Monday, November 30, 2009


Austin Farrer (1904-1968), the son of a Baptist minister, was ordained in the Church of England and served as Dean of Magdalene College, Oxford, and Warden of Keble College. He was widely acclaimed as a preacher, poet, philosopher, biblical scholar and spiritual guide. This quote comes from The Crown of the Year : Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament, Darce Press, London, 1952.

Our journey sets out from God in our creation, and returns to God at the final judgement. As the bird rises from the earth to fly, and must some time return to the earth from which it rose; so God sends us forth to fly, and we must fall back into the hands of God at last. But God does not wait for the failure of our power and the expiry of our days to drop us back into his lap. He goes himself to meet us and everywhere confronts us. Where is the countenance which we must finally look in the eyes, and not be able to turn away our head? It smiles up at Mary from the cradle, it calls Peter from the nets, it looks on him with grief when he has denied his master. Our judge meets us at every step of our way, with forgiveness on his lips and succour in his hands. He offers us these things while there is yet time. Every day opportunity shortens, our scope for learning our Redeemer's love is narrowed by twenty-four hours, and we come nearer to the end of our journey, when we shall fall into the hands of the living God, and touch the heart of the devouring fire.

Advent brings Christmas, judgement runs out into mercy. For the God who saves us and the God who judges us is one God. We are not, even, condemned by his severity and redeemed by his compassion; what judges us is what redeems us, the love of God. What is it that will break our hearts on judgement day? Is it not the vision, suddenly unrolled, of how he has loved the friends we have neglected, of how he has loved us, and we have not loved him in return ; how, when we came (as now) before his altar, he gave us himself, and we gave him half-penitences, or resolutions too weak to commit our wills? But while love thus judges us by being what it is, the same love redeems us by effecting what it does. Love shares flesh and blood with us in this present world, that the eyes which look us through at last may find in us a better substance than our vanity.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
And hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the medicine, full of grace,
To save and heal a ruined race.

Thou cam'st, the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to evening-tide;
Proceeding from a virgin shrine,
The spotless Victim all divine.

At Whose dread Name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
And things celestial Thee shall own,
And things terrestrial, Lord alone.

O Thou Whose coming is with dread
To judge and doom the quick and dead,
Preserve us, while we dwell below,
From every insult of the foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Laud, honor, might, and glory be
From age to age eternally.

7th Century, translated from Latin to English by John M. Neale in 1852

Friday, November 27, 2009

St AUGUSTINE FOR THE LAST DAY OF THE YEAR - "Sing your way through temptations"

Today is the last day of the Church's liturgical year. For those who use another form of the Daily Office, here is the passage from St Augustine of Hippo set as today's second reading in the Office of Readings in the Breviary. It's one of my favourite Augustine passages, and comes in the Office just after the reading of the Epistle of Jude, which climaxes (after a good number of stern warnings!) with the doxology:

"Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen."

Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we are still anxious and worrying, so that we may one day be able to sing it there in heaven, without any worry or care. Why anxious and worrying here? You must want me to be anxious, Lord, when I read, Is not man's life on earth a trial and a temptation? You must want me to worry when temptation is so plentiful that the Prayer itself tells us to worry, when we say, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us. Every day we are petitioners, every day we are trespassers. Do you want me to throw care to the winds, Lord, when every day I am requesting pardon for sins and assistance against dangers? After all, when I have said, because of past sins, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us, I must immediately go on to add, because of future dangers, Lead us not into temptation. And how can a people be in a good way, when they cry out with me, Deliver us from evil? And yet, my brethren, in this time that is still evil, let us sing alleluia to the good God, who does deliver us from evil.

Even here, among the dangers, among the trials and temptations of this life, both by others and by ourselves let alleluia be sung. God is faithful, he says, and he will not permit you to be tempted beyond what you are able to endure. So even here let us sing alleluia. Man is still a defendant on trial, but God is faithful. He did not say "he will not permit you to be tempted" but he will not permit you to be tempted beyond what you are able to endure; and with the temptation he will also make a way out, so that you may be able to endure it. You have entered into temptation; but God will also make a way out so that you do not perish in the temptation; so that like a potter's jar you may be shaped by the preaching and fired into strength by the tribulation. But when you enter the temptation, bear in mind the way out: because God is faithful, God will watch over you and guard your going in and your coming out.

Furthermore, when this body has become immortal and imperishable, when all temptation has been done away with; because the body is dead - why is it dead? - Because of sin. But the spirit is life, because of justice. So do we leave the body dead, then? No, but listen: But if the Spirit of him who raised Christ from the dead dwells within you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies. So you see: now the body receives its life from the soul, but then it will receive it from the Spirit.

O! what a happy alleluia there, how carefree, how safe from all opposition, where nobody will be an enemy, where no-one will ever cease to be a friend! God's praises sung there, sung here - here, by the anxious; there, by the carefree - here, by those who will die; there, by those who will live for ever - here, in hope; there, in reality - here, on our journey; there, in our homeland.

So now, my brethren, let us sing, not to delight our leisure, but to ease our toil. In the way that travellers are in the habit of singing, sing, but keep on walking. What does it mean, "keep on walking"? Go onward always - but go onward in goodness, for there are, according to the Apostle, some people who go ever onward from bad to worse. If you are going onward, you are walking; but always go onward in goodness, onward in the right faith, onward in good habits and behaviour. Sing, and walk onwards.

MIRACLES OF PRAYER by Dr Pusey (1800-1882)

These paragraphs are taken from a sermon, "Miracles of Prayer", Dr Pusey preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, on Septuagesima Sunday, 1866. The entire sermon can be downloaded in pdf format HERE.

