Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Inspiration for Mary's Month of May

There are a couple of blogs I look at every day. One of them is that of Father John Hunwicke, now a priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He continues to produce the Church Union Ordo - the most reliable ordo available for both Anglicans and Roman Catholics. A few days ago he told us on his blog that he recently made a bonfire of some old homilies, but decided to give this one from 2011 “a last outing” on the blog. He serialised it. I put the bits together so as to share it with you as one piece. It is a wonderful reflection for Mary’s Month of May.

The photograph above is the shrine of Our Lady at the side of the Rood Screen in my parish Church of All Saints, Benhilton (Sutton). It is such a blessing to see how many parishioners pray at this Shrine.

In lots of places, in the old days, there was a custom of fixing a card to the Paschal Candle giving some dates and times. This year (i.e. 2011) the ‘Charta’ would have told you that it was the 1978th year since the Lord’s Death and Resurrection; the 2011th since his Birth; and also the 2025th since the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tot it up: you’ll see that, according to tradition, our Blessed Lady was 14 when she became God’s Mother. There’s a picture I find very moving - of a little girl, not much more than a child herself, leaning over the cradle of her baby Son, and murmuring the first endearments that a mother utters to the little thing that was part of her own body only minutes ago ... bonding, as they call it. And, as Divine Baby grew into Divine Toddler, I think we can actually put our finger on some of the things Mary said to her Son. The official language of that time was Greek, but I think that mothers and babies and people in bedrooms and kitchens used, in Palestine, a different languge: Aramaic. I don’t think I have much doubt about one word Mary used to our blessed Lord. Imagine him - sitting in whatever sort of high chair they used to feed toddlers in. I think what Mary said was what most parents say: “Open wide”. The little mouth opens, and one deftly manoeuvres the spoonful in before it shuts again. And the Aramaic for “Open wide” is Ephphatha. And so, when years later the Redeemer was healing a mute, S Mark tells us that he slipped from talking Greek into Aramaic and said “Ephphatha”.

And I think I know another Aramaic word that Mary said to her Saviour. It was while she was teaching him his prayers and telling him about God the Father. She taught him to call God “Abba”; which some philologists translate as “Daddy”. In other words, she taught him to keep the Daddy-word, not for S Joseph, but for God the Father of Heaven. And we know Jesus called him “Abba”; he used that word in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest: “ Abba, not my will but thine be done”.

And there’s another thing about that Mother and that Baby that people often don’t spot. Our God and Lord Jesus Christ didn’t have an earthly, human father; his Father was the First Person of the Blessed Trinity. Now: you know how it is with an ordinary baby: “Cor - he’s got his mother’s nose”. “Look: she’s got her father’s ears”. But this Baby ... there’s only one person he could look like: Mary. If you could have seen them side by side, I’m sure you would have spotted the uncanny similarities; the distance between the eyes, perhaps; the curl of the lips; the shape of the fingernails; some indefinable likeness in the way each of them walked. Just as identical twins are so very like each other, I suspect that Mother and that Son must have been very strikingly similar. And, as our Lord took his humanity solely and uniquely from Mary’s, I wonder if his human mind ran along the same tracks as hers; so that each often felt they knew what the other was thinking before anybody actually said anything ... as happens with some identical twins.

I don’t think Jesus changes; our Saviour God, Scripture tells us, is the same yesterday, today, and always. And I know Mary must be the same, yesterday, today, and always. I was privileged - together with the Archbishop of Canterbury and several hundred other Church of England people - to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes in the year of the 150th anniversary of the Appearances of the Mother of God to S Bernardette Soubirous. We prayed at a little cleft in a rocky cliffside, called the Grotto, which is where S Bernardette had her vision. The Archbishop bent forward full-length on the cold, damp rock of the little cave and prayed there for some minutes. A few feet above his head was the fissure, the slit where our Lady appeared. At the time, S Bernardette was 14 years old - just the same age as Mary was when she became God’s Mother - and Bernardette described the Lady of her vision as”no bigger than me”. It is as though, through all eternity, Mary is to be seen of men as she was at that moment when she did the Great Thing which all the millennia had been looking forward to and brought God into his own world as her own Baby. She is for ever the One-giving-birth-to-God, Theotokos. And she was, so S Bernardette said, very beautiful. Beautiful, we might say, like her Son who is the fairest among the Sons of Adam.

Let me tell you another thing about Mary that doesn’t seem to change. It’s the way she talks. Just as she murmured to her Baby, not in Greek, the international language of Big People in government and politics, but in Aramaic, the language of ephphatha and Abba, so, when she appeared at Lourdes, she didn’t speak to Bernardette in some grand language of the great affairs of men. There in Lourdes, in the Grotto, two or three feet above where Archbishop Rowan got his cassock damp from lying on the rock underneath the statue of our Lady, they’ve written the words Mary said when Bernardette asked her who she was: Que soy era Immaculado Concepcion. And that’s not French. It’s the local dialect, a branch of an ancient and almost extinct language they spoke in the South of France centuries before they spoke French there. It’s called Gascon, and it’s the language little girls like Bernardette still used among themselves. Que soy era Immaculado Concepcion: I am the Immaculate Conception. 

Throughout history, Mary comes to us as the Immaculate Conception; the one whom God preserved from Original Sin so that she could be the perfect and flawless Mother of God the Divine Son; so that she could give God back his own gift to her by giving him a perfect and flawless humanity to unite inseparably with his Divinity. And Mary comes to us as our Mother too, as well as the Mother of Jesus. Because if we are one with Christ, one in Christ, as S Paul teaches, then Christ’s Mother is our Mother too. When we kneel at the Altar to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, what the priest puts upon our lips is the Body that Jesus took from Mary and the Blood which flowed in her veins before it flowed in his. Mary is our Mother; and what is it that mothers give their children, soon after birth, except food? Our Mother Mary brings food for her children “in this our exile”, food neatly packaged for the journey we are making through this Vale of Tears; food to give us strength until we reach our True Native Land. beth lehem is Hebrew for House of Bread; and when we come to Communion the Mother of this House, the Great Mother of God Mary Most Holy, brings from her cupboard and sets within us the Blessed Fruit of her womb Jesus. Because Mary is not locked away in Bethlehem or Nazareth; she’s not even a fixture who only made it as far as Lourdes. Mary walks down the centuries and across the seas and countries and hurries to make her way to this country of England in this our Mary Month of May; she comes this afternoon to this place and to this moment of time; comes to be your Mother and your merciful guide and advocate, here, in your own land.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Surrendering to his love

It was nine years ago that a neighbour who was not a believer, and certainly had no time for “organised religion”, asked me in the supermarket near where our church met in Brisbane, “What makes you lot tick?” She had noticed the wide variety of people who, after Mass each Sunday, would converge on a particular al fresco coffee shop for refreshments and a chat that often resulted in most of us staying for lunch.

I remember saying to her, “It’s simple, really; we have discovered for ourselves the unconditional, forgiving love of the risen Jesus, and that makes life seem always brand new. It also makes us brothers and sisters in him.”

In the short conversation that followed, I explained that like everyone else, we sometimes feel miserable, sometimes make really big mistakes, sometimes fail disastrously, and sometimes have enormous difficulties in our lives.

But, I said, the overwhelming love we have discovered nurtures within us a deep-seated joy that is there all the time, even when things are not going well, even when we feel as if we are being crushed by those around us or the circumstances we are in. So, this joy is not a flippant and superficial “cheesy” happiness! It a deep, underlying confidence in the reality of the love that has touched our lives. It enables us to persevere in times of real trouble. (Remember even in the Old Testament, Nehemiah, who had so many problems, could say, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” - Nehemiah 8:10)

That’s what makes us tick!

I said to my interrogator that sooner or later each one of us has to decide whether or not to surrender to the love of God. God himself has given us the terrible freedom to say “No!” and push him out of our lives, because in order to be a real response of love, our “Yes”, our surrender to him, must be freely given, just as Mary’s “Yes” was freely given when the angel came to her so long ago.

Many of us experience a real struggle at the heart of our being before we eventually give in. Charlotte Elliot (1789-1871) in her hymn, “Just as I am”, managed to express both the struggle and the joy of surrender in words that have resonated with so many since her time:

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve:
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am (thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down),
Now to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come. 

Followers of Jesus don’t spend all their time looking back to this or that moment of surrender to God’s love, because we know that our being swept up in his love is an ongoing thing. As brothers and sisters together we surrender to God’s love each time we come to Mass, because it is in Holy Communion that he comes among us so completely, and we “feed on him in our hearts with thanksgiving.” We surrender to his love by praying and reading the Bible, by deepening our friendships in the church community, and by reaching out to the needy and distressed.

St Paul reminds us that it is because God pours his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) we can “abound” in joy and hope.

And that brings us to the Gospel Reading for today, in which Jesus gives us his “new commandment” to love one another as he has loved us.

He goes on to say that the greatest manifestation of love is the sacrifice of one’s life for the sake of another. This was certainly the essence of his love for us. He died for us, “even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8).

We know that ALL genuine love is sacrificial in one way or another.

Loving others as he has loved us not only involves staying open to the Holy Spirit. It means embracing the way of the cross, denying ourselves, learning to give in to God when HIS will crosses OUR will, such as when he challenges us to be loving towards someone who has deeply hurt us, or someone we don’t particularly like. We all know what a struggle that can be. But God has reserved special blessings for those so consumed by HIS love that they are determined to persevere in reaching out to others.

In what I think is one of the loveliest passages of the New Testament, Jesus says to those who will do this that he now calls them his “friends” rather than his “servants.”

When we really live according to the “new commandment” of love in relation to our families, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters in Christ and our enemies, the fruit we bear will last for eternity.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

"In the Psalter you learn about yourself" - St Athanasius

“In the Psalter you learn about yourself. 
You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, 
all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.”

