Saturday, March 31, 2012

Euthanasia Goes Against All We Stand For - Young Sydney Doctor

Samuel Birch

On Tuesday 20th December, 2011, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Parramatta and well-known bioethecist, the Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney. This was an historic occasion which saw 103 students became the first-ever medical students to graduate from Sydney's newest medical school. The article below had appeared on the Sydney Cathoic News website, leading to medical graduate Samuel Birch, an Anglican, being quoted by Bishop Fisher in his address to the University: 

"Last week I saw an article entitled Euthanasia Goes Against All We Stand For. In it one of those graduating today, Samuel Birch, made an excellent case for doctors maintaining the ancient ethic that distinguishes them from witchdoctors and hired guns. In the struggle for the soul of our culture the battlegrounds are increasingly the very places where our graduates will practice: hospitals and aged care facilities, parliaments, courts, bureaucracies and academies. 

"If our highest values are to survive it will require young men and women of intelligence and courage. From my brief encounters with Sam and from what I've heard from his teachers, his pro-life commitment is much more than a theory or slogan: he cares passionately for people and this will serve him very well as a young doctor . . ." 

If euthanasia is legalised in Australia either by individual states or the Federal government itself it would be against the bedrock of everything it means to be a doctor, says University of Notre Dame's honours graduate Samuel Birch. 

"The primary goal of those with a terminal illness is to be relieved of their suffering. But if a person is in pain, eliminating the person who suffers rather than the suffering itself is against everything a doctor stands for," he says. 

At 23, Samuel along with 102 others will make history on 20 December when they are awarded their Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degrees and become the first-ever medical students to graduate from Sydney's newest medical school. They are also graduating at a time when the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia is once more being debated, with the Greens and various independent MP's in state parliaments lobbying for a change to current laws to permit mercy killing. 

Samuel Birch "A doctor wears the white coat of healing and under Hippocratic Oath promises to 'do no harm.' But if a doctor is to become the one that not only wears the white coat of life but also the black cloak of death, I believe this would not only vastly change the medical profession itself but the way people view the medical profession," Samuel says. 

Like many others in the medical profession, including the AMA and the South Australian Law Society, Samuel believes if legalised homicide is allowed in one small area, then it will be all too easy for society to decide that the original circumstance should also apply to other similar circumstances. "I believe once we let people determine whether their life is or isn't worth living, from complying with requests for voluntary euthanasia, the medical profession will be asked to start making judgements about Alzheimer's and dementia patients and pretty soon this will include babies with birth defects and on it will go," he says and cites the Remmelink Reports on euthanasia practices in the Netherlands where physician assisted suicide was approved by Parliament in 1984 under strict guidelines, although it wasn't until 2000 that a law was passed to protect physicians from criminal prosecution. 

Go HERE to read the entire article.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

“His suffering love has a creative effect upon me” – Kallistos Ware

Concluding Bishop Kallistos Ware's teaching on the Passion of Christ from The Orthodox Way

Love and hatred are not merely subjective feelings, affecting the inward universe of those who experience them, but they are also objective forces, altering the world outside ourselves. By loving or hating another, I cause the other in some measure to become that which I see in him or her. Not for myself alone, but for the lives of all around me, my love is creative, just as my hatred is destructive. And if this is true of my love, it is true to an incomparably greater extent of Christ's love. 

The victory of his suffering love upon the Cross does not merely set me an example, showing me what I myself may achieve if by my own efforts I imitate him. Much more than this, his suffering love has a creative effect upon me, transforming my own heart and will, releasing me from bondage, making me whole, rendering it possible for me to love in a way that would lie altogether beyond my powers, had I not first been loved by him. Because in love he has identified himself with me, his victory is my victory. And so Christ's death upon the Cross is truly, as the Liturgy of St Basil describes it, a "life-creating death". 

. . . the Crucifixion is to be understood as the supreme and perfect victory, sacrifice and example. And in each case the victory, sacrifice and example is that of suffering love. So we see in the Cross the perfect victory of loving humility over hatred and fear; the perfect sacrifice or voluntary self-offering of loving compassion; the perfect example of love's creative power. In the words of Julian of Norwich: 

"Wouldst thou learn thy Lord's meaning in this thing. Learn it well: Love was his meaning. Who showed it thee? Love. What showed he thee? Love. Wherefore showed it he? For Love. Hold thou therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same. But thou shalt never know nor learn therein other thing without end ... Then said our good Lord Jesus Christ: Art thou well pleased that I suffered for thee? 1 said: Yea, good Lord. I thank thee: Yea, good Lord, blessed mayst thou be. Then said Jesus, our kind Lord: If thou art pleased. I am pleased: it is a joy, a bliss, an endless satisfying to me that ever I suffered Passion for thee; and if l might suffer more, I would suffer more." 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

“God is never so strong as when he is most weak” – Kallistos Ware

Continuing Bishop Kallistos Ware's teaching on the Passion of Christ from The Orthodox Way

St. John introduces his account of the Last Supper and the Passion with these words: "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (13:1). "To the end" - the Greek says eis telos, meaning "'to the last", "to the uttermost". And this word telos is taken up later in the final cry uttered by Christ on the Cross: "It is finished", tetelestai (John 19:30). This is to be understood, not as a cry of resignation or despair, but as a cry of victory: It is completed, it is accomplished, it is fulfilled. What has been fulfilled? 

We reply: The work of suffering love, the victory of love over hatred. Christ our God has loved his own to the uttermost. Because of love he created the world, because of love he was born into this world as a man, because of love he took up our broken humanity into himself and made it his own. Because of love he identified himself with all our distress. Because of love he offered himself as a sacrifice, choosing at Gethsemane to go voluntarily to his Passion: "I lay down my life for my sheep ... No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:15,18). It was willing love, not exterior compulsion, that brought Jesus to his death. At his Agony in the garden and at his Crucifixion the forces of darkness assaiI him with all their violence, but they cannot change his compassion into hatred; they cannot prevent his love from continuing to be itself. His love is tested to the furthest point, but it is not overwhelmed. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not swallowed it up" (John 1:5). To Christ's victory upon the Cross we may apply the words spoken by a Russian priest on his release from prison camp: “Suffering has destroyed all things. One thing alone has stood firm - it is love”. 

The Cross, understood as victory, sets before us the paradox of love's omnipotence. Dostoevsky comes near to the true meaning of Christ's victory in some statements which he puts into the mouth of Starets Zosima

“At some thoughts a man stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and he wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide: "I will combat it by humble love." If you resolve on that once for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.” 

Loving humility is a terrible force: whenever we give up anything or suffer anything, not with a sense of rebellious bitterness, but willingly and out of love, this makes us not weaker but stronger. So it is, above all, in the case of Jesus Christ. "His weakness was of strength", says St Augustine. The power of God is shown, not so much in his creation of the world or in any of his miracles, but rather in the fact that out of love God has “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7), has poured himself out in generous self-giving, by his own free choice consenting to suffer and to die. And this self-emptying is a self-fulfillment: kenosis is plerosis. God is never so strong as when he is most weak.

Jesus “descended into the depths of the absence of God.” – Kallistos Ware

I have a handful of books for lending to those we call “serious seekers”. Some of these books are philosophical, some historical, and some brazenly evangelistic. Very often I have encouraged people to work their way through The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware (1979). Written from an Orthodox perspective, it tends to relate the Gospel and the Faith in a “holistic” way, speaking to the cry of the heart as much as to the enquiry of the mind. Over the next couple of days I will be sharing from Ware’s book some paragraphs on the meaning of the Lord's Passion. 

"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4) - all our griefs, all our sorrows. "The unissued is unhealed": but Christ our healer has assumed into himself everything, even death. 

Death has both a physical and a spiritual aspect, and of the two it is the spiritual that is the more terrible. Physical death is the separation of man's body from his soul; spiritual death, the separation of man's soul from God. When we say that Christ became "obedient unto death" (Phil. 2.8), we are not to limit these words to physical death alone. We should not think only of the bodily sufferings which Christ endured at his Passion - the scourging, the stumbling beneath the weight of the Cross, the nails, the thirst and heat, the torment of hanging stretched on the wood. The true meaning of the Passion is found, not in this only, but much more in his spiritual sufferings - in his sense of failure, isolation and utter loneliness, in the pain of love offered but rejected. 

The Gospels are understandably reticent in speaking about his inward suffering, yet they provide us with certain glimpses. First, there is Christ's Agony in the garden of Gethsemane, when he is overwhelmed by horror and dismay, when he prays in anguish to his Father, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from me" (Matt. 26:39), and when his sweat falls to the ground "like great drops of blood" (Luke 22:44). Gethsemane, as Metropolitan Antony of Kiev insisted, provides the key to our whole doctrine of the Atonement. Christ is here confronted by a choice. Under no compulsion to die, freely he chooses to do so; and by this act of voluntary self-offering he turns what would have been a piece of arbitrary violence, a judicial murder, into a redemptive sacrifice. But this act of free choice is immensely difficult. Resolving to go forward to arrest and crucifixion, Jesus experiences, in the words of William Law, "the anguishing terrors of a lost soul...the reality of eternal death". Full weight must be given to Christ's words at Gethsemane. "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death" (Matt. 26:38). Jesus enters at this moment totally into the experience of spiritual death. He is at this moment identifying himself with all the despair and mental pain of humanity; and this identification is far more important to us than his participation in our physical pain.  

A second glimpse is given us at the Crucifixion, when Christ cries out with a loud voice, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?," (Matt. 27:46). Once again, full weight should be given to these words. Here is the extreme point of Christ's desolation when he feels abandoned not only by men but by God. We cannot begin to explain how it is possible for one who is himself the living God to lose awareness of the divine presence. But this at least is evident. In Christ's Passion there is no play-acting, nothing is done for outward show. Each word from the Cross means what it says. And if the cry "My God, my God..." is to signify anything at all, it must mean that at this moment Jesus is truly experiencing the spiritual death of separation from God. Not only does he shed his blood for us, but for our sakes he accepts even the loss of God. 

"He descended into hell" (Apostles' Creed). Does this mean merely that Christ went to preach to the departed spirits during the interval between Great Friday evening and Easter morning (see 1 Pet. 3:19)? Surely it has also a deeper sense. Hell is a point not in space but in the soul. It is the place where God is not. (And yet God is everywhere!) If Christ truly “descended into hell", that means he descended into the depths of the absence of God. Totally, unreservedly, he identifies himself with all man's anguish and alienation. He assumed it into himself, and by assuming it he healed it. There was no other way he could heal it, except by making it his own. 

Such is the message of the Cross to each one of us. However far I have to travel through the valley of the shadow of death, I am never alone. I have a companion. And this companion is not only a true man as I am, but also true God from true God. At the moment of Christ's deepest humiliation on the Cross, he is as much the eternal and living God as he is at his Transfiguration in glory upon Mount Tabor. Looking upon Christ crucified, I see not only a suffering man but suffering God.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers

I have already shared HERE, in the context of introducing Margaret Barker's work, the fact that as a young man when friends - both conservative and liberal - were pursuing debates about the Old Testament from a purely historical/critical angle, I embraced essentially a typological approach. I wrote:

"Among my guidebooks back then were the works of Anglican writers Austin Farrer and Gabriel Herbert. Although typology can give rise to unrestrained and subjective allegorisation, I have always thought that a failure to embrace a balanced typological hermeneutic results at best in a sidelining of the Old Testament except as 'historical background', and at worst (as Aidan Nichols pointed out in his book 'Lovely Like Jerusalem') in our becoming modern Marcionites.

"The connection of typology with the development of Christian worship seemed obvious to me as a young man formed by both highly liturgical Anglo-catholicism and those parts of the charismatic renewal emphasizing the worship of the community as somehow part of our 'offering' to the Father through Jesus our great High Priest."

The other consideration for me at the time was the way Scripture was used by the Church Fathers. This is not to say that the period was free of exegetical eccentricity, or that they all agreed with each other! Far from it. But the strong continuities between the Apostolic Age and the early Patristic Age must mean that we ignore the broad approach of the Fathers to our peril, especially when taking into account the interplay of patristic exegesis and the gradual fixing of the limits to the canon of Scripture during the first four centuries of the Christian era.

So, it pleases me to be living at a time when there is a revival of interest in the Fathers' understandings of both the Old and New Testaments, not least among evangelicals and others, including some "post-liberals". One sign of this is the series of "entry level" biblical commentaries which began to be produced in the late 1990s, the ANCIENT CHRISTIAN COMMENTARY ON SCRIPTURE, edited by Thomas Oden and published by InterVarsity Press. Contributing scholars are drawn from right across the Christian spectrum. The IVP website says that "The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture seeks not to replace those excellent commentaries that have been produced in the twentieth century. It supplements them, framing them with interpretive voices that have long sustained the church and only recently have fallen silent. It invites us to listen with appreciative ears and sympathetic minds as our ancient ancestors in the faith describe and interpret the scriptural vistas as they see them."

As a taster, various articles from the series can be read online (go HERE). I share with you today part of the essay The Introduction to Mark, one of the real gems of the series, and I have highlighted what I think is a most important paragraph:

The purpose of exegesis in the patristic period was to seek the truth the Scriptures convey. It was not offered to those who were as yet unready to put it into practice. In these respects modern exegesis is different: It does not always assume the truth of Scripture as divine revelation, and it does not require that readers intend to practice it as a premise of truly hearing it.

Today’s readers should not impose on ancient Christian exegesis modern assumptions about valid reading of Scripture. The ancient writers offer a constant challenge to these silent modern assumptions. If one begins by assuming modern critical methods as normative and judges the ancient writers uncritically by these standards alone, they are always going to come off looking witless or weak, or in some instances comic or quaint or even atrocious, unjust and oppressive.

With few exceptions, the patristic models of exegesis do not conform to common modern assumptions about what a commentary should be. Our contemporary assumptions tend to resist or rule out chains of scriptural reference, which are often demeaned as appalling proof-texting. But in the view of the ancient Christian writers such chains of biblical reference were crucial in thinking about the text in relation to the whole testimony of sacred Scripture. Utilizing the analogy of faith they constantly compared sacred text with sacred text. This ancient procedure is neither fundamentalism nor biblical literalism. It is analogical textual reasoning.

We ought not to force the assumptions of twentieth-century fundamentalism or of nineteenth-century naturalistic reductionism, historicism or egalitarianism on the ancient Christian writers. They knew nothing of these assumptions. Their method was not “fundamentalist,” because they were not reacting against modern naturalistic reductionism. They were constantly protesting a mere literal or plain-sense view of the text, almost always searching for its spiritual and moral meaning. Modern fundamentalism is a defensive movement understandable only within modernity, a movement which indeed often looks far more like modern historicism than ancient typological reasoning. This makes liberal and fundamentalist exegesis much more like each other than either is like that of the ancient Christian writers, because they both appeal to historicist assumptions invented in the Enlightenment, over a thousand years after the last of the ancient commentators had passed away.

Ancient Christian exegetes characteristically weaved many sacred texts together. They seldom limited themselves to comment on a single text, as some modern exegetes insist, but constantly related one text to another by analogy, using typological reasoning, as was so characteristic of the rabbinic midrashim of the same period. While modern exegesis advocates allowing the Hebrew Bible to speak for itself without the intrusion of New Testament assumptions, ancient exegesis constantly delights in viewing Old Testament events and characters as anticipating fulfillment in the New. Hebraic figures and events are often seen from the point of view of their having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The despairing modern attempt to read the New Testament while ruling out the liturgical, evangelical and missional assumptions that prevailed in the ancient community of faith would have seemed a very thin enterprise indeed to those who early shared those assumptions and were willing to die for them. When we today try to make sense of the New Testament while ruling out the plausibility of the Incarnation and resurrection which was held firm by those who wrote it, the effort is too hard and senseless not to be found discouraging. The ancient exegetes proceeded by allowing the texts their own premises.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mary's "YES" and "NO" (Canon Arthur Middleton)

Arthur Middleton who spent 10 years in Sunderland and 24 years as Rector of Boldon is an Emeritus Canon of Durham. He was a Tutor at St Chad's College, and served on the College Council being Acting Principal in 1996-97. He is an Honorary Fellow of St Chad's, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Patron of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. He is on the Church Union Council Standing Committee and Publications Committee. As a prolific writer of books and articles, he has completed three lecture tours in Canada and Australia. I had the privilege of hosting his two visits to Brisbane. He preached this sermon at All Saints' Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, on 9th September, 2001.


Mary is the bearer of the God who comes and is given the name the Theotokos or God-bearer by the Greek theologians of the early Church. In his poem Gabriel to a girl Unwed, the late Anglican priest and theologian Austin Farrer puts Mary's response to Gabriel in these words:

'My only prayer is to be a handmaiden of heaven.'

We remember that it was to this she was born. It was by no means an easy option and started in the unlikeliest of circumstances, by having to accept an unmarried pregnancy. Mary must have talked about this experience with its accompanying thoughts and problems, joys and anxieties. The ponderings of her heart would focus on that bundle of potentiality she carried within, those hidden purposes of God, as she was kicked awake in the early hours, and her morning sickness would not let her forget it. The unmarried Mary would know the tension in relationships with her parents and the gossip of neighbours, as well as the strained relationship with Joseph who didn't know who the father was. Her imminent marriage was threatened with cancellation. This drastic step was only averted when that same Spirit to whom Mary had pledged her obedience, led Joseph to share her understanding and obedience.

From birth Mary must have been overshadowed by an invisible go-between, stalked by the Spirit of God. A moment of recognition and awareness moved her mind and life of Mary in another direction drawing Joseph with her. This is what it means to have your life sealed by the Spirit of God. He it is who really awakens and helps us to see in a way previously unknown. He it is who gives the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and knowledge.


Julian of Norwich speaks of this kind of experience in chapter 5 of her Revelations. She wrote:

'God showed me too the pleasure it gives him when a simple soul comes to him, openly, sincerely, genuinely. It seems to me when I ponder this revelation that when the Holy Spirit touches the soul it longs for God rather like this; "God of your goodness give me yourself for you are sufficient for me. I cannot properly ask anything less, to be worthy of you. If I were to ask less, I should always be in want. In you alone do I have all". '

Previous to this Julian is given a vision of Our Lady, St. Mary, at the moment of the Annunciation, and tells how at once she understood something profound about Mary which had not been so obvious to her before. In this vision Mary appeared in surprising simplicity. She was not the 'queen of heaven', but a simple peasant girl of humble birth. This was the whole point: Mary's greatness lay in her deep humility and her simplicity. In Julian's vision Mary simply said, 'Behold God's handmaid'. Julian goes on to tell us that two other points were being made to her; first, that God (who is almighty, and maker of all that exists) desires to make himself known to simple creatures; secondly, that he can make himself known to us (as he did to Julian) because of his own self-emptiness or humility. The humility of God deliberately chose to be born of a common woman, in divine humility, and because of this there is now a permanent bond between his own being, and humanity. God is one with us. 

Julian learned that God - who is all-powerful - is already with us in this life. Furthermore, she discovered that He, who is all-holy, wants to be known to us in this life in an intimate and personal way, rather than merely through doctrine and rules. She writes in ch. 7:

'For truly it is the greatest joy that could be, as I see it, that he who is highest and mightiest, noblest and worthiest, is also lowest and gentlest, most humble [homely] and courteous. ' 

In other words, God is not only homely and personable but also friendly. The point of this vision, beginning with the image of Mary at the moment she became the Mother of God, was to show that God is both humble and kind; wanting to communicate with his creatures, and also capable of it.


This kind of knowing, a deep interior, intuitive love-knowledge is the fruit of attention, and attention, is not something that can be compelled. It is an involuntary state of mind, a concentrated gaze towards the object of attention. It requires the art, the ability to be still in silence.  One of the most obvious characteristics of Mary is her stillness and silence.  Continue reading . . . 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Called to walk the silent and cold wastelands . . . to pierce the darkness and reach out to those who don’t ‘need’ God . . . Sister Ann Shields

One of the websites I watch is RENEWAL MINISTRIES, featuring - among others - Dr Ralph Martin and Sister Ann Fields OSB, who have been leaders of Charismatic Renewal and the New Evangelisation in the Roman Catholic Church for forty years. There are quite a few devotional articles in the archive of their Newsletters suitable for sharing far and wide. Other resources are available, too, including books, CDs and DVDs.

Here is part of Sister Ann's article in this month's Newsletter: 

This Lent, I believe the Lord is inviting us to prepare ourselves by His grace, to fight the battle and bring souls back to Him. It has always been our call but the steep decline in faith requires that we, who have been given so much in faith, hope and love must, by all the means the Spirit inspires, bring the Gospel anew to a world that is quite literally dying. We need to gird our loins by prayer and fasting to prepare us for the battle ahead. Many have been lost! The tide must be stemmed, the breaches repaired, the thorns and thickets removed from the path, to make a straight way for the Lord.

God has taught us much about evangelising and we have done much, but this is a new time. Many who formerly followed the Lord, or are members of faith-filled families of generations past, have now drifted away or turned their backs on Him. 

Only a very humble submission on our part will make it possible. We need new power, wisdom, and courage for this battle. We have brought the Gospel to many mission lands and seen the joy and new life, but now we are called to walk in the silent and cold wastelands of North America and Western Europe where people have grown fat and complacent on the world’s goods and power. We are now called to pierce the darkness and reach out to those who don’t “need” God anymore. 

In Iowa before Christmas, an accident took place one morning. A father with his three children in the car lost control on an icy curve. The car slammed into the guard rails and flipped over into the river. Within a few minutes, ten men stopped their cars, jumped into the icy water, and together turned the car over. The father and two children were unconscious. A retired police officer ran for his gun in the car and shot out the window. Another man reached in and pulled out a child. Another knew CPR and went to work right away. The man who took out the first child was badly cut on both arms by the broken glass. The father and children were taken by ambulance to the hospital and treated for hypothermia and released a few days later. 

When I read about the accident, I thought of the strength, generosity, and selflessness that inspired those men. Because of their heroism, a whole family was saved. It is a good analogy for what we are being called to do. Many of those to whom the Lord calls us carry the wounds of arrogance and hardness of heart. Many, because of the lack of good catechesis, are simply “clueless” and don’t want to be “bothered” by Christians. Some are close to spiritual death. It is to all of these people that the Lord calls us and if we don’t respond, a Christian civilization could die—to say nothing of each immortal soul. We are called to help rescue them from darkness that they may know the God who truly loves them—the God they seek without knowing. May they find Him through you and may this Lent be a time of spiritual training for the battle for lost souls.

Friday, March 23, 2012

God could not stay from redeeming us . . . Jeremy Taylor

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), a priest of the Church of England and a chaplain to King Charles I, is well known for his devotional books, Holy Living and Holy Dying. 

Following the martyrdom of the King, he was imprisoned a number of times. Eventually, he was allowed to live quietly in Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. At the Restoration, he was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland and became vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin. 

In addition to his well-known devotional books, he wrote many other works, among them a revision of church services, including an order for Holy Communion, compiled for his community’s use when the Book of Common Prayer was banned during the Commonwealth. It draws heavily on both Eastern and early Latin liturgies, getting behind medieval emphases, and shows us what they thought was happening in the Eucharist. (Go HERE for one of Taylor's personal communion prayers.)  

This passage from Sermon XXVII: The Miracle Of The Divine Mercy (Part III), typifies Taylor's style, and is a fitting reflection for a Friday in Lent. 

GOD pardoned us before we sinned; and when he foresaw our sin, even mine and yours, he sent his son to die for us; our pardon was wrought and effected by Christ’s death, above sixteen hundred years ago; and for the sins of to-morrow, and the infirmities of the next day, Christ is already dead, already risen from the dead, and does now make intercession and atonement. 

And this is not only a favour to us who were born in the due time of the gospel, but to all mankind since Adam: for God, who is infinitely patient in his justice, was not at all patient in his mercy; he forbears to strike and punish us, but he would not forbear to provide cure for us and remedy. 

For, as if God could not stay from redeeming us, he promised the Redeemer to Adam in the beginning of the world’s sin; and Christ was the lamb slain from the beginning of the world; and the covenant of the gospel, though it was not made with man, yet it was from the beginning performed by God as to his part, as to the ministration of pardon; the seed of the woman was set up against the dragon as soon as ever the tempter had won his first battle: and though God laid his hand, and drew a veil of types and secrecy before the manifestation of his mercies; yet he did the work of redemption, and saved us by the covenant of faith, and the righteousness of believing, and the mercies of repentance, the graces of pardon, and the blood of the slain lamb, even from the fall of Adam to this very day, and will do till Christ’s second coming.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Noah and the flood . . . more from Alice Linsley

Professor Alice Linsley continues her series "Questions that High Schoolers Ask about Genesis". She turns her attention to Noah and the flood.

Was the flood global or regional?

Did Noah literally put two of every species on the Ark?

How did Noah built the Ark? Did he have help?

Go HERE for her answers to these and other questions:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fr Cantalamessa on St Gregory of Nazianzen

Here is the second of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa’s 2012 Lenten homilies, preached before the Papal Household last Friday. 

Not too many years ago, there were theological proposals that, despite the profound differences between them, had a common scheme as background, sometimes clear, sometimes implicit. The scheme is extremely simple because it is reductive. The two greatest mysteries of our faith are the Trinity and the Incarnation: God is One and Triune; Jesus Christ is God and man. In the proposals I referred to, this nucleus was articulated thus: God is one, and Jesus Christ is man: the divinity of Christ collapses and with it, the Trinity. 

The result of this process is that one ends by accepting tacitly and hypocritically the existence of two faiths, and two different Christianities, which have nothing in common except the name: the Christianity of the Creed of the Church, of joint ecumenical declarations in which, with the words of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan symbol, one continues to profess faith in the Trinity and in the full divinity of Christ, and the Christianity of a wide strata of culture, also exegetic and theological, in which these same truths are ignored or interpreted in a wholly different way. 

In such a climate, how opportune it is to revisit the Fathers of the Church, not only to know the content of the dogma in its nascent state, but even more so to rediscover the vital unity between professed faith and lived faith, between the “thing” and its “enunciation.” For the Fathers, the Trinity and the unity of God, the duality of the natures and the unity of the person of Christ were not truths to be decided at table or discussed in books in dialogue with other books; they were vital realities. Paraphrasing a phrase that circulates in sports environments, we can say that such truths were not questions of life or death for them, they were much more! 

1. Gregory of Nazianzen, Singer of the Trinity 

The giant on whose shoulders we wish to climb today is Saint Gregory of Nazianzen; the horizon we wish to scrutinize with him is the Trinity. His is the grandiose picture that shows the unfolding of the revelation of the Trinity in the history and the pedagogy of God who reveals itself in it. The Old Testament, he writes, proclaims openly the existence of the Father and begins to proclaim, in a veiled manner, that of the Son. The New Testament proclaims the Son openly and begins to reveal the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Now, in the Church, the Spirit grants us distinctly his manifestation and the glory of the Blessed Trinity is confessed. God has measured out his manifestation, adapting it to the times and the receptive capacity of men. 

This threefold division has nothing to do with the thesis, known under the name of Gioacchino da Fiore, of the three different periods: that of the Father, in the Old Testament, that of the Son in the New and that of the Spirit in the Church. Saint Gregory’s distinction refers to the order of the manifestation, not of the being or acting of the Three Persons, who are present and act together throughout the span of time. 

In the Tradition, Saint Gregory of Nazianzen has received the appellative “the Theologian” (ho Theologos), precisely because of his contribution to the clarification of the Trinitarian dogma. His merit is to have given Trinitarian orthodoxy its perfect formulation, with phrases destined to become common patrimony of theology. The pseudo-Athanasian symbol “Quicumque,” composed about a century later, owes not a little to Gregory of Nazianzen. Here are some of his crystalline formulas: “He was, and was, and was: but was only one.

"He was light and light and light: but only one light.    Continue reading . . .

Anglican Bishop of Egypt (Dr Mouneer Anis) pays tribute to Pope Shenouda

His Holiness, Pope Shenouda III, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, 
with the Rt. Rev'd. Mouneer Anis, Bishop of the Episcopal/ Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa

This is the statement released by Bishop Mouneer Anis on Sunday: 

Together with all Egyptians, the Episcopal / Anglican Church of Egypt mourns the loss of Pope Shenouda III, the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Pope Shenouda passed away yesterday (Saturday 17 March) at the age of 89 and 41 years after his enthronement as the 117th Patriarch of Alexandria. Pope Shenouda was a great example of a Bishop who is committed to teaching his people regularly. Every Wednesday for the last 41 years, he met with his people (between 5000 and 6000 each week) to answer their questions and teach from the Bible. He wrote many books, which were translated into several languages. 

Pope Shenouda had a great missionary vision. He consecrated two missionary bishops in Africa, and he planted churches and monasteries in all of the continents of the world. He gave special care to all of the Copts in the diaspora. Pope Shenouda had a warm heart for ministry to the poor. He had a special meeting with them every Thursday, where he supported them through funds, counselling and prayer. 

During the time of Pope Shenouda, the Coptic Orthodox church has grown tremendously. He gave special attention to theological education, opening several new seminaries. He also cared for the youth of his church and consecrated two bishops mainly for ministry to youth. 

He was well known for defending the rights of Christians, and because of this he was put under house arrest by President Anwar Sadat. He was released after the death of Sadat. In spite of this he continued to love Egypt and often said, ‘Egypt is not the country in which we live but the country which lives in our hearts.’ 

As Egypt presently goes through many political changes, it is not easy for Egyptian Christians to lose Pope Shenouda, the father of the church in Egypt, at this time of uncertainty about the future. I was not surprised to see hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Cairo yesterday, immediately after the announcement of the passing away of the beloved Pope, who was such an important symbol for the nation. 

Our relationship to the Coptic Orthodox Church is the strongest among the different denominations in Egypt. Several times he mentioned to me how much he appreciated the fact that he started his career as a teacher of English in our Anglican School in Cairo. 

Pope Shenouda was a continuous encouragement to me personally and to our church. He always sent representatives to our events and celebrations. At our nomination he received an honorary doctoral degree at a great celebration from Nashotah House in Wisconsin, USA. Pope Shenouda will be greatly missed, but he will always be remembered as a great leader, teacher, partner and bishop. 

In our churches we have prayed for the Coptic Orthodox Church and we have thanked God for Pope Shenouda, his life and his ministry in the assurance that he now celebrates eternal life with his Lord Christ. During his life he often told audiences ‘rabbina mawguud’, God is present in our midst. He now experiences this to the fullest possible extent!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Living Water

Throughout the Scriptures, water is a very powerful symbol. Sometimes it is a sign of death and destruction such as in the Great Flood (Genesis 6:5 – 10:32) or when the chariots and horses of the persecuting Egyptians were drowned. (Exodus 14:22-31)

Often, however, water symbolises life as we see with the Israelites Meribah in the desert (Numbers 20:1-12) and the writings of the prophets. We are reminded of this at baptisms, because the prayer for blessing the water calls to mind all the ways throughout the Bible that God used water to give life to his people.

In the first reading of today's Mass (Ezekiel 47:1-12, we see the vision of a river that that starts modestly as it flows out from under temple, but eventually becomes a great surging torrent torrent flowing down the valley into the desert, bringing new life and healing.

In St John's Gospel the theme of Jesus as the giver of living water is very important, and we are to keep in mind the Old Testament picture of a flood of healing grace as we study that Gospel's portrait of Jesus. The pool of Bethesda is a place of healing and cleansing. But lying by this pool is a man who has been sick for 38 years. Jesus asks why the man hadn't reached the healing waters, and the man explains, “I have no one to put me into the pool”.

So Jesus heals him, showing himself to be the fulfilment of the healing waters and the one to whom these Old Testament signs pointed.

The early Church Fathers saw in this a prefiguring of Christian Baptism, when in the water of rebirth Jesus gives us new life.

Here is a very short but powerful homily from Metropolitan Anthony, who gives the account his own distinctive application:

We have heard today in the Gospel of a man who for thirty eight years had laid paralysed. The only thing that separated him from healing was the possibility to reach the waters, which the angel brought into motion once a year. Thirty eight years had he attempted to move towards healing but someone else has been quicker than he and stolen healing from him. How many are there now in the world, how many have been and will be in this world of ours who need healing, who are paralysed by fear, paralysed by all that prevents us from moving with boldness and purpose towards fullness of life? How many? And who are those who will take them and help them to receive healing instead of seeking it for themselves? Let us look at ourselves, not at each other but ourselves. What have we learnt from the Gospel?

Christ says that no-one has true love who is not prepared to give his life for his neighbour, and the neighbour, as it is quite clear also from the Gospel, is not the one whom we like, whom we love, who is close to us, it is whoever needs us. Ask yourself this question. There are number of people around you who would believe, who would gladly start a new life, who would bless you and God for giving them courage to move not physical but spiritual limbs that are tied. And let us ask ourselves, what do we do, what have we done, what are we capable of doing to help them? The waters of Siloam are an image of God, of His healing power. When God comes close, when we become aware that He is there, near, do we look around to see who needs Him more than we do? No. We rush forward, we want to be those who will sit at His feet, we are those who wish to touch the hem of His garment and be healed, we are those - and this is even worse, - we are those who wish to be seen as His disciples and companions so that people may look at us and wonder, admire us, at times almost worship us, the companions of Jesus, the friends of God become man. Who of us is prepared to step aside, to become inconspicuous, or rather to help another to step forward instead of us when we know that we will be the losers in a way, - in a way only because if we do this, we will have lost what is thought we coveted but we will have become disciples of Christ who gave His life that others may live.

Let us reflect on the story. It is not simply an old story about things that happened about two thousand years ago, it is something that is happening every day and we are those who rush forward and prevent others from merging themselves into the healing waters of Siloam. Let us listen to St. John the Divine, the teacher of true love, let us be ready to sacrifice all we long for, all we desire for someone else to have it, to be given it by God, let us be prepared to pay the price of other people’s finding freedom, life on all levels, even on the simplest level of food and shelter and the warmth of an attentive gaze or a loving, sober word. Let us become free of selves, and then how many will be saved, saved from hunger, from homelessness, saved from the dominion of others, saved from all that is fetters and imprisonment of life. Let us become what Christ was - the One that sets free in the name of truth and of life. Amen.

(Go HERE for more of Metropolitan Anthony's homilies)

The Bethesda Pool, where Jesus heals the paralytic man in the Gospel of John, is today a complex site. It appears to have been a mikveh, or ritual bath. It was built over in subsequent periods with chapels and churches that are still visible today.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St Joseph and that great Holy Saturday reunion

What could be more appropriate for St Joseph's day than this poem, "Limbo", by Sister Mary Ada, from THE MARY BOOK, a collection edited by F.J. Sheed. The book is available HERE

The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.” 

A murmurous excitement stirred
All souls.
They wondered if they dreamed –
 Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses, standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed
Or apple trees
All blossom-boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.

And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that He wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung
None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song,
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue –
 Not any other.
Close to His heart
When the embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is Your Mother,
How is Your Mother, Son?”

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, announces resignation to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge

A variety of news reports:

The Daily Telegraph 
BBC News 
Daily Mail 
Church Times 
The Guardian 
Christianity Today 
Catholic Online 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pope Shenouda dies

Breaking News from Reuters, Africa:

CAIRO, March 17 (Reuters) - Egyptian Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III, 88, died in Egypt on Saturday, his political adviser Hany Aziz told Reuters.

"He died from complications in health and from old age," Aziz said. He had recently returned from abroad where he had been seeking treatment for his health. (Reporting by Patrick Werr)

© Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved

May he rest in peace.

We pray for our Coptic brothers and sisters around the world, especially for all those in Egypt and other places who suffer greatly for the Faith.


Go HERE to my post on Pope Shenouda.

A number of Pope Shenouda's devotional writings are available online in English translation. Go HERE to read his booklet THE LIFE OF FAITH.

And here he is teaching about the resurrection of Jesus:

God really does love us (a homily on today's Gospel from the late Bishop Joe Grech)

Fifteen months ago, the death occurred of the Most Rev'd Joe Grech, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst in rural Victoria, Australia. He was a Spirit-filled preacher of the Gospel and a real pastor to his people, especially the young. Go HERE to find out more about him. 

What follows is his homily for this Fourth Sunday of Lent, preached back in 2009. It is from the Diocese of Sandhurst website.

About two weeks ago I had a very difficult funeral. A young man, thirty seven years of age died as a consequence of a suspected suicide. He left behind a wife and a beautiful eight year old daughter. As I was facing the large congregation I kept saying to myself “What can I say to these people today?” From a human point of view there was nothing good about what had occurred. People were stunned and perplexed. I am sure that many, especially those closest to him could not understand why this thing had to happen. I am sure that they had many questions lurking in their minds for which answers were very difficult to find. Definitely my intention was not to judge but somehow to read that situation from a very different angle, the angle of faith. 

As I was thinking this way, the words that Jesus said to Nicodemus in today’s gospel suddenly flashed in my mind. “Yes God loved the world so much that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not be lost but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Yes, it was a tragedy. Yes it would have been better if that young man was still alive. Yes it would have been great for his wife and child to keep enjoying the company and the presence of a husband and a father. Yet the reality was different. However, even though what happened was tragic, God because of his amazing care and affection, was still saying to that young man and to all of us “Hey not all is lost. I still care. Irrespective of whatever happened this is still my beloved son. I care about him. Trust me”. Our God indeed can turn what seems to be tragedies into triumphs. 

There is another addition to this situation. When I was sharing these thoughts with those present, I also challenged myself and everybody present to think about where our life is going. Whether we are walking close with our God or whether God is distant. I asked everyone including myself to make a decision while we still can reason a bit clearly to draw closer to our God because after all, at the end of our lives what matters is our relationship with Jesus Christ who is passionately in love with us. I am still today receiving emails from those who were present at this funeral sharing about their life situations and asking how they can move into a closer relationship with our God. Yes indeed many were touched that day by the mercy and the constant love of our God. 

True, sometimes we are caught in a situation of darkness. It is very difficult at times to break from our own circles of sadness and difficulties on our own. We long for the light to live in peace and tranquillity yet we very often find ourselves caught in situations where we cannot even see the possibility of how we can move forward. This is where Jesus comes in. 

There is a reading from the gospel of St John that we often hear proclaimed during funerals. “There are many rooms in my Father’s house; if there were not, I would have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too” (Jn 14:2-3). I have often stopped and reflected where is the Father’s house which Jesus was referring too? Yes we have always been told that this refers to heaven. That is correct. However, there is also another place where we can find the Father’s house and that is in our hearts. We believe that the life giving presence of our God is also found in our hearts because of our baptism and confirmation. 

In our hearts, there are indeed many rooms. We are happy with many of these rooms. We do not find it difficult to enter some of these rooms. We feel at home. The doors are wide open, the blinds are up, the windows are open and we feel quite contented in these rooms. 

However, there are other rooms in our hearts where the doors are closed; where we are very uncomfortable as we approach these rooms. The doors to these rooms are locked very tightly. The blinds are down, the windows are closed and darkness pervades. At times we pretend that these rooms do not exist. However, it only takes a simple incident, or meeting with someone whom we have not seen for a long time or a word that someone says to us to make us realise very vividly that these closed rooms are very much real. 

What are we going to do? Once again this is where Jesus comes in. “Jesus here I am. You know the situation that I am in. I cannot continue to live in the midst of these locked rooms because I need to live in peace and tranquillity. So Lord take my hand and you help me to put my hand on the door handle and you help me turn that handle and you help me open these doors. I cannot do it on my own. Help me to put on the lights. Help me to draw these blinds up. Help me top open the windows, help me to let the fresh air in. Help me to overcome my fear. Help me to be at peace in whatever situation I find myself in because I know that you are always with me”. 

Even if our faith is very small and minute it does not matter. Let us use whatever faith we possess and it will grow. The real tragedy is not that we have to face at times difficult and agonizing moments in our lives. The tragedy is when we think or when we decide that we can face these situations on our own. With Jesus there is always a way forward. Thank God for our faith. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

High School kids, God and Genesis

In terms of tertiary studies, I learned Old Testament from "extreme liberals" as well as "moderate conservatives." Then for years I felt satisfied that, although by no means a specialist, I had worked out a sensible approach to the Old Testament that was authentically Christian while avoiding the pitfalls of fundamentalism, marcionism and liberalism . . . especially with regard to the Book of Genesis. 

That was until I found Alice Linsley's work. 

One of my favourite blogs is JUST GENESIS which combines her biblical, historical, theological, cultural, historical, anthropological and archeological research, and takes the reader into fascinating areas which really do make sense (and have caused me to change quite a number of my previously held views!). 

Recently Professor Linsley has been writing about the "first people at genetic centre", showing how the truth of Scripture is currently being confirmed by modern genetic and linguistic studies. 
HERE Professor Linsley explains the reasons for renouncing her ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church, and traces her journey from that church to Eastern Orthodoxy. 

She collected a range of Australian fans as a result of having been one of the keynote speakers at the 2009 National Conference of Forward in Faith Australia Inc. 

Alice C. Linsley is Adjunct Professor of Ethics, Philosophy, and World Religions at Midway College, Midway Kentucky. She has degrees from the University of Bridgeport, CT, The Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and has done post-graduate work at the University of the South, TN, in Bible and Liturgics, and the University of Kentucky in Curriculum Design. She has had wide experience of teaching creative writing in both English and Spanish languages. Following ordination in 1988 in the Episcopal Church, she served parishes in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky from 1988 to 1996. 

Why not go to JUST GENESIS and have a browse! Check out the topic list. You will be amazed. In fact, as a sampler, read her last two posts which are a summary of her responses to questions asked by high school kids: 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bishop John Kudo Yoshio (1901-1996) A humble servant of the Lord

I have been sorting through some old photographs and came across this one taken nearly thirty years ago when I was Rector of Skipton in the Diocese of Ballarat. It is of the sanctuary party and singers just after Sunday Mass. 

The adjacent parish to the south of Skipton is Camperdown where, just a couple of years before, Father Michael King had established the Benedictine Monastery of St Mark, bringing his little community from the inner city of Melbourne. My parish and I had quite a bit to do with the Benedictines, and that is how I got to know a wonderful servant of the Lord, Bishop John Kudo (mitred in the photograph). 

Bishop Kudo, already in his eighties when I first met him, was an Oblate of Nashdom Abbey in England, and he had taken to visiting the Camperdown Benedictines. He was the real deal, or as we say in Australia, a “fair dinkum Anglo-Catholic.” Twice he spent time with me in my parish, and the people loved him. I recall one Sunday afternoon saying that I wanted to dash around to a party where a couple were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. “Better have a bishop”, he said to me, and asked if he could come. He didn’t disappoint! After a drink and some socialising, I suggested that we pause for prayer and ask “our friend the Bishop” to bless the couple in Japanese! He did so, with the couple kneeling before him, and receiving the laying on of his hands. Bishop Kudo stole the show. He was, in fact, not in the best of health, and the people were amazed that he would want to come with me to drop in on them! 

From its beginning the Anglican Church in Korea was well and truly in the Catholic tradition. It included Japanese families as well as Koreans, so it was significant that Bishop Mark Trollope sent the Japanese John Kudo and the Korean Paul Kim to study theology at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, U.K., and ordained them deacons in Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell (London) in 1930. 

The Bishop and two deacons returned to Korea together by sea, but the Bishop died in Kobe harbour when the Japanese ship in which they were travelling was rammed by another vessel. So it fell to the two deacons, and more particularly John Kudo, who as a Japanese, related more easily to the administration of the country, to accompany the Bishop's corpse to Seoul. Ordination as priests, in separate Japanese and Korean services, followed in September 1932, after Bishop Cooper had been enthroned. 

It was 1941 when Bishop Cooper had to leave Korea on account of World War II. Father Kudo was left as Vicar-General of the diocese. Bishop Yashiro of Kobe visited Korea for the Japanese Church as well as in connection with the Japanese Army. Seeing the situation he reported to the Japanese bishops and they consecrated John Kudo a bishop in the Church of God on 1 March 1942. Strictly speaking, this was uncanonical and Bishop Kudo was never legally appointed as a bishop of the Korean Church, but at great personal sacrifice and under the most difficult wartime conditions he held it together and protected it for the next three-and-a-half years. 

When the war ended in 1945, Bishop Kudo had to leave Korea for Japan with all other Japanese civilians - symbols of shameful defeat to their countrymen, and stripped of all their earthly goods. In addition, at that time the Anglican Church in Japan was extremely unsympathetic to Anglo-Catholics. So, with his perfect Oxford English, Bishop Kudo got a job translating for the International Labour Organisation (ILO), while working as an unpaid missionary and pastor among tuberculosis patients in a terminal care home. This was a ministry which he created and performed with great devotion, in due course building them a beautiful little church with an atmosphere modelled on the old chapel at Nashdom. Eventually he retired, though he paid many visits to Nashdom. The ex-Korea congregation came to his Mass from all over Tokyo. 

When Bishop Kudo died, aged 96, Richard Rutt, who also served the Korean Church as a priest and bishop, wrote, “His charm and devotion to Christ were extraordinary but his life and ministry were a tale of discouragement and rejection by his Church (because of his Catholic Faith). Friends of Korea should pray for him with gratitude and love.” 

(Paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of this post are a conflation of two short articles by Richard Rutt in different issues of Morning Calm, the newsletter of the Korean Mission Partnership.)