Sunday, April 29, 2018

Departing love

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Easter

How do you prepare yourself when a loved one leaves?

The pain of separation is one of the most acute stress factors that human beings can suffer. According to some sources, the most stressful things that a human being can undergo are the death of a loved one, childhood trauma, and divorce. Each is centred around and breeds from a loss of love. Yet, each one of us will suffer these sorts of stresses in our lifetime. It’s unavoidable.

Sometimes, it seems that Our Lord glosses over this sort of pain. We hear Him say to the Eleven Disciples, and us, “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.”
Is it really that easy to rejoice, knowing that a loved one is going away to a better place? Is this not a bit of emotional blackmail on the part of the Lord Jesus? “If you really loved me, then you would rejoice…” Is that what He is saying?


The pain of separation is caused by nothing less than our love. It’s a pain that many people can’t truly face and so try to avoid it where possible. Some will try never to love but remain protected in a shell that keeps everyone at a distance. Others will fill their lives with distractions, turning from this fashion to that fashion so that they are not still enough for love to catch up with them. Others will numb themselves to the pain, even through things like drink and drugs. This is happening so much in the world around us.

The fact is that Love requires the greatest investment we can give, and yet it is only something that we can give as a gift. It’s never a bargaining tool. If we give love, then we can only give it freely in the knowledge that, in so doing, our hearts will be broken.

If this is the case then why does Our Lord tell us that if we love Him then we would rejoice because He goes back to the Father? Is that not like saying, “if you really loved me, you wouldn’t get that tattoo”?


The fact is that Our Lord does recognise that His departure will lead to our sorrow. “Now I go my way to him that sent me, and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But, because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart.” Yet He must go so that He can bestow more love upon us, namely the gift of the presence of the Holy Ghost. It is through the Holy Ghost that God can be present to each and everyone who desires His presence. But that presence is unseen and His ways are unseen. If we love Him then we must trust Him because trusting someone is what we do as part of our love for them. We can rejoice in Our Lord’s impending departure because we know where He is going and, in Him, we have the hope that we will go there, too!

In Christ, there is pure Hope! - a certainty of our resurrection and the end of our pain. It can only come through Him and through no other means. No self-help book, no philosophy, no other religion can give us that certainty because it comes through realising Who Jesus is and entering into a relationship of love with Him.

Of course Love is hard – really hard. The pain it will cause each one of us is immense because it requires giving of ourselves at a level that we simply don’t believe we can afford. This is why many of us try to protect ourselves from it, or numb ourselves to its pain. In so doing, we lose the benefits of Hope and Faith that come with Love and are subject to it.


Love is the perfect gift that comes down to us from Heaven from the Father of lights. As Christians, we dare to receive that gift and the cross that comes with it. Do we receive the Hope that also comes? It is part of the package deal after all.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Missing Myth

Some people believe in the literal history of Genesis.

I think that's fine and not wholly unreasonable. They believe that God tells us the truth and that the Bible is His Word and therefore the events of Genesis are history.

This does mean that those who hold this viewpoint must reject the findings of our science and its conclusions. If this stance deepens their relationship with God and helps them love Him in spirit and in truth and in obedience to His command to love  then this can't be a bad thing. The point of fact is that no human can have complete knowledge of our origins. All we have to go on is evidence and reason from that evidence.

However, I must say that I believe the events of Genesis to be a Myth.

I might perceive a gasp of horror from some of my readers, especially those from a more Evangelical persuasion. I beg you to bear with me so that I might be allowed to explain myself.

 The modern way of thinking is that a myth is necessarily untrue, or just a story - something that doesn't need to be believed. This is because we tend now to use the word wrongly. We talk about the myth that dock leaves cure the wounds caused by stinging nettles, or the myth that women have smaller brains than men. These are untrue statements but they are definitely not myths.

Modern thinkers like to reject myth as not being an authority on what is true and therefore believe that we may have free reign to interpret it how we want. 

This is false.

"Myth" should not be a dirty word for a Christian who believes in the inerrancy of Holy Scripture. Our Lord's parables are stories and get to the point about what myths are for the Christian. 

We tend to have a narrow view of what counts as knowledge, these days. We view scientific truth as the only truth and thus discount the existence of God because He is unobservable. If there is truth of God's existence (and there is scientific evidence) then it must be by revelation from Him and therefore beyond the limited way we think.
Myth frees us from our obsession with understanding things without God's help. 

This is why I personally think that a purely literal interpretation of Genesis is far too narrow to be the truth. There is a lot that is revealed to us in Genesis without needing to ask when it happened or who wrote the text and with what intention. If we trust God then the Holy Scriptures that He has called His Church to compile for all Christians must be theologically true regardless of the modern tendency to subject the texts to various criticisms in order to find the truth.

Indeed, I am becoming more convinced that the modern way of Biblical Criticism tries to set modern thinking up above all thought that predates it. Modernity looks down its nose at the interpretations of fishermen, tent makers, carpenters, and first-century women with the same disdain as the Pharisees. Everything must be criticised according to the correct up-to-date critical theory before it can be judged to be true.

If the myth of Genesis tells me that God created men and women then I believe that, and from that I can believe that men and women are not interchangeable else the text would not make mention of the differentiation. From Genesis, I know that God created all that is. It doesn't say how, but I know that there are six different aspects of that creation. However, I cannot understand how a "day" can happen without the Sun nor a planet on which there is to be a day. I know from science that a day on Venus is longer than its year. How am I to understand this "day" if there is no reference to astronomy yet created. I can only understand it as an aspect of God Himself, of His engagement with Time from Eternity which boggles my tiny understanding.

There is always an accusation that the liberals make of Traditional Christians cherry-picking our myths or the interpretation of our common myths that the Bible contains and it is their attitude that denigrates the mythic nature of our Faith. We do not have to be ashamed of what we have received from the hands and mouths of our forebears. We should be proud of it. The liberal accusation not only stops there but also denigrates the Sacred Tradition of the Church Fathers as being morally inferior to the present age. They are judged as sexist but permitted to be because they were products of their time. Our time is clearly superior.

The question is in what system of values they make this judgement of superiority. Why is Now with its demythologising influence better than "Then" with the Myths and stories which God has given His Church for all time in order for it to explore the transcendent nature of Reality inaccessible to Science and Rationalism? Who gets to make that decision?

My Evangelical friends may still criticise me for believing in God and the Big Bang and Darwinism. However, I hope that they appreciate that I, too, hold to the inerrancy if Holy Scripture as a means of knowing God and His relationship with Humanity, of knowing His pleasure and thus the necessity for us to live lives which resonate with this pleasure, of knowing our own sin and our salvation in Christ, and of knowing that there is hope for the future through Christ alone.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Metanoia and Thatcher

Sermon for the third Sunday after Easter

Sometimes, everything seems to get at you, even inanimate objects. Jets of water from the tap always seem to end up on you in an embarrassing way. Milk cartons refuse to open without the intervention of heavy-duty cutlery. And let us not get started on trying to open bin bags.

Sometimes the world seems to just get at you.

Of course, some people have it much worse than others. Some of us seem to suffer misfortune after misfortune. Respectable men and women suddenly find themselves with nothing. Clever and enterprising young folk end up on the street. Little children grow up scared and scarred because of the actions of grow-ups.

The Church has a lot of work to do.

If only the world would let us do it.


As Christians, we can definitely subscribe to the feeling that we are being "got at". This is because we are being got at. The question is trying to work out who is getting at us. The answer is not always very obvious.

You might say, "actually, it is the world that's getting at us." Our Lord Himself says, "Verily, verily I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice!" What is this "World"?

It's easy to think that it's a them and us situation. It's us versus the world - Athanasius contra mundi - and we put on our suits of armour and seek to challenge the World to a dual.

The trouble is, the World is not something outside of us. Think of this: you're never stuck in traffic, you are traffic. By being in a car, you are part of the traffic congestion on the M25. Margaret Thatcher is right: Society doesn't exist as something outside ourselves that we can always blame for our troubles. While we participate in Society, we cannot pass the buck.

"What's wrong with the World?" We say as we see the latest atrocity. G. K. Chesterton would reply, "I am." While we are in the World, we cannot separate ourselves from what's wrong with it. While we live in worldly ways, we contribute to the very thing that we struggle with.

How can we hope to separate ourselves from the World?


It's clear that we can't any more than we can package up the darkness before we switch the light on. We turn to Christ and use His light to help us transform our ways. We cannot hope to seek the will of God in worldly desires. A new car will not bring us closer with God: it will just make us more worldly. Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.

We turn to Christ. The only thing of any real value to us is the Cross of Christ, His suffering, His humiliation, His death. Death is the only thing that the World can ever give us because it is corrupted by our sin. Christ breaks through that barrier for us and offers us the way through.

We turn to Christ. We learn to value what He values and seek only love and unity with Him. A true search for unity with God cannot exclude other people because if we are united with God, then we will be united with all others who find Him. Our lives are to be spent, not focussing on the world's problems for the world's sake, but focussing on loving God and accepting His values so that we can solve the world's problem in true and honourable service to Him. We can gain the world, but we lose our souls in the process.


We cannot do any good in this world without God's involvement. The solution is simple: we involve God in our lives in prayer and the study of His word. We look at how we can shrug off worldly values and the pursuit of worldly esteem, we take our cross and suffer with Christ.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

Just wait in God, and see.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Good shepherds?

Sermon for the second Sunday after Easter

Don't you feel that being referred to as a sheep is a bit demeaning?

What about your priest being referred to as your pastor, or your bishop as the shepherd of your souls? Do you like being part of someone's flock?

Does that mean while you're merely a sheep, an ordained priest is actually a real human being?


Clearly, some have held this view in the past which seems to set priests up above the laity. It's little surprising that, because they cannot become priests, women see the Catholic priesthood as being another example of male oppression over them. If they are the sheep and the priest is the shepherd, then it seems that women will always be lesser. Likewise, men who are not called to the priesthood would have some objection to being referred to as a sheep.

There is clearly a point to answer here and, as always, to know the truth we listen to Jesus Himself, and it only takes a few words.

"I am THE good shepherd."

He doesn't say, "I am a good shepherd." It is very much, "I am THE good shepherd." There are no other good shepherds than Our Lord.

And now we begin to see something. With God as Our Creator, any comparison that we make between Him and us is always going to make us look insignificant. Before God, we are nothing more than dust. Our lives begin and end in the twinkle of His eye. We are nothing in comparison with Him.

To describe Himself as a shepherd and us as sheep is actually a great kindness to us. He could simply not bother with us at all, because we are so insignificant before His Eternal Majesty. The fact that He calls Himself our shepherd shows that He does care - really care. This is a care that is far beyond any care that a human being could have for anyone.

Listen to Him:
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth; and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
He is not in it for any money, or kudos, or for the glory of being worshipped. He has no need of any of those things. His care is completely focussed on the sheep. He will defend us to the hilt from all Evil that would beset us - even to death.

And how He proves that to us on the Cross.

What does it prove? 

It proves that, no matter who we are, God wants to create us. He loves us so much that He brings us into being in the first place and then gives up His own life for us so that we might not be lost to Him through our own sin.


It's also worth listening to St John Baptist when he says of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God!"


So Jesus Himself is being referred to as a sheep?

If we're sheep, then so is He!

And now we really do see that when God calls us His sheep, He is referring not to us being animals before Him, but rather demonstrating His care - a care so great that He becomes one of us in order to be with us. He shows that our human state - while being infinitely inferior to His glorious majesty - possesses worth for Him, possesses dignity, possesses in its very heart Heavenly Gold. We are not nothing to God.
Why then do we call priests, "pastors," and bishops, "shepherds"?


This point cannot be emphasised enough. It is not because priests and bishops are humans and the laity merely flocks. Look carefully: how can Mother St Teresa of Calcutta be lesser than one of those awful paedophile priests who have brought shame upon the whole Catholic priesthood? How can St Mary Magdalene be lesser than the treacherous Judas?

No. In failing to see priests and bishops as being somehow above normal human beings, we miss the point of Christ's sacrifice as the Lamb of God. The ordination of a priest is the means by which Christ operates through a sinful, fallible human being in order to feed us with His grace in the sacraments. The priest is a sheep through whom the Shepherd gives His care. What credit does that give to the priedt?

The priest is only a pastor by virtue that each Christian should look to him to see Christ the Shepherd. In fact, in not allowing the grace of God to act in him, in not showing care for his parish, the priest commits a terrible sin.

It is important to note that every faithful member of the laity is made holy through living their faith. Men and women together have an equal opportunity to become saints and to stand before God's throne for Eternity. The faithless priest, the priest that is in it for the prestige, the fancy robes, the adulation and respect, is an hireling and will receive his reward which can only end in Eternal Death.

Go out: be holy and faithful under the oversight of our Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, and don't forget to pray for priests and bishops that the whole world may be filled with Christ's grace.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mathematical Sehnsucht

I find, to my amazement, that I have had something to contribute to Fr Anthony's Blue Flower project. While I won't reproduce it here, I will perhaps mention that Mathematics does begin to give expression to the Transcendent and I may expand on that in a future article for the Blue Flower if there is sufficient interest.

Do please look out for this publication as there will be articles written by those of greater academy than me. I'm told it is aiming to be out in June.

Monday, April 09, 2018

A late announcement

To many not used to the liturgical interplay between the solar and lunar calendars, the concept of a date not being a saint's day seems difficult to understand. A few years ago, I upset revellers celebrating St George's day, when I pointed out that - it being the Octave of the Resurrection - St George's day did not happen on April 23rd. (What an obnoxious know-it-all I am! 😜) This year, in the Roman Rite, St Valentine got bumped to a commemoration by the privileged feria of Ash Wednesday.

Especially this year, March 25th was not the Feast of the Annunciation according to the Roman Rite Since it clashed with Palm Sunday, the Rubrics ordered that it be transferred to the nearest available date outside the Easter Octave. Of course, this is not a universal practice. The Sarum Rite, for example makes provision for the Annunciation to be celebrated on the next day, being the Monday of Holy Week.

So we have had to wait a while for the announcement that Our Lady is to bear a child.

How typical!

Announcing the birth of a baby is not as straightforward as one might think. Parents filled with the joy that they are going to have a baby find themselves frustrated that it's really best to wait for the twelve-week scan before making a formal announcement so that they can say that the baby is happy and healthy. Were the Angel Gabriel to follow the same practice, we would be celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation on 25th June instead - the day after the Nativity of John the Baptist.

However, the Angel just needs to announce the Immaculate Conception of Our Lord. His birth is guaranteed, unlike many pregnancies even today. It is a matter of great sadness that many pregnancies end naturally within the first twelve weeks. Some babies do die even before their own mother knows that she is pregnant. For some mothers, the miscarriage is the first she knows.

We make later announcements so that we can share the joy of the presence of a baby knowing that it is viable for life. Even then, pregnancy is delicate and though the probability that the baby dies shrinks daily, it is never zero.

Could Our Lady's pregnancy have failed? Yes, it could: Our Lord's gestation was as fraught with danger as our own. However, it did not fail and this is something that those possessing an Eternal point of view always know.

We rejoice in the benefit of hindsight that, from His Conception, Our Lord's birth was assured and the path of our salvation at His hands revealed. While we rejoice, we must pray for all pregnant women and for all those who suffer the tragedy of miscarriage.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Pressing Faith

Sermon for the first Sunday after Easter

You may have noticed that, around Easter time, the newspapers tend to scrabble around for something to write about. We've had a congregation whose Easter banner said "Chris is Risen," the Archbishop of Wales being reported as saying that we can never know that the Resurrection happened, and the Pope being reported as saying that Hell does not exist which the Vatican denies. It seems that the press want to say something about Easter, but are not sure precisely what to say. What they give us is either something light-hearted or something that challenges the belief of millions of Christians.

Why? Why does the press want to challenge the Christian Faith?


At the most obvious level, the press just want people to buy papers and so print challenging headlines to make us think. Some papers rejoice in giving purely reactionary articles just so that people find a reason to shake their heads and tut about the state of the world. In many ways, the press give the people what they want to read and, as the old proverb says, they won't let the truth get in the way of a good story.

If today's press is inaccurate why can we be sure that the Gospels are accurate? Perhaps it is difficult to believe that Our Lord is risen from the dead. Perhaps we will never know.


It's okay to be tempted by thoughts like this. Poor St Thomas has trouble believing the reports of Jesus' Resurrection and so He demands evidence. It is only when they see His scars that the disciples are glad when they see the the Lord. After such a horrible few days in which we see Christ humiliated and executed, we are bound to be shaken up by this. The fact of the matter is that, in our experience, people don't tend to rise from the dead.

But Jesus does.

And that cannot be exaggerated. People are either alive or dead. Jesus was dead and now He is seen to be alive by eyewitnesses who then go about preaching of this resurrection. There's nothing to mishear, misinterpret or distort. Jesus was dead and is now alive. It doesn't get clearer than that. In two-thousand years, there has been no reasonable evidence to contradict the eye-witness testimony of the time.

When we doubt, what we have to do is to have faith.

Faith is not something that denies what we see. It doesn't throw out reason and scientific evidence. Faith is the result of trusting that God is Who He says He is and believing Him when things seem dark. Jesus says He will rise again from the dead. When He does die, we have to trust that He is right. When He does rise again, we see that our faith in Him is justified. We see that He is telling us the truth. We see that He does keep His promises even when they seem difficult to believe.

Having faith is a powerful thing. St John tells us clearly that

Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

The Faith that God gives us allows us to treat the misinformation of the world with a grain of salt. It means that we can hold onto Church teaching and not worry when it conflicts with this world's morality because we trust in God and not the world. It means that we are not slaves to culture, nor to big business, nor to what Society expects of us. We just need to have faith and allow that faith to grow in God.


Like the plants that begin to bud in spring, so our faith grows because of Our Lord's Resurrection from the Dead. It is the report of the death of our faith that is greatly exaggerated.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Threshold

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection

We stand at the door of the empty tomb, peering into its dark interior as the sunlight begins to flood the cemetery. Towards us is the black open door leading into the place of the dead and to who-knows-what. Behind us the sky is black with the beginnings of a pale blue hue at the horizon just before the Sun begins its ascent into the sky.

And we come to the realisation that this is the beginning of a new day. It's a beginning, not an end. Looking at the empty tomb, we are not seeing an end even though it is supposed to be a last resting-place. The credits don't roll. We aren't going to find out who the production assistant and script editor are. This is not a drama that has just played itself out. This is still happening.


We stand on the threshold of the tomb at the threshold of the day trying to understand the events of the last few days. They have been a threshold too, that between order and chaos. This is where it all begins as God Himself stands at the moment of Creation on the threshold between something and nothing, looking into the void and deciding in His impenetrable infinity what to create.

The threshold is where we are and it is here on this threshold that God saves us.

Every day, we teeter on the edge between good and evil, and we're not always aware of it. The world around us is a chaotic pattern of ripples from good deeds and ill entering into our everyday lives, often without us knowing. The order of our lives is being nudged by forces we can neither see nor control. We might as well be playing blind man's bluff on the edge of Beachy Head. The mind of Humanity is dark and cold to the love of God. And dark and cold is the morning as we gaze into the empty tomb. Many of us spend our lives here at this threshold and never seem to cross it.

But He is not here: He is risen and He meets us in the dawning of day and the breaking of bread. In order to meet Him, we have to cross the threshold into the unknown. This is the nature of our Faith.

Faith is not some unreasoned acceptance of an apparent truth. Our Faith is a growing trust in someone we are coming to know. It is as empirical as Science is itself. Our faith grows by what it sees and experiences. Our faith in God grows because we experience Him and seek Him out. Abraham knows God and trusts Him to raise Isaac when God calls him to sacrifice his son. It is only because he knows what God is like that Abraham would even dare to obey. In so doing, Abraham crosses a threshold into a new relationship with God with Isaac alive.

Leaving their hiding places from the crucifixion to gather in some secluded spot to decide what to do, the disciples find Christ. And they realise that their experiences of His teaching and miracles are true. The figure they see standing before them, still bearing His scars, still Him, is Christ Jesus Our Lord, and none other. No ghost. No hallucination through grief or intoxication. Through faith in Our Lord, they cross the threshold from a world groaning for Salvation into a world in which Salvation is present for those who want to receive it.

And the threshold of this Salvation is Christ the Door, the Strait Gate, the Way. He is the threshold between Life and Death. He is the door of the tomb for those who wish to pass from death into Eternal life.


This is as much our Resurrection as His. This is why He comes back to see us and show us the truth that our faith may be strengthened and our joy complete.

The sun rises and the blackness of the tomb lies behind us. Let us proceed in the peace of Christ into His life.