Friday 12 June 2015

Pulling down the pillars of the temple ....

There's a revealing story in the news which neatly illustrates contemporary western cultural attitudes - in this case, a kind of imperialism of permissiveness which believes it has the right to trample thoughtlessly over the sensitivities of other societies. Naturally (not perhaps the right word, given the terrain) it involves taking one's clothes off in public, in this case at the top of a thirteen thousand foot mountain in Malaysia, long regarded as sacred by the native inhabitants. Much more revealing was the reaction from some sections of the western media that the young woman among those arrested and charged was somehow worthy of immense sympathy, based on the supposed ignorance and superstition of the locals. 
Even given the present standards of British education, we have to assume the climbers could all read ... although they don't seem to have made a regular habit of it. [here] Getting naked on a holy mountain implies a certain failure of research, if nothing more.
One can't help thinking that, with three days' detention, they got off far more lightly than they probably deserved.

More 'liberal' imperialism here. Gender confusion-ism reigns supreme. Not for everyone, however; Pope Francis remains unconvinced [ here
Troublingly, even to question - on scientifically rigorous medical grounds - the ideology behind modern theories of 'gender' can lead to (grossly hypocritical) accusations of 'bigotry' [here]  One can have enormous sympathy with those who feel such displacement, without necessarily having to question and subjectivise the very essence of human identity and its place within the created order. Yet maybe our transgressive culture carries within it the seeds of its own destruction;  in order to be genuinely transgressive, there has to be something accepted as normative against which to transgress .... perhaps the future of Christianity in the neo-pagan West is to be a faithfully transgressive response to the intolerant relativism of the new ideologically monochromatic rainbow elites ... 
To allude to the previous story, and to mix up our fairy tales, the emperor now really does have no clothes, and has particularly big teeth, the former being especially harmful at such a high cultural altitude ...  all the better from which to despise  you, my dear.

And the seemingly now crumbling traditionalist Catholic wing of Anglicanism in the British Isles suffers yet another blow with the defection of the Bishop of Horsham [here
Again, we can have a great deal of sympathy with Bishop Mark Sowerby in his laudable search for personal theological integrity, but the true cost of his decision will be borne by those being progressively abandoned to their fate in an increasingly heterodox church.
Some of us have been desperately trying to change our minds on the issue of women's ordination for decades - it would be so much more ... 'convenient,'  but keep running into the intellectual and theological impasse that apostolicity forbids it as being neither consonant with Scripture nor demanded by Tradition ....
But one worries he may not be the last ....  

Thursday 11 June 2015

Mother and Child

Amid all the bad news and the dire predictions of decline - more of which later - a reminder of the eternal truths: the late Sir John Tavener's 'Mother and Child' performed by Tenebrae under the direction of Nigel Short.

The Word was made flesh
And dwelt among us 

"Enamoured of its gaze
The mother’s gaze in turn
Contrives a single beam of light
Along which love may move.
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
Through seeing, through touch,
Through hearing the new-born heart
Conduits of being join.
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
So is the image of heaven within
Started into life.
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
As in the first (was) adoration
Another consciousness has come to praise
The single theophanic light
That threads all entrants here –
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
This paradise where all is formed of love
As flame to flame is lit.
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!"

Saturday 6 June 2015

The Miracle of the Eucharist: a homily for Corpus Christi

There's an ancient church in a village called O Cebreiro on a mountaintop in Galicia in North West Spain.  It’s on the Camino de Santiago, and it’s the first village you come to in Galicia after yet another steep climb straight up the side of a mountain. When I got there in 2013 it was starting to rain heavily and a strong wind was blowing - it's about three and a half thousand feet above sea level . The church was open and staffed by a small community of very welcoming Franciscans. In the church there is an ancient 10th century wooden statue of the Virgin and child - formal, but full of life and, like the church itself,  possessing a deep sense of stillness and peace.  

But by far the best known story about the church at O Cebreiro is that sometime in the fourteenth century a peasant farmer from a neighbouring village struggled there through a terrible winter storm, risking his life to do so, for the sole reason that he really wanted to go to  Mass and receive Holy Communion. The priest presiding at the Eucharist, a man, we are told, of very little faith, found this altogether too much, for he didn’t value the Eucharist nearly as much as did the farmer. And as the peasant approached to receive communion, the priest cynically looked at him and despised him for the naïve faith and devotion that led him to risk his life just to participate in the Mass - just for, as the priest thought to himself "a little piece of bread.“ But at that very moment, when he said the words of Our Lord, "This is my body ... this is my blood ..." before the doubting priest's own eyes and in his own hands, the consecrated Wine in the chalice turned into physical blood and the consecrated Host on the paten became physical flesh, visibly the very Body and Blood of Christ. 
This was clearly the Lord’s own way of correcting his priest’s scepticism, his lack of faith and love, and his arrogance toward a humble countryman who, in fact , was far richer in faith and understanding than he was himself. We are told the priest repented of his cynicism, and according to tradition, both men are now buried together in the small side chapel where the chalice and paten of the Eucharistic Miracle are still displayed.

I tell the story - not to bang on about the Camino de Santiago - as you know I don’t need any excuse to do that - but because it is so easy - fatally easy - to take the Eucharist for granted; after all, it’s just what the Church does when we come together to worship. It’s just there; its what we do when we come to church.
But, of course, that won’t do at all,  because the Eucharist should above all fill us with wonder. There is a profound mystery here hidden beneath the ordinary material things of life, the bread and wine of an everyday meal. These are commonplace realities of human living taken and given by the Lord and which we in our turn receive and drink. They have Biblical resonance too -  the bread eaten in haste by God’s people before the Exodus from Egypt, the wine which has echoes of  the banquet of the Kingdom of heaven, as Our Lord calls it,  where the Saints rejoice for ever in the presence of God...

What we have here is no less than the mystery of the Lord’s dying and rising given to us in a 
sacramental form. Jesus at the Last Supper acts out in advance his sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and under the forms of bread and wine gives himself to us so that we can receive his Easter life. The presence of Christ is with us always; but here at the altar he is really and substantially present as he is at no other time.
This is the mysterious, sacrificial meal of God’s people; by it we are given the grace to increase in faith, in hope, in love,  and become more like the Lord who lives within us and around us and beyond us. Here the link between faith and life, between belief and living out that belief,  is made explicit. The link between the two great commandments to love God and love our neighbour is spelled out here and becomes possible...

This is the food for our journey from the people we once were to the people we are called to become, from the shadows and images of this life to the blazing clarity of light of the kingdom of heaven. This is the present pledge and seal of the future hope of our perfect unity and communion with God. Here we receive the life of the Resurrection - the life of Christ himself - and that is the daily, weekly, miracle of the Eucharist which we celebrate today.