Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sacramental Preparation for Kids

Over the last few months I have been re-formatting my "CRASH COURSE" for younger teenagers preparing for Confirmation.

When I was "a bush priest" in Ballarat Diocese, I was able to spend the best part of a calendar year with each group of Confirmation candidates. We went through many Bible stories and the life of Christ as well as growing into an experiential understanding of the Church and sacraments. We had outings, picnics, an evangelistic camp, and a visit to the bishop's house for prayers in his chapel and afternoon tea!

When I returned to city life - especially to the central business district of Brisbane where we drew parishioners from a much wider area - it was just not possible to gather children and school aged teenagers in the same way.

Thankfully we had a high level of commitment from our younger families, as well as a Sunday School that followed the Mass Readings. So I decided to have a flexible program of preparation that really just concentrated on the Church and the Sacraments. Sometimes it was taught in a group at church; other times with individual families in their homes.

Anyway, the result is the CRASH COURSE.

Like everything the clergy put together, it reflects a range of material I have used over the years, and ideas from many different sources have been incorporated. (The discerning Anglo-Catholic might even recognize a couple of snippets of the picture book on the sacraments by Enid Chadwick of Walsingham fame!)

If you are interested in this, click HERE and visit the FORWARD MINISTRY DOWNLOADS PAGE.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Love Without Limits 10 (Fr Lev Gillet)

"My dear child Love without limits breaks through the limitations of your words.

"I place in your heart and on your lips various 'ascensions' or upward movements, so that every word you use 'explodes' toward the infinite heights, surpassing every previous word and drawing you on to an ever greater mission.

"You go. Everywhere you go, may you experience yourself as sent to be a bearer of a sacred message.

"You come. From wherever you come, may you feel you are awaited. Be aware that you walk towards a well-defined goal, and that already within yourself you are bound to that goal. Hurry along, then, toward this encounter I have prepared for you.

"You see. What I want for you is that you behold, and that everything you behold might become within you attentive contemplation.

"You hear. My desire for you is that you listen, that you listen from the depths, and that you truly wish to receive what is beyond the physical senses.

"You talk. I want you rather to speak, and that you transform mundane words into a personal and intimate communication.

"You see these verbs rise, one beyond the other, to ever greater clarity. At the highest point there is a verb beyond which one simply cannot go. This is the verb to give. For the gift, the very act of giving, abolishes all sense of personal possession.

"Yet at the heart of every true gift there resound callings that are ever more demanding. The divine logic of the gift-my logic-transforms it from partial to total, from the gift of some thing to the gift of one's self.

"My child, allow me to place these words on your lips. Learn to make of each one of them the verse of a hymn. Then, at last, at the final bend in the road, you will behold the land that you lost, the land you long for, the Promised Land.

"A man is walking in the dark of night, a winter night of bitter cold. It is snowing. The landscape and the atmosphere together crush all sense of hope.

"Yet all at once, among the flakes of snow that bite into the traveler's hands, there appear sparks.

"Where could these sparks have come from? Does that mean there is some flame, some fire nearby? If so, then he can warm himself, then he can find a source of heat and light.

"Yes, there is a flame. There is a fire, right close by. Infinitely close by.

"I come to you, my child, in the smallest things, in the most humble details. Every gesture you make can give expression to Love without limits.

"You wash a plate, then you wipe it dry. Make of that simple act an act of love toward those who have eaten from that plate, and toward all those who will eat from it.

"A housewife walks out the back door. She hangs out the wash on a clothesline so it will dry. Does this rapid gesture of service remind you of anything? Do her two arms, extended for just a moment, make you think of two other arms that were stretched out on a sacred Tree?

"All things can become sacred, if they are transfigured by love. That Love is forever with us, as one who serves."

Friday, July 29, 2011

Love Without Limits 9 (Fr Lev Gillet)

"With what love, then, are you loved?" God asks. "I did not say, 'You were loved.' Nor did I say 'You will be loved.' I did not just love you yesterday or the day before. Nor is it simply tomorrow or the day after tomorrow that I will love you. You are loved today, at this very moment.

"So it is with every one of my human creatures. You express surprise, my child, and you question me, asking: 'Really? Am I loved without exception?' Yes, without exception. Yet you reply: 'Lord, how can that possibly be? Can someone who sins against you be loved by you at the very same time?' Yes, my child. If I did not continue to love a sinful person, would I let that person go on living? My Love is seated like a beggar before the door of someone who does not love. It waits. It will continue to wait. The length of time that I shall wait is beyond human comprehension. I wait. And who will be able to separate me from my beloved sinner?

"You see, then, my child, with what great a Love you are loved! I do not say you are 'deeply' loved or 'greatly' loved,' or loved more or less than someone else. You have heard it said that I love some and despise others, that I love to very different degrees. This is because I have had to speak to human beings in human ways and in human language, in a pedagogical style, with poor human words that cannot possibly express divine realities. Nevertheless, in my indivisible Love there is neither 'more' nor 'less.' My Love is pure quality, containing nothing quantitative, nothing measurable. In its infinite fullness it is offered to all people equally. I can only love in a divine way. That is, entirely, giving myself totally in and through it. It is my human creatures who open themselves more or less - or else close themselves entirely - to my Love.

"Let me use an image. Divine Love is like atmospheric pressure that surrounds and weighs upon every creature. It besieges everyone, desires to conquer everyone. It seeks to force an opening, to find a pathway leading to the heart, in order to fill the person entirely. The difference between the sinner and the saint is that the sinner closes his heart to Love, whereas the saint opens it to that Love. Yet it is the very same Love, offered to both, that attempts to fulfill both. The one rejects it, the other accepts it. There is no acceptance, though, without grace, and that grace is immeasurable."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Love Without Limits 8 (Fr Lev Gillet)

Infinite Love storms the very gates of our life. It could be that I've already achieved a kind of peaceful coexistence with God. Perhaps I've been able to convince myself that I am more or less "in order" with my soul and therefore more or less at ease with myself. Maybe I've even foreseen a happy and peaceful ending to my earthly life.

Then suddenly all these assurances are turned upside down by a divine calling. God demands something of me that I never expected. It's almost like receiving the news of an unwanted child.

Should I listen to this urgent request? Should I make a decision that will cost me dearly? Why in the world would I? Everything seemed to be going so well. Is it really necessary to accept these uncertainties, these new anxieties? Do I really need to tread again the tortuous pathway of that first calling, the one that came so long ago? Do I really have to leave my own familiar homeland, with no idea as to where God is leading me?

I never spoke these things to God, but I certainly thought them. Of course I never said "No" to the Lord, but I have certainly given Him a reply that amounts to a respectful refusal: "Please allow me to live in your presence just as I am!"

"Just as I am...." That person who is me, myself, represents a present state of being, a life lived in a well defined situation, with a collection of things to which I've become thoroughly attached. That includes my relationship with God, which seems perfectly adequate. What more could I want?

Love without limits seeks to invade my life. It troubles the calm waters of my daily existence. It shatters all that seems stable, in order to open before me new horizons that I never before imagined.

Will I refuse? Will I run from this announcement, this command, that God has just spoken to me? If I do refuse, I may not necessarily be estranged from every other form of love. But the love I finally do embrace will be both relative and limited. It will amount to a rejection of absolute Love, with all its audacious demands. It will be the stillness of a stagnant pond, rather than the tumult of the high seas.

Lord of Love, break the bonds that hold me back! I will never return to that place of familiar complacency. O Lord of Love, may I live before you as the person I shall become!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Love Without Limits 7 (Fr Lev Gillet)

"What does 'love' mean, when it is God who loves, God who Himself is Love? Every form of love is a movement from one being towards another with the desire to unite with the other. The directions, forms and varieties of this movement are innumerable. They span the range from less than human to more than human. Yet there is always a tendency toward union, toward a desire for union, whether possessive or sacrificial.

"My Love for persons is a movement of myself toward them, not only to be known by them or to be in some way imitated by them. That movement allows me to unite myself to them, to give myself to them.

"My Love, Love in its incorruptible essence, Love without limits, is never entirely absent. God is never absent. At times such Love seems barely to exist, yes. It can be undetectable, covered by hatred, by all sorts of perversions, or by a layer of instinctive brutality. Yet I still work through it. No matter how deformed love may be, I can make it rise to the level of a conscious and total gift. Love has a great many different aspects, it's true. But there is only one Love.

"You are loved. Isn't there a place for the most 'insignificant' person in the flame of the Burning Bush? A soul, a person whom I love, though, is not insignificant. You are loved. It is you whom I love. This is no universal affirmation; I'm not speaking here about groups of people. I am speaking about you.

"Certainly you are all, collectively, my 'beloved,' whom I have created by my Love. You are members of a single body, which is my own Body. But now, my child, I am speaking to a single person: to you, and to no one else. I am calling you by a name I have given to no one else.

"Yes, I am calling you by a secret name, one reserved for you from all eternity. It is a different name from the one others use to address you. It is the name written on a white stone, a name no one knows, except (if they are attentive to the gift) the person who receives it.

"In the heart of God there is given to each of you the possibility to discover and make apparent to others a different facet of the unique Diamond. You yourself are that facet. Whatever life may have handed you, you are a unique aspect, a particular aspect, of the link that joins each person to divine Love. You are a ray of Love, shining forth from Love, even if at times that ray may seem broken . . . "

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Love Without Limits 6 (Fr Lev Gillet)

No less than six times in the first chapter of the first sacred book of the Hebrews, God is represented creating the days of the week and setting evening as the time at which the day begins.

The way people today count time is not Your way, O Lord. Instinctively, they tend to start the day with morning. The day begins with the pale light of daybreak. Then comes the joy of dawn, the rising of the sun, the splendor of noonday, the sunset and shadows of evening, the sadness of the twilight hours, and finally the tangible tragedy and the terrors of darkness.

With You, O Lord, it is very different. You declare that first there was evening, and only then did morning appear.

Your day begins in the evening hours, in nocturnal obscurity. Then it progresses toward morning, toward the light, toward the incandescence of the Burning Bush and of the midday sun.

Thus it is with our love. It always begins in obscurity, in weakness, uncertain and threatened. Gradually it progresses in strength towards the brilliance of Love without limits.

Without doubt, the evening will return once again. Yet an immense gulf separates the vision of a day declining toward night, from the image of a day that rises toward morning.

What truly matters, O Lord, is the meaning You attribute to the movement that marks each day. You make a symbol of the order it follows, from darkness to light. From the beginning of Creation, You have directed the evolution of time toward Your own luminous fullness. You guide us toward the Morning.

O Lord, grant me to be more conscious of the movement inherent in my days. Despite the obscurities that can darken each moment, grant me an intuition and an unceasing movement toward the rising of the Sun of Love. Open wide the door of my hope to the approaching Day of Your Kingdom, a Day that will know no evening.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Love Without Limits 5 (Fr Lev Gillet)

"My child, as soon as you speak these words, 'Love without limits,' as soon as you give this supreme reality a place in your heart, you open a door. This is the doorway that leads into the Kingdom of freedom and light.

"This is the doorway of Hope, the threshold that leads to the infinite expansion of your being. Hope: awaiting what is to come, awaiting the One who is to come. Such waiting is filled with love. It is founded on love. For we never hope for what we do not love.

"Do not confuse your 'hopes,' in the plural, with 'hope' in the singular. Your hopes are those particular, limited things you want to see realized and which often correspond only to a selfish desire. For example, some special success, or a particular healing. These are hopes. They are not Hope.

"Hope in the true sense is a wish, a desire, an expectation that refers not only to a particular object. It refers to your total destiny. It does not refer to some portion of a curve, but to the curve in its entirety.

"If you consider only a portion of the curve of your life, you can easily have the impression that is a meaningless failure, a tragic loss. Look, rather, at the entire line of your life with a confidence inspired by love. In this perspective, death itself, however great its importance, is only a moment, only a point on the curve. Love never dies. Nothing truly marked by love is ever lost.

"The doorway of Hope is open before you, and no one can ever close it. What is this doorway like? It is the doorway of possibility that Love offers you at every moment. You trouble yourself over the missed opportunities of your life. At times you say to yourself, "Oh, if only I had known! Oh, if only I had done this or that differently. If only I could do it all over again!" We cannot redo what is already done. Yes, of course there have been missed opportunities. They are gone for good. But those lost possibilities are nothing in comparison with what is before you right now: the possibilities that I offer you, that are offered to you in this very moment.

"The door of present possibility, which is also the door of Hope, is open before you at every instant. It is different with each one of us. Don't just sit in front of the door, waiting for someone to come open it because you think it is closed. You only have to push against it gently, and it will open wide before you.

"The moment you cross the threshold, Love without limits will come to you. Since it is of me, it is more than promised Love; it is Love already given. Nevertheless, in this world, as long as you are in this life, you can always break communion with Me. Here, that union remains imperfect. For the time being, ours is only an engagement, not a full marriage. It is Hope rather than possession. But move ahead with the Hope which is yours, that youthful, spring-like Hope you already possess. Hope in your Lord of Love, even when you feel you may be crushed to death. The greatest Hope is to hope against all Hope.

"Hope knows no limits, because it flows forth from Love without limits and leads back to that Love. I ask you this question: Has Love without limits already placed on your finger the engagement ring that is Hope without limits?"

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love Without Limits 4 (Fr Lev Gillet)

"My child," God calls, "expand your vision to the dimensions of universal Love, to the dimensions of my Heart. Love without limits does not end with the human person. My Love upholds the entire universe. It is the essential connection, the vital bond, between all persons and things, and Him who loves them.

"Let yourself be carried away by the immense current of boundless Love. Be transported by this movement, this dynamic and aspiration of nature itself, which waits plaintively to be delivered from the consequences of the Fall.

"It is possible for man to ascend toward me; but do not lose sight of my descent toward mankind and toward all created things. Take a flower in your hand. Take a stone. Contemplate them, not in a scientific perspective, but from the point of view of Love. They represent a recapitulation of the world's evolution. They are signs of the Love that aspires to reach the heights, as they are of the Love that comes to you from across the ages: the Love that reveals itself to you, that gives itself to you, that increasingly draws near to you.

"Behold the beauty of Love in a blade of grass, in a leaf or a branch, in an odour or a colour. Enfold your life into the life of the universe, submitting it to the same divine purpose. Think of the mountains and the sea, of winds and storms, of wild beasts and the smallest animals. They all have their place in my Heart. Grant them a place as well in your prayer. May they orient that prayer toward greater venues than those of some simple piety in which the universe has no place.

