Monday, April 30, 2012

Pope John Paul II on Jesus the Good Shepherd

I share with you today a homily preached by Pope John Paul II at Mass on the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2004, during a liturgy of priestly ordination. He spoke of "the compassionate gaze" of the Good Shepherd; and he reminded the ordinands, "Jesus must always be the centre of your life."  

"The Good Shepherd is risen! He who laid down his life for his sheep... Alleluia" (Communion Antiphon). 

The liturgy today invites us to fix our gaze on Christ the Good Shepherd. Agnus redemit oves, the Easter Sequence sings. "The sheep are ransomed by the Lamb". The Only-Begotten Son of the Father, the Good Shepherd of humanity, died on the Cross and, on the third day, rose from the dead. 

This is the Good News that the Apostles, clothed with power by the Holy Spirit, brought to all the peoples, starting with Jerusalem (cf. Luke 24: 47-49). This is the Good News that continues to ring out at the beginning of the third millennium. The compassionate gaze of Christ, the risen Good Shepherd, is the origin of the gift and mystery of the vocation to pastoral ministry in the Church. 

Dear Deacons who will shortly be ordained priests, your call to the priesthood was born from this same loving gaze. I welcome you with affection and greet you, one by one ... I would like to express my deep gratitude to your families, to the priests who have supervised your formation and the growth of your faith, and to all those who, together with your parish communities and the ecclesial situations to which you belong, have helped you to discover the "gift and mystery" of your vocation and to say "yes" to the Lord's call. 

You are becoming priests at a time when even here in Rome strong cultural trends seem to want to make people forget God, especially young people and families. 

But do not be afraid: God will always be with you! With his help you will be able to find the paths that lead to the heart of every person, and proclaim to all that the Good Shepherd laid down his life for them and wants them to share in his mystery of love and salvation. 

However, to accomplish this very necessary task Jesus must always be the centre of your life, and you must maintain deep union with him through prayer, daily personal meditation, fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours and, above all, the devout daily celebration of the Eucharist. 

If you are filled with God, you will be true apostles of the new evangelization, for no one can give what he does not have in his heart.

Go HERE for the full text.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Our Good Shepherd is risen!

When Jesus says in today's Gospel that we are like sheep he is not paying us a compliment! I grew up in the city, but it wasn’t long into my time in sheep farming areas that I realised just how stupid sheep could be, and how in desperate need of guidance and help they are most of the time. As someone pointed out, you don't go to the circus to see well trained sheep doing complex performances! 

When there is a drought the poor old farmer and his dogs have to go out every day and bring the sheep back to those dams that still have water in them. If the farmer doesn’t do that, his sheep wll eventually end up as parched carcasses, scattered across the property. You see, even though they have all the water they need, all the shade they need, and extra feed brought regularly by the farmer, one of them gets the bright idea that there is a better supply of water somewhere else - better shade, or more feed -, and wanders off ... and the others, in spite of the fact that they are perfectly contented, still automatically – sometimes in single file - follow the first one. For their own good the farmer has to keep bringing them back. 

No wonder Psalm 119:176 says: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” No wonder Isaiah 53: 6 reminds us: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” 

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is gloriously risen! He loves us, he gathers us, he protects us, he feeds us, he guides us, he heals us, and he brings us safely home. 

In his famous sermon on the Good Shepherd, St Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 – 444) says

Jesus . . . “contrasts his own watchfulness and love with their [i.e. the Pharisees’] neglect, and points out that they are without concern for their flock, while he declares that his own care for them reaches to the point where he is prepared to lay down his life for them all. 

“He shows in what manner a shepherd may be proved good; and He teaches that he must be prepared to give up his life fighting in defense of his sheep, which was fulfilled in Christ. For man has departed from the love of God, and fallen into sin, and because of this was, I say, excluded from the divine abode of paradise, and when he was weakened by that disaster, he yielded to the devil tempting him to sin, and death following that sin he became the prey of fierce and ravenous wolves. But after Christ was announced as the True Shepherd of all men, He laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16), fighting for us against that pack of inhuman beasts. He bore the Cross for us, that by His own death he might destroy death. He was condemned for us, that He might deliver all of us from the sentence of punishment: the tyranny of sin being overthrown by our faith: fastening to the Cross the decree that stood against us, as it is written (Colossians 2:14). 

“Therefore as the father of sin had as it were shut up the sheep in hell, giving them to death to feed on, as it is written in the psalms (Ps. Xlviii.16), He died for us as truly Good, and truly our Shepherd, so that the dark shadow of death driven away He might join us to the company of the blessed in heaven; and in exchange for abodes that lie far in the depths of the pit, and in the hidden places of the sea, grant us mansions in His Father’s House above. Because of this he says to us in another place: Fear not, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you a kingdom (Luke 12:32).” (From The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Volume 2 ed M. F. Toal, pages 308-309) 

The word for "good" when used in the expression "Good Shepherd" is not primarily a moral description. It is more like "true", "real" or "authentic." Archbishop William Temple (1881-1944) in his Readings in John's Gospel could even say: 

"The Good Shepherd: The shepherd, the beautiful one. Of course this translation exaggerates. But it is important that the word for 'good' here is one that represents, not the moral rectitude of goodness, nor its austerity, but it's attractiveness. We must not forget that our vocation is so to practise virtue that men are won to it; it is possible to be morally upright repulsively! In the Lord Jesus we see 'the beauty of holiness' (Psalm xcvi,9). He was 'good' in such manner as to draw all men to himself (xii,32). And this beauty of goodness is supremely seen in the act by which he would so draw them, wherein he lays down his life for the sheep."

