Friday, July 5, 2019

The Church Bureaucracies Have to Go - David Mills

The following ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT ARTICLE was written back in 2004 by David Mills for TOUCHSTONE MAGAZINE.  I believe that it deserves a much wider dissemination, on account of the way that the layers of church bureaucracy and the manipulation of “representative” democracy in synodical processes is slowly strangling the people of God. (But don’t expect to see a copy of David's article anytime soon in your diocesan mailing!) It should be said that David’s observations are not “Anglican specific.” They apply across the board to all mainline churches.

Every time those who genuflect to self absorbed bureaucracies and manipulative managerialism get their way, gospel proclamation suffers, the life of the Spirit is quenched, and the kind of clergy who pour all their energy into nurturing worshipping communities tend to be mocked and marginalised.

Of particular importance is David’s observation (at the end of the article) of the crushing impact of all this on the non-bureaucrat clergy - and their parishes - who are the ones that actually inspire vocations. David also deals with the gospel principle that is at stake, in terms of how spiritual leadership actually develops . . . what some of us call the "Paul - Timothy" principle.  

David Mills is executive editor of First Things, having been editor of Touchstone from 2003-2008. His books include: The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (1999), Knowing the Real Jesus (2001) and Discovering Mary - Answering Questions about the Mother of God (2009). Former director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, and member of the Forward in Faith North America Council before becoming a Roman Catholic in 2001, he regularly wrote the "Letter from America" for New Directions

A few years ago, a high official in the Church of England announced that the new prayer books would cost the parishes millions of pounds but the Church of England would make a small profit. It was a slip, of course, but one that revealed how deeply those at the center of the Western churches identify their central structures with the churches themselves.

This is a very bad mistake, because these structures have an unfair advantage over the local and personal, from which the most effective, and generally the most orthodox, ministry come. They take from them more than they give, and misdirect their resources and energies even when acting quite sincerely and with the best of intentions. They are the sort of friend who “for your own good,” weeds your library, changes the settings on your computer, replaces your furniture, and rearranges your finances—and then charges you a large fee for doing so because “we’re all in this together.”

Abandon It
Any revival in these churches will require not the reform but the abandonment of the many layers of bureaucracy they have built up over the last few decades, giving the local bodies the authority to act as they think best and forcing the center to be as close as possible to the local bodies, in particular guiding, aiding, and inspiring them far less by law—giving requirements, for example—than by personal authority, and to rely for its support on the voluntary giving of the flocks it serves.

I am not criticizing bureaucracy as such, because it is natural and inevitable. A bishop begins a diocesan bureaucracy as soon as he hires a secretary or convenes a small group to help him with the finances. But some subtle line is crossed, and crossed quickly, when these people and their work become authorities in their own right and work more by rule and process than personal relation.

It is crossed, for example, when the bishop appoints someone because he has to satisfy some political need—to satisfy powerful people in the diocese, for example—not because the man is godly, wise, and discerning. It is generally being crossed when a bishop thinks he is being shrewd.

Bureaucracy is simply one way of getting things done, and the questions to be asked of it are whether it does them well and whether it does other things than it is supposed to do. I want only to suggest that it is not the best form of organization for modern church life. The resources and energy these bureaucracies consume (not only from those who work in them but from those who must spend time and money to oppose them) and the ends to which they direct their work make it harder for the churches to bring the gospel to the people who need to hear it, and make it much harder for the churches to say the clear word the culture needs to hear from it.

Centralized structures can do many things much faster and with less effort than individuals can. Yet they are complex machines far more likely to break down and needing far more energy to run, and require such an investment that no one wants to junk them when they stop working. Even when they are working well, they tend to develop a mind of their own and sometimes to go where even their handlers do not (consciously) intend.

And individuals matter: The most complex bureaucracy run by St. Francis of Assisi will express in its life more of the gospel than the most personal system led by Machiavelli. A committee may be a fellowship helping others or a bureaucracy insisting on its own way, depending on the man who appointed its members and the people he appoints.

My observations and examples will reflect the experience of the Episcopal Church, which as an activist I observed for almost twenty years, but examples could easily be taken from any other Western church. I will use the diocese as the example and the ordination and deployment of clergy as a test case, though what I say of diocesan bureaucracies applies even more to national bureaucracies because they are even less directly accountable to the members of the church and all the more likely to give themselves the sort of general, abstract projects that require a bureaucracy to pursue.

The Problem
The problem is not so much what the bureaucracies say. Who remembers 99 percent of the vast numbers of reports issued by the churches’ many boards, commissions, committees (standing and ad hoc), consultations, conventions, and councils?

If the bureaucracies only put out statements, no one would mind them much, other than lamenting the waste of paper. The problem is mainly what they do. Even at their best, they devour resources and energy that could be better put to local uses, and set the churches’ corporate witness and public agenda to reflect the bureaucratic consensus, which means a general and minimalist statement too indefinite to inspire and guide action. At their worst, they actively distort the churches’ witness and work by demanding too much of their resources and proclaiming an alien gospel.

This centralization harms the work of the Church more than it helps. I know this is a generalization, but it is based on a discernible pattern in the churches I have observed and a tendency in human institutions. There will be exceptions, when a problem is avoided or a ministry advanced through the structures. They do sometimes work, as when a man with subtle emotional problems not obvious to a priest or bishop is weeded out of the ordination process because it includes people trained to see them.

On the other hand, even in this case these people will at least as often reject a perfectly sane orthodox man because he is orthodox, though this is never the reason they give. They take his settled belief in the Creed as “rigidity” or “legalism” or intellectual immaturity, perhaps hiding deep insecurity if not something worse. If he shows any passion in his care for truth, he will be judged to be “angry” or to have “authority issues” or to be “unable to work with others.”

If he holds to the tradition on sex and ordination, he will almost have to castrate himself to prove he is not a misogynist. If he offends anyone on the commission, which he can do in any one of several hundred possible ways—using a generic “he,” for example, or criticizing a pop theologian some member of the commission likes—he will be said to be “pastorally insensitive.” Youthful clumsiness will be held against an orthodox man that would be praised as “youthful enthusiasm” in a liberal.

If he tries to defend himself against any of these charges, no matter how gently he speaks, he will be accused of “defensiveness” and an inability to listen to others, and probably also of the ever-useful “issues with authority.” (I have heard, with some bemusement, men and women who proudly rejected most Christian doctrines, including the ones the authorities of their churches insisted they hold, cluck with annoyance at someone who had “issues with authority” because he disagreed with some diocesan resolution which had no actual authority whatever.)

Any of these are enough to get a very good man turned down, even in a conservative diocese. Not, I suggest, only because they signal a theology some on the commission do not want represented among the clergy, but because they signal someone who is not adequately conformed to the process. In any case, they will tell him that he does not have “gifts for ministry,” though if they like him they may suggest he is better suited for an academic career.

Why Centralization Harms
So: on the whole and over time, the centralization of the churches and the expansion of their bureaucracies impairs and inhibits their work, for several reasons.

First, it tends to define the mission of the church as the continuing life and success of the institution as it is, which means, putting it simply, that its processes continue to process. The machine has been designed to run a certain way and produce a certain product, and cannot be changed, any more than a coal-burning power plant can be turned into a nuclear reactor.

Bureaucratic processes prefer “process people,” people who by personality and usually conviction fit into the system and will not work outside it. Commissions on ministry, for example, will be thought to work well if they run the needed number of people through the ordination process, even if the strong leaders and entrepreneurs the churches now need desperately (evangelists and church planters, for example) are weeded out because they are impatient with such processes and will not be socialized by them. The surest way to be rejected by the guardians of a process is to question their process.

These commissions will define “gifts for ordination” as the skills and personality needed to maintain the system more or less as it is. In other words, they judge people’s vocation by whether they will be good parish pastors who will maintain the parishes, which in practice often means inoffensive therapeutic types with a suitably elastic theology and a commitment to “be a part of the diocesan team,” which means, among other things, being happy to transfer a good part of the parish’s wealth to the diocese. Jesus would not have made it through the usual ordination process, nor would any of the apostles save Judas. I am not joking, though this may be unfair to Judas.

Second, to the extent that a bureaucracy does define a mission, it tends to define it as a moderated form of liberalism. Orthodox Christianity requires a set doctrine, but liberalism in its initial stages requires only the agreement to treat the doctrine as open for discussion.

This means that commissions on ministry will tend to favor centrist conservative and moderately liberal candidates. Even in conservative dioceses, they will have an articulate and often aggressive liberal or two, who will be able to obstruct if not defeat an unapologetically conservative candidate, and therefore can extract from him at least a rhetorical nod to “moderation” or “centrism.” The candidate will not be expected to speak as a liberal, but in a “nuanced,” “sensitive,” “pastoral” way—in other words, as a “moderate,” which is to say a tame conservative.

Even the conservative members of the commission will expect this, because it will show that he can “function in the diocese” and “minister to a diverse congregation,” and because they naturally come to like their liberal colleagues and come (“grow,” they will say) to appreciate the value of their point of view. And always, they do not want to be blamed for approving a man who will later do something seriously upsetting to the diocese, such as demanding more separation from the national body than the authorities want.

In my observation, conservative priests will always coach conservative candidates to speak tamely, and think they are being shrewd. The effect, however, is to teach these men to tell what are effectively lies, and to train them to lie in the same way, or worse ways, for the rest of their ministry. It teaches them to save their honest speech for a time that will probably never come, to make honesty a matter of strategy rather than character.

And bureaucracies tend to define their church’s mission as a form of liberalism for another reason: They are easily taken over by politically organized groups, both because such people tend to join them to advance their cause and because an organized group can easily be given a place in the process. Liberals are politically more active and better organized, in part because traditional believers are working on their sermons or running soup kitchens or raising their children or helping their neighbors.

In fact, if a group is dissident enough, it will give the bureaucracy something more to do, which tempts bureaucrats greatly. By challenging the church at some point, a dissident group poses a problem, and addressing problems is the reason such bureaucracies exist. Problems require meetings, and more meetings, and more members, and more money, and more time to address the diocesan convention. That the answer to a problem may be “This is ungodly” is not allowed to be said, because answering it would then require only one meeting and give no chance to propose new actions and ask for more money.

Power & Authority
Third, bureaucracies must operate by rules objectively and impersonally applied, rather than personal discernment sensitive to individual differences and gifts. In most churches, dioceses are so big and so diverse that bishops cannot know everyone well enough to discern whether they are in fact called to priesthood, nor can bishops guide them personally, form their reading and study, and teach them to pray.

For the testing of vocations and the formation of future priests, the bishop has to rely on a committee and its processes, to whom and to which he has to give up much of his authority. He cannot easily or safely refuse someone they approve or approve someone they reject, whatever he thinks of the candidate. The commission’s decisions, bishops will insist, are only “advisory,” but the political cost of rejecting their advice is almost always too high to pay.

Fourth, in a bureaucracy personal responsibility is diffused while power is concentrated. Or rather, the structure diffuses responsibility for those problems for which no one wants to be responsible, such as making statements on bitterly disputed moral questions, and it concentrates the power that people at the center want, such as the power to select and ordain clergy and increasingly (in the mainline churches) to appoint them to parishes even over the objections of the parishes themselves. The extent and complexity of the processes allow those in the center to hide when they do not want to be seen.

Fifth, the bureaucracies’ decisions, even the least important, demand more time and energy than they are worth, time and energy that would otherwise be given to local projects. To justify their existence, bureaucratic workers must keep producing reports, proposals, projects, resolutions. Because these come from an official body, they will be given priority in any meeting of the whole diocese.

No matter what real needs the people should be considering, an official report will be discussed earnestly, t’s crossed and uncrossed, i’s dotted and dotted again, a modified version passed in the end or the whole thing referred back to the committee for more study, and everyone will go home feeling they had “done some good work today,” without having done very much at all.

Distorting Decisions
A sixth reason bureaucracies inhibit the work of the churches is that they make decisions on matters best left to local parishes, and worse, the process itself distorts the decisions. Because they represent such a diversity, a diocesan committee needs to exclude or deny much that they should affirm, and that a local parish acting on its own would affirm.

A diocesan missions committee compiling a list of mission agencies worth supporting would be unlikely to include a group evangelizing Jewish people, despite its explicitly New Testament ministry, because evangelizing Jewish people is too controversial. Even if everyone on the committee approves of it—itself unlikely, as even a conservative bishop will almost certainly have appointed a token liberal or two, to cover himself while assuring himself that they can’t do any harm—the inevitability of angry protest from some influential people is usually enough to cause them to leave it out.

Even in conservative dioceses, such a ministry will become a “non-person,” like a Soviet dissident sent to the Gulag, about whom it is not safe to talk in public. And every diocese will include a large number of critics of any conservative venture, and in conservative or “moderate” dioceses some of them will feel a semi-divine calling to defend liberalism against the narrowness and intolerance of the fundamentalists. (And they will always find conservatives to help them do this.) As liberal clerics often have very small parishes, or parishes with big endowments to pay for large staffs, they have more time to organize and agitate than their orthodox brethren.

Seventh, as I’ve suggested already, bureaucracies encourage the growth of liberalism in their members and in the churches’ corporate life. The liberalism they encourage may be overt, as when an ideologically committed group captures a central structure and uses it to proclaim its peculiar innovation, or it may be implicit, as when it slights or relativizes Christian doctrine by treating it as an open matter.

Bureaucracies tend, even in conservative dioceses, to encourage a reticence and even timidity in pressing the Christian claims too far or drawing out their harder and less popular implications. When a significant and vocal minority argues for an innovation (doctrinal, moral, or liturgical), the bureaucracy’s instinct is to suspend the traditional teaching because it has become divisive, and to treat it as a matter for “dialogue” because (this unconsciously) any such exchange increases the importance of the bureaucracy by making it a necessary mediator and “facilitator.”

The bureaucrat sets up dialogues in which the question is treated as open, at which point, to assert the biblical teaching is taken as “short-circuiting the process” or refusing to listen to one’s brothers and sisters. Most conservatives, hoping to avoid conflict, convince themselves that it is only a discussion, and of course the truth will win in the end, if only they are faithful to the process and do not leave it to the liberals. The system, alas, is stacked against them. If they do not join in, the official results will inevitably favor the innovation, but if they do join, the official results will almost inevitably favor the equivalence of the tradition and the innovation.

The energies of the church are then consumed in trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, in dialogues that rarely change anyone’s mind, though they weaken many people’s faith by saying with the church’s authority that the question is open. (No one, after all, proposes a dialogue with racists or child-molesters.) This in itself advances the innovation.

This process effectively promotes a general skepticism about traditional Christian teaching, but sometimes a bureaucracy actively rejects that teaching. Bureaucracies do so not only as people with a cause take control of them, but also because their status depends upon their specialized expertise and their superiority to their clients, and superiority is most easily established by doing something radical. (As many people have noted about liturgical revisers.)

If a bureaucracy only affirms what has been done already or believed since the beginning, someone is likely to ask why it is needed at all, a question the bureaucrat does not want asked. Intensifying this tendency is the common self-identification of bureaucrats as “change agents,” who believe themselves called to do things that will upset the average Christian, who has not their expertise and insight.1

But Centralization Works
That centralization so harms Christian ministry does not mean that it does not work. It works very well, but it works on its own terms. Its processes process as they are supposed to do.

In the case of the ordination process, good pastors will make their way through it and some people who do not have a vocation will fail. The people inside the process will be satisfied with it, while admitting that it can always be improved, while the outsider will have trouble criticizing it effectively because its failures are hidden or visible only to a few.

No one will see the church that is not planted and the souls not brought into the Kingdom through that church, because the process will have weeded out the entrepreneur or discouraged the evangelist from applying, or will have made his life so difficult that he gave up. (I have heard smug clerics claim that no one with a real vocation would give up, as an excuse for doing to men they opposed anything they pleased.)

When a good man is turned down, only his friends and pastor and perhaps his parish will know, and they will usually get over it. In my observation, the pastor will get over it with unseemly speed and not learn from his parishioner’s experience anything about the structures in which he himself almost certainly has a part he does not want to give up.

To everyone else, the system appears to be working marvelously. The problems with such a system will only be seen in times of crisis, and then only by certain critical outsiders. When radical change is needed, the bureaucracy will be almost completely blind to it, and unless radically threatened (by a loss of funding, usually) will not easily be brought to see it. To change will mean to give up what they are doing, which very few of those in the center can easily accept.

What Must Be Done
The centralized, impersonal, and bureaucratic structures of modern churches exist. They serve a purpose. The people in them want them to continue, and the people outside them do not know much about them or do not care. Yet if it is true that, on the whole and over time, they deform and hinder Christian ministry, what should be done?

I am not proposing anything very radical here. Very few if any of the serious studies of the future of the Church in America give a role to the central structures. Even the Baptist sociologist Tony Campolo, in his much too optimistic Can the Mainline Denominations Make a Comeback?, calls for reducing the central bureaucracies and nearly eliminating their programs. Princeton’s Robert Wuthnow believes that denominations already function mainly as a source of identity, but not of programs or ministry.

Simply put, the Western churches must radically change the way they work. They must reorganize their lives, by exchanging a centralized system run by processes with impersonal rules and directed towards centrally chosen ends, for a decentralized system allowed to work and grow organically towards ends individuals within it discern and test in local practice.

The center will have to give up much or most of its power and lead by example and persuasion. It will have to demand very little from the parishes but offer them whatever unique help a centralized body can offer. And, institutional life being what it is, the churches must change their structures, in a way not easily revoked or evaded.

Changing the structures will not of itself bring revival, but it will make revival easier. It will certainly make the need for revival more urgent, by removing the structures the Western churches now use to avoid seeing and admitting their problems.

Reforming a church’s structure to one more appropriate to Christian ministry will require several changes, which can be summarized as adopting a patristic style of leadership and church life. (For our purposes, leadership may be individual, as with episcopally governed churches—including those who do not call their bishops bishops—or corporate.)

Patristic Style
What does “a patristic style of episcopacy and church life” mean?

First, it means that the relationships between the bishop and his clergy and people should be primarily personal, in that the bishop leads by persuasion and example and allows the parishes and people to respond as (and if) they will. Such bureaucracy as is necessary, for bureaucracies there will be, should be as small, as short-lived, and as limited in power as possible. To institutionalize this change, dioceses should ask parishes for support, not force them to give through assessments and quotas.

This is not a new idea, though the power of the churches’ central bodies has grown so great that people forget the mainline churches were once mostly local and personal bodies, who gave their national bodies what powers and money they had, and who were tied together by a common faith and ministry. Their authorities were in the same position in dealing with them as St. Paul was in dealing with the Corinthians or the Galatians: having to appeal to personal authority and the faith they shared, not to the law, canonical and civil, and their ability to take from dissidents their property.

The great models of this, of course, are to be found in the New Testament, in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples and St. Paul’s with Timothy, and in the life of the early Church. The early Christians shared what they had not because they were forced to but because the apostles had showed them how to live sacrificially and created both a general expectation that they would do so and a community that helped them to do it.

Second, such reform will usually require smaller dioceses, in which personal relationships can be nurtured, which happens only when the bishops and their clergy and people spend much time together, most of it spent in conversation, ministry, and prayer, not in satisfying an agenda. Their friendship will bear fruit, because disciples are more effective ministers—more committed, more sacrificial, clearer about their goals and work—than employees.

Such bureaucracies as inevitably and rightly arise should be created in response to real needs and from real commitment, the members chosen as much as can be because God has brought them, and the whole given but a short time to live. The bishop who feels a call to evangelism should call evangelists and give them a task and the authority to carry it out, rather than waiting until the annual diocesan convention to ask that a committee be appointed representing the diversity of the diocese, which will bring back a report to the next convention, including a study of the budgetary implications for its proposals and a coordinated multi-step phased-in implementation plan.

This would seem a simple thing to do, but surprisingly few bishops would ever act so boldly if they had the option of safely referring such a choice to a committee, or of creating a committee, which they may stock with orthodox people while putting in a few token liberals, whose effect will inevitably be far greater than their number should allow. To act so boldly would be to risk failure.

Structural Reform
Third, reform will require a less programmatic and more “spiritual” understanding of ministry and parish life, a renunciation of the rationalist mind that believes centralized bodies will work better than a decentralized system, a giving up of our belief in our own final powers of design and purpose. People will have to care more for faithfulness to the biblical standards than for visible results (so easily faked or misinterpreted) and thereby understand that the fruits of ministry are often invisible, or indirect, or to come.

The necessarily radical structural reform will, in other words, require a greater trust in the Holy Spirit and in his people. And considerably more difficult, a trust that the people are listening to the Holy Spirit. Only those confident in the Holy Spirit’s leading can do without bureaucratic structures and allow their fellow workers in the vineyard the freedom to act.

The temptation to direct and control by centralizing the process, or to hedge and qualify by submitting the ministry to a bureaucracy, is far too great—and not unreasonably, given the dangers—to risk without a real belief in the work of the Holy Spirit through his people. One is not going to “let go and let God” if one is not very sure God knows what he is doing and will do it.

And finally, for most dioceses in the Western churches, to so deeply trust in the Holy Spirit will require a revival and renewal, such as will bring bishop, priests, and people to a deeper unity in the Faith, a unity so deep that they act instinctively and in unity, without crippling disagreements or negotiations or the temptation to create a committee to do the work for them. I do not mean the faith as it has come to be defined in religiously pluralistic churches, which affirm a range of models and images and paradigms but favor none, but the Faith in the God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures and the consensus of Christians through the ages.

Not to put too fine a point on it, a revival will require the rejection of what is usually called liberalism, or better, the conversion of liberals to a fuller and more exactingly biblical faith. Without it, they will resist such radical reform of the system because liberalism needs elaborate structures, because it defines the faith as the accomplishment of this-worldly ends, and because it fails in the market and can only succeed by manipulating a system.

The Test
The test of the reform is evangelism: whether the bureaucratic or the personal styles of ministry will reach the world most effectively. The extraordinary growth of the churches in Africa and Asia, where bureaucracies are small and bishops and their priests are usually evangelists as well as pastors, suggests the superiority of the personal to the bureaucratic.

When their churches are growing so rapidly, even as they are persecuted for their faith, the West might wisely defer to their wisdom. It can’t claim to have had great success doing things its way. The Western churches might see the beginning of a revival if their bishops filed all the reports and resolutions, dissolved all but the essential committees, and canceled the legislative meetings, and went out into the streets of their sees with a bishop from Africa to tell people about Jesus.

1. My fellow editor James Hitchcock’s Catholicism and Modernity (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), pp. 96–125, is one of the very few books that analyze the effect of bureaucracy on the modern church. Even such a highly praised study of the mainline churches as Thomas Reeves’s The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity (New York: The Free Press, 1997) does not.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Love beyond measure - the Sacred Heart

S. Bonaventure (Giovanni di Fidanza) was born in Tuscany, Italy, around 1217-1221.  He became known as "Bonaventure" when he was little and S. Francis of Assisi prayed for him to be healed of a grave illness. While he was praying, Francis received a divine revelation of the boy's future ministry and cried out "O buna ventura" ('O good fortune).

At 22 years of age (about 20 years after the death of Saint Francis), Giovanni joined the Franciscan order and was sent to Paris to continue his studies. This is where he became a close friend of St. Thomas Aquinas.

At 35 S. Bonaventure became Minister General of the Franciscans. He wrote a biography of S. Francis as well as many devotional and theological works, becoming known as the "Seraphic Doctor." He refused a good many honours but eventually became a Cardinal and Bishop of Albano.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Holy Men and Women from the Middle Ages and Beyond(2012) (page 53) writes: "... for Saint Bonaventure the ultimate destiny of man is to love God, to encounter him, and to be united in his and our love. For him, this is the most satisfactory definition of our happiness."

I share this wonderful passage from S. Bonaventure with you on this Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Largely a reflection on John 19 and Psalm 36, it is set for today's Office of Readings:

Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder.

It was a divine decree that permitted one of the soldiers to open his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled:  They shall look on him whom they pierced.

The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.

Arise, then, beloved of Christ! Imitate the dove that nests in a hole in the cliff, keeping watch at the entrance like the sparrow that finds a home.  There like the turtledove hide your little ones, the fruit of your chaste love. Press your lips to the fountain, draw water from the wells of your Savior; for this is the spring flowing out of the middle of paradise, dividing into four rivers, inundating devout hearts, watering the whole earth and making it fertile.

Run with eager desire to this source of life and light, all you who are vowed to God’s service. Come, whoever you may be, and cry out to him with all the strength of your heart.  O indescribable beauty of the most high God and purest radiance of eternal light! Life that gives all life, light that is the source of every other light, preserving in everlasting splendor the myriad flames that have shone before the throne of your divinity from the dawn of time!

Eternal and inaccessible fountain, clear and sweet stream flowing from a hidden spring, unseen by mortal eye! None can fathom your depths nor survey your boundaries, none can measure your breadth, nothing can sully your purity. From you flows the river which gladdens the city of God and makes us cry out with joy and thanksgiving in hymns of praise to you, for we know by our own experience that with you is the source of life, and in your light we see light.

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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