Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Forghorn Leghorn might be described as a battologist - someone who repeats himself needlessly. This comes directly from a Greek word which has the idea of empty chatter, or babble. Interestingly, this is a word that appears in the Gospel according to St Matthew. In chapter six, Our Lord tells us:
"when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." (vv 5-13)
Our Lord accuses the heathen of being battologists (in fact that very Greek word is used in the original text!). What was actually happening? We must remember that the "heathen" in this case were the Romans and Greeks who worshipped the Olympic gods. They would attend sacrifices, with long babbling prayers but lived their lives as if these gods had nothing to do with them. These gods didn't mean much to these heathen unless they wanted a favour: they were simply paying lips service to a social custom. The point is that these battologist heathen live two completely different lives. They were not sincere to their religion. Of course the big difference between the Olympic gods and Our Father who is in Heaven is that Our Heavenly Father really does exist: the gods of Olympus do not. Any prayer to them would certainly be in vain, but our prayers to Our God are not because He hears them and they mean much to Him.
That's the point that Our Lord is making when He warns us to guard against vain repetitions. We are not to babble to God with a list of things we want Him to do. Prayer isn't like that, and Our Lord wants us to pray properly. Thus He gives us the wonderful Lord's prayer.
Interestingly, the Lord's prayer is a prayer that we repeat often - at least three times a day. If we want to avoid vain repetitions, surely we only need to pray it once in our lives - just one sincere recitation of "Our Father..." would be enough once for all. Except, prayer isn't like that either. Our Lord is telling us to pray the Our Father when we pray. We don't just pray once, we pray lots of times. In the eighteenth chapter of St Luke's Gospel we read that:
Jesus "spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith . And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (vv 1-8)
God is greater than any judge let alone an unjust judge. He hears prayers which are continually offered to Him. Prayer is clearly something that expresses our relationship with God. We are to do it always -pray without ceasing! - even when we don't feel like it. In fact one might say that we should pray especially when we don't feel like it and "take Heaven by storm". Having set words helps us to formulate our prayers and focus on how we are interacting with God. Of course, we can say our own prayers in our own way, but it is good to join in the same prayers with the whole Church and to pray alongside countless millions across Time and Space. Using the same words helps us do just that. Of course, Our Lord's words about vain repetitions hold true here. We are not to pray in vain, i.e. without thought, just paying lip-service to God.
Nor are we to babble without meaning: St Paul reminds us that if anyone prays in tongues, someone needs to be able to interpret what they are saying otherwise it is meaningless. We are not to use the words of liturgy without thought. Yes, the words will praise God, and the fact that we do intend to pray will always help us, but the words are to be prayed carefully. St Benedict suggests that monks who don't take care over the words of the liturgy should be punished!
During the Mass, we often repeat ourselves. For example, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, et c. Notice that this is not a vain repetition. We are addressing the Holy Trinity for mercy. We need God on our side. We need His love in action. We cry out with the whole Church for mercy on humanity. We are merely following Our Lord's example in St Luke's Gospel.
Another repetition occurs at the moment we are to receive the Holy Sacrament. Three times we say "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed." Why three? Is that vain repetition? Not unless we make it vain by not taking care about what we're saying. Again, we follow St Luke's passage above, but notice what effect repeating this three times has. Each time we say it, we become more aware of what is happening. We are forcing ourselves to recall our need for God, our unworthiness to receive Him, our need for faith like the centurion whose words we are paraphrasing, and thus becoming more and more aware that we are to receive truly the Body and Blood of Christ into our fallible little bodies. The repetition is not vain. This is not battologism.
What about the Rosary with all those repetitions of "Hail Mary," "Our Father", and "Glory be"? Surely these are vain repetitions? Again, not unless we make them vain through being slack in our prayer lives and just paying lip-service. However, do we really subject ourselves to the Rosary just for something to do - a way to kill an hour? Surely not! Surely, we have some desire within us to say it as a prayer in the first place! It's very hard at first to say all the prayers devoutly with attention and devotion, but it does come with practice. The words do matter, but the wonderful thing about those repetitions is that it has a good effect on our brains. In occupying our body, we free our minds and souls to soar to God. Repeating those words reinforces our desire, and are not vain repetiotions. This is St Luke 18 again. In saying the Rosary, we allow Our Lady to help pull us up towards her Beloved Son.