Friday, April 27, 2012

It was (and still is?) the heretics who will not allow "dialogue of diversity"

Fr Bosco Peters put a lecture on his blog given by Fr John Behr on 23rd March at St Paul University (USA) as part of the annual Augustine College Weston Lecture series. Fr Behr is Dean of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary and a patristics scholar. Here's how Fr Bosco summarizes the lecture: 

"Fr John challenges the pulp and popular positions that early catholicity was monolithic, autocratic, homogeneous; despoiling the liberty, diversity, and fulness of life that Jesus brought. Early catholicity, he expertly explains, was what the word means – catholic: diverse. It was the heretics who could not remain in the dialogue of this diversity, who went and took themselves away to form monochromatic communities where everyone would agree with their particular narrow perspective. 

"Fr John stresses that we cannot access the historical Jesus 'neat' as it were. We always receive him interpreted. And the interpretation focuses around the Scriptures and the Eucharist. 

"Fr John provides refreshing perspectives on much in this lecture, including on what it means for the scriptures to be inspired; that all knowledge, whatever the sphere, ultimately rests on an act of faith; and ultimately provides a moving interpretation of the salvation we have just been celebrating . . ." 

Now this really IS worth watching!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Trusting the man with scars

Father William McKee, C.Ss.R (1920-2009) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Redemptorist order who, after ten years in the Amazon, and twenty years administrative work, devoted the last thirty years of his life reaching out to the lapsed and unevangelised. One of his most popular books is Listen With Your Heart, from which the following meditation comes: 

Once upon a time here was a man, a man with scars. And a girl, a girl with dreams. The man with scars came to the girl with dreams and said to her: I love you. Come away with me. 

The girl with dreams said: I have thought on one such as you. Are you the one for whom I have waited? Are you the one of whom I have dreamed? 

The man with the scars said: I am the one. 

* * * * *

The girl said: I see that you are beautiful. But you have scars. 

The man said: Do not let my scars frighten you. Do not even be frightened when I tell you that if you come away with me you will have scars too. 

The girl said: But I would be frightened. Scars would make me unhappy.

The man said: Not mine. To you they will be bittersweet.

The girl said: I do not know if I love you. 

The man said: Trust me. 

The girl said: I will trust you. I will go with you. 

She went away with him. 

* * * * *

Together they travelled far. 

They walked over hot deserts. They tiptoed over deep oceans. They climbed high mountains and they ranged through verdant valleys. 

Wherever they walked a great lady walked with them. When the girl with dreams stumbled, the great lady took her hand and helped her. 

Yes, together they walked far. 

Mostly they walked with children. They walked in the ringing laughter of the little ones. They walked in their absurd tears. With cautious step, even though they were big, they walked into the tiny hearts of the children. When they walked out they left gifts behind ‑ splendid gifts, beautiful gifts. This made the man with scars and the great lady very happy. It made the girl with dreams happy, too. 

They walked with the sick and the old and the poor and the needy. Indeed, no class or type of people escaped their attention. 

At times the girl with dreams said to the man with scars: I am tired. I will walk no more with you. 

He said to her: We have come far. We have yet far to go. Do not falter now. Clasp my hand more tightly. Close your eyes. Trust me. 

She trusted him, not letting go of his hand. She shut her eyes. Suddenly she was not so tired. Abruptly the road became smoother. And when she opened her eyes she saw his scars upon her. 

He said: Is the pain too great? 

She said: No, not too great. I know now what you meant when you said that they would be bittersweet.

He said: True travellers must learn to bear my scars . . . Let us go on. 

They travelled on. They walked over more hot deserts. Again they tiptoed over deep oceans. They climbed other high mountains and ranged through other verdant valleys. 

* * * * *

One day, someone came up to the girl with dreams and said to her: I want to buy your scars. 

She said: Why do you want to buy them? 

He said: I do not like the man with scars. I do not want anyone to bear them. I want to erase all the scars which he has left around the world. 

She said: I will not sell them. 

He said: I will give you much money. 

She said: That will not do. 

He said: I will give you kingdoms. 

She said: I don’t need other kingdoms. 

He said: What do you want? 

She said: I want only to walk with him. 

* * * * *

She went to the man with scars and put her hand in his and said: I love you. 

He said: You have always loved me even when you were unaware of it. 

They continued their journey. 

* * * * *

Whenever and wherever they found hearts, they stopped and entered. And when they departed, hey left heir gifts behind ‑ splendid gifts, beautiful gifts. 

Some hearts they could not enter. This saddened the girl with dreams. 

The man with scars said to her: be not sad. You can only do so much. 

She said: I want to do more. 

He said: I am happy that you want to do more. 

Then, one great day they came to a milestone. 

He said: Let us pause and rest. 

They rested. 

While they were resting, people arrived. And from the people came a spokesman. 

The spokesman said: You have travelled far. You have come to the milestone. 

The girl with dreams said: yes, I see that we have come a great distance. It does not seem that we have travelled this far. 

The spokesman said: Today is a very great day, and we are pleased that you have come to the milestone. 

She said: I am pleased, too. 

The spokesman said: I want to thank you for having walked so far with him. 

The girl with the dreams said: Do not thank me: Thank him. 

The spokesman said: Did you walk alone with him? 

She said: No, a great lady walked with us. She encouraged me immensely. 

The spokesman said: The man with the scars is a very great man. I am pleased that you have walked with him. 

The girl with dreams said: I am glad that I have walked with him these many years. I hope that many more will walk with him in the future.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Anzac Day: Fr Chris Yates SSC

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, originally commemorated by both countries on 25 April every year to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. It now more broadly commemorates all those who served and died in military operations for their countries. I share with you the Anzac Day Address given at Medowie, NSW, by Fr Chris Yates SSC, Assistant Priest in the Parish of Williamtown, Mallabula & Medowie in the Diocese of Newcastle. (You can visit Fr Chris' blog HERE.) 

Today we gather here as everyday people from our local community remembering other everyday people. There can be a tendency I think to imagine that the men and women of our armed forces who go to war are somehow superhuman or different to us. Well, for those of you here today who have fought in a battle, or lost a comrade or family member, you will know that heroes are everyday ordinary people; every day ordinary people who are placed in extraordinary circumstances. 

The war memorials across the world bear the names of people who loved and were loved; who laughed, cried, worked, rested, bled and died. We must never lose sight of this in an increasingly consumerist world. The lists of names on monuments must never be taken for granted or become just another type of street furniture; to do that would be to lose sight of the sacrifice required when war is declared and fought. It would be to treat the men and women who died, or who received life-changing injuries as mere commodities; collateral damage; an inconvenience of history. 

This is not how God views them or any of us. God values every hair on our head; He never ceases to care for us and never forgets the sacrifices that we make for Him. We are here because we too have this sense of value for life that is part of who we are and how we are created. This nation was formed not on the jotter pads of colonial bureaucrats, but as a result of the commitment to countrymen who died a long way from these shores in Gallipoli. This commitment flows from a sense of connection that we feel to other human beings. It stems from the value that we share for human life and our need to mark its passing with dignity and respect.

Of course, the Church does not mark death as a final moment or end to life. We believe that life is changed, not ended. That in passing to God’s nearer presence we remain alive in a different state of being than those we leave behind. ANZAC Day is then, not simply a day to remember lives lost as important as that is; but also a day when we are drawn to the hope that we can have in the resurrection to eternal life. This is the hope that brings us here; a hope that war would cease; that no more lives would be lost or devastated by it; that we would feel compelled to support one another through difficult and trying times.

We ordinary everyday people of Medowie come closer together by sharing these moments of unity and respect, in this we bring hope to one another and show value for our neighbours. In short, we become a community. May God bless us in this desire to bind together in memory, in hope and as one. Amen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The power of the Lord's Resurrection - Fr Gonville ffrench-Beytagh

St Vedast Foster Lane (just near St Paul's Cathedral, as seen from Paternoster Row

If anybody's life demonstrates the power of the Lord's resurrection in the ebb and flow of our faltering discipleship, it is Father Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991), the anti-apartheid Dean of Johannesburg, who endured a forty day trial and imprisonment.

On his release he went to England where he lived 'in exile', as he saw it. He became well-known for his ministry of spiritual direction which he carried out from St Vedast's Church near St Paul's Cathedral, London. He published numerous books, including Encountering Darkness, an account of his imprisonment, Facing DepressionEncountering LightTree of Glory, and A Glimpse of Glory.

Go HERE for a previous post which quotes at length his teaching about prayer and the Holy Spirit.

Go HERE to Canon Patrick Comerford' blog for the story of Father ffrench-Beytagh's life.  

Here are some extracts from the teaching of Fr Gonville ffrench-Beytagh:

"What distinguishes a Christian from anybody else is not that he goes to church, or that he is good, or that he has been baptized, but that he knows that he, John Smith, is loved and valued at a depth beyond any human imagining and that he desires to respond to that love. He may feel almost filled with hate and lust and envy, but he knows he is loved - the whole of him, not just the 'good' bits - and so he can begin to open himself to God and his fellowmen and allow the power of divine love to flood through him." (From Encountering Light)

"Think of yourself for a moment. There is no one on this earth who is like you. This may be just as well, but it is true. You may have an identical twin who was removed at birth for all you know, but there is not, and cannot ever have been, nor will there ever be, a person who is exactly like you. Even if someone has exactly the same genes and chromosomes, the environment in which he (or she) grew up will have been different and so he will have become a different person. It is not possible for someone else to have the same loves and hates and lusts and fears and anxieties and hopes and desires as you yourself have.

"You are unique, you are yourself and there has never been, or can be, someone who is just like you, or who fills your place in the world. And if religion is, as it claims to be, a personal relationship with God, your relationship with God will be something unique to yourself and him. You can listen to preachers preaching, you can read about religion — and probably ought to do so because we can learn from each other's experience — but in the last resort your religion and your prayer is something of your own self.

"Finally, at the end of your life, you will stand before the judgement seat by yourself. You are responsible for yourself. Many people have contributed towards your goodness and badness. Many of them may well be blamed and have some responsibility for what is in you, but in the last resort, you are you and no one can take your place." (From Encountering Light)

"Consider this world in the present day - the fear, the starvation, the many kinds of distress and our terrifying weakness. Some of the trouble exists because Christians are too damned lazy to pray - I mean that literally. Jesus loves the whole world and our concern should reach out towards the evil and horror of the whole world." (From A Glimpse of Glory)

“Behind the horror of the cross shines the tremendous, transcendent beauty of the God who is present even in the horror.”  (From Tree of Glory )

"[The Church must face things like apartheid] if our faith is to have any reality in world aftairs, and is not itself to be a kind of apartheid . . . a shutting off from the real issues of the twentieth century in a cosy game of liturgical reform where the crucifixion is forgotten and love involves no cost and no sacrifice." (Quoted by William Barclay in 'The Expository Times')

“The pattern of prayer is a looking towards God, a listening for him, a leaning towards him, and a longing for him, until there comes the experience of love." (From A Glimpse of Glory)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why am I seeking Jesus? (Fr Paul Hinnebusch)

Father Paul Hinnebusch, O.P. STM (1917-2002), a was Dominican preacher and prolific author, Bible scholar, and well-loved spiritual director. He was a teacher in the charismatic renewal, and his best selling book, Praise - A Way of Life, has influenced the spiritual growth of many people, at the sae time bridging the gap between liturgical and spontaneous expressions of prayer. Go HERE to the website packed full of his teachings, including homilies for Sunday and weekday Masses. The following is his homily on today's Gospel (John 6:22-29): 

“The crowd” . . . came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” (John 6:24) But they were looking for him for the wrong reasons. Jesus said to them, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” (John 6:26) 

Each one of us needs to ask ourself, “Am I looking for Jesus?” 

“Yes”, you answer. But why am I looking for him? Take the people at Capernaum; am I looking for him as one who will serve my self-centered interests and purposes, one who will fill my belly with food? Or am I looking for him because I have understood the meaning of the signs he worked? 

These signs point to Jesus as the one “on whom the Father, God, has set His seal.” (John 6:27) That is, the miracles he worked have certified him as one authorized and empowered by God. Jesus was fully aware of his authority and power and mission. He declares his authority when he calls himself the one on whom the Father, God, has set his seal. And as we heard in the reading on Friday, as Jesus prepared to feed the five thousand with five loaves, St John, in telling the story says pointedly, “He himself knew what He was going to do.” (John 6:6) 

He is fully aware of exactly what he is authorized by God to do. The sign itself indicates what this is. He says to the crowd, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” You completely missed the meaning of the sign, the feeding of the five thousand. You are looking only for bodily food and the satisfaction of bodily, earthly needs. But I say, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For, on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” (John 6:27) 

The feeding of the five thousand with five loaves, then, is the sign that Jesus is certified by God, authorized and empowered to nourish us for eternal life. In tomorrow’s reading, he will go on to say that he himself is “the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:51) He is the living bread, the life-giving bread, which nourishes us for eternal life; and that eternal life is full communion in God’s own life. 

So I need to ask myself again, “Why am I looking for Jesus?” Am I turning to him as the Servant of my self-centered, earthly purposes? Or am I ardently looking for him as the one who alone can fulfill my deepest, truest need, my need for eternal life, for full communion with God in loving intimacy? 

Are all my daily efforts and labors only for perishable things? Or am I dead serious in cultivating the divine life in my heart? Am I seeking above all else a life of intimate communion with my Lord and God? 

“Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

John Donne on the Resurrection of Jesus

John Donne (c.1572-1631), was born into a Roman Catholic family and educated at Oxford, Cambridge and Lincoln's Inn. He switched to the Church of England around 1594 and aimed at a career in government. He joined with Raleigh and Essex in raids on Cadiz and the Azores, and became private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton. In 1601 he secretly married Anne More, Egerton’s 16-year-old niece, whose father had Donne imprisoned. Then followed years of poverty, debt, illness, and frustration, until, in 1615, he was ordained. 

Donne became well known as a preacher. From 1622 until his death he was Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, London. Huge crowds flocked to hear him, both at the Cathedral and at Paul's Cross, an outdoor pulpit nearby. His style is now outdated, but his readers are still drawn to his published texts, which have as their theme "the paradoxical and complex predicament of man as he both seeks and yet draws away from the inescapable claim of God on him." 

Long before his ordination, and probably beginning with his marriage, Donne’s thoughts turned toward holiness as he saw in his wife Anne a glimpse of the glory of God, and in human love a revelation of God’s love. His metaphysical poetry, for which he is best known today, was mostly written before his ordination, and includes poems both sacred and secular, full of wit, puns, paradoxes, and (often for us) obscure allusions. 

Here is a passage from his sermon on the resurrection of Jesus (published as Sermon XVI), preached at St Paul’s Cathedral in the evening of Easter Day, 1623. (For the convenience of the modern reader, it has been broken into smaller paragraphs): 

Acts Ii. 36. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord, and Christ. 

Now, if the resurrection of this Jesus, have made him, not only Christ, anointed and consecrated in heaven, in his own person, but made him Lord, then he hath subjects, upon whom that dominion, and that power works, and so we have assurance of a resurrection in him too. 

That he is made Lord of us by his resurrection, is rooted in prophecy; It pleased the Lord to bruise him, says the prophet Esay; But he shall see his seed, and he shall prolong his days (Isaiah 53:10); that is, he shall see those that are regenerate in him, live with him, for ever. It is rooted in prophecy, and it spreads forth in the Gospel. To this end, says the apostle, Christ died, and rose, that he might be Lord of the dead, and of the living. 

Now, what kind of Lord, if he had no subjects? Cum videmus caput super aquas (Pope Gregory the Great), when the head is above water, will any imagine the body to be drowned? What a perverse consideration were it, to imagine a live head, and dead members? 

Or, consider our bodies in ourselves, and Our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost; and shall the temples of the Holy Ghost lie for ever, for ever, buried in their rubbish? They shall not; for, the day of judgment, is the day of regeneration (Matthew 19:28), as it is called in the Gospel; Quia caro nostra ita generabitur per incorruptionem, sicut anima per fidem (St Augustine): Because our body shall be regenerated by glory there, as our souls are by faith here. 

Therefore, Tertullian calls the resurrection, Exemplum spei nostra, The original, out of which we copy out our hope; and Clavem sepulchrorum nostrorum, How hard soever my grave be locked, yet with that key, with the application of the resurrection of Christ Jesus, it will open; and they are all names, which express this well, which Tertullian gives Christ, Vadem, obsidem, fidejussorem resurrectionis nostrae, That he is the pledge, the hostage, the surety of our resurrection: so doth that also which is said in the school, Sicut Adam forma morientium, ita Christus forma resurgentium"; Without Adam, there had been no such thing as death, without Christ, no such thing as a resurrection: but ascendit ille effractor, (as the prophet speaks) The breaker is gone up before, and they have passed through the gate (Theophylact), that is, assuredly, infallibly, they shall pass. 

Here is one of Donne’s most famous poems: “Death be not proud”. A “Holy Sonnet”, it was written around 1610 and first published posthumously in 1633: 

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Vladimir Lossky on the resurrection of Christ and cosmic redemption

Vladimir Lossky 1903 – 1958), a great Orthodox theologian, was born in in St Petersburg. He completed his education after the 1917 Revolution in Prague and Paris, and then spent most of his life in exile from Russia in Paris, teaching and writing.

He emphasized theosis (becoming divine) as the main principle of Orthodox Christianity, and is best remembered for his book, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. 

The following homily is taken from the English translation of Lossky's book "Orthodox Theology: An Introduction." 

The Father accepts the Son's sacrifice "by economy" ("po domostroitelstvu"): "man had to be sanctified by God's humanity" (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45, On the Holy Pascha). Kenosis [God's self-limitation, His Divine condescension, especially in taking on human nature in Christ] culminates and ends with Christ's death, to sanctify the entire human condition, including death. Cur Deus homo? Not only because of our sins but also for our sanctification, to introduce all the moments of our fallen life into that true life which never knows death. By Christ's resurrection, the fullness of life is inserted into the dry tree of humanity. 

Christ's work therefore presents a physical, even biological, reality. On the cross, death is swallowed up in life. In Christ, death enters into divinity and there exhausts itself, for "it does not find a place there." Redemption thus signifies a struggle of life against death, and the triumph of life. Christ's humanity constitutes the first fruits of a new creation. Through it a force for life is introduced into the cosmos to resurrect and transfigure it in the final destruction of death. Since the Incarnation and the Resurrection death is enervated, is no longer absolute. Everything converges towards the apokataspasis ton panton, that is to say, towards the complete restoration of all that is destroyed by death, towards the embracing of the whole cosmos by the glory of God become all in all things, without excluding from this fullness the freedom of each person before that full consciousness of his wretchedness which the light divine will communicate to him. And so we must complete the legal image of redemption by a sacrificial image. Redemption is also the sacrifice where Christ, following the Epistle to the Hebrews, appears as the eternal sacrificer, the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek Who finishes in heaven what He began on earth. Death on the cross is the Passover of the New Alliance, fulfilling in one reality all that is symbolized by the Hebrew Passover. For freedom from death and the introduction of human nature into God's Kingdom realize the only true Exodus. This sacrifice, this surrender of will itself to which Adam could not consent, certainly represents an expiation. But above all, it represents a sacrament, sacrament par excellence, the free gift to God, by Christ in His humanity, of the first fruits of creation, the fulfillment of that immense sacramental action, devolving first upon Adam, which the new humanity must complete, the offering of the cosmos as receptacle of grace. The Resurrection operates a change in fallen nature, opens a prodigious possibility: the possibility of sanctifying death itself. Henceforth death is no longer an impasse, but a door into the Kingdom. Grace is given back to us, and if we carry it as "clay vessels," or receptacles still mortal, our fragility will now take on a power which vanquishes death. The peaceful assurance of martyrs, insensible not only to fear but also to physical pain itself, proves that an effective awareness of the Resurrection is henceforth possible to the Christian. 

St. Gregory of Nyssa has well emphasized this sacramental character of the Passion. Christ, he said, did not wait to be forced by Judas's betrayal, the wickedness of the priests, or the people's lack of awareness: "He anticipated this Will of evil, and before being forced, gave Himself freely on the eve of the Passion, Holy Thursday, by giving His flesh and blood." It is the sacrifice of the immolated lamb before the beginning of the world that is so freely fulfilled here. The true Passion begins on Holy Thursday, but in total freedom. 

Soon after came Gethsemane, then the cross. Death on the cross is that of a divine person: submitted to by the humanness of Christ, it is consciously suffered by His eternal hypostasis. And the separation of body and soul, the fundamental aspect of death also breaks in upon the God-man. The soul that descends to Hell remains "enhypostasized" in the Word, and also the body hanging on the cross. Similarly, the human person remains equally present in His body recaptured by the elements, as in His soul. That is why we venerate the relics of the saints. But even more so is this true in the case of Christ, for divinity remains attached both to the body which slumbers the "pure sleep" of Holy Saturday in the sepulchre, and to the victorious soul which batters down the doors of hell How, indeed, could death destroy this person who suffers it in all its tragic estrangement, since this person is divine? That is why the Resurrection is already present in the death of Christ. Life springs from the tomb; it is manifested by death, in the very death of Christ. Human nature triumphs over an anti-natural condition. For it is, in its entirety, gathered up in Christ, "recapitulated" by Him, to adopt the expression of St. Irenaeus. Christ is the Head of the Church, that is to say, of the new humanity in whose heart no sin, no adverse power can henceforth finally separate man from grace. In Christ, a man's life can always begin afresh, however burdened with sin. A man can always surrender his life to Christ, so that He may restore it to him, liberated and whole. And this work of Christ is valid for the entire assemblage of humanity, even beyond the visible limits of the Church. All faith in the triumph of life over death, every presentiment of the Resurrection, are implicit belief in Christ: for only the power of Christ raises, and will raise, the dead. Since the victory of Christ over death, the Resurrection has become universal law for creation; and not only for humanity, but also for the beasts, the plants and the stones, for the whole cosmos in which each one of us is the head. We are baptized in the death of Christ, shrouded in water to rise again with Him. And for the soul lustrated in the baptismal waters of tears, and ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection is not only hope but present reality. The parousia [the Second Coming of Christ - Ed.] begins in the souls of the saints, and St. Simeon the New Theologian can write: "For those who became children of the light and sons of the day to come, for those who always walk in the light, the Day of the Lord will never come, for they are already with God and in God." An infinite ocean of light flows from the risen body of the Lord.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Caryll Houselander on the Risen Christ

It is good to see a new interest in the writings of Caryll Houselander. They are are orthodox and imaginative . . . always giving glory to God, yet at the same time allowing something of the author's eccentricities and humour to reach the reader. Monsignor Ronald Knox said of her, "She seemed to see everything for the first time, and the driest of doctrinal considerations shone out like a restored picture when she had finished with it. 

Born in 1901, Caryll Houselander was one of the twentieth century’s most intriguing spiritual guides. Always eccentric, she was an artist who experienced the “ordinariness” and “transcendence” of Gospel truths simultaneously. A Franciscan tertiary, she overcame an extremely troubled childhood and a bohemian youth in order to embrace a ministry of spiritual motherhood and consecrated life in the world. By today's standards her life was short and personally unfulfilling. She died a tragically unnecessary death in 1954 of breast cancer. 

Here, then, are some great Easter quotes from Caryll Houselander: 

"The news that he was raised from the tomb was entrusted to people who still had tears on their faces. They were to tell it, and the first messenger, known to be an emotional woman who would hardly be credited, was sent to convince the first Pope that Christ had risen. 

[The risen Christ] . . . "walked and talked and ate with men, built a little fire and cooked for them, confronted them and renewed their faith by approaching each one individually. He used the same means as before, words, kindness, going on a journey, setting his pace to the pace of the others . . ." 

"Christ’s risen life shown during the forty days between the resurrection and the ascension is the pattern for our life in him. It is in the risen life that we live: we can accept his passion in our own lives own because he who lives our life in us has ‘overcome the world.’ He has suffered all that we shall ever suffer, he has even died each of our deaths, and he has overcome death. 

“At first sight the most astonishing thing about the risen life is its ordinariness. But that is wholly consistent with Christ’s way. His revelation of himself was always gradual, always told like a secret. Before knowing him as God, he wanted men to know him as themselves, so that they would not be afraid to come close to him. Now he is determined that his incredible experience of having died and come back shall not make a barrier. There must be no sense of the uncanny to awe his apostles. 

“He will not even startle them by letting them realize suddenly, unwarned, that he is there. They must first realize that they are with someone ordinary, and afterwards learn who it is. His greeting is always a reassurance. He is concerned by so human a thing as whether they have something savory to make their dry bread palatable. He lights a fire and cooks a little breakfast for them himself. His way of making his identity known shows how well he knew ‘what was in the heart of man.’ He knew what each individual needed to make their share in the joy of his resurrection possible.” 

“Our bodies play an enormously important role in our life in the Risen Christ. The Incarnation has given a sacramental quality to our flesh and blood, so that we can offer an unceasing prayer of the body that can begin here and never end. This prayer sanctifies not only the suffering of the body but its joys as well. The prayer of the body is preparation for the eternity when our bodies will be glorified as the risen body of Christ is glorified now.” 

in The Risen Christ
 (quoted from Gail Ramshaw in Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary)

“Our life is sacramental. We do not live that peculiar thing one hears so much of, a ‘spiritual life.’ We live a natural and a supernatural life, we live it through the medium of the simplest substances of things. Our Lord gave himself to us through our flesh and blood, we give ourselves back to him through it. The symbols of the gift of his own life are bread, wine, water, and oil. We give our life back to him through the dust he made us out of, through everything we see and touch and taste and hear, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the words we speak, the sleep we sleep. Such are the sacramentals of our love, things ordinary with the ordinariness of the risen Christ. 

“Our apostolic life, and not to be apostolic is not to be Christian, is just as ordinary. Our communion with one another, which is our Christ-giving to one another, is in eating, working, sharing the common sorrows and responsibilities, comforting one another in soul and body, talking to one another.”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fr Schmemann on Easter and the Resurrection

The celebration of Pascha at St Seraphim Cathedral, Dallas, Texas

Father Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) was educated in France before moving to the United States in 1951, where he quickly gained recognition as a dynamic and articulate spokesman for Orthodoxy. He was for many years Dean and Professor of Liturgical Theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York. Through his lectures on college campuses, his regular radio broadcasts to Eastern Europe, and his books, now translated into eleven languages, he brought the Faith to an ever-growing audience. The following paragraphs are from his book Great Lent - Journey to Pascha, published in 1969: 

It is necessary to explain that Easter is much more than one of the feasts, more than a yearly commemoration of a past event? Anyone who has, be it only once, taken part in that night which is “brighter than the day,” who has tasted of that unique joy knows it. But what is that joy about? Why we can sing, as we do, during the Paschal liturgy: “today are all things filled with light, heaven and earth and places under the earth”? In what sense do we celebrate, as we claim we do, “the death of Death, the annihilation of Hell, the beginning of a new life and everlasting . . .”? To all these questions, the answer is: the new life which almost two thousand years ago shone forth from the grave, has been given to us, to all those who believe in Christ. And it was given to us on the day of our Baptism, in which, as St. Paul says, we “were buried with Christ...unto death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead we also may walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Thus, on Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us . . . That is why, at the end of the Paschal Matins, we say: “Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the grave!” 

. . . It is not our daily experience, however, that this faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the “new life” which we received as a gift, and that, in fact, we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no meaning whatsoever for us? . . . We manage to forget even the death and them, all of a sudden, in the midst of our “enjoying life” it comes to us: horrible, inescapable, senseless. We may from time to time acknowledge and confess our various “sins”, yet we cease to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us; Indeed, we live as if he never came. This is the only sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity. 

If we realize this, then we may undrestand what Easter is . . . and understand that the liturgical traditions of the Church, all its cycles and services, exist, first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and return to it . . . It is the worship of the Church that was from the very beginning and still is our entrance into, our communion with, the new life of the Kingdom. It is through her liturgical life that the Church reveals to us something of that which “the ear has not heard, the eye has not seen and what has not yet entered the heart of man but what God has prepared for those who love Him.” And in the center of that liturgical life, as its heart and climax, as the sun whose rays penetrate everywhere, stands Pascha. It is the door opened every year into the splendour of Christ’s Kingdom, the foretaste of the eternal joy that awaits us, the glory of the victory which already, although invisibly, fills the whole creation: “death is no more!”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Armenian Ode for Easter: A bright new flower has appeared this day out of the tomb

The following is an Armenian Ode for Easter and Eastertide. In the Armenian Church the Melody hymns for Easter are the same as for Ordinary Sundays because in the Christian faith Easter is ordinary. And each week is a journey through ordinary time to the garden and the joy of resurrection. It comes from The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, tr. Tiran Abp. Nersoyan, 5th edition (London: St. Sarkis Church, 1984), 141-142 and is quoted in a great book, From Sin, Death and the Devil by Carl E. Braaten, Tito Guroian, Stanley Hauerwas, Robert W. Jenson, Gilbert Heilaender, Richard John Neuhaus and A.N. Williams. 

The voice of good tidings sang to the women.
It sounded like the call of the trumpet: -
"The Crucified whom ye seek is risen!
Fear not but be joyful;
Fulfill what is owed by Eve:
Go to Galilee and see;
And proclaim to the world."

I tell of the voice of the lion
Who roared on the four-winged cross.
On the four-winged cross he roared,
His voice resounded to Hades.

The bird, the bird awoke,
And watching the gentiles,
He called, he called out to the turtle-dove,
To his beloved, nurtured in love.
Love is dawning, love is dawning,
In a stately march it is eagerly rising.
The rising sun, the rising sun -
Such is the name of that daystar.

Mary called to the gardener: -
"Didst thou remove my first born, my love?"
- "That bird is risen, the wakeful being,
Did the Seraph trumpet to the Mother
and to those with her,
- "The Saviour of the world, Christ is risen!
 And he has delivered mankind from death."

A bright new flower has appeared this day
out of the tomb.
Souls have blossomed and are adorned with divers hues,
and have become green with life.
The florescence of divine light has bloomed
in the spiritual spring.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Watch out for substitute Easter messages!

Continuing the dissemination of helpful resources on the Resurrection of Jesus, I share with you today an essay by Dr Robert Munday, Research Professor of Theology and Mission at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, Wisconsin, USA, where he was Dean and President from 2001 to 2011. Dean Munday is known for his commitment to biblical teaching, Spirit-filled ministry, and catholic faith and order within the Anglican tradition. He is an Oblate of St. Benedict’s Abbey, Bartonville, Illinois, and a prolific writer on a variety of subjects and is much sought after as a retreat leader and conference speaker. In his present capacity as Research Professor of Theology and Mission, Dean Munday combines his love for Scripture and the Church’s theological tradition with his passion for Christ’s Great Commission to spread the Gospel through preaching, missions, and evangelism. Dean Munday currently serves as clergy advisor to the Southeastern Wisconsin American Anglican Council (SEWAAC) in its ministry of bringing together Anglicans in the Upper Midwest for worship, fellowship, spiritual growth, evangelism, and church planting. His WEBSITE is well worth watching. 

The Message of Easter 
(Accept no substitutes!) 

Christ is risen from the dead, 
trampling down death by death, 
and on those in the tombs bestowing life! 

These words are what is known in Eastern Orthodoxy as the Paschal Troparion, which announces the Good News of Resurrection, that Christ is risen from the dead and has, by his own death, defeated death and has bestowed life on all who die in Christ. 

Some modern theologians teach that the resurrection of Jesus was spiritual rather than bodily. Some who hold this view maintain that Jesus' human body either vanished or was removed by God, and he reappeared in a spiritual form. 

According to the spiritual resurrection theory, when Christ was laid in the tomb, his physical body did not rise, but only his Spirit. Those who take this view maintain that a spiritual resurrection is a way of reconciling the Bible with science, history, and common experience which say that the dead do not rise.

Others say that it doesn't matter what happened to the body, the important thing is that God sustained Jesus in some way after his death and that this is our hope for life after death. As I have written in a number of places, if all we mean by resurrection is the hope for life after death, we do not need Christianity. Other religions and even the ancient Greek philosophers teach the immortality of the soul.

Still others say that Christ did not rise bodily or even appear to his disciples after his death. The resurrection stories are myths, invented to reflect the esteem in which Jesus was held by his followers. 

But talk of a spiritual resurrection contradicts the plain sense of the biblical accounts that the followers of Jesus did, in fact, find his tomb empty, and this was the first step in their believing that Jesus had risen bodily from the tomb. 

Read the rest HERE.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Jesus' resurrection - some historical thoughts by Bishop Paul Barnett

Paul Barnett, retired Anglican Bishop of North Sydney and well-known historian, is former Head of Robert Menzies College, Macquarie University, Visiting Fellow in Ancient History at Macquarie University; former lecturer at Macquarie University and University of Sydney; Teaching Fellow at Regent College, Vancouver and Moore College, Sydney; visiting lecturer Presbyterian College, Sydney; author of twenty books on the New Testament in its historical setting. He has an MA (hons) from the University of Sydney and a PhD from University of London, both in Ancient History. He served as Rector St Barnabas Broadway (Sydney), and Holy Trinity North Terrace (Adelaide), and was Bishop of North Sydney from 1990 to 2001. The following passage is from his book: Is the New Testament Reliable?: A Look at the Historical Evidence (IVP 1986) Pages 178-179. 

Without the resurrection, Jesus becomes just another prophet whose prophecies came to nothing, another mistaken dreamer, another idealistic reformer. Indeed this is all Jesus was if the resurrection did not take place. 

That Jesus can never be viewed primarily as a teacher of ethics or as a reformer of society is quite clear from Paul’s words, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we [Chrstians] are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). Paul continues immediately, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,” something he and his fellow New Testament writers repeatedly say and universally assume. The resurrection is inextricably part of the fabric of the new Testament: destroy it or remove it and the New testament becomes an unreliable bundle of rags and tatters. 

What I am attempting to establish is that a Jesus who dies (c. 33) as no more than a teacher and reformer would have been as little known, or almost as little known, as ben Kosiba, who died a century later.

Consider some words the apostle Paul wrote to a group of people in far-away Macedonia no more than seventeen years after the execution of Jesus: “You turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he rised from the dead. (I Thess 1:9-10). 

Fundamental to what Paul told the Thessalonians was that Jesus was God’s Son and that God had raised him from the dead. The act of receiving these pieces of information established the Thessalonians as Christian believers. 

The question is: was Paul’s communication to them true or false? If it was false, either Paul was somehow deceived or he was a deliberate deceiver of others. Few people reading Paul would accept the latter view, though the former is certainly possible. To return to the courtroom analogy, Paul is only one of the witnesses – one witness among a dozen or so. If all the witnesses, independently of each other, state that Jesus was the Son of God and that he was raised from the dead, as they do, what then? I can only ask the reader to be a member of the jury and arrive at his own verdict. For my part the evidence is clear and compelling. 

The logic is simple. People became Christians on the basis of information which they were given about Jesus, The only real questions are: was the information true or untrue? Did the information correspond with, and give expression to, reality or not? The information is an effect for which there was a cause, like a ripple caused by a stone thrown into a pond. What caused the effect? Was it the stone thrown into the pond as the bystanders said, or was it something else? Was Jesus in reality the Son of God raised from the dead, as the witnesses said, or were these only words which had no basis in fact? But if what purports to be the cause - the deity and resurrection of Jesus - was not the cause, what was? The writers must all have been either deceived or cold-blooded deceivers. 

Those are the questions which I have turned over and over in my mind and looked at from many different angles. Philosophically and scientifically there are problems with a resurrection, and I feel those as keenly as most. But I cannot escape the historical question. Did the resurrection happen or not? If it happened it happened - and so much the worse for my dogmas. I certainly will not be able to regard Jesus with the indifference with which I might view other historical figures. But at that point the questions about Jesus stop, or at least slow down, and the questions about me begin.