Saturday, May 23, 2015

Getting ready for Pentecost

An important question from 
"A Monk of the Eastern Church"

Even in the context of the Eucharistic liturgy, the Spirit is not given only for the sake of the Eucharist itself. The purpose of His coming is to lead us into "Pentecostal life", the life of the Spirit. Have we ever taken seriously the promises of the Lord after His Resurrection, made not only to His apostles but to every believer? 

- Fr Lev Gillet, in Serve the Lord With Gladness (p. 510)

* * * * * * * ** *

Power From Above 
Pontifical Household Preacher, Pentecost, 2008 

Everyone has on some occasion seen people pushing a stalled car trying to get it going fast enough to start. There are one or two people pushing from behind and another person at the wheel. If it does not get going after the first try, they stop, wipe away the sweat, take a breath and try again . . . 

Then suddenly there is a noise, the engine starts to work, the car moves on its own and the people who were pushing it straighten themselves up and breathe a sigh of relief. 

This is an image of what happens in Christian life. One goes forward with much effort, without great progress. But we have a very powerful engine ("the power from above!") that only needs to be set working. The feast of Pentecost should help us to find this engine and and see how to get it going. 

The account from the Acts of the Apostles begins thus: "When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all together in the same place." 

From these words, we see that Pentecost pre-existed Pentecost. In other words, there was already a feast of Pentecost in Judaism and it was during this feast that the Holy Spirit descended. One cannot understand the Christian Pentecost without taking into account the Jewish Pentecost that prepared it. 

In the Old Testament there were two interpretations of the feast of Pentecost. At the beginning there was the feast of the seven weeks, the feast of the harvest, when the first fruits of grain were offered to God, but then, and certainly during Jesus' time, the feast was enriched with a new meaning: It was the feast of the conferral of the law and of the covenant on Mount Sinai. 

If the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church precisely on the day in which Israel celebrated the feast of the law and the covenant, this indicates that the Holy Spirit is the new law, the spiritual law that sealed the new and eternal covenant. A law that is no longer written on stone tablets but on tablets of flesh, on the hearts of men. 

These considerations immediately provoke a question: Do we live under the old law or the new law? Do we fulfill our religious duties by constraint, by fear and habit, or rather by an intimate conviction and almost by attraction? Do we experience God as a father or a boss? 

. . . The secret for experiencing that which John XXIII called "a new Pentecost" is called prayer. That is where we find the "spark" that starts the engine! 

Jesus promised that the heavenly Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who asked for him (Luke 11:13). Ask then! The liturgy of Pentecost offers us magnificent words to do this: 

"Come, Holy Spirit … 

Come, O Father of the poor, 
Ever bounteous of Thy store, 
Come, our heart's unfailing light. 
Come, Consoler, kindest, best,  
Come, our bosom's dearest guest, 
Sweet refreshment, sweet repose. 
Rest in labor, coolness sweet, 
Tempering the burning heat, 
Truest comfort of our woes!" 

Come Holy Spirit!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fr Arthur Fellows on the priesthood

When in 1995 I moved from the Diocese of Ballarat to All Saints' Wickham Terrace in Brisbane, Father Arthur Fellows was one of the retired priests who joined our ministry team. Ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Rockhampton on 16th December 1951, he had served parishes in Rockhampton and Brisbane dioceses, and for a time had been Queensland State Secretary of the Australian Board of Missions. Father Fellows was also Secretary of the Queensland Region of Forward in Faith Australia. Here is the sermon he preached at All Saints' to mark his Golden Jubilee of ordination to the priesthood..

It is a wonderful thing to be dedicated to the priesthood at baptism. This knowledge was withheld from me by my parents until, at the age of 25, I disclosed to my priest father the stirrings of vocation. I can still see the smile on his face, and can appreciate what it must have meant to him. That knowledge made my calling sure, and I resigned from a lucrative profession to begin an adventure in theological and priestly training in St Francis’ College, leading up to the great moment of the laying on of hands in Rockhampton Cathedral. I can still recall the weight of hands on my head that morning on December 16, 1951.


To be a priest! We don’t do God a favour by offering ourselves for ordination. No, the favour is all on God’s side, for, as Jesus said in the Gospel, “you did not choose me; I chose you.” The priesthood I have is not my own, nor is it something of Holy Church’s devising. The form and matter of the ordination service is that which the Catholic Church has seen fit to use to see that the priesthood of Christ is conferred on the deacon kneeling before the bishop, who himself looks back on the line of Apostolic Succession.

For Christ is the one and only priest, perfectly fulfilling the Old Testament concepts of sacrifice. They were a shadow, offered up by the descendants of the tribe of Levi, trying to placate God with animal sacrifices, which were unable to take away sin. The sacrifice of Jesus is the substance. 

He is the lamb taken from the flock, a male without blemish, and as priest he comes not from the tribe of Levi, but, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, he arises “in the likeness of Melchisedek . . . by the power of an indestructible life.”

All priests ordained today are made one with our Great High Priest, sharing in his priesthood. There are not two priesthoods, just as there are not two sacrifices for sin. One sacrifice has for ever redeemed the world. It is offered eternally in heaven by the one and only priest, Jesus, who is also the victim, and it is the pleading of that sacrifice before our heavenly Father which reconciles us to the Father and places us in a state of salvation. It is offered continually on earth by the multitude and succession of priests who are one with Jesus as partakers of his priesthood. In our Eucharistic offering today it is our Great High Priest who is the main actor, who uses the hands and voice of the earthly priest to make present his own sacrificial offering and his sacramental presence, for we earthly priests have no priesthood of our own.


The priesthood of Christ is sent into the world in the persons of other men. They are not merely teachers and examples, but extensions of himself in his divine mission, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me.” The function of reconciling God and man is seen on the night of the Last Supper, when Jesus uses sacrificial language in the command to “Do This.” It is seen on the first Easter night, in the commission to forgive sins. “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain they are retained.” “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” So when a priest is at the altar or sits in the confessional, he is part of the mediatorial action of Christ. He is not acting in the absence of Christ, but rather one through whom Christ himself is acting.

I recall one priest saying to me that he didn’t know what his role was in society, and I said to him, “You haven’t got a role in society, your role is within the Church.” It is the whole Body of Christ which has the role in society. It is called to be the leaven, the yeast, leavening society. It is called to be the salt, giving flavour; to be the light that shines before men. We priests are priests to the Body, in Christ’s name feeding the Body with his sacraments, teaching, preaching, shepherding, so that the members of the Body might fulfil their role as priests to the world in the scriptural sense. This means that our role as priests is a fairly humble one; wonderful, yet humble; unique, but also demanding; privileged, yet with tremendous responsibilities; for Jesus said, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.”

I was called a fool because I forsook a good job, and afterwards reflected on St Paul’s words - “we are fools for Christ’s sake.” Yet we have privileges which not even kings and presidents have. What great ones of the earth may say to another, “By his authority committed to me I absolve you from all your sins?” What a privilege it is to reconcile sinners to God! What a privilege it is to take bread and wine and through a sacramental action in the power of the Holy Spirit to give the faithful Christ’s Body and Blood! Yet there is no room here for building ourselves up. It has been well said that the priest is drawing aside the curtain so as to reveal something of God, while hiding himself in the folds.

There is no doubt that it is the quality of the priests which will determine the health of a parish. The diocese is only as strong as the strength of the parishes. How much attention then must be given to the seminaries and training colleges! The first of the Tracts For the Times in the Catholic Revival in 1833 was addressed to the clergy by John Henry Newman. “My dear brethren, act up to your profession. Let it not be said that you have neglected a gift; for if you have the spirit of the Apostles on you, surely this is a great gift. “Stir up the gift of God which is in you.” Make much of it, Show your value of it. Keep it before your minds as an honourable badge, far higher than that secular respectability, or cultivation, or polish, or learning, or rank, which gives you a hearing with the many.”


Jesus is both priest and victim in the Eucharistic sacrifice. We who share his priesthood must be aware that it involves being a victim with him. The Cross is to touch the life of every Christian, but it must first touch the life of Christ’s priests, and the flock is entitled to see in its shepherd something of what Jesus said about himself: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” Jesus also said of himself: “In truth, in very truth I tell you, a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls into the ground and dies, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” St Paul, writing from prison to Christians at Philippi, says: “If I be made a victim upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice...” So sacrifice is inseparable from the life of the priest. If it is resented, then we lose our way and fail Christ.

St Paul puts it in a nutshell in his second letter to the Corinthians (12:15) “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” How then can we set limits to our priestly life? Jesus after his baptism was presented with various ways of going round the cross. It happened to him; it will happen ] to those who share his priesthood. The Old Testament prophet cried out against the shepherds who fed themselves and not the flock. Would not the worst thing to be said of a priest be that “he looked after No. 1?” Yes, sacrifice is inseparable from the life of the priest. He must have his own wheat and grapes to be crushed, and i’ this is not visible his priesthood lacks authenticity.

St Paul, writing about his own calling, says: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” In other words, we can crack up; we can fail again and again. Our own sinful human nature comes too often to the fore. Our own frailty and fallibility is highly visible. The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the nature of our Great High Priest: “We have not a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.” In the next chapter it speaks of the earthly priest: “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.”

I have said something of the ideals of the priesthood, and much more time could be spent on that. I am conscious of the times I have failed to live up to those ideals. But it is quite another thing to lose the ideals altogether, or never to have been given them in the first place. The Prayer Book says, in the Preface to the Ordination of Priests, that “the people are to esteem in their office.” It is that holy office for which we praise and thank the Lord today, and it is that office which, in spite of our unworthiness, flaws and frailty, guarantees you a blessed sacramental union with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Always put the office on a high pedestal, but beware of putting the person on the same level. You are right to expect great things from your priests, but if you never pray for them, how then can you demand so much?

“As the seminary is, so will the priest be; As the priest is, so will the parish be; As the parishes are, so will the Church be.”

Friday, May 15, 2015

With Mary and the first Church waiting in prayer

Before Jesus entered the glory of the heavenly sanctuary as our great High Priest, the cloud taking him "out of their sight", he told his followers not to leave Jerusalem but to "wait for the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4). Then he reassured them, "You shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Clearly he said that because of the difficulty of living for him in our own strength, going forth to evangelise just with our human insights and abilities, or trying to establish his New Community, the Church merely as a sociological reality. "Power from on high" was what they needed for their mission. And it's what we desperately need, too.

So, leaving Mount Olivet they returned to Jerusalem, spending their time between the temple and the  the upper room. We read that there were "about 120" of them, not just the Apostles. This was the nucleus of the first Church. They waited "with Mary" for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them. "With one accord" they "devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14).

Our Lady's presence with the praying Church is emphasised in the Scriptures as well as in the iconography of the East and the art of the West. What was she doing there? I can't prove this, of course, but to me it seems very likely that she was helping the others prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We know that she "kept" all the things that had happened to her, "pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19, 51). 

Can't you imagine Mary calming the others by sharing her testimony (maybe even in the words of the Magnificat - Luke 1:46-55)? 

Can't you hear her telling the others that their relationship with her Son could be like her relationship with him if they will only "hear the Word of God and do it" (Luke 8:21 & Luke 11:28). 

Is it unreasonable to think of her nurturing in them the openness to the Lord in prayer so evident in her all those years before when she had said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38)? 

And then, don't you think she would have reminded them that as the promise made to her by the angel, "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," had been fulfilled (Luke 1:35), so the "promise of the Father" to them will likewise be fulfilled?

I always think of the Sunday between Ascension day and Pentecost as THE SUNDAY OF THE UPPER ROOM. I'm sure that Mary, the Mother of all her Son's people, prays with us and for us today as we seek to be renewed and empowered by that same Holy Spirit of love. 

It was the ancient practice of the Church to have a proper "Vigil" of Pentecost. Perhaps Christian congregations of all traditions could do with an all-night prayer meeting culminating in the Mass of Pentecost. Wouldn't that be wonderful!

Whatever we do, let's pray with Our Lady for the renewal of the Church, and for Christian unity. You see, Pentecost is not just about the empowerment of the Church; it is also about the unity that the Holy Spirit brings about. In fact, my heart's desire in praying for Christian unity has always been for the Church of Jesus to be fully catholic, evangelical, and pentecostal all at once, while again breathing deeply with both Eastern and Western lungs as she loves a broken and wounded world back to God. How dynamic would that be! Well, I believe that's what God wants for his Church as well, not just for his sake or for our sakes, but so that a hurting world will believe.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fr Lev Gillet's comment on the words of Jesus, "Peace I leave with you"

I have written about the late Fr Lev Gillet before, as a search of this blog will indicate. His writings have inspired me for forty years, ever since I was given his little book On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, first published in 1949. Go to the following links if you want to be blessed!

Today I share with you from the website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship a passage on PEACE by Fr Gillet, excerpted and edited from a larger work “A Dialogue with the Saviour.”  

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” Jesus gives his peace. He does not loan it; He does not take it back. The peace that is in Jesus “My peace” becomes the disciples’ final possession.

The Saviour gives his disciples his peace at the moment when his Passion is about to begin. When he is confronted with the vision of immediate suffering and death, He proclaims and communicates his peace. If at such moments, Jesus is the Master of Peace, then the strength of this peace will not abandon the disciple in moments of lesser strife.

“But I say to you, do not resist evil.” How scandalous and foolish is this statement in the eyes of men, and especially of unbelievers? How do we interpret this commandment about turning the left cheek to the one who struck the right, giving our cloak to the one who took our tunic, walking two miles with the one who forced us to go one mile already, giving a blessing to him who curses us? Have we explored the ways and means of loving our enemy whether he be a personal or public enemy? “You do not know of what spirit you are.”

No, it is a question of resisting the Gospel. The choice is not between fighting and not fighting, but between fighting and suffering. Fighting brings about only vain and illusory victories, because Jesus is the absolute reality. Suffering without resistance proclaims the absolute reality of Jesus. If we understand this point, we see that suffering is a real victory. Jesus said “It is enough” when his disciples presented him with two swords. The disciples had not understood the meaning of Christ’s statement, “He who does not have a purse, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.” What Christ meant was that there are times when we must sacrifice what seems the most ordinary thing, in order to concentrate our attention on the assaults of the evil one. But defence and attack are both spiritual.

Jesus goes out to the front of the soldiers, who with their torches and weapons, want to lay hands on him. He goes freely, spontaneously, to his passion and his suffering. Jesus cures the servant whose ear had been cut off by the sword of a disciple. Not only is Jesus unwilling that his disciple defend him by force, but he repairs the damage that the sword has caused. It is the only miracle that Jesus performed during His passion.

The example of non-resistance that Jesus gave does not mean that he consents to evil, or that he remains merely passive. It is a positive reaction. It is the reply of the love that Jesus incarnates, opposed to the enterprises of the wicked. The immediate result seems to be the victory of evil. In the long run, however, the power of this love is the strongest.

The Resurrection followed the Passion. The non-resistance of the martyrs wore out and inspired the persecutors themselves. It is the shedding of blood by the martyrs that has guaranteed the spread of the Gospel. Is this a weak and vague pacifism? NO, it is a burning and victorious flame. If Jesus, at Gethsemane, had asked His Father for the help of twelve legions of angels, there would have been no Easter or Pentecost and no salvation for us!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Athanasius on the Psalms

Today is the feast day of St Athanasius (c.296-373), the great "Doctor of the Church" who championed belief in the real divinity of Christ at a time when many in the Church were embracing ideas about Jesus not unlike the beliefs of modern liberal theologians on the one hand, and groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses on the other. (There is nothing new under the sun!) If you want a direct link to each of the chapters of "On the Incarnation", use the search facility in the sidebar.

I share with you today a few paragraphs from the letter of St Athanasius to Marcellinus on the interpretation of the Psalms. People who are new to the ancient liturgical tradition of worship, with its systematic praying of the Psalms, always them helpful. Go HERE for the full text:

Among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given.

You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.

The marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Saviour and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, and each one sings the Psalms as though they had been written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up. Not as the words of the patriarchs or of Moses and the other prophets will he reverence these: no, he is bold to take them as his own and written for his very self. Whether he has kept the Law or whether he has broken it, it is his own doings that the Psalms describe; every one is bound to find his very self in them and, be he faithful soul or be he sinner, each reads in them descriptions of himself.

It seems to me, moreover, that because the Psalms thus serve him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he sees himself and his own soul, he cannot help but render them in such a manner that their words go home with equal force to those who hear him sing, and stir them also to a like reaction. Sometimes it is repentance that is generated in this way, as by the conscience-stirring words of Psalm 51; another time, hearing how God helps those who hope and trust in him, the listener too rejoices and begins to render thanks, as though that gracious help already were his own. Psalm 3, to take another instance, a man will sing, bearing his own afflictions in his mind; Psalms 11 and 12 he will use as the expression of his own faith and prayer; and singing the 54th, the 56th, the 57th, and the 142nd, it is not as though someone else were being persecuted but out of his own experience that he renders praise to God. And every other Psalm is spoken and composed by the Spirit in the selfsame way: just as in a mirror, the movements of our own souls are reflected in them and the words are indeed our very own, given us to serve both as a reminder of our changes of condition and as a pattern and model for the amendment of our lives.

The Lord, the true Lord of all, who cares for all his works, did not only lay down precepts but also gave himself as model of how they should be carried out, for all who would to know and imitate. And therefore, before he came among us, he sketched the likeness of this perfect life for us in words, in this same book of Psalms; in order that, just as he revealed himself in flesh to be the perfect, heavenly Man, so in the Psalms also men of good-will might see the pattern life portrayed, and find therein the healing and correction of their own.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Heartbreaking discouragement comes to everyone who has ever tried to achieve anything. Coping with it is difficult, and understanding what God is really trying to say to us through our circumstances is often more so. The heroes of the Bible faced discouragement; the greatest Christian leaders faced it. Jesus himself faced it. There are times when it is God's will for us to be "in the valley", for there as much as on the mountaintops - sometimes even more! - we grow in the Lord. So, I share with you some quotes that have really helped me: 

1. From THE CHRISTIAN PRIEST TODAY (1972), by Archbishop Michael Ramsey:

Christ draws us to watch with him, and to watch will mean to bear and to grieve. As the cloud of God's presence in the tabernacle in the Old Testament was pierced from within by a burning light, so the sorrow of Jesus is the place of reconciling love pouring itself into the world, and his joy there is radiant. "Ask and you shall receive so that your joy may be full" (John 16:24): for "your joy no one can take from you" (John 16:22). "As sorrowful yet always rejoicing" (1 Corinthians 6:10): it is to this that you are committing yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, saying:

Lord, take my heart and break it: break it not in the way I would like, but in the way you know to be best; and because it is you who break it, I will not be afraid, for in your hands all is safe, and I am safe.

Lord, take my heart and give it your joy: not in the ways I like, but in the ways you know are best, that your joy may be fulfilled in me.

2. "A Prayer for the Valley" from PURITAN PRAYER (1975) ed Arthur Bennett:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, 
thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths
but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin 
I behold thy glory. 

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart, 
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, 
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, 
that to have nothing is to possess all, 
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, 
that to give is to receive, 
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime 
stars can be seen from deepest wells, 
and the deeper the wells 
the brighter thy stars shine;
let me find thy light in my darkness, 
thy life in my death, 
thy joy in my sorrow, 
thy grace in my sin, 
thy riches in my poverty, 
thy glory in my valley.

3. Psalm 142 (ESV)

1 With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. 
2 I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. 
3 When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. 
4 Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. 
5 I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” 
6 Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! 
7 Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.

4. Isaiah 40:27-31 (RSV)

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, "My way is hid from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God"? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Inspiration from St Catherine

“All the way to Heaven is heaven, 
because He said, ‘I am the Way.’" 

- St Catherine of Siena

Born in 1347, the 24th child of a wool dyer in northern Italy, Catherine was very sensitive to spiritual realities from childhood. From the age of six she could see guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected. Catherine became a Dominican tertiary when she was sixteen, and continued to have visions of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. She was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, although she had no formal education. 

At a very difficult time in the Church’s history, Catherine persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon, in 1377, and when she died she was endeavoring to heal the Great Western Schism. In 1375 she received the Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. Catherine’s spiritual director was Raymond of Capua. Her letters, and a treatise called “a dialogue” are considered among the most brilliant writings of the saints. 

Catherine died in 1380 when she was only 33, and her body was found incorrupt in 1430. Her tomb is under the altar in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome.

God created us a second time 
in giving us the life of grace

From a Letter of St Catherine of Siena to Blessed Raymond of Capua

I know of no means of savoring the Truth and living with it, without self-knowledge. It is this knowledge which makes us really understand that we are nothing, that our being came from God when we were created in God’s image and likeness; and also that God created us a second time in giving us the life of grace through the blood of the only Son, blood which has shown us the truth of God the Father.

This is the divine truth: we were created for the glory and praise of God’s name, to enable us to participate in God’s eternal beauty and to sanctify us in God. And the proof that this is the truth? The blood of the spotless Lamb. How are we to know this Blood? By self-knowledge. ’

We were the earth where the standard of the cross was planted. We were the vessel that received the blood of the Lamb as it streamed from the cross. Why did we become that earth? Because the earth would not hold the cross upright; it would have refused such a great injustice. The nails could not have held the Lord fixed and nailed had not his love for our salvation held him there. It was love on fire with the glory of his Father and with desire for our salvation which fixed him to the cross. So we are the earth which held the cross upright and the vessel which received the blood.

We who can recognize this and live as the spouse of this Truth will find grace in his blood, and all the richness of the life of grace; our nakedness will be the nuptial garment; we will be invested with the fire of love, because the blood and fire mingle and penetrate one another; it is love which has united the blood with the divinity and poured it out.

We must live in simplicity, with neither pretensions nor mannerisms nor servile fear. We must walk in the light of a living faith that shines in more than mere words—and always so, in adversity as well as in prosperity, in times of persecution as well as in times of consolation. Nothing will be able to change the strength or the radiance of our faith if Christ who is the Truth has given us knowledge of truth not just in desire but in living experience.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Our Good Shepherd is risen, Alleluia!

Jesus, the Good Shepherd - 5th century - 
in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy. 
Jesus is presented as a strong shepherd with a cross, 
leading from among his sheep.

I’m an Australian, and in many parts of Australia there are sheep. I had sheep farmers in two of the rural parishes I served. So, down through the years I have thought a lot about the sheep\shepherd picture language of Scripture, and of Jesus himself. Back in 2003 I gave this basic teaching at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace in Brisbane. It is, in fact, an edited transcript.

Click on these links:


Friday, April 24, 2015

C.S. Lewis and believing in the Devil

Some paragraphs from SCREWTAPE LETTERS:

The commonest question is whether I really “believe in the Devil.”

Now, if by “the Devil” you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. No being could attain a “perfect badness” opposite to the perfect goodness of God; for when you have taken away every kind of good thing (intelligence, will, memory, energy, and existence itself) there would be none of him left. The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God and, as a corollary, to us. These we may call devils. They do not differ in nature from good angels, but their nature is depraved.

Devil is the opposite of angel only as Bad Man is the opposite of Good Man. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.

I believe this not in the sense that it is part of my creed, but in the sense that it is one of my opinions. My religion would not be in ruins if this opinion were shown to be false. Till that happens—and proofs of a negative are hard to come by—I shall retain it. It seems to me to explain a good many facts. It agrees with the plain sense of Scripture, the tradition of Christendom, and the beliefs of most men at most times. And it conflicts with nothing that any of the sciences has shown to be true.

It should be (but it is not) unnecessary to add that a belief in angels, whether good or evil, does not mean a belief in either as they are represented in art and literature. Devils are depicted with bats’ wings and good angels with birds’ wings, not because anyone holds that moral deterioration would be likely to turn feathers into membrane, but because most men like birds better than bats. They are given wings at all in order to suggest the swiftness of unimpeded intellectual energy. They are given human form because man is the only rational creature we know . . .

In the plastic arts these symbols have steadily degenerated. Fra Angelico’s angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of Heaven. Later come the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish, and consolatory angels of nineteenth century art, shapes so feminine that they avoid being voluptuous only by their total insipidity—the frigid houris of a teatable paradise. They are a pernicious symbol. In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying “Fear not.” The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say, “There, there.” . . .

I like bats much better than bureaucrats. I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern....

On the surface, manners are normally suave. Rudeness to one’s superiors would obviously be suicidal; rudeness to one’s equals might put them on their guard before you were ready to spring your mine. For of course “Dog eat dog” is the principle of the whole organisation. Everyone wishes everyone else’s discrediting, demotion, and ruin; everyone is an expert in the confidential report, the pretended alliance, the stab in the back. Over all this their good manners, their expressions of grave respect, their “tributes” to one another’s invaluable services form a thin crust. Every now and then it gets punctured, and the scalding lava of their hatred spurts out . . .

Bad angels, like bad men, are entirely practical. They have two motives. The first is fear of punishment: for as totalitarian countries have their camps for torture, so my Hell contains deeper Hells, its “houses of correction.” Their second motive is a kind of hunger. I feign that devils can, in a spiritual sense, eat one another; and us. Even in human life we have seen the passion to dominate, almost to digest, one’s fellow; to make his whole intellectual and emotional life merely an extension of one’s own—to hate one’s hatreds and resent one’s grievances and indulge one’s egoism through him as well as through oneself. His own little store of passion must of course be suppressed to make room for ours. If he resists this suppression he is being very selfish. 

On Earth this desire is often called “love.” In Hell I feign that they recognise it as hunger. But there the hunger is more ravenous, and a fuller satisfaction is possible. There, I suggest, the stronger spirit—there are perhaps no bodies to impede the operation—can really and irrevocably suck the weaker into itself and permanently gorge its own being on the weaker’s outraged individuality. It is (I feign) for this that devils desire human souls and the souls of one another. It is for this that Satan desires all his own followers and all the sons of Eve and all the host of Heaven. His dream is of the day when all shall be inside him and all that says “I” can say it only through him. This, I surmise, is the bloated-spider parody, the only imitation he can understand, of that unfathomed bounty whereby God turns tools into servants and servants into sons, so that they may be at last reunited to Him in the perfect freedom of a love offered from the height of the utter individualities which he has liberated them to be . . .

“My heart”—I need no other’s—“showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

St Anselm: Seek the Lord

A modern (1959) stained glass window of St Anselm in Canterbury Cathedral.

Today is St Anselm's Day in the Church calendar. He was a very great Archbishop of Canterbury.

Born in Aosta in Northern Italy in 1033, St Anselm entered the Norman monastery at Bec in 1060.

After being elected abbot, Anselm became the most celebrated theologian and spiritual guide of his age. His theological and philosophical treatises and letters of spiritual friendship all reflect the motto Fides Quaerens Intellectum - Faith Seeking Understanding.

His desire to show the complementarity of reason and faith bore fruit in his Proslogion, a treatise in which he formulated an ontological argument for the existence of God that continues to fascinate philosophers to this day. His letters, written in a graceful literary style that made them a model for generations of writers, reveal a warm and generous personality.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm was an active pastor and reformer. He defended the Church of England against royal control and oppression, for which he was twice exiled by the king. In 1102 he presided over the first Church council to outlaw the slave trade. During his exiles, St Anselm continued to write, producing Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man), the most famous medieval interpretation of the Incarnation.

We thank God for his holiness of life, the depth of his divine and human learning, his political and social conscience in the service of God and man.

Here is the first chapter of his Proslogion. It is, in fact, a prayer that we might seek God and find him. It is a wonderful prayer, a prayer of great beauty and sensitivity. I have sometimes given it to people who are at the beginning of their faith journey to help them begin a conversation with God. This translation is by Benedicta Ward, from her Penguin book, The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm. (1973)

Come now, little man, 
turn aside for a while from your daily employment, 
escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. 
Put aside your weighty cares, 
let your burdensome distractions wait, 
free yourself awhile for God 
and rest awhile in him.

Enter the inner chamber of your soul, 
shut out everything except God 
and that which can help you in seeking him, 
and when you have shut the door, seek him.
Now, my whole heart, say to God,
‘I seek your face,
Lord, it is your face I seek.’

0 Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you,
where and how to find you.
Lord, if you are not here but absent, 
where shall I seek you?
But you are everywhere, so you must be here, 
why then do I not seek you?
Surely you dwell in light inaccessible – 
where is it? and how can I 
have access to light which is inaccessible?
Who will lead me and take me into it 
so that I may see you there?
By what signs, under what forms, shall I seek you?
I have never seen you, 0 Lord my God,
I have never seen your face.

Most High Lord, 
what shall an exile do 
who is as far away from you as this?
What shall your servant do, 
eager for your love, cast off far from your face?
He longs to see you,
but your countenance is too far away.
He wants to have access to you, 
but your dwelling is inaccessible.
He longs to find you,
but he does not know where you are.
He loves to seek you,
but he does not know your face.

Lord, you are my Lord and my God, 
and I have never seen you.
You have created and re-created me, 
all the good I have comes from you, 
and still I do not know you.
I was created to see you, 
and I have not yet accomplished 
that for which I was made.
How wretched is the fate of man 
when he has lost that for which he was created.

How hard and cruel was the Fall.
What has man lost, and what has he found ?
What has he left, and what is left to him ?
He has lost blessedness for which he was made 
and he has found wretchedness 
for which he was not made. 
He had left that without which there is no happiness, 
and he has got that which is nothing but misery.
Once man did eat angels’ food, 
and now he hungers for it; 
now he eats the bread of sorrow, 
which then he knew nothing of.

Ah, grief common to all men, 
lamentation of all the sons of Adam.
Adam was so full he belched, 
we are so hungry we sigh;
he had abundance, and we go begging.
He held what he had in happiness and left it in misery;
we are unhappy in our wants 
and miserable in our desires, 
and ah, how empty we remain.
Why did he not keep for us 
that which he possessed so easily, 
and we lack despite such labour?
Why did he shut out our light 
and surround us with darkness?
Why did he take away our life 
and give us the hurt of death ?

From whence have we wretched men been pushed down,
to what place are we being pushed on?
From what position have we been cast down, 
where are we being buried?
From our homeland into exile, 
from the vision of God into our own blindness, 
from the deathless state in which we rejoiced 
into the bitterness of a death to be shuddered at.
Wretched exchange, so great a good for so much evil.
A grievous loss, a grievous sorrow, 
the whole thing is grievous.

Alas, I am indeed wretched, 
one of those wretched sons of Eve, 
separated from God! 
What have I begun, and what accomplished?
Where was I going and where have I got to?
To what did I reach out, for what do I long?
I sought after goodness, and lo, here is turmoil;
I was going towards God, and I was my own impediment.
I sought for peace within myself, 
and in the depths of my heart I found trouble and sorrow.
I wanted to laugh for the joy of my heart, 
and the pain of my heart made me groan.
It was gladness I was hoping for, 
but sighs came thick and fast.

O Lord, how long? 
How long, Lord, will you turn your face from us?
When will you look upon us and hear us?
When will you enlighten our eyes and show us your face?
When will you give yourself to us again? 

Look upon us, Lord, and hear us, 
enlighten us and show yourself to us.
Give yourself to us again that it may be well with us, 
for without you it is ill with us.
Have mercy on us, 
as we strive and labour to come to you, 
for without you we can do nothing well.
You have invited us to cry out, ‘Help us’:
I pray you, Lord, 
let me not sigh without hope, 
but hope and breathe again.

Let not my heart become bitter because of its desolation, 
but sweeten it with your consolation.
When I was hungry I began to seek you, Lord; 
do not let me go hungry away.
I came to you famished;
do not let me go from you unfed.
Poor, I have come to one who is rich, 
miserable, I have come to one who is merciful; 
do not let me return empty and despised.
If before I eat I sigh, 
after my sighs give me to eat.

Lord, I am so bent I can only look downwards, 
raise me, that I may look upwards.
My iniquities have gone over my head, 
they cover me and weigh me down 
like a heavy burden. 
Take this weight, this covering, from me, 
lest the pit close its mouth over me.
Let me discern your light, 
whether from afar or from the depths.
Teach me to seek you, and as I seek you, 
show yourself to me, 
for I cannot seek you unless you show me how, 
and I will never find you 
unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you by desiring you, 
and desire you by seeking you; 
let me find you by loving you, 
and love you in finding you.

I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving, 
that you have made me in your image, 
so that I can remember you, 
think of you, and love you.
But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults, 
so darkened by the smoke of sin, 
that it cannot do that for which it was made, 
unless you renew and refashion it.
Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height, 
for my understanding is in no way equal to that, 
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth 
which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, 
but I believe so that I may understand; 
and what is more,

I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.