Monday, January 30, 2012

Alec Guinness as King Charles 1 - Execution Scene



From the film "Cromwell" (1970), starring Richard Harris.


Charles, King and Martyr



From the website of the Society of King Charles the Martyr:

On the morning of 30th January, 1649 Charles awoke early and told his attendant Thomas Herbert, “this is my second marriage day… for before night I hope to be espoused to my blessed Jesus.” The winter weather was so severe that the Thames had frozen over. The King was concerned that the cold would make him shiver giving the appearance of shaking with fear, so he asked as he was dressed to be provided with an extra shirt for warmth (one of these shirts is kept at Windsor Castle and the other at the Museum of London).

William Juxon, Bishop of London, arrived to read Morning Prayer with the King and to administer the Sacrament. The Bishop read the lesson for the day, which was the account of the Passion of Christ. Charles thought that this passage had been especially chosen by the Bishop but was told that it was the proscribed lesson in the Prayer Book for that day. The King found this very reassuring.

At ten o’clock Colonel Hacker told the King that it was time to leave for Whitehall. Charles, Juxon and Herbert were escorted on foot from S.James’s Palace. Two companies of infantry guarded the route. The party was led through the inside of several buildings to avoid the gathering crowds. They passed over the upper floor of the Holbein Gate from where Charles would have seen the scaffold below and then into the Banqueting House.

It was intended that the beheading should proceed immediately but the official executioner, Brandon, refused the task in horror. There followed a search to find someone to take his place. The identity of the man who finally wielded the axe remains a mystery, for he and his accomplice wore masks. About three hours had elapsed with cruelly Charles being kept waiting. It is sometimes suggested that the delay was caused by a last-minute sitting of Parliament to pass an Act prohibiting the proclamation of the Prince of Wales as King. However, this had been done the previous Saturday, and anyway, many members of the House had deemed it expedient to be absent from the City that day.

The wait must have been extremely trying for the King but all those around him remarked on his calmness and composure. Midday arrived and a meal was prepared for him, this he refused having resolved to take no food that day other than the Blessed Sacrament. Fearing that the lack of food and passing of time would cause the King to feel faint, Juxon persuaded Charles to eat just a little. He was presented with a small loaf of bread and a glass of claret; thus he had his Last Supper. He spent much time in prayer with the Bishop.

Sometime after one o’clock all was ready on the scaffold. The King emerged from the relative gloom of the Banqueting House, where many of the windows had been boarded up, to the brightness outside, where the sun had broken through the clouds. The street was packed. Ranks of soldiers, on foot and mounted, filled the area near the scaffold preventing any rescue attempt. The public were kept at a distance so that they could see and hear very little. The railings of the scaffold were hung with black drapery to obscure the view further. In the centre of the platform was a low billet of wood with attached ropes and staples in case the King resisted and needed to be secured to the block. A cheap deal coffin, which cost ‘but six shillings’ lay to one side with a black pall to cover it.

With Charles were Juxon, Colonel Tomlinson, Colonel Hacker, the two headsmen and two or three shorthand writers. To the witnesses Charles appeared to be fully confident. He had been denied the right to speak freely at his trial after the sentence was passed and although he realised that few would hear him he spoke to the crowds. He declared himself to be “an honest man, a good king and a good Christian” and that he had not begun the Civil War and that he considered his sentence illegal. He added though that he was receiving just punishment from God, a reference to his allowing the execution of Strafford earlier in his reign to placate the puritans, which he bitterly regretted and repented of.

He said that his desire was for liberty, freedom and the rule of law and government and not for arbitrary rule; for all this, “I am a martyr of the people.” He concluded by saying, “I die a Christian according to the profession of the Church of England as I found it left to me by my father…I have a good cause and I have a gracious God.”

He then spoke words of forgiveness to the two headsmen and explained that he would give a signal when he was ready for the axe’s blow. Juxon helped the King to tuck his long hair into a cap so that it might not impede the axe.

The Bishop said, “There is but one stage more which though turbulent and troublesome, yet is a very short one; you may consider that it will carry you a very great way; it will carry you from Earth to Heaven, and there you shall find to your great joy, the prize you hasten to; a Crown of Glory.”

Charles replied, “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.” He then passed his George to Juxon and said, “Remember!”

Charles stood for a moment in silent prayer, then lay down with his head on the block. After a few seconds of prayer he stretched out his hands as the sign. The ‘bright axe’ flashed and at one blow Charles’s head was severed from his body. Contemporary accounts record that a great groan went up from the crowd. One of the headsmen held up the blessed martyr’s head and against custom, did so in silence. Sir William Sanderson, who was a witness, recorded that the fatal blow was struck within a minute to two o’clock.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Our dependence on him is absolute


Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was a scholar, a mystic and a well-known spiritual guide. A little out of fashion at the present time, she deserves to be rediscovered by this generation! The following is from her book, The Spiritual Life, pages 34-46.


"There is no real occasion for tumult, strain, conflict, anxiety, once we have reached the living conviction that God is All. All takes place within him. He alone matters. He alone is. Our spiritual life is his affair; because, whatever we may think to the contrary, it is really produced by his steady attraction, and our humble and self forgetful response to it. It consists in being drawn, at his pace and in his way, to the place where he wants us to be; not the place we fancied for ourselves.

"Some people may seem to us to go to God by a moving staircase; where they can assist matters a bit by their own efforts, but much gets done for them and progress does not cease. Some appear to be whisked past us in a lift (elevator); whilst we find ourselves on a steep flight of stairs with a bend at the top, so that we cannot see how much farther we have to go. But none of this really matters; what matters is the conviction that all are moving towards God, and, in that journey, accompanied, supported, checked and fed by God. Since our dependence on him is absolute, and our desire is that his will shall be done, this great desire can gradually swallow up, neutralise all our small self-centred desires. When that happens life, inner and outer, becomes one single, various act of adoration and self-giving; one undivided response of the creature to the demand and pressure of Creative Love."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fishing


Fishers of men, by Rex DeLoney (b.1965) Go HERE for gallery


Over at The English Catholic Blog, Father Anthony Chadwick commented graciously on yesterday's post. He was followed up by Deborah Gyapong, who included two characteristically brilliant homilies from Brother Robert Mercer CR (former Bishop of Matabeleland, and then of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, who was recently received into the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (UK) of the Roman Catholic Church).

The point I was trying to make yesterday is that the "sharing of gifts" among the Christian traditions includes our different ways of bringing people to the Lord. I said that one of these precious gifts is Anglican Evensong with its numinous beauty and healing power, and that lots of people have opened their hearts and minds to God as a result of just being there. This is so important in our time when many have either rejected what they imagine is the Christian faith, or have never thought very much about it. We have to accept that people are drawn to the Lord in a variety of ways according to their temperament and background.

Anyway, here is the first piece by Robert Mercer (go HERE for the second one):


A Homily for Trinity 5

My text is one that does not exist. “I am the Big Fisherman.” I derive it from Jesus’ words to St. Peter, “From henceforth thou shalt catch men.”

Some fish live singly, and men catch them with rods. Some fish live in vast great shoals, and men catch them with nets. The Big Fisherman means to have each and every fish that has ever swum, whether fresh water or sea. The Divine Angler knows how to watch and wait for the big old trout that has lurked in the deep dark waters of the Mare Dam. He knows how to play the marlin off Cape Point, lots and lots of reel, time, and patience. He follows the shoals of snoek in the South Atlantic.

Everyone of us is pursued and hunted by the love of Christ. He knows the method which is exactly right, whether to leave us alone, apparently to go our own way, to try this and that, until in an unsuspecting moment we are caught by His watching waitfulness. Whether to let us tire and exhaust ourselves, to struggle against surrender, until He finally pulls us in.

One by one have individuals been caught. The saintly Brother Lawrence, author of the Practice of the Presence of God, by seeing a bare tree in winter. Archbishop William Temple by hearing a piano recital. St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, by reading a book while lying in bed with a broken leg. Professor Joad by finding a country parson in cassock and surplice reading Evensong out loud, all alone in a country church on a weekday evening. Individuals have been taken in the oddest and unlikeliest of ways. In future years Jesus may have other odd tricks to play.

In vast great shoals have others been caught. At times and in places there have been enthusiastic movements which captured the hearts and minds of those particular generations. John Wesley and the 18th century revival which fired up the Church of England. The London Missionary Society and the coming of the Light to the islanders of the Torres Strait towards the end of the last century. Billy Graham and his hordes in our own times. In future years Jesus may have other trawlers with other nets.

The difficult thing for humans to remember is that God does know what He is doing. A man may be quite untouched by, repelled even, by a Graham type crusade. But this is not to say that he can’t know or doesn’t know Jesus. Trout are not caught by trawlers. A man may be quite untouched by, repelled even, by solitude and silence. But this does not mean that he can’t or doesn’t know Jesus. Capelin are not caught by rod and reel.

In the 17th century there was a devout layman who personally knew and wrote books about some of the greats of his own time. John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Hooker. But he’s most famous for his book about fishing. The title of Izaak Walton’s book is an apt description of Christ Himself, The Compleat Angler.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Not "either/or" but "both/and"



Because of the ecumenical experiences of my youth, and subsequent friendships and theological interests, I seem to have been blessed (or cursed - depending on how you look at it!) with a vocation of trying to get different kinds of Christians to appreciate the variety of gifts God has dispersed among his people. So it will not surprise you to know that I am at one with those who see the "arduous journey to Christian Unity" (John Paul II) itself as a "sharing of gifts." It seems to me that with the ecumenical journey now likely to be far longer than most of us imagined forty years ago, it is more and not less important for this sharing of gifts to take place along the way (without, of course, soft-pedalling the things that we believe).

So, parishes need a multi-pronged approach to reaching people. Liturgical churches desperately need to be more evangelistic and cultivate deliberate Gospel ministry, as - in fact - did the Anglo-Catholic "ritualist" slum priests in their era. We must learn what we can from the “Fresh Expressions” crowd as well as from the various renewal movements. Christian people from across the traditions need to learn from each other innovative ways of sharing our faith with family members, with our colleagues at work and with our friends.

But let’s also remember those – young and old alike - who need a bit of space as they begin to explore the life of faith. In this context one of the gifts the Anglican tradition has to share is sung Evensong in which the words of Scripture and the beauty of the music wash over us with their own healing power. It gives many their first vague feeling of connectedness with the things of God as well as a sense of being held in the circle of love by the community of faith. The numinous quality of this worship has enabled thousands to find God who would never have responded to a more aggressive evangelistic approach. Seasoned Christians, too, especially when going through turmoil or trauma in their lives, find enormous spiritual strength in Evensong.

I was reminded of these things yesterday by this short piece written by the concert pianist Stephen Hough on his (UK) Daily Telegraph blog:


By Stephen Hough

This past Sunday I went to Westminster Abbey to attend Evensong, their superb choir conducted by James O'Donnell and accompanied by Robert Quinney. Woven between Thomas Cranmer's matchless words was music of Herbert Howells, William Byrd and a sparkling anthem by Jonathan Dove. If you are visiting London and want a perfect slice of England there's no better place to go.

The Church of England's evening service, adapted after the Reformation from the monastic hour of Vespers, is a wondrous phenomenon. Even the word 'Evensong' is poetic, and it seems to chime in perfect harmony with England's seasons: Autumn's melancholy, early evening light; the merry crackle of Winter frost; Spring's awakening, or the lazy, protracted sun strained through the warmed windows of a Summer afternoon.

