Saturday, June 28, 2008

The YEAR OF ST PAUL has begun!

Today’s Mass is particularly important, for St Peter and St Paul are the great ancestors or forefathers of the Christian community, the “twin pillars” of the Church. Through their ministries the Church was first nurtured in the faith of the Gospel. You can read all about that in the Acts of the Apostles. In 64 AD a severe persecution of Christians broke out in Rome under the emperor Nero. This is widely believed to be the year of St Peter’s martyrdom. He was crucified upside down in the Circus of Nero, just below the Vatican Hill. (The present St Peter’s covers some of the area previously occupied by the Circus.)
Indeed, if you ever get to Rome, make sure you plan well in advance to visit the “Scarvi” (“excavation”) under St Peter’s Basilica, and tread the soil that was the Vatican Hill 2,000 years ago. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. The tours are for pilgrims rather than tourists, and numbers are limited. Before leaving home, read THE BONES OF ST PETER or THE TOMB OF ST PETER which will fill you in on all you need to know about the amazing 20th century discovery of the necropolis. (The first of those books is so well written it’s as riveting as a good detective story . . . except it tells a true story!) You can even go HERE for an interactive map of the Scarvi. St Paul, after exercising a remarkable ministry from his house in Rome (for much of the time under “house arrest”) was beheaded outside the city between 64 and 67 AD. His tomb, underneath the Basilica “St Paul’s Outside the Walls” has been rediscovered in recent years. For info on that go HERE
Although their backgrounds, their lives, their conversions and the missions these apostles undertook were very different, they came together in Rome and witnessed to the Gospel of Jesus with the shedding of their blood. On the 29th June, Anglicans have tended to concentrate on St Peter (cf. the Book of Common Prayer), on account of the fact that in our tradition the 25th January (the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul) has been a "Red Letter Day". (In 2009, however, that feast will actually be celebrated by all western Christians on a Sunday because of the Year of St Paul!)

Twelve months ago, at the Basilica of St. Paul, near the saint’s tomb, Pope Benedict announced that today would usher in the YEAR OF ST PAUL. Speaking about the unity of the apostles St Peter and St Paul, and having referred to their differences and the tensions that were sometimes between them, he said: “A very ancient tradition which dates back to apostolic times claims that their last meeting before their martyrdom actually took place not far from here: the two are supposed to have embraced and blessed each other. And on the main portal of this Basilica they are depicted together, with scenes of both martyrdoms. Thus, from the outset, Christian tradition has considered Peter and Paul to have been inseparable, even if each had a different mission to accomplish.” 

Then focusing on St Paul, the Pope went on to say: “As in early times, today too Christ needs apostles ready to sacrifice themselves. He needs witnesses and martyrs like St Paul. Paul, a former violent persecutor of Christians, when he fell to the ground dazzled by the divine light on the road to Damascus, did not hesitate to change sides to the Crucified One and followed him without second thoughts. He lived and worked for Christ, for him he suffered and died. How timely his example is today!”

Underscoring the ecumenical dimensions of the Year of St Paul, the Holy Father said: “The Apostle of the Gentiles, who dedicated himself to the spreading of the good news to all peoples, spent himself for the unity and harmony of all Christians. May he guide us and protect us in this bimillenary celebration, helping us to advance in the humble and sincere search for the full unity of all the members of the mystical body of Christ.” 

We are united with these two Apostles in different ways: From their place in heaven their prayers continue to avail for us as we seek to live for Jesus and witness to the Gospel in our daily lives individually and as a community. They are part of that "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews. 12:1-2) praying for us and cheering us on as we, like them, "run the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and the perfecter of our Faith." Whenever we say the Apostles’ Creed (as at Evensong and in the baptismal rite), we profess the Faith that they handed down to us, and for which they uncompromisingly died. And as we do that we know that God is calling us to be EVANGELICAL, PENTECOSTAL CATHOLICS as they were, simultaneously sensitive and bold in our Holy Spirit empowered witness to the Saviour. (How long has it been since you actually led someone else to Jesus?) St Peter and St Paul continue to teach us the faith of Christ from the pages of Holy Scripture. The Gospel of Mark was unanimously regarded by the early Church to be a kind of digest of many sermons preached by St Peter at Rome (and very few modern Scripture scholars dispute this). On the other hand, nearly every Sunday we listen to a passage from one of the letters St Paul wrote to build up the life of the early Christian communities. Sometimes when the “Epistle” is read it is as if St Paul is taking us with him into the seventh heaven of revelation; other times he is ticking us off about our half-hearted following of the Lord; and just sometimes we hear him venting his wrath about things that were – and still are – wrong in the faith community! We offer today’s Mass seeking grace so to proclaim the Gospel with love, humility and confidence that our friends who do not yet believe will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, be filled with the Holy Spirit and incorporated into the Church of the Apostles in which St Peter and St Paul are the twin pillars, that great Community of Faith and Love, the Church of Jesus himself.



St IRENAEUS OF LYONS (130 - 202) ON THE CHURCH OF ROME AND THE APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION: "Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.

"For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority - that is, the faithful everywhere - inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those who are everywhere." (Adversus Haereses, Book III, chapter 3-2)

MICHAEL RAMSEY (100th Archbishop of Canterbury) ON THE THE APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION: "Faced by the spiritual perils, which Gnosticism typifies but which recur again and again, the Church appeals to the scriptures, which are slowly being formed into the Canon, and to the historic Episcopate which has taken the place of the Apostolate; and these are both facts which point the Christians away from what is partial or subjective, to Jesus in the flesh, and to the one universal Church. Both the Canon of Scripture and the Episcopate are “developments,” and it would seem highly arbitrary to select one of these and to call it essential, while rejecting or ignoring the other. It would be more reasonable to seek in both of them, through their close inner connexion and their place in the life of the one Body, the utterance of the Gospel of God." (The Gospel and the Catholic Church p. 63)

MICHAEL RAMSEY ON WHY WE LOOK TO THE AGE OF THE FATHERS: "Amidst totally different cultural scenes, calling as they do for new understandings, why do we look back to the age of the Fathers? We learn what we can from any and every Christian century, but we look back to the time of the Fathers because it tells us of the historical givenness of our faith and because of the continuing identity of the Holy Catholic Church. "It matters greatly that the Fathers took seriously issues about truth which are still with us. It matters that the God who is the world’s Saviour is also the world’s Creator, and it matters that this God does not send a sort of intermediary to bring salvation to the world but gives his own very self to unite humanity with himself. "But the appeal of Christians to history is not a mere journey into the past, for the past is living and its saints are near and with us in the family which unites earth to heaven and heaven to earth."Athanasius and Basil and Chrysostom, together with Ambrose and Augustine and Leo, are with us in this family. We share with them and with the Mother of our Lord and God in heaven’s own worship, and they are with us as we witness to our Saviour in a dark and stormy world." (from Glimpse of Glory) 

St AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO ON THE LORD’S PRESENCE IN THE BLESSED SACRAMENT: "He walked here in the same flesh, and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. But no one eats that flesh unless first he adores it; and thus it is discovered how such a footstool of the Lord’s feet is adored; and not only do we not sin by adoring, we do sin by not adoring." (Explanations of the Psalms, 98,9).

St THERESE OF LISIEUX ON THE LITTLE WAY - BY FAITH ALONE: "When I think of the good God’s statement: ‘I shall come soon and bring my reward with me, repaying everyone according to his works’, then I say to myself that He will find Himself wonderfully embarrassed with me, because I have no works! So He will not be able to repay me according to my works. Very well, then, I trust that He will repay me according to His works.” (Quoted by Hans Urs von Balthasar in Two Sisters in the Spirit - Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

We WERE getting there . . .

One of the handful of blogs I keep an eye on is Father Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes. Father John Hunwicke is incredibly knowledgeable about most things, and he takes the mickey out of many of the PC movements of modern Anglicanism with just the right blend of ruthless skill, irony and fun. I nearly always agree with what he says!

Today Fr Hunwicke addressed the question of Christian Unity, reminding us of how excited we all were in the late 1960s and early 70s about the progress being made to heal the breach between Rome and Canterbury. Here is his masterly swipe at those who destroyed that godly movement, a movement that shaped the lives and vocations of those of us who responded to God at that time:

"At S. Thomas's this morning we had a Votive for Christian Unity. Whenever I say this wonderful old Votive the years fall away and I remember how it felt back in the 1960s, when Unity seemed to all of us both a divine imperative and a real possibility; when it seemed that the old divisions were crumbling; when we all believed it was inconceivable that anyone could be so wicked as to introduce new divisions; before the dark days came and foolish people were persuaded by the Evil One that not only are genderist deformations in Holy Order and in Liturgy right in themselves, but that they are so urgently right that their necessity transcends God's call to Unity."

