Friday, January 30, 2015

Charles Stuart, King and Martyr

Painting by Ernest Crofts of King Charles
being led to his execution (London, UK, 1901)

“Charles did not want to die; he had much to live for. He was very much in love with his wife, Henrietta Maria, and she with him. He was devoted to her and to his six children-three sons and three daughters. It was a happy family which lived high moral lives in an era when the royal families in Europe lived dissolute lives. The importance of Charles I is the fact that he had a choice. The Puritans had offered to save his life if he would renounce the throne, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Church of England. Charles refused! Instead he lay down his life for the principles in which he believed. By his death he saved the Episcopate, and thus the Church of England.”

- From a paper given to the American branch 
of the Society of King Charles the Martyr in 2002 
by Professor William K. Tinkham

Go HERE to read an Essay on King Charles by Donald Hole, published by the Society of Our Lady of Walsingham in 1941.

Go HERE to read an Address given by Professor David Flint at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, on this day in 2000.

O God, who by the victory of martyrdom didst exalt thy Servant Charles from his earthly principality to thy kingdom in heaven;grant that we may always enjoy the effectual defence of his prayers, and live in thy peace all the days of our life; Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth one God, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

- Western Rite

O Lord God, who out of thine infinite mercy and goodness didst bring back the captivity of Sion, and in good part restore this then afflicted Church, perfect, we beseech thee, this thy great deliverance. Hedge it about with thy continual protection, with the custody of Angels, with the duty of kings and princes, with the hearts and hands of nobles, and with the affections of all good people. Re-unite all our remaining divisions and reconcile our differences, that with one heart and voice we may serve and praise thee in thy holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- from the original Office for January 30th,
compiled by Dr. Duppa, Bishop of Winchester 1661

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A 35 year old sermon - Worship and Spiritual Renewal

When circumstances forced me to prune back my possessions a few years ago, that included my filing cabinets. In one of them I had a file for each Sunday of the Church's three-year cycle, begun when I was made a deacon in 1979. Over the years, every sermon and pew sheet went into the appropriate Sunday file. Well, I had to be ruthless because of the unaffordable storage fees. So I discarded almost all of those files, rescuing just a handful of sermons preached on particularly historic occasions. (To be honest, I now regret not having worked out a way of keeping all of them.) A few days ago, however, I rediscovered the following sermon, inadvertently put with some other papers. It was preached just over 35 years ago for Epiphany 1980. 

I share it with you because, in fact, I still believe every single word in it. It's full of hope. I was not alone back then in being unable to see the storm clouds gathering over the Church (and I mean right across the traditions). We thought that he things happening in ECUSA would be quarantined there and not - as eventually happened - spread like a cancer through significant parts of the Anglican world. But God is still God. And his Church is still his Church, though she is wounded, sick and broken just at this time. Anyway, I thought I'd share with you what a young Deacon Chislett preached about the renewal of the Church in 1980.

Sermon at Solemn Evensong for the Epiphany of the Lord
Sunday 6th January, 1980  
Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney
by The Rev’d David Chislett 

When the history of the Church in our time is written, it will contain many paradoxes. Not least of these will be the fact that alongside enormous crises of faith, in society and even in parts of the Church, there have been significant movements of spiritual renewal – movements described by the Belgian Cardinal Leon Josef Suenens as “surprises of the Holy Spirit.” 

It was ever thus. Think of the early nineteenth century. Thomas Arnold spoke for most of the intelligentsia when he said that “the Church of England as it is, no human power can save.” But God the Holy Spirit, who – as we know from Ezekiel 37 – works mightily in graveyards, raised up a company of men and women whose hearts were on fire with love for the Lord and a vision of his glory, and who were, humanly speaking, responsible for the great Catholic Revival within our Church which is all about worship, prayer, evangelism and transformation of communities. 

The spiritual movements of OUR day include: 

1. THE RENEWAL OF CATHOLIC THEOLOGY that climaxed in the Second Vatican Council, enabling us to understand grace, Church and sacraments not in institutional and juridical terms, but as dynamic, personal, communal and spiritual realities. Like our brothers and sisters in the early Christian centuries, we now believe that we live under an open heaven and we know that in our gatherings we encounter Jesus who comes to us in all his love and risen power, transforming our lives and enabling us to be his witnesses. That’s what the Council was all about!

2. THE OPENING UP OF SCRIPTURE to Catholic Christians so that we now expect to be nourished at “two tables” in the Eucharist. The “table of the Word” has come back into its own alongside the “table of the Sacrament.” In urging us to read the Bible for ourselves and rediscover the power of God’s Word in our daily lives, the Council document reiterates St Jerome’s conviction that to be ignorant of the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ. Like the companions of Jesus on the Emmaus Road, our hearts now burn within us when we hear the Scriptures read and proclaimed.

3. THE LITURGICAL MOVEMENT which has expanded, deepened and enriched our worship, emphasising the one-ness of the royal priesthood with Jesus our great high priest, and with each other. We are learning that to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness – and in the holiness of beauty! – is a gathering up of the community into the flow of love between Jesus and his Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. It is not just grand and triumphant; it is also intimate and deeply personal, and is itself a sign of the new community of love which is the Kingdom of God.

