Saturday, May 31, 2014

John Mason Neale preaching on the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lady

This statue of Mary and Elizabeth is outside the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel, the actual site of the Visitation. (Mary is the figure with the smaller belly and Elizabeth the figure with the larger.)

John Mason Neale was born in London in 1818, studied at Cambridge, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1842. He was offered a parish, but chronic ill health, which was to continue throughout his life, prevented him from taking it. In 1846 he was made warden of Sackville College, an almshouse (a charitable residence for the poor). Here he remained until his death in 1866. 

In 1854 Neale co-founded the Sisterhood of St Margaret, an order dedicated to nursing the sick. The restoration of the Religious Life in the Church of England was opposed by many people inside and outside the Church. Neale and others who believed in the Catholic Revival were sometimes spoken of as “agents of the Vatican” subverting the Church of England it from within. Neale was even attacked and mauled at the funeral of one of the Sisters. From time to time angry crowds threatened to stone him or to burn his house.

Neale is best known today for his translation of the ancient Eastern liturgies into English, his mystical and devotional commentary on the Psalms, and his translation from Greek and Latin of many ancient and medieval hymns that have since become well known to English speakers. For his scholarship he was given a doctorate by Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, USA. In the end, it is said that Neale's basic goodness won the confidence of many who had fiercely opposed him, and the Sisterhood of St Margaret survived and prospered.

The following is from his Sermons on the Black Letter Days Or Minor Festivals of the Church of England, published in 1872. (Of course, while relating to today’s Festival, Neale speaks of its observation in mid-summer, July 2nd - as was the case before the revision of the Calendar following Vatican II.)


“And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

THIS day - the Visitation of St Mary - we here in England look upon as in the very height and best part of summer: while the days are at the longest, while the woods and hedges are at the greenest, while the hay is in the fields, before the great heats have parched the earth or withered the leaves. It is a pleasant summer feast, both the time and the thing we are called to remember. And it is a fit day to be, as it is, the birthday of that divine Hymn, “My soul doth magnify the LORD.” To-day it was that St Mary uttered it: the first Christian hymn that ever was made, the first of a whole multitude of glorious songs that the Saints of the Church have written; Kings, Bishops, Priests, Martyrs, Confessors, who are now singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. They all say in different words the same thing which St Mary now said:- ”My soul doth magnify the LORD, and my spirit hath rejoiced in GOD my SAVIOUR.” And notice this: as Miriam - which is the same name as Mary - was the first to sing a Hymn in the Old Testament, when the children of Israel had escaped from Pharaoh: “Sing ye to the LORD, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea;” so now, the Blessed Virgin was the first in the New Testament to praise GOD with a Hymn for delivering us from him of whom Pharaoh was a type - the devil.

But it was not really in summer that this happened: it was towards the beginning of April. April there is not as it is with us, the month of cold winds and many showers. The vines and the figs are just in full leaf; “the winter is past; the rain is over and gone; the voice of the turtle is heard in the land,” and the fireflies glitter backwards and forwards over the hedges and in the damp grass. I wonder whether St Mary, in passing along the beautiful valleys of Judah, would call to mind the Song of the Three Children,- ”O ye nights and days, bless ye the LORD; O ye mountains and hills, bless ye the LORD; O let the earth bless the LORD!”- or whether rather she were so taken up by the wonderful message which she had received but a few days before, that she had no eyes, nor ears, nor thoughts for anything but this:- ”The HOLY GHOST shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”

Our dear LORD was to travel many weary miles for our sake after His Birth; as an Infant when He was carried into Egypt; as a Child, when He went up to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover; as a Man, when He went about doing good, and healing all that were vexed of devils. And twice before His Birth He journeyed; first to-day, when His Blessed Mother went to see her cousin, St Elizabeth; and afterwards, at the end of the same year, when there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, and Joseph and Mary went up to Bethlehem, because they were of the house and lineage of David. To-day’s travel was His first journey of all - a journey of gladness. His last journey was to the top of the Mount of Olives, where His Blessed feet stood upon this earth for the last time before He shall come to judge the quick and the dead; and that also was a journey of gladness. But between those two, what a world of suffering and bitterness did He go through in His journeys for us men and for our salvation, till He journeyed up Mount Calvary with the wood of the Cross, and there said, “It is finished!”

And now think for a moment of St Mary, as she went on. That she was chosen to be the Mother of GOD; that she was containing Him Whom heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot hold; that she was bearing Him, Who even then might have said, “The earth is weak and all the inhabiters thereof; I bear up the pillars of it;” that she was nourishing Him Whose are all the beasts of the forest, and so are the cattle upon a thousand hills. As yet it had not been prophesied to her, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.” As yet she little knew by what agonies this great work would be brought to pass; she could not tell what she herself would suffer in the Passion of her Son (for holy men have not feared to call her the greatest of all the Martyrs.) It must have been all one glorious prospect to her: the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. She knew that from her should come the SON Who should destroy the devil; should ransom from the power of the grave; should open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. She knew that now the prophecy was on the point of being fulfilled:- ”Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name IMMANUEL, GOD with us. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty GOD, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” And were not these her thoughts, passing almost what we can imagine, as she went through the hill country of Judæa? Yes: I think she could not have had eyes and ears for anything else.

And look at St Elizabeth waiting for her visit: she also to be honoured; she also a mother by miracle; she to bring forth a son who should be great, and should go before the LORD GOD in the spirit and power of Elias. The mother of a Saint- of one of whom it should be said, “Among them that are born of women, there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist;”- but yet only a Saint - and how must she have looked forward to the coming of her that was the Mother of GOD? And when they drew nigh, she herself tells us what she felt: “And whence is this to me that the Mother of my LORD should come unto me?” And notice this: the first time that our LORD JESUS CHRIST was called by the two names which now we most commonly give Him, our LORD and our SAVIOUR, was now. Mary said, “My spirit hath rejoiced in GOD my SAVIOUR:” Elizabeth said, “That the Mother of my LORD should come unto me.”

Whence indeed? And whence is it to all of us, that our LORD Himself should come to us- should come from the Bosom of the FATHER into a world that hated Him- should come unto His own, His own receiving Him not- should come to the very men that should persecute Him, revile Him, and slay Him? Whence is this to us that He should come to the Garden of Gethsemane- should come to the judgment-seat of Annas, Caiaphas, and Herod,- should come and stand before the people, when Pilate said, “Behold the Man!”- should come to Calvary, and to the Cross?

And again; whence is this to us, that He should come to us on the Altar? That as He gave His Body to be crucified for us on the Cross, there He should give it us to be our food? Whence is this that the LORD of Glory, the KING of Kings, should vouchsafe Himself to come to His sick and dying servants,- to enter miserable cottages, to be received in wretched beds,- to comfort the meanest and the lowest? Why, when an earthly king goes anywhere, people ever after mark the room where he lodged with honour, set up pillars where he stood, point out the road by which he travelled. And yet, probably, there is not a single room in this College in which CHRIST Himself has not thus visited His servants. Whence is this to us, that in such a way as this our LORD should come to us?

St John the Baptist has his part in this day. “As soon,” said St Elizabeth, “as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” The LORD’S messenger was in haste to give His message. And think what a cottage that must have been where, with their LORD and with the Mother of GOD, all those Saints were met together! Never was there one like it, except only that cottage at Nazareth where Gabriel gave his glad tidings, “Thou shalt bring forth a Son, and shalt call His Name JESUS.”

This is the only festival which is not mixed up with sorrow. True, the joy lasted but for awhile; yet, while it lasted, who can tell how sweet and holy it was? And that should lead us to look forward to the time when our LORD, Who has visited us in this world, shall send for us to visit Him in the next: “Ye shall haste and bring my brethren up hither:” “FATHER, I will that they whom Thou hast given Me, may be with Me where I am.” And we- what shall we say then? Will it be, “When shall I come and appear before GOD?” Will it be, “I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the House of the LORD?” Or will it be like prisoners going to execution, without love, without hope, that we are dragged out of the body, left by our guardian Angel, Satan standing by us to accuse us, GOD meeting us as a strict Judge That will by no means clear the guilty?

GOD grant not! GOD grant that, after so often saying here, “Whence is this to me that my LORD should come to me?” we may one day say there, Whence is this to me, that I should go and see my LORD, and dwell with Him for ever?

And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pope Francis: "Who am I, before the sufferings of my Lord?”

After a very busy few days, including the journey to and from Walsingham with parishioners for the National Pilgrimage, it was time last night to catch up properly on the visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land. Much has been and will be written about the Roman Catholic/ Orthodox journey to unity, and, indeed, the implications of this for other Christians. Likewise political issues and the attempts of the Holy Father to encourage men and women of all backgrounds and political persuasions to work for peace.

For me, personally, the greatest challenge among the reports I read last night, was the talk Pope Francis gave two days ago (Monday 26th May) to priests, religious and seminarians, in the Church of All Nations in Gethsemane. 

There are times in our lives, in our personal circumstances, and even (or especially) in the stream of the Church we have been called to serve, when we are reduced to something like the condition of those closest to Jesus in Gethsemane. Undoubtedly for Anglican Catholics this is one such time. So I share with you from Vatican Radio (go HERE to their website) the words of Pope Francis:

“He came out and went . . . to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him” (Luke 22:39).

At the hour which God had appointed to save humanity from its enslavement to sin, Jesus came here, to Gethsemane, to the foot of the Mount of Olives. We now find ourselves in this holy place, a place sanctified by the prayer of Jesus, by his agony, by his sweating of blood, and above all by his “yes” to the loving will of the Father. We dread in some sense to approach what Jesus went through at that hour; we tread softly as we enter that inner space where the destiny of the world was decided.

In that hour, Jesus felt the need to pray and to have with him his disciples, his friends, those who had followed him and shared most closely in his mission. But here, at Gethsemane, following him became difficult and uncertain; they were overcome by doubt, weariness and fright. As the events of Jesus’ passion rapidly unfolded, the disciples would adopt different attitudes before the Master: attitudes of closeness, distance, hesitation.

Here, in this place, each of us – bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and seminarians – might do well to ask: Who am I, before the sufferings of my Lord?

Am I among those who, when Jesus asks them to keep watch with him, fall asleep instead, and rather than praying, seek to escape, refusing to face reality?

Or do I see myself in those who fled out of fear, who abandoned the Master at the most tragic hour in his earthly life?

Is there perhaps duplicity in me, like that of the one who sold our Lord for thirty pieces of silver, who was once called Jesus’ “friend”, and yet ended up by betraying him?

Do I see myself in those who drew back and denied him, like Peter? Shortly before, he had promised Jesus that he would follow him even unto death (cf. Luke 22:33); but then, put to the test and assailed by fear, he swore he did not know him.

Am I like those who began planning to go about their lives without him, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, foolish and slow of heart to believe the words of the prophets (cf. Luke 24:25)?

Or, thanks be to God, do I find myself among those who remained faithful to the end, like the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John? On Golgotha, when everything seemed bleak and all hope seemed pointless, only love proved stronger than death. The love of the Mother and the beloved disciple made them stay at the foot of the Cross, sharing in the pain of Jesus, to the very end.

Do I recognize myself in those who imitated their Master to the point of martyrdom, testifying that he was everything to them, the incomparable strength sustaining their mission and the ultimate horizon of their lives?

Jesus’ friendship with us, his faithfulness and his mercy, are a priceless gift which encourages us to follow him trustingly, notwithstanding our failures, our mistakes, also our betrayals.

But the Lord’s goodness does not dispense us from the need for vigilance before the Tempter, before sin, before the evil and the betrayal which can enter even into the religious and priestly life.  We are all exposed to sin, to evil, to betrayal. We are fully conscious of the disproportion between the grandeur of God’s call and of own littleness, between the sublimity of the mission and the reality of our human weakness. Yet the Lord in his great goodness and his infinite mercy always takes us by the hand lest we drown in the sea of our fears and anxieties. He is ever at our side, he never abandons us. And so, let us not be overwhelmed by fear or disheartened, but with courage and confidence let us press forward in our journey and in our mission.

You, dear brothers and sisters, are called to follow the Lord with joy in this holy land! It is a gift and also a responsibility. Your presence here is extremely important; the whole Church is grateful to you and she sustains you by her prayers. From this holy place, I wish to extend my heartfelt greetings to all Christians in Jerusalem: I would like to assure them that I remember them affectionately and that I pray for them, being well aware of the difficulties they experience in this city. I urge them to be courageous witnesses of the passion of the Lord but also of his resurrection, with joy and hope.

Let us imitate the Virgin Mary and Saint John, and stand by all those crosses where Jesus continues to be crucified. This is how the Lord calls us to follow him: this is the path, there is no other!

“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also” (John 12:26).


Saturday, May 24, 2014

When everything is going wrong

I have said before that one of the emails I look forward to each week is from Father Stephen Freeman, a priest of the Orthodox Church in America. He is the Rector of St Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Father Stephen has written numerous published articles as well as the book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. He is also the author of the popular podcast, Glory to God, on Ancient Faith Radio.

His message this week - below - is particularly helpful. Go HERE to visit Father Stephen’s blog and to sign up to his email list. 

“My whole life is a mess . . .”

I am a priest and I have heard statements to this effect any number of times in my ministry. It usually comes not after a single misfortune, but after multiple problems. It also reflects that the problems have moved beyond their external boundaries and have now become the framework of a person’s whole experience. It is not a statement to be taken lightly.

The Scriptures do not treat such experiences in a callous fashion. The entire book of Job poses the problem of a man who has lost everything to a string of misfortunes. Indeed, the book even provides the background story in which we hear a dialog between God and Satan in which God specifically allows Satan to do all of these terrible things to Job. Job’s problems are not in his head.

Job has no problems within his head -for after each terrible misfortune he says, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But he is not  blessed in the counsel of his wife. She is disgusted with how Job’s life is turning out and says, “Curse God and die!” His friends offer misguided counsel as well. Few things can be as irritating as a theologizing friend when you have suffered terrible loss. The platitudes of the “comforters” are often little more than salt in fresh wounds.

But the book of Job does not solve the riddle of Job’s suffering. There is no satisfactory answer - or no answer that would satisfy the philosopher. Job receives the vision of God - and with that - he is satisfied.

An oft-quoted verse regarding the world and its suffering is in the book of Romans. St. Paul says:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28)

I would be willing to extend St. Paul’s statement to say simply: All things work together for good.

And this often proves a great difficulty for many. Our minds and emotions explode at the many contradictions that arise in the face of the world’s suffering (or that of a single child) and the word “good.” But it is important to note that St. Paul does not say, “All things are good...” It is, instead, a confession about the nature of creation’s movement. Despite all that is bad, wrong and evil, creation is moving towards the good (“working together”).

In theology, this “good working” of God in creation is called “providence.” In the Baptismal liturgy we hear:

For of Your own good will, You have brought into being all things which before were not, and by Your power You uphold creation, and by Your providence You order the world. When You had joined together the universe out of the elements, You crowned the circle of the year with four seasons.

The very heart of this faith begins in its first words: “Of Your own good will...” The Christian belief about all that exists in creation is that it is good. That the universe exists is itself good and is the work of God who gave it existence “of His own good will.” The same God who called it into existence upholds it. He sustains it in existence. If God did not maintain all of creation in existence, moment by moment, it would instantly cease to be. The good God who gave the world its good existence and sustains it, also gave it a good order - and it is here that the faith introduces the word providence. The ordering of creation has a purpose and a direction. And this purpose and direction are good.

I often think that our modern world, despite all of its technology and science, fails to think of the world as it truly is. Everything is in motion. Nothing in all the universe actually reaches the state of non-motion, or “absolute zero” as it is called. We can approach it, but never arrive. But our imagination tends to think of the world in very static terms, as though it were a snapshot or a painting.

It is difficult to speak of things in motion. Not unusually, in the writings of the fathers, the language of motion is translated into the imagery of music or dance. Music is sound in motion just as dance is pure motion. But as all of creation is itself in motion, it is appropriate to speak of the music of creation and the dance of creation.

The music that is the song of creation moves towards a goal. Like a great composition, the many discordant moments, the counter-melodies and sounds that jar the ear still move inexorably towards a resolution, a final chord that no one has yet heard except the one who first began to sing. And that chord will resolve all sounds so that they will be seen to have always been part of the whole. It is the musical expression of Job’s vision.

The folk dances in many Orthodox lands most often have about them a movement within a circle. The dance sometimes threatens to break the circle, to drive the dancer off her feet and hurl her with centrifugal force beyond the reach of the circle itself. But the steps return the dancer to the movement of the circle again and again, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, sometimes with leaps and great skill, while other times like the drunken steps of the uncertain. But the circle remains and continues. It unites the dancers with the music, and at its best enables them to enter communion with the music so that their motion becomes the expression of the notes themselves. But the circle remains.

A very common presence in Orthodox music, both in the wide-spread Byzantine tradition as well as in many other places, is the “drone” note, known as the “ison.” It is a note that is held beneath the melodic line, sometimes sung by only a few. When it is sung well it never overwhelms the melody. I like it best when the ison is barely there at all - when it is both present and absent - so much a part of the melody, though remaining stable, but so united that it can only be discerned through effort.

I think of this ison as being similar to the mystery that has been “hidden from ages and from generations.” It has always been present and even audible, but most fail to hear it (they weren’t listening). But the ison represents a unity and purpose, a common note that links every moment of the song. It is often just a note, sung but with no words giving it shape. It supports the words. It gives an order that could easily be forgotten with the melismatic wanderings of a byzantine tone. For the melody wanders, feeling its way and pressing the boundaries of order. But the ison remains and always calls the melody back to its harmony.

The purpose and providence of God, the good ordering of the universe, is almost never discerned by studying the twists and turns of life. The outrageous events that assault the innocent are harsh notes that disturb our ability to hear any harmony.  St. Paul’s affirmation of the working of God’s good purpose is the confession of a man who was persecuted, stoned as a heretic, beaten as a criminal, imprisoned as an enemy, once tortured with hatred and envy. He knew all of the tragedy of the ancient world: infant mortality, famine, natural disasters, all of the catastrophes of our existence. And it is from within that harsh cacophony that he hears the single note of God’s goodness and its promise towards all things.

One of my favorite American hymns, “My Life Flows On An Endless Song,” was written by the Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowry. A verse was added in 1950 that I have converted in my own thoughts to a Paschal hymn, the tyrants being our adversary and the prison, Hades. I gladly sing it with my friends.

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Martin Hengel: Modern theological pluralism “projects itself onto early Christianity”

Martin Hengel (1926-2009) was a Lutheran scholar, to whom even Pope Benedict claims to be indebted. Hengel specialized in the early period of Rabbinic Judaism including early Christianity and the origins of Christianity. His magnum opus Judaism and Hellenism (1969) changed the course of New Testament studies by demonstrating that the Judaism out of which Christianity evolved had been deeply influenced by Hellenism.

He also argued for the existence in Jerusalem of a sizable community of Greek-speaking Jews (possibly 15 per cent of the population) which had its own synagogue and schools, and from which a group converted to Christianity. This group, he believed, continued to worship in Greek.

While Hengel was responsible for a radically different approach to the New Testament, his conclusions supported a basically conservative view of the Christian Faith in general, and of Christology in particular. He was certainly no fundamentalist. But he could be scathing about the subjectivity of many who apply modern methods of literary criticism to the Biblical text.

His book, The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976) is a good entry point to his work.

Earliest Christian history : history, literature, and theology : essays from the Tyndale Fellowship in honour of Martin Hengel (edited by Michael F. Bird and Jason Maston), contains Hengel’s essay “Confessing and Confession”, (translated by Daniel Johansson). This paragraph on unity and diversity in the early Church, is a salutary comment on the approach of modern theological pluralists:

“Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:11). This succinct sentence contradicts the assumption so common today that in early Christianity there was not one fundamental confession of the faith which united all, but all kinds of kerygmas, not one Gospel, but many Christologies contradicting each other, and many churches whose teaching and living were quite disjoined, so that one must speak of a chaos at the beginning of the early Church. The Pauline letters in particular show that the opposite is true. In order to justify itself, modern theological pluralism here projects itself onto early Christianity against the clear statements of the texts. There were of course – considerable – differences in the preaching of individual apostles and missionaries, even contradictions and conflicts. I just remind [you] of the struggle at the apostolic council, the later incident at Antioch, and, what I believe, the permanent conflict between Peter and Paul. There are also, for example, considerable theological opposition between Romans and Galatians on the one hand and the Letter of James on the other. Nevertheless, all early Christian writings agree that eschatological salvation is effected through Christ, the Kyrios, his death and his resurrection. Only on this foundation, the attachment to the one Kyrios, was an agreement such as the one Paul depicts in Galatians 2:1-10 at all possible, and in Galatians 2:15ff. he assumes that Peter too acknowledges justification by faith alone and not through works of the law.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

No Gospel without the Resurrection - Michael Ramsey

We are tempted to believe that, although the Resurrection may be the climax of the Gospel, there is yet a Gospel that stands upon its own feet and may be understood and appreciated before we pass on to the Resurrection. The first disciples did not find it so. For them the Gospel without the Resurrection was not merely a Gospel without its final chapter: it was not a Gospel at all. Jesus Christ had, it is true, taught and done great things: but He did not allow the disciples to rest in these things. He led them on to paradox, perplexity and darkness; and there He left them. There too they would have remained, had He not been raised from death. But His Resurrection threw its own light backwards upon the death and ministry that went before; it illuminated the paradoxes and disclosed the unity of His words and deeds. As Scott Holland said: “In the Resurrection it was not only the Lord who was raised up from the dead. His life on earth rose with him; it was lifted up into its real light” (On Behalf of Belief, 12).

It is a desperate procedure to try and build a Christian Gospel upon the words of Jesus in Galilee apart from the climax of Calvary, Easter and Pentecost. If we do so we are professing to know Jesus better than the first disciples knew Him; and the Marcan record shows us how complete was their perplexity before the Resurrection gave them the key. Every oral tradition about Jesus was handed down, every written record of Him was made only by those who already acknowledged Him as Lord, risen from the dead.
It is therefore both historically and theologically necessary to “begin with the Resurrection.” For from it, in direct order of historical fact, there came Christian preaching, Christian worship, Christian belief . . .
The Gospel of God appears in Galilee: but in the end it is clear that Calvary and the Resurrection are its centre. For Jesus Christ came not only to preach a Gospel but to be a Gospel, and He is the Gospel of God in all that He did for the deliverance of mankind.
- from Chapter 1 of The Resurrection of Christ (1945)

Michael Ramsey 1904-1988

(Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961 to 1974)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Articles outlining the arguments against the ordination of women

This archive of articles and links, hosted on my web site, has been created because of the difficulty of finding in one place the key arguments against the ordination of women as priests and bishops. Of course, inclusion here does not mean that I regard every argument as being equally valid or useful.

