Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Joy and happiness are actually very different things. The etymology of happiness contains that positivity that comes about from pure chance. The "hap" bit is the same "hap" as in "mishap" "happening", and "hapless": "hap" is luck. Joy is not. If happiness were the same as joy then we could not have eternal joy because there cannot be such a thing as eternal good fortune. So what is joy?
Well, Joy is characterised by that sense of positivity, that euphoria that arises in things as they are. We can see very clearly the presence of God in Joy, as God is the only being whose existence depends on nothing else. All things exist because they share in God's marvellous fact of being. Joy itself depends on nothing other than God's being, this is why it is a true gift of the Holy Spirit. Joy is the recognition of the presence of God in things, and thus something enjoyed by all those who are drawn up by God into Eternity.
There is nothing that is deficient in God, and this means that any desire we may have are fulfilled in Him - the presence of God must be pure joy as that is the only sensation that one can feel when all desires cease - Eternal Contentment!
We now see what blessing does. It is a prayer for that joy which underlies our day-to-day reality to burst through into our senses. A blessing is a spiritual happiness which pours forth from the rent in reality cut out by the fingers of a priest making the sign of the cross. This is one of the remarkable properties that ordination bestows upon a cleric - God gives His authority to slice through the veneer of our life to allow the flood of God's grace to pour forth into the world.
Of course, we can easily miss this. One thing that makes joy most notable is its absence. Unless we train our souls to be joyful, then we will always only glimpse it through little windows in the Veil. We obtain joy by getting rid of happiness. Once we give up allowing our "joy" to rely on fortune or chance, and start to find God in things and circumstances as they are, then we will truly obtain joy.
The sun has gone in, and the rain is starting to fall, Everything seems rather darker and less glorious. Yet, God is there: His light pours out unseen through all creation. Only eyes that will be opened by Our Lord shall rejoice. May God bless your eyes, so you may see clearly this Lent!
Monday, February 27, 2017
This, of course, presents a bit of a problem for the 28% of incumbents in the Sheffield Diocese who are women. Essentially, they will be given oversight by a bishop who does not believe that they are priests - at least in the Catholic sense. Quite what he believes about them is another matter and one for him to explain. I suspect he will see them and work with them as cordially as the CofE does with Protestant ministers such as Methodists and Presbyterians. There is the possibility of of good collegiality here and, indeed, Bishop North is known for his desire to work alongside the women in his work as Bishop of Burnley.
This, of course, has angered the progressive element in the CofE. Both Modern Church and WATCH have called upon Bishop North either to decline the Bishopric or distance himself from Forward in Faith. They believe that to have a Diocesan Bishop who does not believe in the ordination of women is tantamount to sanctioning discrimination against women in the CofE, and will therefore devalue the work being done by female incumbents in the Sheffield Diocese.
Why should I care? I'm not in the CofE. Am I just poking my nose into someone else's affairs? I should say that this is a problem that the CofE have created by being established. They are the country's Church and thus open themselves for scrutiny for all in the country whether they are members or not. As I've said before, a Church that is part of the establishment is duty bound to follow the rules and adapt to that establishment.
As I am now "North of the Watford Gap", I am also affected by the decision. How will this affect my attempts at getting the Mission of St Anselm and St Odile started? So I do have an interest in proceedings. What I do not have is reason to be swayed one way or the other. As a consequence that my Church believes that the Catholic Faith is immutable, it accepts that God has not given it authority to ordain women, and that is that. There are no cliques for those that do, no "ordinariates" or "patrimonies" in which dissenters from that decision can be allowed to flourish. It isn't even a "clear decision" on our part - God made the decision and we are trying hard to be faithful to that.
The CofE has made a clear decision that women can be priests but it has also made the decision that people who dissent from this be given space to remain. They have made the clear decision that both supporters of women's ordination, and those who say that women can't be priests be allowed to flourish mutually.
And now we run into the problem.
Let us for a moment just replace the word "woman" with "black person" mutatis mutandis.
My above sentence now reads
The CofE has made a clear decision that black people can be priests, but it has also made the decision that those who dissent from this be given space to remain. They have made the clear decision that supporters of black people's ordination, and those who say that black people can't be priests be allowed to flourish mutually.
And now the whole situation sounds a bit like apartheid.
The whole issue now does turn into a question of whether the CofE is allowing discrimination to thrive.
For a mathematician, the word discrimination has a very simple meaning. It just means telling one thing from another. A quadratic equation possesses a discriminant which discriminates between equations with two real answers, one real answer, or no real answers. Likewise, the toilet door still does discriminate between male and female, not because of unfairness, but because women would have problems with the fixtures and fittings in the men's restroom.
However, we now use the word "discrimination" to mean an unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. This is where the CofE could find itself accused of not being entirely fair.
Here's the problem. The CofE says that women can be priests. It ordains women as priests, and now as bishops. There is an expectation that these women are recognised for what they are, that their sacraments are valid, and that they they really are doing what they say they're doing. Within the Canon Law of the CofE, it is fair that anyone, male or female should be recognised for what they are. Yet, there are those who object to this. If I object to the judgement against me of a female judge because I don't believe that women can be judges, then I still stand condemned because the law of the Society to which I subscribe does recognise the authority of a female judge.
However, this whole thing rests on whether this really is discrimination.
For me, as an Anglican Catholic, the Catholic Faith is clear. There is no authority for the Church to ordain women and no change in Canon Law can stop that, because it is not Law, it is Catholic Faith, and Catholic means for all time. It is accepted that getting a white actor to "black up" and play Martin Luther King is the height of offence. Indeed, recently a white actor played Michael Jackson, and the internet erupted into cries of racism! It is not discrimination that only a black actor should play Martin Luther King. It is not discrimination that only a woman should play Elizabeth Bennett. It is not discrimination that only a man can play Our Lord in something like "Jesus of Nazareth". This is because it is a point of reality, not law. Martin Luther King was black. Elizabeth Bennett is a woman. Our Lord is male. No passing of any law can change these facts. It would be as absurd as legislating that the number pi be 4.
What God has put into existence is the Law, and no human law can change that.
However, that is not to say that people should not worry about whether there is discrimination going on. There are those who use theological arguments against women's ordination to hide their misogyny. There are those who cling to the Catholic Order, not because of obedience to the commands of Almighty God, but rather to disguise their attitude of "jobs for the boys". Personally, the CofE has made a legal rod for its own back by promising mutually exclusive parties that they can flourish. It would be so much better for all concerned if the Catholic Group were allowed to separate and allow flourishing in that situation.
If these men are serious in wishing to be obedient to God, then they should learn to see and value what every single person, male or female, can bring to God's Church. Only God gets to discriminate: He discriminates by the very fact of creation, and He discriminates only in the truest, purest love!
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Friday, February 24, 2017
Today we mark the feast of St Matthias. This man was the first bishop to be consecrated after the Ascension of Our Lord. His feast day therefore marks the beginning of Holy Orders as a sacrament and thus the beginning of the Apostolic Succession of Bishops.
We read that "the lot fell upon Matthias". Of course, by this we understand that Matthias was chosen from acceptable candidates by lot. He was not chosen for political means, nor for a particular movement within the Church, but rather because he had walked with the other apostles from the time that Our Lord was baptised by John, and was thus a witness to the Lord's ministry. And that's it! Matthias is mentioned only twice in Holy Scripture, both times in the first Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Then silence.
This is actually significant: it demonstrates the importance of generating bishops with the same authority that Our Lord gave to His original disciples. If St Matthias were to be a figure of Biblical proportion like St Paul, then greater mention of it would be made. Yet, St Luke includes this passage to show that this ministry of mission, teaching, and sacrament must propagate into the future for as long as humanity exists and seeks God.
Yet, if this first chapter is to be believed, Judas himself was a bishop in the same way that the other Disciples were. Why else would St Peter refer to Psalm cix.7 which in the Latin says, "fiant dies eius pauci et episcopatum eius accipiat alter" and is translated by Coverdale as, "Let his days be few and let another take his office". This son of perdition is a bishop which is truly significant as to the fate of any whose lives betray Our Lord.
Time and again will the Church see bishops who will disregard their true vocation. History is littered with bishops as fat grotesques seeking to hold political power through the governance of the souls of humble men and women. This type of medieval prince rejoices in his purple, his golden mitre, his sumptuous attire, his feasts, and his entitlement to be invited to the best feasts! One might look to Pope Alexander VI - Rodrigo Borgia - is regarded as an archetype of Papal corruption, yet his successor Pope Julius II is just as scheming and politically motivated. Do they walk with Jesus? It's hard to see how, yet they are products of their time! Do they share in the ultimate fate of Judas? We may not judge, and God is merciful to those who repent.
However, the pun is true. "The lot fell upon Matthias". The lot falls upon each person whom God calls to be a bishop, and it is a lot! Were it not for St Matthias and his episcopal brethren, there would not be a Catholic Church. Our Lord is its chief cornerstone, but the Apostles and their successors have contributed to the foundations of the Church by ministering to the Christians at the coal-face. The Bishop is not to be a commander, one puffed up with his idea of self-importance which he forces upon the clergy through Canon Law and Episcopal Mandate. He is to be an example of humility, laying aside the purple robes of state, and adopting the dirty shift of labour for the vineyard of Christ. It is his walking with Christ that will gather others around him in the same walk, every step bowed with the weight of his responsibility to those who do gather.
If tradition is correct, St Matthias founded the Church of Cappadocia. If this is true, then it is his "Bishoprick" that gave rise to the Cappadocian Fathers, St Basil, St Gregory of Nyssa, and St Gregory Nazianzus, all of whom became bishops in the fourth century and defended the Christian Faith and still inspire Christians today with their writings of such depth and spirituality which draw the soul to God. Their writings form a roadmap of their walk with God and, through the Nicene Creed, accompany us back to the Holy Trinity.
Thankfully, the days of feudalism are gone. The political authority of bishops is much less, save only in Churches where secular politics has a foothold. These days, a bishop must have an extraordinary quality whereby people see in his character, his work, his action, the love, and especially, the sacramental grace of God in his hands. He must bear the weight of that grace, that he has authority to bestow the Holy Ghost as well as to forgive and bring through the veil the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and he will be held into account for all of these. His teaching will be scrutinised and every error will be accounted to him.
Who on earth would desire such an office? Only those who in ignorance believe it to be the pathway to power and entitlement, and who will thus face a terrible fate in the wrath of God to come. Or those whom God calls and who meekly allow their backs to be bowed under the cross of Christ that they might walk with Him. A bishop should indeed be venerated by Christians, for thereby they venerate Christ Himself and receive blessings from Him regardless of the character of the bishop. As a priest, though with the fullness of God's ordination, every Bishop is an ikon of Christ and thus must be treated accordingly. However, woe betide that bishop who thinks himself worthy of the veneration of the faithful!
Yet the office of a Bishop is a good thing to desire, for by it we are connected inescapably to Our Lord through the chains of the Apostolic Succession. To agree to God to bear our part in supporting our bishops, we are helping to attach the lives of all Christians buffeted about upon the turbulent and fearsome sea of this World to the Rock that is Christ Himself, anchoring us all to safety and to salvation. In the Episcopacy, we see the promises of God assured and, by gathering around our bishops, we can find comfort in that assurance.
On this day, may the merits of St Matthias be of great encouragement to all bishops, and with his prayers and ours, may all the bishops of God be blessed, may their hard work be lightened by the smile on Our Lord's face when he says "well done, good and faithful servant", and may the riches of God's grace which they bear at their hands be a source of their humble fulfillment. At the last, may the life of every bishop, purified by God's Holiness, shine to guide the lost back to their Creator.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
What is the point of this little blog? It's a good time for a little appraisal. First and foremost, I put my sermons here. The whole point of a sermon is to produce a connection between the hearer and God. I do have a duty to preach and it does make sense to allow others the opportunity to reflect on the word of God.
The question I have to answer seriously is whether this blog is merely my attempt to maintain an addiction to dopamine. It's an interesting fact that when people post on social media, every time that post is "liked" or given some other positive affirmation it sends a shot of dopamine into the brain. According to Psychology Today, "Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them." You can see why this is addictive, especially when Facebook and blogs actually offer a more-or-less instant gratification for every "like" or "share" or whatever. It makes me wonder whether all those who post on Facebook daily are themselves addicts to the whole pleasure-seeking nature of posting just for the sake of it. It seems just a little too onanistic, if you pardon my vulgarity.
If I therefore keep this blog going for the sake of sheer vanity, then I am doing much damage to my own soul. Vanity is formed from emptiness and, in particular an emptiness of God which we should not tolerate. In a blog there is a temptation to become the centre of one's own little universe like Edwin Abbott Abbott's God of Pointland who "cannot conceive of any other except himself – and plumes himself upon the variety of Its Thought as an instance of creative Power. Let us leave this God of Pointland to the ignorant fruition of his omnipresence and omniscience: nothing that you or I can do can rescue him from his self-satisfaction."
The word sermon is connected to the Latin sermo which is a conversation, and perhaps this is where this blog really does have a value - at least for me. Anyone who knows me knows how difficult it is to have a conversation with me. Sometimes I latch onto one idea that someone speaks to me and my mind contemplates that while missing the rest of the conversation. I have a tendency to forget what I was saying mid-conversation. This is why I was next to useless as a teacher, and that much is inevidence even in what I write. However, the written medium allows me to share thoughts and ideas with greater precision and control. On Facebook, I enjoy sharing jokes and cartoons not for dopamine, but because jokes are a way of communicating humour. I blog to share ideas, to clarify my thinking, even to repeat myself in order to test some ideas out to destruction.
But the problem is that I do get a bit of a rush whenever anyone says that they like what I post. That needs to stop! One thing I will be doing is removing the "interesting" and "helpful" buttons at the bottom of each post. While these helped me to gauge and pitch my thoughts and words, they can too easily become another outlet for dopamine addiction and blogospheric onanism - i.e. they become the reason for posting in the first place. They have outlived their purpose and - poof - are now gone.
To the same end, I am now going to request, humbly yet urgently, that, should this blogling continue, my posts are not "liked" or "shared" to my knowledge. I have had many very kind comments from people saying that they have appreciated what I have written. I have found these very uplifting, but if I write this blog in deliberate attempts to please people, then that can stem anything prophetic that needs to be said. If you do like a post genuinely then please don't press the "like" button, please don't "share" it. If you feel that I have said anything of merit or, better still, you have heard words from God speak to you upon your reflections on what I have written and want to share those thoughts, then please do so but by copying the URL directly and not by giving any fuel to this culture of dopamine addiction as evidenced by so many people (myself included) wasting their time with their eyes on their phones. I do welcome comments, but I would be grateful if they were comments of substance. I need to ensure that I deprive myself of the oxygen of seeking praise in itself, for seeking praise in itself derails my desire to please only God.
I am also grateful that I am not a popular thinking, even in the Anglican Catholic Church. I remain defiantly non-Augustinian and thus I rid myself of the whole legalistic Original Sin problem that has caused many a ruction in the Western Church. All I have seen in my studies of the first millennium is a general tendency towards theosis in a sizable number of Church Fathers. It also means that I can be at peace in my mind away from the troubling issues that Calvinism throws up. I also want to avoid the competitiveness of Internet Argumentation which usually results in someone getting deeply offended. I have been very heavy-handed in my apologetics to the extent of losing friends when I should have just shut up.
What I do want to do is LEARN! I have learned a lot from my discussions with others, and by watching others. Yet I need to eradicate from my viewpoint any argumentative one-up-manship. I had a wonderful discussion with Fr Anthony Chadwick and Fr Gregory Wassen on the Eternity or not of Hell. We disagreed profoundly! However, I learned something, and it felt good. I kept two friends and I felt that I built upon what I already knew. That is what I want to continue on this blog. No "liking", no "sharing" but learning, study, investigation and thought.
I beg your prayers that my life would be free from vanity of all kinds, especially intellectual vanity, and that I can continue to serve God in humility and truth, and bring that truth to others in His love. I pray also that society will lose its dependency on dopamine addiction.
Monday, February 20, 2017
I mentioned earlier that the whole idea of belief is becoming unpopular. If we look at the world before the Council of Nicaea in 325, we find a world in which any belief is tolerated, except for a belief that doesn't tolerate other beliefs. The Roman empire of the second and third centuries was a world full of gods and goddesses of all kinds of religion, This was fine if you believed in a pantheon, but for Christians, there was only one God and one alone! Christians were regarded as the original atheists, despite the fact that they believed in one God. This would normally be fine, except Christian life did not tolerate the worship of other gods. For a polytheist, it doesn't matter which god you're sacrificing to, it's all good! For a Christian, to sacrifice to another god who is not God, is idolatry mainly because the Christian does not believe that other gods exist. Meat offered to idols must be refused, even if the best meat at the local butcher has been offered in sacrifice. If running for political office involves a sacrifice to a god, then a Christian cannot enter local government. If the Emperor is coming, then it's best to find a hidey-hole, because he will demand worship as a god incarnate!
We look at the lives of Christians in the first few centuries, and we see lives of persecution, of punishment for transgressing the ultimatum of be part of pagan society or die. We look and we see St Valentine clubbed and beheaded, St Lawrence roasted, St Simeon crucified, St Sebastian shot with arrows before being given the coup de grace, St Agatha mutilated, St Perpetua thrown to the beasts. What can be said is that these men and women truly believed. They held something so dear as to be certain about it.
I said earlier that the word "belief" in its very origin means holding something beloved. To believe means to be convinced, to have a conviction. Ideally, is one prepared to be convicted about one's beliefs?
Few of us would risk going to gaol for the belief that it will rain tomorrow, but one might risk losing a fiver, or a day's worth of washing-up on it. For Christianity, the wager is clear: believe in God or risk eternal separation from Him. Pascal's wager may not be a watertight argument, but it does have a good convincing power.
In today's society, I believe that we find much the same thing. The plethora of beliefs, plus a force within society to regard all beliefs equally valid or invalid is very much the norm. Theological courses tend to be that of comparative religion and often encourage the student to suspend her own belief so that she can study the subject "fairly". If you are a Christian, then there is only one belief. The others are false, wrong, incorrect, incomplete, or nonsense pure and simple. That other people have the freedom not to be Christian is common sense: Christianity is about the freedom to be human and to choose. Other people have the freedom to be wrong, and we Christians believe that people who are not Christian are wrong. That doesn't mean that we believe that they are wrong about everything, though. This is why dialogue is important - not to convince each other of the correctness of one's belief, but to explain one's own belief.
Now, I have just said that as a Christian we are not to convince others of why our Faith is correct. We are witnesses to the Truth, not the Thought Police, nor the Inquisition. We can only give testimony to the Truth by the way we live our lives. What then of prophecy? Are not some Christians called to be prophets? Aren't prophets supposed to be loud and objectionable people telling passers-by that they are all sinners and going to Hell?
Actually, a prophet is simply one who speaks the will of God via the Holy Ghost. Thus a prophet can never contradict previous prophecies otherwise the Holy Ghost would be contradicting Himself and that would be nonsense. The Holy Ghost dwells within every baptised Christian and, therefore, every Christian has the propensity to be a prophet and speak prophecy. The testimony that each Christian bears is witness to the existence of a loving God. It means that each Christian must live a life with that conviction. The Christian that is not convinced or loses conviction needs to get it back and thus requires support, prayer and encouragement.
There have recently been some cases in the media where Christian retailers have been hauled through the law-courts for refusing to support a marriage of two homosexuals. The worst that I have seen is that of Irish Cake bakers who were sued for not baking a cake with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage". For the Christian, gay marriage is a logical nonsense for, in the Christian milieu, marriage is by definition between a man and a woman. Since Christians are to bear witness to the Truth, it is simply not possible for a Christian baker to support "gay marriage" without testifying to that which is not of God. The Christian that does support "gay marriage" is setting up within himself a cognitive dissonance which he can only explain away by changing the meaning of words from what they were, or by declaring that what Holy Tradition bears is either false or changes.
The choice for the Christian baker is to submit, bake the cake, and then reflect on the action, or to refuse and receive the full punishment of the law for that conviction. The law-courts will pass away, the Truth of God will not. In this day and age, it is now a frightening possibility that Christians in Western Society will find persecution by law-court. Given that the Christians in the Middle East are suffering a massive persecution which is practically ignored by Western media, the Western Christian's lot seems rather incommensurate. The Syrian Christian would, I'm sure, rather lose money to the law court than his hand, eyes and/or head. However, the Christian that is not willing to sacrifice anything for his belief in God is going to reap no reward for burying his talent.
The only belief that is being encouraged in society is that nothing is certain. That's not untrue. Certainty is a very difficult thing to establish. Logic is infallible in its grasp of certainty, but logical truths are not very interesting. Aristotelian syllogisms are certain but fail to establish any new information about the world. In order to discover new information, it seems one must sacrifice certainty. There is much logic and rational thought in Christian doctrine but it has, at its root, axioms of belief, thus logic cannot establish certainty itself. It can, however, establish conviction and thus further belief. If one accepts the Epiphany of God, this great Theophany, given in the Church and Holy Scripture, then one has the basis on which to encounter the Truth. However, one has to accept that Theophany as infallible, otherwise one compromises the whole of Christianity and runs into danger of just being another syncretist like the pagans of the AnteNicene era, and that is not what Christianity is about.
However, there is a flip-side to this. It's all very well being Christian and thus necessarily saying that Islam, Hinduism, Atheism, and Buddhism are not true, but rather inherently wrong, but the Christian faith insists - absolutely insists - that we always see people. We cannot live out the truth of Our Lord's commandments if we see people merely as embodied ideas.That reduces the great unsearchable interior of another human mind to an abstract. Thus we should not see Muslims - we should see people. We should not see Communists - we should see people. We should not see <insert your least favourite expression of Christianity here> - we should see people.
If we are seriously convicted Christians, then we should be prepared to be convicted. If we aren't showing love in our conviction, then it's not Christianity that we're convicted of!
Sunday, February 19, 2017
We’re tempted to see them as the same thing: it seems that every infirmity is a misfortune, and that misfortune is caused by an infirmity somewhere along the line. But an infirmity is something that is part of us – a weakness that often causes us to fall, often in precisely the same way. Can we really glory in our propensity to catch a cold?
Friday, February 17, 2017
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
"Christianity is not, and never has been, an unchanging monolith. No dogma, no text, not even one’s favourite biblical text, is God’s command to everyone at all times. No single source is infallible. In every age we bring the resources available to bear on the issues we face. Our understanding is always limited and uncertain. The only people who are certainly wrong are the ones who claim to be certainly right. Such people become intolerant and deaf."
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
If Matthew xxii:37-40 is correct then I must love God and my neighbour in the appropriate manner.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
“It’s not the winning, George, it’s the taking part.”
You’ve probably heard that phrase before used when George is in floods of tears because he hasn’t got a medal for being the fastest in running across the playground. The medal is clearly something that matters to George, and not winning it is a cause for great sorrow and anguish.
But why do we get a medal for coming first?
Why not a medal for coming fourth or ninth?
You may say that we give medals to inspire people to do better, but surely coming fourth would involve some very interesting skills other than just being the fastest.
For many issues, the first past the post is an obvious method of making choices. The fastest runner will be the one who can take the message to an ally while the town is in siege. The best javelin thrower will be the one to use against the enemy walls. The best boxer will be the one to beat the opposing champion for the hope of the city.
These are old Greek ideas of several thousand years ago. Do they have much meaning now?
If these are merely things we value in war or combat, shouldn’t we be evolving out of such a competitive or war-like way of thinking?
The people we describe as winners todayhave something about them that we value. We see in them something in our heroes and heroines that we would like for ourselves, and that’s no bad thing. It isn’t envy when we don’t want to take that away from those whom we admire but seek to emulate their achievement. Achievement only really works if we value what we seek to achieve. Yet, if we covet the prize itself, and seek to take that prize away from another, that truly is envy.
Can we say that the whole sports industry is based around envy?
Probably not. However, where our treasure it, there are hearts are also. The Lord tells us as much, and what He is speaking about is worship. Worship is literally worth-ship; what we worship determines our own value system. Once we have a thing that tops the score board in our own thinking, something that we desire most, something that we’d do anything to achieve, then everything else ranks behind it.
The Christian knows precisely what the score board should look like.
We worship God by putting Him first, and this sets up our whole system of values. We should value what He values; we should hate what He hates; love what He loves. It doesn’t matter when in our lives we acquire this system of values; the prize, the reward, the joy is always the same – nothing less than God Himself.
That should terrify us.
Once we look at where we are, we realise just how far short we are of worshipping God in spirit and in truth. We need that knowledge, no matter how painful it is, but we run our race with God alongside us, rooting for us, cheering us on, and giving us the grace to succeed.
As we enter Great Lent, the first three weeks of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima are there to get us to examine ourselves, the condition of ourselves to run the race to God. Then, when we have examined ourselves, we shrive ourselves on Shrove Tuesday by confessing to God, sacramentally if we wish, what we need to put right. Then we can spend Lent preparing ourselves properly to worship the Risen Lord anew on that Glorious Paschal Sunday morning.
Now is the time to think about how much we really do worship God, and seek the prize that is set before us.
How seriously are we prepared to change our score board?
Monday, February 06, 2017
Things never run smoothly, but in the love of God, they do run to the end. I find myself in the process of making myself a new life "Oop North" in Sheffield. I have left my lovely Parish in Rochester, and now I must face the face that I am going to have to build God's Church anew in a new Mission. This is an enormous task and may not even reach the first hurdle. I have to listen to God and see what He is saying for His Church here.
I have chosen for this Putative Mission, the patronage of St Anselm and St Odile - two Benedictine Saints who have relevance in my life. One might have thought that I choose the patronage of St Michael and St Bartholomew, the saints on whose feasts I received my ordinations, but something has made me consider these two less-well-known saints. To see why, we need a few biographical notes.
St Anselm 1033/4-1109
Feast Day: 21st April
Born in Lombardy to a noble family, Anselm entered the monastic life where he excelled in his studies and became famous for the precision of his language. He left to study under Lanfranc in the Abbey at Bec and took his vows there. When Lanfranc left to become Abbot of Caen, Anselm was elected prior of Bec and then subsequently became abbot. It is here that he began his major writings such as the Monologion and the Proslogion in which he tried to demonstrate the existence of God by reason alone in his famous Ontological Argument. He might, from this, be regarded as the father of Scholasticism. The Proslogion was given another title for which Anselm is famous - fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding.
William the Conqueror, a patron of the Abbey at Bec, granted lands to the Abbey in both England and Normandy. While Anselm was viewing these lands, William's successor, William II (known as Rufus) appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. The relationship between King William and his archbishop was turbulent to say the least as the King sought to have control over the Church's property (where have we heard that before?). When Anselm refused to pay the King's demands, the king prevented him from going to Rome to receive the pallium from the the Pope, thus creating the Investiture Controversy over whether the King had the right to appoint or reject candidates for ecclesiastical positions. This controversy continued after William II's hunting "accident" when Henry I took over. Anselm died peacefully on 21st April 1109 and was canonised not too long after probably at the behest of St Thomas Becket, his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anselm defended the filioque clause, and brought forward a powerful theory of the Atonement which has been developed by St Thomas Aquinas and influenced the Reformers Luther and Calvin.
So why have I, an Anglican Catholic who largely rejects the soteriology of St Augustine, who rejects the Papal claims to authority, and who also wants the filioque removed from the Creed, chosen the patronage of one who ostensibly believes the opposite?
For me, St Anselm is a brother Benedictine of a remarkable intellect, exceptional clarity and language, and he is responsible for challenging a secular authority. It isn't so much that I believe his conclusions to be wrong, but rather that he and I are both out on the same search, that fides quaerens intellectum. I admire very much that keenness of mind, and sharpness of wit that he possesses. I believe that his reasoning was wonderful, beautiful even, but he did not see the premises that he needed on which he could found his theory.
The idea of being able to see brings me to:
St Odile (aka St Odilia or St Ottilia) c662 - c720
Feast Day: 13th December
Tradition has it that Odile was born in Alsace to a noble family, but was also born blind. Being disabled in such a way at that time brought about her father's rejection and so she was given to be raised by peasants in Burgundy. The legend is that, when she was twelve, Bishop St Erhart of Regensberg baptised her whereupon she suddenly regained her sight.
When her brother brought her back home, her father was so enraged that he accidentally killed his son, whom then Odilia miraculously raised from the dead before fleeing. When her father fell ill, Odilia returned to nurse him. In gratitude he gave her Hohenburg Castle which she turned into Hohenburg Abbey, becoming the Abbess there.
She is a patron saint of people with eye problems, and of Alsace.
St Odile predates the Roman method of canonisation and she is recognised as a saint in the Orthodox Church too.
I have chosen the patronage of St Odile, not just for personal reasons, e.g. my own eye-sight, but because she represents something fundamental that I alluded to earlier.
Reason, without clear sight of what really is true, cannot guarantee the truth. It doesn't matter how elegant the arguments are, or how brilliant the conclusions. If the premises are not true, then the conclusions cannot be relied upon. With St Anselm, we have to begin our understanding of our relationship with God with faith, and faith comes as a result of seeing God's revelation. God gives faith as a gift and, if we open that gift, faith seeks God. Every Anselm needs an Odile to ensure that his understanding bears faithful witness to the truth. Every Odile needs an Anselm to give a language that helps us develop our relationship with God, even if that language is not in a tongue that we're used to speaking.
It's on this basis that I seek to build this Mission for the love of God. In this country, our Christian Faith is too much affected and held to ransom by secular and secularising authorities. St Anselm challenged that in his lifetime, even if he brought Romanising influences on the English Church. Given that the alternative was a church run by corrupt and greedy rulers, putting the Church under the Patriarch of the West probably saved it! Likewise, with an increasingly secular Established Church, so we seek to regain that vision of Christ in our society. There is much that is good in secular society and that should be cultivated in a healthy Church: a tolerance for those who have different beliefs without accepting those beliefs or, as it seems some folk in the Church of England want to do, adopting them wholesale; a desire for fairness and justice, regardless of faith, race, or sex, yet rejecting the lazy thinking and cultural blindness that tries to make faith, race, and sex homogeneous characteristics through the deception of self-definition; a vibrant scientific curiosity, but which is curtailed and actually driven by the intrinsic God-given worth of every human being conceived as well as a healthy respect for Creation.
I would ask for your prayers as well as the prayers of St Anselm and St Odile, that this silly little vision of mine may be worthy of being brought into reality by the Love of God in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sunday, February 05, 2017
Thursday, February 02, 2017
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,It is interesting to note that the Benedictine office of Compline doesn't have these words of St Simeon on a day-to-day basis when perhaps many think it should. However, the Nunc Dimittis does appear in the Office of Compline over the Triduum and on the Commemoration of All Souls.
according to Thy word.
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,
which Thou hast prepare before the face of all people
to be a light to lighten the Gentiles
and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.