Sunday, June 24, 2018

The vocation of St John the Baptist

It doesn't matter in what Time we live, we will always hear St John the Baptist's voice speaking to us. You can probably hear it now, calling you through the centuries. What does St John the Baptist say to you? What is his message?


Our main image of St John is that he is a rather gruff, grizzled saint who doesn't spare the blushes of anyone who hears him. This, of course, gets him into trouble and will see him imprisoned and beheaded for calling out king Herod in marrying his brother's wife Herodias. As usual, we have a tendency to go straight to the end of St John's life for the really dramatic bit. In order to understand the Baptist, we need to look at the very beginning.


Almost as soon as the baby has drawn its first breath, Zacharias can speak once more! Remember, he has been struck dumb because he did not believe that his aged wife would bear a child. It is with the child's first breath that Zacharias speaks his first words.

We say these words every morning in our liturgy be it at Lauds in the Breviary or in the Prayer Book Mattins, so perhaps time and familiarity have robbed them of their impact. Like the Magnificat, these words speak of the greatness and overthrowing justice of God whereby the human race will be reconciled to God whose righteousness will bring down tyrannical governments and raise up those who live in obedience to the rule of God. Unlike the Magnificat, Zacharias speaks directly to his son, saying:
And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Zacharias knows his son's vocation for the Angel tells him:
[H]e shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
 Indeed, it is Zacharias' own unfaithfulness that renders him dumb until St John is born. Indeed, it is the tiny baby who turns his father to the wisdom of the just by turning his heart to this little baby's faith. We know that St John has faith because, even before he is born, he leaps in his mother's womb at the presence of Our Lord who is, Himself, as yet unborn. It is this faith that St John communicates to his father just by being born. Zacharias becomes obedient because his son is obedient and will show this obedience all through his life.


St John is utterly devoted to his vocation to bring back the children of Israel by telling them about their salvation through the remission of their sins. His is a baptism of repentance. We tend to view that very negatively because we hate being reminded of our sins, just like Herod and Herodias, but St John seeks to convince us, sometimes by hard truths, that we will be saved from our sins if we turn and recognise Our Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God with power to save us, if we will let Him.

He stands apart from polite society in order for people to come out to meet him, and to meet him as he really is: not a reed blowing in the wind; not a rich important bishop in fine silk; not an academic with more degrees than the entirety of Oxford University. He stands as he is in his ragged simplicity seeking to bring about a Gospel that he hardly knows and will not see until his own resurrection at the hands of the lamb of God.

Is this something that can happen in this day and age?


It is the Church that is called to follow this same vocation. We might as well hear Zacharias speak to us when he says "And thou child shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way". We ourselves become the children of Zacharias and share in the vocation of St John. We are to preach the Gospel by being obedient Christians and accepting the rule of Christ. We have to accept the same yoke that is laid upon his shoulders. We are to decrease so that Christ may increase in us and pour out from us.

Like St John, we must be prepared to acknowledge that the real and simple Truth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We should prepare to stand apart from society and speak the truth in love, not necessarily by our words but by living the Gospel. Our lives need to be devoted to repentance - not a constant turning from our sins in our own little world, but rather a constant turning to Christ in His kingdom. Bu turning to Christ, we necessarily turn from our sins. It will be the day-spring from on high that needs to dawn in us that we need to show in truth.


There are churches, corrupted by dark thoughts, self-satisfaction and opulence and in cooperation with the morality of secular society.  The voices of these Churches will be silenced from the Word of God precisely because they are as faithless and unbelieving as Zacharias. Only when they allow the spirit of St John the Baptist to draw them to the light through the power of his - and our - God will they regain the ability to praise God and speak of His Gospel.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The matter of matter matters matters

I am grateful to Professor Jordan Peterson for crystallising a few thoughts in my head. He has given me a very succinct idea of what the meaning of life is - or rather he has explained to me what we mean by "the Meaning of Life". Specifically, the meaning of life is seeing that everything we do in our life matters. Our actions have to matter somewhere along the line or we suffer some psychological morbidity. We lose heart and meaning when our efforts are shown to be of no consequence or little worth and this is quite a killer in more senses of the word than one.

One of the great questions of today among many people, particularly the young, is "What's the point?" I remember that when I taught in school, every year someone would ask me what the point of mathematics is.

Sometimes I provided an answer along the lines of showing how Mathematics gives us a clearer picture when solving certain problems.

For example we have this famous riddle.

Three people check into a hotel room. The clerk says the bill is £300, so each guest pays £100. Later the clerk realises the bill should only be £250. To rectify this, he gives the bellboy £50 to return to the guests. On the way to the room, the bellboy realises that he cannot divide the money equally. As the guests didn't know the total of the revised bill, the bellboy decides to give each guest £16 and keep £2 as a tip for himself. Each guest got £16 back, so now each guest only paid £84, bringing the total paid to £252. The bellboy has £2. And £252 + £2 = £254 so, if the guests originally handed over £300, what happened to the remaining £46?

Clearly, mathematics has a part to play in answering this question which I leave as an exercise in the informal fallacy to the reader (though, if pressed, I might put the solution in the comments).

