Friday, March 30, 2018

The Clamour and the Crucifix

Sometimes, it all gets a bit much.

Trying to maintain your Christian Faith in a world which wants you to alter those beliefs sounds very straightforward when you say it out loud. It's when the fall-out hits you: today's Western World may not seek to stone you, throw you to the lions or crucify you literally. No. Today's tactic is to destroy your faith through "science", social pressure, complex legal arguments, and more and more trivialities-dressed-as-important so that your mind is torn hither and yon seeking for the way to honour God - the God Who is with us, for us and fiercely on our side; distraction, distraction, distraction. It is all noise.

We can see just how much the world hates Christianity: it is called the Cross and, today, we behold our sovereign saviour, our Lord and God Incarnate, stripped, nailed, reviled and mocked on the cross. You can hear the noise around Him as He hangs there. All He can hear are the taunts of people who are anti-understanding, seeking to drown out His message with their list of obligations. This is how Our Blessed Lord is no-platformed - pinned to a cross and drowned out.

It is only those who stare at the cross in tears and silence that hear the one thing that the Devil was trying to stop us from hearing.

"Tetelestai!"

It's this that the Devil doesn't want us to hear because it is the truth: he has been conquered and his eternal fate known in Time. It doesn't matter what you hear around you. The truth is the truth. The cross is the cross. And God is God. No matter how this world tries to drown out what you know to be true in your heart, it cannot. It might as well try to convince you that two and two are five. You may not know why two and two have to be four, but you do know that it is four despite even courts ruling that the sum should be otherwise.

The only approach to this clamour is silence.

In silence, we hear the little voice of God who seeks out only those who want to hear Him. The world may hear tetelestai and drown out, distort and confuse its meaning with words, psychobabble and redaction. But we hear it, and we hear it in context: Christ has done it; He has perfected His salvation; He has poured Eternal Truth into the world through the opening of His hands and His side.

All we have to do is sit at the foot of the cross, look up, listen and be loved.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Passionate Embrace

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent called Passion Sunday

Why do we suffer?

Perhaps we will never know for sure but we can be quite sure that suffering is pretty much guaranteed for all of us at some point in our lives. Perhaps this suffering will make us call God into question. Perhaps it will weaken our faith. Perhaps, in searching for the answers, we will lose sight of all that is good and holy.

Knowing that this is an unfathomable part of the human condition, why do we refer to Our Lord's suffering as His Passion. Isn't passion something felt between lovers who aren't backward at coming forward to express their love?

[PAUSE]

The words, "patience," "passive," and "passion" are all related and come from the same Latin word which means to suffer or to endure. If you are a patient in a hospital, then you are experiencing a passion. A passion is something that happens to you. As we enter Passiontide, veiling the images and the statues and crucifixes, we are demonstrating that in being a saint, we have to be willing to suffer because Love suffers. Perhaps that's why suffering has to exist so that we can learn to love truly and thus truly know God.

That's thoroughly unpalatable in this day and age when we have all kinds of medicines and distractions that can dull our pain but without actually addressing the cause. We see too many people addicted to painkillers of many forms. Some embrace the pain, seek to have it define their lives and thus become perpetual victims. There are those who simply cannot stop grieving for one whom they loved so much and, in so doing, settle down into a comfortable half-life of grief. If passion is something that happens to us, then what else can we do but let it happen? Isn't Jesus, in His suffering in the dreadful events of the coming week, a perpetual victim?

[PAUSE]

Indeed Our Lord is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. It is by His eternal victimhood - His Eternal Passion - that we are reconciled eternally with God. What makes the Passion of Our Lord so unique is that He isn't just the victim: He is the priest as well. He makes the sacrifice happen. This doesn't mean that Our Lord is suicidal: it means that, by being in control of His passion, He can put it to the best use possible.
"CHRIST being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands; that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves; but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us."
It is the priesthood of Christ that turns around the notion of the victim on its head. Instead of being passive in His suffering, Our Lord takes what He has been given and endures it actively. While His life undergoes pain and torture, He takes the fight into the spiritual realm and smashes the whole of the Devil's work to make life a misery and death an Eternal inevitability.

[PAUSE]

And this is part of the nature of our Catholic priesthood. The Church, through the activity of all its members, offers up the suffering of the world through the exercise of Love. The Church, herself, is nourished through the obligations of priests who must participate in the active sacrifice of Christ in order to give each Christian the spiritual nourishment they need in order to keep the fight going.

