Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas Time, Christmas Space

Sermon for the Sunday in the Octave of the Nativity.

Do you lose track of time between Christmas Day and the New Year? It's almost as if Time loses some of its meaning. We forget which day we're in and lose some of the rhythm of the week.

It is this period of time where it is the date that matters and not the day. Christmas Day is followed by St Stephen's Day, then by St John's Day, the Holy Innocents and St Thomas Becket. The Sunday in the Octave - today - can fall anywhere and even coincide with these feasts. It's a day when people are most likely to forget to come to Church and in which the clergy are trying to get their heads around all these feasts.

Today seems like a befuddlement.


If you think about it, the date is a fixed part of the year, and so is determined by our position relative to the Sun. The days of the week are not. They are determined by our position relative to the Moon. Christmas Day is fixed according to the Sun and Easter with the Moon.

Before you worry that we are going to fall into the sin of astrology, it's worth pointing out that our understanding of time is determined by the Sun and Moon. The mystery of the Incarnation is how God, who created Time, Sun and Moon, allows Himself to become subject to them by being born in Time.

How the great Eternal can become Temporal is a mystery. We can attempt to think about it and come up with theories, but we cannot understand this until the Sun and Moon cease to mark Time for us. All we know is that God took our humanity into His Divinity. It seems reasonable, then, that He takes our Time into His Eternity.

What does this mean for us?


We celebrate Christmas Day on 25th of December. And we do well to do so. Yet, we cannot separate Christmas Day from any other day because Christ is always with us on every day of the year. We feel this more keenly on Christmas Day but refreshed in our understanding that the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, we carry this throughout out year.

In the same way, we know Christ always to be present with us. We know that Presence more keenly and with greater clarity and focus in the Sacrifice of the Mass. We take that Presence with us out into our space.


Ultimately, we are promised that, upon our resurrection, we will not need the light of Sun and Moon because God Himself will be our Light. He will also be our Time as we worship Him in His glory.

This is why we need to bear Christmas and Easter in our hearts all year round, for doing do we carry Our Lord Jesus Christ with us to hallow our Time and our Space.

Blogday 2017: The beautiful feet of the Laity

And now we are 12. Blogging, apparently, is a dying form which makes this, as usual, a thing of increasing archaism.

It's been a turbulent year which has seen an upheaval of large proportions for the purpose of a greater good.

Dealing with the loss of a chapel and parish is hard, especially when that parish was established well before my return to the Catholic Church. I miss my old congregation and the freedom that I had to perform my duties as a priest.

Yet, I now have opportunities which are yet to emerge but I can see buds forming.

One thing that often does the rounds on Social Media is a rhapsody on the beautiful hands of a priest. My hands are certainly far from beautiful but I understand the sentiment even though it does lend itself too far to idolisation of the clergy. My hands become beautiful only when they bear God's grace to those who need it. They shine with the beauty of the hands crucified which obscure the hands which I have shamefully used for sin. The priest must take "the beautiful hands of a priest" with a grain of salt remembering that it should shame rather than make one feel grand. There is nothing grand about a priest in themselves: they must aspire to reflect Christ.

The hands of the priest are for washing the feet of the Laity.

And these feet are beautiful because in them we see the purpose of every Christian :

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"
(Isaiah lii.7)

Each one of us is a bearer of the Gospel. The fact that the proclamation of the Gospel is an elaborate rite at Mass reflects the earnestness and respect that we should have for proclaiming that Gospel in our lives. We walk barefoot on hard mountains with the joyful message, "repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand."

To a world which is comfortable in sin, these words burn which is why we are assaulted for bearing them. However, these words bear the reality of God's love for us generally and in particular. This is why it is an uphill struggle.

It will be a long time before the Provisional Mission of St Anselm and St Odile is up and running. It must begin with those who are prepared to invest in its growth which will be slow and difficult before it can ever hope to become a parish devoted to theological enquiry which seeks to preserve the Orthodox Faith in a changing world by instilling that Faith into hearts as well as minds.

This is where this blog may have its purpose by continuing what it has always done. The priesthood exists only for the Laity. If the Laity see beauty in their priests then they must know that this is a beauty which goes into serving them. They must also know of their own beauty which seeks to proclaim Good News to the world even if that world finds beauty offensive.

Let us strive to be beautiful.

St Thomas of Canterbury, pray for us!

Monday, December 25, 2017

... and it was very good!

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity at Midnight

"Heaven and Earth shall flee away when He comes to reign."

The baby is born, and nothing seems to happen. The baby is born, and Heaven and Earth remain unmoved and indifferent. The baby is born, and the man on the street says, "so what?" before putting his turkey in the oven. Heaven and Earth take no flight but remain as they always have.

Has the baby come to reign?

God becomes Man, so His Eternity is still there and hidden. His vast power concealed in His flesh. His crown covered by a baby's soft skull, vulnerable and small. His Kingdom is already here but obscured by the day-to-day business of the flesh.

At this instant of birth, Heaven and Earth cannot be the same again. Here at this birth, God's Creative power works a miracle that spreads back and forth through all Time and all Space. Here the cracks in Existence caused by the Fall are cleansed so that, from the pinnacles of Eternity, God still looks on all He has made and declares it, "very good".

The birth of this baby restores a link to the Divine that we had lost. As one umbilical cord is cut, another is reconnected, supplying the constant stream of the grace of God back into a humanity slumbering in a degradation of its own making. In this Birth and in His later death, our life begins again for all who will be stirred and admit themselves to be shaken into that life.

Heaven and Earth do flee away. They flee from the perception of souls who awaken to the Divine light and the Divine smile. They flee away from the lives of those who let them go so as to grasp the Hand of God which has become flesh precisely so that we may indeed grasp it. They flee away, because He comes to reign, not in that poor, lowly stable, but in the hearts of those who dare to have their hearts broken just so that He may enter.

His birth is the hour of our creation and, behold, it is very good.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A taste of Heaven


Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Here's the thing. Christians know what Heaven is not. We know that we don't magically transform into angels with wings and halos, playing harps just as the inhabitants of Hell have horns and hooves,  and, according to Gary Larsen, play accordions.

Yet, neither is Heaven going to be a place of do-as-you-please. We're not going to be idle on cloudy sun-loungers, supping angelic pina-coladas and watching reruns of Morecombe and Wise.

We know what Heaven is not. Do we know what it is?


There is a famous setting of the words "This is the Record of John" by Orlando Gibbons. It is most often sung with a solo by a male alto. Sometimes it is sung by a female alto, and others by a tenor.

It is beautiful music, but there are some who cannot stand the male alto voice. There are others who won't listen to it if it's sung by a tenor. If this is true, and our personal taste varies so much, how can everyone hope to enjoy the music in the presence of God?

You could say that God will only allow into Heaven those who prefer the female alto voice to sing this anthem. If this were so, there would have to be a reason why found in the doctrine of the Church. Since this anthem was written in the Seventeenth Century, and such choral music did not exist as far as we know in the Early Church, it seems unlikely that God would make appreciation of a particular music a condition for salvation. If it were, we would have known about it from the beginning.

It is clear that a matter of personal taste is not going to factor into our Eternal Life with God. However, if our personal taste is something that is part of us, an expression of who we are, how can we expect this Eternal Life with God to be something that we enjoy? We will be not be allowed to be isolated from others as demonstrated by the great multitudes who praise God in St John's Revelation. What if Eternal Life with God is full of grime music, chewing gum and deely-boppers?


This is our problem. We tend to think about Heaven, that is our Eternal Life with God, using our own experiences of life. We see, hear or taste something that makes us feel wonderful and we say, "how heavenly!" and expect Heaven to conform to it.

This makes some sense; Our Lord says that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us. God does not despise His Creation at all, so why would we expect Heaven not to be the best of what we know now.

Our personal tastes and preferences can then become an obstacle to Heaven because we believe that everyone who goes to Heaven must share the same experiences of life. How can we deal with this?


St Paul tells us, "Rejoice in the Lord alway and again I say rejoice." The reality of the Kingdom of Heaven is to allow Jesus to be the King. We ought to discipline ourselves to rein in our taste and preferences so that we can divert the energy that we spend indulging then in rejoicing in God Himself.

This means that we have to stop worrying about the hymns of the Church because of their tunes, but because of how they present the praises of God the King according to what the Church teaches about Him. It means that we have to stop worrying about the Church decor in favour of presenting a space devoted to the worship of God as we have received through the centuries.

Indeed, to see Heaven is to find the same joy in everything God has created that He does. We need to seek out that joy in what we find delightfull according to our personal taste and also, contrary to it. If God created it, then there is goodness within it.


But the world is a dark and evil place, isn't it?

Only the Devil would want to convince you of that. Yes, the Devil's handiwork is always around us, but as we have seen these past few weeks of Advent, the time and influence of the Devil are limited. Advent reminds us of hope. Advent reminds us to rejoice in the Lord at Christmas and always.

 Tomorrow, we shall see how Heaven and Earth will effectively become the same place, and it all begins with the birth of a baby.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Ero and Vero: a cras response

In previous years, I have reflected on the Great O Antiphons of Advent - see for example, my reflections in 2013. This year it strikes me that we do need to reflect on their totality as well as their individuality.

It is well-known that, reading backwards, we have:

O Emannuel
O Rex Gentium
O Oriens

O Clavis David
O Radix Jesse
O Adonai
O Sapientia

We see the acronym ero cras - tomorrow, I shall be! I have written that our so many times before. However, this comes from my use of the traditional Benedictine office. Were I to be a follower of the Sarum Rite, like my dear friend Fr Chadwick, I would have started a day early so that I would say the final antiphon, O Virgo virginum on the 23rd. If we look at the acrostic formed by the Sarum Rite, we then have Vero cras - tomorrow indeed!

Of course, there are many who dislike O Virgo virginum on the grounds that it does not address Christ Our God as the other do. We appeal to God with us, God the King of the Nations, God the Dawning Light, God the Key of David, God the Root of Jesse, God Our Lord, God the Eternal Wisdom, and we appeal to Him for the dawning of our salvation. Does not the presence of the prayer to Our Lady pander to the idea that she is  Co-Redemptrix?

We remember that Our Lady is a redemptrix only insofar that she is an instrument, not a source, of our redemption. In saying, "be it unto me according to thy word," she has agreed to be an instrument and thus the efficient cause of our salvation in born into the world through her "yes!" to Almighty God. Given that we participate in our own salvation, we can only be regarded as "co-Saviours" insofar as we are instruments used for the purpose of salvation. The sacraments are not mine: they are issued at my weak and trembling hands, but I find myself blessed by that grace which flows from them. That is the promise of God effected in little me, and indeed in every Christian soul who is called to be an instrument and agent, but not source, of God's saving power.

O Virgo virginum is a response to Almighty God. We see Him petitioned in the Seven O's and then, we remind ourselves that we have to respond - we have to participate in the Salvation that God offers us by an act of choosing to become.

In the Benedictine Rite, God says ero cras! in response to our petition to cease being infected with sin and Evil.  In the Sarum Rite, we say vero cras! with the greatest joy, knowing that God is entirely faithful.

While, for the sake of Benedictine stability, I remain with the former rite, I am overjoyed that there are those who pray the Sarum Rite on my behalf to and assist me thereby in making that joyful response to God's promise to be with us.

A blessed Sapientiatide to all of you, whichever Rite you use!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Virtually Nine Lessons

By way of an experiment, I have put together a version of the Office of Nine Lessons and Carols. Since the Provisional Mission of St Anselm and St Odile is really in a process of formation, I thought it might be nice to share with my readers something of the late Advent, pre-Christmas season in the hope that we may all feel uplifted for the Feast of the Nativity. Perhaps you will join me in praying and enjoying music written for the glorification of God and for the gladdening of men's hearts.

Essentially, this consists of some YouTube links to carols and music interspersed with the Nine Lessons as read by yours truly. Yes, there will be mistakes and blips on my part, for which I crave your and God's forgiveness. I hope they do not detract from an approximation to an experience of which I was once blessed to be part. The readings will only be available for the next 88 days, but the moment by then will surely have passed!

Please do click on the links in sequence to get the full intended affect. You might also like to listen by candlelight as well and, if you like, sing along with the carols. If you do find this in any way complementary to your experience of the season, please have a mince pie and a cup of mulled wine on my behalf after the benediction.

Hope this works!

Organ Prelude: Noel cette Journée - Jean-François Dandrieu.

Carol: Once in Royal David's City (605 in The English Hymnal)

Introduction and opening prayers.

The First Lesson

Adam Lay Ybounden - music by Boris Ord

The Second Lesson

Carol: Wake, O Wake! With tidings thrilling (12 in The English Hymnal)

The Third Lesson

The People that walked in Darkness from Handel's Messiah

The Fourth Lesson

Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem (15 in the English Hymnal)

The Fifth Lesson

I sing of a Maiden that is makeless - music by Patrick Hadley

In the Bleak Midwinter -  music by Harold Darke

The Sixth Lesson

This is the Truth sent from above - music by Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Seventh Lesson

Carol: A Great and Mighty Wonder (19 in the English Hymnal)

The Eighth Lesson

There shall a star from Jacob come forth - music by Felix Mendelssohn

The Ninth Lesson

In Dulci Jubilo - music by Robert Pearsall

Carol: Lo He comes with clouds descending (7 in the English Hymnal)

Collect and Benediction

Carol: O Come, O Come Emmanuel (8 in the English Hymnal)

Postlude: Toccata on Mendelssohn by David Wilcocks

Hell on Biscuit Barrel

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

You are enjoying your favourite biscuit and then one of your friends comes along and tells you not only how many calories are in it, but also what else it contains including which parts of the sheep have been used in cooking it.

Suddenly, the biscuit changes. No longer is it a joy to eat, but rather it becomes an object of disgust.
However, nothing about the biscuit has actually changed. It is still the same biscuit that you used to enjoy, but now it's a horrible thing which you are very tempted to bin. Can the biscuit be saved?

What would it take to bring the biscuit back?


It is a peculiarity of many Christians to deny the existence of Hell and the Devil on the grounds that they are unjust or superstitious nonsense. That is something the Devil truly loves because without knowing what is Evil, we cannot fully know what is Good. If the writing in a book was the same colour as the page, what use would the book be? In order to know where Germany starts, we need to know where France ends. 

We can only truly know the truth of our salvation once we know what it is we're being saved from. If there is nothing to be saved from, what is the worth of salvation. Why bother to suffer on the Cross if it doesn't really do anything?


The fact that Jesus suffers and dies for us on the Cross shows us first that there is something that we need to be saved from - something truly terrible, something that God hates. Secondly, it shows us that God believes that we are worth being saved from this terrible fate. He is not indifferent to what happens to us when we die. This means something important that we often forget: each human being is created inherently good. If we are worth saving, then our fall from grace through Sin does not destroy that inherent goodness. 

We can still see that today in this world. There are so many people, often unknown to the media, who are living lives trying to demonstrate the goodness that God gives us in our creation through acts of charity and mercy for no other reason than they just enjoy doing good for other people.

Satan will come along and show us our sins in the hope that we will hate ourselves, hate other and hate God and abandon hope. He seeks to suck the joy out of our existence as being truly human by convincing us that we are merely a shadow and that we should just please ourselves in order to enjoy a dark and dull life. Should we fall for this (and we all do this somewhere along the line), then we actively reject God and turn away. If we do not think that there is anything to be saved from, then we stand in danger of never knowing God, and thereby can never live with God.


Here is the importance of Christ's Cross, and indeed, through His Cross, our own personal crosses and suffering. In recognising sin in ourselves, we can choose to be transformed. We can beg for God to make us better, to heal us, to stop us from being just a pale shadow of what He wants for us. We can beg God to give us a sense of what is good in us so that sin does not reign any more in us. And God will give us what we want, because He is a good Father to us.

Alternatively, we can accept ourselves as we are. We can choose to try and change the world around us to fit what we want it to be so that what is wrong in us disappears because we say that it is right. The consequence is that we lose our vision that we are not our own but God's. We lose sight of the True Good in favour of our own personal "good" which is nothing but our own will. And then, the sin that is hidden from us through our own blindness becomes part of us. Because we demand to be accepted as we want ourselves to be, we find ourselves separated from the vision that God sees in us and wants for us. How can we be saved then, if sin actually becomes part of who we are?


What, then, is Hell?

Forget the medieval paintings of devils poking people up the bottom with pointed sticks. Hell is worse than that. Like the biscuit, Hell is life as we know it, but with no joy, no purpose, no light, no love, no meaning and, crucially, no death. The person in Hell still retains the same goodness that comes with being human, but it is a goodness separated from God, that hungers for God and yet cannot know Him because it will not know Him. It is this hunger for God that burns within the Hell-bound. It is this hunger that produces the agony because it can never be filled. 

And that is the true terror of Hell. 

This means something crucial. If Christ dies a horrible death to save us from Hell, then it must be truly horrible indeed. Yet, if we are truly to love our neighbour as ourselves, then it means that we have a duty to live our lives so that we, too, can help people escape Hell. This is why the Church has such an important mission to bring the Faith, Hope and Love of Christ into a world that is both dark and light at the same time. Our duty is to help people see the light.


We are told "Keep thy mind in Hell and despair not." As Christians, we must recognise the existence of this terrible place and remember that it is ultimately our own choice and our own fault to  end up there, because we create it ourselves. All we need to do is to turn to God our Father, and, through His transformation of our very selves, we will find the joy that He promises.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hooray for the Day of Judgment!

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent 

Which is worse for you, the fear of dying or the fear of what comes after death?

Let's face it. Many people today think that death is the end and that all life stops there. One wonders whether many people do not believe in life beyond death precisely because they are actually afraid that there may be something there - something that is permanent and means that they might not escape everything left behind in this life.

If there were no life beyond death, then what would good and evil mean? We've seen men and women who have committed terrible acts and enjoyed committing those terrible acts who then commit suicide and thus escape justice. They die in their glee in the belief that they will never be brought to account before men.  They die in joy while their victims die in pain and misery.

If there is no life beyond death, then how can we blame them? They get exactly what they want and do not suffer for it. If there is no life beyond death, how can there be any form of good and evil? We can make up the rules as we go along and die without consequence. Good becomes whatever makes us happy, evil whatever makes us sad. If our rule in life is that everyone should be happy, then this means that we have to allow people who enjoy committing horrible deeds to do them so that they can be happy.

How can there be good and evil if there is no life beyond this one?


As Christians, we strive hard to believe in the Resurrection wholeheartedly. The acts of evil in this world do test our faith, sometimes almost to breaking point. Nonetheless, there is historical evidence for Our Lord's Resurrection in the Gospels and in the testimony of the Church from the very beginning. The existence of a Church that will suffer and die for faith in the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ is evidence of that Resurrection. Our Lord Jesus Christ is very clear that He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

And this is what causes many to fear and cry out that there cannot be a resurrection of the dead. It is the fear of being judged for our sins.

However, if the murderer cannot escape justice for his sins by suicide, how can we expect to escape justice for ours. Resurrection means that we will be in the presence of God and where He is, no Evil can be. We will be judged. We don't have a choice.

And that's fantastic news!


As Christians, we know ourselves to be sinful. We are affected by sin and we commit sin. Every sin takes us away from God. It is because we are beginning to know God that we know that we are sinful. The more clearly we see God, the more clearly we see our sins that separate us from Him. If we truly want to be with God then we need to open ourselves up to Him to be transformed in Him so that our sins are blown away.

What does the Christian have to fear from judgement?

Shame, yes! But Shame shows us and God that we truly recognise that what we have done us sinful.

Grief, yes! But Grief shows us and God that we are sorry for our sins.

Hatred of what we have done, yes! But that is the goodness that God has put into us becoming pure and free from evil.

While we fear grief, shame and loathing, they are not eternal but are signs of our ever-growing closeness to God. We must accept them and have the hope that lies beyond them. This is the hope that Holy Scripture possesses. This is the hope the Church professes.


God's judgement gives us justification. In Him we are made right and made righteous. In letting go of our evil, we embrace God. But whatever happens to us if we do not? We must look at that next week.

Friday, December 08, 2017

The Conception of Our Lady 2017

This feast seems to provoke much disagreement between the various Catholic groups, and yet, it is a truly wonderful thing to celebrate.

Today, we celebrate the beginning of the life of a human being whose simple "yes" allowed her to become the instrument by which Almighty God could change the world. Is this Conception Immaculate?

If one doesn't ascribe to the doctrine of Original Sin as an inherited guilt, then we are all immaculately conceived and there is no peculiarity.

If one does ascribe to a form of St Augustine’s view that we all bear Adam's guilt, then there is a case to answer. Certainly, the Church Fathers do present a clear case for the sinlessness of Our Lady. How far back into her life this sinlessness can be traced must remain something of a mystery.

Like anyone else, if the Blessed Virgin has sinned, then her sin would be something that must remain between her and her Creator. She needs salvation from the Fall that fractures Creation whether or not that Fall infects her internally. This Immaculate Conception cannot therefore be a belief necessary for salvation. It is a belief that we are free to hold or reject as our Christian conversation with God dictates.

Why bother with it, then?

We bother with it because it is a sign of hope. If Our Lady can be sinless, then so can we - not by our own effort but rather through the Grace of God given to us to use in our lives.

Our Lady is conceived as a human being possessing only human substance and human nature. Yet she uniquely presents Christ to the world through her own self. This makes her fundamentally different from the priest offering Christ at the Altar: she does not present Christ as victim for the sins of the world - only Our Lord can do that. Rather, Our Lady presents Christ as the Hope of the world. Thus we see here as an ikon of the Church. In celebrating her Conception we are drawn to the day of Pentecost and the birth of the Church.

It is through her Conception, that Our Lady stands with us in our common humanity and is thus able to offer prayers uniquely to her Son. We do her honour as befits the Queen Mother of Heaven, but her Conception allows her to stand with us and her in adoration and worship of her son Who is God.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The difference between Birth and Death

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent

Death will always be a difficult topic to discuss. Even at the mention of the word, we immediately think of those who have died this year, those who are dear to us and who have gone, and those who have suffered much before they have died and whose suffering we remember with pain and sorrow.

First, let us remember our loved ones who have died and remember that Almighty God is infinitely merciful and does not forget even the smallest sparrow.


Why do Christians allow death to affect us like this? If we have Eternal Life in God, shouldn't we think of death as being a minor inconvenience? Shouldn't we see it as many of the Church Fathers did as the gateway to Eternity with God?

Is it because, deep down, we don't believe in salvation? 
Is it because, deep down, we are afraid of losing everything, even our own selves?


To our friend who has lost his wife, all we seem to be able to say is a feeble "I'm sorry for your loss." It never seems enough. Death is indeed a loss. When our loved one dies, our relationship cannot continue as it once did and we miss that person in ways more profound than we ever really understand. Our relationship is bigger than the two of us, and as a result we find out just how much we loved them because we face the jagged edges of our lives from which they have been torn away.

And what of our own death?

Sometimes, that may seem easier to bear than the death of the one we love. In that case, we're the one who is not carrying on. Yet, in approaching Death, we approach the loss of simply everything and everyone we hold dear.

What will remain of us if we lose everything?


According to T.S. Eliot, one of the Magi visiting the Christ Child says, "I had seen birth and death,But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death."

He's right. Birth is as much of a loss as Death. As far as we are aware, we lose everything that we hold dear. At the painful moment of birth, the baby loses a relationship with her mother that neither can ever retrieve. The womb, once full of life, is empty. All that sustains the baby in the womb, connecting her to her mother is cut off and discarded. The previous life is ended and the new one must begin.

In preparing for the Nativity of Our Lord, we are reminded of His procession into Jerusalem that will end with His death. Palm Sunday must always lead to Good Friday. In it, we see Our Lord pass through a series of devastating losses before He loses His life on the Cross. 

And we remember it here, on Advent Sunday!



Here, at the beginning of the Liturgical year, we face the death of the old year and the beginning of the next. We see birth and death and we wonder whether they are different. Now is the time to look at what we have lost and whom we have lost. Now is the time to think about what does remain if we lose everything.

Surely, if we lose everything, then we are nothing! We become utterly nothing.

This is true, unless God tells us that we are something. This is true, unless God shows to us that each and every human being is actually something and is capable of bearing things that are truly Eternal. St Paul tells us that there are three things that last forever: Faith, Hope and Love.

We have faith in God that, at our Death His Son shall shine as He shines now and as He has always done. We trust God whose divine life cannot be blotted out by any death. We trust Him not to forget us, nor to forget anything about us. 

We have hope in God that, at our Death, we shall find Birth that cannot be proven by the Scientific method, because this birth is a death to all that we can know and a birth into knowing even as we are known by God.

And we have Love.

It is Love that causes the pain of Death, because we lose our loved ones. It hurts so much precisely because we love. If we want the pain to end, then we may be asking for the love to stop. Rather, we need to ask to be able to bear the pain with joy in amidst our sorrow. In the midst of life we are in death and that's a good thing because the more pain we feel, the greater is our love. The challenge we face is how we are to continue in this pain and suffering whilst taking great joy in it.

And that is what Christmas is. 


As we prepare for Christ's birth, we prepare for His death. As we prepare for His death, we must prepare for our own death - death to ourselves. If we die with Christ, then we shall live with Christ. The more we love the little baby in the manger, then the more we must love the broken body on the Cross. It will be precisely this Love that will carry us through our own losses and deaths into Eternity with Him. Let us feel the pain of loss and allow it to help us find true joy in Christ.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Stirred but not shaken

Sermon for the Sunday Next before Advent

A church stands silently amid the leafless trees. Its grey stonework contrasts greatly with its snow-covered environment. One window bears a light from the interior. There is no movement, all is still and quiet and peaceful.

And then the earthquake comes.


All becomes a torrent of confusion. The little church is rocked back and forth; the snow gusts and whirls around it in a frozen frantic frenzy, almost obscuring the stonework from sight. Yet, still the light in the window burns as brightly not flickering once.

As suddenly as it comes, the earthquake ceases. The snow ends its flurry and begins to settle again in a gentle picturesque manner. The sky clears; the church stands unmoved, unbroken, undamaged; all becomes silent.

Until the earthquake comes again...


It's a hard life being a snow globe. However, they have to accept the job-description of being shaken regularly. However, what's the point of a snow globe if the scene inside is not fixed. If that little church had been loose or made out of porridge, then the little scene is ruined forever - it simply cannot remain after such violent shaking.

Today, we hear the words "Stir up" for the last time in this liturgical year and, yet, immediately before the new liturgical year begins as we face Advent once more. Today, we ask God to stir up our wills to bear the fruit of good works. It is now, before the new year begins, that we ask God to wake us up again into action. We ask Him to stir us out of the complacency and habit that we have developed over the course of the old year so that we do not allow ourselves to become utterly fixed in behaviour that we fail to question in ourselves because we have grown used to it. The works that we do need to be good works - they need to come from us having been grown from the goodness of God planted in us.

There is a big difference between being stirred up and shaken.

Watch carefully as Our Lord manages to feed and satisfy five thousand with five loaves and two fish.  How does the world react? How do the disciples react? How do you react?

For the world, this act is nonsense. It can't happen. Miracles can't happen. Yet, for the world to witness this happen in front of them shakes that belief. It causes a whirlwind of confusion as it seeks to understand what contradicts the rule "Miracles cannot happen." As time passes and things settle down, the world is back to where it was, denying what has happened, and sticking with the same old mantra, "Miracles cannot happen."

For the disciples, something does happen. Their view is challenged before their eyes. And something within them changes and stirs up into being. They believe what Jesus says and does, and something good, something of God Himself grows within them. And this thing that grows within them survives any further shaking.

The more they allow their beliefs to be stirred, the more they trust Christ, the more that they take Him at His word when He says, "This is my body" the more permanent do they become. These disciples become able to withstand the horrible shaking of their world around them. They will endure torture and death for that which has been stirred up within them. What is shaken flurries around them, and yet, after all the shaking is finished, there is something beautiful that remains and it remains for the good pleasure of God.


Advent is precisely the time in which we seek to be stirred up so that we might grow again as the world shakes us. Traditionally, it is the custom for us to reflect in Advent, on what we're growing into and that means considering the Four Last things: Our Death, Our Judgement, Hell, and Heaven. These are not comfortable things to think about and doing so will help that stirring up to happen. As we approach Advent, let God stir us up and pray for Him to do so so that our feast of the Nativity, our Christmas Day, may find ourselves more solid in the eyes of God.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Revising Anglican Catholicsm

One of the charges that many Anglo-Protestants lay at the feet of Anglo-Catholics is the charge of Revisionism. Essentially, what they seem to be saying (and I'm willing to be corrected in this) is that Anglo-Catholics are trying to present an ecclesiastical picture different from the established historical facts about what Anglicanism is. By and large, Anglo-Catholics are accused of trying to "air-brush" the Reformation out of Anglican thought.

I will admit that I have tried to pay absolutely no attention to "Reformation Sunday" which, in my Ordo, is simply not a thing. It is apparently five hundred years since a Saxon Religious nailed paper to the doors of a Saxon cathedral: I have found no desire to commemorate the fact. In fact, even mentioning it infuriates me as, in order to do so, I have had to pay it some attention. Given that this Augustinian Monk then went on to perform some serious acts of revisionism on Holy Scripture and thus propagate some seriously misinterpretable doctrine which has damaged Holy Church, I find the affair unworthy of celebration.

Oh-oh! Looks like I'm one of these Anglo-Catholic revisionists.

Perhaps I am. I really don't know, nor do I really care. What I do agree is that the Catholic Church needed a reformation and that great things came out of that as a result. But schism has resulted based upon different interpretations of the same things and that has made Protestantism difficult to engage with given its adherence to the five solae.

Like the thirty-nine articles, I see no need to pay the five solae any attention. Where they are right, they will be found in the Catholic Religion. Where they are wrong, they are to be denied. In fact, I would rather pass over them because different Christians cannot agree to what they mean. Indeed, Roman Catholics have seen that they can agree to interpretations of the same five solae. It's a war over semantics.

As an Anglican Catholic (rather than an Anglo-Catholic) I have categorically said that I am not an Anglican. In my eyes, (and I may be wrong about this) an Anglo-Catholic would usually regard themselves as being an Anglican. Anglicans regard themselves as being inheritors of the Catholic Faith through the Book of Common Prayer. I can't agree with that, but I do agree with Anglican principles of always going back to the Primitive Church. While Anglicans put a special emphasis on the doctrine of St Augustine, I struggle to agree that he is worthy of this emphasis and rather set him on the same level as the other Church Fathers, many of whom do not have the same consensus with the blessed Carthaginian.

I think that Anglican Catholicism is indeed revisionist, but in the best way. We always have to undergo a conversatio mores. The Christian life must be filled with repentance, of which revision plays a vital role. We cannot remain on any course that takes us away from the Divine Light. However, any revision that we make must be based solidly on the Catholic Doctrine of the Early Church.

Clearly there is a certain wiggle-room based on belief. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church claim to have the same basis in the Primitive Church and yet they believe different things: there are doctrines which are peculiar to each church and denied by the other. This presents us with four positions:

a) neither of them are right in their peculiar beliefs;
b) precisely one of them is right in their peculiar belief;
c) the peculiar beliefs are not matters of Salvation and may be held by any Christian without jeopardising that Salvation;
d) the peculiar beliefs are matters of Salvation but are different and legitimate interpretations of the same theological fact.

Whatever of these is true, we can say with some degree of confidence that where they do agree on doctrine, that is the theological truth. It requires sifting and weighing-up and more tussles with semantics. It means that the Anglican Catholic position of sticking to that period of "agreement" - i.e. the Primitive Church, Seven Oecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers of the First Millennium - is a credible, stable and holy direction towards the Truth. It is to this that we always must turn in our lives of repentance. While Holy Scripture and Tradition are indeed immutable through the immutability of God, it is our duty in the Church to look for the sensus fidelium. This is why the Vincentian Canon makes such a good definition of what it is to be Catholic.

There are concessions to History and Anglican Catholic has to make. First, we do recognise that we have a Patriarch, namely that of the West. This means that we cannot deny the Romanism that is in our blood. This is why Anglican Catholicism really does have to wrestle with St Augustine which it has inherited through our walk with Rome. It is why many of us wear birettas (and Canterbury caps) rather than the kalimavkion, and why bishops wear the Western mitre rather than the Eastern. This walk with Rome means that we have inherited the filioque but our return to the Primitive Church makes us uncomfortable with it - in my case, deeply so.

Second, we do have to recognise that the Reformation happened and that we inherit interpretations of the faith from it. The Book of Common Prayer is the most obvious example. Yet, this book, too has been revised again and again to meet different doctrinal standards which have arisen due to the influx of Protestantism into Anglicanism. This is why, as Anglican Catholics, we accept the Book of Common Prayer before the majority of Protestant interpretations entered. We go to the 1549 BCP with the 1550 Ordinal and measure that against the Primitive Church, not the other way around. Our lex credendi  must be based in the Church so that the lex orandi can be expressed accurately. Given that the 1549 BCP was the Nation's prayer book for at least three years, we cannot say that it did not do the job it was designed for, namely to be a book of common prayer.

Third, we do have to recognise the fact that while we are not ourselves Anglo-Catholics, we owe much of our scholarship from them. Many members of the CofE like Jonathan Clatworthy disparage their work and see their influence on the Anglican Church as invention based upon Romantic principles. However, what he, and people like him, often pass over is that until it walked off into heresy, the Church of England and the Lambeth Communion worldwide, had orders inherited from the Apostles in the same way that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox have, and that the Anglican Catholic Church together with her sisters (UECNA, APCK, APA, ACA, DHC) have preserved these orders carefully. In that sense, the Catholic Faith has been constant in its transmission through valid Apostolic order. We do have to admit that a significant number of individuals (mainly those of a Protestant leaning) have denied this. The witness of the BCP declares otherwise, as does its constant usage.

The point is this: if we are true to the faith of Primitive Church and seek the Triune God honestly and wholeheartedly through the witness of this Church in the Scriptures and the Tradition that it has received, then any revisions we need to make in Ecclesiastical Polity will always bring us back to that faith. We will know this because we will not have sought to change the sacraments and thus expel the grace of God that they dispense: the unchanged sacraments themselves will be our witness to our continuity with the Primitive Church.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Body beautiful?

Sermon for the twenty-third Sunday after Trinity

People of an age will perhaps remember Charles Atlas' famous slogan, "You, too, can have a body like mine." His advertisements always used to present the contrast between his muscly physique with the "97lb weakling" whose ribs were showing.

Today, body image is a very big thing. You have to look right. Girls have to have curves in all the right places. Boys have to have abdomens which look as if they've slept on their fronts on a cattle grid. More and more, people, especially young people are being afflicted by disorders based on their perceptions of their bodies. Some magazines are only just beginning to see the damage that presenting the ideal body can do. Isn't it just better to be yourself? Is there really an ideal body?


St Paul says quite categorically that there is.
For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
So there is an ideal body! One to which we should aspire. St Paul makes it quite clear that while we are loved by God unconditionally, that love wants us to be transformed not accepted as we are now. St Paul calls our bodies vile because they are broken and corrupted by sin - our own sins and the sins of others. God hates all that is Evil and thus does not want us to be so infected by sin. He does not accept us as we are: He loves us as we are AND seeks our transformation into something like His Son.

We can have a body like Our Lord Jesus.

Yet there is a problem here. If our earthly obsession with the body beautiful is causing terrible disorders like bulimia, anorexia and dysmorphia, won't the same happened to us if we obsess about transforming ourselves into Our Lord's body?


If we think like that, then we need to listen to St Paul again. It is not we who do the changing, it is Our Lord who changes us.

This is the purpose of the Mass. We receive into ourselves the true Body of Christ. By submitting ourselves to the grace of God, we become more like Him because we learn to co-operate more and more with His grace.

We only develop spiritual diseases by trying to live on our own terms, by setting up for ourselves false ideals and false images of who we think God is and who we think we are. Where Evil is, God cannot be and if we say that we have no sin - if we say that we are not broken as we are now - then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not on us.

Once we accept that we need to be transformed into the person God wants us to be, then we shall be truly happy. Then, we spend our lives looking to be in conversation with God, recognising our suffering now and offering that suffering up to God as a sacrifice for all others in the same boat. As we Christians grow in Christ, the more we will make our pain sacred and thus deprive the Devil of his victory of separating us from Our Lord by making us believe that we are unlovable.


It seems that the choice we face is simple: do you want to be accepted by God as you are, or do you dare to accept His love for you? You can't have both!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What rule is this?

Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity

Would you expect the Chief Executive Officer of a multinational company to be concerned with what one of their employees owes to another?

You might expect the boss of your bank to have some concern about any mismanagement of personal funds of their staff, but is it really any of their business?

Surely, we would only expect them to get involved if there were some massive problem, otherwise they’d leave it to their middle management to sort out.

What does it say about a ruler who worries about the personal finances of their subjects?


First of all, and perhaps most obviously, the ruler Our Lord Jesus speaks of wants his example to be practised by his servants. The ruler forgives, so he expects his servants to forgive. Yet this isn’t just forgiveness of a little thing, this is major forgiveness! The ruler forgives the first servant an insurmountable debt with rivals the Gross Domestic Product of a small country. If he really does expect his subjects to be like him, then they must be prepared to be just as extravagant as their ruler.

But there is more about this ruler.

This is a ruler who listens to his staff. It is those who are scandalised by their colleague’s behaviour towards another who complain to their boss. This isn’t some petty tale-telling: the actions of this servant have hurt the community badly, and his fellows clearly feel this hurt keenly. But notice that they trust their ruler to do something about it. This ruler has their respect and they clearly look to him.

This ruler is also not afraid to punish but what does he punish? Disobedience? Or the hurt done to others? His people cry to him for justice, and that is what he gives. The hurt that this unforgiving servant has done to his community has been treated accordingly despite the fact that this man can never pay back the debt he owes. Isn’t that too severe? Is there to be no further forgiveness for this man?


In typical fashion, the Lord Jesus leaves so many questions unanswered. His message is clear, God is this ruler and He expects His subjects to be like Him. It is those who refuse to be like Him that He is compelled to punish for the sake of the others who are hurt by the actions of those who reject God. We are to forgive as often as is necessary in order for us to be reconciled with our brother if we expect to be reconciled with God.

So why does the ruler not forgive the unforgiving servant one last time? Has this servant sinned for the four-hundredth and ninety-first time?

What we have not been told is whether there is any further repentance by this man – a recognition that, in being unforgiving, he has damaged his relationship with his fellow servants and his ruler. Until we are told this, there can be no reconciliation. His fellows can’t be given the opportunity to forgive, and neither can the ruler himself.


Jesus speaks of a ruler who listens, forgives yet administers justice, and who demands his servants be like him for no other reason than their good. If this ruler is an image of God Our Father, then we see how much our sins hurt the whole of creation and yet, there is always a way back in God if we make serious steps to take it.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Ecological Sainthood

Sermon for the Sunday in the Octave of All Saints

It’s a bit of a surprise why we don’t often hear much from the Church on ecological matters. Should we be praying for animals? Should we be more involved with preserving God’s Creation?

Some people might say, “It is the business of the Church to care for souls, not to prop up Creation which is run by God for His pleasure.” There are others that say, “human beings are just animals. Why bother praying in the first place? We evolved from animals and we will die like animals.”

Of course, the Church believes that human beings are not animals. Human beings have a rational soul. We are able to question, do philosophy, and build civilisations. We are also able to sin.

Really, it is sin that marks us out from the animals in God’s Creation. We are able to reject the one who created us. Every sin which we commit tears into the fabric of Creation. Stephen Fry might accuse God of creating the parasite which infests little children and thus deny His Goodness. Yet what of the Western business that has changed the climate and economy and thus has forced little children to live in areas in which they can be infested with parasites. It is not God who is to blame for the misery in the world – it is human sin.

It only takes one fracture in a crystal to spread and break it. It only takes one sin in Creation to bring a fracture into our being in which Evil dwells. All sin cascades through Time from that first sin.

The only remedy for this is Sainthood.


We know that we are simultaneously saints and not-saints. St Paul will call us saints because he fully expects us to fulfil our destiny in becoming these citizens of Heaven, able to behold God in His glory and able to rejoice for all Eternity with Him. Yet, we cannot do so now. We can only see glimpses of God in snippets and never see Him face-to-face unless we are blest enough to behold Our Lord Jesus Christ, for to see Him is to see the Father.

We choose sainthood but know that this involves suffering as our lives are broken apart and remade in order to be transformed in the likeness of God. We can only achieve that state of blessedness by realising how poor we are in our spiritual life and accepting that poverty which distances us from the ownership of things. We must weep for our sins and recognise the pain that they cause others. We recognise the sham that is earthly power, knowing only the rule of Christ the King. The driving force of our transformation has to be our single-minded desire for God’s righteousness and yet we have to remember that this desire of ours cannot be fulfilled unless we are prepared to hold close to us even those who do us the greatest wrong, reconciling even those who a diametrically opposite.

Are you daunted by this task?


It is only those who do not feel daunted and even discouraged by this who don’t really understand the task that we have in front of us. It is frightening and we know we can’t do this of ourselves. This is where sainthood has its greatest trick – one that confounds the Devil at source.


We do not acquire sainthood by our own efforts. True holiness comes from God Himself. We have to honour this by doing what we can, recognising that, of ourselves this is not enough, but trust in God to supply whatever is lacking and correct whatever is amiss. The greater our Love for God, the more we will love Him. Like a mustardseed, that faith will grow but only if we let it go. It is through turning to God that our sins are forgiven and our lives’ course altered.

Yet, the power of Sainthood is immense.

In his Revelation, St John sees four angels with the power to hurt the earth with the results of human sin. Yet, he also sees a fifth angel who says, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” It is only when our sainthood is sealed in us that the old creation passes away and the New Creation comes. While we are saints in progress, we are bringing to birth the New Creation as God works with us and within us to transform us into that which is Holy.

It is our respect for God which means that we use our sainthood to sanctify this world. By caring for His creation, His animals and His people, we make the presence of God deeper so that this fractured reality passes away simply by being healed in God.

Of course we should pray for humans, but we should also pray for animals and raise them up as God’s good creation, and seek their welfare and His glory in their being. When we see Creation perfected, then we will see God within it and within ourselves. Then we shall be like Him, indeed.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Why I am Orthodox but not Orthodox

Oh dear. We all know that there are certain words that fly around whose meaning is disputed: Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox. Is "Anglican" a noun or an adjective? Does "Catholic" mean in communion with the venerable Bishop of Rome? Does "Orthodox" mean that we are in communion with one of the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, or Antioch?

Properly speaking, "Catholic" and "Orthodox" should be two sides of the same coin. Both point to fidelity to the faith once delivered to the saints. In order to be Catholic, i.e. holding the faith of the whole Church, one is keeping "correct teaching" i.e. ortho doxia. Thus, as an Anglican Catholic, I must necessarily be Anglican Orthodox. Of course, there is already an Anglican Orthodox Church which is rather a different kettle of fish from the Anglican Catholic Church and actually pre-dates it as an institution by more than a decade. There is also an Orthodox Anglican Church which, I wonder, ought to be different, and yet seems to have very similar sets of beliefs. I'm a little confused as to why these and UECNA have not made a similar concordat as ours as their raisons d'être seems to be almost identical. Perhaps, God-willing, this is already in progress and will imminently happen. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the two words, "catholic" and "orthodox", if not actually synonyms, cannot be separated. I don't think I see anyone trying to do this, though.

My small readership will notice that I might appear, at times, to be more like a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church than an Anglican. Fr Chadwick says that I appear more "Roman" than he, while many others will say that I'm not a true Anglican. Well, so what? What does it matter who I am? Surely, I have to empty myself of everything in order to follow Christ truly, and that includes my identity. I must decrease so that He can increase.

The trouble is that, as a priest, who I am matters to those who need me. My existence as a priest is that I present to them the image that I bear as a result of my ordination. Many a time, all that I can think of is that I'm not presenting that image - that ikon - very well. In this time of lying fallow waiting for the time for me to grow into that image again, my vocation nags and nags and nags because I must be a priest for the good of others, their salvation, their encounter with God, and their reception of His grace that happens at the hands of every single priest who has ever lived, because there is only one priesthood, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The troll will say to me, "you're overestimating your importance." No. I may be the instrument of God's sacraments, but all I can ever be conscious of are my great failures to represent Him clearly.

But who I am does matter to people. The Roman Catholic will ask me, "are you Catholic?" and when I explain that I am, just not a Roman one, they will refuse the sacraments from my hands. Likewise, the Orthodox Christian will ask me whether I am Orthodox, and I will say that I am but one who has inherited his orthodoxy through the Church in England. Of course, the Orthodox Christian may have some inkling that I am not an Eastern Orthodox priest because I can't stand growing a beard.

It's actually harder for me to explain why I am not Eastern Orthodox because, unlike Roman Catholicism, I can't simply say that I am not in communion with the Pope. As it stands, like the CofE, I'm not in communion with any of the patriarchs. This is very, very sad, but it does not stop me from being part of the Church. You are probably fed up of my (over)use of the word "ikon" and my affirmation of not being very Augustinian, rejecting the filioque, and leaning more towards a doctrine of theosis that is still very present in Anglican thought.

However, I do appear to be very close to being Orthodox in belief. Like my communion, I affirm Orthodox Christianity. While the venerable bishop, Lancelot Andrews (who certainly expressed a penchant for the doctrine of theosis) may say:
One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.
 we go further and affirm ten centuries and seven oecumenical councils. It is no wonder that the Anglican Catholic faith should be in many ways very similar to Eastern Orthodox belief.

In that sense, if I am in schism with the Eastern Church, then that schism is not a schism of heresy, but of history. Yet, for me to be recognised as being Orthodox by the East, I must convert and deny what I have received from my history. That I cannot do. If I hold the same belief as the Eastern Church, then I need not convert - I am already there.

While the ACC may be criticised by Eastern Christians by being the product of division, it has to be said that the Eastern Church is not very united either. For example, what of the status of the Patriarch of Moscow? I recently unfriended an Eastern Priest who enjoyed throwing the word "schismatic" around like breadcrumbs - despite the fact that both he and I are very similar in our belief in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Churches which hold the same beliefs do need to reach out to each other, but we need to do so honestly and not assuming superiority or pedigree - that's rather against the gospel. Where there is true heresy, well that heresy must be removed before talks on unification can be arranged. However, the nature of that heresy must be discussed honestly as well.

As a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, I am as Orthodox as I am Catholic. You are free to reject the sacraments from my hands, but I believe that if you do, then you reject the grace of God. You need to be very sure, then, that you're right!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

All Souls Dies Irae

Or, if you prefer...

Day of wrath and doom impending.
David's word with Sibyl's blending!
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
O, what fear man's bosom rendeth
When from heav'n the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth!
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
Lo! the book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded;
Thence shall judgments be awarded.
When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing undisclos'd remaineth.
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity then befriend us!
Think, kind Jesu! my salvation
Caused thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and weary thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suff'ring bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge! for sin's pollution
Grant thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning:
Spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning!
Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from night undying.
With thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To thy right hand do thou guide me.
When the wicked are confounded,
Doom'd to shame and woe unbounded,
Call me, with thy Saints surrounded.
Low I kneel, with heart's submission;
See, like ashes my contrition!
Help me in my last condition!
Ah! that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning,
Man for judgement must prepare him:
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!
Lord, all pitying, Jesu blest,
Grant them thine eternal rest. Amen.
(translated by W.J.Irons)
It may seem unpalatable to have this as the Sequence for a Requiem Mass. Some composers. like Verdi, have used it with operatic relish. Others, like Fauré, have found it sufficiently discordant with the the idea of committing a soul to its eternal rest that they have omitted it. I remember, when writing a setting for the Requiem Mass, facing the same question. How could I, in all conscience and remembering all those for whom I was writing it, write a setting of a Hymn about the Day of Judgement with all its visions of terror and fear.

Then I read it.

It's about the reality of Death and does not pull punches because Death does not pull punches. Barring the direct intervention of God, each one of us is going to die and that is a subject of fear and trembling. It is precisely this fear that we have that this hymn seeks to address. We sing it together in solidarity with everyone who ever lived and thus ever died. We don't sing this hymn for ourselves but for those who are dying and for those who are suffering because of the death if a loved one. We pour out our human condition, recognising our feebleness and frailty. We acknowledge that our medicine, with all its advances and innovations, merely staves off the inevitable. It's frightening, so very frightening!

And this is the beauty of this Hymn. In amongst all the fear, there is this glorious hope of someone even greater than death itself  - the Rex tremendae majestatis. If this King is greater than Death how much more fear-inducing is He? We see, in this Hymn, Christ come to be our judge and that gives us a new reason to fear. 

For, every action we have performed, every word we have said, every thought that we have entertained, all will be judged by the Great Judge in whom is perfect Justice and perfect Righteousness. By His sheer presence, the infection of Evil will be cast away, all hurts healed, all injustices righted, all tears wiped away. Those who refuse to repent of sin must depart from God, those who long for true repentance will have it at His hand together with the promise of complete transformation and perfection through His Humanity so that we can partake of His Divinity. In the judgement of God, all that our hearts long for will be supplied in Him.

In singing this Hymn together, we comfort each other with this hope that our sinful selves will be restored by His great love. This is a frightening hymn, but it is one worth singing for those who have departed this life, for their benefit, for their continued existence in the "intermediate state" and for their timeless progression to sainthood. We must never, ever despair of the mercy of God.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

All Saints 2017: looking back through the window.

What do we honestly expect to see when we see the saints?

Our ikons display women and long-bearded men with solemn expressions on their faces wrapped in robes with various designs and devices upon them belying their unique holiness in God. Why are they so solemn? Should not there be joy upon their faces?

My ikon of Christos Pantocrator also has this solemn expression. It is a look of concern, almost of worry. If we recognise this expression, then we realise why Our Lord, Our Lady and the saints are depicted with this expression. They are worried about our salvation. The saints are perfected in the love of God: they therefore bear the same concern for our welfare as God Himself as they partake of His divine nature. We use ikons to see into Heaven, and yet it is as if the citizens of Heaven from the Great King downwards use those ikons to peer through into our world of imperfection and flux, longing for us to be with them. What they see is us as we are - imperfect, striving for repentance, falling and writhing in the agony of our sins, or numbed to the pain of our imperfections by the distractions of this life.

In the West, our saints are depicted with statues, bearing emblems of their peculiar conversation in this life. These might be a small cathedral held in their hands to depict their efforts to build the Church, a pallium for their archbishopric, or the instruments of their martyrdom, even their own skin! Do these engage us in the same way as the ikon, or are they merely symbolic - used to tell tales of wonder, love and praise to the illiterate?

For an ikon to work, we need to set time aside to study it, and to look through the created matter to see the light of God. Since saints are already supposed to be ikons of God, an ikon of a saint is essentially an ikon of an ikon. This might seem to diminish the presence of God, yet the saints we celebrate today are those perfected in their purity. Just as a light shines perfectly through a pure crystal, so the Light Uncreate beams perfectly through the countenances of those whom God has washed, justified, sanctified and glorified in the name of the Lord Jesus. To worship an ikon would be like worshipping the mirror itself. It is the Light that pours out of the ikon that we worship because it is the True Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Sometimes, though, it seems to me that, occasionally, the lips of Our Lord in my ikon seem to smile faintly as if to encourage me in remembering that, as a creation of God I cannot be all bad, no matter how far I fall. The ikon gives us this encouragement by its very existence: if there are so many people who, despite being in Eternity (in fact precisely because they are in Eternity), are rooting for us right now then it demonstrates that we cannot be alone in our troubles and sadness.

This means that we can say our Litanies of the Saints with impunity knowing that prayers will indeed be said for us in our state to the end that we may eventually attain the ranks of these perfected humans. And then, we shall pray in turn for those whom we shall see as we gaze back through the window into this fallen world.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lowering the Hierarchy

Sermon for the feast of Christ the King

You can probably hear the confusion raging in Pontius Pilate’s head. What sort of a king is not defended from captivity by his subjects? And yet, the figure before him seems to be claiming to be a sort of king. He talks of His kingdom, but it is a strange kingdom that is not of this world, that seems to be a kingdom of the Jews but this man will not say so emphatically.

Whatever this kingdom is, it is not a threat to the Roman Empire with its structure and hierarchy so Pilate cannot see this man as being the danger that these Jewish Leaders claim.

What he cannot foresee are the barbarian hoardes at the gates of an embattled Rome while the people claiming to be ruled by this king standing in front of him thrive and grow in number and outlast the Imperial might of Rome.

Just what sort of king is this? What sort of kingdom is this?


When we look at systems of kings and politics, we see this pre-occupation with power. There always seems to be some sort of hierarchy. Yet the word “hierarchy” arises originally from the Church and seems to revolve around ranking people according to some degree of status. Is it then the Church that is to blame for the patterns of monarchy that we see around us?

In many ways this is natural. You need the person who understands our social needs and issues best to lead the way in meeting them. You need that person to be advised by the best advisors who understand the situation. Those advisors too need to be advised, and so on. What we tend to see though, is the leadership having power over us. We trust our leadership to “know best” but when they decide what the word “best” means, then we do have a problem. Too many political leaders have decided that what is best for their subjects is what they, the leaders, desire most for themselves.

A king makes decisions for others to follow. However, what reason do we have to believe that those decisions are best for his subjects?

Either we have to trust the king, or that king has to have some strong power over us.


We have only to look in the history books to see kingdoms based on power over people. Even the Church has wielded political power over people by declaring God’s will even when it is not clear that it is God's will. The Church has certainly got this right at times, such as its support for those in poor and need, and wrongly, in burning people at the stake to save their souls. How can this be right? How can we honestly say that we love someone by burning them to death?

What makes the Church unique is that she is accountable to a much higher power. The Reformation happens precisely because of a misuse of God’s authority to exercise political power. The Christian politics is not based on power, but on Love and Trust. We have the Bible, and we have Tradition, and we have Reason which is based on them both and eventually becomes Tradition. These regulate even the Church rulers.

What makes the Kingdom of Jesus different is that it is built on trust and love, first for God and then for everyone else who can be in the Kingdom. The more we cultivate these in our lives, the more we become fit for the Kingdom of God. It’s a kingdom in which the leaders are no less flawed than anyone else, are no less accountable than anyone else, and have no more privilege than anyone else. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is the leaders of the Church who are held to much greater account than anyone else, and for whom the burden of service is greater. This is all because, the King Himself chose to lead by example and to give Himself rather than take from others.

This is no earthly kingdom. This is a kingdom fit for Eternity. Only those who submit to the demands of True Love will find that Kingdom worth submitting to.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Misunderstanding Prejudice

One thing that I notice from such bodies as the Progressive Christian Network and Modern Church is their willingness to denounce Church Doctrines on Ordination and Marriage, and the Immorality of Extramarital Sex as sexist, homophobic, misogynist, transphobic and discriminatory. It occurs to me that those who hold to Church Doctrine (whom, for the sake of argument, we shall call Traditional Christians) are not understanding the language of Progressive Christians (whom, for the sake of argument, we shall allow their preferred epithet). To this end, I think we need to investigate each of the terms as the Progressive element would want us to understand them.

Let's understand a few definitions:

Homophobia: dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people.

Misogyny: dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

: prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

Discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

A key word here, is the word prejudice. How do Progressives understand that?

Prejudice: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

Yet we have to be careful here, what is meant by the noun "homosexual"?

Homosexual (noun): a person who is sexually attracted to people of their own sex.

According to the Progressive Christian Network and Modern Church, Traditional Christian belief is based on either dislike of women and homosexuals, and/or on prejudice against them. 

This is the claim. In order to prove the claim, they have to show that Traditional Christianity either dislikes women or homosexuals or have a preconceived opinion about them that is not based on reason or actual experience.

What evidence do they give to support their claim? Answer: four old chestnuts.

1) Traditional Christian belief states that women cannot be ordained.
2) Traditional Christian belief states that homosexual sexual activity is a sin.
3) Traditional Christian belief states that marriage is between a man and a woman.
4) Traditional Christian belief states that men and women cannot change their sex.

Apparently, (1) displays a dislike of, or a prejudice against women and, by being discrimination against women because of their sex, Traditional Christian belief is both sexist and misogynist. If we replace in (1) the word "woman" with the word "black", Traditional Christian belief would be racist.

Apparently, (2) displays a dislike of, or a prejudice against homosexuals and is therefore homophobic.

Apparently, (3) displays an unjust prejudice against homosexuals, and is therefore discriminatory.

Apparently, (4) displays a dislike of, or a prejudice against transgender/transsexual people, and is therefore transphobic.

First, let us just tackle the minor issue of replacing "women" with "black". This really is a false analogy because it assumes that one social "minority" (to use WATCH's definition of the term) is the same as another. This surely is not valid because in human terms, race is not the same as sex: a community of a single race can grow naturally; a community of a single sex will naturally die. While both do indeed suffer prejudice, that prejudice is not the same, though its effects are truly horrible. Nonetheless, any moral reasoning about race cannot be the same as moral reasoning about sex because it assumes that all social "minorities" are equivalent: they are not and to say so displays a utilitarian ignorance of their peculiar struggles and their peculiar martyrs.

Secondly, all of these accusations require the demonstration of prejudice and that involves demonstrating that Traditional Christian belief is a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience.

First of all, on what is Traditional Christianity based? It's based on a properly basic belief which means that it is a reasonable position to hold without any further requirement of proof. There are lots of properly basic beliefs such as the belief that the person you are talking to really has a mind in the same way you do. If belief in God is properly basic, then reason dictates His revelation of Himself to us. Christianity is the belief that the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth is this revelation, and it is backed up by eyewitness testimony - this testimony can be found in the Gospels. If Christians belief what this Jesus of Nazareth says, then we have to hold fast to the morality defined by God and attested to in the Bible and in the Church.

Of course, whether or not people share this belief isn't the issue. It's whether Tradition Christian morality is based on reason from properly basic premises: it is. Our morality is therefore based on God and not upon the determination of a majority viewpoint.

We know that majority viewpoint is insufficient for determining morals given that there have been instances of majorities performing an ethnic cleansing of minorities, even in the Twentieth Centuries. Morality transcends number.

We also know that there are objective moral values and duties and these are evidence for God. Is there ever a situation in which the torture of a child is morally acceptable? Jonathan Clatworthy seems to suggest that there is.

Traditional Christian belief has always defended its position on the ordination of women, the immorality of extramarital sex, the uniqueness of heterosexual marriage and the immutability of a person's sex based upon what it has received from the revelations from God in Scripture, Tradition and Reason. However, these revelations are called into question by those from without the system, or those who believe that it is only fair to reason from without the system. What needs to be shown here is whether the morals of the current society are indeed superior to Traditional Christianity. On what basis is this morality superior?

Of course, if Traditional Christian belief is true, and I believe it to be, then it must necessarily be superior to all other moral systems because it is based on the being of God Himself. In believing in God, it would be a denial of that belief for me to suppose that another moral system is better than the one that I have received from Him.

Traditional Christian belief is formed from reason from the actual experience of the Church beginning with the Apostles and the Prophets and the properly basic belief in God. To say that this amounts to prejudice is an indictment of the moral systems that are based otherwise. If Traditional Christian belief is prejudicial, then so is the secular belief and indeed any other moral system. It seems quite reasonable, then, that the Traditional Church, in holding to a timeless morality (i.e. based on the existence of God and thus immutably revealed in Scripture, Tradition and Reason) is as innocent of the charges of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination as the morality that would condemn it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Trolleys and Abortion

I came across this little problem set, apparently some time ago, by the author Patrick S Tomlinson who claims that he has  knock-down argument for the doctrine that life begins at conception.

Let us just present what he says:
Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I've been asking for ten years now of the "Life begins at Conception" crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly.
It's a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question. Here it is.

You're in a fertility clinic. Why isn't important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help.

They're in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled "1000 Viable Human Embryos." The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. 
Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no "C." "C" means you all die. 
In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will.
They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is "A." A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically.
You can see where this has come from, because it is very similar to the challenge to the Utilitarian  viewpoint with the trolley problem.
There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person tied up on the side track. You have two options: 
Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. 
Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
Which is the most ethical choice?
This is practically equivalent to the problem:
As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by putting something very heavy in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?
Yet clearly the systems are morally different. The first does not involve murder, the second does.
We recall that we do have St Thomas Aquinas and his principle of double effect: if an action has bad consequences inseparable from the desired good, it can obly be morally justified if
1) the nature of the act is itself good, or at least morally neutral;
2) the agent intends the good effect and does not intend the bad effect either as a means to the good or as an end in itself;
3) the good effect outweighs the bad effect in circumstances sufficiently grave to justify causing the bad effect and the agent exercises due diligence to minimize the harm.
Thus we see that in the first case, pulling the lever is morally justified: the nature of pulling a lever is morally neutral; one intends to save five lives and does not intend to end one other; five lives are saved at the cost of one. The second case is not morally justified: the act of killing an innocent man is murder.

Okay, so much for trolleys, what about the abortion problem? In saving either the child or the embryos, we are satisfying both 1) and 2) of the double effect, the question is really about the third. Which is better to save, one child or a thousand viable embryos?

The circumstances that we are given declare that we are under pressure of time (smoke inhalation, et c), so it is better to save the one who can definitely breathe and is thus least equipped to deal with the circumstances. Human embryos do not breathe, and thus it makes sense to save the child and entrust the embryos to God for preservation from the fire.

Notice, that just because embryos are not yet capable of breathing does not stop them from being human embryos. Those just about to be born do not breathe, save through their mothers. Of course, these embryos have been deprived of their natural environment in which they can continue their growth as human being do.

Of course, Mr Tomlinson wants us to save the child, and he wants us to save the child because he wants us to admit that an embryo is not really a human being. If one reads his situation carefully, we can see a lot of rhetoric being bandied about. It is Mr Tomlinson who says that there IS a right answer. Is there? How does he know it's right? He declares that this destroys our argument, but it doesn't. In fact it is his argument that is illogical. Consider what he says.

1) You can save a child or a thousand embryos.
2) You save the child.
3) Therefore you do not believe that embryos are human beings.

This only works with the assumption that you save one because you believe the other(s) is/are not human. That's not true at all! Replace the embryos with, say, two elderly people in wheelchairs with the condition that it is just as easy to save them as it is the child, but again you can either save the child or the elderly. Again, if one chooses the child, does that diminish the humanity of the elderly people? For a pro-lifer, as indeed anyone else, the problem is still the same. Tomlinson's argument does not follow.

But he demands an answer, and declares it a triumph when a pro-life person, such as myself, struggles to answer. Of course we struggle to answer: this is about people's lives! Unless we have to do it, then we would rather not think of these questions because we worry about how we can cope with the loss of people's lives. It is Tomlinson who, by demanding an answer, is diminishing the humanity of all the people involved.

So my answer is that I would save the child, but it is not because I believe that the embryos are not human. I would save the child, and then weep bitterly for the thousand people I could not save, imploring God for their souls and for the possibility of their safety. How's that for an answer, Mr Tomlinson?