Friday, July 3, 2015

The rejection of ministry



Ezekiel 2:2-5;  2 Corinthians 12:7-10;  Mark 6:1-6


Would you like to have been Ezekiel? 

He was given a wonderful vision of the glory of God, but he must have really felt let-down when the same God gave him an unpleasant, nearly impossible ministry, which is we read about in today’s first reading.

He was to tell his own people that because they were unfaithful to the Lord, their beloved temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. I guess the people could hardly be blamed for not being receptive! Poor old Ezekiel! He knew the hardness of their hearts, yet the Lord asked him to speak the truth in love and concern for them. And he paid dearly for this.

Afterwards, of course, Ezekiel’s words would be remembered, and they would help those who returned to Jerusalem to understand what had happened.

The great apostle Paul was called to proclaim the Gospel from the time of his conversion to Christ. Today’s second reading is part of what he wrote to the church community he had founded in Corinth. That group was in a real mess in so many areas of life. To cap things off, a number of false apostles and prophets were challenging Paul’s authority, boasting about their superior revelations, their powerful preaching, and the miracles they performed. Many of the people were influenced by them, and there was a serious fracturing of  the unity of the Body of Christ in that place.

For the sake of the Corinthian Christians Paul decides to defend himself and his apostolic ministry. But rather than meeting his opponents on their ground, or - for that matter - despairing of the situation, he speaks from a position of real humility. He says that all he can do is boast of his weaknesses, knowing that God would give him supernatural grace to be strong.

What does this mean? Some commentators think that the “thorn in the flesh” Paul struggled with throughout his ministry was a sense of rejection, perhaps even reflecting the reluctance of the earliest Christians to believe that his conversion was real. Be that as it may, in this passage he manages to regard real rejection as a "gift" to keep him aware of his weakness, to keep him relying not on any cleverness, oratory, ability he might have as a speaker or even as a miracle worker, but only on Jesus whose grace, “is sufficient.” In his weakness Paul has learned to depend only on the strength given him by the Lord. And that’s as it should be, because for Paul - as for us - the ministry is not about him but about Jesus!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to his home town, Nazareth. The people begin by being amazed at his teaching, but then become suspicious: how could such wisdom and power come from this “nobody” we grew up with?

It says that they “took offence at him,” and rejected his ministry.

Have you ever noticed that one of the themes running through Mark’s Gospel is the rejection of Jesus’ ministry? Indeed, Mark’s Gospel, in this respect, might well be a commentary on Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men.”

Jesus yearned to do for his people what they could not do for themselves. He wanted to make their lives worth living, to touch them with his love and healing. He wanted to get them to heaven, and get heaven into them! His cry is at its most poignant in Matthew 23:37:  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” 

All who try to bear witness to Jesus in day to day life will experience the pain of rejection. Sometimes it is our fault for not being loving enough to those around us, or for being judgmental towards them. But sometimes it is for the same reason that Jesus himself was rejected . . . that people just don't want to be reminded of their desperate need for God and his love.

This is also experienced by church communities as a whole at different times and in different places. But, like Ezekiel, like Paul, and like Jesus himself, we are called to glorify the Father by being faithful, even when we don't succeed.   



Ronald Knox for St Thomas' Day



Ronald Knox (1888–1957), son of evangelical Bishop of Manchester, E.A. Knox, attended Eton College and won several scholarships at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1912 he was ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England  and was appointed chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford. In 1917 he swam the Tiber, and the following year he was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. Knox wrote many books of essays and novels. Singlehandedly he translated St Jerome's Latin Vulgate Bible into English. His works on religious themes include: Some Loose Stones (1913), Reunion All Round (1914), A Spiritual Aeneid (1918), The Belief of Catholics (1927), Caliban in Grub Street (1930), Heaven and Charing Cross (1935), Let Dons Delight (1939) and Captive Flames (1940). He was known for his ability as a communicator and had a witty turn of phrase. He was a regular broadcaster for BBC Radio.

