Formulae like ‘I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour‘ are very commonly used among Evangelical Christians. They can act as the gateway marking the point at which a person becomes a Christian. In that sense they resemble the shahada, the Muslim profession of faith. What they don’t resemble is the traditional Christian gateways which are baptism and the profession of the Nicene creed. There are many things which could be said about this but I propose to focus on what I see as the excessive individualism which this approach to the faith both reflects and encourages.
The formula is theologically sound so far as it goes, its main problem is the premature use of the full stop. It makes the Christian faith in its totality appear to consist of a personal relationship between the individual believer and one member of the Blessed Trinity. This is at best inadequate and at worst positively misleading...click here to read more
In Part One I suggested that by gazing into the mirror of Christ Crucified we can see answers to the question What is Man? (male and female) because Jesus is an icon of what a human should be like and because His situation is emblematic of the human condition. I proposed that ‘Man is loved and lovable‘ is one conclusion we can deduce and that ‘Man is a sinner’ is another.
The Crucifixion is something voluntarily endured by our Lord because it is the efficient means for redeeming fallen humanity. We can deduce from this that, insofar as He is representative of us, that we can add ‘Man is a lover,’ that is one who loves, to our list of essential human qualities. However, although we can say that Man is loved and lovable unconditionally we must qualify the truth that Man is a lover with the fact that he is also a sinner. This means that every expression of love or feeling of it is, at least potentially, tainted by sin which is produced by disordered affection for or attachment to certain inferior goods at the expense of Good as such.
The idea, recently expressed, that ‘love wins‘ is unreservedly A Good Thing is something I have challenged on my other blog. For our purposes I would say that love translated into intention and act always has to be evaluated in the light of how it fulfils its purpose. What this purpose is might be more easily be discussed if we consider that another conclusion we can draw from the mirror of Christ Crucified is that ‘Man is dependent.’...click here to read more
Far, far from us you do seem to fly
No more can we share a loving meal
Your vision is now banished from the eye
That kind, soft touch of yours we cannot feel
Are we always to be so sore bereft?
Abandoned here below weeping alone .
Unconsoled. ever in grief to be left
To be dark, in that place where light has shone
But it is not really so, my love
Gone in seeming you only seem to go .
On great ardour’s wings you soar high sweet dove
Then plunging in my heart your torrents flow.
We assumed you had left us mother divine
But, ah dear Mary, forever you are mine.
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Once, long ago, our Noble Lord was hung upon a tree and died thereon. Strange to relate at certain seasons the tree and Him upon it are made present among us. At such times His lovers are mysteriously enabled to drink His blood as if it were wine and to eat His flesh as if it were bread gaining great strength thereby.
For the most part though our Noble Lord is hidden from our senses. During these times two great and rival companies re-enact His Passion for our benefit. These are the Dark Companions, who are always the most numerous, and the Companions of the Light, who are always led by a most wondrous sweet Lady.
The Dark Companions fully and perfectly reconstruct among us the instruments of our Lord’s death. They are the most perfect liars, they are filled with envy and spite, they are consumed with anger. Of sympathy they are naked but nonetheless they are well clad, covering themselves with mockery and cursing.With all this and much more besides they present the play “The 50 Dark Moments of our Lord’s Passion.” Always they receive the just reward for their performance.
Whenever the Dark Companions appear together assembled the Companions of the Light timidly run away. Presently though they are rallied by their womenfolk, and by one woman above all other women. Led by her they enter into the heart of our Lord’s Passion. They make present among us most perfect love, patience, grief at the evils men do and steadfast but tender endurance. Their play is “The 50 Moments of Light” It is not always obvious to human eyes but it is certain that they too receive the just reward for their performance….click here to read more
You’re in front of me
And I don’t see you. Beside
Me and I don’t know.
Fill my emptiness with you.
Touch my darkness with your light
With longing I search
For you. In hope I travel.
Towards or Away?
How can I know or be sure?
I long for your hidden smile.
Will I find you, see
You, know you? Elusive love,
Yet faithful lover.
Journey’s end and beginning
Pilgrim heartsease and hearts wound.
Of this I am sure,
The anchor to which I cling,
That which sustains me,
If I fail, when I fail, you
Will find me. And we will kiss.
Pacing the Cloister
Pacing the cloister
A thousand years of silence
Dust motes in the sun
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But she, not finding where her foot might rest, returned to him into the ark: for the waters were upon the whole earth: and he put forth his hand, and caught her, and brought her into the ark. And having waited yet seven other days, he again sent forth the dove out of the ark. And she came to him in the evening, carrying a bough of an olive tree, with green leaves, in her mouth. Noe therefore understood that the waters were ceased upon the earth. And he stayed yet other seven days: and he sent forth the dove, which returned not any more unto him.
The Coptic Christians, whose ancient communities are enduring a prolonged martyrdom in the Middle East, have long given the Blessed Virgin the title of The Beautiful Dove because they see a type or figure of our Lady in this story from Genesis. In common with all of Christendom prior to the time of Luther the Copts find the New Testament present within the Old. In its pages, the stories, the people, the artefacts used, the sacrifices offered and so on everything which Jesus and the Apostles make plain can be seen under a veil as it were. Christians have long delighted in piercing that veil and in unfolding into plain sight the truths which we can now see thanks to the revelation of Christ and the faith passed on through the Apostles. The three journeys of the dove are types of, respectively, the girlhood of Mary, her role as Mother of God and her Assumption into heaven.
The earth covered in waters represents a world drowned in narrow materialism, sin and self-regard. From the moment of her Immaculate Conception our Lady became a pilgrim: in this world but not of it. Noah and his family in the Ark stand for the anawim the humble righteous ones looking with hope for the coming kingdom which would dry up the waters and flood the world instead with the spirit of love and devotion. Mary became in a special way the representative and ambassador of the anawim. She flew forth across the waters filled with love and hope but could find nowhere where here foot might rest. She was sustained only by the wings of faith and the winds of the spirit…click here to read more
The painting is a detail from The Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi
As Paul went on and on, a young man called Eutychus who was sitting on the window-sill grew drowsy and was overcome by sleep and fell to the ground three floors below.
If Eutychus isn’t the patron saint of ordinary churchgoers then perhaps he should be. On days when the sky is blue, the sun is warm, the sermon is dull and a tall glass of something cool is waiting for you outside then who is the one whose attention would not waver at least a little? I don’t think that this is a cautionary tale (spoiler alert: it has a happy ending) its more an observation that even in the presence of the famous Apostle to the Gentiles human flesh is weak. If it were not there would have been no need for the Incarnation.
There are many positive arguments that can be made in favour of churchgoing but Eutychus I think points us towards a negative one. Church services can be dull or worse than dull. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The temptation to think that the Church can pretend to be a part of the entertainment industry is something that should be firmly resisted….click here to read more
“What’s in it for me?” is a perfectly reasonable question to ask whenever someone tries to persuade you to take a risk. It may not be the only or even the most important question but it is certainly one which can legitimately be put. One cannot, therefore, blame non-Christians for taking it into consideration when hearing the appeals of evangelisers to be ‘born again in Christ Jesus.’ To people who believe in neither heaven nor hell the promise of the one and the threat of the other will make no impression. Likewise those who have no sense of sin are conscious of no burden of guilt from which they have to escape. None of these things then can be advanced as being relevant to the “what’s in it for me?” criteria.
The idea that the population would be susceptible to such appeals is the heritage of a time which has now past. Where you have a society in which almost everyone accepts the basic ideas of Christianity the task is to energise them, to get them to move from theory to practice. In the West today there are few if any such societies so the strategy requires to be revised. Fortunately the Church has experience in dealing with a world in which most people were ignorant of, indifferent to or antagonistic about basic Christian doctrines. This was the gentile world of the first century Mediterranean where the Apostles and their associates did the work of planting the Catholic Church in the first place. I think that they made three distinct promises which each convert would receive as a gift when becoming converted to the faith, promises which the Church can still make and which provide the answer “this is what is in it for you.”…click here to read more
Since ancient times there have been those who say that Jesus taught one doctrine openly and another, higher, one secretly to those initiated into His circle.From time to time groups have emerged, and still emerge, which claim to be custodians of this doctrine or to have ‘rediscovered’ it. A claim which, of course, it is impossible to either verify or to disprove. A somewhat related theory suggests that during His youth our Lord went to India and upon His return taught some form of Buddhism or Vedanta Hinduism to those followers whom He had first drawn to Him by preaching a radical form of Judaism.
To some extent these are all conspiracy theories; a way of viewing the world which is notoriously difficult to unsettle. Anyone who wishes to believe such a theory, whatever form it may take, is meeting a psychological need and is likely to be impervious to those facts which fail to meet that need. Nonetheless I think that it is a worthwhile exercise to demonstrate why I think these are untenable approaches for explaining the mission of Jesus.
It is certainly true that there are a number of texts which show our Lord unfolding His teaching in a veiled way (the parables) before huge crowds and in a more explicit way (the discourses) before His disciples. What they don’t show is that there is any difference in content between the parables and the discourses, the latter explain the former they don’t alter their meaning. Moreover the category of ‘disciples’ is not clearly defined….click here to read more
Missionary religions have the task of persuading people to totally transform their lives. In pursuit of this objective there is a temptation to over-egg the pudding. The old life is painted in vivid language as being one of unrelieved misery totally immersed in wicked sin. By way of contrast the new life of the convert is portrayed in glowing terms full of happiness, joy and general goodness. Unless the person being evangelised is in a particularly vulnerable emotional state or has the wisdom to see a core truth concealed within the apparent hyperbole they will not be convinced. They will seldom think of their own lives in such bleak terms or of themselves as being such moral reprobates. If, moreover, they know many religious believers they will but rarely observe them to be significantly more happy or more virtuous than their unbelieving neighbours.
A fiery Christian preacher might argue that what they are saying constitutes an objective truth and that only a false consciousness (to borrow an expression from Marxism) prevents their unredeemed listeners from accepting it. This may be so but a personally experienced subjective reality has more power to convince than the truest of objective truths not directly felt. Most lives, I suspect are lived in a neutral zone, islands of misery or of happiness occasionally loom out of the fog and then are more or less swiftly left behind. click here to read more