Thursday, August 31, 2017

Today is St Aidan's day.



St Aidan, born in Connaught Ireland, was a monk at the monastery on the island of Iona in Scotland. According to tradition his birth had been heralded by signs and omens, and he showed evidence of high intelligence and sincere devotion even as a small child.

During the days of the Roman Empire the Christian faith had spread into England, but due to the Empire’s decline, there was a growing resurgence of paganism, especially in the north. Oswald of Northumbria had been living at the Iona monastery as a king in exile since 616 AD and was converted to Christianity. In 634 he gained the crown of Northumbria, and was determined to bring the Christian faith to his mostly pagan people.

Due to his experience of Iona, he sought missionaries from there. At first the monastery sent a new bishop named Corman, but he returned to Iona, saying that the Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted. Aidan criticised Corman’s methods, and was sent as a replacement in 635.

Aidan chose the island of Lindisfarne, close to the royal castle at Bamburgh, as his headquarters. King Oswald, who spoke Irish Gaelic, often had to translate for Aidan and his monks, who did not speak English at first. When Oswald died in 642, Aidan received continued support from King Oswin of Deira, and the two became close friends.

An inspired missionary, St Aidan would walk from one village to another, chatting with the people he saw, slowly interesting them in the Gospel. According to legend, the king gave Aidan a horse so that he wouldn’t have to walk, but Aidan gave the horse to a beggar. By getting to know the people personally, and making them feel loved, Aidan and his monks slowly restored the Christian faith to the Northumbrian communities. Aidan also took in twelve English boys to train at the monastery, to ensure that the area’s future ministry and leadership would be English.

In 651 a pagan army attacked Bamburgh and attempted to set its walls ablaze. According to legend, Aidan prayed for the city, after which the winds turned and blew the smoke and fire toward the enemy, making it impossible for their attack to continue.

Oswin of Deira was murdered in 651. Twelve days later Aidan died, on August 31, in the 17th year of his episcopate. He had become ill while at the Bamburgh castle, and died leaning against the wall of the local church.

St Aidan’s expression of the Faith owed more to the the flavour and style of his native Celtic tradition than the contemporary Roman influence growing in the south of England. But his outstanding character, his Gospel teaching and his missionary zeal won for him the respect of Popes Honorius I and Felix I.

The monastery he founded grew and itself helped to found churches and other monasteries in the north. It also became a center of learning and a storehouse of scholarly knowledge. The Venerable Bede would later write Aidan’s hagiography and describe the miracles attributed to him. 

Here is a well known prayer of St Aidan:

Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
Make me an island, set apart,
alone with you, God, holy to you.

Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you.

___________________


O loving God, who called your servant Aidan from the peace of a Cloister to re-establish the Christian mission in northern England, and gave him the gifts of gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what you have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

___________________



The sun rising over the path to Holy Island, Lindisfarne 

St Aidan walked from Lindisfarne to Northumbria when the retreating tide opened a path to the shore.

Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is off the coast of Northumbria. As “the tide ebbs and flows,” Bede wrote, “the place is surrounded twice daily by the waves of the sea.” When the tide ebbed, a path of wet sand appeared, a pilgrim’s track that Aidan walked to the mainland, and visitors walked to the island. When the tide flowed back, the path disappeared. Seals swam in the breakers.

Three miles long and one mile wide, off the east coast of Britain, the island was close to Oswald’s court, yet remote. The monastic community was protected by the king, but independent of his politics. In the island’s peace they could practice the contemplative prayer of love that Jesus had practiced in rowboats and on top of mountains. On the windy island they built huts, an oratory, and a hall to teach students to read and write Latin, the language in which their books were written. Hand-bells rang through the roar of the surf.

Retreat though it was, the island was also a place to leave, as St Aidan did many times, in order to reach the people with the love of Christ.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Wodehouse and refusing to "hate in the plural"



Here is Gavin Ashenden’s latest reflection. It is more than a tonic for the end of a bad news week! (It’s from his website at https://ashenden.org)


I’m not sure that too much news is very good for you. A constant diet of misery chosen by some random news editor gets poured into our ears by a radio, or batters our eyes and heart on the TV. Bad news always grabs our attention; good news, not so much.

The hiatus of horror trumps the tedium of the tepid. After a while, we get used to the non-stop human misery. We develop a thicker skin, toughened against other people’s suffering.

Twenty-four-hour news cycles have only made it worse. We need antidotes to this one-sided misery fest. One of mine is P G Wodehouse. Some people met him for the first time on TV, through Jeeves and Wooster. I slip into his world of rampant aunts and the magic of his mix of metaphors with a sigh of relief.

Once heard, who can ever forget the image: ‘The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say “When!”’

If you have wilted under the constant curse of ‘I told you so’ from your well-informed beloved, you recognise the affliction of Mavis at once: ‘There are girls, few perhaps but to be found if one searches carefully, who when their advice is ignored and disaster ensues, do not say “I told you so”. Mavis was not of their number.’

And perhaps my perpetual concise favourite: ‘I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.’

Wodehouse didn’t come by his plots or his phrases easily. It was hard perfectionist graft.

He would take the pages of the day and pin them on the wall opposite him. The best pages would get fixed higher up the wall, and the weaker ones lower down. Then he would take the lowest and work on it to improve it and pin it up higher… and go to the next lowest and so on…

Anyone who has struggled with relatives in general and aunts in particular, will enjoy: ‘It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.’

He married an American chorus girl and wrote the lyrics for Hollywood and Broadway shows as well as crafting the most beautiful English novels that enfolded you into a world that never had been, but you longed to be part of; a world of innocence and charm, where malice was restrained, brains were optional and friendship always triumphed.

His own world grew more complex in 1939. Living in Le Touquet in northern France with a community of well-bred and well-heeled expats, he failed to foresee the speed of the German advance. He wasn’t alone in this. Most of the British High Command made the same misjudgment, but unlike him, they weren’t arrested.

He was. He found himself shoved into a cattle truck and after three prisons ended up in a converted mental asylum near the Polish border.

Throughout his time in Tost, he sent postcards to his US literary agent asking for $5 to be sent to various people in Canada, mentioning his name. These were the families of Canadian prisoners of war, and the news from Wodehouse was the first indication that their sons were alive and well. He risked severe punishment for the communication, but with careful turns of phrase managed to evade the German censor.

Having turned 60, he was released and sent to Berlin where he was asked to broadcast to the US. The Germans hoped they had a propaganda success on their hands, but Wodehouse used the five broadcasts to describe the horrors of internment using laconic understatement, heavy irony and razor wit.

But the British public, freaked out by the radio broadcasts of a real traitor, Lord Haw-Haw, couldn’t cope. They turned to hate. Particularly dense MPs demanded that if he returned he be tried for treason. He was interviewed and exonerated by MI5 in Paris in 1944. He fled to America at the end of the war. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the British public got over their fit of clumsy moral hysterics, but they had forgotten rather than forgiven.

When asked if he didn’t hate the Nazis, one more question designed to flush out the traitor in him, he replied that he found it impossible to ‘hate in the plural’.

Hating has become a political as well as a personal problem recently. When even the state has taken charge over mapping our minds to flush out our ‘hate crime’ and other politicised moral misdemeanours, there is something to be said in taking refuge in the simple nostalgia of innocence in his novels. Laughter lifts a fallen world. We can learn, too, from his blank refusal to hate class, gender or race.

Both the news and the world would be a better and easier place, if like Wodehouse, we absolutely refused to ‘hate in the plural’.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mary: "a sister to all the children of Adam as they journey toward the fulness of freedom"



Celebrating the solemnity of Our Lady’s Assumption yesterday, we were reminded of our ultimate destiny, for the prayers emphasise Mary’s sharing in the totality of her Son’s resurrection victory as the end to which the Church also “in her foreshadowed” makes her journey through time and space.  
   
OUR EXILE
And if that is true of the Church, it is also true for us as individual Christians. In “Ye who own the Faith of Jesus . . .” (from which I have already quoted) the second last verse speaks of those for whom we seek Our Lady’s prayers:
   
For the sick and for the agéd,
For our dear ones far away,
For the hearts that mourn in secret,
All who need our prayers today,
For the faithful gone before us,
May the holy Virgin pray.
   
Did you notice “. . . For the hearts that mourn in secret”? I’m always deeply moved at that point in Canon Coles’ hymn, for it makes me think of Christian brothers and sisters I have had the privilege of knowing who have quietly embraced the suffering and pain of their lives and relationships - in some instances extraordinary suffering and pain - and, rather than retaliating or taking it out on everyone around them, have become “the hearts that mourn in secret.” From a place of real spiritual and emotional strength (that they often didn't think they had!) they have been content to offer themselves and their experience to the Father in union with the suffering of Jesus so that it at least becomes redemptive for the sake of others, while they themselves are strengthened at the foot of the Cross by the presence with them of the Mother of Sorrows.
   
Sometimes there is a trusted friend or spiritual director who will understand. But sometimes there is no-one. We “mourn in secret” perhaps even crying ourselves to sleep at night in a kind of loneliness that feels like spiritual exile. It is especially in those moments that we are grateful for the loving embrace of our Lady Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of all his people. It is out of that experience that generations of Christians have regularly prayed the Salve Regina at the end of the Rosary:
   
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy;
hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy towards us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
   
Even if some of us have been spared those particular depths of personal suffering, it is sadly true that living the full Catholic life within Anglican structures is more and more difficult. The sense that we are called to do so, at the same time bearing joyful witness to the Faith once delivered to the Saints, causes us to suffer very deeply the sense of being exiles within our own Church. 
   
But it is now becoming clear that the rapid changes in our western European culture that in most places has deliberately decided to “move on” from its Judaeo-Christian foundations, pose equally great challenges for ALL Churches of every tradition. We are still called to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus, whatever the cost - and in the short to medium term future, the cost may be very great indeed, as Pope Benedict XVI has suggested in his writings.
   
RAISED UP TO BEAR WITNESS 
In this context, a very small proportion of Anglicans, with hearts on fire with love for Jesus, holding on to the full Catholic Faith may seem a fairly impotent and thinly spread community as far as the big picture is concerned. But, as St Paul wrote, 

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” 
(1 Corinthians 1:27-30)
   
It is my belief that God has raised us up in our particular contexts to keep alive aspects of the Faith that might otherwise disappear from notice. In the aftermath of celebrating Our Lady’s Assumption let us rededicate ourselves to that vocation.
   
In the Book of Masses of Our Lady, there is the most wonderful Preface for the Mass of Our Lady, Mother of Divine Hope. Since its publication, many years ago, it has been one of my favourite prayers (especially in this particular translation). I share it with you as an encouragement to be faithful to the Lord in joy and in sorrow, and to be those who journey through this world with our eyes raised to Mary, our “sister in Christ”, the “Mother of all her Son’s people”, “the fairest fruit of Christ’s redeeming love” who continues to pray for us as we make our pilgrimage to the fulness of heaven’s glory where we, with her, will share the completeness of her Son’s victory over sin and death:
   
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
to give you thanks with all our hearts,
Lord, holy Father,
for your gift to our human family
of Jesus Christ, the author of our salvation,
and of Mary, his Mother, the model of divine hope.
   
Your lowly handmaid placed all her trust in you:
she awaited in hope and conceived in faith 
the Son of Man, whom the prophets had foretold.
   
With untiring love she gave herself to his service
and became the Mother of all the living.
Mary, the fairest fruit of Christ’s redeeming love,
is a sister to all the children of Adam
as they journey toward the fullness of freedom
and raise their eyes to her,
the sign of sure hope and comfort,
until the day of the Lord dawns in glory.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thomas Ken & Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Assumption



BISHOP THOMAS KEN (1637-1711)
Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
Next to his throne her Son his Mother placed;
And here below, now she's of heaven possest,
All generations are to call her blest.


HANS URS VON BALTHASAR (1905-1988)
From: You Crown the Year with Your Goodness: 
Sermons through the Liturgical Year, pp. 186, 190-191

What . . . is the Church celebrating today? 
That a simple human body, inseparably united to its soul, 
is capable of being the perfect response to God’s challenge 
and of uttering the unreserved ‘Yes’ to his request. 
It is a single body – 
for everything in Christianity is always personal, concrete, particular – 
but at the same time it is a body that recapitulates 
all the faith and hope of Israel and of all men on earth. 
Consequently, when it is taken up into ultimate salvation, 
it contains the firm promise of salvation 
for all flesh that yearns for redemption. 
For all our bodies long to participate in our ultimate salvation by God: 
we do not want to appear before God as naked souls, 
‘not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, 
so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life’ (2 Corinthians 5:4); 
and God, who caused bodies to die, ‘subjecting creation to futility’, 
has subjected it ‘in hope’ that it ‘will be set free from its bondage to decay 
and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:20f). 
So we are celebrating a feast of hope; 
but, like all the New Testament feasts, 
it is celebrated on the basis of a fulfillment that has already taken place; 
that is, not only has the Son of God been resurrected bodily – 
which in view of his life and death, is quite natural – 
but also has the body that made him man, 
the earthly realm that proved ready to receive God 
and that remains inseparable from Christ’s body. 
Today we see that this earth was capable of carrying and bringing to birth 
the infinite fruit that had been implanted in her. 
Today we celebrate the ultimate affirmation and confirmation of the earth.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Faith is "an act of the whole self" (Thinking about tomorrow's Gospel Reading)



One of the priests who influenced me in my student days was Canon Jim Glennon who founded the healing ministry of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. An “evangelical sacramentalist open to the Holy Spirit” is how he sometimes described himself. At the heart of his preaching and his pastoral ministry was our need to live by faith, by which he often meant disciplining ourselves to focus not on the needs we have prayed about, but on the Lord who lovingly reaches out to us. (That, of course, can be a struggle).

I often heard Jim Glennon use the Gospel reading for tomorrow’s Mass (Matthew 14:22-33) as an encouragement for us to keep our eyes fixed more on the Lord than on our problems, and then reminding us that even when, like Peter, we fail, the Lord is there to help us get back onto our feet.

So, in this post I have gathered a few other insights on this theme.  

Pope Benedict on the nature of faith 
“. . . If we let our gaze be captivated by the tendency of the moment, by the wind that is blowing around our ears, then really our faith can only sink out of sight . . . If we do that, then we have already lost our true anchor, which consists in depending on our relationship to the One who can overcome brute force, the brute force of death, brute force of history and its impossibilities.  Faith means resisting the brute force that would otherwise pull us under. Faith means fellowship with him who has the other kind of power, one that draws us up, that holds us fast, that carries us safely over the elements of death.” 

“Faith is an orientation of our existence as a whole. It is a fundamental option that affects every domain of our existence. Nor can it be realized unless all the energies of our existence go into maintaining it. Faith is not a merely intellectual, or merely volitional, or merely emotional activity – it is all of these things together. It is an act of the whole self, of the whole person in his concentrated unity. The Bible describes faith in this sense as an act of the ‘heart’” (Rom 10:9). 

Archbishop Michael Ramsey
“God wonderfully accepts the persevering  faith that knows God to be present yet feels him to be absent. The key thing was what would they do when they eventually saw Jesus coming towards them?  Would they recognize him and invite him into their boat or keep on rowing in fear, (listening to their own imaginings, that he could be a ghost as Matthew tells us).”

A Ghost
Luigi Santucci’s meditation on Peter walking to Jesus across the water 

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

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

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

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

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

‘Go away, ghost . . .’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Augustine's Sermon on the Gospel passage
. . . hence also is that which was just now read, “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.” Matt. xiv. 28.  For I cannot do this in myself, but in Thee. He acknowledged what he had of himself, and what of Him, by whose will he believed that he could do that, which no human weakness could do. Therefore, “if it be Thou, bid me;” because when thou biddest, it will be done. What I cannot do by taking it upon myself, Thou canst do by bidding me. 

And the Lord said “Come.” And without any doubting, at the word of Him who bade him, at the presence of Him who sustained, at the presence of Him who guided him, without any delay, Peter leaped down into the water, and began to walk. He was able to do what the Lord was doing, not in himself, but in the Lord. “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.”(Eph. v.8) 

What no one can do in Paul, no one in Peter, no one in any other of the Apostles, this can he do in the Lord. Therefore well said Paul by a wholesome despising of himself, and commending of Him; “Was Paul crucified for you, or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”1 Cor. i. 13.  So then, ye are not in me, but together with me; not under me, but under Him. 

Therefore Peter walked on the water by the bidding of the Lord, knowing that he could not have this power of himself. By faith he had strength to do what human weakness could not do. . .

So Peter also said, “Bid me come unto Thee on the water.” I who dare this am but a man, but it is no man whom I beseech. Let the God-man bid, that man may be able to do what man cannot do. “Come,” said He. And He went down, and began to walk on the water; and Peter was able, because the Rock had bidden him. Lo, what Peter was in the Lord; what was he in himself? “When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord, I perish, save me.” 

When he looked for strength from the Lord, he had strength from the Lord; as a man he tottered, but he returned to the Lord. “If I said, my foot hath slipped” Ps.xciv. 18.  (they are the words of a Psalm, the notes of a holy song; and if we acknowledge them they are our words too; yea, if we will, they are ours also). “If I said my foot hath slipped.” How slipped, except because it was mine own. And what follows? “Thy mercy, Lord, helped me.” Not mine own strength, but Thy mercy. For will God forsake him as he totters, whom He heard when calling upon Him? Where then is that, “Who hath called upon God, and hath been forsaken by Him?” Ecclus. ii. 10 (Sept).  Where again is that, “Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord, shall be delivered.” Joel ii. 32.  Immediately reaching forth the help of His right hand, He lifted him up as he was sinking, and rebuked his distrust; “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Once thou didst trust in Me, hast thou now doubted of Me?




Friday, August 11, 2017

St Clare of Assisi, pray for us.



The Church in western Europe was not in such good shape at the end of the 12th century. But it was at this time that the Holy Spirit stirred the hearts of two young people in central Italy, giving rise to the remarkable Franciscan movement.

Clare was born Chiara Offreduccio in 1193 or 1194, the daughter of a wealthy and highly educated family in Assisi. When Francis began to preach the Gospel in the squares of Assisi in 1210 Clare was only sixteen years old, eleven years younger than him. Even as a child her heart was turned towards the Lord, and she would share her food with the poor and needy people of the town. She had already refused several offers of marriage. At the age of 18, she was captivated by Francis' Lenten preaching of a Christ-centred simple gospel life, and especially his emphasis on poverty as a special vocation to which some are called. She had several secret meetings with him, accompanied only by a friend, Bona, and made up her mind to join him. 

On Palm Sunday 1212 Clare left her parents' house secretly. She had already sold her dowry and given the money to the poor. At the little church of St Mary of the Angels, just below Assisi, she met Francis and a few of his brothers. She changed her dress for a simple habit, and took off her jewellery. Francis cut her hair, and she made a vow of obedience to him. At first she lived with a nearby Benedictine community of nuns, doing simple menial tasks. 

Not surprisingly, Clare's family were outraged at what she had done. They sent armed men to bring her back, without success. When Clare's younger sister, Catherine, followed her only a fortnight later, the family made even more violent attempts to force her to return home. Indeed, it is said that as they were physically carrying Catherine away Clare prayed, and Catherine became so heavy that they could not lift her. Defeated, they returned home. 

Francis received Catherine, too, as a sister, and gave her the name Agnes. Then Clare, Agnes and several friends moved to San Damiano, the church where Francis had heard Jesus speak to him from the crucifix, charging him to "rebuild" the Church. Here the first community of Poor Clares came into being. In time, Clare's widowed mother joined as well. 

It was said that the followers of Clare were the most beautiful young girls from the "best" families of Assisi. The community grew rapidly, and in 1215, very much against her will, Clare was made Abbess. 

The women devoted themselves to prayer, nursing the sick, and works of mercy for the poor and neglected. The order came to be called the "Poor Clares." They wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a house that was unsatisfactory even by the standards of the time. They also kept silent most of the day. They had no beds, but slept on twigs with patched hemp for blankets. They only ate food they begged for. Clare made sure she fasted more than anyone else. 

Clare remained in charge until her death in 1253. In spite of long years of sickness, we know the depth of her love for the Lord by the letters she wrote. Two years after her death, in 1255, she was declared a saint by the Church. 

In the early years of the movement Francis visited Clare often, but as his own community grew his visits decreased and she had to find within herself the inspiration she had received from him. In fact, their relationship grew more equal, and Francis would consult her on important decisions. In his last illness he came to San Damiano and Clare cared for him. 

Although she called herself “the little plant of Francis” Clare became a powerful and innovative woman in her own right. Not only did she write the Rule (a guide to a way of life) for her religious community. She struggled long and hard with the "institutional Church" for most of her life, as Popes and Cardinals resisted the renewal movement and sought to draw her away from the poverty which was at the heart of her following of Jesus. But Clare remained firm and her Rule was finally approved by the Pope himself just a few days before her death. By that time there were more than 150 communities which followed her way of life, mainly in Italy, southern France and Spain, but also spreading as far east as Prague, and as far west as Bruges. 

COLLECT
God of peace, 
who in the poverty of the blessed Clare 
gave us a clear light 
to shine in the darkness of this world: 
give us grace so to follow in her footsteps
 that we may, at the last, 
rejoice with her in your eternal glory; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.



The Church of San Damiano, 
where St Francis heard the voice of Jesus say to him, "rebuild my Church." 
It is also where St Clare died on August 11, 1253.


A LETTER OF St CLARE TO BLESSED AGNES OF PRAGUE 
Agnes, previously a very wealthy woman, was Abbess of the community of Poor Clares in Prague. Although she and Clare never met, a close friendship developed and was maintained through their correspondence for over twenty years. 

Fortunate indeed is she who shares in the sacred banquet and clings with all her heart to him whom the hosts of heaven constantly adore! Contemplation of him refreshes her; his kindness and sweetness fill her being. "He is the splendour of eternal light, a mirror without blemish." Look daily into that spotless mirror, dear queen and spouse of Christ, and see your face in it. See how you are to adorn yourself, within and without, in all the blossoms of virtue, as befits a chaste daughter and spouse of that greatest of kings. In that mirror poverty, humility, and love beyond telling shine radiantly. 

Contemplate the beginning therein mirrored - the poverty of him who lay in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. What marvelous humility and astonishing poverty! It is the King of angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, who lies here! Contemplate next the course of his life, with its humility in the form of blessed poverty, endless toil, and torments to be endured for the redemption of humankind. Contemplate, finally, the boundless love that marks the end of that life, when love made him suffer and die on the Cross. The mirror cries out to us: "All you who pass along the way, look and see if there be any sorrow like mine!" What shall our answer be? "I remember and my heart fails within me." Here, noble queen of the heavenly King, your love will flame up ever more intensely. 

If you go to contemplate his inexpressible delights and the riches and honours he bestows, your heart will sigh with loving desire: “Draw me after you; we shall run after you, drawn by your fragranet perfumes,” heavenly Spouse! I shall run and not cease until you lead me into your wine cellar. 

When you contemplate all this, remember me, your poor little mother. Know that the memory of you is imprinted in my heart, for you are dearer to me than any other. 


A LETTER OF St CLARE TO ERMENTRUDE OF BRUGES 
In 1240 Ermentrude, a noble lady originally from Köln, went to Bruges, Belgium, where she lived for twelve years in a hermitage. She heard about Clare and the Poor Ladies and left for a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, but found that Clare had already died. She returned to Bruges and transformed her small hermitage into a monastery of Poor Ladies and then and then established other monasteries in Flanders. Clare had written two letters of encouragement to her. Here is one of them: 

I have learned, O most dear sister, that, with the help of God's grace, you have fled in joy the corruptions of the world. I rejoice and congratulate you because of this and, again, I rejoice that you are walking courageously the paths of virtue with your daughters. Remain faithful until death, dearly beloved, to God to whom you have promised yourself, for you shall be crowned by him with the gariand of life. 

Our labour here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamour of the world, which passes like a shadow. Do not let the faise delights of a deceptive world deceive you. Close your ears to the whisperings of hell and bravely oppose its onslaughts. Gladly endure whatever goes against you and do not let good fortune lift you up: for these things destroy faith, while these others demand it. Offer faithfully what you have vowed to God, and he shall reward you. 

O dearest one, look up to heaven, which calls us on, and take up the cross and follow Christ who has gone on before us: for through him we shall enter into his glory after many and diverse tribulations. Love God from the depths of your heart and Jesus, his Son, who was crucified for us sinners. Never let the thought of him leave your mind, but meditate constantly on the mysteries of the cross and the anguish of his mother as she stood beneath the cross. 

Pray and watch at all times! Carry out steadfastly the work you have begun and fulfil the ministry you have undertaken in true humility and holy poverty. Fear not, daughter! God, who is faithful in all his words and holy in all his deeds, will pour his blessings upon you and your daughters. He will be your help and best comforter for he is our Redeemer and our eternal reward. 

Let us pray to God together for each other for, by sharing each other's burden of charity in this way, we shall easily fulfil the law of Christ.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"The mystery of the Cross gradually enveloped her whole life" - St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)



Today the Church honours a remarkable woman, Edith Stein, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who was killed seventy-five years ago today at Auschwitz. The following is from an article by John Coleman SJ in America Magazine


Edith Stein was born in Breslau on October 12, 1891, the youngest of eleven, as her Jewish family was celebrating Yom Kippur. Edith's mother (widowed when Edith was only two) was a strongly devout Jew. Edith always deeply loved her mother, although as a young woman Edith abandoned any explicit practice of Judaism. "I consciously decided, of my own volition, to give up praying", Edith later said. 

I have always hoped that the Catholic Church would declare Edith Stein a Doctor of the Church. She studied, first, at the University of Breslau where she was an active member of the Prussian Society for the Woman's Franchise. It would not hurt the church to have a feminist scholar among its doctors! In 1913, Edith transferred to Gottingen University where she became a teaching assistant to the renowned philosopher, Edmund Husserl. In Gottingen, Stein also met the philosopher Max Scheler who directed her attention to Roman Catholicism. 

During World War I, Edith cut short her studies to serve as a field nurse in an Austrian field hospital, where she treated the sick in a typhus ward and worked in an operating theatre. In 1916, she followed Husserl to the University of Freiburg where she wrote her doctoral thesis on "The Problem of Empathy". During this period of study, she went to the Frankfurt Cathedral where she saw a woman with a shopping basket going to kneel for prayer. " This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant Churches I had visited, people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot." In her doctoral dissertation she had written:" There have been people who believed that a sudden change had occurred within them and that this was a result of God's grace." 

Stein had wanted to obtain a professorship but that was not possible in 1918 for a woman. Husserl, however, wrote for her the following reference:" Should academic careers be opened up to ladies, then I can recommend her whole-heartedly and as my first choice for admission to a professorship." 

In 1921, while visiting a friend, Stein read the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. She spent the whole night reading it and said later :"When I finished the book, I said to myself, This is the truth." Later she said of her life; "My longing for truth was a single prayer." In 1922, Stein was baptized on the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, when Jesus himself had entered God's covenant with Abraham. She reflected: "I had given up practising my Jewish religion when I was a 14 year old girl and did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God." After her conversion, she taught at a teacher training college in Speyer and was encouraged by a Benedictine Abbot to accept extensive speaking engagements on women's issues. She translated the letters and diaries of Cardinal Newman and translated Thomas Aquinas' Questiones Disputate de Veritate (On Truth). 

In 1931, Stein left the convent school and devoted herself to getting a professorship. She wrote her main philosophical-theological work, Finite and Eternal Being. She was offered a position at the Institute for Educational Studies at the University of Munster in 1932. But in 1933, Hitler's Aryan law made it impossible for Stein to continue teaching. She noted: "I had heard of severe measures against Jews before. But now it dawned on me that God had laid his hand heavily on his people and that the destiny of those people would also be mine." Stein, finally, entered the convent of the Carmelites in 1933. She went home, first, to visit her mother and went with her to the synagogue on The Feast of Tabernacles. Her mother died in 1936. 

Stein saw continuities between her new Christian faith and Judaism. She once said: "I keep thinking of Queen Esther who was taken away from her people precisely because God wanted her to plead with the king on behalf of her nation. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who has chosen me is infinitely great and merciful. This is a great comfort."

Because of the growing anti-Jewish strictures in Germany, Stein was smuggled across the border to the Netherlands to the Carmelite Convent in Echt. She made there her last will on June 9, 1939: "Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death so that the Lord will be accepted by his people and his kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world." While in Echt, Stein finished her study of John of the Cross' mysticism, entitled: Kreuzeswissenschaft - The Science of the Cross. 

In retaliation to the Dutch Bishops' letter, the Gestapo came on August 2, 1942 to arrest Edith and her sister, Rosa, like Edith a convert to Catholicism. Edith's final words to Rosa before being deported were: "Come, we are going for our people." A professor friend of Stein's said of her: "She is a witness to God's presence in a world where God is absent." When he beatified Edith Stein in Cologne in 1987, John Paul II said the church was honoring "a daughter of Israel who, as a Catholic during Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness." Surely, in honoring her, the church points to her clear bonds to the Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. 

Edith Stein had a prayer which is apt:

"Who are you, kindly light, 
who fill me now 
and brighten all the darkness of my heart? 
You guide me forward like a mother's hand 
and, if you let me go, 
I could not take a single step alone. 
You are the space, 
embracing all my being, 
hidden in it 
and what name can contain you? 
You, Holy Spirit, you, eternal love!"



Canterbury Cathedral: 
The Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time 
Photo by Bob Culshaw (go HERE for info) 

When he visited Canterbury Cathedral on the eve of Pentecost 1982, one of the things Pope John Paul II did was to pray with Archbishop Robert Runcie in a small semi-circular chapel lit with high stained-glass windows, not far from where St Thomas Becket was martyred, right at the easternmost end of Canterbury Cathedral. For a long time this was known as the Corona Chapel, having been the place where part of Becket’s skull was housed as a relic. By 1977 the Corona Chapel had been given a new name: “The Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time.” It honours those who have more recently given their lives in martyrdom. 

A notice on the wall reads: "Throughout the centuries men and women have given their lives for Christianity. Our own century is no exception. Their deaths are in union with the life-giving death of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour of mankind. In this Chapel we thank God for the sacrifice of martyrdom whereby truth is upheld and God’s providence enriched. We pray that we may be worthy of their sacrifice." 

Two remarkable nuns, Edith Stein and Maria Skobtsova, are included among those commemorated.

And here is the homily preached by Pope St John Paul II at the canonisation of Edith Stein on 11th October, 1998:


The love of Christ was the fire that inflamed the life of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Long before she realized it, she was caught by this fire. At the beginning she devoted herself to freedom. For a long time Edith Stein was a seeker. Her mind never tired of searching and her heart always yearned for hope. She traveled the arduous path of philosophy with passionate enthusiasm. Eventually she was rewarded: she seized the truth. Or better: she was seized by it. Then she discovered that truth had a name: Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the incarnate Word was her One and All. Looking back as a Carmelite on this period of her life, she wrote to a Benedictine nun: “Whoever seeks the truth is seeking God, whether consciously or unconsciously”.

Although Edith Stein had been brought up religiously by her Jewish mother, at the age of 14 she “had consciously and deliberately stopped praying”. She wanted to rely exclusively on herself and was concerned to assert her freedom in making decisions about her life. At the end of a long journey, she came to the surprising realization: only those who commit themselves to the love of Christ become truly free.

This woman had to face the challenges of such a radically changing century as our own. Her experience is an example to us. The modern world boasts of the enticing door which says: everything is permitted. It ignores the narrow gate of discernment and renunciation. I am speaking especially to you, young Christians, particularly to the many altar servers who have come to Rome these days on pilgrimage: Pay attention! Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface, but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was able to understand that the love of Christ and human freedom are intertwined, because love and truth have an intrinsic relationship. The quest for truth and its expression in love did not seem at odds to her; on the contrary she realized that they call for one another.

In our time, truth is often mistaken for the opinion of the majority. In addition, there is a widespread belief that one should use the truth even against love or vice versa. But truth and love need each other. St Teresa Benedicta is a witness to this. The “martyr for love”, who gave her life for her friends, let no one surpass her in love. At the same time, with her whole being she sought the truth, of which she wrote: “No spiritual work comes into the world without great suffering. It always challenges the whole person”.

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie.

Finally, the new saint teaches us that love for Christ undergoes suffering. Whoever truly loves does not stop at the prospect of suffering: he accepts communion in suffering with the one he loves.

Aware of what her Jewish origins implied, Edith Stein spoke eloquently about them: “Beneath the Cross I understood the destiny of God’s People.... Indeed, today I know far better what it means to be the Lord’s bride under the sign of the Cross. But since it is a mystery, it can never be understood by reason alone”.

The mystery of the Cross gradually enveloped her whole life, spurring her to the point of making the supreme sacrifice. As a bride on the Cross, Sr Teresa Benedicta did not only write profound pages about the “science of the Cross”, but was thoroughly trained in the school of the Cross. Many of our contemporaries would like to silence the Cross. But nothing is more eloquent than the Cross when silenced! The true message of suffering is a lesson of love. Love makes suffering fruitful and suffering deepens love.

Through the experience of the Cross, Edith Stein was able to open the way to a new encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith and the Cross proved inseparable to her. Having matured in the school of the Cross, she found the roots to which the tree of her own life was attached. She understood that it was very important for her “to be a daughter of the chosen people and to belong to Christ not only spiritually, but also through blood”.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24).

Dear brothers and sisters, the divine Teacher spoke these words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. What he gave his chance but attentive listener we also find in the life of Edith Stein, in her “ascent of Mount Carmel”. The depth of the divine mystery became perceptible to her in the silence of contemplation. Gradually, throughout her life, as she grew in the knowledge of God, worshiping him in spirit and truth, she experienced ever more clearly her specific vocation to ascend the Cross with Christ, to embrace it with serenity and trust, to love it by following in the footsteps of her beloved Spouse: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is offered to us today as a model to inspire us and a protectress to call upon.

We give thanks to God for this gift. May the new saint be an example to us in our commitment to serve freedom, in our search for the truth. May her witness constantly strengthen the bridge of mutual understanding between Jews and Christians.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Anastasis - The Icon of the Lord's Resurrection - Sermon by Bishop John Bayton



All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, 2003: 
Blessing of the Font at the Easter Vigil, 
featuring the Icon of the Lord’s Resurrection.

I was recently looking through some memorabilia and came across a past issue of the All Saints’ Gazette, from my old parish of All Saints’Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. It contains the following sermon preached at the blessing of our great Anastasis icon which forms a striking backdrop to the font underneath the new organ gallery at the west end of the church. 

The Icon is a memorial to Canon Alexander Livingstone Sharwood (1907-1991) and his wife, Margaret Evelyn Sharwood (1910-1995), given by their family. It was was written by well-known artist, iconographer and friend of the Sharwood family, Bishop John Bayton AM. OMLJ, GCSJ. He dedicated the icon at Evensong and Benediction on 3rd November 2002. He was also the preacher.  


“For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the spirit through whom he went and preached to the souls that were in prison, who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah . . . (when) a few, that is, eight in all were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you.” (1 Peter 3:18)

In the active ministry of every priest there are “highs” and “lows”, remembrances of celebrations and events that form and transform the soul. Memories of Ordinations, Consecrations and people and places.

Of places I could spend many hours recounting them, particularly Jerusalem. In the heart of the Old City stands the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it is called in the West. In the East the Orthodox and the Orientals know it as the Church of the Resurrection. It is in fact many Churches within the walls of one ancient and venerable edifice. Custody of the Church is held by Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian and Latin Patriarchies. There are no Roman Catholics in Jerusalem, they are known as Latins because of the incredibly savage way the Crusaders dealt with the local people - Jews, Moslems and Christians alike.

Outside the West door of the Greek Orthodox Katholikon there is a small terra cotta urn about two feet high and about one foot in diameter. It is here, so it is said that God created the Universe. If you put your ear to the opening on top of this little urn you can hear the sounds of creation - if you are pure in heart.

Nearby is a black and white marble pavement with a black and white marble circle marking the spot where Mary Magdalene mistook the Risen Lord for the gardener. Close by to this dynamic place but above it by some five metres is the Altar built over the split rock that once stood in the middle of a great quarry outside the walls of Jerusalem - If you place your hand beneath this Altar you can feel the socket into which the Cross of Jesus was placed. This is the stone once rejected by the builders. Immediately beneath it is a very ancient cave said to be the burial place of our first parents Adam and Eve. It is known as the chapel of Adam.

Ten metres away from this rock called Golgotha, the place of Adam’s skull is a marble slab known as the Stone of the Anointing upon which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid the Lord’s body after his deposition. And another ten metres away from this stone is a small highly decorated little building known as The Edicule. This is the Tomb of Christ.

Immediately above Golgotha by about ten metres is another Chapel, the Chapel Of Abraham. In the floor beneath the altar of this Chapel is a hole covered with a twelve inch silver plate. Through the hole one can see the Altar built over the Rock of the Crucifixion - Calvary.

At 7.00am on June 11th, the Feast of Saint Barnabas and the anniversary of my consecration as a bishop in the Church of God, with the gracious permission of His Beatitude the Greek Patriarch, fully vested in my Episcopal vestments I kissed the Altar and began a solemn celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Above all other places I have been, beyond all other solemn occasions I have celebrated, this day will remain with me for the rest of my life. “And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” It was an awesome occasion, a time of great anamnesis.

And yet every Altar stands above the place of the crucifixion-resurrection of Christ. Every place of sacrifice is as solemn a place as that. Yet there is something beyond the veil of sensibility that permits me to speak of that time and to be so moved by it. All things that belong to this Icon we are about to Dedicate constellate there. Here, as I have written down on this board covered with linen which represents the linen in which His body was wrapped. Here in the pigments of mother earth, and the gold of the kingdom of heaven we find Christ trampling down the Gates of Hades and hauling our first parents out of their sepulchers, about which Saint Peter speaks in the words of our text tonight. Preaching to the souls in prison, those ancient ones who lay in their tomb awaiting the coming of the Second Adam to the fight and to the rescue of fallen humanity.

Behind them stands John the Baptist, King David and King Solomon, the Prophets Elijah and Elisha and Daniel. And the two mountains - on the right Mount Sinai, Horeb, that most awesome of places, where God gave to Moses the Torah and every interpretation of the Law. And on the left Mount Tabor where, in company with the two great desert prophets Moses and Elijah the Lord is transfigured in order that he might set his face towards Jerusalem. This is the place where Peter said, “It is good Lord to be here, let us make three cubby houses, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Cubby House comes from the Aramaic Qu ‘bah - the place where the children meet to tell stories, to sing songs and to dance - that is, the Church - where the Great Story of Redemption is told in the Mass, where the great Liturgy is sung and where the whole Laos of God , bishops, priests, deacons and laity perform the sacred dance that recalls into present time the events of the past that have their fulfillment in the future.

Below the trampled down gates of the underworld we find Satan, the evil one, Lucifer bound in chains until the end of time, surrounded by the instruments of Christ’s Passion.

What is the purpose of the Icon? This Icon is the Memorial to two people who lived out lives of great faith and who I was privileged to know. The Reverend Dr Sharwood was my lecturer in Greek at St. Francis College. Mrs Sharwood was always a gracious host to theological students at St. Columb's Clayfield.

May I depart from my text for a moment to tell you a story about him. It was an afternoon lecture and we all know that afternoon lectures are times for quiet snoozing. He was speaking about the many kinds of theisms found in the Holy Land - Monotheism the worship of one god; polytheism the worship of many gods; henotheism the belief that there are many gods but one worships only One. He said to Douglas Jones, “Mr Jones, what is henotheism?” Douglas who had been in the arms of Morpheus for most of the lecture said, “Beg pardon Father”.“What is henotheism Mr Jones”. Stunned for a moment, Doug replied, “Poultry worship”. Which reply brought the broadest grin to your father’s face.

In general, and in particular this Icon is a most appropriate memorial to Dr and Mr Sharwood. It is an agreed point of encounter. It is the place where we meet with Christ and where Christ meets with us. An Icon is always a revelation, a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional reality. It is a Place not a painting.

An Icon written, translated from an original or prototype and is therefore faithful to the Tradition. It is certainly not a simple representation of a past event however important that past event is in the history of religion. It is the place where Christ continues to “raise the dead”. It is the Image of the eternal self emptying [kenosis] of God Himself who toko upon himself the form of a servant and was found in human form. Who humbled himself even to death on a cross and who, because of his unbelievable holiness, righteousness and obedience the Father was able to rise from the dead to triumph over sin. To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.