Imitation of Christ

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 20.

Mark 10,35-45

On the way from the Jordan valley with a steep climb to his final Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus knows that his disciples are still thinking in worldly terms about his kingdom. They ask to “sit in state” and have important positions supporting him. Within this minor event are crucial lessons for every Christian community.

Phillip De Vere, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

The brief incident recorded by Mark, in Matthew’s version has James and John are supported by their loving mother asking for the favour. “Grant that we may sit on your right and left hand in your glory”. Jesus answers “you do not know what you ask”. But in Luke’s gospel, [Luke 9; 46] this reasoning about status within the fellowship adds that it is fast becoming a dispute. If the disciples continue to misunderstand the unique fellowship they must become, the future Church would be dead from the start!

At this present testing time for Christians, the unique character of the Christian fellowship itself must become our urgent concern. Jesus believed his followers needed to distinguish between the kingdom of the world and that of God especially when, as so often happens, conflicts build. The members of each community cannot live in isolation, like a good team they need each other but must find a way to live in the unity that imitates the Lord’s spirit of humility. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Life together” observes that “no Christian community can come together without the seeds of discord soon emerging”. Discord may develop over matters of doctrine, but even these will often be fed by the flaws and distortions of human personality. Rarely do people leave churches over matters of dogma but regularly because of personal conflicts. Communities have to resolve the human predicament first if their fellowship is not to implode in life and death struggles. Students of human dynamics are well aware of these issues and so too was St Paul who spends a great deal of his energy dealing with the same problem of human nature. From prison he warns the Philippians [in AD 61 to 63] of the fatal vices of conceit and self self-delusion, “let nothing be done through selfish ambition, let each esteem others better than himself”. Even when there is harmony in matters of belief, the human self can cause mayhem.

There can be no more important teaching than this; to see that being the body of Christ we must live in communion as the baptised but ever aware that this unique fellowship goes beyond socialising. It means being driven and moulded by the person of Christ as he lays out in the Sermon on the Mount. “Not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought” [Rom.12;3]. Any desire for status and position not only hinders the health of the soul but destroys the life of the small community itself. This does not mean adopting a contrived demeaning behaviour, which was not the way of Jesus, but knowing ourselves honestly as we believe we are known by God. When Jesus placed a child in the midst of his disciples, he is teaching them to know that humility contains transparent simple honesty.

St. Thomas a Kempis in his classic writing begins by saying that every follower must “not walk in darkness or blindness of heart but imitate the humility of Christ”. Looking again at all the great spiritual teachers of the Church over the centuries will reveal how central this imitation of Christ is to “being the Church and its absence in much of the fellowship we see today may give a clue to so many of our problems.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Where is Your Treasure?

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 19.

Mark 10,17-31

The Gospels record the vivid encounter that Jesus has with a young man who wished to deepen his religious life, by going beyond just keeping the rules. Yet when challenged, he could not detach himself from his own wealth. Jesus comments; “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of heaven, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle!” This challenged his hearers it should challenge us today even more since most of us live lives of gentle self indulgence. We are bombarded on matters of wealth and poverty intertwined with political and social rhetoric, and our Christian leaders also are all too eager to engage in simplistic pronouncements on economic and political matters which have little to do with the teaching of Christ.

Heinrich Hofmann, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It is true that Our Lord frequently reminds us of the dangers associated with possessions, “where your treasure is there your heart will be also” and “lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break through and steal but layup treasure in heaven…..”. There is no doubt too that he is absolutely at one with the Old Testament’s concern for the poor. At the same time he was not hostile to wealth relying on wealthy friends who use their god given resources to support him and Jesus encourages the development of talents and good stewardship. The subject concerned St. Paul who writes to Timothy “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil leading some to stray from the faith” as too later early Church leaders like the Bishop of Hierapolis 485AD who writes to those who have already been trapped by the obsession with wealth, “people must not be mastered by their wealth but be the master of it”.

The subject of “possessions” like the theme of “marriage” (last week’s reflection), Jesus calls us to live the life of heaven here on earth, not providing simplistic solutions to social and economic matters. It is not wealth that is the problem but an attachment to wealth that blinds us to spiritual growth or takes control of our actions just as it did in the betrayal of the Lord by Judas Iscariot. The soul cannot be fed on those things that money can buy. Even worse, when we are focussed on possessions, the soul is deprived of its vitality as if underfed to the point of starvation and death. That is why for those seeking to have a life within the kingdom of God; Jesus uses the image of the impossibility of a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle to show that his followers need to take seriously the discipline of self denial.

Self denial of course is no longer thought of as a virtue in today’s world or even by us Christians who with everyone else are inclined to believe in a good and comfortable, a secure and safe life, without any realisation of the potential danger to spiritual health that this places us in. These issues that Jesus raised not only applied to the earnest young man in the gospel passage but also needed to be reinforced within his band of disciples too. They had already made many sacrifices to be with him as Peter pointed out, but were still to learn that they too may have to take up the cross of Christ themselves.

This is without any doubt a very difficult lesson for us all to struggle in humility with for as always we must know that there, but for the grace of God, go you and I.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Divorce

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 18.

Mark 10,2-16

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife, the crowd asks Jesus, knowing perfectly well what the answer in Jewish Law would be, namely that in certain circumstances divorce was indeed permitted. But Jesus in a way that is typically his, then calls his audience and us too to a higher, more excellent way, and before we go on to ask ourselves about the implications of that challenge, we need to take a step further back, and ask what lies at the root of Jesus’ thinking.

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

And it is quite simply this: we are called to live the life of heaven here on earth, for that is what at heart all Jesus’ talk of the kingdom boils down to. We have no street maps of heaven but Jesus in his teaching gives us much to hope for, without giving a lot of specific detail, which we should not expect anyway. But clearly in heaven, all relationships are eternal – the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the relationship of the redeemed with their God. This undying commitment finds expression in this world in the covenant made between God and his people on Mount Sinai, and the New Covenant sealed by the blood of the Lamb on his Cross. But we are also called to mirror the permanence of this relationship on the human level as well, in friendship certainly, in our commitment to one another within the Body of the Church of course, but supremely in the marriage bond, where man and woman become one flesh. That is the ideal, and the church is right to set this in front of people, especially in the western world where, some have predicted, more than 50% of marriages will end in divorce (the latest available figure for the United Kingdom is 42%).

Relationships are not just a commodity to be used but lightly discarded. It may not be a popular view at a time when so much of our way of life is not simply under scrutiny, but under attack, but the wisdom of the ages, let alone Jesus Christ’s explicit teaching, shows that stable, committed family life is the rock on which society is built and flourishes. Sadly the wreckage of broken relationships is visible to all, not just in the pages of popular magazines and newspapers, but all around us. And too often it is children who suffer most in this situation.

But having said that, both as the Church and as individual Christians we have a tremendous task in front of us, both to affirm and commit to our own relationships, on all levels – friends, church, marriage and family – but also not to shun those who have tried and failed, and who often in consequence bear tremendous burdens of guilt and low esteem. Divorce is not the one unforgivable sin, which, sadly, some have seemed to suggest in the past. It is not without significance that many marriage liturgies refer to marriage as a covenant, for on the human level marriage reflects the unbreakable covenant between God and his people sealed on Mount Sinai.

Where a marriage is no longer sustainable, it is not a light matter, and few people regard it as such; neither are exploitation and self-centredness and all the other sins which can undermine and destroy relationships, even within marriage, and where the couple do not take the way of divorce. The challenge is in the first place to look at our own relationships and work to keep or make them healthy and non-exploitative, and next to be ready to help those who have tried and failed, knowing that there, but for the grace of God, go you and I.

Fr. Edward Bryant

That Hideous Strength

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 17.

Mark 9,38-50

The British author C.S. Lewis wanted his three Space-Novels, “Out of the Silent Planet”, “Perelandra”, and “That Hideous Strength”, not to be just good stories but to explain the Christian Faith – and Jesus used his parables in the same way to put across some of His most important teaching. Melvin Tinker, an Anglican Parish Priest, has published a very useful supplement, based on one of the Lewis novels, (called That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost), to describe how today the younger generation has been misled into believing things which are simply not true.

Novgorodian icon from c. 1100 (Wikipedia)

This should remind us of one of Our Lord’s sternest warnings in which he said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea”. [Mark 9;42]

The Greek word ‘Skandalein’ is often mistranslated as ‘to sin’; but literally, it means ‘to make someone stumble’ – by placing an unseen obstruction in their way. As parents, teachers, or pastors, we must heed in today’s reading Jesus’ stern warning about those who cause, or fail to prevent, young children being led astray by faulty teaching. But where, and how, and when should we set about such a mountainous task?

First, “the Where question?” the answer must be – “In our own Family” – which (for churchgoers) must also include our Church Family. Begin by sharing with other churchgoers, any experience of faulty beliefs, which your own children have picked up – whether in the school playground, or elsewhere. Ask other parents if they’ve had a similar experience with their children; and listen carefully to their answers. Or, if you don’t want to share your experiences with others, read Melvin Tinker’s book. It provides numerous examples of what has gone wrong with present-day Society, as well as his explanation of why so many people, from every area of western society, have been so successfully led astray.

To the second question, ‘When should we do this?’ the answer here must be: ‘As soon as possible’, before it’s too late to do anything about it. The older we get, the more false teaching becomes implanted in people’s minds, and therefore the harder to change. False beliefs, like Bad habits, grow like weeds; and unless they are pulled-up immediately we become aware of them, begin to ‘take root’. On the other hand, right beliefs and habits grow like flowers. But flowers will only flourish and remain alive if cared for. They need regular watering and weeding. ‘Watering’ means thanking God – not only for the good habits which God has planted in ourselves, but equally importantly for the good habits He has planted in other people. Thanksgiving is equally appropriate for those bad habits which the grace of God has enabled both us, and other people, to overcome.

In our so called ‘Enlightened World”, many parents and teachers think they are doing their children a favour by lavishing undue praise upon them for those achievements which their own good guidance and example are largely responsible. Unmerited praises only produces in children that deadly weed called – Pride, and this is the deadliest sin. Today’s propaganda breeds a false sense of worthiness in our children – whilst hiding their shortcomings from them – leaving them in ignorance of their True Selves!

Fr. Francis Gardom

Blessed are the pure in heart

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 16.

Mark 9,30-37

The image of Jesus taking a child in his arms and saying to his followers, “whoever receives a little child in my name receives me” will today seem very strange. Jesus however was teaching his disciples to have self awareness by adopting a spirit of humility and transparency. These are not ideas that are held in high regard in today’s world. The wisdom of this age is about self, human rights and justice; it is about making the most of ourselves, of being successful, and not becoming victims. Above all to be admiring of celebrities who have made a name for themselves and a lot of money. But the heart of the spiritual teaching of Jesus Christ is warning against following these false trails. That is why he uses the image of a child without status, to make a point about uncomplicated behaviour, not becoming overlaid with the tangled web of devious adult actions. William Law, the Non-Juror who died in 1761, in his classic book “A call to the devout and holy life” believed humility and innocence were rarely understood because they are not, as some think, about weakness or having a low opinion of ourselves but having a “true and just sense of self” which then maintains a reasonable self consciousness and a sense of responsibility for our actions, which William Law believed was a serious discipline for Christians.

Eustis Memorial Studio, Boston (Wikimedia Commons)

Mastering the self by the discipline of the heart and soul is the lesson Jesus must expound. We read how his disciples have recently witnessed some of the most important landmark events in his mission. They saw him treating people with compassion; they had been present at the feeding of the crowds with simple supplies provided by another small child. They had witnessed the transfigured glory on a high mountain. Now they were beginning the journey towards the Lord’s trial and suffering, but the disciples are still seeing things from a very human point of view and beginning to quarrel about who should be the leader. The Lord must turn around their thinking. He was not opposed to achievement or honour but about the way such things were seized. The only way to work together was not use the way of status, manipulation and rivalry, but to put the other person first by building the rule of purity in the heart. Therefore he said, echoing the Sermon on the Mount themes, “The first shall be last”.

This mind of Jesus would be unheard of in the present self-centred culture in which the most radical agendas are organising for power and status. G.K. Chesterton believed a society like that is “going to the dogs” because in tearing down the wisdom of the centuries, it ends without a firm grasp of what is meant by human identity. Without that knowledge, and the vacuum created, the result is more and more fear and anxiety among the population. Society becomes a house built with shoddy materials and on poor foundations. It is quite certain that the kingdom teaching of Jesus can have nothing to do with today’s social engineering which is reaping such a harvest of chaos and confusion.

The ethics of Jesus recognises an intrinsic disorder at the centre of human life which breeds delusion, envy, manipulation, lies and a whole gambit of atrocities that are now breeding sociopathic behaviour at a fast rate and dominating our lives. It is precisely this confusing culture of a runaway self that Our Lord came to trample down. It can only be done by an active and disciplined struggle of the will at the centre of each person. He said “blessed are those who know that they are spiritually poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The culture has abandoned this Kingdom thinking believing that legislation can be cobbled together to make sure this offence or that crime can never happen again. Will they never learn that no system however well intentioned and exulted can ever overcome regenerate human behaviour.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

TAKE UP YOUR CROSS

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 15.

Mark 8,27-38

Get behind me Satan. Why was Jesus so harsh with Peter? Jesus had just told his friends that he was to suffer and die, and rise again on the third day, and Peter had remonstrated with him. Maybe, like a lot of us, Peter only heard part of what had been said, the first bit – the suffering, not the triumph, maybe the whole thing was just too awful to contemplate, maybe Peter loved Jesus so much that he could not bear the thought of him suffering, maybe Peter was worried about the consequences for him if this happened to Jesus, and indeed, when it did happen, he did not acquit himself well. Or maybe, when Jesus called him Satan this was no figure of speech, but the plain, unvarnished truth. After all, Jesus knew all about Satan. Satan had come to Jesus in the wilderness as the tempter – amazingly, Mark almost dismisses this time of trial in two short verses, but Matthew and Luke spell out for us how Satan tried all manner of beguiling to bend Jesus to his will. Maybe Jesus, here, sees Peter doing Satan’s dirty work for him, by suggesting that all the pain of the cross is not necessary.

The cross was a favoured means for the Romans of executing criminals – the cross, not in some figurative sense, but in reality loomed over the lives of the early Christians. We know after all from the film of that title that the slave Spartacus led a revolt by his fellow slaves which was brutally crushed by the authorities and that all the perpetrators were crucified, mile after mile after mile of them, strung up along the Appian Way and left to suffer, to rot, and to die.

Adam Elsheimer: The Exaltation of the True Cross, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Our cross is not likely to be, literally, a stringing up to die, but a cross still awaits us, nevertheless. And the clue to what this means lies in the following words of Jesus – those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. We are being asked whether we are ready to embrace a self-less life or whether we want to carry on leading a selfish life. Here we are talking about, in that good old evangelical word, conversion. We are being called to share in Christ’s mission to the world; we are being called to share in the life of Christ himself, to make his standards, his beliefs, his truth, our own. And that means that we may also have to say “Get behind me Satan” when the temptations come, the temptations to walk the way of the world rather than the way of the cross, the temptation, as a footballer might say, to take your eyes off the goal, all of which ultimately means a denial of Christ, a denial of his claim on our life which was staked at our baptism and acknowledged by our own lips when we were confirmed, a denial of his truth. And the words of Jesus are not even “accept a cross”, but rather “take a cross.” In other words, join in gladly in Christ’s life and suffering for the sake of the Gospel.

Crucifixion is unlikely to be our lot. Life is simply not like that. But there is still a danger for us, that our response to the challenge that Jesus issues will be lukewarm. It has been said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. That is capable of more than one meaning. But the challenge remains: of course our ordinary living makes great demands on everyone. Many people have worries about money, health, family, the state of the world. The danger then becomes that we fail to hear again for ourselves what the Master is saying: and he is saying just this: that he knows, he understands, he has drunk deep of the cup of suffering himself, he has known betrayal, desolation, all the things that can so weigh us down, but the solution lies in embracing his way, in losing our present lives in the warm embrace of his own, of ceasing to hold out against him, but accepting his truth and following in his way, knowing that indeed such a light affliction will win so great a prize.

Fr. Edward Bryant

Being Possessed

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 14.

Mark 7,24-37

People today seldom talk about “being possessed”. But they often say, “I don’t know what came over me” – which means that they really do believe in “possession”. When we regret something we’ve said or done, we try to blame it on some another agency, (natural or supernatural) rather than on ourselves, and this often occurs because we haven’t given enough thought before we say or do it.

It’s hard enough talking to a deaf person. It means that we have to take extra trouble for them to understand us. But it’s even harder to talk with people who are unwilling to listen to what we’re saying. The physically deaf cannot hear us; but of those who are unwilling to listen, we say that they are turning a deaf ear towards us.

Today’s reading tells us about two different people who were brought to Jesus by others, who asked Him, on their behalf, to heal them: the deaf-mute and the woman’s ‘possessed’ daughter – who sounds like an adolescent becoming a grown-up physically whilst still being a child emotionally.

Such ‘possessed’ teenagers are indeed possessed by the ‘Spirit of Uncertainty’, which itself makes them more difficult to communicate with. They ‘shut themselves up’ from us – often literally in their bedrooms – and nothing we try to do for them, makes much difference.

Jesus dealt with these two cases quite differently. He took the deaf-mute aside from other people, and used physical procedures like spittle, and putting His fingers in their ears.

But it wasn’t the girl, but her mother, whom Jesus challenged; and she taking up that challenge, which brought about the healing of her daughter. Jesus, it seems, never met the girl. All of which suggests that healing, of body, mind and spirit, requires a multi-disciplined approach. We should stop thinking of it being solely the business of doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and social workers.

Leonard Gaultier, Christ healing a deaf man [National Gallery of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Friends, spiritual directors, parents, relations, and intercessors have a critical part to play in restoring people’s health. The word Ephatha means “Open up!” So it suggests that we need to be open-minded when it comes to dealing with deaf people, especially the wilfully deaf.

When we pray for others, either in Church or in private, it makes no difference to the power of such prayers in God’s sight if we don’t know who these ‘others’ are. If we petition God for them, it’s our faith that counts – that such prayers are always answered by God, even if His answer is not what we had been hoping for. Jesus didn’t just heal. He saw healing as an opportunity to challenge (or test) the faith of those involved. Before he healed the girl, he invited her mother to give Him one good reason why He should do what she asked– though she wasn’t one of the Chosen Race. Her answer, says St. Mark, so impressed Him that He discerned that faith in Him that He looks for in each one of us – but so often fails to find!

Fr. Francis Gardom

True Religion

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 13.

Mark 7;1-8,14-15,21-23

In England Christian institutions appear to be continually losing their way. In July 2021 an example in which a large flower arrangement was placed before the altar, and where once the sign IHS [Jesus our Saviour] might be featured, now had NHS displayed, in honour of the National Health Service, Britain’s new religion! The first Christians were put to death for refusing to bow down to the Emperor by burning incense on his altar. Today, genuflections which many of us used to reverence Christ in the Blessed Sacrament are the preferred political gesture of sportsmen and footballers and some religious leaders. What has happened to true religion?

Jesus in his day battled with true and false religion. He pointed out the difference between manmade rules which result in the neglect of the commandments of God bringing criticisms by Jewish religious authorities. His own disciples had been caught breaking the rules concerning ritual hand washing. This was a threat to the Pharisees. They had taken the 10 commandments and added over 300 further rules and regulations especially in matters of diet and washing. This made it really easy to accuse people of being law breakers. These rules of purification were not introduced for reasons of hygiene but to wash away the possibility of contamination with Gentiles. This produces division and aggression not unlike enforcement attitudes of overkill today! It is hard to believe that in Manchester it has been reported that two police armoured vehicles with officers in body armour arrived on two separate occasions at the home of a twelve year old girl to check that she had been self isolating after a Covid19 contacts.

Master of Sant’Apollinare, Ravenna
[Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Jesus was not against rules but rather about elevating man made rituals and regulations especially those regarding “clean and unclean” above the commandments of God, for then they become obstacles to harmony. He said, “There is nothing that goes into the mouth that defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth.” [Matthew 15,11+19] And, “whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach … those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man”. True religion must begin in the heart and soul not in the keeping of outward rituals. How easy it is for the well intentioned to become deluded and allow self righteousness to distort religion and morals. How easy to gang up with moral outrage and cast stones at those who are different. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone” is one of the clearest warnings Jesus ever gave towards self righteousness. These issues are the battleground that finally brings Jesus to trial and will also become the offenses levelled at the fledgling apostolic church in New Testament times.

This is not just an accusation against the Pharisees it has also been very much part of the internal conflicts of Christian history too with one group demonising others and dividing the household of God. Humanly speaking, it has always been hard not to fall into this trap of self delusion even in the first centuries when the commandments of God were known and respected. How much more dangerous today is this trap of self deception when the commandments of God are unknown and the idea of God abandoned and lost! This places a great obligation on Christians if they wish to live a true faith, to ensure that they know, teach and practice the authentic ways of Christ. To do this will require a far greater investment in an informed and disciplined life that is true to the mind of Christ that has been handed down to us. Without this commitment the church will continue to face even greater problems in distinguishing the divisive assertions of the secular culture and the wisdom of the Lord.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Choice

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 12.

John 6,60–69

We never forget you have a choice. That is a popular, at the time, advertising slogan from a few years back. Did it work? Did it produce a healthy balance sheet? Apparently not, because the irony is that that particular company has long since disappeared – clearly too many people chose some other airline, for it was the long vanished British Caledonian. We never forget you have a choice.

Jesus never forgot that people had a choice – of course he was deeply pained by those who heard his message but then preferred to go their own way, but he did not water down his message to make it more readily acceptable, and that is a lesson that preachers have to learn, and re-learn over the years.

Today’s Gospel is a case in point. Jesus had been saying hard things to his disciples, and things that, humanly speaking, made no sense, all about being the bread of life: how could this young teacher say that he was bread, let alone the bread of life? It simply did not add up. Of course, with the benefit of two thousand years of Christian history, we should be able say beyond doubt that we know that Jesus feeds us on himself in the Blessed Sacrament, that this is not some mere commemoration of a dead hero, but an encounter with the Lord of life; indeed more than an encounter, for in the Eucharist Jesus shares his very life with us, to enable us to become more like him, and to continue his ministry in the world.

Jesus teaching his disciples – From a 1684 Arabic manuscript of the Gospels, copied in Egypt by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, CC BY-SA 3.0.

At the time, his hearers could have known none of this, and it is hardly surprising that some turned away. But Jesus did not dilute the message. He didn’t say “Perhaps I can make this a bit simpler” or “If this is hard, forget that I even said it.” No, Jesus proclaimed himself to be the heavenly food that his followers could not do without in their earthly pilgrimage. Obviously, we cannot know what his tone of voice was when he asked the twelve “Do you also wish to go away?” Was it aggressive? I think not – we see nothing of that in Our Lord. Challenging? Certainly. The twelve had to make their choice, and we know that they did, even if they did not fully understand. Sad? Yes, I think so, but the best things that life can offer are not always easy.

Materially speaking, we in the western world have never had so much choice in how we live our lives, and how we spend our money, but spiritually most of our contemporaries, by choosing not to follow Jesus, or else by choosing to water his teaching down to conform with their own prejudices or the spirit of the age are rejecting Jesus as though they had made a downright denial. We never forget you have a choice. I never forget that those who attend church week in and week out have a choice, and they choose to come because they know that the Lord summons them to dine at his table. In a sense we have to make that choice every day, for we can so easily fall back into the at best semi-Christian ways of the world. Yes, this most important of all choices is an ongoing task. We are called to choose: choose the way of Jesus, even if the world chooses otherwise, and continue to hold fast to Jesus’ teaching as it has come down to us, for as Peter rightly says, “to whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Fr. Edward Bryant

Seen through Mary’s Eyes

Sunday of the Dormition – 15th August 2021

Luke 1,39-56

Poetry helps us to understand the Christian Faith. Let me use a short Hymn about Mary which, in sixteen lines, tells us what it would take many pages of prose to say.

The author, Bishop Thomas Ken [1637-1711], a writer of some of England’s most loved hymns. He lived in an age when ignorance replaced the Christian Faith, even by those ordained to believe and safeguard it. Ken was one of the seven Bishops who were held in the Tower of London by King James II, and was later deprived of his Diocese. So Ken was someone who believed that Truth matters.

From early times, Christians have differed about the importance they attach to Mary’s role in God’s Plan for the redemption of His world: some almost ignore it, whilst others, like us, believe her willing obedience was critical.

Paolo Veneziano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

So we read Bishop Ken’s poem:

Her virgin eyes saw God incarnate born,
When she to Beth’lem came that happy morn;
How high her raptures then began to swell,
None but her own omniscient Son can tell”.

The first line states unequivocally that Jesus was, and is, God Incarnate, not just a “good man”, but both “Perfect God and Perfect Man”.

Bishop Ken continues by stressing the complete empathy (‘unity-of-spirit’) between Mother and Child. Only Jesus Himself, fully understands the bond of joy, sung by angels in heaven, as they beheld the Word made Flesh. Verse Two tells of the fatal mistake of Eve, the First Woman, who took the forbidden fruit:

As Eve when she her fontal sin reviewed,
Wept for herself and all she should include,
Blest Mary with man’s Saviour in embrace
Joyed for herself and for all human race.

As early as the 2nd century Saint Irenaeus saw Mary as The Second Eve – who helped to recapitulate the evil of Eve’s disobedience by her own obedience to God’s Word, in partnership with her Son, The Second Adam, in Whom God reconciled the world to Himself by that ‘One, True, Pure and Immortal Sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross’. This is the message of reconciliation which He entrusted us to share with others.

In Verse three, Bishop Ken takes another step. He says:

All Saints are by her Son’s dear influence blest,
She kept the very Fountain at her breast;
The Son adored and nursed by the sweet Maid
A thousand fold of love for love repaid.

It’s not just Mary, Jesus and the angels, who have reason to rejoice. We, as “Saints-in-the-Making” receive the means of grace and the hope of glory’. As Mary fed Jesus at her breast, we too can approach as close to Him as humanly possible and receive his Body and Blood

But even that is not the end of the story, for the fulfilment of joy for us, as for the Virgin Mary, lies beyond the grave as the last verse he says:

Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
Next to his throne her Son His Mother placed;
And here below, now she’s of heaven possessed.
All generations are to call her blest.

Bishop Ken has taken us from Earth to Heaven, and back to Earth again in just sixteen lines. Because that simple but virtuous teenager in Nazareth accepted God’s transformation of her into the Mother of God, she is now with her Son in Heaven. But our destiny is no less extraordinary than Mary’s.

If (like Mary) we say to God, “I am your servant, O God: do with me according to Your Will”, then we shall also discover those unspeakable joys which God ‘has prepared for those who unfeignedly love Him’– and in which Jesus, Mary, and the Heavenly Host already participate.

Fr, Francis Gardom

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