The forbidden tree

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Second Adam

One of the early heresies of the Christian era was the Gnostic idea that God did not creat evil. This is not what we read in Isaiah 45:7I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things – or in Genesis where He plants the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Evil thus existed before Adam and Eve – mankind came to know it through the fall of our first parents. Adam and Eve could not have known what evil was before the Fall – but they knew God and they knew His command – which was not to eat of the fruit of that tree. In so doing, they did, indeed, become like God – they knew good and evil – and, as far as we know, we are alone in the Cosmos with God with this knowledge.

With the Fall, the problem of evil became mankind’s burden; God had tried to spare us it, but we insisted. I say ‘we’ advisedly, because even if you do not believe we inherit the taint of Original Sin, you can see in yourself the desire to do good and the failure to do it, and the desire not to do evil and yet to do it. We all say, with St Paul: “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

Only Christ can do that. Only the God who created evil as well as good can redeem his fallen creation. The mystery of evil cannot be solved by positing some other creator with whom the One God fights. All things work to the good if we are in God, we are told, but outside of that, what should work to the good goes in the other direction. We are like children who have the keys to a very powerful car but do not know how to drive it properly. We abused the goodwill of the Father – indeed we abuse it still in our stubborn sinfulness. Twist and turn as we will, we cannot escape the snares of sin by ourselves. The chains of sin drag us down to hell. Only when we see the King of Glory set it aside on the Cross in our stead can those chains be broken.

How easy, indeed how comfortable it would be, to be able to claim that God created only wat was good, but this is not what we are told in Scripture. The devil himself is a fallen angel, and, having fallen, it comforts him to drag souls to the place of ever-lasting fire. We know that in this world, and the next, there is only one sin which cannot be forgiven – the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. For the Catholic Christian, there is the recognition that some sins can therefore be forgiven in the next world – where we shall be pruged ouf our sins and restored to everlasting life.

Never mind the Catholicism, feel the charisma

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There have recently been several articles about the state of Catholic blogging, including one from Damian Thompson in the Catholic Herald [1], mainly writing about himself, and also a very thoughtful piece from the inimitable Deacon Nick Donnelly, concerning online behaviour and manners among Catholic bloggers.[2]  As might be expected, even the discussion of this gets super-heated and soon the Catholic tribes are lobbing grenades at one other, and the wounded cry “Ad hominem!” and seek reinforcements.  After two days of raging argument on this subject, a whole blog article with all its comments was deleted on one well-known Catholic blog a few days ago, as it had turned into open warfare and veered into libel.

I will explore this issue from the inside and examine in particular the tribal elements in Catholic blogging: especially the role of online tribal chiefs. Some of them are publicly identifiable and some are carefully hidden away in the shadows behind the comment boards.

Since the Thompson article mentions the role of sockpuppets on his old Daily Telegraph blog, I will begin by declaring that I am – or was – the infamous Frere Rabit, oddly identified by the anti-Catholic trolls as the supposed ringleader of traddy sockpuppeteers. In fact, I didn’t lead anything, and I never knew why I was so regarded. Maybe an avatar of a rabbit in a Cistercian habit had special hate appeal for atheists, who knows?  Apart from my non de plume as the Rabit, I was easily identifiable online: my own blog, a minority-interest online diary centred on animals, showed my real name to any who could be bothered to look at it. I therefore became an easy and constant target, taking all the flak for the Catholic group of sockpuppeteers. As the prime target of those really anonymous people (trolls who covered their tracks so well that they could never be identified), my workplace was sought out; my online history was stalked and examined with a fine-tooth comb, and damaging false allegations were made; my professional integrity was brought into question; and all kinds of dark motives were attributed to me. It was not a tea party, but luckily my employers had a sense of humour!

That’s how we began and there is a kind of blogging folk history at work here: even Damian’s article buys into that, but surprisingly -as a journalist – he never probes below the surface. This minority subculture deserves exploring at a deeper level. He refers to past times on a blog long gone, but the story needs updating. Gradually with an increase in the availability of comment boards, things became increasingly ugly.  In his article re-posted on Catholicism Pure & Simple, Deacon Nick Donnelly writes very wisely about the difference between criticism that is fair and reasoned, and the kind of rage which characterizes so much argument on blogs now.  There is a huge irony here if you know the history of the blog in which the article appears, but few readers of Catholic blogs would recognize the irony as they know little about the hidden tribal world of Catholic blogging.

Catholicism Pure & Simple began five years ago and the hidden charismatic tribal leader of the little group who got together to start that blog was none other than “Mundabor”, whose current blog contains the most openly offensive protracted rage against Pope Francis that I have ever seen. [3]  So complete is his rage now that it appears even beyond the realms of self-parody: “You cannot serve Christ and Francis,” he now rails.  But in those early days of the CP&S blog, Mundabor was running the show: he was the charismatic leader (with Ben Carter as his aide-de-camp) and the rest of us were the squaddies. I was responsible for graphic design.  When the kind of extremes Mundabor wanted to go to became apparent, we organized a coup and took the ownership of the site off him!  His password for the site was “Salazar” – after the dictator of Portugal.  We managed to change the password and lock him out completely, together with his fuming lieutenant.

Mundabor Pure & Simple

Mundabor’s Blog was his riposte, and after that coup the direction of the CP&S blog proceeded for a short time as a collective before another charismatic tribal chief managed to wrest control, a rather intelligent but obsessive woman in Switzerland who seemed to spend 24/7 blogging.  Her clumsy control methods led to more tribal arguments and some people walked out: I was first to go. Eventually – after the stress of her own control methods had worn her out and she disappeared – a new collective direction emerged, which continues today and seems to have a lighter touch.

Most people reading a “traddy” Catholic blog like this will know nothing of the warfare behind the scenes, and will have no idea who are the hidden tribal chiefs directing what they see on the web-pages.  We whose traddy tribes happily bitch about the liberal mafia of “Ma Pepinster” at The Tablet and Ed Stourton on BBC’s Sunday programme don’t have the grace to admit they at least demonstrate editorial transparency. Our secret online tribal chiefs do not and in some cases are entirely invisible.

John Charmley’s recent article in the Catholic Herald talks of a “a tendency for commentators to assume they are more Catholic than the Pope.” [4]  The extreme utterances of Mundabor are just the pointy-hatted raging mad-clown tip of the iceberg.  There are many more hidden sub-groups with their own tribal culture and invisible tribal chiefs, who sometimes have their own agenda and will subtly tutor their sub-group to educate them into seeing what the true target of the group should be.

In the recent fracas concerning the parish of Blackfen in Southwark, most Catholic readers of blog articles referring to the matter will be entirely unaware of the role of a closed Google Group, and its hidden tribal chief.  This group was originally formed by a number of traditionalist commenters on the Damian Thompson blog. In fact, I believe I first proposed it, though did not set it up the Google Group account.  At the time when we first gathered there it had just one purpose: it was an organized rebuttal group for responding to anti-Catholic trolls on comment boards.

This new group was tremendous fun and very effective because nobody knew we were organising ourselves as commenters. There were probably no more than half a dozen of us who were active daily, controlling a large collection of sockpuppets between us. The other people were more on the periphery of the group adding encouragement and advice, or doing research and stalking the trolls. (Some of it linguistic analysis!) The rules of the game were quite straightforward: see how long your latest sockpuppets would remain on the comment boards, attacking anti-Catholic or liberal commenters, before the moderators (referred to as “Sri Lankans,” because of their supposed call centre in that country) demolished the sockpuppets like skittles; and the whole game could start again with clean socks next day.

When that kind of activity is reassessed, carefully considering Deacon Nick’s words about online rage, I can happily put my hand up: guilty as charged.  But of course, Nick needs to remember too that it was that same Google Group that gave full coordinated support to him during the censorship of his own Protect the Pope blog.  As late as this year, we were in support of another beleaguered blog in Canada: Vox Cantoris and David Domet’s battle with Fr. Thomas Rosica. We even managed to gain the involvement of Bishop Athanasius Schneider: no small achievement for a little group of sockpuppets… or is the collective term, a drawer of sockpuppets?

In all my involvement with this little tribe, I was never its leader.  I am an initiator, an ideas man, not a leader.  The tribal chief here – another hidden Catholic tribal chief of the comment boards – emerged over time and assumed control, deleting comment threads she did not like and directing the purpose of the group as she saw fit.  “Sorry, I’ve had to delete five threads, just in case anyone ever gets in here and sees what we are up to.”  That sort of thing.  (Don’t worry, I will not reveal anything more, if a certain tribal chief’s pulse is racing as she reads this.)  A wider Catholic readership deserves to know what happens behind the scenes.  Gradually, subtly, this group was re-directed to a point where its main focus was on a few individuals in South East England dioceses, and the efforts of the group were slowly and imperceptibly channeled into the parochial vendettas of Arundel & Brighton and Southwark.

