Monday, November 30, 2015

Ancient underground city in Cappadocia will "rewrite history"

[This article is from today's DAILY NEWS: Leading news source for Turkey and the region, HERE.]

An underground city found in Turkey’s touristic Cappadocia will “rewrite the history of the city,” according to the mayor in the Central Anatolian Nevşehir province, adding they had discovered people had permanently lived in the underground city, unlike other cities which were mostly carved into rocks for temporary protection. The UNESCO world heritage city of Cappadocia, which in New Testament days was located next to Armenia and Galatia, has long been a pilgrim destination for Christians following the trail of Paul the Apostle.

It was in Cappadocia that Paul first established a Christian colony. There too, the Romans tortured the first Christians. Its “fairy like” landscape of natural caves offered many hiding places as a refuge for the persecuted Church, first from the Romans, and then later, Muslims.

Now, according to a report in Hurriyet Daily News, archaeologists digging beneath the modern city (Nevsehir) have unearthed an ancient underground city that housed a permanent population of people seeking protection—perhaps dating as far back as the Hittite era.Hasan Ünver, the mayor of Nevşehir, where Cappadocia is located, said the new findings at the ancient underground city in the province would rewrite history:

“When the works are finalized the history of Cappadocia will be rewritten,” said Ünver, adding the findings found during the excavations dated back as the Hittite era. 

“We have reached significant discoveries; new long tunnels and spaces where people lived all together. Places where linseed oil was produced, chapels and tunnels combining various living spaces in the underground city were found,” said Ünver. 

The underground city was discovered by a Turkish Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) urban transformation project. Some 1,500 buildings located in and around the Nevşehir fortress were demolished, and the underground city was discovered when the earthmoving to construct new buildings began.

Stating that the unearthed tunnels and spaces were different than other underground cities across the world, Ünver said ancient people had lived there permanently. 

“This is a real underground city where they resided permanently and not like other underground cities where they had lived temporarily,” said Ünver. “We are definite that we will also reach very important information and discoveries regarding world history.” 

The mayor said they planned for the opening of the first part of the underground city excavations in 2017, adding the digging was conducted under the guidance of archaeologist Semih İstanbulluoğlu and the control of the Culture and Tourism Ministry. 

İstanbulluoğlu said they predicted the history of the underground city to date back to even before the Hittites, adding this information would be confirmed after the finalization of the excavation’s laboratory work. 

He added they had found tobacco pipe-like objects made from meerschaum, adding they could not yet date them with certainty. 

“These can give clear information about the history of mankind,” İstanbulluoğlu said. 

Ünver said once the news hit that an underground city was discovered in Nevşehir, many researchers from various countries had come and visited the region. 

UNESCO representative Ashish Kothari had examined the underground city in June and was informed about the current restoration work in the region, where he took photos of historical artifacts unearthed during the excavation.

The area around the underground city in Nevşehir is best known world-wide for its “Fairy Chimney” rock formations, which are already on the UNESCO world heritage list.

Özcan Çakır, an associate professor at the geophysics engineering department of the 18 March University and involved in the excavations of the underground city, had said during the initials finding of the city in late 2014 they believed the tunnels were used to carry agricultural products.

“We believe that people, who were engaged in agriculture, were using the tunnels to carry agricultural products to the city. We also estimate that one of the tunnels passes under Nevşehir and reaches a faraway water source,” said Çakır.

Archbishop-emeritus Hickey speaks about homelessness and the Church community

This video has been set to start 14 minutes into Archbishop Hickey's 37 minute address. If you prefer, you can use the scroll bar to take it back to the beginning.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pope Francis at the Anglican Shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs

Pope Francis praying at the Anglican Shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs.

At the end of his visit when he was to bless the people, 
Pope Francis asked Anglican Primate, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, 
to give the blessing with him.

Yesterday, 28 November, during his visit to Uganda Pope Francis visited the shrine of the Anglican martyrs in Namugongo, who he later described as witnesses to an “ecumenism of blood.”

23 Anglicans and 22 Roman Catholics were killed under the orders of King Mwanga II at the end of the nineteenth century. They were among the first Christians of Uganda, having received the Gospel brought by missionaries from both churches. 

