Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Good Works" - the Personal Response of Love

More from Chapter 3 of LIFE AND HOLINESS by Thomas Merton (1963):

We must realize that our acts of virtue and our good works are not done simply in order to satisfy the cold obligation of an impersonal law. They are a personal response of love to the desire of a human Heart filled with divine love for us. The Sacred Heart of the risen Saviour communicates to our own inmost being every least impulse of grace and charity by which he shares with us his divine life. Our response is then an answer to the warm and sensitive promptings of the Lord's personal love for us. This realization not only diverts our attention from ourselves to him, but it also arouses a deeper and more vital hope, and awakens in our heart a more fruitful and dynamic faith. It fills our Christian life with the inexpressible warmth of gratitude and with a transcendent awareness of what it means to be sons of God because the only-begotten Son of the Father has loved us even to the point of dying for us on the cross, that we may be united in his love.

Not only are we grateful for our deliverance from sin by Christ, but Paul also makes clear that our eucharistic morality of grateful love is nourished by a sense of deliverance from a seemingly inescapable conflict. While we were under the law, says the Apostle (Romans 7:13-25), we realized only our incapacity to be holy and to satisfy its stern demands. But now, by the grace of the loving Saviour, we have been able to keep the law and go much farther than the law prescribed, in the perfection of love, because Christ himself has come, has put sin to death in our hearts, and has brought forth charity within us.

It is only because we have Christ dwelling in us that we can now satisfy the demands of the law. But the way of our doing so is to fix our eyes not on the law, but on Christ. We must occupy our hearts not with the thought of arduous and cold obligations which we do not fully understand, but with the presence and love of the Holy Spirit who enkindles in us the love of good and shows us how to "do all things in the name of Jesus Christ." The Christian way of perfection is then in every sense a way of love, of gratitude, of trust in God. Nowhere do we depend on our own strength or our own light: our eyes are fixed on Christ who gives all light and strength through his body, the Church. Our hearts are attentive to his Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts and in the Church. The Lord himself then gives us power and guides us in a way that we do not understand, in proportion as we are united to him through charity, as living and active members of his body, the Church.

Our only concern is to be constantly and generously loyal to his Will as manifested especially in the community of the faithful. Our whole morality is to trust him even when we seem to be walking in the darkness of death, knowing that he is life and truth, and that where Jesus leads us there can be no error. The whole Christian way is summed up by St. Paul: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh. For the law of the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus has delivered me from the law of sin and of death. For what was impossible to the Law in that it was weak because of the flesh, God has made good" (Romans 8:1-3).

Flesh and Spirit

The only thing the Apostle asks us is to "walk" (that is, to live) not according to "the flesh" but according to the "spirit." This means several things. The flesh is the generic term not for bodily life (since the body along with the soul is sanctified by the Holy Spirit) but for mundane life. The "flesh" includes not only sensuality and licentiousness, but even worldly conformism, and actions based on human respect or social preoccupation. We obey the "flesh" when we follow the norms of prejudice, complacency, bigotry, group-pride, superstition, ambition, or greed.

Hence even an apparent holiness, based not on sincerity of heart but on hypocritical display, is of the "flesh." Whatever may be the "inclination of the flesh," even when it seems to point to heroic and dazzling actions admired by men, it is always death in the sight of God. It is not directed to him but to men around us. It does not seek his glory, but our own satisfaction. The spirit, on the other hand, leads us in the ways of life and peace.

The laws of the spirit are laws of humility and love. The spirit speaks to us from a deep inner sanctuary of the soul which is inaccessible to the flesh. For the "flesh" is our external self, our false self. The "spirit" is our real self, our inmost being united to God in Christ. In this hidden sanctuary of our being the voice of our conscience is at the same time our own inner voice and the voice of the Holy Spirit. For when one becomes "spirit" in Christ, he is no longer himself alone. It is not only he who lives, but Christ lives in him, and the Holy Spirit guides and rules his life. Christian virtue is rooted in this inner unity in which our own self is one with Christ in the Spirit, our thoughts are able to be those of Christ and our desires to be his desires. Our whole Christian life is then a life of union with the Holy Spirit and fidelity to the divine will in the depths of our being. Therefore it is a life of truth, of utter spiritual sincerity, and by that token it implies heroic humility. For truth, like charity, must begin at home.

We must not only see ourselves as we are, in all our nothingness and insignificance; we must not only learn to love and appreciate our own emptiness, but we must accept completely the reality of our life as it is, because it is the very reality which Christ wills to take to himself, which he transforms and sanctifies in his own image and likeness. If we are able to understand the presence of evil within us, we will be calm and objective enough to deal with it patiently, trusting in the grace of Christ. This is what is meant by following the Holy Spirit, resisting the flesh, persevering in our good desires, denying the claims of our false exterior self, and thus giving the depths of our heart to the transforming action of Christ: "You are not carnal but spiritual if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. If Christ is in you, the body, it is true, is dead by reason of sin, but the spirit is life by reason of justification. But if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus Christ from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also bring to life your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who dwells in you" (Romans 8:9-11).

Hence, when we are united to Christ by baptism, faith, and love, there may be many evil tendencies still at work in our body and psyche, "seeds and roots of death" remaining from our past life: but the Holy Spirit gives us grace to resist their growth, and our will to love and serve God in spite of these tendencies ratifies his life-giving action. Thus what he "sees" in us is not so much the evil that was ours but the good that is his - the risen Lord and Saviour fully glorified in our lives and in our community.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Sacraments Produce no Fruit where there is no Love.

More from Chapter 3 of LIFE AND HOLINESS by Thomas Merton (1963):

To say that the Christian religion is mystical is to say that it is also sacramental. The sacraments are “mysteries” in which God works, and our spirit works together with him under the impulsion of his divine love. We should not forget that the sacraments are mystical signs of a free spiritual work of divine love in our souls. The visible, external action by which a sacrament is conferred is not something which “causes” God to give grace though it causes us to receive grace. It is a sign that God is freely granting us his grace. The sign is necessary for us, but not for him. It awakens our hearts and our minds to respond to his actions. His grace could equally well be given without any external sign, but in that event most of us would be far less able to profit by the gift, to receive it efficaciously and correspond to it with the love of our hearts. We therefore need these holy signs as causes of grace in ourselves, but we do not, by them, exert a causal pressure on God. Quite the contrary!

