Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ronald Knox's quirky meditation on S. Ignatius Loyola

In 1951, Monsignor Ronald Knox wrote this meditation on S. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556):

S. Ignatius, who died on the last day of July, nearly 400 years ago, was described by John Wesley as surely one of the greatest men that ever was engaged in the support of so bad a cause. John Wesley was exactly wrong. He thought to defend the founder of the Jesuits from the charge of enthusiasm by representing him as a cool, long-headed business man. But an enthusiast was just what St Ignatius was. He was full of that fire which never says, It is enough.

Read his early history, and you find nothing there of the great organizer. All his great schemes for going out and converting the Sultan (copied from St Francis) came to nothing. All his early disciples left him: thou could a people raise, but could not rule, seemed to be his destined epitaph. In a sense, it was the enormous vagueness of his plans that saved the situation; just because he had no blueprint ready formed in his mind of what the Company of Jesus was to be like, the Company of Jesus proved to be exactly what was wanted.

If, during the last years of his life, he became the ruler of a world-wide Society, that was because he was a good enough Jesuit to accept the uncongenial task. The real charter which he left to his Society was not any set of rules. It was a set of meditations, chiefly on the following of Christ, which he composed when he was living as a hermit in the cave of Manresa. All that mattered was seeing the love of God as insatiable.

We live in times when great importance is attached to planning, and Christian people are apt to catch the infection from their surroundings. We must revise, we must reorganize, we must have a plan or we are lost! But I don’t think S. Ignatius would encourage us to echo that cry. Rather, he would find fault with our half-heartedness - ready to believe, to do, to spend just so much and no more. But the fire never has enough.

Stimuli (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951) pp.122-123

* * * * * * *

When he read the Gospels, S. Ignatius of Loyola would often picture himself as one of Jesus’ disciples so that he could observe closely everything that was going on. He would imagine himself as an extra witness at the Last Supper, drinking in everything around him as Jesus offered the first Eucharist. He would look closely at Jesus’ face as he forgave the woman caught in adultery or as he challenged the Pharisees and Sadducees. He would join Mary Magdalene and the apostle John at Calvary and observe the sights and sounds of the day when Jesus died for him. Inserting ourselves in the Scriptures this way shouldn’t be a passive thing. We shouldn’t just sit back and watch what is happening. We can become part of the scene as well. For instance, as you picture yourself on Mount Horeb with Moses and the burning bush, feel free to ask Moses what it felt like to hear God’s voice. Imagine him turning to you and sharing with you what he was thinking when God told him to confront Pharaoh and demand that he release the Jewish people. You just may be surprised at the answers you get!

Be sure not to limit yourself just to the stories in the Bible. Pope Benedict encourages us to do the same thing with the psalms, which have been called the Bible’s own prayer book: In the Psalms we find expressed every possible human feeling set master fully in the sight of God. . . . In this way our word to God becomes God’s word. . . and our whole existence becomes a dialogue with the God who speaks and listens. Imagine yourself as one of the psalmists as you bring your heart before the Lord. And like the psalmists, be bold enough to expect an answer from God. In place of the psalmist’s concerns, insert your own needs and desires, your own longings and hopes. Let his words of praise and thanksgiving become your own. As Benedict said, God’s words will then become your words. His thoughts will become your thoughts. His ways will become your ways, pushing aside anything in you that is opposed to his way of thinking. Slow Down and Listen.  

The Word Among Us. (April, 2011) www.wau.org

* * * * * * *

A prayer of S. Ignatius:

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve thee as thou deservest;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil, and not to seek for rest;
to labour, and to ask for no reward,
save that of knowing that we do thy will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

"When Peter counted on the Lord's help it enabled him to walk on the water" (S. Augustine of Hippo)

S. Augustine of Hippo was born in 354 at Thagaste in northern Africa. He received a Christian education, but experimented with other philosophies and ways of life before being finally converted and baptised in 387. In 391 he was ordained to the priesthood and in 395 he became coadjutor bishop to Valerius of Hippo, whom he succeeded in 396. Augustine struggled with the heresies of Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. His writings - including transcripts of his sermons - have had a marked influence on subsequent thinkers. Above all he was a pastor and a spiritual writer. He died in 430. In this sermon he encourages us to depend only on the Lord when we experience storms in our lives.

“Bid me come to you upon the water” (Matt 14:28)
Sermon 76:1. 4. 5. 8. 9: PL38, 479-483

The Gospel tells us how Christ the Lord walked upon the waters of the sea, and how the apostle Peter did the same until fear made him falter and lose confidence. Then he began to sink and emerged from the water only after calling on the Lord with renewed faith.

Now we must regard the sea as a symbol of the present world, and the apostle Peter as a symbol of the one and only Church. For Peter, who ranked first among the apostles and was always the most ready to declare his love for Christ, often acted as spokesman for them all.

For instance, when the Lord Jesus Christ asked who people thought he was and the other disciples had cited various opinions, it was Peter who responded to the Lord’s further question, “But who do you say I am?” with the affirmation: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” One replied for all because all were united.

When we consider Peter as a representative member of the Church we should distinguish between what was due to God’s action in him and what was attributable to himself. Then we ourselves shall not falter; then we shall be founded upon rock and remain firm and unmoved in the face of the wind, rain, and floods, which are the trials and temptations of this present world.

Look at Peter, who in this episode is an image of ourselves; at one moment he is all confidence, at the next all uncertainty and doubt; now he professes faith in the immortal One, now he fears for his life.

  “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you upon the water.” When the Lord said “Come” Peter climbed out of the boat and began to walk on the water. This is what he could do through the power of the Lord; what by himself? “Realizing how violently the wind was blowing, he lost his nerve, and as he began to sink he called out, ‘Lord, I am drowning, save me’!”

When he counted on the Lord’s help it enabled him to walk on the water; when human frailty made him falter he turned once more to the Lord, who immediately stretched out his hand to help him, raised him up as he was sinking, and rebuked him for his lack of faith.

Think, then, of this world as a sea, whipped up to tempestuous heights by violent winds. A person’s own private tempest will be his or her unruly desires. If you love God you will have power to walk upon the waters, and all the world’s swell and turmoil will remain beneath your feet. But if you love the world it will surely engulf you, for it always devours its lovers, never sustains them.

If you feel your foot slipping beneath you, if you become a prey to doubt or realize that you are losing control, if, in a word, you begin to sink, say: “Lord, I am drowning, save me!” Only he who for your sake died in your fallen nature can save you from the death inherent in that fallen nature.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Newman preaching on the Gospel for the Feast of S. James, Apostle

Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 4 
John Henry Newman 


Nov. 19th, 1838

Sermon 20. The Ventures of Faith

“They say unto Him, We are able.” Matt. xx. 22.

THESE words of the holy Apostles James and John were in reply to a very solemn question addressed to them by their Divine Master. They coveted, with a noble ambition, though as yet unpractised in the highest wisdom, untaught in the holiest truth,—they coveted to sit beside Him on His Throne of Glory. They would be content with nothing short of that special gift which He had come to grant to His elect, which He shortly after died to purchase for them, and which He offers to us. They ask the gift of eternal life; and He in answer told them, not that they should have it (though for them it was really reserved), but He reminded them what they must venture for it; “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able.” Here then a great lesson is impressed upon us, that our duty as Christians lies in this, in making ventures for eternal life without the absolute certainty of success.

Success and reward everlasting they will have, who persevere unto the end. Doubt we cannot, that the ventures of all Christ’s servants must be returned to them at the Last Day with abundant increase. This is a true saying,—He returns far more than we lend to Him, and without fail. But I am speaking of individuals, of ourselves one by one. No one among us knows for certain that he himself will persevere; yet every one among us, to give himself even a chance of success at all, must make a venture. As regards individuals, then, it is quite true, that all of us must for certain make ventures for heaven, yet without the certainty of success through them. This, indeed, is the very meaning of the word “venture;” for that is a strange venture which has nothing in it of fear, risk, danger, anxiety, uncertainty. Yes; so it certainly is; and in this consists the excellence and nobleness of faith; this is the very reason why faith is singled out from other graces, and honoured as the especial means of our justification, because its presence implies that we have the heart to make a venture.

St. Paul sufficiently sets this before us in the eleventh chapter of his Epistle to the Hebrews, which opens with a definition of faith, and after that, gives us examples of it, as if to guard against any possibility of mistake. After quoting the text, “the just shall live by faith,” and thereby showing clearly that he is speaking of what he treats in his Epistle to the Romans as justifying faith, he continues, “Now faith is the substance,” that is, the realizing, “of things hoped for, the evidence,” that is, the ground of proof, “of things not seen.” It is in its very essence the making present what is unseen; the acting upon the mere prospect of it, as if it really were possessed; the venturing upon it, the staking present ease, happiness, or other good, upon the chance of the future. And hence in another epistle he says pointedly, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” [1 Cor. xv. 19.] If the dead are not raised, we have indeed made a most signal miscalculation in the choice of life, and are altogether at fault. And what is true of the main doctrine itself, is true also of our individual interest in it. This he shows us in his Epistle to the Hebrews, by the instance of the Ancient Saints, who thus risked their present happiness on the chance of future. Abraham “went out, not knowing whither he went.” He and the rest died “not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Such was the faith of the Patriarchs: and in the text the youthful Apostles, with an untaught but generous simplicity, lay claim to the same. Little as they knew what they said in its fulness, yet their words were any how expressive of their hidden hearts, prophetic of their future conduct. They say unto Him, “We are able.” They pledge themselves as if unawares, and are caught by One mightier than they, and, as it were, craftily made captive. But, in truth, their unsuspicious pledge was, after all, heartily made, though they knew not what they promised; and so was accepted. “Are ye able to drink of My cup, and be baptized with My baptism? They say unto Him, We are able.” He in answer, without promising them heaven, graciously said, “Ye shall drink indeed of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.”

Our Lord appears to act after the same manner towards St. Peter: He accepted his office of service, yet warned him how little he himself understood it. The zealous Apostle wished to follow his Lord at once: but He answered, “Whither I go thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards.” [John xiii. 36.] At another time, He claimed the promise already made to Him; He said, “Follow thou Me;” and at the same time explained it, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, when thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” [John xxi. 18-22.]

Such were the ventures made in faith, and in uncertainty, by Apostles. Our Saviour, in a passage of St. Luke’s Gospel, binds upon us all the necessity of deliberately doing the like,—”Which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it, begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and is not able to finish.” And then He presently adds, “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple:” [Luke xiv. 28-33.] thus warning us of the full sacrifice we must make. We give up our all to Him; and He is to claim this or that, or grant us somewhat of it for a season, according to His good pleasure. On the other hand, the case of the rich young man, who went away sorrowful, when our Lord bade him give up his all and follow Him, is an instance of one who had not faith to make the venture of this world for the next, upon His word.

If then faith be the essence of a Christian life, and if it be what I have now described, it follows that our duty lies in risking upon Christ’s word what we have, for what we have not; and doing so in a noble, generous way, not indeed rashly or lightly, still without knowing accurately what we are doing, not knowing either what we give up, nor again what we shall gain; uncertain about our reward, uncertain about our extent of sacrifice, in all respects leaning, waiting upon Him, trusting in Him to fulfil His promise, trusting in Him to enable us to fulfil our own vows, and so in all respects proceeding without carefulness or anxiety about the future.

Now I dare say that what I have said as yet seems plain and unexceptionable to most of those who hear me; yet surely, when I proceed to draw the practical inference which immediately follows, there are those who in their secret hearts, if not in open avowal, will draw back. Men allow us Ministers of Christ to proceed in our preaching, while we confine ourselves to general truths, until they see that they themselves are implicated in them, and have to act upon them; and then they suddenly come to a stand; they collect themselves and draw back, and say, “They do not see this—or do not admit that”—and though they are quite unable to say why that should not follow from what they already allow, which we show must follow, still they persist in saying, that they do not see that it does follow; and they look about for excuses, and they say we carry things too far, and that we are extravagant, and that we ought to limit and modify what we say, that we do not take into account times, and seasons, and the like. This is what they pretend; and well has it been said, “where there is a will there is a way;” for there is no truth, however overpoweringly clear, but men may escape from it by shutting their eyes; there is no duty, however urgent, but they may find ten thousand good reasons against it, in their own case. And they are sure to say we carry things too far, when we carry them home to themselves.

This sad infirmity of men, called Christians, is exemplified in the subject immediately before us. Who does not at once admit that faith consists in venturing on Christ’s word without seeing? Yet in spite of this, may it not be seriously questioned, whether men in general, even those of the better sort, venture any thing upon His truth at all?

Consider for an instant. Let every one who hears me ask himself the question, what stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, which we have faith in. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of His promise? The Apostle said, that he and his brethren would be of all men most miserable, if the dead were not raised. Can we in any degree apply this to ourselves? We think, perhaps, at present, we have some hope of heaven; well, this we should lose of course; but after all, how should we be worse off as to our present condition? A trader, who has embarked some property in a speculation which fails, not only loses his prospect of gain, but somewhat of his own, which he ventured with the hope of the gain. This is the question, What have we ventured? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolve, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, nothing we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolve, and do, and not do, and avoid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us. I really fear that most men called Christians, whatever they may profess, whatever they may think they feel, whatever warmth and illumination and love they may claim as their own, yet would go on almost as they do, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable. When young, they indulge their lusts, or at least pursue the world’s vanities; as time goes on, they get into a fair way of business, or other mode of making money; then they marry and settle; and their interest coinciding with their duty, they seem to be, and think themselves, respectable and religious men; they grow attached to things as they are; they begin to have a zeal against vice and error; and they follow after peace with all men. Such conduct indeed, as far as it goes, is right and praiseworthy. Only I say, it has not necessarily any thing to do with religion at all; there is nothing in it which is any proof of the presence of religious principle in those who adopt it; there is nothing they would not do still, though they had nothing to gain from it, except what they gain from it now: they do gain something now, they do gratify their present wishes, they are quiet and orderly, because it is their interest and taste to be so; but they venture nothing, they risk, they sacrifice, they abandon nothing on the faith of Christ’s word.

For instance: St. Barnabas had a property in Cyprus; he gave it up for the poor of Christ. Here is an intelligible sacrifice. He did something he would not have done, unless the Gospel were true. It is plain, if the Gospel turned out a fable (which God forbid), but if so, he would have taken his line most unskilfully; he would be in a great mistake, and would have suffered a loss. He would be like a merchant whose vessels were wrecked, or whose correspondents had failed. Man has confidence in man, he trusts to the credit of his neighbour; but Christians do not risk largely upon their Saviour’s word; and this is the one thing they have to do. Christ tells us Himself, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations;” [Luke xvi. 9.] i.e. buy an interest in the next world with that wealth which this world uses unrighteously; feed the hungry, clothe the naked, relieve the sick, and it shall turn to “bags that wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.” [Luke xii. 33.] Thus almsdeeds, I say, are an intelligible venture and an evidence of faith.

So again the man who, when his prospects in the world are good, gives up the promise of wealth or of eminence, in order to be nearer Christ, to have a place in His temple, to have more opportunity for prayer and praise, he makes a sacrifice.

Or he who, from a noble striving after perfection, puts off the desire of worldly comforts, and is, like Daniel or St. Paul, in much labour and business, yet with a solitary heart, he too ventures something upon the certainty of the world to come.

Or he who, after falling into sin, repents in deed as well as in word; puts some yoke upon his shoulder; subjects himself to punishment; is severe upon his flesh; denies himself innocent pleasures; or puts himself to public shame,—he too shows that his faith is the realizing of things hoped for, the warrant of things not seen.

Or again: he who only gets himself to pray against those things which the many seek after, and to embrace what the heart naturally shrinks from; he who, when God’s will seems to tend towards worldly ill, while he deprecates it, yet prevails on himself to say heartily, “Thy will be done;” he, even, is not without his sacrifice. Or he who, being in prospect of wealth, honestly prays God that he may never be rich; or he who is in prospect of station, and earnestly prays that he may never have it; or he who has friends or kindred, and acquiesces with an entire heart in their removal while it is yet doubtful, who can say, “Take them away, if it be Thy will, to Thee I give them up, to Thee I commit them,” who is willing to be taken at his word; he too risks somewhat, and is accepted.

Such a one is taken at his word, while he understands not, perhaps, what he says; but he is accepted, as meaning somewhat, and risking much. Generous hearts, like James and John, or Peter, often speak largely and confidently beforehand of what they will do for Christ, not insincerely, yet ignorantly; and for their sincerity’s sake they are taken at their word as a reward, though they have yet to learn how serious that word is. “They say unto Him, We are able;”—and the vow is recorded in heaven. This is the case of all of us at many seasons. First, at Confirmation; when we promise what was promised for us at Baptism, yet without being able to understand how much we promise, but rather trusting to God gradually to reveal it, and to give us strength according to our day. So again they who enter Holy Orders promise they know not what, engage themselves they know not how deeply, debar themselves of the world’s ways they know not how intimately, find perchance they must cut off from them the right hand, sacrifice the desire of their eyes and the stirring of their hearts at the foot of the Cross, while they thought, in their simplicity, they were but choosing the quiet easy life of “plain men dwelling in tents.” And so again, in various ways, the circumstances of the times cause men at certain seasons to take this path or that, for religion’s sake. They know not whither they are being carried; they see not the end of their course; they know no more than this, that it is right to do what they are now doing; and they hear a whisper within them, which assures them, as it did the two holy brothers, that whatever their present conduct involves in time to come, they shall, through God’s grace, be equal to it. Those blessed Apostles said, “We are able;” and in truth they were enabled to do and suffer as they had said. St. James was given strength to be steadfast unto death, the death of martyrdom; being slain with the sword in Jerusalem. St. John, his brother, had still more to bear, dying last of the Apostles, as St. James first. He had to hear bereavement, first, of his brother, then of the other Apostles. He had to bear a length of years in loneliness, exile, and weakness. He had to experience the dreariness of being solitary, when those whom he loved had been summoned away. He had to live in his own thoughts, without familiar friend, with those only about him who belonged to a younger generation. Of him were demanded by his gracious Lord, as pledges of his faith, all his eye loved and his heart held converse with. He was as a man moving his goods into a far country, who at intervals and by portions sends them before him, till his present abode is well-nigh unfurnished. He sent forward his friends on their journey, while he stayed himself behind, that there might be those in heaven to have thoughts of him, to look out for him, and receive him when his Lord should call. He sent before him, also, other still more voluntary pledges and ventures of his faith,—a self-denying walk, a zealous maintenance of the truth, fasting and prayers, labours of love, a virgin life, buffetings from the heathen, persecution, and banishment. Well might so great a Saint say, at the end of his days “Come, Lord Jesus!” as those who are weary of the night, and wait for the morning. All his thoughts, all his contemplations, desires, and hopes, were stored in the invisible world; and death, when it came, brought back to him the sight of what he had worshipped, what he had loved, what he had held intercourse with, in years long past away. Then, when again brought into the presence of what he had lost, how would remembrance revive, and familiar thoughts long buried come to life! Who shall dare to describe the blessedness of those who find all their pledges safe returned to them, all their ventures abundantly and beyond measure satisfied?

Alas! that we, my brethren, have not more of this high and unearthly spirit! How is it that we are so contented with things as they are,—that we are so willing to be let alone, and to enjoy this life,—that we make such excuses, if any one presses on us the necessity of something higher, the duty of bearing the Cross, if we would earn the Crown, of the Lord Jesus Christ?

I repeat it; what are our ventures and risks upon the truth of His word? for He says expressly, “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” [Matt. xix. 29, 30.]

Monday, July 23, 2018

S. Bridget on the miracle of the Mass

Today in the Church's calendar we celebrate S. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373). From the age of seven her heart had been smitten by the love of Jesus revealed to her in the visions she had of his death on the cross. His love for her became the foundation of her whole life. Married, and the mother of eight children, she was part of the court of the Swedish King Magnus II. Bridget constantly strove to exert her good influence over Magnus - not entirely successfully. But when her husband died, she received as a gift from Magnus land and buildings with which to found a monastery for men and women, which in time expanded into the Order known as the Bridgetines.

In 1350 Bridget braved a plague-stricken Europe to make a pilgrimage to Rome. She never returned to Sweden. But, humanly speaking, her years in Rome were far from happy, as she was frequently in debt, and many opposed her work to overcome the abuses in the Church of the time.

Bridget died in 1373. while on a final pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

She was one of many strong female leaders in the medieval Church. Notice that her personal relationship with the Lord, and her experience of visions and mystical life of prayer, did not isolate her from contentious affairs of the world and the Church. Her life is a testimony to the possibility of a holy life in the world of politics and the marketplace.

One of S. Bridget's visions is of the fellowship we have with the angelic powers at Mass, as well as the effect of the Eucharistic Sacrifice on the demons of hell. I believe these realities are part and parcel of every Mass. Imagine how fervent our prayer and devotion would be if we really thought that! Here is what S. Bridget wrote:                            

“One day, when a priest was celebrating Mass, 
I saw, at the moment of Consecration, 
how all the powers of heaven were set in motion. 
I heard, at the same time, a heavenly music, 
most harmonious, most sweet. 
Numberless Angels came down, 
the chant of whom 
no human understanding could conceive, 
nor the tongue of man describe. 
They surrounded and looked upon the priest,
 bowing towards him in reverential awe. 
The devils commenced to tremble, 
and took to flight 
in greatest confusion and terror.”

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Genocide against Christians in Nigeria

What has to happen for the secular humanist western media to take seriously the murder of Christians in Nigeria?


6,000 Christians, including women and children, have been murdered by Islamists ‘Fulani’ radicals since January. “It’s a pure genocide and must be stopped immediately!” says Rev. Dr. Soja Bewarang of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Plateau State.

He said: “There is no doubt that the sole purpose of these attacks is aimed at ethnic cleansing, land grabbing and forceful ejection of the Christian natives from their ancestral land and heritage”.

“We are particularly worried at the widespread insecurity in the country where wanton attacks and killings by armed Fulani herdsmen, bandits and terrorists have been taking place on a daily basis in our communities unchallenged despite huge investments in the security agencies.  The perpetrators are being deliberately allowed to go scot free,” the Rev. Bewarang continues to denounce.

“We strongly also disagree with the federal government’s attempt to politicize the attacks and divert people’s attention from government glaring failures and national shame by blaming it as the handiworks of desperate opposition politicians. We reject the narrative that the attacks on Christian communities across the country as “farmers/herdsmen clash”, he added.

Over 200 people, most of them  Christians, were massacred over three days in Nigeria at the end of June, as the relentless bloodshed carried out by radicals continues. Most Rev. William Avenya, Catholic Bishop of Gboko, Benue state has warned of the threat of genocide against Christians in the country’s Middle Belt region. He described an upsurge of violence by militant Fulani herdsmen as “ethnic cleansing”.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Is High Mass humanity’s “greatest artistic achievement”?

High Mass at Pusey House, Oxford
(From the Pusey House website)

I love this part of Douglass Shand Tucci's article THE HIGH MASS AS SACRED DANCE in which he quotes at length Anglican spiritual guide, Evelyn Underhill. Her words pretty well sum up the impact on me of the first High Mass I wandered into as an impressionable teenager. I was overwhelmed by the power of the worship to merge the earthly and the heavenly, to reveal the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. I am fortunate in my ministry as a priest to have served parishes in which this form of worship was kept going. In one of them, the motto we used on the pew bulletin was: "Gospel Preaching & Traditional Catholic Worship."  

High Mass was mostly swept away in our time by well-meaning people who thought they were making the Church more "relevant" to our culture. But, while it would be foolish to imagine that everyone has the cultural predisposition to be drawn to the Lord by the kind of worship described here, I can assure readers that many, including "unchurched" young people ARE drawn when this supernatural worship is offered as part of the new evangelisation!

Indeed, the yearning for the dimensions of worship spoken of in the following article lies behind the current movement to restore the transcendent and numinous which much of the Western Church has lost over the last sixty years.

Tucci's entire article, of which this is an extract, can be found HERE(To assist the reader of this extract, I have renumbered the endnotes.)

The distinguished Anglican scholar, Evelyn Underhill traced what could be called the graph of the Mass: from the liturgy of lessons and Gospel, “God’s uttered word in History,” and the Great Intercession, “the unstinting, self-spending with and for the purposes of God, by intercessory prayer,” of the Offertory, where Christ, she wrote, “enters the Holy Place as the representative of man, offering the humble material of man’s sacrifice, that he may come forth from it as the representative of God, bringing to man the Heavenly Food.” And, finally, to the Great Thanksgiving - when the gifts of bread and wine, set apart from the natural world for the Mystery, yield - “the invisible Holy Presence; Who comes under these lowly signs into the Sanctuary with an escort of incense and lights, and is welcomed by the enraptured Alleluias of the Cherubic Hymn, announcing the Presence of God.”

What better has been written of this tremendous moment of the Sanctus when “all that truly happens,” she wrote, “happens beyond the rampart of the world”? Sursum corda - Lift up your hearts, sings the celebrant. “The early liturgies leave us in no doubt,” she continued, “as to what this movement implied: ‘To the heavenly height, the awful place of glory. . . .’ This cry, and the people’s response, come down to us from the earliest days of the Church.” It marks, she declared, “the crossing of the boundary between natural and supernatural worship”; the knowing search for what she called “that ineffable majesty on which Isaiah looked, which is the theme of the earliest Eucharistic prayers, and which inspires the great Sanctus of the B Minor Mass, with its impersonal cry of pure adoration.” This is the world communicants enter as they approach the altar rail, wrote Underhill, where “the ‘Table of Holy Desires’ with its cross and ritual lights stands on the very frontier of the invisible.” (1)

Has anyone in our time set before architect or musician, so uncompromisingly, the task the liturgy forces upon them? As Underhill put it in another place, “movement and words combine to produce an art form which is the vehicle of [the Church’s] self-offering to God and communion with God.” The liturgy, she knew, is “an action and an experience that transcend the logical levels of the mind and demand an artistic rather than an intellectual form of expression.” (2) The honours of the church on earth significantly describe in her text what they describe, audibly and visually, in the mass. Bach is there as well as the cherubim, on the frontier of the invisible.

She knew well the risks of the medium; she knew the dangers of depending on an imperfect art to make a perfect art-form. But she knew too that to eschew art, worship must be “thin, abstract, notional: a tendency, an attitude, a general aspiration, moving alongside human life, rather than in it.” Worship thus embodied by the arts, she declared, “loses-or seems to lose-something of its purity; but only then can it take up and use man’s various powers and capacities ... thus entering the texture of his natural as well as supernatural life. Certainly, it is here that we encounter the greatest danger, that form will smother spirit.... But the risk is one which man is bound to take. He is not ‘pure’ spirit, and is not capable of ‘pure’ spiritual acts .... (3)

. . . most Anglicans continue to trivialize ceremonial and even to overlook its significance. They typically bury themselves throughout the liturgy in hymnal, prayer book, or service leaflet - on the dubious premise that to read what is being said is to understand it better. This, in turn, has had disastrous effects on church lighting, which frequently overthrows every attempt of the architect to create an evocative liturgical environment . . . Modern art has also sometimes strained the principles of liturgical art severely. That these principles can survive in modern work of great originality is clear. For example, consider Jean Langlais’ Messe Solennelle. Relentlessly liturgical, suggestive often of plainchant, its solemn, quiet and sometimes even lyrical texture is nonetheless so taut that when the tension erupts into Langlais’ massive, fiercely impassioned dissonances, the effect is a stunning and almost numbing grandeur of sound that evokes the mysterium tremendum with an uncanny distinction.

Is the High Mass, as Cram and others have thought, humanity’s “greatest artistic achievement”? Infrequently. Most church people have the erroneous impression that the very simple Low Mass is the most primitive form of Christian worship and that the solemn liturgy is a medieval elaboration. Actually, Low Mass is the medieval innovation . . .

Anglicans as well as Roman Catholics cannot be blamed for forgetting that the ancient High Mass, resplendent with lights, music, incense and full ceremonial, has always remained the theoretical norm of the western church as it is still the actual norm of Eastern Christendom. (4) Forgetful of this fact, we forget another: that “art in worship is not a mere imitation of the creative work of God; nor is it only a homage rendered to Christ; by giving embodiment to invisible realities it continues the Incarnation of the Word.” (5) Indeed, the Church has held that it “brings about objectively and in our very midst, the highest form of reality, the Summum Pulchrum, God Himself.’ “(6) Confronted with this astonishing purpose, and the distinguished art it has yielded, the art historian can only declare that in thus reaching “beyond the rampart of the world” for what Underhill called “that ineffable majesty upon which Isaiah looked,” the art of the High Mass is not only august but unparallelled.

* * * * * * * * * *

(1) The material quoted in this and the preceding paragraph is drawn from Evelyn Underhill's The Mystery of Sacrifice: A Meditation on the Liturgy (New York, 1954), unpaged introduction and pp. 18-40. The Mystery of Sacrifice was first published in 1938.

(2) Evelyn Underhill, Worship (New York, 1936), p. 33. See also p. 29.

(3) Ibid., p. 14.

(4) Ibid., p. 245.

(5) Ibid., P. 71.

(6) Hammenstede, "The Liturgy as Art," pp. 41-42.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Persecution in Egypt

For a very long time we have been praying for our brothers and sisters in Egypt who experience real persecution from the enemies of the Faith. This very moving video was posted on Facebook this morning by Father Christopher Cook. He points out that especially noticeable is the strong faith of all those who lost family members in the attack on the El-Botroseya Chuch shortly before Christmas, and the absence of any expressions of hate towards the man who carried out this terrorist attack. Twenty eight martyrs died, all women or girls, apart from the man who was trying to stop the terrorist entering the church.

It is a salutory judgment on the comfortable sacrifice-free experience of so much church life in what was the “Christian West.” An extraordinary amount of money, intellectual gymnastics and questionable Biblical “scholarship” is dedicated to producing a reductionist form of “Christianity” that harmonises the Gospel, the faith of Jesus and its logical (bio)-ethical and moral principles with whatever values predominate at any given moment of this post-Christian culture. May our loving but firm witness to the Faith be worthy of our brothers and sisters who put their lives on the line every day rather than betray the Lord. Instead of trying always to be thought well of by our crumbling culture let us work and pray in Western churches (across all the traditions) for a recovery of commitment to God's revealed truth.

It is well worth spending half an hour watching this video.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Did he really rise from the dead?

I love that video clip from “Yes Prime Minister”, because it is so English and so Anglican. Watch it if you have time, and then consider the awful reality of atheism and agnosticism in the heart of what is supposed to be the dynamic believing Community.

In fact, all my adult life I have had to contend with well-meaning liberal Christians who reduce the events at the heart of the Christian faith to a collection of culturally conditioned metaphors that nudge us along our “spiritual journey.” Bishop John Hazlewood often described many so-called Anglo-catholics of this stripe as “liberal protestants in chasubles.” These were clergy who though they had pretty well become agnostics, remained in office because they continued to love the “culture” and aesthetics of Christian worship, not to mention their stipends!

Now, of course, as far as the declining first world Anglican scene is concerned, they are pretty well in charge. Liberal catholics and liberal evangelicals.

And while there has been a recovery and renewal of the Gospel and the true Faith within the Roman Catholic Church, especially among young adults, it is still all too easy to find the same kind of priests, religious and lay theologians there who believe very little.

Nine years ago Fr Dwight Longenecker wrote this piece for his blog. I’m sure that that you will be able to think of clergy who are just like those described! 

The Resurrection and Theological Sleight of Hand
The main plague of modern Christianity is, well, modern Christianity. That is to say, modernism. Modernism may be defined as the conviction that the truths of Christianity were determined by the cultural circumstances of the first century, and that they are therefore no longer relevant of credible by modern people. The truths of Christianity must be ‘re-interpreted’ for modern, scientific, technologically adept people.

Now, if the modernist were honest about his scheme we wouldn’t mind so much. If he said (as some admirably honest modernists do) “The miracles stories are nothing more than symbolic” we would know where we stood. If he said, “The resurrection is a beautiful fairy tale” we would be clear. If he said, “The Virgin Birth is a make believe fantasy story” we’d understand. Then when he (or she) resigned from being a Christian minister we would accept their resignation with understanding (and not a little delight) and wish them well in their new career as a social worker.

But he doesn’t do this. Instead the modernist priest continues to use the traditional language and liturgy of Christianity. He sings with gusto, “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes....” He stands up on Easter day and says with a theatrical tone, “Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia!” to which his faithful people reply, “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” And everyone feels warm and comfortable.

Furthermore, the modernist minister feels no qualms about drawing his salary, putting in his expense claims and having the rectory redecorated. Indeed, he perceives himself as something of a pioneer. He boldly goes where others fear to tread. He has faced the difficult questions of Christianity and found a new way through. He sees himself as a true man of faith for “isn’t faith daring to ask the difficult questions and stepping out into the unknown--letting go all the quaint certainties to launch out into the deep?” Indeed, he even sees himself as a martyr for he has gone through persecution at the hands of the Pharisaical and self righteous orthodox Christians.

So Reverend Wooly continues to use all the conventional language of belief. He does so because he recognizes a certain ‘psychological depth’ in the ‘ancient mythical symbolism’. He believes it helps people. It inspires them. But take him on one side and quiz him a bit you discover that he doesn’t really believe in the resurrection at all. For him it is “a beautiful story about life and love eventually overcoming death” or “In some mysterious way the truth and goodness of Jesus continued to live long after his physical body passed away, and isn’t that what we all hope for ourselves and our loved ones?”

Of course this is total and utter nonsense. The resurrection means that the physical person who died rose up from the dead and wasn’t dead anymore. The tomb was empty. They saw him and they were scared. They ate with him and touched his new body. If this didn’t happen then it wasn’t resurrection at all. It was just a beautiful idea, but the beautiful idea couldn’t even be a beautiful idea if the resurrection didn’t happen. The beautiful idea would only be an imaginative story, in which case it wasn’t even a beautiful idea, it was just a fairy tale, and it wasn’t even a very nice fairy tale, because it promised something it could never deliver.

To say the resurrection is nothing more than “a beautiful idea” is as absurd as saying marriage is a beautiful idea. What if a man said he was married, but you never saw the woman, you never saw the engagement ring and you never saw the children which proved that he had made love to the woman? You’d say it wasn’t marriage at all, and it wasn’t even a beautiful idea. It was a lie. And what if humanity built a great civilization on this beautiful idea of marriage but none of the men were ever married to women, but still they talked in glowing terms of “the beautiful sacrament of marriage” You would consider the lot of them to be insane.

So modernism, with its theological sleight of hand is not only dishonest, it’s insane. Those who follow it live in a world cut off from reality. They live in an alternative reality of their own imagination.

The poisonous thing about this modernism, is that it is so difficult to pin down. It has to come from the Father of Lies since it is so insidiously deceptive. Whenever it appears it never speaks plainly and openly. Instead it resorts to half truths, poetical deceptions and charming myths. It is all smoke and mirrors.

Even worse, it has got into every Christian denomination. It’s easy to think this is the disease of the mainline liberal Protestant denominations. Sadly, it has gone deep in the Catholic Church and it affects everything we do. It affects the way we worship, the way we preach, the way we relate to the world, the way we do everything. It lies deeply hidden, and is the root cause of all our problems in the church. Furthermore, like Satan himself, the more a church attempts to root it out, the more subtle the deception goes and the more the lies become hidden under clever academic speak.

So the Catholic modernist hides his disbelief completely and never really says what he means at all, and if he is pushed to explain what he believes about the resurrection he’ll say with a sweet smile, “Of course Christ is risen, and what we mean by that remains a glorious mystery”, or even worse, he says nothing at all, keeps to the liturgical formulas and goes on through his ministry to undermine everything he says he stands for.

Well you can keep it. Give me the old time religion. I believe Jesus rose from the dead. I believe it was physical. If it wasn’t I’d pack it all in tomorrow.