Monday, March 24, 2014

Bono - Who is Jesus . . . really?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lord, give me this water . . .

Here is a reflection on today’s Gospel from the website of Don Schwager:

Would you give water to somebody who snubbed you or treated you like an enemy? Jesus did just that and more! He treated Samaritans, the sworn enemies of the Jews, with great kindness and respect. The Jews and the Samaritans who lived in Israel between Galilee and Judaea, had been divided for centuries. They had no dealings with one another, avoiding all social contact, even trade, and inter-marriage. If their paths crossed it would not be unusual for hostility to break out. 

When Jesus decided to pass through Samaria he stopped at Jacob’s well because it was mid-day and he was both exhausted and thirsty. Jacob’s well was a good mile and a half from the nearest town, called Sychar. It wasn’t easy to draw water from this well since it was over a hundred feet deep. Jesus had neither rope nor bucket to fetch the water. 

When a Samaritan woman showed up at the well, both were caught by surprise. Why would a Samaritan woman walk a mile and a half in the mid-day heat to fetch her water at a remote well rather than in the local town?  She was an outcast and not welcomed among her townspeople. 

Jesus then did something no respectable Jew would think of doing.  He reached out to a Samaritan, thus risking ritual impurity and scorn from his fellow Jews. 

He also did something no strict Rabbi would dare to do in public without loss to his reputation.  He greeted the woman and spoke openly with her. Not only was she a woman, but an adulteress and public sinner as well. No decent Jew or Samaritan would even think of being seen with such a woman, let alone exchanging a word with her!

Jesus broke through the barriers of prejudice, hostility, and tradition to bring the good news of peace and reconciliation to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles alike. He demonstrated the universality of the gospel both in word and deed. No one is barred from the love of God and the good news of salvation. There is only one thing that can keep us from God and his redeeming love – our stubborn pride and wilful rebellion.

What is the point of Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman about water? Water in the arid land was scarce. Jacob’s well was located in a strategic fork of the road between Samaria and Galilee.  One can live without food for several days, but not without water. Water is a source of life and growth for all living things. When rain came to the desert, the water transformed the wasteland into a fertile field. 

The kind of water which Jesus spoke about was living, running, fresh, pure water. Fresh water from a cool running stream was always preferred to the still water one might find in a pool or reservoir. When the Israelites complained about lack of water in the wilderness, God instructed Moses to strike the rock and a stream of fresh living water gushed out (Exodus 17:6). Even though the Israelites did not trust God to care for them in the wilderness, God, nonetheless gave them abundant water and provision through the intercession of his servant Moses.

The image of “living water” is used throughout the scriptures as a symbol of God’s wisdom, a wisdom that imparts life and blessing to all who receive it. “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 13:14).  “Living water” was also a symbol for the Jews of thirst of the soul for God. The water which Jesus spoke of symbolized the Holy Spirit and his work of recreating us in God’s image and sustaining in us the new life which comes from God. The life which the Holy Spirit produces in us makes us a “new creation” in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Do you thirst for God and for the life of the Holy Spirit within you?

St. Hippolytus, a second century Christian writer, explains the significance of the Holy Spirit’s work in us: 

“This is the water of the Spirit: It refreshes paradise, enriches the earth, gives life to living things.  It is the water of Christ’s baptism; it is our life. If you go with faith to this renewing fountain, you renounce Satan your enemy and confess Christ your God.  You cease to be a slave and become an adopted son; you come forth radiant as the sun and brilliant with justice; you come forth a son of God and fellow-heir with Christ.” (From a sermon, On the Epiphany)

St. Basil the Great (c. 330-379) speaks in a similar manner: 

“The Spirit restores paradise to us and the way to heaven and adoption as children of God; he instills confidence that we may call God truly Father and grants us the grace of Christ to be children of the light and to enjoy eternal glory. In a word, he bestows the fullness of blessings in this world and the next; for we may contemplate now in the mirror of faith the promised things we shall someday enjoy. If this is the foretaste, what must the reality be?  If these are the first fruits, what must be the harvest?” (From the treatise, The Holy Spirit)

“Lord Jesus, my soul thirsts for you. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may always find joy in your presence and take delight in doing your will.”

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Michael Ramsey on holiness and unity

Here is a key paragraph - and a beautiful one! - from Michael Ramsey's "Canterbury Pilgrim" (p. 198) on accepting the call of Christ and depending only on his grace.