Evensong hangs on the wall of English life like a old, familiar cloak passed through the generations. Rich with prayer and Scripture, it is nevertheless totally nonthreatening. It is a service into which all can stumble without censure – a rambling old house where everyone can find some corner to sit and think, to listen with half-attention, trailing a few absentminded fingers of faith or doubt in its passing stream.

Most religious celebrations gather us around a table of some sort. They hand us a book, or a plate, or speak a word demanding a response. They want to 'touch' us. Choral Evensong is a liturgical expression of Christ's Nolle me tangere – 'Do not touch me. I have not yet ascended to my Father' (St. John 20: 17). It reminds us that thresholds can be powerful places of contemplation; and that leaving someone alone with their thoughts is not always denying them hospitality or welcome.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Conversion of St Paul


The Conversion of Saul
Michelangelo (1475 – 1564)
(Fresco, Cappella Paolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican)


Saul, from Tarsus, in present-day Turkey, was at the same time a Roman citizen and a devout Jew, having even studied in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, the most famous rabbi of the day. He said of himself, “I am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1), "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee . . . as to righteousness under the law blameless" (Philippians 3:5).

Only a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Saul encountered the new Christian movement, and became one of the most its most fanatical persecutors. He was among those determined to stamp out this “dangerous heresy.” Saul is mentioned as having witnessed the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7). We next read of his journey to Damascus to lead further persecution of the fledgling Christian community. On this journey his dramatic conversion took place (Acts 9).

From that day until the end of his life, Paul, as he was then known, gave himself unstintingly in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. His special vocation was the conversion of Gentiles. We only have to read the Acts of the Apostles to see the courage and determination with which he established local church communities round the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

His letters to those communities (as well as a few to individuals), are the earliest of Christian writings. They reveal Paul to have been a great interpreter of Jesus' death and resurrection, and an apostle with a real concern for the Church to grow in love and unity. He writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Life wasn't easy for Paul after he became a Christian, on account of so many enemies who tried to destroy his work. He was apparently not an imposing person, but small and insignificant looking. His critics said, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10). He had a disability which he had prayed might be taken away from him, and quotes the Lord’s reply, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In spite of all this Paul continued to fulfil his vocation, preaching the Gospel and caring for the churches. He said, “I will al the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul was martyred at Rome in the year 64, during the the emperor Nero's persecution of the Church.

On this feast of the Conversion of St Paul, as is now customary, the closing vespers of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will be held at the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome. Representatives of all the Christian traditions will be there, and Pope Benedict will give the homily. St Paul's is one of my favourite places in Rome, so I share with you five of the photos I took there in July last year:

The approach to the basilica


The interior


The altar and baldachino


From the apse mosaic


The cloister garden


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The 1970's Charismatic Renewal


Here is an article I wrote for New Directions Magazine (UK) ten years ago. Last year in the context of speaking at an ecumenical meeting I revised and enlarged it, and offer it to you during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It deals with the charismatic renewal of the late 1960's and 1970's from a local perspective, and seeks to affirm that many of the realities experienced in the renewal (if not the exact method of experiencing them or language to describe them!) occur in different ways across the Christian traditions, and are one aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit among the people of God.


WHERE HAVE THE CHARISMATICS GONE?

Any narrative of Australian ecclesiastical history must come to terms with the charismatic renewal movement that began to gather momentum in the late 1960’s, a few years later than in the USA. In the 1970’s it impacted the mainstream churches in this country with such a sense of refreshing and restoration that many Christians felt they had experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit of the kind that was known by the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles.

Of course, this movement had its antecedents. They included the visits of well-known healing evangelists of various traditions, and the establishment of pentecostal churches in the first two thirds of the 20th century. Of note in Sydney, the city in which I grew up, there were the large healing services conducted by Canon Jim Glennon in St Andrew's Cathedral, and the remarkable ministry of Father John Hope, Rector of Christ Church St Laurence from 1926 to 1964, who combined a deep understanding of the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit with his leadership of the Anglo-Catholic way in New South Wales and beyond.

During the social upheavals of the 1960’s many baby boomers left the churches. A good proportion of those who remained were touched by the charismatic renewal. Continue reading ...



Monday, January 23, 2012

Prayers for the Church from the Anglican tradition . . .


These well-used prayers are very suitable for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (For more prayers like them, go to the link on my website: TRADITIONAL PRAYERS FOR ANGLICAN CATHOLICS.)


PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH
O gracious Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church; that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645)


THANKSGIVING FOR THE CHURCH
O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity, be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626)


PRAYER FOR ALL SORTS AND CONDITIONS OF MEN
O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men: that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially, we pray for the good estate of the Catholic Church; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those, who are any ways afflicted, or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ his sake. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Today's Gospel reading: Jesus calls Peter and Andrew


The Calling of St Peter and St Andrew
James Tissot, 1886-1894. Brooklyn Museum

One of the permanent links on the sidebar of this blog as well as on the Forward Ministry website is to Don Schwager's DAILY SCRIPTURE READING & MEDITATIONS website. It is a very valuable resource for those who want reliable and inspiring reflections on the Scriptures. One of its features is a commentary each day on that day's Mass readings. I look at it quite often, just to make sure that there's nothing obvious that I have overlooked in preparing my own sermon.

I have copied for you below Don's piece on today's Gospel (Mark 1:14-20). When you've read it, I'm sure you will want to check out his website! (By the way, you can read a bit about Don Schwager HERE.)


What is the gospel of God which Jesus came to preach? The word "gospel" literally means "good news". When a king had good news to deliver to his subjects he sent messengers or heralds throughout the land to make a public announcement – such as the birth of a new king or the defeat of an invading army or occupied force. God sent his prophets to announce the coming of God's anointed King and Messiah. After Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan and anointed by the Spirit he begins his ministry of preaching the gospel – the good news that the kingdom of God was now at hand for all who were ready to receive it.

What is the kingdom of God? The word "kingdom" means something more than a territory or an area of land. It literally means "sovereignty" or "reign" and the power to "rule" and exercise authority. The prophets announced that God would establish a kingdom not just for one nation or people but for the whole world. The scriptures tell us that God's throne is in heaven and his rule is over all (Psalm 103:19). His kingdom is bigger and more powerful than anything we can imagine because it is universal and everlasting (Daniel 4:3). His kingdom is full of glory, power, and splendor (Psalm 145:11-13). In the Book of Daniel we are told that this kingdom is given to the Son of Man and to the saints (Daniel 7:14,18,22,27). The Son of Man is a Messianic title for God's anointed King. The New Testament word for "Messiah" is "Christ" which literally means the "Anointed One" or the "Anointed King". God sent us his Son not to establish an earthly kingdom but to bring us into his heavenly kingdom – a kingdom ruled by truth, justice, peace, and holiness. The kingdom of God is the central theme of Jesus' mission. It's the core of his gospel message.

As soon as John the Baptist had finished his testimony, Jesus began his in Galilee, his home district. John's enemies had sought to silence him, but the gospel cannot be silenced. Jesus proclaimed that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus takes up John's message of repentance and calls disciples to believe in the gospel--the good news he has come to deliver. What is the good news which Jesus delivers? It is the good news of peace (restoration of relationship with God - Ephesians 6:15), of hope (the hope of heaven and everlasting life - Colossians 1:23 ), of truth (God's word is true and reliable - Colossians 1:5), of promise (he rewards those who seek him - Ephesians 3:6)), of immortality (God gives everlasting life - 2 Timothy 1:10), and the good news of salvation (liberty from sin and freedom to live as sons and daughters of God - Ephesians 1:13).

How do we enter the kingdom of God? In announcing the good news, Jesus gave two explicit things each of us must do to in order to receive the kingdom of God: repent and believe. When we submit to Christ's rule in our lives and believe the gospel message the Lord Jesus gives us the grace and power to live a new way of life as citizens of his kingdom. He gives us grace to renounce the kingdom of darkness ruled by sin and Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44) and the ruler of this present world (John 12:31). That is why repentance is the first step. Repentance means to change – to change my way of thinking, my attitude, disposition, and life choices so that Christ can be the Lord and Master of my heart rather than sin, selfishness, and greed. If we are only sorry for the consequences of our sins, we will very likely keep repeating the sin that is mastering us. True repentance requires a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17) and sorrow for sin and a firm resolution to avoid it in the future. The Lord Jesus gives us grace to see sin for what it really is – a rejection of his love and wisdom for our lives and a refusal to do what is good and in accord with his will. His grace brings pardon and help for turning away from everything that would keep us from his love and truth. To believe is to take Jesus at his word and to recognize that God loved us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to free us from bondage to sin and harmful desires. God made the supreme sacrifice of his Son on the cross to bring us back to a relationship of peace and friendship with himself. He is our Father and he wants us to live as his sons and daughters. God loved us first and he invites us in love to surrender our lives to him. Do you believe that the gospel – the good news of Jesus – has power to free you from bondage to sin and fear?

When Jesus preached the gospel message he called others to follow as his disciples and he gave them a mission – "to catch people for the kingdom of God". What kind of disciples did he choose? Smelly fishermen! In the choice of the first apostles we see a characteristic feature of Jesus' work: he chose very ordinary people. They were non-professionals, had no wealth or position. They were chosen from the common people who did ordinary things, had no special education, and no social advantages. Jesus wanted ordinary people who could take an assignment and do it extraordinarily well. He chose these individuals, not for what they were, but for what they would be capable of becoming under his direction and power. When the Lord calls us to serve, we must not think we have nothing to offer. The Lord takes what ordinary people, like us, can offer and uses it for greatness in his kingdom. Do you believe that God wants to work through and in you for his glory?

Jesus speaks the same message to us today: we will "catch people" for the kingdom of God if we allow the light of Jesus Christ to shine through us. God wants others to see the light of Christ in us in the way we live, speak, and witness the joy of the gospel. Paul the Apostles says, But thanks be to God, who in Christ Jesus always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15). Do you witness to those around you the joy of the gospel and do you pray for your neighbors, co-workers, and relatives that they may come to know the Lord Jesus Christ and grow in the knowledge of his love?

"Lord Jesus, you have called me personally by name, just as you called your first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Help me to believe your word and follow you faithfully. Fill me with the joy of the gospel that your light may shine through me to many others."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pope Benedict on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


This is a translation from Italian of the address given by Pope Benedict XVI during his general audience on Wednesday 18th January, the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. As usual the Week will conclude with an ecumenical service at the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul (next Wednesday). You can download a pdf of the service book for that occasion from the Vatican website HERE.


Dear brothers and sisters,

Today marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which for more than a century has been celebrated by Christians of all Churches and ecclesial Communities, in order to invoke that extraordinary gift for which the Lord Jesus Himself prayed during the Last Supper, before His Passion: "that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21). The practice of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was introduced in 1908 by Father Paul Wattson, founder of an Anglican religious community that subsequently entered the Catholic Church. The initiative received the blessing of Pope St. Pius X and was then promoted by Pope Benedict XV, who encouraged its celebration throughout the Church with the Brief, Romanorum Pontificum, promulgated Feb. 25, 1916.

The octave of prayer was developed and perfected in the 1930s by Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyon, who promoted prayer "for the unity of the Church as Christ wills, and in accordance with the instruments He wills." In his later writings, Abbé Couturier sees this Week as a way of allowing the prayer of Christ to "enter into and penetrate the entire Christian Body"; it must grow until it becomes "an immense, unanimous cry of the whole People of God" who ask God for this great gift. And it is precisely during the Week of Christian Unity that the impetus given by the Second Vatican Council toward seeking full communion among all of Christ’s disciples each year finds one of its most forceful expressions. This spiritual gathering, which unites Christians of all traditions, increases our awareness of the fact that the unity to which we tend will not be the result of our efforts alone, but will rather be a gift received from above, a gift for which we must constantly pray.

Each year, the booklets for the Week of Prayer are prepared by an ecumenical group from a different region of the world. I would like to pause to consider this point. This year, the texts were proposed by a mixed group comprised of representatives of the Catholic Church and of the Polish Ecumenical Council, which includes the country’s various Churches and ecclesial Communities. The documentation was then reviewed by a committee made up of members of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and of the Faith and Order Commission of the Council of Churches. This work, carried out together in two stages, is also a sign of the desire for unity that animates Christians, and of the awareness that prayer is the primary way of attaining full communion, since it is in being united with the Lord that we move toward unity.

The theme of the Week this year - as we heard - is taken from the First Letter to the Corinthians: “We Will All Be Changed By the Victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ” - His victory will transform us. And this theme was suggested by the large ecumenical Polish group I just mentioned, which - in reflecting on their own experience as a nation -- wanted to underscore how strong a support the Christian faith is in the midst of trial and upheaval, like those that have characterized Poland’s history. After ample discussion, a theme was chosen that focuses on the transforming power of faith in Christ, particularly in light of the importance it has for our prayer for the visible unity of Christ’s Body, the Church. This reflection was inspired by the words of St. Paul who, addressing himself to the Church of Corinth, speaks about the perishable nature of what belongs to our present life - which is also marked by the experience of the “defeat” that comes from sin and death - compared to what brings us Christ’s victory over sin and death in His paschal mystery.

The particular history of the Polish nation, which knew times of democratic coexistence and of religious liberty - as in the 16th century - has been marked in recent centuries by invasions and defeat, but also by the constant struggle against oppression and by the thirst for freedom. All of this led the ecumenical group to reflect more deeply on the true meaning of "victory" - what victory is - and "defeat." Compared with "victory" understood in triumphalistic terms, Christ suggests to us a very different path that does not pass by way of force and power. In fact, He affirms: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Christ speaks of a victory through suffering love, through mutual service, help, new hope and concrete comfort given to the least, to the forgotten, to those who are rejected. For all Christians, the highest expression of this humble service is Jesus Christ Himself - the total gift He makes of Himself, the victory of His love over death on the Cross, which shines resplendent in the light of Easter morning.

We can take part in this transforming “victory” if we allow ourselves to be transformed by God - but only if we work for the conversion of our lives, and if this transformation leads to conversion. This is the reason why the Polish ecumenical group considered particularly fitting for their own reflection the words of St. Paul: “We will all be changed by the victory of Christ, Our Lord” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-58).

The full and visible unity of Christians for which we long demands that we allow ourselves to be ever more perfectly transformed and conformed to the image of Christ. The unity for which we pray requires interior conversion, both communal and personal. It is not simply a matter of kindness and cooperation; above all, we must strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who has spoken to us and who made Himself one of us; we must enter into new life in Christ, which is our true and definitive victory; we must open ourselves to one another, cultivating all the elements of that unity that God has preserved for us and gives to us ever anew; we must feel the urgency of bearing witness before the men of our times to the living God, who made Himself known in Christ.

The Second Vatican Council put the ecumenical pursuit at the center of the Church’s life and work: “The Sacred Council exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism” (Unitatis redintegratio, 4). Blessed John Paul II stressed the essential nature of this commitment, saying: “This unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ’s mission. Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of his disciples. Rather, it belongs to the very essence of this community (Ut unum sint, 9). The ecumenical task is therefore a responsibility of the whole Church and of all the baptized, who must make the partial, already existing communion between Christians grow into full communion in truth and charity. Therefore, prayer for unity is not limited to this Week of Prayer but rather must become an integral part of our prayer, of the life of prayer of all Christians, in every place and in every time, especially when people of different traditions meet and work together for the victory, in Christ, over all that is sin, evil, injustice, and that violates human dignity.

From the time the modern ecumenical movement was born over a century ago, there has always been a clear recognition of the fact that the lack of unity among Christians prevents the Gospel from being proclaimed more effectively, because it jeopardizes our credibility. How can we give a convincing witness if we are divided? Certainly, as regards the fundamental truths of the faith, much more unites us than divides us. But divisions remain, and they concern even various practical and ethical questions - causing confusion and distrust, and weakening our ability to hand on Christ’s saving Word. In this regard, we do well to remember the words of Blessed John Paul II, who in the Encyclical Ut unum sint, speaks of the damage caused to Christian witness and to the proclamation of the Gospel by the lack of unity (cf. no. 98,99). This is a great challenge for the new evangelization, which can be more fruitful if all Christians together announce the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give a common response to the spiritual thirst of our times.

The Church's journey, like that of all peoples, is in the hands of the Risen Christ, who is victorious over the death and injustice that He bore and suffered on behalf of all mankind. He makes us sharers in His victory. Only He is capable of transforming us and changing us - from being weak and hesitant - to being strong and courageous in working for good. Only He can save us from the negative consequences of our divisions. Dear brothers and sisters, I invite everyone to be more intensely united in prayer during this Week for Unity, so that common witness, solidarity and collaboration may grow among Christians, as we await the glorious day when together we may profess the faith handed down by the Apostles, and together celebrate the Sacraments of our transformation in Christ. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]


In English, Pope Benedict said:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which begins today invites all the Lord’s followers to implore the gift of unity. This year’s theme – We Will All Be Changed By The Victory Of Our Lord Jesus Christ – was chosen by representatives of the Catholic Church and the Polish Ecumenical Council. Poland’s experience of oppression and persecution prompts a deeper reflection on the meaning of Christ’s victory over sin and death, a victory in which we share through faith. By his teaching, his example and his paschal mystery, the Lord has shown us the way to a victory obtained not by power, but by love and concern for those in need. Faith in Christ and interior conversion, both individual and communal, must constantly accompany our prayer for Christian unity. During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord in a particular way to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel. In this way we will contribute to the new evangelization and respond ever more fully to the spiritual hunger of the men and women of our time.

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fr Alexander Men - an apostle of unity


Father Alexander Men (1935-1990) was an influential parish priest in Russia who wrote, lectured widely, and eventually appeared on radio and television, becoming a nationally known figure. He started the first Russian Sunday school as soon as the communist persecution ceased, established a university, made a film, and started volunteer work at a children's hospital. He personally baptized thousands, and though he had a huge following of ordinary people he was called “the apostle to the intellectuals.”

He was assassinated in 1990.

You can go to a website dedicated to him HERE. Of particular note is the article by Irina Yaziova We are Moving into an Age of Love summarising his life and work.


I share with you Father Men’s responses to three questions regarding Christian unity, in an interview translated by Steve Griffin from "Kultura i dukhovnoe voskhozhdenie (Moscow 1992)” Go HERE for the complete article.

As an Orthodox believer what is your attitude towards other confessions?
My attitude was not formed immediately. After considerable thought, interaction and research I've come to be convinced that the Church is in essence one and that divisions have come about through the sin and narrow-mindedness of Christians. This sad fact is one of the greatest reasons for crises in Christianity. Only through brotherly unity and respect for diverse forms of church life can we hope to find strength, peace and God's blessing once again.

Can divisions in the Christian Church be overcome?
Over the centuries of division many differences have accumulated in the areas of doctrine, canon and worship. But I'm convinced that the schism between East and West is bound up with political, cultural and national conflicts. Today only a miracle could bring about real unity. Bur it is still possible to overcome misunderstanding and aggressive attitudes towards one another. If the members of different communities got to know one another better, in time this will bear good fruit.

In your view does Russia have a specific vocation?
The Bible teaches that nations which play an important role in history have a vocation given to them from above. I think that this applies to Russia. Chaadaev thought that Russia's vocation was to synthesize the depth and contemplative way of the East with the dynamism of the West. This thought is very close to my heart.


And here is a challenging section of the last interview Fr Alexander Men gave on 5th September 1990, just four days before he was killed:

“. . . the open model is acceptable to those who are sure of their own ground. Those who stand on shaky ground prefer a closed model because it is easier for them.

“Around fifteen years ago, a young man at my church started making occasional visits to the Baptist Church. I told him, you are Orthodox, of course you can go there because the church is everywhere, Christ is everywhere, the gospel is everywhere. Do both: go to the Baptist Church and don't forget your own spiritual roots. And when I explained the open model to him, he said, Oh dear, how uncomfortable! He ended up by becoming a Baptist.

“That person could only be either a Baptist who did not recognize Orthodoxy, or an Orthodox who cursed the Baptists. He wanted to have a little hole to hide himself away in. Apparently Peter the Great also suffered from a psychological disorder - the fear of open spaces. He built himself tiny little rooms and so on. There is an illness like that - the fear of open spaces. In the history of religion, there is also this fear of open spaces.”


I also share with you a series of extracts from a paper given in 1998 by Maureen Klassen. Go HERE for the paper in its entirety.

“When they passed near the Temple, Jesus stopped. In the morning a worship service would be performed and thousands of people would bring Paschal lambs to the altar. But the sleeping city did not suspect that that night, at the walls of God's house, surrounded by eleven shy Galileans, the High Priest and Saviour of the world was praying. He asked the Father to maintain his small flock among a world hostile to it. I do not pray for these only - but for those who believe in me through their word; that they may be one even as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me (Jn17).

“The Coming Temple of Christ's church was illuminated by the light of the Divine Trinity.” (Son of Man, p.178)


Father Alexander Men shared this prayer poured out from the heart of his Master on his way to the Cross. And like his Master, the life that he lived among us, the death that he died, and the legacy he left in the lives of his followers all illuminate the profound meaning of that prayer . . .

Alexander Men inspired a large circle of followers and admirers drawn from a wide spectrum of different traditions, from Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic to Baptist and Pentecostals. His legacy in Russia and beyond is the continuance of his many converts in their devotion to his God, their study of his writings and the Word of God and their openness to one another and those beyond their tradition in the wider Body of Christ. Throughout his life, Alexander Men has been introducing people from all walks of life and religious persuasions to the person of Jesus Christ.

Like his Master, his tireless dedication led him to devote himself to a faithful impartation of God's truth in the lives of those who came to him. His teaching ministry reached far beyond the narrow confines of his local parish church at Novaya Derevnaya. For throughout his life from the time of his earliest writings in the sixties until the widespread posthumous popularity we see today, Alexander Men has been introducing people from all walks of life and religious persuasions to the person of Jesus Christ. He, perhaps more than any other person, was a light in a dark place though all the years of Communist oppression . . .

During his life and ministry Alexander Men was uniquely ecumenical, swimming often against the tide of prejudice and suspicion characterizing many of the parts of Christ's Body in Russia. This prevailing spirit of unifying love is evidenced in the nature of the gatherings in his memory which draw people from very diverse faith backgrounds. His witness and influence have truly transcended the walls that divide us. As we celebrate his life among us we are reminded of other lives of the early fathers, the saints of many traditions, martyrs, Protestant and Catholic and those of more recent eras . . .

At the deepest level the life of Alexander Men inspires us in its similarity to that of his Master in the quality of its discipleship. For the servant must be as his Lord . . .

May our fidelity to that spirit hasten the day when "all the different fruits [of our diversity] will flow together in one stream in which will be preserved all the best in the spiritual culture of humanity and of each person who is made in the image and likeness of God.” (Christianity for the Twenty-First Century, p. 163)

Brother Roger of Taizé - an apostle of unity


(These paragraphs are part of a longer article on the Taizé website.)

Brother Roger of Taizé was for more than fifty years one of the leading figures in the ecumenical movement. He did more than talk about Christian unity; through the community he established, he lived it.

Brother Roger’s ecumenical mission was inspired by his grandmother. A Swiss Protestant, she had lived through World War I, and had been heartbroken to see Christians killing Christians. After the war, though she remained a Protestant, she began going to the Catholic church in her neighborhood to pray, in a silent but powerful gesture of unity which had a profound impact on her grandson. In 1940, as another war was beginning, Brother Roger moved to the tiny village of Taizé in France’s Burgundy region. There, during the war years, he sheltered political refugees, especially Jewish people, and began to develop the idea of an ecumenical community in which men from many different traditions - Catholic, Orthodox, Protestants - would live together under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Brother Roger’s dream became a reality on Easter Sunday, 1949, when the first few brothers, all Protestants, took their vows. Eventually, they were joined by Catholic brothers; today the brothers come from many different Christian traditions and from many different countries.

The mission of the Taizé community is not simply the unity of Christians; they work and pray towards solidarity with outsiders of all kinds, especially those living in extremes of poverty, hunger, or disease. Brother Roger himself traveled all over the world, spending time among the poor in Calcutta, South Africa, Lebanon, Haiti, Madras, Ethiopia, the Philippines, as well as the United States.

Brother Roger hoped that his community would be “a parable of communion,” a living example of how Christians might live together in mutual understanding and respect. As Cardinal Walter Kasper said in his homily at Brother Roger’s funeral: “By his presence, his words and his example, Brother Roger caused love and hope to shine around him, far beyond the barriers and the divisions of this world. A man of communion, he nourished in his heart and in his prayer a deep desire for reconciliation and encounter. With the Brothers of the Taizé community, he wanted to place a ferment of unity in the Church and in the world.”


SOME PRAYERS BY BROTHER ROGER:

O God the Father of all,
you ask every one of us to spread love and reconciliation
where people are divided.
You open this way for us,
so that the wounded body of Jesus Christ, your church,
may be leaven of communion for the poor of the earth
and in the whole human family.

* * *

Like your disciples on the road to Emmaus,
we are so often incapable of seeing that you, O Christ,
are our companion on the way.
But, when our eyes are opened,
we realise that you were speaking to us,
even though perhaps we had forgotten you.
Then the sign of our trust in you is that,
in our turn, we try to love, to forgive with you.
Independent of our doubts or even our faith, O Christ,
you are always there: your love burns in our heart of hearts.

* * *

Christ, you see who I am.
You were familiar with the human condition.
I do not want to hide anything in my heart from you.
You know that I am sometimes pulled in different directions
at the same time.
But when my inner being experiences an emptiness,
the thirst for your presence remains within me.
And when I am unable to pray, you yourself are my prayer.

* * *

Jesus, light of our hearts,
since your resurrection,
you always come to us.
Whatever point we may be at,
you are always waiting for us.
And you tell us:
Come to me, you who are overburdened,
and you will find relief.
Amen.

* * *

Jesus our peace, you never abandon us.

And the Holy Spirit always opens a way forward,

the way which consists in casting ourselves into God
as into the depths.

And astonishment arises:

these depths are not an abyss of darkness;

they are God-fathomless depths
 of compassion and innocence.

* * *

Come, O Christ,
and fill us with quiet confidence; 

make us realise that your love will never disappear,

and that to follow you means giving our lives.

Amen.

* * *

Taizé is, of course, famous for its gentle and powerful worship, musically built around repetitive chants and texts. Here are some words of Brother Roger about this (I'm sure what he says applies to worship in general, whatever the particular musical culture):

Nothing is more conducive to communion with the Living God than a meditative common prayer with singing that never ends, but continues in the silence of one's heart, when one is alone again.

In the common prayer, the spirit of praise gives glimpses of the invisible. And within you comes welling up the wonder of a love.

Singing is one of the most important forms of prayer. A few words sung over and over again reinforce the meditative quality of the prayer. They express a basic reality of faith that can quickly be grasped by the intellect, and that gradually penetrates the heart and the whole being. These simple chants also provide a way of praying when one is alone, during the day or at night, or even in the silence of one's heart while one is working.


Here is Brother Roger speaking about freedom in the image of God:


Cardinal Ratzinger gives Brother Roger Holy Communion
at the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II in 2005



Tuesday, January 17, 2012

May they all be one



PRAYER FOR UNITY
by Fr. Sergius Bulgakov

O Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour
thou didst promise to abide with us always.
Thou dost call all Christians to draw near
and partake of thy Body and Blood,
But our sin has divided us
and we have no power to partake of thy Holy Eucharist together.
We confess this our sin and we pray thee,
forgive us and help us to serve the ways of reconciliation,
according to thy will.
Kindle our hearts with the fire of the Holy Spirit,
give us the spirit of Wisdom and faith, of daring and of patience,
of humility and firmness, of love and of repentance,
through the prayers of the most blessed Mother of God
and of all the saints.
Amen.


ACT OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNION
when attending the Eucharist of a Church
whose discipline does not yet allow us
to receive Holy Communion sacramentally

Lord Jesus,
I believe that you are in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you above all things,
and I long for you in my soul.
Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
As though you have already come,
I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you.
Never permit me to be separated from you.

Lord Jesus, may we all be one
as you and Father are one,
so that the world may believe the Father has sent you.

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles,
'I leave you peace; my peace I give you.
'Look not on our sins,
but on the faith of your Church;
and grant her the peace and unity
which is according to your will;
who live and reign for ever and ever.
Amen.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Becoming part of the prayer of Jesus


My last post, two days ago, began with these words of Mother Mary Clare SLG: “To stand before the living God, what an adventure; to stand face to face before the living God not in a vague way in a place we call heaven, but in the here and now of our moment to moment living, by, with and in Christ, as we are made part of his prayer and his offering through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In order to grasp this truth and deepen our understanding of prayer, we must ponder the “tri-unity” that is the inner life of God, a communion of three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bound together in infinite, self-giving love. “The Trinity is the revelation that God is Love . . . We can only ‘have’ love by loving, by participating in a relationship of love. So, the Trinity is Love Loving – dynamic, unfathomable, inexhaustible, eternally complete and creative.” (Rev. Dr. James Hanvey SJ HERE).

St Gregory Nazianzen and St John of Damascus use the word perichoresis, “going around” or “enveloping” to express this loving union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “The metaphor suggests moving around, making room, relating to one another without losing identity” (Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love, A theology of the Holy Spirit). So, we may think of the Trinity as “creative choreography,” a “dance of reciprocal love.” Pinnock says that “as a circle of loving relationships, God is dynamically alive . . . caught up in an eternal dance of reciprocity . . . The persons of the Trinity move with choreographed harmony. The love emanating from within cannot help but create, for it is the nature of love not to harbour and to hoard but to expand and to create . . .”

An important aspect of this relationship is the perfect love, prayer and praise the Son offers to the Father, and which the Gospels show us being played out in time and space. (Actually, the name “Father” was used of God in a metaphorical sense only 15 times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, however, it is used 245 times. Even that should tell us something important!) A theme running through the Gospels is the intimacy of the relationship of Jesus and the Father. The Gospels make it clear there is a special sence in which God is “my Father” to Jesus. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

Yet St Paul says in Romans 8:15: “. . . you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’”

And in Galatians 4:6: “The proof that you are sons (of God) is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’.”

This cry, “Abba, Father,” uttered continually by the Spirit in the hearts of those gathered at the altar, is basic to the Christian understanding of prayer. It is connected to the reality spoken of in the Anglican-Roman Catholic Agreed Statement on the Eucharist, that at the altar we “enter into the movement of Christ's self-offering.”

In other words, it is in the Eucharist that the Holy Spirit intensely renews and deepens our being part of the prayer of Jesus, and we are swept into the eternal movement of love and self-giving between him and the Father. Thus worship, to quote Fr Hanvey again, becomes for us “‘a great cry of wonder’, a “learning to love by participating in Love. Literally, by ‘being-in-Love’.”

“The Eucharist is not simply a matter of our standing outside of Jesus and watching him offer perfect praise of the Father on our behalf. It is a matter of our entering into the perfect praise of Jesus, becoming one with it, making it our own through our identity with Jesus and with his dispositions in offering himself.” (In Fr. Paul Hinnebusch OP in Praise – A Way of Life.)

A powerful testimony to this is in the Letter to the Hebrews, where words from Psalm 22 are placed on the lips of Jesus the High Priest who gathers his people into a great liturgical assembly:

“He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.’” (Hebrews 2:11-12) The amazing thought here is that Jesus comes to church with us, and he offers praise to the Father from “the midst of the congregation.”

So, “Christian prayer” is NOT primarily the prayer of Christians! “Christian prayer” is the prayer of Jesus. It is the movement of love between him and the Father, to which we are joined by the Holy Spirit. We become part of the prayer of Jesus. ALL our individual prayers are little streams entering this great river of love and praise flowing and swirling between Jesus, the Church and the Father. This is what St Jude means when he says that we should be always “praying in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 20). It is also why the Eucharistic Prayer – the great prayer of thanksgiving, consecration and offering – always concludes with these or similar words:

‘Through him,
with him,
in him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all Glory and honour is yours
Almighty Father,
for ever and ever. Amen.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Friendship with God


In her book Encountering the Depths, Mother Mary Clare SLG (1906-1988), wrote: “To stand before the living God, what an adventure; to stand face to face before the living God, not in a vague way in a place we call heaven, but in the here and now of our moment to moment living, by, with and in Christ, as we are made part of his prayer and his offering through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God loves us, and his purpose is to draw us into an ever-deepening friendship with himself. Do you remember that Abraham is said to have been God’s “friend” (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). Abraham was far from perfect, but he loved God, believed his promises, and walked in his way. He is called the “father of all who believe” (Romans 4:11), and throughout the New Testament his trusting response to God is held up as an example for us.

In John 15:13-15, Jesus says to his followers, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

So, friendship is bound up with sacrificial love.

The religious leaders who were upset with Jesus thought it a clever insult to call him the “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). I'm sure that Jesus wore that badge with honour! In the Gospel narratives it is obvious that, far from just “doing his job,” Jesus enjoyed being with these friends of his. The genuineness and mutuality of real friendship was the context in which so many were able to receive from him love, hope, healing and new beginnings. It’s the same today, which is why church communities and individuals who are truly close to Jesus “befriend” those who are most vulnerable and pushed to the margins of our society.

Friendship is the way of communication and sharing. It involves what is often called a “posture of heart,” an open attitude, toward the other person. In our friendship with God this posture of heart includes recognition of our Father’s greatness, his goodness, his power, his love and his mercy. It also includes the response of our heart, the way we speak with him, our use of gestures to express what is in our hearts, and our determination to do what he asks of us. In prayer we speak, we think, and we also listen in the silence. Sometimes we are able just to “be.”

Friendship with God is a “this-worldly” experience, while at the same time it transcends space and time, for it is an entering into the inner life of God, allowing the Holy Spirit to make us part of Jesus’ eternal self-offering of love to the Father. (More next time)