The following is a radio sermon by Knox, taken from: Pastoral Sermons and Occasional Sermons (reprint), Ignatius Press, 2002.


Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe. -John 20:29.

When you read in the newspaper of some momentous decision taken, which, for a moment, fills the headlines; when you glance down the column to see what comment has been made on it by public men and by political observers, at home and abroad; the question often suggests itself. What will be the verdict of history about all this? The verdict of history— that was the important thing, the really important thing, on Easter Day all those centuries ago, when Easter Day first earned its title. A Man had died, with the formalities of a legal execution after a trial in which the evidence had broken down, and the judge had disclaimed responsibility for the sentence. What jury was now to sit on the case, and give the verdict of history? The dead Man had appointed them himself, a jury of twelve, good men and true, you would have thought; common folk, such as have a right to sit on juries, a fisherman here, a toll- collector there. He made a prophecy, and invited them to judge him, invited the world to judge him, according as the prophecy came true or not; he would rise from the dead. One of them, alas, was neither a good man nor a true; he vacated his post, a traitor and a suicide. It was not possible to impanel a fresh jury; only the dead Mans nearest friends were competent to make a decision. The eleven survivors are left to make their report. There, then, they sit, in the upper room, a place haunted by memories, charged with emotion. Had the dead Man risen again? Only one of them claims to have seen him; the rest have nothing to go upon except the empty tomb, and some rather confusing hearsay evidence. Their deliberations are cut short when, suddenly, behind locked doors, they see the dead Man standing in their midst.

No difficulty remains now; there can be only one verdict. He who was dead, is alive; he is our Lord and our God—that is the message they will publish to the world. And then—perhaps only after he has gone, a sudden thought occurs to them. They were not, after all, in full session when he came; one of them had been absent; Thomas, for what reason we don’t know, had been absent. Well, it is a pity; but after all it won’t make much difference. Thomas can hardly refuse to go by the vote of the majority, when he has the evidence of all his colleagues, without exception, to sway his judgment. They crowd round Thomas when he returns, with the confident cry, “We have seen the Lord!’

They had reckoned without their man. Thomas, as we know from his record, was loyal to a fault; had been the first to suggest that they should all go and die with their Master. But he was one of those people who will always ask the inconvenient question. One of those hard-headed, you might almost say bulletheaded, people who give so much trouble on juries and on committees of every sort by refusing to take the majority view until they, personally, are satisfied. He has been chosen to be an eye-witness, vouching personally for every event in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. And he was not an eye-witness of this appearance in the upper room; it will not do. How can they be certain it was really their Master they saw? What tests did they make? “Until I have seen the mark of the nails on his hands, until I have put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, you will never make me believe.”

That it was all providentially ordained, one apostle being absent, and that one Thomas, with his bulldog way of looking at things, is beyond question. “Our Faith”, says St Gregory, “owes more to the faithlessness of Thomas than to the faithfulness of all the other apostles put together.” (St Gregory, Homil. 26 in Evng.) Because Thomas doubted, our Lord appeared a second time in the upper room; because Thomas doubted, they were privileged to see, and to touch if they would, the indelible scars of Calvary. “What our own eyes have seen of him, what it was that met our gaze, and the touch of our hands” (1 John 1:1) - so John wrote, long afterwards, with that unforgettable scene for his inspiration. In a moment, the verdict of the jury became unanimous; Thomas could cry out “My Lord and my God!” with the rest. Only, there is a postscript. “Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and believe all the same.” For our sakes, it was a good thing that Thomas doubted. But for himself he had come short of the ideal, he had missed an opportunity; surely we arc meant to see that. In however insignificant a degree, he was at fault. He had all the record of our Lord’s life and teaching in front of him; he had the unanimous testimony of those others, his tried companions in arms, and yet . . . some pride, some wilful obstinacy, some chagrin, perhaps, at having been left out when this experience was granted to the rest, made him withhold his assent. “I will not believe”; mysteriously, it is possible to withhold your assent by an act of the will. He ought to have capitulated.

Our Lord doesn’t complain. Our Lord wasn’t like us; he didn’t go about after his Resurrection finding fault and saying “I told you so”; he looked forward to the future. He looked down the centuries at people like you and me, who had no chance of seeing him in his incarnate state, and yet do manage to cry out, “My Lord and my God”; and he said, “What lucky people you are!” When he started out on his ministry, you remember, he gave us the eight Beatitudes, “Blessed are the patient, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peace-makers”, and so on. And now, when he is just going to leave us for heaven, he pronounces a last beatitude, “Blessed arc those who haven’t seen, and believe all the same.” To call a person “blessed” is a form of congratulation; it is as if we had acquired some treasure, been singled out for some honour. We arc lucky people: luckier, it would seem, than St Thomas, because he saw.

Our Lord, as we know, was fond of paradox; and this congratulation of his does seem rather unexpected. Earlier on, he said to his apostles, “There have been many prophets and just men who have longed to see what you see, and never saw it” (Matthew 13:17); we understand well enough what he means by saying “Blessed are your eyes” in that connection. To see our Lord in the flesh, to hear his gracious accents, to feel the touch of his hand—what an opportunity it was that they had, and we have missed! But that is not his last word on the subject. He singles out people like you and me for a special congratulation; because we have not seen? No, but because, not having seen, we believe.

Faith, not anything else, is the definition of a Christian. Even when our salvation was in the bud, the blessed Virgin was greeted by her cousin Elizabeth in the words, “Blessed art thou for thy believing”; (Luke 1:45) and from then onwards, all through the New Testament, it dominates the picture. Are Christians, then, in general the victims of credulity, people who will believe anything? Or are they people of normally critical instincts, who, from a sentimental prejudice, make a single departure from their principles by consenting to believe in Jesus Christ? That is how some of our neighbours think of us; it seems natural to them when Easter Day falls on All Fools’ Day. But we do not admit the imputation, in either form. We are prepared to argue the truth of the Resurrection from a multitude of converging evidence; argue it as plain fact, as a piece of ascertainable history.

What, then, they ask, is this ‘‘gift of faith” you talk about? What can be the use of it, what can be the need for it, except to fill a gap; to make you believe something which you would otherwise admit to be incredible? Nothing of the sort; faith is a gift which fortifies us in holding fast to a belief which we know to be true, when we are tempted to lose sight of it. Our minds are not electronic machines; they arc human instruments, with the weaknesses of humanity. True, the evidence of our senses, and the general agreement of human opinion, have a certain power of compelling belief. But when evidence comes to us by hearsay; when a promise, or a warning, or an assurance comes to us on the word of somebody else, however good reason we have for trusting him—then it is possible to withhold our assent; to say, with Thomas, ‘‘I will not believe”.

“Our faith”, St John says in today’s epistle, “that is the triumphant principle which triumphs over the world” (1 John 5:4). The world around us, so unfriendly to every instinct of religion, so full of cruelty and hypocrisy, so tone-deaf to the music of eternity— how it gets us down, makes us wonder if its worth while going on! And, within ourselves, the continual secret revolt of our nature against the claim God makes on our lives—we find ourselves half dreading, half hoping, that the cord will snap, and we too shall become materialists like everybody else. If only (we say to ourselves) I could see some divine interference in the course of history, some startling answer to prayer in my own life! If we could see . . . yes, if we could see! But our Lord says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and believe all the same.”




Sunday, June 28, 2015

She touched the hem of his garment



Mark 5:25-34 

Who touched me? 

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with crowds. They can be terrifying, but they can also be great reservoirs of energy. The push and shove becomes part of the big day out. 

That’s what it was like when Jesus came to town. 

Many years ago when I first read the story in today’s Gospel, the thing that struck me was how Jesus looked around, and in the middle of it all said, “Who touched me?” 

The disciples reacted as you and I would have. What St Mark is telling us is that JESUS KNEW THE TOUCH OF FAITH. 

For me, the lady with the bleeding problem ranks with the greatest of the Bible’s heroes. 

Not only had she spent all her money on doctors “and was no better but rather grew worse”; she was banned from society, being “unclean” according to the law and custom of the day. She was lonely and sick. She was an outcast. I'm sure there were times when she wished she could die. 

This state of affairs might have continued, but someone told her about Jesus. About his love, about how he was going around teaching, preaching and healing - or she at least overheard people talking. This word about Jesus awakened her faith. By faith she could see that her life would be different if she got to Jesus. Surely he would do for her what he had done for so many others. 

She was determined to get to Jesus. But she had to avoid being noticed, because in her condition she could be stoned to death for touching anyone at all. She crawled through the crowd on the ground. She must have . . . because that's where she had to be to reach the hem of his garment. 

As she got closer she said to herself, “If I touch even the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole." 

Can't you just imagine her repeating these words over and over again as she strained and reached out with every ounce of strength she had left.

“If I touch even the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole." 

That word of faith was her strategy to battle discouragement. 

Our problem is that when we are trying to break through to Jesus in a new way, we forget to keep on saying to ourselves the things we know to be true that will build up our faith. And discouragement crushes us. 

The lady in today’s Gospel did well with what she had. WE have so much more. We have God’s promises in both Old and New Testaments. We can repeat them under our breath - or even out loud -  when we are struggling. And, you know, that can be therapeutic. It can help us to rise above despair, even when, humanly speaking, our prospects are dismal. 

THEN IT HAPPENED! The lady – against all the odds – actually made it to Jesus, touched the hem of his garment, and the bleeding stopped. 

But she got more than she had bargained for. You see, Jesus actually felt a surge of healing power flow from him. In other words, it was for REAL! It wasn’t “just” symbolic, any more than the sacraments are “just” symbolic! Jesus wanted the lady to face him and acknowledge what had happened to her. So he turned around and said, “Who touched me?” (No sneaking off anonymously the way some of us might have done!) 

The lady “fell down before him” in “fear and in trembling.” This expression is used elsewhere of our humility before God (cf 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 6:5; Philippians 2:12). It indicates her response of awe and gratitude. Then Jesus addressed her affectionately as “daughter”, and told her to go in peace. He said to her, “Your faith has made you whole.” 

That is a really BIG expression in the original language, for it goes well beyond the physical healing of one ailment. It can just as accurately be translated, “your faith has brought you salvation and wholeness.”

The important thing for us when we receive Holy Communion, the anointing, or the laying on of hands, is to know that we really encounter Jesus.  If we know that, we will be open to ALL the possibilities, including miracles. It's not "just" symbolic!

In the Sacraments, Jesus is objectively present to share his life with us. We don’t “create” his presence by our faith. But, as with the lady in today’s Gospel, IT IS BY FAITH THAT WE DRAW ON THE BLESSINGS he has for us.

“If I touch even the hem of his garment, I SHALL be made whole."

Is everything going OK for you at the moment? Praise God if it is! But if like that lady you're as low as you can get, and you feel as if you might as well be dragging yourself along the ground through the dirt as she had to do, at least drag yourself in the direction of Jesus. And when you get yourself up to the altar rail for Holy Communion, I pray that you will draw on the healing power of Jesus in a new way, whatever your deepest needs, knowing that the Lord Jesus loves you more than anyone else ever has, and he wants you to break through to him afresh by responding in your hearts to his Word, and by touching the hem of his garment, expecting to be made whole, and that same surge of healing power will flow from him into you because he is the same, yesterday, today and for ever.

“If I touch even the hem of his garment, I SHALL be made whole."

God bless you.



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lord . . . don't you care?



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


A little talk from a retreat I gave a few years ago . . . 

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

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

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

Jesus was exhausted.

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

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

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

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

They looked around to see where Jesus was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Lord. Amen.





Friday, June 5, 2015

Carlo Carretto for Corpus Christi ". . . that never-ending bridge of bread"


"At this point I see his eyes wandering around over the remains of the bread on the table-cloth, and then shining with an ineffable inspiration: this, this would be his hiding place. That's where he would take refuge. That night they wouldn't capture him in his entirety; they'd think they'd done so, they'd think they'd dragged him away from his companions, yet really they would scourge and crucify a ghost: he had hidden himself in that bread. Rather as in Galilee, when they wanted to seize him and kill him or make him king, he had the knack of hiding himself and disappearing from sight. So he stretched out his hand over the already broken bread, broke it into smaller bits and, raising it in the air, pronounced the words of the magic transition: 'This is my body, it's been given for you.'

" . . . no, it wasn't to escape the lance-thrusts. All his flesh - not a ghost - was there for the executioners to tear at within a few hours. But the hiding place was still valid, and by inventing it in that instant he really did leave to his followers a Christ that no-one could ferret out and wrench from their hands. Let them eat him. Let their breast become the hiding-place of a hiding-place. A little earlier Jesus had washed their feet, he'd besmirched himself with the muddiest part of their physical being. Now he wanted to do more: he wanted to go down their throats, mix himself with their mucous membranes to the point of transforming himself, and gradually melt into all the fibres of their body.

"The primary significance of the Eucharist isn't mystical but physical, almost a clinging to the material being of his friends who would stay on and live. He said 'This is my body' with a tenderness that first and foremost exalted it itself. Not 'This is my spirit' or 'This is generalised goodness or well-being' - possibly they wouldn't have known what to do with such things. It was necessary to them that he should remain with the only thing we really know and attach our hearts and memories to - the body; and that it should be a desirable, acceptable and homely body. That's why he looked over that table-cloth for the easiest, most familiar and most concrete thing: bread. So as to quench hunger and give pleasure. Above all so as to stay. That evening Christ measured out for us all the millions of evenings before we'd see him face to face; he measured out the long separation. He knew that men forget things within a few days, that distance destroys things, that it's useless for lovers to insert a lock of hair in letters that are going far across land and sea. If Peter himself, and John and Andrew and James would forget, then in order that their children and their grandchildren shouldn't forget he had to throw between himself and me that never-ending bridge of bread . . ."

- Luigi Santucci (1918 - 1999) in Wrestling With Christ, pp. 155-157


Monday, June 1, 2015

Benedict XVI: The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity



The “name” of the Most Holy Trinity is in a certain way impressed upon everything that exists, because everything that exists, down to the least particle, is a being in relation, and thus God-relation shines forth, ultimately creative Love shines forth. 

All comes from love, tends toward love, and is moved by love, naturally, according to different grades of consciousness and freedom. “O Lord, our Lord, / how wondrous is your name over all the earth!” (Psalm 8:2) -- the Psalmist exclaims. In speaking of the “name” the Bible indicates God himself, his truest identity; an identity that shines forth in the whole of creation, where every being, by the very fact of existing and by the “fabric” of which it is made, refers to a transcendent Principle, to eternal and infinite Life that gives itself, in a word: to Love. “In him,” St. Paul says, on the Areopagus in Athens, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). 

The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity is this: only love makes us happy, because we live in relation, and we live to love and be loved. Using an analogy suggested by biology, we could say the human “genome” is profoundly imprinted with the Trinity, of God-Love.

Benedict XVI
Angelus Address
June 7, 2009


Friday, May 29, 2015

As we approach Trinity Sunday



The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, in Arad, Romania

"The fact that God is Trinity - that in a divine and mysterious way there are three Divine Persons eternally united in one life of complete perfection and beatitude - is not a piece of gratuitous mystification thrust by dictatorial clergymen down the throats of an unwilling but helpless laity, and therefore to be accepted, if at all, with reluctance and discontent. It is the secret of God’s most intimate life and being, into which, in his infinite love and generosity, he has admitted us; and it is therefore to be accepted with amazed and exultant gratitude." (Whatever Happened to the Human Mind? page 118)

One of the good things happening today is the revival of Trinitarian theology, even among some otherwise quite liberal theologians. (I sincerely pray that this will eventually have a positive impact on their Christology . . . but that's another discussion!) And it's just as well, because the growing number of Muslim people around us means each one of us - not just the clergy - will sooner or later be asked by a genuinely curious Muslim friend to explain why Christians believe in the Trinity.

The question boils down to "What - for you - is at the heart of the universe?" Is it a megalomaniac who just wants to have things running smoothly, whatever it takes; or maybe an abstract "force" or "intelligence"? 

Timothy George comments:

"Thomas Hardy once referred to God as 'the dreaming, dark, dumb Thing that turns the handle of this idle show.' (The Dynasts) Again we are back to the Silas Marner type of stingy God, hoarding the glory to himself, keeping the show running but not getting very involved in it: the God of deism. Thomas Hardy's God is devoid of relationship. It is stark, speechless, obscure, remote, a hideous caricature of the real God. This is why the true alternative to Christian Trinitarian theology today is not competing monotheisms such as Islam or something else, but atheism." (The Trinity and the Challenge of Islam in God the Holy Trinity - Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice, pages 126-127.) 

(Actually, that small volume is a very useful resource for those dipping their toe into Trinitarian theology for the first time, with essays from across the ecumenical spectrum, by Alister McGrath, Gerald Bray, James Earl Massey, Avery Cardinal Dulles S.J., Frederica Mathewes-Green, J.I. Packer, Ellen T Charry and Cornelius Plantinga Jr. It is available through AMAZON.COM.)

For us, at the heart of the universe is relationalitypersonality, a communion of love . . .  community. An earlier generation of Anglo-Catholic socialists, in fact, anchored their social and political theory in the Trinitarian theology of the Athanasian Creed! I know that sounds mildly bizarre to us, but only because writers on all sides today have a diminished ability for true integration of thought, perhaps (reflecting western society as a whole) not even seeing the need for it. Nevertheless, in Jesus the Heretic Fr Conrad Noel was able to write of the Holy Trinity as the basis of a new world order.

A similar notion is found in the words of Bishop Kallistos Ware, quoting Vladimir Lossky: 

"Our private lives, our personal relations, and all our plans of forming a Christian society depend upon a right theology of the Holy Trinity. ‘Between the Trinity and Hell there lies no other choice.’"  (The Orthodox Church, page 216.)

Our view of God determines our view of everything else as well as our way of dealing with the problems we face from day to day. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity impacts on our understanding of prayer, the sacraments, redemption, the Church and community. And it informs our theology of  love and of suffering.

Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke about this at Oxford in 2008, as part of his John Henry Newman Lecture: 

"In their commitment to human rights, justice, solidarity and sustaining creation, Christians can and should work together with representatives of other religions and with all people of good will. They also owe it to the others to testify to the God of Jesus Christ, that is, the Trinitarian God who is love. This brings us to a further aspect of discourse about God which has been neglected for a long time. After a period resembling the sleep of Sleeping Beauty, the doctrine of the Trinity has regained actuality once more, in regard to historical research and systematic analysis alike. 

"Self-evidently the doctrine of the Trinity is not a matter of a numerical problem or a kind of higher mathematics attempting to show how one and the same reality can be one and three at the same time. The Trinity can only be made comprehensible on the basis of the nature of love. Love wants to be one with the other without dissolving into the other. Love does not absorb the other; it means being one while maintaining its own identity as well as the identity of the other and finding its ultimate fulfilment. Love means being one while acknowledging the otherness of the other. But it does not stop at intimate duality but instead progresses beyond its own boundaries into a shared third entity in which it represents and fully realises itself. In this sense the doctrine of the Trinity is a precise explication of the sentence “God is love” (1 John 4,8.16). God is not a solitary God, he is in himself communion (koinonia, communio), and only thus can he bring us into his communion. 

"In this context I can only hint at this aspect in order to show that the doctrine of the Trinity enables a new approach to the most difficult existential question of the doctrine of God, the problem of theodicy. I mean the question: Why is there so much innocent suffering? How can God, if he is omnipotent and loving, permit such suffering? Why does he not intervene? If he is loving but not almighty, then he is not God; if he is almighty but not loving, then he is an evil demon. 

"Obviously the doctrine of the Trinity cannot solve these questions, but it can shine a light in the darkness, and it can help us to survive the darkness of suffering and dying. It can show that love – as great literature has always known – always means renunciation, indeed that love and death belong together. That is also true of Trinitarian love. The divine persons are of course, like everything in God, infinite; they must therefore make room for one another; they must as it were relinquish themselves to make space for the other person. This kenotic, self-relinquishing mode of existence enables God on the cross to identify himself with that which is most alien to him, the sinner who has deserved death, and to enter into his opposite, into the night of death. God can take this death upon himself without being conquered by it, but instead thereby vanquish it and establish the foundation of a new life. Thus the cross is the utmost that is possible to God in his self-relinquishing love, it is the id quo maius cogitari nequit ("that than which nothing greater can be thought or conceived") . 

"The doctrine of the Trinity does not thereby give a direct answer to the question of innocent suffering. How could it?! But it is able to be light in the darkness, that helps us not to despair of God in our utmost need and distress, but to know that in our extreme helplessness the crucified God stands by us, so that in all our cries and despair “de profundis ” we are able to bear all in faith. The doctrine of the Trinity is the form of monotheism which permits existential survival in the face of the enormous extent of suffering in the world. 

"But can God suffer? Can he suffer with us? The mainstream of traditional theology has always denied this. It has understood suffering as a deficit and therefore excluded the possibility that God could suffer. On this point a shift has occurred in the case of a large part of more modern theology. Self-evidently, if God suffers he does not suffer in a human but in a divine manner. For God suffering cannot be something external which befalls him. God’s suffering cannot be a passive accident, nor can it be the expression of a deficiency, but only the expression of sovereign self-determination. God is not passively affected by the suffering of his creatures, he allows himself in freedom and love to be affected by the suffering of his creatures, he allows himself to be moved by sympathy (Ex 34,6); indeed, his heart recoils in the face of the misery of his creatures (Hos 11,8). He is not an apathetic but a sympathetic God, a God who suffers with us. God does not glorify or deify suffering, nor does he simply eliminate it, he redeems and transforms it. The cross is the passage to resurrection and transfiguration. The theology of the cross and kenosis conceptualised in the doctrine of the Trinity becomes an Easter theology of exaltation and transfiguration, it becomes a hope against hope in the living God who gives life (Rom 4,18). “Spe salvi ”, (Rom 8,20.24; 1 Pet 1,3) we are, so Scripture says, redeemed in hope. “Saved in hope” is the title of the second encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI."
(The whole of Cardinal Kasper's lecture - with footnotes - can be downloaded as a pdf file from the Catholic Herald site HERE)

The Cardinal's last point reminds me of Bishop Kallistos Ware's remarks about the way in which . . .

"God identifies himself with his creation in its anguish . . . It has truly been said that there was a cross in the heart of God before there was one planted outside Jerusalem; and though the cross of wood has been taken down, the cross in God's heart still remains. It is the cross of pain and triumph - both together. And those who can believe this will find that joy is mingled with their cup of bitterness. They will share on a human level in the divine experience of victorious suffering." (The Orthodox Way, page 64)

* * * * * * * * * *

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see;
Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

(Reginald Heber, 1826)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Getting ready for Pentecost



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

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

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

* * * * * * * ** *


Power From Above 
Pontifical Household Preacher, Pentecost, 2008 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Come, Holy Spirit … 

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

Come Holy Spirit!



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fr Arthur Fellows on the priesthood


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


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


CHRIST THE ONLY PRIEST

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

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

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

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


HIS PROJECTION INTO THE WORLD

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

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

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

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


THE PRIEST AS VICTIM

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

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

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

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

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




Friday, May 15, 2015

With Mary and the first Church waiting in prayer



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, May 4, 2015

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



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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