Monday, June 29, 2015

Building a Hall of Mirrors

Update 02/07/15: I have always asked for people to correct me, or question me if they believe I am wrong. Following a conversation with one of my superiors, I realize that I needed to clarify my original post which I have done, and hope that this does indeed make things clearer.

some text

Circumstances have conspired so that I have had a three week hiatus in writing sermons - something I have not intended. However, we find ourselves with the fact that, as human beings, we simply cannot have our way. We should thank God for this!

At the time of writing, there is a bit of a hoo-hah in the blogosphere over the United States Supreme Court legalizing the civil marriage of homosexuals. I don't need to say much on this, save what I have already said here. The fact of the matter is that Church and State are built upon very different principles, even if the development of both have been closely intertwined. In some sense we are faced with the Divine Personhood of Our Lord here who was both fully divine and fully human and inseparably so. Likewise, the life of human beings has the opportunity to find and acquire divinity in the body of Christ. Each one of us has an opportunity to see ourselves as part of both State and Church so that we can do justice to being more Christ-like. Humanity needs both State and Church in order to live.

Why is that?

Clearly, every human being needs the State in order to survive. Secular Government should provide us with all the rights that we need in order to live comfortably and in peace with other human beings who may or may not share the same beliefs. The fact of the existence of other beliefs does mean that a sympathetic State Government is necessary and vital; for the most part, there is often a sufficiently common core to human beliefs on which a secular government can be built. However, it is also true that there are some freedoms which that secular government permits which cannot be permitted by different faith groups, indeed some of those freedoms are almost intolerable to those other faiths. Given that every Christian must carry the cross on which he or she must be eventually crucified, the Church has a duty to be tolerant of the secular government and its effects in the State Society, yet not accepting of any deviation from the Christian Faith. What does this mean?

The State can pass any law that it likes, essentially, but clearly not all laws are good, just, honest or fair in the higher moral scheme. Some, like the allowing of the recognition of men as women and vice-versa, are largely self-contradictory and allow for the breakdown of common sense and common language by which human beings can communicate. The Church, in Her battle against evil must set itself in opposition to all things that are rooted in the deception of the Devil. Those things may indeed appear good and motivated from good desires, but they are often founded on some moral misconception. In any moral position, careful thought must be made as to the source of that moral position. If a State Law is found morally lacking, it must be opposed, but it must be opposed well and with thought and Love.

 We know that Love bears all things, but it doesn't rejoice in iniquity but in the truth. Likewise, the Church must bear, even in tears, sorrow, sackcloth and ashes, all things legalized by the State, but also must proclaim Her doctrine against anything that simply is not true, accepting the consequences to opposing unjust and self-contradictory laws. That's the enormous challenge the Church faces. Are we willing to be arrested for our belief that God is the author of the moral law to which all secular laws must yield? We should be! But there are ways and means of opposing unjust and unfair laws which can be more effective in their execution. Some ways of opposition, as the Reformation shows, throw the baby out with the bathwater.

For example, the State has attempted to legalize Abortion (i.e. sanction the termination of a human life) under certain conditions which, it believes, reflect the freedom of human beings. Under the Law of the State, all have the freedom to choose that option. Yet, for the Church, this must be borne in agony just as Christ Himself bore the agony of each and every one of our own personal sins in His own body on the tree. The Church can never, ever accept Abortion as part of its doctrine: She must oppose it at the source. Therefore, the Church must seek ways to help women circumvent the problem, preferably by actively seeking ways to stop the need for it in the first place rather than resorting (with what amounts to abusive language and truly horrible propaganda) to protest it without due care, thought and love! Yes, the Church must be loud in its opposition, but it has to do so by looking at the reason that each and every single woman has come to an abortion clinic and treat her in the situation she is in. The Church must come to her as she is and help, not demonise.

The State needs the Church in order to survive. For the Church, this much is obvious. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus! Humanity can only ever know about what Salvation is from the Church because the Church has received the Word of God by which all people can be freed from sin. The trouble with the State is as I stated earlier: the State must allow the freedom for people to operate according to their beliefs. If God has allowed us freedom to choose Him or Not-Him, then we have to allow that freedom too as far as human beings can. The days of coerced church attendance are thankfully over and thus the churches are filled with those who have some modicum of belief, no matter how rudimentary. Of course, that makes it difficult for the Church to proclaim Her Message but, as St James and St Francis of Assisi observe, the Message is better transmitted through Acts of Mercy rather than by berating people for not believing.

Church and State are effectively a hall of mirrors created in the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The State reflects the nature of humanity to the Church in all its brokenness, its sin, its frailty and fallibility, in its lack of understanding, its confusion, its need for God. The Church reflects the Divinity of God in the graces of the Holy Sacraments, in the reflection of Christ present with us, in the reflection of Heaven. There are so many times when these reflections are muddled, when the State tries to be Church and when Church tries to be State. When Church hierarchy becomes political, and Bishops are seeking to be governors of the minds of people, when the clergy act in unholy ways pretending to make sacred that which is not sacred, when ecclesiarchs seek their own vaunting and care more about their image and impact on the people around them seeking people to fawn and doff their caps, rather than the humility of Christ, then we see less of the Church and more of the State.

Yet when the State believes that the laws it passes must necessarily be passed in the Church and necessarily outride the beliefs of all people, when the State believes that the truth is necessarily passed by a majority decision, when the State declares that its law is the moral law, then the god that it is reflecting is not the God worshipped by Christians and to impose that god upon them is a denial of the very freedom that the State professes to maintain. That makes the State out to be a liar and a tyrant even as the Church has allowed Herself to be in the past.

Today we celebrate the feast of St Peter and St Paul, two very different Christians with very different lives and very different ways of being human. With St Peter, we see a fallible, bumbling, yet strong, robust, and loud humanity acting in the Name of Christ. With St Paul, we find a zealous, hard-nosed, former-polemicist and anti-Christian who realizes his mistakes with true contrition, repentance and love, and finds tolerance and acceptance in the Church once he has accepted the Truth. On them, in their frail and fallible humanity is the Church built, because they rest upon the foundation of Christ Himself. Their example of Christian witness holds up the mirror of the Church in which we see ourselves convicted of human failings, small broken and fallible, yet they hold up the mirror of Humanity in which that frail humanity is reflected to God in conjunction with their frail humanity. When you hold two mirrors up to each other, they produce reflections of reflections of reflections all the way to infinity. And Infinity is where we find God!

If the State says that homosexuals may marry meaning that homosexual couples are eligible for the same Statutory Rights as heterosexual married couple, then that is surely easier for the Church to tolerate as it preaches about the moral benefits of heterosexual marriage and celibacy outside marriage, because the rights that come from laws are designed to care for human needs and people have a legal right not to listen to the Church: the Church must tolerate that freedom. However, the State has no moral right to demand that the Church recognise that homosexual marriage is a sacrament and that the Church has a duty to confect such a sacrament. If that means that the Church be stripped of Her legal rights to perform legal marriages, then that can only be a good thing.

Ultimately all human authority will pass away. There will be no need for State laws, or even Church Canon Law since we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ whose Divinity and Humanity will judge us all. Nor must we ever think that any one of us is purely State or Church, for within each of us Church and State are inextricably mixed. The State as a human institution will pass away to be replaced with the Divine Rule of Christ. When this happens the Church will be revealed as the true Bride of Christ and will yield up Her mandate to Her Bridegroom and King.

It is right that Church and State be separate, neither one becoming the other and operating in different spheres, but they must both recognize that they are not actually separable. The key is listening, but listening very carefully to expose the deceit with the mirror of the Truth.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Collect for the fourth Sunday after Trinity

The prayer book of 1662
O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake our Lord. Amen.

Whether Catholic, Reformed or both, one of the things that makes Archbishop Cranmer so inherently loveable as a liturgist is that he can do justice to tradition in the vernacular. He may not have been a Catholic in the Vincentian definition of the word, he certainly was not the Pope's man nor was he a puritan in the same vein as Oliver Cromwell a century later with its obvious change and refinement. Yet his, with Bishop Coverdale, is the mastery of language. If he had seen fit to change this collect at all, he would have done so. We can truly say then that this is a collect that passes over the Reformation unchanged and is good Anglican Catholic doctrine.

Here we see Cranmer and St Thomas Aquinas in harmony and it is beautiful. A man is strong, another is stronger, but God is strongest because God is what it means to be strong. A woman is holy, another woman holier, but God is Holiest because God is what it means to be Holy. We have no true knowledge of things without first seeing that knowledge in God Himself. All good things come from God including the faith to reach out to Him. The only way we can be strong enough to escape the clutches of death is to draw strength from Him, not to trust in our own strength. The only way we can be holy is not by prating and preaching, nor dressing up in cassocks, birettas, mitres and tiaras, or fasting long and sore, self-flagellation, self-mutilation, mumbling from breviaries or prayer books in English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew or Coptic et c., but rather by seeing that the only way to be holy is to draw that holiness from God. Holiness is separation for God's work, and therefore nothing we can do can make us Holy, save only by choosing to seek God first so that all things can be added unto us.

We humans are strange beasts and can shipwreck our salvation simply by forgetting from Whom good things come. Being both flesh and spirit, we straddle the knife-edge between the temporal and eternal. Only God can freely move between both! We must rely on His ability to draw us across that knife-edge in the substance of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Post hoc ergo propter hoc" Prayer

I lost my breviary last night and had to resort to a copy of the breviary in Latin which I don't like doing since, being an Anglican Catholic, it's important that I say my prayers in English. Of course it was good for me to practise my Latin which is very rusty. However, frustrated after a day of not quite getting the rhythm of the psalms right, I said a prayer to St Anthony and within 10 minutes I found that pesky breviary which had fallen down the back of a table!

Of course, those of you with a rational mind and/or Protestant sensibilities will balk at what I've done. Have I just given into a popish superstition, or have I just committed a "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy?

To the charge of the former, prayers to the saints are no different from asking a friend to pray for you. That doesn't mean that you should not pray to God yourself, but rather that you pray with someone. Membership of the Church means that we are all united in Christ even if that unity is not an organisational one. We believe in the Resurrection of the Dead, the Communion of the Saints, and in Eternal life - a life not bound by Time - for those who love God and believe in His name, so to deny that the saints pray for us flies in the face of believing that they have communion with us or that they have eternal life.

When we ask people to pray for us, we gain solidarity in being with the Church. A lost breviary is not that important in the grand scheme of things, but it is irksome and that which is irksome can lead one into sin if one is not careful. To know that there are folk on your side is comforting and can draw you back from falling into sin. St Anthony is the go-to saint for lost things, and I didn't expect him to appear and get down on his hands and knees and look under the piano. I simply asked him to pray for me for help. I also prayed to God for help - that's the deal. That help came, and now I can say my office for the Nativity of St John the Baptist in English.

Ah! But then, the skeptical reader will say "Post hoc ergo propter hoc!" ("after this therefore because of this") meaning that they say that I believe that my prayer was the cause of finding my breviary. The post hoc ergo propter hoc (PHEPH) fallacy is a confusion of coincidences. If M.R.James whistles at night and a wind just happens to blow, he might infer that his whistling has caused the wind to blow. That is PHEPH. Did I find my breviary because I prayed for it? If I'm honest, I cannot be sure, and I am very glad I cannot because there is something very sinister that could lurk at the bottom of the way we pray for things. If I didn't find it, then I believe I would have been given a way forward - a way I might not have been comfortable with but which would have been better for me if I accepted it as part of God's way forward.

I have said before that we should not treat God like a genie. When we pray, we need to make sure that we honour the majesty and supreme authority of God, making sure that we are complicit with His will. He wants us to be more than just happy which is why we don't get our own way with superficial happiness. Since God is infinite, little things matter to Him, but what is more important to Him is that we should not fall into sin. We need to pray for our own suffering (yes, that's fine), but we pray for the suffering of others too which may be more than we could ever imagine, or even different from what we can imagine!

No doubt we all have The List in our Parishes, a collection, read out at Mass each week, of names of people who need our prayers. This list never seems to change much; week-in, week-out we read Edith's name not knowing who on Earth Edith is, but knowing that she has been on the list a long time. Why isn't she getting better? Likewise, The List seems remarkably incomplete. Why are some people's names missed off? Is it deliberate? Are we failing in our duty to pray for the needs of folk regardless of who they are, where they are, or whether they are even Christian? We are bound to pray for the whole world. Indeed, when I raise the chalice at the Offertory, I pray on behalf of my congregation for our salvation and that of the whole world.

This is where I believe Archbishop Cranmer has it spot on with his prayer for all sorts and conditions of men.

Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those, who are any ways afflicted, or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; [*especially those for whom our prayers are desired;] that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions.

What I find particularly helpful is that it is not specific about how God is to answer prayer. The man who has lost an arm wants it back. While it is perfectly possible for God to restore it (as Jesus did with the ear of Malchus) that's often not the way forward. The majority of amputees do not receive their missing limbs back again, and that's a source of sorrow for the amputee. It should also be a source of sorrow for the Church, indeed every reasonable human being. However, if we are Christian, then we have to trust God implicitly that the loss of a limb will change the world for the better in some remarkably profound way and wait for His promise of glory. Our Lord Jesus reminds us not to cling on to things earthly so that we can find life with Him, nor does He view our sufferings and labours as worthless. He sees them as part of Himself, even as He sees the Church as part of Himself and us as part of each other.

When we pray, we pray for God's will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Human beings can oppose God's will since He has given us that very freedom to do so, but we pray in that freedom that our will be joined to His. Out of all suffering caused by Human Disobedience (and it may yet possibly be that all our suffering is caused by human disobedience somewhere down the line), God provides Salvation. We have to remember the sovereign authority of God which acts supremely in unfathomable ways even around the free-will that we possess. Things happen for a reason, and we might not know the source of that reason, but we do know that the happening is a consequence of God's law. We may not know how our own prayer affects the world but we can be sure that it does, not by changing the mind of God, but rather by bringing ourselves and all that we are to Him in trust, humility and love, so that we might be permitted to see what He will do and be given patience to wait until He does it. If we take this approach then accusations of PHEPH become vacuous.

We do pray to change the world, it's just that those changes may not be seen with eyes that will not see. We pray that we might all, each and every one of us, may know God better, and that we recognize the part we play in attending to the suffering of others too.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Collect for the Third Sunday after Trinity

The 1549 Prayerbook

LORDE, we beseche thee mercifully to heare us, and unto whom thou hast geven an heartie desyre to pray; graunt that by thy mightie ayde we may be defended; through Jesus Christ our Lorde.

The 1662 Prayerbook

O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom though hast given an hearty desire to pray, may be comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How often do you pray daily? Do you pray, as St Paul tells us, without ceasing? True prayer is something with which we can wrestle. We don't want to treat God like a genie who will grant us our heart's desire - that is why quite a few of our petitions are answered with a firm "no" or "not yet". We don't want to come creeping or crawling obsequiously as if we had no goodness of our own - God made us good and bids us step boldly before the throne of grace remembering that He wants us before that throne. Nor do we want to fill God's ears with prattle about every little thing -a conversation must cut two ways.

There are obstacles to praying properly. There are outside distractions from which we try to withdraw in order to go into our room and shut the door. Yet there are also interior distractions. There's often a great difficulty in bringing ourselves before God. And so we must pray for the strength to pray! The devil does not want us to hear God speak to us in that still small voice that lies beyond human words which is why we end up with so much prattle resounding in our heads.

Yet all the assaults of our enemies are like the choppy surface of the ocean. Our strength lies in the depth that God gives us and where the splashing on the surface doesn't reach even though it continues unabated. If we trust God and allow ourselves to sink below the surface trusting in God to hold us  safely in Him, our prayer becomes deep and beyond words. We are not so miserable so as to be unable to find God deep within, for that is where His kingdom is.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

General Genus and Shared Species

Oh dear. I did want not to pass comment on the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner situation, but then Rachel Dolezal turns up and suddenly we get faced with the questions, "Can I be what I want to be?" and "Do I have to be what I am?"These sound like rather philosophical questions along the lines of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" yet here, I think, we find ourselves at what is actually separating Church from Society. The question is that of supreme authority, and this means that there are two languages which are developing which are becoming very difficult to translate into the other.

Who has the right to determine who I am? Well, clearly I have a certain level of rights, and these are rights that must be observed by society. If I choose to call myself Marmaduke, and express that intention through the channels of law, then that is a solemn declaration that I am indeed called Marmaduke. I have that freedom of choice. Yet, I could declare that I live in Puddletown. However, my mail would never reach my door, because no-one else would recognise it, unless there was a unanimous verdict by the powers-that-be to agree to call the place Puddletown. I clearly don't have the right to change the identity of the place where I live because I share that identity with the people of my hometown.

The way we describe things is in terms of commonality with other things. The old scholastics called this being of a genus, and biological names still are given in terms of the general genus and the particular species. The tiger is the Panthera tigris, the lion the Panthera leo, and the leopard the Panthera pardus. We recognise that they have something in common (their genus) and something that is different (their species). This is how we classify things.

Now, readers of this little blogling will know that I have often quibbled about definitions of Anglicanism and believe that I claim to be an Anglican. Actually, I don't. I claim to be an Anglican Catholic, treating the term "Anglican" as an adjective to describe "Catholic". Others see the word "Anglican" as being a noun and they follow a different though, God willing, parallel path which will meet at the great Infinity. I have specified very carefully what I mean, and others of my Jurisdiction will by-and-large, agree with that definition. Do I have the right to call myself Anglican? I do, but confusion arises when I do so. Therefore, to ensure that I limit confusion and preserve clarity of the meaning, I call myself Anglican Catholic by which I mean "one who subscribes to the doctrine of the Seven Oeumenical Councils interpreted in the English manner."

Yet, let us look carefully at Jenner and Dolezal for we have some issues of identity here, and they are two faces of a common problem that is dividing Society. Jenner was born of the male sex. Jenner's physical body conformed to the male genus which is shared by me, by Simon Cowell, by Stephen Fry, by the Dalai Lama, by Origen, by Aron Ralston, and by Henry VIII. Yet Jenner claims that Jenner is a woman (forgive the tortuous language but I want to be as respectful as I can and yet make my point as carefully as I can. ) which I am not, nor are the others that I have mentioned, and yet Jenner still retains the same characteristics, the same genetic instructions that make me et cit., male.

We notice that the loss of an arm does stop Aron Ralston from being a human being, and that castration does not stop Origen from being male, and thus we do know that the genus of being human goes beyond having two arms, and the loss of genitals doesn't change the genus of being male. That identity lies much, much deeper. Indeed, any person genetically identical to Ralston would have two arms and any genetically identical to Origen would have clear male genitalia.

Yet the same is true of Jenner. Jenner and I have the same genetic identity of being male. We share it and yet Jenner seeks the right not to share it.

The same argument goes for Dolezal. She "identifies" with being black, and yet she does not share the same properties as any whose ancestry is indigenous to the African continent. Indeed, there are white members of my family who have been born in Africa, so simply being born there doesn't make them black! Being black is another physical characteristic and while it is good that Dolezal is fighting for true and lasting racial equality, she does not share the physical, genetic characteristic of those whose rights she is championing.

What this all boils down to is the individual's rage against not being who he wants to be. We seem to want the absolute right to choose our own being, or to be recognised by all people as being who we say we are. This is why the law courts are being involved heavily in areas of identity. The law courts pronounce what Society believes to be true. Yet, there is a problem when a woman born male tries to enter female spaces only to be told that he does not share the property of being female. This is a big issue in LGBT relations. If lesbians identify as women and transgender men identify as women, then the must agree that they share the same property. But they don't! Indeed, for the feminist fighting for equal rights for women, the transgender man does not share the property of being a woman. There is this divide and both cry out to the law to pronounce Society's universal acceptance.

This is the same issue with marriage between heterosexual and homosexual couples. From a legal point of view, my marriage to my wife should be legally equivalent to that of Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer. Just as my wife should automatically inherit my goods on the event of my death, so should Elliot receive Stephen's goods. From a legal point of view, the partnerships are recognised and given the same legal rights. However, can Stephen bear Elliot's son? Irrelevant? Yet, that is something that can probably happen in an heterosexual marriage and definitely not in an homosexual marriage. That is, of course, the couple are truly homosexual i.e. of the same sex! Here is a property of marriage that is not shared between the two ideas.

Let us then get back to the question in hand. Do we have the right to declare who we are? Does a man have the right to be recognised as a woman? This is quite painful, because clearly there are strong feelings here and there is a genuine belief that there is something wrong. That strength of feeling needs to be recognised and respected, but there are limitations to the extent that it can be accepted. If we are allowed to choose who we are by law, then eventually the terms "male" and "female" will become absolutely meaningless. Essentially, we have here the situation that arises from rejecting Kant's categorical imperative.

The greater problem, of course, lies with the relationship with he Church. We in the Church have two fundamental objective facts upon which we build our understanding of the world which can be summed up in a verse from the Jubilate: "know ye that the Lord, He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves." We take our being from God which means that we have unalterable characteristics determined by God which we share with some but not other human beings. To change them would be to change who we are, and since it is God who gives us being, we have no right to change those characteristics even if we had the power.

Thus, the Church has no authority or right to challenge God's instituted characteristics. The demand for the ordination of women, the demand that a man have the right to universal acceptance as a women, the demand that a homosexual marriage be the same as heterosexual marriage cannot be met as they fly in the face in the belief in a creator God who has made the decision first. However, the more that Society rejects the existence and authority of God, the more that human beings will believe that they are the sole arbiters of their own existence and thus there will be tensions in the Law and in Society the more that these situations arise.

Of course, I will probably hear the transgender person say, "why do you hate me? why can you not allow me to be me?" What I say in return is, "I do not hate you, one little bit. The fact is: I do not understand you; you seem to be speaking a different language from me and I can make no sense of it at the moment. Until we do understand each other, let us not assume that the words we say are words of hatred but rather a search for the clarity that we have lost in the meanings of words. I recognise you as a fellow human being and therefore worthy of my love and respect, regardless of  how we see the world. That is what my God teaches me. I will pray for you as most assuredly I beg your prayers. We are only human after all!"

One of the facts of being human in the Created order is that we find in ourselves things that we hate about ourselves and we burn to change them. We find ourselves as Dr Jekyll wrestling with Mr. Hyde. That is part of the human condition. We are fallen, imperfect, misshapen, by the world. by our circumstances and by our own choices. Ultimately, we must look at the mess we've got ourselves into, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and walk back to the Father we left behind as the prodigal sons and daughters that we are. Then and only then will we be able to accept ourselves as the people He created us to be.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Devotion from Benediction: June 2015

We gaze upon a mystery, knowing that Christ has promised us His true presence, and that He is faithful. We gaze upon Our Lord who is always merciful and loving, giving us that which we do not deserve and withholding from us that which we do deserve.

As sinners, we cannot be where God is as darkness cannot be where light is, yet Christ Himself cleanses us through the water and blood that pour forth from his pierced sacred heart. By His blood we are washed free from sin and may stand in the presence of God.

By water in our Baptism we are made new and our wills cleansed so that we may love God all the more perfectly, our spiritual senses opened to His divine mercy. By His heart we are pulled up into the heavenly presence there, through careful practice of our faith, to dwell at His good pleasure.

Therefore we before Him bending...

Collects for the Second Sunday after Trinity

Gregorian Collect

(Latin) Sancti Nominis tui, Domine, timorem pariter et amorem fac nos habere perpetuum, quia numquam tua gubernatione destituis, quos in soliditate, tuae dilectionis instituis. Qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Make us, O Lord, to have a perpetual fear and love of Thy holy name, for Thou never failest to govern those who Thou dost solidly establish in Thy love. Thou who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.

1549 Collect

LORD, make us to have a perpetuall feare and love of thy holy name: for thou never faillest to helpe and governe them whom thou doest bryng up in thy stedfast love. Graunt this,..
1662 Collect

O LORD, who never failest to help and govern them who thou dost bring up in thy stedfast fear and love; Keep us, we beseech thee, under the protection of thy good providence, and make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Perpetual fear is not something that appears on our list of things we associate with Love. It is something we might rather associate with abusive relationships, where one partner dominates the other in order to exercise power in an arbitrary and dehumanising fashion. We imagine the dominant partner in taking pleasure in belittling the other, controlling their actions, punishing any deviation from their will.

On the face of it, the substance of this collect in its several versions seems to uphold a view of God which has been adequately described by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. The god of the modern atheism is a capricious totalitarian who deserves not to be worshipped but ignored like any other bully. To pray for perpetual fear seems to be a prayer of submission and a disgustingly obsequious manner from human beings who need to learn to have some self-respect.

If we bother to look deeper, we still have this troubling notion of love, a steadfast love which governs those who wish to be governed. To pray this prayer is to wish for love and to recognise something great, something utterly powerful. This is the type of love that makes one weak at the knees in its power, that causes trembling and fear, but a fear born of love, not of dread. If anything this fear comes from awe, the realisation of something massive, beautiful, of something that overwhelms us to the point of losing our precious identity.

This is the love of God which sends shivers up and down the spine. This is the love of a God who wants us to know Him for our sake and for His good pleasure in us for who He created us to be, not taking pleasure in watching us jump when He says so and torturing us when we fail to jump sufficiently high. This is the love of a God who dared to become a man and whose unpredictability, untamedness, and sheer mastery of the art of creation frightens us by its power, yet draws us into deeper love and trust. This is the terror of pure love!

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Collect for the First Sunday after Trinity

Prayer book 
O GOD, the strength of all them that put their trust in thee, mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping of thy commandments we may please thee, both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It is true that the weakness of God is stronger than Man's strength. Yet, Our Lord Himself took on that mortal nature with all its weakness and temptation in the fullness of that weakness. In His Holy Incarnation, Our Lord took on limits to His power, His knowledge, His strength and His invulnerability. Instead, He was soft and fleshy and easily broken.

Yet it is through the mortal nature of Christ that we find the immortality which we can put on. In Christ's mortality, good things become possible. The Cross becomes a rent in reality through which blessings pour out and the glimpse of what is truly good can be seen. We can do good because we hve now seen it with our eyes and touched it with our hands. We have the power to do it, because we have been breathed upon by Breath that gives life as well as reassembling dead bones.

We see the loveliness of God's commandments through the mortality of Christ and, as we continue to trust in Him, we participate in the performance of those commandments in the World to bring the love of God into the world. We receive an answer to our prayers through out trust in God both with us and beyond us. Yet, if we don't pray, how do we expect to receive any of this?


Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi


It’s fascinating the difference one little word can make and “indeed” is a vitally important word. It’s a vitally important word indeed!

Let’s look at how we use it. If we are asked the question, “Are you going to Disney World?” we could answer with “yes”, or “yes, I am”, or “Indeed, I am.” Notice the difference in those responses. Which seems to be the strongest to you?


For many of us, to say “indeed, I am” seems to be the strongest way of saying yes without jumping up and down and nodding more fiercely than a nodding dog with St Vitus’ dance. It means something is a fact, a reality, almost a foregone conclusion. “Indeed” is the word used to translate Latin and Greek words meaning “in truth” – again a strong indication of fact. If this little word is so strong in its meaning, then how much stronger must it be if the King of the Universe uses it?


“Jesus said unto the multitude of the Jews: My Flesh is meat indeed, and my Blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”

So the Lord tells us that we are to consume His Flesh and drink His Blood. This scandalises the Jews and even His own disciples, many of whom leave Him. It’s a big deal to say this. In using the word “indeed”, Our Lord is making His point very clear.

Furthermore, He tells us clearly at the last supper, “this is my body” and “this is my blood”. He doesn’t use the word “indeed” here. Why not? Because His disciples have heard Him say that His Flesh is meat indeed, that His Blood is drink indeed. What Our Lord says, He means.


This is why the Catholic Faith holds very strongly to the fact that when we do as the Lord commands, the Host becomes His Flesh, the Wine becomes His Blood. Why then don’t we see it change?

The answer really lies in the fact that, as human beings, we are formed of soul and body. That’s why our sacraments have an outward sign, something we can experience with our bodies, and an inward grace, something that we can only experience with our souls. Angels don’t need sacraments nor do animals. They are there to bring fallen men and women back to God. For our sake, Christ becomes really present to us in His flesh, blood and divinity at the Mass but we may not see Him with our physical senses, but rather with the eyes of faith.


It may be hard for us to see this at times, and our faith may wobble because we cannot experience what is going on physically.

We trust that He is there because He tells us that He is there so that we can become more like Him by taking Him into ourselves.

If we really are what we eat, what does that mean for the faithful Catholic?

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Collect for Corpus Christi


O GOD, who under a wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy Passion: Grant us we beseech thee. so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood. that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption, who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

As we leave the time of the major feasts and move into so-called "Ordinary Time", we find that we often fall into the temptation of seeing green Sundays as being "normal," "standard," or even "humdrum." Have we overindulged upon our feasts after being overzealous in our fasts so that the green time becomes just ordinary and thus nothing special.

The feast of Corpus Christi helps to show us that "Ordinary Time" is actually something much more than ordinary. Every Sunday, we are presented with the memorial of the Passion, looking back to the pain of Holy Week, and the abstinence of Lent. We can look back further to the Incarnation and the Epiphany, and in so doing we are looking forward to Advent again. As far as the liturgical year is concerned, looking back is the same as looking forward because we find ourselves inextricably linked to the drama of our salvation.

In venerating the mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ, we find that Green Time is far from not being special and that ordinary possesses the character of the extraordinary as the miracle of Christ's continued presence with us is renewed in our sight. This is the fruit of our redemption - it is always with us in fast, feast, or ordinary time. We always possess that miracle expounded in Advent: God with us, It feeds us, gives us purpose and joins us to the Eternal. In Corpus Christi, we see yet another way in which the Christian year is entwined in and around the central fact of Emmanuel.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Breaking the veneer

O Unity of threefold light,
Send out Thy loveliest ray,
Add scatter our transgressions’ night,
And turn it into day;
Make us those temples pure and fair
Thy glory loveth well,
The spotless tabernacles, where
Thou may’st vouchsafe to dwell.

The glorious hosts of peerless might,
That ever see Thy face,
Thou mak’st the mirrors of Thy light,
The vessels of Thy grace.
Thou, when their wondrous strains they weave,
Hast pleasure in the lay:
Deign thus our praises to receive,
Albeit from lips of clay.

And yet Thyself they cannot know,
Nor pierce the veil of light
That hides Thee from the thrones below,
As in profoundest night.
How then can mortal accents frame
Due tribute to their king?
Thou, only, while we praise Thy name,
Forgive us as we sing.

Archbishop Metrophanes of Smyrna c900AD
translated by Fr. J. M. Neale.

On Trinity Sunday, we sang this hymn to Tallis' Third Mode Melody which suited it rather well, I thought. It was clearly English and yet clearly Catholic, written before the Great Schism, and therefore perfectly Anglican Catholic. For me, personally, it presents the strange imagery of the Mass whereby in humble settings, with unclean lips, and sin-stained lives, the Light Incomprehensible can still shine forth into the world. I think sometimes we forget that this is possible.

There still is a sense in the world whereby people think that they are too sinful for God to be near them. They say with St Peter, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." and yet, rather than accepting His presence as the Prince of the Apostles, they continue to push God away. Now why should this be? I expect for most people who feel like this, the god that is so down on sinners is the one they try to steer clear of. Yet, this is not the God that we Christians worship.

What is certainly true is that where God is, no sin can be. This may sound like a rejection of sinners, but in fact it's more like saying that where light is, no darkness can be. We cannot get rid of sin by chasing it away any more than we try to sweep up the darkness before switching the bedside lamp on. The fact that we miss is that God loves us more than we can ever think.

As always, love is truly the key. This is a God Who, out of sheer respect of humanity, chooses to limit Himself so as to allow that Humanity to realise love without coercion. This has terrible consequences and yet those terrible consequences are allowed, as well as being provided for. Not one sparrow will fall without the eye of God beholding it and we are worth more than many sparrows. And yet, with God those terrible consequences mean more than some anodyne existence of not really being because they have a fulfillment within Himself. The suffering of Our Lord alongside us consecrates our suffering as surely as He consecrates the waters of baptism by being baptised in the Jordan.

It is in Christ that humanity finds itself completed. It was He who broke the lock of the door back to God put there by our failure to choose what is Good. It was He whose Humanity drags us back through death into life in God. Every single Eucharist holds this fact: Christ is truly present in the Mass and thus we find ourselves standing in the courts of heaven without realising it. We look around, and still see the cracks in the wall, the damaged floor tile, the slightly wonky nose on the statue of Our Lady, the frayed edge of the server's cotta. We look and we hear the priest's knee crack as he genuflects before holding up the little white disc.

Yes, that is what we see and hear and smell, and touch and taste, yet with Christ's presence it is truly consecrated, taken up out of the shabby shadow of our everyday existence and truly lying just behind the veil of God's infinite glory. If we come to church expecting just the same old boring things within the same old boring reality and fixating on the same old boring hymns and listening to the same old boring sermon, then we have forgotten the reality that lies behind what we see. Our reality is merely the dust cover to our true life. Look beyond the crack in the wall to see the golden walls of God's throne room; look beyond the damaged floor tile to see the emerald floor upon which the saints tread with steps beyond Time; look at the wonky nose on the statue and see beyond to see Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, perfect in the presence of Her Son;look beyond the frayed edge of the cotta to see the white robes given to each citizen of heaven and remember that you, yes you! have your own white robe waiting for you.

Heaven is always threatening to burst in on our little thin veneer of reality, and God Himself wants nothing better to sit down with each and every sinner so that they will cease to be sinners just by His very act of sitting with us. God loves us and He is not too proud so as to separate Himself from His Creation. His divine humility shows that He has nothing to prove about His Majesty or His Glory. Neither must we bee to proud as to separate ourselves from God because we are sinners and therefore unworthy of Him. Of course we are unworthy, that's what makes the Mystery of the Incarnation more delicious. We should just accept, repent of our sins and find ourselves always in the presence of the Divine Christ.