Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mopping up after the Battle of the Pasch

I have a mission sermon I use from time to time on the "mopping up operation" in which we were enlisted at our Baptism, It's the "mopping up operation" following the decisive victory over evil that has been won by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. That kind of image explains some of the paradoxes of the Christian life. So I was thrilled to see the following on Fr Robert Barron's blog, and I share it with you:

In the last days, mopping up after the Battle of the Pasch, 
this life can be grubby and hard

As Christians we rejoice for Jesus Christ is Lord. God is King. Sin and death have been defeated. At the same time, we mustn’t succumb to a “cheap grace” interpretation of Christianity, whereby Christ is risen and all is well. As Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Notice the future tense!

The definitive battle has been won, but the war continues. St. Paul knew this well. His strategy, as we know, was to go to synagogues first, for the message he had was a distinctively Jewish message: that the long-awaited Messiah had come.

Many Jews listened – and this was the beginning of Paul’s church. We hear that in Antioch practically the whole city gathered to listen to Paul and Barnabas. But “when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.” Please don’t fall into an anti-Semitic trap here, for many of the Jews did listen to him. But from the beginning, this message was opposed.

Why? The most basic reason is that acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus means that your life has to change. For many this is liberating good news, but for others it is a tremendous threat. If Jesus is Lord, my ego cannot be Lord. My country cannot be Lord. My convictions or culture cannot be Lord.

The Resurrection is the clearest indication of the Lordship of Jesus. This is why the message of the Resurrection is attacked, belittled, and explained away. The author of Acts speaks of the “violent abuse” hurled at Paul. What was Paul’s reaction to this? He “shook the dust from [his] feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium” where he was “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

We’re up against a great mystery here. We are called to announce the good news to everyone, but not everyone will listen. Once we’ve done our work, we should move on and not obsess about those who won’t listen. Why do some respond and some don’t? Finally, that’s up to God.

The Ugliness of Betrayal

FIRST READING (Isaiah 49:1-6)
Listen to me, O coastlands, and hearken, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.

And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

But I said, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.”

And now the Lord says, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honoured in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength - he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

GOSPEL (John 13:21-33, 36-38)
When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.”

So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.”

So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.”

Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.”

(Word of Life Community)

(Presentation Ministries)

(God the Healer) 

We cannot reflect on the passion, the suffering of Jesus, or the meaning of the Cross without bumping into Judas. We would rather not - but he’s unavoidable. He is at the heart of the story: Judas the betrayer, Judas the enigma. The Lord chose him, along with the other eleven disciples, after spending a whole night in prayer. Judas lived and travelled with Jesus and the other eleven every day for three years, hearing all that amazing teaching, and witnessing Jesus’ miracles of love. He was there in the upper room when Jesus washed their feet - HIS feet! Jesus loved Judas without reservation. After all of this, Judas betrayed Jesus.

This was in fulfilment of Scripture. Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9. David, the Psalmist, had a lot of people who hated him and throughout his life he experienced many hardships. But in verse 9 he says “even my close friend, the one I trusted and shared my bread with has lifted up his heel against me.” This is the deepest pain of all. Not just an enemy but a close and trusted friend.

There are many dimensions to the story of Judas. There are many mysteries too. But one thing is clear, and certainly not trivial. Betrayal is a massive part of the human experience, undoubtedly the ugliest aspect of human relationships. Sooner or later we all experience it. Jesus is our great High Priest, “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” - ALL the infirmities a broken sin-sick world can throw at us - including the pain of betrayal.

My Father, I abandon myself to you.
Do with me as you will.
Whatever you may do with me I thank you.
I am prepared for anything.
I accept everything,
provided your will is fulfilled in me
and in all creatures.
I ask for nothing more, my God.
I place my soul in your hands.
I give it to you, my God,
with all the love of my heart,
because I love you.
And for me it is a necessity of love,
this gift of myself,
this placing of myself in your hands
without reserve in boundless confidence,
because you are my Father.

Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Jesus at Bethany - Anointed for his burial

Artist: Daniel F. Gerhartz www.danielgerhartz.com

FIRST READING (Isaiah 42:1-7)
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.

“He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. “

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

GOSPEL (John 12:1-11)
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him.

Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.

Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

(Word of Life Community) 

(Presentation Ministries)

“Before the triumphal procession moved towards Jerusalem, Jesus stopped at the home of His friend Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. There were two persons at the supper that distinguished themselves by their behaviour: Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and Judas, the disciple of Jesus, whose surname was Iscariot.

“Mary, sensing somehow that the earthly ministry of Jesus was drawing to a close, takes a pound of pure and expensive alabaster and anoints the feet of Christ, wiping them with her hair. The house was soon permeated by the sweet fragrance of the alabaster.

“Judas, however, always acutely conscious of the monetary value of everything, censured the pious act of Mary, charging her with the wanton waste of that which ‘might have been sold for much, and given to the poor’ (Matthew 26:9). We then see Jesus in His role as Defender of the poor and the oppressed. Chrysostom remarks that the piety of Judas here is certainly hypocritical, as is his condemnation of Mary.

“St. Paul tells us that Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. (II Corinthians 11:14). Judas is unsuccessful at hiding his real motive; he would have liked to have stolen the ointment, and sold it for his own personal profit. Many of us today are guilty of this sin of Judas, particularly those that would rob the church of its liturgical appointments, condemning them as luxuries. Not that they would steal from the church; but whenever a new chalice is needed for Holy Communion they will object that the money is being squandered foolishly, and the same with vestments, icons, and even with Bibles for the Sunday School. Any money spent for religious purposes, and especially for bringing others to the saving faith of Christ, is, according to these people, not necessary. It would be superfluous to comment upon the spiritual condition of these avaricious souls.”

“. . . anointing with such expensive oil was the traditional practice reserved for the deceased, the dead. But Jesus was not dead yet, he was very much alive. Then why did all this happen now, you may ask? Mary was foretelling the crucifixion of our Lord on the cross, and His burial in the tomb by her simple actions motivated purely by love. Our Lord specifically states that ‘she (Mary) has kept this for the day of My burial.’ (Jn 12:7). Here the actions of Mary teach us that Jesus was already dead to this world and to His human temptations. We too who attempt to live a life in Christ must also be dead to this world if we ever want to receive Christ.”

Alone to sacrifice thou goest, Lord,
giving thyself to Death
whom thou hast slain.
For us thy wretched folk is any word?
Who know that for our sins this is thy pain?
For they are ours, O Lord, our deeds, our deeds.
Why must thou suffer torture for our sin?
Let our hearts suffer in thy Passion, Lord,
that very suffering may thy mercy win.
This is the night of tears, the three days’ space,
sorrow abiding of the eventide,
Until the day break with the risen Christ,
and hearts that sorrowed shall be satisfied.
So may our hearts share in thine anguish, Lord,
that they may sharers of thy glory be;
Heavy with weeping may the three days pass,
to win the laughter of thine Easter Day.

- Peter Abelard (1079-1142)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Holy Week begins - The final showdown

Father Alexander Tefft is the priest at the Antiochian Orthodox Parish of Saint Botolph, London, U.K., as well as Chaplain and Tutor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge. Here is the sermon he preached for Palm Sunday 2010. 

Like the children with the palms of victory, 
we cry out to Thee, 
O Vanquisher of Death … 
(Troparion of the Entry of Christ into Jerusalem) 

We are at war: so choose your sides, now! No one is neutral. No one stands idly by and says: This war has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with you! Do you know what is at stake? Your home, your freedom. Your family and all your loved ones. All that you have, or ever had, or ever will have. Everything you treasure is at stake. The enemy is everywhere, there is nowhere to hide. Wherever you flee, you run straight into his line of fire. His bombs are planted where you least expect; his landmines, wherever you set your foot. His gun is pointed at your gut.

This enemy wants more than victory. He wants to watch you whimper, to see you crawl on all fours and plead for your life. He prolongs your agony until you curse the hour you were born. You can never buy him off – you can never frighten him away. Try to negotiate with him: you will only hand over the ones that you love, straight into his hands. The only question is: Will you collaborate? Or will you resist? In this fight, there are no neutrals: whoever is not with us, is against us. So form ranks, now! The oldest war you have ever fought, you are engaged in; the oldest enemy you have ever known is at your throat. You have been fighting this enemy from the hour that you were conceived in the womb. 

The enemy … is death

How can you recognise him? A masked figure in a black cape, lined with scarlet? Death is subtler than that. He creeps up behind, like an assassin. He infiltrates all your lines of defence. He stirs up a panic. He strikes and retreats, wears you down until you lose the strength to resist. Worst of all, he places his allies all around you. Biologists, professors of the public understanding of science tell you: ‘Death is natural. Your heart stops, that’s is it’. Professional atheists, sipping port in the members’ common room, saying: ‘When you die, you decay. No harps, no angels, no nothing. So stop bothering our high society with your fairy tales about life after death’. So-called bishops in stiff clerical collars join in and tell you: ‘Jesus never rose again in his body. His Resurrection means that his moral teachings live on forever’. The allies and accomplices of death never need to form ranks at all. Young atheists are too full of themselves to think about death; old atheists are too full of irony to notice, they are dead already. But make no mistake. Whoever denies the Resurrection is the accomplice of death: above all, if he (or she?) wears a clerical collar.

He collaborates: he negotiates to hand over your loved ones to the enemy. He holds the door open to death and says: ‘Come on in!’ ‘Sell all the candles, the robes and the ritual ointment’, the atheist shouts. ‘Give it to the poor!’ That is what Christianity is about, not fairy tales about rising from the dead. 

But, if you have ever watched a loved one die, you know death isn’t natural. Death does not begin when your heart stops. Death begins as soon as you give him the victory. The enemy, the obscene, unnatural monster, yawns in front of you. He opens the black pit of his throat, until you give him the last word. Today, we deny him the last word. 

This day, Palm Sunday, we declare war on death. Death in all his forms. Your baby, too weak to move in his incubator. Your husband or wife, your father or mother, wasting and confused: a mind demented, a body darkened with sores, slipping like sand out of your hands. A child left to bleed in the street. The black pit of death opens up before us – and Christ, the enemy of death, stands at the pit and calls inside. His voice echoes in the pit, in the dark. Yesterday, he stood at the mouth of the cave and called out: ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ Now, his friend Lazarus sits at table with him. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anoints his feet with the most costly ointment. Already, the accomplices of death complain: ‘Sell the ointment, give it to the poor’. But the ointment is for more than anointing the dead. It is the oil of a wrestler, preparing for combat. ‘Kill Lazarus!’ cry the accomplices of death. On account of him, the crowds begin to see why Jesus has come. This is no carpenter’s son, teaching morals on a mountain top. This is the final Vanquisher of Death. He does not ride into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. He rides out into the field of battle. This is the final showdown. This is the conquest of death. 

The crowds that surround him throw branches of palm trees on his path. They shout out ‘Hosanna to the Liberator! Hosanna to the King of Israel!’ They await his final showdown – but they mistake the enemy. This is no freedom fighter, seated on horseback to meet the Romans face to face. He wears no armour, no helmet or breastplate. He rides on to victory; but it is no ordinary victory, in no ordinary war. If the enemy is everywhere, so is he; if the enemy is ruthless, he is more ruthless; if the enemy prolongs your anguish, he absorbs that anguish into himself. This day, he rides right into the line of fire. Yesterday, he stood at the mouth of the cave and called Lazarus forth; in five days, he will ride into mouth of hell. He will plunge into the throat of death. He will stand firm, like the stubborn colt of a donkey that he rides into Jerusalem today. He will stand his ground – and the fire of his divine being will burn out the enemy from inside. Death will groan in agony: ‘What was this flesh I swallowed up? A mangled, tortured body, a body abandoned by his friends: I swallowed it, and met God face to face! I took what I saw and crumbled at what I could not see. Now, I surrender all the dead’. This Sunday, death opens its throat to swallow us live – and Christ rides in, on an ass’s colt. By the eve of Friday, he will cut death open from inside. On Saturday, he will burn out the chambers of hell. On Sunday, death will vomit him out; and, with him, all the dead will arise. 

Brothers and Sisters in Christ: this is not a piece of folk art in my hand. It is a weapon. A token of the worst that death can do. Two bars of wood, hoisted up from the ground in a desolate place. A victim, stripped naked, his hands and feet nailed into the wood; then, exposed to sun and wind, flies and birds – left to die a slow, obscene death. But every death is obscene. Every death is an insult to a creature made in the image of God. But see! This cross is not made of wood. It is woven from palm branches, strewn on the streets of the Holy City. Branches, trampled under the foot of a donkey; just as the One who rides on that donkey, will trample down death by death. Everyone here who has lost someone he or she loved; everyone here, whom death has robbed: let him go forth into the battle this day. This is the final showdown. Christ enters the Holy City, on his way to win back your loved ones. He rides down the throat of the monster. This day, carrying palms of victory, we cry out ‘Hosanna!’ to the Vanquisher of Death.

Palm Sunday High Mass, All Saints' Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, 2003

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The high priest . . . prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered (today's Gospel)

FIRST READING  (Ezekiel 37:21-28)
Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.

They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

“My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall dwell in the land where your fathers dwelt that I gave to my servant Jacob; they and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there for ever; and David my servant shall be their prince for ever.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.

“My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I the Lord sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore.”

GOSPEL  (John 11:45-57)
Many of the Jews who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him; but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death.

Jesus therefore no longer went about openly among the Jews, but went from there to the country near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim; and there he stayed with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?”

Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if any one knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

(Word of Life Community)

(Presentation Ministries)

(Crown Ministries) 

Supposing you were at the gate of death and Christ stood there and said: “Do you want to come back?’ And you said: “Yes”, - doesn’t it imply that you are coming back on absolutely new terms? Think of the rising of Lazarus. He had died, he had had the total experience of death and then he was brought back. Do you think that he possibly could return to the life he led with all its smallness, all the things that were not worthy of what truly a human being is, of the greatness of man? Of course not. 

And again in small it is the same with our illnesses. We come back to health and this health is a new birth, it’s a new beginning, it’s an offer given us by God to start life again. Physically and mentally it does come to this. I know that in my small experience, for about fifty years I had a dislocated back. The moment this back was put right a few years ago I felt new life was given and that this life, this back of mine was to be used to the full, was to be used in a way in which I could not use the old one, the broken one, the dislocated one. And this does apply to all conditions in which healing comes to us.

I think we must realise that when we speak of healing in Christian terms we do not speak simply of a power possessed by God or by His saints or by people who being neither saints nor God are possessed of a natural gift to restore health for us to continue to live in the way in which we lived before, to remain the same unchanged. God does not heal us in order that we should go back to our sinful condition. 

He offers us newness of life, not the old life which we have already lost. And the new life which is offered us is no longer ours in a way, it is His, it’s a gift of His, a present. It was Mine to give, take it... And it seems to me that thinking in spiritual terms, it is true. 

Because what is sin? We define sin all the time as moral infringement but it is much more than this: it is the very thing of which I was speaking, it is the lack of wholeness. When you think of yourself - or perhaps, I think of myself if you are that better than I which I doubt, - if we think of ourselves: I am divided - mind against heart, heart against will, body against all the rest. We are all not only schizophrenic, but schizo-everything, we are just like a broken mirror and so that is the condition of sin: it is not so much that the mirror doesn’t reflect well, it is the fact that it is broken that is the problem. You can, of course, try to take a small piece of it and see what you can see, but it is still a broken mirror.

And this brokenness of ours within corresponds to a brokenness in our relationships with other people. We are afraid of them, we are envious of them, we are greedy, what not. So it creates a whole relational sinfulness and indeed it applies supremely to God because it all results from our having lost our harmony with God. 

The saints are people who are in harmony with Him, nothing more, nothing less, simply that. And as the result of being in harmony they can be in harmony within themselves and with other people.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh - excerpt from a talk - 25.11.1987

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast won for me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly:
for ever and ever. Amen.

St Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

Friday, March 27, 2015

"Don't hold back when praying to God" - Pope Francis preaching on today's Old Testament Reading

Today's Old Testament reading is a bit of a challenge for the preacher. Some commentators tell us that's because we miss the underlying humour and irony. Others get all serious and philosophical. I think that Pope Francis struck just the right chord this time last year, and I share with you this report of his homily from CNS.

Pope Francis’ homily focused on the day’s reading from Exodus 32:7-14 in which Moses begs God to spare his people, even though they have created a golden calf to worship as their god.

God says he’s going to let his wrath “blaze up against them to consume them,” but Moses reminds the Lord that these are his own people he has saved before and has promised to make their descendents “as numerous as the stars in the sky.”

Pope Francis said that, in the day’s reading, Moses shows what praying to God should really feel and sound like: not filled with empty words, but a heartfelt, “real fight with God.”

Moses is courageously insistent and argues his point, the pope said, and prayer must also be “a negotiation with God, presenting arguments” supporting one’s position.

When God decides to not punish his people, it’s not God who has changed, but Moses, the pope said.

By freely talking out the problem and underlining all the ways God has always shown his mercy, Moses was able to rediscover, deep in his heart, what his head already “more or less sort of knew.”

“Prayer changes our hearts. It helps us better understand what our God is like,” it helps people grow closer to him, recognize his love and rejuvenate one’s faith.

The pope underlined what Jesus said: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.”

“No, say what’s what: ‘Look, Lord, I have this problem, in my family, with my child, with this, with that ... What can you do? Now see here, you can’t leave me like this!’ This is prayer. And does this prayer take a long time? Yes, it takes time.”

Pray like Moses did, face-to-face with the Lord, like a friend, freely, with insistence and good arguments, the pope said. “And also scold the Lord a little: ‘Hey, you promised me this, and you haven’t done it ...’ Like that, like you talk with a friend.” Open one’s heart wide to God and get to know him better, he said. Prayer is a grace, and the Holy Spirit is present. The Holy Spirit is in every prayer.” 

Pope Francis concluded: “You cannot pray without the Holy Spirit. It is He who prays in us, He makes us change our heart, it is He who teaches us to call God ‘Father’. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to teach us to pray, as Moses prayed, to negotiate with God, with freedom of spirit, with courage. And may the Holy Spirit, who is always present in our prayer, lead us on this path”.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Love Chooses You

This video was written by David Wells 
and animated by Tree Behrens 
for CYM Fed Flame 2, 
and is a really powerful way of telling the story. 
From Catholic Youth Work.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Are we really open to God? Lady Day 2015

The Annunciation ceramic and altar just inside the main doorway 
of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Norfolk, U.K.

Here is Mary, the woman of prayer, attentive and responsive to God, with hands open and empty before God, not clinging to any conditions. A simple fiat. Yes. Be it done to me according to your word. Indeed, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (Lk 1:45). By faith she permitted the Father to fulfill His plan and welcomed the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. By faith she embraced the Word made flesh in her womb. We know that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (cf. Heb. 11:6) and that Mary found favor with Him by her faith.

So must we, at this juncture in our lives as individuals and as a movement, kneel before the Father in a radical poverty of spirit and learn to pray with hands open and empty. In the past 30 years we have received great graces, but I'm afraid that too often we've returned to God with our hands full instead of empty. I sense that there are new "annunciations" being given for a new move of the Spirit, but that many of us don't really want God to be God. We still want Him on our own terms... a God who will fit into a prescribed pattern of acting. We don't want the Living God who turned Mary's life upside down. Let's be careful! By her, faith, Mary permitted God to "create a new thing upon the earth' (Jer 31:22). As I've asked Mary to be my mother and teach me to pray with hands open and empty, this is what I am leaning to say to the Father, "With Mary, I want to be for You all YES, only YES, always YES."

- Patti Gallagher Mansfield (from an article in the July-August 1997 issue of the ICCRS Newsletter. ICCRS , Palazzo della Cancelleria, 00120 Vatican City, Europe.)

That All, which always is All everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Loe, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet he will wear
Taken from thence, flesh,
which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, who is thy Son, and Brother,
Whom thou conceiv'st, conceiv'd;
yea thou art now
Thy maker's maker, and thy Father's mother,
Thou hast light in dark; and shutst in little room,
Immensity, cloistered in thy dear womb.

- John Donne (1572-1631)

Whereto shall we liken this Blessed Mary Virgin,
Faithful shoot from Jesse's root graciously emerging?
Lily we might call her, but Christ alone is white;
Rose delicious, but that Jesus is the one Delight;
Flower of women, but her Firstborn is mankind's one flower:
He the Sun lights up all moons thro' their radiant hour.
'Blessed among women, highly favoured,' thus
Glorious Gabriel hailed her, teaching words to us:
Whom devoutly copying we too cry 'All hail!'
Echoing on the music of glorious Gabriel.

Christina Rossetti (before 1866)

Herself a rose, who bore the Rose,
She bore the Rose and felt its thorn.
All Loveliness new-born
Took on her bosom its repose,
And slept and woke there night and morn.
Lily herself, she bore the one
Fair Lily; sweeter, whiter, far
Than she or others are:
The Sun of Righteousness her Son,
She was His morning star.
She gracious, He essential Grace,
He was the Fountain, she the rill:
Her goodness to fulfil
And gladness, with proportioned pace
He led her steps thro' good and ill.
Christ's mirror she of grace and love,
Of beauty and of life and death:
By hope and love and faith
Transfigured to His Likeness, 'Dove,
Spouse, Sister, Mother,' Jesus saith.

Christina Rossetti (c. 1877)

Monday, March 23, 2015

THE MALTA REPORT (2 Jan 1968) "growing sense of urgency, penitence, thankfulness, and purpose"

On this day in 1966, the Most Rev'd Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, paid a "solemn visit" to Pope Paul VI. He was received in the Sistine Chapel. This was the day on which the Pope removed his episcopal ring and placed it on Ramsey's finger. (Ramsey wore it for the rest of his life.) On the following day (24th March 1966), a Common Declaration was signed by Pope Paul and the Archbishop in the context of prayer at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls.

This visit led to the formation of ARCIC I and the development of many local ecumenical initiatives in places where Roman Catholics and Anglicans live side by side. Those of us who became adults in the late 1960s and discovered our vocations to the priesthood in the context of that burst of ecumenical hopefulness, have tended to incarnate in our lives the sadness of what has happened on the Anglican side to push the fulfilment of the ecumenical vision well into the future, long after we have left this earth. Furthermore, we remember the pleading of Rome in the lead up to the 1992 General Synod voting on the ordination of women. That pleading was passionate, because full reunion was still thought to be achievable in our time, provided no new obstacles were placed in the way. "Gracious restraint" is surely what was called for in the light of the journey to unity to which we had already committed ourselves.

Every now and then one hears liberal Anglicans sneer at the supposed "naivety" of those of us who really believed that full ecclesial unity was possible. Hence the importance of reflecting on the mostly forgotten MALTA STATEMENT, the precursor of ARCIC, which was a direct result of the meeting between the Pope and the Archbishop in 1966. It is a very positive statement, and, indeed, expresses a "growing sense of urgency, penitence, thankfulness, and purpose."


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). 


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. 


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. 

[The Final Report (London: CTS/SPCK, 1982), pp. 108-116] 
* Editor’s note: The version which is referred to here is the 1967 Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters; Part One (Ad Totam Ecclesiam, 14 May, 1967) in Austin Flannery (ed.), Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliary Documents (New York: Costello Publishing Co, 1992) 483-501.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

For the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Deep within our hearts, O God,
you have written your law,
and high upon the cross
you have lifted up our salvation,
the Saviour made perfect in suffering.
From the death of that single grain
sown in the weary earth,
bring forth in this Lenten springtime
a rich harvest of life.
As the hour of his passion draws near,
glorify your name,
and in our baptismal renewal,
let it be glorified again.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(From Benedictine Daily Prayer)