Homily for Sexagesima

The sum of all is that God the Lord of all, out of fervent love for his creation, handed over his own Son to death on the cross. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son for its sake.’ This was not because he could not have saved us in another way, but so that he might thereby the better indicate to us his surpassing love, so that, by the death of his only-begotten Son, he might bring us close to himself. Yes if he had anything more precious he would have given it to us so that our race might thereby be recovered. Because of his great love, he did not want to use compulsion on our freedom, although he would have been able to do so; but instead he chose that we should drawn near to him freely, by our own mind’s love.

St Isaac of Nineveh

Today the church celebrates Sexagesima, in recognition that we are about 60 days from Easter, it’s part of a countdown to Lent, a pre-Lent, which gets us in the mood for a season of fasting and penitence. I suspect that it has over the years raised a smile or a smirk from the first three letters of its name, derived for the Latin word for sixty rather than anything else. Though if you were someone who forms their opinion of the Church through the media you would be forgiven for thinking that it was the only thing that Christians think, talk or argue about. It has become a defining characteristic of how we are viewed by the world around us, and Christians can quite easily begin to believe that it is our sole ethical concern these days.

You may be glad to hear that I have no intention of launching into a diatribe against sexual immorality this evening, as it would be neither useful nor edifying. Instead, as we prepare to celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple this week  It is a feast which sees both Simeon and Anna recognising who and what Christ is, and what he has done and will do, it looks back to Christmas and the wonder of the Incarnation, to the fact that God became human so that humanity might become divine, and looks forward to how this is achieved, once and for all by Christ’s sacrifice of himself upon the Cross. They recognise it and they proclaim it, to anyone who will listen, which reminds us that as Christians we to are to rejoice in these facts and to proclaim them to a world hungry for meaning, which longs for the transcendent, and for an alternative to the gratification of self, and material capitalist culture.

We need to proclaim by word and deed the saving love of God in Christ, through lives lived in ever closer union with him, or to quote the prophet Micah from this evening’s first lesson: ‘and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8) To walk humbly is to know one’s need of God, of his forgiveness, his love, his mercy, and his grace, to ask him to heal our wounds, and forgive our sins. Humility is being close to the ground, from which we were created, not to see ourselves as other than we are, it is to know that we are wretched miserable sinners, whom God loves so much that he was born among us, and he lived and died and rose again for us, not because we are worthy, but so that through Him we might become so, through the transforming power of God’s love.

January is amongst other things a time for self-improvement, people diet and take up exercise, so when I hear the phrase  ‘your body is a temple’ I begin to shudder, perhaps because I’m overweight and unfit, and such phrases sound like the self-righteous and judgemental attitudes of fitness-obsessed, vegetarian teetotallers. Yet when Paul is talking to the church in Corinth he is not concerned with such matters, but rather that Christians, who make up the church, are people who have been baptised, so we have received the Holy Spirit, the indelible character of the sacrament of baptism. We are imbued with the virtues of faith, hope, and love, which we live out in the life of faith. We were bought at a price, namely the shedding of Christ’s blood on the Cross, and as the hymn puts it there is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb. It washes our souls clean, so that we can glorify God in our bodies by living lives of Christian virtue.

We will fail in our attempts to do this, but that’s where God’s love and forgiveness come in: it allows us to keep trying. We are never written off, providing that we do not despair of God’s amazing capacity to love, heal, and restore us. The world around us is not so kind, it is judgemental, it pays lip service to freedom, as the freedom to do whatever we please, reducing freedom to a physical rather than a moral power, whereas Christians are called to live in a servitude which is perfect freedom, God loves us and wills us to love him freely, and to live lives which glorify him, so that we can say with the Apostle Paul ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me’ (Gal 2:20)  We do this by walking humbly, by knowing our need of God, and relying upon him, and in his strength, a people forgiven and forgiving, who can truly offer this world an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin, which we proclaim by lives lived in and through Christ, nourished by his word and sacraments, close to him in prayer, so let us do this together so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and to the ages of ages.

