Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve with Catherine Doherty & Thomas Merton

I take this opportunity to wish all readers of this blog a happy New Year. May you know the blessing of God in your life during 2013. It will undoubtedly bring its share of joys and sorrows, successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies. My prayer for each of us is that we never forget that, whatever the future holds, with the Eternal God as our Refuge, “underneath are the Everlasting Arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). He loves us, and if we are open to him he will continue to sustain us, lead us, guide us, and fill us with his love.

I have chosen three pieces to share with you at the outset of 2013:

by Catherine Doherty

(Go HERE for background information on Catherine Doherty)

I keep thinking and meditating on the New Year, and thinking about the world in general; it kind of haunts me.

God hands us a shiny beautiful New Year. That is to say, he gives us time. I wondered: what are we going to do with this time? To each one of us God has given time—time to love him. It’s strange that in the Christian countries the New Year comes at the time right after Christ’s birth.

Stop and think of the Incarnation (Christ God becoming man), which leads to his crucifixion, which leads to his resurrection, all wrapped up in a little package of this Child—a crib in a stable. And then, as if the Child himself handed it over, he turns to me and to you and he says, “Here is a new year, shiny, coming from my hands. What are you going to do with it?”

The greatest thing we can do is to love. There is nothing else that matters, really. So why don’t we begin? Many of us already love our neighbour, love ourselves and our neighbour, but we have to extend that love.

Time really does not exist. I come from the mind of God—he had me there from all eternity, and I go to the Way (who is Christ) to the heart of God; and the Holy Spirit helps me to keep on the narrow path, the Way that Christ says he himself is.

When we talk Christianity or Christ to one another, whoever we are, wherever we are on the threshold of the New Year, something has to break into our hearts. Our Lord enlarges our heart, if we desire to enlarge it, to love more and more and more.

Will our love end in crucifixion? It’s obvious that when you and I totally forget the pronoun ‘I’, then we are crucified; and those who are crucified are free. This is a strange and mysterious thing. It’s one of the mysteries that God puts into our hearts.

If we agree to go to Golgotha, a little hill on which he was crucified, there is another side to the crucifix. Immediately the crucifix ceases to really be a crucifix as we understand it—that is to say, pain and all the rest of it—and it becomes a joy. In a sense, we can wish everyone a joyful New Year—provided we have opened our heart to Joy; we have mounted Golgotha; we have agreed to be crucified with Christ; and by doing so we have entered into his Resurrection.

By entering into his Resurrection, we have suddenly found ourselves totally free—free from all the things that affected us only yesterday. Free to love everyone, including our enemies. Free to lay down our lives for our fellowman.

This all sounds highfaluting, big ideas, but in everyday life, it is simplicity itself. Never think of yourself, day in and day out. You have to do an unpleasant job, but you do it joyfully, because whatever you do, you do for God. Joy lifts us up and makes us run toward whatever task is given to us; to what we call “the duty of the moment”.

The mother gets up, and the father, to nurse the baby and quieten it at night, but it goes a little further. It may go to a little neighboring child who cries. I lived in Chicago, on West Walton Place, which had been cut up into little apartments; we had a little apartment and one was above us. You could hear what happened. One evening, lying there and not sleeping very well, I kept hearing the patter of young feet and I knew that only a mother with her child lived up there. The child was about eleven or twelve. I met her going to school. Something worried me about this patter of feet. I got up and went upstairs and knocked at the door and said, “It’s the lady from downstairs”. “Oh,” she said, “I’m so glad it’s you”, and she opened the door. “I don’t know what’s happened to my mother. I don’t know what to do. She doesn’t wake up.” Well, her mother was dead!

Love is a strange thing. The patter of little feet. The cry of a child. The cough of an old person or a young one can disturb us, and should disturb us, and we should say, “Oh, I am responsible for everyone.” Dorothy Day, one of the great American saints-to-be, wrote in her Catholic Worker why we should not buy grapefruits (this was in the Depression) because the people who gathered grapefruits received such a small salary that they could not live on it. I am responsible. Do you realize that this beautiful New Year that God has put into your hands means that you are your brother’s keeper, and so am I?

It’s deep stuff; it’s bottomless, because it means that God is saying, “Enter my heart. It is in this heart of mine that you will know how to live out this beautiful year that I have given you ‘to have and to hold’”.

So let us be our brother’s keeper; and let us not forget that Christ is our Brother too. Not only in everyone, but in himself. And if we really want to learn how to love, we should go into his heart this year.

- by Thomas Merton

(Go HERE for background information on Thomas Merton)

Dear God, 
I have no idea where I am going. 
I do not see the road ahead of me. 
I cannot know for certain where it will end. 
Nor do I really know myself . . . 
and the fact that I think I am following your will 
does not mean that I am actually doing so. 
But, I believe this: 
I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. 
I hope I have that desire in everything I do. 
I hope I never do anything apart from that desire. 
And, I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road . . . 
though I may know nothing about it at the time. 
Therefore, I will trust you always 
for though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, 
I will not be afraid 
because I know you will never leave me 
to face my troubles all alone. 

- from  I have seen what I was looking for : Selected Spiritual Writings, Ed. B. Pennington.  (New City Press, Hyde Park, N.Y. 2005)



He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, 
who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, 

will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; 
my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler 
and from the deadly pestilence; 

he will cover you with his pinions, 
and under his wings you will find refuge; 
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 

You will not fear the terror of the night, 
nor the arrow that flies by day, 

nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, 
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 

A thousand may fall at your side, 
ten thousand at your right hand; 
but it will not come near you. 

You will only look with your eyes 
and see the recompense of the wicked. 

Because you have made the LORD your refuge, 
the Most High your habitation, 

no evil shall befall you, 
no scourge come near your tent. 

For he will give his angels charge of you 
to guard you in all your ways. 

On their hands they will bear you up, 
lest you dash your foot against a stone. 

You will tread on the lion and the adder, 
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. 

Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him; 
I will protect him, because he knows my name. 

When he calls to me, I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble, 
I will rescue him and honor him. 

With long life I will satisfy him, 
and show him my salvation.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, 
and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, 
world without end. Amen.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

What sweeter music can we bring - John Rutter

What sweeter music can we bring, 
Than a carol, for to sing 
The birth of this our heavenly King? 
Awake the voice! Awake the string! 

Dark and dull night fly hence away, 
And give the honor to this day 
That sees December turned to May. 

Why does the chilling winter’s morn 
Smile, like a field beset with corn? 
Or smell like a meadow newly shorn 
Thus on the sudden? 

Come and see 
The cause, why things thus fragrant be : 
Tis he is born, whose quickening birth 
Gives life and lustre, public mirth, 
To heaven and the underearth. 

We see him come, and know his hours, 
Who, with his sunshine and his showers, 
Turns all the patient ground to flowers. 

The darling of the world is come, 
And fit it is, we find a room 
To welcome him, to welcome him. 

The nobler part of all the house here, is the heart, 
Which we will give him; and bequeath 
This holly, and this ivy wreath, 
To do him honor; who’s our King, 
And Lord of all this revelling. 

What sweeter music can we bring 
Than a carol, for to sing 
The birth of this our heavenly King
What sweeter music can we bring. 

JOHN RUTTER was born in London in 1945 and received his first musical education as a chorister at Highgate School. He went on to study music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he wrote his first published compositions and conducted his first recording while still a student.

His compositional career has embraced both large and small-scale choral works, orchestral and instrumental pieces, a piano concerto, two children’s operas, music for television, and specialist writing for such groups as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the King’s Singers.

His larger choral works, Gloria (1974), Requiem (1985), Magnificat (1990), Psalmfest (1993) and Mass of the Children (2003) have been performed many times in Britain, North America, and a growing number of other countries.

He co-edited read more . . . 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

St Thomas Becket's Day (and T.S. Eliot's thoughts on suffering & joy in the Christian life)

The martyrdom of St Thomas Becket

Go HERE for an outline of St Thomas Becket’s story.

Today I share with you some words from T.S. Eliot’s play, “Murder in the Cathedral,” which is all about Becket’s death. They are applicable to all martyrs, and indeed, all Christians, for they are T.S. Eliot’s meditation on the intertwining of sorrow and joy in the Christian life.

The Archbishop preaches in the Cathedral 
on Christmas morning, 1170:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The fourteenth verse of the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Dear children of God, my sermon this morning will be a very short one. I wish only that you should ponder and meditate on the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth. So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overcome by mourning or mourning will be cast out by joy; so that it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. But think for a while on the meaning of this word “peace.” Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples: “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Did He mean peace as we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbors, the barons at peace with the King, the householder counting over his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to the children? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember that He said also, “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” So then, He gave to his disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord’s Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of his first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world’s is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man’s will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.

I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birthday, to remember what is that peace which he brought; and because, dear children, I do not think that I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Bishop Sheffield's Christmas Sermon

The Choir of Sheffield Cathedral 

Here is a remarkable Christmas sermon preached by the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev’d Steven Croft, at Midnight Mass last Monday night. The Old Testament reading was Isaiah 9:2-7, and the Gospel Reading was Luke 2:1-14. 

Some powerful words from our Old Testament reading and the ancient prophecy of Isaiah:

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”
One of the most memorable news stories of 2012 was the story of the unclaimed Euromillions jackpot.  Sometime back in June in the Stevenage area, someone bought a lottery ticket.  The numbers on the ticket came up. The holder was entitled to claim a staggering £63 million in prize money.  Think of it. But no claim was made.  Despite an extensive search, the ticket was never found. 

It’s no use checking your pockets.  The deadline was 4th December.  Somewhere for six months there was a ticket in the back of someone’s wallet or down the side of the sofa or behind a fridge magnet which could have brought unimaginable wealth.  Perhaps one day, someone will find it and ponder what could have been.  Hold that thought for a moment. 

What is that brings us together this evening in this ancient and holy place? What is it that draws people all over our land to churches at Christmas time? We are drawn, I hope, by more than the beautiful music, by more than a place of prayer, by more than the love of family and friends. 

We are drawn by a longing for something, an ache, an emptiness, a void, a restlessness, a sense that life is incomplete.  It’s there all the time in different ways.  Often the noise around us drowns it out.  Sometimes when life is going well we forget it’s there for months on end.  Then suddenly it’s back again: like a voice calling from the distance, a thirst deep within us, a sense that we are incomplete. 

In times of happiness, that joy we feel has nowhere to go.  In times of sadness, it’s a longing for comfort beyond ourselves.  In times of confusion the ache becomes a cry for guidance.  In moments of darkness, a sense the light is there, if only we could see it.  In times when we do wrong it’s a sense of guilt and regret.  In the times when we are crushed it’s a desperate cry for help, a longing for someone to be listening. 

Sometimes it feels like a distant memory of childhood.  Sometimes it’s an echo from a far away future.  Sometimes it’s a cry in the midst of the pain of the world.  Sometimes it’s a glimpse of peace amidst turmoil and misery.  Sometimes it’s a gentle whisper in the silence of the night.  Sometimes a dis-ease for which we can find no cure.  Sometimes it’s a longing for someone or something we cannot name, something precious but just out of reach.

All down the ages men and women like us have felt this longing, this restlessness, this emptiness whenever we have tried to live without God.  However deeply we try to bury it, however much we hide from it, however difficult it is to face it, the sense remains that there must be more to life than there seems to be.  We know we are called to something deeper, more real, more meaningful than this world seems to offer.  We long in our hearts for more.

God is calling us all down the long years.  Christians recognize this inner voice, these questions, this restlessness as the voice of God calling out to each person in creation, to every one of us.  You were made with a purpose and a high calling, each of you, to know your creator and to live in friendship with God. 

It is part of the great mystery of life that our friendship with God has been fractured by the evil which is in the world.  But even that broken friendship leaves its traces in that sense we have that life is incomplete, unfinished, hollow, unless we find the meaning.  From time to time we listen and know and understand that God is reaching out to us, longing to draw us home.

The story of Christmas can only be understood as a rescue mission.  Humanity is lost.  By ourselves we cannot find our way back to God.  So God sends to us his Son, born of a virgin, a child in a manger, to help us find our way. 

Many people who celebrate this Christmas with turkey and tinsel will be like the owner of the lost lottery ticket.  They will simply not understand what they have been given.  They will not claim the treasure which could be theirs, the treasure which is worth more than they can ask or imagine. 

So pause for a moment this Christmas and ponder again the wonder of the scene we know from cards and nativities all the world over.  See the stable, rough and ready, feel the straw under your feet and the chill night air.  Hear the animals, imagine the farmyard smells.  See Mary, a young girl, full of holy wonder.  See Joseph, kneeling by the crib.  See the fearful shepherds crowding in the stable door.

And in your minds eye see the child, wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.  See this child who is called by the prophecy so long ago wonderful counselor: the one in whom the wisdom of the ages rests.  See this child who is called Mighty God: the Lord of heaven and earth born as an infant, taking flesh becoming human.  See this child who is called in the prophecy, Everlasting Father: the one through whom the stars were made becomes a boy in a stable.  See this child, born in the midst of conflict, who is named the in prophecy Prince of Peace. 

Come and see Jesus.  His name means God Saves and this Jesus has come to save us and all the world from our sins and draw us back to God.  According to Isaiah, his coming brings light.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  His coming brings joy.  “You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy”.  According to Isaiah his coming brings freedom and peace and order and justice and righteousness such as the world has never known.

Remember as you look, this is the child who will grow into the wisest teacher, the most compassionate friend, the mightiest healer the world has ever known.  This is the child who when he grows will feed the hungry, calm the storm, drive out the demons and raise the dead – mighty works and signs of a greater reality.  This is the child who when he grows will call men and women to follow him and become a new community which will spread over all the earth.  This is the child who will grow into the man of sorrows, who for the love he bears us, will go to his painful death on the cross for our sins, who will again be wrapped by his mother in strips of cloth, and who three days later will rise again, the conquerer of death itself.

Don’t hurry from the stable.  Stay a while.  Kneel with the shepherds and ponder.  If God really came to earth as a tiny child, then that one truth changes everything.  It changes the way you see God.  For God is not distant waiting for you to come to him.  God is present longing for you to receive his gift. 

It changes the way we see ourselves.  You are not just a number, a statistic, a grain of sand on the seashore.  You are infinitely precious to your creator.  You are meant to be here.  You are chosen and called and saved. Your life has meaning beyond itself.   

It changes the way we see the world.  For every child is precious to God, loved, cherished.  God’s love does not change as we grow older.  God’s love is not affected by race or the place where we are born or the human family we are born into.  No-one is just a number.  Each is a person, unique, created in God’s image, loved and able to be redeemed. 

Our world is meant to be different.  It is meant to be a place of peace not war, of fairness not inequality, of health not disease, of love not hate, of honouring one another, not exploitation, of truth not lies. 

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”

Listen again at Christmas time to the voice of God calling to you down the ages and calling you home.  Come and kneel on the floor of the stable with the shepherds.  Receive the most precious gift of all this Christmas time: the gift of Jesus, the gift of life.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas, tragedy, pain and the healing of unconditional love

This moving article, taken from the December 25, 2012  edition of the New York Timesis by MAUREEN DOWD. 

Why, God? 

When my friend Robin was dying, she asked me if I knew a priest she could talk to who would not be, as she put it, “too judgmental.” I knew the perfect man, a friend of our family, a priest conjured up out of an old black-and-white movie, the type who seemed not to exist anymore in a Catholic Church roiled by scandal. Like Father Chuck O’Malley, the New York inner-city priest played by Bing Crosby, Father Kevin O’Neil sings like an angel and plays the piano; he’s handsome, kind and funny. Most important, he has a gift. He can lighten the darkness around the dying and those close to them. When he held my unconscious brother’s hand in the hospital, the doctors were amazed that Michael’s blood pressure would noticeably drop. The only problem was Father Kevin’s reluctance to minister to the dying. It tears at him too much. He did it, though, and he and Robin became quite close. Years later, he still keeps a picture of her in his office. As we’ve seen during this tear-soaked Christmas, death takes no holiday. I asked Father Kevin, who feels the subject so deeply, if he could offer a meditation. This is what he wrote:

How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn’t seem to do the loving thing? If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?

The killings on the cusp of Christmas in quiet, little East Coast towns stirred a 30-year-old memory from my first months as a priest in parish ministry in Boston. I was awakened during the night and called to Brigham and Women’s Hospital because a girl of 3 had died. The family was from Peru. My Spanish was passable at best. When I arrived, the little girl’s mother was holding her lifeless body and family members encircled her.

They looked to me as I entered. Truth be told, it was the last place I wanted to be. To parents who had just lost their child, I didn’t have any words, in English or Spanish, that wouldn’t seem cheap, empty. But I stayed. I prayed. I sat with them until after sunrise, sometimes in silence, sometimes speaking, to let them know that they were not alone in their suffering and grief. The question in their hearts then, as it is in so many hearts these days, is “Why?”

The truest answer is: I don’t know. I have theological training to help me to offer some way to account for the unexplainable. But the questions linger. I remember visiting a dear friend hours before her death and reminding her that death is not the end, that we believe in the Resurrection. I asked her, “Are you there yet?” She replied, “I go back and forth.” There was nothing I wanted more than to bring out a bag of proof and say, “See? You can be absolutely confident now.” But there is no absolute bag of proof. I just stayed with her. A life of faith is often lived “back and forth” by believers and those who minister to them.

Implicit here is the question of how we look to God to act and to enter our lives. For whatever reason, certainly foreign to most of us, God has chosen to enter the world today through others, through us. We have stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, but far more often the God of unconditional love comes to us in human form, just as God did over 2,000 years ago.

I believe differently now than 30 years ago. First, I do not expect to have all the answers, nor do I believe that people are really looking for them. Second, I don’t look for the hand of God to stop evil. I don’t expect comfort to come from afar. I really do believe that God enters the world through us. And even though I still have the “Why?” questions, they are not so much “Why, God?” questions. We are human and mortal. We will suffer and die. But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.

One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence. When my younger brother, Brian, died suddenly at 44 years old, I was asking “Why?” and I experienced family and friends as unconditional love in the flesh. They couldn’t explain why he died. Even if they could, it wouldn’t have brought him back. Yet the many ways that people reached out to me let me know that I was not alone. They really were the presence of God to me. They held me up to preach at Brian’s funeral. They consoled me as I tried to comfort others. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.

A contemporary theologian has described mercy as “entering into the chaos of another.” Christmas is really a celebration of the mercy of God who entered the chaos of our world in the person of Jesus, mercy incarnate. I have never found it easy to be with people who suffer, to enter into the chaos of others. Yet, every time I have done so, it has been a gift to me, better than the wrapped and ribboned packages. I am pulled out of myself to be love’s presence to someone else, even as they are love’s presence to me.

I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Christmas Card for 2012

(If you would like to print out a hard copy of this card 
- A4 size to fold into A5 - 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Did Jesus Exist?

Sydney scholar, John Dickson has done it again! Today the Australian Broadcasting Commission (the “ABC”) published his latest provocative article in which he says that the time has come “for the evangelists of unbelief to give up the nonsense that the figure at the heart of Christianity may have never even lived.”

Dickson continues:

There are plenty of good arguments against the world's largest religion, but claiming Jesus never walked the roads of Galilee isn't one of them. To make such a claim is to turn what should be a world heavyweight contest into a lightweight sideshow.

Let me press the boxing analogy a little further. A story is told - and I hope it is true - of three young men who hopped on a bus in Detroit in the 1930s and tried to pick a fight with a lone man sitting at the back of the vehicle. They insulted him - he didn't respond. They turned up the heat of the insults - he said nothing. Eventually, the stranger stood up. He was bigger than they had estimated from his seated position - much bigger. He reached into his pocket, handed them his business card and walked off the bus and then on his way. As the bus drove on the young men gathered around the card to read the words: "Joe Louis. Boxer." They had just tried to pick a fight with the man who would be Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World from 1937 to 1949.

Today's ardent Jesus-deniers remind me of a reckless gang throwing puerile insults at a gentle giant, oblivious to the fact that they are way out of their league.

The study of the historical Jesus is one of the West's most focused, rigorous and voluminous academic inquiries into an ancient figure. In the library of Macquarie University, home to the largest Ancient History Department in Australia, students will probably find as many historical tomes on Jesus of Nazareth as on Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great combined. It is a vast discipline operating on entirely secular principles of linguistic, literary and historical analysis . . . Go HERE to the ABC Religion and Ethics web site to read the entire article.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The birth of Jesus told by people from Bethlehem

This is the story of Jesus' birth told by the people of Bethlehem. The film was made by St Paul's Anglican Church, Auckland, New Zealand. Anyone is welcome to show the film publicly, but not change it in any way, nor publish it, nor make money out of it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The best way to keep Christ in Christmas

Evangelism is important. The building of small believing communities - and big congregations, too, for that matter - is necessary. Nurturing those at the heart of Church life who are growing in the Faith is vital.

At the same time, in countries where the Church has been a backdrop to the culture, the ministry of "presence" is no less part of her vocation. Oddly enough, many practising Christians criticise those who spend a lot of energy ensuring this ministry. Yet they are the first to turn around and complain bitterly when particular principles based on the Gospel are lost from our national life.

With regard to the above, we are not to be "either/or" people, but "both/and" people.

Today I share with you a couple of interesting pieces illustrating this point. The first is from The Guardian newspaper, written by a non-believer who sees what I see more and more among our parishes and their ministry to people who have nowhere else to turn.

The second is the Bishop of London's Christmas message. The work of the Gospel in London Diocese is expanding, as is church attendance and the impact of the Church in the wider community. Bishop Chartres has, incidentally, a few salutary words for those who would want to further bureaucratise the Church! 

by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, Friday 21 December 2012 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pray for Deacon Richard being ordained to the priesthood tonight

The Church which is His Body

We're all finding it tough to witness to Jesus, and especially his presence in the Church which is his Body. It might have seemed at the time as if the combined effect on the Church of the renewal movements, persecutions and martyrdom of the 20th century would be greater unity, faithfulness to the Gospel, holiness of life, and openness to the the Holy Spirit. Instead, the picture is quite depressing on every hand. One needs FAITH to see "not ashes but embers" as an Australian Church leader has said.

Well, just to help Anglicans and Roman Catholics not to feel uniquely those areas of dysfunctionality in their churches - and in no sense to gloat about the many problems facing Holy Orthodoxy - HERE is a terrible report relating to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Let us pray for one another "without ceasing" at this time. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Research . . . Does Christianity REALLY cause wars?

I’m sure that, like me, you’ve had coffee with your agnostic or atheist friends when the conversation has come around to what we believe and why . . . and, just when you think you haven’t let the side down too much, the slam damn argument is bowled at you . . . “look at all the wars that have been fought over religion.” 

In fact, Richard Dawkins claims that religion is evil because it causes wars by creating a mindset of certainty and irrational “indoctrination.” 

Jewish teacher Tzvi Freeman has suggested a scientific approach to testing Dawkins’ position that religion causes war. Just as we might test hypotheses such as “alcohol causes inebriation” and “sunlight makes things grow.” 

If we wanted to test the alcohol/inebriation or sun/growth hypotheses scientifically, what would we do? Quite simple: Remove the alcohol from whatever drinks we are serving and see if our clients are still inebriated. Same with the sun/growth theory: Remove the sunlight and see if things still grow. 

With the religion/war hypothesis, we don’t have to actually make a clinical study - it’s already been done for us. In the 20th century, we saw the most disastrous wars of history, both in Europe and in the Far East. Which of these were centred around religious disputes? 

As scientists, says Freeman, we are forced to develop an alternative hypothesis: There is another common factor to all wars, much more common than religion - and that is that they are fought by human beings. 

Indeed, a compilation of the history of human warfare, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified to include religious elements. So, what our atheist friends often tell us is “most” really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting to note that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not even exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare. 

Taking a similar line, John P Conway in his article War and Religion: Is Religion to Blame? concludes: 

“ . . . it becomes apparent that those who make the claim 'religion has been the cause of more wars than any other factor in history' may speak from ignorance or have ulterior motives for the assertion.”

Conway’s article is well worth reading. 

Particularly thought-provoking is a paper presented at the University of Melbourne in 2006 by William T Cavanaugh in which he also challenges the generalities clung to by atheists and their sympathisers. 

(All of which is NOT to say that the Church has never been wrong and that Christians individually or collectively have not inflicted suffering . . . it is just a plea to debate actual FACTS, and also to keep things in honest proportion.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

His grace is still amazing

This is the text of a newsletter I sent to friends and supporters a couple of years ago. A number of people said it helped them, so i share it with you here.

He loves us;
he walks with us;
he shares his life with us.
He knows what we are really like;
he loves us just the same.
That is "grace."

Some time ago I preached about the grace of God, and told the people that those words pretty well sum up the Gospel and the Catholic Faith.

In spite of the fact that I went on to say how opening ourselves to God's grace begins to change us, heal us, and turn us into channels of that same grace for others (and, yes, I spoke about the cross of Jesus, the empty tomb, the community of faith, prayer, Scripture and the Sacraments!), the clergyman in charge gently chided me afterwards for "over-simplifying" things. He said that while the above might be OK as a starting point, that's all it is.

Now, I think I can understand what he was trying to say. I know that in our time when (especially as Anglicans) we have to stand up for right teaching in the face of all sorts of so-called "liberal" errors, we feel the need to fill out our preaching and teaching with great doctrinal precision.

At one level he was right. But I still think that at least some of the time we need to resist the very real temptation to smother our proclamation of the Gospel with so much theological detail that it loses its striking simplicity and its power to astonish.

Silvie Paladino, one of Australia's best known entertainers, sings each year for the big Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne. A woman of faith, she can always be counted on to impart something of the Gospel. In 2006 she sang "Your grace still amazes me". It was a real show-stopper! You can see for yourself on YouTube HERE.

Does God's grace still amaze YOU? Does the Good News of Jesus still overwhelm you? Does the Father's unconditional love for you still stop you in your tracks?

Or have you "matured" as a Christian and "moved on"? Actually, it is very sad when Christians "move on" from being amazed by God's grace. That kind of "moving on" is not growth - it is an unfortunate deterioration of our relationship with God.


The Bible is so authentic on lots of different levels. One of these is how it never covers up what its heroes were really like. We have the whole grubby truth about the community of faith . . . and not just in the Old Testament! All the way through the Bible we see the unholy sludge of evil and self-interest mingled with a genuine desire to love and serve the Lord. The very same people of whom it is said that they knew God, walked with God, were used by God, were his faithful servants and even his friends, are shown to have been a puzzling mixture of sinfulness and sanctity.

Yet God loved them. He overshadowed them with his presence. Sure, he challenged them. But he forgave them, and as their relationship with him deepened, he began transforming them from the inside out. That is grace.

Each of us can see the worst of our sins and failings mirrored in the Bible’s heroes. We see the the same sins and failings in the lives of great saints and leaders through two thousand years of Christian history. So we ought to be encouraged by the fact that God’s grace “was sufficient” for them all. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

It cost God everything to set us free from the consequences of our wilful rejection of him, and to restore the relationship between him and ourselves. That “everything” is why his grace is not only amazing, but sufficient. It is also why the cross - the great sacrifice of love - is the centre of Christian worship both here and in heaven where we fall before Jesus as “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”

What of our day to day lives?

Thank God for the times when things go well for us. I mean that!

But each of us knows those other times when we are crushed by the burdens of life, when we swing from a sense of achievement to feelings of frustration and failure. Or when the joy in our hearts gives way to deep sorrow. Even seasons of spiritual refreshing and renewal can be punctuated with the awful feeling of God’s absence.

It’s not really so different to what we see in the Bible.

But through it all, and despite our feelings . . .

He loves us;
he walks with us;
he shares his life with us.
He knows what we are really like;
he loves us just the same.
That is “grace”.

I want to tell you about a well-worn and very traditional way of hanging on to that . . . a way of not just surviving the “civil war” going on inside us, but of growing as well.


Following the example of the Jewish people and of Jesus himself, the early Christians kept using the Old Testament collection of Psalms as the basic scaffolding of prayer. That has continued in the catholic tradition of the Church right down to our day. In fact, Anglican clergy are supposed to pray their way through the book of Psalms every month.

Each of us has our favourite Psalms. And - if the truth be known - there are the Psalms most of us would avoid if left to our own devices. You now what I mean - the ones which seem full of depression, despondency and anger, where the Psalmist even seems to be shaking his fist at God. Yet, when we are honest, we must admit that sometimes those are the Psalms which reflect how we feel.

It is easy to have prayer lives that help us avoid coming to terms with what is going on inside us. We all fall into that trap, and it’s not what God wants, because ultimately it will not help us. Using the Psalms in the way we are supposed to is one means of bringing the whole of our lives with their uneven rhythms before God, including the upset, temperamental and sinful bits, so as to become increasingly open to his grace and the healing power of his love.

I have noticed that more and more lay people are seeing the benefit of this, and are using forms of Morning and/or Evening Prayer each day, with a systematic praying of the Psalms.

There is a little book by that title. In my youth I feasted on Praying the Psalms by Thomas Merton (1915-1968). It was given to me by the late Father Austin Day, who even preached a series of sermons based on Merton’s reflections.

Merton is not all that fashionable these days (and, I must admit, some of my friends think he is not as orthodox as he could be), but recently I was glad to see that Praying the Psalms has been reprinted. I enthusiastically commend it to you, and guarantee that if you read it your appreciation of the Psalms will grow. (You can find it at if your local Christian bookstore doesn’t sell it.)

In one of his most memorable passages Merton says:

“When we bring our sorrows to the Psalter we find all our spiritual problems mirrored in the inspired words of the psalmist. But we do not necessarily find these problems analysed and solved.

“Few of the psalms offer us abstract principles capable of serving as a ready and sensible palliative for interior suffering. On the contrary, what we generally find is a suffering just as concrete as our own, and more profound.

“We encounter this suffering at one of its most intense and articulate moments. How many of the psalms are simply cries of desperate anguish: ‘Save me, O God, for the waters have come up even to my throat. I sink in the deep mire where no footing is : I have come into deep waters and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with crying out, my throat is parched: my eyes fail with watching so long for my God.’ (Psalm 69:1-3)

“What were the dispositions of the saints and the fathers in chanting such a psalm? They did not simply ‘consider’ the psalm as they passed over it, drawing from it some pious reflection, some nosegay. They entered into the ‘action’ of the psalm. They allowed themselves to be absorbed in the spiritual agony of the psalmist and of the one he represented. They allowed their sorrows to be swallowed up in the sorrows of this mysterious Personage, and then they found themselves swept away, on the strong tide of his hope, into the very depth of God. ‘’But to you, Lord, I make my prayer : at an acceptable time, answer me, O God, in your abundant goodness: and with your sure deliverance.’ (vv13,14)

“So, in the end, all sorrow turns to triumph and to praise: ‘And I will praise the name of God in a song: and glorify him with thanksgiving . . . for God will save Zion : he will rebuild the cities of Judah’ (vv32-37).”

All that is grace!

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A video of Metropolitan Anthony teaching on the Holy Spirit

I was so pleased with the response to Archbishop Anthony Bloom's talk on prayer posted on this blog two days ago that I thought it would be good to share another video with you, this time his talk on the Holy Spirit:


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dean Church’s 1885 Advent sermon on Hope

Richard William Church (1815-1890) was a well-known priest of the Church of England who served as Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, from 1871 to his death. He wrote a number of books, including a definitive history of the Oxford Movement. The following is a passage from his sermon on Hope, taken from his  book of Advent Sermons preached in 1885 and available online HERE.

Is it not a duty, in solemn and quiet self-recollection, to put before our thoughts that unbroken and continuous line, which joins this very present moment with that hour which certainly is to arrive, when we must be changed, when we may be changed into the spotless blessedness of the saints of God? You - you yourself - with your trouble, your temptations, your sin, small or great, your conscious weakness, your insensibility and ignorance; yet you yourself are one of those of whom, if you will, all this wondrous future will, must, come true. 

There is no blessedness of the soul of man, no rest from weariness, no refreshment after toil, no opening of the eyes to beauty never seen by mortal eye, no delight in goodness, no rejoicing in perfect love, no ineffable sense of the sweetness and tenderness of God's mercy - none of these that may not be hoped for; hoped for with all the warrant of the Almighty's promise, by each soul here present, with its identity unbroken, with that individual character which makes it what it is. And is that great hope to be practically all a blank to us?

It is not to be told how much we lose of strength, of gladness and enlargement of heart, of power to do God's service cheerfully and happily, by not realising and dwelling on the great hope "set before us." We let ourselves be blinded, fretted, disheartened by the present, because we will not look up and see what is as certain as the present, in the not very distant future. Many of us, today, remember with more or less regret that this is the last Sunday of the year; that another year has gone out of our tale of days. Its days are gone and will never come back; nor that which they brought, and took away with them; the pleasant times which those days gave us, the glad meetings, the sunny holidays, are gone; gone, with the happiness which its days wrecked, with the health that they have broken, with the old friends, the lives, some of them noble and precious ones, which they have taken with them into the past. 

Here, as at a deathbed, we feel the close of all earthly things, the inevitableness and the drawing near of death. With us the natural thing is to look back to the past; the word that naturally rises to our lips is, "Another year gone." It is natural with us: with St Paul it is just as natural to reflect, "Now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Romans 13:11). It is the last Sunday, and that must give us much to think of. But it is not only, it is not chiefly that. About us are the songs, and the joy, and the innocent gladness of Christmas. About us, as we are reminded today, are the "bright beams of light which God casts upon His Church" (Collect for St. John the Evangelist’s Day) bright indeed to us now, but only the faint quivering of the dawn of that Eternal Day. 

We, at least, if we are not Christians in vain, can join the stern and awful thoughts that accompany the lapse of time - awful enough, indeed, to make the boldest anxious - with the deep and chastened sense of realities beyond it, certain, final, ineffable, over which time has no power, which are warranted to men. We can pass on to the great hope which from end to end fills the Bible - the hope which ennobles and gladdens our mortal life; such a hope as carried St Paul in strength and joy through the long "daily dying" of his Apostleship, and burst forth in such impassioned yet most reasonable conviction - "For I count," he says, "that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us . . . For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:18, 38).