Thursday, June 22, 2017

"With good hope I shall commit myself wholly to God" - St Thomas More



Today we commemorate the martyrdom of St John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and St Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England. They were both martyred in 1535.  This extract from St Thomas More’s letter written in prison to his daughter Margaret is one of the great classics of Christian witness from the period. It is used in today's Office of Readings. (The English Works of Sir Thomas More, London, 1557, p. 1454)


FROM St THOMAS MORE'S LETTER 
TO HIS DAUGHTER, MARGARET
Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in his merciful goodness.  His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience. God’s grace has given the king a gracious frame of mind toward me, so that as yet he has taken from me nothing but my liberty. In doing this His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest. I cannot, therefore, mistrust the grace of God. Either he shall keep the king in that gracious frame of mind to continue to do me no harm, or else, if it be his pleasure that for my other sins I suffer in this case as I shall not deserve, then his grace shall give me the strength to bear it patiently, and perhaps even gladly.

By the merits of his bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.

I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear.  I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.

And if he permits me to play Saint Peter further and to fall to the ground and to swear and forswear, may God our Lord in his tender mercy keep me from this, and let me lose if it so happen, and never win thereby! Still, if this should happen, afterward I trust that in his goodness he will look on me with pity as he did upon Saint Peter, and make me stand up again and confess the truth of my conscience afresh and endure here the shame and harm of my own fault.

And finally, Margaret, I know this well: that without my fault he will not let me be lost. I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to him. And if he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice.  But in good faith, Meg, I trust that his tender pity shall keep my poor soul safe and make me commend his mercy.

And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.


COLLECT
O God, who in martyrdom
have brought true faith to its highest expression,
graciously grant
that, strengthened through the intercession
of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More,
we may confirm by the witness of our life
the faith we profess with our lips.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell (1943-2017) on the Easter Gospel



Go to CATHOLICITY & COVENANT for a fitting tribute to Bishop Geoffrey, and a couple of quotes from his preaching. I share with you here a stunning piece he wrote in the Sunday Times on Easter Day, 8th April, 2007:

Jesus dies. His lifeless body is taken down from the cross. Painters and sculptors have strained their every nerve to portray the sorrow of Mary holding her lifeless son in her arms, as mothers today in Baghdad hold with the same anguish the bodies of their children. On Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve, God is dead, entering into the nothingness of human dying. The source of all being, the One who framed the vastness and the microscopic patterning of the Universe, the delicacy of petals and the scent of thyme, the musician’s melodies and the lover’s heart, is one with us in our mortality. In Jesus, God knows our dying from the inside.

How can these things be said, and sung, and celebrated, as they will be by countless millions this Easter? Only because the blotting out of life by death is not the horizon. The definitive line is not drawn there. From that nothingness and darkness and the seeming triumph of the darkest powers of evil, new life was born, a new creation came to be. On Easter morning a tomb was found empty, a stone rolled away, and a new order broke into the world. The Easter stories of the Gospels are not about “the resurrection of relics”, but about an amazing new life and transfiguration. It is not the resurrection of a principle but of a person, who calls us by name. In St John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene hears the calling of her name by the risen Christ, though blinded by her tears she thinks Him to be the gardener. Clutching his feet she tries to pin him down, to shut him up in the old order, but he tells her not to touch, not to seek to hold down his risen life. She is to go and tell the Good News of resurrection, that all may be drawn into the ascending energy of the love of God.

Jesus breathes on His disciples His life-giving Spirit, the divine life of the new creation. “Go and live that life, live out that love”, for “Christ is risen and the demons are fallen”. The principalities and powers are dethroned. They have no ultimate control of our lives. From the nothingness of death and the absence of God and meaning, Christ rises in triumph and love’s redeeming work is done.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

From Dr Pusey's sermon "Miracles of Prayer"



It is not unusual in conversation among those interested in the 19th century catholic revival for Dr Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) to be compared unfavourably with Newman and others of his contemporaries, even to hear him dismissed with faint praise (in a way that Newman never is) for being a crusty scholar with a gloomy, grim, sad, over-penitential spirituality. 

To be sure, Dr Pusey was a very great theologian and Biblical scholar. And throughout his long life he did endure more than his fair share of personal disappointments and real tragedies, one or two of which would have crushed a weaker man. Clearly each of these left its mark on him. Yet it is precisely they which make his sermons and spiritual writings all the more valuable and impossible to dismiss as trite or untested by experience. Pusey's inner life was not untouched by his struggles and disappointments, and the spiritual habit of muttering of the penitential psalms under his breath was certainly one aspect of his walk with God. But it was one part of a complex whole. His sermons, reflections, letters, meditations and prayers show him to have been a man who, like St Paul, both plumbed the depths and scaled the heights of human life and spiritual reality.

So much of what Pusey wrote and preached is characterised by simplicity, practicality and spiritual depth. Father John Hunwicke spoke for many when he said in his blog a few years ago that Pusey was “one of the very greatest Catholic teachers and spiritual directors of the modern period.” 

Today I share a real gem with you: these paragraphs from Pusey's sermon, "Miracles of Prayer" which he preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, on Septuagesima Sunday, 1866. The entire sermon can be downloaded in pdf format HERE. I have also included four of my favourites from among Pusey's prayers.


Prayer is "the ascent of the soul to God;" it is the beginning of that blessed converse, which shall be the exhaustless fulness of eternal bliss; it is the continuance or renewal of union with God.

. . . Blessed dissatisfaction of man's craving soul; glorious restlessness, the token of its Divine birth, its Divine end; that nothing can satisfy it, except what is the bliss of its God, Infinite, Divine love.

Imperfect, faltering, unsatisfactory as are our prayers, their defects but shew the more the goodness of our God, who is never weary of those who are so soon wearied of him, who lets not fall a single earnest cry to him for himself. Not one prayer, from the yearning of the penitent ("would, God, for love of Thee, I had never offended Thee!"), to the love-enkindled longing of the Saint ("My God, and my All!)" but will have enlarged thy capacity for the infinite love of God, and will have drawn down to thee the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost, who is Love Infinite, the Bond of the love of the Father and the Son.

It will guard thee from all evil in the perilous passage through this world; it will sanctify to thee all thy joys; it will be to thee a calm above nature in all thy sorrows; it will give a supernatural value to all thy acts; it will heal all thine infirmities; it will illumine all thy knowledge; and, when thy flesh and thy heart shall fail, thy last prayer upon earth in the Name of Jesus shall melt into thy first Halleluiah in heaven, where, too, doubtless prayer shall never cease, but the soul shall endlessly desire of God, what God shall unintermittingly supply, more and yet more of the exhaustless, ever-filling fulness of Divine Beauty and Wisdom and Love, yea of himself who is Love



GROWING IN HIS LOVE
Good Jesu, 
fountain of love: 
fill me with thy love, 
absorb me into thy love,
compass me with thy love, 
that I may see all things in the light of thy love, 
receive all things as tokens of thy love, 
speak of all things 
in words breathing of thy love, 
win through thy love others to thy love; 
be kindled, day by day, 
with a new glow of thy love, 
until I be fitted 
to enter into thine everlasting love, 
to adore thy love and love to adore thee, 
my God and my all. 
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.


A PRAYER FOR THE WEARY
Let me not seek out of thee 
what I can find only in thee, O Lord: 
peace and rest and joy and bliss, 
which abide only in thine abiding joy. 
Lift up my soul above the weary round of harassing thoughts 
to thy eternal Presence. 
Lift up my soul 
to the pure, bright, serene, radiant atmosphere of thy Presence,
that there I may breathe freely, 
there repose in thy love, 
there be at rest from myself, 
and from all things that weary me; 
and thence return, 
arrayed with thy peace, 
to do and bear what shall please thee. Amen.


LEAD US, LORD
Teach us, O Father, 
how to ask thee each moment silently for thy help. 
If we fail, 
teach us at once to ask thee to forgive us.
If we are disquieted, 
enable us, by thy grace, quickly to turn to thee. 
May nothing come between us and thee. 
May we will, do, and say, 
just what thou, our loving and tender Father, 
wiliest us to will, do, and say. 
Work thy holy will in us, and through us, this day. 
Protect us, guide us, bless us within and without, 
that we may do something this day for love of thee ; 
something which shall please thee ; 
and that we may this evening be nearer to thee, 
though we see it not nor know it. 
Lead us, Lord, in a strait way unto thyself, 
and keep us in thy grace unto the end; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


SOARING INTO GOD
O God, my God, 
give me a heart to thank thee; 
lift up my heart above myself, 
to thee and thine eternal throne;
let it not linger here 
among the toils and turmoils of this lower world; 
let it not be oppressed by any earth-born clouds 
of care or anxiety or fear or suspicion; 
but bind it wholly to thee and to thy love; 
give me eyes to see thy love in all things, 
and thy grace in all around me; 
make me to thank thee for thy love and thy grace 
to all and in all; 
give me wings of love, 
that I may soar up to thee, 
and cling to thee, and adore thee, 
and praise thee more and more, 
until I be fitted to enter into the joys of thine everlasting love, 
everlastingly to love thee and thy grace, 
whereby thou didst make me such as thou couldest love, 
such as could love thee,
O God, my God. Amen.





Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecostal life



Before Jesus entered the glory of the heavenly sanctuary as our great High Priest, the cloud taking him "out of their sight", he told his followers not to leave Jerusalem, but to "wait for the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4). Then he reassured them, "You shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Clearly he said that because of the difficulty of living for him in our own strength, going forth to evangelise just with our human insights and abilities, or trying to establish his new community of love and faith, the Church, merely as a sociological reality. "Power from on high" was what they needed for their mission. (And it's what we desperately need, too.)

So, leaving Mount Olivet they returned to Jerusalem, spending their time between the temple and the upper room. We read that there were "about 120" of them, not just the Apostles. This was the nucleus of the first Church. They waited "with Mary" for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them. "With one accord" they "devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14).

In Serve the Lord With Gladness (p. 51), the late Fr Lev Gillet (who wrote simply as "A Monk of the Eastern Church") remarks that "Even in the context of the Eucharistic liturgy, the Spirit is not given only for the sake of the Eucharist itself. The purpose of His coming is to lead us into Pentecostal life, the life of the Spirit. Have we ever taken seriously the promises of the Lord after His Resurrection, made not only to His apostles but to every believer?"

There is no better time to ask ourselves that question than today - Pentecost Sunday - when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church.

My prayer for all readers of this blog - whatever tradition you belong to, and whatever "spirituality" nourishes your walk with God at this time of your life - is that you will have the joy of entering more deeply than ever before into the mystery of Pentecost; that the love, the power, the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit will be released afresh in you and in the Church communities of which you are part.

You may be in a time of great blessing at this stage of your life. On the other hand, you might feel more as if you are trudging through the desert, the wilderness. Well, that's also part of following Jesus! The fact is that wherever we are right now, the Holy Spirit is working to transform us - individuals and communities - into the image and likeness of Jesus.

We also need to remember that the chief purpose of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the "Promise of the Father" is not to make us feel good, but to empower us to witness in our day to day lives to Jesus and the salvation he offers a crushed, broken and violent world.




  

Friday, June 2, 2017

‘Even the little children were targets’ - Coptic Christians describe bus attack in Egypt


By Heba Farouk Mahfouz, in the Washington Post, 1st June, 2017


Relatives mourn during the funeral for victims killed 
in an attack in central Egypt on May 26. 
(Mohamed Hossam/European Pressphoto Agency)

The passengers on the bus heard a noise and thought a tire had exploded.

One young man got up to see what had happened, and why there was so much smoke. But before he could open the door, a bullet smashed the glass and hit him in the head. Several gunmen dressed in military-style uniforms then sprayed the bus with gunfire.

“In a second, they [the gunmen] got inside and shot at every living and moving object they could see,” said the driver, Boshra Kamel, 56, who was shot several times but survived by playing dead. “Even the little children were targets to them.”

The passengers — a group of Coptic Christians — were on their way to a monastery in the Minya region, 150 miles south of Cairo, when the gunmen attacked last Friday, killing at least 30 people and wounding 26. It was the latest incident in rising violence targeting the country’s minority Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population.

Days after the massacre, I spoke to several survivors who had been transferred to the Nasser Medical Institute in Cairo for treatment. Among them were 13 members of one extended family.

With bullets still in her body, Samia Adly, 56, walked slowly down a hallway filled with relatives, religious leaders and officials who wanted to show their support for the victims.

Adly and her husband, Mohsen Morkos, 66, an Egyptian American, had come to Egypt about two months ago. They were on their way to the monastery for blessings after his successful lung surgery in the United States, she explained. Traveling on the bus with them were two sons, Hany and Sameh, both in their early 30s, two grandchildren and other family members.

“My son Sameh was the first to be martyred,” she said.  “They then shot Boshra, the driver, and then killed my husband.”

Her 4-year-old granddaughter, Marvy, and a nephew were also shot and killed.

After the militants boarded the bus, they asked survivors of the first round of gunfire to “either recite the Islamic shahada creed, live as practicing Muslims, or be killed,” said Nadia Shokry, 54, who was shot three times.

Defying their attackers, the passengers began to pray. “The more we prayed for Christ, the angrier they became and started shooting again and more violently,” Boshra said.

“We told them that we are Christians and we will die Christians,” Adly said as she clutched a cross that a monk had given her at the hospital.

The attackers targeted the male passengers and then began confiscating gold jewelry, money and mobile phones from the female survivors, before shooting at them, too, and running away.

“I begged my attacker to stop after he shot me the first three times. He told me to shut up or he would shoot me in the heart,” Shokry said. She watched as the militants killed her husband, Samuel, 53, her son Mina, 30, and her 18-month-old granddaughter, Maroska, the youngest victim of the attack.

Maroska’s mother tried to shield her from the flying bullets, but the baby was shot in the heart, Shokry said.

“We forgive them,” Shokry said about the attackers.  “I pray God touches their hearts and changes them so that they see the right path.”

The bus attack comes a month after a twin bombing that targeted two churches in Alexandria and Tanta left 49 people dead and scores injured. Last December, a bomb exploded in the main cathedral in Cairo, killing 29 people.

But Minya has experienced the largest number of sectarian attacks, with more than 75 targeting Christian residents in the past six years.

Hours after the bus ambush, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi warned in a televised speech that government forces would strike training camps for terrorists who attack Egypt, regardless of where they are. Later that night, Egyptian fighter jets targeted several militant bases in eastern Libya, the Egyptian foreign ministry said.




Thursday, June 1, 2017

St Justin, Martyr



Today's saint, Justin Martyr (100-165) was born at Flavia Neapolis, ancient Shechem in Judaea (now known as Nablus). He referred to himself as a Samaritan, though his father and grandfather were most likely Greek or Roman. 

Justin obviously had property and private means. He studied philosophy, was converted to Christ around the age of 30, and spent the rest of his life teaching what he called the "true philosophy", still wearing his philosopher’s gown. 

He seems to have travelled a great deal. We know that he stayed in Ephesus, and then settled in Rome. Justin was one of the early Christian "apologists", who communicated the Gospel in ways that related to the thought forms and concerns of his contemporaries, and defended the Faith against heresies and false belief. 

Among his writings are the apology [defence] Against Marcion and a Refutation of all Heresies. Both of these writings are now lost. Other writings are the Dialogue with Trypho, the First Apology and the Second Apology

In the opening of the Dialogue Justin describes his search for a knowledge of God among the scholars of the Stoic, Peripatetic, and Pythagorean traditions. Eventually he discovered in the teaching of Plato ways to think about the Godhead. But most important was his meeting on a beach with an old man who told him that only by God's revelation of himself can we know the truth, and that through the prophets this revelation has come, with their words being fulfilled in Christ. 

Justin became convinced that this was true. Furthermore, his observation of the day to day life of Christians, together with the courage of the martyrs, persuaded him that the accusations routinely made against them were unfounded. 

Following his conversion, he became a sought after Christian teacher. 

Justin's writings are valuable historically, as they give us a snapshot of Baptism and the Eucharist in the Church of his day (i.e. during the half-century following the death of the Apostle John). 

Justin suffered martyrdom with six others – five men and a woman – at Rome under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius when Rusticus was prefect of the city (between 162 and 168). The church of St John the Baptist in Sacrofano, a few kilometers north of Rome, claims to house his relics. 

Here is Justin's famous passage on the Eucharist, chapters 66 and 67 of his First Apology

“. . . this food is called among us the Eucharist, which no one may share with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

“We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Saviour became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so the food which is blessed by the prayer of his word and from which our flesh and blood by assimilation are nourished becomes the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

“For the apostles, in their memoirs, which are called gospels, have delivered to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, and, when he had given thanks, said: ‘Do this in memory of me. This is my body.’ In the same manner having taken the cup and given thanks, he said: ‘This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone.’

“Ever since then we have constantly reminded each other of these things. The wealthy among us help the poor and we always keep together. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

“On the day called Sunday all who live in the city or in the countryside gather in one place. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, for as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the presider of the assembly speaks to us, urging everyone to imitate the examples of righteous living we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

“On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The presider offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give their assent by saying, “Amen”. The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take a portion of what is left over to those who are absent.

“The wealthy, if they willing, make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the presider, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need.


“Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our Saviour Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday, having appeared to his apostles and disciples, he taught them these things that we have passed on to you for your consideration. The food we receive, however, is very special.”


And here is the account of St Justin's martyrdom from the anonymous Acts of the Martyrdom of Saint Justin and his Companion Saints written shortly after the martyrdom of St Justin. This passage is used in the current Breviary for today's Office of Readings. 


The saints were seized and brought before the prefect of Rome, whose name was Rusticus. As they stood before the judgment seat, Rusticus the prefect said to Justin: “Above all, have faith in the gods and obey the emperors.” Justin said: “We cannot be accused or condemned for obeying the commands of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Rusticus said: “What system of teaching do you profess?” Justin said: “I have tried to learn about every system, but I have accepted the true doctrines of the Christians, though these are not approved by those who are held fast by error.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “Are those doctrines approved by you, wretch that you are?” Justin said: “Yes, for I follow them with their correct teaching.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “What sort of teaching is that?” Justin said: “Worship the God of the Christians. We hold him to be from the beginning the one creator and maker of the whole creation, of things seen and things unseen. We worship also the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was foretold by the prophets as the future herald of salvation for the human race and the teacher of distinguished disciples. For myself, since I am a human being, I consider that what I say is insignificant in comparison with his infinite godhead. I acknowledge the existence of a prophetic power, for the one I have just spoken of as the Son of God was the subject of prophecy. I know that the prophets were inspired from above when they spoke of his coming among men.”

Rusticus said: “You are a Christian, then?” Justin said: “Yes, I am a Christian.” The prefect said to Justin: “You are called a learned man and think that you know what is true teaching. Listen: if you were scourged and beheaded, are you convinced that you would go up to heaven?” Justin said: “I hope that I shall enter God’s house if I suffer that way. For I know that God’s favor is stored up until the end of the whole world for all who have lived good lives.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “Do you have an idea that you will go up to heaven to receive some suitable rewards?” Justin said: “It is not an idea that I have; it is something I know well and hold to be most certain.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods.” Justin said: “No one who is right thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy.” Justin said: “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand before the more terrible and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Savior.”

In the same way the other martyrs also said: “Do what you will. We are Christians; we do not offer sacrifice to idols.”

The prefect Rusticus pronounced sentence, saying: “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the command of the emperor be scourged and led away to suffer capital punishment according to the ruling of the laws.” Glorifying God, the holy martyrs went out to the accustomed place. They were beheaded, and so fulfilled their witness of martyrdom in confessing their faith in their Saviour.

PRAYER
O God,
who through the folly of the Cross
wondrously taught Saint Justin the Martyr
the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,
grant us, through his intercession, that,
having rejected deception and error,
we may become steadfast in the faith.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.