TWELFTH SUNDAY OF YEAR C (Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1, Gal 3:26-29, Lk 9:18-24)

The Jews in Israel in the time of Jesus knew what to expect of a Messiah: he would be an anointed king, of the House of David, who will unite the peoples, rule them and usher in an age of peace. Peace and freedom was what the people desired. First the Persians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans had taken control of their land. The Messiah was their only hope for peace and freedom.

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus asks His disciples a simple question, ‘Who do people say that I am?’.They reply, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, or one of the prophets’. He then asks the question, ‘But who do YOU say that I am?’ Peter answers, ‘The Christ of God’ By this Peter means a Messiah in the traditional sense. But Jesus commands that they tell no-one about this, because He is not going to be that kind of Messiah. He will fulfil the prophecies, but not in the way people expect.

Today Christ asks the same question of each and every one of us. Who do we say Jesus is? What we say matters. What we believe matters, and affects our life. Jesus goes on to say that the Son of God must suffer many things, be rejected, be killed, and be raised on the third day. That’s all a bit strange, really. He’s the Messiah, the Anointed of God and yet He will be rejected by Israel.

Throughout Israel’s history recorded in the Bible the people have turned away from God, worshipped idols and false gods, and it looks like they will again. As Zechariah prophesied, ‘when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born.’ (12:10) They will look on him whom they have pierced, on the Cross, on Calvary. But Zechariah goes on, ‘On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.’ (13:1) Christ’s death will be the fountain to cleanse us from sin and uncleanness. This we experience in our baptism, in the confession of our sins, and in the Eucharist: the fulfilment of prophecy.

Zechariah points forward to Christ, the Word made flesh, the Word of God who fulfils God’s Word.

To those who come after Him, which includes us, Christ says, ‘let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.’ (Lk 9:23-24) As those saved and made free by the Cross of Christ, we take up our cross and follow Christ. We imitate Him, in selfless love and devotion, and bear the weight of the cross in life’s difficulties and disappointments. Following Christ is hard, as we lose our lives for Christ’s sake. If it were not, we would be surprised. It’s a struggle, and we cannot rely upon ourselves to get through. Instead it needs to be a corporate effort, something we do together, as a Christian community, trusting in God. Trusting in His Grace to be at work in us, both individually and as a neighborhood.

So we have a very different kind of Messiah offering us a very different way of life, which we see expressed perfectly in St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. As children of God we are in a relationship with our Heavenly Father. We are saved through our baptism where we put on Christ, we are clothed with Him, so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness. Now all human distinctions disappear. They don’t matter, because we are all one IN CHRIST. That was a radical thing to say when Paul preached nearly two thousand years ago, and it still is today. We are all one in Christ: young and old, rich and poor. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we are from, or anything else. As Christians we are all one in Christ.

To a world that is concerned with wealth, privilege, education, popularity, and all sorts of worldly things, the Church says: none of this matters. None of it does, other than belonging to Christ. How refreshing! How deeply counter-cultural! We can counter the emptiness and the vanity of the world, and offer it something meaningful and wonderful: new life in Christ.

This is why Christ died for us. To heal us, and restore us, to make us free to live in Christ, and for Him. Christ wants us to lose our lives for His sake, and find freedom in His service. We need to be humble enough to accept what God offers us, and be prepared to try to live it together. It isn’t about us, but rather letting God be at work in us. We co-operate with God, and live in love, and joy, and peace. We flourish as human beings. It’s liberating. It is what God wants for us. This is what true freedom is like, and we can live it together. So let us, and thereby 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.

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday, or the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, has been kept throughout the Western Church on the Sunday after Pentecost since 1334. It was the Sunday on which Thomas Becket was consecrated a bishop in 1162, and he commanded that the anniversary of his consecration  should be celebrated in honour of the Holy Trinity. The Feast was popular, so popular in fact, that the remaining Sundays before Advent were numbered after Trinity, rather than after Pentecost, in England and Wales.

The word itself, Trinity, coined by Tertullian in the second century AD combines the words for three and unity, three persons and one God, and this should not surprise us. Christian worship is Trinitarian, we worship One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are baptised in their names, and our eucharist this morning begins ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Yn enw’r Tad, a’r Mab, a’r Ysbryd Glân’. The Creed which we are about to say has a tripartite structure, and expresses our belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are so used to it that we rarely stop to notice what we are doing, and why we do it. Our worship as Christians helps to form what we believe, and who we are. We believe, we put our trust in the God who created all that is. His Son, Jesus Christ, teaches us to call Him, ‘Our Father’ and so we pray to the Almighty Creator of all things knowing that He is Our Father too, we are in a relationship with a loving parent.

The Father begets the Son, and from Them the Spirit proceeds. Both the Spirit and the Son can be understood as the Wisdom of God described in our first reading this morning, thus the Son is eternally begotten, and the Spirit proceeds, moving over the waters as God creates the universe in Genesis. And between the first and second readings we have the entirety of salvation history, from the Creation of the Universe to the Day of Pentecost. Now, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Church we experience God in a profound and new way, as St Paul says, ‘because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ (Romans 5:5 ESV) This is reality of the Church, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, a spirit of love and joy. Jesus promises the Spirit to His apostles in John’s Gospel. Jesus promises us a Spirit who will lead us into all truth.

As Christians we worship One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: they are not three Gods, but one God. That the three persons of the Trinity are one God is itself a mystery. The mystery of God’s very self: a Trinity of Persons, consubstantial, co-equal and co-eternal. We know God most fully in the person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, born of the Virgin Mary, who died upon the Cross for our sins, and was raised to New Life at Easter, who sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In Christ God discloses who and what he is, we know Him as someone who pours out LOVE, who is interested in reconciliation. The wonderful thing about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is that we can know and experience God in a full way. We can know Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who speaks to us in Scripture, and who comes to us in Bread and Wine, so that we may be fed with His Body and Blood. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, and the point of all this is OUR transformation, by the power of God. We are not celebrating an abstract concept today, but rather a generous and loving God. Our God is not simply remote and transcendent, but one who makes His home with us, gives us His life, and transforms and heals us in LOVE. This is all possible through the relationship God has with us, through His Son and His Spirit, something concrete, personal and real.

In Christ, God becomes human, and can understand us from the inside, so to speak. This is not a distant, impersonal divinity, but one who lives a human life. One who understands our frailty, and who loves us. He sends His Spirit so that we may be encouraged and led into all truth, in the Church. We will face difficulties and hardships. Christ promises us no less, as does St Paul in our second reading. But the point is that these experiences, while painful, can be positive: we grow and develop through them. We become not jaded and embittered, but more loving and forgiving. We become what God wants us to be, so that we can be transformed by His redeeming love. God offers us all the opportunity to be something different, something more than we are, if we let Him change us. If we co-operate with His grace, so that filled with the Holy Spirit, and nourished by Word and Sacrament, God may be at work in us, transforming us into His likeness. So as we celebrate the mystery of the Holy and Life-giving Trinity, let us pray that we may be transformed by God’s love, and share it with others so that they may come to 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.

Pentecost 2019

The world in which we live can be a strange and confusing place, but it is fair to say that for the last fifty or sixty years we have not generally been that keen on having people tell us what to do. Now this makes things difficult for those of us who preach, precisely because moral instruction is our stock in trade. In other words, we tell people what to do, and how to live their lives. We do this because the Bible, as read and interpreted by the Church, shows us how to live in such a way that leads to human flourishing. Hence Jesus’ words in the Gospel, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ (Jn 14:15 ESV) If we love God, we will listen to what He tells us, through His Son, and do what He says. We will not be like the world, which cannot receive the Spirit of Truth, because it refuses to listen, or obey.

The disciples have been to told to wait and pray. It is the feast of Pentecost, some fifty days after the Passover, Shavuot, the feast of weeks, a week of weeks, or fifty days, celebrating the grain harvest in Israel, and Moses giving the Law to Israel on Mt Sinai. It’s a time when Jews would come to be in Jerusalem. They would come from all over the world, to be there. And what they experience is something like the undoing of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. Instead of division, we see unity, and all the peoples of the world can hear and understand the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, who died for our sins, rose on the third day, ascended into heaven, and has sent His Holy Spirit.

It is this same Holy Spirit which we receive in our Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination, which makes us children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We are part of God’s family, and through Christ we have an inheritance, the hope of heaven. Good news indeed! The same Holy Spirit, which brought about the Incarnation in the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, through which Christ became incarnate in His mother’s womb, to be born for us, has been given to us. We have been filled with the same Spirit: you, me, every one of us here. And because of this God can do wonderful things in and through us. It helps us to be who and what God wants us to be, to have life in all its fulness.

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus says to his disciples, which includes us, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’. In other words, we will love God and our neighbour and live lives like Jesus, exhibiting the same costly, sacrificial love that He does. Not for nothing does St Paul say, ‘provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him’ (Rom 8: 17 ESV) To follow Christ is to live a cross-shaped life, and we must expect difficulties, hardships, and sacrifice. And we embrace such things with JOY, because they bring us closer to Christ, and His sufferings. We need to love Jesus and keep his word so He and the Father will make their home with us. In St Paul’s Letter to the Romans we see what life in the Spirit is like. It is a turning away from the ways of the world and the flesh: not despising it, since Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ came in the flesh in the Incarnation, it was in the flesh that Our Lord ascended into heaven taking our flesh into the life of the Godhead, so that where he has gone we may also go. We are to sit lightly to the world and its ways, and through submitting to God to find perfect freedom in him. In the service of the Triune God we can be truly free, free to live for Him and to proclaim His truth to the world. If we love God this is what we are called to be, how we are called to live. Only in the Spirit can we enter fully into the divine life of love, and live out this love in the world. In the power of this love we can begin to understand the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation, His life, death, and resurrection, and we can let these mysteries shape our lives as Christians.

God will make his home with us in His word, Holy Scripture and the sacraments of his Church – outward signs of the inward grace which he lavishes on us in the power of his Spirit. That is why we are here today: to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, to see the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, to stand by the Cross so that we may be washed in the blood and water which flows from his side. In this we see God’s love for us, and we are strengthened to live the life of the Spirit: we can remain close to the God who loves us and saves us. We can be taught by his Spirit to remain in the faith which comes to us from the Apostles who first received the Spirit on this day. Let us live strengthened by Spirit, nourished by word and sacrament, in holiness and joy, proclaiming the truth and love of God, 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.

The Ascension (Acts 1:1-11, Lk 24:44-53)

Today the Church celebrates the Solemn Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s an important day, so important that St Luke gives us two accounts of it: one at the end of his Gospel, and another at the start of the Acts of the Apostles. As a day it looks back to Easter and forward to Pentecost, and even to that last day when Christ will return as Judge of all.

If we turn first to the Gospel, we see Christ’s farewell discourse to the apostles. Our Risen Lord explains everything to his closest followers, so that they can understand both what happened, and why it happened. He speaks of the church’s mission: ‘that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’ (Lk 24:47 NRSV) And so, nearly two thousand years later this is what the church does, calling people to repentance, and is the place of reconciliation, where God forgives our sins: a place of new life and healing. Christ also promises his closest followers, ‘And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ (Lk 24:49 NRSV) They are to stay put until they receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And once Christ ascends, ‘they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God’ (Lk 24:52-53 NRSV) They worshipped Christ because He is God, and they gave thanks to God in the Temple in Jerusalem. They were all about worshipping God, nothing was more important.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Christ has spent the Easter period teaching the faith, explaining things to His apostles. ‘While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ (Acts 1:4-5 NRSV) The apostles are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and equipped to proclaim the Good News. And that’s why we are here today. Jesus didn’t found a religion, or give us a book, He started the Church, to call men and women to repentance, to know their sins forgiven, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And so we are. And it’s wonderful. It’s why we listen to Jesus, and we do what He told us to do. We celebrate the Eucharist, because He told us to do it, so that we can be nourished and fed with His Body and Blood, so that Christ may transform each and every one of us into His likeness. We follow the example of the apostles, and spend this time before Pentecost praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit to inspire and transform us. 

What we are celebrating today is the logical consequence of the Incarnation. Christ, by the power of that same Holy Spirit, took flesh in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, just after the Archangel Gabriel came to her in Nazareth. He was born in Bethlehem, lived, proclaimed the Good News, preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins, healed the sick, performed many other miracles, and was crucified, for our sins, and those of the whole world. God raised Him on the third day, and then Christ, true God and true man, ascends to His Father in Heaven, before sending the Holy Spirit. Christ ascends in His divinity, and His humanity. He returns from whence He came, but Christ has taken us with Him. Humanity is united with the Godhead. There are humans in heaven. We know this because Christ went there first, and through His death, Resurrection, and Ascension, has opened the way to Heaven for those who believe in Him, and live out their faith in their lives. 

Our Lord ascends, body and soul into heaven, to the closer presence of God the Father, 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.

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. 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. 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.

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Easter IV: The Good Shepherd

The Church’s Liturgical Year is a very good thing indeed. It divides up time and focusses our attention, allowing us the time to contemplate the mysteries of the Christian Faith. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an event which requires contemplation. We need time to let it sink in, and to explore what it means for us and our faith. It is the defining moment of our faith, which gives Christians the hope that death is not the end, that this life is not all that there is, and that because of who Christ is, namely God, and what He has done: died for us to take away our sin, and rise again to give us the hope of eternal life in Him.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of himself, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ It discloses something important about Who and What He is — He is one who tends, who looks after His sheep. The Jews in the Temple for the celebration of Hanukkah in the Gospel don’t seem to have been listening. Jesus has told them clearly and they do not believe that He is the Messiah. What Christ does in the Gospels testifies to Who and What He is, the Word made flesh, God with us.

Those of us who are in the Church, through our Baptism belong to Christ, we are His. So we are to listen to what Jesus tells us, in the words of Scripture and through prayer. Jesus knows us and we know him — in word and sacrament, through the outpouring of His grace, and so we follow Christ, we do what He tells us to do, to love, to forgive each other. We are humble, we don’t think of ourselves as better than we are, we know our ned of, our dependance upon God. We put our faith into practice in our lives, so that it becomes a reality in the world.

Christ offers us eternal life, as we share in His death, so we too share in His Resurrection, and are assured of eternal life with Him, something wonderful and freely given, and a reason why we, as the Church, celebrate Easter in an extravagant and exuberant way, because it is a sign that God loves us, and saves us. We are sharing in that Eternal Life here and now, as we are nourished by Him, in Word and Sacrament, strengthened by Him, to live His risen life, here and now. 

In Revelation, as St John experiences heavenly worship he states, ‘For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:17 ESV). The Lamb will be our shepherd: Christ will care for us, and keep us safe. A Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep as Christ has done through His Death and Resurrection. To drink living water is to experience the fulness of life in God, filled with the Holy Spirit. Christ guides us to that in our baptism, when we are filled with the Spirit and made part of the Church. 

So we listen to Christ’s voice, in the Bible. We hear Him speak to us, and through this we listen to Him, and obey Him. That is how we know Christ and follow Him. It affects who we are and how we live, as people of love, loved by God. We are prepared here on earth for the life of heaven, for worship, and closeness to God. We have a foretaste of that closeness in Holy Communion where Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, so that we may be transformed by it, more and more into His likeness. It changes us, so that we, by the grace of God, in the power of His Holy Spirit, may become what we are: made in the image of God. That image is restored in us by Christ’s death and resurrection. Through it we come to share in the intimacy of the divine life. As Christ says, ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30 ESV)  As Michael Ramsay said, ‘God is Christlike, and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all’ [God, Christ & the World: A Study in Contemporary Theology, London 1969, 98] When we see Jesus, we see God, when we hear Him speak, we hear the voice of God. We can know who God is, the creator and redeemer of the universe, through His Son, Jesus Christ. God is no longer distant, or an angry man on a cloud, but a loving Father, as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and a Son who loves us so much that He suffers and dies for us, to give us life in Him. This is God who goes after lost sheep, who longs to love and heal and reconcile, who can heal our wounds if we let Him.

God loves us; we can say this with the utmost confidence because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it all proclaims the same truth: God loves us, not because we’re worthy of it, but so that we might become what God is. It is what we celebrate at Easter, it lies at the heart, the core of our faith as Christians. It’s why we are what we are, and why we do what we do, to proclaim this simple truth to the world.

We can have peace through our relationship with the Trinity, the source of our peace, and joy, and love. Grounded in this relationship we need not be afraid or troubled – we are free to live lives which proclaim God’s love and victory so that the world may believe. Through God loving us, we can truly love him and each other. We experience this most clearly at the Eucharist when Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, which He as both priest and victim offers on the Altar of the Cross. That self same sacrifice which heals the world through the outpouring of God’s love feeds us here and now. We are fed so that we may be nourished and share in the divine life and the joy of heaven. We receive the free gift of God’s grace so that it may perfect our human nature, so that we may go where Our Lord is going, and share in the joy, and love, and peace of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Easter II [Acts 5:27-32, Revelation 1:4-8, Jn 20:19-31]

In this morning’s first reading Saint Peter and the apostles are told by the authorities not to preach in the name of Jesus. Naturally, it is impossible for them to do this; they simply have to tell the world about Him and His Resurrection. They do this so that the gospel may be proclaimed: the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins through Christ. To be a Christian is to turn away from the ways of sin, the ways of the world — we are obedient to God, we hear what he is said in Christ and we obey him. The Church, then, must always be on its guard lest it ceases to be obedient to God and turns instead to the ways of the world, the ways of humanity. As St Paul says in his Letter to the Romans ‘be not conformed to this world’. It is a difficult thing to do. It is hard. It takes strength of character and confidence, and it will not be popular. But just as the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name, and did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus Christ, so the Church is always called to do the same: to risk persecution, and to speak the uncomfortable truth which the world does not want to hear. This is our calling. 

