Friday, February 28, 2014

Summons to celebrate

Well, it's official! Bishop Damien has issued his writ of summons to all the Diocesan Clergy to the Diocesan Synod on 3rd May at Central Hall Westminster. There will be a Pontifical High Mass at 11am followed by synodical business n the afternoon.

It seems strange that I have received a summons rather than an invitation. The Synod may have a lot of technical business, but ultimately we have much to be thankful for and the whole Synod does have the air of celebration about it.

So am I being forced to celebrate? I am summoned certainly and this is because I am a priest and thus a servant of the laity. My bishop requires my assistance to help the laity rejoice in the fact that God has blessed each member through the gift of the Church and, simultaneously, has blessed the Church with the gift of each member of the laity. Delegates are summoned too, but they have a duty to represent the laity of their parish to whom the actions of their priest is accountable.

All laity are indeed invited to the Synod and not summoned. Does this mean that their presence is not necessary? Are they unimportant?

Certainly not!! Far from it. The business of the Church requires those who will do that business - the Delegates and the Clergy who serve their parishes. The laity who are neither clergy nor delegate are welcome to be there to see how things are indeed running. Their presence at the Synod Mass will edify them as well as any Mass, but further, their presence will edify everyone, for these are the people for whom it all matters.

For the Christian, our praise of God is both a duty and a joy. We must worship God, and it is to our joy that we worship God. It is to our health that we worship, not because God in any way needs out worship. Worship can be such hard work: it must involve sacrifice - the willing offering of that which is most dear to the One to Whom all things are dear. Learning the Mass has been hard work for me and I have made so many mistakes, but that's not the point. I am still offering the sacrifice of the Mass to God on behalf of my beloved parish, and it is Christ's priesthood that I participate in that ensures that our sacrifice is perfected before God despite my many, obvious and not-so-obvious shortcomings. However, I find such great joy in doing so. I really enjoy saying Mass and saying it for the faithful few in my parish whose presence is so dear. I have improved and I hope still to improve so that my laity are not hindered in seeing Christ present with us through my failing.

This summons, then, is a duty that I must observe. The laity of the Diocese need me, not because I am important, but because I am called by God to bring them the hope that He promises His Church. This is true for all the priests of the Diocese and, most of all, to the Bishop - the servant of the whole Diocese.

It would be a great joy to me to see the Central Hall pews in Westminster full at 11am on 3rd May so that I can see the laity being nourished with the most perfect joy that comes down from Heaven. This is an invitation to you, dear reader, and it comes with the love of the Church and with the love of the Most Holy Trinity.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Defragging the Anglican Church

I've recently added Bishop Chandler Jones' blog to my blogroll. To have not done so until now is quite an appalling oversight on my part as I've often enjoyed his blogging. Recently, he has reported on the Working group to reconcile the APA and the ACA. This is certainly very very needed and if it takes place then, at last, we can see visible signs that the genius of Anglicanism is clambering out from beneath the ruins caused by unnecessary and heretical revisionism to take its place among legitimate Orthodox Christianity.

I am minded of the many hours I have spent watching my former PC "defragging". This seemed to take the form of an incredibly long list of coloured squares scrambled about, representing (somehow) the state of the computer's memory. The coloured squares would somehow be grouped together and this would somehow make the computer more efficient. Of course, not being an expert in computing this is the very limit of my understanding in the matter. Whatever it really did, defragmentation was certainly a desirable thing for the computer.

It seems that the dust is beginning to settle now after the Episcopal Church broke away from the Catholic Faith, sadly followed by the CofE. 2017 will see the fortieth anniversary of the Congress of St Louis, and this is a minuscule amount of time in the life of God's Church. Thus, any bridging of the gaps that have led to the fracture of Anglicanism will be of enormous value.

The genius of Anglicanism does mean that there is absolutely no need for the different Anglican jurisdictions to merge formally. There does not need to be one primate metropolitan overseeing the entirety of Anglican jurisdictions provided that there is both a general and particular commitment by each bishop to this Orthodox Anglican Communion which is not new but continues from where the rest of the Anglican Communion broke away.

Once the legal instruments are put in place, we will then find ourselves with a process by which we can begin to gather up the fragments.and put them in a place where they will not only flourish, but preach the gospel with a more harmonious voice. Such mechanisms have the potential to be self-replicating and self-repairing if looked after properly. This very much does mirror the defrag of a computer. One does have to be very careful with all computer systems as the possibility of chaotic behaviour can result. My hope is that the actual chaos is over and, like Langton's Ant, the bridge-building can begin and a highway through the desert can be built.

Of course, this is all the vision of an idealist. We still have to combat human nature and the strange vicissitudes of politics and passion. There is much hope out there which the first continuing Anglicans saw. May we follow that hope more carefully!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How I (fail to) understand Protestantism

I must confess that I have come to Continuing Anglicanism rather late. Having spent my life prior in the Church of England, one of the big problems that worried me about the Continuing Anglican Churches was its fragmentation. To my mind (especially during my more Ultramontane season) fragmentation is very much the hallmark of Protestantism which I have always been seeking to avoid. I have always sought the unity of the Church which produced the phrase “I believe one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” within its Creed. The phrase “we are the One True Church” is clearly designed to strike fear into anyone who is not part of that “One True Church”.

I suppose I must ask myself, “what is this Protestantism that I seek to avoid?” After all, there are so many definitions and nuances that are associated with the word that clarification is somewhat necessary if I am to make any head or tail of things and thus communicate with other Christians. If I say, “I am not a Protestant” then I do want to be able to mean what I say.

As I say, the hallmark of Protestantism seems to be fragmentation. My basis for this observation is first and foremost the Reformation where the word became more prevalent following the protests against the Diet of Speyer. The first Protestant movements were clearly Calvinism, Lutheranism, Anabaptism (among others) as each group tried to work out its faith away from the authority of Rome.

Yet we have fragmentation in the 11th Century as the Roman Church separates from the Eastern Church which is why the Eastern Church regards the Roman Church and her fragments as being just as “Protestant”, so we have to be very careful in what we mean. The Eastern Church herself seems to consist of groups that revel in autocephaly than perhaps is good. Fragmentation is clearly not the sole province of the Protestant, nor is it often carefully considered. It is not really true to say that “Protestant” means “not Roman Catholic” since the Eastern Church regards both Roman and “former Roman” (for want of a better phrase) equally Protestant. Does “Protestant” mean “outside the One True Church”? Given that the Eastern and Roman Churches both claim the title, one is rather bound to think so. Yet this does not seem to tally with the idea that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans x.13). The trouble is that we cannot know absolutely the salvation of others, nor do we know absolutely our own salvation. One has to have faith in the mercy of God for that to work. If “Protestant” means “outside the One True Church” then it must also mean “heretic,” “apostate” or “non-Christian”. That is manifestly against what all the Protestant Reformers were trying to do.

So why do I object to being called “Protestant”. First of all, when the word is levelled at me it’s usually meant pejoratively, in the sense of “not being a proper Christian” or “not being a proper catholic”. Being Catholic is important to me because it is one of the marks of the Church and I desperately want to belong to the Church. However, “Protestant” has overtones of not being “proper”. I also really do not want people to see me like another Ian Paisley whose views I simply cannot accept as being charitable. Clearly “Protestant” is a big brush with which to paint someone.

I hope that it’s fair to say that the marks of the Protestant seem to be rather more a via negativa. I base this on the observation that the Protestant, in genuinely seeking to strip away from the faith all kinds of medieval accretions which have built up since East and West split, has also stripped away that which has been affirmed from the first Seven Councils – this often includes the notion of Conciliar authority as well. I do agree wholeheartedly with the rejection of many medieval ideas, namely Limbo, the selling of indulgences, purgatory as a place of punishment, a hierarchy with more political power and monarchy than the gentle love of souls for starters.

However, I do accept the Seven Oecumenical Councils and the Vincentian Canon as the defining principle of what it means to be Catholic. However, that is my principle and a principle that comes from accepting the authority of the “Undivided Church” but that doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily very good at following it! I am after all responsible for my study and I am kept in line by my brother priests and my Bishop of course, but also my brothers and sisters in the laity who always raise good but searching questions. The Lord says that it is my duty to serve them all, so serve them I must.

One may say then that I am using my private judgement to pick and choose my faith as so many do these days. The fact of the matter is that we are all making a private judgement in our Christian profession. We, each of us, work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. It means that we accept a principle of authority and we stick to it. For Roman Catholics, the principle is the Magisterium of the Church which includes accepting the Pope as Infallible. For some Protestants, the principle is sola scriptura and thus further fragmentation follows here when one application of sola sciptura diverts from another. For me and for my Church, the principles of authority are found in Scripture, the Creeds, the Church Fathers and the Oecumenical Councils, which puts us more in line with the Orthodox Church.

Further, the rejection of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Mass is again something that marks out a Protestant. The Church Fathers and the Councils do teach it definitively, but the Roman Catholics rely too heavily on a particular philosophy (namely that of Transubstantiation), likewise the Lutherans (Consubstantiation), and others deny it outright. I, myself, accept transubstantiation as it makes sense to me (in the loosest possible sense of the word “sense”), but I don’t insist upon it primarily because while I hold to a largely scholastic philosophy, Our Lord’s Holy Presence with us goes beyond any form of philosophy or philosophical enquiry. However, I manifestly do not reject the Real Presence at all and find the whole argument of “Our Lord’s body is in Heaven so He can’t be present in the Sacrament” a bit of a category mistake to say the least. This attitude, of course, contradicts the famous black rubric putting me firmly outside the Eucharistic theology of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer and its subsequent editions.

So what do I make of Protestants if I don’t count myself as one of them? Are they heretical? Should I shun them? The trouble with a personal faith is that it is indeed personal. As I’ve said above, there is no absolute knowledge save that absolute knowledge exists. Like Elizabeth I, I do not have windows into men’s souls, nor do I wish it. We are all on pilgrimage and we all walk to the destination which we believe most strongly is the true Way. However, in the darkness of our existence some of us walk in groups, some of us walk alone, others change groups and all seem to be calling the others that they’ve found the Way.

  I believe strongly that I have found the right way, but then I believe that the Church is bigger than just the motley crew with which I find myself walking.  If a Protestant denies the sacraments, then the Sacraments I have will do him no good. The Way the Truth and the Life does shine in the enlightened and humble mind, a mind that is filled with faith, hope and love. I simply cannot reject anyone Protestant or non-Protestant if they are seeking the Truth. Protestants or non-Protestants who are not seeking the Truth in their hearts have already ejected themselves from the Church. For these, my prayers go out most earnestly.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Telling our worth?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Septuagesima 2014.
Text: St Matthew xx.1-16

If it takes nine men four days to dig a ditch which is three chains long, how long will it take six men to dig a ditch that is four chains long?

Exam questions like this are rather puzzling to many of us. You’ve probably worked out that the mathematical answer is eight days, but that’s just that – a mathematical answer. In reality, we would say, “a fortnight due to the inclement weather,” or, “three weeks if you take into account the tea breaks,” or, “six months if the men work for Rochester City Council”. The mathematical answer is very seldom the real answer.

That brings us to a problem. If we pay each man a hundred pounds for a day’s labour, then we need to ensure that the work is being done. It is surely unfair that one man who digs more than his fair share of the ditch should earn the same amount of money as the chap who leans on his spade for three days drinking tea, and barely digs a yard of the ditch.

This is just common sense, surely? So what then do we make of Our Lord’s words about the labourers in the vineyard. Those who work a full day are paid exactly the same as those who only work an hour. They complain, but the chap in charge says, “Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?” Isn’t that just diddling these first folk out of their earnings, hiding behind the law of contract? It’s just not fair!


Our Lord is categorically saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is like this chap in charge. The one who comes to work last earns as much as the one who comes to work first. The amount that is paid them, the penny, is actually a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s labour, so all these workers are receiving enough to live on. There’s no question about slave labour here. The main point Our Lord is making is that God does not discriminate between the faithful Jews – the people of the Old Covenant who came first – and the Christians – the people of the new covenant who came later.

However, this doesn’t take into account the fact that the one who came to work first has clearly done twelve times more work than the one who has come last. But what is this work? Just how much is an hour of this work worth? Is this work even worth doing, anyway?”


Our Lord is challenging our sense of worth. In a materialist society, everything is given a numerical value and money is paid in proportion to that value.  This is why this parable is hard for us to understand in the present age. The work that He bids us do is simply not like the work we do now; it certainly does not pay the way we expect.

 If we expect more because we do more, then we’re clearly looking at this type of work in the wrong way.  Everyone receives exactly what they need but the first people want more, and that renders both their reward and their work ultimately worthless. They don’t see where the true value lies. Further, those who complain about it are sent away. How may we understand this?


Remember, that Our Lord Jesus is the true vine and working in the vineyard becomes the community of God’s chosen people. The labour is cultivating a relationship with God. It is what we get when we complete a task, or run a race.

St Paul; tells us:
” KNOW ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away.”

The reward is everything we need to live life well. If we believe God for purely material gain, then we gain nothing and our labour is a sham – there is no room for grasping for more. God is not a wish-granting genie who rewards us when we please Him. In so thinking, we actually lose our reward. God has offered us a wonderful opportunity to work to get to know Him. We can choose to take that opportunity or refuse it in favour of what we think is better, but is actually worth much less. What is clear is that those who get to return to the vineyard are only those who receive what they are given with gratitude. Many are indeed called but few are chosen. Those who are not chosen rule themselves out by their attitude and intention.


As we begin that walk into Lent, now is the time for us to challenge the materialistic elements in our lives. Do we rely on God’s goodness or do we seek to make a profit from our attempt to buy God’s favour? Do we see everything with a price tag or do we cultivate the things in our life that are truly priceless? How do we live in a materialist age without compromising our commitment to loving our God first and our neighbour as ourselves?

We can only reassess our views by stepping back from our lives through prayer, meditation and considering our actions. If we allow it, Lent will help us to do just that and our vision of Our Risen Lord will be all the clearer for it. Is that worth doing, or do we have the wrong sense of worth?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Absurdity, Sisyphus, Chaos and the Church

I am very grateful to a learned colleague at school (who knows much more philosophy than I do) for introducing me to the ideas contained in Camus' Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Like high level theology, I leave languages and their translations to Fr Chadwick and his peers. I am quite interested here in the ideas that Camus puts forward because it does have a bearing on how people live a life without purpose. For Camus, so I'm told, the non-existence of God and the afterlife were self-evident.

Quite how he reaches these conclusions, I know not. Personally, I find it self-evident that I have an immortal soul that will outlast this body. That is my experience of living. Likewise, I find it impossible to imagine a world where either everything is contingent or there is no such thing as causality. That rather offends my scientific sensibility as well as contradicting my awareness of the Divine Consciousness which has its origins beyond me. However, I freely admit that I have no proof that my self-evident truths are indeed true. Indeed, I am more likely to admit that they are completely unprovable.

Camus finds life pointless and absurd. For him there is no meaning of life whatsoever. One may then inquire what prevents the individual from simply committing suicide. Camus' answer is that Man is a rational being in an irrational world, and that it is this absurdity that should be the cause of Man's desire to live and embrace the contradiction of a rational life. This is the basis of his work describing the myth of Sisyphus who is doomed to roll a rock slowly, painfully and laboriously uphill only for it to roll back down again. For Camus, "The struggle itself... is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."  For this reason, Camus regards Hope as the worst plague of the lot, trouncing all the unpleasantness that flies out of Pandora's box because it is utterly false. The rock inevitably rolls back to the bottom of the hill to be picked up and carried again. This is fulfillment for Sisyphus! As the rock rolls back, he can pour scorn on his labour. He transcends his own labour.

I'm afraid I can't quite see why suicide doesn't transcend labour, nor why it doesn't pour scorn on the whole act of toiling at life through that last ditch act of free-will. Is suicide surely not an absurd response to Camus' absurd?

For the mathematician in me, I do see something that perhaps Camus was not able to see, and that is the influence of chaos in physical systems. Life indeed may appear absurd or contradictory but this absurdity comes about not only through competing systems but with the system itself introducing feedback. Perturb the system slightly and it oscillates unpredictably from one state to another. The system may be unpredictable but it may not necessarily be irrational. Within Chaos, there is order and from Chaos some order may indeed arise.

This seems to suggest that Hope is now less of an evil but some assurance that there is some underlying order in the Cosmos. For me who sees nothing but contingent producing contingent and finds contradiction in the notion that only contingent things exist, I have enough evidence to convince me of the existence of God.

Yet I do have an appreciation for Camus' ideas here. Daily, I watch society do some remarkably ridiculous things that actually it can't help doing. Law, morality and ethics naturally clash precisely because humanity is a fallen genus and unable to deal with its own existence on a larger scale. I see a Church (or even a Church within a Church) abandon its principles in favour of attracting more members so it can teach them the religious principles that it no longer adheres to. I see those who reject the existence of moral absolutes become the first to take up arms when something appears to be unfair to them.

Many of my colleagues are tired with the uphill struggle and might be forgiven for thinking that their situation is absurd. Like Camus, I believe that Man can indeed rise above his labour, transcend beyond that Sisyphean task of trying to do the impossible. St Benedict reminds us that sometimes the Abbess may ask impossible things of the nun, yet the nun  keeps her vow of obedience and attains greater perfection by attempting the impossible. If she fails, she attributes it to her own fragility. If she succeeds, she attributes her success to God.

For many, that's "bad thinking" a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The trouble is, it is indistinguishable from  if it were true, but then, the nun isn't producing an argument for the existence of God, she's finding her fulfilment in Him.

Man's transcendence is ontological, for God gives Man his worth beyond his works. If belief in God is absurd as many will say, then St Paul, Kirkegaard and Camus all say that we should embrace absurdity without flinching. Of course, Camus would accuse Kirkegaard and St Paul of flinching in their embrace of God rather than staring hopelessness in the face. But then I don't really regard hopelessness as being self-evident. Quite the opposite in fact. I am hopeful about the future. I think it's rather brighter than Sisyphus would give it credit. Our rocks may indeed roll down the hill, but there's always the opportunity to look over the hill at the other side before one trudges down to pick up the rock once more.

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills : from whence cometh my help. My help cometh even from the Lord : who hath made heaven and earth."

Monday, February 03, 2014

Purely about purity

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the feast of the Purification 2014

In the Tate Gallery,
there are two paintings
by Barnett Newman.

The painting called “Adam”
consists solely of a dark red background
upon which are two vertical brighter red stripes
on the left of the canvass.

The other painting, “Eve”,
 is that same brighter red as the canvass background
but with a single vertical dark red stripe
on the right.

And that’s it.

There are no other features!

Of course in each painting,
your eye is drawn away from the background colour
to the different colour stripes.

That’s why Barnett Newman put them there
– to draw your eye to what is different.

Your eye is meant to seek out
that which is different.
 It is a master of finding the impurity.

A blank page is useless
until there’s something written on it,
or drawn on it.

Writing only works
because it shows up
against the purity of the white page.

It has probably not escaped your notice
 that purity is also regarded
as a virtue for Christians.

Purity is something that God wants for us,
but what exactly does this mean?

Today, Candlemas,
we remember the purification of Our Lady.
It is the custom of Hebrew women
to come to the temple to be purified
 after childbirth.

The twelfth chapter of Leviticus tells us,
 that after childbearing a woman shall offer
a year old lamb and a pigeon or a turtledove
(or two pigeons if she is poor)
for a sin offering to the priest
“Who shall offer it before the LORD,
and make an atonement for her;
and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood.
This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.”

This is something
that passes us Christians by
and sounds odd, obsessive
and even downright oppressive.

Why should a woman be regarded as unclean
 just because she has performed
the miracle of giving birth to a child?

Can that really be a sin?


Of course, the dangers of infection
without proper medical attention
are quite substantial.

Many women have died
and still do die in poorer countries
due to post natal infections.

Despite the fact that Our Lady is a pure virgin,
she is still very much
in danger from infection.

The rite of purification
is supposed to be a safeguard
given to the Hebrew women to prevent them
from infection.

Of course, it gets hijacked
by the more unscrupulous Pharisees and Priests
to enforce their leadership.

Our Lord Himself does away
with the whole notion of being ritually unclean
when He says,
“those things which proceed
out of the mouth come forth from the heart;
 and they defile the man.
For out of the heart proceed
evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,
fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
These are the things which defile a man:
but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”

The Blessed Virgin submits to the purification ritual:
her Son perfects it upon the cross
whereby all may be purified and wash their robes
in the blood of the Lamb of God.

But what is this purity that God demands of us?

If you think about it,
pure gold is gold and nothing else.

Pure water is water alone
without anything contaminating it.

So a pure life is a life that is precisely that,
life without contamination.

Our Lord Jesus tells us that He is the true life.

His purity is without question
because although He is both human and Divine,
His humanity is not an obstacle
to being very God of very God.
 Our Lord Jesus is pure God,
 and His humanity radiates with it.

There is nothing in our humanity
that prevents us from having His life.
We too, could more obviously reflect the nature of God
 if our humanity were pure enough.

 It is what contaminates our life
from within that causes our impurity,
 and why people struggle to see God in us.

Our lives and our happiness
are contaminated by our own tendency
to let impurities grow within ourselves.

In fact, we know that there impurities in our life,
precisely because we know what it is to be pure.

Each day,
we battle resentment, bitterness, anger, lust,
hatred, envy, dishonesty
and lack of charity.
 Each of these is like a seed
and each grows within us like an infection.

They attack our happiness;
they attack our relationships with people;
they attack our relationship with God.

When we recognise these infections in ourselves,
it’s easy for us to become disheartened.

There is no reason to be.

We are not wholly depraved,
and if we seek purity,
and work at being pure,
then we recognise more easily
when we are infected with impurity
and can do something about it.

If we are honest with ourselves
and honest with God,
He will purify us.

“For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:
and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Refining is not a pleasant process
 because it brings the impurities to the top.

They are revealed to us
in all their horrid “glory”,
but it has to happen for us to get better.

It is very easy for impurity
which has risen to the top
to be skimmed off
by a skilled hand.

Purification is not an easy thing and,
 indeed we may run from it.

 God, however,
is patient and won’t let us get away
with a single impurity
 until we shine like pure gold in Heaven.

Like Our Lady,
we must submit to the process.

If it hurts, then it can only mean
we are getting better!

That’s better than carrying those impurities
around for Eternity, isn’t it?