Sunday, November 30, 2014

Collects for the First Sunday in Advent

Prayer book
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Breviary (Sarum)
STIR UP thy might, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come; that we, who are ever threatened by the peril of our sins, may be counted worthy to be rescued by Thy protection and saved by thy Deliverance. Who with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

Already we see tensions arising between the Anglican Prayer book and the Pre-Reformation Breviary. The collect before the Reformation was that of the Sarum Rite, and this was replaced by Archbishop Cranmer with one that is probably of his own composition based on the Epistle for Advent Sunday. As Anglican Catholics, we have a duty to try and reconcile the prayers so that we may find a good sense of continuity across the time of Reformation.

The Sarum Collect focusses on our helplessness before God. Our sins imperil our lives to the extent that we are always teetering on the edge of death. That is the extent of the human condition. We have been created to live on that edge. Our lives are torn apart by the various forces, principalities and powers that fight over us for our destruction. They work in the darkness of the unseen; they influence us in the minuscule; they nudge us gently into oblivion. We need protection and deliverance – we may not presume on that protection and deliverance because we have been created to know our sins. God has given us capacities to tell right from wrong and to choose right from wrong, which is why we stand on the precipice all the time.

We cannot save ourselves from the precipice. We need God to steady us which He does with the grace that He gives us. Archbishop Cranmer’s composition for the prayer book focusses on that Grace. We need to be able to cast away from us the sins that crawl in the darkness of our being and we need the light of God to show this up to us first before we are even aware of the works of darkness within us!

We are responsible for our sins, and we are given the light to see them, but we can still close our eyes and refuse to see the sin within us. Our Advent must be spent getting our eyes used to the brightness of the Christ-child being born in our hearts. It is only through Him that His Church will receive Salvation.

Living at Twilight

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Advent Sunday 2014

Are you a morning person or a night person? Do you prefer looking at evenings or sunsets?

Both can be spectacular. In both cases, the Sun is on the Horizon, preventing the sky from being the beautiful clear bright blue of the day and from being the deep rich violet of the night. Would you be able to tell the difference?

Sunsets are still warm from the business of the day. There is a richness and a tiredness that comes from a busy world of work and activity and things are settling down to sleep. The Sunrise has the cool of the night still about it which cause the sleepy to want to curl up tighter until the light really begins to penetrate the darkness.

So where are we now? Are we at Sunrise or Sunset?


For many Christians, it feels like Sunset. How many of us are tired by having to battle what’s going on in the world? How many of us are weary from trying to do what is right but finding ourselves frustrated by the way things are? There is a lot of injustice in the world, lots of unfairness, and still too many atrocities that humanity could have grown out of by now. We can easily look at the darkness in the world and see so much that makes our hearts sink, and we can think that night is drawing on; we can think that we are moving into darkness.

But are we really moving into darkness?


St Paul would say not. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.”

More importantly, Our Lord would say not.

Here we are at Advent Sunday remembering Palm Sunday: Jesus the King riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The thing is that appearances are so deceptive. Jesus doesn’t look like a king. The whole procession looks a bit ramshackle and without the splendour of true kingship. The entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem looks like an ordinary man riding into the city. Why celebrate that?

The fact is that people turn their perspectives around to see the light of Christ which breaks through the ordinariness of His Humanity and they recognise someone Who is able to do something about their lives.

Sunrise and sunset can look too similar, so we have to look for their differences.

Are we sliding into darkness? In terms of the world, yes, but in terms of God, no. Light has dawned on humanity and continues to do so. While we accept the world’s terms, we will find only darkness as it slips away from the light. If we turn to Christ then we have the bright shining Sun of Righteousness burning deep within our hearts. While the world has its atrocities, the Church has salvation by which the victims of atrocity can be caught up and away into life and joy and peace away from the corruption of the world. In God atrocities and pain can be rectified. Without Him, they cannot but will only return to the darkness from where they came. Our hope for Salvation comes only from God.

We may think that we are moving into darkness, but is that because we have our back to the dawn?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Sowing wild oaths

From The House of Bishops' Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (GS Misc 1076)
34. At ordination and on taking up any office in the Church of England priests and deacons are required under Canon C 14 to swear or affirm that they will “pay true and canonical obedience to the Lord Bishop of C and his successors in all things lawful and honest.” Bishops are similarly required to take an oath of due obedience to the archbishop of the province. Clergy and bishops also take an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and make the Declaration of Assent.

35. These Oaths and the Declaration are important because they each involve recognition that a person does not exercise ministry in isolation or on their own authority but within a framework of relationship with others and within the tradition of faith as the Church of England has received it. The House acknowledges that the taking of the oath to the diocesan bishop or the oath of due obedience to the archbishop may, in future, raise issues for those who, for theological reasons, remain committed to a male episcopate and priesthood.

36. Nevertheless, the House believes that all ministers of the Church of England will be able, in good conscience, to take the oath. Doing so adds nothing legally to the duty of canonical obedience, which already exists in law. Rather, it is a recognition of the pattern of relationships which underpins the exercise of ministry by those who make and receive the oath. It follows from the guiding principles set out in paragraph 5 above, and the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition which they acknowledge, that the giving and receiving of the oath does not entail acting contrary to theological conviction.
The Church of England is a veritable curate’s egg. One might say that the good parts are purely aesthetic, citing the buildings, the choirs, et c. I think that there Is more good in the CofE than that. There is a lot of good pastoral work being done to help those who are in need. One thing, though, that the CofE is simply not good at is being clear either to its members or to its clergy. It is in the lack of clarity that confusion arises, and from confusion, ill-feeling and from ill-feeling the charge of institutional dishonesty.

The Anglican Catholic Church is not perfect either. Many may indeed take issue with the stark clarity of our canons and reject us because of our hard-line on sensitive issues. This does pose problems for us which need to be worked through, but it should not prevent dialogue. It may be said that the reasons for joining the ACC do not outweigh the reasons for finding somewhere else. If so, then at least we have allowed the one searching for a spiritual home to make a clear decision in their search. We are a cuprinol Church: in theory, at least, we try to make it clear what we believe and what we don't.

In all conscience, I cannot trust the government of the CofE (I have good personal reasons for finding the institution untrustworthy), and this section of the latest measure on the purported ordination of women to the episcopate shows me why, and confirms my belief that the Anglican Catholic Church is an alternative to the Church of England that should be considered by any Catholic minded Anglican.

Let us suppose that Elizabeth Saquebout is elected and made Bishop of Fredgington in the Church of England. Upon her assumption of the position what will happen to the canonical oaths made by the clergy to the Lord Bishop of Fredgington and his successors? Well, is Elizabeth his successor? Well, legally yes, and the oath will stand because the CofE has passed a law through parliament to say that Elizabeth is the Bishop of Fredgington. Whether or not the clergy believe that she really is a bishop, their oath to “pay true and canonical obedience to the Lord Bishop of Fredgington and his successors in all things lawful and honest” remains valid. Except…

There is this word “canonical” and it is this word that produces confusion. The clause in this measure states that "Nevertheless, the House believes that all ministers of the Church of England will be able, in good conscience, to take the oath. Doing so adds nothing legally to the duty of canonical obedience, which already exists in law."

To my mind there is an equivocation of the word "canonical" here. "Canonical" in this context can mean according to the Canons of the CofE which are enshrined in law. All priests, then, have a legal duty to obey their bishop in all things lawful and honest, and Elizabeth is legally the Bishop of Fredgington. Certainly, any priest could in conscience make the oath according to the law as it stands. The question remains, however, whether legislating a woman to be bishop is enough to make her position as bishop Canonical in keeping with the Catholic Faith.

As far as the Catholic Faith goes, the Church does not possess that authority for women in the Episcopate. Thus, under the Catholic sense of Canon, there is a different understanding and thus an equivocation for the priest who holds to the Catholic Faith. In the legal sense, i.e. the existence of the Church of England as a legal body, Elizabeth is indeed owed and entitled to the respect due to any other legal bishop, no less, no more. If a priest accepts the equivalence between the Catholic and legal senses of the word "canonical", then he is duty bound to accept her as his bishop and pay her what is due.

However, what if he does not accept the equivalence? Then we are in a bit of a pickle. If a priest accepts the Catholic Faith as once received by the saints, then he separates the two definitions of Canonical. He must pay legal obedience in all things lawful and honest to Elizabeth, but he does not recognise her as a bishop. Let us now ask this question, suppose that Fr Ernest Rankett is a member of Forward in Faith who moves into Elizabeth's diocese. Since she is the Diocesan bishop, she gives her license to Ernest to celebrate Mass in her diocese. However, as a priest, Ernest will be acting as her vicar in his parish. But Ernest surely does not believe that Elizabeth is a priest, so how can he possibly be the vicar to a vacant see? Elizabeth, being a fair-minded person and committed to the CofE, abides by the Code of Practice and ensures that Ernest gets alternative episcopal oversight together with his parish.

All well and good. Elizabeth is not going to demand that Ernest attends a Mass which she leads, and Ernest will ensure that he meets with Elizabeth on all relevant matters pertaining to her legal oversight of the Diocese. Ernest and Elizabeth clearly work together in the spirit of the "framework of relationship with others" even though he doesn't believe that she is a bishop. Yet, the fact remains, he is celebrating his Masses with the sacramental authority of a legal bishop who not a Catholic Bishop. If Ernest claims that he is using the authority of his appointed suffragan, then he is not recognising Elizabeth as his Diocesan which is not legal. It is the Diocesan that issues the license to officiate which is not just canonical in the legal sense, but also in the Catholic sense. If Ernest celebrates Mass with Elizabeth's license, he operates against the Catholic understanding of episcopacy. If he does not celebrate Mass with Elizabeth's license, then he operates the legal understanding of Elizabeth's canonical authority.

Now, I am sure that this has all been worked out legally and that something has been put into place to ensure that Ernest derives his permission and license to celebrate Mass according to Catholic understanding. However it seems to be a rather tortuous and tortured affair. The question really becomes that of a moral duty not of a legal duty. Can the priest look at section 36 of the above measure and be clear that "Nevertheless, the House believes that all ministers of the Church of England will be able, in good conscience, to take the oath. Doing so adds nothing morally to the duty of canonical obedience, which already exists in law"?

There is actually a grave examination of conscience needed here, and quite a number of moral gymnastics. The legal business is sound, but the moral issue is not quite that clear. Can the priest be certain for whom he is a vicar at the altar? Perhaps I am being uncharitable (I hope not) but I do think that the CofE needs to be as clear with those who are of an integrity different from the "clear" decision which it claims to have made.

And I do remind any priests whose consciences are pricking them, there is always an alternative to the CofE.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Choosing our daily bread: Part 2

As I continue to ruminate on the choices that we face in life,  I continue to enjoy my sausage sandwich on brown bread. Aside from the problem of Evil that I thought on in my last post, there is the problem of there being free human choice itself. It's a problem that perplexes many Christians. Can we choose to be saved from our sins? Is Salvation in the same category as the white/brown bread problem with which we started?

First of all, is everyone going to be saved? Our Lord Jesus tells us that there will be many who say to Him "Lord, Lord" who will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The answer is therefore no, there will be those who are not saved. However, what does it mean to be saved from our sins? St Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death and St John's Revelation would remind us that this is the second death which eternally separates us from God. If there is no God then there is only death. If there is a God then there is hope of escaping death.

It is clear that that God makes the choice. What would that choice look like? Ah. Now here's the rub because it presupposes that we know how God thinks. Clearly we can't do that. However, God allows us reason about Him because He wishes to communicate with us. So let us try, and put forward an argument which, though imperfect and certainly not worthy of the mind of God, may illuminate things. What is the criteria which will ensure that God will save us?

If He chooses not to save us, what will the reason be? If we have no input into whether we are saved or not, then only God is responsible for our death. He may have good moral reasons for doing so, but it is very hard to see what they are. After all, He chose to create us, and then He chose to reject us. The moral reasons for doing so will have to take into account the fact that we were not responsible and, further, could do nothing to alter the outcome. Our rejection is down to what we are and not what we do. If we are rejected then, as St Paul shows us, we are rejected from Eternal life because of sin. The gospels show us that sin can be forgiven. If we are rejected then it must be because our sin is part of our being and that we possess necessarily the nothingness of Evil. Where did that come from?

Evil must be present in our lives as a result of our ability to choose and the story of Genesis iii shows us that it is by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil that sin enters the world. Our ability to choose is then infected by the possibility that we are free to choose contrary to the will of God. This infection has Satan as its cause as a result of his free choice. One can assume that angels and archangels have a greater freedom in which they can exercise their choice. To know God means we also need to know what God is not. To know the presence of God means to know the absence of God. It seems reasonable to me that Evil is a necessary privation for Creation.

Evil is where God is not and it is therefore true to say that that which is Evil cannot logically be in the presence of God. Thus God's choice is down to what He considers to be salvageable from Evil. His very presence makes the choice. If our Evil can be purged by His presence in our lives then we will remain. If it can't then we will not remain. The decision as to whether we are salvageable must be God's.

Of course, God makes the choice in His present which is Eternity. We are not eternal but temporal. Whatever choices we make are made in Time and are thus eternally present to God despite the fact that our present as insubstantial as a line in multidimensional space. It seems to me, then, that from God's point of view our free choices are actually part of what we are. Our free choices in Time become what we are in God's perception of us and thus give Him adequate reason for accepting or rejecting us from Eternity. We can freely choose Him in our ever changing present and this choice becomes what we are in God's view of us.

The problem that Christians face is that of standing before God on the Day of Judgement and giving an account of ourselves. We naturally perceive it as a temporal event, however it can't be unless we have a richer sense of Time as God has. We have no power to save ourselves by making an eternal choice. We have the power to make choices in our own narrow time and those choices affect us ontologically. We are saved only through God's choice made from eternity when, from our point of view, our lives are complete.

Can it be that the problems of free-will and Salvation are some forms of category error in comparing judgements made in our time with judgements made from Eternity? Our decision in our time do affect our Salvation because they make us who we are in the eternal standpoint where only God can save. Responsibility for our sins is ours because they occur in Time. If we are saved from Eternity then we are saved only through God's effort because in Eternity we are as complete as we can be of ourselves.

We read in St Mark's gospel that "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (St Mark xvi.16) and in St Matthew, we read "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (St Matthew xxiv.13) The act of believing is a choice given our value-judgements and a choice that must be followed through to the bitter end. We are not saved at a single point in Time, but we are saved from the inevitability of Time. This is why St James exhorts us to have a lively faith, why St John begs us to repent and keep repenting, and why we are in constant need of forgiveness and the concomitant justification. From an point of view beyond Time we are what we have chosen to be.

Do our choices force God's decision? Do we contravene God's authority? St Paul again reminds us that "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up;Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." St John tells us that, "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." The words "Charity" and "Love" are identical and we can see that it is an attribute of God's very self not to seek His own and to endure all things. God is His own limitation. If He permits us free will, then it is not our choice that is the cause of His limitation, but His own Divine nature - His fidelity to us as beings possessing knowledge of Him and of not-Him and the concomitant choice.

It seems reasonable to me that our free-choice affects our Salvation, not as a limitation on the power of God, but rather as a fulfillment of what He intends us to be in His Divine self-limitation. I know that many would disagree with me and even put up a proof-text battle. However, if the argument has existed this long then proof-text battles simply don't work. I simply offer my own limited understanding of what I perceive that I must do to be saved, namely: to believe in the Divine person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His love for me and the reality of His Resurrection from the Dead and its concomitant promises, to believe this to the end, to receive God's grace in the Sacraments, to promulgate Love which is the substance of God, and seek to be of the Body of Christ which is Resurrected through Him. If I'm wrong, then I pray God will convince me otherwise.

Now, white or brown. Do I get a choice today?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Choosing our daily bread: Part 1

"Full sausage on white, please."

The lady behind the counter of the college refectory said, "I'm sorry, my dear, we've only got brown. We're on a health drive here."

So I had full sausage on brown without a moment's consideration. Yum! And another inch on the waist.

Of course, afterwards it got me thinking. Is it quite right that we should remove choice in order to promote healthy eating in our young folk?

I'll leave questions of College Refectory policy to those who know better, but it does pose an interesting and oft-asked question. Is it right to remove choice from a dependent for the dependent's own good?

It would be quite wrong for a parent to leave a pair of scissors near a one year old, or a box of matches within the grasp of a five year old. I'm sure that's some form of neglect and rightly so. The parent can't say, "Oh, it'll teach him to learn to respect scissors," or "Oh, she'll know not to do that next time." Clearly the harm that can be done by scissors and matches is something we'd rather not contemplate; suffice it to say that any damage could very well be permanent.

Of course, with white and brown bread, we have a different question. How are we expected to learn to make the right decision if the decision is not presented to us? How can we learn to make choices in life if we never make them during our formation?

There are lots of big choices that a child has to make growing up - choice of school, choice of subjects, choice of university, choice of career, choice of friends. It's no wonder that parents can, at times, fear the potential ramifications of the wrong choice. So much rests on our ability to choose and the fear comes when we are faced with a choice that we cannot take back.

Sometimes it is the choice that we can't take back that can change our lives for the better. Marriage is a fine example, particularly when one adheres to the indissolubility of marriage. This forces the couple to really check whether they are suited and, if things get difficult, to find ways of negotiating the rough patch and becoming stronger as a result. Marriages that cannot be broken are so much more worthwhile than marriages that can. The monastic life involves burning bridges. If one enters a monastery, takes vows and then decides to leave, then a new life has to be built from scratch. The life left behind will always be there though and the former Religious will have to find a way of coming to terms with that history.

Is it possible to make a wrong choice? Giving matches to your three year old (sorry parents who squirm at that!) is clearly the wrong choice even if the three year old flushes them down the toilet. Is there nothing good that can come from that? Perhaps a sense of relief that your three-year old doesn't know how matches work or is not interested in playing with fire? Would one take that risk though?

Surely a truly wrong choice is that out of which no good can come at all. Most choices will have a down side, even great pain, great humiliation, even death! There are British Christians flying to Iraq to battle ISIS. Are they making the right decision? If one considers the possibility of death as being a bad decision, then yes. If one values the principles by which one lives as having a greater value than one's life, then no. The goodness of a choice depends on what's at stake, and what's at stake depends on what one values.

So, going back to the lack of choice of bread. Why was that choice removed? Well, had the choice been there, a child could have evaluated the situation, "There is a choice between brown bread and white bread. Brown bread is healthier, but I don't like the taste." At this point, the value judgement comes in: "Do I value the immediate gratification over my health?" Then the decision is made. Thus the argument in full is:

1) (Choice) Brown bread or white bread.
2i) (Evaluation) Brown bread is healthier.
2ii) (Evaluation) White bread tastes nicer.
3) (Value judgement) Immediate taste trumps inches on waist.
4) (Conclusion) I'll choose white bread.

However, I doubt that a child would have actually reasoned thus. I think the evaluation for most children would be:

1) (Choice) Brown bread or white bread.
2) (Evaluation) White bread tastes nicer.
3) (Conclusion) I'll choose white bread.

In short, the child does not consider all the alternatives for evaluation. It is not sufficiently educated to make a full evaluation based on the data. If it does not have all the alternatives, should it be allowed to make the choice?

Here is where the Refectory policy of removing choice comes in. If there is only brown bread, then the argument becomes:

1) (Choice) Brown bread.
2) (Conclusion) I'll choose brown bread.

At least, that's the Refectory's hope. Of course, the choice the child faces is then:

1) (Choice) Brown bread or nothing.
2) (Evaluation) White bread tastes nicer.
3) (Conclusion) I'll choose nothing.

Thus the child doesn't eat unhealthily (here) but the Refectory loses money from those children who then buy their full sausage sandwich on white elsewhere next time. A child who, for medical reasons can't eat brown bread but only white, will either choose to risk their health or go hungry. That choice may not be easy in some cases. If a hungry child chooses to risk it and has a severe allergic reaction landing them in hospital, with whom does the responsibility of that choice lie? Technically, it is still the child, but that responsibility is diminished by the lack of alternative choices.

Much of this depends on value judgements or, as the economists and game-theorists term them, pay-off matrices. Game theory is actually quite fun even when it gets technical.

The key here is about education. If we educate our children to understand that health matters and that the occasional full-sausage-on-white is okay provided one eats a healthy diet, then the child can make their own decision. A child allergic to brown bread but still chooses it despite there being the option of white bread only has itself to blame. The option was there, but not chosen. The Refectory cannot really be held responsible, at least not in the same way that it could if it failed to provide the alternative.

It seems quite reasonable that whoever has most choice has most responsibility for the results of that choice. If the results of that choice result in the death of a child, then the one who made the choice is culpable.

We're faced with choice all the time. We can choose to use a solicitor because they have done the best work compared to others. We can choose the to smoke thirty cigarettes a day because it makes us feel relaxed in a job that could kill us due to stress. It is our value-judgements that colour our choices, but do we really have the ability to choose? Do we really have the ability to make value-judgements?

That is the subject of much philosophical debate. Can free-will exist in a deterministic universe? Is the universe truly deterministic?

Do we have a choice to be saved?

From what? Our sins.

Do we need to be saved from our sins? Are we obliged to accept a value-judgement based on a morality imposed by others? This depends if we agree that there are objective moral values. If we agree that the murder of a child who will grow up to cure a disease is morally wrong, then we have evidence for the existence of objective moral values. If we have existence of objective moral values, then we have some evidence (though not incontrovertible) of God.

Of course, for Christians, the existence of God is not in question. However, God, being the first cause of everything, is responsible for the creation of everything. St Thomas Aquinas would say (as well as others) that evil is not a thing, but the absence of a thing, so God did not create Evil. In themselves, things are good because God created them. So can He be called to account for choosing to permit Evil in His creation? One must first ask whether humanity has the right to try God. St Paul reminds us that we are faced with the clay trying to question the potter's motives for making it in the given form.

However, we are then faced with the fact that the inscrutability of the Creator's motives may be precisely that which drives His Creation from Him. If the Creator is showing inconsistency then there is a reason (whether justified or not) why someone chooses to abandon God. Let's look at the decision.

1) (Choice) Accept or Reject God.
2i) (Evaluation) I am told that God loves me.
2ii) (Evaluation) I am in pain and God has not relieved that pain.
3) (Value Judgement) My pain is more consistent with reality than that which I am being told.
4) (Decision) Reject God.

Like it or not, that's the argument that convinces many people that either God does not exist or that if He does then He is not worth any attention. Somehow such a person needs to be convinced of the argument:

1) (Choice) Accept or Reject God.
2i) (Evaluation) If God exists then He wanted to create me. He must therefore want me to exist.
2ii) (Evaluation) I want to be loved.
2iii) (Evaluation) I am in pain and God has not relieved that pain.
2iv) (Evaluation) God may have good moral reasons for not relieving that pain.
2v) (Evaluation)  If God does not exist then there is no good reason for me being in pain.
3) (Value judgement) The hope that there is reason for my pain is better than there being no reason.
4) (Decision) Accept God.

Personally, I wouldn't call that argument fully compelling given the nature of some people's suffering. For me I see and hear of truly awful things that I want stopped right now. Even the thought of them is intolerable to me. God seemingly does nothing. However I believe that God can see everything and bring good out of everything, but I will certainly be interested in His reasons for why this has been allowed. If God does not exist then there can never be any point to this misery. I would rather trust God and believe that He wills everyone's good, permitting Evil only insofar as it can produce a good which renders the pain suffered truly worthwhile. Given that the pain in the world is so awful, I will be expecting a great deal of good! I think God, however, can pull that off.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Collecting collects

I hope, with the grace of God perfecting my intentions and bringing my work to a good end, to begin producing short reflections on the Sunday collects throughout the coming liturgical year.

I recognize that this was a project that was once carried out by the contributors to The Continuum Blog - indeed I made a few little contributions myself. If what I write does not appeal then I warmly recommend that you follow the link and read the reflections there.

Please pray for me, that I may accomplish the task I have set myself. I pray that what I do may be edifying for you.

Happy New Liturgical Year!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Trumpets, bells and the end of the year!

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Sunday next before Advent 2014

What instruments do angels play?

Many people would say that it is the harp. Others would look at paintings from the renaissance and say that they play all kinds of things such as violins, rebecs, lutes, guitars, shawms and sackbuts. Others would notice the herald angels playing trumpets. Biblically, the trumpet is the instrument of the angels, not the harp. Why’s that?


Remember that the angels are sent to us as messengers. They have a message of great importance and, to get that message across, they need to get our attention. Nothing grabs you attention more than a trumpet in your ear, particularly if you are a soldier asleep in bed! When a trumpet blows, things happen.

Usually, it is something military. In the Old Testament, the trumpet heralds military manoeuvres to battle, or directions to crowds to draw their attention to what’s going on, to prepare them to witness some action.

In the Revelation to St John, it is the angels blowing trumpets that signal disaster for the Earth as it prepares to be transformed into the New Earth under God’s rule. When we hear a trumpet, then it is quite clear that we should listen. But how often do we hear trumpets in our daily lives?


Admittedly, we don’t hear the trumpets that herald the presence of God. Indeed, if we encounter the voice of God, these days, most of us find that He speaks with the still, small voice directly to our souls rather than a voice which is actually audible. If we wish to hear God speak, then we need to choose to hear God speak.

Perhaps it isn’t trumpets that we need to be listening for. Perhaps we’re waiting for the wrong signal.

[PAUSE] In our Mass we have different signals for our actions. Some things, like hymns, get announced. When you hear the phrase, “the Lord be with you,” you know to respond with, “and with thy spirit”. You often hear bells in the Mass which draw your attention to what’s happening. You’ll hear them at the Sanctus, as we prepare for the Consecration, and at the Elevation of the Sacrament. All these bells say, “look! Something’s happening!”

Our seasons too, act as signals to draw our attention. Lent may prepare us for Easter, but Septuagesima Sunday reminds us that we need to prepare to prepare! Yet, does Septuagesima Sunday stand out in our minds as something important?


Today is the Sunday next before Advent. It’s a vitally important day. It’s the last Sunday in the Liturgical Year. Next Sunday is Advent Sunday which means that we begin our preparations for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Each year, we have the opportunity to receive Him anew in our lives and we need to prepare a place for Him. This Sunday is our wake-up call. This Sunday is our trumpet that says, “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” After all those Sundays after Trinity, this Sunday is like that voice crying out in the wilderness. It is easily ignored, but if we listen and heed its message we know that we have to prepare to look at our lives and say “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

This is the Sunday in which we need to stir out of our sleep. How loud does the wake-up call need to be?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Montanism and objectivity

Many liberals in the Church have big problems when justifying their arguments. I often hear statements such as, "You're telling God what to do!" or "How dare you try to limit God!"

The trouble is, this is more or less what the Montanists said. The idea is that Catholic Authority can be bypassed at any time in order to make an action considered unlawful/invalid in the past lawful/valid in the present

Essentially, the arguments in which this phrase would be used take this sort of form.

1) Catholic Authority says X is not permitted.
2) The Holy Spirit cannot be limited by human beings.
3) X is permissible despite Catholic Authority.

The premises may indeed be true; the second certainly is! However, the conclusion simply does not follow unless there are extra assumptions. Let us try and fill in those assumptions.

1) Catholic Authority says X is not permitted.
A) Catholic Authority is human in origin.
2) The Holy Spirit cannot be limited by human beings.
B) X is permitted by the Holy Spirit.
3) X is permissible despite Catholic Authority.

For the argument to become valid, the assumptions must themselves be shown to be true.

I'll take them in reverse order, i.e, B first.

We have an issue X and we wish to know whether it is permitted by the Holy Spirit. How would we find out?

There are lots of spirits about which tell us many things. Let's say that we receive some spiritual guidance that killing politicians is not a sin. If this doesn't seem very palatable, then let's make that politician Hitler or Stalin, someone whose death would have made the difference in the lives of millions.

It may seem like a no-brainer. Many people would not think twice if the opportunity to go back in time to kill Hitler was a real possibility. However, what would the Christian do? Would they just go along with this? Of course not: the Will of God must always be considered. They would need assurance that the message of this spirit was from God. They could just trust the spirit, but how would they know that this was the Holy Spirit? Just because it felt like the right thing to do?

Feelings are not the arbiters of right judgement. If they were then my waistline would increase as I feel that a second chocolate bar is in order. Clearly a revelation from the Divine must be consulted against what we understand already about the Divine. We know that we must test the spirits to see if they be from God. That's not just St John, it's common sense surely! What revelation can there be?

Well, there is Holy Scripture, there is Holy Tradition, there is Reason and there is personal revelation. Is the personal revelation enough? Even for St Paul, personal revelation was only the starting point for his mission. He had to be guided and taught. One cannot go just by a big crash-bang-wallop explosion of revelation without it being consistent with what we know of God Himself. There must be two witnesses to support a claim, ideally three. For Anglicans, these witnesses must be Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

If X is contradicted by Scripture and Tradition, then Reason dictates that it is not established as Christian Doctrine.

Of course, one might reject that idea, which brings us to Assumption A.

Is Catholic Authority human in origin? I.e. did human beings make the rule book?

The "rule book" is Holy Scripture as interpreted through Tradition supported by Reason. Holy Scripture is the supreme authority. If we reject that, then we cease to be authentically Christian. After all, to be Christian means to believe in the Divinity, life, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church gathered all the evidence pertaining to these facts into the New Testament. Thus to reject the authority of the New Testament is to rely upon one's own personal revelation apart from the Catholic Church, but this personal authority then becomes self-supporting and impossible to verify objectively that the revelation that one receives is correct.

What about different interpretations of that rule book. Well, this is where the splits between Christians begin to show. The circumstances of our salvation occurred at one point in Time as the Passion of Our Lord played out. These temporal circumstances have an Eternal effect, because they communicate God's love for us. God is Eternal and God is changeless. Thus Christian Doctrine of Grace and Salvation must be changeless. The same rules, same covenant, same Law, same grace, same sacrifice, same source of justification, sanctification and glorification must apply to all Christians at all time and in all places. This is Catholicism. Thus the Catholic Authority is reasonably believed to be not of human origin but of God's direct revelation.

To see, then, Holy Scripture as possessing the same vicissitudes as human philosophy denies its applicability to all Christians in the same way. If some part of Scripture hitherto accepted is now to be rejected then why not another part, or another? We're back to Sorites paradox. Surely, we either accept all Holy Scripture as it always has been read in Tradition by the Catholic Church, or we reject all of it as unreliable and thus make it subjective, and thus subject to the individual understanding.

Holy Scripture contains all that is necessary to Salvation. It describes the means of grace by which mankind is first justified, sanctified and glorified. If Holy Scripture become suspect and subjective then salvation and grace become completely subjective too. If Salvation is to apply to every Christian, if Grace is to apply to every Christian, then the law by which we know we have sinned applies to every Christian and the means of distributing that promised Grace must apply also to every Christian.

The Ten commandments are not subjective, they are completely objective. They are meant for everyone regardless of person. Laws that are subjective are not laws. Covenants that are subjective are not covenants. Human beings need to learn what is God and what is not-God and are to seek that which is truly God, and God is not subjective  He is objective. Far from the Holy Spirit being limited by human beings, we have the opposite: human beings being limited by the Holy Spirit!

That's the key error that this sort of argument makes. It isn't Humanity limiting the Holy Spirit, it's the Holy Spirit limiting Humanity. Those of a liberal bent rail against this because they perceive that, because Catholic Authority denies X when X is reasonable, that it is the Holy Spirit that is being prevented from working. They do not see that Catholic Authority denies X precisely because the Holy Spirit denies it. Indeed, it is sheer human pride to say that they have special knowledge of what the Holy Spirit wants beyond what human beings have been taught by Divine Revelation. I is Gnosticism of the Montanist variety.

To say that human beings cannot be objective and thus Holy Scripture cannot be seen as an objective statement of Revelation, Salvation and Covenant, is to reject Catholicism: Catholicism which exists in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, most Old Catholic and Anglican Catholic understandings of the Faith. It also rejects mathematical statements such as 1+1=2 ("The Holy Spirit is telling me that 1+1=4 today.") as well as scientific statements by which mankind has benefitted.

If a Christian hears another say "I believe in God," then for both of those Christians, an objective statement has been made pertaining to the existence of an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibenevolent, Creator who deserves worship Who exists as Trinity in Unity, the Second person of Whom died to save mankind from their sins. That is an objective statement because it is a central tenet of the Christian Faith. But then, isn't that a matter of opinion?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Two take away seven

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the twenty-second Sunday after Trinity.


A mathematical question. What’s seven take away two? Of course, you answer with five. But what’s two take away seven?

For some people that’s a problem. If we have two apples then how can we take away seven apples? It really doesn’t make sense, does it? As far as you’re concerned, there’s no way we can take seven apples away from two.

However, suppose you had two hundred pounds in the bank and borrowed seven hundred. Would that be possible? Well, you know what banks are like: they’d say, “yes that’s fine, but you now owe us five hundred pounds.” You will have to pay back five hundred pounds to the bank as soon as you get it. But notice something crucial here. That debt of five hundred pounds only exists as long as both you and the bank allow it to exist.

Suppose you say “there is no debt.” The bank, of course, will disagree and extract it from you by unpleasant means. Suppose the bank says, “there is no debt.” What then?

You could say, “yes, there is!” and still try to pay back the five hundred pounds. You might be out of pocket, but you may be able to sleep at night. However, would you not rather say, “there is no debt” along with the bank? If that happens then the debt just stops. It no longer exists. It becomes as absurd as taking away seven apples from two apples.


St Peter comes to Our Lord with a question about counting offences and counting forgiveness. Like most of his culture, and ours, St Peter has been brought up in a culture of the bank of blame. Of course, he has been listening to the Lord and understands that forgiveness is important. The problem is, how many times can we forgive before we stop forgiving?

This question loses its power when we agree not to keep count. We can either live our lives by counting what’s wrong, storing up debts and sins, or we can forget about it and move on. If we believe that someone owes us something, then we believe that debt exists. If we believe that debt exists then our own debt must exist. It’s all or nothing. Either all debt can be forgiven or no debt can be forgiven. It’s all or nothing, not one rule for us and another rule for everyone else. If you can take seven from two, then everyone can take seven from two. No exceptions!

It’s the same with sin. Either any sin against us can be forgiven, or no sin can be forgiven, not even our own.


That’s not to say that forgiveness is easy. In fact, true forgiveness can be dreadfully hard particularly when the size of the sin is so great. However, forgiveness must first come from the heart. We have to want to forgive. That way, the process of forgiveness can be started, and God can bring anything that has started to its end. For men, things are impossible. For God all things are possible.

Forgiveness is in the nature of God Himself. We should forgive so that we can be nearer to God and that others can be nearer to God. Forgiveness brings the whole world closer to God and makes it better by making Him more visible in that world. We owe it to ourselves to do that and this is a debt worth repaying!



Friday, November 14, 2014

Ghosts, Time and Sanctity

Looking in the mirror, it would have been nice to have my own reflection looking back at me. Then again, I would have settled for anything that was still alive and still had a face.(My entry for the two-sentence horror story.)

Halloween has passed. I really don't like what Halloween has become, just as I really don't like what Christmas has become, following the cultural forgetting of Advent and the recent social obligation of commerce and transaction which now makes the season up.

But Halloween...

Halloween should be another remarkable time of year, like Christmas. If you think about it, the timing of Christian festivals occurs at the same time that old pagan festivals occur for the very reason that the Church wanted to supplant pagan festivals. Yet, however wrong the pagan religion was, it does tap into our humanity. We encounter Spring, Summer, Autumn (Fall, for my transatlantic chums) and Winter naturally, and it is this nature that the pagans recognized and built up their festivals.

As the nights draw in, the darkness falls, the trees wither and lose leaves and animalkind prepares for hibernation, the human soul sees the termination of life and reflects on its own mortality. Old friends are remembered, happier times fondly recalled against the backdrop of the darkening skies. Is it any wonder that a sense of the proximity of the world of the living and the land of the dead should develop? The pagans had their harvest festivals subsumed by the Church who used the time to remember all the saints and all the souls. Of course, the Christians did demonise the pagan religion and the practitioners were viewed with much suspicion which led eventually to the witch hunts and witch trials. Hence Halloween received its associations with the occult.

I will admit to being greatly interested in the paranormal or supernatural. I wish to be clear though. This does not mean that I go in for any dangerous practices such as divining or clairvoyance, which are strictly prohibited by my religion for the health of my soul. A good ghost story for me breaks down the concrete structures of the manmade world around me and brings me back to that time when men had some deference to nature and its seasons. The stories of M.R. James point me to the world that, for all my empirical and rational understanding, I could not understand. There is something deeply disturbing about the fact that there is a beautiful world of an organic nature that can confound mankind's understanding.

I listen carefully to people who tell me that they have seen a ghost. Their stories are powerful and a true expression of their encounter with reality. Whether they experience what they have interpreted that they have experienced is another matter. Many ghosts can be explained away by natural and unusual effects such as a coincidental instance of paradolia, or by the effect of subsonic waves, or by the terrifying occurrences of sleep paralysis. What isn't explained away though is the effect that this has on the subject of this occurrence. David Hume declares with some force that extraordinary claims require extraordinary explanations. Of course, he also says that the relationship between causes and effect is suspect. For Hume, a one-off occurrence in front of even one witness could never be true, because it lacks a verifiable explanation. A drunkard who sees a flying pink elephant would never be believed, even if the said beast actually had existed for that brief moment of time with him the only witness. We could never rule it out, but we could, legitimately, rule it highly unlikely. However, probability is not actuality.

A person's ghost story is a story of bafflement. It is a story of standing on the precipice of knowledge looking at the abyss below, peering into the darkness and fearing that, perhaps, we might fall. Of course, one must be careful. St Peter reminds us to be sober and vigilant because our enemy the Devil walketh about like a roaring lion seeking for someone to devour. There are beings out there in the darkness between our understanding and our belief that pull us from God if we let them. We can see a ghost, yes, but if we believe it to be the soul of one of our dear departed, then we must be very careful lest the vision draw us from God's truth and into the clutches of one who would have us despair. Only that which points to the living God can ever be truly edifying. If it points us away, then we must turn our backs on it with a vade me retro!

Much of the horror genre these days is unpleasant in the extreme and hopeless. Modern Horror does seem to want to destroy mankind utterly, and that requires much care. These thoughts come from human minds, and human minds are dark places indeed. However, their darkness cannot be known without light. Something must be light in the human mind for there to be darkness. The benefit of Horror must come from passing between one and the other. The best Horror movies and ghost stories allow us to see the darkness in the human mind within the dark seasons and dark places of untameable Nature and invite us to recall that there must be light in order to see anything at all. They challenge us to step out of our comfortable mindset into the disquiet of our own impotence without ever leaving our armchair.

What, however, does this have to do with the saints? Why all this darkness at Allsaintstide?

It is simple. The saints are human beings just like us. Yet, just as the ghost story gives us a vehicle from passing between light and darkness, their lives have finally passed into the Light of Tabor, the undiluted light of God Himself. No more will they fear, nor be in pain, nor suffer at the hands of others, for they are like God for they see Him as He is! We continue to wrestle with darkness within and without. Our lives can be too comfortable in the twilight and we must remember that twilight precedes night or day. Our lives move in both directions. The saints do not, they have fought their fight and won their race. Yet they do not remember their lives as a good ghost story. They see everything by God's light for what it really is, and are thankful for every second of living.

So, if the sheets on the bed opposite you start twitching tonight and, slowly, inexorably with many a rustle and a flick, rise forming themselves into a creature draped in sheet from head to foot before advancing on you flailing blindly with what passes for hands, remember that frightening though this be, it is the perception of the gulf between humanity and God that has become just that little bit smaller. Then turn on the Light.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Not so breakaway after all.

From the Provincial Website
The College of Bishops of the Original Province met October 16th and 17th in Shelton, Connecticut, where they took important steps toward the reunification of Continuing Anglican jurisdictions. In addition to voting to receive former ACC Bishop Thomas Kleppinger back into the Church, a report on Validation of Orders was approved, paving the way towards closer relations with the Anglican Church in America (ACA) and Anglican Province in America (APA). Reception of a new diocese in the Republic of South Africa was conditionally approved and representatives were appointed to respond to a request for dialog from a large group of Anglicans in Burundi. For more information on this and related matters, see the upcoming issue of The Trinitarian.

It looks as if there are some very encouraging signs within Continuing Anglicanism and I am very pleased with this development as it should make my relationships with my brothers in different jurisdictions easier. I have a great number of friends from all over the Anglican spectrum. I am in communion with some but regrettably not others. They are still friends and Christian brothers though.

There is a fervent desire among Continuing Anglicans to make common cause. This may be, in part, due to our tiny sizes, but also due to the fact that we have so much in common. The ACC is already communio in sacris with UECNA and APCK. UECNA is very much a BCP, 39 articles brand of Anglicanism,  but we Anglican Catholics are happy to accept our relationship as sister churches. We may not agree about the confessional status of the Articles, but we recognize each others' Anglicanism and common ancestry, and the mission to promulgate the Christian Gospel to all people as once delivered to the saints. Archbishop Robinson is as Anglican as you can get and in the best way too, especially with his Northern English Accent.

In the U.K. Anglican Catholicism is hated in the mainstream churches. There are some in the Established Church who will take every opportunity to distance themselves from us, declare us invalid, improper, label us, perhaps even slander us. To them, we are the "mad church" that says that women can't be priests. We have been shouted at and dismissed in equal measure. The view of such people is that we are a straw man which they can knock down with ease. They will not talk with us or dialogue with us, despite the fact that, within the Established Church, there are entire congregations who believe what we believe. Is this any surprise? We continue to believe now what the Church of England itself once believed and now does not.

Continuing Anglicanism is at an exciting time. We are pulling together and hope that we may find more in common with each other. We may not walk in the same lane, but we can walk together. Admittedly, we'd like to be able to do that with the Church of England too. We don't hate it at all. They may see us as breakaways but, in fact, we are the folk whom they have left behind. We have merely tried to be honest and to seek the truth honestly. There are still things that we are working out, and we look to the Undivided Catholic Church for the answers. The Church of England has its own interpretation with which we cannot in conscience agree. Their belief is, in our understanding, simply not Catholic. That does not mean that they are not a Christian Church. It does mean that, in our belief, they are inconsistent and that the truth could be considered to be clouded by the complexity which they have introduced.

So what do we do?

It is very important for the Anglican Catholic Church to write no-one off. We don't do that in this Diocese. We have our canons and constitution by which to live and at the heart of everything is the love of Christ which writes no-one off. We should look for ways in which we can offer a warm handshake, invite folk for a cup of tea, find a common sense of humour, pray for each others' growth in Christ.

I have so many friends in the CofE. Perhaps some of my words have stung a little, or perhaps they just dismiss my criticisms as one of my rants. I don't seek to hurt old friends, nor to belittle their belief. I rather ask the CofE to give us the room to thrive and be respected. If they are intent on ensuring that different integrities within their government can flourish, are they going to enable those different integrities to flourish? Will they not give the ACC some room to exist and seek the truth apart from the establishment to which they must answer and we need not? I do think that the ACC asks some good questions of the Established Church which have not yet been answered, and they must understand the depth of belief that we had in order to form in the first place.

In turn, we in the ACC should think carefully about the message we send out and show that our missives, statements and announcements are thought through well. We're not an angry church, so let us not rant and rave. We're not a bitter church, so let us show that we're for everyone and have some degree of humanity not born from intellectual argument and theological discourse. We're not a breakaway church, so let us not distance ourselves from people but only distance ourselves from doctrine we believe to be errant. We're not an established Church, so let us not try to force a political agenda on people. In fact, let us see our lack of establishment as a freeing of our religion from secular constraint as well as allowing people the freedom to make the choice themselves in the secular arena of our society.

Brethren, let us love one another and do so properly.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Waves of Sin, Waves of Merit

Watching the rain drops fall into a puddle is delightful when the rain is light enough for individual drops to disturb the surface sending out those concentric ripples across the water. Every drop affects the whole surface, though dissipation stops us from seeing the full effect.

It takes me back to a time when I studied water waves. There are some wonderful equations that explain the behaviour of water. My favourite has to be the Camassa-Holm system which I studied a while back. These equations model water waves in a shallow pond and we can see their predictions on the surface of the Earth. In comparison with the size of the Earth, the oceans are comparatively shallow which means that the Camassa-Holm system provides a good model for sudden impacts.

It was, with great sadness, that the same mathematics showed up in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. The water waves, travelled inexorably, as predicted by the mathematical model, and thousands of people met their deaths. As a mathematician, it was all very well and good for me to predict the movement of the water, but there was nothing I could have done about it. One event (namely a collision of two tectonic plates) travelled across the ocean to wreak havoc and destroy people. For me, as a mathematician, I have never felt so helpless or so pointless.

One of the current theories for the state of physical reality (though this is actually quite old and I suspect some changes have happened since I last looked into it) is that the universe is actually a series of complicated ripples spreading on a vast drum-skin. In this theory, all matter and energy are essentially different modes of vibration. The Big Bang is simply the result of two such drum-skins banging together, according to Professor Turoc a decade or so ago.

If this is true, and it's not exactly provable and for that reason falling out of fashion, it seams that one ripple in the universe can spread dramatically.

I do believe in free-will very strongly, though I'm not sufficiently learned to understand precisely how I believe it. I believe that, however limited my abilities are, that I have a significant responsibility for my own actions that is only attributable to me and not external to me. That may be more expressible in terms of "free-won't" rather than free-will, since it is presently thought that we consciously choose not to do something rather than choose to do it,  but the effect is pretty much the same. Physics does not rule this out at all. Certainly our understanding of the universe is less deterministic than it used to be. Given that physics can only describe what is material, there is certainly a limit on what it can know about our abilities, and our free-will. You can't really use physics to answer all moral questions, otherwise PETA and the RSPCA will be most concerned about the welfare of Schroedinger's cat!

It does mean that my actions create ripples through the universe. How far they travel, I don't know - I'm not sure I can mathematically calculate the dissipative quantities of a non-mathematical concept. Nonetheless, what I do matters.

I know that God is responsible for the entirety of the universe. He is the reason for its existence as well as the reason for its continued existence. He it is that sets the ripples in motion, though for Him, all instants of time are in His present. And all ripples are good. They fulfill his purposes whether or not we impede them by our intention or not. Our sins spread through the universe, as do our merits. Of course, our merits we cannot attribute to ourselves but solely due to the goodness of God. Our sins we are responsible for through our own intention. We can choose to impede the goodness of God through our intentions and thus sin. We can choose to facilitate the goodness of God through our intentions. Whether we actually can impede or facilitate the goodness of God is another matter. I suspect that the answer is that we cannot, and I would cite (as always) Romans viii.28 for this.

As a Catholic, I believe that the merits of the saints affect my life and salvation. That is because these saintly folk have chosen not to impede the goodness of God. It is through God's grace that I am saved, unworthy though I may be for the sins that I have committed. The ripples that the saints have set in motion spread across my life as they spread across the universe, and I can use those merits to inspire and form my own intention because they have their origin solely in God Himself. The ripples of my sins affect those around me and, indeed, the Creation around me, but they only have their source in me since I am not God. If I follow saintly merits, I will find God, since as the ripples spread out from God, they return to God who is Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end. If I follow the ripples that come from sin, I will only find death since sin does not come from God, and certainly will not end in God.

When the rain falls harder, the surface of the puddle becomes a mass of ripples all passing through each other, causing much disturbance on the surface. Things become complex and less recognizable. The system becomes more chaotic and less determined. Our lives themselves are pulled one way and another by the demands made on our wills. We fear choice because it may mean that we will be swept along on a course that cannot be fully determined. The waves of the merits of the saints can influence our course and, given their source and their end, can put us back on a better route which may not be any less choppy. God has given us saints so that we can become saints ourselves. What waves will we choose to send out?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Playing the Tabor lightly

Sermon preached at Our Ladyof Walsingham and St Francis on the Sunday in the Octave of All Saints

You may not know that the Anglican Catholic Church accepts the Seventh Oecumenical Council.

Now that sounds a lot like priest-speak, but it's actually very important. The Seventh Oecumenical Council states that images of the saints and of Our Lord may be venerated. This does NOT mean that we worship pictures and statues as some may think of us. That would break the Second Commandment.

The point is that when we venerate an image, we are recognising the person depicted and respond accordingly, much as we would respond emotionally to a photograph or picture of our parents and other family photos.

If we see an image of Our Lord, then we think of Him and we worship Him. If it is an image of Our Lady, then we recognise the Queen Mother of Heaven and we pay due respect. If it is the image of a saint, then we see a human being pointing to God. We show them respect and look where they're pointing.

Most images we see in Church come in the for of ikons. The pictures are written by people who undergo spiritual discipline in order to faithfully show the likeness of the citizens of Heaven. Each saint is painted in a particular way. It looks as if light is breaking out of their skin. This is called the light of Tabor, the same light that shone from the face of Moses when he came down to the Israelites from Mount Tabor. Citizens of Heaven shine with this light, for this is the light of God.

Sainthood, as you know, is bound up with holiness- being set apart by God for His purposes, especially shining His light in the world. We are all called to be saints; we are predestined for sanctification, but this does not mean that this is a foregone conclusion.

You may have noticed that, when you look in the mirror, your face doesn't shine with Divine Light. We're not exactly obvious when it comes to shining God's light in the World. It is there though, so how do we see it?

"Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."

Seeing God is a matter of looking inwardly into ourselves and realising the ways in which we are not pure in heart. This is a lifetime's work - you can't do it in a day. Yet it is the way in which our eyes are opened to the saints around us. Not just the obvious ones like St Francis or Our Lady, but in everyday folk, the people around us.

All are capable of being saints.
All are capable of shining with Divine light.
All can receive purification if we pray for it and allow God's grace to enter our lives to cast out all impurity in our thinking, words, deeds and even our being.

We should venerate our saints by bowing down to the God with whose light they shine like stars for all Eternity. When will we see this light in the mirror?