Sunday, May 24, 2020

Archbishop Fulton Sheen preaching for Dr Robert Schuller on The Hour of Power

Born in 1895 in El Paso, Illinois, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was in his day the best-known Catholic in the United States next to the Pope. In the 1950s he was well-known for his appearances on the radio programme The Catholic Hour and the television show Life is Worth Living – for which he won an Emmy.  He was down to earth, had an infectious faith and wanted only to proclaim the Gospel wherever he could. Life is Worth Living made Sheen a household name, a celebrity who was called upon to give lectures, conferences, and retreats for laity, clergy and religious. 

This video is of Archbishop Sheen preaching for protestant pastor Robert Schuller at a gathering televised from the Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, California (which, ironically is now 'Christ Cathedral' of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange). A thoroughly orthodox Catholic, and a friend of evangelicals, Sheen was always meticulously prepared, but in fact spoke without notes using homely anecdotes, illustrations and humour, and his great command of the language, to explain God's truth. He died in 1979. His television programmes are now routinely rebroadcast on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Jeremy Taylor on the Ascension, the Holy Sacrifice, and Jesus our great High Priest

Alleluia! King eternal, 
Thee the Lord of lords we own; 
Alleluia! born of Mary, 
Earth Thy footstool, heav’n thy throne: 
Thou within the veil hast entered, 
Robed in flesh our great High Priest; 
Thou on earth both priest and victim 
In the Eucharistic feast. 
(William C. Dix, 1867) 

Today's celebration of the Lord's being "taken up in the cloud" as our Great High Priest into the heavenly sanctuary (see my post for Ascension Day 2017 HERE) is a thanksgiving for the unity between our High Priest's sacrifice of love, his ongoing intercessory ministry, and the Church's Eucharist. 

This was a major theme of the 17th Century Caroline Divines, many of whom suffered enormously to preserve the Catholic Faith within the Church of England. One of them, Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), was a chaplain to King Charles I. He is still well-known for his devotional books, Holy Living and Holy Dying. Following the martyrdom of the King, Taylor was imprisoned a number of times. Eventually, he was allowed to live quietly in Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. The Catholic life of the Church of England was driven underground during this Commonwealth period, and at great risk to themselves, clergy like Jeremy Taylor exercised their ministry in a clandestine way, protected - and sometimes even hidden - by lay people who dreamt of a restoration of their Church. When the Restoration came, Taylor was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland and became vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin. His teaching on the Eucharist and the priesthood of Jesus draws heavily on the Scriptures, as well as both Eastern and early Latin sources. The following is from his book, The Great Exemplar

"… whatsoever Christ did at the institution, the same he commanded the Church to do, in remembrance and repeated rites; and himself also does the same thing in heaven for us, making perpetual intercession for his church, the body of his redeemed ones, by representing to his Father his death and sacrifice. There he sits, a High Priest continually, and offers still the same one perfect sacrifice; that is, still represents it as having been once finished and consummate, in order to perpetual and never-failing events. 

"And this, also, his ministers do on earth; they offer up the same sacrifice to God, the sacrifice of the cross, by prayers, and a commemorating rite and representment, according to his holy institution. And as all the effects of grace and the titles of glory were purchased for us on the cross, and the actual mysteries of redemption perfected on earth, but are applied to us, and made effectual to single persons and communities of men, by Christ's intercession in heaven . . . 

"As Christ is a priest in heaven for ever, and yet does not sacrifice himself afresh, nor yet without a sacrifice could he be a priest; but, by a daily ministration and intercession, represents his sacrifice to God, and offers himself as sacrificed: so he does upon earth, by the ministry of his servants; he is offered to God, that is, he is, by prayers and the sacrament, represented or 'offered up to God, as sacrificed'; which, in effect, is a celebration of his death, and the applying it to present and future necessities of the church, as we are capable, by a ministry like to his in heaven. It follows, then, that the celebration of this sacrifice be, in its proportion, an instrument of applying the proper sacrifice to all the purposes which it first designed. It is ministerially, and by application, an instrument propitiatory; it is eucharistical, it is an homage, and an act of adoration; and it is impetratory, and obtains for us, and for the whole church, all the benefits of the sacrifice, which is now celebrated and applied; that is, as this rite is the remembrance and ministerial celebration of Christ's sacrifice, so it is destined to do honour to God, to express the homage and duty of his servants, to acknowledge his supreme dominion, to give him thanks and worship, to beg pardon, blessings, and supply of all our needs." 