Often, Protestants like to pull Catholics up on what they pray using Our Lord's dim view of vain repetitions. They have a good point to make. Our lives as Christians MUST be sincere. We cannot just pay lip-service to God. He knows the secrets of our hearts. It is important that we don't live double lives of saying one thing and doing another, but that our words and actions come from the same place. We will damage our souls if we just say the words without trying to encounter God. Agreed, sometimes we just go off on auto-pilot. That's easily forgivable when we're tired or distracted, but when we recognise that we are going off on auto-pilot, we should use the words we're saying to bring us back to our focus on Almighty God. That's what they're for.
Before we pray our liturgy we should pray:
Open Thou, O Lord, our lips to bless Thy Holy Name. Cleanse also our hearts from all vain, evil, and wandering thoughts. Enlighten our understanding, enkindle our affections that we may say this office with attention and devotion and so be meet to be heard in the presence of Thy Divine Majesty through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
However we get distracted and our words become vain repetitions, we should take comfort in the fact that God's Word is never in vain.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Monday, January 23, 2017
With the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is full swing, of course we pray for the reunification of the Church and the end of mutual excommunications.
There are lots of disunities within the Church. There are disagreements about polity, sacrament and the nature of salvation which do damage the Body of Christ, but not more so that the mutual demonization that occurs. I tend to agree that one who does not believe in the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist cannot really be in communion with one who believes that the Eucharist is purely symbolic. To the first, it must be that the other is denying the presence of one's Saviour and Lord, denying His power and will for humanity in providing such a miraculous banquet. For the other, any reverence and worship directed towards a wafer can only be seen as idolatry. At least one party is in error, and committing some form of sin. However, neither sin is unforgivable and, while either is a sin against God, the first judgment will be on the intentions of each person on the matter. If both parties are sincere in their desire to worship the same Holy Trinity, there can and will be some reconciliation when the hearts and minds of us all are made open.
I think that the same goes with most of these disagreements. If we can at least applaud the desire for integrity and sincerity for the promulgation of the Love of God from those who cannot accept what we believe the Church teaches.
For example, I am not an Augustinian, that is, I do not believe that St Augustine was 100% right on the nature of Original Sin, free-will and grace, the nature of the sacraments, and certainly not on the certain damnation of the unbaptised. As far as I can see, his was the only voice on some matters, and that St Vincent of Lerins wrote hisCommonitorium in part to put the brakes on Augustinian thinking.
I cannot accept (pseudo)Calvinist arguments that there is no such thing as free-will, and I do believe that we do have a part to play in our salvation by reaching out to grasp the hand that has been offered to pull us out of our prison. Yet, I can appreciate that Augustinians defend the the absolute sovereignty of God to the hilt, that they have an ability to find peace knowing that they are already saved, and can follow Kierkegaard by making that leap of faith. I fully believe Augustinians to be sincere followers of Christ, and that includes Calvinists and hyperCalvinist, and trust that, before the throne of God, we will not only be put right, but rather love each other more because we held opposing views.
Can we be in communion, though? That's difficult to say completely, but I do know many Calvinist whose reverence towards the Holy Sacrament, holding onto a spiritual Real Presence that is as firm as any Catholic view. Given that the term "Real Presence" can stand quite a bit of noesis as each person encounters reality absolutely personally, I would incline to be lenient here. If someone can say to me that Christ is as present in the Host as they are present in the building, I would be inclined to say that we were in communion.
The idea of a different "integrity" is best known between the different opinions on the Ordination of Women. Essentially, the way that an "integrity" works is to allow mutually exclusive opinions on the matter to remain in communion with each other. In the sense that I have have thought out above, a Calvinist with a high belief in the Eucharist could well be considered an integrity. This could give a better sense of unity between Anglicans of the Catholic and High Protestant persuasions.
Yet, with regard to the issue of the Ordination of Women, this "dual integrity" format is much more unconvincing. There are four Opinions, I suppose, that one can hold:
1) Both women and men can be priests;
2) Only men can be priests;
3) Only women can be priests;
4) No-one can be priests, i.e. there is no such thing as "ordination".
These are all mutually exclusive (I leave out the "trans" issue given that it is a marked minority - under 100,000 in the U.K - complicates matters, and has yet to be proven not to be a form of body dysmorphia). Can each of these be an "integrity" within Anglicanism?
For these to be "integrities", they would need to have some semblance of communion, i.e. there must be a common belief for Communion to hold.
