Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pope Francis & Patriarch Bartholomew . . . another step . . .



Today Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, signed a Joint Declaration reaffirming their commitment to overcoming the obstacles in the way of unity between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  Here is the text:

JOINT  DECLARATION

We, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, express our profound gratitude to God for the gift of this new encounter enabling us, in the presence of the members of the Holy Synod, the clergy and the faithful of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to celebrate together the feast of Saint Andrew, the first–called and brother of the Apostle Peter. Our remembrance of the Apostles, who proclaimed the good news of the Gospel to the world through their preaching and their witness of martyrdom, strengthens in us the aspiration to continue to walk together in order to overcome, in love and in truth, the obstacles that divide us.

On the occasion of our meeting in Jerusalem last May, in which we remembered the historical embrace of our venerable predecessors Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, we signed a joint declaration. Today on the happy occasion of this further fraternal encounter, we wish to re–affirm together our shared intentions and concerns.

We express our sincere and firm resolution, in obedience to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, to intensify our efforts to promote the full unity of all Christians, and above all between Catholics and Orthodox. As well, we intend to support the theological dialogue promoted by the Joint International Commission, instituted exactly thirty–five years ago by the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios and Pope John Paul II here at the Phanar, and which is currently dealing with the most difficult questions that have marked the history of our division and that require careful and detailed study. To this end, we offer the assurance of our fervent prayer as Pastors of the Church, asking our faithful to join us in praying “that all may be one, that the world may believe” (John 17:21).

We express our common concern for the current situation in Iraq, Syria and the whole Middle East. We are united in the desire for peace and stability and in the will to promote the resolution of conflicts through dialogue and reconciliation. While recognizing the efforts already being made to offer assistance to the region, at the same time, we call on all those who bear responsibility for the destiny of peoples to deepen their commitment to suffering communities, and to enable them, including the Christian ones, to remain in their native land. We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes. It even seems that the value of human life has been lost, that the human person no longer matters and may be sacrificed to other interests. And, tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many.  As Saint Paul reminds us, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is the law of the Christian life, and in this sense we can say that there is also an ecumenism of suffering. Just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and fertility for the Church, so too the sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity. The terrible situation of Christians and all those who are suffering in the Middle East calls not only for our constant prayer, but also for an appropriate response on the part of the international community.

The grave challenges facing the world in the present situation require the solidarity of all people of good will, and so we also recognize the importance of promoting a constructive dialogue with Islam based on mutual respect and friendship. Inspired by common values and strengthened by genuine fraternal sentiments, Muslims and Christians are called to work together for the sake of justice, peace and respect for the dignity and rights of every person, especially in those regions where they once lived for centuries in peaceful coexistence and now tragically suffer together the horrors of war. Moreover, as Christian leaders, we call on all religious leaders to pursue and to strengthen interreligious dialogue and to make every effort to build a culture of peace and solidarity between persons and between peoples. We also remember all the people who experience the sufferings of war. In particular, we pray for peace in Ukraine, a country of ancient Christian tradition, while we call upon all parties involved to pursue the path of dialogue and of respect for international law in order to bring an end to the conflict and allow all Ukrainians to live in harmony.

Our thoughts turn to all the faithful of our Churches throughout the world, whom we greet, entrusting them to Christ our Saviour, that they may be untiring witnesses to the love of God. We raise our fervent prayer that the Lord may grant the gift of peace in love and unity to the entire human family.

“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

From the Phanar, 30 November 2014


During his visit to Istanbul, Pope Francis, 
in a powerful symbol of deference, 
asked Patriarch Batholomew for his blessing 
"for me and the Church of Rome."


To get you started in Advent . . .



OUR SOWING TIME

Our short lives on earth are sowing time. If there were no resurrection of the dead, everything we live on earth would come to nothing. How can we believe in a God who loves us unconditionally if all the joys and pains of our lives are in vain, vanishing in the earth with our mortal flesh and bones? Because God loves us unconditionally, from eternity to eternity, God cannot allow our bodies - the same as that in which Jesus, his Son and our savior, appeared to us - to be lost in final destruction.

No, life on earth is the time when the seeds of the risen body are planted. Paul says:  “What is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable; what is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; what is sown is weak, but what is raised is powerful; what is sown is a natural body, and what is raised is a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This wonderful knowledge that nothing we live in our bodies is lived in vain holds a call for us to live every moment as a seed of eternity.

The wonderful knowledge, that nothing we live in our body is lived in vain, holds a call for us to live every moment as a seed of eternity.

- Henri Nouwen (Bread for the Journey, Harper SanFrancisco.)


ADVENT JOINS MEMORY AND HOPE

Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope… It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.

- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 1986 (Pope Benedict XVI)  - Seek That Which Is Above (Ignatius Press)


THE GRAND MIRACLE

The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.

~ C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle”  - God in the Dock






Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rome and Canterbury: Expectations were running high



Revisionists around the Anglican world who have zealously pushed our Church into creating new obstacles in the way of unity with the great Churches of the First Millenium often justify what they have done by saying that there never was a “realistic” chance of unity flowing from our cooperation and the official ecumenical dialogue. That is certainly not my recollection of the period.

I was in communication with a friend who knew nothing of “The Malta Report”, produced by a joint preparatory commission established as a result of the historic meeting of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey in 1966. This commission was the precursor to the formal ARCIC dialogue. When I shared with my friend the link from the Vatican Website, he was astonished at how positive it is, and how high it raises the expectation that unity will happen expeditiously. A number of the godliest, brightest and best of both communions gave their lives unstintingly to the goal of reunion between Canterbury and Rome. Not a few of them pleaded desperately for Anglican Synods not to destroy what many of us believe God was doing. Here is the Malta Report:  

THE MALTA REPORT:
REPORT OF THE ANGLICAN - ROMAN CATHOLIC 
JOINT PREPARATORY COMMISSION

Malta
2 January 1968

I.

1. The visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Pope Paul VI in March 1966, and their decision to constitute an Anglican-Roman Catholic Joint Preparatory Commission, marked a new stage in relations between our two Churches. The three meetings of the Commission, held during 1967 at Gazzada, Huntercombe, and in Malta, were characterized not only by a spirit of charity and frankness, but also by a growing sense of urgency, penitence, thankfulness, and purpose: of urgency, in response to the pressure of God’s will, apprehended as well in the processes of history and the aspirations and achievements of men in his world as in the life, worship, witness, and service of his Church; of penitence, in the conviction of our shared responsibility for cherishing animosities and prejudices which for four hundred years have kept us apart, and prevented our attempting to understand or resolve our differences; of thankfulness for the measure of unity which through baptism into Christ we already share, and for our recent growth towards greater unity and mutual understanding; of purpose, in our determination that the work begun in us by God shall be brought by his grace to fulfilment in the restoration of his peace to his Church and his world.

2. The members of the Commission have completed the preparatory work committed to them by compiling this report which they submit for their consideration to His Holiness the Pope and His Grace the Archbishop. The Decree on Ecumenism recognizes that among the Western Communions separated from the Roman See the Churches of the Anglican Communion ‘hold a special place’. We hope in humility that our work may so help to further reconciliation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics as also to promote the wider unity of all Christians in their common Lord. We share the hope and prayer expressed in the common declaration issued by the Pope and the Archbishop after their meeting that “a serious dialogue founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions may lead to that unity in truth for which Christ prayed”.

3. We record with great thankfulness our common faith in God our Father, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit; our common baptism in the one Church of God; our sharing of the holy Scriptures, of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the Chalcedonian definition, and the teaching of the Fathers; our common Christian inheritance for many centuries with its living traditions of liturgy, theology, spirituality, Church order, and mission.

4. Divergences since the sixteenth century have arisen not so much from the substance of this inheritance as from our separate ways of receiving it. They derive from our experience of its value and power, from our interpretation of its meaning and authority, from our formulation of its content, from our theological elaboration of what it implies, and from our understanding of the manner in which the Church should keep and teach the Faith. Further study is needed to distinguish between those differences which are merely apparent, and those which are real and require serious examination.

5. We agree that revealed Truth is given in holy Scripture and formulated in dogmatic definitions through thought-forms and language which are historically conditioned. We are encouraged by the growing agreement of theologians in our two Communions on methods of interpreting this historical transmission of revelation. We should examine further and together both the way in which we assent to and apprehend dogmatic truths and the legitimate means of understanding and interpreting them theologically. Although we agree that doctrinal comprehensiveness must have its limits, we believe that diversity has an intrinsic value when used creatively rather than destructively.

6. In considering these questions within the context of the present situation of our two Communions, we propose particularly as matter for dialogue the following possible convergences of lines of thought: first, between the traditional Anglican distinction of internal and external communion and the distinction drawn by the Vatican Council between full and partial communion; secondly, between the Anglican distinction of fundamentals from non-fundamentals and the distinction implied by the Vatican Council’s references to a ‘hierarchy of truths’ (Decree on Ecumenism, 11), to the difference between ‘revealed truths’ and ‘the manner in which they are formulated’ (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 62), and to diversities in theological tradition being often ‘complementary rather than conflicting’ (Decree on Ecumenism, 17).


II.

7. We recommend that the second stage in our growing together begin with an official and explicit affirmation of mutual recognition from the highest authorities of each Communion. It would acknowledge that both Communions are at one in the faith that the Church is founded upon the revelation of God the Father, made known to us in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, who is present through the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures and his Church, and is the only Mediator between God and Man, the ultimate Authority for all our doctrine. Each accepts the basic truths set forth in the ecumenical Creeds and the common tradition of the ancient Church, although neither Communion is tied to a positive acceptance of all the beliefs and devotional practices of the other.

8. In every region where each Communion has a hierarchy, we propose an annual joint meeting of either the whole or some considerable representation of the two hierarchies.

9. In the same circumstances we further recommend:

a. Constant consultation between committees concerned with pastoral and evangelistic problems including, where appropriate, the appointment of joint committees. 
b. Agreements for joint use of churches and other ecclesiastical buildings, both existing and to be built, wherever such use is helpful for one or other of the two Communions. 
c. Agreements to share facilities for theological education, with the hope that all future priests of each Communion should have attended some course taught by a professor of the other Communion. Arrangement should also be made where possible for temporary exchange of students. 
d. Collaboration in projects and institutions of theological scholarship to be warmly encouraged.

10. Prayer in common has been recommended by the Decree on Ecumenism and provisions for this common worship are to be found in the Directory (para. 56).* We urge that they be implemented.

 11. Our similar liturgical and spiritual traditions make extensive sharing possible and desirable; for example, in non-eucharistic services, the exploration of new forms of worship, and retreats in common. Religious orders of similar inspiration in the two Communions are urged to develop a special relationship.

12. Our closeness in the field of sacramental belief leads us further to recommend that on occasion the exchange of preachers for the homily during the celebration of the Eucharist be also permitted, without prejudice to the more general regulations contained in the Directory.

13. Since our liturgies are closely related by reason of their common source, the ferment of liturgical renewal and reform now engaging both our Communions provides an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration. We should co-operate, and not take unilateral action, in any significant changes in the seasons and major holy days of the Christian Year; and we should experiment together in the development of a common eucharistic lectionary. A matter of special urgency in view of the advanced stage of liturgical revision in both Communions is that we reach agreement on the vernacular forms of those prayers, hymns, and responses which our people share in common in their respective liturgies. We recommend that this be taken up without delay.

We are gratified that collaboration in this work has been initiated by the exchange of observers and consultants in many of our respective liturgical commissions. Especially in matters concerning the vernacular, we recommend that representatives of our two Communions (not excluding other Christian bodies with similar liturgical concerns) be associated on a basis of equality both in international and in national and regional committees assigned this responsibility.

14. We believe that joint or parallel statements from our Church leaders at international, national, and local level on urgent human issues can provide a valuable form of Christian witness.

15. In the field of missionary strategy and activity ecumenical understanding is both uniquely valuable and particularly difficult. Very little has hitherto been attempted in this field between our two Communions, and while our other recommendations of course apply to the young Churches and mission areas, we propose further the institution at an international level of an official joint consultation to consider the difficulties involved and the co-operation which should be undertaken.

16. The increasing number of mixed marriages points to the need for a thorough investigation of the doctrine of marriage in its sacramental dimension, its ethical demands, its canonical status, and its pastoral implications. It is hoped that the work of the Joint Commission on Marriage will be promptly initiated and vigorously pursued, and that its recommendations will help to alleviate some of the difficulties caused by mixed marriages, to indicate acceptable changes in Church regulations, and to provide safeguards against the dangers which threaten to undermine family life in our time.


III.

17. We cannot envisage in detail what may be the issues and demands of the final stage in our quest for the full, organic unity of our two Communions. We know only that we must be constant in prayer for the grace of the Holy Spirit in order that we may be open to his guidance and judgement, and receptive to each other’s faith and understanding. There remain fundamental theological and moral questions between us where we need immediately to seek together for reconciling answers. In this search we cannot escape the witness of our history; but we cannot resolve our differences by mere reconsideration of, and judgement upon, the past. We must press on in confident faith that new light will be given us to lead us to our goal.

18. The fulfilment of our aim is far from imminent. In these circumstances the question of accepting some measure of sacramental intercommunion apart from full visible unity is being raised on every side. In the minds of many Christians no issue is today more urgent. We cannot ignore this, but equally we cannot sanction changes touching the very heart of Church life, eucharistic communion, without being certain that such changes would be truly Christian. Such certainty cannot be reached without more and careful study of the theology implied.

19. We are agreed that among the conditions required for intercommunion are both a true sharing in faith and the mutual recognition of ministry. The latter presents a particular difficulty in regard to Anglican Orders according to the traditional judgement of the Roman Church. We believe that the present growing together of our two Communions and the needs of the future require of us a very serious consideration of this question in the light of modern theology. The theology of the ministry forms part of the theology of the Church and must be considered as such. It is only when sufficient agreement has been reached as to the nature of the priesthood and the meaning to be attached in this context to the word ‘validity’ that we could proceed, working always jointly, to the application of this doctrine to the Anglican ministry today. We would wish to re-examine historical events and past documents only to the extent that they can throw light upon the facts of the present situation.

20. In addition, a serious theological examination should be jointly undertaken on the nature of authority with particular reference to its bearing on the interpretation of the historic faith to which both our Communions are committed. Real or apparent differences between us come to the surface in such matters as the unity and indefectibility of the Church and its teaching authority, the Petrine primacy, infallibility, and Mariological definitions.

21. In continuation of the work done by our Commission, we recommend that it be replaced by a Permanent Joint Commission responsible (in co-operation with the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and the Church of England Council on Foreign Relations in association with the Anglican Executive Officer) for the oversight of Roman Catholic - Anglican relations, and the co-ordination of future work undertaken together by our two Communions.

22. We also recommend the constitution of two joint sub-commissions, responsible to the Permanent Commission, to undertake two urgent and important tasks: 
ONE to examine the question of intercommunion, and the related matters of Church and Ministry; THE OTHER to examine the question of authority, its nature, exercise, and implications.

We consider it important that adequate money, secretarial assistance, and research facilities should be given to the Commission and its sub-commissions in order that their members may do their work with thoroughness and efficiency.

23. We also recommend joint study of moral theology to determine similarities and differences in our teaching and practice in this field.

24. In concluding our Report we cannot do better than quote the words of those by whom we were commissioned, and to whom, with respect, we now submit it: In willing obedience to the command of Christ who bade His disciples love one another, they declare that, with His help, they wish to leave in the hands of the God of mercy all that in the past has been opposed to this precept of charity, and that they make their own the mind of the Apostle which he expressed in these words: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14). (The Common Declaration by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury

24 March 1966)



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

He was everybody's "Father Austin"


Just over thirteen years ago (5th November, 2001) the death occurred of Father Austin Day. In thanksgiving for this man whose life led so many to the Lord, I share with you the tribute I gave at High Mass, at All Saints' Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, Australia), on the Sunday after he died.


PATRICK AUSTIN DAY
1926 - 2001

This photo of Father Austin was taken 
inside St John's Horsham (Diocese of Ballarat) in 1989 
by the photographer of the Wimmera Mail-Times.


"God's in his heaven, Austin Day's at Christ Church, and all's right in the world."

So it was said for many years by Australian Anglo-Catholics, indicating the crucial role of both Christ Church St Laurence (set right in the midst of the Diocese of Sydney) and Father Austin Day whose ministry of spiritual direction and encouragement sustained the lives of countless priests and lay people right across Australia and beyond our shores. Father Austin, Rector of Christ Church from 1964 to 1996, died last Monday, following a difficult struggle with motor neuron disease.


HE LOVED THE LORD JESUS

I first met Father Austin when I was an impressionable teenager from Sydney's working class western suburbs. It was 1968. He had been at Christ Church less than four years, but was already making his own mark on the parish. The thing that struck me was how very cultured he was, how wide were his interests and reading, and at the same time how much he loved the Lord Jesus in a genuine and unfussy way. This was recognised by the evangelical clergy of his acquaintance and it contributed as much to the growing relationship between Christ Church and the Diocese of Sydney as any deliberate attempt at rapprochement.

He was always trying to bring people to Jesus. Just listen to this passage from a sermon he preached in July 1983 about John Henry Newman:

“Newman knew God had called him . . . As he was personally chosen by God, raised up to present catholic truth as it is in Jesus and as it is believed by Anglicans, so are we called today to do just that, as individuals and as the people of Christ Church St Laurence, just as the Jews were specially called of old as a peculiar people for God’s own possession ‘You are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your earth to be his special possession’ (Deuteronomy 7:6).

“Likewise Jesus said to His disciples in His final discourses at the Last Supper, ‘You did not choose me, no, I chose you: and I commissioned you’ (John 16:16.)

“The idea of being chosen by God seems odd and frightening - odd because it smacks of favouritism; frightening because it presents a God who intervenes in our lives and in His world.

“Despite that, the Catholic belief is that we are called and set apart for God’s service in our Baptism, as Newman was; and right on through the whole of our lives, God continues to call us to Himself, not for any merit we possess but because in His providence we are the appropriate persons for particular tasks. God said “It was not because you were more numerous than any other nation that the Lord chose you, for you were the smallest of all nations: it was because the Lord loved you”.

“Furthermore, as God’s call comes to us as particular persons, inevitably it must be a very intimate association that He has with us . . . So Jesus says, “I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (John 15:15).

“With a pious Evangelical family upbringing it is no wonder that Newman had a dramatic sense of being chosen by God for a particular work as priest and prophet. We too as Anglican Catholics today are to follow that close and intimate call of the Saviour; to be the Sons and daughters of God, the friends of Jesus, the child of God . . . AND that is a call to personal holiness (as Newman’s was), to sacrifice and service too, to private prayer, and public worship.”

Father Austin’s deep and personal response to the love of the Lord Jesus sustained him in the wide range of responsibilities that were his as Rector of Christ Church. It was apparent in the healing ministry. He took over his predecessor’s motto, “Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and in turn helped countless individuals come to know the forgiveness, love and healing of Jesus in their lives.


HEALING MINISTRY

Christ Church’s healing ministry had been established by Father John Hope many years before. It was continued and developed by Father Austin, week in and week out. Privately in homes and hospitals, and publicly in the weekly healing services, the prayer of faith, the laying on of hands and the sacrament of anointing were all commonplace. As in the Gospels, the healing ministry was the means by which multitudes found the Saviour’s love to be real. So many without any church background whatsoever discovered the community of faith and love by being brought along to a Christ Church healing service. I’ll never forget the visits to Christ Church of the great Church of England healing lady, Mary Rodgers! On her first Sunday, the healing service began with High Mass at 10.30am and went right through the afternoon. It included Evensong and Benediction, lasting until midnight, with large numbers of parishioners showing faith, love and hospitality to the needy whose coming and going made Christ Church look like a railway station! Father Austin was in his element! Prayer for the sick always played a key role in the evangelistic missions he himself conducted in many parts of the country.

But he also wove that ministry into the “normal fabric” of parish life. Some years before the Mary Rogers visit, the best master of ceremonies in the parish had come down with a very bad virus, and looked as if he would be in bed for all of Holy Week. Father Austin couldn’t bear the thought of the elaborate Holy Week liturgies becoming muddled, so he took the Blessed Sacrament and the healing oil to the M.C.’s house where in response to the prayer of faith and the power of the risen Lord in the Sacraments, the M.C. was marvellously restored to health so as to fulfil his unique ministry in the parish community. Holy Week that year went with even more pizazz than usual!


NO LIGHTWEIGHT

Father Austin preached simple sermons, generously laced with poetry, and peppered with geographical and artistic allusions. This led some people to imagine that he was a theological lightweight. How wrong they were! In 1977, John Hick, Don Cupit and their friends produced a book of essays entitled, “The Myth of God Incarnate.” These were Church of England clergymen denying the real divinity of Christ. Of course, most of the non-evangelical Australian theological schools had been adapting themselves to reductionist Christologies for some time, with the result that today - to all intents and purposes - their Jesus seems not much more than an intensely good and inspired man. This was certainly not a development of which Father Austin approved. I was at High Mass on that memorable morning shortly after the publication of “The Myth of God Incarnate” when he presented what was really a spirited and tightly argued lecture defending the true Biblical and patristic understanding of Jesus with such depth, scholarship and relevance as to be congratulated the very next day by the evangelical diocesan leaders to whom it had been enthusiastically reported!


REAL PRAYER

It was Father Austin’s intense devotion to Jesus as his Saviour and Lord that was apparent at High Mass during which he prayed earnestly, reaching out to the Father - as he so often said - in union with the perfect self offering of Jesus. He celebrated (as once used to be said of holy priests) “with great recollection.” The same was true of the Daily Office, weekday Masses, healing prayers and periods of quiet and meditation. For him, all prayer was mystical and deeply personal. He was perfectly relaxed with extempore prayer when ministering to the sick as well as to those who came for spiritual direction. Gently and in a most natural way he would speak to our Father God about the problems experienced or the direction sought, sometimes with the laying on of hands, sometimes just holding hands, or with his hand on the other person’s shoulder; even back in the time when Australian Anglo-Catholics tended to be uncomfortable with anything less formal than collects from a prayer book.


INCARNATION

The marriage of the formal and the informal, the concern to integrate spirituality with the rest of life, and the conviction that the Mass and the other sacraments really do bring us God’s grace, all flowed from Father Austin’s incarnational theology. The Incarnation was not just an historical event for him: it was the ongoing mystery of God’s way with us now. It lay at the heart of Christ Church’s worship; it remained the inner principle of the parish’s life; it motivated the welfare ministry of the parish.

But the Mass WAS central, and to make this point, I give you another piece of that same sermon:

“As Anglican Catholics today we perceive God as transcendent and beyond us in majesty ever to be worshipped and adored; and we see Him as coming down from Heaven in the person of Christ, a man among men, but also a tiny helpless Baby to be loved and caressed by the Blessed Virgin Mary and S. Joseph those many years ago; and we know him today, in His world, in the persons of our neighbours and friends, in the poor and needy, in the sick and the imprisoned. But above all we perceive Him by faith in these Holy Mysteries, in the Breaking of the Bread . . . intimately and lovingly.”

Father Austin proceeded to one of his favourite quotes, this time from Bishop Mervyn Stockwood:

“I think of the Mass as a golden cord that begins at Bethlehem, proceeds to Calvary and the Easter Garden, continues through the joys and sufferings of mankind till it reaches the kingdom of God. As it passes over the table I know that I am pegged on to it and that, as I take the broken bread and drink from the Cup, the Lord is in the midst, just as years ago he walked on Easter evening with two disciples along the road to Emmaus, before making himself known in the breaking of the bread.”

To know the risen Jesus was everything to Father Austin. To proclaim the Gospel of God’s love was his passion, and to care for those who came his way was his sacred calling.


HUMAN NATURE

Father Austin held a high view of human nature as being in the image of God while at the same time he taught and lived the gospel of redemption in Christ. Sin was a reality to be dealt with. He never compromised on that. His understanding of human sinfulness was far more realistic and gritty than is often found these days in Anglican circles. Yes, the image of God is marred (sometimes, he would say, twisted and almost hopelessly deformed), but, the Creator God and the Redeemer God are one and the same, and through faith and the Sacraments, and the caring ministry of the spirit-filled community gathered at the altar, we enter into the mystery of redeeming love, divine forgiveness, and transformation. “There is always forgiveness”, he would say.

His own daily life was extraordinarily disciplined. At one level he was always on his guard against those weaknesses of his that might get in the way of what God was doing through him. That very much accounted for an old fashioned austerity - even severity - which balanced the other side of his temperament - his infectious love of art, beauty, humour, fine wines, witty company and sumptuous celebration. “There is always forgiveness.” Some people hurt him very deeply, causing him immense pain. He always struggled to overcome that . . . but those same people found him amazingly ready to forgive, even if the re-establishment of trust took longer. He once said about the priesthood that “it’s our job to absorb the pain” and take it to the Lord “who gives us the grace to deal with it.”