The archive is constantly expanding. If you have resources to suggest for addition to this list, please SEND ME AN EMAIL.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dorothy Day quotes St Catherine of Siena

One of the 20th century Christians I greatly admire is Dorothy Day (1897-1980), an influential worker among the poor, and co-founder of the American Catholic Worker Movement. In 1933 Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin started The Catholic Worker newspaper. They then set up “Houses of Hospitality” and many other means of reaching the marginalised with the love of Christ.

Although not without religious leanings in childhood, by the time she had become a journalist, Dorothy was an agnostic. In fact, she was living a bohemian life which included two long-term affairs and an abortion. She says that after the birth of her daughter in 1926 she began to feel drawn towards God. Eventually converted in 1927, Dorothy wrote these words in From Union Square to Rome describing this part of her journey:

“Many a morning, after sitting all night in taverns, I went to early Mass at St Joseph’s Church on Sixth Avenue. It was just around the corner from where I lived, and seeing people going to an early weekday Mass attracted me. What were they finding there? I longed for their faith. My own life was sordid and yet I had occasional glimpses of the True and the Beautiful. So I used to go and kneel in the back pew of St Joseph’s.”

Many years later, Dorothy wrote about her journey in terms not so much an embrace of a new philosophy of life as an overwhelming discovery of God’s love. Also, she found God’s love, not primarily in a private way, but in the community of faith and love, the Church. Right from the time of her conversion, this undergirded everything she did and everything she taught. As she wrote in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness:

“The final word is love. At times it has been a harsh and dreadful thing and our very faith has been tried through fire. We cannot know God unless we love each other and to love him we must know each other. We know him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship. We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

The “cause” for Dorothy Day being declared a saint by the Church is in progress.

In 2012, Dorothy’s letters were published, having been sealed for 25 years after her death. Under the title All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day the letters date from the early 1920s until the time of her death, giving the reader a glimpse of her daily struggles, her hopes, her costly sacrifices, and her unwavering faith.

One of the letters was written to Charles Butterworth, a graduate at Harvard Law School who joined the Catholic Worker community, serving as business manager. For years it bothered him that he had not been to jail. The opportunity arrived when some FBI men came to the community hunting for an army deserter. Charles found the man in the kitchen and told him about the visitors. The deserter escaped out the back way and Charles was arrested.

Here is Dorothy’s letter to him:

“Thou lovest justice and hatest iniquity, wherefore God, thy God, has anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy companions.”

May this be true of you this day.

Standing before a judge, appearing in court, is harder than a jail sentence. Whatever happens, I know God has you close to him. As for me, I know you were right to do exactly as you did, and do not worry about the overtones and exactitude of expression of what has already taken place. God takes care of everything, and rights our mistakes, makes straight our paths.

This morning at six I was reading St. John’s passion and when Jesus was brought before Pilate, he was “asked about his disciples and his doctrine.”

He certainly answered nothing about his disciples, - he just said he had been preaching openly.

Our lives are open to all. We belong to a Kingdom not of this world, tho we are in it. May you be a constant reminder, a witness, of this other Kingdom, this glorious and beautiful Kingdom where we are willing and obedient and joyful subjects.

Remember St Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to Heaven is heaven, because He said, ‘I am the Way.’” So may heaven be in your heart this day. We love you very much, and as for me, you have done so much to make me happy since you came to us, that mine is a very grateful love.

In Jesus caritas, Dorothy

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

So . . . where did the New Testament's way of thinking about Jesus come from?

Well, I've had two lengthy conversations in two days about the "development of a high Christology" among the early Christians, and the New Testament''s way of using the Old Testament in relation to Jesus.

One of the textbooks I thoroughly enjoyed in my student days, and to which I have returned many times since, is An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM Press, 1969 ed.) by Alan Richardson (1905-75), who had been at different times Dean of York, Professor of Christian Theology in the University of Nottingham and Canon of Durham Cathedral.

There are some truly memorable passages in this book, and it deserves to be better known among today’s theological students. One such passage occurs in the first chapter ("Faith and Hearing") in which Richardson explains his assumptions and methodology. I have reproduced it here, because it very graciously states the b******* obvious in answer to the question, "Whose idea was it to reinterpret the Old Testament idea of redemption in this way?"

(BTW I have broken up the quoted passage into smaller paragraphs "for the general reader", as we now say!)

. . . Many . . . details . . . elaborate this basic conception of Jesus as himself the New Israel who accomplishes and brings to its conclusion the role which the Old Israel essayed but did not complete. Where the Old Israel had failed, the New Israel conquered. The Scriptures were fulfilled; the story of redemption was concluded. 

Since the rise of modern biblical scholarship the question has been asked, Who first thought of this way of setting forth the significance of the historical life of Jesus? 

Every conceivable kind of answer has been given. It could not have been the Evangelists who first thought of it, because St Paul knew it long before St Mark's Gospel was written. It could hardly have been St Paul, if we may trust the evidence which he himself supplies, including, of course, his own protestations of loyalty to the Gospel which he had received. Could it, then, have been the community at large, the Church into which St Paul "was baptized?" Some scholars have assumed that the early Christian community collectively worked out the theology of Christ as the fulfilment of the Scriptures. Such a conclusion, however, is not convincing, because communities do not think out such brilliant reconstructions as this uniquely original reinterpretation of the OT plan of salvation. 

There must have been some profoundly original mind which started the whole development on its course. Are we to assume that some creative thinker, whose name and whose memory have perished, is the genius behind the NT theology? Such a conclusion would indeed be an argumentum ex silentio

There remains only one other possibility: the mind behind the NT reinterpretation of the OT theology of redemption was that of Jesus himself. Could any solution be more probable? It was the Lord himself who first suggested, as much by his deeds (signs) as by his words, the fundamental lines of the theology of the NT. 

One gains the impression from reading the Gospels that the disciples were slow to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them during his historical ministry (e.g. Mark 4:40f.; 6:51f; 8:16-21; 9:32, etc.; cf. Luke 24:25; John 14:9, etc.), and that it was not until after the crucifixion and resurrection that the clues which he had left with them began to shape in their minds a coherent pattern. After the resurrection of Jesus they themselves were conscious that they were being guided by the Spirit of the living Lord into all the truth concerning him (John 16:12-15); the things which the historical Jesus had said to them were now brought vividly to their remembrance through the activity of the Holy Spirit in their midst, and now they understood their inner meaning (John 14:26). 

This is the hypothesis upon which the argument of this volume is based, and it is our contention that it makes better sense of the NT evidence than does any other; its validity will be attested by its success or failure as a foundation for a coherent and soundly historical account of the theology of the apostolic Church.

- Alan RichardsonAn Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM Press, 1969 ed.), pages 22 to 23.

 "And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

(Luke 24:25-27)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

For Mary's Month of May - Fr Ignatius' sermon

My photo of the image of Our Lady at Capel-y-ffin
at the site of the apparition in 1880.

One of the most amazing figures of the Victorian age was the Rev’d Joseph Leycester Lyne (1837-1908), who as a young deacon served successively Fathers Prynne and Lowder, leaders in the Catholic Revival. He then became known as “Father Ignatius”, a monk-evangelist who sought to restore the religious life in the Church of England. He was a wildly eccentric man and his detractors were (and still are) many. But he was a great evangelist. The “ordinary people” heard him gladly. He drew huge crowds up and down Britain and throughout the USA, preaching mainly in secular buildings, and many responded to the Lord through his ministry. He established a monastery at Capel-y-ffin near Llanthony in the Black Mountains of Wales. It was here that there was an apparition of Our Lady in 1880. It is said that reports of miracles, like controversy, always surrounded him. His order died when he died.

The ruins of his chapel at Capel-y-ffin remain, and many pilgrims, myself included, have found it to be a spiritually evocative place.

Clearly Father Ignatius was a robust Anglican Catholic. But he was greatly loved and admired by evangelical protestants as well. Indeed, he was an encourager of those leading the Welsh Revival of 1904. So, it is good to know that there is now an annual pilgrimage to Capel-y-finn which draws Christians of different traditions to honour Ignatius and to seek Our Lady’s prayers. For information on this, click HERE.

Through the first half of the twentieth century, all kinds of Christians liked to sing his best-known hymn:

Let me come closer to thee, Lord Jesus,
Oh, closer day by day;
Let me lean harder on thee, Lord Jesus,
Yes, harder, all the way.

Let me show forth thy beauty, Lord Jesus,
Like sunshine on the hills;
Oh, let my lips pour forth all thy sweetness
In joyous sparkling rills.

Yes, like a channel, precious Lord Jesus,
Make me and let me be;
Keep me and use me daily, Lord Jesus,
For thee, for only thee.

In all my heart and will, O Lord Jesus,
Be altogether king;
Make me a loyal subject, Lord Jesus,
To thee in everything.

Thirsting and hungering for thee, Lord Jesus,
With blessed hunger here.
Longing for New Jerusalem’s fullness-
No thirst, no hunger there.

Gladstone said that Father Ignatius was one of the greatest orators of his day; the leading atheist of the day, Charles Bradlaugh, said that he was the only man whose influence he feared upon his (i.e. Bradlaugh's) followers. Father Ignatius’ motto ‘Jesus Only’ symbolised his simple, direct message.

In his 1933 history of the Catholic revival, Desmond Morse-Boycott, while not overlooking the amazing eccentricities, weaknesses and failures of Father Ignatius, echoes the feeling of many when he says of him and his rocky relationship with the Church of England: 

“A fool like St. Francis, a hero like St. Benedict, a revivalist like Moody, a lover of souls like General Booth, an ascetic like St. Anthony the hermit, an orator as golden as Lacordaire, and as simple as a child, of whom his Church was unworthy. Alas! She is awkward in her handling of saints.”

I give you here Father Ignatius preaching about Our Lady during a mission at the Westminster Town Hall in 1885. I cannot think of a better way of marking “Mary’s Month of May”!


“Mary, the Mother of Jesus.” These few words go right into our hearts, because we are the people of God. Let me say them over again, because there is such a wonderful charm and such a wonderful power in them. “Mary, the Mother of Jesus.” What! Do you believe, and do I believe, that Jesus had a Mother?

Do you believe and do I believe that Jesus has a mother now at this very moment? We do believe it, and, at this very moment, while our blessed Lord Jesus is in our midst, and while we are now enjoying a sense of His presence, we believe that He has a Mother. If He had not we should all be damned for ever. Why?

Because it is the Blood of the Lamb that has saved us and there is no pardon except through the human blood of Jesus. If Jesus had no Mother He would have no blood! What an awful mystery is this!

The greyest-bearded man listening to me now, has a mother either here or in the spirit-world; and most of us love our mothers; most of us love them with a love with which we never loved anyone else.

There is a peculiarity about the love for a mother which there is in no other love. It is nothing like the love of husband towards the wife. It is not the love which we have for a friend, or for any other relation.

The love of a mother is something that seems to be one of the initiatory mysteries of our existence. The very first sensation of our hearts was love for our mothers. We can almost recall the time when we could only just put our arms round our mother’s neck with tenderness giving her the first kiss.

My mother! There is no other relationship that touches the heart like the one expressed by these words! “My mother!” Of course I am not speaking now to those who, unhappily, have had very wicked mothers. Though, even then, there is something in the thought of “my mother” that would make it agonising to think anything that was bad of her.

Do I not recollect, myself, how proud I used to be of my mother? I did not think there was anybody in the world like my mother. And I am sure that is what Jesus thinks about His Mother, with His human heart; for He is very Man as well as very God. And Jesus knows one Being to whom He can look up and say, before the angels, before devils, before men, “ My Mother!”

There is to me, as a man, and as a Christian, a charm that is unutterable in the thought; “Mary, the Mother of Jesus!” Oh! to speak her name is, to me, such a bringing of Jesus to my heart, as man to man. If Mary be His Mother, I can realise that Jesus is my Brother.

He has the flesh and blood and bones of man though He be God of Heaven! “He came down from Heaven, and was Incarnate, by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

“Mary, the Mother of Jesus!”

Why, if anyone pointed out to me the mother of a very great statesman, or the mother of a very great orator, or philanthropist, I should feel a kind of reverence for the woman for her son’s sake. Supposing, when the Duke of Wellington came back from the wars, during which he had sustained the honour of the British Empire, and in which he had, a thousand times, risked his life, for dear Old England, supposing, when he came back from the last of his wars, that the first person whom he had met was his mother: do you not think that the people would have said: “Look, that is the mother of Wellington”? And they would at once have made way to let the mother pass to her son’s side.


But she was not half so much the mother of Wellington as Mary was the Mother of Jesus. Mary is the Mother of Jesus in a far deeper, intenser sense. Jesus had no human father. Mary was the centre connecting Jesus with humanity. When Jesus thinks of Mary, there His thoughts must rest; for Mary is the beginning and the end of His humanity.

I cannot give utterance to one-millionth part of the feelings, in my own heart, when I think of Mary, the Mother of Jesus’, and it does not seem to me to matter, one single iota, what people say to me about this, for I feel that I have Jesus on my side; and that I have the Father on my side, Who, from all eternity, elected Mary to be the Mother mystic of His Son Incarnate.

The words “Mary, the Mother of Jesus” have a sound that makes me feel quite at home with God, because God, through Mary, became very Man.

Do you not all feel this? Are there any listening to me who think that I am exaggerating? If so, let me just refer them to one verse, in the 1st chapter of St. Luke, and let me ask them to listen to these words. They are in the 35th verse of St. Luke i, and it is a verse the like of which there is not, in all the Bible, for mystery tremendous, for marvel unutterable and ineffable.


“And the angel answered and said unto her. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

Nazareth was busy in the fields, for it was spring time; the corn was beginning to grow, the birds were singing in the trees, and the farmers and the labourers were hard at work preparing for the planting of the earth; all nature’s toil was going on its way; but, in a little cottage, on the hill, there was a mystery of eternity being enacted between the Archangel of Heaven and the lowly maiden Mary.

No eye but the eye of Mary saw the tremendous glow of the gleaming light, when the Archangel came to her and said: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured,” and told her that she was to be the Mother of the Son of God. Then Mary asked him: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” And now listen to the Angel’s answer: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest (that is of God the Father) shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing Which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

My brethren, “the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee:” that is the Third Person. The Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: that is the First Person. “The Holy One born of thee” is the Second Person. There is the whole Trinity.

How awful, how blasphemous, if it be not true! ls it true? ls it true that Mary became the Mother of Jesus, by this tremendous and overwhelming revelation of mystery and truth? Is there, in existence, a Being who was the Mother of God the Son by the overshadowing of God the Father, and by the conception of the Holy Ghost?

It cannot be true!It is an utter impossibility!

Oh brethren, need I urge any argument to convince my present hearers that really and truly Mary became the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God, by the overshadowing of God the Father, and by the Holy Ghost coming upon her? No, because I know that you all believe it quite as much as I do. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is a mystery; but we do believe in this mystery of the New Testament; it is the foundation of all the other mysteries of Christianity, and they would be nothing but for this. Of course the outside world does not believe it; and a great many in the visible Church do not believe it either.


But if we do not believe in the miracle of the Mother of Christ we cannot not believe in the Divinity and in the Incarnation of Christ, nor in the Atonement of the Cross; for if the Blood that Jesus shed on the Cross was not that of the Son of God, it could not save us any more than any other blood.

We cannot prove it by argument; no logic can prove it; it cannot be proved by any other means than the Holy Ghost convincing the heart of the reality of this awful, and unutterable, mystery.

Of course if there be any individuals here who do not believe this mystery, my words must seem most blasphemous to them.

Can you feel how sweet it is to call Mary the Mother of God? I say I should not be a Christian if I could not believe that she was. What! God have a Mother! Certainly. And yet people, who call themselves Christians, scarcely acknowledge that Mary is the Mother of God.

Mary is not the Mother of God in the way in which my mother is my mother. She is not the mother of the Godhead. Mary is the Mother of the humanity of Him Who was God; of a Divine Person who, though He took human nature upon Him, was still very God. And this is a mystery that all must believe.

May I ask you, first of all, is it not tremendously necessary, in these evil days of rationalism and materialism, that we should be sound on this fundamental doctrine of our holy religion? Is it not necessary that we should know what we believe on this point, and why we believe it? Shall I, because I am afraid of the ridicule of an unbelieving world, say I do not believe that Christ is really God, and that Mary is only the Mother of a Divine person? Shall we say this? No; to settle the matter, we give the title to “Mary, the Mother of Jesus” of “Mother of God.”

And now, my brethren, consider how comfortable it is to be very clear on this point; because, when we are clear on this doctrine of Christ’s Mother, it brings Jesus so very close to us. We see Him, and we realise that He is our High Priest. If this mystery be not true, Christ is either not God or not man. If Mary be not the Mother of God, Christ is not God, and if Mary be not God’s Mother, God has never taken our nature and never redeemed us.

Therefore we cling to the truth that God so loved us that He came down from Heaven, took our nature upon Him, and bought His Church with His Own Blood. He so loved the Church that He gave Himself for it. Oh! my brothers and sisters in Jesus, this truth brings home to me so plainly that Jesus is the “Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” It makes me to realise that I may cast all my sorrows on Him, for once He bore our sorrows; once he was “in all points tempted like as we are.”


How could He have been tempted like we are if He had not become “very man?” God could not be tempted. Therefore He came down and was Incarnate, and “was made man,” that He might be able to “be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” When you, yourselves, are nearly overcome with grief, when tears stream down your cheeks, then comes the thought to you that He suffered, that “Jesus wept,” that Jesus was weary! Oh, what calm it brings to the soul to know that He is able “to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” because He “was in all points tempted like as we are.” It makes life so different to go through it with Him on our side. He once was like us, because He was “very man,” “born of the Virgin Mary.”


My love for the Blessed Virgin is one of the chief things for which I have been persecuted for twenty years, and misrepresented, and for which I have had to suffer a very great deal. I was about to preach a mission in a church, where I should very much have liked to have gone; but, all at once, the clergyman drew back because of my great love for the “Mother of God.”

There are plenty of people in the Church of England who do not believe it right to love her; and if there be any such people here present, may I ask them: Do they think we can grieve our Lord by loving His Mother? Instead of loving her too much, I feel that I cannot love her enough.

Brethren, I ask you quietly to put this question to yourselves: is it pleasing to our Lord that His people’s hearts should dwell with love on the remembrance of His Mother, or is it not? My feeling is that the more we revere the Blessed Virgin Mary the more we please her Son.

If you were to go to Margate Cemetery, at the end of July, where my own darling mother’s mortal remains are lying, till Jesus comes and “the dead in Christ rise first,” you would see her grave covered with beautiful flowers. Pounds and pounds are lavished on my mother’s grave, and this by people who have never seen her, but they have a love for her for my sake; and they will spend money on her grave, for my sake, out of gratitude for what I have done for their souls. And for Jesus’ sake we do honour to the memory of the Mother of Jesus.

It is for Jesus Only that I love the Virgin Mary. She would be no more than any other woman to me if she were not His Mother. Therefore, all the glory that I pay to Mary is for love of her Son; and I am sorry that anybody should think this wrong.


The next point is “praying to the Virgin.”

You ask your wife to pray for you, and you teach your child to pray for you, and in the same way I can understand our asking the prayers of those who are departed. I do not believe in asking the prayers of dead saints; but I never heard of a dead saint! I do not believe in dead saints. I believe that Jesus lives; and because He lives they live also; and that is the reason why we ask their prayers. I believe that they are “alive for evermore.”

The Bible says of the departed, “We are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses.” While we are “running the race” they are the witnesses looking on. So that when a person speaks of “dead saints” and says that they cannot hear, he has no authority for his assertions from the Word of God.

So, my brethren, I not only believe that it is not wrong, but that it is right, and very helpful, to ask the prayers of my fellow-believers; and you will have to prove to me that the Blessed Virgin is not among the Living “Cloud of Witnesses” before condemning me for asking the prayers of her who is our Lord’s Mother.

If you say: “where are we told in the Bible to give all this honour to the Virgin Mary?” I would answer that if Queen Victoria were to walk into this room now, should I sit still and say: “I am not going to rise, I shall not get up, I am not told anywhere to do so” when I see the Queen? No. I should rise instantly, as an Englishman, because I believe the Queen is the Lord’s Anointed over us in civil matters; and I should wish to show her every honour that I could. I should not require to be told to rise; and therefore all that I want to be told is that Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and nothing else; and I must give her the honour that is her due.


There is the Mother of your Lord; treat her as you please, but, for myself, I say that the more I love my Lord and Saviour the more I shall reverence the Mother, whom “all generations are to call blessed.”

On the Cross Jesus said to His beloved disciple “Behold thy Mother” and in these words He speaks to me, “Behold thy Mother” and therefore I say: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me.”

Do not let prejudice cause us to misunderstand a simple thing like this.

And I ask you, before I conclude, does my love to the Blessed Virgin hinder me from enjoying Christ in His fulness? Do I mix up the mystery of the Virgin with the message of the Gospel to sinners? Certainly not; and I think that the more I love and reverence the Lord’s Mother, the more I realise what her Son is, and the more I long to proclaim what He is to a world that is “dead in trespasses and sins.”

Here are two more photos taken at the monastery built by Father Ignatius. (Shortly after his death it was sold.) The first shows the ruins of the chapel (with the tomb of Fr Ignatius). The other one is a lovely welcome to those who pass by.

The Father Ignatius Memorial Trust was established in 1966, shortly before the centenary year of the founding of the monastery at Capel-y-ffin. It had the twin objectives of restoring what remained of the ruined church and tomb, and fostering its use as outdoor place of worship. Many volunteers have given their time and energy freely to preserve the structure. Damage caused by lightning and frost, as well as the indifferent quality of some of the original construction has presented severe problems over the years, and many reverses. It is hoped to enable public access once more to the tomb of Father Ignatius. Why not make a donation, or request the next Newsletter of the Father Ignatius Memorial Trust.