Saturday, June 22, 2019

"Because of this sacrament earth becomes heaven for you." (St John Chrysostom)

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

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

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

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

It was after his death that he was called Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek for “golden-mouthed.” 

The following passage is from St John Chrysostom’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 10. It speaks not just of the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and our need to be prepared for Holy Communion, but also of the merging of earth and heaven together when we gather at the altar.
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(The illustration above, so sumptuously expressing the joining of earth and heaven in the Eucharist, is the work of Thomas Noyes-Lewis, 1863-1946, a famous Anglo-Catholic artist and illustrator of children's books, who was for many years a parishioner of All Saints' Benhilton.)
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The wise men paid homage to Christ’s body even when it was lying in a manger. Foreigners who did not worship the true God left their homes and their native land, set out on a long journey, and on reaching its end, worshiped in great fear and trembling.

Let us, the citizens of heaven, at least imitate these foreigners.

They only saw Christ in a manger, they saw nothing of what you now see, and yet they approached him with profound awe and reverence. You see him, not in a manger but on an altar, not carried by a woman but offered by a priest; and you see the Spirit bountifully poured out upon the offerings of bread and wine.

Unlike the wise men, you do not merely see Christ’s body: you know his power as well, and whole divine plan for our salvation. Having been carefully instructed, you are ignorant of none of the marvels he has performed.

Let us then awaken in ourselves a feeling of awe and let us show a far greater reverence than did those foreigners, for we shall bring down fire upon our heads if we approach this sacrament casually, without thinking of what we do.

By saying this I do not mean that we should not approach it, but simply that we should not do so thoughtlessly. Just as coming to it in a casual way is perilous, so failing to share in this sacramental meal is hunger and death.

This food strengthens us; it emboldens us to speak freely to our God: it is our hope our salvation our light and our life. If we go to the next world fortified by this sacrifice, we shall enter its sacred portals with perfect confidence, as though protected all over by armor of gold.

But why do I speak of the next world? Because of this sacrament earth becomes heaven for you. Throw open the gates of heaven—or rather, not of heaven but of the heaven of heavens—look through and you will see the proof of what I say.

What is heaven’s most precious possession? I will show you it here on earth.

I do not show you angels or archangels, heaven or the heaven of heavens, but I show you the very Lord of all these. Do you not see how you gaze, here on earth, upon what is most precious of all?

You not only gaze on it, but touch it as well. You not only touch it, but even eat it, and take it away with you to your homes.

It is essential therefore when you wish to receive this sacrament to cleanse your soul from sin and to prepare your mind.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Monsignor Ronald Knox preaching on Corpus Christi 1939

A Corpus Christi sermon preached by Monsignor Ronald Knox in 1939, and published in The Tablet on 10th June that year:

“It is said to me daily, Where is thy God ? “ (Ps. xxxxi. 4.)

“Shew me, 0 thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou Rest in the mid day.” (Cant. i. 6).

“They said to him, Where dwellest thou ? He saith to them, Come and see. They came and saw where he abode, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about the tenth hour.” (Jno. i. 39).

If it may be said with reverence, what a bad story-teller is St. John! His gospel is a series of fragments - infinitely precious fragments, but fragments nevertheless - preserved from the hoarded memories of a very old man, who follows his own train of thought, as old men will, not stopping to consider what details it is that his hearers want to know. Nobody, you might say, would have been a worse journalist. He just recalls for us those unforgettable hours when he and St. Andrew paid an afternoon call on Our Blessed Lord in His own lodging-place, and put the sun to rest as they sat talking with Him. On that memory his mind reposes, and he tells us no more - what manner of habitation it was, whether Our Lord was staying with friends, or with His Mother, or quite alone, what His habits of life were, all the things we want to know. He lodged with Zacchaeus, he lodged with Martha and Mary; otherwise the gospels, I think, give us no picture of the entertainment earth gave to him, who had not where to lay his head. For once, we think we are to hear more, and we go away disappointed.

And yet St. John himself had felt just that curiosity, long before. What a natural instinct it is, when we meet somebody casually whose personality impresses itself on us, dominates us, to want to see more of him, and to want to see him in his own setting, against his own background, where he lives! The pictures on the walls, the books that lie on the shelves, the very knick-knacks on the mantelpiece will have something, surely, to tell us about him; they will make a frame for his personality, and we shall feel that we know him better. So it is with the bride in the Canticles; “ Shew me, 0 thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou Rest in the mid day”—in those voluptuous airs of King Solomon’s harem, he is out of place, he does not fit into the picture; let her see him among his flocks in the still, midday countryside, and she will know him as he is. So it was with St. John and St. Andrew; they know Our Lord only as a passer-by in the crowded ways; they follow as if to track him down to His lodging, and He divines their purpose, and invites them to pass the rest of the day there. 

What kind of picture are we to form of it ? 

Possible, no doubt, that when Nicodemus came to see Our Lord by night he found Him in some rich dwelling where a devout host made everything comfortable for him. But I think we are all inclined to imagine the scene of that sacred hospitality as a more makeshift affair; a deserted house, perhaps, with the windows half boarded up; a straw mattress in a corner and not much else in the way of furniture; or just a cave in the cliffs, beyond Jordan. And this is the Prince who has come to suffer for His people; this is the palace which suffices for His earthly needs! That was the kind of picture, I imagine, that conjured itself up in the memory of the old apostle, and he did not tell us about it; why should he ? After all, it is what we should expect.

At the same time, I think St. John will have read in that old question of his, “Master, where dwellest thou ? “the echo of a much older question which has been tormenting humanity since man’s eyes were first troubled with a human soul. King David complains of those enemies who mocked at his misfortune by asking him, “Where is thy God ? “ And we, because the age in which we live is impatient of old formulas, because the set of its mind is against the supernatural, share, often enough, that confusion and hesitation of his. “Where is your God ? “they ask us. “Men of science have swept the heavens with their telescopes, and they have not found Him. They have peered with their microscopes into the very heart of being, and they have brought us no word of Him. Does He dwell in infinite space ? But we are not sure, any longer, that space itself is infinite. Where is He, that we may worship Him ? Where is He, that we may reproach Him for all the unhappiness that He suffers to mar His creation ?”

These questions of theirs, though it be only at the back of our minds, disconcert us; we know that they are foolish, based on a wrong apprehension of what it is that spirit means, and how it is related to matter. But for all that, the imagination, tied down as it is to the world of space and of sense, will not be satisfied by the answers which commend themselves to the reason. We demand that, somehow, we should be allowed to locate the presence of God as concentrated and focussed in one particular spot. “Master,” we cry, “where dwellest Thou ?“

We know, of course, that He is everywhere, that He cannot be confined in space, but still we ask for evidences of, His presence, and would trace the influence of it, if we might, here rather than here. When a storm of wind howls about our ears with unaccustomed fury, we catch an echo, as it were, of His omnipotence; when a sunset paints the sky with unwonted richness of colour, it seems like a mirror, however imperfect, of His uncreated beauty. But the illusion only lasts for a moment; when we think about it, we realize that this is a trick of the fancy; we are isolating an experience and making something divine of it; God is not in fact any nearer to us - how could He be nearer to us ? - in the storm than in calm, in the cool of evening than under the brazen sky of noon. God is everywhere, but He is not here or there, that we should find Him here or there more than anywhere else.

Has He done nothing, then, to make it easier for us to find Him ? Why yes, surely; in the mystery of His Incarnation, so full of His condescension, this is perhaps the greatest condescension of all - that He who is without limit should be limited, as Incarnate, to one position in space. When Moses drew near to the burning bush, when Elias heard from his cave a whisper of the Divine voice, God manifested His presence in a special way, but that was all. When Our Lady bent over the crib at Bethlehem, God was there. It was not necessary for her to say “Show me, 0 thou whom my, soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest in the mid day”; He lay in her arms, He fed at her breast. It was no use for the scornful unbeliever to challenge St. John or St. Andrew with the old question, “Where is thy God ?“ - those first apostles could say, and did say, “Come and see.” For thirty-three years of human history it was possible to say, “There is God! Look, where He feeds, with publicans and sinners! Look, where He lies, asleep in the forepart of a ship which the waves threaten with destruction!“

Yes, for thirty-three years, but afterwards ? We can make our pilgrimage to the Holy Places, pass by the roads which were once trodden by Divine feet, mount the hill on which Our Lord suffered, worship, perhaps, at His very tomb. But it is all a story of yesterday; what use is it (we complain) that God should draw near to us in space, if He does not also draw near to us in time ? It is not enough that our God should make himself present to us; why does not my God make himself present to me ?
As we know, God has foreseen that complaint of ours, and has condescended to make provision for it. 

Everything else about the Blessed Sacrament may be obscure to us; we do not see Our Lord as He is, we cannot fathom the mystery of that change which is effected in the consecrated elements, we have no clue to the manner in which Holy Communion imparts its virtue to our souls. But one thing we can say, without bewilderment or ambiguity - God is here. Like those two disciples when they heard St. John the Baptist acclaim the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world, we, taught by the Church that all salvation is to be found in Christ, are eager to know more of Him, to see Him in the most representative light possible, to catch a glimpse of Him in the setting, in the surroundings which most truly manifest His character. “Master” we ask Him, “where dwellest Thou ? “ And He points to the tabernacle with the invitation, “Come and see.”

Let us look at Jesus Christ in His home, in the tabernacle, and see how those surroundings fit Him, illustrate His dealings with us. First, He dwells in a very public place. The lodging in which the two disciples found Our Lord was in the wilderness, I suppose;beyond Jordan; but it was a place of coming and going, for all Jewry went forth to John, we are told, to be baptized by him. Our Lord was near the centre of things, then; and so He is today; in the heart of the greatest city in the world, you can find Him without difficulty. So great is His desire to be of use to us that He throws Himself in our way, makes Himself cheap by familiarity. He is not afraid of irreverence, so long as He can be there when we want Him. When they ask us where our God is, we do not have to map out the route of some far pilgrimage in foreign parts; He is close by, at the end of the next street. 0 Thou whom my, soul lovethwe should do ill not to love Him, when He makes Himself so accessible as that.

Yet He lives there very quietly, a Prince in incognito. He walked beyond Jordan for all the world to see; but it was the tenth hour when He invited the two disciples to follow Him; it was an evening interview; and it was under cover of night that He talked to Nicodemus. Easy to find out where Our Lord dwells; but if we would converse with Him, be intimate with Him, it must be in the obscurity of faith—the veil of the sacramental species hides Him from our sight. He demands something of us after all; we must make a venture of faith in order to find Him. So accessible to all, and yet such depths of intimacy for those who will take the trouble to cultivate His friendship!

And when He makes the tabernacle His home He dwells among us very humbly, in great simplicity. St. John tells us nothing, as we were complaining just now, about the hospitality he and St. Andrew enjoyed that evening. But everything we know about Our Lord’s life and Our Lord’s attitude makes us feel certain that it was only a mean lodging to which He brought them; I picture Him as stooping low, and warning them to stoop in their turn, as they entered the door of it. So in the tabernacle He lives a life of utter humility. Oh, we try to make the best of it with gold and marble and precious silk; but He has chosen simple things, common things, to be the hiding-place of His majesty. And as He has stooped, so we must stoop if we are to keep our appointment with Him in His chosen meeting-place. We must come to Him in abject consciousness of our own unworthiness. For, see, there is something more He wants to tell us about the lodging He has chosen on earth.

Master, where dwellest Thou? Come and see, He answers - and bids us look into ourselves, into our own souls. It is there that He has chosen His lodging’: there, amid all those tainted ambitions and unholy desires, there, in the heart of our warped nature, He dwells in us, and what we are! 0 Thou whom my soul loveth, show me where Thou dwellest - heaven knows we need a guide to assure us of it, before we would dare to guess that He is content to dwell here.

If by chance thou e’er shalt doubt 
Where to turn in search of Me, 
Seek not all the world about; 
Only this can find Me out— 
Thou must seek Myself in thee.
In the mansion of thy mind 
Is My dwelling-place; and more 
There I wander, unconfined, 
Knocking loud if e’er I find 
In thy thought a closed door.

A door closed, to Him? Not here, Lord, not in these hearts; come, take possession of them, and make them more worthy to be Thy home.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

St Barnabas - Son of Encouragement

Today is the feast day of St Barnabas, a Jew of the tribe of Levi, born on Cyprus. Barnabas was, according to Clement of Alexandria and the early historian Eusebius, one of the seventy sent out by Jesus to preach the gospel and heal the sick (Luke 10:1). His original name was Joseph or Joses. But because of the kind of person he was, he became known in the Church community as “ Barnabas” which means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36)

He is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” (Acts 11:24) meaning that not only was he was good in the sense of being understanding and kind, but he knew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in his life, and he was full of faith (which I take to mean not just in the sense of believing the right things, but in trusting God’s promises in difficult situations). 

Barnabas started out as a man of means. But he was among those who sold their property, placing the proceeds at the feet of the apostles for the support of the needy (Acts 4:36-37)

We next see Barnabas when Saul of Tarsus has become a Christian. On account of Saul’s reputation as a key persecutor, the Church in Jerusalem had trouble trusting him when he arrived back there three years after his conversion (see Acts 9:26). Barnabas, however, gave Saul the benefit of the doubt. He had the faith to believe that God could turn someone’s life around. So he encouraged Saul and got close to him. He introduced him to the apostles, defending him and urging them to accept him (Acts 9:27)

Some time later when news reached Jerusalem that Greeks who lived at Antioch were being converted to Christ (Acts 11:20), the apostles sent Barnabas to see what was happening and care for the work there. When Barnabas saw the sincerity of those who had became believers, he began nurturing them into a real community of faith, and expanded the ministry, (Acts 11:23). Feeling that he needed help in this task, he went without delay to the city of Tarsus to find Saul and brought him back to Antioch (Acts 11:25). Barnabas and Saul were a very successful team. They spent a year there during which time the Church went from strength to strength . . . they “taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians” (Acts 11:26)

Around this time it became clear that a famine was on the way that would make life hard for the Christians of Judea. So the Church at at Antioch took up a special collection and gave it to Barnabas and Saul to take to Jerusalem. (Acts 11:29-30). When Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch (Acts 12:25) they had with them John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (see Colossians 4:10), in whose mother’s house we know Jerusalem Christians would gather for prayer (Acts 12:12)

Eventually, the Church at Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul on a missionary journey. John Mark went with them. They travelled to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. While at Cyprus, Saul began to be called Paul, and Barnabas allowed him to take over the leadership role. (Acts 13:9). They continued their journey to Salamis, to Paphos, and then to Perga. It was here that John Mark left them to go home to Jerusalem, while Paul and Barnabas completed their journey. 

When a second missionary journey was planned, Barnabas agreed to go with Paul (Acts 15:36) and suggested taking John Mark with them. But Paul refused on account of John Mark’s failure to fulfil his commitment on the first journey. A big argument ensued that resulted in a parting of ways. Barnabas, ever the encourager, took John Mark with him to Cyprus. It seems that whatever the problem was, Barnabas was able to restore him, for Paul himself, some years later, writes to Timothy, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11)

Acts doesn’t talk about Barnabas again after the big argument. But he is mentioned several times in Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1,9,13; Colossians 4:10)

According to ancient tradition Barnabas was stoned to death in 61 AD at Cyprus, and as he was dying he held onto a copy of the Gospel of St Matthew that he had copied by hand. 

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O God, who decreed that Saint Barnabas, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, should be set apart to convert the nations, grant that the Gospel of Christ, which he strenuously preached, may be faithfully proclaimed by word and by deed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Get your 2020 ORDO now!

Without doubt, the best ORDO available to western Christians is the one under the imprint of Tufton Books (i.e. The Church Union), still compiled each year by Father John Hunwicke, now of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. It painstakingly provides full information both for the Roman Rite (Third Typical Edition) and the Church of England's Common Worship. There is also guidance for those who use the old Prayer Book.

Friday, May 17, 2019


On Saturday 4th May (when I was busy at All Saints' Benhilton with a wedding), Westminster Abbey, in collaboration with the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, held a day of celebration in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham. The following details are from the Abbey's website. Friends who attended were overwhelmed by the spiritual significance of the occasion, as well as by its ecumenical dimension. At the end of the article below, I have put a link directly through to the powerful homily preached by Bishop Philip North.

At the start of the day, the image of Our Lady of Walsingham was processed from St Margaret's Church into the Abbey for a Sung Eucharist at 11.00am. The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, presided at the high altar.

The sermon was preached by the Right Reverend Philip North, Bishop of Burnley, and Master of the Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

The Baroness Easton DBE DL, Guardian of the Holy House, read Isaiah 7:10-14; Michael Dixon, Lay Pastoral Assistant, St Michael and All Angels with St James, Croydon, read Galatians 4:4-7; and the Reverend Anthony Ball, Canon Steward and Almoner, read St Luke 1:26-38.

Visiting Bishops and Guardians of the Holy House were robed and seated in the Sacrarium and many Priests Associate of the Holy House were robed and seated in the Lantern.

Professor Eamon Duffy, Magdalene College, Cambridge, gave a lecture in the Abbey at 2.00pm. During the afternoon, visitors followed a pilgrimage route through the Abbey, and offered devotions in the Lady Chapel, in the Chapel of Our Lady of Pew, at the tomb of Cardinal Langham in the South Ambulatory, in St Faith’s Chapel, and at the image of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Sacrarium.

The day concluded with Solemn Evensong at 5.00pm, at which the Dean offered a welcome and pronounced the Blessing. The sermon was preached by the Most Reverend Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

Mary's Month of May

The procession of Our Lady during the Society of Mary's May Devotion, 2010, 
at S. Silas, Kentish Town and Holy Trinity, Kentish Town, London
(Photo from the Society of Mary Website)

In Australia where May is not spring but autumn, our experience of "Mary's month" is in conflict with the season, and some of the folk-ish hymns we like to sing in "Mary's month" always seemed quite incongruous with what was happening around us. (A bit like singing "In the bleak mid-winter" as the Communion Hymn at Christmas Midnight Mass in a heatwave with perspiration running into our eyes and down our backs and legs!) In England, of course, with all the blossoms and flowers of spring, it's very different, and the exuberance and joy of the season makes the May devotion to Our Lady a natural part of parish life for Anglo-Catholics. Before coming to All Saints' Benhilton, one of the great joys of being part of St Luke's Kingston was the Annual May Merrie, a wonderful party for the children of the neighbourhood and their families which began in the church with the crowning of the May Queen [and King . . . an equal opportunity gesture!]. Each year, during that service, the children's choir, under the direction of parish organist Mr Chris O'Neill, would melt my heart as they sang in praise of Our Blessed Lady:     

Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Ah, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue

Sing gaily in chorus;
the bright angels o'er us
re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
their harps are repeating
the notes of our greeting,
for Mary herself is the cause of our mirth

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Word, the Supper, the Presence

"Supper at Emmaus" by Ladislav Záborsk´y (1921-2016)

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.

But 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 a combination of their grief, and the simple fact that they didn't expect it to be him. 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. And he doesn't stop walking with us just because we are finding it hard to believe! 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 actually 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!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Holy Week and Easter at All Saints' Benhilton

We invite you to join us for our special Holy Week services - especially if you haven't been to church for a while. 

All Saints' Benhilton (in Sutton, south London) is just 500 yards from the Sutton Common Station.

(CLICK on the flyer to enlarge it)

In addition to the great liturgies, the evenings of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be A HOLY WEEK RETREAT AT HOME. All welcome! Here are the details:

Monday, March 25, 2019

Pope Benedict on the Annunciation

Annunciation - Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)

In his Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict gives us this reflection on the Annunciation. Particularly moving is the fourth paragraph in which he speaks of Mary's journey through the "dark moments" ahead, "returning inwardly to the hour when God's angel had spoken to her."

 . . . in reaction to the angel’s greeting Mary is troubled and pensive . . . but what follows is not fear but an interior reflection on the angel’s greeting. She ponders (dialogues within herself) over what the greeting of God’s messenger could mean. So one salient feature of the image of the mother of Jesus is already present here, and we will encounter it again in two similar situations in the Gospel: her inner engagement with the word (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). She does not remain locked in her initial troubled state at the proximity of God in his angel, but she seeks to understand. So Mary appears as a fearless woman, one who remains composed even in the presence of something utterly unprecedented. At the same time she stands before us as a woman of great interiority, who holds heart and mind in harmony and seeks to understand the context, the overall significance of God’s message. In this way, she becomes an image of the Church as she considers the word of God, tries to understand it in its entirety and guards in her memory the things that have been given to her. 

Mary’s second reaction . . . After the thoughtful reflection with which she had received his initial greeting, the angel informs her that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary replies with a short, incisive question: “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” . . . The angel confirms that her motherhood will not come about in the normal way after she has been taken home by Joseph, but through “overshadowing, by the power of the Most High,” by the coming of the Holy Spirit, and he notes emphatically: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Lk 1:37).

Next comes the third reaction, Mary’s actual answer: her straightforward yes. She declares herself to be the handmaid of the Lord. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). 

. . . I consider it important to focus also on the final sentence of Luke’s annunciation narrative: “And the angel departed from her” (Lk 1:38). The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger—in which her whole life is changed—comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with the task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing round her. She must continue along the path that leads through many dark moments—from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mk 3:21; Jn 10:20), right up to the night of the Cross. How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God’s angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: “Rejoice, full of grace!” and the consoling words: “Do not be afraid!” The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God, a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch.

Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (pp. 37-38). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition, pp 33-38.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The healing time of the year

In our tradition, we are taught to see Lent as the special “healing time” of the Church’s year - a time for us to look carefully at our lives and work out where we really are in our relationship with God. It is a time for admitting that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt . . .” (Jeremiah 17:9) - that our capacity for self-deception, even in (perhaps especially in) the spiritual life, is limitless. That’s why the Church in her loving wisdom brings us into this period of facing up to reality. She knows that honest reflection and diagnosis are the necessary prelude to a new healing encounter with Jesus.

I know, of course, that we can be psychologically, emotionally and spiritually worn out by the sheer pressure of the battle against evil (within ourselves and within our communities, as well as our warfare with the cosmic powers of wickedness) in which we were enlisted in our baptism. I still believe in the reality of that struggle! We might need to use this Lent largely as a time of clearing some of the clutter of our lives and "wait on the Lord" so as to "renew our strength" (Isaiah 40:31). After all, Jesus still bids us to “come apart and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). 

I am also aware of those mysterious stretches of spiritual dryness, seemingly unconnected to any particular fault or sin on our part, when memories of of the springtime of our faith torment us, and we bang on heaven’s door, desperate to re-live the “good old days.” God seems a million miles away. This might not help much, but sometimes the best we can say is that all the saints down through the ages struggled during times of spiritual dryness just to hang on to God in naked faith, trusting his promises. Some of the saints - like Mother Teresa of Calcutta - endured decades of spiritual dryness. If we are going through this right now, we must persevere, supported by the love of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and strengthened by the grace of God that comes to us in  the sacraments. The main thing is not to give up.  Remember the saying, “When the train goes into the tunnel, the best thing to do is to stay on the train!” Maybe for you this Lent will be a time of receiving afresh the wonderful promises God gives us in the Scriptures. 

But having recognised that it is possible for us just to be “worn out” or to be going through a patch of that spiritual dryness, we must be honest enough to admit that most of the time our spiritual, emotional and psychological problems are a direct result of our personal relationship with God becoming dysfunctional.

In our other relationships, the causes of dysfunctionality are complex, and, as a rule, both parties are at fault. Hence the need for clever counsellors and psychologists to help us work out why things are as they are. However, one thing we can be certain about when looking at dysfunctionality in our relationship with God is that God is never at fault. He has loved us with an everlasting love. He sacrificed everything to redeem us in Christ. He made us his people and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. He speaks to us through the Scriptures, and he comes to us in the miracle of Holy Communion.

He has given himself so completely to us. WE must accept the responsibility for any dysfunctionality in our relationship with him.

There are at least two ways in which our relationship with God becomes dysfunctional: 

The first is when we deliberately ignore what God says in the Scriptures and try to run our own lives. Now, each one of us - without exception! - has a huge struggle to bring the various aspects of our lives into conformity with the will of God, even with the blessing of the Holy Spirit within. The point is, though, that we cannot deliberately shut God out of this or that area of our life and expect our overall relationship with him to survive - any more than we could do that in our relationships with other people. And we do shut him out when we ignore his will as we find it in Scripture. The end result is that instead of the “life in all its fulness” he longs for us to have (John 10:10), we struggle to live in a loveless hell of our own making.

The second way our relationship with God becomes dysfunctional also reflects what can happen in ordinary relationships. It’s when we become so self-absorbed, so preoccupied with what we are doing, so busy fulfilling our ambitions and goals, that we just drift from God without meaning to. This seems fairly innocuous, but the end result is the same.

In the Eastern Churches, the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is the account of Jesus healing the paralysed man (Mark 2:1-12). In that story the paralysed man’s friends got him to Jesus by pulling the roof apart and lowering him, sleeping mat and all, into the house.

The man’s physical paralysis is used in the liturgy as a picture of our spiritual paralysis, the end result of allowing our relationship with God to remain dysfunctional. It is also used to convey two other truths: First, that the paralysis caused by sin can only be healed by Jesus. So, it is to him we return this Lent, in order to know his forgiveness, his love and his healing power. Second, that those wonderful friends who helped the paralysed man show us that we need to help each other as brothers and sisters in our local Church community get to Jesus in spite of the obstacles that might be in the way. 

LENT takes us right back to the basic question of our priorities in life. In Philippians 3:8-12 the apostle Paul tells us  what mattered most of all to him in these words:

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 

“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” 

Notice here that while “faith” for St Paul includes “assent” to articles of belief, it is so much greater than that. It is to RELY ON or TRUST IN what God has done for us in Christ. It is to abandon ourselves to God’s will and to the action of his love in our lives.

Let’s use this Lent as a time for drawing closer to Jesus. After all, the self denial and penitence that the Church encourages us to practise are not ends in themselves. Rather, they are meant to help us see areas in which we have gone astray and then to re-focus our lives. Let’s allow the suffering love of Jesus to impact upon our hearts and minds; let's open ourselves afresh to the Holy Spirit so as to experience the mending of our relationship with God, and the enlarging of our capacity to love one another.

All Saints', Benhilton, Sutton, Surrey SM1 3DA
Just 500 yards from Sutton Common Station


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Let's start Lent well!

Tomorrow week is Ash Wednesday, when we should all be at Mass to begin Lent as a worshipping, praying, penitential community that is serious about our healing journey, and getting right with God. All who are regular Sunday Mass-goers at All Saints' Benhilton should be in church together on Ash Wednesday!

I have two things for us to think about in the days before Lent begins. The first is a REALLY good crash course on the meaning of Lent. Click on it. It goes for only a couple of minutes. But it is packed full of valuable insights.

The second is a brief reflection on Lent and the struggle we have already signed up to if we are baptised and walking with the Lord. 


Life is so often a struggle. Part of that is the feeling of being overburdened - by our circumstances, by the results of poor decisions we have made, by the evil actions of others, and by the consequences of our own sin. 

When we struggle it is a blessing to know the strength, the protection, the joy and even the peace that Jesus gives us. And, of course, that is such a wonderful part of the Gospel. But when we are overwhelmed by our circumstances, and Ash Wednesday preachers encourage us to “embrace afresh the struggle towards holiness” we are sometimes tempted to roll our eyes. Our struggles are already overwhelming - why do we need more? 

I’ll tell you why. In our baptism we signed up to a lifelong struggle against sin, the world and the devil. It’s there in black and white in the order of service, reflecting what we read in the Bible. In baptism we became not only “members of Christ’s flock”, but also his “soldiers” engaged (on his side) in a spiritual struggle. Part of that is how we wrestle with the evil within us - an aspect of the ongoing renewal of our minds that is part and parcel of our ongoing sanctification in Christ.

In the language of the Church, Lent is a “healing time”, and as such it sometimes involves serious spiritual surgery - which like other forms of surgery can be really painful. But the Lord invites us to take this seriously, and come to terms with where we really are in our relationship with him and with the communities in which he has placed us. It is only then that we will experience afresh the power and wonder of our baptism in the great celebration of Easter. 

If we follow through with the Scripture readings set for the Lent season, we will find ourselves accompanying some of the great women and men of our Jewish/ Christian story who in spite of their sins, their failures and their struggles learned to walk with God. What God did in their lives, he’s doing in ours. Sometimes he soothes us and consoles us. Other times he gets serious with his scalpel. He knows what he is doing, and all he asks of us is to trust him more, by embracing the spiritual struggle to be more like him.

John Wesley had more than his fair share of spiritual and emotional anguish. But he wrote these powerful words to encourage his preachers to be real disciples of Jesus. 

“The denying ourselves and the taking up our cross, in the full extent of the expression, is not a thing of small concern: It is not expedient only, as are some of the circumstantials of religion; but it is absolutely, indispensably necessary, either to our becoming or continuing his disciples. It is absolutely necessary, in the very nature of the thing, to our coming after him and following him; insomuch that, as far as we do not practise it, we are not his disciples. If we do not continually deny ourselves, we do not learn of him, but of other masters. If we do not take up our cross daily, we do not come after him, but after the world, or the prince of the world, or our own fleshly mind. If we are not walking in the way of the cross, we are not following him; we are not treading in his steps; but going back from, or at least wide of, him . . . Meditate upon [self denial] when you are in secret: Ponder it in your heart! Take care not only to understand it throughly, but to remember it to your lives’ end! Cry unto the Strong for strength, that you may no sooner understand, than enter upon the practice of it. Delay not the time, but practise it immediately, from this very hour! Practise it universally, on every one of the thousand occasions which will occur in all circumstances of life! Practise it daily, without intermission, from the hour you first set your hand to the plough, and enduring therein to the end, till your spirit returns to God!” (from John Wesley’s sermon “Self Denial”)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Charles Stuart, King and Martyr

I invited Professor David Flint to preach at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, Australia, at a Solemn Evensong and Benediction on Sunday 30th January, 2000, commemorating the Martyrdom of King Charles 1. I have kept his sermon, and share it with you here.

Painting by Ernest Crofts of King Charles
being led to his execution (London, UK, 1901)

On that sad, bitterly cold day 351 years ago, the 30th January 1649, before he was to die, Bishop Juxon offered these words of comfort to King Charles I:- “There is but one stage more . . . which though turbulent and troublesome yet is a very short one; you may consider it will soon carry you a great way; it will carry you from Earth to Heaven, and there you shall find, to your great joy, the prize to hasten you, a crown of glory.”

And the King replied; “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world”.

From a corruptible to an incorruptible crown ...

I take as my text words which were to have been read at the King’s funeral, but which were prohibited. They are from the Fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle of the Blessed Apostle Paul to the Corinthians.

(Indeed, they are part of the very lesson prescribed in the Burial Service)

“All flesh is not the same flesh; but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

“And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; he last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.”

The theme of this text was no doubt the inspiration for the King, for among his last words were those I have just read:- “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, not disturbance in the world”

With your leave, I propose to speak first on the martyrdom of the King. And second on the reasons why it is right that we remember this act of martyrdom.

The 30th January 1649 is a day which, is at one and the same time, a day of infamy, a day of sadness and yet, a day of glory.

It is a day of infamy, for the murder of an anointed king shakes the very foundations of civilization.

Shakespeare reminds us of the enormity of this crime of, this crime of the murder of a King, of Regicide. Thus Richard II laments:-

“Not all the waters in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm from an anointed king;
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the Lord:”

Not all the waters in the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed King.

That the unlawful execution of the King constituted a murder - the heinous crime of Regicide - there can be little doubt. Indeed, the King himself reminders his tormentors of this. When the president, Bradshaw, reminds him he was before a court of justice, the King replies, dryly - “I am before a power.”

A power. Not a court, a power. And the King throws the proceedings into disarray when he points to its fundamental illegality. Hear the King’s own words:-

“No earthly power can justly call me (who am your King) in question as a delinquent . . . I would not any more open my mouth upon this occasion, more than to refer myself to what I have spoken, were I in this case alone concerned: But the duty I owe to God in the preservation of the true liberty of my people will not suffer me at this time to be silent.”

And then the King reminds his tormentors of this fundamental proposition that a prosecution must be ruled by law:-

“There is no proceeding just against any man, but what is warranted, either by God’s laws or the municipal laws of the country where he lives . . . Now I am confident this day’s proceedings cannot be warranted by God’s laws . . . Then for the law of the land I am no less confident that no learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King . . . One of their maxims is “the King can do no wrong...”

And the King reminds the so-called court that it was constituted only by one part of the Parliament, by a vote of the House of Commons. Even then only by a House purged of every member - except those in league with Cromwell. For as the King says:-

“The major part - are detained or deferred from sitting. But how the House of Commons can erect a court of Judicature which was never one itself (as is well known to all lawyers) I leave to God and the world to judge. And it were full as strange, that they should pretend to make laws without (the) King or Lords’ House...”

And then the King, with remarkable prescience, anticipates Cromwell’s response - that the people have an inherent right to overthrow a tyrant. Now this is a right which will be claimed one century later in France and the United States. But it is a right which can be so terribly abused. As it was against Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. And as it was even more grotesquely abused in our own century. At Yekaterinberg. When not only the Tsar and Tsarina but also their children and servants were so brutally slain.

But let us go back to 1649.

Can Cromwell truthfully say that the trial is justified because the people have risen up against the King?

Charles anticipates this. Hear again the King’s own words:-

“And admitting, but not granting, that the people of England’s commission could grant you (this) pretended power, I see nothing to show that; for certainly you have never asked the question of the tenth man of the Kingdom, and in this way you manifestly wrong even the poorest plowman, if you demand not his free consent . . . nor can you pretend any colour for this your pretended Commission without the consent at least of the major part of every man in England of whatsoever quality or condition, which I am sure you never went about to seek, so far are you from having it.

“Thus you see that I speak not for mine own right alone, as I am your King, but also for the true liberty of all my subjects, which consist not in the power of government, but in living under such laws, such a government, which may give them the best assurance of their lives, and property of their goods.”

And the King concludes his impeccable answer, which Cromwell does not rebut and which Cromwell knows he cannot rebut:-

“Thus having showed you briefly the reasons why I cannot submit to you pretended authority, without violating the trust which I have from God for the welfare and liberty of my people, I expect from you either clear reasons to continue my judgement, showing me that I am error, . . . or that you withdraw your proceedings”.

So the King’s trial was delayed. The trial was of course little more than a show trial of the sort we have seen in Soviet times. Those who sat are well aware of the illegality of their proceedings. And the “judges” are well aware of the monstrous and bloody conclusion that Cromwell demands of them.

Charles was right to say that he stood for the rule of law and the liberty of his people. For under the Lord Protector that liberty was to be snuffed out. Even the simple pleasures of life were proscribed. The Lord Protector controlled the parliament, the council. He was to even take the right to nominate his successor. Palaces and vast areas of London were to be dedicated to his use.

And so the 30 January was a day of infamy and it was a day of sadness. But, my brethren, it was also a day of glory.

For Charles died not only defending the rule of law, and, as he saw it, the liberties of his people. He died for more than that. He died so that the Church itself, our Church, might live. That is why he achieved the glory of martyrdom. He was prepared to concede more political power than any Tudor King had. But he would not deny his Faith. He would not preside over the death of the Church.

In the struggle with Parliament, it was clear that by 1641 the constitution had been changed to the disadvantage of the King. In fact that Parliament is now much the same position as was to be guaranteed later by the Bill of Rights at the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

But although Charles had given up so much, even more was demanded. And that related to the Church.

Let us recall that once the English Church had been cut off from Rome in the previous century, it could not fail to be influenced by what Gardiner calls “the tides of opinion flowing in from the perturbed continent”. (Samuel Rawson Gardiner, The Constitution Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660, 3rd edn, Oxford University Press, 1979, XV, XVI.) Indeed, at the end of Elizabeth’s reign the doctrine taught by the greater part of the clergy was Calvinist. While Elizabeth insisted on the use of the Book of Common Prayer, she was flexible. For example, she tolerated the refusal of some to wear the surplice. But Elizabeth’s successor, and Charles’ father James I were not so wise.

This festering dispute was more than about the wearing of the surplice. It was about doctrine. It was about discipline. For within the Church there would always be those who would join in the Creed and say with conviction: “And I believe One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”

One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. One which attaches special value to the doctrine of sacramental grace and the sacred ministry. One which regards the episcopacy, the bishops, as divinely ordained successors to the Apostles. One which finds comfort and authority in the writings of the Fathers and the early Councils.

The disputes about vestments and ceremony were of course the more visible evidence of a tension within the very bosom of the church, a tension which has lingered these four centuries and which is but a mirror of the whole Church.

So we find in 1628, a House of Commons Committee rails against the placing of the Communion Table, and against praying towards the East, against the use of pictures and candles, against standing during the Gloria, against making the sign of the cross. And there is outrage against the King in his “Declaration of Sports” in 1633. He promises that on Sundays after divine service “our good people not be disturbed, letted or discouraged from any lawful recreation, such as dancing, either men or women; archery for men, leaping, vaulting or any such harmless recreation, nor from having of May games, Whitsun ales and Morris dances, and the setting up of May poles.” (But there is “. . . still prohibited all unlawful games... as bear and bull baiting and at all times in the meaner sort of people by law prohibited, bowling...”)

Archbishop Laud’s (and the King’s) great mistake was the failed attempt to impose the Anglican liturgy on Scotland. This encouraged the English puritans who dominated parliament to want not only to remove all political powers from the King; they were determined to change the fundamental nature of the English Church so that it would no longer be part of that One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

So, in the Grand Remonstrance of 1641, which the Commons published, with studied discourtesy, even before the King had seen it, the Puritans call for the suppression of “oppressive and unnecessary ceremonies” and that the bishops lose their right to vote in parliament. Then there is a call that the King abridge “their immoderate power usurped over the clergy and other your good subjects which they have perniciously abused to the hazard of religion, and (the) great prejudice and oppression to the laws of the Kingdom, and just liberty of your people”.

But soon the Parliament wants even more. Civil War is now inevitable. In 1642 they effectively demand that all government be in their hands. Parliament would have unlimited powers. It would be a dictatorship. Early in the war, in the Oxford Propositions the Parliament insists the King agree to a Bill:- “for the utter abolishing and taking away of all Archbishops, Bishops, their Chancellors and Commissioners, Deans... Chapters, Archdeacons, Canons... Chanters... Sacrists... Vicars Choral and Choristers of any Cathedral or Collegiate Church.”

The English puritans are now in the ascendant. They have tasted blood. Not only do they call for Sabbath observance, there is a Bill for the perpetual suppression of stage plays. The religious enemy is now not only Popery, but to this is added “Prelacy”. Prelacy - that is the very concept, the truth of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. That now is the target.

But prelacy, the Apostolic Succession is fundamental to the King. So, the King, now in captivity, replies to the Speaker, in 1647, in these words:-

“That for the abolishing Archbishops, Bishops, His Majesty clearly professeth that he cannot give his consent thereunto, both in relation as he is a Christian and a King; for the first he avows, that he is satisfied in his judgement that this order was placed in the Church by the Apostles themselves, and ever since their time hath continued in all Christian Churches throughout the world, until this last century of years; and in this Church in all times of change and reformation it hath been upheld by the wisdom of his ancestors, as the great preserver of doctrine, discipline and order in the service of God. As a King at his coronation, he hath not only taken a solemn oath to maintain this order, but His Majesty and his predecessors in their confirmations of the Great Charter (the Magna Carta), have inseparably woven the right of the Church into the liberty of the subjects”.

But he offers a compromise. This is the continuation of the existing de facto presbyterian government of the church for three years. That is not enough for Cromwell.

And that is the King’s stand. He will not surrender on this point. On this he is firm.

Now in captivity he writes about this to his Roman Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria who is in France. But she has little sympathy with his “tiresome conscience”. Surely, she argues, any promises he makes need not be permanently binding. And surely it is better in the end to be a Presbyterian King than no King at all. After all, it is not as if he were a Roman Catholic (Christopher Hibbert, Charles I, 1968 p.240)

But the King will not give way. His conscience will not allow him to abandon the Church. He will not renounce his belief, the belief in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

And so he is to die for this, to die, he says, as a “Christian according to the profession of the Church of England.” And a martyr.

So, I come to the second part of my address. Why should we observe what was Charles’ final admonition - “Remember”? And what is all this to us, in a distant land and at another time?

My dear brethren. The King’s martyrdom is of living significance for this reason. His sacrifice was not only for those who profess the Anglican faith, but all who affirm the Creeds. And while Anglicans may disagree on ceremony and on doctrine, they are united in their support for the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds.

The Constitution of the Anglican Church in Australia contains three Fundamental Declarations. So fundamental they cannot be altered (s.66). They are:-

First, “The Anglican Church of Australia, being a part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, holds the Christian Faith as professed by the Church of Christ from primitive times and in particular as set forth in the creeds known as the Nicene and the Apostles’ Creed.”

Second, “This church receives all the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being the ultimate rule and standard of faith given by inspiration of God and containing all things necessary for salvation.”

Third, “This Church will ever obey the commands of Christ, teach His doctrine, administer His sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, follow and uphold His discipline and preserve the three orders of bishops, priests and deacons in the sacred ministry.”

His Grace the Archbishop of Sydney (Donald Robinson, Archbishop, 1982-93) in 1986, sitting on the Church’s Advisory Tribunal, held that the phrase “the three orders of bishops, priests and deacons... indicates that both ‘the sacred ministry’ and ‘the three orders’ in that ministry are well-known and require no further definition within this Chapter.

“It is not enough to recognize merely some form of ministry, or to preserve the names of the three orders, or three orders of anyone’s devising. ‘The three orders of bishops, priests and deacons in the sacred ministry’ can only be the ministry and orders referred to in the Thirty-Nine Articles (see for example articles 19, 23, 26, 32 and 36) and in the Book of Common Prayer, especially the Ordinal. Just as ‘the canonical Scriptures’ in Section 2 of the Fundamental Declarations depend on the Thirty-Nine Articles for their correct definition (see Section 74), so ‘the three the sacred ministry’ depend on the Articles and Prayer Book for their correct definition. This definition claims catholic and apostolic, not merely Anglican, status for the three orders. The orders are in fact common to the Anglican, Roman and Orthodox communions. The sacred ministry itself is declared in the Ordinal to have been ‘appointed for the salvation of mankind’, and the orders in that ministry are said to have been in Christ’s Church ‘from the Apostles’ time and to have been appointed by God’s divine providence.’

His Grace concludes:

“There can be no doubt that what Section 3 commits this Church to preserve are these orders in this sacred ministry.”

This is the carefully considered opinion of the Archbishop of Sydney. In it, His Grace points out that the three orders of the sacred ministry are not merely Anglican, they are common to the Anglican Roman and Orthodox communions.

So the reason all Anglicans (indeed all Catholics, Roman and Orthodox) should give thanks for the life and service of the Martyr King is that he stood his ground. He could have surrendered. He could have washed his hands. As Pilate did. Then there would be no Church of England as we know it, as an integral part of that Holy Catholic and Apostolic church. It would not have been only the King who died on that day in January 1649. It would have been that link, the Apostle Succession, which comes to us through Augustine. That line from Augustine would have ended. As well that precious jewel the Book of Common Prayer would not have survived. It certainly would not have made its equally indelible stamp on our liturgy. And It would not have made its indelible stamp on the language and culture of the whole English speaking world. My brethren: we must therefore be eternally grateful to the Martyr King that by his life he saved these treasures for us.

I return to that sad, bitterly cold day in London. That day of infamy. The trial had been delayed because of the King’s brilliant and irrefutable argument that the trial is illegal. Cromwell has put pressure on those charged with the execution to sign the Death Warrant.

Its cruel words come down to us today:-

“Whereas Charles Stuart, King of England, is, and standeth convicted, attainted, and condemned of high treason, and other high crimes; and sentence upon Saturday last was pronounced against him by this Court, to be put to death by the severing of his head from his body; of which sentence, execution yet remaineth to be done; these are therefore to will and require you to see the said sentence executed in the open street before Whitehall, upon the morrow, being the thirtieth day of this instant month of January, between the hours of ten in the morning and five in the afternoon of the same day, with full effect. And for so doing this shall be your sufficient warrant. And these are to require all officers, soldiers, and others, the good people of this nation of England, to be assisting unto you in this service.

“To Col. Francis Hacker, Col. Huncks, and Lieut.-Col. Phayre, and to everyone of them.”

And the death warrant bears the signatures of the men whose hands are to be forever soaked in blood:-

“Given under our hands and seals.
John Bradshaw
Thomas Grey
Oliver Cromwell &c. &c.”

And so on that bitterly cold day, the 30th January the King woke between five and six.

“I will get up”, he says to his servant, “I have a great work to do this day. I fear not death, death is not terrible to me. I bless my God that I am prepared.” He speaks with Bishop Juxon for an hour, and then receives the Sacrament. The Second Lesson at Mattins on 30 January is especially relevant. it is the 27th Chapter of St. Matthew, the Passion of Our Lord.

Then he is taken in procession with drums beating to Whitehall. He probably sees the scaffold. It is half past ten. The King waits in his room for the knock at the door which will signal the walk to the scaffold. He waits and he waits. He is to wait until almost two. And why this final torment to the King? Two reasons are suggested. Those to whom the death warrant is directed have then to sign the order of execution. One, Colonel Huncks, loses his nerve. Cromwell intervenes. He shouts at him - he is a “peevish fellow”. But still he will not sign. Cromwell decides to go ahead without his signature.

The other reason is that the republicans forget the elementary proposition that they can kill the King. But they cannot kill the Crown. They forget the law of royal succession expressed in the acclamation: “The King is dead. Long live the King.” The Crown passes immediately on the death of the King to the Prince of Wales. And there is no time to pass legislation to declare a republic. This is to be done later. So they pass a so-called law making it an offence for anyone to proclaim a new king. In this they are to fail dismally. It has no effect. Charles II’s reign begins on that same day, the 30th January 1649.

So, near two o’clock, they finally bring the King to the scaffold.

Divided by ranks of soldiers from the crowds, he addresses some words to those who can hear. He begins by forgiving his murderers. He declares that he has forgiven all the world, “and even those in particular that have been the chief causers of my death: who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, I pray God forgive them.

“I wish that they may repent, for indeed thy have committed a great sin in that particular; I pray God, with St. Stephen, that this not be laid to their charge. Nay, not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the Kingdom: for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to the last gasp the peace of the Kingdom...”

He addresses himself to the role of the people: “Truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever; but I must tell you their liberty and freedom consists in having of government, those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own”.

And finally, he affirms his faith: “that I die a Christian according to the profession of the Church of England, as I found it left me by my father . . . I have a good Cause and I have a gracious God; I will say no more”

Then Bishop Juxon says, “There is but one stage more, which though turbulent and troublesome, yet it is a very short one; you may consider it will soon carry you a very great way; it will carry you from Earth to Heaven; and there you shall find, to your great joy, the prize you hasten to, a Crown of Glory.”

And the King replies, and once more, listen to his wisdom, his grace: “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.”

He now takes off the insignia of the Garter, the last of his jewels; he gives it to the Bishop with the one word, “Remember.”

The King stands for a moment raising his hands and eyes to Heaven and praying in silence, then slips off his cloak and lies down with his neck on the block. The executioner bends down to make sure that his hair is not in the way, and Charles, thinking that he was preparing to strike, says, “Stay for the sign.”

“I will, an’ it please Your Majesty,” says the executioner.

A fearful silence falls on the little knot of people on the scaffold, on the surrounding troops, and on the crowd. Within a few seconds the King stretches out his hands and the executioner on the instant and at one blow severs his head from his body.

A boy of seventeen, standing a long way off in the throng, sees the axe fall. And he remembers as long as he lives the sound that broke from the crowd. (C.V. Wedgwood, The Trial of Charles I, Collins, London, 1964)

“The blow I saw given and can truly say with a sad heart at the instant whereof there was such a groan by the thousands present as I never heard before, and desire I may never hear again.”

Such a groan... as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again...

The executioner seizes the Kings head and holds it up, saying, “Behold the Head of a traitor!”

The cavalry disperse and scatter the people.

The body is taken to Blackfriars. The King’s head is sewn on and the body embalmed.

Cromwell will not allow the body to be buried in King Edward’s chapel. This is far too dangerous - it may become a shrine. The King is buried secretly at Windsor. The use of the Book of Common Prayer is already prohibited by Parliament. No exception is allowed. Bishop Juxon is not permitted even to read the burial service. He carries the Book of Common Prayer with him - closed. He refuses to extemporize in the Puritan fashion.

In that vault lies the body of Henry VIII. On one side, his third wife, Jane Seymour. His sixth wife and widow Katherine Parr was to have been buried on Henry’s other side. But she married again and is buried elsewhere. That is to be King Charles’ tomb.

And so, the King’s body was lowered into the vault in silence.

As Redmond observes, they are strange companions in death: “The King who broke the Church of England from the Roman communion to gain political advantage and to satisfy his sexual appetite, and the King who died because he saw in the Anglican faith the best and purest form of the Christian doctrine and the Church Militant on earth.”

And so on that day of infamy, that day of sadness, and that day of glory, the King goes from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown.

Let us recall the concluding words of the lesson from St. Paul, the lesson which was not permitted to be read at the King’s burial:-

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold I shew you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality; then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

Charles went, as he said, from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown. He died that the Church might live.

Let us pray (according to the Collect for the Order for Evening Prayer on the 30th January)

“And now, to Almighty and Everlasting God, whose righteousness is like the strong mountains, and thy judgements like the great deep; and who, by that barbarous murder (as on this day) committed upon the sacred Person of thine Anointed, hast taught us, that neither the greatest of Kings, nor the best of men, are more secure from violence than from natural death: Teach us also hereby so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom, and grant, that neither the splendour of any thing that is great, nor the conceit of any thing that is good in us, may withdraw our eyes from looking upon ourselves as single dust and ashes; but that, according to the example of this thy blessed Martyr, we may press forward to the prize of the high calling that is before us, in faith and in patience, in humility and in meekness, in mortification and in self-denial, in charity and in constant perseverance unto the end: And all this for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ his sake; to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end.” Amen.