Friday, August 28, 2009

YEAR OF THE PRIEST: The Most Reverend Sir Philip Strong KBE CMG CStJ DD MA ThD

As a young man I had the privilege of serving Mass a handful of times for Bishop Strong, the retired Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia (1966 to 1970), who had also been Bishop of New Guinea from 1936 to1962, and Archbishop of Brisbane from 1963 to 1970. Bishop Strong was a staunch Anglo-Catholic with strong evangelical roots, and a man of deep prayer and mystical temperament. His preaching was electrifying. We used to describe him as a combination of "Billy Graham in the pulpit and the Pope at the altar." He focussed on Jesus, the Gospel, the Catholic Faith and the people of God.

Because this coming Tuesday (2nd Sept) is the Feast of the New Guinea Martyrs, we reflect on a sermon of Bishop Strong demonstrating the courage and faith of those who gave their lives out of love for the Lord and their people during World war II. The sermon was preached at St Peters Easter
n Hill, Melbourne, with Bishop Strong referring to the famous stained glass windows in memory of the New Guinea martyrs. Following the sermon is the transcript of the radio broadcast the Bishop made to his mission staff. The latter is from from The New Guinea Diaries of Philip Strong, 1936-1945, edited by David Wetherell, Appendix B, pages 222-223. Both items are available on the Project Canterbury website.

(St John 10, verse

This is the text which is inscribed at the foot of your centenary window, dedicated in 1946 in memory of the New Guinea Martyrs of 1942. It is appropriate indeed that we should be offering this Holy Eucharist in thanksgiving for them, here; this evening of New Guinea Martyrs' Day. For St Peter's Church was, I think, perhaps the first church in Australia to commemorate the New Guinea Martyrs in this way and to do so in such a permanent manner that it might be a reminder of them for all time . . .

Forgive me if I speak of much that you may already know, but I rather guess that after thirty-five years from its erection, many in this present generation may have often admired [your New Guinea Martyrs memorial window], but not realised and grasped all that is contained in it, and the fullness of the witness that it gives. This big three light window is indeed a great work of art and thought to be one of the most perfect works carried out in Australian coloured glass. The theme of it is an inspiration. It was entirely the conception of Canon Maynard with Napier Wailer as its artist.

The theme represents BEAUTY, TRUTH and GOODNESS - three of the attributes of God himself - and shows these being represented and revealed in the Church in Papua New Guinea. Taking first the left-hand light: the top panel is of a woman missionary among primitive children, holding up a flower revealing God through the beauty of nature. Above the first panel is represented the Holy Spirit coming down as a dove. The next panel immediately below it shows a woman missionary in a primitive mission school - as many of them were in those days - teaching the truth as it is in God. Two of the four martyred women missionaries were teachers.

Mavis Parkinson of the coastal station of Gona was one, and I remember how when I suggested to her some months before her martyrdom that she should be moved to an [3/4] inland station which I thought might perhaps be safer, though it proved later that it would not have been so - how she implored me with tears in her eyes not to do so, saying, 'What will the children do if I go?' And then there was Lilla Lashmar of Sangara, who in her last letter to her mother a short time before the invasion, writing of the uncertainties of life then, said, 'I only want to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ'.

Then the third panel below that is of a missionary nurse in a missionary dispensary building, binding up the sick and revealing God through the works of goodness. Two of our four martyred women missionaries were nurses. Margery Brenchley of Sangara, of whom a young Papuan youth said to me after her death, when he told me of many who had died through an epidemic, 'If Sister Brenchley had been here they would not have died'. And the other was May Hayman of Gona, who a few months before her death had become engaged to Father Vivian Redlich. She, like Mavis Parkinson, had said to me, 'What will the sick do if I move from here?' and on a visit to Gona three months later, and only a month before the Japanese invasion, in addition to her caring for the Papuan sick, I found she was nursing also an American wounded airman who had fallen from the skies and been found in the jungle by Papuans and brought by them to Sister Hayman at Gona Mission Station. He would otherwise have died; she undoubtedly saved his life, so that it could have been said of her, as of her Divine Master to whom she was to be faithful unto death, 'She saved other herself she could not save'.

The bottom panels of each of the three lights portray martyrdom, and the bottom one of that first light shows two women missionary martyrs and the two Papuan martyrs fleeing before the Japanese. We may think of those two women missionaries as representing Mavis and May, often called 'The two Gona Sisters'. I have already given you a glimpse of the confidence I was privileged to share with them which enabled me to see dearly the purity of heart that was in them and the measure to which they counted the cost, and their willingness and readiness to give up all for Christ's sake. When speaking to them of what the Japanese might do to them if they came they simply said 'We are in God's hands, and are ready to suffer for them if he so wills'. I felt humbled indeed after their deaths to realise that I had seen in them the true martyrs' spirit of selfless devotion; and I felt indeed that immediately they had passed through their transient sufferings, terrible though they may have been, by being taunted by their captors and then bayonetted to death over an open grave, their Glory must have been unspeakable. The Church in New Guinea from its earliest days owed so much to its women missionaries - but of that I have not time to speak tonight.

Then we can see depicted in that bottom panel the two Papuan martyrs, Leslie Gariadi and Lucian Tapiedi. Leslie, the faithful helper of Father Henry Matthews who died with him; and Lucian, the loyal and faithful attendant of the Sangara missionaries, who was killed by axes by the heathen people who took the missionaries captive to hand them over to the Japanese, when he stood up for them and tried to defend them. Of all our martyrs in Papua, his body and that of the two Gona Sisters alone were recovered, and it is appropriate that white and brown should have been eventually laid side by side in graves at the Sangara Mission Station, even though that was to be eventually devastated in the Mt Lamington eruption of 1951.

Turning now to the middle light of our New Guinea Martyrs memorial window - the top panel shows the glorious Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, Dogura, and the pro cession led by me, as Bishop, on its way to the Consecration at which your one-time Vicar Father Maynard was present. This symbolises BEAUTY, first revealed through nature, now expressed in the worship of the Catholic Church in that beautiful House of God which gave such inspiration to all of our martyred missionaries when they were assembled there for our Conference in 1941, less than a year before they were to lay down their lives for Christ.

The second middle panel is of the Procession formed outside the Cathedral, and the then Archbishop of Brisbane, the late Dr William Wand (later Bishop of Bath and Wells, then Bishop of London, and then Canon of St Paul's Cathedral, London) seated and hearing the Petition for its Consecration being read out. This symbolises TRUTH expressed now in writings. And the third panel is of the interior of the Cathedral before the High Altar at the time of Communion - a Priest giving communion the GOODNESS of God in the Sacraments, clothed in purple vestments because it is through suffering that we enter into glory and triumph. Beauty, truth and goodness. And below is the martyrdom of three priests. Actually there are four priests commemorated today, for besides the three working in Papua, Vivian Redlich, Henry Holland and Henry Matthews, there was also John Barge, beheaded by the Japanese in New Britain. He was the only one I did not know personally, for at that time New Britain came under the Diocese of Melanesia, only to be taken over into the Diocese of New Guinea in 1949.

Of the three I knew so intimately, I have already spoken of Vivian Redlich; that happy, youthful, gifted, gallant soul - and yet subject as kindred spirits like him so often are, to depressions. A former Bush Brother in the Rockhampton Diocese who, when his term of service in the Brotherhood was over, decided not to go back home to England whence he had come, but to offer himself for missionary service in New Guinea, and who had joined us only a year or two before he laid down his life for Christ. We rejoice to think that the story of his martyrdom which, inspired David Hand to offer to take his place in New Guinea, is enshrined for all time in the Chapel of Modern Martyrs in St Paul's Cathedral, London.

Then there was dear Henry Holland, one who was aging in the Master's service; simple, sincere and wholly surrendered; living, loving and working only for his Master Jesus Christ; first, and for many years as a lay Apostle of Christ to the peoples of Sangara and Isivita, and then to the great joy of himself and his people, endowed only a few years before he was called to make the supreme sacrifice with the gifts of the priesthood, that he might minister sacramentally to those whom he had led to the knowledge of Christ. He had resolved to put a white flag up on his station; thinking in his simplicity that the Japanese would respect that, and he had resolved to stay on his station, and only at the last moment he realised that if he did so the Japanese would not only kill him - he was ready for that - but all his Papuan fellow-workers and their families, and so for their sakes only he left it for the jungle, only later to be beheaded with the other missionaries.

Then there was that faithful servant of God, Henry Matthews, who had been for many years Rector of Port Moresby, and who at the general evacuation at the beginning of the war decided to remain to act as chaplain to the then very young and inexperienced Australian soldiers being rushed up to Port Moresby to defend it and Papua. In the months that followed, though his own home and church were shamefully looted by those very soldiers whom he had stayed to serve, he did most noble and self-sacrificing service and became beloved and admired by all as he went about doing his Master's service. I spent some weeks with him in April 1942 over Holy Week and Easter and witnessed, and was humbled in doing so, his courage, fearlessness and complete disregard of his own personal safety. Great was his grief when the military authorities decreed that as he was well advanced in his sixties, his chaplaincy must cease on 8 August and it was on the previous day, August, the Feast of the Name of Jesus, when he was still a chaplain, that he was killed by machine gun fire when travelling by sea to minister to some mixed race peoples in the west of Papua.

Finally I turn to the third light of our window. At the bottom is represented the martyrdom of two other women missionaries and a layman. We can think of these as being the two Sangara Sisters, Lilla Lashmar and Margery Brenchley, and the lay missionary carpenter, John Duflill; all three of whom with Vivian Redlich and Henry Holland were beheaded on the Buna beach and their bodies thrown into the sea and never recovered. Of Margery and Lila I have already spoken--they had for years devoted themselves to the work of the Mission at Sangara, and their refusal and scornful rejection of all suggestions that they might go to safety was typical of their dogged determination and whole hearted acceptance of their vocation as missionaries; and their refusal continued even on the day after the Japanese landing had driven them out of Sangara Mission Station, when an Australian soldier at some risk to himself sought them out in the jungle and offered to take them across the mountains to Port Moresby. The young layman, John Duffill, had only been with us three years, but in that short time had shown a keen desire to ser and devote himself to the work of Christ and his Church, and a conscientious application to each task that had been allotted to him. He had refused to go on furlough when his furlough was due because of the pressure of his work. Had he done so he would not have been with us in those critical days and would not today be numbered among the Martyrs. He was with me in March 1942 when the first enemy attack on the north-east coast fell on us, and he manifested at that time a courage to be admired.

With the other three panels in the third light, the theme of Beauty, Truth and Goodness works upwards rather than downwards as with the other two lights. With the third from the top is depicted the destruction of native villages and the sufferings of the native people. It symbolises beauty being destroyed by war and wickedness, as is still happening all over the world today in many spheres and ways; the attempts of the powers of evil to undermine and mar God's handiwork in the life of the Church and of the world.

Then above it there is the panel of reconstruction - a missionary who is meant to represent the late Archdeacon Romney Gill, sitting surrounded by his people with plans drawn for rebuilding. This symbolises Truth being redeemed: that is the constant way of the Church; rebuilding, reconciliation, restoration.

Finally, in the top panel, is a priest offering the Holy Sacrifice clothed in a green chasuble - green, the colour of growth and perserverence - and above him a vision of the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, corning down out of Heaven. This symbolises the vindication of goodness. This vindication with the great and historic truth that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church I saw and felt vividly on my recent visit to Papua New Guinea, just over a month ago for the Consecration of a national, only the third so far, as an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Aipo Rongo. Bishop Blake Kerina was a schoolboy at Dogura when I first arrived as Bishop of New Guinea in January 1937, over 45 years ago: Later I licenced him as a teacher and evangelist, in which he did wonderful work, and at a later date still he was the first Papuan to offer himself to me to go as a missionary with Bishop David Hand to open our missionary work in the north of New Guinea in the Highlands, where he has remained ever since.

As I preached and took part in that Consecration on St Laurence's Day 10 August 1980 in St Laurence's Church, Simbai before a huge crowd of Highland Christians on the nineteenth anniversary of the landing of the first missionaries on the coast of Papua, hundreds of miles away beneath Dogura, I felt indeed the triumph of goodness over all losses, adversities and sufferings. I had felt it too on a visit I paid during the weekend before to Popondetta, that very area where most of our missionaries suffered martyrdom, which at that time when they did so had few if any Christians and was but a smallish native village and is now one of the largest towns in Papua New Guinea. And when I preached to a large congregation in the fine Cathedral of the Resurrection in Popondetta and visited other centres of vital spiritual life in that area, the Christian Training Centre, the newly transferred Theological Seminary, Newton College for the training of future clergy, the Friary of the Society of St Francis at Ururu, the Community House at Hetune of the Papuan Sisterhood of the Visitation, and the large and splendid Martyrs Memorial School for boys at Agenehambo with over 400 boys - all these have undoubtedly sprung out of the death of the Martyrs.

The Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. Martyrs, like the Good Shepherd, laid down their lives for the sheep because, like him, they cared and loved and were imbued with the spirit of sacrifice which springs out of an unconquerable love, a love which witnesses to God's great attributes of beauty, truth and goodness, even if they have to be attained through much tribulation. As is also inscribed in the window: They knowing full well the risks elected to stay with their flock.

Let me end with the Book of Common Prayer Collect for the seventh Sunday after Trinity, which I learnt by heart as a small boy, having been taught it by my parents, which I think is a prayer for the triumph of beauty, truth and goodness:

LORD OF ALL POWER AND MIGHT, who art the author and giver of all good things [beauty] : Graft in our hearts the love of thy name [beauty again], increase in us true religion [truth], nourish us with all goodness [goodness], and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

31 January, 1942 (Radio Broadcast)

Now I would like a heart-to-heart talk with you. As far as I know, you are all at your posts and I am very glad and thankful about this. I have from the first felt that we must endeavour to carry on our work in all circumstances no matter what the cost may ultimately be to any of us individually. God expects this of us. The Church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The Universal Church expects it. The tradition and history of missions requires it of us. Missionaries who have been faithful to the uttermost and are now at rest are surely expecting it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again, if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled when the shadows of the Passion began to gather around Him in His Spiritual Body, the Church in Papua. Our life in the future would be burdened with shame and we could not come back here and face our people again; and we would be conscious always of rejected opportunities. The history of the Church tells us that missionaries do not think of themselves in the hour of danger and crisis, but of the Master who called them to give their all, and of the people they have been trusted to serve and love to the uttermost. His watchword is none the less true today, as it was when he gave it to the first disciples - "Whosoever will save his life will lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's shall find it."

No one requires us to leave. No one has required us to leave. The reports some of you have heard of orders to this effect did not emanate from official or authoritative sources. But even if anyone had required us to leave, we should then have had to obey God rather then men. We could not leave unless God, who called us, required it of us, and our spiritual instinct tells us He would never require such a thing at such an hour.

Our people need us now more than ever before in the whole history of the mission. To give but two examples:

1. Our Native Ministry. We have accepted a big responsibility in the eyes of all Christendom in founding a native ministry. We have given birth to it. We are responsible before God and the Church for its growth and development on sound Catholic lines. It is still but in its infancy. We cannot leave it to sink back into heathenism. We must stand by that to which we have given birth.

2. Our Papuan Women. Our influence is just beginning to tell with them. How would they fare if all our women missionaries left. It would take years to recover what the locusts had eaten. Our Papuan women need the influence of women missionaries today more than ever.

No, my bothers and sisters, fellow workers in Christ, whatever others my do, we cannot leave. We shall not leave. We shall stand by our trust. We shall stand by our vocation.

We do not know what it may mean to us. Many think us fools and mad. What does that matter? If we are fools, "we are fools for Christ's sake". I cannot foretell the future. I cannot guarantee that all will be well - that we shall all come through unscathed. One thing only I can guarantee is that if we do not forsake Christ here in Papua in His Body, the Church, He will not forsake us. He will uphold us; He will strengthen us and He will guide us and keep us though the days that lie ahead. If we all left, it would take years for the Church to recover from our betrayal of our trust. If we remain - and even if the worst came to the worst and we were all to perish in remaining - the Church would not perish, for there would have been no breach of trust in its walls, but its foundations and structure would have received added strength for the future building by our faithfulness unto death,

This, I believe, is the resolution of you all. Indeed, I have been deeply moved and cheered more than I can say by letters I have received from many of our staff this week who have been in a position to communicate with me, and I have reason to believe that others who have not had that opportunity think and feel the same way. Our staff, I believe, stands as a solid phalanx in this time of uncertainty. Their influence has already had a stabilizing effect on the community, and though harm has already been done, counsels of sanity are beginning to prevail again in the territory before the damage has become irretrievable. However, let us not judge others, but let us only follow duty as we see it. If we are a solid phalanx, let us see to it in the days to come that it is a phalanx of Divine Grace, for only so can it remain unshaken.

I know there are special circumstances which may make it imperative for one or two to go (if arrangements can be made for them to do so). For the rest of us, we have made our resolution to stay. Let us not shrink form it. Let us not go back on it. Let us trust and not be afraid.

To you all I send my blessing. The Lord be with you.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Friday, August 21, 2009

YEAR OF THE PRIEST: Ordination Sermon by Bishop Martyn Jarrett

The Rt Rev'd Martyn Jarrett has been the Provincial Episcopal Vistor ("PEV" or "flying bishop") for the Northern Province of the Church of England since 2000. This sermon, preached on 5th July 2009 for the Ordination of Philip Corbett to the Priesthood, is from the Bishop's Website HERE.

Matthew 10 v5

Twelve men have been with Jesus, learning more of His vision for the Kingdom of God. At times their whole set of values seem to be turned on their heads. But that is what Jesus so often does when you and I seek to listen carefully to Him. Then those men are sent out by Jesus to share in His mission. And now, today, Father Philip, Jesus says it is your turn. Today, Father Philip, you are sent out as a priest of Jesus Christ. Like those first disciples, Father Philip, you will have continually to refocus yourself on God's priorities as He ever turns the values of this world upside down.

The essential task of a priest is that of being used by God in bringing Him to this world and in bringing this world to God. Wherever and whenever God and His creation consciously interact then it is that the world is re-fashioned for the purpose for which God made it. When Jesus was born among us at Bethlehem then God and his world began that encounter with each other that alters our way of thinking forever. On Good Friday, God and His world again dramatically encounter each another at Calvary. We human beings resist God's call for change. We are unwilling to live as citizens of His kingdom. And, we human beings, we know how to stand up to folk who will not let us have our own way. At least a crucified man, a dead man, can offer us no more trouble. Yet, even as He dies, Jesus finally turns our set of values upside down, that set of values He has been challenging all through His ministry. Jesus breaks the chains of hatred. Jesus dies still loving this world even as it kills Him. Jesus refuses to match hatred with hatred. That is God's nature forever. The world, you and I, are called to relate to that self-giving God for all eternity. In the words of the very first text from Scripture that many of us ever had to learn by heart:

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have ever lasting life.

Underlying everything in this world, underlying all our lives, is the essential truth of God's unbreakable, self-giving love. Quite simply, if you, Father Philip, are to bring God to His people, and His people to God, you must strive to radiate that love in all you are and in all you do.

Remember, Father Philip, that God's first love is for His world. The Prophet, Jeremiah, so we are told in our first reading, is set aside not just so that he might speak to the People of Israel but in order that he might be a prophet to all the nations. Your priestly life, Father Philip, is to be one that always points to the fact that God is interested in every single part of this world that he has so amazingly created. In our age, increasingly, you will need to remind us what a treasure this earth is: how wicked it is not to care for it and so to fail in passing it on in good order to those who will come after us. You will want every human being to enjoy the life that God intends for him or her, as you look for the coming of God's kingdom and invite others to look for its coming. So, you will especially take to heart the words from the great prayer that will soon be said over you and for you, that you may reconcile what is divided, heal what is wounded and restore what is lost.

Archbishop Anthony Bloom, used to reflect on the struggles of the Church saying: "In Russia we have learnt to die for Christ and not for incense." All of us need to be constantly reminded that, however high a doctrine we might have of the Church, we always need to have an even higher one of the world. Never, Father Philip, lose sight of the huge breadth of the ministry that is being entrusted to you. God's love encompasses the whole world and so must yours.

These twelve Jesus sent out.

But, of course, Father Philip, the Church, too, needs your priestly ministry. As the opening words of our service this evening reminded us, the whole Church and not just priests are called to perform God's ministry in this world. There must never be any suggestion in this service that we Christians are somehow setting you aside to do all the work that needs doing in our name. The Church of God is often compared to a ship, somewhat like Noah's ark, carrying people to safety. That is the good news. The not so good news is that insofar as the Church of God is a ship it is in no way a cruise ship taking us all off on holiday. The Church of God is, rather, much more like a tramp steamer, aboard which every one of us has to work his or her passage. All of us who have been baptised have a share in Jesus' priestly work of bringing God to the world and the world to God. And, Father Philip, that is exactly where you come in as a priest in God's Church. You are ordained to focus for all of us the work of Jesus and so help us as we carry out that amazing ministry. Yes, the first reading this evening tells of Jeremiah being sent to all the nations. Our second reading, though, is much more focussed. Saint Paul is giving advice to the clergy of Ephesus. Paul reminds those presbyters, or priests as we might call them today, how every person brought into Christ's Church is only there because Christ first shed His own blood for him or for her. It is a very grave thing to say, Father Philip, but your responsibility for the Church is to strive to see that not a drop of the blood that Christ has shed is ever wasted or is taken for granted.

These twelve Jesus sent out.

So, you, together with every priest, will now have the responsibility not only to proclaim the truth throughout the world but also to nourish those who respond to it. You must have a special care to safeguard the truth. Yes, of course, you will do that by means of your preaching and teaching, your scholarship and your Bible reading. All of that, though, will count for little, unless there is more than a hint of that truth being lived out within your very person. Just imagine how we could know that Michael Angelo had ever produced a great work of art if you and I had never even seen a copy of one. If any priest ever wants to show the world that God is capable of transforming lives then it must begin with some hint of transformation within himself. Priests are to be holy. Our parishioners may be unrealistic in expecting you and I, Father Philip, to be saints. They have, though, the right to see us committed to the spiritual journey and truly penitent for the parts of us which does not perfectly mirror our holy calling.

Above all, Father Philip, Christ Jesus now entrusts you with presiding at the Holy Mass. There is no more dramatic sign of God's purpose for the world. Here, in the Mass, you will preside over a rite that shows the world what it is ultimately destined to become. Here is a community completely given up to God, all its unworthiness taken away as no one less than Christ offers Himself to His Father for us and with us. Here is a community where already every person is an equally accepted citizen of God's kingdom. We might be male or female, black or white, rich or poor, young or old, immigrant or long term resident, fit or disabled, very clever or having to manage learning difficulties. It does not matter. As we receive Holy Communion so each of us is equally made welcome and equally treasured. Each of us is transformed more into Christ's likeness. Here is something that turns worldly values on their head just as much as Christ's birth, death and resurrection that the Mass represents. You, Father Philip, are set aside to nourish a church that, in turn, is set aside to nourish the world.

These twelve Jesus sent out.

One of the first toys, for many of our children, is a set of plastic cups. It takes some skill before a child can fit each one inside the other. And, then, the whole learning process can be added to by turning the cups upside down and working out the order in which each cup must then stand securely upon the other, in order to produce a solid plastic tower. It is rather like that for us Christians. It all boils down to seeing things the right way round, or rather through the eyes of God who is ever turning around this world's thinking. Tonight, it seems as if you, Father Philip, are at the centre of this service. In one sense you obviously and rightly are. But, turn the cups upside down, as it were, for a moment. Then it is that this vast universe, which God loves and for which His Son died, becomes the centrepiece. The Church's task is to be used by God in bringing that world to know both of God's love and of His purpose. Your task, Father Philip, as a priest, is to equip and to lead the Church in that task. Remember, above all, that this is God's mission. God is the One who sends and equips both you and us for our individual callings. And, it is God whose precious Son comes now among us, by the power of His Holy Spirit, both to ordain you as a priest and also to nourish us all in the Blessed sacrament of the Altar.


(Every Friday during THE YEAR OF THE PRIEST I am posting on this blog a significant reading, meditation or address on some aspect of the priestly life. If you haven't noticed, I encourage you to go back over posts for the last seven Fridays.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Not only was last weekend the fourth birthday of the Patmos House parish community; I also had the great joy of baptizing Quinton & Debbie Olkers' new baby, Joshua Luke. Joshua's big brother is Caleb. You'll understand the reality of this family's faith if you go to the Bible and read the story of Caleb and Joshua, the two spies who were prepared to trust the promises of God. (Numbers 13-14 and Joshua 14)

After his baptism . . . Joshua Luke, his parents Quinton and Debbie, and big brother Caleb

Baptism - the Commission of Jesus to his Church:
" . . . Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." Matthew 28:19-20

Baptism - the teaching of St Paul:
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." Romans 6:3-4

". . . you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. . . you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead . . . God made alive together with him . . ." Colossians 2:11-13

To the newly baptized - the teaching of St Peter:
"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy." 1 Peter 2:9-10

Finally - the summing up of a great Church Father:
"Baptism is God's most beautiful and magnificent gift . . . We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called GIFT because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; GRACE since it is given to the guilty; BAPTISM because sin is buried in the water; ANOINTING for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; ENLIGHTENMENT because it radiates light; CLOTHING since it veils our shame; BATH because it washes; and SEAL as it is our guard and the sign of God's Lordship." St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389AD)

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The Assumption, by Rubens

Who is she that ascends so high,
Next the heavenly king,
Round about whom angels fly,
And her praises sing?

Who is she that adorned with light,
Makes the sun her robe;
At whose feet the queen of night,
Lays her changing globe?

To that crown direct thine eye,
Which her head attires;
Them thou mayst her name descry,
Writ in starry fires.

This is she in whose pure womb,
Heav'n's prince remained;
Therefore in no earthly tomb
Can she be contained.

Heaven she was which held that fire,
Whence the world took light:
And to heav'n doth now aspire
Flames with flames to unite.

She that did so clemly shine
When our day begun.

John Beaumont (1582 - 1627)

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Cardinal Basil Hume died a decade ago. As Archbishop of Westminster he was an admired and influential public figure. The anniversary of his death has been marked with a volume of essays by friends, family and former colleagues celebrating the more personal and private sides of a great priest and a much loved man. Here William Charles, the Cardinal's nephew and editor of the book, considers the central place of prayer in his uncle's life.

Throughout his life, from the remote North Yorkshire valley of Ampleforth to the bigger stage of Westminster and beyond, Basil Hume never lost sight of the importance of prayer and that fundmental division between the desert and the marketplace which is at the heart of monastic existence. He explained once what these words meant to him. His remarks are addressed to God.

"I am caught between the desert and the marketplace - in the desert there is space, solitude, silence, stillness - a sense of your presence, nothing between You and me, just You and me - as indeed is the case now in this half hour, just You and me - sometimes a Gethsemane experience, a struggle with anxieties, fears, the sense of being overwhelmed by the problems of life, or just bored or distracted - sometimes a Mount Tabor experience when we can say: "It is good, Lord, to be here." I love that desert. In the marketplace the world is present . . . Distractions abound and temptations too. Must I flee from the marketplace and go to the desert. . . and yet all those people are made to Your image and likeness - drawn to them, I am drawn to You, admiring them, I admire You, fond of them, I am fond of You."

Mount Tabor is thought to have been the mountain which Christ climbed with some of the Apostles. At the top He was transformed and seen talking with the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah, thus revealing His true nature to His followers.

For Basil Hume, the desert represented the place where he could be alone with God and pray; the market-place was the world in which he had to act in response to God's command to love others. The relationship between the two places lay at the heart of his life. He prayed to God, whom he loved above all others, and was impelled by that prayer to go out to the world, for, as he said, "prayer leads to love".

"If I don't go into the desert, to meet God," Hume said, "then I have nothing to say when I go into the market-place. That's very important. I could only survive my work as Archbishop . . . if I have allocated so much of the day to prayer. That has to be done, in my case, early in the morning. I don't think I could survive in my job unless I had that half hour. It has become very important to me."

Many of those who met the Cardinal considered they had met a genuine man of prayer, a man of God who communicated an inner strength, a powerful and affirming sense of prayerfulness. Those who met him casually would not have guessed it, but a life of prayer was not often an easy one for him. He often described his most usual form of prayer as being "a prayer of incompetence" and it was rare for him to experience a deeply satisfying moment of prayer. He once said to one of his private secretaries: "I have not been successful in my prayers but I have been faithful."

There were exceptions to his sense that his prayers had not been successful. In 1977 he recalled that in his past experience he had found that "twice the beatific vision caught up unexpectedly". It is worth remembering that a truly successful moment of prayer will have a lifelong effect.

But there were also times of doubt, although he never doubted the existence of God. Principally, he did sometimes wonder whether God was loving. From what he said on other occasions it is clear that his response to these doubts was to turn to prayer: "I have often prayed . . . 'Lord, I do believe, help thou my unbelief'."

Particular passages from the gospel had a special importance in his heart. Several of these related to instances where Christ healed people: the story of the blind man asking to be given his sight, a deaf man seeking to have his hearing restored, a leper asking to be made clean, a lame man asking for healing. When troubled, he would put himself in the position of the blind, the deaf, the leper and the lame and ask God to help him to see, to help him to hear what God wanted of him, to cleanse him of his sin and to enable him to act. He learnt to treat doubt as a friend.

He encountered other problems in his spiritual life. One, he felt, was a tendency to rely on his own efforts rather than God. He said: "Nothing in my spiritual life do I find harder than to trust . . . I don't trust God enough. I do fret. I do fall into the trap of thinking that it all depends on 'me'."

In addition he had feelings of personal inadequacy. When talking to some of his fellow priests he observed: "Deep down in every priest there is always a slight sense of unease . . . we discover we are in fact too fragile to carry the hopes of those we serve . . . I too have been less than adequate in my task, which is to bring the good news." As he aged, this may have become more marked. "As we grow older we become more conscious of our failings and guilt and can very easily lose faith in ourselves . . . as you grow in self-knowledge the gap between what you are and what you know you should be will become greater."

He sometimes questioned whether he deserved to hold a position of power, saying: "I am increasingly of the opinion that no one is ever really worthy enough to exercise authority over others. As I say this, I am thinking in the first place of myself." At times he was concerned that he had not been a good bishop, writing in a letter in 1997: "I have been constantly anxious about the fact that I gave far too little time to our priests." He may have been unduly harsh on himself, but he thought himself overrated.

Given his ability to identify with others and take an interest in them, we should not be surprised that he thought "rejection, failure, fear and others such as these are the inner wounds from which we all in some measure suffer."

Once, quite late in his life, a friend asked him if he had any regrets. After a brief pause for reflection, he answered: "Time unspent. Love not given." The many people who had benefited from his loving, pastoral approach to life would have disagreed.

It was probably, however, partly his willingness to be honest about his difficulties with prayer that made him a powerful speaker on the subject. For others, who also often found their prayer life hard, doubtless felt that he had experienced similar difficulties and, given his evident holiness, were encouraged to persevere. When he went on pilgrimage to Lourdes he would give one or two talks on prayer in the evenings. Fellow pilgrims were keenly interested to know: "Is the Cardinal speaking tonight?" He was spellbinding when talking on these occasions.

If he sometimes felt a failure in his prayer life and at times in other respects, it is worth remembering that he himself considered that the test of a truly successful prayer life is whether the person concerned becomes more loving. He said: "If you want to apply my tests as to whether your prayer is going well, then judge it according to the answers to these questions: Am I becoming more generous? Am I growing in charity? Kinder? More considerate? More tolerant and understanding? Less self-opinionated?"

He would doubtless have asked for that test to be applied to himself.


In his prayer life Father Basil had a number of rules, for as he said: "I have to be disciplined and ordered and stick at it," even though he accepted that "the best way to pray is the way that suits you". His rules were: do it, make up your mind; make space in the day for a quarter to half an hour; decide what to do the next day - like a lover waiting for the beloved, preparing what to say, thinking of a word to describe her, repeating a phrase he wants to say, just thinking about her. He recalled that "in monastic life you were always supposed after Compline in the evening to prepare your meditation for the next day".

Other rules were: don't look for success, don't give up; do spiritual reading, for "the mind needs to be fed in order to stimulate prayer"; start with the New Testament and the Psalms - read the Gospels as being addressed to you personally. His final rules were: give thought to what we say because through the thoughts we discover the God about whom the thoughts are; make distractions part of your prayer; plan it!

He said: "The effect of prayer is to interiorise religion, open us up to the values of another world and at the same time and profoundly open us up to each other. . . Through perseverance in prayer we are gently led to see more clearly that we are not the centre of everything but God is."

This article appeared in THE TIMES
(c) William Charles 2009. Extracted from Basil Hume, Ten Years On, published by Continuum, June 15. Available from Times BooksFirst (0845 271 2134) at £11.69

Friday, August 7, 2009

YEAR OF THE PRIEST: A Sermon of John Keble

A sermon preached by John Keble at Cuddesdon on 24th May, 1864 on the Anniversary of the Theological College.


Acts 2.23 "And fear came upon every soul."

ONE may imagine a person pausing upon these words in somewhat of wondering disappointment, occurring as they do in the midst of the brightest and most engaging description of human happiness on this side the grave that even the Word of God anywhere presents to us.

Here are our Lord's Mother, His Apostles and Saints, rewarded for their willing and cheerful resignation of Him at His departure, and for their devout and patient waiting afterwards. Here is the promise fulfilled, after no more than ten days' separation. The windows of heaven are opened for the "gracious rain" to come down: the doors of heaven are opened, to shew Christ's beloved the "pure River of the water of life, proceeding out of the Throne of God and of the Lamb," and beginning to flow along the street of the Holy City.

Christ is come, not indeed in Body, but by a nearer, far nearer Presence, by His Spirit: not only with them, but within them. In Him they now live by a new life, which they have entirely from Him; a life which is both His and theirs; whereby they are so joined to Him, as to be verily and indeed "partakers of a Divine nature."

Yes, my brethren, this and no less was the mysterious Whitsun privilege and glory of those on whom first the Holy Ghost came down: a glory so high and inconceivable, that the holy Fathers did not hesitate to call it even Deification, and Christianity, which teaches and confers it, they called "a deifying discipline." [e.g. S. Ath. Ep. ad Adelph., § 5, t. i. 914. A.: "He became Man, that He might, in Himself deify us;'' S. Cypr. de Zelo, &c., i. 226, ed. Fell: "That in thee the Divine Birth may shine out, and the deifying discipline work answerably to thy parentage, which is of God."]

And it was not to be their privilege only, but ours also and our children's. To all, far and near, both in time and space, it was to appertain, "even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Here then is another aspect of the joy and glory of that day. The kingdom of God so long promised, so long declared to be at hand, is now really come to them, and they are come to it: it is within them, within each of them, and they are within it; even as our fathers passing under the cloud both breathed it and were enveloped in it. And not only so, but they know by faith, and now begin to see with their eyes, that it is to spread like leaven inwardly, and grow like a grain of mustard-seed outwardly. And they find themselves chosen out of the world to be the first in that kingdom, unto whom visibly, as unto their Lord invisibly, all that come after arc to be gathered. This, I say, was another bright honour for the birthday of the Church, and another deep joy for the chosen few from whom it began: three thousand converted by the first Christian sermon, and receiving by water the same gift which had come upon the Apostles under the image of fire: all submitting themselves at once to the new law in its fulness, and all calm and resolute in so doing: continuing "stedfastly" (the word in the original implies not simply perseverance, but perseverance with courage and self-denial) "in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers." All the while many signs and wonders were being wrought by the Apostles' hands; and by the general body this great sign and wonder, that in order to separate themselves more effectually from the world, and to form a holy brotherhood for their Lord's work, they went very far in renouncing all they had: very many, perhaps the majority, even selling their possessions and goods, (their property real and personal,) and distributing them to the poor and needy. With one mind they went on, like good Israelites, keeping the hours of prayer daily in the Temple, and then retiring to one or other of their houses to celebrate Holy Communion, and following it up by the Feast of Charity, their first meal each day, of which they partook in common. All this they practised "with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people;" and the number of persons so saved was daily increasing, by the grace of Christ.

What was all this but a very heaven upon earth?' But how strange and unexpected, that in the very midst of this blessed and wondrous rehearsal, not as a qualification or exception at the end of it, but as part of the blessing and the wonder, the statement should occur, "Fear came upon every soul!" Did it come upon those only who were without, to win them to Christ? No: for the clause stands not in connection with "The Lord was adding to the Church daily those who were being saved," but follows immediately on the enumeration of the things in which they were "continuing stedfastly." Therefore the fear spoken of came also upon those within; upon the Church; upon the whole Church, and upon every soul in it: yea, even upon all those great saints, around whom the new Israel was gathering the Mother of Jesus and His holy Apostles. The emphatic phrase, "every soul," will not admit of any exception.

So placed, the words may seem intended to announce part of the fulfilment of a great Whitsuntide prophecy, of more than seven hundred years' standing'. Zion's "Light," the Lord Jesus Christ, "is come, and the Glory of the Lord," the Holy Ghost, "is risen upon her." The word hath gone forth for herself also to "arise and shine," and for the glory which is upon her to be seen; "the darkness yet covering the earth, and gross darkness the people." She is invited to lift up her eyes and see the nations beginning to trust themselves with her as her children; "all they gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side." And then the significant saying follows: "Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged." "Thou shalt flow together." What is that? The original word seems to mean literally "shalt be swollen as a river by feeders, tributary streams converging towards thee." And what will be the first result? We might have expected, 'Thine heart shall rejoice,' or be strengthened, or refreshed, or, as presently follows, "enlarged." But as it is, "Thine heart shall fear:" and on that fear, not without it, will follow the true enlargement of the heart.

This mention of fear in the prediction corresponds critically with that in the history, and both together introduce us as it were to a foreseen and foreordained note of the true Church, over and above those well-known four, with which St. Luke's narrative has made us familiar. The kingdom of Heaven before it came was appointed to be known, and when it came it was known, not only by the Apostolical Creed, the Apostolical ministry, the Apostolical Eucharist, and the Apostolical prayers; but also by a certain (so to call it) Apostolical fear. Not only did they "continue stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers," but "Fear came upon every soul." The true, Heaven-descended, Pentecostal Church may even now be known by this mark among others, that from her first rudiments under the old dispensation to her full scriptural development in the later books of the New Testament, from the flower until the grape was ripe, she has been a school of holy fear, as well as of holy faith and love and all other graces. As David taught and Solomon repeated, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," so St. Paul distinctly intimates, that the very work of a Christian on earth is to be cleansing himself "from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God: "and this after appealing most earnestly to their faith in the indwelling Spirit; "God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them."

To a plain devout reader, who just takes the Bible as he finds it, it must seem strange that any argument should be thought necessary on this point, any care taken to prove it. But the self-deceiving heart of man is naturally ingenious enough, and there is one, unhappily, always at hand to render it more and more ingenious, in devising how to escape the hard necessity which the Gospel has laid upon us all, of so fearing God as really to keep His commandments. Satan has his refinements in doctrine for the educated and sentimental, as well as his sensual temptations for the coarse and rude; and as he seems to be particularly busy with the former at this period, and in this part of Christendom, I trust it will not be found unsuitable either for the conclusion of the Pentecostal season, or for the annual dedication (so to call it) of one year's more work in this place, (which most assuredly is Pentecostal work,) if I now try to speak a little more in detail of the fear of God as a Pentecostal grace, how we may best apply it; as Christians, each one for his own good; and as priests, or preparing to be such, each one for the good of the souls with whom he may be entrusted.

"Fear," we read, "came on every soul;" on the inhabitants of Jerusalem generally: for doubtless the expression relates, in part, to those who were even yet without the Church. Among them the movement which had originated from St. Peter's sermon was going on, and that more and more rapidly. It was ever gathering strength, and compelling men to come in. The impulse we know began in fear, the ordinary fear of judgment to come, the compunction and misgiving by which Almighty God most commonly begins to draw sinners to Himself. Why were there so many daily conversions? Because more and more were "pricked to the heart," as the first three thousand had been, at the thought of having made the Almighty Judge their enemy. And not only here, but all through the book of Acts, much as the inspired orators differ otherwise among themselves, you will hardly find a sermon to unbelievers, but it addresses itself to this fear, the fear (in one word) of hell. "The great and notable day of the Lord;" souls to be "destroyed from among the people;" Christ "the Judge of quick and dead;" "the Man ordained to judge the world in righteousness;" reasonings about "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," these are among the arrows constantly aimed by Apostolic champions with subduing power at the heart of the King's enemies. How should it be otherwise, since the King Himself had most unreservedly sanctioned by His example that awful kind of warfare. Alas for those who, calling themselves Christian moralists, can find it in their heart to think scorn of that fear, aye, and of that hope also, to which Christ so solemnly and so often appealed! "Do all," they seem to say, "for love, not for fear of punishment or hope of reward:" as if the penalty and the reward which Christians look to were in reality any other than the separation from, or enjoyment of, Him whom their soul loveth. Evidently the Pentecostal fear condemns at once such reasoning as this.

Others again, more perhaps than the former, allow and unsparingly employ the fear of God's judgments as an instrument of conversion, but think it unworthy to abide in a converted soul. These, however, would no less vainly seek for any warrant from that first and best Church. The compunction which caused the cry, "What shall we do?" can hardly be supposed to have departed at once from the convert's soul at the moment of baptism; on the contrary, it would deepen with his sense of his Saviour's mercy; he would be more and more afraid to offend Him; as he loved more, the thought of losing the Beloved would be more intolerable. Again, with the infinite worth of the unspeakable gift his immense responsibility would be better understood, and, like a man standing nearly balanced on the narrow edge of a precipice, he would be often imagining, What if I were to throw myself down! and the mere idea would thrill him with great fear. No wonder, then, that instead of "confidence and gaiety," fear and trembling should be the temper in which men are invited to work out their own salvation; part, so to speak, of the normal condition of Christians in this world. [Bishop Taylor.] And observe, the very reason for this is a reason grounded on the doctrine of this season: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."

Observe again, elsewhere, how the maxim so grounded was intended to search the conscience through and through, and to insert itself into all the little corners and minor recesses of man's life. Had Titus, coming with a message from St. Paul, been received worthily by the people of Corinth? they are praised for welcoming him with fear and trembling, for some of Christ's glory was upon him. Is a Christian slave to be cautioned touching his duty to his master, "Be obedient to them that are your masters .... with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart?" The reason is presently given: "As unto Christ." It is the greatness, the constant presence, the divinity of the unspeakable Gift by which every duty is done, which causes the duty to become so great and awful, and which throngs the whole of a man's course alike with glorious opportunities and exceeding dangers. It could not be otherwise but on the supposition, most untenable surely and un-evangelical, of grace indefectible and absolute assurance in those who should receive the regenerating Spirit at all.

You will ask, How does all this agree with the teaching of the beloved disciple, "There is no fear in love;" "Perfect love casteth out fear;" "He that feareth is not made perfect in love?" Of course we must consider that there are various kinds and objects of fear. The slavish animal shrinking from bodily torment and from the loss of earthly delight, the fear of hell in that sense, is God's merciful instrument for opening to Himself an access to the lost and corrupt heart: thousands will bless Him for it in eternity; and little do they, know of their brethren, how high soever their own rate of goodness may be, who depend on winning souls without it. But as conversion and repentance go on, and heavenly love takes root and flourishes within, this fear gradually tempers itself into a serious abiding horror at the thought of possibly losing Christ after all. I have no doubt of His love, no doubt of my own privileges, but I am miserably mistrustful of myself, of my own weakness and instability or worse. This of course is of the nature of chastisement, and mars the perfection of love in this world. Nevertheless God's special grace, with long, sweet, sober experience, may effectually mitigate this also; and some may approach, one knows not how near, to the frame of mind expressed in the saintly Missionary's prayer, where love swallows up the thought of self in the way either of fear or hope:

"O God, my God, I do love Thee;
Nor love I that Thou may'st save me,
Nor because those who love not Thee
In endless flames shall punish'd be."

We may pray to have it so, but not perhaps absolutely, not without entire submission. In no wise may we safely insist on it, as a test either for ourselves or others.

I repeat it; in love there is no slavish fear, but there may be, and generally had better be in this world, a serious apprehension of losing Christ, as of something but too possible.

But moreover, Holy Scripture tells of a "Fear of the Lord" which is altogether "clean" and pure, "and endureth for ever;" a fear in which not only the saints on earth, but the very angels in heaven perpetually live. No thought in it of pain or loss: it is the deep awe and trembling reverence, in angels, of the creature before the Creator; in saints, of the fallen child before the forgiving Father, of the penitent before the Judge and Redeemer, of the believer before the indwelling Sanctifier. Perhaps in strictness of language it ought not to be spoken of as fear, but as intense unspeakable adoration, a bowing down to the Light unapproachable, the Presence of which no creature can be worthy. Something like this may be the consummation of that reverence and godly fear, which St. Paul urges on the Hebrew Christians by the remembrance of Mount Sinai, and by the comparison of it with Mount Sion, the Church of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. He points out that on Sinai as well as on Sion there was this reverential sense of unworthiness: "Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:" not altogether from bodily fear, but even as before at the bush on the same mountain he had "hidden his face, for he was afraid to look upon God." "And the people removed and stood afar off," desiring Moses to go near and speak for them; and the Lord bare them witness, "They have well said all that they have spoken." lie would not have so commended their drawing back, had it been in mere affright, as of children at a great fire. On the other hand, the same St. Paul bids us all take notice that neither is our earthly Sion by any means to claim exemption from the lower fear, more proper to sinners, but rather to think much of the sorer punishment, sure to be incurred in proportion to our greater privileges, if we be finally found unworthy. "For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven." On Sion also there was need to proclaim what had been so awfully shewn on Sinai, that "our God" as well as theirs "is a consuming fire." But the Apostle's conclusion is, not to be content with the lower motive, the dread of actual punishment, but to improve it by God's help into a loving and religious awe in His Presence. "Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear."

In fact, such dread is the natural correlative of the great Pentecostal doctrine. "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts;" so writes the Apostle who preached the first Whitsunday sermon, who presided, one may say, at the inauguration of the kingdom of heaven. As if he should say, 'The Lord God is in all your hearts, as in those on whom I myself with Christ's other chosen witnesses saw Him descend on the Day of Pentecost. He is in our hearts, let us own and adore Him accordingly.'

Even before Christ came, religious men, both within and without the old covenant, felt often and sometimes spoke of the overpowering consciousness of His Presence, forced upon them, as it were, by wonders of the visible world. There is much to this effect in the Book of Job; and what thoughtful reader of the Bible has ever stood by the sea at his leisure for half an hour, and has not been reminded of the Lord's challenge to Jeremiah", "Fear ye not Me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at My Presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail: though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?" [Jer. v. 22; cf. Job xxxviii. 4. Consider also the Psalmist contemplating his own body: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made.'' Ps. cxxxix. 13,16.]

Nay, even a heathen who knew not God, who tried to persuade himself that there is no God, the great Epicurean poet, was so carried away by the beauty and order of what we know to be God's works, that he cries out in a sort of transport, "I am smitten with I know not what divine rapture and horror, when I see nature by thine energy thus on all sides unveiled and made manifest." [Lucretius, iii. 28.] "By thine energy," so he adds, thinking all due to the wisdom of the philosopher whom he was glorifying." Most melancholy! when such earnest sayings and deep thoughts, which sound like part of a Christian hymn, are wasted in honouring a mere human inventor! But it may help us to understand how impossible it must be for believers not to experience a thrill of dread mingled with their solemn gladness, when the Almighty Teacher Himself descends from heaven, comes near to them, enters into them, begins to instruct them, not in His earthly but in His spiritual works, in His doings with their own souls and with the souls of their brethren. And ever as He goes on revealing to them more and more of the Creed, of the mystery hid from ages and from generations, but now made manifest to His saints still the amazement, as in the old Prophets, deepens and becomes more overpowering. Thus at the Transfiguration, which, whatever deep import besides it might have, was an evident type and ensample of the kingdom of God coming with power, the first fear of the attendant disciples at the change in their Master's Person was enhanced when the Cloud came and overshadowed them: "They feared," says St. Luke, "as Moses and Elias entered into the cloud." That fear might be prophetic of what they were one day to feel, when it should be given them to contemplate with open face the Law and the Prophets passing into the glory of the Gospel.

Now that the kingdom of heaven is set up, such feelings, when He gives them, are doubtless the continuation of that Divine enrapturing awe which came upon every soul of that first Christian congregation, but most on the Apostles themselves, and on the Blessed Virgin Mary. Who can express the amazement of that hour, under the consciousness that God was now nearer to them and they to God, than any mere child of Adam could have been before, excepting Mary herself when God became man? Now it came upon them all, and you may be sure it never departed from them; on the contrary, it lived and grew in them daily, all the days of their life: and instead of being cast out when they died, as the fear of hell and of God's wrath will certainly be cast out from them that die in Christ, this sacred solemn awe will accompany them into that unseen world; it will never leave nor forsake them, not even in death or in the grave, for the Comforter who put it in their hearts will be still with them. And because He will yet be their Comforter in the last dreadful day, they will rise with this holy and humble reverence, His gift, in their souls; it will go up with them into heaven, and with its twin grace, the love of God now made perfect, will be part of their happiness for ever.

Such awe or fear (for so it is sometimes called), the fulness perhaps of what Jacob felt, when he cried out, "How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven;" such ecstatic, adoring wonder, enters we know into the solemn services which the saints and angels there offer to God. For the hymn of the saints is, 'Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy Name? for Thou only art holy." And the Seraphim, supposed to be the highest of all created spirits, cover their faces, as before a light not to be approached, even by them; as though they would confess with one of old, "The very stars are not pure in Thy sight."

And here we are led to momentous conclusions.

If religious fear in its various aspects and influences has been indeed a needful element in the very atmosphere which the whole Church has breathed from the beginning; if it is the gift of God's good Spirit, not only to awaken sinners, but to confirm penitents and to perfect saints, what are we to think of opinions and tendencies which, under show of intense love and more refined spirituality, encourage men to dispense with it?

That it is, so far, dispensed with, when persons take upon themselves to mitigate our Lord's threatenings beyond what is written, is very evident; and need not now be dwelt on.

But that I take to be but a single instance of the one great mischief which the Church has to deal with at this time, perhaps everywhere, certainly in our portion of Christendom.

Right Reverend and Reverend Fathers, and Brethren in Christ, is it not the profession of us all, that to be members of the Holy Catholic Church or kingdom of heaven, which was set up on Mount Sion, on the first Whitsunday, by the Holy Ghost Himself coming down upon the Apostles, is to be, literally, in a supernatural state to live among miracles not the less real, because they are invisibly wrought; to have everything so altered to us, that we may be truly, and not by a poetical figure only, said to live in " a new heaven and a new earth;" nothing the same to us as if we had not been Christians? Is not this what we all affirm, when we say before God, either in Church or in private devotion, "I believe in the Holy Ghost, and in the Holy Catholic Church?"

Of this condition, the Apostle tells us, that of the Israelites in the wilderness was just a type, and doubtless fell as far short of its antitype as Circumcision of Baptism, or the Paschal Feast of Holy Communion. Our privileges are in that proportion, and our responsibilities also. And we are not allowed to forget it. By special providence, as we may well believe, it has come to pass that among all the invitatory Psalms, the ninety-fifth has been selected for the opening of daily matins, at least in all the Churches of the West, as most appropriate for Christian thanksgiving and admonition: and this also with St. Paul's sanction, as we see in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Why is this, but because that Psalm adds so grave a warning to its acknowledgment of supernatural blessings, and enforces it by the very history, which we know from other Scriptures to be the ordained type of our own?

I cannot but observe here what a dark shade this circumstance throws upon any theory which would damage the reality and authority of the Pentateuch, as it is commonly received in the Churches. It is putting out a light which our Lord provided with special solicitude for the guidance of the whole Church, and for every soul among His people. And hear how earnestly He commanded all to take notice that He was doing so: "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for he wrote of Me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe My words?" In the face of that declaration, to be busy in proving that we need not believe Moses' writings, seems like maliciously quenching a beacon, and, one would think, could please no one but him whose trade is to make shipwreck of souls.

However, by that history and by the whole tenor of Holy Scripture, the Church is justified in teaching, as she has ever done, that all her members as such are in a supernatural state, mysteriously brought near to God, and parted off from the rest of Adam's seed, for final good or evil, as they improve their privileges or no. And this is the Dispensation of the Spirit, the work of God the Holy Ghost, to sanctify severally every one who is baptized, and collectively all the elect people of God. It is eminently the dispensation of love, for He is the Love of the Father and of the Son; and concerning it our Mediator said unto the Father, "I have declared unto Mine own Thy Name, and will declare it: that the Love wherewith Thou hast loved Me, may be in them, and I in them." But it is also, as we have seen, eminently a dispensation of fear: of fear, i.e. awe, for them that love God; of fear, i.e. horror, for such as will not love Him, and so throw away their last chance, "doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace."

To counteract and annul this work of the blessed Comforter the Evil One tries his worst on the right hand and on the left: endeavouring either to persuade men that it concerns only a select few, or to explain it away as simply a high kind of philosophy, the highest as far as we know; very reasonable, very good, but with nothing at all in it properly to be called miraculous, or supernatural, in the strict sense of these words. In either case, if you listen to him, he has his own way with you: for he lessens your sense of responsibility, and encourages you to take immoral liberties.

This accounts for the way in which the Church is troubled, on the one hand, with exaggerations connected with predestination, effectual calling, and the like; on the other, from which at this moment we seem to have more than usual to fear, by men's lowering of Sacraments and Ordinances, by their levelling the Canonical Scriptures with the writings of men, by their making out Atonement for sin and Sacramental grace to be not really God's work, but man's; by this raising doubts on sin and its cure, its penalties and their duration, whether incurred by angels or by men; and in short, by their trying in all ways to get rid of the miraculous, heavenly, and properly Divine, out of our blessed Christian faith and its evidences.

My brethren, it is an awful suggestion, but does it not at once strike you, on such an enumeration as this, against Whom most especially we seem invited to sin and blaspheme, - against Him and against His work? And if we do, we know what we forfeit, both in this world and in the world to come.

The precipice is frightful; our heads are weak and giddy; there is no safety but in clinging to the Rock. But for such as do so with both hands, there is not only safety, but delight ever fresh, ever deepening, as they feel and contemplate the glorious things everywhere around them in the mountain of the Lord's house. The warm radiance of yonder heavenly Sun penetrates everywhere, takes up all into itself, destroys not the natural colouring or form of any, but lends to each its own glow of ethereal grace and beauty. Every day, and all the days of our life, it I will make, does make, all the difference to every one of us, whether we believe ourselves to be living in a supernatural state, full of Divine wonders, or no.

And if it made no difference to others, yet surely, my reverend brethren, it must to us who are entrusted with cure of souls. One man goes about his parish with the ever-present belief, that both he, and every one whom he meets, has the Holy Spirit within him, both he and they by Holy Baptism, he also, in a peculiar sense, by Holy Orders. Another, perhaps no less earnest in work, is mainly taken up with natural and social differences. One goes into a church, thinks of Isaiah's vision, says to himself, 'Here is the Lord sitting on His throne, high and lifted up, and His glory filling the place: here are the angels, hither Christ cometh in His Sacraments.' To another the place is nothing mysterious; he thinks only of edification and comfortable prayer. And God forbid we should disparage such thoughts: but can we say that they are adequate to what Holy Scripture would suggest, in such sayings (e.g.) as "He hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus?" Must we not own that such an one, how good and sincere soever, is hardly great-hearted enough for his condition and privileges? or, as I have somewhere seen it expressed, that his watchword is Verbum Dei, when it ought to be, Verbum Deus?

Other instances each one may easily imagine for himself. And surely, my brethren, the experience of each of us will tell him that in such measure as he has tried and prayed, with fear and trembling, to keep up his high sense of the continued Pentecostal Gift, so far he has found his ministry blessed, with whatever disappointment in the visible results. That faith has been to him, as it will be to all who will prove it, worth all other motives and helps put together.

In that faith let us now commit ourselves, and the portions of the Church severally committed to our charge, to the Holy, Blessed, and Glorious Trinity; beseeching God the Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, to prepare us by His Holy Spirit for whatever His providence shall bring forth; and humbly thanking Him that we have been gathered beforehand under the shadow of His wings. And when any trial comes, what a special safety will they find who, having such opportunities as are granted here, shall have truly yielded themselves to the teaching and practice of the faith once delivered to the saints: neither developing new doctrines, nor explaining away the old; but winning their way to perfect and final safety, by constant development of new fruits of love, and constant victories over natural corruption and old wrong habits; and all in that reverence and godly fear which is itself the fruit of love, and will be perfected with it.

With thanks to the Project Canterbury site.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


And here is a pithy quote from Newman for today, from the web site of his Cause.

It is then the duty and the privilege of all disciples of our glorified Saviour, to be exalted and transfigured with Him; to live in heaven in their thoughts, motives, aims, desires, likings, prayers, praises, intercessions, even while they are in the flesh; to look like other men, to be busy like other men, to be passed over in the crowd of men, or even to be scorned or oppressed, as other men may be, but the while to have a secret channel of communication with the Most High, a gift the world knows not of; to have their life hid with Christ in God.

From the sermon ‘Rising with Christ’ (Click HERE for the full text)

Reference: John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons Vol 6 (1842) Sermon no. 15, p. 214


[From The Good, the True, and the Beautiful, ed. Harry and Rebecca Poe, Chalice Press, St. Louis, 2008]

"We Will Be Like Him" (I John 3:2)

England can be delightful in early August, when the mornings are cool and the afternoons bright. At home, on America's mid-Atlantic coast, it's so hot and gummy that the dogs are sticking to the sidewalks. This is one of those rare patches of year when Americans might like to come to England for the weather.

Yet in the Holy Land it's hotter still, as any pilgrim can tell you. This year's Oxbridge conference concludes on the feast of the Transfiguration, that event which arises from the most somnolent point of summer, when August is a still lake of heat. If you've been to the Holy Land during such seasons, you know that the sun beats down relentlessly, and the shrubs are turning gray and dusty. Everywhere you look there's rock and rubble. It was on August 6, as the church remembers, that Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter and James and John, and led them up the side of "a high mountain." It is Mt. Tabor that claims this honor.

This is how St. Matthew tells the story. "[A]fter six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.' He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.' When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise and have no fear.' And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only." (Matthew 17:1-8)

Perhaps these three disciples were used to being taken aside for private conferences. But they weren't prepared for what happened that day. They saw Jesus "transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun." They saw Moses and Elijah speaking with him. Peter then began to babble the first excited thing that popped into his head. That's when the bright cloud overshadowed them, and they heard the Father's voice. No wonder they tumbled to the ground in awe. And when Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Have no fear," they looked up to find they were alone.

In the Sinai desert, a bit south of Mt. Tabor, on the slopes of Mt. Sinai itself, there is a monastery that has stood for fifteen hundred years. Long before its walls were built the place was already a site of pilgrimage, and men and women withdrew to those desolate crags to live lives of intense and dedicated prayer. We know them as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. But, because Bedouin marauders threatened their lives, in the sixth century the Emperor Justinian built a sturdy monastery to protect the Christians there.

In this monastery of St. Catherine, on Mt. Sinai, there is a church, and in the church, in the curved apse above the altar, there is a mosaic depiction of the Transfiguration. Since our conference focuses so much on beauty, it is a good time to appreciate the way that earlier generations of believers honored their Lord in the visual arts. These early images are, of course, called "icons," which is the Greek word for "image." In the centuries when most people were illiterate, when bibles were extremely expensive and rare, the most accessible "bible" would be illustrations like this. Worshippers would hear a part of the Scripture cycle read during services every week, but all during through year they could study the figures on the walls and ceilings of churches and recall the truths that they depict. Unfortunately, very few early icons survive, because they were destroyed during the "Iconoclast Controversy" in the eighth century. This Transfiguration on the ceiling of the Sinai monastery church was spared simply because the location is so remote.

This icon is dominated by a magnificent standing image of Christ, transfigured in glory. Elijah stands in midair on the left and Moses on the right, both in stances that suggest lively conversation. Below them, along the bottom edge, we see John on the left - that is, on Christ's right hand - falling to his knees with his hands raised in prayer. John's brother James, on the right, also kneels and seems to cower before the weight of the event. Beneath the feet of Christ, Peter has fallen prostrate. A moment before this he had been sputtering about building booths for the three holy figures to occupy.

This image is more astonishing than it initially looks, because it is not painted but is a mosaic. Thousands of tiny chips of stone and colored glass, called tesserae, combine to create the picture. It is more difficult to make an image this way, and the flowing movement a paintbrush so easily captures can be hard to achieve unless the tessarae are very tiny.

Yet mosaics have the advantage of being nearly impervious to time. As long as they stick to the wall, their color will not dim, and they can be cleaned of the smoke of incense and oil lamps without damaging the underlying image. The glass gives off a shimmering light, especially when the tesserae are set to reflect at subtly different angles, as in the gold background of this icon.

Something more about the artist's work deserves appreciation. When you look at a photograph of this icon it appears flat, but in fact it is applied to the conch of the sanctuary apse, a curved half-shell. This is quite an achievement. It is difficult to design an icon for a dome, because the concave surface tends to throw elements out of proportion; things at the outer edge appear to be huge, while those in the high center look tiny. The artists responsible for this mosaic compensated for the curve so skillfully that when viewed directly the bowl of the apse is imperceptible. This debunks the idea that early Christian artists knew nothing about perspective. On the contrary, perspective is sometimes intentionally distorted in icons, in order to convey a sense of being outside predictable space, or of the image pressing or rushing out toward the viewer - techniques not used again until the Cubists. The making of icons was (and still is) considered an act of worship. The artists who designed and installed this image would have made it with prayer and fasting, hoping to impart to viewers some of the same awe and love that Peter, James, and John felt.

Christ gazes out steadily, bearing authority and love. White rays streak out from the sides of his dark blue mandorla, an oval space which seems to recede back into eternity, to the foundation of the universe. Christ is truly the center, of this image, of everything. "He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Collossians 1:15-17).

But the main thing about the story of the Transfiguration is that Christ is glowing. He is turning into light. What can we make of a story like this? What did Peter and John make of it?

It seems, understandably, to have made an indelible impression. In his second letter, Peter retells the story, preceding it with this assurance: "We were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16). John begins his intricately woven first letter with a similar eyewitness claim: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes" (John 1:1). John continues, "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all."

God is light. Throughout the Scriptures, God appears repeatedly in the form of overwhelming light. A cloud covers the mountain top when Christ's glory is revealed, just as one shook Mt. Sinai with lightning when Moses spoke with God. When Moses descended the mountain carrying the tablets of the Law, his face was shining from the presence of God: "The Israelites could not look on Moses' face, because of its brightness" (2 Corinthians 3:7). Pillars of cloud and of fire led the Israelites in the wilderness. St. Paul on the road to Damascus was overwhelmed by "a light from heaven, brighter than the sun" (Acts 26:13).

But there is something about light that most previous generations would have known, that doesn't occur to us today. We think of light as something you get with the flip of a switch. But before a hundred years ago, light always meant fire. Whether it was the flame of a candle, an oil lamp, a campfire, or the blazing noonday sun, light was always accompanied by fire.

And fire, everyone knew, must be respected. That's one of the lessons learned from earliest childhood. Fire is powerful and dangerous. It does not compromise. In any confrontation, it is the person who will be changed by fire, and not the other way round. As Hebrews 12:29 says, "Our God is a consuming fire."

Yet this consuming fire was something God's people yearned for. In some mysterious way, light means life. John tells us, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). Jesus says, "I am the Life" (John 11:25), and also "I am the Light" (John 8:12).

Light is life: we live in light, and couldn't live without it. In some sense, we live *on* light. It is light-energy that plants consume in photosynthesis - an everyday miracle as mysterious as life itself. When we eat plants, or eat the animals that eat plants, we feed at second-hand on light. Light is converted into life, literally, with every bite we eat.

The fire of God consumes us, and we consume it as well. His light is life. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). What could Jesus have meant by this? In recent centuries, Western Christians have offered competing theories. Some hold that Jesus meant a memorial meal, a simple commemoration of his sacrifice.

But the Greek text of John's Gospel makes a literal interpretation inescapable, for there Jesus uses the most offensive terms possible. He didn't use the ordinary word for "eat" ("phago"), but "trogo," to munch and chew as a cow chews its cud. And it wasn't even his body ("soma"), but his flesh ("sarx"). "Chew my flesh" - he couldn't have made it much more graphic. Jesus' intended audience obviously took it this way: they were appalled. John tells us that "many" of Jesus' disciples abandoned him because of this "hard saying." When Jesus asks the twelve whether they too will leave, Peter hardly sounds enthusiastic. But stalwart resignation speaks: "Lord, to whom else shall we go?"

On the far side of everything - the Last Supper, the campfire denial, the Resurrection, and the Pentecost outpouring - Peter tries in a letter to make sense of what happened on Mt. Tabor that day. Peter saw God's glory, and he knows it is for us. He says that God's divine power calls us "to his own glory." Through his promises we may "become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:3-4).

"Partakers of the divine nature." The life that is in Christ will be in us. In Western Christianity, we tend to take Scriptures like this metaphorically. When St. Paul refers to life "in Christ" some 140 times, we expect he means a life that *looks like* Christ's. We try to imitate our Lord, and sing of following him and seeking his will. We ask "What would Jesus do?" We hope to behave ethically and fairly in this life, and after death take up citizenship in heaven.

But it appears that Peter had learned to anticipate something more radical and more intimate: true oneness with Christ and personal transfiguration. We partake of, consume, the light of Tabor and the life of Christ. We receive, not mere intellectual knowledge of God, but illumination. This participation in "the divine nature" is not a treat squirreled away for the select few, for mystics or hobbyists of "spiritual formation," but God's plan for every single human life. "The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world" (John 1:9). Participation in this light is not a lofty or esoteric path, but one of simplicity and childlike humility. It's not enjoyed in sudden, swooping supernatural experiences, but gained by daily, diligent self-control. Through prayer, fasting, and honoring others above self, we gradually clear away everything in us that will not catch fire.

We are made to catch fire. We are like lumps of coal, dusty and inert, and possess little to be proud of. But we have one talent: we can burn. You could say that it is our destiny to burn. He made us that way, because he intended for his blazing light to fill us. When this happens, "your whole body will be full of light" (Matthew 6:22).

Our bodies, not just our souls. Just as Jesus' body on Mt. Tabor was radiant with the glory of God, our bodies will "bear the image of the man of Heaven," St. Paul says (I Corinthians 15:49). This very same too-familiar body, that embarrasses and disappoints, that is marred by flaws and flab, will one day be "raised in glory" (1 Corinthians 15:43). As Cyril of Alexandria wrote in the fifth century, "Even though [the disciples had] heard that our flesh would rise up again, they did not know how. Now [Christ] was transfigured in his own flesh, and so gave us the example." And as John, another witness of Mt. Tabor, writes: "It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him" (I John 3:2).

Even the astonishing glory that Peter and James and John saw on the mountain was not all the glory that God is. In the Orthodox Church we sing an ancient hymn on the feast of the Transfiguration, which begins:

"Thou wast transfigured on the mount, O Christ our God,
Revealing thy glory to thy disciples as far as they could bear it."

What they saw was only the amount that they could bear, carefully adjusted to their capacity by a loving God. The glimpse they had of transformation, they believed, is what God intended for them as well.

It is easy to forget this. C.S. Lewis's literary demon, Screwtape, was able to get a man's mind off hair-raising spiritual realities just by showing him a shouting newsboy and a passing city bus. We are grateful for distractions because, if this is true, we will have to change our lives. If God's plan is to fill our souls and bodies with his brilliant life, we must decide whether we will cooperate. If we do, we'll have to train ourselves to "pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17), gazing constantly on God who dwells in our hearts, "as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master" (Psalm 123:2). We'll have to start remembering that every other human being we encounter, no matter how exasperating, is a recipient of this same divine invitation; every person we meet is called to blaze up with glory. The fear and trembling that seized Peter, James, and John on the mountain will accompany our every remembrance of God, driving out triviality and self-satisfaction. We supply the coal, God supplies the fire: "So work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you" (Phillipians 2:12).

Where are we going? We're all going up Mt. Tabor. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18).