Sunday, February 25, 2007

Amazing movie, how sweet the sound.

Late today I saw Amazing Grace, about the life of the British Anglican abolitionist William Wilberforce. The movie makes no secret of his Christianity, or of the influence in his life of John Newton. I recommend it, especially so for the education of children and youth.

Outline for a Biblical study related to the Gospel for Lent I

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
I Cor.10 :13

CP today’s Gospel (Matt. 4:1-11) to Gen 3:1-7 with the aid of I John 2:16 (in context)

Gen. 3: 1: Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2: And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4: And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6: And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7: And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

I John 2: 15: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16: For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17: And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Lust of the flesh > The tree was good for food > Stones into bread
Lust of the eyes > Pleasant to the eyes > The kingdoms of the world and their glory
Pride of Life > Desired to make one wise > Prove that you are the Son of God.

No matter who you are, and how much you have grown in the knowledge of God, you still walk in the midst of danger.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lent I 2006


Matt. 4:1f

Earlier this week, while driving, I heard a news report on the radio about a funeral for a family from Mesa that had been murdered. The only comforting thing in the story is that we live in an area of the country where these things are noticed by the larger community, instead of what I am used to from the news in Baltimore and Washington. In those towns the murder and the funeral would go largely unnoticed. As I listened to the report, the Pastor of the church where the funeral was taking place was offering a prayer about how hard it is to make sense of this terrible tragedy. But, thank God, he then went on to say that their purpose that day was not to make sense of it, but to know the love of God.

I cannot help but think, when I hear Christians trying so hard to make sense out of the evil in the world, that they need to read my younger brother’s second book, The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart. Because in that book he states the most liberating truth of all about the evils that happen so often in the world. Namely, that we should not try to make sense out of them. Christ did not come to make sense out of the evil in the world, neither to justify God against the charge that suffering and tragedy must indicate some kind of flaw, or lack of true goodness. Christ did not come to show that evil and woe, whether by human malice or natural disaster, fit a larger and higher purpose that is somehow necessary in God’s scheme of things. Indeed, he never suggests that it does. The Gospel for today shows that a time comes to resist temptations that are spiritual in nature; and the internal pressure to commit bad theodicy is one that I wish most clergymen would resist.

What Christ did in fact actually come to do, is told to us by Saint John: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the Devil (I John 3:8).” The cross of Christ made use of the evil that is done by violent men and unjust authorities; but it does not fit into a pattern that needs evil in order to balance the scales and make the universe work. On His cross He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In His resurrection he destroyed death. The liberating truth of the Gospel is not that God will make sense of evil and tragedy; but rather that Christ has won the victory against the senseless, meaningless condition of suffering and death, of sorrow and tragedy, that we experience while we live in this condition of being fallen, being made subject for the time being to pain in a world that knows death because it knows sin. The fact that we will die, and that life is, as the old saying goes, “this vale of sorrows,” that illness, poverty and disaster fall upon all sorts and conditions of men, will yield and give way at Christ’s coming again to the fullness of complete victory over every consequence of Adam’s Fall. Death will be no more, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Our hope is not that we will someday make sense of evil; Our hope is in the Living Christ Who was dead and is alive forevermore, who holds the keys of Hell and of death; Who will, when He returns in glory, destroy the last enemy- Death- and share with us the spoils of His conquest over the grave.

So, I cannot make sense of the murders in Mesa. I cannot make sense of the Holocaust, or the American Holocaust of millions of innocent babies murdered by abortion. And, as my brother’s book was dealing with quite directly, I cannot make sense of the Tsunami that killed so many people on December 26th of 2004. I am free to mourn, and to face sorrows, not because I believe they must make sense, but because I know that they make no sense, ultimately- even when they are used for good by Providence, as the selling of Joseph into Egypt, and the good use made of Christ’s cross. In my article for Touchstone, titled Her Mother’s Glory, I related the fact that my beloved adopted daughter was conceived by rape. After my wife’s courageous battle to have and to keep her daughter, against all the forces that were trying to pressure her to abort the child, I married Diane and adopted Hannah (who is now grown up and happily married). God alone is the Author of Life, even when something as hideous as rape has been committed; and no child is unworthy to see the light of day because of someone else’s sin. This is what I wrote about that:

“What if the Author of Life takes the opportunity to do good from someone’s evil? The injustice done to Joseph resulted in the saving of his life, and that of millions of people, foreshadowing the good done for the whole world by the unjust crucifixion of a young rabbi from Nazareth. It is ever the way of God to make good come from the evil that men do.”

Providence is always at work, and so, yes, God takes the evil that men do and turns it into good. This is not because He needs the evil; He is not dependent upon anything- certainly not evil. It is simply that He always wins, and His goodness cannot be deterred or overcome. When evil is as evil as it can be, God is still good and is also All-powerful, able to give life and to act by His eternal character of Love. As Joseph said, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive (Genesis 50:20).”

All of this relates to the last of the three temptations we read about today. The Devil tempted the Lord to enter right away into His kingdom and, as clichés go, to “make the world a better place.” The temptation was to avoid the cross, and to put an immediate end to the apparent problems of the world, but not to the real problem of the world. He could end hunger and poverty and injustice and make the world safe for Utopianism, and also avoid the suffering, humiliation and death that was an inherent part of Plan A, namely the cross.

Let us back up and take a good look at these three temptations. The scriptures tell us that our Lord Jesus Christ was “tempted in every point like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).” This can be misunderstood. He lived in the real world as a real man. But, even in His human nature He did not have the problem we have, namely that thing called concupiscence. His nature was not fallen; it was not deprived of the grace to live above “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (I John 2:16).” The point of the Gospel for today is not that we can follow His example and be perfect. We cannot. We are supposed to imitate Christ in His life of obedience to the Father’s will, of self-denial and of holiness. We also find, at the end of the day, that no day has gone by in which we have lived without sin by thought, word or deed. Not so Christ. He lived His entire life without sin, born of a virgin and having come into the world from above as its Lord.

The temptations about which we read in today’s Gospel are not the kind that most of us face. I have never been tempted to turn stones into bread, nor to leap off of a high pinnacle to dazzle a crowd as I land safely (not being the Son of God, and having nothing to prove). And, I have never been tempted to become the king of the whole world. I have been tempted to use what feeble powers I have to satisfy my flesh; I have been tempted to end or compromise my fasts (sometimes having yielded), but the temptation to turn stones to bread is something unique to Christ.

So, looking again at the third temptation, many people are tempted to “make the world a better place” by worshiping the Devil; or even if by worshiping some thing they give in to the Devil, the idolatry still serves his end. Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon worshiped themselves; Marx worshiped economic power as the only true force; Hitler worshiped racial purity; and many modern American Utopians worship some form of education or ideology. Even people who believe that the only hope for the world is to spread Democracy, must face what happened when the Palestinians elected the terror organization of Hamas to run their affairs. Democracy cannot work in a psychiatric ward.

Christ was tempted by the Devil to rule the world with perfect justice, and to end man’s outward troubles. But the real problem of the world is not ignorance and injustice; it is not inequity and woe, hunger and unequal distribution, or whatever evil you can name. Christ will rule the world with perfect justice when He comes again in glory; but first He took away sin and overcame death; just as the Old Testament first speaks of Messiah as the priest who offers sacrifice for sin, and only after that as the King. For, ultimately, all that really plagues us are those two things that are always connected: Sin and death. He came the first time as the Suffering Servant, and will return as the Lord of Glory.

And, He will not make sense of those things that plague us. He will take them away for ever, and wipe away the tears from off all faces.

And now, unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty dominion, power and glory, henceforth and forevermore. Amen.


A Lenten Series (VIII and Final)

On Thy Personal Sins

Recall and go over each and every one of thy sins both mortal and venial, o my soul. See the depths of thy sin and its frequency. Yea, from the dawn of reason down to this day, whether by outward senses or inward faculties their number cannot be counted, nor their malice estimated. Thou hast sinned by thine eyes; gazing closely, unrestrainedly, and wantonly upon shows, fooleries, plays, women and their vanities, even on holy days and at divine service. Thine ears have been opened to lewd songs, backbiting words and the like. Thou hast offended by taste in eating and drinking; in many ways hast thou offended by touch. Likewise thou hast sinned with thine interior faculties, especially in thine intellect and by thy will. In many grievous ways hast thou sinned with thy tongue–swearing rashly or falsely; by detraction; in lying, cursing or threatening; by sowing discord. Lastly by making known secrets. And so on, of every member of thy body.

Look and see, how thou art guilty under each head of the seven deadly sins. Pride hath reigned in thy heart and shown itself in thy speech, thy gait, thy vesture; in self-praise and in putting thyself forward; and by a desire of honour and of the foremost places. Through pride hast thou decked thyself out with over much care and wastefully. And so mayest thou think of each of thy mortal sins. Turn over in mind and see how badly thou hast kept God's commandments and the Church's; yea rather, how shamefully thou hast broken them. What hath been the scandal thou hast given to others and how many times? Day by day the good thou shouldst perform hath gone undone: and what thou hast done for God's service or to fulfil thy duties hath been done right neglectfully.

See, how sin hath filled thee through and through. How badly thou hast done thy duty in correcting thy brother. How evilly and perversely thou hast used thy gifts and drawn aside others into sin by comforting and praising them, by not stopping or chiding them. Often thou hast shriven thee with little care and (as thou mayest fear) approached holy communion unworthily. Daily, yes, hourly thou walkest before God boldly and without reverence. See how often thou sinnest in thought and desire; how often thou dost not bear thyself manfully in temptation or resist it quickly enough. There are vain conversations: putting human respect in place of God's fear: eating and drinking choicely out of hours, and greedily: bursts of laughter and such like vanities. Thy prayers have been without devotion, thy time wasted, thou hast not kept in mind God's patience with thee.


Over all and each of these things now therefore, as far as thou mayest, sigh and be sorry from thy heart; and, as true contrition demandeth, much more so than over any temporal and punishable wrong. Clearly and with deep sorrow confess them and be ashamed of them. Study closely how to make satisfaction for them, and to have true amendment. For the rest, keep a guard over thyself in all things; be fearful before God and thankful to Him. Be humble, patient, of good report, chaste and sober. Do some bodily mortifications, be discreet and silent, behaving thyself in a grave, profitable and worthy manner. Go forward in all virtues and according to the demands of thy calling, so be thou in word and deed, to the glory of God Almighty, who is high over all and blessed for ever. Amen.

The end of the exercise of the purgative way.

The Collect - Lent I

The 1549 Collect

O LORD, whiche for oure sake dyddeste faste fortye dayes and fourtie nightes; Geve us grace to use suche abstinence, that, oure fleshe beyng subdued to the spirite, wee maye ever obeye thy Godlye mocions in righteousnesse, and true holinesse, to thy honoure and glorye, whiche lyveste and reigneste, &c.*

The 1662 Collect

O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

From the Roman Breviary

Deus, qui Ecclésiam tuam annua Quadragesimali observatióne purificas : præsta famíliæ tuæ ; ut, quod a te obtinére abstinéndo nititur, hoc bonis opéribus exsequátur. Per Dominum ...

(O God, who dost purify thy Church with the annual observance of Lent, grant unto thy household that what it strives to obtain from thee by abstinence it may secure with good works ...)

The Commentary

Cranmer takes his collect for the First Sunday in Lent from the Gregorian Sacramentary. The Roman Breviary is of course that of the Counter-Reformation under Pope St Pius V and its subsequent restructuring by Pope St Pius X. One might note the effect of the Counter-Reformation due to the mention of "bonis opéribus" which emphasises the Doctrine that has ever been at the heart of Catholic-Protestant differences.

The Reflection

Magnets are truly wonderful objects without which the internet would not exist. We use them daily to run our motors due to the special relationship that magnetism has with electricity. An electric current produces a magnetic field which causes another magnet to move. The quality of the motor depends mainly on one thing - the quality of the magnet.

A magnet has a habit of aligning itself to the magnetic field of a much larger body - the earth - and, when floating on a piece of cardboard in a tub of water, will always point North-South. However, this strong alignment is only the first property that a magnet possesses. Its second property is that the North seeking end of a magnet is only attracted to a South-seeking end, and vice versa. The ends of the magnet do not seek themselves, but each other, and together they form a common alignment to the greater magnetic field. These are the two properties of magnets: they have a common alignment and they are not self-seeking. Does this sound familiar?

However, a magnet can lose its magnetism through many means, especially through wear and tear of daily uses or through heavy blows. No magnet is perfect and occasionally it needs to be put into contact with either another magnet, or a strong magnetic field for some time in order for it to regain its magnetic strength.

Lent is this period in which we focus on our own magnetism to Christ. This is a magnetism which gets knocked out of us by the world, by our daily lives, by sin. In Lent we are asked to consider our alignment to Christ and the measure of our self-seeking in order to strengthen the first and nullify the second. As we deprive ourselves of things that can insulate our lives from the electrifying nature of Christ, then do we feel the strength of his presence bending our wills to fit His Divine Will. Come Easter Day, we are released from this period of contemplative realignment with renewed Christian magnetism, and replaced into the motor of the Church to work the Opus Dei.

Our Lenten self-discipline needs to be spent on that realignment. What is the fast that the Lord would choose for us? How does that realign us to Him?

Jonathan Munn

Bovine Linguistics

This is probably thoroughly inappropriate as a topic during Lent, but it is just too cute to pass up.

For my morning and evening offices, I follow the lectionary in the 1662 BCP. This morning's Old Testament reading was from Genesis 41, in which Joseph inteprets Pharoah's dream to be the prophecy of a famine.

In the KJV, verse two reads: "And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow."

I knew, of course, that we were talking about oxen, or cattle, here, but I had never seen the word "kine" before.

So I googled it and found the following:

Bovine Linguistics

A while back I made the discovery that cattle aren't as dumb as most people think. After many years of careful field observation, I determined that they speak a simple language, and actually have a vocabulary of over 100 words (they just get a real kick out of saying "moo"). Below is a rough gloss of Kine, the language of cattle. Note that this is one specific dialect (Wisconsin-Holstein) and that there may be substantial variations by region or breed.

Read it all here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Lenten Series (VII)

Of Our Lord's Passion

Behold and see, my soul, how much and how dearly Christ, God's only begotten Son hath loved thee. He was made man for thee; and for thee he died a most bitter death. His sufferings verily were all the sharper from the tender fashion of his making.

See how those ruthless men seized Him and held Him, Christ Jesus, the most loving Son of God! See how thy bound Him and dragged Him off. They plucked his beard and his hair, they blindfolded his lustrous eyes. They spat in his sweet face and struck his ruddy cheeks and holy lips, mocking and blaspheming as they cried: "Prophesy unto us o Christ: who is he that struck Thee". Then, see how they led Him bound like a robber before Pilate, bore false witness against Him, the Holy of Holies, God's only Son. See Him sent to Herod and how He is sent back to Pilate. They stripped Him shamefully before the whole crowd, tied Him to a pillar and scourged Him with grievous stripes till his bones showed through the flesh. He was crowned with sharp thorns which pierced into his sacred head, and they put a purple garment on him in mockery. Watch then, as they strike his thorn-crowned head with a reed, till the blood from his forehead courses down his face, fills his eyes, oozes into his mouth and ears; and then bending the knee before Him in mockery they say: "Hail, King of the Jews"!

My soul, behold how in such a plight, Jesus was led to the people, "bearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment": his face all dappled in blood, as the lowest of men. Recall how the raging and maddened crowd yelled out: "Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!" See Him as He standeth before Pilate and Herod and saith never a word, with his head bowed, the image of a patient and most meek lamb. He is condemned to death by Pilate, and see Him as they lead Him away bearing his own cross between two thieves and raise Him aloft amongst criminals. His whole body was stretched out cruelly to the dislocation of his members, the opening of veins, the numbering of all his bones. They gave Him gall and vinegar to drink and then cruelly mocked Him saying: "Let Christ the King of Israel come down now from the cross. If He be the Son of God, let Him come down. He saved others, Himself He cannot save".

Remember how hanging in agony on the cross, Christ spoke seven words, saying: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do". To the thief he said: "This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise". To his most sweet mother He said: "Woman, behold thy son", and to the disciple John: "Behold thy mother". To his Father He cried: Eli, Eli lamma sabacthani? That is: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" Later, He said: "I thirst"; when they had given Him vinegar, He said: "It is finished". And lastly: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit"; and so "bowing his head, He gave up the ghost". Oh, what was his sorrow for his sweet mother! How lovingly and patiently did He not pray for his executioners! And though he suffered agonies of thirst in his body, He thirsted yet more after our salvation, so that He suffered more in soul by his compassion than by his bodily pains.

O my soul, be not ungrateful nor unmindful of all this. Behold who is He that suffereth for thee. See the width and depth of his sufferings. Strive to follow in his footsteps. Learn to suffer patiently and to rejoice in adversity. In every temptation have recourse to the memory of these things: grave them deep on thy heart, and time and again call them back to mind.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Lenten Series (VI)

On the Damnation of the Lost

My soul, consider what is the unhappiness of the lost, the eternally damned. Look upon hell, as it were, upon a wide rolling plain, a trackless and blasted waste, full of deep holes and sulphurous pits. Gaze down "on the land that is dark and covered with mist of death", "the land of misery and darkness where the shadow of death and no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth" (Job x, 20-21). Then, for sorry and hateful company thou hast the lowest and fiercest devils, fearful to the sight: a dwelling place from which thou wouldst flee.

There, for ever is the mind turned aside from God and filled with hate of every good purpose. The damned are fixed in their lot amidst blackest despair, raging fire, and stench-filled flames. Icy cold freezeth them there; and there is the "worm that dieth not", darkness so thick as to be felt, blind hatred of God, and torrents of violent blasphemy against his name. There is the sound of gnashing of teeth, of crying, of sobbing, of wailing and of sighing. Friendship here on earth in a merry partnership of sin shall there turn to hate: their former friendship but increasing and deepening their torments.

If thou wilt think well on all these things thou wilt the more heartily spurn this world and all its vanities. Thou wilt ever keep thyself in a holy fear lest thou should offend God, and merit his foretold chastisements. For, great fools are they, who for anything whatsoever, whether concerning mankind at large, or of things carnal, earthly or temporal, put themselves in danger of falling under so heavy a disaster and punishment.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Allow me to recommend a meditation by Fr. Ken Tanner. He worked for Touchstone for quite a while, until his work as a Parish Priest in the CEC required his full attention.

A Lenten Series (V)

On the Terrors of the Last Judgement

Behold, o my soul, how terrible will be the last Judgement when the whole world shall be wrapt in flames blazing up higher than the loftiest peak by many an ell. Then shall come down from Heaven attended by the whole company of angels and saints, Christ, the stern judge. The dead shall rise again and stand before the face of Christ the Lord. The bodies of the damned, weighed down like so much lead, shall lie prone on that earth they have loved too well. They shall be more horrible that when they lay rotting in the tomb as loathsome food for worms; sheets of flame too shall light upon them. O my soul, how shall not those wretched creatures be pressed on every side: above them, their Judge, all mercy gone and full of wrath; below them Hell, yawning open; on this side and that the devils ready to accuse them. Yea, and all the angels and saints and the whole of mankind too, stirred up against them! At that moment every one of their sins shall be made plain to the whole world. The judge will sum up their record of sin and pronounce sentence: "Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire". What awful fear shall seize upon them as He frameth these words, and as they see the earth open to swallow them up. Yes, they know the next moment shall see them amidst eternal flames, captives for ever with the devils in the prison-house of Hell. While in the same instant looking upwards, they may see the blessed climbing Heaven's heights in a very ocean of delights.

Think too, o my soul, of thine own particular judgement. As soon as thou shalt have passed from this body, thou shalt be haled before the bar of Christ and strictly judged by Him. Yea, tremble at this judgement; walk in holy fear and watchfulness before the all-seeing eye of thy judge: pray without ceasing that in the day of account, thy lot shall be not with the damned, with whom is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Lenten Series (IV)

On God's Gifts

My soul , think well on the many wonderful gifts which thy high and mighty benefactor, God, hath conferred on thine unworthy self. Thy whole being, thy life, thy senses, thy mind, are all from Him. And whatsoever thou hast of well-being in soul or in body is his gift. Were a limb or one of thy senses to be wanting thee, as for instance, thy sight; wouldst thou not love him who should restore to thee that limb or sense that was lost? Why then art thou ungrateful and disobedient towards Him who hath lavished so great things on thee: who ceaseth not to uphold thee, who maketh his sun to shine upon thee, who feedeth thee and giveth thee to drink, and looketh to thy vesture alway? He cumbereth thy soul with graces and ceaseth not to bless thee. Daily doth He call thee to repentance and waiteth on thy turning to Him. He standeth ready to fill thee with gifts of the Holy Ghost and every grace of soul, and promiseth Himself to thee as thy reward. By how much the higher and more worshipful is thy benefactor, and his gifts more precious and more freely bestowed, by so much, o my soul, measure thou thy sin's ingratitude.

Now therefore, do thou render Him due thanks for all. And whatsoever is an offence in the sight of thy benefactor, do thou with all care avoid; and whatsoever thou mayest do to his honour, do it manfully!

The Collect - Ash Wednesday

The Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent, create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Commentary

The Collect for Ash Wednesday is repeated every day throughout Lent. Dr Peter Toon tells us "it was composed by Archbishop Cranmer, using as his base, the Latin Collect prayed at the benediction of the ashes on Ash Wednesday in the medieval English Church. Before the ashes were laid upon the heads of the members of the congregation the priest said, 'Remember, man, that thou art ashes [dust] and unto ashes [dust] shalt thou return.'

"Here is the old English Latin Collect used with the ashes in an English translation, which seeks to preserve the style of the original:

"'Almighty and everlasting God, who hast compassion upon all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost not impute the sins of men by reason of their penitence; who also dost succour those who labour in necessity; Vouchsafe to bless [+] and sanctify [+] these ashes, which thou has appointed us to bear upon our heads after the manner of the Ninevites, in token of humiliation and holy devotion, and in order to the washing away of our offences; and, by this invocation of thy holy name, grant that all those that shall bear them upon their heads, to implore thereby thy mercy, may obtain from thee both the pardon of all their offences, and also grace so to begin today their holy fasts, that on the day of Resurrection, they may be counted worthy to approach to the holy Paschal feast, and hereafter to receive everlasting glory. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'"

The Meditation

It has been said that if all the Gospel were to pass away, except for the Parable of the Prodigal Son, nothing would be lost. The whole Gospel message is contained in that one story.

The same can be said of certain prayers, and the collect for Ash Wednesday is one of them. I struggle to memorise (and retain) some of my favourite collects, but I long since got this one down pat. One reason is simple. Because we pray it every day in Lent, it easily works its way into the memory. And at times when I am without my prayer book and the collect for the day, I can always slot this one in.

The other reason is that, as prayers go, it is right up there in the same league as the story of the wilful son who, realising that he was at his wit's and life's end, threw himself on the mercy of a father who never stopped loving him. A son who is brought to contrition and repentance by the memory of that good father. It's all there.

The God of all mercy is that father. He hates no one that he has made; quite the contrary: He will forgive us and restore us, as our memory of that love, even a distant one, transforms our hearts with tears of compunctions and draws us to throw ourselves at His feet in search of mercy.

Preface to Mass Booklet

I was putting together a Mass Booklet for visitors, and it seemed best to me that we address the essence of the Mass up front. It also seemed best to me that visitors know why we use the words "the blessed and glorious, ever virgin Mary, mother of God..." I think that even a Baptist, after reading this simple explanation, might be bold to use the expression "mother of God."

The Mass or Holy Communion is the principal service of the Church. This service is ancient, since this sacrament was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In this ancient liturgy, presented here from the Book of Common Prayer (as used throughout the world among the Anglican Branch of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church) one cannot fail to be reminded of every essential doctrine of the Christian faith. The Gospel, and the Sacramental Life to which it calls all of us, is fully expressed in the words of this service. In it, we pray back to God the deep riches of His Holy Word, so that it is the Bible at prayer.

This service is about the chief sacrament, the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. The reality of His Body and Blood is tied to the central Christian doctrine, the Incarnation: That is, Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. The Apostle John warns us that if we deny this truth of the Incarnation, we do so only by the spirit of error and of antichrist (I John 4: 1-6) . For this reason we call the blessed Virgin Mary by the title Mother of God (Theotokos), since if we failed to confess that her Son is God in the flesh, we would be giving in to the spirit of antichrist which denies the Incarnation. Also, we are not afraid of tangible things in our worship. "Smells and bells" are quite good, when used in this kind of worship; as is singing, kneeling, standing, and drawing near to the Blessed Sacrament. Here, in the Mass, Heaven and Earth meet together in Christ, fully God and full man, truly seen in the Real Presence of this great mystery.

"This is my Body...This is my Blood." Simply put, we take Him at His word.

Fr. Robert Hart, Quinquagesima, 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

Anglican Primates' Communiqué

Anglican Communion Covenant

Subtitle: The Skinny Lady is Singing

Here is the draft of the Covenant.

Not sure it matters any more for members of the Continuum, if it ever did. Have a look at what Ruth Gledhill has just posted."

You can follow the breaking news here."

A Lenten Series (III)

On Death

My soul, ponder well how soon shall strike the hour in which thou must put off this mortal frame, this world and all its interests, which now thou lovest above measure, and go into an unknown land, to stand before the awful judgement-seat of Christ!

Swiftly shalt come upon thee the bitter day of death, when thou shalt not be able to call back the time thou hast frittered away. None of the things which now thou dost evilly or lovest too well shall then have power to help thee, or bring thee comfort! Both deeds and omissions shall follow after thee; then shalt thou shed tears for the life thou hast lived so carelessly, or after so worldly a fashion.

Terror shall pierce thee through, and fears shall swarm around thee: and the tooth of conscience shall rankle thee sore. Have in mind now, o my soul, how it shall then fare with this mortal body, which now thou dost pamper with choice viands, with over great care for raiment and appearance.

O think, how then the listless hand shall fall helplessly, the cheek take on the pallor of death, and the mouth close in silence. The eye shall grow dim and be cast up: the pulse and breath of life flicker out. Then shall the rending pains and sweat of death give tokens of life's defeat. Horrible demons, too, shall stand around, calling back to memory all thy past sins, to drag thee down into despair.

Do not thou, o my soul, suffer thyself to be taken unawares. Do penance now! Mend thy life; daily prepare thee for death. Consider seriously the shortness of life's passage, its false promises and uncertainties, lest too late, and fruitlessly, thou implore from God, but one hour!

Growing Together?

Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent of The Times, has just put the following up on her blog:

"It is yet possible that Dr Rowan Williams, in putting the Gospel mandate for unity before (all) else, including his own one-time liberalism on the gay issue, (might) yet triumph. And then I think it relevant to ask, where next? Could it be that this mild-mannered Archbishop has a mission for unity which reaches far beyond the Anglican shores and its 78 million adherents? I ask this, having just read and written about the first agreed statement from Iarccum, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission. The 42-page report is called Growing Together in Unity and Mission. It is not available online yet as it is still being considered by the Vatican. I've reproduced a few pars below."

NB: Unfortunately, bloggers tend not to have subeditors. In the text above, I have inserted in parantheses the words I think Ruth may have meant to use.

For a clarification of the issues raised by Ruth, see the following from the Anglican and Roman Catholic co-chairmen of IARCCUM.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Lenten Series (II)

On the eternal joys of the heavenly kingdom

Thou shalt think of the joys of the heavenly kingdom, and speak thus within thy soul:

My soul, how great and what priceless happiness will it be for thee to see the God of infinite beauty face to face, and to be a partaker with Him in the depths of his sweetness. What will it be to possess for ever, the All-High God, our only and changeless good! In Him, happily to hold and to possess, in overflowing measure, the fulness of all beauty, and of all that can be wished: yea, and safe in eternity to have thy heart's wish; ah! think what it will be! To taste a peace that is of God and made by Him: to plumb the depths of the sweetness of his love! What will it be, o my soul, to be caught up by the love of thy Creator, to be made a partaker in the Godhead–how thrilling–how much to be longed after! And then, to be close locked in God's most loving arms, so that no one shall nor ever can tear thee away from before the glowing gaze of his joyous countenance, nor from the embrace of his love!

And consider, o my soul, what undreamt of joy it will be to gaze with lightsome and piercing eye, on the uncreated bliss of the ever blessed Trinity; to look up into its majesty, its glory and holiness; to see how it is that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost love each other with a burning flame of love: and envisage one another in a sea of light and sweetness. Then, to understand how in Christ ours and the divine nature, or Word Eternal, are united in one person: and how He is raised above all creation, with the fulness of light and glory in soul and body. What too, will it be to see the most blessed and most sweet Virgin Mary, girt about with glory and loveliness; to see the whole circle of the elect and blessed in their true home, – the choirs and orders of the angels, the holy patriarchs and prophets, the glorious company of the Apostles, the army of martyrs, confessors and virgins! Ah! think how wretched are they who for the sake of the pleasures, well-being or comforts of this passing miserable body, deprive themselves of so great felicity, or long not after it hourly.

My soul, what infinite joys lie hid in these things, and what will it be to praise God without end in Heaven with all the blessed! Deprive not thyself then, of all this glory for the sake of the world's pomps, its vanities and riches. Go not into the danger of losing such glory, but rather, do with a will whatsoever may bend thereunto; for "the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared" with such a weight of glory.


I Cor. 13
Luke 18:31-43

I am glad that we use the old English, the Authorised, that is King James Bible. I prefer the use of the word “charity” to the word “love” for the Greek word, agape. Our use of language follows certain traditions that predated the Bible in English. The word “charity” speaks very specifically of the highest kind of love, and cannot be used properly for anything lower. The English word, “charity” is from another old language, one into which the Bible was translated by Saint Jerome, namely Latin. Agape was translated into the Latin caritas. The most famous line using that word is the one by Saint Augustine: In Omnibus Caritas- “In all things charity.”

The word “love” is used in modern translations, but I am glad that more and more writers are rediscovering the word “charity.” It cannot be used in a way that confuses its meaning. You can say, “I love a big juicy steak.” But, you cannot say, “I have charity for a big juicy steak.” The possibility of selfishness disappears if we understand agape, or caritas, that is, charity. The modern world has been infected by theories of human psychology that no Romantic can accept. By these theories every action, every feeling, every thought is always selfish all the time. By these theories, every human thought, word and deed is predetermined by the psychological condition of a person; and everything is really completely selfish. These theories destroy all notions of courage, and of giving, and of everything that comes from the virtue we call charity. And, these theories come, ultimately, from the pit of Hell.

The highest of the virtues is charity, and the scriptures tell us that this kind of love is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” That is from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. And, in his Epistle to the Galatians he tells us that this love, agape, is the first of “the fruit of the Spirit.” In every way we are dependent on the Holy Spirit in order to have this virtue, because charity is no mere ordinary love, but rather it is the love of God Himself. And, this love can be planted and grown within us, but not simply from our efforts. We need the Spirit of God.

To understand it, we must first know a bit of theology. We need to know God as He reveals Himself by His Word and by His Spirit. You see, to know this love we must first know that God is “Wholly Other”- that is, His nature is distinct from every created nature, visible and invisible. The angels do not share God’s nature, because they, like us, are creatures. God is Other. And, this must be followed by knowing the words of Saint Paul, that God “hath need of nothing.” The reason that agape never seeks anything for itself, has no selfish element, is because God is completely without need of anything. God did not make the human race because He needed us. The love of God is satisfied in eternity within the Trinity of Persons, so that God is never alone. Man does not bring comfort, solace or companionship to the Trinity, because God “hath need of nothing.”

My younger brother, David, made a big splash with his first book, The Beauty of the Infinite. The most important point he made in it is that God made everything as gratuity; that is a gift. Creation is not necessary. The universe did not have to be. You did not have to be born. Our very existence is completely arbitrary and unnecessary. Why, then, are we here? Not as objects that can give God anything, but as objects of His love.

Knowing this, we can again value the reality of every good thing that comes from the virtue called charity. Selflessness does exist, existing first in God’s gracious giving of life itself. The heroic sacrifice, the selfless pouring out of the heart, all comes first and foremost, and only, from the One Who is Love. The world is safe for Romantics after all; the most cold hearted forms of clinical theory that would take away from us everything beautiful and noble, will be done away with when the heavens are rolled up as a scroll, and we see the Lord in His glory face to face.

Knowing this, we can look again at today’s Gospel, and see it for what it is. Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah [chapter 53]:

“4: Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5: But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7: He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8: He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 9: And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. 10: Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

This ought to bring to life the words we heard from Saint Luke:

“ Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.”

Isaiah foretold that simple phrase, “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures.”- that is, fulfilling the scriptures. And the words “and He rose the third day, according to the scriptures”- again, fulfilling the scriptures. That He rose again fulfills the words of Isaiah, that after He was dead and buried “He shall prolong His days.” And, Saint Paul tells us that the love of God was commended toward us because, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Here again, I want to make this clear. In order to know the love of God for you, you must look at Jesus on His cross, dying in your place. You must take it personally. Once knowing that love, you can be given the strength to have such love for others, even for those who respond to it with hostility. This love is true freedom having no obligation to respond in kind to abuse; soaring above malice and bitterness, spreading mercy like wings.

Our creation itself is a gift, something God gave to us. Our redemption from sin and death is a gift as well. In the healing of the blind man we see that God does not deal with us as our sins deserve. The blind man, in today’s Gospel, did not deserve to be healed, because, like everyone of us, he was a sinner. But, he was healed; he was given back the gift of eye-sight. The healing of the blind man signifies that God forgives sin; every miracle of healing signifies this, because “with His stripes we are healed.” The healing of the blind man was a gift, given by the One Who earned that forgiveness for him, which he could not do for himself. The question that we must ask is not: Why are so many people not healed of their illnesses? The question that we must ask is: What does it mean that Christ healed people at all? Saint Anselm tells us that all of the benefits of Christ’s suffering and death have been given to us, for He had no need of anything for Himself. So, when I see Christ showing mercy to the blind man, I understand better what will happen later in the story; I understand better what His cross has done for me.

In that we see love that is completely selfless and giving.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Lenten Series

Fr Steve Petrica, an old acquaintance from various Anglican discussion groups who recently swam the Tiber, has discovered a book by a 15th century Dutch Carthusian, Denys à Ryckel , entitled A Devout Exercise of the Purgative Way.

This is what he has to say about it:

It was published by the Parkminster Press in 1918 (although my copy is presumably a later reprint). It's a brief thing, only 34 small pages, and with Lent soon to be up on us I thought others might be interested not just in reading it, but taking on the exercise for themselves.

Fr Steve is going to transcribe it over the next week, and I shall post his daily offerings, beginning today with Denys' Prologue and his explanation of the "method" of the exercise, for those who may wish to make use of it during Lent.

Introduction by the Translator

Denys à Ryckel, better known as Denys the Carthusian, was born in the year 1402 at Ryckel, a village near St. Troud, in the Bishopric of Liège. In his twenty-first year he entered the Carthusian Order at Roermond in Holland, and there died in the year 1471 at the age of sixty-nine.

By scholastic writers he has been given the title of Doctor Ecstaticus (the Ecstatic Doctor), both from his frequently having been rapt in ecstasy, as well as from the depth and sublimity of his valuable writings on the contemplative life.

He is also, probably, the most prolific of ecclesiastical authors. His entire works, as recently re-edited, fill no less than forty-two stout quarto volumes, forming in themselves an almost complete ecclesiastical library.

The following Exercise of the Purgative Way is taken from the fortieth volume. It is printed in the hope that it may prove helpful, not only to those who have been lately turned to God's service, but also to devout souls who wish to nurture their spirit of compunction, so necessary to real progress in the spiritual life, for as the Imitation says: "Give thyself to compunction of heart and thou shalt find devotion."


"God hath made foolish the wisdom of this world," as saith the Apostle. For the world counteth as foolishness the wisdom of God. "Therefore", saith the Apostle, "whosoever would become wise let him become foolish, that he may be wise"; that is to say: whosoever would obtain wisdom from God, let him become foolish, as men count things; let him perform or embrace, do or suffer, what seemeth foolishness to the world. Hence St. Denys [the Areopagite] calleth Christian wisdom, mad or senseless, irrational or foolish: not indeed, that it is truly such; but that to men filled with this world's spirit, and not with the spirit of Christ, such seemeth it to be. And because it is above all natural reason and thought, as well. God's chosen ones, therefore, long to be disdained and to be scoffed at by the world, so to please God.

If then, thou desirest to become wise and pleasing to God, spurn the discretion of this world, nor desire to please it. No rational creature, not excepting the angels, can or could be saved, except by laying aside his own will, and by conforming it and subjecting it to the Divine Will. And the more truly shall he so do, so much the mightier grace shall he gain. Therefore, the more fully and completely, for God's love thou shalt forsake thyself, the more perfectly thou shalt subject thy will to the direction of another's, – apt for the matter – by so much shalt thou be dearer to God, and attain to loftier perfection. The proud are likened to hills, the humble to vales, and God's grace is like to rain. Now, just as rain doth not lodge nor gather on the mountain tops, but in the hollows: and the deeper the vales the greater the store of rain there: even so, the Holy Ghost with His grace, abideth not in the hearts of the proud, but of the humble; yea, in greater measure the lowlier those hearts. And because in sinning, man prefereth his self-will and fleeting good to the Divine unchangeable Will, the uncreated and supreme Good, which choice mounteth up to contempt of God; contrariwise, for such contempt, the sinner must first of all contemn himself with all his heart, and count himself worthy of all confusion and punishment. Again, since man, who should take no delight save in his Ceator, in sinning, delighteth in creatures inordinately and corruptly; so ought the sinner take to himself hearty sorrow for such delectation, and bear due punishment for his guilt.

The Method of the Exercise of the Purgative Way

Daily, morning and evening; or on rising and on going to rest, go aside into a retired and quiet place, and then turned to God in soul and body, say:

"Almighty and everlasting God, my creator, my saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, I am that sinner, of all the blackest, lowest and most detestable: wholly contemptible and wicked am I; who so oft and so deeply have dishonoured thy majesty. I have gone from the way of the commandments: thy goodness, holiness and love have I offended, turning away my face from Thee, my Lord. [Such and such] sins have I committed: I have sinned by omission in many things and oft: I have turned thine own gifts against Thee."

Then call to mind some of thy more grievous sins of which thy conscience doth accuse thee; over which too, as in deed over all in general, thou dost heartily sigh, fetching groans and striking thy breast in repentance; and (should God so give thee grace) shedding bitter tears as well.

Kneeling then, or lying prone with joined hands, or with arms outstretched in the form of a cross, pray God for full pardon of all thy sins, saying thus:

"Most merciful God, lovable all things, the goal of all holy desires and infintely sweet; out of the depths of thy bounty, thy love and thy kindness: by all Thou hast done and suffered for my salvation: at the intercession of the Blessed Mary ever virgin and the merits and prayers of all thy saints; grant thy pardon to me an unworthy great sinner. Fill me with the bounty of Thy grace, that for the future I may keep away from sin, and flee from what displeaseth Thee, nor ever again turn my thoughts away from Thee."

After this, in like manner think on the blessings, general and special, God hath conferred on thee, and say thus:

"Almighty and everlasting God, my Lord Jesus Christ, infinite and immeasurable are the benefits Thou hast conferred on me. Thou hast created me to Thine image and likeness. Not with the common herd of creation hast Thou placed me, but Thou hast endowed me with reason. Thou hast given me body and soul, mind and senses, and all the rest of nature's gifts. Thou hast not left me from childhood in the shadows of ignorance, but hast given me schooling and taught me, that I might be thy faithful servant. And when I fell into sin Thou didst pardon me, as Thou dost to this day, though many who have sinned less than I, have been lost eternally. Thou hast given me the spiritual goods of church-membership; and whatsoever good there may be in me and that I may have, I know to be thy gift. Moreover, for my sake Thou didst become man and didst dwell in this world in the deepest depths of poverty; Thou didst suffer persecution and wast tempted, didst suffer scorn: and with all patience, lowliness, obedience, meekness, and with the perfection of love and holiness. And at the end, Thou didst suffer a most cruel death for me. Thou wast weighed down and afflicted; Thou wast "sorrowful even unto death", didst sweat blood, wast taken prisoner, struck, spit upon, blindfolded and clad as a fool in a white garment and a purple cloak. They crowned The with thorns and struck with a reed. Thy blessed face was all bathed in blood: Thou wast torn with scourges and didst suffer contempt, derision and blasphemy. Thou wast condemned to an awful death and wast led forth to the place of execution with the cross on Thine own shoulders. Hands and feet they pierced with sharp nails and "reputed amongst the wicked" Thou didst hang between two thieves. They gave thee gall and vinegar to drink, pierced Thee with a lance and thus brought Thee to a bitter end. Yet more; Thou hast purchased for me the Kingdom of Heaven and promised it to me. And I, graceless and vile sinner that I am, have paid Thee back ingratitude for such favours, rendering evil for good and turning my back on Thee. Yea, so ungrateful and perverse am I become, that it were meet for the world and all that is in it to rise up against me, and wreak vengeance on me for my injuries to my Creator."

"But now, o my Lord Jesus Christ, by thy holy Incarnation, by thy most holy life amongst us, by the passion, thy cross, and thy blood; I beseech Thee, pardon me all my wrong-doing and ingratitude, and for the rest of my life make me daily to grow in devotion and gratitude towards Thee." Amen.

The foregoing belongeth to the purgative way, which must precede the illuminative and perfect ways. First of all then, the beginner should exercise himself for some months in this exercise of the purgative way.

Wise Counsel

“Work like all depends on us and pray like everything depends upon God.”

St Ignatius Loyola

False Dichotomies

What is or isn't happening, what may or may not happen, at this week's meeting of Anglican Communion primates in Tanzania is anybody's guess. Religion journalists from the Anglican world who are following the meeting first hand are loathe to draw any conclusions, so far be it from me to attempt to do so.

It can be said with certainty, however, that a fundamental question being treated by the primates is this: to what extent can an institution defining itself as Church interpret the Gospel in such a way that the Gospel ceases to be recognisable as such and the institution in question can no longer be considered as Church?

The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline.

In the following article, he describes in some detail the process used by those who would twist and distort the Gospel, either out of benign ignorance, or out of wilful intent to undermine it. It is a process that we should not only be aware of, but also be prepared to oppose.

The following is the full text, published on VirtueOnline :

Liberals around the globe have latched onto a technique for reducing what used to be primary to the nether regions of irrelevance. It's a familiar technique, but conservatives continue being flummoxed by it in their fear of being portrayed as hateful or extreme.

It is the simple technique of the false dichotomy.

Here again the issue that has captivated the Church east and west, north and south, homosexuality -- the issue everyone claims to be sick to death of - is a perfect illustration of the technique. In fact homosexuality has been brokered into the Church entirely on the basis of false dichotomies.

Here's just one example: if you don't agree with the homosexual that his lifestyle is good and right in the eyes of God, then you hate him. Since people of good will do not wish to be seen as hateful, they will acquiesce to the idea that the homosexual lifestyle is good and right in the eyes of God. They may never believe it, but they will not dare oppose it. They will retreat from a conservative biblical understanding and begin calling themselves "moderates".

No one knows what a moderate is. This should not be surprising. A moderate is recognized not by his or her views so much as by his or her single objective. The objective of a moderate is to avoid confrontation - period. A moderate wishes to be invisible. By doing so he thinks he looks respectful and compassionate, but this is granted him by the mere fact that he has not incurred the wrath of those who care enough about what they believe to confront those who disagree.

But suppose the Bible were true, and that the homosexual lifestyle is not as good and right in the eyes of God after all. If that is the case then the "extremist" who insists upon preaching the text of scripture, whether in season or out of season, is the only friend the homosexual has. If the Bible is true after all, then those who claim to love homosexuals may just be willing to write them off to perdition, rather than risk confrontation. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Back to false dichotomy as method. In recent weeks several dignitaries within the Anglican Communion have echoed the hackneyed notion that the gay issue is not fundamental to Christian doctrine.

"We need to make a distinction between issues that are fundamental to the faith and second-order issues. This is not a church-dividing issue." (Njongonkulu Ndungane, Archbishop for Southern Africa, quoted in the New York Times, South Africa Bureau, February 9, 2007)

The implication is that conservatives, whether in the West or in the Global South, have been so preoccupied with the issue of homosexuality that they clearly regard it as a "fundamental issue." Liberals would say that the "fundamental issues" facing the Church are the same ones facing the rest of the world: war, hunger, AIDS, sickness, the underdevelopment or enslavement of whole peoples. Clearly these are more important, and thus more "fundamental".

Notice the false dichotomy: If you actively oppose the gay agenda in the Church, you are deliberately overlooking the other pressing concerns listed above. You are saying that defending the claim of scripture regarding gays is to undermine the claim of scripture in terms of justice.

By this logic the message of the radical prophets of the Old Testament would have been, "never mind idolatry and fornication, just feed the hungry and set the captives free." Thus anyone who preaches against false religion and morality is in favor of starving the hungry and oppressing the captive.

In the present argument over sexuality, we are invited to choose liberating the captive over living a life of biblical sexual morality. As if this weren't a strange enough dichotomy, it leads to another even more strange: if we are intent on liberating the captive, then our fornication becomes good and right in the eyes of God.

One of the greatest displays of the false dichotomy is that of Millennium Goals. You've probably guessed the logic by now: Millennium Goals (and all the good they stand for) is more "fundamental" to the needs of the suffering people than biblical morality. Therefore anyone who argues against the church's innovations in sexual morality seeks to minimize, if not oppose, the intentions implied by Millennium Goals.

This particular point was neatly handled by the CAPA Primates a year ago:

"We recognize the strategy employed by Episcopal Church and certain Communion bodies to substitute talk of Millennium Development Goals for the truth of Scripture. These choices are false alternatives...." ("The Road to Lambeth"; Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), February 2006).

For the sake of my present argument, what the CAPA Primates reacted to was the attempt by the Episcopal Church to swindle the rest of the Communion through the clever use of a false dichotomy. They rejected such a bogus formulation of Christian truth: it's NOT either practice biblical morality OR feed the poor. In the Bible it's BOTH AND.

Perhaps the greatest illustration of the false dichotomy is one of the most recent. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in a recent interview in USA Today that she saw "two strands of faith", one "concerned with atonement, that Jesus died for our sins and our most important task is to repent... The more gracious strand is to talk about life, to claim the joy and the blessings for good that it offers, to look forward."

There's a mouthful for you; the new Lady Primate is "more gracious" than the Christ who died for our sins.

Once again, by this logic those who preach Christ "and him crucified" avoid looking forward, reject joy and blessings, etc. etc. Like a Chinese menu, choose from column A or column B: either Jesus' atonement for sin or joy, blessings, a way forward, etc. As for me and my house, says the good Lady, we choose Millennium Goals...

These are false alternatives. No one was more forward looking than St. Paul, who was made a "new creature" by Christ, who sought to "know nothing at all but Jesus Christ and him crucified." Thus he could "do all things through him who loved me." There is column A and B together, as they always are when orthodox Christianity is practiced faithfully.

There is only one reason to reduce Christianity to a series of false dichotomies: because we want to con someone. Maybe it's only ourselves that we want to con. When I am battered into submission by the Via Media and their quest for a "middle way", I will acquiesce to the claims of, say, the gay liberation agenda. As a colleague of mine said recently in an email, "there are other issues besides this one." Yes of course, there other issues "more fundamental" than this one. Therefore it doesn't matter how we handle this one. We can choose to be faithful in some other area, and that will cancel out all the areas of life in which we are unfaithful.

Why would someone, in the name of Christian faith, want to lure me into "selective faithlessness" with the promise of an eased conscience?

As the Primates continue in the present marathon of "listening", let us all brace ourselves for the spin. If we see false dichotomies, particularly on the side of the Left, look for a con. There is no other reason to pose a false dichotomy than to deceive and justify wrong.

Let's hear the Liberals preach the full text of the prophets: repent of BOTH your idolatry/immorality, AND your neglect of the poor. No captives will be liberated by a con.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Last Rites: The end of the Church of England, review

Last Rites: The End of the Church of England, by Michael Hampson; London, Granta Books, 2006

A friend suggested I read this book, and supplied me a copy. It proved to be an interesting, sometimes informative, and ultimately unsatisfying read. The author was ordained a priest in the Church of England and worked as a parish priest for a number of years, having since left the active ministry to work quite independently and, it would seem, outside the Church of England. Hampson reveals himself to be unabashedly and narrowly liberal in theology, certainly not Catholic in any sense, other than in a liking for some traditional externals, and, in truth, no more than marginally Christian. At least as important (as he makes clear in the book itself) as his theological bent is his sexual orientation and practice. He is a partnered homosexual, a fierce advocate for the ’gay’ agenda, and an even fiercer opponent of traditional standards of sexual morality. This book, then, is not in any sense a dispassionate examination of the Church of England, but rather a thoroughly one-sided expression of one man’s anger.

The book, however, is compelling in its description of the rather thorough dysfunctionality of the contemporary Church of England. As an American, I have no first-hand knowledge of that situation, but his analysis of the administrative, financial, and theological chaos rings true, as also of the extremely marginal nature of the Church’s connection to the lives of the people. Clearly the current arrangement is simply unworkable, and just as clearly some kind of change is necessary for survival. Hampson, however, does not have a clear vision of what, if anything, it is that should survive, not having any concept of immutable truth to be preserved or an eternal message to be advanced. Basically, to him, it would appear, neither the Christ of the creeds, nor the rich tradition out of which the creeds developed nor, in fact, the Bible itself, has much, if any, relevance for this day and age.

His analysis of the historical development of ‘parties’ in the Church of England is interesting, and in some respects rather good, but quite shallow, more interested in demolishing any concepts of certainty in theology than in examining what it is that any of the parties are actually teaching. He may have some, but shows very little understanding of a Catholic view of truth, with little real regard for the meaning of sacraments or of the role of apostolic succession, or of tradition as a whole. He shows an active disdain for the notion that Evangelicals could have anything worthwhile to say, and shows not even a rudimentary understanding of what they teach, nor of the large variety of viewpoints they represent. It is in his treatment of (and experience with) the Charismatics that he most blatantly reveals the shallowness of his whole approach. He himself seems to have embraced the phenomenology of the movement without ever absorbing the rich teaching on which it is founded (unfortunately a weakness of many convinced Pentecostals and Charismatics as well). In short, he has no sympathy whatever for any notion that there might be such a thing as real truth, and would seem to feel that such ’narrowness’ is the only real heresy. It is interesting to notice the wide range of meanings he includes in his favorite insult, "fundamentalist", by which he seems to mean anyone who thinks his views could possibly be in error.

What he seems to consider the heart of the book is his defense of homosexuality. The ultimate test of whether one is ‘fundamentalist’ seems to be whether one suspects that the Bible might be unfavorable toward this aspect of his life. Thus he invests much effort and considerable invective in attempting to make the Scriptures say something that no one before the Twentieth Century ever heard therein. He does a laughably clumsy job of this. If that were my desire, I could do a considerably more logically consistent job of it myself. I can say that because at one time I did. As a same-sex-attracted male, I was involved, years and years ago, in the ‘gay’ lifestyle and wanted to justify myself. I’m afraid I did convince some others. I eventually came to see that my reasoning was plain wrong, that Scripture does not speak to the issue of orientation, but is explicit in its behavioral expectations, and that celibacy is then the moral choice. The Bible says what it says and can’t be made to say the opposite. Hampson wants it both ways. On the one hand he denies that Scripture has any real authority (which would make its instructions moot), but on the other hand he wants to make it say what he wishes it said. That does not work.
In short, Last Rites is a book with very little to say to the Christian, starting, as it does, with the assumption that the classic Christian message is of little value, but it does have much to say, in a negative way, to a Church revealing its bankruptcy and coming apart at the seams. His answers are useless, but he does ask some questions that should be asked.

reviewed by Ed Pacht, Rochester NH


Talk about the possibility that a second Anglican province might emerge in the United States has been generating some discussion at the ACC Members List over on Yahoo. It stems, in part, from my observation, as made here, that the continuing movement is not in a very good position to provide a common welcome mat to those orthodox Episcopalians who cannot, in good conscience, affiliate with such a province.

That has led to talk about a first step toward doing that as being a unification of the Anglican Catholic Church and the Anglican Province of Christ the King. Running almost in parallel to that discussion has been one on the assertion that the ACC and the APCK are already in communio sacris.

I am still new to the continuum and do not understand why the two jurisdictions have not been one since the beginning, or if they are effectively in communion, and any enlightenment on that issue would be welcome.

In this post, however, I would rather focus on something else.

I am starting from the premiss that there is no good ecclesiological or theological reason why separation should continue, and that unification is, by definition, a desirable thing.

Given that, I have come up with the following suggestions of how we could begin to move toward unity. I welcome others.

+ If unity is to come about, it will be best and most quickly achieved it it comes both "from above" and "from below" ie by cooperation among the bishops of both jurisdictions and among parishes.

+ A first step could be agreement by bishops that, in any given geographical area, neither jurisdiction will plant a mission where the the other jurisdiction already has a presence. A corollary to that would be that officials in each jurisdiction, when approached by someone seeking a place to worship, or even proposing the creation of a mission, be directed to the mission/parish of the other.

+ A parallel step would be for the clergy and people of ACC and APCK parishes that overlap geographically, entirely or in part, to take active steps to work and worship together. The former would entail agreeing on joint outreach and pastoral care projects, while the latter would be fixed annual occasions for coming together at the altar, beginning perhaps with the patronal festival of each church.

+ Much farther in the future, in eventual discussions on organic unity, it could be agreed that the older of the two jurisdictions' primates would become primate of the unified church, with the younger becoming coadjutor. Once the younger took office, the oldest of the other old jurisdiction's bishops would become his coadjutor. That should conceivably give the "two sides" enough years to grow beyond a sense of separation and into one of unity.

+ A similar arrangement could be done at the diocesan level. New dioceses of the unified church would be fashioned, to a certain extent, by combining existing ones. There, the same procedure could apply, with the older of the two bishops becoming the ordinary, and the younger his coadjutor, etc.

We are blessed to have as co-hosts of this blog priests from the ACC and the APCK, respectively, Fr Matthew Kirby and Fr Robert Hart. I also know that bishops from both jurisdictions have been introduced to The Continuum, and hope they are at least occasionally reading. We undoubtedly also have lay people from both jurisdictions as readers.

I would welcome all of you to become active participants in this thread.

The harvest is ripening. Are we going to be ready?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Collect: Quinquagesima

Old Latin Collect
We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to hear our prayers; that we, being absolved from the chains of our sins, may be defended from all adversity; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer Book Collect from 1549 on
O Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; Send thy Holy Ghost and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee. Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ's sake.

This collect was written for 1549 by Archbishop Cranmer. He seems to have felt that the older collect lacked the focus of the appointed readings, and crafted this lovely prayer in view of the Epistle (1 Cor 13), known as the love chapter.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Without Charity (= agape, selfless love) I might as well be dead. My heart, mind, and soul would then be directed only to my own desires and pleasures. There would be neither love of God or of my fellow man, and I would be condemned by the whole of the Law. Such a life leads not to true joy on this earth and leads relentlessly to everlasting misery hereafter. So it is without the gift of the Holy Ghost to my heart. Fill me, Lord, with the Love that is thine everlasting nature, and make me whole.

A Second Province and the Continuum

As the primates of the Anglican Communion prepare to begin their historic meeting in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday, the rumour mill has turned out an interesting bit of information. As the story goes, and quite in line with long-standing expectations, the primates of the Global South are expected to propose the creation in the United States of a second, or parallel, province of orthodox Anglicans alongside the apostate Episcopal Church.

That is not news. What is news is that, according to various sources, notably The Living Church, this new province would include not only orthodox members of The Episcopal Church, but also the In addition to current members of The Episcopal Church, the new province would include the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) and the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

AND, it would be open to reunion with the Continuing Anglican churches in the United States.

For the general lines of this story, read more here. Also, thanks to reader AP Biddle for alerting me to this.

Given the wide divergences in ecclesiology among those in the TEC pushing for a separate province (and mirrored in one suggestion that the REC and Continuum would be lumped together in this "offer"), the whole thing would seem to me to be a non-starter. My gut feeling is that any new province that might emerge would be too broad church to attract any, much less all of the continuing churches.

Even so, the Continuum needs to be there for those who ultimately will not be comfortable with it. Sadly, though, the Continuum is too divided to offer a common welcome mat, and I fear many people/parishes/dioceses will fall through the cracks.

Your thoughts on this would be welcome, particularly as the events in Dar es Salaam unfold.

In the meantime, I bid your prayers for the primates and their work.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Lesson in Humility

A source of great danger to our spiritual well-being is the excessive focus that we may place on our own lives, our achievements and failures, to the exclusion of the lives of those around us. This is a form of pride, and the cure is humility.

I speak here about the pride with which I have seen the readership of The Continuum grow steadily over the 15 months since its inception. For those of you interested in statistics, our daily average of hits during the first full year of operation was 80. We are now up to around 120. That's an increase of 50%!

120 hits per day. Impressive, no?

I thought so, until I checked in at Kendall Harmon's Titusonenine this morning to discover that he had a record day yesterday -- 10,000 hits! That's about one-third of The Continuum's entire total since it was created.

How's that for a little perspective?

And perspective is a very essential element of humility. One should not exagerate one's accomplishments. At the same time, however, one should not falsely understate reality. That leads to false humility.

The fact is that Canon Harmon's blog has been around a great deal longer than mine, and it is directed to a potential audience -- the mainstream Anglican Communion and those interested in it -- that is far greater than ours in number. If you put things in perspective, then, perhaps The Continuum's performance ain't all that bad.

In the end, however, all that matters is that we endeavor to do with this medium of blogging the best that we can, always remembering that it is not our glory that we are seeking but the greater glory of God.

All that said, please do your best to let people know about this blog, so that we can give the good canon a run for his money!

Robert Hart on the Hardest of Abortion Cases

“Her Mother’s Glory” first appeared in the January/February, 2004 issue of Touchstone.

Her Mother’s Glory

I promised myself that I would not be the stereotypical father of the bride, like Spencer Tracy, who hates to give away his little girl. But as I walked her down the aisle, and approached the moment she would become a full-grown, married lady, I felt everything I had determined not to feel. Very far from my mind was the story of her strange origins. It is always far from my mind, unless something reminds me of it, like the recent news from Poland.

The infamous abortion ship from Holland was daring to stop off a port in Poland in order to make its “services” available to Polish women who do not have “reproductive rights”—as the anti-life crowd call them—in their own country. Polish law restricts abortions to cases in which the mother’s life is threatened, to cases of incest, and to cases of rape. Compared to the ease with which most women in the Western world can obtain legal abortion for any reason, in fact for no reason at all, and at just about any time during pregnancy, Poland is better. But pro-life? No, sadly, no.

His Daughter Alone

Of my four children, my daughter alone is the one I adopted. I never exactly forget the fact; it simply passes out of conscious thought since it does not matter, for she is, in every way that counts, my daughter, my first child. Over the years, I have always felt what a father ought to feel.

When she was eleven, she suffered a staph infection, and Diane and I feared we would lose her. This was the second time in her short life that she was in danger of dying. The first time she was in danger she did not face an impersonal disease, but determined persons: when her mother had to fight against intruding social workers, and the whole system, for the right to make the choice that her baby would be born. After all, when a woman has been made pregnant through rape, it is not only her right, but her duty, to do the “honorable thing.” At least, so it seemed from all the pressure put on her in those months. She was upsetting the expectations and demands that “liberated” women have no right to upset. She was refusing the “sacrament” of abortion.

What a terrible thing she did. For a woman to bear a child when abortion seemed so justified, so necessary, when the pregnancy was the result of rape—well, it was certainly anti-social behavior. She was coerced into seeing a psychiatrist who could help her overcome the obvious defect known to Christians as principle. He might even have cured her of maternal instinct and the malady called love.

But all those years ago I knew nothing of what had happened, only that she was suddenly gone, nowhere to be found. Why had this girl vanished from our hometown in Maryland without a trace? When I discovered her whereabouts, 3,000 miles away in California, I hastened to call her. I had expected, had hoped, to have seen her in those months. “I have a baby girl,” she told me.
“Are you married?”
“I see. Well, as a Christian I hope you have repented of . . .”
“Well, it was from rape, actually.”

I found that she would not put up her child for adoption. She was willing to live as a single mother because she could not be sure that a couple would raise her child to believe in Jesus Christ. She decided to keep the baby; and God rewarded her by giving her a wonderful, not to mention dashingly handsome, husband.

Convoluted Reasoning

I never think of my daughter’s origins and the strange circumstances of her early life unless something brings them to mind; for example, the disappointing remarks of a “conservative” radio talk-show host. This fellow talks a lot about his Catholic faith and Irish heritage, so it was with some astonishment that I heard him defending his view that abortion in cases of rape may be justified. “After all,” he pointed out, “it’s not the same as when it’s someone’s fault that she is pregnant. I just think it’s different.” He certainly did not get this idea from the Catholic Church.

I remembered back over twenty years ago hearing the same convoluted reasoning from Christians, some Catholic, some Evangelical. I recall a very Evangelical and Charismatic lady asking me, “But if it was rape, why didn’t she get an abortion?” I thought about the king of Judah, the one who would not execute the sons of his father’s assassins because of the Law of God, which says “the children shall not be put to death for the sins of the fathers, nor the fathers for the sins of the children” (2 Chronicles 25:4; Deuteronomy 24:16).

Where did the “conservative” radio talk-show host get the idea that pregnancy is a penalty? If it is a penalty, it might be unjust for the innocent to bear it. But what if it is not a penalty? What if it is the healing that God might give to a woman who has suffered a violent attack? What if the Author of Life takes the opportunity to do good from someone’s evil? The injustice done to Joseph resulted in the saving of his life, and that of millions of people, foreshadowing the good done for the whole world by the unjust crucifixion of a young rabbi from Nazareth. It is ever the way of God to make good come from the evil that men do.

Just who is it that these well-meaning people, such as the very Charismatic lady and the talk-show host, would sentence to death?

I remember the very wide eyes of a ten-month-old baby girl looking up at me, having just arrived by plane from California with her mother. I remember her first steps across my parents’ living-room floor. After her mother and I were married, I remember the first Christmas in our apartment, and her excitement at the wonder of a lit and decorated tree. She had names for us from Winnie the Pooh. I was Pooh, she was Piglet, and as she looked at her mom, now pregnant with the first of our three sons, she said, “And mom’s the kangaroo.”

Her very first day of school I remember watching her bravely walking into the classroom, as a lady laughed at the sight of my perplexity—a feeling of mingled loss and pride that was small compared to what I felt when I gave her in marriage to a fine young man. I remember her saying to him, “I do,” and pledging her life not only to him but also to any children they are blessed with, and to God who blesses them.

She is a young lady who spreads joy wherever she goes. She has a place in the lives of many, not only her new husband, her parents, and her brothers, but many who know her well, and many who have met her in passing—a unique place that no one else could fill. She is happy by nature at 23, married, an avid reader, a good friend, a serious Christian. This is the person that these well-meaning people were willing to sentence to death. Oh, not now, not when they can see her; but when she was in danger the first time, in the womb and hidden from view.

Enough for Her

My wife is not living the life of a tragic victim. She is the happy mother of four children, and would not wish to part with any of them. My daughter learned of her origin after she was over twenty years of age and it became obvious that the truth could not be hidden without confusion. Someone had taken pictures of her as a three-year-old, at the wedding of her parents. I had been warned, “Never tell her, it would devastate her to know.”

Not so. Rather, the mystery was unsettling, and the truth was welcome. You see, it did not matter. She had always known that God is the Author of Life—all life. Every human being is made in his image, and that means everything when a child is raised to understand that the image of God became more than an abstract idea in Hebrew Scripture when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And it was enough for her that she has a mother and a father who love her.

For both Diane and me, the details of our daughter’s early life and strange origins are very much out of mind, far from conscious thought. That is, unless something brings them to mind, such as realizing that it is time to tell our story for the benefit of others who are caught in what seem like desperate circumstances, and who need the courage to make the decision to let the Author of Life do his healing and creative work, bringing light out of darkness and good out of evil: who need to make the decision of love.

Robert Hart is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Why Are Muslims Attracted to Christianity?

Some thoughts from my friend and regular reader, Abu Daoud. You can find more of his writing on his blog.

I don't know if this can be verified, but I heard that more Muslims have converted to way of Jesus Christ in the past ten years than in all the other years since the advent of Islam in the 7th Century. I'm not sure it's an accurate figure, but I will say that something is certainly happening among Muslims and that there is an openness in their society that was not there before. I also want to point out that large numbers of nominal Christians, especially in Europe, are converting to Islam -- a main reason being so they can marry Muslim women. Who has more converts? I have no idea. I will say that Muslims converting to Christianity often pay a heavy price in terms of persecution, and that Westerners converting to Islam are afforded generous protection by their governments.

But here is the question: why are Muslims attracted to the way of Jesus Christ? Here are some of the main reasons:

1) The Bible: We forget how compelling and convincing Jesus' teachings and parables are. He was certainly, among other things, a highly talented teacher, and his parables and sayings have the ability to lodge themselves into a person's mind, even after only one hearing. His insights into human nature, society, kindness, forgiveness, and God's power -- not too mention the many miracles he worked -- are convincing to a good number of Muslims. Of course Islam teaches that the Christian and Jewish Scriptures are muharraf -- corrupted. But after a fair reading of the Gospels, sometimes the integrity and wisdom found therein can break through this Islamic doctrine. Incidentally, Muslim background believers from my experience tend to center their thought on the Gospels much more than Paul's epistles--very different than the evangelical tradition which has, in practice at least, tended to give primacy to the Pauline epistles.

2) Dreams, Miracles: What can I say? They are happening, and folks here don't have the initial inclination that Westerners do to "disprove" or "figure out how it was done." A miracle is from God--it's that simple. Often times in dreams people see Jesus, though at times it is one of the saints. This may not result in conversion, but it opens a path of inquiry that sometimes leads to conversion.

3) Charity: "They will know that we are Christians by our love." One refugee from a neighboring country received some help from some Christians, and he said, "We come here and we receive nothing form the Muslims. The Christians are the only ones who take care of us. I know nothing of your religion, but I will become a Christian." We think of the things like the Inquisition and the Crusades, but we forget the quiet, persistent witness of kind, caring Christians from all traditions. Which brings to mind something that Saint Francis, another apostle to the Muslims, said, "Let us not seek to be loved, so much as to love others."

4) Christian Community: Islam teaches that a man should not speak to a woman unless they are married or of the same family. It is a witness to the beauty of the Christian community, and thus its faith, when Muslims see genuine respect and friendship between men and women who are neither related nor married to each other. The assumption among Muslims is that this sort of thing must lead to fornication or adultery; on the other hand, young men and women sincerely yearn for fellowship with members of the opposite sex. When they see this among Christians it reveals that we are a peculiar people, that there is something different about us: fellowship, conversation, and friendship but without all the adultery and fornication they are told must result.

There are other reasons as well, but my experience is that these are the main ones. The challenge is getting people to think. Islam teaches that it alone
is the reasonable and logical religion. Since people in the Middle East have extremely weak critical skills due to various reasons, this assertion is simply
accepted. These are four things which I know have been important in challenging that assumption, which have led people to ask new questions and venture down
new paths.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Depart From Me, Ye Cursed

Every time I think my eyes have fathomed the ultimate depths to which humanity can sink in its selfishness and greed, something happens to show me that I need new glasses.

What nation can call itself Christian, which allows the conditions to exist that lead to such outrages as this?

Saturday, February 10, 2007


II Cor. 11:19-31

Luke 8:4-15

Among the many books by C.S. Lewis, the one it seemed to Lewis himself that everybody had read, was The Screwtape Letters. He said that he had more difficulty writing that book than any other, because he kept having to think opposite his convictions. For example, because Screwtape is a senior devil writing to a junior devil about subverting and damning the soul under his charge- his patient- he refers to God always as “the Enemy.” To help us with the parable in today’s Gospel we should look at part of the first of these letters. Writes Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood:

Remember, [your patient] is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (oh, that abominable advantage of the Enemy's!) you don't realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years' work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument, I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line, for when I said, "Quite. In fact much too important to tackle at the end of a morning," the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added "Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind," he was already halfway to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man's head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of "real life" (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all "that sort of thing" just couldn't be true. He knew he'd had a narrow escape, and in later years was fond of talking about "that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safe guard against the aberrations of mere logic." He is now safe in Our Father's house.

This is, of course the seed by the wayside. In fact, it is not quite on that level. Screwtape’s atheist at the British museum has only had a mere course of thought removed from his mind; but the ground by the wayside loses the seed of the word of God as it has been preached by a messenger. It does not require always a lie as intricate, or as ridiculous, as The DaVinci Code; it can be something as simple as perceiving lunch to be reality, and perceiving God to be a fantasy. Today’s Old Testament lesson (i.e. the one read at Morning Prayer) covers this ground, so to speak (from the 50th chapter of the book of Isaiah the prophet):

The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up. Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.

The sufferings of Christ are foretold here, in part. And, His true followers often have suffered the same persecution. In the midst of his own sufferings as a genuine servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, Saint Paul addressed the Corinthian Church with an expression of the kind of love a good father always has for his children. He knew that false teachers were allowed into their services, presenting strange ideas, and always bad-mouthing Paul. That he himself was spoken evil of, did not bother the saint and apostle. What bothered him was that the Christians at Corinth chose to believe some of the strange doctrines that could lead them away from pure and simple devotion to Christ.

That is always the issue. If you wonder why some of us among the clergy are very dogmatic and even strict at times, why we don’t change with the times, why we don’t accommodate allegedly new ideas about morality, or about God, it is because the care of the churches is upon us. We are responsible for the cure of your souls. We are here to present the word of his Servant, His Suffering Servant who went to the cross for the sins of mankind; we must be the servant of that Suffering Servant, and so we must present His words. And, we know that just like Screwtape’s atheist at the British museum, even as you sit here in a pew as members of the Church, the devil can steal the word out of your hearts.

It is easy to see this happening. One trick is to make you think of yourself as a preaching critic. While you ought to be hearing, you are thinking instead about all the wrong and irrelevant things, like how well you think the delivery is going. The best advice I can give you is this: While I am preaching, listen, pay attention and learn. That may sound brazen and self-confident; but take the advice anyway. Another trick is for a little devil to sit on your shoulder and whisper in your ear about how long this is taking, and about how hungry you are.

You see, the people who need to hear are not only those outside the Church, yet to become believers. Everyone needs to hear the word of God. It is the seed that has that power we call life; that power that alone can grow and bear fruit. If conversion really were as simple as a one-time decision, this parable would have a very limited application. But, conversion (though often including a major life changing epiphany), is a life of being ever turned away from sin and darkness to God and His light. The words that our Lord Jesus spoke, in concert with all His prophets who had come before Him, had more to do with hearing than with listening. Without the grace of God, we cannot hear His word.
The Lord said to the prophet Isaiah: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed (Isa. 6:10).” The ability to know the truth is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus, after His resurrection, gave the Apostles the gift of understanding the scriptures: “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures (Luke 24:45).” He did not give them an “open mind.” An open mind is a bad thing, because it leaks its contents all over the place. It is quite messy really. Rather, He opened their understanding. This takes humility to receive, and so receive it if you can. Without this gift, no matter how clever or enlightened you may seem to be, you cannot see, hear or understand. Saint Paul spoke of those who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (II Tim. 3:7).” How telling it is that some of the modern advocates of Gnostic ideas see this kind of busy and perpetual ignorance as virtuous. Virtuous it is not: it is the mark of someone who has yet to meet the risen Lord.

It takes humility to believe that the Church in its Tradition and Scripture has the mind of Christ and the authority to teach; it takes humility to grasp the fact that the Church is smarter than I am. It takes humility to see that only by a gift from the Risen Christ can my understanding be opened and unlocked. It takes humility to look at the words that God spoke to Isaiah, and then to pray that the Lord, in His mercy, will give us eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that understands, that we may convert to Him and be healed. Only by the Holy Ghost and His gift can we hear the word, let it take root in us and bring forth its fruit to perfection.