The spiritual struggle should be practiced with joy

Holy and Great Lent 2007

The goal of spiritual struggle is not the acquisition of virtues, or of any other strange abilities solemnly through human powers, as it is believed by those who belong to various humanistic circles. On the contrary, it is the expression of our desire to meet the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom everything is recapitulated, and though whom everything is derived. The Word of God, the Logos, preaches most clearly that without Him we cannot do anything, and the Hymnographer reminds us that unless the Lord constructs the house of virtues of the soul, we struggle in vain. Therefore, we Christians devote ourselves to the love of Christ, and we give up voluntarily many other kinds of love and devotion that are of secondary importance, so that we will become worthy of His presence in the house of our souls. When this is achieved, with the grace and blessing of God, then peace, joy, and perfect love will have settled permanently in our very existence.

The spiritual struggle should be practiced with joy and its main goal should be to introduce our heart into the love and joy of God, though which every sorrow and vindictiveness, and every complaint and protestation against our fellow men and women is expelled from us. In its place we will then have the unshakable and great peace of God that will radiate all around us.

May we all pass through the arena of Great Lent with spiritual struggles, so that we will be able to enjoy in all its fullness the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose Grace and rich Mercy be with all of you.

+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent intercessor before God

A failure to embrace the spiritual and cultural heritage of Europe

Pope Benedict gave an unsparing account of European cultural collapse in his talk to participants in a Rome conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome: the pact that led to the establishment of the European Union. The conference was organized by the Commission of European Episcopal Conferences (COMECE), and centered on the theme of “Values and Perspectives for Europe’s Future.”

The Pope seized upon that theme, demanding that European leaders recognize the crisis that has been created by the failure to embrace the spiritual and cultural heritage of their continent. His speech reflected his dismay that the Rome Declaration, issued to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rome treaty, did not mention the influence of Christianity.

Pope Benedict stated flatly that “it is unthinkable that we can build an authentic common European house by disregarding the identities of the peoples of this continent of ours. It is an historical, cultural and moral identity even before it is a geographic, economic or political reality. It is an identity built on a set of universal values in which Christianity played a role in molding them, which gives it a role that is not only historical but also foundational vis-à-vis Europe.”

It appears, the Holy Father said, “that the European continent is losing confidence in its future.” As a result, he said, the European Union “seems to be on a path that might lead to its twilight in history.”

Pope Benedict to the Commission of European Episcopal Conferences

The Commission of the Bishops Conferences itself produced a more anodyne statement.

We follow with great interest the dialogue between the heads of State and Government, the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Commission, seeking a shared solution which will allow us to come through the present period of reflection in Europe. We hope that whatever the institutional solution that is found, it safeguards human dignity and the values which flow from it, such as freedom of religion in all its aspects. It must protect the institutional rights of Churches and of faith communities. It should also explicitly recognise the Christian heritage of our continent. It is through a dialogue on and for the common good of our citizens that we shall best contribute to that strong social cohesion which, today, is so important and so necessary for Europe.

As Christians, in our communities, in our associations and movements, we will contribute with our commitment to promote those initiatives which authentically respect human nature created in the image and likeness of God, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and thus promote authentically reconciliation, freedom, peace, solidarity, subsidiarity and justice. In the process of the continent’s integration, as recalled by Pope John Paul II, “it is of capital importance to remember that the union will lack substance if it is reduced to its merely geographic and economic dimensions; rather, it must consist above all in an agreement about the values which must find expression in its law and in its lifeâ€? (Ecclesia in Europa, 110).

The statement was short on theology and ended by commending Europe to the Virgin Mary, but the Commission of the Bishops Conferences tried and perhaps that is the main thing. Now to get conferences of bishops in the UK, Anglican or Catholic, to produce some sort of statement.

St Catherine of Siena in London

The Society of St. Catherine of Siena will hold its annual Mass in anticipation of the Feast of St. Catherine at 6.15 pm on April 17th 2007, at St. Etheldreda’s church, Ely Place, off Holborn Circus, London EC1.

Holy Mass will be celebrated by Fr. Andrew Wadsworth in the presence of the Rt. Rev’d. Malcolm McMahon OP, Bishop of Nottingham and Chairman of the Trustees of the Society. Bishop McMahon will preach and give the final blessing and the music will be provided by the Choir of Ely Place under the direction of Mr. Paul Gillham. Permission has been sought for the Mass to be in the rite of the Roman Missal of 1962. You are warmly invited to attend, and light refreshment will follow in the crypt.

This one might be a bit scary, but I’ll go if you go.

Struggling for the truth, praying for adversaries in love

In general, I would counsel complete avoidance of litigation – in concert with the explicit teaching of the Gospel – and instead encourage civil disobedience in cases where Christians choose to oppose the depredations of TEC leadership. But is this even a witness we are called to make? Anglicanism has its own sorry history of intolerance and injustice within its midst – we remember the whole-scale driving out of clergy in and after the English Civil War by both sides – and these kinds of conflicts among self-styled followers of Christ have long-lasting and scandalizing results. Simply leaving, however, is something that grates, though perhaps primarily against our pride. I recall only several months ago, at the diocesan convention of Colorado, that a diocesan leader (now appointed by the bishop to a Taskforce on our “common lifeâ€?) publicly confronted me and demanded that I “and my kindâ€? “leave the church and let [them] get on with ministryâ€?; we were nothing but “dying embersâ€? bringing division and sowing anger within the church. Part of me would like to prove these kinds of affronts simply wrong. Such a motive, however, would be base. There is no point dying with the church, unless one is ready to struggle for the truth. But there is no point struggling for the truth if the struggle leaves one bitter and hostile, aimed against adversaries instead of praying for them in love. If one is not called to the radiancy of joyful sacrifice, it is better to leave. And hope is radiant and ready.

In the end, however, I would urge our continued hope that the larger Communion – and not simply this or that individual leader or group, whose own discernment is often rather limited – will offer the kind of encouraging and supportive direction we seek, indeed that they shall in fact come forward with a Pastoral Council capable of meeting the needs of Anglican witness within the United States such as the Communiqué recommended. This would require the kind of corporate vision and courage (not Don Quixote individualism) on the part of “Camp Allen Principledâ€? bishops that is necessary for them to step forward, offer their own readiness to work with such a Council, and suffer the consequences of their witness and leadership. We are now in the fullness of time for such a demonstration of hope! And we shall all need to hold steady in seeking this direction and support, and come together with a common sense of its need and usefulness.

Ephraim Radner What Way Ahead?

The consensus of opinion in the national leadership of the (USA) Episcopal Church?

Leander Harding – An Open Letter to Bishops and Deputies who Participated in General Convention 2006

Below are some conclusions I have developed as a result of my observation both by following the official deliberations and through more informal conversations. I wonder if I have heard correctly, and I welcome remarks from bishops and deputies about whether I have an accurate take on the center of opinion in the national leadership of the Episcopal Church. What follows are statements that I believe reflect the consensus of opinion in the national leadership of the Episcopal Church, particularly as reflected in the General Convention that just met in Columbus, Ohio. Do I understand correctly?

As I hear it, you are saying that:

5. The recognition of the source of same-sex desire in the original intention of God for the creation and humanity is a revelation of the Holy Spirit in our time.

6. The General Conventions of 2003 and 2006 are witnesses to this new revelation of the Holy Spirit.

8. Certainty in moral or theological judgments which is based on an authoritative reading of a text, whether that is the text of the Bible or any other part of the dogmatic tradition of the church, is inherently an example of over-reaching.

9. Contemporary reports of personal spiritual experience by same-sex attracted people and their supporters affirming the spiritual blessedness of same-sex relationships provide a basis for moral and theological certainty on this question which the scriptures and the traditional teaching of the church cannot by virtue of the nature of the documents provide.

10. Christians who feel bound by the scriptures should understand that the fact that there are different interpretations of the scriptures which touch on same-sex attraction means that no single interpretation can possibly be authoritative.

11. Since the scriptures cannot possibly be authoritative on this issue and since self-reported spiritual experience provides the only reliable certainty on the subject, any objections to same-sex blessings on the basis of scripture are irrelevant a priori.

16. It is wrong for any other province of the Anglican Communion to interfere with the leading of the Holy Spirit in this province. What the Holy Spirit demands at any particular time must be determined locally.

19. A variety of interpretations of scripture can be tolerated in the church. But the canons of the church, especially with regard to the territorial integrity of Episcopal jurisdiction, allow for no variation in interpretation.

20. The proposal of the Archbishop of Canterbury for a new Anglican covenant, and for churches to choose constituent or associate status in the communion, represents a dire threat to the capacity of the church to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It represents the prospect of a quenching of the Spirit.

21. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has been uniquely privileged to hear from the Holy Spirit in a way that has been denied to the rest of worldwide Anglicanism, the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox churches and Protestant Evangelicalism. The Episcopal Church must at all costs maintain its witness to the unique agency of the Holy Spirit in its midst. Those who oppose the new teaching are enemies of the Holy Spirit who are making an idol of the past at the expense of the future to which God is calling us.

These numbered observations above are my take on what the dominant party in the leadership of the Episcopal Church is saying.

Leander Harding Do I understand what you are saying?

The one Eucharist is celebrated in each Diocese around its own Bishop

The relationship between Eucharist and communio had already been pointed out by the Servant of God John Paul II in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. He spoke of the memorial of Christ as “the supreme sacramental manifestation of communion in the Church”. The unity of ecclesial communion is concretely manifested in the Christian communities and is renewed at the celebration of the Eucharist, which unites them and differentiates them in the particular Churches, “in quibus et ex quibus una et unica Ecclesia catholica exsistit“. The fact that the one Eucharist is celebrated in each Diocese around its own Bishop helps us to see how those particular Churches subsist in and ex Ecclesia. Indeed, “the oneness and indivisibility of the eucharistic body of the Lord implies the oneness of his mystical body, which is the one and indivisible Church. From the eucharistic centre arises the necessary openness of every celebrating community, of every particular Church. By allowing itself to be drawn into the open arms of the Lord, it achieves insertion into his one and undivided body.” Consequently, in the celebration of the Eucharist, the individual members of the faithful find themselves in their Church, that is, in the Church of Christ. From this eucharistic perspective, adequately understood, ecclesial communion is seen to be catholic by its very nature. An emphasis on this eucharistic basis of ecclesial communion can also contribute greatly to the ecumenical dialogue with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which are not in full communion with the See of Peter. The Eucharist objectively creates a powerful bond of unity between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, which have preserved the authentic and integral nature of the eucharistic mystery. At the same time, emphasis on the ecclesial character of the Eucharist can become an important element of the dialogue with the Communities of the Reformed tradition.

SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS

Communities, rather than churches, of the Reformed tradition, eh? Still, the emphasis on bishop and diocese is there. Surely it is not too much to ask for an academic forum in the UK in which we can discuss documents such as these?

Confining faith to private thought rather than public works of service

THE vote by 168 to 122 in the House of Lord’s tonight (21 March) in favour of the Government’s Equality Act (Sexual Orientation Regulations) 2007 marks the imposition of a new morality.

It is a clear sign that despite saying they were going to consult and listen the Government has failed to respect the consciences of citizens whose values are formed and shaped by their deeply held religious beliefs, be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish. This could have been easily resolved by a simple conscience clause.

In a week where the whole country celebrates the 200th anniversary off the Abolition of Slavery, brought about, by and large, through the determined efforts of William Wilberforce, we would do well to remember his driving force and motivation stemmed from his Christian conviction. History will record that today’s vote marked the increased secularisation of Britain confining faith to private thought, rather than public manifestation in works of service for the whole community.

The consequences and implications of the SORs will unfold month by month. The result of the vote will mean that rather than balancing rights, the right to live a homosexual lifestyle will trump the right to live a Christian lifestyle. Many Christians will be affected by this new law.

Andrea Williams Christian Concern for Our Nation

Here is CARE‘s statement of two weeks ago

SECULARISATION MASQUERADING AS EQUALITIES SAYS CARE

Christian charity CARE has reacted with concern to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ attempt to redefine what is meant by religious liberty in its highly controversial report published yesterday.

‘The committee is effectively making the case that religious freedom, as per Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, is about belief in one’s head and the freedom to worship in religious buildings. Thereafter, if ever there is a conflict between manifestation of religious belief and any other right like sexual orientation, there is a first principle assumption that religious freedom is the category that must be compromised.

Daniel Boucher director of parliamentary affairs continued, ‘The truth is that the heart of the Christian faith and freedom to practice that faith has never been restricted to beliefs in one’s head or prayer meetings in religious buildings. It has always been about action. The work of Christians in welfare service provision has always constituted an absolutely central part of the outworking their faith. Indeed, as the book of James makes clear, ‘faith without works is dead.’ On this basis reducing the heart of religious freedom down to beliefs in one’s head and prayer meetings in religious buildings does not even constitute the erosion of religious freedom but in a very real sense its negation.

Although the report is ostensibly about sexual orientation rights, it reads rather more as a secularists bid to reduce religious freedom masquerading as support for gay rights. The truth is that any credible definition of religious freedom must embrace a respect for practice which whilst not absolute (See Article 9 (2)), is not overruled as a matter of course whenever there is a conflict with another right.’

London – Theology of the Body

Theology of the Body Explored

St. Patrick’s, Soho Square, London.

March 23 Jane Deegan: “Love is Victorious in the Struggle between Good and Evilâ€? (GA June 27th 1984)

IV. Reflections on Humanae Vitae

April 27 Edmund Adamus: “ The Church’s Position on the Transmission of Lifeâ€? (GA August 22nd 1984)

May 11 Dan & Anne Hill: “A Discipline that Ennobles Human Love.â€? (GA Aug 28th 1984)

May 25 Alison Gray “The dignity and vocation of woman and her role in the Churchâ€?

Conclusion: Review of course and Discussion on ways of establishing your own Theology of the Body Group –

June 8 Love and Responsibility – Theology of the Body

Previous post on theology of the Body in London and other events in London

Fourth Sunday of Lent Evensong

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

It is good to be in time, and to celebrate these ends and beginnings in our morning and evening prayer. These boundaries of day and night mark out our time for us, allow us to work and to stop working, and to look back and forward.

We are preparing for Easter. At Easter God completes his act of creation by raising one of us. The one he raises has attached himself to all the rest of us, so the raising of the first is the beginning of the raising of the whole lot, all humanity, each of us joined to every other. This human being is complete continuity with us but is now no longer constrained by our biological limits, so his life is not given its form by death, as ours is. He is now able to pass his life on to us without limit. Easter is a preview of the consequences of this for us: Christ’s resurrection is a preview of our resurrection, which is the moment when our boundaries between us and him, and between us and one another, cease to be an end, like death, and instead become just markers, like day and night.

Raised from the dead, Christ is the whole colossal future of humankind. He is our future, present here for us to get used to. In every Church service Christ is the one doing the work. He is praying to the Father, and it is our privilege to listen and join in. He takes away from us what we cannot manage, all those half-truths and misdirected worship, and sends it all to God for its redemption and renewal.

Christ is the universal person. He calls and names, hears and waits for all, he works for all and draws all to make them human, together. The work he is engaged in here is to make us compatible with one another, holy, catholic persons, his communion of saints. He makes himself present to us by making all these other persons, who will together make up our future, present to us.

The Son stands at the front of every Church service, and presents us to God. So when you look up the Church you are seeing Christ holding out to us all the elements of our future selves. We see first the book of Scripture, and then the bread and cup, the Word of God which is also the sacrament, the power of God to make us holy. All the good things that are coming to us are made visible and tangible to us here in these small tokens. There are many ways of spelling this out; the bread is our humanity as it is, tattered and ragged, made of the created earth as we find it, and the wine is humanity as it is with Christ, in complete relation with the Father and thereby fully human. But bread and wine are just the visible front end of the whole created order that serves us and brings us first into existence and then into the communion of God.

You see of course the figure who holds out the bread and cup to us, the priest. Christ makes himself present to us in the strange form of one of us, dressed in the dark cassock of Christ’s poverty and humiliation, and the bright white surplice of humanity made radiant: in that combination we are hologram of ourselves as we are, poor, and as we will be, radiant.

So Christ makes himself present as these elements, and this priest. It wouldn’t be right if we left it like that, for the priest is no priest without the people. That figure up at the front represents all of us with Christ. What Christ chiefly gives us is people, along with the means to receive them, not simply as they presently are, but as they will be. He is the whole human, and the universal human-to-human mediator, who is now opening us up so we can receive one another as gifts of God, and together become members of the vast company that he presents to the Father. He does the work here and we are his passengers. Christ makes himself present in the words that fill our mouths. When we sing Christ’s words we are possessed by the future, in his person.

There are plenty of good resources on these issues of eucharist, church and ministry. Recent crises have brought out some clear statements from the Anglican Communion about the sending and receiving apostles from the worldwide church and learning from them to become a single, holy, catholic and apostolic people. Here are three tiny sound-bites from the Anglican Communion website. One: The bishop serves the communion of the gospel into which the baptised are incorporated by God the Holy Spirit; Two: The bishop’s evangelical office of proclamation and witness is a fundamental means by which those who hear the call of God become one in Christ; Three: The bishop is a teacher and defender of the apostolic faith that binds believers into one body.

The Anglican Communion is teaching us here that the whole Church sends each part of the Church a gift – and that gift is an actual living apostle, whom we call the bishop, from episcope, meaning oversight, because he represents the oversight of the whole Church on us. He is the communion of saints conveniently made available to us as one person. Because he is well versed in the whole gift of Christ given to the historical church from the earliest time until now, he can open the Scriptures with the experience of the whole church, and so he brings the whole Christ to each congregation.

It is the bishop’s job to make sure that what we hear and see here is also explained to us. This service, which is Christ’s service first and our service second, is a reasonable sacrifice, an articulate rational public event. What Christ and we are explaining – and inviting people to – is their own real identity. The mission to explain what is going on here does not begin after the service: but must be part of what is going on in the service. The service extends itself into everyday ordinary time, because we do not leave the service so much as take the service with us wherever we go. Each of us is this church service in person, the presence of the company of God, made visible in one person, for the world.

Our life here is the holy life. If we are holy the world will see it. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who makes the Church holy, and only the holiness of the Christian people can hold out to the world what it does not yet have. If we do not feast on the whole Word and power of God we let down our society, and are too weak and confused to be able to help them for whom we have been put here. But if we tune out the noises of the world for a bit, we will hear heaven, which is all the earth wants to hear.

What is it we repent of in Lent? We repent of being an untaught church, that substitutes activism for worship, that assumes that it is more inclusive than those who came before us. This cup we drink sometimes is bitter, because there is confession, repentance, even penance in the mix. We must dump at the altar our belief that we know better than the historic Church and let it go. What is it we give up in Lent? We turn down the volume on the world, and in particular on its media, and for these few weeks opt out of their celebration so we can prepare for our celebration – so that at Easter, we can be together in good array, in this place, stopping the traffic with our Palm Sunday songs – so our society can see a holy people and be glad.

So, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his return I urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

You, Israel, “You are my servant, I have chosen you”; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.
To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.