Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas)

This is your invitation to join us at All Saints' Benhilton 
for the great Feast of Candlemas this coming Sunday.

Click image to enlarge

Monday, January 27, 2020

75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

Today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, near Krakow in Poland. In 2011 I had a week in Krakow, and on the Tuesday was able to take a bus to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp and spend the day wandering around. It was bitterly cold, and - as you will see in the photos - there were very few other visitors or tourists. My visit included a pilgrimage to the cell of S. Maximilian Kolbe - one of my heroes. 

The memory of that day is still vivid in my mind - a chilling reminder that while we (rightly) celebrate the heights of love, creativity, beauty and truth to which the human spirit can soar, we dare not overlook the incredible depths of cruelty, hatred and evil to which it can sink.

Just a few days ago at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem honouring the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945, Prince Charles reminded world leaders of this truth. He spoke of the extermination of six million Jewish people during World War II as a "universal human tragedy" that has had a deep impact on all of us, and that must not be forgotten. He said the "lessons of the Holocaust are searingly relevant to this day", pointing out that "hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims." He is right.

I share with you today, on this anniversary, the photographs I took at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp (click on them to enlarge):

Friday, January 17, 2020

Father Stanton preaching on today's Gospel (Mark 2:1-12), "To Get to Jesus"

When I was a teenager I read the stories of the slum priests of the 19th century Catholic Revival in the Church of England. 

These men became my heroes. Their lives helped me in my groping after God. They still inspire me. In these days of advanced secularism in which ordinary Christian witness is difficult and the authentic evangelical/catholic vision of priestly ministry is so hard to maintain, the slum priests should inspire us all to persevere in proclaiming the Gospel and teaching the Faith once delivered to the Saints. 

These "ritualists" - as many called them - were not snooty "spikes" as we might say today. They were passionate evangelists, bringing many to know and love the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. The churches they built in the slums of England became shrines that still evoke wonder and prayer. These priests taught and practised the full Catholic Faith in an evangelical way, leading their people to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness AND in the holiness of beauty! They inspired extravagant giving among their friends and supporters. Often persecuted by unsympathetic bishops, the slum priests gave themselves away to the Lord and his people. 

One of the most famous was Father Arthur Stanton, who remained a non-stipendiary Curate at St Alban's Holborn for fifty years (1862 to 1913 when he died). He was the archetypal Anglo-Catholic evangelist, and he truly honoured the Lord Jesus in what he said and how he said it. On Sunday 13th October, 1912, Father Stanton preached this sermon on the passage that is today's Gospel. (In fact, this is a transcript written down by a stenographer, as Father Stanton preached rather than read his sermons!)

And when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the Word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven..... That you might know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.' Mark 2:1-12

You know the story: they let him down from the roof. And what I gather from the story is this: anybody who wants to come to Christ, can. If you don't, you can easily slip away unobserved. If any of you wish to come to Mass on Sunday morning, you can - you can - although, I know, there are hundreds of excuses if you don't want to come. And then you say: "Well that is the very thing we want to do. Here we are, all of us, on purpose to get to the Master. Has not He promised to be present with us! And here we are - in order to get near the Master. That is just what we want."

And the lesson of the Gospel is, we must take trouble about it. When people say: "We want to get near the Master- Christ," the answer is, "Well, have you taken any trouble about it? Have you taken the roof off?" The men in the Gospel were determined to get to Him, and when they could not get through the door, they went on the roof, and took it off, and placed the palsied man before Him. They saw he could not get to Jesus himself, so they brought him. They meant business; and the business was done. They were in earnest, and they got to the Saviour, and they got the man there.

And so I can say: Now, if you really want to get near the Master, and feel Him your close friend, your All in all, have you done anything out of the way? We hear that the ladies who want the vote are determined to starve themselves to death. Well, that is being in earnest. If you want to get to Christ, you must not mind doing something for the Saviour. Well, then, they could not get in at the door; the whole passage was full. They could not possibly get through the crowd round the door.

And how true that always is! And how true it is of the simple Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ! There are some people always blocking up the gangway. We cannot get to Him. There are the philosophers, the schoolmen, the logicians. There are the Catholic theologians, the Greek theologians, the Roman theologians, the Protestant theologians. They are all arguing, splitting hairs, talking against one another, proposing different theories, and then breaking them up. They choke the door full.

And if you read the reports of the Church congress, you think: "Oh, dear! What are we to believe and think? And they use such long words: there is Predestination! Transubstantiation! Immanence! Incomprehensible. And the poor simple old Gospel we used to love seems to be so difficult now. And we open our Bibles, and turn over the pages, and read this: "One thing is needful" (S. Luke x.42).

Oh, I am very glad there is only one thing - you would think from all the controversies that go on, there were about two thousand things needful! But the dear Lord says, "One thing is needful," and that is to sit at Jesus' feet, and hear His word.

Think! How is it that religion has become so difficult, with all the controversies, and the philosophies, and the old theologies, and the new theologies? You cannot-the passage to the door is full. Impossible! Oh, why have they blocked up the passage and made it so difficult, when we want Jesus Christ Himself?

Well, then, what must we do? We must do something. We must get to Him somehow, for He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (S. John xiv.6). You must get near Him. Brethren, you must do something by which you can get at Him.

Do you recollect Nicodemus? He was a man in high position in the Church and state - of unimpeachable, correct orthodoxy. And he went to the Master, and found Him. He did it secretly. He did not want anybody to know -Timid! Only Christ could help to lift up the dear soul. He was very timid at first. He went out secretly at night. And he saw the Master. And as he walked home at night, the whole heaven was full of stars, and every star trembled with glory. For had he not heard that he must be born again? And had not the Master spoken to him of heavenly things? He got near Him.

And we take another case: Here is the man who is despised - morally - we do not think much of him - Zacchaeus, a collector of taxes. And no doubt he made his riches by excessive increment. And if he was at a social disadvantage, so he was physically, for he was short of stature. But he climbed up the sycamore tree. That man would never have been the rich man he was if he had not been used to climbing! He climbed up the tree just to get a view. And the eyes of the Lord Jesus and the little man met! The Lord Jesus saw him, and said: "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house" (S. Luke xix.5)

And yet there is one more: the poor woman who said: "If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole" (S. Matt. ix.21). The poor woman! She pressed right through the crowd. In the midst of the throng she knelt down and touched the hem of His garment - just brushing it - that's all - but she became whole. And the Master noticed. And they said, "Master, you see how they throng Thee. Why dost Thou say, Who touched Me?" But the Master said, "Some finger has taken life out of Me" - "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole."

And she was made whole. You must get to the Master. You must. And if you say with the poor woman, May I? May I? I say, You must - you must. For this reason, He came down from Heaven and was Incarnate amongst us that He might get to you. You must get to Him.

Well, then, I should like to say again, of course, the process of getting to the Master may cause a good deal of disturbance. Of course, the removing of the roof from the house must have caused a lot of debris and dust, and no doubt it fell down on the people beneath. They broke up the roof. There was a great deal of disturbance. Even the getting to Him may cause a good deal of disturbance. Oh, yes - at home! The people in your village! Oh, we know it is not done quite easily, is it?

A clergyman who was talking to me of the S. Alban's clergy, said the other day: "Oh you know this, you fellows of S. Alban's, you have made such a disturbance in the Church of England." Don't you think it was necessary? Now come! In order to get the Establishment to have a Catholic and Evangelical nature, it was necessary to make a disturbance - but it was necessary. Anything to get any number of people to the Master.

You recollect that when the poor woman was sweeping up her room to find a piece of money that was lost, she must have kicked up a lot of dust in sweeping, but she found it. Now we must never make a disturbance for the sake of disturbing; but if we want to get any society - the Church - to the Master's feet, it may be necessary sometimes to do extravagant things.

And, last of all, just for ourselves, personally: it is not easy often for ourselves to get to the Master but we, too, must take some trouble. We must be in earnest about it. We must take the gates of Heaven by storm. The road up Calvary at times is a bit stiff. But it does not matter, if we get to the Master at the end, and kneel down, and kiss His feet, does it?

Along the road to Calvary is writ large, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (S. Luke ix.23). Along the road, that all may read. "In the last day that great of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." (S. John vii.37).

Why, Lord! we all thirst, and we come to Thee to drink of the water of everlasting life. I am sure you can say in your heart what I tell you this morning is true.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

C.S. Lewis: MERE CHRISTIANITY - the Doodle Video presentation of his talks

C.S. Lewis (1893-1963) novelist, academic, literary critic, medievalist, essayist, and lay theologian had been baptised at birth, but he lost his faith completely during adolescence and was a committed atheist by the time he went to Oxford. He would constantly  debate the existence of God with J.R.R. Tolkien and other Christian friends. While his conversion took place over a period of time, his actual surrender to God took place when he was 32. Go HERE to read a short article on his life.

One of his most influential books was “Mere Christianity”, the text of a series of BBC talks Lewis gave. Here is a clever Doodle video presentation of a substantial portion of it. Click on the links to watch each video. 

BBC Talk 1 (Book 1 Chapter 1)
‘Right and Wrong’ – A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

BBC Talk 5 (Book 1 Chapter 2)
Some Objections

BBC Talk 2 (Book 1 Chapter 3)
The Reality of the Moral Law

BBC Talk 3 (Book 1 Chapter 4)
What Lies Behind the Moral Law?

BBC Talk 4 (Book 1 Chapter 5)
We Have Cause to be Uneasy

BBC Talk 6 (Book 2, Chapter 1)
The Rival Conceptions of God

BBC Talk 7 (Book 2, Chapter 2)
The Invasion

BBC Talk 8 (Book 2, Chapter 3)
The Shocking Alternative

BBC Talk 11 (Book 3, Chapter 1)
The Three Parts of Morality

BBC Talk 11a, (Book 3, Chapter 2)
The ‘Cardinal Virtues’

BBC Talk 14 (Book 3, Chapter 5)
Sexual Morality

BBC Talk 14a (Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 6)
Christian Marriage

BBC Talk 21, Mere Christianity, Book 4, Chapter 1
Making and Begetting

Sunday, January 5, 2020

“Stars cross the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives its Saviour in a cave” (S. Basil the Great)

Basil was born in Caesarea of Cappadocia in 329. The persecution of Christians had ceased, but his parents had lived through those difficult times. He studied at Athens from 351 to 356 in order to become a lawyer and orator. But his sister, Macrina, influenced him to embrace a monastic life, and he founded a community. He stayed with them for five years, ensuring that their life was one of mutual love and service. In 367 a famine hit Cappadocia, and Basil sold his family's land in order to buy food for the starving, actively preparing the food himself. In addressing this crisis, he refused to allow any distinction between Jews and Christians. He also built a hospital, housing for the poor, and a hospice for travellers.

Basil was ordained in 362, and became Bishop of Caesarea in 370. The Emperor visited Caesarea in 371 and demanded Basil's submission to the prevailing Arian heresies. The latter refused, of course, leading to an ongoing dispute between the two of them.

His writings deal with the created world as a revelation of the God's splendour. They vigorously defend the divinity of Christ; they also defend the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, who is to be worshipped with the Father and the Son. 

Basil is said to have died from exhaustion at the age of 49 on 1st January, 379. The following passage is from his Homily 2 on the Holy Birth of the Lord (as quoted on pages 39-40 of Celebrating Sundays: Reflections from the Early Church on the Sunday Gospels, compiled by Stephen Holmes, and published in 2012 by Canterbury Press):

"The star came to rest above the place where the child was. At the sight of it the wise men were filled with great joy” and that great joy should fill our hearts as well. It is the same as the joy the shepherds received from the glad tidings brought by the angels. Let us join the wise men in worship and the shepherds in giving glory to God. Let us dance with the angels and sing: “To us is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord. The Lord is God and he has appeared to us,” not as God which would have terrified us in our weakness, but as a slave in order to free those living in slavery. Could anyone be so lacking in sensibility and so ungrateful as not to join us all in our gladness, exultation, and radiant joy?

This feast belongs to the whole universe. It gives heavenly gifts to the earth, it sends archangels to Zechariah and to Mary, it assembles a choir of angels to sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”

Stars cross the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives its saviour in a cave. Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race. Now it is no longer, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” but “You are joined to heaven and into heaven you shall be taken up.” It is no longer, “In sorrow you shall bring forth children,” but, “Blessed is she who has borne Emmanuel and blessed the breast that nursed him.” “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; and dominion is laid upon his shoulder.”

Come, join the company of those who merrily welcome the Lord from heaven. Think of shepherds receiving wisdom, of priests prophesying, of women who are glad of heart, as Mary was when told by the angel to rejoice and as Elizabeth was when John leapt in her womb. Anna announced the good news; Simeon took the child in his arms. They worshiped the mighty God in a tiny baby, not despising what they beheld but praising his divine majesty. Like light through clear glass the power of the Godhead shone through that human body for those whose inner eye was pure. Among such may we also be numbered, so that beholding his radiance with unveiled face we too may be transformed from glory to glory by the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be honor and power for endless ages. Amen.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Gospel According to Mark, read by David Suchet

This YouTube recording is a real treat. It is the reading of the entire Gospel of Mark given at St Paul's Cathedral, London on 28th March, 2017, by David Suchet, best known as the moustached eponymous hero of Agatha Christie's Poirot. Raised without religion, Suchet was converted by reading Romans 8 in a hotel Bible. Now a practising Anglican, he has produced The Complete NIV Audio Bible which reached sales of 25,000 across all its platforms. He also made a successful BBC documentary Following the footsteps of St Paul and St Peter. David Suchet is now the vice-president of the Bible Society.

The point is made in the introduction that while we usually hear the Gospels read in short sections, it can be a revelation to read – or hear – the whole of the story at once. That was how the Gospel was intended to be encountered.

The St Paul's performance was not Suchet's first public reading of the Bible. He has previously recorded a reading of the whole of the New International Version – the first ever recording of the NIV by a single actor, which Suchet described as his "legacy". Now a practising Anglican, he is most famous for his role as Hercule Poirot in the long-running detective drama, for which he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Royal Television Society.

Whether you are a seasoned believer or just curious, wait until you have a couple of hours free, and watch the video right through without interruption. You will be surprised at its impact.