Sunday, January 31, 2016

The seed of Sexagesima

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Sexagesima

What are you? Rocky ground? The wayside? The thorns? The good soil? Or are we the seed that the Sower sows? Sometimes, just listening to the parable of the sower confuses us because we don't quite know where we fit in. It's a difficult parable to understand and it appears that Our Lord intends it to be so. After all, He says to His disciples:
Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
Why should Our Lord withhold the meaning from us?

Remember that He also tells us "seek and ye shall find". Our desire for God should lead us to ask further. Our Lord is giving His hearers an opportunity to do so.

When it comes to the explanation, Our Lord implies that we are the soil in which the seed of the word of God can grow. But then this gives us a problem that it does not appear that we can choose whether we can bear the fruit of the word of God. The soil can't choose whether the birds eat the seed. The soil can't choose whether it has rocks or thorns. If this is true then it means that there are some people who are not meant to bear the word of God.

This is not true. St Gregory Nazianzus says:
When you hear this you must not entertain the notion of different natures, as certain heretics do, who think that some men indeed are of a perishing nature, others of a saving nature, but that some are so constituted that their will leads them to better or worse. But add to the words, To you it is given, if willing and truly worthy.
Think about it. Our Lord is speaking to many people, some of whom will hear his message and say to themselves, "I don't want to be bad soil. I want to be good soil. From now on, I want to be free of the Devil, of shallow faith and of the cares of this life." Our Lord paints a picture of His challenge of what believing in Him takes.

As God looks at our lives from outside of Time, He sees us in our entirety, what we were, what we are, and what we shall become. We can become rocky ground by keeping a shallow faith. We can become the wayside and allow the Devil to take the word of God from us. We can allow thorns to grow and choke our faith with worldly cares. If that's what we do, then we become what we do.

As Lent approaches, let each one of us consider what soil we are. Let us spend our Lent rejecting the lies of the Devil, working at deepening our faith through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and let us reject the pull of this world on our relationship with God. Then we shall grow His fruit for the world and find the Word dwelling in us.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Respect and revolution

There is a scene in the film Dr Zhivago that haunts me to this day. Essentially, it is when the deserters seize their commanding officer and beat him to death, jeering all the while. It marks the turning of Imperial Russia to the days of Communism.

Looking back through history, it seems every revolution involves ikonoclasm and defilement of the old regime. This is understandable: in order for revolution to occur, there has to be some catastrophic resentment of the status quo that the contempt for the old regime boils over into hatred for all that regime stood for. I see this attitude frequently in the mind of converts, and have some experience of it myself during my renunciation of my membership of the CofE.

It is one of anger and fury at the establishment that leaving it is not enough. There is a desire for judgement on it for the pain and suffering it caused. For those who have left the CofE willingly or unwillingly, that judgement can never come and so the temptation is to vilify and to show profound disrespect.

Theologically, the orders of the CofE are now deeply dubious having likely defects in the intention if not the matter. If a Bishop intends to ordain a man in the same way as he does a woman, then this does indeed raise a defect of intention as, in the Catholic view, both will be doubtful because one is doubtful and both are intended to be of the same validity. This, however, is not a licence for disrespect. If they cannot be regarded as priests in the Catholic sense, they can still be regarded as ministers and given respect accordingly. Not to be respectful is a violation of St Paul's directive:
Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: (I Corinthians x.32)
Holding to Orthodoxy does not give anyone a mandate for the ikonoclasm of heterodox persons. We would be committing the same atrocities as were performed by the Reformers and Counter Reformers.

Revolutions will happen. If Deacon Christopher Little is right, they will happen soon in the West. With the liberal wing trying to legalise illogic and literal nonsense, there can be two potential revolutions. One is the threat from radicalised Islamic fundamentalists and an aggressive conservative suppression. The other is a completion of the relativistic agenda in which anything goes apart from those who disagree that anything goes. Both are obviously ikonoclastic: one seeks to obliterate the Christian religion through acts of physical violence and demolition; the other through acts of intellectual violence, demolishing logic, objectivity, and truth in favour of a false science based on a materialistic objectivism. In both, we lose our freedom of speech. In both, our ikons are seen as just pictures than Windows into the Divine.

I should love to see a third revolution in which we return to Christian government, especially an Anglican Catholic government preserving the Catholic Faith as these British Isles have cultivated before Relativism snuck in. However, with the death of the "beef-faced colonel" still very much in my mind, this revolution cannot ever occur without the principles of justice, mercy, humility and love, with no pomposity, legalism, or self-righteousness from which we suffer.

