Sunday, April 22, 2018

Metanoia and Thatcher

Sermon for the third Sunday after Easter

Sometimes, everything seems to get at you, even inanimate objects. Jets of water from the tap always seem to end up on you in an embarrassing way. Milk cartons refuse to open without the intervention of heavy-duty cutlery. And let us not get started on trying to open bin bags.

Sometimes the world seems to just get at you.

Of course, some people have it much worse than others. Some of us seem to suffer misfortune after misfortune. Respectable men and women suddenly find themselves with nothing. Clever and enterprising young folk end up on the street. Little children grow up scared and scarred because of the actions of grow-ups.

The Church has a lot of work to do.

If only the world would let us do it.

[PAUSE]

As Christians, we can definitely subscribe to the feeling that we are being "got at". This is because we are being got at. The question is trying to work out who is getting at us. The answer is not always very obvious.

You might say, "actually, it is the world that's getting at us." Our Lord Himself says, "Verily, verily I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice!" What is this "World"?

It's easy to think that it's a them and us situation. It's us versus the world - Athanasius contra mundi - and we put on our suits of armour and seek to challenge the World to a dual.

The trouble is, the World is not something outside of us. Think of this: you're never stuck in traffic, you are traffic. By being in a car, you are part of the traffic congestion on the M25. Margaret Thatcher is right: Society doesn't exist as something outside ourselves that we can always blame for our troubles. While we participate in Society, we cannot pass the buck.

"What's wrong with the World?" We say as we see the latest atrocity. G. K. Chesterton would reply, "I am." While we are in the World, we cannot separate ourselves from what's wrong with it. While we live in worldly ways, we contribute to the very thing that we struggle with.

How can we hope to separate ourselves from the World?

[PAUSE]

It's clear that we can't any more than we can package up the darkness before we switch the light on. We turn to Christ and use His light to help us transform our ways. We cannot hope to seek the will of God in worldly desires. A new car will not bring us closer with God: it will just make us more worldly. Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.

We turn to Christ. The only thing of any real value to us is the Cross of Christ, His suffering, His humiliation, His death. Death is the only thing that the World can ever give us because it is corrupted by our sin. Christ breaks through that barrier for us and offers us the way through.

We turn to Christ. We learn to value what He values and seek only love and unity with Him. A true search for unity with God cannot exclude other people because if we are united with God, then we will be united with all others who find Him. Our lives are to be spent, not focussing on the world's problems for the world's sake, but focussing on loving God and accepting His values so that we can solve the world's problem in true and honourable service to Him. We can gain the world, but we lose our souls in the process.

[PAUSE]

We cannot do any good in this world without God's involvement. The solution is simple: we involve God in our lives in prayer and the study of His word. We look at how we can shrug off worldly values and the pursuit of worldly esteem, we take our cross and suffer with Christ.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

Just wait in God, and see.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Good shepherds?

Sermon for the second Sunday after Easter

Don't you feel that being referred to as a sheep is a bit demeaning?

What about your priest being referred to as your pastor, or your bishop as the shepherd of your souls? Do you like being part of someone's flock?

Does that mean while you're merely a sheep, an ordained priest is actually a real human being?

[PAUSE]

Clearly, some have held this view in the past which seems to set priests up above the laity. It's little surprising that, because they cannot become priests, women see the Catholic priesthood as being another example of male oppression over them. If they are the sheep and the priest is the shepherd, then it seems that women will always be lesser. Likewise, men who are not called to the priesthood would have some objection to being referred to as a sheep.

There is clearly a point to answer here and, as always, to know the truth we listen to Jesus Himself, and it only takes a few words.

"I am THE good shepherd."

He doesn't say, "I am a good shepherd." It is very much, "I am THE good shepherd." There are no other good shepherds than Our Lord.

And now we begin to see something. With God as Our Creator, any comparison that we make between Him and us is always going to make us look insignificant. Before God, we are nothing more than dust. Our lives begin and end in the twinkle of His eye. We are nothing in comparison with Him.

To describe Himself as a shepherd and us as sheep is actually a great kindness to us. He could simply not bother with us at all, because we are so insignificant before His Eternal Majesty. The fact that He calls Himself our shepherd shows that He does care - really care. This is a care that is far beyond any care that a human being could have for anyone.

Listen to Him:
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth; and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
He is not in it for any money, or kudos, or for the glory of being worshipped. He has no need of any of those things. His care is completely focussed on the sheep. He will defend us to the hilt from all Evil that would beset us - even to death.

And how He proves that to us on the Cross.

What does it prove? 

It proves that, no matter who we are, God wants to create us. He loves us so much that He brings us into being in the first place and then gives up His own life for us so that we might not be lost to Him through our own sin.

[PAUSE]

It's also worth listening to St John Baptist when he says of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God!"

Lamb?

So Jesus Himself is being referred to as a sheep?

If we're sheep, then so is He!

And now we really do see that when God calls us His sheep, He is referring not to us being animals before Him, but rather demonstrating His care - a care so great that He becomes one of us in order to be with us. He shows that our human state - while being infinitely inferior to His glorious majesty - possesses worth for Him, possesses dignity, possesses in its very heart Heavenly Gold. We are not nothing to God.
Why then do we call priests, "pastors," and bishops, "shepherds"?

[PAUSE]

This point cannot be emphasised enough. It is not because priests and bishops are humans and the laity merely flocks. Look carefully: how can Mother St Teresa of Calcutta be lesser than one of those awful paedophile priests who have brought shame upon the whole Catholic priesthood? How can St Mary Magdalene be lesser than the treacherous Judas?

No. In failing to see priests and bishops as being somehow above normal human beings, we miss the point of Christ's sacrifice as the Lamb of God. The ordination of a priest is the means by which Christ operates through a sinful, fallible human being in order to feed us with His grace in the sacraments. The priest is a sheep through whom the Shepherd gives His care. What credit does that give to the priedt?

The priest is only a pastor by virtue that each Christian should look to him to see Christ the Shepherd. In fact, in not allowing the grace of God to act in him, in not showing care for his parish, the priest commits a terrible sin.

It is important to note that every faithful member of the laity is made holy through living their faith. Men and women together have an equal opportunity to become saints and to stand before God's throne for Eternity. The faithless priest, the priest that is in it for the prestige, the fancy robes, the adulation and respect, is an hireling and will receive his reward which can only end in Eternal Death.

Go out: be holy and faithful under the oversight of our Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, and don't forget to pray for priests and bishops that the whole world may be filled with Christ's grace.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mathematical Sehnsucht

I find, to my amazement, that I have had something to contribute to Fr Anthony's Blue Flower project. While I won't reproduce it here, I will perhaps mention that Mathematics does begin to give expression to the Transcendent and I may expand on that in a future article for the Blue Flower if there is sufficient interest.

Do please look out for this publication as there will be articles written by those of greater academy than me. I'm told it is aiming to be out in June.

Monday, April 09, 2018

A late announcement

To many not used to the liturgical interplay between the solar and lunar calendars, the concept of a date not being a saint's day seems difficult to understand. A few years ago, I upset revellers celebrating St George's day, when I pointed out that - it being the Octave of the Resurrection - St George's day did not happen on April 23rd. (What an obnoxious know-it-all I am! 😜) This year, in the Roman Rite, St Valentine got bumped to a commemoration by the privileged feria of Ash Wednesday.

Especially this year, March 25th was not the Feast of the Annunciation according to the Roman Rite Since it clashed with Palm Sunday, the Rubrics ordered that it be transferred to the nearest available date outside the Easter Octave. Of course, this is not a universal practice. The Sarum Rite, for example makes provision for the Annunciation to be celebrated on the next day, being the Monday of Holy Week.

So we have had to wait a while for the announcement that Our Lady is to bear a child.

How typical!

Announcing the birth of a baby is not as straightforward as one might think. Parents filled with the joy that they are going to have a baby find themselves frustrated that it's really best to wait for the twelve-week scan before making a formal announcement so that they can say that the baby is happy and healthy. Were the Angel Gabriel to follow the same practice, we would be celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation on 25th June instead - the day after the Nativity of John the Baptist.

However, the Angel just needs to announce the Immaculate Conception of Our Lord. His birth is guaranteed, unlike many pregnancies even today. It is a matter of great sadness that many pregnancies end naturally within the first twelve weeks. Some babies do die even before their own mother knows that she is pregnant. For some mothers, the miscarriage is the first she knows.

We make later announcements so that we can share the joy of the presence of a baby knowing that it is viable for life. Even then, pregnancy is delicate and though the probability that the baby dies shrinks daily, it is never zero.

Could Our Lady's pregnancy have failed? Yes, it could: Our Lord's gestation was as fraught with danger as our own. However, it did not fail and this is something that those possessing an Eternal point of view always know.

We rejoice in the benefit of hindsight that, from His Conception, Our Lord's birth was assured and the path of our salvation at His hands revealed. While we rejoice, we must pray for all pregnant women and for all those who suffer the tragedy of miscarriage.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Pressing Faith

Sermon for the first Sunday after Easter

You may have noticed that, around Easter time, the newspapers tend to scrabble around for something to write about. We've had a congregation whose Easter banner said "Chris is Risen," the Archbishop of Wales being reported as saying that we can never know that the Resurrection happened, and the Pope being reported as saying that Hell does not exist which the Vatican denies. It seems that the press want to say something about Easter, but are not sure precisely what to say. What they give us is either something light-hearted or something that challenges the belief of millions of Christians.

Why? Why does the press want to challenge the Christian Faith?

[PAUSE]

At the most obvious level, the press just want people to buy papers and so print challenging headlines to make us think. Some papers rejoice in giving purely reactionary articles just so that people find a reason to shake their heads and tut about the state of the world. In many ways, the press give the people what they want to read and, as the old proverb says, they won't let the truth get in the way of a good story.

If today's press is inaccurate why can we be sure that the Gospels are accurate? Perhaps it is difficult to believe that Our Lord is risen from the dead. Perhaps we will never know.

[PAUSE]

It's okay to be tempted by thoughts like this. Poor St Thomas has trouble believing the reports of Jesus' Resurrection and so He demands evidence. It is only when they see His scars that the disciples are glad when they see the the Lord. After such a horrible few days in which we see Christ humiliated and executed, we are bound to be shaken up by this. The fact of the matter is that, in our experience, people don't tend to rise from the dead.

But Jesus does.

And that cannot be exaggerated. People are either alive or dead. Jesus was dead and now He is seen to be alive by eyewitnesses who then go about preaching of this resurrection. There's nothing to mishear, misinterpret or distort. Jesus was dead and is now alive. It doesn't get clearer than that. In two-thousand years, there has been no reasonable evidence to contradict the eye-witness testimony of the time.

When we doubt, what we have to do is to have faith.

Faith is not something that denies what we see. It doesn't throw out reason and scientific evidence. Faith is the result of trusting that God is Who He says He is and believing Him when things seem dark. Jesus says He will rise again from the dead. When He does die, we have to trust that He is right. When He does rise again, we see that our faith in Him is justified. We see that He is telling us the truth. We see that He does keep His promises even when they seem difficult to believe.

Having faith is a powerful thing. St John tells us clearly that

Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

The Faith that God gives us allows us to treat the misinformation of the world with a grain of salt. It means that we can hold onto Church teaching and not worry when it conflicts with this world's morality because we trust in God and not the world. It means that we are not slaves to culture, nor to big business, nor to what Society expects of us. We just need to have faith and allow that faith to grow in God.

[PAUSE]

Like the plants that begin to bud in spring, so our faith grows because of Our Lord's Resurrection from the Dead. It is the report of the death of our faith that is greatly exaggerated.


Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Threshold

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection

We stand at the door of the empty tomb, peering into its dark interior as the sunlight begins to flood the cemetery. Towards us is the black open door leading into the place of the dead and to who-knows-what. Behind us the sky is black with the beginnings of a pale blue hue at the horizon just before the Sun begins its ascent into the sky.

And we come to the realisation that this is the beginning of a new day. It's a beginning, not an end. Looking at the empty tomb, we are not seeing an end even though it is supposed to be a last resting-place. The credits don't roll. We aren't going to find out who the production assistant and script editor are. This is not a drama that has just played itself out. This is still happening.

[PAUSE]

We stand on the threshold of the tomb at the threshold of the day trying to understand the events of the last few days. They have been a threshold too, that between order and chaos. This is where it all begins as God Himself stands at the moment of Creation on the threshold between something and nothing, looking into the void and deciding in His impenetrable infinity what to create.

The threshold is where we are and it is here on this threshold that God saves us.

Every day, we teeter on the edge between good and evil, and we're not always aware of it. The world around us is a chaotic pattern of ripples from good deeds and ill entering into our everyday lives, often without us knowing. The order of our lives is being nudged by forces we can neither see nor control. We might as well be playing blind man's bluff on the edge of Beachy Head. The mind of Humanity is dark and cold to the love of God. And dark and cold is the morning as we gaze into the empty tomb. Many of us spend our lives here at this threshold and never seem to cross it.

But He is not here: He is risen and He meets us in the dawning of day and the breaking of bread. In order to meet Him, we have to cross the threshold into the unknown. This is the nature of our Faith.

Faith is not some unreasoned acceptance of an apparent truth. Our Faith is a growing trust in someone we are coming to know. It is as empirical as Science is itself. Our faith grows by what it sees and experiences. Our faith in God grows because we experience Him and seek Him out. Abraham knows God and trusts Him to raise Isaac when God calls him to sacrifice his son. It is only because he knows what God is like that Abraham would even dare to obey. In so doing, Abraham crosses a threshold into a new relationship with God with Isaac alive.

[PAUSE]
Leaving their hiding places from the crucifixion to gather in some secluded spot to decide what to do, the disciples find Christ. And they realise that their experiences of His teaching and miracles are true. The figure they see standing before them, still bearing His scars, still Him, is Christ Jesus Our Lord, and none other. No ghost. No hallucination through grief or intoxication. Through faith in Our Lord, they cross the threshold from a world groaning for Salvation into a world in which Salvation is present for those who want to receive it.

And the threshold of this Salvation is Christ the Door, the Strait Gate, the Way. He is the threshold between Life and Death. He is the door of the tomb for those who wish to pass from death into Eternal life.

[PAUSE]

This is as much our Resurrection as His. This is why He comes back to see us and show us the truth that our faith may be strengthened and our joy complete.

The sun rises and the blackness of the tomb lies behind us. Let us proceed in the peace of Christ into His life.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Clamour and the Crucifix

Sometimes, it all gets a bit much.

Trying to maintain your Christian Faith in a world which wants you to alter those beliefs sounds very straightforward when you say it out loud. It's when the fall-out hits you: today's Western World may not seek to stone you, throw you to the lions or crucify you literally. No. Today's tactic is to destroy your faith through "science", social pressure, complex legal arguments, and more and more trivialities-dressed-as-important so that your mind is torn hither and yon seeking for the way to honour God - the God Who is with us, for us and fiercely on our side; distraction, distraction, distraction. It is all noise.

We can see just how much the world hates Christianity: it is called the Cross and, today, we behold our sovereign saviour, our Lord and God Incarnate, stripped, nailed, reviled and mocked on the cross. You can hear the noise around Him as He hangs there. All He can hear are the taunts of people who are anti-understanding, seeking to drown out His message with their list of obligations. This is how Our Blessed Lord is no-platformed - pinned to a cross and drowned out.

It is only those who stare at the cross in tears and silence that hear the one thing that the Devil was trying to stop us from hearing.

"Tetelestai!"

It's this that the Devil doesn't want us to hear because it is the truth: he has been conquered and his eternal fate known in Time. It doesn't matter what you hear around you. The truth is the truth. The cross is the cross. And God is God. No matter how this world tries to drown out what you know to be true in your heart, it cannot. It might as well try to convince you that two and two are five. You may not know why two and two have to be four, but you do know that it is four despite even courts ruling that the sum should be otherwise.

The only approach to this clamour is silence.

In silence, we hear the little voice of God who seeks out only those who want to hear Him. The world may hear tetelestai and drown out, distort and confuse its meaning with words, psychobabble and redaction. But we hear it, and we hear it in context: Christ has done it; He has perfected His salvation; He has poured Eternal Truth into the world through the opening of His hands and His side.

All we have to do is sit at the foot of the cross, look up, listen and be loved.