Monday, March 1, 2021

S. David of Wales



Saint David (or Dewi, as he is known in the Welsh language) was an evangelist and monk, who became Archbishop of Wales. He was one of many early saints who travelled around preaching the Gospel, teaching the Faith, and establishing church communities among the Celtic tribes of western Britain. 

David lived a frugal life, eating mainly bread and herbs. He was born near Capel Non (Non's chapel) on the South-West Wales coast near the present city of St David's. He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) on the banks of the small river Alun. He was buried in the grounds of this monastery, where the Cathedral of St David now stands, and he was was formally recognised as a saint by Pope Callistus II in 1120. 

During his 2010 visit to Great Britain, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about St David in Westminster Cathedral:
'Saint David was one of the greatest saints of the 6th century, that golden age of saints and missionaries in these isles, and he was thus a founder of the Christian culture which lies at the root of modern Europe. David's preaching was simple yet profound: his dying words to his monks were, "Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things". It is the little things that reveal out love for the one who loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and that bind people into a community of faith, love and service. May Saint David's message, in all its simplicity and richness, continue to resound in Wales today, drawing the hearts of its people to renewed love for Christ and his Church.'

And here is the second reading in today's Office of Readings, from a Life of St David by Rhygyferch, an eleventh century Bishop of St David's, whose name in Latin was Ricemarchus: 
'The holy Father David prescribed an austere system of monastic observance, requiring every monk to toil daily at manual labour and to lead a common life. So with unflagging zeal they work with hand and foot, they put the yoke to their own shoulders, and in their own holy hands, they bear the tools for labour in the fields. So by their own strength they procure every necessity for the community, while refusing possessions and detesting riches. They make no use of oxen for ploughing. Everyone is rich to himself and to the brethren, every man is his own ox.

'When the field work is done they return to the enclosure of the monastery, to pass their time till evening at reading, writing, or in prayer. Then when the signal is heard for evening prayer everyone leaves what he is at and in silence, without any idle conversation, they make their way to church. When, with heart and voice attuned, they have completed the psalmody, they remain on their knees until stars appearing in the heaven bring day to its close; yet when all have gone, the father remains there alone making his own private prayer for the well-being of the church.

'Shedding daily abundance of tears, offering daily his sweet-scented sacrifice of praise, aglow with an intensity of love, he consecrated with pure hands the fitting oblation of the Lord’s body, and so, at the conclusion of the morning offices, attaining alone to the converse of angels. Then the whole day was spent undaunted and untired, in teaching, praying, on his knees, caring for the brethren, and for orphans and children, and widows, and everyone in need, for the weak and the sick, for travellers and in feeding many. The rest of this stern way of life would be profitable to imitate, but the shortness of this account forbids our entering upon it, but in every way his life was ordered in imitation of the monks of Egypt.'


St David's Cathedral, Wales


Friday, February 19, 2021

STATIONS OF THE CROSS



Here are links to a traditional way of praying the Stations of the Cross. The Scripture readings given at each station make it suitable for using alone as a private devotion, or in church with a group.


The first pdf HERE is suitable for use on an iPad or similar device.


The second pdf HERE is for printing on A4 paper double-sided, then folding and stapling to make up a booklet




A SIGNIFICANT PILGRIMAGE


Over the last few weeks I’ve had conversations with a range of people who have not grown up in any organised faith community, but are clearly on a spiritual quest. For some it has been one result of the pandemic and the questions it has provoked about meaning, transcendence, connectedness, community and love. Then I came across the story of well-known British writer Paul Kingsnorth on ‘Honey and Hemlock’, the blog of John Sanidopoulos. Kingsnorth says that his ‘increasing determined search for Truth’ led him to embrace Christian Orthodoxy. Last month he was baptised in the Romanian Orthodox Church. Sanidopoulos writes:


A few weeks ago I was sent a link to the OAQ page on author Paul Kingsnorth’s website, where he writes the following:


'I have never been a scientific materialist. My suspicion that there is more to the world than modernity will allow for has informed my sensibility since I was a child, and was the backdrop to all my environmental activism and writing.


'Over the last decade, I have been on an increasing determined search for Truth which – as for so many lost Western people – has taken me to all quarters. For five years I studied and practiced Zen Buddhism; I’m still grateful for the insights that accorded me, but there was something missing. In search of what that something might be, I explored Daoism, mythology, Sufism, traditionalism, Alexandrian Wicca and all sorts of other bits and pieces. They all taught me something, but not enough.


'Then, in 2020, as the world was turned upside down, so was I. Unexpectedly, and initially against my will, I found myself being pulled determinedly towards Christianity. It’s a long story, which I might tell one day. Suffice it to say that I started the year as an eclectic ecopagan with a long-held, unformed ache in my heart, and ended it a practicing Christian, the ache gone and replaced by the thing that, all along, I turned out to have been looking for. In January 2021 I was baptised and received into the Eastern Orthodox Church. I don’t know where the path leads from here, but at last I know how to walk it.'


Here is a little bit more about Kingsnorth’s baptism from the website of the Romanian Orthodox Church:


‘I first discovered Christian Orthodoxy four years ago when I walked into a small church in Bucharest. That powerful experience stayed with me, but I could not have known that it would lead me on a journey that would lead to me becoming a member of the Romanian church,’ Paul Kingsnorth told Basilica.ro.


He was baptized on the feast of Theophany on January 6th by his spiritual advisor, Father Tudor Ghiţă, the parish priest of the Romanian community in Galway.


‘I felt both joyful and peaceful afterwards… and cold! But a stronger sense that I had arrived somewhere I was meant to be. My receipt into the church has been a great privilege, and the [Romanian] community here in Ireland has been so welcoming to me and my family,’ confessed the writer.


Father Tudor Ghiţă said he never tried to convert the writer. They met at the Romanian Orthodox Monastery of Shannonbridge, Ireland, and had some long talks.


‘He was determined to enter Orthodoxy, but I advised him to moderate his enthusiasm and not to expect to see angels flying through the church,’ said the Romanian parish priest of Galway. He wanted to make the writer understand that being a Christian is permanent work and the joy you feel is supposed to be one of a spiritual nature.


‘He is an obedient spiritual son,’ Father Tudor Ghiţă added. ‘He observes the fasting days, reads the recommended prayers and makes full prostrations.’



MORE ABOUT PAUL KINGSNORTH 

He is 49 and has lived for several years in the rural parts of Galway, Ireland. He runs a family farm which he works by using traditional methods, such as cutting hay with a scythe, just like Romanian peasants did formerly.


He wrote visionary fiction books and essays on the environment. Between 2009 and 2017, he established an environmental activism project entitled Dark Mountain. But he says he has never been a Marxist materialist, like many other members of this movement.


'I have never been a scientific materialist. My suspicion that there is more to the world than modernity will allow for has informed my sensibility since I was a child, and was the backdrop to all my environmental activism and writing,' he wrote.


Conservative writer Rod Dreher describes him as ‘one of the most talented and visionary writers of our time.’


Journalist Aris Roussinos calls him a ‘profoundly religious’ author and ‘England’s greatest living writer.’


Go HERE to the website of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Galway


'As a Western newcomer to Orthodoxy, I have a lifetime’s learning journey ahead of me, but I already feel like I have arrived home.'



Thursday, February 18, 2021

A reading from S. Clement for Ash Wednesday


Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and I had prepared a homily based on the Mass readings, stressing that the individual and communal dimensions of our Lenten penitence go together. But throughout the day I put my homily aside and decided to read instead the following passage from S. Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians, from the day’s Office of Readings. Here it is: 

 

Let us fix our attention on the blood of Christ and recognize how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.

 

If we review the various ages of history, we will see that in every generation the Lord has offered the opportunity of repentance to any who were willing to turn to him. When Noah preached God’s message of repentance, all who listened to him were saved. Jonah told the Ninevites they were going to be destroyed, but when they repented, their prayers gained God’s forgiveness for their sins, and they were saved, even though they were not of God’s people.

 

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the ministers of God’s grace have spoken of repentance; indeed, the Master of the whole universe himself spoke of repentance with an oath: As I live, says the Lord, I do not wish the death of the sinner but his repentance. 


He added this evidence of his goodness: House of Israel, repent of your wickedness. Tell the sons of my people: If their sins should reach from earth to heaven, if they are brighter than scarlet and blacker than sackcloth, you need only turn to me with your whole heart and say, “Father,” and I will listen to you as a holy people.

 

In other words, God wanted all his beloved ones to have the opportunity to repent and he confirmed this desire by his own almighty will. That is why we should obey his sovereign and glorious will and prayerfully entreat his mercy and kindness. We should be suppliant before him and turn to his compassion, rejecting empty works and quarrelling and jealousy which only lead to death.

 

Brothers, we should be humble in mind, putting aside all arrogance, pride and foolish anger. Rather, we should act in accordance with the Scriptures, as the Holy Spirit says: The wise man must not glory in his wisdom nor the strong man in his strength nor the rich man in his riches. Rather, let him who glories glory in the Lord by seeking him and doing what is right and just. 


Recall especially what the Lord Jesus said when he taught gentleness and forbearance. Be merciful, he said, so that you may have mercy shown to you. Forgive, so that you may be forgiven. As you treat others, so you will be treated. As you give, so you will receive. As you judge, so you will be judged. As you are kind to others, so you will be treated kindly. The measure of your giving will be the measure of your receiving. 


Let these commandments and precepts strengthen us to live in humble obedience to his sacred words. As Scripture asks: Whom shall I look upon with favour except the humble, peaceful man who trembles at my words?

 

Sharing then in the heritage of so many vast and glorious achievements, let us hasten toward the goal of peace, set before us from the beginning. Let us keep our eyes firmly fixed on the Father and Creator of the whole universe, and hold fast to his splendid and transcendent gifts of peace and all his blessings.


* * * * * * * * * * *

Clement was the third successor of S. Peter as Bishop of Rome from 88 to c.99 A.D., when he was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea.

 

The majority of scholars date his letter to the Corinthians in the last decade of the first century, although there are others who argue for an earlier date, even in the late 60s or early 70s. Writing on behalf of the Roman church, Clement responds to ongoing problems in the Corinthian church. The letter challenges those in the wrong to repent and change their ways. It is firm, but very pastoral in tone, referring to apostolic teaching and ministry, grounded in many Scripture passages.


Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians was so respected in the early Church, that in some regions it was read at Mass interchangeably with  the writings of the Apostles. That’s not surprising when the words of S. Irenaeus of Lyons (c.130–c.202 A.D.) are taken into account: ‘[Clement], as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes.’




Wednesday, February 17, 2021

LENT 2021


Catholic Christians take seriously the season of Lent, as we prepare to share the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings, and then experience afresh the great joy of his resurrection. 

From one point of view Lent is our annual spiritual ‘check-up.’ Remembering the capacity we have for self-deception, the discipline of Lent is meant to help us face realistically our shortcomings and sins, and concentrate on getting right with God. Sometimes that can be hard work!

Lent 2021 is likely to be a real challenge for each one of us - perhaps even the most difficult Lent some of us have known, on account of the emotional, spiritual and even physical exhaustion of the pandemic and its lockdowns. I know I’m not alone in thinking that the trudge of the last eleven months has seemed at times like one long drawn-out wearisome Lent.

‘Why do we need more?’, I hear some of you ask!

That would be a reasonable question, except for one thing - a dimension that we so easily forget - that the Church regards Lent as a special healing time in her year. Like the father in the story Jesus told about the 'prodigal son', the main thing we know about God is his love for us. He wants us to return to him. He want to pour his healing love and blessing upon us. So, penitence is not all there is! If we allow him to do so, Lent is also when God binds up our wounded hearts and his love becomes real to us again.

Of course, there is the personal and individual dimension to this, as the Gospel for Ash Wednesday points out. But the other aspect of Lent - as seen in the Old Testament reading from Joel - is our penitence and openness to the Lord as a community. In other words, real renewal is a matter of our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. This 2 minute video makes the point very well:


The blessing we are using at the end of our Ash Wednesday Mass says it all:

May God the Father, in his mercy,
grant all of you,
like the prodigal son,
the joy of returning home.
Amen.

May Christ, our model of prayer and life,
guide you through this Lent
to true conversion of heart.
Amen.

May the Spirit of wisdom and strength
sustain you in your struggle against evil,
and enable you to celebrate with Christ
the victory of Easter.
Amen.

And may almighty God bless you,
the Father,
the Son,
and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

C.S. Lewis on WHY WE SHOULD READ OLD BOOKS


In 1944 Sister Penelope Lawson, of the Community of S. Mary the Virgin in Wantage, (simply as ‘A Religious of C.S.M.V’) translated and edited S. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. A new edition was published by S. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York, in 1989.] Go HERE for the entire text. The Introduction by C.S. Lewis includes this wonderful section on why we should read old books (The paragraphs have been broken up into smaller ones ‘for the convenience of the modern reader’).

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. 


The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. 


The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.


This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself. 


Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. 


A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. 


If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. 


In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. 


It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. 


Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. 


Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. 


We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. 


None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. 


People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.





Sunday, January 31, 2021

'The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to his temple' - Candlemas


Last year in our reflection for Palm Sunday I shared the story of Egeria, a Spanish nun and educated woman of private means who joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 383 A.D. It is from her diary - Itinerarium Egeriae - that we know many things about the Jerusalem Church of the time, and in particular how it celebrated Holy Week and other liturgical festivals.


JERUSALEM’S CANDLEMAS IN THE 300’s

Egeria based herself in Jerusalem, and travelled around the Holy Land for about three years. Writing of Candlemass (then observed on 14th February, 40 days from Epiphany - 6th January - rather than 40 days from 25th December), and apparently before the ceremony of candles had become part of the feast, Egeria says:


‘On that day, there is a procession into the Anastasis [i.e. the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre], and all assemble there for the liturgy; everything is performed in the prescribed manner with the greatest solemnity, just as on Easter Sunday. All the priests give sermons, and the bishop, too; all preach on the Gospel text describing how on the fortieth day Joseph and Mary took the Lord to the Temple, and how Simeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, saw him, and what words they spoke on seeing the Lord, and of the offerings which his parents brought. After all these ceremonies, the Eucharist is then celebrated, and the dismissal given.’ 


We know for certain that by the middle of the 400’s the festival was being observed with lighted candles, the custom from which the name ‘Candlemas’ evolved. We also know that in 542 it was transferred to 2nd February so as to be 40 days from the Nativity of the Lord, 25th December (even though Armenian Orthodox and a few others stayed with the old date).


THE POPULARITY OF CANDLEMAS IN ENGLAND 

If we fast-forward to Anglo-Saxon times in England, we see that by then Candlemass had become one of the pivotal celebrations of the year, in the same category as Easter, Whitsunday and All Saints’ Day. The joy of blessing and carrying lit candles in procession, celebrating Christ, ‘a light to enlighten the nations’ is reflected in this passage from Ælfric (c. 955– c.1010), Abbot of Eynsham:


‘Be it known also to everyone that it is appointed in the custom of the church that on this day we should carry our lights to church, and let them be blessed there: and that we should go afterwards with that light among the houses of God, and sing the hymn which is appointed for that. Though some people cannot sing, they can nevertheless bear the light in their hands; for on this day was the true Light, Christ, borne to the temple, who redeemed us from darkness and will bring us to that eternal light, who lives and rules for ever without end.’


In medieval England Candlemass developed further into a festival shared between village, church and home. In fact, nowhere was the Feast celebrated with more gusto and devotion. After the coldest part of winter the light and warmth of candles lifted the spirits of parishioners, and spoke to them of Jesus the light of the world. 


At Candlemas people brought to their parish church, for blessing, all the candles they would use at home throughout the coming year, together with those carried in the procession, and the year’s supply of candles for use in the church. 


The people took their own blessed candles home. They would light them and place them in windows during storms, as they prayed to be kept safe from danger. They would also light and hold them as they stood around the bed of a loved one who was dying, especially while the last Sacraments were being administered. 


Powerful indeed were the links between the mid-winter celebration of the village, the liturgy of the parish church, and the spiritual life of the family.


INCARNATIONAL ENGLISH SPIRITUALITY

In his study of English church life in the later middle ages Middle Ages and the Reformation, ‘The Stripping of the Altars’ (pp. 15-16), Eamon Duffy describes colourful Candlemas processions organized by lay guilds and devotional fraternities, involving the entire Christian community in mid-winter honouring the Light of the World. Duffy’s point is that processing around the village church with lighted candles, singing Psalm 47 and the Nunc Dimittis, all the faithful would participate in and incarnate


‘the Christmas paradoxes of the strength of the eternal God displayed in the fragility of the new-born child, of the appearance of the divine light in the darkness of human sin, of renewal and rebirth in the dead time of the year, and of the new life of Heaven manifested to Simeon’s, and the world’s, old age ... The imaginative power of all this for the laity is readily understood, for the texts of the ceremony are eloquent evocations of the universal symbolism of light, life, and renewal, themes which were carefully expounded in Candlemas sermons.’ 


