A thought for the day from Fulton Sheen

Let go of Fear

God does not love us because we are loveable of and by ourselves, but because he has put his own love into us. He does not even wait for us to love; his own love perfects us. Letting it do this, with no resistance, no holding back for fear of what our egotism must give up, is the one way to the peace that the world can neither give nor take away

Lift up your Heart

An Advent Meditation

The whole problem of our time is not lack of knowledge but lack of love

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

The season of Advent has an interesting character: it is one of joyful waiting, as we await our yearly remembrance of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’s Birth, the dawning of the new hope of Salvation for mankind. It is also a season of penitence, when the church considers the Four Last Things, one for each week of Advent: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. Such matters are nowadays rather passed over in our Christian discourse, and while this is understandable, it is not a good thing. Human life on earth, is, by its very nature finite: we are born and we die, we may live for minutes, or decades, even a century – but in the end death comes for us all. This is not morbid, it is a fact of life. The world around us finds death strange and scary: it is sanitised, medicalised, shut away in a hospital or a care home. What was once commonplace and domestic has been put out of sight and out of mind as we seem no longer willing or able to face our own mortality.

As Christians we have hope that this earthly life is not all that there is, we believe that Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem, died on the Cross, and rose again on that glorious Easter morn, and after forty days ascended into Heaven to show us that this is our hope, this is the fruit of our reconciliation with God, and each other. As the Preface for the Dead puts it:

Tuis enim fidelibus, Domine, vita mutatur, non tollitur: et dissoluta terrestris hujus incolatus domo, aeterna in caelis habitatio comparatur.

For the life of thy faithful people, O Lord, is changed, not taken away: and at the dissolution of the tabernacle of this earthly sojourning, a dwelling place eternal is made ready in the heavens

Hence the Christian talk of a good death, a happy death. It is nothing to be feared, but rather to be embraced, as a means to an end, namely the hope of unity with God.

After death comes judgement, and the simple answer is that no single human being deserves to go heaven (with the obvious exception of the Holy Family). We all deserve to go to Hell, ours is a fallen world and we sin, each and every one of us, every day in a multitude of ways. It is that simple, and we cannot work out way to heaven through works, but rather through God’s grace and mercy, through our Baptism, which makes us one with Christ. He gave S. Peter the power to loose and bind, to remind us that sin is a serious matter, it destroys the soul, hence the sacrament of reconciliation, an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of God, of forgiveness and mercy. The message Our Lord first declares is exactly the same as John the Baptist ‘καὶ λέγων ὅτι Πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ· μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ (Mk 1:15 ESV) This is the message of Advent: repent and believe in the Good News of the Kingdom of God, Good News which starts at the Annunciation, which brings about Our Saviour’s Birth. This is why we say Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

This leaves us a question, ‘Will we follow Him?’ There are two ways, one leads to Heaven, one leads to Hell; the road to Heaven, the life of faith is not an easy journey, it’s hard. That’s why we have the Church, a frail body, comprised of sinners, but who trust in God’s mercy, and though we keep failing, yet we stumble on, knowing that Heaven is our goal, that the way of the world leads to a future without God, bleak, cold, and devoid of love.

God is a God of mercy, a God who will judge us, knowing that His Son has paid the price, conquering sin and death, so let us believe in Him, trust in Him, and follow Him, let us prepare to celebrate His Birth with joy, and commit ourselves to walking in His way, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let us experience that mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, let us be fed with His Body and Blood, nourished by His Word, and the teaching of His Church, praying together, loving and forgiving together, so that together our hope may be of Heaven, where we and all the faithful may sing the praises 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.

the_last_judgment_michelangelo

The Ascension

One of the loveliest things about today is that it tends to focus, in religious art at least, on feet:  the smelly things we like to keep hidden away from the world. Today we see Jesus’ in all their glory going back to where they came from, but they go back differently than they descended: they go back marked with nails, wounded, bearing the marks of God’s love, it is this love which fills us in the Church, the same love which feeds us in His Body and Blood.

