Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mary & ELizabeth at the actual site of the Visitation



This statue of Mary and Elizabeth is outside the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel, the actual site of the Visitation. (Mary is the figure with the smaller belly and Elizabeth the figure with the larger.)


Caryll Houselander on the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth



This is a beautiful and startling passage from Caryll Houslander on today's Feast. It comes from her book The Reed of God. (Go HERE for a short introduction to Houselander.) 


Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile. 

There is one exquisite incident in our Lady’s Advent in which this is clearly seen: the Visitation. 

And Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda.(Luke 1:39) How lyrical that is, the opening sentence of St. Luke's description of the Visitation. We can feel the rush of warmth and kindness, the sudden urgency of love that sent that girl hurrying over the hills. "Those days" in which she rose on that impulse were the days in which Christ was being formed in her, the impulse was his impulse. 

Many women, if they were expecting a child, would refuse to hurry over the hills on a visit of pure kindness. They would say they had a duty to themselves and to their unborn child which came before anything or anyone else. 

The Mother of God considered no such thing. Elizabeth was going to have a child, too, and although Mary's own child was God, she could not forget Elizabeth's need — almost incredible to us, but characteristic of her. 

She greeted her cousin Elizabeth, and at the sound of her voice, John quickened in his mother's womb and leapt for joy. 

I am come, said Christ, that they may have life and may have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Even before he was born his presence gave life. 

If Christ is growing in us, if we are at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it he is forming himself; if we go with eager will, in haste, to wherever our circumstances compel us, because we believe that he desires to be in that place, we shall find that we are driven more and more to act on the impulse of his love. And the answer we shall get from others to those impulses will be an awakening into life, or the leap into joy of the already wakened life within them. 

It is not necessary at this stage of our contemplation to speak to others of the mystery of life growing in us. It is only necessary to give ourselves to that life, all that we are, to pray without ceasing, not by a continual effort to concentrate our minds but by a growing awareness that Christ is being formed in our lives from what we are. We must trust him for this, because it is not a time to see his face, we must possess him secretly and in darkness, as the earth possesses the seed. We must not try to force Christ’s growth in us, but with a deep gratitude for the light burning secretly in our darkness, we must fold our concentrated love upon him like earth, surrounding, holding, and nourishing the seed. 

We must be swift to obey the winged impulses of his Love, carrying him to wherever he longs to be; and those who recognize his presence will be stirred, like Elizabeth, with new life. They will know his presence, not by any special beauty or power shown by us, but in the way that the bud knows the presence of the light, by an unfolding in themselves, a putting forth of their own beauty.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Spirit-filled Church - Fr Michael Harper



Father Michael Harper (1931-2010), a pioneer of global and ecumenical charismatic renewal, and for the last period of his life a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church gave an inspiring talk on the Holy Spirit as part of THE WAY series. The following is a short extract. The pdf of the whole talk can be downloaded HERE. (Also, go HERE to read my tribute to Fr Michael). 

We have just seen that the Holy Spirit plays a crucial part in the two major sacraments of the Church, the sacrament of Baptism by which we enter the Church and become members of Christ’s Body, and the sacrament of the Eucharist, by which we are strengthened, united, and renewed for our daily pilgrimage in the Way. 

But the ministry of the Holy Spirit extends to each member of the Body of Christ not only when they are in Church, but also at home and at work throughout the day and night. We are to be full of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives. 

Metropolitan Kallistos and others use the phrase ‘becoming what we are’. What then are we? We are children of God. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We are partakers of divine grace. We are saved. In the Homilies of St Macarius we are told, ‘Each of you has been anointed with heavenly Chrism, and has become a Christ by grace; each is a king and prophet of the holy mysteries’. (Cited by Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p. 99)  

But the ‘becoming’ is much harder. Metropolitan Kallistos writes: ‘As pilgrims on the Way, then, it is our purpose to advance from the stage where the grace of the Spirit is present and active within us in a hidden way, to the point of conscious awareness when we know the Spirit’s power openly, directly, with the full perception of our heart ... the Pentecostal spark of the Spirit, existing in each one of us from Baptism is to be kindled into a living flame. We are to become what we are’. [italics added] (Ibid., p.100)  

Let us look for a moment at how St Paul sees the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

In the Epistle to the Romans he wonderfully describes the Holy Spirit’s gift of love: ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, which has been given to us’ (Romans 5:5). He reminds us of the way the Holy Spirit leads us: ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God’ (Romans 8:14). He writes also about the ‘Spirit of sonship, and by him we cry “Abba, Father”’; Paul speaks of the Spirit Himself ‘bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (Romans 8:15-16). He tells us that ‘the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness’ ( Romans 8:26). 

In the Epistle to the Galatians St Paul gives us the classic list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23). 

In the Epistle to the Ephesians he urges them to ‘put on the whole armour of God’ and it includes ‘the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:17); and he goes on to urge them to ‘pray at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication’ (Ephesians 6:18). 

These are just a few of the references in St Paul to the work of the Holy Spirit in us. But we need also to remember the important writing of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and how they operate in the community. The Orthodox Church does not make a sharp distinction between the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Father Lev Gillet writes about this: ‘The Greek Fathers used as almost synonymous the words “gifts” (doreai), “powers” (dynameis), “energies” (energeiai) and “charisms” (charismata). Greek Christian thought always seems reluctant to introduce rational analysis in the realm of pure grace.’ Father Lev Gillet, Orthodox Spirituality (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: Crestwood, New York, 1987), p. 71.  

The gifts of the Holy Spirit have always had a place in the life of the Orthodox Church down the ages. Stories of healing and miracles are often recorded in the lives of the Saints. However, the gift of ‘speaking in tongues’ seems to have been rarely experienced. 

The Orthodox Church has always had the Holy Spirit at the centre of its life and worship. As we have seen, its theology and particularly its sacramental teaching has always honoured and recognized the importance of the Holy Spirit. A Church or a person without the Holy Spirit cannot be called Christian.

We need to be grateful to God for the faithful witness in the Orthodox Church to the Holy Spirit from Pentecost onwards, but also to pray that we may all be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that He may make us strong witnesses of Christ, to change us into the likeness of Christ, and empower us to do the works of Christ.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Holy Spirit - River of Grace (St Ambrose)



The Holy Spirit is the River, and the abundant River, which according to the Hebrews flowed from Jesus in the lands, as we have received it prophesied by the mouth of Isaiah (Isaiah 66:12). This is the great River which flows always and never fails. And not only a river, but also one of copious stream and overflowing greatness, as also David said: “The stream of the river makes glad the city of God" (Psalm 46:4).

For neither is that city, the heavenly Jerusalem, watered by the channel of any earthly river, but that Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Fount of Life, by a short draught of Whom we are satiated, seems to flow more abundantly among those celestial Thrones, Dominions and Powers, Angels and Archangels, rushing in the full course of the seven virtues of the Spirit. For if a river rising above its banks overflows, how much more does the Spirit, rising above every creature, when He touches the as it were low-lying fields of our minds, make glad that heavenly nature of the creatures with the larger fertility of His sanctification. 

(St. Ambrose of Milan On the Holy Spirit, Book 1 Chapter 16)


Monday, May 28, 2012

Metropolitan Anthony's Devotional Addresses at the 1978 Lambeth Conference




Here are a few passages from the first devotional address of Metropolitan Anthony to the Bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered for the 1978 Lambeth Conference. The entire address, as well as the others he gave, can be downloaded HERE. They are wonderful and powerful, and will be a blessing to you! 


Speaking to ordinands in one of the theological colleges of this country I was asked in the discussion that followed my introduction a question by one of them speaking for the whole group, “Can you tell us how we can recapture the living faith which brought us to this place and has been destroyed by the theological teaching, which we have received?” There was nothing wrong in the theological teaching as such, it was quite legitimate that theological students should have learnt all the subjects, which were taught. But apparently something in the way in which they were taught, in the approach or perhaps in the way in which they lived as a body of people prevented them from keeping alive to the mysterious meeting that had occurred once in their lives and made them to choose to be God’s messengers on earth . . . 

One of the things that impresses me time and again and very painfully in the Church, in all the Churches is the way in which we have made the most uncomfortable things comfortable. Behind the smoothness, the artistic beauty of a crucifix, whether it is a crucifix of ivory or wood, or an icon in the Orthodox Church, we have lost sight of the Cross. The crucifix can be admired, can be enjoyed, the cross on which a young Man in his thirties died a long and painful death proclaiming a Gospel, Good News of love and of the closeness of God, the Cross has disappeared from our eyes. We sing melodies, which should not leave our lips if we realise what is going on at the same moment. If we really believed, not intellectually only, theoretically, theologically but with all our being, soul and body, if we only believed that at a certain moment of the Holy Communion service the Spirit of God, the Divine Spirit descents upon this bread and this wine and it becomes truly though mysteriously the Body and Blood of the Incarnate Son of God, could we at that moment sing smoothly a hymn or sing the very words of Christ? Shouldn’t we be spellbound, dumbfounded, unable to move or to speak, forced to break the silence and our immobility of stone if we are to be the celebrant but against this sense that I can’t speak, yet I must, I cannot move yet, I must . . . 

Isn’t it terrifying to read aloud the Gospel or to hear it read with mastery while it should be read with terror, with the sense that how can I read these words that were spoken by the Living God become a living Man on his way to his real passion, to his real death? How can we read the story of Christ in the garden on the Mount of Olives without our heart breaking? There are thousands of people who heard it for the first time and their heart did break, while the reader, the clergyman read it smoothly as a thing he had always known. 

We must learn to break through all that has become familiar for us, but how can we do this? But again if we do not do this, we are like painted graves, and I am using the word “painted” advisedly instead of “white-washed” not to create problems of race discrimination because whatever our colour, we are in the same miserable condition — painted over and inside — what? Dry bones, alas. 

Now, there is a passage in the Gospel which I would like to bring to your attention. At the end of the Gospel according to St. Matthew the Lord commands His disciples to go back to Galilee and to meet Him there. It seems really quite a superfluous journey if you take into account the fact that they are there in Jerusalem in the presence of Christ. Why should they go that far in order to meet Him while they are in His presence? What is there about Galilee that has a peculiar ring or a peculiar flavour? May I submit to you a thought, which I have, as every thought I ever express, stolen from someone better informed than I or more spiritual. This one belongs to an old French Orthodox priest who many of you know either as Fr. Lev Gillet or as the mysterious author of many books signed “A monk of the Orthodox Church”. 

Speaking to me about it he said once that Galilee was the place where the disciples had met Christ for the first time. It was the place of their first discoveries, first of all many quite certainly had met Him in Nazareth, in the surrounding villages, in the fields, in the workshop, in the familiarity of a growing generation of children and young men. Isn’t that the explanation of Nathaniel’s exclamation, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” What would you say if you were told that the Saviour of the world, the Messiah was the young man whom you have always known as a villager distant four or five miles from your village? Then they discovered Him as a youth beyond compare, a mysterious youth of a depth, of a simplicity, of the purity, of the wisdom like a crystal clear and transparent that allows the light to flow through him and at the same time multiplies the light by reflecting it in all directions. Then they discovered Him as their Guide, and their Master, and their Teacher, and their Lord. But all that happened before the tragic, cruel days of Christ’s ministry in Judea, it was the spring of life, it was the time when they opened up, when they blossomed out like flowers and trees in the beginning of the spring. It was the beginning when everything had total newness, when all things were possible, when beauty entered into their life, when faith expounded, when hope was fragrant and when they discovered a scope, a scale, a width and depth of love they had never suspected and the meaning of the Scriptures they had never heard expound in that way, words that were truth, words that were spirit, that were life, words to which everyone of them could say, “Amen,” and come to life. 

This is what Galilee stood for in their memories or perhaps forgotten somewhere in their own past, and Christ takes them out of the context of Judea, of hatred, of the Week of the Passion, of the agonies and fears, of betrayals, of His death and sends them back to their own roots, “Go back to your own beginnings.”


* * * * * * * * * *

Metropolitan Anthony was born in Lausanne in 1914. He spent his early childhood in Russia and Persia, his father being a member of the Russian Imperial Diplomatic Corps. His mother was the sister of Alexander Scriabin, the composer. 

During the Russian Revolution the family had to leave Persia, and in 1923 settled in Paris where the future Metropolitan was educated, graduating in physics, chemistry and biology, and taking his doctorate in medicine, at the University of Paris. 

In 1939, before leaving for the front as a surgeon in the French army, he secretly professed monastic vows. He was tonsured and received the name of Anthony in 1943. During the occupation of France by the Germans he worked as a doctor and took part in the Anti-Fascist movement of the Resistance. 

After the war he continued practising as a physician until 1948, when he was ordained to the priesthood and sent to England to serve as Orthodox Chaplain of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. He was appointed vicar of the Russian patriarchal parish in London in 1950, consecrated as Bishop in 1957 and Archbishop in 1962, in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland. In 1963 he was appointed Exarch of the Moscow Patriarchate in Western Europe, and in 1966 was raised to the rank of Metropolitan. At his own request he was released in 1974 from the function of Exarch, in order to devote himself more fully to the pastoral needs of the growing flock of his Diocese and all who come to him seeking advice and help.

Metropolitan Anthony received a D.D. from Aberdeen University 'for preaching the Word of God and renewing the spiritual life of this country'; from the Moscow Theological Academy for his theological, pastoral and preaching work; from Cambridge University; and from the Kiev Theological Academy. His first books on prayer and the spiritual life (Living Prayer, Meditations on a Theme and God and Man) were published in England, and his texts are now widely published in Russia, both as books and in periodicals. Metropolitan Anthony died peacefully 4th August, 2003, at the age of 89. Go HERE to the website devoted to his memory and his teachings. 


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentecost: The Living Water of the Holy Spirit, by St Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD)




St Cyril (313-386 AD) was born into a Christian family in Jerusalem. He was ordained to the priesthood and given the special task of teaching those who were preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil. These teachings of Cyril were later collected and passed down to us. They are an important source for understanding the worship and teaching of the 4th century Church. 

In 348 Cyril became Bishop of Jerusalem, and ended up involved in the struggle against Arianism which denied the real divinity of Jesus. For a time the Arians were more successful, and Cyril and other orthodox bishops experienced persecution and exile. Cyril, in fact, was banished three times for refusing to accept Arian teachings. (Also, he was once himself wrongly accused of Arian sympathies!) 

After his third exile, he devoted himself to restoring the Church and the teaching of true doctrine. He participated in the Council of Constantinople in 381, which emphasized Jesus’ divinity and equality with God the Father. St Cyril died in 386, and is regarded as a Doctor of the whole Church. 


"The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life." (John 7:38)  

This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it. 

In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each person as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous. 

The Spirit makes one person a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one person's self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the need of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good. 

The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well. 

As light strikes the eyes of one who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables that person to see clearly things he or she could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the one counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables that person to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.

* * * * * * * * * *

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION FOR PENTECOST 
From the Taizé Community 

O living God,
come and make our souls temples of thy Spirit.
Sanctify us, O Lord!

Baptize thy whole Church with fire,
that the divisions soon may cease,
and that it may stand before the world
as a pillar and buttress of thy truth.
Sanctify us, O Lord! 

Grant us all the fruits of thy Holy Spirit:
brotherly love, joy, peace, patience,
goodwill and faithfulness.
Sanctify us, O Lord!

May the Holy Spirit speak
by the voice of thy servants,
here and everywhere,
as they preach thy word.
Sanctify us, O Lord!

Send thy Holy Spirit, the comforter,
to all who face adversity,
or who are the victims of men's wickedness.
Sanctify us, O Lord!

Preserve all nations and their leaders
from hatred and war,
and build up a true community among nations,
through the power of thy Spirit.
Sanctify us, O Lord!

Holy Spirit,
Lord and source of life,
giver of the seven gifts,
Sanctify us, O Comforter.

Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
Spirit of counsel and strength,
Sanctify us, O Comforter.

Spirit of knowledge and devotion,
Spirit of obedience to the Lord.
Sanctify us, O Comforter.


Father Cantalamessa helps us get ready for Pentecost



POWER FROM ABOVE 
Pontifical Household Preacher, Pentecost, 2008 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Come, Holy Spirit … 

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

Come Holy Spirit!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bede's Ascension Hymn



"The Venerable Bede Translates John" was painted in 1902 
by James Doyle Penrose (1862-1932)

Go HERE for a post on the Venerable Bede whose Feast-day it is. 

This is his hymn for the Lord's Ascension, translated by Benjamin Webb (1820-1885) and sung to "Lasst uns erfreuen": 

A hymn of glory let us sing:
New songs throughout the world shall ring:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Chirst, by a road before untrod,
Ascendeth to the throne of God.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The holy apostolic band
Upon the Mount of Olives stand;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
And with his followers they see
Jesus' resplendent majesty.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

To whom the angels, drawing nigh,
"Why stand and gaze upon the sky?
Alleluia! Alleluia!
This is the Saviour!" thus they say;
"This is his noble triumph-day."
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

"Again shall ye behold him so
As ye today have seen him go
Alleluia! Alleluia!
In glorious pomp ascending high,
Up to the portals of the sky."
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, grant us thitherward to tend
And with unwearied hearts ascend
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Unto thy kingdom's throne, where thou,
As is our faith, art seated now.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Be thou our Joy and strong Defence
Who art our future Recompense:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
So shall the light that springs from thee
Be ours through all eternity.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

O risen Christ, ascended Lord,
All praise to thee let earth accord,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Who art, while endless ages run,
With Father and with Spirit One.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Forward in Faith (UK) on the amendments to the draft legislation for women bishops in the Church of England



This statement has been released by Forward in Faith (UK) following the House of Bishop's meeting:

Forward in Faith welcomes the amendments to the draft legislation on women bishops passed by the House of Bishops on Monday. 

