If there is to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, this means more than the emancipation of Christians from Jewish ritual laws. There can be no prejudice exercised against Jews, no persecution on account of religion or race. If we see any of this we know that the signs of the Messianic times are not being realised, and the Gospel is not being lived. The Nazi holocaust and the silence of Christian nations in the face of it proclaimed to the Jews that Messianic times are not yet. Because the Jewish community continues to be faithful, God is faithful to them.
Because the case of Judaism is unique, theologians have had to ask what about other religions? What should be the Christian reaction? From the beginning it was always seen as apostasy for Christians to take part in worship of pagan gods, to offer incense before idols, even before the statue of the Emperor. No distinction was made between the use of incense in a ceremony that symbolised civil obedience and loyalty, and the use of incense in what is strictly worship. On account of such a lack, many Christians died.
Anthropology came to our aid by distinguishing between what is actually religious ritual, and what is merely a civic ritual. In modern times this distinction was made in China and Japan so that Christians could take part in honouring ancestors.
It is interesting to see that Christians did not see these things as so terrible when done by pagans, as when done by those enlightened by Christ. Saint Justin Martyr (died 165 AD) saw pagan philosophies and religions as ways that were leading people forward and would eventually converge on Christ, bringing everyone to worship the Father. This understanding faded in time due to a general distrust of foreign people and cultures – which led to Western Crusaders even killing Eastern Christians! With such a background we can see how the view of non-Christian religion as inherently evil arose.
Door of Mercy from Doug in San Antonio
When the first Christians claimed a new covenant, they were aware of how the word new had been interpreted in the prophetic writings. Later generations spoke of old and new covenants – with the presumption the old was past its sell-by date. This is mistaken, the facts of history contradict it. The Jews have been faithful to Covenant in large numbers, even to the point of martyrdom; and Scripture tells us that God does not desert those who are faithful.
Some believe the issue is simple. If the Jews had really been faithful they would have recognised Jesus as Messiah, and have been part of the new covenant. But since they do not recognise Jesus as Messiah, we can assume they are unfaithful to the covenant. For this reason history left them behind as forever lost.
Such a view leaves all kinds of questions unaddressed. Even if it was perfectly clear that Jesus is the Messiah, we must remember that the Jews of the dispersion had never had the gospel preached to them. For example, exactly when did the covenant go out of date? Was it at Pentecost or at the death of the last Apostle? Also, does the Jewish participation in the covenant not remain in date until the end of time?
The only contact many Jews through the centuries had with Christians and the Gospel was that of persecution and victimisation in various forms of anti-Semitism. And many were told to renounce Judaism in favour of Christianity – if you are persecuted on account of your Christian faith and told to recant, would you see this as an act of God? We must accept the possibility that Jews cannot accept Jesus as the expected Messiah because he is not yet Messiah. We who are the presence of Jesus have not yet produced the promised signs of the Messianic presence. We know what these signs are – the Prophets are full of them, and the Gospels have Jesus quoting them.
The signs of Messianic times are: peace among nations and all people; perfect fraternity; justice for the poor and the powerless; no more violence and enmity; and all coming together to praise the one God in their own ways in peace, without hindrance. When Paul writes of these signs he says there is no discrimination in Christ between Jew and Gentile, between cultured Greeks and primitive Barbarians, between men who had all kinds of rights and women who had none. Today we might add: no discrimination between white or black, gay or straight, rich nations and poor – no annexation of the poor by the powerful.
Jesus had said his kingdom was not of this world, he could not establish the kingdom using any kind of force. For the next several centuries there was little chance of Christians being involved in decision-making – they were being constantly persecuted. Then from being objects of persecution they became part of the establishment in Eastern Roman Empire, with the Decree of Constantine [Edict of Milan 313] – Now came the tendency to believe the empire was the kingdom of God. They saw their role as to obey Christian princes; problems only arose when there were clashes between Popes and Emperors.
The Church in Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World, recognised the findings of Teilhard de Chardin but it soon became evident that this document did not solve all the issues – for instance it does not touch on the value of human work in the world – is technology helping or just keeping us busy? What the Bible tells us and tradition has handed on is in symbolic form, and needs interpretation. We do not know the future in the way we know the past. All that we really know is the demand the future makes on the present. We learn not by looking, but by doing, we are not waiting for the next world to come, but we do feel the need for a new world.
For the Bible the world is not just a place but history itself – it is history always moving towards fulfilment of God’s promises. We must be constantly on the move from a comfortable status quo to a universal better future for everyone – no exclusions. It is not action in the world that must go, but our individual and privileged stake in the present: the privilege of being white where black people have to do menial tasks, the fostering of economic development with larger economies crushing the smaller, the exclusion of the poor from places reserved for the privileged – these are the evils in the world that must pass away.
We will hear more from Austin in a few weeks’ time. WT.
‘My baby’s called Aubergine’, the little girl told me. I can’t help feeling that Aubergine will stick, even though it is not the one her parents will propose at her Baptism.
Some people are insistent on getting their names spelt and pronounced correctly. I taught one boy who had a soft spot for me because I always spelt his name with a K instead of the C it has in English. I must say I hate it when my name is spelt wrong, especially when people do it in front of me, without asking.
