Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm Sunday

We enter into drama of the Gospel this week. No more powerful expression of the feeling of this week has ever been produced than the opening chorus of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The very sound of it evokes deep emotion, as music paints a picture of something beyond suffering. It is the willingness of love to embrace suffering, to own it, and in so doing to give the great gift of charity. It is our sorrow at Christ’s pain and death, but a sorrow of gratitude producing in us the love we could not have without His sorrow, His gift to us. The heart of the drama, as Bach put it into music, as Grunewold painted it, as countless poets have hymned it, and as Mel Gibson put it on the screen, is not the drama of a tragic figure whose life is wrongly taken in a Kafkaesque trial, a mockery of justice. It is the drama of the One Who loved us unto death, and gave that life which no man could take from Him.

This strikes us in our hearts and moves us to love Him, and it awakens our consciences from their slumber. Not because we feel guilty, though it is popular to say that our sins crucified Him. But in truth, our sins had no power over Him. In answer to the question, "Why did He have to suffer and die?" we answer that He had to have done nothing. Indeed, He owed us nothing. He did not die because He had to, or because we made Him do so. Pilate had no power over Him, the priests and Sanhedrin had no power over Him, the soldiers of Rome who beat, mocked and crucified Him, had no power over Him.

Hear the words Christ had spoken a while before ascending to Jerusalem:
"Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father (John 10: 17, 18)."

Remember, as we will read on Friday the Gospel of John, that when they came to arrest Him, they all fell backward, and could not stand up until He spoke again and allowed them to do so. And, as St. Matthew tells us, He spoke these words to Peter:

"Put up thy sword into his place...thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be (Mat. 26: 53, 54)?"

The One Who prayed in the Garden, "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt" and said "greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends" would show greater love than is possible for human strength, as He would die for His friends and His enemies. "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8)." He set His face as a flint; His face was set toward Jerusalem. No man could make Him go there; no man could send Him to the cross.

So our consciences are stricken, and our hearts afflicted, by something more profound than guilt; we are brought low, and moved, by this true drama, to gratitude, to give thanks with tears, moved to love, all of which restores to us hope, and faith, and charity for all. Our consciences are cleansed by His death, and made new. They are made active, they stir to holy living. No longer is our life a matter of rules for the sake of rules, laws for the sake of laws. The Law is written on our hearts by the Holy Ghost along with the deepest recognition that we could not give enough thanks to our Redeemer had we a thousand tongues to sing, and that we will never stop giving thanks for eternity, unto ages of ages, or world without end. It is now personal. "We love Him because He first loved us."

We are moved beyond the power of words to tell, not because the cross of Christ makes us guilty in forcing Him to bear our sins; but, rather, because the cross removes our guilt, we are moved to gratitude and to love. It is because He bore our sins in His body on the Tree. "He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bare the sin of the many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Isa. 53: 12)." This was the Divine plan, about which we had no say, in which we had no input. Like life itself, it is the free gift of the Triune God to creatures dependent upon His grace, grace to live, and now grace to be restored to His favor. Think upon the words we have read from that famous passage of St. Paul to the Philippians, that He "was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

What can that mean if not that the death of the cross was the Divine plan? This is a profound mystery. We can understand the principle that the death of the One Who was without sin, Who never deserved the wages of sin, reverses death and brings eternal life. That His death is, therefore, the sacrifice offered to God by the Righteous One of Himself for all sinners is plain enough as a theological principle, and is itself demonstration of the love of God for the fallen children of Adam. But, the death of the cross, the death of severe pain and humiliation, involving the worst physical suffering man can feel, coupled with all of the shame and torment of cruel mocking and scourging. Why was this the Divine plan? What does each stripe mean? What means the piercing of thorns and nails, the contempt and anger, the beating over the head with a reed? Why the derision of heartless enemies added to the pain of crucifixion? What is all of this about?

The answer, as is written in the First Epistle of Saint Peter, is that He “bore our own sins in His body on the tree.” We are proud, are we not, of our minds? Can we not out think all creatures on earth? But, how does God view the vain and selfish use of our minds? He crowns our proud intellects with thorns. We are proud, are we not, of the work of our hands? Have we not made things greater than the Tower of Babel itself? But, what thinks the righteous God of the selfishness with which we labor? Our hands deserve the piercing of nails. We are proud, are we not, of how we walk before God and men? We suppose that we are not like other men, and are just humble enough to render proud thanks as we pray thus to ourselves, "God, I thank thee." But, in the eyes of God our own standard of righteousness tends to self-flattery. What says He of our walk, but that nails should be driven through our feet?

But, I think I only scratch the surface of this mystery. Certainly, nothing that happened to the Son of God was an accident. He allowed it all, so it all has meaning, and the mystery is more profound than I can say, of what it means that "He bore our own sins in His body on the tree." The cross shows us the Divine sentence upon our sins, and yet, remember, that we had no power to crucify Him.

On this Palm Sunday, let us look at the determination with which He fulfilled His mission. Nothing could keep Him from the purpose for which He came as a Man, and took upon Himself our nature. In the movie The Passion of the Christ, the "bad" thief, the one who does not fear God even while dying, is filled with anger at the sight of the Lord embracing His cross. "Fool!" he yells, "Why do you embrace your cross?!" Christ entered Jerusalem, unmoved by the praise of the crowds, for He had not come to be their King, not yet. He had come to be priest and sacrifice. The great drama of this coming week, the drama Bach expressed so powerfully through music, the drama we feel this day, and which will break our hearts on Thursday night and Friday, is the drama of His love, which produces our love, our thanks; and that afflicts our hearts with both pain and comfort at once. We, though undeserving, are loved.