The Anglican shrine is the location where 25 of the martyrs were killed.

Pope Francis then went to the national Roman Catholic shrine nearby to say Mass where he was greeted by a crowd of thousands enthusiastically singing and dancing.

For the story of the Ugandan Martyrs, Anglican and Roman Catholic, go HERE.

The following is the text of the homily Pope Francis preached at the Roman Catholic shrine:

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

From the age of the Apostles to our own day, a great cloud of witnesses has been raised up to proclaim Jesus and show forth the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, we recall with gratitude the sacrifice of the Uganda martyrs, whose witness of love for Christ and his Church has truly gone “to the end of the earth”. We remember also the Anglican martyrs whose deaths for Christ testify to the ecumenism of blood. All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives and freely gave testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age.

We too have received the gift of the Spirit, to make us sons and daughters of God, but also so that we may bear witness to Jesus and make him everywhere known and loved. We received the Spirit when we were reborn in Baptism, and we were strengthened by his gifts at our Confirmation. Every day we are called to deepen the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life, to “fan into flame” the gift of his divine love so that we may be a source of wisdom and strength to others.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift which is meant to be shared. It unites us to one another as believers and living members of Christ’s mystical Body. We do not receive the gift of the Spirit for ourselves alone, but to build up one another in faith, hope and love. I think of Saints Joseph Mkasa and Charles Lwanga, who after being catechized by others, wanted to pass on the gift they had received. They did this in dangerous times. Not only were their lives threatened but so too were the lives of the younger boys under their care. Because they had tended to their faith and deepened their love of God, they were fearless in bringing Christ to others, even at the cost of their lives. Their faith became witness; today, venerated as martyrs, their example continues to inspire people throughout the world. They continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and the power of his Cross.

If, like the martyrs, we daily fan into flame the gift of the Spirit who dwells in our hearts, then we will surely become the missionary disciples which Christ calls us to be. To our families and friends certainly, but also to those whom we do not know, especially those who might be unfriendly, even hostile, to us. This openness to others begins first in the family, in our homes where charity and forgiveness are learned, and the mercy and love of God made known in our parents’ love. It finds expression too in our care for the elderly and the poor, the widowed and the orphaned.

Just as the mother and seven sons from the Second Book of Maccabees encouraged one another in their moment of great trial (7:1-2. 9-14), so too, as members of God’s family, we are to assist one another, to protect one another, and to lead one another to the fullness of life. Here I think with gratitude of all those – bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and catechists – who in so many ways help to support Christian families. May the Church in this country continue, especially through its parish communities, to assist young couples to prepare for marriage, to encourage couples to live the marital bond in love and fidelity, and to assist parents in their duty as the first teachers of the faith for their children.

Like the Apostles and the Uganda martyrs before us, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit to become missionary disciples called to go forth and bring the Gospel to all. At times this may take us to the end of the earth, as missionaries to faraway lands. This is essential to the spread of God’s Kingdom, and I ask always for your generous response to this need. But we do not need to travel to be missionary disciples. In fact, we need only to open our eyes and see the needs in our homes and our local communities to realize how many opportunities await us.

Here too the Uganda martyrs show us the way. Their faith sought the good of all people, including the very King who condemned them for their Christian beliefs. Their response was to meet hatred with love, and thus to radiate the splendour of the Gospel. They did not simply tell the King what the Gospel does not allow, but showed through their lives what saying “yes” to Jesus really means. It means mercy and purity of heart, being meek and poor in spirit, and thirsting for righteousness in the hope of an eternal reward.  

The witness of the martyrs shows to all who have heard their story, then and now, that the worldly pleasures and earthly power do not bring lasting joy or peace. Rather, fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, and genuine concern for the good of others bring us that peace which the world cannot give. This does not diminish our concern for this world, as if we only look to the life to come. Instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world, and helps us to reach out to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good, and to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, defends God’s gift of life and protects the wonders of nature, his creation and our common home.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is the legacy which you have received from the Uganda martyrs – lives marked by the power of the Holy Spirit, lives which witness even now to the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This legacy is not served by an occasional remembrance, or by being enshrined in a museum as a precious jewel. Rather, we honour them, and all the saints, when we carry on their witness to Christ, in our homes and neighbourhoods, in our workplaces and civil society, whether we never leave our homes or we go to the farthest corner of the world.

May the Uganda martyrs, together with Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for us, and may the Holy Spirit kindle within us the fire of his divine love!

Omukama Abawe Omukisa! (God bless you!)

(Pope Francis' homily here is as reported by Vatican Radio)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Our spiritual warfare

During times of personal struggle, church difficulties, or global conflict, it is all too easy for us to abandon basic Christian insights when trying to understand what is happening. The same goes when we are attempting to discern the response we should make. In our time many first world churches of a very wide range of traditions seem hell-bent on accommodating themselves to current secular world views on key issues, rather than gently and lovingly, but firmly, adhering to what God has revealed.  

It seems to me that one of the key passages of Scripture for us to constantly revisit in our day is Ephesians 6:10-13, in which S. Paul reminds us of the struggle with evil that is part and parcel of being a Christian:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 

Commenting on this passage, the great evangelical Archbshop Marcus Loane (at whose hands I was confirmed 55 years ago when he was an Assistant Bishop in Sydney) wrote, 

There is a marked pause at the end of the long and salutary passage on home relationships; then Paul called on his scribe once more and the Letter was brought to a close with a call to arms. He knew that, just like the ancient Spartans, we were born for battle: therefore we must learn to ‘endure hardness’ as good soldiers of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3 Authorised Version). We have to live on ground where we will be under attack; it is like a camp in hostile country which must be held until the Captain returns in triumph. Attacks are launched against it by unseen adversaries, for the devil is in command of a vast host. He is always a most aggressive enemy, and that host is skilfully organised for war without quarter. No true soldier of Christ will be immune from its assaults, nor can he be neutral in that conflict. The battle field is overhung with clouds, and he will be forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat. But each member of that beleagured [sic] garrison can stand fast and prevail, because there are sources of strength available in Christ which can make them invincible.  Marcus L. Loane, Grace and the Gentiles (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 110.

Now, I know that some of our liberal friends smile condescendingly at that kind of teaching, but no less a teacher 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

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. (ibid. p. 129)

May the Lord open the eyes of all Christian people, not just to the cosmic struggle in which we have become involved, but also, as Mascall says, to the resources God has given us with which to overcome. 

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 
I will say to the Lord, 
"My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." 
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler 
and from the deadly pestilence. 
He will cover you with his pinions, 
and under his wings you will find refuge; 
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 
You will not fear the terror of the night, 
nor the arrow that flies by day, 
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, 
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 
A thousand may fall at your side, 
ten thousand at your right hand, 
but it will not come near you. 
You will only look with your eyes and see 
the recompense of the wicked. 
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place 
- the Most High, who is my refuge- 
no evil shall be allowed to befall you, 
no plague come near your tent. 
For he will command his angels concerning you 
to guard you in all your ways. 
On their hands they will bear you up, 
lest you strike your foot against a stone. 
You will tread on the lion and the adder; 
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
"Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; 
I will protect him, because he knows my name. 
When he calls to me, I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble; 
I will rescue him and honour him. 

With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation."
(Psalm 91)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

St Andrew Dung-Lac and his Companions - Martyrs of Vietnam

Before the Vietnam War, most people in English-speaking countries knew little about Vietnam, except that it was an obscure part of “Indo-China.” Today, however, as a consequence of that terrible conflict, so many Vietnamese people are dispersed throughout the world, and they have blended into the countries that received them. One of the things that was apparent right from the start of this process is the deep faith of Vietnamese Christians. Indeed, there are many Vietnamese priests serving in Roman Catholic dioceses throughout the world.

This vibrant faith was nurtured by persecution. French missionaries first preached the Gospel and planted the Church among the Vietnamese people from the early 17th century onward. Many people were converted to the Lord in the 18th century and up until 1819.  

But at the order of Emperor Minh-Mang, who reigned from 1820 to 1841, a brutal persecution began. Indeed, Minh-Mang is often referred to as “Vietnam’s Emperor Nero.” On 6th January, 1833, he ordered all Christians to renounce their faith, and as a sign of that renunciation to tread a crucifix under foot. Churches and religious houses were destroyed. The death penalty was decreed for all priests. Many thousands died in the prolonged massacre, among them not only missionary clergy and religious, but also huge numbers of indigenous Christians, priests, religious and laity.

Although following the death of Minh-Mang there was a time of relative freedom, after a while new legislation came into being that resumed the war of hatred against Christians. Only in 1862 did the anti-Christian movement begin to abate, thanks to the imposition of religious liberty by the French. When by 1883 it became clear that this tolerance had not been fully implemented, the French government took over Vietnam as one of its protectorates. Vietnam remained a French protectorate until 1954. In the 1960s the country had a population of 31 million and a well-organized Catholic population of 2.25 million, governed by indigenous bishops, and cared for by a flourishing network of religious communities. Following the turmoil of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, there are now six and a half million Catholics out of a total population of 90 million. There are also flourishing evangelical protestant communities.

Few nations have had to pay so dearly for the Gospel and the Faith. As many as 100,000 had been martyred in Vietnam by 1800. In the 19th century the numbers increased, with between 100,000 and 300,000 executed. It would have been impossible to canonise all these martyrs one by one. So, groups of them, totaling 117, were beatified on four different occasions, including eight missionary bishops, several missionary priests, and a large number of indigineous victims: priests and religious, and lay people, some killed simply for sheltering priests. Among the “blessed” were one woman, Agnes Le thi Thanh and one boy, Joseph Tuc, aged nine.  

On 19th June, 1988, Pope John Paul II canonised these 117. Their feast day is today, November 24. The group used to be referred to as “the Martyrs of Tonkin.” Since their canonisation they are called “St Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions, Martyrs.” 

Andrew was a diocesan priest. His name was originally Dung An Trân, and he was born around 1795 to a poor family in Bac-Ninh in North Vietnam. When he was twelve the family had to move to Hà-Nôi (Hanoi) where his parents could find work. There he met a catechist who gave him food and shelter. The catechist brought him to Jesus and for three years taught him the Christian Faith. Dung An Trân was baptized in Vinh-Tri with the Christian name Andrew. 

After learning Chinese and Latin he, too, became a catechist. Then he was chosen to study theology, and on 15th March 1823 he was ordained to the priesthood. In his parish of Ke-Dâm Andrew he was tireless in his ministry. He fasted often and lived a simple life. He preached and lived the Gospel, and many became Christians through his witness. 

In 1835 during Emperor Minh-Mang’s persecutions he was imprisoned, but his freedom was purchased by donations from his people. To avoid persecution he changed his name to Lac (Andrew Lac) and moved to another prefecture where he could continue his work. But on 10th November 1839 he was again arrested, this time with Peter Thi, another Vietnamese priest who had come to visit in order to make his confession.

Once again Andrew was set free, along with Peter Thi, in exchange for money. But their freedom was brief. They were soon re-arrested and taken to Hanoi, where both were tortured. Finally they were beheaded on 21st December 1839. 

One of the Vietnamese martyrs, St Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, executed in 1843, sent a letter from prison to the seminarians of Ke-Vinh. His words reveal the faith and the heroism of these saints:

“I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily . . . the prison here is a true image of everlasting hell; to cruel tortures of every kind - shackles, iron chairs, manacles - are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief.  But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; He has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, ‘for His mercy is forever.’

“In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone - Christ is with me.  Our Master bears the whole weight of the cross, leaving me only the tiniest, last bit . . .

“Come to me with the aid of your prayers, that I may have the strength to fight . . . We may not again see each other in this life.  But we will have the happiness of seeing each other again in the world to come, when, standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb, we will together join in singing His praises and exult forever in the joy of our triumph.  Amen.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Father Stanton preaching on the Poverty of Jesus

Here is a real treat - a transcript of Father Arthur Stanton's sermon on the Poverty of Jesus, preached at the St Alban's Holborn Monday night mission service on 19th December, 1910. Go HERE for some background on the "slum ritualist" Father Stanton, one of the heroes and evangelists of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England. 

