Monday, October 20, 2014

Love Alone - Balthasar on the true Gospel

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988) a Swiss theologian and priest (who almost become a cardinal, but died before the ceremony) was a favourite theologian of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He is considered by many to be one of the most important - and cultured - Christian thinkers of the 20th century. In fact, he is one of a handful of writers to whom I return for inspiration whenever I despair of the mindless lurching in all directions of so many modern Christian "teachers.” His writing is mystical, biblical and philosophical, with a lyrical beauty. Mind you, it can also be dense, requiring a fair bit of work on the part of the reader. But such work is always rewarded! 

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have been particularly annoyed of late by what seems to be a widespread tendency in most traditions of western Christianity, to trivialise the Cross of Jesus to the point where it is no longer the “trysting place where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet.” Balthasar provided a stunning antidote to this reductionism in his book, Mysterium Paschale, which I have written about before. His other work that is relevant is Love Alone: The Way of Revelation, from which I share with you the following beautiful and startling passage (pages 81 to 86):    

The sign of Christ can only be deciphered if His human love and surrender ‘even unto death‘ is read as the manifestation of absolute love. His task, in love is to allow the sins of the world to enter into Him who is ‘dispossessed’ out of love of God - to become the ‘lamb of God who bears the guilt of the world (I John 1:29) and my sins. 

This is the dogma - the dogma of vicarious suffering, of ‘bearing the guilt of others’ - which in the last analysis determines whether a theology is anthropological or christocentric. But for this dogma, everything can be explained on the level of a knowledge discovered by man - no matter how much historical tradition may be incorporated in it. The real ‘scandal’ which it causes is due to the fact that it cannot be dissolved by gnostic explanations; and the fact that it scandalizes us is a sign and warning that we are at the beginning of an authentic faith. For it is precisely with this act that real, unaccountable, inconceivable love begins and ends; a love, more-over, which qua love is self-evidently divine. Ultimately, only in that act, can one believe absolutely; it alone, if performed, is absolute love, love as the absolute, an incomprehensible epitome of the totally-other God. ‘And we have known and believed the love God hath for us’ (1 John 4. I6). 

If this is true, then ‘the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). Faith here means my response to the love that has sacriced itself for me. An answer which consequently always comes too late, because God’s act in Christ, his bearing away of my sins, happened before any answer was possible, before it could even be considered; hence it is the pure gratuity of the act that proves the purity and absoluteness of that love: ‘but God commendeth (proves) his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us . . . For when we were yet enemies of God, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son’ (Romans 5:8,I0). But how can an enemy be reconciled while he is still an enemy? With God, as we see, this is possible, and St Paul concludes from these inconceivable statements that by our justification through Christ’s death, which reconciled us and made us his friends, we will all the more certainly attain to peace with God through Christ’s life.

From this it becomes clear that faith is primarily directed upon the incomprehensibility of God’s love, which surpasses and forestalls our love. This is the one factual element, the only ‘that’ (Martin Buber) on which faith in the Christian sense is focused. Love alone can be believed - indeed it can and must be believed only as love. To recognise this absolute and its priority over everything, this is the achievement and ‘task’ of Faith: To believe that there is love, absolute love, and that there is nothing beyond it. To believe against all the probabilities of experience; (‘to believe against faith’ as one must ‘hope against hope’), against every so called ‘reasonable’ concept of God, that points to his impassibility or at best to his transparent goodness, but never to the incomprehensible and senseless God of the Christians. 

The first thing that must strike a non-Christian about a Christian’s faith is that it is all too daring. It is too beautiful to be true: The mystery of being, unveiled as absolute love, coming down to wash the feet and the souls of its creatures; a love that assumes the whole burden of our guilt and hate, that accepts the accusations that shower down; the disbelief that veils God again when he has revealed himself; all the scorn and contempt that nails down his incomprehensible movement of self-abasement - all this absolute love accepts in order to excuse his creature before himself and before the world. It is too much of a good thing; nothing in the world can justify a metaphysic of that order, and not therefore the sign called ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, isolated, so hard to decipher, so inadequately supported by history. To erect so magnificent a structure on such flimsy foundations is to go beyond the bounds of reason. Would it not be better to be satisfied, like Martin Buber, with the Old Testament, interpreted in humane, ecumenical terms, with its ‘open’ undogmatic faith? We should no longer need to distinguish between anthropological and theological discourse - we should have a faith identical with Jaspers’ ‘open reason’. But we should be declaring ourselves satisfied with ‘wisdom’ - we should have escaped once more by the skin of our teeth, from the absolute ‘scandal’ of the Cross.

Man is led into the open realm in which he can love by the love he believes in because he has understood its sign. If the Prodigal Son had not already believed in his father’s love, he would never have set out on his homeward journey - even though the love that received him back was beyond his dreams. The decisive thing is that the sinner has heard of a love that could be and actually is open to him: the initiative is not his; God has already seen in him the unloving sinner, the child he loves as his son, and it is in the light of his own love that God considers him and confers his dignity upon him.

No one can resolve this mystery into dry concepts: show how it is that God no longer sees my guilt in me but in his beloved Son who bears it for me; or how it is that God sees that guilt transformed by the sufferings of love and loves me because I am the one the Son loves in his suffering. That is why a purely forensic, legal justification is untenable; it is only valid in so far as it recognises that God’s love makes us into the person we are for him in the light of Christ. Attempts can be made to point out the psychological and theological stages of the endlessly mysterious process by which our representation in Christ becomes, through his grace, Christ’s representation in us, and the way in which his love for the Father and for us evokes a response from us - but these attempts reflect only fragments of the process. The deeper God’s justifying love penetrates our being as ‘sanctification’, the more it evokes and strengthens our freedom to love; it is a kind of ‘primal procreation’ that awakens in us the response of love which may be hesitant and inchoate in us but attains to its full stature through the mediation of the Son’s love (and therefore through complete faith in him). For in the Son human and divine love correspond perfectly, and this correspondence, as we have seen, he confers upon the Church in such a way that she can give birth to the Son and his brothers in the world (Revelation 12:17). We are incorporated into this ‘full measure’ (Ephesians 4:13) and to that extent our deficiencies are overcome; we are made able through sanctifying grace to bring to life through Christian action in faith, what we have seen we ought to be in God’s loving sight. The fact that the horizon of the love given to us always greatly exceeds our own, and that the disparity can never be wiped out in this life, justifies everything presented as the ‘dogmatic’ aspect of faith: it may remain immeasurably beyond our capacity to realise this love which is the truth, yet it is no inexistent ‘idea’, but the full reality from which (in Christ and the Church, his unspotted bride,) all our striving and strength stems; that is why our act of faith in an ever greater love is necessarily identical with our act of faith in an ever greater truth which we cannot understand gnostically with the help of reason since it is pure love, a gift which remains for us an inconceivable miracle.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wisdom from Carlo Carretto (4) Keeping the right perspective

Here are two more passages from Carlo Carretto's God of the Impossible. They emphasise the Christian life as a way of seeing things, a basic orientation of faith with regard to all reality.

We must make ourselves small before God, as small as possible, as small as David who believed absolutely that he could not be beaten by Goliath, as small as Joseph who never disputed the angel’s orders, as small as Mary who accepted with unswerving simplicity the improbable betrothal of herself and the Spirit of God, the incredible conception within her of Jesus the Christ. “Blessed is she who believed” (Lk 1:45): therein lies Mary’s greatness – and ours too, if we learn to believe and hope. 

There is no other test of greatness. Looking at a piece of bread on the altar and saying “that is Christ”, is pure faith. Nothing and listing all the sins of the people of God and its leaders and still letting oneself be guided by the mystery of the Church and its infallibility is a formidable thing; knowing that our bodies rot in the grave and yet believing in the resurrection of the body is a tremendous last test of life. 

The successful candidate is the one who has made himself small and does not treat God’s mysteries as though they were coins in his pocket.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One of the hardest battles in the spiritual life, perhaps I should say the hardest, is the struggle to see God in our trivial human happenings. How often we have to renew our act of faith! At first we are tempted to see only ourselves, to believe only in our selves, to value only ourselves. Then gradually we perceive that the thread of life has a rationale, a mysterious unity, and we are led to think that we meet God in its basic stages. 

Then again, as our religious experience grows, we begin to realize that we meet God not only in the big events of our lives but in all the events, however small and apparently insignificant. 

God is never absent from our lives, He cannot be, because “in Him we live, and move, and exist” (Acts 17:28). But it requires so much effort to turn this truth into a habit! 

We need repeated acts of faith before we learn to sail with confidence on the “immense and endless sea” which is God (St. Gregory Nazianzen), knowing that if we founder we do so in Him, the divine, eternal, ever-present God. How fortunate we are if we can learn to navigate our frail craft on this sea and remain serene even when the storm is raging! 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Response from Credo Cymru (Forward in Faith, Wales) to the Bishops’ Code of Practice of September 2014 14 Oct 2014

Among those churches of the Anglican Communion that are in a perilous state is the Church iin Wales. A particular feature of such churches is their “go it alone” attitude towards embracing every liberal protestant development that comes along, regardless of the discernment of the rest of the Church Catholic, East and West, of which our formularies say we are part. The “provision” being made by the Church of England for those women and men who in conscience are unable to say that women legally ordained are in fact priests or bishops is meagre enough. But the Church of Wales “Bishops’ Code of Practice” - as it stands so far - offers significantly less, resulting in the following response, which is a consise and helpful outline of our position:  

1. The Code enunciates principles, several of which are welcome to us and reflect some things we said in our submission. These state that the Bench wishes every member of the Church in Wales to feel valued and included in the life of the church, and for all legitimate varieties of churchmanship to flourish. Those who cannot accept that the ordination of women as bishops and priests are explicitly recognised as adhering to an acceptable interpretation of the Anglican heritage. However, the meagre nature of the concrete provision made comes then as an entire non sequitur; it simply does not achieve the apparently avowed end of enabling Traditionalists to flourish. There is a clear discontinuity between the initial principles and the actual provision.

2. We cannot accept that the Code as it stands is the last word on the matter. Fortunately the Code itself does not claim to be such. If it were, we would be unable to recommend that the members of Credo Cymru should continue their Christian life within the fellowship and structures of the Church in Wales. We would have sadly to express the conclusion that fully orthodox and catholic life could no longer be lived out under these circumstances, and that our members might well be advised to seek an alternative spiritual home within which to continue their Christian pilgrimage.

3. The Bench of Bishops of the Church in Wales should realise one fact, however unwelcome. If we are correct in believing that in the purpose of God the orders of bishop and priest ought not to be conferred on women (and, of course, we for our part recognise that that is a big ‘if viewed from the bishops’ perspective), then there is no bishop currently on the bench who is acting as an orthodox and catholic bishop should act. That is a large part of our problem. To offer any male bishop as a grudging sacramental stand-in for a female diocesan hardly meets our need to relate to a bishop whom we can recognise as being in the Great Tradition of the Church. It is not true to state, as the Presidential Address did, that we accept only bishops who happen to agree with our own views when, of course, it is the relationship to historic orthodoxy in which bishops stand, and not their ‘views’, which gives rise to the request for alternative episcopal oversight and care. It is quite improper to impute to a minority views which they do not hold and then to decline a request on the basis that those views are ‘uncatholic’.

4. As presented, the Code of Practice is seriously inadequate for Traditionalists who, in conscience, are unable to accept the ministry of women as bishops. We can only conclude from this that the Bench of Bishops have a fundamental difficulty in understanding our theological position.

5. At the least, Traditionalist members of the Church in Wales are going to have to look to bishops outside the current bench as the true pastors of their souls and as their link with continuing apostolicity. 

6. In view of the declining membership of the Church in Wales, perhaps we should all consider the real possibility that our Church currently stands under divine judgement, and that the unrelenting trend towards secular modernity in recent years has simply not benefitted us in any obvious way. These appear to us to have been years in which little serious attention has been given to the divine Word and the Tradition. To plunge on in the same unchecked direction might quite simply be disastrous.

8 October 2014

Wisdom from Carlo Carretto (3) - his testimony

Dear friends, I am so glad that many of you visit my blog each day. I know that sometimes you are so busy that the best you can do is to read quickly through whatever is there, or even just glance at it to see if anything of interest jumps out at you. 

Today, however, I would like you to find time to read this passage from Carlo Carretto (In Search of the Beyond) in a contemplative way. Those of you who are not Christians might begin to understand us. Those who focus just on the Church's institutionality with all of its scandals and evil might begin to see why we remain. And those who have not been to the foot of the Cross for some time might just experience a little renewal of love for the Saviour.

Jesus As The Truth and The Sacrament

I began to know Jesus as soon as I accepted Jesus as the truth; I found true peace when I actively sought his friendship; and above all I experienced joy, true joy, that stands above the vicissitudes of life, as soon as I tasted and experienced for myself the gift he came to bestow on us: eternal life.

But Jesus is not only the Image of the Father, the Revealer of the dark knowledge of God. That would be of little avail to me in my weakness and my sinfulness: he is also my Saviour.

On my journey towards him, I was completely worn out, unable to take another step forward. By my errors, my sinful rebellions, my desperate efforts to find joy far from his joy, I had reduced myself to a mass of virulent sores which repelled both Heaven and Earth.

What sin was there that I had not committed? Or what sin had I as yet not committed simply because the opportunity had not come my way?

Yet it was he, and he alone, who got down off his horse, like the good Samaritan on the way to Jericho; he alone had the courage to approach me in order to staunch with bandages the few drops of blood that still remained in my veins, blood that would certainly have flowed away, had he not intervened.

Jesus became a sacrament for me, the cause of my salvation, he brought my time in hell to an end, and put a stop to my inner disintegration. He washed me patiently in the waters of baptism, he filled me with the exhilarating joy of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, he nourished me with the bread of his word. Above all, he forgave me, he forgot everything, he did not even wish me to remember my past myself.

When, through my tears, I began to tell him something of the years during which I betrayed him, he lovingly placed his hand over my mouth in order to silence me. His one concern was that I should muster courage enough to pick myself up again, to try and carry on walking in spite of my weakness, and to believe in his love in spite of my fears. But there was one thing he did, the value of which cannot be measured, something truly unbelievable, something only God could do.

While I continued to have doubts about my own salvation, to tell him that my sins could not be forgiven, and that justice, too, had its rights, he appeared on the Cross before me one Friday towards midday.

I was at its foot, and found myself bathed with the blood which flowed from the gaping holes made in his flesh by the nails. He remained there for three hours until he expired.

I realized that he had died in order that I might stop turning to him with questions about justice, and believe instead, deep within myself, that the scales had come down overflowing on the side of love, and that even though all, through unbelief or madness, had offended him, he had conquered for ever, and drawn all things everlastingly to himself.

Then later, so that I should never forget that Friday and abandon the Cross, as one forgets a postcard on the table or a picture in the worn-out book that had been feeding one’s devotion, he led me on to discover that in order to be with me continually, not simply as an affectionate remembrance but as a living presence, he had devised the Eucharist.

What a discovery that was!

Under the sacramental sign of bread, Jesus was there each morning to renew the sacrifice of the Cross and make of it the living sacrifice of his bride, the church, a pure offering to the Divine Majesty.

And still that was not all.

He led me on to understand that the sign of bread testified to his hidden presence, not only during the Great Sacrifice, but at all times, since the Eucharist was not an isolated moment in my day, but a line which stretched over twenty-four hours: he is God-with-us, the realization of what had been foretold by the cloud that went before the people of God during their journey through the desert, and the darkness which filled the tabernacle in the temple at Jerusalem.

I must emphasize that this vital realization that the sign of bread concealed and pointed out for me the uninterrupted presence of Jesus beside me was a unique grace in my life. From that moment he led me along the path to intimacy, and friendship with himself.

I understood that he longed to be present like this beside each one of us.

Jesus was not only bread, he was a friend.

A home without bread is not a home, but a home without friendship is nothing.

That is why Jesus became a friend, concealed under the sign of bread. I learned to stay with him for hours on end, listening to the mysterious voices that welled up from the abysses of Being and to receive the rays of that light whose source was in the uncreated light of God.

I have experienced such sweetness in the eucharistic presence of Christ.

I have learned to appreciate why the saints remained in contemplation before this bread to beseech, to adore, and to love.

How I wish that everyone might take the Eucharist home, and having made a little oratory in some quiet corner, might find joy in sitting quietly before it, in order to make his dialogue with God easier and more immediate, in intimate union with Christ.

But still that was not enough.

Jesus did not overcome the insuperable obstacle presented by the divinity and enter the human sphere simply to be our Saviour. Had that been all, his work would have remained unfinished, his mission of love unfulfilled.

He broke through the wall surrounding the invisible, and came down into the visible world to bear witness to “the things that are above,” to reveal to us “the secrets of his Father’s house,” to give us in concrete form what he called eternal life.

What exactly is it, this famous “eternal life?”

He himself defined it in the Gospel: “And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)  So eternal life is, first and foremost, knowledge. It is a matter of knowing the Father, knowing Jesus. But it is not a question of any external, historical, analogical knowledge which we could more or less imagine, possess perhaps, even now; it is rather a question of real, supernatural knowledge which, although it is still surrounded here by the darkness of faith, is already the same as the knowledge we will have when the veil is torn aside and we see God face to face. It is a question of knowing God as he is, not as he may appear to us or as we may imagine him. This is the heart of the mystery I have tried to describe as the beyond, and which is the key to the secret of intimacy with God and the substance of contemplative prayer.

In giving us “eternal life,” Jesus gives us that knowledge of the Father which is already our first experience of living, here on Earth, the divine life; which is a vital participation, here and now, in the family of God; and which means that while we remain sons of man, we are at the same time sons of God.

Jesus is the Image of the Father, the center of the universe and of history.

Jesus is our salvation, the radiance of the God we cannot see, the unquenchable fire of love, the one for whom the angels sigh, the Holy one of God, the true adorer, the eternal High Priest, the Lord of the Ages, the glory of God.

Jesus is also our brother, and as such he takes his place beside us, to teach us the path we must follow to reach the invisible. And to make sure that we understand, he translates into visible terms the invisible things he has seen – as man he acts as God would act; he introduces the ways of the family of God on to the Earth and into the family of man.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wisdom from Carlo Carretto (2)

These snippets are typical of Carlo Carretto at his best. Simple, yet truly profound.


Prayer is not so much a matter of talking as listening; contemplation is not watching but being watched. On the day when we realize this, we will have entered finally into possession of the truth, and prayer will have become a living reality. To be watched by God: that is how I would define contemplation, which is passive rather that active, more a matter of silence than of words, of waiting rather than of action. What am I before God? If He shuts, no one opens, and if He opens, no one shuts. He is the active principle of love, He is before all, He is the one who makes within me His own prayer, which then becomes my prayer . . . It was He who sought me in the first place, and it is He who continues to seek me.  (From God of the Impossible)

Personal prayer is the meeting place between the Eternal One and me; the Blessed Sacrament is the visible sign of my covenant with him.  That is why I believe in personal prayer, and why every day I wait to meet him in the Eucharist. To pray means to wait for the God who comes. Every prayer-filled day sees a meeting with the God who comes; every night which we faithfully put at his disposal is full of his presence.  And his coming and his presence are not only the result of our waiting or a prize for our efforts: they are his decision, based on his love freely poured out. His coming is bound to his promise, not to our works or virtue.  We have not earned the meeting with God because we have served him faithfully in our brethren, or because we have heaped up such a pile of virtue as to shine before Heaven. God is thrust onward by his love, not attracted by our beauty.  He comes even in moments when we have done everything wrong, when we have done nothing . . . when we have sinned. (From The God Who Comes)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wisdom from Carlo Carretto (1)

Carlo Carretto (1910–1988) was an Italian spiritual writer inspired by Charles de Foucauld and others who have sought God in simplicity and solitude. He was a school teacher, and a worker with Catholic Action. Between 1954 and 1964 he lived as a hermit in the Sahara desert, settling eventually in Spello, Italy, where for the rest of his life he was a hermit and spiritual director. The English translations of his books became very popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Over the next few days I will share with you some passages from them. 


FAITH is neither a feeling nor a mental process; it is an act of self-surrender in the dark to a God who is indeed darkness as far as our human nature is concerned. And He is darkness not because of an absence of light, but rather because we are overwhelmed by the reverberations of a light to which we are yet unaccustomed, here in the restricted world of our own unfolding history. 

The area in which reason and faith operate, and in which there is an interplay of light and shadow belonging to the two clearly distinct worlds, the visible and the invisible, is a terribly complex one. When the light which emanates from the cloud of unknowing reaches the earth on which we are journeying, it forms, as it were, a mist (St. Paul) which surrounds everything and forces us to feel our way (Acts), putting us on our guard and inducing within us a continual state of anxious expectation. 

An expectation which obliges us to fix our gaze on what lies ahead, and gives us a glimpse of the unexpected patch of sunlight which is to come. And it is on this uneven terrain that, sooner or later, God will be waiting for us, as He waited for Abraham, as He waited for Moses, as He waited for Job.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Newman's most brilliant paragraph . . ."

As the 9th October is John Henry Newman's day in the Church's calendar, it is good to remember that even during his Anglican years Newman regarded the popular exhibitions of devotion that so scandalized English Protestant visitors to the Continent, even with corruptions of “excess” or “superstition”, were preferable to the arid indifference of the English laity and clergy.  After all, as Newman puts it, these devotions to Our Lady derived from the real (versus notional) idea that she was the Mother of God.

Later in his life, towards the end of his famous “Letter to Dr. Pusey” (p. 86) Newman addresses this theme in what I have heard called the most brilliant paragraph of all his work:

“And did not the All-wise know the human heart 
when He took to Himself a Mother?  
Did He not anticipate our emotion 
at the sight of such an exaltation 
in one so simple and so lowly?  
If He had not meant her to exert 
that wonderful influence in His Church, 
which she has in the event exerted, 
I will use a bold word, 
He it is who has perverted us.  
If she is not to attract our homage, 
why did He make her solitary in her greatness 
amid His vast creation?  
If it be idolatry in us to let our affections respond to our faith, 
He would not have made her what she is, 
or He would not have told us that He had so made her; 
but, far from this, 
He has sent His Prophet to announce to us, 
‘A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, 
and they shall call His name Emmanuel,’ 
and we have the same warrant for hailing her as God’s Mother, 
as we have for adoring Him as God.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How to pray the Rosary - for beginners.

Today's feast of "Our Lady of the Rosary" reminds us of the generations of Christians who have found praying the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary a helpful way of growing in a more reflective spiritual life. If you would like to learn how to do it - especially if you are an absolute beginner! - click HERE to download a step by step guide I complied some time ago.

Friday, October 3, 2014

An expanded resource - ordination of of women papers

Since I began putting this material together, readers have been very helpful, in some cases making suggestions, and in others providing texts. But many have expressed their gratitude for having this body of material available in the one place. Here is the up-to-date archive:

and related issues

FATHER DAVID WRITES: This archive of articles and links has been created because of the difficulty of finding in one place the key arguments against the ordination of women as priests and bishops. Of course, inclusion here does not mean that I regard every argument as being equally validly or useful.

This archive is constantly expanding. If you have resources to suggest for inclusion here, please send me and email:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The workers in the vineyard

A homily on today's readings from a great and inspired servant of the Lord. The late Bishop Joe Grech preached this back in 2005. (It is from the website of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bendigo (Australia). Go HERE for some info about Bishop Joe.

The parable in today’s gospel is a wonderful story, but it is also very challenging, so much so that some of the people involved got very hurt and very angry at how the master of the vineyard dealt with them. It is quite correct to have pity and be generous with the latecomers, yet it is also hurtful to be treated in the same manner after you had gone through a hard day’s work.

Let us put the parable in context. The first thing to remember is those who were employed at the very last moment were not lazy, good for nothing people. They were sincerely trying to get some work. It was a case that no one had hired them before the very last hour.

In those days, men gathered from early in the morning in the market place hoping to get a day’s work from any employer who might turn up. It is conceivable to imagine that all sorts of workers turned up. There were those who were really craftsmen and who had the necessary skills and tools for their particular work. There were also others with no specific skill, and who hoped to get any type of work. If an employer turned up, naturally he would just pick those with the necessary skills, those who proved to be the cream of the crop; or those who looked most promising. If this was the process, then who would be left waiting at the eleventh hour? Those who had been rejected all through the morning, those with no skills, the lowest class of workers.  Now here is the lesson. It would have been totally foreign to anyone listening to this parable to understand why the master of the vineyard treated those who were chosen for work at the last moment, in an equal manner as those who had worked all day.

This is irrational. It is not right. Yet the first reading of today taken from the prophet Isaiah has God saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways.” (Is 55:8) God thinks differently and His way of doing things is different from ours. I am sure that the people knew who Jesus was referring to in the parable. The people of the eleventh hour were the sinners and those who were not members of the chosen race. Those who had been working all day were the Jews, those who belonged to the chosen people of God. Therefore what Jesus was publicly proclaiming was that he had come to demonstrate that God is for everybody, and he desired to treat those who were forgotten in the same manner as those who considered themselves to be the cream of society. Jesus wanted to make clear that He is interested in everybody, especially in those who were confined to the margins of our society. He wants us to understand that his generosity and care extends both to the old people in the aged care facility as well as to those who considered to be self-fulfilled and in the prime of their life. He is also challenging us to act in the same manner, to remember that each person is created in His image and therefore deserves our respect and friendship and companionship.

It is not the first time that I have met people who have been away from God for quite a long time. I always try to share with them that as far as God is concerned the past is gone. What matters is to ask for forgiveness and build on the present with God.  God does not hold any grudges. We do. Very often I have heard this reply, “I would be a hypocrite if I turn to God now when I am in need.” We may act in this manner with one another. But God is different. God does not care whether you want to establish a personal relationship with Him at the very last moment. What matters is that we do when the opportunity arises. Like at this very moment. My brother, my sister, if you are in such a situation at this present moment, pray with me.

“Jesus I stand here before you. You know my past. You are well aware of where I am at this moment. I do not know how to pray but I am confident of one thing. You care for me because you died for me. Bless me at this moment. Put your hands around my heart. Heal me.  Make me feel your presence. Make me feel your love. I trust you. Thank you for thinking about me. Thank you that you are very generous with me.” Amen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

St Theodore of Tarsus: The Syrian Archbishop of Canterbury

In the Church calendar, today we remember Theodore of Tarsus, a monk nominated by Pope Vitalian as the sixth Archbishop of Canterbury. Theodore’s native language was Greek and he was born in Syria. Theodore had been educated in Athens and took monastic vows before travelling to Italy. Very quickly he became a scholar of repute in Rome. 

He was ordained priest and bishop in order to be sent to Canterbury, arriving in 669. Within three years, following visitations to most parts of the country, he called the first synod of the Anglo-Saxon Church at Hertford (672) with the purpose of healing the rift that had occurred between bishops identifying chiefly with Rome and bishops based in monasteries after the Celtic pattern. He was the last foreign missionary to occupy the metropolitan See. 

According to Bede, he was the first Archbishop able to earn the respect, loyalty and obedience of all English Christians, and it is sometimes said that this was the greatest influence in the creation of a uniquely English Church. He brought about the system of parochial organisation which to this day is the hallmark of English Christianity. He established a school at Canterbury where many great leaders and saints of the English church were educated. 

Theodore died at the age of 87 and was laid to rest at the side of St. Augustine in Canterbury. This aged prelate from distant shores had won the affection and esteem of the people of the whole land. St. Bede says of him that he was the first Archbishop of Canterbury willingly obeyed by all of Anglo-Saxon England. 

On April 5, 2013, Fr. James Early presented a paper at the International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Thought at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, USA. The topic of Fr. James’ paper was “Theodore of Tarsus: The Syrian Archbishop of Canterbury.” Go HERE to listen to Fr Early’s lecture.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Marcus Loane on spiritual warfare

Don’t we hate it when (in the words of the hymn) “the strife is fierce, the warfare long” and we “feebly struggle”, not always hearing “the distant triumph song”?

One of the great things about the Prayer Book baptismal rite is that it leaves us in no doubt that in becoming Christians we enlist in an army in which we fight “against sin, the world and the devil.” Of course, as with Jesus, our weapon is love. But the battle is fierce, because the enemy is out to destroy what God is doing (just remember 1 Peter 5:8-9 from the old service of Compline!). I fear that underlying some of the changes people want the Church to embrace in our age is a sense of outrage that life should involve any kind of struggle at all . . . especially in the area of our deep seated desires. Well, we signed up for the struggle in our baptism. Sometimes the struggle is within; sometimes we are called on to stand for the gospel values of truth and justice in the public square; sometimes we are called to endure persecution, in a very real way “sharing the fellowship of [Jesus’] sufferings (Philippians 3:10). But we cannot airbrush out of ordinary Christian living the struggle of faith. 

It does help when we understand just who our adversary is.

Today we continue with the handful of quotes I have from Marcus Loane’s books. In Grace and the Gentiles (page 110) Sir Marcus deals with the spiritual warfare that everyone who follows Jesus experiences in one way or another:  

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.(Eph. 6:10-13 A.V.) 

“There is a marked pause at the end of the long and salutary passage on home relationships; then Paul called on his scribe once more and the Letter was brought to a close with a call to arms. He knew that, just like the ancient Spartans, we were born for battle: therefore we must learn to ‘endure hardness’ as good soldiers of Christ (2 Tim. 2:3 A.V.). We have to live on ground where we will be under attack; it is like a camp in hostile country which must be held until the Captain returns in triumph. Attacks are launched against it by unseen adversaries, for the devil is in command of a vast host. He is always a most aggressive enemy, and that host is skilfully organised for war without quarter. No true soldier of Christ will be immune from its assaults, nor can he be neutral in that conflict. The battle field is overhung with clouds, and he will be forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat. But each member of that beleaguered garrison can stand fast and prevail, because there are sources of strength available in Christ which can make them invincible.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Marcus Loane: When all human strength turns into weakness

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of feedback from yesterday’s post on Archbishop Marcus Loane. So, I will share with you over the next few days the handful of quotations I have from his writings. They are rich fare. Today’s is from his 1968 book, The hope of glory: an exposition of the eighth chapter in the ‘Epistle to the Romans.’

We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.  (Romans 8:22-27)

Archbishop Loane writes:

“St Paul strove to pile one reason for confidence on another: as hope sustains the sons of God, so the Spirit helps them in their weakness. He does not remove the cause of groaning, but He does support them in their travail. He is ready to help like an unseen friend who stands by their side and takes their hand into his own firm clasp . . . The deep inward longing of a man’s heart may be hard to define in words, and he may be keenly aware of the lack of coherent utterance. If the world of nature groans in travail, can the children of God escape from its manifold suffering? No, they cannot; but the Spirit Himself will draw near to impart strength to their soul even when they falter so much that they do not know how to pray. It is in such an hour of felt weakness that the Holy Spirit draws near to act for us in grace: but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (R.V). There are crises in life when all human strength turns into weakness; it is then that, left to ourselves, we find that we do not even know how to pray. But the Holy Spirit is the divine source and spring of intercession in our inmost being and He moves in the soul in such a way that His mysterious groaning mingles with ours.” 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Marcus Loane on compassionate preaching

The bishop at whose hands I was confirmed was Marcus Loane (1911-2009). He was to become Archbishop of Sydney. (Fifty years later, I still vividly remember his sermon from my Confirmation day.) Sir Marcus was in every way a “Reformation man”, who nonetheless as Primate of the Australian Church showed great respect for those Anglo-Catholics he felt were Christ-centred and who preached the Gospel. He was a particular friend of the Anglo-Catholic Archbishop Philip Strong - a friendship that went back to World War II, when Loane served as an army chaplain in Papua New Guinea. During his 97 years Archbishop Loane wrote many books and articles, including biographies of evangelical leaders. In They Were Pilgrims, Loane tells the story of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843) a minister in the Church of Scotland who, though he died at the age of 30, had made a big impact on the lives of many. This quote from the book reveals as much about Sir Marcus as it does about McCheyne:

“The secret of his success . . . was his faithfulness to the Word of God with tenderness for the souls of men. He went about his work with an air of reverence which made men feel that the majesty of God was in his heart. There were few who could exhort the guilty in more searching or tremendous terms; there were few who could address the troubled in more gentle or persuasive terms. Andrew Bonar once told him how he had chosen for a text the words with regard to the doom of those who forget God and are sent to hell (Psa. 9:17). M’Cheyne at once asked him:’Were you able to preach it with tenderness?’ He knew that there is an enormous difference between a voice that scolds and a heart that yearns . . . It is not by threats and thunder, but by love and pathos that hearts are made to melt; it is not by words that scorch and condemn, but by a heart that bleeds to bless that souls are won. M’Cheyne himself preached on eternal destiny as one whose heart was wrung with a sense of anguish. He did not spare his hearers a word of truth; still less did he spare his own feelings a stab of pain . . . J. H. Jowett once said that his seventies were terrific because they were so tender . . . Both the motive and the power in all such preaching may be discerned in his sermon as a broken heart and contrite spirit. ‘It is not’, he said, ‘a look into your own heart, or the heart of hell, but into the heart of Christ, that breaks the heart. Oh, pray for this broken heart!’”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fr Hunwicke on post-enlightenment Biblical Criticism

Father John Hunwicke, now a priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, is always worth reading and listening to. His blog is HERE.

This video, a lecture he recently gave, will confirm your worst suspicions of the sceptical Biblical Studies industry, the prejudices of which are fundamental supports to the theological direction a lot of insiders want to push Christianity in the contemporary world.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When the storm comes

Jesus and the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (Rembrandt)

A little talk from a retreat of a few years ago . . . 

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)

The Sea of Galilee is a large inland lake, about thirteen miles long and seven miles wide. The Jordan River flows through it from north to south, and the fishing and farming businesses it supported were famous in ancient times. Important trade routes passed along the lake’s western shore giving rise to a bustling multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, society. Just the right sort of area for Jesus to reach out to the crowds. The region could even be called “Galille of the Gentiles.” The towns of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Tiberias, where Jesus spent a lot of his time, were there. 

The lake itself is 700 feet below sea level, surrounded by plateaus. Sometimes the air pressure changes dramatically without warning. When this happens huge gale-force winds sweep down, and the kind of unexpected storm described in our reading is the result.

Jesus was exhausted.

He had poured himself out in ministry to the crowds. As the day was ending he answered even more questions and helped even more people understand the ways of God. Eventually he called out to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side.” That meant sailing thirteen miles to the region of Gadara. It would be long enough for him to have a decent sleep in the back of the boat.

Now, these disciples were professional fishermen, highly skilled with boats. Every day they were on this lake casting their nets. Nobody knew more about boats or about the Galilee lake than they did. They could handle storms. 

But this was no ordinary storm. They’d never seen anything like it. The waves kept crashing over the boat, pounding it, shaking it with enormous force. 

These tough experienced fishermen were gripped by fear. They lost their nerve. They imagined the worst.

They looked around to see where Jesus was.

After all, it was his fault. It was Jesus who had sent them out across the lake. It was he who had kept them standing there while he insisted on talking with people until the sun went down. They had warned him about the night-time squalls on the lake. Where was Jesus now?

To put it mildly, they were not happy to see that he was at the back of the boat, sleeping on a cushion. (I wonder if he was snoring!)

Sleeping! On a cushion! The boat looked as if it would sink, and Jesus was sleeping on a cushion! Could he really be so tired as to sleep through the storm and their fear?

So they woke him up. “Don’t you care if we drown?” They were so upset that he wasn’t panicking. 

After all he had done for them, they actually accused him of not caring about them. Full of fear in the midst of the raging storm, they vented their anger at him.

Haven’t you done that? I must confess that I have. When there is a real crisis, our anger boils over and we have to find someone to blame for our problems – even the Lord. (Especially the Lord!)  Those disciples were like you and me. When they came to Jesus they didn’t ask him what to do, or even to help. They just accused him of not caring about them.

Maybe they thought that because they were with Jesus, everything should be just fine all the time. Who hasn’t thought like that at some stage or another! Then things go wrong, maybe at work, in the family, at church, among our friends, with our finances, or perhaps our health breaks down. We get disillusioned. (What actually happens is that God lets us see how spiritually immature we really are.)

We forget that in the story of the two house builders (you know – the wise man who built his house on the rock, and the foolish man who built his house on the sand) Jesus didn’t say to those who followed him “IF” the storms come. He said “WHEN” the storms come.

Look at the passage again. Jesus dealt with the storm. How did he do it? He just spoke the words, “Peace, be still.” Then there was calm. It says that the disciples were now “in awe” of him. Why was that? I’ll tell you why. It was because in the amazing picture language of their Jewish Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) it is God alone who has the power to subdue the raging seas (Psalm 89:9, 93:4, 107:28-29). 

And, of course, he also stilled the storm in their hearts. 

We are all in the same boat. Sooner or later we are battered by storms of one kind or another. Every storm tests our faith in God; every crisis reveals whether or not we have learned to trust him.

Jesus has promised to stay with us, even - especially - in the midst of the storms that threaten to wipe us out. He loves us with an everlasting love. We can trust his love. We might be shaken to the depth of our beings. Sometimes there are beautiful friends who help get us through. But every now and then we are alone, even in a crowd. So alone . . . except for Jesus. Let’s turn to him, and call out to him in our distress. Let’s trust in his love. Let’s remember the frightened disciples on the evening of Easter Day when Jesus appeared in their midst, stretched his nail-pierced hands and gave them his peace. 

“Peace, be still!” He still speaks. He still sends out his Word. His Word still subdues the storm and heals us on the inside.

We know who he is. If we trust him and hang on, no matter how bad things are, his peace – that wonderful supernatural gift of his – the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) – will protect us and keep us sane, for it is still a “peace that the world cannot give” (John 14:27).

Thank you, Lord. Amen.