The Fourth Sunday of Year C

The sum of all is that God the Lord of all, out of fervent love for his creation, handed over his own Son to death on the cross. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son for its sake.’ This was not because he could not have saved us in another way, but so that he might thereby the better indicate to us his surpassing love, so that, by the death of his only-begotten Son, he might bring us close to himself. Yes if he had anything more precious he would have given it to us so that our race might thereby be recovered. Because of his great love, he did not want to use compulsion on our freedom, although he would have been able to do so; but instead he chose that we should drawn near to him freely, by our own mind’s love.

St Isaac of Nineveh

Love along with forgiveness are at the heart of our faith, and they characterise our relationships both with each other and with God. The revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is the showing of God’s love, from the Annunciation, through the Incarnation, to His Death and Resurrection, there is not a moment which does not speak powerfully of love and forgiveness. Where Christ leads we should follow, he is the author and perfector of our faith. St Paul can speak to the Christians in Corinth of the centrality of love in the life of Christians. It shows how we are to live, to live in love, together. Christ shows us the cost and reality of self-giving love in His Death and Resurrection. This is the love we have to live in our lives: difficult, costly, and wonderful.

As the Church prepares to celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and commonly called Candlemas, it is fair to say that nowadays we are not quite so used to ideas of ritual purity inherent in the Thanksgiving for a Woman after Childbirth, which used to be described as the Churching of Women. It feels strange and alien. The Holy Family go to the Temple to give thanks to God and to comply with the Law: they demonstrate obedience, they listen to what God says and do it – as such they are a model for all Christian families to follow.

When they go to the Temple the Holy Family encounter Simeon, a man of faith and holiness, devoted to God, and looking for the consolation of Israel, he knows that he will not die until he sees the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, and the Saviour of the World. As he takes the child Jesus in his arms he prays ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.’ The promise made to him by, revealed through His Holy Spirit has been fulfilled in the six-week-old infant in his arms. As Christ was made manifest to the Gentiles at Epiphany, so now His saving message is proclaimed, so that the world may know that its salvation has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Simeon speaks to Our Lord’s Mother of her Son’s future, and the pain she will endure. Before he dies Simeon is looking to the Cross, the means by which our salvation is wrought, the Cross at which Mary will stand to see humanity freed from its sin through the love and mercy of God, through grace, the free gift of God in Christ. So as Candlemas concludes our Celebration of Christmas, of the mystery of the Incarnation, so to it points to that which gives it its true meaning: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That is why we are here this morning, to be fed by Christ, to be fed with Christ, truly present in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – God whom we can touch and taste. A God who shares His Divine Life with us, so that we can be transformed by Him, built up as living stones as a temple to His Glory, given a foretaste of Heaven here on Earth. This is our soul’s true food, the bread for the journey of faith, a re-presentation of the sacrifice which sets us free to live for Him, to live with Him, through Him and in Him.

The significance of what is happening is not just recognised by Simeon, but also by Anna, a holy woman, a woman of prayer, a woman who is close to God – she to recognises what God is doing in Christ, and she proclaims it, so that God’s redemption of His people may be known. Let us be like her, and let all of our lives, everything which we say, or think, or do, proclaim the saving truth of God’s love to the world. Let us burn, with that same love in our lives, in all that we say, and think, or do, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Third Sunday of Year C ‘The Joy of the Lord is my Strength’

Every person is a precious mystery. An individual cannot be weighed by public opinion; he cannot be measured by his conditionings; he belongs to no-one but himself, and no creature in all the world can penetrate his mystery except the God who made him. The dignity of every person is beyond our reckoning.

Fulton J. Sheen Lift Up Your Heart

January is a time for many things: finding love, losing it, taking up a regime of exercise, of dieting, for turning away from the excess of Christmas, reacting against the short days, the wet and the cold. So at one level, when we hear in this morning’s Old Testament reading ‘Eat the fat and drink the sweet wine’ we could be quite concerned. But we are also told to ‘send portions to anyone who has nothing ready’ – to feast then in the Kingdom of God involves everyone eating. In a world where we produce more than enough food for all to eat and not go hungry, it is good that there is a campaign to put an end to Global Hunger, as this is what the Kingdom of God looks like in action, faith is not some private matter, but affects who and what we are, what we do, how we live our lives.

In St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians we see what it means to be the Church, the Body of Christ, through our common baptism. We may be different, but we all need one another, unity does not mean uniformity, after all. We are dependent on one another, in the church which is a place of unity in, through and with Christ. Looking back on this two thousand years later we can see the wounds which mar the Body of Christ  in our sin and division and also how they can be healed: in Christ, through Christ, through His saving death upon the Cross.

In the Gospels recently we have seen Our Lord baptised to sanctify the waters of baptism for the salvation of the human race, and as an act of loving obedience to the Father to show the world how to turn away from sin and how to be reconciled with God; we have seen the Kingdom of God come among us in the Wedding at Cana. It is a place of joy, which we cannot understand, just like the steward in the wedding feast  – the best wine has been kept for now, the new wine of the Kingdom, better than we have ever tasted, beyond our expectations and our efforts. We have seen in Our Lady’s word to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you’ that obedience is the key to new life in Christ, that same obedience which His mother recommends and shows, which Jesus Christ shows us, so that we might follow His example.

In this morning’s Gospel we Jesus back on home turf ‘full of the power of the Spirit’ teaching people, showing them the way, and being glorified by them – as they give to God what is due. When he comes to his home town and is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he proclaims ‘good news to the poor’ ‘liberty to captives’ ‘new sight to the blind’ ‘freedom for the oppressed’ and ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’. He, the Word made Flesh is the fulfilment of the Word, of prophesy.

As He will say in the Sermon on the Mount ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God’. The good news of the Gospel is for those who know their need of God, their spiritual poverty. Those who are slaves to sin can find true freedom in Christ; it allows us to see the world with new eyes, where everyone is our brother and sister, where we can be one in Christ.

‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ we, here, today, have heard this among us, we have come to be fed with Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Christ, with Christ, to have new life in Him, and to share that new life with others, a new life and a freedom which the world cannot give. So let us be fed to have new life in him, to live that life and share it with others, for the joy of the Lord is our strength. It is our vocation as Christians to be filled with that joy and to share it with others

As Christians we are to live lives of joy and love in Christ, and through him, rejoicing in our new life in baptism, in the saving sacrifice of the Cross, in the hope of the Empty Tomb, in our unity in the Body of Christ, so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: 1 Peter 2:9-10

Hold me worthy , O Lord, to behold your mercy in my soul before I depart from this world; may I be aware in myself at that hour of your comfort, along with those who have gone forth from this world in good hope. Open my heart, O my God, by your grace and purify me from any association with sin. Tread out in my heart the path of repentance, my God and my Lord, my hope and my boast, my strong refuge, by whom may my eyes be illumined, and may I have understanding of your truth, Lord. Hold me worthy, Lord, to taste the joy of the gift of repentance, by which the soul is separated from co-operating with sin and the will of flesh and blood. Hold me worthy, O Lord, to taste this state, wherein lies the gift of pure prayer. O my Saviour, may I attain to this wondrous transition at which the soul abandons this visible world, and at which new stirrings arise on our entering into the spiritual world and the experience of new perceptions.

St Isaac of Nineveh

The Apostle Peter is writing to a church which is undergoing persecution on account of their faith in Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. While you could argue that this is not happening to us here, now, openly, it does nonetheless happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are called to bear witness to Christ regardless of the cost. If anything the persecution in this country is more to do with apathy, ignorance, and our dismissal from public discourse unless we are in agreement with popular whim or sentiment: such is the tyranny of secularism, which we must, as Christians resist, as we are called to conform the world to the will of God.

We are called to be a holy nation and a chosen race, not in exclusive ethnic terms, like the people of Israel, but rather because we are one in Christ, through our common baptism, having passed through that water greater than the Red Sea, which gives freedom to all the world: we can look beyond the simplistic divisions of the world to something greater, and far more wonderful, and while we are certainly not there yet, we are all nonetheless travelling on a journey towards unity, because it is the will of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and his prayer to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest in John 17.

Our highest allegiance then is not to the powers of this world, for we recognise a higher power, the King of Heaven and Earth, which is Christ. He makes us royal, he gives us entry into that greatest of palaces, that is heaven, through His Precious Blood which was shed to heal us and restore us, there is as the hymn puts it power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb. It is through Christ’s priesthood, a priesthood of the new covenant in His Blood, after the order of Melchisedech, that the church continues a cultic priesthood to offer continually that one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, so that the people of God may be made holy, by being fed with His Body and Blood so that our human nature may be transformed into his divine nature: Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν· ‘He became human so that we might become divine’ Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3.

We are holy, set apart for God’s service and the proclamation of His Kingdom , proclaiming the saving acts of God in Christ, and calling the world to repent, to turn away from the ways of sin and self, and to believe and trust in a God who loves us and saves us. Christ calls us out of the darkness of sin, of the world into the glorious light of His Kingdom. This is the fulfilment of the prophesy of Hosea 1:6 and 1:9 Once we were no people, now we are God’s people (cf. Hosea 1:9 Call his name lo-ammi [not my people] 1:6 Call her name lo-ruhamah [who has not received mercy]) We are God’s people, God claims us for His own, through His Son, who shows us in His life, Death, and Resurrection exactly what mercy is: A God who suffers and dies for love of us, poor sinful humanity, that we might become something better, something greater. God sees that human sinfulness is such a problem that only an outpouring of Divine Love in the sacrifice of His Son can save us.

And having received mercy, love and forgiveness in Christ, we show it in our lives so that ours is a proclamation not only of words but of deeds, so that we play an active part in the reconciliation of the world to God in Christ. Mercy, with joy and peace are the fruit of charity: our love of God and our neighbour, we love because God loved us first, and as we show mercy, we shall receive mercy, we harvest what we sow.

As St Isaac says ‘Do not hate the sinner. Become a proclaimer of God’s grace, seeing that God provides for you even though you are unworthy. Although your debt to him is very great, there is no evidence of him exacting any payment from you, whereas in return for the small ways you do manifest good intention he rewards you abundantly. Do not speak of God as ‘just’, for his justice is not in evidence in his actions towards you. How can you call God just when you read the gospel lesson concerning the hiring of the workmen in the vineyard? How can someone call God just when he comes across the story of the prodigal son who frittered away all his belongings in riotous living — yet merely in response to his contrition his father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave authority over all his possession? In these passages it is not someone else speaking about God; had this been the case, we might have had doubts about God’s goodness. No it is God’s own Son who testifies about him in this way. Where then is this ‘justice’ in God, seeing that, although we were sinners, Christ died for us? If he is so compassionate in this, we have faith that he will not change.’

We show this love first in obedience, like Our Lord’s Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as we heard in this morning’s Gospel in her words to the servants ‘Do whatever he tells you’ If we are obedient, like Mary, then model disciple and mother of the Church, the first and greatest Christian, then we can truly be salt and light to the world, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

The Good News is the announcement of God’s mercy, shown to us in Christ, in Him we see what God is really like, in Him we experience love, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation. Through Him we are healed and restored, we become God’s people, and proclaim God’s Kingdom, so that humanity may come to experience God’s love and mercy, and believe and give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and unto the ages of ages.

The Wedding at Cana – The Second Sunday of Year C

In the marriage act, love is triune: wife gives self to husband and husband to self and out of that mutual self-giving is  born the ecstasy of love. The spirit too must have its ecstasy. What the union of husband and wife is in the order of the flesh, the union of the human and the Risen Christ is in Holy Communion

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests, 1974: 157

The Prophet Isaiah in this morning’s first reading looks forward to a a messianic future, a future which finds its fulfilment in the person of Jesus Christ. He uses the language of a wedding, between a man and a woman to express the joy between God and his people, Israel, and by extension, with the church, a new Israel and the fulfilment of prophesy. Though we live in a highly sexualised culture we can still find this imagery strange, and yet it speaks of deep love and joy: the kind which holds nothing back, the complete union, shown to us above all in the passion and death of Our Saviour Jesus Christ. As husband and wife are united in one flesh, we have come so that we may be fed, be fed by Christ, be fed with Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit God is active in our lives, transforming us, by his grace, so that our human nature may be transformed, into His Divine nature.

If we were to listen to the many voices around us which criticise Christianity, we would think that we were of all people the most pitiable, ours is either a weak death-cult of a failed Jewish magician and wonderworker, or a strange oppressive force which actively works against human flourishing and actualisation.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as our vocation as Christians is JOY. The one whom we worship liked nothing better than to hang around at parties with social undesirables, and was accused of being a drunkard. Most of us have outside our houses one or two wheelie bins, which hold about 30 gallons, or 150 litres, or 200 bottles of wine. Multiply that by 6 and you’re looking at 1,200 bottles of wine, a hundred cases, and this after the wine ran out, what we’re dealing with in the wedding at Cana must have been some party, and it is only a foreshadowing of the joy of the Kingdom, it points to something greater than itself.

Our starting point as Christians is Mary’s advice to the servants: Do whatever He tells you. Our life is rooted in obedience: we listen to God and we obey, for our own good, and the good of the Kingdom, so that we are not conformed to the world and its ways, but rather to the will of God, so that we can truly enter into the joy of the Lord, in humble obedience, fed by Him, and fed with Him, who died for love of us in obedience to the will of the Father.

The world around us struggles somewhat with extravagance, and rightly so: when we see Arabian oil magnates riding around in gold-plated supercars we are right to be concerned, yet in the Gospel we see something strange. The steward had a point: you serve the best wine first, while people are sober and can appreciate it, but the Kingdom of God turns human values on their head – the joyous new wine of the Kingdom is finer than any human wine and is lavished upon undeserving humanity, so that it might transform us, so that we might come to share in the glory of God, and his very nature. Thus, at the Epiphany we celebrate three feasts: Our Lord’s manifestation to the Gentiles, the proclamation of the Messiah to the whole world, his baptism, to show us the way to the Father, a sign of love and obedience, and the Wedding Feast at Cana, as a sign of the superabundance of God’s love, shown to us here today in the Eucharist where we drink the wine of the Kingdom the Blood of Christ so that we may be transformed by the power and the grace of God, so that we may share his Divine life, and encourage others to enter into the joy of the Lord.

The Baptism of Christ

Though time is too precious to waste, it must never be thought that what was lost is irretrievable. Once the Divine is introduced, then comes the opportunity to make up for losses. God is the God of the second chance …. Being ‘born again’ means that all that went before is not held against us.

Fulton J. Sheen Peace of Soul

The Baptism of Our Lord in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, which we celebrate today, can leave us asking a question: if we are baptised to be born again by water and the Spirit, for our sins to be washed away, and to become part of the Body of Christ, the Church, why is Our Lord, who is without sin, being baptised. He does not need to be, but in being baptised shows us that God is not constrained by necessity. Christ does not need to be baptised, as we do, but does so to fulfil all righteousness and to sanctify the waters of baptism for those whom he would redeem., to show us the way to new life in him.

In Christ’s Baptism we see a God who walks with us, who is not a cold, remote figure; but who, for love of us, comes among us, and is one with us, and who shows us the way to his Father. Christ’s Baptism is an act of obedience to God the Father, an act of humility and of healing and restoration – the work of God in Christ, done for our sake, and the sake of all humanity. What began at the Annunciation, and was brought about at the Incarnation, and made manifest to the whole world at the Epiphany, is deepened: the world is invited to share in the saving love of God through baptism.

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus shows humanity the way to the Father, through himself. The world sees the generous love of God, which heals and restores us, from the darkness of the dungeon of sin and evil, to the light and life of the Kingdom of God. As our baptism is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so his baptism points to the Cross, where streams of blood and water flow to cleanse and heal the world. We see the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the obedience of Son, and all for us, who are so weak and foolish, and who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.

We need this, the whole world needs it, but is too proud to turn to a God of love, for fear of judgement, knowing that they deserve to be cut off forever, and yet it is exactly such people, such lost sheep that Our Lord comes to seek, whom he enfolds in his loving arms on the Cross, whom he washes in the waters of baptism, so that all may be a part of him, regardless of whom or what they are, and what they have done. Salvation is the free gift of God and open to all who turn to him.

In our suspicious modern world that gift is spurned and mocked, by those who feel that they can no longer trust the church, or denounce it is as hypocritical, an oppressor of one group or another. To which we can only reply with open doors, open arms, and open hearts – the church may be full of sinners and hypocrites and there’s always room for a few more! God in Christ is nothing if not generous, and so the Church, his body is called to the same generosity of spirit. With the open invitation comes a call to repentance, to a fundamental change of mind, which sees us turn away from sin to God.

Here is where I suspect it gets difficult for humanity, we know that sin is wrong, but we enjoy it, we can soothe our conscience with the fiction that something is not a sin: that it doesn’t hurt or harm us, we can even twist the Gospel to our own ends. But these will not do, because in them we say that we know better than God – the sin of pride, that primal sin which separates humanity from God. This was the problem Christ comes to fix, to heal and restore our nature, through his grace, to feed us with Word and Sacrament that we might share in the life and love of God.

We need to take to heart the words of advice written by St Paul to Titus and the Church in Crete: given that ‘the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11) the Church has to respond to that grace, that free gift of a loving God, by living in a certain way, the Church is there to train us to renounce, to turn our back on ‘ungodliness and worldly passions’ – using our lives and our bodies which fall short of what is expected of us. Notice the word ‘train’: it’s a process, very few people indeed can run a marathon without training; we need help and practice to turn our lives around together, as a community of faith. It takes time, and hard work and love, but it is something which we can do together – people will fail, but can be picked up, and helped to continue, that’s what healing and repentance are all about. It’s about saying ‘we can be better, we can do better together’ if we truly let the love of God into our hearts and turn away from the past and look forward to a future of hope and glory in Christ. So then, let us live out our faith and our baptism together, turning from sin to new life in Christ, and encourage others so to do, so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Fr Stanton on The Miracle of the Christian Faith


If there be not God, there is no miracle. If there be no miracle, there is no God, and this is the miracle of Christ crucified. They say, ‘You teach men the miracle of the Mass.’ We teach the miracle of Christ that He was born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Ghost for us men and our salvation. We teach the miracle that Christ died on Calvary for all men. For whom did Christ die? Christ died for sinners, and that is the miracle of Calvary. We teach the miracle of the Resurrection, that when Christ all shall rise again in His glorious Resurrection. We teach the miracle of the Ascension, that He who went up into Heaven shall so come again as we have seen Him go up. Our whole faith is miracle from the beginning to the end. It is all miracle. It is the miracle of God. And the greatest of all miracles to me is this: that I can say ‘He loved me and died for me.’ You cannot get any greater miracle than that. And so, dear brethren, death is swallowed up in victory, the sadness is swallowed up in the the gladness of God, and the agony in the peace of God, and the misery in the happiness of God. The redemption of Christ is infinite.

Father Stanton’s Last Sermons in S. Alban’s, Holborn, ed E.F. Russell, London, 1916, p. 295

A Thought from Fr Stanton: Never be ashamed of the Blood of Christ

Never you be ashamed of the Blood of Christ. I know it is not the popular religion of the day. They will call it mediævalism, but you know as well as possible that the whole Bible from cover to cover is incarminated, reddened with the Blood of Christ.