When the disciples are sat in a locked room, afraid of persecution Christ comes among them and says, ‘Tangnefedd i chwi’ ‘Peace be with you’. Christ comes to give them peace. He gives them a peace which the world cannot give, because it is not of this world. The peace Christ which comes to give us is the peace won on the Cross, which has reconciled God and humanity. This wonderful relationship leads to the disciples being sent, as Christ was, to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, and of new life in Christ. Christ empowers His Apostles with the Holy Spirit, to forgive sins, and carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation. The church exists to do just this, to proclaim and reconcile, to carry on Christ’s work in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit.

All of us can, I think, understand Thomas’ frustration at not being there. It isn’t that he doubts, he wants to believe, and to experience the reality of his Risen Lord, and not to be left out. It’s a very human reaction. So when Jesus is with them again on Sunday, He greets them with Peace, and offers his hands and side to Thomas. He gives Thomas what he wants, proof that it is really Jesus, that he has truly risen from the dead. When faced with the reality of the Risen Jesus, Thomas can only say, ‘My Lord and My God’. Thomas confesses that Jesus is Lord and God, the sole supreme authority, above anything of this world. He worships God in Christ. We do the same, and we are blessed because we have not seen and yet believe. We believe because of the witness of Thomas, and others, down through the centuries, who have proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ, even at great personal cost. As St Peter and the apostles said, ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29 ESV) Christians around the world follow their lead, and to this day face imprisonment, torture, and death, for their belief in Christ. They do so gladly, because of who Christ is, and what He has done. We may not face suicide bombers in our churches, thank God. But we are no less resolved to bear witness to Christ. We may be ignored by the world around us, but we carry on bearing witness to the love and reconciliation which Christ brings, and which nothing else can. We continue, ‘so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31 ESV) Christ comes to bring us life, in His Incarnation, in His Life and Preaching, and in His Death and Resurrection. He gives us His Life, through our Baptism, and through the Eucharist. We are united with Christ, and transformed by Him, to live His life in the world, filled with His Holy Spirit. This is good news, which we long to share with others, so that they may come to know Christ, and experience His Love. The Church exists to deal with the mess we make as human beings, through what Jesus has done for us, in the power of His Holy Spirit. The Church is to be a community of reconciliation, where we are forgiven and we, in turn, forgive. It is to be a place where we are freed from sin, its power and its effects.

The disciples go from being scared and stuck in an upper room to missionaries, evangelists, spreading the Good News around the world, regardless of the cost, even of sacrificing their own lives to bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he rose again, on this day for us, that God loves us and tells us to love Him and to love one another. It is a simple and effective message which people still want to hear — we need to tell it to them, in our thoughts, our words and our actions.

The heart of our faith and the Gospel is forgiveness — no matter how many times we mess things up, we are forgiven. It is this reckless generosity of spirit which people find hard to believe that they too can be forgiven, by a loving God, and by their fellow Christians. That we can, despite our manifold shortcomings be a people of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. That God’s Grace will in the end not abolish our nature, but perfect it, that being fed by Christ, with Christ: so that we too may become what He is. That faced with the sad emptiness of the world, and its selfishness, its greed, we can be filled with joy, and life, and hope. That like the first apostles we too can spread the Gospel: that the world may believe.

So let us be filled with the joy of the Resurrection this Easter, let us share that joy with others, may it fill our lives and those of whom we meet with the joy and love of God, who has triumphed and who offers us all new life in Him, that all that we do, all that we are, all that we say or think may 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, dominion and power, now and forever.

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Palm Sunday (Year C)

If anyone asks you why you are untying it [the ass the disciples were sent to find], this must be your answer, ‘The Lord has need of it’ (Lk 19:31). Perhaps no greater paradox was ever written than this: on the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord, and on the other hand his ‘need’. His combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was a consequence of the Word becoming flesh. Truly, he who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we might become rich. Our Lord borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; he borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed a multitude; he borrowed a grave from which he would rise; and now he borrows an ass on which to enter Jerusalem. Sometimes God pre-empts and requisitions the things of man, as if to remind him that everything is a gift from him.

Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ

This week begins so well. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt. People recognise that this Galilean rabbi is their Davidic king. They praise God that scripture has been fulfilled. The Pharisees are upset, and they ask Jesus to rebuke them, to which He replies, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’ (Lk 19:40 RSVCE) The very stones of Jerusalem would sing for joy that their Messiah, the Anointed of God is in their midst. This joy will however be short-lived. Within a week Jesus will be accused of blasphemy and sedition, tortured and killed. The crowds which hail Him as their King will soon cry for Him to be crucified. We can be SO fickle, and we still are. We need the annual reminder which the church gives through its liturgical year –- a chance to be confronted by stark realities, and to be brought up short by them. What Christ says and does in this coming week He says to US, he does all this for US –- to HEAL us, to RESTORE us, so that we can live His risen life HERE and NOW, as the people of God, fed by Him, fed with Him, sharing in His Death and Resurrection though our baptism, trusting in Him.

In riding into Jerusalem Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies of Zechariah (9:9) and Isaiah (62:11). The King of Israel comes riding on a humble beast of burden, just like the one which carried his Mother to Bethlehem for his birth, and carried the Holy Family into exile in Egypt. It is an act of humble leadership which fulfils what was foreseen by the prophets. It shows us that Jesus Christ is truly the one who fulfils the hopes of Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures look forward to the deliverance of Israel, which is enacted in front of their very eyes. God is saving His people, but they cannot see it. In a few days time it will all have changed, joy will turn to sadness; love to hatred.

This is why today and throughout Holy Week we will have readings from the prophet Isaiah, which are known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant. This morning we see the servant being mistreated, he is struck on the back, his beard is torn out, he is spat at and insulted. This will all come to pass as Our Lord goes to the Cross on Good Friday, it is the fulfilment of prophecy. God will show us how much he loves us by enduring such treatment.It shows US what humanity is capable of: anger, hatred, bitterness, mob rule, the desire to have a scapegoat, someone to blame. This is fallen, sinful humanity at its worst, and we will see more of it over the coming days. It should shock us, we should feel sick to the pits of our stomachs, because it shows us why Christ had to die — to take our human sin. To overcome sin, the world, and the Devil, with the redemptive power of God’s LOVE.

In his Letter to the Christians in Philippi, written in prison in Rome in ad62, St Paul lays great stress upon the Humility of Jesus Christ. It is not a popular virtue these days, in fact the world around us would have us be quite the opposite: full of ourselves, with a high opinion of ourselves. Our is a world which is more and more characterised by sin and selfishness. The individual is all that matters: me and what I want, that’s what really counts. At the root of it all is pride, thinking that we are more important than we are, making ourselves the centre of things.

Today and in the coming week we will see what God’s Love and Glory are really like: it is not what people expect, it is power shown in humility, strength in weakness. As we continue our Lenten journey in the triumph of this day and looking towards theHoly and Life-giving Cross and beyond to the new life of Easter, let us trust in the Lord. Let us be like him, and may he transform our hearts, our minds and our lives, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the Sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for 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. Amen. 

Lent II (Gen 15:5-12, Phil 3:17-4:1, Lk 13:31-35)

Prophets have a hard job to do. It’s not fun, it isn’t pleasant, but it needs to be done. Telling people what they do not WANT to hear, but NEED to, is what prophets are all about. We can see this both in Our Lord’s earthly ministry and throughout the history of the Church. It is dangerous, and it can be costly but it is something which must be done. We exist to carry on the exact same proclamation, to call the world to repent and to believe, words they may not want to hear, but they need to, as their salvation depends upon it. Lent is a time for many things, but among them we need to reminded where our loyalties lie, and what we’re about as Christians. It’s a time to focus on what matters, to keep our eyes focussed on the Cross, a place of sacrifice, which gives us hope, and demonstrates God’s love for us.

When we look at salvation history we cannot ignore Abraham, he believes in the Lord, and is reckoned as righteous: he trusts God and his relationship is sealed with a covenant, one which makes the Land of Israel the Promised Land to his descendants. Where is a covenant, there is sacrifice, and this points to the Cross, where God makes a covenant with us in his Son’s death upon the Cross, the final and complete demonstration of God’s love, which assures us of our heavenly homeland, Just as Abraham went from deep sleep and terrifying darkness to life in relationship with God, so we in the church have moved from the darkness of sin and the terror of hell to new life in Christ.

Our citizenship is in heaven, as St Paul writes to the Philippians. Heaven is our true and eternal home, where we can be with God forever. And as Christians we try to live lives which imitate the saints. One of the ways we learn is by copying: we’ve seen it, we’ve done it ourselves: it is normal and natural. We follow the example of others, which is why the choice of whom we should imitate matters. Paul writes this letter from prison, he’s seen people being tortured, and his belief in Christ will lead to his death, and yet he is happy, concerned for others more than himself, a wonderful example for us to follow. We don’t want to be like the enemies of Christ, people opposed to who and what Christ is and what he does. The world around us tends to show its enmity towards Christ more by indifference than violence, we are ignored or patronised, but we can stand against this, together, in Christ, confident in the God who loves us.

In the Gospel we see Herod, a ruler who has killed John the Baptist for speaking against him. John died for standing up for morality which comes from God, and now Herod is turning his attention towards Jesus. In the face of the threat of persecution Jesus stands up for who and what He is, and what He is doing. He is not intimidated, he has a job to do which proclaims God’s healing love. It makes the Kingdom of God a reality in people’s lives. Jesus sees Herod for what he is: a nothing and a nobody, a tyrant, interested in the spectacular He speaks a word over Jerusalem as a place which kills prophets, and in this Christ is looking towards his own death. He has to go away, so that he can come back. He prophesies that he will not return until people say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ he is looking forward to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the prelude to Christ’s Passion and Death. 

Lent prepares us to celebrate Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. It is striking that Jesus can face the future in such a calm way, proclaiming the Love of God both in healing the sick and showing that God cares for humanity. He loves us. He wants to be in a covenant relationship with us. Even though we reject God, God does not forsake us. This is true sacrificial love in action, and it is the heart of our faith. Ours is a God who longs to transform us by love. A God who longs for us to enjoy heaven with Him. St Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. We’re not Welsh, British, or European, or anything else. Our primary identity is that we are Christians, and heaven is where we belong. It is our homeland, and the source of our identity as Children of God, our Heavenly Father. 

This should inspire us as we walk the journey of faith. In this our Lenten journey towards the Cross, and beyond, we travel with Christ, nourished by Word and Sacrament, knowing that to follow Christ is to share in His Passion, to take up our cross and follow Him, who is the Way, the Truth , and the Life. It involves standing up for truth, at the risk of persecution and death, and it is something which we do gladly because we can trust in a God who loves us, who heals us, who has made a covenant with us in the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. We can have confidence that God loves us, and will never leave us, he is with us no matter what may come our way. 

It is a great comfort that we can travel on our pilgrimage of faith with one who will not leave us, or fail us, who knows our pain, who suffers and dies for love of us. So let us travel with Christ through Lent, through Life, knowing that we are living out our faith, and let us share that with others that they 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.

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Fifth Sunday of Year C (Luke 5:1-11)

Much of the church nowadays is anxious about where we are and where we are going. It isn’t that surprising: we live in an uncertain and anxious world. Our response as Christians is to trust in God, who says through the words of his prophet Jeremiah, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.’ (Jer 29:1-13). God has plans for us, plans for good and not evil, he has a plan for you, and for me. Indeed each of us as we enter the church through our baptism can find that God has something in store for us. Each of us is called by God to be a Christian, and to live out our faith in our lives. Each of us is an individual, unique, made in the image of God, and our callings are likewise unique. It can be a scary business answering that call. I know, I spent over twenty years running away from it, not feeling good enough for what God wanted me to do. It’s ok. It turns out that I’m in good company as our readings this morning make clear. 

In this morning’s first reading the prophet Isaiah has an experience of God’s presence in the Temple in Jerusalem. He does not describe his emotional state, other than what he says speaks of human unworthiness in the divine presence. When he is confronted by the majesty of God, the singing of angels, the smoke of incense, all he can say is ‘Woe is me. For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips’ Isaiah is aware of his human sinfulness and the gulf between himself and God. Yet his guilt is taken away, and his sin atoned for — the prophet who will tell of the Messiah, who will save humanity, is prepared for this by God, he is set apart. When God asks ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for me?’ Isaiah can respond ‘Here I am, send me’ It’s quite a journey in a few verses, and that’s the point. God doesn’t call those who are equipped, He equips those whom He calls.

Likewise St Paul, ‘the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle because [he] persecuted the church of God’ is living proof of the redemptive power of God’s love at work in the world. He preaches Christ crucified and resurrected, to show us that Christ died for us, and that we can have new life in him. God can (and does) take and use surprising people to show us that we are loved. That is the wonder of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. No-one is beyond its reach, or of God’s forgiveness and loving mercy. 

In the Gospel, Jesus begins by using a fisherman’s boat, so that the large crowd at the lakeside can see and hear him, it’s simple, honest, and what’s there. When he has finished teaching Jesus tells Simon Peter to ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch’. Peter cannot see the point — they’ve not caught anything in the entire night, he’s tired, he just doesn’t see the point. 

And yet he is obedient, he does what Jesus asks him — and they catch so many fish that their boats almost sink under the weight of them, a catch which points forward to another miraculous catch of fish after Jesus’ resurrection (in Jn 21:1–11), it is a sign of the Church: a miraculous number of people given new life in Christ. Peter is obedient, he listens to what God says and obeys, and wonderful things happen.

Peter’s response to the miracle is telling: he falls at Jesus’ knees and says, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’. It is an authentic human response to the presence and generosity of God – and one which I recognise. Peter recognises his own unworthiness and his complete reliance upon God. Peter is not worthy of his calling, none of us are and that’s the point, but because Peter knows he isn’t that’s how God can be at work, in and through his humility and reliance upon God, not himself. The next thing Jesus says to him is ‘Do not be afraid’ – in Christ we do not need to be afraid of anything, if we trust in him, and let his love be at work in us, if we trust God.

Once they reach the land the disciples leave everything and follow him, they display metanoia: they let God change their heart, their mind and their life. This is the response of a sinner to the love of God. Now it can be all too easy to see such passages as we have this morning as solely of interest to those of a calling to the priesthood. That’s understandable, but it’s also deeply wrong. The message in our readings applies to each and every one of us, here, and all over the world. As Christians we are all to kneel in the place of Peter, to recognise our reliance upon and trust in God, and be prepared to be ‘fishers of men’. 

The calling of the disciples is the calling of the entire baptised people of God: a calling not to be afraid, but to respond to the God who loves us and saves us, a calling to live out in our lives by word and deed the saving truths of God, so God can use us for His glory and the spreading of His Kingdom, so that others may come to know His Love, Mercy, and Forgiveness. It’s what we’ve signed up for, to profess the faith of Christ Crucified, to share it with others.

This treasure has been entrusted to us, so that we can share it with others, so that the world may believe. 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. Amen

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Christ the King Year B [Dan 7:9-10 & 13-14, Rev 1:4b-8, Jn 18:33-37]

The Feast of Christ the King is a fairly recent addition to the liturgical calendar. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, but the ideas which lie behind it are much older. To stress the idea that Christ is the King of Heaven and Earth is to acknowledge the fact that there is an authority which is higher than any human authority. Christ, as king, unites humanity and points to the Peace of the Kingdom of God rather than the divisions of class and nationalism which lie at the root of the traumatic events of the last one hundred years. 

‘For Jesus Christ reigns over the minds of individuals by His teachings, in their hearts by His love, in each one’s life by the living according to His law and the imitating of His example.’

Pope Pius XI Ubi Arcana Dei Consilio 48 (23.xi.1923) [http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19221223_ubi-arcano-dei-consilio.html

This is a great claim to make, and a necessary one for Christians: to acknowledge Christ before all things, even before our family and friends. More than being Welsh, or British, or anything else, we belong to Christ, and acknowledge Him as our Lord and God. Our faith affects who we are and what we do. Nowhere is this more clear than in understanding where our primary allegiance lies. To say that, ‘Jesus is Lord’ is at one level to say that, ‘Caesar is not’. When faced with a religious cult where the Roman Emperor was worshipped as divine, our forebears made a choice. While they would pray for the Emperor as a temporal ruler they would not honour him as a god. They bore witness to their faith at the cost of their lives, because some things are more important, namely our relationship with the God who loves us and saves us.

In our readings this morning we hear in the prophecy of Daniel, that God will come to be our judge, and that the Son of Man — who is Jesus — is given dominion, glory, and a kingdom. All peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him, His dominion is everlasting and will not pass away. Christ the Word made Flesh is the fulfilment of Scripture, in Him, prophecy is fulfilled, and made real. 

We see Christ’s kingship most strikingly in the interaction between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in this morning’s Gospel. Picture the scene: Jesus has been arrested and is being questioned. His disciples have deserted him, and He stands alone in the governor’s palace. Pilate says to Him, ‘You are the King of the Jews?’ Pilate doesn’t understand, it doesn’t make sense. The Jews have handed Jesus over to be crucified under Roman Law, rather than the usual punishment of being stoned as a blasphemer. To claim to be a king is to stand in opposition to the authority of the Emperor, but how does this man do this? He doesn’t look like a king, or act like one. 

Pilate explains that Jesus has been handed over by the Jews and their chief priests, and asks Him, ‘What have you done?’(18:35) Jesus does not answer, instead He states, ‘My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.’ (Jn 18:36) Jesus’ kingship is not of this world. Then from where is it? The answer is surely the heavenly realm. Christ is a Divine King, and whereas the emperor may claim to be DIVI FILIVS, son of a god, Jesus Christ is King because He is the Son of God. 

Jesus goes on to say, ‘For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.’ (Jn 18:37) This is what Christ was born to do, to bear witness to the truth. He is ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ (Jn 14:6). In His Passion, Christ bears witness to the truth, namely that, ‘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 sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ (Jn 3:16-17) This is what real kingship looks like, selfless love and sacrifice. It is not about acquiring and displaying wealth, power, or privilege. To add insult to injury, after Jesus has been flogged, the Roman soldiers put a purple robe on Him and place a crown of thorns on His head, to mock him (Jn 19:2-3) with the trappings of a king. Their mockery is self-defeating, as it proclaims Christ’s kingship. The true King of the Jews is the Suffering Servant, bruised for our iniquities. Christ displays His royal power when he reigns, not on a throne, but from the Cross. God’s kingdom is about healing, forgiveness of sins, and the restoration of humanity, to give us the hope of Heaven. 

Christ, risen, ascended, and glorified, will come to be our judge. Images of the Risen Christ still bear the marks of nails in His Hands and Feet, and the mark of the spear in His Side, because they are the wounds of LOVE. This is the love God has for each and every one of us. We may not deserve it, we cannot earn it, but God gives it to us, who believe in His Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ. We are challenged to live lives which proclaim that love to the whole world.

Before they were martyred in Mexico and Spain, by regimes opposed to our faith, Christians would cry ‘¡Viva Christo Rey!’ ‘Long live Christ the King!’ just before they faced a firing squad or the hangman’s noose. To acknowledge Christ’s kingship is to do something radical. It is to say to those with worldly power, ‘We acknowledge something greater and more powerful than you!’ It is a radical political act, which terrifies those who are insecure. As Christians we are different. We have built the house of our faith on the rock which is Christ, and not the shifting sands of this world. 

The world around us may look dangerous and uncertain. Whatever we face, we can be assured of the simple fact that God loves us, and that we are part of a kingdom of love. Let us live this out in our lives, so that others may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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The Second Sunday before Advent: Mk 13:1-8

There was a time when you would see men walking around with sandwich boards, which declared, ‘The End is Nigh!’ It would be all too easy to mock them, or write them off as crackpots. They do, however, make a serious point. For all Christians, after Jesus’ Ascension, we are waiting for Jesus to come again, as our Saviour and our Judge. It might be today, or in a thousand years from now, but He is coming, and we need to be ready. We need to be prepared to meet Him. It is why, in the Season of Advent, which will soon be upon us, we consider the two comings of Jesus. The first is as a baby born in Bethlehem, the second will be as Our King, Our Saviour and Our Judge. The two comings are linked, and we need to be ready for both. 

People nowadays are worried by many things: Britain’s departure from the EU, the President of the United States of America, the threat of nuclear war, global climate change, the end of the world. The latter part of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-first are full of dire warnings of impending doom. It’s scary stuff, it really is. But as Christians we know that whatever happens, we are loved by and saved by God, that we, and all things are in His hands. It can be hard to hold onto hope like this, but we can. 

The buildings of the Temple complex were soon to be destroyed by the Romans. The single most holy place in the world for Jews was about to be destroyed. It’s a frightening prospect, but it teaches an important lesson: not to be overly concerned with the stuff of this world, as it isn’t as important as we tend to make it. The disciples can’t quite understand that yet, but they will, in time.

What’s more important for Jesus is that the disciples aren’t led astray into strange beliefs, or following false Christs. The last two thousand years have seen some very strange versions, some might say perversions, of Christianity. What we believe matters, because it affects how we live our lives, it helps us give right praise to God, rather than something distorted, ugly and man-made. When Mark wrote his Gospel there were lots of strange ideas floating around about Jesus, and there still are today. It was a time of great uncertainty then, as now. There were wars and natural disasters which portend the end times. Christians were facing persecution then, and they are now too, all over the world. We are more likely to face indifference than persecution, but it knocks your confidence somewhat. You want hope and comfort, and the promise of something better. 

And we have that in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, and who rose again to show us that we have the promise of eternal life with God, ‘For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified’ (Heb 10:14). This is truly good news to a troubled world. It is the heart of our faith, and the source of our joy. Peter and Andrew, James and John want to know when it will take place. Jesus doesn’t tell them, but he gives them signs to be alert for, so that they can be ready.

I wasn’t a boy scout, but their motto ‘Be Prepared’ is a good one, especially for Christians, because Jesus is coming, and we need to be ready to meet Him. It is good to think about this as we prepare to enter Advent, the penitential season which looks towards Christmas, and our yearly celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is truly amazing thing, that God should be born as one of us, to save us from our sins, to give us the hope of Heaven. We need to prepare for it, because it is important: not the turkey and tinsel and the rampant consumerism, but the Incarnation of the Word of God. It changes the world, and has been doing so for the last two thousand years. We also know that Jesus will come to judge the world. It’s tricky that one, knowing that we will be called to account for what we have been, said, thought, and done.None of us deserve to go to Heaven, but God is loving and merciful, and forgives our sins when we are penitent, He gives us another chance when we make a mess of it. We keep doing it, and God keeps forgiving us, so that we can try to do what God wants us to do. I find such generosity staggering. The world around us can be judgmental, it likes to write people off as no good, as failures. Thankfully God isn’t like that, and the church shouldn’t be either. We have to be a community of healing and reconciliation, so that we can offer the world an alternative. It is both liberating and exciting to that you and I are part of it, and hopefully we want others to be as well. 

This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ (Heb 10:16). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah (31:33) to show us how Scripture is fulfilled in the Person of Jesus, who makes a new covenant with His Precious Blood on Calvary. God makes it possible for us to live this new life, triumphing over sin and death. Christ does this for us, what can we do for Him?

We can be ready to meet Him, and we can live the life He wants us to live, not worry whether Christ will come tomorrow or in a thousand years. 

‘The Way’ on Eucharistic Adoration

No study of united worship, however slight, could possibly be complete without touching on the Holy Eucharist, which is the highest point of all earthly worship. In an Armenian version of the Apocryphal Lives of the Prophets there is to be found an episode which stands out from the rest of the book by its spiritual beauty. In describing the death of Jeremiah, the writer tells us that the prophet had managed to rescue the Ark of the Covenant, and he took it, with all that was contained therein, and hid it under a rock, and with his ring he impressed on the rock the Name of God. Then a luminous cloud hid it so that nobody is able to find the Ark or read the Name. During each night there is a cloud of light, for the Grace of God never departs from that place. It seems to me there is in this account a fitting symbol of the place occupied in worship by the Blessed Sacrament. We come to that great sacrifice conscious of a luminous cloud, covering the very secret of God and his dwelling-place. We are aware that there, most truly, is to be found the centre of our worship, that there, are depths of adoration to be explored, and, at the end, the secret of God’s love. I do not think that either doctrine or theory can ever fully explain the Blessed Sacrament to the worshipper, for he is always conscious of an experience which refuses to be expressed in words. He knows that in some degree he has come into actual contact with the Living God, he knows that God has drawn out of him something which is the the height of his being, he knows that this adoration which is drawn out of him is strengthened and shared by the experience of those around him, and that, because of this union with them, he can give and receive more than if he were alone. This then is, and always must be, the climax of united worship, and it is a climax which, unlike all other earthly summits, permits of endless extension.

Whatever we may have found in worship at the Blessed Eucharist, we may be sure that still further treasure awaits our search. The Holy Grail did not leave this earth with Galahad, as the legend suggests, for it is still found by those who search in adoration for the secret of God’s love. For each spiritual adventurer, leaving self wholly behind in worship, the shrine which hides it is still opened. 

from pp. 142-3

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29th Sunday of Year B: Mark 10:35-45

One day the Pope Gregory the Great decided to teach his brother Bishop, John the Faster of Constantinople, a lesson. John had just been granted the title ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’ by the Emperor of Byzantium, it sounds grand and it was. It makes a claim to be patriarch of the entire inhabited world. So Gregory adopted the title ‘servus servorum Dei — Servant of the Servants of God’ [John the Deacon (PL, LXXV, 87)]. It derives from a Hebrew superlative: God of Gods, Heaven of Heavens, Holy of Holies, Song of Songs, Vanity of Vanities. So it means the most servile, the lowest of the low, the servant of all. It is used of Canaan in Genesis 9:25 when he is cursed by Noah, and also it refers to this morning’s Gospel. It was a way of reminding his brother in Christ that service, not power or titles, lies at the heart of who we are as Christians.

This morning’s gospel reminds us that Christian leadership is not about lording it over people, but being like Christ. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a bishop, a priest, a deacon, or simply a baptised Christian; we all have to live up to the same standard: Jesus Christ, who served us, and call us to the service of others. 

It is a big ask, I grant you, we will all of us fall short, and fail to hit the mark. But we are to try, and keep trying, and we can have confidence that, ‘although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him’. The author of the letter to the Hebrews encourages to do this, and to hold fast to our confession: we can be sure about both WHO Jesus is, and WHAT he does. He is truly God and man, tempted but without sin, He loves us and makes peace by the blood of the Cross. He gives his life for us, out of Love.

The Cross is at the centre of all this, through the mystery of the Atonement, we can ‘have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace and receive help in time of need’. It is a mystery, not something to be explained, but something both to be experienced and lived out. It is a mystery which we will enter this morning, when Christ, as priest and victim offers himself for us, and we receive Him under the outward forms of bread and wine. It is a mystery prefigured in the prophets, especially Isaiah, which the Church reads in a Christological way, as pointing to, and finding fulfilment in Jesus Christ. In Acts Chapter 8 when Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch he is reading the passage we have heard this morning and he cannot understand it, or what it means, so Philip tells him about Jesus, and how Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus, and he is baptised. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ death, which shows us that God loves us, that he inspires the prophets to give comfort and chastisement to God’s people, so that they may love Him and serve Him.

In worldly terms Jesus looks like a failure: he is deserted, denied, and dies the death of a common criminal. But we are NOT to judge by the standards of this world: ‘it shall not be so among you’. We are not being counter-cultural just to be rebellious, to swim against the tide. Instead we are being faithful to Christ, we are holding fast to our confession, because it is TRUE, because it comes from him who is the WAY, who is the TRUTH, and the LIFE, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, whp loves us, and died for us.

In the verses which precede this morning’s Gospel, Our Lord has foretold his suffering and death for the third time in Mark’s account. He knows the cost, he knows what will happen: ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’. Jesus does it willingly, gladly, for love of us. It is a love made manifest in His birth, life and death. A love made manifest in the grace and mercy of God who creates and redeems the world, and who comes among us not as a king but as a servant. This changes us, and changes the world, it turns it around, and it asks us to do the same.

In the person of James and John we see what it is to be a Christian, to live a Christian life: it is to be conformed to Christ. They start by getting it wrong, then they learn what it is all about. It is to be open to the possibility of suffering and to accept it. In worldly terms it looks like a failure, but in bearing witness to our faith we show how that we too are able to drink the cup offered to us. We are able to become an example which people want to imitate and follow because WE point them to Christ, the restorer of all relationships, the healer of the world, who offers life in all its fullness. It is the most terrific news. People may not want to hear it, but they need to hear it. They prefer to ‘lord it over’ others and to go after the false gods of worldly power, money, and success: things which are empty, things which are of no value or worth compared to the love of God in Christ Jesus, the greatest free gift to humanity.

In Christ all human existence, all life, all death, and all suffering find both meaning and value. This truth is unsettling, it is deeply uncomfortable, and yet it is deeply liberating. In living out the truth in our lives we live a service which is perfect freedom. In conforming ourselves to Christ we find meaning and identity. So let us lay down our lives that we may live fully and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

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A Prayer of Padre Pio (after receiving Communion)

Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have you present so that I do not forget you. You know how easily I abandon you.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak, and I need your strength, so that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for you are my life, and without you, I am without fervour.
Stay with me, Lord, for you are my light, and without you, I am in darkness.
Stay with me, Lord, to show me your will.
Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear your voice and follow you.
Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love you very much, and always be in your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if you wish me to be faithful to you.
Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is, I want it to be a place of consolation for you, a nest of love. Amen.

S. Pio of Pietrelcina

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A thought from Thomas Merton

The basic and most fundamental problem of the spiritual life is the acceptance of our hidden and dark self, with which we tend to identify all the evil that is in us. We must learn by discernment to separate the evil growth of our actions from the good ground of the soul. And we must prepare that ground so that a new life can grow up from it within us, beyond our knowledge and our conscious control. The sacred attitude is then one of reverence, awe, and silence before the mystery that begins to take place within us when we become aware of our innermost self. In silence, hope, expectation, and unknowing, the man of faith abandons himself to the divine will: not as to an arbitrary and magic power whose decrees must be spelt out from cryptic cyphers, but as to the stream of reality and of life itself. The sacred attitude is then one of deep and fundamental respect for the real in whatever new form it may present itself. The secular attitude is one of gross disrespect for reality, upon which the worldly mind seeks only to force its own crude patterns. The secular man is the slave of his own prejudices, preconceptions and limitations. The man of faith is ideally free from prejudice and plastic in his uninhibited response to each new movement of the stream of life. I say ‘ideally’ in order to exclude those whose faith is not pure but is also another form of prejudice enthroned in the exterior man — a preconceived opinion rather than a living responsiveness to the logos of each new situation. For there exists a kind of ‘hard’ and rigid religious faith that is not really alive or spiritual, but resides entirely in the exterior self and is the product of conventionalism and systematic prejudice.

Cistercian Quarterly Review 18 (1983): 215-6

Easter V — I am the true Vine [Acts 8:26-40; 1Jn 4:7-21; Jn 15:1-8]

Meetings and conversations can be important, insofar as they provide opportunities for us to share our faith with others. In this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles we see a chance encounter which leads to faith, and new life in Christ. When the Apostle Philip, a Greek-speaking deacon, meets an Ethiopian court official on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he comes across a man reading the prophecy of Isaiah: who is a financial expert, highly trusted, and well-educated, he is a man of power and influence. He’s clearly looking for something, he’s been worshipping God in Jerusalem. Philip asks him if he can understand what he is reading. The Ethiopian replies that he cannot, unless someone shows him the way. ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35 ESV) 

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was open at the fifty-third chapter, a reading which we read on Good Friday, which talks of suffering and death. The Ethiopian was reading ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’(Acts 8:32-33) and asks whether this is about Isaiah or someone else. Philip’s reply is that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus and this is the proclamation of the Church: we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified, who suffered and died for love of us.

We read scripture so that we can understand it, and see in its words how it discloses the truth of the Word made flesh, who suffered and died for our sake. Isaiah prophesies Our Lord’s Passion and Death, and thus it makes sense, it can be understood, and the more we come to understand, the more we come to know just how much God loves us. The Scriptures, the entire of the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus Christ, they find their meaning and fulfilment in Him, who is the Word of God made flesh. Just like the story of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham points to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, where God gives his only Son for love of us, it is prefigured by the ram in the thicket, which points to that moment where John the Baptist can cry out ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!’ (Jn 1:29)

How can I understand it unless someone guides me? It is a good question, a difficult question, and a controversial one. How we interpret the Bible matters, and who can or cannot, is a vexed question. There are those who consider it a private matter, that everyone can make their own mind up, but that will only lead to chaos and confusion. In the Church, for two thousand years we have interpreted the words of the Bible in a way which is consonant with Tradition, handed down through the Church Fathers. The Church has always understood the entirety of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures in a Christological way — they point to Christ and they find their fullest meaning in Him: the Word of God discloses the Word made flesh. Such things matter, we don’t just make things up as we go along, or according to our feelings. I don’t preach to you in that way, but rather I try to explain how the Bible talks about Jesus, and how that affects our lives as Christians. 

Having been nourished by the Word of God, our unnamed Ethiopian desires baptism: he points out a water source, a rarity in this desert landscape, and asks what is preventing him from being baptised. Nothing, Philip replies, if you believe in Him. The Ethiopian states his belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and is saved, and reborn in the waters of baptism, something we focus upon in this Easter season.

He desires baptism so that he may be ‘in Christ’ rooted and grafted, close to him, filled with His Spirit, so that he may bear much fruit. It is believed that this man went home, and began the Church in Ethiopia. Something which has continued for two thousand started with one man, and a conversation. 

When we were baptised we were clothed with Christ, we were grafted into the vine, which is Christ, and we abide in Him. It is Christ’s will that we, as Christians bear much fruit, which means that we live out our faith in our lives, so that it affects who and what we are and say and do. We do this because it is what Christ expects of us, but also because, as we heard in the First Letter of John, ‘the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him’ (1Jn 4:9 ESV).

 

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When I was a teenager  I went on holiday to Greece with my parents, and while we were there they bought an icon for our home, it depicts Christ and the Disciples as a vine. It is a powerful vision of what the Church is, people who are grafted into Christ, connected to Him, in a relationship with Him. We entered into that relationship in our baptism, and it is a relationship which will continue through and after our life on earth. 

Because we are grafted into Christ we are in communion with Him. He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist, His Body and Blood, so that we can have life in Him. He gives Himself to us out of love, so that we might have life in Him, and have it forever. It is a pledge of eternal life with Him, united in this world and the next, given to us to strengthen us on the journey of faith. It is given to help us live out our faith in our lives – fed by Him, fed with Him, to live in Him and for Him. 

When we are close to Christ, washed clean by our baptism, nourished by Word and Sacrament, we can truly be Christ’s disciples, living in Him, living for Him, proclaiming Him, and bearing much fruit, 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. 

Lent I Year B

It can be all too easy to see the forty days of Lent, the season of preparation for our celebration of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection as a time of sadness and misery. Too often it is seen in entirely negative terms: we focus on what we are giving up — the world around us seems to understand Lent solely in terms of giving up chocolate.

Now, the practice of abstaining from bodily pleasures is a good and ancient one, though it is not simply some sort of holy diet. Rather, we turn away from something which we enjoy so that we may focus upon something else instead — we focus on our sins, and how they separate us from God, and from each other. The other practices of Lent: prayer and almsgiving are there to focus our minds upon God and other people, so that we may enter the desert of repentance with JOY, thinking of the needs of others and growing closer to the God who loves us and longs for our repentance and our healing.

In this morning’s first reading we see a covenant between God and humanity, a sign of God’s love for us, and a promise of reconciliation between God and the world which underlies what Jesus does for us, it allows us to have hope, to see things in an entirely positive way, and to see behind what we do, that it is a means, a means to an end, namely our sanctification, rather than an end in itself. In our second reading from the first letter of Peter, he draws the link between Noah’s ark, which saves people through water, and baptism, which is prefigured in it. Lent is a season of preparation for baptism at Easter, where we can die with Christ and be raised like him and with him to have new life in him. For those of us who have been baptised it is good to have a chance to spend the time in Lent praying, drawing closer to the God who loves us, and living out our faith in our lives — we can all do better, especially when we try, and try together, supporting each other, so that we might grow in holiness as the people of God.

 

When St Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying, ‘Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria.’ When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried to the city. When he had found the tanner …. he said to him, ‘Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you.’

He replied, ‘I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of the city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds while I will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart.’

When St Antony heard this he said, ‘My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near to the measure of such words.’

It is a very human failure, for far too often we make things far too complicated when all we need to do is to keep things simple. In the story from the Desert Fathers, which we have just heard, St Antony, the founder of monasticism, a great and a holy man, is put to shame by a man who spends his days making leather, treating animal skins with urine, hardly a glamorous job. The key to it all is the tanner’s humility, his complete absence of pride, and his complete and utter trust in God — his reliance upon him alone.

In this morning’s Gospel we see the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry — he is baptised by John in the River Jordan before immediately going into the desert for forty days. He goes to be alone with God, to pray and to fast, to prepare himself for the public ministry of the Proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel.

 

During this he is tempted by the devil: he faces temptation just like every human being, but unlike us, he resists. The devil tempts him to turn stones into bread. It is understandable — he is hungry, but it is a temptation to be relevant, which  the church seems to have given into completely: unless we what we are and what we do and say is relevant to people, they will ignore us. So we conform ourselves to the world around us, we package worship as entertainment, rather than being counter-cultural: offering the world an alternative to selfishness, and consumerism. Being part of the church is not a consumer choice about how we spend our leisure time, it is a call to repent and believe and trust in something greater, a God who loves us, and will die for us, so that we can live in Him.

 

There is the temptation to have power, symbolised by worshipping the devil. It leads to the misuse of power. The church stands condemned for the mistakes of the past, but in recognising this there is the possibility of a more humble church in the future — a church reliant upon God and not on the exercise of power. It is not fun to live through, but the result may actually be something more authentically Christian.

 

There is the temptation to put God to the test — to be spectacular and self-seeking. Whenever we say, ‘look at me’ we’re not saying, ‘look at God’. Worship is not entertainment — it is there to praise God and to help us to love Him.

Jesus resists the temptations because He is humble, because He has faith, and because he trusts in God. It certainly isn’t easy, but it is possible. It’s far easier when we do this together, as a community, which is why Lent matters for all of us. It’s a chance to become more obedient, and through that obedience to discover true freedom in God. It’s an obedience which is made manifest on the Cross — in laying down his life Jesus can give new life to the whole world. He isn’t being spectacular — he dies like a common criminal. He has no power, he does not try to be relevant, he is loving and obedient and that is good enough.

 

It was enough for him, and it should be for us. As Christians we have Scripture and the teaching of the Church, filled with His Spirit, to guide us. We can use this time of prayer and fasting to deepen our faith, our trust, our understanding, and our obedience, to become more like Jesus, fed by his word and sacraments — to become more humble, more loving, living lives of service of God and each other.

The time spent in the desert leads to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ Jesus calls us to turn away from sin, to turn back to God, to trust Him, and to know that He longs for our healing and reconciliation. His Son, Jesus Christ will die for us, so that we may know just how much God loves us. This is the heart of our faith, something we will experience again in a few weeks time, and also which we will experience here, this morning, when we can see, and touch, and taste just how much God loves us.

These words are good news indeed, which the world still longs to hear, and which we need to live out in our lives, 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

Christmas Midnight Mass

Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν·

Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3

He became human so that we might become divine

If you have seen any of the Star Wars films then you will be used to the idea of a world under the thumb of a despotic tyrannical regime. A world which longs for deliverance.Two thousand years ago the people of Israel were similarly in a bad way. They were occupied by a foreign power, Rome. They were part of a foreign empire, ruled by pagans. They longed to be free. All hope seemed lost. Their souls were crushed. Had God abandoned them? Their prophets had told them to expect the Messiah, who was an anointed Saviour of the house and lineage of David. He would save them, free them, give them hope, light in the darkness. This is exactly what the prophet Isaiah looks forward to in tonight’s first reading. People knew the prophecy but could barely hope that they would see it fulfilled.

We are now in a very different situation: we can say with confidence that a child is born to us, the Son of God, born of the Blessèd Virgin Mary. This helpless baby is our Mighty God and the Prince of Peace, the Creator and Ruler of all that is, all that ever has been, and all that will be. This night, in a small hill town God comes among us, God is with us, Emmanuel.

And so, to comply with the Imperial census demands, Joseph and Mary travel to his ancestral home, thereby fulfilling the prophecy of Micah: ‘But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.’ (Micah 5:2-4).

Bethlehem in Hebrew means the House of Bread and in the House of Bread is born tonight the one who will be the Living Bread, come down from Heaven. He will be the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd of His people, Israel. We are told in the Gospel about shepherds out in the fields. They are raising the lambs to be used in the Passover sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem. When these lambs are born they are wrapped in strips of cloth to keep them safe, so that they may be without spot or blemish, and thus be an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord. And so the One who is to save Israel from her sins, Yeshua, which means God saves, is born and treated like a Passover Lamb. He is wrapped in strips of cloth, swaddling clothes, just like the lambs on the hilltops. He is the Lamb of God, the true passover of Israel, who will go to His death willingly, led like a lamb to the slaughter. He was anticipated in Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, by the ram caught in the thicket. He is born for us, the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins and those of the whole world.

The shepherds are greeted by angels who announce the Good News, that the prophecy is fulfilled, here and now. The Messiah is born in Bethlehem. These hard-working farmers eagerly go to see God come to earth. God meets humanity not in a blaze of glory and triumph, but as a vulnerable new-born baby, who needs a mother to feed him, who needs others to provide him with warmth and security. The Word of God, through which everything was created, lies silent and helpless. Here we see real love – open, vulnerable, all gift, holding back nothing, but risking all to come among us, to heal our wounds, to save us, to show us how to live.

All the tinsel, and excess, all the consumerism, and even the ignorance and unbelief of the modern world cannot cover up the sheer wonder of this night. In the stillness and darkness something wonderful happens, which we cannot fully understand. God comes among us, born as a baby, to share our life, so that we might share His. Our God longs for a relationship with us, and brings it about, so that we might have life in and through Him.

The Son gives us a life in which to live. He offers up himself for us upon the Cross, where He dies for us. He gives himself to us under the signs of bread and wine so that we might share his divine life. As the shepherds hurried to meet him, let us too yearn for that divine encounter. Let us long to be fed by Him, fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, so that we can share His life, life in all its fullness.

When the Holy Family came to Bethlehem the town was overcrowded. There was no room for them. The weather was cold, and we can speculate that their welcome was too. As we celebrate the birth of Our Saviour we have to ask ourselves: Have we made room for Jesus in our lives? Have we really? If we haven’t, then no fine words can make up for it. We have to let our hearts and our lives be the stable in which the Christ child can be born. We have to see Him in the outcast, in the stranger, in the people which the world shuns, and we have to welcome them, and in welcoming them to welcome Him. This is how we live out His love in our lives. This is the true meaning of Christmas – this is the love which can transform the world. It is radical and costly. It terrified the might of the Roman Empire, and showed human power that it was as nothing compared to Divine Love. Soul by individual soul, for the past two thousand years, the world has been changed by ordinary people living out the love shown to the world in this little vulnerable child.

So, tonight, let us receive the greatest gift which has ever been given and share it with others, living it out in our lives, regardless of the cost, so that the world may believe and 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. Happy Christmas

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29th Sunday of Year A, Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity: Isa 45 1-7, 1Thess 1:1-10, Mt 22:15-22

People get in a fluster about coins. It is nothing new, currently people are worried that, despite there being about 500 million in circulation, the old round £1 coin is no longer legal tender. Such things are important. They are part of our lives – how we pay for things. Their size, shape and decoration matter too, otherwise those in power would not bother to design the coins we use. Our gospel this morning is all about a denarius, it is a small silver coin, about ¾ of an inch in diameter, the size of a modern 5p, or a penny. It was a day’s wage, the pay given to the labourers in the vineyard , or one thirtieth of the bribe given to Judas Iscariot, and the cost of the Roman poll tax, about £50 in today’s money.

Jesus and the Pharisees have something of a troubled relationship: they just do not seem to be able to understand what he is saying or why he is saying it. All they can do is to try and catch him out, to find a way to entrap him. In the gospel they must think that they have finally got him on the horns of a dilemma. They ask him the question, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ If he says, ‘no’ then he’s allied himself with zealots, religious extremists, he has made a provocative political statement for which he can be denounced. If he says, ‘yes’ then they can write him off as a collaborator, he is not one of us, he is not a real prophet, a true son of Israel. All the Pharisees are interested in is understanding what Jesus says in political terms. Their opening pleasantries ring hollow, they don’t mean what they say; they are just trying to butter him up with empty flattery.

Jesus turns the tables on them by asking them to show him a coin used to pay the tax, so that he can ask ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answer ‘Caesar’s’ allowing him to say, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s’. Whereas the Pharisees come filled with malice, with a desire to catch him out, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to show them the proper order of things: pay your taxes but give God what is owed to him – a heart filled with love, love of God and of each other, a life which proclaims this love in the service of others and through the worship of Almighty God. This is where real power lies, this is the truly subversive aspect of Jesus’ teaching, which he proclaims in the Temple, in the heart of the religious establishment – to show people how to live, and live life to the full.

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Jesus does not get drawn into the argument whether it is idolatrous to use Roman coins with pictures of pagan gods on them , and the  inscription, ‘TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F. avgvstvs pontif. maxim.’ Paying a Roman tax with a Roman coin is fine, but what matters more is rendering to God the things that are God’s.

Jesus is asking us all a difficult question. What do you and I, all of us, render to God in our personal lives? If we claim to be disciples, then what does that actually mean in the way we speak and act?

We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We are to be generous, forgiving and kind, to the point of extravagance, because that is how God has been to us. It is a radically different way of living which shows that while we are in this world, we are not of it. Instead, we render to God the worship which is His by right, not just in church, but in all of our lives.

Thus as Christians we follow a differnt set of rules, we show that we can live lives of freedom. In the power of the Holy Spirit the Truth can be proclaimed, the truth which sets us free from the ways of the world, free to love and serve God. This freedom can be seen in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians to whom Paul writes. Rather than worshipping idols, they serve the living and true God, they are an example to Christians of how to live. Their lives proclaim the truth which they serve. This is the dark truth of which the prophet Isaiah speaks, these are the hidden riches.

As opposed to either the collaboration of the Herodians or the rigourist harshness of the Pharisees, Jesus proclaims the freedom and love of the Kingdom of God. It is a place of welcome – the image is that of the wedding feast to which all people are invited. People are too busy or preoccupied to come; others just don’t want to be invited: they mistreat the people who invite them. But this does not stop the invitation being offered to all, it still is. It is why we are here today, so that we can be nourished by Word and Sacrament, we can join in the wedding feast, so that we can be strengthened in love and in faith, to proclaim the reality of the Kingdom of God, to be an example to others to draw them in to the loving embrace of God – to be healed and restored by Him.

We see this love and healing most fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the costly love in action which restores our relationship with God and each other. Thanks to this we are here today to be restored and renewed, to be built up in love together, it is a reality in our lives.

Let us come to him, to be healed and renewed, strengthened, built up in love, so that we may 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.

18th Sunday after Trinity: Matthew 22:1-14

Oswald Golter was a missionary in northern China during the 1940s. After ten years service he was returning home. His ship stopped in India, and while waiting for a boat home he found a group of refugees living in a warehouse on the pier. Unwanted by anyone else the refugees were stranded there. Golter went to visit them. As it was Christmas-time wished them a merry Christmas and asked them what they would like for Christmas.

“We’re not Christians,” they said. “We don’t believe in Christmas.”

“I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?” They described some German pastries they were particularly fond of, and so Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket, used the money to buy baskets and baskets of the pastries, took them to the refugees, and wished them a merry Christmas.

When he later repeated the incident to a class, a student said, “But sir, why did you do that for them? They weren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus.”

“I know,” he replied, “but I do!”

Most people like being invited to attend a party. Almost everyone here would greet an invitation with joy: if it were a wedding, all the more. There will be lots to eat and drink, music, dancing, everything you could want at a celebration. In this morning’s Gospel reading this is the image Jesus uses to introduce his parable, the Parable of the Wedding Feast. We can all sympathise with the king in the parable. He has every right to be annoyed. He has invited people and they are either too busy to bother to come or mistreat those whom he sends to invite them.

The Good News of the Christian Faith, which this parable embodies, is one of generous hospitality: God is generous towards us, and so we are expected to be generous to one another. In this morning’s gospel, Jesus has gone to Jerusalem. He has cleansed the Temple, he has healed the sick and the lame, and is preaching about the love of God. In his parable we see salvation history condensed into a paragraph. And we see how God sent the prophets to invite people to God’s feast – but they are too busy, too concerned with matters of this world, they ignore the prophets, some of the prophets are killed, the city, Jerusalem, is destroyed, and still they do not come. So God’s invitation is widened: all are welcome.

And yet, if we turn to our own day, the invitation is still made, but people are ready or unwilling to come to God’s banquet. They are too busy, their lives are too full, and going to a Eucharist on a Sunday morning is seen as one choice among many, with people preferring to read the paper, wash the car, or spend time with their nearest and dearest. Lest we think that we are somehow better for being here are, we can ask ourselves how much have we done? How committed are we? We could all of us, I suspect, do more for the sake of the gospel.

This parable gives us a clear example of one of the main themes of Matthew’s gospel: Jesus comes to feed us. He has found the 5000 and 4000, to show the world the abundant and generous nature of God’s love. The kingdom God is about food in particular food for the poor. This is a feast of God’s abundance. The food given by Jesus is not only to feed the hungry, but to stage a banquet, to which we and all humanity, despite our unworthiness, are invited. God will give himself as both priest and victim upon the altar of the cross, to feed humanity with his body and blood, to heal our wounds – to make us become what he is.

This generous invitation comes with a challenge, how can we sit down at the Lord’s banquet, when there are those who will die for a lack of food? The church is called to be a community of holiness, where Jesus expects those called to his kingdom to bear fruit. Only when we are poor enough in spirit to know our need of God, and yet able to feed others, can we be sent to be living truly Christian lives. We all need to be clothed in wedding garments: a garment of baptism making one in the body of Christ, a garment of generous hospitality, putting God’s love into practice in our lives by showing that love to others, and a garment of repentance and we are sorry for our sins and shortcomings and turn back to a God who loves us and who will never abandon us. This is what the future looks like, and the time of the Lord’s banquet is now, and forever. We are fed by him in the words of Holy Scripture, and most importantly with His Body and Blood, to enter more fully into the very life of God, to be formed by him, strengthened by him – given bread for our journey, and to go out and feed others and invite them to the great King’s feast. We are called to share the generous gift we have received with others, so that they may share in the joy of the Kingdom and give glory to God the Father God the Son of God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed this is most right and just all Might, Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power now and for ever…

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The 23rd Sunday of Yr A: Ezek 33:7-11, Rom 13:8-14, Mt 18:15-20

The Church is hardly out of the media these days for one reason or another. Numbers in the pews are dropping off the cliff and, depending on your point of view, the Church is either too closely aligned with the views of the world, or too much at odds with them. Regardless of where you stand it is fair to say that the church is afraid. Are we actually afraid of the truth of the Gospel? Have we forgotten that Christ comes to set his people free? And yet this freedom is not absolute, it is a limited freedom. The church has always stated that certain behaviours or actions are not in keeping with the Christian way of life. The church has proclaimed certain moral truths: that life is sacred from conception to a natural death, that the only proper place for sexual activity is between a man and woman who are married to each other, based on Holy Scripture as the revelation of God’s will to promote human flourishing. As an ordered society it has the right to discipline its members, for their own good, and the good of their souls, to regulate their behaviour so that it conforms with wth Scripture and ultimately the will of God.

It is not popular to stand up and do this. It never has been, nor will it ever be popular to bear witness to the truth. The prophet Ezekiel has a difficult task: to call the wicked to repent from their evil ways, or to be responsible for them. Through the prophet God calls his people back to Him. Though they are wayward they are given a chance to repent, to return to the ways of human flourishing. Sin can separate us from God and each other, it is divisive, it wounds, whereas the kingdom of God is a place of healing. As Christians we believe that Our Lord and Saviour died upon the Cross bearing the weight of our transgressions: He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who once and for all deals with the problem – human sinfulness and its effects upon us and the world. Under the New Covenant St Paul can repeat the same message. Earlier, at the start of Chapter 12 he has reminded the Roman Christians  ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,’ (Rom 12:2). He has criticised where they have gone wrong in the past and is looking to a future where they can put such immorality behind them. He is insistent: ‘Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.’ (Rom 13:11-14) . For the Church after Pentecost we await Our Lord’s Second Coming as Judge of All. While He is merciful, for those who reject Him there remains the possible of Hell for eternity.

It is why at the beginning of his public ministry Christ proclaims the same message as John the Baptist: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’. To repent is to turn away from sin, to turn towards God, to be healed and restored by him. It is why our acts of worship as Christians often start with the recognition that we have fallen short; that we need constantly to turn to God, and ask for forgiveness, for the strength to live the kind of lives which lead to human flourishing. It affects each and every one of us, you and me, and we need help – we simply cannot manage on our own, we’re not strong enough. One can and should point out where someone is going wrong, but unless there is a conscious recognition of having fallen short, it is as though the grace of God can be resisted. Such stubbornness is part of the human condition, and it is why for two thousand years the Church has proclaimed the Love and Forgiveness of God, and its message can always be lived out better in our lives. The Church exists to continue to call people to repentance, to carry on the healing and reconciling work of Jesus, here and now. It is offered freely, and may be rejected – God is after all not a tyrant who forces us.

We can recognise the problem and its effects but also be assured of a solution in the person of Jesus Christ, whose forgiveness is for all, who gives us baptism so that we might have new life in Him, and gives himself under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we might feed on His Body and Blood to be healed and restored by Him.

This is neither cosy nor comfortable. But  it is rather a radical transformative message, one which has the potential to change not just us, and who and what we are, but the entire world. This is the Good News of the Kingdom.  Here in the Eucharist we are soon to be in the presence of the God who loves us, and who saves us, who heals and restores us. We have a foretaste of heaven; we can come far closer to God than Moses did on Mt Sinai. We have the medicine for which our souls cry out. So let us come to Him and let His Grace transform our lives.

At the end of this morning’s Gospel we see a promise made by Jesus firstly that prayer will be answered and of his presence among us. Part of repentance, the turning away from the ways of the world, is the turning towards God in prayer, listening to Him, being open to his transforming love in our lives, so that God’s grace can perfect our human nature, and prepare us for heaven here and now – so let us live the life of the Kingdom, having turned away from all that separates us from God and each other, with tears of repentance and a resolve not to sin, and with tears of joy that God gives himself to suffer and die for love us. We cannot be lukewarm about this: for it is either of no importance or interest to us whatsoever, or the most wonderful news which should affect who we are and what we do.

There can be no complacency, no simply going through the motions, turning up to be seen, to provide a veneer of social respectability. It is a matter of life and death, whose repercussions are eternal. We have a choice to make. Do you wish to follow the ways of the world, the ways of sin and death? Or would you heed the warning?

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The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity: Who do YOU say that I am? (Mt 16:13-20)

We live in a strange world, where in a little over fifty years we have experienced more profound and rapid social change than any other generation in history. Such a thing is hard to come to terms with, but there is a vocal group here in the West whose aim is to make the Church conform itself to the world around us. I for one am unable in all conscience to accept their revisionist agenda for a simple reason. In the twelfth chapter Paul’s Letter to the Romans the apostle writes ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds’ (Rom 12:2). Paul tells the Church in Rome, and he tells us not to be like the world around us, not to bow to secular pressure, or follow their lead. Instead, the Church exists to call the world to repentance, to turn its back on the false ways of the world and to be conformed to Christ, and ‘to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’ (Rom 12:1). It isn’t easy, it is challenging and demanding and costly. The Christian Faith does after all make demands on those who follow it, especially regarding what we do and how we live our lives.

One of the most important questions in the entire Bible is found in this morning’s Gospel: who do you say that Jesus is? How we answer this question can tell us a lot about our faith. It matters, in fact it is central to who and what we are as Christians.

Jesus and his disciples ventured into the District of Caesarea Philippi, an area about 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The region had tremendous religious implications. The place was littered with the temples of the Syrian gods. Here was the elaborate marble temple that had been erected by Herod the Great, father of the then-ruling Herod Antipas. Here you could worship the Roman Emperor as a God himself. You might say that the world religions were on display in this town. It was with this scene in the background that Jesus chose to ask the most crucial questions of his ministry.

Jesus looked at his disciples and in a moment of reflection said: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples begin sharing with Jesus what they have heard from the people who have been following Jesus: Some say that you are Elijah; others say John the Baptist, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. It’s always been this way. Jesus has been seen by the masses in so many different ways. But Jesus asks then asks his disciples, ‘But who do YOU say that  am?’ (Mt 16:15) Peter answers ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God’ (Mt 16:16) This is a big claim to make. Saying that Jesus is divine was problematic, it undermined what Jews thought about religion, and the claims made by Romans about the Emperor. It is a radical thing to say, that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Hope of Israel, who fulfils the promises in the Prophets.

Nowadays you can speak of Jesus as prophet, holy man, teacher, or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as Son of God, Divine, of the same nature as the Father, and people will line up to express their disapproval. This is not a new phenomenon, indeed in the fourth century A.D. it looked as though the church has been taken over by Arians followers of Arius, who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. And yet, in the end, Orthodoxy won the day. But still nowadays Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and others deny Jesus’ divinity. They are WRONG: He is God, consubstantial, and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The reason why the church repeats the words of the Nicene Creed week by week is to remind ourselves of what we believe. As Christians in worship we stand up and make a public declaration of faith, something which would once have led to our death at the hands of the state, and nowadays in some states still does.

As Christians we should not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified. But as well as making this public declaration, we need to live lives which show this faith being lived out in practice.

If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God, the Messiah – the anointed one who delivers us from our sins, and who died, rose again, and sends us His Holy Spirit; then this faith should affect who we are and how we live our lives. Only if we take our faith seriously, if we take the time and make the effort to pray regularly and to read the Scriptures, to come to Mass, not because they’re nice things to do, or to be seen to do them, but because they keep as close to Jesus, can we hope to grow in faith. Only then can we become living stones, built as a temple to God’s glory, on the foundation of the church which comes to us from the apostles, believing what the church has always believed, doing what the church has always done, or continuing in the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers, as St Luke puts it at the end of the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. This is how we live a Christian life, as well as living out our faith in our lives, sharing that faith with others, without being frightened or afraid, rude or triumphalist, but simply, humbly, and patiently. If it were not true, we would be the most pitiable of fools; but as it is true we have to live lives which embody that truth, in our words and in our deeds, so that we may proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, so that they may believe and may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

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St Nicholas slaps Arius at the Council of Nicaea for his heresy

The Nineteenth Sunday of Year A Mt 14:22-33

Fear is a very human feeling, we acquire it through learning, and yet it can be overcome, if we trust in God. Christians in Iraq, China, North Korea & Palestine face real danger, real persecution (we’re safe and comfortable by comparison) and yet they trust, they pray (and so should we) and we should do all that we can to help them. The state of politics at home and abroad is troubling, to say the least. We are afraid that this is the closest we have been to the use of nuclear weapons since the 1960s.

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

This morning’s Gospel carries straight on from the miraculous feeding which we should have heard last week, as Jesus goes to send the crowds back home, he sends disciples ahead so that they might be ready.

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.

Prayer is important, it is as important as the food we eat, the air we breathe, because it is about our relationship with God. Throughout the Gospels Jesus spends time alone, spends time close to the Father as this relationship is crucial. Where Jesus leads we should follow, follow his example.

When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 

It’s getting dark, and the disciples are out in the middle of the lake, in deep water; will the boat sink, what can they do?

And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 

But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

The disciples cannot believe that they are seeing Jesus, they think that it is a ghost. But it is Him, and he encourages them, his presence can give them confidence. He tells the disciples, and he tells us not to be afraid, not to fear the world, but to trust in Him.

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’

As usual, Peter is the first to react, he takes the lead as usual. Jesus speaks a single word to him, ‘Come’ He speaks it to each and every one of us as Christians, to come, to follow him, to be close to him, to live out our faith in our lives strengthened by prayer. Will we trust Jesus enough to follow Him?

“So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.’

Peter listens to what Jesus says, and obeys him, and does something miraculous, something extraordinary, until he is distracted by the world around him, and becomes frightened. Likewise we, in our lives can in the power of God do wonderful things, if we are not distracted by the cares of the world around us. If we listen to what Jesus tells us and do it.

Peter becomes frightened; he starts to sink, as do we all when the cares of this world overwhelm us. His reaction is to cry ‘Lord, save me’ which Jesus does, indeed, through his offering of himself upon the Cross he saves each and every one of us, taking the sin of the world upon himself so that we might be freed from sin, fear and death. That same sacrifice will be made present here, so that we the people of God, can be fed by God, with God, with his Body and Blood to be strengthened to have life in him, to be close to him.

Peter is told off for lacking faith, because it is important, we too need to trust God, to have faith in Him, so that He can be at work in us and through us.

At the end, once the wind has died down the disciples worship Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ The end of it all is worship, it is what we as humans and as Christians are for. We are to worship God, in our love and our prayer, so that all of our lives are an act of worship, drawing us ever closer to the source of life and love. So that all we say or think or do may proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, so that they may believe and may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

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The Transfiguration 

The world around us has a good idea of what it thinks glory is: most of the time it looks like human success and triumph. Just think of people winning a gold medal at the Olympics, people waving flags and making lots of noise, open-topped buses, parades, and the like. God’s idea of glory we will see is something entirely different, in fact it is the exact opposite of human glory. We see God’s Glory this morning on Mt Tabor, and on the hill of Calvary.
In the Prophecy of Daniel we see a glimpse of the glory of God and the worship of heaven. It is the same glory that the Apostles see in the Transfiguration, it is a glimpse of heaven, a foretaste for us of what Christ has given us His Church. The glory of the Transfiguration is something which the Second Letter of Peter stresses – as Christians we do not follow a made-up religion – it is not a work of fiction, but rather through spending time with Jesus, disciples such as St Peter saw their own lives transfigured and transformed by the power and the love of God.
Jesus has been with the disciples in the Jezreel Valley in Galilee and this morning He goes up Mt Tabor and takes his closest disciples with him to show them something of the glory of God. He goes up the mountain to pray, to be alone with God the Father. His public ministry was rooted in prayer, in being close to the Father, listening and speaking to Him. As Christians we are to follow His example, and do likewise.
Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah to show His disciples and the Church that He is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. They point to Him and they find their fulfilment in Him: He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter responds in a moment with a very human response, he knows that it is good to be here and it helps to change his life. His response points to the Feast of Tabernacles when Jews remembered the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai to Moses. But this experience is not to be prolonged, it is a glimpse of the future glory, a moment to be experienced, and not a place to dwell.
When God speaks he tells us three things about Jesus: He is the Son of God, He is loved and we should listen to Him – what he says and does should affect us and our lives – we have to be open to the possibility of being changed by God. Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after he has risen from the dead. The detail is important: Jesus will go up another mountain to suffer and die upon the cross, taking our sins upon Himself, restoring our relationship with God and each other. This is real glory – not worldly glory but the glory of God’s sacrificial love poured out on the world to heal it and restore it.

“Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name”

Fulton Sheen The Life of Christ 1970: 158

That is why we are here this morning – to see the self same sacrifice here with our own eyes, to touch and to taste what God’s love is really like – to go up the mountain and experience the glory of God, so that God’s love may transform us. We are given a foretaste of heaven, and prepared to be transformed by God. This is true glory – the glory of the Cross, the glory of suffering love lavished upon the world. The Transfiguration looks to the Cross to help us prepare ourselves to live the life of faith. To help us to behold true majesty, true love and true glory – the kind that can change the world and last forever, for eternity, not the fading glory of the world, here today and gone tomorrow, but something everlasting, wonderful.
So let us behold God’s glory, here, this morning, let us touch and taste God’s glory, let us prepare to be transformed by his love, through the power of His Holy Spirit, built up as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. As those who are healed, and restored, reconciled, and given a foretaste of eternal life with him, so may God take our lives and transform us, so that everything that we say, or think, or do, may proclaim him, let us tell the world about him, so that it too may believe and trust and have new life in 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 Thirteenth Sunday of Year A

Matthew 10:37-42

Is it easy to be a Christian? No it isn’t, and the answer shouldn’t really come as that much of a surprise. To put it simply God asks a lot of us, and this morning’s Gospel is no exception. Do I love my parents and my wife more than Jesus? Well it’s certainly a close run thing! Am I worthy of Jesus? No, the honest answer is that I’m not. But at least I’m honest about it, and I know that I’m not worthy of Him. I don’t deserve to be saved by Him, and I certainly cannot earn it. I do, however, take up my Cross and follow Him, because Jesus tells me to, and it is the right thing to do, as a Christian. We are people of the Cross, we glory in it, because it proclaims God’s love to the world.

We live in a world characterised by spiritual hunger. A world which has turned its back on Christ and His church. A world which sees itself beset by all manner of spiritual ills, and is desperate for answers and solutions. All we can say to those around us is, ‘Come and lose your life for Christ’s sake’, ‘Come and see’, and ‘Follow Him’. While Jesus is preaching the Good News of the Kingdom in Galilee His mind is on the Cross. He knows what His mission entails – the pain, the agony, the isolation. He calls us to follow Him, to be willing to lay down our lives as He did. In countries around the world right now, Christians know what this means, as they face imprisonment, torture and death for believing in Him. Despite persecution the church is growing in many lands. Sadly the culture of indifference we face here in the United Kingdom means that we are far more likely to be ignored or laughed at than killed, but there is nonetheless a great deal of opposition to us Christians and our beliefs.

So what are we to do? To put it simply our life and our actions, as well as our words need to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. If people can see Jesus in us, they will follow Him. It will not happen overnight, and there is no magic wand to be waved. All we can do is continue to offer the invitation, ‘Come and See’.

It is not surprising that in this morning’s Gospel Jesus talks about welcome – hospitality, making people feel at home and comfortable is part of who and what we are as Christians. It is at the heart of one of the many paradoxes of our faith – Jesus can make us feel both spiritually uncomfortable and challenged, and yet also comfortable, loved and accepted.

We can hardly be surprised that people may be unwilling to listen to or follow Jesus, as what He offers may be seen as too radical, too life-changing, too troubling. It’s too much of an effort! Few people believe in Hell, or life after death, they don’t believe that they have a soul to save, so they are not interested in how to save it!

Indifference means the denial of the distinction between the true and the false, right and wrong. Confusing charity and tolerance, it gives an equal hearing, for example, to speech which advocates the freedom to murder and to speech which advocates the freedom to live. Indifference is never a stable condition, but passes into polarization.

Fulton Sheen Missions and the World Crisis, Milwaukee 1963: 7

Ours is a polarised world where extravagant emotion lives alongside rampant indifference. The position is inconsistent, and so is modernity. The patient is sick, but perhaps the medicine is too bitter. And yet, God continues, through Christ, to welcome us, even when we don’t welcome Him. This is true generosity, as shown by Our Lord’s last words, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ The greatest welcome in the world is when God in Christ opens his arms on the Cross to embrace the world through a love which bears our sin, which reconciles us to God and each other. This foolishness and stumbling block is the heart of our faith:

But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:23-25 (NRSV)

The love of God, like the hospitality of God, is reckless and foolish, it is extravagant, and it doesn’t make sense. Just like serving the best wine at the Wedding in Cana, or feeding us with His Body and Blood, God did not choose to save his people through logic, non in dialectica complacuit Deum salvum facere populum suum, (Ambrose De Fide 1:5 42). God saves us out of love, not that we deserve it, but so that we might have life in and through Him.

This message of love is ours to live out, and we do that by carrying our cross and following Christ, losing our life so that we may find it in Him. We do it by being welcoming to others, inviting them to ‘Come and See’ that we might share it 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.

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Pentecost 2017

The feast of Pentecost was well-known to Jews in Jesus’ time. Fifty days after the Passover, they celebrated God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai. It was an important feast as the Jews saw their whole life as tied up with the observance of God’s law. Jerusalem was full of people from all over the Mediterranean world who had come to celebrate this festival.

Although they are present in Jerusalem, the disciples have other things on their mind. Fifty days after our Lord’s death and resurrection, the disciples are carrying out Jesus’ instructions given just before his Ascension, to stay in Jerusalem and pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. An amazing thing happens. Suddenly, men who were once afraid to leave a locked room get up and go out to tell people what God has done in his Son, Jesus Christ. They are inspired. They are on fire.  Filled with the love of God, they are able to go and share the Good News of the Kingdom.

At the Annunciation the angel Gabriel proclaims to Mary ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ (Lk 1:35). Jesus Christ takes flesh in the womb of his mother by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are told that the Spirit hovers over him at his Baptism, like a dove. All His life and ministry is totally connected with God the Father in the power and union of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’ Ascension God gives the Holy Spirit to the church. This is what we celebrate today!

In the Gospel passage we have heard today Jesus twice greets the apostles with the words ‘Peace be with you’. What he offers them is not simply an absence of noise or distraction but something far more wonderful. It is something we cannot fully understand though it is something which we can experience. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have peace with God and each other. The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of love and peace. Jesus then gives the apostles a commission: ‘as the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (Jn 20:21). They are sent to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom in word and deed, laying down their lives in God’s service.

Jesus breathes on them, to empower them, that they may receive the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus tells them that whoever’s sins they forgive are forgiven. This is an extraordinary claim. But Jesus can make it because he is God. Through Him the church has become a place of healing, where we may be reconciled to God and to each other. Surely my brothers and sisters, this is is the most tremendous thing, a gift of a truly generous God.

The Jews in the Acts of the Apostles are amazed to hear the Good News in their own language, spoken by a rag-tag assortment of Galilean fisherman and other ordinary men. It is incredible. It is miraculous. And it points towards the present reality where there is not a country on this earth which has not heard the good news of Jesus Christ. But there is still work to do and it is wonderful to read that the Bible is currently being translated into 250 new languages.

Thus the work of proclamation is not finished. It is thanks to the preaching of the Good News started by the Apostles at Pentecost that we are Christians today, and that millions of people have come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ. So, for those of us who are in Christ, who have entered the church through our Baptism, we have an important job to do. We need to tell people about Jesus.

The church is wonderful in its diversity, because we are all different, we don’t speak the same language, or have the same culture. We don’t look the same, we are not clones or robots. We are empowered through our having received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, in our Confirmation, indeed through all the sacramental actions of the church; the outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace. This is how the Holy Spirit works, how it builds us up in love. Through the sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, the Eucharist, we are nourished spiritually to keep doing what God wants us to do.

Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth give us a vision of how the Holy Spirit unifies the Church. When we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’ in the Lord’s Prayer every day we are praying for the Church and the world to be filled with God’s love through the Holy Spirit. That we might be drawn ever closer together, so that we may truly be one. This is Christ’s prayer for the Church in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 17. That the church should be one, united in love and in faith. It is God’s will. We cannot ignore it. We have to do all that we can to work towards it, and it is this desire for unity in the church which has seen an initiative ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ started by The Most Rev’d Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, be taken up across the world, so that in the days from Ascension to Pentecost the church has prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit to bring us closer together, in love and unity, to proclaim the good news, the people may come to know Jesus. It is the start of something great, where the church is renewed through the Holy Spirit, and it is something we can join in with. So let us pray:

Renew your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.

Grant to your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of Blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.

Come Holy Spirit, in your power and might to renew the face of the earth.

Almighty God, your ascended Son has sent us into the world to preach the good news of your kingdom: inspire us with your Spirit and fill our hearts with the fire of your love, that all who hear your Word may be drawn to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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Easter VII, The Sunday after the Ascension Acts 1:6-14, John 17:1-11

So that they may be one, as we are one

The Gospel this morning has taken us back to the Garden of Gethsemane, where in the seventeenth Chapter of John’s Gospel , after celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus goes out to spend time in prayer. It can seem strange to suddenly look back to Maundy Thursday seven weeks after we have celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, but there is a very good reason to do such a thing. The prayer we have just heard is a conversation between God the Son and God the Father. It is a moment of intimacy, a private moment which shows us their relationship, something extraordinary, something wonderful, we don’t often think of prayer in these terms, but currently there is a world-wide initiative, started by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ which calls upon Christians everywhere to do something wonderful together. Between the Ascension and Pentecost there is a period of ten days when we are asked to be like the Apostles in the first chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, just like they did, and for us all to do this together.

Prayer is a funny old thing, and most people probably think of it as asking God for things: please watch over my parents as they travel, please help me pass this examination, hopefully in our language of prayer we can also find time to say thank you for all the good things, and to say sorry for when we’ve not been good enough, and also time to say ‘I love you’ the prayer of adoration that we may be drawn closer to God. It’s a powerful thing, and a wonderful thing, and yet quite ordinary, yet able to do amazing things:

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (PL VII 34 col. 901)

A brother asked an old man, ‘What shall I do, father, for I am not acting like a monk at all, but I eat, drink and sleep, carelessly, and I have evil thoughts, and I am in great trouble, passing from one work to another, and from that work to the next.’ The old man said, ‘Sit in your cell and do the little you can, untroubled. For I think that the little you can do now is of equal value to the great deeds which abba Antony accomplished on the mountain and I believe that by remaining in your cell for the name of God and guarding your conscience you also will find where abba Antony is.’

It can be all to easy in life to think that what God wants is something big and difficult, when actually the opposite is what is required. The monk in the story needs to stay put and pray and that is all, why should we think that we are any different? The key to it all is humility: knowing your need of God. Those who are poor in Spirit, those who are humble can be filled with God’s Spirit, because they rely upon him, they know their need of him.

There it is plain and simple: prayer, it can change the world, and for the last two thousand years it has been changing the church and the world, one soul at a time, the wonderful revolution of God’s love at work in the world. In his prayer before his Passion, Jesus prays that we may be one, as he and the Father are one. He prays for unity, it is Jesus’ will for the church, and it is clear that the first apostles did what Jesus wanted them to do.

‘And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.’ (Acts 1:13-14 ESV)

Here is unity, unity of will and purpose, and we share that here and now, While the church is not as united as we would like it to be, or as God would like it to be, we can at least say that we are trying to do God’s will, and it is something that we can all try and do together. So let’s do it. Let’s pray for unity, and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, to fill the Church with love, with grace, with forgiveness, with reconciliation, that we can heal the wounds of the past, and be drawn into unity and love, by the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing our need of God, and our reliance upon Him.

So as we stay put, and wait and pray with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that God may be at work in us, that he will fill us with his love, and transform our lives, building us up, and giving us strength to live his life and to proclaim his truth, to offer the world that which it most earnestly desires, a peace, a joy and a freedom which pass human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ. Let us pray that we are strengthened so that we can proclaim in word and deed what wonderful things God has done through his Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ. That all that we are and do may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father, and that the world may be filled with his love so that all may come to 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.

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Third Sunday of Year A [Mt 4:12–23]

If you go to S. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the Chapel of Keble College, Oxford, you can see one of the most popular and reproduced works of Religious Art in the world: Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World. It shows our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ standing at a door with a lantern. The door has no handle; it needs to be opened from the inside: Jesus may be the Light of the World, but he does not force himself upon us, we have to welcome Him into our hearts and our lives. His coming into the world which we celebrate at Christmas, which was made manifest to the world at Epiphany, was not the entry of a tyrant, forcing himself upon the world, but as a vulnerable and loving baby, entirely dependent upon the love and care of others, God comes among us. His coming is foretold by the prophet Isaiah, He is the fulfilment of prophesy, he is the light of the nations, and a cause of great joy: to be a Christian, to follow Christ is it not to be filled with the joy and love which comes from God; we can be serious in our zeal, but should never be miserable: our vocation is to live out our faith, in love, and hope, and joy in our lives, to draw others to Him.

Of our many failings as followers of Christ there is nothing worse than to see strife and division amongst Christians, as S. Paul found in Corinth: it has no place in the church, it isn’t what God intended for us, it’s not how things should be. It has to be resisted: wounds have to be healed, transgressions forgiven, and unity restored. It’s part of how we live out our faith in our lives, it’s why we pray and work for Christian Unity, and why it matters for our proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God.

If we turn to the words of this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To repent as Christ is asking us to, as St John the Baptist proclaimed before him is to change our mind, to make a change of direction in our lives, away from sin, and to Christ, it is what we promise in our baptism and it is how we are supposed to keep living our lives. It’s hard, I know, I fail on a daily basis, and yet I keep trying, turning back to a God who loves me, who took flesh of the Virgin Mary and became incarnate for me, and for you, and all who have ever or will ever turn to Him. Ours then is God of love and mercy, a God of forgiveness who calls us to turn to him, so that we may have life and have it to the full.

We turn away from what separates us from God and each other, we turn to God in Christ, to be close to Him in Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, so that we might share His divine nature, so that we might be given a foretaste of heaven, so that we may be strengthened to live out our faith in our lives, so that the world may believe – the Kingdom is close at hand, and Christ calls us, the baptised people of God, to share in the work of His kingdom. He asks that we follow Him, that we go where He goes, that we do what He does – it sounds easy enough, but it’s not, it’s something which we need to do together, and while I can endeavour to help you along the way, I cannot without your help, your prayers, your love, and your support. As Christians we are inter-dependent, we rely upon each other, we’re in it together.

In the Gospel, Jesus sees Andrew and Simon Peter and then James and John the sons of Zebedee and says ‘Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people’. He calls them to share in God’s work of saving souls. They drop everything and follow him: it’s immediate and matter of fact. Jesus goes around preaching the good news of the kingdom, and the need for humanity to repent, and to be baptised, and he heals the sick, just as he can heal the sickness in our souls. This is good news indeed.

We need to be like lights in the world, shining in the darkness, so that Christ can knock on the door of people’s hearts. We need to be like those first disciples who heard what Jesus said, who listened, and did what He told them, who were close to Jesus, so that our faith is a reality in our lives. We need to be strengthened and fed by Him who is the greatest medicine for our souls, who comes to us here, this morning,  in His Body and Blood, to heal us, to restore us and strengthen us to follow him, so that the world may believe and and 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.

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Advent with S. Benedict

Ours is a world characterised by noise, and by chatter. It’s hard to escape it’s everywhere, we even have social media to pursue us relentlessly, so that it feels like there is no escape. We long for more silence in our lives, in which case we had better do something about it. It is not for nothing that the first word of the Rule of S. Benedict is Ausculta  ‘Listen’. One cannot listen if one is talking, one needs to be silent, to be attentive, to concentrate on one thing, and the præcepta Magistri the words of the Master are simply a means to end, that we focus upon and listen to God, hence the large amount of quotation from Scripture in general and the Psalms in particular contained in the Rule, so that we are attentive to the Word of God, that’s the point of the Opus Dei, to help us to listen to what God says to us. Listening too lies at the heart of Obœdentia: being obedient, subject to another, listening – one cannot obey if one has not first listened – hence the constant need for silence, in lives and in our hearts, to create a space for God to be at work in and through us. It can sound easy and romantic, but it is tough, a constant battle to combat chatter, gossip, and other forms of idle talk.

De zelo bono quod debent monachi habere

Sicut est zelus amaritudinis malus qui separat a Deo et ducit ad infernum, ita est zelus bonus qui separat a vitia et ducit ad Deum et ad vitam æternam. Hunc ergo zelum ferventissimo amore exerceant monachi, id est ut honore se invicem præveniant, infirmitates suas sive corporum sive morum patientissime tolerent, obœdientiam sibi certatim inpendant: nullus quod sibi utile iudicat sequatur, sed quod magis alio; caritatem fraternitatis caste inpendant. Amore Deum timeant. Abbatem suum sincera et humili caritate diligant. Christo omnimo nihil præponant, qui nos pariter ad vitam æternam perducat.

Concerning the good zeal which monks ought to have.

Just as there is an evil zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from vices and leads to God and to life everlasting. This zeal, therefore, the monks should practice with the most fervent love. Thus they should anticipate one another in honour (Rom. 12:10); most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of character; vie in paying obedience one to another — no one following what he considers useful for himself, but rather what benefits another; may they cherish fraternal charity chastely; fear God in love; love their Abbot with a sincere and humble charity; and prefer nothing whatever to Christ. And may He bring us all together to life everlasting!

The Chapter above, Chapter 72, lies at the heart of, and is the culmination of the Rule, and it is serious wonderful stuff. I know from personal experience that it is all to easy to fall into the evil zeal of bitterness, and it eats up your soul: you become suspicious, cynical, and while you try to kid yourself that such behaviour is in fact justified, borne out by the facts, all we are doing is trying to excuse the inexcusable, to salve our conscience, to save ourselves the difficult and hard task of loving those whom we would rather not. Thus, in the Gospels, Our Lord calls us to love our enemies (Mt 5:44, Lk 6:27-36) which is no small ask, if it were he would not ask it of us, it goes against our deepest nature, we want to hate those who hate and persecute us, we forget their humanity, and are wrapped up in our own pain. It is something which the world around us finds very hard, social media is full of it, it can feed off fear and jealousy, it is corrosive, it damages us, and those around us, and its consequences are toxic, and sinful, that’s what hell and being separated from God means, and its what Christ comes to save us from, from ourselves.

Love then is the key, it is the heart of the Gospel and the Rule: love God, and love one another as I have loved you, with that same costly love. Only then can we truly prefer nothing to Christ, which is the way to life everlasting: believing in Him, following Him, trusting Him, and letting Him guide our thoughts, our words and our actions. So that we may proclaim in word and deed that saving love which was born in Bethlehem, to a world which longs for healing, for love, and for peace.

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Bonhöffer on Cheap Grace

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

The Martyrdom of Saturninus, Bishop of Toulouse

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The following is an anonymously written account of the martyrdom of Saturninus, the Bishop of Toulouse, France, c. 257 A.D.

We revere with due admiration the most blessed sufferings of those who, as we have heard and believe (through the good service of the fame that reports the information), have been sanctified by a happy martyrdom.  We honor with vigils, hymns and even solemn sacraments those days on which they were crowned with [God’s] gift after victory, striving as they bore witness to the name of the Lord, and by their blessed death being reborn in the heavenly realms of the same Lord, who helped them with his own power in their struggle—[and we do this] so that we may ask for their protection and support before the Lord by praying, and deserve it by honoring [them].  With what solemnity, then, shall we revere, with what joy shall we observe that day, on which the most blessed Saturninus, bishop of the city of Toulouse and martyr, earned in that same city a double crown (as God is my witness)—the rank of bishop and the honor of martyrdom—so that his suffering sanctified one whose life had already made him worthy of reverence!

At that time (after the bodily coming of the Savior) the true Sun of Righteousness had risen in the darkness and had begun to illuminate the Western districts—for gradually, little by little, the sound of the Gospels went out into the whole world, and the preaching of the Apostles in its slow advance shone forth in our regions.  A few churches were being built in some cities, through the devotion of a small number of Christians, while numerous temples in all places were sending up the disgusting smoke [of sacrifices], through the lamentable error of the pagans.  Then (truly quite a long time ago, that is, during the consulship of Decius and Gratus, as the faithful report tells), the city of Toulouse had received Saturninus as its first and supreme priest of Christ. By his faith and virtue, the oracles of those demons who were worshiped in this same city began to cease; their fabrications were laid bare; their machinations uncovered; all their power among the pagans, all their deceit, began to decrease, as the faith of the Christians increased.  Since the aforementioned bishop, in his going to and from the church, which was quite small at that time, often went past the Capitol, which was between his house and the house of God, the deceitful crowd of demons was not able to stand the holy man’s presence; and the statues (mute as they were), overshadowed by no apparitions, remained in silence [as their only response] to the impious worship and the customary prayers of those who came to consult them.

All the priests of impious superstition, disturbed by the novelty of such a great thing, began to ask themselves whence this muteness (not usual for such a long time) had suddenly come upon their gods, and who had shut their ever-babbling mouths, so that they, not moved by the prayers of those who called upon them, nor charmed by the shed blood of bulls and so many sacrifices, refused to give any response to those who consulted them—[were they] angry or absent?  They heard from a certain enemy of our religion that some sect hostile to pagan superstition had arisen, which was called Christian, and that it was striving to destroy their gods; also, the bishop of this faith was Saturninus, who passed by the Capitol frequently—it was at the sight of this man that the mouths of their gods were terrified and fell silent; they could not easily be re-opened unless an accelerated death took that bishop away.

Oh unhappy error and blind madness!  They heard that the man was a terror to their own gods, and that the demons went into exile from their temples and their habitations when he passed by.  Not only did they hear—they also understood!  And they would prefer to kill this man, who was terrifying to the idols they worshiped even without making any threats, rather than to honor him.  Miserable people—who did not consider that they ought to worship no one more than him whose servant had given orders to their own divinities!  For what is more foolish than to fear those who are afraid, and not to fear that one who rules over the rulers?

In the midst of this eager questioning and astonishment, as little by little a great multitude of people had gathered and they were all eagerly wanting to find out something certain regarding all this talk, and (a bull having been prepared as a victim) they were desiring either to bring their gods back or propitiate them, by the sacrifice of such a tremendous victim—see!  the holy Saturninus himself, coming to a solemn service, was recognized by one of that malicious crowd, who said:  “Look! the adversary of our worship himself, the standard-bearer of the new religion, who preaches the destruction of temples, who despises our gods by calling them demons, whose constant presence, finally, prevents us from obtaining oracles!  And so, since the end he deserves has presented the very man to us at the opportune time, let us take vengeance for the injury to ourselves and to our gods at the same time!  And now, through our compulsion, may he either be pleasing to them, by sacrificing, or make them joyful, by dying!”

With the urging of such an impious voice, the whole crowd of lunatics surrounded the holy man and, once a priest and two deacons who had accompanied him had fallen away in flight, he was brought alone to the Capitol.  As they were trying to force him to sacrifice to the demons, he bore witness in a clear voice:  “I know only one God, the true God.  I will offer to him the sacrifice of praise.  I know that your gods are demons; and you honor them (in vain) not so much by the sacrifice of cattle as by the deaths of your own souls.  Now, how is it that you want me to fear those by whom, as I hear, you say I am feared?”

At these words of the holy bishop, the whole boisterous, impious multitude was inflamed, and used that bull, which had been prepared as a sacrificial victim, in the service of their savagery, tying a rope around its flanks and leaving it loose in back:  they bound the holy man’s feet with the end of the rope that was hanging down behind the bull, and drove the bull with rather sharp blows to rush down from the upper part of the Capitol onto the plain.  Without delay, during the first part of the descent of that slope, his head having been dashed [against the rocks], his brain having been scattered, and his body having been mangled in every part, his soul, worthy of God, was received by Christ—so that after the victory he [i.e., Christ] might crown with his own laurels [the soul] that pagan fury had wrenched out with torments while he was fighting faithfully for Christ’s name.

The dead body, however, now exposed to no one’s affronts, was led by the bull in its frenzy to that place where, the rope having snapped in two, it received burial in a mound at that time.  For since at that time the Christians themselves were afraid to bury the body of the holy man, on account of the pagans’ agitation, only two women, overcoming the weakness of their sex by the power of their faith, braver than all the men, and encouraged by the example of their bishop, I believe, to endure martyrdom, put the body of the blessed man into a wooden coffin and, after making deep trenches, placed it as far underground as possible.  And so, they seemed not so much to be burying the sacred remains (so worthy of reverence in their eyes) as to be hiding them, for fear that people of impious mind, perchance, if they saw any honors being paid to the buried body’s grave, might immediately dig up the body and tear it to pieces, and even take away the modest tomb.  But the Lord took up his martyr in peace—to him belong honor and glory, power and might for ever and ever.  Amen.

taken from http://www.paleoorthodoxy.org/2016/05/the-martyrdom-of-saturninus-bishop-of.html

Augustine on the works of mercy

Two works of mercy set a man free: forgive and you will be forgiven, and give and you will receive.

When you pray we are all beggars before God: we stand before the great householder bowed down and weeping, hoping to be given something, and that something is God himself.

What does a poor man beg of you? Bread. What do you beg from God? – Christ, who said, ‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven’.

Do you you really want to be forgiven? Then forgive. Do you want to receive something? Then give to another. And if you want your prayer to fly up to God, give it two wings, fasting and almsgiving.

But look carefully at what you do: don’t think it is enough to fast if  it is only  a penance for sin, and does not benefit someone else. You deprive yourself of something, but to whom do you give what you do without?

Fast in such a way that you rejoice to see that dinner is eaten by another; not grumbling and looking gloomy, giving rather because the beggar wearies you than because you are feeding the hungry.

If you are sad when you give alms, you lose both bread and merit, because ‘God loves a cheerful giver’.

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30th Sunday of Year C

Humility is not self-contempt but the truth about ourselves coupled with a reverence for others; it is self-surrender to the highest goal.

Fulton Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living, 1955: 121

Most of us, I suspect, almost all of us don’t really like paying taxes; we know that we have to, but we’d rather not. There were taxes in Jesus’ day and tax collectors were privatised in the Roman Empire: they had to pay for the contract to collect the taxes, and recouped the cost of gaining the contract by over-charging people. They were not popular people, they were resented, they were hated, and with good reason.

We know that in this morning’s Gospel that the tax-collector is supposed to be the villain of the piece; the Pharisee, a religious authority, is supposed to be the person to whom we look up, the example one might expect to follow. Jesus’ parable, then, turns our understanding of the world on its head. The key to understanding it lies in Luke’s opening comment regarding those: ‘who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt’ (Lk 18:9). There is a fundamental problem with the difference between how they think of themselves and others. The Pharisee isn’t praying, he isn’t talking to God, he’s praying to himself, justifying what he thinks of himself, saying to God, ‘Look at me, am I not good?’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Lk 18:13). His prayer is that God will be merciful. He is so conscious of his own sin and need of God that he opens up a space in which God can be at work. It is in this space that we all need to be. We need to recognise that we need God to be at work in us, that we need to rely upon him to change us, to transform us – so that we can become the people that God wants us to be. All the prayer, all the rituals, all the externals of religion, are of no use unless they go hand in hand with an attitude which recognises that we need God, that we are sinful, and need his love and his mercy to transform us.

That is why, as Christians, we pray, why we come to Mass each and every week to be fed by word and sacrament, so that God’s grace and transforming love may be at work in us, transforming our nature, making us more like him. Everything that we say or think or do needs to be an outworking of our faith, so that our exterior life and our interior life are in harmony with each other – so that our lives, like St Paul’s, may proclaim the Gospel. This is what we are called to, and how we are to live. Unless we start from the point where we know our need of God and rely upon him, where we too make that space where God can be at work in us, in our souls and our lives, we are doomed to be like the self-righteous Pharisee, talking to ourselves, massaging our own egos, wallowing in selfishness and narcissism, proud and cruel.

Now is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world may believe and be transformed to 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.

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S. Francis de Sales on Charity

S. Francis used to say, “I hear of nothing but perfection on every side, so far as talk goes, but I see very few people who really practise it. Everybody has his own notion of perfection. One man thinks that it lies in the cut of his clothes, another in fasting, a third in almsgiving, or in frequenting the Sacraments, in meditation, in some special gift of contemplation, or in extraordinary gifts or graces; – but they are all mistaken, as it seems to me, because they confuse the means, or the results, with the cause.

“For my part, the only perfection I know is a hearty love of God, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Without these there can be no real perfection. Charity is the only ‘bond of perfectness’ between Christians, the only virtue which rightly unites us to God and man. Such union is our final aim and end, and all else is mere delusion.

“No virtues, however great they may seem, are worth anything, without charity; – not even such faith as could ‘remove mountains’ or ‘understand all mysteries;’ which has ‘the gift of prophesy, or speaks with the tongue of men or angels;’ which ‘bestows all its gifts to feed the poor,’ or endures martyrdom, All is vain without charity. He who lacketh charity is dead while he liveth, and all his works, however fair to the eye, are valueless, seen from the point of eternity.

“I grant that austerity, meditation, and all such practices are admirable means whereby to advance towards perfection, so long as they are carried on in and through charity. But it will not do to seek perfection by any other means – rather in the end to which they do but lead, else we shall find ourselves halting in the midst of the race, instead of reaching the goal.”

taken from The Spirit of S. Francis de Sales Bishop and Prince of Geneva by Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Bellay. tr. H.I. Sidney Lear, London: Longmans, 1921: 1-2

Prayerful Action

Prayer and action can never be seen as contradictory or mutually exclusive. Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. If prayer leads us into deeper unity with the Compassionate Christ, it will always give rise to concrete acts of service. And if concrete acts of service do indeed lead us to a deeper solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the sick, the dying, and the oppressed, they will always give rise to prayer. In prayer we meet Christ, and in him all human suffering. In service we meet people, and in them the suffering Christ.

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of a compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian. Such acts do not stand beside the moments of prayer and worship but are themselves such moments. Why? Because Jesus Christ, who did not cling to his divinity, but became as we are, can be found where there are hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked sick, and imprisoned people. Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow his Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize him in the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden and will hear his cry and respond to it wherever he reveals himself.

Henri J.M. Nouwen Compassion

Eleventh Sunday of Year C

There are three different ways in which we may judge others: with our passions, our reason and our faith. Our passions induce us to love those who love us; our reason makes us love all people within certain limits; our faith makes us love everyone, including those who do us harm and are our enemies.

Fulton Sheen Way to Inner Peace (1955) 110.

You can tell a man by the company he keeps, or so the saying goes. The Scribes and the Pharisees certainly subscribe to this idea and in this morning’s Gospel are not afraid to express it. They are more than happy to be judgemental – to only be seen with the right sort of people, certainly not with sinners, outcasts, people who ‘aren’t like us’ Well all I can say is that it’s a jolly good thing that God doesn’t treat humanity like it treats itself: as to put it simply the human judgement of others, to which each and every one of us falls prey from time to time, has no place in the Christian Faith at all. God in Christ seeks the lost, the outcast, the people outside the religious in-crowd, God seeks them out and eats with them. How shocking! It offends our human sensibilities and breaks down human distinctions to show us the radical freedom of the Kingdom of God. The woman who anoints Jesus’ feet does so out of love, and through her love and generosity her sins are forgiven. She puts her faith into action, and through her faith she is forgiven.

We are each and every one of us sinners, we are not worth of having God come to and eat with us, but that is exactly what happens day by day and week when Christ feeds us with himself, so that we may become what he is, so that we can be transformed by grace and share in the divine life. That is why we are here this morning to be fed by Him and with Him, to be healed and restored by Him, to share in His life.  God takes the initiative, He goes to seek out the lost, He doesn’t wait for them to come to Him. The banquet of the Kingdom is one to which everyone is invited, if they turn away from sin, if they repent and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. Thus we can say with the Apostle Paul, it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me, we live for others, and to bear witness to God’s saving love

God does the hard work, so that we have the simpler task of turning away from all that separates us from Him and each other. To do this takes humility – knowing our need of God, and his grace and mercy, knowing that without his help we are and can do nothing.  Our response to His love is to love Him and our neighbour – to put our faith into practice in our lives. This is a cause of joy in heaven, whereas its opposite, the reaction of the Scribes and Pharisees is to moan and begrudge, to criticise. It is a response of misery and bitterness, a smallness of mind and heart. Such feelings should have no place in the Church. The church is called to be generous, so that it follows the example of a generous God, who dies for love of us, who pays the price which we owe, who dies so that we might live, and live for Him.The world around us will be quick to point out out faults, without realising that the point of the Church is to be a place where sinners can encounter and be transformed by the love and mercy of God.

Christ is the Good Shepherd, who goes after the lost sheep to carry them back on his shoulders – likewise the Church is meant to be there for those outside it, to welcome them back inside the fold rejoicing. Our faith then should be the cause of our joy, a deep happiness that comes from being known and loved by Our Heavenly Father, who sent His Son to die for us, so that we might live. This is healing and generosity on an unimaginable scale, which has the power to transform our lives, so that we live for, in and through the God who loves and who heals us.

With our joy there comes freedom, a freedom from being constrained by the ways of the world, from conforming to its ways, a freedom to welcome others to Banquet of the Kingdom, where the clothes that matter are those of baptism, a sign of humility, where God gives himself to feed us to transform our human nature, to prepare us for eternal glory. So let us cast our cares on him so that his grace may be at work in us So that we may believe and be transformed, and share our faith with others that they too may believe and be transformed and give glory to of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Trinity Sunday

Today the Sunday after Pentecost is notable for a number of reasons in 1334 Pope John XXII decreed that the Feast of the Holy Trinity should be kept and in 1162 Thomas Becket was consecrated a Bishop, and as the anniversary of his consecration, it was celebrated. It is something which gets people into a bit of a mess, there is the standard joke that it is a Sunday to get someone else to preach for you, a curate, a visiting preacher, anyone, as though the Doctrine is something of which to be scared.

Well I for one do not ascribe to such nonsense, I never have and I never will, as today gives us an opportunity to contemplate the mystery which is God’s very nature, we know God as the Father, the Creator and Ruler of all, the Son, who redeems humanity, and the Spirit, active in the World, who fills us with the love of God. There is a reason why we started our worship the morning with the words ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’, and why it ends with ‘The Blessing of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit’ not three blessings, but one, our baptism, our worship as Christians is Trinitarian: Three persons, One God. It can be hard for some to understand, the church spent hundreds of years arguing of the Divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and in the process worked out what we believe as Christians and why. We can Say One Father, One Son, One Holy Spirit, One God, because what we are dealing with is not a mathematical question, Christians are not polytheists, we do not worship three Gods, but One: the Trinity is not a problem to be solved through thought, but a mystery to enter through our worship of God, and a relationship, which through Christ is open to us, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

If anything it is better to approach such things obliquely rather than head on, and in this case with images rather than words. Andrei Rublev painted an icon of the Trinity either around 1411 or 1425-7. It shows the visit of the Angels to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre:

And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favour in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. (Gen 18:1-8 ESV)

In Andrei Rublev’s icon, the persons of the Holy Trinity are shown in the order in which they are confessed in the Creed. The first angel is the first person of the Trinity – God the Father; the second, middle angel is God the Son; the third angel is God the Holy Spirit. All three angels are blessing the chalice, in which lies a sacrificed calf, prepared for eating. The sacrifice of the calf signifies the Saviour’s death on the cross, while its preparation as food symbolizes the sacrament of the Eucharist. All three angels have staffs in their hand as a symbol of their divine power.

The first angel, shown at left, is vested in a blue undergarment which depicts his divine celestial nature, and a light purple outer garment which attests to the unfathomable nature and the royal dignity of this angel. Behind him and above his head towers a house, the abode of Abraham, and a sacrificial altar in front of the house. This image of the abode has a symbolic meaning: the house signifies God’s master plan for creation, while the fact that the house towers above the first angel shows him to be the head (or Father) of this creation. The same fatherly authority is seen in his entire appearance. His head is not bowed and he is looking at the other two angels. His whole demeanour – the expression on his face, the placement of his hands, the way he is sitting – all speaks of his fatherly dignity. The other two angels have their heads inclined and eyes turned toward the first angel with great attention, as though conversing with him about the salvation of mankind.

The second angel is placed in the middle of the icon. This placement is determined by the position held by the second Person within the Trinity Itself. Above his head extend the branches of an oak tree. The vestments of the second angel correspond to those in which the Saviour is usually depicted. The undergarment is a dark crimson colour which symbolizes the incarnation, while the blue outer robe signifies the divinity and the celestial nature of this angel. The second angel is inclined towards the first angel, as though deep in conversation. The tree behind him serves as a reminder of the tree of life that was standing in Eden, and of the cross.

The angel on the right is the third Person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. His light blue undergarment and smoky-green outer garment represent heaven and earth, and signify the life-giving force of the Holy Spirit, which animates everything that exists. “By the Holy Spirit every soul lives and is elevated in purity” – sings the Church. This elevation in purity is represented in the icon by a mountain above the third angel. (Taken from “Thoughts on Iconography” by monk Gregory Krug, found at http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/lord_trinity_rublev.html)

This relationship of equals has a space in front of them , and that’s where you and I come in, there is food at God’s table, spiritual food, prefigured in this vision of hospitality, we enter a relationship with the Trinity in our baptism and deepen it in our worship, and our prayer and reading of scripture, but most of all through our response to the Eucharistic hospitality of God, so let us come to Him, to be fed by Him and fed with him to share his life and proclaim his truth so that the world may believe and give glory…

017rublev troitsa

Easter VII 2016

Can we pray, therefore, for the coming of Jesus? Can we sincerely say ‘Marana tha Come Lord Jesus!’’? Yes we can. And not only that: we must! We pray for anticipations of his world-changing presence. We pray to him in moments of personal tribulation: Come, Lord Jesus and draw my life into the presence of your kindly power. We ask him to be close to those we love or for whom we are anxious. We ask him to be present and effective in his Church. Why not ask him to send us new witnesses of his presence today, in whom he himself will come to us? And this prayer, while it is not directly focussed on the end of the world, is nevertheless a real prayer for his coming; it contains the full breadth of the prayer that he himself taught us: ‘Your kingdom come!’ Come, Lord Jesus

Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth Part Two,  London CTS 2011: 292

The other week week I was doing my shopping in Lidl, putting my shopping up on the belt, as you do, when, all of a sudden this old lady came, walked in front of the man behind me and, without so much as a by your leave, proceeded to put her shopping on the belt. The man behind me was dumbfounded. I wanted to ask her if she wanted to go in front of me, and she carried on regardless, starting a conversation with me, it was really quite something. Clearly she couldn’t be bothered to wait, to queue, I didn’t ask her why she was in such a rush. Waiting is one of those things you love or loathe, it’s a national characteristic that we don’t like fuss and will queue and wait, an American will make a fuss, whereas the British would find such impatience awkward. We might not enjoy it, but at least we aren’t going to make a fuss about it. And yet in these days between the Ascension and Pentecost, the Church waits, waits for her Lord, and her prayer is Maranatha, ‘Come Lord Jesus’. Come Lord Jesus, fill us with your love, with your Holy Spirit, give us life in you.

The prophet Ezekiel has a vision (in Chapter 36) of a messianic future, of the restoration of  Israel, which is found in Jesus Christ and the Church. We are those sprinkled with the clean water of baptism, who have been cleansed. God gives us a new heart and puts his Spirit within us, just as he did on the day of Pentecost, so we are to live as the people of God, filled with his love, and forgiveness, and proclaiming his Truth to the world.

This Sunday in the Gospel we are in the middle of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, which is the summit of his teaching just before his arrest and Passion. Christ has made God’s name known to us, we know him in a different way, we pray to him as ‘Father’ and we are his, we are not our own, despite the Western Liberal infatuation with personal freedom, we are God’s, which affects who we are, and what we do.

Christ speaks to us, and teaches us so that our joy may be complete in him, filled with his love, and the Holy Spirit. The world’s reaction to this is a negative one: because what we are, what we stand for, and how we live as Christians is to be opposed to what the world around us stands for – selfishness, greed, which it makes into false gods, as though material wealth, or power, or status could save us – such things are transient and fleeting. It offers us a short-cut, an easy road, whereas if we are following Christ, then we are walking the way of his Passion, we are walking the Way of the Cross, dying daily to sin, and letting God’s grace be at work in and through us. It is not easy, it is difficult, most of us are unable to manage on our own, we need the love and support of the Christian community to help us, even the first Christians, those who had been with Jesus, needed each other’s help and support, so they can continue what Jesus started.

We need to be together, to meet together to pray for our needs and those of the world, and to be nourished by the word of God, the Bible, and the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, not because they’re something nice to do on a Sunday morning: an add-on, an optional extra that we can opt into and out of as we feel like, but because as Christians they are crucial to who and what we are, if we are to remain in the love of God then we have to live this way. Only then can we offer the world an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin. It will hate us for doing this, it will despise us and persecute us, it will call us hypocrites when we fail to live up to the example of Jesus; but as Christians who live in the love of God we forgive each other our trespasses, so that we can live out that same radical love and forgiveness which sees Jesus die upon the Cross for love of us and all the world, this is love which can transform the world. It is a message of such love, such forgiveness that the world cannot or does not want to understand it, we may not understand it, but we know that it can be experienced, and we are living testimony to its power. It turns our lives around and sets us free to live for God and to proclaim his saving truth in our words and actions, calling the world to repentance, to turn to Christ, and to be renewed in and through Him.In his power, with His Truth, filled with His Love we can transform the world, one soul at a time.

So as we wait with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that Christ may come, and send His Holy Spirit, that God may be at work in us, building us up, and giving us strength to live his life and to proclaim his truth, to offer the world that which it most earnestly desires, a peace, a joy and a freedom which pass human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ.

mostsacredheartofjesus-bruges

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.

Love one another as I have loved you

God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsive not initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.

Fulton Sheen Rejoice, 1984, 9

God loves us; we can say this with the utmost confidence because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it all proclaims the same truth: God loves us, not because we’re worthy of it, but so that we might become what God is. It is what we celebrate at Easter, it lies at the heart, the core of our faith as Christians. It’s why we are what we are, and why we do what we do, to proclaim this simple truth to the world.

We show our love for God by keeping his word, and by loving each other as he has loved us. We are called to exactly the same sacrificial, self-giving love which Our Lord shows us: Love one another as I have loved you, it doesn’t get more explicit. Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a big ask. It should really make us stop in our tracks and realise the enormity of the task and our utter reliance upon God’s grace, and to to stay close to him in Word and Sacrament, and it’s something which we need to do together, as a christian community. We show this love by keeping God’s word, by doing what Jesus tells us to do and not simply going along with the ways of the world.

Our Lord promises his disciples that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name to teach us all things and to bring to our remembrance all that he said to us. The Holy Spirit speaks through the Church so that we can profess our faith in the co-eternal and consubstantial Trinity. His gift to us is His peace – not as in simply the absence of war or violence, but rather something deeper and far more profound. The peace that Jesus promises is that which characterises the life of the Godhead: a peace which passes all human understanding, a peace which the world cannot give.

We can have peace through our relationship with the Trinity, the source of our peace, and joy, and love. Grounded in this relationship we need not be afraid or troubled – we are free to live lives which proclaim God’s love and victory so that the world may believe. Through God loving us, we can truly love him and each other. We experience this most clearly at the Eucharist when Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, which he as both priest and victim offers on the Altar of the Cross. That self same sacrifice which heals the world through the outpouring of God’s love feeds us here and now. We are fed so that we may be nourished and share in the divine life and the joy of heaven. We receive the free gift of God’s grace so that it may perfect our human nature, so that we may go where Our Lord is going, and share in the joy, and love, and peace of the Triune God.

The values of the Kingdom and those of the world are different, and as Christians we need to be prepared to stand up for them, in the face of opposition by a world which is challenged by the values of that Kingdom, which sees love and mercy as far more important than wealth and power. It isn’t easy, it’s far easier to just go along with the world, like a dead fish carried along by the current, whereas only a live fish can swim against the stream. We should rejoice as we await the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost after Our Lord has ascended, as in this we see the birth and spread of the Church – it’s why we are here, because people filled with the love of God and His Holy Spirit have brought us into His loving embrace. Loved by him, we are to share that love with others, so that the world may believe and share in the source of all love, and peace, and joy. It’s not somebody else’s responsibility but ours as the baptised people of God to follow in the footsteps of the apostles and share what we have received 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.

Easter V – Love another as I have loved you

God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable ; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsive not initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.

Fulton Sheen Rejoice 1984:9

In this morning’s Gospel we begin to see a change in the character of our celebration of Easter, as it begins to look forward to our celebration of the Lord’s Ascension, when He will return to the glory of Heaven and the bosom of the Father, when he will no longer be visibly present among us as he was before, but is also not absent. Before he goes, he gives his disciples teaching which is clear and simple: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

The Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures contain 613 commandments, starting with ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ in Genesis, including the Decalogue, the command to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, to love our neighbour as ourselves. He has come not to abolish the law but to fulfil it, and love is the fulfilment of the law. As Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment he also enacts it Himself, He shows his love for humanity in dying for us, by bearing the burden of our sins, by going to death upon a Cross for love of us: this is what real love means and looks like in action. In this Christ establishes a pattern for Christians to live their lives by, as Christians, those who bear the name of Christ, we are to live like this too.

This is what following Christ means in practice: living and dying like Christ, together, so that by this all will know that we are his disciples, through love lived out in our lives we proclaim the reality and the truth of our faith. It’s something which we do together, and while it sounds easy in theory it is a bit harder in practice, and it is why we need to stay close to Christ in Word and Sacrament, to pray together, to support and forgive each other, so that we can live a life of love, not saccharin-sweet as the world sees it, but real, sacrificial love, the sort which has the power to transform the world so that it becomes more Christ-like.

These are not idealist pipe-dreams but the reason why we are Christians, we want to see a world transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, into a place of peace, and joy, and love. Christ gives us this commandment so that we may have life and have it to the full, in and through Him, the source of all life and love. So as we continue to celebrate Christ’s triumph over sin and the world, over death itself, let us be filled with His life and joy, and share His love 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.

Easter IV

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of himself, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’  It discloses something important about who and what he is — he is one who tends, who looks after his sheep. The Jews in the Temple for Hanukkah don’t seem to have been listening. Jesus has told them and they do not believe that He is the Messiah. What he does in the Gospels testifies to who and what he is, the Word made flesh, God with us.

Those of us who are in the Church, through our Baptism belong to Him, we are His. So we are to listen to what Jesus tells us, in the words of Scripture and through prayer. Jesus knows us and we know him – in word and sacrament, through the outpouring of His grace, and so we follow Him, we do what He tells us to do, to love, to forgive each other, we are humble, we don’t think of ourselves as better than we are, we know our ned of, our dependance upon God. We put our faith into practice in our lives, so that it becomes a reality in the world.

Christ offers us eternal life, as we share in His death, so we too share in His Resurrection, and are assured of eternal life with Him, something wonderful and freely given, and a reason why we, as the Church, celebrate Easter in an extravagant and exuberant way, because it is a sign that God loves us, and saves us, that salvation first shown to the world by Noah , a man who trusts God, who listens to God, who obeys Him. We are sharing in that Eternal Life here and now, as we are nourished by Him, in Word and Sacrament, strengthened by Him, to live His risen life

We are to bear witness to our faith in the world so that it may believe. We are called to be witnesses regardless of the cost. We may not face persecution in this country; we are more likely to be faced with indifference, a coldness of heart, which denies the fact that what we are and what we say is important or has value. Yet we are to live lives which proclaim the fact that our life and death have meaning and value through Jesus Christ, who loves us, who died for us, and rose again so that we might have eternal life in him. It is a gift so precious that we have to share it, we cannot keep it for ourselves. In sharing it, it becomes a greater and more wonderful gift. In sharing it we are preparing for that moment seen by St John when all of creation will sing the praise of God, filled with his love, healed and restored by him.

We are preparing for that moment here and now preparing to be fed by him, to be fed with him, looking forward to that time when we and all creation will sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as it most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Lent V

This morning’s Gospel asks us some serious questions: do we love Jesus this much? Would we risk being laughed at or criticised for our extravagance in being like Mary of Bethany and pouring ointment on Jesus?

How can we do this for Jesus in our lives? Can we really show him how much we love him, and how much we want to serve him? What might this look like in our lives, and how might we do it together as a Church, to proclaim God’s saving love to the world. As we begin Passiontide we look to the Cross that more radical costly act of generous love, the love of God for us. God does this for us, what are we going to do in return? Are we going to be like Judas and moan about the cost, the extravagance? Do we want to be a penny-pinching miserly church, or do we want to be something else, something which makes the world stop and take notice, which doesn’t make sense, which shows the world that there is another way, and it is the way of the Kingdom. God’s generosity gives his Son to die for us, he feeds us with His Body and Blood so that we might have life in Him. What are we going to do in return?

mary-anointing-jesus-feet-by-peter-paul-rubens

from Rhygyfarch’s Life of David

The holy Father David prescribed an austere system of monastic observance, requiring every monk to toil daily at manual labour and to lead a common life. So with unflagging zeal they work with hand and foot, they put the yoke to their own shoulders, and in their own holy hands, they bear the tools for labour in the fields. So by their own strength they procure every necessity for the community, while refusing possessions and detesting riches. They make no use of oxen for ploughing. Everyone is rich to himself and to the brethren, every man is his own ox. When the field work is done they return to the enclosure of the monastery, to pass their time till evening at reading, writing, or in prayer. Then when the signal is heard for evening prayer everyone leaves what he is at and in silence, without any idle conversation, they make their way to church. When, with heart and voice attuned, they have completed the psalmody, they remain on their knees until stars appearing in the heaven bring day to its close; yet when all have gone, the father remains there alone making his own private prayer for the well-being of the church.

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

Lent III 

God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsive, not initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.

Fulton Sheen Rejoice (1984) 9

There exists a great spiritual thirst both outside the church in the world around us and in the church itself. We are like people in the desert, not just in this period of 40 days but throughout our lives. The modern world is deeply consumerist: shopping centres replace cathedrals and yet we are still thirsty, thirsty for the living water, thirsty that our needs may be satisfied. We all of us realise, deep down, that commercialism cannot save us: that what we buy doesn’t really nourish or satisfy us. There can be no commercial exchange with God; we simply have to receive his gifts. We are not worthy of them are, that’s the point: God satisfies our deepest needs and desires out of love for us, wretched miserable sinners that we are, so that enfolded in his love we might become more lovely. Only if we are watered by God can we truly bear fruit, only if we are born again by water and the spirit in baptism can we have any hope. This is what the season of Lent is for: it is a time to prepare for baptism – to share in our Lord’s death and his new life. We do this as individuals and indeed as an institution, so that the church may be born again, renewed with living water, so that it may be poured out over all the world to satisfy the thirst which commercialism cannot.

In our second reading St Paul writes the church in Corinth to warn them to keep vigilant: the church can never be complacent. For us Lent is to be a time when we learn not to desire evil: we have to turn away from sexual immorality and idolatry. In the last couple of generations the laissez-faire attitude in the world around us has not empowered people, it is not made them happier, it has just given us a world of fornication and adultery, where people worship false gods: Reason, Consumerism, Fulfilment, Money and Power. The ways of the world will always leave humanity empty. It’s why the Gospels show Jesus living a radically different life, a life in all its fullness, which he offers to people: to turn their lives around, losing their lives to find true life in him. He suffers and dies for love of us, to heal us, and restore us, so that we may share in his life of love, nourished by his body and blood, strengthened by his word and sacraments, and to share this free gift of the world around us.

This morning’s gospel acts as a warning to us: that we are in danger if we continue to sin. We are, however, not simply condemned but offered another chance. The gardener gives a fig tree another chance. This is grace: the free gift of God, not something which we have earned, and only through God’s grace can we hope to bear fruit. The gardener, who created man in Paradise, who will offer himself as both priest and victim upon the tree of life, to bleed and die for love of us, this gardener will meet Mary Magdalene by the empty tomb on Easter day, so that we all humanity may share his risen life.

So let us turn away from the ways of the world, its emptiness, its false promises, its sexuality immorality, the ways of emptiness and death, to be nourished by the living water, which satisfies our deepest thirst, which makes us turn our lives around, so that we may live in him, who loves us, who heals us and who restores us. The world may not understand this, it may be scandalised by it, it will laugh at us and mock us, in the same way that it mocked our Lord on the way to Calvary and upon the cross. Let us share in his sufferings, knowing that we are loved by him who died for love of us. Let us live as a witness, to share in his work of drawing all humanity to him: so that all people may come to the living water and finds new life in 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 do-minion and power, now and forever

Lent II

It is easy to find Truth; it is hard to face it, and harder still to follow it.

Fulton Sheen Lift up your Heart, New York 1942: 106

Speaking the truth to power, speaking the uncomfortable word is a main aspect of the prophetic vocation, it is recognisable in Our Lord’s earthly ministry and throughout the history of the church. It is dangerous, and it can be costly but it is something which must be done.

 When we look at salvation history we cannot ignore Abraham, he believes in the Lord, and is reckoned as righteous: he trusts God and his relationship is sealed with a covenant, one which makes the Land of Israel the Promised Land to his descendants. There is a covenant, there is sacrifice, and this points to the cross, where God cuts a covenant with us in his Son’s death upon the Cross, the final demonstration of God’s love, which assures us of our heavenly homeland, Just as Abraham went from deep sleep and terrifying darkness to life in relationship with God, so we in the church have moved the darkness of sin and the terror of hell to new life in Christ.

 Our citizenship is in heaven, as St Paul writes to the Philippians. Heaven is our true and eternal home, where we can be with God forever. And as Christians we try to live lives which imitate the saints, one of the ways we learn is by copying, we’ve seen it, we’ve done it ourselves: it is normal and natural: we follow the example of others, which is why the choice of whom we should imitate matters. Paul writes this letter from prison, he’s seen people being tortured, and his belief in Christ will lead to his death, and yet he is happy, concerned for others more than himself, a wonderful example for us to follow. We don’t want to be like the enemies of Christ, people opposed to who and what Christ is and what he does. The world around us tends to show its enmity towards Christ more by indifference than persecution, we are ignored or patronised, but we can stand against this, together, in Christ, confident in the God who loves us. 

 In the Gospel we see Herod, a ruler who has killed John the Baptist for speaking against him, for standing up for morality which comes from God, turning his gaze towards Jesus. In the face of the threat of persecution Jesus stands up for who and what he is, and what he is doing, he is not intimidated as he has a job to do which speaks of God’s healing love, making the Kingdom of God a reality in people’s lives. Jesus sees Herod for what he is, a nothing and a nobody, a tyrant, interested in the spectacular He speaks a word over Jerusalem as a place which kills prophets, and in this he is looking towards his own death – he has to go away, so that he can come back. He prophesies that he will not return until people say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ he anticipates his entry on Palm Sunday. It makes it all the more amazing that Jesus can face the future in such a calm way, proclaiming the Love of God, and it should inspire us as we walk the journey of faith. In this our Lenten journey towards the Cross, and beyond, we travel with Christ, nourished by word and sacrament, knowing that to follow Christ is to share in His Passion, to take up our cross and follow Him, who is the Way, the Truth , and the Life. It involves standing up for truth, at the risk of persecution and death, and it is something which we do gladly because we can trust in a God who loves us, who heals us, who has made a covenant with us in the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. We can have confidence that God loves us, and will never leave us, he is with us no matter what may come our way. It is a great comfort that we can travel on our pilgrimage of faith with one who will not leave us, or fail us, who knows our pain, who suffers and dies for love of us. So let us travel with Christ through Lent, through Life, knowing that we are living out our faith, and let us share that with others that the 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.

A thought for the day from Leo the Great

O dearly beloved, let us therefore thank God the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. By means of the great love with which he loved us, he had mercy on us; and since we had died in sin, he gave us life back in Christ, so that in him we would be a new creation and a new work of his hands. Let us strip off the old man and his ways of action; and, given that  we have been admitted to participate I’m the family of Christ, let us renounce the the works of the flesh. Become aware, O Christian, of your dignity; and, having been made a participant in the divine nature, do not return to your prior baseness through behaviour unworthy of your family. Remember who your head is, and of whose body you are a member. Recall that you were stripped away from the power of the shadows and carried into the light of the Kingdom of God. The Sacrament of Baptism has made you a temple of the Holy Spirit: do not cause such a great guest to flee because e of your poor conduct; do not put yourself again into the slavery of the devil, for the price by which you were ransomed is the blood of Christ. he ransomed you out of mercy, but he will judge you in the truth of he who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

Leo  Sermons 21:3

Impress this sign therefore upon your heart, therefore, and embrace this Cross to which we owe the salvation of our souls. It is indeed the Cross that has saved and converted the entire world, banished error, reestablished truth, made the earth into heaven, and made men into angels. Thanks to the Cross, demons have ceased to to be some cause for fear and have become detestable, and dying is longer death, but sleep. Through the Cross, everything that fought against us has been knocked to the ground and trampled over. So if someone asks you whether you adore the man who was crucified, respond with a clear voice and a joyful mien, ‘Yes I adore him, and I will never cease adoring him.’

John Chrysostom  Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 54:4-5

First Sunday of Lent Year C

When St Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying ‘Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria.’ When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried to the city. When he had found the tanner …. he said to him, ‘Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you.’

He replied, ‘I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of the city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds while I will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart.’

When St Antony heard this he said, ‘My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near to the measure of such words.’

It is a very human failure, for far too often we make things far too complicated when all we need to do is to keep things simple. In the story from the Desert Fathers, which we have just heard, St Antony, the founder of monasticism, a great and a holy man, is put to shame by a man who spends his days treating animal skins. The key to it all is the tanner’s humility, his complete absence of pride, and his complete and utter trust in God – his reliance upon him alone.

In this morning’s Gospel we see Our Lord going into the desert for forty days. He goes to be alone with God, to pray and to fast, to prepare himself for the public ministry of the Proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel.

As he comes out of this he is tempted by the devil: he faces temptation just like every human being, but unlike us, he resists. The devil tempts him to turn stones into bread. It is understandable – he is hungry, but it is a temptation to be relevant, which the church seems to have given into completely: unless we what we are and what we do and say is relevant to people, they will ignore us. 

There is the temptation to have power, symbolised by worshipping the devil. It leads to the misuse of power. The church stands condemned for the mistakes of the past, but in recognising this there is the possibility of a more humble church in the future – reliant upon God and not on the exercise of power.

There is the temptation to put God to the test – to be spectacular and self-seeking. Whenever we say ‘look at me’ we’re not saying ‘look at God’.

Jesus resists these temptations because he is humble, because he has faith, and because he trusts in God. It certainly isn’t easy, but it is possible. It’s far easier when we do this together, as a community, which is why Lent matters for all of us. It’s a chance to become more obedient, and through that obedience to discover true freedom in God. It’s an obedience which is made manifest on the Cross – in laying down his life Jesus can give new life to the whole world. He isn’t spectacular – he dies like a common criminal. He has no power, he does not try to be relevant, he is loving and obedient and that is good enough.

It was enough for him, and it should be for us. As Christians we have Scripture and the teaching of the Church, filled with his Spirit, to guide us. We can use this time of prayer and fasting to deepen our faith, our trust, our understanding, and our obedience, to become more like Jesus, fed by his word and sacraments – to become more humble, more loving, living lives of service of God and each other, 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