We have come here today to celebrate Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. The world around us may well find the idea quaint or laughable – or at least physically impossible. But it is no less hard to believe than Our Lord becoming incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or his rising from the dead at Easter. The world, with the greatest confidence, will tell us that what we are celebrating are myths and fairy stories, but they fail to get the point of what’s really going on.

Our Lord ascends, body and soul into heaven, to the closer presence of God the Father, and to prepare for the sending of the Holy Spirit on his disciples at Pentecost. He who shares our humanity takes it into heaven, into the very life of the Godhead; so that where he is we may be also. We have seen the promise of new life in Easter, a new life which is in the closer presence of God, which we celebrate today. We can see where it leads – what started at the Incarnation finds its goal and truest meaning in the unity of the human and the divine.

But rather than seeing this as an end it is surely far better to see in it a beginning – a beginning of the Church as we know it – a church which goes and makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Our Lord commanded us. This is exactly where we have been for nearly two thousand years. Inspired by the Holy Spirit they did what their Lord commanded them to do and that is why we are here today celebrating this fact.

But like them we too are called to follow Our Lord’s commands and to share his good news with the world so that it may believe. We are called to live lives where our faith is enfleshed in us – it is not abstract and private, but concrete and public. The Atheist who finds our beliefs laughable now joins forces with an Enlightenment Rationalist who wishes faith to be a private matter rather than a public one. This will not do: Our Lord did not say ‘Don’t do this if it’s inconvenient’ or ‘There’s no need to make a fuss in public about me’. He speaks as one given authority, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’, so we can gladly place ourselves under His authority, to do his will.

He makes us a promise: ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ He is with us by sending His Spirit on the Church at Pentecost and ever since. He is with us in his Word, Holy Scripture and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. It is through this (and the other Sacraments of the Church) that God’s grace can perfect our human nature – so that we can prepare to share the divine life of love in Heaven. Where our Lord goes we can hope to follow, through his sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross, a sacrifice made present here and on the altars of churches all throughout the world, to strengthen us, so that we may be close to him, sharing in the divine life of love poured out on us.

Once Jesus has ascended in glory and before he returns as our judge the only place where we can encounter him is in and through the Church, in its sacraments, in the word of Holy Scripture, and in people, filled with His Holy Spirit: it is a huge responsibility, but a movement which started with 12 men in Jerusalem is still going strong nearly two thousand years later. We have been given the gift of faith and it is up to us to pass it on, so that others may come to share in the joy of the Lord.

We can all hope to follow Him, and to spend eternity contemplating the Beatific Vision, caught up in that love which is the Divine Nature, sharing in the praise of all creation of the God who creates, who redeems, and who sustains all. We can have this hope because Christ has gone before us, he has prepared the way for humanity to follow him and share in the divine life of love.

Let us prepare for this by living the life of faith, strengthened by Him, proclaiming his truth, praying for the gift of His Spirit at Pentecost, that the Church may be strengthened to proclaim His saving truth and the baptism of repentance, so that we and all the world may sing 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.