What I have described as hidden charismatic tribal leadership has led to the complete implosion of that Google group after the disastrous way it was manipulated into meddling in the hot potato of the “Blackfen scandal”.  Once the Church Militant TV service picked up the story and ran with it – directly as a result of the activity of this closed Google Group – there was a sudden moral panic and a metaphorical burning of the evidence.  My own view had been that we needed to encourage discussion of the wider question of poor Episcopal oversight, rather than engage in moral mudslinging against a pastor who had been dumped into an impossible situation. There were others who just wanted one obvious victim, and the priest would do.  He had – after all – rebranded himself with a rainbow cat avatar. Yes, pretty grim, but not deserving of everything he then got.

A short time ago, the guns that this group used to train on the anti-Catholic trolls were then used against each other and it all got very ugly.  Game over. I walked. Mea culpa: I should never have gone down this road.  As in Orwell’s Animal Farm the politically correct pigs are telling the other animals in their secret blogging farm that the Rabit was never to be trusted: he was a rood and norty traitor from the time he first zizzed his paws and joined battle alongside them. He was all along simply polishing his cunning plan for treachery.

I titled this article referring to those Catholic tribal chiefs of the online world, those who are visible and those who are invisible. I do not regard anything I have written here as disloyal, and those who know as much as I do will recognize that I have revealed nothing damaging and have left out any significant clues that might be used by “the enemy.”  Oh sorry, I forgot for one moment: I am the enemy now.  I am certainly aiming for embarrassment: the time has come for this to end.  It has got out of control. But I am not intending to damage any individual or reveal anyone’s secrets. I have come dangerously close, in order to give this piece its edge, but those in the know can see how little I have actually given away.

In a time when we are discussing the ethics and the morals of online activity by Catholics, the role of specific tribes and tribal leaders needs to be part of the discussion.  It ranges from open outright rebellion against the Pope himself; through more respectable tribal groups and leaders who are politely dismissive of current authority; and finally to obsessive low-level attempts to dominate discussion in local Church matters, which is happening in the last example I gave.

There is more rage than intelligent criticism in much of this and the best thing that could happen is that many more people begin the self-questioning I am doing now. I shall have no more to do with tribal groups, neither will I be manipulated by hidden tribal chiefs in somebody else’s online game or turf war, for I have seen some shocking manipulation just recently and I am very changed by it.  When you realise how you have been used by another individual as a pawn in their game, it is hurtful. I’m also filled with remorse about the hundreds of hours of God’s gift of time I have wasted over these years, with no obvious tangible benefit to anyone, least of all the cause of true humour, which identifies with and humanizes its subjects, not pillorying them as its victims.

I must go now: I need to find a priest and confess to thirty-seven sockpuppets in five years

Sockpuppets

[1] 31/7/15 catholicherald.co.uk/issues/july-31-2015/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-catholic-blogosphere

[2] 29/7/15 catholicismpure.wordpress.com/2015/07/29/when-faithful-catholics-get-it-seriously-wrong

[3] 28/7/15 mundabor.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/more-catholic-than-francis-of-course-i-am

[4] 24/7/15 catholicherald.co.uk/issues/july-24th-2015/are-you-more-catholic-than-francis

The Novus Ordo Liturgy: of the world, by the world and for the world

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Annibale Bugnini (a suspected freemason) with the approval of Pope Paul VI, reformed and presented the Church with a new liturgy whose rubrics (directions) were so minimal and loose that it allowed for experimentation. This left the door open for the emergence of an egalitarian and social justice element to flourish within the Church. And now after 50 years of experimentation we have a novel (and very fluid) liturgy which aligns itself more with the spirit of ecclesial anarchy than it does with the obedience to faith: no two Masses need ever be the same . . . each can and probably will be unique to the parish and the priest who celebrates the Mass. What the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, (the Eucharistic Feast, understood as the Source and Summit of our entire faith), had been, is now in most instances unrecognizable. We have a largely manufactured Mass for the first time in our history (with only the slightest pretense of organic development from the previous liturgies) and what it has quickly morphed into over the last 50 years would be difficult to defend . . . even by Pope Paul VI. But we can find myriads of defenses for everything that is contained therein even though it was never promulgated as we now experience it. Every aberration is fervently defended or conveniently overlooked in an effort to explain away the obvious loss of virility, vitality and effectiveness that once was the Catholic’s mainstay and fortress of the faith. It proves difficult to approve, accept and support many of these ‘popular changes’ on an intellectual or even a spiritual basis as there is no Ecclesial approval or mandate for them. And yet these same novelties are the hill upon which many a Catholic would choose to die. We must remind ourselves that legitimacy (validity is not being questioned) is not the same as good taste or a reverent treatment of what is purportedly Holy: a baptism performed by a clown with a squirt gun could be valid but certainly irreverent and severely lacking of the dignity that the sacrament deserves.

 

This most sublime and essential element of the Faith and well-being of the Catholic Church as well as the spiritual development of each individual has been put to the test for many a worldly desire. And the promoters of these changes are often those who are not in a true sense Catholic as many reject much of the Church’s defined teachings. in extreme cases there are even those who are desirous to destroy the faith as we have known it. These same destructive forces have gained increasing strength whilst the faithful have become weak; some losing their faith entirely. Many faithful Catholics are also disillusioned and are quickly falling into a malaise of sorts; feeling utterly helpless, hopeless and impotent in their inadequate efforts to confront the leadership (or lack thereof) to restore what is rightfully theirs by Canon Law. For it is the progressive activists who claim leadership roles in many dioceses’ and seem to think it is more important that their vision of the New and better Church is superior than that which the Holy Spirit guides to its appointed end. They believe that their goal is inspired by the Holy Spirit and should be more properly accepted and valued within both the collective social and religious movements of the world. Thereby they readily utilize many secular ideals which arose from the social justice and social activism prevalent in our day; at the peril of the real Gospel. These activists claim victimhood (as they make claim that they are disenfranchised) and desire to lead the Church into a new Springtime. This secular influence seems rooted in our worldly notions of egalitarianism . . . the new unassailable, undeclared doctrine to which every practice and belief must now bow lest it be sacrificed upon the altar of inclusiveness, tolerance to sin and the principles of secular social justice and attendant ideologies. Sadly, many well-meaning Catholics, who simply wish to follow the Church have fallen for their activism and march in-step with these facilitators for a reformed Church.

 

To listen to the defenders of the Novus Ordo is to hear that we are overly attached to this little thing or that little thing and that each change is simply a personal preference and is of no real importance: these are just window dressing; and the people seem to like these changes. They will then tell you that the centrality of the Eucharist, to which we fully assent, is the most important part of the Mass and that these little things are not important enough to be of any consequence. That would be true if these small things did not jeopardize and weaken our beliefs and redirect our minds from Christ to the world; thus we are being cajoled and led toward more important issues; chief amongst them is heresy and apostasy which can be seen quite openly amongst many of our laity today. Our self-serving attitudes have allowed many to pick and choose (by their own ‘inner light’) what they wish to hold as beliefs that must be accepted. Same sex marriage and contraception are two such teachings that are routinely rejected by the ‘faithful’ within this new Church brought up and fed by the Novus Ordo Rite.

 

So where are the rubrics for the Novus Ordo coming from or do they even exist? Nobody in Rome said to say Mass ad populum, nor did they say to stop saying Mass in Latin or to purge the music of Gregorian and sacred polyphony . . . quite the opposite. No one ordered the altar rails removed, the kneelers removed or the tabernacle veil to be removed. Who said that we ‘must’ offer Communion under both kinds? The Vatican II documents said that it was a more complete sign but did not make it a rule. Nobody wrote a rubric that said it is now OK to speak before, during and after Mass or to clap for the choirs latest rendition of Lord of the Dance. Though the Vatican did say that they could find no reason to prevent girls from serving at the altar (done while Pope Saint John Paul II was recovering in the hospital from a broken hip) there is no mandate to allow them to do such. Extraordinary ministers and lectors were not forced upon us by Rome  but they showed up anyway: first as men, then as women. Who started the holding of hands for the Our Father? Who started the people raising their hands like priests to bless things and at the epiclesis etc.? Thank God a bishop in Coventry, KY put a stop to this within his diocese; the first one as far as I know. See this link: http://www.praytellblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/2011-Pastoral-Letter-with-Decree-Bulletin-Insert.pdf  Why is it that most parishes only teach the children and the converts to receive in their hands when this method of reception is only an indult and not the ordinary method of reception? It seems that the activists and the compliant priests and theologians have foisted these changes upon us. Is that really how the development of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is supposed to be done; by the people who attend or those who are the celebrants?

 

I know, I know . . . little things . . . nothing to see here. A hand full of dirt from enough people will create a mountain or turn a mountain into a plain. The lines, once clear and distinct, between the priest and the people has almost disappeared. A blurring of the roles between the priest and the laity is so complete that women think they should be able to be priestesses. We commune ourselves from the consecrated chalice . . . once the private reserve of the priest with His consecrated hands (of no importance now) and the Altar Boys who assisted him with great reverence. We commune ourselves with the Eucharistic bread placed in our hands as though we are worthy to ‘take’ communion rather than to ‘receive’ communion because Christ has deigned to invite us sinners (absolved from serious sin) to this Heavenly Banquet. The polls show that all these little things have amounted to a laity that largely does not believe in the Church’s teaching on transubstantiation and a large number think it only symbolic. It is no longer a privilege to receive the Blessed Body and Blood of our Lord but a right and an entitlement: reminiscent to what charity to the poor has become once the secular world took over the ministry of ‘helping’ the poor . . . who’s misery index has risen ever since. And the retreat from saying the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ad orientem has reinforced the laities inclination to see themselves as the center of attention rather than Our Lord. Is there any wonder why we no longer recognize the Kingship of Christ and never hesitate to heap laud and honor upon ourselves?

 

The use of inclusive language and the egalitarian push for equal roles for women in the Church was only the beginning. We are already beginning to see that we will be invaded by every self-proclaimed ‘victim’ group who wants to cry foul. Many men now feel that there is no place for them in the Novus Ordo Mass and it is why they have largely abandoned the pews for the football games on Sunday. If the women are now able to be ushers, lectors, extraordinary ministers and such then men are not going to participate in this coed Rite; for men respond to needs, duty, honor and the like. That is the clarion call for men . . . not to ‘participate’ as a cheerleader for the equality of women as in a social experiment. The altar boys will take after their dads and feel no obligation to serve at Mass unless the parish makes it a requirement to get Confirmed; and after Confirmation they will stay at home with dad and watch football. Gone are the old, cherished and manly Knights of the Altar as founded by St. John Bosco. However, there is a new guild of Our Lady’s Knights of the Altar which was begun by Cardinal Burke in 2008 and it is spreading. But without the support of a traditional Latin Mass which has strict controls on the ‘little things’ within the rubrics it will not be enough for the faith to return nor will there be a draw for men and the boys who might want to consider a vocation to the priesthood or to a religious order. The manliness, prestige, honor and duty of such a life is quickly disappearing. See the following article for a deeper discussion of this: http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-devirilization-of-liturgy-in-novus.html   We can say all the prayers we want at Mass for priestly vocations and they will not produce fruit unless one actually provides an avenue that attracts young men to serve in such a lofty role. But then again, if we can’t get boys who want to be priests there are plenty of feminist activists who are eager to oblige and are praying for the men and boys to flee. And if you look at things from their modernist, progressivist, activist position . . . it all makes complete sense in its own diabolical way. The Church has largely stopped dictating Her morality and teachings to the world and now it is the intention of these novelty seekers to dictate their activist ideology within the Church. We once received the worldly to transform them in Christ and now it seems that the world, having entered our house, is transforming us.

 

The woman taken in adultery

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woman taken

Let us take a close look at the story of the woman taken in adultery. The first thing to note is that she is guilty. Jewish Law provided a high standard of proof for this crime – two witnesses at least. As adultery is rarely a collective act, that made it difficult to prove. But here, although we are not told how it was so, we are told she was ‘taken in adultery’ No wonder the Pharisees thought they had Jesus this time – by the Law of Moses there was one punishment alone for this act – stoning to death. We do not know what it was Jesus wrote upon the ground, but we do know his words: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

Now let us examine this. If Jesus were laying down a general proposition here for how all malefactors should be dealt with, he would have been laying down a recipe for chaos; if only those not guilty of sin could judge the sinner, than, since we are all sinners, no one would ever judge anyone; this, of course, suits the temper of our times – which is why we must insist that there is, here, no general advice about how to run your legal system. If we want to understand what is going on here, we have to read what Jesus said to the women when the shamefaced would-be stone-throwers had departed. He asked her whether any of them had condemned her, and when she said they had not, he said: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

The attentive reader will have noticed that Jesus has switched from the language of punishment to the verdict – from stoning to action. But we knew what the vedict had to be – she was guilty, after all. Our Lord is sinless, so by his own words he could, indeed, have cast the first stone. But here we have passed beyond the world of the courts and the police and the judges. The woman is where we all shall be one day – alone with the judge of the universe. He says: “go and sin no more”. He is speaking to us all. Can she do it? Can we?

We know that this ‘Johannine comma’ is not in most of the earlest texts, and that none of the Greek Fathers quoted it. It is not hard to see why this should have been so. On the assumption that, canonised by the Church, it is genuine, it is a very difficult text from which to preach hell-fire and damnation. How can the law be kept if only the sinless can execute it? What on earth will the pastoral consequences be if adulterers think they can ‘go and sin no more’ and escape condemnation?

Jesus knew how the woman would be forgiven in the end, as he knows how we shall be forgiven. It is for us that he hung and suffered on the Cross. The same blood that redeems her, redeems me and you. We can try to sin no more – but we cannot do it, any more than we can be saved by our own efforts. Christ alone saves.

Then shall the end come

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And then shall the end come, St Matthew tells us. Everytime we recite the Creed we confess our belief in that second coming, when he will return in glory to raise the quick and the dead. Perhaps because of the excesses of those who claim to have found in Revelation, or in the measurements of the Great Pyramid, or the signs of the times, infallible portents that the end is near, this is something many Christian say little about. If that is our motive – not to appear foolish and to be talking about something which only the Father knows – then fair enough. But if it is to be ‘fashionable’ and out of fear of seeming to be ‘old fashioned’, then we might remind ourselves that it is in the Creed and we believe it to be so; but what is it we believe to be so?

Although far from averse to the notion, Christianity does not preach the gradual improvement of society and the creation of a more just social order where something called ‘social justice’ will prevail; it was not to achieve this He hung and suffered there. Neither does our faith provide any mechanisms or plans by which such an earthly paradise might be constructed. If anything, we are taught that the things of this world are passing away, and that before they do, conditions in this world will get worse for followers of Christ. Moreover, the end, when it comes, will be sudden – apocalyptic.

This was a radical Christian revisioning of the Jewish revelation, which had a Messiah coming to establish a theocracy in which swords would be beaten into ploughshares and all the kings of the world would come bringing their tribute to the holy mountain if Zion. Christians do not see this as the end time. Our nature is marred by sin, we cannot redeem ourselves, neither can we create a paradise, even under a great new king like David. It is good that we help the widow and the orphan – that is ‘true religion’ – but there is, in our faith, no mandate for creating some perfect political system where ‘social justice’ will prevail. You cannot believe that the creation of a particular system will save mankind – Christ, and Christ alone does that.

It is fashionable to suppose that as Christians we have a duty to favour this or that political system, but this is wrong. The Gospel has naught to say about what rate of VAT or tax is ‘just’, any more than it does about the merits of one electoral system over another – or, dare one say it, about whether carbon taxes are sensible. It is human nature to call God into aid for our political preferences – but then human nature is fallen, and that is the sort of thing it does; it does not make it correct.

I glory in naught save the Cross of Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I to the world. The end of the world will come when the Father has willed it. My own ending could be at any time, and if I am sensible, I will be trimming my wick now and laying aisde enough oil for my lamp.

Social Gospel?

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One of our themes here is liberty. It is often said that our modern conception of liberty is the joint product of Greek philosophy, Roman Law and our ‘Judeo-Christian’ heritage. A moment’s thought gives pause for thought. Greek philosophy and Roman Law were as compatible with slavery as was Judaism; early Christianity, whilst not condoning the practice, advised its followers to accept it – but to remember that all Christians were equal in God’s sight. The idea that men are everywhere created equal is certainly Christian in origin, but the idea that man has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is at best Deist. It is hard to see it as Christian – where in that is any need for redemption from sin, or for the crucifixion and resurrection? Life and liberty in this world are not the Good News we are to proclaim.