One who subscribes to Opinion 1 must believe that the Eucharist celebrated by a man must be the same as that celebrated by a woman, otherwise they cannot believe that men and women are priests in the same priesthood.
One who subscribes to Opinions 2 and 3 must believe that the Eucharist celebrated by a woman must be different from that celebrated by a man. It is evident that, however sincerely they are in their beliefs, they cannot be in communion.
One who subscribes to Opinion 4 either believes that the Eucharist is purely symbolic, or that anyone can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Thus we see that Opinions 2 and 3 are not in communion by definition.
Opinion 4 clearly cannot be in communion with a Catholic, and any Eucharist celebrated in Opinion 4 would be of the gravest doubt to Opinions 1,2 and 3 given that they believe that a priest needs to celebrate the Eucharist. Thus, on the grounds of the assurance of sacramental validity, Opinions 1,2, and 3 cannot be in communion with 4.
Finally, since Opinion 1 says that the validity of the sacrament is the same regardless of sex, then Opinons 2 and 3 must regard them as equally invalid by defect of intention. Hence Opinion 1 cannot be in communion with Opinions 2 and 3.
Thus, by logic (which should hold here due to the mutually exclusive nature of the Opinions) no-one is in communion with the other, and therefore cannot form an integrity. Oh yes, they may attend each others' Eucharists, but they simply cannot regard them as valid without compromising the very integrity that they are trying to keep. Any communion that they may have with another opinion, is therefore merely lip-service and a form of dishonesty.
This is, I argue, why it really is not right that those who oppose the episcopacy of women should remain in the CofE. It actually prevents mutual flourishing as both "integrities" are essentially competing for the same financial resources. I suspect that Conservatives in the CofE could argue similarly about the different "integrities" with regard to marrying couples of the same sex.
It is better to nail one's colours to the mast than mislead people, and I would urge all Catholic-minded folk in the CofE to find a better home for their integrity.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Sunday, January 08, 2017
Friday, January 06, 2017
I see lots of discussion in the Anglican world about the nature of sacraments, in particular the Eucharist.
Nothing causes more friction at a gathering of Anglicans than the mention of the word Transubstantiation. Say that, and the urbane soirée turns into the final battle in Return of the Jedi.
Is the Real Presence of Christ spiritual, physical, corporeal, or symbolic? Does it matter? Yes, of course it does, and the ink ( and blood! ) that has been spilt on this very issue shows that it cuts to the very heart of one's relationship with God. How on earth can Anglicans be reconciled if they differ so much on this issue?
Let's turn the problem around and look at on what Anglicans, and given the breadth of what Anglicans believe, what most Christians agree on.
First, the Eucharist is important enough not to compromise one's belief on. It is commanded by Christ, and somehow bread and wine take on something of Christ in some way. For many Christians, the bread and wine take on the full identity of Christ as an objective locus of His Presence at the expense of their identity as bread and wine. There are disagreements as to how this identity is to be recognised and the nature of the locus. Is it spiritual? Is it a memorial, by which I mean something more than a simple remembring but a relication of one's experience in time? Is it physical? Is it metaphysical? It does matter what we believe, but we have to hold fast to what we believe unless the Holy Ghost compels us to believe.
This brings issues in that the one who believes in Transubstantiation could be accused of idolatry by one who believes in a spiritual presence. Yet, the one who believes in the spiritual presence could be accused of faithlessness and rejection of the words of Christ by the one who accepts Transubstantiation. Notice that I say could be accused. That doesn't mean that we have to accuse. Remember that the literal translation of Satan is "the accuser". What we must each do is to be true to our sincere belief, constantly thrashing our intellect against the Rock of Christ so that we do not become Kripkean in our dogmatism. If this means that we cannot be present at the same Altar in this Time, so be it. But we must trust in the same One Christ that we believe in with the same One Faith being members of the same One Church that we, and those with whom we disagree, are going to be together at the same altar in Heaven. Indeed, many of us believe that this happens at every valid Mass anyway!