Now THAT's telling it like it is! Take note, all you Aussie revisionists with your priestesses and now bishoppesses!

I wrote an article for New Directions Magazine on the same subject back in 2002: Shattered Dreams and Broken Promises.

There are still Anglicans from across the spectrum who believe that it is God's will for ALL Christians to be in full communion with the See of Peter, that the occupant thereof is the Primate of Christ's Church on earth (without, of course, losing sight of that day when the Lord's Church on earth will again breathe with BOTH lungs - East and West - together). Even at the GAFCON meeting this week in Jerusalem, though some of the evangelicals might have come from vigorously anti-papal backgrounds, there are enough bishops, clergy and lay people in attendance with a "Petrine" understanding of the Church's unity to leaven the lump at least as satisfactorily as in any other "cross-sectional" international Anglican gathering. I know that for a fact, and I'm not just referring to those attendees who might be considered stereotypically the "extreme" Anglo-Catholics!

Anyway, we should pause and pray for the unity of all Christians, maybe using these prayers by the Abbé Paul Couturier which are becoming quite well known in ecumenical circles:

Lord Jesus,
who prayed that we might all be one,

we pray to you for the unity of Christians,

according to your will,
according to your means.

May your Spirit enable us
to experience
the suffering caused by division,

to see our sin,

and to hope beyond all hope. Amen.

By your power Lord,
gather together your scattered flock

under the one authority of your Son:

that the design of your love may be accomplished

and that the world may know you, the one true God,

and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

His eye is on the sparrow

In last week’s Gospel Jesus sent out his twelve apostles as “labourers into the harvest”, or (to change the metaphor) to preach the Gospel “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 9:37; 10:6). He then warned them that they would be persecuted. (See Matthew 10:16-22).

So, Jesus knew there would be problems!

In today’s Gospel, he told them that things would go wrong; doubts would arise; some of the hearers would become hostile and reject their message. But he also told them to “have no fear;” that, whatever happened to them, they could be men of faith because God loved them and promised to protect them.

He said to them, (as he says to you and me), “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31) You and I are precious to him!

In the culture of Jesus and the apostles, sparrows were insignificant, and a bit of a nuisance. They ate grain and insects and swarmed in noisy flocks. They built nests in the eaves of houses. (Remember, though, that the Lord was hospitable to them when they built their nests in the Temple - Psalm 84:3!) They were such social creatures that a solitary sparrow became a powerful symbol of deep loneliness (Psalm 102:7).

The “copper coin,” is an “asarion”- a tiny coin worth (we are told) no more than 20 cents in our money. Those who were very poor and could not afford to sacrifice a sheep or a goat were allowed to bring a sparrow to the Temple (cf. Leviticus 14:1-7).

Sparrows had so little value that if you bought four, you were likely to get an extra one thrown in for free (Luke 12:4-7). It was this extra sparrow of which Jesus said, “and not one of them is forgotten before God.”

In 1905, a woman called Civilla Martin and her husband were staying in New York. They had become friendly with a very devout couple, by the name of Doolittle. Mrs Doolittle had been bedridden for twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who relied on his wheel chair to get around. Yet it is said that the Doolittles brought love and joy into the lives of many. Civilla Martin wrote:

“One day . . . my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs Doolittle’s reply was simple: ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.’

“The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr Martin and me. The hymn ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was the outcome of that experience.’

“Why should I feel discouraged,

why should the shadows come,

why should my heart be lonely

and long for Heaven and home,

when Jesus is my portion?

My constant Friend is he:

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,”

his tender word I hear,

and resting on his goodness,

I lose my doubts and fears;

though by the path he leadeth

but one step I may see:

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

“Whenever I am tempted,

whenever clouds arise,

when songs give place to sighing,

when hope within me dies,

I draw the closer to him;

from care he sets me free;

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

“I sing because I’m happy,

I sing because I’m free,

For his eye is on the sparrow,

And I know he watches me”

To this day Mrs Martin’s hymn is sung in churches of most traditions in the USA - especially by black choirs among whom it quickly evolved into a “spiritual.” But it is also etched on the back of my mind, having been among the first pieces I learned to play as an accompanist for a soloist friend when I was a young teenager. The musical genre is not everybody's cup of tea, but over the years its words have encouraged me in times of difficulty. Truly, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me!”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Work of the Holy Spirit

The Christian life can take many forms. Opportunities to serve the Lord are rich and varied, and so are the different vocations his children receive.

The Religious Life is a particularly intense way of living out the Baptismal promises. But vocations to the Religious Life, too, take different forms in different cultures and periods of history. In our Patmos House Community we are reminded of this by the presence in our midst of Brother Bernadine and Sister Clare-Francis, our Franciscan Tertiaries.

But last year we became connected to a new work of the Holy Spirit - the ecumenical SERVANTS OF THE SACRED CROSS, an order for women, whose foundress and Superior is Mother Wendy James, a member of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada. Her home parish is Saint Aidan’s in Halifax. In February of last year Joy Vickerstaff of our parish (though temporarily working in Canberra) came home to be received as a Postulant of the Servants of the Sacred Cross. Then, in November, when Mother Wendy came to Australia, Joy was clothed as a Novice of the Order.

I first met Mother Wendy at an Anglican Use Conference in the USA back in 2005, the day after Bishop David Moyer and I were consecrated as bishops. The Conference was at St Mary's Arlington, Texas (Father Alan Hawkins' parish - visit it HERE) and the guest speaker was Father Aidan Nichols from the U.K. It was a great couple of days, as we explored the ecumenical dimensions of our journey of faith; and I thought then that Mother Wendy would be an ideal Conference speaker for Forward in Faith Australia.

That came to pass when Mother Wendy spent a month ministering in Australia last November, initially here at Patmos House during which Sister Joy was clothed as a Novice, then in NSW, the Forward in Faith Conference in Melbourne, and finally in Perth. Mother Wendy has Sisters in New South Wales and Western Australia.

All who heard Mother Wendy speak were enormously enriched with new insights from the Word of God.

The Holy Spirit never ceases to call into existence forms of Religious Life that respond to the needs of the times. So it has been for centuries, as when the founders of the great Orders such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and others established “Lay” or “Third” Orders within their foundations for those, both married and single, men and women, who had a vocation to the Religious Life but were unable to leave the world to live in a convent or monastery. Therefore, the Servants of the Sacred Cross, while not part of a larger Order, follows in the tradition and concept of the historic Lay Orders.

The Sisters - from Anglican, Roman Catholic, Continuing Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches - are called to take up their cross and follow Jesus in a life of prayer and service. They are both married and single, living and working in their own homes and communities under Vows of Simplicity, Purity, and Obedience.

Some Sisters have active ministries in their parishes and local communities. Others are called to a more contemplative expression of service in a life of solitude and prayerful intercession. A Convent was established in August 2007 that now has Sisters in residence. Single or widowed women called to live traditional Religious Life "in community", in a house with a contemplative ethos, profess Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. The Convent is located near Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada.

We give God thanks that he has stirred Sister Joy with a challenge to serve him and his people as a Sister in the Servants of the Sacred Cross. This has been for her a new phase in her response to God's love. She is very much stepping out in faith, and as a parish community we honour that even as we have promised to support her with our love and prayers.

In fact, seeing new expressions of the Religious Life in our church should challenge each of us to examine our hearts to see how WE are going in responding to God’s love in the particular callings he has given us.

Visit the Order’s Web Site HERE

A photograph of those who attended the Patmos House Mass at which Sister Joy Vickerstaff was clothed as a Novice of the Servants of the Sacred Cross.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Why go to Church?

One of the best things about being invited to minister in the USA is the excuse it provides to pass through Los Angeles and visit St Mary of the Angels Anglican Church, Hollywood. Three times I have enjoyed the hospitality of that great parish, been uplifted by their sumptuous and exuberant yet deeply spiritual worship in the very best Missal tradition, and had the honour of preaching the Word of God from their pulpit. St Mary's is my kind of parish.

Everyone knows that such parishes thrive only because of the faithfulness, prayer and hard work of behind-the-scenes heroes who are hardly ever noticed, and would be deeply embarrassed to be singled out for attention. Well, one such hero at St Mary's is Father Beau Davis. If one were to be cheeky and say that he is a true eccentric among eccentrics (as is right and fitting in Hollywood!), it is also true to say that his faithfulness to the Lord over many years as a layman, then as a deacon and priest, has inspired a whole lot of people, young and old in their spiritual lives.

Every now and then Fr Beau passes on to his friends an email containing something that we already know, but which says it in such a stunning way that we hear it as if for the first time. This morning I was thinking about some of the witty sayings of Father Austin Day, late of Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney. He would sometimes say, "It's no good having great mystical experiences if they don't help you with the daily plod in God." In other words, we have to find and love the Lord in our ordinary day-to-day lives, sustained by our habits of worship and prayer as well as the friendship of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Isn't that what it's all about? Isn't that the Catholic life? I was thinking about these things this morning when an email arrived from Fr Beau which moved me greatly, because it makes the same point in a different way. I, in turn, pass it on to you.

Thank you, Fr Beau. I know that you shared this with us because it sums up your own faith journey:

If you're spiritually alive, you're going to love this!

If you're spiritually dead, you won't want to read it.
If you're spiritually curious, there is still hope!
You decide.


A Churchgoer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. "I've gone for 30 years now," he wrote, "and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can't remember a single one of them. So, I think I'm wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all."

This started a real controversy in the "Letters to the Editor" column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:

"I've been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this . . . They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!" When you are DOWN to nothing . . . God is UP to something! Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible! Thank God for our physical AND our spiritual nourishment!"

Now that you're done reading, if you're of a mind, you can send it on! But in any case, always remember: "When fear is knocking at your door, simply say, "Dear Lord, could you get that for me?"

Monday, June 9, 2008

Transforming Grace - the Power of His Love


"At that time: Jesus saw a man called
Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, 'Follow me.' And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.

"And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'

"But when he heard it, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'” (Matthew 9:9-13)

I have often thought about Jesus gathering his original twelve apostles. The Gospel writers are at pains to express the power, the urgency, and the compelling nature of the Master's call, as well as the total commitment he demanded. And we are told that they "left their nets" or their other occupations in response to that call.

As with most passages of Scripture, it's not a bad idea to use our imaginations a little. Maybe Jesus DID just burst in upon Matthew, unknown and unannounced. I have a hunch that for Matthew, one of the "scum" of the Jewish community who worked for the occupying Romans, and who may well have become wealthy by bumping up the surcharge on the taxes people had to pay (as he was legally entitled to do) this was part of a longer story.

Had Matthew been on the edge of the crowd as Jesus taught and healed, his curiosity giving way to a deep longing to be right with God? After all, Jesus had just been teaching about forgiveness and new beginnings.

Wealthy but despised, and isolated within his own society . . . Poor Matthew! Was his heart warmed by what he had seen and heard? Perhaps he then trudged back to his desk thinking he had become such a sinner and was so unworthy that there was no way God could possibly love him, or forgive him?

Poverty is hard. When we are desperately poor we spend all our energy just staying alive. Apart from the struggle to make ends meet, there is a high degree of social alienation and the risk of falling victim to those who prey on the powerless. But when we are poor we also tend to know our need for God, and many reach out to him intuitively in all sorts of different ways.

To be not so poor can be much harder. When, like most people in our society, we are "not poor but not rich", our striving to keep afloat and achieve goals and targets in family and business life can keep us so occupied that we never really have time to think deeply about what it is all for. We are "too busy" to notice the aching emptiness within. I recently read of a survey which indicated that just about everyone, whatever their present income, thinks they would be happy if that income increased by 40%. How naive!

To be rich can be hardest of all. Did you know that becoming fabulously wealthy - or in other respects reaching our goals - is actually the most dangerous thing that can happen to us? Look at the number of people whose lives have been ruined by winning millions in the lotto draw! In fact, most priests and doctors will confirm the high proportion of suicides from among the wealthy and famous who we think should be living charmed lives.

Why is that so?

It is clear that working hard to attain goals provides us with a certain momentum and sense of purpose. But to eventually achieve those goals and then discover that great haunting emptiness within - that our career, our hard work, the nervous energy we have expended, and the sacrifices we have made over the years simply have not produced the happiness and sense of completion we imagined they would - that is tragic. That discovery is something many people cannot cope with.

Do you think that Matthew is like that - a wealthy man who had sacrificed a lot to achieve his goals, including the respect of his countrymen, and who now knows that - his possessions notwithstanding - he is empty within? Not just empty, but in chronic need of forgiveness and healing?

It is significant that the Gospel reading shows Jesus reclining at table with "tax collectors and sinners" who were - according to his own words - in need of healing.

Jesus is the "Friend of sinners."

This is one of the things that various religious leaders who clashed with Jesus just couldn't understand. It's not that Jesus approved of the things that his sinful friends had done. But he loved them. Because he loved them he wanted to spend time with them. Through his love for them he wanted to heal them. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Sometimes we become the kind of people we are because we have been crushed and broken in spirit, often way back in childhood. I don't know if you have noticed, but there's no shortage of people wanting to crush us, to pull us down, to make us feel worthless. But Jesus comes to turn things around. Sure, he wants us to turn to him and face up to our own responsibility for what we have done with our lives . . . but he doesn't start there. First he comes alongside us in love, he gains our confidence, and in the context of a growing friendship, a deepening love, he begins his work of restoration and healing if we will let him.

The Master once said to his disciples, "As the Father sent me, so I send you." (John 20:21) That means that his Church (which is now his "body" in the world) is to continue the kind of healing ministry he had with people. Unfortunately, the Church - especially the faithful, conservative and robustly Catholic and Scriptural part of it (the part I love!) - so often gives the impression of being more like those judgmental prim and proper religious leaders of Jesus' day who imagine that they are better than everyone else. In the Gospels his harshest words are reserved for them!

The big challenge for those of us who believe that we proclaim the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints against the fuzzy destructive relativism of our day, is to be Christlike in our ministry with all whose lives are miserable, tangled and chaotic. Jesus is still the "Friend of sinners." He is my Friend and yours. But do we reach out in love to those he loves who are yet to discover him for themselves? He is full of love for all the hurting, wounded errant children of God, including those our society rejects, and especially those who are responsible for the mess they have made out of their lives. He is still loving the world back to himself, and he wants us to help those we know to respond to his love.

It works! Whose name do you see on page one of the New Testament? Matthew!


Today in the Church's Calendar we celebrate the life and ministry of St Ephrem the Deacon (sometimes spelt "Ephraem"). He was born around 306 AD at Nisbis in the Roman province of Syria, near present-day Edessa, Turkey, not far from the border of Iraq.
He became a disciple of St. James, Bishop of Nisibis, and probably accompanied him to the Council of Nicea in 325.
When Nisibis was conquered by the Persians in 363, Ephrem fled to a remote cave in Edessa where he did most of his writing. He visited St Basil at Caesarea in 370.

St Ephrem wrote many works to teach the Gospel and the Faith. He also strongly combated the ideas of the Arians and Gnostics. As a missionary, he wanted to help people remember what he taught them, so he often composed poems and songs which the people would sing in the fields while they worked and at home. A number of his poems became part of the liturgy of the Syrian Church. St Ephrem, in fact, became known as the Lyre of the Holy Spirit. His profound love of the Scriptures permeated all his works.

St Ephrem died in 373 A.D.
He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1920.

Go HERE to read an article by
Mary C. Sheridan: St Ephrem "Faith Adoring the Mystery."

Here is one of St Ephrem's most beautiful and best known passages. It is from his SERMON ON THE DEATH OF CHRIST.

"Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when, by a loud cry from that cross, he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.

"Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.

"Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong room and scattered all its treasures.

"At length he came upon Eve, the mother of all the li
ving. She was the vineyard whose enclosure her own hands had enabled death to violate, so that she could taste its fruit; thus the mother of all the living became the source of death for every living creature. But in her stead Mary grew up, a new vine in place of the old. Christ, the new life, dwelt within her. When death, with its customary impudence, came foraging for her mortal fruit, it encountered its own destruction in the hidden life which that fruit contained. All unsuspecting, it swallowed him up, and in so doing, released life itself and set free a multitude of men.

"He who was also the carpenter’s glorious son set up his cross above death’s all consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life. Since a tree had brought about the downfall of mankind, it was upon a tree that mankind crossed over to the realm of life. Bitter was the
branch that had once been grafted upon that ancient tree, but sweet the young shoot that has now been grafted in, the shoot in which we are meant to recognize the Lord whom no creature can resist.

"We give glory to you, Lord, who raised up your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge, by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to you who put on the body of a single mortal man, and made it the source of immortality for every other mortal man. You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed your body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of men raised from the dead.

"Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us offer our Lord the great and all-embracing sacrifice of o
ur love, pouring out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered his cross in sacrifice to God for the enrichment of us all."

Monday, June 2, 2008

A good read

On Saturday, after two days of meetings in Melbourne, I had a couple of hours to spare before heading out to the airport. So, I visited two bookshops - a secular one as well as the Central Catholic Bookshop. It was good to browse through some of the new titles and note that the surge of orthodox scholarship is still gathering pace, especially in the areas of theology and Biblical studies. I bought a couple of books I'd been after for some time, and then, on impulse, threw in a shorter one to read on the plane.

What an amazing book!!! I'm talking about Lorraine V. Murray's Confessions of an Ex-Feminist. I began reading it in the departure lounge, and finished the last page just as we touched down in Brisbane. It is the searingly honest account of a woman who lost her faith through 1960's radical feminism and the destructive lifestyle on which she embarked. Armed with her PhD on the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Murray went on to teach feminist philosophy for many years, passionately attacking God and the Church, and persuading students to do likewise. The second half of the book tells the story of Murray's return to the Faith. I'm not going to spoil it for you by saying any more, but you MUST get Confessions of an Ex-Feminist and read it for yourself.

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, author The Privilege of Being a Woman, says: "Confessions of an Ex-Feminist is the gripping story of millions of women who lost their religious and intellectual anchors during the tsunami of the fatal sixties and seventies. It is a movingly honest confession of how pride, arrogance, immaturity, ambition, craving to be “liberated”, blinds the female soul. Abortion kills babies and wounds a woman’s soul to its very core. But a prodigal daughter found her way back home, crushed by guilt, driven by repentance, and discovers that God’s mercy is boundless. She is now given the crucial mission of shouting on roof’s tops: feminism is the arch enemy of women. This book should become a vade mecum of young girls".

Speaking about books, it is pleasing to note that some real classics of the Anglican Catholic tradition are being reprinted. Of particular interest to us is that great Anglican/Papalist classic by Spencer Jones, England And The Holy See: An Essay Towards Reunion (1902).

Another is Darwell Stone's The Eucharistic Sacrifice (1920), an invaluable summary of the doctrine which contains a galaxy of footnotes and references to primary sources. Of course, the greatest history of the doctrine of the Eucharist in the English Language was also written by Darwell Stone, and is now available in paperback HERE.

And while we're on the subject of theology . . .

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88) was a Swiss theologian, widely considered to be one of the most important Christian intellectuals and writers of the twentieth century. Pope Benedict XVI has said, ". . . I encourage all of you to continue, with interest and enthusiasm, your study of the writings of von Balthasar . . ."

Several dozen links to articles about Balthasar’s life and work can be found HERE.

Heart of the World
, the English translation of which was published in 1979 is the source of the following essay, CONQUEST OF THE BRIDE:

"My kingdom is invisible, but I want to establish you, my Bride, before the eyes of men so visibly that no one will be able to overlook you. I want to raise you up like the brazen serpent in the desert, like the rock against which hell itself is dashed to pieces, like Mount Tabor over whose peak the shining cloud hovers, and like the Cross that casts its shadow over all lands — the blazon of my victory in failure.

"I want to establish you upon iron foundations, and your structure is to be a true and distinctive sign that I am setting up a memorial to myself upon the earth. You will be my witness to the very edge of the world, a witness that I was in the world, and I will not forsake you until the end of time. You will be a sign of contradiction among the peoples, and no one will even as much as whisper your name, O my Church, without shuddering. Over you men will have to part their ways, for many will love you and squander everything for you, but very many will hate you, and these will swear an oath not to rest until they have exterminated you from the land of men. And you will be despised like no man or thing, except myself, has ever been despised on earth. They will stand in line for the privilege of spitting in your face, of wiping off on your garments the mud from their shoes.

To read the rest of CONQUEST OF THE BRIDE go HERE.

Almighty God,
Father of all mercies,
we thine unworthy servants
do give thee most humble and hearty thanks
for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us,
and to all men;
We bless thee for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all, for thine inestimable love
in the redemption of the world
by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace,
and for the hope of glory.
And, we beseech thee,
give us that due sense of all thy mercies,
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful,
and that we shew forth thy praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives;
by giving up ourselves to thy service,
and by walking before thee
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost
be all honour and glory,
world without end. Amen.

From the Book of Common Prayer