The picture below is the work of Thomas Noyes-Lewis  (1862-1946) who for many years was a worshipper at my parish church - All Saints' Benhilton in the south of London - and, indeed, a server at the altar. He was a professional artist, an illustrator of prayer books and children's books. His passion was to help people catch a glimpse of what is really happening in the Mass when as we gather at our earthly altars we are swept into the heavenly worship with Jesus, our great High Priest and sacrificial Victim, risen, ascended and glorified.   

And here is the hymn, expressing these great truths, that we would have sung during the distribution of Holy Communion had we been able to gather for our Sung Mass today:

Once, only once, and once for all 
His precious life he gave; 
Before the cross in faith we fall, 
And own it strong to save. 

‘One offering, single and complete,’ 
With lips and hearts we say; 
But what he never can repeat 
He shows forth day by day. 

For as the priest of Aaron’s line 
Within the holiest stood, 
And sprinkled all the mercy-shrine 
With sacrificial Blood. 

So he, who once atonement wrought, 
Our Priest of endless power, 
Presents himself for those he bought 
In that dark noontide hour. 

His manhood pleads where now it lives 
On heaven’s eternal throne, 
And where in mystic rite he gives 
Its presence to his own. 

And so we show thy death, O Lord, 
Till thou again appear, 
And feel, when we approach thy board, 
We have an altar here.
(William Bright, 1866)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Praying in the Holy Spirit - more from Gonville ffrench-Beytagh

It is good for us to remember that a Christian is someone who allows himself or herself to be drawn into the prayer of Jesus to the Father by the Holy Spirit. S. Paul refers to this when he tells us not to worry when we don’t know what to say in our prayers:  

‘. . . 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. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit . . .’  (Romans 8:28)

According to S. Paul, prayer is the work of God within us. Jesus said something similar when he was teaching in the Temple. According to John’s Gospel, 

‘On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’" Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive . . . ‘ (John 7:37-39) 

Something of the adventure of the Christian life seen from this angle is captured by Gonville Ffrench-Beytagh in his little book A Glimpse of Glory. Here is what he wrote about the Holy Spirit and prayer:

'The Holy Spirit is pouring, cascading forth, in tumultuous torrents of love pouring out into the Son, pouring himself in torrents of love. And the Son himself is joyously, gloriously, pouring back his love into the Father. In this great procession of love pouring forth love, it is the Holy Spirit who is poured forth; it is he who is cascading forth in this glorious love affair. And that love is so unlimited, so limitless, that it spills over.

'The Holy Spirit spills over. This is not because God can’t contain himself, but because he is so longing to share his life of love and joy and glory, that he has made us as containers. That is what CAPAX DEI means - capable of containing God. Our glory and our purpose is to be filled with the reality which is God. We are designed to be filled with the love of God. We are like the great tankers, filled with petrol or milk, that go trundling along the road, marked ‘Capacity 20,000 gallons’. But you and I go about with a couple of gallons sloshing around in the bottom instead of being filled with the fullness of God. Yet that is what he made us for. That is the purpose of our existence - to be filled with God. If we think of prayer being for that, then we are expanding ourselves to receive a share of what is poured out and spilling over of the tremendous infinite power of the love of God.

' . . . I once spent four astonished days at the Victoria Falls in Africa. I was being pounded into the ground by their deafening roar and the magnificent sight of the millions and millions of gallons every moment pouring out, cascading, thundering down into the gorge below. It seemed as if the Congo and the Zambezi had drained all the water out of Africa and there it was. For me this made a picture of the ceaseless activity within the being of God himself. It was like the cascades of infinite divine love interflowing within the Godhead between the Father and the Son. God the Father is begetting love; God the Son is begotten love; God the Holy Spirit is the ceaseless flow of love between the Father and the Son. The Spirit binds them together in the gorgeous, ceaseless torrent of love.

'And beside the Victoria Falls is the rain forest. It is a weird place where you can put on a sou’ wester, hat, oilskins, gumboots, and walk into the forest and you’re just soaked to the skin. Water gets through everything. The heavy mist comes from the spray that rises up from the great canyon into which the torrent flows. It penetrates everything and seems wetter than ordinary water. As the mist from the cascade will drench us and soak into us if we put ourselves there in the forest, so, if we put ourselves close to the Lord God, his love that overspills and overflows will soak us in the Spirit. We long to share his love in as far as it can be shared by human beings. And he has made us for that, he has made us to be CAPAX DEI, to stand, as it were, in the rain forest, to be drenched in the love of God. That is the spiritual life.

'. . . the Falls make a picture of this torrential love of God which never stops. We are caught up into God’s love in the prayer of the Spirit praying within us. And we are caught up with the prayer of all the ages and the prayers of all the saints and of our own forbears. We are in their prayers with the angels and the archangels. It is the one great paean of love, agonizing sometimes, from the great chorus of heaven of which we are a part.'

A preacher of the Holy Name - S. Bernardine of Siena


Today we celebrate the work of God’s grace in Bernardino degli Albizzeschi, born near Siena in Tuscany, Italy, in 1380. Even in childhood he helped care for the sick during a time of pestilence in Siena. Then, in 1402, when he himself was severely ill, he joined the Franciscan Order and was assigned the task of an evangelist. His superiors told him that he had to preach, and although he suffered a severe throat affliction, he submitted. The Lord heard his cry for help, and he was miraculously healed.

From then on, Bernardine travelled the length and breadth of Italy preaching the Gospel and extolling the Name of Jesus. So powerful was his preaching that Pope Pius II called him ‘a second Paul.’ The thousands who flocked to hear him packed the piazzas of Italian cities. He explained the Good News of Jesus, often with stories and parables, sometimes with humour, but always in terms that gripped the people’s hearts. His preaching was often followed by outpourings of the Holy Spirit, with collective weeping, miraculous healings, and exorcisms. Bernardine was also noted for his work in bringing warring clans and family groups together in mutual forgiveness. Whenever he preached, as he got into the body of his sermon, he would hold up a placard with the sign of the name of Jesus, ‘IHS,’ written on it, urging the congregation to turn to the one symbolized by those letters. Many of his followers even had ‘IHS’ painted on their houses. He ushered in a period of genuine renewal and revival. 

Bernardine was sometimes criticised by more ‘settled’ interests in the Church, as is sometimes the case even today with those who have the kind of ministry he exercised. But each time he was eventually vindicated. In spite of this criticism, three times the Pope asked him to become a bishop, and he declined on the basis that his calling was evangelistic preaching.

He did, however, come to hold high office in the Franciscan Order. And, far from being a ‘mere’ popular preacher, he not only wrote serious theological works in both Latin and Italian; he founded two theological schools. He also assisted at the Council of Florence.

Bernardine died at Aquila in 1444in the middle of a preaching tour. His tomb there was said to be the site of many miracles. He was canonised within six years of his death.

S. Bernardine, pray for the Church in our time, that many more evangelists may be raised up to proclaim Jesus and the salvation he came to bring.

This is from S. Bernardines writings, translated into English, but originally Sermo 49, De glorioso Nomine Iesu Christi, cap 2: Opera omnia, 4. 505-506

‘The name of Jesus is the glory of preachers, because the shining splendor of that name causes his word to be proclaimed and heard. And how do you think such an immense, sudden and dazzling light of faith came into the world, if not because Jesus was preached? Was it not through the brilliance and sweet savor of this name that God called us into his marvelous light? When we have been enlightened, and in that same light behold the light of heaven, rightly may the apostle Paul say to us: Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.

‘So this name must be proclaimed, that it may shine out and never be suppressed. But it must not be preached by someone with sullied mind or unclean lips, but stored up and poured out from a chosen vessel. That is why our Lord said of Saint Paul: He is a chosen instrument of mine, the vessel of my choice, to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel. In this chosen vessel there was to be a drink more pleasing than earth ever knew, offered to all mankind for a price they could pay, so that they would be drawn to taste of it. Poured into other chosen vessels, it would grow and radiate splendor. For our Lord said: He is to Carry my name.

‘When a fire is lit to clear a field, it burns off all the dry and useless weeds and thorns. When the sun rises and darkness is dispelled, robbers, night-prowlers and burglars hide away. So when Paul’s voice was raised to preach the Gospel to the nations, like a great clap of thunder in the sky, his preaching was a blazing fire carrying all before it. It was the sun rising in full glory. Infidelity was consumed by it, false beliefs fled away, and the truth appeared like a great candle lighting the whole world with its brilliant flame.

‘By word of mouth, by letters, by miracles and by the example of his own life, Saint Paul bore the name of Jesus wherever he went. He praised the name of Jesus at all times, but never more than when bearing witness to his faith. Moreover, the Apostle did indeed carry this name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel as a light to enlighten all nations. And this was his cry wherever he journeyed: The night is passing away, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves honorably as in the day. Paul himself showed forth the burning and shining light set upon a candlestick, everywhere proclaiming Jesus, and him crucified.

‘And so the Church, the bride of Christ strengthened by his testimony, rejoices with the psalmist, singing: 0 God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. The psalmist exhorts her to do this, as he says: Sing to the Lord, and bless his name, proclaim his salvation day after day. And this salvation is Jesus, her Saviour.’

O God, 
who gave the Priest Saint Bernardine of Siena 
a great love for the holy Name of Jesus, 
grant through his merits and prayers, 
that we may ever be set aflame 
with the spirit of your love. 
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.

One of the best hymns Charles Wesley (1707-1788) wrote is ‘Jesus, the Name high over all.’ S. Bernardine would have loved it: 

Jesus! the Name high over all,
In hell or earth or sky;
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.

Jesus! the Name to sinners dear,
The Name to sinners given;
It scatters all their guilty fear,
It turns their hell to heaven.

Jesus! the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan’s head;
Power into strengthless souls it speaks,
And life into the dead.

O that the world might taste and see
The riches of his grace!
The arms of love that compass me
Would all the world embrace.

His only righteousness I show,
His saving grace proclaim;
’Tis all my business here below
To cry 'Behold the Lamb!'

Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp his Name,
Preach him to all and cry in death,
'Behold, behold the Lamb!'

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

He “filled all England with light.”

In order to grasp the significance of S. Dunstan, we have to remember how, beginning with the merciless sacking of Lindisfarne in 793, the Danish invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries resulted, not only in the widespread destruction of monasteries and churches, but also the violent massacre of many clergy. The civilisation that had developed in Britain perished.

Raids for the purpose of plunder and robbery eventually gave way to the seizing of land for settlement. But the impact of the invasions, together with the other crises being experienced in Europe meant that during the last two centuries of the first millennium, many thought in apocalyptic terms that the end of the world was near.

In 878 Alfred (849-899), King of Wessex, gathered his remaining few warriors in the marshes at Eddington, and, to everyone’s surprise, conquered the Danes, becoming King of all England. He was educated and devout, dedicating himself to the restoration of peace, the revival of learning, true holiness and the renewal of the Church. So Alfred founded schools, and personally translated many books (including Bede’s History) from Latin into the English of the day. He also began the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in English. At a time when there were almost no local vocations to the religious life, he founded monasteries and filled them with men and women from the Continent. The provision of bishops for the vacant sees and the creation of new ones was accomplished just after his death.

Building on this foundation, three significant leaders in the reigns of King Athelstan (c. 894-939) and King Edgar (c. 943-975) led a turn-around in the 10th century. They were Dunstan (909-988), Ethelwold (908-984), and Oswald (d. 992).

Dunstan received his schooling at Glastonbury, and as a youth belonged to King Athelstan’s court, which was itself a rich source of education, for there were many contacts with the Continent, Wales and Scotland. Dunstan became a monk of Glastonbury, and then Abbot of Glastonbury (940-957), Bishop of Worcester (957-960), Bishop of London (958-960), and finally Archbishop of Canterbury (960-978). He established many of the great monasteries of England, ensuring high standards of religious devotion and obedience. He inspired spiritual renewal and a higher level of education among the clergy generally; he promoted celibacy as the norm for the clerical life. He also brought artists from the Continent to beautify England’s churches, and he introduced great music to the people. Above all he is remembered as an educated, saintly man who established a standard – even an “ethos” – of worship which was to dominate the life of the English Church for centuries. When he died, it was said of him that he had “filled all England with light.” As well as his attendance at Mass and the Divine Office, Dunstan’s last ten years in retirement at Canterbury saw him spending long hours, day and night, in prayer.

Dunstan was a scholar, a holy priest, a mystic and a practical man. Angels are reported to have sung to him heavenly canticles. He improved the spiritual and temporal well-being of his people; he built and restored churches, established schools, judged suits, defended widows and orphans, promoted peace, and enforced respect for purity. He practised his crafts, made bells and organs and corrected the books in the cathedral library. He encouraged and protected European scholars who came to England, and was active as a teacher of boys in the cathedral school. 

On the vigil of Ascension Day 988, it is recorded that a vision of angels warned Dunstan he would die in three days. On the feast day itself, Dunstan said Mass and preached three times to the people: at the Gospel, after the Agnus Dei, and at the blessing. In his final address, he announced his impending death and wished the people well. That afternoon he chose the spot for his tomb and went to bed. His strength failed rapidly, and on Saturday morning, 19 May, he assembled the clergy. Mass was celebrated in his presence, then he received the Sacrament of Anointing and Holy Communion, and died. His final words are reported to have been, “He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He hath given food to them that fear him.”

The collect from today's Mass:
O God, source of all gifts,
who raised up the Bishop Saint Dunstan
to be a true shepherd of the flock,
a restorer of monastic life
and a trusted counsellor of kings;
grant at his intercession, we pray,
an abundance of your Spirit to all pastors,
that with wisdom and truth
they may offer worthy service to Christ
and to his people.
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. 

Love and vulnerability - Fr Gonville ffrench-Beytagh & C.S. Lewis

Yesterday I shared some of the insights of Fr Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991). Here he reflects on the Lord's commandment to love one another. This is from Encountering Light, William Collins & Sons Co Ltd, Glasgow, 1975, pages 66-67:

Jesus told us that the distinguishing mark of his disciples is their love for each other, and this is not the ordinary 'loving our neighbours as ourselves' which is required of all men, but 'the fellowship of the Holy Spirit', Koinonia, a belonging together at the depth of ourselves. So we have to be a communion of saints, bound together, belonging together, needing, trusting, accepting each other.

I do not believe that any of us, whether minister, priest or layman, can find God without also finding a 'company of the beloved' with whom he can in some way share his search. 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name,' said Jesus, 'there am I in the midst.'

This is another paradox. I have already emphasized the utter necessity for every Christian to make time to be alone with God, and I have expressed my own belief in the sacrifice of the Mass as the focal point of Christian life. But it is too easy to get bogged down in generalities and pious resolutions. We have to make actual the trust and forgiveness and love which we learn and express in private prayer and public worship by actually practicing these things with our 'even Christians', as Julian of Norwich calls them.

This is the real test of love - to let others experience you as you really are, and trust that they will accept you as God accepts you, and then in turn to seek truly to accept them as they are, dull, ugly, boring, stupid, and selfish though they may be, and, indeed, as you may be. The work of Jesus is to make men whole, and the work of the Holy Spirit is to make men into a whole, to bring us closer and closer together until we find our unity with each other in him. These two kinds of healing go together, and it just is not possible to be whole and isolated at the same time. Even the Greeks were aware of this, thousands of years ago. Their word for a private person, someone who is cut off from the rest, was 'idios', from which we get the word 'idiot' - someone who is so mentally handicapped that he lives in a world of his own. 

C.S. Lewis expresses the same truth fairly starkly (some might say brutally!) in Four Loves, William Collins & Sons Co Ltd, Glasgow, 1960, page 169:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

Monday, May 18, 2020

We are so greatly loved - Fr Gonville ffrench-Beytagh

St Vedast Foster Lane, London (just near St Paul's Cathedral), as seen from Paternoster Row

If anybody's life demonstrates the power of the Lord's resurrection in the ebb and flow of our faltering discipleship, it is Father Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991), the anti-apartheid Dean of Johannesburg, who endured a forty day trial and imprisonment.

On his release he came to England where he lived the rest of his life 'in exile', as he saw it. He became well-known for his ministry of spiritual direction which he carried out from St Vedast's Church near St Paul's Cathedral, London. He published numerous books, including Encountering Darkness, an account of his imprisonment, Facing DepressionEncountering LightTree of Glory, and A Glimpse of Glory.

Go HERE to Canon Patrick Comerford's blog for the story of Father ffrench-Beytagh's life.  

Here are some extracts from Fr ffrench-Beytagh's teaching:

"What distinguishes a Christian from anybody else is not that he goes to church, or that he is good, or that he has been baptised, but that he knows that he, John Smith, is loved and valued at a depth beyond any human imagining and that he desires to respond to that love. He may feel almost filled with hate and lust and envy, but he knows he is loved - the whole of him, not just the 'good' bits - and so he can begin to open himself to God and his fellowmen and allow the power of divine love to flood through him."
From Encountering Light

"Think of yourself for a moment. There is no one on this earth who is like you. This may be just as well, but it is true. You may have an identical twin who was removed at birth for all you know, but there is not, and cannot ever have been, nor will there ever be, a person who is exactly like you. Even if someone has exactly the same genes and chromosomes, the environment in which he (or she) grew up will have been different and so he will have become a different person. It is not possible for someone else to have the same loves and hates and lusts and fears and anxieties and hopes and desires as you yourself have.

"You are unique, you are yourself and there has never been, or can be, someone who is just like you, or who fills your place in the world. And if religion is, as it claims to be, a personal relationship with God, your relationship with God will be something unique to yourself and him. You can listen to preachers preaching, you can read about religion — and probably ought to do so because we can learn from each other's experience — but in the last resort your religion and your prayer is something of your own self.

"Finally, at the end of your life, you will stand before the judgement seat by yourself. You are responsible for yourself. Many people have contributed towards your goodness and badness. Many of them may well be blamed and have some responsibility for what is in you, but in the last resort, you are you and no one can take your place."
From Encountering Light

"Consider this world in the present day - the fear, the starvation, the many kinds of distress and our terrifying weakness. Some of the trouble exists because Christians are too damned lazy to pray - I mean that literally. Jesus loves the whole world and our concern should reach out towards the evil and horror of the whole world."
From A Glimpse of Glory

“Behind the horror of the cross shines the tremendous, transcendent beauty of the God who is present even in the horror.” 
From Tree of Glory 

"[The Church must face things like apartheid] if our faith is to have any reality in world aftairs, and is not itself to be a kind of apartheid . . . a shutting off from the real issues of the twentieth century in a cosy game of liturgical reform where the crucifixion is forgotten and love involves no cost and no sacrifice." 
Quoted by William Barclay in 'The Expository Times'

“The pattern of prayer is a looking towards God, a listening for him, a leaning towards him, and a longing for him, until there comes the experience of love.”
From A Glimpse of Glory

Monday, May 11, 2020

Spiritual warfare

During times of personal struggle, church difficulties, or global conflict, it is all too easy for us to abandon basic Christian insights when trying to understand what is happening. The same goes when we are attempting to discern the response we should make. In our time many first world churches of a very wide range of traditions seem hell-bent on accommodating themselves to current secular world views on key issues, rather than gently and lovingly, but firmly, adhering to what God has revealed.  

It seems to me that one of the key passages of Scripture for us to constantly revisit in our day is Ephesians 6:10-13, in which S. Paul reminds us of the struggle with evil that is part and parcel of being a Christian:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 

Commenting on this passage, the great evangelical Archbshop Marcus Loane (at whose hands I was confirmed 55 years ago when he was an Assistant Bishop in Sydney) wrote, 

There is a marked pause at the end of the long and salutary passage on home relationships; then Paul called on his scribe once more and the Letter was brought to a close with a call to arms. He knew that, just like the ancient Spartans, we were born for battle: therefore we must learn to ‘endure hardness’ as good soldiers of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3 Authorised Version). We have to live on ground where we will be under attack; it is like a camp in hostile country which must be held until the Captain returns in triumph. Attacks are launched against it by unseen adversaries, for the devil is in command of a vast host. He is always a most aggressive enemy, and that host is skilfully organised for war without quarter. No true soldier of Christ will be immune from its assaults, nor can he be neutral in that conflict. The battle field is overhung with clouds, and he will be forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat. But each member of that beleagured [sic] garrison can stand fast and prevail, because there are sources of strength available in Christ which can make them invincible.  Marcus L. Loane, Grace and the Gentiles (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 110.

Now, I know that some of our liberal friends smile condescendingly at that kind of teaching, but no less a teacher than Dr Eric Mascall reminded us in his Boyle Lectures that 

. . . it is part of traditional Christian belief that, behind and beyond the physical universe, there is a realm of purely spiritual beings, in whose affairs we have become implicated. I need hardly recall you to the tremendous and superb imagery in which the last book in the Bible . . . depicts the warfare in the unseen world between the angels of light and the powers of darkness. E.M. Mascall The Christian Universe (Darton, Longman & Todd, London 1966), p. 110

Scripture, tradition and Christian experience combine in assuring us that the struggle against evil with which Christians on earth are concerned can be seen in its true proportions only against the background of a vaster and more mysterious conflict in the unseen world in which they, too are caught up. When we are faced with the claim that Christians in a secular age ought to live as completely secularised men we can only reply that such a programme does no justice either to the true nature of this world or of existence as a whole . . . It ignores also the resources which we have at our command. (ibid. p. 129)

May the Lord open the eyes of all Christian people, not just to the cosmic struggle in which we have become involved, but also, as Mascall says, to the resources God has given us with which to overcome.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 
I will say to the Lord, 
“My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler 
and from the deadly pestilence. 
He will cover you with his pinions, 
and under his wings you will find refuge; 
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 
You will not fear the terror of the night, 
nor the arrow that flies by day, 
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, 
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 
A thousand may fall at your side, 
ten thousand at your right hand, 
but it will not come near you. 
You will only look with your eyes and see 
the recompense of the wicked. 
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place 
- the Most High, who is my refuge- 
no evil shall be allowed to befall you, 
no plague come near your tent. 
For he will command his angels concerning you 
to guard you in all your ways. 
On their hands they will bear you up, 
lest you strike your foot against a stone. 
You will tread on the lion and the adder; 
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; 
I will protect him, because he knows my name. 
When he calls to me, I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble; 
I will rescue him and honour him. 
With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

- Psalm 91 (ESV)

Friday, May 8, 2020

Mary's Month of May

The procession of Our Lady during the Society of Mary’s May Devotion, 2010, 
at S. Silas, Kentish Town and Holy Trinity, Kentish Town, London
(Photo from the Society of Mary Website)

In Australia, where May is not spring but autumn, our experience of “Mary’s month” is in conflict with the season, and some of the folkish hymns we like to sing in “Mary’s month” always seem a bit incongruous with what is happening around us. (A bit like singing “In the bleak mid-winter . . . snow had fallen, snow on snow” as the Communion Hymn at Christmas Midnight Mass in a heatwave with perspiration running into our eyes and down our backs and legs!) In England, of course, with all the blossoms and flowers of spring, when creation has come gloriously alive after the cold darkness and gloom of winter, as if itself celebrating Eastertide, Mary’s month is very different. The exuberance and joy of the season makes the May devotion to Our Lady a natural part of parish life for Anglo-Catholics. 

And so, one of the great joys of being part of St Luke’s Kingston from 2012 to 2018 was the Annual May Merrie, a wonderful party for the children of the neighbourhood and their families which began in the church with the crowning of Our Lady’s image, and the enthroning of the May Queen [and King . . . an equal opportunity gesture!], and then finished with a procession to the Vicarage Garden where the activities included the children doing old-fashioned maypole dancing. Each year, during the service in church, the children’s choir, under the direction of parish organist Mr Chris O’Neill, would melt my heart as they sang in praise of Our Blessed Lady:     

Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Ah, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue

Sing gaily in chorus;
the bright angels o’er us
re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
their harps are repeating
the notes of our greeting,
for Mary herself is the cause of our mirth

Here are two May processions at Walsingham, 
the little Norfolk village known as ‘England’s Nazareth’. 
This year, of course, there are no such pilgrimages -
‘social distancing’ simply wouldn’t work! 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Gospel According to Mark read by David Suchet

Mark is widely thought to be the earliest of the Gospels, the one written closest to Jesus’ lifetime. It is short, urgent, passionate and dramatic and reads a little like a front-line despatch from Christ’s life and death. Often we hear the Gospels in short sections, but it can be a revelation to read – or hear – the whole of the story at once.

On 30th March, 2017, just before Holy Week, the Gospel of Mark in its entirety was read by one of the great actors of our times in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. David Suchet has worked for the RSC, in the West End and on Broadway, and his most famous role is Hercule Poirot in the long-running television series. In 2011 he was awarded a CBE for services to drama, and in 2014 was given a lifetime achievement award by the Royal Television Society for his performance as Poirot. Raised without religion, he was converted by reading Romans 8 in a hotel Bible.

A practicing Anglican, he has made highly successful BBC documentary series following in the footsteps of St Paul and St Peter, is Vice-President of the Bible Society and his best-selling audio book of the Bible, released in 2014 by Hodder, fulfilled a 27 year ambition.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

'In the Psalter you learn about yourself' (S. Athanasius)

'In the Psalter you learn about yourself. 
You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, 
all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.'

Today the Church honours S. Athanasius, one of our most influential early theologians. Of course, he is best remembered for his relentless championing of the real divinity of Christ in opposition to Arius who taught that Christ was a created being. Athanasius stood against Arius, and at great personal cost defended the Faith which he explains in On the IncarnationArianism was extremely popular throughout the Church of his day, and as a result, S. Athanasius was severely persecuted. He was exiled five times!  He attended the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), and died as Patriarch of Alexandria in A.D. 373. 

A very popular English translations of S. Athanasius' On the Incarnation is that of 'A Religious of C.S.M.V.', with an introduction by C.S. Lewis. [New York: The Macmillan Company, 1946. Reprinted: Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1989.] It contains this letter from Athanasius to Marcellinus - probably a monk, perhaps a deacon in Alexandria -  on the value of praying the Psalms (pp. 97, 103, 105, 107-109, 114, 116):

My Dear Marcellinus,

I once talked with a certain studious old man, who had bestowed much labour on the Psalter, and discoursed to me about it with great persuasiveness and charm, expressing himself clearly too, and holding a copy of it in his hand the while he spoke. So I am going to write down for you the things he said.

Son, all the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction, as the apostle says; but to those who really study it the Psalter yields especial treasure. Within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed and, seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given.  

In the Psalter you learn about yourself.  You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill. Prohibitions of evildoing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and refrain from sin.

But the marvel with the Psalter is that . . . the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, written for his special benefit . . . 

But the marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Saviour and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up.

It is possible for us, therefore to find in the Psalter not only the reflection of our own soul’s state, together with precept and example for all possible conditions, but also a fit form of words wherewith to please the Lord on each of life’s occasions, words both of repentance and of thankfulness, so that we fall not into sin; for it is not for our actions only that we must give account before the Judge, but also for our every idle word.

So, then, my son, let whoever reads this book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired. 

When you would give thanks to God at your affliction’s end, sing Psalm 4, Psalm 75 and Psalm 116. When you see the wicked wanting to ensnare you and you wish your prayer to reach God’s ears then wake up early and sing Psalm 5.  

For victory over the enemy and the saving of created things, take not glory to yourself but, knowing that it is the Son of God who has thus brought things to a happy issue, say to Him Psalm 9; and when you see the boundless pride of man, and evil passing great, so that among men (so it seems) no holy thing remains, take refuge with the Lord and say Psalm 12. And if this state of things be long drawn out, be not faint-hearted, as though God had forgotten you, but call upon Him with Psalm 27. 

If you want to know how Moses prayed, you have the 90th Psalm. When you have been delivered from these enemies and oppressors, then sing Psalm 18; and when you marvel at the order of creation and God’s good providence therein and at the holy precepts of the law, Psalm 19 and Psalm 24 will voice your prayer; while Psalm 20 will give you words to comfort and to pray with others in distress.  

When you yourself are fed and guided by the Lord and, seeing it, rejoice, the 23rd Psalm awaits you. Do enemies surround you?  Then lift up your heart to God and say Psalm 25, and you will surely see the sinners put to rout. And when you want the right way of approach to God in thankfulness, with spiritual understanding sing Psalm 29.

So, then, my son, let whoever reads this book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired. In every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

The central truth of the Faith for S. Athanasius is that 'GOD BECAME MAN THAT MAN MIGHT BECOME GOD.' Sometimes it is hard to read the writings of the Fathers, including S. Athanasius, partly because of the difficult and stodgy English into which they have sometimes been translated, and partly because we lack the cultural and historical background that would help us grasp some of the allusions and throw-away lines. 

Here is Athanasius: On the Incarnation (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei) the translation made by Sister Penelope Lawson, mentioned above, originally published in 1944 just with the byline 'Translated and edited by A Religious of C.S.M.V.' 

It contains this Introduction by C.S. Lewis, a characteristically witty piece of apologetic writing

The the entire text is here: