Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Pray for the Incoming Vicar of The Ascension, Lavender Hill


Benhilton parishioners will remember Father Philip 
who was the Bishop of Fulham's Deacon 
at my Induction on the Solemnity of S. Joseph, 2018.  


   

Saturday, October 16, 2021

S. John Chrysostom on the abasement of Jesus


John (c. 347-407) was born at Antioch to noble parents. His father died soon after his birth and he was raised by his mother. Following his baptism (in either 368 or 373) he became a Reader in the Church). In terms of his career he became a lawyer. 


As he grew older, however, he studied theology and spent some years as a hermit, living a life of great austerity and prayer. Returning to Antioch, he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386. From 386 to 397 it was his duty to preach in the principal church of the city. This is the period of the sermons that earned him the title ‘Chrysostomos’ or ‘the golden-mouthed.’ 


In 397 he became Bishop and Patriarch of Constantinople, where his attempts to reform the court, the clergy, and people led to his exile in 404 and finally to his death in 407 from the hardships imposed on him. He is remembered for his simplicity of life, his care of the poor, the courage of his witness, and his effective preaching of the Scriptures. He emphasised the full divinity of Christ against the Arians and his full humanity against the Apollinarians. S. John Chrysostom was bove all a loving pastor.


This passage, Chrysostom’s commentary on today’s gospel reading, is from Homily 8 ‘Against the Anomoeans’:


‘The Son of man came to give his life as a ransom for many.’

When the ten disciples were indignant with James and John for separating themselves from their company in the hope of obtaining the highest honour, Jesus corrected the disorderly passions of both groups. Notice how he did it.


‘He called them to him and said: Gentile rulers lord it over their people, and holders of high office make their authority felt. This must not happen among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to be first among you must be last of all.’

You see that what the two brothers wanted was to be first, greatest, and highest: rulers, one might almost say, of the others. So, revealing their secret thoughts, Jesus put a curb on this ambition, saying: “Whoever wants to be first among you must become the servant of all.”


If you wish to take precedence and to have the highest honours, aim for whatever is lowest and worst: to be the most insignificant and humble of all, of less account than anyone else; to put yourselves after the others. It is virtue of this kind that wins the honor you aspire to, and you have an outstanding example of it near at hand.


‘For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

This is what will make you illustrious and far-famed. See what is happening in my case. I do not seek glory and honor, yet by acting in this way I am gaining innumerable blessings.


The fact is that before the incarnation and self-abasement of Christ the whole world was in a state of ruin and decay, but when he humbled himself he lifted the world up. He annuled the curse, put an end to death, opened paradise, destroyed sin, flung wide the gates of heaven, and introduced there the firstfruits of our race.


He filled the world with faith in God, drove out error, restored truth, caused our firstfruits to ascend a royal throne, and gained innumerable blessings beyond the power of myself or anyone else to describe in words. Before he humbled himself he was known only to the angels, but after his self-abasement he was recognised by the whole human race.


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Your 2022 Ordo is now available!

 


Without doubt, the very best ORDO available to western Christians is the one published by 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 for users of the Roman Rite (Third Typical Edition) and users of Common Worship. There is also helpful guidance for those who use versions of the Book of Common Prayer.

Go HERE to The Additional Curates' Society to purchase your 2022 Ordo

Thursday, October 7, 2021

HARVEST FESTIVAL 2021

 We invite you to our HARVEST FESTIVAL this Sunday at 9.30 a.m. (Click the flyer to enlarge it.)




Friday, October 1, 2021

Support Terry Wilson's Marathon for All Saints' Benhilton Restoration Fund


A great opportunity to partner with us 
as we seek to repair and strengthen our historic church. 

(Click on the flyer to enlarge it)



Living on Love - S. Therésè




Today is the feast day of S. Therésè, who died at the age of 24 in 1897 after years of illness and spiritual struggle. She understood the entire Christian life - with all its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows - as a response to God’s love. This was her “little way.”

I have previously posted on S. Therese. Go HERE for an article based on her advice to Maurice Bellière, a stumbling young man preparing to be a missionary priest. Go HERE for an outline of her life, and also a short appreciation of her understanding of justification. 

The following stanzas are from S. Thérèse's long poem, 'Living on Love,' which she composed in 1895, two years before her death. 

On the evening of Love, speaking without parable,
Jesus said: "If anyone wishes to love me
All his life, let him keep my Word.
My Father and I will come to visit him.
And we will make his heart our dwelling.
Coming to him, we shall love him always.
We want him to remain, filled with peace,
In our Love!..."

Living on Love is holding You Yourself.
Uncreated Word, Word of my God,
Ah! Divine Jesus, you know I love you.
The Spirit of Love sets me aflame with his fire.
In loving you I attract the Father.
My weak heart holds him forever.
0 Trinity! You are Prisoner
Of my Love!...

Living on Love is living on your life,
Glorious King, delight of the elect.
You live for me, hidden in a host.
I want to hide myself for you, O Jesus!
Lovers must have solitude,
A heart-to-heart lasting night and day.
Just one glance of yours makes my beatitude.
I live on Love!...

Living on Love is not setting up one's tent
At the top of Tabor.
It's climbing Calvary with Jesus,
It's looking at the Cross as a treasure!...
In Heaven I'm to live on joy. Then trials will have fled forever,
But in exile, in suffering I want
To live on Love.

Living on Love is giving without limit
Without claiming any wages here below.
Ah! I give without counting, truly sure
That when one loves, one does not keep count!...
Overflowing with tenderness, I have given everything,
To his Divine Heart.... lightly I run.
I have nothing left but my only wealth:
Living on Love. 

Living on Love is banishing every fear,
Every memory of past faults.
I see no imprint of my sins.
In a moment love has burned everything
Divine Flame, O very sweet Blaze!
I make my home in your hearth.
In your fire I gladly sing:
"I live on Love!..."

Living on Love is keeping within oneself
A great treasure in an earthen vase.
My Beloved, my weakness is extreme.
Ah, I'm far from being an angel from heaven!..
But if I fall with each passing hour,
You come to my aid, lifting me up.
At each moment you give me your grace:
I live on Love.

Living on Love is sailing unceasingly,
Sowing peace and joy in every heart.
Beloved Pilot, Charity impels me,
For I see you in my sister souls.
Charity is my only star.
In its brightness I sail straight ahead.
I've my motto written on my sail:
"Living on Love."

Living on Love, when Jesus is sleeping,
Is rest on stormy seas.
Oh! Lord, don't fear that I'll wake you.
I'm waiting in peace for Heaven's shore....
Faith will soon tear its veil.
My hope is to see you one day.
Charity swells and pushes my sail:
I live on Love!...

Living on Love, O my Divine Master,
Is begging you to spread your Fire
In the holy, sacred soul of your Priest.
May he be purer than a seraphim in Heaven!...
Ah! glorify your Immortal Church!
Jesus, do not be deaf to my sighs.
I, her child, sacrifice myself for her,
I live on Love.

Living on Love is wiping your Face,
It's obtaining the pardon of sinners.
O God of Love! may they return to your grace,
And may they forever bless your Name
Even in my heart the blasphemy resounds.
To efface it, I always want to sing:
"I adore and love your Sacred Name.
I live on Love!..."

Living on Love is imitating Mary,
Bathing your divine feet that she kisses, transported.
With tears, with precious perfume,
She dries them with her long hair...
Then standing up, she shatters the vase,
And in turn she anoints your Sweet Face.
As for me, the perfume with which I anoint your Face
Is my Love!....

"Living on Love, what strange folly!"
The world says to me, "Ah! stop your singing,
Don't waste your perfumes, your life.
Learn to use them well..."
Loving you, Jesus, is such a fruitful loss!...
All my perfumes are yours forever.
I want to sing on leaving this world:
"I'm dying of Love!"

Dying of Love is a truly sweet martyrdom,
And that is the one I wish to suffer.
O Cherubim! Tune your lyre,
For I sense my exile is about to end!...
Flame of Love, consume me unceasingly.
Life of an instant, your burden is so heavy to me!
Divine Jesus, make my dream come true:
To die of Love!...

Dying of Love is what I hope for.
When I shall see my bonds broken,
My God will be my Great Reward.
I don't desire to possess other goods.
I want to be set on fire with his Love.
I want to see Him, to unite myself to Him forever.
That is my Heaven... that is my destiny:
Living on Love!!!


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

MORE FROM FORT WORTH - Fr Lee M. Nelson SSC on why ordination is a 'salvation issue'




'SALVATION ISSUES' FROM AN ANGLICAN PERSPECTIVE: 
A BRIEF CATECHESIS

Father Lee Nelson is a priest of the Society of the Holy Cross and the Diocese of Fort Worth. For the last seven years, he has been engaged in planting Christ Church, Waco, a thriving and catholic parish that strives to excel in building up the Church. With his wife, Ela, they are raising seven children.

This article appeared in The North American Anglican on 27th September.

In this article, I thought I would take the prerogative of a catechist for a moment. Even good bishops need to be catechized. After all, they are the chief catechists of the Church. For the past several years, I have served the Anglican Church in North America as the chair of the Committee for Catechesis. Sadly, that role has often meant correcting bishops on occasion. I find it all the more necessary today, especially when it comes to their particular calling as bishops: the diligent preaching of the Word of God, the administration of the Sacraments, and the provision of godly discipline, so that “all may receive the crown of everlasting glory.” (BCP 2019, 500) 

My chief concern in this brief catechesis is to address the language of the following resolution by the Primates from their September 2021 meeting: 

the Primates acknowledged that while there is disagreement and ongoing discussion on the issues of the ordination of women as deacons or priests, and the consecration of women as Bishops, we are agreed that these are not salvation issues and are not issues that will disrupt our mission: to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations. 

The rhetoric employed is rather simple: nothing to see here, the only real thing we have to consider is salvation issues, right? Can’t we just move on from this horrid albatross? 

But, the usage of this term “salvation issue” begs a serious question. What, pray tell, are salvation issues? You’d think we’d want to know what those things are, right? Would the good Primates of GAFCON provide us with a handy list? 

But, there is a more serious question I would ask today. Is this true? Do issues of ordination touch on salvation or not? What is salvation? 

Let’s start with the basics. What is salvation? Or, perhaps more clearly, how does God save us? 

To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism answers this question in the very opening section on salvation: 

#6 How does God save you? 

God forgives my sins and reconciles me to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, whom he has given to the world as an undeserved gift of love. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

The Catechism states later (Q 15) that this reconciliation to God in Christ includes forgiveness of sins, union with him in Christ, adoption into his family, citizenship in his Kingdom, and new life in the Holy Spirit. And just how does this happen? Through the Sacrament of Baptism, which is considered in the Articles of Religion (XXV) as “generally necessary for salvation.” In other words, unlike many evangelicals today, for whom salvation is solely about an affirmation of a number of propositions, it is about being joined to Christ by being joined to his death in a sacramental manner. Of course, creedal faith cannot be divorced from this new identity. In fact, it is the identity of the Christian. This is the reason that baptismal rites have always included the Rule of Faith, specifically the Apostles’ Creed. 

Another way of putting this is that for Anglicans, salvation is participation in the life of God, granted through the great gift of Jesus Christ. Why do we believe this? Because it is the teaching of Holy Scripture. 

Furthermore, the Anglican formularies (Including the Catechism, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Articles) do not stop by saying that Baptism and the living faith of the Christian are the only things necessary for salvation. To these, another is added: the Lord’s Supper. The Articles declare that Baptism and the Eucharist are not merely marks of profession, but “certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.” (Article XXV) This is to say that if it is grace which is given in the Sacraments, it is certainly true that they are generally necessary to salvation. Why? Because it is first and foremost grace that is necessary to salvation. 

So, is grace a salvation issue? You bet it is. Is sacramental grace a salvation issue? Of course! 

Keep in mind also that the visible Church herself is defined as “a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” (Article XIX) That is, the Church is most herself in the proclamation of the Word and administration of the Sacraments, by which she receives the implanted word and the gift of participation in the person of Jesus. Thus, the article makes clear that there are things which are requisite to these two fundamental actions: not just clarity concerning Holy Scripture and the Gospel, but also Bishops that are real bishops and priests who are real priests. 

Thus, neither the ordinal nor the sacramental rites of the Book of Common Prayer allow for monkey business when administering these sacraments. Anglicans are free to charitably hold that other ministers of the Gospel might be equally able to administer the sacraments, but canonically, there is no wiggle room. The Ordinal must be followed. The rites must be observed. Not only does this quell the doubt of the scrupulous, it ensures that the Church is most fully herself. 

My point is that none of this is superfluous to salvation. Saint Paul calls the bread which we break and the cup of blessing “a participation” in Christ. While it is emphatically true that participation in the Eucharist does not effect our justification, it is very true that it imparts the grace of sanctification, and this being so is very much a salvation issue. 

The problem which is presenting itself in the Primates' resolution is that such a definition is anything but an Anglican statement. Anglicans are not interested in the lowest common denominator. This is a phenomenon of American revivalism more than anything else, and I suspect, therefore, a phenomenon of the East African Revival all the more. These revivals specifically avoided any sacramental content whatsoever, primarily because they were not the working of one church or another, but an extra-denominational movement. This meant historically that the doctrinal definitions of such movements were, of necessity, sparse. 

The Primates' exaltation of the mission to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations as some higher-ordered good than sacramental conformity is mystifying. If I can put the issue simply: the sacraments are the mission. The Church is not herself merely because of the faithful proclamation of the Word, but because of the faithful administration of the sacraments as well. Ersatz sacraments at the hands of ersatz bishops simply won’t do, no matter how faithfully the Gospel is preached. In fact, we should be willing to say that a proclamation of the Gospel sans the sacraments is no Gospel at all. It is a disembodied Gospel. It is more gnostic than Christian. And we should say so. 

One more thing should be added to this, that the current controversy illumines the manifold difficulties of re-casting Anglicanism as a confessional Church. Even the Jerusalem Declaration does not presume to be a confession. In 2008, confessionalism was not the only solution on offer. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and others articulated the need for a renewal of conciliarism. The need is rather acute: bishops need to meet and decide on critical issues. A simple statement is insufficient. They cannot punt the ball downfield. Yet, this is the very thing that happened in Nairobi, introducing a somewhat magisterial statement as to the severity of the issue of women in the episcopate. We were told, let’s just move on. This is unimportant. Get over it. 

Trouble is, for those who hold Anglican identity as a thing worth preserving, there is no getting over it. These issues are issues of salvation. And we will continue to say so.


GAFCON BISHOPS . . . PLEASE LISTEN TO FORT WORTH



One of the great blessings for me of my long time involvement in Forward in Faith at the (Australian) national level and internationally, was the development of a range of enduring friendships straddling the catholic-evangelical divide as we learned to support each other in the struggle for orthodoxy in churches of the Anglican Communion. In those days, visits to the USA revealed the Diocese of Fort Worth to be a veritable epicentre of faithful evangelical catholicism. Led by Bishop Jack Iker - and now continued by his successor - Fort Worth has faithfully upheld the catholic integrity of the Anglican way.

I had sincerely hoped that GAFCON would be a coalition - a koinonia - of the truly catholic and the truly evangelical, and therefore a real force for renewal throughout the Anglican Communion. 

I had always noticed hints among GAFCON supporters of a traditional protestant antipathy towards anglo-catholics (or even towards Anglicans of a 'middling' churchmanship). But it now seems to me that the real problem is the purported ordination of women in some dioceses of ACNA, as well as in parts of Africa, and now the 'consecration' of women 'bishops' in Africa. People like me believe it is a tragedy that left unchecked will undo any good that the GAFCON movement has achieved to this point. It is a matter of faithfulness to the Word of God and the discernment of the Catholic Church. (Indeed, it seems that the kind of evangelicals who effortlessly manage the hermeneutical gymnastics required for the ordination of women have the upper hand in GAFCON Australia where they have fallen for the idea that the true sacramentality of Holy Order is not a 'salvation issue'.)

How refreshing, then, to read this characteristically orthodox and classically Anglican resolution from the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. In contrast to some commentators who have tried to water down its meaning, when the President of the Standing Committee - The Rev’d Timothy M. Matkin - posted it on the Diocese's Facebook Page he gave it the headline, ORDINATION IS ALWAYS A SALVATION ISSUE. Here it is:

21 September 2021 Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist 

“Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). 

In a 2017 communique from the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCon), the Primates noted: “It is our prime recommendation that the provinces of GAFCon should retain the historic practice of the consecration only of men as bishops until and unless a strong consensus to change emerges after prayer, consultation and continued study of Scripture among the GAFCon fellowship.” In 2021, the Chairman of GAFCon, Archbishop Foley Beach, noted: “At our meeting, the GAFCon Primates agreed we have not come to a consensus on the issue of women in holy orders, and specifically women in the episcopate.” And yet, three women have been consecrated in the GAFCon provinces of Sudan and Kenya since the moratorium on such consecrations went into effect, despite the lack of consensus. 

We enthusiastically support the statement of our own Primate, Archbishop Beach, that “we will continue to stand with these brothers and sisters [of GAFCon] to the greatest extent possible to maintain the Biblical Faith in the Anglican Communion and proclaim the saving Good News of Jesus Christ.” And we enthusiastically celebrate the rich contribution of women vitally engaged with significant impact in the ministry of the church throughout her long history. In an effort to strengthen and not to whither our bonds of affection, we also wish to record our strong objection to the recent consecrations of women in provinces of the Global Anglican Future Conference and to the classification of the action as a “secondary issue.”

Primary and Secondary Issues 

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ . . . Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:15,25). 

In their recent meeting, the primates of GAFCon passed a resolution which noted: “In our discussion, the Primates acknowledged that while there is disagreement and ongoing discussion on the issues of the ordination of women as deacons or priests, and the consecration of women as Bishops, we are agreed that these are not salvation issues and are not issues that will disrupt our mission: to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations.” 

Issues that touch upon the salvation of souls are always primary issues, and certainly not to be considered adiaphora (“things indifferent”). The catechism of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer describes the sacraments of Baptism and the Supper of the Lord as “generally necessary to salvation.” The Jerusalem Declaration affirms as a tenet of orthodoxy (#6), that “we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer.” The validity of the sacrament of the Supper of the Lord is contingent upon the minister being a valid priest or bishop in Holy Orders. The validity of a sacrament that is generally necessary to salvation is, by definition, a salvation issue.

The Jerusalem Declaration affirms as a tenet of orthodoxy (#2), “The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.” The innovation of the ordination of women is not respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading of scripture. 

Bishops for the Whole Church 

“The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).
 
Bishops are consecrated not just to serve a local diocese, but are consecrated for the whole church. What one province does in this matter affects all. 

We recognize that the ordination of women has been a contentious and divisive issue. We urge our brethren and spiritual fathers to move away from divisiveness, not toward it. We affirm the unanimous statement of the ACNA College of Bishops about the subject on 7 September 2017. While acknowledging that the ordination of women is practiced within some dioceses of the Anglican Church in North America, it stated: “we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order” and “we agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province.” This standing committee, together with our bishop, believes that the same principle of restraint should be applied locally as well as in the global church. 

In our view, the way forward toward our global Anglican future lies in faithfulness to the Holy Scriptures and the received tradition, not in a theological innovation which would seek to overturn created order by attempting to consecrate women as spiritual fathers. The sacred trust placed in the episcopal office, as successors to the apostles, is to hand on the historic Christian faith and practice to a new generation of believers. 

Adopted unanimously at the 21 September 2021 regular meeting. 
The Rev’d Timothy M. Matkin, President of the Standing Committee



Wednesday, September 8, 2021

From the Office of Readings for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

 

The old has passed away: all things are made new

From a discourse by Saint Andrew of Crete


S. Andrew of Crete was from Damascus. After ordination he became secretary of Theodore, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and was thus called ‘the Jerusalemite.’ He was present at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople (680). He became deacon of the Great church in Constantinople, that is, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and then Archbishop of Crete. He died in 720 or 723 on the island of Mytilene. Beside his other sacred writings, he also composed various hymns, among which is the famous Great Canon, which is chanted in the Orthodox tradition during Lent (see the Thursday of the Fifth Week of the Fast).

‘The fulfilment of the law is Christ himself, who does not so much lead us away from the letter as lift us up to its spirit. For the law’s consummation was this, that the very lawgiver accomplished his work and changed letter into spirit, summing everything up in himself and, though subject to the law, living by grace. He subordinated the law, yet harmoniously united grace with it, not confusing the distinctive characteristics of the one with the other, but effecting the transition in a way most fitting for God. He changed whatever was burdensome, servile and oppressive not what is light and liberating, so that we should be enslaved no longer under the elemental spirits of the world, as the Apostle says, nor held fast as bondservants under the letter of the law.

This is the highest, all-embracing benefit that Christ has bestowed on us. This is the revelation of the mystery, this is the emptying out of the divine nature, the union of God and man, and the deification of the manhood that was assumed. This radiant and manifest coming of God to men most certainly needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us. The present festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the prelude, while the final act is the fore-ordained union of the Word with flesh. Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages.

Justly, then, do we celebrate this mystery since it signifies for us a double grace. We are led toward the truth, and we are led away from our condition of slavery to the letter of the law. How can this be? Darkness yields before the coming of the light, and grace exchanges legalism for freedom. But midway between the two stands today’s mystery, at the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new. Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make worthy contribution to the celebration of this day. Let there be one common festival for saints in heaven and men on earth. Let everything, mundane things and those above, join in festive celebration. Today this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.



Tuesday, August 17, 2021

We are having to re-plaster parts of the Lady Chapel and Aisle . . .

 

(Click flyer to enlarge)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

'Holy Mother, pray for me' (Clapton & Pavrotti)


On this day when we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven where she shares the victory of her Son over death, I give you (again) this amazing 1996 performance of Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavrotti and the East London Gospel Choir. The song has lost none of its spiritual power. It's a cry from the heart for our time. Secularism has failed dismally to deliver the freedoms it promised to us as individuals, to our culture, and to our world. Furthermore the attempts of many church leaders to appease our culture by playing down the Gospel and the Catholic Faith have only made things worse.

This prayer is a desperate plea for Our Lady - who loves all her children so much - to intercede for a dying world. Let it touch your heart. God bless all my readers on this great day. 


 



Monday, August 2, 2021

Message to All Saints' Benhilton Primary School Year 6 Leavers

 


All Saints Benhilton

Church of England Primary School


One of the blessings of being Vicar of All Saints’ Benhilton in south-east London is that the church, the vicarage and the school are on the same block, making for a partnership of ministry and support. We marked the last day of the school year (Friday 23rd July) with a Year 6 Leavers’ Service in All Saints’ Church. The children led most of the service which was one of thanksgiving to God for blessings received at the school. We also prayed for our Lord’s continued blessing on the children as they (soon) begin their secondary education.


The children marked this milestone in their lives by writing a ‘year book’ in which each reflected on their lives at ‘ASB’. I was asked to contribute something. This is what I wrote:   


Dear Year 6 leavers,


What a time you have had in Year 6! Nobody really thought that the pandemic would last so long, and that your entire final year at All Saints’ Benhilton Primary School would be spent under lockdown conditions. But, with the loving support of your families and teachers, as well as the support you have given each other, you have done so well. You have been inspiring. 


Of course, the other dimension that is so important at our school is the experience we share of anchoring into God’s love and strength through worship, prayer, reading the Bible and sometimes just sitting in silence, or supporting each other when we are really struggling. We have learned that our faith is not just a bit of decoration on the edge of our lives, or a kind of hobby to make us ‘feel good’; it is rather a deep seated instinct to cling on to the reality of God’s presence and love, even in times of darkness when there are more questions than answers.


So, although you missed out on a handful of the more predictable things that occur at school, the experience of faith and community which has helped us all through the lockdowns is itself a kind of education that will strengthen you immeasurably for the rest of your lives.


May you know God’s blessing as you go from All Saints’ into the next chapter of your life’s adventure. I give you one of my favourite verses from the Bible which has meant a lot to me throughout my life:


‘The eternal God is your refuge

and underneath are the everlasting arms.’

(Deuteronomy 33:27)


- Father David


Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Bullies, Saints, and the truth about the history of Christianity - John Dickson's latest book

 

I don’t agree with absolutely everything Aussie Anglican priest and respected historian John Dickson writes, but the fact that the very conservative Catholic World Report has published a review giving an enthusiastic ‘thumbs up’ to Dickson’s latest book is high praise. I hope that ‘Bullies and Saints . . .’ is widely read. 


Gregory J. Sullivan writes: John Dickson, an Australian scholar and self-described ‘mild-mannered Anglican,’ has penned an engaging and accessible book that provides an antidote to the polemical abuse of history. 



‘Burning of a Heretic’ (c.1423-26) by Stefano di Giovanni. (WikiArt.org) 


Wounded by original sin, people predictably make a mess of things, often in quite spectacular fashion. Of course, men and women, here and there, follow the better angels of their natures and bring order, beauty, and goodness to the world. Christians are no exception to this arrangement. Nevertheless, its army of critics are quick to point to the multitudinous Christian failings throughout history as evidence of Christian personal hypocrisy, irrationality, and even wickedness. Patent bias—with an admixture of gross oversimplification—is omnipresent.


In his engagingly written Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History, John Dickson, an Australian scholar and self-described ‘mild-mannered Anglican,’ provides an antidote to this polemical abuse of history with ‘a century-by-century retelling of the bullies and saints of Christian history.’ He moves, with deeply informed intelligence and accessible prose, over the revolutionary impact of the early Church (the common practice of infanticide was legally banned in 374 A.D., a vindication of the Christian view of all people bearing the image of God), the Crusades, the Galileo affair, the Inquisition, and so on—all the way to the present-day clerical sexual-abuse crisis. Dickson sorts through these complex areas with moral clarity and supplies valuable context where appropriate.


In light of current, tedious racial obsessions, Dickson’s analysis of Christianity and slavery is especially welcome. This historically universal practice of course survived the advent of Christianity, but its ultimate destruction was occasioned by the tireless work of Christians. Dickson is rightly emphatic on this point: ‘Abolitionism was not a secular movement.’ To be sure, he concedes that ‘Christians were painfully slow in eradicating slavery,’ but it is an incontestable fact that ‘every anti-slavery movement we know of – whether in the second, fifth, seventh, or eighteenth centuries – was heavily populated by Christians. And the main arguments against slavery were not economic, political, or scientific. They were theological.’


Dickson quotes Rowan Williams, the erudite former Archbishop of Canterbury, who succinctly observed: ‘If the abolition of slavery had been left to enlightened secularists in the eighteenth century, we would still be waiting.’


Not surprisingly, Dickson adverts to Christopher Hitchens at various points, and he ably rebuts the distortions spread by the latter’s militant atheism. Hitchens glibly pointed to Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” as one of many examples of ‘religiously inspired cruelty.” Dickson says that this contention is “out of all proportion to the facts.’ He evaluates this conflict and discerns that “[r]eligious identity had morphed into political identity.”


‘It is fascinating,’ he continues, ‘to wander around Belfast, as you can do freely today, and look at the many surviving murals from the Troubles. Hardly any of them contain religious imagery or language. It is tribal and political, not at all theological.’ For all his vaunted on-the-ground knowledge of the world, Hitchens completely missed this truth.


As he closes this book, Dickson reflects on the mindless, indiscriminate assault on Western monuments in 2020. ‘Personally,’ he notes, ‘I have no problem with removing statues of people whose main contribution was evil’—the examples he adduces here are Stalin and Saddam Hussein. But he rejects the attacks on monuments of genuinely great but flawed men: Washington and Jefferson fall into this category. Dickson dismisses the dense, immature assumption that a great figure must be perfect, and he provocatively says that our own blindness to moral evils in our own time will undoubtedly one day be condemned. For instance: ‘When the link between ‘normal pornography’ and human trafficking is fully exposed, will future generations castigate us for making light of porn for the last three decades?’


Regrettably, Dickson’s chapter on the sexual-abuse crisis that has enveloped our age, titled ‘Moral Reckoning: Child Abuse in the Modern Church,’ is disappointing. He is right that it is ‘a disaster the church has brought upon itself,’ and his discussion is thoughtful (as far as it goes) but superficial. He does not consider the problem of homosexuality in the priesthood. Moreover, his keen historical sense is absent here: what makes the scandal so scandalous is the fact that it was the Christian revolution that placed pedophilia and homosexual conduct, broadly accepted (outside of Judaism) and commonplace in pagan antiquity, beyond the sexual pale. That is why the late Fr. Richard Neuhaus argued that fidelity to the Church’s sexual ethics is the only way out of the crisis.


Dickson candidly says that he writes as a ‘proud Protestant,’ and he writes as an honest one, too. That is, he acknowledges the culpability of Protestants as bullies as well. His condemnation of Martin Luther’s astounding anti-Semitism, for instance, is unequivocal and does not rationalize in any way. Surprisingly, he neglects to touch on the truly righteous figures on the Protestant side: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to select one of many possible examples.


Dickson’s concluding affirmation of the integrity of the Christian Gospel is warranted:


Jesus Christ wrote a beautiful composition. Christians have not performed it consistently well. Sometimes they were badly out of tune. But the problem with a hateful Christian is not their Christianity but their departure from it.


In a world where sinners always far outnumber saints, the wonder is not the seeming ubiquity of evil but the palpable presence of the good. This is the narrative of Christian history, as Dickson explains so effectively in this excellent, and admirably balanced, book.


Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History

By John Dickson

Zondervan Academic, 2021

Hardcover, 328 pages

Available from Amazon HERE


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Saturday, June 5, 2021

Inspiration for Christians in troubled times



Detail of the fresco depicting the martyrdom of S. Boniface 
(in the Basilica of S. Boniface's Abbey, Munich)


Today the Church remembers S. Boniface. Go HERE for the story of this remarkable Englishman’s life and an evaluation of his impact on the spiritual and cultural development of Europe. (The link is to a fascinating lecture on S. Boniface given in 1980 by an Australian scholar, the late Dr Ken McKay). 


I think that the following letter of S. Boniface (from todays Office of Readings) is just what we need to read at this time in our own history. Boniface is writing in 747 to his friend Archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury about the obstacles he is experiencing in his mission (Go HERE for more of his letters): 


THE CAREFUL SHEPHERD WATCHES OVER CHRIST’S FLOCK 

In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.


The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out this duty: Clement, Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christ’s ship – or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labours and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.


I am terrified when I think of all this. Fear and trembling came upon me and the darkness of my sins almost covered me. I would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church which I have accepted if I could find such an action warranted by the example of the fathers or by holy Scripture.


Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified, with our tired mind let us turn to the words of Solomon: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own prudence. Think on him in all your ways, and he will guide your steps. In another place he says: The name of the Lord is an impregnable tower. The just man seeks refuge in it and he will be saved.


Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God’s strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations.


Let us trust in him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For he is all-powerful and he tells us: My yoke is easy and my burden is light.


Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.


Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season, as Saint Gregory writes in his book of Pastoral Instruction.




Monday, May 31, 2021

S. Bede the Venerable commenting on the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth



Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, journeyed up into the hill country to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, who herself was pregnant with John the Baptist. It is a beautiful narrative. I don’t know if it was easy or difficult for Mary to climb up those hills, but the fact is that she made the effort, and when she greeted Elizabeth, little John the Baptist leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. Imagine that! And then S. Luke says that Elizabeth was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and honoured Mary as the ‘Mother of my Lord.’


There are so many ways in which Mary represents and symbolises the Church. On this occasion what she did reminds us of what we are supposed to do. She made the effort to take Jesus within her up to the hill country and in so doing brought joy and blessing into the lives of others.   


Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth is a reminder that the Church in our time is called to ‘bring Jesus to a waiting world’.


Last week we celebrated the Feast day of S. Bede the Venerable. Here, from this morning’s Office of Readings, is a passage from one of his sermons in which he reflects on the Visitation: 


My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God’s universal favours, bestowed unceasingly on the human race.


When a man devotes all his thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, he proclaims God’s greatness. His observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows that he has God’s power and greatness always at heart. His spirit rejoices in God his saviour and delights in the mere recollection of his creator who gives him hope for eternal salvation.


These words are often for all God’s creations, but especially for the Mother of God. She alone was chosen, and she burned with spiritual love for the son she so joyously conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her saviour, for she knew that he who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord.


For the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Mary attributes nothing to her own merits. She refers all her greatness to the gift of the one whose essence is power and whose nature is greatness, for he fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him.


She did well to add: and holy is his name, to warn those who heard, and indeed all who would receive his words, that they must believe and call upon his name. For they too could share in everlasting holiness and true salvation according to the words of the prophet: and it will come to pass, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the name she spoke of earlier: and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.


Therefore it is an excellent and fruitful custom of holy Church that we should sing Mary’s hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God’s Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue. Such virtues are best achieved in the evening. We are weary after the day’s work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation.




Friday, May 7, 2021

ALL SAINTS' BENHILTON : THY KINGDOM COME


ASCENSION DAY is this Thursday 13th May, and there are TWO Masses at All Saints Benhilton:
        10.00 a.m. Low Mass

          7.30 p.m. Low Mass with Choral Anthems


PENTECOST SUNDAY is the 23rd May.


AND IN BETWEEN . . .

is a special time of prayer for evangelisation, reflecting the experience of the first disciples who were told by Jesus at his Ascension that they were to proclaim the Good News to ‘all nations’.


But he  also told them that they should first go back into Jerusalem and wait in prayer for the ‘promise of the Father’ - the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Only then would they be able to fulfil what God asked of them, not relying on their own strength, but on the power, the strength and the courage given to them by the Holy Spirit. 


That’s why in the Catholic tradition we pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit (the ‘Pentecost Novena’) between Ascension Day and Pentecost.


Under the name THY KINGDOM COME, this has evolved into a global prayer movement inviting Christians of all traditions to do the same, and to pray for more people to come to know Jesus. There are many different ways this might be done . . . using prayers from a prayer book, old or new; praying with our families each day; going to Mass daily during the week as well as on Sundays.


There are these helpful resources online:


1. THE PENTECOST NOVENA

The booklet can be downloaded and printed from HERE

The podcasts are HERE


2. A CHILDREN’S PRESENTATION WITH THE CHEEKY PANDAS

Suitable for family catechesis or in a larger group. Download from HERE


During these days, let us all pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our communities, and let us pray for those we know and love to find new life in Jesus.





Friday, April 9, 2021

Prayer for the Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021)


We pray for the repose of the soul of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021). 

May he rest in peace.

The Queen has entered into eight days of mourning.
 
At noon tomorrow (Saturday 10th April) our Tower Captain, Jeremy Cheesman, will be tolling the tenor bell half muffled 99 times, as is happening throughout the Church of England. All Saints’ will be open until 12.30 p.m. for any who wish to come in and pray and/or light a candle.
 
In addition, our 7.30 p.m. Mass on Wednesday 14th April will be a REQUIEM offered for the repose of the soul of Prince Philip, as we continue to pray for the Queen and the Royal Family in their bereavement. (Social distancing applies, and face coverings are to be worn as on Sundays.)

The Church of England has opened an online condolence book for those who wish to record a message: