Friday, October 27, 2006

Petitioning the person in the pew

Albion posted the following comment on a post about the AIC:

Could we perhaps try to move this away from what is running perilously close to a sniping match, and try to be more constructive. I, too, find it curious that there seems to be an inordinate focus on the hierarchy and virtually nothing on the numbers on the faithful. But this is not unique.

What do we have in common here, and is there any ground for cooperation and intercommunion between the AIC and the other jurisdictions?

He makes very good points: one that is pertinent to the article in question, but also in the general scheme of things. When are the usual people in the pew sought out for advice for the church? When does the opinion, experience or understanding of an "ordinary" (no such thing) parishioner get considered?

In Britain, the government of a Parish is usually made by the PCC (I gather that in the U.S. they call this the Vestry Committee) so the day-to-day running of the Church is dealt with by an elected body.

But what role does the ordinary parishioner play in the Church? These are the folk at the coal-face of life. These are the folk whose charge it is to go into the community and live Christian lives in a world which, quite frankly, would rather they didn't. Theirs is the greater persecution, since they inhabit a world that is not cloistered away from corruption and spiritual attack. These folk come to Church regularly to find spiritual refreshment and rest, sanctuary and security, hope, health and happiness, as they devote their lives to God. Yet when are they ever heard by those whose job it is to serve them? Frequently within their own parishes, I hope, but on the global scale of things about the direction of the Church, in describing their needs and calling for consistency, very seldom.

At the Reformation, the majority of the faithful wanted to retain the Roman structures that provided them with the certain knowledge that they were in church. They were ignored by those who wanted to impress the new doctrines upon them. Okay, so the majority of the laity aren't academic theologians, but if the Church has done its job and served them by teaching them to listen to Scripture and Tradition, then they will know when something is amiss, as did those affected so drastically by the schism from the Roman Catholic Church.

And similarly now. The focus as to what happens to the Church seems always to lie at the feet of the bishops. They have authority to guide and govern the Church, but when things go awry, as the Anglican Communion has, and the bishops speak on their own doctrines after capitulating to the Zeitgeist, what does one do? It is to the priests to whom the faithful turn for guidance, and to the bishops that the priests turn for authority.

There are many parishioners within the Continuum who are after the same thing - the honest and true worship of God in the Catholic Faith uncorrupted by fate, fashion and feelings, and the majority of churches within the Continuum offer just that. Yet are they the ones being kept apart by the politics of the bishops?

I suspect that the majority of the traditional followers of the Church of England are actually Anglo-Papalist in their affections, but do not have the ear of any Anglo-Papalist movement, nor the education to voice their concerns in the way that the hierarchy would hear. Many are being misinformed by liberals who peddle a epistemological solipsism of doctrine, and individuality of worship, effectively an intellectual opium to dull their minds to the actual Truth.

If the people want to be heard then they must seek out the language that people will hear. It is not enough that there be a knowledgeable spokesperson, but that each Christian should have the education to know their need, the need of their society and how the Church is failing to provide that need.

Yes, bishops and priests have authority in matters of Doctrine, provided that it is the correct Doctrine. Thus those in Orders must be respected, but their decisions made on behalf of the whole Church must include the voices of the parishes if there is to be consistency. His Holiness is the servant of the servants of God, the focus of Catholicism, as long as he does actually serve those servants of God (which the present Pope is doing magnificently. He listens, as did his predecessor). He will only do this by listening to those who have to engage the world in a harder struggle than those who have the shelter of Holy Orders. Even the Pope is outranked by the Catholic Faith, yet it is that same Faith that we have to carry with us, within each of us, into the world. Let us trust the authority of priests and bishops, but temper that trust by educating ourselves carefully in the Doctrine that Our Saviour gave us. You don't need a Ph.D for that!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Warts'n'all least that was how Oliver Cromwell wanted to be painted. This is one of the few times that I would feel like concurring with Oliver Cromwell, since the man stood for everything which I reject and against much of what I embrace. Why else would I, a committed Catholic have a picture of an arch-Protestant on my blog.

Yet whoever Oliver Cromwell was, he was a human being. I regard him as being misguided and the lead conspirator to regicide, but what of Mrs. Cromwell, and Richard Cromwell, his son? They loved him. But you see that Oliver Cromwell was a human being, fallen, broken, a sinner, one who makes other people's lives a misery, one who makes still other people's lives a joy. I also agree with him on another respect - he spoke of Jesus Christ as Lord and Master, and there is the Truth!

There has been much debate on Anglo-Catholic Central about persons such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu who have done so much to work for the liberation of the oppressed, and have now started preaching liberal doctrines on homosexuality. Clearly Archbishop Tutu has left the orthodoxy of the faith in pursuit of his understanding of freeing the oppressed, a calling that indeed we are all commanded to follow. Does that mean that now, Orthodox Christians must close their ears to anything that Archbishop Tutu says?

Also I note that there is a new cartoon of His Holiness, the late Pope John-Paul II, celebrating his life. to my mind it seems to be more of a putting of the venerable gentleman on a pedestal. In showing him as impossibly good, it makes him less of a human being. that's not to say that through him God did not achieve some truly remarkable feats of liberation, but rather we seem to focus less upon the Divine Operator and more upon the instrument of His operation.

The media worldwide paints pictures in black and white, people are either angels or demons. Indeed how often in the media are rogues seen as loveable and saints as evil, tainted beings. Paedophiles are irredeemable, our young people are all yobs and vandals, Moslems are reactionary and vengeful, and Anglo-Catholics prissy, gay, self-haters. Rubbish. No human being is just one abstract description.

No-one is allowed to be human anymore. No-one is allowed to fall without just damnation from the media. The career of English comedian Michael Barrymore is still struggling after the body of Stuart Lubbock was found in his pool in suspicious circumstances. Like the Evil Queen, or Captain Hook in a British Pantomime, it's as if we need a hate figure. Even Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are human beings, they have qualities of goodness within them even though their hands are covered with the blood of thousands.

What also of homosexual couples who are constantly being demonised by some Christians and Christian societies? The Bible is clear that those who practice their homosexuality are sinning. This sin does infect society, all around us in ways that we truly do not always know or understand. And yet if the feeling that one homosexual has for another is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, then is there not love within that feeling? And why should the homosexual be singled out in this? It is because their condition leads to a temptation that is accepted in modern society, and thus is not acknowledged as sin. However, the sins of each one of us that we too refuse to acknowlege infect society just as plainly, just as vilely in the same way.

This all comes down to making judgments upon others. The only person whose heart we know best is our own, and our judgments of others are impaired because we are not the person whom we judge.

Truly anyone who teaches that homosexual practice is right is not teaching the doctrine of Christ, but so is the one who preaches damnation upon any human being. St Paul says "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things."

Does this mean that I am pro-individualism since I am advocating that we should judge only the actions of ourselves rather than the actions of others. I don't think I've said that anywhere. We are free to be the person whom God intended us to be, but that means responsibility; "rights" mean "responsibilities", and the right not to be judged means that we should not act in a way that will cause people to judge us. If we persist in sin, even without knowing it, then we endanger our relationship with God as St. John tells us: "[Y]ou know that [Jesus] appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him." Our lives are not our own and consequently we must live as a community in supporting each other in the love of God, despite the crippling infection of sin.

Again, on the strength of St John we cannot have priests or bishops who practise homosexuality for "Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous."

However, sinners that we are we have to live with this fact: we are all worthy of being demonised, because we all act like demons in our accusations of others and in our own persistance in sin. (Remember Satan is "the accuser").

Archbishop Tutu is a sinner, and yet still a potential saint and I will always measure his words up to the Canon of the Catholic Church. What he says that concurs with the Canon, I shall know it to be the truth. What he says that is contrary to the Canon, I shall reject it. I shall remember that he has helped thousands by his example and by his tireless fight to end oppression. I shall also know that he is fallible, and in need of the Grace of God, as am I and more so, for I am the worst of sinners.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

It's an ill wind...

Sermon preached at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Swanscombe on 15th October 2006, based on St Mark x.17-31.

That advert's on telly again.

A man lies beside a pool
on a sunny day.

One of those fluffy, shiny women
walks up to him with a drink
and sits down on the sun-bed
next to him.

He smiles at her,
she smiles at him,
reaches down and picks up
a packet of cigarettes
which she offers to him.

He takes one,
she takes one,
both light up,
and then the Narrator starts up
- an Alvar Liddell soundalike -
"cool, fresh, relaxing Llama cigarettes
- you know they're good for you."

Seen that one?


Well, perhaps not recently.

This could have been an advert
from the 1960s,
couldn't it?

Those were the days
when nobody was without
a cigarette in the hand
- it was fashionable,
and it did make people feel great.

Now that we have seen too many people,
our fathers and mothers,
husbands and wives
grandfathers and grandmothers
die from lung cancer,
do we know that smoking is
a highly damaging activity.

We may have thought
that it was good for us once,
but not now.

Certainly we wouldn't see
an advert like that these days,
would we?

Or would we?


How do we know that
something that is advertised as good
really is good?

After all,
the job of an advert is
to persuade people that
they cannot do without
a certain product.

What would be the point
of adverts which say:

"Glisty Hair Cream
-turns your hair blue and makes it fall out"


"look worse with Slick
- the mascara that makes you look as if
yo've gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson"


"Woohoo probiotic yoghurt
-Woohoo glues you to the loo"?

If adverts are designed to mislead,
who do we know the truth?

Remember "Go to work on an egg"?

Yet what happened when Edwina Currie
wen to work on eggs?

What once was good for us,
is regarded with suspicion and fear.

What is good for us, isn't.

How do we know what is good?


You push your way through the crowd of Jews,
fighting to get to the front to see Jesus.

Your head burns with that question
that you've allways been dying to ask Him.

Finally, you're through the crowd,
you fall at the Lord's feet.

"Good Teacher,"
you gasp, breathlessly,
"Good teacher..."

Jesus fixes you with His penetrating gaze,
seeing easily into your very soul.

"Why do you call me 'good'?"

Well? How are you going to answer that one?


Of course, Jesus is good.

Isn't it obvious?

But how do we know this?

How do we know that
He isn't some charlatan,
some hoaxer out to mislead the people?

Because He isn't.

That's what belief is all about.

We believe that Jesus is the Lord,
and the Lord is God and God is good.

As our Lord Jesus Christ says,
"No-one is good but One,
that is, God."

So "goodness" is something that God is.

It's a quality of the God Whom we worship,
and it's a quality that He has built
into His Creation.

On the Sixth Day of Creation,
before He goes for His nap,
God sees all that He has made,
and behold, it is very good.


This means that everything
that we see around us
has some goodness in it.

This is usually more obvious
in landscapes that make us go "ah!"
or the great cathedrals that make us go "ooh!",
or in kittens which make us go "aw!"

But equally so,
there is goodness in things
that we don't associate with goodness.

Is there goodness in the sight
of the litter-strewn streets of Swanscombe?

Is there goodness when
a lioness attacks and kills a zebra
to feed her hungry cubs?

Is there goodness
when someone we love
passes from this life?

God sees everything He has made,
and behold,
it is very good.

So why is this hard to believe?


"Good Teacher,
what must I do that
I may inherit Eternal Life?"

"Go sell all your possessions,
then take up your cross and follow me."

Do you follow the young man
as he turns away
realising that he cannot give away
all that he has?


Let's face it,
we're just no good at doing good,
and when Jesus challenges us
to do something worthwhile,
we just cannot bring ourselves
to rise to that challenge.

We indulge in behaviour
which goes against that which
God requires of us.

This is certainly not good.

We make the greatest errors.

Each one of us has,
deliberately or unwittingly,
hurt others,
sometimes deeply.

The world is full of misery
caused by people
doing what they think is good,
though frequently,
some people's understanding of 'good'
seems suspect.

There is pain
and death in this world,
all caused by human beings,
some of whom are trying to do 'good'
and yet are not doing good.



But St Paul says:
we know that all things
work together for good
to them that love God,
to them who are the ones
called according to His purpose.

That's worth repeating.

We know that all things
work together for good
to them that love God,
to them who are the ones
called according to His purpose.

That's us!

We Christians try to do good,
and follow God,
but we fail.

But whatever our failures,
whenever our goodness falls short,
whenever we have hurt another,
God wrests that away
from the Evil One
and uses it for good.

this good is often difficult to see,
but how much goodness
are we now seeing springing
from the horrible memories
of the Holocaust?

"For man,
this is impossible,
for God,
all things are possible."

God uses those times
when we don't do good
to work His wonders,
but this doesn't mean that
these situations are
devoid of pain or suffering.

true goodness
involves pain and suffering,
but that pain and suffering
isnt' the purpose of goodness.

If we truly look towards God,
then however much we are in pain,
we can be sure that we will find
true goodness.

If we are to embrace
that which is truly good,
then we must be prepared also
to embrace the cross
upon which we will be crucified
with the Lord.


"Why do you call me 'good'?"
Jesus asks you.

What's your answer?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

When the heart's ahead: an anatomy of a gut reaction.

Oh dear, I've just made a fool of myself over at Anglo-Catholic Central when I brought the attention of the 400 or so members to an article in this week's Church of England Newspaper which seemed to encourage composers of modern Church music not to think and compose meaningless trash, only to read it more carefully and see that it was actually criticising Modern church music and the whole ghastly "worship song" genre, by lampooning the inherent vapidity that modern songwriters think consitutes a good song to sing at Mass.

It's struck me that I have just behaved very much like so many religious folk around the world, in being far too reactionary without listening to the details carefully. This does seem to put me in line with the members of Christian Voice who criticised Jerry Springer: The Opera before they saw it, and, more recently with the Moslems reacting to the words of His Holiness, Pope Benedict.

It's easy to do. So what happened? I saw something which caught my eye, just a phrase which filled me with dread, a single sentence which touched a nerve, which for me was in the sensitive area of Church Music. So automatically I read looking for more bits to fuel the indignation, and it seems missing out the vital bits in which the author had said that he was satirising those who are presently diluting our liturgical music with meaninglessness.

Each of us has a raw area, and Anglo-Catholics are usually raw all over having been rejected from Anglicanism. It's something we have to expect, and consequently we leap (or at least I do) to defend our practices in a world which presses us to heresy. This leads me to wonder whether we need to defend ourselves so readily, and on such an intellectual level. Anglo-Catholicism is small in comparison with the Anglican Communion, but it is robust. We have the doctrines of the Catholic church which have lasted through centuries, and while there are good Catholics in the world, will always continue.

Anglo-Catholics have recently been accused of using too many words to defend themselves. Are we wasting our breath?

So what must I do in future. Be careful, is the answer, and don't react until I have fully comprehended the situation. Sometimes a wound stings from its own healing rather than from someone prodding it.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Community versus Commodity

I've just returned from the Diocesan Readers' Conference in which the key-mote speaker was the Rev'd Professor Gareth Lloyd-Jones from the University of Wales speaking on the Hebrew Scripture and how it describes the life of a people under the rule of an Empire.

He raised some very interesting issues, and many of them resonated with me and my near theological isolation in my community. There are just no other Tridentine Anglo-Papalists in this diocese of the Church of England. If you are one, let's do lunch. If you are also a priest, then let's do Mass! Widening the subdenomination to include the Anglo-Catholics (the proper ones, not the Affirming Catholicism syncretists), it's clear that we are in the minority here clinging onto what we have received and trying desparately to hold it as fully as possible. We follow the traditions in an empire of liberalism.

Listening to the Reverend Professor, I was reminded how it was Joseph, the favoured son of Jacob who unthinkingly engineered the oppression of his own people. It was he who sold sustenance to the folk for their money, then their cattle, and finally for their slavery. Did the Jews have a choice? It was one of their own people who, in conjunction with the state, took possession of the Hebrews as a commodity. Interestingly, it was the priests who remained largely untouched by the Egyptian resources takeover. In essence, the Egyptians through Joseph, bought the religion of the people.

Now, let's look here. The dominant empire in Britain (and in America too) is that of the Consumer Culture in which everything is regarded as a commodity, even workers. The Consumer Society seeks its pleasure using whatever means it can and will not stop at anything to consume it. In more unsavoury language (forgive me but I believe it to be the correct thing to say), ours is a culture of masturbation. It does not take delight in what it has, it seeks only more in order to scratch an itch. Our society cannot live with waiting, or constraint and it will sell all that it has in order to gain what it wants more immediately.

If this is the culture, then we in Blighty had better watch out because we already see the Established Church giving way to the rule of pleasure, the rule of individualism and the rule of "believe what you want" which is largely the creed of the Consumer Empire. We Anglo-Catholics are in pain and, like the Israelites, we cry out at every heresy that the Established church embraces, only to be told to "get a life" or "worry about more important things" or "we have to go with the flow". Those of us with firm principles are being branded "narrow-minded" (as if that were something unforgivable) or "fundamentalist" even though fundamentalism is the last thing that can be attributed to an Anglo-Catholic.

It was escaping from the Egyptian oppression that made the Hebrew society unique in the world for it was as a direct result that they found the comfort of the Decalogue, a stabilising structure of rules and ideas which gave them the support that they needed to live life in the sight of God.

We Anglo-Catholics have already within our minds and hearts and libraries the stabilising structure that we need within the Scripture and the Tradition. Just as the Decalogue is expanded and expounded in the Pentateuch for several chapters (several long chapters) likewise have our Scriptures and Tradition been expanded upon in every age by the Fathers of our Faith. We already have so much, but how are we using what we have? To squabble with one another, or to stand together in solidarity against the world which seeks to buy us and sell us as commodities?

It is the Decalogue that sets our Jewish brothers and sisters apart as people of God, what is it that separates us? How do we use it?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Giving thanks by giving up.

This is my first homily to the boys (and sixth-form girls) at Eltham College. Consequently, I've had to adapt my style slightly to make concessions for the youthful ear. Hope it doesn't offend you too much!

Homily preached at Eltham College on 4th October 2006.

It is Harvest Festival
at St Philip’s Church
in the village of
Little Flapjack-on-the-Turn,
as is the custom for this time of year,
the locals bring their produce
into the church
by way of giving

All this produce
goes to the needy of the Parish
and it is supposed to be
the best of the year's harvest.

In the old days,
the church would be chock-full of
fruits and vegetables,
bread and pastries.

These days,
the church is more often full
of mouldy satsumas,
bedraggled pumpkins,
disappointed lettuces,
and tins:
tins of soup,
tins of stewing steak,
tins of potatoes
and tin upon tin upon tin
of baked beans.

the people who get
these tinned produce
are the elderly.


Old Mr Smith gets
the tins of stewing steak,
and he hasn't a tooth in his head.

Mrs Bundock has lost her tin-opener.

And poor Mrs Murphy ends up
with all 365 tins of Baked Beans
and as a result is banned
from leaving her house
for the rest of the year
in order to reduce
greenhouse gasses.

She is released
from this prison
at next year's Harvest Festival
when she receives another
365 cans
of baked beans.

Is giving tins
and mouldy fruit
to a church Harvest Festival
an appropriate way of giving thanks for
all that we receive?

Well, who would
be a good example of how
to give thanks appropriately?

Today is St Francis' day,
so how does he,
St Francis of Assisi
give thanks for
all that he is given?

He does the Full Monty
in front of a large crowd of people
including a rather bemused Bishop!

Okay, so it's not precisely the Full Monty.

This is the 13th century,
about 800 years before
Tom Jones records
"You can leave your hat on".

Tom Jones himself is probably
still only a Welsh coal miner.

But St Francis strips off
all his clothes
to make a point.

His very rich father
has been telling him
to stop wasting the family fortune
on the poor,
and he brings him
in front of the Bishop
to threaten to disinherit
St Francis.

So St Francis reacts
by literally giving up everything
he owns,
not just his possessions,
but his clothes as well
- everything.

All for the love of the poor.

St Francis lives to give freely,
without grudging a penny,
and this is how he gives thanks.

He has been given freely,
so he gives freely,

Possessions merely
weigh him down with things
to look after and replace.

But doesn't it seem strange
that in order to give thanks
for what we do have,
St Francis seems to tell us
to give up everything?

Well, we mustn't follow
St Francis too closely,
otherwise the Headmaster will not be able to invite
senior members of the Clergy
to Eltham College

Even the followers of St Francis
- the Franciscans -
go around correctly dressed.

But the root of the word "thanks"
is the word "think", and to give thanks
means to consider how much we have,
and how we are using it.

We do need
to look at our lives more closely
and strip away
the surface of possessions
and material things.

What is it that we really need in our lives?

Do we really need
the new pair of Nike trainers,
the new iPod, or
the new digital television set.

If we believe that we do,
then who might benefit
from the old ones that we had?

But if we do believe
that we need new iPods, trainers, et c.
is it because the old ones have
worn out or broken,
or because they have gone
out of fashion?

It can cost an awful lot
to keep up with fashion.

If we have to have
the latest model,
the newest edition,
the most powerful version all the time,
then surely we start spending
our time nervously scrutinising
the shopping channels,
hovering around
or grabbing at the Argos catalogues waiting for the new stuff
to come out.

Is that any way to be living life?

Are dedicated followers of fashion
truly thankful for what they have,
discarding perfectly good things
for the latest model?

So who really does enjoy
the world we live in?

The Franciscan who owns nothing
but enjoys the beauty of the Earth
free from all the hassle
of owning possessions,
or those enslaved
by every whim
of fashion?

Whose thanksgiving is greater?

How do you express thanks
for all you have?