Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Therefore with angels and archangels . . .

Today is known variously in the Church's calendar. For most Anglicans it is the solemnity of St Michael and All Angels; for Roman Catholics it is the solemnity of St Michael, St Gabriel and St Raphael, Archangels. The festival reminds us of the true nature of our worship, our way of living, and our warfare. Mainly because of the quotes from Eric Mascall, I share with you part of a talk I gave in 2001. 

The Catholic Christian has a devotion to the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as well as a personal love of our Lady and the saints - those of our brothers and sisters in Christ who surround us in that great cloud of witnesses, cheering us on, supporting us with their love and prayers as we run the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2) They are our brothers and sisters in glory, always part of the meeting of the Christian community for worship (remember . . . “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name . . . “) as we are made part – even now – of the heavenly Mount Zion, the innumerable companies of angels, and the spirits of the just made perfect. (Hebrews 12:20-22)

St Paul speaks of Christians as those “upon whom the end of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Furthermore, in the letter to the Hebrews, we are described as those who have (already) “tasted of the powers of the age to come.” (Hebrews 6:5) That’s why there can be found among us a dynamic sense of God’s presence, and an openness to both “ordinary” and “extraordinary” workings of his grace. In addition to our daily and weekly round of prayer, worship and service, we believe in times of spiritual refreshing - including the healing ministry and pilgrimage to shrines of Our Lady – in which we seek renewal and a deepening of our lives in Christ. 

Tied up with these things is the Biblical conviction that we are involved in a kind of “mopping up” operation in which Jesus’ decisive victory on Calvary is applied to the lives of people like us, and that from time to time this might even include the ministry of deliverance and exorcism. Now, I know that some of our liberal friends smile condescendingly at remarks like that, but no less a scholar than Dr Eric Mascall reminded us in his Boyle Lectures that 

“. . . it is part of traditional Christian belief that, behind and beyond the physical universe, there is a realm of purely spiritual beings, in whose affairs we have become implicated. I need hardly recall you to the tremendous and superb imagery in which the last book in the Bible . . . depicts the warfare in the unseen world between the angels of light and the powers of darkness.” (E.M. Mascall The Christian Universe Darton, Longman & Todd, London 1966, p. 110) 

Mascall later pointed out that 

“Scripture, tradition and Christian experience combine in assuring us that the struggle against evil with which Christians on earth are concerned can be seen in its true proportions only against the background of a vaster and more mysterious conflict in the unseen world in which they, too are caught up. When we are faced with the claim that Christians in a secular age ought to live as completely secularised men we can only reply that such a programme does no justice either to the true nature of this world or of existence as a whole . . . It ignores also the resources which we have at our command.” (The Christian Universe p. 129) 

At the beginning of St John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus told Nathaniel that he would see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51). This is a powerful image. We know that Jesus is OUR Jacob’s ladder (Cf Genesis 28:12), and that in him heaven and earth are joined. As Anglican Catholics we are challenged to live and minister intentionally under that open heaven, entirely dependent on Jesus, who “works with us, confirming the Word with the signs that follow it”. (Mark 16:20)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bishop Joe Grech on the River of God

This morning I read Ezekiel 47, the well-known passage about the River of God (go HERE for a previous blog post on that theme). I share with you here a reflection on that great river given by the late Bishop Joe Grech:

The prophet Ezekiel has a vivid description of a river flowing from underneath the temple. The river starts small and gradually it gets bigger and wider. As it flows down, it brings life and makes the water wholesome.  It teems with fish and wherever the water goes it brings health. It becomes truly a river of bounty which gives life and sustenance to everything that lies in its path.

This image was very important for the Old Testament people and it formed a very important aspect of one of the great feasts celebrated by the Jewish people, the feast of Tabernacles.  This feast commemorated the forty years the people of Israel lived in the desert before they came to the land which was promised to them by God.  During this time they lived in tents or Tabernacles.  This feast was celebrated around mid October. On the occasion of this feast, all males were expected to come and pray in the temple and therefore this meant that during this feast there would be literally thousands of people present in Jerusalem.

At one stage, the High priest would go down to the pool of Siloam which is outside the city of Jerusalem and he will take some water from this pool and brings it back to the Temple.  This was to remember the time when Moses brought water forth from the rock.  It was a time of saying thank you to God for providing water for the past year and looking forward to the same blessings during the forthcoming year. During this ceremony, the passage from Ezekiel 47, the same one that we read today was proclaimed.

When the procession arrived back at the Temple, the High Priest would take the pitcher with the water from the pool of Siloam and he would pour it out through a funnel which was on the west side of the altar. This water will go underground into the valley of Kidron. For the Jewish people, Jerusalem was the centre of the world and the temple which was at the centre of Jerusalem was recognised to be the very centre from which everything else in the world flows. The ceremony of the pouring out of the water from the temple proclaimed clearly that all life, all health, all that is good, all that is worthwhile and beautiful had its source from the temple; from a relationship with God. This feast wanted to impart in a powerful and dramatic manner that when we are united with one another and with God, then we become a source of great blessings to ourselves and to those whom we encounter.

We can take all of this a step further. In the Gospel of John chapter 7, verses 37 to 38, we find Jesus in Jerusalem during the time of this feast of Tabernacles. The outpouring of the water by the High Priest took place everyday for seven days but not on the eighth day.  On the eighth day according to St John, Jesus stood up and said, “Let anyone who is thirst come to me!  Let anyone who believes in me come and drink!” As Scripture says, “From his heart shall flow streams of living water”. This was a very bold and awesome statement form Jesus.

In plain English what Jesus was saying was this “The temple is not the place from which you will find peace and rest. The real purpose of your life is not formed by participating in a ceremony.  This is only a reminder.  God is not very far away.  Just come to me. I am here to give you life. The promises that God has made with our people that He would never abandon us and that He will always be close to us is fulfilled in me. I am now the living waters which give you life.  Come to me, believe in me, follow me and in doing so you will find life, fruitfulness and healing”.

What a great reminder for all of us. The meaning behind this feast is to remind all of us, that because of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ living in us, we are also enabled and empowered as a church and as a community to give life and hope to so many.  Each one of us is a source of great healing and blessings. This is all the more evident when we come together as a church. Christ is still continuing his mission through all of as. We belong to a big family that is found all over the world.  As a church, we are not perfect, in reality we are sinners. This is the reason why we need to maintain our close relationship with Jesus Christ. This is also why it is so important to meet regularly to celebrate the Eucharist to be sustained in our unity and encouraged to be the face, the heart and the mind of Jesus whenever the opportunity presents itself. Under the leadership of Jesus and with our feet firmly planting in the life of the church in unity with those who have been given the ministry of leadership, then we can embrace everybody.  We can truly become a source of living waters giving life where there is little or none.

God Bless

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Lord is Near Us in Our Conscience, in His Word, and in His Personal Presence in the Eucharist

This moving homily of Joseph Ratzinger was published in his book, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life.

In today’s reading there is a marvelous saying, in which we can sense all the joy of Israel at its redemption: “What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deut 4:7).

Saint Thomas Aquinas took up this saying in his reflections for the Feast of Corpus Christi.[1] In doing so, he showed how we Christians in the Church of the New Covenant can pronounce these words with yet more reason and more joy and with thankfulness than Israel could; in doing so, he showed how this saying, in the Church of Jesus Christ, has acquired a depth of meaning hitherto unsuspected: God has truly come to dwell among us in the Eucharist, He became flesh so that he might become bread. He gave himself to enter into the “fruit of the earth and the work of human hands”; thus he puts himself in our hands and into our hearts. God is not the great unknown, whom we can but dimly conceive. We need not fear, as heathen do, that he might be capricious and bloodthirsty or too far away and too great to hear men. He is there, and we always know where we can find him, where he allows himself to be found and is waiting for us. Today this should once more sink into our hearts: God is near. God knows us. God is waiting for us in Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Let us not leave him waiting in vain! Let us not, through distraction and lethargy, pass by the greatest and most important thing life offers us. We should let ourselves be reminded, by today’s reading, of the wonderful mystery kept close within the walls of our churches. Let us not pass it heedlessly by. Let us take time, in the course of the week, in passing, to go in and spend a moment with the Lord who is so near. During the day our churches should not be allowed to be dead houses, standing empty and seemingly useless. Jesus Christ’s invitation is always being proffered from them. This sacred proximity to us is always alive in them. It is always calling us and inviting us in. This is what is lovely about Catholic churches, that within them there is, as it were, always worship, because the eucharistic presence of the Lord dwells always within them.

And a second thing: let us never forget that Sunday is the Lord’s day. It is not an arbitrary decision of the Church, requiring us to attend Mass on Sunday. This is never a duty laid upon us from without; it is the royal privilege of the Christian to share in paschal fellowship with the Lord, in the Paschal Mystery. The Lord has made the first day of the week his own day, on which he comes to us, on which he spreads the table for us and invites us to share with him. We can see, in the Old Testament passage at which we are looking, that the Israelites saw in the presence of God, not a burden, but the basis of their pride and their joy. And indeed the Sunday fellowship with the Lord is not a burden, but a grace, a gift, which lights up the whole week, and we would be cheating ourselves if we withdrew from it.

“What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” This passage from the Old Testament has found its ultimate depth of meaning in the eucharistic presence of the Lord. But its earlier meaning is not thereby abolished, but merely purified and exalted. We must now investigate that, in order to understand what the Lord is saying to us here. In the chapter of the book of Deuteronomy from which this passage is taken, the marvelous closeness of God is seen above all in the law he has given to Israel through Moses. Through the law he makes himself permanently available, as it were, for the questions of his people. Through the law he can always be spoken with by Israel; she can call on him, and he answers. Through the law he offers Israel the opportunity to build a social and political order that breaks new ground. Through the law he makes Israel wise and shows her the way a man should live, so as to live aright. In the law Israel experiences the close presence of God; he has, as it were, drawn back the veil from the riddles of human life and replied to the obscure questionings of men of all ages: Where do we come from? Where are we going? What must we do?

This joy in the law astounds us. We have become used to regarding it as a burden that oppresses man. At its best periods, Israel saw in the law in fact something that set them free for the truth, free from the burden of uncertainty, the gracious gift of the way. And, indeed, we do know today that man collapses if he has constantly to reinvent himself, if he has to create anew human existence. For man, the will of God is not a foreign force of exterior origin, but the actual orientation of his own being. Thus the revelation of God’s will is the revelation of what our own being truly wishes-it is a gift. So we should learn anew to be grateful that in the word of God the will of God and the meaning of our own existence have been communicated to us. God’s presence in the word and his presence in the Eucharist belong together, inseparably. The eucharistic Lord is himself the living Word. Only if we are living in the sphere of God’s Word can we properly comprehend and properly receive the gift of the Eucharist.

Today’s Gospel reading [2] makes us aware, besides this, of a third aspect. The law became a burden the moment it was no longer being lived out from within but was broken down into a series of obligations external in their origin and their nature. Thus the Lord tells us emphatically: The true law of God is not an external matter. It dwells within us. It is the inner direction of our lives, which is brought into being and established by the will of God. It speaks to us in our conscience. The conscience is the inner aspect of the Lord’s presence, which alone can render us capable of receiving the eucharistic presence. That is why that same book of Deuteronomy, from which our reading today was taken, says elsewhere: “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deut 30:14; cf. Rom io:8). Faith in Christ simply renders the inmost part of our being, our conscience, once more articulate. The Holy Father, John Paul II, says on this point: “In a person’s obedience to his conscience hes both the key to his moral stature and the basis of his ‘royal dignity’. . . . Obedience to one’s conscience is ... the Christian’s participation in the ‘royal priesthood’ of Christ. Obedience to the conscience ... makes ‘to serve ... Christ’ actually mean ‘to reign’.” [3]

The Lord is near us in our conscience, in his word, in his personal presence in the Eucharist: this constitutes the dignity of the Christian and is the reason for his joy. We rejoice therefore, and this joy is expressed in praising God. Today we can see how the closeness of the Lord also brings people together and brings them close to each other: it is because we have the same Lord Jesus Christ in Munich and in Rome that we form one single people of God, across all frontiers, united in the call of conscience, united by the word of God, united through communion with Jesus Christ, united in the praise of God, who is our joy and our redemption.


[1] Thomas Aquinas, Officium de festo Corporis Christi, in Sanctae Thomae Aquinatis, ed. R. Busa, S.J. (Stuttgart and Bad Canstatt, 1980), 6:581 = DSG ps. 3, n. 3; ps. 5, n. 3.

[2] Gospel for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

[3] John Paul II, Zeichen des Widerspruchs: Besinnung auf Christus (Zurich, 1979), pp. 162f.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Our Lady of Sorrows at the Cross

Our Lady on Calvary
New York: Macmillan, 1947.

So like a queen she moves 
among the rabble. 
The shadow of the cross 
He bears falls upon her 
through the dim day’s glow. 
Wrapped in blue, calm, 
with stately tread 
she follows close, 
close - so very close 
she feels the terrible heat 
of His tortured heart 
upon her own. 

Her shoulders shrink 
beneath her gown 
as He stumbles and falls 
and the tree sinks deep 
in open wounds. 
But no sign of pain 
mirrors in her cold 
still face; 
No gasping cry parts 
her carved, white lips. 
He is silent. 
So is she. 
But from the shaded veil 
her eyes look out 
and cry the lie 
of her unbowed head; 
and buried deep 
in her mantle folds 
her fingers hurt 
in agony.

Lady and Mother 
if only she could weep! 
But no, she is a queen, 
and queens are brave 
and full of strength, 
Even a Mother-Queen. 
Her Mother’s heart 
aches and swells 
in an unbent breast 
to lay that bloody head, 
its crown of crimson thorns removed, 
against its pillowed softness, 
to soothe those burning eyes 
with moist, light kisses; 
to fold those hands in a long caress

against her cheeks 
and pretend He is again 
her little child 
hurt in play 
and comforted to sleep 
in her arms. 
But He is a Man, 
a King 
with a task to do 
for truth 
and all that men will claim 
dear and just and beautiful 
in the days to be 
and through 

She must see Him through 
His mission well done, 
Ever Queen and Mother of God.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

How to pray the Rosary - a simple guide

Of late a number of people have asked if there is a simple guide to praying the Rosary. Well, there are, in fact, many.  Generations of Christians have found the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary really helpful in becoming more reflective in prayer. If you would like to learn how to do it - especially if you are an absolute beginner! - click HERE to download a pdf step by step guide I compiled some time ago.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Nativity of Our Lady - a homily preached by Metroplitan Anthony in 1971

(For a short biographical note on Metropolitan Anthony, go HERE.)

n the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

I should like to say a few words about the greatness of this feast. When a man surveys this world in which we live, which is so vast, seemingly boundless, and looks at himself in it, he feels very small and insignificant. And if he adds to this the hardness and coldness of men, he may sometimes feel extremely vulnerable, helpless and unprotected both before people and before the terrifying vastness of the world.

Yet at the same time if a man looks at himself not in relation to his surroundings, but goes deep into himself, he will there discover such an expanse, such depths, that the whole created world is too small to fill it. Man sees the beauty of the world — and the vision does not completely satisfy him; he learns an enormous amount about God’s creation — and the knowledge does not fill him to the brim. Neither human joy nor even human sorrow can completely fill a man, because in him is a depth that exceeds everything created; because God made man so vast, so deep, so limitless in his spiritual being, that nothing in the world can finally satisfy him except God Himself.

Today’s feast of the Mother of God demonstrates this fact with particular beauty and splendour. She so believed in God, She gave herself to Him with such a pure mind and pure heart, with an unwavering will, with the purity of Her virginity and life such that She was granted to say the Name of God perfectly, with such love that the Word became flesh and God was made man in Her.

Through this we are shown that not only is the soul, the inner being and spirit of man, so created by God that it can contain the mystery of a meeting with the living God, but that even the body is so made that in an unfathomable way it can be united with the living God. Indeed, according to St. Peter we are called to become partakers of the divine nature; according to St. Paul our vocation is to become temples of the Holy Spirit. The whole of the New Testament teaches us that we are the Body, the living tremulous Body of Christ, through baptism and through Holy Communion. How wonderful this is, and therefore with what reverence must we regard not only our immortal soul, but this body of ours which is called to rise again, to enter the Kingdom of God and be glorified, like the body of Christ.

In the XI century St. Simeon the New Theologian wrote one day when he had returned to his humble cell after receiving Holy Communion, words to this effect, “I look upon this corruptible body, upon this frail flesh, and I tremble, because by partaking of the Holy Mysteries it has been permeated by God, it has been united with Christ, it is overflowing with the Holy Spirit... these powerless hands have become the hands of God, this body has become a body that God has taken possession of.”

Consider what has been given us not only by our faith, but by the sacraments of the Church. The immersion in the blessed waters of Baptism makes us particles, living members of Christ’s Body, the Anointing with Holy Chrism is not only the visible seal of the Holy Spirit, but makes us the temples in which He dwells. When the bread and wine which are offered by our faith and love to God are consecrated, they become incomprehensibly and mysteriously the Body and Blood of Christ, and this created matter partakes of Christ and imparts to us, who are incapable of soaring to God in spirit, the divinity of Christ, which saves and transfigures us in soul and body.

This feast of Nativity of the Mother of God is the time when we remember the birth of the One who for the sake of us all, for the whole human race, was able to show such faith, to surrender so absolutely to God, that He could become Man through Her, and bring us these manifold, unfathomable gifts. Glory to Her humility, glory to Her faith, glory to Her love, glory to God Who was incarnate and to the Virgin Mother of God, the worthy vessel of the incarnation of the Son of God, Christ our God! Amen.

This homily is from Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh website http://www.mitras.ru/eng

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

New Guinea Martyrs Day

Today is kept in Papua New Guinea, Australia and other parts of the Anglican Communion as the feast of the New Guinea Martyrs. Go HERE for a comprehensive set of resources, including an inspiring sermon by Bishop Philip Strong.

(Or go directly to the Bishop Strong's sermon. Under the sermon at this link is the text of the radio broadcast he made to his mission staff on 31st January, 1942.)