Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pope Francis on the 8th Sacrament . . . the "Sacrament of Pastoral Customs"

One of the great things that Pope Francis demonstrates to the Church and the world is that being theologically orthodox does not mean slamming the Church door in the face of hurting people seeking God, or failing to appreciate “simple” faith. On Saturday morning (yesterday, 25th May, 2013) during his homily at Mass in the Casa Santa Marta, the Pope said that those who approach the Church should find the doors open and not find people who want to control the faith. Here is the Vatican Radio summary of his homily: 

The day’s Gospel tells us that Jesus rebukes the disciples who seek to remove children that people bring to the Lord to bless. “Jesus embraces them, kisses them, touches them, all of them. It tires Jesus and his disciples “want it to stop”. Jesus is indignant: “Jesus got angry, sometimes.” And he says: “Let them come to me, do not hinder them. For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” “The faith of the People of God – observes the Pope - is a simple faith, a faith that is perhaps without much theology, but it has an inward theology that is not wrong, because the Spirit is behind it.” The Pope mentions Vatican I and Vatican II, where it is said that “the holy people of God ... cannot err in matters of belief” (Lumen Gentium). And to explain this theological formulation he adds: “If you want to know who Mary is go to the theologian and he will tell you exactly who Mary is. But if you want to know how to love Mary go to the People of God who teach it better. “The people of God - continued the Pope - “are always asking for something closer to Jesus, they are sometimes a bit ‘insistent in this. But it is the insistence of those who believe.”

“I remember once, coming out of the city of Salta, on the patronal feast, there was a humble lady who asked for a priest’s blessing. The priest said, ‘All right, but you were at the Mass’ and explained the whole theology of blessing in the church. You did well: ‘Ah, thank you father, yes father,’ said the woman. When the priest had gone, the woman turned to another priest: ‘Give me your blessing!’. All these words did not register with her, because she had another necessity: the need to be touched by the Lord. That is the faith that we always look for , this is the faith that brings the Holy Spirit. We must facilitate it, make it grow, help it grow. “

The Pope also mentioned the story of the blind man of Jericho, who was rebuked by the disciples because he cried to the Lord, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“The Gospel says that they didn’t want him to shout, they wanted him not to shout but he wanted to shout more, why? Because he had faith in Jesus! The Holy Spirit had put faith in his heart. And they said, ‘No, you cannot do this! You don’t shout to the Lord. Protocol does not allow it. And ‘the second Person of the Trinity! Look what you do... ‘as if they were saying that, right? “.

And think about the attitude of many Christians: “Think of the good Christians, with good will, we think about the parish secretary, a secretary of the parish ... ‘Good evening, good morning, the two of us - boyfriend and girlfriend - we want to get married’. And instead of saying, ‘That’s great!’. They say, ‘Oh, well, have a seat. If you want the Mass, it costs a lot ...‘ This, instead of receiving a good welcome- It is a good thing to get married! ‘- But instead they get this response:’ Do you have the certificate of baptism, all right ...‘ And they find a closed door. When this Christian and that Christian has the ability to open a door, thanking God for this fact of a new marriage ... We are many times controllers of faith, instead of becoming facilitators of the faith of the people. “

And ‘there is always a temptation - said the Pope - “try and take possession of the Lord.” And he tells another story: “Think about a single mother who goes to church, in the parish and to the secretary she says: ‘I want my child baptized’. And then this Christian, this Christian says: ‘No, you cannot because you’re not married!’. But look, this girl who had the courage to carry her pregnancy and not to return her son to the sender, what is it? A closed door! This is not zeal! It is far from the Lord! It does not open doors! And so when we are on this street, have this attitude, we do not do good to people, the people, the People of God, but Jesus instituted the seven sacraments with this attitude and we are establishing the eighth: the sacrament of pastoral customs! “.

“Jesus is indignant when he sees these things” - said the Pope - because those who suffer are “his faithful people, the people that he loves so much.”

“We think today of Jesus, who always wants us all to be closer to Him, we think of the Holy People of God, a simple people, who want to get closer to Jesus and we think of so many Christians of goodwill who are wrong and that instead of opening a door they close the door of goodwill ... So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open, find the doors open, open to meet this love of Jesus. We ask this grace.“

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

While on the subject of Pope Francis, here is the video of his question and answer session last weekend in which he gives a personal testimony to his experience of the Lord.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

C.S. Lewis on the importance of theology

The study of theology is sometimes regarded as a waste of time. But C.S. Lewis, in this passage from Chapter 23 of his Mere Christianity, discusses the importance of theology and its dimensions. He also helps us to see the futility of gaining theological expertise and not actually setting out on the journey. There are lots of other snippets of wisdom in his throw-away lines: 

In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, `I've no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I'm a religious man too. I know there's a God. I've felt Him out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that's just why I don't believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who's met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal !'

Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God-experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion-all about feeling God in nature, and so on-is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.

In other words, Theology is practical: especially now. In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones - bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties to-day are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected. To believe in the popular religion of modern England is retrogression - like believing the earth is flat.

For when you get down to it, is not the popular idea of Christianity simply this: that Jesus Christ was a great moral teacher and that if only we took His advice we might be able to establish a better social order and avoid another war? Now, mind you, that is quite true. But it tells you much less than the whole truth about Christianity and it has no practical importance at all.

It is quite true that if we took Christ's advice we should soon be living in a happier world. You need not even go as far as Christ. If we did all that Plato or Aristotle or Confucius told us, we should get on a great deal better than we do. And so what: We never have followed the advice of the great teachers. Why are we likely to begin now? Why are we more likely to follow Christ than any of the others? Because He is the best moral teacher? But that makes it even less likely that we shall follow Him. If we cannot take the elementary lessons, is it likely we are going to take the most advanced one? If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.

But as soon as you look at any real Christian writings, you find that they are talking about something quite different from this popular religion. They say that Christ is the Son of God (whatever that means). They say that those who give Him their confidence can also become Sons of God (whatever that means). They say that His death saved us from our sins (whatever that means).

There is no good complaining that these statements are difficult. Christianity claims to be telling us about another world, about something behind the world we can touch and hear and see. You may think the claim false; but if it were true, what it tells us would be bound to be difficult-at least as difficult as modern Physics, and for the same reason.

Now the point in Christianity which gives us the greatest shock is the statement that by attaching ourselves to Christ, we can `become Sons of God'. One asks `Aren't we Sons of God already? Surely the fatherhood of God is one of the main Christian ideas?' Well, in a certain sense, no doubt we are sons of God already. I mean, God has brought us into existence and loves us and looks after us, and in that way is like a father. But when the Bible talks of our `becoming' Sons of God, obviously it must mean something different. And that brings us up against the very centre of Theology.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Scapegoat and the Trinity - Hans Urs von Balthasar

HANS URS VON BALTHASAR (1905-1988) is considered one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. He is not always easy to read. But - like his book “Mysterium Paschale” - the following sermon will give you amazing insights into the redeeming death of Jesus, and its power, love and grace. (If you’re pushed for time, scroll down, and read the last two paragraphs.) This sermon is from the collection “You Crown the Year With Your Goodness : Sermons through the Liturgical Year” published by  Ignatius Press in 1989. (The German original was published in 1982). 


Nearly two thousand years ago a trial took place that resulted in the death of the condemned man. Why is it that, even today, it will not allow mankind to forget about it? Have there not been countless other show trials down the years, particularly in our own time, and should the crying injustice of these trials not stir us up and preoccupy us just as much as that ancient trial at the Passover in Jerusalem? To judge by the constant and even increasing flood of books and discussions about Jesus, however, all the horrors of the extermination camps and the Gulag Archipelago matter less to mankind than the sentencing of this one innocent man whom, according to the Bible, God himself championed and vindicated—as is evident from his Resurrection from the dead.

The question is: Was he the one, great and final scapegoat for mankind? Did mankind load him with all its guilt, and did he, the Lamb of God, carry this guilt away? This is the thesis of a modern ethnologist, René Girard, whose books have attracted much attention in America, France and recently in Germany. According to this view, all human civilization, right from the outset, is constructed on the principle of the scapegoat. That is, men have cunningly invented a way of overcoming their reciprocal aggression and arriving at an at least temporary peace: thus they concentrate this aggression on an almost randomly chosen scapegoat and appoint this scapegoat as the sacrificial victim, in order to pacify an allegedly angry god. According to Girard, however, this divine anger is nothing other than men’s reciprocal rage. This mechanism always needs to be set in motion again after a period of relative peace if world history is to proceed in any half-tolerable way; in this context it reached its absolute peak in the general rejection of Jesus by the gentiles, the Jews and the Christians too: Jesus really did take over and carry away the sins of all that were loaded onto him, in such a way that anyone who believes this can live in peace with his brother from now on.

Girard’s ideas are interesting; they bring the trial of Jesus to life in a new way. But we can still ask why this particular murder, after so many others, should be the conclusive event of world history, the advent of the end time? Men have cast their guilt onto many innocent scapegoats; why did this particular bearer of sins bring about a change in the world as a whole?

For the believer the answer is easy: the crucial thing is not that this is an instance of our wanting to rid ourselves of guilt. Naturally, no one wants to admit guilt. Pilate washes his hands and declares himself guiltless; the Jews hide behind their law, which requires them to condemn a blasphemer; they act in a pious and God-fearing way. Judas himself has remorse for his deed; he brings the blood money back and, when no one will take it from him, throws it at the high priests. No one is prepared to accept responsibility. But precisely by attempting to extricate themselves, they are convinced by God that they are guilty of the death of this innocent man. Ultimately it is not what men do that is the determining factor.

The crucial thing is that there is Someone who is both ready and able to take their guilt upon himself. None of the other scapegoats was able to do this. According to the New Testament understanding, the Son of God became man in order to take this guilt upon himself. He lived with a view to the “hour” that awaited him at the end of his earthly existence, with a view to the terrible baptism with which he would have to be baptized, as he says. This “hour” would see him chained and brought to trial not merely outwardly; it would not only tear his body to pieces with scourges and nail it to the wood but also penetrate into his very soul, his spirit, his most intimate relationship with God, his Father. It would fill everything with desolation and the mortal fear of having been forsaken—as it were, with a totally alien, hostile and deadly poisonous substance that would block his every access to the source from which he lived.

It is in the horror of this darkness, of this emptiness and alienation from God, that the words on the Mount of Olives are spoken: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. “ The cup of which he here speaks is well known in the Old Testament: it is the cup full of God’s anger and wrath, which sinners must drink to the dregs; often it is threatened or forced upon unfaithful Jerusalem or enemy peoples like Babylon. The cry from the Cross is uttered out of the same horror of spiritual blackness, the cry asking why God has forsaken this tortured man. The man who cries out knows only that he is forsaken; in this darkness he no longer knows why. He is not permitted to know why, for the idea that the darkness he is undergoing might be on behalf of others would constitute a certain comfort; it would give him a ray of light. No such comfort can be granted him now, for the issue, in absolute seriousness, is that of purifying the relationship between God and the guilty world.

The man who endures this night is the Innocent One. No one else could effectively undergo it on behalf of others. What ordinary or extraordinary man would even have enough room in himself to accommodate the world’s guilt? Only someone who is a partner of the eternal Father, distinct from him and yet divine, that is, the Son who, man that he is, is also God, can have such capacity within him.

Here we are faced with a bottomless mystery, for in fact there is an immense difference between the generating womb in God the Father and the generated fruit, the Son, although both are one God in the Holy Spirit. Nowadays many theologians say, quite rightly, that it is precisely at the Cross that this difference becomes clearly manifest: at this precise point the mystery of the divine Trinity is fully proclaimed. The distance is so great—for in God everything is infinite—that there is room in it for all the alienation and sin of the world; the Son can draw all this into his relationship with the Father without any danger of it harming or altering the mutual eternal love between Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. Sin is burnt up, as it were, in the fire of this love, for God, as Scripture says, is a consuming fire that will not tolerate anything impure but must burn it away.

Jesus, the Crucified, endures our inner darkness and estrangement from God, and he does so in our place. It is all the more painful for him, the less he has merited it. As we have already said, there is nothing familiar about it to him: it is utterly alien and full of horror. Indeed, he suffers more deeply than an ordinary man is capable of suffering, even were he condemned and rejected by God, because only the incarnate Son knows who the Father really is and what it means to be deprived of him, to have lost him (to all appearances) forever. It is meaningless to call this suffering “hell”, for there is no hatred of God in Jesus, only a pain that is deeper and more timeless than the ordinary man could endure either in his lifetime or after his death.

Nor can we say that God the Father “punishes” his suffering Son in our place. It is not a question of punishment, for the work accomplished here between Father and Son with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit is utter love, the purest love possible; so, too, it is a work of the purest spontaneity, from the Son’s side as from the side of Father and Spirit. God’s love is so rich that it can also assume this form of darkness, out of love for our dark world.
What, then, can we do? “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” It was as if the cosmos sensed that something decisive was going on here, as if it were participating in the darkness invading the soul of Christ. For our part, we do not need to experience this darkening, for we are already estranged and dark enough. It would suffice if we held onto our faith in a world that has become dark all around us; it would be enough for us to be convinced that all inner light, all inner joy and security, all trust in life owes its existence to the darkness of Golgotha and never to forget to give God thanks for it.

At the very periphery of this thanksgiving to God, it is legitimate to ask that, if God permits it, we may help the Lord to bear a tiny particle of the suffering of the Cross, of his inner anxiety and darkness, if it will contribute to reconciling the world with God. Jesus himself says that it is possible to help him bear it when he challenges us to take up our cross daily. Paul says the same in affirming that he suffers that portion of the Cross that Christ has reserved for him and for other Christians. When life is hard and apparently hopeless, we can be confident that this darkness of ours can be taken up into the great darkness of redemption through which the light of Easter dawns. And when what is required of us seems too burdensome, when the pains become unbearable and the fate we are asked to accept seems simply meaningless—then we have come very close to the man nailed on the Cross at the Place of the Skull, for he has already undergone this on our behalf and, moreover, in unimaginable intensity. When surrounded by apparent meaninglessness, therefore, we cannot ask to be given a calming sense of meaning; all we can do is wait and endure, quite still, like the Crucified, not seeing anything, facing the dark abyss of death. Beyond this abyss there waits for us something that, at present, we cannot see (nor can we even manage to regard it as true), namely, a further abyss of light in which all the world’s pain is treasured and cherished in the ever-open heart of God. Then we shall be allowed, like the Apostle Thomas, to put our hand into this gaping wound; feeling it, we shall realize in a very bodily way that God’s love transcends all human senses, and with the disciple we shall pray: “My Lord and my God.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lancelot Andrewes' 1621 Pentecost Sermon

This 16th century portrait of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes 
was painted on a thin, oak panel. 
(Photo: Jonathan Friedman) 

I share with you today excerpts of the sermon Bishop Lancelot Andrewes preached before King James on Pentecost (Whitsunday), 20th May, 1621. He took as his text James 1:16-17. (You can read about Andrewes HERE.)

Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down: from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:16-17)

AND, if “every good giving and every perfect gift,” what giving so good, or what gift so perfect, as the Gift of Gifts,this day’s gift, the gift of the Holy Ghost? There are in it all the points in the text. It is “from above” (Luke 3:22), it “descended” visibly this day, and from “the Father of lights” - so many “tongues,” so many “lights” (Acts 2:3); which kindled such a light in the world on this day, as to this day is not put out, nor shall ever be to the worId’s end.

First, the Holy Ghost is oft styled by this very name or title, of “the Gift of God.” “lf ye knew the Gift of God,” saith our Saviour to the woman at the well’s side (John 4:10). What gift was that? It is plain there, “the water of life.” That “water” was the Spirit. “This He spake of the Spirit, saith St. John, who knew His mind best, as then “ not yet given” (John 7:39); but since, as upon this day, sent into the world.

Secondly, this “gift” is both “good” and “perfect” - so good, as it is de bonis optimn, “of all goods the Best;” and of all perfects, the most, absolutely perfect, the gift of perfection, or perfection of all the gifts of God. What should I say? Not to be valued, saith St. Peter (Acts 8:20); not to be uttered, saith St. Paul (Romans 8:26): as if all the tongues that were on earth before, until and all that came down this day, were little enough, or indeed were not enough, not able any way to utter or express it . . . 

St. James . . .  speaks in the present, and of the present, what now is, what is “perfect” in this life. And this, lo, brings us to donum diei, the gift of the Holy Ghost. For to “be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), is all the perfection we can here attain. No higher here. Now to be made partakers of the Spirit, is to be made partakers “of the Divine Nature.” That is this day’s work. Partakers of the Spirit we are, by receiving grace; which is nothing else but the breath of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Grace. Grace into the entire substance of the soul, dividing itself into two streams: one goes to the understanding,  the gift of faith; the other to the will, the gift of “charity, the very bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). The tongues, to teach us knowledge; the fire, to kindle our affections. The state of grace is the perfection of this life, to grow still from grace to grace, to profit in it. As to go on still forward is the perfection of a traveller, to draw still nearer and nearer to his journey’s end . . .

There is the “wonderful light” of His Gospel, so St Peter calls it (1 Peter 2:9), the proper light of this day. The tongues that descended - so many “tongues,” so many “Iights;” for the tongue is a light, and brings to light what was before hid in the heart. And from these other is the inward light of grace, whereby God, Which commanded “the light to shine out of darkness” (2 Corinthians 4:6). He it is “That shineth in our hearts;” by the inward anointing, which is the oil of this lamp, the light of His Holy Spirit, chasing away the darkness  both of our hearts and minds . . . “a light sown for the righteous” (Psalm 97:11) here in this life. And there is the light of glory which they shall reap, the light where God dwelleth, and where we shall dwell with Him; even the “inheritance of the Saints in light” (Psalm 97:11), when the righteous shall shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father, “the Father of lights” (Colossians 1:12). Moses’ candlestick with seven stalks and lights in each of them . . . (Exodus 25:32).

Whom He loves doth “He love to the end?” (John 13:1) Let our service be so too, not wavering. O that we changed from Him no more than He from us! Not from the light of grace to the shadow of sin, as we do full often.

But above all, that which is ex tota substantia, that if we find any want of any giving or gift, good or perfect, this text gives us light, whither to look, to Whom to repair for them; to the “Father of lights.” And even so let us do. Ad Patrem luminum cum prima lumine; “Let the light every day, so soon ns we see it, put us in mind to get us to the Father of lights.” Ascendat oratio, descendet miseratio, “let our prayer go up to Him that His grace may come down to us,” so to lighten us in our ways and works that we may in the end come to dwell with Him, in the light which is Φως ανέσπερον, “light whereof there is no even-tide,” the sun whereof never sets, nor knows tropic - the only thing we mix, and wish for in our lights here, primum et ante omnia.

Within us there is no spirit but our own, and that “lusts after envy” (James 4:5), and other things as bad; from beneath it cannot be had. It is donum caeleste: Simon, if he would give never so largely for it, cannot obtain it. It descended ad oculum this day; it was seen to descend, and so will.

Which descents from on high, from the “Father of lights,” there in the tongues of light, light on us, to give us knowledge, a gift proportioned to light, and to give us comfort, a gift proportioned to light; by faith, to lighten, by grace to stablish our hearts.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Has the Holy Spirit Got You?

Pentecost is when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in power and love upon the Church, the culmination of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. However, if all we do is have a church service with beautiful vestments, sumptuous ceremonial and stunning music that helps us remember an event that took place nearly two thousand years ago, we have forgotten the purpose of our celebration. The whole point of today is for us to come into this holy place with a real intensity of desire, desperate for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives in order to be more effective witnesses to Jesus.

Think back to his last words before the cloud received him out of their sight: 

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses . . .” (Acts 1:8)

After ten days of prayer it happened: 

“ . . . suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4)

You know the story. People from many different countries heard the praises of God in their own languages, and Peter (who had once been so timid) preached to the crowd, resulting in three thousand people being converted to Jesus. They were baptized and became foundation members of the Jerusalem Church, a real community of love whose way of life was itself a powerful sign of God’s presence, and a proof that Jesus is alive. Read right through Acts 2 and you will see how this community met for worship, learned the Faith from the apostles, grew in love and fellowship, and supported each another in the sharing of their daily lives. 

As the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached the Gospel further afield, they planted more and more church communities that surged with the life and love of Jesus. They taught that the outpouring of the Spirit received at Pentecost was not just for them, or for those who responded to Jesus on that day, but for all Christians of all time. Furthermore - as we heard in our second reading - they taught that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to each of us for the common good, for building up the community, and for the nurturing of our unity in Christ.

If we ever needed a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit it is now.

Even if we began the Christian life well, we can become routinised, living in our own strength, relying on our own insights and cleverness, or our ability to persevere, forgetting that the “normal Christian life” is lived “in the Spirit.”

It was the Belgian Cardinal Leon Josef Suenens who said that the important question is not, “Have you got the Spirit?” If we are baptised and confirmed, the answer is obviously “yes.” The real question, according to Suenens, is, “Has the Spirit got you?” It’s no good just resting on the assurance that we have been baptised and confirmed, or even that we have had some past experience of conversion or infilling of the Holy Spirit. What matters is that we are open to the Holy Spirit’s love and power, his presence and prompting NOW . . . that we are allowing him to change us a little more each day into the image and likeness of Jesus. Further, that we are taking our place in the community of our parish so as to share our gifts and encourage others in their life and ministry, and that we are reaching out in love day by day to those around us who do not yet believe.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me;
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me;
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me;
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
(Daniel Iverson, 1926)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Walsingham, Anglicans and Orthodoxy . . . Bishop Keith Ackerman

At the beginning of September 2010, St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, Crestwood, New York, hosted the North American Conference of the Fellowship of Ss Alban and Sergius. Throughout the conference, members of the Dialogue Group set up by the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) presented various papers addressing the history of Orthodox–Anglican relations.

Click HERE to listen to Bishop Keith Ackerman’s inspiring address, “The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham & the Anglican-Orthodox Witness”

Bishop Ackerman, now retired, was the eighth Bishop of Quincy in the Anglican Church in North America. He is President of Forward in Faith North America, and a Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Go HERE for links to the other keynote addresses (given by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Fr Stephen Platt, Fr John Parker, Fr Robert Munday and Dr Michael Howell) and also the panel discussion.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My most important blog post ever . . .


For decades I have been a fan of Christoph Schönborn, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, who in so many ways embodies the approach to the Faith that reflects my understanding of how all the bits fit together. General Editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he has also been an active participant in the renewal movements. Robustly orthodox, and at the same time open both to modern scholarship and the necessity for reshaping the Church's mission in order to reach the modern world, he has been referred to as "Pope Benedict's spiritual son." He's in London at the moment as one of the speakers at the Holy Trinity Brompton ("HTB") and Alpha Course leadership conference which has drawn over five thousand people from all over the world and all Christian traditions. Watch this video of Cardinal Schönborn being interviewed by Nicky Gumbel, Vicar of HTB. For reasons that will become clear to you over the 34 minutes of the interview, I believe this is the most important post ever to have appeared on my blog.

Cardinal Schönborn, from the very heart of the Catholic Church, talks about conversion (including his own), the centrality of a saving and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, the importance of Christian unity (and its real nature), and evangelisation. Incidentally, in the interview he reflects on how as a young man he had to rise above the extreme liberal approach to Biblical studies that has been a particular blight on the Church in our time.

(There is a small problem with the video about two thirds of the way through. In order to watch the rest you may have to push the cursor along a little and then click on "play' again.) 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pentecost explained in TWO MINUTES

Well . . . perhaps not EVERYTHING we would like to say, but it’s not bad!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

John Henry Newman on St Matthias' Day

The first act of the apostolic community in the days between Ascension and Pentecost was to fill up the number of the apostles themselves by replacing Judas with one of the men who had been a disciple from the very beginning, that is, from the baptism of Jesus by John until the Ascension itself. The reason for this was simple, the new apostle must be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Matthias was elected. That’s the first and the last we hear of him in Scripture. Of course, there are also legends arising out of the memory of the ancient Church indicating St Matthias’ faithfulness in fulfilling his evangelistic ministry, in spite of persecution, and martyrdom in the service of the Lord.

I share with you today the last paragraph of a sermon (“Divine Decrees “) John Henry Newman preached on St Matthias. It was published in Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 2 on Feb. 21st, 1835. 

What solemn overpowering thoughts must have crowded on St Matthias, when he received the greetings of the eleven Apostles, and took his seat among them as their brother! His very election was a witness against himself if he did not fulfil it. And such surely will ours be in our degree. We take the place of others who have gone before, as Matthias did; we are "baptized for the dead," filling up the ranks of soldiers, some of whom, indeed, have fought a good fight, but many of whom in every age have made void their calling. Many are called, few are chosen. The monuments of sin and unbelief are set up around us  . . . The fall of one nation is the conversion of another. The Church loses old branches, and gains new. God works according to His own inscrutable pleasure; . . . Thus the Christian of every age is but the successor of the lost and of the dead. How long we of this country shall be put in trust with the Gospel, we know not; but while we have the privilege, assuredly we do but stand in the place of Christians who have either utterly fallen away, or are so corrupted as scarcely to let their light shine before men. We are at present witnesses of the Truth; and our very glory is our warning. By the superstitions, the profanities, the indifference, the unbelief of the world called Christian, we are called upon to be lowly-minded while we preach aloud, and to tremble while we rejoice. Let us then, as a Church and as individuals, one and all, look to Him who alone can keep us from falling. Let us with single heart look up to Christ our Saviour, and put ourselves into His hands, from whom all our strength and wisdom is derived. Let us avoid the beginnings of temptation; let us watch and pray lest we enter into it. Avoiding all speculations which are above us, let us follow what tends to edifying. Let us receive into our hearts the great truth, that we who have been freely accepted and sanctified as members of Christ, shall hereafter be judged by our works, done in and through Him; that the Sacraments unite us to Him, and that faith makes the Sacraments open their hidden virtue, and flow forth in pardon and grace. Beyond this we may not inquire. How it is one man perseveres and another falls, what are the exact limits and character of our natural corruption,—these are over-subtle questions; while we know for certain, that though we can do nothing of ourselves, yet that salvation is in our own power, for however deep and far-spreading is the root of evil in us, God's grace will be sufficient for our need.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Good Shepherd HEALS his sheep

Christ, the Good Shepherd - 5th century - in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy. Jesus is presented as a strong shepherd with a cross, leading from among his sheep.

One of God’s complaints with the leaders of Israel of old was that they failed to bind up the wounded and care for those who were hurting. In fact, so great is his love for the suffering and wounded that through the prophet Ezekiel he says:

“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, 
I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, 
and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak.” 
(Ezekiel 34:12-16)


When he brought Israel out of Egypt, the Lord spoke of his relationship with the people and said: 

“I am the Lord your healer” 
(Exodus 15:26) 

Centuries later, the Psalmist refers to this period of the Exodus and the journey into the Promised Land:

“. . . they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
he sent out his word, and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.”
(Psalm 107:19-20)

The Psalmist also says that the Lord 

“heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds.”
(Psalm 147:3)

It is against the backdrop of these Old Testament passages that Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and says to his wounded sheep 

“I have come to bring you life in all its fulness” 
(John 10:10)

or, as we have already seen, in the words of the King James version, “that you may have life more abundantly.”

The miracles and healings performed by Jesus in the time of his earthly ministry proclaimed that God’s kingdom had arrived. The blind received their sight, the deaf were made to hear, the dumb spoke, and the lame leapt for joy - all messianic “signs” that Jewish people expected would herald the dawning of God’s new age.

When we read the Acts of the Apostles, we see that dramatic healings continued in the life of the early Church. And we’re not surprised when they happen even today, for 

“Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and for ever.” 
(Hebrews 13:8).

In fact, one of the amazing things is how the Lord’s ministry of healing has been revivedover the last hunderd and twenty years among Anglicans, Pentecostals and Charismatics, and eventually spread to most Christian traditions.

Sometimes wonderful healings occur through the sacramental ministry of the Church; sometimes through those to whom the Lord has given special “gifts of healing” (1 Corinthians 12:9). And, as we know, they happen through intercessory prayer at the healing shrines of Our Lady, like Lourdes and Walsingham. These healings can be immediate and dramatic, but usually they are gradual as we open our lives more and more to God’s love and power.


But it’s not just those with broken legs or heart conditions who need healing. Did you know that - depending on the particular research you study, and the shcool of thought you follow - between 50 and 90 per cent of all non- accident-caused physical sickness originates in the mind or emotions. In other words, it is psychosomatic or stress related. And depression, fear, anxiety, bitterness, guilt, unforgiveness, lack of self esteem, loneliness, vengefulness together with all the hurts and wounds we have accumulated on the inside sooner or later manifest themselves in physical illness. It is obvious, then, that if it were possible to embark upon a journey of “inner healing”, even our physical health would improve.

Well, the good news is that if you look at those things constituting the woundedness of our inner lives we have sometimes known since childhood - you’ll notice that they are the very areas in which Jesus our Good Shepherd longs to touch us.

As we pray, as we grow in faith, as we invite the Lord into every area of our lives, as we allow him to walk with us down our particular memory lane and bring his love and healing to bear on all sorts of areas where we have been crushed, wounded and broken, we enter into a new sense of personal freedom. Often that is related to the presence of Jesus with us in our struggle, helping us manage and get through the darkness. But sometimes we experience a deliverance that can only be described as a “miracle.” 

So many people who come here to Mass know the healing power of Jesus’ love. They have experienced heartbreak and tragedy, in some cases the collapse of their lives. But someone told them about Jesus - the risen Jesus who longs to make them whole, who reaches out to them in love, and they allowed him to touch them at the point of their need. They testify to the freedom they have found in him. 

Do you know he wants to touch YOUR life with his healing power today? He wants YOU to be free from the negative impact of the hurtful things that you have experienced. Jesus himself said in John 8:36: “If the Son makes you free, then you will be free indeed.” Did you hear that? Free indeed”!


In a little while, after the Consecration, it will be my awesome privilege to hold up the Holy Bread, the Blessed Sacrament and say: “Behold the Lamb of God; behold him that taketh away the sins of the world” And we will all respond:

“Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.”

What a moment! What a wonderful and powerful affirmation to have on our lips just before receiving Jesus as the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.

Sometimes when I am in the congregation somewhere else and the time comes for Holy Communion, and I need to draw on the healing power of Jesus for some aspect of my life, do you know what I do? I keep saying that affirmation under my breath while I’m standing in line, and while I’m kneeling at the altar rail: “my soul SHALL be healed”... “my soul SHALL be healed.”

After all, the greatest healing service we have is the Mass. Our faith does not create the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament. He is objectively present in all his divinity and his humanity, in all his love and his healing power. But by faith we DRAW on the blessing - the healing blessing - that he wants us to have, just as happened in the days of his earthly ministry. “. . . My soul SHALL be healed”.

Have YOU heard the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you today, calling you back to himself? 

Come home. Let Jesus bind up your wounds. Reach out to him now. Let him pour his healing oil on the hurts and wounds of the past, and you will find rest for your soul. 

He is calling you because he loves you. 

If you respond, if you open up to his love, if you surrender to him, your life will be changed.

The Good Shepherd is gloriously risen. I want you to remember and cherish the points I have shared with you about him, and take them to heart:

* that Jesus LOVES his sheep,

* he GUIDES his sheep, 

* he FEEDS his sheep,

* he PROTECTS his sheep . . .   and

* he HEALS his sheep.

Then, in the words of the well-known song, you will be able to say:

“Because he lives I can face tomorrow,
Because he lives all fear is gone,
Because I know - yes I know - he holds the future,
And life is worth the living, 
just because he lives.“

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Good Shepherd PROTECTS his sheep

I want to share with you some wonderful words of Jesus: 

“My sheep . . . follow me 
and they shall never perish, 
and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. 
My Father, who has given them to me, 
is greater than all, 
and no one is able to snatch them 
out of the Father’s hand.”
(John 10:28-29)

It was important that the shepherd protect his sheep from their natural enemies. You remember the Old Testament story of David and Goliath, and how David explains to King Saul that he was used to risking his life to protect the sheep from wild animals such as lions and bears.


Jesus came that we might have life abundantly - life in its fulness. He says that in John 10 - the Good Shepherd chapter. And isn't it great when everything's going well . . . You know those times when our circumstances and relationships are all happy, we have enough resources to meet our needs, and spiritually - on the inside - we feel so close to God. I'd much rather be experiencing that than the opposite. But - and I don’t want to sound gloomy - I have to remind you that in our Baptism, when we were merged with the dying and rising of Jesus so as to live his risen life, we embarked on a lifelong conflict with sin, the world, and the devil, even as we seek to be used by God in the transformation of the world in which we live. And that means we began a sacrificial life. So, from the very beginning we knew that at least some of the time it’s going to be a real struggle!

Those who think otherwise should just take note from the experience of Jesus himself and what the Bible says about the way we share what he went through, that Christianity is no insurance policy against Gethsemanes and Calvaries!

On top of that, we face tragedies and traumas that shake our lives to their foundations, that mercilessly challenge our faith to the point where we wonder how long we can hold on without giving up or going insane. Some people face deep depression on a daily basis, and are dogged with all sorts of fears and complexes. Do you know that sinking feeling . . . as if everything you have done amounts to nothing, as if there is no more point in your life, and you feel like giving up in despair?

Let's be realistic and let's be honest; let's admit the problems we sometimes have.


In those circumstancess, as well as getting all the help we can from counsellors and doctors, and together with allowing our brothers and sisters in Christ to support us with their love and prayer, we need to remember - and perhaps even speak out aloud so as to counter our depression and fear and our ancient enemy the devil - the wonderful promises God makes in his Word about his presence and support. Now, please don’t think I am being simplistic; and, whatever you do, don’t think that I am not speaking from my own experience. I know about those times when all the counselling and help have failed, and God’s promises are all we have left. But  . . . what a resource! Deliberately reminding ourselves of God’s promises is how so many have survived the deepest traumas. It’s how we remain still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10) and not do anything stupid. Believing his promises, (often tenaciously and falteringly at the same time!) helps us to keep our cool long enough to see how God is working in the situation. We calm down, and remind ourselves that he really IS sovereign. We “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:17).

Because, what I know about Jesus is that he doesn't speak to us from somewhere "outside" what we are going through, but from the heart of the struggle where we, in fact, discover his loving presence in a new way.


This is how all those persecuted brothers and sisters of ours have coped through two thousand years of savage treatment and even martyrdom. In times of darkness and suffering they remembered God’s promises and his faithfulness, and they knew that they were under his protection.

Think of St Polycarp, the old Bishop of Smyrna in what is now Turkey, a man who had learnt the Faith at the feet of the Apostle John. In 166 AD he was under incredible pressure to deny Christ. Do you know what he said?

“Eighty-six years have I served him and he has done me no wrong, 
how then can I blaspheme my king who has saved me?” 

Polycarp was killed for refusing to deny Jesus.

Closer to our own time we marvel at the courage of our World War II saints, including Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz, and the New Guinea martyrs, commemorated in the stained glass windows above the west doors of this church. Of course they were frightened. But they were bold at the same time. They knew that God was watching over them; they remembered what Jesus said about no-one being able to pluck them out of the Father’s hand no matter how difficult things become. They remembered the promises of God. They remembered Isaiah 43:1-3 (the most amazing beautiful, and powerful promise he could possibly have given to the sheep of his pasture):

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; 
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God . . .”

They remembered what the apostle Paul said in his Letter to that tiny persecuted community of believers in ancient Rome:

“If God is for us, who is against us? 
He who did not spare his own Son 
but gave him up for us all, 
will he not also give us all things with him? 
. . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, 
or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 
As it is written, 
‘For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors 
through him who loved us. 
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, 
nor angels, nor principalities, 
nor things present, nor things to come,
 nor powers, nor height, nor depth, 
nor anything else in all creation, 
will be able to separate us from the love of God 
in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 
(Romans 8:31-39)

Because of that wonderful love of his, he has committed himself to caring for you and for me . . . to protecting us when things go wrong . . . even when it's our own fault. Whoever we are. Wherever we are. He will bring us through. His grace is sufficient. We will one day have a great story to tell about how he worked in circumstances we would never have chosen for ourselves. We can turn to him in every situation. With the writer of the Shepherd Psalm we can say:

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I fear no evil; for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff strengthen me." 
(Psalm 23:4).

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Good Shepherd FEEDS his sheep

Did you know that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, doesn’t want his sheep to be thin and scrawny, spiritually speaking. He wants them to be nourished, he wants them to be strong. That’s why he leads them to fresh pastures. If he doesn’t, they eventually die.

There is so much starvation in the world. We only have to pay attention when World Vision and other international aid agencies fill our TV screens with all those gut-wrenching pictures of starving children in Africa and other places. They have to do it to shock us into giving generously from our affluence to alleviate the misery of others. 

But, you know that’s not the only starvation in the world today. There is a much more widespread starvation than physical starvation - and that is SPIRITUAL starvation. It’s all around us. It leads to a sense of futility, emptiness, aimlessness, disconectedness and despair - indeed the feeling of being dead on the inside. It is responsible for the breakdown of community and it contributes to the alarming rise of violence and youth suicide throughout the western world in general and Australia in particular.

But it’s not just those outside the Church who are starving. So many Christians are malnourished. Sometimes that’s the fault of those clergy who proclaim every personal opinion from the pulpit, but never teach the Scriptures. Other times it’s our fault for not availing ourselves of the food God has so generously provided for us.


The Documents of the Second Vatican Council, talk about how we are nourished at two tables when we come to Mass - the “table of God’s Word” and the “table of the Lord’s Body”. Where this has been understood it has led to a renewed emphasis on the reading and preaching of the Word of God Sunday by Sunday, as we try to do here in this parish. Why that emphasis? Because if the Word of God is not being proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit within the Eucharistic Assembly, the people of God are being denied the food they need in order to grow into personal, spiritual and emotional maturity. 

Every one of us needs to be nourished by the Word of God. The pulpit is not the place for the priest to promote his favourite political party, engage in theological speculation, cast doubt on the Christian Faith or demonstrate how clever he is. The pulpit is for the feeding of the people with the words of life, and every sermon, whatever its theme, must have the same goal: to move the hearts and minds of the people to honour Jesus Christ as Lord and to respond to his love so that they might have life in all its fulness.

The same Vatican Council said that because (in the words of Saint Jerome) “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”, the people ought to read and ponder the Scriptures frequently. We’ve already spoken about how important the Scriptures are to receiving guidance in our daily lives. Now I want to tell you about “Bible Alive” - a great daily Bible reading program. A growing number of people in this parish are committed to Bible Alive. They receive their guidebooks monthly, read a short passage from the Bible each day and reflect on its meaning - what God is saying through the passage and how the passage applies to their daily lives. 

Bible Alive is a wonderful means by which our Good Shepherd can feed and nourish us daily. It is EVANGELICAL and CATHOLIC at the same time! As the advertising brochure says: “Five minutes a day can transform your life.” Many people around here have a real excitement about the things God has been doing in their lives since they started on this simple program. They are fed daily. They are nourished. They are actually growing. Speak to one of us after Mass if you want to find out more details.


The second way that the Good Shepherd feeds us is, of course, at the table of his Body, where in the Blessed Sacrament he comes to us under the veils of bread and wine to fill us with his own risen life.

My dear brothers and sisters, you come here week by week (some of you travelling vast distances) not because nibbling bread and sipping wine helps you to remember something that happened a long time ago. (If that’s all it was - if it was just jogging our memories about a past event - you’d be better off prayerfully watching a “Jesus” video in air-conditioned comfort at home!) 

No! You come here because you believe with the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived, as well as with most Christians in the world today, that in the midst of our gathering to praise and thank the Lord, by the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, at the hands of a priest ordained in the Apostolic Succession, the bread and wine on this altar are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Kneeling there we receive HIM! The holy bread that we call the “Sacred Host” is the Body of Jesus before whom the angels of heaven veil their faces. Holy Communion is a supernatural event! The Blessed Sacrament is supernatural food!

In case you think that this is some sentimental medieval idea, I remind you that writing between 80 AD and 110 AD, - that is, while the Apostle John is still alive - Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, calls the Blessed Sacrament:

“the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, 
the flesh which suffered for our sins 
and which the Father, in His graciousness, 
raised from the dead.”

St Justin Martyr says the same thing a little later on - around 150 AD:

“We do not consume
 the eucharistic bread and wine 
as if it were ordinary food and drink, 
for we have been taught 
that as Jesus Christ our Saviour became a man
of flesh and blood 
by the power of the Word of God, 
so also the food 
that our flesh and blood assimilates 
for its nourishment 
becomes the Flesh and Blood 
of the incarnate Jesus 
by the power of His own words 
contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.”

Holy Communion is the amazing and wonderful miracle in which our union with the Lord Jesus is supernaturally deepened. And the greatness of this mystery of Divine Love is the reason for incense and bells, vestments, candles, wonderful music, fervent prayer, passionate hymn singing and all the other apparent excesses for which we are sometimes noted here at All Saints’. The Blessed Sacrament is Jesus. Did you hear what I just said? THE BLESSED SACRAMENT IS JESUS . . . Jesus our Good Shepherd feeding us with himself - Jesus, God and man, gloriously risen from the dead and truly present on this altar.

We need to feed on Jesus in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving. We need the blessings he gives us in Holy Communion. We can’t get through all that we face in our day to day lives in our own strength. We need the spiritual resources, the grace, the love and the power that Jesus gives in the precious Sacrament of his Body and Blood. In our own strength we end up just trudging from one crisis to another. Let’s make sure that we never stay away from Mass. Let’s trust in him; let’s keep on receiving from him the free gift of his life and love; let’s feed on him and be strong.