Titles and Patrons

Our Parish Church is dedicated to the Ascension of our Lord and not to any patron saint. So, strictly speaking we do not have a patronal festival, we have a Feast of Title. There are lots of cathedrals and churches who have titles rather than patrons: Christ Church Cathedral in Canterbury is the most notable one in the Anglican Church, the Cathedral of the Precious Blood in London, the Transfiguration, and Holy Cross. These titles are perfectly OK but you cannot have God the Creator and Saviour as a patron. So most of these churches have added a saint or two as patrons. Canterbury Cathedral has a beautiful chapel of Our Lady of Canterbury, but later could add the famous martyr, Archbishop Thomas Becket. The Cathedral of the Precious Blood in Westminster has Our Lady of Westminster. So, there is no reason why we cannot do the same. It only requires the Parish Council to approve of such a measure.

There are two saints we ought to consider because of their historical connection to this parish. The first is obviously St Clare of Assisi, the dedication of the church that was at Murarrie, and the members of that church generously allowed that church to be closed to help with the financial difficulties of the parish. The second is Saint Boniface of Crediton, as there was a church in our parish, some time ago, dedicated to him. In this way, we keep alive the spiritual history of parish and the faithful who served in it before us. Most of you may not know anything about Boniface, but he was an Anglo-Saxon bishop from Devon, who was a missionary that converted the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. He ended his career as the first Archbishop Hamburg, but he died a martyr at the hands of pagans.

However, we can add one more – Our Lady of Walsingham. Her shrine was once great in England but destroyed by Henry VIII, who looted all its accumulated valuables. Eighty year ago, the Anglican vicar of Walsingham, Fr Hope Patten, restored the shrine and it is now the most popular pilgrimage destination in England. This place also helped and encouraged parishes like our own to restore the full Catholic traditions of the Anglican Church. To me, it seems logical that these would be worthy additions to our parish calendar and giving us some patron saints, after the feast of the title of our church.

Crowning and Image of Mary?

The practice of crowning an image of Mary began early in the life of the Church. Not as a given festival, but as an act of personal devotion. Ikons would be painted, and in some places, where the sense of her presence was strong, crowns and decorations were made to be attached to the ikon as an expression of thanks for prayers answered. We can see an image of this in our Lady Chapel of the ikon above the Altar Cross. In the Eastern Church, this was known as the ikon of our Lady of the Passion – it had no crown – but someone added a crown and thereafter, the ikon was painted with one. In England, the month of May is the last month of Spring, with an amazing bursting of flowers of the field and trees. That month also had several festivals to Our Lady and hence May became Mary’s Month and images of Mary were crowned during Mass, with flowers and also real crowns. Mid-August was also a favourite month, as it was the beginning of the harvest. ‘Harvest’ is also an image that our Lord uses in his parables of the ingathering of the faithful into eternal life. So, 15 August, the principal festival of Mary that celebrates her death and resurrection, and she is the first and beginning of that in-gathering into eternal life. Both in Russia and England this feast, which we celebrate this Sunday was called ‘Our Lady of the Harvest’. ‘Crowning’ is also a Biblical image of the gift of eternal life; ‘Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him’ (James 1:12). Then there is the well-known passage from the Book of Revelation, I John, saw a great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Revelation 12:1). But it is not only Mary who is crowned with eternal life by her Son – but all the faithful, who join their eldest Sister in the Faith, our Mother and our Queen. Three cheers for Mary, promoted to Glory of her Son.

The Love and Worship of God and the Big Decisions of our Day

William Temple was one of the great Archbishops of the Church of England, who said wisely, ‘If you have a wrong idea of God, then the more religious you become the more dangerous you are’. That was said long time before Islamic fundamentalism came onto the scene. We could take this further, ‘If you have no belief in God, then…’. Indeed! Once we remove God from any equation then anything can happen, Hitler, and those like him did precisely that as they threw away the moral compass. On a very ordinary level it means human beings become the centre of everything, with no solid principles, founded upon truth, to guide in dark times. The Christian view is different, for in the act of love and worship we say to God, ‘I am – Thou Art. Saint Francis would repeat as he walked around Italy, ‘My God and my All’ and that shaped his life and vocation. With this simple understanding, expressed and affirmed in worship, we have a solid foundation upon which we build our values and our principles – but also how we can assess wisely what is on offer, and how we can build upon it. If Christ has become our Brother, then all people are potentially my brothers and sisters in Him. We are in the image and likeness if God, and Christ is the perfect revelation of that Image and Likeness. On this we base our system of justice and give value to all laws that have that principle – but we can reject all that goes against it. The Aussie ‘Fair Go’ is, funny enough, a religious principle stated in a larrikin way. It is about that equality and dignity. On this understanding, we all bear a mutual and personal responsibility in Christ. What tears away at this is the pagan individualism of our day, in which there is no responsibility to society, to fellow human beings and no sense of accountability to God. We see this in corrupt leaders of banks, ministers of state, politicians, leaders of corporations, drug distributors and all the way down to some grubby crook. The crime for them is in being caught.

The other aspect of our love and worship of God is that it assumes the act of creation by the Creator. That does not mean you must sign up to the details of one of the three versions of creation in the Old Testament – but all equally agree that creation is an act of God. That is not inconsistent with evolution or the big bang theory. However, an act of creation means that creation was no cosmic accident, but began with a will and an intention that set things upon their course. The event of Christ is a part of that creative process, for we say of Him in the Creed ‘by whom all things were made’, Once we grasp that, then we can understand that Salvation in Christ is God’s creation being represented and made available to all who can say, ’My God and my All’.

If creation is an act of God, then it also means it has an order, direction and a purpose. All that goes against this is a disorder of creation. We see that disorder every night on our television. So, tying bombs to a 12 year old child to kill is illogical and a disorder (‘If you have a wrong idea about God…’) But what about shifts in moral values and everyday events, like a plebiscite? Our first principle states we should accept all people as being in the image and likeness of God, who are our potential brothers and sisters in Christ, so there is no room for any form of discrimination. But then what about marriage equality? Difficult one. However, based on our Sacramental understanding, Sacred Scripture, and even the orders of service we use, it assumes that marriage is a vocation that participates in the order of God’s creation. This does not mean that men and women who cannot love another of the opposite gender are malicious, perverted or evil people. They deserve our respect and courtesy. But it also a means we need a way in which their relationships can be valued in law and society, without undermining our love and worship of God and neighbour, and the order of creation. I have no delusions that any of what I have written will make a change, as it requires more than forty seconds read and, according to the census, a diminishing number of people who would base their philosophy upon the nature of God.

The Transfiguration

The significance of our Lord’s Transfiguration has many layers of meaning – much more than what one article in a bulletin or a sermon can possibly contain. However, I would like to comment on the aspect of prayer. As you hear the Gospel today you will note that the event of the Transfiguration proceeds out of Jesus being at prayer, “While he was praying his face changed in appearance.”

We can say that all the key events of our Lord’s life – his actions and teaching – proceed from the core of his being and personality. But the core of this is his intimate relation with his Heavenly Father – a constant dialogue of prayer with the Father. This personal and intimate union with the Father is made flesh and present in the midst of humanity and it is made accessible to us, ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory’.

So, in one sense we can say that the very basis of our faith is entering into the prayer life of Jesus and sharing in that communication with the Father. This is why Saint Paul can say, that the Spirit enters into our spirit and we can pray with Jesus and call God “Abba-Father”. So part of the spiritual journey is lay hold of and make my own the identity of Jesus. With him, the only Son of God, I become a child of God. This is what creates the possibility of an intimate prayer life with God. And with that prayer life begins my transfiguration. So, the event we celebrate today is not something unique to Christ. I too have the possibility and vocation to being transfigured into his image and likeness.

There is another key part of the story and that is the ones who witnessed the event; Peter, James and John. In a sense, they too were transfigured because they were given the ability, by the Holy Spirit, to see with spiritual eyes the intimate communion and love between their Master and his heavenly Father. They all became key leaders and teachers of the Early Church. Peter was the ‘Rock” of that Church and this reminds us that the Christian faith is not a series of interesting philosophical ideas – it arises because of the experience and participation of every believer in the prayer of Jesus (cf. Lk 9: 18-20; Mt 16: 13-20). So, the Transfiguration is a rendering visible of what is actually taking place in Jesus’ prayer: he is sharing in God’s radiance and the entire person of Jesus is contained in his prayer – that is to be true for us as well.