Friday, February 28, 2014

The late Bishop John Hazlewood on poet-priest George Herbert

George Herbert at Pemberton, by William Dyce (1806-1864)

In 1982, John Hazlewood, the bishop who had ordained me deacon and priest, delivered a lecture on the Caroline Divines to the Institute of Spiritual Studies at St Peter’s Eastern Hill (Melbourne, Australia). It was included in a book published by the Institute, Anglican Spirituality. I serialised the lecture on this blog (in October 2012). Here is a repeat of that part of it dealing with poet-priest George Herbert who was commemorated in many Anglican calendars yesterday.

What the Cure d’Ars is to many Catholic priests so George Herbert is to many Anglican priests. His hymns and his poetry, his two major works on Country Priesthood are still published today. Herbert teaches a search and a finding of divine contentment. A relaxation in the Love of God. This inner happiness was upset by sin and destroyed if there was no outward charity towards the poor. The way into such peace was through the daily use of the Prayer Book Liturgy in public and in church. This followed by meditation. A style of meditation that follows the directions of Joseph Hall a contemporary who wrote in his “The Arte of Divine Meditation” 1606:

“Our Meditation must proceed in due order, not troubledly, not preposterously. It begins in the understanding, endeth in the affection; It begins in the braine, descends to the heart; Begins on earth, ascends to Heaven,- Not suddenly, but by certaine staires and degrees, til we come to the highest.”

Herbert came from good Border stock of a large family loyal always to the Crown. He lost his father in childhood and his mother Magdalene married again into the Danvers family who eventually moved to London. Herbert went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1610. He had a distinguished career there and became the Public Orator whose task it was to speak in Latin at the visit of any dignitary. As early as 1610 he had written that it was a pity that poetry should not be written seriously for God and his love. He began a course in Divinity and asked his stepfather for book money. Before he was made deacon by John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln in 1624, there is a space in his life and a dramatic about turn. Herbert lost his two most powerful patrons. He was therefore an orphan in the Caroline world of “getting on”. He was earlier a close friend of Sir Philip Sidney and then of Nicholas Farrer. He became a member of Parliament and seems to have been sickened by the brutish behaviour be observed in the House of Commons. He was also enraged at the manner in which Farrer’s Virginia Company had its charter revoked in that year. A circumstance that drove Farrer to be made deacon by Laud. These disappointments and his close relationship with Farrer probably helped Herbert to his deaconing. Two years later he was given a stall in Lincoln Cathedral and the derelict church of Leighton Bromswold very close to Little Gidding. 

Herbert raised money for the church’s restoration and Farrer supervised it. In this prebend, as it was called, Herbert undertook to be bound to say Psalm 31 and 32 every day. In this way the canons and prebends of Lincoln Cathedral wherever they might live said the entire Psalter every day. I am not sure whether this custom prevailed anywhere else. He was given the benefice of Fugglestone with Bemerton in April of 1630, was ordained priest September 19th in Salisbury Cathedral. 

Isaac Walton, Herbert’s 17th century biographer and admirer, writes of his life at Bemerton:

“Mr Herbert’s own practice . . . was to appear constantly with his Wife, and three Nieces and his whole Family, twice every day at the Church-prayers, in the Chapel which does almost join to his Parsonage-house. And for the time of his appearing, it was strictly at the Canonical Hours of 10 and 4; and then and there, he lifted up pure and charitable hands to God in the midst of the Congregation. And he would joy to have spent that time in that place, where the honour of his Master Jesus dwelleth.” 

Walton goes on to say that the effect of this was remarkable in that most of his parishioners and even some Gentlemen went twice a day with him. Those working in the fields were said to stop their work and let their ploughs rest when Mr Herbert’s saints’ Bell rung to prayers, that they might also offer their devotions to God with him. 1 imagine that the saints’ bell was a small one hanging in a cote at the entry to the Choir. The rope would be near the rector’s stall. In medieval days this bell was called the sanctus bell because it rang out at that point at the Sanctus in the Mass and at the consecration of the Elements.

Martin Thornton (in “English Spirituality” p. 258-9) is at pains to point out the similarity between the ancient rule of St Benedict and the Book of Common Prayer. Herbert’s use of that Liturgy was an almost perfect example of that similarity, as was the Little Gidding experiment as well. 

While Herbert’s writings are written from the point of view of the Parson he writes just as well for others. In his cover note with which he sent Farrer a copy of “The Temple” he said, 

“This contains a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my Soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my Master.” 

Walton adds that Herbert instructed Ferrar to publish the book 

“if he can think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor Soul.” 

Herbert’s recipe for the soul’s growth flows into the Liturgy in Church, and its affections carry on through personal meditation, which he doesn’t put under the actual heading of prayer and the living out of one’s vocation or role in the community in gentle pastoral care. In the lines 397-401 in the first poem of “ The Temple” he writes about this . . . 

“Though private prayer be a brave design, 
Yet public hath more promises, more love.- 
And love’s a weight to hearts, to eyes a sign. 
We all are but cold suitors: let us move 
Where it is warmest. Leave thy six and seven,- 
Pray with the most: for where most pray, is heaven.” 

The word “weight” in the third line means a claim to consideration. The meaning of six or seven in line five means risky behaviour and is derived from dice. 

Herbert along with others who shared his spiritual design was imperative about outward reverence. After all sitting down and neither standing nor kneeling, men wearing hats in church, walking about without reverence and using the altar as a desk or even a bench were all common Puritan practices of his day. So the following verse in the above quoted poem goes like this: 

“When once thy foot enters the Church, be bare. (bareheaded) 
God is more there than thou: for thou art there 
Only by his permission. Then beware, 

“And make thyself all reverence and fear. 
Kneeling ne’er spoiled silk stockings,- quit thy state. 
All equal are within the church’s gate.” 

Herbert’s spirituality, like that of St Aelred, St Bernard and St Benedict, is anchored in community at the set prayers of the liturgy. This was the pattern extended in Andrewes’ “Preces Privatae” and developed in Bayly’s “Whole Duty of the Christian Man”. Jeremy Taylor advised that one’s prayers had better be short than long, short and frequent but orderly. 

It is also anchored in the monthly communion. The care of the suffering, and always in enjoying the world for which Christ died. A death caused by my sin. 

Here is “Trinity Sunday” 

“Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud, 
And hast redeemed me through thy blood, 
And sanctified me to do good.- 
Purge all my sins done heretofore: 
For I confess my heavy score, 
And I will strive to sin no more. 
Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me, 
 With faith, with hope, with charity; 
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.” 

Notice the homely image of mud. The prayer for absolution with its declaration of intention to do better. Then notice the very fleshy heart, mouth and hands to be agents of God and the delight of the last line that sings of freedom and childlike joy.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Pope Francis speaks to Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics about Unity

I was alerted to the following video by Bishop Greg Venables (Anglican Bishop of Agentina) on his Facebook page a few days ago. It was made during a 14th January meeting with the Rt Rev’d Anthony Palmer, a bishop and international ecumenical officer with the Independent Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, a Charismatic denomination in the Anglican tradition.

Pope Francis and Bishop Palmer knew each other well and worked together closely when the Pope was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The video is unusual in part because it was made and released in such an informal manner. Pope Francis had invited Palmer to spend some time with him in the Vatican. When Palmer told him that he was about to go to the USA to speak at a Kenneth Copeland pentecostal and charismatic pastors and leaders conference it was Francis who suggested a video message be made and played at the conference. The Pope's message was recorded on Palmer's iPhone!

This is so moving in its spontaneity. It really does make you wonder how in all conscience other churches (especially member churches of the Anglican Communion) can persist in creating significant new obstacles to Christian unity. Really, how CAN that be of God?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Swept into the Community of Love

Medieval stained glass windows in Exeter Cathedral

Have you ever been down the wrong end of town in a large city and come across an old church building with windows that look grubby, dark and boring, only to be dazzled by their colour when you see them from the inside? 

