Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Resurrection of Jesus - Some comments of Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936), well-known philosopher, commentator and Christian apologist surmises in The Everlasting Man (1925) how news of the Lord’s resurrection might have been construed as it filtered through to Rome, then the centre of the world:

The members of some Eastern sect or secret society or other seemed to have made a scene somewhere; nobody could imagine why. One incident occurred once or twice again and began to arouse irritation out of proportion to its insignificance. It was not exactly what these provincials said; though of course it sounded queer enough. They seemed to be saying that God was dead and that they themselves had seen him die. This might be one of the many manias produced by the despair of the age; only they did not seem particularly despairing. They seemed quite unnaturally joyful about it, and gave the reason that the death of God had allowed them to eat him and drink his blood. According to other accounts God was not exactly dead after all; there trailed through the bewildered imagination some sort of fantastic procession of the funeral of God, at which the sun turned black, but which ended with the dead omnipotence breaking out of the tomb and rising again like the sun.(pp. 295-6)  

And here, is some real vintage Chesterton! He is writing about Easter Sunday as the first day of the new creation:

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars.  For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human.  The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages.  In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn. (p. 345)

Pope Francis' Easter Day Twitter Message

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Words that every priest needs to hear - Pope Francis preaching at his first Chrism Mass in Rome

All around the world more and more ministry is carried out in churches of ALL traditions in a managerial bureaucratic manner with little sense of the Holy Spirit empowering - anointing - what is done in Jesus' name. For a while welfare programmes and other outreaches to people in need mask the spiritual impoverishment taking place; then a generation later the original motivation of such programmes - to reach out and support people with the love of Jesus - disappears completely, and government funded church welfare organizations become part of the Church's cute strategy to survive as an institution, keeping up appearances and concealing its decline. I have blogged before on these matters. 

Real love for the Lord and real love for people are part of the same reality. Lose that, replace leadership known for that with any other kind, and you end up with brooding, remote, dictatorial, self-serving ecclesiastical bureaucracies that are just as skilled at crushing the spirits of parish clergy and lay ministers in the name of managerial effectiveness as any secular corporation.

That's why I was so blessed to read what Pope Francis preached this morning as Bishop of Rome. It is grounded in Scripture, focused on Jesus, filled with grace, and fired with a passionate concern for real ministry among real people, especially those who are struggling. Pope Francis reminds us why there is a Church. 

I hope you will read Francis' words - especially fellow priests and others in "official" ministry roles from across the Christian traditions. There is so much in what he says to recall us to our first love.

This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination. 

The readings of our Mass speak of God’s “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed… A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (Ps 133:2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe. 

The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs. 

From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter. 

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak. 

We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all. 

A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus. 

Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart. 

Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fr David's Holy Week Invitation

The following is the text of a message we sent out last week to worshipping parishioners as well as enquirers:

This is YOUR invitation to join us for our journey through Holy Week and our celebration of Easter.

Our regular worshippers come from a wide range of backgrounds and age groups. What we have in common is the discovery of God’s love in the ups and downs of everyday life. Joining together at Mass we lift our hearts and voices in praise to the Lord as brothers and sisters together, we gain insights into his ways as the Scriptures are taught, and we draw strength from him for our daily life as we pray and receive Holy Communion.

It is possible that, like many other people, you have a suspicion that there is more to life than what you have so far experienced. You might even be wondering if there is, after all, a spiritual dimension to reality. 

Or you might look back half nostalgically to a time when you were very conscious of God’s presence and love; but your career, your ambitions, or just the stresses of keeping up with modern life, have caused you to drift away.

What better time than Holy Week to think about these things, maybe for the first time, or maybe “dipping your toe back in the water” after years of trying to make it through just in your own strength? What better time to reach out to God? 

You’ll find a real welcome in our services!

There are many ways of looking at what happened when Jesus died on the Cross that first Good Friday. Some speak of the Cross as a demonstration of God’s love, others as a battle in which darkness and evil are conquered, and others, still, as the sacrifice that takes our sins away.

I find it really helpful also to see the Cross as God’s way of sharing with his people - and with the whole of creation - in the anguish and pain we know only too well, not just “helping us through it”, but, even in the midst of it, pouring his love and strength into our lives. One of my favourite writers is the Orthodox spiritual guide, Bishop Kallistos Ware. He puts it like this:

“ . . . there was a Cross in the heart of God before there was one planted outside Jerusalem; and though the Cross of wood has been taken down, the Cross in God’s heart still remains.  It is the Cross of pain and triumph - both together.  And those who can believe this will find that joy is mingled with their cup of bitterness.  They will share on a human level in the divine experience of victorious suffering.”

The Cross is God’s way of loving the world back to himself - transforming it - and that includes you and me.

The services of Holy Week are arranged with music, Bible readings, art, drama and traditional ceremonial so as to draw us deeply into the suffering, dying and rising of Jesus.
We do not pass glibly to the joy of Easter Day without treading the road to Calvary with its pain and sorrow. Our journey is measured and reflective. It changes us. Holy Week is a fresh experience of God’s wonderful transforming love, a deeper knowledge of sins forgiven, and a new grasp of the victory God is trying to win in our lives over sin, evil and hatred.
I know that if you make the most of Holy Week 2013, you will emerge on Easter Day a new person. That is just as true for those who have been through 70 or 80 Holy Weeks as it is for those experiencing Holy Week for the first time.  If you tread the way of the Cross and journey to the Empty Tomb in sincerity of heart and - however falteringly - reach out to God, your relationship with him will be made new.

Sharing in these special services will help you put the world’s problems and tragedies in perspective, and make a little more sense out of your own life. 

See you in church!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Newman on Darwin and evolution

In 1859 Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) published On the Origin of Species, setting out the evidence for his theory of evolution. 

Many thoughtful churchmen of the time saw as little contradiction between “theism” and “evolutionary theory” as Darwin himself did. In fact, Darwin’s complex spiritual journey notwithstanding, he had actually written to John Fordyce in 7th May 1879 that it was “absurd to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist.”

Of course, Darwin’s theories gave rise to much debate in his own time and throughout the twentieth century. Clearly, it is now unremarkable for Christians to accept many of Darwin’s ideas.

It is interesting to note that in 1868 John Henry Newman wrote to a fellow priest regarding evolution. Newman was open to Darwin’s theories, and was not intimidated by modern science. This is what he said: 

“As to the Divine Design, is it not an instance of incomprehensibly and infinitely marvelous Wisdom and Design to have given certain laws to matter millions of ages ago, which have surely and precisely worked out, in the long course of those ages, those effects which He from the first proposed. Mr. Darwin's theory need not then be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill. Perhaps your friend has got a surer clue to guide him than I have, who have never studied the question, and I do not [see] that 'the accidental evolution of organic beings' is inconsistent with divine design – It is accidental to us, not to God.” 

(John Henry Newman, Letter to J. Walker of Scarborough, May 22, 1868, The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973) 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why Cardinal Bergoglio chose the name Francis when he was elected Pope

The following is a video of Pope Francis recounting to the thousands of journalists and camera operators why he chose the name Francis. 

On the day after his election (Thursday 14th), Francis stopped by his hotel to pick up his luggage and pay the bill in person.Then, in his first Mass as Pope (in the Sistine Chapel with the cardinals) he gave a gentle but powerful off-the-cuff homily about the need to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the life-giving Cross central to our lives and ministries. His body language in THIS VIDEO - even to non-Italian speakers - gives something of an indication of his temperament. It is worth watching.

Here is the English translation of what he said:

In these three readings I see that there is something in common: it is movement. In the first reading, movement is the journey [itself]; in the second reading, movement is in the up-building of the Church. In the third, in the Gospel, the movement is in [the act of] profession: walking, building, professing.

Walking: the House of Jacob. “O house of Jacob, Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” This is the first thing God said to Abraham: “Walk in my presence and be blameless.” Walking: our life is a journey and when we stop, there is something wrong. Walking always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness, which God asks of Abraham, in his promise.

Building: to build the Church. There is talk of stones: stones have consistency, but [the stones spoken of are] living stones, stones anointed by the Holy Spirit. Build up the Church, the Bride of Christ, the cornerstone of which is the same Lord. With [every] movement in our lives, let us build!

Third, professing: we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ - I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy -- “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.

Walking, building-constructing, professing: the thing, however, is not so easy, because in walking, in building, in professing, there are sometimes shake-ups - there are movements that are not part of the path: there are movements that pull us back.

This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” 

When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage - the courage - to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.

My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified. So be it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis - PRAY for this humble and Godly man . . .

The white smoke went up tonight, and we have a pope again. The Guardian got in fairly quickly and published What we know about Pope Francis:

• He likes to travel by bus.

• He has lived for more than 50 years with one functioning lung. He had the other removed as a young man because of infection.

• He is the son of an Italian railway worker.

• He trained as a chemist.

• He is the first non-European pope in the modern era.

• He claims that adoption by homosexuals is a form of discrimination against children but believes that condoms “can be permissible” to prevent infection.

• In 2001 he washed and kissed the feet of Aids patients in a hospice.

• He speaks fluent Italian, as well as Spanish and German.

• Until now he has been living in a small flat, eschewing a formal bishop’s residence.

• He told Argentinians not to travel to Rome to celebrate if he was appointed but to give their money to the poor instead.

• He is believed to have been the runner-up in the last papal conclave in 2005.

• He has co-written a book, in Spanish, called Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra (On Heaven and Earth). You can buy it on Kindle.

• Though conservative on church doctrine, he has criticised priests who refuse to baptise babies born to single mothers. 

* * *

These are the first words of the new Pope from the balcony of St Peter’s in the Vatican:

Brothers and sisters good evening. 

You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.

First of all I would like to say a prayer pray for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord will bless him and that our Lady will protect him.

Our Father…

Hail Mary…

Glory to the Father…

And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and the people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with the help of my Cardinal Vicar, may be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.

And now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favour. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence. 

[A period of silence was kept by the crowd.]

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.
Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon... We will see one another soon. 

Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.

Good night and sleep well! 

* * *

The Most Rev’d Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, released this statement on the election of Cardinal Bergoglio: 

We wish Pope Francis every blessing in the enormous responsibilities that he has assumed on behalf of Roman Catholics around the world.

His election is also of great significance to Christians everywhere, not least among Anglicans. We have long since recognized—and often reaffirmed—that our churches hold a special place for one another. I look forward to meeting Pope Francis, and to walking and working together to build on the consistent legacy of our predecessors. May the love of Christ unite us, and intensify our service in a genuine and fruitful ecumenism that can be a blessing for the Body of Christ throughout the world.

Pope Francis is well known as a compassionate pastor of real stature who has served the poor in Latin America, and whose simplicity and holiness of life is remarkable. He is an evangelist, sharing the love of Christ which he himself knows. His choice of the name Francis suggests that he wants to call us all back to the transformation that St Francis knew and brought to the whole of Europe, fired by contemplation and closeness to God.

As I begin tomorrow a prayer pilgrimage toward my own inauguration as Archbishop in Canterbury next Thursday, Pope Francis will be much in my own prayers, as he will be throughout the coming months and years.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hey . . . I'm back!

I know that this blog has gone a bit quiet. There are a few reasons: First, I’ve been extremely busy. Second, it IS Lent, during which it’s not a bad thing to make time for some “godly introspection.” Third, I was astonished at the vitriol of a handful of emails I received regarding Benedict XVI following the posts reflecting on his retirement. I was also scolded by a traditionalist acquaintance in the most ungracious language for being “hopeful” about the new Archbishop of Canterbury!

So, what’s a blogger to do? Well, to start with, to remind you that I personally have suffered a great deal for standing up for what I believe to be true, and my convictions have not changed. But I AM among those who seek a creative way forward in the present difficulties the Church is facing, especially the Anglican part of it. Furthermore, I am not intimidated by vigorous debate. I have friends who do not believe in God. I have friends who would like to believe in God but at this stage can’t. I also have close friends across the Christian traditions (and from other faiths) whose beliefs on some matters are diametrically opposed to mine.

The most vicious emails about Pope Benedict were from "liberal" Anglican readers of the blog. (Actually, it still astounds me that within the Anglican world some - thankfully not all! - of those who proudly wear the label “liberal” continue to do all they can to eliminate those of us whose beliefs about the sacraments and the ministry are what most Christians have taught for nearly two thousand years, and which continue to be taught by most of the Christians in the world today with whom our church is engaged in official ecumenical dialogue.)

In contrast, I want to remind you of something I wrote in a post some months ago. It captures the spirit in which this blog is offered:

If you go back through my blog you will see that while I publish original articles from time to time, I mostly share devotional, spiritual, theological, and historical insights from a wide range of writers and teachers, ancient and modern. You’ll also notice that the blog’s purpose is to build up readers in the Gospel of Jesus and the Faith of the Church, rather than to engage in rancorous argument . . .

I have long believed that the image in Psalm 47 of the river whose streams make glad God’s city can be applied to the various streams of spiritual life and heritage that refresh the Church.

These streams must flow together, each enriching the other, even as we pray and work towards real unity and the evangelisation of the world.

So I will continue to share with you items of interest from Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Charismatics, Evangelicals and many others as well . . . sometimes even from “the liberals” when they say helpful things! The sustained growth of the blog’s readership, together with emails received, vindicates this approach.

“Streams of the River making glad the City of God” says it all, really.

So . . . I have a new article just about ready, and will post it before the day is over. Watch this space! And . . .

“. . . do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, 
in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander 
be put away from you, 
with all malice, 
and be kind to one another, 
forgiving one another, 
as God in Christ forgave you.” 

(Ephesians 4:30-32)