Saturday, July 14, 2018

Genocide against Christians in Nigeria

What has to happen for the secular humanist western media to take seriously the murder of Christians in Nigeria?


6,000 Christians, including women and children, have been murdered by Islamists ‘Fulani’ radicals since January. “It’s a pure genocide and must be stopped immediately!” says Rev. Dr. Soja Bewarang of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Plateau State.

He said: “There is no doubt that the sole purpose of these attacks is aimed at ethnic cleansing, land grabbing and forceful ejection of the Christian natives from their ancestral land and heritage”.

“We are particularly worried at the widespread insecurity in the country where wanton attacks and killings by armed Fulani herdsmen, bandits and terrorists have been taking place on a daily basis in our communities unchallenged despite huge investments in the security agencies.  The perpetrators are being deliberately allowed to go scot free,” the Rev. Bewarang continues to denounce.

“We strongly also disagree with the federal government’s attempt to politicize the attacks and divert people’s attention from government glaring failures and national shame by blaming it as the handiworks of desperate opposition politicians. We reject the narrative that the attacks on Christian communities across the country as “farmers/herdsmen clash”, he added.

Over 200 people, most of them  Christians, were massacred over three days in Nigeria at the end of June, as the relentless bloodshed carried out by radicals continues. Most Rev. William Avenya, Catholic Bishop of Gboko, Benue state has warned of the threat of genocide against Christians in the country’s Middle Belt region. He described an upsurge of violence by militant Fulani herdsmen as “ethnic cleansing”.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Is High Mass humanity’s “greatest artistic achievement”?

High Mass at Pusey House, Oxford
(From the Pusey House website)

I love this part of Douglass Shand Tucci's article THE HIGH MASS AS SACRED DANCE in which he quotes at length Anglican spiritual guide, Evelyn Underhill. Her words pretty well sum up the impact on me of the first High Mass I wandered into as an impressionable teenager. I was overwhelmed by the power of the worship to merge the earthly and the heavenly, to reveal the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. I am fortunate in my ministry as a priest to have served parishes in which this form of worship was kept going. In one of them, the motto we used on the pew bulletin was: "Gospel Preaching & Traditional Catholic Worship."  

High Mass was mostly swept away in our time by well-meaning people who thought they were making the Church more "relevant" to our culture. But, while it would be foolish to imagine that everyone has the cultural predisposition to be drawn to the Lord by the kind of worship described here, I can assure readers that many, including "unchurched" young people ARE drawn when this supernatural worship is offered as part of the new evangelisation!

Indeed, the yearning for the dimensions of worship spoken of in the following article lies behind the current movement to restore the transcendent and numinous which much of the Western Church has lost over the last sixty years.

Tucci's entire article, of which this is an extract, can be found HERE(To assist the reader of this extract, I have renumbered the endnotes.)

The distinguished Anglican scholar, Evelyn Underhill traced what could be called the graph of the Mass: from the liturgy of lessons and Gospel, “God’s uttered word in History,” and the Great Intercession, “the unstinting, self-spending with and for the purposes of God, by intercessory prayer,” of the Offertory, where Christ, she wrote, “enters the Holy Place as the representative of man, offering the humble material of man’s sacrifice, that he may come forth from it as the representative of God, bringing to man the Heavenly Food.” And, finally, to the Great Thanksgiving - when the gifts of bread and wine, set apart from the natural world for the Mystery, yield - “the invisible Holy Presence; Who comes under these lowly signs into the Sanctuary with an escort of incense and lights, and is welcomed by the enraptured Alleluias of the Cherubic Hymn, announcing the Presence of God.”

What better has been written of this tremendous moment of the Sanctus when “all that truly happens,” she wrote, “happens beyond the rampart of the world”? Sursum corda - Lift up your hearts, sings the celebrant. “The early liturgies leave us in no doubt,” she continued, “as to what this movement implied: ‘To the heavenly height, the awful place of glory. . . .’ This cry, and the people’s response, come down to us from the earliest days of the Church.” It marks, she declared, “the crossing of the boundary between natural and supernatural worship”; the knowing search for what she called “that ineffable majesty on which Isaiah looked, which is the theme of the earliest Eucharistic prayers, and which inspires the great Sanctus of the B Minor Mass, with its impersonal cry of pure adoration.” This is the world communicants enter as they approach the altar rail, wrote Underhill, where “the ‘Table of Holy Desires’ with its cross and ritual lights stands on the very frontier of the invisible.” (1)

Has anyone in our time set before architect or musician, so uncompromisingly, the task the liturgy forces upon them? As Underhill put it in another place, “movement and words combine to produce an art form which is the vehicle of [the Church’s] self-offering to God and communion with God.” The liturgy, she knew, is “an action and an experience that transcend the logical levels of the mind and demand an artistic rather than an intellectual form of expression.” (2) The honours of the church on earth significantly describe in her text what they describe, audibly and visually, in the mass. Bach is there as well as the cherubim, on the frontier of the invisible.

She knew well the risks of the medium; she knew the dangers of depending on an imperfect art to make a perfect art-form. But she knew too that to eschew art, worship must be “thin, abstract, notional: a tendency, an attitude, a general aspiration, moving alongside human life, rather than in it.” Worship thus embodied by the arts, she declared, “loses-or seems to lose-something of its purity; but only then can it take up and use man’s various powers and capacities ... thus entering the texture of his natural as well as supernatural life. Certainly, it is here that we encounter the greatest danger, that form will smother spirit.... But the risk is one which man is bound to take. He is not ‘pure’ spirit, and is not capable of ‘pure’ spiritual acts .... (3)

. . . most Anglicans continue to trivialize ceremonial and even to overlook its significance. They typically bury themselves throughout the liturgy in hymnal, prayer book, or service leaflet - on the dubious premise that to read what is being said is to understand it better. This, in turn, has had disastrous effects on church lighting, which frequently overthrows every attempt of the architect to create an evocative liturgical environment . . . Modern art has also sometimes strained the principles of liturgical art severely. That these principles can survive in modern work of great originality is clear. For example, consider Jean Langlais’ Messe Solennelle. Relentlessly liturgical, suggestive often of plainchant, its solemn, quiet and sometimes even lyrical texture is nonetheless so taut that when the tension erupts into Langlais’ massive, fiercely impassioned dissonances, the effect is a stunning and almost numbing grandeur of sound that evokes the mysterium tremendum with an uncanny distinction.

Is the High Mass, as Cram and others have thought, humanity’s “greatest artistic achievement”? Infrequently. Most church people have the erroneous impression that the very simple Low Mass is the most primitive form of Christian worship and that the solemn liturgy is a medieval elaboration. Actually, Low Mass is the medieval innovation . . .

Anglicans as well as Roman Catholics cannot be blamed for forgetting that the ancient High Mass, resplendent with lights, music, incense and full ceremonial, has always remained the theoretical norm of the western church as it is still the actual norm of Eastern Christendom. (4) Forgetful of this fact, we forget another: that “art in worship is not a mere imitation of the creative work of God; nor is it only a homage rendered to Christ; by giving embodiment to invisible realities it continues the Incarnation of the Word.” (5) Indeed, the Church has held that it “brings about objectively and in our very midst, the highest form of reality, the Summum Pulchrum, God Himself.’ “(6) Confronted with this astonishing purpose, and the distinguished art it has yielded, the art historian can only declare that in thus reaching “beyond the rampart of the world” for what Underhill called “that ineffable majesty upon which Isaiah looked,” the art of the High Mass is not only august but unparallelled.

* * * * * * * * * *

(1) The material quoted in this and the preceding paragraph is drawn from Evelyn Underhill's The Mystery of Sacrifice: A Meditation on the Liturgy (New York, 1954), unpaged introduction and pp. 18-40. The Mystery of Sacrifice was first published in 1938.

(2) Evelyn Underhill, Worship (New York, 1936), p. 33. See also p. 29.

(3) Ibid., p. 14.

(4) Ibid., p. 245.

(5) Ibid., P. 71.

(6) Hammenstede, "The Liturgy as Art," pp. 41-42.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Persecution in Egypt

For a very long time we have been praying for our brothers and sisters in Egypt who experience real persecution from the enemies of the Faith. This very moving video was posted on Facebook this morning by Father Christopher Cook. He points out that especially noticeable is the strong faith of all those who lost family members in the attack on the El-Botroseya Chuch shortly before Christmas, and the absence of any expressions of hate towards the man who carried out this terrorist attack. Twenty eight martyrs died, all women or girls, apart from the man who was trying to stop the terrorist entering the church.

It is a salutory judgment on the comfortable sacrifice-free experience of so much church life in what was the “Christian West.” An extraordinary amount of money, intellectual gymnastics and questionable Biblical “scholarship” is dedicated to producing a reductionist form of “Christianity” that harmonises the Gospel, the faith of Jesus and its logical (bio)-ethical and moral principles with whatever values predominate at any given moment of this post-Christian culture. May our loving but firm witness to the Faith be worthy of our brothers and sisters who put their lives on the line every day rather than betray the Lord. Instead of trying always to be thought well of by our crumbling culture let us work and pray in Western churches (across all the traditions) for a recovery of commitment to God's revealed truth.

It is well worth spending half an hour watching this video.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Did he really rise from the dead?

I love that video clip from “Yes Prime Minister”, because it is so English and so Anglican. Watch it if you have time, and then consider the awful reality of atheism and agnosticism in the heart of what is supposed to be the dynamic believing Community.

In fact, all my adult life I have had to contend with well-meaning liberal Christians who reduce the events at the heart of the Christian faith to a collection of culturally conditioned metaphors that nudge us along our “spiritual journey.” Bishop John Hazlewood often described many so-called Anglo-catholics of this stripe as “liberal protestants in chasubles.” These were clergy who though they had pretty well become agnostics, remained in office because they continued to love the “culture” and aesthetics of Christian worship, not to mention their stipends!

Now, of course, as far as the declining first world Anglican scene is concerned, they are pretty well in charge. Liberal catholics and liberal evangelicals.

And while there has been a recovery and renewal of the Gospel and the true Faith within the Roman Catholic Church, especially among young adults, it is still all too easy to find the same kind of priests, religious and lay theologians there who believe very little.

Nine years ago Fr Dwight Longenecker wrote this piece for his blog. I’m sure that that you will be able to think of clergy who are just like those described! 

The Resurrection and Theological Sleight of Hand
The main plague of modern Christianity is, well, modern Christianity. That is to say, modernism. Modernism may be defined as the conviction that the truths of Christianity were determined by the cultural circumstances of the first century, and that they are therefore no longer relevant of credible by modern people. The truths of Christianity must be ‘re-interpreted’ for modern, scientific, technologically adept people.

Now, if the modernist were honest about his scheme we wouldn’t mind so much. If he said (as some admirably honest modernists do) “The miracles stories are nothing more than symbolic” we would know where we stood. If he said, “The resurrection is a beautiful fairy tale” we would be clear. If he said, “The Virgin Birth is a make believe fantasy story” we’d understand. Then when he (or she) resigned from being a Christian minister we would accept their resignation with understanding (and not a little delight) and wish them well in their new career as a social worker.

But he doesn’t do this. Instead the modernist priest continues to use the traditional language and liturgy of Christianity. He sings with gusto, “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes....” He stands up on Easter day and says with a theatrical tone, “Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia!” to which his faithful people reply, “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” And everyone feels warm and comfortable.

Furthermore, the modernist minister feels no qualms about drawing his salary, putting in his expense claims and having the rectory redecorated. Indeed, he perceives himself as something of a pioneer. He boldly goes where others fear to tread. He has faced the difficult questions of Christianity and found a new way through. He sees himself as a true man of faith for “isn’t faith daring to ask the difficult questions and stepping out into the unknown--letting go all the quaint certainties to launch out into the deep?” Indeed, he even sees himself as a martyr for he has gone through persecution at the hands of the Pharisaical and self righteous orthodox Christians.

So Reverend Wooly continues to use all the conventional language of belief. He does so because he recognizes a certain ‘psychological depth’ in the ‘ancient mythical symbolism’. He believes it helps people. It inspires them. But take him on one side and quiz him a bit you discover that he doesn’t really believe in the resurrection at all. For him it is “a beautiful story about life and love eventually overcoming death” or “In some mysterious way the truth and goodness of Jesus continued to live long after his physical body passed away, and isn’t that what we all hope for ourselves and our loved ones?”

Of course this is total and utter nonsense. The resurrection means that the physical person who died rose up from the dead and wasn’t dead anymore. The tomb was empty. They saw him and they were scared. They ate with him and touched his new body. If this didn’t happen then it wasn’t resurrection at all. It was just a beautiful idea, but the beautiful idea couldn’t even be a beautiful idea if the resurrection didn’t happen. The beautiful idea would only be an imaginative story, in which case it wasn’t even a beautiful idea, it was just a fairy tale, and it wasn’t even a very nice fairy tale, because it promised something it could never deliver.

To say the resurrection is nothing more than “a beautiful idea” is as absurd as saying marriage is a beautiful idea. What if a man said he was married, but you never saw the woman, you never saw the engagement ring and you never saw the children which proved that he had made love to the woman? You’d say it wasn’t marriage at all, and it wasn’t even a beautiful idea. It was a lie. And what if humanity built a great civilization on this beautiful idea of marriage but none of the men were ever married to women, but still they talked in glowing terms of “the beautiful sacrament of marriage” You would consider the lot of them to be insane.

So modernism, with its theological sleight of hand is not only dishonest, it’s insane. Those who follow it live in a world cut off from reality. They live in an alternative reality of their own imagination.

The poisonous thing about this modernism, is that it is so difficult to pin down. It has to come from the Father of Lies since it is so insidiously deceptive. Whenever it appears it never speaks plainly and openly. Instead it resorts to half truths, poetical deceptions and charming myths. It is all smoke and mirrors.

Even worse, it has got into every Christian denomination. It’s easy to think this is the disease of the mainline liberal Protestant denominations. Sadly, it has gone deep in the Catholic Church and it affects everything we do. It affects the way we worship, the way we preach, the way we relate to the world, the way we do everything. It lies deeply hidden, and is the root cause of all our problems in the church. Furthermore, like Satan himself, the more a church attempts to root it out, the more subtle the deception goes and the more the lies become hidden under clever academic speak.

So the Catholic modernist hides his disbelief completely and never really says what he means at all, and if he is pushed to explain what he believes about the resurrection he’ll say with a sweet smile, “Of course Christ is risen, and what we mean by that remains a glorious mystery”, or even worse, he says nothing at all, keeps to the liturgical formulas and goes on through his ministry to undermine everything he says he stands for.

Well you can keep it. Give me the old time religion. I believe Jesus rose from the dead. I believe it was physical. If it wasn’t I’d pack it all in tomorrow.