That's hard,  but every day, in every Office, I pray "Thy Kingdom come". One day, it will. Until then, I remain an idealistic conservative revolutionary. Now there's a contradiction!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In criticism of praise

It's nice to be praised, isn't it? It means that what we have done had been held in high regard by someone. If it's someone important, then that gives us an affirmation of what we do. Praise demonstrates appreciation of our efforts and hard work. And that is what praise should be for. It is an appreciation of what we do.

This is how human beings can legitimately praise God. We single out the things He has done, and we demonstrate to Him that we appreciate it. A prayer of praise is always relevant, and we should learn to exercise praise well. This should put a lot of pressure on Choirs and "Worship Groups" as this praise should be nothing to do with how the music affects us, but rather that we have taken the time and discipline to get it right for the greater glory of God.

Praise is only really proper to God for He and He alone is responsible for all good things. Human beings are only ever going to be unprofitable servants, not out of some false modesty or self deprecation, but rather out of a point of fact. Everything we do is God's and so there is no profit in what we do. There is only His grace; we have to cooperate with it if we stand any chance of being with God.

Unlike God, we are easily swayed by praise, and it is a good trick for people in power to use it to get our goodwill. It has a habit of rendering our critical faculties compromised if we are not careful and can blind us to the facts and ulterior motives of the unscrupulous.

Further, one can get addicted to the warm feelings that come from praise. Most praise is genuinely meant, an honest appreciation of one's work; the giver of praise is desiring to express that appreciation and nothing more. The trouble is that we can then make Praise the end of all our endeavours, resulting in showing off or neuroticism about the worth of our every action. The need for praise causes us to fear failure and shun rejection.

Our Lord has a habit of not explaining His parables fully. He speaks so that "hearing they may not hear" and this is very deliberate on His part. He wants people to seek Him actively and in humility. He does not want the education that He is providing to be a point-scoring exercise. Listening to Our Lord gives us not a knowledge to pass an exam, but rather a thirst to seek Him deeper. It is the Truth for its own sake that is important, not its utility in a rapidly materialistic age. The teacher teaches knowledge for its own worth, not so that students get a big tick in their homework.

Praise, then, while lovely when genuine, should never be an end. It should never be why we do things, but rather to participate in our Society for the love of God and of each human being. The great ascetic saints would bid us flee from praise, and to shun all honour, but rather to take our pleasure in God and the good things He gives us.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A race not to be the best

The London Marathon is one of many around the world, yet only a few really seek to come first. There are those who race competitively, and there are those who have other intentions for running. The atmosphere around it is unique, full of camaraderie and respect for those who run. Yet who is the real winner in such a race?

There are those who run to come first. If they do, then they get some recognition for such a feat. There are those who run to achieve a personal best. If they do, then they feel good about themselves. But what if they fail?  What if they don't win, or don't achieve a personal best? They try again next year. But what if they never achieve it?

Ultimately, what is winning worth? What is a personal best worth? Both are fleeting and arbitrary. Why first place? Why not 49th or last, or some other position? Why run faster? There will be times that you run slower, indeed the principle of regression to the mean guarantees that.

In this culture, there seems to be the attitude espoused by John Christie of Glyndbourne: "Not just the best we can do, but the best that can be done anywhere" It's a meaningless statement which drives people on a search for the impossible or causes them to lapse into despondent inactivity.


First, who determines the meaning of the word "best"? Who sets the standard? If it is oneself, then one automatically achieves it. If not this time, then the time previously. If we define our own best then doing the best that can be done anywhere is tautologically satisfied. If others define the standard, then how can it ever be verified. It may be that in a tiny village in Burkina Faso, one quiet little person has done the best ever, and no one will ever know. We could still strive to do the best that can be done anywhere, but we would never be presented with any quantifiable success until we say, "I've done enough " and then we are settling for the best that we can do.

Second, what is the point of spending a lifetime competing with a faceless rival in anything. Whatever it is will die with us. Boethius reminds us:
‘Further, if there were any intrinsic good in the nature of honours and powers themselves, they could never crowd upon the basest men. For opposites will not be bound together. Nature refuses to allow contraries to be linked to each other. Wherefore, while it is undoubted that for the most part offices of honour are enjoyed by bad men, it is also manifest that those things are not by nature good, which allow themselves to cling to evil men. And this indeed may worthily be held of all the gifts of fortune which come with the greatest success to the most unscrupulous. And in this matter we must also think on this fact, that no one doubts a man to be brave in whom he has found by examination that bravery is implanted: and whoever has the quality of swiftness is plainly swift. So also music makes men musical, medicine makes men physicians, oratory makes men orators. The nature of each quality acts as is peculiar to itself: it is not confused with the results of contrary qualities, but goes so far as to drive out those qualities which are opposed to it. Wealth cannot quench the insatiable thirst of avarice: nor can power ever make master of himself the man whom vicious passions hold fast in unbreakable chains. Honours, when joined to dishonest men, so far from making them honourable, betray them rather, and show them to be dishonourable. Why is this so? It is because you rejoice to call things by false names which belong not to them—their names are refuted by the reality of their qualities: wherefore neither riches, nor that kind of power, nor these honours, can justly so be called. Lastly, we may come to the same conclusion concerning all the aspects of Fortune: nothing is to be sought in her, and it is plain she has no innate good, for she is not always joined with good men, nor does she make good those with whom she is joined.’
Titles and honours and riches and power are all fleeting and will not make us happy, at least not in the long run. Failure always awaits us in the declining of our years. Our riches get spent, broken or moulder away, as do any laurels on which we rest. There is no point in running the London Marathon for any of these.

Yet, the vast majority of runners do so for none of these. They run on behalf of others. They enjoin themselves to a community in which success is just being there.

I am extremely proud to say that I have colleagues and former students who have run the Marathon not for themselves but for others. One runs in memory of his beloved mother who died of cancer and so that he can help cancer charities. Another runs in memory of a still - born child for a children's charity in the hope that his sadness can bring joy to other family. They take away with them an experience and an integrity that they cannot lose. They win only our respect, but that is only a mere byproduct of what they have really received.

St Paul reminds us that we are all running a race.
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (1 Corinthians ix.24)
This is not a race for one winner and many losers. This is a race where simply staying the distance through adverse circumstances and agonies will win the same prize available to all. The losers will be those who choose not to reach the finish line, or determine their own finish line on their terms.

Our ancestors competed for limited resources and we have inherited that same thirst to compete against one another. Yet our true happiness is not a limited resource, for that happiness is not fleeting and thus goes beyond the whole idea of Happiness. It is Eternal Joy.
This Joy subverts all ideas of competition as demands that we should be ministering to those who are struggling and falling away, not cutting them out or running past them, so that they too should strive for that selfsame prize of Eternal Joy - God Himself.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Dioceses and Societies

It's the birthday of our Diocese on 24th, so our Mass contains a commemoration in recognition of this. Historically, a Diocese consisted of a single city, like Rome, Alexandria, or Antioch. This meant that each city had its own Bishop. The Church of England Bishop of Rochester would only have had oversight of Rochester. This is before Chatham and Gillingham were invented. This means that the Diocese used to comprise a single geographical society of neighbours.
How were these societies to be run. St Paul in his letter to the church in Rome, that little band of Christians, gives rules for how a Christian society should work.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
St Paul tells us that we are each individuals with different abilities and therefore different roles that we can play in our society. God has not made us to be the same, but has given grace to us to be individuals. Yet we must operate together in His Love working for the Common Good. We are individuals who rejoice in each other's individuality. The key thing is that it is God's Love and not any love made by human definition : this is a love that begins in God and works through us.
As Anglican Catholics, our Diocese is the whole United Kingdom. That means we have a mandate to minster to the whole country bringing God's Love which He has given us in the Catholic Faith, organised in the Apostolic Order by which we can offer to Him Orthodox Worship. It's an enormous task, and there are so few of us, but as long as we love God and others in His righteousness, we cannot really fail, can we?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Episcopalian "sanctions"

Actually, I have very little to say about the primates meeting in Canterbury, largely because it's none of my business.

However, as always I pray for the Anglican Communion in all its internal struggles.

First, I pray for all the LGBT people who believe that this action will mean continued persecution. May they find relief from all the evil that be sets them.

Second, I pray for the Truth of God to be evident for the Anglican Communion, that the internal struggles may find a resolution in the clear Light of Christ.

Third, I pray that they may honour resolutions made in their own legislation which will begin a substantive dialogue with the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions  that the way of Christian Orthodoxy based on the love and righteousness of God may be demonstrated to a fallen and falling world.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Am I what I am?

According to the BBC, a government report suggests that 'as many as 650,000 people in the UK are "gender incongruent to some degree"'. That sounds like a lot of people, but it represents just 1% of the UK population, the same percentage as have autism, are members of the three mainstream political parties, or believe that their ears stick out too much.

If as many as 1% of the population are "gender incongruent" then 99% or more are not. Gender, or more properly, sex, is still well defined. It still takes a man and a woman to conceive a child without any external assistance, and likewise, it still takes a woman to give birth. This has not changed in aeons.

According to the BBC, MPs declare that the UK is still far from becoming "gender equal". What is "gender equality?

When we think of equality, we primarily think of equality under the law. The law should apply equally to everyone and everyone is expected to abide by the law for the Common Good of society. A lawful government is expected to seek the Common Good of each and every citizen. This means that must enable or supply that which can be reasonably expected for the good of each citizen so that each citizen can bring what they have to the Common Good of Society. At all stages, there is reciprocity, a social contract to draw together the individuals into a society in which they can live seeking the good of others.

What is being suggested is that, as part of their new identity as a woman, a transgender man can claim the right to female only spaces. This is clearly problematic: female only spaces have the property that a woman feeling in need of distance from the company of men can take refuge in such spaces. A transgender man (particularly before surgical augmentation) is still biologically male and thus still represents a threat to vulnerable women.

We can each one of us think of some aspect of our being and seek some entitlement from it. The question is, given that living in Society demands reciprocity, how does that entitlement enable us to contribute to Society and further the Common Good?

Of course, we inhabit a postmodern society: the word "good" means different things to different people. Relativism has exiled the idea of Common Good, replacing it with a society of individual "good"s. Thus we find more and more that the individual's perception of identity and "good"ness are impinging on others'. Most of the time, what one sees as good is rooted in what makes one happy.

This is the wrong way round: happiness needs to be rooted in goodness. To will each other's happiness should be the result of goodness. Goodness should be the cause of Happiness not vice versa. If we accept the premise that goodness is relative, then we have no grounds to complain against ISIS operating its own brand of goodness which involves lopping the heads off of innocent people. If there is no objective goodness, then there can be no moral outrage. Even if ISIS were in the majority (and perhaps they will be, if we're not very careful) their actions cannot ever be described as being good and we know that.

Goodness causes happiness. A man may not be happy being a man, but that is what he is. He may have surgery to "become" a woman, but how does he really know that he has become a woman? How does he know what being a woman is like. We can't ask ourselves what it is like to be someone else because we can never be someone else.

He may acquire certain characteristics of his preconception of what it is to be female; he may believe that he has that character even in himself but it still remains a preconception of what it is to be female, even to the extent of perpetuating a sexual stereotype. Desiring to change into the other sex cannot do anything more than perpetuate sexual stereotypes that are driving the true inequality between men and women. Not to put too fine a point on it, such preconceptions fuel sexism.

What we perceive to be our identity runs deep, even our sexual identity. Only one in two thousand people have an actual genital ambiguity. In the UK, this is about 32,000 people. The rest of us don't suffer this and thus have a well defined genital identity. However, genital identity is not the definition of a person. To reduce someone to a few aspects of their personality is stereotyping and caricature. Some people caricature themselves: we need only look at the life of the gifted comedy actor Kenneth Williams who ended his life as a self parody.

The fact is that we have absolutely no control over our identity whatsoever. We are what we are. Our lives may indeed be a collection of augmentations on that body, but we can never get away from ourselves. In a society based upon superficiality, we may be convinced. Yet, with the increasing level of dissatisfaction with the superficial culture, human beings are beginning to look for themselves again. There is an increasing unhappiness with the situation. Why? Because there is no common goodness.

The existence of a what is truly good points to God. All things made by God are indeed good. Every human being is good in themselves as an indelible part of their identify given to them at birth. For all of us, it is not the struggle to be accepted by God that matters - He has already accepted you in creating you - nor is it the struggle to be accepted by Society that matters - your identity will never meet up with every definition of "good" amid the pluralism of postmodernity - it is the struggle to accept ourselves as we are, and to accept our transformation from sinner to saint that a lifetime with God will generate. He is the author of our being and so only He can make transformation into the Good truly possible.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Symbols, signs, sacraments and sales pitches

Meditating on the three miracles of the Epiphany has brought me to consider the relationship that we have with signs and symbols. The Revelation of the Epiphany is threefold.

First we have the Magi, the famous wise men from the East who are led to Our Lord by the famous star of Bethlehem. Historically, it is unclear what this star is. Some would have it that it is a true astronomical event, a supernova or comet for example; others would have it that it is an astrological event, a conjunction of Saturn or Jupiter; others would have it that the star has merely a mythological existence. Personally, I favour the latter, after all, astrology was well studied at the time by all kinds of "wise men". We have also the famous Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh on which St Gregory has this to say:
The wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is the fitting gift to a King, frankincense is offered in sacrifice to God, and with myrrh are embalmed the bodies of the dead. By the gifts, therefore, which they presented unto Him, the wise men set forth three things concerning Him unto Whom they offered them; by the gold, that He was King; by the frankincense, that He was God; and by the myrrh, that He was to die. There are some heretics who believe Him to be God, but confess not His Kingly dominion over all things; these offer unto Him frankincense, but refuse Him gold. There are some others who admit that He is King, but deny that He is God; these present unto Him gold, but will not give Him frankincense. There are some other heretics who profess that Christ is both God and King, but not that He took a dying nature; these offer Him gold and frankincense, but not myrrh for the Manhood. Let us, however, present gold unto the new-born Lord, acknowledging His universal Kingship; let us offer unto Him frankincense, confessing that He Who hath been made manifest unto us in time, is God before time was; let us give unto Him myrrh, believing that He Who cannot suffer as touching His Godhead, was made capable of death as touching the manhood which He shareth with us. There is also another signification in this gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is a type of wisdom; as saith Solomon, In the mouth of the wise abideth a treasure to be desired. Frankincense, which is burnt in honour of God, is a figure of prayer; witness the words of the Psalmist [Ps. cxl. 2]: Let my prayer be set forth as incense before thee. By myrrh is represented the putting to death of the body; as where the holy Church saith of her labourers who strive for God even unto death My hands dropped with myrrh. (10th Homily on the Gospels, from the Readings for Benedictine Matins)
The second revelation is the Baptism of Christ in the river Jordan and thus preparing the waters of Baptism for use as the matter in the Sacrament.

The third is the miracle in the wedding at Cana of Gallilee in which Our Lord demonstrates His power to transform matter and prefigures the Mass as the wedding feast of the Lamb.

We have here signs and wonders which are central to our Christian Faith. We have signs within signs and symbols within miracles, all of which point to the deep truth of God With Us. This is something on which Christians will agree. These signs point directly to the person of Christ.

As Catholics, our relationship with signs and symbols is markedly different from the perceptions of the non-Catholic. For a thing to be a sign means that it possesses a property to direct the understanding to a related thing. For all Christians in whatever service they have of Eucharist, Holy Communion, Lord's Supper or Mass, the bread and wine are certainly signs of Christ's body and blood. The whole liturgy is a sign of the last supper and of the love of Christ in His preparation to die for us. Of course, the question has to be what nature of the relationship between the sign and the thing signified really is. Zwingli would have it that the nature of the relationship is purely intellectual, the Catholic Faith teaches that the nature of the relationship is physical, and real. Others have variations upon this theme. However, all are statements about the relationship between the sign and the thing signified.

One of the reasons I hold so fast to the Catholic teaching of (not necessarily Romish) Transubstantiation is that it makes sense of God's power to do things of which human beings can only imitate at a much lower level. I preached below that while human beings can name things only after the fact, God brings them into being by calling their name. That is the fact of Creation. If Christ is truly God then His "this is my body" causes bread to become His body, ratifying St John vi's "indeed". Names are signs, they point to the thing they objectify. It might be a false inference to generalize this and say that God's signs are more than just intellectual, but also real and physical, but this is the evidence of Our Lord's ministry. He says, "be healed" and people are healed; He says that a girl is not dead but only sleeping, and she is. The words, symbols and signs of Our Lord's ministry have a habit of taking on reality: that can only be done by the Creator. The reason is that our reality is only a pale imitation of the true reality of God. Our reality, to Him, can be compared to the reality of Harry Potter compared with J. K. Rowling. The actor Daniel Radcliffe gives Harry a reality like ours, and yet, Harry Potter is still less real than we are. Yet, Mr Radcliffe is the vehicle by which Harry Potter's reality becomes our own. We can really see this in the way that some people treat Mr Radcliffe as actually being Harry Potter and have a really hard time when he plays Victor Frankenstein. Confusing actors with their characters is an unfortunate confusion of realities.

Signs and symbols work at different levels of reality.  For Zwingli, the reality of the bread and wine is that of this world,  the thing that they signify is the body and blood of Christ, but there is no change in the reality of the bread and wine. The relationship, as I wrote earlier, is purely intellectual, on the same level as ideas and concepts. The two realities are different and disjoint. A sacrament, on the other hand also has two realities, our reality and the reality of God. The difference here is that our reality is absolutely contingent on that of God's. Without God's reality, there cannot be our reality. It is interesting that the Greek for Creed is Symbol. The words we say in the three Creeds take on a deeper reality if we are prepared to live the faith we proclaim therein.

Catholics, then, believe in the continual, objective action of God in Creation, that symbols can attain a reality that gives greater substance to ours.Yet, Catholics must be prepared to sympathise with the non-Catholic. Yes, of course our beliefs are substantively different but both are trying to explore the reality that we know (whether by gnosis or epistis) and come to the Salvation of Mankind as Christ. The substantive differences will mean that we walk apart, but an exploration of Reality with one's hand in God's means that we all have the opportunity for salvation. Differences of theology can indeed be occasions of walking apart, but never occasions of demonization.

This brings me to another point I'd like to explore and, as usual, I find myself on similar intellectual territory as my confrère, Fr Anthony Chadwick who is contemplating the "business" aspect of the Church. Like him, I find advertising and branding tedious. Branding, with the plethora of logos, soundbites, buzz-words and slogans brings us back to the way in which people can confuse the sign with the thing signified. The numbers in Church may show that Church is not popular, but not that it is not relevant. The wickedness of Christians may show the hypocrisy within the Church, but do not show that She is either wrong about God or that God Himself is a wicked being. At each stage, there is a confusion of the lesser reality with the greater.
A church may indeed advertise itself to say "Hello, here we are!" but it will paint a static picture of itself - all empty glitz and glamour. The best way to say, "Hello" is for a Christian to grasp another's hand and shake it warmly with a smile. I am a firm believer that the Faith lived actively needs no advertisement, but demonstrates an integrity that an advert cannot. God will not allow His Church's light to be put under a bushel. She will shine from the hilltop to all lands.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Epiphany and Gnosis

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the Great Theophany, the self revelation of God made Man to Creation. Again, I find myself walking along a parallel track to Fr Anthony who is spending time studying the Gnostics. I haven’t had the opportunity to make such a detailed review of the subject, but while Gnosticism is a recognised heresy tackled by the Oecumenical Councils, the ideas of Gnosis and Epistemology are worth studying. Fr Anthony points me to the fact that Epistemology is the study of intellectual knowledge, and Gnosis that of experiential knowledge.

Gnosis is therefore very much part of the Epiphany. We know God as being interactive. In the person of Christ we can handle with our hands and see with our eyes. Mankind has Gnosis of God and we can recognise Him for Who He is.

The knowledge of salvation is precisely what Zacharias sings of in the canticle that Anglicans know as the Benedictus. St John the Baptist is prophesied to give us knowledge of salvation by the remission of our sins.  The word used in St Luke i. 77 where this occurs is "gnosin" and shows that we are to experience our salvation in the person of Christ the Word Made Flesh. This is not some theoretical knowledge or forensic understanding, but a knowledge that comes through experience of Love.

The Mass itself is a means to that knowledge in which we enter into the mystery of being itself. God is unique in that He isn't a being among many beings, He is Being itself. This is why I always feel it appropriate to capitalise the Holy Pronoun. The knowledge that we receive of Christ in the Mass is even deeper than sexual. The Bride knows the Bridegroom intimately and Our Lord uses that image of His relationship with the Church. The Mass has been given to us to be as experiential as possible with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that aren't just symbolic,  but expressions of an Eternal God transcending even His own Eternity to reveal Himself to mortal man in the fleeting fragility of a partial participation in His Being.

This is saving knowledge in contrast to any act of the intellect and is open to even those whose thinking is impaired in some way.

I, as many of you may have guessed, am a bit of a scholastic and liable to work in terms that cannot be dogmatic for any serious Anglican Catholic. However, we can look at the writer Pseudo-Dionysius who reminds us that when it comes to true knowledge of God, we have to abandon intellect and seek only those revelations that He would choose to help us know Him.

To do just that, we seek first the kingdom of God. We seek how His rule encompasses our lives and the world around us. Intellectual knowledge will tell us only so much, and only allow us a limited understanding of Him. In the Mass, we can allow ourselves the luxury of letting go of the science of wafer and wine and find Christ revealing Himself in one Eternal Epiphany breaking through into Time.

We need to make a much bigger deal of this feast, because it truly gives us knowledge of Salvation.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Democracy, Deocracy and Demoncracy

In trying to type the word "democracy", I made two typos: demoncracy and deocracy. It was interesting that I found that I kept making one or other of these typos in a single document and this has led me to think about the political systems that we have in place, especially after reflecting on the reality of the Powers of Darkness and Light.

In our time, we have a tendency to believe that Democracy is the best system of government that a country can have, after all, many systems have been tried in the past and all have been found wanting in some way. Yet, politicians as great as Sir Winston Churchill have noted that Democracy is not all that it is cracked up to be. He famously says, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Christians can always appreciate the problems with any form of politics. Man is a fallen being, tugged between Good and Evil by a capricious world, subject to powers beyond his control. Influencing Democracy at the most fundamental level are Demoncracy and Deocracy: the rules of the demons and the rule of God (though I am rather unnerved by such a wicked portmanteau word confusing Greek and Latin in the same way as "television"). Here we see the objectivity of moral values at work. There are principles which are inherently wrong despite a majority voting that they are right. If every single American citizen were to vote that first-born children should be minced alive to appease Molech, that would not stop the practice from being an abhorrent and vile abuse of human lives. If objective moral values exist, then we not only have evidence for the existence of God, but we also have a fundamental problem with democracy in that the majority can vote for something inherently wrong, even on the basis of the very best of intentions.

I will hold my hands up right now and say that I'm not really what one might term a "political animal" in the sense that I have practically no training in political science or political philosophy whatsoever. I rely on those who are more experienced to guide me and pull me up where my thinking goes wrong. However, I do believe in God and that my belief is not only reasonable but justified given how I have experienced the world around me. The more evil I see in the world, paradoxically, the more I worship God because the only recourse I have to the end of that pernicious and pervasive Evil is in the Being of God Himself. I see evil at work in every political system and I do earnestly pray to God for our deliverance.

Reflecting on  something Fr Anthony said to me, I think those who point at the existence of war in the "spiritual realm" have hit upon something profound. St John the Divine reveals to us in the twelfth Chapter of the Apocalypse that:
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,   And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.   And the great dragon was cast out , that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.   And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down , which accused them before our God day and night.   And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.   Therefore rejoice , ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
We are therefore faced with the fact that the struggle between Good and Evil is not only real but universal. It is not a theoretical battle, but an actual battle that we must face, each and every one of us in our dealings in this world. Fr Anthony reflects on how the Gnostics view this battle and how their dualism pits the material world against the spiritual world. We Christians know that we are not saved by knowledge in itself save that of the Salvation obtained for us by Our Lord Jesus Christ and that we have to put that knowledge to use in love. We know further that while the will of the flesh is opposed to the will of the spirit, human beings are both flesh and spirit and only receive true unification of the two in the Jesus Christ Who is both God and Man. As the Quicunque Vult states:
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess : that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds : and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man : of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead : and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood; Who, although he be God and Man : yet he is not two, but one Christ; One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh : but by taking of the Manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance : but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man : so God and Man is one Christ;
This is the perfection that He offers us: true union of our flesh and spirit. We should not seek the release from the flesh for then we would simply cease to be, but that we should be conformed and transformed in the same way. I, unashamedly, quote my favourite Biblical verse again:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be : but we know that, when he shall appear , we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (I John iii.2)
However, this continues:
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.  Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth * also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.   Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.  He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested , that he might destroy the works of the devil. (I John ii.3-8)
If our democracy is indeed flawed then there will be things that we vote for that are, in fact, morally wrong despite believing the contrary. This is, essentially, demoncracy, since humanity is imprisoned away from the Good by the Power of Darkness. God's law will therefore seem to be wrong in the eyes of such a democracy. It will seem to be unjust because, from the aspect of Eternity, there are no rights, no entitlements, no privileges, no mitigations that human beings can possess. We lose the right to what happens to our bodies when we die and, if there is no Resurrection, we even lose ourselves at the moment of decease.

If there is no God, then all issues of equality and inequality, of right and responsibility, of truth, justice, right and wrong, all end in the grave. They affect only the living and then only for a short time. Thus the grossest injustice can go unpunished by the one who then blows himself up in a blaze of glory. A Godless society can shriek all that it likes against the suicide bomber, but there can be no justice.

In the presence of God, however, there is only one justice and that lies in the hand of the Divine. It is a justice that comes from the very being of God as being supreme. It will scandalize those who seek to be in control of their justice. One can accuse God of being racist or sexist or elitist or whatever, but to no effect: He is in control. "He shall cut off the spirit of princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth." (Psalm lxxvi.12)

Human beings as political animals have the choice between demoncracy and deocracy. If they live by their own values then they live arbitrarily without a compass to say that what they believe is truly right or wrong. If they reject the existence of objective moral values then they must accept a majority ruling that runs contrary to their morality even if it scandalizes them at the most basic level. If they accept the existence of objective morals, then they must consider the source which can only be in a being transcendent of human understanding. While there is both demoncracy and deocracy, there is war: a war in Heaven and in Earth. With the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, there is the possibility of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men. However, we must be prepared to be scandalized by God and to wrestle with Him as Jacob did in order to find our identity in Him, to know how our philosophies differ from His and to seek the reconciliation.

As St John says to us, we must seek purity in ourselves. This can only come about through a deeply prayerful and reflective life. We don't have to be erudite scholars because the Kingdom of Heaven is open to any human being that desires it. A prayer life based on the Lord's Prayer and the Mass, an intellectual life based on the study of the Bible  a work life centred around the Beatitudes and the Works of Mercy and an identity based on a life in the Church will bring us ever closer and closer to what is truly Good and that will be God Himself.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

What's in a name(?)

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Feast of the Holy Name

It is the usual practice for parents to choose the name of their children. Most people stick with the name they were given at birth, others change it. For what reason? Some people who change their name do so because they do not believe that the name chosen for them fits who they are. It is clear that our name is something intensely personal, even to the extent of being part of our identity at the most personal levels. Indeed, the word name is essentially Greek in origin and has the meaning of "law". Our names allow us to be a law unto ourselves: they somehow give us an identity according to the rules that we live our lives by.

In the Second Chapter of Genesis, Our Lord sits down with the Man (who is not even called Adam then) and creates animals in front of him. The pleasure of naming the animals is given to man, who calls them cat, dog, bird, hippopotamus, okapi as appropriate. God has given man the power over animals and signifies this by him giving the law described by their names. The name of the animal describes its identity and its nature: the name of a man describes his identity and his nature.

Very occasionally, someone receives their name, not from men, but from God Himself. Both Our Lord and St John the Baptist have their names given to the parents by the message of an Angel of God determining the person of the people yet to be born. Thus we have John, and the Holy Name of Jesus. The name John conveys the idea of someone or something given by God. The name Jesus means God saves, or God is saving. In the Hebrew it is a continuous tense and describes precisely Our Lord's relationship with us. He is saving us from our sins.

St Paul tells us "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." "To impute" means "to call" and essentially God is saying that God can say that a sinner is not a sinner. However, this sounds very strange. Clearly if we sin, then we are sinners: we might call black white, but that doesn't stop it from actually being black. If we have sinned then necessarily we are sinners. Does that mean that God can stop someone from being a sinner by simply saying that he isn't a sinner? That would make the whole idea of God's law rather laughable, wouldn't it? God cannot be where sin is, because sin is precisely where God is not. There must be something wrong here. Either God's law means nothing, or God must call a sinner, a sinner.

There is a third possibility. Remember that Our Lord Jesus is Our Saviour. He does what He is called. This is the difference between how God names, and what Man names. Man sees what God creates and then names it. But look at the first chapter of Genesis. God says, "let there be light" and there is light. Light comes into being because God first speaks its name. Indeed, whatever God names then comes into being. This is the opposite of how human beings name things. This is why we honour the Holy Name. Some people use the name too little and in so doing forget that the Word was made Flesh. Others use the name too frequently, some even as a swear-word and thus forget that Our Lord Jesus is God indeed. Jesus is so-called because He is saving each one of us who believe in Him.

When God names something, it happens. The act of imputing by God is effective and not solely representative: it does something. If God does not impute sin to a sinner, then that person's sin ceases to be, just as the darkness vanishes when the light is switched on. Our Lord Jesus saves us by providing that opportunity for us to be reconciled with God and that find that transformation by being re-named. In the Revelation to St John the Divine, we are told that we each be given new names. However, no-one knows what these names are because no-one, not even we ourselves, truly know who we are. But we will receive a new name from God and we will become truly who we are meant to be in His name.