Monday, April 30, 2007

St Catherine of Siena

I know yesterday, 29th April, is the feast day of St Catherine; but I'm sure she would forgive me for being a day late saying that she's one of those people who always give me goose-bumps.

Catherine Benincasa, born in 1347, was the youngest (one source says the 23rd) of twenty-five children of a wealthy dyer of Sienna (or Siena). At the age of six, she had a vision of Christ in glory, surrounded by His saints. From that time on, she spent most of her time in prayer and meditation, over the opposition of her parents, who wanted her to be more like the average girl of her social class. Catherine received no formal education. At the age of seven she consecrated her virginity to Christ despite her family's opposition; in her eighteenth year she took the habit of the Dominican Tertiaries. As a tertiary, Catherine lived at home rather than in a convent, and she is especially famous for fasting by living for long periods of time on nothing but the Blessed Sacrament.

She began to acquire a reputation as a person of insight and sound judgement, and many persons from all walks of life sought her spiritual advice, both in person and by letter. (We have a book containing about four hundred letters from her to bishops, kings, scholars, merchants, and obscure peasants.) She persuaded many priests who were living in luxury to give away their goods and to live simply.

In her day, the popes, officially Bishops of Rome, had been living for about seventy years, not at Rome but at Avignon in France, where they were under the political control of the King of France (the Avignon Papacy, sometimes called the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, began when Philip the Fair, King of France, captured Rome and the Pope in 1303). Catherine visited Avignon in 1376 and told Pope Gregory XI that he had no business to live away from Rome. He heeded her advice, and moved to Rome. She then acted as his ambassador to Florence, and was able to reconcile a quarrel between the Pope and the leaders of that city. She then retired to Sienna, where she wrote a book called the Dialog, an account of her visions and other spiritual experiences, with advice on cultivating a life of prayer.

After Gregory's death in 1378, the Cardinals, mostly French, elected an Italian Pope, Urban VI, who on attaining office turned out to be arrogant and abrasive and tyrannical, and perhaps to have other faults as well. The Cardinals met again elsewhere, declared that the first election had been under duress from the Roman mob and therefore invalid, and elected a new Pope, Clement VII, who established his residence at Avignon. Catherine worked tirelessly, both to persuade Urban to mend his ways (her letters to him are respectful but severe and uncompromising - as one historian has said, she perfected the art of kissing the Pope's feet while simultaneously twisting his arm), and to persuade others that the peace and unity of the Church required the recognition of Urban as lawful Pope. Despite her efforts, the Papal Schism continued until 1417. It greatly weakened the prestige of the Bishops of Rome, and thus helped to pave the way for the Protestant Reformation a century later.

Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of Urban VI and the unity of the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony. She died surrounded by her "children."

Catherine is known (1) as a mystic, a contemplative who devoted herself to prayer, (2) as a humanitarian, a nurse who undertook to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the sick; (3) as an activist, a renewer of Church and society, who took a strong stand on the issues affecting society in her day, and who never hesitated (in the old Quaker phrase) "to speak truth to power"; (4) as an adviser and counselor, with a wide range of interests, who always made time for troubled and uncertain persons who told her their problems - large and trivial, religious and secular.

The works of St. Catherine of Siena rank among the classics of the Italian language, written in the beautiful Tuscan vernacular of the fourteenth century. Notwithstanding the existence of many excellent manuscripts, the printed editions present the text in a frequently mutilated and most unsatisfactory condition. Her writings consist of

  • the Dialogue, or Treatise on Divine Providence;
  • a collection of nearly four hundred letters; and
  • a series of Prayers.

The Dialogue especially, which treats of the whole spiritual life of man in the form of a series of colloquies between the Eternal Father and the human soul (represented by Catherine herself), is the mystical counterpart in prose of Dante's Divina Commedia.

We have so much to learn from people like Catherine. It is so easy to forget that before our own lifetimes, before the wars and rumours of wars of the last century, before the Reformation even, women and men were trying to follow Christ, and encountering all of the same joys and pains we run into ourselves. We so deeply need to listen to our sisters and brothers of the past, and give up flitting distractedly between the end of the New Testament and the beginning of the 20th century!

Sources: Wikpedia; The Catholic Encyclopaedia; Saint of the Day; The Society of ++Justus

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Moral vision should be at the heart of politics..."

It looks as though ++Rowan Williams has delivered a very important Wilberforce Lecture at Hull. The ACN coverage is here, and the full text of the lecture here; there was also an advance extract published in the Sunday Times, which you can read here.

The gist of the Archbishop's point is that, as he says, "Wilberforce and his circle believed that if a sinful system existed and its sinfulness implicated them as well as others, they were under an obligation to end it. There is no simple gulf between personal and public morality; and Christian morality is not about "keeping yourself unspotted from the world" in any sense that implies withdrawing or ignoring public wrongs. But if the state enacts or perpetuates in the corporate life of the nation what is directly contrary to the Christian understanding of God’s purpose, then Christian activism in respect of changing the law is justified, primarily when the state is responsible for - so to speak - compromising the morality of all its citizens."

As Franciscans we are inextricably involved in working for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. In an excellent note on all this at the website of the Province of St. John the Baptist of the Order of Friars Minor, Cincinnati, Sr Donna Donna Graham OSF says, "Francis had a profound respect for all of life. He experienced true solidarity with the poor and marginalized. As he embraced Lady Poverty, Francis was freed to live very simply, making peace in every encounter. It is these values that inspire our JPIC efforts. We work to bring about justice and peace in our world, to end violence and war, poverty and oppression and the destruction of our planet. Our efforts are often directed at the systems that cause this oppression and destruction. We work in collaboration with Franciscans and others around the world. We believe that these common efforts are gradually transforming our world."

I can't believe I am called to do anything less than pray continually about all this. I don't have any answers myself; but God knows what is on my heart (Romans 8:26-27) and through his Spirit he will take my pain and confusion, my sense of profound unease for our country, and for our allies, and will make something useful out of it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

God in our poverty... (Merton)

"Love is the epiphany of God in our poverty. The contemplative life is then the search for peace not in an abstract exclusion of all outside reality, not in a barren negative closing of the senses upon the world, but in the openness of love. [The contemplative life] begins with the acceptance of my own self in my poverty and my nearness to despair in order to recognize that where God is there can be no despair, and God is in me even if I despair. Nothing can change God's love for me, since my very existence is the sign that God loves me and the presence of His love creates and sustains me. Nor is there any need to understand how this can be or to explain it or to solve the problems it seems to raise. For there is in our hearts and in the very ground of our being a natural certainty which is co-extensive with our very existence: a certainty that says that insofar as we exist we are penetrated through and through with the sense and reality of God even though we may be utterly unable to believe or experience this in philosophic or even religious terms. The message of hope [I offer you, then,] is not that you need to find your way through the jungle of language and problems that today surround God: but that whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you have ever found in books or heard in sermons. [I have] nothing to tell you except to reassure you and say that, if you dare to penetrate your own silence and risk sharing that solitude with the lonely other who seeks God through you, then you will truly recover the light and the capacity to understand what is beyond words and beyond explanations because it is too close to be explained: it is the intimate union in the depths of you own heart, of God's spirit and your own secret inmost self, so that you and God are in all truth One Spirit. I love you, in Christ.

Thomas Merton. The Hidden Ground of Love. Letters, Volume 1. William H. Shannon, editor. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1985. pp. 157-158.

St George's Day

Today being St George's Day, when we commemorate the patron saint of England (and a good number of other places besides, but we tend to forget that...), I thought I ought to say something about the man behind the ubiquitous red cross on a white ground that springs up everywhere during the World Cup.

If Mary Magdalene was the victim of misunderstanding, George is the object of a vast amount of imagination. There is every reason to believe that he was a real martyr who suffered at Lydda in Palestine, probably before the time of Constantine. There are no historical sources on Saint George. The legend that follows is synthesized from various hagiographical sources, such as the Golden Legend.

George was born to a Christian family during the late 3rd century. His father was from Cappadocia and served as an officer of the Roman army. His mother was from Lydda, Palestine (now Lod, Israel). She returned to her native city as a widow along with her young son, where she provided him with an education.

The youth followed his father's example by joining the army soon after coming of age. He proved to be a good soldier and consequently rose through the military ranks of the time. By his late twenties he had gained the title of Tribunus (Tribune) and then Comes (Count), at which time George was stationed in Nicomedia as a member of the personal guard attached to Roma Emperor Diocletian.

According to the hagiography, in 303 Diocletian issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. The emperor Galerius was supposedly responsible for this decision and would continue the persecution during his own reign (305–311). George was ordered to take part in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision. An enraged Diocletian ordered the torture of this apparent traitor, and his execution.

After various tortures, beginning with being lacerated on a wheel of swords, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia's defensive wall on April 23, 303. The witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.

The Church adheres to the memory of StGeorge, but not to the legends surrounding his life.

That he was willing to pay the supreme price to follow Christ is what the Church believes. And it is enough. The embroidery that has accrued over the years is just embroidery, though it is worth looking at briefly just to show how the "St George and England!" thing developed...

The story of George's slaying the dragon, rescuing the king's daughter and converting Libya is a twelfth-century Italian fable. George was a favourite patron saint of crusaders, as well as of Eastern soldiers in earlier times. He is a patron saint of England, Portugal, Germany, Aragon, Genoa and Venice.

George was probably first made well known in England by Arculpus and Adamnan in the early eighth century. The Acts of St George, which recounted his visits to Caerleon and Glastonbury while on service in England, were translated into Anglo-Saxon. Among churches dedicated to St George was one at Doncaster in 1061. George was adopted as the patron saint of soldiers after he was said to have appeared to the Crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Many similar stories were transmitted to the West by Crusaders who had heard them from Byzantine troops, and were circulated further by the troubadours. When Richard 1 was campaigning in Palestine in 1191-92 he put the army under the protection of St George.

Because of his widespread following, particularly in the Near East, and the many miracles attributed to him, George became universally recognized as a saint sometime after 900. Originally, veneration as a saint was authorized by local bishops but, after a number of scandals, the Popes began in the twelfth century to take control of the procedure and to systematize it. A lesser holiday in honour of St George, to be kept on 23 April, was declared by the Synod of Oxford in 1222; and St George had become acknowledged as Patron Saint of England by the end of the fourteenth century. In 1415, the year of Agincourt, Archbishop Chichele raised St George's Day to a great feast and ordered it to be observed like Christmas Day. In 1778 the holiday reverted to a simple day of devotion for English Catholics.

The banner of St George, the red cross of a martyr on a white background, was adopted for the uniform of English soldiers possibly in the reign of Richard I, and later became the flag of England and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy. In a seal of Lyme Regis dating from 1284 a ship is depicted bearing a flag with a cross on a plain background. During Edward III's campaigns in France in 1345-49, pennants bearing the red cross on a white background were ordered for the king's ship and uniforms in the same style for the men at arms. When Richard II invaded Scotland in 1385, every man was ordered to wear 'a signe (sic) of the arms of St George', both before and behind, whilst death was threatened against any of the enemy's soldiers 'who do bear the same crosse or token of Saint George, even if they be prisoners.'

St George was not an Englishman; he did not wear plate armour; he slew no physical dragons, and if he rescued any maidens the fact is not recorded. Disturbingly perhaps for some of his more nationalistic devotees, there is even a tradition in the Holy Land of Christians and Muslim going to an Eastern Orthodox shrine for St. George at Beith Jala, Jews also attending the site in the belief that the prophet Elijah was buried there!

Note: I've drawn the above from several sources, mostly from Wikipedia, Britannia History, and

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Luchesio and Buonadonna

I love the story of these two - this is slightly adapted from the account online at American Catholic.

Luchesio and Buonadonna Modestini wanted to follow St. Francis as a married couple. Thus they set in motion the Franciscan Third Order.

Luchesio and Buonadonna lived in Poggibonzi where he was a greedy merchant. Meeting Francis, —probably in 1213—, changed his life. He began to perform many works of charity.

At first Buonadonna was not as enthusiastic about giving so much away as Luchesio was. One day after complaining that he was giving everything to strangers, Buonadonna answered the door only to find someone else needing help. Luchesio asked her to give the poor man some bread. She frowned but went to the pantry anyway. There she discovered more bread than had been there the last time she looked. She soon became as zealous for a poor and simple life as Luchesio was. They sold the business, farmed enough land to provide for their needs and distributed the rest to the poor.

In the 13th century some couples, by mutual consent and with the Church’'s permission, separated so that the husband could join a monastery (or a group such as Francis began) and his wife could go to a cloister. Conrad of Piacenza and his wife did just that. This choice existed for childless couples or for those whose children had already grown up. Luchesio and Buonadonna wanted another alternative, a way of sharing in religious life, but outside the cloister.

Saint Francis then explained to them his plans for the establishment of an Order for lay people; and Luchesio and Buonadonna asked to be received into it at once. Thus, according to tradition, they became the first members of the Order of Penance, which later came to be called the Third Order. Francis wrote a simple Rule for the Third Order (Secular) Franciscans at first; Pope Honorius III approved a more formally worded Rule, prepared with the help of Cardinal Ugolino, in 1221.

The charity of Luchesio drew the poor to him, and, like many other saints, he and Buonadonna seemed never to lack the resources to help these people.

One day Luchesio was carrying a crippled man he had found on the road. A frivolous young man came up and asked, "What poor devil is that you are carrying there on your back?" "I am carrying my Lord Jesus Christ," responded Luchesio. The young man immediately begged Luchesio’'s pardon.

Luchesio and Buonadonna both died on April 28, 1260. When he lay very ill, and there was no hope for his recovery, his wife said to him, "Implore God, who gave us to each other as companions in life, to permit us also to die together." Luchesio prayed as requested. and Buonadonna fell ill with a fever, from which she died even before her husband, after devoutly receiving the holy sacraments.

Monday, April 16, 2007

My refuge and my fortress...

We must in all things seek God. But we do not seek Him the way we seek a lost object, a “thing.” He is present to us in our heart, in our personal subjectivity, and to seek Him is to recognize this fact. Yet we cannot be aware of it as a reality unless He reveals His presence to us. He does not reveal Himself simply in our own heart. He reveals Himself to us in the Church, in the community of believers, in the koinonia [liturgical assembly] of those who trust Him and love Him.

Seeking God is not just an operation of the intellect, or even a contemplative illumination of the mind. We seek God by striving to surrender ourselves to Him whom we do not see, but Who is in all things and through all things and above all things.

Thomas Merton: Seasons of Celebration. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: pp. 223-24

I think it's sad that there is so much fear in certain parts of the Christian community. No, I don't mean 'the fear of the Lord' - that would be a good and healthy thing. No, I mean paranoia, anxiety, suspicion. You can see some of it if you do a web search on say, "contemplative prayer" (double quotes for phrase search). On the first couple of pages, maybe half to two-thirds of the sites will be about contemplative prayer - my own Mercy Site will be in there somewhere - and rather less than half will be various sites dedicated to explaining the 'dangers' of contemplative prayer. Apparently there are people who believe that all there is to contemplative prayer is 'emptying the mind,' and that if one does that, there are legions of demons lurking ready to pounce and demonise the luckless pray-er.

Surely the God we serve, and in whose name we pray, be our prayer never so contemplative, is stronger than that? In any case,
contemplative prayer, even that which is basically Christian zazen, is hardly just 'emptying the mind;' as Merton says, "[God] is present to us in our heart, in our personal subjectivity, and to seek Him is to recognize this fact. Yet we cannot be aware of it as a reality unless He reveals His presence to us. He does not reveal Himself simply in our own heart. He reveals Himself to us in the Church, in the community of believers, in the koinonia [liturgical assembly] of those who trust Him and love Him."

The Church is all of us, it is the community of believers past and present, the whole glorious thing, far greater than our local parish church, or our denomination, and far far greater than any demon. In his wonderful book The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis describes the Church from the point of view of Screwtape the demon as "... spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners." That is the Church within which we pray, and is at least partly why we pray within the church, and one of the reasons why, as Lewis also said somewhere, there is no such thing as a "freelance Christian," someone who is a Christian yet eschews anything to do with other Christians.

No, our God is good, and the Church is his idea. It is a practical community within which, despite the occasional wobbles of individual Christians, and even whole groups of Christians, God's promised grace in Psalm 91 is brought to bear on the "real world:"

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling-place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honour them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

As Merton said on p. 52 of the book quoted above, "We possess the grace of Christ, who alone can deliver us from the 'body of this death.' He who is in us is greater than the world. He has 'overcome the world."

Amen! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Divine Mercy...

Tomorrow is Divine Mercy Sunday in the Roman Catholic calendar. Sr Faustina, who unknowingly I think founded this feast, recorded in her diary Jesus speaking these words to her: "My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity."

Tomorrow, let's remember the mercy of Jesus that informed all his relationships, and even the most seemingly casual of contacts, like the woman at the well in John 4. And as we remember how the Lord himself said, (Matthew 5:7) "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy," let's recall again the words of St Isaac of Nineveh, the solitary, and sometime reluctant Bishop, of the 7th century AD:

An elder was once asked, “What is a merciful heart?” He replied:

It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation.

For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”

and let's think again about the depths hidden in the few words of the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"...

Monday, April 09, 2007

This side of Easter

It is not dutiful observance that keeps us from sin, but something far greater: it is love. And this love is not something which we develop by our own powers alone. It is a sublime gift of the divine mercy, and the fact that we live in the realization of this mercy and this gift is the greatest source of growth for our love and for our holiness.

This gift, this mercy, this unbounded love of God for us has been lavished upon us as a result of Christ’s victory. To taste this love is to share in His victory. To realize our freedom, to exult in our liberation from death, from sin and from the Law, is to sing the Alleluia which truly glorifies God in this world and the world to come."

Thomas Merton Seasons of Celebration . New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: pp. 156-57

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

St John Chrysostom, Paschal Homily quoted by Karen Marie Knapp in From the Anchor Hold

Truly his grace and his mercy are without end "...if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many." (Romans 5:15) for "...mercy triumphs over judgement." (James 2:13)

We are as free today as feathers on the breath of God, to borrow St Hildegard's phrase... I pray God will never let me forget the immediate and absolute truth that that is how we are, forever, this side of Easter! Alleluia!

Easter Vigil

I love this service - almost my favourite of the whole year.

This morning was cold and crisp, just the beginnings of dawn as we lit the new fire by the side of the church porch, and the blackbirds singing from every direction. As we left after renewing our Baptismal vows, the sun was coming up, deep coppery red behind the trees.

He is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

I can't remember a time when that truth has been so tangible, so absolutely real, as this morning. Lord Jesus, it just isn't possible to find a way to thank you...

Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Saviour of the World.

(PS: Chris has posted some excellent photos of this - and an embedded sound clip! - on our church website... enjoy!)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Not long now...

before the first light of dawn comes over the ridge of the Purbeck hills. I'm listening to Brian Eno's beautiful 1'2, with its slow, open piano arpeggios and wordless choir, and the night garden outside the window is still as still.

The silence in the garden before dawn outside Jerusalem must have been absolute, in those last hours before dawn - the air still, no sound from the night birds. Just the whole of Creation, waiting.

I wrote the following, last year, and I'm sorry if anyone's read it before, but I can't find any better words this Easter:

"Tomorrow morning Jesus speaks our name, piercing our incomprehension with his recognition, his knowing, his comprehending us. Our part is to listen – listen into the anechoic disorienting silence, the dead room, the empty garden, long before dawn, “while it was still dark.” This is the time Mary set off, thinking she knew but not even knowing why she went, like we must go, not being able to know why till our Lord calls us by name, but going anyway, into the dark, into the place of tombs, the hortus conclusus, the garden closed to our senses but open to our going in. Listen... listen!"

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good Friday

Couldn't let today go without a post somehow, and yet what is there to say?

Honestly, I'm not trying to be cryptic, but I don't really have words for it somehow. I could describe the Cross service this morning, or the walk I took this afternoon, in the spring sunlight, but that's not it.

Ecce homo...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Watch with me...

For some reason only four of us stayed on to watch after Maundy Thursday communion, foot-washing etc. We finished by saying Compline together in the half dark of the side chapel. Strange silent fellowship of it - the thinning of time again. You could almost sense olive leaves overhead...

It's been a long and rather wonderful day, setting off early to go to the Cathedral for the Chrism Eucharist (renewal of vows and blessing of the oils) - +David preached a truly glorious sermon on unity in grace - and going on till the evening. The grieving stillness after the wonder of the Cathedral was right, somehow reflecting what today is...

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Maundy Thursday tomorrow...

Getting closer... Even now it's still frightening to think of it. I suppose I find the foot-washing hard to handle for that reason - the mist of the time between is breaking down, it's like a prolonged anamnesis, un-forgetting after all these years. Time grows very thin towards Easter.

Monday, April 02, 2007

We do not have to save ourselves...

'The Christian has no Law but Christ. Our "Law" is the new life itself which has been given to us in Christ. Our Law is not written in books but in the depths of our own hearts, not by the pen of human beings but by the finger of God. Our duty is now not just to obey but to live. We do not have to save ourselves, we are saved by Christ. We must live to God in Christ, not only as they who seek salvation but as they who are saved.'
Thomas Merton Seasons of Celebration .
New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: p. 147

"We do not have to save ourselves, we are saved..." It's no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me, and Christ crucified: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi...

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgements are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

Psalm 36:5-9

In him all Creation is made new - what is crucified at Easter, all that we see as lost, and broken, and hopeless, is truly raised imperishable on the Third Day...

'What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. '

1 Corinthians 15:42-47

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Who are the palms for?

Just read a remarkable and uncomfortable post on the Country Contemplative's blog.

Don says, "At Mass today the Passion was read and during its reading and Fr. Bob’s homily I came to realize a significant point, at least for me. The crucified Jesus has become and abstraction. We go to Mass, go through the motions, worship the crucified Savior and don’t see the crucified in our midst. They include the folks on welfare, the wounded and crippled soldiers of our armies, the gay people, the disenfranchised of every sort. They are the crucified today. They are the presence of Jesus in our midst. Whoever is the acceptable victim in our midst can be the crucified Christ for us."

"To accept that sometimes we have to stir up trouble and become very unpopular is to take up a Cross. In Brazil the Bishop said, 'When I give money to the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist.' Surely this is the Franciscan way." Tim Tucker, Slogans and Labels, TSSF Studies UK.

To worship the crucified Christ in spirit and in truth is to see the crucified everywhere. Surely that is the point of Jesus' saying, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Mt 25:40) And surely Paul's great concern for the poor and the marginalised in the very early church came from his decision "to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (1 Cor 2:2)

Jesus came that all who believe in him might not perish, and died that all might be free. His death is for, first of all, those who know no freedom. It doesn't matter whether slavery is the 18th century variety, or whether it is more up to date sexual or economic slavery, it is still radical unfreedom. And the Gospel is radical freedom. As Jesus quoted himself (Luke 4:18ff, quoting Isaiah 61)

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour."