Monday, November 22, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
This homily was given by Diego Galanzino, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 15th November 2010.
Common tenure, working agreements, appraisal systems, management performance reviews, employment law, retirement age, mixed mode training, practical theology separated from dogmatics, more expensive training pathways, the Institute for Works of Religion, mission statements and mission-shaped-anything-you-like, bums on seats policy...
The Church has engaged in a process of secularisation of its structures and behaviours, perhaps with the aim of making things more transparent and understandable to the outside world.
This is not a mere exercise of borrowing ideas from the secular world. No, its nature and scale tend to suggest that the actual Church has absorbed the worries of the world about money, status and serving more than one master.
“Ask, and it shall be given to you; search, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened for you.”
It is easy to say this, but in reality many of us share many concerns about our future ministry, about the future of residential training or more simply, if there will still be a Church by the time we retire, let alone a pension board.
However, deep down, we should also know that a secularised organization of the Church is perhaps not necessarily the best solution to our problems.
“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine.”
Tonight’s second reading offers another picture. The Sermon on the Mount – which our lectionary has unfolded for the past week – is coming to an end between tonight and tomorrow. It envisages another kind of community. Its wisdom sayings are rooted in the Jewish tradition; they present a type of living that is centred on God and articulated in our dealings with one another.
This should be a model for discipleship which could certainly inspire our common life here, but also it could provide a rule of life based on the concept of waiting upon God, which Graham has illustrated for us earlier in term.
“Ask, and it shall be given to you; search, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened for you.”
For the Matthean Sermon on the Mount, to follow Christ is to have a filial relationship with God; to wait upon Him and play our part without presuming that we could put the world to right with our own devices. Our part is to be the attentive recipients of these sayings.
It is not primarily a matter of what we do about the things they prescribe, but how we do them; or as famous New Testament scholar said “living in accordance to the Sermon on the Mount is a path to perfection. One should travel this path as far as possible. On the Day of Judgements the Son of Man will show just where the minimum righteousness lies”.
In this discourse, Matthew presents God as the Father, the provider of all good things and the Son of Man as the just and only judge, “before whom all lances are of equal length”, or as Luke’s Gospel puts it
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged [...]. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
So, as seen as today it’s the only feria for this week, let me encourage you to explore the life of a great saint from Piedmont, my homeland. St Luigi Orione, the founder of the Sons of Divine Providence put into practice all these sayings, his model of Church was so dependent upon God that it would seem utter foolishness to the Ministry Division as it did for the Roman Curia in his time.
However, the truth of the Gospel remains; if we follow this path to perfection – both privately and as a community – all other things will be given unto us.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Homily given by Fr Peter Anthony on Remembrance Sunday, 14th November 2010.
What is Christian Remembrance?
It sometimes seems as though the main thing that characterises academic life, is the endless attempt to remember things. Collections to be revised for; Final exams with all that cramming. So much information to be remembered. In the midst of all that it’s hardly surprising there are quite a few self-help books around designed to help you improve your memory when it comes to exams. I was reading one the other day full of cunning strategies: spider diagrams; flash cards; even the suggestion that your choice of cologne can make a difference. If you wear the same fragrance on the day of the exam as you did to revise that subject, your mind will apparently be much more able to recall the information you need.
Over the past few weeks we have in a broader sense been in a season of remembering. We have just kept All Souls’ Day, when we remembered before the Lord all the faithful departed. A few days after that was Bonfire Night: “Remember, remember, 5th November; gunpowder, treason and plot.” And now we keep Remembrance Sunday when we pray for those who have fallen in war.
All those sorts of remembering may seem quite different, but they actually have one thing in common. They all involve fear of forgetting. The fear of forgetting the horrors of war so that similar conflicts should never happen again. The fear of forgetting the cherished memories of our closest loved ones. The fear of getting into the exam room and not knowing the answer. It seems that we remember so that memories are kept alive. We remember to keep the spectre of forgetting at bay.
Is that all that there is to say about Remembrance? Is it just about keeping memories alive, the recalling of past events? I think one of the things we are called to re-discover each year around this time is that for the Christian, Remembrance is much more than that.
The point is this. All too often we think of remembering as something dependent on our efforts. Our ability to recall. Our determination not to forget.
One of the things that today’s commemoration shows us afresh, however, is that when Christians remember the departed, we do so knowing that they live in Christ. When Christians remember, we participate in a living reality. In our baptism, we were incorporated into Christ, made one with him. We were a given a new identity as sons and daughters of God. Not just were we given a new identity but we were given the gift of new life, eternal life with him who triumphed over death. That bond is something which the grave cannot overcome. Even though many years may distance us from those who have died, we share a kinship with them, which is indestructible. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not just recalling past events, no, through our remembrance, we share in a deep, living, communion with the departed. This is never more evident and more effectual than when we celebrate the Eucharist together just as we did on All Souls’ Day praying particularly for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
If that is the case, then we discover something else. We discover that we no longer need to be haunted by that terror of forgetting. Christian remembrance is not just about the desperate attempt to keep the memory of our loved ones alive, for we know that in God they will never die. They will never be forgotten.
In fact, in a funny way we discover that Christian remembrance is not about us doing the remembering. Rather it is rejoicing in the fact that it is God who remembers us. He knows us and cherishes us, and remembers us in his Son. We need not fear being forgotten. It is the solemn recognition each year that it is God who remembers us, that we are part of a bigger picture, the bigger picture of life with him that we share with those who have died. When we remember, we are participating in the eternal act of endless remembering and loving which is the life of heaven, that perfect society, where war, violence, and death are no more, and men and women enjoy that eternal peace which is God’s will for us.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Readings: Daniel vii.1-3 & 15-18, Ephesians i.11-23, Luke vi.20-31
It’s a great joy to be here with you this evening. Thank you for this invitation to be with you, and to explore with you for a little while the riches of the inheritance of the saints in this wonderful setting, and on this special day.
The call of the Christian life is a call to holiness, to self-renunciation, and to the rule of love. Saints do not theorise about sanctity, but rather live it, expound upon it, proclaim it. Often the sacrifices they are called to make are as a result of doing these things well. Those who have undergone martyrdom have in some sense experienced the same consequence of gospel-centred living that Christ did – words, thoughts and actions considered too dangerous, too subversive, for the places and times in which they occurred. This was particularly so in the last century, when it was believed that more Christians were martyred than in any other.
The danger with saints is that we can lionize them to the extent that we fail to appreciate the need for saintly living in this age as well as any other. It is becoming fashionable in a lot of places to mount an attack upon what is perceived as a new and militant atheist apologetic sweeping the land. Now – I don’t doubt that such things are happening, and that humanists have much that is critical to say about people of faith. But perhaps this is a wake-up call – a call to repentance in the church, a call to all people of faith to bring the lofty ideals of faith and belief to bear in practical situations. Very often nationally broadcast criticisms of faith and the faithful frustrate because the Christian response is not all we feel it might be, and there goes up a cry for a renewed Christian apologia to counter such arguments. We know, perhaps, of local churches and faith groups doing good, wholesome and holy things for the good of the kingdom of God and for the care of his precious people – but it’s all very local, and not at all ‘newsworthy’. Still, I remain convinced that there is a lot of Good News out there, wonderful stories of human transformation brought about through the grace-filled witness of the church, and a great many people who are gently wearing the mantle of sanctity in the service of others. But if we are honest, do we sufficient attention to the virtue of humility, the joyful tasks of service, the ‘holy chores’ of grace? Can we honestly say that our lives contribute all they might to the coming of the kingdom? It’s a question we need to ask constantly, and one which our meditation upon the lives of the saints helps to bring to the surface.
It has been said that what distinguishes the saintly is not the capacity to perform the huge, Herculean task, but rather to perform the small and the mundane task with beauty and with grace – to live as in a world invested and charged with the grandeur of God, and so to reveal that grace to the less focused eye. If we would counter the arguments and criticisms of others – some of them well founded – then we must labour to ensure that change is brought about through love, prayer, word and action.
But saints do not merely perform tasks with grace. They live in ways which provide evidence of the divine in human endeavour and being. Faithfulness to the Christ of the Gospels makes clear to us that saintly living is possible in any age, including our own. To offer ourselves to God for this way of life, definite acts of will are required – acts of renunciation of the things which stand on our way, acts of ascesis and mortification, which serve to remind us that it is not we ourselves, but Christ in us, who guides, inspires and makes possible the things we undertake. To that end, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote that ‘Christian perfection has but one limit, that of having none ’.<1>
I enjoy the thought, from time to time, that Heaven will be a state of endless meetings between saints of different eras. What fun that will be! It will take an eternity to meet them all. I wonder, for example, what St. Stephen, the first martyr, will have to say to St. Paul, who assisted at his execution. I imagine that there will be quite a queue to meet St. Augustine of Hippo, for good or ill, and that one or two friendly discussions will take place between Calvinists and Catholics during the queuing. Then the apostles, of course, meeting their Episcopal successors with a mixture of joy and bewilderment – and one could go on. But one thing is for sure. There is a glorious diversity within the company of the saints – people of all shapes and sizes, some who wielded temporal power and others who shunned it, those who were passionate and argumentative, those who were serene and irenic, those of amazing and intense learning, those of pure and joyful simplicity, those of contemplation, those of action. At some point people who we think of as saints have committed every sin in the book, but their lives were transformed not by their own efforts, but through God’s wonderful and redeeming grace in their lives, so great and strong that they couldn’t help but respond in exciting and radical ways. There are those we know, and celebrate, and those we do not – those whose saintliness has been known only to God. All responded to their time, their circumstances and the events which surrounded them with the light of the gospel – well received in some times and places, rejected in others. What matters is that they sought to be vessels of God’s grace, not only for those around them but for successive generations. It is part of the deepest Christian vocation to cherish our sense of communion, not only with one another but with all who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith. May the Saints, our brothers and sisters in eternity continue to urge us on, to renewed and fervent holiness, until we are blessed to be among their number, and Christ is all in all.
Vice Principal, St. Stephen’s House
Given at Keble College, Oxford, on 31st October 2010
<1> De vita Mos.: PG 44, 300 D
A Sermon preached at Pusey House, Oxford on 10th October 2010
Ecclesiasticus xxxv.12–17 2 Timothy iv: 6-8, 16-18 Luke xviii.9-14 (NRSV)
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy iv.7"
It is a joy and a blessing to be with you this morning, in a place where the faith has been kept, taught, cherished and shared since its foundation. Thank you for inviting me to be with you.
A culturally relevant question for you. What do the film Blazing Saddles, the American rock band Bon Jovi, and Oldham Athletic Football Club have in common? While you’re puzzling round that one, let me add to the list Michael Jackson and a film starring Harry Lennox and Vanessa Williams?
The answer is that all of them have, at some time or other, found recourse to the words ‘Keep the Faith.’ They occur in film and song titles, advertising campaigns, motivational addresses, and a whole host of other places. As such, they can refer to ‘faith’ in a whole variety of contexts. In each case, it implies a stability – a standing where you have been placed, even when that place is not one of your own choosing. Paul, in this morning’s epistle, offers a summary of his own earthly life – his own sense of relief, almost, that he has done all he can to respond to his meeting with the Jesus he had encountered, those years ago, on the road to Damascus.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
As a consequence, Paul looks forward, to the reward which his keeping the faith will elicit.
From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Faith, of course, is a gift from God, and keeping the faith that we are given is an essential. Such an imperative impacts upon every aspect of our living, in both public and personal spheres. Whilst it is true that keeping the faith involves the fairly obvious virtues of perseverance and fidelity, there is another area which is perhaps less obvious – that of growth, because only by growing in faith can we hope to keep it. As you can see from my well-sculpted physique, honed over years of punishing exercise and trappist self-denial, I am a great one for the gym. Well, that’s nearly true – I am a great one for gym membership. I was in one long enough to read the sign on the door which said ‘Fitness can only be gained and maintained. It cannot be stored’. We are also told, whilst on our fitness kick, that we should have five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. No one would dream of having thirty-five portions on a Sunday, to see them through the week. The same is somewhat true of faith. We think of having a ‘repository of faith’ but the truth is, it has to be exercised, practiced, daily, if it is to be kept. Prayer, sacraments, fellowship, caritas, discipleship with Jesus rather than mere admiration of him. Keeping the faith means never standing still in our relationships with God and with one another. You want to keep the faith? Practice it, daily.
Generally, when we ‘keep’ something, there is a feeling that we are preserving and protecting it, because it is precious to us, and we don’t want it damaged or falling into the wrong hands. So, ‘keeping the faith’ carries with it overtones of retrenchment, consolidation, holding on grimly to what you have, as if we can form some kind of citadel around it. Part of the Christian paradox is that to keep the faith we must share it – striving to find ways of communicating the Catholic faith in this generation, living lives of radical and distinctive love in the face of often overwhelming indifference. That process begins here at the Mass, as we are filled with God’s grace through this moment of unspeakable holiness. It is this grace which gives us the power to live as Christ’s servants at all, and to live out that life of joy in the social, intellectual and spiritual maelstrom which Oxford can be. But in the living of that life, keeping the faith consists not simply in the living but in the sharing – the thought that what we receive here is too good, too valuable, too rich to keep it to ourselves. And if the challenges and difficulties for the Catholic faith in the present day seem too much for us, we need to recall that it is at times like this that keeping the faith actually matters, and matters not only for the sake of our own souls but fort he souls of generations as yet unborn. We here in Oxford look back to various martyrs – Ridley and Latimer, of course, just outside the front door, and Roman Catholics Nichols, Yaxley, Belson and Pritchard, and no doubt others who chose their historical period less wisely. They – and countless others – have endured far, far worse, in concentration camps and prisons, like Paul himself – murdered by soldiers and monarchs, executed by the people they were sent to serve and to whom they proclaimed the gospel. It was, in their own place and time, the consequence of keeping the faith. Their memory, as much as their prayers for us now, sustains us, reminding us that it is possible to live to the exacting words of Christ in ages of darkness and difficulty. To spend time wishing that things were different is tempting, but utterly futile. When I attempted, at the age of six, to reject the bowl of prunes put in front of me for my school dinner, Mrs. Porter the dinner lady came out with that classic northern line ‘You get what you’re given.’ It’s as true of the time in which you live, just as it was true of the unpromising and dangerous times in which Jesus lived. Our task is to witness and serve in the time we are given, not to wish for any golden ages, mythical or otherwise.
There is a bigger, wider challenge to those of us who are concerned for the mission of the church and the coming of the kingdom. To those who would live in a faithless, Godless world, faith is a dangerous thing. It challenges the assumption that humans can be self-sufficient and self-serving. The politically correct world which humanism would espouse would be a desolate and monochrome world indeed – a far cry from the life in abundance which Jesus Christ offers. It is a world warned against by (amongst others) Pope John Paul II in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995). Commenting on unwelcome developments in the field of medical ethics, he wrote
the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which, with its ubiquitous tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities themselves to the test. Those who allow themselves to be influenced by this climate easily fall into a sad vicious circle: when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life…
If we lose God, we lose our true selves. John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI spoke eloquently last month of this concern in Westminster when reminding us
not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.
It remains to be seen whether these words can inspire a confidence leading to a renewed dialogue going beyond personal gesture or statement, but impacting on the wider fabric of society. If we would keep the faith it’s important that the place of that faith is re-affirmed, and that will only happen if those of us who hold it live it, not in any pharisaic or pompous fashion but after the manner of our tax-collector – in penitence and humility, whilst firmly and courteously challenging the zeitgeist which claims that there is no place for faith in the public arena.
Keeping the faith matters – not only personally, but corporately, visibly, meaningfully. May this great gift continue to sustain, provoke and drive us onwards to the glory of the Kingdom, moving mountains and shaping hearts, minds and lives, until Christ is all in all.
Vice Principal, St. Stephen’s House
Monday, November 1, 2010
This homily was given by Chris Johnson, a second year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 1st November 2010 (All Saints).
I don’t know about you, but at this stage in term, I begin to feel rather tired. The bell that summons us daily to prayer has been summoning us for five weeks now, and I have about got to that stage where my body clock automatically wakes me up at 6:30 in the morning, whether it is a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or – much to my annoyance – a Saturday. In fact, the problem was exaggerated just yesterday morning when the good Lord gave us one extra hour in bed... and I woke up at 5:30 GMT. Tiredness, we are told, kills. The Highways Agency advises us to ‘take a break’ – but that’s not advice the seminarian, priest or tutor can easily accept, as the daily round of obligations in chapel, refectory and classroom each make their separate demand on our time and energy.
Tiredness and exhaustion are indicative of our humanity, and our fallen humanity at that. How often do we complain about this or our other failures or frailties? When we do, it should be comforting to know that the saints were made of the same mould as us. But, being sensible of their weaknesses, they were careful to ‘retrench all incentives of their passions, to shun all occasions of sin, to ground themselves in the most profound humility, and to strengthen themselves by the devout use of the sacraments, [and] prayer... [Yet] It was by the strength they received from above, not by their own, that they triumphed’.
The lives of the saints instruct all Christian people to rely on Jesus. In doing this, we must die to our own passions and deny our own will, by uprooting ‘pride, vanity, revenge and other irregular passions, and planting in the heart the most perfect spirit of humility, meekness, patience, and charity’. Such a pattern was exemplified by St. Joseph in our Gospel reading tonight: Joseph, being a righteous man, planned to dismiss Mary quietly. ‘But just when he had resolved to do this’, an angel appeared to him and commanded him otherwise. In humble submission to the will of God, which required the displacing of his own desires, Joseph obeyed the angel’s command.
Our reading from Isaiah, on the other hand, shows us that this is not always the response of humanity to God’s call. Isaiah instead paints a picture of a people to whom the Lord had spoken, but who neither knew His voice nor understood it. Yet even there, all was not lost. As the prophet said, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword’.
The virtues in which the renunciation of our selves consists – humility, meekness etc. – are styled by Christ as Beatitudes, because they not only lead to happiness, but also bring with them a present joy. The reward of the saints in the kingdom also serves to remind us that everything which is suffered here on earth is made light there. The holy ones of God show us that path from one to the other, from present trials to future glory, and this glory strongly animates our hope and excites our fervour.
In the rite for Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer, the priest reads aloud the Comfortable Words, opening with that promise of the Matthean Christ: ‘Come unto me, all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you’. These Words fit snugly between the Absolution and the Sursum Corda – and their position reminds us that following our own purging, we can look forward to meeting God Himself at that time when sacraments shall cease. Thus when we are tired and heavy laden, fallen in our humanity and weak in our service, Christ comes to us and promises us rest. He transforms the utter poverty of our nature, with all its natural limitations, by the great riches of His grace. The saints show us that that vision of God is attainable – for they now enjoy it.
At the opening of his many-versed hymn, William Walsham How wrote: ‘For all the saints, who from their labour rest; Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia! Alleluia!’ The Christian soul thus finds its rest in God, and in particular in the true worship of Him. And right now, through the grace of His sacraments, we can join with saints and angels around the throne worshipping the Lamb, though our vision is still ‘through a glass darkly’. When we are tired, burdened and heavy laden, we would therefore do well to remember another verse of For All the Saints:
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
May our toil through this life not distract us from knowing that our hope is in God, to whom is due all honour and praise, now and in all eternity; and may His holy ones pray for us as they share in that vision for which we long.
Let us pray.
Thou hast made us for Thyself
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee:
pour Thy love into our hearts and draw us to Thyself,
and so bring us at the last to Thy heavenly city
where we shall see Thee face to face;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, now and for ever.