The first amendment secures the provision of bishops for traditional catholics and conservative evangelicals who are not simply male, but who share the theological convictions of those to whom they will minister. For traditional catholics, that means bishops ordained into the historic episcopate as we understand it. The draft Measure now recognises that our position is one of legitimate theological conviction for which the Church of England must provide. This principle will be enshrined in law. 

The second amendment helpfully clarifies that the charism of episcopal ministry derives from the fact of a bishop’s ordination, and is not by delegation from another bishop. 

It was disappointing that the amendment which would have implemented co-ordinate jurisdiction was not passed. The draft Measure stills fails, therefore, to address questions of jurisdiction and authority in the way we need.


"such awful people in the Church" - C.S. Lewis



We must . . . not be surprised if we find among the Christians some people who are still nasty. There is even, when you come to think it over, a reason why nasty people might be expected to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones. That was what people objected to about Christ during His life on earth: He seemed to attract ‘such awful people’. That is what people still object to and always will. Do you not see why? Christ said ‘Blessed are the poor’ and ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom,’ and no doubt He primarily meant the economically rich and economically poor. But do not His words also apply to another kind of riches and poverty? One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realise your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing cheques, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God. Now quite plainly, natural gifts carry with them a similar danger. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. ‘Why drag God into it?’ you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognise their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are ‘rich’ in this sense to enter the Kingdom. 

It is very different for the nasty people - the little, low, timid, warped, thin-blooded, lonely people, or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. If they make any attempt at goodness at all, they learn, in double quick time, that they need help. It is Christ or nothing for them. It is taking up the cross and following - or else despair. They are the lost sheep; He came specially to find them. They are (in one very real and terrible sense) the ‘poor’: He blessed them. They are the ‘awful set’ He goes about with - and of course the Pharisees say still, as they said from the first, ‘If there were anything in Christianity those people would not be Christians.’ 

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001 pages 213-214)



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Today's Gospel, the Church of England, and the women bishops legislation



Today’s gospel reading (John 17:11-19) begins with what has become in our time the best-known petition of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer: 

“Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” 

The frailty of the little band of disciples was obvious, and so was the fact that they would survive and flourish only by the grace of God. 

The Lord always intended the unity – communion, shared life, koinonia – of the Godhead to be sacramentally shown forth in the life of the Church for the sake of the world. Indeed, verse 21 (just after the ending of today’s Gospel passage) emphasises that this unity is not a kind of “added extra” to the Gospel message; it is a crucial feature of the message itself. There Jesus prays for all who would believe in him through the word of the apostles, “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.” 

It is sad but true that right from the beginning of the Church’s story, maintaining the unity of those who believe has been hard work. Separations – small and large – have occurred throughout Church history, wounding the Body of Christ, impairing communion between Christians, and undermining the credibility of the Gospel message. 

In the twentieth century, Christians of all persuasions came to believe that God was inspiring the different churches and traditions to work and pray for unity. This was, for us, no mere jurisdictional tinkering; it was a sacred work of the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of Christians, motivating us to try and see how Jesus is present in the range of church and ecclesial communities in spite of our difficult histories and theological disagreements. 

In those days it was said to be a process of “converging toward Christ”, of being “converted” again, of going back to the language of the Scriptures and ancient Fathers so as to express our faith in words not reminiscent of more recent polemical struggles. The aim, of course, was not to deny the insights of any tradition, but to anchor them in the broader context of the whole and in the era to which all look as foundational. 

Welcoming each other into this process has been for many of us a pilgrimage of love, and a journey along the pathway of God’s truth. This is as we would expect, for overcoming division is as much about love – real love and real people – as it is about truth. The two go together. 

The particular struggles and disintegration in the Anglican world relate very much to these things. In contrast to some traditions, the Church of England and the churches descended from it claimed to maintain the “catholic essentials” in terms of the Word of God, the Sacraments and the Ministry. That historic claim, together with our embarking on the road to unity – initially with the churches with whom we have most in common – should have been enough even for those theologically disposed to the ordination of women to exercise “gracious restraint”, allowing the Churches of East and West to discern together which developments in the area of Holy Order might be a legitimate widening of the Tradition, and which ones are not. 

Over the last twenty-four hours a handful of really angry voices have been raised against the Church of England’s House of Bishops for what really is the smallest conceivable adjustment to the women bishops legislation that might make it possible for those women and men to remain who believe that in matters of this kind we cannot go ahead of the discernment of the whole Church without undermining our claims to be part of the one, holy Catholic and apostolic Church. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who favours the ordination of women to the three orders of deacon, priest and bishop, indicated at the February 2006 General Synod that although he doesn’t “wholly share” this view, he understands it. He said: 

“People have talked at times about differences of opinion and how the Church can live with differences of opinion. I think that the problem is, for those who are not content with the idea that we should go forward along the line of ordaining women as bishops, the problem is not one of opinion, it’s rather one of obedience. It’s one of obedience to Scripture, or obedience to the consensus of the Church Catholic. And, while that’s not a view I wholly share, I think we ought to recognise that that’s where it comes from, those who hold to it are not just thinking ‘this is a matter of opinion’. And therefore it is rightly and understandably a lot harder to deal with dissent if you are talking about what fundamentally comes down to a question of whether you obey God or human authority. That’s why it’s serious. That’s why it’s difficult. More than ‘opinion’.” 

There is, in fact, a growing number of voices – even among women clergy – who have become sympathetic to traditionally catholic and evangelical women and men in the Church of England who think in the way the Archbishop articulated (many of them young people) and don’t want them to be “unchurched” by the women bishops’ legislation. I, for one, am praying that their moderation wins the day, as I have always believed that the “open process of reception” supposedly undergirding the development of women’s ordination in Anglican provinces obliges the Church to provide for BOTH streams of sacramental life, because until the “whole Church” accepts this “development” in the sacrament of Order even the protagonists cannot say with complete confidence that the development is right. Obviously, for mainstream Catholic Anglicans this provisionality is itself a sacramental problem. 

As we grieve the continuing – and new – divisions in the Church of God, let us embrace that pain and sorrow and offer it to the Father in union with the Sacrifice and High Priestly Prayer of Jesus as intercession for the Church’s unity, that the world may believe.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

C of E House of Bishops change to women bishops draft legislation and what it could mean


I share with you - WITHOUT COMMENT at this stage, but just so that readers know exactly what is envisaged by the bishops - a summary of what the amended legislation really means. It is only hours since the bishops' meeting. So, before the secular media sensationalise the matter, it is good to have this (written by Fr Mark Gilbert 
with the help of Fr Gary Waddington) from the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda in Chichester:  

(1) Bishops ministering to petitioning parishes cannot just be male... they must be 
appointed on their theological convictions... (ie A Society Bishop) (Parishes will be able to petition subject to a Code of Practice and subject to the agreement of the Parish Priest)
 

(2) There is no provision for Parishes where the Parish Priest does not agree to a petition. There is no provision for Priests who cannot get a majority of the PCC to petition. Such Bishops act by virtue of their consecration... they may need inviting, but their acts are episcopal because they are bishops, whoever may, in law, have had to do the asking and act therefore in their own "potestas". No authority will be taken away from the 
Diocesan Bishop.

 

(3) The Bishops and Archbishops renew their commitment to the provision of such bishops, and re-assert that if the legislation were to pass, the sees of Richborough, Ebbesfleet and Beverley continue to exist in law... Equally, no person shall be discriminated against on the grounds of their views on the issue...

This will be all subject to a code of Practice which hasn't been authorised yet although several drafts have been seen. The Bishops decided not to have any arrangements by statue.


http://sswshchichester.weebly.com/news.html



http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2012/05/house-of-bishops-approves-women-bishops-legislation.aspx


Monday, May 21, 2012

Óscar Romero - Ascension and Pentecost



Archbishop Óscar Romero, minutes after he was shot celebrating Mass
in a hospital chapel, around 6.30pm on 24th March, 1980


Again, two pieces from Óscar Romero's collection The Violence of Love: 

Money is good,
but selfish persons have made it bad and sinful.
Power is good,
but abuse by humans has made it something to fear.
All has been created by God,
but humans have subjected it to sin.
And so Christ’s ascension proclaims
that the whole creation
will also be redeemed in him,
because he will give the meaning
of all that God has created,
and at the end of time
(in this will consist the final judgment)
he will place at God’s feet
the great adjudication of good and evil.
Evil will be eliminated definitively
and good will be taken up
in the eternal glorification of Christ.
The Lord’s ascension also marks the glorification
of the universe.
The universe rejoices, money rejoices, power rejoices,
all material things –
farms and estates, everything –
rejoice because the day will come when the Supreme Judge
will redeem from sin, from slavery, from shame,
all that God has created
and that humans are using for sin,
for affront against their fellows.
The redemption is already decreed,
and in his power God has raised up Christ our Lord.
Christ gone up to heaven is a witness to final justice.
7th May, 1978


* * * * *

It will always be Pentecost in the church,
provided the church lets the beauty of the Holy Spirit
shine forth from her countenance.
When the church ceases to let her strength
rest on the power from above –
which Christ promised her
and which he gave her on that day –
and when the church leans rather on the weak forces
of the power or wealth of this earth,
then the church ceases to be newsworthy.

The church will be fair to see,
perennially young,
attractive in every age,
as long as she is faithful to the Spirit that floods her
and she reflects that Spirit
through her communities,
through her pastors,
through her very life.
14th May, 1978


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Óscar Romero - Authentic believer



In this strange age it seems that both "conservatives" and "radicals" from their own perspectives like to portray Archbishop Óscar Romero as having embraced a view of liberation in Christ that is only a political reality. This, of course is far from the truth, and misrepresents Romero who - at great personal cost - held together as one piece evangelical believing, credal orthodoxy and the vocation to speak out against social and political injustice. The following readings show this quite clearly. They are from The Violence of Love, which is able to be downloaded in its entirety as a pdf book HERE


Would that the many bloodstained hands in our land
were lifted up to the Lord with horror of their stain
to pray that he might cleanse them.
But let those who, thanks to God, have clean hands –
the children, the sick, the suffering –
lift up their innocent and suffering hands to the Lord
like the people of Israel in Egypt.
The Lord will have pity and will say,
as he did to Moses in Egypt,
“I have heard my people’s cry of wailing.”
It is the prayer that God cannot fail to hear.
September 18, 1977


* * * * *

Let us not tire of preaching love;
it is the force that will overcome the world.
Let us not tire of preaching love.
Though we see that waves of violence
succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love,
love must win out; it is the only thing that can.
September 25, 1977 


* * * * *

It would be worthless to have an economic liberation
in which all the poor had their own houses,
their own money,
but were all sinners,
their hearts estranged from God.
What good would it be?
There are nations at present
that are economically and socially quite advanced,
for example those of northern Europe,
and yet how much vice and excess!

The church will always have its word to say:
conversion.
Progress will not be completed
even if we organize ideally the economy
and the political and social order of our people.
It won’t be entire with that.
That will be the basis,
so that it can be completed
by what the church pursues and proclaims:
God adored by all,
Christ acknowledged as only Saviour,
deep joy of spirit
in being at peace with God
and with our brothers and sisters.
October 9, 1977 


* * * * *

How I would like to engrave this great idea
on each one’s heart:
Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed,
of laws to be obeyed,
of prohibitions.
That makes it very distasteful.
Christianity is a person,
one who loved us so much,
one who calls for our love.
Christianity is Christ.
November 6, 1977


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Óscar Romero - a martyr for the Gospel and the poor



Óscar Romero (1917 – 1980 was a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador who became Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. 

Though theologically conservative, he became an outspoken critic of the way the state and military supported the privileged, the wealthy and the powerful while the majority of the people remained in abject poverty. He spoke up on behalf of the poor who were being slaughtered by government backed death squads. 

Romero himself was assassinated on March 24, 1980 while saying Mass in a small hospital chapel. He was killed by a single rifle bullet, his blood pouring out upon the altar. 

In 1997 Romero’s cause for beatification and canonisation was opened, and Pope John Paul II bestowed upon him the title of Servant of God. The canonisation process continues. Romero is honoured by other Christians, notably the Church of England which commemorates him in its Calendar. He is also one of the ten 20th century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, unveiled in July 1988. 

Over the next few days I will be sharing with you some of the things Archbishop Romero said about the situation in El Salvador, and the role of the Church. They come from the collection of his sayings The Violence of Love, which is able to be downloaded in its entirety as a pdf book HERE


I cry out against injustice,
but only to say to the unjust:
Be converted!
I cry out in the name of suffering,
of those who suffer injustice,
but only to say to the criminals:
Be converted!
Do not be wicked!
(December 1, 1977)


* * * * *

We human beings cannot produce our land’s liberation.
We Salvadorans are unable to save our country
with our own human powers.
But if we hope for a liberation to come from Christ,
the Redeemer,
then we can.
This is the church’s hope.
This is why I preach much faith in Christ.
He died to pay for all injustices
and rose to bury in his tomb all evil
and become the redemption of all those who suffer.
He is hope and eternal life.
(December 1, 1977)


* * * * *

A religion of Sunday Mass but of unjust weeks
does not please the Lord.
A religion of much praying but with hypocrisy in the heart
is not Christian.
A church that sets itself up only to be well off,
to have a lot of money and comfort,
but that forgets to protest injustices,
would not be the true church of our divine Redeemer.
(December 4, 1977)


Friday, May 18, 2012

Going forth weeping . . . coming back rejoicing



The old city of Corinth (Korinthos) today. 

In today’s Gospel (John 16:20-23) Jesus assures his disciples that although there will be weeping and wailing, this will give way to joy, like that of a woman’s pain in labour being forgotten when her baby is born. Of course, he was speaking about his impending death and then the joy of the resurrection, but we know that in every human life – and especially in the lives of those who are in Gospel ministry – there are seasons of weeping and wailing when it takes every ounce of spiritual energy we have just to hold on to the Lord. But we DO, because of his promise to support and sustain us. 

We see in today’s first reading (Acts 18:9-18) that St Paul had his crosses to bear – and they were mostly other people! It must have come as a shock to be assured that the Lord had “so many people” among the 400,000 inhabitants of the bustling, prosperous, cosmopolitan and sex crazed city of Corinth – on the face of it, a most peculiar culture in which to try and plant a church! In fact, scholars think that during apostolic days the church there would have been no larger than 150 to 200 converts, some Jews, but most Gentiles, meeting, not in an auditorium, but as a number of smaller “house churches.” We know from St Paul’s correspondence that they had a host of problems in coming to terms with what it means to be part of God’s new creation in Christ (1 Corinthians 5:17), and they caused the apostle an enormous amount of grief and pain. 

It was just as well that St Paul could look back to the night when Jesus appeared to him in that vision and said, "I am with you and no one will be able to harm you." Not without irony, St Luke tells us about an incident in which some of the Jewish people tried to use the civic authorities against Paul, who is arrested and dragged into court. If that had been you or me, the first thing we might think is that Jesus was not keeping his word! But, as we see, it all turned out OK. Faith gets tested. Does that happen to you? Of course it does! Trusting Jesus, and hanging on, we shoudn’t fear. We keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, and trust his promise to provide for us – even when we are weeping and wailing on the inside. 

I think it is not impossible that St Paul was encouraged by the words of Psalm 126

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, 
we were like those who dream. 
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, 
and our tongue with singing. 

Then they said among the nations, 
“The Lord has done great things for them.” 
The Lord has done great things for us, 
and we are glad. 

Turn again our captivity, O Lord, 
as the streams in the South. 
Those who sow in tears 
shall reap in joy. 

He who goes forth weeping, 
bearing seed for sowing, 
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, 
bringing his sheaves with him.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

ASCENSION: Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh, our great High Priest;



Alleluia! King eternal, 
Thee the Lord of lords we own; 
Alleluia! born of Mary, 
Earth Thy footstool, heav’n thy throne: 
Thou within the veil hast entered, 
Robed in flesh our great High Priest; 
Thou on earth both priest and victim 
In the Eucharistic feast. 
(William C. Dix, 1867) 

Today when we celebrate the Lord being "taken up in the cloud" as our Great High Priest into the heavenly sanctuary (see last year's Ascension Day post HERE) we give thanks for the unity between our great High Priest's sacrifice of love, his ongoing intercessory ministry, and the Church's Eucharist. 

This was a major theme of the 17th Century Caroline Divines (to whom Cardinal Kasper referred approvingly at the 2008 Lambeth Conference). One of them, Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), was a chaplain to King Charles I, and well known to this day for his devotional books, Holy Living and Holy Dying. Following the martyrdom of the King, he was imprisoned a number of times. Eventually, he was allowed to live quietly in Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. At the Restoration, he was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland and became vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin. His teaching on the Eucharist and the priesthood of Jesus draws heavily on both Eastern and early Latin sources. The following is from his book, The Great Exemplar: 

"… whatsoever Christ did at the institution, the same he commanded the Church to do, in remembrance and repeated rites; and himself also does the same thing in heaven for us, making perpetual intercession for his church, the body of his redeemed ones, by representing to his Father his death and sacrifice. There he sits, a High Priest continually, and offers still the same one perfect sacrifice; that is, still represents it as having been once finished and consummate, in order to perpetual and never-failing events. 

"And this, also, his ministers do on earth; they offer up the same sacrifice to God, the sacrifice of the cross, by prayers, and a commemorating rite and representment, according to his holy institution. And as all the effects of grace and the titles of glory were purchased for us on the cross, and the actual mysteries of redemption perfected on earth, but are applied to us, and made effectual to single persons and communities of men, by Christ's intercession in heaven . . . 

"As Christ is a priest in heaven for ever, and yet does not sacrifice himself afresh, nor yet without a sacrifice could he be a priest; but, by a daily ministration and intercession, represents his sacrifice to God, and offers himself as sacrificed: so he does upon earth, by the ministry of his servants; he is offered to God, that is, he is, by prayers and the sacrament, represented or 'offered up to God, as sacrificed'; which, in effect, is a celebration of his death, and the applying it to present and future necessities of the church, as we are capable, by a ministry like to his in heaven. It follows, then, that the celebration of this sacrifice be, in its proportion, an instrument of applying the proper sacrifice to all the purposes which it first designed. It is ministerially, and by application, an instrument propitiatory; it is eucharistical, it is an homage, and an act of adoration; and it is impetratory, and obtains for us, and for the whole church, all the benefits of the sacrifice, which is now celebrated and applied; that is, as this rite is the remembrance and ministerial celebration of Christ's sacrifice, so it is destined to do honour to God, to express the homage and duty of his servants, to acknowledge his supreme dominion, to give him thanks and worship, to beg pardon, blessings, and supply of all our needs." 


Here is one of the most loved Anglo-Catholic hymns expressing these truths, often used at Mass on Ascension Day:  

Once, only once, and once for all 
His precious life he gave; 
Before the cross in faith we fall, 
And own it strong to save. 

‘One offering, single and complete,’ 
With lips and hearts we say; 
But what he never can repeat 
He shows forth day by day. 

For as the priest of Aaron’s line 
Within the holiest stood, 
And sprinkled all the mercy-shrine 
With sacrificial Blood. 

So he, who once atonement wrought, 
Our Priest of endless power, 
Presents himself for those he bought 
In that dark noontide hour. 

His manhood pleads where now it lives 
On heaven’s eternal throne, 
And where in mystic rite he gives 
Its presence to his own. 

And so we show thy death, O Lord, 
Till thou again appear, 
And feel, when we approach thy board, 
We have an altar here.
(William Bright, 1866)


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

St Paul preaching Jesus in Athens



The Areopagus (or Mars Hill) is a bare marble hill next to the Acropolis in Athens. It has a strong mythological and cultural significance in ancient Greek culture, and it is where St Paul, proclaimed Jesus and his resurrection. This photograph is of the Areopagus today. 


Today's first reading at Mass (Acts 17:15,22-18:1) takes us to the Areopagus, Mars Hill, in Athens, where St Paul is proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to those not of Jewish background. It has been suggested (by F.F. Bruce and others) that St Paul "failed" in Athens, his speech being a significant departure from the Gospel (kerygma) as evidenced in the other sermons in Acts. I think it is more likely that Luke includes this speech as an example of how the apostolic preaching of Christ could be related to the culture and aspirations of people from non-Jewish backgrounds. It would seem that I'm in good company. The following is most of a teaching address given by Pope Benedict on 2nd July, 2008, on the environment in which St Paul lived, and how St Paul's themes touched on concerns and debates that were current:


I would like to pause to consider the environment in which [St Paul] lived and worked. Such a topic would seem to take us far from our time, given that we must insert ourselves in the world of 2,000 years ago. And yet, this is only apparently and partly true, because it can be verified that in many ways, the socio-cultural environment of today is not so different than that of back then. 

A primary and fundamental factor to keep in mind is the relationship between the environment in which Paul was born and developed and the global context in which he successively inserted himself. He came from a very precise and specific culture, certainly of the minority, which was that of the people of Israel and their tradition. In the ancient world and notably at the heart of the Roman Empire, as scholars of the subject teach us, the Jews constituted about 10% of the total population. Here in Rome, their number around the middle of the first century was even fewer, reaching a maximum of 3% of the inhabitants of the city. 

Their beliefs and lifestyle, as happens also today, distinguished them clearly from the surrounding environment. And this could have two results: either derision, which might lead to intolerance, or admiration, which was expressed in different ways, such as the case of the "God-fearing" or "proselyte," pagans who associated themselves in the synagogue and shared the faith in the God of Israel. 

As concrete examples of this double attitude we can mention, on one hand, the sharp judgment of an orator such as Cicero, who scorned their religion and even the city of Jerusalem (cf. Pro Flacco, 66-69), and on the other, the attitude of Poppea, Nero's wife, who is remembered by Flavius Josephus as a "sympathizer" of the Jews (cf. Antichita giudaiche 20, 195.252; Vita 16). And we should note Julius Caesar had already officially recognized particular rights for them, noted by the already-mentioned Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus (cf. Ibid. 14, 200-216). What is certain is that the number of Jews, as is true today, was far greater outside the land of Israel, namely, in the Diaspora, and not in the territory that others called Palestine. 

It is no wonder, then, that Paul himself was the object of the double, contrasting evaluation, of which I have spoken. One thing is certain: The particularity of the Jewish culture and religion easily found a place within a reality as all-pervasive as the Roman Empire. More difficult and trying was the position of the group of those Jews and Gentiles who adhered in faith to the person of Jesus of Nazareth, insofar as they were distinguished both from Judaism and the prevailing paganism. 

In any case, two factors favored Paul's commitment. The first was the Greek, or rather the Hellenistic culture, which after Alexander the Great became the common patrimony at least of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, though integrating within itself many elements of peoples traditionally regarded as barbarians. A writer of the time states, in this regard, that Alexander "ordered that all keep the whole 'ecumene' [inhabited earth] as homeland ... and that there be no longer a distinction between Greek and Barbarian" (Plutarch, De Alexandri Magni fortuna aut virtute, paragraphs 6.8)

The second factor was the political-administrative structure of the Roman Empire, which guaranteed peace and stability from Britain to southern Egypt, unifying a territory of a dimension never before seen. In this space, one could move with sufficient liberty and security, enjoying among other things an extraordinary road system, and finding in every point of arrival, basic cultural characteristics that, without detriment to local values, represented in any case a common fabric of unification "super partes," so much so that the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, contemporary of Paul himself, praises the emperor Augustus because he "has brought together in harmony all the savage peoples ... becoming a guardian of peace" (Legatio ad Caium, paragraphs 146-147)

The universalistic vision typical of St. Paul's personality, at least of the Christian Paul after the event on the road to Damascus, certainly owes its basic impetus to faith in Jesus Christ, inasmuch as the figure of the Risen One goes beyond that of any particularistic restriction. In fact, for the apostle "there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free man, no longer male or female, but all are only one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Yet, the historical-cultural situation of his time and environment also influenced his choices and commitment. Paul has been described as a "man of three cultures," taking into account his Jewish origin, Greek language, and his prerogative of "civis romanus," as attested also by his name of Latin origin. 

We must recall in particular the Stoic philosophy, which prevailed in Paul's time and also influenced, though marginally, Christianity. In this connection, we cannot but mention the names of Stoic philosophers, such as the initiators Zeno and Cleanthes, and then those chronologically closer to Paul, such as Seneca, Musonius and Epictetus. Found in them are very lofty values of humanity and wisdom, which were naturally received in Christianity. As a scholar on the subject writes masterfully, "Stoicism ... proclaimed a new ideal, which imposed on man duties toward his fellowmen, but at the same time freed him from all physical and national ties and made him a purely spiritual being" (M. Pohlenz, La Stoa, I, Florence 2, 1978, pp. 565ff)

It is enough to think, for example, of the doctrine of the universe understood as one great harmonious body and, consequently, of the doctrine of the equality of all men without social distinctions, to the equating at least in principle of man and woman, and then the ideal of frugality, of the just measure and of self-control to avoid all excesses. When Paul writes to the Philippians: "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8), does no more than take up a strictly humanist concept proper to that philosophical wisdom. 

In Paul's time, there was also a crisis of the traditional religion, at least in its mythological and also civic aspects. After Lucretius, already a century earlier, had controversially stated that "religion has led to so many misdeeds" (De rerum natura 1, 101), a philosopher such as Seneca, going well beyond any external ritualism, taught that "God is close to you, he is with you, he is within you" (Lettere a Lucilio, 41, 1)

Similarly, when Paul addressed an auditorium of Epicurean philosophers in the Areopagus in Athens, he says literally that "God does not live in shrines made by man ... but in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17: 24.28). With this, he certainly echoes the Jewish faith in one God that cannot be represented in anthropomorphic terms, but he also follows a religious line with which his listeners were familiar. We must take into account, moreover, that many educated pagans did not frequent the official temples of the city, and went to private places that promoted the initiation of followers. 

Not a motive for wonder, therefore, was the fact that Christian meetings (the "ekklesiai"), as attested to especially in the Pauline Letters, took place in private homes. At the time, moreover, there was still no public building. Therefore, the meetings of Christians must have seemed to their contemporaries as a simple variation of this more intimate religious practice. Nevertheless, the differences between pagan and Christian worship are not of slight importance and involved as much the awareness of the participants' identity as well as the common participation of men and women, the celebration of the "Lord's Supper" and the reading of the Scriptures. 

In conclusion, from this brief review of the cultural environment of the first century of the Christian era, it is clear that it is not possible to understand St. Paul adequately without considering the background, both Jewish as well as pagan, of his time. Thus his figure acquires a historical and ideal depth, revealing shared and original elements of the environment. However, this is also equally true for Christianity in general, of which the Apostle Paul is a paradigm of the first order, from whom all of us today have much to learn. 


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pray


Thank you to The New Oxford Movement for sharing this:

 


Monday, May 14, 2012

St Matthias' Day



Western Christians celebrate the Apostle Matthias today. According to Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius and Jerome, Matthias, whose name means “gift of God,” was known to have been one of the seventy-two sent out in pairs by Jesus to preach the Gospel and heal the sick. Certainly from Acts 1 and 2 we know that Matthias was part of the small community Jesus had around himself from the time of his baptism until his ascension.

When Peter said that Judas should be replaced (Acts 1:15-21), two names were selected, "Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias." So the community prayed, cast lots, and Matthias was chosen. From that time on he was numbered among the twelve. He was with them on the day of Pentecost, but we don’t meet him again in the New Testament. He is, however, said to have preached the Gospel for more than thirty years beginning in Judea, then in Cappadocia, the shores of the Caspian Sea (in modern day Georgia) and Ethiopia. There are conflicting stories of his death. He was either crucified in Colchis or stoned in Jerusalem.

The traditional symbol of St Matthias is a double-headed axe resting on a Bible.

Here is a beautiful – if slightly quirky – poem on St Matthias by the English poet, Charles Walter Stansby Williams (1886-1945):

I am Matthias; I am he who covers
The cloudy opening of the uttermost prison,
Where on went down - and is not re-arisen,-
Out of the Twelve who were the Lord Christ's lovers,
About my name upon this day there hovers
A rumour of despair and desolation;
And even the Holy City's glad salvation
Sighs for the memory of its exciled rovers.

I am Matthias, yea, and am another,
Installed within the bishopric of my brother;
I who am his oblivion am his fame.
I am the dream, upon your strife attending,
That all things, bound to a most perfect ending,
Shall be made one by Christ's invincible Name.