(It is a sad fact that at the ‘Reformation’, candles for Candlemas, ashes for Ash Wednesday, and palms for Palm Sunday were abolished by law, to be eventually restored to the Church of England along with other ‘sacramentals’ only as a result of the Catholic Revival in the 19th century.)


CANDLEMAS TODAY - AND IN THE PANDEMIC

Forty days after the birth of Jesus, today’s Mass is often regarded as rounding off the Christmas/ Epiphany cycle of the Church’s year. I notice that here in England more people are rediscovering Candlemas, even many who have drifted from the church’s life. Especially this year with all of its gloom, it is not uncommon to find people who have kept their Christmas decorations going until now.

 

In Australia, in the parish where I learned the Faith in my teens, and then later in my own parishes, at the start of Mass we had the blessing of candles, (including the boxes of candles to be used in the church over the next twelve months) and the procession. 


Later, when everyone had received Holy Communion, we would again experience the connection between Christmas, Candlemas, Calvary (‘the three C’s’ as we taught the children!) and Jesus the Light of the world, by singing slowly and quietly to him in the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar, 


       ‘O come, all ye faithful . . . 

        O come, let us adore him, 

  Christ the Lord.’ 


All that’s as it should be, because while the readings and prayers for Candlemas take us back to the birth of Jesus, they also beckon us forward to his suffering and death. 


This morning at Mass - as with so many areas of our life during this pandemic - the traditional Candlemas ceremonies had to be pruned back to avoid multi-handling of objects (i.e. candles!), but in our own way we acknowledged the meaning of the feast, by blessing candles and then blessing the people with those candles.  


INSIGHTS FROM TODAY’S READINGS 

For Jew and Gentile alike: 

The Gospel reading (Luke 2:22-39) tells of Mary and Joseph going to the temple with the baby Jesus, for their ritual purification ‘according to the Law,’ and for Jesus to be consecrated to the Lord. The old man Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, discerns Jesus to be God’s Messiah, ‘the light to enlighten the (gentile) nations and to be the glory of his people Israel’. 


One of the themes in S. Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus came not just to fulfil God’s promises to Israel (although he certainly does that!). He came also to draw in the ‘outsiders’, and there are a lot of them in S. Luke’s Gospel. Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis proclaims this loudly and clearly. Jesus came to give his light to Jew and Gentile alike. 


Another elderly person, Anna, a prophetess, who had worshipped, prayed and fasted every day of her long widowhood in expectation of the ‘redemption of Jerusalem’, saw Jesus and began to tell the crowds in the hustle and bustle of the temple about him.


Today’s first reading from the prophet Malachi (quoted also in the Entrance Antiphon) contains the words: 


‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.’ (Malachi 3:1)


The Church has always seen Mary and Joseph presenting the Lord in the temple, and the encounter with Simeon and Anna, as fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy.


A real encounter 

Eastern Orthodox Christians call today’s feast ‘Hypapante’ (which means ‘the meeting’ or ‘the encounter’), seeing in the juxtaposition of the Child and the old man, the encounter of the fading age of the Old Covenant and that of the New, the era of Jesus and his Church. It is also a meeting of the themes of birth, sacrifice and death, as well as light and darkness.  


The shadow of the Cross cast over Mary 

So, it should not surprise us that in the midst of this joyful festival to hear old Simeon’s enigmatic remark to Our Lady - ‘a sword shall pierce your own soul, too’ -, reminding us of her participation in the suffering of Jesus for our redemption. This was not just as Mary stood at the foot of the cross. It was there in different ways throughout her life, especially as she experienced her ‘alone-ness’ from Jesus as he goes about ‘his Father’s business’. With this word about the sword piercing her soul on account of her Son, Candlemas truly does become a day that looks back to Christmas and forward to Calvary.

 

The only Lamb that really matters 

This is further echoed in a detail of the story in which there is more than a little irony. According to the Law of Moses, the poor, if they couldn’t afford a lamb to offer in sacrifice and thanksgiving, could bring a pair of turtle doves or even pigeons. We are told in the Gospel reading quite explicitly that Mary and Joseph brought ‘turtle doves or pigeons’. We know, however, that they did actually bring a Lamb - the only Lamb that has ever really mattered: Jesus, ‘Mary’s little Lamb’, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. 


LET IT SHINE! 

Today is our feast of candles, with their light and warmth pointing to Jesus, the light of the world.


Normally at Candlemas each of us is given a candle as a reminder that having received the light of Jesus, which at the very beginning of creation pierced the darkness, and which no darkness can overpower, we are to shine in the darkness of our own time that others may find him and be set free to walk in his light. Although today we were not literally given candles, let us nonetheless resolve to live and walk in the light of Christ, and to help others experience that same wonderful light in their lives.



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Divinity of Christ

I keep an eye on just a handful of blogs. One of them I really value is the work of Canon John Twisleton.

Appropriately, for St Hilary’s day, he put on his blog this talk on the divinity of Christ from today’s Eucharist at St Wilfrid, Haywards Heath. It is such an inspiring message for these times.  So, I have decided to share the post with you in its entirety, and encourage you to check Fr Twisleton’s blog from thime to time.


I want to share something about the divinity of Christ picking up on our readings and our saint for today, St Hilary of Poitier who lived in the 4th century. 


In his day there was widespread denial of the divinity of Christ. Bishop Hilary’s contending with great grace against this error is celebrated in the collect or prayer for today: ‘Everlasting God, whose servant Hilary steadfastly confessed your Son Jesus Christ to be both human and divine: grant us his gentle courtesy to bring to all the message of redemption in the incarnate Christ’.


HOW DO PEOPLE SEE JESUS? 


In today’s Gospel from Mark 1:29-39 we heard of Our Lord preaching and healing in Galilee. The healings and miracles are seen as pointers to his divinity. We also heard from the letter to the Hebrews of his humanity, of how ‘he [became] completely like (us) so that he could… atone for human sins…’ (Hebrews 2:17)


How do we see Jesus? The Church sees him as truly God and truly human. Without his divinity the Cross would be emptied of power to save. Without his humanity, Our Lord’s becoming like us, the saving work of his dying and rising would not reach into our lives as it has into the lives of half the world’s population today.


How do people see Jesus? Muslims have their answer - Jesus, Isa, peace be upon him, is the human prophet waiting with Allah to judge the world on the last day. Hindus see Jesus as a god among the many gods they honour. Buddhists honour Jesus as a teacher. The question ‘who do you think Jesus is?’ has many answers but it’s worth encouraging people to ask it and helping them attain the full picture.


‘The name of Jesus is not so much written as ploughed into the history of the world’ wrote philosopher Ralph Emerson.


William Lecky the Irish historian of rationalism wrote: ‘Christ has exerted so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists’


To get a perspective on the universality of Jesus we can follow endless tributes from people far from the Christian fold who cannot begrudge the universal significance of Jesus. Napoleon Bonaparte in Elba, after much study of the life and character of Jesus, wrote ‘From first to last, Jesus is the same; always the same - majestic and simple, infinitely severe and infinitely gentle..... I know men; and I tell you that Jesus is not a man. Everything in Him amazes me… He is truly a being by Himself...great with a greatness that crushes me. I defy you to cite another life like that of Christ’.


In the words of Victor Hugo ‘Pythagoras, Epicurus, Socrates, Plato, these are the torches of the world; Christ is the light of day.’ With the coming of Jesus the world has experienced something unique that twenty centuries have yet to plumb the depths of.


‘It would take a Jesus to forge a Jesus’ as someone put it, reflecting that in measuring this Man we find ourselves lost for a standard in human terms.


The atheist Rousseau admitted that ‘It would have been a greater miracle to invent such a life as Christ’s than to be it’.


‘Christ is not valued at all unless he is valued above all’ wrote St. Augustine of Hippo echoing his 4th century contemporary, today’s Saint Hilary of Poitiers, who reflecting on the person of Christ wrote: ‘The One who comes from the perfect, is perfect because he has all, he has given all’.


The novelist Dostoyevsky wrote ‘there has never been anyone lovelier, deeper or more sympathetic than Jesus’. The unique warmth, simplicity and humanity of Jesus challenge anyone who picks up a Bible. Is there any figure in history to rival Jesus?  Even the atheist Rousseau said: ‘it would have been a greater miracle to invent such a life as Christ’s than to be it’.


In his book ‘What the Bible teaches’ R.A.Torrey gives this summary: ‘Jesus Christ is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present. He is from all eternity, always the same, in the form of God. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in a bodily way. Jesus is linked to our creation, preservation, the forgiveness of sin, the raising of the dead, judgement and the bestowal of eternal life. Jesus Christ is a person to be worshipped by angels and mortals, even as God the Father is worshipped.’


As we offer the eucharist on this feast of St Hilary we pray for the Holy Spirit to confirm this faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man in us and use us as the collect prayed ‘to bring to all the message of redemption in the incarnate Christ’.


‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ John 3:16


Monday, December 14, 2020

S. John of the Cross: Poet of God's love


 

Today the Church gives thanks to the Lord for Juan de Yepes, known to us as S. John of the Cross, who was born in Spain in 1542. From the beginning of his life he understood the mystery of love and sacrifice. His father, from a wealthy Spanish family, was disowned and disinherited when he married the daughter of a poor weaver. Then, just after John was born his father died. John’s mother, utterly destitute, managed to keep her homeless family together as they wandered in search of work. When he was fourteen, John got a job in a hospital, looking after patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness.

So, it was in the context of poverty and suffering that he sought to know God. 

In 1563 John took the habit of the Carmelite friars in Medina. The following year he was professed and went to the University in Salamanca to study arts and theology. In 1567 he was ordained to the priesthood, and in the same year Teresa of Avila asked him to help her Reform movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer. 

But many Carmelites and their sympathisers felt threatened by the Reform, and on 2nd December 1577 some members of John’s own order kidnapped him. At the Toledo priory he was locked in a cell six feet wide and ten feet long for nine months, with no light except that which filtered through a slit high up in the wall. During those months of darkness, John could have become bitter, vengeful, or filled with despair at the rejection of his ministry. But instead, he remained open to God, knowing that there was not a prison anywhere that could separate him from God’s love. During this time he had many experiences and encounters with the Lord in prayer. He described them in his poetry. He later forgave those who had imprisoned him, saying, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” 

After nine months, in 1578, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the spiritual poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. He went to southern Spain to join the reformed Carmelites, and devoted his life to helping people discover the transformative power of God’s love. 

The best known of his books are: The Ascent of Mount CarmelThe Dark Night of the Soul and A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ. He is regarded as a great spiritual guide in the Catholic tradition, understanding the reality of God's love in the human experience of light as well as darkness. He is also regarded as a significant Spanish poet. 

St John of the Cross died at the age of 49 on 14th December 1591 at Ubeda as he was preparing for assignment to Mexico. He was canonised in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII, and is a Doctor of the Church.

Here are a few of his sayings:

“If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.” (From The Dark Night of the Soul)

“In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” (From Sayings of Light and Love 64)

“It is great wisdom to know how to be silent and to look at neither the remarks, nor the deeds, nor the lives of others.” (From Sayings of Light and Love 110)

“In tribulation immediately draw near to God with confidence, and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction.” (From Sayings of Light and Love 64)


THE LIVING FLAME OF LOVE
O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest centre! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life. 

O lamps of fire!
in whose splendours
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love. 


From THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE
My Beloved is like the mountains.
Like the lonely valleys full of woods
The strange islands
The rivers with their sound
The whisper of the lovely air!

The night, appeased and hushed
About the rising of the dawn
The music stilled
The sounding solitude
The supper that rebuilds my life.
And brings me love.

Our bed of flowers
Surrounded by the lions’ dens
Makes us a purple tent,
Is built of peace.
Our bed is crowned with a thousand shields of gold!

Fast-flying birds
Lions, harts and leaping does*
Mountains, banks and vales
Streams, breezes, heats of day
And terrors watching in the night:

By the sweet lyres and by the siren’s song
I conjure you: let angers end!
And do not touch the wall

But let the bride be safe: let her sleep on!

Go HERE to read the entire poem.