Trinity Sunday


Today’s apparently the day which clergy dread, apparently we are petrified of the fact that today the Church celebrates the Triune nature of God, and that being required to preach about it, we might need to know some theology, and explain it to you. Apparently you don’t want this, though I cannot understand why – how could a Christian not want to deepen their faith and their understanding? At one level the Trinity could be seen as baffling: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons and one God, not three Gods, but a trinity of persons, co-equal, co-eternal, consubstantial. Yet what the Church celebrates today is not something abstract but something concrete and personal.
       The Church is a community, the Body of Christ, a fellowship of the baptised, who are loved, redeemed, and sanctified, by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We like to think of ourselves as loveable, as fairly good, decent, well-meaning people, but by divine standards we fail to come up to the mark, we’re not good enough, and all our efforts cannot make us get to heaven, such us the power of sin, of the human condition, and yet by the will of the Father, and through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ became incarnate for our sake, and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he showed us that God was not an angry, vengeful deity, but a loving Father who longs to welcome his prodigal children. God loves us not because we are loveable, that’s sin for you, but rather so that in being loved we might become loveable, so that God’s grace might transform our human nature, and prepare us for eternity with God. Along the way we will fail, again and again, we will get on each other’s nerves, but if we seek, give and receive forgiveness, then we can allow God’s redeeming love and forgiveness to be at work in us: ‘love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be, oh who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die’.
       Jesus Christ proclaimed the Good News of God’s love, which some accepted, many rejected, he was crucified to show us just how much God loves us, wretched sinful humanity, he sends his Spirit on the Church at Pentecost to strengthen it, to give it life, to live for God, and in God. We do not deserve it, I certainly don’t, the fact that I have been ordained does not make me a better Christian, I don’t have a hotline to the Divine, I can’t ‘have a word with the Man upstairs about the weather’, it just doesn’t work like that: all I know is that I am a wretched sinner who needs God’s love and mercy, every moment of every day. Thankfully, through the comfort of prayer, Holy Scripture, and the Sacraments of the Church, we can be built up in love – that’s how God works – we are not left comfortless, or without help or guidance, but like any loving relationship it cannot be one-sided, we have a part to play, which begins with our recognising our need for God, and for his love to be at work in us, to seek his forgiveness, and to be loving and forgiving to others, where we stay close to the channels of Divine Grace, so that our lives may be filled with them, so that they can transform our nature. It is an ongoing project, the work of a lifetime and beyond, which starts with humility, develops through obedience, and flourishes in charity.
       For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ John 3:16-17 (ESV) These few words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus in John’s Gospel encapsulate what we believe as Christians, and why we believe it, may we live them, strengthened through prayer, our study of the Bible, nourished by Our Lord’s Body and Blood, forgiven and forgiving, preparing to be caught up forever in the love of the consubstantial and coeternal Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, to who be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Sermon for Evensong Trinity XII

It has been said that in the hereafter there are two smells: brimstone and incense. Needless to say, we should prefer the latter to the former, and also it reminds us of the religious practice of our brothers in faith the Jews: incense was offered in the Temple to God every morning and evening, a laudable practice which the Church continues.
It should also remind us that the Church Militant here in Earth just like the Church Triumphant in Heaven is focussed on one thing: the worship of Almighty God. This building was built for the glory of God, to give us something of a foretaste of Heaven and as a place of worship, where the praises of God might be sung: as above, so below:
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:8-11)
We praise God and thank Him in our worship not because He needs or wants it, but for the simple reason that he is worth it. We are grateful for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life;but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
Our worship expresses our hope, our thanks and our praise, it reminds us to be grateful for what God has done for us, in giving His Son to be born for us, to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom to us, to die for us and to rise again for us, to show us how we might have life and life in all its fullness in and through Him.
Therefore our vocation as Christians is to be a joyful people. There is nothing worse than seeing a sad miserable Christian: we are called to proclaim Good News, to live out the new life of our baptism, regenerate, born again, singing the praises of God who rather than condemn us loves us and saves us, who gives himself as priest and victim upon the altar of the Cross so that we might feed on Him, to heal our wounds, to transform us, so that His Grace can perfect rather than abolish our nature – it is wonderful, utterly mind-blowing, it has the power to transform the entire world if only we could stop getting in the way, and let the transformative power of God’s love be at work in the world.
We proclaim this Good News in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds, and the more we do it, the more it shapes our character, making us people of praise, people of worship – it can become all-encompassing, taking all of who and what we are, and using it for God’s good purposes. This is what Our Lord means when he says ‘whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ (Mt 16:25) This is life in all its fullness for we are never more fully alive than when we worship God, demonstrating our love for Him, and letting His love shine through us.
This characterised the first Apostles – how could they do otherwise after what God had done for them in Jesus, and we should be just like them, with the same singularity of vision and purpose.

So let us worship God not only with our lips but with our lives, so that all we are, all we say, all we think, all we do, may praise 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.

A thought for the day from St Isaac the Syrian

Love is the kingdom which the Lord mystically promised to the disciples, when he said that they would eat in his kingdom; ‘You shall eat and drink at my table in my kingdom’ (Lk 22:30). What should they eat and drink if not love?

When we have reached love, we have reached God and our journey is complete. We have crossed over to the island which lies beyond the world, where are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to whom be glory and dominion. May God make us worthy to fear and love him. Amen

Trinity Sunday

“One in essence, distinction of persons, such is the mystery of the Trinity, such is the inner life of God. The three angles of a triangle do not make three triangles but one; as the heat, power, and light of the sun do not make three suns but one; as water, air, and steam are all manifestations of the one substance; as the form, color, and perfume of the rose do not make three roses, but one; as our soul, our intellect, and our will do not make three substances, but one; as one times one times one times one does not equal three, but one, so too in some much more mysterious way, there are three Persons in God and yet only one God.”
Archbishop Fulton Sheen (The Divine Romance)

Anglican Clergy can be strange. Amongst their peculiarities possibly the most galling has to be the habit of finding someone other than themselves: a curate, a visiting preacher, a lay reader, to preach this Sunday. On the First Sunday after Pentecost, since at least 1334 when it was granted an official place in the Calendar of the Western Church, and in some form since the Arian Controversy of the 4th Century, the Church has celebrated the mystery of God’s very self: a Trinity of Persons, consubstantial, co-equal and co-eternal.

I suspect that the problem lies with fact that the clergy themselves are frightened of the thought of preaching about a theological concept which they do not really understand, and which they fear their congregations will not either. I cannot claim to understand the mystery of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, but I’m certainly not going to patronise you by assuming that you cannot or do not wish to understand it. At the start of this morning’s Eucharist our worship began by invoking the Name of the Trinity and making the sign of the Cross, just as Christians have done for two thousand years. As Christians we are baptised in the name of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. We will soon say the Nicene Creed to profess our faith in the Triune God – it’s what makes us Christians and we express that faith in our worship of Almighty God. In the Offices of the Church, Psalms conclude with the Doxology: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. This is because we SAY what our worship DOES – we give Glory to God, who created us, who redeemed us, and who sanctifies and strengthens us. Thus we celebrate not a theological concept or philosophical proposition, but rather a relationship. When we say ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost’ we are expressing what we as orthodox Christians believe. You cannot truly worship God and deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, or the procession of the Holy Spirit, for what we say and believe affects our lives and our relationship with God.

At the end of his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul says to them ‘The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all’. They are words which we continue to use, to this day because they encapsulate our faith. We celebrate the fact that God the Father loves us, and spared not His Only Son for love of us, that His Son saves us by grace, through faith, so that we are built up in love, by the Spirit.

Our relationship with the Divine is intimate: the name Father speaks of a relationship, His Son taught us to pray to Him as Our Father, and dies for us, to heal us, restore us and save us from our sins, and sends His Spirit to strengthen us. This is the faith of our baptism, by which we enter the Church, in which we are nourished by Word and Sacrament, and which gives us the Hope of eternal life in the embrace of a loving God.

The words we use to worship God matter in that they express the faith which we believe, they form us into a community of belief where what we believe affects who we are and what we do. The gift of faith, and the life of love, and the hope of eternal life are something which we do not jealously guard but rather share with the world – we are called to make disciples, to share what we have received, so that others may experience the love of God.

And like all relationships, this goes beyond words, it is something which needs to be experienced, and which we can share. It is only in our experience of this relationship that we can begin to come to understand, and we will only do so fully when we experience this in heaven, in our contemplation of the beatific vision, when we see and experience the fullness of God’s love. So then let us prepare for this by sharing in God’s self giving love at this Eucharist – where God gives himself for us, to feed us, to strengthen us, to bind us together in love for one another and him, our bread for the journey which finds its end in the contemplation of God’s love in all its fullness, and which calls us to share with the world so that it 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.