Wednesday, February 29, 2012

S. David of Wales (c. 500–589)

Saint David (or Dewi, as he is known in the Welsh language) was an evangelist and monk, who became archbishop of Wales. 

He was one of many early saints who travelled around preaching the Gospel, teaching the Faith, and establishing church communities among the Celtic tribes of western Britain. He lived a frugal life, eating mainly bread and herbs. 

David was born near Capel Non (Non's chapel) on the South-West Wales coast near the present city of Saint David. He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) on the banks of the small river Alun where the cathedral city of St David stands today. He was buried in the grounds of this monastery, where the Cathedral of St. David now stands, and he was was formally recognised as a saint by Pope Callistus II in 1120. 

During his 2010 visit to Great Britain, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about St David in Westminster Cathedral: 

"Saint David was one of the greatest saints of the 6th century, that golden age of saints and missionaries in these isles, and he was thus a founder of the Christian culture which lies at the root of modern Europe. David's preaching was simple yet profound: his dying words to his monks were, 'Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things'. It is the little things that reveal out love for the one who loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and that bind people into a community of faith, love and service. May Saint David's message, in all its simplicity and richness, continue to resound in Wales today, drawing the hearts of its people to renewed love for Christ and his Church."

St David's Cathedral, Wales

The sign of Jonah (today's Gospel)

Here is an excellent commentary on today's Gospel. It is by Fr Matthew Duckett, an assistant priest in the Parish of Old St Pancras, London, and comes from his BLOG

“Just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.” (Luke 11:29-32) 

What kind of sign is the “Sign of Jonah”? When Matthew’s gospel reports this saying of Jesus it provides an explanation, because Matthew doesn’t like loose ends and does like using Old Testament texts to shed light on Jesus. So Matthew says, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.” So the Sign of Jonah becomes the sign of the Resurrection. 

Certainly that’s an aspect of the Sign of Jonah, but Luke leaves it more open than Matthew. In fact the Sign of Jonah has many meanings. As we heard in the reading from the Book of Jonah itself, the main Sign that Jonah gave to the city of Nineveh was that he preached, “Forty more days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed, and repented, and the city was not overthrown, after all. 

So the Sign of Jonah is in the first place the sign of preaching, and believing, and repentance. And this is in fact exactly how Jesus begins his own mission. 

There is another way in which Jonah was a sign. Jonah’s story begins with him running away from the call of God, and in an extraordinary scene he’s on board a ship which gets caught in a violent storm, and the crew draw lots to see who is to blame, who has offended the gods. And they discover it is Jonah, and throw him overboard, whereupon Jonah is swallowed by the fish, and the storm ceases. 

So Jonah is also the sign of the scapegoat, the one whose apparent death restores peace and order to the little community of the boat once they have decided he was to blame and thrust him out. Which is if you like a type of what happened to Jesus on Good Friday, when he was thrust out of the city and killed by people who thought he was a blasphemer, under God’s curse, and a threat to their own society. So the Sign of Jonah is the Sign of preaching, of repentance, of the scapegoat, and of the resurrection. In all of these ways, Jesus will fulfil that sign. And although this Sign has these four different aspects, it is still one sign. What Jesus preaches is the Kingdom of God becoming real in the world through his death and resurrection. 

The gospel is preached to us and we are called to repent, because the death and resurrection of Jesus has exposed how complicit we are in the way the world makes victims and scapegoats. But much more than that, it has revealed the generosity and love of God who longs to lead us from the old way of sin and death to new life in Christ. 

In these days of Lent we seek to live more deeply the call to repentance we heard on Ash Wednesday:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 
Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. 

Through that repentance we join ourselves to the Sign of Jonah, the Sign of Jesus, the dying and rising of Christ, through which we, and we pray this great city in which we live, will be saved.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Society of the Holy Cross ("SSC") Founders' Day

Charles Fuge Lowder (1820-1880) 

Today is "Founders' Day" of the Society of the Holy Cross ("SSC"), the oldest society of priests in the Church of England which was brought into being in 1855 by a small group of Anglo-Catholic priests led by Father Charles Lowder. Today there are more than a thousand members around the world in parishes, missions, chaplaincies, schools and other areas of pastoral ministry, committed to witnessing to the Cross of Christ by their lives and ministry. SSC is organised in Provinces under Provincial Masters elected by the Brethren. Within each Province are various Regions headed by Regional Vicars, and the work of the Society at local level is carried forward in Chapters led by their Local Vicars. Priests of the Society can be recognized by the small gold lapel cross that they generally wear. On it is inscribed the motto of the Society - in hoc signo vinces - in this sign, conquer!

The following is a slightly abbreviated form of the first chapter of In This Sign Conquer: A History of the Society of the Holy Cross (Societas Sanctae Crucis) 1855-2005, a collection of essays edited by Owen Higgs.

Charles Fuge Lowder, was born in June 1820 in Bath the son of a banker. In 1840 he went up to Exeter College Oxford. While at Oxford he attended S. Mary’s, where, like the best of his generation, he fell under the spell of the vicar, John Henry Newman, whose sermons guided him to the priesthood. Mr Lowder took a second class degree in 1843 and in the Autumn of that year was made Deacon to serve a title in the parish of Street-cum-Walton. On his ordination as a priest, by Bishop Denison of Salisbury, on the 22nd December 1844, he took up additional work as chaplain to the Axbridge workhouse.

As a Deacon he had looked into the possibilities of mission work in New Zealand. The failure to achieve this brought to the fore his other, parallel and perhaps greater ambition. He desired to work in a parish with a more advanced and catholic pattern of worship, thus he applied to become a curate at the famous ritualist centre of St Barnabas Pimlico. St Barnabas Pimlico, the most catholic building erected for worship in the Church of England since the reformation, was from its foundation a centre of ritual controversy. Bennet, the first vicar was long persecuted, and unsupported by the Bishop of London departed under pressure.

After the change of incumbents, the Revd R Liddel was the new vicar, the problems continued. The assistant curates, Skinner and Lowder carried out a splendid parish ministry but the proponents of the protestant cause were not to be persuaded by energetic evangelistic and pastoral zeal.

This parish, then a maze of slum streets had been built to serve the poor and was the most catholic parish, in both externals and teaching, in London. In the atmosphere of a daily celebration of Holy Communion, daily Morning and Evening prayer, a Sunday sung Eucharist and strict patterns of parochial visitation, Mr Lowder deemed himself to be in the best possible situation for an Anglo-Catholic assistant curate.

In due course a legal challenge resulted from a number of the furnishings that had given St Barnabas its catholic atmosphere. These included the altar cross, candlesticks, credence table, rood screen. The judgement, which went against Liddel was soon challenged on appeal. The atmosphere in parish life was however one of conflict and confrontation.

In fact, a man had been hired to walk around the area wearing a sandwich board advocating support for Liddel’s foes. Lowder, in what he described later as ‘a moment of madness’ gave some of the choir boys 6d with which to purchase rotten eggs; so armed, they assaulted the poor board carrier. Lowder appeared before Westminster Magistrates where he was fined £2.0.0, and before the Bishop of London on 6th May 1854, he was suspended from duty for six weeks. Thus one of the heroes of the Anglo-Catholic revival began his great work as a man with a criminal record and a diocesan black mark. 

Lowder went to France, later in May 1854 to spend his suspension out of the public eye. Being poor he walked, and stayed at the Seminary at Yvet├┤t. While there, he read Louis Abelly's Vie de Saint Vincent de Paul. This meeting with the great French Apostle of the poor marked the rest of Lowder’s life. He concluded that England was in desperate need of priests committed to the service of the urban poor of the great cities, just as S. Vincent’s Company of the Mission served the poor of rural France.

On his return to England, he completed the life of the saint and meditated on the dual need of a society far from the Gospel, and priests who lacked the structure, which was used by the Vincentians for mission. As a result he called a meeting of Anglo-Catholic clergy, hand-picked as the most trustworthy. The group of six came together at the House of Charity Soho on the 28th February 1855.They were, Charles Maurice Davies, curate of St Matthew's, City Road: David Nicols, curate of Christ Church, St Pancras; Alfred Poole and Joseph Smith, fellow curates with Lowder at St Barnabas' and St. Paul's; and Henry Augustus Rawes, Warden of the House of Charity, Soho. The meeting took place at the House of Charity in Soho. The six formed themselves into the Society of the Holy Cross and in this society and company made promises binding on them until May 1855. These were: of confidentiality in matters concerning the society, the second an affirmation of the Nicene creed, the third concerned mutual help, both temporal and spiritual, to brothers of the Society; in this way they dedicated themselves to lives of self-disciplined service, first of the poor, and the extension of the Catholic faith. Membership was to include obedience to a rule of life prior to a further major meeting in May at which the future of the new society would be decided. Lowder appeared first on the roll of members and was elected the first Master, to serve for twelve months.

Unlike many bodies founded during the second phase of the Anglo-Catholic revival, therefore, the SSC was not in original intent a devotional society; it was structured to be a rule for mission priests. It was thus from its inception original, more than a devotional society, other than a religious community, greater than a friendship circle, less than an oratory. It was an original conceit; original because the founders had no models from which to work, original because it was founded for a situation that was unique: the new outworking of a catholic priesthood whose conscious catholicity had been for centuries dormant in an English society undergoing enormous change.

Of the Society Lowder was to write in 1856, “It was so ordered also, by God's good providence, that a society of priests had lately been founded in London, called the Society of the Holy Cross. Its objects are to defend and strengthen the spiritual life of the clergy, to defend the faith of the Church, and to carry on and aid Mission work both at home and abroad.”


Father Lowder's heroic work at St Peter's London Docks is summarised HERE.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Richard Dawkins and Archbishop Rowan Williams

It was a good discussion . . . a REALLY good one and a half hour discussion on the nature and ultimate origins of human beings at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, last Wednesday afternoon. Professor Richard Dawkins and Archbishop Rowan Williams engaged with each other and with moderator Sir Anthony Kenny respectfully and with gentle humour on matters such as genetic pre-determination, the nature of consciousness and whether or not the notion of God "clutters up" one's world view. While it was more a discussion than a debate, some very valuable points were made. 

It was the Archbishop of Canterbury at his best, and, for that matter, possibly Dawkins at his best, too. 

In reporting the event, Reuters quoted Andrew Wilkinson, a theology graduate, as saying: "It was a points victory for Rowan Williams, but not a knock-out round." Reuters also quoted a Judy Perkins: "Williams was better at engaging with the science than Dawkins was at engaging with the philosophy." 

Watch the video for yourself.

Bishop Jonathan Baker on women bishops & General Synod

It seemed right to leave a pause for reflection after the meeting of the General Synod in February, which devoted much time to further consideration of the draft legislation on women bishops. 

We are hugely grateful to the Venerable Cherry Vann, Archdeacon of Rochdale, for introducing the Diocesan Synod Motion on behalf of the Diocese of Manchester, and for the gracious and generous way in which she did so. This motion invited the House of Bishops to consider amending the legislation, in order to introduce provisions for those unable to accept the ordination of women to the episcopate along the lines of those contained in the amendment proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, which was very narrowly defeated in July 2010.

While the Manchester motion was not passed in the form proposed, the debate was a helpful one. Many members of Synod, including those from the Catholic Group, but by no means only them, spoke eloquently and forcefully in favour of arrangements whereby those unable to accept women in the episcopate, on theological grounds, would be able to continue in the Church of England with integrity and a real opportunity to flourish. It was enormously encouraging to hear the speeches of younger lay people, women and men, and younger priests, putting our case. 

It was encouraging, too, that a third of the House of Clergy and well over 40% of the House of Laity voted against any amendment to the Manchester motion, indicating significant dissatisfaction with the legislation in its present form. In the House of Bishops, 16 bishops voted against amending the Manchester motion, among them the Archbishop of York, the Bishops of London and Durham, and a number of other senior diocesan bishops. A further 5 members of the House of Bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Winchester, abstained. 

The motion which was passed in its final form still gives the House of Bishops room to take a fresh look at the legislation; and, of course, it remains true that the House of Bishops has the discretion to amend the legislation in any way its sees fit, irrespective of the voting on this particular motion in the General Synod.

We shall be praying hard now for fresh wisdom at the meeting of the House of Bishops in May, and for a willingness to listen to those many voices in Synod which urged that, for the sake of the Church of England as a whole, and her unity and mission, a way forward may be found to enable supporters of women in the episcopate and those who cannot assent to the development to move forward together. We are not there yet. Forward in Faith continues to stand ready to help in any way, that such a solution may indeed be found. 

X Jonathan Ebbsfleet 


First Sunday in Lent, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Johnny of the Cross

My first confession in this article is that I have been a lifelong fan of Johnny Cash, who was born eighty years ago today. 

In my youth I played the keyboard in a number of country gospel groups; I also learned to play some Bach on the organ (as well as being involved in the production of Palestrina, Mozart and other great composers of the Catholic tradition, and, to top it off, I often accompanied worship songs in the large charismatic renewal gatherings of the time). 

Mixed up, you might say, but I am cursed or blessed, according to your perspective, with the ability to love opposite kinds of music. At school in the wild west of Sydney I tended to conceal my love of "classical" church music in order to survive. In other circles I found it necessary to conceal my love of country gospel and soul music for the very same reason! 

So, when I'll Walk The Line came to the cinemas a few years ago, I was eager to see it. I had prepared myself to be disappointed - just in case - but as you will agree if you have seen the film, it is incredibly powerful. Faithful in its characterisations, it faces our human flaws, the imprisonment of our souls, the ugliness of sin, the breakdown of relationships and the struggles we have in responding to grace. 

But it also manages to capture, without descending to cliches and "easy-believe-ism," the fundamental fact to which Johnny Cash's life bears witness: the possibility of redemption. 