‘Called to be saints with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:2). What words those are! How they lift us out of our limitations into the supreme reality: we are one in Christ not because of our own ability to grasp things or any virtues we may be supposed to have, but because Christ has called us and we accept his call. When we say that Christ has called us we are at once in his hands, we are held by him, for him to do with us what he intends to do: for we are called to be saints. We are called to resemble Jesus, called to be moulded into the likeness of Christ crucified. That is what Christianity is about: ‘called to be saints’, says St Paul; ‘we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3.2), says St John. If that is what Christianity is about, it is no less what Christian unity is about: called to be saints, with all who in every place call upon the name of Jesus. Here indeed is a unity not made by us, not chosen by us, but created by Christ, from whose call we cannot escape. He is stronger than us, and he has prevailed. We therefore pray for that nearness to Jesus in the working out within each of us of the calling to be saints. May he who humbled himself in the stable in Bethlehem and on the wood of Calvary so humble us that something of his likeness may begin to be ours. To this he has called us, and has made us one with all in every place who have received the same call and dare not look back.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning from St Joseph

St Joseph with the infant Jesus
(Go HERE to purchase a copy)

Here is an article from the website of America Magazine, written in 2008 by Fr Robert P. Maloney, C.M., former superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, who lives in Washington, D.C.(USA), and serves as administrator for DREAM, a joint project of the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Daughters of Charity. Although Fr Maloney wrote his article for Advent, his emphasis on listening to the Word of God is just as relevant in the Lent season. 


A few years ago my sister visited me in Rome. As we toured the little chapel in the house where I lived, she asked me, “Where’s Joseph?” I was taken aback; there was no trace of the saint in the chapel at all. Later I showed her a small stone statue of Joseph in the yard behind the house (set up by one of the brothers named Joseph), which always had a candle burning before it. She was not very satisfied.

Joseph receives little attention these days, even in Advent. But if we read the infancy narratives carefully, we find that Joseph stands with Mary at center stage. In fact, whereas Mary is the heroine in Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth and childhood, in Matthew’s account Joseph has the primary role. During Advent, the church encourages us to reflect on this great man, who accompanied Mary through life. What can Joseph’s life teach believers?


Most of what we commonly say about Joseph comes from apocryphal literature, early Christian writings that were not accepted into the New Testament canon. In these stories, popular imagination fills the vacuum left by the Gospels’ lack of historical detail about Joseph with delightful tales. There is Joseph the old man, for instance. In paintings, nativity scenes and Christmas plays, St. Joseph is usually portrayed as quite old, a grandfatherly figure in the stable at Bethlehem, or an elderly man with a flowering staff or, in deathbed scenes, a grey-haired patriarch whom Jesus and a young Mary stand by and console.

Yet the Scriptures offer no evidence of Joseph’s advanced age, and they give no details whatsoever about the time or place of his birth or death. Instead, these ideas come from The Protoevangelium of James, one of the most influential of the apocrypha. Written around the middle of the second century, The Protoevangelium attempted to reconcile Mary’s virginity with scriptural references to Jesus’ “brothers.” As explanation, the writing imagines Joseph as an old widower with children who was appointed to be the 12-year-old Mary’s guardian, after a dove flew from his staff and hovered over his head in the presence of the high priest.

Nowhere has the popular imagination about Joseph flourished more than in stories about the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Coptic legends have Joseph sailing hundreds of miles down the Nile, fleeing with his family. Other stories tell of miracles that made the journey easier: palm trees bowed down to feed the family with their fruit; lions and leopards, instead of attacking them, wagged their tails in homage to Jesus. At Hermopolis, 175 miles south of Cairo, the idols of the pagan temple fell down as Joseph led the family through. Fifty miles farther south, near Kuskam—where Joseph and the family are said to have stayed six months—two robbers accosted them, but one, upon seeing Mary’s tears, repented. According to the legend, these were the robbers later crucified with Jesus; the one who repented was the “good thief.”

Art has illustrated these legends. Caravaggio’s “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” depicts Joseph holding the music as a gorgeous angel plays the violin, lulling Mary and Jesus to sleep. Filippo Lippi, Bartolomeo Murillo and Georges de la Tour painted similar scenes.

The Syriac-Arabic Infancy Gospel and other apocrypha add further embellishments to the story of Joseph’s life. Joseph the carpenter makes plows, yokes and other tools for farmers, as well as wooden beds for homes. At age 40 he marries Melcha (some stories call her Escha), and during their 49 years of marriage they have four sons and two daughters. Joseph encounters Mary after he has been widowed for one year. The annunciation takes place two years later. Joseph, it is written, is out searching for a midwife when Jesus is born.

A final apocryphal work worth noting is the fourth-century Story of Joseph the Carpenter. This tale imagines Jesus working side by side with Joseph in the carpenter’s shop and later treats Joseph’s last days. Strong and alert until the age of 111, Joseph falls ill and confesses his sins on his deathbed, where he is consoled by Jesus and Mary. Jesus then beckons the archangels Michael and Gabriel to take Joseph’s soul.


The early church rejected these texts, even though they have some value as literary expressions of the popular religious imagination. Today we too recognize that many of these apocryphal stories are much too fantastic to be regarded as historical.

Given the scarcity of relevant historical detail in the New Testament, we are left with only a general outline about Joseph. It can be argued that he was of the lineage of David, at least in a broad sense. There is evidence that he came from either Bethlehem or Nazareth. He labored as a woodworker, a trade in which Jesus followed him. His language was a Palestinian dialect of Aramaic, though he probably knew enough Greek to bargain and write receipts in his trade. Most likely he also understood some Hebrew, which he heard read aloud in the synagogue.

According to the New Testament, Joseph became legally betrothed to Mary, probably when she was very young, which was the custom at the time. He then married her, in spite of her mysterious pregnancy, and became Jesus’ legal father. He was just, upright and devoted to the Law, but compassionate in its interpretation. He accompanied Mary during the events surrounding the birth of Jesus and into the early years of Jesus’ life. He settled the family in Nazareth. With Mary, he would have tended to Jesus’ religious education. By the time of Jesus’ public ministry, however, Joseph had disappeared completely. Apparently he had died by this time, though we have no details about his death.


Year after year the church presents Joseph as a subject for meditation, especially during Advent. Three facets of the New Testament picture of Joseph merit our attention.

First, a central Gospel theme: Joseph, like Mary, listened to the word of God and acted on it. In the Gospels Joseph never speaks. But in Matthew, God speaks to Joseph at four critical moments in the history of Jesus, and in each instance, Joseph immediately responds. When the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, Joseph receives her into his home. Upon being told he should take Jesus and his mother and flee to Egypt, Joseph leaves that very night. So, too, he later returns to Israel upon the direction of the angel. And when Joseph is warned in a dream not to go to Judea, he immediately changes course and settles the family in Galilee. His persistently faithful response to God’s commands parallels the presentation of Mary in the Gospel of Luke. Both know how to “listen to the word of God and act upon it.”

Second, in Matthew’s Gospel Joseph is brought before the transcendent mystery of God again and again, sometimes with hesitation but always with alertness, and he faces it with faith. Surely Joseph cannot fathom the virginal conception of Jesus. But from the darkness of his own limited understanding, he responds to the mystery of God with awe and acceptance, tempering his strict observance of the Law with loving compassion and bowing in reverence to God’s incomprehensible ways. He cannot possibly understand how this child, who seems like any other, could be “God with us,” but in faith Joseph abandons himself to the task of loving the child and educating him.

Third, Joseph’s life was steeped in daily dealings with the world around him; he was not set apart. Indeed, the life of the Holy Family at Nazareth was far from the idyllic monastery-like existence we sometimes imagine. Joseph was a woodworker, a neighborhood craftsman who made furniture and carved other objects, and spent time apprenticing his son in the same trade. Like many believers over the course of history, Joseph walked with God as a family man, laboring in his shop and living at home with Mary and Jesus. He combined prayer, hard work and the responsibilities of being a husband and father.

This year especially, after the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God, the church urges us to renew our love for the word of God. For Joseph, as for Mary his wife, heeding the word of God was paramount. His example challenges us to ask ourselves: Is the word of God really central for us, as it was for him? Is it water that gives us life when our hearts and minds are dry (Isaiah)? Is it a hammer to knock us loose when we are too set to budge (Jeremiah)? Is it food sweeter than honey for those times when life tastes bitter (Psalms)? Is it a two-edged sword, which when applied to others cuts us, too (Hebrews)?

Advent is upon us. Imagine how Joseph felt as the birth of his mysterious son approached: puzzled, excited, awed. Yet in his puzzlement, the word of God was his strength. Deep faith gave him light in the darkness and enabled him to see the presence of God in a world where suffering, privation and violence appeared to reign.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St Patrick - the Deer's Cry

You worship the sun that rises and sets;
I preach to you, Christ, the sun that never sets.
(St Patrick)

Many legends surround the life and ministry of the great missionary, St Patrick, who the Church honours today.  One of them tells of Patrick lighting a fire on the hill of Slane one Holy Saturday, which was a challenge to the High-King Laeghaire who was about to light a ritual fire on the hill of Tara to proclaim his authority over all. Outraged at the Christian challenge to his claim, the High-King summoned Patrick. Apprehensively, Patrick began his journey, chanting this prayer, this affirmation of faith, calling on the power of God to protect him against his enemies. In the legend, Laeghaire tried to ambush Patrick, but all he saw when he looked Patrick’s way was a group of deer and a fawn following them. For this reason, the prayer is also known as The Deer’s Cry. The hymn based on it is called “St Patrick’s Breatplate.” 

I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness
towards the Creator of Creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with his Baptism,
through the strength of his Crucifixion with his Burial
through the strength of his Resurrection with his Ascension,
through the strength of his descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels,
in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs,
in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles,
in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins,
in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun,
brilliance of Moon,
splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning,
swiftness of Wind,
depth of Sea,
stability of Earth,
firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God’’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall
wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics,
against craft of idolatry,
against spells of women [any witch] and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man’s body and soul.

Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness
towards the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ.

May thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Miserable Offenders - C.S. Lewis on Prayer Book Language and Lent (pub. 1951)

One of the advantages of having a written and printed service, is that it enables you to see when people’s feelings and thoughts have changed. When people begin to find the words of our service difficult to join in, that is of course a sign that we do not feel about those things exactly as our ancestors. Many people have, as their immediate reaction to that situation the simple remedy - “Well, change the words” - which would be very sensible if you knew that we are right and our ancestors were wrong. It is always at least worth while to find out who it is that is wrong.

The Lenten season is devoted especially to what the theologians call contrition, and so every day in Lent a prayer is said in which we ask God to give us “contrite hearts.”1 Contrite, as you know, is a word translated from Latin, meaning crushed or pulverized. Now modern people complain that there is too much of that note in our Prayer Book. They do not wish their hearts to be pulverized, and they do not feel that they can sincerely say that they are “miserable offenders.”2 I once knew a regular churchgoer who never repeated the words, “the burden of them (i.e. his sins) is intolerable”,3 because he did not feel that they were intolerable. But he was not understanding the words. I think the Prayer Book is very seldom talking primarily about our feelings; that is (I think) the first mistake we’re apt to make about these words “we are miserable offenders.” I do not think whether we are feeling miserable or not matters. I think it is using the word miserable in the old sense -meaning an object of pity. That a person can be a proper object of pity when he is not feeling miserable, you can easily understand if you imagine yourself looking down from a height on two crowded express trains that are traveling towards one another along the same line at 60 miles an hour. You can see that in forty seconds there will be a head-on collision. I think it would be very natural to say about the passengers of these trains, that they were objects of pity. This would not mean that they felt miserable themselves; but they would certainly be proper objects of pity. I think that is the sense in which to take the word ‘miserable.’ The Prayer Book does not mean that we should feel miserable but that if we could see things from a sufficient height above we should all realize that we are in fact proper objects of pity.

As to the other one, about the burden of our sins being intolerable it might be clearer if we said ‘unbearable’, because that still has two meanings you say ‘I cannot bear it’, when you mean it gives you great pain, but you also say ‘That bridge will not bear that truck’ -not meaning ‘That bridge will feel pain’, but ‘if that truck goes on to it, it will break and not be a bridge any longer, but a mass of rubble.’ I wonder if that is what the Prayer Book means; that, whether we feel miserable or not, and however we feel, there is on each of us a load which, if nothing is done about it, will in fact break us, will send us from this world to whatever happens afterwards, not as souls but as broken souls.

But are we really to believe that on each of us there lies something which if not taken off us, will in fact break us? It is very difficult. No man has any natural knowledge of his own inner state and I think that at the beginning we probably find it much easier to understand and believe this about other people than about ourselves. I wonder, would I be safe in guessing that every second person has in his life a terrible problem, conditioned by some other person; either someone you work for, or someone who works for you, either someone among your friends or your relations, or actually someone in your own house, who is making, and has for years made, your life very much more difficult than it need be? -someone who has that fatal flaw in his character, on which again and again all your efforts have been wrecked, someone whose fatal laziness or jealousy or intolerable temper, or the fact that he never tells the truth, or the fact that he will always backbite and bear tales, or whatever the fatal flaw may be, which, whether it breaks him or not, will certainly break you.

There are two stages, I think, in one’s approach to this problem. One begins by thinking that if only something external happened; if only after the war you could get a better job, if only you could get a new house or if only your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law was no longer living with you; if something like that happened, then things would really be better. But after a certain age you no longer think that, because you know for a fact, that even if all this happened, your husband would still be sulky and self-centered, your wife jealous or extravagant, or your employer a bully, or someone whom you employ and cannot dispense with, a cheat. You know, that if the war ended and you had a better job and a new house, and your mother-in-law or your daughter-in-law no longer lived with you, there would still be that final flaw in “so and so’s” character.

Perhaps in one’s misery, one lets out to an intimate friend a little of what the real trouble is, and your intimate friend says, “Why do you not speak to him or her? Why not have the matter out? They really cannot be as bad as you think.” But you say to yourself “Oh! He doesn’t know,” for of course you have tried again and again to have the matter out, and you know by bitter experience that it will not do the slightest good. You have tried it so often, and you know that any attempt to have it out will only produce either a scene or a total failure of understanding; or, perhaps worst of all, the other person will be kind and equable, and entirely agree with you, and promise to be different. And then in twenty-four hours everything will be exactly the same as it always has been!

Supposing you are not mistaken, misled by your own anger or something of that sort. Supposing you are fairly near the truth, then you are in one sense getting a glimpse of what God must see all the time, because in a certain sense He’s up against these people. He is up against their problem as you are. He also has made excellent plans; He has also again and again done His part, by sending into the world prophets and wise men and at last Himself, His own Son. Again and again His plans too have been shipwrecked by that fatal flaw in people’s character. And no doubt He sees much more clearly than we do; but even we can see in the case of other people, that unless something is done about their load it will break them. We can see that under the influence of nagging jealousy, or possessive selfishness, their character is day by day ceasing to be human.

Now take a step further. When God looks into your office, or parish, or school, or hospital, or factory, or home, He sees all these people like that, and of course, sees one more, the one whom you do not see. For we may be quite certain that, just as in other people, there is something on which our best endeavors have again and again been shipwrecked, so in us there is something quite equally fatal, on which their endeavors have again and again been shipwrecked. If we are beginners in the Christian life we have nothing to make the fatal flaw clear to ourselves. Does the person with a smelly breath know it smells? Or does the Club bore know he is a bore? Is there a single man or woman who believes himself or herself to be a bore or temperamentally jealous? Yet the world is pretty well sprinkled with bores and jealous people. If we are like that, everyone else will know it before we do. You ask why your friends have not told you about it. But what if they have? They may have tried again and again; but on every occasion, we thought they were being queer, that they were in a bad temper, or simply mistaken. They have tried again and again, and have probably now given it up.

What should be done about it? What is the good of my talking about the fatal flaw if one does not know about it? I think the first step is to get down to the flaws which one does know. I am speaking to Christians. Many of you, no doubt, are very far ahead of me in the Christian way. It is not for me to decide whether you should confess your sins to a priest or not (our Prayer Book leaves that free to all and demands it of none)4 but if you do not, you should at least make a list on a piece of paper, and make a serious act of penance about each one of them. There is something about the mere words, you know, provided you avoid two dangers, either of sensational exaggeration -trying to work things up and make melodramatic sins out of small matters -or the opposite danger of slurring things over. It is essential to use the plain, simple old-fashioned words that you would use about anyone else. I mean words like theft, or fornication, or hatred, instead of “I did not mean to be dishonest,” or “I was only a boy then,” or “I lost my temper.” I think that this steady facing of what one does know and bringing it before God, without excuses, and seriously asking for Forgiveness and Grace, and resolving as far as in one lies to do better, is the only way in which we can ever begin to know the fatal thing which is always there, and preventing us from becoming perfectly just to our wife or husband, or being a better employer or employee. If this process is gone through, I do not doubt that most of us will come to understand and to share these old words like “contrite”, “miserable” and “intolerable”.

Does that sound very gloomy? Does Christianity encourage morbid introspection? The alternative is much more morbid. Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others. It is healthier to think of one’s own. It is the reverse of morbid. It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and really to know one’s own sins is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be a first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass of unrepented and unexamined sins, lurking the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of the tooth about which you should go to the dentist, and the simple straight-forward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out.

1. The Lenten Collect is appended at the end of this paper.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This Collect is to be said every day in Lent, after the Collect appointed for the day, until Palm Sunday.

2. The General Confession at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, which is appended.

Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

3. The General Confession at the Holy Communion, also appended.

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, March 7, 2014

John Henry Newman on Fasting and Lent

John Henry Newman (1801-90) along with John Keble, Edward Bouverie Pusey and others, was one of the founding fathers of the Oxford Movement, the Catholic Revival, which sought to renew the catholic heritage of the Church of England in theology and practice. Newman was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845, becoming a cardinal in 1879. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in Birmingham in September 2010.

This is a long blog post. But, then, it IS Lent! The sermon, preached at St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, is offered in its entirety. Newman gave it the title, “Apostolic Abstinence a Pattern for Christians.” It was published in Volume 6 of Parochial and Plain Sermons in 1842. (Newman's very long paragraphs have been broken up into shorter ones for the the convenience of the modern reader.)

“Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and thine often infirmities.” 1 Tim. v. 23.

THIS is a remarkable verse, because it accidentally tells us so much. 

It is addressed to Timothy, St. Paul’s companion, the first Bishop of Ephesus. Of Timothy we know very little, except that he did minister to St. Paul, and hence we might have inferred that he was a man of very saintly character; but we know little or nothing of him, except that he had been from a child a careful reader of Scripture. This indeed, by itself, in that Apostolic age, would have led us to infer, that he had risen to some great height in spiritual excellence; though it must be confessed that instances are frequent at this day, of persons knowing the Bible well, and yet being little stricter than others in their lives, for all their knowledge. Timothy, however, had so read the Old Testament, and had so heard from St. Paul the New, that he was a true follower of the Apostle, as the Apostle was of Christ: St. Paul accordingly calls him “my own son,” or “my true son in the faith.” And elsewhere he says to the Philippians, that he has “no man like-minded to Timothy, who would naturally” or truly “care for their state.” [Phil. ii. 20.] But still, after all, this is but a general account of him, and we seem to desire something more definite in the way of description, beyond merely knowing that he was a great saint, which conveys no clear impression to the mind. 

Now, in the text we have accidentally a glimpse given us of his mode of life. St. Paul does not expressly tell us that he was a man of mortified habits; but he reveals the fact indirectly by cautioning him against an excess of mortification. “Drink no longer water,” he says, “but use a little wine.” It should be observed, that wine, in the southern countries, is the same ordinary beverage that beer is here; it is nothing strong or costly. Yet even from such as this, Timothy was in the habit of abstaining, and restricting himself to water; and, as the Apostle thought, imprudently, to the increase of his “often infirmities.”

There is something very striking in this accidental mention of the private ways of this Apostolical Bishop. We know indeed from history the doctrine and the life of the great saints, who lived some time after the Apostles’ age; but we are naturally anxious to know something more of the Apostles themselves, and their associates. We say, “Oh that we could speak to St. Paul,—that we could see him in his daily walk, and hear his oral and familiar teaching!—that we could ask him what he meant by this expression in his Epistles, or what he thought of this or the other doctrine.” This is not given to us. God might give us greater light than He does; but it is His gracious will to give us the less. 

Yet perhaps much more is given us in Scripture, as it has come to us, than we think, if our eyes were enlightened to discern it there. Such, for instance, is the text; it is a sudden revelation, a glimpse of the personal character of Apostolic Christians; it is a hint which we may follow out. For no one will deny that a very great deal of doctrine, and a very great deal of precept, goes with such a fact as this; viz. that this holy man, without impiously disparaging God’s creation, and thanklessly rejecting God’s gifts, yet, on the whole, lived a life of abstinence.

I cannot at all understand why such a life is not excellent in a Christian now, if it was the characteristic of Apostles, and friends of Apostles, then. I really do not see why the trials and persecutions, which environed them from Jews and Gentiles, their forlorn despised state, and their necessary discomforts, should not even have exempted them from voluntary sufferings in addition, unless such self-imposed hardships were pleasing to Christ. Yet we find that St. Paul, like Timothy, who (as the Apostle says) had known “his doctrine and manner of life,” [2 Tim. iii. 10.] I say, St. Paul also, in addition to his “weariness and painfulness,” “hunger and thirst,” “cold and nakedness,” was “in watchings often,” “in fastings often.” 

Such were holy men of old time. How far are we below them! Alas for our easy sensual life, our cowardice, our sloth! is this the way by which the kingdom of heaven is won? is this the way that St. Paul fought a good fight, and finished his course? or was it by putting behind his back all things on earth, and looking stedfastly towards Him who is invisible?

Now at first sight it may not be clear why this moderation, and at least occasional abstinence, in the use of God’s gifts, should be so great a duty, as our Lord, for instance, seems to imply, when He places fasting in so prominent a place in the Sermon on the Mount, with almsgiving and prayer. But thus much we are able to see, that the great duty of the Gospel is love to God and man; and that this love is quenched and extinguished by self-indulgence, and cherished by self-denial. They who enjoy this life freely, make it or self their idol; they are gross-hearted, and have no eyes to see God withal. Hence it is said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” [Matt. v. 8.] And again, it was the rich man who fared sumptuously every day, who neglected Lazarus; for sensual living hardens the heart, while abstinence softens and refines it. 

Now, observe, I do not mean that abstinence produces this effect as a matter of course in any given person,—else all the poor ought to be patterns of Christian love,—but that where men are religiously-minded, there those out of the number will make greater attainments in love and devotional feeling, who do exercise themselves in self-denial of the body. I should really be disposed to say,—You must make your choice, you must in some way or another deny the flesh, or you cannot possess Christian love. 

Love is no common grace in its higher degrees. It is true, indeed, that, as being the necessary token of every true Christian, it must be possessed in some degree even by the weakest and humblest of Christ’s servants—but in any of its higher and maturer stages, it is rare and difficult. It is easy to be amiable or upright; it is easy to live in regular habits;—it is easy to live conscientiously, in the common sense of the word. I say, all this is comparatively easy; but one thing is needful, and one thing is often lacking,—love. 

We may act rightly, yet without doing our right actions from the love of God. Other motives, short of love, are good in themselves; these we may have, and not have love. Now I do not think that this defect arises from any one cause, or can be removed by any one remedy; and yet still, it does seem as if abstinence and fasting availed much towards its removal; so much so, that, granting love is necessary, then these are necessary; assuming love to be the characteristic of a Christian, so is abstinence. You may think to dispense with fasting; true; and you may neglect also to cultivate love.

And here a connexion may be traced between the truth I have been insisting on, and our Lord’s words, when asked why His disciples did not fast. He said, that they could not fast while the Bridegroom was with them; but that when He was taken from them, then they would fast. The one thing, which is all in all to us, is to live in Christ’s presence; to hear His voice, to see His countenance. His first disciples had Him in bodily presence among them; and He spoke to them, warned them, was a pattern to them, and guided them with His eye. 

But when He withdrew Himself from the world of sense, how should they see Him still? When their fleshly eyes and ears saw Him no more, when He had ascended whither flesh and blood cannot enter, and the barrier of the flesh was interposed between Him and them, how should they any longer see and hear Him? “Lord, whither goest Thou?” they said; and He answered to Peter, “Whither I go thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.” They were to follow Him through the veil, and to break the barrier of the flesh after His pattern. They must, as far as they could, weaken and attenuate what stood between them and Him; they must anticipate that world where flesh and blood are not; they must discern truths which flesh and blood could not reveal; they must live a life, not of sense, but of spirit; they must practise those mortifications which former religions had enjoined, which the Pharisees and John’s disciples observed, with better fruit, for a higher end, in a more heavenly way, in order to see Him who is invisible. 

By fasting, Moses saw God’s glory; by fasting, Elijah heard the “still small voice;” by fasting, Christ’s disciples were to express their mourning over the Crucified and Dead, over the Bridegroom taken away: but that mourning would bring Him back, that mourning would be turned to joy; in that mourning they would see Him, they would hear of Him, again; they would see Him, as they mourned and wept. And while they mourned, so long would they see Him and rejoice—for “blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted;” they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;” hungering and thirsting after and unto righteousness,—fasting in body, that their soul may hunger and thirst after its true good; fasting in body, that they may be satisfied in spirit; in a “barren and dry land, where no water is,” [Ps. lxiii. 2.] that they may look for Him in holiness, and behold His power and glory. “My heart is smitten down, and withered like grass (says the Psalmist), so that I forget to eat my bread. For the voice of my groaning, my bones will scarce cleave to my flesh. I am become like a pelican in the wilderness, and like an owl that is in the desert. I have watched, and am even as a sparrow that sitteth alone upon the house-top.” “All day long have I been punished, and chastened every morning.” And what was the consequence? “Nevertheless, I am alway by Thee: for Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and after that receive me with glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee? My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” [Ps. cii. 4-7; lxxiii. 13, 22-25.]

Such was the portion which St. Paul and St. Timothy received, when they gave up this world and its blessings; not that they might not have enjoyed them had they chosen; but because they might, and yet gave them up, therefore they received blessings out of sight instead. And in like manner, applying this to ourselves, it is our duty also to be ever moderate, and at times to abstain, in the use of God’s earthly gifts; nay, happy is it for us, if God’s secret grace call us on, as it called St. Paul and Timothy, to a more divine and tranquil life than that of the multitude. It is our duty to war against the flesh as they warred against it, that we may inherit the gifts of the Spirit as they inherited them. If Saints are our patterns, this surely means that we must copy them.

Here, however, it may be objected, that there is presumption in wishing to be what Apostles and their associates were. That they had high spiritual gifts which we have not, and that to attempt their life without these, is all one with attempting to work such miracles as they did, which any one would grant to be presumptuous. There is much truth in such a remark so far as this, that to attempt at once all they did would be presumptuous; we can but put ourselves in the way. God gives second and third gifts to those who improve the first; let us improve the first, and then we know not how high may be the spiritual faculties which at length He will give us. 

Who is there, who, on setting out on a journey, sees before him his destination? How often, when a person is making for a place which he has never seen, he says to himself, that he cannot believe that at a certain time he really will be there? There is nothing in what he at present sees, which conveys to him the assurance of the future; and yet, in time, that future will be present. So is it as regards our spiritual course: we know not what we shall be; but begin it, and, at length, by God’s grace, you will end it; not, indeed, with the grace He now has given, but by fresh and fresh grace, fuller and fuller, increased according to your need. Thus you will end, if you do but begin; but begin not with the end; begin with the beginning; mount up the heavenly ladder step by step. 

Fasting is a duty; but we ought to fast according to our strength. God requires nothing of us beyond our strength; but the utmost according to our strength. “She has done what she could,” was His word of commendation to Mary. Now, to forget or to miss this truth, is very common with beginners, even through mere ignorance or inadvertence. They know not what they can do, and what they cannot, as not having yet tried themselves. And then, when what they hoped was easy, proves a great deal too much for them, they fail, and then are dispirited. They wound their conscience, as being unable to fulfil their own resolves, and they are reduced to a kind of despair; or they are tempted to be reckless, and to give up all endeavours whatever to obey God, because they are not strong enough for every thing. And thus it often happens, that men rush from one extreme to another; and even profess themselves free to live without any rule of self-government at all, after having professed great strictness, or even extravagance, in their mode of living.

This applies of course to all duties whatever. We should be very much on our guard, when we are engaged in contemplating the lives of holy men, against attempting just what they did; which might be right indeed in them, and yet may be wrong in us. Holy men may say and do things which we have no right to say and do. Profession by word of mouth, religious language, rebuking others, and the like, may be natural and proper in them, and forced and out of place in us. We ought to attempt nothing but what we can do. 

There is a kind of inward feeling which often tells us what we have a right to do, and what we have not. We have often a kind of misgiving, as if what we are tempted to do does not really belong to us. Let us carefully attend to this inward voice. This applies especially to our devotions: common men have no right to use the prayers which advanced Christians use without offending; and if they attempt it, they become unreal; an offence which all persons, who have any faith and reverence, will endeavour earnestly to avoid. But if we will thus commence our religious course, it is certain we shall soon get tired of it; we shall give it up; and our devotional feelings will thus be shown, by the event, to have been but a fashion or an impulse, which has no true excellence in it.

And here I will observe, what may be of use even to those who are most cautious and prudent in their mode of conducting their self-denials, supposing they have seasons in which they practise them, such as Lent ought to be to all of us. Be very much on your guard against a reaction to a careless way of life after Lent is over. It is a caution commonly and usefully given, that after a day of fasting we should not, when we break our fast, eat unduly; now I am giving a similar warning concerning a season of abstinence, and not only as regards eating largely, but against all laxity and self-indulgence. 

In Lent, serious thoughts are brought more regularly before the mind. The rule of abstinence which we adopt, however slight it may be in itself, acts as a continual restraint and memento upon us in other things. We cannot range at will through the field of thinking and wishing. We are more frequent also in prayer. And especially, if we feel ourselves able to be strict in our fast, the weakness of body consequent on it is an additional check upon us. Let us beware, then, lest, when this time is over, and Easter comes, we fall back into a lawless state of mind, and a random life, as if God’s paradise were some Judaical heaven, where we might indulge ourselves the more freely in this world’s goods, for having renounced them for a while. This grievous consequence is said actually to happen in some foreign countries, in the case of the multitude, who never will have a deep and consistent devotion while the world lasts; and we should be much on our guard, lest it happens to us in our degree. It will be a sad thought for remembrance hereafter, if we shall find after all, that we have undone what was right and profitable in our Lent exercises by a relapse in Easter-tide.

This, however, may be added for our encouragement, that to abstain for any length of time is the beginning of a habit; and we may trust, that what we have begun will continue, or tend to continue. And even though, through our frailty, we fall back (which God forbid!), yet we shall find our self-denials easier next Lent. Nay, as I just now said, we shall be able to do more. Self-denial will become natural to us. We shall feel no desire for those indulgences, whether animal or mental, which savour of this world; and our tastes and likings will begin to be formed upon a heavenly rule. 

To those who are accustomed to self-denials, it is more painful to indulge than to abstain, as every one of common self-control must know, from ordinary matters of his own experience. Persons in the humbler ranks, of unrefined minds, look up to the rich, and wonder they do not do this or that, which they would do for certain, had they the like means. The reason is, that these rich persons, having a more perfect education, have too much taste and sense of propriety, even though religion should be absent, to use their wealth in what may be called a barbarian way. 

Now the same dislike of self-indulgence, in all its shapes, is matured, under God’s grace, in the souls of those who seek Him in the way of austerity. Timothy had to be reminded by St. Paul to use a little wine; for to drink wine was a trouble to Timothy, as putting him (to use a common phrase) out of his way. He was happy in his own way. All men have each his own way, and they wonder at one another. Each looks down upon his neighbour, because his neighbour does not like the very things he likes himself. We look down on foreigners, because their way is not ours. Happy he whose way is God’s way; when he is used to it, it is as easy as any other way—nay, much easier, for God’s service is perfect freedom, whereas Satan is a cruel taskmaster.

To conclude, let those who attempt to make this Lent profitable to their souls, by such observances as have ever been in use at this season since Christianity was, beware lest they lose this world without gaining the next;—for instance, as I said just now, by relapsing. Or again, by observing what is in itself right in a cold and formal manner. 

We can use the means, but it is God alone who blesses them. He alone turns the stones into bread, and brings water from the hard rock. He can turn all things into nourishment, but He alone can do so. Let us pray Him to bless what we venture for Him, that we may not only labour, but may receive our wages, and gather fruit unto life eternal. This world is a very little thing to give up for the next. Yet, if we give it up in heart and conversation, we shall gain the next. Let us aim at the consistent habit of mind, of looking towards God, and rejoicing in the glory which shall be revealed. In that case, whether we eat or drink, or abstain, or whatever we do, we shall do all unto Him. Let us aim at being true heirs of the promise; let us humbly aspire to be His elect, in whom He delighteth, holy and undefiled, “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation,” among whom we may shine “as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life.”

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Hear us, O Lord . . ." (The Lent Prose)

With Lent just around the corner, I thought I’d share with you a recording of cantor and congregation singing the English language version of the 10th Century Mozarabic hymn, Attende Domine, which we have come to know simply as “The Lent Prose.” Here George Curnow, Senior Cantor at the Church of St Martin in Roath (Wales) leads the congregation. It takes me back to my own parishes where we learned to sing the Lent Prose in this way. A commentator wrote that “this is a very good rendition, fuller, more red-blooded than unaccompanied unison or plainsong versions, which are a bit hairshirtlike for today’s congregations.” I think he’s right. What a pity that the recording cuts out just before the end!

I wish all my regular readers and visitors to this blog a good beginning to Lent. May it be a time of fruitful penitence, renewal, and openness to the love of God.

Hear us, O Lord, have mercy upon us: 
for we have sinned against thee.

To thee, Redeemer, on thy throne of glory: 
lift we our weeping eyes in holy pleadings: 
listen, O Jesu, to our supplications.  Hear us, O Lord . . .

O thou chief cornerstone, right hand of the Father: 
way of salvation, gate of life celestial: 
cleanse thou our sinful souls from all defilement.  Hear us, O Lord . . .

God, we implore thee, in thy glory seated: 
bow down and hearken to thy weeping children: 
pity and pardon all our grievous trespasses.  Hear us, O Lord . . .

Sins oft committed, now we lay before thee: 
with true contrition, now no more we veil them: 
grant us, Redeemer, loving absolution.  Hear us, O Lord . . .

Innocent captive, taken unresisting: 
falsely accused, and for us sinners sentenced, 
save us, we pray thee, Jesu, our Redeemer. Hear us, O Lord . . .

- The English Hymnal 736