Today the Church honours St Athanasius, one of the most influential of our early theologians. Of course, he is best remembered for his relentless championing of the real divinity of Christ in opposition to Arius who taught that Christ was a created being. Athanasius stood against Arius, and at great personal cost defended the Faith which he explains in On the IncarnationArianism was extremely popular throughout the Church of his day, and as a result, Athanasius was severely persecuted. He was exiled five times!  He attended the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), and died as Patriarch of Alexandria in A.D. 373. 

It is generally thought that one of the best English translations of Athanasius' “On the Incarnation” is that of “A Religious of C.S.M.V.”, with an introduction by C.S. Lewis. [New York: The Macmillan Company, 1946. Reprinted: Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1989.] It contains this letter from Athanasius to Marcellinus - probably a monk, perhaps a deacon in Alexandria -  on the value of praying the Psalms (pp. 97, 103, 105, 107-109, 114, 116):

My Dear Marcellinus,

I once talked with a certain studious old man, who had bestowed much labour on the Psalter, and discoursed to me about it with great persuasiveness and charm, expressing himself clearly too, and holding a copy of it in his hand the while he spoke. So I am going to write down for you the things he said.

Son, all the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction, as the apostle says; but to those who really study it the Psalter yields especial treasure. Within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed and, seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given.  

In the Psalter you learn about yourself.  You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill. Prohibitions of evildoing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and refrain from sin.

But the marvel with the Psalter is that . . . the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, written for his special benefit . . . 

But the marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Saviour and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up.

It is possible for us, therefore to find in the Psalter not only the reflection of our own soul’s state, together with precept and example for all possible conditions, but also a fit form of words wherewith to please the Lord on each of life’s occasions, words both of repentance and of thankfulness, so that we fall not into sin; for it is not for our actions only that we must give account before the Judge, but also for our every idle word.

So, then, my son, let whoever reads this book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired. 

When you would give thanks to God at your affliction’s end, sing Psalm 4, Psalm 75 and Psalm 116. When you see the wicked wanting to ensnare you and you wish your prayer to reach God’s ears then wake up early and sing Psalm 5.  

For victory over the enemy and the saving of created things, take not glory to yourself but, knowing that it is the Son of God who has thus brought things to a happy issue, say to Him Psalm 9; and when you see the boundless pride of man, and evil passing great, so that among men (so it seems) no holy thing remains, take refuge with the Lord and say Psalm 12. And if this state of things be long drawn out, be not faint-hearted, as though God had forgotten you, but call upon Him with Psalm 27. 

If you want to know how Moses prayed, you have the 90th Psalm. When you have been delivered from these enemies and oppressors, then sing Psalm 18; and when you marvel at the order of creation and God’s good providence therein and at the holy precepts of the law, Psalm 19 and Psalm 24 will voice your prayer; while Psalm 20 will give you words to comfort and to pray with others in distress.  

When you yourself are fed and guided by the Lord and, seeing it, rejoice, the 23rd Psalm awaits you. Do enemies surround you?  Then lift up your heart to God and say Psalm 25, and you will surely see the sinners put to rout. And when you want the right way of approach to God in thankfulness, with spiritual understanding sing Psalm 29.

So, then, my son, let whoever reads this book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired. In every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A special welcome

I apologise to readers of this blog for having gone a bit quiet over the last few weeks. Starting in a new parish just before Holy Week presents its own challenges, and settling in is still a "work in progress"!

One of the special things that happened at supper after the Induction Mass was a presentation from some of All Saints' young people of a framed poem of welcome, incorporating a painting of the beautiful Holy Family stained glass window over the altar in the Lady Chapel (where the daily Mass is offered). The verse was written by Ngozi Okpala; the painting done by Alexandra McGoran; and the design by Rebecca McGoran.

I was deeply moved by the words of the poem as well as the painting (which hangs in the Vicarage dining room). I pray to the Lord for the grace to live up to the expectations expressed in this gift. 

God bless!

(Click on the painting to enlarge it)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Mary's momentous "Yes"

Photo by: The Annunciation, by Henry Tanner

Today is Lady Day, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38). Strictly speaking it occurs on 25th March, but because that was Palm Sunday this year, Lady Day was transferred to the first available weekday after the Easter Octave. There is so much in the account of the Annunciation that can be applied to our own pilgrimage of faith. Two main points always emerge for me: Mary's response - her "Yes" to the Word of God -, and her openness to the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, every Advent I look forward to the Office of Readings for December 20th, for that's the day we read St Bernard's magnificent paragraphs depicting the the whole world waiting with baited breath for Mary's response to the Angel. Here it is:

"You have heard that you shall conceive and bear a Son; you have heard that you shall conceive, not of man, but of the Holy Spirit. The angel is waiting for your answer: it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for the word of pity, even we who are overwhelmed in wretchedness by the sentence of damnation.

"And behold, to you the price of our salvation is offered. If you consent, straightway shall we be freed. In the Word of God were we all made, and lo! we die; by one little word of yours in answer shall we all be made alive.

"Adam asks this of you, O loving Virgin, poor Adam, exiled as he is from paradise with all his poor wretched children; Abraham begs this of you, and David; this all the holy fathers implore, even your fathers, who themselves are dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death; this the whole world is waiting for, kneeling at your feet.

"And rightly so, for on your lips is hanging the consolation of the wretched, the redemption of the captive, the speedy deliverance of all who otherwise are lost; in a word, the salvation of all Adam's children, of all your race.

"Answer, O Virgin, answer the angel speedily; rather, through the angel, answer your Lord. Speak the word, and receive the Word; offer what is yours, and conceive what is of God; give what is temporal, and embrace what is eternal.

"Why delay? Why tremble? Believe, speak, receive! Let your humility put on boldness, and your modesty be clothed with trust. Not now should your virginal simplicity forget prudence! In this one thing alone, O prudent Virgin, fear not presumption; for although modesty that is silent is pleasing, more needful now is the loving-kindness of your word.

"Open, O Blessed Virgin, your heart to faith; open your lips to speak; open your bosom to your Maker. Behold! The Desired of all nations is outside, knocking at your door. Oh! if by your delay he should pass by, and again in sorrow you should have to begin to seek for him whom your soul loves! Arise, then, run and open. Arise by faith, run by the devotion of your heart, open by your word. 'And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord : be it done to me according to your word.'"

Here are a few more of my favourite reflections on this day:

BLESSED IS SHE WHO BELIEVED - by Patti Gallagher Mansfield (from an article in the July-August 1997 issue of the ICCRS Newsletter. ICCRS, Palazzo della Cancelleria, 00120 Vatican City, Europe.)
Here is Mary, the woman of prayer, attentive and responsive to God, with hands open and empty before God, not clinging to any conditions. A simple fiat. Yes. Be it done to me according to your word. Indeed, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (Lk 1:45). By faith she permitted the Father to fulfill His plan and welcomed the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. By faith she embraced the Word made flesh in her womb. We know that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (cf. Heb. 11:6) and that Mary found favor with Him by her faith.

So must we, at this juncture in our lives as individuals and as a movement, kneel before the Father in a radical poverty of spirit and learn to pray with hands open and empty. In the past 30 years we have received great graces, but I'm afraid that too often we've returned to God with our hands full instead of empty. I sense that there are new "annunciations" being given for a new move of the Spirit, but that many of us don't really want God to be God. We still want Him on our own terms... a God who will fit into a prescribed pattern of acting. We don't want the Living God who turned Mary's life upside down. Let's be careful! By her, faith, Mary permitted God to "create a new thing upon the earth' (Jer 31:22). As I've asked Mary to be my mother and teach me to pray with hands open and empty, this is what I am leaning to say to the Father, "With Mary, I want to be for You all YES, only YES, always YES."

ANNUNCIATION - by John Donne (1572-1631)
That All, which always is All everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Loe, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet he will wear
Taken from thence, flesh,
which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, who is thy Son, and Brother,
Whom thou conceiv'st, conceiv'd;
yea thou art now
Thy maker's maker, and thy Father's mother,
Thou hast light in dark; and shutst in little room,
Immensity, cloistered in thy dear womb.

ANNUNCIATION - by Christina Rossetti (before 1866)
Whereto shall we liken this Blessed Mary Virgin,
Faithful shoot from Jesse's root graciously emerging?
Lily we might call her, but Christ alone is white;
Rose delicious, but that Jesus is the one Delight;
Flower of women, but her Firstborn is mankind's one flower:
He the Sun lights up all moons thro' their radiant hour.
'Blessed among women, highly favoured,' thus
Glorious Gabriel hailed her, teaching words to us:
Whom devoutly copying we too cry 'All hail!'
Echoing on the music of glorious Gabriel.

ANNUNCIATION - by Christina Rossetti (c. 1877)
Herself a rose, who bore the Rose,
She bore the Rose and felt its thorn.
All Loveliness new-born
Took on her bosom its repose,
And slept and woke there night and morn.
Lily herself, she bore the one
Fair Lily; sweeter, whiter, far
Than she or others are:
The Sun of Righteousness her Son,
She was His morning star.
She gracious, He essential Grace,
He was the Fountain, she the rill:
Her goodness to fulfil
And gladness, with proportioned pace
He led her steps thro' good and ill.
Christ's mirror she of grace and love,
Of beauty and of life and death:
By hope and love and faith
Transfigured to His Likeness, 'Dove,
Spouse, Sister, Mother,' Jesus saith.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Peter runs TO the Lord

This little reflection on the Gospel reading set for Easter Friday is by Don Schwager of the “Servants of the Word” community. Go HERE for a calendar on which you can click to read Don’s short commentary/ meditation on any day’s Gospel reading. Don writes:

Why didn’t the apostles immediately recognize the Lord when he greeted them at the Sea of Tiberias? John gives us a clue. He states that Peter had decided to return to his home district of Galilee, very likely so he could resume his fishing career. Peter was discouraged and didn’t know what to do after the tragedy of Jesus’ death! He went back to his previous career out of despair and uncertainty. The other apostles followed him back to Galilee. 

