglicanism and the Body of Christ

This year the Feast of St Augustine gives way to the Feast of Corpus Christi as is proper. Any Saint willingly gives place to the Lord, decreasing so He may increase. Yet it is still difficult for us English folk to put St Augustine away just like that. We have here a monk, nay an abbot, who, at the orders of Pope Gregory, is assigned the task of converting the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

The fact that many people miss is that Christianity has been in Great Britain since the Roman occupation under Claudius. There were British Bishops at the Council of Arles; the heretic Pelagius was a British priest with a wrong view about our part in our own salvation; St Alban was the first British Christian martyr: all pre-date St Augustine’s arrival in the sixth century by two to three hundred years.

Under St Augustine, influential British kings become Christian, and dialogue begins between the Celtic Christians, who have largely been abandoned by the Roman Empire, and the Patriarchy of the Pope. It is at the Synod of Whitby some fifty years after St Augustine that the Western dating of Easter is accepted by the English Church and that monasticism is given greater consistency. Not until the Norman Conquest do the British Isles become truly Roman Catholic.

St Augustine is the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and he can rightly be thought of as an Anglican Catholic, sent to ensure that the Angles and the Celts are put in harmony. He does not seek to put down the one at the expense of the other. The Pope has primacy, but not supremacy. St Augustine himself is consecrated Archbishop by Aetherius of Arles, according to St Bede.

It is in his conversations with Pope Gregory that the seeds of Anglican practice are sown. Clerks can marry. With regard to Liturgy, Bede reports the following interchange:

St Augustine asks: Whereas the faith is one and the same, why are there different customs in different churches? and why is one custom of masses observed in the holy Roman church, and another in the Gailican church?
Pope St Gregory answers: You know, my brother, the custom of the Roman church in which you remember you were bred up. But it pleases me, that if you have found anything, either in the Roman, or the Gallican, or any other church, which may be more acceptable to Almighty God, you carefully make choice of the same, and sedulously teach the church of the English, which as yet is new ln the faith, whatsoever you can gather from the several churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. Choose, therefore, from every church those things that are pious, religious, and upright, and when you have, as it were, made them up into one body, let the minds of the English be accustomed thereto.

With regard to Bishops, we have:

St Augustine asks- may a bishop be ordained without other bishops being present, in case there be so great a distance between them, that they cannot easily come together?
Pope St Gregory answers. - As for the church of England, in which you are as yet the only bishop, you can no otherwise ordain a bishop than in the absence of other bishops; unless some bishops should come over from Gaul, that they may be present as witnesses to you in ordaining a bishop. But we would have you, my brother, to ordain bishops in such a manner, that the said bishops may not be far asunder, that when a new bishop is to he ordained, there be no difficulty, but that other bishops, and pastors also, whose presence is necessary, may easily come together. Thus, when, by the help of God, bishops shall be so constituted in places everywhere near to one another, no ordination of a bishop is to be performed without assembling three or four bishops. For, even in spiritual affairs, we may take example by the temporal, that they may he wisely and discreetly conducted. It is certain, that when marriages are celebrated in the world, some married persons are assembled, that those who went before in the way of matrimony, may also partake in the joy of the succeeding couple. Why, then, at this spiritual ordination, wherein, by means of the sacred ministry, man is joined to God, should not such persons be assembled, as may either rejoice in the advancement of the new bishop, or jointly pour forth their prayers to Almighty God for his preservation?

We see here the teaching that only one bishop is needed for the consecration of another to be valid, the others serve as witnesses to the fact and represent the consent of the Catholic Church. Pope Gregory is clear in setting out that in grave cases of absences of Catholic Bishops, a bishop consecrated by fewer than three bishops is truly a Catholic bishop.

What we are witnessing here is the integration of the Body of Christ. That there is an order and a principle and a desire for harmony of Englishness and Catholicism. In St Augustine, Anglican Catholicism takes fruit and grows within Christ Himself.

Until the last few decades, the U.K. has been regarded as a pious nation, fearing God, and recognising that being Christian is inherently British. The Established Church, when it was Catholic, showed how a Catholic Mass could be said in English. It held to a Benedictine rule of life remnants of which can still be seen in the old school system, universities, and hospitals. This Rule was brought by St Augustine himself and can still be seen in the Book of Common Prayer.

At the centre of it all is this principle that English Spirituality is brought into unity with other local Christian spirituality in the Body of Christ. All the established rites whether they be Roman, Gallican, Glagolitic, Slavonic, or English, are properly Catholic and Christ is manifested in them. In them is the same sacrament, the same Real Presence in the host, the same Holy Trinity to be worshipped and adored.

This is where the Anglican Catholic Church comes from. It is a branch, and I, like Fr Nalls, believe in the Branch Theory insofar as our Church exists as a properly Catholic expression of the Historical Christian Faith as once delivered to the saints. There are those who would question our orders, yet we apply the same principles as St Augustine of Canterbury is given by Pope St Gregory. We are no less an expression of the Catholic Church than any other.

We may be tiny, but so was St Augustine’s mission in a land of Arians and Pelagians. If we are to grow, then we must ourselves be devoted to the Body of Christ, deepening our personal spirituality under the discipline of the Catholic Faith. We must be principled, and our principles must begin with love for God and then with neighbour. We must seek consistency, even as St Augustine sought consistency with the indigenous Church that he found when he set foot on English Soil. We must be persistent, knowing that we have many precedents as to how the humble heart and fervent soul can influence nations. And we must continue receiving the grace of God in the sacraments knowing that this very grace draws all things into Heaven itself.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What God is this?

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

You may remember that, as Catholics, we subscribe to three creeds. We're used to the Nicene Creed and, when we got to Mattins or Evensong, we often say the Apostles' Creed. Today though, and on other special days, we say the Quicunque Vult -  the Athanasian Creed. It's attributed to St Athanasius who fought against heresy in the 4th Century, though it may be better ascribed to St Ambrose. St Athanasius is quite a severe and aggressive saint, particularly when it comes to heresy. However, he's not the only one. St Nicholas of Myra, yes Santa Claus, is reputed to have punched the heretic Arius in the face because he believed that Jesus was created.

Surely it's not right to come to blows over something and complicated and hard to understand as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, is it? Is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity really worth condemning people as heretics?

[PAUSE]

The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity is vitally important. Remember the first of the ten commandments. "Thou shalt have none other gods but me." We need to worship God first and foremost if we are ever to be reunited with Him, but we need to be clear on who He is. This isn't easy because we can't know God - He's always beyond Human thinking. This is why He reveals Himself to us in the Holy Scriptures. It's to make sure that we are truly worshipping the correct God. 

Lots of people believe in gods who created the world, but none of them are like the God Who really did. How do we know which God created the world, and how do we know that He isn't Odin or Chronos, or Vishnu? The fact of the matter is that Christianity is unique in that we have a historical record of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection. We have the record of His claims to be the Son of God. We have the record of His miracles which accompany His preaching and teaching. We have the testimony of 400 people who see Him alive after His crucifixion. And we have His promise of the Holy Ghost. 

This is the truth about God. There can only be one God, yet He is God in three persons. This is difficult to understand, yet it is true. Anyone who denies the truth of the Holy Trinity is a heretic. This is a strong word but the word heretic means one who has made a choice. This is the key thing. The god of a heretic is a god that has been chosen by a human being. But there is only one God, and if we do not worship Him, then we worship a false god and so we commit idolatry. The heretic makes an idol of his own choices. 

[PAUSE]

St Nicholas strikes Arius because he believes he needs to stop Arius' heresy. But Arius' heresy never really goes away. Too many people believe that Jesus was just a good man. If this were true then,miracles aside, this good man would also have been a raving lunatic babbling about being the bread of life, about being the true vine, about being the son of God. Arianism is responsible for many people falling away from the faith and endangering their salvation. St Nicholas reacts violently to that.

Should we do the same?

Perhaps we should not be so violent. We do need to remember that we do not see into the hearts of men. We cannot suspend the second commandment of loving our neighbour as ourselves just to defend a truth. To hate a person because they do not believe rightly about the Holy Trinity is also a heresy. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity is about incomprehensible relationships which are expressed through Love. 

We do need to stand up and declare our faith well and passionately. In this age when Churches are falling apart because of heresy, it is more and more important for us to keep hold of the Catholic Faith. This is not an intellectual faith, but a faith in which we live out our doctrine. We believe in God Incomprehensible, this means we need to be patient with those who get it wrong because we can't have it right either otherwise we comprehend God. Nor should we label persons as heretics as this will only lead us on the path to demonising them. We should pray hard for a change in their minds, but we must also pray for our transformation too so that we approach the Truth more closely from our own fallible and incomplete understanding. Above all we should pray for greater love in our hearts for all human beings, irrespective of whether they believe rightly or not.

Our God is real and above all earthly thought. The Doctrine of the Trinity is the route to Him and the means of our salvation. It is not to be understood, it is to be lived and loved. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Playing the blame game

It’s interesting that, when something goes wrong, we look for something or someone to blame. Who put an empty milk bottle back in the fridge? Whose fault is it that there is a hole in the road? Why have I not been paid yet? Whose fault is it that I’ve lost my job? Who is responsible for this terrorist attack?

What’s the real purpose of blame?

Ideally, the original purpose of blame is to prevent mistakes from recurring. If you find out that Tom put the empty milk bottle back in the fridge, then you can find a way to ask him not to do that in future. Do that the right way, and Tom remembers and is happy to oblige. Or, knowing that Tom is a bit forgetful, the fact that empty milk bottles appear in the fridge becomes an acceptable happening – something forgivable, perhaps even loveable because it’s just the way that Tom is.

The trouble is that human beings take blame a little further. Blame becomes an excuse to regard another with suspicion, disdain, or even hatred. Taxes have gone up again – blame the government! The doctors are on strike – blame Jeremy Hunt! If we live lives too simplistically, we fail to see that there are valid economic reasons for raising taxes, or that there may be good reasons for the new Junior Doctors’ contract. We may fundamentally oppose those reasons but, if we’ve considered them carefully, then we can at least appreciate that they have come from the reasoning of other human beings. If the Law is wrong, we should oppose it. An incompetent Lawmaker should be removed from office, but not hated for what they have done.

This is the problem. We can turn blame into hate so easily because we identify what we perceive to be error with the person who committed it. This is such a subtly automatic thing in society that we miss that we are doing it. At the present time, our actions become part of who we are. We’re told, “hate the sin but not the sinner,” but we this is getting far too difficult to do because somehow we have become very adept at trying to read another’s intentions after the deed has been committed.

Often too, we try to justify our mistakes after the fact even if this justification doesn’t match up with the intention we had when we made the mistake. Tom may have put the empty milk bottle back in the fridge simply by absentmindedness yet, when confronted, he might say that he deliberately put the milk bottle back into the fridge because there was nowhere else to put it. A lame excuse perhaps, but it does tempt us to question Tom’s intentions and thus his character.

Can we really separate our actions from our very selves? St Paul says that we can. “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” The flaw is in our own selves which we have by virtue of being human and having free-will. God has limited Himself so that we can have space to be ourselves. Thus there is room for error and sin. With Our Lord Jesus Christ being the way to union with God, we can choose to repent and thereby disassociate ourselves with our sin.

If we try to justify our sin, then we go against God. We take up our own definition of right and wrong over and against the One Who defines right and wrong just by existing. If we accept that we have erred and strayed, then we disassociate ourselves from sin, and thus due to God’s love first and foremost of all, we do not allow our actions to dictate who we really are. We are given the grace of God with which to wash ourselves and clothe ourselves in the wedding garment that we all must wear at the wedding feast of the lamb.

This is how we begin to forgive others. Blame tempts us to identify the actions of others with that person. Forgiveness begins with the intention to separate the act from the agent. We separate Tom from his milk-bottle, we separate Jeremy from Junior Doctors’ contracts, we separate Hilary from Benghazi, we separate Hitler from the Holocaust.

Yes. That’s the scandal. That’s why forgiveness is tough, even offensive in the extreme. Notice that forgiveness does not actually deny the act happened. That would be just plain silly. Actions have consequences: the worse the act, the more difficult it is to see the human who committed the error and who needs to own that error. Forgiveness does not rule out due punishment nor correction. It does however rule out the degradation of the individual as a human being.

Human beings have no right to degrade another, for to do so is to claim an authority that we do not possess, namely that another person can cease to be a human being. That right belongs only to the Creator Who has every right to use us as He will and yet chooses to allow us some stewardship and pleasure in what He has created. Just as a man can call himself a woman, so we can call a foot-ball hooligan an animal, but neither are true.

We do have the right to correct and punish those who do wrong, but true forgiveness prevents “wrong-do-ers” from becoming “wrong-be-ers”. In our justice, there must always, always, always be room for mercy because that’s how God works and wants us to work. Mercy prevents Justice from becoming smug and self-satisfied. God may laugh to scorn the heathen who take counsel against the Lord and His anointed, but the laughter is at the sheer folly of their actions. He will still desire that they turn from their wickedness and live. His great forgiveness separates them from their actions. Until they do the same and recognise His authority, they only continue to identify themselves with sin and thus continue in their separation from God.

Blame needs to be used correctly and gently if it is to fulfil its objective of preventing the recurrence of error and the proliferation of sin. If we honestly cannot live with Tom’s empty milk bottle in the fridge, then we need to find a way of encouraging him to stop.

Or perhaps, we might realise that our insistence that the fridge should be free from empty milk-bottles is not the big deal that we make it. Let us pray for the grace to separate sin from sinner, no matter how great the sin may be and the strength to bear the consequences, trusting in the infinite capacity of God to sort out all the mess.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Oh no! Not another comforter!

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Feast of Whitsunday

Are you out of your comfort zone? These days we are told that it is good to come out from our comfort zone occasionally in order to experience new things in life. By this we usually mean the way we usually live our lives without too much worry or stress.

Our Lord promises to each of His disciples a cross. That's about as far from comfortable as we can get. Has God got a vendetta against comfy sofas?

The word "comfort" literally means to come with strength. An army captain was once said to "comfort his men" by running after them with a large spear! That doesn't sound much of we understand by comfort. What possible connection can there be between the comfy sofa and the maniac captain?

[PAUSE ]

In order to feel comfortable, we need to be secure, confident that we can handle the situation. We are prepared, and can foresee no surprises. With an army captain bringing up the rear, he is expressing confidence in his men. His actions are a shout of "we can win this battle!" He's not attacking his men; he is reminding them that they can fight, that they can be strong, that they can win!

Our Lord has acted as comforter to His disciples. He has taught them that their sins can be forgiven, that they can be with God, that they can be saved. Then, like the captain, He shows them by completing the covenant between God and Man.

Now He ascends so that He can draw men to heaven. The trouble is that we lose heart. We get distracted. We forget what Jesus looks like.

We forget our own salvation!

What do we do?

[PAUSE ]

We come out of our comfort zone.

Our Lord says that He sends  the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

Many people are too comfortable in the world that they forget God. They settle for what they see and then wonder why they can find no peace. The Christian cannot find peace in this world and needs another comforter in order to find the true peace of mind. This is the Holy Spirit Who proceeds from the Father through the Son.

If we forget God, if we forget His Commandments, if we prefer the World to Him, then we cannot love Him, and we cannot receive the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Ghost who brings true strength, confidence, and comfort.

Our Lord says:
The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

The Holy Ghost will remind us of God, will teach us of God, will tell us again of God's live for us.

In order for Him to do that, we must love God first and foremost. We must not make the world our comfort zone, but take heart that our Comforter is always with us. We must look through this world to God beyond, and see Him in others.

Let us pray anew for the Holy Ghost to transform our lives and our vision so that we may work the will of God in this world so that we may indeed see the joy to come and find our peace in that.

Friday, May 13, 2016

ACCidents of history

I still regard myself as an Anglican Papalist. This largely reflects my set of pious opinions in addition to the doctrine of the Early Church. In my days within the Established Church, I took up the Anglican Papalist cause for the simple reason that Anglican Papalism exists precisely because it shouldn’t. The schism of the Reformation has wounded both the Roman and Anglican Churches to the extent that both have spun wildly out of control, both claiming authority that neither possess. Of course, this isn’t the first schism, and the Schism between East and West has hurt the Church, the Eastern Church suffering more precisely because of her lack of political power. The Eastern Church has suffered much at the hands of Islamic warriors and even at the hands of Western Christians who were supposed to be defending Christianity. Perhaps this dreadful history has at least prevented them from the politics to the extent that Western Christianity has become inveigled. Schism always seems to go hand in hand with bloodshed. It is my firm belief that there must be a reunification of all Orthodox Catholics who share and who wholeheartedly believe fully the doctrine of the Church before the 11th Century and who are willing to recognise the Patriarch of the West, i.e. the Venerable Bishop of Rome, as the primus inter pares of the Church, yet not as “Bishop of Bishops” which is a title and office reserved only for the Divine Christ Himself and cannot be assumed by any of His vicars.
That is, I hope, as comprehensive a statement that I can make about how I perceive the issue Church Unity at the moment, though I hope I may be able to flesh it out more as I learn about the Church.

One of the big obstacles that faces the Anglican Catholic Church in the United Kingdom is the fact that it is not recognised as a Church. Much of that is historical accident, of which little is our fault. Since the Norman Conquest, our history has been identified with the Roman Catholic, thus the Orthodox Churches of the East do not regard us as being properly orthodox. Since the Reformation, our history has been identified with the Established Anglican Church, thus the Roman Catholic Church refuses to recognise us as properly Catholic and denies our orders. These refusals of recognition are not the fault of the ACC, but rather just the way history has unfolded. The refusal of recognition that one may argue is our fault is the refusal of the Anglican Communion to recognise us as authentically Anglican. As I’ve argued before , any accusation from Canterbury that Continuing Anglicans are schismatic is actually an indictment of Canterbury’s own schism via heresy. Let’s be clear here. Continuing Anglicans walked away from the jurisdiction of the Lambeth Communion because the Lambeth Communion had already walked away from the Catholic Faith. We had no other option. The resulting fragmentation was a terrible indictment of how much confusion there was within ECUSA at the time and how influential personalities caused more splits and jurisdiction when there needed to be clarity. However, given that under the Anglican umbrella there were Anglo-Catholics, Anglo-Protestants, Anglo-Calvinists, Anglo-Articulists (sorry, a little neologism of mine. I mean one who holds to the XXXIX Articles having a confessional status), Anglo-Antarticulists (i.e. ones that don’t), Anglo-Latitudinarians, Anglo-Baptists, et c. fragmentation was very much on the cards.

For us Anglican Catholics, the only way was to stick to our understanding of what “Anglican” means. By the term, we mean Anglo-Catholic, i.e. there is a continuity of the Anglican Church before the Reformation with that Church after the Reformation, that “Anglican” means “English” and that our Orthodox standing is as a Western Rite Orthodoxy. Perhaps our way forward is to flesh this out, to develop an understanding of this as a full integrity that the 40 years of our existence as a body separate from the Lambeth Communion has not yet allowed us to do. The 1970s was a new reformation for us, and the dust hasn’t really settled yet.

Canterbury has Resolution IV.11 in its 1998 Lambeth Conference with regard to Continuing Anglicanism that dialogue should be set up between us. Clearly, there can be no return to communio in sacris until the Lambeth Communion returns to orthodoxy, so what the formal dialogue could achieve would really be little more than an agreement not to get in each other’s way. At the local level, friendships between ministers and priests would be the means in which we can work together. Christian Charity can never be sacrificed being, as it is, the heart of any form of Orthodoxy. Our Lord preferred sinners to Pharisees after all. It’s better to recognise ourselves as sinners rather than infallible.

Nonetheless, in our tiny state, the fact that we have no recognition from Orthodox or Roman Catholic circles does hurt for the simple reason that we have some affinity with them that we simply don’t with the Lambeth Communion. Since we do honestly believe we’re right, should we simply put our heads down and say “we’re right, we’re right, we’re right” into the long night? Perhaps we’re just unfortunate with the fact we are so small.  It’s all very well to say “It’s their loss” and carry on regardless, but our size does not help us in this respect. There are talks between Lambeth and the Vatican with regard to ordination. The fact that we are a tiny Church means that we will be excluded from these talks despite the fact that we can legitimately claim to have preserved Anglican Orders more authentically than the Established Church. Of course, we do trust in God to increase us, but perhaps we do need to play our part. That’s how covenants work.
Thankfully, in America, we do have the recent developments between the ACC, the APA, and the ACA meaning that the accidents of the history of the 1970s and 80s are starting to heal. That relationships are becoming better between the TAC and the ACC is also of comfort. In this country, we have very congenial terms with the Old Roman Catholic Church as well. The hand of friendship is being seen and I hope we have seen the last of the ACC being an angry Church.

Every day, we have the opportunity to create more accidents in history. The way to make those accidents happy is to ensure that we look iconographically at our opponents, to see God in them and His work. This is so hard, but perhaps we need more practice, beginning as we should with those immediately around us. We’re living at an age in which it is very easy to dehumanise people who do wrong. Indeed, stripping people of their humanity is precisely how ISIS can commit their crimes. Yet these militants are someone’s children, and will at some point have demonstrated that innate lovability. They want us to forget that so that we, too, will hate them with the same passion. That’s a truly satanic trick. We need to stop that temptation dead otherwise the accidents will continue, the schisms will continue and the fragmentation will continue.

As I used to pray that Anglican Papalism would cease to exist, I now pray that the Anglican Catholic Church will cease to exist for, when it does, the Church will be united once more and to be Anglican Catholic will be the same as being Roman Catholic and the same as Orthodox. Here’s to non-existence!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Ascension of Jesus the inconvenient Truth

For many Christians, the Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on Sunday. This is so that as many people as possible can meet their obligation for this important Feast. Is this just a little too convenient? Or perhaps it’s inconvenient for Our Lord not to have ascended on a Sunday?

Before we start getting bogged down in discussing whether we ought to be focussing on fitting our lives around God’s timing rather than fitting Him into our lives, it’s worth remembering that often what is inconvenient for us is actually the way forward.

The Ascension of the Lord, as we always seem to reflect at this time, is more than an inconvenience as we apparently lose clear, direct guidance on all kinds of issues which we might have received had He stayed. We would know for sure the answers to what is truly right and wrong, how the Church should react to the World, and how the World would be best ministered. Yet, is this really how He would want to be present with us? If He had wanted to remain as the arbiter of Right and Wrong in perpetuity, He would have done so. Clearly, infallible arbitration between Right and Wrong is not the mission of the Church. Clearly, God wants us to think for ourselves and not lose our humanity to becoming little more than passive attendants to a totalitarian king, as He would inevitably and unwillingly become.

We should therefore apply the principle that the inconvenience is the way forward. In ascending, what has Our Lord done for us that is better than just staying with us? Surely He could have sent the Holy Ghost AND stayed?

The Resurrection is necessary so that everyone might know that Death is not the end, that it is possible for us not to die in our sins, but Death is become rather the gateway to what is better. If Death is the gateway, then what is the Ascension?

In Handel’s Messiah, the alto sings, “thou art gone up on high, thou hast led captivity captive.” In harrowing Hell, the Lord leads the souls of those who predeceased Him to the throne of God. In ascending, Our Lord takes something with Him into Heaven. Something vital. In ascending, human beings witness the union of things Earthly with things Heavenly. Our Lord bursts through the veil yet again with the intention of drawing our reality through into God’s Eternity. Our Lord becomes the needle weaving together humanity and divinity even as He Himself is both human and divine. Just as His death pulls our sins down to Hell where they belong, so His ascension pulls our humanity into the realms where no human being can really comprehend.

Who among us can fully understand the timelessness of Eternity? Yet, the Ascension tells us that this is where we are bound. Who among us can understand how the physical body of Our Lord is no longer apparent in our physics? Yet the Ascension assures us not only that Our Lord is present in the elements of the Mass, but that we, too, will have that strange physics.

The Ascension provides us with this strange fusion. It clears the dark glass for us so that we can glimpse better the hidden realities of God.

The inconvenience of the Ascension reminds us that the pure in heart will see God. How might we cleanse our way? Even by ruling ourselves after His Word. We need to follow this inconvenience through what is difficult to know, understand, and experience and allow ourselves to be drawn where our efforts necessarily fail us. We can only see so far before the Lord disappears from view. It is He who will ensure that we find the rest of the way. In the meantime, we are to rejoice in our humanity that He loves and to tend it with the dignity and devotion that He would want it to receive. That way, we the Church, can draw the World after Him.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Evidence of Atheists, Humanists, and Creationists

Put simply, we just all have to find a way of getting on and it isn’t getting easier. This is largely because there is much in what is perceived to be the “religious” sphere that is causing concern at the moment. The main problem is that it really isn’t possible to have an umbrella term for Religion. This is because religions vary wildly in their definitions so that even Atheism becomes a religious belief using some version of “Science” as its holy scripture.

I read that one atheist believes that atheism is as much of a religion as not-playing-tennis is a sport. The trouble is that, once you respond to the question “do you believe in God?”, you’re playing the game regardless of your answer. Is there evidence for the existence of God? Of course there is! Is it “scientific”? Well, yes. There are lots of arguments that appeal to evidence from the Scientific Community – the Big Bang, the process of Evolution, the fact that things continue to exist rather than just winking out of existence. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is convincing in its simplicity.

1)      Things that begin to exist have a cause.
2)      The Universe began to exist.
3)      Therefore the Universe has a cause.

From there, apologists such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig build up a philosophical integrity for belief in God.

However, the question of whether the Universe began to exist is itself a belief in the power of the scientific observation and scientific explanation. Science itself is not immune from changes and challenges.

Consider the old argument from Aristotle:
The heart beats faster when we’re in love, or angry, or upset. Therefore the heart must be responsible for our passionate emotions.

Now compare it with:
This part of the brain becomes active when we’re in love, or angry, or upset. Therefore these areas of the brain must be responsible for our passionate emotions.

It’s established science that the emotions affect the heart and not vice versa. Yet, it’s established Neuroscience that the brain is responsible for our consciousness. Personally, it can only really be a belief that this is cause rather than correlation. It is my belief that the mind is neither a material thing, nor a Ghost from the Machine, but a causal entity in its own right. The only evidence that I have for this belief is me and my experience of being me. This is not sufficiently empirical for Science to work.

This is the problem. Science tends to rule as inadmissible evidence that doesn’t fit. Just as many people reject the existence of Jesus of Nazareth because there is scant evidence for Him outside of Holy Scripture, Science cannot accept the existence of the supernatural on the grounds that “there is a scientific explanation for everything”. The fact that the New Testament consists precisely of the historical record of Jesus of Nazareth and attests to His life, death AND resurrection in an historical manner makes it difficult to see why it’s disregarded on the grounds that it’s a “religious text”. Again, Bart Ehrmann and his whole idea that the New Testament is embroidered with mythology presupposes that the scientific worldview is correct.

But there is a flip-side to this. The British Humanist Association have been rejoicing that another private school has been forced to teach Evolution as scientific fact over Creationism. I’m actually in agreement here largely because the early chapters of Genesis are neither scientific, nor historical. The only evidence for Creationism are those early chapters of Genesis, yet the Universe displays evidence of thousands of millions of years of history.

This in itself doesn’t rule out the possibility that the record in Genesis is correct. It is entirely mathematically possible for a system to begin at an arbitrary point in time and yet have a history that can be projected back before that point. We’ve no idea whether that’s likely or unlikely, but it’s possible. But it cannot ever be verified scientifically. In my eyes, Young Earth Creationism also goes against Psalm 19 (The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.) and St Paul (For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Roman i.18-20)

The fact is that the scientific method works insofar as its remit allows. Like mathematics, Science builds up a picture of all the reality that it can, but there are questions that it simply does not have the machinery to answer. One solution is to declare that “all things have a scientific explanation” and thus rule out anything that doesn’t present evidence in concordance with these principles. Another solution is to make sure that the people who ask such questions or who follow a slightly off-beat path do not receive the funding or opportunities to carry on their work.

While suppression of Creationism may preserve the Scientific standing in Society, that suppression does not allow for what may be legitimate challenges to that standing. It now appears that Modern Science is as much as an established religion as the Church of England.

For me, the fact that I exist when once I didn’t points quite clearly to God. Yet there is something more in my existence, and indeed in ALL existence, that seems to be utterly ungraspable, utterly nameless, utterly beyond form, function, essence, and the void. Something stalks being at its very heart and I have no other way of describing It other than using three letters – GOD.

I still have no idea how Atheism can cohabit with Theism. That is often the topic of some of my conversations with God.