In an uncanny way, Father Austin had many of the qualities which the English saw in Cardinal Hume. He was “everybody’s Father Austin” - “my priest” to so many people, inside and outside the Church, and in every walk of life. He was gentle - and indulgent, even - towards the entire range of those who wandered their spiritual and emotional wastelands. Yet he was thoroughly orthodox, and without exception tried to point those whose lives he touched to the Saviour. A phrase from the eulogy at Cardinal Hume’s funeral so marvellously applied to Father Austin “ . . . the Christ-like instinct was to count the lost sheep IN, and never OUT.”

I think back to my time as a Deacon in 1979 when I innocently walked into an argument Father Austin was having with some of the “heavies” who thought that Christ Church was built on great liturgy and fine music. He became more and more agitated and eventually declared with magisterial finality: “We certainly have great liturgy and fine music, but Christ Church is actually built on two things: the preaching of the Gospel, and catholic pastoral care.” That is what he really believed.

It is not surprising that a vast number of young men were influenced by Father Austin to offer themselves for the priesthood. He nurtured us, inspired us, persevered with us, and was always there when we needed him, even decades later.


THE PRIEST AS ARTIST

Much is written in our time about the priest as a “professional” or a “manager.” For Father Austin, being a priest was much more like being an artist. He waited on inspiration; he followed his spiritual “hunches.” He expected to be able to see just where God is already working in the lives of those who came to him. He believed in the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He painted on the broadest of canvasses. Or, in a different image, his parish was an orchestra to be conducted in such a way that all and sundry could use their gifts for the glory of God.

Was he dictatorial? Not really. To be sure, he expected from his assistant clergy and lay leaders the kind of deference that is normally shown by members of an orchestra to their conductor (and we all know what happens to the music when for whatever reason it isn’t!). So I was not surprised by the pep talk he gave to me about leadership just weeks before I was inducted into my first parish. He actually said that my time had come to conduct an orchestra. I had to realise that no parish priest can do anything unless the other clergy and lay leaders are prepared to defer to him; and they will only defer to him if they know three things: first, that he really loves them; second, that he wants them to discover and use their gifts; and third, that he is able to lead them further into God.

I cannot say how grateful I am to have been influenced so strongly by Father Austin; to have been on the receiving end of both his patience and his rebuke as a teenager (and, indeed, until quite recently!); to have had his guidance in discerning God’s will for my life, to have been supported by him in times of failure and personal turmoil, to have had him preach at my ordination to the Diaconate in Ballarat and to serve him as a Deacon at Christ Church; to have conducted missions with him three times in the bush, to have preached at his 20th anniversary Mass at Christ Church in 1984, to have been launched by him here at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace in 1995 when he preached at my Induction, and to have had him come and stay at length three times since then. I cherish every one of those memories. Each of those different contexts revealed aspects of the character of this multi-dimensional man.


FAITHFUL TO THE END

It was sad to see Father Austin decline in health during his brief retirement. It frustrated and annoyed him. But when he realised that he really was dying he determined to use every ounce of his spiritual energy to make the last bit of his life really count for God. Although debilitated, bent over and handicapped with that terrible illness, he continued to preach and to give pastoral and spiritual encouragement to others. He participated regularly in the healing services at St Mary’s Waverley, and loved to go there for Evensong and Benediction. He preached his last sermon at St Luke’s Enmore just one week before his death.

One of Father Austin’s favourite quotes was the expression of St Augustine of Hippo, that “God is the country of the soul.” He applied that to our experience of God now; and he saw our departure from this life as a deepening of that reality rather than an abrupt change. Life here and in the hereafter was the same thing, the boundary having been blurred by our experience of God. So many times at funerals and in the pastoral care of the dying, I heard him share this, and then go on speak in the most natural and reassuring way of the Lord’s victory over death, the deliverance of his people from hell and destruction, and the unity we share at the altar of God with “those whom we love but no longer see.”

In his own poetic way, he would often explain that the Mass is when “the Eucharistic veil is parted” and we are able

“to gaze out on the world of God, the angels, the saints, and our departed brothers and sisters - that great company which no man can number - and join with them in the heavenly worship, centred on the Lord Jesus.”

Father Austin loved the music of Sir Edward Elgar, and he loved the writings of John Henry Newman. Both came together - "almost miraculously" he would say - in Elgar’s setting of the “Dream of Gerontius”, from which the words to “Praise to the Holiest in the height” and “Firmly I believe and truly” are taken.

I want to conclude this morning with some verses from the last section of Newman’s poem to nourish us as we journey through the Month of the Holy Souls, and as we give thanks to God for Father Austin. They are gentle words, encouraging and comforting words; words that Father Austin used very often at funerals, for they represent a deep belief that the love of God that has touched us in this life will continue its healing and sanctifying work in us even after we have died.

The angel says to the soul being made ready to experience the fullness of the glory of God in the beatific vision:

Softly and gently, dearly-ransom’d soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.

And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.

Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And masses on the earth, and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest.

Father Austin was one of the great priests of God. May he rest in peace.



In September 1984 I had the honour of being invited to preach at a great Mass to mark Father Austin's 20th anniversary as Rector of Christ Church St Laurence. This photo was taken after Mass. L to R: Fr Victor Pringle (now a Roman Catholic Priest in the far west of New South Wales), a young version of me, Father Austin, and Fr Reg Mills, now the Dean of Clergy for the Anglican Catholic Church, Diocese of Australia and New Zealand).


Monday, November 24, 2014

Unitatis Redintegratio 50 years on, the pain of Anglicans, and the Holy Father's encouragement


"The walls of separation do not reach to heaven"

Last Friday saw the public commemoration at the Gregorian University in Rome of the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II decree ‘Unitatis Redintegratio’, the document that marked the start of a new era in the Church’s relationships with Christians of all different denominations. On Thursday, Pope Francis shared with members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity that the search for full Christian unity remains one of his principle daily concerns, and continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church. 

For Anglicans who believe the full Catholic Faith, who yearn for the Church’s unity, and who truly believed back in the 1970s that we would witness the fruition of that miracle in our lifetime, these are such difficult days. Our hearts are torn assunder as our part of the Church persists in putting new obstacles in the way of the unity for which Jesus prayed.

Those of us who remain Anglicans live with that disappointment (trying to offer the pain it gives us to the Father as intercession for unity, joining it to the suffering of Jesus so that it at least becomes redemptive). And even as we adjust the time scale of our dreams to accord with the new reality, we seek a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit to enable us to evangelise, grow our parish communities, and lovingly but firmly defend the fulness of the Faith within our part of the Church. At the same time we are deeply encouraged that the Successor of St Peter loves us, shares the pain of our not being in full communion, and is still prayerfully strengthening his brethren (Luke 22:32). In spite of the new obstacles, he has not given up on us.    

On the Vatican Radio website, Philippa Hitchen reports:

In a letter given to participants during a meeting at Santa Marta, the Pope notes that the Vatican II teaching, contained in ‘Unitatis Redintegratio’, as well as the other two ecclesiological texts ‘Lumen Gentium’ and ‘Orientalium Ecclesiarum’ has been fully embraced. Earlier hostility and indifference that caused such deep wounds between Christians, the Pope says, have given way to a process of healing that allows us to welcome others as brothers and sisters, united in our common baptism.

This changed mentality, he says, must penetrate ever more deeply into the theological teachings and pastoral practise of dioceses, institutes of consecrated life, associations and ecclesial movements. At the same time, he adds, this anniversary offers an opportunity to give thanks to God that we can now appreciate all that is good and true within the life of the different Christian communities.

Pope Francis thanks all those who, over the past half century, have pioneered this process of reconciliation and he mentions the important role that ecumenical translations of the Bible have played in developing closer cooperation among Christians.

But as we give thanks, the Pope says, we must also recognise continuing divisions and new ethical issues which are complicating our journey towards unity in Christ. Rather than being resigned to the difficulties, he says, we must continue to trust in God who plants seeds of love in the hearts of all Christians.

Finally the Pope calls for a renewed commitment to spiritual ecumenism and to the rediscovery of shared Christian martyrdom. Spiritual ecumenism, he says, is that global network of communal moments of prayer, united gestures of charity and shared reflections on the web which circulate like oxygen, contributing to the growth of understanding, respect and mutual esteem. Ecumenism of the martyrs, he notes, continues today wherever our brothers and sisters sacrifice their lives for their faith, since those who persecute Christ’s followers make no distinction between the different Christian confessions.

In my many encounters or correspondence with other Christians, Pope Francis concludes, I see a strong desire to walk and pray together, to know and love the Lord and to work together in the service of the weak and suffering. On this common journey, he says, I am convinced that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can learn from each other and grow into the communion which already unites us.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Christ the King - a beautiful Litany



Lord Jesus Christ,
reigning in the glory of heaven,
living in the hearts of your people,
and truly present before us in this Blessed Sacrament,
we come before you in adoration and love.
We thank you for making us your people
and drawing us into your love.
We thank you for all the blessings
and the strength you give us
as we make our pilgrim way through this world
to the heavenly country.

v. Lord Jesus, our Eternal King,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, most Merciful King,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, who came among us in great humility,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, who offers us healing and new life,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, who rose glorious from the dead,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, our Eucharistic King,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, the King foretold by the prophets,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, King of Heaven and earth,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, in whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, we are one,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, whose Kingdom is not from this world,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, who will come upon the clouds of Heaven with Power and Great Glory,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, whose Throne of Grace we are to approach with confidence,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, who, hanging on the cross, gave your Mother, Mary, to be our Mother also,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, who heals us of division and disunity,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, wounded by our indifference,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, who sends the Holy Angels to protect us,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, before whom every knee shall bow,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, whose reign will never end,
R. Reign in our hearts.

v. Lord Jesus, whose kindness toward us is steadfast, and whose faithfulness endures forever,
R. Reign in our hearts. ​

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the living God,
we hail you as our King. ​
Through you all things came to be;
in you all things will reach their destiny. 
You are the image of your Father,
the richness of his grace,
his free gift to us of life and love. ​
You love us with an everlasting love.
You share with us your mission
to bring the Good News to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives,
to set the downtrodden free. ​
Lord Jesus Christ,
we hail you as our King;
use us to bring your life, your love,
and the glorious freedom of the children of God
to all with whom we share our lives;
for you live and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rabbi Sacks on "the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization" - at Pope Francis' "Complementarity" colloquium - worth reading.

Among many speeches on Monday (17th November, 2014) at the Vatican, following Pope Francis’ address to the Humanum colloquium on complementarity, representing scholars from 23 countries and from a range of faith traditions, that of Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, was the one that brought the audience of 300 in the synod hall to a standing ovation. Here it is. (The YouTube clip is a video of the highlights).


I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one. But to me it is a story of seven key moments, each of them surprising and unexpected.

The first, according to a report in the press on 20th October of this year, took place in a lake in Scotland 385 million years ago. It was then, according to this new discovery, that two fish came together to perform the first instance of sexual reproduction known to science. Until then all life had propagated itself asexually, by cell division, budding, fragmentation or parthenogenesis, all of which are far simpler and more economical than the division of life into male and female, each with a different role in creating and sustaining life.

When we consider, even in the animal kingdom, how much effort and energy the coming together of male and female takes, in terms of displays, courtship rituals, rivalries and violence, it is astonishing that sexual reproduction ever happened at all. Biologists are still not quite sure why it did. Some say to offer protection against parasites, or immunities against disease. Others say it’s simply that the meeting of opposites generates diversity. But one way or another, the fish in Scotland discovered something new and beautiful that’s been copied ever since by virtually all advanced forms of life. Life begins when male and female meet and embrace.

The second unexpected development was the unique challenge posed to Homo sapiens by two factors: we stood upright, which constricted the female pelvis, and we had bigger brains – a 300 per cent increase – which meant larger heads. The result was that human babies had to be born more prematurely than any other species, and so needed parental protection for much longer. This made parenting more demanding among humans than any other species, the work of two people rather than one.

Hence the very rare phenomenon among mammals, of pair bonding, unlike other species where the male contribution tends to end with the act of impregnation. Among most primates, fathers don’t even recognise their children let alone care for them. Elsewhere in the animal kingdom motherhood is almost universal but fatherhood is rare. So what emerged along with the human person was the union of the biological mother and father to care for their child. Thus far nature, but then came culture, and the third surprise.

It seems that among hunter gatherers, pair bonding was the norm. Then came agriculture, and economic surplus, and cities and civilisation, and for the first time sharp inequalities began to emerge between rich and poor, powerful and powerless. The great ziggurats of Mesopotamia and pyramids of ancient Egypt, with their broad base and narrow top, were monumental statements in stone of a hierarchical society in which the few had power over the many. And the most obvious expression of power among alpha males whether human or primate, is to dominate access to fertile women and thus maximise the handing on of your genes to the next generation. Hence polygamy, which exists in 95 per cent of mammal species and 75 per cent of cultures known to anthropology. Polygamy is the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that many males never get the chance to have a wife and child. And sexual envy has been, throughout history, among animals as well as humans, a prime driver of violence.

That is what makes the first chapter of Genesis so revolutionary with its statement that every human being, regardless of class, colour, culture or creed, is in the image and likeness of God himself. We know that in the ancient world it was rulers, kings, emperors and pharaohs who were held to be in the image of God. So what Genesis was saying was that we are all royalty. We each have equal dignity in the kingdom of faith under the sovereignty of God.

From this it follows that we each have an equal right to form a marriage and have children, which is why, regardless of how we read the story of Adam and Eve – and there are differences between Jewish and Christian readings – the norm presupposed by that story is: one woman, one man. Or as the Bible itself says: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Monogamy did not immediately become the norm, even within the world of the Bible. But many of its most famous stories, about the tension between Sarah and Hagar, or Leah and Rachel and their children, or David and Bathsheba, or Solomon’s many wives, are all critiques that point the way to monogamy.

And there is a deep connection between monotheism and monogamy, just as there is, in the opposite direction, between idolatry and adultery. Monotheism and monogamy are about the all-embracing relationship between I and Thou, myself and one other, be it a human, or the divine, Other.
What makes the emergence of monogamy unusual is that it is normally the case that the values of a society are those imposed on it by the ruling class. And the ruling class in any hierarchical society stands to gain from promiscuity and polygamy, both of which multiply the chances of my genes being handed on to the next generation. From monogamy the rich and powerful lose and the poor and powerless gain. So the return of monogamy goes against the normal grain of social change and was a real triumph for the equal dignity of all. Every bride and every groom are royalty; every home a palace when furnished with love.

The fourth remarkable development was the way this transformed the moral life. We’ve all become familiar with the work of evolutionary biologists using computer simulations and the iterated prisoners’ dilemma to explain why reciprocal altruism exists among all social animals. We behave to others as we would wish them to behave to us, and we respond to them as they respond to us. As C S Lewis pointed out in his book The Abolition of Man, reciprocity is the Golden Rule shared by all the great civilizations.

What was new and remarkable in the Hebrew Bible was the idea that love, not just fairness, is the driving principle of the moral life. Three loves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.” “Love your neighbour as yourself.” And, repeated no less than 36 times in the Mosaic books, “Love the stranger because you know what it feels like to be a stranger.” Or to put it another way: just as God created the natural world in love and forgiveness, so we are charged with creating the social world in love and forgiveness. And that love is a flame lit in marriage and the family. Morality is the love between husband and wife, parent and child, extended outward to the world.

The fifth development shaped the entire structure of Jewish experience. In ancient Israel an originally secular form of agreement, called a covenant, was taken and transformed into a new way of thinking about the relationship between God and humanity, in the case of Noah, and between God and a people in the case of Abraham and later the Israelites at Mount Sinai. A covenant is like a marriage. It is a mutual pledge of loyalty and trust between two or more people, each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, to work together to achieve together what neither can achieve alone. And there is one thing even God cannot achieve alone, which is to live within the human heart. That needs us.

So the Hebrew word emunah, wrongly translated as faith, really means faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, steadfastness, not walking away even when the going gets tough, trusting the other and honouring the other’s trust in us. What covenant did, and we see this in almost all the prophets, was to understand the relationship between us and God in terms of the relationship between bride and groom, wife and husband. Love thus became not only the basis of morality but also of theology. In Judaism faith is a marriage. Rarely was this more beautifully stated than by Hosea when he said in the name of God:

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord.

Jewish men say those words every weekday morning as we wind the strap of our tefillin around our finger like a wedding ring. Each morning we renew our marriage with God.

This led to a sixth and quite subtle idea that truth, beauty, goodness, and life itself, do not exist in any one person or entity but in the “between,” what Martin Buber called Das Zwischenmenschliche, the interpersonal, the counterpoint of speaking and listening, giving and receiving. Throughout the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinic literature, the vehicle of truth is conversation. In revelation God speaks and asks us to listen. In prayer we speak and ask God to listen. There is never only one voice. In the Bible the prophets argue with God. In the Talmud rabbis argue with one another. In fact I sometimes think the reason God chose the Jewish people was because He loves a good argument. Judaism is a conversation scored for many voices, never more passionately than in the Song of Songs, a duet between a woman and a man, the beloved and her lover, that Rabbi Akiva called the holy of holies of religious literature.

The prophet Malachi calls the male priest the guardian of the law of truth. The book of Proverbs says of the woman of worth that “the law of lovingkindness is on her tongue.” It is that conversation between male and female voices, between truth and love, justice and mercy, law and forgiveness, that frames the spiritual life. In biblical times each Jew had to give a half shekel to the Temple to remind us that we are only half. There are some cultures that teach that we are nothing. There are others that teach that we are everything. The Jewish view is that we are half and we need to open ourselves to another if we are to become whole.

All this led to the seventh outcome, that in Judaism the home and the family became the central setting of the life of faith. In the only verse in the Hebrew Bible to explain why God chose Abraham, He says: “I have known him so that he will instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.” Abraham was chosen not to rule an empire, command an army, perform miracles or deliver prophecies, but simply to be a parent.

In one of the most famous lines in Judaism, which we say every day and night, Moses commands, “You shall teach these things repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house or when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.” Parents are to be educators, education is the conversation between the generations, and the first school is the home.

So Jews became an intensely family oriented people, and it was this that saved us from tragedy. After the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, Jews were scattered throughout the world, everywhere a minority, everywhere without rights, suffering some of the worst persecutions ever known by a people and yet Jews survived because they never lost three things: their sense of family, their sense of community and their faith.

And they were renewed every week especially on Shabbat, the day of rest when we give our marriages and families what they most need and are most starved of in the contemporary world, namely time. I once produced a television documentary for the BBC on the state of family life in Britain, and I took the person who was then Britain’s leading expert on child care, Penelope Leach, to a Jewish primary school on a Friday morning.

There she saw the children enacting in advance what they would see that evening around the family table. There were the five year old mother and father blessing the five year old children with the five year old grandparents looking on. She was fascinated by this whole institution, and she asked the children what they most enjoyed about the Sabbath. One five year old boy turned to her and said, “It’s the only night of the week when daddy doesn’t have to rush off.” As we walked away from the school when the filming was over she turned to me and said, “Chief Rabbi, that Sabbath of yours is saving their parents’ marriages.”

So that is one way of telling the story, a Jewish way, beginning with the birth of sexual reproduction, then the unique demands of human parenting, then the eventual triumph of monogamy as a fundamental statement of human equality, followed by the way marriage shaped our vision of the moral and religious life as based on love and covenant and faithfulness, even to the point of thinking of truth as a conversation between lover and beloved. Marriage and the family are where faith finds its home and where the Divine Presence lives in the love between husband and wife, parent and child.

What then has changed? Here’s one way of putting it. I wrote a book a few years ago about religion and science and I summarised the difference between them in two sentences. “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.” And that’s a way of thinking about culture also. Does it put things together or does it take things apart?

What made the traditional family remarkable, a work of high religious art, is what it brought together: sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children and their protection and care, their early education and induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face, the face of love.

For a whole variety of reasons, some to do with medical developments like birth control, in vitro fertilisation and other genetic interventions, some to do with moral change like the idea that we are free to do whatever we like so long as it does not harm others, some to do with a transfer of responsibilities from the individual to the state, and other and more profound changes in the culture of the West, almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from responsibility for their care.

The result is that in Britain in 2012, 47.5 per cent of children were born outside marriage, expected to become a majority in 2016. Fewer people are marrying, those who are, are marrying later, and 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Nor is cohabitation a substitute for marriage. The average length of cohabitation in Britain and the United States is less than two years. The result is a sharp increase among young people of eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, stress related syndromes, depression and actual and attempted suicides. The collapse of marriage has created a new form of poverty concentrated among single parent families, and of these, the main burden is born by women, who in 2011 headed 92 per cent of single parent households. In Britain today more than a million children will grow up with no contact whatsoever with their fathers.

This is creating a divide within societies the like of which has not been seen since Disraeli spoke of “two nations” a century and a half ago. Those who are privileged to grow up in stable loving association with the two people who brought them into being will, on average, be healthier physically and emotionally. They will do better at school and at work. They will have more successful relationships, be happier and live longer. And yes, there are many exceptions. But the injustice of it all cries out to heaven. It will go down in history as one of the tragic instances of what Friedrich Hayek called “the fatal conceit” that somehow we know better than the wisdom of the ages, and can defy the lessons of biology and history.

No one surely wants to go back to the narrow prejudices of the past. This week, in Britain, a new film opens, telling the story of one of the great minds of the twentieth century, Alan Turing, the Cambridge mathematician who laid the philosophical foundations of computing and artificial intelligence, and helped win the war by breaking the German naval code Enigma. After the war, Turing was arrested and tried for homosexual behaviour, underwent chemically induced castration, and died at the age of 41 by cyanide poisoning, thought by many to have committed suicide. That is a world to which we should never return.

But our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not inhibit us from being advocates for the single most humanising institution in history. The family, man, woman, and child, is not one lifestyle choice among many. It is the best means we have yet discovered for nurturing future generations and enabling children to grow in a matrix of stability and love. It is where we learn the delicate choreography of relationship and how to handle the inevitable conflicts within any human group. It is where we first take the risk of giving and receiving love. It is where one generation passes on its values to the next, ensuring the continuity of a civilization. For any society, the family is the crucible of its future, and for the sake of our children’s future, we must be its defenders.

Since this is a religious gathering, let me, if I may, end with a piece of biblical exegesis. The story of the first family, the first man and woman in the garden of Eden, is not generally regarded as a success. Whether or not we believe in original sin, it did not end happily. After many years of studying the text I want to suggest a different reading.

The story ends with three verses that seem to have no connection with one another. No sequence. No logic. In Genesis 3: 19 God says to the man: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Then in the next verse we read: “The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all life.” And in the next, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

What is the connection here? Why did God telling the man that he was mortal lead him to give his wife a new name? And why did that act seem to change God’s attitude to both of them, so that He performed an act of tenderness, by making them clothes, almost as if He had partially forgiven them? Let me also add that the Hebrew word for “skin” is almost indistinguishable from the Hebrew word for “light,” so that Rabbi Meir, the great sage of the early second century, read the text as saying that God made for them “garments of light.” What did he mean?

If we read the text carefully, we see that until now the first man had given his wife a purely generic name. He called her ishah, woman. Recall what he said when he first saw her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken from man.” For him she was a type, not a person. He gave her a noun, not a name. What is more he defines her as a derivative of himself: something taken from man. She is not yet for him someone other, a person in her own right. She is merely a kind of reflection of himself.

As long as the man thought he was immortal, he ultimately needed no one else. But now he knew he was mortal. He would one day die and return to dust. There was only one way in which something of him would live on after his death. That would be if he had a child. But he could not have a child on his own. For that he needed his wife. She alone could give birth. She alone could mitigate his mortality. And not because she was like him but precisely because she was unlike him. At that moment she ceased to be, for him, a type, and became a person in her own right. And a person has a proper name. That is what he gave her: the name Chavah, “Eve,” meaning, “giver of life.”

At that moment, as they were about to leave Eden and face the world as we know it, a place of darkness, Adam gave his wife the first gift of love, a personal name. And at that moment, God responded to them both in love, and made them garments to clothe their nakedness, or as Rabbi Meir put it, “garments of light.”

And so it has been ever since, that when a man and woman turn to one another in a bond of faithfulness, God robes them in garments of light, and we come as close as we will ever get to God himself, bringing new life into being, turning the prose of biology into the poetry of the human spirit, redeeming the darkness of the world by the radiance of love.