Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pope John Paul II officially recognised as a saint (and Pope John XXIII, too!)

Well, just because of today’s canonisation here is a photo of a much younger Fr Chislett in Rome (with no grey hair!), together with Fr Bill Edebohls, then Anglican Dean of Ballarat, with Pope John Paul II. This was in February 1994. 

Lord Jesus, Thank you for sending us such a great man to show us how to handle the trials of our life. Thank you, Lord, for Pope John Paul II.

(Of course, we also give thanks for Pope john XXIII who opened the windows of the Church so that the fresh air, the wind of the Holy Spirit, could enter afresh, renewing and empowering empowering Christians to witness faithfully to the Gospel.)

Below is the homily preached by Pope Francis this morning:

At the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.

He had already shown those wounds when he first appeared to the Apostles on the very evening of that day following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection. But Thomas was not there that evening, and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he replied that unless he himself saw and touched those wounds, he would not believe. A week later, Jesus appeared once more to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and Thomas was present; Jesus turned to him and told him to touch his wounds. Whereupon that man, so straightforward and accustomed to testing everything personally, knelt before Jesus with the words: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God.  Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24, cf. Isaiah 53:5).

John XXIII and John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Isaiah 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.

They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.

This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47). It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.

This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us. John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader.  This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.

In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The resurrection of the flesh of Jesus and the renewal of creation

In contrast to the conviction at the heart of the Catholic Faith that grace perfects - not destroys - nature, much liberal theology is actually very gnostic in its dealing with the incarnation of Jesus. Anglican liberals still like to claim that they are “incarnational.” This is curious when at the most basic level there is among them a kind of snobbish discomfort, born of “enlightenment” assumptions about the universe, with the idea that matter should really have anything to do with spirit, that God could literally become man in the flesh of Jesus taken from Our Lady, and that “salvation history” could coalesce with real history. 

When we consider their watered down ideas about Jesus rising from the dead (i.e. it was "just spiritual"), we want to ask them, “What is it that makes matter so unworthy that it cannot participate in the resurrection?” 

We look forward to the restoration and transformation of the entire creation. In Scripture, God’s creation of heaven and earth - all things visible (material) and invisible (spiritual) - is seen to be integral to the ongoing expression of his life and love. In Jesus, the unseen and the seen, spirit and matter, God and Man, are forever joined. The resurrection of the flesh of Jesus is the first stage of the transfiguration and glorification of the entire universe.

St Paul:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God . . . because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19-21)

Raymond Brown (1928–1998):
In our anticipation of God’s ultimate plan, one of two models is usually followed: the model of eventual destruction and new creation, or the model of transformation. Will the material world pass away all be made new, or will somehow the world be transformed and changed into the city of God? The model that the Christian chooses will have an effect on his attitude toward the world and toward the corporeal. What will be destroyed can have only a passing value; what is to be transformed retains its importance. Is the body a shell that one sheds, or is it an intrinsic part of the personality that will forever identify a person? If Jesus, body corrupted in the tomb so that his victory over death did not include bodily resurrection, then the model of destruction and new creation is indicated. If Jesus rose bodily from the dead, then the Christian model should be one of transformation. The problem of the bodily resurrection is not just an example of Christian curiosity; it is related to a major theme in theology: God’s ultimate purpose in creating. (The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, p. 128-129)

Roy Fellows (1931-2006): 
Easter reminds us that the Good News is Jesus and the Resurrection. We are not concerned with some vague belief in the immortality of the soul, but with the startling fact of the Resurrection of the body, that is, the whole person. We believe in a new creation of which the Risen Christ is the first instalment. Our God is the one who gives us a share and a promise of this new creation through sacramental signs which use matter - water, bread and wine and the touch of a human hand. There is no room in our Easter faith for a false spirituality which despises the material world. We who worship the Word made Flesh, the Son of Mary, must be concerned for the whole of life and human society in its God-given environment. (The Walsingham Review . . . 1990?)

Gerald O’Collins (b. 1931):
‘Reconciling all things’ (Colossians 1:20), ‘gathering up all things’ (Ephesians 1:10), or ‘making all things new’ (Revelation 1:5) puts the resurrection and redemption in a cosmic context. The resurrection of Christ had not happened without, and certainly not against, creation. It brought a new world in which not only human beings but also all living creatures and the Earth itself would share. (Believing in the Resurrection – The Meaning and Promise of the Risen Jesus, pp. 119-120)

Eric Mascall (1905-1993): 
Because there still appear to be people who, after nearly a century of relativity and quantum theory, think of the material world as composed of indestructible ultramicroscopic billiard-balls controlled by fixed unutterable laws, it may be well to recall that modern physics views the world as a spatiotemporal manifold of centres of energy and spontaneity; in such a world Jesus’ resurrection may well be seen, not as a violation or an overriding of the inherent and proper workings of nature, but rather as their joyful and blessed fulfilment, in bringing nature to a perfection that it could not reach by its own efforts.” (Jesus: Who He Is and How We Know Him)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A great Holy Saturday poem

This poem, "Limbo", by Sister Mary Ada, from THE MARY BOOK, a collection edited by F.J. Sheed, is always good to read on Holy Saturday. The entire book is available HERE

The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred
All souls.
They wondered if they dreamed –
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses, standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed
Or apple trees
All blossom-boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.

And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that He wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung
None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song,
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue –
Not any other.
Close to His heart
When the embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is Your Mother,
How is Your Mother, Son?”

Friday, April 18, 2014

". . . where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet"

The widely acclaimed and deeply confronting life-size Crucifixion sculpture 
in St Peters Church, Plymouth, by Jacquie Binns, 
unveiled in November 2007. 

Anglicans should recall that the Canon of our Prayer Book Mass describes the death of Jesus as “. . . a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”, echoing the teaching of the Apostle Paul who said that “for our sake he [the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (Romans 2:21).

In his book, God is not Angry, Ian Petit OP takes us into the depth of this mystery. Having shown us how we as guilty sinners have removed ourselves from the relationship with God for which we were created, he explains what God in his amazing love has done to set us free:

“Jesus did not simply pretend to be incapable of being in God’s presence; rather, he took our sins on himself at the crucifixion and actually experienced banishment . . . The consequence of sin is more than physical death; it is a wounding that separates us from the Father.”  (God is Not Angry, Page 42)

In Mysterium Paschale, the great Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar goes even further when he says:

“Jesus does not only accept the . . . mortal destiny of Adam, He also, quite expressly, carries the sins of the human race and, with those sins, the ‘second death’ of God-abandonment.” (Mysterium Paschale, Page 90)

Balthasar then says that this

“is not an anonymous destiny that he obeys, but the person of the Father.”

The idea that the Cross is the “trysting place where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet”# is an affront to the old fashioned liberal theology that plays down the supernatural and uses the Christian faith as a collection of metaphors to “nudge us along the path towards spiritual fulfilment” - the kind of wimpish theology that that H. Richard Niebuhr caricatured back in 1937 when he wrote:

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” (The Kingdom of God in America 1959 ed., page 193)

The Bible is more realistic about human nature, more aware of the horrific dimensions of sin, and more cognisant of the mysterious demand for justice that seems to be written into the fabric of our being. It tells us that Joseph was to name Mary’s Son "Jesus" because he would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), and that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

It is authentically human to cry out for love - unconditional love. Our instincts, if not our experience of life, tell us that such love exists. We all seek it. In Jesus we discover that we are loved “with an everlasting love”. 

But - even in our post-Christian age - it is just as authentically human to cry out for justice, which is why today - Good Friday - is truly awesome. Today we stand at the foot of the cross as the precious Blood is shed, atonement being made for the foulest sins ever committed. “O trysting place where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet”.#

Balthasar shows just how central this theme is in the New Testament:

“The injustice is not cleared away by half-measures and compromises, but by drastic measures which make a clean sweep of it, so that all the world’s injustice is consumed by the total wrath of God, that the total righteousness of God may be accessible to the sinner. That is the Gospel according to Paul who sees the fulfilment of the directional meaning of the entire Old Testament in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ . . . God, as the man Christ, takes upon himself the totality of ‘Adam’s’ guilt (Romans 5:15-21) in order that, as the ‘bodily’ incorporation of sin and enmity (2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:14), he might be ‘handed over’ (Romans 8:3), and as the Life of God, which died in God-forsakenness (Romans 4:25) and was buried, to be divinely ‘raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:25). That is not myth, but the central biblical message and, where Christ’s Cross is concerned, it must not be rendered innocuous as though the Crucified, in undisturbed union with God, had prayed the Psalms and died in the peace of God.” (Mysterium Paschale, page 122)

Ours is an age when in the once Christian West many important Church leaders are so desperate for the approval of a cynical and unbelieving world that they will play fast and loose with just about anything God has revealed to us - and not just in the areas of morals and sexuality - though that's bad enough - but in terms of the basic Gospel itself. They don't understand that we do not actually help those around us who are not yet believers if we destroy the power and wonder of the Cross by watering down either the unconditional and profligate love of God that is embodied there, or the absolute horror of that first Good Friday when Jesus became sin for us, bearing in his own body on the tree the self imposed consequences of our having pushed God out of our lives. 

The following is not really great poetry, but it is the kind of prayer we should all whisper today:   

Was it the nails, O Saviour,
That bound thee to the tree,
Nay, ‘twas thine everlasting love,
Thy love for me, for me.
O make me understand it,
Help me to take it in,
What it meant to thee, the Holy One
To bear away my sin.
(Katherine A M Kelly 1869-1942)

# “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” by Scottish Presbyterian Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1868,(published posthumously).

Sunday, April 13, 2014

How do we handle Holy Week?

A thoughtful meditation for today from Metropolitan Anthony. (For details about him go HERE)

Today, on the day of Palms we stand in awe and amazement before what is happening in a way in which the Jews of Jerusalem could not meet Christ because they met Him imagining that He was the glorious king who would now take over all power, conquer and reject the heathen, - the Romans who were occupying their country, that He would re-establish a kingdom, an earthly kingdom of Israel. 

We know that He had not come for that, He had come to establish a Kingdom that will have no end, a Kingdom of eternity, and the Kingdom that was not open only to one nation but was open to all nations, and the Kingdom that was to be founded on the life and on the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God become the Son of man.

And Holy Week is from one end to another a time of tragic confusion. The Jews meet Christ at the gates of Jerusalem because they expect of Him a triumphant military leader, and He comes to serve, to wash the feet of His disciples, to give His life for the people but not to conquer by force, by power. And the same people who meet Him shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” in a few days will shout, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” because He has betrayed their expectations. They expected an earthly victory and what they see is a defeated king. They hate Him for the disappointment of all their hopes.

And this is not so alien to us in our days. How many are those people who turn away in hatred from Christ because He has disappointed one hope or another. I remember a woman who had been a believer for all her life and whose grandson died, a little boy, and she said to me, “I don’t believe in God any more. How could He take my grandson?” And I said to her, “But you believed in God while thousands and thousands and millions of people died.” 

And she looked at me and said, “Yes, but what did that do to me? I didn’t care. They were not my children.” This is something that happens to us in a small degree so often that we waver in our faith and in our faithfulness to God when something which we expect Him to do for us is not done, when He is not an obedient servant, when we proclaim our will, He does not say, “Amen,” and does not do it. So we are not so alien from those who met Christ at the gates of Jerusalem and then turned away from Him.

But we are now entering  into Holy Week. How can we face the events? I think we must enter into Holy Week not as observers, not reading the passages of the Gospel which are relevant, we must enter into Holy Week as though we were participants of the events, indeed read of them but then mix in the crowd that surrounds Christ and ask ourselves, Who am I in this crowd? Am I one of those who said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’? And am I now on the fringe of saying, ‘Crucify him’? Am I one of the disciples who were faithful until the moments of ultimate danger came upon them?.. You remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane three disciples had been singled out by Jesus to support Him at the hour of His supreme agony, and they did not, they were tired, they were despondent and they fell asleep. Three times He came to them for support, three times they were away from Him.

We do not meet Christ in the same circumstances but we meet so many people who are in agony, not only dying physically (and that also happens to our friends, our relatives, people around us) but are in agony of terror one way or another. Are we there awake, alive, attentive to them, ready to help them out, and if we can’t help, to be with them, to stand by them or do we fall asleep, that is, contract out, turn away, leave them in their agony, their fear, their misery? And again I am not speaking of Judas because none of us is aware of betraying Christ in such a way. But don’t we betray Christ when we turn away from all His commandments? When He says, “I give you an example for you to follow,” and we shake our heads and say, “No, I will simply follow the devices of my own heart.” But think of Peter, apparently the strongest, the one who spoke time and again in the name of others. When it came to risking - not his life, because no-one was about to kill him - simply rejection, he denied Christ three times.

What do we do when we are challenged in the same way, when we are in danger of being mocked and ridiculed and put aside by our friends or our acquaintances who shrug their shoulders and say, “A Christian? And you believe in that? And you believe that Christ was God, and you believe in His Gospel, and you are on His side?” How often? O, we don’t say, “No, we are not,” but do we say, “Yes, it is my glory, and if you want to crucify Him, if you want to reject Him, reject me too because I choose to stand by Him, I am His disciple, even if I am to be rejected, even if you don’t let me into your house any more.”

And think of the crowd on Calvary. There were people who had been instrumental in His condemnation, they mocked Him, they had won their victory, so they thought at least. And then there were the soldiers, the soldiers who crucified Him. They had crucified innumerable other people, they were doing their job. It didn’t matter to them whom they crucified. And yet Christ prayed for them, “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing.” We are not being crucified physically, but do we say, “Forgive, Father, those who offend us, who humiliate us, who reject us, those who kill our joy and darken our life in us.” Do we do that? No, we don’t. So we must recognise ourselves in them also.

And then there was a crowd of people who had poured out of the city to see a man die -the fierce curiosity that pushes so many of us to be curious when suffering, agony comes upon people. You will say, it doesn’t happen? Ask yourself how you watch television and how eagerly, hungrily you look at the horrors that befall Somalia, the Sudan, Bosnia and every other country. Is it with a broken heart? Is it that you can not endure the horror. and turn in prayer to God and then give, give, give generously all you can give for hunger and misery to be alleviated? Is it? No, we are the same people who came out on Calvary to see a man die. Curiosity, interest? Yes, alas.

And then there were those who had come with the hope that He will die because if He died on the cross, then they were free from this terrifying, horrible message He had brought that we must love one another to the point of being ready to die for each other. That message of the crucified, sacrificial love could be rejected once and for all if He who preached it died, and it was proved that He was a false prophet, a liar.

And then there were those who had come in the hope that He will come down from the cross, and then they could be believers without any risk, they would have joint the victorious party. Aren’t we like that so often?

And then there is a point to which we hardly should dare turn our eyes - the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God, the Mother of Jesus, silent, offering His death for the salvation of mankind, silent and dying with Him hour after hour, and the disciple who knew in a youthful way how to love his master, standing by in horror, seeing his Master die and the Mother in agony. Are we like this when we read the Gospel, are we like this when we see the agony of men around us?

Let us therefore enter into this Holy Week in order not to be observers of what happened; let us enter into it mixed with the crowd and at every step ask ourselves, who am I in this crowd? Am I the Mother? Am I the disciple? Am I one of the crucifiers? And so forth. And then we will be able to meet the day of the Resurrection together with those to whom it was life and resurrection indeed, when despair had gone, new hope had come, and God had conquered.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jesus, YHWH and Abraham

I love the Gospel for today . . . “Jesus said, 'Before Abraham was I am'” (John 8:58).

In an aricle on his blog, Multiculturalism, Religious Pluralism and The Uniqueness of Christ, scholar and retired Australian Anglican Bishop, Paul Barnett, makes some comments regarding these words. Actually, it is refreshing to read what he says in an era when even in certain evangelical circles it has become trendy so to overstate the difference between the supposed “low” Christology of the Synoptic gospels and the “high” Christology of the Fourth Gospel, as to deny that the “historical Jesus” would even have had the kind of exchange with the Jewish leaders that culminated in “Before Abraham was I am” (John 8:56). Paul Barnett writes:

The proposition of the uniqueness of Christ begins with the uniqueness of Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel. According to the Shema, God said “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”(Deuteronomy 6:4).

Yahweh had revealed himself to the people he chose in word and saving act and he was jealous for his name, forbidding the worship of other or alternative deities. That he is “one” is not a statement of arithmetic relating to an indivisible monotheism. Rather, it asserts that he is “one” in the sense that he is incomparably, incontestably unique. This is the teaching of the Law and the Prophets.

The prophet Isaiah makes a number of “I am” statements on behalf of Yahweh, for example, “I am the Lord, and there is no other”(Isaiah 45:5). Jesus, too, makes “I am” statements, apart from “I am the bread . . .” etc. It has been long-recognised that Jesus’ absolute ego| eimi statements in John relate in some way to Yahweh’s words jani hu / “I am” quoted  in Isaiah (See D.M. Ball, My Lord and My God: The Implications of the ‘I Am’ Sayings for Religious Pluralism, in One God One Lord ed. A.D. Clarke and B.W. Winter (Cambridge: Tyndale, 1991), pp. 53-71.) For example: 

"I am he who bears witness concerning myself" (John 8:18).

"Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins" (John 8:24).

"When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you shall know that I am" (John 8:28).

"Before Abraham was I am" (John 8:58).

In LXX Isaiah 43:10 Yahweh said, "I am (ego| eimi) a witness, says the Lord your God . . . that you may know and believe and understand that I am (ego| eimi)."

The author of this gospel is presenting Jesus as making claims “as if” Yahweh the God of Israel. The question must be asked, why would this author have so presented Christ if this was not true historically of Jesus’ own attitudes and teachings? The question is especially pointed when New Testament writers across the board present Jesus in this way (see e.g., “Many will come in my name saying, ego| eimi ”- Mark 13:6).

If you want to read an address Paul Barnett gave to last year’s Mere Anglicanism Conference at Charleston SC, in which as an historian he shares his confidence in the New Testament documents, go HERE

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Regular readers of this blog will remember Father Stephen Freeman, Rector of St Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (Orthodox Church of America). HERE, from a different angle, is a reflection touching on the same passage: 

As Christ walked in the midst of the people of Israel an event that was far more than historical took place. The One who was in the midst of them is also the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Strange paradox that you should meet and encounter a person who is Himself the beginning and the ending of all things. This paradox has led to many of the more profound insights of the Christian faith.

St. Maximus, reflecting on this, said that “the Incarnation of Christ is the cause of all things,” thus paradoxically placing the cause not “before everything” but in their midst, for the one who was in their midst was “before all things.”

Christ Himself would utter strange paradoxes that were completely true though opaque to his listeners: “Before Abraham was I am.” (John 8:58)

This aspect of who Christ is lies very much at the heart of much Orthodox understanding. Thus we understand that when we gather together for the Divine Liturgy, it is “heaven on earth.” It is not a change of locations of which the Church speaks, but a change in the nature of the location in which we gather – for as we gather “two or three,” “there am I in the midst of them.” And so our remembrance uttered in that service transcends the bounds of time:

Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which came to pass for us: the cross, the grave, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting down at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again . . .

The language of the service has us speak even of the second coming in the past tense – not because we believe this is an event which has preceded us historically, but because in the presence of the Risen Christ, we stand at the end of things as well as their beginning. The Lord of time and space is not bound by his creation but raises His creation “into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.”

It is this reality that is also proclaimed by the holy icons. They are not placed in the Church as though they were a photograph album of heroes now long dead. They are instead the “great cloud of witnesses” made present to us in the image, not as wood and paint, but hypostatically (i.e. personally). Thus icons are described as “eschatological” images – images that are painted according to the end of all things and not according to the historical record. The language of inverse perspective becomes the grammar of the age to come in the icons of the Church – pointing us not to what has come and gone, but to what is coming and now is.

And the whole congregation is invited into this new existence. Baptized into the death of Christ and raised in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:3-6). It governs our actions. Being dead to this world, we forgive the things of this world (“by his resurrection” we sing at Pascha). A life lived in forgiveness toward enemies and love for all is a life that is lived in confidence that all has turned out as it is promised by Christ. Christ defines history and gives it its meaning in His death and resurrection. His sentence of forgiveness, spoken from the Cross, is nothing less than the justice of God echoing across our world. For there can be no other justice than His freely offered forgiveness. Such light may be unbearable to some, particularly if they were counting on God to smash their enemies for them.

It is to such an Alpha and Omega, such a fount of forgiveness, such a liberty of resurrection, that we are invited to draw near as the Holy Cup of the Body and Blood of God is brought forth to us. God help me to forgive all by the resurrection and to stand before the cup of the New Covenant – and in everything to remember where I am and when I am.

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18-24).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"TOGETHER" - A new newspaper, the Catholic voice in the C of E

These are really difficult times for Anglicans who believe that we are but a small part of the whole Catholic Church, and therefore unable on our own to change fundamental aspects of Church life, such as the Sacraments. Often the impression others have of us is that we are basically negative. That’s because they only come across us in synods and other forums where we are part of the battle to maintain the Faith which the Church of England claims to share with the great Churches of East and West. After all, we MUST say “no” to the creation of yet more obstacles in the way of the unity for which Jesus prayed, and for which our Church has worked and prayed for so long. 

But there’s another story, a basically untold story. And that is the life of our parishes “on the ground.” Although worn down and even ruthlessly exterminated by liberal hierarchies in other parts of the Anglican Communion, the life of real Anglo-Catholic parishes goes on in the Church of England, not just in the well-known “shrine churches”, but all over the country in villages, towns and cities. Our PEVs (“flying bishops”) and the networking strength of well established Anglo-Catholic organisations (of which there are many) means that even isloated parishes feel part of a movement, a vital stream within the Church. The youthfulness of many of our ordinands, the commitment to orthodoxy, to sacramental certainty, and to imaginative ways of evangelism, as well as the determination to survive, flourish and GROW . . . are all noticeable characteristics of our part of the Church of England. 

So, it is significant that a new newspaper “TOGETHER” has been launched by the “Catholic Societies” of the Church of England colaborating with Forward in Faith and the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda.  It is available online HERE

Congratulations to those who have worked so hard to launch the paper, especially its editor, Father Christopher Smith SSC, Vicar of St Alban’s Holborn. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Swim in that River

Ezekiel’s vision of the river of God (in chapter 47, the first reading at Mass today) has many applications, even among ancient commentators. I have often experienced this passage as a question - the fundamental question - about our relationship with God. Are we are just ankle or waist deep in the river, splashing around, enjoying where we are, but playing, and in control? God, on the other hand, is coaxing us out to where the water is so deep that it is only on tip toes that we can touch the river bed. At that point we are faced with a moment of decision. Will we shrink from the challenge to let go of our security or will we respond to the Lord? Will we go back to where we felt safe and in control,  or will we start to swim in the living waters of God’s spirit?

Using the image of the seaside rather than the river, Evelyn Underhill makes a related point:

When I was a child, we used to be taught to swim by lying across a chair on our stomachs and exercising our arms and legs in a corresponding way. It used a great deal of energy, but we ended just where we began and quite dry. When at last we were put into the sea and found it wet, salty, deep, and with no supporting chair beneath us, that correct series of movements were at first replaced by desperate struggles. But presently we found ourselves using the movements, or something like them, after all. But it was in a much less exact and deliberate way. We were swimming - badly perhaps, but really swimming!

Now many people try to learn prayer lying over a chair on dry land. They go through a correct routine, learning from a book, but end up quite dry and just where they began. But real prayer isn’t just an exercise. It is an entrance into our inheritance which St. Catherine called the Great Pacific Ocean of God. So, to continue our image, the main point is to get into some new water. What one does in it - diving, quietly floating, swimming, going on long excursions, helping others who are learning, or, while we are small, just contentedly paddling - is of secondary importance. All the accumulated knowledge about swimming is of great interest, but, until we are actually in the water, we have no right idea what it means.

Real prayer begins with the plunge into the water. Our movements may then be quite incorrect, but they will be real. If we would look on prayer like that, as above all, an act in which we enter and give ourselves, our souls, to our true Patria, our ever-waiting inheritance, God “in whom we live and move and have our being,” most of the muddles and problems connected with it would disappear. As 1 John 4 has already told us, “You are of God, little children.” This is where we really belong, and if we will only plunge in, we shall find ourselves mysteriously at home.

And this strange home-like feeling kills the dread which might overcome us if we thought of the terrific and unknown depths beneath and the infinite extent of the power and mystery of he ocean into which we have plunged. As it is, a curious blend of confidence and entire abandonment keeps us, because of our very littleness, in peace and joy. So we continue with our limited powers in the limitless love in which we are held. What matters is the ocean, not the particular little movements which we make.

(In Ways of the Spirit p.236)

And here are two other posts on the River of God: