Sunday, September 11, 2022

Solemn Requiem Mass for Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth


 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

S. Clare of Assisi and her vocation

  


Artist unknown . . . public domain

The Church in western Europe wasn't doing so well at the end of the 12th century. But it was at this very time that the Holy Spirit stirred the hearts of two young people in central Italy, giving rise to the remarkable Franciscan movement.

Clare - commemorated in the Church's calendar today - 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 only sixteen years old, eleven 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 to which some are called. 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 S. 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. It is said that as they were physically carrying Catherine away 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. In time, 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 the time. They kept silent most of the day. They had no beds, but slept on twigs with patched hemp for blankets. They ate only food they begged for. Clare fasted more rigorously 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. Just 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. In fact, their relationship 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 became a powerful and innovative woman in her own right. Not only did she write the Rule (a guide to a way of life) for her religious community. She struggled long and hard with the "institutional Church" for 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 Clare 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 following her way of life, mainly in Italy, southern France and Spain, but also as far east as Prague, and as far west as Bruges. 

COLLECT
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.
Amen.



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


A LETTER OF S. CLARE TO BLESSED AGNES OF PRAGUE 
Agnes, previously a very 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. 


A LETTER OF St CLARE TO ERMENTRUDE OF BRUGES 
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. Here is one of them: 

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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

One of our greatest links with the ancient Church - S. Irenaeus of Lyons



Today - 28th June - is when our Church commemorates the great Bishop Irenaeus, who was born in Asia Minor somewhere in the period 105 AD to 130 AD. According to his own testimony he learned the Christian faith from Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John:

'I can tell the very place in which the blessed Polycarp used to sit when he preached his sermons, how he came in and went out, the manner of his life, what he looked like, the sermons he delivered to the people, and how he used to report his association with John and the others who had seen the Lord, how he would relate their words, and the things concerning the Lord he had heard from them, about His miracles, and teachings. Polycarp had received all this from eyewitnesses of the Word of life, and related all these things in accordance with the Scriptures. I listened eagerly to these things at the time, by God’s mercy which was bestowed on me, and I made notes of them not on paper, but in my heart, and constantly by the grace of God I mediate on them faithfully.' (Quoted by N. R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Part One: The Age of the Early Church Fathers, pp. 97-98)

There was a good deal of trade between Asia Minor and Gaul, especially in Marseilles, and with the traders came the Christian faith. Missionaries were sent from Asia Minor to evangelise the people of Gaul. It was Polycarp who sent Bishop Pothinus to Gaul, who based himself at Lyons. After studying in Rome, the young Irenaeus joined Pothinus. He showed himself to be an exceptional priest, and was sent to Rome in 177 AD, in order to hand deliver a letter to Pope Eleutherius regarding the dangers of Montanism.

In that same year under the emperor Marcus Aurelius there was a violent persecution of the Church in Gaul, resulting in the martyrdom of Bishop Pothinus and a number of the clergy. Irenaeus was consecrated Bishop of Lyons in 178 AD. 

That particular persecution was mercifully brief, and so the next twenty years was a time of growth and peace. Irenaeus was a kind pastor, who grew the church spiritually and numerically. He became completely one with the people he served, even learning to speak to them in their own language rather than in Latin or Greek, and he encouraged the rest of the clergy to do likewise.

In 190 AD Irenaeus persuaded Pope Victor I to lift his excommunication of Churches in the East that followed the Jewish calendar in their dating of Easter instead of the practice of the Roman Church. In his letter to Victor, Irenaeus pointed out that the Eastern Churches were following their Apostolic tradition, and that this had not prevented Polycarp and many other Eastern bishops from staying in communion. Irenaeus was clearly successful, because by the time of Jerome in the 4th century many of the Eastern bishops were still following the ancient Jewish calendar, with schism having been avoided.

Irenaeus is thought of today primarily as a theologian, due largely to his Against the Heresies in which he outlined and criticised the different kinds of Gnosticism that were popular in his day. He used Scripture, especially the writings Paul, Peter, and John to refute Gnosticism and destroy its influence on the growing Church. He was also the first teacher to give the rationale for accepting or rejecting books into the canon of Scripture. He emphasized the unity of the Old and New Testaments, together with the divine and human natures of Our Lord.

Irenaeus was martyred at Lyons about the year 202.

Written around 185 AD, Against the Heresies is very valuable to scholars because in criticising Gnosticism on the basis of what Christians of his day believed, Irenaeus unintentionally gives us a snapshot of ordinary church teaching in the period between the apostolic age and the coming of the imperial church (i.e. 200 years before the "outer limits" of the New Testament canon were definitely fixed). We note the appeal to Scripture and to an incarnational understanding of the sacraments, the sacredness of matter in the Church’s celebration of the sacraments, the Eucharist as the Church's great Sacrifice, the apostolic succession, and the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Here are some significant passages from his work:

SCRIPTURE
'We have learned the plan of our salvation from none other than those through whom the gospel came down to us. Indeed, they first preached the gospel, and afterwards, by the will of God, they handed it down to us in the Scriptures . . . Matthew also issued among the Hebrews a written Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord who reclined at His bosom also published a Gospel, while he was residing at Ephesus in Asia' (3.1.1)

THE EUCHARIST & THE RESURRECTION
'He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand: ‘You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty’ (Malachi 1:10–11). By these words he makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles' (4:17:5).

'If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?' (4:32–33)

'But what consistency is there in those who hold that the bread over which thanks have been given is the body of their Lord, and the cup his blood, if they do not acknowledge that He is the Son of the Creator... How can they say that the flesh which has been nourished by the body of the Lord and by his blood gives way to corruption and does not partake of life? ...For as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, consisting of two elements, earthly and heavenly... ' (4:18:4-5).

'If the body be not saved, then, in fact, neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood; and neither is the cup of the Eucharist the partaking of his blood, nor is the bread which we break the partaking of his body...He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which He causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life - flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord...receiving the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ…' (5:2:2-3).

APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION
'True knowledge is that which consists in the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place' (4:33:7–8)

THE GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT 
'For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come; they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? Is it not possible to name the number of gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God' (2.32.4).

'In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God' (5.6.1).

THE GLORY OF GOD 
'The glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man's life is the vision of God: if God's revelation through creation has already obtained life for all the beings that dwell on earth, how much more will the Word's manifestation of the Father obtain life for those who see God' (4.20.7).




Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Paul Kingsnorth in conversation with Justin Brierley and Rowan Williams


Last year I posted Paul Kingsnorth's inspiring account of his journey of faith HERE.

Today I share with you a recently broadcast conversation he had with Justin Brierley and Rowan Williams about pilgrimage, Orthdodoxy, the nature of belief and the presence of God.



Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Miracle of Holy Communion and Corpus Christi



HE COMES TO US AS FOOD

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a huge sign painted on the side of a building facing the railway line between Redfern Station and Central in inner Sydney. Tens of thousands saw it daily on their way to work. I read it almost every day for my first two years at University. I cannot remember the product being advertised, but the sign said: ‘WHAT YOU EAT AND DRINK TODAY WALKS AND TALKS TOMORROW.’


It always made me smile and think of S. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in Northern Africa in the 4th century. Some friends and I had begun to study him. It was he who said that as we eat the Body of Christ in Holy Communion, we become the Body of Christ in the world. We also know that as he gave Holy Communion to his people, Augustine would actually say to them, ‘Eat what you are, and become what you eat’! 


The solemnity of Corpus Christi celebrates in a special way the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. With the vast majority of mainstream Christians down through the ages we affirm our belief that he comes to us supernaturally as FOOD so as to share his life with us, to deepen our union with him and with one another, to strengthen us for our lives here in this world, and to sustain us on our journey to heaven. He comes as Food to nourish and transform us.


SUCH REALISTIC LANGUAGE

‘But it’s just symbolic’ is what some Christians still say, and they criticise what they sometimes call 'that high church catholic nonsense'!


Well, the extraordinary realism of S. Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 11, also in the Gospel narratives of the institution of the Eucharist, and in John 6 where Jesus feeds the five thousand and then explains that he himself is the ‘Bread of Life’ seems to be very clear. So clear that one of my predecessors here at All Saints  Benhilton, Father Marcus Donovan, Vicar from 1945 to 1961, could write:


‘In the Holy Sacrament Jesus conceals Himself under the veils of bread and wine. He is as truly present as in Bethlehem or in Galilee. Outwardly the “veils” are all we can see, but after the Consecration they become the Body and Blood of Christ. He chose the most ordinary things ("elements” as they are called) in which to give us this treasure. In Holy Communion we receive the life of Christ, and so we must regard the Most Holy Sacrament with the utmost reverence. It is the greatest of all Sacraments, for while they give us grace, Holy Communion gives us the Author of grace Himself.’ (in Faith and Practice SPCK, 1950


Is this really the faith of the Church? Well, if we have any doubts about that, we can turn to those generations of the early Church nearest to the apostles for an indication of how the New Testament’s language about Holy Communion was understood in their day.


IGNATIUS

Writing between 80 AD and 110 AD, - most likely while the Apostle John is still alive - S. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, calls the bread of Holy Communion, 


‘the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his graciousness, raised from the dead.’ (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6)


JUSTIN MARTYR

S. Justin Martyr says the same kind of thing a little later on - around 150 AD: 


‘We do not consume the Eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Saviour became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the Eucharistic prayer.’ (First Apology)


IRENAEUS

And then,  in 189 A.D., S. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons writes: 


‘If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?’ (Against Heresies 4:33–32)


He also writes: 


‘He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life - flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?’ (ibid., 5:2). 


A MIRACLE

The realism of this language is startling. It comes from a time when the successors of the Apostles were defending the Gospel and the Faith, which is all about the coming of God into real human life and joining himself to it (and to the creation of which human life is part) in order to redeem, renew and transfigure it. And who were they arguing with? You guessed it . . . the SPIRITUALISERS who couldn’t conceive that ‘the flesh’ could be saved. So - did these early Christian leaders expect to be taken ‘literally’ in their language about Holy Communion? You bet they did!


Since the dying and rising of Jesus, his followers have gathered at the altar Sunday by Sunday (and where possible more often than that!) in order to receive him in what is the most precious, sacred, awesome, life-giving encounter possible this side of heaven.



'O come, let us adore Him - Christ the Lord.'

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Dr John Macquarrie on Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament



Outdoor Benediction - at the May 2016 National Pilgrimage 
to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham 

Originally ordained to the Presbyterian ministry, the Scottish theologian and philosopher John Macquarrie (1919-2007) became an Anglican in 1962. He is best known as a key existential theologian. Among his many works are Principles of Christian Theology (1966), Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (1991) and Mary for All Christians (1991). Macquarrie was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, and a Canon of Christ Church, Oxford.

In this paragraph Macquarrie tells of a time when his world was falling apart and he discovered the little service of Benediction (which, in the Anglican tradition usually follows Evensong):

I was serving in the British army and had received notice of posting overseas. On the Sunday evening before we sailed, I was wandering through the streets of a sprawling suburban area near to where we were stationed. I came to an Anglican Church. The bell was summoning the people, and I went in. The first part of the service was familiar to me, for it was Evensong. But then followed something new to me - the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This new service meant a great deal to me. I did not know what lay ahead of me or when I might come back to these shores again, but I had been assured of our Lord’s presence and had received his sacramental blessing. I was reminded of Jacob, when he was far from home at Bethel and he heard the divine voice: 'Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.'

Subsequently, in a pamphlet on Benediction, Macquarrie writes:

Benediction is a beautiful word. It means a blessing, a greeting, and expression of kindness and love. Benediction is also a beautiful service of the Church. It is a service that makes real to us in an impressive way the fact that God is always reaching out to us, to bless, to strengthen, to assure us of his loving kindness toward us. 

The greatest blessing that God could ever bestow upon mankind was the sending of his Son. That was like the beginning of a new day for the human race, like a new sunrise bringing light and hope. And it is a day that will never end, a sun that will never set, for the Eternal Son has promised to be with us until the end of the world. 

He is no longer with us in the physical body that was his in Palestine many centuries ago, but we believe that he is really present among us in the Sacrament which he appointed. 'This is my Body', he said over the bread at the Last Supper with his disciples. The same words are said over the bread at every Eucharist, that it may be to us the Body of the Lord, so that he may come again among us today as he came at his first appearing in Palestine. And just as that first appearing was like the rising of the the sun over a darkened world, so today when the Host is lifted up either in the Mass itself or in Benediction, it is like the rising of the sun upon us and we receive the radiance and warmth of God's blessing through him whom he has sent. 

Many people have the idea that Benediction has become out of date in the course of the liturgical renewal of the past few years. It is true that Benediction has now less prominence than it once had in Catholic worship, but it would be sad indeed if this service were to be undervalued for it is a very helpful item in our spiritual heritage and it has special contributions to make toward building up the life of prayer and devotion in these busy noisy times in which we live. 

Let me now say something about the meaning of Benediction. 1 shall do this by developing more fully the thought that the blessing conveyed to us in this service today is simply the vivid renewal of that great blessing of God in the sending of Jesus Christ. Just as men in ancient times were waiting for the Lord, eager for a glimmer of light through the gloom, so those who come to Benediction come with waiting, expectant hearts. 

Benediction is a popular service, that is to say, a people's service. The clever and sophisticated do not come much to Benediction, but the simple, the poor, those who acknowledge an emptiness in their lives that only God can fill. Even those who might not come to Holy Communion will sometimes come to Benediction where God reaches out to them though they think they are only on the fringes. I think of some of those with whom I have knelt at Benediction: harassed city-dwellers in New York, working- class people from the back streets of Dublin, soldiers serving in the deserts of North Africa, Indian Christians living as a tiny minority in a great Hindu city . . . They have all had the grace of humility - a quality which, alas, is not greatly encouraged in our new liturgies. But those who seek a blessing come with empty hands. 'How blessed are those who know their need of God' ' (Matthew 5:3 NEB). God cannot give a blessing to the proud, the self- sufficient, the superior, those who secretly despise the simple devotion of their brethren. So we can only come to Benediction waiting and expectant. As we sing the hymns and look upon the Host, we open our hearts to God, knowing that he who sent the blessing of his Son to lighten the darkness of the world still sends through the same Son his blessing to us. 

We do not wait on God in vain. Lifting up the Host in a monstrance (sometimes in a ciborium) the Those quiet opening moments of Benediction are very precious indeed. We take time to compose ourselves, to put ourselves together, as it were. These may be only a few minutes, but they have something of the quality of eternity. We put aside our own busy plans, policies, activities, and remain passive before God so that his voice may be heard and his grace received. This brief time of quiet alone is of inestimable value in that crazy hurried world in which we all have to live nowdays. officiating priest makes the sign of the cross in blessing over the worshippers. Christ, the Light of the world, shines upon us, and my comparison with the rising sun was appropriate because the monstrance is usually fashioned to resemble the sun's disc, with rays streaming out in all directions. Through Christ, God bestows his blessing upon us and all who are willing to receive it, just as the sun shines on all, bringing light and health. 

The seekers, the pilgrims, the weary are assured of the blessing of God in Christ, and every time Christ comes to men and women it is with the promise of a new life of hope and freedom. 'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined' (Isaiah 9:2). 

Then a very remarkable thing happens. For we find ourselves saying the words of the Divine Praises: 'Blessed be God', 'Blessed be his holy Name' We came seeking God's blessing, and now we find that we are blessing God! This belongs so naturally to what might be called the spiritual logic of Benediction. A benediction is not something that we can selfishly keep for ourselves. It makes us too want to give a benediction. 'We love, because he first loved us' (1 John 4:19). We begin by coming in our need to God, seeking his blessing. He gives us that blessing, and our response is to bless and adore him. This is indeed the goal of all our worshipping - that we may come to love God better. And we cannot love God without loving our neighbours who are God's children, so that in seeking God's blessing, we are praying that in blessing us he will make us a blessing to others. This is how it has been since the very beginning of the people of God, when the Lord said to Abraham, 'I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing . . .' (Genesis 12:3). 

These, then, are some of the meanings contained in the service of Benediction and some of the reasons for prizing it. Let us not miss this time of precious quiet while we wait upon God in humility. Let us not miss the blessing he bestows through the Christ who conies into our midst. For in such acts of devotion we learn to love him better, and he can make us a benediction to all whom we meet.


Benediction at S. Luke's Kingston, April 2015

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Some blockbuster insights for Trinity Sunday!




Happy Trinity Sunday, everybody! 

Today in our Church we emphasise the greatest revelation of all: At the heart of the universe is not a vacuum, an impersonal force, a solitary uncreated being (whether lawgiver, intelligent designer, or omnipotent cosmic control-freak), but the MYSTERY OF SELF-GIVING LOVE that everlastingly surges through and overflows creation and redemption, reaching even us, and divinising our 'ordinary' lives.

Commenting on the passages in St John's Gospel in which Jesus - after the Last Supper - teaches about the Holy Spirit, Michael Ramsey (the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury) writes: 'A Trinitarian doctrine of God is here inescapable. It is inescapable as touching the activity of God in history, for the glorifying of the Father by Jesus is perfected only in the glorifying of Jesus by the Spirit. It is inescapable as touching the being of God in Himself, for the sharing of the Son in all that the Father has is parallelled by the sharing of the Spirit in all that the Son has. The revelation of the glory of God to the disciples involves their coming to perceive that the Spirit is all that the Son is - namely God indeed.' (The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, pages 74-75) 

In Romans 8:14-17, St Paul says: 'All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.' Later on, in verse 26 he says: 'Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.'

Ramsey comments further: 'We learn from St Paul's prayers how the great themes of the Lord's Prayer prevail in the prayer of the early Christians. As the apostolic age proceeds, a Trinitarian pattern of prayer becomes apparent. Prayer is to the Father, and Jesus is not only the one through whom Christians pray, but also the one who evokes a devotion that would be idolatrous if he were not indeed divine. It is the Holy Spirit who enables Christians to pray "Abba - Father" (Romans 8:15), and to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus. Experiencing a threefold relationship to God in their prayer, Christians encounter a threefold relationship with God Himself; and the discourses and prayer in St John's Gospel begins to unveil this. It is within the Trinitarian character of Christian prayer that the theology of the Trinity grows.' (Be Still and Know, page 42)  

Along the same lines, here are some words from Father Thomas Hopko: 
'The Holy Eucharist, is the actual experience of all Christian people led to communion with God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit through Christ the Son who is present in the Word of the Gospel  and in the Passover Meal of His Body and Blood eaten in remembrance of Him. The very movement of the Divine Liturgy - towards the Father through Christ the Word and the Lamb, in the power of the Holy Spirit - is the living sacramental symbol of our eternal movement in and toward God, the Blessed Trinity. Even Christian prayer is the revelation of the Trinity, accomplished within the third person of the Godhead. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can call God “our Father” only because of the Son who has taught us and enabled us to do so. Thus, the true prayer of Christians is not the calling out of our souls in earthly isolation to a far-away God. It is the prayer in us of the divine Son of God made to His Father, accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit who himself is also divine.' (The Orthodox Faith, Volume I - Doctrine : The Holy Trinity - available online HERE)

And finally, from Austin Farrer 
(quoted from The Philosophical Theology of Austin Farrer, pp. 108-109):





Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Influence of S. Bede the Venerable (c. 672-735)



'The Venerable Bede Translates John’ (1902) by James Doyle Penrose (1862-1932)

Every now and then, the Office of Readings sets before us an account of how the saint for the day died. Today is one of those days. This morning we read about the death of S. Bede.  

Bede was born near Sunderland, and lived his entire life in the north of England, yet he is often regarded one of the most learned European of his day. At the age of 7 he was sent to the Benedictine Abbey at Wearmouth for his education. At 11 he continued his education at the new monastery at Jarrow, on the Tyne, eventually becoming a monk and remaining there until his death. He lived a routine and outwardly uneventful life of prayer, devotion, study, writing, and teaching, and left his monastery only in order to preach.

Bede’s writings (over 40 books) depended on the fine libraries which S. Benet Biscop (c. 628-690) had assembled, and cover a very wide range of interests, including mathematics, poetry, timekeeping, history, orthography, chronology, and biblical translation and exposition. He translated large slabs of the Bible into Anglo-Saxon (from which English evolved). He made the Latin and Greek writings of the early Christian Fathers accessible to his fellow Anglo-Saxons. But he always considered his 25 volumes of Scripture commentary to be his most important work. 

Bede’s best-known book is his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731, and still published today in modern translation. A good deal of it is based on sources no longer in existence. Because of this work he became popularly acclaimed as the ‘Father of English History’, not only because his is the first serious history of England, but also because of the thoroughness of his historical research. Whenever friends were travelling to Rome, he would ask them to bring him copies of documents relevant to English history. Bede made careful use of oral traditions when written materials were not available.

According to his pupil Cuthbert, Bede fell ill shortly before Easter 735, when he was translating the Gospel of John into the Anglo-Saxon language. Everyone realised that the end was near, but Bede was determined to complete the translation before he died. Between Easter and Ascension Day, he persisted in the task, pushing against the boundary of his life, while continuing to teach his students at his bedside.

After a restless night, he resumed dictating the translation on the morning before Ascension Day. That afternoon he called the priests of the monastery to him to distribute his remaining earthly possessions. Seeing they were overcome with grief, he comforted them with these words:

“If it be the will of my Maker, the time has come when I shall be freed from the body and return to him who created me out of nothing when I had no being. I have had a long life, and the merciful Judge has ordered it graciously. The time of my departure is at hand, and my soul longs to see Christ my King in his beauty.”

The young man who had been writing down the translation said there was still one sentence remaining, and Bede dictated the final words.

After a short while the boy said, “Now it is finished.”

Bede replied, ‘You have spoken truly; it is well finished. Now raise my head in your hands, for it would give me great joy to sit facing the holy place where I used to pray, so that I may sit and call on my Father.’

And thus, on the floor of his cell, he sang ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit’ to its ending, and breathed his last.

When he received word of Bede’s death, S. Boniface, who had used Bede’s Scripture commentaries, said, ‘The candle of the Church, lit by the Holy Spirit, has been extinguished.’ S. Bede began to be called “Venerable”. His bones were translated from Jarrow to Durham Cathedral in the mid-11th century; in 1370 they were placed in the cathedral’s Galilee Chapel.

S. Bede is the only Englishman named in Dante’s Paradise. He is also the only English ‘Doctor of the Church’ (perhaps one day to be joined by John Henry Newman?).

It was S. Bede who wrote that a priest or bishop ‘who without an urgent reason omits to say Mass robs the Trinity of glory, the angels of joy, sinners of pardon, the just of divine assistance, the souls in purgatory of refreshment, the Church of a benefit, and himself of a healing remedy.’

COLLECT
O God, who bring light to your Church
through the learning of the Priest Saint Bede,
mercifully grant that your servants
may always be enlightened by his wisdom 
and helped by his merits.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 
Amen.


POPE BENEDICT ON S. BEDE
Here is Pope Benedict’s teaching on the significance of S. Bede, 
given at his Wednesday General Audience in Rome, 
on 18th February 2009: 

The saint on whom we reflect today is called Bede. He was born in Northeast England, in fact in Northumbria, in the year 672/673. He himself narrates that, when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the abbot of the neighboring Benedictine monastery, to be educated. “In this monastery,” he recalls, “I lived from then on, dedicating myself intensely to the study of Scripture, while observing the discipline of the Rule and the daily effort to sing in church, I always found it pleasant to learn, teach and write” (Ecclesiastical History of the English People, V, 24). 

In fact, Bede was one of the most illustrious figures of erudition of the High Middle Ages because he was able to make use of many precious manuscripts that his abbots, who went on frequent trips to the Continent and to Rome, were able to bring back to him. His teaching and the fame of his writings enabled him to have many friendships with the principal personalities of his time, who encouraged him to continue in his work, from which so many benefited. Falling ill, he did not cease to work, always having an interior joy that was expressed in prayer and song. He concluded his most important work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with this invocation: “I pray, O good Jesus, who benevolently has allowed me to draw from the sweet words of your wisdom, that I may reach you one day, source of all wisdom, and to always be before your face.” Death came to him on May 26, 735: It was Ascension day.

The Sacred Scriptures were the constant source of Bede’s theological reflection. Having made a careful critical study of the text (we have a copy of the monumental Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate, on which Bede worked), he commented on the Bible, reading it in a Christological vein, namely, re-uniting two things: On one hand, he listened to what the text was saying exactly, he really wanted to listen and understand the text itself; on the other hand, he was convinced that the key to understanding sacred Scripture as the unique Word of God is Christ and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and the New Testament as 'a' sacred Scripture.

The events of the Old and New Testament go together, they are together the path toward Christ, though expressed in different signs and institutions (it is what he calls “concordia sacramentorum”). For example, the tent of the covenant that Moses raised in the desert and the first and second temple of Jerusalem are images of the Church, new temple built on Christ and the Apostles with living stones, cemented by the charity of the Spirit. And, as was the case for the construction of the ancient temple of Jerusalem, even pagan people contributed, making available valuable materials and the technical experience of their master builders, thus apostles and masters not only from ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin stock contributed to the building of the Church, but also new peoples, among which Bede is pleased to enumerate the Iro-Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. St. Bede witnessed the universality of the Church grow, which is not restricted to a certain culture, but is made up of all the cultures of the world which must open themselves to Christ and find in him their point of arrival.

Another topic loved by Bede is the history of the Church. After having taken interest in the period described in the Acts of the Apostles, he reviewed the history of the Fathers of the Church and the councils, convinced that the work of the Holy Spirit continues in history. In the Cronica Maiora, Bede traces a chronology that would become the basis of the universal calendar “ab incarnatione Domini.” Up to then, time was calculated from the foundation of the city of Rome. Bede, seeing that the true point of reference, the center of history is the birth of Christ, gave us this calendar that reads history beginning with the Lord’s Incarnation. He registered the first six ecumenical councils and their development, presenting faithfully the Christian, Mariological and Soteriological doctrine, and denouncing the Monophysite and Monothelite, iconoclastic and neo-Pelagian heresies. Finally, he wrote with documentary rigor and literary expertise the already mentioned Ecclesiastical History of the English People, for which he is recognized as “the father of English historiography.” The characteristic traits of the Church that Bede loved to evidence are: a) its catholicity, as fidelity to tradition together with openness to historical developments, and as the pursuit of unity in multiplicity, in the diversity of history and cultures, according to the directives that Pope Gregory the Great gave to the apostle of England, Augustine of Canterbury; b) its apostolicity and Romanness: In this regard he considers of primary importance to convince the whole Iro-Celtic Churches and that of the Picts to celebrate Easter uniformly according to the Roman calendar. The calculation elaborated scientifically by him to establish the exact date of the Easter celebration, and thus of the entire cycle of the liturgical year, became the text of reference for the whole Catholic Church.

Bede was also an illustrious teacher of liturgical theology. In the homilies on the Sunday Gospels and those of feast days, he develops a true mystagogy, educating the faithful to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of the faith and to reproduce them consistently in life, while expecting their full manifestation of the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we will be admitted in offertory procession to the eternal liturgy of God in heaven. Following the “realism” of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person “not only a Christian but Christ.” In fact, every time that a faithful soul receives and guards the Word of God with love, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ again. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments, the Church is “self-generated,” or to use a still more daring expression, the Church becomes “Mother of God,” participating in the generation of her children, by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks to this way of making theology, interlacing the Bible, the liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different “states of life”:

a) For scholars (doctores ac doctrices) he recalls two essential tasks: to scrutinize the wonders of the Word of God to present it in an attractive way to the faithful; to show the dogmatic truths avoiding the heretical complications and keeping to the “Catholic simplicity,” with attention to the small and humble to whom God is pleased to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom.

b) For pastors, that for their part, must give priority to preaching, not only through the verbal or hagiographic language, but also valuing icons, processions and pilgrimages. Bede recommends to them the use of the vernacular, as he himself does, explaining in Northumbria the “Our Father,” and the “Creed” and carrying forward until the last day of his life, the commentary to John’s Gospel in the common language.

c) For consecrated people who are dedicated to the Divine Office, living in the joy of fraternal communion and progressing in the spiritual life through ascesis and contemplation, Bede recommends to take care of the apostolate -- no one has the Gospel just for himself, but must regard it as a gift also for others -- either by collaborating with the Bishops in pastoral activities of various types in favor of the young Christian communities, or being available to the evangelizing mission to the pagans, outside their own country, as “peregrini pro amore Dei.”

Placed in this perspective, in the commentary to the Canticle of Canticles, Bede presents the synagogue and the Church as collaborators in the propagation of the Word of God. Christ the Spouse desires an industrious Church, “bronzed by the fatigues of evangelization” -- clear is the reference to the word of the Canticle of Canticles (1:5), where the Bride says: “Nigra sum sed formosa” (I am brown, but beautiful) - attempts to till other fields or vines and to establish among the new populations “not a provisional bell but a stable dwelling, namely, to insert the Gospel in the social fabric and the cultural institutions. In this perspective, the saintly Doctor exhorts the lay faithful to be assiduous to the religious instruction, imitating those “insatiable evangelical multitudes who did not even give the Apostles time to eat.” He teaches them how to pray constantly, “reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy,” offering all actions as spiritual sacrifices in union with Christ. To parents he explains that also in their small domestic realm they can exercise “the priestly office of pastors and guides,” by giving Christian formation to the children and states that he knows many faithful (men and women, spouses and celibates) “capable of an irreproachable conduct that, if suitably pursued, could approach daily Eucharistic communion (“Epist. ad Ecgbertum,” ed. Plummer, p. 419).

The fame of holiness and wisdom that Bede enjoyed already in life, served to merit him the title of “Venerable.” He is thus called also by Pope Sergius I, when he wrote his abbot in 701 requesting to make him come temporarily to Rome for consultation on questions of universal interest. The great missionary of Germany, Bishop St. Boniface (d. 754), requested the archbishop of York several times and the abbot of Wearmouth to have some of his works transcribed and to send him to them so that they and their companions could also enjoy the spiritual light he emanated. A century later Notkero Galbulo, abbot of St. Gall (d. 912), being aware of the extraordinary influence of Bede, equated him with a new sun that God had made arise not in the East but in the West to illumine the world. Apart from the rhetorical emphasis, it is a fact that, with his works, Bede contributed effectively to the making of a Christian Europe, in which the different populations and cultures amalgamated among themselves, conferring on them a uniform physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith.

Let us pray that also today there be personalities of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole Continent united; let us pray so that all of us are willing to rediscover our common roots, to be builders of a profoundly human and genuinely Christian Europe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Mary's Month of May - Bishop Jonathan Baker


 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Catherine of Siena and God's grace

 

Saint Catherine of Siena receiving the stigmata between Saints Benedict and  Jerome (detail), c.1514 - c.1517 - Domenico Beccafumi - WikiArt.org

“All the way to Heaven is heaven, 
because He said, ‘I am the Way.’" 

- S. Catherine of Siena

Born in 1347, the 24th child of a wool dyer in northern Italy, Catherine was very sensitive to spiritual realities from childhood. From the age of six she could see guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected. Catherine became a Dominican tertiary when she was sixteen, and continued to have visions of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. She was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, although she had no formal education. 

At a very difficult time in the Church’s history, Catherine persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon, in 1377. She actually died endeavouring to heal the Great Western Schism. In 1375 she received the Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. Catherine’s letters, and a treatise called “a dialogue” are considered among the most brilliant writings of the saints. 

Catherine died in 1380 when she was only 33, and her body was found incorrupt in 1430. Her tomb is in the High Altar of the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome.


God created us a second time 
in giving us the life of grace

From a Letter of S. Catherine of Siena to Blessed Raymond of Capua

I know of no means of savouring the Truth and living with it, without self-knowledge. It is this knowledge which makes us really understand that we are nothing, that our being came from God when we were created in God’s image and likeness; and also that God created us a second time in giving us the life of grace through the blood of the only Son, blood which has shown us the truth of God the Father.

This is the divine truth: we were created for the glory and praise of God’s name, to enable us to participate in God’s eternal beauty and to sanctify us in God. And the proof that this is the truth? The blood of the spotless Lamb. How are we to know this Blood? By self-knowledge. ’

We were the earth where the standard of the cross was planted. We were the vessel that received the blood of the Lamb as it streamed from the cross. Why did we become that earth? Because the earth would not hold the cross upright; it would have refused such a great injustice. The nails could not have held the Lord fixed and nailed had not his love for our salvation held him there. It was love on fire with the glory of his Father and with desire for our salvation which fixed him to the cross. So, we are the earth which held the cross upright and the vessel which received the blood.

We who can recognize this and live as the spouse of this Truth will find grace in his blood, and all the richness of the life of grace; our nakedness will be the nuptial garment; we will be invested with the fire of love, because the blood and fire mingle and penetrate one another; it is love which has united the blood with the divinity and poured it out.

We must live in simplicity, with neither pretensions nor mannerisms nor servile fear. We must walk in the light of a living faith that shines in more than mere words—and always so, in adversity as well as in prosperity, in times of persecution as well as in times of consolation. Nothing will be able to change the strength or the radiance of our faith if Christ who is the Truth has given us knowledge of truth not just in desire but in living experience.


File:High altar Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The tomb of S. Catherine of Siena in the High Altar of the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome.