Monday, March 28, 2011

Encounters with God - Cardinal Suenens

Lent has brought us unto the desert, and we know that the desert is a place of intensity. We are not surprised that it involves spiritual struggle (for such was the experience of Jesus). We’re not surprised to find ourselves becoming aware of things in our lives that must change (because we started Lent asking the Holy Spirit to show us some of them). So, intensity of repentance is part of the deal. But throughout the Scriptures and in the cumulative experience of the Christian community, the desert is understood overwhelmingly as a place of encounter with God. We ought to have entered Lent with a sense of expectancy that somehow or other, God would break into our lives afresh with his love and healing.

The following piece by Cardinal Leon Josef Suenens of Belgium (1904 - 1996), from "The Holy Spirit, Life-Breath of the Church", Volume I, pp. 71ff, expresses perfectly what this means. Well-known for his role at Vatican II, Cardinal Suenens later became a world leader of the charismatic renewal, interpreting it to the Church, (and, indeed, at times interpreting the Church to the renewal!) He was a close friend of both Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury.

For God there is no line of demarcation between ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’. He crosses with ease the dotted line that marks our frontiers. In God the extraordinary is ordinary.

God does not love us with ordinary love, making some exceptions from time to time. No, the extraordinary love of God is part of his very being: our God is a God who is wonderful, even prodigal, in his love for men. The most astonishing proofs of his love – the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the Cross – all go beyond anything we would expect or imagine. Scriptures tells us quite simply: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). This unbelievable gesture of love wells up from the depths of his heart, and overflows on mankind.

As we look upon it, such love takes our breath away. It goes beyond anything we could dare imagine and it makes us realize that God loves us to the point of miracle. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works I do, and greater works than I do, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12). Such a promise should not surprise us: for God, the supernatural is natural; he is marvellous by his very nature. Our most condensed credo is contained in the words: “We ourselves have known and put our faith in the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). This is why we dare believe in the power of prayer, because we have before our eyes the picture of Jesus, saying to his Father, even before he put his prayer into words: “Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. I know indeed that you always hear me…” (John 11:41-42). This ‘always’ is an integral part of our faith, even when our reason is shrouded in darkness.

We have to learn to discover this extraordinary love of God, hidden in a happening which is apparently, perfectly ordinary, completely accidental: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God” (John 11:40).

There are times when God pierces the obscurity of faith like a flash of lightning in the pitch darkness of the night. We may not always be able to put these experiences into words. Indeed they are well-nigh impossible to communicate: yet they are very real, and lives are transformed by them. Bergson once said: “God creates the world and overturns it to make saints.” And this action of God, whether hidden or apparent, continues all through the history of the Church.

It overpowered Mary at the Annunciation, when she suddenly realized she was blessed and chosen among all women.

It was there, on Easter morn, under the guise of a gardener, calling Mary of Magdala by name.

It filled with burning fire the hearts of the discouraged disciples on the way to Emmaus.

It unhorsed Paul and struck him blind on the road to Damascus. It whispered to Augustine: “Take up and read”, and thus changed his life.

It so illumined a verse of Scripture – as when a sudden ray of sunshine lights up and brings out all the beauty of a stained-glass window – that a Francis of Assisi took literally the words: “If you would be perfect, go and sell all you have and give it to the poor… then come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21).

It takes a thousand forms and changes a thousand times for each of us.

It is hidden in the gentle light or the glowing blaze, revealing to us our vocation or the mission entrusted to us.

It is hidden in the unexpected encounter with a friend at a crossroad saying, as did Ananias to Paul, the decisive word. A meeting no one could have foreseen but which confirms what a spiritual writer was not afraid to say: “If a man needs another to tell him ‘the necessary word’ God will bring that man to him from the ends of the earth.

It pursues its aim under cover of what we call ‘haphazard events’, which are nothing other than God himself at work, directing secondary courses and what we call coincidences and chance happenings: all instruments of a love that is all-pervading, resourceful and steadfast beyond belief.

God writes extraordinary novels for those of us who are ready 'to play his game', willing to be open to the unexpected, on the alert to bear the whispers of grace and the promptings of the Spirit.

This experience of God, which is within the scope of every Christian, does not remove suffering nor quell the powers of evil - these are part of our earthly condition. The world is like a Rembrandt painting, a play of light and darkness. God comes to us, not as the Omnipotent One, crushing our human freedom, but as a Love, infinitely vulnerable in search of a free response.

Claudel said: "Jesus did not come to explain suffering nor to take it away . . . he came to fill it with his presence." Words with a depth of meaning. They do not, it is true, clarify the mystery of iniquity and evil. Nevertheless, they temper its darkness with the light of Golgotha. For there God showed that he is 'on our side' in our conflict with sin and suffering. These he has taken upon himself to make of them new elements of our redemption.

The discovery that God is at the very heart of suffering is, for many of the sick, a living experience in the face of which we can only marvel. Despite their pain, they smile, and their serenity sheds light on the lives of the rest of us. God is there in a special way, identifying himself with this suffering, in a way that only Gethsemane can explain. 'Ogni dolore รจ Lui', 'Every suffering is he' says Chiara Lubich, who founded the Focolare movement.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The hour cometh and now is . . . (Fr Lev Gillet)

Thinking about today’s Gospel reading, I recalled - and then found! - some famous words of Fr Lev Gillet (1893 - 1980), who usually wrote as “A Monk of the Eastern Church”). In many ways he was a prophetic figure who simultaneously struggled with and luxuriated in the diversity of Christian witness in the world today. His first and greatest work, “The Jesus Prayer”, has inspired me since my youth. It remains a must for Christians of East and West who desire to grow in God. Of course, he was a man of the Tradition, and of the Sacraments. But there is certainly a dimension in what he says here that we do well to remember - and embrace - as we live alongside and share with Christians of other traditions.

Where Jesus is, there is the Church. Whoever is in Jesus is in the Church. If the invocation of the Holy Name is a means of union with Our Lord, it is, also a means of union with that Church which is in Him and which no human sin can touch.

This does not mean that we are closing our eyes to the problems of the Church on earth, to the imperfections and disunity of Christians.

But we only deal here with this eternal, and spiritual, and "unspotted" side of the Church which is implied in the Name of Jesus. The Church thus considered transcends all earthly reality. No schism can rend her. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: "Believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4 .1, 23).

There is an apparent contradiction in the words of Our Lord: how could the hour be still coming and yet already be?

This paradox finds its explanation in the fact that the Samaritan woman was then standing before Christ. On the one hand the historical opposition between Jerusalem and Garizim still existed, and Jesus, far from treating it as a trifling circumstance, emphasized the higher claims of Jerusalem: 'Ye worship ye know not what. We know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews" (John 4.22). In that sense the hour was not yet, but was still coming. On the other hand the hour already was, because the woman had before her Him who is greater than Jerusalem or Garizim, Him who "will tell us all things" (John 4.25) and in Whom alone we can fully "worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4.24).

The same situation arises when, invoking the Name of Jesus, we cling to His Person. Assuredly we do not believe that all the conflicting interpretations of the Gospel which we hear on earth are equally true nor that the divided Christian groups have the same measure of light. But, fully pronouncing the Name of Jesus, entirely surrendered to His Person and His claims, we implicitly share in the wholeness of the Church, and so we experience her essential unity, deeper than all our human separations.

- Fr Lev Gillet, The Jesus Prayer, Part 2, Section 8 (I have broken up this long paragraph for the ease of modern readers.)

Why the Church Bureaucracies Have to Go - by David Mills

Back in 2004 David Mills wrote an article that deserves a wider dissemination, on account of the way that the layers of church bureaucracy and the manipulation of “representative” democracy in synodical processes is slowly strangling the people of God. (But don’t expect to see a copy of it in your diocesan mailing!) It should be said that David’s observations are not “Anglican specific”, as they apply across the board to all mainline churches.

Of particular importance is David’s observation (at the end of the article) on the crushing impact of all this on the parishes and the truly pastoral clergy.

David Mills is deputy editor of First Things, having been editor of Touchstone from 2003-2008. His books include: The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (1999), Knowing the Real Jesus (2001) and Discovering Mary (2009). Former director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, and member of the Forward in Faith North America Council before becoming a Roman Catholic in 2001, he regularly wrote the "Letter from America" for New Directions.

. . . Any revival in these (mainline) churches will require not the reform but the abandonment of the many layers of bureaucracy they have built up over the last few decades, giving the local bodies the authority to act as they think best and forcing the center to be as close as possible to the local bodies, in particular guiding, aiding, and inspiring them far less by law-giving requirements, for example – than by personal authority, and to rely for its support on the voluntary giving of the flocks it serves.

The resources and energy these bureaucracies consume (not only from those who work in them but from those who must spend time and money to oppose them) and the ends to which they direct their work make it harder for the churches to bring the gospel to the people who need to hear it, and make it much harder for the churches to say the clear word the culture needs to hear from it.

Even at their best, they devour resources and energy that could be better put to local uses, and set the churches’ corporate witness and public agenda to reflect the bureaucratic consensus, which means a general and minimalist statement too indefinite to inspire and guide action. At their worst, they actively distort the churches’ witness and work by demanding too much of their resources and proclaiming an alien gospel.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lady Day

Here is Mary, the woman of prayer, attentive and responsive to God, with hands open and empty before God, not clinging to any conditions. A simple fiat. Yes. Be it done to me according to your word. Indeed, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (Lk 1:45). By faith she permitted the Father to fulfill His plan and welcomed the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. By faith she embraced the Word made flesh in her womb. We know that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (cf. Heb. 11:6) and that Mary found favor with Him by her faith.

So must we, at this juncture in our lives as individuals and as a movement, kneel before the Father in a radical poverty of spirit and learn to pray with hands open and empty. In the past 30 years we have received great graces, but I'm afraid that too often we've returned to God with our hands full instead of empty. I sense that there are new "annunciations" being given for a new move of the Spirit, but that many of us don't really want God to be God. We still want Him on our own terms... a God who will fit into a prescribed pattern of acting. We don't want the Living God who turned Mary's life upside down. Let's be careful! By her, faith, Mary permitted God to "create a new thing upon the earth' (Jer 31:22). As I've asked Mary to be my mother and teach me to pray with hands open and empty, this is what I am leaning to say to the Father, "With Mary, I want to be for You all YES, only YES, always YES."

- Patti Gallagher Mansfield (from an article in the July-August 1997 issue of the ICCRS Newsletter. ICCRS , Palazzo della Cancelleria, 00120 Vatican City, Europe.)

That All, which always is All everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Loe, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet he will wear
Taken from thence, flesh,
which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, who is thy Son, and Brother,
Whom thou conceiv'st, conceiv'd;
yea thou art now
Thy maker's maker, and thy Father's mother,
Thou hast light in dark; and shutst in little room,
Immensity, cloistered in thy dear womb.

- John Donne (1572-1631)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Forward in Hope

This is an abridged transcription of one of the Lenten reflections given during a retreat for the Roman Catholic bishops of Ireland in 2002 by the Papal Household Preacher, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa.

After the events of 11th September, people were all of one mind in the conviction that "Nothing will ever be the same again". The end of the cold war left us believing that the world, as we now assumed it to be, would last indefinitely. Without warning, this assumption vanished into thin air, and all the old problems, including even the traditional ideas of war and peace, came back into discussion.

What will those who believe in Christ do, what will the Church do, in circumstances like this? The church cannot simply unite her voice with what Psalm 31:20 calls "the strife of tongues". She needs to be able to speak a word that, like the words of Jesus on the events of his day, will carry the resonance of truth and of eternity.

Many centuries ago, the Church found herself in a situation that in many respects matches the present one. On August 28th in the year 410, the hordes of Alaric, king of the Goths, stormed the city of Rome, put it to the sword and burned it down. In the world of that time Rome was all that New York is today, and something more besides. It was not only the capital of culture and commerce, but also the centre of a world political power. The emotional impact, even on Christians, was enormous. Many had believed that the Roman Empire had been the power that was restraining "the mystery of lawlessness" until the time had come for it to be revealed (See Thessalonians 2,6-8). If that was so, it is easy to see how readily they would have come to believe, confronted with the sack of Rome, that the end of the world had come. The world was shaken to its very foundations.

Pagans of the time had their own explanation for the events. The catastrophe was clearly the result of having abandoned the traditional religion and the gods of Rome, and the fault clearly lay with the Christians. The Christians, from the time of Constantine, had been saying that the freedom given to the Christian religion had proved a greater support and protection to the Empire than the pagan gods had ever been.

In this sad state of affairs, everyone was looking for an answer. And Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, did have the answer: If so many Christians find themselves demoralised by the new situation and begin to murmur against God, saying that he should not have allowed such a thing to happen, it is because they have not yet grasped the real meaning of their faith.

For in fact it is not so much in God that they believe
as in something they have looked upon
only as a means to enable them to enjoy undisturbed
the goods and pleasures of this world.

Continue reading HERE . . .

Monday, March 21, 2011

Diagnosis of Our Age

PAUL EVDOKIMOV (1901-1970) was a well-known writer, professor and lay theologian of the Orthodox Christian Church in France. Part of the Russian emigration in the aftermath of the Revolution, he became fully part of Western culture and life. His life experience was varied and wide-ranging, and included work in factories, rail yards and restaurants. For years he ran an ecumenical hostel for the poor, immigrants and students, thus bringing to his theological writing the Gospel's love for the world and Christ's compassion for the suffering. As professor of moral theology and St Sergius Orthodox Institute in Paris, a teacher at both the Ecumenical Institute in Geneva and the L'Institut Catholique in Paris, and official Orthodox observer at Vatican II, Evdokimov served as a bridge between the tradition of the Eastern Church and the Churches of the West.

The following passage is from his book The Struggle with God, which can be purchased HERE, or downloaded in pdf form HERE. (I have broken up Evdokimov's very long paragraphs into shorter ones for the benefit of the reader.)

Atheism compels attention and impresses everyone by its massive diffusion. It is no longer the privilege of an enlightened minority, but expresses a norm common to all classes of society. A civilization has been consciously built on a refusal of God, or more precisely, on a negation of all dependence on any power beyond this world.

In fact, science no longer has need of God as a hypothesis.

Moreover, from the moral point of view, God seems not to be all-powerful since he does not suppress evil, or if he does not wish to do so, then he is not love.

Built thus on a negation, atheism has no metaphysical content proper to itself and no constructive philosophy. Explicitly expressed, it still remains rare. Its dominant and widespread form is an atheism of fact, invertebrate but practical. Philosophic considerations intervene only afterward to justify attitudes or to provide an excuse. Its reasons are never truly rational, and they cannot be, for they fall short. Being of an empirical order, they are utilitarian and pragmatic.

This explains why the problem at this level simply ceases to interest man. Since he is more concerned with economic and political questions, religious beliefs no longer mean anything to him. His attitude is strengthened by his often justified distrust of philosophers, who have abdicated and betrayed their social function by their own skepticism.

St. Paul knew well what he was doing when he centered his teaching on what immediately aroused a reaction from the men who relied on discursive reason. Indeed the incarnation is always a folly and a scandal for human thought. The latter in its historic criticism demythologizes and distinguishes between the historic Jesus and the Christ rigged out in the dogmas of faith.

The archaic state of knowledge in past ages makes every scholar mistrustful and little inclined to take into account a so-called “revelation”. They find no certitude at the outset of the alleged event and, in every way, a truth buried in the centuries is unacceptable to the contemporary spirit that is interested only in the here and now. One must choose between verifiable facts and texts visibly originating in a myth.

To the atheist, it is inconceivable, even offensive, that God should enter into time and confide his truth to a handful of obscure disciples and to the precarious transmission of texts, written twenty centuries ago. The life of Jesus shows only anecdotes and miscellaneous facts without any guarantee of objectivity.

Can a contingent fact, scarcely remarked by historians, touch the heart of the man in the street in this 20th century? How can an event dated and fixed in time and space lay claim to an eternal value— the authority of God and the universal importance of the salvation of every man? There is here something monstrously out of proportion, even unbearable for critical reason.

The man Jesus could very well have lived in Palestine. It is not so much his divinization by his disciples as the humanization of God that is declared impossible. A moral ideal, a philosophic concept could, if need be, receive the title of divine, but the philosopher refuses a God-man, refuses a God speaking as a human being and taking on the face of a man.

Thus the authority of the apostolic witnesses crumbles away, and with it, that of the Word. Through lack of hearers, it is more than ever a voice crying in the historic wilderness. Like the wise men of Athens in former times, the man in the street now repulses all discourse with “We will hear thee again on this matter.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Trust . . .

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I would like to stress that Jesus' transfiguration was essentially an experience of prayer (cf. Luke 9:28-29). Prayer, in fact, reaches its culmination -- and thus becomes the source of interior light -- when the spirit of man adheres to that of God and their wills join almost to form a single will. When Jesus ascends the mountain he immerses himself in the contemplation of the Father's plan of love, who sent him into the world to save humanity. Elijah and Moses appear alongside Jesus, signifying that the Sacred Scriptures were in agreement in announcing the paschal mystery: that Jesus had to suffer and die to enter into his glory (cf. Luke 24:26, 46). In that moment Jesus sees the cross outlined before him, the extreme sacrifice necessary to liberate us from the reign of sin and death. And in his heart he once again repeats his "Amen." He says yes, here I am, let your will of love be done, Father. And, as happened after the baptism in the Jordan, the signs of God's pleasure came from heaven: the light that transfigured Christ and the voice that proclaimed him "my beloved Son" (Mark 9:7).
(Pope Benedict, from his Angelus Address on 8th March 2009)

Confronted with a universe more terrible than ever in the blindness and the destructiveness of its potentialities, men and women must be led to Christian faith, not as a panacea of progress or as an otherworldly solution unrelated to history, but as a gospel of Transfiguration. Such a gospel transcends the world and yet speaks directly to the immediate here-and-now. He who is transfigured is the Son of Man; and as he discloses on the holy mountain another world, he reveals that no part of created things, and no moment of created time lies outside the power of the Spirit, who is Lord, to change it from glory to glory.
(Michael Ramsay in The Gory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, p. 147)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are ALL Creeds Wrong Because They Think They Are Right And Others Wrong?

G.K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936) wrote:

Don't say, "There is no true creed; for each creed believes itself right and the others wrong."

Probably one of the creeds is right and the others are wrong.

Diversity does show that most of the views must be wrong. It does not by the faintest logic show that they all must be wrong.

I suppose there is no subject on which opinions differ with more desperate sincerity than about which horse will win the Derby. These are certainly solemn convictions; men risk ruin for them. The man who puts his shirt on Potosi must believe in that animal, and each of the other men putting their last garments upon other quadrupeds must believe in them quite as sincerely. They are all serious, and most of them are wrong. But one of them is right. One of the faiths is justified; one of the horses does win; not always even the dark horse which might stand for Agnosticism, but often the obvious and popular horse of Orthodoxy.

Democracy has its occasional victories; and even the Favorite has been known to come in first.

But the point here is that something comes in first.

That there were many beliefs does not destroy the fact that there was one well-founded belief.

I believe (merely upon authority) that the world is round. That there may be tribes who believe it to be triangular or oblong does not alter the fact that it is certainly some shape, and therefore not any other shape.

Therefore I repeat, with the wail of imprecation, don't say that the variety of creeds prevents you from accepting any creed. It is an unintelligent remark.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Amid church burnings and murders, Copts bury their dead

CAIRO, March 10 (Reuters) - Thousands of Egyptian Christians attended an emotional funeral service on Thursday for people killed in the worst Christian-Muslim violence since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power.

Six coffins lay by a church altar during the ceremony, victims of the violence on Tuesday in which 13 people were killed and 140 wounded. A seventh coffin arrived later.

The strife poses another challenge to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which says it wants to hold elections within six months so it can relinquish power.

A new cabinet, meeting on Wednesday for the first time, decided it would redeploy on Thursday the police force which largely disintegrated in the first days of the uprising that swept Mubarak from the presidency last month and left the military in control.

"We will sacrifice our souls and our blood for the cross," a crowd of mourners chanted at the end of the service as they poured out of the Samaan al-Kharaz Church, built in a cave above the Cairo slum of Manshiet Nasr.


Some held aloft signs with slogans that included: "No to sectarianism, no to murder," and "Farewell to the martyrs of Christ."

The trouble on Tuesday began on a Cairo highway where Christians had been protesting over an arson attack on the church south of the capital.

A number of activists have called for a march on Friday from Cairo's central Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protests that ousted Mubarak, to show solidarity with Egypt's Coptic Christians.

Many Egyptians took pride in the Christian-Muslim solidarity displayed during the revolution that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11 and hoped the uprising had buried tensions that have flared up with increasing regularity in recent years.

Twenty-three people were killed in a blast outside a church in Alexandria on New Year's Day, prompting protests by Christians that the state had failed to protect them.

It was not clear how many of the dead from Tuesday's violence were Christian and how many Muslim.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group and Egypt's best-organised political force, warned of attempts by remnants of Mubarak's regime "to ignite strife in these delicate circumstances".

Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie called on Egyptians to stand in "one line to support the armed forces and the cabinet so they will be able to realise the demands of the revolution".

Friday, March 11, 2011

Stations of the Cross

Follow THIS LINK to a version of the Stations of the Cross in traditional language with lots of Scripture passages. It can be used with a congregation, or just as easily for private devotions.

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
(Isaac Watts)