Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Michael Ramsey on encountering Christ

The following is taken from a sermon preached on 2 Corinthians 13:12 [“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”] by Archbishop Michael Ramsey at Trinity Church, New York City, on Sunday, October 14, 1962. Go HERE to read the full sermon.

Think how stupendous the words are: “the grace of Christ”. That means nothing less than the personal impact of Christ Jesus Our Lord upon us, to make us quite different from what we were before. It means that here, this morning, we have in our midst the Lord Jesus very near to us, just as he was so near to those who saw him in the towns and villages of Galilee, or by the lakeside, or in the streets of Jerusalem; and that he here and now can have the same effect upon us, that he had upon them. That is what his grace means. You know, perhaps, the old child’s definition of grace, and I think it is impossible to improve upon it:-”Grace is the power Christ gives me to make me like Himself.”

And what were the effects that Christ first had upon those who encountered him? There were some who felt very guilty on account of their sins, and he brought to them the assurance of forgiveness that lifted a load off their hearts, when he said, “go in peace and sin no more.” And if that’s you - if you are burdened with a feeling of guilt, be very sure that the absolution that Christ brings - that is, if you confess your sins and ask his forgiveness--can be real and overwhelming.

And there were those, alas, who did not realize their sinfulness, because they were just complacent about themselves; and his grace brought home to them the real state of their need, so that they could see themselves in the sight of God, and not just in the sight of their friendly and congratulating neighbours. And if that’s you - and perhaps it is - be very sure that the grace of Christ can bring you to a sense of what you really are in the sight of God’s love and righteousness, and beget in you a real contrition for your sinfulness and a longing for His pardon. That’s another thing that the grace of Our Lord can do for you.

And then there were others who were filled with sorrow. Sorrow, fear and anxiety about themselves or about their friends or about the world was in their hearts. And Christ brought to them a Heavenly peace and joy; a peace and joy which He could give as a Heavenly gift, but the world and the world’s environment could not possibly give to them. And if that is your case, and if that is your need, be sure that the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ can bring to you a supernatural joy and peace through the fixing of your will upon the Divine Will. Remember the great words of Dante: - “in his will is our peace.” And in today’s Collect we have just been praying, “grant that thy grace may prevent and follow us”. Remember that grace means the personal presence of the Lord Christ with its great impact upon you. And would that when those words come, as they do at the end of so many of our services, “the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ”, we realize that it means no less than that for us.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Balthasar: From his "Women Priests? A Marian Church in a Fatherless and Motherless Culture"

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988), well-known Swiss theologian and priest (who almost become a cardinal, but died before the ceremony), was a favourite theologian of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He is considered by many to be one of the most important - and cultured - Christian thinkers of the 20th century. In fact, he is one of a handful of writers to whom I return for inspiration whenever I despair of the mindless lurching in all directions of so many modern Christian "teachers.” (In other words, I return to him often!) His writing is mystical, biblical and philosophical, with a real lyrical beauty. Mind you, it can also be dense, requiring a fair bit of work on the part of the reader. But such work is always rewarded! 

I share with you today a slab of Balthasar's essay Women Priests? A Marian Church in a Fatherless and Motherless Culture, published in Communio (22.1) in 1995. [It first appeared in 1986, in New Elucidations, trans. Sr. Mary Theresilde Skerry (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986)]. The whole essay is worth reading, not least for what Balthasar sees has been lost to us in the "fatherless" and "motherless" mechanised culture in which we now live and its relevance to our contemporary gender debates in general. The pdf can be downloaded from the Communio website HERE.

Over against the old world, whose balance is so endangered, the Church is the beginning of the new cosmos founded in Jesus Christ. In that new cosmos, from its very foundation, the right balance, including a sexual balance, is assured. It is only a matter of recognizing it and living in it. The Church begins with the Yes of the Virgin of Nazareth, which summarizes Israel's faith and brings it to abundant fulfillment: unreserved readiness to conceive, in full freedom, making woman's entire psychophysical fruitfulness available. It is an active fruitfulness, incredibly surpassing all the natural fruitfulness of the woman, which is already superior to that of the man; and it carries, brings forth, nurtures, and educates not just any child, but God's Son. Just as he owes what he is to his eternal Father, so too he owes it to this motherly, ecclesial womb; and he will gradually educate Mary - pierced by the sword - unto the Cross, where he will consecrate her as the mother of his disciple, of the apostles and of the visible ecclesial assembly.

The Twelve whom he commissions and invests with the necessary powers are chosen thirty years later. They receive masculine tasks of leadership and representation within the comprehensive feminine, Marian Church. They begin as failures — this is demonstrated most clearly in the case of Peter — and can never match the quality of the primordial Church, the "perfect Bride," the Immaculata. Their role is a service within the permanent existence of the Church: they are to represent him who, by virtue of the surrender of his entire substance on the Cross, gathers the people of God into himself eucharistically and places it under the Father's great absolution. In view of his selfgiving (by no means in view of any act of Peter), Christ's "preredeemed" Mother has also received the grace to speak her impeccable, infallible Yes. What Peter will receive as "infallibility" for his office of governing will be a partial share in the total flawlessness of the feminine, Marian Church. And what the men, consecrated into their office, receive in the way of power to consecrate and to absolve will again be in its specifically masculine function - the transmission of a vital force that originates outside itself and leads beyond itself - a share in a fruitfulness (before the Eucharist, she gave birth to Christ) and purity (she was absolved from all eternity) belonging nonofficially to the perfect feminine Church.

One can say that Christ, inasmuch as he represents the God of the universe in the world, is likewise the origin of both the feminine and masculine principles in the Church; in view of him, Mary is pre-redeemed. and Peter and the apostles are installed in their office. And insofar as Christ is a man, he again represents the origin, the Father, for the fruitfulness of the woman is always dependent on an original fructification. Neither of these points is to be relativized, nor is the resultant representation of the origin by the Church's office.

A woman who would aspire to this office would be aspiring to specifically masculine functions, while forgetting the precedence of the feminine aspect of the Church over the masculine. With this ecclesial feminism we again arrive at the sphere of what we described in the first section, in which the woman, through a tragic misunderstanding, reaches for what is specifically masculine; except that now it is considerably easier to rectify. The right balance need not be arduously sought, for it is already present in the essence of the Church. In order to perceive this, of course, one must have an eye for the fundamental Marian dimension of the Church, the eye possessed by the Church Fathers, the Middle Ages and even the Baroque period and lost only by us - during the period of the rationalistic Enlightenment. The title "Mother of the Church" represents an attempt to recapture something of the awareness belonging to Christianity for nearly two thousand years. But in this awareness, "Mother" and "Church" were even more closely joined: in the image of the "mantle of grace" for instance, the Church's prototype and the universal Church living within her ambit flow into one another.

If one takes an unbiased stance, one has to marvel at how intensely this prototype, precisely in recent times, by means of active testimonies from heaven, has been offered to the world as a reminder and a point of reflection. From Catherine Labouré to Bernadette at Lourdes, to Beauraing, Banneux and Fatima (to mention only important and recognized instances), the self-testimony of the Ecclesia immaculata is uninterrupted. She is not allowed to hide herself behind her Son in false humility; she comes uninhibitedly to the fore and. manifests her nature: "I am the Immaculate Conception," she insists at Lourdes, and this in connection with the Rosary, which points clearly enough to the divine origin of the Son and of the entire Trinity. The masculine hierarchy was willing enough to recognize the messages of Lourdes and Fatima, and the numerous Marian encyclicals of the popes have underscored the rightful place of woman in the Church's inmost nature.

Because of her unique structure, the Catholic Church is perhaps humanity's last bulwark of genuine appreciation of the difference between the sexes. In the dogma of the Trinity, the Persons must be equal in dignity in order to safeguard the distinction that makes the triune God subsistent love; in a similar way, the Church stresses the equal dignity of man and woman, so that the extreme oppositeness of their functions may guarantee the spiritual and physical fruitfulness of human nature. Every encroachment of one sex into the role of the other narrows the range and dynamics of humanly possible love, even when this range transcends the sphere of sexuality, birth and death and achieves the level of the virginal relationship between Christ and his Church, a relationship expressed not in isolated individual acts of specific organs, but in the total surrender of one's own being.

The Church's Marian dimension embraces the Petrine dimension, without claiming it as its own. Mary is "Queen of the Apostles" without claiming apostolic powers for herself. She possesses something else and something more.

But modem man, who has to make (machen) something out of every object, can only with difficulty distinguish authority (Vollmacht) such as Jesus bestows and power (macht). The two are, however, basically different. Ecelesial authority is a specific qualification for service to the community. It is appropriation as expropriation; leadership, but from the last place. One must, therefore, guard against exalting the service of the bishop and the priest to a quality fundamentally inaccessible to women. Like all Christians, women possess this quality eminently in the "universal priesthood" of all the faithful, which allows and basically effects an offering and being-offered of all together with Christ. (In this connection, Cardinal Mercier sowed confusion by proclaiming that the diocesan clergy is the state of perfection.) "Power" is so often unobtrusively behind many contestations and movements, supposedly on behalf of justice, equality and so forth, that, precisely in the case of the theme under consideration here, extreme caution and the most precise discernment of spirits are necessary. Both sexes, each in its own way, aspire to "power" and use the most varied methods to gain it. Power is connected subterraneously with humanity's original sin and concupiscence and, naturally, also makes itself fell as a motive within the Church. It is by no means a prerogative of men.

On the other hand, the ecelesial office, whose contour comes so expressly to the fore in the New Testament and from the earliest tradition onwards, may not be leveled into the other services and charisms in such a way that it appears merely as one single function among others: there is only one "shepherd" of the pastured flock, and this image remains valid even though so many single functions in a community are distributed among lay people, both women and men.

Who has the precedence in the end? The man bearing office, inasmuch as he represents Christ in and before the community, or the woman, in whom the nature of the Church is embodied - so much so that every member of the Church, even the priest, must maintain a feminine receptivity to the Lord of the Church? This question is completely idle, for the difference ought only to serve the mutual love of ail the members in a circulation over which God alone remains sublimely supreme: "In the Lord, the woman is not independent of the man nor the man of the woman. For just as the woman [Eve] comes from the man, so also the man [including Christ] comes through the woman; but everything comes from God" (1 Cor 11:11-12).

Friday, August 19, 2016

Official logo for the Canonisation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta

This article from Mumbai is on the AsiaNews website:

A graphic designer from Mahim, a Mumbai neighborhood has created the official logo of the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which will take place at the Vatican next September 4th.

Karen Vaswani nee D’Lima is a Roman Catholic from the parish of Our Lady of Victories in Mahim. She started her carrier as a graphic designer 21 years ago and in addition to her professional work, puts her talents at the service of many parishes in the city, everything “for the Glory of God,” according to the spirit of Mother Teresa.

“I never met Mother Teresa in person - she told AsiaNews - but I always admired her work and was often involved in charity work, lending my professional experience”.

The woman is married to Sindhi Ishwar Vaswani (Ishwar means “God”); they have a teenage daughter named Kimaya ( “Divine” in Sanskrit).

Speaking to AsiaNews, Karen explained “The Archdiocese of Calcutta has contacted me and asked me to design the logo for the celebrations of the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Sister Prema, the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity and Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk, the postulator, loved it, so they decided to adopt it for international use. I am very excited and full of gratitude for that”.

Karen took three days to create the logo of Mother Teresa. “The theme given by the Vatican – she explains - was ‘’Carrier of Gods tender and merciful love”. So I decided to work on a classic pose of Mother Teresa, where she holds a baby in her arms with loving kindness”.

“I preferred to use very simple style of graphics and only two colors, so all media at all levels, can use it with ease”, she added.

Karen reveals that she prayed before, during and after work: “First of all, I thanked God for giving me this opportunity; then I prayed for the grace and guidance to create a logo that was simple and powerful, which speaks for itself”.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

David Bentley Hart - an author you should read!

Today I share with you an important (downloadable) essay by David Bentley Hart:

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox philosophical theologian, philosopher, and cultural commentator. He has held positions at the Notre Dame University Institute for Advanced Study,  St. Louis University, The University of Virginia, Duke University, and Providence College. He has also been an endowed fellow of the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton. He was the winner of the 2011 Michael Ramsey Prize of the Church of England. Hart’s specialties are philosophical theology, systematics, patristics, classical and continental philosophy, and Asian religion. His most recent work has concerned the genealogy of classical and Christian metaphysics, ontology, the metaphysics of the soul, and the philosophy of mind.

His principal scholarly books are The Beauty of the Infinite (2003); The Doors of the Sea (2005); In the Aftermath (2007); Atheist Delusions (2009); and The Experience of God (2013).  He has also published a popular history of Christianity (2007), a volume of short stories, and over 150 articles in such scholarly journals as Modern Theology, The Scottish Journal of Theology, and Pro Ecclesia, as well as in such trade publications as The Times Literary Supplement, The Wall Street Journal, First Things, and Commonweal.
If you enjoyed the downloadable essay, you might like to hear Hart being interviewed for the Australian Centre for Public Christianity. Click on the topics below, and you will be taken to the video files on their website (except the first one which is audio only):

David Bentley Hart examines the impact of Christianity on the West 

David Bentley Hart explains how he reconciles suffering with his belief in a good God. 

David Bentley Hart on whether the Gnostic gospels should be taken seriously. 

David Bentley Hart considers if the pagan society was better than the Christian one that overtook it 

David Bentley Hart examines whether humans can create objective ethics without referring to a deity. 

David Bentley Hart explains why New Atheism has become so popular. 

David Bentley Hart responds to the accusation that Christianity causes violence

* * * * *

Oliver Burkeman writing about David Bentley Hart’s book The Experience of God on The Guardian website (Tuesday 14 January 2014).

One reason that modern-day debates between atheists and religious believers are so bad-tempered, tedious and infuriating is that neither side invests much effort in figuring out what the other actually means when they use the word ‘God’. This is an embarrassing oversight, especially for the atheist side (on which my sympathies generally lie). After all, scientific rationalists are supposed to care deeply about evidence. So you might imagine they’d want to be sure that the God they’re denying is the one in which most believers really believe. No ‘case against God’, however watertight, means much if it’s directed at the wrong target.

Yet prominent atheists display an almost aggressive lack of curiosity when it comes to the facts about belief. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins expertly demolishes what he calls ‘the God hypothesis’, but devotes only a few sketchy anecdotes to establishing that this God hypothesis is the one that has defined religious belief through history, or defines it around the world today. AC Grayling insists that atheists are excused the bother of actually reading theology – where they might catch up on debates among believers about what they believe – because atheism “rejects the premise” of theology. And when The Atlantic ran a piece last year entitled Study theology, even if you don’t believe in God, Jerry Coyne, the atheist blogosphere’s Victor Meldrew, called it “the world’s worst advice.” And on and on it goes.

My modest New Year’s wish for 2014, then, is that atheists who care about honest argument – and about maybe actually getting somewhere in these otherwise mind-numbingly circular debates – might consider reading just one book by a theologian, David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God, published recently by Yale University Press. Not because I think they’ll be completely convinced by it. (I’m not, and I’m certainly not convinced by Hart’s other publicly expressed views, which tend towards the implacably socially conservative.) They should read it because Hart marshals powerful historical evidence and philosophical argument to suggest that atheists – if they want to attack the opposition’s strongest case badly need to up their game.

Go HERE to read the rest of the article.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Don't lose heart

At Mass last Sunday we heard Jesus call his followers a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). 

That can be disconcerting. We like to focus on times in history when outwardly the Church has done well, the ethical thinking and legal systems of our culture have been broadly based on Scripture, and people in general responded positively to the proclamation of the Gospel. 

But history shows that at other times the Church has indeed been a “little flock”, in spite of the godliness and faith of her children.

This is a hard truth for those who think of the Church primarily in terms of its “institutionality” . . . whether powerful state churches with their great cathedrals and “civic religion”, the new multi-national networks of “mega-churches”, or even the incredibly inspiring scenes of two million young people with Pope Francis at World Youth Day two weeks ago.

In early 1994 I was staying in Rome with a group from Ballarat on the way to London for the consecration of our new bishop, and spent time with an Australian Roman Catholic priest who for some years had worked in Rome. I asked him whether the experience had changed him in any way. He replied that because so many leaders, students and pilgrims from all over the world interact in Rome, he been liberated from his habit of viewing the Church primarily through the eyes of English-speaking western culture (he had been brought up an Anglican).

He also said he had become less alarmed by the apparent decline of the Church in Western European countries and the English speaking world. He had begun to appreciate more deeply that in the ebb and flow of culture and history, at any given time parts of the Church are flourishing, numerically and in terms of cultural influence, while at least somewhere it is not doing so well. (We see that even in the New Testament.)

In fact, Jesus uses different pictures to show us that what looks like the littleness of his “kingdom” - and even its struggle to survive - is never an indication of its ultimate importance. As well as the “little flock”,  he talks about the tiny mustard seed that becomes the biggest of the shrubs (Luke 13:19), and the handful of yeast mixed in with 60 pounds of dough (Luke 13:21). These images are as much about waiting with prayerful expectancy and hope as they are about the littleness of the beginning, the hiddenness of God’s work, and the end result of the process.

But it’s not just in the sayings of Jesus. It’s the fact that although there were crowd scenes in his ministry - as there are in ours - mostly what he did was very personal. It was small and unimpressive. It was seen mostly in his one to one ministry with people - especially those on the margins of society - the outcasts, those with no-one to love them, those who had lost hope, the wounded, the sick, the desperate. He touched them with his love as he drew them into that “little flock” around himself - the community of faith and love that has never been completely wiped out even in those places where it has suffered persecution, violence and bloodshed.

Jesus is trying to encourage people like us who, when the pressure is really on, wonder if all our work and witness actually achieve anything. Perhaps he was looking through the tunnel of time to the bloodbath of martyrdom, not just in the early Church, but also during this last hundred years. Perhaps he could see the wiping out of large Christian communities in Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa by militant Islam. Perhaps he could even see cultures like our own, historically built on Gospel values, but in which the Church eventually loses out to the forces of secularism and relativism.

One of the great Christian leaders of our time was David Wilkerson who started out as a country preacher. Back in the 1960s, he went to New York in order to live among young people whose lives had been torn apart by drugs and violence, and reach out to them with the Gospel. Many were converted through his ministry, and he founded Teen Challenge. He loved to see great crowds come out to worship the Lord and listen to the Gospel being preached (and he certainly drew the crowds!), but the thing about Wilkerson was that - like Jesus - he understood that loving Gospel ministry happens one to one, and regardless of how faithful the evangelist is, results might be a long time coming. He knew that in every ministry there are seasons for sowing, seasons for patiently waiting in travailing prayer, and then seasons of harvest. 

Towards the end of his life Wilkerson preached an amazing sermon at a pastors’ conference on the text: “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God” (Isaiah 49:4). He spoke of the frustration in the hearts of many who look back over decades of faithful ministry that seem to have produced so few results. He referred to the tears Jesus wept over the unresponsive city of Jerusalem that “knew not the time of its visitation” (Luke 19:44). 

In sharing with typical honesty the anguish he often felt about his own witness to the Lord, Wilkerson told the story of the Methodist George Bowen, who wrote Love Revealed, a book about Jesus in St John’s Gospel. A single man, Bowen had turned from wealth and fame to become a missionary in Bombay, India, in the mid-1800s. When he got there and found the missionaries living well above the poor to whom they ministered, Bowen gave up his mission support and lived among the very poorest in one room of a most humble ramshackle dwelling, sometimes subsisting only on bread and water, supporting himself with a bit of part time work. He shared his life with the people. He shared their burdens and sorrows. Dressed as they dressed, he would preach lovingly and compassionately about Jesus on the streets of that city in sweltering heat, as he gave out evangelistic literature.

Bowen had gone to India full of hope. He’d given everything in obedience to the Lord - his heart, mind, body and spirit. Yet, in over forty years of ministry there, he had not one convert. When he died, however, the missionary societies realised how much the people loved him. Actually, the life he lived for all those years prepared the hearts of many to respond to Jesus. He sowed the seed, others watered, God gave the increase, and eventually a church was even built in his memory. To this day many regard Bowen as one of the truly great missionaries. He simply lived the life of the gospel in the midst of his people.

Those who read Love Revealed will not doubt that that Bowen was generally content with that vocation. Yet David Wilkerson explained that toward the end of his life Bowen went through a period of depression in which he endured a terrible sense of failure. Bowen wrote, “I am the most useless being in the Church. God bruises and crushes me with disappointments. He builds me up, then permits me to fall back to nothing.  I would like to sit with Job, and I sympathize with Elijah. My labour has all been in vain.”

Actually, many western Christians in our day, ordained and lay, feel as if we are sitting with Job on his ash heap, or with Elijah in his cave, as we get used to being the Lord’s “little flock,” especially those old enough to have experienced the short lived post World War II boom in churchgoing, and the renewal movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Speaking of the renewal movements, it is interesting to reflect on one of the most significant and widely reported gatherings of the Charismatic renewal - the Mass celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Whit Monday, 19th May, 1975, which concluded an historic international conference. Cardinal Suenens of Belgium had been given special permission by Pope Paul VI to celebrate at the high altar of St Peter’s. He was assisted by 12 Bishops and about 700 priests. The Basilica was packed with the thousands who had gathered from around the world. It is very significant that among the prophecies given to the congregation toward the end of the Mass were these:

“Because I love you, I want to show you what I am doing in the world today. I want to prepare you for what is to come. Days of darkness are coming on the world, days of tribulation . . . Buildings that are now standing will not be standing. Supports that are there for my people now will not be there. I want you to be prepared, my people, to know only me and to cleave to me and to have me in a way deeper than ever before. I will lead you into the desert . . . I will strip you of everything that you are depending on now, so you depend just on me. A time of darkness is coming on the world, but a time of glory is coming for my church, a time of glory is coming for my people. I will pour out on you all the gifts of my spirit. I will prepare you for spiritual combat; I will prepare you for a time of evangelism that the world has never seen . . . And when you have nothing but me, you will have everything: land, fields, homes, and brothers and sisters and love and joy and peace more than ever before. Be ready, my people, I want to prepare you . . .” 

“I speak to you of the dawn of a ‘new age’ for my church. I speak to you of a day that has not been seen before . . . Prepare yourselves for the action that I begin now, because things that you see around you will change; the combat that you must enter now is different; it is new. You need wisdom from me that you do not yet have. You need the power of my Holy Spirit in a way that you have not possessed it; you need an understanding of my will and of the ways that I work that you do not yet have. Open your eyes, open your hearts to prepare yourselves for me and for the day that I have now begun. My church will be different; my people will be different; difficulties and trials will come upon you. The comfort that you know now will be far from you, but the comfort that you will have is the comfort of my Holy Spirit. They will send for you, to take your life, but I will support you. Come to me. Band yourselves together, around me. Prepare, for I proclaim a new day, a day of victory and of triumph for your God. Behold, it is begun.” 

“. . . I will renew my church. I will renew my people. I will make my people one. I am calling you to turn away from the pleasures of the world. I am calling you to turn away from the desires of the world. I am calling you to turn away from seeking the approval of the world in your lives. I want to transform your lives . . . I have a word for my church. I am sounding my call. I am forming a mighty army . . . My power is upon them. They will follow my chosen shepherd(s) . . . Be the shepherds I have called you to be . .  . I am renewing my people. I will renew my church. I will free the world.”  See HERE

Periodically the Lord reminds his people that we are the “little flock” and that we are to be faithful to our calling whatever the cost, whether or not we are popular, and whether or not there seem to be any positive results to our attempts at reaching out in love. Remember the desert fathers and mothers; remember the great mystics and spiritual directors raised up by the Lord over two thousand years; remember the messages Our Lady has given in the various places of her appearing. Indeed, I just love the prayer ascribed to St Bernadette of Lourdes (1844-1879), who suffered so much, including at the hands of fellow Christians:

O my God, I beseech you, by your loneliness, not that you should spare me affliction, but that you not abandon me in it. When I encounter affliction, teach me to see you in it as my sole Comforter. May affliction strengthen my faith, fortify my hope, and purify my love. Grant me the grace to see your hand in my affliction, and to desire no other comforter but you.

It is salutary when on pilgrimage to Lourdes and seeing the huge crowds joyfully praising God and reaching out for blessing and healing, to contemplate the anguish and pain this young woman prayerfully endured, which was such an important building bock of the subsequent ministry of that holy place. We shouldn’t be surprised, for in her various apparitions Our Lady generally speaks of redemptive suffering as well as the joy of the Gospel. She, herself, had stood at the foot of her Son’s cross, sharing his suffering and pain in fulfilment of old Simeon’s prophecy “a sword will pierce your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). We,  as the “little flock” often find ourselves huddled at the foot of that Cross with Mary, as St Paul describes the experience “sharing koinonia in the sufferings of Jesus” (Philippians 3:10), sometimes for our sake, but always in intercession for a wayward world.

The quotes I have given you from St Peter’s Basilica on 19th May, 1975 are not the only indication of the darkness for which God had begun to prepare his people. I believe that back in 1969 a young theologian, Josef Ratzinger spoke a truly anointed prophetic word when during a radio talk he predicted the coming crisis and the renewal of the “Little Flock”:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her centre: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true centre and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. 

The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritual and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. Her real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death (Benedict (2009), Faith and the Future (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), pp. 114-115)

Thank the Lord for the continuing influence of the Church. Indeed, the paradox is that while so many local parishes struggle to survive in western Europe and places like Australia and New Zealand, the crowds attending cathedrals and flocking to places of pilgrimage have never been bigger. It would be foolish to deliberately collapse the mission in places where the old paradigm of the parish church and school is still “light” and “salt” in its local community. But we need to nurture the “new movements”, “fresh expressions”, “new monasticism” and other ancient and modern ways of being the Church, to embrace the vision articulated by Ratzinger, and be more open to the Lord, the real builder of the Church (Matthew 16:18). 

It grieves me, however, that so many Anglican leaders - including some of my friends! - are losing their nerve as they manage numerical decline. It’s not just that in order to prop up “the system” they embrace a flawed and bureaucratised managerialism. It’s also that they have been frightened into making any stand at all for Gospel values and Catholic truth, lest the culture disapprove. More than anything else, what they fear is unpopularity. They have allowed diocesan and general synods to be turned into magisterial bodies that can endlessly alter the faith of the Church without any reference to the fact that our formularies commit us to the Catholic faith “as this Church has received it.”  Reflecting widespread attitudes among the clergy, not just traditionally from the “liberal” centre, but also - unbelievably - many with catholic and evangelical origins, some of them seem intent on recasting the distinctively Christian revelation.  

Jesus, on the other hand said that the community of faith and love gathered around him was not to fear, even when it seems such a “little flock”, for the Father has given us the kingdom. We are to become more loving as Christian fellowships in which we are accountable to each other. We are to worship, learn and serve. We are to love as Jesus loves. We are to reach out to others. And we are lovingly to stand firm, whatever the cost. Ours is the Church of martyrs, ours is the Church of whom Jesus said, 

“This I command you, to love one another. 

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me . . .

“I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them.” (John 15:17 - 16:4).     
In many parts of the world, the Church is doing really well. People attend Mass in their tens of thousands. The gospel is preached and the people live their faith. It is no exaggeration to say that in Africa and Asia the numerical and spiritual growth of the Church has been explosive. Praise God. 

But in other parts of the world, although we dream of that kind of response to the Gospel, it is really hard work, and we are such a “little flock.” It is for us to allow the Holy Spirit to do whatever work within and amongst us that he wills during this time, even as we continue to dream of great harvests. And while we do that, we remember the faithfulness of those who like George Bowen sowed seeds that grew only after he had died, with the prophetic words of Josef Ratzinger and that Whit-Monday Mass in Rome ringing in our ears. As orthodox Anglicans we might even feel as if we are “a little flock within a little flock”! . . . but we have been promised the Kingdom. And we live in the Kingdom, which is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17); the Lord “works with us” confirming the preached word “with signs following” (Mark 16:20). We are those who even in this world have “tasted of the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4), who in the Mass are swept into the glory of the heavenly worship with Jesus our great high priest who gave his life for the world and who ever lives to intercede for us (and with us).

Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock.” Later in that passage he tells us to be ready for his coming, like servants who patiently wait through the night for their master’s return. Do you remember how it was in the night, that the Lord came to free his people in the Exodus (Wisdom 18:6)? Do you remember how it was in the night that Jesus rose from the tomb?  Do you remember the prophecy that it is in the night, when things are as bad as they can get, when “deep darkness” covers the people, that the Lord will arise upon them and reveal his glory (Isaiah 60:1-2)?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

St Clare of Assisi, pray for us.

The Church in western Europe was not in such good shape at the end of the 12th century. But it was at this time that the Holy Spirit stirred the hearts of two young people in central Italy, giving rise to the remarkable Franciscan movement.

Clare was born Chiara Offreduccio in 1193 or 1194, the daughter of a wealthy and highly educated family in Assisi. When Francis began to preach the Gospel in the squares of Assisi in 1210 Clare was 16 years old, 11 years younger than him. Even as a child her heart was turned towards the Lord, and she would share her food with the poor and needy people of the town. She had already refused several offers of marriage. At the age of 18, she was captivated by Francis' Lenten preaching of a Christ-centred simple gospel life, and especially his emphasis on poverty as a special vocation. She had several secret meetings with him, accompanied only by a friend, Bona, and made up her mind to join him. 

On Palm Sunday 1212 Clare left her parents' house secretly. She had already sold her dowry and given the money to the poor. At the little church of St Mary of the Angels, just below Assisi, she met Francis and a few of his brothers. She changed her dress for a simple habit, and took off her jewellery. Francis cut her hair, and she made a vow of obedience to him. At first she lived with a nearby Benedictine community of nuns, doing simple menial tasks. 

Not surprisingly, Clare's family were outraged at what she had done. They sent armed men to bring her back, without success. When Clare's younger sister, Catherine, followed her only a fortnight later, the family made even more violent attempts to force her to return home. They were in fact carrying Catherine away physically, but Clare prayed, and Catherine became so heavy that they could not lift her. Defeated, they returned home. 

Francis received Catherine, too, as a sister, and gave her the name Agnes. Then Clare, Agnes and several friends moved to San Damiano, the church where Francis had heard Jesus speak to him from the crucifix, charging him to "rebuild" the Church. Here the first community of Poor Clares came into being. Clare's widowed mother joined as well. 

It was said that the followers of Clare were the most beautiful young girls from the best families of Assisi. The community grew rapidly, and in 1215, very much against her will, Clare was made Abbess. 

The women devoted themselves to prayer, nursing the sick, and works of mercy for the poor and neglected. The order came to be called the "Poor Clares." They wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a house that was unsatisfactory even by the standards of that era. They also kept silent most of the time. They had no beds, but slept on twigs with patched hemp for blankets. Whatever they ate was food for which they had begged. Clare made sure she fasted more than anyone else. 

Clare remained in charge until her death in 1253. In spite of long years of sickness, we know the depth of her love for the Lord by the letters she wrote. Two years after her death, in 1255, she was declared a saint by the church. 

In the early years of the movement Francis visited Clare often, but as his own community grew his visits decreased and she had to find within herself the inspiration she had received from him. Their friendship grew more equal, and Francis would consult her on important decisions. In his last illness he came to San Damiano and Clare cared for him. 

Although she called herself “the little plant of Francis” Clare was in fact a powerful and innovative woman, the first woman to write a Rule (a guide to a way of life) for a religious community. She really struggled with the institutional Church most of her life, as Popes and Cardinals resisted the renewal movement and sought to draw her away from the poverty which was at the heart of her following of Jesus. But she remained firm, and her Rule was finally approved by the Pope himself just a few days before her death. By that time there were more than 150 communities which followed her way of life, mainly in Italy, southern France and Spain, but spreading as far east as Prague, and as far west as Bruges. 

God of peace, 
who in the poverty of the blessed Clare 
gave us a clear light 
to shine in the darkness of this world: 
give us grace so to follow in her footsteps
that we may, at the last, 
rejoice with her in your eternal glory; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Church of San Damiano, 
where St Francis heard the voice of Jesus say to him, "rebuild my Church." 
It is also where St Clare died on August 11, 1253.

Agnes, previously a wealthy woman, was Abbess of the community of Poor Clares in Prague. Although she and Clare never met, a close friendship developed and was maintained through their correspondence for over twenty years. 

Fortunate indeed is she who shares in the sacred banquet and clings with all her heart to him whom the hosts of heaven constantly adore! Contemplation of him refreshes her; his kindness and sweetness fill her being. "He is the splendour of eternal light, a mirror without blemish." Look daily into that spotless mirror, dear queen and spouse of Christ, and see your face in it. See how you are to adorn yourself, within and without, in all the blossoms of virtue, as befits a chaste daughter and spouse of that greatest of kings. In that mirror poverty, humility, and love beyond telling shine radiantly. 

Contemplate the beginning therein mirrored - the poverty of him who lay in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. What marvelous humility and astonishing poverty! It is the King of angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, who lies here! Contemplate next the course of his life, with its humility in the form of blessed poverty, endless toil, and torments to be endured for the redemption of humankind. Contemplate, finally, the boundless love that marks the end of that life, when love made him suffer and die on the Cross. The mirror cries out to us: "All you who pass along the way, look and see if there be any sorrow like mine!" What shall our answer be? "I remember and my heart fails within me." Here, noble queen of the heavenly King, your love will flame up ever more intensely. 

If you go to contemplate his inexpressible delights and the riches and honours he bestows, your heart will sigh with loving desire: “Draw me after you; we shall run after you, drawn by your fragranet perfumes,” heavenly Spouse! I shall run and not cease until you lead me into your wine cellar. 

When you contemplate all this, remember me, your poor little mother. Know that the memory of you is imprinted in my heart, for you are dearer to me than any other. 

In 1240 Ermentrude, a noble lady originally from Köln, went to Bruges, Belgium, where she lived for twelve years in a hermitage. She heard about Clare and the Poor Ladies and left for a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, but found that Clare had already died. She returned to Bruges and transformed her small hermitage into a monastery of Poor Ladies and then and then established other monasteries in Flanders. Clare had written two letters of encouragement to her. 

I have learned, O most dear sister, that, with the help of God's grace, you have fled in joy the corruptions of the world. I rejoice and congratulate you because of this and, again, I rejoice that you are walking courageously the paths of virtue with your daughters. Remain faithful until death, dearly beloved, to God to whom you have promised yourself, for you shall be crowned by him with the gariand of life. 

Our labour here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamour of the world, which passes like a shadow. Do not let the faise delights of a deceptive world deceive you. Close your ears to the whisperings of hell and bravely oppose its onslaughts. Gladly endure whatever goes against you and do not let good fortune lift you up: for these things destroy faith, while these others demand it. Offer faithfully what you have vowed to God, and he shall reward you. 

O dearest one, look up to heaven, which calls us on, and take up the cross and follow Christ who has gone on before us: for through him we shall enter into his glory after many and diverse tribulations. Love God from the depths of your heart and Jesus, his Son, who was crucified for us sinners. Never let the thought of him leave your mind, but meditate constantly on the mysteries of the cross and the anguish of his mother as she stood beneath the cross. 

Pray and watch at all times! Carry out steadfastly the work you have begun and fulfil the ministry you have undertaken in true humility and holy poverty. Fear not, daughter! God, who is faithful in all his words and holy in all his deeds, will pour his blessings upon you and your daughters. He will be your help and best comforter for he is our Redeemer and our eternal reward. 

Let us pray to God together for each other for, by sharing each other's burden of charity in this way, we shall easily fulfil the law of Christ.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dr Pusey: "one of the very greatest Catholic teachers and spiritual directors of the modern period"

I feel sorry for Dr Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) whenever I hear him being compared unfavourably with Newman and others of his contemporaries. Sometimes he is dismissed with faint praise (in a way that Newman never is) for being primarily a "scholar", and a crusty one at that! Of course, Dr Pusey was a very great theologian and Biblical scholar. Yet a lot of what he wrote and preached is characterised by simplicity and depth, revealing so much about him as a person, as a Christian and as a spiritual guide. Father John Hunwicke spoke for many when he said in his blog a few years ago that Pusey was “one of the very greatest Catholic teachers and spiritual directors of the modern period.” 

Unfortunately there persists a popular image of Pusey as gloomy, grim, sad and penitential all the time. Now, it is true that throughout his long life he had more than his fair share of personal disappointments and real tragedies (one or two of which might have crushed a weaker person). Each of these left its mark on him. Yet it is precisely they which make his sermons and spiritual writings all the more relevant to us when we struggle. What he says can never be dismissed as trite or untested by experience. We also know that he would often mutter the penitential psalms under his breath. But in his sermons, reflections, letters, meditations and prayers we find a man who like St Paul scaled the heights as well as plumbed the depths both of human life and spiritual reality, a man whose walk with God drew many to the Saviour. So, today I share with you these paragraphs from Pusey's sermon, "Miracles of Prayer", preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, on Septuagesima Sunday, 1866. The entire sermon can be downloaded in pdf format HERE. I have also included four of my favourites from among Pusey's prayers.

Prayer is "the ascent of the soul to God;" it is the beginning of that blessed converse, which shall be the exhaustless fulness of eternal bliss; it is the continuance or renewal of union with God.

. . . Blessed dissatisfaction of man's craving soul; glorious restlessness, the token of its Divine birth, its Divine end; that nothing can satisfy it, except what is the bliss of its God, Infinite, Divine love.

Imperfect, faltering, unsatisfactory as are our prayers, their defects but shew the more the goodness of our God, who is never weary of those who are so soon wearied of him, who lets not fall a single earnest cry to him for himself. Not one prayer, from the yearning of the penitent ("would, God, for love of Thee, I had never offended Thee!"), to the love-enkindled longing of the Saint ("My God, and my All!)" but will have enlarged thy capacity for the infinite love of God, and will have drawn down to thee the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost, who is Love Infinite, the Bond of the love of the Father and the Son.

It will guard thee from all evil in the perilous passage through this world; it will sanctify to thee all thy joys; it will be to thee a calm above nature in all thy sorrows; it will give a supernatural value to all thy acts; it will heal all thine infirmities; it will illumine all thy knowledge; and, when thy flesh and thy heart shall fail, thy last prayer upon earth in the Name of Jesus shall melt into thy first Halleluiah in heaven, where, too, doubtless prayer shall never cease, but the soul shall endlessly desire of God, what God shall unintermittingly supply, more and yet more of the exhaustless, ever-filling fulness of Divine Beauty and Wisdom and Love, yea of himself who is Love

Good Jesu, 
fountain of love: 
fill me with thy love, 
absorb me into thy love,
compass me with thy love, 
that I may see all things in the light of thy love, 
receive all things as tokens of thy love, 
speak of all things 
in words breathing of thy love, 
win through thy love others to thy love; 
be kindled, day by day, 
with a new glow of thy love, 
until I be fitted 
to enter into thine everlasting love, 
to adore thy love and love to adore thee, 
my God and my all. 
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Let me not seek out of thee 
what I can find only in thee, O Lord: 
peace and rest and joy and bliss, 
which abide only in thine abiding joy. 
Lift up my soul above the weary round of harassing thoughts 
to thy eternal Presence. 
Lift up my soul 
to the pure, bright, serene, radiant atmosphere of thy Presence,
that there I may breathe freely, 
there repose in thy love, 
there be at rest from myself, 
and from all things that weary me; 
and thence return, 
arrayed with thy peace, 
to do and bear what shall please thee. Amen.

Teach us, O Father, 
how to ask thee each moment silently for thy help. 
If we fail, 
teach us at once to ask thee to forgive us.
If we are disquieted, 
enable us, by thy grace, quickly to turn to thee. 
May nothing come between us and thee. 
May we will, do, and say, 
just what thou, our loving and tender Father, 
wiliest us to will, do, and say. 
Work thy holy will in us, and through us, this day. 
Protect us, guide us, bless us within and without, 
that we may do something this day for love of thee ; 
something which shall please thee ; 
and that we may this evening be nearer to thee, 
though we see it not nor know it. 
Lead us, Lord, in a strait way unto thyself, 
and keep us in thy grace unto the end; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, my God, 
give me a heart to thank thee; 
lift up my heart above myself, 
to thee and thine eternal throne;
let it not linger here 
among the toils and turmoils of this lower world; 
let it not be oppressed by any earth-born clouds 
of care or anxiety or fear or suspicion; 
but bind it wholly to thee and to thy love; 
give me eyes to see thy love in all things, 
and thy grace in all around me; 
make me to thank thee for thy love and thy grace 
to all and in all; 
give me wings of love, 
that I may soar up to thee, 
and cling to thee, and adore thee, 
and praise thee more and more, 
until I be fitted to enter into the joys of thine everlasting love, 
everlastingly to love thee and thy grace, 
whereby thou didst make me such as thou couldest love, 
such as could love thee,
O God, my God. Amen.