Thursday 30 April 2009

Elasticity, incoherence and exclusion

Reports of the death of Anglicanism always seem to be somewhat premature, and it would seem from the various reports doing the rounds at the moment that some kind of modus vivendi may be found by which the Anglican “Communion” may (just about) hold together. If the ties that bind the provinces are made sufficiently elastic, it is hard to conceive of a situation in which they can be stretched to breaking point. If the proposed Anglican Covenant is made permissive enough, then signing up to it doesn’t really matter; it won’t affect the internal behaviour of provinces in any way.
At some point, if we haven’t reached that point already, many African provinces and the Southern Cone, will simply pay lip-service to the instruments of communion and go their own way, similarly with TEC, Canada and those provinces in the developed world which seem instinctively if not necessarily slavishly to follow the North American cultural agenda.
But inevitably, both within the Communion and within individual provinces, there will be casualties, "collateral damage," as one Welsh archdeacon so sensitively remarked a couple of years ago. Not, I predict, the more conservative (but non- Reform) evangelicals, for whom space now appears to be being made near the top table of the Church of England, if the Sherborne suffragan appointment is any indication, but traditional Anglican Catholics whose ecclesiology and theology of holy order has made us so eccentric (only in contemporary Anglican terms, I stress) as to make us politically expendable. That has been the case in the British Isles for some time and has been made very apparent in recent decisions and votes both in the C of E and the Church in Wales. Ecumenism is dead and we are to be buried along with it, if things go to plan.
Many of us wish GAFCON well from the bottom of our hearts, but we can’t sign up to it, as it is so very clearly and explicitly defined by its theological and liturgical dependence upon the 16th Century, for Catholics only one period in the two thousand years of the Church’s life and by no means prescriptive. ACNA, a welcome development in terms of North American Anglicanism which offers us all a glimmer of hope, will realistically have its work cut out to hold together in anything but the short term, given the disparity of views within it, not only on the matter of holy orders but in terms of wider sacramental theology and ecclesiology: Pittsburg and Fort Worth?
Some may say, and it’s been said to me repeatedly (and not only by those on the pro-innovation side of the arguments) that those who seek to hold to Catholic faith and practice within the Anglican system have only themselves to blame for their exclusion and marginalisation: essentially for withdrawing from the mainstream structures of the church. That’s true, but only up to a point; the difficulty comes (the possibilities now of being elected to them in the first place, put on one side) when those mainstream structures, of deanery, diocese, and province have become so liberalised and so dependent upon at least a tacit acknowledgement of the acceptability in some sense of women in holy orders and of the scandal of sacramental uncertainty – which is the real issue here, of course, not “gender” - that any engagement with the processes themselves becomes an insurmountable problem. Exclusion becomes, then, as inevitable for us as it did for the Non-Jurors at the end of the Seventeenth Century. And we will be excluded quite as ruthlessly and without any regrets, and the official body will close ranks and try to forget we ever existed. Anglicanism throughout its history has never been, and is not now, the kindly, inclusive, cuddly animal it believes itself to be. We have to try to ensure by all means at our disposal that, although we admire the Non Jurors’ conscientious stand, we do not come to share their fate. We do not call ourselves “Catholics” for nothing.

Meetings and more meetings

April is Annual Vestry time (parish A.G.M. s in the Church in Wales, largely concerned with annual reports and elections). For a complete “committeephobe” like myself it’s one of the great pleasures of the Spring, given that in a multi-parish benefice like the one in which I serve, we have four Vestry meetings and one A.G.M. (for our daughter church, St Mary’s.) Our Vestrys went well and were very constructive this year, despite the problems caused by a very gloomy economic outlook.

I’m not sure where the tradition came from that annual meetings (inconvenient for those in charge, but necessary in terms of accountability and good practice) have to be held at this time of year. I know that in theory, according to the Province’s Constitution, they can be held at any time from January to the end of April, despite still being commonly referred to as the Easter Vestry, but I’ve always thought that the late autumn would be a better time, before the end of the Church’s liturgical year. Post-Easter (or during Lent, despite the great penitential possibilities) is, for the clergy anyway, the worst possible time, given the fact we are usually fairly tired and somewhat washed out following Lent and the Triduum.
I expect there is a financial reason (there’s always a financial reason) why this suggestion would prove impracticable, but it would have a certain ecclesial logic on its side. Having said that, there is probably no chance whatsoever of a change ever being made, given that the Church in Wales is obdurately traditional in the things that don’t matter very much, yet increasingly sits light to tradition where it does matter. The curious rumbling noise coming through the floor at meetings of the Governing Body these days is the sound of the great Archbishop Green turning in his grave! Has anyone read Green's commentary on the Constitution lately? It brings out the fact that the original Constitution is essentially a catholic document in its ecclesiology and its spirit, but unfortunately entirely dependent upon the existence of orthodox bishops - the familiar Anglican story, now that the soixante-huitards are in charge.

