Mary, Courage and Humility

Last week, I wrote about John the Baptist and his courage and humility. He had a fearlessness before others, but humility before the Lord. The same quality is seen in Our Lady Mary. Now bear in mind she is a teenager with no formal education. She is already betrothed to marry a man much older than her (girls were engaged by the age of twelve!). And, as we hear in the Gospel for today, Gabriel shows up to invite her to become the Mother of the Christ. What is she to do? If she becomes pregnant before the formal marriage, and Joseph refuses to recognise the child as his (Jewish fathers had to declare at the birth that this was his child), she is in mortal danger. Because the Jewish betrothal is marriage stage 1, she would be considered an adulteress and be stoned to death. Joseph, in Matthew’s Gospel, does not plan to do this but to send her back quietly to her parents. This predicament will mean she has shamed her family and her elder brother or uncle will kill her. This still happens amongst the Arabs of Palestine and no doubt elsewhere. Such knowledge should clear her mind wonderfully, and the answer would be a clear and definite ‘NO’. But she said ‘YES’!

Our Lady, like John, is fearless before the customs and culture of her day. Like John, this comes from a certainty and trust in God’s request and invitation. Gabriel is not a figment of her imagination and the request to be the Mother of the Messiah is not a teenage girl’s fantasy. It is the real thing. She is presented with the awesome responsibility of fulfilling the centuries old expectation of her people – wanting and waiting for the Messiah. On that solid information, she gives her ‘Yes’ to God. For this reason she is sometimes called The Door of Paradise, because she is the one who opens that door by which our Lord enters or world and our lives.

We will never be the biological mother of the Lord, but we need to give the same response for the Lord for him to come into our lives. God bows before the choice and will of a teenage girl. So too with us, we must make a decision and a choice – Yes or No.

 

Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord,

that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary,

may by his Cross and Passion

be brought to the glory of his resurrection.

Collect for the Feast of the Annunciation

So Where is the Kid in the Crib?

As Christmas draws close, appearances of the Christmas creche is on the increase – after all it has been Christmas since September in most retail stores and supermarkets. Perhaps many of us have our Christmas decorations and Crib sets already up and that is OK – but why not in the parish church? It is because we have a definite season of preparation for the great feast – Advent. So, this no different to the celebration of Easter with Lent as the time of getting ready. In our world of instant gratification, preparation does not exist. However, do we eat the wedding cake at the engagement? Do we have a wake before the person has died? Do we eat Hot Cross buns at Christmas (Mind you, Coles would like that)? So, despite the commercial world the Church has this distinct season, in which the visual focus in the is the Advent Wreath, that marks off the Sundays leading up to Christmas. Neither do we sing the Glory be to God on High during this time as we will sing it with Angels of Bethlehem at Christmas. It is also why we avoid Christmas carols during Advent. So, no kid in the crib, but wait for Christmas, and it will be there all January!

John the Baptist Courage and Humility 2

John the Baptist walks out of the Judean wilderness, just like the great prophet Elijah, and he even dresses like him. No one would mistake John for anyone but as Elijah returned. That meant one thing, announcing and preparing for the arrival of the Messiah. So, John is a disturbing figure who cannot be ignored. We will see this in next week’s Gospel reading, as a delegation from the chief priests in Jerusalem comes to interrogate John to find out what he is up to? They were concerned that John might be the Messiah.

John exhibits two apparently contradictory qualities; humility and fearlessness. His courage is seen in his fearless preaching repentance and purification to the people. To be gathered in readiness for the appearance of God through his Messiah. He is courageous because no one has a hold on him, – he has no wife, children or land. Even his right to be priest, like his father he has put aside – so no one owns him and he owns nothing. The only thing than can be taken away from him is his life and he is prepared to give that away too!

So where does humility fit into this courage? His courage is in his confidence and trust in being the appointed forerunner of the Messiah – in this task he is single-minded and intrepid. Yet he also knows he is a servant of God and of his Messiah. Before God, he is humble. This humility is not a grovelling but an awareness of who he is and Whom is Lord – the Lord of and Master of his life.

This humility is seen in the saints. Saint Francis is a good example of this mixture of courage and humility that comes from the Kingdom of Heaven. We see it also in the young girl who will be the Mother of the Christ. Mary as young teenager has the courage to say “Yes” to God. That yes could have ended her life if Joseph declared that her Child was not his. Like John she has a confidence that she has been called to be the servant of the Lord. Yet she describes herself in her prayer of praise addressed to God as “the lowly handmaid”.

We need to seek this double quality of the Kingdom for ourselves. We are the Lord’s brothers and sisters, redeemed by his love and compassion – yet we are also his servants now and for ever.

 

O God, who didst send thy messenger, John the Baptist, to be the forerunner of the Lord, and to glorify thee by his death: Grant that we, who have received the truth of thy most holy Gospel, may bear our witness thereunto, and after his example and aided by his prayers, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord…

Collect for the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

John the Baptist Courage and Humility

John the Baptist walks out of the Judean wilderness, just like the great prophet Elijah, and he even dresses like him. No one would mistake John for anyone but as Elijah returned. That meant one thing, announcing and preparing for the arrival of the Messiah. So, John is a disturbing figure who cannot be ignored. We will see this in next week’s Gospel reading, as a delegation from the chief priests in Jerusalem comes to interrogate John to find out what he is up to? They were concerned that John might be the Messiah.

John exhibits two apparently contradictory qualities; humility and fearlessness. His courage is seen in his fearless preaching repentance and purification to the people. To be gathered in readiness for the appearance of God through his Messiah. He is courageous because no one has a hold on him, – he has no wife, children or land. Even his right to be priest, like his father he has put aside – so no one owns him and he owns nothing. The only thing than can be taken away from him is his life and he is prepared to give that away too!

So where does humility fit into this courage? His courage is in his confidence and trust in being the appointed forerunner of the Messiah – in this task he is single-minded and intrepid. Yet he also knows he is a servant of God and of his Messiah. Before God, he is humble. This humility is not a grovelling but an awareness of who he is and Whom is Lord – the Lord of and Master of his life.

This humility is seen in the saints. Saint Francis is a good example of this mixture of courage and humility that comes from the Kingdom of Heaven. We see it also in the young girl who will be the Mother of the Christ. Mary as young teenager has the courage to say “Yes” to God. That yes could have ended her life if Joseph declared that her Child was not his. Like John she has a confidence that she has been called to be the servant of the Lord. Yet she describes herself in her prayer of praise addressed to God as “the lowly handmaid”.

We need to seek this double quality of the Kingdom for ourselves. We are the Lord’s brothers and sisters, redeemed by his love and compassion – yet we are also his servants now and for ever.

Grant, we beseech thee Almighty God,

that thy family may walk in the way of salvation:

that following the teaching of thy holy Forerunner, Saint John,

we may attain in safety to him he foretold,

thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord…

Collect for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist

Why Do We Need Advent?

Since September, retail stores and supermarkets have been pushing Christmas. For the last few weeks at the Indooroopilly shopping centre there has been children queuing up for a photo with Santa – seven weeks before Christmas Day! Now I do not wish to be a killjoy, but if we are not careful, the concept of spiritually preparing for the Nativity of our Lord (or anything for that matter) is gone. Advent is the season of preparation for that great festival of the Incarnation. I know we still must be ready for Christmas, with Christmas cards and presents, and where Christmas dinner will be held etc, etc. However, on Sundays during Advent we keep that season, so that we enter fully into the incredible mystery of the greatness of Who It Is that is born for us. If Christmas is only about a cute baby born to a nice Jewish mum, then we have lost the plot – and it is why we need Advent. The Gospel reading for this Advent Sunday is about staying awake, being ready for the end of time, judgement, and the coming of the Lord. Not the sort of thing for Christmas cards! But it reminds us that the cute baby at Nazareth is the Judge, the Lord, and our Master. He is Christ our God, Saviour, and High Priest, which is not on display in in shopping centres. Advent is the season that shapes our understanding of Whom It Is that we welcome on Christmas Day. The Collect for the day sum this all up:

Almighty God,

give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,

and put upon us the armour of light,

now in the time of this mortal life,

in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;

that in the last day,

when he shall come again in his glorious majesty

to judge both the quick and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal.

Christ the King

Today we finish our liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the Universal King. So, what is it that we are celebrating today? To gain an understanding of Christ’s kingship we need to consider the Old Testament and see the its beginnings. We discover, that originally, there was to be no king and Samuel the prophet was against the request for one (read 1 Samuel 8). Samuel thought the appeal for one was an act of rebellion, as the God of Israel was their true king, who governed his flock through the Covenant with the guidance of the prophets. The rebellion was to reject this kind of leadership and become like the nations around them and have a king who would also lead them into battle.

To the Prophet Samuel’s surprise, after he had vigorously opposed the monarchy, God agrees to the people’s demands. The first choice was Saul, which was not a great success. It was in the second choice of David that God gives a new form to kingship. Yet, great as David was, he had some serious dark deeds to his record. He was a great sinner, yet he was also a serious penitent. David became a sort of benchmark of what a Messiah/Christ/King should be. In the sense, God writes clear and straight through the crooked lines of David’s sins (and our mistakes and failings as well). Israel had a king, but only in the understanding that the true and eternal king is always God. Indeed, the coronation service for the kings was a kind of adoption by God of the prince as His Anointed King/Messiah.

Now in Jesus, the son of a carpenter, we see the two ideas coming together. We do indeed have a royal descendant of David (a royal family that had hit hard times and reduced to insignificance), yet through his appalling death and victorious resurrection, he is manifested as God in our humanity. The word for this is ‘consubstantial’ – sharing the same substance as us. So, Christ is at one with his Father and at the same time one with us. That is a kind of bridge. The Latin word for a priest is a bridge maker (pontifex in the Latin)”. Our bridge, Jesus Christ, is our King, Lord, Eternal High Priest, Mediator and Saviour – and that is a great job description.

The Benefits of the Traditional Worship and Language of the Mass.

As a priest, that has for decades used the modern form of the Mass, I wish to state what are the benefits of the traditional form we use at Morningside

  1. A clearer statement that the Mass is the sacred gift and work of Christ, and of Him being our Lord, Eternal High Priest, and Mediator.
  2. The traditional form of the Mass provides, for many, a secure bridge between corporate worship and provides space for personal adoration, prayer and contemplation.
  3. The prayers of the traditional Mass give a clear and eloquent communication of the doctrines of the Christian faith.
  4. The traditional form of the Mass unmistakeably focuses on the worship of God as the priority, and not on the activities of the local community. The worship of Mass makes the community – not the other round.
  5. The long-established form of the Mass is a continuity and a living connection to the Christian liturgy from its earliest days.
  6. The celebration of the traditional Mass requires and assumes an environment of beauty and adornment, that is an icon and vision of the truth of the worship of the Heavenly Jerusalem, it is to be a source of our joy. The Mass is the connection to our true homeland.
  7. Last of all, the traditional mass and its language is a link to the culture of the Church – its music and architecture, which also forms a living connection to our English-Australian language and culture.

*For The Mutterings on The Warden’s Wands see the Page dedicated to this: The Why? About the Wardens’ Wands

Life with the Living God

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Pastor of the Lutheran Church and also a vehement critic of Hitler and Nazism – and that would eventually cause his arrest and death. From prison, he wrote that a Christian must live today as if there were no God. Each person must assume responsibility for the course of their life. Regardless of how radical and brave Bonhoeffer was, the Christian tradition of spirituality suggests the exact opposite of what he proposes – we should act as if God really exists and Christ is true, even if at times he seems absent. In fact, for those whose faith is dim or weak this is the advice that is given and it is called an Act of Faith. One of the great spiritual giants, Saint Teresa of Avila, had decades of not feeling any sense of the presence of God, and yet she lived her life to the reality of revealed truth. She continued to hold onto the revelation Christ given to the whole Church, for she realised that that our personal feelings could betray us. Just because ‘I’ feel Christ is absent does not mean he is. Of course, the thing that Teresa understood is that Christ himself entered into that dark place of nothingness, “My God my God, why have you abandoned me” – which oddly is a prayer addressed to God who had gone missing!

So each of us, regardless of how the world affects us or events and circumstances and our health get us down, we should strive as being subjects to the love that awaits us, and in the knowledge that this love, loves even us. Again, we may not feel it, but we van live in that certainty of truth known and experienced by millions. So in this process we are shaping our hearts and soul. We entrust ourselves to this difficult yet inescapable ‘if there were a God’, in which we will become ever more aware that this statement “if” is the only reality for here and now and into eternity. We will know profoundly and lastingly why Christianity is still necessary today as the genuine good news by which we are redeemed. For God is certainly by our side and with us – even if from time to time we do not feel it or doubt it.

The Communion of Saints

Most of us are familiar with the Apostles Creed that is used during Eastertide, at Baptisms, and also Morning and Evening Prayer on Sundays. The longest clause is about our Lord from his conception to the Resurrection and the expected return at the end of time. By contrast, the in the third clause about the Holy Spirit and the Church is very brief: ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting’. However, these statements are actually all one as they are a development about the activity of the Holy Spirit within the Church. As our Lord has taught us, the Holy Spirit is the one who abides with the People of God and leads into all truth about our Saviour. It is in the power of the Holy Spirit that we make effective today the words of Christ in Baptism, the Mass and the forgiveness of sins. However, the phrase about the Communion of Saints was not in the first edition of the Apostles Creed and it read, ‘I believe …of the Holy Ones’, which was actually a reference to the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. It is mentioned because the Church throughout the world is made one by this feast of unity. The Church is not defined by its administrative structures – its office holders and synods – but by its worship of God, gathered by Christ and with the Holy Spirit. This is the concept that was developed into the Communion of Saints. For it is by the assembly around the altar that the community is created and made holy. This community is not just here and now but embraces all the faithful who have ever lived – and this community extends beyond the boundary of death – the very reason we commemorate them – ‘so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another’ (Romans 11. 36ff). So what about those we call the Holy Ones today? Well, they are still members of the same community we belong to, but their witness to us is that the promises and gifts of Christ are effective to change human beings into his Image and Likeness, ‘So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:7), ‘And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 5.17). All of this indicates we are on a journey to the fullness of life, which we can see is true in the lives of all the Saints.

Praying for Faithful Departed

All Soul’s Day is close, the mutterings are about praying for the dead.

When we come to church for the Mass or Rosary we pray for the departed as a normal part of worship. However, that was not always the case. The reason goes back to the Reformation when the Church of England rejected praying for the dead, but the reasons were sound and reasonable, as the practice had become corrupt. The Church of the 14th & 16th Century starting to charge for the prayers to raise money. Pope Julius II (1503 to 1513), raised huge amounts of money to build St Peter’s in Rome by selling indulgences. For your donation, you obtained a certificate that pardoned the sins of your departed family. It raised money, but it was selling God’s free grace, which is outrageous. Luther protested this practice, hence the term, protestant was launched. The ban on praying for the dead and funerals became grim affairs that gave no comfort to those who mourned. Our first Prayer Books had a reasonable funeral service, but it was not widely used, and after the time of Oliver Cromwell, hardly at all. This was a case of throwing baby out with the bath water. Along with this was a teaching that salvation and damnation had already been decided by God – so need for prayer!

As usual, banning something causes problems and it caused personal problems for those who had no avenue to express grief and love by prayer. So, other avenues are also sought and by the end of the 17th Century it was common to consult occult means of contacting the dead and the rise of spiritualism in the 19th Century.

The Crimean War (1853-56), with 21,000 casualties started to change things as the Church had no means to deal with a nationwide grief. This was when crucifixes came back into the churches; the image of the God who died our death. In 1873 the Guild of All Souls was founded. Their goals were, to change barbaric funerals! They promoted proper and dignified funerals, to educate and promote the Church’s teaching regarding the departed, and intercessory prayer for them and the dying. The Guild was successful, as their goals have now become a normal part of Anglican parish life.

The understanding of these tasks was based on the life and teaching of Christ. We see this is in our Lord’s compassion to the Widow of Nain and his teaching at the raising of Lazarus. Our understanding of Christ is that all life is in his hands, yet it is through our prayerful cooperation with his will, and our desire for healing, wholeness and forgiveness for others, especially the departed, that accomplishes it.