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
 that, though He was rich, 
yet for your sakes He became poor, 
that ye through His poverty might be rich.” 
(2 Corinthians viii. 9)

Now isn’t that a beautiful text? First of all it is so beautiful because of the “For you know.” When you speak to people about something they know, you interest them at once. If I were to speak to you about something of which you know nothing whatever, you would not be in the least interested; but directly I begin to speak to you about something which you know, you are at once all attention. A young man came up from the country out of Gloucestershire to see me the other day, and he interested me, and I interested him, because he told me all about the country I know. We talked about the valleys and the hills, and the beautiful views, and the broad river Severn flowing all down the valley and opening into the Bristol Channel. He was quite interested in me, and I was quite interested in him. We talked about what we knew.

And so, dear brethren, on this last night in Advent I speak to you in the most simple way I can. It is a subject which we all know. There is nothing uncommon about it, or nothing I have to teach you about it. You and I are on the same platform exactly tonight. I only lead your thoughts back to the old story of Jesus and his love, Whom we know. You and I, every one of us, at least I hope we know the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Why did you come this evening, if you didn’t? Here in the midst of your busy Christmas preparations, you have all come this evening, because you love the sweetness of the old story. 
You know the grace of our Lord Christ — It is the woof and the warp of our religious experience. It is the sweet Gospel story, the music of which calls us away because it is the melody of our souls. It is the joy of our hearts. We say we are saved by grace. If you have got a dear human sympathetic heart, it is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in you. A young man came to me yesterday, he put a sovereign into my hand, and he said: “Give it to some poor chap that wants help.” It was the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
Of course that is why men say: “Hail Mary, of grace.”  What is Mary’s grace?“ The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we honour Mary “full of grace,” we honour Christ. When we praise the grace of any Saint, we praise Christ. There is no grace beyond the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you have gracious feelings in your heart and you love to do some good to someone, to say some kind word, why, it is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ — of course it is. Haven’t you ever noticed that the doxology we say at the end of our service is put into rather peculiar order? When you talk about grace you put the Saviour first. You notice that, don’t you? It is “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost.” And the reason is this: It is the grace of our Lord Jesus that comes to us first. It is the way the Trinity touches us, because you can see this: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is the love of God, and the love of God is the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. There you are. Then doesn’t the text open beautifully?
"To know Him not as Angels do above.
They know and sing the wonders of His Love 
To fallen, ruined, guilty, sinful man,
But I would know as Angels never can.

"To know Him in His depth of Love to me,
The poorest, weakest, vilest though I be,
His lost one whom He came to seek and save.
His loved one for whose life Himself He gave.

"To know Him as the All in All to me.
All mine for time, All for Eternity,
And in each gift, of Providence and Grace 
Himself in all His loveliness to trace."

Do you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? I hope you do, for if you know it, you have the gospel in your heart. You come into business with it as an asset — your knowledge can be appealed to.

Then “He was rich.” There is no doubt about that: “He was rich,” very God of very God, Lord of all. When we say rich, we only use the accommodation of terms. We speak of rich and poor. All things were His from the very beginning. The sea is His, He made it. All the treasures of the ocean are His. He made the earth. All the mysteries of creation; all the things which surround us on earth are His. All that is made and was made, and that ever shall be or is, is His. He possesses all things, Lord of all, from the beginning. Lo, He was rich, and when we use that term we say one word explains it all: “God.”  “God.”  “God of Gods.” “Light of Lights,” My God. O God, thou art my God. Behold! He was rich . . .

“He held the highest place above.
Adored by sons of flame.
Yet such His self-denying love,
He laid aside His Crown, and came 
To seek the lost, at any cost 
Of Heavenly rank, and earthly fame,
He sought me - Blessed be His Name.

“It was a lonely path He trod,
From every human soul apart,
Known only to Himself and God 
Was the deep grief that filled His heart;
Yet from the track He turned not back 
Till, where I lay in sin and shame 
He found me - Blessed be His Name.”

Oh! He was rich. And God shall be the humblest of all, because He came from the highest place. No one feels poverty so keenly as they who have been rich, and Jesus had all at His command. “Yet He became poor,” and the whole history of the Master is one of poverty - just as we read - (that is why I read it to you) - He was born in a stable. The people said, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” Then when He went on His ministry, “He had not where to lay His head.” And then they scourged Him, maltreated Him, stripped Him quite naked of everything. He died naked on the Cross, stripped of everything. And then they laid Him in a charity grave. “Who for our sakes became poor.” 

Our dear Master – you can never get away from that - our dear Master was poor. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.” (Philippians ii.5-8) 

“Come, give me rest, and take  
The only rest on earth 
Thou livest within, 
A heart that for Thy sake 
is broken, bleeding, penitent for sin.

“Birds have their quiet nests, 
Foxes their holes, 
and man his peaceful bed. 
All creatures have their rest.
But Jesus hath not where to lay His Head.”
And now I want to lead your thoughts for one moment to “for our sakes,” because there is a sweetness in that “for our sakes.” Why ever did He Who lived in the Deity in Trinity ever wish to create us at all? Why has God made man? It is such an extraordinary thing! The question is why did He do it? Why ever did the Great God Who as the Blessed Trinity made the world, why did He come down and be born in a stable? Why did He do it? And the secret lies in the essence of Deity; because God is revealed to us in His essence as Love. It is not an attribute; it is His essence. God is love, and love always goes out of itself; so leaving His essential glory, He willed to take upon Himself our humanity - Love going out of itself. And mark what love does always: it makes the choice, chooses, and He chose us. 
St Augustine says: “God made man for Himself.” Well, He was perfect, why did he want them for Himself? Because of the overflowing of His Sacred Heart. And having chosen us, as love always will, He devoted Himself to us, for devotion is the second course in love, us you all know from the holy love in your hearts. It is devotion. If love your friend, you will be the devoted friend. 
And then the third attribute of love is this: Union which is the crown - So the Master says: “I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, there ye may be also” (John xiv. 23). He wants us to be in heaven.
“Who for our sakes.” Don’t forget, “for our sakes.” And I tell you straight: if you want a sweet little motto to stir you to a good Christian act, here it is - three words - ”For Christ’s sake.” If you have a picture in your room of the dear Master dying, perhaps you have put underneath: “For my sake” Well, write in your heart this : “For Christ’s sake.” And do all the good you do “for Christ’s sake,” and abstain from doing what is wrong “for Christ’s sake . . . Who though He was rich, for our sakes became poor.” 
And then the last - for I have no time: the last is “that we through His poverty might be rich” - rich not with paltry pelf, but with grace. What do you think are the two best gifts given to mortal man? “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ ” - “ The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost”; and immortality too, for to mortal man, to dying man, there is no gift like immortality - and He it is who brought grace and immortality too. By His glorious Gospel we preach immortality. “Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John xi, 26) That is our Gospel. We are sons of God and heirs of immortality.
We are strangers and pilgrims here on earth, but we look for a better country, a heavenly, and God is not ashamed to be called our God, and has prepared for us a city (see Hebrews xi, 16). My brethren, don’t let the sordid worldliness by which we are surrounded keep you down. We are all of the earth earthy, and lose sight of the Lord of heaven.
And last of all, dear brethren, might I say this to you? If you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ Who was rich and for your sake became poor, don’t any of you enjoy your comforts at Christmas unless you have thought of the poor. Don’t sit in your warm room over the fire, smoking your pipe, or reading your paper, and care nothing for the poor who have got no home. Don’t, for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who though He was rich, for your sakes He became poor that you through His poverty might be made rich; and may the sweet Gospel text ring in your hearts again and again.

(From Father Stanton's Last Sermons in S. Alban's, Holborn, Ed E.F. Russell, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1916)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

35 years ago this day . . .

For me, today's Mass of St Martin of Tours is a special celebration of God’s faithfulness over the 35 years I have been a priest in his Church. Ordained on 11th November 1980 at St Paul’s Ballarat (Australia) by Bishop John Hazlewood, I give thanks to God for these words of Father Robert Beal (before he became Bishop of Wangaratta) who was our retreat conductor and preacher at the ordination Mass. I have returned to them so many times over the years:

“It is your task, my brothers, 
to beckon the world’s gaze to the crucifix,
and to point to those wounds 
on the Body of the King of glory. 
We gaze at the God-man, 
and are confronted with the Truth 
that will make men free.”

The photos above are from the ordination. The second one is the actual “moment.” I’m not visible in that one. As was often the case in my fairly poor footballing days (Rugby League) at high school, I'm in the middle of the scrum! In the foreground is Mark Sumner who was also ordained to the priesthood that night.  

Today I thank God for his saving grace, his forgiveness, his love, his healing power, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I thank him for the thousands of times I have been privileged to lead the rejoicing throng to the altar of God where, united with the Eternal Offering of our Great High Priest, we have been swept into the worship of heaven. I thank him for those who influenced my vocation from right across the Christian traditions and helped me to respond. I thank him for family members, parishioners and friends whose love, prayers and generosity of support over this time have made it possible for me to embrace both the joys and the sorrows of the priestly ministry. I thank him for those who have forgiven my mistakes and failures. 

Please continue to pray for me, and for all priests, as we seek - often falteringly - to live according to these precious words of St Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4-10:

We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed - always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Finally, I share with you this wonderful hymn of Charles Wesley - one of the first hymns I learned to accompany as a fledgling organist! - which so long ago in my teenage years I made my own. It has never failed to move me, strengthen me, and nourish me. It has often helped me keep everything in perspective:

Jesus! the Name high over all,
In hell or earth or sky;
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.

Jesus! the Name to sinners dear,
The Name to sinners giv’n;
It scatters all their guilty fear,
It turns their hell to Heav’n.

Jesus! the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan’s head;
Power into strengthless souls it speaks,
And life into the dead.

O that mankind might taste and see
The riches of his grace!
The arms of love that compass me
Would all the world embrace.

Thee I shall constantly proclaim,
Though earth and hell oppose;
Bold to confess thy glorious Name
Before a world of foes.

His only righteousness I show,
His saving grace proclaim;
’Tis all my business here below
To cry “Behold the Lamb!”

Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp his Name,
Preach him to all and cry in death,
“Behold, behold the Lamb!”

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran

Today is the feast of a church building - the Basilica of St John Lateran. When we think of Rome, we usually think of St Peter’s. But St John Lateran is actually the Pope’s own church, the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. It was the first church built after Constantine brought the persecution of Christians to an end in 313, on land that had been in the hands of the Laterni family, hence the basilica’s name. Dedicated in 324, the Bishops of Rome lived and presided there until 1309 saw the Papacy move to Avignon. When the Avignon sojourn came to an end in 1377, because of accumulated damage at St John Lateran, the Bishop of Rome lived at the Basilica of St Maria in Trastevere and later at the Basilica of St Maria Maggiore. Eventually, the Palace of the Vatican was built adjacent to the Basilica of St Peter, which had also existed from Constantine’s day. This project began in 1477 and went on for 150 years.

It is typical of the Catholic tradition that on the day when we celebrate a church building, the Mass readings chosen remind us in the strongest possible terms that the Church is in essence not a literal building at all, but a community of faith, love and prayer being built Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit. The First Reading (Ezekiel 47:1-12) is the prophet’s vision of the river of life flowing from the altar of the temple out into the desert places, and the Gospel is about the purification of the temple (John 2:13-22). Particularly challenging is the Epistle (1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17):

We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.

There have been times of persecution and war when Christians have experienced the loss of magnificent buildings, together with many of the accoutrements of worship, and they (and their enemies) have realised the truth that the real temple, the real Church, is the community being built by Jesus, in which we are “living stones” (1 Peter 2:2-5), with Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In times like that, Christians have worshipped in farmhouse kitchens, city houses and remote outdoor locations. Cynical people - Christians and non-christians alike - sometimes say that the peacetime construction of huge edifices housing magnificent works of art is an aspect of corrupt instutionalisation in the Church’s life. And, indeed, the Scriptures as well as many Saints throughout the ages warn against the Faith being reduced to its externals. But it is the nature of love to express itself exuberantly. In every culture, time and place, when it has been possible to do so, Christians have responded to the God of love, truth and beauty by creating, not just works of art, music and poetry, but also beautiful buildings in which we gather as Church to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Saviour’s love. 

Here is a virtual tour of the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. (Click on places in the list on the left hand side)

  1. Apse

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