When was the last time Peter was commanded to let down his net after a futile night of fishing? It was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee when the Lord dramatically approached Peter in his fishing boat after a futile night of fishing and commanded him to lower his nets (see Luke 5:4-11). After the miraculous catch, Jesus told Peter that he would be ‘catching people” for the kingdom of God. Now Jesus repeats the same miracle. John, the beloved disciple, is the first to recognize the Lord. Peter impulsively leaps from the boat and runs to the Lord. Do you run to the Lord when you meet setbacks, disappointments, or trials? The Lord is ever ready to renew us in faith and to give us fresh hope in his promises. 

Skeptics who disbelieve the resurrection say the disciples only saw a vision of Jesus. The Gospel accounts, however, give us a vivid picture of the reality of the resurrection. Jesus went out of his way to offer his disciples various proofs of his resurrection - that he is real and true flesh, not just a spirit or ghost. In his third appearance to the apostles, after Jesus performed the miraculous catch of fish, he prepared a breakfast and ate with them. John’s prompt recognition of the Master - It is the Lord! and Peter’s immediate response to run to the Lord - stands in sharp contrast to Peter’s previous denial of his Master during the night of Jesus’ arrest. The Lord Jesus reveals himself to each of  us as we open our hearts to hear his word. Do you recognize the Lord’s presence in your life and do you accept his word with faith and trust?

“Lord Jesus, you are the Resurrection and the Life. Increase my faith in the power of your resurrection and in the truth that you are truly alive! May I never doubt your life-giving word nor stray from your presence.”

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Whose is the mind behind the New Testament reinterpretation of the Old Testament theology of redemption?

Following on from yesterday's Gospel reading of Jesus' encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, today's recounts the risen Lord's next appearance to his disciples: 

Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things(Luke 24:44-48)

One of the textbooks I thoroughly enjoyed in my student days, and to which I have returned many times for inspiration, is An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM Press, 1969 ed.) by Alan Richardson (1905-75), Dean of York, Professor of Christian Theology in the University of Nottingham and Canon of Durham Cathedral.

There are some truly memorable passages in this book, and it deserves to be better known today. One such passage occurs in the first chapter ("Faith and Hearing") in which Richardson explains his assumptions with regard to how the New Testament uses the Old Testament. Richardson asks the question, "Whose idea was it to reinterpret the Old Testament idea of redemption in this way?" He writes:

. . . Many . . . details . . . elaborate this basic conception of Jesus as himself the New Israel who accomplishes and brings to its conclusion the role which the Old Israel essayed but did not complete. Where the Old Israel had failed, the New Israel conquered. The Scriptures were fulfilled; the story of redemption was concluded. 

Since the rise of modern biblical scholarship the question has been asked, Who first thought of this way of setting forth the significance of the historical life of Jesus? 

Every conceivable kind of answer has been given. It could not have been the Evangelists who first thought of it, because St Paul knew it long before St Mark’s Gospel was written. It could hardly have been St Paul, if we may trust the evidence which he himself supplies, including, of course, his own protestations of loyalty to the Gospel which he had received. Could it, then, have been the community at large, the Church into which St Paul “was baptized?” Some scholars have assumed that the early Christian community collectively worked out the theology of Christ as the fulfilment of the Scriptures. Such a conclusion, however, is not convincing, because communities do not think out such brilliant reconstructions as this uniquely original reinterpretation of the OT plan of salvation. 

There must have been some profoundly original mind which started the whole development on its course. Are we to assume that some creative thinker, whose name and whose memory have perished, is the genius behind the NT theology? Such a conclusion would indeed be an argumentum ex silentio.   

There remains only one other possibility: the mind behind the NT reinterpretation of the OT theology of redemption was that of Jesus himself. Could any solution be more probable? It was the Lord himself who first suggested, as much by his deeds (signs) as by his words, the fundamental lines of the theology of the NT. 

One gains the impression from reading the Gospels that the disciples were slow to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them during his historical ministry (e.g. Mark 4:40f.; 6:51f; 8:16-21; 9:32, etc.; cf. Luke 24:25; John 14:9, etc.), and that it was not until after the crucifixion and resurrection that the clues which he had left with them began to shape in their minds a coherent pattern. After the resurrection of Jesus they themselves were conscious that they were being guided by the Spirit of the living Lord into all the truth concerning him (John 16:12-15); the things which the historical Jesus had said to them were now brought vividly to their remembrance through the activity of the Holy Spirit in their midst, and now they understood their inner meaning (John 14:26). 

This is the hypothesis upon which the argument of this volume is based, and it is our contention that it makes better sense of the NT evidence than does any other; its validity will be attested by its success or failure as a foundation for a coherent and soundly historical account of the theology of the apostolic Church.

Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM Press, 1969 ed.), pages 22 to 23.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Encountering Jesus - OUR Emmaus journey:

This is an edited transcript of a sermon I preached 
at All Saints' Wickham Terrace, Brisbane (Australia), 
on Easter Day, 2003, at Evensong and Benediction.

It was near the end of Easter Day, the first Easter Day. According to Luke Chapter 24, two disciples of Jesus were on their way to Emmaus - about 11 km northwest of Jerusalem.

But their walk had become a trudge.

The bottom had fallen out of their world. Jesus of Nazareth, in whom they had placed their hope for a new and better world, had been killed by the authorities. He had such promise. "He could have called ten thousand angels . . ." as the old gospel song says. How come he didn't use his supernatural power to bring in God's Kingdom then and there?

That was a question in the minds of many people.

It seems that these two had not been part of the inner circle of disciples. Most likely they were among the hundreds who heard Jesus preach and believed in him, who knew him from a distance, from among the crowd.

There they were. Downhearted, despondent and without hope. But they became aware of someone else walking with them. Why didn't they know it was Jesus?

Commentators give all sorts of reasons. I think it was simply that they didn't expect it to be him, and they might never have seen him up close, anyway.

But . . . isn't that a picture of what happens to us? Hopes and dreams crumble, communities disintegrate, businesses go under, people let us down, super funds lose their value, we get a serious illness, or we're simply engulfed by an unexplained torpor. Things like these - and many others besides - trigger off the kind of depression and fear that can destroy us from the inside out.

How many times, when we feel like that, and our walk has become a trudge, do we fail to recognise the presence of Jesus with us?

Because . . . he DOES walk with you and me. Even when we don't recognise him he walks with us because he loves us. We call that "grace". He walks with you; he walks with me. Just as on that Road to Emmaus, he draws near in a special way when our journey becomes a trudge. He is there . . . in our darkest moments.

Though they didn't recognise him, Jesus managed to take their minds off themselves and how they felt. In fact, their hearts began to change even before they realised who he was. We know that, because later on when they looked back on the experience they said: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32)

There was something about his presence as he taught them from the Old Testament. ". . . beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself " (v. 27).

When they reached Emmaus, Jesus "made as if he was going further." Do you understand what he did . . . instead of imposing himself on them he gave them the prerogative of saying "yes" or "no" to what had begun happening in their lives. He does that to us!

And, do you know, we can close ourselves off to what might become a great adventure of faith, or we can - as people say - "go with the flow."

That's what they did. Even before they understood exactly what was happening to them, "they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent" (v.29). They invited him in.

You heard how the story ends. "Jesus went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight" (v. 30-32). They rushed back into Jerusalem to find the Eleven, and "they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread" (v.35).

Do you see what this passage tells us about the Risen Jesus - how he makes himself known to his people?

First, he comes alongside us long before we recognise his presence, especially when we are empty and defeated. I've already spoken about that.

Second, he opens up the Scriptures to us. When we read the Scriptures or hear them expounded, we are not just gaining intellectual knowledge. The Risen Jesus speaks through his Word. He speaks to our hearts, our spirits. It is a supernatural communion. His Word expands our vision, heals our souls, and gives us strength. Did you know that in our day there is an unprecedented turning to the Scriptures among Christians of all backgrounds because, to use the language of Vatican II, we actually "encounter" the risen Jesus in his Word.

Referring to a teaching of the fourth century St Ambrose, Vatican II said that "prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for 'we speak to him when we pray; we hear him when we read the divine sayings'" (Dei verbum 25).

When was the last time you blew the dust off your Bible, turned off the television, and just began reading, maybe in the Psalms, or one of the Gospels, or a letter of St Paul, all the while asking the Lord to speak to you? Have you thought about following a system (like Bible Alive) or using the weekday Mass readings for your regular time in God's Word?

If you start doing that you will grow; you will be changed; your faith will become stronger; your heart will burn within you as you hear his voice.

Third, he is still known to us in the Breaking of the Bread. High up over the main altar of St John's Horsham in the Diocese of Ballarat - the second parish I served as rector - is a beautiful stained glass window of Jesus celebrating the Eucharist at Emmaus. Every time I looked up at the altar of St John's I would be reminded of this Mass at which Jesus was - literally in his risen body - the actual celebrant. I would say to my people there that whenever we come to Mass we are not only joined to the apostles in the upper room on the first Maundy Thursday when Jesus gave us the Eucharist; we are also joined to the Emmaus disciples at the end of Easter Sunday who had the amazing honour of being the congregation at the first Mass of the Resurrection!

Then the Lord "vanished out of their sight." What's going on here? Along with many scholars of this text I believe that because Jesus had chosen the "Breaking of the Bread" to be the place where his risen tangible presence would be encountered by his people, once the disciples recognised him there, he was able to withdraw the extraordinary and special grace of his "actual" resurrection body.

There you have it. That's why I love Holy Communion. It's not "just" a symbol. Jesus comes in all of his love and risen power in the Breaking of the Bread - the Mass - to bless us, to heal us, and to fill us with his resurrection life.

I've got one more thing to say.

Many Scripture scholars believe that the encounter of Jesus with these disciples is included by St Luke specifically to teach us about the Eucharist. That is, while this passage has its deeply personal application (upon which I dwelt earlier) it is, in fact, a pattern of the liturgy itself.

The references to the Word and the Breaking of the Bread have to do with the life of the whole believing community, which is why Luke doesn't omit to tell us that the disciples rush back to the apostles in Jerusalem. And to this day it is supremely as part of the apostolic community gathered for the proclamation of the Word and the Breaking of the Bread that we actually meet Jesus.

Because of this passage of St Luke I have a special job to do tonight. If you are from a catholic background I have to encourage you to become as much a "Bible Christian" as any evangelical you might know, recognising that the risen Jesus comes to us in his Word. No more sneering at people who love the Scriptures, underline verses, or learn texts off by heart!

And if you are from an evangelical background I have to encourage you to become as catholic as the Roman Catholics and Orthodox, recognizing the real presence of Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread. No more accusations of idolatry against those who would fall down in reverence before the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament!

In what is rapidly becoming a post-Christian age, the Lord is calling us to be "evangelical catholics", and "catholic evangelicals."

Again, it all comes together in Vatican II's Dei verbum, where we find this very important statement: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body"
(Dei verbum 22).

Brothers and sisters, may you know and love the risen Jesus more and more; may your hearts burn within you as you hear him speaking to you in his holy Word; and may you never fail to recognize the love, the healing power, and the holiness of his presence in the Breaking of the Bread.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Marcus Loane on the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene

Sir Marcus Loane, (1911-2009) was the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney from 1966 to 1982 and Primate of Australia from 1978 to 1982. He spent nearly all his ministry in the Diocese of Sydney except for two years during World War II when he was an army chaplain in New Guinea. I have said before how a "literary hack" like me is reduced to wonder just by his turn of phrase. He was an artist who painted with the English language, a real wordsmith, precise and poetic at the same time. I loved hearing him preach. Indeed, I remember - as if it were yesterday - the sermon he gave at my Confirmation when he was still an assistant bishop. An old fashioned evangelical, his clear dislike of Anglo-Catholicism failed to diminish his real fellowship with and respect for those individual Anglo-Catholics he felt loved the Lord and preached the Gospel. He was, for example, over many years, a close friend of Archbishop Philip Strong. When preparing for this morning's Mass, the Gospel for which was the appearing of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, I thought of Sir Marcus on account of the following from his book Jesus Himself: The Story of the Resurrection:

Jesus said to her, “Mary”
John 20:16 

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ — and that he had said these things to her." (John 20:11-18) 

English literature does not often excel the chaste beauty of this passage in language and feeling. Sentence follows sentence with scarcely a connecting particle until it reaches the end. 

Peter and John had left the tomb and the other women had already gone their way. But Mary had followed the two men back to the garden where she lingered near the tomb. The shock of that death on the cross had plunged her into a grief that was close to despair. Her tears were the only outlet for a sorrow that lay too deep for words. ‘But ... as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb’ (John 20:11). Her eyes may have been dim with tears, but she soon saw that she was not alone. It was not the grave-clothes nor the head-cloth on that cold ledge which held her gaze: it was the two angels in white, one at the head and one at the foot of that ledge where the body had lain. They had appeared to the other women after Mary had run on her errand to Peter and John; neither Peter nor John had seen them, but Mary at once became aware of their presence. 

Mary looked at them in silent contemplation: it was they who broke the silence: ‘They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?’” (20:13). A gentle query. They did not tell her what they had told the other women, but they spoke with gentle understanding. ‘Woman’, they said: that was neither cold nor aloof, but a term of courtesy and dignity. But she felt no wonder at the sight of angel faces nor the sound of angel voices: she was far too obsessed with grief because she did not know what had become of his body. She could only respond with a troubled repetition of her words to Peter and John (cf. 20:2). ‘She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’” (20:13). 

Those words had gone round and round in her mind until she could think of nothing else. There were only two slight variations, but they were not without significance. Now she spoke of my Lord rather than of the Lord, and she used the pronoun I rather than we: she was blind with sorrow; her loss was so personal that all thought of others was forgotten. 

That brief exchange came to an end, as a conversation which had nothing further to yield: ‘Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing’ (20:14). She had stooped down; then she straightened herself; now she turned around to the garden. What made her turn at that precise moment? The Greek text is emphatic. It was not the aimless movement of one whom the angels could not impress. Had she heard a muffled footfall? Had she even seen a fleeting shadow? Chrysostom imagined that some gesture on the part of the two angels caused her to turn around. It may have been so: nothing would have been more real or life-like. 

And turn she did: she turned right round; it brought her face to face with Jesus. Her eyes would look into his eyes: she saw him in his risen glory: but ‘she did not know that it was Jesus’ (20:14). One who had seen angels without alarm saw him as a stranger without concern; recognition failed her because she was in search of one who was alive, as if he were still dead. 

Mary had heard the first words to fall from the lips of the risen Saviour: ‘Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” (20:15). He did not wait to see if she would unfold her grief to him: he simply spoke to her as the angels had done. But he spoke in a way that went far beyond a mere expression of sympathy. His first gentle query was identical with that of the angels, but the next words went much further. 

But how could a stranger have known the real nature of her secret longing? She offered no answer to his question because a new thought had taken hold of her mind. ‘Sir’, she said, ‘if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him’ (20:15). Perhaps he was the keeper of the garden; perhaps he knew what had happened. Perhaps he had himself moved the body elsewhere once the Sabbath was past. The pronoun she employed simply assumed that he knew what she meant. Hers was only the strength of a woman, but if she could find him, she would ‘take him away’ (20:15). 

The Lord Jesus had time to mark her tears and read her mind before he spoke again. ‘Jesus said to her, “Mary”’ (20:16); only one word, but that word would tell her all she needed to know. He spoke in the familiar dialect of Nazareth and Galilee to awaken her memory; and he called her Mariam, which was the equivalent of the Greek Maria (see 19:25). But there was more, for the very accent of his voice had survived the pains of mortality and death: that name, spoken with that accent, was a word of exceeding tenderness. He had addressed her before as Woman, a term of respect such as any man might use. But that was like the voice of a stranger and it awoke no special response. Mariam was like the voice of a shepherd who knows his sheep and calls each one by name. Not a glimmer of hope had shone in her soul only a moment or two before. But the tender longing and the vivid accent in that word would tell her as nothing else could do who it was that spoke: for who else could call her by her name in her own native patois as he did now? 

Mary had begun to turn away when his voice caught her and made her turn again: 

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher) (20:16). 

The word Woman had failed to evoke anything more than the word Sir in reply (20:15). But her own name, Mary, spoke to her heart and called forth her ardent cry, Rabboni. Like him she spoke in the familiar dialect of Magdala and Galilee as in the days of old: and the Evangelist was careful to give the Greek equivalent for her form of address. The strict meaning of that vernacular term Rabboni was the word Teacher or Master, but that homely form of address was more personal than the ordinary term Rabbi. It was the only time this word was used as a form of address to him after that first resurrection morning, no doubt because it lacked the full sense of lordship which was afterwards understood. But it was the cry of one who had been rescued from the edge of despair, and she poured out all the pent-up love in her heart in that cry of rapture.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Greetings


You might be on top of the world right now, with everything in your life working out just as you would wish. Or you might be struggling with tragedies and difficult circumstances that severely try your confidence in the goodness of God. Truth be told, most of us know both those polarities. Ask anybody who tries to follow Jesus. They'll tell you that the Christian way is not an insurance policy against Gethsemanies and Calvaries. But it IS the means of experiencing the dynamic of the Lord's resurrection in our lives here and now (and not just when we die!). So, whoever you are and wherever you are, I beckon your gaze to the crucified and risen Saviour who loves you so much. 

The late Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, Church of England Bishop in Europe from 2001 to 2013, was a pastor, a scholar, a holy priest and a faithful Anglo-Catholic. He was also deeply aware of the power of the Lord's resurrection. So I share with you here a stunning piece he wrote for publication in the Sunday Times, Easter Day, 8th April, 2007:

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

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

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

A great Holy Saturday Poem

This poem, "Limbo", by Sister Mary Ada, from THE MARY BOOK, a collection edited by F.J. Sheed, is always good to read on Holy Saturday. The entire book is available HERE

The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred
All souls.
They wondered if they dreamed –
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses, standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed
Or apple trees
All blossom-boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.

And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that He wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung
None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song,
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue –
Not any other.
Close to His heart
When the embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is Your Mother,
How is Your Mother, Son?”

This strange day

An early Christian writer once described Holy Saturday as being a day of great quietness and stillness as earth awaits the Resurrection. It is a day out of time — no sacraments to affirm the bonds between this world and the next, no warmth or colour to assuage the interior desolation, no activity to distract us or give us a false sense of security. We are simply waiting, all emotion spent, with our Holy Saturday faith, entering into a dimension of reality we cannot truly comprehend, a kind of little death that prepares us for the death we shall all one day undergo. In this state we can do nothing; God must do everything.

Holy Saturday prepares us for the newness of life that comes with the Resurrection, that we will experience at the great Easter Vigil Mass tonight and in our celebrations tomorrow.  Today’s silence and stillness, the apparent inaction of this day out of time is part of our preparation to receive the Risen Christ into our hearts; and the only way we can do that is by allowing God to do all the doing. (Adapted from iBenedictines.)

* * * * * * * * * *

O God for whom the whole creation lives 
and in whose hands are the depths of earth 
and the heights of the mountains; 
the crucified body of your beloved Son 
was laid in a new tomb 
hewn from the rock in a garden 
and rested on this holy Sabbath day. 
As your Church awaits with Christ 
the dawning of the third day
 and the beginning of your new creation, 
grant that all who are buried with him 
in the waters of baptism may rise with him to new life 
and find their perfect rest in that glorious kingdom 
that he has established by his Paschal Mystery. 
We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, 
our Passover and Peace, 
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God forever and ever.
(Adapted from Benedictine Daily Prayer.)