Stumbling upon the Christian Faith is a bit like that. From the outside it looks unpromising indeed, - and especially considering the failings of church communities and those who lead them.

But one day we decide to explore. 

We don’t put it into these words at this stage, but we are “prompted” or “nudged” by the Holy Spirit to have a look inside. Maybe it's after growing up and drifting away from church. Or maybe it's a brand new experience. But something happens! Just like being dazzled by the world of colour and beauty that opens up to us as the sun’s light streams through that window.

Of course, some people take longer than others to begin making sense out of the picture, the patterns and the different coloured glass. But we don’t have to understand every bit of the window to see how as a whole it makes sense, or to experience the new vision of glory that it has brought to our soul.

When we look closely we notice the dark bits of glass as well as the strips of heavy black lead that hold it all together. We step back again and they disappear into the vision as a whole.

Isn’t that like the suffering and pain we experience, the injustices we endure, and the unfairness of life that makes us weep? We dare not try to explain why good people suffer in ways that torture their souls and ours. But we do try to step back and see the whole picture, and sometimes, even when we are hurting badly, we can't help being dazzled by glory and we cry out to God in the words of a man who had seen everything he held dear crumble around him: “Great is thy faithfulness . . . the Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

It’s not just the question of suffering that bamboozles us!

Think about the Trinity, the idea that God is Three and God is One. Even some Christians get embarrassed about this idea. (I can assure readers that over the years I have had curates who desperately asked not to preach on Trinity Sunday!!!) 

Christian teachers have always pointed out that by thinking logically about the world, and by following what seems to be our inbuilt “instinct for transcendence,” it is possible to arrive at belief in the existence of “God”, and to make tentative observations about some of his attributes. But to go further than that we are dependent on revelation.

Where did the idea of the Trinity come from? Was it (as Dan Brown suggests in The Da Vinci Code) unheard of until the 4th century when Emperor Constantine “enforced” the idea of Christ’s divinity on the Church? Hardly. St Gregory of Nyssa, also 4th century, points out that there was no more adequate a theologian than the Lord himself, who without compulsion or mistake designated the Godhead “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (See Matthew 28:19). The word “Trinity” simply sums up the revelation about God that is clearly found in the teaching and actions of Jesus as experienced by his followers. St Athanasius, also 4th century, makes it clear that Christians had always had used the terms “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” when speaking about God as Three Persons in One, a community of love.

Therein lies the real issue. What for YOU is at the heart of the universe? A vacuum? An impersonal force? A solitary Being (i.e. a lawgiver, an intelligent designer, or a cosmic megalomaniac)? JESUS revealed to us that the heart of the universe is a COMMUNITY OF LOVE.

Furthermore, he claimed that in him - in a special way - this life-giving love spilled out of eternity and into time. Through his incarnation, his life, his dying and rising, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled (“in him”) to be incorporated into the eternal flow of love which is God’s inner life. Jesus empowers you and me to share that life forever.

From the Orthodox tradition, Fr Thomas Hopko put it this way: 

“Even Christian prayer is the revelation of the Trinity . . . Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can call God ‘our Father’ only because of the Son who has taught us and enabled us to do so. Thus, the true prayer of Christians is not the calling out of our souls in earthly isolation to a far-away God. It is the prayer in us of the divine Son of God made to his Father, accomplished by the Holy Spirit who himself is also divine.”

For the rest of our lives and for the whole of eternity we will ponder the wonder of this Mystery with whom our lives are entwined. For now it is enough to stand back a little from the window and allow ourselves to be dazzled by the beauty of God's self-revelation, caught up with the company of heaven in wonder, love and praise.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What is the Church's "Catholicity"? - a view from the East

The following is an important lecture delivered by His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Holy See of Cilicia (Armenian Orthodox Church) at a symposium organized in honour of Dr. Bishop Wolfgang Huber, the former president of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), 2007. 

Catholicity: Its Implications and Imperatives

Although it is one of the constitutive elements of the church, catholicity has not been given a focal attention in bilateral theological dialogues and ecumenical discussion.1 Catholicity deserves serious consideration for three main reasons: first, it touches christological, pneumatological, ecclesiolo­gical and eschatological dimensions of Christian faith; second, being at the heart of the church’s ecclesiological and missiological self-understanding, it has clear implications for inter-religious dialogue; third, with its strong emphasis on universalism and interdependence, globalization challenges the church to address catholicity in the perspective of a new world context.

a) Catholicity: the esse of the church

Catholicity is not a mere mark of the church; it is the very esse of the church. As Christ’s mystical body, the church is catholic by its nature, scope and purpose. Catholicity refers neither to geography nor to institution, neither to quantity nor to universality. It points to the wholeness, fullness and uniqueness of truth revealed in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the church is catholic not because of its worldwide presence, but for the very truth it holds. Catholicity goes beyond the boundaries of the church to embrace the whole humanity and creation, time and space. Catholicity takes the church beyond itself. Hence, catholicity is much larger than the church in its historical expression, geographical extension and institutional form. Catholicity pertains to God’s universal plan of salvation in Christ. It is God’s continuous creation and re-creation, perfection and renewal of “all things” in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17).

Catholicity is a gift of God, not a human achieve­ment. It is rooted in the mystery of the Triune God.

Go HERE to read the rest of the lecture.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thinking About the Trinity . . . by Professor Alister McGrath

As a young man, I was an aggressive atheist.

In fact, when I read the writings of Richard Dawkins, I get all nostalgic. You see, I used to be like that as well! I regarded religious people as deluded, believing all sorts of ridiculous nonsense. If I had been asked to single out what I regarded as the most absurd aspect of Christian belief, I would have pointed to the doctrine of the Trinity. How can God be three and one at the same time? It was irrational gibberish.

After discovering Christianity while I was a student at Oxford University, I began to explore the landscape of faith. It was an exciting and rewarding process. I found that I was able to make sense of a lot of basic Christian ideas quite quickly. But the doctrine of the Trinity still seemed nonsensical. That’s my reason for wanting to explain why this doctrine is so important and how we can make sense of it.

Let’s begin by asking what theology tries to do.  

Go HERE to read the full article.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Canon Jim Glennon - Healing, the Kingdom of God, and Stress

One of the people whose influence and teaching was important for me in my youth was Canon Jim Glennon (1920–2005), founder of the healing ministry at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia. As a result of his own healing following a nervous breakdown, and the Spirit-filled ministry of Agnes Sanford when she was sharing in the healing ministry with Father John Hope at Christ Church St Laurence, Canon Glennon founded and maintained the Healing Service in St Andrews Cathedral. It began in 1960 with 28 people and within ten years became the largest regular service of its kind in Australia, with the cathedral packed every Wednesday night. Following his retirement in 1988 he established a healing service and teaching ministry at St Mary’s Waverley, also in Sydney, where he ministered until his death in June 2005. Go HERE for Sid Eavis' book on Jim Glennon and the healing ministry..

Canon Glennon said: ‘Let your problems enable you to trust, not in yourself but in God, and make it a way of life. It is simple. It is straightforward. You will have to persevere, but it will work for you in the same way as I have found it worked for me and for many, many others.’

The following is from a sermon preached by Jim Glennon and published in Vision Magazine, Jan-Feb 1975:

The particular basis of the Healing Ministry to which I want to refer is from three texts, all in St. Luke’s Gospel. The first is Luke 10:9 and is part of the words of our Blessed Lord Jesus when he commissioned the general group of disciples to go out and preach the gospel: “. . . heal the sick and say to them: The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’“ What he is saying is this: When a person is healed, they have drawn on part of a greater reality called the Kingdom of God. In other words, the Kingdom of God is God’s perfect blessing and healing is part of it.

I repeat what I’ve often said before. In the Bible we find more than one thing said about many subjects. The art of interpreting the Bible is to see all that is said, and relate one part to another. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God has two sides to it. One side is that it belongs to the end of the age when he will come again in power and glory and wind up this present world order, when “the Kingdom of this world will become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ.” This is something to which all Christians look forward.

But our Lord Jesus Christ also said, and made many many references to this effect, that the Kingdom of God is here and now. In Luke 17:21 Jesus said: “. . . the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” In the King James Version it is translated “it is within you.” This is the other part of what Jesus reveals to us about the Kingdom of God: it both belongs to the end of the age, and it has already been established; “it is within you.”

If we realise that the Kingdom of God has been established and it is that greater reality of which healing is part we can see how available healing is and the reason why it is available. It is available in response to faith because it is part of the Kingdom of God, and this aspect of the Kingdom is among you. As someone said to me: it doesn’t even have to be asked for, why ask for something you’ve got?

Let me introduce my third text Luke 13:19 “The Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree.” As it says in Mark 4:28, “. . . first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear”. Here is more information from our Lord Jesus Christ as to how the Kingdom shows itself. It is like a seed grown in the ground, and “it grew . . .”; “first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear”, and remember that the kingdom includes healing.

This is part of the explanation for Divine Healing, and a very important part, too. Not only does it give great authority and assurance, but if the principles which I am sharing with you are understood and put into practice, you will find that they give you great guidelines as to how the Ministry of Healing is to be exercised.

The following is from a sermon preached by Canon Jim Glennon in September 1980:

Stress is the Killer

‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.’ —Psalm 55:22 (KJV)

When I was in the United States recently I was given a book, Inner Balance.* It is written, in the main, by medical specialists and it is interesting to learn what the top men in the medical profession in the United States are saying about stress.

Professor Hans Selye, one of the contributors to the book, puts it like this:- 

‘Innumerable studies of disease processes have shown that stress, more than any other factor, determines whether there is a proper balance in our lives. Most of us are born healthy, but if the harmful stresses resulting from improper perception, personal misbehavior, and environmental conditions tip the balance, we slide down the slope from health to disease.’

He goes on to say: ‘The goal of medicine should therefore be to understand the patient as a person: to establish the circumstances that precipitated his illness—the underlying conflicts, hostilities and griefs; in short, the bruised nature of his emotional state.’

Stress, more than any other factor, is the underlying cause of physical ailments. It follows that it is stress which needs to be prevented if physical illness is to be avoided; where there is illness, it is stress which needs to be healed, if healing is to be drawn upon in depth. We are, of course, not ignoring the presenting symptoms, but we are saying—or rather, people like Professor Selye are saying—that the underlying causes have to be understood and treated, if a cure is to be effected.

Stress is the killer. In case you think that only ulcers are being talked about, let me read from another paper in the book, Inner Balance. Dr Simonton of the Cancer Counseling and Research Center, Fort Worth, Texas, writes: ‘We believe that cancer is often an indication of problems elsewhere in an individual’s life, problems aggravated or compounded by a series of stresses six to eighteen months prior to the onset of cancer.’

Speaking as a medical layman, I think this is the most encouraging sign I have seen coming out of modern medicine, and I thank God it is on the increase.

What so often happens is that a person is in a situation which creates a serious problem for them in personal relationships at work or at home—you name it. They take it out on themselves and it gnaws a hole in their minds and emotions. Stress has a cumulative effect, and what these eminent medical authorities are saying is that this stress, more than any other single factor, is the underlying cause of physical illness.

I once ministered to a woman in this position and she said, ‘But what can I do?’ I answered, perhaps rather naively, ‘Well, you can cast your burden upon the Lord’. She was an informed and prayerful Christian, and her reply was, ‘I do that, but I keep taking it back’. I helped her by believing with her, so that our combined faith enabled her to truly and meaningfully cast her burden upon the Lord so that he sustained her in her real-life situation.

When I was in the United States [in June and July of 1980] I had a most interesting experience when visiting the Good Samaritan Episcopal Hospital in Portland; there I saw the most advanced hospital chaplaincy work I have ever come across.

I was told by one of the lay workers who, under supervision, visited the hospital and made pastoral calls on behalf of the chaplain that, before she left the hospital, she would have a debriefing session. The chaplain would talk things through with her, correcting her where necessary, give his support, and pray with her for the pastoral calls she had made. These sessions served to further instruct her in the work she was doing. In addition, she told me that this debriefing, which the chaplain so expertly handled, had the effect of her leaving her problems at the hospital, which meant that she never took them home. In other words, the problems did not result in her becoming stressed.

I like the Living Bible translation of Philippians 4:6,7b: ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs …’ and ‘His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.’ It underlines the point that this is what God wants us to do—that is, not to be anxious but to pray and let his peace give quiet to our minds and hearts because of our trust in Christ. If we understand the need for this, and develop our capacity to put it into practice, we will be taking a major step forward to retaining our health—or regaining it, should we be sick at present.

When I was in Melbourne last week [September 1980], I had contact with Miss Eleanor Lindsay, a lady who is exercising a remarkable healing ministry; she has a licence from the Archbishop of Melbourne to extend that ministry in his diocese. I had an hour-long talk with her during which she kindly explained to me how she went about her work. I was very interested to be told that she does not pray for the presenting problem the person has; her concern is to identify the stress factors which have contributed to the person’s illness. She then seeks to draw upon the appropriate blessing of God for the healing of those stress factors, after which, she says, it is a comparatively easy thing to draw on help and healing for the presenting symptoms. I think she is, in a courageous and effective way, acting upon the precepts of Professor Selye and others. Stress is the killer. We must be concerned, in a preventive way, as well as in a remedial way, to come to grips with it, for it is the great problem behind illness.

Let us pray.

Our loving Father, we are all in degree the victims of stress. We would so come before you now that we cast our burden upon the Lord Jesus and have peace in our mind and heart. We believe this both now and in an ongoing way. Amen.

* Elliott M. Goldway, ed. Inner Balance: the Power of Holistic Healing. New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1979.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Gift of Priesthood - Bishop Joe Grech

Long-time readers of this blog will know of the esteem in which I hold Bishop Joe Grech who died in December 2010. Go HERE to find out about him. I came across the following homily of his on the priesthood, and thought I should share it with you.

What is the essence of the priesthood? I need to go to the Bible. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews has this to say, “Every high priest is taken from among men and is appointed to act on their behalf in relationships with God” (Hebrews 5:1). In the first place it is evident that priesthood is a call. It is a particular vocation with a very specific ministry in the church. The particular ministry of the priest entails him being the link between God and the people; to intercede on behalf of the people. What does this mean in practice?

There is a very insightful story in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 24 which can help us to understand this. Abraham was getting on in years and he realised that his son Isaac was not yet married. He desired to see him settled. So one day, he sent for one of his most trusted servants and asked him to go to the land of his ancestors in order to find a wife for his son. How is he going to achieve this?

When he arrived in the town where Abraham come from he sat beside the village well towards the evening and he prayed. “Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, give me success today and show faithful love to my master Abraham. While I stand by the spring as the young women from the town come out to draw water, I shall say to one of the girls, ‘Please lower your pitcher and let me drink’ and if she answers, ‘drink and I shall water your camels’ let it be the one you decreed for your servant Isaac” (Genesis 24:12-14).

This is precisely what happened. Rebekah whose father Bethuel was a relative of Abraham came to the well and when the loyal servant asked her for a drink, she also volunteered to give water to the camels. The servant was invited to stay at Rebekah’s house and he related to her father and brother the precise nature of his mission. He spoke so well about his master that Rebekah felt very comfortable and ready to leave her family to meet her future husband even though she had never met him before.

The role of the servant was very definite. He had to bring the bride to the bridegroom. He could have easily been tempted to keep the bride for himself. After all, the Bible tells us that, “The girl was beautiful and a virgin, no man had touched her” (Gen 24:16). Yet he remained faithful to his mission. This is also the mission of the priest. As priests we are called to bring the people who are the church and who are also the bride, not to ourselves but to the bridegroom: to Jesus.

This is an awesome vocation. Our call as baptised people is to change the world based on the values and principles of Jesus. Our call is to help all people to live a truly balanced and fulfilled life based on the teaching of Jesus and of his church. We cannot do this on our own. It is too hard and difficult. We need the life giving presence of Jesus to animate, nurture, empower and enable us to live up to this call. Through his ministry as a servant leader, the priest is called to make present the power and the touch of Jesus Christ so that we can all continue this mission of Jesus.

The role of the priest is to enable and empower the church (the people) to be what it is supposed to be, the people of God. His role is at the service of the whole church enabling all the members of the church to live fully their baptismal dignity that is to participate fully in the mission of Jesus as priest, prophet and king. The priest is to enable all baptised to be priestly in the sense of being guided to worship God and to spend time with God in prayer in every circumstance of our lives; to be prophets in the sense of being encouraged to speak, live and act according to what is true and right and to reject everything that is contrary to the mind and heart of Jesus; to be king in the sense of being of service to others following the example of Jesus.

How is the priest going to achieve this? In the first place, by conforming himself to the mind and heart of Jesus. This requires time for prayer, for personal reflection, for reading and for being familiar with the Word of God and with the teaching of the Church. God’s work needs God’s Holy Spirit.

The celebration of the daily Eucharist and the other Sacraments is another vital way enabling the priest to exercise his ministry. However, “Do this in memory of me”, does not only entail the call to continue to celebrate the Eucharist. It also entails living the Eucharist, to be the Eucharist. Jesus literally broke his body in service to others. We are asked to put our life on the line too, even to the point of death in order that others might live with dignity.

The preaching of the Word is also a powerful means to teach and to inculcate in the hearts of our people the desire to fully embrace their mission. The Scriptures contain the story of our lives. In the Word of God we find God’s plan for each one of us. As priests we are called to help our people interpret what is happening in their own lives and in the world around us according to the life-giving presence of Jesus contained in his Word. Whenever God speaks, hearts are changed, minds are uplifted and souls become inflamed. As priests we are called to expound and break open the Word of God in such a way as to achieve these results.

I thank God for all the priests who in spite of difficulties, disappointments and anxiety are powerful witnesses of the Resurrected Lord. I thank God for so many of our people who support their priest by their generosity, wisdom, kindness, care and prayer. Priests and lay people committed to their particular vocation in the Church and firmly bonded by our faith in Jesus Christ are a very tangible witness which cannot fail to touch the lives of many for the better.

I urge many of our young men to pray and to seriously consider a vocation to the priesthood. I am more than happy to help in any way I can.

In this spirit let us pray for all priests,

Bless them in their ministry.
Empower those hurting or confused,
nurture the lonely, refresh the fervent,
enthuse the hardworking
and accompany closely the sick and the dying.
May they continue to love like you,
to think like you, to feel like you,
to understand like you
and to speak like you.

Mary our Mother,
nurture in the hearts of all priests
the same love that you have
for your son Jesus.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Alister McGrath's Boyle Lecture on the Use of Science in Christian Apologetics

Professor Alister McGrath is a British Irish theologian, priest, intellectual historian and Christian apologist, currently Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at Kings College London and Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture. He was previously Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, and was principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, until 2005. He has also taught at Cambridge University and is a Teaching Fellow at Regent College. McGrath holds two doctorates from the University of Oxford, a DPhil in Molecular Biophysics and a Doctor of Divinity in Theology. He is an Anglican and is ordained within the Church of England. 

McGrath is noted for his work in historical theology, systematic theology, and the relationship between science and religion, as well as his writings on apologetics.He is also known for his opposition to New Atheism and anti-religionism and his advocacy of critical realism. Among his best-known books are The Twilight of Atheism, The Dawkins Delusion, Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes and The Meaning of Life, and A Scientific Theology. He is also the author of a number of popular textbooks on theology.

Here are the opening paragraphs of his lecture. Go HERE to download it in full.

New Atheism - New Apologetics: The Use of Science in Recent Christian Apologetic Writings

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 - 6:00pm
St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside

As I think many of you know, I began my academic career as a scientist, studying chemistry at Oxford University under the mentorship of Jeremy Knowles, and then researching in the biological sciences at Oxford under Professor Sir George Radda. This immersion in a scientific research culture is meant to shape minds and patterns of thought, and it certainly shaped mine. As I look back on my own intellectual development, I can see four points at which Oxford’s scientific culture had a decisive impact on my approach to thinking and writing.

First, I absorbed an emphasis on clarity of writing and presentation. Opaque, ambivalent and highly nuanced forms of speech were to be avoided, in that they constituted a barrier to grasping your methods, results, and interpretations. I remain suspicious of the habit that some theologians seem to regard as some kind of intellectual virtue – namely, apparently hiding behind words – and take particular pleasure in the writings of those who aim for clarity of expression and formulation. After taking advice, the first Christian theologian that I read seriously was Karl Barth, and he persuaded me that theology could be taken seriously by a scientist. I often wonder what might have happened if I had begun my reading elsewhere? Happily, other theologians I studied reinforced this perception – most notably, Thomas F. Torrance, and Austin Farrer.

Second, an evidence-based approach to argument is now hardwired into my soul, and is reflected in the fundamental questions that I ask as a theologian. Why should someone think this? How might they be shown to be wrong? What evidence underlies your position? The capacity to assemble a well-ordered evidential argument seems to me to be one of the most important skills that any scientist can develop. And I must insist that theologians learn from this. I intend no disrespect, but I am unhappy about the tendency I see in some theologians to assert, rather than to argue; or to appeal to an authority rather than to evidence, without providing reasons for these assertions, or anticipating objections and alternatives. It seems to me that more theologians need to take seriously the intellectual discipline of evidence-based thinking, not least in engagement with the public domain.

A third habit of thought that I picked up during my time as a scientist is related to this. The core question that many of my philosophical colleagues want to ask about an idea is this: “Is it reasonable?” I have always baulked at this. This seems to be a sure-fire way of locking us into some form of rationalism, which allows reason to determine what can be right, and thus imprisons the scientific enterprise within a rationalist straitjacket. The fundamental question a scientist is going to ask is not “Is this reasonable?” but “What are the reasons for thinking this is true?” We cannot lay down in advance what “rationality” is characteristic of the universe; we have to find out by letting the universe tell us, or figuring out ways of uncovering it.

Scientific rationality is thus best thought of as something that is discovered, rather than predetermined or predicted. In my first year studying chemistry at Oxford, I specialized in quantum theory, and soon realized that I had to learn to conform my own thinking to the nature of the universe, rather than tell the universe what form it should take, based on what seemed to me to be “reasonable”. I exaggerate slightly, but we might suggest that rationalism tells the universe what it ought to be like, whereas science allows the universe to answer back – and listens to it.

You will not need me to tell you how this line of thought is theologically productive and responsible. To give one obvious example: the key question to ask about the doctrine of the Trinity is not “is this reasonable?” As Augustine of Hippo pointed out, the task of theology is not to reduce God to the intellectually manageable (and then label this “reasonable”). It is to expand the vision of the human intellect so that it can grasp as much about God as it can – an idea that is best expressed using the notion of “mystery” – namely, “something that we cannot grasp in its totality”. The task of a responsible Christian theology is to discover the internal logic of the Christian faith, not to lay down in advance what form this should take.

Go HERE to download the entire lecture, as well as Lord Harries' response.