Saturday, January 31, 2009

To Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament

blessed ever-Virgin,
indeed thou art blessed,
hearing the Word of God and keeping it,
receiving the Word-made-Flesh,
trusting in the promises of God.
Pray for us, dear Mother,
that receiving thy Son in the Holy Mysteries
may give us joy in this world,
strength to bear its sorrows,
and a sure and certain hope
of the glory that is to come.
Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, pray for us,
that we may know and love thy Son, more and more,
in the Holy Eucharist.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Charles Stuart, King & Martyr

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

Go HERE to read an Essay on King Charles by Donald Hole (published by the Society of Our Lady of Walsingham in 1941).

Go HERE to read an Address given by Professor David Flint (at All Saints' Wickham Terrace on this day in 2000).

O God, who by the victory of martyrdom didst exalt thy Servant Charles from his earthly principality 
to thy kingdom in heaven;grant that we may always enjoy the effectual defence of his prayers, and live in thy peace all the days of our life; Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth one God, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

(Western Rite)

O Lord God, who out of thine infinite mercy and goodness didst bring back the captivity of Sion, and in good part restore this then afflicted Church, perfect, we beseech thee, this thy great deliverance. Hedge it about with thy continual protection, with the custody of Angels, with the duty of kings and princes, with the hearts and hands of nobles, and with the affections of all good people. Re-unite all our remaining divisions and reconcile our differences, that with one heart and voice we may serve and praise thee in thy holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from the original office for January 30th
compiled by Dr. Duppa, Bishop of Winchester 1661)

Pray for the new Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

On the evening of January 27, 2009, it was announced that Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad had been elected the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. The highly regarded Metropolitan Kirill had served as locum since the death of Patriarch Alexy II in early December. When the ballots were counted, he had collected 72% of the votes of all who had assembled. To be elected Patriarch, the candidate must receive more than half of the votes.

The new Patriarch is well-known for his deep faith in the Lord and his championing of Orthodoxy. He is also very open to dialogue with the Holy See. He is concerned with the moral decline of our time, as well as the growing rejection of Christian influence throughout Russia and Europe. Kirill has called upon Orthodox Christians to be actively involved in reclaiming the culture with the values informed by the ancient faith.

Kirill has hosted his own television program for over ten years entitled "Words of a Pastor". He is known as a wise and gifted teacher and preacher.

Pope John Paul II wrote and spoke regularly of the need for the Church to breathe once again with "both lungs", East and West. Patriarch Kirill's election gives many reason to believe that that day is on the horizon.

Go HERE to read Pope Benedict's message to the new Patriarch.

Here is a recently authorised prayer for the Russian Orthodox Church:

O Lord Jesus Christ our God,
accept from us, Thine unworthy servants,

these words of thanksgiving:

for Thou hast given unity to the Church of Russia

and transformed into joy

the greatly painful cry of Thy servants.

Hearken now to our supplication:

Bring Thine own labourers unto the harvest,

that the Church may not lack good pastors

to enlighten so great a multitude of those

who have not been taught the Faith

or have fallen away therefrom.

Instill obedience to Thee
in those who govern,

and justice and mercy in their judgments;

compassion in the rich,

and longsuffering in the weak:

that in our land
the kingdom of Christ may thus grow and increase,
and that Thou, O God,

Who art wondrous in Thy saints,

may be glorified therein.

Unto those who are led astray
by heresies and schisms,
who have fallen away from Thee or seek Thee not,

show Thyself forth as almighty,
that not one of them may perish,
but that all of us may be saved

and come to the knowledge of the Truth:

that all, in harmonious oneness of mind
and constant love,
may glorify Thy most honored name,

O kind and patienthearted Lord,

unto the ages of ages.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Conversion of St Paul

Caravaggio's "Conversion of St Paul", (1600)
at Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting"

"A Damascus Road experience." The expression has so become part of our language that we use it to describe any radical change of heart, be it the conversion of smokers into non-smokers, meat eaters into vegetarians, or the sudden exchange of one philosophy for another when (to use another metaphor) "the penny drops". Well, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus in AD 33 or 34, which we celebrate today, was certainly the original and most startling "Damascus Road experience" of all! So much so that most of the themes we find throughout the rest of his life and teaching can be understood as the logical consequence of his initial encounter with the risen Jesus.

Saul was born into a family of means and influence; they even had Roman citizenship. Nurtured in the Jewish tradition at his mother's knee, and then at the feet of Rabbi Gamaliel, he was also well versed in the Greek philosophies and religious cults of his day. As a young man he had become a zealous member of the Pharisee party.

While there are different views as to whether or not he might have met Jesus "in the flesh", we know that in the earliest days of the Church Saul passionately hated the Gospel, and had been given authority to direct the persecution of Christians - something he did with great thoroughness ". . . entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison" (Acts 8:3b). Indeed, the first time we come across him in Acts he is consenting to the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. (St Augustine remarked, "The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.")

This Saul was still "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1) when he gained approval to search for followers of Jesus at Damascus in order to "bring them bound to Jerusalem." Damascus is 217 kilometres northeast of Jerusalem, a distance that takes about six days on foot. Saul and his party set out, and in one of those "revelational leaps" of which our God is entirely capable, heaven was opened for a split second, and the dazzling light of the shekina - the manifest glory of God - blinded Saul and knocked him to the ground. In an instant, he knew that he had been completely wrong about the Christians.

Everything changed because when Saul bit the dust he saw the risen Jesus for himself. From then on, all he wanted was to be a slave of Jesus in the ministry of helping others experience the love, grace, forgiveness and healing power (the "salvation" or "wholeness") that only Jesus can bring (Romans 1:17).

Look at what the Voice from heaven said: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5b). It was the Church that Saul had been persecuting; clearly to persecute the Church was to persecute Jesus. Right from the beginning, then, Jesus and his people are identified in the closest possible way. We might say that Acts 9:5 shows just how "catholic" the Gospel has been from the start. Saul would develop this in his teaching that the Church is "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

It is a fundamental point of Acts 9 that Saul's conversion entailed his becoming part of this Church, the community with which Jesus so closely identified himself, the people Saul had treated so badly. It was these people who, in their gathering to hear the Word proclaimed, to celebrate the Sacraments, especially the miracle of the Eucharist, and to support one another in their joys and sorrows, experienced all over again the love, power and healing presence of the risen Jesus. Notice that right from the Damascus Road, divine instruction made it clear that the only way Saul would fully know the risen Jesus was in the ongoing life of the Church community.

From then on, his work was "warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me" (Colossians 1:28b-29). "For our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1 Thessalonians 1:5a).

St Paul preached and lived out the message of the Cross: that in baptism not only do we die to sin and are buried with Jesus, but that we also rise with him to newness of life, becoming a new creation, already sharing his victory, and destined someday literally to rise from the dead like him (Romans 6:1-3). Furthermore, that the Holy Spirit is given to us, prays in us, fills us, empowers us, enabling us to be one as we reach out to others with the Gospel.

St Paul organized his converts into local house churches, and constantly exhorted them in person and by letter to guard their communion with the Lord and his Church by remaining faithful to the teaching and tradition handed down from the apostles.

According to St Paul this "communion" or "shared life" has come about by God's grace. In Ephesians 2:8 he said, "By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God." In other words, saving faith is a free, total, personal and loving commitment to Jesus and his Church, a relationship that bears fruit in so many more "good works" than could ever be envisaged by "the Law."

Tradition tells us that, although Saul of Tarsus was from a background of scholarship and social advantage, he was unprepossessing in his physical appearance, and he was not a very gifted public speaker. And we know from the Scriptures that his ministry was one of pain and anguish as well as joy. This passage from his second letter to the Corinthians says it all:
"We put no obstacle in any one's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything." (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)

When it was clear to St Paul that he was approaching the end of his life on earth, he wrote these words to his spiritual son, Timothy:
" . . . the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

O God,
who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul,
hast caused the light of the Gospel
to shine throughout the world :
grant, we beseech thee, that we,
having his wonderful conversion in remembrance,
may shew forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same,
by following the holy doctrine which he taught.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
ever one God,
world without end.

By the way: If you've wondered what significance there is behind "Saul" becoming "Paul", you're not alone. A number of theories exist. Acts 13:6 is where Saul is called Paul for the first time ("But Saul, who was also known as Paul, . . . ") I think those scholars are correct who say that when Saul is in a Jewish context his Jewish name was used, but when he is in a Greek and Roman context his Roman name "Paul" is used. Dr. David B. Capes Professor of Greek and New Testament Studies at Houston Baptist University says:
In Antioch where the Jewish population of Christ-believers was significant it made sense that he'd use his Jewish name. But during the Gentile mission, he encountered primarily, well . . . Gentiles. So he used his Roman name then. But there's another thing. When you take the Jewish name Saul and render it in Greek it sounds like this: Saulos. And the word saulos in Greek means "the sultry walk of a prostitute." No wonder Paul didn't want to be introduced like that!