Our challenge is not only to take up the Cross at Our Lord's command, but also to venerate it even as we would venerate the cross of Christ. We are to venerate the very cross to which we are nailed.

By accepting the suffering that we receive and carrying it with us, bearing one another's burdens as the Church, we can follow Christ into taking up the fight against Evil and, by enduring, win through God's grace.

We need not be passive in our passion. Christ isn't.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Lie of Progress

In this period of Lent, Christians are invited through prayer and fasting to examine their consciences and make an appropriate repentance. Why?

Every Christian should have the goal of becoming more Christ-like: each of us is to put on Christ and put to death the old man who lives only according to the flesh. It seems very reasonable that there is, for each individual Christian, a perfectly well-defined notion of progress in life. We progress by committing fewer sins and by co-operating with the grace we receive abundantly from Almighty God. Our end is our beginning: perfection in God.

How do we measure that progress, though? Saying, "I committed five sins yesterday and only three today," might give the illusion that progress is being made but yesterday is not the same day as today. You never step into the same river twice.

"Ah!" says my detractor, "you always argue that whatever is sinful does not change in Time. How can you argue this if each day is contextually different from the next?"

Sin is defined in relation to God. Sin always misses God - that's what the term "sin" means, a missing of the target. Since God is Eternal and thus changeless in Time, whatever misses Him must also be Eternal, in the same way that one quarter, the square root of two, and 𝜋 must always miss the set of whole numbers. The time at which these numbers fail to be whole numbers is meaningless. What may change is the gravity of the sin within temporal contexts: murder - that is, the unlawful, premeditated killing of another human being - is always sinful, but the reasons why that murder is committed will differentiate it from being malicious and being weak. Unlawful killing? Which law? Clearly, the law of the one who gave it - God!

Take God out of the equation and there ceases to be any form of universal law. The unlawfulness of murder can be decided by whatever human authority is appointed to decide what law is. One only has to look at the last century to see that it is possible for the extermination of various groups of people to become lawful in human civilisation.

Okay, that's last century. That won't happen today! We've made progress.
If you haven't yet read it, make sure you read and understand Orwell's 1984 and see how already we are being conditioned to think in a certain way.

We know that slavery is wrong, yet still it happens and people are prepared to sanction it. Big businesses paying children a pittance in some part of the world to sew together cheap trendy trainers for wannabe rich kids.

We know that sexism is wrong, yet still women are being treated as an underclass by those who seek to assert their dominance through maintaining sexual stereotypes which serve only to make both sexes caricatures of humanity.Yet, the Western Governments are passing laws by which even the safe spaces of women's restrooms can be used by men by redefining what "men" and "women" mean - or rather by legislating that a word no longer means what it already means by the abuse of grammar.

If the Enlightenment seeks the progress of human beings, what does it see as the goal of Progress especially if part of that "enlightenment" is the destruction of belief in God?

The only goal of an atheist progress must be some form of Utopia to which end human beings are to work. From what little I understand of such a worldview is that Science, Reason, and Humanism are the means by which the ills of poverty, disease, injustice. war, old-age and even death are eradicated. Thus, all human beings become a means to this end and nothing more. If my life ends with my death then,  by virtue of the fact that I would not see Utopia, only work that I do towards it will be my worth as I fade into oblivion. The humanity of those who will see this Utopia will not be shared by those who have died to realise it unless this Utopia possesses the ability to raise the dead. How would that be possible for those, like Blessed John Henry Newman, who have completely gone to dust?

Perhaps I am being selfish and, by refusing to work for Utopia, I am depriving my descendants of that goal just because I want to be pat of it. Is it not better to embrace my existence as a means to the joy of my descendants and, with my dying breath, feel pleased that someone else will have what I have worked for but never had?

It would indeed be worth working for, if it were possible, but I cannot believe that such a future humanist Utopia can exist, perhaps in the same sort of way that an atheist cannot believe in God and Heaven. Personally, I find that there is much more empirical evidence for the existence of God than there is of progress in human nature.

