Saturday, April 19, 2014

A great Holy Saturday poem

This poem, "Limbo", by Sister Mary Ada, from THE MARY BOOK, a collection edited by F.J. Sheed, is always good to read on Holy Saturday. The entire book is available HERE

The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred
All souls.
They wondered if they dreamed –
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses, standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed
Or apple trees
All blossom-boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.

And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that He wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung
None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song,
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue –
Not any other.
Close to His heart
When the embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is Your Mother,
How is Your Mother, Son?”

Friday, April 18, 2014

". . . where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet"

The widely acclaimed and deeply confronting life-size Crucifixion sculpture 
in St Peters Church, Plymouth, by Jacquie Binns, 
unveiled in November 2007. 

Anglicans should recall that the Canon of our Prayer Book Mass describes the death of Jesus as “. . . a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”, echoing the teaching of the Apostle Paul who said that “for our sake he [the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (Romans 2:21).

In his book, God is not Angry, Ian Petit OP takes us into the depth of this mystery. Having shown us how we as guilty sinners have removed ourselves from the relationship with God for which we were created, he explains what God in his amazing love has done to set us free:

“Jesus did not simply pretend to be incapable of being in God’s presence; rather, he took our sins on himself at the crucifixion and actually experienced banishment . . . The consequence of sin is more than physical death; it is a wounding that separates us from the Father.”  (God is Not Angry, Page 42)

In Mysterium Paschale, the great Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar goes even further when he says:

“Jesus does not only accept the . . . mortal destiny of Adam, He also, quite expressly, carries the sins of the human race and, with those sins, the ‘second death’ of God-abandonment.” (Mysterium Paschale, Page 90)

Balthasar then says that this

“is not an anonymous destiny that he obeys, but the person of the Father.”

The idea that the Cross is the “trysting place where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet”# is an affront to the old fashioned liberal theology that plays down the supernatural and uses the Christian faith as a collection of metaphors to “nudge us along the path towards spiritual fulfilment” - the kind of wimpish theology that that H. Richard Niebuhr caricatured back in 1937 when he wrote:

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” (The Kingdom of God in America 1959 ed., page 193)

The Bible is more realistic about human nature, more aware of the horrific dimensions of sin, and more cognisant of the mysterious demand for justice that seems to be written into the fabric of our being. It tells us that Joseph was to name Mary’s Son "Jesus" because he would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), and that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

It is authentically human to cry out for love - unconditional love. Our instincts, if not our experience of life, tell us that such love exists. We all seek it. In Jesus we discover that we are loved “with an everlasting love”. 

But - even in our post-Christian age - it is just as authentically human to cry out for justice, which is why today - Good Friday - is truly awesome. Today we stand at the foot of the cross as the precious Blood is shed, atonement being made for the foulest sins ever committed. “O trysting place where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet”.#

Balthasar shows just how central this theme is in the New Testament:

“The injustice is not cleared away by half-measures and compromises, but by drastic measures which make a clean sweep of it, so that all the world’s injustice is consumed by the total wrath of God, that the total righteousness of God may be accessible to the sinner. That is the Gospel according to Paul who sees the fulfilment of the directional meaning of the entire Old Testament in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ . . . God, as the man Christ, takes upon himself the totality of ‘Adam’s’ guilt (Romans 5:15-21) in order that, as the ‘bodily’ incorporation of sin and enmity (2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:14), he might be ‘handed over’ (Romans 8:3), and as the Life of God, which died in God-forsakenness (Romans 4:25) and was buried, to be divinely ‘raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:25). That is not myth, but the central biblical message and, where Christ’s Cross is concerned, it must not be rendered innocuous as though the Crucified, in undisturbed union with God, had prayed the Psalms and died in the peace of God.” (Mysterium Paschale, page 122)

Ours is an age when in the once Christian West many important Church leaders are so desperate for the approval of a cynical and unbelieving world that they will play fast and loose with just about anything God has revealed to us - and not just in the areas of morals and sexuality - though that's bad enough - but in terms of the basic Gospel itself. They don't understand that we do not actually help those around us who are not yet believers if we destroy the power and wonder of the Cross by watering down either the unconditional and profligate love of God that is embodied there, or the absolute horror of that first Good Friday when Jesus became sin for us, bearing in his own body on the tree the self imposed consequences of our having pushed God out of our lives. 

The following is not really great poetry, but it is the kind of prayer we should all whisper today:   

Was it the nails, O Saviour,
That bound thee to the tree,
Nay, ‘twas thine everlasting love,
Thy love for me, for me.
O make me understand it,
Help me to take it in,
What it meant to thee, the Holy One
To bear away my sin.
(Katherine A M Kelly 1869-1942)

# “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” by Scottish Presbyterian Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1868,(published posthumously).

Sunday, April 13, 2014

How do we handle Holy Week?

A thoughtful meditation for today from Metropolitan Anthony. (For details about him go HERE)

Today, on the day of Palms we stand in awe and amazement before what is happening in a way in which the Jews of Jerusalem could not meet Christ because they met Him imagining that He was the glorious king who would now take over all power, conquer and reject the heathen, - the Romans who were occupying their country, that He would re-establish a kingdom, an earthly kingdom of Israel. 

We know that He had not come for that, He had come to establish a Kingdom that will have no end, a Kingdom of eternity, and the Kingdom that was not open only to one nation but was open to all nations, and the Kingdom that was to be founded on the life and on the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God become the Son of man.

And Holy Week is from one end to another a time of tragic confusion. The Jews meet Christ at the gates of Jerusalem because they expect of Him a triumphant military leader, and He comes to serve, to wash the feet of His disciples, to give His life for the people but not to conquer by force, by power. And the same people who meet Him shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” in a few days will shout, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” because He has betrayed their expectations. They expected an earthly victory and what they see is a defeated king. They hate Him for the disappointment of all their hopes.

And this is not so alien to us in our days. How many are those people who turn away in hatred from Christ because He has disappointed one hope or another. I remember a woman who had been a believer for all her life and whose grandson died, a little boy, and she said to me, “I don’t believe in God any more. How could He take my grandson?” And I said to her, “But you believed in God while thousands and thousands and millions of people died.” 

And she looked at me and said, “Yes, but what did that do to me? I didn’t care. They were not my children.” This is something that happens to us in a small degree so often that we waver in our faith and in our faithfulness to God when something which we expect Him to do for us is not done, when He is not an obedient servant, when we proclaim our will, He does not say, “Amen,” and does not do it. So we are not so alien from those who met Christ at the gates of Jerusalem and then turned away from Him.

But we are now entering  into Holy Week. How can we face the events? I think we must enter into Holy Week not as observers, not reading the passages of the Gospel which are relevant, we must enter into Holy Week as though we were participants of the events, indeed read of them but then mix in the crowd that surrounds Christ and ask ourselves, Who am I in this crowd? Am I one of those who said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’? And am I now on the fringe of saying, ‘Crucify him’? Am I one of the disciples who were faithful until the moments of ultimate danger came upon them?.. You remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane three disciples had been singled out by Jesus to support Him at the hour of His supreme agony, and they did not, they were tired, they were despondent and they fell asleep. Three times He came to them for support, three times they were away from Him.

We do not meet Christ in the same circumstances but we meet so many people who are in agony, not only dying physically (and that also happens to our friends, our relatives, people around us) but are in agony of terror one way or another. Are we there awake, alive, attentive to them, ready to help them out, and if we can’t help, to be with them, to stand by them or do we fall asleep, that is, contract out, turn away, leave them in their agony, their fear, their misery? And again I am not speaking of Judas because none of us is aware of betraying Christ in such a way. But don’t we betray Christ when we turn away from all His commandments? When He says, “I give you an example for you to follow,” and we shake our heads and say, “No, I will simply follow the devices of my own heart.” But think of Peter, apparently the strongest, the one who spoke time and again in the name of others. When it came to risking - not his life, because no-one was about to kill him - simply rejection, he denied Christ three times.

What do we do when we are challenged in the same way, when we are in danger of being mocked and ridiculed and put aside by our friends or our acquaintances who shrug their shoulders and say, “A Christian? And you believe in that? And you believe that Christ was God, and you believe in His Gospel, and you are on His side?” How often? O, we don’t say, “No, we are not,” but do we say, “Yes, it is my glory, and if you want to crucify Him, if you want to reject Him, reject me too because I choose to stand by Him, I am His disciple, even if I am to be rejected, even if you don’t let me into your house any more.”

And think of the crowd on Calvary. There were people who had been instrumental in His condemnation, they mocked Him, they had won their victory, so they thought at least. And then there were the soldiers, the soldiers who crucified Him. They had crucified innumerable other people, they were doing their job. It didn’t matter to them whom they crucified. And yet Christ prayed for them, “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing.” We are not being crucified physically, but do we say, “Forgive, Father, those who offend us, who humiliate us, who reject us, those who kill our joy and darken our life in us.” Do we do that? No, we don’t. So we must recognise ourselves in them also.

And then there was a crowd of people who had poured out of the city to see a man die -the fierce curiosity that pushes so many of us to be curious when suffering, agony comes upon people. You will say, it doesn’t happen? Ask yourself how you watch television and how eagerly, hungrily you look at the horrors that befall Somalia, the Sudan, Bosnia and every other country. Is it with a broken heart? Is it that you can not endure the horror. and turn in prayer to God and then give, give, give generously all you can give for hunger and misery to be alleviated? Is it? No, we are the same people who came out on Calvary to see a man die. Curiosity, interest? Yes, alas.

And then there were those who had come with the hope that He will die because if He died on the cross, then they were free from this terrifying, horrible message He had brought that we must love one another to the point of being ready to die for each other. That message of the crucified, sacrificial love could be rejected once and for all if He who preached it died, and it was proved that He was a false prophet, a liar.

And then there were those who had come in the hope that He will come down from the cross, and then they could be believers without any risk, they would have joint the victorious party. Aren’t we like that so often?

And then there is a point to which we hardly should dare turn our eyes - the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God, the Mother of Jesus, silent, offering His death for the salvation of mankind, silent and dying with Him hour after hour, and the disciple who knew in a youthful way how to love his master, standing by in horror, seeing his Master die and the Mother in agony. Are we like this when we read the Gospel, are we like this when we see the agony of men around us?

Let us therefore enter into this Holy Week in order not to be observers of what happened; let us enter into it mixed with the crowd and at every step ask ourselves, who am I in this crowd? Am I the Mother? Am I the disciple? Am I one of the crucifiers? And so forth. And then we will be able to meet the day of the Resurrection together with those to whom it was life and resurrection indeed, when despair had gone, new hope had come, and God had conquered.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jesus, YHWH and Abraham

I love the Gospel for today . . . “Jesus said, 'Before Abraham was I am'” (John 8:58).

In an aricle on his blog, Multiculturalism, Religious Pluralism and The Uniqueness of Christ, scholar and retired Australian Anglican Bishop, Paul Barnett, makes some comments regarding these words. Actually, it is refreshing to read what he says in an era when even in certain evangelical circles it has become trendy so to overstate the difference between the supposed “low” Christology of the Synoptic gospels and the “high” Christology of the Fourth Gospel, as to deny that the “historical Jesus” would even have had the kind of exchange with the Jewish leaders that culminated in “Before Abraham was I am” (John 8:56). Paul Barnett writes:

The proposition of the uniqueness of Christ begins with the uniqueness of Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel. According to the Shema, God said “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”(Deuteronomy 6:4).

Yahweh had revealed himself to the people he chose in word and saving act and he was jealous for his name, forbidding the worship of other or alternative deities. That he is “one” is not a statement of arithmetic relating to an indivisible monotheism. Rather, it asserts that he is “one” in the sense that he is incomparably, incontestably unique. This is the teaching of the Law and the Prophets.

The prophet Isaiah makes a number of “I am” statements on behalf of Yahweh, for example, “I am the Lord, and there is no other”(Isaiah 45:5). Jesus, too, makes “I am” statements, apart from “I am the bread . . .” etc. It has been long-recognised that Jesus’ absolute ego| eimi statements in John relate in some way to Yahweh’s words jani hu / “I am” quoted  in Isaiah (See D.M. Ball, My Lord and My God: The Implications of the ‘I Am’ Sayings for Religious Pluralism, in One God One Lord ed. A.D. Clarke and B.W. Winter (Cambridge: Tyndale, 1991), pp. 53-71.) For example: 

"I am he who bears witness concerning myself" (John 8:18).

"Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins" (John 8:24).

"When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you shall know that I am" (John 8:28).

"Before Abraham was I am" (John 8:58).

In LXX Isaiah 43:10 Yahweh said, "I am (ego| eimi) a witness, says the Lord your God . . . that you may know and believe and understand that I am (ego| eimi)."

The author of this gospel is presenting Jesus as making claims “as if” Yahweh the God of Israel. The question must be asked, why would this author have so presented Christ if this was not true historically of Jesus’ own attitudes and teachings? The question is especially pointed when New Testament writers across the board present Jesus in this way (see e.g., “Many will come in my name saying, ego| eimi ”- Mark 13:6).

If you want to read an address Paul Barnett gave to last year’s Mere Anglicanism Conference at Charleston SC, in which as an historian he shares his confidence in the New Testament documents, go HERE

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

Regular readers of this blog will remember Father Stephen Freeman, Rector of St Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (Orthodox Church of America). HERE, from a different angle, is a reflection touching on the same passage: 

As Christ walked in the midst of the people of Israel an event that was far more than historical took place. The One who was in the midst of them is also the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Strange paradox that you should meet and encounter a person who is Himself the beginning and the ending of all things. This paradox has led to many of the more profound insights of the Christian faith.

St. Maximus, reflecting on this, said that “the Incarnation of Christ is the cause of all things,” thus paradoxically placing the cause not “before everything” but in their midst, for the one who was in their midst was “before all things.”

Christ Himself would utter strange paradoxes that were completely true though opaque to his listeners: “Before Abraham was I am.” (John 8:58)

This aspect of who Christ is lies very much at the heart of much Orthodox understanding. Thus we understand that when we gather together for the Divine Liturgy, it is “heaven on earth.” It is not a change of locations of which the Church speaks, but a change in the nature of the location in which we gather – for as we gather “two or three,” “there am I in the midst of them.” And so our remembrance uttered in that service transcends the bounds of time:

Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which came to pass for us: the cross, the grave, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting down at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again . . .

The language of the service has us speak even of the second coming in the past tense – not because we believe this is an event which has preceded us historically, but because in the presence of the Risen Christ, we stand at the end of things as well as their beginning. The Lord of time and space is not bound by his creation but raises His creation “into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.”

It is this reality that is also proclaimed by the holy icons. They are not placed in the Church as though they were a photograph album of heroes now long dead. They are instead the “great cloud of witnesses” made present to us in the image, not as wood and paint, but hypostatically (i.e. personally). Thus icons are described as “eschatological” images – images that are painted according to the end of all things and not according to the historical record. The language of inverse perspective becomes the grammar of the age to come in the icons of the Church – pointing us not to what has come and gone, but to what is coming and now is.

And the whole congregation is invited into this new existence. Baptized into the death of Christ and raised in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:3-6). It governs our actions. Being dead to this world, we forgive the things of this world (“by his resurrection” we sing at Pascha). A life lived in forgiveness toward enemies and love for all is a life that is lived in confidence that all has turned out as it is promised by Christ. Christ defines history and gives it its meaning in His death and resurrection. His sentence of forgiveness, spoken from the Cross, is nothing less than the justice of God echoing across our world. For there can be no other justice than His freely offered forgiveness. Such light may be unbearable to some, particularly if they were counting on God to smash their enemies for them.

It is to such an Alpha and Omega, such a fount of forgiveness, such a liberty of resurrection, that we are invited to draw near as the Holy Cup of the Body and Blood of God is brought forth to us. God help me to forgive all by the resurrection and to stand before the cup of the New Covenant – and in everything to remember where I am and when I am.

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18-24).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"TOGETHER" - A new newspaper, the Catholic voice in the C of E

These are really difficult times for Anglicans who believe that we are but a small part of the whole Catholic Church, and therefore unable on our own to change fundamental aspects of Church life, such as the Sacraments. Often the impression others have of us is that we are basically negative. That’s because they only come across us in synods and other forums where we are part of the battle to maintain the Faith which the Church of England claims to share with the great Churches of East and West. After all, we MUST say “no” to the creation of yet more obstacles in the way of the unity for which Jesus prayed, and for which our Church has worked and prayed for so long. 

But there’s another story, a basically untold story. And that is the life of our parishes “on the ground.” Although worn down and even ruthlessly exterminated by liberal hierarchies in other parts of the Anglican Communion, the life of real Anglo-Catholic parishes goes on in the Church of England, not just in the well-known “shrine churches”, but all over the country in villages, towns and cities. Our PEVs (“flying bishops”) and the networking strength of well established Anglo-Catholic organisations (of which there are many) means that even isloated parishes feel part of a movement, a vital stream within the Church. The youthfulness of many of our ordinands, the commitment to orthodoxy, to sacramental certainty, and to imaginative ways of evangelism, as well as the determination to survive, flourish and GROW . . . are all noticeable characteristics of our part of the Church of England. 

So, it is significant that a new newspaper “TOGETHER” has been launched by the “Catholic Societies” of the Church of England colaborating with Forward in Faith and the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda.  It is available online HERE

Congratulations to those who have worked so hard to launch the paper, especially its editor, Father Christopher Smith SSC, Vicar of St Alban’s Holborn. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Swim in that River

Ezekiel’s vision of the river of God (in chapter 47, the first reading at Mass today) has many applications, even among ancient commentators. I have often experienced this passage as a question - the fundamental question - about our relationship with God. Are we are just ankle or waist deep in the river, splashing around, enjoying where we are, but playing, and in control? God, on the other hand, is coaxing us out to where the water is so deep that it is only on tip toes that we can touch the river bed. At that point we are faced with a moment of decision. Will we shrink from the challenge to let go of our security or will we respond to the Lord? Will we go back to where we felt safe and in control,  or will we start to swim in the living waters of God’s spirit?

Using the image of the seaside rather than the river, Evelyn Underhill makes a related point:

When I was a child, we used to be taught to swim by lying across a chair on our stomachs and exercising our arms and legs in a corresponding way. It used a great deal of energy, but we ended just where we began and quite dry. When at last we were put into the sea and found it wet, salty, deep, and with no supporting chair beneath us, that correct series of movements were at first replaced by desperate struggles. But presently we found ourselves using the movements, or something like them, after all. But it was in a much less exact and deliberate way. We were swimming - badly perhaps, but really swimming!

Now many people try to learn prayer lying over a chair on dry land. They go through a correct routine, learning from a book, but end up quite dry and just where they began. But real prayer isn’t just an exercise. It is an entrance into our inheritance which St. Catherine called the Great Pacific Ocean of God. So, to continue our image, the main point is to get into some new water. What one does in it - diving, quietly floating, swimming, going on long excursions, helping others who are learning, or, while we are small, just contentedly paddling - is of secondary importance. All the accumulated knowledge about swimming is of great interest, but, until we are actually in the water, we have no right idea what it means.

Real prayer begins with the plunge into the water. Our movements may then be quite incorrect, but they will be real. If we would look on prayer like that, as above all, an act in which we enter and give ourselves, our souls, to our true Patria, our ever-waiting inheritance, God “in whom we live and move and have our being,” most of the muddles and problems connected with it would disappear. As 1 John 4 has already told us, “You are of God, little children.” This is where we really belong, and if we will only plunge in, we shall find ourselves mysteriously at home.

And this strange home-like feeling kills the dread which might overcome us if we thought of the terrific and unknown depths beneath and the infinite extent of the power and mystery of he ocean into which we have plunged. As it is, a curious blend of confidence and entire abandonment keeps us, because of our very littleness, in peace and joy. So we continue with our limited powers in the limitless love in which we are held. What matters is the ocean, not the particular little movements which we make.

(In Ways of the Spirit p.236)

And here are two other posts on the River of God:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bono - Who is Jesus . . . really?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lord, give me this water . . .

Here is a reflection on today’s Gospel from the website of Don Schwager:

Would you give water to somebody who snubbed you or treated you like an enemy? Jesus did just that and more! He treated Samaritans, the sworn enemies of the Jews, with great kindness and respect. The Jews and the Samaritans who lived in Israel between Galilee and Judaea, had been divided for centuries. They had no dealings with one another, avoiding all social contact, even trade, and inter-marriage. If their paths crossed it would not be unusual for hostility to break out. 

When Jesus decided to pass through Samaria he stopped at Jacob’s well because it was mid-day and he was both exhausted and thirsty. Jacob’s well was a good mile and a half from the nearest town, called Sychar. It wasn’t easy to draw water from this well since it was over a hundred feet deep. Jesus had neither rope nor bucket to fetch the water. 

When a Samaritan woman showed up at the well, both were caught by surprise. Why would a Samaritan woman walk a mile and a half in the mid-day heat to fetch her water at a remote well rather than in the local town?  She was an outcast and not welcomed among her townspeople. 

Jesus then did something no respectable Jew would think of doing.  He reached out to a Samaritan, thus risking ritual impurity and scorn from his fellow Jews. 

He also did something no strict Rabbi would dare to do in public without loss to his reputation.  He greeted the woman and spoke openly with her. Not only was she a woman, but an adulteress and public sinner as well. No decent Jew or Samaritan would even think of being seen with such a woman, let alone exchanging a word with her!

Jesus broke through the barriers of prejudice, hostility, and tradition to bring the good news of peace and reconciliation to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles alike. He demonstrated the universality of the gospel both in word and deed. No one is barred from the love of God and the good news of salvation. There is only one thing that can keep us from God and his redeeming love – our stubborn pride and wilful rebellion.

What is the point of Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman about water? Water in the arid land was scarce. Jacob’s well was located in a strategic fork of the road between Samaria and Galilee.  One can live without food for several days, but not without water. Water is a source of life and growth for all living things. When rain came to the desert, the water transformed the wasteland into a fertile field. 

The kind of water which Jesus spoke about was living, running, fresh, pure water. Fresh water from a cool running stream was always preferred to the still water one might find in a pool or reservoir. When the Israelites complained about lack of water in the wilderness, God instructed Moses to strike the rock and a stream of fresh living water gushed out (Exodus 17:6). Even though the Israelites did not trust God to care for them in the wilderness, God, nonetheless gave them abundant water and provision through the intercession of his servant Moses.

The image of “living water” is used throughout the scriptures as a symbol of God’s wisdom, a wisdom that imparts life and blessing to all who receive it. “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 13:14).  “Living water” was also a symbol for the Jews of thirst of the soul for God. The water which Jesus spoke of symbolized the Holy Spirit and his work of recreating us in God’s image and sustaining in us the new life which comes from God. The life which the Holy Spirit produces in us makes us a “new creation” in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Do you thirst for God and for the life of the Holy Spirit within you?

St. Hippolytus, a second century Christian writer, explains the significance of the Holy Spirit’s work in us: 

“This is the water of the Spirit: It refreshes paradise, enriches the earth, gives life to living things.  It is the water of Christ’s baptism; it is our life. If you go with faith to this renewing fountain, you renounce Satan your enemy and confess Christ your God.  You cease to be a slave and become an adopted son; you come forth radiant as the sun and brilliant with justice; you come forth a son of God and fellow-heir with Christ.” (From a sermon, On the Epiphany)

St. Basil the Great (c. 330-379) speaks in a similar manner: 

“The Spirit restores paradise to us and the way to heaven and adoption as children of God; he instills confidence that we may call God truly Father and grants us the grace of Christ to be children of the light and to enjoy eternal glory. In a word, he bestows the fullness of blessings in this world and the next; for we may contemplate now in the mirror of faith the promised things we shall someday enjoy. If this is the foretaste, what must the reality be?  If these are the first fruits, what must be the harvest?” (From the treatise, The Holy Spirit)

“Lord Jesus, my soul thirsts for you. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may always find joy in your presence and take delight in doing your will.”

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Michael Ramsey on holiness and unity

Here is a key paragraph - and a beautiful one! - from Michael Ramsey's "Canterbury Pilgrim" (p. 198) on accepting the call of Christ and depending only on his grace.

‘Called to be saints with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:2). What words those are! How they lift us out of our limitations into the supreme reality: we are one in Christ not because of our own ability to grasp things or any virtues we may be supposed to have, but because Christ has called us and we accept his call. When we say that Christ has called us we are at once in his hands, we are held by him, for him to do with us what he intends to do: for we are called to be saints. We are called to resemble Jesus, called to be moulded into the likeness of Christ crucified. That is what Christianity is about: ‘called to be saints’, says St Paul; ‘we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3.2), says St John. If that is what Christianity is about, it is no less what Christian unity is about: called to be saints, with all who in every place call upon the name of Jesus. Here indeed is a unity not made by us, not chosen by us, but created by Christ, from whose call we cannot escape. He is stronger than us, and he has prevailed. We therefore pray for that nearness to Jesus in the working out within each of us of the calling to be saints. May he who humbled himself in the stable in Bethlehem and on the wood of Calvary so humble us that something of his likeness may begin to be ours. To this he has called us, and has made us one with all in every place who have received the same call and dare not look back.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning from St Joseph

St Joseph with the infant Jesus
(Go HERE to purchase a copy)

Here is an article from the website of America Magazine, written in 2008 by Fr Robert P. Maloney, C.M., former superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, who lives in Washington, D.C.(USA), and serves as administrator for DREAM, a joint project of the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Daughters of Charity. Although Fr Maloney wrote his article for Advent, his emphasis on listening to the Word of God is just as relevant in the Lent season. 


A few years ago my sister visited me in Rome. As we toured the little chapel in the house where I lived, she asked me, “Where’s Joseph?” I was taken aback; there was no trace of the saint in the chapel at all. Later I showed her a small stone statue of Joseph in the yard behind the house (set up by one of the brothers named Joseph), which always had a candle burning before it. She was not very satisfied.

Joseph receives little attention these days, even in Advent. But if we read the infancy narratives carefully, we find that Joseph stands with Mary at center stage. In fact, whereas Mary is the heroine in Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth and childhood, in Matthew’s account Joseph has the primary role. During Advent, the church encourages us to reflect on this great man, who accompanied Mary through life. What can Joseph’s life teach believers?


Most of what we commonly say about Joseph comes from apocryphal literature, early Christian writings that were not accepted into the New Testament canon. In these stories, popular imagination fills the vacuum left by the Gospels’ lack of historical detail about Joseph with delightful tales. There is Joseph the old man, for instance. In paintings, nativity scenes and Christmas plays, St. Joseph is usually portrayed as quite old, a grandfatherly figure in the stable at Bethlehem, or an elderly man with a flowering staff or, in deathbed scenes, a grey-haired patriarch whom Jesus and a young Mary stand by and console.

Yet the Scriptures offer no evidence of Joseph’s advanced age, and they give no details whatsoever about the time or place of his birth or death. Instead, these ideas come from The Protoevangelium of James, one of the most influential of the apocrypha. Written around the middle of the second century, The Protoevangelium attempted to reconcile Mary’s virginity with scriptural references to Jesus’ “brothers.” As explanation, the writing imagines Joseph as an old widower with children who was appointed to be the 12-year-old Mary’s guardian, after a dove flew from his staff and hovered over his head in the presence of the high priest.

Nowhere has the popular imagination about Joseph flourished more than in stories about the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Coptic legends have Joseph sailing hundreds of miles down the Nile, fleeing with his family. Other stories tell of miracles that made the journey easier: palm trees bowed down to feed the family with their fruit; lions and leopards, instead of attacking them, wagged their tails in homage to Jesus. At Hermopolis, 175 miles south of Cairo, the idols of the pagan temple fell down as Joseph led the family through. Fifty miles farther south, near Kuskam—where Joseph and the family are said to have stayed six months—two robbers accosted them, but one, upon seeing Mary’s tears, repented. According to the legend, these were the robbers later crucified with Jesus; the one who repented was the “good thief.”

Art has illustrated these legends. Caravaggio’s “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” depicts Joseph holding the music as a gorgeous angel plays the violin, lulling Mary and Jesus to sleep. Filippo Lippi, Bartolomeo Murillo and Georges de la Tour painted similar scenes.

The Syriac-Arabic Infancy Gospel and other apocrypha add further embellishments to the story of Joseph’s life. Joseph the carpenter makes plows, yokes and other tools for farmers, as well as wooden beds for homes. At age 40 he marries Melcha (some stories call her Escha), and during their 49 years of marriage they have four sons and two daughters. Joseph encounters Mary after he has been widowed for one year. The annunciation takes place two years later. Joseph, it is written, is out searching for a midwife when Jesus is born.

A final apocryphal work worth noting is the fourth-century Story of Joseph the Carpenter. This tale imagines Jesus working side by side with Joseph in the carpenter’s shop and later treats Joseph’s last days. Strong and alert until the age of 111, Joseph falls ill and confesses his sins on his deathbed, where he is consoled by Jesus and Mary. Jesus then beckons the archangels Michael and Gabriel to take Joseph’s soul.


The early church rejected these texts, even though they have some value as literary expressions of the popular religious imagination. Today we too recognize that many of these apocryphal stories are much too fantastic to be regarded as historical.

Given the scarcity of relevant historical detail in the New Testament, we are left with only a general outline about Joseph. It can be argued that he was of the lineage of David, at least in a broad sense. There is evidence that he came from either Bethlehem or Nazareth. He labored as a woodworker, a trade in which Jesus followed him. His language was a Palestinian dialect of Aramaic, though he probably knew enough Greek to bargain and write receipts in his trade. Most likely he also understood some Hebrew, which he heard read aloud in the synagogue.

According to the New Testament, Joseph became legally betrothed to Mary, probably when she was very young, which was the custom at the time. He then married her, in spite of her mysterious pregnancy, and became Jesus’ legal father. He was just, upright and devoted to the Law, but compassionate in its interpretation. He accompanied Mary during the events surrounding the birth of Jesus and into the early years of Jesus’ life. He settled the family in Nazareth. With Mary, he would have tended to Jesus’ religious education. By the time of Jesus’ public ministry, however, Joseph had disappeared completely. Apparently he had died by this time, though we have no details about his death.


Year after year the church presents Joseph as a subject for meditation, especially during Advent. Three facets of the New Testament picture of Joseph merit our attention.

First, a central Gospel theme: Joseph, like Mary, listened to the word of God and acted on it. In the Gospels Joseph never speaks. But in Matthew, God speaks to Joseph at four critical moments in the history of Jesus, and in each instance, Joseph immediately responds. When the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, Joseph receives her into his home. Upon being told he should take Jesus and his mother and flee to Egypt, Joseph leaves that very night. So, too, he later returns to Israel upon the direction of the angel. And when Joseph is warned in a dream not to go to Judea, he immediately changes course and settles the family in Galilee. His persistently faithful response to God’s commands parallels the presentation of Mary in the Gospel of Luke. Both know how to “listen to the word of God and act upon it.”

Second, in Matthew’s Gospel Joseph is brought before the transcendent mystery of God again and again, sometimes with hesitation but always with alertness, and he faces it with faith. Surely Joseph cannot fathom the virginal conception of Jesus. But from the darkness of his own limited understanding, he responds to the mystery of God with awe and acceptance, tempering his strict observance of the Law with loving compassion and bowing in reverence to God’s incomprehensible ways. He cannot possibly understand how this child, who seems like any other, could be “God with us,” but in faith Joseph abandons himself to the task of loving the child and educating him.

Third, Joseph’s life was steeped in daily dealings with the world around him; he was not set apart. Indeed, the life of the Holy Family at Nazareth was far from the idyllic monastery-like existence we sometimes imagine. Joseph was a woodworker, a neighborhood craftsman who made furniture and carved other objects, and spent time apprenticing his son in the same trade. Like many believers over the course of history, Joseph walked with God as a family man, laboring in his shop and living at home with Mary and Jesus. He combined prayer, hard work and the responsibilities of being a husband and father.

This year especially, after the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God, the church urges us to renew our love for the word of God. For Joseph, as for Mary his wife, heeding the word of God was paramount. His example challenges us to ask ourselves: Is the word of God really central for us, as it was for him? Is it water that gives us life when our hearts and minds are dry (Isaiah)? Is it a hammer to knock us loose when we are too set to budge (Jeremiah)? Is it food sweeter than honey for those times when life tastes bitter (Psalms)? Is it a two-edged sword, which when applied to others cuts us, too (Hebrews)?

Advent is upon us. Imagine how Joseph felt as the birth of his mysterious son approached: puzzled, excited, awed. Yet in his puzzlement, the word of God was his strength. Deep faith gave him light in the darkness and enabled him to see the presence of God in a world where suffering, privation and violence appeared to reign.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St Patrick - the Deer's Cry

You worship the sun that rises and sets;
I preach to you, Christ, the sun that never sets.
(St Patrick)

Many legends surround the life and ministry of the great missionary, St Patrick, who the Church honours today.  One of them tells of Patrick lighting a fire on the hill of Slane one Holy Saturday, which was a challenge to the High-King Laeghaire who was about to light a ritual fire on the hill of Tara to proclaim his authority over all. Outraged at the Christian challenge to his claim, the High-King summoned Patrick. Apprehensively, Patrick began his journey, chanting this prayer, this affirmation of faith, calling on the power of God to protect him against his enemies. In the legend, Laeghaire tried to ambush Patrick, but all he saw when he looked Patrick’s way was a group of deer and a fawn following them. For this reason, the prayer is also known as The Deer’s Cry. The hymn based on it is called “St Patrick’s Breatplate.” 

I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness
towards the Creator of Creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with his Baptism,
through the strength of his Crucifixion with his Burial
through the strength of his Resurrection with his Ascension,
through the strength of his descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels,
in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs,
in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles,
in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins,
in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun,
brilliance of Moon,
splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning,
swiftness of Wind,
depth of Sea,
stability of Earth,
firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God’’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall
wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics,
against craft of idolatry,
against spells of women [any witch] and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man’s body and soul.

Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness
towards the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ.

May thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Miserable Offenders - C.S. Lewis on Prayer Book Language and Lent (pub. 1951)

One of the advantages of having a written and printed service, is that it enables you to see when people’s feelings and thoughts have changed. When people begin to find the words of our service difficult to join in, that is of course a sign that we do not feel about those things exactly as our ancestors. Many people have, as their immediate reaction to that situation the simple remedy - “Well, change the words” - which would be very sensible if you knew that we are right and our ancestors were wrong. It is always at least worth while to find out who it is that is wrong.

The Lenten season is devoted especially to what the theologians call contrition, and so every day in Lent a prayer is said in which we ask God to give us “contrite hearts.”1 Contrite, as you know, is a word translated from Latin, meaning crushed or pulverized. Now modern people complain that there is too much of that note in our Prayer Book. They do not wish their hearts to be pulverized, and they do not feel that they can sincerely say that they are “miserable offenders.”2 I once knew a regular churchgoer who never repeated the words, “the burden of them (i.e. his sins) is intolerable”,3 because he did not feel that they were intolerable. But he was not understanding the words. I think the Prayer Book is very seldom talking primarily about our feelings; that is (I think) the first mistake we’re apt to make about these words “we are miserable offenders.” I do not think whether we are feeling miserable or not matters. I think it is using the word miserable in the old sense -meaning an object of pity. That a person can be a proper object of pity when he is not feeling miserable, you can easily understand if you imagine yourself looking down from a height on two crowded express trains that are traveling towards one another along the same line at 60 miles an hour. You can see that in forty seconds there will be a head-on collision. I think it would be very natural to say about the passengers of these trains, that they were objects of pity. This would not mean that they felt miserable themselves; but they would certainly be proper objects of pity. I think that is the sense in which to take the word ‘miserable.’ The Prayer Book does not mean that we should feel miserable but that if we could see things from a sufficient height above we should all realize that we are in fact proper objects of pity.

As to the other one, about the burden of our sins being intolerable it might be clearer if we said ‘unbearable’, because that still has two meanings you say ‘I cannot bear it’, when you mean it gives you great pain, but you also say ‘That bridge will not bear that truck’ -not meaning ‘That bridge will feel pain’, but ‘if that truck goes on to it, it will break and not be a bridge any longer, but a mass of rubble.’ I wonder if that is what the Prayer Book means; that, whether we feel miserable or not, and however we feel, there is on each of us a load which, if nothing is done about it, will in fact break us, will send us from this world to whatever happens afterwards, not as souls but as broken souls.

But are we really to believe that on each of us there lies something which if not taken off us, will in fact break us? It is very difficult. No man has any natural knowledge of his own inner state and I think that at the beginning we probably find it much easier to understand and believe this about other people than about ourselves. I wonder, would I be safe in guessing that every second person has in his life a terrible problem, conditioned by some other person; either someone you work for, or someone who works for you, either someone among your friends or your relations, or actually someone in your own house, who is making, and has for years made, your life very much more difficult than it need be? -someone who has that fatal flaw in his character, on which again and again all your efforts have been wrecked, someone whose fatal laziness or jealousy or intolerable temper, or the fact that he never tells the truth, or the fact that he will always backbite and bear tales, or whatever the fatal flaw may be, which, whether it breaks him or not, will certainly break you.

There are two stages, I think, in one’s approach to this problem. One begins by thinking that if only something external happened; if only after the war you could get a better job, if only you could get a new house or if only your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law was no longer living with you; if something like that happened, then things would really be better. But after a certain age you no longer think that, because you know for a fact, that even if all this happened, your husband would still be sulky and self-centered, your wife jealous or extravagant, or your employer a bully, or someone whom you employ and cannot dispense with, a cheat. You know, that if the war ended and you had a better job and a new house, and your mother-in-law or your daughter-in-law no longer lived with you, there would still be that final flaw in “so and so’s” character.

Perhaps in one’s misery, one lets out to an intimate friend a little of what the real trouble is, and your intimate friend says, “Why do you not speak to him or her? Why not have the matter out? They really cannot be as bad as you think.” But you say to yourself “Oh! He doesn’t know,” for of course you have tried again and again to have the matter out, and you know by bitter experience that it will not do the slightest good. You have tried it so often, and you know that any attempt to have it out will only produce either a scene or a total failure of understanding; or, perhaps worst of all, the other person will be kind and equable, and entirely agree with you, and promise to be different. And then in twenty-four hours everything will be exactly the same as it always has been!

Supposing you are not mistaken, misled by your own anger or something of that sort. Supposing you are fairly near the truth, then you are in one sense getting a glimpse of what God must see all the time, because in a certain sense He’s up against these people. He is up against their problem as you are. He also has made excellent plans; He has also again and again done His part, by sending into the world prophets and wise men and at last Himself, His own Son. Again and again His plans too have been shipwrecked by that fatal flaw in people’s character. And no doubt He sees much more clearly than we do; but even we can see in the case of other people, that unless something is done about their load it will break them. We can see that under the influence of nagging jealousy, or possessive selfishness, their character is day by day ceasing to be human.

Now take a step further. When God looks into your office, or parish, or school, or hospital, or factory, or home, He sees all these people like that, and of course, sees one more, the one whom you do not see. For we may be quite certain that, just as in other people, there is something on which our best endeavors have again and again been shipwrecked, so in us there is something quite equally fatal, on which their endeavors have again and again been shipwrecked. If we are beginners in the Christian life we have nothing to make the fatal flaw clear to ourselves. Does the person with a smelly breath know it smells? Or does the Club bore know he is a bore? Is there a single man or woman who believes himself or herself to be a bore or temperamentally jealous? Yet the world is pretty well sprinkled with bores and jealous people. If we are like that, everyone else will know it before we do. You ask why your friends have not told you about it. But what if they have? They may have tried again and again; but on every occasion, we thought they were being queer, that they were in a bad temper, or simply mistaken. They have tried again and again, and have probably now given it up.

What should be done about it? What is the good of my talking about the fatal flaw if one does not know about it? I think the first step is to get down to the flaws which one does know. I am speaking to Christians. Many of you, no doubt, are very far ahead of me in the Christian way. It is not for me to decide whether you should confess your sins to a priest or not (our Prayer Book leaves that free to all and demands it of none)4 but if you do not, you should at least make a list on a piece of paper, and make a serious act of penance about each one of them. There is something about the mere words, you know, provided you avoid two dangers, either of sensational exaggeration -trying to work things up and make melodramatic sins out of small matters -or the opposite danger of slurring things over. It is essential to use the plain, simple old-fashioned words that you would use about anyone else. I mean words like theft, or fornication, or hatred, instead of “I did not mean to be dishonest,” or “I was only a boy then,” or “I lost my temper.” I think that this steady facing of what one does know and bringing it before God, without excuses, and seriously asking for Forgiveness and Grace, and resolving as far as in one lies to do better, is the only way in which we can ever begin to know the fatal thing which is always there, and preventing us from becoming perfectly just to our wife or husband, or being a better employer or employee. If this process is gone through, I do not doubt that most of us will come to understand and to share these old words like “contrite”, “miserable” and “intolerable”.

Does that sound very gloomy? Does Christianity encourage morbid introspection? The alternative is much more morbid. Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others. It is healthier to think of one’s own. It is the reverse of morbid. It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and really to know one’s own sins is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be a first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass of unrepented and unexamined sins, lurking the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of the tooth about which you should go to the dentist, and the simple straight-forward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out.

1. The Lenten Collect is appended at the end of this paper.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This Collect is to be said every day in Lent, after the Collect appointed for the day, until Palm Sunday.

2. The General Confession at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, which is appended.

Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

3. The General Confession at the Holy Communion, also appended.

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.