Saturday, November 30, 2013

The First Sunday of Advent: Wake Up! - Bishop Joe Grech

Go HERE to read about the late Bishop Joe Grech, an anointed servant of the Lord. This is a homily he preached on the First Sunday of Advent in 2006 (from the website of the Diocese of Sandhurst).


A little story helps us to understand what it means to wake up. A well renowned Rabbi once asked his students “How can you tell that the darkness of the night has passed and the light of day is once again with us?” One student said that this happens when you see an animal in the distance and you can tell whether it is a dog or a sheep. Another student said that the day starts when you can tell whether a tree is a pear tree or an apple tree. Many students kept giving different examples but the Rabbi remained unimpressed. The students pressed the Rabbi to give them an answer. And he replied in this manner. “It is when you look at the face of any human being and you recognize in that face your own brother and sister because if you cannot do that, then no matter what time it is, for you it is still night”.

This happens so often to us. We might think that we are living our lives exercising our full potential. However, at times when we give ourselves time to think and reflect we realize that we can do things a bit differently and the results would be better. In doing so, we become more and more powerful witnesses of hope and blessings to those who we encounter.

This is precisely what happened to Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He was always a good person. He tried his best in order to nourish his people spiritually and to help them develop a close relationship with our God. He was a man of prayer and was also a very good shepherd to his people. He lived his life in the best way that he thought that it should be lived. However, one day something happened that deepened his understanding of his ministry as a bishop. A close friend of his, a Jesuit priest Fr Rutilio Grande was driving to a distant parish with another person and a young boy. Half way through their journey, they were stopped by some soldiers at a road block and were shot in cold blood. When Archbishop Romero heard this, he immediately left to visit the place where this took place. The sight of the murdered body of his close friend and of the other two shattered him and he tried to understand the reason behind what had occurred. This friend of his had often criticized the government which was made up of military men for not taking proper care of the ordinary poor people who made up the majority of the population in El Salvador. As one might expect, some people in the government did not relish such an attitude and this is the reason why it was decided to eliminate him.

Archbishop Romero, fully realized what had occurred and he decided to continue the work that his friend was involved in. He became the voice of all these people who could not make their needs heard. He became the cry of many people who lacked the basic necessities in life. His masses at the Cathedral became the opportunity for many of his countrymen to come together in order to try to understand and learn how to keep on living in the midst of so much hurt, injustice, anxiety and fear. He became a powerful constant reminder to those responsible and to ensure the dignity of each person as created by God.

There was a price to pay for all this. The government started to send spies in the congregation in order to take note of what he was saying. He was harassed by the ruling section of the nation. He was gossiped about and he was put under great pressures in order to change the way that he was exercising his ministry as an Archbishop. And he also paid the ultimate price. One day he was celebrating Mass at a local hospital. At the moment of consecration when he lifted Jesus Christ high so that the people would remember that our God will never abandon us he was shot through the heart and murdered. This happened on March 24, 1980. Days before his murder Archbishop Romero said these words to a reporter, “You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish”.

My friends, let us wake up and stay awake. We are all called to continue this mission of Jesus Christ. Today we are the hands, the face, the feet and the heart of our God. We have been entrusted with such a powerful mission to proclaim that our God is not dead. Our God is alive and doing well. Let us realize that we have this God alive in our hearts and that we are invited to touch others with His love and with His presence. There are so many people living around us, who need their hopes renewed, who need encouragement to keep moving forward and who need to understand the purpose of their living. Only God can satisfy all our deepest desires and dreams. You and I have been entrusted to walk with these people and to take every opportunity to sow the seed of the word and the love of our God in their lives. Let us pray together.

“Guide me, Lord. Keep protection near; keep danger afar
Guide me, Lord. Keep hope within; keep doubt without
Guide me, Lord. Keep light near; keep darkness afar
Guide me, Lord. Keep peace within; keep strife without
Guide me, Lord. Keep love within, keep hate without. Amen.”


God Bless.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Top Ten Plainsong - Gregorian Chant Sites


There is a modest revival of plainsong/ gregorian chant today in many Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran circles. Furthermore, the popularity of a handful of monastic CDs in the secular market proves that such music has not lost its power to inspire prayer and meditation. There are quite a few resources out there in cyberspace for those interested in learning about this music. The ones listed below contain downloadable files for a wide range of occasions.


This has traditional English propers for the Eucharist throughout the Church Year 

Includes audio files, Psalm tones, offices and hymns and publications

One of the most useful sites for Anglicans

From the Liturgy Office of the Roman Catholic Church in England & Wales 

The entire collection

This can be downloaded in its entirety

An interesting downloads page

Chant downloads for the Church of England (both BCP and CW)

A valuable arrangement of chants with links to the work of a range of modern scholars

Samples of this book which can be purchased online



Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Silence: Waiting for God’s Word



I go back to the time when it was considered “just normal” for Christians who were serious about knowing God to have some structured silence each day for prayer and meditation. Catholic Christians prayed the Divine Office reflectively as a framework for prayer, and evangelicals would rise early to have a “quiet time” with the Lord (or young mums were encouraged to do it after lunchtime when the toddlers had been put down to sleep). Of course everyone found it a bit of a struggle some of the time. And in the spiritual warfare which is part and parcel of living for Jesus, we were taught that the most successful ploy of our ancient enemy was to persuade us to skip our time of quiet with the Lord. “Seven prayerless days make one weak” may have been a corny way of putting it, but those old fashioned catholic and evangelical teachers knew what they were talking about. I’m astonished to discover that a disciplined approach to this is considered “quaint” at best and “legalistic” at worst by some modern catholic and evangelical clergy. The idea seems to be that we should pray only when we feel like it.