Dr Cape's article is HERE.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Love we Crave

This is an edited transcript of the sermon from Midnight Mass, Christmas 2007. It was published in the most recent "Patmos Review."

Those who are fortunate enough to have grown up in families that are not too dysfunctional sometimes underestimate how hard it is for many others to know what real love is.

This is because of the impact of our earliest childhood experiences. Counsellors often tell us that the way we relate to others throughout our lives is pretty well determined by the time we start school. I think they're right. Some psychologists say even younger than that: by the age of three. Now that's truly frightening!

To read the whole sermon click HERE.

From the Church Times Blog . . .

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pope Benedict on Seeking Christian Unity

Most Christians in the world are currently in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (which in Australia is observed between Ascension Day and Pentecost on account of our summer holiday exodus mitigating against the success of any organised Church events in January). Here is Pope Benedict's message given at Wednesday's General Audience:


Dear brothers and sisters:

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began last Sunday and will conclude this Sunday, feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle. This is a beautiful spiritual initiative, which is spreading more and more among Christians, in harmony, and we could say, in response to the pressing invocation that Jesus directed to the Father from the Upper Room: "That they may all be one, that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:21).

On four occasions during this priestly prayer, the Lord asks that his disciples be one, according to the image of the unity between the Father and the Son. This is a unity that can only grow in the example of the surrender of the Son to the Father, that is, going out of oneself and uniting oneself to Christ. Twice, moreover, in this prayer, Jesus adds as the objective of this union: That the world may believe. Full unity is connected, therefore with the life and the very mission of the Church in the world. [The Church] should live a unity that can only be derived from her unity with Christ, with its transcendence, as a sign that Christ is the truth.

This is our responsibility: That the gift of unity be visible for the world, in virtue of which our faith is made credible. For this, it is important that each Christian community become aware of the urgency of working in every way possible to reach this grand objective. Only going out of ourselves and toward Christ, only in this relationship with him can we come to be truly united among ourselves. This is the invitation that, with the present week [of prayer], is directed to believers in Christ of every Church and ecclesial community; to him, dear brothers and sisters, we should respond with generosity.

This year, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity proposes for our meditation and prayer words taken from the book of the prophet Ezekiel: "That They May Become One in Your Hand" (37:17) . . .

Click HERE to read the rest of Pope Benedict's address.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Sacrament of the Present Moment

Quite some time ago I was preaching on 2 Corinthians 6:1-2:
"we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, 'At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.' Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation."

I observed that many people dwell on what God has done in the past (either in history or in their own lives), while many others spend their whole lives yearning for some future time when God will pour out his blessings. I went on about how it is good to keep an eye on the past (as we do when we glance at the rear vision mirror while driving), as well as on the future (as we do when we look ahead through the windscreen). But what kind of God have we if he is only in the past or the future, and never in the present?

NOW is the day of salvation.

(Of course I remarked how in the astonishing miracle of the Mass, past and future actually become present, enabling us to draw NOW on the benefits of the Lord's passion, even as we allow ourselves to be swept up NOW into the eschaton so that, being lost in wonder, love and praise, we are already part of the worship of the heavenly Mount Zion!)

Last night I went to the birthday party of one of our parishioners, and I was surprised that for a little while a story I told in that sermon - in fact, that I had shamelessly stolen from another tradition! - became the topic of conversation. Some of the people around the table felt that it perfectly describes the way God is present to us NOW when we face difficulties and trials. So, here it is:

One day a man is being chased by a big, fast tiger with a loud growl and razor sharp teeth. The man runs faster and faster, terrified by what might happen to him.

He's just about out of breath when he comes to a screeching halt right at the edge of a cliff. Way below is a turbulent sea, waves crashing on huge jagged rock formations. The man is trapped between the roaring beast and the waves and rocks below. Looking around in the few seconds he has left, he notices a rope hanging over the edge of the cliff. Quickly, he grabs hold of it and lowers himself over the side.

The rope, however, turns out to be far too short. But the man slides down to the end of it, and there he hangs, dangling in space, half way between disaster above and disaster below. He looks up and sees the tiger leering at him, growling and waiting to devour him. Then he looks down at the deadly drop of a thousand feet to the rocks below. "Surely this is as bad as it gets", he thinks to himself. Just then he looks up again and sees two mice starting to nibble at the rope. Tiger above, rocks below, and mice chewing through his lifeline.

Just then the man sees, right in front of him, a little plant with green leaves, growing out of the side of the cliff. There, in the middle of the plant, he can see one perfect, ripe strawberry. His mouth starts to water. Holding onto the rope with one hand and his knees, he stretches as far as he can and picks the strawberry and puts it into his mouth . . . and he says in spontaneous gratitude, "Thank you Jesus."

Well, that's the end of the story. We don't know what happens next. Maybe the man is eaten by the tiger; maybe he falls to his death on the rocks below; maybe he is somehow miraculously rescued. You see, none of these possible endings is the point of the story. The story has no ending.

The tiger above, the rocks below and the mice eating the rope have all ceased to matter. All that matters in that instant of time is the ripe, red strawberry - and the thankfulness to the Lord the man experiences in his soul as he puts the strawberry into his mouth. He is truly living in the now. Enough is enough.

In Jeremiah 23:23-24 we read:

Am I a God at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? says the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? says the Lord.

Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675 - 1751) was a French Jesuit priest who travelled widely preaching the Gospel and teaching about the life of faith and prayer. Many who heard him rediscovered a sense of the immediacy of God's presence, and it is not too much to say that his following constituted a renewal movement in the Church of his time. He was spiritual director to a community of nuns, and many of his letters to them were published in 1741 under the title "Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence".

de Caussade draws on the anointed teachings of the great spiritual guides such as St Francis de Sales, St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, and St Augustine of Hippo; but he does so in a way that makes them refreshing and accessible.

The point of telling you all this is that on one of her journeys to America, Kitty Muggeridge came across this book and devoured it. She says that it was as if

"de Caussade had joined the cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12 and was urging me to experience each moment - every moment - as a holy sacrament. I was encouraged to cease my frantic strivings for holiness and rest in the Light of Christ. It was a hallowed place, a holy day, a sacramental moment."

In 1981 Muggeridge gave the English speaking world a deeply moving translation of de Caussade's book which she entitled, "The Sacrament of the Present Moment". She wrote:

"The sacrament of the present moment is relevant today for those who find life purposeless in a society abandoned to the fantasies and arrogance of the pursuit of happiness which so quickly becomes a pursuit of pleasure; in which suffering, mental or physical, must be drugged out of existence; in which there is no place for the Cross in Christianity. Those who are ready to believe in God will find comfort and hope in the quest for perfection through surrendering themselves to his will and discovering in the reality and humiliation of life's trials and tribulation his loving purpose for them."

We go to Mass and have our times of prayer and reflection on the Scriptures, believing (rightly) that in so doing we receive God's grace, love and strength - his very life. But sometimes it is easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that these times are the "exceptions" to the rule. They are not. God gives himself to us in the sacraments so that we might begin to experience the whole of life as sacramental, and somehow become able to receive God's life through all things.

For example, Fr Alexander Schmemann, from the Eastern tradition, teaches that the Eucharist not only reveals Jesus to us; it also reveals the true nature of creation. He said that bread can never be the same again now that Jesus has taken it and made it his body.

Fr Schmemann warns against building a fence around that sacred moment of consecration and confining it to the liturgy itself, so that once Mass is over everything "returns to normal" and we live lives as empty and as secular as non-believers around us.

Fr Stephen Freeman, also from the Eastern tradition, says that

"because God is 'everywhere present and filling all things,' there is no 'normal and ordinary,' no 'secular.' Everything is changed. There is no eating of bread that is not a communion with God. There is no encounter with a tree that is not an encounter with the hard wood of the cross, the 'weapon of peace' . . .

"We do not have a 'neutral zone' where we live apart from God. Instead, we have zones of ignorance, where believing Christians live as unbelievers, awaiting their next attendance at a 'God permitted' zone.

"No, the truth is that God has united Himself not only to humanity in the incarnation, but to matter itself. Man is the 'microcosm' according to the Fathers, a 'little cosmos' in himself. This is most fully and completely true in Christ, who has truly summed up the cosmos within Himself. Thus we look forward to the redemption and resurrection of the whole created order and not just man (Romans 8).

"Thus we are never separated from God who is freely with us, but also giving Himself to us in everything around us. This is no profession of pantheism. God has not become everything else. But everything else holds the possibility of encounter with God as surely as the holy water within the Church or every sacrament He has given us. 'The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.'"

God has called us to play our part in his redemptive plan. It has been said that we exist, primarily, to journey with whoever may be with us at the time. That, of course, doesn't preclude hopes and dreams for the future. But it does mean that nothing must be allowed to diminish the sense in which each present moment is truly a sacrament of God's love. After all, it was Jesus who said, "Don't worry about tomorrow - it has enough problems of its own. Trust me. I'll take care of tomorrow. You concentrate on how you're doing today."

Or in the words of de Caussaude:
. . . all the "duties of the present moment are marked along its course, one by one they will fulfill them unconfused, unhurried. For the rest they will keep themselves entirely free, waiting always to obey the stirrings of grace as soon as they make themselves known, and to surrender themselves to the care of Providence."

Go HERE to buy
Kitty Muggeridge's

translation of
de Caussaude's book.
You'll be so glad you did.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Some handy resources

If you're looking for some basic but interesting material that will help you - and/or your friends - think through the debate kick-started by Richard Dawkins, check out the following resources:

The Dawkins Delusion?:
Atheist Fundamentalism
and the Denial of the Divine
by Alister E. McGrath and
Joanna Collicutt Mcgrath

God Is No Delusion -
A Refutation of
Richard Dawkins
by Thomas Crean, O.P.

Answering the New
Atheism: Dismantling
Dawkins' Case
Against God
by Scott Hahn
& Benjamin Wiker

AUDIO LECTURE on the Existence of God by Peter Kreeft of Boston College.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another bus . . .

A friend sent me this picture which appeared some time ago on the Ignatius Press Blog:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Didn't I say it all hinges on "probably"?

According to Ruth Gledhill, religious correspondent at The Times, because more than 50 complaints have been made to the Advertising Standards Authority about the atheist bus, there will be an inquiry. According to her blog, one of the complainants is her predecessor at The Times, the greatly respected Clifford Longley.

I did say in yesterday's post that it all hinged on "probably." Longley agrees. He writes:
'The statement "There's probably no God", as currently seen on the side of London buses, is untrue and dishonest, in so far as the word "probably" completely fails to reflect the true state of the scientific argument. In fact it would be honest and true to say the opposite - "There probably is a God." A fair reading of the material below could lead to no other conclusion.

'I therefore call on the ASA to order the withdrawal of this advertising, as incompatible with its code of practice. According to growing numbers of scientists, the laws and constants of nature are so "finely-tuned," and so many "coincidences" have occurred to allow for the possibility of life, the universe must have come into existence through intentional planning and intelligence.

'In fact, this "fine-tuning" is so pronounced, and the "coincidences" are so numerous, many scientists have come to espouse "The Anthropic Principle," which contends that the universe was brought into existence intentionally for the sake of producing mankind. Even those who do not accept The Anthropic Principle admit to the "fine-tuning" and conclude that the universe is "too contrived" to be a chance event.

'Dr. Dennis Scania, head of Cambridge University Observatories, said in a BBC science documentary, The Anthropic Principle: "If you change a little bit the laws of nature, or you change a little bit the constants of nature - like the charge on the electron - then the way the universe develops is so changed, it is very likely that intelligent life would not have been able to develop."

'Dr. David D. Deutsch, Institute of Mathematics, Oxford University: observed: "If we nudge one of these constants just a few percent in one direction, stars burn out within a million years of their formation, and there is no time for evolution. If we nudge it a few percent in the other direction, then no elements heavier than helium form. No carbon, no life. Not even any chemistry. No complexity at all."

'Dr. Paul Davies, noted author and professor of theoretical physics at Adelaide University, said: "The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural 'constants' were off even slightly."

'When the late Sir Fred Hoyle was researching how carbon came to be created in the "blast-furnaces" of the stars, his calculations indicated that it is very difficult to explain how the stars generated the necessary quantity of carbon upon which life on earth depends. Hoyle found that there were numerous "fortunate" one-time occurrences which seemed to indicate that purposeful "adjustments" had been made in the laws of physics and chemistry in order to produce the necessary carbon.

Hoyle summed up his findings as follows: "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintendent has monkeyed with the physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.

'I do not believe that any physicist who examined the evidence could fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce within stars." Dr. David D. Deutch remarked: "If anyone claims not to be surprised by the special features that the universe has, he is hiding his head in the sand. These special features are surprising and unlikely."

'The August '97 issue of Science featured an article entitled Science and God: A Warming Trend? in which it stated: "The fact that the universe exhibits many features that foster organic life - such as precisely those physical constants that result in planets and long-lived stars - also has led some scientists to speculate that some divine influence may be present."

'In his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, Sir Stephen Hawking (perhaps the world's most famous cosmologist) stated: "The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers (i.e. the constants of physics) seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life" (p. 125). "For example," Hawking wrote, "if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded... It seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers (for the constants) that would allow for development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty." Hawking said this was evidence of "a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science (by God)" (ibid. p. 125). If you would like further information regarding the science I would refer you to the Faraday Institute at St Edmund's College Cambridge (with which I have no connection.)'

Friday, January 9, 2009

It all hinges on "probably"

I have been watching with interest the fundraising campaign of comedy writer Ariane Sherine, scientist/ atheist Richard Dawkins and their friends in the UK to buy advertising space on the side of the "bendy busses" of London. According to Riazat Butt, in the Guardian:

The principal slogan – "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" – can already be seen on four London bus routes, and now 200 bendy buses in London and 600 across the country are to carry the advert after a fundraising drive raised more than £140,000.
The money will also pay for 1,000 advertisements on London Underground from next Monday and on a pair of giant LCD screens opposite Bond Street tube station, in Oxford Street. Organisers unveiled a set of quotes from public figures – including Albert Einstein, Douglas Adams and Katharine Hepburn – who have endorsed atheism, or at least expressed scepticism about a Creator.

I've commented on ultra-fundamentalist Richard Dawkins before (go HERE). He's contributed £5,000 of his own money to this advertising on the busses. So, why did the British Humanist Association settle for "probably"? It might be a clever way of getting around the Advertising Standards Committee; it might be a way of not seeming to be as closed minded as other fundamentalists (although that's never worried Dawkins before). It is said that Dawkins himself preferred the phrase "almost certainly", but agreed to "probably" because "science can produce no certainties, only statistical probabilities."

Many people have observed Australia to be a far more secular country than either Britain or the USA. So it came as a bit of a surprise to read in today's Sydney Morning Herald this article on the rejection by Australia's biggest outdoor advertising company, APN Outdoor, of The Atheist Foundation of Australia's proposal for a similar nationwide campaign featuring atheist slogans.

The Foundation's President, David Nichols, clearly had his nose put out of joint

"Australia is in desperate need of a human rights and equal opportunities act," Mr Nicholls said.

"It's clear that western Europe, the US and Britain have better laws than we do when it comes to ... respecting freedom of speech."

In fact, Christians welcome the debate about God's existence, even if we are a bit bemused by the "probably"! We owe Dawkins et al a great debt (quite literally!) because that "probably" is going to make so many people ask so many questions and explore the evidence and pilosophical arguments afresh. The SMH article continues:

Associate Professor Carole Cusack, of the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney, said most Australians were too apathetic about religion to be affected negatively by the campaign. "If religions can buy advertising space, then why not atheists?"

Friar Peter McGrath, of St Francis of Assisi Catholic parish in Paddington, agreed.

"The [atheists] should have a right to advertise. They should be able to say what they want."

I couldn't agree more. Bring the debate on!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mary, Mother of God

Fr John Hunwicke writes:
Once upon a time, a thousand years ago in a church which was probably several hundred times larger than S Thomas's, the great basilica of Blachernae in Constantinople, high up on the ceiling near the Altar, was an enormous picture of a Palestinian teenager, that selfsame Girl who is such a lead-player in the Christmass celebrations. There she stood orans, her hands raised in prayer, and in front of her womb, in a round circle, a painting of her Divine Son - his hand lifted in blessing. That image of Mary was called Platytera tou kosmou, the Woman Wider than the Universe. Mary was Great with Child; her Child was Almighty God. She contained the One whom the heaven of heavens is too narrow to hold. Can a foot be larger than the boot or an oyster greater than the shell? For Christians, apparently, Yes. Mary's slender womb enthroned within it the Maker of the Universe, the God who is greater than all the galaxies that stream across the firmament. The tummy of a Girl was wider than creation.

Then on the crisp night air came the squeal of the newly born baby. It came from the cave that was both a stable and a birth-place. That stable in Bethlehem, as C S Lewis memorably explains in The Last Battle, 'had something in it that was bigger than our entire world'. The stable, like Mary, was great with child; very great, for that Child is God. And what is true of the womb of the Mother of God, and what is true of that stable at Bethlehem, is true also of what we are about here this Christmass. Bread becomes God Almighty; little round disks of unleavened bread are recreated by the Maker of the World to be Himself. As Mary's Baby was bigger than all creation, than all the stars and clouds and mass of it, so the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is bigger than the Kosmos.

As you make your Christmass communion, glorious and loving Infinity comes to make His dwelling in your poor body; so that, as you walk or drive home for the rest of Christmass, you are platyteroi tou Kosmou: broader than the Universe.

(From Fr John Hunwicke’s Christmass sermon at St Thomas’ Oxford)

From ARCIC II: Christ and Mary in the Ancient Common Tradition
31. In the early Church, reflection on Mary served to interpret and safeguard the apostolic Tradition centred on Jesus Christ. Patristic testimony to Mary as 'God-bearer' (Theotókos) emerged from reflection on Scripture and the celebration of Christian feasts, but its development was due chiefly to the early Christological controversies. In the crucible of these controversies of the first five centuries, and their resolution in successive Ecumenical Councils, reflection on Mary's role in the Incarnation was integral to the articulation of orthodox faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

32. In defence of Christ's true humanity, and against Docetism, the early Church emphasized Jesus' birth from Mary. He did not just 'appear' to be human; he did not descend from heaven in a 'heavenly body', nor when he was born did he simply 'pass through' his mother. Rather, Mary gave birth to her son of her own substance. For Ignatius of Antioch (†c.110) and Tertullian (†c.225), Jesus is fully human, because 'truly born' of Mary. In the words of the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed (381), "he was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man." The definition of Chalcedon (451), reaffirming this creed, attests that Christ is "consubstantial with the Father according to the divinity and consubstantial with us according to the humanity." The Athanasian Creed confesses yet more concretely that he is "man, of the substance of his Mother." This Anglicans and Roman Catholics together affirm.

33. In defence of his true divinity, the early Church emphasized Mary's virginal conception of Jesus Christ. According to the Fathers, his conception by the Holy Spirit testifies to Christ's divine origin and divine identity. The One born of Mary is the eternal Son of God. Eastern and Western Fathers - such as Justin (†c.150), Irenaeus (†c.202), Athanasius (†373), and Ambrose (†397) - expounded this New Testament teaching in terms of Genesis 3 (Mary is the antitype of 'virgin Eve') and Isaiah 7:14 (she fulfils the prophet's vision and gives birth to "God with us"). They appealed to the virginal conception to defend both the Lord's divinity and Mary's honour. As the Apostles' Creed confesses: Jesus Christ was "conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary." This Anglicans and Roman Catholics together affirm.

34. Mary's title Theotókos was formally invoked to safeguard the orthodox doctrine of the unity of Christ's person. This title had been in use in churches under the influence of Alexandria at least from the time of the Arian controversy. Since Jesus Christ is "true God from true God", as the Council of Nicaea (325) declared, these churches concluded that his mother, Mary, can rightly be called the 'God-bearer'. Churches under the influence of Antioch, however, conscious of the threat Apollinarianism posed to belief in the full humanity of Christ, did not immediately adopt this title. The debate between Cyril of Alexandria (†444) and Nestorius (†455), patriarch of Constantinople, who was formed in the Antiochene school, revealed that the real issue in the question of Mary's title was the unity of Christ's person. The ensuing Council of Ephesus (431) used Theotókos (literally 'God-bearer'; in Latin, Deipara) to affirm the oneness of Christ's person by identifying Mary as the Mother of God the Word incarnate. The rule of faith on this matter takes more precise expression in the definition of Chalcedon: "One and the same Son ... was begotten from the Father before the ages as to the divinity and in the latter days for us and our salvation was born as to the humanity from Mary the Virgin Theotókos." In receiving the Council of Ephesus and the definition of Chalcedon, Anglicans and Roman Catholics together confess Mary as Theotókos.

From . . . Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ
Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC II), February, 2004