A Lesson in True Power

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 3.

Mark 4,35-41

Never has humankind been more powerful than it is today. We have the power to send men to the moon, we have the power to split the atom, and artificial intelligence is affecting our lives in all manner of ways. But it was British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin who said in 1931 that power without responsibility is the mark of the harlot throughout the ages.

Have we become a generation of harlots? What do we do with the power that has been put into our hands? Do we use it for good or ill? Aren’t we rather like children set loose in the film, Willie Wonker’s chocolate factory, gorging on the sweets set before us, and then getting upset when we get stomach ache? And because of humankind’s misuse of power, we all stand in great danger of getting something far worse than an upset tummy. Then we all begin to make excuses for this state of affairs: “nothing to do with me, I am quite powerless”. Don’t believe it. We all have power and exercise power over others in countless ways. but we need to understand very clearly that what power means to a Christian is very different from what the world means. And if you want to know about Christian power, then you need look no further than Jesus, whose divine power is always put at the service of love, and a love that goes far beyond what the world likes to call love.

Throughout the Gospels, others seek to lure Jesus into misusing his power: in the wilderness, the devil tempts him, “go on, you can do it”. On his cross, he is goaded:” if you are who you say you are, come down from the cross”. Paradoxically, Jesus shows his true power, and the true nature of Christian power, by refusing to go along with those who have power games of their own to play. Jesus shows his power in acts of love and service, and invites us to do likewise.

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the Gospel: Jesus is in a boat on the lake with his friends: suddenly it all begins to go wrong. One of those sudden gales blows up, and they all risk perishing. “Save us Lord, we are drowning” they cry. So Jesus gives them a practical lesson about power. We all like to be in control, but the disciples were out of control, they had, as people say today, “lost it”. To rely on their own power to get out of this mess would have been futile, so Jesus demonstrates that power comes from God, and that he, God in man, is able to exercise that self same power for the good of all. He rebukes the wind and the waves, and all becomes calm once more. “Who is this?” they ask. He is the one who calls them to abandon false delusions of power, false notions of their ability to control events, and to come back to faith, faith in God, faith in the one he has sent. Power comes from God, and that same power which stilled the raging of the sea, has the capacity to bring calm and order into our disordered lives.

And we who bear his name are called to use the power that God shares with us to the same ends: to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring justice to the oppressed, to co-operate in the ongoing work of making the creation a faithful reflection of the very splendour of God himself. God never misuses the power that is his by right, and he expects that the power he has shared with us should be given back to him in loving service.

In our hearts we know this to be true, yet we still seek to use power the earthly way. How foolish we are!

Fr. Edward Bryant

The Mustard Seed

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 2.

Mark 4,26-34

In England the N.C.C. Mass booklet has Christ’s words that his kingdom is like a mustard seed, the least of the shrubs that becomes a tree and a home for many varieties of birds. We do not understand this image in the sense of Ernst Schumacher writing in 1973 that “Small is beautiful” of itself. He was writing about the abuse of resources in the world of politics and economics. But we remember Jesus is speaking about the crucial concept of “the Kingdom of God”.

Reading the parables we put ourselves in the situation of the first disciples, listening to the Lord explaining how his mission inevitably starts in a small and vulnerable way before it can grow. Jesus regularly used parables in his teaching; sometimes they are obscure riddles or proverbs but other times his analogies are clear and challenging taken from the natural world and daily life. The parable of the mustard seed is one of these, teaching the disciples that their mission inevitably starts in a small way and is vulnerable but growth is driven by God. Jesus uses parables as his teaching method introducing them with the formula, “the kingdom of heaven is like”; so that there is a deliberate emphasis that the first duty is to focus on the Godly way of thinking and living rather than the political.

Phillip Medhurst, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

We must remember that the parables were collected by the evangelists to help the post Pentecost Church facing a new situation. Growth had already taken place in the years after Pentecost and in some cases was spreading like wildfire, but with new obstacles in the way. The tiny seed of Christian life started to grow and become the safe resting place for a great diversity of people of many languages and cultures. It was the Kingdom of God, the house with many rooms for all followers and the parables begin to be applied in new ways. This is exactly how St. Ambrose [397AD] uses the mustard seed image to say that the Holy Spirit is the seed in the soul which is a great power in the Christian world moving mountains. St John Chrysostom [407] also when he preaches about the mustard seed, says that although such a simple herb, which becomes a place for shelter and protection, mustard seeds are most potent when crushed as also the potency of Our Lord himself who became most strong when he too was crushed at the time of his passion but like the mustard seed releases the potency and his redeeming power.

Now we are in another age, beginning the season of Pentecost 2021. A time when Christian Churches face great antagonism amounting to a “Christo-phobia”. This may be one of the greatest crisis and challenges yet for Kingdom of Christ. Even the minds of the faith-community itself having lived for centuries in a more or less religious world, now inhabit anti religion and have already been infiltrated by a secular spirituality of individuality that is at odds with the transcendent spirituality of Christ. The Kingdom that Jesus spoke about was not a perfect paradise, a golden utopia above the clouds. The Kingdom of Heaven is made up of those who are working to mould the present life on the perfect model of Jesus Christ rather than personal happiness. To counter this we must plant again the seed of a deeper self-understanding of the Kingdom in which the image of the powerful mustard seed may again encourage us. We will have to become smaller too and more focused, yet determined to restore the meaning of the Kingdom while remembering a few weak fishermen once began to change the world by sowing the seeds divine power which must be sown again in the souls of humankind and nourished by the Holy Spirit begins to counteract the failures of our mission in the world.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 1.

Mark 3,20-35

In English, the word ‘hard’ has several different meanings. It can mean ‘hard’ as opposed to ‘soft’: like “taking a hard (or firm) line about something”; but we also often use ‘hard’ about the things that we find difficult to accept or understand, or those we find ‘hard to do ’:like ‘loving our enemies’.

This confusion matters, especially when we consider the so-called ‘Hard Sayings’ of Jesus.

James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus used many ‘hard’ sayings to teach people the Truth, both about themselves, and about Himself. In today’s Gospel, for instance, He said, “let any man blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness”. That’s as hard or firm a saying as anyone ever made about anything!

Those who want to believe Jesus was always “mild-and-gentle” with His audiences and never wanted to upset them, face a big difficulty here. All three Evangelists, Mark, Matthew and Luke agree that He did say it (or its Aramaic equivalent). St John tells us that many followers abandoned Him at this stage of His ministry because of His “intolerable language”. (John 6;60) Jesus was no crowd-pleaser!

Those who cling to the “mild-and-gentle” view of Jesus just ignore His ‘hard sayings’; but faithful Christians, simply can’t afford to ‘pick and choose what our Saviour says about our salvation, much as we might prefer the soft things to the hard ones!

Before accusing others of committing any sin, especially the ‘unforgivable’ one, it’s wise to begin by asking whether we ourselves understand what “Sinning against the Holy Spirit” actually means.

Pvasiliadis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

That’s not too difficult. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as ‘The Spirit of Truth’; so blasphemy against the Holy Spirit consists in our refusing to recognize Evil as being Evil, or by calling it ‘Good’ when we really know that, in God’s eyes, it is wrong.

This often happens when someone knows they’ve done wrong, but when accused they accuse their critics of being prejudiced or judgemental, or simply old-fashioned, as if‘ choosing right means ‘doing what’s fashionable, rather like we choosing what clothes to buy and wear. The 1911 pop song ‘Everybody’s Doin’ it Now’, is as morally misleading today as it ever was.

Of course, there are both good and bad prejudices, like there are good and bad judgements; but being fashionable, acceptable or popular doesn’t prove that they are morally right.

To confuse the word ‘hard’ (the opposite of ‘soft’) with ‘hard’ (difficult to understand, or to perform) is like weighing groceries on a pair of faulty scales. Although the two scale-pans appear to balance, in fact they don’t and using faulty scales or false weights when weighing our Moral judgements, in-justice will inevitably be the outcome!

But equally, tearing-up the Rulebook and trying to make a new one, is just as mistaken.

The only cure for moral degeneracy is to open the eyes of the wilfully blind, and thus enable them to see that it’s not a reformed morality that’s needed, but re-formed men and women – who have been trans-formed by God’s Grace; and always using the set of Moral Scales and Weights which have already been provided for us, both by the hard, as well as the not-so-hard sayings of Jesus Christ! “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)

Fr. Francis Gardom

Is Trinity True?

Trinity Sunday

John 3,1-17

Is it true? Will you find the Trinity mentioned in the Bible, or more specifically, the New Testament? Let me save you the bother of rushing to your Concordance; the word Trinity does not occur in the Bible. However, do not despair. After all, anyone who takes the Bible simply at face value is in a lot of trouble – Holy Scripture deserves more than that of us. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life. If you want to understand the real message of the Bible, you’ve got to be prepared to dig beneath the surface and ask yourself what is the essential message contained in the verses. It can, of course, be threatening. But if we can work that through, and prayerfully bring our brains to bear on the Scriptures, it can be a liberating and enriching experience, far more enriching than mere surface readings of the Scriptures can ever give.

Instead of bewailing the fact that Our Lord and, later, St Paul did not give us a nice tidy explanation of the Trinity, you start asking yourself whether the Trinity is to be found in the New Testament, you begin to find it all over the place. You find it at the accounts of Our Lord’s baptism, you find it at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel, where the Risen Lord tells His followers to go and make disciples, and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Andrei Rublev, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Christian Church didn’t invent the Trinity, nor did God the Father about two thousand years ago say to Himself “I’m feeling lonely I will turn myself into a Trinity.” God has always been Trinity right from the start of time: what has changed is that He has graciously allowed us to understand more of His nature as time has gone on. Non-Christians have falsely claimed that Christians worship three Gods. That old Trinitarian hymn which I used to sing as a boy, and which always used to remind me of a lubricating oil of the same name, three in one and one in three, makes a statement which on the surface is either nonsense or else simply incomprehensible. To explain the Trinity is beyond human wit, so preachers often turn to analogies: the Trinity is like a shamrock perhaps. I prefer the suggestion that it is like looking at the same scene from different angles – one reality, but different ways of perceiving it, and from the different angles you get different views, glimpses of new riches which would otherwise be obscured. But in the end, all analogies break down, and we have to return to the original. So great is our God that He wants us to know Him and love Him as He reveals Himself in these different ways, as the Sovereign Lord of all; as Jesus, the one who saves us from the eternal darkness of separation from God; and as Spirit, the enlivener, or if you prefer, the life giver, the new life giver, the Spirit of Jesus living within us to continue the work of transformation, of making us more Jesus like, but still God in each of these different ways.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the corrective to any false notions that we can put God in a box and keep Him there, because although there is no new truth, although God does not change, neither does His nature, there is yet more to learn of what He is, and it reminds us that at the heart of God there is communion, fellowship, relationship. Maybe you can be a Christian on your own, without ever darkening a church doorstep – God knows, but our life here on earth is meant in some way to reflect the life of God Himself – creating, saving, enlivening others, and doing so in concert with others. Mystery the Trinity certainly is, but great and wonderful truth it is too, and we should be eternally grateful that God has graciously chosen to open the door of heaven in this way to enable us to worship Him, to fall on our knees and join with the cherubim and seraphim in their cry of “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Fr Edward Bryant

Spirit Guided Church

Pentecost Sunday

John 20,19-23

The Christian faith is based on the truths Jesus taught and transmitted through the ages by successions of believers called the Church. In order for these truths to be authentically of God rather than of man, they need to be the same truth as handed down by the Son of God. Jesus was wary of man-made religion. For example he quotes Isaiah, “people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. [Mark 7;6] St. Paul emphasizes the same warning to Greek converts at Thessalonica telling them to avoid human concoctions, “Brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught”. [2 Thessalonians 2;15] The passing on of these truths embodied in the sacred apostolic tradition is the prime duty of the Church and everyone within it. For this Jesus promises the protection and assurance of the Holy Spirit. This is so important that the best teachers say the goal of each individual Christian is “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit”, reinforcing the words of Our Lord “when the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth”. [John 16;13]

Condé Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately within the membership of the Church the Holy Spirit is the least understood member of the Holy Trinity, and the crucial function the Spirit provides in protecting the sacred tradition is missing. Then people lose their way, turning to ideas lifted from the present chaotic age. Rejection of the Church today is sometimes because of the pettiness and frailties of so many of its leaders; it is not the institutional church, but the truth of Jesus Christ that is the object of our faith. The Church is only its true self when it lives by the Holy Spirit and is the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

On Pentecost Sunday Christians rediscover again why the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is so important.

The whole season covering five months is a time of Christian self reflection and understanding, ending on All Saints Day when we see the saints as the true expressions of being a Church empowered by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit who with the Son proceeds from the Father, overshadows the birth of and baptism of Jesus, overshadows the Blessed Virgin and St John the Baptist, overshadows too every individual in Christ’s Church. In the book of Acts, the very last words of Jesus to his Apostles were “you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit”. This promise was dramatically manifested at the time of the Jewish feast of Pentecost which celebrates the first harvest of the liberated Hebrews in the Promised Land. The Church looked forward to a greater spiritual harvest of souls in God’s Kingdom.

Unable to see how this could be done the frightened Apostles are overwhelmed by a strengthening wind and fire descending on them individually and with the result that they are changed into co-workers in the harvesting of souls. The first Christian Pentecost is followed other Pentecost events. Acts 8;17 describes the conversion of Samaritans and Acts 10;47 of Gentiles who likewise receive baptism and the laying on of hands by which they too receive the Holy Spirit. This pattern still continues because the apostolic Church takes seriously the promises of Jesus speaking about the Spirit, those believing in him would receive to assist and preserve the continuation of his truth. ”He who believes in me,… out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”. [John 7;38-39]. The English hymn writer Charles Wesley expresses this relationship of the individual with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit:

Heavenly Adam the life divine,
change my nature into thine,
move and spread throughout my soul
activate and fill the whole.

Holy Spirit no more delay
come and in this temple stay.
Spring of life thyself impart
rise eternal in my heart.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

“He ascended into Heaven”

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17,11B-19

‘Christ really rose from the dead, and took again His body, with flesh, bones and all that belongs to the perfection of Man’s nature, and in them He entered Heaven until he returns to judge all men at the last day.’

Some Christians find the Ascension of God the Son is the hardest aspect to grasp about the Incarnation. That maybe because we have already had experiences (however slight) of Birth, Passion Death and Resurrection but not of Ascension. We all experienced birth – though we can’t remember it. We know that death awaits us all; and Scripture (by analogy) likens Resurrection to us, “waking up from sleep”, [Psalm 17:15] “I will see your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” But we don’t have any experience to compare with the Ascension. Thinking about aircraft or spaceships is no help!

Anonymous, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s view the Ascension through God’s eyes. Since Jesus, God Incarnate, experienced it and shares our Human nature, we can reasonably ask “Why was His Ascension necessary?”

Jesus said to His Apostles, “The Truth is that it is for your own good that I am going; because unless I go, the [Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I do go I will send Him to you” [John 16:7]. His words indicated that the “Incarnational Phase” of God’s Atonement-Plan had developed into, but not been superseded by, what we might call its ‘Sacramental’ Phase. Although Jesus did not cease to be Human – ‘His Manhood pleads where now it lives on Heaven’s eternal throne’; but His bodily appearances had now ended, with one or two exceptions.

After His Ascension, serious questions faced the Church. For example: “Can Gentiles become Christians, and must they accept the Jewish Law; how does Jesus want His Church to be governed – from the top-down or the bottom-up?” Such questions could no longer be avoided by saying, “Let’s wait till the next time Jesus appears amongst us to give us the answer”. The Ascension signified that it was now the responsibility of His Followers to lead His Church into all truth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, They must learn to stand on their own feet.

But there is a third, and compelling reason, why the Ascension was necessary. Instead of Christ appearing bodily in a succession of places and different times, the Church itself was to become “The Body of Christ on Earth”. So instead of being present in His earthly body (which could only be in one place at a time) Jesus could, and would, be present as the Host at every Eucharist, anywhere and everywhere, regardless of where or when it was celebrated, and Christians could “feed on Him in their hearts by faith with thanksgiving” wherever and whenever two or three of us gather together in His Name. How could they have been better persuaded of this than by the Ascension? The fact that His promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled within ten days was an indication that the Ascension, far from being the end of His Incarnation, was the start of an entirely New Chapter, and led them to understand what He meant by saying both “It is for your own good that I am going”, and “I am with you always, even to the end of time”.

Fr. Francis Gardom

It’s Only Words

Sixth Sunday of Easter – “My Words are Spirit and Life”

John 15,9-17

An Englishman’s word is his bond. That’s a noble sentiment. But, there are words, and there are words. I detect a widespread cynicism about politicians, certainly at national level, because the perception is that their deeds don’t match up to their words. To make matters worse, words can mean different things to different people, and words certainly can change their meaning over time. You may know the saying that England and America are two nations divided by the same language. We are now no longer allowed to talk about mankind, but rather about humankind, which to my ear is ugly, even if it saves us from the error of, apparently, excluding half the human race. You can still get caught out, though.

Some years ago I found myself in an Old People’s Home talking to an old lady; she pointed to the lady next to her and said “We’ve got aids”. I did a double take, and was then somewhat relieved to see that she meant that they were both wearing hearing aids. 

Now you may be asking yourself what all this has got to do with today’s Gospel. Because Churches often seem to love sheer wordiness (“They think that by their many words they will be heard” (Matthew 6.7)), we can become deaf to the one word that matters, which is Jesus the Word of God. Jesus the Word speaks words to us, words of challenge, words of love, words of reassurance, words of life, and we who bear His name are expected to hear and respond.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Let us take just this word, “commandment“, out of the Gospel as Jesus “Keep my commandments”. People think even The Ten Commandments are a bit old hat now. Besides Jesus got rid of all that, and simply asked us to love one another. If only it were that simple. We human beings do like to wriggle out of our obligations. The anguished complaint of the child when he has been asked to do something “Do I have to?” is the authentic voice of humanity. It’s all right if what we’ve been asked to do fits in with our own wishes and our own convenience, but if not, then all too often we will begin to find reasons for not doing as we have been asked, and then try to make a virtue out of our willfulness by saying we are asserting our independence or something similar. But Jesus lays it firmly on the line to His disciples “this is my commandment” – it is a commandment that He is giving them. We often get nearer to the truth of Jesus’ words by asking ourselves what He didn’t say. So here, for example, He didn’t say “I know you’ve got a lot on your minds, I know there are differences of personality among you, but I would be grateful if you could do your best to be nice to each other”. He didn’t say that or anything like that, but believe me, lots of Christians seem to think that’s what He said, and they act accordingly. No, Jesus said “This is my commandment”, and if we in any sense accept that He has something of value to say, let alone if we accept Him as Lord and God, we must heed His words, we must not try to water them down, and we must believe that He meant what He said, even if as a consequence we’ve got to change the way we live.

But the point is, Jesus tells His disciples that if they will accept the challenge to lead this (His) kind of life, then they will not merely deserve to be His friends, they really will be, and what greater privilege could there be than that?  But even here there is a warning, for if we apply again our little test of asking here not so much what Jesus did not say, but what He left unsaid, we will realise that to fail to lead lives of Jesus-like love means that we have said that we do not want to be His friends, because we are denying the Holy Spirit access to our lives to enable the love of Jesus to burn brightly there.

So here is the challenge: commandment. No one can force you and me to follow His commandment, but whenever you and I are tempted to the opposite, to disobedience, to hatred, or almost as bad, willful indifference, to turning away from Jesus, then let us just reflect, let us take to heart that measureless love which showed itself on Calvary, let us ask ourselves whether we are truly prepared to take Jesus’ commandment as just that, let us reflect whether we truly want to be Jesus’ friends or His enemies, and surely to such questions there can only be one response. I mentioned at the start the cynicism about politicians who appear not to keep their word. Can the same criticism be leveled at us as Christians, that we do not keep the word, the word of Jesus our Lord?

Fr. Edward Bryant

Partaking in the Divine

Fifth Sunday of Easter – The True Vine

John 15,1-8

Anonymous [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The New Testament was written to strengthen the first converts, who not only faced great times of persecution but also philosophical attacks from Jew, Greek and Roman critics. The apostolic community needed to hand on coherent teaching but also to develop the strongest possible affinity of this teaching with Jesus himself. The fourth gospel ponders the meaning of this affinity or “Communion with Christ” especially in the seven “I AM” sayings; “I am the Way”, or “I am the Good shepherd,” “I am the bread of life,” etc, but especially I am the true vine, you are the branches.

Any serious gardener will immediately connect with this very powerful image of the vine and vinedresser. I read this passage each year, while preparing for Easter, often at the same time finishing tending my own fruit trees, removing diseased, dead and unwanted branches, and looking for fruit buds in the hope of a future crop. Each tree like all nature is subject to life generating and life threatening forces and need attention. My trees are also old friends. I have grafted and nurtured them from single stems and now I look up to them on the steps of a ladder. If our Lord’s teaching is powerful to me it was likewise powerful at the time to those familiar with the symbol of Israel as God’s vine. “I will sing of my vineyard” says Isaiah [Isa 5;1] in the vinedresser’s harvest song to the beloved, “planted with the choicest vines waiting to bring forth grapes.” Jesus takes this image to a deeper level by saying he was the “true vine” and his followers were his fruit bearing branches.

This image of interdependence is simple. The life-giving sap must flow from root to branch to bear fruit. Yet critics rarely understand that the Christian life is meaningless, bearing little of worth without this communion between Christ the vine and his people the branches. It is the goal of Christianity. Of all the “I am” sayings this gets to the spiritual root! It dramatically highlights the huge misunderstanding that exists in the anti religious culture surrounding us. Our faith is rejected as collection mere ideas, no longer relevant because humanity can solve almost everything itself. Humanity has become the measure of everything in the pursuit of material needs, and that it has the ability, although perhaps not the will, to dig itself out of any problems on the planet. Humanity is the highest good and if religion has any place at all it is in terms of satisfying human welfare or human rights and justice. Today Homo sapiens, is its own centre of gravity, in which the life of Jesus has ceased to flow.

The New Testament records and reflects upon the words of Jesus while he travelled through Galilee and Judea. His concern was to resolve the tragedy of human frailty caught between constructive and destructive forces that surround us, whether in the vineyard or human heart. These forces cause instability in human behaviour and the deficit cannot be solved by religious dogma or secular laws alone, but by giving energy to the will, realigning the mind and body with the “energies” of God. None of this can happen in a soul-less context.

The true vine feeds the soul driving the will to restore harmony and balance within each person, offering a way to free the individual from brokenness by the intermingling of divine energy with the human mind, body and soul. The great Christian Fathers call this theosis. The need hasn’t changed in over two thousand years. Most likely in the present world of isolation it is more urgent than ever.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

And there shall be one fold and one shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd

John 10,11-18

When I was a child, on a Summer Sunday evening, my parents would take me for a walk along the seafront at Hastings in East Sussex. It was just like a miniature Speakers’ Corner. There was the Catholic Truth Society, there was the Protestant Truth Society, there were various other people seeking to persuade us that they were right and everybody else was wrong. If you were to go along the seafront at Hastings on a Sunday evening in summer now, you would not see the soapboxes out, you would rather, I suspect, go in fear of your life from the drunks and the drug addicts.

Nowadays most people seem to live in an age of moral and spiritual indifferentism – I can do what I like provided it feels right, provided it doesn’t hurt anyone else, or at least not too much, so if I choose to get drunk out of my mind, what is it to do with you? I can believe what I like, because, as we all know, there are many paths to God, and it’s common sense that one way is as good as another – we’ll only know who was right and who was wrong when we get to heaven, as I heard someone say recently, which rather begs a lot of questions, I would have thought. I rather like the rejoinder someone made when he was told that all truth is relative – “But is that statement relative as well?”

The Good Shepherd (By Ted, Flickr.com)

All Christians must long for and pray for the day when all those who claim the name of Christian will indeed be gathered into one fold with the one shepherd, Jesus Christ the Lord, but as the church too is swept along on a tide of relativism, far from Christian Unity coming closer, it seems ever more remote.

It was the former Bishop of London, Graham Leonard, who observed that the real divide in the Christian Church is between those who think it is a revealed religion and those who think they are free to change things as they go along. By revealed religion, he means as someone else put it “God spoke once, and the word was Jesus.” There is abroad in the church today far too much of the attitude that says in effect “I” – or “we” – “know better than Jesus”. Jesus was wrong, he was misguided, when he did this, when he taught that, and so on, he was a creature of his time, the implication being that he also had all the shortcomings and prejudices of the time, which I would have thought, simple creature that I am, rather undermined the age old belief in His divinity.

That is the tragedy of so many churches in the Western World today. Much as we all want Christian unity, much as we must detest bickering between Christians, much as we must seek to be menders of fences, I am ever reminded of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah suffered cruelly at the hands of his contemporaries for telling them truth that they did not wish to hear, and he had this to say – you will find it in the eighth chapter of Jeremiah, and it repays careful study, thought and prayer – “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practise deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace” they say when there is no peace.”

Our lives must be an earnest seeking after the truth that Christ alone reveals, and a dedication to living that truth: the Church that conforms to the spirit of the age will always be weak: the one that stands up for the truth of Christ will reap her reward. Only in truth can we find the unity we long for in the one fold with the one shepherd.

Fr. Edward Bryant

“You Are Witnesses to This”

Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24,36-48

Witnesses play a critical role in every Trial before a Court of Law; but today, it’s difficult to persuade people to be witnesses.

People who have witnessed an accident or a crime often find it hard to remember all the details; moreover, giving evidence in public may be very challenging, especially if a witness is subject to cross-examination by professional lawyers – whose job is to portray the accused in the best possible light; worse still, supporters of the accused may intimidate witnesses – even before the trial starts.

The Trial of Jesus was a ‘put-up job’, from start to finish. Everyone involved in this shocking miscarriage of justice, like Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate and others, had good reason to conceal their respective wrongdoings – which meant silencing every witness to His Resurrection (whether by lies, bribes, threats; or death!).

So, however joyful His disciples were at Jesus’ Resurrection, many of them would have realized, on further thought, that our Lord’s commission to them to be His witnesses would amount to signing their own Death-Warrant – as many of them discovered over the next few years!

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance While the Apostles are at Table (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Yes, we are right to rejoice with them that “The Lord is indeed risen”; but we surely do them an injustice if we underestimate their fear of the probable consequences that publicly witnessing to it would have – both for themselves and their families.

Most of us have lived among people who believe, as we do, that the Truth must first be learnt from parents, teachers and others and then borne witness to in our daily lives. But today the whole concept of Truth is threatened – and our freedom to witness to the Truth can no longer be taken for granted.

How has this come about? Well, ‘Truth is the first casualty of war’, and God is waging an ongoing War against the powers of Evil and Darkness – as did those first Christians (and we ourselves today!). In one respect they had a simpler, but not easier task than we have. Many of them believed that the Second Coming of Christ to Earth (the Parousia) would happen very soon – probably during their own life-time. Of course you and I can’t be sure that the Parousia won’t happen in our lifetime; but predicting the future leads mankind away from the Truth, as often as towards it.

But Persecution isn’t the only, or the greatest threat to our witnessing to the Truth today: rather it’s the popular propaganda which leads people to believe in doing whatever their feelings suggest to them, regardless of whether it be true or false. Such belief makes them feel safe, important, and intellectually and morally superior to anyone who doesn’t profess to share such feelings.

As a result, human learning, reason and common-sense – which have been so carefully and painfully built-up over the past 4,000 years – are being systematically eroded by it. It’s not easy to see which way we should turn to protect the Truth; but our present semi-blindness doesn’t mean that in God’s Mind there isn’t a Plan for us to follow in the Way He wants to lead us.

Following God’s lead often involves suffering. If God Incarnate suffered His Passion to ‘reconcile the World to Himself’, why suppose that being His Witnesses will be a pain-free experience for us?

Fr. Francis Gardom

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