Monday, February 20, 2017

Belief, prophecy, and certainty

I mentioned earlier that the whole idea of belief is becoming unpopular. If we look at the world before the Council of Nicaea in 325, we find a world in which any belief is tolerated, except for a belief that doesn't tolerate other beliefs. The Roman empire of the second and third centuries was a world full of gods and goddesses of all kinds of religion, This was fine if you believed in a pantheon, but for Christians, there was only one God and one alone! Christians were regarded as the original atheists, despite the fact that they believed in one God. This would normally be fine, except Christian life did not tolerate the worship of other gods. For a polytheist, it doesn't matter which god you're sacrificing to, it's all good! For a Christian, to sacrifice to another god who is not God, is idolatry mainly because the Christian does not believe that other gods exist. Meat offered to idols must be refused, even if the best meat at the local butcher has been offered in sacrifice. If running for political office involves a sacrifice to a god, then a Christian cannot enter local government. If the Emperor is coming, then it's best to find a hidey-hole, because he will demand worship as a god incarnate!

We look at the lives of Christians in the first few centuries, and we see lives of persecution, of punishment for transgressing the ultimatum of be part of pagan society or die. We look and we see St Valentine clubbed and beheaded, St Lawrence roasted, St Simeon crucified, St Sebastian shot with arrows before being given the coup de grace, St Agatha mutilated, St Perpetua thrown to the beasts. What can be said is that these men and women truly believed. They held something so dear as to be certain about it.

I said earlier that the word "belief" in its very origin means holding something beloved. To believe means to be convinced, to have a conviction. Ideally, is one prepared to be convicted about one's beliefs? 

Few of us would risk going to gaol for the belief that it will rain tomorrow, but one might risk losing a fiver, or a day's worth of washing-up on it. For Christianity, the wager is clear: believe in God or risk eternal separation from Him. Pascal's wager may not be a watertight argument, but it does have a good convincing power.

In today's society, I believe that we find much the same thing. The plethora of beliefs, plus a force within society to regard all beliefs equally valid or invalid is very much the norm. Theological courses tend to be that of comparative religion and often encourage the student to suspend her own belief so that she can study the subject "fairly". If you are a Christian, then there is only one belief. The others are false, wrong, incorrect, incomplete, or nonsense pure and simple. That other people have the freedom not to be Christian is common sense: Christianity is about the freedom to be human and to choose. Other people have the freedom to be wrong, and we Christians believe that people who are not Christian are wrong. That doesn't mean that we believe that they are wrong about everything, though. This is why dialogue is important - not to convince each other of the correctness of one's belief, but to explain one's own belief.

Now, I have just said that as a Christian we are not to convince others of why our Faith is correct. We are witnesses to the Truth, not the Thought Police, nor the Inquisition. We can only give testimony to the Truth by the way we live our lives. What then of prophecy? Are not some Christians called to be prophets? Aren't prophets supposed to be loud and objectionable people telling passers-by that they are all sinners and going to Hell?

Actually, a prophet is simply one who speaks the will of God via the Holy Ghost. Thus a prophet can never contradict previous prophecies otherwise the Holy Ghost would be contradicting Himself and that would be nonsense. The Holy Ghost dwells within every baptised Christian and, therefore, every Christian has the propensity to be a prophet and speak prophecy. The testimony that each Christian bears is witness to the existence of a loving God. It means that each Christian must live a life with that conviction. The Christian that is not convinced or loses conviction needs to get it back and thus requires support, prayer and encouragement. 

There have recently been some cases in the media where Christian retailers have been hauled through the law-courts for refusing to support a marriage of two homosexuals. The worst that I have seen is that of Irish Cake bakers who were sued for not baking a cake with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage". For the Christian, gay marriage is a logical nonsense for, in the Christian milieu, marriage is by definition between a man and a woman. Since Christians are to bear witness to the Truth, it is simply not possible for a Christian baker to support "gay marriage" without testifying to that which is not of God. The Christian that does support "gay marriage" is setting up within himself a cognitive dissonance which he can only explain away by changing the meaning of words from what they were, or by declaring that what Holy Tradition bears is either false or changes.

The choice for the Christian baker is to submit, bake the cake, and then reflect on the action, or to refuse and receive the full punishment of the law for that conviction. The law-courts will pass away, the Truth of God will not. In this day and age, it is now a frightening possibility that Christians in Western Society will find persecution by law-court. Given that the Christians in the Middle East are suffering a massive persecution which is practically ignored by Western media, the Western Christian's lot seems rather incommensurate. The Syrian Christian would, I'm sure, rather lose money to the law court than his hand, eyes and/or head. However, the Christian that is not willing to sacrifice anything for his belief in God is going to reap no reward for burying his talent.

The only belief that is being encouraged in society is that nothing is certain. That's not untrue. Certainty is a very difficult thing to establish. Logic is infallible in its grasp of certainty, but logical truths are not very interesting. Aristotelian syllogisms are certain but fail to establish any new information about the world. In order to discover new information, it seems one must sacrifice certainty. There is much logic and rational thought in Christian doctrine but it has, at its root, axioms of belief, thus logic cannot establish certainty itself. It can, however, establish conviction and thus further belief. If one accepts the Epiphany of God, this great Theophany, given in the Church and Holy Scripture, then one has the basis on which to encounter the Truth. However, one has to accept that Theophany as infallible, otherwise one compromises the whole of Christianity and runs into danger of just being another syncretist like the pagans of the AnteNicene era, and that is not what Christianity is about.

However, there is a flip-side to this. It's all very well being Christian and thus necessarily saying that Islam, Hinduism, Atheism, and Buddhism are not true, but rather inherently wrong, but the Christian faith insists - absolutely insists - that we always see people. We cannot live out the truth of Our Lord's commandments if we see people merely as embodied ideas.That reduces the great unsearchable interior of another human mind to an abstract. Thus we should not see Muslims - we should see people. We should not see Communists - we should see people. We should not see <insert your least favourite expression of Christianity here> - we should see people.

If we are seriously convicted Christians, then we should be prepared to be convicted. If we aren't showing love in our conviction, then it's not Christianity that we're convicted of!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sympathy or glory?

Sermon for Sexagesima

Some people always have it worse, don’t they?

You have a cold, but they’ve had flu. Your back is a little sore, but they’ve had lumbago. You’ve had to change a washer in the kitchen tap, but they had to call the plumber out because their boiler went wrong. It’s as if they want to compete for sympathy.

Is this what St Paul means when he says, “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities”?

[PAUSE]

Clearly not. We already know that sympathy is not something to compete for. Yet, this is the attitude that some people have towards their lot in life. They know that they can’t win the prize for being fastest, strongest, cleverest, so they seek to win at “most unfortunate”, the first prize at “I could have done that, but…” and the cup for “poor me”.

Of course, many people have a very, very tough life. You only have to walk through a city centre to see the number of beggars, buskers or homeless people to see that. Or to pass through the corridors of an intensive care unit. Or to sit in a pew at a child’s funeral. Humanity does suffer much!

Yet St Paul is not talking about misfortune: he is talking about infirmity.

We’re tempted to see them as the same thing: it seems that every infirmity is a misfortune, and that misfortune is caused by an infirmity somewhere along the line. But an infirmity is something that is part of us – a weakness that often causes us to fall, often in precisely the same way. Can we really glory in our propensity to catch a cold?

[PAUSE]

As we approach Lent, we are using these Sundays in Gesimatide to get to grips with the things that we want to focus on during Lent. We look for particular ways in which we can discipline ourselves better so that we can grow more in Christ Jesus. If you think about it, we can use this time to work out what our true infirmities are. We can see how angry we’ve been lately, or how we’ve allowed self-pity to rule us, or how we haven’t really forgiven Mrs Miggs for knocking the wing mirror off the car.

Knowing our infirmities allows us to grow. The misfortunes that happen to us often reveal those infirmities. Yet if we look closer and with better care, we can see the grace of God in those misfortunes. Thus our misfortunes in life can wake us up to ourselves and to the presence of Our Lord in our lives.

That’s difficult to do, but it is something that St Paul has learned to do. Just as we come to know God both by knowing where He is and where He is not, by knowing Good and knowing Evil, so we come to a better knowledge of ourselves in Him by knowing what we are and what we are not. The more we recognise our infirmity, the more that we can see God’s grace working with us, plugging the gaps, changing our point of view, setting us free. Our pain wakens us up to what is wrong, but it also wakens us up to what is right.

[PAUSE]

Glory means impact. We could glory in our infirmities by looking for the impact that they have in our lives. This will make us miserable beings competing for every scrap of sympathy that we can find.

Or, we can do what Christians do best, give God the glory. We seek the impact that God can have in our lives BECAUSE of our infirmities. In knowing where we are weak, we know that God is strong. In knowing where we are foolish, then we know that God is wise.

As we examine ourselves in preparation for Lent, we look at our fallibilities and we invite God into those fallibilities to make us more of the people He wants us to be.

Do you know who you are? Will you have a better idea by knowing who you are not?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ecclesial Myopia and Hypermetropia : an issue of focus



Of the two eye conditions, myopia is probably better known than hypermetropia. I remember one biology master being long-sighted whose glasses made his eyes look enormous! As for myopia, well, when I'm trying to see something far away, my face seems to resemble that of an overly confused mole. These are common problems in the human eye.

For the myopic, things that are near can have a staggeringly clear aspect while the periphery becomes somewhat vague. I know that I am especially clumsy with regard to things that are in my peripheral vision, and I cannot read signs until the last possible minute. For the hypermetropic, things are reversed. It is the distance that is clear, but things under the nose get missed. Apparently, this is all due to the shape of the eye and how the eye fails to be round.

I feel that the Church behaves in the same way, often to a staggeringly awful degree. There is a hypermetropia which misses people out because of looking with far too wide a range. There is a myopia that picks a person to pieces so that they cannot ever feel part of the Church. 

In a hypermetropic parish, the goal is always to look to the future, bring in new members, minister to the wider community. Posters go up, slogans are emblazoned all over the Parish Notes, initiatives are announced at the end of Mass. What gets missed are the members of the church that are already there, and need ministry themselves. I remember asking what I believed to be really important questions to my former CofE priest. Whether or not they were important, they still deserved an answer, but I got none. I saw people leave the Church, but no-one called after them, no-one tried to get them back - to my shame, that included me! I was in a position of responsibility and I failed to run after them. I should have done better.

However, I failed to run after them because of myopia. I was focussed on the details, scrutinising the orthodoxy (or lack of it), and engaging in a battle with prevailing winds, rather than focussing on what mattered - the needs of the people in the Church. In many ways, my hands were tied by my circumstances but, in retrospect, there were things that I could have done. A myopic parish will be focussed on the minutiae, the fixtures and fittings, the amount of lace on the altar and where the Gloria should come in the Mass. Again, people will lose out by being part of the picky pedantry, or by witnessing the 3" Lace Brigade clash with the 5" Lace Division. 

I have tried to learn from my failings to see people when it comes to matters ecclesiastical. I still fail - big time! Yet, all too often, the difficult person in the Church is encouraged to leave. I know: I was that difficult person. Too often, it is the one making the noise who is actually in need of ministry, not exclusion. Yet, also it is those who are silent too, who sit week after week, who lack a voice to deal with their pain in life until, one day, the priest opens his mouth in a sermon, and crushes the souls of these silent folk so that they leave and never return. This crushing can come hypermetropically and ignore them completely by trivialising something that they find precious, or it can come myopically and reduce a person to some caricature based on only one aspect of their being.

I fought, myopically, for orthodoxy. Of course, the orthodoxy is at the heart of our encounter with Christ. I do not regret trying to influence my old parish in the CofE back to orthodoxy, however flawed or useless were my endeavours. The key, though, is to use that orthodoxy as a correcting lens that will correct both myopia and hypermetropia at one fell swoop. 

This is why the doctrine of the Primitive Church is so important. The search for what is orthodox is over at the level of the Church while that Church is riven by internal schisms. It means that, if a parish wants to use that lens of orthodoxy to see what is right, it must use its scripture, its liturgy, its ritual to encourage that truly valuable person in the pew that they are in the presence of Almighty God Himself. 

Orthodoxy reigns in the excesses of the hypermetropic parish whilst opening out the vision of the myopic parish. The central message of Christian Orthodoxy is "Where are the love for God and the love of God being exhibited and distributed?" We must remember that we can only love our neighbour if we love God first. God is the source of love and only by a life directed in His worship can we hope to love those around us. At Mass, our focus is on God who, through His Grace, is present objectively and actively both for individual and for the whole Catholic Church. At every level, individual, parish, Diocese, Province, Jurisdiction, the lens of Orthodox Christian belief can reach out if we focus properly on what it means. If Christ is both human and divine, then the Church can take both the benefits of being hypermetropic and myopic together into itself too. The Church's mission to its member is vital. The Church's mission to those who aren't its members is vital. Both can be cultivated if we hold fast to the true Doctrine of the Church in the spirit in which it was given to the Church.

That spirit, of course, is the Holy Ghost Who will indeed blow where He wills, but not to the confusion of His Church!

Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.

 Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created;
And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

St Odile, pray for the vision of God's Church that it may be clear and purified.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Lie of Self-Identification

Who gets to say who you are?

The obvious answer is that you get to say who you are, but what does it even mean to say who you are?

Essentially, we use a collection of adjectives or properties to describe aspects of ourselves: what we look like, how we feel, what we do, what we like, what we don't like, et c. This way we can communicate aspects of ourselves to others. There is a problem. This whole idea of language and dialogue requires us to agree on what things mean. We have dictionaries which help us define and understand what words mean. Yet occasionally words have multiple definitions. I think the word, "set" has the most definitions in the dictionary. This does mean that misunderstandings occur, and it also means that we also obtain the humour that comes from puns. Language comes from an agreement of meaning between individuals. It is when that agreement is broken that causes the problem.

As much as I hate to admit it, I fit the definition of Protestant which means "not-a-Roman Catholic", but I deny that this is the proper definition of the word. Am I allowed to do so? Well, yes, in that I am capable of the denial, but no in the sense that the word "Protestant" has a popular meaning, i.e. a meaning that is understood by most people. It means that I have to explain myself every time I come across the word with someone new. 

The same is true of Anglican Catholic. I am not an Anglican as Fr Christopher Little would have it, but then I don't use the word Anglican as a noun, only as an adjective that qualifies my Catholicism... and that's another word that I have to qualify because of its popular meaning! 

This brings us to an important point. Should the popular voice determine what words mean? 

Of course the answer is yes because otherwise the individual loses the ability to speak with the society in which he finds himself. Often the popular voice  determines meaning misguidedly and lazily! Words exist as means of communication to an audience. It is an irritating fact that words change meaning rather more rapidly than new words are invented. However, as the words change their nuances and meanings over Time, the "Democracy of the Dead" is trounced by the "Tyranny of the Living". The Dead only get to say what words meant, the living get to say what they mean. Of course, this does mean that in order to read and understand old texts, we have to learn even our own language anew.

Of course, the popular vote depends on the society in which we find ourselves. If everyone around us is speaking French, then we must speak French in order to be understood. Likewise the Church as a community has its own language over which the indigenous society can have no jurisdiction. The popular voice of the Church does include the Dead!

Being an Anglican Catholic means that I have to explain myself in order to communicate with other people, but it doesn't bring me any rights. As an Anglican Catholic Priest, I cannot marry anyone in the legal sense. That is a right enjoyed by the Established Church. In being Anglican Catholic, I cannot have the right to marry anyone legally. Nor can I pretend that I am a clergyman of any other jurisdiction even though I am a validly ordained priest with Anglican, Old Catholic, and Polish National Catholic streams running through my orders which are indeed Apostolic. That means too little to the man on the street. My self-identification is utterly meaningless until the prevailing language makes it meaningful. I do not have the right to force my self-identification on other people. I must, therefore, accept the necessity to explain myself constantly and that other people will be confused by my being an Anglican Catholic. That is not their fault, nor is it unreasonable.

Yet it is this principle of self-identification that is making dialogue between people impossible. These days people can say that they identify with something that they are obviously not. such as Rachel Dolezal the only "black" white woman in existence in the first actual instance of trying to argue that black is white! It is not possible to perform self-definition as a Christian because we believe in "God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth" (unless you're Fr Clatworthy, in which case this statement is, was, or will be false at some time in the future). It means that as human beings we have to develop humility and drop the pride that causes us to assert an identity that we don't have. God created us, He gets to call the shots. If He creates a man, then that man cannot be a woman, or even become a woman. If He creates a sheep, then that sheep cannot become an orca. As soon as man and woman become equivalent, then language breaks down. We now have the phrase "pregnant person" because (oh how ridiculous) some "men" can have babies. Thus "man" and "woman" become utterly meaningless terms, thus fulfilling Kant's Categorical imperative! The language of millennia becomes lost or confused all because we must not be allowed to discriminate. The individual's demand for black to be white undermines the purpose of language as communication with Society. The Church has its own language which is now different from that of Secular Society. The individuals clamouring for the Church to change its language forget that the Church takes its definition from the Supreme Source and thus have no right to change it!

In all the furnace about rights, humility seems to be the ultimate loser. Life is hard because of sin and our fallen nature, and we have to stand up against that sin and fallen nature by being humble. As a result of our fallenness, life is grevously, scandalously, horrendously unfair - men cannot become women, homosexuals cannot receive the sacrament of marriage, women cannot be Catholic priests. The fallenness of our nature here is that we actively want the impossible. We want things that contradict God's revelation to us and we want the things that contradict God's will. We have to start looking beyond our wants and seeking what is actually truly Godly which exists apart from ourselves. It hurts worse than any physical pain because it strikes at our self-worth by the apparent right to self-define and self-identify. But life hurts - it's hurt every human being that ever existed! We have to learn to deal with this pain and seek its alleviation in the One Who wants us as the people He created us to be.

St Paul tells us that we can do anything we want, but he adds quickly that not everything we want is good, will build up society, will be healthy, will make things better for those who are truly in need. We are too ready to see what is unfair on our own terms without thinking about what is unfair in global terms. Yes, women's rights are indeed one of those great issues that need challenging - not subverting the will of God in the presbytery and thus causing division and confusion, but rather the fact that there are cultures that still promote women as chattel, deny their very humanity, refuse their counsel, and give them no worth whatsoever. Likewise, the rights of the homosexual are indeed a great issue that needs challenging - not by changing that which is instituted by God, but rather their protection from persecution, ridicule, and hatred of any kind and, further, assistance to help them find worth, warmth, and genuine appreciation in society as consecrated celibates. Why is it that we do not prize virginity any more? - God certainly does! It is His unconditional love that we need to propagate, but this will not come from pandering to that which is not true. Truth and Love go together - both are as embodied in Our Lord Jesus Christ as His Humanity and His Divinity. If we seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, then we will truly find precisely what we want and need!

The Lie of Self-Identification appeals to our pride and self worth, but not to beings who surrender this dubious right in recognition of themselves as creatures defined by God Himself, and thus completely sanctifiable. If we reject God's right to create us as He wants us, then we can self-define as much as we like. We just endanger our membership of the Church, that's all - unless "inside" also means "outside"!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Relative Truth?

Thinking Anglicans is a blog on which I seem to see a lot of very grumpy liberals who spend much of the time kvetching about the CofE's stance on same sex marriage, getting very irate when the new Bishop of Sheffield is a prominent member of Forward in Faith, and getting unpleasantly jubilant whenever an anti-gay Christian shop is closed down (preferably by a female bishop). One thing that I am surprised about is that there is an apparent double standard here. The Bishops are willing to change perfectly clear Church Doctrine about the sex of a priest and thus change the matter of one sacrament for a significant group of individuals, but they are not willing to change the matter of another for a significant group of individuals.

Before anyone accuses me of CofE-bashing, I'm not, at least that is not my intention. I still maintain the existence and intention of the CofE is to promote the love of God. I'm afraid I do question how they interpret that word "love" but there are true Christians within the CofE and I am sure that they receive the blessing of God in what they do. However, there is an attitude that does bug me, and perhaps it crystallises the whole difference between conservatives, like me, and liberals that seek to influence the CofE.

As usual, I turn to my clerical antithesis.

Fr Jonathan Clatworthy of Modern Church says:
"Christianity is not, and never has been, an unchanging monolith. No dogma, no text, not even one’s favourite biblical text, is God’s command to everyone at all times. No single source is infallible. In every age we bring the resources available to bear on the issues we face. Our understanding is always limited and uncertain. The only people who are certainly wrong are the ones who claim to be certainly right. Such people become intolerant and deaf."
What happens if your favourite bible verses are St Matthew xxii.37-40

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Perhaps I'm not reading Fr Clatworthy correctly and doing him a dreadful disservice. I am only human and capable of much error, yet If Fr Clatworthy really believes this statement which he uses to try and tell the CofE bishops what they could have done better, then he must hold that the commandment to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves are not infallible and that there are times when they do not apply. Perhaps there is a time when it is right to hate God. Perhaps there is a time to hate our neighbour. In which case that voids any argument he makes about supporting same-sex marriage in the ears of those who so pathologically hate LGBT Christians. "Sorry, Father, I just happen to believe that now is the time to hate the gays." That cannot be what Fr Clatworthy wants, but, as usual, his premises are flawed.

Perhaps, he will say, that his statements only apply to some of Christian Doctrine. Well, okay, but which bits? The bits that agree with Societal norms? The bits which are politically correct? The current societal norm is to be atheist. Does that mean that Christianity needs now to adopt atheist beliefs?

It seems to me that this is the whole issue that faces Christianity in the West, and yet no-one wants to believe it. The issue is precisely that we have forgotten how to believe in the first place.
The central element of belief is love. The word "belief" means to hold as beloved. Yes, we say, "I believe it will rain tomorrow," and it's difficult to see what we're holding to as beloved. Yet perhaps the fact that we hold beloved the consistency of our experience, that life follows some rules on which we rely to make sense of life.
Fr Clatworthy's belief cannot be that of the Creeds, especially the Athanasian Creed which states clearly that his salvation is in doubt.

Fr Clatworthy is correct that there is much uncertainty in human understanding this is why we have the Revelation of God through Scripture and Tradition which are both espoused in the Church, and then - then - right reason. Human beings can't be certain, but the Holy Ghost can.

Actually I can be absolutely certain in this statement:

If Matthew xxii:37-40 is correct then I must love God and my neighbour in the appropriate manner.
Fr Clatworthy must therefore hold me to be certainly wrong. Of course, if Fr Clatworthy is certain of his statement then his statement is certainly wrong. If no single source is infallible, then neither is his statement that "no single source is infallible".

That may seem to be pedantry and "smart-alec"ry on my part. Yet my point is important. The Christian Faith that Fr Clatworthy puts forward holds nothing to be beloved. There is no belief there save that "there are no unchanging beliefs". There is no sense of Eternity, no Timelessness in this vision of Christianity.

If Fr Clatworthy suggests that I am intolerant and deaf, then I must agree with Him. I believe in God and I believe in the Devil. I will not tolerate nor listen to the the Devil who seeks to lie, mislead and encourage people to deny the infallibility of God Himself, the objective truth of His Holy Incarnation, and the Revelation of Himself as inspired by the Holy Ghost.

If Fr Clatworthy is truly representative of the liberal agenda, then he certainly has my prayers that he will be deafened to all voices save that of the God who loves him so very much, and thus find some certainty in his life.
I categorically believe that the Christian Faith is not, nor should be, influenced by societal norms, but rather issue the same challenge to every society to cast its crown before the Divine Master. If this makes me person non grata to the liberal element of Christianity, then I'm not the only one being intolerant.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The value of the score-board

Sermon for Septuagesima

“It’s not the winning, George, it’s the taking part.”

You’ve probably heard that phrase before used when George is in floods of tears because he hasn’t got a medal for being the fastest in running across the playground. The medal is clearly something that matters to George, and not winning it is a cause for great sorrow and anguish.

But why do we get a medal for coming first?

Why not a medal for coming fourth or ninth?

[PAUSE]

You may say that we give medals to inspire people to do better, but surely coming fourth would involve some very interesting skills other than just being the fastest.

For many issues, the first past the post is an obvious method of making choices. The fastest runner will be the one who can take the message to an ally while the town is in siege. The best javelin thrower will be the one to use against the enemy walls. The best boxer will be the one to beat the opposing champion for the hope of the city.

These are old Greek ideas of several thousand years ago. Do they have much meaning now?

If these are merely things we value in war or combat, shouldn’t we be evolving out of such a competitive or war-like way of thinking?

[PAUSE]

The people we describe as winners todayhave something about them that we value. We see in them something in our heroes and heroines that we would like for ourselves, and that’s no bad thing. It isn’t envy when we don’t want to take that away from those whom we admire but seek to emulate their achievement. Achievement only really works if we value what we seek to achieve. Yet, if we covet the prize itself, and seek to take that prize away from another, that truly is envy.

Can we say that the whole sports industry is based around envy?

Probably not. However, where our treasure it, there are hearts are also. The Lord tells us as much, and what He is speaking about is worship. Worship is literally worth-ship; what we worship determines our own value system. Once we have a thing that tops the score board in our own thinking, something that we desire most, something that we’d do anything to achieve, then everything else ranks behind it.

The Christian knows precisely what the score board should look like.

[PAUSE]

We worship God by putting Him first, and this sets up our whole system of values. We should value what He values; we should hate what He hates; love what He loves. It doesn’t matter when in our lives we acquire this system of values; the prize, the reward, the joy is always the same – nothing less than God Himself.

That should terrify us.

Once we look at where we are, we realise just how far short we are of worshipping God in spirit and in truth. We need that knowledge, no matter how painful it is, but we run our race with God alongside us, rooting for us, cheering us on, and giving us the grace to succeed.

 As we enter Great Lent, the first three weeks of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima are there to get us to examine ourselves, the condition of ourselves to run the race to God. Then, when we have examined ourselves, we shrive ourselves on Shrove Tuesday by confessing to God, sacramentally if we wish, what we need to put right. Then we can spend Lent preparing ourselves properly to worship the Risen Lord anew on that Glorious Paschal Sunday morning.

[PAUSE]

Now is the time to think about how much we really do worship God, and seek the prize that is set before us.

How seriously are we prepared to change our score board?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Why St Anselm And St Odile?



Things never run smoothly, but in the love of God, they do run to the end. I find myself in the process of making myself a new life "Oop North" in Sheffield. I have left my lovely Parish in Rochester, and now I must face the face that I am going to have to build God's Church anew in a new Mission. This is an enormous task and may not even reach the first hurdle. I have to listen to God and see what He is saying for His Church here.


I have chosen for this Putative Mission, the patronage of St Anselm and St Odile - two Benedictine Saints who have relevance in my life. One might have thought that I choose the patronage of St Michael and St Bartholomew, the saints on whose feasts I received my ordinations, but something has made me consider these two less-well-known saints. To see why, we need a few biographical notes.


St Anselm 1033/4-1109

Feast Day: 21st April

Born in Lombardy to a noble family, Anselm entered the monastic life where he excelled in his studies and became famous for the precision of his language. He left to study under Lanfranc in the Abbey at Bec and took his vows there. When Lanfranc left to become Abbot of Caen, Anselm was elected prior of Bec and then subsequently became abbot. It is here that he began his major writings such as the Monologion and the Proslogion in which he tried to demonstrate the existence of God by reason alone in his famous Ontological Argument. He might, from this, be regarded as the father of Scholasticism. The Proslogion was given another title for which Anselm is famous - fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding.


William the Conqueror, a patron of the Abbey at Bec, granted lands to the Abbey in both England and Normandy. While Anselm was viewing these lands, William's successor, William II (known as Rufus) appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. The relationship between King William and his archbishop was turbulent to say the least as the King sought to have control over the Church's property (where have we heard that before?). When Anselm refused to pay the King's demands, the king prevented him from going to Rome to receive the pallium from the the Pope, thus creating the Investiture Controversy over whether the King had the right to appoint or reject candidates for ecclesiastical positions. This controversy continued after William II's hunting "accident" when Henry I took over. Anselm died peacefully on 21st April 1109 and was canonised not too long after probably at the behest of St Thomas Becket, his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury.


Anselm defended the filioque clause, and brought forward a powerful theory of the Atonement which has been developed by St Thomas Aquinas and influenced the Reformers Luther and Calvin.


So why have I, an Anglican Catholic who largely rejects the soteriology of St Augustine, who rejects the Papal claims to authority, and who also wants the filioque removed from the Creed, chosen the patronage of one who ostensibly believes the opposite?


For me, St Anselm is a brother Benedictine of a remarkable intellect, exceptional clarity and language, and he is responsible for challenging a secular authority. It isn't so much that I believe his conclusions to be wrong, but rather that he and I are both out on the same search, that fides quaerens intellectum. I admire very much that keenness of mind, and sharpness of wit that he possesses. I believe that his reasoning was wonderful, beautiful even, but he did not see the premises that he needed on which he could found his theory.


The idea of being able to see brings me to:


St Odile (aka St Odilia or St Ottilia) c662 - c720

Feast Day: 13th December

Tradition has it that Odile was born in Alsace to a noble family, but was also born blind. Being disabled in such a way at that time brought about her father's rejection and so she was given to be raised by peasants in Burgundy. The legend is that, when she was twelve, Bishop St Erhart of Regensberg baptised her whereupon she suddenly regained her sight.


When her brother brought her back home, her father was so enraged that he accidentally killed his son, whom then Odilia miraculously raised from the dead before fleeing. When her father fell ill, Odilia returned to nurse him. In gratitude he gave her Hohenburg Castle which she turned into Hohenburg Abbey, becoming the Abbess there.


She is a patron saint of people with eye problems, and of Alsace.


St Odile predates the Roman method of canonisation and she is recognised as a saint in the Orthodox Church too.


I have chosen the patronage of St Odile, not just for personal reasons, e.g. my own eye-sight, but because she represents something fundamental that I alluded to earlier.


Reason, without clear sight of what really is true, cannot guarantee the truth. It doesn't matter how elegant the arguments are, or how brilliant the conclusions. If the premises are not true, then the conclusions cannot be relied upon. With St Anselm, we have to begin our understanding of our relationship with God with faith, and faith comes as a result of seeing God's revelation. God gives faith as a gift and, if we open that gift, faith seeks God. Every Anselm needs an Odile to ensure that his understanding bears faithful witness to the truth. Every Odile needs an Anselm to give a language that helps us develop our relationship with God, even if that language is not in a tongue that we're used to speaking.


It's on this basis that I seek to build this Mission for the love of God. In this country, our Christian Faith is too much affected and held to ransom by secular and secularising authorities. St Anselm challenged that in his lifetime, even if he brought Romanising influences on the English Church. Given that the alternative was a church run by corrupt and greedy rulers, putting the Church under the Patriarch of the West probably saved it! Likewise, with an increasingly secular Established Church, so we seek to regain that vision of Christ in our society. There is much that is good in secular society and that should be cultivated in a healthy Church: a tolerance for those who have different beliefs without accepting those beliefs or, as it seems some folk in the Church of England want to do, adopting them wholesale; a desire for fairness and justice, regardless of faith, race, or sex, yet rejecting the lazy thinking and cultural blindness that tries to make faith, race, and sex homogeneous characteristics through the deception of self-definition; a vibrant scientific curiosity, but which is curtailed and actually driven by the intrinsic God-given worth of every human being conceived as well as a healthy respect for Creation.


I would ask for your prayers as well as the prayers of St Anselm and St Odile, that this silly little vision of mine may be worthy of being brought into reality by the Love of God in Our Lord Jesus Christ.