Friday, August 22, 2008

The limits of forgiveness

I've already posted this on the Anglican Diaspora, but I thought this was important enough to warrant a copy here.

We live in a very difficult climate and the Church has to play several contradictory roles. We are all sinners, but some of our sins contravene human law. Some of these sins effect the way that society views us. In this particular climate of concern over sex and, in particular, protecting our young folk from predation and molestation, there is a very important issue that needs to be addressed.

A good friend asked me a few questions which I'd like to pose here.

a)You are a priest of a small church. A new individual shows up at Mass. After the second Sunday, he schedules an appointment with you. When you get together, the newcomer asks if he can become part of the parish, but discloses a problem: he is an ex-felon, on the sex offender registry for acts done twenty years ago. He served his required prison time, is off parole, successfully completed a sex offender program while in prison, had many years of formal group counselling, and participates in a Christian programme for people with sexual issues. What do you tell him? As parish priest what do you do?

b) It's been a number of years since that encounter. The decision made was that it was to be a pastoral situation between you as priest and the individual. Other people would be informed on a need-to-know basis, but no general disclosure was necessary. The person has become an active and contributing member of the parish.An individual in the parish, a member of the PCC (vestry in the states, I believe), happens to find this person's name and picture on line in the sex offender registry. Prior to that he had no knowledge. Upon discovering this information, he begins agitating to have this person expelled from the parish.

As the parish priest, you know the ex-offender has done nothing to canonically warrant expulsion. However you know if this person stays certain individuals will make your job more difficult, others have promised to leave, and others have threatened to inform the Bishop. What do you do? What pastoral advice do you give?

Join in the discussion on the Board.

Elmore 2008: Commonality and Community

I've just returned from my annual pilgrimage to Elmore Abbey. I always feel welcome when I arrive, and though numbers are down to four monks, they keep going with resolution that would have defied Rabelaisean efforts. Again I return feeling more on top of things than I have been used to in the past twelve months. There were even moments of pure joy which I don't seem to have recognised in my life lately.
Elmore has moved a long way from its Anglican Papalist roots, indeed three of the four brothers accept women's "ordination". The other, like myself, is an unrepentant Anglican Papalist, so you can imagine we spent some time fretting about the imminent problems within the Anglican Communion in between prayers for the Vicar of Christ and prayers to Pope St Pius X.
However there is an issue that we can miss in our reaction to global news in the Anglican Communion as it slides further into what orthodox Anglicans regard as being apostacy. This issue is what is happening at the local level: how does women's "ordination" affect the local parish? Well, unless you have a female incumbent it doesn't on a day-to-day basis. It does have a major impact when parishes try to express themselves as members of the same church, and appeal to the governance of a fully orthodox bishop whom the parish priest represents at each Mass.
For my papalist colleague, leaving the order is simply not an option. It is in direct contradiction to his vows as a Benedictine Religious and to the close relationships and community he has forged over his long profession. His vow of stability is a vital part of being who he is. For him to leave would create not only instability for him, but also to the community, more so than if there had been ten times as many monks. He remains faithful, though deeply concerned about what is happening to the Church of England.
In one of my earlier posts, I stipulated five reasons an Anglican would stay in the Lambeth Communion, to wit:
  1. Those complicit in the heresy;
  2. Those who are elderly or infirm;
  3. Those who are too frightened or tired to undergo such upheaval;
  4. Those who intend to fight from within;
  5. Those who intend to honour a commitment despite the heresy.

I'm coming to the opinion as I read around the various pieces of literature, that there are far more priests falling into category five than the rest. Cynics might disagree with me, but speaking from the experience of my own (rather muted and restricted) ministry as parish Reader, I still have a community to whom to minister and I do that as best as I can along traditional lines, with the traditional office and traditional teaching from the Scriptures. My community needs me, and, to be honest, even in this period in which my relationship with my relativistic Parish Priest is at rock bottom, and in which there is no commonality of purpose, I still need the community of my parish. It isn't going anywhere, I don't see how I can until it gets really problematic, i.e. when we cannot tell whether a priests orders are valid. Imagine the genealogies that C of E priests will have to produce in 50 years time in order to prove their validity to Catholics.

This may sound rather ostrich-like - the burying of one's head in the liturgical sand - but it seems the best way to weather a storm. I'm told that when a surfer encounters a large wave about to wash over him, he keeps his head down and lets the wave rush over him. We cannot forget the person in the pew. The C of E seems to have done so. Ironically, there are now fewer young women than ever attending church, so perhaps the "priest"hood of women may be a short-lived aberration. The Gamaliel principle may be encouragement for all Catholics within the Church of England. Again, this would certainly bear out the surfer analogy.

I have my ministry. I also have my friends in the Lambeth Communion and within the Orthodox Continuum who will ensure that I stick to the straight and narrow. I have also the person of the Holy Father to rely on in these times of difficulty, and perhaps I should be thankful that I am still a layman so that I do not have the cure of souls and that I am largely inconsequential in the Church in that my words are not weighed with any doctrinal import, unlike the words of a Parish Priest.

There is the comfort that all valid Masses throughout time are inextricably linked with the Mass in Eternity, even if we cannot perceive whether they are. This is also a sobering thought as well. Can we truly justify our separation and mutual excommunication in this light? The liberals have left the church because they have "changed the rules" - the rest of us must pull together!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A taste for Christianity

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. St Matthew v.13

This tongue map is apparently wrong!

However, it does put forward a rather interesting analogy. Recieved science says that there are five types of taste bud - sweet, sour, salt , bitter and savoury (or umami). This latter has only recently been discovered as a separate taste bud, presumably because the Germans in the early 1900s hadn't had much experience with the cuisine of the far east.

Taste makes eating an enjoyable experience. A good sweet and sour dish is simply gorgeous to taste with a myriad of flavours. I'm told that a pint of bitter is truly refreshing despite the fact that it is indeed bitter. If you eat chocolate in the right way (i.e. putting a little bit on the tip of the tongue and allowing it to melt) you get another kalaidoscope of subtle flavours which understandably makes chocolate a very enjoyable dish.

The Lord likens Christians to salt, which, in the first century, was largely used as a preservative, as an improvement of taste, as a purgative and disinfectant and as a currency (hence salary from the latin for salt). It is clearly distinctive, as well as being necessary for the human body containing both sodium and chlorine which are vital for the way the body grows.

But salt is only one of the flavours of life. What of the sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and savory flavours in life?

Life can be very sweet, filled with lots of things to enjoy. Sweets make us happy and give us energy, likewise the sweetness of life is finding our own happiness, indulging ourselves in life's riches and pleasurable experiences. But too much sweet and we become spiritually fat. We become addicted and lethargic, becoming spiritually cumbersome and uninterested in healthy activity.

Life is full of bitter experiences too. People are hurt by people and institutions that they love, their work is disregarded or derided, they feel unappreciated and unloved. This is a necessary part of life, and God gives us experiences like this to fill out our lives rather than allowing them to become bland, and unappetising. However, if we become inured to our bitterness and allow it to rule us, then we die a little inside and become unaware of the fact that life can be good and enjoyable despite bitterness.

Life is also full of sour experiences, the mistakes that we make, the way we fail ourselves and others, the taste of something "on the turn", slightly rotten. We are sinners, and sourness is an taste that we receive from the fruit, the apple in the Garden of Eden. Too much sourness, and we moulder away.

There are savoury experiences in life. Since this has only recently been discovered as a separate taste detected on the tongue, so do our lives have sensations of an exotic nature. We are tempted by new, interesting and different experiences which colour our lives and make it gorgeous. However, too much savoury and we wander off into exotic (and dodgy areas) of spirituality, away from God and worshipping Him in the way that He chooses for us.

Our Saviour therefore puts us on the road to perhaps the least developed taste bud of being salty- a preservative which adds taste. It is the Christian living a Christian life in the world who can bring out the good sensations of the tastes of the world. A Christian can show that God put good things on this earth for us to enjoy, thus enhancing the sweetness. Likewise during hard and bitter times, the Christian life shows that we can cope in God's love with all the rot and cruelty that the passing world throws at us. When we sin, the Christian shows that the sour taste has no lasting effect by demonstrating forgiveness and unconditional love. The Christian life has plenty of savoury and exotic experiences without leaving the path of righteousness.

So then, the Christian is indeed the salt of the earth, bringing out and enhancing all these flavours. As a preservative, the Christian preserves the word of God; as a disinfectant, the Christian stands up to sin whilst ensuring that the sinner is loved, cleansing souls through care and the sacraments.


Too much salt and we become dry and thirsty.

Why else, then, would the Lord give to the Christian Living water to prevent us from dessication? He makes sense!

How tasty is your life at the moment?