Although our society has much to say about ‘human rights’, it is hard to see what they can mean in the abstract. Within the context of a particular society – the admitted claims of one individual against another, we can see what it means. If these really were ‘rights’ that inhered in being human, we might well have witnessed their presence before very modern times.

The Gospel is a social Gospel – although not in the sense it has come to be used. The Good News is imparted to us not as an isolated individual, atomised from our fellows, but rather as a member of a called-out community. St Paul provides us with the classic description of Christian society – ‘we being many are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of one bread’. We are, there, placed in our proper perspective – as part of the body of the church. We receive our new nature from God as part of the Church – not as some isolated individual with a ‘right’ to salvation; we have no rights. We are sinners, we are guilty, we deserve justice – and yet in God’s church we receive mercy.

This is very remarkable indeed – and we sometimes forget that. God adopts us as his children, and we are not servants, but sons and daughters. God’s kingdom is a family, and we are part of that family. We may choose to behave like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal, but that is clearly not what God wants from us. He draws from us love, because it is love he offers us first. There is here, nothing of the language of ‘rights’, nor yet of some inalienable right to happiness and liberty. There is only the language of love – within the family. And we, what must we do to receive this? Not assert some inalienable right, but simply to bow the knee to the Father, confess we are not what we ought to be, confess we are unworthy, and believe in Him who died for us and rose again to redeem us. Christ died for sinners. if we are not sinners, we cannot be saved. Am I unjust and ungodly? Yes, and because of it, I qualify for love and if I will only admit my guilt and my sin, then I am saved in Him.

Miracles?

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risen

Today’s Gospel reading is the first of a series from St John. Those of you kind enough to follow my Patristic commentaries will have sensed the riches the Fathers offer here – and perhaps my own relief at getting back to St John for a while after the meagre pickings offered by Mark. I can’t hear that reading without reflecting on a sermon I once heard where the priest began by saying that ‘Like all moderns you and I have difficuly with miracles, but you have to understand what the Gospel is really getting at …’. Because it woud be unseemly and a cause of scandal, I did not do what I wanted – which was to stand up and say I had no difficulty with miracles, or with understanding what the Gosple was ‘really’ getting at. I hesitated to ask the priest whether he believed in the miracle at the heart of our Faith – the Resurrection? No one familiar with the Alexandrian school of Biblical interpretation would be unfamiliar with the ways in which the Fathers read the miracle – but they none of them doubted that they were writing about something which had actually happened; their typologies unlocked the deeper, spiritual meanings of the Gospel – but they did not shy away from its truth.

Quite why, believing, as I do, the literal truth of the Resurrection, I should be supposed to have difficulty with the maker of all things producing enough food to feed the five thousand, is beyond me – except on the presumption that I can’t believe either miracle literally. There are all sorts of things I can’t explain except with the help of experts, including how this machine I am typing on works and turns what I am typing into something which you can read. But I see it happen, so I believe. Much the same was true of the people in today’s Gospel – they saw what Jesus had done and they believed in him. That, however, required no faith, and it is clear Jesus asks us to trust him – to have faith in him. It is not that we are not blessed if we see and believe – but it is to say that those who believe and have not seen are the more blessed.

What, after all, could be more far-fetched than that the God who made the heavens and the earth should have become a man in Judea and have taken upon himself my sins so that I might have life eternal? I did nothing to deserve such a gift; indeed I should be inclined to say quite the opposite; justice as the world understands it would not see me spared, even by my own conscience. Yet God says he has saved me – set me aside, made me one of the elect. Like King Saul, I might fall from that election through my own folly, but God has lifted me up. He found me in my sin and in my despair, and he has raised me and made me a son by adoption. How can that be so?

If I can believe that – and I do – then some fishes and bread being transformed into a meal for five thousand is small beer indeed. As in that miracle, God’s love and bounty overflows, and there is enough – and more than enough – for all. A miracle!

Gospel: 17th Sunday in OT, Year B

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loaves and fishes

John 6:1-15

This is one of only a few miracles to be recorded by all four Evagelists; St John, as one might expect, brings out the doctrinal significance. St Cyril of Alexandria points out that in leaving Jerusalem and thus giving the anger of his enemies a chance to abate, Jesus shows his love for them – love does not insist on its own way, as St Paul says. Chrysostom comments that the crowds followed Jesus motivated more by the miracles he performed than by his teaching. Only the disciples ascend the mountain with him, the people are not willing to go that far, so small is their faith. Jesus shows us the necessity of a quiet place where we can imitate him and commune with God away from the tumults of the world. He does not go up to Jerusalem because he is quietly annuling the old law of the Jews which required believers to do so for the Pasch; a new Pasch is being prepared. Chrysostom notes that the accounts in the Gospels are quite different. St Cyril writes that the feeding of the multitude is an example for us all, that we should be bold and rely upon Christ.

St Cyril notes that the five loaves represent the five books of Moses (the OT) and the two fishes the teaching of the Apostles and the Evangelists (the NT). The kernel of barley (Christ) was hidden in the husk (the OT) but when broken becomes multiplied, Augustine adds, remarking that the two fish symbolise the priests and kings whose roles and fulfilled in Jesus. Unlike in many other of his miralces, Jesus prays first as he prepares to feed the five thousand (foreshadowing the miracle mentioned in Acts 4, showing his solidarity with the Father and the Spirit; we, too, should pray before we eat, giving thanks to our Father.

St Hilary, like other Fathers, notes that it was unlikely that most of those in the crowd realised a miracles had taken place – taking the food for granted; only later, like ourselves so often, did they realised God’s goodness to them. The Didache notes the parallel between the scattering of the bread on the mountain and the spread of the Word across the whole world; God always provides more than we need. The gift of the living bread remains with us to this day in the Mass. After the miracle, the people realise that the prophet who would be greater than Moses has come into the world. Christ wanted no earthly honours, no worldly kingship, because he was, Augustine reminds us, already King of All. He reigns for ever with the Father and the Spirit. He reminds us, St Cyril comments, that it is unseemly for those who pursue Divine Grace to seek after worldly power.

More questions than answers?

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Darkened mind

It is probably a character defect, but I cannot find myself roused by sectarian passion. When I ceased to be an Anglican there was no sense of anger present. Indeed, as it was a lengthy process, it is almost impossible to mark the point at which I ceased to be one; perhaps, in temperament, it is impossible for me to cease to be one. From time to time here – and elsewhere (so my fellow commentators are not in any way being too harsh) I find myself charged with a certain lack of vigour in criticising what I persist in calling other churches. I am perfectly aware of the teaching of my own church on this issue, but as it does not, in everyday usage, call most of them ‘ecclesial communities’, and as it does, in everyday practice, work with them and treat their leaders as Christians worthy of respect, I feel I am, at the least, in good company. I was taught that politeness costs one nothing and that courtesy is a great virtue, and I persist in not unlearning such things.

These thoughts were prompted in part by working with the Anglican bishop of the diocese and his staff recently on a project of mutual interest – that of encouraging religious literacy. Catholics and Anglicans face the same problem as most Christians do in our society – it does not understand them, what they stand for or even, for the most part, much of what they are saying. What society does tend to pick up on are the divisions between us, and the language some religious people use about each other and about others who are not religious. Nothing they hear does much to make them change their prejudices about Christianity – quite the opposite. So we were talking, Catholics and Anglicans, about whether there was anything to be done.

That discussion was put into perspective by another meeting at which we were discussing ‘communications strategy’ in our parish. What was it people ‘wanted’? seemed to be the question – with the suggestion that if we could find it, then we could offer them. Off the pace as usual, I was not, and still am not, sure why offering Catholic content might not be the answer – although the experts seem to think it could be part of the problem. One of them posed the perfectly reasonable question of what it meant to say that we were aiming at a ‘Catholic community’. It prompted the thought in my head as to whether it was actually either – in any meaningful sense. I am not sure I came up with anything which reassured me that it was. Does going to Church on a Sunday and having coffee afterwards make you a Catholic? Does it make you a community?

Much the same problems were evident in our discussions with the Anglicans. It struck me that dealing with the wider societal problem was, actually, part of dealing with the more local one. I did ask what was meant by ‘Evangelisation’ – in practice. We all seemed to have ‘strategies’ and ‘initiatives’ – but when I asked what we were actually doing, the answer appeared to be that we were constructing strategies which would deal with these things.

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