If God has willed to communicate to us his ineffable light and share with us his life, he must himself determine the way in which this communication and sharing are to take place. He begins by addressing to man his word. When man hears and receives the word of God, obeys his summons and responds to his call, then he is brought to the font of baptism, or to the cleansing rivers of penance. He is nourished with the Blessed Eucharist in which the Body of the Lord is given to us to be our true spiritual food, the pledge of our eternal salvation and of our marriage with the Logos. Jesus wants us to “come to him” not only by faith, but also in sacramental union: for union with Christ in all the sacraments and particularly in the Blessed Eucharist not only signifies and symbolizes our complete mystical integration in him, but also produces that which it signifies. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father has sent me and as I live because of the father, so he who eats me, he also shall live because of me” (John 6:57-58).

The most sanctifying action a Christian can perform is to receive Christ in the Eucharistic mystery, thus mystically participating in his death and resurrection, and becoming one with him in spirit and in truth. It is through faith and the sacraments of faith that we participate in the life of Christ. The Christian mystery is enacted and fulfilled among us by means of the sacramental worship of the Church. But in order to participate in that worship we must first become members of Christ by baptism.

By baptism, our souls are cleansed of sin and detached from selfish desires, liberated from the servitude of corruption to worship the living God as his sons. It is necessary that a man be baptized, if he is to enter into the mystery of Christ—the Kingdom of God. “Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5)

When we speak of this mystical way to God through the sacraments, we must be careful not to give the impression that sacramental mysticism is a kind of magic. This would be the case if the sacraments produced grace infallibly without any reference to the dispositions and correspondence of the one who receives them. It is true that the power of the sacraments, working ex opere operato, produces a salutary effect even when the worshiper is not able to elicit subjective sentiments of fervent devotion. In other words, the sacramental system is objective in its operation, but grace is not communicated to one who is not properly disposed. The sacraments produce no fruit where there is no love. When a catechumen is baptized by water, he is interiorly cleansed and transformed by the Holy Spirit; but this implies a choice and self-commitment, it implies an acceptance of an obligation, and the determination to lead a Christian life. Baptism is not fruitful unless one means thereby to receive new life in Christ and to give himself forever to Christ. And this means renunciation of sin and dedication to a life of charity. It means living up to the dignity of our new being in Christ. It means living as sons of God.

“As many as received him he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name, who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13)

“God is light, and in him there is no darkness. If we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he also is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin . . . My dear children, these things I write to you in order that you may not sin. But if anyone sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the just; and he is a propitiation for our sins, not for ours only but for those of the whole world.

“And by this we can be sure we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says that he knows him and does not keep his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. But he who keeps his word, in him the love of God is perfected; and by this we know that we are in him. He who says that he abides in him, ought himself to walk just as he walked” (1 John 1:5-7, 2.1-6)

Life in the Spirit

The sanctity of Christian life is based not on love of an abstract law but on love of the living God, a divine person, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, who has redeemed us and delivered us from the darkness of sin. And it is based also on the love of our brothers in Christ. Hence our moral life is not legalistic, not a mere matter of fidelity to duty. It is above all a matter of personal gratitude, of love, and of praise. It is a “eucharistic” morality, a code of love based on communal thanksgiving and appreciation of our new life in Christ.

This appreciation implies a deep understanding of the divine mercy which has brought us to share together in the death and resurrection of Christ. It implies a spiritual awareness of the fact that our Christian life is in fact the life of the risen Christ active and fruitful within all of us at every moment. Our morality is then centred on love and on praise, on the desire to see the risen Lord and Saviour fully glorified in our lives and in our community.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Into the Hidden Abyss of the Divine Mystery, through the Son, by the action of the Holy Spirit.

More from Chapter 3 of LIFE AND HOLINESS by Thomas Merton (1963):

But this all demands our own consent and our energetic cooperation with divine grace. Jesus Christ, God and man, is the revelation of the hidden sanctity of the Father, the immortal and invisible King of Ages whom no eye can see, whom no intelligence can contemplate, except in the light which he himself communicates to whomever he wills. Hence, Christian "perfection" is not a mere ethical adventure or an achievement in which man can take glory. It is a gift of God, drawing the soul into the hidden abyss of the divine mystery, through the Son, by the action of the Holy Spirit. To be a Christian then is to be committed to a deeply mystical life, for Christianity is pre-eminently a mystical religion. This does not mean, of course, that every Christian is or should be a "mystic" in the technical modern sense of the word. But it does mean that every Christian lives, or should live, within the dimensions of a completely mystical revelation and communication of the divine being. Salvation, which is the goal of each individual Christian and of the Christian community as a whole, is participation in the life of God who draws us "out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

The Christian is one whose life and hope are centred in the mystery of Christ. In and through Christ, we become "partakers of the divine nature" "divin consortes natur" (2 Peter 1:4).

It is through Christ that the power of divine love and the energy of divine light find their way into our lives and transform them from one degree of "brightness" to another, by the action of the Holy Spirit. Here is the root and basis of the inner sanctity of the Christian. This light, this energy in our lives, is commonly called grace. The more grace and love shine forth in the fraternal unity of those who have been brought together, by the Holy Spirit, in one Body, the more Christ is manifested in the world, the more the Father is glorified, and the closer we come to the final completion of God?s work by the "recapitulation" of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

Grace and the Sacraments

Our divine sonship is the likeness of the Word of God in us produced by his living presence in our souls, through the Holy Spirit. This is our "justice" in God's sight. It is the root of true love and of every other virtue. Finally it is the seed of eternal life: it is a divine inheritance which cannot be taken from us against our own will. It is an inexhaustible treasure, a fountain of living water "springing up unto life everlasting." The first epistle of St. Peter opens with a jubilant hymn in praise of this life of grace, freely given to us by the divine mercy, in Christ: the grace which leads to our salvation, if only we are faithful to the love of God that has been given to us when we were dead in our sins, raising us from death by the same power which raised Christ from the dead:

"Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has begotten us again, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead unto a living hope, unto an incorruptible inheritance, undented and unfading, reserved for you in heaven. By the power of God you are guarded through faith for salvation, which is to be revealed in the last time. Over this you rejoice; though now for a little while, if need be, you are made sorrowful by various trials, that the temper of your faith - more precious by far than gold which is tried by fire - may be found unto praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Him, though you have not seen, you love. In him, though you do not see him, yet believing, you exult with a joy unspeakable and triumphant; receiving as the final issue of your faith the salvation of your souls."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Our Faith - Total Surrender to Christ, expecting all strength and sanctity from his merciful love

More from Chapter 3 of LIFE AND HOLINESS by Thomas Merton (1963):

Too often, people who take the spiritual life seriously may waste all their efforts on the scaffolding, making it more and more solid, permanent and secure, and paying no attention to the building itself. They do so out of a kind of unconscious fear of the real responsibilities of the Christian life, which are solitary and interior. These are difficult to express, even obliquely. They are almost impossible to communicate to anyone else. Hence one can never be sure whether he is right or wrong. One has very little evidence of progress or perfection in this interior sphere while in the exterior, progress can be more easily measured and results can be seen. They can also be shown to others for their approval and admiration.

The most important, the most real, and lasting work of the Christian is accomplished in the depths of his own soul. It cannot be seen by anyone, even by himself. It is known only to God. This work is not so much a matter of fidelity to visible and general standards, as of faith: the interior, anguished, almost desperately solitary act by which we affirm our total subjection to God by grasping his word and his revelation of his will in the inmost depths of our being, as well as in obedience to the authority constituted by him.

The Credo which we triumphantly chant in the liturgy, in union with the whole Church, is real and valid only insofar as it expresses the inner self-commitment of each one to God's will, as manifested exteriorly through the Church and her hierarchy, and interiorly through the inspirations of divine grace. Our faith is then a total surrender to Christ, which places all our hopes in him and in his Church, and expects all strength and sanctity from his merciful love.


From what has so far been said, it should be clear that Christian holiness is not a mere matter of ethical perfection. It includes every virtue, but is evidently more than all virtues together. Sanctity is not constituted only by good works or even by moral heroism, but first of all by ontological union with God in Christ. Indeed, to understand the New Testament teaching on holiness of life we have to understand the meaning of this expression of St. Paul. The moral teaching of the epistles always follows upon and elucidates a doctrinal exposition of the meaning of our life in Christ. St. John, also, made it quite clear that all spiritual fruit in our life comes from union with Christ, integration in his Mystical Body as a branch is united with the vine and integrated in it (John 15.1-11).

This of course does not by any means reduce virtues and good works to insignificance: but these always remain secondary to our new being. According to the scholastic maxim, actio sequitur esse, action is in accordance with the being that acts. As the Lord himself said, you cannot gather figs from thistles. Hence we must first be transformed interiorly into new men, and then act according to the Spirit given to us by God, the Spirit of our new life, the Spirit of Christ. Our ontological holiness is our vital union with the Holy Spirit. Our striving to obey the Holy Spirit constitutes our moral goodness. Hence what matters above all is not this or that observance, this or that set of ethical practices, but our renewal, our new creation in Christ (cf Galatians 6:15).

It is when we are united to Christ by faith that works through charity (Galatians 5:6) that we possess in ourselves the Holy Spirit who is the source of all virtuous action and of all love. The Christian life of virtue is not only a life in which we strive to unite ourselves to God by the practice of virtue. Rather it is also a life in which, drawn to union with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, we strive to express our love and our new being by acts of virtue. Being united to Christ, we seek with all possible fervour to let him manifest his virtue and his sanctity in our lives. Our efforts should be directed to removing the obstacles of selfishness, disobedience, and all attachment to what is contrary to his love.

The Church Sanctifies Her Members

Thomas Merton is not very fashionable today, partly because of the current theological polarization by which we are all impacted. It would be a pity, however, for his insights to slip out of sight. So, in the next few days I will be sharing some powerful passages from his book, LIFE AND HOLINESS. (It is available online HERE.)


Perfection is not a moral embellishment which we acquire outside of Christ, in order to qualify for union with him. Perfection is the work of Christ himself living in us by faith. Perfection is the full life of charity perfected by the gifts of the Holy Ghost. In order that we may attain to Christian perfection, Jesus has left us his teachings, the sacraments of the Church, and all the counsels by which he shows us the way to live more perfectly in him and for him. For those with a special call to perfection, there is the religious state with its vows. Under the direction of the Church herself, we seek to correspond generously with the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Inwardly guided by the Spirit of Christ, outwardly protected and formed by the visible Church with her hierarchy, her laws, teaching, sacraments, and liturgy, we grow together into One Christ.

We must not regard the Church purely as an institution or an organization. She is certainly visible and clearly recognizable in her teachings, her government, and her worship. These are the external lineaments through which we may see the interior radiance of her soul. This soul is not merely human, it is divine. It is the Holy Spirit itself. The Church, like Christ, lives and acts in a manner at once human and divine. Certainly there is imperfection in the human members of Christ, but their imperfection is inseparably united to his perfection, sustained by his power, and purified by his holiness, as long as they remain in living union with him by faith and love. Through these members of his the Almighty Redeemer infallibly sanctifies, guides, and instructs us, and he uses us also to express his love for them. Hence the true nature of the Church is that of a body in which all the members "bear one another's burdens" and act as instruments of divine providence in regard to one another. Those are most sanctified who enter most fully into the life-giving Communion of Saints who dwell in Christ. Their joy is to taste the pure streams of that river of life whose waters gladden the whole City of God.

Our perfection is therefore not just an individual affair, it is also a question of growth in Christ, deepening of our contact with him in and through the Church, consequently a deepening of our participation in the life of the Church, the mystical Christ. This means, of course, a closer union with our brethren in Christ, a closer and more fruitful integration with them in the living, growing spiritual organism of the Mystical Body.

This does not mean that spiritual perfection is a matter of social conformism. The mere fact of becoming a well working cog in an efficient religious machine will never make anyone into a saint if he does not seek God interiorly in the sanctuary of his own soul. For example, the common life of religious, regulated by traditional observances and blessed by the authority of the Church, is obviously a most precious means of sanctification. It is, for the religious, one of the essentials of his state. But it is still only a framework. As such, it has its purpose. It must be used. But the scaffolding must not be mistaken for the actual building. The real building of the Church is a union of hearts in love, sacrifice, and self-transcendence. The strength of this building depends on the extent to which the Holy Spirit gains possession of each person's heart, not on the extent to which our exterior conduct is organized and disciplined by an expedient system. Human social life inevitably requires a certain order, and those who love their brother in Christ will generously sacrifice themselves to preserve this order. But the order is not an end in itself and mere orderliness is not yet sancity.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jesus a prophet of Islam?

Diaa Mohamed is the founder of Mypeace, an Islamic organisation seeking to promote understanding between Christians and Muslims and is behind the recent billboard posters proclaiming Jesus as a prophet of Islam. He sat down with John Dickson in the Centre for Public Christianity studio (Sydney) for a conversation about the differences in how Muslims and Christians view Jesus.

Struggling with God

Sometimes in order to communicate simply and directly, we come across as trite and superficial to those who have genuine difficulties believing the Faith. However, we ALL struggle some of the time in our relationship with God, and the challenges to faith need to be faced with honesty. Bishop John Kallos, a retired bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, writes:

[St Paul] was an intellectual who displayed great zeal, enthusiasm and courage in the fulfillment of his religious convictions. So much so, that prior to his conversion, he looked upon Christianity as a vile imposture, and set out to persecute those who had espoused the new religion. The irony of it all lies in the fact that in his personal struggle for communion with God, he was one of the main instruments of his time in the extermination of the new creed. His soul thirst for what his body sought to destroy. Unconsciously, he was rebelling against the God whom he sought and longed to engage in a dialogue. And finally, that dialogue took place most dramatically. Paul, not being content in persecuting the Christians of Palestine, obtained a commission to go to Damascus to seek out there the professed Christians and bring them back to Palestine to be tried and condemned. It is on his journey to Damascus that our Lord Jesus Christ miraculously revealed Himself to Paul. Thereby, Paul’s struggle and search had come to an end having at last found that which he struggled to possess and yet at the same time sought to destroy.

This quest for communion with God, characteristic of man of every age, is eloquently expressed by Job in these words, “Oh that I knew where I might find him,” or by the 42nd Psalm “My soul thirsts for God.” The most effective means at man’s disposal in engaging in a dialogue with God is prayer. The individual struggle with God lies n the failure of man to engage in conversation with God. In prayer, one does not talk to God, but rather talks with God. Too many of us tend to monopolize the conversation and fail to listen. In one’s conversation with God, doubt is not always excluded. Thus, we should repeat these words, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” Mark 9:24. True, the problem of personal faith is a critical one for many of us. The individual in his struggle with encountering God may find the arguments of old of little help to him today. He need not despair, however, for like others of our times, he, too, may experience a personal encounter with God and thereupon Christian faith will become a living aspect of his life, for the whole man is seen and can only be seen in his relationship to God — with respect to both his origin and his destiny.

Go HERE to read the whole article

Monday, August 22, 2011

Benedict XVI in Madrid: Faith entails a personal relationship with Christ

The climax of World Youth Day in Madrid was Sunday morning 21st August, when Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the presence of more than a million young people on the outskirts of the city. At the Mass, which took place at Cuatro Vientos airfield, the Pope emphasised the "personal relationship with Christ" which is the essence of the Gospel and the Catholic faith. Here is his homily:

Dear Young People,

In this celebration of the Eucharist we have reached the high point of this World Youth Day. Seeing you here, gathered in such great numbers from all parts of the world, fills my heart with joy. I think of the special love with which Jesus is looking upon you. Yes, the Lord loves you and calls you his friends (cf. Jn 15:15). He goes out to meet you and he wants to accompany you on your journey, to open the door to a life of fulfilment and to give you a share in his own closeness to the Father. For our part, we have come to know the immensity of his love and we want to respond generously to his love by sharing with others the joy we have received. Certainly, there are many people today who feel attracted by the figure of Christ and want to know him better. They realize that he is the answer to so many of our deepest concerns. But who is he really? How can someone who lived on this earth so long ago have anything in common with me today?

The Gospel we have just heard (cf. Mt 16:13-20) suggests two different ways of knowing Christ. The first is an impersonal knowledge, one based on current opinion. When Jesus asks: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, the disciples answer: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. In other words, Christ is seen as yet another religious figure, like those who came before him. Then Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responds with what is the first confession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Faith is more than just empirical or historical facts; it is an ability to grasp the mystery of Christ’s person in all its depth.

Yet faith is not the result of human effort, of human reasoning, but rather a gift of God: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”. Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation. So Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?”, is ultimately a challenge to the disciples to make a personal decision in his regard. Faith in Christ and discipleship are strictly interconnected.

And, since faith involves following the Master, it must become constantly stronger, deeper and more mature, to the extent that it leads to a closer and more intense relationship with Jesus. Peter and the other disciples also had to grow in this way, until their encounter with the Risen Lord opened their eyes to the fullness of faith.

Dear young people, today Christ is asking you the same question which he asked the Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits young hearts like your own. Say to him: “Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me. I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word. You know me and you love me. I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands. I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me”.

Jesus’ responds to Peter’s confession by speaking of the Church: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”. What do these words mean? Jesus builds the Church on the rock of the faith of Peter, who confesses that Christ is God.

The Church, then, is not simply a human institution, like any other. Rather, she is closely joined to God. Christ himself speaks of her as “his” Church. Christ cannot be separated from the Church any more than the head can be separated from the body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12). The Church does not draw her life from herself, but from the Lord.

Dear young friends, as the Successor of Peter, let me urge you to strengthen this faith which has been handed down to us from the time of the Apostles. Make Christ, the Son of God, the centre of your life. But let me also remind you that following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church. We cannot follow Jesus on our own. Anyone who would be tempted to do so “on his own”, or to approach the life of faith with kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.

Having faith means drawing support from the faith of your brothers and sisters, even as your own faith serves as a support for the faith of others. I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church which brought you to birth in the faith, which helped you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and which led you to discover the beauty of his love. Growing in friendship with Christ necessarily means recognizing the importance of joyful participation in the life of your parishes, communities and movements, as well as the celebration of Sunday Mass, frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and the cultivation of personal prayer and meditation on God’s word.

Friendship with Jesus will also lead you to bear witness to the faith wherever you are, even when it meets with rejection or indifference. We cannot encounter Christ and not want to make him known to others. So do not keep Christ to yourselves! Share with others the joy of your faith. The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God. I think that the presence here of so many young people, coming from all over the world, is a wonderful proof of the fruitfulness of Christ’s command to the Church: “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). You too have been given the extraordinary task of being disciples and missionaries of Christ in other lands and countries filled with young people who are looking for something greater and, because their heart tells them that more authentic values do exist, they do not let themselves be seduced by the empty promises of a lifestyle which has no room for God.

Dear young people, I pray for you with heartfelt affection. I commend all of you to the Virgin Mary and I ask her to accompany you always by her maternal intercession and to teach you how to remain faithful to God’s word. I ask you to pray for the Pope, so that, as the Successor of Peter, he may always confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith. May all of us in the Church, pastors and faithful alike, draw closer to the Lord each day. May we grow in holiness of life and be effective witnesses to the truth that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the Saviour of all mankind and the living source of our hope. Amen.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Note on the Eastward Position

I am repeating a post from 2008, just because I think it's important in the context of the questioning of some liturgical assumptions of the 1960s and 70s, including the idea that in authentic Christian worship the "celebrant should face the people" across the altar. The following piece from the late Bishop Lionel Renfrey's book What Mean Ye by this Service (1978), a critique of An Australian Prayer Book of the Anglican Church of Australia, should not be forgotten. Back then his was a voice crying in the wilderness. Now many others have caught up!

In the years which have followed Vatican II considerable interest has been aroused in the Church of England concerning the place of the altar in the church and the position which the priest takes at the altar. Following the changed custom of the Roman Catholic Church whereby the priest now stands behind the altar and faces westward towards the people, some Anglican priests have followed suit. It is worth looking at some basic considerations concerning this subject.

In Christian centuries from the earliest times prayer and worship have been offered to Cod by worshippers, priest and people, facing east. Since it was believed that Christ had ascended on the Mount of Olives, which lay to the east of Jerusalem, and also that his expected and eagerly awaited Second Coming would also appear in the east (Acts 1:11), Christians turned to the east to welcome the Parousia of the glorified Christ.

The house churches of the second century frequently had a cross placed on the eastern wall in acknowledgment of the belief that the Second Coming of Christ would be marked by the sign of the cross appearing in the eastern sky(Matt. 24:30). It is good for us to be reminded that for those early Christians the celebration of the Holy Eucharist did not only look back to theLast Supper, but also heralded a joyous looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ in his glory in the consummation of the ages. We bear St. Paul's words in mind in this connection. “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”(1 Cor. 11:26).

When Christians were able to move from house churches to buildings constructed exclusively for worship, these buildings were constructed to face the east for the reason already given. They were “orientated”, as we would say. There is also evidence that the priest celebrating the liturgy faced the east with the people. The Rev’d. C.E.Pocknee, who is a recognised authority on primitive liturgical matters and the author of several books on these subjects, has recently written that archaeological evidence now available from Syria demonstrates the fallacy ofthe belief that the priest celebrating the liturgy in primitive times always stood facing the people. He goes on to say: “Throughout the larger part of Christendom and from the earliest times churches have been constructed to face east; and for the celebrant to celebrate in such buildings facing the people would have meant facing west, the region of darkness, a liturgical and ceremonial contradiction of the purpose of an orientated building. In the primitive era baptizands faced west and renounced Satan, and then turned east and embraced Christ and the light of the Gospel.”

It is sometimes said in support of the westward position that in some old basilicas in Rome the celebrating priest faces the people across the altar. However, as the Rev'd. C.E. Pocknee points out, in these churches, notably in St. Peter’s in the Vatican and at St. Mary’s Major in Rome, it is impossible for the priest to stand on a foot-pace before the altar because an opening or fenestration has been constructed in thatposition through which the faithful can see the reliquary of the Saint whose body has been buried beneath the altar. Such basilicas give no liturgical support for a universal adoption of the westward position. Pope Vigilius bore witness to the normal practice when, writing in the sixth century, he said that although in some churches in Rome the celebrant faced the people, in most other places the celebrant had to turn round when he saluted the people.

Those who desire to promote the custom of the priest facing the people across the altar need to find grounds of justification other than those of primitive practice and belief. In fact, there are strong liturgical considerations in favour of the eastward position, because nothing then stands between priest and people, but all are turned in the same direction to offer to God their united worship in the great action of our redemption in Christ.

From “What mean Ye by This Service? – A Critical Examination of An Australian Prayer Book” by The Rt Rev’d L.E.W. Renfrey, Adelaide 1978

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Assumption of Mary had been strongly believed
since the earliest times of Church history
(in the East as well as in the West).
Above is an Egyptian Coptic icon in the Church of St Menas, Cairo.

Anglicans and Roman Catholics who love Our Lady must be grateful for the final document of ARCIC II "Mary - Grace and Hope in Christ." Mind you, I think that the document does contain echoes of the theological paranoia not unknown in some Anglican traditions, as well as a slightly skewed interpretation of our history in relation to Marian theology. That having been said, however, it is significant that in Section 78 the Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians on ARCIC II were able to affirm together:

- the teaching that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with Scripture, and only to be understood in the light of Scripture (paragraph 58);

- that in view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One, Christ's redeeming work reached 'back' in Mary to the depths of her being and to her earliest beginnings (paragraph 59);

- that the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, understood within the biblical pattern of the economy of hope and grace, can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions (paragraph 60);

- that this agreement, when accepted by our two Communions, would place the questions about authority which arise from the two definitions of 1854 and 1950 in a new ecumenical context (paragraphs 61-63);

- that Mary has a continuing ministry which serves the ministry of Christ, our unique mediator, that Mary and the saints pray for the whole Church and that the practice of asking Mary and the saints to pray for us is not communion-dividing.

Today is Our Lady's great day, when she was taken up "body and soul" into heaven. It is a day for celebration, for music, art, poetry, and - in some places - even fireworks! It is a day that reminds us of the profound sense in which the task of our theologies - even papal pronouncements - is to "catch up" with the instinctive convictions of the Church, and in particular the Church of the first millennium. That was the case historically, and for Christians journeying from an "anti-Marian" perspective to the fulness of faith, it is so in our time.

In this post, then, I simply want to share with you some quotes that might enrich your meditation today.

"On this day the sacred and life-filled ark of the living God, she who conceived her Creator in her womb, rests in the Temple of the Lord that is not made with hands. David, her ancestor, leaps, and with him the angels lead the dance."

Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
Next to his throne her Son his Mother placed;
And here below, now she's of heaven possest,
All generations are to call her blest.

From: You Crown the Year with Your Goodness: Sermons through the Liturgical Year, 186, 190-191

What . . . is the Church celebrating today? That a simple human body, inseparably united to its soul, is capable of being the perfect response to God’s challenge and of uttering the unreserved ‘Yes’ to his request. It is a single body – for everything in Christianity is always personal, concrete, particular – but at the same time it is a body that recapitulates all the faith and hope of Israel and of all men on earth. Consequently, when it is taken up into ultimate salvation, it contains the firm promise of salvation for all flesh that yearns for redemption. For all our bodies long to participate in our ultimate salvation by God: we do not want to appear before God as naked souls, ‘not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life’ (2 Corinthians 5:4); and God, who caused bodies to die, ‘subjecting creation to futility’, has subjected it ‘in hope’ that it ‘will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:20f). So we are celebrating a feast of hope; but, like all the New Testament feasts, it is celebrated on the basis of a fulfillment that has already taken place.; that is, not only has the Son of God been resurrected bodily – which in view of his life and death, is quite natural – but also has the body that made him man, the earthly realm that proved ready to receive God and that remains inseparable from Christ’s body. Today we see that this earth was capable of carrying and bringing to birth the infinite fruit that had been implanted in her. Today we celebrate the ultimate affirmation and confirmation of the earth.

From: The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe

'Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.'

DR ERIC MASCALL (1905-1993)
From: The Dogmatic Theology of the Mother of God in The Mother of God, E.L. Mascall ed. (London: Dacre Press, 1949), p. 43

The relation of Mary to the Church is (as the modern logicians would say) the relative product of two more fundamental relations. The first of these is Mary's relation to her Son; he is still man and she is still his mother. The second is his relation to us and to the Church; we are his members and the Church is his body. Therefore Mary is our mother and we are her children by adoption into her Son. This is not an exuberance of devotion but a fact of theology.

From Mary and The Christian Gospel p. 79

"Surely it is possible to think of her Assumption as the end of the great Pauline series (Romans 8:28-30 Cf. 1 John 3:2). Mary, the woman whose predestination has been advanced to its full term of conformation into the image of God's Son and hers; Mary who was called and who responded totally; Mary who was justified and rejoiced in her salvation; Mary who has been glorified? If it may be so taken, and Mary may be seen as the one of us who has already 'got there', then it gives great force to the insistence of the Vatican Constitution that Mary is a sign of sure hope and solace for the wandering People of God; and it makes her a splendid trophy of the Gospel's grace and power."

From: Portrait of a Woman, quoted in Mary in the Church ed. John Hyland Veritas Dublin 1989, p. 93

"When the vast repository of beauty and terror which we call Christian tradition, the corporate memory of all Christians before me, tells me of Mary's virginity, of her immaculate conception, and of her assumption into heaven, I believe that truths have been preserved for me which, though I cannot fully explain them nor define then, I neglect to my loss."

From: The Roman Missal

" . . . Raised to the glory of heaven,
she cares for the pilgrim Church with a mother's love,
following its progress homeward
until the day of the Lord dawns in splendour . . ."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

St. Maximilan Kolbe - light in the darkness

Canterbury Cathedral:
The Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time
Photo by Bob Culshaw (go HERE for info)

When he visited Canterbury Cathedral on the eve of Pentecost 1982, one of the things Pope John Paul II did was to pray with Archbishop Robert Runcie in a small semi-circular chapel lit with high stained-glass windows, not far from where St Thomas Becket was martyred, right at the easternmost end of Canterbury Cathedral. For a long time this was known as the Corona Chapel, having been the place where part of Becket’s skull was housed as a relic. By 1977 the Corona Chapel had been given a new name: “The Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time.” It honours those who have more recently given their lives in martyrdom.

A notice on the wall reads:

"Throughout the centuries
men and women have given their lives for Christianity.
Our own century is no exception.
Their deaths are in union with the life-giving death
of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour of mankind.
In this Chapel we thank God for the sacrifice of martyrdom
whereby truth is upheld and God’s providence enriched.
We pray that we may be worthy of their sacrifice."

The change in designation took place following the murder of Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda by Idi Amin’s forces in 1977 As David Douglas says in Touchstone Magazine of December 2000, ". . . Plastic-sheeted pages inside offer brief biographical sketches of more than a dozen twentieth-century martyrs, among them the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the priest and hermit Charles de Foucauld. Two nuns, Edith Stein and Maria Skobtsova, are included . . .

"Without fanfare, in stained-glass stillness, the East Chapel transforms the beatitude, 'Blessed are those who are persecuted,' into lives of flesh and spilled blood . . ."

This is the time of year when we think of Maximilian Kolbe. His feast day is 14th August, so, strictly speaking he is not commemorated this year on account of its falling on a Sunday. But having spent a full day at Auschwitz during my time in Poland earlier this year - even praying at Maximilian's cell in Block 11 - I cannot let his day go by without honouring him.

Born in Poland in 1894, at the age of twelve Maximilian had a vision of our Lady offering him a white crown and a red crown. The white crown symbolized persevering in holiness, and the red crown symbolized accepting martyrdom. This devout boy accepted both! His first name was actually Raymond. He later took the name of Maximilian, an ancient Christian martyr.

He became a Franciscan priest and had a remarkable ministry of evangelization in Poland and Japan. But the darkness that spread across Europe during the 1930's gave rise to the Second World War, and on 17th February 1941 Maximilian, whose large following was feared by the Nazis, had been arrested. In May of the same year he was transferred to the dreadful Auschwitz concentration camp where he devoted himself completely to caring for the other prisoners. His kindness, love and generosity became well known.

At the end of July one of the prisoners escaped. The commander was furious and ordered that ten prisoners should die in his place. The prisoners were lined up and ten picked out at random. The ninth one chosen, a young Polish soldier, broke down and asked for mercy on the grounds that he was married and had a young family to support. It was then that Maximilian stepped forward and asked if he could take the man's place. After giving the matter some thought, the commander agreed.

The ten condemned men were flung naked onto the concrete floor of an underground bunker and were left there to starve to death. The guards observed them through a peep-hole and could hardly believe what they saw. Frequently the condemned men were gathered around Father Maximilian. Sometimes they were joking, sometimes they were praying and singing hymns. The assistant janitor, an eyewitness of those terrible days, said that it was as though the cell in which the condemned men were held "had become a church."

Fourteen days went by, and death overtook the prisoners one by one. Father Maximilian was the last to die when a guard put and end to his agony with an injection of phenol.

Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose place Maximilian had taken, survived Auschwitz and the war. Later he said, "At first I felt terrible at the thought of leaving another man to die in my place. But then I realised that he had done this, not so much to save my life, as to be with the other nine in their last terrible agony. His nearness to them in those dreadful last hours was worth more than a lifetime of preaching."

Maximilian might have contented himself with giving those men encouragement and advice. If it had been allowed he might have visited them in their death cell. But his presence with them, sharing their dreadful ordeal meant more than anything else.

Maximilian's death began a healing work in many hearts. After the War he became a popular symbol of the cry for a renewed respect of basic human rights in Germany as well as in Poland. In church circles, people of both nationalities pressed for his recognition as a Saint. This eventually took place in October 1982 in St Peter's Basilica, Rome. The next day, Franciszek Gajowniczek and many other survivors of Auschwitz and similar concentration camps were present at a special service of reconciliation in which Germans and Poles prayed together and exchanged the greeting of peace with each other. Gajownizek died in 1995, a great-grandfather.

Like Jesus whom he served, Maximilian gave his life for others. Like Jesus, his very presence reassured all kinds of people that God was real and that he loved them in spite of all the suffering and pain in the world.

St. Maximilian's cell in Block 11 at Auschwitz

Patricia Treece, in A Man For Others quotes one of the prisoners who witnessed Maximilian offer himself in Franciszek Gajowniczek's place:

"It was an enormous shock to the whole camp. We became aware someone among us in this spiritual dark night of the soul was raising the standard of love on high. Someone unknown, like everyone else, tortured and bereft of name and social standing, went to a horrible death for the sake of someone not even related to him. Therefore it is not true, we cried, that humanity is cast down and trampled in the mud, overcome by oppressors, and overwhelmed by hopelessness. Thousands of prisoners were convinced the true world continued to exist and that our torturers would not be able to destroy it. More than one individual began to look within himself for this real world, found it, and shared it with his camp companions, strengthening both in this encounter with evil. To say that Father Koble died for one of us or for that person's family is too great a simplification. His death was the salvation of thousands. And on this, I would say, rests the greatness of that death. That's how we felt about it. And as long as we live, we who were at Auschwitz will bow our heads in memory of it as at that time we bowed our heads before the bunker of death by starvation. That was a shock of optimism, regenerating and giving strength; we were stunned by this act, which became for us a mighty explosion of light in the dark camp night . . ."

". . . For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall walk by your light . . ." (Isaiah 60:1-2)

The painting of St Maximilian at the Franciscan Church in Krakow.

Friday, August 12, 2011

London riots . . . the bishops respond . . .

Addressing the crowd at an outdoor peace vigil organised by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Pentecostal and independent churches, the BISHOP OF EDMONTON, the Rt Rev Peter Wheatley, whose region of London Diocese includes Tottenham and the surrounding parishes of London, said:

"These events cannot be allowed to define the Tottenham we know and love.

"Many of us have worked in this community for many years and we know the loving, generous and openhearted people with whom we share our daily lives are not the rioters who have destroyed so much.

"What has happened will not conquer the hope which is set before us. We will continue to share that hope with our neighbours and friends as we move to rebuild in Tottenham.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected, including those who have been made homeless and local business owners whose livelihoods have been threatened.

"Together, our churches already run a multitude of activities supporting all members of the community, irrespective of their faith, and these efforts will be continued and where possible extended."

The BISHOP OF LONDON (the Rt Rev'd Richard Chartres) has written about the importance of “offering love” in the aftermath of the riots:

". . . It is obviously vital not to stigmatise a whole generation. There are huge numbers of hopeful and high achieving young people in London but we do have a problem with a minority. Behind the opportunists who joined in the disturbances there is the reality of a criminal gang culture.

"One of the difficulties for the police has been dealing with street violence, while under the cover of the disturbances and the arson, which could so easily have cost lives, highly mobile groups of looters have been on the rampage.

"What has occurred should be condemned unequivocally and as the first of those arrested appear before magistrates and as stolen property is already being recovered, it is right to pay tribute to the bravery of the police who have regained control of our streets.

"I am also immensely proud of the response of the church. In Edmonton and Stepney under the leadership of Bishop Peter and Bishop Adrian [who has had a challenging start to his ministry in the Area], the church has played a large part in reclaiming the streets for the overwhelming majority of responsible citizens by prayer vigils and public demonstrations of solidarity with other Christians and community groups.

"At the same time our network of parish churches - real community hubs - has once again proved its worth. I visited St Mary's Lansdowne Road which has been open fifteen hours a day with volunteers from the parish helping local residents who have lost their homes and serving refreshments to the police and council workers who are clearing up the mess in Tottenham High Street . . ." READ THE BISHOPS COMPLETE LETTER HERE.

Across the river in the Diocese of Southwark there has been serious rioting in the Croydon area. Here is what the BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK (the Rt Rev'd Christopher Chessun), who is also the Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, has written:

"The images of violence and destruction on our screens do not represent the strong, hopeful and vibrant communities I know so well. I want to appeal to those responsible for the disturbances to stop.

" . . . Today, as many in our Diocese count the cost of the disturbances, I am deeply saddened to see the images of destruction in familiar places. I will in the days ahead visit those communities that have been at the centre of trouble and I continue to promise my support for, and solidarity with, all who seek to build positive and constructive engagement.

"The Christian message is one of hope, love and peace and I know that the churches of Southwark Diocese stand ready to play their part in bringing healing and hope to the places they serve . . . " READ MORE HERE.



Here is maybe the most moving story of all, this time from the Birmingham riots . . . a grieving dad's plea for peace has most likely saved Birmingham from further bloodshed. What a man! Let's pray for all people of goodwill who want to work together for better times.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tottenham riots brought out the best in my church

The burnt-out shell of the Carpetright building following riots in Tottenham.
Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex Features

The first London church to invite me to preach on my initial visit to the UK back in Eastertide 1989 was St Mary's Lansdowne Road, Tottenham. I was staying in the Vicarage during the international synod of the Society of the Holy Cross ("SSC") as one of six priests respresenting the Australian region of the Society. Now, as they did then, the people of St Mary's witness lovingly and robustly to the Gospel and the Catholic Faith in a truly incarnational way. A friendly, muti-racial Anglo-Catholic parish with all age groups.

The Guardian newspaper is not usually sympathetic to organized religion in general and the Christian churches in particular, so it is significant that yesterday it printed an article by Fr Simon Morris of St Mary's on the impact of the Tottenham riots on the local community. Let's pray for Fr Simon and the people, and for all churches of whatever tradition in similar circumstances as they join with others of goodwill to care for the traumatized and rebuild - and renew - their neighbourhoods.

Thank God for this parish (and others like it)!

Tottenham riots brought out the best in my church

Fr Simon Morris

I was leading a parish pilgrimage to Walsingham in Norfolk when the riots happened in Tottenham on Saturday. We cut short the pilgrimage having heard what had happened and seen photographs on mobile phones. A hint of fear and much concern descended as we drove home but the reports were harrowing: "Father, I'm so worried - Tottenham's on fire," was one voicemail I received.

Photographs can only convey so much. There was havoc on Lansdowne Road when we pulled up in the minibuses on Sunday afternoon and saw the ruin of a building that had survived the blitz still smouldering as a result of the violence. This was Carpetright: an icon of the devastation and opposite Saint Mary's church.

Mass had been offered in the morning but with a much depleted congregation, largely because the faithful had been under the impression that the church was closed. The church, the vicarage and most of the street didn't have electricity until Monday lunchtime but the faithful got into action spontaneously.

Emergency service personnel and those affected by the devastation were offered friendly faces, tea and coffee, food, somewhere to sit, a toilet and somewhere to charge mobile phones (landlines aren't that common).

It was amazingly heartening to return and find all this already in progress - it was the natural response for the congregation. It also meant I could walk round the parish and be with people elsewhere. Most people say hello to the clergy in Tottenham but in the last few days the customary salutation has been exchanged for statements and questions: "So, what do you think about this?", "I'm glad you're around", "Isn't it frightening?" They wanted to speak to someone with authority, but perhaps especially because they'd seen me walking those same streets and living there with them for the past three years - it's what we do in the Church of England.

As BBC Radio 5 Live appeared on the Monday morning, so did a lady returning to the scene of what had once been her home - for Carpetright had some 25 flats above it. She needed her medication and the police were brilliant in obtaining this for her as she sat in the vestry, warmed by her cup of tea and the hugs from the faithful. One of the congregation had promised to make a wedding cake for someone so - lacking electricity - she turned up to use the church hall.

The hall's a hundred yards from the church but boiling water was coming in steady supply (still no electricity in church). People in the flats along Lansdowne Road started coming to fill their flasks. And we began taking it to them, so I ascended the familiar, grotty steps of the colourless stairwells. As an exhausted mother and her two-year-old slept, her 16-year-old son let me in and was slightly bemused as I'd never arrived at their door with a kettle before.

It was funny how the normal occasionally pierced through the unusual. As I stood with ear phones on, leaning against a car and about to speak to 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire, Adam came with his familiar hand wave, customary request for prayer and offered me a mango. I mouthed: "Yes, of course. Thanks. I'm on the radio. See you later."

What's normal in Tottenham might be different henceforth. I hope - and have often found myself hoping this during my time here - the good people (and there are so many) don't leave Tottenham because otherwise they might be replaced by the indifferent or even the more inclined to be bad. I hope the bigger companies (Aldi, the Post Office, Carpetright) that have been destroyed decide to rebuild and are helped to do so. I hope the high-street shops that have been looted on Tottenham Hale don't leave. Tottenham had the exodus of business after the Broadwater Farm riots; surely it's time for it to become the promised land?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Coping Without Prayer

I am not a modern day gnostic, nor am I over-pietistic in my attitude to daily life or ministry in the Church. Indeed, former colleagues and curates will tell you that I have always been an enthusiast for up to date technology, and even for utilizing the tools of management science in reflecting on structures and ministry methods. BUT the toughest battles I have fought in the Church are not the ones for which I am best known. They are the battles I have had behind the scenes – usually on behalf of others – with the kind of leaders (including bishops, archdeacons and registrars) who seem to have reduced “ministry” to “management”, and who, while claiming to use management science to enhance creative ministry, actually use it to crush the spirits of those who perceive things in a truly Christian way.

I know that might sound unfair, because careful management of resources and people is important. But the paradox of the modern church (and it is increasingly true of ALL western traditions) is that theoretically the aim is to increase “participation” in decision-making and establishing new directions, while in practice management science is used ruthlessly to bolster authority, eliminate alternative voices, and manipulate so-called “discernment” processes in a completely self-serving way.

For the sake of the Gospel and authentic ministry, it is urgent that the Church question this development at every level of her life.

With this in mind, I share with you today a brilliant reading from the book “Watchers in the Morning”, written by the Rt Rev’d Graeme Rutherford, retired Assistant Bishop of Newcastle (Australia), and Benedictine oblate. How refreshing it is to read such a balanced outline of one of our key problems!


In our post-modern world such a disciplined approach to prayer has been abandoned by many people.

Although there has been a resurgence of interest in meditation it is seen more as a means of relaxation than as a way of giving honour and praise to God. It is often a self-centred rather than a God-centred exercise. For others, prayer and meditation are seen as providing a sense of oneness or union in a world where estrangement is rife: estrangement from God, from others, from self. That is why managers and psychologists are so admired: they are controllers. Managers control the external world, and psychologists control the internal world. Both can be used to imply that the chaos of modernity might yet be controlled.

Church growth experts are increasingly inclined to tell us that the most fruitful sources from which to draw for Christian ministry are popularised versions of psychology and business management. Clergy are being told that 'vision' consists in clearly articulated 'ministry goals'. Their professional status is no longer a matter of character or theological skill in relating the Bible to the contemporary world but of interpersonal skills, administrative talents, and ability to organise the community.

Ever so subtly, clergy and key lay people can start to think that success more critically depends on plans, programmes and vision statements. What has been termed 'bottom up' causation of human designs takes the place of the 'top down' causation of God and the supernatural. Church growth becomes simply a form of streamlined humanistic engineering.

The issue is not either God or the tools of modernity such as management and marketing. It is, rather, which in practice is the decisive authority. Only when first things are truly first, over even the best and most attractive of second things will the Church be free to experience the growth that matters.

If clergy are appraised according to the active, visible functions they perform there will be a mounting pressure to neglect the anonymous, quiet, hidden and confidential dimensions that are such a very important part of ministry. But the confidential aspects of ministry do not easily lend themselves to the typical performance appraisal. The danger is that clergy will be tempted to become managers and professionals rather than pastors, thinkers, theologians or people of prayer. Os Guinness quotes the tell-tale comment of a Japanese businessman to a visiting Australian: “Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager."

The sheer existence of contemplative religious communities stands as a challenge to the Church to ensure that the deep, quiet, hidden side of the ministry is not relegated to the periphery.

Properly understood, management skills and psychological insights represent purposeful direction and depth of caring in pastoral work.

Both should be regarded as God-given fields of knowledge. Both enable us to help people who live in a society permeated with change and complexity unknown in the days of Jesus and Paul. Both can and should be used in the Church with thanksgiving. They are indispensable allies in the understanding of life. But they are no substitute for prayer. Prayer, whether liturgical or spontaneous, must be central to the life of the Church and the individual believer.