We had an interesting comment at one of our meetings. Someone from the floor made the point that, given the refusal of the Bench of Bishops to honour its promises and appoint a new Provincial Assistant, should those parishes which have looked to the PAB for sacramental and pastoral care not be accorded a substantial reduction in parish share? A very good point, indeed. I did make the point in reply that, despite the fairness of that suggestion it was somewhat unlikely, any more than the Bench would pay for the increased use of antidepressants necessary as a result of their decision. A joke, if you were wondering; in any case there are no NHS prescription charges in Wales!

Tuesday 28 April 2009

St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort.

Today is the feast of one of my favourite saints, St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort. One of his hermitages, the Grotte du Pere de Monfort is in the Mervent Forest, only ten kilometres or so from our farmhouse in the Vendee.
I have to admit that he has always appealed to me, not only for his theological writings and his great devotion to Our Lady, but for his mission to preach the Catholic faith to the Protestants of that part of the Vendee! In fact, in Vouvant - a village nearby - there is an abiding memory of a miracle he performed for a terminally ill child. The courtyard where the boy lived is still called the Cour de Miracle.
May St Louis pray for us and all who seek to adhere to the Catholic faith.

A Prayer of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort
Our Father who art in heaven, you completely fill heaven and earth with the immensity of your being; you are present everywhere; you are in the saints by your glory, in the damned by your justice, in the good by your grace, even in sinners by your patience, tolerating them. Grant that we may always remember that we come from you and that we may live as your true children. Grant that we may set our true course according to your will and never swerve from you. Grant that we may use our every power, our hearts and souls and strength to tend toward you, and you alone.

Friday 24 April 2009


The photo is of new fronds beginning to unfurl on the tree fern in the Vicarage garden. Their resemblance to crosiers (not the simple wooden ones bishops of all shades of theological opinion seem to be sporting these days, but the more traditional kind) is quite startling. Although, in view of Bishop Edwin Barnes' comments about bishops in general in the current edition of the Church Observer, perhaps I should give the plant away p.d.q. as it obviously cannot be trusted.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Badge of honour

As a convinced francophile and part-time paysan (of the Vendee rather than the Garonne) I can’t help but admire the way the French do things so differently & with style. One response to the recent and outrageously unbalanced media attacks on the reputation of Pope Benedict has come from a group of Parisian young people who have staged counter-demonstrations in his support and have taken to wearing these badges.
“Leave my Pope alone!”
Where can I get one?

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Trashing the Past

There’s a certain type of liberal, and you find them in all traditions, who feels impelled, presumably in order to commend their faith to those who don’t share it, to pour scorn on what has gone before. Their deepest fear is that Chritian faith might not be thought to be intellectually respectable in the milieu they themselves inhabit. It’s the reason I now tend to avoid like the plague the ten to eight Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio 4, and have cancelled my subscriptions to the Church Times and The Tablet (if only they were published on a Monday they might not cast such a blight over the weekend!)
There seems to be an increasing antipathy developing in these (extremely influential and ecclesiastically highly-placed) quarters to traditional interpretations of the atonement. Admittedly, in my (somewhat humble) opinion, none of the classical interpretations of the meaning of the Lord’s cross and resurrection can stand alone, each informs the other, each offers deeper and more creative insights into the profound and unfathomable mystery of our redemption.
My own Passiontide reading this year has been a revisiting of von Balthazar’s Mysterium Paschale, and it is always a revelation and a delight to find how truly great theologians are able to bring what is new out of what is old, to draw on the intellectual and spiritual riches of the whole tradition in order to cast fresh light upon the present. They do it, of course, unlike some regular contributors to the Church Times and The Guardian, without the necessity of portraying every Christian thinker of the past as some kind of primitive obsessed with ideas of blood-sacrifice and eternal punishment. The classic propagandist’s tool is to set up a straw man to demolish in order to discredit views one finds hard to stomach. Perhaps I’m doing it myself here – or perhaps not.
But in relation to liberal re-interpretations of the atonement, is it really surprising that that once one removes the sacrifice and the blood, one is left with something so anaemic it convinces no one? “A really bitchin metaphor,” as Christopher Johnson at the MCJ inimitably describes it.
Western liberalism is essentially a product of the university senior common room. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself – where else did the Tractarians begin their own theological counter-revolution? Bur the real problem with liberal revisionism’s visceral hatred of any theology which emphasises the necessity of sacrifice, either made once for all upon the cross, or re-presented upon the altar, is that it simply cannot understand the necessity for it at any level of experience. Liberalism itself, despite the questing, fearless image it has of itself, is a somewhat self-satisfied, comfortable product of a North Atlantic middle class world where the deepest fears in life seem to be whether the traffic on the school run is going to be heavy this morning or whether Sainsbury’s has run out of fresh pasta. The experience of the rest of the world since the dawn of time has been rather different and is likely to stay that way, U.N. Millennium Development Goals notwithstanding. The body broken and the blood poured out for the life of the world continue to resonate with everyday reality.
And on the level of human psychology, rather than the theological truths about human nature, if you want to recommend the faith to anyone whether by means of the broadcast or printed media or, for that matter, face to face, and then proceed to rubbish its entire history and scholarship and try to imply that, well, we’re all grown-up twenty-first century adults now and we don’t need this primitive stuff, then people won’t come flocking to the Brave New Church you have created, they assume they have been right to be sceptical all along and they continue to stay away in droves.

Regina Coeli laetare

Monday 20 April 2009

Semana Santa in Salamanca

These amazing photos (particularly if you click to enlarge them) were taken by Kate (on her mobile phone camera at the end of a series of long days giving masterclasses and concerts) mainly from the vantage point of the city centre apartment where she was staying. This is a true Catholic culture; there were thousands of people on the streets, the atmosphere one of real devotion combined with a kind of carnival spirit. The Spanish may say that Spain has become radically secularised over the last few years, particularly under the Zapatero government, but it doesn’t look that way from our perspective after centuries of popular protestantism and the resulting religious indifference.

Chaos Theory

Nothing doing on the blogging front for a while, I’m afraid. Life here has been utterly chaotic throughout Passiontide and Easter Week with walls being demolished, a kitchen refitted and new floors laid throughout the ground floor of the Vicarage, no work having been done on the house since it was built some twenty five years ago. I’m not complaining; far from it, when work is completed it will all look wonderful and, at last, we will have a workable and easy to maintain kitchen and house!
This week, interruptions to the power supply permitting, I will try to post some photos of Holy Week & Easter in the parish and also some fascinating shots of the Holy Week processions in Salamanca where, while the Vicarage was being turned upside down, Kate was working – clever girl!

Saturday 11 April 2009


On Holy Saturday all is quiet; the Lord lies in the tomb. The Church waits…

In the Vicarage, the telephone rings…

“O, Hello, Father! I’d like to book a wedding for Easter Saturday next year.”
“Congratulations, good to hear from you! The Saturday after Easter next year, wonderful!”
“Oh, no, the day before Easter. You know, Easter Saturday!”
Well. Actually, Easter Saturday is really the Saturday after Easter. But I’m afraid we don’t marry people on the Saturday before Easter.........”
“Really! I've never heard that before; but my mother and father were married in church on Easter Saturday………… I’m really disappointed. We’ll have to have a word with the Revd So and So down the road! She’ll understand.”

It’s an extreme (and fictional) example; normally (but not always) couples are very happy, having had the situation explained to them, to go for the week after.
A little bit of friendly and patient teaching goes a long way. But many of us have had conversations something like that over the years. And in a faith community with very elastic boundaries and multiple choices in theology and practice and very little and diminishing authority to which one can appeal, this is the inevitable consequence.
Of course, this isn’t a recent development. We probably have to thank Henry VIII, Edward VI and their plundering cronies and apologists (step forward Archbishop Cranmer) for beginning the process of desacralising the calendar as they desacralised many of our church buildings in England and Wales - and what goes on in them. I'll get off my hobby-horse now.

But please, Classic FM, the BBC and anyone else out there, repeat after me:


Today is Holy Saturday. The Church waits…..

Friday 10 April 2009

The Bishop of Ebbsfleet's Chrism Mass Homily

The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground: yea, I have a goodly heritage. Ps. 16:7

THIS IS MY ninth Chrism Mass sermon and, as always, I try to cover a topic of lively interest to the clergy that I have not covered before. The new topic this year - following consecutive years spent on the Eucharist and on the sacraments of initiation, Baptism and Confirmation - is a phrase which is being increasingly bandied around, 'Anglican Patrimony'. It's an important phrase because, whatever becomes of us - whether we stay on, indefinitely, in our own little corner of the Church of England, as many of us plan to do, or seek reconciliation with the Holy See, as many of us have done and will do - it is surely right to examine just what it is that we should be staying for, and just what it is that we should be taking with us, whether individually or in a group.

But before I say too much about Anglican Patrimony and about staying and going, I must grapple with some Scripture. We are well on in 'the Pauline Year,' which goes on until 29th June 2009. As we commemorate the second millennium of the birth of St Paul we can't help noticing that Petertide, when the year of Paul starts and finishes, is ordination-time in the Church of England. So what has St Paul got to tell us about Christian ministry?

The Pastoral Epistles tell us quite a bit about what we nowadays call the 'ordained ministry' but the problem with the Pastorals, for our purposes, is that modern scholarship very much takes the view that it was disciples of Paul, rather than Paul himself, who wrote the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus. So, rather than deal with bits of evidence here and there for what we would call 'ordained ministry' in Acts and the epistles, I want instead to make some rather more general points about Christian ministry, as we learn about it through St Paul. Nothing original but maybe, for some, a new approach.

Christian ministry in the teaching of Paul is urgent and sacrificial. It is corporate and eucharistic. It is authoritative and all-encompassing. Urgent and sacrificial; corporate and eucharistic; authoritative and all-encompassing. Bear with me while I say a word about each of these three headings, and then, I promise, I shall briefly touch on the traditional 'the state of the nation' bit of the Chrism Mass sermon. First, the teaching of Paul is urgent and sacrificial. Think of this verse, 'If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain' (1 Corinthians 15:14). Pope Benedict, in his address on 5th November last year had this to say about this verse:

' ... St. Paul makes clear how decisive is the importance that he attributes to the resurrection of Jesus. In this event, in fact, is the solution to the problem that the drama of the cross implies. On its own, the cross could not explain Christian faith; on the contrary, it would be a tragedy, a sign of the absurdity of being.'

Paul, among the first of the evangelists to the world, not only tells us how urgent our message but tells us of the lengths to which he and we should be prepared to go:

'To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly clothed and buffeted and homeless…we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the dregs of all things.' (1 Corinthians 4:11, 13)

So, as we renew our ministerial promises, how do we live up to this? Is the Gospel we preach urgent and sacrificial? I think of this - and one or two of the other purple Pauline passages - when people tell me that they must be in a parish which has the freehold, or that they are just going to coast along until retirement. We must recover urgency. We must recover a sense of the sacrificial, unconditional nature of Christian discipleship. [Undoubtedly one of our greatest weaknesses across the board!; Well said, Father!]

Second, Paul's teaching about ministry is corporate and eucharistic. This year I have had reason to revisit John Robinson's excellent monograph, The Body, first published in 1952. This is part of what he has to say, which we have put in full in this month's Ebbsfleet Extra:

One could say without exaggeration that the concept of the body forms the keystone of Paul's theology ... It is from the body of sin and death that we are delivered; it is through the body of Christ on the Cross that we are saved; it is into his body the Church that we are incorporated; it is by his body in the Eucharist that this Community is sustained; it is in our body that its new life has to be manifested; it is to a resurrection of this body to the likeness of his glorious body that we are destined ... .

In Pauline thought we, who are members of the Body of Christ, are members of that Body because we are fed on that Body. You and I, my brother priests, are called not only to play our part as ministers in the Body, but to create that Body in the Mass, and to nourish our people with it, so that they - and we - become 'very members incorporate', as the Prayer Book has it, members of the Mystical Body of Christ. So how dare we refer to ordination as 'going into the Church', as if 'the Church' were a clerical club? How dare we talk about 'the Church' as if it were a bunch of bishops, or a provincial synod, or even a whole generation?

The Body of Christ, the Church, is everywhere and spanning every century. What it teaches, as the fifth century canon of St Vincent of Lerins puts it, is quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est, what has been believed always, what has been believed everywhere, and what has been believed by everyone. Heresies and theological errors come and go, like the calling of cuckoos in spring. Like sin or the cold virus, heresies and errors are the same old stuff, looking slightly different each time. As Vincent himself believed, there is a continuing job of explaining and exploring Scripture but the development of doctrine must be in the hands of a competent authority which, from the earliest days, has included reference to the Bishop of Rome. The debate has not been about whether he has this authority, but how and when he should exercise it.

Which brings us to our third point: Christian ministry in the teaching of Paul is authoritative and all-encompassing. It is authoritative because each of us is commissioned by Christ to do it: lay people by baptism, deacons, priests and bishops by ordination. In Romans 12 the faithful, the 'saints', are 'many members' of the 'one body', with 'gifts that differ': prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, making a contribution, giving aid, doing acts of mercy. In 1 Corinthians 12, we hear about the varieties of gifts, varieties of service, varieties of working:

uttering wisdom, uttering knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues.

What we do is authoritative because it is done apostolically, in the name of Christ, whom the Father sent, that he in turn might send the apostles and they in turn might send us. We share in this apostolic ministry and speak with its authority. But our ministry is also all-encompassing. As St Paul shows us, there is something for everyone to do, and indeed goes on to say that 'the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable' (1 Cor. 12:22).

So far I have called in evidence the Holy Father and a famous liberal Anglican theologian. (Not so liberal, actually: remember his conservative dating of St John's Gospel). My third and final witness is the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom. In The Living Body of Christ, a collection of talks printed last year, Metropolitan Anthony has this to say of the ministry of the laity (amongst whom he counts us bishops, priests and deacons):

'It is the people of God….who must make sacred everything they touch, who can sanctify all things by first sanctifying themselves, and then bringing into sanctity everything they touch and do, until God can become "all in all". St Basil reminds us that "anyone can rule, but only a king can give his life for his subjects", and each of us in that respect is endowed with the kingship of Christ, that is, with his command to die for our neighbour and for the salvation of the world.' (p208f)

True, the springboard for this reflection is the reference in 1 Peter 2:9 to 'a royal priesthood', but Metropolitan Anthony's thoughts are bound up with the vision of God being 'everything to everyone' (1 Corinthians 15:28), 'all in all', as the NRSV puts it. Christian ministry, as we said, is 'authoritative and all-encompassing'.


And now, very briefly, for Anglican Patrimony. As you know, there is a huge amount going on behind the scenes. I am by turns amused and alarmed when this is not understood. One moment we bishops are accused of lack of leadership, the next of swanning off and leaving everyone in the lurch. I set out my stall last year and have been in extensive discussions, not only with brother bishops but also with my Council of Priests and my Lay Congress and Council. There are, I think, three distinct groups in our midst - at least at present - and, as bishop, I must do my best to minister effectively to them while ever I can. The first group is what I have called the 'non-jurors': those who will stay put, almost whatever happens, and who badly need the best synodical provision that can be achieved. Lots of work going on there. Papers flying around. We have a very good representation on the Revision Committee and we shall have to see what emerges. The second group are the 'solo swimmers'. There are some people - priests and lay people - who see the need to make individual pilgrimage to Rome as supplicants. I have sent three or four priests, and there are lay people too who are slipping off to their local Catholic Church and starting a new life there. In almost every case, as far as I can see, this is happening not out of disloyalty to the rest of us but because of circumstances - often the impossibility locally.

It is the third group which most belong to.What I have called 'the caravan'. The caravan - an untidy jumble of folk trekking across the desert to more fertile lands - is an image of the People of God which goes back to the Book of Exodus. It is an image for human life itself. It has been the main theme of Catholic Anglicanism and was the theme of consecutive Ebbsfleet Festivals of Faith: 'Marching to the Promised Land, the Land of Milk and Honey' was the title of one. The SSC - the priestly society to which most of the priests here belong - is committed to reunion with the Holy See. Forward in Faith is committed to corporate reunion. So is the Catholic League. And I could go on. Surely, in our present brokenness, there is a fresh opportunity. We made this point last Eastertide in Rome, when we were granted high-level audiences in the Vatican. We made this point in an article in the Catholic Herald last July, following that infamous synodical debate. We continue to wait for an answer but have every reason to continue to hope that there will be an answer, a new ecumenical initiative on the part of the Holy See.

But whether we stay put, drift off as individuals, or journey on as an untidy caravan, we do need to attend to the gifts that God has given us, and which are part of our Anglican patrimony. Looking back, I think we have been a bit too willing to pretend to be modern Roman Catholics, too careless about what we as Anglicans have as a precious possession. The Prayer Book offices. The 1928 Marriage and Funeral services. Cranmer's collects. The tradition of the English Bible, most richly and wholly present in the slightly modernised RSV, which we give out to confirmation candidates. A fine tradition of hymnody and an unparalleled musical tradition. A feeling for the 'parish mass', not always found in à la carte Roman Catholicism. Some stunning buildings and some extraordinarily effective liturgical spaces created within mediocre buildings. Most of all, a pastoral method which accepts and ministers to everyone, regardless of who they are, and tries to move them on in the direction of the Kingdom. [This is a part of Anglican pastoral care that is to be held on to tightly in my opinion.] And so my plea to you all, at the end of this Chrism Mass sermon, is to be patient and loving with one another as our present dramas play out. To be proud of what we have received, to prize it, and to be content to explore it. Whether we stay or go, whether we go one by one or together in a group, whether we manage to hang on to our beloved buildings or not, the gifts God has given us Catholic Anglicans are very real gifts. Who knows, we Catholic Anglicans may yet become Anglican Catholics?

The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground: yea, I have a goodly heritage.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Maundy Thursday. The Watch

The hour is coming, indeed it has already come,
when you will be scattered every man to his own home,
and you will leave me alone; yet I am not alone,
for the Father is with me

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is traditionally the day on which the Mass of the Chrism is celebrated by the Bishop with his priests and deacons united around him; it is a day of commitment and joy in the service of the Lord, whose dying and rising we are preparing to unite ourselves with in the solemn liturgies of the Triduum.

However, since the time the anglican provinces in these islands departed from Catholic holy order, it has also been a day of profound sadness in the face of our disunity. Since 1997, Catholics and other traditionalists in the Church in Wales have gathered around Bishop David Thomas, the Provincial Assistant Bishop, in the Chrism Masses he has celebrated in North and South Wales. With the dishonouring of the promises made to us in 1996, this arrangement has now come to an end.

This morning, instead of being able to attend the Chrism Mass of the Bishop of Monmouth in Newport Cathedral, has been spent in prayer for the sadly divided community of which we still (if increasingly tenuously) form a part, and for the visible unity of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church and for our own reunion with the greater whole.
Our Chrism Mass took place in Bath this year, the great joy of the occasion being tempered only by the sadness of being forced to make the journey.

This is Father Hunwicke’s take on the Mass of the Chrism. I quote it in full as it sums up my own feelings about the true significance of Saturday morning in Bathwick.

“In antiquity, the Bishop of Rome used to send a fragment of the Host, each Sunday, to each of the presbyters of the Roman title churches as a sign of his Communio with them ... and of his own Eucharistic presidency. It was commingled with the chalice at the Fraction; the origin, in fact, of the Commixture which has bravely survived Bugnini and still exists even in the Ordinary Form.
A little while ago, Bishop Andrew reminded us that it is not good enough just to have any old validly consecrated Chrism around; the Chrism in fact functions now as a expression and diagnostic of Communio. The C of E never has had proper incardination; the Tudor Establishment preserved the old medieval bureaucratic legalities (Gregory Dix liked to point out that the Church of England is riddled with more unreformed medievalisms than any other body in Christendom). But whose oils one uses in the radically liminal rites of Initiation shows which Bishop one is a presbyter of.
Sometimes our Traditionalist English bishops refer to their clergy as "Clergy who look to me". Perhaps a crisper, more theological, more sacramental, formula would be "Clergy who receive my Chrism".
I think it's a good point. 'Whose Chrism' is so much better an indication of a presbyter's ecclesial location than legal pieces of paper like licences. Chrism, after all, is not about lawyers but about the sacramental structure of Christ's Church.
Bishop Andrew, it seems, will have had about 150ish priests at his Chrism Masses. These PEVdoms seem to compare very favourably with the size of dioceses in some parts of the anglican Communion.”

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Wednesday of Holy Week

After mass this morning, one of my parishioners (in fact, my oldest parishioner) showed me an article from the Sunday Telegraph magazine of a couple of weeks ago. Under the heading “The Stained-Glass Ceiling” it’s at first sight a fairly unremarkable and superficial series of rehashed interviews with the usual prominent female clerics of the Church of England.
But several things stand out. Firstly, the writer’s complete lack of objectivity and balance in her reporting. That this comes from a socially conservative newspaper such as the Telegraph should leave us under no illusions as to the possibility of gaining a fair hearing from the culture amongst which we are living. In the eyes of the reporter, Ms Rafanelli (with a surname like that one could have hoped for better!) and, of course, many others, opponents of women’s ordination are simply bullies and bigots who practise unfair discrimination; there can be, according to this mindset, no objections which are not inherently sexist and misogynistic.
There is also no recognition whatsoever by the author of the article that, after a decade of marginalising those of orthodox theology, our opponents have, in all essentials, won the political battle (if not the theological argument) and all that remains for them to do is carry out a mopping- up operation which will inevitably involve many of us being ejected from the Church of our baptism.
Secondly, given the views stated, what becomes clear is the utter impossibility of the two opposing views and practices on the subject of women’s ordination being able to co-exist within the one ecclesial body. We all know in our heart of hearts that any attempt to hold these opposed positions together is doomed to failure; it’s all or nothing, and our opponents will settle for nothing less than our complete silencing and removal from the Church.
So why don’t we either go away quietly or just shut up and keep our heads down and go along with the innovation? Many have taken the latter course, and have done very nicely out of doing so.
But if we did that, acting against our consciences, acting against what we believe to be the Lord’s will for us and for his Church, we are the ones, and not our opponents, who will not see Christ face to face.To act against an informed conscience is to put up a barrier to salvation and I’m old fashioned enough both to believe in the concept and also that proclaiming salvation is the heart and focus of the Church's mission.
It’s Holy Week and we are confronted with the truth that it is necessary to embrace the reality of the cross. If we do not suffer and die with the Lord then we cannot hope to rise with him. Where will our taking up of the cross lead us? To what must we die in order that we may live?

From today’s first reading at mass:

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty?

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Holy Week

It’s only human to want to be popular, to be acknowledged, to be liked, to be loved. It affirms our often fragile sense of self-worth, it reinforces our sense of purpose, that our lives have meaning.
And it’s only really a small step from this fairly innocuous desire for popularity, which we all share to a greater or lesser extent, to the cult of celebrity which so disfigures our cultural life at the moment. We are encouraged to want to be somebody, to have people notice us as we pass by. Go out and buy the designer sunglasses, audition for a reality T.V. show and you are already halfway there.
But traditionally in human history, those who were given this kind of glory and adulation weren’t just famous for being seen on television. They were the people with power - kings and queens, successful political leaders and victorious generals; they were popular, but they were also feared for the power they wielded. Just look at the figures carved on the Roman victory arches we can still see throughout continental Europe and the many imitations they gave rise to over the centuries. The desire for acclaim, to be seen as a liberator and a saviour, to be hailed by the crowds, runs very deep and, as we know, it‘s not only confined to ancient history or to totalitarian dictators.
But what about Jesus on the first Palm Sunday,riding into the holy city of Jerusalem mounted, not on the customary white charger, but on a donkey, on “a colt, the foal of an ass?” It seems almost a parody of a triumphal entry - riding on a donkey with the cloaks of his followers thrown on the ground before him and the branches from the trees along the roadside scattered in front; isn’t it a world away from the conquering heroes of history, a world away from the conventional view of the time as to how the Messiah was going to ride into his city, to take possession of it and bringing about the kingdom of God.
But the donkey wasn’t an incidental thing - Jesus doesn’t ride it into Jerusalem by accident, just because one happened to be available. The Gospels nowhere else describe Jesus as travelling other than on foot. The donkey is chosen to match the prophet Zechariah’s vision of the Messiah‘s victory procession. By doing this Jesus is laying a claim. But it’s a claim with a difference.
In St Matthew’s Gospel, after his triumphal entrance into the city, Jesus goes straight into the Temple precincts, driving out the moneychangers who had set up stalls at the entrance, he then heals the blind and the crippled and after a final confrontation with the chief priests and scribes goes out of the city again spends the night at Bethany, a village about two miles outside Jerusalem. We know it from St John’s Gospel as the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, the friend Jesus has brought back from the dead.
So what is going on? Is this a pathetic failure at a popular revolution, or are we being asked to look much more searchingly at what is going on?
There is a deliberate act of parody going on here. Jesus is showing his utter disregard for the politics of power. This isn’t what God’s Messiah is all about, he is saying. This is the real thing, but it’s not what people were expecting. What we see at the beginning of Holy Week is a continuation of the theme begun at the Annunciation and at the stable at Bethlehem and one with which we will be very familiar before this week is over, if we stick with it.
This isn’t about triumph at all, it has nothing to do with heroics or celebrity. It’s about renunciation, the self-emptying of God in solidarity with his people. The real triumphal procession through Jerusalem didn’t happen on the first Palm Sunday; it happens on Good Friday. The Man of Sorrows, whipped and beaten through the streets on the way to his execution, this is the real triumphal progress. The real victory is the victory of the cross, which will be seen for what it truly is only on the morning of the Resurrection.
After all yesterday’s drama and excitement, everything goes quiet. Jesus remains with his followers teaching them, preparing them for what must happen next, praying in a way we can hardly comprehend. This week we, too, are about to walk with Christ along the Via Dolorosa, along the Way of the Cross. The victory which he will win by his suffering and death is won once for all; it can’t be repeated. We can’t repeat it, although here at the Eucharist day by day we re-present it to the Father as the only thing we have which is worth offering. We offer the saving death of Christ to the Father so that we may share the life he has won for us.
We can’t repeat the victory of the Cross, but we are meant to unite ourselves to it and to the one who hangs there. What does that mean? How can we join ourselves to this once-for-all act on which the future of the world is determined. The cross is the “still centre of the turning world.” The cross stands, as everything - the world and everything in it, its past, present and future - revolves around it.
Joining ourselves to the Lord’s victory, taking up our own cross and following him means being liberated from those things which threaten to enslave us, freeing us from the fantasies which lead us to see the world from any other perspective other than God’s. It is inevitably a way of renunciation, of turning our back on things which may not be too harmful in themselves, but nevertheless represent a distraction from the things we need to do to grow closer to Christ. The way of the Cross is the Christian life and, like the story of Holy Week itself, is very much a matter of alternatives taken and not taken, choices made and not made, both by the Lord himself, his apostles and disciples, and his opponents, and it‘s a journey which will last us a lifetime. Our Lord’s way of triumph and of victory is very often the one which looks like total failure in the world’s eyes, but which ends up offering us the gift of true life, life without limit, life without end. This week shows us how.

Monday 6 April 2009

Passport Control

Why is it that the Americans have such a genius for colloquial English? There is a comment by Fr Z on his admirable blog about rumours of an earthquake in Rome and asking for further information from his readers with the injunction:
"keep the knuckle-head stuff out of this!"

On the subject of “knuckle-head stuff,” there is a rumour that the newly-elected Bishop of St Asaph has sent a letter to “his” traditionalist clergy requesting(?) that they not attend the Bishop of Beverley’s Chrism Mass. I gather they intend to comply, whether out of motives of consideration and politeness to the new boy on the block or (I think) misguided loyalty and a sense of obedience, I’m not sure.
I hope Holy Oils don’t have a use-by date.
But loyalty and obedience can’t be a one way street – the words “in all things legal and honest” spring to mind.
Whatever the situation, it doesn’t look too much like “an open process of reception” to me.

Now on to our own piece of Anglican border crossing.
A wonderful Chrism Mass presided over by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet at Mary’s, Bathwick saw an large and unexpected influx of episcopally-orphaned Celtic refugees who, despite their surprise appearance, were made most welcome by their fellow orthodox Christians. At the Severn Bridge there was a notable absence of six men in purple cassocks checking passports or handing out P45s. Perhaps they were otherwise occupied in Llandaff Cathedral.
The Bishop of Ebbsfleet spoke directly and movingly first of the theology of priesthood and then moved on to our present situation and the possible solutions to the difficulties faced by Catholics in the Church of England & ….
I think I’m part of the "untidy caravan."
The mass itself had an electrically spiritual atmosphere.
"Behold how good and lovely a thing it is: when brethren dwell together in unity."
Ubi episcopus ibi ecclesia.
That's the whole issue, chaps, isn't it?

Thursday 2 April 2009

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

"Sir, we wish to see Jesus."
Did the group of Greeks in the Gospel this morning know what they meant by asking this question? Perhaps they had heard of Our Lord and what he had said and done and realised that this man was someone it was important for them to meet. Perhaps they were motivated by curiosity, perhaps most likely a mixture of the two. But like us, they have heard something of Jesus and they want to find out more.
The response Our Lord makes is very surprising. He doesn’t simply go and talk to them, but instead he meets them - and everyone who asks the same question, including ourselves - at their greatest point of need. What do we mean when we say we wish to see Jesus? And what is the point of any encounter with him?
Hence the startling response; because Jesus doesn’t just go and have a chat with them, he starts talking about his death. And what Our Lord is saying to all of us is that if we really want to “see” him - that is, to see him for who he really is - we have to be confronted with the reality and necessity of the cross, and that is how we come to see him and know him.
The question of who Jesus is is absolutely central here - literally crucial. In Jesus we see our God sharing our life and death to free us from sin - our own (the things we should take direct personal responsibility for) and those we inherit through the process of history and the general messiness of human life - to bring us back into relationship with him. This is God’s great act of solidarity with the human race, but not as a gesture or merely a symbol. God doesn’t
make empty gestures. This is the ultimate act of love which saves us and leads us to the new life of resurrection. The cross answers our question: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”
In the crucified Lord, lifted up from the earth, we see what the love of God is all about, a love which holds nothing back, which has no limits placed upon it. In Jesus, crucified and risen, we meet God, the focus of our lives, the source of all our freedom and the reason for our hope and joy.
And when we come to the cross, this is what we see: we are drawn to it not by the grotesque and barbaric spectacle of crucifixion, but by the love and mercy we see displayed there.
This may seem a strange thing to say, but in the cross we don‘t only see Jesus, we also see ourselves in our pain, our need, our sinfulness. As followers of Jesus, as those he calls his friends, we are all called to meet and in some way embrace the cross in our own lives - to recognise the pain of our human condition and prostrate ourselves before the cross asking for forgiveness and healing.
And this is what this morning’s Gospel says to us. When in response to the enquiry of the little group of Greeks, Jesus alludes to the mystery of His death, he is saying to us all that his passion and death are the key to a more profound understanding of the meaning and purpose of our lives. To "see" Jesus is to begin to be united with him in his sacrifice and in his dying to himself in order to live for us. At the heart of his message is the need to let go our selfishness and egoism, our much protected autonomy and individualism, so we might experience the life of God.
In today’s Gospel Jesus uses this example from nature to explain his eaning. "Unless a grain of wheat falls onto the earth and dies, it remains alone." The grain of wheat left by itself produces nothing; it’s only when it seems to have died and has been buried in the earth that it is able to bring forth fruit - in far greater abundance than a single grain ever could. This is true of Jesus himself; we see this most clearly in the events of Holy Week and Easter, but it is true for us, too, in so far as we deepen our relationship, our true encounter with Christ.
Here, now, as we celebrate the unfolding story of our redemption of the Church’s year, as we spend time in prayer, the events of the Gospel come alive for us. We too say 'we wish to see Jesus', and we do see him lifted up before us, at every celebration of the Eucharist. We see Christ, and he draws us to himself, in the all the sacraments, especially when we come together at the Eucharist to offer his death to the Father and to receive his life in Holy Communion.
We will see and encounter Jesus in a particularly intense way through the celebration of the liturgies of next week - Holy Week - which is why we should try to experience as much of it as we possibly can. We miss so much if all we share of it is Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. And we miss the point completely, absolutely and altogether if we allow ourselves to be put off by the angst, the suffering and the pain of Holy Week and simply try to experience Easter Day in isolation from the events leading up to it. We shouldn’t be seduced by the shying away from painful human realities which characterises so much of contemporary life. “Make it bland, make it pain-free, let’s not even speak about pain and death, even though both await us all at some point.”
Easter chicks and fluffy bunnies and chocolate eggs are all very nice but they won’t save us, neither will the glories of the renewal of nature in the unfolding Spring. The world turns its back on the events of Holy Week because it has no hope in any future once this life is over. It turns its back on reality for exactly the same reason, yet in turning its back on things as they inevitably are, it turns its back on salvation itself and the freedom and the hope it offers us.
Our society’s rejection of Christian faith, if you believe the propaganda of our fashionable elites, is supposed to be about the heroic rejection of fantasy and the facing up to harsh reality; yet where does it end? In the no-doubt comfortable and tastefully furnished ante-room of a Swiss clinic waiting for a smiling doctor armed with a lethal injection.
In stark contrast we find salvation and freedom and hope - as the Greeks did in the Gospel today - in the reality of Jesus and in our sharing in his ultimate confrontation with sin and death which we commemorate at this most sacred period of the Christian year.
And the Jesus we see - who gives us the new life of his resurrection through the sacraments of the Church - we still long to be able to see face to face to reach out and touch him. And this is promised to us as well. Our following of Jesus doesn‘t end with our death. The Lord who was exalted on the cross was also raised from the dead, and he draws everyone who longs to see him to the fullness of happiness for all eternity in the vision of God. That is a joy that as yet we cannot possibly fully either share or understand, but its signs are all around us if we have the eyes of faith to be able to see them.

What’s Dignity got to do with it?

For once, I find myself in total agreement with Ruth Gledhill, the Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Times:

“Ludwig Minelli, head of Dignitas, the assisted dying clinic in Switzerland, believes suicide is a 'marvellous possibility' and that the mentally ill should not be dissuaded from killing themselves. It would save the NHS such a lot of money if they succeeded, he told BBC Radio 4. This man has helped more than 40 Britons to kill themselves. Now that the dark, ugly underbelly of his agenda has been exposed, let's pray that the only suicide he has assisted this time is of the campaign to legalise euthanasia.”

And the problem is……….. contemporary society, and the media elite which controls our cultural agenda, maintain time after time that in matters of the sanctity of life hard cases do make good law. They begin with sentimental liberalism and end, as we see with the “Dignitas” Clinic, with nothing less than Nazism. But will they see the logical progression? I doubt it.