Second, we must remember that there is no Anglican Church, no Roman Catholic Church, no Anglican Catholic Church, no Orthodox Church, there is only One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. That's it. Some of us may be Anglican as a noun by the doctrine of the prayer book and the formularies. Some of us may be Anglican as an adjective by history or by succession. Some of us may be Roman by location, by doctrine, or just by being in communion with the Holy Father. Again, that's just us. We can and should argue but not to convince, but rather to explain. Debates become tedious when they're very old. The Church Fathers say nothing conclusive about the nature of the Eucharist, save that Christ is really and objectively present following His promise to us. A promise that He keeps even when we do not keep ours. Christ's promise works for the salvation of the faithful be they Anglican, Roman, Orthodox, or Protestant. In Christ we are all brothers and sisters, yet we seem to accuse and abuse each other on the same level as the sons of King David!
Third, we should not compromise our liturgy. These words bind us in time with those who have gone before. If we say the prayer book rite whether it be the 1549 Canon, or the 1928 Canon, or if we use the Missal, whether it be English, Anglican, Sarum, or even Roman, or if we use one of the ancient Orthodox liturgies then we should remember that at the very least they agree about the words of consecration. The same intention is there in every rite - to make present the body and blood of Christ. There are, indeed, some truly terrible modern liturgies out there, but they are only invalidated if they do not embrace the true Christ as proclaimed in the great Creeds of the Church. If one's intention is to dumb things down to make it "accessible" rather than allow the great words said by so many unlearned folk throughout the ages, then one is compromising one's integrity for the fashionable by introducing a disconnection. The old language is still good enough for Shakespeare: it is still good enough for the majesty of the Holy Sacraments.
Fourthly, this brings me to the fact that the old language is a source of Anglican unity for those who seek to hold that connection with the Reformers. We do have that in common, and it won't do to forget it. I remember being picked up on the words "miserable offender" by Deacon Christopher Little. I had forgotten that the word "miserable" had changed meaning. Perhaps each Christian needs to ensure that they do not compromise on the language that they speak, but commit to learning that language as thoroughly as possible. One we truly understand our own language, then we have a better basis by which we can translate for each other. It has often been said that the English and the American are separated by a common language: let Anglicans then be united by their common language . Whether Cranmer is heretic or hero, he is certainly to be venerated for his translation and use of liturgical language.
We should not compromise on our sincere belief in Christ, but we must be prepared to suffer for that lack of compromise. If we recognise that suffering in others, then perhaps that is enough for us to come together in suffering, mutual support, mutual protection, and continue to point to that One Christ. All Catholics have the same Nicene Creed (preferably without the filioque), pray the same Our Father, and agree on 66 books of the Holy Scriptures. We all have received the same commandments from the same Christ. That should be the basis of our unity in Christ.
Thursday, January 05, 2017
As regular readers will be aware, one thing confounds me about the situation with the Catholic Church is the sheer scale of fragmentation. The "alphabet soup" that describes the Anglican Continuum is certainly an embarrassment. Further, the fragmentation is somewhat exacerbated by the episcopi vagantes that ordain and consecrate priests and bishops at a whim rather than in the prayerful and long discernment of the Church. Most of these episcopi vagantes produce valid but irregular bishops and priests, though some do not mainly because they rely on aged and infirm bishops to consecrate them. I look with some distaste at one bishop being consecrated by an aged, blind patriarch who seems to have no idea what is happening. That, to me, seems like defect of intention, and would render subsequent consecrations by this ordinand highly suspect to say the least.
It is the apostolic succession that ultimately must bind the Catholic Church together. St Paul warns both St Timothy and St Titus not to let controversies over genealogies damage the body of Christ. So many times do we witness this criticism over who has valid orders and who does not. This is particularly prevalent in Anglican Orders which have the clearly politically motivated Apostolicae Curae issued against us, despite its blatantly obvious falsity. However, until the attempts to ordain women, it was clear that Anglicans sought to preserve this succession as tightly as possible.
The defect of intention has now rendered all ordinations in the Church of England since 1992 suspect, though it does not render the acts of true charity and love that the CofE promulgates in any way suspicious. While it may lack sacramental assurance and cannot claim to be part of the Catholic Church, Christ's commands are still taken seriously, and CofE ministers are due as much respect as any other minister of God. Yet, the fact remains that the CofE is no longer Catholic as an institution.
In the Anglican Continuum, we have the famous Chambers Succession. In 1978, Bishop Albert Chambers and Bishop Francisco Pagtakhan were due to be joined by Bishops Mark Pae and Charles Boynton to consecrate Charles Doren the first Continuing Anglican Bishop. However, Bishops Pae and Boynton were both prevented from attending due to ill-health which meant that the consecration of Bishop Doren occurred with two consecrating Bishops. However, Bishops Pae and Boynton both sent letters of consent to Bishop Doren's consecration. Bishop Pae participated in subsequent Continuing Anglican ordinations while Bishop Boynton actually joined the ACC.
Now criticisms of the ordination of Bishop Doren clearly start with the fact that there were only two bishops present at the consecration. This is true. However, the first Apostolic Canon states "Let a bishop be ordained by two or three bishops." Of course, the standard has become that three bishops should ordinarily participate in the consecration of a bishop. Nonetheless, it is highly likely that there are bishops who were consecrated by two rather than three others. This does not throw into doubt the validity, but rather their regularity.
Regularity in this context demonstrates the rule by which the bishops live. Many of theepiscopi vagantes are regular only to themselves and their interpretation of whatever rules, canons, and polity they choose. Bishop Doren was indeed validly consecrated, however he was not regularly consecrated within the regularity defined by ECUSA. Now think about this carefully. Given that the Continuing Anglicans were desiring to stay with the Catholic definitions of sacraments and traditional understanding of Anglicanism, they clearly had objections to the regularity of ECUSA. This was not the regularity that the Catholic Church possesses, but ECUSA had moved the goal posts. Thus, it does not matter to the Continuing Anglican movement that its orders are not regular with ECUSA, but rather regular to the new body of Continuing Anglicans as put forward a year earlier in 1977 in the Affirmation of St Louis. This set up the rules for Continuing Anglicanism. Although it was a nuisance to have only two consecrators present at Bishop Doren's consecration, it did not affect its validity, but the consent that it received showed the strength of the intention of Bishop Doren and subsequently consecrated Bishops. The fact that the Chambers Succession flourished into a jurisdiction with a clear constitution, a clear purpose, and a clear desire to preserve the Catholic Faith, means that it cannot be compared with little groups of episcopi vagantes who change the names of their jurisdictions every five minutes, and who change their names and titles as often as they change their trousers.
The same is true of the Old Roman Catholic Church. They have been accused of being a product of a purported episcopus vagans, namely Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, but the fact remains that they have a visible regularity, an organic unity, and a government under God which seeks to continue the Catholic Faith as they have received it. That growth is testament to their validity in Christ. To the Roman Church, they may be irregular, but their bishops are as valid as any Roman Catholic bishop.
Further, a little discovery that I recently made was that one of the bishops who participated in the consecration of Bishop Chambers was Bishop Francis Rowinski of the Polish National Catholic Church whose orders are recognised by Rome. Even among the others of Bishop Chambers' consecrators were those whose consecration had been participated in by the Old Catholic Church. This reinforces what has always been said of Anglican Orders, that they are as valid as Roman Catholic Orders.
Should this bother us? Is this just Rome's problem with us?
We should not care that others don't recognise us as being valid only for as long as we truly seek the will of God in the World and live our lives in sacrifice to Him. Ultimately, it can only be He that validates or invalidates our ministry. Yet, the schisms within the Catholic Church are always a scandal and need to be healed for the integrity of the Church's mission to all people.
Recently, distances have been growing between UECNA and the ACC, despite the fact that they are both inheritors of the Chambers Succession - indeed, Bishop Doren became the first Presiding Bishop of UECNA after consecrating the first Archbishop of the ACC - Archbishop James Mote. UECNA is Anglican and holds to the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer together with its formularies. The ACC is not Anglican, but Anglican Catholic preferring to subordinate any doctrine in the Book of Common Prayer to the doctrine of the Early Church. This does mean that the ACC sees the XXXIX articles as largely irrelevant, but not unwholesome. That is something that UECNA find difficult, however the jurisdictions of the Chambers succession share that common bond. We are hewn out of the same rock despite our differences. We are children born from the same battle for orthodoxy.
As the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity approaches towards the end of the month, I wonder whether we should start looking at the lists of those who describe themselves as Continuing Anglicans and start looking for reasons why we cannot meet regularly with a view to seeing each other as "regular". I wonder whether we can seek out all those Christians who hold fast to the doctrine of the Primitive Church in the first Seven Oecumenical Councils. Instead of G8 summits, we can hold C7 summits for those who hold the doctrine of the first Seven Councils, and C4 with those who hold the doctrine of the first four. These clearly form some common ground. Once we have some kind of visible unity among the Independent Catholic Churches both nationally and world wide, perhaps then we can start to reach out to those who reject Catholic Doctrine and seek to be on good terms with them also.
We cannot be members of the World Council of Churches while it remains non-Apostolic and secular in its purposes and practices. We note that the Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC either for the same reasons. However, we need to stop saying why we cannot be members together and start thinking actively of how we can be members together. What we need is a council of Independent Catholics recognising each others' orders as valid and regular within their jurisdictions and also appreciating our differences which have arisen from history, so that
a) we can learn to view each other as regular in a wider context;
b) that, despite the smallness of member jurisdictions, we can present a larger front with which to dialogue with larger and better established jurisdictions; and
c) that we can better protect each other, arbitrate for each other, and assist each other in a growing bond of trust in Christ's Rule.
Perhaps then, we can begin to heal the schism within the Church and present a better ikon with which to draw those who schism from the Church back into the fold. This has always been my prayer, especially as I have such good friends from all over the Christian spectrum. There are good Christians out there who need to know that they are the Body of Christ. There is a ministry out there to bring the love and grace of God into a dark world through the means of the Sacraments. Can we do it together? I pray that with the help of our Omnipotent God we can.
Sunday, January 01, 2017
Derek has just been told off by his mummy for treading on John’s toe. John deserves to have had his toe trodden on because he poked Derek in the eye, first. Mummy tells Derek that he will not be allowed to watch his favourite programme until he says sorry to John. As you can imagine, Derek feels that this is a great injustice, and so he refuses to eat his sweets so that he’ll die from starvation and Mummy will be sorry. And what does Mummy tell Mrs Meeks from next-door?
“Oh! He’s just cutting off his nose to spite his face!”
That’s a weird little phrase. We use it to mean that Derek is literally going to damage himself for a cause that really isn’t worth the pain and suffering. Well, at least we think it’s a cause that isn’t worth the pain and suffering. For Derek, this is an important issue. He’s being made to say sorry and John isn’t. Perhaps Derek is campaigning for freedom from injustice, but then, if he truly values justice, would he go without his sweets on behalf of John if things were the other way around?
Is it really worth the sacrifice?
Today, men all around the world feel uncomfortable as we are presented with the Circumcision of Christ. It’s an unkind cut that our Jewish brothers and sisters have valued throughout the centuries. It signifies the Covenant and relationship that the Jewish people have with God. As symbols go, it literally involves cutting off a part of the body to seal one’s relationship with God in blood. That is clearly going to be painful, and will have a lasting effect on that one’s life. Again, we must ask the question: is it really worth the sacrifice?
That depends on what lies within the heart. What is our motive? Does it make us more socially acceptable? Do we become one of the in-crowd? Or do we do it because we value God and seek to be among those who cherish His Rule?
And then, Our Lord comes to circumcision. What does this say? That God wants to be socially acceptable? Well, clearly He isn’t: the Jewish authorities crucify Him. That God wants to be part of the in-crowd? Then why does He spend most of His ministry with the outcasts while scolding the “in-crowd” for their lack of sincerity and faith?
St Paul says that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised; that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”
The Jewish people identify themselves with the God-fearing Abraham through Circumcision. Thus Christ our God seeks to identify Himself with the people of Abraham. We see throughout His Holy Incarnation God’s desire to be reconciled to all His children, Jew and Gentile whether they be uncircumcised or not. So what does the sacrifice of circumcision actually do?
There is no point in making sacrifices unless the sacrifice is worth making. Again, St Paul says, “ though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
Do we Christians need to be circumcised? No. Our Lord has made the sacrifice of His blood to seal the new covenant with us. He has made circumcision unnecessary. However, the Christian must learn to make sacrifices. The word “sacrifice” literally means a making-holy. That’s our job. We make the sacrifice of the Mass so that we no longer need to slaughter animals, an act that can’t take away all our sins in the first place. We make a sacrifice of our Sunday mornings so that we can meet God. We make a sacrifice of our lives by recognising Christ our King and thus reject our own will, our possessions, our statuses, our reputations, even our own flawed views of right and wrong, in order to separate ourselves out into being with God.
That’s enormous, daunting, and painful. Yet, Our Lord allows Himself to be circumcised so that He might be part of our in-crowd so that we can all be in His in-crowd. If we have the faith then we will be able to bear our sacrifices for Him and thus stand with Him in His Kingdom. If we don’t have the faith, why don’t we ask God for it?
Yes, why don’t we ask God for the faith to make sacrifices?