Some Cash fans have complained that there is not more specifically Christian content in "I'll walk the Line". But the film finishes at the point where Johnny's 35 year marriage with June Carter begins, coinciding with the renewal of his faith. Anyway, for those with eyes to see, there are clusters of symbols which relate both the past (especially Cash's childhood) and the future (the Gospel dimension to his marriage with June and the music he subsequently performed) to the period on which the film concentrates.

Writers and editors constantly wrack their brains for compelling headlines. How I would love to have come up with "Johnny of the Cross"! My second confession to you in this article is that I stole that headline from an article Peter Candler wrote for the December 2003 edition of FIRST THINGS magazine, just two months after Johnny Cash's death (June Carter had died in May of that same year). Candler wrote: 

"Johnny's virtues were just as hard-fought as his vices. In life Johnny Cash struggled for and against the God whose grip on him was so frustratingly and thankfully relentless that it was able to absorb all that fierce rage and all those addictions. Johnny could sing about murder and God in the same song and with the same voice because to do otherwise would have been dishonest. At the same time, he let that despair, agony, and rejection stand on their own - he lent them integrity . . . A God who could not stomach the darkest moments of his creation was not worth our worship, much less a song." 

Cash's live concerts at Folsom and San Quentin - the "prison" albums - have been re-released on CD, including some previously deleted Gospel songs that are clearly the climax of each performance. The amazing chemistry between Cash and his captive audience still surprises the listener. Most significantly, however, according to Merle Haggard, who first heard Johnny Cash when he himself was an inmate at San Quentin, Cash "brought Jesus Christ into the picture, and he introduced him in a way that the tough, hardened, hard-core convict wasn't embarrassed to listen. He didn't point no fingers; he knew just how to do it." 

Throughout his career Johnny Cash recorded a wide range of songs encompassing country, folk, blues, gospel, pop, and rock. It has been observed that his music even influenced the development of punk, grunge, and rap! After the renewal of his faith he was genuinely troubled about his repertoire, but the evangelist Billy Graham, with whom Cash had built up a close friendship, encouraged him to sing about ALL of life as a way of "connecting with real people right where they are," and then "when you get to singing the Gospel, give it all you've got." This is just what he did, even though his determination to sing the Gospel some of the time (to "tithe my music" as he put it) brought him into frequent conflict with the recording companies. 

So, in the words of Steve Beard, Cash's appeal 

" . . . is recognized by everyone from gangsta rappers to roughneck steel workers . . . His charismatic magnetism spanned five decades of popular culture. 'Locust and honey . . . not since John the Baptist has there been a voice like that crying in the wilderness,' is how U2's Bono summed it up . . . 'The most male voice in Christendom. Every man knows he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash.' 

"Cash wrote songs the man on the street - or perhaps more appropriately, the guy hanging out in the alley - could relate to. He loved prisoners, the working man, and the welfare mother - those found on the outskirts. 'Those are my heroes: the poor, the downtrodden, the sick, the disenfranchised,' Cash told No Depression magazine. 

"His songwriting orbited around the universal human condition of sin and redemption, murder and grace, darkness and light. What you saw is what you got with Cash. There was never a manufactured feeling to his art. When he sang, you could almost taste the hillbilly moonshine, smell the gunpowder of a smoking revolver, and feel the drops of blood off the thorny crown of a crucified Christ." 

Those are powerful words, and they are more than supported by his last album "The Man Comes Around," which is really a meditation on death. Again, an astonishing mixture of songs, Gospel and otherwise, climaxing with "We'll Meet Again Someday." (I know it sounds corny, but it works!) 

Never was there a more gutsy song than the title song of the album, all about the return of Christ - the coming of "Alpha and Omega's kingdom." - judgment, the day of reckoning, but also "a golden ladder reaching down." It's thrilling and haunting, even terrifying. And it demands a decision from each of us:

". . . will you partake of that last offered cup, 
Or disappear into the potter's ground. 
When the man comes around. 

"Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. 
One hundred million angels singin'. 
Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum. 
Voices callin', voices cryin'. 
Some are born an' some are dyin'. 
It's Alpha and Omega's Kingdom come. 

"And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree. 
The virgins are all trimming their wicks. 
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree. 
It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 

"Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom. 
Then the father hen will call his chickens home. 
The wise men will bow down before the throne. 
And at his feet they'll cast their golden crowns. 
When the man comes around." 

Obviously those of the Catholic tradition will differ with the Baptist Johnny Cash on aspects of the Faith. But when we get down to the question of who Jesus is, and the power of his saving death and resurrection, we find ourselves singing from the same hymn book, so to speak. Jesus is alive; he is the King of Glory, our Alpha and Omega. But for Cash this is not escapist, nor a way of glossing over the depths of human suffering and pain. In fact, he talks and sings about Jesus as a Catholic would. His religion is supremely incarnational. I venture to suggest that it is, in fact, instinctively Catholic, as Peter Candler points out: 

"For Cash there was no empty cross but a crucifix, which neither concealed the horrors of suffering nor prematurely removed the bleeding Christ to a higher plane. In the end, it seems all his life's vices - and even his virtues - were consumed by the blood of Christ. The truth of Cash's music, and of his life, lies in the image of the crucified Jesus - who dies alone and forsaken, simultaneously consummating the whole creation and crippled by its weight. For Cash, redemption was not won without a fight: 'Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins' (Hebrew 9:22)." 

Back in 2003 Johnny Cash recorded his song Redemption which, in my opinion, illustrates what Candler wrote. It is also a powerful testimony to Cash's spiritual journey. A testimony of grace and redemption. It is lyrical, but also somber, and, perhaps surprisingly, not lacking in eucharistic imagery:

"From the hands it came down 
From the side it came down 
From the feet it came down 
And ran to the ground 
Between heaven and hell 
A teardrop fell 
In the deep crimson dew 
The tree of life grew 

"And the blood gave life 
To the branches of the tree 
And the blood was the price 
That set the captives free 
And the numbers that came 
Through the fire and the flood 
Clung to the tree 
And were redeemed by the blood 

"From the tree streamed a light 
That started the fight
'Round the tree grew a vine 
On whose fruit I could dine 
My old friend Lucifer came 
Fought to keep me in chains 
But I saw through the tricks 
Of six-sixty-six 

"And the blood gave life 
To the branches of the tree 
And the blood was the price 
That set the captives free 
And the numbers that came 
Through the fire and the flood 
Clung to the tree 
And were redeemed by the blood 

"From his hands it came down 
From his side it came down 
From his feet it came down 
And ran to the ground 
And a small inner voice said 
'You do have a choice.' 
The vine engrafted me 
And I clung to the tree."

Friday, February 24, 2012

The eyes of a child (Matthew 25:31-46)

The Divine Liturgy at St Botolph's Church, Bishopsgate, London, U.K.

Father Alexander Tefft is the priest at the Antiochian Orthodox Parish of Saint Botolph, London, U.K., as well as Chaplain and Tutor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge. Here is his sermon from last Sunday (19th February), which for Orthodox Christians was "The Sunday of the Last Judgment". 

‘As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.‘ (Matthew 25.45) 

A woman lies quietly in a bed, in a room with green walls. A soft sickly shade of green intended to calm her nerves. A light from the ceiling shines in her eyes but she does not blink. No light behind her eyes. No light within. Once, you could hear her screaming: her voice, shrieking, cursing, hurling obscenities at everyone who entered the room. Like an antique vase hurled against the wall. Now she is quiet. She seldom speaks. She seldom moves. She dreams. In her dream, a small, red mouse climbing in and out of a bowl and trying in vain to crawl into her arms. On waking, nausea and tremors. Side effects of the lithium carbonate and chlorprozamine, pumping through her veins. Suicidal images arise in her brain, now and then. Side effects? Or do they conceal a memory that arises only in the few fleeting moments of sleep? Years ago, many years ago. The teenage girl that she once was, lying in another hospital bed. Exhausted from a premature birth. She was only a child of fourteen when she clung to that boy, one night – and a few months later, delivered his child. As she lay in her bed in the dark ward, a nurse brought in a bed pan. In the bed pan, her stillborn child covered in blood. ‘This is the fruit of your sin’, said the nurse – with a cross dangling from her neck. 

Years of that young girl’s dirty hands, clutching a bottle. Years of crawling on all fours, in an alley in some unknown city where she sold her body for a shot in the arm or a bag of white powder. Years passed, since she cried her eyes red and reached her hands in vain to the woman with a cross around her neck. Years of rage. Years of a heart, ripped from the breast. Electric volts to the brain, psychiatric drugs in place of food, and … 

A recurring dream about a small, red mouse, in a bowl, trying to climb into her arms. 

When you work in mental health, or live with one who does, you hear stories that shock the brain worse than any volt. Continue reading this sermon HERE.

Lent and the healing of wounds

There was once a woman who had a dream. In her dream she was disappointed, disillusioned and depressed. She wanted a good world, a peaceful world, and she wanted to be a good person. But the newspaper and television showed her how far we were from such a reality. So she decided to go shopping. She went to the mall and wandered into a new store – where the person behind the counter looked strangely like Jesus. Gathering up her courage she went up to the counter and asked, “Are you Jesus?” “Well, yes, I am,” the man answered. “Do you work here?” “Actually,” Jesus responded, “I own the store. You are free to wander up and down the aisles, see what it is I sell, and then make a list of what you want. When you are finished, come back here, and we’ll see what we can do for you.”

So, the woman did just that. And what she saw thrilled her. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air. She wrote furiously and finally approached the counter, handing a long list to Jesus. He skimmed the paper, and then smiling at her said, “No problem.” Reaching under the counter, he grabbed some packets and laid them out on the counter. Confused, she asked, “What are these?” Jesus replied: “These are seed packets. You see, this is a catalogue store.” Surprised the woman blurted out, “You mean I don’t get the finished product?” “No,” Jesus gently responded. “This is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. Then you plant the seeds. You go home and nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.” And then she woke up.

Great Lent may be considered a “field of dreams” where we are presented to both a vision of the final product, in our case heaven, and the seeds which need to be planted in order to get there. If there is one seed that is the greatest and most beneficial it must be love. James writes in his epistle, “If you indeed fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you work sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:8-9).” St. James knew that for Christ’s teaching on love to be perfected it had to be universal. The “rich” and the “poor” are to be loved equally. Every person is to be loved regardless. Lent also is considered a “school of repentance” and the course will inevitably lead us to planting seeds in places we never would think. Those who are dear to us and those who are considered enemies are both gardens deserving of love. One of the most difficult lessons in spiritual life is taught to by those who insult and offend us. God allows and sometimes even sends individuals to us who can either lead us to heaven or hell depending in our response. As St. John Chrysostom has said, “Take away the contestant and you take away the opportunity for the crowns.” Lent begins with forgiveness (with forgiveness Vespers, 5:00 PM, March 9) and ends with the Pascha liturgy and a final call for us to love one another so that we may proclaim together, “Christ is Risen from the dead!”

The seed of forgiveness begins with understanding that the gospel requires us to love others in the same way we love ourselves. St. John Chrysostom asked his congregation to consider the manner in which we love ourselves: “We do not envy ourselves; we wish all good things for ourselves; we prefer ourselves before all; we are willing to do all things for ourselves. If also we were inclined in the same way towards others, all grievous things are brought to an end; there would be no enmity; there would be no covetousness: for who would choose to get the better of oneself – no person would be at odds with another. And if we do this, the remembrance of injuries would have no place: for who would choose to remember injuries against oneself? Who would choose to be angry with oneself? Do we not make allowance for ourselves most of all?” We are called to employ the same standards we have for ourselves with others. What makes planting this seed possible is knowing ones’ personal woundedness.

We are all wounded. If we were not wounded by sin, Christ would not have had to come and save us on the Cross. If we were not wounded by sin, we would all get along; there would be no arguments, disagreements, strife or divisions amongst us. Knowing one’s “woundedness” is an important part of reaching the dream of perfection, unity, forgiveness and love. If we wish to see the dream become a reality this must become a common goal for all. What deals death blows to communities is that wounded individuals fall into two categories, those who want to be healed and those who rather heal everyone else and ignore their own woundedness. Still, those who want the healing embrace every opportunity and begin with themselves. Taking the “log” out of ones’ eye precedes taking the splinter out of my neighbors’ eye (Matthew 7:3-4). The process of removing that which blinds us, (a log in the eye) is directed toward a personal spiritual blindness. ‘I cannot see my sins, I don’t know them, God show me my sins!’ This is how we remove our many logs. We cannot do this alone. Self-directed healing is to be avoided – no matter what. Choosing ones’ spiritual director can be very dangerous because we most likely avoid those who we fear will tell us the truth. We rather submit ourselves to our own judgment then submit to the priest God has placed us under. The priest is himself a wounded healer who does not judge but offers medicine based on the personal experience his seeking healing. Both are penitent sinners, who must appear before God and stand or fall based upon what they have done. Confession is a voluntary standing before God that is done in anticipation of that final appearance. The goal is the healing of wounds.

Christians who are in the process of healing experience freedom from negative behaviors often characterized by destructive habitual behaviors (passions). Joy and happiness are what most people desire in life. Joy that comes from the deep well of God’s love is the most powerful experience a human being can have. It raises us up above the mire of a world that is full of the consequences of sin. Christians in the process of healing have no fear about the ills of society because Christ has overcome them all. His grace and Holy Spirit change lives and bring light to the darkness around us. We know this to be true because we have experienced it first hand. Christians who avoid healing only see gloom, despair, darkness, and consequently deny the power of God by their world view. Christians in the process of healing allow goodness, hope and God’s love to overshadow the darkness in the world. God’s love is all around us, it is what inspires our dreams for a prefect world and it is the gift of the Church – it is heaven on earth. May our dreams for a perfected spiritual life be provided all of right seeds to make it happen.

By Rev. Andrew Barakos, 
Assumption Greek Orthodox Church
8202 E. Cactus Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona 85260

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Worship must not be just down to earth . . .

The Liturgy in a Serbian Monastery

Worship must not be just down to earth, otherwise it will be exclusive, worship for those bits of the earth which like that sort of thing. 

Worship which raises our prayers and praises and unites them with the prayer of Christ and all his saints in heaven will necessarily be representative . . . 

If we are before God in Christ we are in his Body together with all his holy people - visible and invisible, known and unknown. Then we are truly where we belong as a Church and we are truly both serving the world and serving God. The risen Christ is with his saints - and his saints are with him, for they are also the Body of Christ and in Christ we are one with them. All our worship must bring us into the kingdom and raise us into the fellowship of the saints, together with "angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven." Only such heavenly worship is any earthly use at all. 

So, whether it is at the bedside of an old lady who is dying; or at the glorious worship of a huge congregation in a vast basilica; whether it is with two or three huddled together in prison on the eve of their execution - singing hymns at midnight like Paul and Silas - or locked up in the basilica like Ambrose with his congregation at Milan; whether in a hospital ward, or in a trench before battle; there is no corner of the earth and no gathering too insignificant which cannot be raised beyond itself in Christ into the presence of the Father with all the saints, "enkingdomed", transfigured and glorified. So we all can become even now (for those with eyes to see) what we were intended to be from all eternity and will be in Christ throughout all ages and world without end. 

As Evelyn Underhill says in "The Mystery of Sacrifice": "In our religion, and in the worship which is the expression of our religion, we look out towards eternity; and bit by bit, in various ways and degrees, we discover in ourselves a certain capacity for eternity." 

 - Bishop Michael Marshall, in "Renewal and Worship" (1982)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday and Lent in Two Minutes

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Bishop of London's 2011 Ash Wednesday Sermon

Richard Chartres became the 132nd Bishop of London in November 1995. This sermon for Ash Wednesday last year is from the Diocese of London website. It was preached at St Paul's Cathedral, and can be viewed on Youtube HERE. 

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground, in the dust. 

We all begin in the same place. Darwin and Dawkins agree with the Book of Genesis. We are creatures of the dust – star dust in fact. The name "Adam" means in Hebrew creature of the dust. In the myth of the Paradise Garden, the Lord God says to Adam: "dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return". 

It is the truth about human existence that we are part of the universe but more than that we are conscious participants in the drama of the universe; we are the universe consciously reflecting upon itself. Every beast of the field and every fowl of the air was brought to Adam and he named them. 

Some choose to remain earthbound and regard humans as essentially clever but rapacious bipeds. Others hear the call to go beyond the earth bound. The journey into spiritual life, however, into life in all its fullness as a human being never forgets our starting point because Jesus Christ teaches that the first step in becoming a human being is to refuse to be a little god. 

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 
who being in very nature God 
did not consider equality with God 
something to be grasped 
but made himself nothing, 
taking the very nature of a servant." Philippians II: 5-6 

 Jesus bends down close to the humus and disengages from the righteous anger of those who bring the woman caught in adultery before him. 

We all have a surface self which we manufacture as life goes on. It enables us to deal with the world and the people around us. In course of time the surface self which we must develop if we are to function in society becomes a crust and what begins as a protection and a way of doing business becomes a burden. The crust cuts us off from the vitality of the fountain of life which wells up from our spiritual centre. The crust must be pierced rather than reinforced by self justification. 

Real spiritual progress from earthbound existence towards life in all its fullness as a human being is impeded by all kinds of illusions about ourselves; by the fact that we are slaves to all kinds of drives and desires which exist in the psychic zone which lies partly hidden beneath the surface self. 

This zone is the source of the powerful and sometimes volcanic anger which can erupt when triggered by some apparently trivial event. When we feel a surge of irritation with someone we have only just met it is often an indication of what we are covering up in ourselves. The psychic zone is also the cauldron in which projections are brewed; we project our fear; our self disgust or our desires onto some celebrity or public hate figure like the hapless woman dragged before Jesus. 

He lets their righteous anger exhaust itself before he asks them a question about themselves which pierces the surface self – He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he returns to the humus and the crowd melts away leaving Jesus alone with the woman. 

There is no question but she is guilty as charged. Jesus lifted up himself and we are meant to think of his being lifted up upon the cross. The words "lifted up" reverberate through St John's gospel. There is no condemnation but rather there is a way opened for transformation – Go and sin no more. 

There is much precious wisdom for us in this story as we set out on our journey to the empty tomb from an existence which tends to slump back into the merely earthbound; an existence which is stale flat and unprofitable to the new life of Easter where in solidarity with Jesus Christ the human face of God we can enjoy life in all its fullness as a human being. As St Irenaeus said: "The glory of God is a human being who is fully alive." 

What are the lessons for us in our journey to Easter? 

Refuse to be a little god and stay close to the humus. Sin by contrast is treating ourselves as the centre of the universe; turned in upon ourselves either in admiration or even less attractively in self loathing.

Examine yourself and withdraw those projections which come from the shadows within which we have not seen through. If we cover up the shadow world within then it has power to do us and others great harm. If we look at he shadows and the shame, it hurts but they lose the power to do us permanent damage. 

As we go on our way to Easter how should we travel? Anthony the Great who went into the Egyptian desert to confront the projections, the fears and desires of the inner world was visited by a seeker after life in all its fullness. Abba Pambo asked Anthony, "What ought I to do? and the old man said to him, "Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past but control your tongue and your stomach". Advice from the desert is bracingly "in your face". 

Life in all its fullness is the gift of God. You can, by employing certain spiritual techniques, cultivate a state of inner serenity. But that is not life in all its fullness and creativity. Instead consumerism has even made a commodity of spirituality. Conversion is following the way of Jesus Christ; turning away from being a consumer of the world – a clever but rapacious biped – towards being a citizen and a contemplative. The joy and glory which is disclosed along this way makes other ersatz versions of the spiritual life seem poor substitutes for the real thing.

Bede Griffiths on liturgy, art and worship

Bede Griffiths OSB Cam (1906-1993), was a British-born Indian Benedictine monk and spiritual director who lived in ashrams in South India. He became a pioneer of the developing dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism. The following is from The Golden String: An Autobiography (1954), the book he wrote detailing his conversion to Christianity and his eventual embrace of the monastic life. 

Just as the pagan who contemplated the course of nature, the movement of the stars, the dying of the vegetation in the winter and its rising again in the spring, strove to participate in the divine mystery and to share in the divine life; so the Christian who contemplates the life of Christ, desires to share in that life, to die with him and to rise again to a new and immortal life. This is the mystery which underlies the sacred liturgy. It is a means by which the Christian may share in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The ancient music of the chant, the ceremonial of the sanctuary, the use of candles and incense, are all so many signs by which the sacred drama may be impressed on the soul and become part of its own inner life. . . 

It is here that the true function of art becomes apparent. Art, like everything else in modern life, has become separated from religion; but in the earliest times it was not so. The function of art, from the earliest times, has been to invoke the divine presence. Man can only approach the divine mystery by means of images, and it is the work of the artist to represent or 'make present' the divine mystery in an image in such a way that the people enter into communion with it . . . 

To take part in the liturgy is not merely to be a spectator of this art and drama. It is to share mystically in the life and resurrection of Christ, to receive the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost and to participate in the Communion of Saints. Here all the arts are combined in the exercise of their highest function. The architecture of the church, the sculpture and painting on the walls, the music of the chant, and the colour and shape of the vestments and the hangings on the altar, the ceremonies of the sanctuary, as solemn and rhythmic as a ritual dance, are all used to show forth the mystery of the Divine Word; to manifest it not in abstract terms to the reason only, but in its concrete embodiment, appealing to eye and ear, to sense and imagination, to heart and soul. Yet all this outward splendour is strictly subordinated to its end, to enable the soul to pass through the outward form to its inner meaning . . . This is what gives it all a timeless character. It is the representation of the mystery of the Eternal, the Light coming out of darkness, the Word being born out of the Silence, God becoming man . . .

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bishop N.T. Wright: Why Read Mark's Gospel during Lent

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Father Stanton preaching at St Alban's Holborn on today's Gospel

"Faithful Friends" by Nancy Rayborn (Go here to purchase a print)

When I was a teenager I read the stories of the slum priests of the 19th century Catholic Revival in the Church of England.

These men became my heroes. Their lives helped me in my groping after God. They still inspire me. And in these days in which both Christian living and priestly ministry is so hard, the slum priests should inspire us all to persevere in proclaiming the Gospel and teaching the Faith once delivered to the Saints.

These "ritualists" - as many called them - were not snooty "spikes" as we might say today. They were passionate evangelists, bringing many to know and love the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. The magnificent churches they built in the foulest slums of England became shrines that still evoke wonder and prayer. These priests taught and practised the full Catholic Faith in an evangelical way, leading their people to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness AND in the holiness of beauty! They inspired extravagant giving among their friends and supporters. Often persecuted by unsympathetic bishops, the slum priests gave themselves away to the Lord and his people.

One of the most famous was Father Arthur Stanton, who remained a non-stipendiary Curate at St Alban's Holborn for fifty years (1862 to 1913 when he died). He was the archetypal Anglo-Catholic evangelist, and he truly honoured the Lord Jesus Christ in what he said and how he said it. On Sunday 13th October, 1912, Father Stanton preached this sermon on the passage that is today's Gospel. (In fact, this is a transcript written down by a stenographer, as Father Stanton preached rather than read his sermons!)

And when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the Word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven..... That you might know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.' Mark 2:1-12

You know the story: they let him down from the roof. And what I gather from the story is this: anybody who wants to come to Christ, can. If you don't, you can easily slip away unobserved. If any of you wish to come to Mass on Sunday morning, you can - you can - although, I know, there are hundreds of excuses if you don't want to come. And then you say: "Well that is the very thing we want to do. Here we are, all of us, on purpose to get to the Master. Has not He promised to be present with us! And here we are - in order to get near the Master. That is just what we want."

And the lesson of the Gospel is, we must take trouble about it. When people say: "We want to get near the Master- Christ," the answer is, "Well, have you taken any trouble about it? Have you taken the roof off?" The men in the Gospel were determined to get to Him, and when they could not get through the door, they went on the roof, and took it off, and placed the palsied man before Him. They saw he could not get to Jesus himself, so they brought him. They meant business; and the business was done. They were in earnest, and they got to the Saviour, and they got the man there.

And so I can say: Now, if you really want to get near the Master, and feel Him your close friend, your All in all, have you done anything out of the way? We hear that the ladies who want the vote are determined to starve themselves to death. Well, that is being in earnest. If you want to get to Christ, you must not mind doing something for the Saviour. Well, then, they could not get in at the door; the whole passage was full. They could not possibly get through the crowd round the door.

And how true that always is! And how true it is of the simple Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ! There are some people always blocking up the gangway. We cannot get to Him. There are the philosophers, the schoolmen, the logicians. There are the Catholic theologians, the Greek theologians, the Roman theologians, the Protestant theologians. They are all arguing, splitting hairs, talking against one another, proposing different theories, and then breaking them up. They choke the door full.

And if you read the reports of the Church congress, you think: "Oh, dear! What are we to believe and think? And they use such long words: there is Predestination! Transubstantiation! Immanence! Incomprehensible. And the poor simple old Gospel we used to love seems to be so difficult now. And we open our Bibles, and turn over the pages, and read this: "One thing is needful" (S. Luke x.42).

Oh, I am very glad there is only one thing - you would think from all the controversies that go on, there were about two thousand things needful! But the dear Lord says, "One thing is needful," and that is to sit at Jesus' feet, and hear His word.

Think! How is it that religion has become so difficult, with all the controversies, and the philosophies, and the old theologies, and the new theologies? You cannot-the passage to the door is full. Impossible! Oh, why have they blocked up the passage and made it so difficult, when we want Jesus Christ Himself?

Well, then, what must we do? We must do something. We must get to Him somehow, for He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (S. John xiv.6). You must get near Him. Brethren, you must do something by which you can get at Him.

Do you recollect Nicodemus? He was a man in high position in the Church and state - of unimpeachable, correct orthodoxy. And he went to the Master, and found Him. He did it secretly. He did not want anybody to know -Timid! Only Christ could help to lift up the dear soul. He was very timid at first. He went out secretly at night. And he saw the Master. And as he walked home at night, the whole heaven was full of stars, and every star trembled with glory. For had he not heard that he must be born again? And had not the Master spoken to him of heavenly things? He got near Him.

And we take another case: Here is the man who is despised - morally - we do not think much of him - Zacchaeus, a collector of taxes. And no doubt he made his riches by excessive increment. And if he was at a social disadvantage, so he was physically, for he was short of stature. But he climbed up the sycamore tree. That man would never have been the rich man he was if he had not been used to climbing! He climbed up the tree just to get a view. And the eyes of the Lord Jesus and the little man met! The Lord Jesus saw him, and said: "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house" (S. Luke xix.5)

And yet there is one more: the poor woman who said: "If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole" (S. Matt. ix.21). The poor woman! She pressed right through the crowd. In the midst of the throng she knelt down and touched the hem of His garment - just brushing it - that's all - but she became whole. And the Master noticed. And they said, "Master, you see how they throng Thee. Why dost Thou say, Who touched Me?" But the Master said, "Some finger has taken life out of Me" - "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole."

And she was made whole. You must get to the Master. You must. And if you say with the poor woman, May I? May I? I say, You must - you must. For this reason, He came down from Heaven and was Incarnate amongst us that He might get to you. You must get to Him.

Well, then, I should like to say again, of course, the process of getting to the Master may cause a good deal of disturbance. Of course, the removing of the roof from the house must have caused a lot of debris and dust, and no doubt it fell down on the people beneath. They broke up the roof. There was a great deal of disturbance. Even the getting to Him may cause a good deal of disturbance. Oh, yes - at home! The people in your village! Oh, we know it is not done quite easily, is it?

A clergyman who was talking to me of the S. Alban's clergy, said the other day: "Oh you know this, you fellows of S. Alban's, you have made such a disturbance in the Church of England." Don't you think it was necessary? Now come! In order to get the Establishment to have a Catholic and Evangelical nature, it was necessary to make a disturbance - but it was necessary. Anything to get any number of people to the Master.

You recollect that when the poor woman was sweeping up her room to find a piece of money that was lost, she must have kicked up a lot of dust in sweeping, but she found it. Now we must never make a disturbance for the sake of disturbing; but if we want to get any society - the Church - to the Master's feet, it may be necessary sometimes to do extravagant things.

And, last of all, just for ourselves, personally: it is not easy often for ourselves to get to the Master but we, too, must take some trouble. We must be in earnest about it. We must take the gates of Heaven by storm. The road up Calvary at times is a bit stiff. But it does not matter, if we get to the Master at the end, and kneel down, and kiss His feet, does it?

Along the road to Calvary is writ large, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (S. Luke ix.23). Along the road, that all may read. "In the last day that great of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." (S. John vii.37).

Why, Lord! we all thirst, and we come to Thee to drink of the water of everlasting life. I am sure you can say in your heart what I tell you this morning is true.

Father Stanton preaching outside

The "old" St Alban's Holborn
(the church was severely damaged in World War II and had to be rebuilt.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why I don't go to the cinema


1. The manager of the cinema never visits me.

2. I did go a few times but no-one spoke to me.

3. Those who go there are not very friendly.

4. Every time I go they ask for money.

5. I went so much as a child, I’ve had all the entertainment I need.

6. The people who go don’t live up to the high moral standards of the films.

7. The performance is too long. I can’t sit for two hours.

8. I often disagree with what I see and hear.

9. I don’t think they have very good music.

10. The films are all shown in the evenings
and that is the only time I have to be at home with my family.

Does this sound familiar?

Forgiveness - a worthwhile struggle

In September of last year I shared with readers some thoughts on forgiveness, arising from a startling story in the Sydney secular media. Go HERE to read the post.

I guess that the challenge to truly forgive others will be with us until our dying day. And nobody - especially Jesus - implied that it would ever be easy.

We are hurt most by those we love most. And - paradoxically - it is they whom we find most difficult to forgive. Every priest is reminded of this when from time to time in the aftermath of a death (sometimes even while arranging the funeral!) those who genuinely love each other and should be the very ones supporting each other in their grief begin to fight. It can be that lots of little (and sometimes big) things involving the deceased and the network of family relationships that over the years were swept under the carpet without actually being forgiven come to the surface, and the cumulative pain threatens to destroy the family or community.

As I wrote in that post last September, the really hard thing about the Gospel is that, because we are meant to share with him in healing the world, Jesus says us we cannot expect any more forgiveness from the Father than what we are prepared to give to those who wrong us.

Now, I know that this is a journey . . . and a journey we are all on. I also know that some counsellors glibly and without love and compassion dish out this truth in a kind of punishing way to the shamefully abused in ways that only abuse and crush them further. There is no excuse for that.

But there is also no excuse for playing down the fact that in the context of the loving, transformative relationships our Father God provides for us to experience as part of our life in the Spirit-filled body of Christ, we are all - without exception - challenged to step into the freedom that comes with at least initially WANTING to become more forgiving. Have another look at the paragraph I quoted from Philip Yancey in September's post.

In 1979 I visited the Anglican Diocese of the New Hebrides at the invitation of Bishop Derek Rawcliffe for some weeks of teaching and preaching. It was just before the New Hebrides became Vanuatu, and a time when I learned far more about God and his people than anything I might have been able to share!

Back then, as a young man, I had hardly begun to accumulate either the wonderful blessings or the deep wounds that are part and parcel of life's journey. But I remember being incredibly moved the first time I heard the words of Absolution following the General Confession in the Eucharist of the English language liturgy of the Church of Melanesia. (It's the same in the other languages of those islands, and, in fact is based on a phrase that crops up in a few of the historic Anglican prayer books.) One of the talks I had prepared for the week-long school for the clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese was on forgiveness as an act of our will, as obedience to the Lord, and I couldn't get over the fact that the teaching of the Gospel on this area of Christian growth had found such an explicit place in the liturgical expression of that Church.

Here it is:

ALMIGHTY God, our merciful Father,
who has promised forgiveness of sins
to all who are truly sorry,
turn to him in faith
and are ready to forgive others;
have mercy on you,
pardon and save you from all your sins,
make you strong in all goodness,
and keep you in life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I think it's a pity that all absolutions are not phrased like that!

* * * * * * *

By the way, if you would like an amazing collection of powerful quotes on forgiveness from a range of religious and secular traditions, go HERE to the University of Minnesota's Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking, and download the pdf FORGIVENESS: An Annotated Bibliography by Mark S. Umbreit, Ph.D. Jonathan Fier, M.S.W. You'll be glad you did!

* * * * * * *

Father Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996) helped many people of different backgrounds to understand how the resources the Holy Spirit gives us can make a difference in our day to day lives. A book of daily readings, “Bread for the Journey,” drawn from his many writings and published in 1997, contains a lot about forgiveness. These are the main passages:

Forgiveness, the way to Freedom (Jan 26)

To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you.” But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the “offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.

Receiving Forgiveness (Jan 25)

There are two sides to forgiveness: giving and receiving. Although at first sight giving seems to be harder, it often appears that we are not able to offer forgiveness to others because we have not been able fully to receive it. Only as people who have accepted forgiveness can we find the inner freedom to give it. Why is receiving forgiveness so difficult? It is very hard to say, “Without your forgiveness I am still bound to what happened between us. Only you can set me free.” That requires not only a confession that we have hurt somebody but also humility to acknowledge our dependency on others. Only when we can receive forgiveness can we give it.

Forgiveness, the Cement of Community Life (Jan 24)

Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Forgiveness is the cement of community life. Forgiveness holds us together through good and bad times, and it allows us to grow to mutual love.

But what is there to forgive or to ask forgiveness for? As people who have hearts that long for perfect love, we have to forgive one another for not being able to give or receive that perfect love in our everyday lives. Our many needs constantly interfere with our desire to be there for the other unconditionally. Our love is always limited by spoken or unspoken conditions. What needs to be forgiven? We need to forgive one another for not being God!

Healing our Hearts through Forgiveness (Jan 27)

How can we forgive those who do not want to be forgiven? Our deepest desire is that the forgiveness we offer will be received. This mutuality between giving and receiving is what create peace and harmony. But if our condition for giving forgiveness is that it will be received, we seldom will forgive! Forgiving the other is first and foremost an inner movement. It is an act that removes anger, bitterness, and the desire for revenge from our hearts and helps us to reclaim our human dignity. We cannot force those we want to forgive into accepting our forgiveness. They might not be able or willing to do so. They may not even know or feel that they have wounded us.

The only people we can really change are ourselves. Forgiving others is first and foremost healing our own hearts.

Stepping over our Wounds (Jan 9)

Sometimes we have to “step over” our anger, our jealousy, or our feelings of rejection and move on. The temptation is to get stuck in our negative emotions, poking around in them as if we belong there. Then we become the “offended one,” “the forgotten one,” or the “discarded one.” Yes, we can get attached to these negative identities and even take morbid pleasure in them. It might be good to have a look at these dark feelings and explore where they come from but there comes a moment to step over them, leave them behind and travel on.

Healing our Memories (Jan 29)

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When we forgive a person, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time, even throughout our lives. Sometimes we carry the memory in our bodies as a visible sign. But forgiveness changes the way we remember. It converts the curse into a blessing. When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over.

Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us, it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memories.

Forgiving in the Name of God. (Jan 28)

We are all wounded people. Who wounds us? Often those whom we love and those who love us. When we feel rejected, abandoned, abused, manipulated or violated, it is mostly by people very close to us: our parents, our friends, our spouses, our lovers, our children, our neighbours, our teachers, our pastors. Those who love us wound us too. That’s the tragedy of our lives. This is what makes forgiveness from the heart so difficult. It is precisely our hearts that are wounded. We cry out, “You, who I expected to be there for me, you have abandoned me. How can I ever forgive you for that?”

Forgiveness often seems impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. The God who lives within us will give us the grace to go beyond our wounded selves and say, “In the Name of God you are forgiven.” Let’s pray for that grace.

From Blaming to Forgiving (April 8)

Our most painful suffering often comes from those who love us and those we love. The relationship between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, teachers and students, pastors and parishioners - these are where our deepest wounds occur. Even late in life, yes, even after those who wounded us have long since died, we might still need help to sort out what happened in these relationships.

The great temptation is to keep blaming those who were closest to us for our present condition, saying, “You made me who I am now, and I hate who I am.” The great challenge is to acknowledge our hurts and claim our true selves as being more than the result of what other people do to us. Only when we can claim our God-made selves as the true source of our being will we be free to forgive those who have wounded us.

Being Handed Over to Suffering (April 9)

People who live close together can be sources of great sorrow for one another. When Jesus chose His twelve disciples, Judas was one of them. Judas is called a traitor. A traitor according to the literal meaning of the Greek word for “betraying” is someone who hands the other over to suffering.

The truth is that we all have something of the traitor in us because each of us hands our fellow human beings over to suffering somehow, somewhere, mostly without intending or even knowing it. Many children, even grown-up children, can experience deep anger toward their parents for having protected them too much or too little. When we are willing to confess that we often hand those we love over to suffering, even against our best intentions, we will be more ready to forgive those who, mostly against their will, are the cause of our pain.

Loving our Religious Leaders (April 10)

Religious leaders, priests, ministers, rabbis, and imams can be admired and revered but also hated and despised. We expect that our religious leaders will bring us closer to God through their prayers, teaching, and guidance. Therefore, we watch their behavior carefully and listen critically to their words. But precisely because we expect them, often without fully realizing it, to be superhuman, we are easily disappointed or even feel betrayed when they prove to be just as human as we are. Thus, our unmitigated admiration quickly turns into unrestrained anger.

Let’s try to love our religious leaders, forgive them their faults and see them as brothers and sisters. Then we will enable them, in their brokenness, to lead us closer to the heart of God.

Letting go of Old Hurts (Dec 30)

One of the hardest things to do in life is to let go of old hurts. We often say, or at least think, “What you did to me and my family, my ancestors, or my friends I cannot forget or forgive. . . One day you will have to pay for it.” Sometimes our memories are decades, even centuries, old and asking for revenge.

Holding people’s faults against them often creates an impenetrable wall. But listen to Paul, “For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see. It is all God’s work” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). Indeed, we cannot let go of old hurts, but God can. Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). It is God’s work, but we are God’s ministers, because the God who reconciled the world to God entrusted to us “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This message calls us to let go of old hurts in the Name of God. This is the message our world most needs to hear.

The Task of Reconciliation (Dec 25)

What is our task in this world as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus? Our task is reconciliation. Wherever we go we see divisions among people - in families, communities, cities, countries, and continents. All these divisions are tragic reflections of our separation from God. The truth that all people belong together as members of one family under God is seldom visible. Our sacred task is to reveal that truth in the reality of everyday life.

Why is that our task? Because God sent Jesus to reconcile us with God and to give us the task of reconciling people with one another. As people reconcile with God through Jesus we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). So whatever we do the main question is, “Does it lead to reconciliation among people?”

Claiming our Reconciliation (Dec 26)

How do we work for reconciliation? First and foremost by claiming for ourselves that God through Christ has reconciled us to God. It is not enough to believe this with our heads. We have to let the truth of this reconciliation permeate every part of our beings. As long as we are not fully and thoroughly convinced that we have been reconciled with God, that we are forgiven, that we have received new hearts, new spirits, new eyes to see, and new ears to hear, we continue to create divisions among people because we expect from them a healing power they do not possess.
Only when we fully trust that we belong to God and can find in our relationship with God all that we need for our minds, hearts, and souls can we be truly free in this world and be ministers of reconciliation. This is not easy, we readily fall back into self-doubts and self-rejection. We need to be constantly reminded through God’s Word, the sacraments, and the love of our neighbors that we are indeed reconciled.

A Nonjudgmental Presence (Dec 27)

To the degree that we accept that through Christ we ourselves have been reconciled with God we can be messengers of reconciliation for others. Essential to the work of reconciliation is a nonjudgmental presence. We are not sent to the world to judge, to condemn, to evaluate, to classify, or to label. When we walk around as if we have to make up our minds about people and tell them what is wrong with them and how they should change, we only create more division. Jesus says it clearly, “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge. . . do not condemn . . .forgive.”(Luke 6:36-37)

In a world that constantly asks us to make up our minds about other people, a nonjudgmental presence seems nearly impossible. But it is one of the most beautiful fruits of a deep spiritual life and will be easily recognized by those who long for reconciliation.

A Ministry that Never Ends (Dec 29)

Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established. A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements. There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation. When we dare to look at the myriad hostile feelings and thoughts in our hearts and minds, we will immediately recognize the many little and big wars in which we take part. Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a “friendly” neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act. They all can become “them.” Right there is where reconciliation is needed.

Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls. God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.

Welcoming Home (July 3)

How do we welcome home our lost brothers and sisters? By running out to them, embracing them, and kissing them. By clothing them with the best clothes we have and making them our honored guests. By offering them the best food and inviting friends and family for a party. And, most important of all, by not asking for excuses or explanations, only showing our immense joy that they are with us again (Luke 15:20-24).

That is being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. It is forgiving from the heart without a trace of self-righteousness, recrimination, or even curiosity. The past is wiped out. What counts is the here and now, where all that fills our hearts is gratitude for the homecoming of our brothers and sisters.