Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Some sound direction for you and me



Living In the Silence


Fr. Stephen FreemanOne of the few blogs I keep an eye on is that of Father Stephen Freeman, a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series. I have reproduced the following essay from his blog GLORY TO GOD FOR ALL THINGS because of its importance to us. Go there to the blog and read the comments. Indeed, this blog is worth subscribing to!    

The word is usually translated “silence.” It also carries the meaning of “stillness.” It is a quiet, not just of the mind but of the body as well, the silencing of the noise within us. It is Hesychia. The practice and understanding of hesychia is termed Hesychasm. Alexandre Kalormiros wrote:

Hesychasm is the deepest characteristic of Orthodox life, the sign of Orthodox genuineness, the premise of right thinking and right belief and glory, the paradigm of faith and Orthodoxy. In all of the Church’s internal and external battles, we had the hesychasts on one side and the anti-hesychasts on the other.

The very fabric of heresy is anti-hesychastic.

Hesychia is by no means a passive approach to the world. However, it prefers the sound of God and the work of God to that of the self or humanity in general. It listens. This listening lies at the heart of the Church’s perception of Tradition. That which we have, we have received; it is handed down to us. In order to receive what is handed down it is necessary to listen and pay attention, to be willing to accept what is given. It says ‘yes’ to God and ‘yes’ to life.

Modernity is, by its very character, in opposition to tradition. Among many modern errors is the assumption that what has gone before is wrong and in need of correction. It values youth and new opinions over those of the past, regardless of the inexperience involved. Of course, this aspect of modernity is deeply deceptive. Something much darker is at work.

Selling Modernity
In the 1950’s the phenomenon of youth burst into American culture with the so-called “Baby Boom,” the massive number of children born in the post-World-War-II era. The first discovery of the power of this new demographic appeared in the hottest selling item of the 50’s: coonskin caps. Disney made a tv show with Davy Crockett wearing a raccoon hat. A demand across the country among children made coonskin caps the first great Baby Boomer fad. Marketing directors took note.

America did not fall in love with youth: it was made to fall in love with youth. Being young, thinking young, looking young was marketed. Jack Kennedy was elected President in 1960, projecting an image of youth, though he was, in fact, but 4 years younger than Richard Nixon, his opponent. He looked young. He looked “cool.”

The youth movement of the 60’s, born in a reaction to various elements of mainstream culture, was quickly gathered up by marketing forces who made it the “mainstream.” The sexual revolution, often identified with the 60’s, was much more a “revolution” within marketing than a cultural thing. Sex sells.

And, of course, all of this is very “noisy.”

The Noise of Dissatisfaction
Among the characteristics required to constantly move towards that which is new and young, is a dissatisfaction with that which is old. The 1950’s was a decade in which American cars sought to maximize this experience by cosmetic design changes in cars every year. An astute eye at that time could discern year model and make with perfect accuracy. A car that was 3-years old always seemed “out of style.” I need a new one.

Dissatisfaction is a noisy way to live. You cannot be still and dissatisfied at the same time.

To live a life designed by a marketing firm is deeply sad. It also makes very good sense in a culture that is defined by consumerism. However, the Kingdom of God is not for sale, nor is Christianity a lifestyle.

The dissatisfied life is a breeding ground for heresy. It asks the wrong questions, and only hears wrong answers. Dissatisfaction is not the path to progress or satisfaction. It is a habit of the heart contrary to the Kingdom of God.

A word that properly accompanies silence is “contentment.” Contentment is not the same thing as approval, satisfaction or happiness. It is the willingness to be present to whatever circumstances are at hand without anxiety, anger or shame. It does not mean a declaration that the circumstances are good or that nothing needs to be done. But there are many forms of “doing.”

Many people experience a sort of paralysis when facing a large or complicated task. Indeed, even small tasks can take on a sense of largeness and complication if they are added to all the tasks of a day. Invariably, such an inner sense of what is to be done leaves us exhausted, trying to do the “whole” thing with every small thing. There is no contentment in the effort.

The modern world lives in a mode of information overload. The briefest encounter with a day’s news, or social media’s reaction to the news, can only overwhelm. The news is not designed to create contentment. Anxiety, anger and shame are required emotions for the continued march of a consumer culture branded as progress.

Stillness
Hesychia is “stillness.” Anxiety, anger and shame are the enemies of stillness. St. Paul writes: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” This might not seem a matter of stillness at first glance. However, it goes to its very heart. What do we want to curse? Everything that we dislike; everything that opposes us; everything that we insist on controlling and changing. We are discontent. The noise of discontentment drowns out the silence and we search, not for silence, but for the constant change that is simply more noise.

Hesychia comes by the quiet of the heart. The noise of the passions, the little thoughts that distract with their condemning and judging voices, will likely continue, regardless of stillness. They are like the sound of the wind or the rustling of leaves – noises in the background that can and should be ignored. Such voices are artifacts, akin to muscle aches and pains: they should not be described as thoughts, per se. The quiet of the heart is found in staying put, blessing whatever situation confronts us. It is possible only because Christ is risen from the dead.

Hesychia is a characteristic of love. When we read that “love is patient and kind” (1Cor. 13:4), we are seeing a description of God Himself (who is Love). Our anxiety and shame cause us to be angry with God (and one another) and despair that He allows the world to be as it is. Hesychia is patient and kind, even to the “evil and the ungrateful” (Luke 6:35).

It generally seems to us that the nature and pace of modern life make stillness impossible. But this is not the case. It is possible to live in a consumerist culture and not be a consumerist. It is possible to live in a culture that is anxious and angry, in need of control and “progress,” and yet be content. To a great extent, the practice of stillness comes by paying attention to what is actually at hand (rather than what we imagine to be at hand) and blessing it.

I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child with its mother. Like a weaned child, I am content.
Shhh. Peace. Be still. It will be alright. God is good.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Film on the life and work of Fr Alexander Men (1935-1990)



I have previously shared with readers the story of Father Alexander Men (1935-1990), an influential parish priest in Russia who wrote, lectured widely, eventually appeared on radio and television and became a nationally known figure. He started the first Russian Sunday-school as soon as the communist persecution ceased, established a university, made a film, and started volunteer work at a children's hospital. He personally baptised thousands, and though he had a huge following of ordinary people he was called “the apostle to the intellectuals.”

He was assassinated in 1990.

I share with you here a short film on his remarkable life and ministry, which contains many pointers for us as we seek to worship the Lord, proclaiming and living the Gospel in the post-Christian West today.



You can go to a website dedicated to Father Alexander Men HERE. Of particular note is the article by Irina Yaziova We are Moving into an Age of Love summarising his life and work.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

God and Man - S. Ephraim the Syrian on the Divine and Human Natures of Christ

“If he was not flesh, 
who was lying in the manger? 
And if he was not God, 
whom did the Angels come down and glorify?”

S. Ephrem wrote many works to teach the Gospel and to defend the Faith of the Incarnation against Arian and Gnostic ideas. He did so with great imagination, making full use of his poetic and musical gifts, often composing poems and songs which the people would sing at home and in the fields while they worked. A number of his poems became part of the liturgy of the Syrian Church. St Ephrem, in fact, became known as the Lyre of the Holy Spirit. His profound love of the Scriptures permeated all his works. He died in 373 A.D., and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1920.  Those with a bit of extra time will enjoy reading Mary C. Sheridan’s article,  "St Ephrem - Faith Adoring the Mystery.”  

With acknowledgment to Fr Aidan Kimel's blog, I have reproduced here a piece by S. Ephrem the Deacon. Ephrem (or “Ephraem”, or "Ephraim"). was born around 306 AD at Nisbis in the Roman province of Syria, near present-day Edessa, Turkey, not far from the border of Iraq. He became a disciple of S. James, Bishop of Nisibis, and seems to have accompanied him to the Council of Nicea in 325. When Nisibis was conquered by the Persians in 363, Ephrem fled to a remote cave in Edessa where he did most of his writing. We know that he visited S. Basil at Caesarea in 370.

What follows is Ephraim the Syrian on the Divine and Human Natures of Christ, an excerpt from his Homily on the Transfiguration: 

The facts themselves bear witness and his divine acts of power teach those who doubt that he is true God, and his sufferings show that he is true man. And if those who are feeble in understanding are not fully assured, they will pay the penalty on his dread day.

If he was not flesh, why was Mary introduced at all? And if he was not God, whom was Gabriel calling Lord?

If he was not flesh, who was lying in the manger? And if he was not God, whom did the Angels come down and glorify?

If he was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? And if he was not God, whom did the shepherds worship?

If he was not flesh, whom did Joseph circumcise? And if he was not God, in whose honour did the star speed through the heavens?

If he was not flesh, whom did Mary suckle? And if he was not God, to whom did the Magi offer gifts?

If he was not flesh, whom did Symeon carry in his arms? And if he was not God, to whom did he say, “Let me depart in peace”?

If he was not flesh, whom did Joseph take and flee into Egypt? And if he was not God, in whom were words “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” fulfilled?

If he was not flesh, whom did John baptize? And if he was not God, to whom did the Father from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”?

If he was not flesh, who fasted and hungered in the desert? And if he was not God, whom did the Angels come down and serve?

If he was not flesh, who was invited to the wedding in Cana of Galilee? And if he was not God, who turned the water into wine?

If he was not flesh, in whose hands were the loaves? And if he was not God, who satisfied crowds and thousands in the desert, not counting women and children, from five loaves and two fishes?

If he was not flesh, who fell asleep in the boat? And if he was not God, who rebuked the winds and the sea?

If he was not flesh, with whom did Simon the Pharisee eat? And if he was not God, who pardoned the offenses of the sinful woman?

If he was not flesh, who sat by the well, worn out by the journey? And if he was not God, who gave living water to the woman of Samaria and reprehended her because she had had five husbands?

If he was not flesh, who wore human garments? And if he was not God, who did acts of power and wonders?

If he was not flesh, who spat on the ground and made clay? And if he was not God, who through the clay compelled the eyes to see?

If he was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ grave? And if he was not God, who by his command brought out one four days dead?

If he was not flesh, who sat on the foal? And if he was not God, whom did the crowds go out to meet with glory?

If he was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest? And if he was not God, who gave an order to the earth and threw them onto their faces.

If he was not flesh, who was struck with a blow? And if he was not God, who cured the ear that had been cut off by Peter and restored it to its place?

If he was not flesh, who received spittings on his face? And if he was not God, who breathed the Holy Spirit into the faces of his Apostles?

If he was not flesh, who stood before Pilate at the judgement seat? And if he was not God, who made Pilate’s wife afraid by a dream?

If he was not flesh, whose garments did the soldiers strip off and divide? And if he was not God, how was the sun darkened at the cross?

If he was not flesh, who was hung on the cross? And if he was not God, who shook the earth from its foundations?

If he was not flesh, whose hands and feet were transfixed by nails? And if he was not God, how was the veil of the temple rent, the rocks broken and the graves opened?

If he was not flesh, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”? And if he was not God, who said “Father, forgive them”?

If he was not flesh, who was hung on a cross with the thieves? And if he was not God, how did he say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”?

If he was not flesh, to whom did they offer vinegar and gall? And if he was not God, on hearing whose voice did Hades tremble?

If he was not flesh, whose side did the lance pierce, and blood and water came out?And if he was not God, who smashed to gates of Hades and tear apart it bonds? And at whose command did the imprisoned dead come out?

If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles see in the upper room? And if he was not God, how did he enter when the doors were shut?

If he was not flesh, the marks of the nails and the lance in whose hands and side did Thomas handle? And if he was not God, to whom did he cry out, “My Lord and my God”?

If he was not flesh, who ate by the sea of Tiberias? And if he was not God, at whose command was the net filled?

If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles and Angels see being taken up into heaven? And if he was not God, to whom was heaven opened, whom did the Powers worship in fear and whom did the Father invite to “Sit at my right hand”. As David said, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, etc.”

If he was not God and man, our salvation is a lie, and the words of the Prophets are lies. But the Prophets spoke the truth, and their testimonies were not lies. The Holy Spirit spoke through them what they had been commanded.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Newman's "most brilliant" paragraph


Even during his Anglican years, John Henry Newman remarked that the popular exhibitions of devotion that so scandalised the "English Protestant visitor to the Continent", even with corruptions of “excess” or “superstition”, were preferable to the "arid indifference" of the English laity and clergy.  After all, as Newman puts it, these devotions to Our Lady derived from the real (versus notional) idea that she was the Mother of God.Later in his life, towards the end of his famous “Letter to Dr. Pusey” (p. 86) Newman wrote what I have heard (justifiably) called the most brilliant paragraph in all his work:

“And did not the All-wise know the human heart when He took to Himself a Mother? Did He not anticipate our emotion at the sight of such an exaltation in one so simple and so lowly?  If He had not meant her to exert that wonderful influence in His Church, which she has in the event exerted, I will use a bold word, He it is who has perverted us. If she is not to attract our homage, why did He make her solitary in her greatness amid His vast creation? If it be idolatry in us to let our affections respond to our faith, He would not have made her what she is, or He would not have told us that He had so made her; but, far from this, He has sent His Prophet to announce to us, ‘A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,’ and we have the same warrant for hailing her as God’s Mother, as we have for adoring Him as God.”


Saturday, December 29, 2018

The death of Thomas Becket



The martyrdom of S. Thomas Becket

Today is when the Church commemorates Saint Thomas Becket, who was martyred on 29th December, 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral. Go HERE for an outline of his story.

I share with you here some words from T.S. Eliot’s play, “Murder in the Cathedral,” which is all about Becket’s death. They are applicable to all martyrs, and indeed, all Christians, for they are T.S. Eliot’s meditation on the intertwining of sorrow and joy in the Christian life.

The Archbishop preaches 
in Canterbury Cathedral 
on Christmas morning, 1170:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The fourteenth verse of the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Dear children of God, my sermon this morning will be a very short one. I wish only that you should ponder and meditate on the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth. So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overcome by mourning or mourning will be cast out by joy; so that it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. But think for a while on the meaning of this word “peace.” Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples: “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Did He mean peace as we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbors, the barons at peace with the King, the householder counting over his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to the children? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember that He said also, “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” So then, He gave to his disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord’s Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of his first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world’s is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man’s will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.

I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birthday, to remember what is that peace which he brought; and because, dear children, I do not think that I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


(Click within the border of the above to enlarge it)



Saint Thomas Becket's Shrine 
on the place of his martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral


Friday, December 28, 2018

Those bloody days after Christmas



The Massacre of the Innocents, by Leon Cogniet (1794-1880)

Priests who celebrate Mass every day experience the Octave of Christmas as a chilling reality, for, while many of the people are enjoying a well deserved holiday break with their families, we and a handful of stalwarts are back at the altar immersed in a gruesomely bloody week.

On the day after Christmas Day we honour Saint Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. One of the first  deacons, full of the Holy Spirit and full of love for the people, he was stoned to death for his witness to Jesus. (And, of course, on “Boxing Day” the popular carol makes it impossible for us to forget the 10th century Duke Wenceslaus who went out “on the feast of Stephen,” and was martyred by his own brother.)

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those little boys two years of age and under, who were slaughtered by the deranged King Herod in his desperation to kill Jesus. I, personally, find it hard to stand at the altar on Holy Innocents’ Day and not hear the wails of the mothers, or see the blood running in the back streets of Bethlehem.

Then tomorrow we will celebrate Saint Thomas Becket, the tough-nosed 12th century ecclesiastical bureaucrat who became Archbishop of Canterbury, had a real conversion to the Lord, and was subsequently martyred in his Cathedral.

All that suffering, anguish and pain! The one thing we mustn’t do is to think of it as something that contrasts with the essence of Christmas or interrupts it. For it is the REAL world that God is saving, redeeming and transforming. It is REAL people like you and me - sinful, selfish, flawed in character, full of complexes and contradictions - he wants to heal and restore. He loves us, sinful as we are, with all of our problems and our propensity to hurt one another. 

This baby, God in human flesh, came to reveal the love with which we have been loved for all eternity. That love cost him everything. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). 

From one end of the Bible to the other, the tapestry of God’s revelation is held together by a bloodied thread. Let’s never forget that. Jesus came to this world, ultimately to die, and – in the words of the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar - not just to die, but to experience the hell of God-forsakenness, before being resurrected from the abyss and exalted to the right hand of the Father WITH and FOR us, transforming all things – you and me included - with his suffering love. This is the mystery at the heart of our salvation; this is the mystery at the heart of the Church. This is the mystery that can make such a difference to families, communities and even nations if only we will stop pushing God away.

The blood of this strange week flows down through the Christian centuries.

Even in our day, the most astonishing signs of the presence of Jesus are in the midst of extreme suffering, where, in places like Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, parts of Nigeria, North Korea and China, our brothers and sisters in Christ routinely face vicious persecution and sometimes martyrdom. They are living out the experience of which Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10)   

During this week, our emotions are stretched between the joy of the manger, the crib, the angels singing, memories of past Christmas celebrations going back to our childhood, family celebrations, when our own children were little . . . and on the other hand the sobbing, tears and pain, not just of the martyrs, but of their loved ones, and all who suffer illness, loneliness, forsakenness and even despair. As we look forward to a new year, may all church communities – and each of us in our daily lives – allow the Lord to use us to touch and bless the bloodied world into which he came that first Christmas. May we become better at proclaiming and living the Gospel in our day.


Monday, December 3, 2018

Father Stanton - an Advent sermon



Father Arthur Stanton was a leader of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England, an evangelical catholic preacher who drew large crowds, and for 50 years he was a curate at St Alban's Holborn, London. He died at the age of 74 in 1913. Go HERE for his life's story. This is a sermon he preached at the start of Advent 1910, at St Alban's.

Now it is high time to awake out of sleep." - Rom. xiii. 11. 

These are S. Paul's words to the Romans, but is there any exhortation at this time more needed than that? I beseech you, one and all, "Owe no man anything." Pay all your debts. Be just. The man who owes money and has not paid commits an injustice. I wish the parsons in the West End would preach about this. A good many shops in the West End are being ruined simply because the people never pay their debts, and owe thousands. Here is practical Christianity: "Owe no man anything," S. Paul says - but there is one debt - "Love one another."

And again I say, isn't that exactly what we want? All round about in the world of politics everybody is abusing the opposite party, setting one political party against the other. You read the newspapers on both sides, and see. "Owe no man anything, but to love one another." O Christian men and women in the middle of all this strife and turmoil, here is your motto for this December, "Owe no man anything, but to love one another." Could there be a better Advent message to us all than this?

Being Advent, we are bound to look into the state of our spiritual life. We are bound to judge ourselves lest we be judged of God. Do you, dear brethren, all of you take stock of what your spiritual life is, and ask yourselves, Have I discharged all my debts? How can I give Christmas presents to anybody if I owe money? Take stock of yourselves about love. How can you pay that debt? Oh, it is a beautiful text! " Owe no man anything, but to love one another." Have you discharged your debt of love? Now is the time. There is plenty of opportunity. When other men are going about heaping on one another political abuse and poison, you go about with Evangelical grace.

Then the Apostle goes on to say, "It is high time to awake out of sleep." Now is the time - at this moment - for the practical Christianity of today. There are some people who tell us they want to go back to the immaculate Early Church. That is rather nonsense. You would not be a man in swaddling clothes? - Why, then, do you want the Church today to be in the clothes of its infancy? I know there are many difficulties in the Church today, and so there were then. Many then denied the Lord who bought them, and counted the Blood of the Covenant wherewith they were sprinkled, unholy. There are troubles in the Church of England, I know. We have our troubles - but we live in the twentieth century. I love Mediaevalism - I think it is beautiful, but we could not go back to that. Where there is life there is progress, development. We never can be mediaeval again. No, let us be true Christians now, in the century in which we live. Now, let us awake.

Some of us, dear brethren, are sound asleep. We have no sense of any spiritual awakening. Perhaps we have received our religion from others, and taken it for granted, but we cannot feel within ourselves that we are wedded to Christ and lhs Cross. We have no "experiences." I remember a clergyman who was older than myself saying to me once, "Stanton, Stanton! What on earth do these people mean by talking of the spiritual life?" And that was thirty years ago.

There are some of us so fast asleep that we do not know what is meant by the spiritual awakening. There is no vision of that which is beyond. There is no looking forward to the hereafter. We go through our religion in a way, but what is it to us? We are sound asleep. And today I say: "Awake! Awake! Begin." "O quicken Thou me according to Thy word." (Ps. cxix. 25). For goodness' sake, don't be asleep. "It is high time to awake out of sleep."

Then, again, there are some of us who are falling off fast. We know it. We feel it within us. We are dropping off to sleep spiritually; that is, there was a time when we prayed, but now we say prayers as a matter of course, but never pray. We come and sing hymns. We like the music of the hymns, but there is no melody in our soul. Then, again, we go to Communion - we have received the Sacrament on the tongue, but the presence of the Saviour is not realised in the soul. There was a time when we used to creep to church, put our hands before our face and think of our sins, and tell the Master, and it may have been that some tears came into our eyes and trickled through our fingers. It does not happen now. I know some of us still go to Confession. We used to feel that we kissed the wounded Feet. But now it has become a sort of form; and we ask ourselves, "Well, what good does it do us?" We might as well ask ourselves, "What good does Holy Communion do us?"  "What good do our prayers do us?" We are falling off.

And the worst of it is, dear brethren, as you know perfectly well, other people, when we are so sleepy, stumble over us. We lie in the way, and they stumble and fall over us. The unbeliever says, "I told you so. It was all nonsense, and you never found it out." The worldly man says, "My dear fellow, I told you it would never pay. It cannot work." And the cynic says, "Of course, now you have got older and wiser, my friend, you won't believe it." They stumble over us. Sloth is a deadly sin. It is a sin within the sanctuary. Oh, sloth is the canker of the sanctuary. Do not let us forget the truth that the only people who can crucify the Lord afresh, and put the dear Master to open shame are those who have known and have loved him, and have deserted him. Is it nothing to us to remember that Jesus Christ was deserted of all? Oh! Sloth and slumber in religion is a deadly sin. Awake! Come back! Awake!

Again, there is the third point, which is this: some of us are somnambulists. Have you ever seen a somnambulist? It is a curious state. They are alive, yet not alive. They seem to know things in a way, and they do not know them. They never have any remembrance in the morning of what they have done. Well, so it is with spiritual people - with some of us - we are somnambulists. We say our prayers, and we do not know what we say. You have come to church to night, and if asked "Why?" you might say, "Well, I really hardly know - but I thought I would." And if I ask: "Do you feel the movement of the service? Does your soul go out of you to something higher you would say: "What on earth is the fellow talking about?" We can go to our prayers, to our Communions, and come away, and hardly know we have been. Did you say your prayers this morning? And you answer, "I do not know - I am not sure." "When did you make your last Communion?" "Well, I think it must have been about a couple of months ago." Why, we are walking in our sleep - somnambulists in grace. We go through the form, but we are lost. The life and the music of the Gospel does not sound, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ does not build up the soul. And yet, after all, you are what you would call a "good Churchman." Oh, how many feel this! I know, when I speak to you, there are many here who feel this deeply. We think and walk in our sleep, knowing it is high time to awake out of sleep. My brethren, I say the world is wide awake. Look at this political crisis, they call it. Why here, there, and everywhere, the political world is awake. I saw on the placards today, "Working men, awake and claim your rights"; "Women revert to war." And I say to us Christians, Awake! It is high time. We are citizens of heaven. Let us claim our right to eternal citizenship. We are citizens of the world to come. Awake, women! Revert to war - war against sin, the world, the flesh and the devil; war against the injustices and inequalities you see round about you. War against everything that is bad. Oh, ever since the Blessed Mary brought Christ into the world should women carry salvation in their arms. You and I, who were created by God, and redeemed by God, it is not for us to be asleep. It is high time to awake out of sleep.

Now, just a few reasons why it is high time to awake out of sleep. Because of the coming of the Lord. The Lord shall come with all his saints. We look forward to the coming of the Lord. Christians are ever like that; they stand waiting with their loins girt about, and their lamps burning. And do you say that the Lord delays his coming, and that a thousand years have past, and he has not come? Stand back and look out into eternity. Why do you talk like that, you who live under the Kingdom of God? What is a thousand years before the great range of eternity? It is but as a moment. It is as nothing. Just as this world is to an atom of space, so is a thousand years before the eternal years. Oh, he will come. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the Disciples fell asleep; when they awoke they saw, Jesus in all his glory. Awake! It is high time to awake, to see the Master in all His glory, "As seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. xi. 27). If you are awake, you shall see the glory transcending all else. "Surely, I come quickly," he says, and he will. To every one of us the Master comes.

So I am watching quietly       
Every day,
Whenever the sun shines brightly
I rise and say, 
Surely it is the shining of his face,'
And look unto the gates of his high place
Beyond the sea, 
For I know He is coming shortly
To summon me. 
And when a shadow falls across the window
Of my room,

Where I am working my appointed task, 
I lift my head to watch the door, and ask
if he is come; 
And the Angel answers sweetly
In my home,
"Only a few more shadows, 
And he will come."

We who are Christians stand waiting for the coming of the Master. That is our Advent position. Awake out of sleep. Stand up, man - gird your loins, let the lamp be burning in the sanctuary of the soul, and wait for the coming of the Lord.

Then let us awake and be ready because our opportunities are passing away one by one. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith " (Gal. vi. 10).  Now is your opportunity. You know the old motto " I shall pass through this world but once, any good thing therefore I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now, let me not defer it, or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

Many of you may die before next Advent. Let me say to myself what I would have you say, "While I have the chance now, as long as I have the chance - let me do all the good I can." The sands are running out. I shall not have many more opportunities, let me be as kind as I can, as helpful as I can, and worship God as well as I can." Time, is going, going! Awake! Awake!

Not many lives, but only one have we 
Frail, fleeting man! 
How sacred should that one life ever be
That narrow span! 
Day after day filled up with blessed toil; 
Hour after hour still bringing in new spoil! 
(From Ezekiel and other Poems, by B. M.  Bonar.)

Don't let the candle splutter out till the sanctuary lamp is lit. Because the sands are running out, and the time is getting shorter and shorter, it is high time that we awake out of sleep.

And last of all, dear brethren, "For now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." For our salvation is the destiny which God has prepared for us. If you ask yourselves, "What is the reason of my creation and redemption?" The answer is - it must be - God needs my flesh - God never created the soul without it, and the soul shall pass on into perfection.

". . . him that is able to keep you from falling," says St. Jude, " and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy." The end of existence of God's creature must be the perfection of his creation. For this Christ died, for this the Holy Spirit of God was put into your hearts, to worship, to serve him - this is the end, even the salvation of your souls, the perfection of your life. Why did God create us? S. Augustine says, " God created man for himself." There is no other explanation. Read the 121st Psalm, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh even from the Lord, who hath made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: and he that keepeth thee will not sleep." There is a religion for you!

Well, then, knowing the time, "That now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer," so I call upon you this Advent, and I say, "Awake! Awake! Awake! knowing the time. Awake! All the world is awake, and we Christians for whom Christ died, are we to fall asleep? Awake!"

Friday, November 30, 2018

Thirty-nine years ago today . . .



On this day (St Andrew’s Day) 1979 in Ballarat Cathedral (39 years ago!), I was made a deacon in the Church of God by the Rt Rev’d John Hazlewood who by then had been Bishop of Ballarat a little over four years. This morning I offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in thanksgiving to the Lord for his love, his faithfulness, his forgiveness, and his blessing during the good times as well as during the hard times since then. I thanked him for my family, for the parishes and people I have tried to serve, and for so many wonderful colleagues who have helped to sustain me down through the years.  

The photo above is of Bishop John giving me a New Testament (the one I still use when visiting the sick and housebound). Beneath his signature facing the title page he wrote “2 Cor. 1:7”, a verse of S. Paul that - 39 years later - I still regard as a little gift from Bishop John (may he rest in peace): 

‘Our hope for you is unshaken; 
for we know that as you share in our sufferings, 
you will also share in our comfort.’ 

Below, I have included the Ballarat Courier article covering the ordination. You’ll need to click on it if you want to read the article and make out the faces in the photograph. On the far right is Archdeacon Graham Walden (later to become Assistant Bishop of the Diocese, and then Bishop of The Murray) who presented the candidates for ordination. Bishop John Hazlewood is in the centre. Between him and me is Father Austin Day, Rector of Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, who conducted the retreat and preached the ordination sermon. 



Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Christ the King of My Disappointment (Matthew John Paul Tan)



This morning, a friend put on his Facebook page a link to an excellent article by Matthew John Paul Tan, a Roman Catholic theologian based in the Archdiocese of Sydney, an author and adjunct senior lecturer in theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia, and a member of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission. He is the author of Redeeming Flesh: The Way of the Cross with Zombie Jesus (Cascade 2016) and Justice, Unity and the Hidden Christ: The Theolopolitical Complex of the Social Justice Approach to Ecumenism in Vatican II (Pickwick 2014).
A sample of his writing and presentations can be found here.
This reflection is shared with readers because of the large number of friends and parishioners who seem to need a little bit of encouragement right now. 
Over the weekend, we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, more commonly known as the Feast of Christ the King.
This feast was introduced into the calendar by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas (“In the First”). Though addressed to the universal church, the encyclical itself was partly a response to a number of local historical factors, which included the rise of fascism in Italy.
As the title suggests, Christ was reasserted as being the first of all things, opposed to the growing sense of putting nation either before or in the place of God. The Lectionary for the day put Christ’s reminder in the Book of Revelation:
I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
This line in the readings loomed large in my mind, for it juxtaposed with another theme I came across this week. This was the theme of disappointment.
This was the result of reading Bryan Stoudt’s moving article on learning of his son’s autism in Desiring God. The story can be extrapolated to a range of other scenarios, but the theme that endures is one of the closing of possibility by the circumstances of life.
How does Christ being King of the Universe square up with this very visceral experience of disappointment, especially given that this feast also stands at the threshold of Advent, where we wait the coming of the Incarnate Word? Is God incarnate or not? If he is, does his reign show its limit in the experience of disappointment?
What struck me in reading Stoudt’s article was his wife finding, if not the solution to her problem, certainly a response to her question, which she found in the book of Job. When Job asks God “Where were you in the maelstrom”, God asks in turn:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth, tell me if you have understanding?
At first glance, this passage smacked of reinforcing the image of the distant king, exercising great power from afar. What corrected my imporession was the phrase “when I laid the foundations of the earth”. The image there was that of Psalm 113, where God sits on a throne and yet stoops down to look at the earth. But not only stoop down. He would lay it down, his fingers working into the earth, leaving his mark in the very foundations of the ground we inhabit.

His rule is not just from a distant centre. It operates in the dissemination of his imprint in the very texture of creation. In the vein of St Bonaventure, that imprint is none other than God himself in the Word, through whom all things were made.
What does that say of Christ’s rule as King in the midst of disappointment? It means that Christ the Word is part of the DNA of creation, and nothing falls outside the purview of the Word. Every event, every move of every creature occurs under the oversight of the second person of the trinity, because it is operative in everything that occurs.
What then of situations where disappointment or even trauma reign? The passage from Job looked at the foundation of God’s order, so what of the disorder that we see outside and experience inside?
It is here that Stoudt’s article reminded us of a well worn, but no less true, motif of the Christian faith, that Christ suffered on the Cross for us. God’s stooping down meant that His rule extended to having a cross for a throne, the death of God being the font of life for all creatures. Put another way, because of Christ’s passion, God’s rule extends even to the disorder within creation. In the words of the founder of Focolare, Chiara Lubich, because of Christ’s experience of abandoment from the source of order, the seeming abandonment of order, the divisions and separation that comes from it, paradoxically makes the person of the King – not just his rule – present in the foundations of the earth.
Still we return to the question: what does it say of His rule as king?
In the Office of Readings for this feast, the long reading is a passage by Origen, reflecting on the line in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy Kingdom Come”. Origen suggests that the kingdom is already present, especially in the jarring experiences of one’s life. Furthermore, it is not merely left as inert presence. As suggested in a previous post, the imprint of the Word imprints also those words in the Apocalypse: I am the beginning…
His rule thus extends to what Aaron Riches and Creston Davis call the imputation of “pure beginning” into the DNA of creation, its events and experiences.
This is why Origen can say in the midst of our disappointment “with God ruling in us, let us be immersed in the blessings of regeneration and resurrection”. The rending of our expectations and plans is thus the doorway through which the King enters.