Prayer is "the ascent of the soul to God;" it is the beginning of that blessed converse, which shall be the exhaustless fulness of eternal bliss; it is the continuance or renewal of union with God

. . . Blessed dissatisfaction of man's craving soul; glorious restlessness, the token of its Divine birth, its Divine end; that nothing can satisfy it, except what is the bliss of its God, Infinite, Divine love.

Imperfect, faltering, unsatisfactory as are our prayers, their defects but shew the more the goodness of our God, who is never weary of those who are so soon wearied of him, who lets not fall a single earnest cry to him for himself. Not one prayer, from the yearning of the penitent ("would, God, for love of Thee, I had never offended Thee!"), to the love-enkindled longing of the Saint ("My God, and my All!)" but will have enlarged thy capacity for the infinite love of God, and will have drawn down to thee the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost, who is Love Infinite, the Bond of the love of the Father and the Son.

It will guard thee from all evil in the perilous passage through this world; it will sanctify to thee all thy joys; it will be to thee a calm above nature in all thy sorrows; it will give a supernatural value to all thy acts; it will heal all thine infirmities; it will illumine all thy knowledge; and, when thy flesh and thy heart shall fail, thy last prayer upon earth in the Name of Jesus shall melt into thy first Halleluiah in heaven, where, too, doubtless prayer shall never cease, but the soul shall endlessly desire of God, what God shall unintermittingly supply, more and yet more of the exhaustless, ever-filling fulness of Divine Beauty and Wisdom and Love, yea of himself who is Love.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I BELIEVE IN GOD - Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh

One of the first books on prayer I was given as a teenager (by a robust evangelical friend, I must add) was Living Prayer by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. It has nourshed the lives of many Christians of all traditions, and if you haven't ever read it, I urge you to get a copy. You will not be disapponted! 

Metropolitan Anthony was born in Lausanne in 1914. He spent his early childhood in Russia and Persia, his father being a member of the Russian Imperial Diplomatic Corps. His mother was the sister of Alexander Scriabin, the composer. During the Russian Revolution the family had to leave Persia, and in 1923 settled in Paris where the future Metropolitan was educated, graduating in physics, chemistry and biology, and taking his doctorate in medicine, at the University of Paris.

In 1939, before leaving for the front as a surgeon in the French army, he secretly professed monastic vows. He was tonsured and received the name of Anthony in 1943. During the occupation of France by the Germans he worked as a doctor and took part in the Anti-Fascist movement of the Resistance. After the war he continued practising as a physician until 1948, when he was ordained to the priesthood and sent to England to serve as Orthodox Chaplain of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. He was appointed vicar of the Russian patriarchal parish in London in 1950, consecrated as Bishop in 1957 and Archbishop in 1962, in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland. In 1963 he was appointed Exarch of the Moscow Patriarchate in Western Europe, and in 1966 was raised to the rank of Metropolitan. At his own request he was released in 1974 from the function of Exarch, in order to devote himself more fully to the pastoral needs of the growing flock of his Diocese and all who come to him seeking advice and help.Metropolitan Anthony is Honoris Causa Divinity Doctor: of Aberdeen University 'for preaching the Word of God and renewing the spiritual life of this country'; of the Moscow Theological Academy for his theological, pastoral and preaching work; of Cambridge University; and of the Kiev Theological Academy. His first books on prayer and the spiritual life (Living Prayer, Meditations on a Theme and God and Man) were published in England, and his texts are now widely published in Russia, both as books and in periodicals.Metropolitan Anthony died peacefully 4th August, 2003, at the age of 89. This article is from the website devoted to his memory and his teachings. It is HERE.

I met Christ as a Person at a moment when I needed him in order to live, and at a moment when I was not in search of him. I was found; I did not find him. I was a teenager then. Life had been difficult in the early years and now it had of a sudden become easier. All the years when life had been hard I had found it natural, if not easy, to fight; but when life became easy and happy I was faced quite unexpectedly with a problem: I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome, there was something beyond them. Happiness seemed to be stale if it had no further meaning. As it often happens when you are young and when you act with passion, bent to possess either everything or nothing, I decided that I would give myself a year to see whether life had a meaning, and if I discovered it had none I would not live beyond the year.

Months passed and no meaning appeared on the horizon. One day, it was during Lent, and I was then a member of one of the Russian youth organizations in Paris, one of our leaders came up to me and said, 'We have invited a priest to talk to you, come'. I answered with violent indignation that I would not. I had no use for Church. I did not believe in God. I did not want to waste any of my time. Then my leader explained to me that everyone who belonged to my group had reacted in exactly the same way, and if no one came we would all be put to shame because the priest had come and we would be disgraced if no one attended his talk. My leader was a wise man. He did not try to convince me that I should listen attentively to his words so that I might perhaps find truth in them: 'Don't listen,' he said. 'I don't care, but sit and be a physical presence'. That much loyalty I was prepared to give to my youth organization and that much indifference I was prepared to offer to God and to his minister. So I sat through the lecture, but it was with increasing indignation and distaste. The man who spoke to us, as I discovered later, was a great man, but I was then not capable of perceiving his greatness. I saw only a vision of Christ and of Christianity that was profoundly repulsive to me. When the lecture was over I hurried home in order to check the truth of what he had been saying. I asked my mother whether she had a book of the Gospel, because I wanted to know whether the Gospel would support the monstrous impression I had derived from this talk. I expected nothing good from my reading, so I counted the chapters of the four Gospels to be sure that I read the shortest, not to waste time unnecessarily. And thus it was the Gospel according to St Mark which I began to read.

I do not know how to tell you of what happened. I will put it quite simply and those of you who have gone through a similar experience will know what came to pass. While I was reading the beginning of St Mark's gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I became aware of a presence. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. It was no hallucination. It was a simple certainty that the Lord was standing there and that I was in the presence of him whose life I had begun to read with such revulsion and such ill-will.

This was my basic and essential meeting with the Lord. From then I knew that Christ did exist. I knew that he was thou, in other words that he was the Risen Christ. I met with the core of the Christian message, that message which St Paul formulated so sharply and clearly when he said, 'If Christ is not risen we are the most miserable of all men'. Christ was the Risen Christ for me, because if the One Who had died nearly 2000 years before was there alive, he was the Risen Christ. I discovered then something absolutely essential to the Christian message - that the Resurrection is the only event of the Gospel which belongs to history not only past but also present. Christ rose again, twenty centuries ago, but he is the Risen Christ as long as history continues. Only in the light of the Resurrection did everything else make sense to me. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the Crucifixion of the prophet of Galilee was true, and the centurion was right when he said, 'Truly he is the Son of God'. It was in the light of the Resurrection that I could read with certainty the story of the Gospel, knowing that everything was true in it because the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event of history. History I had to believe, the Resurrection I knew for a fact. I did not discover, as you see, the Gospel beginning with its first message of the Annunciation, and it did not unfold for me as a story which one can believe or disbelieve. It began as an event that left all problems of disbelief because it was direct and personal experience.

Then I went on reading the Gospel and I discovered a certain number of things which I believe to be essential to the Christian faith, to the attitude of the Christian to the world and to God. The first thing that struck me is that God, as revealed to us in Christ, is everyone's God. He is not the God of a nation, or a confession, or of a denomination, or a more or less peculiar group, he is everyone's creator? Lord and Saviour. In him I discovered that the whole world had cohesion; that mankind was one; that differences and divergencies were not final and decisive, because we were loved of God; all of us equally, although we were called to serve him in a variety of ways, with a variety of gifts, and with a very different depth and width of knowledge. But the greater the knowledge, the greater the closeness, the greater the responsibility in a world that God loved so much that he gave his only begotten Son, for him to die that the world may live.

The second thing I discovered was that God not only does not want us to be subservient to him, but that he stands as none other for the dignity of man. He refuses to accept us as slaves; he does not permit us to forsake our dignity of sons and of children. Remember the parable of the Prodigal Son. In his humiliation the Prodigal Son is prepared to recognize that he is not worthy to be called any more a son, but in his longing to be accepted again into the forsaken household of the father he is prepared to be admitted into it as a servant. Yet when he comes to making his confession the father allows him to say, only 'I am not worthy to be called thy son,' but he interrupts him then because his son can be an unworthy son, but cannot be a worthy servant. Sonship is a gift that cannot be lost, although it can be profaned. This vision of a God who has respect for human dignity, who stands for it, who will not accept any debased relationship with man, filled me with admiration and with respect and with incipient love for him. And as a corollary - the acceptance by God of utter humiliation and abasement. All the gods of the Ancient World were great: they were the sum total of all that was valued and admired - justice, wisdom, goodness, power. Only God revealed in Christ defeats human imagination, could not be invented by man: a God made in the image of the servant, vulnerable, despised, humiliated, rejected, contemptible, defeated, killed, ruled out, unredeemed in the eyes of men. A God no one would wish to invent or to have - a God one can discover when he reveals himself. A God one accepts with awe and with fear-because he calls us to be like him, upturning all values and giving new meaning to all things.

Then I discovered that the world was dear to God. That he had not only made the world to remain afterwards its Creator and become later its Judge. He had created the world in an act of love, and he had never become alien and indifferent to this world he had thus created. The Incarnation unfolded itself (and I am now speaking no longer of this first primeval experience of mine, but of something that has developed in the course of years), the Incarnation unfolded itself in a variety of meanings of depth. But not only of meanings, for the basic experience of reality remained always untouched.

When we read the Old Testament we may at moments think of the world once created by God moving and developing before the face of its Creator, and called one day to be judged. This vision is so poor and so inadequate to what the Old Testament teaches us. The fact that God called us, all the world visible and invisible, the fact that God called all things and beings out of naught, out of radical non-existence, into existence is already a relationship. We are related to God by this act of creation and in this act of creation. When we think that whatever and whoever he called into existence is called to be a companion of God for all eternity, we can see the depth of the divine love and the extent of the divine risk. Because we are free to accept the love of God and to reject it we can frustrate this love or fulfil this love. But God's love remains immutable and he remains faithful for ever. He creates each of us in hope and in faith, and at moments when our faith vacillates and our hope sways and wavers we can rest in the divine faith and in the divine hope. When we think that the cost of our faithlessness and our waverings is paid by God in the life and death of the Incarnate Word then we can rest assured in his love.

There is a relatedness and a deep relationship between us and God in the very act of creation, and in the very gift of freedom. Freedom is an absolute condition of love, because love is the gift of one's self in perfect freedom, and has no meaning apart from freedom. But there is more to it - the English word 'freedom' is rooted in the Old English word that means 'beloved'; 'my free' meant 'my beloved'. The word Liberty which signifies freedom in other languages defines the status of the child born free in a freeman's household. The Russian word for freedom indicates that we are called to be our own selves, not to imitate, not to ape, not to resemble, but to be ourselves in the image of the One who is perfect freedom and perfect love-truly himself. In all this the relatedness there exists between us and God is revealed particularly in this final act of solidarity which we call the Incarnation. Not only did God remain concerned with us throughout history, but he became one of us through history, and this not for a moment, but forever; not escaping the heaviness, the limitations and the pain of our human destiny, but in order to carry on his human shoulders the consequences of his divine act of creation and of our human rebellion, our rejection of him, lovelessness, godlessness itself. The Incarnation of the Word of God, the becoming man, meant for him that he entered into the realm of time and of death and of limitation and of all the consequences of human godlessness. This solidarity was not for a moment, it was definitive. He became a man, in human history, and he remains a man for ever because 'He sitteth on the right hand of the Father' as a man with hands and feet pierced by the nails, and with his side pierced by the spear. Throughout history and throughout eternity we can see this vision of divine solidarity with us.

This solidarity goes infinitely further than we often imagine. It is not simply that he was tired and hungry and thirsty, that he had to face ill will and unfriendliness and eventually hatred. He had to face something more basic to our mortal condition and more essential than this. He had to face the coming of death and the actual dying. This is more than we can imagine, because in the natural course of events Christ could not die! A human body and a human soul united indissolubly and for ever with the Godhead in the mystery and the miracle of the Incarnation was beyond dying. Death was not only like ours - a result of our lack of life - it was the result of an act of divine will which inflicted death on One who was, not only in his Divinity but even in his humanity, alive with life eternal, because life is defined by oneness or union with God. We see him in the garden on the Mount of Olives face to face with death coming upon him, abandoned by human friendship; by those who were his disciples and were no longer solid with his destiny at that moment. He accepted death, which meant already the loss of what was his own being in life. Again upon the Cross the decisive, the most tragic words of history: 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' Why? Because death is possible only through separation from the source of life, from the Godhead, and for him to die meant that he went through the experience of total, radical, real deprivation of God; of godlessness not only as a world-outlook, not only as an absence of the sense of God, but as a positive loss of the Father. There is not one man on earth who can claim to have known godlessness as Christ knew the absence of God at that moment, without which absence he could not die. This is the extent of the divine solidarity with us. This also is the measure of the divine love and consideration God has for the friend he has created to be his companion of all eternity. People are often prepared to believe in the death of the Cross but not in the Resurrection. How strange! To believe that life can die, and not to be able to believe that life can live. How strange also that we are so poor in the experience of things of our own faith that the only event of history which belongs to our own day is so obscure, and we do not know the Risen Christ while we imagine we are capable of knowing the Christ of the flesh; that Christ of whom Paul said, that we do not know him any more while we now know the Christ of the Spirit, revealed and known to us by the Spirit of God.

But in Christ we do not discover only this Divine solidarity and incipiently, as I have tried to show, the value which God attaches to us. We discover also what man is, because he is not only Very God he is also Very Man. Our vocation is to be what he is. This is the meaning of our belief in the Church as the Body of Christ. We are called to be live, real members of a real enlived body, the head of which is the Lord Jesus - one real body, what St Ignatius of Antioch in the first century called the 'Total Christ', Head and Body together. We are called to such intimate community of life with him that what he is we also are to become, in the words of one of the greatest writers of the fourth century, Athanasius of Alexandria, who says, 'God has become man in order that we should become gods'. Before we become gods we must become men in the image of the One who became what we are. The extent to which we are called to be identified with him who chose to be identified with us is greater than we think. It is because we have a very mean vision of our calling that we are not aiming at the full stature of Christ. Irenaeus of Lyons taught in the second century that, if it is true that we are the Body of Christ, that in him we are one, that our life is hid with Christ in God, then the final vocation of men is, together with Christ because of our oneness with him, to become the only-begotten son of God, an extension in time and in space and in eternity of this incredible, unfathomable relatedness and relationship with the Father.

In that sense we can say soberly, yet with what exultation, that Christ is the very center of history as he is the beginning of all things ('by the Word were all things created') and the end of all things, because in him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we shall in our total humanity have reached to the fullness of our human vocation and God shall be all in all. When we think of the life of Christ and of the death of Christ it is with anguish that we think of the extraordinary insensitiveness and indifference with which we partake in what we see in him. The act of perfect intercession, the act by which he took a step that brought him to the core of the human tragedy; the act by which he became that man of whom the Book of Job speaks in the ninth chapter, who could take his stand between God and one who was judged by God, in order to bring both together. The One who is an equal of both and therefore can bring them together in his own self, but also at his own cost, because every act of intercession is an act of sacrifice.

I would like to illustrate this vision of a sacrifice and its consequences for us by something taken from the late history of the Russian Church. In the years of the Civil War when the opposing armies were contending for power, conquering and losing ground in the course of three years, a small town fell into the hands of the Red army which had been held by the remnants of the Imperial troops. A woman found herself there with her two small children, four and five years of age, in danger of death because her husband belonged to the opposite camp. She hid in an abandoned house hoping that the time would come when she would be able to escape. One evening a young woman of her own age, in the early twenties, knocked at the door and asked her whether she was so-and-so. When the mother said she was, the young woman warned her that she had been discovered and would be fetched that very night in order to be shot. The young woman added, 'You must escape at once'. The mother looked at the children and said, 'How could I?' The young neighbour, who thus far had been nothing but a physical neighbour, became at that moment the neighbour of the Gospel. She said, 'You can, because I will stay behind and call myself by your name when they come to fetch you'. 'But you will be shot,' said the mother. 'Yes, but I have no children'. And she stayed behind.

We can imagine what happened then. We can see the night coming, wrapping in darkness, in gloom, in cold and damp, this cottage. We can see there a woman who was waiting for her death to come and we can remember the Garden of Gethsemane. We can imagine this woman asking that this cup should pass her by and being met like Christ by divine silence. We can imagine her turning in intention towards those who might have supported her, but who were out of reach. The disciples of Christ slept; and she could turn to no one without betraying. We can imagine that more than once she prayed that at least her sacrifice should not be in vain, and here we can see the image of another man who stood before death and hesitated. The greatest of those born to a woman, John the Baptist, who as death was coming to him, sent two of his disciples to Christ to ask him, 'Is it really you, or should we expect another one?' If it is really you then all the sacrifices of my youth, all the years in the wilderness; all the hatred I was surrounded by; the coming of death; my diminishing in order that you might grow, is a blessedness; but if it is not you then I have lost my life, I have lived and I shall die in vain. Here again the prophet received the reply of the prophet, but no word of consolation.

This young woman probably asked herself more than once what would happen to the mother and the children when she was dead, and there was no reply except the word of Christ, 'No one has greater love than he who lays down his life for his friend'. Probably she thought more than once that in one minute she could be secure! It was enough to open the door and the moment she was in the street she no longer was that woman, she became herself again. It was enough to deny her false, her shared identity. We can see again one of the strongest men in history, Peter the apostle, challenged by a woman in the coldness of night and in his desperate loneliness denying in order to save his life. She died, shot. The mother and the children escaped, and here we see one more thing which will be the last I wish to mention.

St Paul tells us, 'It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me'. We often wonder at the meaning of these words. How can Christ live in one? We can have an inkling of this meaning from the life of this mother and her children. They remained alive because another died. They have remained aware throughout their lives that they lived on borrowed life. Their life was cut off the earth by the hatred of men and it was given back by the love of this woman. If they were alive it was because she had lived; her life was theirs. They had to live and fulfil her life. They had to live as she had taught them. Is not this something which we can learn also? Is not this what we must learn from the act of perfect solidarity which we find in the Incarnation, from the insuperable courage and love of God, from the Garden of Gethsemane and the death upon the Cross? Solidarity not only between ourselves, but with every man, because God is solid with the godless as with the saint. The victory of life is in us not only because we receive the miraculous gift of life from God, but because if we live as he taught us he will be alive in us, and we shall be alive in him, now and for all eternity.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Trying to put it into words . . .

Our deep need for the kind of liturgical worship most generations of Christians would have regarded as "mainstream" is beautifully expressed by Alexander Schmeman in this passage, in which he quotes Western scholar, Louis Bouyer:

. . . what does the word holy - which in the words of the prophet Isaiah comprises the eternal content of the angelic glorification, in which we in "this hour" are preparing ourselves to take part - mean and express as a word for God? No discursive thought, no logic is capable of explaining this, yet meanwhile it is precisely this sensation of the holiness of God, this feeling for the holy that is the foundation and source of religion. And here, arriving at this moment, we perhaps more powerfully than ever comprehend that the services, while not explaining to us what the holiness of God is, reveal it to us, and that in this manifestation is the age-old essence of cult - those rites that are as fundamental and ancient as man himself and whose meaning is almost indistinguishable from the gestures, the blessings, lifting up of the hands, prostrations, to which it gave rise. For the cult also was born from necessity, from the thirst of man for partaking of the holy, which he sensed before he could "think" about it.

"It is as though the liturgy alone," writes Louis Bouyer, "knows the full meaning of this notion impenetrable to reason. In any event, the liturgy alone is able to transmit it and teach it ... That religious trembling, that interior vertigo before the Pure, the Inaccessible, the wholly Other, and at the same time that sense of an invisible presence, the attraction of a love so infinite and yet so personal that, having tasted it, we know only that it surpasses all that we still call love: only the liturgy can communicate the unique and incommunicable experience of all this ... In it, this experience somehow flows from every element - the words, the gestures, the lights, the perfume that fills the temple, as in the vision of Isaiah - coming from what is behind all this and yet not simply all this, but which communicates this, in the same way that the striking expression of a face permits us in an instant to discover a soul, without our knowing how."

Thus we have entered and stand now before the holy. We are sanctified by his presence, we are illumined by his light. And the trembling and the sweet feeling of the presence of God, the joy and peace, which has no equal on earth, is all expressed in the threefold, slow singing of the Trisagion: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal" - the heavenly hymn, which is sung on earth but testifies to the accomplished reconciliation of earth and heaven, to the fact that God revealed himself to men and that it is given to us to "share in his holiness" (Heb 12:10).

- from pp 62-63 of The Eucharist - Sacrament of the Kingdom (St Vladimir's Seminary Press, N.Y., 1988)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"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


Friday, November 13, 2009

WHERE LOVE AND JUSTICE MEET - Fr Raniero Cantalamessa

Some of you know that I am a fan of the Papal Household Preacher, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, who models for all of us the blending of Catholic Faith, evangelical preaching and pentecostal experience. I have taken this talk (given to the Prison Fellowship World Convocatio, in Toronto, Canada, on 7th July 2007) from his WEBSITE in its entirety, in the hope that it inspires you as it inspired me.

"Held every four years, the Prison Fellowship World Convocation brings together judges and former prisoners, chaplains and volunteers, politicians and prison officials". So reads the program of this convocation. The people listed play very different roles, yet there is one thing that links all of them together - an equalising factor in front of which all the differences -included that between judges and ex-convicts - appear to be almost irrelevant. Let the Apostle Paul be the one to explain what it is really about:

"All men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin...There is no distinction; all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3: 9, 21-24).

In Paul's day, 'Jews and Greeks' meant 'Hebrews and pagans'; today we could take the words to mean 'believers and non-believers', in other words, the whole human race. The Apostle speaks of this subjection to sin in which we all share, only in view of another, infinitely happier thing in which we also share, and that is, forgiveness and grace.

"The justice of God has been manifested... They are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's justice, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins" (Romans 3: 24-25).

None of this would mean anything to us if we didn't understand exactly what the expression "God's justice" means. There's a risk that a person on hearing God's justice being spoken of and not knowing its exact significance, might feel dismayed rather than encouraged and start thinking: "It's what was to be expected. After the revelation of God's wrath (Rom 1, 18), now his justice is revealed, that is, his just punishment against sinful humankind!" For centuries Paul's declaration was experienced as a frightening rather than a liberating message.

It was Martin Luther who discovered, or better still, rediscovered, that the expression "God's justice" in this context doesn't indicate his punishment or, worse still, his revenge against man; on the contrary it indicates the creative act by which God makes a human being just. I said that Luther "rediscovered" this, because long before him St. Augustine had written: "Just as the expression 'salvation of the Lord' means the salvation by which he saves us, so 'God's justice' means the justice by which, through his mercy, he makes us just"[1]. Later on, Luther wrote: "When I discovered this I felt a new man and it seemed that the doors of paradise were opened wide to me"[2].

"God's justice" has therefore an active, not a passive meaning. It means that God gives each person not what he or she deserves (according to our human understanding of justice), but what he or she doesn't deserve at all, the free gift of mercy and grace and the promise of eternal life. In some recent translations of the Bible "in present-day language" as they call them, the concept of justification is rendered by "rehabilitation", which seems to me very appropriate. It implies the idea that justification is not something given once and for all, leaving us with nothing to do for the rest of our life. Rather God gives us a new possibility in life, he puts in front of each of us, so to say, a clear white sheet of paper on which we can write a completely new chapter of our story. Human beings are restored, made "able" to do good.

The wonderful "good news" that St. Paul proclaims to all people and all times is, therefore, this: God's benevolence has now been made manifest to us, that is, his good will towards humankind, his forgiveness; in a word, his grace. It is Scripture itself which thus explains the concept of "God's justice":

"When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy" (Tit 3: 4-5).

To say "the righteousness of God has appeared" is therefore like saying: the goodness and loving kindness of God has appeared. Truly "justice and love have met". Once and for all time!

With that in mind, we can understand the jubilant exclamation of the Apostle: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit which gives life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8: 1-2). In Franz Kafka's novel The Trial, the author tells the story of a man who is placed under arrest while continuing with his ordinary life and work. No-one knows why. He begins the painstaking task of trying to discover the reasons, where and when the trial would take place, the charges against him, and the procedures. But no-one can tell him anything except that there really is a trial going on, and he is the defendant. Then one day they come to take him away for execution.

In the course of the story we learn that there are three possibilities open to the man: he could either be fully acquitted, or apparently acquitted, or the case could be adjourned. But an apparent acquittal or an adjournment would solve nothing; the accused man would only be kept in a state of mortal anxiety for the rest of his life.

On the other hand, if he were fully acquitted, "all the records of the trial would have to be destroyed. Not only the charges against him but the trial itself and even the sentence would have to be cancelled from the record. Everything would have to be destroyed". But no-one knows if there has ever been such a case of full acquittal! There are only rumours, no more than "beautiful legends". Like all Kafka's works, the novel ends at this point: something is glimpsed in the distance, which you dream about but can never reach, as in a nightmare.

In faith we can cry out to the millions of men and women who see themselves in that accused man: Real acquittal does exist! It is not a legend, a lovely dream! Jesus has "wiped out the written record of our debt; he has destroyed it by nailing it to the cross" (Col 2:14). "There is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8: 1). No more condemnation! Of any kind!

Up to this point, I have explained the message of the Bible. It is time to ask a question: What has all this to say to us in a convention like the present? I believe, this: the purpose of the prison system ought not to be to punish criminals and let them pay for their crimes, but to rehabilitate them and make law-abiding citizens of them, as God has done with us in Christ. The impact of the idea of "God's active justice" could be formidable; in a society that truly respects the human person it could renew the vision we have of the prison system and its purpose.

It is not for me to say how this can be brought about in practice. This is, I suppose, the very scope of all that is attempted and achieved in the ambit of the "Prison Fellowship International"; all the seminars taking place during this Convention focus on this issue. Everyone here- whether in the spiritual, or the legal and social sphere - is working to make the time people are to spend in prison not an enforced passing of dead time while simply awaiting release, but rather a time of personal improvement leading up to a return to a positive place in society. We see how fruitful the concept of justification as "rehabilitation" could be.

There is, however, a particular issue that I need to address, and it is the question of the death penalty. Death penalty stands out in direct and total contrast to the idea of an active justice, the purpose of which is to render a person just and not simply to make a guilty party pay for his crimes. The death penalty excludes any possibility of a person changing. God says in Ezekiel: "Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?" (Ez 18: 23). God does not want a guilty person to die, but rather to change. This surely provides an additional motive for Christians to oppose the death penalty.

If we want to apply God's kind of justice on the human level, it is important that we understand how God brought about the universal rehabilitation that Paul calls "justification through faith". He did not do it simply by wiping the slate, removing evil or making it somehow insignificant. The controversial biblical concept of "God's anger" means only this: God does not tolerate evil, but reacts to it with all the power of his holiness. He tolerates (even loves) the sinner, but not sin.

God is the only one who really practices the so called "zero tolerance" of crime. Woe to us if he didn't! A compromise with evil at that level would destroy the very ethical foundation of the world. For Nietzsche, sin was nothing other than an ignoble "Jewish invention", good and evil simply "prejudices of God", and in our own time a strong current of psychology follows him in that direction, dangerously reducing modern society's resistance to evil.

God does not trivialise evil, or consider it just "the other face of reality". He overcame it, taking it on himself and conquering evil with good (see Rom 12: 21). On this point, we need to go back to Paul's message with which we started, and take in the rest of it:

"They are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Rom 3: 24-25).

The justification, or rehabilitation, of sinners is made possible by the sacrifice of the Son of God, that is, of God himself. In Jesus, the prophecy of God's Suffering Servant is fulfilled:

"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Is 53: 4-6).

At this point I turn especially to the chaplains, the pastoral workers and all who provide a spiritual service in prisons. Make use of every opportunity to get this message across to those who are beginning to be aware of their responsibility and who at times feel crushed by the weight of their own faults. Experience shows that it carries an extraordinary power for resurrection. It is not possible to count the number of those whose conversion began when they heard these words and believed in them.

This is what happened, for instance, the 24th May 1738 to John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church:

"That evening", he writes in his Journal, "I went very unwilling to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death"[3].

His brother, Charles Wesley, had the same experience and, being a poet, he wrote a hymn which has resounded time and time again in prison and outside of prison, bringing immense solace to people convinced of sin:

I felt my Lord's atoning blood
close to my soul applied;
me, me he loved, the Son of God,
for me, for me he died [4].

A 4th century Father of the Church wrote these extraordinarily up-to-date 'existential' words: "For every man the beginning of life is the moment when Christ was immolated for him. But Christ is immolated for him at the moment he acknowledges grace and becomes conscious of the life obtained for him by means of that immolation"[5].

In October 1999 an agreement was signed between the Catholic Church and the World Federation of Lutheran Churches regarding the doctrine of justification through faith. In that document the hope is expressed that the common doctrine on justification by grace alone would now move into practice and become a lived experience for all believers rather than remaining an object of learned disputes among Catholic and Protestant theologians.

I believe that prison is the best place to proclaim this message of the free gift of justification through faith and help people to make such lived experience. If I were a prison chaplain in an English speaking country (and had a better voice!) I would teach Christian prisoners to sing twice a day the beautiful hymn:

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see."

But according to St. Paul we all once were lost. So, why don't we start singing right now all together: "Amazing grace...".

After making our own God's justice through an act of faith, it is necessary to imitate God's behaviour by doing something for our brothers and sisters who suffer the consequences of their misdeeds. We cannot die for sinners as Jesus did, and even if we could, our death would have no power to wipe out anyone's sin, because we ourselves are sinners.

There have been, it is true, people who have closely imitated Jesus in this respect. We think of St Maximilian Kolbe, who offered himself to die in the place of one of his fellow prisoners in the extermination camp at Auschwitz. Yet Christ's example inspires not only heroic acts such as this, but also the more usual sort of mercy works that is possible for everyone. We are all able to give something of ourselves: our time, abilities, affection, a letter or even a post card, a social or legal aid, a moment of human warmth that those in prison need no less than freedom. In order to encourage his disciples to do this, Jesus has said: "I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Mt 25: 36). Prison fellowship is not something started by Mr. Colson; it was started by Jesus Christ, if we intend "prison fellowship" in the sense of fellowship with prisoners.

Almost all the stories of "resurrection" during a prison term or on release from jail that I have read or heard had their beginning in a gesture of love and compassion on the part of some "good Samaritan". I too have had a little experience of this. For ten years I have been conducting a weekly religious programme on the Italian state television RAI Uno. One day a letter came to me from a listener; it started like this:

"Dear Father, my name is... I'm from the Province of Palermo, and I'm thirty years old. I'm a 'repentant' criminal. In the past, I have committed many crimes, all very terrible ones; I ought to have hung a millstone round my neck and thrown myself from a bridge, but I trust in the mercy of God which can do all things. It is a hard thing to live in absolute solitary confinement in prison, and I have now endured it for 28 months. I would love to talk with you: please do me this act of charity, come to see me."

This was a man whose very name, in those days, made people in Italy shudder: a man of the Mafia known for his terrible deeds. I went to see him, and a friendship was born. He began to work with the police and contributed to the arrest of some of the chief bosses of the Sicilian Mafia. I found him a repentant man in the Christian sense of the word, whom only a distorted family upbringing had moved to do the kind of things he had done.

I blessed his marriage, in the prison, to the woman with whom he had had a child while still in hiding. Because of his collaboration with the justice, after a time, according to the Italian law, he was granted house arrest, and at present he is becoming fully re-integrated into society, under a new name to protect him from possible vendettas. He tries to lead an exemplary Christian life with his family and is full of wonder and humility because of what the Lord has done for him.

In one of his letters from prison he wrote to me words that I wish all people in jail could one day make their own:

"When I first began to know remorse, it was like waking from a dream. I found myself shut off and alone, ashamed and unable to look anyone in the eye. But there, in the abyss of my dark desperation, I met Jesus Christ. When no one would have given a brass farthing for my chances, he gave me hope, bringing me to understand that it was also for me that he had gone to the cross."

When Jesus started preaching the Gospel in the synagogue of Nazareth he said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Lk 4: 18-19). I came all the way from Rome to let this message resound here among you and through you among the people in prison. May the same Spirit of God be upon you and anoint you for this precious task.

[1] St. Augustine, The Spirit and the Letter, 32, 56; PL 44, 237.

[2] M. Luther, Preface to the Latin Works, Weimar Ed., 54, p. 186.

[3] John and Charles Wesley, Selected Writings and Hymns, ed. by F. Whaling, Paulist Press, New York 1981, p.107.

[4] Charles Wesley, Hymn "Glory to God, and Praise and Love", in The United Methodist Hymnal, Nashville, Tennessee, 1989, n. 58.

[5] Easter Homily of the year 387; SCh 36, p. 59 f.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

ANTHONY SPARROW (1612-1685) on the Eucharist

Anthony Sparrow was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, later becoming a Fellow of the College, and was ordained to the priesthood in February 1635. A "moderate Catholic", he was ejected from the University in 1644 under the parliamentarian "purge".

Then, in 1647 he was ejected from his rectory at Hawkedon for using the banned Book of Common Prayer. Following the Restoration, he was reinstated in 1660. In 1667 he became Bishop of Exeter and in 1676 he was translated to the See of Norwich.

Sparrow seems to have been influential in the revision of The Book of Common Prayer (1661-1662). Today he is best remembered for his classic work A Rationale Upon the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, the oldest known edition of which dates from 1659. He clearly understands the Eucharist as the Church's pleading of Christ's sacrifice made once for all upon the Cross. The portion of A Rationale given below, in which he demonstrates the Anglican habit of appeal to the early Fathers, is taken from the Parker edition, published in 1843 and edited by John Henry Newman. The book can be downloaded in its entirety HERE as a pdf document.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Soaring into God

O God, my God, give me a heart to thank thee; lift up my heart above myself, to thee and thine eternal throne; let it not linger here among the toils and turmoils of this lower world; let it not be oppressed by any earth-born clouds of care or anxiety or fear or suspicion; but bind it wholly to thee and to thy love; give me eyes to see thy love in all things, and thy grace in all around me; make me to thank thee for thy love and thy grace to all and in all; give me wings of love, that I may soar up to thee, and cling to thee, and adore thee, and praise thee more and more, until I be fitted to enter into the joys of thine everlasting love, everlastingly to love thee and thy grace, whereby thou didst make me such as thou couldest love, such as could love thee, O God, my God. Amen.
Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

YEAR OF THE PRIEST: Shepherds, not Butchers

This salutory article is by Father Lawrence Barriger, Diocesan Vice-Chancellor, The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople). It is from the Holy Myrrhbearers website HERE.

There is a story told about a group of pilgrims who were touring the Holy Land with a guide who was native to the place. The guide was explaining how since time immemorial the shepherd did not walk behind his sheep but rather in front leading them and they followed him, just as the Lord describes Himself as the good shepherd: ". . . the sheep hear His voice and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice" (John 10:3-4).

As the guide finished this explanation, the group laughed when they saw a man walking behind a flock of sheep and driving them along with a stick. Someone commented to the guide, "I thought you said the shepherds here always lead the sheep. Why is that man walking behind and driving them forward?" The guide answered, "Because he isn't the shepherd; he's the butcher."

"I am the good shepherd: I know my own and my own know me" (John 10:14). The English word pastor is borrowed directly from the Latin word pastor meaning a "shepherd." Bishop John (Martin) of blessed memory once stated, "There are too many pastors for the work that is being done and not enough for the work that needs to be done." What is the work that needs to be done?

"So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Feed My lambs.' A second time He said to him, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Tend My sheep.' He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep'" (John 21:15-17).

The Lord did not say to Peter, "be a great liturgist, discuss theology, rule over the faithful, be a great scholar, dress strangely, have long prayers or shun the world," nor any of the other things that often typify the "work that is being done." He says simply, "Feed My sheep."

It is easy for all of us to forget that the task of the priesthood is to nourish the faithful of the Church ? to "Feed My sheep." There is simply no other way for the priest to show his love for Christ than to begin by showing it for the people for whom Christ died.

Frustration with our own failures in the spiritual life has led us to the delusion that if we look authentically Orthodox, that if we have the correct icons, singing, fasting and services, then God's grace will somehow enter into us. In this scheme of things the services of the Church and prayer itself are reduced to magic formulae to grant us - not what God has desired for us - but what we have desired for ourselves. If we fail we believe that it is simply because we have not yet found the right formula to unlock the door for us.

The great temptation for clergy today, in our times of spiritual emptiness, is to look romantically at the great elders and spiritual fathers of times past and imagine what it would be like if we could only have the gifts that they had. What we fail to realize is that [these fathers and mothers] received these gifts after long periods of intense spiritual prayer and longing with virtue and they knew the gifts that they had were of the Holy Spirit and not in or from themselves.

We often give to ourselves, in our imaginations, a cheap and easy grace, which springs from a desire to imitate not the lives and works of these saints, but simply their appearance.

The ministry of spiritual direction in the Orthodox Church is one that proceeds not from the grace we give ourselves but from the Holy Spirit: "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).

No one can study to become a staretz or elder or even a "spiritual father." Those who announce that they are such and seek to impose their will upon members of their parish, intruding into personal lives and demanding an accounting of absences from services and so forth have fallen victim to the "lust for power" that St. Ephraim speaks of in the Lenten Prayer.

It is the butcher who drives the sheep; the shepherd who leads them.

A brother asked Abba Poemen, "Some brothers live with me; do you want me to be in charge of them?" The old man said to him, "No, just work, first and foremost. And if they want to live like you, they will see to it themselves." The brother said to him, "But it is they themselves, Father, who want me to be in charge of them." The old man said to him, "No, be their example, not their legislator" (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers).

The tradition of our Church teaches the importance for each of us to have a helper in the spiritual life, but the idea of blind obedience or domination is foreign to the life of the Church. Those who would feed the sheep of Christ must do so first by example and only secondarily by their words.

In North America the person who will serve as a spiritual father most often will be our parish priest. St. John of Kronstadt, the famous "pastor of all Russia" expressed his view of the pastor in these words that carry a message for both priests and faithful today: "A priest is a spiritual physician. Show your wounds to him without shame, sincerely, openly, trusting and confiding in him as his son; for the confessor is your spiritual father, who should love you more than your own father and mother, for Christ's love is higher than any natural love. He must give an answer to God for you."

The Lord commands Peter and all who follow in his footsteps, "Feed My sheep." Those who are called to be the pastors or shepherds of the Lord must lead the flock of the faithful by being witnesses in their own lives of the Good News of forgiveness in the Cross of Christ and the hope of the Resurrection to all who seek the Lord in repentance and love.

"The Shepherd . . . goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice" (John 10:4).

Monday, November 2, 2009