Tuesday, September 29, 2009


On Thursday of last week, Father Len Black and I boarded the train in Inverness for the long but very spectacular journey to Edinburgh, arriving at the headquarters of the Scottish Episcopal Church for a meeting of the national Forward in Faith Committee. There was so much to discuss, arising out of the Scottish Forward in Faith Conference at Kinoul Monastery (near Perth) a week before, and the meeting lasted most of the afternoon, with one committee member participating from London via the speaker phone!

In the evening we enjoyed a meal in our hotel with Fr Nigel and Christine Zimmermann, who continue to ensure that Australia is well represented in Edinburgh's halls of learning. It is always good to catch up with such friends, and, as Nigel remarked, "it was like old times."

The next day was taken up with a mini-pilgrimage to the Shrine of our Lady at Haddington in the East Lothian region. Dr Michael Thrusfield, a member of the FiF Scotland national committee who lives in that part of the country met us at Longniddry station and drove us the rest of the way where we were joined by the others who were coming to pray with us. I had the huge honour of celebrating Mass at the Shrine in the Lauderdale Aisle of this Church of Scotland Church!

On a vist "home" to Sydney in 1986 I had been introduced to Sir Patrick Maitland, Baronet, 17th Earl of Lauderdale, at Christ Church St Laurence. A Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, he was a deeply committed Anglo-Catholic layman in the Episcopal Church of Scotland tradition who believed passionately in Our Lady's intercession, especially in connection with the healing ministry, and also in the unity of Christians. He had a great love of the Orthodox Churches.

Inspired by a remark of Father Alfred Hope Patten at Walsingham, Sir Patrick restored, in the Lauderdale aisle of the Presbyterian Kirk in Haddington, the mediaeval shrine of Our Lady of the Three Kings. From the first he wanted it to be an ecumenical shrine. Indeed, it has continued to draw many pilgrims from the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches and Anglicans from elsewhere in the British Isles, and is now a centre for spiritual and physical healing. Fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable that a shrine to the Mother of God would find a home in the Scottish Kirk, but due to the Earle's "drive and charm and ecumenical contacts, and the feeling that here was a Christian who could be trusted, it became a reality, and will remain his permanent memorial." (Fr John Salter)

Some time ago the Earl wrote:

"I had little notion of the relevant history. The Lauderdale Aisle had been overlooked in the details of the Maitland/Lauderdale inheritance, and my recent predecessors had therefore cared little about it.

"Detailed research convinced me of the importance of the Aisle. Our Lady of Haddington was a major focus of mediæval devotion in the British Isles, with a Shrine at Whitekirk, which was in the old county of Haddingtonshire. However, English invasions left the Shrine desecrated, and Whitekirk in ruins. Subsequently, the Forrest family endowed 'an Altarage of the Blessed Virgin and the Three Kings of Cologne' in the 'Northwest corner' of the recently dedicated Church of St. Mary in Haddington, and this was presumably a revival of Whitekirk's Shrine.

"St. Mary's subsequently suffered severe damage during the Siege of Haddington, and details of the precise position and appearance of the Shrine were lost. Initially, I thought that it was situated in the North Transept, but it was most likely located where the current bookshop stands. The only clue to its likely appearance was a mediæval carved panel of the Adoration of the Magi, now in the crypt of St. Nicholas East Church, Aberdeen. This depicted the Kings literally running in haste to bring their gifts to the Christ-Child, and clad in toga-like plaid kilts. Here, then, was a model costume for the Three Kings. Moreover, I learned of a seal of the erstwhile nunnery of Haddington, deposited in the British Museum, with the inscription 'House of Our Lady at Haddington.' Thus, equipped with two images, and stimulated by the surge of interest in restoring St. Mary's, I commissioned a wood carver from Oberammergau, then living in Norfolk, to carve figures of the Magi and of Christ in his Mother's arms. The result is a wonderfully tranquil portrayal of Christ's Mother, visible to all in the Lauderdale Aisle.

"Once the Aisle had been converted back to its original use as the private chapel of the Lauderdales, it was consecrated for public worship by the Bishop of Edinburgh, the late Primus Alastair Haggart, during one of the early Pilgrimages in the I970s. An ecumenical service - never before seen in Scotland - followed. The Primus presided; Dr. Roy Sanderson, then a former Moderator, also participated and offered prayers; then the Polish Orthodox priest in Edinburgh offered a prayer; and the Abbot of Nunraw blessed the figures which had been newly instated.

"The first pilgrimage was attended by only 30 people. Thirty years later, some 2000 were coming to the various services. Intercessions are requested by people from all around the world. Many people write back to thank us for the prayers that have been offered, and tell us that their prayers have been answered. The Aisle continues to maintain its reputation for holding special healing qualities."

Patrick Francis Maitland, the 17th Earl of Lauderdale, died on 2nd December 2008, aged 97.

For me it was a deeply moving experience to offer the Mass at the Shrine in the Lauderdale Aisle of that Scottish Kirk! Our special intention was for God's blessing on the orthodox remnant of the Scottish Episcopal Church as they enter into a new period of building an ecclesial structure enabling them not just to survive, but to gather so many who have fallen away, and bring the Gospel to those who have never believed.

Doing his bit for Christian unity: Lord Lauderdale (with walking stick) with clergy of various Christian traditions at the Haddington-Whitekirk Pilgrimage in May 2006

Thursday, September 24, 2009


In his Mass on the World, Teilhard de Chardin recounts his experience on a wind-swept steppe in Asia. He wanted to celebrate Mass, but he had no bread or wine. This is the most famous of his writings.

(It is true that Teilhard must be read with care, taking into account a certain poetic mysticism, but Pope Benedict referred to him in an address on July 24, 2009, at vespers in the cathedral of Aosta, Italy. Preaching on Romans 8, in which St Paul speaks of the created order being glorified in Christ, he said,
“We ourselves, with our whole being, must be adoration and sacrifice, and by transforming our world, give it back to God. The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. And let us pray the Lord to help us become priests in this sense, to aid in the transformation of the world, in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves. That our lives may speak of God, that our lives may be a true liturgy, an announcement of God, a door through which the distant God may become the present God, and a true giving of ourselves to God.”)

The following is a long post, but it is well worth reading. It was published as part of “Hymn of the Universe” in 1961.


Since once again, Lord - though this time not in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia - I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.

Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and trembles, and once again begins its fearful travail. I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labour. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth's fruits.

My paten and my chalice are the depths of a soul laid widely open to all the forces which in a moment will rise up from every corner of the earth and converge upon the Spirit. Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence of all those whom the light is now awakening to the new day.

One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life. One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research and of thought. And again one by one - more vaguely it is true, yet all-inclusively - I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.

This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us; this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous wave-flows trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this deep that I thus desire all the fibres of my being should respond. All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die: all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering. This is the material of my sacrifice; the only material you desire.

Once upon a time men took into your temple the first fruits of their harvests, the flower of their flocks. But the offering you really want, the offering you mysteriously need every day to appease your hunger, to slake your thirst is nothing less than the growth of the world borne ever onwards in the stream of universal becoming.

Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day.

This bread, our toil, is of itself, I know, but an immense fragmentation; this wine, our pain, is no more, I know, than a draught that dissolves. Yet in the very depths of this formless mass you have implanted - and this I am sure of, for I sense it - a desire, irresistible, hallowing, which makes us cry out, believer and unbeliever alike. 'Lord, make us one."

Because, my God, though I lack the soul-zeal and the sublime integrity of your saints, I yet have received from you an overwhelming sympathy for all that stirs within the dark mass of matter; because I know myself to be irremediably less a child of heaven than a son of earth; therefore I will this morning climb up in spirit to the high places, bearing with me the hopes and the miseries of my mother; and there - empowered by that priesthood which you alone (as I firmly believe) have bestowed on me - upon all that in the world of human flesh is now about to be born or to die beneath the rising sun I will call down the Fire.

Fire, the source of being: we cling so tenaciously to the illusion that fire comes forth from the depths of the earth and that its flames grow progressively brighter as it pours along the radiant furrows of life's tillage. Lord, in your mercy you gave me to see that this idea is false, and that I must overthrow it if I were ever to have sight of you.

In the beginning was Power, intelligent, loving, energizing. In the beginning was the Word, supremely capable of mastering and moulding whatever might come into being in the world of matter. In the beginning there were not coldness and darkness: there was the Fire. This is the truth.

So, far from light emerging gradually out of the womb of our darkness, it is the Light, existing before all else was made which, patiently, surely, eliminates our darkness. As for us creatures, of ourselves we are but emptiness and obscurity. But you, my God, are the inmost depths, the stability of that eternal milieu, without duration or space, in which our cosmos emerges gradually into being and grows gradually to its final completeness, as it loses those boundaries which to our eyes seem so immense. Everything is being; everywhere there is being and nothing but being, save in the fragmentation of creatures and the clash of their atoms.

Blazing Spirit, Fire, personal, super-substantial, the consummation of a union so immeasurably more lovely and more desirable than that destructive fusion of which all the pantheists dream: be pleased yet once again to come down and breathe a soul into the newly formed, fragile film of matter with which this day the world is to be freshly clothed.

I know we cannot forestall, still less dictate to you, even the smallest of your actions; from you alone comes all initiative - and this applies in the first place to my prayer.

Radiant Word, blazing Power, you who mould the manifold so as to breathe your life into it; I pray you, lay on us those your hands - powerful, considerate, omnipresent, those hands which do not (like our human hands) touch now here, now there, but which plunge into the depths and the totality, present and past, of things so as to reach us simultaneously through all that is most immense and most inward within us and around us.

May the might of those invincible hands direct and transfigure for the great world you have in mind that earthly travail which I have gathered into my heart and now offer you in its entirety. Remould it, rectify it, recast it down to the depths from whence it springs. You know how your creatures can come into being only, like shoot from stem, as part of an endlessly renewed process of evolution.

Do you now therefore, speaking through my lips, pronounce over this earthly travail your twofold efficacious word: the word without which all that our wisdom and our experience have built up must totter and crumble - the word through which all our most far-reaching speculations and our encounter with the universe are come together into a unity. Over every living thing which is to spring up, to grow, to flower, to ripen during this day say again the words: This is my Body. And over every death-force which waits in readiness to corrode, to wither, to cut down, speak again your commanding words which express the supreme mystery of faith: This is my Blood.

It is done.

Once again the Fire has penetrated the earth.

Not with sudden crash of thunderbolt, riving the mountain-tops: does the Master break down doors to enter his own home? Without earthquake, or thunderclap: the flame has lit up the whole world from within. All things individually and collectively are penetrated and flooded by it, from the inmost core of the tiniest atom to the mighty sweep of the most universal laws of being: so naturally has it flooded every element, every energy, every connecting-link in the unity of our cosmos; that one might suppose the cosmos to have burst spontaneously into flame.

In the new humanity which is begotten today the Word prolongs the unending act of his own birth; and by virtue of his immersion in the world's womb the great waters of the kingdom of matter have, without even a ripple, been endued with life. No visible tremor marks this inexpressible transformation; and yet, mysteriously and in very truth, at the touch of the supersubstantial Word the immense host which is the universe is made flesh. Through your own incarnation, my God, all matter is henceforth incarnate.

Through our thoughts and our human experiences, we long ago became aware of the strange properties which make the universe so like our flesh:

like the flesh it attracts us by the charm which lies in the mystery of its curves and folds and in the depths of its eyes;

like the flesh it disintegrates and eludes us when submitted to our analyses or to our failings off and in the process of its own perdurance;

as with the flesh, it can only be embraced in the endless reaching out to attain what lies beyond the confines of what has been given to us.

All of us, Lord, from the moment we are born feel within us this disturbing mixture of remoteness and nearness; and in our heritage of sorrow and hope, passed down to us though the ages, there is no yearning more desolate than that which makes us weep with vexation and desire as we stand in the midst of the Presence which hovers about us nameless and impalpable and is indwelling in all things. Si forte attrectent eum.

Now, Lord, though the consecration of the world the luminosity and fragrance which suffuse the universe take on for me the lineaments of a body and a face - in you. What my mind glimpsed through its hesitant explorations, what my heart craved with so little expectation of fulfilment, you now magnificently unfold for me: the fact that your creatures are not merely so linked together in solidarity that none can exist unless all the rest surround it, but that all are so dependent on a single central reality that a true life, borne in common by them all, gives them ultimately their consistence and their unity.

Shatter, my God, though the daring of your revelation the childishly timid outlook that can conceive of nothing greater or more vital in the world than the pitiable perfection of our human organism. On the road to a bolder comprehension of the universe the children of this world day by day outdistance the masters of Israel; but do you, Lord Jesus, 'in whom all things subsist', show yourself to those who love you as the higher Soul and the physical centre of your creation. Are you not well aware that for us this is a question of life or death? As for me, if I could not believe that your real Presence animates and makes tractable and endless even the very least of the energies which invade me or brush past me, would I not die of cold?

I thank you, my God, for having in a thousand different ways led my eyes to discover the immense simplicity of things. Little by little, though the irresistible development of those yearnings you implanted in me as a child, through the influence of gifted friends who entered my life at certain moments to bring light and strength to my mind, and through the awakenings of spirit I owe to the successive initiations, gentle and terrible, which you caused me to undergo: through all these I have been brought to the point where I can no longer see anything, nor any longer breathe, outside that milieu in which all is made one.

At this moment when your life has just poured with superabundant vigour into the sacrament of the world, I shall savour with heightened consciousness the intense yet tranquil rapture of a vision whose coherence and harmonies I can never exhaust.

What I experience as I stand in face of - and in the very depths of - this world which your flesh has assimilated, this world which has become your flesh, my God, is not the absorption of the monist who yearns to be dissolved into the unity of things, nor the emotion felt by the pagan as he lies prostrate before a tangible divinity, nor yet the passive self-abandonment of the quietist tossed hither and thither at the mercy of mystical impulsions. From each of these modes of thought I take something of their motive force while avoiding their pitfalls: the approach determined for me by your omnipresence is a wonderful synthesis wherein three of the most formidable passions that can unlock the human heart rectify each other as they mingle: like the monist I plunge into the all-inclusive One; but the One is so perfect that as it receives me and I lose myself in it I can find in it the ultimate perfection of my own individuality;

like the pagan I worship a God who can be touched; and I do indeed touch him - this God - over the whole surface and in the depths of that world of matter which confines me: but to take hold of him as I would wish (simply in order not to stop touching him), I must go always on and on through and beyond each undertaking, unable to rest in anything, borne onwards at each moment by creatures and at each moment going beyond them, in a continuing welcoming of them and a continuing detachment from them; like the quietist I allow myself with delight to be cradled in the divine fantasy: but at the same time I know that the divine will, will only be revealed to me at each moment if I exert myself to the utmost: I shall only touch God in the world of matter, when, like Jacob, I have been vanquished by him.

Thus, because the ultimate objective, the totality to which my nature is attuned has been made manifest to me, the powers of my being begin spontaneously to vibrate in accord with a single note of incredible richness wherein I can distinguish the most discordant tendencies effortlessly resolved: the excitement of action and the delight of passivity: the joy of possessing and the thrill of reaching out beyond what one possesses; the pride in growing and the happiness of being lost in what is greater than oneself.

Rich with the sap of the world, I rise up towards the Spirit whose vesture is the magnificence of the material universe but who smiles at me from far beyond all victories; and, lost in the mystery of the flesh of God, I cannot tell which is the more radiant bliss: to have found the Word and so be able to achieve the mastery of matter, or to have mastered matter and so be able to attain and submit to the light of God.

Grant, Lord, that your descent into the universal Species may not be for me just something loved and cherished, like the fruit of some philosophical speculation, but may become for me truly a real Presence. Whether we like it or not by power and by right you are incarnate in the world, and we are all of us dependent upon you. But in fact you are far, and how far, from being equally close to us all. We are all of us together carried in the one world-womb; yet each of us is our own little microcosm in which the Incarnation is wrought independently with degrees of intensity, and shades that are incommunicable. And that is why, in our prayer at the altar, we ask that the consecration may be brought about for us: Ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiat. . . If I firmly believe that everything around me is the body and blood of the Word, then for me (and in one sense for me alone) is brought about that marvellous 'diaphany' which causes the luminous warmth of a single life to be objectively discernible in and to shine forth from the depths of every event, every element: whereas if, unhappily, my faith should flag, at once the light is quenched and everything becomes darkened, everything disintegrates.

You have come down, Lord, into this day which is now beginning. But alas, how infinitely different in degree is your presence for one and another of us in the events which are now preparing and which all of us together will experience! In the very same circumstances which are soon to surround me and my fellow-men you may be present in small measure, in great measure, more and more or not at all.

Therefore, Lord, that no poison may harm me this day, no death destroy me, no wine befuddle me, that in every creature I may discover and sense you, I beg you: give me faith.

If the Fire has come down into the heart of the world it is, in the last resort, to lay hold on me and to absorb me. Henceforth I cannot be content simply to contemplate it or, by my steadfast faith, to intensify its ardency more and more in the world around me. What I must do, when I have taken part with all my energies in the consecration which causes its flames to leap forth, is to consent to the communion which will enable it to find in me the food it has come in the last resort to seek.

So, my God, I prostrate myself before your presence in the universe which has now become living flame: beneath the lineaments of all that I shall encounter this day, all that happens to me, all that I achieve, it is you I desire, you I await.

It is a terrifying thing to have been born: I mean, to find oneself, without having willed it, swept irrevocably along on a torrent of fearful energy which seems as though it wished to destroy everything it carries with it.

What I want, my God, is that by a reversal of forces which you alone can bring about, my terror in face of the nameless changes destined to renew my being may be turned into an overflowing joy at being transformed into you.

First of all I shall stretch out my hand unhesitatingly towards the fiery bread which you set before me. This bread, in which you have planted the seed of all that is to develop in the future, I recognize as containing the source and the secret of that destiny you have chosen for me. To take it is, I know, to surrender myself to forces which will tear me away painfully from myself in order to drive me into danger, into laborious undertakings, into a constant renewal of ideas, into an austere detachment where my affections are concerned. To eat it is to acquire a taste and an affinity for that which in everything is above everything - a taste and an affinity which will henceforward make impossible for me all the joys by which my life has been warmed. Lord Jesus, I am willing to be possessed by you, to be bound to your body and led by its inexpressible power towards those solitary heights which by myself I should never dare to climb. Instinctively, like all mankind, I would rather set up my tent here below on some hill-top of my own choosing. I am afraid, too, like all my fellow-men, of the future too heavy with mystery and too wholly new, towards which time is driving me. Then like these men I wonder anxiously where life is leading me . . . May this communion of bread with the Christ clothed in the powers which dilate the world free me from my timidities and my heedlessness! In the whirlpool of conflicts and energies out of which must develop my power to apprehend and experience your holy presence, I throw myself, my God, on your word. The man who is filled with an impassioned love of Jesus hidden in the forces which bring increase to the earth, him the earth will lift tip, like a mother, in the immensity of her arms, and will enable him to contemplate the face of God.

If your kingdom, my God, were of this world, I could possess you simply by surrendering myself to the forces which cause us, through suffering and dying, to grow visibly in stature - us or that which is dearer to us than ourselves. But because the term towards which the earth is moving lies not merely beyond each individual thing but beyond the totality of things; because the world travails, not to bring forth from within itself some supreme reality, but to find its consummation through a union with a pre-existent Being; it follows that man can never reach the blazing centre of the universe simply by living more and more for himself nor even by spending his life in the service of some earthly cause however great. The world can never be definitively united with you, Lord, save by a sort of reversal, a turning about, an excentration, which must involve the temporary collapse not merely of all individual achievements but even of everything that looks like an advancement for humanity. If my being is ever to be decisively attached to yours, there must first die in me not merely the monad ego but also the world: in other words I must first pass through an agonizing phase of diminution for which no tangible compensation will be given me. That is why, pouring into my chalice the bitterness of all separations, of all limitations, and of all sterile failings away, you then hold it out to me. 'Drink ye all of this.'

How could I refuse this chalice, Lord, now that through the bread you have given me there has crept into the marrow of my being an inextinguishable longing to be united with you beyond life; through death? The consecration of the world would have remained incomplete, a moment ago, had you not with special love vitalized for those who believe, not only the life-bringing forces, but also those which bring death. My communion would be incomplete - would, quite simply, not be.

Christian - if, together with the gains which this new day brings me, I did not also accept, in my own name and in the name of the world as the most immediate sharing in your own being, those processes, hidden or manifest, of enfeeblement, of ageing, of death, which unceasingly consume the universe, to its salvation or its condemnation. My God, I deliver myself up with utter abandon to those fearful forces of dissolution which, I blindly believe, will this day cause my narrow ego to be replaced by your divine presence. The man who is filled with an impassioned love for Jesus hidden in the forces which bring death to the earth, him the earth will clasp in the immensity of her arms as her strength fails, and with her he will awaken in the bosom of God.

Lord Jesus, now that beneath those world-forces you have become truly and physically everything for me, everything about me, everything within me, I shall gather into a single prayer both my delight in what I have and my thirst for what I lack; and following the lead of your great servant I shall repeat those enflamed words in which, I firmly believe, the Christianity of tomorrow will find its increasingly clear portrayal:

'Lord, lock me up in the deepest depths of your heart; and then, holding me there, burn me, purify me, set me on fire, sublimate me, till I become utterly what you would have me be, though the utter annihilation of my ego'

Tu autem, Domine mi, include me in imis visceribus Cordis tui. Atque ibi me detine, excoque, expurga, accende, ignifac, sublima, ad purissimum Cordis tui gustum atque placitum, ad puram annihilationem meam.

'Lord.' Yes, at last, though the twofold mystery of this universal consecration and communion I have found one to whom I can wholeheartedly give this name. As long as I could see - or dared see - in you, Lord Jesus, only the man who lived two thousand years ago, the sublime moral teacher, the Friend, the Brother, my love remained timid and constrained. Friends, brothers, wise men: have we not many of these around us, great souls, chosen souls, and much closer to us? And then can man ever give himself utterly to a nature which is purely human? Always from the very first it was the world, greater than all the elements which make up the world, that I was in love with; and never before was there anyone before whom I could in honesty bow down. And so for a long time, even though I believed, I strayed, not knowing what it was I loved. But now, Master, today, when though the manifestation of those superhuman powers with which your resurrection endowed you you shine forth from within all the forces of the earth and so become visible to me, now I recognize you as my Sovereign, and with delight I surrender myself to you.

How strange, my God, are the processes your Spirit initiates! When, two centuries ago, your Church began to feel the particular power of your heart, it might have seemed that what was captivating men's souls was the fact of their finding in you an element even more determinate, more circumscribed, than your humanity as a whole. But now on the contrary a swift reversal is making us aware that your main purpose in this revealing to us of your heart was to enable our love to escape from the constrictions of the too narrow, too precise, too limited image of you which we had fashioned for ourselves. What I discern in your breast is simply a furnace of fire; and the more I fix my gaze on its ardency the more it seems to me that all around it the contours of your body melt away and become enlarged beyond all measure, till the only features I can distinguish in you are those of the face of a world which has burst into flame.

Glorious Lord Christ: the divine influence secretly diffused and active in the depths of matter, and the dazzling centre where all the innumerable fibres of the manifold meet; power as implacable as the world and as warm as life; you whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire, and whose feet are brighter than molten gold; you whose hands imprison the stars; you who are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; you who gather into your exuberant unity every beauty, every affinity, every energy, every mode of existence; it is you to whom my being cried out with a desire as vast as the universe, 'In truth you are my Lord and my God.'

'Lord, lock me up within you': yes indeed I believe - and this belief is so strong that it has become one of the supports of nay inner life - that an 'exterior darkness' which was wholly outside you would be pure nothingness. Nothing, Lord Jesus, can subsist outside of your flesh; so that even those who have been cast out from your love are still, unhappily for them, the beneficiaries of your presence upholding them in existence. All of us, inescapably, exist in you, the universal milieu in which and through which all things live and have their being. But precisely because we are not self-contained ready-made entities which can be conceived equally well as being near to you or remote from you; precisely because in us the self-subsistent individual who is united to you grows only insofar as the union itself grows, that union whereby we are given more and more completely to you: I beg you, Lord, in the name of all that is most vital in my being, to hearken to the desire of this thing that I dare to call my soul even though I realize more and more every day how much greater it is than myself, and, to slake my thirst for life, draw me - through the successive zones of your deepest substance - into the secret recesses of your inmost heart.

The deeper the level at which one encounters you, Master, the more one realizes the universality of your influence. This is the criterion by which I can judge at each moment how far I have progressed within you. When all the things around me, while preserving their own individual contours, their own special savours, nevertheless appear to me as animated by a single secret spirit and therefore as diffused and intermingled within a single element, infinitely close, infinitely remote; and when, locked within the jealous intimacy of a divine sanctuary, I yet feel myself to be wandering at large in the empyrean of all created beings: then I shall know that I am approaching that central point where the heart of the world is caught in the descending radiance of the heart of God.

And then, Lord, at that point where all things are set ablaze, do you act upon me though the united flames of all those internal and external influences which, were I less close to you, would be neutral or ambivalent or hostile, but which when animated by an Energy quae possit sibi omnia subjicere7 become, in the physical depths of your heart, the angels of your triumphant activity. Though a marvellous combination of your divine magnetism with the charm and the inadequacy of creatures, with their sweetness and their malice, their disappointing weakness and their terrifying power, do you fill my heart alternately with exaltation and with distaste; teach it the true meaning of purity: not a debilitating separation from all created reality but an impulse carrying one though all forms of created beauty; show it the true nature of charity: not a sterile fear of doing wrong but a vigorous determination that all of us together shall break open the doors of life; and give it finally - give it above all - though an ever-increasing awareness of your omnipresence, a blessed desire to go on advancing, discovering, fashioning and experiencing the world so as to penetrate ever further and further into yourself.

For me, my God, all joy and all achievement, the very purpose of my being and all my love of life, all depend on this one basic vision of the union between yourself and the universe. Let others, fulfilling a function more august than mine, proclaim your splendours as pure Spirit; as for me, dominated as I am by a vocation which springs from the inmost fibres of my being, I have no desire, I have no ability, to proclaim anything except the innumerable prolongations of your incarnate Being in the world of matter; I can preach only the mystery of your flesh, you the Soul shining forth though all that surrounds us.

It is to your body in this its fullest extension - that is, to the world become through your power and my faith the glorious living crucible in which everything melts away in order to be born anew; it is to this that I dedicate myself with all the resources which your creative magnetism has brought forth in me: with the all too feeble resources of my scientific knowledge, with my religious vows, with my priesthood, and (most dear to me) with my deepest human convictions. It is in this dedication, Lord Jesus, I desire to live, in this I desire to die.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I am staying with Father Len Black and his family at St Michael and All Angels on the other side of the River Ness from the Inverness city centre. We had a great Mass this morning. The church is easily reached on foot by crossing the suspension foot bridge which the locals call the shakey bridge . . . but it's perfectly safe! . . . with magnificent views up river to Ben Wyvis in the distance, and down river to the Castle.

Inverness is the Capital of the Highlands of Scotland, an area renowned for its mountains, lochs, castles, golf courses and of course the world-renowned and 'sometimes elusive' Loch Ness Monster.

The City of Inverness has a population of about 55,000 and as the only place in the Highlands with a population of more than 10,000 people, enjoys the facilities of a much larger city.

The Highlands of Scotland has a total population of around 320,000 spread over an area the size of Belgium and with the lowest population density of anywhere in Europe. Just 4% of the population of Scotland live in the Scottish Highlands.

St Michael and All Angels is a lively and welcoming parish who uphold a traditional modern Scottish Anglo-Catholic style of worship in all its liturgical richness. This is a tradition they strive to maintain, along with other Forward in Faith parishes throughout the British Isles and beyond who seek to hold firm to the traditional values of the universal church.

The main architectural features of St Michael and All Angels are the work of the renowned church architect, Sir Ninian Comper, the son of a priest who served in the Diocese from 1853-57.

The parish is especially proud of their Comper stained glass windows of the Four Archangels, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel, and of the magnificent Gilded Tester depicting the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which is above the high altar. And there is an unusual lofty oak font cover, one of the few 'wooden' examples of the work of Sir Ninian Comper.

Friday, September 18, 2009

THE YEAR OF THE PRIEST: The Glory and Power of the Gospel (Fr Cantalamessa)

Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, a Franciscan Capuchin Priest, formerly an academic, was appointed by Pope John Paul II "Preacher to the Papal Household" in 1980, in which capacity he continues to serve Pope Benedict XVI. He is a leader of Charismatic renewal in the Italian Church, and is frequently invited to speak at international and ecumenical conferences and rallies. He has been member of Catholic delegation for the Dialogue with the Pentecostal Churches for the last ten years. He has a popular weekly TV program.

"When we need a labor union we to to our parish priest; when we need the word of God we go to the (Protestant) pastor."

"In Latin America the Catholic Church has made an option for the poor and the poor have opted for the Protestant Churches."

Fr. Cantalamessa referred to these shocking statements in a retreat he gave in Mexico in 1992 for 1500 priests and 70 bishops from all over Latin America. He called on the Catholic Church to rediscover once again the beauty and power of the simple kerygma in its preaching, and not dilute it with either a merely works-oriented gospel or one that concentrated on "self-fulfillment". Here is a summary and translation of what he said:

What have we done with this fundamental proclamation which Jesus and Paul call "the Gospel", the Good News? What place does it occupy in our preaching?

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who has faith." (Rom. 1:16) Obviously even in that time too there was the temptation to be ashamed of the Gospel. For the Jews it was a scandal and for the Greeks, stupidity. (1 Cor. 1:22-25)

Paul writes to the Galations, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel..."

Trusting in Works

I think we must repeat this cry of the Apostle again in our times. I have great esteem and respect for "liberation theology". However, like all good things there is always a danger that it can fall short of the fullness of the gospel. The danger, I believe, is not so much that it ends in Marxist ideology, but the much greater danger of once again trusting in works.

This occurs when social and political liberation is confused with liberation from sin and evil, and material salvation with spiritual, making both of them depend solely on the efforts of man. When this happens, I believe one slips imperceptibly into what Paul calls "another gospel", a gospel which is no longer the "power of God."

Jesus is reduced to an example of liberation rather that the "cause of salvation" for all those who believe in him.

Another Gospel

This is not the only way, however that we can preach "another gospel". It may not even be the most dangerous one. Another gospel is also preached when one speaks of spiritual liberation through psychology, by the use of oriental meditation techniques, enneagrams, New Ager and other such things.

These are all "weak and poor elements of this world" as Paul called them compared to the power of the Gospel.

Through them there is a danger that we find ourselves thinking like the Colossians, who sought salvation through their astral speculations and syncretistically mixed Christ with the other spirits and powers. As the Apostle Paul writes, "See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ." (Col. 2:8-9)

These seem like words written for our times. Today there is a new invasion of Christianity from retreats and spiritual exercises and courses, all inspired by this man-made gospel. These concentrate on the "self": self-knowledge, self-expression, self-acceptance, self-justification, self-realization"in other words, self fulfillment instead of the self-denial and self-forgetfulness that lies at the heart of Christianity. In this man-centered gospel, salvation comes from within man himself and Jesus becomes reduced to just one more ingredient in the religious cocktail.

This "other gospel" originates in those countries which are rich and sated, from people who believe it is possible to go "beyond faith" and "beyond Christ". As if anything beyond faith could exist. "Be he accursed (anathema)!" says Paul. This is a warning full of love. It means "Have nothing to do with these people. Keep yourselves separate from them. It is an apostasy from Christ."

Gospel of Grace

Christians who put Christianity on the same plane as other religions and find them all equally satisfying show that they have not understood the uniqueness of Christianity and its essence, which is grace. Human religions have their way of preaching salvation. Buddha, for example, show how to free oneself from pain. He gives an example and says to his followers: "I have experienced this way; if you wish, you can do likewise..." Jesus also said to his disciples; "I have given you an example" (Jn. 13:14), but he didn't stop there. He died and rose again for us, and he has thereby given us not only the example, but also the grace and the ability to follow his example. The Christian Gospel is the Gospel of grace. We can only love because "He first loved us." (1 Jn. 4:19)

Faith and Works

These are just some of the things that nowadays tend to obscure the Gospel. Another problem comes from the legacy of our history. When Luther proclaimed the thesis of justification by "faith alone", the Catholic Church in reaction to counter balance his polemical excesses had to reaffirm the importance and need for works. At the Council of Trent she stated substantially two things--that we are not saved by good works but we are not saved without them either. Unfortunately in a prevailing polemical atmosphere this led to a hardening of the respective positions. The more the Protestants insisted on justification by faith alone, the more the Catholics insisted--at least in their preaching--on works. This legacy remains with us today. When have you ever heard a Catholic homily based on justification on faith? And yet, this is the very heart and strength of the Christian message.

Thank God today we are living in times in which the Church is breaking these ancient counter-positions. Let us take advantage of this to once again, while not forgetting the importance of works and virtues in the Christian life, rediscover the glory and power of the Kerygma in our preaching.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


It is very fitting that the first full day of the Forward in Faith Scotland Conference should fall on the Feast of St Ninian. A bishop and confessor, his date of birth is unknown. But he is revered as the first Apostle of Christianity in Scotland. He died around 432. The earliest account of his ministry is a very short passage in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History:

"the southern Picts received the true faith by the preaching of Bishop Ninias, a most reverend and holy man of the British nation, who had been regularly instructed at Rome in the faith and mysteries of the truth; whose episcopal see, named after St. Martin the Bishop, and famous for a church dedicated to him (wherein Ninias himself and many other saints rest in the body), is now in the possession of the English nation. The place belongs to the province of the Bernicians and is commonly called the White House [Candida Casa], because he there built a church of stone, which was not usual amongst the Britons". (III, 4)

The facts given in this passage form practically all we know of St. Ninian's life and work. In the twelfth century, St. Ælred compiled a life of St Ninian which is usually regarded as mingling legend with fact. From it we learn that while engaged in building his church at Candida Casa, Ninian heard of the death of St. Martin and decided to dedicate the building to him. Now, St Martin died about 397, so that helps us to locate St Ninian's mission to the southern Picts towards the end of the fourth century. We also learn that while St Ninian founded at Whithorn a monastery which became famous as a school of monasticism within a century of his death, his work among the southern Picts seems to have had but a short-lived success.

St Patrick, in his epistle to Coroticus, terms the Picts "apostates", and references to Ninian's converts having abandoned Christianity are found in Sts Columba and Kentigern. The body of St Ninian was buried in the church at Whithorn (Wigtownshire), but no relics are now known to exist. The "Clogrinny", or bell of St Ringan, of very rough workmanship, is in the Antiquarian Museum at Edinburgh.
(The above was adapted from The Catholic Encyclopaedia)

Morning Prayer today included this Office Hymn, which was enthusiastically sung to the tune “Moscow”:

Ninian of Galloway,
Homage we fondly pay
And tribute bring;
Saint by our church proclaimed,
Scotland's apostle named,
Thy praise we sing to thee,
Thy praise we sing.

Born of our Scottish race,
God led thee forth by grace
To find in Rome
That pearl so richly priced,
That faultless creed of Christ,
And bear it safely home,
And bear it home.

Softly the Christian mourn
Dawned o'er the lone Whithorn
Like kindly sun;
Nobly thy loyal band,
Led by thy sure command,
Our kingdom won for Christ,
Our kingdom won.

Where once thy footsteps trod,
Unquenched, the fires of God
Await thy hand;
Renew thy fervent care.
Tender to God thy prayer
To bless our native land,
To bless our land.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

THE YEAR OF THE PRIEST: Garment of Love (Benedict XVI)

To those following the readings on priesthood, I apologise for the lateness of this one. There was so much to do last week in order to board the plane on Saturday. After a long journey I am now in the UK for some weeks, beginning with the Forward in Faith Scotland Conference.

I'm sure you will agree that, like all good things, this reading will have been worth the wait. It is the homily of Pope Benedict at his 2007 Chrism Mass.

In a short story, the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy tells of a fierce sovereign who asked his priests and wise men to show him God that he might be able to see him. The wise weren't in a position to satisfy this desire of his. But then a shepherd, who'd just returned from the field, himself offered to take on the task of the priests and the experts. From him, the king learned that his eyes were not sufficient to see God. Then, however, he wished to at least know what God did. "To be able to respond to this question," the shepherd told the sovereign, "we must swap our clothes." With hesitation, but still pushed by curiosity for the discovery he awaited, the king consented; he gave his royal garb to the shepherd and then re-dressed himself in the simple outfit of the poor man. And then came the response: "This is that which God does." In fact, the Son of God - true God from true God - left his divine splendor: "...emptying himself, he took the form of a slave and became like unto men; appearing in human form, he humbled himself... dying on a cross" (Phil 2:6). God has - as the Fathers put it - completed the sacrum commercium, the sacred exchange: he took on that which was ours, that we might receive that which was his, to become like unto God.

Saint Paul, speaking of what happens in Baptism, explicitly uses the image of clothing: "When you were baptized in Christ, you were clothed with Christ" (Gal 3:27). This completes itself in Baptism: we clothe ourselves in Christ, he gives us his garments and these are not external things. It means that we enter into an existential communion with Him, that his and our beings fuse, coming ever more closely together. "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" - so Paul himself says in the Letter to the Galatians (2:2) describing the event of his baptism. Christ has donned our clothing: the suffering and joy of the human being, the hunger, thirst, tiredness, the hopes and disappointments, the fear of death, all of our anguishes until death. And he gave us his "clothing." The Letter to the Galatians it speaks of this as a simple "fact" of baptism - the gift of being made new - Paul presents it in the in the Letter to the Ephesians as a permanent task: "You must rid yourselves of the old man of your prior conduct!... [and] clothe yourselves in the new man, created by God in justice and true holiness. Therefore, put away lies: each telling the truth to your neighbor; for we are members of each other. In anger, do not sin..." (Ep 4:22-26).

This theology of Baptism returns in a new way and with a new insistence in priestly ordination. As in Baptism was given an "exchange of clothing," an exchange of destiny, a new existential communion with Christ, so too in the priesthood there is an exchange: in the administration of the Sacraments, the priest acts and speaks now "in persona Christi." In the sacred mysteries he doesn't represent himself and doesn't speak to express himself, but speaks for the Other - for Christ. So in the Sacraments is made visible in a dramatic ay that which the priestly being signifies in general; that which we've expressed with our "Adsum - present" during the priestly consecration: I am here that you might make use of me. We place ourselves at the disposal of Him "who died for all, that they might live no longer for themselves..." (2 Cor 5:15). We place ourselves at the disposal of Christ meaning that we leave ourselves wrapped in his "for all": that, in being with Him, we ourselves might be truly "for all."

In persona Christi - in the moment of priestly ordination, the Church has made visible and tangible to us this reality of "new garments" also externally by means of which our beings are dressed anew with the liturgical vestments. This external sign wishes to make evident to us the interior event and the charge that, from it, comes to us: to put on Christ anew; to give ourselves to Him as he gave Himself to us. This event, this "reclothing with Christ," is represented always anew in each Holy Mass as we don anew the liturgical vestments. To don them must be for us more than an external fact: it's to enter always and ever new into the "yes" of our task - the "no longer I" of baptism that priestly ordination gives us in a new way and calls us to at the same time. The fact that we are at the altar, dressed in the liturgical robes, must make clearly visible to those present and to we ourselves that we are there "in the person of Another." The priestly instruments, developed over the course of time, are a profound symbolic expression of that which priesthood signifies. I'd like then, dear brothers, to explain on this Holy Thursday the essence of the priestly ministry by interpreting the liturgical clothing that, clearly, for its part illustrates what it means to "put on Christ," to speak and act in persona Christi.

The donning of the priestly vestments was, at one time, accompanied by prayers that would help us to understand better the singular elements of priestly ministry. Let us start with the amice. In the past - and still today in the monastic orders - this was first placed over the head, as a type of hood, so becoming a symbol of the discipling of the senses and of the necessary mindset for a proper celebration of the Holy Mass. My thoughts must not wander here and there amid the preoccupations and delays of my daily life; my senses must not be drawn away from that which here, inside the church, would casually wish to confine my eyes and ears. My heart must be docile in opening itself to the word of God and being called to the prayer of the Church, that my thoughts might receive its direction from the words of proclamation and prayer. And I must ensure that my heart be turned toward the Lord in our midst: this is what is meant by ars celebrandi - the proper way of celebrating. If I am with the Lord, then with my listening, speaking and acting I, too, attract the people toward communion with Him.

The prayer-texts that interpret the alb and stole both go in this same direction. They evoke the festive dress of the father given to the prodigal son who returned home ragged and dirty. When we come to the liturgy to act in the person of Christ we all realize how far from Him we are; this filth exists in our life. Only he can give us the festive garb, make us worthy of presiding at his table, of being in his service. So the prayers recall also the word of the Apocalypse according to which the 144,000 elect were clothed, not by their merits, worthy of God. The Apocalypse comments that these had washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb and that in this way they became as the light (cf Rev 7:14). From my youth I asked myself: when something is washed in blood, it surely doesn't become white! The response is: the "blood of the Lamb" is the love of Christ crucified. It's this love that makes our filthy garments clean; it makes true and illuminates our darkened spirit; that, notwithstanding all our darknesses, transforms we ourselves into "light in the Lord." To wear the alb we must remember: He suffered, too, for me. And only because his love is much greater than my sins, I can represent him and be a witness to his light.

But with the vestment of Light that the Lord gave us in Baptism and, in a new way, in priestly ordination, we think too of the nuptial robe, of which He speaks to us in the parable of the [wedding] feast of God. In the homilies of St Gregory the Great I found a reflection worthy of note in this regard. Gregory distinguishes between the versions of this parable from Luke and that of Matthew. He is convinced that the Lukan parable speaks of the eschatological nuptial banquet, while - according to him - the version passed on by Matthew proceeds from the anticipation of this nuptial banquet in the liturgy and in the life of the Church. In Matthew - and only in Matthew - the king, in fact, comes to the crowded hall to see his guests. And here in this multitude he finds a guest without the nuptial garb, who's then thrown out into the darkness. Gregory asks then: "But what kind of garb is he lacking? All those joined together in the Church have received the new clothing of baptism and of the faith; otherwise he would not be in the Church. What, then, is he missing? What nuptial garment must he also have?" The Pope responded: "The garment of love." And so, among the guests to whom he gave a new garment, the clean dress of new birth, the king finds some not wearing the clothing colored by that double love toward God and toward their neighbor. "Under what conditions would we want to come to the feast of heaven, if not wearing the nuptial garb - that is, love, which alone makes us beautiful?" asks the Pope. A person without love is in darkness. The external darkness, of which the Gospel speaks, is only the reflection of the internal blindness of the heart.

Now that we've prepared ourselves for the celebration of the Holy Mass, we must ask ourselves if we wear this garment of love. Let us ask the Lord to remove every hostility from inside us, to rid us of each sense of self-sufficiency and to reclothe us truly with the garb of love, that we might be luminous people and not belong to the darkness.

Finally, a brief word regarding the chasuble. The traditional prayer for clothing oneself with the chasuble finds it to represent in essence the yoke of the Lord that is imposed on us as priests. And it recalls the words of Jesus that invite us to carry his yoke and learn from Him, who is "meek and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29). To carry the yoke of the Lord means above all to learn from him. To be always available to go to His school. From Him we must learn meekness and humility - the humility of God who shows himself in our human form. St Gregory Nazianzen once was asked why God would've wanted to become man. The most important part - and for me the most touching - of his response is: "God wished to give us an example of the meaning of obedience and wanted to show its measure by his own suffering, this invention of his love for us. In this way, He would be able to know directly, himself, that which we experience - how much is requested of us, how much indulgence we merit - taking our weakness into account in his suffering." At times we might want to say to Jesus: Lord, your yoke isn't light at all. It's tremendously heavy in this world. But looking then at Him who carried everything - who took onto himself obedience, suffering, pain, all darkness, all our laments extinguish themselves. His yoke is that of loving with Him. And the more we love Him, and with Him become people who love, the lighter that seemingly heavy yoke becomes for us.

Let us pray that we might be helped to become together with Him people who love, to experience always and ever more how beautiful it is to carry his yoke. Amen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


"Rejoice, O earth,
because from the womb of Anna,
as from a fertile vine,
has sprung a sweet ripe cluster.
To the harvesting of this vineyard
all are invited,
none are excluded
- it is the joy of all."
- St. John of Damascus (c. 676 - 749)

We beseech thee, O Lord, pour into our hearts the abundance of thy heavenly grace : that like as the child-bearing of the Blessed Virgin Mary was unto us thy servants the beginning of salvation, so the devout observance of her Nativity may avail for the increasing of our peace. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
- Collect from the Mass of the Day

The God whom earth, and sea, and sky
Adore, and laud, and magnify,
Whose might they own, whose praise they swell,
In Mary's womb vouchsafed to dwell.

The Lord whom sun and moon obey,
Whom all things serve from day to day,
Was by the Holy Ghost conceived,
Of her who through his grace believed.

How blest that Mother, in whose shrine
The great Artificer divine,
Whose hand contains the earth and sky,
Once deigned, as in his ark, to lie: -

Blest in the message Gabriel brought,
Blest by the work the Spirit wrought;
From whom the Great Desire of earth
Took human flesh and human birth.

All honour, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee;
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore. Amen.
- by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609), trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by John Mason Neale in 1854

Dearly beloved, the day for which we have longed is come, even this holy-day of the praiseworthy and Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary. Let our land laugh and sing with merriment, bathed in the light of this great Virgin's rising. She is the flower of the field, from her the priceless Lily of the valley has blossomed. This is she whose delivery changed the nature that we draw from our first parents, and cleansed away their offence. With her that sentence which was pronounced over Eve was remitted. To her it was never said : In sorrow you shall bring forth children. She brought forth a child, even the Lord, but she brought him forth, not in sorrow, but in joy.

Eve wept, but Mary laughed. Eve's womb was big with tears, but Mary's womb was big with gladness. Eve gave birth to a sinner, but Mary gave birth to the Sinless One. The mother of our race brought punishment into the earth, but the Mother of our Lord brought salvation into all the world. Eve was the foundress of sin, but Mary of righteousness. Eve gave a welcome unto death, but Mary was our help unto life. Eve wounded, but Mary was our help unto life. Eve wounded, but Mary healed. For Eve's disobedience, Mary offered obedience. For Eve's unbelief, Mary offered faith.

Mary sings, as it were, to an instrument of ten strings, and between its quick notes sounds the timbrels of those who celebrate this new kind of motherhood. Therefore let the gladsome choirs join with her, to sing antiphonally her lovely hymn. O hearken to the melody which she makes as she proclaims:

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour;
for he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
for he hath magnified me.

This new miracle of Mary's delivery has taken away the cause of our increasing burden of sin, and the song of Mary brought to an end the lamentations of Eve.
(Sermo 194 in Append.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

THE YEAR OF THE PRIEST: The Ambassadors of Christ

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957), son of the Bishop of Manchester, attended Eton and then Balliol College, Oxford, and in 1910 was ordained in the Church of England. In 1919, he became a Roman Catholic. He was a prolific writer producing detective novels, biographies, apologetic works, histories, spiritual direction and a new English translation of the Bible. The following is just one chapter of his RETREAT FOR PRIESTS, written in 1946. The whole Retreat can be downloaded as a pdf document HERE.

The epistle for the first Sunday in Lent (2 Cor. vi, 1-10), try as we may to make it sound as if it referred to the congregation, refers really to ourselves. It is so plainly St. Paul's conception of what his ideal priest ought to be like.

The Liturgy makes the whole passage somewhat mystifying by leaving out the verses immediately before, which set the key for the whole. "We are Christ's ambassadors, and God speaks to you through us; we entreat you in Christ's name, make your peace with God." St. Paul's metaphor, then, is that of an ambassador, and an ambassador delivering, on behalf of his Sovereign, an ultimatum, a direct threat of war. The priest, at the beginning of Lent, has to entreat his congregation not to offer the grace of God an ineffectual welcome. So many graces missed already, and now the acceptable time has come, the day of salvation; treat this Lent, brethren, as if it was your last chance! Lent, you see, is a kind of sacramental expression of the span of life that still lies before us, the time granted us for repentance, for making our peace with God. If we do not make our peace with God, then, at the expiration of the time fixed, of the days of grace he has offered us, we find ourselves in a state of war with God, his enemies, and eternally. It is an ultimatum we deliver; now or never, make your peace!

So far, the moral has been for the congregation; the rest of the epistle is a moral, entirely, for the priest himself. We are careful not to give offense to anybody, lest we should bring discredit on our ministry; Christ wants for his ambassadors, not just any sort of ambassadors, but ambassadors trained in a school of Divine diplomacy. Not mere town-criers, shouting out "Oyez, oyez!" so as to say, afterwards, that everybody in the street has had fair warning; men entrusted with plenipotentiary powers, to secure the renewed loyalty of the rebellious subjects, if there is any form of persuasion that can do it. It is for the ambassador to ingratiate himself with the people of the country he is sent to; make people love and respect him, so that they may love and respect the master he represents.

To be the ambassador of Christ after a fashion, makes no great demands on the priest. All he has to do is to get up every Sunday morning, read out the Credo, and say "If you don't believe that, my dear brethren, you will go to hell"; get up every Sunday evening, read out the Ten Commandments, and say, "If you don't keep those, my dear brethren, you will go to hell". The ultimatum has been delivered- yes. But have we really been ambassadors? John Wesley, when one of his sermons hadn't made much impression, used to note the fact in his journal, and add, "I am clear of these men's blood". He was a great man, John Wesley, but I don't like him when he uses that phrase. Don't let us ever get into the habit of thinking that after having given our congregation twenty minutes on the danger of mixed marriages, and twenty minutes more on the importance of being in time with the bench rents, we are "clear of their blood". Something more is demanded of an ambassador; what? St. Paul goes on to tell us; not very tidily, because he hadn't a very tidy mind; but perhaps more tidily than usual.

Patience, a great deal of patience-that, he tells us, is the first thing we need. And he goes on to give nine samples of the kind of things we have to put up with, divided into three threes. "In times of affliction, of need, of difficulty-those are the mental discomforts brought on us by the vicissitudes of our work; "under the lash, in prison, in the midst of tumult"-those are the bodily discomforts inflicted on us by our fellow-men; "when we are tired out, sleepless, and fasting"-those are the bodily discomforts inflicted on us by circumstance. The picture seems to us highly-colored; do not let us forget that priests in many parts of the world are having, now, to work under those conditions; times may change, and we may have to ourselves. Meanwhile, patience is not less demanded of us because the provocations to which we are accustomed are, by comparison, pin-pricks. How difficult it can be when the faithful will try to buttonhole us after Mass on Sunday; when we are tired out after the confessional yesterday, sleepless after mutton-chops at half-past nine and a long evening with the notices, fasting until after the last Mass is sung; in affliction, need, and difficulty because we are already trying to buttonhole so many people ourselves, trying to remember what it is we have so importantly got to say to them; the last moment when we want to be under the lash of the parish grouser, imprisoned by the parish bore, in the midst of tumult, with the altar-boys kicking up a shindy all around us-and this is the moment when, most of all, the parish sees us, and ought to see us at our best!

You don't need to tell me that it is the fault of the laity. Only last Sunday I preached to fifty school girls imploring them not to grow up into the kind of people who buttonhole priests after Mass. But it is a splendid opportunity, you know, for realizing our ambassadorship. It's very odd to reflect what a lot of the good marks some of us will get at our last account will be for keeping our tempers, just, with great difficulty, keeping our tempers, at moments when nobody imagined we were in any danger of losing them.

And then you have a list, I think, of four qualities which the perfect ambassador ought to have. St. Paul always pitches his standard high. I don't know how you are to translate that word "hagnotes." "Chastity", yes; but the word has a merely negative sound. "Hagnotes" is a quality so pure as to be terrible; it dazzles you, no embattled array so awes men's hearts. A convoy passing through a country town, that endless stream of fortified motion, how it takes your breath away with the realization of the terrific thing modern war is! Something like that ought to be the purity of the priest. Not just the insensitiveness of the bachelor, who finds women a nuisance, not the furtive horror which tries to forget that sex exists, but something unapproachable, blinding, on a different plane from thoughts of evil. What a waste of God's gifts, when the life that is pledged to celibacy is not a life irradiated by purity! When brooding regrets, or cheap familiarities, tarnish the surface of that mirror which ought to reflect Christ!

"Knowledge"-how curiously St. Paul compiles his lists! Only this is not the kind of knowledge in which you can take doctorates. Always, I think, the idea in St. Paul's mind when he uses this word is that of familiarity with the things of the supernatural world, a familiarity which only comes from prayer. "He was in the world . . . and the world knew him not"-it is the opposite of that attitude which St. Paul means by knowledge; a recognition which has grown into familiarity. The soil on which an embassy is built belongs, by diplomatic usage, to the country which that embassy represents. And the ground on which the priest's feet tread should be, as it were, part of the soil of heaven transplanted to earth. The language of heaven should be talked in the presbytery, as the English language is talked in the British Embassy at Moscow. The layman who is in a difficulty ought to say to himself, "I'll go and talk to the priest about it, he'll be able to tell me; he knows God". The laity at large have the impression, and rightly, I think, that we priests know our job. I sometimes wonder whether they have the same confidence that we know our Employer.

"Long-suffering"-the difference between that and the patience we were speaking of just now leaps to the eye. You can be patient about things; an illness or a sleepless night; you are long-suffering only about persons. More, you are patient with people when they bore you or badger you without meaning any harm; you are long-suffering only where there is a sense of injury. And this quality, in one of Christ's ambassadors, is evidently of the first importance. We carry his ultimatum in our pockets; that puts us in a very delicate position. On the one hand, we have to portray him to the faithful as infinitely forgiving; we shall not do that if we are unforgiving people ourselves. On the other hand, it will sometimes be our duty to tell a fellow-mortal, "No, if you go on like that, if you persist in doing that, there is no forgiveness for you, in this world or in the world to come". Essential that the man who speaks like that should not be thought to be putting any personal animus into the declaration; the sinful soul must never be allowed to think "He is saying that because he has a down on me". And that is what people are very apt to say; cast your mind back to school days, and remember how when you were punished it was always because that professor had a down on you. The priest, then, must be known as one who personally harbors no grudges, who forgets an injury. When the sinner is told by such a man as that that there is no forgiveness, he will begin to take notice. Do let us beware of using phrases, even in fun, which will send round the parish the impression that we are unforgiving people.

"Sweetness" will not quite do in English, though "suavitas" might do in Latin, for "chrestotes." "Chrestos" is a word St. Paul is fond of applying to Almighty God himself; "kindness" would do, but I think "graciousness" does better. Here you have the positive side of the picture; our Lord's ambassadors must represent him as being, not only forgiving to the sinner, but gracious to all his suppliants. And if we are to represent our Lord to the people in that light, we shall do it best by having a graciousness of our own which represents his. There is a kind of universal benevolence which sometimes makes itself felt, even in a very shy man, even in a very reserved man, which does win souls. Everybody calls the priest "dear old" Father So-and-so, if not actually "poor old" Father So-and-so; there are no organizations in the parish and the accounts are in a frightful mess, but somehow people go to church. It is "chrestotes" that has done it.

The pure-minded priest, the priest who is familiar with God, who is forgiving, who is gracious-having asked all that of us, St. Paul goes on to give us four resources we have to rely on, if we are going to face this tremendous task. The Holy Spirit; I wonder if we think enough about all that? I mean, we are apt, some of us, to be rather like the minister who said "If I'm called upon to speak suddenly like this, I just say what the Holy Spirit puts into my mind, but if you'll give me an hour or two for preparation, I can do much better". We get into the pulpit without any sermon prepared, because we have been prevented, by sick calls or some other unexpected interruption, from giving it the time we meant to. And no doubt the Holy Spirit does give us special assistance then, but isn't it giving him a rather secondary role if we only expect him to help us out on occasions like that? Surely we ought to pray to him more, try and make ourselves more supple to his influence, than we do. After all, most of us have known, in the confessional perhaps, what it is to say something which we aren't in the least expecting to say, can't quite make out afterwards why we did say it; isn't that perhaps meant to make us see that we have more help at hand than we mostly realize? Isn't it meant to make us trust, rather more, the occasional impulse we get to say something-only we're too shy; to write a letter to somebody-only we're too slack? Don't let us be neglectful in our devotion to the Holy Spirit; the ambassador has got to keep in touch with Headquarters.

Then there is unaffected love, love unfeigned. It may be the business of the ordinary ambassador to feign love; to pretend great friendliness towards the country in which he is stationed, when in fact he feels no such friendliness, and knows that his countrymen don't either. We are in a better position than that; we are bound to our congregations by a real tie of Christian fellowship, of pastoral good-will, which will triumph, if we will let it, over many difficulties.

And then "the word of truth": or as we should say, "the truth of our message". The ordinary ambassador is fairly often under an obligation-what shall we say? Sir William Temple observed that an ambassador is one who goes and lies abroad for his country. Let us say anyhow that he is often in a position where he has to let the foreign statesmen he is conversing with deceive themselves-about his own country's resources, his own country's intentions. The ambassador of Christ suffers from no such embarrassment as that; he is simply speaking the truth that is in his heart.

And finally, the power of God-we must not expect God to do miracles for us; but he has waiting for us, if we will trust him, unexpected providences; an important conversion, a big check, you never know what. So, when its ambassador is not being listened to, a country will sometimes reinforce his authority by making a demonstration, mobilizing its troops, or something of that sort. Heaven does back up its ambassadors.

At this point St. Paul, whose thought plays about like lightning, disconcerts us a little by apparently beginning to say the exact opposite of what he has been saying before. He has been telling us how important it is that the ambassadors of Christ should make a good impression, and then quite suddenly he adds: "After all, what does it matter what people think of us? Makes no difference at all". The reason is, I think, that (as you will find at the beginning of the letter) people at Corinth have been saying nasty things about St. Paul. They said he was a man you couldn't trust, and he didn't like that. But he reminds himself now that what people think of us doesn't in the least matter. Well, it isn't really the opposite of what has gone before. I think if he had expressed himself rather more coherently, he would have said, "It is the business of Christ's ambassador to make the most favorable impression he can. Having done that, he must not be in the least surprised if in spite of it people think ill of him; they always will". And we, while (as I've been trying to point out) we have an urgent duty to make people think well of us, must be quite unmoved, in ourselves, by their approval or disapproval. It all means nothing.

We are to be armed on the right as well as on the left; your ancient soldier carried his shield on his left arm, and fought that side first. But it isn't really satisfactory only to have a pad on the leg that is facing the bowling. No, we must be armed right and left with justice, by which I think St. Paul here means innocence. It doesn't very much matter, because he has got his metaphor mixed up; what he is trying to say is that we should be equally steeled against undue blame and undue praise. "By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report". The best-looking girl in the parish goes and marries a Protestant, when you've moved heaven and earth to prevent it; and then you hear the Protestants are saying that you deliberately threw her in the poor boy's way, so as to try and pervert him. Don't mind; it won't do any harm. On the other hand, don't be too ready to believe all the good you hear about yourself. The intense woman who says, "Father, that marvelous sermon of yours"; the enthusiastic parishioner who says, "Ah, sure, Almighty God sent us a good priest when he sent you, Father"-write it off; that kind of thing won't save you any Purgatory.

Then the rest of the epistle merely carries a list of the unkind things people say about God's ambassadors; the instances chosen are very much of St. Paul's own day, and I fancy very much concerned with St. Paul's own experience. He had critics at Corinth, and they had been saying that he was a liar; that he was unacknowledged (that is, the other apostles didn't recognize him as an apostle); that it didn't matter what his teaching was, because he was probably dead in any case; or if not dead, so badly mauled by the mob at Ephesus that he would be no use again; that he was always writing tearful letters, and making people feel uncomfortable; that he was always begging for money; that he had no rich friends, and couldn't expect to make a success of preaching the gospel.

All that we probably shan't hear about ourselves. But we shall hear very much that sort of thing said about the Church we love more than life. That our claims are built on falsehood; that we are an insignificant force in the world to-day; that we are dying out, or at least have lost so much prestige that we shall never recover from it; that we are kill-joys, preaching a medieval morality to a world which has grown out of it; that we are always on the make, always in alliance with the rich against the poor, with the Have's against the Have-not's; or, contrary-wise, that we are a very provincial, middle-class set of people, we Catholics, what we do isn't worth reporting, what we say isn't worth repeating. All that we shall hear said, or read it in books and newspaper articles by people who don't like us. But none of it matters; none of it matters a bit, as long as we haven't been responsible, for giving a bad impression of the ministry we exercise; as long as we, Christ's ambassadors, have done our best to do what nobody can ever really do-represent him.