Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Hardest of Abortion Scenarios



This moving article is by Father Robert Hart, a priest of the Anglican Catholic Church (Original Province) in the USA, and a Contributing Editor of Touchstone Magazine. It appeared in the January/February, 2004 issue of Touchstone. I first put it on this blog in 2008. So many readers have been gained since then, that I thought I should post it again. 

I promised myself that I would not be the stereotypical father of the bride, like Spencer Tracy, who hates to give away his little girl. But as I walked her down the aisle, and approached the moment she would become a full-grown, married lady, I felt everything I had determined not to feel. Very far from my mind was the story of her strange origins. It is always far from my mind, unless something reminds me of it, like the recent news from Poland.

The infamous abortion ship from Holland was daring to stop off a port in Poland in order to make its "services" available to Polish women who do not have "reproductive rights"-as the anti-life crowd call them-in their own country. Polish law restricts abortions to cases in which the mother's life is threatened, to cases of incest, and to cases of rape. Compared to the ease with which most women in the Western world can obtain legal abortion for any reason, in fact for no reason at all, and at just about any time during pregnancy, Poland is better. But pro-life? No, sadly, no.

HIS DAUGHTER ALONE
Of my four children, my daughter alone is the one I adopted. I never exactly forget the fact; it simply passes out of conscious thought since it does not matter, for she is, in every way that counts, my daughter, my first child. Over the years, I have always felt what a father ought to feel.

When she was eleven, she suffered a staph infection, and Diane and I feared we would lose her. This was the second time in her short life that she was in danger of dying. The first time she was in danger she did not face an impersonal disease, but determined persons: when her mother had to fight against intruding social workers, and the whole system, for the right to make the choice that her baby would be born. After all, when a woman has been made pregnant through rape, it is not only her right, but her duty, to do the "honorable thing." At least, so it seemed from all the pressure put on her in those months. She was upsetting the expectations and demands that "liberated" women have no right to upset. She was refusing the "sacrament" of abortion.

What a terrible thing she did. For a woman to bear a child when abortion seemed so justified, so necessary, when the pregnancy was the result of rape-well, it was certainly anti-social behavior. She was coerced into seeing a psychiatrist who could help her overcome the obvious defect known to Christians as principle. He might even have cured her of maternal instinct and the malady called love.

But all those years ago I knew nothing of what had happened, only that she was suddenly gone, nowhere to be found. Why had this girl vanished from our hometown in Maryland without a trace? When I discovered her whereabouts, 3,000 miles away in California, I hastened to call her. I had expected, had hoped, to have seen her in those months. "I have a baby girl," she told me.

"Are you married?"

"No."

"I see. Well, as a Christian I hope you have repented of . . ."

"Well, it was from rape, actually."

I found that she would not put up her child for adoption. She was willing to live as a single mother because she could not be sure that a couple would raise her child to believe in Jesus Christ. She decided to keep the baby; and God rewarded her by giving her a wonderful, not to mention dashingly handsome, husband.

CONVOLUTED REASONING
I never think of my daughter's origins and the strange circumstances of her early life unless something brings them to mind; for example, the disappointing remarks of a "conservative" radio talk-show host. This fellow talks a lot about his Catholic faith and Irish heritage, so it was with some astonishment that I heard him defending his view that abortion in cases of rape may be justified. "After all," he pointed out, "it's not the same as when it's someone's fault that she is pregnant. I just think it's different." He certainly did not get this idea from the Catholic Church.

I remembered back over twenty years ago hearing the same convoluted reasoning from Christians, some Catholic, some Evangelical. I recall a very Evangelical and Charismatic lady asking me, "But if it was rape, why didn't she get an abortion?" I thought about the king of Judah, the one who would not execute the sons of his father's assassins because of the Law of God, which says "the children shall not be put to death for the sins of the fathers, nor the fathers for the sins of the children" (2 Chronicles 25:4; Deuteronomy 24:16).

Where did the "conservative" radio talk-show host get the idea that pregnancy is a penalty? If it is a penalty, it might be unjust for the innocent to bear it. But what if it is not a penalty? What if it is the healing that God might give to a woman who has suffered a violent attack? What if the Author of Life takes the opportunity to do good from someone's evil? The injustice done to Joseph resulted in the saving of his life, and that of millions of people, foreshadowing the good done for the whole world by the unjust crucifixion of a young rabbi from Nazareth. It is ever the way of God to make good come from the evil that men do.

Just who is it that these well-meaning people, such as the very Charismatic lady and the talk-show host, would sentence to death?

I remember the very wide eyes of a ten-month-old baby girl looking up at me, having just arrived by plane from California with her mother. I remember her first steps across my parents' living-room floor. After her mother and I were married, I remember the first Christmas in our apartment, and her excitement at the wonder of a lit and decorated tree. She had names for us from Winnie the Pooh. I was Pooh, she was Piglet, and as she looked at her mom, now pregnant with the first of our three sons, she said, "And mom's the kangaroo."

Her very first day of school I remember watching her bravely walking into the classroom, as a lady laughed at the sight of my perplexity-a feeling of mingled loss and pride that was small compared to what I felt when I gave her in marriage to a fine young man. I remember her saying to him, "I do," and pledging her life not only to him but also to any children they are blessed with, and to God who blesses them.

She is a young lady who spreads joy wherever she goes. She has a place in the lives of many, not only her new husband, her parents, and her brothers, but many who know her well, and many who have met her in passing-a unique place that no one else could fill. She is happy by nature at 23, married, an avid reader, a good friend, a serious Christian. This is the person that these well-meaning people were willing to sentence to death. Oh, not now, not when they can see her; but when she was in danger the first time, in the womb and hidden from view.

ENOUGH FOR HER
My wife is not living the life of a tragic victim. She is the happy mother of four children, and would not wish to part with any of them. My daughter learned of her origin after she was over twenty years of age and it became obvious that the truth could not be hidden without confusion. Someone had taken pictures of her as a three-year-old, at the wedding of her parents. I had been warned, "Never tell her, it would devastate her to know."

Not so. Rather, the mystery was unsettling, and the truth was welcome. You see, it did not matter. She had always known that God is the Author of Life - all life. Every human being is made in his image, and that means everything when a child is raised to understand that the image of God became more than an abstract idea in Hebrew Scripture when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And it was enough for her that she has a mother and a father who love her.

For both Diane and me, the details of our daughter's early life and strange origins are very much out of mind, far from conscious thought. That is, unless something brings them to mind, such as realizing that it is time to tell our story for the benefit of others who are caught in what seem like desperate circumstances, and who need the courage to make the decision to let the Author of Life do his healing and creative work, bringing light out of darkness and good out of evil: who need to make the decision of love.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Typology - the authentic Christian approach to the Old Testament



Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have always been a devotee of the typological approach to the Old Testament. Go HERE for my remarks on this by way of introducing the work of Methodist scholar, Margaret Barker.

Today, in his blog post on lamentable modern paraphrases that nudge out of a particular Marian devotion some well-known Old Testament imagery and expressions, the redoubtable Fr John Hunwicke makes some important points about how the Old Testament was understood in the early centuries of the Church.  

In my opinion, he firmly hits the nail on the head when he says: 

... My next reservation is more substantial: a form of Litany of our Lady is offered, clearly designed to be be more ‘modern’ than the traditional Litany (“of Loretto”). You know what I mean: instead of (ex.gr.) “Turris Davidica”, one might invoke “Woman of Faith”; instead of “Ora pro nobis”, one might pray “Keep us in mind”.

I mention this not for the rather cheap motive of inviting you to groan at the inept ‘modernity’ of such things, but because what we are losing here is in fact something extremely important: the typological character of the old Litany. The titles of our Lady in that Litany include many of the  typological titles which Christian devotion, since at least the time of the Council of Ephesus, has discovered in the Old Testament as pointers to the Mother of the Incarnate Word.

Typology is discerning in the Old Testament the Figure of Christ and his Mother and the events of their lives, so that the Old Testament passage is the Type and the New Testament Figure or event is the Antitype. Typology is the central way in which the Great Tradition of both East and West has appropriated the Old Testament. It goes back to the New Testament texts themselves: Christ as the New Adam ... and see I Corinthians 10:1-11 ... and look at I Peter 3:20-21 ... etc.etc.. Typology is part of the fundamental Grammar of the Faith; something even deeper than dogma.

Today ... the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross ... liturgical texts reminded us that the Lifting up of the Son of Man on the Cross is the Antitype of which the Lifting up of the serpent in the desert was the Type (Numbers 21:4-9; S John 3:13-17; S John 12:32). 

I know that most laity have not been taught about Typology; because the Clergy weren’t taught it either; because there were so much more important things for them to be taught in seminary (the Synoptic Problem... the inauthenticity of most of S Paul’s letters ...). But seeing the Lorettan Litany displaced by a modernist ‘relevant’ formula devoid of Typology brought home to me again the radical impoverishment of current Catholic culture.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

St John Chrysostom: The Eucharist "makes earth become to you a heaven".



From St John Chrysostom's Sermon on the Gospel of St Matthew 82, 4

St John Chrysostom was born of Christian parents, about the year 344, in the city of Antioch. His mother, at the age of 20, was a praised for her holiness and faith. John studied rhetoric under Libanius, a pagan, the most famous orator of the age.

In 374, John began to lead the life of an anchorite (or hermit) in the mountains near Antioch, but in 386 the poor state of his health forced him to return to the city, where he was ordained a priest.

In 398, he was made Bishop of Constantinople and became one of the greatest teachers the Church has known. But because he did not hold back from denouncing the abuses of authority and wealth he witnessed both in the Church and in the Empire, he had enemies in high places, not least of all Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria (who repented of this before he died), and the empress Eudoxia. Several false accusations were brought against him in a pseudo-council, and he was sent into exile.

In the midst of his pain, suffering, and rejection, like the apostle, St Paul, whom he so greatly admired, he knew the peace and happiness of the Lord. It reassured him, too, that the Pope remained supportive of him and did what he could. But Chrysostom’s enemies were not satisfied with the sufferings they had already caused him; they exiled him still further away, to Pythius, at the extremity of the Empire. He died on his way there on September 14, 407. 

It was after his death that he was called Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek for “golden-mouthed.” Today is his commemoration in the Church's calendar.

The following passage is from St John Chrysostom’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 10. It speaks of the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and our need to be prepared for Holy Communion. It also speaks of the merging of earth and heaven together in the celebration of the Eucharist.  


This Body, even lying in a manger, Magi reverenced. Yea, men profane and barbarous, leaving their country and their home, both set out on a long journey, and when they came, with fear and great trembling worshipped him. Let us, then, at least imitate those Barbarians, we who are citizens of heaven. For they indeed when they saw him but in a manger, and in a hut, and no such thing was in sight as you behold now, drew near with great awe. 

But you behold him not in the manger but on the altar, not a woman holding him in her arms, but the priest standing by, and the Spirit with exceeding bounty hovering over the gifts set before us. You do not see merely this Body itself as they did, but you know also its power, and the whole economy, and are ignorant of none of the holy things which are brought to pass by it, having been exactly initiated into all.

Let us therefore rouse ourselves up and be filled with awe, and let us show forth a reverence far beyond that of those Barbarians; that we may not by random and careless approaches heap fire upon our own heads.  But these things I say, not to keep us from approaching, but to keep us from approaching without preparation. For as the approaching at random is dangerous, so the not communicating in those mystical suppers is famine and death. For this Table is the sinews of our soul, the bond of our mind, the foundation of our confidence, our hope, our salvation, our light, our life. When with this sacrifice we depart into the outer world, with much confidence we shall tread the sacred threshold, fenced round on every side as with a kind of golden armor.

And why do I speak of the world to come? Since here this mystery makes earth become to you a heaven. Open only for once the gates of heaven and look in; nay, rather not of heaven, but of the heaven of heavens; and then you will behold what I have been speaking of. For what is there most precious of all, this will I show you lying upon the earth. For as in royal palaces, what is most glorious of all is not walls, nor golden roofs, but the person of the king sitting on the throne; so likewise in heaven the Body of the King. But this, you are now permitted to see upon earth. For it is not angels, nor archangels, nor heavens and heavens of heavens, that I show you, but the very Lord and Owner of these. Do you perceive how that which is more precious than all things is seen by you on earth; and not seen only, but also touched; and not only touched, but likewise eaten; and after receiving it you go home?

Make your soul clean then, prepare your mind for the reception of these mysteries. For if you were entrusted to carry a king’s child with the robes, the purple, and the diadem, you would cast away all things which are upon the earth. But now that it is no child of man how royal soever, but the only-begotten Son of God himself, whom you received, do you not thrill with awe, tell me, and cast away all the love of all worldly things, and have no bravery but that wherewith to adorn yourself? Or do you still look towards earth, and love money, and pant after gold? What pardon then can you have? What excuse? Do you not know that all this worldly luxury is loathsome to your Lord? Was it not for this that on his birth he was laid in a manger, and took to himself a mother of low estate? Did he not for this say to him that was looking after gain, “But the Son of Man has not where to lay his head?” Matthew 8:20

And what did the disciples? Did they not observe the same law, being taken to houses of the poor and lodged, one with a tanner, another with a tent-maker, and with the seller of purple? For they inquired not after the splendour of the house, but for the virtues of men’s souls.

These therefore let us also emulate, hastening by the beauty of pillars and of marbles, and seeking the mansions which are above; and let us tread under foot all the pride here below with all love of money, and acquire a lofty mind. For if we be sober-minded, not even this whole world is worthy of us, much less porticoes and arcades. Wherefore, I beseech you, let us adorn our souls, let us fit up this house which we are also to have with us when we depart; that we may attain even to the eternal blessings.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Our Lady's Birthday



Most of what we know about Our Lady's birthday is from the Protoevangelium of James which has been dated by historians to the early second century. The earliest reference to the feast day itself comes from the sixth century. Most scholars believe that the feast originated in Jerusalem because of the existence of a church dedicated to St Anne dating from in the fifth century and considered to be the location of Mary's birth. Historians generally accept that September 8 was chosen for this feast day on account of the beginning of the civil year in Constantinople on September 1, emphasising that the birthday of Mary is the "beginning" of the work of salvation.

This feast day was introduced in Rome from the Eastern Church in the seventh century. It became a holy day of obligation throughout the west by the year 1007.

I share with you today two very different readings. The first, by John Mason Neale (1818-1866), is from his well known sermon for this feast. The second, a poem by Thomas Merton (1915-1968) explores the symbolic significance of our Lord's genealogy (the Gospel reading for today). 


JOHN MASON NEALE PREACHING ON 
OUR LADY'S BIRTHDAY

“THE LORD, WHOM YE SEEK, SHALL SUDDENLY COME TO HIS TEMPLE.” - MALACHI III. 1.

THERE is no festival of S. Mary which has not also to do with our LORD. How should it be otherwise? She who was so closely and so wonderfully connected with Him as Man, so that He was bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh, she cannot be divided in our thoughts from Him now. He is still Man, as truly as He ever was; He still has the flesh which He took of her; the same in which He suffered, the same in which He died, the same in which He rose again from the dead.

This text has, then, to do both with our LORD and with His Blessed Mother; and we may also apply it to ourselves, and say that it has to do with us.

“The LORD, Whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His Temple.” First of all, this prophecy was fulfilled when the Archangel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth with the most wonderful message that was ever heard on earth. “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with GOD. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His Name JESUS.” The womb of S. Mary was the temple into which our LORD at that moment entered. There it was that He, Who was the Desire of all nations, -He, Who even then might have said, “The earth is weak, and all the inhabiters thereof: I bear up the pillars of it,”- He, Whom the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain,-there He lay hid for all those long months, until the fulness of the time came, and GOD was born into the world. David, in the Psalms, represents our LORD as anxious to find out this temple for Himself: “I will not give sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eyelids, neither shall the temples of my head take any rest: until I find out a place for the temple of the LORD, an habitation for the mighty GOD of Jacob.” This place, this habitation, He did find out, when the HOLY GHOST came upon S. Mary, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her, and the Word of the FATHER took flesh in her womb.

“The LORD, Whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple.” And this promise was fulfilled the second time when our LORD was presented in the temple, at the Purification of His Blessed Mother,--in memory of which we keep Candlemas-day. It was His temple, though the Jews little knew it: He, then an infant six weeks old, was the one true Priest, though the High Priest little thought it; He was LORD of the countless armies of angels, and of all the tribes of men, though He had so few that were truly waiting for Him. “The LORD, Whom ye seek.” How many were those that sought Him then? If I count rightly, four only. See if I am wrong. S. Luke tells us that Anna the prophetess “coming in that instant, gave thanks likewise to the LORD, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” All, then, that looked for redemption in Jerusalem were at that moment in the temple--there were none others besides; and for all that appears, they were only S. Anna herself, S. Mary, and S. Joseph, and Simeon. Pour courtiers to wait on such a King!

“The LORD, Whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple.” This Scripture is fulfilled before us every day; for every day the HOLY GHOST comes down into His temples, the bodies of those who are baptized: He comes suddenly, He comes without preparation,--a few words, a little water,--and His temple is consecrated to Him for ever. As S. Paul tells us, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the HOLY GHOST?” and again, “Know ye not, that ye are the temple of GOD, and that the Spirit of GOD dwelleth in you?”

But those temples must, little by little, day by day, fall to pieces and perish. “This earthly house of our tabernacle must be dissolved,” says S. Paul. And when it shall have been,--when earth shall have returned to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,--then also this text shall be fulfilled; “The LORD, Whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple.” He shall come to it, to raise it up again from the earth, and--if it has been His true temple--to make it His glorious dwelling for ever. And this shall be suddenly, too, as S. Paul also tells us: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

That will be the last time that our LORD will come to His temple; for afterwards He shall abide in it for ever. The LORD GOD Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of that Holy City, New Jerusalem, which S. John saw, and which we also some day hope to see: according to that saying, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My GOD, and he shall go no more out.”

Now, what we are to notice in all these comings of our LORD to His temple, is their suddenness. “The LORD, Whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple.” In one moment He was conceived in the womb of S. Mary; in one moment He turns the heart of an infant, from being the abode and the den of Satan, into His own holy temple; in one moment He will raise up these bodies of ours, turning them from mortal to immortal, from corruptible to incorruptible. GOD does not stand in need of time to do His wonderful works. One day is with the LORD as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

But we may take this verse in yet one more sense. “The LORD shall suddenly come to His temple,” when He comes to each of you at death. Long or short as your last illness may be, still the LORD’S coming will be sudden. There is one point, one moment of time, at which you will leave the world and go to Him. Then all our happiness depends on whether the first part of the verse be true: “the LORD, Whom ye seek.” If so, all is well. Then His Coming, though it must be dreadful, will also be glorious; then we may make answer with S. John, “He Which testifieth these things, saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen: even so come, LORD JESUS.”

But suppose the LORD, Whom ye do not seek, should suddenly come to His temple?

And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.


RAHAB'S HOUSE
by Thomas Merton

Now the lean children of the God of armies 
(Their feet command the quaking earth)
Rise in the desert, and divide old Jordan 
To crown this city with a ring of drums. 
(But see this signal, like a crimson scar
Bleeding on Rahab's window-sill, 
Spelling her safety with the red of our Redemption.)

The trumpets scare the valley with their sudden anger,
And thunderheads lean down to understand the nodding ark, 
While Joshua's friend, the frowning sun, 
Rises to burn the drunken houses with his look. 
(But far more red upon the wall 
Is Rahab's rescue than his scarlet threat.)

The clarions bind the bastions with their silver treble, 
Shiver the city with their golden shout: 
(Wells dry up, and stars fly back, 
The eyes of Jericho go out,)
The drums around the reeling ark 
Shatter the ramparts with a ring of thunder.

The kings that sat
On gilded chairs, 
The princes and the great 
Are dead. 
Only a harlot and her fearful kindred 
Fly like sparrows from that sudden grin of fire.

It is the flowers that will one day rise from Rahab's earth,
That have redeemed them from the hell of Jericho.
A rod will grow 
From Jesse's tree, 
Among her sons, the lords of Bethlehem, 
And flower into Paradise.

Look at the gentle irises admiring one another by the water, 
Under the leafy shadows of the Virgin's mercy, 
And all the primroses and laughing flags 
Bowing before Our Lady Mary in the Eden of her intercession, 
And praising her, because they see the generations 
Fly like a hundred thousand swallows into heaven, 
Out of the jaws of Jericho, 
Because it was the Son of God 
Whose crimson signal wounded Rahab's wall, 
Uttered our rescue in a figure of His Blood.


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 ag├ęd,
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?