We all live under the benefits of the development of scientific research – from putting on the electric jug, driving to work, using our computers and medical care. These benefits are indisputable. Yet, there is a downside to all of this; the technology to industrialise death and to provide the instruments of terror to be used by fanatics and governments. Someone sitting in front of computer in the USA can bomb someone on the other side of the world by a drone. Even Hezbollah has tried this out on. So the real danger of scientific knowledge is when it is divorced from the moral order of human life and becomes a threat to life.
The difficulty for our way of thinking is that we trust science to be the ultimate source of knowledge. In a way we have created a prison for our reason and common sense – we need to enlarge again the range and capacity of our reason. We need to bring back a desire for truth that embraces the whole of our being. For the Christian truth is not a concept but a Person who declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. So however, we develop our rational and analytical capacity it is not the total picture.
A couple of years ago, I prepared talks for a retreat for clergy. It was based on the unknown author of a book called, The Cloud of Unknowing. This anonymous writer was a 14th Century monk, writing as a spiritual director for a novice in his order. He writes about knowledge, “All rational creatures, angelic or human have in them, each one individually, one chief working power, which is called a knowing power, and another chief working power, which is called a loving power; and of these two powers, God, who is the maker of them is always incomprehensible to the first, the knowing power.
But to the second, which is the loving power, He is entirely comprehensible in each person individually”. I don’t think that in the 600 years that divides us from this unknown monk we can improve on this statement – and he is from the pre-scientific age! Yet, from a spiritual standpoint, he is our contemporary. Part of our enlarging of our reason is in understanding of the different ways we comprehend and understand. When we lose the spiritual and the moral dimension then certain parts of scientific knowledge become pathological and dangerous, for it can play to our desire to dominate and control – then no one benefits.
At times, it is easy for a congregation to think that they are the ultimate point of reference and anything else is of little concern. So, the visit of a Bishop is reminder that a parish belongs to a Deanery, an Archdeaconry, a Region and a Diocese. Each Diocese belongs to a Province and then to a National Church. Each national church belongs to a world-wide international community known as the Anglican Communion. The average Anglican is aged 38, an African, probably under an unjust government and suffering from terrorism! In this network the Bishop is the point of unity between a local parish and its Diocese and the world-wide Church. We find this model in the early Apostolic Church. The Apostles founded various communities and after a while appointed local leaders. We see in the letters of the Apostle Paul a continual interest in these communities in encouragement but also so home truths when things were going of the rails. This is the special Apostolic Ministry and is continued with our Bishops today. Bishop Alison’s visit today is the exercise of that ministry in exactly the same way as Peter, Paul and Thomas exercised in their day.
Certainly things have changed from the time of the Apostles and growth brings with it a totally different set of problems. One of Bishop Alison’s extra responsibilities is the Anglican schools in our Diocese – quite a different set of responsibilities to that of parishes. Another is the care of the clergy in her area and in that she assisted by Area Deans and Archdeacons. So we welcome Bishop Alison today and her care and concern for our welfare and growth.
By common consent in our Parish we recognise that in Bishop Alison we had some who cares for us and our future. Yet, we are not the only parish that thinks that of her – it is the whole of the Southern Region.
Last Sunday I talked about developing our spiritual growth and being aware of our spiritual needs. It is important that we come to Sunday Mass and that is an obligation for all the Baptised – it is not an option. However, if that is all we do then we can slide into a spiritual decline. So, we need to develop a rule of spiritual life that we try to be faithful too. A rule naturally includes Sunday Mass, but more needs to happen between Monday to Saturday. Now it does not have to be complicated or even lengthy. Reading something from Scripture, and you have not done this for a while, then Bible Reading Fellowship notes are helpful, see the article above. Each day a passage of scripture is provided with a commentary on how to understand it, and concludes with a reflection. Have you thought about coming to Thursday Mass, a quiet and reflective service. Is there any reason why you could not come? There are other forms of reflective and repetitive prayer. The Rosary is a good example. Once you start to use it becomes easy to remember and can used in any situation. Come one Thursday morning at 9am and experience how it is used. Also booklets are available on the litanies, which are another form of simple prayer. Each one would only take a few minutes. So, it is not time but quality that is important. Another important rule is repetition. The shape of the Mass is mainly forms of prayer we say each week – and these prayers enter into the soul and become a part of your life and being. The same is true with the Rosary and in reading of Scripture. With the Bible, we gradually become familiar with the words and the layout of the Bible – but it also starts to shape your thinking and pattern of life.
We need to remember that we are creatures of habit – the time when we get up, the day we do our laundry, what we have for breakfast, the programmes we watch on TV and even when we clean our teeth! So, we need to create a new habit to our daily routine, a time when we attend to our heart and soul. Whatever age we have reached it is our responsibility to use wisely the time God has given us. No one is twisting your arm – but the choice is yours and your responsibility. A good prayer to begin each day with is, ‘Lord, teach me to pray.’
“Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.”
The life of Christ, his teaching, his actions is the basis and example of the life of a Christian disciple. After all, ‘discipleship’ means to ‘to hear’ ‘to follow’. If that is the case, then the high ideal is a life of sacrificial love that knows no bounds. The disciples who were martyrs would say that ‘no bounds’ includes one’s life. This process is a letting go of one’s pretensions and becoming meek and humble like Jesus. However, as soon as we hear the that word ‘humble’ we cringe – let alone doing the self-sacrificing bit!
Yet, when we look at the lives of the saints we see obedience and humility that is powerful, self-aware and effective.
John the Baptist is a good example. Humility made John aware of whom he was before the Lord. It is a subtle distinction between knowing ‘what I am’ to ‘that I am’. He was the creature; the Lord was the Creator. He the servant, the Lord is the Master. John understood that the only stance before the Lord was humility. Yet, by contrast, in proclaiming the Kingdom of God and calling people back to God he was a servant who was fearless.
We see this characteristic as the distinguishing mark of all the saints – beginning with Peter and Paul and moving down the Christian centuries; humble before the Lord and yet powerful with Him. Is all this easy? By no means! Our natural human instinct is preserve our identity and ego and not to let go of it. We like being in control. However, the journey to being like Christ comes from our spiritual discipline of prayer, study and Eucharistic life. This is discipline that opens our heart and mind to God’s power and grace – shaping us into being the Image and Likeness of Christ.
This is an ongoing process, a pilgrimage of growing into our Life in Christ.