4. THE RENEWAL OF THE CONTEMPLATIVE AND DESERT TRADITIONS OF PRAYER in which “run of the mill” Christians like us are rediscovering the classical masters of the spiritual life, from the East as well as from the West. We know that this is happening here because of the astonishing number of books by writers such as Metropolitan Anthony, Carlo Carretto, Thomas Merton and Catherine Doherty being sold through the bookstall in the porch.  

5. THE CHARISMATIC RENEWAL, overflowing upon Christians of many different traditions and Church communities, including the Roman Catholic Church, a movement that has so nurtured our faith to the point that we now expect the healing gifts and other supernatural actions of the Holy Spirit to be experienced within the praying life of the Christian community for the blessing of all. The healing ministry of this parish under Father John Hope was the main precursor of the Charismatic renewal in this city.

6. THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT, in which so many barriers separating Christian brothers and sisters from one another are tumbling down, and we are learning a new humility as we recognise that all the traditions – including some we don’t like – have held certain of God’s gifts “in trust” for the whole Church. This movement, emphasising the “koinonia” – “participation” in and with each other in the life of God himself – has gathered momentum from the beginning of the century, and as we pray together, work together and learn together – “converging toward Christ” as Father Harry Smythe expressed it in this pulpit – we look forward to the fruition of that unity for which Jesus prayed “so that the world will believe.” 

7. THE NEW MOVEMENT FOR CATHOLIC RENEWAL IN THE ANGLICAN CHURCH with its emphasis on theology, worship, personal holiness, evangelism and the social dimensions of the Gospel.

So, I want to ask: What is a renewed Christian? What is a renewed Church? And how does “renewal” affect our worship? I don’t think that enthusiastic participation in any of the important renewal movements necessarily indicates that we are, in fact, being renewed by the Holy Spirit. When we examine our hearts we know how even then (perhaps especially then!) it is so easy to become static and entrenched, judging everyone else by the kind of experience of his grace that God has given us. What I’m saying is that it is not “renewal” merely to move our tent along the journey a bit, set it up again, and create a new fortress around it! 

Surely, to be a renewed Christian – or a renewed parish – is to be truly open to God for him to work with great freedom and originality. Renewal is when we are so wanting God’s perfect will that we simply allow him to be God. We take the risk of inviting the Holy Spirit – “God the Disturber” as Alan Walker calls him – to come afresh in love and power to disturb US, so that we are continually open to being recreated in the image of Jesus. And we keep our bags packed from now on. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world of ours, journeying forward, the new community of his love, following Jesus wherever he might lead. And as this Pope is always telling us, WE ARE NOT TO BE AFRAID. Such a way of living is, from the human perspective, precarious indeed. But only then can we be that living sacrament of God’s love, the Body of Christ in the world. 

Of course, the amazing thing about the Holy Spirit is that – most of the time – he is gentle and docile, and he does wait to be invited. The other side of that, of course, – and this is a warning – is that he WILL allow us to completely freeze over as individuals and as a community if that’s what we really want. But if we mean the things we say in our prayers, if we try to be open to God’s disturbing love and power in an ongoing way, if we are returning often to the well to be filled with his life and love – that is, if we are people of renewal – I believe that our worship will be affected in four ways:

FIRST, WE WILL INCREASINGLY PERCEIVE WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON WHEN WE WORSHIP THE LORD. We will grow in our understanding of the real significance of worship. We will become aware at various levels of what Jesus our great High Priest is doing as he leads us in the worship of the heavenly Mount Zion. We cannot help this Christ-centred perception, for Jesus himself said about the Holy Spirit, “he will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14)

The Christian community that is truly being renewed receives from the Holy Spirit a revelation of our being united with Jesus in the heavenly worship. Our worship in this holy place ceases to be merely something we “do” on earth, or even the life of service we are living here. It becomes the gathering up of mankind, creation and all things into heaven, the “adding up” of everything into Christ, into his praise of the Father. It is a celebration of all things in heaven and all things on earth are being drawn into a unity of love through the power of the once-for-all Sacrifice of Calvary. The Church’s worship is not centred on her earthly altars; these earthly altars of wood and stone are icons of the heavenly altar, the REAL centre of worship – which is truly cosmic – in which we and all whom we represent are incorporated into the prayer of Jesus, and are . . . “caught up into the movement of his self offering” (ARCIC). This point was well made by Vatican II:

“Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is His beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the Eternal Father . . .

“In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army . . . we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory.”

This, then, is the meaning of the Mass. In his priestly love for us, Jesus “through the eternal Spirit” gathers us and offers us to the Father “with, in and through him”. one single living sacrifice of praise. This is the dynamic at the heart of a truly renewed catholic community. 

SECOND, and based on that reality, WE BECOME INCREASINGLY AWARE OF OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS WITH WHOM WE WORSHIP. This is so elementary, but it must be said, because in some Anglo-Catholic circles there is as much a “me and God” approach to prayer and worship as there is among the most individualistic protestants. Such Anglo-Catholics seem to be unaware that sacramental worship is by its very nature corporate and communal. It is in the community – even when that is just “two or three” gathered in his name – that the Lord makes his presence most deeply felt by the power of the Holy Spirit through the sacramental signs he has appointed. Praise God for the growing sense of community among us here, so that the Peace exchanged in the Mass, far from being a ritualized greeting of those we want to avoid afterwards in the hall, has become a real sign of our belonging to one another. This is in contrast to some other places I’ve been where people want to encounter Jesus in the proclamation of the Word, and to receive him in Holy Communion, but are vehemently unwilling to participate in a loving and holy acknowledgement of his real and sacred presence in each another. 

The Catholic Faith teaches us that we are a community of freed slaves who have passed from darkness to light, foreshadowed by Israel of old being freed from the bondage of Egypt. Through the living water of baptism (our Red Sea) we were joined to the new people of God journeying together to the promised land. Jesus leads us, he protects us, he supernaturally feeds us, he manifests his presence “tabernacling” in our midst. “Once we were no people; now we are the people of God.” Changing the image somewhat, it also says that together we are “living stones” being fashioned into a temple for his glory. (1 Peter 2 9 ff). So, we need each other. We are companions. You are to help me on the journey; I am to help you. You are to support me; I am to support you. Each of us needs supportive caring relationships in which our joys and sorrows can be honestly shared, for in that sharing we not only grow as human beings; we grow in God.

Sometimes, though, you and I think that if we get too close to others they might find out what we’re really like and then reject us. Of course that is the risk of being alive. Who among us hasn’t been wounded by others . . . or done the wounding? But our faith journey is all about taking risks. In one sense, the greatest risk we take is opening ourselves to God in the first place. Who knows where HE might send us, or what HE might want us to do with our lives? Being open to each other is not a separate risk; it is part of that same risk, for as St John says, it is not possible to grow in our relationship with God while at the same time pushing the brothers and sisters away from us. The genuineness of our walk with God is measured by the reality of our love for one another.

In any case, we often find that having taken the risk of opening up to others we are not rejected at all. The honesty involved in such a process is reciprocated. (Then again, on the odd occasion when we do experience rejection, we have something real to offer the Father in union with the suffering and rejection of Jesus; and it even becomes redemptive if we offer it lovingly for the blessing of the person who has hurt us!)

We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:11) and members in particular. It is as scandalous for us to gather for the Eucharist today and not discern the body as it was among the parishioners in Corinth of old. (1 Corinthians 11:29). We are the body of Christ, called into being as an effective sign of the reconciliation and love at the heart of the Gospel. We are not just an assembly of individuals. All our gatherings – Sunday High Mass, as much as weekday Masses and the Friday night prayer fellowship – should reflect that.

THIRD, WE WILL JOYFULLY ACCEPT A GREATER VARIETY OF WORSHIP AND PRAYER WITHIN THE PARISH COMMUNITY. After all, we know from our experience here at Christ Church that there is nothing at all incongruous about some for whom the beauty, mystery and transcendence of the old High Mass (which you know I love so deeply) is absolutely central to their spiritual lives finding great help and sustenance in less structured kinds of worship such as house Masses, mission services, healing services, prayer meetings, TaizĂ© gatherings, and even those huge ecumenical charismatic rallies. Human beings are frustratingly unpredictable, and each of us has been influenced by such a range of culture, music and spiritual practice, that we dare not disparage expressions of worship that demonstrably help others journey more deeply into God. So, within the general framework of our parish life, such diversity should be encouraged, even if it occasionally attracts criticism. (I was so embarrassed after the last Mary Rogers healing service when in front of a group of people who had experienced the Lord’s healing power very strongly, an extremely snooty Anglo-Catholic visitor – NOT from this parish, thank God – remarked at the “dreadful music” – he meant the singing of one of those gentle choruses while the sick were being prayed for. He went on at length complaining about the “general lack of aesthetic appeal” in the way the service had been conducted.)

In this age of ecumenism and (in many places) liturgical muddle and liberal theology, we must stand for principles that matter. There IS a danger of losing aspects of our heritage that are precious gifts of God. But we must also accept with grateful humility – as I said earlier –  that within different Christian traditions and cultures the Holy Spirit has inspired ways of praying and living that are also gifts held in trust for the whole Church – indeed, I believe, held in trust for this moment of history when Jesus wants us to be one. Furthermore, we just need to accept that not all Christians are going to find exactly the same expressions of worship equally helpful. So, in parishes like ours, we look forward to an even wider spectrum of Eucharistic and other worship to help people where they are in their walk with God, and to help them use their gifts and talents in ways that give glory to God. That does not mean getting rid of anything or dumbing down the worship we love so much; it means adding to what we already have so as to hold an even greater diversity of people together, and to reach out more effectively and in new ways into the subcultures around us.

FINALLY, OUR WORSHIP WILL PROPEL US INTO THE WORLD IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT TO LIVE AND WORK FOR GOD’S GLORY. I know that there are times of depression and stress when we drag ourselves along to Mass in order to receive the grace we need just to get through another week. (I’m not knocking, that, because in my own life sometimes that’s the best I can do!) On the other hand there is a sense in which we’ve not really understood anything about the Christian life if Holy Communion is just our shot of religious inspiration for the week.

Dr Eric Mascall wrote that 

“. . . Every time the Eucharist is celebrated, the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction which Christ offered throughout his life and on Calvary, and which is now a perpetually efficacious reality in the heavenly realm, is made a present and active power of redemption and sanctification in our world of time and space, and by their sharing in it the members of Christ’s Body the Church are sent out to their life in the world renewed and strengthened for their share in the work of the world’s transformation.” (The Christian Universe, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1966, p. 163)

We are inspired and blessed when we come to Mass, but God expects us then to go forth, filled with the Holy Spirit and nourished by the Bread of Life, to be a blessing to those around us in the Monday to Saturday world. We are called to be signs of his holiness and love in real life, and not just when we worship together here. We are called to go into our world laughing with those who laugh, weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15), and giving ourselves away for others, especially the poor and the powerless, allowing the ministry of Jesus to be continued through us. 

So many of our heroes in the Catholic Revival took up this mission; they strove against social injustice and institutionalized evil; they worked tirelessly for a renewed world which includes a more just and equitable sharing of wealth and other resources, in which all are valued equally. We must do the same. And that’s exactly why quite a few people from here share in the round-the-clock roster at St Laurence House. Many of the young people and others who live at the House or hang around it have nowhere else to go. But they feel loved and accepted by YOU, and for some of them that is a completely new experience. You love them with your love, but also with the love of the Lord, and I know that is sometimes hard work, sacrificial hard work. It can be messy, dirty, confronting and disheartening. Sometimes it is tragic. But you persevere out of love for Jesus and these precious ones for whom he died, who are “at risk”, and they gradually come to know his love for themselves, even sometimes becoming part of our gathering at the altar.

There is no such thing as the “social gospel” over and against the “spiritual” gospel. The real Gospel is social! It demands that, filled with God’s love, we roll up our sleeves and get involved in the real problems around us, bringing the light of Christ to bear on them.

So, “renewed” Christians, open to God the Disturber in our day, cannot help but to be disturbed by the destruction, suffering, unemployment and emotional breakdown happening everywhere as we enjoy our relative affluence. It is the Holy Spirit who keeps pouring the love of God into our hearts, and that love constrains us to care for those around us. If we don’t see things in that way, we need to re-examine the reality of our walk with God and the authenticity of our worship.

Some sixty years ago, Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar spoke these words to people like us at a great Anglo-Catholic Congress in London; his words have since become well-known. I conclude with them tonight, for they express very powerfully what I believe with all my heart:

“I say to you . . . that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum . . .

“. . . If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. 

“. . . You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.” 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Only the Holy Spirit can move the heart and make it docile to the Lord (Pope Francis preaching today)

I love this Pope's daily homilies from the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. A teaching from one or more of the Scripture readings set for the day's Mass, his words are deceptively simple, yet he takes us into deep understanding of the ways of God. This morning he pointed out that only the Holy Spirit can “move the heart” and make it “docile to the Lord, docile to the freedom of love.” 

The pope looked at how Jesus’ disciples could fail to recognize and be open to the Lord’s miracles, like his walking on water, the multiplication of the loaves and encountering him on the road to Emmaus.

“They were the apostles, those closest to Jesus. But they didn’t understand,” he said, according to the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

“It was because their hearts had been hardened,” he said.

“But how does a heart harden? How is it possible with these people who were always with Jesus, every day, who listened to him, saw him ... and their heart was hardened.”

The pope said he had asked his secretary why he thought people’s hearts become so closed and cold. Together they came up with a number of reasons that often affect many people in life, he said.

Painful and difficult experiences can cause people to harden their hearts because they do not want to be vulnerable to “another ordeal” or be disillusioned once again, the pope said.

He said the saying in Argentina, “If a person gets burned by milk, then he will cry when he sees a cow,” expresses this idea of becoming fearful after a painful experience.

Pride, vanity, smugness and a sense of superiority can lead people to become closed up within themselves, he said.

“Religious narcissists” also “have a hard heart because they are closed, they are not open. And they try to defend themselves with these walls they build up around themselves,” he said.

Insecurity causes people to look for things “to grab onto to be secure,” he said, like the Pharisees and Sadducees who were “so attached to the letter of the law.”

They may feel safe and secure, the pope said, but they are like someone “in a jail cell behind bars: It is a security without freedom,” and it was freedom that Jesus came to bring humanity.

When the heart “is hardened, it is not free and if it is not free it is because it does not love,” he said.

God’s perfect love “crushes fear,” he said, because “in love there is no fear because fear assumes punishment and whoever is afraid is not perfect in love. He is not free. He is always afraid that something painful or sad will happen.”

The problem is a heart lacking love, a heart that has not learned how to love, he said.

“Who teaches us to love? Who frees us from this hardness?” he asked. “Only the Holy Spirit.”

“You can take a million catechetical courses, a million courses in spirituality, a million courses in yoga, Zen and all these things. But all of this will never be able to give you the freedom” of being a child of God.

The Holy Spirit “moves” hearts and compels people to cry out, “Father,” and become docile to “the freedom of his love.”

Jesus sanctified the waters

St Chromatius was most likely born at Aquileia, and - in any case - grew up there, raised by his mother who had been widowed. He was ordained to the priesthood, and in 387 or 388 after the death of Valerianus, became bishop of Aquileia. He was widely respected and in constant communication with other bishops, especially St Ambrose, St Jerome and St Rufinus. A scholar himself, it was as a result of his active encouragement that these three friends wrote many of their learned works. He was a peacemaker, seeking to bridge the gap between Jerome and Rufinus when they were in dispute. Chromatius was a successful opponent of Arianism, and he gave important support to John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, when he was unjustly oppressed. Chromatius was well known as a Bible teacher. In 1969 thirty-eight sermons of his were found and published. Chromatius  died in c. 406/407.The following is from his Tractatus XII In Math. III, 13-15 (CCL 9A, 244-246), from Word in Season (2):

Since Jesus was to give a new baptism for the salvation of the human race and the forgiveness of sin, he deigned to be himself baptized first, not in order to put off sins, since he alone had not sinned, but in order to sanctify the waters of baptism that these might wash away the sins of believers. For the waters of baptism could never have cleansed believers of their sins, unless they had first been sanctified by contact with the Lord’s body. He was baptised, therefore, so that we might be washed clean of sins. He was immersed in the water so that we might be cleansed of the filth of sin. He accepted the bath of rebirth so that we might be reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, for as he himself says elsewhere: Unless reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, no one shall enter the kingdom of heaven.

While John did indeed baptise our Lord and Saviour, in a deeper sense he was baptised by Christ, for Christ sanctified the waters, John was sanctified by them; Christ bestowed grace, John received it; John laid aside his sins, Christ forgave them. The reason? John was a man, Christ was God. For it is God’s prerogative to forgive sins, as it is written: Who can forgive sins, except God alone? This is why John says to Christ: I ought to be baptised by you, and do you come to me? For John needed baptism, since he could not be without sin; Christ, however, did not need a baptism, since he had committed no sin.

In this baptism, then, our Lord and Saviour washed away the sins first of John and then of the entire world. It is for this reason that he says: Allow it to be so now. For it is fitting that we should fulfil all justice. The grace of his baptism had been mystically prefigured long ago, when the people were led across the river Jordan into the promised land. Just as at that time a way was opened for the people through the Jordan, with the Lord going on before, so now through the same waters of the river Jordan access has for the first time been given to the heavenly path by which we are led to that blessed land of promise, that is, to possession of the kingdom of heaven. For the people long ago Joshua, son of Nun, was their leader through the Jordan; our leader through baptism to eternal salvation is Jesus Christ the Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, who is blessed forever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Epiphany signs

Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesu, Lord, to thee we raise,
Manifested by the star
To the sages from afar;
Branch of royal David’s stem
In thy birth at Bethlehem;
Anthems be to thee addresst,
God in Man made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;
And at Cana wedding-guest
In thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine,
Changing water into wine;
Anthems be to thee addresst,
God in Man made manifest.

Manifest in making whole
Palsied limbs and fainting soul;
Manifest in valiant fight,
Quelling all the devil’s might;
Manifest in gracious will,
Ever bringing good from ill;
Anthems be to thee addresst,
God in Man made manifest.

Sun and moon shall darkened be,
Stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
All will see his glorious sign;
All will then the trumpet hear,
All will see the Judge appear;
Thou by all wilt be confest,
God in Man made manifest.

Grant us grace to see thee, Lord,
Mirrored in thy holy Word;
May we imitate thee now,
And be pure, as pure art thou;
That we like to thee may be
At thy great Epiphany,
And may praise thee, ever blest,
God in Man made manifest.

Words: Bishop Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885)

Tune: St George’s Windsor, by Sir George Job Elvey (1816-1803)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

St Maximus of Turin: "Oh the glory of this day!"

We don’t really know very much about the life of Maximus of Turin. He was born in the mid to late 4th century (perhaps around 380 A.D.) and lived until the mid 5th century (perhaps 465 A.D.). He was an Italian bishop and theologian who wrote numerous discourses, including 118 homilies, 116 sermons, and six treatises or tracts. Like most of the Church Fathers, he preached a lot from the Old Testament, sometimes finding Jesus in the narrative which symbolically foreshadowed him, and sometimes in contrast with what took place in the days of the Old Covenant. The following extract (from his Sermon 45) is a fitting reflection for this Epiphany: 

Today the true Sun has risen upon the world; amid universal darkness light has dawned. God has become man, so that men may become divine; the Lord has assumed the likeness of a slave, so that slaves may become lords. He who created the heavens as his dwelling place has made his home on earth, in order that earth’s inhabitants may find their way to heaven.

O the glory of this day, eclipsing the very sun in its splendour, the culmination of centuries of waiting! The revelation to which the angels looked forward, the secret hidden from seraphim, cherubim, and every heavenly spirit has been disclosed to our generation. What former ages perceived in figures and images, we see in reality. The God who spoke to the people of Israel through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophets now speaks to us through his Son. Mark the difference between the Old Testament and New! In the Old Testament God spoke in a storm cloud; in the New he speaks in the clear, calm light of day. In the Old Testament God appeared in a bush; in the New he is born of a virgin. In the Old Testament God was present as a fire consuming the sins of his people; in the New he is present as a man who forgives them - or rather, as the Lord who pardons his servants, since no one can forgive sin but God alone.

There are various opinions current in the world, since our ideas reflect a diversity of traditions, but whether the Lord Jesus was born or baptized on this day, this much at least is clear: Christ’s birth both in the flesh and in the spirit is to our benefit. Both are mysteries to me and both are advantageous to me. The Son of God had no need to be born or baptized. He had committed no sin that required forgiveness through baptism. On the contrary, his condescension is the cause of our exaltation, his cross our victory, his gibbet our triumph.

Let us joyfully raise the banner of his cross on our shoulders and bear the ensign of his victory; better still, let us carry this great standard as a sign emblazoned on our foreheads. Whenever the devil sees this sign on our doorposts he trembles; demons who have no reverence for gilded temples fear the cross. They may despise royal sceptres, grand banquets, and imperial purple, but they are cowed by the fasting and humble garb of Christians.

Let us be filled with exultation then, dear friends, and lift up holy hands to heaven in the form of a cross. When Moses held up his hands Amalek was defeated, but if he lowered them for a while Amalek prevailed. Birds too resemble the cross in shape as they are borne aloft and glide through the air on outstretched wings. Even our memorials and victory processions take the form of crosses. Surely then we ought to bear the cross not on our foreheads only but within our very souls, so that by its protection we may trample on the snake and the serpent in Christ Jesus, to whom belongs the glory for ever and ever.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Day 2015 and God's grace


HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! Last night I had the joy of celebrating the last Mass of 2014 in which the Gospel was John 1:1-16, and  I shared a few words on verses 14-16:

“. . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father . . . And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.”

I remember from my student days a dry grammatical debate on the phrase “grace upon grace.” Some of the great saints and commentators understood this to mean “grace in place of grace” in the sense that the grace brought by Jesus replaces that known under the old covenant. Now that is certainly one way of looking at the original text. But others saw it as a comment on the completeness of God’s self-giving to us “from his fulness”, and argued for the translation “grace heaped upon grace.”

That startled me. It captured my imagination, and ever since then I have understood the passage to be telling us that "grace heaped upon grace" is what we receive in Jesus!

In support of this, F.F. Bruce writes in his commentary: “The followers of Christ draw from the ocean of divine fullness . . . grace upon grace - one wave of grace being constantly replaced by a fresh one. There is no limit to the supply of grace which God has placed at his people’s disposal in Christ.”

By trusting Jesus, the Word made Flesh - even in the deepest darkness - we can draw on that "amazing grace." Indeed, when we pray, and when we celebrate the sacraments (those personal encounters the Church community has with Jesus in which he touches us with his love and power), his "grace" - his undeserved blessing, his very life, his free gift of himself - is renewed in us, not just for ourselves, but so that we can support others in their need.

We proved in the ups and downs of 2014 how real that grace is. And standing at the threshold of a new year, we determined to trust the Lord Jesus more in 2015!


Well, it was off to Mass again this morning with a lot to pray about, and also a lot of family and friends to hold up to the Father in Jesus' great Sacrifice of Love. 

It's not just because of New Year’s Day, of course. In our tradition the 1st of January is the Solemnity of "Mary, Mother of God." Now, I know that some Christians balk at this particular title of our Lady. But that's often because they don't realise it was given to her by the early Church primarily as a way of safeguarding the truth about Jesus being both human and divine, God in human flesh.

There had been some wrong ideas about Jesus floating around, in particular that Mary was the mother of a human baby who somehow "became" joined to God. This undermined the Biblical understanding of Jesus as ONE person with two natures. Some people even taught that the divine nature of Jesus didn’t come upon him until his baptism!

In contrast to these (and other) theories, we have always understood from the Scriptures that the divine and human natures of Jesus were united in his one person from the moment of of his conception, and that therefore the Baby to whom Mary gave birth was fully divine as well as fully human. God and man are perfectly joined in him. To emphasis this, the ancient Church called Mary “Mother of God” (“Theotokos” or “God-bearer”). 

As early as 500 AD there is evidence of the Eastern Church celebrating a “Day of the Theotokos” just before or just after Christmas. This eventually became a feast of our Lady on 26th December among the Byzantines, and 16th January among the Copts. By the 7th century the Western Church celebrated the octave day of Christmas with a strong emphasis on Mary, but this eventually gave way to the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus. It was in the eighteenth century that the Portuguese Church began to celebrate Mary’s “divine maternity”, on the first Sunday in May. The custom spread to other countries, and the feast - which came to be observed on 11th October – was mandated throughout the West in 1931.

It was Pope Paul VI, following the Second Vatican Council, who restored the Christmas Octave day to its Marian emphasis, though the theme of the Lord’s circumcision remains as well, so that we celebrate Jesus, truly God and truly man, as our only Saviour, who was born under the law that he might fulfill it, and who would shed his blood for our salvation.


Even during his Anglican years, John Henry Newman remarked that the popular exhibitions of devotion that so scandalised the "English Protestant visitor to the Continent", even with corruptions of “excess” or “superstition”, were preferable to the "arid indifference" of the English laity and clergy.  After all, as Newman puts it, these devotions to Our Lady derived from the real (versus notional) idea that she was the Mother of God.

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

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


Here is a lovely prayer for today which links the theme of “New Year’s Day” with Mary, the Mother of God. It is from Benedictine Daily Prayer,Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. May the Lord bless you with his love, and may we all walk with him in trustful obedience in 2015.

God of peace, 
whose providence guides the changing seasons of every year 
and of all our lives: 
in the fullness of time, you fashioned in the Virgin Mother Mary 
a dwelling place for your Word made flesh among us. 
Bless with the joy of your Holy Spirit 
the first day of this new year, 
that through all the days allotted to us, 
we may, like Mary, rejoice in grace and embrace your will. 
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Time of re-creation

The Nativity, by Arthur Hughes (1832-1915)
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

One of the great early Christian leaders, St Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389), teaches that Christmas is a “festival of re-creation”, that in the birth of this Child the world has been recreated. It is the beginning of the renewal, sanctification and re-creation of the entire universe.

The same understanding of Christmas is echoed in the Orthodox Liturgy:

"Your coming, O Christ, 
has shed upon us a great light. 
O Light of Light, Radiance of the Father, 
you have illumined the entire creation!"

The birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us (John 1:14), abolishes the boundaries between man and God, matter and spirit, secular and sacred, seen and unseen. The very world through which we stumble on our pilgrimage into God is now tinged with sacredness and glory.

It’s just as well, because there are times when we experience this world as a place of exile, a vale of tears, an environment of undeserved suffering, pain and confusion. It is for many a source, not of joy, but of unrelenting depression and despair.  (Those who are blessed with a confident faith, or who have never faced such agonies, or who have grown through them, are called to be gentle and sensitive towards others whose pain and inner anguish causes them to doubt even the existence of a loving God.)

For me the real magic of Christmas is not the “feel-good” stuff so much as the transcendent Lord of glory and love entering into the fulness of all that it means to be human, so as to redeem, renew and transfigure everything about life in this world, including the miserable bits, from the inside. (St Paul talks about that in Romans 8).

But I’m no Scrooge! There is nothing I would do to diminish the exuberant joy of Christmas. But let's not forget that those God chose to participate in the first Christmas had a hard time of it. Mary and Joseph shunted from pillar to post, desperately looking for somewhere to stay. Jesus born in a smelly cave where the animals were kept. All those little boys slaughtered by the power crazy Herod, their mothers wailing and their blood running in the streets. The Holy Family living as refugees in Egypt until it was safe to return to their own land.

The Lord of glory and love entered into the fulness of what it means to be human, in the kind of circumstances in which most people have lived and died . . . violence, killing, exploitation, anguish, poverty and the despair we see all too often on the television and in our own streets. It is REAL human life to which God is now joined, and which is being transfigured bit by bit in him.

Love Divine invades our world to effect a union of the divine and human that can never be dissolved; a union in which God so freely and at such great cost gives himself to us as the Babe of Bethlehem, the Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of Calvary whose sacrifice of love brings us back to the Father, the Risen, Ascended Lord, AND the Food of eternal life in the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion we receive at Mass, in our parish Church which is OUR “Bethlehem”, OUR “House of Bread” (which is what the word “Bethlehem” means).

So, if we feel as if we’re hanging on to Jesus this Christmas just with naked faith, that’s OK. We have a place in the prayers of many others. We dare to trust in the goodness and love of our Incarnate God and in his purposes, knowing that he is our King of Kings, our Lord, our loving Saviour, our wonderful Redeemer, our firm Rock, our Hiding Place, the one who wipes our tears away and heals us deep within. We also remember that he who began a good work in us WILL bring it to completion (see Philippians 1:6).

One more thing . . .

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell!

That little poem is actually the beginning of a hymn about God’s love, written in 1917. The last verse was found penciled on the wall of a cell in an American mental asylum by a man who had died there, having lived in that cell for many, many years.

Who knows the cruel torment of mind he suffered, as much from the treatment as from his illness! What we can say, however, - and this is so wonderful - is that although locked up and written off as insane according to the "wisdom" of the age, this man at least some of the time anchored deeply into a reality, an experience of God, that broke through the darkness, flooding his soul and his prison cell. That was far more real to him than all the darkness, all his torments and all his anguish put together.

This is what he wrote on the wall of his cell. These are the words they discovered when he died:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.

So, let's remember that whatever our circumstances, our happiness, our blessing, our joy, or our pain and sorrow, to open up our hearts to the Lord during this Christmas season, and allow him in his own way to touch us with the wonder and sacredness of his love.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

St John, Apostle and Evangelist

Here is a great meditation for St John's Day. It is a homily by Lutheran Pastor Christopher Esget, published a while back in FIRST THINGS.

Beloved, today is St. John’s Day, the beloved disciple of Jesus and the man inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Fourth Gospel, as well as three epistles in our New Testament and the Book of Revelation. On Christmas Day, we heard the majestic prologue of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Today, on St. John’s Day, the author of those great words testifies to this great truth: “That One who already was in the beginning, who existed from all eternity, and who was made flesh – that is the One whom we have heard, whom we have seen, whom we looked on and have touched with our hands.” The next time you hear the horrible idea that Jesus and the Bible is a collection of fables or falsehoods, remember John’s testimony: He and the other Apostles heard, saw, and touched Jesus. And in hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus, they touched God, God in the flesh.

That is the historical fact. But it is not just history. Now, he says, we who were with Him, we who heard Him, saw Him, touched Him – we are proclaiming Him to you, so you can be with us, so you can have fellowship, communion, with us, so you can be part of the Church that Jesus established.

What does it mean to have fellowship, communion, with the apostles? What does it mean to be a true Christian, to be a true member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? St. John teaches us two important things about this:

1) We must not think of ourselves as holy people, good people, perfect people, people without sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

2) But then, we also are to dedicate our lives as Christians to turning away from sin and living a new life. “My little children,” John writes, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”

He goes on to emphasize in all his writings how important it is that we make every effort to be holy: to not sin, and to keep the commandments of Jesus. Again and again he hammers this home:

* “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4)
* “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” (1 Jn 2:9)
* “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (1 Jn 2:15a)
* “Everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” (1 Jn 2:29b)
* “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (1 Jn 3:4)
* “whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.” (1 Jn 3:8)
* “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” (1 Jn 3:9)
* “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (1 Jn 3:10-11)
* “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:18)

John’s writings are replete with sayings like these. Note well that word “practice” – he speaks of ongoing, habitual, and intentional sins. You know what the commandments of God are: [list 10 Commandments]

All the Commandments summed up in one word: “love” – love God, and love your neighbor.

St. John calls us to holiness of living – and thus constant repentance as we feel and experience our own unholiness – but at the same time John assures of the forgiveness and salvation found only in Jesus. “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” We have an attorney who will go to court for us. And the case He argues is based on the iron-clad fact that our penalty has been paid: “He is the propitiation for our sins.”

That is why you who through Baptism have become followers of Jesus can know that He ever loves you. St. John is called the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” and I suspect John records that not to boast, but to say, “Jesus loved even such a one as me.” And John says of this same Jesus in our first reading, “To him who loves us.”

As we follow Jesus, there is one thing alone that is our authority, our guide, our light: the words of Holy Scripture. And today, in those sacred writings, we heard about “the things that must soon take place…. for the time is near.” The Bible gives us a different view of time – a view that sees this life as short, where Christ’s coming is always “soon.” It does not matter if it is another two thousand years, or a mere two minutes from now; we are always to be prepared.

All this is lived out in different ways for each of us. After Jesus had prophesied Peter’s martyrdom, Peter asked the question recorded in today’s Gospel: “What about him? What about John?” Jesus replied, “How does that concern you? You, follow Me!” St. John and St. Peter had different kinds of endings to their lives – Peter was crucified, while John suffered in a different way, being exiled to an island called Patmos. Peter and John had different particular callings in life, but the same overarching calling to be disciples of Jesus: “Follow Me.” That is also our calling. Whether you are an engineer, housewife, secretary or soldier, in every place you go, the words of Jesus go with you: “Follow Me.”

Those words are not burdensome. For you follow the One who at Christmas took on your flesh and bone, your human nature, and who proceeded to live perfectly in your flesh, to suffer every temptation you suffer in your flesh, to endure every pain and humiliation you endure, and finally to die your death, and to rise again in your human nature, now glorified, and to bring that human nature into the presence of God the Father. That is the One you now follow, the One who is coming again for you, soon, for the time is near.

This day we give honor for the ministry and testimony of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, who so faithfully recorded these glorious truths for us. May God pour out on us His Holy Spirit, that we may always heed John’s Words as a light in a dark place.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Greetings to all my friends

(Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Today's Advent Antiphon: O EMMANUEL

Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

This is the old chant for "O Emmanuel". You can listen to it HERE.

our King and Lawgiver, 
the Desire of all nations and their Saviour: 
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24; Luke 1:57-66

In the Bible people's names are very important. Names do not merely identify someone in a crowd. Biblical names tell us something about who that person is. "Isaac" means "he laughs"; the name "Isaac" echoes the laughter of Abraham and Sarah when they're told that the aged Sarah will have a child. The name "Israel" means "one who strives with God", and is given to Jacob after his night of wrestling with God. Jesus gives Simon a new name - "Peter", which means "Rock", a name as solid as the foundation of his confession of Jesus as the Messiah.

Today, Zechariah wants to name his son "John". The trouble is that Zechariah ignores the custom of naming a child after the father or grandfather. Zechariah was being obedient to the angel's message. However, the family responds in a way that any of us might: "We've never done it that way before."

Naming the child "John" points to the new thing that God is doing. "John" means "The Lord shows favour." As Zechariah sings in his canticle, a new day dawns. The Lord shows favour to all people. John will declare a new day dawning in Jesus Christ. 

"We've never done it that way before" is precisely the point. As we move forward trusting in God, we, too, will see and experience new things in our lives by his grace.

Zechariah's song: 

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel : 
for he hath visited and redeemed his people;
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us : 
in the house of his servant David; 
As he spake by the mouth of his holy Prophets : 
which have been since the world began; 
That we should be saved from our enemies : 
and from the hands of all that hate us. 
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers : 
and to remember his holy Covenant; 
To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham : 
that he would give us; 
That we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies : 
might serve him without fear; 
In holiness and righteousness before him : 
all the days of our life. 
And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest:
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people : 
for the remission of their sins, 
Through the tender mercy of our God : 
whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us; 
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death : 
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.