Here and now, there continue to be people who live in absolute (not relative) poverty in Africa and India. Frankly, I believe Our Lord when he says "ye always have the poor with you; but Me ye have not always." There has always been disease and even now we are at the mercy of drug-resistant bacteria and viruses. We still haven't eradicated the common cold. I fail to see how there can be any true justice without the existence of God since injustice continues conveniently unrecognised by the media. Science itself seems to suggest that we cannot naturally live past 120 years old and that this is genetic in nature. As for Death, the Universe itself is predicted to die out via Science. This planet will not survive the death of the Sun. Science fiction may give us the inspiration to go universe-hopping, but there is as much scientific evidence for the existence of other universes as there is for God. If there is a Utopia, it will not last and all the effort of those who strive for its realisation will be in vain anyway.

All I see of this Utopia is anodyne, unimaginative and, quite frankly boring. If they do invent a machine that can raise the dead, then count this as my desire not to be raised in this way. I don't want this resurrection because it won't be a resurrection - I doubt it wil even be me.

The whole idea of working for a Utopia is really a form of Pelagianism which seems to attract the SJWs among Christians. Of course, we need to follow Our Lord's commands and help those in need with the utmost care and love that the dignity of human nature has been given by its Creator. The poor need to be helped; the naked must be clothed; the bereaved need comfort and help. But we cannot pretend that we can work our way to building Heaven on Earth. That's not going to happen. The Kingdom of Heaven is with us now - right now - and this is despite the horrors that take place in the world. The only way to Heaven is to seek God now, accept His rule and await the resurrection of the Dead on His terms.

Unless there is clear evidence the human beings are changing for the better, that the old sins of murder, adultery, coveting, stealing and bearing false witness are dying out, I will remain unconvinced of any progress worth its salt.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tuna sandwiches

Sermon for the fourth Sunday in Lent

Feeding the five thousand? In Lent?

That's a bit cruel of those who wrote the liturgy for us, isn't it? Here we are, all good and a bit ravenous for a chocolate biscuit, and then we see Our Lord dole out a magnificent feast for a multitude from five loaves and two small fish. Is your tummy rumbling yet?

Perhaps not if you don't like tuna sandwiches.

Why is the feeding of the five thousand part of Lent?

[PAUSE]

There are two occasions in which Our Lord encounters large numbers of people on mountains - the Sermon on the Mount and this, the Feeding of the Five Thousand. A mountain pulpit in these cases is largely practical: mountain spaces are wide enough for large crowds and, by positioning Himself uphill from them, Our Lord can address them well.

However, it is important to notices that in both cases the crowds are already hungry. In both cases, the multitude comes to Jesus because they are hungry for what He has to teach them. He offers life, hope, joy, peace, and love as a reality, not just as a nice idea nor as a campaign for social justice. To Him come the people who are tired with the second-rate substitutes for happiness that the world offers. They come to be nourished with good things, and this means leaving their working lives behind, just for a moment, and finding what truly matters.

And Jesus feeds these hungry people with what they seek. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

At the mountain, Our Lord feeds the hungry with good things and then he feeds them with bread and fish. To Him, both body and soul matter together: you cannot be truly human unless you have a body and a soul, so both need looking after. In feeding five thousand, the Lord is demonstrating a wonderful miracle that He performs to this day. Every Christian who will have ever lived will be fed by Christ Himself by His word of life in the preaching of the Gospel and by His very self in the Mass.

In order to receive these, we have to be prepared to climb mountains, and this is the true purpose of Lent.

[PAUSE]

In Lent, we climb out of our comfortable world with all its junk food for both body and soul. We leave behind all that which feeds us but doesn't really nourish us, and make our way up out of the life on the flat earth and into a life more suited to heaven. Like Our Lord, we may be tempted to throw ourselves down again, but we can resist and, when we fall, begin the climb again.

When we find God, we know that we shall be fed truly and fully.

This is the climb for which we don't pack the picnic basket:  the buffet will be provided.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The freedom of Jerry Springer

About ten or so years ago, there was a bit of a furore when the BBC decided to broadcast the controversial programme, "Jerry Springer: the Opera". At face value, the work is about the lurid visions of Jerry Springer at the point of death and that is what the composer, Stewart Lee, says that it is about. The opera itself contains much swearing and profanity, and there are some scenes that are very disturbing to the Christian mind. It is clear that Mr Lee is no Christian! That's his choice.

Christian Voice got wind of the showing of this programme on the BBC and managed to whip up 50,000 or so complaints before it had even aired. They tried also to bring the director-general of the BBC to court charged with blasphemy. Shops refused to stock the DVD of the broadcast and Mr Lee himself felt that he could no longer perform as a comedian to a general audience.

You might say, "Good! Serves him right!" But there's a problem and it needs thought.

For my part, I turned on the programme for all of thirty seconds, grimaced at what I saw, and then I turned the television off. Should I not have been complaining more about being offended?

That's the rub. What Christian Voice have effectively done is a spectacular piece of "no platforming." It is exactly the same thing as has been happening on the university campus both here and in America: academics and political figures who hold controversial views and ideas are not being allowed to express them to university students on the grounds that they are offensive. The Transgender debate (if there is such a thing as gender) is a prime example. Prominent feminist Professor Germaine Greer is not being allowed to speak in universities because she believes that there is no such thing as transgenderism. She is accused of hate speech and transphobia because of her views. She offends and must be silenced. However, the fact of the matter is that, as an academic thinker, she has been a loud, clear voice trying to raise the plight of women who are still treated as an underclass around the world. She has a point but, because she dissents from the current mode of political correctness, she must be silenced.

Unfortunately, that is something the Church has been very good at for centuries - silencing dissent.

Why should the voice of dissenters be silenced? There are two reasons that I can think of at this moment.

First, no one wants to hear things that they cherish being trampled on in the mud. There are things that are too offensive for us to bear, and this is good. It shows that humanity is not wholly bad - that each one of us is not wholly bad. It is reasonable to put these things aside if we can, but we should not do so at the expense of the truth when  that truth is important.

For example, I do pray regularly for juries who have to sit on some truly dreadful cases, such as the Fred and Rosemary West case. These people have to suffer the graphic details of the case to determine the truth. However offended they are by the facts, or even by the defendant's views, only the truth can matter. If someone holds terrible views and opinions but has not actually broken the law, then the truth of the matter means that this person is legally innocent, though their moral health is clearly questionable.

The danger then comes in trying to legislate that actually holding an opinion that is offensive. That's problematic because it effectively becomes the Thought Police. Yet, we still have to deal with people in a position of influence using that influence to radicalise and incite hatred in others. What we need to do is to educate people about questioning what they are being taught. This is fine and healthy, and brings me to the second reason why no-platforming occurs.

In the past, the Church has silenced dissenters and heretics (usually by burning in the medieval period) in order to preserve the spiritual health of simple Christians. This makes sense: a parent censors what a child is exposed to because the child is too young to cope with the issues they involve and will misunderstand them to their hurt. Yet, taken too far, this idea stunts good Christian growth. The ideal is to be Christ-like, i.e. sinless. While it cannot happen without the grace of God to begin the process, the process need to be maintained in the will by developing the conscience and through constant repentance. We are all children of God, some further along the road to perfection than others. But we are not all infants. Good Christian education is not indoctrination. It is the presentation of the facts of Christian Doctrine, which is immutable because it is God's revelation to all of humanity as a whole, in order that the individual can willingly be part of the Church, warts'n'all and thus find salvation. This can only happen if the individual is free to choose sin. This, of course, doesn't mean that we have to choose in. As this period of Lent shows, in His temptation in the wilderness, Our Lord is clearly like us: He is free to choose sin. He doesn't.

In silencing dissent, the Church has, in the past, infantilised her children rather than educating them. If we are free to sin, then the Church has precisely the mechanism by which people can return to God. If we sin and are reconciled to God, then we allow our mistake to inform us and make us better. All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. This even includes the effects of our sin. Our growing hatred for sin should prevent us from thinking that we can just sin and repent without tears and penance.  Love for God is the key. Nonetheless, the temporal consequences of our own individual sin must still be endured by all humanity.

In creating such an overreaction to Jerry Springer: the Opera, Christian Voice have given sanction for the strident Trans-Activists and other similar SJWs to silence those who dissent from their views. The trend of no-platforming is precisely due to the censorship that the Church has been involved with. The Councils of the Early Church were called precisely to thrash out the issues on both sides. The result is a clearer understanding of God's revelation to us about who He is and who we are.

The Pharisees crucified Our Lord in order to silence His dissent from the social norms. He in turn seeks debate, risks offending, calls into question, but never once stops loving the people He is fervent in trying to reach. If God has given us the freedom to walk away from Him, then we should afford other people the same courtesy. Love does not coerce: it seeks willing consent.

Freedom of speech may require that we take the consequences of what we say, but that does not mean that we are receiving those consequences justly. We recall that the word "freedom" is often described negatively as "freedom from" - lifting of obstacles, making the crooked straight and the rough places plain. Yet, we forget that "freedom" can be defined positively as the ability to excel in a particular endeavour. Freedom of Speech means that not only are we freed from being silence, but we are also freed from being told what to say in order to express ourselves clearly.

With regard to Jerry Springer: the Opera, I find myself squarely with what has been attributed to Voltaire (but may not actually be authentic to him).

Monsieur l’abbĂ©, je dĂ©teste ce que vous Ă©crivez, mais je donnerai ma vie pour que vous puissiez continuer Ă  Ă©crire.

(I wonder if I've got the right quote, Fr Anthony!)

I am sorry that Stewart Lee's career has been affected like this, though I am not sorry that I don't hear such awful things being said. He must be allowed to speak so that we can better hear the truth. Perhaps this is the lesson that he gives us. If the atheist can be silenced by the Church, then the Church can be silenced by the Trans-Activist.

Perhaps, if we are prepared to speak the truth and thus risk offending, we should strengthen our own resolve so that when we are offended, we shrug it off and examine what is said for the truth about us and the truth about God. If God can go to the cross and rise again in glory, then we should be able to get past the rising of our hackles at something unpalatable!

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Better the Devil you know...

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

You may remember that the ritual we use for Baptism contains three exorcisms. You should see the look on the face of the families when they realise that their child is about to be exorcised. How do you feel about that?

It's all a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps you have seen that famous film The Exorcist and still have nightmares about it. It's rather sensational, but why do we exorcise babies when they aren't levitating in their cots and throwing people out of windows?

[PAUSE]

First, we have to remember that the Devil does actually exist. Our Lord speaks about him using the names Satan and Beelzebub. The Devil is the one that can hurt both body and soul in hell. We also know that it is the Devil who tempts us to sin just as he tempts Our Lord. It is the Devil who is responsible for tempting us, but we are the ones who are responsible for how we act when we're tempted. That's the terrible thing.

The Devil wants us away from God permanently because he is away from God permanently and he will do anything to accomplish that.

This is why we have something to worry about. We don't need to be violently possessed to be influenced strongly by the Devil! He can possess us from outside using his temptations, thus making us his possessions.

This is why we exorcise people - even babies! - at Baptism. All humans are infinitely precious to God and it makes sense that the Devil already has his designs on them. By driving away the Devil and his followers away from someone being baptised, we are doing just as Jesus would want us to do and gives us the power to do it. We make as strong a statement as we can to the Devil and to the world that the person being baptised is a child of God and is being saved by the blood of Christ by becoming part of the Church. We tell him very clearly that those who are baptised are not possessions of the Devil.

We know that we live in evil times, however God is with us. We know things seem black and that we keep sinning and walking away from God. Whether or not we are Baptised, the Devil is still too strong for us. An archangel fighting against a fallible human being is not going to find much of a match. However, there is something that he wants us to forget - the words of Our Lord Jesus.
When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace; but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.
When Our Lord says this, He speaks of the Devil as a strong man who keeps human beings as his possessions. In seizing Our Lord in the same way, the Devil finds himself in the grip of someone much more powerful. How do we know? Our Lord uses just the finger of God to drive him out. A finger is all it takes.

[PAUSE]

As the Church is united to Christ by Baptism, we find ourselves united with Christ in our fight against the Devil. This means we can trust that God has the victory over Sin, Death and the Devil. The world around us may be blackened by the works of Satan, but we can look through that blackness by clinging to the Cross and seeing the beautiful creation of God through His light that dispels darkness.

Sometimes that takes a bit of doing. We still need to watch out. We need to be sober and vigilant because our enemy the Devil walks around seeking whom he may devour. We must resist him steadfast in our faith, come what may. However, through repentance and prayer, and seeking the Kingdom of God, our struggles and suffering at the Devil's hand will not be fruitless in the eyes of God. We are being saved from Satan right now through Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Evils of the World will cease to affect us. Do we dare believe that?