Archive of Archbishop Michael’s Messages:
THE TRADITIONAL CHURCH OF ENGLAND AT 21
The Traditional Church of England (TCE) was founded on 22nd February 1994, an event which we marked on this anniversary.
We cannot say that it was a moment of celebration, since the event commemorated was an occasion of sadness for traditional members of the Church of England. It was the time when the Church threw over its Catholic heritage, and “ordained” women as priests. Many faithful members at that time realised that they could no longer remain in the Church, and some joined the TCE instead. If not a celebration, the commemoration was, however, a moment of thanksgiving that God had shown us His favour by allowing us to continue thus far.
Back in 1994, a “fudge” worthy of the European Union was concocted, which allowed some parishes in the Church of England who opposed the concept of priestesses to remain under a kind of “protection” scheme. It persuaded a good number of the faithful to stay in the Church, but had the effect of allowing them to adopt the “ostrich” stance, on the basis that they would not be affected by the priestess measure.
Even before the priestess measure was enacted, there were other foreboding signs of decay in the Church. There was the willing adoption by many clergy of Vatican 2 practices, such as “over-the-counter service” and “experimental” liturgies. Series 2 and 3 were introduced, along with the Alternative Service Book, and there was the increasing abandonment of the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible. Even the basic tenets of the Creed were to be questioned. There was more concern shown about political matters, so that secular practices became more important than spiritual ones, yet there was little attempt to address the increasing problem of family breakdown. Instead, there was a wholehearted pursuit of “rights” rather than “responsibilities”. The sacrifice of traditional priesthood on the altar of gender equality went along with the acceptance (in many cases, celebration) of unscriptural sexual practices.
Events within the Church of England after 1994 have continued to move inexorably in the same direction. There has been a more aggressive grouping of parishes, and the placing of priestesses in positions that are beyond their status and ability, all in the name of “positive discrimination”. This has led on to the creation of “bishopesses”, without any safeguards for those traditionally minded priests or bishops (if any) who might still remain in the Church of England. The Alternative Service Book has now been replaced by the pick and mix liturgies of the banal Common Worship book, while abandonment of the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible is all but complete. As a sign of the times, the Devil has been written out of the Baptism liturgy! There are now several generations of youngsters who have not had the advantage of learning orthodox Christianity, but rather have been exposed to “comparative religions”. They have lost touch with our Christian literary heritage and morality, and have had to grow up in dysfunctional “laissez-faire” families, where alternative religions and trendy variants are given an equal footing with the ancient Christian Faith.
Meanwhile, the left-wing bias among the Bench of bishops has been endorsed by their recently published Report, which very oddly appears to castigate the Government for allowing the level of unemployment to decrease, contrary to all the forecasts. The Bench of bishops seems to make a habit of issuing these “calls to vote” when a Conservative-led Government is seeking re-election. A similar Report known as “Faith in the City” appeared during the 1980s. The subtext is that you should choose a candidate of the Left. Even in Rome, recent events have meant that traditionalists are fighting a rear-guard action. The move to allow the return of traditional practices under Pope Benedict XVI and the formation of the Ordinariate, were resisted in England by their bishops, and brought to a grinding halt with his resignation, and the election of the Marxist-leaning Pope Francis. Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops in England are issuing their own leaflet on voting, with an identical subtext to that of the Anglican bishops. Rome is becoming yet another social service, rather than the spiritual power-house it once was.
As far as the future is concerned, the TCE can do no better than place itself in the hands of God, and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, we offer a welcome to any devout Christian who loves the traditional liturgies of the Anglican heritage, and wishes to live according to the tenets of Holy Scripture.
DE-SATANISATION BY THE CofE , 2014
I Believe In Sin
Thoughts prompted by the current trend to erase the concept of sin from our thoughts and prayers
However much we may try to explain away or to excuse the weakness of human nature, the fact remains that mankind is far from being in a state of peace within himself, or with other people, or indeed with God. There is restlessness in so many lives today, which shows itself in excess drinking, or in the taking of drugs, in casual or illicit sex, or in an aimless seeking after thrills of one kind or another. All these are symptoms of a lack of inner peace. It seems that mankind cannot face up to the reality of God, but tries to avoid thinking about God, and shuns any demands which the acknowledgement of the existence of God might bring.
This desire to do anything rather than face up to God is one of the effects of sin, and it can be seen in action in the early pages of Scripture. The story of Adam is a parable, explaining how the tendency to sin (which is found in all of us) came about. Adam and his wife Eve tried to run away from God once they had disobeyed Him. The very thought of God was something they did not wish to face. This is just what people are doing today as they spend their time constantly seeking new stimulation. It is a form of escape, for they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the true source of inspiration, which is God, the only force for good, preferring rather the malign, as in the serpent of the Adam story.
Jesus does not explain the origin of sin, but He accepts the fact of its existence, and He calls on us to deal with it by way of repentance and obedience. The purpose of His life on earth with us was to deal with sin; He came to save us from it, to restore our damaged souls, and to make us “whole”. He did this through His life of obedience, ending in His death on the Cross and His subsequent Resurrection. During Our Lord’s life there are many examples given to show that He constantly forgave those who came to Him in penitence for their sins. To give just three examples, there was the woman who had been discovered in the act of adultery; there was Zacchaeus the tax collector, who was guilty of fraud and extortion, and there was the robber who was crucified next to Jesus. Our Lord’s parables were often designed to show how God deals with people who by their own sin and folly are cut off from Him, and desire to return to their Father’s love. The parable of the Prodigal son is the best-known of these. We believe that if a person has faith and shows true repentance, God will undoubtedly forgive him. All that is required is a firm purpose to amend and a desire to obey God from that time on.
How can we deny the existence of sin when the words of Our Lord’s prayer are daily on our lips? “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen”.
MESSAGE FOR ALL SAINTS-TIDE 2012
Some Thoughts for All Saints-tide
The word, “saint” had a wider meaning in New Testament times than it does today. It refers not just to people of exceptional Christian qualities, those who stand out as fine examples of commitment and devotion, but to all the ordinary people as well, those who made up the local congregations of the Church in each town or village where they were found. Each person who follows the Christian life is urged to stand up for the faith, since each one has received the same calling. So we are to think of those early Christians as the people of God, and recall that it must have been a difficult time for many of them. The Church was spreading only slowly at that time, only as fast as the Apostles and Evangelists were able to bring the Gospel message to the world. It was a hard struggle for many of them, since in those early days, Church members were generally poor, and also needed to be very keen to keep the Gospel message progressing. Before long, it also became dangerous to be a Christian. In many places, once the faith had been tentatively established, local opposition grew up, and Christians were persecuted, sometimes imprisoned and also killed for their faith. Naturally, this did not encourage other people to join the movement. All this meant that for the first three hundred years or so, the members of the Church had to be totally committed to the cause. The concept of the Church as the place just for hatch, match and despatch, such as exists nowadays, was entirely unknown in those days. From this point of view, all those early Christians were indeed saints, and they showed their love for Christ every day of their lives.
This situation changed at the time that the persecution of Christians by the State largely came to an end, under the influence of the Christian Emperor, Constantine. It now became fashionable to be Christian, and all of a sudden there were many new recruits. The problem then arose that not all these new recruits took their responsibilities as Christians as seriously as those earlier members of the Church. The word, “saint”, stopped being used to describe ordinary believers, since many them were no longer worthy of the name. It is a state of affairs that has continued through the centuries wherever Christianity has been an accepted religion, and it continues today. There are those who have no links with the Church at all; but there are also those who worship occasionally, give a little of their time and money when it is convenient, and even maintain a fair standard of behaviour in daily life, but who nevertheless remain uncommitted. In what they do, they are often more concerned with what the neighbours think than with what God thinks. However, apart from people such as these, there is still a faithful remnant, a core of real believers, whose commitment to worship, witness, giving, and work for God keep the faith alive. These are the people earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.
Some two hundred years ago, religion in England was at a very low ebb, as it is today. Then there was a great revival in the form of the Oxford Movement and the reawakening brought about by John Wesley. We can pray that a similar revival may take place in our time. If not, there is the possibility that there will be a return to the state of affairs that existed before Christianity became the principal religion of European countries; a time when Church membership was really small, when people were laughed at, persecuted and even killed for their faith, and when heavy demands had to be made upon them for work and giving in order to keep the faith alive and flourishing. It seems that we have already begun to face this situation.
Thoughts like these can easily make us down-hearted, so it is worth recalling to mind the Old Testament story of Gideon. He was the Israelite who undertook to drive away the Midianites who were raiding and plundering the whole country. He called together a large number of volunteers, and from these he chose just a few tried and trusted men. He felt that the rest would only handicap him, since many of them would probably be half-hearted. With his small band, he outwitted and defeated the Midianites. In this, and in the small numbers through which the Early Church accomplished so much, there is a lesson for our situation today. We are not saying that the Church does not need more members, for it is always our task to increase the numbers of those who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. What is needed in our day is better Christians, those who love OL implicitly and are members of His Church, not in name only, but in deed as well.
MESSAGE FOR LENT & HOLY WEEK 2012
Some Lenten Thoughts
“Throughout all ages, world without end”. This is rather an enigmatic phrase, and may seem meaningless, until we remember that it speaks to us of the timelessness of God. Our Lord is all that He is to us now, in this present moment, because then, at a certain point in time, He came to this earth, and chose to bear temptations, sorrow, suffering and even death on the Cross. Because then, in the past, Jesus took the lowly place, and humbled Himself, now He is exalted far above the heavens; His name is above every name.
It may seem strange that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted. As a rule, we associate towns and cities with temptation, while lonely places are seen as areas of peace and tranquillity, away from earthly distractions. We imagine that lack of human contact would mean lack of temptation. But sin is not something outside us; it is something within. Wherever we go, alone or in the company of others, we take our sinful human nature with us. Although Jesus, when He spent time in the wilderness, took with Him a perfect human nature, not a sinful one, He was still subject to temptation. In His case, He was tempted to become something less than the perfect Son of God. However, He remained faithful to His chosen path of obedience to the Will of God the Father. Soon after that, when He entered His public ministry, that commitment of obedience was His standard of perfection, in the end leading to the solemn events of Holy Week.
On Maundy Thursday, the night He Himself was betrayed, He gave to us in the Blessed Sacrament the pledge of His commitment to us throughout all ages. On Good Friday, He died for us on the Cross. Now that Cross “shines forth in mystic glow”, the holiest of symbols throughout all ages to the end of time. For us there is a difference between then and now. We can form in our minds a picture of the crucifixion and imagine “then” written over it. We can go on to see the vision of Our Lord raised from the dead, and appearing to S. Mary Magdalene in the garden, and to His disciples in the upper room, and imagine “now” written over it. We can think of the Last Supper taken by Our Lord with His disciples, and call it “then”. We can go on to see the splendour and devotion of a High Mass, and call it “now”. For us, “then” and “now” help to link the threads of these events; to see how the one flows from the other. In this life, we are prisoners of time; we only know the present moment; the past and the future are aspects of eternity.
Jesus is beyond time, He is everlasting. At the Incarnation, He limited Himself to become a prisoner of time for a while, and so Calvary occurred at a particular point in time. But because Our Lord is eternal, the effect of Calvary is everlasting. In the same way the Mass, which brings Calvary to our own point in time, is also everlasting. Through Our Lord’s temptations, through His Passion, Death and Resurrection, redemption is secure, throughout all ages, world without end.
MESSAGE FOR AUTUMN 2011
The company of Saints
One thing to be noted about all those who have been honoured with the title of “saint” is the fact that the list of names as we have it is incomplete. For all those who have a place in the Church calendar, and so are remembered each year, there are many more saints who are unknown and unacknowledged. These are the good men and women who have never been famous, but in their own quiet ways have dedicated their lives to God’s service. The Church recognises this fact, and so celebrates the feast of All Saints to include every one who has earned the title, whether that title has been officially granted or not. These unacknowledged saints are the faithful followers of Christ, whose names were reverenced among those who knew them in life, but whose actions are now known only to God.
The number of people to whom the title of “saint” is given, those who are on the honours list of the Church, so to speak, runs into many hundreds, and is being added to all the time. Most of the names mean nothing to us, for apart from those of universal interest, such as the Apostles and national saints, they are known only in their local area. While the lives of a few saints, such as S Paul or S Francis of Assisi are well documented, the majority are very shadowy figures. Our Patron Saint, S George, has suffered from this, since not very much is known about him, and the gaps in knowledge have been filled in by legends. We do know that he was born in Lydda, in Palestine, about the year 280AD, and that he became a high-ranking officer in the personal guard of the Roman Emperor. After his successful fight with the wild beast outside the town of Silene in N Africa, which released the town from this source of terror, S George eventually suffered martyrdom at the hands of Diocletian for refusing to renounce his Christian faith in favour of the Emperor’s pagan gods. The story of S George portrays simply and vividly the virtue of courage used to help others, and used on the side of good against evil. This is true of most of the stories of the saints, even those where little is known about their lives. In these stories, we are given pictures of these faithful followers of Our Lord displaying great qualities such as self-sacrifice, loyalty, generosity, dedication, all things that we can admire and try to emulate.
It would be a mistake to think of the saints of long ago as unworldly figures, entirely devoted to prayer and meditation, and having no experience of real life. Several of the Apostles were fishermen, one was a tax collector, S Paul was a tent maker, S. Luke and S. Damian were physicians, S Crispin a shoemaker, S Brendan a sailor, and S Margaret of Antioch an actress. Before any of these gave up their everyday occupation to devote themselves entirely to the service of Christ, they had already learned a great deal about day to day life, with its joys and sorrows, its pressures and frustrations. In this way, the lives of the saints remind us that the place most of us can serve God best is among our fellow human beings, and that in every honest occupation, however unskilled it may be, or however little esteemed, we can find opportunities there for the service of God.
The stories of the saints show us the colourful and romantic side of religion, something that tends to be denigrated in present times. Especially in the Middle Ages, the lives of the saints provided much of the material for stories told around the fireside in cottage and castle, in monastery and palace. The medieval equivalent of a best-seller was “The Golden Legend”, a collection of hundreds of stores about the saints. And following on from these stories, many of the events described in them were then painted by artists on the very walls of the churches, so that the congregation would have a permanent reminder of the deeds of these heroic men and women of faith. Religion is not frivolous, but it is a pity if colour and mystery are not allowed to have a place in worship. Sadly, many of these medieval paintings were destroyed at the time of the Reformation, or during the later years of puritan rule.
How can we feel closer to the saints? One way is to take a special interest in those who are personal to us. By this I mean, those saints whose name we bear, or who are our natal saints, that is, connected to our birthday. In saying to S Peter and the other Apostles, “Follow me”, Jesus appealed to the instinct within them to go after something that was clearly good and worthwhile. It is this same instinct that has prompted the saints all down the ages to follow in Christ’s footsteps, and in the end to attain His glory. We too must find our fulfilment in the footsteps of Our Lord, and as we go along, that great cloud of witnesses, all the saints who have gone before, reflect back to us the glory of Christ to encourage us on our way.
MESSAGE FOR SUMMER 2011
One day Jesus and three of His Apostles, Peter, James and John, climbed to a very high point, away from the others. While they were praying, the three saw Our Lord’s appearance strangely altered into something dazzling and splendid, full of light and power. Two great men of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, appeared and talked to Jesus, while the three Apostles watched and listened in amazement. But after a fairly short time, all was over, and they began the long descent, returning once more to everyday life. This is one of the strangest stories in the New Testament, and the three evangelists who describe it seem unsure whether what the Apostles saw was a vision, something they perceived through their inner minds, a spiritual and ethereal event, or an actual happening that they saw through their physical eyes. The Apostles themselves were probably not entirely sure about this, and may have given varying accounts of what happened. S. Mark speaks of them being too frightened to know what they were saying, while S. Luke suggests they were in a trance, or deep sleep. S. Matthew, on the other hand, implies that they were in a fully aware state most of the time, and only became unsure towards the end, when the voice spoke out of the cloud. It is plain from all this that we cannot come to any certain conclusion about the exact nature of this event on the mountain top, though that does not mean that it has nothing to tell us. It seems that this mysterious event had great practical value for those who experienced it.
It would have been of great value to Our Lord. One of His temptations in the wilderness had been to abandon the task His heavenly Father had sent Him to do. During the ministry that followed, He came across many difficulties and disappointments, and now He had reached the stage where His final journey to Jerusalem was coming near, a journey that He knew would end in suffering and death. Through the Transfiguration, we can see that Jesus received the strength and courage that He would need to face the approaching sacrifice. There may have been times during His ministry when Our Lord wondered whether He was interpreting His Father’s will correctly. Was He really sent to redeem mankind, and to do so by suffering? What He would have to endure could only be done with complete trust in His Father, and here the voice of God is heard endorsing all that Jesus is doing, echoing the words that had been heard at the time of His Baptism, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him”.
The Apostles, too, received reassurance through this unique event. A short time before, S. Peter had declared his belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. It was a tremendous statement to make. Here was a humble rabbi from Galilee, with His entourage of fishermen, a tax-collector, and other unpretentious workers, being given the status of Saviour and long-expected Messiah, the One who would rescue the Jews from their plight, it was believed. Did S. Peter ever have doubts after he had made this amazing declaration? Did the others also have doubts, and at times regret leaving their more predictable lives by the lakeside? But Our Lord had already warned them that following Him would not give them the easy road to greatness, but a path that would include poverty, suffering and death. In spite of these warnings, they had not turned back. For them, the Transfiguration would strengthen their resolve, and reassure their minds that Jesus was the One to follow, whatever the outcome might be.
Then again, the Transfiguration can help to reassure us, humble followers of Christ in this later age. Much of what is useful and good is under attack today, with cynicism towards authority and derision for Christian belief being widespread. This springs from an attitude of materialism that will only believe in what can be seen, or touched, or understood by the limited human mind. For the Christian who is distressed by all this scepticism, the story of the Transfiguration sounds a note of encouragement, showing us that Christ is greater and stronger than the passing trends of mankind, because He brings with Him all the divine power and strength of God. We must look at Christ and allow the vision of Him to fill our hearts, remembering how His first faithful followers saw His glory that day on the mountain.
May the light and power of Christ transfigure us and bring us to share in His glory.
MESSAGE FOR EASTER 2011
Shown alive 'by many infalable proofs.'
In describing the first Easter Day, and the forty days that followed, the Gospels show us different scenes: in the garden, on the road to Emmaus, in the upper room, on the shore of the lake, and different incidents take place in each. At the beginning of his account of the doings of the Early Church, S. Luke tells us that over the space of forty days, Jesus “showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs”. And S. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, states that he is passing on to others the tradition that he himself had received, namely that Christ who “died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures”, and was buried, was also raised to life on the third day, and was seen by many people. He was seen by S. Peter, then by the rest of the Apostles, later He appeared to some five hundred of the brethren, to S. James, and last of all, to S. Paul himself. When we listen to the readings from Scripture during this Easter season, there is a rich variety of incidents to consider.
It is time for us to think of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and allow our hearts to be filled with thankfulness and praise at the good news of His Resurrection. Everything that Christ stands for, and all that He came to do while He was with us on this earth, would have counted for nothing if His death had been the end, and there had been no resurrection. His followers may have been perplexed by the empty tomb, but we must rejoice that it was so. The Resurrection is the fulfilment of all the hopes of mankind, it confirms the truth of the message given by the prophets of the Lord, those whom God had chosen to carry His Words to His people, and it is a witness to the fact that God’s Will always prevails in the end. The Scriptures leave us in no doubt that God had been preparing for this moment over many centuries. Christ came in order to make God known to us in a new way, and when He was crucified, this was an attempt to prevent this new revelation from taking effect. We can be eternally glad that the attempt failed when Jesus rose from the dead on that Easter morning.
Although our first and immediate thought at Easter must be of the Risen Christ, victorious over death, we can easily turn our thoughts from there to our own future, and that of our loved ones. The Resurrection of Christ is more than His own return from death into life, for it proclaims to us all that there is a future life for each of us beyond the grave. If it were not for Christ’s own return, our hopes of life after death for ourselves and for our loved ones could not be very strong. They would rest mainly on the arguments and opinions of thinkers and religious leaders, something that other philosophers might easily be able to oppose. Philosophical arguments are poor comforters when we have lost someone dear to us, or when we are ourselves approaching the end of life. The Resurrection of Jesus gives us so much more than arguments; it gives us the assurance of life to come.
But when we think of the new life that has been gained for us, our thoughts should encompass more than life after death. We know that true life lies in Jesus Christ, and that without Him, there can be no real life within us. Without Him, there can only be an end to goodness, the failure of right conduct, and ultimately, spiritual death. So we must embrace the new life that Christ offers us in the here and now, not just in the future when we have passed on. If we are to be fit for that life in the future world, we must prepare for it in the present by taking up the new relationship to God that is being offered to us through the Resurrection. This new relationship begins at our Baptism, as S. Paul endorses in his epistle to the Romans, At the Easter Vigil, we renewed the promises that had been made for us at our Baptism, confirming that our intention is always to continue along this path towards resurrection. So we must be preparing now for what lies ahead. In his epistles, S. Paul often discusses life after death, and sometimes he reminds his readers that this new life of the future makes claims upon us here in the present. It demands from us a life made new here, by turning our backs on old sins and failings, so that we can prepare for eternal life with Jesus Christ. He links this thought with Our Lord’s Easter triumph as he writes, “As Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”.
God grant us newness of life through His Son, and all the joys of Easter!
MESSAGE FOR LENT 2011
The Christian Way of Life
S Matthew 6: 16 – Jesus said unto them, “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward”.
The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday is part of the sixth chapter of S Matthew. Here, Our Lord contrasts the new Christian way of life with the common practices of religious people in His own day. Religious activity has three important elements, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Our Lord shows us in His discourse that these three words stand for larger relationships and wider duties than we might at first suppose. Prayer represents all of our dealings with the Almighty, fasting denotes all the self-discipline that a religious person should embrace, and almsgiving includes the gamut of our relations with those around us.
In Our Lord’s day, these three elements were in evidence, but they were to some extent tainted with hypocrisy. As Jesus points out, prayer was often the thoughtless rehearsal of a form of words, fasting was in danger of being just an external performance, something done to be seen by others, while almsgiving was frequently done with ostentation, to win the approval of one’s fellows. The actions, laudable in themselves, were spoiled by seeking the wrong kind of reward.
There was no problem in seeking a reward. The parable of the labourers in the vineyard on Septuagesima Sunday helped to explain this point. It was the character of the reward that was being sought that showed the poor quality of the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees in Our Lord’s discourse. The reward that comes to the artist is the power to portray beauty; the scientist has the reward of knowledge, the saint the reward of holiness, the pure in heart the reward of inner vision, “they shall see God”. There is nothing wrong in seeking for these rewards. But when the reward sought is nothing more than human adulation or material riches, this merely displays the character of the person who seeks such rewards.
Prayer is the raising of ourselves to God, seeking to stand humbly in His Presence; it is not incantation, nor asking Him to do something He does not want to do by our continuous chatter. The importunate widow of S. Luke’s Gospel does not give us the ideal example of how our prayer should be! Fasting is a discipline that we may take upon ourselves quietly, something between God and us. The reward is self-control that enables us to endure the difficulties and setbacks of life, not seeking sympathy by displaying a sad face. Almsgiving is something to be done in the sight of God, not trumpeted in front of our neighbours. It consists of more than the giving of money, for whenever we give our time and expertise freely for the benefit of others, we are giving alms.
On Calvary we see the devilish and the Divine, man returning greatest evil for greatest good, God returning greatest good for greatest evil. Our Lenten exercises that begin on Ash Wednesday, include prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These activities will help us towards a deeper understanding of the mystery of Calvary, and prepare us for all the joys of Easter that lie beyond.
May God grant that for each one of us, Lent will be a time of fruitful self-discipline and careful reflection on the Christian way of life.
MESSAGE FOR NEW YEAR & EPIPHANY 2011
Take another way
S Matt. 2: 12 “And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, the Wise Men departed into their own country another way”.
The recommendation, “Take another way” is good advice, not only for those who are running into danger, but in a more spiritual sense, for all of us. It is a timely warning, a call for greater effort, and also a message of hope. It is a warning in the sense that when we look back over our lives, we can all remember our sins and failures; not only the things that we have done wrong, but also the good things that we might have done, or may have done for a while, but have now given up doing. In this case, we need to make changes for the future, to walk another way along life’s road, It is a call for greater effort so that we can be more keen to serve God and more alert to find opportunities of doing so than in the past. Looking back, we might feel that the years gone by could have been far more useful in our lives, if they had been filled with greater enthusiasm. So in this respect, we need to adopt “another way” for the years to come. It is a message of hope because while we can all recall past difficulties, disappointments and sorrows, we must not let that make us pessimistic and gloomy about the way ahead. Some problems may grow easier, and even disappear, in the times to come. So it may not just be another way that we take, but a more rewarding and happier way as we continue along life’s journey.
What the proportions of joy and sorrow will turn out to be in our future lives, and whether we will succeed in making what is to come better than what has gone, we cannot tell at this stage. The events that we are going to have to face in our lives are always unknown to us, full of surprises, perhaps even full of fear. That is why it is so essential for us to put our trust in God, and allow Him to guide us along the way we should take. The journey of the Wise Men was like that. When they set out, they did not know where their search for the Child might lead them, or what might happen to them along the way. Yet they must have travelled with hope and with courage, knowing that they were following God’s commands, and so having complete trust in His care for them.
The Holy Family also had to make a journey at this time, and although we do not know where the Wise Men went, we do know where Joseph and Mary took Jesus to be out of Herod’s reach: they fled to Egypt. We can imagine the hardship of that journey for poor people with a small child. In Egypt they were strangers in the land, not knowing how long they would have to stay. But Herod’s death before long opened up the way for them to return to the Holy Land, and all was well.
Like both these little groups of travellers, when we advance into the unknown future we have grounds for doing so with faith, courage and hope when we strive to go forward along God’s ways. For then we will be travelling in His care, aware of Our Lord’s presence with us along the way, and with the Holy Spirit to help and guide us. May God guide and direct us all in this Epiphany season, and throughout the coming year.
MESSAGE FOR ADVENT 2010
Jesus said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (S John 15: 8)
In his letters to the Christian churches, S Paul frequently mentions the conduct that is required of those who have been baptised and become members of the Body of Christ. He is thinking of the kind of discipline that will be required in all those who have embraced the Christian life. They will no longer be able to live in the manner of the pagan world around them, but will need to keep a guard on everything that they say or do. In other words, they will need to be disciplined in their approach to life from now on.
Many people shy away from the idea of discipline, since they imagine it implies some kind of imposition in their lives, almost a form of punishment, perhaps. But this is not how S Paul and the other New Testament writers would see it. The word “discipline” comes from the same Latin root as the word “disciple”, someone who follows the ideas of a teacher and puts them into practice. So discipline is not a hardship or an imposition, but something practised by a follower or a disciple. Whenever we put our heart and soul into being faithful disciples of Our Lord, it can be said that we are practising our discipline; we are trying our best to follow Him faithfully and to do His will.
For the faithful Christian, discipline is nothing worse than good discipleship; it consists of those things that we try to do in order to keep ourselves loyal and faithful to Our Lord, helping us to follow Him more closely. This season of Advent, when we look forward to the birth of our Saviour, and try to prepare ourselves to celebrate His arrival among us, is the ideal time to accept that discipline. Good discipleship consists of certain basic rules that in themselves may seem familiar and unremarkable, but when we observe those rules, we are practising our discipline, and as S. Paul would express it, we are living as the children of light. The basic rules I am thinking about are the duties of our Faith: attending Mass on Sundays and Days of Obligation, saying our prayers every day, keeping a regular routine of reading the Scriptures, examining our consciences and making confession of our sins, giving whatever we can to those less fortunate than ourselves. No one is saying that the Christian life is an easy path to tread, but we should try to see these rules, not as burdens laid upon us, difficult to bear; rather as aids to help us follow that path more faithfully. They are in fact aids to our Christian life, part of that discipline that leads to a better discipleship.
During this lovely time of expectation that we know as Advent, we remember how Our Lord came to us in humility at Bethlehem, and we also bear in mind that He will come again in majesty and power. These Advent days give us the chance to prepare ourselves. The disciple who goes his own way, apart from his teacher, cannot be said to be following his Master faithfully. Our teacher is Christ, and from Him we learn how to live and to love, how to suffer and to serve in this life, how to die to our former lives. In taking this path, we are becoming true disciples, fulfilling God’s plans for us in the world and showing forth His glory.
This Advent we pray for grace to be faithful disciples of Christ.
MESSAGE FOR AUTUMN 2010
S John 1:46 “And Nathanael said, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see”.
In the Gospels we read of a number of people being brought to Jesus by their family, or by one or two of their friends. For example, there is the boy with the loaves and fishes who is brought forward by S Andrew at just the right moment during the feeding of the crowd; there is the lunatic boy brought by his father in the hope that Our Lord will heal him, and there is the paralysed man whom his friends lower down through the roof in the expectation that Jesus will restore him. There are other examples, too, and apart from the boy with the loaves and fishes, usually these people were brought so that they could be healed from a physical affliction; occasionally it was because of a mental condition, but always it was for the benefit of both body and soul, and their contact with Jesus never failed. However, although we are not told this in the Gospels, there must have been other people who were prevented from coming to Our Lord by their friends. The Scribes and Pharisees were bitterly opposed to Jesus and His Ministry, and we can wonder how many people were advised by them to have nothing to do with this errant teacher and healer, and how many of those took such advice? It was probably a significant number.
We also read in the Gospels about people who were not brought to Our Lord by others, but sought Him out for themselves. Curiosity encouraged Zacchaeus the tax collector to climb a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus passing by, while the search for healing brought the woman who had the haemorrhage close enough to Jesus for her to touch His robe. Equally, there were those who left Jesus for reasons of their own, such as the rich young ruler whose heart was set on wealth, and so drew back when Our Lord advised him to sell everything he had, and to become His follower; there was the promising disciple who decided that a wandering ministry without the comforts of home was not for him; and there were the followers who found Our Lord’s words about His Flesh and Blood too hard to accept, and so withdrew from His retinue. All this is repeated in the world today. Things such as the message of the Church, the words of Scripture, the beauty of worship, the examples of goodness demonstrated by many Christian lives, can bring people to Our Lord. The opposite is equally true. There are anti-Christian forces at work which hope to prevent people from serving Our Lord; there are people hostile to religion who induce their friends and acquaintances to reject God, and there are people whose sinful lives have a malign influence on those who come into contact with them. And this clash of opposites is played out in each one of us as well. There are things in our daily lives, people close to us, and desires in our hearts which bring us closer to Jesus. Unhappily, there are also the things and the people that pull the other way, bad habits and wrong desires, which try to keep us from serving God as we would wish.
In the opening chapter of S John’s Gospel we have, among other things, the story of S Bartholomew. Here he is given his other name of Nathanael, and S John describes how both types of influence, for and against Christ, are working around and within Nathanael. Philip had just been called by Our Lord to become one of His Apostles, and his first action was to look for Nathanael, who must have been a good friend. In the ten times his name is mentioned in the New Testament, either as Bartholomew or as Nathanael, it is always associated with S Philip, who now invites him to come and meet the Lord. He was one of those who tried to bring a friend to Christ. “We have found Him, of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”. Philip was clearly enthusiastic about Jesus, but Nathanael had his reservations. There is another influence at work in Nathanael’s mind. He has probably heard some of the criticism of Jesus put about by the Scribes and Pharisees, and so is reluctant to accept Him just at the word of a third party. For some reason, he has a poor opinion of the town of Nazareth, and so he expresses his disquiet by saying that he did not want to meet Jesus because He came from Nazareth. “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
In Nathanael’s case, the pull towards Jesus, tactfully encouraged by S Philip, proved stronger than the pull of his reservations about Jesus. Philip suggests that the best thing is to meet Jesus, and for Nathanael to make up his own mind. He does this by the simple invitation, “Come and see”. Nathanael came, and once he had met Jesus, he stayed. This is the time to ask ourselves about which of the influences in our own lives is the stronger. Is the desire to love and serve Our Lord uppermost, or are there things that keep drawing us the other way? Under God, the answer depends on us, on whether we yield to the pull and power of sin, or obey the voice and the call of Our Blessed Lord.
“Hymns Ancient and Modern” sets a particular hymn for S Bartholomew’s Day, (which is not found in the English Hymnal). The first verse runs,
“King of Saints, to Whom the number
Of Thy starry host is known,
Many a name by man forgotten,
Lives for ever round Thy Throne;
Lights, which earth-born mists have darkened,
There are shining full and clear,
Princes in the court of Heaven,
Nameless, unremembered here.”
This hymn speaks to us of the countless good men and women who have served God faithfully but unsensationally in their days upon earth, and who are now forgotten here. S Bartholomew was a man of this kind, for we know very little about him after that first meeting with Jesus. The story of that meeting, however, teaches us a valuable lesson in the need to overcome our reservations where following Christ is concerned, and allow our hearts and minds to draw near to Him, the Lord and Saviour of us all.
God grant that we also may live our lives so as to draw others to Christ!!
MESSAGE FOR SUMMER 2010
The Gift of Light
Man’s need for light and his love of light often finds expression in the pages of Scripture. There, light is frequently used to describe goodness, in contrast to evil, which is represented by darkness. Light is the effect of God’s action, seen at the very beginning of things. “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1: 3). It is through God’s guidance that we are led towards the light. In the Old Testament, this concept can be found particularly in the Book of Job, and also in the Book of Isaiah. In the New Testament, Jesus calls Himself “the Light of the world”, and He often uses the word in His teaching. It occurs frequently in S. John’s Gospel, and was also a favourite with S. Paul. Occurring so often in Scripture, and used by so many different people, the word “light” contains some significant ideas.
“I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49: 6). Without going too deeply into the complex structure of the Book of Isaiah, which scholars believe may be the work of three different prophets, these words are part of God’s commission to Deutero, or Second Isaiah, who like Jeremiah, was called to be a prophet from his very birth. At the beginning of this same chapter, he writes, “The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the body of my mother hath He made mention of my name”. Part of his prophetic message was very unusual for Old Testament times, for it contained the idea that God would have mercy not only on his own people, the Jews, but also on all nations. The prophet realised that it was his privilege to be the bearer of this message, and that God had appointed him as “a light to the Gentiles”. The fact that this was such an unusual message for its time, and that the Most High God would be interested in anyone outside His own chosen few, only goes to show how little people understood about God before the coming of Christ. They did not understand that God loved them as He did, for they were more used to the concept of a God of vengeance. They had only the most shadowy ideas of how life would continue after death, and their idea of forgiveness for sin was still bound up in the crude system of animal sacrifices. Then, through Jesus Christ “the Light of the world”, much more was revealed about the true nature of God, about how He wishes us to conduct our lives, and what the future may hold for us after death.
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, mankind has been given the light of greater knowledge. And we should not limit that knowledge only to a deeper understanding of God and His ways, for knowledge of the universe and of the world that we live in with all its wonders also comes from God, who allows His light to illumine our minds and our understanding. Coming from God, all knowledge is good and to be embraced.
When the Israelites left Egypt at the start of their journey to the Promised Land, they marched with a cloud in their sights by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Some commentators have suggested that this cloud and pillar of fire was a volcano erupting at a distance in the mountains of Arabia, towards which they would be heading, and which God had provided for them as a guide to their direction. Personally, I prefer the traditional interpretation, that the cloud and the pillar of fire was evidence of the very Presence of God with them on their journey. In Scripture, the appearance of cloud frequently denotes the Presence of God, as in the cloud that surrounded Mount Sinai when Moses went up to receive God’s commandments, and later on the mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus was seen by His disciples talking to Moses and Elijah. Fire, too, is associated with God’s Presence, as in the burning bush seen by Moses, which blazed but did not consume, and again in the fire that carried away the prophet Elijah at the end of his ministry. These things are manifestations of the light of God, guiding mankind and working for his advantage. All through the ages, God has guided those who try to follow Him, so that the Bible speaks not only of the light of knowledge, but also of the light of guidance. When Jesus declared Himself to be the Light of the world, He added, “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life”.
In S. John’s Gospel, which has much to say about light, we read how a leading Jew called Nicodemus came to visit Jesus after dark, because he wanted his visit to be a secret. Perhaps that was why, in the course of their conversation, Jesus told him that good people love the light, whereas evil men prefer the darkness, since that helps to keep their wrongdoing hidden. Jesus ended the discussion by saying, “Everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be manifest that they are wrought in God”.
So Scripture leaves us in no doubt that in our lives it is towards the light that we must be heading, and that the way to do this is to follow Jesus, the Light of the world. Through Him we are given knowledge of God, from Him we are given guidance in the paths of righteousness, and in copying Him we gain some of the goodness that is found in abundance in His Presence. Quoting from an earlier section of Isaiah, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined”. That is the light bringing salvation to mankind, foreseen by the prophet, and finally realised in the Person of Jesus.
MESSAGE FOR PENTECOST 2010
The Gift of Life
Birthdays should be happy events, the time when we celebrate the gift of life and the continuity that life brings.
Whit-Sunday or Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, and so we celebrate the gift of life that has been given to us through Our Lord Jesus Christ. We also give thanks for the continual witness of the Church over these many centuries since the Apostles first went out in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the message of the Risen, Ascended and Glorified Lord. In the Book of Acts, we read the astonishing narrative of a new community created by the Holy Spirit, a community whose purpose is to give the good news of the Kingdom of God. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you”. We follow the drama of the Church being born, as the Holy Spirit fills the house where the disciples are assembled, rushing in with the noise of a gale, and having the appearance of flames of fire. The picture is one of action, as the disciples are shaken out of the stupor they seem to have fallen into after Our Lord’s Ascension, and now they become the enthusiastic bringers of good tidings to the citizens of Jerusalem. Their sense of bewilderment and fear has gone, and now they can face the world in the power of the Spirit. By contrast in S. John’s Gospel, we hear Our Lord speaking of the Comforter, the One Who would come to His followers after His departure from them, and Who would lead them into all truth. These words remind us of another occasion when Jesus spoke to His disciples after His Resurrection, words which we heard on the first Sunday after Easter. “Peace be unto you. As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you”. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained”.
Here is the Holy Spirit once again, but this time in much quieter form. Instead of the roar of the wind and the crackle of the flames, here is the gentle breath. In one view, the Spirit is dramatic and forceful; in the other view, He is almost unseen and unheard. These are not two opposing views of the way the Spirit works, where we are required to accept one view as correct and the other as false. The fact is that the Spirit works in many different ways, as the occasion demands. Although He will sometimes come as a force to be reckoned with, more often than not, He is the still, small voice that prompts our innermost thoughts and desires towards God.
Pentecost is the time of the Christian year when we turn our thoughts to this gift of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. The name Pentecost comes from the Greek and Latin words for fiftieth, which were used to refer to the Feast of Weeks in the Jewish calendar. Among the Jews, three major festivals during the year were Passover, usually falling during April, then the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, observed fifty days later, to commemorate the giving of the Law at Sinai, and the Feast of Tabernacles in October, to give thanks for the fruits of the harvest. From this, we can see that our Christian observances follow a similar pattern, although the emphasis given to each of the festivals is different. Pentecost is also known to us as Whitsunday, because on this day, those adults who had been preparing for the Christian life, the catechumens as they are sometimes called, would now receive either baptism or confirmation. It was the custom in the Early Church for catechumens to wear white robes for the ceremony, leading to the name White Sunday. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus, filling them with wisdom and strength to declare the Gospel, and establishing the foundations of the Church.
We must not forget that, as members of the Church, we are the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. To each of us, the Holy Spirit gives His gifts: wisdom to know and love God; understanding of what God has done for us, and of what He is still doing in us; counsel to know God’s Will for us; strength to carry it out; knowledge of the true faith of the Church; godliness in life and character; and a holy fear of grieving God by disobedience or indifference towards Him. So as members of the Church, we ask the Holy Spirit to teach us what God wants us to do for Him; we must be prepared to wait, to pray and to listen for the Spirit speaking to our inmost heart, always ready to follow His promptings when they come. Not every day is like the day of Pentecost. There will be times when the voice of the Spirit seems silent. But just as our bodies restore themselves while we are asleep, so the Spirit works continually within us during those quiet times, reforming and remaking us into the image of Christ. Gradually, we shall learn to rely more and more on the Holy Spirit for guidance and help. Finally, we shall reach that happy state when all that we desire is for God to work through us. Our fulfilment will come in doing all that God asks of us.“What does this mean?”, asked some in those crowds witnessing the events of the day of Pentecost. Our reply to that can be that we, the heirs of the Apostles, know what it means. It means that the power of God is at work in the lives of His faithful people. All through the ages since then, that power has been at work, confirming the faithful into the full life of the Church, ordaining the ministers of Christ to fulfil their special functions in the Church, bringing to all the faithful the blessings of God through His sacraments, and most important of all, perhaps, spearheading the mission of the Church to bring the Gospel to all creatures. The work of that dynamic power whom we call the Holy Spirit, is to glorify God, and the gifts He bestows on us allows our lives also to bear witness to God and to His Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ.
MESSAGE FOR EASTERTIDE 2010
When Mary Magdalene saw Jesus in the garden on the first Easter morning, He asked her two ordinary questions. They are the kind of questions that any of us would be likely to ask if we met someone we knew out and about very early in the morning, and clearly in distress. “Why are you crying? What are you looking for?” Jesus knew Mary, of course, but her reply to His questions showed Him at once that she had not recognized Him. So He decided to reveal Himself and spoke her name, “Mary”. With that one word, Mary’s search was ended, and her tears were dried. The questions she had been asking in her own mind were resolved.
In a similar way, the first thing that Easter Day does for us is to answer a question; a question that is in fact the final one of a series about human existence. When I was young, I can remember being asked that rather irritating question, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” This usually got the fractious reply, “I don’t know!” Perhaps it was just as well that the questioners did not go on to ask what I would be doing after my career had ended, for the only possible answer would have been, “Retirement and old age”. Certainly, they would not have been so tactless as to press on and enquire what would happen after retirement and old age, since we all know that the answer to that question is “Death”. Already, you see, a series of questions about human existence has been formed. And there is still one further question that has been asked all down the ages, “What happens when we die?” In answer to this, some thinkers have declared their belief that death is the end, while others have made convincing arguments that after death we must live again. Yet however convincing these thinkers may be in expressing their views, while they remain just arguments that can be refuted by opponents, they cannot be taken as the final word on the subject.
The final word on this last question about death comes from Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He replies, not with arguments and reasons, but with historical facts. Though He died on a cross on Good Friday, and His body was then placed in a grave, on Easter morning He was alive once more, asking Mary why she was crying, and whom she was searching for in the garden.
Another thing that Easter does for us is to end a story. Exciting stories usually have surprise endings, this being one of the fundamental rules of great story-telling. Christians have heard the story of Jesus Christ so often, and they know it so well, that they fail to appreciate the surprise ending. Yet it is the biggest surprise ending of all time, even more so as it is the end of a true story. In other stories, if the hero dies, the plot is at an end, for the central figure has been removed from the stage. But the story told to us in the Gospels has its ending, not in the death of Jesus, but in His resurrection, with its promise of a future life for us all.
And then, of course, Easter Day is the celebration of a victory. It can be very disappointing to work at something difficult, and to come near to achieving success, only to have problems at the last minute that turn the time and trouble spent into a wasted effort. When God sent His Son into the world to reveal Himself to us, and to conquer the powers of evil, Jesus had a very difficult task to perform. He had to fight a long battle against temptation, against evil, weariness and the hostility of powerful enemies. Without drawing back or failing, He fought that battle to the end. It is the last battle in a war that decides the result; whoever wins in the end is the victor. Despite appearances, Good Friday was not the final battle after all. That was Easter Day itself, when Jesus won the fight by rising from the dead. Today, we celebrate His victory over sin and death, and trusting in His love, we hope to share with Him in the joys of the Resurrection and the life of the world to come. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God”
MESSAGE FOR LENT 2010
The Gospels tell us that Jesus was tempted at the beginning of His ministry, and again at the very end. The first temptations came during His time of solitude in the wilderness, before He began His ministry in earnest, while He was considering what form that ministry should take. The second came in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus awaited His arrest, and was tempted to turn back from all the suffering that would be involved in His crucifixion. Our Lord met these temptations in different ways. In the desert, He used His knowledge of Scripture to find the teachings that would guide His thoughts and strengthen His courage. He found these in the Book of Deuteronomy. So, for example, when He was tempted to satisfy His hunger by turning stones into bread, the words that came to His mind were, “Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”. In the Garden, however, He found His source of help in prayer to His Heavenly Father, until He was able to conquer the desire to run away by saying, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt”.
From these two times of great temptation that Jesus experienced, through their similarities and their differences, there are things we can learn about our own temptations, which come in two broad groups. There are the temptations to do things that we should not be doing, and the temptations not to do things that we should be doing! We tend to be prone to one or other of these. Some people are too timid, perhaps, or too thoughtless or too idle to do the things that they should be doing. Others are more likely to follow a sinful course of action if the opportunity arises. We must each assess our own tendencies, and be ready to meet and counter our regular failings when the time comes. Neither the lonely desert of Our Lord’s temptations, nor the peaceful Garden at midnight, immediately spring to mind as places where temptation might be lurking. We tend to associate temptation with busy places that are noisy with human activity. So this is a reminder to us that the powers of evil are never far from us, and temptation can be most dangerous at those times we least expect it.
There is also the fact of Our Lord’s isolation when He was out in the desert, and the failure of His Apostles to support Him when they were all in the Garden. We must try to be ready to support others in their times of difficulty, just as we ourselves would hope to be supported by our friends and companions. Even so, it may be that we will have to face some of our temptations alone, and in that case, there is the comfort that Jesus was also alone during His times of trial, and that God’s grace will uphold us if we commit ourselves to His care. At those times, Jesus turned His thoughts towards God, instead of keeping them earthbound. In the same way, we will find help by lifting our thoughts above, and seeking the support that God makes readily available to us when we ask.
Let each of us use this season of Lent as a time of preparation for the greater joys that are to come.
MESSAGE FOR CHRISTMAS-EPIPHANY 2009-10
The first act of worship paid to the infant Christ was made by a very small congregation, merely a few herdsmen. These men were “abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night”. Normally, it would have been a tedious and uneventful task. But on the night of Christ’s birth, “the glory of the Lord shone round about” the shepherds. We are reminded that in the Old Testament, the presence of God among men is often known through fire or brilliant light. The burning bush that confronted Moses, the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites, and God’s revelation of Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, when Moses had to shield his face, are examples of this. No wonder the shepherds were “sore afraid”, as we ourselves might well be in the presence of an event that seems beyond the natural order of things. Out of that light appeared the angel, bringing them the momentous news that Christ was born, and indicating how they could recognise Him. And as the angel spoke, the air was filled with music as “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38: 7) That voice of praise was now brought down to earth from heaven, from angels to men, from the heavenly host to the little band of frightened shepherds. They hurried to the stable, knelt before the Christ-child, and so become the first of the human race to pay homage to God, Who had now appeared in human form.
The next visitors were more august than the shepherds, but even they approached the Child with reverence and humility. The shepherds were more impressed, perhaps, by the humanity of Christ, the Wise Men by His Divinity. The idea that these Wise Men, or sages, were kings is something that grew up after the event. They are frequently depicted as kings on Christmas cards, and famously referred to as such in Hopkins’ well known carol, “We Three Kings of Orient are”. But Scripture only mentions Wise Men, and the thought that they might be royal may come from the reference in Psalm 72: 10 “The kings of Tharsis and of the isles shall give presents: the kings of Arabia and Saba shall bring gifts”. In the same way, the Gospel gives no indication of how many there were, so the idea that there were three sages was assumed from the fact that there were three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh, given to symbolise three aspects of Christ. There is His royal connection as King of Heaven and descendant of King David; there is His priestly function as our Mediator and Advocate, our great High Priest, always interceding on our behalf before God the Father; and there is His role as the one, perfect and sufficient Sacrifice, offered for us men and for our salvation upon the Cross.
From all this, we can see that Christ, the Son of David, is destined to be much more than “King of the Jews”. The visits of the shepherds and of the Wise Men mean that His presence has been recognised and acknowledged outside His immediate family, even outside His own nation. Here presented to us through the events of Christmas and Epiphany is One Who is no less than the ruler of all men, the Saviour of the world. “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end” (Isaiah 9: 7)
Let each one of us carry Jesus in our hearts during this coming year, and allow some of His light and glory to shine out into the world
MESSAGE FOR ADVENT - 2009
One of the great themes of Advent is that of Judgement. In fact, it is a familiar theme of Scripture as a whole. Right from the beginning, God is understood to be the sole moral arbiter in His Creation. In the story of the Garden of Eden, God sets the rules, and He subsequently judges and punishes those who flout them. So He judges the act of murder by Cain, and pronounces the sentence for this crime. Later, He sees that human beings have become corrupted and destroys most of them in the flood, saving only Noah and his family, whom He has judged worthy to be rescued. Whatever view we take about the literal truth of these early narratives, we cannot escape the conclusion that the Biblical authors want us to understand that this is not a creation without law and order, and that God’s creatures within it are not free to live amoral lives. All of them, whether they acknowledge Him or not, live under His judgement.
As the Biblical narratives unfold, a picture is drawn of a world under the judgement of God. This is not to be taken as a sentence of guilt, but simply as a statement of the truth. Our lives are lived under God’s judgement. He alone, in the end, sets the moral standards that the human race are to observe, and judges us by our willingness or otherwise to keep those standards. Being the sole judge, He alone can exercise mercy and forgiveness. In His preparatory talk with Moses, before renewing the covenant of the Ten Commandments, God makes clear that mercy and forgiveness are entirely in His gift. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show mercy on whom I will show mercy”. This principle runs through all the pages of Scripture, and we cannot make sense of much that we read there if we try to ignore or evade the implications of it.
It has sometimes been said that human existence has no purpose; that history is a series of meaningless events. This is not an outlook that the Christian can accept. In the Christian understanding of things, everything that happens in the world and to the world has a reason in the ultimate purposes of God. It is true that in purely worldly terms, things go in cycles. Night follows day, and season follows season as the earth travels round the sun. And on a longer time-scale, ice ages are followed by periods of global warming. Yes, it has all happened before! However, the Christian is looking beyond these manifestations of the natural world to the mind and purpose of the Creator. For us, there is a great, perhaps far-off, divine event to which the whole of creation is moving. Christian theology teaches that sooner or later, there will be an end to things, which will also be a beginning. That is the essential meaning of Advent. And because we believe that God is good, we believe that the end will also be good. Next time, God will not appear in humility but in majesty. Whenever it occurs, this second coming will be for judgement. When God returns to His people, all that is evil will be revealed for what it is. In comparison to His brightness, every other shade from grey to black will become obvious. The effect of light is to show the true character of all that it reveals. The issue by which the world will be judged is this distinction between light and dark, between right and wrong, between good and evil. In this way, Advent gives us the clue to the reason for our existence, it tells us what we are here for, and reveals the meaning and purpose of history. You and I have come into this world to be made true children of light, ready for eternity.
May God guide us along the paths to His righteousness
MESSAGE FOR THE SEASON OF PENTECOST - 2009
Eastertide has gone for another year, and we are now in the long season of Trinity. In some ways, it is a pity that Anglicans observe this extended period as the time after Trinity Sunday, rather than the time after Pentecost, as favoured by the Latin (Tridentine) Rite. I say this because the Holy Spirit has so much to do with the life of the Church that it would be appropriate to have a full season devoted to Him, rather than just one day, as in the modern Roman and Anglican calendars. Even the Octave observance has now been denied Him, and Eastertide comes to an abrupt end after the Day of Pentecost, rather than on the following Saturday.
How unnecessary this contraction is, and for what purpose? Pentecost is a major event in the life of the Church. At that time, we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit, bringing new power and life, and enabling the Church to become the community of faith into which all mankind could be received. Here is the Body of Christ ready to proclaim God’s saving purpose to the world, and ready to offer that salvation through Word and Sacrament. Together with that new power and life comes the support and strength given by the Holy Spirit, which is the meaning of His title, “Comforter”. In our everyday speech, “comforter” implies someone who offers consolation and the easing of stress. In biblical language, it has the more vigorous meaning of strength being given to carry out God’s purpose, so in this sense,
the Comforter is the Enabler. At Pentecost, we give thanks that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in the Church and in the world. We remember that we are called to show God’s love and grace in our lives, and to be the means whereby God’s purpose is carried out in the world day by day. Pentecost is about God and His Will for mankind, and it is also about us, and how we respond to God’s Will. The Holy Spirit brings God and mankind together, and produces those fruits of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and temperance, each of these being qualities that the world so desperately needs.
Pentecost reminds us that the Church is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. As members of the Church, we need to be aware of what God wants us to do at any particular time and in any particular situation. For that reason, we should always try to be listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, for He is the One Who will lead us through the decisions we must make day by day. “What does this mean?” asked the people on the Day of Pentecost, as they heard the Apostles speaking to them in the confidence and power of new life and new understanding. It meant that the power of God was at work in the lives of His faithful people. That same power of the Holy Spirit is still at work today, and He will lead us along the path that God has chosen for us. Our response must be a willingness to follow where the Spirit will lead us. So each day during the Trinity season this year, let us remember the Holy Spirit, and pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit, O Lord, and they shall be made, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth”
God grant us all to know the power of His Holy Spirit, and give us a right judgement in all things.
MESSAGE FOR EASTER - 2009
When watching the TV, or listening to the radio, we are sometimes told by the announcer that the programme has been recorded. We all know what this means: the programme is not happening at that particular moment. It may have taken place days before, but it was recorded so that it could be replayed for viewers or listeners at a later date. In contrast to these recorded programmes are those that are known as “live broadcasts”, when we see or hear what is actually going on at the time. There is a difference between these two types of broadcast. The recorded programme, however good it may be, is subject to a producer, who can subtly alter it in many ways. He can shorten it to save time, and he can censor it, cutting out things th in the Church, Lent is a time of self-denial. Four reasons for this period of self-denial can be identified: it is a sign of penitence, a sign of special devotion, a preparation for the Easter Festival, and it commemorates the forty days that Our Lord spenat he disagrees with, so giving the programme his own particular slant. This is something that we always need to take into account when programmes are recorded. And in the case of recorded
news or sports items, we may already have heard what has happened, and so the element of surprise is lost. On the other hand, live programmes are more unpredictable. We see what the camera is looking at, and hear what the microphone picks up. If something unexpected or unplanned occurs, we will still see and hear it. This makes direct programmes more real and stirring for us. We call such programmes “live”, and this is also a good word to describe the Easter message.
In the first place, the Resurrection of Jesus was quite unexpected and unforeseen by His followers, as were all the events of that first Easter Day. The women went to the sepulchre, expecting to find a body which they would be able to anoint, not to discover that the tomb was empty. Their friends, who did not go with them, could not believe the news that was brought back to them by Mary Magdalene, saying that she had seen Jesus alive. And so the day continued. The followers of Jesus were not confronted by a grave where they could weep and mourn the passing of their Master, but by the Risen Lord Himself, greeting His amazed and rejoicing friends.
Secondly, “live” is also a good word to use when we try to describe the effect these events had on all those who were involved. The Resurrection made them come alive. Beforehand, the Apostles and the other disciples had easily given way to their fears. They had deserted Jesus when He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, and only one of them had dared to watch at the foot of the Cross. All this was changed by Our Lord’s Resurrection. Their confidence and courage grew from that time on, and they would proclaim the message of the Risen Lord far and wide in the years to come. They had found a great sense of purpose, and in a sense, they too were filled with new life; they too were “live”.
Then, thirdly, this same word should also apply to the Church today, and to each one of us, her members. This should be the direct result of the Resurrection. We believe in the Resurrection just as passionately as those early followers who were there at the time. The events of Easter Day can spur us on to follow our living Lord, ready to do His Will; eager to bring the Light of Christ to shine in this darkened world. We must let this new life work in our hearts so that we too are “live”.
The vital part of the Easter message is the good news of the Lord’s Resurrection, an event that changed the course of life for mankind, and confirmed the New Covenant between God and man. It carries with it the hope of our own resurrection in due course, and reunion with our loved ones gone before. There are many messages to be found in the Easter story, but this is the one to remember. It tells all Christian people to live out the Resurrection in their own lives, by using all the power God has given us to serve Him faithfully, and to let His glory shine out from us. Let each one of us be the live broadcast, confirming the truth of the recorded message!
“When Christ, Who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory”
God grant us all the joys of Easter
MESSAGE FOR LENT - 2009
Thoughts on Lenten Observances.
By ancient traditiont fasting in the desert. n earlier times, this act of fasting formed a major part of the exercise of self-denial, but figures much less in the keeping of Lent in our own day. The Book of Common Prayer still displays a table giving the days of fasting to be observed, and those on which to abstain from eating meat, but in practice, the Church now leaves the observance of these days to the individual conscience. The purpose of self-denial is to glorify God, to benefit the soul, and to help others.
In biblical times, including the period of the Early Church, self-denial was practised because Christians in those days understood that they were glorifying God by doing so. It was seen as a continuing act of worship. In our own time, this aspect of self-denial has been lost, and those early Christians would be surprised and puzzled to hear many of their modern counterparts say that self-denial for this reason alone serves no practical purpose, and therefore does nothing to glorify God. In fact, all acts of self-denial having a religious motive result in the greater acknowledgement of God. It is only the current phase of thought that requires every action to have a good social outcome in preference to a good spiritual outcome that has eclipsed the true purpose of self-denial. What needs to be remembered is that the greatest of God’s rivals for the love of our hearts is self. Lenten self-denial acts against this, by deliberately placing God before self.
Those Christians in the past who fasted and practised self-denial for the glory of God believed that it was for the good of their souls. Some people continue to make small acts of denial during Lent with this motive in mind, but many others will ask, “What good does it do?” One of the features of modern life is the decline in discipline. There is a liberal attitude abroad that finds almost any course of action acceptable, on the grounds that this is an expression of the “true self”. If we fight shy of discipline, with its occasional rigours and restrictions, then we can easily excuse ourselves by saying that we are giving this “true self” its freedom. In fact, the ultimate outcome of this behaviour would be a form of anarchy, where we all did exactly as we desired with no thought for others. If we accept that our actions should be for the good of others as well as ourselves, then some form of discipline is required. The secret of showing consideration for others lies in self-discipline. If we cannot control our own feelings and desires, we cannot give the due deference to others that is a part of showing them consideration. The self-discipline of denial during Lent, or at any time, helps us to practise self-discipline in these wider matters.
In all of this, it is still possible to meet the current emphasis on a good social outcome, for what we save through self-denial can be given as a donation to our favourite charity! In these forty days of prayer, thought and fasting we can share in a small way the hardships of Our Blessed Lord at the outset of His Ministry, while the discipline involved will glorify God, benefit our souls, and bring help to others.
God bless you all and keep you safe in Him.
MESSAGE FOR CHRISTMAS - 2008
God In Man Made Manifest
During His life among us on earth, Jesus showed us what God was really like. He taught us in a way that was understandable to us, showing us the likeness of God in the language of human nature. His character is the true reflection of the character of God. At Christmas time, we remember that He was born among us of His own choice, putting away those attributes of His divine nature that might have hindered Him from being like us. So He did not come to us trailing clouds of glory, but as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He took our flesh, so that He would have nerves to be tortured, and a heart tobe broken. In this way, He was able to make plain to mankind the fullness of God’s love. Being truly human,Jesus had a real human will, giving Him freedom of choice like us. So when He chose God’s Will, both
facing the agony of it and following it through even to death, it was not just His divine nature agreeing with the divine law, but His human nature making the hard decision to do what God requires. For Our Lord has two natures, now and for ever. The Son of God will always be the Son of Mary, He “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was made man”.
These thoughts bring us to one of the great truths of the Christmas season. Like the Mass, Christmas is more than just a commemoration. In the Mass, we are linked directly to the saving act of Christ upon the Cross, because while that event occurred at a moment of human time, its effects are eternal. In offering the Holy Sacrifice we are, in our own day, joining the offering that has been made on our behalf. In the same way, we can speak of the birth of Our Lord as happening today, because the effects of what Jesus did in taking our human nature on Himself are not limited to the time in history when He was born, but are effective for ever. Again, the Son of God will always be the Son of Mary. The Incarnation that we remember at Christmas is all part of the process that we know as the work of our redemption. The birth of Jesus, His passion, death and resurrection are linked together in a way that makes them follow on from one another. As S. Gregory put it, “Rightly understood, Christmas brings us to the Easter mystery itself, for through the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, mankind is brought into life with God”. At Christmas, the Church praises God for what He has done, and for what He is still doing for mankind in Christ.
God bless you this Christmas; may the joy of the Nativity also bring you the hope of eternity through Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
MESSAGE FOR ADVENT - 2008
Watch, Wait, Prepare
Advent and Lent are seasons of preparation, times when we get ready for important events in the Christian year. There is a distinction between the two, however. While Lent puts special emphasis on penitence, fasting and prayer, Advent has a lighter touch. There is an undercurrent of expectation and joy running through Advent. The liturgy reflects this: although we lose the Gloria at Mass, we are allowed to keep our alleluias! The Advent hymns, too, often contain notes of rejoicing.
In his letter to the Ephesians, S Paul consistently expresses joy and happiness, in spite of the fact that he was writing to them from prison, and they themselves had many weaknesses. He tells them that now they must put away falsehood, and speak the truth; they must give up covetousness and thieving and the grosser sins of the flesh. But, he writes, “I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (Eph 1: 16). From the time of his conversion, S Paul came to understand and apply to his life one important thing, namely, belief in the eternal purpose of God. This belief is the key to understanding S Paul’s outlook, and indeed the whole of his thought. His joy was not dependent on the present conditions of his life, nor on his own feelings at any particular time, but entirely on the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, he writes, “Hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings” (Eph. 1: 3). It is the eternal purpose of God to bring salvation and perfection to all mankind. S Paul believes this completely, and so he can be joyful whatever his external circumstances may be. This is the great rock that is the foundation of his faith, and the basis for all his teachings. It is something that we can usefully emulate. The eternal purpose of God can underpin our love for Him and for our dear ones. On it are based our hopes for ourselves and our expectations for the future. Even darkness and despair cannot interfere with God’s eternal purpose. The only thing that can is our own pride and sin and selfishness, for if we surrender to these we are no longer in harmony with the Will of God. However, even these things can be changed if we are willing to have a change of heart. For the rest, we have the assurance that nothing else can affect the eternal, good purpose of God for us. This belief was the ground of joy and hope for S Paul, and the same conviction on our part can also bring these happy qualities to us. It is not our emotions at any one time that matter, nor the state of the world, nor even the problems in the Church, but the eternal purpose of God. On that rests our strength and our security.
God bless you during this Advent season. For each of us, let it be a time when we allow God to work His purpose in us, and a fitting preparation for the Incarnation of Our Saviour.
MESSAGE FOR LATE TRINITY - 2008
Difficult times - and thankful hearts.
This is a difficult time for many people throughout the world. The economic outlook, which has been buoyant for some years, has become wildly uncertain, and there is concern about how things will develop. Jobs, homes, pensions, and living standards are all perceived to be at risk. In such circumstances, there are bound to be feelings of fear and despondency. Even Christians, who recognise that there is a spiritual dimension behind and beyond the material things of life, still have to live in the world, and must naturally be affected by what goes on around them.
One way to counteract the present gloom is to find something for which to be thankful. There may be much to lose, but we are still benefiting from God’s goodness towards us, and He continues to provide us with material as well as spiritual gifts. So we thank God that He has called us to be His children, bringing us into existence and giving us life. We must not forget that the world around us is continually sustained and renewed by the living power of the Creator. We also thank Him that the life He has given us can grow and develop through union with His grace. He so loved us that He gave His Son to take our human nature upon Him, and to live life with us in this material world. That same dear Son, at the very time He was being rejected by us and put to death, gave to us the gift of life through the wonder of the Holy Sacrifice, His Body and Blood being offered to us in the Holy Communion of the Blessed Sacrament.
Some people may point out that being thankful will not supply a roof overhead, or put food on the table. Of course it will not! But it will make our outlook more positive, and it will help to direct our thoughts away from our fragile economies that can so easily falter, towards eternal values that never fade away. A positive outlook also brings confidence, something that the financial world could use at the moment. There is an opportunity here to consider Our Lord’s own thoughts on the subject. “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (S. Matthew 6: 31 - 33) Materialism, with its dynamic of getting, spending, and satisfying selfish desires, has been shown to have feet of clay. Now is the chance to recognise that there is also a spiritual dimension to human existence, and to thank God for it
MESSAGE FOR EARLY TRINITY - 2008
The heart of the matter.
During the great forty days of Easter, we have rejoiced in the Resurrection of Our Lord, through which the possibility of eternal life has been opened up for everyone who believes. We have followed Christ’s return to heavenly glory in the Ascension, taking with Him our human nature, giving us the hope that we too can follow where He has gone. We have recognised the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, inspiring the Apostles to carry the message of Christ out into the world, and we have prayed that we may act through that same power. Now, in the early weeks of Trinity, we pause to consider the humanity of Christ, for this has been an essential element in all that has gone before. God has expressed His love for us by allowing His Son to take human flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary, to live a life on earth that was fully human and at the same time fully perfect, and to show that love most of all by dying for us on the Cross. These thoughts on Christ’s humanity are summed up for us in the feast of the Sacred Heart, which occurs between the first and second Sundays after Trinity, and is observed by many Christians.We often speak of someone having an aching heart, or even a broken heart. When we speak of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we are thinking of God’s love for us, shown through all the things that Jesus did for us during His earthly life.
There was more to Our Lord’s death on the Cross than a desire to achieve an end, the salvation of mankind. The driving force behind that supreme sacrifice was the personal love that God has for each of us. Dr. Pusey, one of the leaders of the Tractarian Movement which did so much to revive the Church of England in the nineteenth century, wrote about this very point: “There is a cold, abstract way of speaking and thinking of the Redemption as though it were only an act consummated, an Atonement made, the substitution of the idea of redemption for the Person of the Redeemer; whereas we should look at Jesus Himself, pitying, loving, praying for us sinners, Jesus bearing our sins in His own Body on the Tree, Jesus healing us by His stripes”. From this we can see that it is less important for us to understand all that happened at the Atonement than to know that what Jesus did was done out of love for us, His loving act towards us calling for a loving response on our part. We will appreciate our redemption better when we have a heart to heart with Jesus, our Redeemer.
In one of his hymns, Fr. Faber wrote, “And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind”, and we could add that it certainly needs to be! It underlines the fact that our own hearts need to be changed for us to give an adequate response to God’s love. In daily life, people are always looking for improvements to their standards of living and to their circumstances. Politicians spend their time drafting new laws to promote these improvements, or to try to prevent adverse conditions or unsociable behaviour. Much of that time will be wasted, however, unless there is a change of heart within our society to go with it. Spiritual regeneration must accompany material renewal, but sadly there are few people in positions of power who are prepared to acknowledge this fact. To bring about this change of heart, we need to consider and embrace all the good things that flow from the Heart of Jesus, such as simplicity, humility, patience, obedience, joy and peace. God wants us to respond to the love that He has shown us. When we do respond, we shall be pleasing God, not by doing extraordinary things, but by doing the ordinary things of life well, and with love in our hearts.
Message for Easter 2008
Of all the feasts in the Christian year, Easter Day is the sine qua non. We could celebrate the Birth of Jesus, and remember His Baptism; we could follow Him along the Way of the Cross, and shed tears at His Passion and death, but without Easter, none of these things would have the significance that they do. The life of Our Lord only makes sense in the light of His glorious Resurrection. What happened on that morning of the third day fulfils everything that had gone before. Because Jesus died, and then overcame sin and death by rising to life again, our Christian Faith is transformed from a philosophy into a way of life; from being an example of living, it becomes a new covenant that God makes with us. For this reason, it is essential that everything we believe about the events of Easter should be according to the Scriptures.
The earliest accounts of what happened are contained in S Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. There he writes that he is passing on to others the tradition which he had himself received - that Christ Who “died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures” and was buried, was also raised to life again on the third day, and was seen by various people in turn. As S Luke confirms in his Gospel, over the space of the following forty days, Jesus “showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs”. He convinced His followers that He was not dead, but now gloriously alive, having triumphed over the grave. Similarly, in their message to the crowds on the day of Pentecost and after, the Apostles had no hesitation in saying that God had raised Jesus to life, even though this was said in the heart of Jerusalem, where Christ’s enemies could have produced evidence to the contrary, if such evidence had existed.
So in this Easter season, we can confidently proclaim our Risen Lord. We have walked with Our Lord from Jericho to Jerusalem, and we have greeted Him as our King as He entered the city on Palm Sunday. We have shared in that last meal with His Apostles on Maundy Thursday, and watched with Him during the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. We have adored the Cross on Good Friday, and shared in the grief of His Mother at His death. Finally, on Easter Eve, we have seen the Light of Christ kindled to shine in all the dark corners of the world; we have renewed the promises that were made at the time of our baptism, and we have shared the joy of the new life Christ has given us by overcoming death. Now we can truly say, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast”. We do not have to worry about ifs and buts and maybes; we know that Our Lord rose again “according to the Scriptures”. In the Traditional Church of England, that is good enough for us. We have the record of the Apostles, of those who were there at the time, and we know that their record is true. We proclaim with all our heart and soul, “The Lord is risen; He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
May we all share in the joy of this Easter season.
Message for Lent
“Now is the healing time decreed for sins of heart, of word or deed; when we in humble fear record the wrong that we have done the Lord.” So runs the first verse of the current Evening Office hymn. Lent is indeed a time when we take stock of our sins, and in penitence, seek forgiveness for them. It is important for religious people to remember that it is quite possible to go through the motions of saying our prayers, reading the Scriptures and attending Mass without having any real commitment to the principles of the Christian life. One of the great paradoxes that faces us as Christians is that it is possible to appear to be devout followers of Christ, yet all the while to be villains underneath. The sad fact is that in the the history of the Church there have been those whose lives have been a story of downright wickedness, and there have been shameful episodes of ungodliness and betrayal. This is the darker side that all those who claim to love the light must face up to. Each one of us has a dark corner that we would prefer to keep hidden, but we must allow God’s light to flood into every part of our lives, otherwise we shall be no better than those who have betrayed Our Lord with bland words and evil deeds.
Noone knew this better than S Paul. Here was a man who in the matter of the Law had fulfilled all the precepts. He was a Pharisee, and the son of a Pharisee, brought up to respect the letter of the Law. As he says of himself, touching the righteousness which is in the Law, he was blameless, meaning that he was meticulous in observing all the prescribed religious acts. But as he later acknowledges in his epistle to the Philippians, in spite of all this, he was far from perfect. The life of outward righteousness that he had been living before his conversion counted for nothing when compared to the life of grace given to him through his faith in Christ. Now, he continues, he could put all the observances of the Law behind him, and focus entirely on the call of Christ that had come to him.
The essence of all this is that religious acts musts be accompanied by sincerity of heart. Religion is more than a matter of going through the motions; it is a matter of expressing our true faith in Christ, so allowing God’s grace to work through us. Lent gives us the opportunity to consider how far our Christian lives are in accord with this principle.
On a topical matter, readers will want to be reassured that no pronouncement or opinion issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury is in any way binding on the Traditional Church of England. We maintain the good traditions of our native Anglican faith, but do this from a position that is entirely independent from the Established Church. The Archbishop’s recent ill-advised remarks about the application of some elements of Sharia law over here is to be deplored, coming from the leader of a Christian Church in a country whose current laws are based on Christian principles. I heartily endorse the words of Shahid Malik, Labour MP for Dewsbury: “If there are people who prefer Sharia law, there are always countries where they could go and live”.
Preparing for Lent
The Sundays immediately following the Epiphany season are reckoned with reference to the coming of Easter. This year, Easter falling on 23rd March is almost as early as it can be; (the earliest possible date is 22nd March). The effect of this is to allow us only one Sunday after Epiphany before we begin the “…gesima” Sundays, and the preparation for Easter. The first Sunday in the forty-day fast of Lent was sometimes known as Quadragesima, or fortieth, taking its name from the Latin appellation for Lent, and referring rather loosely to its distance in days before Easter. The previous Sunday, the one before Ash Wednesday, became Quinquagesima, or fiftieth. Continuing the progression, the Sunday before that became Sexagesima, or sixtieth, with Septuagesima being the seventieth. Of these four “…gesima” Sundays, only Quinquagesima is strictly true to its name, falling exactly fifty days before Easter.
The way in which the fast was previously reckoned by the Church may have a bearing on the existence of these curious “not-quite-Lent” Sundays. In our own time, Lent consists of forty days, counting from Ash Wednesday, and omitting the Sundays, which can never be days of fasting. But in earlier times, Thursdays and Saturdays were sometimes omitted from the fast as well. In that case, Lent would have had to begin ten weeks before Easter, on Septuagesima Sunday, in order to reach the full count of forty days. So our three-week lead-in to Lent could well be something carried over from this previous method of reckoning. Needless to say, the Church of England has decided to abandon this link to the past, and now counts the Sundays immediately preceding Lent in negative values (Lent -3, Lent -2, Lent -1 etc)! It says much for the mind-set of that Church that such a form of reckoning could be adopted. How can Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, entirely positive in its concepts, ever be given a negative identity? It must be that those who devise such things are so absorbed in accommodating the ways of the world that they have lost sight of the Gospel message. Here in the Traditional Church of England, Septuagesima et seq will remain.
On another point, I notice that Pope Benedict has been accused of "turning his back" on the people when he was celebrating Mass according to the traditional Tridentine liturgy. In just forty years, since the Second Vatican Council, it seems that people have forgotten how Mass was celebrated over the many centuries that preceded it! Before the recent liturgical reformers had their way, the priest always stood in front of the altar, facing God together with his people, offering the Holy Sacrifice with them and for them. He did not set himself apart by putting the altar between himself and his people. It is good to know that Pope Benedict is showing favour towards the traditional ways. Here in the Traditional Church of England, the priests always celebrate facing with the people, not against them (in other words, we have our backs to them!). We also maintain and encourage the singing of the ancient Gregorian chants in our worship. It helps to encourage that sense of the numinous that is so often missing from worship today
The Christmas Message - December 2007
In his gospel, S Luke tells us about the enforced journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth, where they lived, to Bethlehem. This was the little town from which the legendary King David had originally come, and it was the place to which Joseph and his family really belonged. So it was that, by his decree, the emperor Augustus unknowingly caused the birth of Our Lord to take place in His family’s ancestral district. However, to them it was an unfamiliar place, and the hospice where they had hoped to find shelter was full. Human affairs were certainly playing a large part in the birth of the Saviour! Instead of seeing the light of day in a place familiar to His family, where some, at least, of the few home comforts would be available, the Light of the World arrived in an outhouse, among the straw and the litter of the animals. As S Paul puts it in his epistle to the Corinthians: “though Christ was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich”. And here, in the stable at Bethlehem, was povery indeed, for having laid aside His glory and all the worship of the angels, the King of Heaven now took His place among men, and a very humble and lowly place it was, not in some expensive cot or cradle, but in a manger, where the cattle feed was kept.
What happened at Bethlehem that night tell us plainly about God’s love for us. At Bethlehem, God is doing two things: He is telling us something about Himself on the one hand, and He is acting for our benefit on the other hand. As the baby born in the stable grows up, He lives the life of a man among us humans, so revealing the nature of God to us in a way that it had never been revealed before. Here before us is no sermon or lecture about how we should live, but Christ Himself showing us the true way of life, demonstrating just how perfect human life could be when lived in harmony with divine laws. Then also at Bethlehem, we see Our Lord beginning the process of our redemption. Sin is fundamental to our human condition. The state of the world, not only in this age, but in any age, is proof of that. Sin is a legacy inherited by all the human race, and by every individual within it. But when Christ came, the one perfect man, born without sin, and untainted by it, then that diabolical chain was broken. Through union with Christ, it is now possible to have a different legacy, the legacy of eternal life. Christ has given us the standard of perfection in human life, and made it available to everyone who will commit themselves wholeheartedly to Him. At this season of humility and rejoicing, we can indeed find comfort in Our Lord’s own words, “Look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh”
Elements of Faith - November 2007
I hear that in some academic circles, students who are already long-standing communicants in the Church are being asked to consider why making their communion is such an important element of their faith. I can think of two reasons why such a question might be asked, bearing in mind that it was put by a college chaplain. It may be rhetorical in the time-honoured academic tradition of asking whimsical questions for the purpose of stimulating thought and debate. If this is the case, then the rather provocative nature of the question can be accepted, since it will serve to make us all think more deeply about this fundamental aspect of our faith. On the other hand, it may be that the questioner is a 'Bible' Christian, who believes that the 'word' is of greater significance for the Christian than the sacramental aspect of our faith. In this case, the question seems to display a lack of theological insight.
The Anglican faith has always tried to maintain a balance between word and sacrament. The Book of Common Prayer provides two scripture readings for each of the daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as for Holy Communion, and the entire Psalter is to be read every month. This leaves no doubt as to the importance of “the word”. At the same time, specific provision is made for five of the seven sacraments, with two of them, Baptism and Holy Communion, being described in the Catechism as “generally necessary for salvation”. Here, “generally” is used in the sense of applicable to everybody. In this way, the essential nature of the sacraments, including Holy Communion, is also emphasized.
Most of what we know about the life and teachings of Jesus comes from the pages of the New Testament, but this does not make Christianity the religion of a book. Rather, the central point of Christianity is that same Person, Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is an expression of what was believed by that older community of faith, the Jews, just as the New Testament is an expression of what was believed by the newer community of faith, the Christians. This makes scripture the product of what these two communities believed, rather than the initial source of that belief. 'Bible' Christians are usually happy to emphasize Christ’s death on the Cross as a saving act, but they often seem to ignore the full implications of His Incarnation. By taking human form and living amongst us, Jesus showed us that God can use the elements of this world, bread, wine, water, oil, and even flesh itself, as purveyors of His grace. This is the essence of a sacrament. In the case of Holy Communion, we follow Our Lord’s commands as expressed at the Last Supper. Sharing in the consecrated bread and wine allows the grace of Christ’s saving act on the Cross to become something which we can fully receive. More than just giving intellectual assent to the efficacy of Christ’s Sacrifice, in Holy Communion we share in the offering of that great Sacrifice, and our entire being, body, mind and spirit, is given the benefits of that saving act. For the Christian, what could be more important or more essential?
Contrasting Saints - October 2007
At this time of the year, we commemorate two contrasting saints. The feast of S. Michael the Archangel occurs on 29th September, while that of S. Francis of Assisi falls five days later on 4th October. In considering these two saints, we are shown two very different aspects of our Christian Faith. On the one hand there is Michael, the warrior-chief of angels, leading the forces of light in the cosmic clash with the ruler of darkness; on the other hand, the noise of battle dies away, and we see S. Francis, a man of poverty and peace, the friend of all creatures. Can both of these be saints of God? Can both be serving the same Master?
We can recall Our Lord’s own words on this subject, for it was Jesus Himself Who said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”. Jesus also said, “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you”. Here in a nutshell is the paradox of the Christian Faith, that it must maintain within itself the unceasing war against evil, yet at the same time, always extend love and forgiveness to those against whom it is fighting. S. Michael and S. Francis are both true representatives of Our Lord, for they remind us of these two aspects of our Faith that must be held in balance. This situation will continue for as long as there is a Church Militant here on earth, and for as long as the forces of evil resist the Will of God.
In fact, both S. Michael and S. Francis contain within themselves some aspect of the other. S. Michael the warrior is also the angel of light, bringing God’s peace and love to the world of darkness. And S. Francis was not always a man of peace. In early life, he was a man of affairs, becoming a leader in the local disputes between the cities of Perugia and Assisi. At one point, he was even taken prisoner by his opponents and held for some months. It was only after this experience that he renounced the wealth and comfort that could have been his, and devoted his life to prayer and to the service of the poor. So even S. Michael and S. Francis, the warrior and the man of peace, each display some of the other’s qualities. It is a human trait to place people in neat pigeonholes; to label them, and say to ourselves, “this is the sort of person they are”. But we forget that we are full of contradictions ourselves, and while our Christian Faith requires us to fight sin, it also asks us to love the sinner. For this reason, we all need something of S. Michael and S. Francis in us at the same time.
S. Michael the Archangel acts for God on a cosmic scale, while in his life, S. Francis acted on a humbler stage. Yet two such diverse saints both do the Will of God in their own spheres. Both are part of God’s design to save mankind from the consequences of sin, and to bring on that glorious day when all creation is at peace.
Relevance - September 2007
We often hear it said that the Church should be more relevant to life today. There is an implied criticism in those words, suggesting that the Gospel is in some way out of date. Those who see the Gospel primarily in terms of welfare and social improvement are the most likely to make such remarks. However, the improvement of living conditions is not the main thrust of the Gospel, which is essentially concerned with changing human nature. It is the power of the Gospel to change our lives that is also the guarantee that it can never be out of date. Just as sin is always with us in this world, so is the need for reconciliation and renewal.
We have been given Our Lord’s commission to preach the Gospel, and this is not just confined to the pulpit, for then it would never reach those who do not come into church to hear it. It must be preached outside our churches as well, in the streets and market places, in the offices and factories, and in our homes. This does not mean that each of us must become a Bible-thumping bore! There is more to the Gospel than mere words. The Gospel is life, and the most effective witness to the Kingdom of God is to live out our lives day by day in accordance with the Gospel. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. When we allow Him to be present in all our relationships with our families, colleagues, neighbours and friends, then we are indeed being faithful to His commission.
This is the task that confronts each one of us who has committed himself to God: to bring to our society and to the world the good news of reconciliation between God and man. This alone has the power to cure the disorders of mankind, for the Gospel recognises that there is a flaw in human nature that must first be dealt with before any other problems can be addressed. An unhappy and divided world needs to know God’s love for all mankind. This is the message, so relevant to our times, that we must proclaim.
God give you grace to be His faithful messenger.
Erroneous & Strange Doctrine - August 2007
The prospect of the Church of England consecrating women to be “bishops” in the near future is a signal to all of us to reaffirm our belief in the nature of the historic episcopate. Before anything else, the office of Bishop in the Church is apostolic. The Apostles were given authority by Christ Himself and they were sent to preach the Gospel message to the whole world. The Bishops, as their successors, are to continue the mission for which Christ ordained His Apostles. This mission carried with it the requirement to guard the Faith from false teaching. At his consecration, every Bishop is charged “with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word” (from the Ordinal attached to the Book of Common Prayer). His authority for doing this comes from Christ Himself. Christianity is a revealed religion; what is revealed through Christ has divine authority, and this is mediated to the faithful through an authorized ministry. Revelation and religious authority go hand in hand. What is revealed has the authority of God, and the revelation given through Christ is, for the Christian, final and authoritative. It was given to the Apostles, passed on by them to their successors, the Bishops, to be guarded and handed on through the ages. As in human families, where the father is rightfully the mediator of authority, so in the family of the Church, the Bishop is the Father-in-God, exercising his authority by virtue of his divine commission, expressing that authority through his priests, but in due humility, recognising that he is himself under the authority of Christ
None of this will be welcome to the liberals and feminists in the Church of England who wish to introduce their “erroneous and strange doctrines” regarding the episcopate. Many priests and parishes in this country who share the traditional understanding of the episcopate may find themselves forced to seek oversight from alternative sources if these lobbyists have their way. No doubt such oversight would be available from overseas, but they might wish to consider that the Traditional Church of England has existed ever since the “women priests” Measure was passed in 1994; that it undoubtedly has Bishops in true apostolic succession; and that it is ready and willing to give oversight to any parishes or individuals who believe that the authority of their present Father-in-God would be compromised by the addition of women to the Bench. In addition, the Traditional Church of England is, as its name underlines, an institution grounded in this country, Anglican in outlook, and traditional in its beliefs.
Recent attempts to alter the fundamental principles of the Christian Faith could easily fill us with dismay, but we can recall that there have been many false doctrines and heresies over the centuries. None of them has overcome the legitimate apostolic nature of the Church. This is the time for all orthodox believers to stand together. We can find encouragement in Our Lord’s words about His Church, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.
Our Christian Heritage - July 2007
Here in the United Kingdom we have just acquired a new government. “New” is rather a misleading word in this context, since there has been no election; just the handing over of power from one man to another. The new Prime Minister has shuffled the faces around his Cabinet table, replacing just a few, but not giving the prospect of any change of direction from the old government. They all have either been deeply involved in the decisions of the previous administration, or they have supported it from the government benches. All this does nothing to boost our faith in democracy. We often hear the word “democracy” used in such a way as to suggest that government “of the people, by the people, for the
people” is the panacea for all the evils suffered by mankind. From our own experience, however, we know that democracy falls short of this ideal. Granted that it is better than an oppressive dictatorship, there are still flaws in the way that democracy works. Once in power, political parties have a habit of pushing through their manifesto “commitments”, even though there may be significant opposition to them in the country. Two examples of this are the abolition of capital punishment, and the banning of hunting with dogs, where there can be no doubt that some members of parliament voted contrary to the majority opinion of their own constituents. This inevitably leads to that frequently heard complaint that politicians do not listen. Another problem lies in the fact that governments regularly act in their own interests, or in the interests of a perceived political correctness, and fail to act for the good of the country as a whole. The massive shambles over the problems of immigration and asylum-seeking is a prime example of this. Over the years, successive governments have allowed to stay in this country people who have no respect for our Christian heritage, and certainly no intention of conforming to our way of life. We are all now paying the price for this in the form of terrorist outrages.
If you need a demonstration of how democracy can wreck an organisation, look no further than the Church of England. Back in 1970, it set up the General Synod. This gave power to elected members to make decisions about fundamental articles of Faith and Order in the Church, matters that should never be decided by majority vote! The result of this change from theocracy to democracy is plain for all to see: it is a disaster. Dr. Peter Mullen, Rector of St. Michael, Cornhill, in London, makes some pertinent observations in his article “Taking Stock at the Church of England”, reprinted in the Peter-tide issue of our official newspaper “The Herald”, and available from our website. There you will also find an article by him entitled “The Secular Terrorist”, reprinted in the Trinity edition of The Traditional Anglican. I wholeheartedly concur with both of these articles, and urge you to read them.
We may have to continue living with our political democracy, but we do not have to accept this way of doing things in our spiritual lives. The Traditional Church of England still believes that God is our Ruler and Guide. We believe that Christianity is a religion revealed by God, and that the fundamental principles of that revelation cannot be altered by majority vote. We accept that God knows better than we do, and so we prefer to remain a theocracy, listening to our Creator, following the teachings of His Son, and asking for the guidance of His Holy Spirit.
Rights and Wrongs - June 2007
We often hear from the media how people in this country who follow faiths other than Christian are either being denied their “rights”, or are in some way disadvantaged. The implication is made that we, the indigenous Christian population, must hold back from asserting our beliefs or following our religious customs in the interests of multi-faith harmony. In this view of things, Christians are being assigned the role of bullies. Something that we very rarely hear from these same sources, however, is the way Christians are faring in other parts of the world. Apart from the occasional reference to persecutions in Darfur, we might be forgiven for supposing that Christians are well-treated everywhere. Beware the media: they only tell us the things that accord with their own “world view”. In a surprising number of countries, opposition to Christianity ranges from outright persecution, through oppression and various levels of proscription to reluctant tolerance.
The issue has been highlighted in a recent edition of The Sunday Times Magazine in an article by Bryan Moynahan entitled “Praying for a Miracle”. Try to find a copy (also at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article1831314.ece). It is no surprise to learn that opposition to Christianity is severe in North Korea, but I had not expected to see Bhutan listed among those countries where Christianity is denied. The official religion of Bhutan is Buddhism, which is rarely associated with aggression towards others. Needless to say, the largest area of opposition to Christianity is found in the great swathe of Muslim countries covering North Africa and Western Asia, although Hindu India and Communist China also feature as countries setting some limitations.
The silence of the media about this particular aspect of persecution is only part of the problem we face. If our fellow Christians in other parts of the world are suffering for their Faith, this is something that we need to know. We can pray for them and, where possible, make representations on their behalf. The main problem lies in the fact that our society here is indifferent to Christianity. If it were hostile, we would be in the same situation as some of our brethren overseas; we would be at the “cutting edge“ of the Faith. The fact that we live in a secular society that can no longer be bothered with the Christian Faith dulls this edge. We receive more blank looks than hostile gestures, which lull us into feeling that all will be well. But as recently as the end of the nineteenth century, priests in this country were sent to jail for practising certain elements of Christian ritual; they were seen as defying the law of the land. And since then, our society has become so secularized that recent legislation actively promotes actions that are entirely opposed to our Christian ethic. Same-sex partnerships are now given the legal recognition that once was afforded only to Holy Matrimony, and adoption agencies must consider same-sex couples when seeking suitable environments for their children. How long will it be before Christians here are prosecuted for failing to comply with these anti-Christian laws? The writing is already on the wall. Pray for all Christians suffering persecution for the Faith, and pray for grace to remain steadfast in that Faith, whatever the consequences may be.
The Month of May - May 2007
In this part of the world, with longer daylight and lovely warm days, May is the time of year when many people plan outings and excursions. They look forward to a little time away from home; they long for a break from the daily routines of life. This is not a new phenomenon, for people have been doing this very thing for many centuries. In the Middle Ages, followers of the Christian Faith would make pilgrimages to shrines and holy places. The pilgrimage season would begin around this time, and it is one of the reasons that May was given the lovely title of “Mary’s Month”. The muddy tracks that were the highways of those days at last began to dry out from the winter rains. For these pilgrims, Rome was one popular destination, and another was the holy city of Jerusalem. However, reaching these overseas places required considerable time and effort, and for most people in these islands, a pilgrimage to Walsingham to visit Our Lady’s shrine, or to Canterbury to honour the holy martyr St. Thomas Becket, would have been more achievable. Travelling conditions were very different for those medieval pilgrims from what we would expect today. Not only would the journey have taken much longer; there were also real hardships and dangers to be faced along the way. In our age of speed and convenience, just the thought of such things would probably deter us from making the journey altogether.
And yet there is a sense in which we are all like those medieval pilgrims, facing difficulties and dangers, and confronted by the unknown. Although we may now be accomplished travellers from place to place, we are still pilgrims through life. All of us will have experienced those changes of fortune and those unexpected things that life throws at us from time to time. Times of great happiness, when everything seems bright and sunny and all is going well, can change so quickly into times of hopelessness and despair, when everything seems to be against us. Our lives are indeed like a pilgrimage, where the end of the journey can only be sensed by faith, where the way ahead is unclear, and we can only take one step at a time. This is when we need to put our trust in the supreme power and good purpose of God. Even in the most foggy and uncertain conditions of our lives, He is still there to guide and direct us. As Psalm 107 expresses it, “O that men would therefore praise the Lord for His goodness : and declare the wonders that He doeth for the children of men!” Continue to praise the Lord and trust Him through all the changes that the pilgrimage of life brings, and He will “bring us to the haven where we would be”.
The Anglican Faith - April 2007
These are difficult days for those who love the Anglican Faith. There are factions and recriminations all around. The recent meeting of Anglican Primates in Tanzania (those still in communion with Canterbury) has resulted in a statement that fudges the issues once again, in the hope of keeping “on board” as many people as possible. Sadly, all this division has come about through the actions of a vociferous group of “progressives”, who wish to change the fundamental tenets of the Faith. The purpose behind this movement is to accommodate the liberal agenda for so-called equal rights in the Church; that is, for women to become 'priests' and homosexual activity to be regarded as an acceptable way of behaviour. Closely allied to this is the desire for modern and ‘inclusive’ language in worship.
Archbishops of Canterbury past and present, and other Primates, have been unwilling to resist this agenda, with the result that many of the faithful who find all this unacceptable have formed “Continuing Anglican” churches, outside the jurisdiction of Canterbury. The TCE is one of these Continuing churches. It is not an ideal situation, but we believe it is the only way we can maintain our integrity as Anglicans. Here in the TCE, we try to remain focussed on the vision of the Anglican Faith as it is expressed in the Book of Common Prayer and in the Thirty-Nine Articles. In these, we are referred back to the Catholic Faith as professed in the primitive Church, to the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, to the teachings of the early Fathers, and to the first four Councils of the Church. So it is on doctrines expressed in these formularies that we take our stand against those who seek to change our ancient Faith to suit their own agendas. Equally, we wish to continue the dignified forms of worship that our heritage provides, including the Authorized (King James) version of the Holy Bible. We are not impressed with banal modern liturgies, or with trite translations of Scripture! Our doors are always open to those who, like us, love the Anglican Faith we have inherited, and to those who wish to learn more about it.
May the joys of Easter be in your hearts, and the glory of the Risen Lord surround you. Amen.
Lenten Exercises - March 2007
It is said that laughter is the best medicine, and I am sure there is some truth in this. However, before taking medicine, the patient has to acknowledge that he is ill. The Church of England has launched a “Love Life Live Lent” campaign, with the aim of stressing humour in the Christian life during the “austere” season of Lent. The idea is to spread goodwill by making someone laugh. This is commendable in its way, but why associate it particularly with Lent? St. Paul lists “joy” as one of the fruits of the Spirit, so surely this is something that we should be cultivating continually in our lives.
I suspect that the real reason for the laughter campaign lies in the fact that many Christians are reluctant to acknowledge that sin matters. Lent is traditionally a time of fasting and self-denial, when we renounce some of our worldly pleasures in order strengthen our fight against self-will. Our society today is conditioned towards self-assertion, and the idea that one should forgo material comforts and pleasures in order to concentrate on spiritual ideals is weird, even abhorrent, to many. In promoting its laughter campaign at this time, I fear the Church of England is showing her usual tendency to pander to the values of the present age, rather than endorsing eternal values. She is saying, in effect, that we should just get on with enjoying life, and skate over our sins, for they are nothing to worry about. Our Lord’s parable in St. Luke 12: 16 to 21 comes to mind. The rich man said, “Take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry!” But God said, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee”.
Christians need to remember that the divisions in the world today, the oppression and the hatred, are all caused by sin, which is putting the things we want before the things that God wants. Lent is a time set aside to help us face up to sin in our lives. It is a time of repentance, confession and renewal. It is a time when we acknowledge that we are ill, and need medicine. It may involve some austerity, but that will be good for our over-fed, self-indulgent bodies. Lent calls on us to put our true priorities first. As a result, we will not need superficial jokes to laugh at, for the joy of the Spirit will fill our lives, and bring happiness around us.
I wish you this same joy of the Spirit in keeping the season of Lent.
The Church and the State - February 2007
It is the duty of the Church to speak out against legislation that sanctions anti-Christian behaviour. In England and Wales, the Civil Partnership Act gave legal recognition to same-sex couples from December 2005. Although it is not spelt out, the implication of the legislation is that these couples are engaging in sexual relations, and that this must now be accepted by everyone. It gives to such unions the same legal standing as that previously recognised only in the case of marriage between a man and a woman. It is directly contrary to the teaching of Scripture, which allows sexual activity only between a man and a woman united in marriage.
The Church recognises that some people form close friendships with others of the same sex (or indeed, with others of the opposite sex!), but these friendships are to be entirely platonic (celibate). However, the Act specifically excludes any religious ceremony surrounding the making of such a Partnership in the Register Office, so as things stand at the moment, no Christian priest or minister has been expected to act against his conscience by performing a rite of this kind. A further piece of legislation, the Adoption and Children Act, also came into force in December 2005. It allows same-sex couples to apply to adopt a child jointly. The recent resistance to this legislation expressed by the Roman Catholic Church and by the Church of England lies in the fact that it will require their own Adoption Agencies to consider placing children into the care of same-sex couples. Failure to comply could result in action under discrimination laws. Once again, the teaching of Scripture and the Church about marriage and the family is flouted. In Christian teaching, marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman, and one of the gifts it produces is children. This family unit is to be understood as the ideal situation in the eyes of God, and anything other than this is less than ideal, and in some circumstances, can be seen as contrary to God’s Will. The TCE has no Adoption Agency of its own, but fully supports the stand to uphold Christian teaching made by those who have.
The usual arguments about “rights” are advanced by the supporters of this kind of legislation. Unfortunately, human rights are exactly that, demands made by humans for the fulfilment of their expectations, without any spiritual dimension. For the Christian, any expectations he may have come from God, Who both creates and sustains the universe. The Christian will only seek the fulfilment of these expectations responsibly, and in harmony with God’s laws. Whatever statute law may say, it is his responsibility to discriminate between actions that are in accordance with God’s law, and those that are not.
God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all - January 2007
The New Year provides a good opportunity for us to take stock of ourselves; in fact, in this secular world, even Christians tend to “make resolutions” at the turn of the year, rather than on Advent Sunday, the beginning of the Church’s year. Either way, we are given the chance to remember that we are called by God to serve Him. He is also the One Who leads us, and so we ask for His grace to follow Him more nearly day by day. God called us, and we have responded. Many others have heard that call before us, and have also responded: Abraham, Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament, for example, and in the New Testament Andrew, Matthew and Mary Magdalene, to mention just a few. We can see the response that each of these made by reading the Scriptures. What we cannot see is the reason for God’s choice of this one, rather than that one. We cannot know why God chooses certain people; (“How odd of God to choose the Jews!”). Similarly, we cannot know why He has chosen us.One of the problems we face in this age is the fact that having a “calling” (a vocation) is no longer seen in specifically Christian terms. People often talk about having a vocation, but by this they usually mean a vocation to be a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, or a social worker. At one time, such activities would have come within the orbit of the Church, and so could have been seen as part of a response to Christ’s call. Today, these ways of service are seen in purely secular terms, with no Christian commitment required in order to carry them out. So our response to God’s call must be seen in other ways.
The world may change, but the message of the Gospel is still the same. Sadly, Christians themselves have become divided over the best way to ensure that the Gospel is heard. Some have decided to seek accommodation with the fads of the times, excusing women “priests” and same-sex “marriages” on the grounds that equality and justice require the acceptance of such things. Will such adaptations bring more people to God? I think not. Other Christians, such as ourselves in the TCE, see it as our duty to maintain the traditional beliefs of the Church. We believe that the Gospel is the same yesterday, today and for ever, and needs to be proclaimed, whether the world “agrees” with it or not, for it brings the Light of Christ to all people.
It is this holding fast to the Faith “once delivered to the saints” that must be the major part of our response to God’s call in these times, remembering that vocation is not what we do for God, but rather what God has done and will do with us. We may wonder about that call, but even if we do, our response can still be one of trust and obedience. The end of Christian vocation is Christ our God, and “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all”.
I pray that in 2007, each of us may listen for God’s call, and be ready to serve Him.
God bless you in the days ahead, and keep you safe.
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