Friday, March 30, 2007

The Collect: Palm Sunday

The Prayer, Latin

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui humano generi ad imitandum humilitatis exemplum, Salvatorem nostrum carnem sumere, et crucem subire fecisti: concede propitius; ut et patientiae ipsius habere documenta, et resurrectionis consortia mereamur.

The Prayer, since 1662 (slightly altered from 1549)

Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love toward mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility; Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.


Cranmer preserved the ancient prayer from the Sarum Missal, originally from the fifth century Gelasian Sacramentary. It may be noted that he did rearrange clauses in his translation, in order to make better English of it, but without disturbing the content at all. The result is a singularly happy combination of rich content and truly satisfying form.

It should be noted that, though the day is called Palm Sunday, the entry to Jerusalem and the palms are mentioned only in the traditional introductory ceremonies, used in part or in full in most of our churches, and that the Mass itself does not mention the entry nor the palms, either in the prayers or in the readings. The Mass is very strictly of the Passion of Our Lord.


“So God loved the world
that he gave his only-begotten Son …”

Salvation begins in the heart of God.
Before the very foundation of the world,
before the first sin has been committed,
before you and I are born,
or even dreamed of upon this earth,
he loves us with an everlasting love.
Out of that love he determines, before the need arises,
to speak the everlasting Word
. . into the body of a teenage girl
brought out in due time from her own mother’s womb.
The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.
He is our God and He is our Brother
. . and He takes the weight of our sins upon Him,
and with them is nailed to the Holy Cross,
. . and with them is put to death.

O what love!
O what humility!
that He should give Himself whole and entire
. . for those who have denied Him!
that He should willingly taste the penalty
. . that we have earned!
Who crucified Him?
I crucified Him,
and He yet loves me.

May we be filled with His heart.
May we be transformed into His image.
May His love flow through us and
. . from us into this suffering world.
May our mind be as His,
. . and His humility lived out within us.
May we follow Him in His death and in his rising
to the fullness of life
. . both here and in the world to come.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Two or Seven Sacraments?

Anglicans of various backgrounds have for quite a while argued over whether we have two sacraments or seven. I might as well be very up front and say that the argument for two sacraments gets us into the realm of the ridiculous, the theatre of the absurd. Furthermore, if I am wrong about the meaning of Article 25 then the Article is wrong, and that is because it would contradict Scripture and Right Reason beyond any doubt, as I shall demonstrate. If I am right about the Article itself, well then, Anglicanism did not err. However, we do not have to live with the meaning of all the Articles, only with what they say. That’s good, because they were meant to be unintelligible to the point where that deliberately vague quality could prevent civil war.

Now, why does the argument for two sacraments take us into the theatre of the absurd? And should I dare to be so bold as to risk causing offense? First of all, we must define what a sacrament is. It is a means of grace that is charismatic in nature, and therefore depends upon the Holy Spirit. In a sacrament it is God who works through the material world by making use of the Form, Matter and Intention provided to the Church. The Bible never comes out and says this. Instead it simply demonstrates that God has always worked this way, not only in the New Testament, but as far back as the Book of Genesis. (When Saint Paul described marriage as a mystery in Eph. 5:32, he took all the air out of the low Church room, since he called it a musterion.)

According to the Low Church view, the way that the Catechism sheds light on this is by adding to the definition of the word "sacrament" the stipulation that, to be a sacrament, a charismatic work of God by means of Form, Matter and Intention through the Church must also be “generally necessary for salvation.” Really, that was a new twist, assuming that it was ever meant that way at all. So, even with the Bible demonstrating the very real charismatic nature of 1) ordination (II Tim. 1:6), 2) the anointing (James 5:14f), 3) absolution (John 20: 23), 4) confirmation (Acts 8: 17, 18), and 5) marriage (Eph. 5: 32- think about it, just think about it- musterion), we cannot call them sacraments any more because, in the 16th Century, somebody decided arbitrarily to change the definition, to add a new meaning to an old word without universal consent? Yes, that is ridiculous and absurd. To say that we do not have seven sacraments is to contradict what the Bible says, even if it were, somehow, “authentic Anglicanism.”

As for the rest of what the Article says (and what I said it said) about Communion, it is simply a fact of history that the English Reformers wanted very much to correct the practice of “hearing” Mass without receiving the sacrament. Why should it be a strange thing and a wonder that I am aware of this when reading about the purpose of the sacrament in Article 25?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Good Counsel

Look well to this day. For it is life, the very best of life. In its brief course lie all the realities and truths of existence: the joy of growth, the splendour of action, the glory of power. For yesterday is but a memory and tomorrow is but a vision. But today, if well lived, makes every yesterday a memory of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well therefore to this day.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

O Ye Anglicans. What are ye Continuing?

The following is from Dr Peter Toon:

O Ye Anglicans. What are ye Continuing? A Request for Help.

Episcopalians (Anglicans) in North America are painfully aware of the fact that there have been, and continue to be, groups who leave The Episcopal Church because they believe it has ceased to be truly a Church of The Anglican Way.

Such exits began in the 19th century with those who formed the Reformed Episcopal Church, continued in the 1960s with those who left because of the Civil Rights commotions and other matters, further continued in the late 1970s with those who opposed women's ordination and radical reform of the Prayer Book, and even further continued with those who have left more recently over the new sexual agenda and trampling of biblical authority in this Church.

The result of all these secessions over a period of over a century is that there is a very mixed "Continuing Anglicanism" in North America.

It includes extreme Anglo-Catholics at one end and extreme Charismatic Evangelicals at the other, with many other varieties within the spectrum. It can be confusing to Anglicans abroad and at home.

It is usually easy to determine why each group, whether large or small, exited The Episcopal Church; but, it is more difficult to ascertain what it is that each group intends ands practically seeks to continue. Thus my question, Continuing What?

I think that exiting groups have given much more thought to why they leave then to what it is they wish to establish and propagate as "the true Anglican Way" in their separation. So much seems to depend in their separation on such matters as: when a group left the Episcopal Church; what form of churchmanship they practiced when they left; what kind of leadership they had and what kind of priests served them; how deep and wide had been the theological and liturgical experience of the group as a whole; what social and political affiliations they had; how The Episcopal Church is behaving and what the Archbishop of Canterbury is saying, and so on.

What I would like to do is to write a comprehensive essay in which I seek to state and to evaluate what it is that the growing number of "Continuing Anglican Groups" are looking to be and do. Maybe this is not possible but I think I ought to make an effort.

Precisely, what is it that each group is seeking to continue into the 21st century in terms of what was/is known in The Episcopal Church and in Anglicanism generally? And does this "what" include in the long term the hope of re-uniting with the Anglican Communion of Churches?

It may be that there is a greater harmony, amongst and between the thirty or more continuing groups, in mindset and intention than appears to sociological enquiry at the present, and if so I would like to discover what that basic harmony is—plus accurately report what it is that the Continuers are seeking to continue.

I ask for the help of the busy persons who run these groups! Please write to me at:


Friday, March 23, 2007

The Collect - Lent V

The Prayer

From the Roman Breviary

Quæsumus, omnípotens Deus, famíliam tuam propítius réspice : ut, te largiénte, regátur in córpore ; et, te servante, custodiátur in mente. Per Dóminum.

We beseech thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy family: that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul. Through.

From the 1549 Prayer book

WE beseche thee, almyghtie God, mercifullye to looke upon thy people; that by thy greate goodnesse they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soule; through Jesus Christe our Lorde.

The Commentary

Again Cranmer, the Roman Breviary and the Sarum Missal coincide, though there is an interesting and subtle variant of the word "famíliam" being translated as "people" by Cranmer. In today's vernacular, Cranmer's collect seems to be rendered less personal than perhaps intended. Are we not a family in God?

The Reflection

Why is it that we keep asking God "mercifully to look upon" us. Doesn't He do this automatically? He's omniscient isn't He?

Indeed so, but in giving us the space to be ourselves He also opens Himself up to being pushed away, and we do this every time we sin. Just as Adam and Eve's nakedness was covered up in fur, so the shame of our deeds could act as a barrier to the loving oversight of the Lord.

It is often when we find our preservation threatened that we realise that the Lord's episcopacy -- His oversight -- is precisely what we need, so in praying for God to look upon us (especially in His mercy) we are praying for us to become transparent once more, shedding the layer of shame with which we try to shut God out. It is only by accepting both His overisght and His governance that we will find ourselves eternally preserved. What could be better for us?

Jonathan Munn

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Critique of the Anglican Federation

I share the following with you, posted by Fr Chad Jones of the Anglican Province of America. It is his response to an op-ed piece written in The Trinitarian, the magazine of the Anglican Catholic Church, by ACC Archbishop Mark Haverland. In it, the archbishop calls into question the Anglican bona fides of various members of the newly formed Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas

I must say that I have been mildly troubled by FACA, because of its inclusion in its membership of jurisdictions whose orders are open to question (the Reformed Episcopal Church) or who purport to ordain women (the Anglican Mission in America and the Anglican Church of Nigeria). On the other hand, I have wondered if the federation might not serve as a useful forum for thrashing out these issues in a way that could lead to mutual agreement and recognition, and contribute to the goal of unity among traditional Anglicans in the fullness of the Catholic Faith.

As discussion is already underway at Fr Jones' blog, Philorthodox and at Fr Gordon Anderson's The Continuing Anglican Churchman, I would suggest continuing the conversation there.

Here is Fr Jones' comment, followed by Archbishop Haverland's piece:

A new epithet has been invented by some of our brothers in the Continuing Church to describe those orthodox Anglicans who are seeking to restore communicatio in sacris and practical cooperation amongst all who profess and embody the Anglican Tradition: neo-Anglicans. In the most recent edition of the The Trinitarian, Archbishop Mark Haverland of the Anglican Catholic Church issues a sharp criticism of the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas and its efforts to forge a new realignment in American Anglicanism. In the op-ed piece we 'Neo-Anglicans' are clearly implied to be the very antithesis of what we claim we are, orthodox Anglicans who maintain the fullness of the Apostolic Tradition. Why? Because of our sacramental relationship with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Mission in America. Does our communion with these bodies render us innovators, un-Anglican and un-Catholic?

The Archbishop does not mention the 1941 Report of the Joint Commission on Approaches to Unity of the Episcopal Church led by the Anglo-Catholic Bishop Frank Wilson of Eau Claire, certainly held in the days of orthodoxy, which, taking into consideration the record of the 1888 Lambeth Conference, declares Reformed Episcopal Orders valid. Heresy, even regarding Apostolic Succession, does not invalidate Holy Orders, or so say Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Robert Bellarmine, to mention a few authoritative names. The 1941 Report unequivocally asserts: 'The Historic Episcopate has been preserved in the Reformed Episcopal Church and the episcopal succession has been carefully maintained from this beginning' and 'Therefore it is now proposed that the Statement to the Lambeth Conference of 1888 should be considered as a significant document of an earlier generation but with no current authority and that it should not be allowed to stand in the way of negotiations looking toward the healing of this particular schism.' In 1960, in the days of its orthodoxy, the Church of England published the findings of its Faith and Order Advisory Group (FOAG) which stated: 'It is clear that the orders of this Church [REC] derive from an Anglican bishop; and that its bishops have been consecrated in due succession and its priests ordained with the use of the Anglican Ordinal, though in a slightly altered form. We cannot regard these alterations as being in themselves sufficient to call into question the validity of the ministry.'

Archbishop Haverland also does not mention the critical fact for this discussion that the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), perhaps for the first time in Anglican history, has reversed its previous position and as of July 2003 has ceased to purport to ordain women to the priesthood and episcopate. The Anglican Province of America consistently and repeatedly affirms the male character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and sees in AMiA's decision a vitally-important first step back to Apostolic Faith and Order. God willing, the AMiA will in time come to embrace a fully catholic doctrine of the diaconate as well as of the priesthood and episcopate. A shared common doctrine of the sacerdotium has indeed finally enabled our Churches to restore sacramental communion, a precedent that should be encouraged for the whole Universal Church. It should also be noted that a dispute over the male character of the diaconate could be allowed, if pressed, to affect any jurisdiction's relationship with Forward in Faith United Kingdom, Forward in Faith North America and the majority of Anglo-Catholic dioceses and parishes worldwide. Most Anglo-Catholics have not allowed the dispute to be a church-dividing impediment.

What do you think? Do you agree with the Anglican Catholic Church on this issue?

Be wary of 'Neo-Anglicans' by the Most Reverend Mark Haverland:

Father Lawrence Wells in Orange Park, Fla. has coined a term that I am recommending widely: "neo-Anglican." I continue to be asked why the ACC is not uniting with the folk currently leaving The Episcopal Church. The answer is that we can only unite with people who believe as we do about important matters of doctrine, worship, morals and order. Many people who joined The Episcopal Church in the 1980s and 1990s have had little or no expo­sure to the Anglican tradition. For such people the Affirmation of St. Louis and the ACC are not particularly attractive. Such folk are neo-Anglicans, with no commitment to the classical Prayer Books, the male character of Holy Orders, or the Anglican musical and literary patrimony. Canon John Hollister recently made a similar point about the "Anglican Federation of Churches and Ministries" (, which is composed of the Anglican Church in America, the Anglican Mission in America, the Episcopal Missionary Church, the Anglican Province in America (sic), and the Reformed Episcopal Church. These various groups are by their federa­tion articles committed to receiving members from each other upon the mere presentation of Letters Dimissory. Canon Hollister has trenchant­ly observed that therefore each of these AFCM bodies has formally recognized the validity of the ministry of each of the other. Which is "neo-Anglican," not Anglican. The Lambeth Conferences in the days of their orthodoxy refused to recognize the ordinations of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which began with an explicit rejection of Apostolic Succession. Likewise the AMiA has women deacons, has "grandfathered" (or "grandmothered") in women already "ordained" as priests, and is under the oversight of an African Anglican Church which has women priests. All of the AFCM bodies have, therefore, effectively asserted that the ordination of women is NOT an essential bar to full communion and that the classical Anglican position on the REC is wrong. But these assertions are neither Catholic nor Anglican; only neo-Anglican.

Let me make clear that the ACC and I are not seeking to be separated from others. We desire the highest possible level of cooperation and communion. But the whole point of the formation of the ACC in the late 1970s was to assert that the creation of a new ministry (women priests) by The Episcopal Church was itself an essential error that demanded separation. Union of the ACC with people who accept that essential error on any level would be utterly disastrous. While I am alive—and I think I may speak for my episcopal colleagues in the ACC—the ACC will not infect itself with the disease we have purged ourselves of at great cost. "Unity" can come only when the AFCM, its member bodies, and similar groups, realize that the Faith is a seamless whole. We can­not pull out one thread without raveling the whole garment. The road from women deacons to Gene Robinson and Presiding Bishop Mrs. Schori is direct and short, and the happy coalition builders who are obscuring and compromising at the beginning of their enterprises will come quickly to grief.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Collect - Lent IV

The Prayer

We beseech thee, almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people, that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Commentary

This is one of the collects that Cranmer translated from the Gregorian sacramentary.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent is traditionally known as Laetare Sunday, from the first word of the introit for this day:

Laetare Ierusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae.

(Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts. See Isaiah 66:10-11)

This, courtesy of the Catholic Encyclopaedia: "During the first six or seven centuries the season of Lent commenced on the Sunday following Quinquagesima, and thus comprised only thirty-six fasting days. To these were afterwards added the four days preceding the first Sunday, in order to make up the forty days' fast, and one of the earliest liturgical notices of these extra days occurs in the special Gospels assigned to them in a Toulon manuscript of 714. Strictly speaking, the Thursday before Laetare Sunday is the middle day of Lent, and it was at one time observed as such, but afterwards the special signs of joy permitted on this day, intended to encourage the faithful in their course through the season of penance, were transferred to the Sunday following. They consist of (like those of Gaudete Sunday in Advent) in the use of flowers on the altar, and of the organ at Mass and Vespers; rose-coloured vestments also allowed instead of purple, and the deacon and subdeacon wear dalmatics, instead of folded chasubles as on the other Sundays of Lent. The contrast between Laetare and the other Sundays is thus emphasized, and is emblematical of the joys of this life, restrained rejoicing mingled with a certain amount of sadness. Other names applied to it were Refreshment Sunday, or the Sunday of the Five Loaves, from a miracle recorded in the Gospel; Mid-Lent, mi-carême, or mediana; and Mothering Sunday, in allusion to the Epistle, which indicates our right to be called the sons of God as the source of all our joy, and also because formerly the faithful used to make their offerings in the cathedral or mother-church on this day. This latter name is still kept up in some remote parts of England, though the reason for it has ceased to exist."

The Reflection

Being one of the more terse collects in the church year, this one does not lend itself easily to profound meditation. Yet it still contains a message of which we need to be reminded: it is God in whom we live, and move and have our being. Our preservation, a gift from Him, flows out of our being governed by Him, and whenever we allow our passions to reign, we banish Him ... and His saving power.

Albion Land

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sacramentum Caritatis

Herewith the text of Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist as the source and summit of the church's life and mission.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Moving Testimony

A lively discussion is underway at Stand Firm in Faith over fears that gay activists, self-styled "Rainbow Warriors" may seek to disrupt the Easter Eucharist of an Episcopal parish wearing rainbow sashes or other insignia.

Fr Matt Kennedy, who began the discussion on the assumption that his parish might be the target, has the following to say: "The display represents an attempt to abuse the Lord's table for political gain and public notoriety. If permitted it will cause great injury to their own souls and to the Body of Christ. As ordained ministers of the gospel and pastors of a flock it is, in my opinion, our duty to prevent this abuse."

In it, he suggests what he considers as "perhaps the best way of handling such an eventuality both for those enslaved by the sin of homosexual behavior and those who enable their enslavement, not to mention the congregation at large."

What Fr Kennedy says has raised a host of questions on the nature of sin and of redemption, on the nature of the Blessed Sacrament and how it is to be administered and received and on pastoral ministry. I commend the thread to you, particularly to those of you who are clergy.

But what I want to focus on here is the testimony of a man who identifies himself by the monicker Episcopalienated, which was posted as a comment on Fr Kennedy's thread about "Rainbow Warriors." He is a homosexual who has embraced Christ and the Church's teaching on the sinfulness of sexual activity outside the marriage of a man and a woman.

I asked Episcopalienated for permission to post his testimony on The Continuum, and he has most graciously given that permission. It is a truly moving and inspirational witness to the power of faith and of spiritual discipline.

Before I share it, though, I want to say that I asked his permission with a bit of trepidation. I feared for some uncertain reason that he might decline because this blog represents the continuing movement and that he might not be inclined to feel sympathy towards us.

So first, I publish his permission.

Albion, you are certainly free to post my testimony on your blog and I am honored by your request. I did check out your website and initially got your version of APA (Anglican Parishes Association) mixed up with the Anglican Province of America. I mention that because one of their parishes is just down the road from me. I have never visited there and I must confess that I have always been a bit leery of “continuers,” but perhaps that is an irrational prejudice on my part which I need to overcome.

As you read what Episcopalienated has to say, I ask all of you who are continuers to ask yourself that question: Is his prejudice an irrational one?

Here is what he says:

Before I became a Christian, I understood perfectly well that there was one Biblical standard for human sexuality: that of lifelong, faithful, heterosexual monogamy. No exceptions! As a sexually active gay male, that was one of the best reasons I had for not wanting to be one (a Christian, that is). The Church was honest with me, and I was more than happy to return the favor.

After my conversion to Christ, my understanding remained fully intact and I knew what was expected of me. In order to be faithful to Our Lord and the demands of the Christian faith, active participation in a gay lifestyle had to go, and so it did. I have been practicing sexual abstinence for fifteen years now and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It may seem strange to many, but I have actually come to find it quite liberating.

Having said that, let me add that I still don’t have a “straight” bone in my body. Although I have participated, to my tremendous benefit, in so-called “ex gay” ministries and counseling, I never pursued reparative therapy or imagined that becoming a heterosexual was something that God had in mind for my life. To be sure, celibacy isn’t for everyone, and I am very happy for those who have gone on to achieve the necessary healing in their lives which has enabled them to become Christian husbands and fathers (and yes, God be praised, that does happen!), but I do not envy them, or feel particularly deficient because I am unable to follow their example. I have developed a real sense that God is calling upon me to be faithful at all times, but not necessarily “successful,” where heterosexuality in itself is the norm by which such success is measured.

Perhaps I am one of those people who discovered, upon becoming “a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,” that this was simply a vocation to which God would have eventually called me in any case, regardless of my sexual orientation. As scripture says, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Amen! I may never know the tremendous joy, or bear the awesome responsibility, of being a husband or a father, but I do know what it would mean if I abandoned my commitment to chastity and returned to active involvement in a homosexual lifestyle, “monogamously partnered” or otherwise: the effective renunciation of my faith in Christ and a willing involvement in mortal sin. It would be both spiritually and intellectually dishonest for me to pretend otherwise.

God loves us all very much, exactly as we are, and the Christian life is one of joy, celebration, and fulfillment. But I think the call to conversion is also an invitation to place ourselves, our very lives, between the hammer and the anvil as God undertakes the serious business of forging us into new creatures in Christ, to the extent that we will allow Him to do so. There is a real sense in which we simply must “count the cost” of discipleship if we are to become Christians at all. (And I have tremendous respect for the honest pagan who says, “No, I simply cannot believe any of this, and I am not prepared to live this way.” Such persons can be safely entrusted to the “Hound of Heaven.” I am confident that He too appreciates their honesty, and manages to catch up with quite a few of them!) We are always free to decide for ourselves that the cost is too great, but we are never free to decide on our own just what that cost is going to be. Ultimately, we must accept it upon God’s terms or not at all. He seems to want all of us, all that we are, and all that we have, and, unless we turn Him away, He simply will not settle for anything less. Our sexuality doesn’t change a thing.

As I struggle with temptation, and against any residual tendencies towards despair and resignation (and I do again and again), I am always drawn to the words of St. Peter to Our Lord: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” To whom else, indeed? And so for me, the journey of faith, and the challenge of faithfulness, continues.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Lent III

Deut. 6:1-9, 20-25,
Psalm 25, Eph. 5:1-14,
Luke 11:14-28

The collect today speaks of God being “the defence against our enemies”. What is meant by the use of the word enemies? Classically, Christians have known there are three enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil.

The image we are given in the Gospel reading, that of the strong man being overcome by One even stronger than he, was vividly portrayed for us in the news a few years ago. If I may take the liberty of casting Saddam Hussein in the role of the devil (without fear of contradiction); this is a man who had ruled over his conquered subjects, and sat secure on his stockpile of wealth, overcome by superior strength.

So too, the devil has dominated the world, and subjected mankind to his will since the fall. But, when Christ came into the world, He overcame the strong man and spoiled his goods. However, we have yet to see our complete liberation, which will be at Christ’s second coming. At that time even death itself will be destroyed. What we are told is that we who belong to Christ have been set free from the domination of Satan, but that for now our freedom must be completed by enduring a battle. This battle is a defensive fight against the world, the flesh and the devil.

There is also an offensive fight, one in which the Church attacks, and Satan is forced to be on the defensive. That is another subject, the subject of mission, of evangelism.

To answer the most confusing question, what is the world; that is in the sense in which it is an enemy? St. John tells us to love not the world, nor to love the things in it: Those things are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. The world is defined also in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, which we hear often. Speaking of Christ it says : “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” That verse tells of a great tragedy, namely the fall of man into sin and death, the state from which Christ redeems us. Because man is the head of this created order, his fall is the fall of the whole world. And the definition of “the world” as an enemy, a force that opposes us as Christians trying to live a holy life, is in these words: “the world knew Him not.” The world does not know Christ.

To attack us, the world makes use of our flesh, assaulting us with desires of the flesh, and of the eyes, and with that deadly sin of pride, whereby we place ourselves upon the throne of God. Imagining ourselves upon His throne, in our conceits, we demand and expect a life to which we are not entitled; we think it an injustice when life is not kind to us. We forget that if justice were served, we would be in hell; that what evils befall us are less than we deserve. We forget to be thankful, and instead complain against God. We refuse, indeed despise, the cross.

This is what the world, acting as our enemy, does to us through our senses and through our conceits. It is to this that St. Paul speaks in the Epistle reading. And he does so with direct words about the dangers that surround us, as well as those that come from within our own hearts. Yet all the while he does so with words that give us hope. That hope is because of the fact that we ourselves, though once a part of the very darkness of sin and death itself, are now part of the light of life, being, as we are, in Christ.

And, we are given practical help in the Old Testament commandment from Deuteronomy, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This commandment contains the most revered statement in Jewish liturgy, the Sh’mai:

Adonai Elehenu, Adonai echod Sh’mai Israel.
“Hear O’ Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

Sh’mai is a very important word in Hebrew. It means two things when translated into English. Depending upon how it is used, it translates as “hear” or as “obey.” The first thing to obey is the great commandment itself. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Of course, because of the full meaning of the word “soul”, it is no liberty for our Lord to have also used the word “mind.”

This is practical, very practical. Consider this simple fact. None of us here will be sinless, that is free of the full dangers and lures of concupiscence, until we are made perfect either after death or at Christ’s coming- whichever come first. We remain in need of God’s grace in every effort in life. We will not achieve sinless perfection in this life. But, we can, nonetheless, practice obedience. And obedience, though it includes saying “no to worldly desires”, that is that it has its no, because of God’s commandments that use the phrase “thou shalt not”, has, as well, it’s “yes”. Obedience says both “yes” and “no”. No, to the world, no to the flesh, no to the devil. But, all of these “nos” amount to a far greater and single “yes” to God. And that yes is a yes to many things. To love, to prayer, to fasting and repentance, and also to the taking up of the cross. The yes to the taking up of the cross is the no to the world, the flesh and the devil. It is the great yes of love to God.

Jesus did not carry the cross only upon one Friday. He carried it every day, living always to do the Father’s will rather than His own. We say no to the world and yes to God when we give our time to Him, when we give our strength to Him, instead of wasting it upon many pleasure and cares. The world will drain all of our strength, if we give ourselves to every fruitless activity that comes along; or if we destroy our bodies-which are God’s- through drugs, alcohol or immorality, or even through seemingly innocent things. Some people are inordinate about, for example, shopping (I have heard some women use the phrase “shop till you drop”). Our strength must be yielded to God in love, not wasted and spent foolishly.

What does it mean to love God with all thy mind? In the Grocery stores, I cannot cease to be amazed at how much paper and ink are wasted by tabloids that report news, or perhaps create fiction, or perhaps a combination of the two, about the private lives of celebrities. Frankly, I have more sympathy for people who read the silly one about space aliens that advise presidential candidates every four years, than the ones who read the “news” about T.V. and movie stars, because at least they must have a sense of humor.

Who cares about some movies star’s weight problems, or a soap star’s broken marriage? And, who wants to read about their sex lives, their affairs? If we love God, we must give Him our time, our strength, and our minds. If Christians are wasting time on this trash, it is a sin. In addition to wasting time, it wastes the mind. Remember the slogan of the United Negro College Fund: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Especially true since we owe God the love of giving Him our minds. When some people use the word “theology” as if it were a dirty word, it tells me that they are afraid to love God with their minds, and in fact that they despise those who try to so love Him. Remember a collect from Advent. Love God and give your mind to Him as you “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the scriptures.

And, the Lesson from Deuteronomy also tells us to teach our children, to inform their minds in the truth of God’s word. Those who want their children to decide it all for themselves, to come to their own conclusions about religion, are sinning. The scriptures do not give parents the right to neglect the spiritual formation and education of your children. As I said before, the modern idea that the children should figure it all our for themselves is not an enlightened idea. Failure to teach them the true Faith is a sin. They must be taught God’s word and raised in the Church; for having had them baptized, Christian parents have brought them out of Satan’s bondage into Christ’s kingdom; they do not belong to their parents, nor to themselves. They are God’s children, and parents are entrusted with their care and their godly upbringing. Furthermore, not just that they are taught in any church; but that what they are taught is the truth of God’s word.

We must, with God’s grace by His Holy Spirit, withstand the three enemies, because we belong, body, soul and strength, to God.

The word that fits here is the word “asceticism.” Now, if we want to be good American Protestants, we must react negatively to this word. We must conjure up images of sleeping on desert sands, fasting until we look like skeletons, perhaps of sleeping like Hindus upon a bed of nails. The negative reaction must include a bigoted rejection of the whole monastic life.

But, as followers of the Catholic Tradition, especially the English Catholic Tradition, the word “asceticism” must be understood in a practical way. We say “no” to those things that inhibit prayer and the growth of the virtues, not simply to obvious and gross sin. For example, I hope no one here fits the normal American pattern of watching six hours of T.V. a day every day. I hope that your “yes” to God’s call upon your time for prayer, for your mind in learning His word, and for serving Him in whatever good works He prepares for you to walk in, simply does not leave you with enough time for inordinate and intemperate, though seemingly innocent, mis-use of time.

This practical saying of “yes” to God, and taking up the cross of Christ, dying to our desires, withstanding the world, the flesh and the devil, is true Christian asceticism. It is also to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and strength. It is to clutter our lives with the presence of the Holy Spirit so fully that the evil one can have no place in us to call home.

Let us learn it in Lent. Let us live it always.

The Collect: Lent III

The Prayer

WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


This collect was translated by Cranmer from the Latin in the Sarum Missal, which had it from the Gregorian Sacramentary (6th century)


Many are the needs of our daily lives,
strong the desires of our hearts,
many the hungers, grievous the thirsts,
empty the starving souls,
We lay down before thee our every care,
spread out upon the altar,
surrounded by forces that call us to sin,
opposed at our every turn,
and here we are kneeling, watching and waiting
for thy hand with its mercy and might,
for thy touch and thy help, thy feeding and strength,
‘gainst enemies outside and in,
‘gainst sin’s condemning dark night.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Beautiful Wrath of God

This Lenten meditation/poem is a bit long and I didn't want to fill this column up. So I've finally made use of the blog I was assigned when I signed up to Blogger. Read it there.

ed pacht

The Point of Intersection

If you are not visiting Lent & Beyond daily during this penitential season, take this opportunity to start. The following is courtesy of my dear friends there:

The infinity of space and time separates us from God. How are we to seek for him? How are we to go toward him? Even if we were to walk for hundreds of years, we should do no more than go round and round the world. Even in an airplane we could not do anything else. We are incapable of progressing vertically. We cannot take a step toward the heavens. God crosses the universe and comes to us.

Over the infinity of space and time, the infinitely more infinite love of God comes to possess us. He comes at his own time. We have the power to consent or refuse. If we remain deaf, he comes back again and again like a beggar, but also, like a beggar, one day he stops coming. If we consent, God puts a little seed in us and he goes away again. From that moment, God has no more to do; neither have we, except to wait. We only have not to regret the consent we gave him, the nuptial yes. It is not as easy as it seems, for the growth of the seed within us is painful. Moreover, from the very fact that we accept this growth, we cannot avoid destroying whatever gets in its way, pulling up the weeds, cutting the good grass, and unfortunately the good grass is part of our very own flesh, so this gardening amounts to a violent operation. On the whole, however, the seed grows of itself. A day comes when the soul belongs to God, when it not only consents to love but when truly and effectively it loves. Then in its turn it must cross the universe to go to God. The soul does not love like a creature with created love. The love within it is divine, uncreated; for it is the love of God for God that is passing through it. God alone is capable of loving God. We can only consent to give up our own feelings so as to allow free passage in our soul for this love. That is the meaning of denying oneself. We are created for this consent, and for this alone.

Divine Love crossed the infinity of space and time to come from God to us. But how can it repeat the journey in the opposite direction, starting from a finite creature? When the seed of Divine Love placed in us has grown and become a tree, how can we, who bear it, take it back to its origin? How can we repeat the journey made by God when he came to us, in the opposite direction? How can we cross infinite distance?

It seems impossible, but there is a way—a way with which we are familiar. We know quite well in what likeness this tree is made, this tree that has grown within us, the most beautiful tree where the birds of the air come and perch. We know what is the most beautiful of all trees. “No forest bears its equal.” Something still a little more frightening than a gibbet—that is the most beautiful of all trees. It was the seed of this tree that God placed within us, without our knowing what seed it was. If we had known, we should not have said yes at the first moment. It is this tree that has grown within us and become ineradicable. Only a betrayal could uproot it.

When we hit a nail with a hammer, the whole of the shock received by the large head of the nail passes into the point without any of it being lost, although it is only a point. If the hammer and the head of the nail were infinitely big, it would be just the same. The point of the nail would transmit this infinite shock at the point to which it was applied….

He whose soul remains ever turned toward God though the nail pierces it finds himself nailed to the very center of the universe. It is the true center; it is not in the middle; it is beyond space and time; it is God. In a dimension that does not belong to space, that is not time, that is indeed quite a different dimension, this nail has pierced cleanly through all creation, through the thickness of the screen separating the soul from God.

In this marvelous dimension, the soul, without leaving the place and the instant where the body to which it is united is situated, can cross the totality of space and time and come into the very presence of God.

It is at the intersection of creation and its Creator. This point of intersection is the point of intersection of the arms of the Cross.

Simone Weil

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Collect - Lent II

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Commentary and Meditation

This collect has remained virtually identical throughout the history of the Prayer Book and its revisions, and was originally translated from the Sarum Missal's collect. When I discovered this last fact in a very old copy of The Teacher's Prayer Book, I was surprised. You see, this is yet another collect with a strongly Augustinian theme, so I had expected it to be a basically Cranmerian composition. The discovery that it wasn't served as a useful reminder that St Augustine's strong emphasis on the priority and necessity of grace and the helplessness of the "natural" man was a common Western inheritance.

However, some may consider the first clause extreme and inaccurate -- even an example of Augustinian overkill. Are we really powerless to help ourselves? Before we rush to answer no or assume the use of hyperbole, we should note the qualifying words "of ourselves". Where does our power come from to repel temptations, the "evil thoughts" spoken of in the collect, for example? Does it not proceed first from God in his grace, his unmerited favour?

One might still question the claim of the collect because it refers to protecting the body as well. Surely, here at least we have some control, some "power of ourselves to help ourselves"? Perhaps to some extent we do, but even here we often overestimate how much say we have in what happens to us. So much of what happens to us is through circumstance, and very little of that circumstance is due to our plans or actions. So much must be left to Divine Providence in trust. More to the point, every ability we have is a gift from God. Nothing is really "of ourselves" in a radical sense.

Where does this leave our wills and works? They seem ignored by the collect. Yet the praying of the collect is itself a cooperation with God, an active request for God's grace. And our subsequent cooperation with the grace given, the goodness infused, is in fact seen as one result of that grace by theologians. God always acts first, but his work is not merely for us but in us, enabling us to be his "fellow workers" (1 Corinthians 3.9). That is why the Scriptures teach both that God is the one who keeps or protects us and that we must keep ourselves (e.g., Jude 21, 24).

Much ink has been spilt on the relationship between grace and human free will. In particular, theologians have considered the question of whether the human choice to obey God and embrace salvation is merely made possible by grace or whether it is the inevitable result of a grace that is "effectual" or irresistible. The Eastern Fathers, Molinists and Arminians have favoured the former position, St Augustine and his patristic followers, Thomists and Calvinists have favoured the latter. The best answer I have seen to this question is in a novel by C. S. Lewis, Perelandra. In it the hero, Ransom, realises God is asking him to physically defeat another man, Weston, who is possessed by the Devil. This demoniac has been attempting to deceive a Venusian Eve and his efforts at temptation have been relentless despite her gentle but persistent rebuffs. In addition, he has begun to bring the evil of physical cruelty to the innocent planet. Ransom faces a terrifying choice: risk hand-to-hand combat with the evil creature or be partly responsible for the corruption of a whole world through inaction. Here is an excerpt from the passage which describes his coming to a decision:

"[H]e knew -- almost as a historical proposition -- that it was going to be done. ... The whole struggle was over, and yet there seemed to have been no moment of victory. You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had been delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not, for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical. He could no longer see any meaning in the many arguments he had heard on this subject."

Friday, March 02, 2007

Lenten Silence

It is now the second Friday in Lent and, as is fitting, a peaceful silence has descended on The Continuum. I write simply to assure those of you who may be wondering, that I am well. I pray that the same can be said of Fathers Hart and Kirby and of Ed Pacht, none of whom have raised their heads above their breviaries in many days.

I, personally, shall be posting in only a limited fashion until Easter, and then only on subjects worthy of the season.

Meantime, there is little to say about myself. I am blessed to be living alone, and am taking the opportunity during Lent to shut myself up at home as often as possible in reflective silence. No television, and little music, and all of that sacred in character.

I have undertaken to be more steadfast in the saying of Morning and Evening Prayer and, when my often difficult work schedule permits, also say Compline before sleeping.

I have also resumed my long-faltering dedication to the most glorious Jesus Prayer.

For my reading, I am combining the purely sacred and the moderately profane. In the former instance, I am reading selections from the Philokalia and, in the latter, am working my way through the final three-quarters of The Brothers Karamazov.

Nothing more to say, except to wish you all an equally quiet and spiritually nourishing preparation for the Feast of the Resurrection.