The Shock of Truth

What is wrong with this Church of ours, that it makes no impact, that it is silent, has nothing to say or contribute to the world around us? What is wrong is that this church has muffled the gospel, and concealed from itself that this is what it has done. This suppression has been going on for so long that we are now only very tenuously connected to the true Church, the true Church that is created and sustained by the gospel. But we have to hear and return to that one, holy catholic and apostolic Church, the Church of all places and all ages, if the ‘Church of England’ is to be what its name claims.

But we have taken out the cross. We have a gospel without truth and judgement, a message of mere empathy and affirmation, an inoffensive and irrelevant gospel, no longer able to cut through any of the contrary claims it meets.

Our church does not see how much trouble our neighbours are in and does not go to their aid. Its ‘gospel’ offers them no diagnosis, no warning, no corrective, no medicine and no surgery. Our neighbours are in the hands of forces that have no sympathy for them. It is for us to go to their aid. It is for us to challenge the thugs who hold them captive. We have to identify what it is that holds people back and ties them down. We have to point out what troubles them and who is inflicting those troubles on them. We need to find some compassion for our neighbours and for the society around us. We have to find enough compassion for them to tell them the truth, although the truth is just what they do not want to hear. For their sake we have to give them what they don’t want. We have to tell them that they have been preyed on, and they have identified themselves with those who prey on them, and they have been preying on one another. They have been suffering a delusion, and they have been inflicting it on each other. They are both victims and perpetrators, and all have been complicit in a long concealment of the truth. The gospel comes with the shock and hurt of a plaster being ripped off, of the light being suddenly and blindingly switched on, of being dragged forcibly out of bed, of being thrown out of the vehicle and left on the side of road. The gospel shocks, hurts and exposes us.

The Church does not change

The Church does this extraordinary thing. It declares that its confidence in all previous generations of Christians. This is what we mean when we declare in public each time we say the creed that the Church is ‘one’. It is indivisible through time. The ancient church and the modern church are not two churches. The earlier church has not given way to the later. The earlier church is not wrong and the modern church right. There is just one single church, present through all generations indivisibly. There is not the ancient Church of the first disciples and the contemporary Church of us – for this would leave us with the impossible task of deciding what parts of the gospel are essential and which we can abandon. Its confidence is complete. Our Lord placed his confidence in the faithfulness of his Church because he himself is behind it, and because ultimately the Church is the body of the Lord, and the ongoing work of the Lord.

So we pray that the Lord will defend us from every elite that does not want to be accountable, that does not believe it has to listen to us, which become angry at anyone who tells them what they don’t want to hear. Save us from every self-appointed elite that does not want to hear that there is a crisis, and which wants to push onto others the costs and consequences of its way of life.

Defend us Lord from those who know better. Defend us from those who set themselves up over all previous generations. Take away those who set themselves between us and all previous generations of your saints. Let us hear your saints again, and let us receive from them the full measure of the discipleship that we need. Do not let us refuse what these Christians have to give us. Let us take from them what they give us, and honour them, and hope to lead the some sanctified lives. They passed on the gospel for us. They are a message from you to us. Let us be glad of the churches and the worship, the hymns and prayers that are their gift to us. Let us understand these churches as their act of generosity toward us, and as a living scripture. They are your gift to us, and are intended to show us our way.

It is the calling of the Church always to hold itself as some distance from the regime of the day. We call this ‘secularisation’. There is a secular sphere, in which a wide range of ways of life and of discussion of ways of maintaining the common good are sustained, when the Church maintains its critical distance, stays cautious, and so is able to ask the questions that that sphere needs to hear. This is the prophetic office of the church. Christians are prophets, able to say how the community and government overreach themselves and exceed their authority. The Church says. The nation and its government can listen if they want to, take whatever advice they want. It is not the job of the government to become the body telling us what to think.

The clergy of the Church of England have created over these last decades a ‘gospel’ which is utterly unattractive and unrecognisable to the people of this country. They have removed all the elements that surprise and shock. They have removed the terror and delight of the gospel. They have bowdlerised it and rendered it harmless. But Christ cannot be domesticated. He is not harmless. Only we are harmed when we decide that we know better than all previous generations of the Church.

Defend us Lord from those who shush us up, who want us to be content with a lesser gospel, who do not want to put the whole gospel in our hands, who water down the wine that God intended for us. They deflect our questions and patronise and belittle. Defend us from those from those who know better, who set themselves over us and consider themselves superior to us. Give back to them what they deal out to us. Do not let us identify with them and set ourselves up in judgement. Pardon and give them grace to seek your forgiveness.

The priest and the people

Priesthood entirely depends on us understanding that our Lord Jesus Christ is here in front of us, when we are gathered together in worship of God. He is here by the Holy Spirit who has gathered us here before him. The Spirit brings us before him so that we are present to him, but he is only present to us by faith. We cannot grasp him, hear or see him, but nonetheless as we stand here, we stand before him.

When we gather, we send one of us to the front, to stand in the Lord’s place. He stands where Jesus stands, and we stand where the disciples stand.  We look towards the minister who stands there before us in order that, by faith, we see Jesus. As we look towards the place where the Lord stands, and by faith gaze at him, the attention of the world is drawn to him.  They follow our eyes. That is our job. That is the vocation and office of all Christians, all the time, whether singly or when gathered together explicitly as the Lord people. When one of us stands there before us, as the Lord is before us, although we cannot see him, the rest of us can direct ourselves toward him, worship him and direct the gaze of the world away from its tyrants and tormentors to its saviour. We worship him as long as we all direct ourselves towards him.

If you have a low view of Christian worship and the public office of the gathered Christian people, if you think that a service is a meeting in which the person taking the service leads by passing out information or instructions to an audience, then you will necessarily have a low view of both congregation and worship leader. This could relate to a low view of the baptism of the Christian and of the office and mission of the church of many Christians.

But in the Great Church the priest is a place-holder or the viewfinder by which we gather around Christ and so draw the gaze of the world towards him. The priest is transparent to Christ. We see priest and Christ simultaneously, two persons in one body. The priest is the place-marker, the cipher, the cursor on the screen that marks the point of action.

The presence of Christ does not push us out. If you were to stand in my place I would have to move or else you would push me aside. But it is not so with Christ, for he is here in the very space that we are, and we are able to be here together precisely because he is here. He is here by the Holy Spirit, who enables us to be co-present to one another, to inhabit the same place, to stand directly before one another and so to encounter one another, face to face.

The presence of the priest does not mean that Christ cannot be present, but that he can be present to us, here and now, in a way that does not threaten our freedom. We are not forced. We can believe him and follow him, or not. We can acknowledge his presence by faith, or not. His presence to us is not so blindingly, unavoidably obvious that we have no choice. We are free. We may acknowledge him, and we may do so by gathering around and acknowledging one another as his church and as the body of which he is head.

A Cup of Water

The persecution of Pakistani Christian villager Asia Bibi has also been making global headlines. Her death sentence passed on 8th November at Sheikhupura District Court near Lahore, Punjab, for supposedly critcising Islam’s Prophet raised the profile of the issue; the subsequent demonstrations against her and the 4th January assassination of her high-profile supporter Punjab governor Salman Taseer transformed it into a national flashpoint and a dramatic indicator of the advance of medieval Islamic fundamentalism into the mainstream heart and psyche of Pakistan society.
It seems Asia is a committed believer. Reports tell of her faith in Jesus that is strengthening her through her ordeal, and I’m interested that it was her rejected offer of a cup of water to her Muslim fellow villagers that started the original incident. Offering someone a drink in the face of their hostility, like turning the other cheek, is true New Testament behaviour (Romans 12:20).
The sight of hate-fuelled Imams and Muslim mobs baying for Asia’s blood on the streets of Lahore and elsewhere while she sits alone in her prison cell with her Jesus reminds me of the best-known psalm: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want… Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for You are with me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies… Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. (Psalm 23: 1,4,5,6)
The mobs can chant all they want; they simply demonstrate their tortured and intolerant Islamic spirit. Asia on the other hand shows quiet Christian resolution in the face of injustice and persecution.

Alan Craig Asia Bibi is My Sister

Synod on the Middle East

In describing the living conditions of Christians in Muslim countries in the Middle East, the bishops used understandably prudent words. With a few exceptions. One of the most unvarnished was the representative in Jordan for the patriarchate of the Iraqi Chaldeans. He said that there is “a deliberate campaign to drive out the Christians. There are Satanic plans by extremist fundamentalist groups against Christians not only in Iraq, but in all the Middle East.” The Iranian Thomas Meram, archbishop of Urmya of the Chaldeans, did not hesitate to quote the psalm of David: “For you we are massacred every day.” And he continued: “Every day Christians hear it said, from the loudspeakers, from the television, from the newspapers, that they are infidels, and for this reason they are treated as second-class citizens.”

The Arab countries of the Gulf “have a great need for manual labor,” [surely not because Arabs consider it beneath their dignity to labour? ] explained the Syro-Malabar Indian bishop Bosco Puthur, from whose region 430,000 people have departed. But what awaits these emigrants is very bitter, if measured according to religious and civil liberties. The archbishop of Addis Ababa, Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, said that the thousands of women who leave Ethiopia for the Middle East each year, to work as maids, in order to obtain entry visas “change their Christian names to Muslim names, and dress as Muslims, being indirectly forced to renounce their roots,” and in any case go to meet a life of “exploitation and abuse.”

A third block of proposals concerned “the need to recover the missionary aspect of the Church.” A new and courageous proposal in predominantly Muslim countries, on the part of Churches that for historical reasons and motives of survival have largely closed in on themselves. Coptic Egyptian bishop Youhannes Zakaria of Luxor said that in spite of the difficulties and the dangers, “our Church must not be afraid or ashamed, it must not hesitate to obey the mandate of Lord, who asks it to continue preaching the Gospel.” And the Chaldean Iranian archbishop of Tehran, Ramzi Garmou, delved even deeper into this need. After saying that “a new missionary impulse” is vital “to knock over the ethnic and nationalist barriers that threaten to asphyxiate and make sterile the Churches of the East,” he recalled “the fundamental importance of monastic life for the renewal and reawakening of our Churches.” And he continued: “This form of life that was born in the East, was at the origin of an extraordinary missionary expansion and an admirable witness of our churches during the first centuries. History teaches us that the bishops were chosen among the monks, that is to say men of prayer and with a deep spiritual life, having vast experience in the ‘things of God.’

Sandro Magister on the special Synod on the Middle East

Con-forming, not uniformity

In its catholicity, the Orthodox Church is truly and profoundly “ecumenical.â€? Nevertheless, this catholicity or ecumenicity is not “universalâ€? – in the etymological sense of the word (from the Latin “tending toward onenessâ€?), in the literal sense of drawing all things to unilateral homogeneity. This, as we underlined yesterday to our brother Bishops during the Hierarchal Synaxis, is the crucial basis of and essential criterion for Paul’s passionate plea for Church unity “in the same mind and purpose.â€? (1 Cor. 1.10) Nevertheless, at the same time, St. Paul prefers to emphasize “conformityâ€? to the Body of Christ – “until Christ is formed in youâ€? (Gal. 4.19) – rather than “uniformityâ€? in accordance with certain ethical prescriptions. This is a unity that can only be realized in dialogue and collegiality, not in any universal imposition of opinion or doctrine.

Patriarch Bartholomew to the Pauline seminar

The restoration in Christ of the unity of the entire human race

Message of the Orthodox Primates
The Orthodox Church, having the understanding of the authentic interpretation of the teaching of the Apostle to the Nations, in both peaceful and difficult times of its two-thousand year historical course, can and must promote to the contemporary world the teaching not only regarding the restoration in Christ of the unity of the entire human race, but also regarding the universality of His work of redemption, through which all the divisions of the world are overcome and the common nature of all human beings is affirmed.
Nevertheless, the faithful promotion of this message of redemption also presupposes overcoming the internal conflicts of the Orthodox Church through the surrendering of nationalistic, ethnic and ideological extremes of the past. For only in this way will the word of Orthodoxy have a necessary impact on the contemporary world. …

As Primates and the Representatives of the Most Holy Orthodox Churches, fully aware of the gravity of the aforementioned problems, and laboring to confront them directly as “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteriesâ€? (1 Cor. 4:1), we proclaim from this See of the First-throne among the Churches and we re-affirm:
i) our unswerving position and obligation to safeguard the unity of the Orthodox Church in “the faith once for all delivered to the saintsâ€? (Jude 3), the faith of our Fathers, in the common Divine Eucharist and in the faithful observance of the canonical system of Church governance by settling any problems that arise from time to time in relations among us with a spirit of love and peace.
ii) our desire for the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements, such as in the so-called Orthodox Diaspora, with a view to overcoming every possible influence that is foreign to Orthodox ecclesiology. In this respect we welcome the proposal by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to convene Panorthodox Consultations within the coming year 2009 on this subject, as well as for the continuation of preparations for the Holy and Great Council. In accordance with the standing order and practice of the Panorthodox Consultations in Rhodes, it will invite all Autocephalous Churches.

+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
+ Theodore of Alexandria
+ Ignatius of Antioch
+ Theophilos of Jerusalem
+ Alexey of Moscow …

Catholic culture wars

To undo the Council of Trent would be no mean endeavour, although to anyone with a sense of the religious history of Europe during the last four hundred and fifty years it must seem a madly ambitious one. But what really ignited the Catholic culture wars was the way it was done: by an unprecedented exercise of papal power. Hardly anything of what happened was prescribed by the Second Vatican Council, not the turning around of the altars, not the almost universal use of the vernacular, not the scaling down of the sense of transcendence and sacrifice, not the discouraging of the faithful from kneeling when receiving holy communion, not the receiving of communion in the hand rather than on the tongue. Traditionalists point out that the Council had decreed that the Latin language was to be preserved. It had all been done by Pope Paul VI, Archbishop Bugnini and a close circle of liturgical experts. It was never even passed by a synod of bishops.

John Casey Rediscovering Traditionalism

Saint Alban

Know your saints. Today, June 22, is Saint Alban’s day. Saint Alban was the first British martyr. He is in good company and there is room for more.

Fit for Mission III

The Role of Parents in God’s Plan of Salvation

It is a fundamental principle of Catholic education that parents, as co-creators with God of the life of their child, are the primary educators of their children (CCC 2223). Parents have an ‘irreplaceable and inalienable’ role in education because of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children.

The family is the school of love, where each person learns to love and be loved. It is only through knowing that we are loved, and that we are lovable, that we can fully become the person God intends us to be. Love is the necessary requirement for the true fulfilment of all our fundamental needs as human beings – intellectual, physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and eschatological.

Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster Fit for Mission?