Never you be ashamed of the Blood of Christ. You are Blood-bought Christians. It is the song of the redeemed, of the saints, and of all Christians on earth—redeemed by His Blood. You never be ashamed of it. The uniform we Christians wear is scarlet. If you are ashamed of the uniform, for goodness’ sake, man, leave the service. Oh! never be ashamed of Christ! That is the song of the redeemed: ‘To Him be glory and praise for ever, Amen.’

And the second thing is this: Let us all remember that our religion is the religion of a personal Saviour. It is not a system of ethics, it is not a scheme of philosophy, it is not a conclusion of science, but it is personal love to a personal living Saviour—that is our religion! Why, when you can hear the voice of Christ off the altar to-day at Mass, ‘DO this in remembrance of Me.’ ‘You’ and ‘Me.’ He ‘Christ’—“me”—remembrance’—‘Don’t forget Me here at the Altar’ our Lord says to you—‘I will never forget you—don’t you ever forget Me.’ ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ It is a personal religion, by which we can say, ‘He loved me, and gave Himself for me’—‘The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ And then, in all your experiences, however deep they may be, when you enter into the shadow of death, and go through the agony of the dissolution of your body—you can say: ‘He loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ He loved me and washed me from my sins His Blood, to Him be glory and dominion and praise henceforth for ever, Amen.

Father Stanton’s Last Sermons in S. Alban’s, Holborn, ed E.F. Russell, London, 1916, pp. 312-3

Christmas II

We live in a world which is obsessed by time. The pace of modern life is quite different to that of a generation or two ago. Despite the advent of labour-saving devices and technology we seem if anything busier than ever as other things come along to fill our time – we can feel pressured, worried, and anxious. This isn’t good; we can’t help feeling that this isn’t how it is supposed to be. Thankfully God doesn’t work like this. The people of Israel have been waiting for a Messiah, for a Saviour to be born, who will save Israel from their sins, but it isn’t a case of birth on demand. As St Paul writes to the church in Ephesus ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory..’ God’s time is not our time, and the Incarnation happens not at a convenient time, but in the fullness of time – after the message has been proclaimed by the prophets, who prepare the way for the Saviour; after Mary has said ‘yes’ to God, a ‘yes’ which can undo the ‘no’ of Adam and Eve.

This is why, at the start of his Gospel, St John, the beloved disciple, can begin right at the start of salvation history, indeed with Creation itself: his opening words ‘In the beginning’ point us straight back to the opening words of Genesis, in Hebrew Beresith ‘In the beginning’. This is where it all starts, where everything that is starts,  and the Word through which God speaks creation into existence, this creative power of God is what will take human flesh and be born of the Virgin Mary. The enormity of this situation should not be lost on us, we cannot think about it too much, the helpless infant born in a stable is God, who created all that is, or has been, or will be, and who comes among us weak, helpless and vulnerable, dependent upon the love and support of father and mother for everything. Christ shares our human existence from birth to death, so that we may know that ours is a God who comes among us, who comes alongside us, who is not remote, but involved, a God of love.

St John take us back to the beginning so that we can see what we are dealing with, and how it fits into the bigger picture. What we are celebrating at Christmas is something which extends through time, both in its nature and its effects. It is why we as Christians make such a big deal of Christmas – it isn’t just something nice to do in the middle of winter, but along with Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection , the most wonderful and important moment of history, which affects us here and now. What was made known to the shepherds we now proclaim to the world, what symbolically is shown in the Solemn Feast of the Epiphany, which we prepare to celebrate, where the Wise Men point to the manifestation of Christ’s Divinity to the whole world – the recognition of God’s saving love .

‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’ The reality of the Incarnation, of God with us, Emmanuel, that God lives with us, sharing our human life, shows us the glory of God, that from which Moses hid his face in the Exodus is now made plain, and displayed for all to see, a proclamation of the glory, the love, and the goodness of God, shown in our adoption as children of God, given an inheritance – eternal life and a relationship with God – a humanity restored and healed. This is the light which shines in the darkness of our world, which it cannot overcome. John the Baptist testifies to this, the Wise Men kneel in adoration before Him, bringing gold for a King, Incense for the worship of God, and myrrh which points to His Death on the Cross for our salvation. Their gifts show that they understand and value who and what Christ is, and what He does.

Are we to be like the world, which though it was created through Him does not know him? Or like his own people, who did not accept Him? Or do we receive Him, and believe in His Name, which is above every name? Do we accept the invitation to become children of God, and do we respond to it? Do we accept the challenge to live as the family of God, loving and forgiving, as those who are loved and forgiven by God, so that our lives, yours and mine, proclaim the glory and truth of God, and the message of salvation for all the world to hear? If we accept our inheritance, the fact that there is now a familial relationship between us and God, we need to understand that with that relationship comes duty and responsibility.

And yet we do not see this as something imposed upon us, but rather as the truth which sets us free: a relationship with a God whose service is perfect freedom. So let us walk in His light, dwell in His love, and know the fullness of His joy, let us be glad that as a pledge of His love He gives Himself, under the outward forms of bread and wine, to feed us with His Body and His Blood, a sign that His promise is true, that we can have a foretaste of Heaven, food for our journey of faith here on earth, so that we may know his love, and touch it and taste it, so that we can be strengthen to live that faith and to proclaim it by word and deed, so that all the world may enter into His joy, and live His life.

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Those who dislike any devotion to Mary are those who deny His Divinity or who find fault with Our Lord because of what He says.

These words of the Venerable and Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen remind us of an important truth when we consider the Blessed Virgin Mary: she is always pointing to God – it’s all about God and not about Mary. But, I hear you cry, we have come here to celebrate the Solemn Feast of Mary, Mother of God, surely it’s all got to be about her? Well I am sorry to disappoint you, but it isn’t.

People who dislike Marian devotion, because it’s ‘a bit too ‘igh for ‘em’ or ‘it detracts from Jesus’, have got things wrong, and generally they err with how they understand one or all of the three Persons of the Trinity. For the last 1,585 years the Church has referred to Our Lady as the Mother of God, not the Mother of Christ, the Mother of Jesus, or some poor Jewish girl raped by a Roman soldier. The Mother of God, the Theotokos or God-bearer is her title which we celebrate today. The words we use matter. It matters that Mary bears in her womb the Word of God Incarnate, True God and True Man, for our salvation.

We celebrate the wonderful truth that God shows his love for us in being born, in being a vulnerable child who needs a mother’s love and tender care. Mary is obedient and says ‘Yes’ to God – she is the model Christian, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, who as she stands at the foot of the Cross becomes our Mother too.

At the Wedding in Cana she tells the servants ‘Do whatever he tells you’ she urges people to be obedient, to be close to God. She lives a life of faith: treasuring things and ‘pondering them in her heart’ so that we can be adopted children of God, and share in her Son’s gift of new life to the world. We honour her, because she points us to her Son. We rejoice that her obedience brings about the possibility of salvation in her Son. We love her because we love her Son, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ. If we honour him, how can we not honour she who bore him in her womb for our sake? If we believe that He is the Incarnate Word eternally begotten of the Father, and that they are con-substantial and co-eternal, true God and true man in two natures without confusion, change, division or separation, it surely follows that His Mother is the Mother of God. We rejoice that in her, the New Eve, the Ark of the new Covenant, the Tabernacle of the Most High, the possibility of new life in her Son has come about.

So, today, let us pause to ponder the love of God shown to us in Mary, let us be fed by word and sacrament, the Body of Christ, which became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, let us treasure him, and let us respond by loving and trusting God, by living lives of service, of God and of one another, and proclaiming the Good News in Jesus Christ, so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.