Well, that’s a recipe for disaster in the spiritual life, not to mention the way we forego the blessings we need to survive and overcome our difficulties. Intimacy with the Lord, waiting on his Word, knowing the healing power of his presence, are just as important today as they ever were.

Reading the Scriptures or rattling through the Divine Office mentally from an iPhone on a crowded train or bus when on a journey or when called out to an emergency is better than not doing it at all. Indeed, I’ve occasionally resorted to that myself! But I know clergy who now routinely read the Office and Scriptures in that way, without ever really drawing aside into silence in order reverently to prepare for receiving the Word, and so to allow the Lord to impact our hearts and minds afresh. 

Here is a passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) about this. It is taken from page 12 of God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, an anthology of devotions drawn from his writings which takes us thematically through Advent and Christmas, from waiting and mystery to redemption, incarnation, and joy. (Most of the reflections in the book were written by Bonhoeffer during his two year imprisonment which came to an end when he was hanged in 1945 for his opposition to Hitler and the Third Reich. In fact, he had written to a friend that “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent . . . one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other – things that are really of no consequence – the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.”)


We are silent in the early hours of each day, because God is supposed to have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep, because to God also belongs the last word. We are silent solely for the sake of the word, not in order to show dishonour to the word but in order to honour and receive it properly. Silence ultimately means nothing but waiting for God’s word and coming away blessed by God’s word . . . Silence before the word, however, will have its effect on the whole day. If we have learned to be silent before the word, we will also learn to be economical with silence and speech throughout the day. There is an impermissible self-satisfied, prideful, offensive silence. This teaches us that what is important is never silence in itself. The silence of the Christian is a listening silence, a humble silence that for the sake of humility can also be broken at any time. It is a silence in connection with the word ... ln being quiet there is a miraculous power of clarification, of purification, of bringing together what is important. This is a purely profane fact. Silence before the word, however, leads to the right hearing and thus also to the right speaking of the word of God at the right time. A lot that is unnecessary remains unsaid.


Monday, November 25, 2013

New memorial to C.S. Lewis in Westminster Abbey



Three days ago (Friday 22nd November - St Cecilia’s Day), was the fiftieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death, and a special service was held in Westminster Abbey to unveil a memorial stone to Lewis in Poets’ Corner. The event was part of a two-day conference in commemoration of the life and impact of C.S. Lewis.

Go HERE to download a pdf of the service booklet.

The following is the explanatory introduction to the booklet by Dr Michael Ward, Senior Research Fellow, Blackfriars Hall,Oxford:


THE C.S. LEWIS MEMORIAL STONE

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

Of the countless fine phrases that Lewis spoke and wrote, this one has been chosen as the inscription on his memorial in Poets’Corner. It links together many areas of his life and work. The sentence comes from an address entitled ‘Is Theology Poetry?’ The answer Lewis gives to his own question is that although Christian theology is not merely poetry it is still poetic and therefore must be received with an imaginative, as well as a rational, embrace. Millions of readers who have moved about the worlds of Narnia, Perelandra, and Glome know the ripe fruits of his imaginative engagement with theological themes and the power of his poetic prose. The address was one of many he gave to the Socratic Club, the forum for debate between Christians and non-Christians, of which he was President. Thus the inscription points to his role as an apologist who publicly - and not without professional cost - defended the faith, ‘following the argument,’ as Socrates said, ‘wherever it should lead’. Lewis was a rationalist as well as a romantic. The sentence is straightforwardly confessional, marking the centrality of his faith at a personal level. ‘I never knew a man more thoroughly converted,’ remembers Walter Hooper, to whom thanks are especially due at this anniversary time for doing so much over the last half century to keep Lewis’s memory green. The Sun is there, aptly enough, for ‘the heavens are telling the glory of God’, in the words of the psalm that Lewis regarded as the psalter’s greatest lyric. ‘Everything else’ is there too, because his vision was all-embracing. Angels, poached eggs, mice and their tails, Golders Green, birdsong, buses, Balder, the great nebula in Andromeda: all are there and all may be redeemed for us in Christ - as long as the Cross comes before the Crown.

That Lewis spoke these words at a debating society in Oxford reminds us also of his long association with that university and of his distinguished academic career. If Oxford could have been picked up and deposited in his native County Down, he said, it would have realised his idea of heaven. He lived in Oxford all his adult life - even while happily employed as a professor at Cambridge - and died there three years after his beloved wife, Joy, at his home, The Kilns, on this day in 1963.The 22nd November is the feast of St Cecilia, patron saint of music and musicians. Lewis’s great comedic character, Screwtape, despises music as a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell. Lewis himself believed its joy to be the serious business of Heaven. He had, in the words of Donne, ‘tuned his instrument’ at Heaven’s door and knew with greater intensity than most the longing to cross the threshold and join the heavenly harmony. Fifty years ago, the door on which he had been knocking all his life opened at last.‘Nothing makes a man so noticeable as vanishing!’ Lewis once observed, but he had not envisioned how true this would be in his own case. In conversation with Walter Hooper, he predicted that sales of his works would decline steeply after his death. Hooper countered, ‘No,they won’t. And you know why? Your books are too good, and people are not that stupid.’ It was one of the rare occasions when Lewis’s foresight failed him. Hence, it may be safely assumed that he would find today’s service completely surprising, but also - it may be hoped - not wholly displeasing. Come, let us worship God, wonderful in his saints!



C.S. Lewis



Westminster Abbey




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Luigi Santucci on the agony of Jesus in the Garden.


Here is Luigi Santucci’s meditation on Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane (From Wrestling with Christ, pages 166-168) 


SILENCE

He began to be frightened and sad.

That night in the garden he asked for something for the first time. He asked the three dearest to him to ‘Stay and keep awake with me’. That small thing was enough - that Peter, John and James should stay there silently sitting on the roots of an old olive tree and bear a little of the night’s vapours with him while he prayed. It didn’t matter if they didn’t pray because it was cold. Just to know that they were a few feet away, and awake. ‘Keep awake with me . . .’

The response to this request - all that his friends could offer him - was silence interrupted by a faint snore. They had removed themselves in the only way they could without actually fleeing - in the cowardly and innocent way of sleep. If those three had stayed awake with him - composing as they did the last threads Jesus held to prevent him sinking into horror - he would have been spared the most terrifying part of the passion; it would have been enough to hear them breathing, clearing their throats from time to time, or rubbing their sandals on the ground. Or perhaps he would have talked again, as in the cenacle, and the living forest of words would have acted as a screen against the image of death. But sleep cut off the three last threads that bound Christ to the land of his earthly brothers.

Then he called on the Father: ‘Father, if it be possible, take this cup away from me.’ Three times he made this appeal. Of course it was still possible. It was at the very last moment that the Father had stayed the knife held over the boy Isaac and opened the door to a happy ending for Abraham, as in a fairy story. And he was appealing to the Father after thirty years’ experience of fathers and sons on earth, of their love for each other and of their wanting each other to live. But on this night the Father’s silence was smooth and dense like the very essence of the world. The Father had answered his prayer at the tomb of Lazarus and raised a man who’d been dead four days. For the first time the silence was a surprise even to Jesus.

We’re all aware of that final silence that lies at the bottom of our prayers, when we’ve made an invocation and then we hold our breath and listen . . . and there’s nothing. There follows, as it did for you, the desire to annihilate ourselves. He threw himself down with his face to the ground. The ground, the black or grey ground that holds us up is the drum on which we clamour for help, the mother in whom we’re swallowed up so as to rush back to our origins as animals crouching in a belly. But the ground against which Christ pressed his face had no maternal complicity with him. It was just a stretch of garden, clay and little ferns brown in the dusk and some nocturnal insect flying about. The ground was his last frontier now that he couldn’t see houses or trees or other tall things; but a frontier that would remain closed, even if he called on it to open and become nothingness. No, alas, nothingness doesn’t exist, Lord; your Father couldn’t create it; only a man like me or you - at an hour like this - longs for it and adores it with his desperate imagination. Nothingness is the paradise forbidden to us.

And this was your passion, Christ, when with your face against the roots you went through the metaphysical anguish of us all. Here your soul was on the cross like that of all our brothers who on some night or other lose their faith. With their twisted arms the olive trees of Gethsemane became fantastic monsters, symbols of all that is for ever foreign to us; yet at the same time they suddenly become confessors of our new sin - the sin of fear and boredom and the disheartened acceptance that everything finishes with death. In their neutral existence, do trees know? And is it possible that from their bark the oracle can emerge that may solve the enigma? 

His face, as the evangelist puts it, was covered with a sweat like drops of blood, and Christ finally wept between two longings. There was the life within himself and around himself that he would have liked to make lasting because as a man he had tasted its delights - he knew now that everything in it was sweet, even the persecution of the Pharisees - whereas soon they would wrest life from his body and his glassy eyes would no longer see the hills or the clouds or the spear with which Longinus would pierce his heart. And then there was his other longing, heaven, the Father: but what if in the meanwhile his Father had died? . . .

So his hour went on, eternal in the shadows of the garden and swinging between the two fateful silences. That of men (‘Why are you asleep? Couldn’t you have stayed awake with me for an hour?’ Then he went back again to the disciples and found them again asleep . . . and they couldn’t even answer him). And that of the Father (‘. . . for you everything is possible!), who was now hiding only in the little trembling fern and in the insect nestling among the blades of grass.



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Luigi Santucci on Peter walking on the water


Here is Luigi Santucci's meditation on Peter walking to Jesus across the water (From Wrestling with Christ, pages 63-64)


A GHOST

And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water to join Jesus. But when he saw the raging wind he felt afraid, began to sink and shouted: ‘Lord, save me!’

There are many threads in this nocturnal miracle. Let’s try to disentangle its wonders.

Oars in the silence of the night. It was the disciples’ boat. They were on their way back from Bethsaida to Capernaum. It had been a heavy day: the miracle of the loaves and fishes had happened only a few hours before. The men were still stupefied by that prodigy and by the joyful task of emptying the inexhaustible baskets. Then the Master had sent them away with the boat and gone up a mountain to pray. And in the boat they were weighed down by that vague fear that always assailed them when he wasn’t there, that longing for another sort of life that made them silent and seem almost strangers to each other. At such times the fact of belonging to him didn’t count. A trembling leaf, not to mention a ghost, would make them jump to their feet, their hands in their hair.

A cry: ‘Look over there! A ghost . . .’

Yes, a figure was walking on the waves and the moon threw its long shadow over the lake. It was a figure without a face, just with those haunting steps directed - there could be no further doubt about it - towards the boat.

‘Go away, ghost . . .’

‘I’m coming to you’, the steps on the water were saying.

‘I was tired of praying; make room for me.’

But they still didn’t recognize him, so he had to make another salutation, and cried:

‘Courage, it’s me; don’t be frightened.’

A jump. Someone had climbed over the side of the boat and thrown himself into the water. Now two people were upright on the waves walking towards each other. It was Peter who had leaped overboard. He was the only one to leave the companionship of his safe corner and throw himself onto the black waves of unknown depth. Why? We know why - because he loved Jesus more than the others did. But Peter also felt a personal temptation of professional curiosity. What a revenge for a fisherman to be able to walk on the water, the treacherous water . . . And Peter gave way to the intoxication of that challenge which for an instant made him like the other, held him up in the same magic way. Perhaps the kingdom of heaven consisted in walking on the water with one’s feet dry and one’s body as light as a seagull’s.

Then a plunge. Peter sank headlong into the lake. The water suddenly opened under him and once more became the hostile beast that sucks all heavy things in. ‘Lord, save me . . .’

What had happened? Why at a certain moment did he begin to sink and throw the miracle out of gear?

Faith is an impalpable flash. Who can mark the frontier between faith and doubt? Even Peter was unaware of the imperceptible thought which made his heart beat faster and made him murmur: ‘Will I make it?’ But it was enough and the waters opened. Then the other one grasped his hand and set him afloat again.

‘Man of weak faith, why did you doubt?’

Friday, November 15, 2013

Luigi Santucci on Nicodemus


Here is Luigi Santucci's meditation on Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night (From Wrestling with Christ, pages 125-127)


HOW ON EARTH?

Among the Pharisees there was a man called Nicodemus who was one of the leading Jews. He went to Jesus in the night and said . . .

This is me. Among all the characters on the stage of the Gospels, I’m probably this one (even if I often see myself in the publican, the prostitute, the leper): Dr Nicodemus, the petulant intellectual, the one who ‘Went to Jesus in the night and said . . .’

I would have gone by night; and often. On those occasions when I cannot manage to sleep because I’m horrified by the day I’ve just spent, and afraid of the one that’s dawning; when my brain, and the academic knowledge handed to me by my father and mother who paid for my good education, weigh on my mind more than any sin - then I get up and go to him. I don’t even need to get up. I lie there in the darkness, my eyes open, and pester him. It isn’t praying; it’s provoking him; and secretly I hope to tangle him up and topple him over into my own superstitious atheist’s drama; and at the same time it’s an appeal for the answer that will bring me peace, an entreaty that he’ll get down to the blackboard, cover it with solid round figures, and prove to me there’s a God, that he’s the son of the Father, and that after a long and happy life I’ll go to heaven. It’s a demand that he should put the seal of metaphysical certainty on the tortuous pyramid of my culture.

It’s night. No one sees us or hears us. So, with an open mind, and in a gentlemanly way, perhaps I may wring this privilege from him and have him explain a bit . . . If the right atmosphere can be achieved, the magic connivance favoured by the hour  and the tête-à-tête conversation. Basically we are sort of colleagues: docti sumus.

Nicodemus wanted a private lesson; and that’s just what I want. An encounter of two pairs of eyes. Not that crush among the hunchbacked fishermen and prostitutes in the Capernaum slums, or beside the lake, or in the desert where you spent three days without a meal surrounded by people with bleeding feet; nor that scramble up a tree like Zacchaeus so as to see and hear him; nor, worse, being mixed up with his followers when they killed him, with the risk of . . .

So Nicodemus went to see Jesus and Jesus received him. And I’m going too and he opens the door for me too and asks me to sit down. ‘How on earth? the Jewish doctor says to him, and ‘How on earth?’ say I too. ‘The truth I’m telling you is that anyone who isn’t born again by water and the Holy Spirit can’t enter God’s kingdom . . .’ ‘Don’t be amazed at me saying, “You’ve got to he born again”. The wind blows wherever it likes, you hear its voice but you don’t know where it’s coming from or going to.’

‘How’s that possible?’ Nicodemus and I mumble. Now he’s very polite about my scholastic position and says, ‘You’re a master in Israel, and you don’t know that? Nicodemus and I, trying to swallow his irony, say ‘Forget it . . . Tell us once and for all, how on earth . . . ?’

Big clocks, small clocks, watches chop up the hours of the night (apparently equal to those of the day and yet so different) with their tick, tock, tick, tock, within the house which, with its bricks and furniture, is suffering like us from the anguish of existing and not knowing why.

‘If you don’t believe when I talk to you about things on earth, how can you believe when I talk to you of heavenly matters?’ says Jesus from the old armchair in my study, crossing his arms. This time too, he’s escaping me. And he’s being the questioner. ‘Leave aside those distinctions between earthly and heavenly things,’ say I, ‘and talk to me of myself who don’t know what heaven and earth are, and basically couldn’t care less. I’m just frightened, hugely and continuously frightened of dying.’ 

‘Indeed.’

‘What do you mean – indeed?’

‘Indeed God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believed in him wouldn’t die but would have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world by his work.’

I get up. It’s just as before. I can’t remember whose house it is, whether he’s come to mine or I’ve gone to knock at his. It’s all the same anyway. What’s certain is that it was night when we talked; that, like Nicodemus, I tried to catch him out for the nth time; that I’m leaving the house Where I paid my useless visit; and that I’m in the darkness of a country road. And in spite of everything I’m feeling better. I’m even happy; humiliated, but happy. That may be because dawn’s coming up, and the darkness - at least the external darkness - is thinning. And I’m thinking of his parting words:

‘The light came into the world and people preferred darkness to light because their works were wicked. The truth is that whoever does evil loathes the light and keeps away from it so that the things he’s doing won’t be condemned. But whoever does good goes to the light because the things he does are open and as if fulfilled by God.’

So perhaps I’m not entirely wicked. I love the dawn and I still find consolation, even after my heavy defeat and with the salty taste in my mouth of someone who hasn’t slept a wink. I’m only Nicodemus.






Thursday, November 14, 2013

Luigi Santucci on Jesus weeping over the city


Here is another reflection from Luigi Santucci's book, Wrestling With Christ (pages 145-146): 



THE EXILE

When Jesus was near the city he looked at it and wept over it . . .

From a hill above. Perhaps a natural seat of rock or root. He saw it from up there as it lay nestling in a shell, its houses and domes and blobs of trees talking on that air of innocent humility which even the most dreadful and wicked cities assume from afar. 

Had you wandered through the streets and along the alleyways the city would have seemed one great sore of arrogance. But from above it looked something else, no longer the sum of its stones, or of the rnisdeeds, rancour and despair of its inhabitants. The city seemed good and amazed as if behind a mirage, within a spell that was soon to dissolve it: it seemed suspended at its last minute between a cry of clemency and a huge envy that would soon fall on it and wipe it out. Anyone contemplating the city from a viewpoint on a hill, as did the Master, would be tempted to stretch out his hand in an impotent caress. But precisely because it felt impregnable, as safe as the stage of a theatre open only to the eyes that look on it, the city had from afar a shrewd recognition of its errors. It washed away the ugly spots of its murders, it camouflaged the corners where huddled its brothels, and when darkness fell its lighted windows vied with each other in telling a story of civilized friendship, as if in every house were gathered round the table a happy family giving thanks to God. 

And precisely for this reason the city, Jerusalem, which lay only a bee’s flight away, was sad and caused pain: because of that lie it was telling. In that outspread map of houses there wasn’t a single roof that Jesus couldn’t recognize (as we try to do when we climb a church tower). With his eyes he sought the places where for three years he had played out his hard profession as God, the crossways where he had straightened the paralyzed and the crooked, the little side-streets where he had given sight to the blind. Over there lay the pool of Bethesda with its sick people waiting; over there lay the temple from which he had driven with whips the blasphemers who were buying and selling, where the bent woman had been made straight and where the man had regained the use of his shriveled hand. Unpleasant memories. For one friend sent home cured, ten or a hundred enemies had risen against him, had swollen day by day the great revenge. And there it was, only a few dawns away, the revenge that the city would wreak on the Son of man: that barren hill to the east, the mount of Calvary. 

In scanning the hills with his eyes, Jesus foresaw Titus’s legions gleaming on the plain, the army that was to be the revenge on the revenge: . . . there will come a time when our enemies will entrench themselves around you and besiege you and attack you from all sides, and they will destroy you and your sons and not leave a stone on a stone. But nothing made him more disconsolate than this prophecy of carnage and punishment. 

Yes, the city was wicked: Every city is heir to that first city which rose from the earth in blood and remorse (then Cain . . . built a city which be called Enoch). That was why there had been no room for him within those walls, and that was why he gazed at them on that day with the burning humiliation of an exile, with the shame of an outlaw. Within that swarm of stones down there, the lowest snake was queen in the crack of its well, a favoured daughter of the city like Caiaphas the High Priest, like Simon the leper; and a sister to the tax-collectors and scribes in the warmth of a common connivance, already waiting to shout from her little triangular head her own: ‘Crucify him.’ 

Yet with its medley of lights and the idyllic colouring of the country, the woods, the sky, the city persisted in being pleasing. And then, suddenly in order that that pile of houses and gardens shouldn’t tempt him again to love, a certain person who had already tried to seduce him in the desert whispered a final temptation in his ear: ‘Curse this imposture of stones and steeples, spit on it, go on, spit! Then make your escape.’ 

But this time Christ didn’t listen to him. From within his exile he wept and addressed words to the city that were heard only by the leaves and hornets: ‘O if only you knew, and on this very day, what is in the interests of your peace . . . But you didn’t notice the day when you were visited.’




Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wrestling With Christ - Luigi Santucci's masterpiece



I am fortunate to have had a wide range of godly influences in the shaping of my faith as I grew into adulthood. One of the most important was Father Austin Day, who over the years gave me a large selection of books, often reflecting his own theological interests and devotional reading. Those books are among my most cherished volumes - currently being stored by a friend in Brisbane. 

In 1979 Father Austin bought me a copy of Wrestling With Christ by Italian mystic, novelist and dramatist, Luigi Santucci (1918–1999), translated from the Italian by Bernard Wall. As he excitedly thrust it into my hands he said that Santucci was on a par with Dorothy Sayers (and for Fr Austin that was REALLY saying something!) in terms of bringing alive the subtle characterisation in the Gospels of those who cross their pages.

I have read and re-read this book over the years. Fortunately it can still be obtained easily second-hand, and I encourage you, dear reader, to spend a couple of pounds or dollars and buy one for yourself.

Over the next few days I will share with you some of Santucci’s most memorable passages.


JESUS’ HONEY
- Luigi Santucci  

. . . and a woman called Martha welcomed him in her house. She had a sister called Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet and stayed listening to what he said.

If I’m to turn Calvary upslde down and side-step the garden of Gethsemane where he was to sweat blood and wrestle with his agony, perhaps I’d make use of that little house in Bethany, with its clayey soil, roses and Sycamore trees. His drop of joy, his earthly possession. 

A house, for the man who’s never had a stone to rest his head on. The noise of pots and pans, of bread-bins being opened and closed, of water on the boil; and happy, lazy cats in warm corners. For company, two women. One always busy, queening it over things and yet being their handmaid at the same time, with the cheerful yet slightly aggressive attitude of housewives who are always behindhand; the other sitting at his feet and listening, accepting the tiny cowardice of becoming a child again, of surrendering to the lazy ecstasy of story-time. 

Neither Martha nor Mary was in love with Jesus, although he came so often to their house and although he was Lazarus’s friend (and falling in love with your brother’s friend is a tender and inevitable pastime when you’re young). And yet it was as if they were in love with him - if it be true that admiration, devotion, affection, gratitude and every heart-beat, in anyone born a woman, are none other than chaste metaphors of love: that continuous and bewitched self-offering. 

In those hours, those afternoons when Lazarus was out working, Jesus enjoyed the essence of womanhood in those two creatures; the honey of life. Dreamy Mary was the pale nectar of the garden, agitated Martha a bitter honey from the Alps. 

Christ’s honey: Woman. Transcending the senses. The Samaritan woman at the well, the forgiven adulteress, the Magdalen of the perfumes, the mothers to whom he granted miracles for their sons, all of them; and first and foremost Mary of Nazareth. They were his secret holiday, a sort of good news within the good news, the gospel in undertones without anger or nails: it was he who discovered woman, thousands of years after she’d been created, and by so doing inaugurated the soul of the modern world. 

‘Lord, don’t you care when my sister leaves me to do the housework alone? Tell her to come and help me.’ This intimiste picture from the palette of Luke, painter and doctor, ends up in an affectionate bandinage: ‘Martha, Martha . . . you get bothered by too many things . . . Mary has chosen the better part.’

To be sure Mary chose the better part: Christ’s feet, that edge of matting on the stone floor where all the world – springtimes, waters, loves, celestial gardens - was gathered together at the sound of his voice. But Martha, the busy one, wasn’t all that different, she wasn’t outside the circle, she was a woman like Mary. She came in and out, keeping the kitchen door open; and when her hands were in the flour she listened with one ear, and loved.



Luigi Santucci (1918–1999)




Tuesday, November 5, 2013

More - following Sunday's post . . . Who represents the OTHER women of the Church?

On Sunday I pointed to the fact that many women in the Church object to women bishops, and asked, "Who represents THEM at meetings of the House of Bishops?"

Here is a Letter to the Editor in this month's New Directions on the same theme.

Clericalism
From Mrs Ann Corbett
I am shocked and appalled that whilst the House of
Bishops is willing to allow senior women clergy to join their
number they are not willing to allow the voice or ordinary
lay women to be heard. If it is no longer a House simply for
bishops then surely our voices should be heard?
Lay women and indeed many permanent women deacons
hold to the traditional teaching of the church. Women hold
positions of authority as churchwardens and lay leaders
in our church as well as in religious communities and as
deacons. The House of Bishops and the senior women
clergy have shown a remarkable clericalism in this decision.
It seems to be a case of women are welcome but only if we
like what you say!
Ann Corbett

anncorbett1981@hotmail.com



Monday, November 4, 2013

“there is no sin or crime of any kind that can erase from the mind or heart of God even one of the children he has created” (Pope Francis)


by Gerard O’Connell, writing for LA STAMPA HERE


“There is no profession or social condition, there is no sin or crime of any kind that can erase from the memory and heart of God even one of his children”, Pope Francis told tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square yesterday, 3rd November.

“God remembers, he never forgets any one of those he has created”, Francis emphasized once again, returning to what has been one of his leitmotivs ever since his election as pope: God is a loving Father, one who wants to save, not condemn people.

Speaking from the study window of the papal apartment which he uses for his Sunday encounter with pilgrims, the Argentinean Pope took his cue from this Sunday’s Gospel which was about a man, Zaccheus, who lived in the city of Jericho which Jesus had entered.

He described Zaccheus as  “a lost sheep”, one “who was despised by everyone and ‘excommunicated’ because he was a tax collector –the chief of the tax-collectors and a publican, the friend of the hated Romans, an exploiter and a thief”.  He was not allowed even to come close to Jesus when he visited Jericho because of all this.  Yet this man wanted to see Jesus, he said, but being small in stature he could not see over the crowd and so he climbed a tree so he could see Jesus.

That seemingly ‘ridiculous” gesture expressed “the interior act of the man who wanted to go above the crowd to have contact with Jesus”, the Pope said. Indeed, Zaccheus man did not really know “the profound sense of his gesture, nor did he hope to overcome the distance that separated him from the Lord”, Francis said; “he just resigned himself to seeing him as he passed by”.

Jesus, however, noticed his gesture and stopped at the tree where he was. Then looking up, he told him, “Zaccheus, come down immediately, today I want to stop at your house”.   Pope Francis said that this man “small in stature, rejected by everyone, is like one lost in anonymity, but Jesus calls him”. The Pope noted that this man has a name that is full of allusions because ‘Zaccheus’ means ‘God remembers’.

Francis recalled that Jesus went to Zaccehus’ home and that very day ‘joy’ and ‘salvation’ came to that house.

Pope Francis went onto remind everyone that God is a “Father who is always waiting, vigilant and loving, to see reborn in the heart of his son the desire to return home”.  Indeed, he said, “whenever” - as in the case of Zaccheus, “he recognizes that desire, even the simple indication (of that desire), however unconscious, he is immediately at the side of that person, and with his pardon he makes the journey of conversion and return lighter”.

Then, abandoning his prepared text, Francis looked out at the vast crowd of pilgrims in the square below, and said: “I tell you that if you have a great weight on your conscience, if you are ashamed of what you have done, then stop and reflect on this: God has never ceased to remember you!”

He encouraged everyone in such a situation, every “lost sheep”, to follow the example of Zaccheus and ‘climb a tree’ or make some similar gesture ‘however ridiculous’, to come to Jesus “and you will not be disappointed.”

“Jesus is merciful. He always pardons you, so allow yourselves to be looked at by Jesus!  Today, he wants to come and stay in your house, that is, in your life”, he told them.

He concluded by inviting everyone listening to allow ourselves “to welcome Jesus with joy, he can transform our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He can free us from our egoisms and make our lives a gift of love”.

His words drew warm applause from the big crowd in St Peter’s Square, an applause that was redoubled when he wished them a good lunch.




Sunday, November 3, 2013

Women against women bishops

In an exercise which is at best well intentioned but misguided sexism, the General Synod approved the election of eight senior female clergy to attend and speak at meetings of the House of Bishops until women can legally become bishops of the Church of England. Given that the vast majority of bishops are in favour of women bishops, it is a curious thing that a group such as the women clergy of the C of E should be given this place, as if they represent "the women of the Church." What a pity if this were to result in the bishops overlooking another very significant group - those women of the Church who are theologically opposed to the ordination of women as priests and bishops. Indeed, the question arises, who represents THEM at meetings of the House of Bishops?

Of course it is easy - and a cheap shot - to accuse men who oppose the ordination of women of being sexist and mysoginist. So it is pleasing that every now and then the media notice that there is also strong opposition among the women of the Church - and younger women at that. For example, the following article by Riazat Butt appeared in The Guardian on Monday 27 February 2012. Go HERE for the original . . . the comments, too, are worth reading (though they're not for the faint hearted!). 

The women who oppose female bishops 
Among those who are still unhappy with the idea of women at top of the Anglican church are a number who are women themselves. What's their case?


Emma Forward: 'We represent thousands in the Church across the country'. 
Photograph: Jim Wileman


The Church of England is, in its own confounding and impenetrable way, preparing to welcome women as bishops. At the meeting of its general assembly earlier this month there was much debate about what should be done for Anglicans who do not accept female clergy ahead of a vote this summer. Among these traditionalists are several women.

One of them is Emma Forward, a teacher in her 20s who was elected to the Church of England's lawmaking body at 21, making her the youngest of its 485 members. One of almost 9,000 women who signed a petition in 2008 objecting to the ordination of women as bishops, she says many other female members of Synod share her views.

"We represent thousands in the Church across the country. I think that women who oppose haven't been in the spotlight as we are from ordinary walks of life who aren't known to the media. Perhaps some press coverage finds it easier to portray this as a male versus female issue, and we complicate the issue for those who only see it in those terms."

Traditionalists such as Forward want to serve under a male bishop because they believe the Church of England has no right to introduce women bishops. They may not have a majority, certainly not expected to be enough to stop the legislation to allow women bishops getting final approval in July, but they cite Jesus's choice of only male apostles and the fact that other, major Christian denominations have not introduced female clergy as evidence to support their beliefs.

It is perhaps unthinkable that women should oppose the progress, or even presence, of women in any walk of life. "It always makes my heart sink when a woman speaks out against women bishops," says Christina Rees, a forthright and formidable Anglican who has been campaigning for equality in the Church of England since the 1980s. "The impression I often have of these women is that they are highly intelligent and in positions of authority in their own profession. A lot of them show signs of leadership but it feels wrong to them to have female priests. If they had been formed in a different church tradition they themselves would be ordained or they would be in a position of leadership in their own church."

Anglican opponents have had to come to terms with the fact that there have been female clergy in the Church of England since 1992. It is the leadership they opposed and several such as Forward are trying to obtain alternative male-only structures that will "protect" them from women bishops.

"I have come to terms with the fact that there are women priests in the Church of England," says Forward. "I've grown up with that. As an adult looking at the issue of ordained women I came at it with no preconceptions. You'd imagine I'd come from an extreme family or some kind of odd sect, it's simply not the case."

When asked if she thinks she is sexist, she replies: "I don't think I can be. To use terms like sexist or misogynist is reducing a complex theological matter to terms of hatred and negative feelings."

While Forward has chosen, as a parishioner, to avoid female clergy it is is difficult for her to avoid them altogether. At Synod, whether in London or York, what happens when their paths cross, during tea breaks and toilet breaks, for instance? "We'll meet and we'll talk as women do, woman to woman … about tights. I feel there are some women priests whom I've really admired and find them really generous in the kind of friendship they've offered. Neither of us know necessarily what to say."

Christina, for all her years of campaigning on the issue, doesn't think women who oppose women are sexist either. "I think their understanding of theology is flawed. I think it's too simplistic to call them sexist. They are not misogynist, they do not despise women. I try to address their views and leave their gender out of it. Otherwise you subject them to greater scrutiny than you would a man."

Another woman who believes in the stained-glass ceiling is Lindsay Newcombe, a 30-year-old technical specialist in orthopaedics for the British Standards Institute. The mother of one, who has a PhD in mechanical engineering, says the Church of England was wrong to begin ordaining women.

"The C of E does not have the authority to make that change, the C of E is just one small part of the worldwide church. If this was the will of God, the rest of the church would have to have agreed and gone ahead together."

"A priest represents people to God, he also represents God to the people and a male priesthood is a gift that helps us to understand God. Having a woman in that role makes it just that little bit harder to have that relationship."

She compares the situation to having a woman playing a man's role on stage. "They have to work that bit harder to be convincing."

Newcombe knows her views will perplex, maybe anger, some people. "On the face of it my views are counter-cultural to the spirit of our time and equal opportunity and equality. I believe men and women should have the same opportunities in life. But this is a church matter. Opposition to women in the priesthood used to be the majority view. I don't think we're such a small minority. It is a normal traditional Anglican belief to hold. Why is it that something that wasn't true 50 years ago is true now?"




Saturday, November 2, 2013

Praying for our brothers and sisters - All Souls' Day



I have just celebrated a Requiem Mass for All Souls’ Day, which, every bit as much as All Saints’ Day (though - of course - differently) expresses the unity of the whole Church, living and departed, as well as the ongoing healing and cleansing we experience as we journey further into God. For the priest it is a very moving labour of love to read out so many names before the Lord, including the growing number of his own relatives and friends whom he loves but no longer sees. Go HEREHERE, and HERE, for previous posts about this wonderful day, and the importance of offering the Holy Eucharist for our departed brothers and sisters.

This year I offer you a very fitting meditation for All Souls’ from Father Scott Looker’s blog:


The English poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, devastated by the sudden death of his dear friend Arthur Hallam, composed much of his poetry in an attempt to deal with his own grief at the loss of his beloved friend. In the final pages of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the dying King Arthur looks at Sir Bedivere, the last surviving Knight of the Round Table, and pleads,

If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

In his second epistle to Timothy, St Paul mentions his fellow laborer Onesiphorus, about whom the Apostle states,

“The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.”  (1:16-18)

Similarly, near the end of that same epistle, St. Paul writes that Timothy should 

“Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.” (4:19)   

These are the only times Onesiphorus is mentioned in the Bible and he is exclusively referred to in the past tense. Likewise, there is no suggestion that Timothy should greet Onesiphorus himself, only his household. Clearly, Onesiphorus has already died at the time of composition of this letter and St. Paul has, himself, prayed that the Lord would have mercy upon him even though he has already departed this life. The Apostle Paul is interceding on behalf of his departed co-laborer.

Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs suggest the practice continued from the earliest days of the Church in Rome. Catacomb inscriptions often contain prayers along the lines of “May his soul rest in peace,” “May God grant peace to the soul of Alexander (as an example),” or “May he live among the Saints.” These too are prayers inscribed on behalf of those within the catacomb tombs. The late second century bishop Abercius of Heirapolis inscribed these words on his own tomb prior to his death: “. . . May everyone who is accord with this and understands it pray for Abercius.” Tertullian of Carthage declared that it was a duty of a widow to pray for the soul of her husband, stating,

“Indeed, she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship (with him) in the first resurrection; and she offers (her sacrifice) on the anniversaries of his falling asleep.  For, unless she does these deeds, she has in the true sense divorced him . . . ”  (On Monogamy, X:5-6)

An even greater testimony to the pervasiveness and orthodoxy of prayers for the deceased is found in St Augustine’s magnum opus The Confessions.  In chapter 13 of Book 9, St Augustine praises his mother for her virtue but ultimately begs intercession on her behalf and says, 

“I know that she acted mercifully, and from the heart forgave her debtors their debts; do thou also forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech you; enter not into judgment with her.”

The earliest extant liturgies include prayers for the deceased. In the Liturgy of St James, perhaps the oldest extant liturgy, we find this passage included in what we would consider the Prayers of the People: 

“[For] the rest of the fathers and brethren that have fallen asleep aforetime.”  

This tenet of the Catholic faith is witnessed even in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer where the celebrant offered this prayer: 

“We commend unto thy mercye (O Lorde) all other thy servauntes, which are departed hence from us, with the signe of faith, and nowe do reste in the slepe of peace: Graunt unto them, we beseche thee, thy mercy, and everlasting peace, and that, at the day of the generall resurreccion, we and all they which bee of the misticall body of thy sonne, may altogether be set on his right hand, and heare that his most ioyfull voice.”  

Prayers for the departed are an aspect of that faith which has been handed down by the Apostles and has been upheld by the Church Universal throughout all ages. The practice is Biblically supported by multiple verses and historically testified to by catacomb and funeral inscriptions from the pre-Constantinian era of the Church. The Church Fathers from the obscure Abercius of Hierapolis to Tertullian, St Augustine, St. Basil the Great, and others lend their support to this tenet of faith and, finally, liturgies both Eastern and Anglican also testify to this matter.

We may not quite understand why and it may not fit into our notion of death and judgement, but Christians throughout all ages have prayed for their beloved departed. Take a few moments today when you go to the Lord in prayer and ask him to look with favor on your loved ones who have already passed out of this life.  God is not bound by human concepts like “time.” Who is to say that your prayers for a loved one today might not have brought them to a saving knowledge of Christ decades ago?  Besides, as the poet says, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

O God, 
the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: 
Grant to the faithful departed 
the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; 
that on the day of his appearing 
they may be manifested as your children; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and ever. Amen.