"Look for a purpose of Love in every created reality. I have loved every grain of sand, every tree, every animal. Each of them represents both an ascension and a condescension. Unite yourself to them all. Express thanks in the name and in the place of mute nature. And may an adoration as vast as the world be your response to Love without limits.

"Do you admire the sun, the stars, the galaxies? Do you thank me for their creation and their presence in your life? Can you enter into divine Love for everything that exists?

"That may be difficult for you. How can we love snakes, after all? Yet even if you are bitten by a snake, you should attempt to love that snake, even as it bites you. Animals are not culpable. They merely do what their natural organism commands. They, too, were victims of an original Fall. Nevertheless, I never cease to love them all . . .

"My child," God whispers, "this world is a world of signs. You must learn to decipher its secret writing.

"It is good that you discover and admire at every step of the way the beauty of the world. It is good that you remain aware of the creative act that brought it into being. Yet beyond a certain point, that is no longer enough. You must set this created splendour in its total context, which is marked by both pain and victory.

"If you have perceived that the mystery of the universe is Love without limits, yet a Love that sacrifices itself for you, you can no longer see things as they appeared before. 'Natural' beauty simply disappears with the vision of the Sacrifice of Love.

"You see the sun. Think then of Him who is the Light of the World, veiled in shadows. You see the trees, and their branches adorned anew with every new spring. Think of Him who, nailed to the wood, draws all things to Himself.

"You see the rocks and boulders. Think of the stone which, in a special garden, covered the entrance to a tomb. That stone was rolled away; and ever since, the door of that tomb has never been closed.

"You admire the crimson streaks that embellish the whiteness of certain petals. Think of the precious Blood that poured forth from Him who is absolute Purity.

"You see the sheep and the lambs. These innocent ones are led to the slaughter, yet they never open their mouths. Think of Him who, in a unique way, desired to be the sacrificed Lamb of God!"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Love Without Limits 3 (Fr Lev Gillet)

"My child," God declares, "you have seen the Bush that burns without being consumed. You have recognized Love, which is a consuming fire that desires you completely. The 'great vision' of the Burning Bush can help you give Me a new name. That name will not replace the name or names you have used until now. Nevertheless, like a lightening flash in the night, the radiance of this new name can enlighten your entire surroundings.

"Many times you called Me by a name that was not mine. Or, rather, that eternal name, although it was indeed mine, failed to express clearly the most intense manifestations of divine life. It could not adequately express what I wanted to reveal of myself in your times of prayer: that particular aspect of my Being by which you might have spoken to Me.

"You call me God. This traditional name has been worshiped and blessed by countless souls, to whom it has given, and never ceases to give, depths of feeling and strength. Foolish are those who would depreciate it, and ungodly those who would reject it! It is for you, rather, to worship me precisely as God, and to venerate that name by which I am known.

"Nevertheless, without lessening that veneration, you recognize that, from the point of view of the word itself, this name, "God," does not have a specific content; it is lacking in precision. Those meanings people have attached to it were not all direct expressions of the word "God." For that word is so vast, so open to elaboration, that at times, because of human weakness, it can somehow seem empty.

"In your prayer you call me 'God,' 'my God,' 'You who are God,' and 'Lord God.' In this ancient designation, this sacred name 'God,' you can surely find new strength. But you can also find a fresh source of enlightenment in calling me by names that correspond more closely to your immediate experience or your immediate need. You can appeal to those aspects of my Being that are revealed by present circumstances. For example, depending on what is happening in your life, you can call me 'You who are Beauty,' or 'You who are Truth,' or 'You who are my Purity, my Light, my Strength.' You can also call me, 'You who are Love.'

"This last expression will draw your language more closely to my heart. You can say to me, 'Lord of Love.' Or more simply, you can simply speak the name 'Love.'

"Here I would set before you, in your reflection and your prayer, a term which, if you so desire, can become like the sun, the sun that knows no setting, the sun of your life. My beloved ones, I am 'Boundless Love,' 'Love without limits.'

"Love without limits... I am above and beyond every name. The qualification 'without limits' expresses precisely the truth that my Person and my Love are beyond every category known to the human mind. I am 'Supreme Love,' 'Universal Love,' 'Absolute Love,' 'Infinite Love.'

"If I now insist on the words 'without limits,' it is to evoke in your mind the image of barriers that have been overturned. It is to call up for you the image of something unlimited, boundless: a Love that, like some violent wind or hurricane, breaks down every obstacle. I am that Love that nothing can stop, nothing can contain, nothing can impede."

"Our present reflection goes 'beyond' a Person or the divine Persons. It concerns what those Persons are in their depth, their common inner Being, rather than what is proper to each one individually. In this moment we are contemplating 'the divine essence.' We are daring to explore the reality of God, to seek out the original generating emotion of all things. That emotion we have called Love, 'Love without limits.'"

Friday, July 22, 2011

Love Without Limits 2 (Fr Lev Gillet)

"Fire burst forth from the burning bush, yet the bush was not destroyed. Draw near to the Burning Bush, my child. Reflect on this great vision, and why the bush burned and still was not consumed.

"The fire that burns the bush without destroying it is a fire nourished by nothing apart from itself. It subsists alone, by itself. And of itself it spreads abroad in infinite growth. This fire does not destroy the wood of the bush. Rather, it purifies the wood. It eliminates everything in the wood that is merely brambles and thorns. Yet it does not deform the bush. It respects its original structure, even while it eliminates its superfluous growth. It renews without killing. It transforms the wood itself into fire, a lasting fire.

"Surely, according to the most simple, the most elementary interpretation, you can behold in the Burning Bush the expression of divine protection, which sustains your existence in the face of every burning pain and suffering. There, my child, you can find the assurance of a supreme Compassion, a preserving Mercy. There you can see as well the sign of a divine Purification: one painful for you to endure, yet one that sets you free.

"The Burning Bush, however, has a still deeper meaning. It bears a Revelation of your Lord and God Himself.

"The Burning Bush is an expression of the divine nature. In the flame of the bush you can have a glimpse of Who I am. As the Scripture declares, your Lord, the Lord of Love, is a consuming fire!

"Like the flame of the Bush, I am Love that gives endlessly of itself. I am that generosity that knows no bounds. No one can say of my Love: it extends to this point, and no further.

"I am that Love that always tends to incorporate and assimilate every element of human existence it encounters (indeed, I am the very Source of those elements). Just as the fire burns without consuming the wood of the bush, I never destroy the persons I have created. I only wish to make disappear whatever there is within a person that conflicts with the essence of Love.

"I take for myself and make it my own. I transform and I transfigure. I bestow life. I transpose human life on to a higher plane.

"He who loves unites himself to those whom he loves. I unite myself to you, my beloved. Nevertheless, there can be no confusion between myself, who am Love, and you, who receive that Love.

"Can you now behold this Great Vision? Do you see the flame that no one lights, the flame that leaps forth from my very Heart, the flame which is my very Being? Do you see the divine Fire that spreads out across the world? The entire universe is the Burning Bush!"

Love Without Limits 1 (Fr Lev Gillet)

Over the next fortnight I will be sharing with you a series of passages from Fr Lev Gillet's AMOUR SANS LIMITES, originally published in 1971 under the name of "A Monk of the Eastern Church." These translations – which have been a great blessing to me – came originally from Father John Breck's column on the Orthodox Church of America website. Most of them are no longer there, but I see that Neil at Catholic Sensibility has links to cached copies, and these were the sources I used. Thank you Fr Breck and Neil!

"I am your Lord, the Lord of Love. Do you want to enter into the life of Love?

"This is not an invitation to some realm of tepid tenderness. It is a calling to enter into the burning flame of Love. There alone is true conversion: conversion to incandescent Love.

"Do you wish to become someone other than you have been, someone other than you are? Do you wish to be someone who lives for others, and first of all for that Other and with that Other who calls all things into being? Do you wish to be a brother to all, a brother to the entire world?

"Then hear what my Love speaks to you.

"My child, you have never known who you really are. You do not yet know yourself. I mean, you have never really known yourself to be the object of my Love. As a result, you have never known who you are in me, or all the potential within yourself.

"Awake from this sleep and its bad dreams! In certain moments of truth, you see nothing in yourself but failures and defeats, set-backs, corruption, and perhaps even crimes. But none of that is really of you. It is not your true 'me,' the most profound expression of your true self.

"Beneath and behind all that, deeper than all your sin, transgressions and lacks, my eyes are upon you. I see you, and I love you. It is you that I love. It's not the evil you do - the evil that we can neither ignore nor deny nor lessen (is black actually white?). But underneath it all, at a greater depth, I see something else that is still very much alive.

"The masks you wear, the disguises you adopt might well hide you from the eyes of others - and even from your own eyes. But they cannot hide you from me. I pursue you even there where no one has ever pursued you before.

"Your deceptive expression, your feverish quest for excitement, your hard and avaricious heart - all of that I separate from you. I cut it away and cast it far off from you.

"Hear me. No one truly understands you. But I understand you. I can speak about you such wonderful, marvelous things! I can say these things about you. Not about the 'you' that the powers of darkness have so often led astray, but about the 'you' who is as I desire you to be, the 'you' who dwells in my thoughts as the object of my love. I can say these things about the 'you' who can still be what I want you to be, and to be so visibly."

Monday, July 18, 2011

The CALL to the priesthood (Fr Lev Gillet)

Long-time readers of this blog know that I love the writings of that most enigmatic of 20th century spiritual guides, Fr Lev Gillet. For many years his teaching - simple but profound - has inspired me. This piece is a chapter from his book SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS, translated by John Breck, and published in 1990 by St Vladimir's Press. (A portion of the book is available online HERE.)


The call that our High Priest addresses to those whom He wishes to make collaborators of His unique priestly ministry takes three specific forms.

In the first place, there is a purely visible element, consisting of the commission, the election, the choice, the mandate. These terms are synonymous. This commission refers to the act by which the local Christian community, or the bishop, acting in the name of that community, designates a particular man to exercise the priestly ministry. The priesthood should never be obtained by unworthy means. He who appears to be the best candidate is the one who should be chosen.

The call to the priesthood involves a second aspect which is both visible and invisible: the laying on of hands, otherwise called the "ordination." Priesthood is not conferred simply by majority vote within a Christian community. Through ordination, the new priest must be publicly and officially integrated into the long line of priests upon whom bishops have laid hands. Responsible for transmitting the witness and the faith of the Apostles, the bishop unites the new priest to the apostolic tradition. The rites of ordination give visible expression to this continuity. But such continuity cannot be a merely external factor. The apostolic succession of bishops and priests does not consist in a series of ordinations beginning with the earliest days of the Church and continuing down to the present day. It implies rather a definite grace, linked to the grace received by the apostles and disciples of jesus. The same Holy Spirit is given to them all. The priest should hold this spiritual geneology in highest esteem. He should read and meditate upon the words of the ordination ceremony, discovering in them evidence of apostolic holiness. He should aspire to this same holiness and thus make, or remake, of the sacrament of Holy Orders something other than an "institution." He should make of it a fundamental event of his own spiritual life.

Finally, there is a purely invisible aspect of the call to priestly ministry. No one should accept priesthood who has not had the conscious experience, at least once in his life, of encountering the Lord Jesus in an intimate way, of hearing His call directed personally and directly to Himself. "Be my priest" - MY Priest: not only him whom the Church sends in my name, but him whom I myself have chosen, him who belongs to me and whom I have embraced with my whole heart. Both before and beyond the call of the bishop and of the community, there should be that secret call which Mary heard at Bethany, and which every priest should have heard: "The Teacher is here and is calling you." (John 11:28). It is not we who first love and choose Jesus; it is He who has loved and chosen us.

What is our response to this divine call?

Some have heard the call and have always remained faithful to it, despite the inevitable weaknesses of the human condition. Such priests, to be sure, are rare. And they are happy and blessed.

Others have become priests without ever having heard a personal call. Purely personal considerations led them to assume the priesthood. Sometimes they have accepted it with good intentions, but without any living and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. Such priests, however, should by no means accuse themselves of having acted improperly or think that they are condemned. There is still time, and the time is always now, to open one's heart to the voice of Jesus and to hear His invitation. They can hear it now, if they have not done so already. And if they feel that the Lord remains silent, at least their faith and their good will can serve as a positive response to the call which is at this very moment implicit in their ministry.

Many others have heard the call. But then temptation and weariness set in after some time in the priesthood. They fell, and their fall was great. They fell again and again. Yet they did not lose the hope that God would turn towards them, raise them up, confirm them in their ministry, and heal them. May they never cease to hold fast to the Saviour and to cry out to Him, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." (John 11:3)

Then there are those who have lost courage, who have settled into a life of unbelief and sinfulness, who have remained priests in spite of themselves and who wish they had never been ordained. It seems to them the call no longer exists. Or perhaps they never heard it in the first place. The Lord appears to be far from them. But in reality, how very close to them He is! He enfolds with His tenderness and compassion these lost sheep, these lost shepherds. If one of them should read these words, may he remember the parable of the Prodigal Son. May he rise and go toward the Father, whose loving arms are outstretched towards him. "Today, when you hear His coice, do not harden your hearts..." (Hebrews 3:7-8).

And to each of us, priests and sinners that we are, St. Paul declares: "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by the laying on of hands." (1 Timothy 4:14)

Lord Jesus, grant that we may hear Your call. Let us hear it once again, if we have heard it already in the past. If we have not yet heard it, let us hear it now. Grant that this call may never cease to resound within my soul. You have said to me, "Be my priest." I want to be Your priest. you know the gulf that separates me from You. Every step I take, I fall; yet I try to raise myself up and to come to You. You will never reject him who comes to you bearing so many sins, but with such humble trust. "He who comes to me, I will in no way cast out." (John 6:37)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Habsburg Funeral Mass in Vienna

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be flicking through the TV channels where I am staying and - thanks to more satelite channels than I have ever seen before - I came upon the Funeral Mass of Archduke Otto von Habsburg telecast live from St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna. What an inspiring Funeral . . . not just because of the colour, the music, and the liturgy, but also on account of the obvious faith of many people present, and their keen participation.

Otto Habsburg was the eldest son of the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Blessed Karl I and his wife, Zita of Bourbon-Parma. He was six years old when the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell in 1918, and was then exiled with his family. He was an ardent anti-Nazi and anti-Communist, who later served for 20 years in the European Parliament.

Not long before the Berlin Wall fell, Otto Habsburg was one of the organizers of a 'Pan-European picnic' near the border of Austria and Hungary, an event which is said to have helped the fall of the Iron Curtain. (As a result of this picnic, 700 East Germans escaped to the west!)

The Funeral Mass was celebrated by the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schoenbrun, assisted by seven bishops from nations comprising the former Austro-Hungarian Empire including parts of modern day Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Poland, Italy and Montenegro.

Members of various royal families were present, including King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, Prince Hans Adam of Liechtenstein, along with the former monarchs, King Michael of Romania and Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria. Many other European leaders attended.

Following the Mass, a procession took place to the Capuchin Church, traditional burial place of the Habsburgs. When the coffin reached the friary, an old ceremony took place in which the M.C. knocked three times at the church's door in order to gain entry for the coffin. At the first knock, the M.C. requested entry by giving the imperial and royal titles held by the deceased. Entry was denied by the Capuchin friars, with the words , "we do not know him!" At the second knock, the M.C. requested entry by giving the deceased's academic, political and civic titles. Again, entry was denied with the words, "we do not know him!" At the third knock, the M.C. was asked, who goes there. He requested entry on behalf of the deceased by saying: "Otto - a mortal and a sinner." At this, the Capuchin friars opened the door and allowed the coffin to proceed for internment alongside that of Otto’s late wife, Regina, who died in 2010. The Imperial Crypt is the final resting place of dozens of emperors and empresses as well as other members of the Habsburg dynasty. According to Habsburg tradition, Otto Habsburg's heart is to be interred in the Benedictine Pannonhalma Abbey, in Hungary.

Here are some YouTube clips of the Funeral Mass I managed to find.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bishop Jonathan Baker, SSC, elected Chairman of Forward in Faith

Following the resignation late last year of the then Bishop of Fulham (John Broadhurst) as Chairman of Forward in Faith, the Council of Forward in Faith entered into a period of reflection with regard to the election of a successor. Over recent weeks, and in line with the requirement of the Forward in Faith Constitution that such a mid-term vacancy must be filled by election from within the membership of the Council, the necessary process has taken place which resulted in the Right Reverend Jonathan Baker, SSC, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, becoming the new Chairman of Forward in Faith.

Bishop Jonathan writes:

I am very pleased to accept the office of Chairman of Forward in Faith, and grateful for the confidence shown in me by the many members of the Council, lay and ordained, who nominated me for the post.

From its inception, Forward in Faith has been clear about the need for the Church of England to ensure that those who cannot assent to the ordination of women as priests and bishops are able to look to a secure and lasting future. That aspiration remains at the heart of Forward in Faith's purposes. With the debate on the draft Measure on women bishops at a critical stage, Forward in Faith will continue to put the case for legislation which will offer just such a way ahead, not just for the sake of its own membership, but because that is what we believe to be right for the sake of whole of the Church of England.

Forward in Faith has become, however, much more than a single-issue campaigning organisation. In recent years it has grown into an organisation capable of promoting major initiatives in ministry among young people, vocations work, the publication of teaching, devotional and other material, ecumenism and many other areas besides. It is my hope that, in the next phase of its life, Forward in Faith will continue to be positive and creative in furthering the first two of its aims and objectives: those of affirming the Faith of the Church, and proclaiming that faith vigorously.

Forward in Faith stands for 'a vision for unity and truth.' Some members have found that vision fulfilled in the erection of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham within the Roman Catholic Church. I am glad that our organisation has made it clear that it wishes to support those who have joined the Ordinariate, and to retain the closest possible relations with them. For the overwhelming majority of our members, nevertheless, it is more important than ever that the Church of England retains within its life those who continue to be passionate about what Pope Benedict has recently re-affirmed to be the goal of the ARCIC process: full, visible, ecclesial communion between our two churches. This is the vision which Forward in Faith continues to share.

It goes without saying that in accepting this office, my responsibility to all who look to the Bishop of Ebbsfleet remains paramount, whether or not they are members of Forward in Faith, or indeed any other organisation. I do hope, however, that everyone who stands in the catholic tradition in the Church of England will recognise the important contribution which Forward in Faith has made, and I have no doubt will continue to make, to our common life. I am confident that I can exercise this new position of responsibility in a manner wholly consistent with episcopal office.

Finally, please be assured of my prayers for all members of Forward in Faith, that God may bring each one of us to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

+ Jonathan Ebbsfleet

July 2011

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Called to be a punch bag for Christ

I've just glanced at my Facebook page, and saw there a link to a homily given tonight at evensong at St Stephen's House, Oxford, by first year ordinand, Roger Butcher. Over the years I've had to bury a number of children, and I can identify with the notion of "facing the small coffin coming towards us." I was so moved by this homily that I thought I'd share it with you.

Can you remember where you were a year ago? I can! A year a go this very day was a day I will not forget.

I would like to introduce you to a boy called Ted Newton. I know him through my daughter Lauren, as they shared growing up through pre-school and then onto junior school. Unfortunately, when Ted was eight he contracted bone cancer. The doctors and nurses worked diligently to save Ted, but all they achieved was to prolong the inevitable. Ted’s funeral was a year ago today it was an unusual funeral. A red coffin, Ferraris and an Aston Martin following the hearse transporting Ted to the village church, shopkeepers came out of their shops in the local Town to show their respect people stopped and bowed as the small red coffin went on its way.

In the church, the Hospital chaplain had the unenviable job of taking the service with the local community in attendance, nervous schoolchildren trying to sing, fighting back the emotions of grief, tears running down their face stinging their eyes.

Within the community, my business and church work are well known. For many there I represent God. The odd few comments directed towards me mainly came from the schoolteachers stricken by grief. For them, I became their punch bag. Who could blame them! Ted was a nice boy who had lost his life at the age of 10.

In addition, I soon learnt that there is no quick theological band-aid to apply here and if there were, those who grieve would not want to hear it, and I cannot blame them for that. As we train towards the priesthood, it is likely we will all face the death of a child in our ministry; we hope that it is not too often, yet we know it will happen at some point. The sight of a small coffin and grieving relatives has to be one of the most emotional and difficult challenges we face. As I said earlier there is no theological band-aid, yet we are disciples charged to proclaim Jesus to the whole people, even if we become a punch bag for the grief of others. The disciple of Jesus recognises the pain in others and shares in it.

Furthermore, death should not become the focus of our fear, rather we rest in the knowledge that God loves us, and has not forgotten us in our grief. A disciple of Christ lives by loving what is special, and unique in every person. Everyone matters to God. “The sparrows are two a penny, yet not one is forgotten by God”. Every life is a special gift from God. The disciple lives and works with the truth that each person matters, a love that forgets nothing and no-one.

I think what matters here is we celebrate those we love, especially those who have had their lives cut short so suddenly, like Ted. It is important that we remember their unique beauty, which dwells with us and in us, in the knowledge they are infinitely precious to God our creator and redeemer. As priests, we will face the small coffin travelling towards us, seeking strength in the fact that God has numbered every hair on the back of our heads. We dwell in the assurance in the knowledge that God does not forget the smallest of his creatures. And brothers we are called to share in that loving, even if it is only to be a punch bag for Christ.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beyond Left and Right: the ongoing revolution of Catholic Social Teaching

Someone brought to my attention an excellent article by Nigel Zimmermann with the above title that recently received a "runner up" prize in The Tablet's essay competition. Nigel, a friend originally from Brisbane, has been a doctoral student in the Divinity School at Edinburgh University for the last few years. His long time interest in the thought of Pope John Paul II and the philosophical/ theological issues it raises is well known. (For example, I note that just a week ago at a conference in Krakow, Poland, run by The Centre of Theology and Philosophy, Nigel presented a lecture "On Human Life and the Eucharist: A Consideration of John Paul II's Eucharistic-Anthropology of the Gift.")

Anyway, this is how Nigel begins his Tablet essay:

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is the hidden gem of twentieth-century Catholic thought. It goes unnoticed, unread and unimplemented, even by Catholics. It is a body of thinking which has undergone detailed development over the twentieth century and deserves its place "in the sun" of the 21st century. In nations such as Great Britain, it is of peculiar relevance, especially as we continue to adjust to a coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrat and as the Labour Party undergoes re-branding with new leadership. But across the world, and not only in the materialistic West, there remains an idea in politics and social theory that one must subscribe to the Left or the Right; or at least set one's feet down in one of the many camps that now dot the Left-Right divide of contemporary politics. To this visceral assumption, present at the deepest level in our political elite and in our media-based cultural architects, CST asserts itself with the full force of a moral urgency. As an interruption of the entire Left-Right dichotomy, it is revolutionary.

CST does not understand itself simply to be a persuasive approach, or even something as unstable as a "movement" or a "cause", but brings its critique to bear upon our social and political contexts, precisely in the form of a moral engagement which rejects the underlying assumptions of the dominant Left-Right paradigm. How does it enter the fray? Three ways may be highlighted:

1. It begins with theology and not with politics.

"The root reason for human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God."

In these words from Gaudium et Spes (GS) the Second Vatican Council lays out a distinctly theo-centric basis for our social thought and action. According to GS, there is a reasonable basis for insisting on a transcendent category called "dignity", belonging to each human person; but this "reason" flows from God, whose origin is outside the realm of temporal politics. Indeed, it originates outside our normal categories of reason and rationality. The matter of human dignity then, with its divine foundation, falls within the ancient dialogue between faith and reason and is located universally in each particular person. This is not a social theory based in politics, but in theology.

2. It is aware of what is at stake.

CST, whether articulated by the Magisterium, Ecumenical Council, local bishops' conference, or expressed by the lay faithful, is a response to the horrors and inequities of history. In Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII writes of those workers exploited by their employers. He exclaims, "Broken in spirit and worn down in body, how many of them would gladly free themselves from such galling bondage!" Because the Church is universal, as her members suffer, so the Church suffers also.

3. CST believes stubbornly in the irreducible dignity of each human person.

The whole person, the whole time: The Church refuses to grant an inch to the architects of Left and Right, who will at times ask us to compromise at least some people, some of the time . . .

Go HERE to continue reading.