The “Open Secret”

John 1,35-42

An ‘Open Secret’ sounds like a contradiction. But we saw, last month, how Secrecy is essential to God’s Plan for saving His World – because it needs unfolding to us bit by bit, to make it viable.

For Act One of God’s Incarnation Strategy, He chose Mary to play the Lead Part by becoming the Mother of His Incarnate Son. This called for her wholehearted “Amen. Yes certainly” to His invitation. 

We next considered those misgivings which so often follow hard on the heels of commitments to God: like how would Mary’s family, friends, and fiancé  react to what the Angel had told her – that she’d become pregnant, but that her Child would have no human Father? 

Now let’s look at Act Two: God’s ‘Epiphany-Strategy’. The word ‘Epiphany’ means revealing or unwrapping, and involves, say, a gift, or a rolled-up map being gradually unrolled or unwrapped to see what’s concealed inside. ‘Wrapping-and-Revealing’ is something which God often does – and, by watching closely how God works, we shall start learning to use that strategy ourselves.

In Act Two, God chose His ‘Supporting Cast’ for Mary – people like Joseph her fiancé, Anne and Joachim her parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, Simeon and Anna in Jerusalem. Then He invited the Magi to take part, and, over the ensuing years, He chose people like John the Baptist, Andrew and Peter, James and John – allocating to each their appointed task (or tasks). 

Those He chose were all different: some were men, some women; some were learned, others uneducated. One was a carpenter, another a tax-collector, yet others were fishermen. Some, like Simeon and Anna, were elderly, others, like Mary, were teenagers. 

Domenico Ghirlandaio (Public domain)

What they all had in common was what might be called the ‘Amen Factor’, of saying, ‘Amen, Yes’ to God’s call. Some, like Mary, said ‘Amen’ immediately; others needed time to think about it: the Magi faced a long journey, both physically and spiritually; for some it took a miracle by Jesus to get them to the ‘tipping-point’ of saying ‘Amen’; St Joseph needed the visit of an angel to reassure him!

God chooses those whom He knows to be the right ones for the task in hand. So it’s no use thinking to ourselves “God will never choose me – because I’m not clever, talented or ‘holy’ enough to be used by Him in His service”. 

Given those “Amens” on our part, there’s no limit to what He can enable us to achieve for Him;  nor – by the way – is there any ‘Safe Space’ for us (other than Hell!) to put ourselves beyond His reach! 

God seldom expects people to work for Him on their own. Once we’ve said our “Amen” to God, we discover others who’ve been called by God to work with us. 

He shares His Secrets with us not as our private property, but to enable us to share them with others, so between us we can do His Will on earth in ways, and to an extent, that on our own, we couldn’t. 

So Epiphany is an opportunity to throw away that wrapping which we find so attractive, and start learning about the Secrets of God, which lie hidden, until He reveals them to us, and then expects us to share with anyone who shows the slightest interest in ‘dis-covering’ them for themselves.

Fr. Francis Gardom

Recognition of the Beloved

Mark 1,7-11

After 6th January the Church year is now called “Ordinary Time” which is a pity, because we have lost, what was formerly the Epiphany Season, providing the worshipper with a number of weeks to contemplate step by step the revealing of Jesus to the world. This is a crucial preparation for the next journey through Lent to the passion and death of the Son of God and Son of man.

During this season we use the word “Manifesting” rather than the Greek word “Theophany” to reflect on this revealing. In a sense everything Jesus did on earth is a revealing of the mystery of his divine life at work. St Paul explains this to the Ephesians, “indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” [Eph 3;2]. Some of the Gospel manifestations are especially important for faithful reflection before Lent and these are beautifully expressed in the Epiphany hymn of Charles Wordsworth 1807-1892, a bishop in Scotland. “Manifested by a star by the sages from afar… manifest at Jordan’s stream, prophet priest and king supreme… manifest in power divine changing water into wine”. This most important time before Lent takes us step by step beyond the ordinary and by God’s grace to understand the divine life at work.

Unknown author, CC BY-SA 4.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

After Pentecost, the apostles understood why the Baptism of Jesus by John was the beginning of the events that were to reveal the meaning of the Lord’s coming. It was a new age; God speaks no more through the voice of Prophets but directly through his “beloved Son”. The new age of the Triune God was confirmed at the river bank by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God the Father. This earliest Gospel itself reflects the mind of the apostolic age that was itself totally overshadowed by and dependent upon the same Holy Spirit of Pentecost. Thus it is a bold starting narrative by St Mark, no birth stories or genealogies, but the voice of the last prophet, recognising that Jesus was the Christos and crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord”. The urgent simplicity of this beginning conceals other important signs for reflection. For example, in the baptism, Jesus himself consents to another act of submission, just as his parents had done in the temple for him as a child. He, who has no need of John’s baptism, will identify with humanity. He descends into the water just as he descended from heaven and would finally descend to the place of death.

Here was no earthly Caesar with a raised sword and legions at his disposal, no Monarch with courtiers but a Saviour. As with other events in his human life, Jesus reveals the same life and death struggle that makes him so uniquely and utterly different to any other religious leader for his life on earth is a battle against the culture of death over which he must triumph. It is the beginning of the recognition by the first disciples that everything had shed light on God’s plan for those who had eyes to see. The Epiphany season is a time to turn on the light in our souls, to read and mark in Holy Scripture the account of God’s loving purposes, to see the contrast between the dark world of our disobedience and the light that comes to us through our redeemer the Holy Child of Bethlehem who goes on to reveal his divinity even through suffering and death.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

A Meditation for Epiphany

Matthew 2,1-12

The story of the Epiphany is much more than a legend or a religious fairy-tale. We are often told that Luke is a careful historian, but this reading makes it clear that Matthew is as well. He locates this incident in a specific time and place: in Bethlehem, in the reign of Herod the King. What we have heard is a story rooted in reality, not just a fable. Of course there are problems: we find it hard to accept the idea of a star leading the way, and then standing still, as Matthew says, but the basic idea of a new star appearing and being interpreted as a sign that a great ruler had been born is perfectly plausible within the thinking of the time. And it was a great act of faith for these men – not actually stated in the account as being three – to leave their own country, their homes and families in search of this new king.

The star was no magic light, infallibly showing the way — the Magi had to ask the way, they had to consult others as to where they could expect the new king to be born. And Herod is certainly no cartoon character. He really was an evil and ruthless king – he had one of his wives and two of his sons murdered. And for all the beauty of paintings of the adoration of the Magi, the harsh reality is that Mary had to give birth in a stable because there was no room elsewhere. The stable was not some sanitised ideal, but a desperate last resort. Even the traditional interpretation of the three gifts contains a realistic warning: the myrrh points to the child’s future death and burial. The shadow of the Cross prevents us from romanticising too much.

Giovanni di Paolo, CC0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

If this story really were a piece of escapist writing, it would end with the scene of the Magi doing homage to the Christ child. In the films, that’s where the credits would start to roll. But Scripture gives us a very telling, realistic ending to the story: “they returned to their own country by a different way,” as most translations put it. They leave the scene – the Magi return to their homes, but they return to their everyday lives changed by their encounter with Jesus. And this is very significant. Let’s be honest. Religion can easily turn into a form of escapism, a fix to get us through the day, the week, the year, and pie in the sky when you die. But that is not what the Christian faith is about. The Epiphany is no magical legend about beautiful babies, sweet-smelling stables and visiting kings, to be forgotten until next Christmas.

Just as the Magi spotted the star, and understood its significance, so we too are called to read the signs of our times, to be alert to God speaking to us in our lives. We are called to have the courage to act on our convictions, to leave our old familiar securities and embark on the journey of discovering or rediscovering God. We are challenged to recognise the presence of God in the particular circumstances of our lives. The Magi saw beyond the baby in the stable and recognised the very presence of God, the Word made flesh. And so they adored. We too are called to recognise the presence of the Lord in this world, his world —not the next, but here and now, in the people and events of our lives, and, I would suggest, particularly those we find difficult. And once we do that, we are asked, like the Magi, not to keep this to ourselves but to ‘return home’, to let others know that this world really is charged with the glory and the presence of God, if only we would open our eyes to see it.

Christianity is not a way of escaping the harshness of this life. God does not want to help us escape. He comes to be one of us, to be one with us, to ask us to join Him in participating in His work of creation and His work of redemption. That is the mystery of the incarnation. He asks us to help make His presence and glory manifest, evident, in our world.

Fr. Edward Bryant

Let Earth and Heaven Combine

Luke 22,1ff

The Christmas day reflection on this site spoke of the strange mixture of earth and heaven that overshadows Christ’s birth. That mixture continues through the whole of lifetime of Jesus. Think about the image of the child of Bethlehem in swaddling clothes looking like an “Egyptian mummified body”, which of course is true – for as “He came into the world and the world received him not”, the birth foretells the death, Jesus continually reveals the mystery of the divine life that came into the world through both his life and his dying.

That same mixture is present in this week’s Gospel reading, when the Holy family fulfil the requirements of Hebrew law and take their firstborn son to the Temple in Jerusalem, consecrating him who is Son of God in heaven but as an ordinary Jewish boy, to God the Father in his life on earth. This same mixture comes again at the beginning of Christ’s adult life when He submits himself to the Baptism of John in the river Jordan. St. Paul reflects on this submission present in the life of Jesus the one who is a mixture of heaven and earth. “When the fullness of time had come God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law”, [Gal.4,4] In this we are going beyond asking, is it all true that God became a man, but why it needed to happen?

To answer this, St. Paul takes us way back to Adam, who first revealed that fatal human flaw, “disobedience to divine order”, and how the coming of Jesus Christ, makes it possible to escape this yoke. This must be the reason that St. Luke in his third chapter will trace the ancestry of Jesus all the way back to Adam. [Luke 3,23-38] Of course Luke was a travel companion of St. Paul, and no doubt frequently they contemplated this connection between Jesus and Adam. “In Adam all die but in Christ all shall be made alive” is the way Paul explains the legacy of Adam and why he believes Jesus to be the New Adam, the Contra Adam who overturns that terrible legacy of fear, disobedience, violence and death that weave their way like a stain through human history. “As through one man’s disobedience many became sinners, so also by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous”. [Rom 5,19] So Christ submits to things human including the Hebrew law.

Guido of Siena [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

In the simple passage of the trip by the Holy family to the Temple we have the same mixture of heaven and earth theme that foreshadows the season ahead. Each Sunday will be a step by step constant reflection on the person and work of Jesus as it is revealed in the gospel narratives. Each step will be a manifestation of the mixture of the earthly and heavenly. Indeed this is the single theme that will play out Sunday by Sunday until Ascension Day, summed up in Charles Wesley’s hymn “Let earth and Heaven combine, angels and men agree, to praise in songs divine the incarnate Deity”:

Let earth and Heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.
Unsearchable the love
That hath the Savior brought;
The grace is far above
Of men or angels’ thought:
Suffice for us that God, we know,
Our God, is manifest below.

He laid His glory by,
He wrapped Him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days He here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s name.
He deigns in flesh to appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

See in that infant’s face
The depths of deity,
And labor while ye gaze
To sound the mystery
In vain; ye angels gaze no more,
But fall, and silently adore.
Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

In our personal preparation, approaching the events of the Lord’s trial and final days and his submission to the cross, the Christian must cast off the secular mind of Adam, which for the most part looks upon religious faith as providing for our personal emotional needs. Remembering the work of Jesus is not a therapy for mental needs, but bringing order to the intrinsic disorder that abounds in human life. The work of the Contra Adam is therefore about letting the divine will of heaven into our own earthly world, through obedience and submission.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

And is it true?

Mark 1,1-8

“And is it true?” That is what the poet John Betjeman asks in a poem simply entitled “Christmas”, and that, as you might say, is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Obviously most people don’t think it is true, otherwise, rather than simply eat, drink and spend too much, in what sometimes seems like a desperate flight from reality, they would join us at Mass over Christmas… Mark you, in a way you can understand why they do it, can’t you, and in its own way, Midnight Mass in a lovely old church beautifully decorated for the feast can also be an escape from reality, can’t it? Traditional hymns, a traditional crib, a traditional choir and a traditional priest, a beautiful setting where the candlelight gives an aura of magic. You can half close your eyes and imagine you are being transported way back in time, maybe to your own childhood and Happy Christmases of long ago, maybe to a bygone age when, so the dream goes, our honest, simple ancestors worshipped at crib and altar, and then returned to their straightforward, uncomplicated lives. Yes, when we contemplate what we have done with our lives, it’s hardly surprising if we do want to snatch an hour or two of escapism before life resumes.

Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (Public domain, via Wikimedia )Commons

But if you think about the Christmas Gospel story, you will soon realise that there’s not much escapism there. There is high drama – all births are that, though the circumstances of this birth are especially compelling – but there are also things which we prefer to shut out from our minds, like the nasty smells there must have been in the stable from all the animals, and there are shepherds and angels. It is a strange mixture of earth and heaven – the mess of the stable and the glory of God.

It is almost like the story of your life and mine, for we all carry within us earthly desires and heavenly longings, we all say not simply “And is it true?”, but “Please God, let it be true”, though sometimes in little more than a whisper, which we hope no one else will hear, for fear they will think we are religious extremists. So often we hang back, we are trapped between heaven and earth, and we rue our lot.

We can feel safe with Jesus the Baby of Bethlehem, because like that he is, in the words of a much loved Carol, indeed little, meek and helpless. We can worship the Babe in the Manger and then go our way. But Jesus as man is something quite different – his teachings are a hard pill to swallow, he wants not merely a say, he wants the say in our lives. Jesus the man says that God’s way and the way of the world simply do not mix – the world takes, God gives, the world says “me first”, God says “Me and others first”, the world says “It’s easy to be a Christian,” or, maybe “Don’t bother me with all this God-stuff now, there’s plenty of time for that when I’m old”, Jesus says “Time is short – follow me now”.

The world says “I can’t stand all those Bible bashers and religious lunatics.” Jesus says “I am the way” and millions of people through the ages have found the key to what life is really all about by abandoning the blind alleys they have got themselves in to, and following in his way, and in so doing, they have found a treasure beyond price, and one that is freely available to all. Some of them the world may indeed call lunatics, but others prove by their lives that they have both feet firmly on the ground, but their eyes fixed heavenwards, and all that is required to set you on the way to joining them is a simple yes to Jesus – a yes which will give you the key to what life really is all about.

Blessed Christmas!
Fr. Edward Bryant

The Great Amen … or The Girl who Said ‘Yes’ to God

Luke 1,26-38

Amen is an important word. It means, “Yes, God, I agree. I’ll do what you are asking me to do.” 

Jesus is the ‘God-Incarnate, Man-Divine’, The bible calls Him “The Amen” – He is God the Father’s Great ‘Yes’ to the World He created – though those who’ve never met Him, imagine that He’s Someone Who’s eternally saying, ‘No!’, or ‘Don’t!’ or ‘you mustn’t’ to anything they want to do.

The Annunciation tells us about two persons, God and Mary – one Divine, the other human. For both, God and Mary, the Annunciation was their way of saying ‘Amen! Yes, Certainly!’ to the other.

It was the moment that God took human flesh, and put His ultimate ‘stamp-of-approval’ on His Creation – by becoming part of it, and thus saving it from self-destruction, as He revealed Himself as its Maker, Reconciler, and One Who loves what He has created – despite Man’s imperfections.

To make this happen, God invited Mary to be His fellow-agent. So at an instant of time He let His Plan revolve upon the answer one teenager gave to His invitation: “Amen! Yes certainly!”.

Sandro Botticelli (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Now let’s try to imagine what Mary’s “Amen/Yes” to God, meant for her. Her first feeling (like ours) might have been of excitement at being ‘chosen’ by God – but as we know well – the excitement at being chosen is followed (or even swallowed!) by an inflow of misgivings.

Mary’s misgivings could have been: “What will my parents, and my fiancé Joseph, think? What will my Rabbi at Synagogue say when he learns I’m pregnant? Won’t they all assume the worst? And how do I explain to others what the Angel meant who said I would ‘conceive by the Holy Spirit’ – when I myself don’t understand what he meant? Some will think I’ve gone mad; and the gossip and speculation in Nazareth about my pregnancy will quickly become ‘The-Talk-of-the-Town’.

But God Himself knew what He was doing – even if, at first, nobody else did. When God devises any Plan that involves humans working alongside Him, He doesn’t reveal His entire Plan to them from the start. For one thing, our minds can’t ‘take in’ everything, all at once, and we’d end up getting into a terrible muddle. But another reason is that the most critical part of any Plan needs to remain secret until the right moment arrives to reveal them fully to its chosen participants.

Mary was chosen by God to play the hardest role: by bearing God’s Son, and by having to endure all those misunderstandings we thought about a moment ago. But God, as He so often does, invited others to become Mary’s ‘Supporting Cast’ – including most of those she thought, would be scandalized.

This included, her husband Joseph, her parents Joachim and Ann, her cousin Elizabeth and Zacharias, John the Baptist; and John the Apostle who eventually ‘took her into his own home’, at Ephesus’.

Like Mary, most of them ‘hadn’t a clue’ what they were letting themselves in for; but each of them, like Mary, said “Amen” to God – and played their part in God’s Plan for the salvation of His world.

It’s also our answer of “Amen, Yes!” that God is awaiting. Our answer to whatever role (small or large) He’s inviting us to play in His Master-Plan – and He’s awaiting that answer from us today.

Fr. Francis Gardom

“Thou didst not abhor the virgin’s womb.” [Te Deum]

Fr. Peter Moss in Edenham September 2016

The late Father Peter Moss was one of the first English priests received into the Nordic Catholic Church by Bishop Flemestad and in the presence of Prime Bishop Mikovsky in 2016. Father Peter was crucial to our beginnings as a small group. So tragically Father Peter developed a brain tumour and died early in the following year. His scholarship and gentle wisdom, his courage to leave the Church of his baptism as well as in the final days, facing the illness that took his life, were an inspiration. We are grateful to Peter’s beloved wife Comfort, who has given us the honour of putting some of his sermons into print as a tribute to a founding father and friend.

[Father Peter had a deep devotion to the Mother of God and her crucial role with other Old Testament figures in the divine plan of God and the “co-nature of Jesus Christ, son of God and son of man. Preparing now for the coming of our Lord’s own nativity, Father Peter explores a poem by R. S. Thomas a Welsh priest born 1913 entitled, The Coming, in which we see the Son of God from the beginning volunteer for the mission to mankind. The poem speaks of the world in brokenness and darkness which centres on a tree. Jesus knew that embracing the crib meant also embracing the cross and still choose to say in the final words, “let me go there”. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is an event that comes with a cost. Editor]

The Coming

R. S. Thomas † 2000

And God held in his hand a small globe.
Look he said. The son looked. Far off,
as through water, he saw a scorched land of fierce colour.
The light burned there; crusted buildings cast their shadows:
A bright Serpent, a river uncoiled itself, radiant with slime.
On a bare hill a bare tree saddened the sky.
Many People held out their thin arms to it, as though waiting for a vanished
April to return to its crossed boughs.  
The Son watched them. Let me go there, he said.

These are words of God the Son to God the Father bringing out a new dimension of what is happening – “Let me go there”.

For example, take the last word, “there,” referring to Earth, the barren planet in the far distance, scorched by the sun, across which snakes ?? what seems to be a river of green slime. It is of course a metaphor of what humanity has made of the earth, created by God the Father, to be our home. It is an image of humanity in the world, turning from God and making it a place that is alien to the divine nature of the Father and the Son and his purpose for us his human children.

But there is nothing abhorrent to God the Son, in his mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, “thou didst not abhor the virgin’s womb”. For this young Palestinian woman was “full of grace” and her human nature was open to God’s love. She looked in perfect hope and trust for the consolation of Israel according to God’s promise to Abraham and the Patriarchs. All of which he had affirmed again and again through the Hebrew prophets. It is the sinlessness of Mary the Mother of God, born in the course of nature to Joachim and Anna drawn forth in the young woman’s life mysteriously – in a way that we can never fully grasp – but it is the grace of God her creator that undergirded God’s choice of her as the “vessel of the Spirit, ark of the covenant and gate of heaven”.

It is Mary’s purity, made in heaven and the temple of divinity that inspired her to offer herself in response to the message of the angel Gabriel. “Let it be according to thy word”. The mission of God’s Son to the world depends upon the cooperation of this unique woman. It is this, her sinlessness and complete openness and God centeredness, on which the great Churches of both East and West agree that we celebrate the feast of the conception of the Mother of God according to the Father’s will.

Fr. Peter Moss † 2017

The Voice in the Wilderness

Mark 1,1-8

The season of Advent turns our thoughts towards Christmas with words from the earliest gospel St. Mark. Mark tells us nothing of the birth of Jesus, no shepherds, no wise men, no genealogy and certainly no lofty language of St. John’s gospel, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was God”. But Mark’s first words must not be underestimated. He gave great thought to how he would begin to explain why God had become a man. He opens his gospel with the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “I am sending a messenger to prepare for the way of the Lord”. The arrival in the world of the Messiah was not a last minute event but had been anticipated from the earliest days of God’s dealing with his people. From Abraham, Moses and more dramatically by the great prophets of Israel, who seeing how incomplete and struggling humanity was, generation after generation, needed a way to raise itself to the full potential. This could only happen by direct access to the divine life. The other three gospels make the same point in other ways, namely that the coming of Jesus Christ had long been anticipated, before he ever appeared on the banks of the river Jordan.

Anonymous – Public domain

By starting with John the Baptist, Mark is emphasising another crucial point contained in the proclamation, “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” and “receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. This goes to the heart of the matter. Why does humanity need a saviour? This is like asking an alcoholic, why they need to cut out booze which is killing them! Any pastor or parent knows that we humans are particularly blind to our own personal problems. Our power for self delusion is chronic at every level. The power of deceit and lies is especially at large today. In the midst of a pandemic there are countless individuals making a fortune out of the misfortune and misery of others. To make a change these cataracts blind the heart and soul of us all and must be removed. However a change of life can only be possible when self deceit is cleared away, and that is the point of repentance.

The author of this gospel was only too aware that not everyone who encountered Jesus would stay with him, some would follow but fall away and some would become his accusers. The most important part of preparing for Christ was and still is, recognition of the need to escape from the human predicament each one of us faces. John the Baptist, was able to see who Jesus really was saying “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. John the last of the prophets knew that humanity continues to shun the ways of God, “we wander from your ways, we are unclean men, we are like withered leaves” said Isaiah. In other words, when left to our own devices we so easily go off the rails. The Apostle Peter asked “what kind of humanity ought we to be”? To this question the passage for this week points the way of hope out of our struggling existence because there is one who demonstrates the way of change and because He is the divine Son bestows the power to make this happen.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Sleep and Watchfulness

Mark 13,24-37

“What I say to you I say to everyone: ‘Be watchful!’ [‘Stay awake!’] Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles at the very end of His discourse on the grave and painful times of trouble, which He knew faced both Himself and them. He knew that he was soon to be snatched away from them suddenly; He knew that Judas Iscariot would betray Him; that Simon Peter would deny all personal knowledge of Him; that the others would all run away, leaving Him on his own to face his enemies; and some had gone to sleep – despite His warning to ‘stay awake!’ (or ‘be watchful!’). God’s gift of Sleep is essential to our health of body and mind. It’s our God-given duty to get enough sleep to ‘rebuild our bodies and minds’ so that we can ‘offer Him our bodies as a living sacrifice’ rather than the half-dead one – which we sometimes do on a Sunday morning after having an over-indulgent Saturday night! But it also can be our God-given duty to remain awake, as Jesus warned His Apostles, in today’s Gospel: “What I say to you I say to everyone: ‘Be watchful!’ [‘Stay awake!’]

Christians are often faced by such paradoxes: “Two apparently contradictory statements which, when investigated, may both prove to be true”, (is how my dictionary defines a paradox). For Christians, paradoxes are seldom insoluble. When God gives us two, seemingly conflicting, Truths, these can often be reconciled: by taking each Truth at its face-value, but accepting that the other may also be true: because The Truth itself may lie in both extremes (but each under different circumstances).

Take ‘Sleep’ for instance: When Jesus healed the sick he said he felt ‘power had gone out of Him’: meaning that He felt exhausted. But who would blame Jesus for falling asleep during the storm on the Lake of Galilee?

Christ the Redeemer – Rublev (Public domain)

Jesus called Himself both ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of Man’. He had been several days in Capernaum on the other side of the lake, where He had cured the Centurion’s Servant, restored the widow’s son to life, and argued with stone-headed Pharisees. Tomorrow He faced, on the other shore, the notorious Gadarene maniac, as well as raising Jairus’s young daughter. Sleep He needed; and sleep He did.

But contrast this with His instruction to His followers to ‘Stay awake’ during all the following forty years of distress and persecution which He foresaw would fall upon His nation and, not least, his chosen followers. Jerusalem would be ransacked; the Temple would be destroyed, the people carried off into far-away lands, Christians included. These would be just the beginning of troubles. How easy it would have been for the Young Church to give the whole Christian Faith up as a Bad Job. Many of them did. St Paul’s later letters are full of the names of people who had ‘fallen away’ from their first loyalty (which they owed to their Church). There’s not very much difference between ‘falling away’ and ‘falling asleep’ – as the Apostles did in Gethsemane. So ‘staying awake’ when ‘watchfulness’ is the ‘order-of-the-day’, is as vital to our immortal souls as sleep is, to our mortal bodies and minds.

Fr. Francis Gardom

“My Kingdom is not of this world”

Matthew 25,31-46

The Pentecost season comes to a climax in the worship of Jesus Christ as King of the Saints and King of His Church. From now the calendar turns a page and begins again to reflect on the earthly life of the Lord from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, his birth and his Ascension. Very soon we will hear again the message of the Angel, “this child will receive the throne of his father David, and of his kingdom there will be no end”. Before we begin Advent we reflect on Christ and his Kingdom.

This important theme brings a smile to my face as I remember my past feeble attempts as an Englishman and subject of “her Britannic Majesty” to explain to Republican citizens in the USA the significance of monarchy. I understood that the foundations of our British monarchy were established by King Alfred the Great [849-899] on a robust Christian foundation with a coronation which was a consecration under God to avoid its going off the rails. Even Church buildings were not simply as meeting places set in a great parking lot, but as a place to house the altar upon which Christ was enthroned as King of the Word and Sacrament. This word kingdom we use so frequently easily overlooking its importance. We say the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”. We hear Jesus in his parables saying “the kingdom of heaven is like…” or his first words after the Baptism, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” [Mark 1; 14-16]. There can be no kingdom without a king and the Church understands that the King is Jesus Christ and we followers are his subjects. This point is not missed by Pontius Pilate who says at the trial “Are you a King?” to which Jesus replies, “My Kingdom is not of this world!” [John 18; 33-36].

Anonymous, Greece (Public domain)

Christ is King of the Church but in a very special way, utterly different to the world’s way. St Bernard of Clairvaux in his reflections identifies this as a kingdom of the soul which stands forever as a judgement on the kingdoms of the world, especially those who routinely turn their backs upon God. This King and his kingdom require a turning around by those who seek admission, and so the preaching of Jesus in Mark’s gospel opens with the call “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Some are righteous sheep but others are unrighteous goats. Not everyone who calls Lord, lord will enter” and “those who are not with us are against us”.

The mystic Bernard of Clairvaux [Homily IV] was aware of these stumbling blocks which he prayed should be removed from his soul. He said “I struggle against these, but in as far as I receive help from my Lord Jesus who is my God, I will have no king but Jesus, come then reign in me as my King and my God”. May these words guide us in the turmoil of our times as we look forward to Christ King of Advent and Christmas.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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