I have been known to answer this question by saying that the exercises of mathematics are just that, exercises to strengthen the brain's capacity for rational thinking in the same way that a foot ball player learns ballet to strengthen muscles and to develop greater control over his/her body.

I have also answered the question, citing a luminary whose name escapes me, along the lines of "what's the point of a newborn baby?"

Indeed. What is the point of a newborn baby? What is the point of us?

This is a problem that philosophers have wrestled with over the years. Christianity does have a succinct answer in that the purpose to which we have been created is to love the One who Created us. Of course, this does open up a raft of further problems, like the Problem of Evil and the like. What Christianity does is, more or less, what mathematicians often find themselves doing. We show that a solution to a problem exists, but not what that solution is explicitly. Indeed, there are times that we simply cannot write the solution explicitly.

For example, we can easily show the existence of the number π just by drawing a circle of diameter 1' and then knowing that the circumference must be π' long. What we can't do is write down the exact value of π because it is an infinitely long, non-recurring decimal as shown as late as the 19th Century by Ferdinand von Lindemann. A solution exists, but we can't write it down.

The syllogisms (well, not quite syllogisms - Aristotle would be horrified!) that Christianity makes are

A1) If there God exists then He loves us.
A2) God exists
A3) He loves us.

B1) To love someone means taking a personal interest in what they do.
B2=A3) God loves us.
B3) God takes a personal interest in what we do.

C1) To take a personal interest in what someone does gives that action meaning.
C2=B3) God takes a personal interest in what we do.
C3) Our actions have meaning.

The argument is logically sound, but we do need to establish that the premises A1, A2, B1 and C1 are actually true, and this is where the theist and atheist can spend their time arguing. Nonetheless, if Christianity is correct, then it is God who give meaning to our lives and, since God creates us from Eternity, that meaning that He gives us is always there in His intention to create us.

Now, let's look at the situation without God. Ultimately, if we believe that what we do matters, then we have to be prepared to say why. We can look at the scientific fact that, in a few million years, nothing will remain of the human race whatsoever. A few thousand million years later, if the current model is correct, everything will be dust floating around in dark, empty space. Thus, there can be no long-term meaning of life in the Universe without an Eternal Being to give it and Eternal meaning.

To combat this, any belief that our life has a meaning must accept that the meaning is short-term. We have to accept that eventually all memory of us will perish, and we have to be comfortable with that. It does put saint and sinner on an equal playing field as all acts whether morally good or morally bad will fade away eventually. Adolph Hitler and Mother Theresa of Calcutta will be no different. The morality we have now is ultimately no different from any other morality. An act condemned in 1054AD may now be acceptable in 2132AD, so we cannot say that this act is absolutely moral or immoral. Thus, in a Godless universe, moral relativism is more or less the only alternative. There is no point in holding onto any single moral tenet because it won't make a hill of beans difference when reality consists of isolated neutrons drifting through an endlessly expanding cosmos.

There is much to this approach that I find troubling. First, it has to be said that human beings seem innately preoccupied with discovering meaning. Science keeps asking "why?" and "how does that work?" Mathematicians wrestle with solving Diophantine Equations and seemingly intractible problems such as Goldbach's conjecture. We look at the stars and try to understand. We look at each other and, by and large, see something unfathomable in each other. We fall in love, and that gives us some reason to keep going. We suffer and die for causes that seem bigger than us. If we do all this to try and give life a purpose, why on earth do we do so if there is no actual purpose?

The Existentialists decry any attempt to find meaning in life, and where does that get them? They still cannot answer the question why, if there is no meaning of life, one should not commit suicide?  We certainly can imagine Sisyphus happy rolling his boulder uphill only for it to roll down again but why should we let his example dictate our own view of things? Why not laugh at the absurdity of life and toast it with cyanide? If life is pointless, why do we have a medical profession? If they can't stop death, why not euthanise everyone who ails? In a meaningless universe, Doctors and Nurses are the worst charlatans of them all - tyrants who will force us to go on living until we fall apart finally into our own nothingness.

But I don't believe this for a minute. I believe in my heart of hearts that each human being has an intrinsic worth no matter who they are. It's one reason why I am pro-Life even if that renders me impossible moral dilemmas. I would rather agonise over the situation where the baby is endangering the life of a mother than for neither of them to matter at all. I would rather weep bitter tears with the woman who has been raped than to say coldly that her ordeal is nothing and will be over soon anyway, because that is what the universe will say. Where does this worth, this dignity come from? Looking at humanity and its capacity for self-delusion, self-obsession and self-destruction, I simply cannot see this humanity as being the source of its own worth and dignity. Nor can I see a dispassionate universe giving us this dignity. There can only be one source and that is God Himself.

Until the Atheist can crush out from my understanding the intrinsic worth of every single human being whoever lived, I refuse not to believe in God, I refuse not to believe in His love, and I refuse not to believe in His expression of this worth He gives us as He writhes in pain upon the Cross.

I matter (even though it is difficult to believe sometimes) and you matter (I take that as a given) and the fact that you matter matters. Indeed the whole matter of matter matters to me, too. Convoluted, maybe, but the more we believe that nothing we do ultimately matters the more likely humanity will suffer loss of life on scales unprecedented as we have already seen in the 20th Century, and it will occur as something perfectly acceptable to the morality of the Day while all the other Days will look aghast and turn aside in shame.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Benedictine Reflections: Obedience

It is fortunate that this Sunday's propers seem to fit my reflections on Benedictine principles... or perhaps it is providence! I make no apology for combining my sermon with my blogging.

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity


That's not a very twenty-first century word. Indeed, we seem to have spent the last Century overthrowing regimes that demand our submission. we have seen Czars and Dictators toppled within the living memory of those who are now in treble figures. We have seen women throw of the shackles for the kitchen sink, seize the right to vote and, lately, protest against the dehumanising treatment of the unwelcome advances of certain powerful men. Submission is something that goes against human dignity, is it not?

And yet...

St Peter says, "ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble."

And famously, St Paul says, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord."

He also says, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God : the powers that be are ordained of God."

You can understand why Christianity has been seen as being backward looking, can't you? Karl Marx calls religion the opium of the people because it prevents the oppressed from wresting control from the fat cats.

How do we obey God and still allow wives to be equal partners in a marriage?
How do we submit to governments as ordained by God when they are corrupt?


The trouble is that we are so politically minded. We see obedience as a form of slavery. Too much we have the history of revolutions in mind where the oppressed finally rise up and conquer the oppressor. This struggle is always in our mind. We want to fight for the oppressed to go free. We are obsessed with privilege: those who are privileged must be made silent so that the underprivileged may rise up.

The question is, "who are the oppressors?"

Governments come and go. Regimes change. Revolutions happen. And yet, there is always oppression. There is always an unjust imbalance of power where the underclass are always reviled by a small minority of those in charge. The Lord Himself says, "ye have the poor always with you; but Me ye have not always."

And that's the point.


There is only one King, only one God, only one Whose justice matters. It is God who judges whether a government or power is just or unjust. We can only discern who is truly oppressed by seeing who is being deprived of the freedom to become the person that God wants them to be. It is to God that we must be obedient.

And this means submitting to other people in love.

When a wife submits to her husband, she does so trusting that her husband will support her, will her good and make her happy. She trusts her husband not to dehumanise her or treat her as his property but rather treat her as part of his very self. God made male and female not one to dominate the other, but the one to cherish and love the other, the more powerful to protect the weaker, the more capable to support the other, and both to bear children bringing them up in the fear of God. Take out the politics, and St Paul's teaching for a wife to submit to her husband becomes a statement of true love.

Likewise, we obey those set in authority over us because as Our Lord says to Pontius Pilate, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin."

Does this mean that Christians cannot revolt against an unjust government?

No. If the government is clearly unjust, then the Christian must seek the most moral path to resist based entirely on love for God and love for neighbour. We must be ready to die for what we believe - not ready to kill for what we believe.


The Benedictine Monk promises his obedience to the community. In so doing he ensures that he is completely committed to the good of the community to the whole. Just as a husband and wife make vows of undying commitment to each other likewise, the monk commits himself in trust to the community. It is possible that the community may mistreat him or even - God forbid! - abuse him, but it is also possible that the community will support him, build him up and bring him fully to a greater, deeper relationship with God. He will not know unless he is prepared to trust and keep trusting through thick and thin.

Likewise, the Christian is bound to be obedient in all things lawful and honest to the Bishop. Again this is an obedience in love, setting aside one's pride so that the Church can flourish and become a place in which those wounded by sin may find support and recovery in the Hospital of Souls. If we are asked to do something we do not want to do that is lawful and honest, we have to swallow our pride without complaint, even complaint within ourselves, and just do it.

In seeing the authority of love in each other, in learning to trust each other, in putting away our pride, we bind ourselves to each other more closely, and we bind ourselves more closely to Christ Himself to Whom we must be truly obedient if we want Him as our King!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Benedictine Reflections: Stability and Monotony

One of the drawbacks to following the Monastic Diurnal rather than the Book of Common Prayer is that, aside from feasts and solemnities, one week is little different from the next. Indeed, given a solemnity with privileged octave, I can easily find myself saying exactly the same office for days. Again, I could think about what I am missing out on, but there is also the temptation to allow the monotony of the office to become boring. These days, monotony is a synonym for boring, but does it need to be?

St John Cassian reminds the monastic that there is an eighth deadly sin called acedia which often gets translated as sadness. It's the sin that he regards as being peculiar to those who follow a monastic or eremitic life. It is the sin of succumbing to the aridity in prayer that can often arise. There is a point in every monastic life where one says, "why on earth am I doing this? What's the point? Surely there are better ways to serve God than this?" The temptation is to spend one's time of prayer trying to answer these questions rather than actually praying. It's a cunning little device of the Devil to turn people away from praying to God directly.

Why is the full rosary 150 repetitions of the Hail Mary? Isn't that just vain repetition?

I've answered that before.

Still 150 Hail Marys, that's got to get boring, hasn't it?

Well this is where monastics labour hardest, hewing their faith out on the rock to build their house of prayer. Yes, the Hail Mary does not change, and therefore becomes monotonous, but we do have to reclaim monotony from its current meaning of "boring". Monotony is simply the sounding of one note repeatedly.

In music, the perpetual sounding of one note throughout a piece is called a drone and actually, it can have a very supporting effect.

Because the monastic always returns to the same routine, there is no reason for him to separate himself out into different people. The monk at work is the same monk at prayer. The nun asleep is the same nun at her study. The friar at Matins is the same friar at Terce and Compline.

Out of the cloister and we secular folk are so tempted to divide ourselves into different people, separating the religious person from the person at work and from the person in the pub. We lose our identity by allowing the world to split us up. This is a temptation of the Devil to separate us from God by separating us from the person He wants us to be. My bishop changed his name by deed poll so that he would be the same person in business as he is at the altar and also to bind himself to a saint for whom he has a particular connection. By using a deed poll, he has joined the requirements of secular law to ecclesiastical vows and there can be no separation without untangling both.

The monastic must be prepared for a life of monotony. When boredom and acedia arise from this monotony, so does the question of why they arise. This is excellent news for the monastic because in seeking the answer to this question through self-examination, they find something within themselves that needs to be rectified in God. Thus commitment to monotony pulls the soul fragmented by the fall back together. There is no separation between secular life and sacred life, because the Christian life is a call to make the profane sacred, to make life outside of Mass just as much of a sacrifice to God. If a "professional life" is to be separated from "church life" then how the "professional life" ever be lived with God? How can it ever be sanctified by the living of it?

Commitment to the Monotony means that one relinquishes control of one's life to God so that He may operate where once our will may have forbidden Him. When this is hard, we remember that it is because we need Him to perfect us. We cannot work our way into Heaven. We receive the grace of God in order to find perfection in Him, but we must allow that grace to work within us. Love does not coerce and love given in reciprocity does not withhold. As we learn to love God, Monotony gives us the time to do just that. In Monotony we lose ourselves and focus on God Who, in turn, discovers us as we are and works in us to be the one He wants us to become.

We see that Monotony is a product of cultivating Stability. With the changes and chances of a fleeting world whipping around our ears like a gale-force wind, to hear that single Monotone over the chaos brings us back to the rock from which we were hewn. Disregarding it will see us torn to shreds - different facets of our personality separating and dividing until we are lost in a Hell of our own making. If we really want to be ourselves, we need to commit to the stability with which God has both stablished and established His Church and not allow us to be divided into different people who are nobody at all.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Benedictine Reflections: Stability and the Tyranny of Good Ideas

Yesterday, I reflected on the nature of stability and how important it is to build one's house on rock even if hewing out the rock is hard work.

I also made mention of one threat to stability, namely the "grass is always greener on the other side" phenomenon.

Where does this come from?

A good question, Why do we always believe that we could be living a better life if only we just ?

You can see that this is a lack of stability because we are always looking beyond at possibilities which are not yet realities. Of course, it is sensible to try and forge the best for one's future and to make plans for what is to come. We can even be bold and dare to dream of big things. The trouble with these big ideas is that they can destabilise us.

The rule for hopes and dreams must be the same as for thoughts and movements of the soul. We must test the spirits to see whether they be of God. We take every thought captive and, after trying them, we dash those which be not from God on the rock that is Christ. If we are truly rooted in Christ, then we will be able to crush these thoughts more easily than when we were young. This is the problem which the young in the faith have: they have not had time to hew strong foundations in Christ, so when the storm hits, what can they do?

The monastery provides the scheme by which the young can cling on despite their newness to the faith. St Benedict sets up a hierarchy of elders by order of their length of service in the monastery or by merit as determined by the Abbot. At first, all they have is the pattern of prayer and the directive to be obedient to their superiors in all things. We will look at the nature of Obedience later, beginning with this Sunday's sermon. Stability is born from obedience and commitment even and especially in the hard times. The novice needs to look to God rather even than to his future as it is the trust in God that will force the Tyranny of Good Ideas to take a back seat.

All very well for the monk, but what about those out in the world away from cloister? Even before the religious life was formed with the great desert fathers, the Catholic Church was formed by communities surrounding the bishop. Right from the beginning, the instrument of Christian stability is to be found within the clergy and those layfolk well-versed in the faith. Just as the pearl is formed by the accretion of matter, so the Church is formed by the accretion of people and their experiences of Christ. That's not to say that Experience is a source of authority in the Church, but rather a catalyst of discovery of God being regulated by the rock of Scripture and Tradition along with Right Reason therefrom.

We do have to be careful not to idolise the clergy and lapse into some medieval view of priest, prelate and pope becoming the unquestioned authority and perpetrators of arbitrary rules. This abuse of power has always dogged the Church in those individuals who set themselves up against the authority of Christ in His Holy Church. The clergy are called to be stable, to be reliable, to be dependable, so that those who are in distress may find strength through their wisdom and through the sacraments that Christ gives at their hands. If the clergy are to be stable, then they too must seek to find their stability in the Church by seeking to keep their vows at ordination and devote themselves to the practice of humility. Anything less is a gravely near occasion of sin.

The Tyranny of Good Ideas is the source of a temptation to pride whereby we seek to pursue our own interests regardless of the consequences.

Our Lord says:
For which of you,intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else,while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (St Luke xiv.28-33)
It is the Cross of Christ we must both bear and pursue. It is always our commitment to Christ that we need to examine and bring into line not only with the doctrine that the Church teaches, but putting that doctrine into practice without seeing anything more desirable beyond it. We simply cannot drop everything that becomes too hard for us as is the custom in our present society, but rather we should seek to find support in the Church through the prayers of the faithful, gird our loins, and offer our hardship up to God as a sacrifice of thanks and praise to Him and for all those who cannot pray for themselves. That way, we become rock too and can support those who might depend on our stability as befits our participation in the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Benedictine Reflections: Stability

I am a Benedictine Oblate of the community of St Benedict's Priory, Salisbury. As far as I know, I am the last person to be made a full Oblate of Elmore Abbey from which the monks moved immediately before they came to Salisbury and which, in turn, was the successor to Nashdom Abbey. Dom Francis is the last surviving monk of Nashdom and is very much his old self.

I have not visited my community since my daughter was born: being in charge of the children full-time does have its disadvantages but these are far outweighed by the privilege of looking after little ones on a daily basis. My house is now my monastic cell.

It is, of course, hard work to do. Many would say, "oh this is woman's work!" but this shows a great misunderstanding of what it is to be a parent and what the difference is between men and women. The more we perpetuate these stereotypes, the more we open ourselves to the delusion that, by conforming to the stereotype of the opposite sex, men can become women and women men, or even that sex does not exist. That is a contradiction to the doctrine of God as Creator. It is He that has made us and not we ourselves. This is not woman's work, it is MY work given to me by God for the perpetuation of His glory and for the love of the two brilliant little people whom I love and for whose very existence I bear some responsibility.

However, I have to bring myself to the memory of the fact that I am a Benedictine, albeit an Oblate. I have not taken vows, nor are the promises that I have made as an Oblate as binding as those made by novices to the monastery. However, I am a Benedictine and I seek to hold fast to the underlying principles on which St Benedict founded the school of monastic life. It is on these that I would like to reflect in a few blog posts.

My situation calls for stability regardless of my standing in the Benedictine community. I am a parent and this means that I simply cannot up and leave my children and my wife. I have made promises and this means that I have a Christian duty to keep them. This makes sense: if I were to become unstable, my children would suffer. Stability is at the heart of the Religious Life.

What does Our Lord say about stability? We can start in St Matthew's Gospel:
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew , and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 
And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended , and the floods came, and the winds blew , and beat upon that house; and it fell : and great was the fall of it. (St Matthew vii.24-25)
In so saying, Our Lord calls us to be stable in keeping His teaching. We can only build a stable house if we build on a foundation that doesn't shift beneath us. If we build our lives on things that can shift, then those lives will fall apart very quickly. We cannot chop and change as we wish, but rather seek and commit in order to achieve our ends. If things get tough, then we have to offer it up and endure that hardship, because, as St Paul says,
...we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans v.3-5)
Essentially, he says, "when the going get tough, the tough get going". If we want to be tough, then we have to get tough.

Parenthood is hard work and much depends on it as any parent knows. And any parent knows that they are not perfect by a long chalk. There are times when we make such great errors of judgement that can mean the wall opposite being covered in crayon to one's slippers being filled with sick. That's not the little one's fault - it's my failure! The times that we fail are depressing however, as St Francis de Sales would say, we need to offer up our hardships to God so that we learn not to make excuses but rather accept and find God in the situation.

The Benedictine commitment to stability is in essence to embrace the obstacles that frustrate us and carry on. We are to venerate the Cross that we bear not by lip-service, but by offering up all our frustrations on high and to welcome them as lessons in living by God. If we keep dropping things just because they get too hard or cumbersome or because they become inconvenient or because something else becomes more convenient. If we are to change or to give something up, it must be because God wants us to and this will become obvious if our walk with Him is based on stable foundations.

The Lord says:
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (St Matthew x.38)
No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (St Luke ix.62)
These are words for every Christian, but especially for the Benedictine for whom the praying community and the social community are one and the same thing. In promising to grow in stability, the monk is committing himself to his community and the nun hers not to the exclusion of others, but rather to strengthen that community on behalf of others so that all who enter the monastery might find a place that is solid in its foundation in which all may learn to build their house upon the rock. This can't be done if one doesn't practise stability especially when things get tough.

It is also for the secular Christian, i.e. those who live outside the monastery life. The life of the individual Christian is to show how to be a rock to the world. The world will want us to chop and change, to drop difficult things, to flit from one idea to the next without committing to the development of Christian virtue within the soul. Commitment is a dirty word in the world because it shows a strength which goes beyond the world's influence. We can easily find an excuse to drop one commitment and wilfully disregard the excuse that will keep us in that commitment. We can easily persuade ourselves that, actually, God doesn't really want us to do this, He wants us to do that, and then, five minutes later, He wants us to do that. God wants us to commit to the Cross and that way lies labour, disregard for what one wants, pain and suffering. However, at the end of that commitment, we hear the Lord's words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." Stability is the only way we can build up trust for others and develop trust in God during the hard times.

Finally, we ought always remember the words of St Benedict himself:
And first of all,
whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,
that He who has now deigned to count us among His children
may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.
For we must always so serve Him
with the good things He has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment
as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory. (The Prologue to the Rule)
And what should we pray? How about:

Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings
with thy most gracious favour,
and further us with thy continual help:
that in all our works begun, continued,
and ended in thee
we may glorify thy holy name,
and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Not as scatalogical as you might think!

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity
Have you shut up your bowels?
Well, really!
It’s just not something you ask in polite company, is it? Indeed, it sounds as if we’re about to embark on a topic that really should be conducted in a doctor’s medical room rather than in the Church.
Lest our conversation descend into things we don’t discuss in church, we ought to remind ourselves that it’s only comparatively recently that we talk about the heart being the seat of all emotion. Why do we sign our Valentine’s cards with a picture of a fundamental bodily organ? Why not the liver or the spleen, or the small intestine?
Again, we have to be careful as some of you are starting to turn a bit green.
What on earth do our organs have to do with God?
Ancient anatomy works mainly on the idea that emotions must be connected with the organ that becomes most obvious.
Think of that wonderful first flush of falling in love when your beloved kisses you for the first time. What are you feeling physically? Clearly, your heart is beating out a rhythm that would dislocate the hips of the Strictly Dancers. Therefore, the heart must be the organ where we feel love.
Yet there’s more. What happens at the first break up, when you lose your beloved? Where do you feel it now? Where do you feel nerves? Where do you feel that sense of devastation, of despair, of sadness? Where do you get that sensation when you see someone in the most horrible situation?
Chances are that you’d feel something in your tummy. That’s why we have expressions like “butterflies in the tummy” and “gut-wrenching.” Where do we get that “sinking feeling”? In the stomach. Therefore, it is the tummy, or the bowels, where you feel the most emotion. Today we laugh when we hear about someone’s bowels moving, but in times past, it was something serious.
This is a good point. We have learned to hate our bodies, or to laugh at the embarrassing things they do to let us down. We even see ourselves as being apart from us. You talk about your body as if you can be separated from it. It is because we learn to disengage from our bodies that we can often ignore what they are telling us.
Yes, sometimes they can be deceptive. A body that sounds as if it’s saying, “I’m hungry” might also be saying, “I’m thirsty” or “I’m bored” or “I’m lonely”. We really have to listen hard, because God has given us our bodies – you wouldn’t be you without your body. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost and they glorify God whether we believe in Him or not. What our bodies are telling us is important.
And yet, we try to numb ourselves to what they are saying. We reach for the painkillers to the extent that we forget that the pain is telling us that something deeper is wrong. If our tummies are unsettled, we reach for the Gaviscon and wait for it to settle down without wondering why in the first place.
St John warns us that we cannot shut our bodies up without numbing ourselves to the needs of the people around us. We are too ready to press the mute button, or change the channel when we see the latest famine, war, or natural disaster on the television. We try to shut up how we feel often because we cannot cope with the tide of emotion that would overwhelm us and sweep us away and stop us from being ourselves. In so doing, we are not listening to what our very selves are telling us.
Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost, so it makes sense that God Himself can speak through the pain of our bodies in order to draw us into compassion. Remember that compassion literally means to suffer alongside someone. If we weep at the plight of little children forced to labour to make cheap clothes for H&M or to maintain farms for Nestle, then these tears are good. What do we then do?
The best thing that we can do is use the little that God gives us to respond to Him. And then do little things. Little things such as prayer, talking to someone in need, choosing where to shop carefully. God can work just as well with little acts of genuine love than big gestures poorly meant. Sometimes we need to put the painkillers down so that we can feel the pain of others and hear what to do about it. If the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, then we have to bring it in line with His will and not what we think His will is, and especially not what we want His will to be.
St John makes it clear. We cannot love God, if we have made ourselves numb to Him with the distractions and painkillers of life. Once we can embrace the pain we feel, the more we will love Him and the more genuine a person we will become.

In Defence of *Fr* Chadwick

Again, Fr Anthony's detractor has laid into him in an appalling personal attack and character assassination. I doubt that Fr Anthony will dignify this person with a response. The main problem is that crucial facts that this person has published on his blog are manifestly not true.

It seems that this detractor may have degrees in English but, quite frankly, he has seemingly little education in logic, argumentation or Christian charity. Preoccupied with a quixotic (though with less chivalry) obsession with destroying the Ordinariate and Continuing Anglicanism, he has forgotten people and the love of his neighbour. I mentioned him at the altar this morning so that he might receive God's grace of sight.

The fact is that this person does not know Fr Anthony; he knows only the dreck that is reported to him through his "correspondent". I do know Fr Anthony. I have not only met him, but I have served High Mass with him, eaten with him and conversed with him. Once lines of communication are established one really begins to understand the depth of who Fr Anthony is, and it is worth taking that time.

With regards to his spiritual journey, Fr Anthony will be the first to agree that it has been a complicated path. I am aware of some issues in his ordination history but, by and large, he brings with him a wealth of experience and wisdom that few possess, and which he has acquired through hard graft. His ordination history does not bother me. If he is saying Mass and contributing to our Diocese, is it really any of my business what there is in his past?

His detractor would have none of this. All he sees is hearsay and fake news and uses it to disregard all arguments that are put forward. I notice that he does this to everyone who challenges his point of view.

And what if he tries it with me? Well, he will dismiss me wholesale. To him, I am a heretic with invalid orders. That's his problem, not mine. If he tries to assassinate my character, it would be a waste of his time. I am small fry, of no reputation, of no significance in the Church whatsoever. To God, I am worth something or I would not exist. The same is true about Fr Anthony and his detractor, though the latter forgets this in spades. I'm not speaking as a priest, though that is what I am - Apostolicae Curae is flawed as even Roman Catholics are beginning to see - I am rather speaking as a Christian first and foremost. I'm afraid that it the attitude of this detractor that makes me disinclined ever to swim the Tiber. That won't matter to him, though. I am clearly not his neighbour, nor is Fr Anthony.

As a former schoolmaster, Fr Anthony's detractor disappoints me intellectually in providing posts which are as much beneath his dignity as they are beneath Fr Anthony's. I suggest that he learns to be a human being again.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Holy Church and Sacred Heart

I notice that the readership of this blog has plummeted dramatically since my departure from Facebook at the beginning of the year. According to the statistics, fewer than twenty people read what I post here. My past popular posts have been ones that have been critical of the Church of England, and I’m not sure that this is a positive comment on this blogling. Whether this readership is due to a shared and visceral concern for the spiritual decline of the CofE or due to some of a more liberal persuasion sharing my posts between friends to say that I am persona non grata, I don’t know.

I am at present reflecting on my life and work in the CofE, seeking to understand why resentments still remain for me and why I just can’t let go of the last few years of my time within her cure.

While I was a more Ultramontane Anglican Papalist (which sums up my churchmanship from about 2001-2011), it was my understanding that Anglican Papalism exists because it shouldn’t. The fact of the matter is that the Church of England was spawned from the Church of Rome from the beginning when the first missionaries hit these shores very probably in the first century. Of course, it’s debatable to say that the Roman Catholic Church existed at that time, primarily because the existence of the Papal Office is debatable. Even today, we question whether, in order to be a Catholic, one needs to be in communion with Rome. I argue not and I make my point from the existence of doubt. Both the One True Churches (as Fr Hart would call them) have a shared history and cite the same Undivided Church. Therefore, the points of doctrine where these two bodies differ are highly unlikely to be truly Catholic Doctrine in the sense of St Vincent of Lerins. I believe that both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are valid branches of the Church, but they fail to recognise any but themselves as being part of the Church. To be honest, that’s their problem.

As of 12th June, I will have been in the Anglican Catholic Church for seven years and do not regret my decision in the slightest. As far as I see it, the ACC is another instance of something existing because it shouldn’t. We exist because we hold fast to the Catholic Faith in this country of England and which has been brought into the former colonies along with the British culture. We are not Greek and so cannot be Greek Orthodox. We are not Russian, so we cannot be Russian Orthodox. We are not Armenian, Egyptian, Syrian, et c. and so if we are truly to be Orthodox, where can we find the Orthodox Doctrine of our ethnicity?

And, despite our heritage, we are not Roman Catholic even if we regard the Bishop of Rome as being the legitimate Patriarch of the West. Rome requires of us more than the Orthodox Doctrine of the Undivided Church stipulates.

Thus, we in the ACC stand apart from these two One True Churches because we believe that, holding the Catholic Faith of the Undivided Church, we are already Orthodox and that to be Catholic one does not need to be Roman Catholic – indeed a Roman Catholic might really not be Catholic if the Universal Supremacy of the Papacy is not a truly Catholic Doctrine.

And we are not in the Church of England because, as the last forty years of walking apart has shown, we have a very different theology with a very different understanding of what “Catholic” means in the Creed.
The result is that we are a very tiny Church in this country which tries to do the seemingly impossible. We exist precisely because we should not. In a perfect world, the Church of England would be properly Catholic, the Pope would be a primus inter pares and the Eastern Orthodox Church would not be defined by ethnicity. That cannot be because I am in the world, I am not perfect, therefore this is not a perfect world. Thus, I am duty bound not to join a perfect Church.

What is called for is the Sacred Heart of Our Lord.
I appreciate that Romans, Easterns, Anglicans and Anglican Catholics have to walk apart due to differences of history. We cannot unite if to do so compromises the Truth. But we can be compassionate. We can unite ourselves in the sufferings and sorrows of Our Blessed Lord on our behalf, and those sufferings and sorrows of Our Lady the Theotokos. We need to recognise in each of us the facts of History, the times when we have been horrible to each other through stake, halter and sword, the times of persecution at the hands of pagans, the times when each one of us stood up an preached the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation to the world and the salvation that this Incarnation offers us.

To often, we belittle the others and fail to see that, even if we cannot accept the theology, the Holy Spirit can and is doing work. My most recent experience of that is the deeply unkind, unreasoned and unreasonable blogger whom Fr Anthony often confronts. This one refers to the ACC as a “comic opera” and regards us in no uncertain terms with the greatest contempt without even thinking through his arguments nor addressing any counter-arguments without some kind of ad hominem dismissal. This chap is a Roman Catholic, but I’ve seen the same behaviour in the Eastern Orthodox, CofE, the ACC and even, mea maxima culpa within myself. It’s clearly a reaction which comes from being defensive: we seek to defend what is precious to us.

The trouble is that the Sacred Heart scandalises us fully by demonstrating the opposite. Our Lord does not defend Himself against His enemy: He defends us against His enemy. The heart that we see has not even been protected by the body of Christ. It has been invaded by the lance through Our Lord’s side and pierced through so that we might partake of blood and water even as we partake of His body.

Of course, the Communion is something that we seem to deny each other, though it has to be said that both the CofE and the Anglican Catholic Church do not have any barriers to Communion. Anyone baptised and who loves Our Lord may receive at our tables. I do rejoice in that because it does give the responsibility for holiness back to the communicant. However, what will disconcert the most deliberately exclusive Catholic zealot of any stripe is that there is only One Body of Christ, only One Sacred Heart. If that zealot truly wants to be united to Christ in the most Holy Sacrament and find Divine Compassion pouring out of the pierced Heart, then that one will also be united to all who receive the same. If one person from each of the Roman, Eastern, Anglican and Anglican Catholic Communions truly does receive Him, then all four jurisdictions are sacramentally united in that One Christ regardless of any boundary that has risen between us. We cannot know who is in Heaven until we are there: the Catholic Church cannot possess the Mind of God –  the late Professor Hawking is wrong: it cannot be known by mortals. The Church is the Body of Christ: Christ is the Head of the Church. The Body does not know the Mind unless that is communicated to the Body by the Head.

Unlike Fr Anthony’s unpleasant critic, let us be kind. We don’t need to accept one another’s theology to be kind to each other. Let us call each other’s priests Reverend or Father, even if we don’t believe that we share the same priesthood and let us do so remembering that these titles refer to God and that God can work His will through each one of us regardless of whether we are ordained – in fact regardless of whether we are Christian or not. If we are true to the image of God, then we will see that image in the face of each person even if they scandalise us. And God will scandalise us – indeed I pray that He may cause me to repent as much as I pray that He will cause Fr Anthony’s detractor to repent so that he and I and as many people with whom I come into contact with may know the true joys of Heaven and escape the horrors of the Hell of our own making.

Thus, I beg you to pray with me on behalf of all Christians.

Almighty and eternal God, consider the Heart of Thine well-beloved Son, and the praises and satisfaction He offers Thee in the name of sinners; and appeased by worthy homage, pardon those who implore Thy mercy, in the name of the same Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.

Then, please say an Our Father on behalf of all those who have said no prayers today.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sensing the Eucharist

Sermon for the Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi

You come to the altar, reverently kneel at the rail, open your mouth or hold out your hands and what happens?

The priest gives you what looks like a little wafer of unleavened bread and tells you it’s the Body of Christ.

Perhaps you say, “Amen” after receiving it. This means that you agree that this wafer is indeed the Body of Our Lord.

Do you really agree? The evidence of your eyes says otherwise. According to what you see and taste, you are not eating any more than bread and wine. So how do you agree that you are receiving truly the Body and Blood of Christ as the Catholic Church has always taught?


Think back to what you were taught. How many senses are there?

Perhaps you’re thinking as many others do that there are only five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. However, we don’t just have these five senses. This is an oversimplication. What of your sense of balance, of temperature, of being able to pinpoint where something is by sound? That’s at least eight, and neurologists believe that there are between nine and twenty-one, but they do disagree on that number!

We believe that we aren’t just a body, but a spirit which we often call a soul, though we can mean different things by “soul”. This spirit has senses too. You have a sense of justice, a sense of your own consciousness, a sense of something being amiss but not being able to put your finger on it. But we do have to learn to use these senses of the spirit, just like a newborn.

A newborn baby has to get used to all the different senses that it experiences. For a newborn they are all confused and mixed up. A baby might be able to feel colours, smell sounds, taste what it sees. As that baby grows older, it sharpens what it can do with its senses so that it can do something as simple as stand up, and eventually something as complex as hitting a cricket ball for six.

Our Lord tells us that we need to be born again by water and by spirit. In so doing, He is showing us that we need to be awoken to the senses of our spirits so that we may perceive things that are from heaven. Just as He comes healing the blind and deaf, even more so does He come to open the eyes and ears of our spirit to develop into full human beings.

We have seen on Whitsun how we are not only to see with the eyes of our body, but also with the eyes of our spirit. This is the trouble that the world that only believes with its material senses has with our Faith which is why it refuses to accept the existence of anything spiritual as being real.


St Paul exhorts us to use our spiritual senses when it comes to the Eucharist.
“[L]et a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.”
It is clear from what Jesus says to us that the wafer and wine are transformed really and truly into His Body and Blood and that we each receive Him fully and truly in the Sacrament. Outwardly we have the appearance wafer and wine, but inwardly – one might say beyond physics – we have the true Body of Christ, as real and as local as we are ourselves present at Mass. We use our eyes of flesh to see that we do receive and the eyes of our spirits to see what we receive. The eyes of our flesh will always only see that small white disc but the eyes of our faith will see the reality of Christ Himself present to be received in our bodies and in our spirits.


At the consecration, the reality of the wafer and wine has gone, replaced with the reality Body and Blood of Christ – reality that goes far beyond what we can see or hear. All that remains is a shadow of things that have passed away. However, what we receive in faith, what we receive trusting God to keep His promises to us, will open our whole being, body and spirit, to the truth of our reality and of the reality of God Himself. Not bad for a small white disc, is it?