Others just do not feel comfortable with their names. I was reading of a Spiritan Missionary who prefered to be called Shorty rather than Colman Watkins. He worked in Kenya and helped in Ethiopia when the Catholic Church there was in crisis. Peter was a nickname given to Simon by Jesus.
Another missionary who changed his name was Saint Edmund Campion. He travelled through England incognito during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, celebrating Mass for faithful Catholics when to do so was counted treason and liable to the death penalty.
We see him with his martyr’s palm and the rope he was hanged with, and his name in blood red mosaic tiles. Another name appears to the left: IHS – the first three letters of the Holy Name of Jesus in Greek. Biblical shorthand has a long tradition, going back to when parchment or papyrus was not cheap, and it has stayed with us.
Appropriately enough this image is in the Holy Name church in Manchester, run by the Jesuit order to which Edmund Campion belonged. Happy Feast to them!
Not Morris but Maurice!
Why did Saint Lucy from Roman Sicily, prove to be so popular in Scandinavia, which was never part of the Empire, and became Lutheran at the Reformation? She must have touched the popular imagination! The reason must partly be her name – Lux means light in Latin – and partly the time of her feast day, in the dark, dark days of winter.
It’s a feast for the girls! In the North Countries they dress in white, carry candles and bring coffee and biscuits to their parents in bed.
We were once served small bowls of cereal by our elder daughters, who were under 5, and who got up very early (very early!) to bring us breakfast in bed. A joy for their parents despite the lost sleep.
Saint Lucy was one of those teenage martyrs who stood up for the truth, stood up for her self, and stood up for God. We remember her with just a few of the many other women martyrs of Roman times when we say the first Eucharistic Prayer: Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia. Let them stand for all the young women who lived and died for the love of God, whose names we will never know. Let us commend all our teenage girls to their prayers.
And let us pray that the Peace the Angels proclaimed at Christmas may reign in all hearts, that all persecutions may cease.
I recently came across a long poem called ‘Our Blessed Lady’s Lullaby’ and then found out about its writer. My research led me to Our Dear Lord in the Attic, an attic in Amsterdam, where we visited him. Here is one verse from the poem: Mary is speaking.
The earth is now a heaven become,
And this base power of mine
A princely palace unto me,
My Son doth make to shine.
This sight I see, this Child I have,
This Infant I embrace,
O endless Comfort of the earth
And heaven’s eternal Grace.
Richard Rowlands alias Verstegen wrote this hymn around 1600. He was an English Catholic who fled to Amsterdam after escaping from imprisonment for his faith at home. He made a new and prosperous life in Amsterdam, a Protestant city.
All the Catholic churches there were closed down, including the big church at the Beguinage Convent, now a Scottish Presbyterian church. The good beguine ladies there simply carried on after moving their place of worship to ground floor rooms in their main building. I do not know where Rowlands worshipped, but a little after his time people met for Mass at another city centre site, now known as Our Dear Lord in the Attic. its presence was an open secret; the people of Amsterdam were not given to executions for those who worshipped differently to the official norm.
The Attic Church remained open till the mid nineteenth Century when a new Catholic church was erected nearby. It is now a museum, with the Church area all ready for the occasional worship that takes place there.
This statue of the Madonna and Child belongs here.
We will return to Our Dear Lord in the Attic.
There are many links to the poem on the web, some set to music.
When I went to the Cathedral yesterday I found myself in the nave rather than the crypt. It was still early in the day; the guides and welcomers were just arriving, tidying up their desks and welcoming each other. There were the usual builders’ noises, and someone testing organ pipes: in short, there was the usual silence!
I had time to sit by the font and contemplate the installation ‘Suspended’. The garments hanging above the congregation came from refugees on the Isle of Lesbos or the camps around Calais; clothes they were glad to discard when they were offered a clean change. I hope they found something they liked to wear! Their lives have been suspended between their old homes, destroyed or stolen, and who knows what future.
There the clothes hang, reminding us that these refugees are sisters and brothers of ours, thrown on very hard times, as were others – including perhaps their grandparents – seventy years ago when Pope Pius XII wrote the words we read here yesterday.
Let us follow his call, and pray for peace, and support those who support the refugees.
Behind this garage door is a garage, as you might expect, but this is London, where you can expect the unexpected.
In this case, the archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster. There’s a postern within the door that a researcher can be let through, then past the car and into a warm welcome from the archivists.
Public Domain, via Wikipedia
The archives hold material from well before the Archdiocese came into being in 1850, including works of Bishop Richard Challoner, 1691-1781, who was Bishop in London when Catholics still were not supposed to exist, so he lived and worked in secret, ever in danger of arrest or attack. He wrote extensively for his flock, including a catechism, a revision of the Douay Bible translation, and the Garden of the Soul, a prayer book designed for people who had to live for long periods without the Sacraments or a priest visiting.
In this week of prayer for Christian Unity, let us thank God for the freedom to worship enjoyed in Britain today, and pray for those Christians elsewhere who may not worship as their conscience and loyalty lead them to.
Here is a page from the Garden, describing how to start the day. Not bad advice at all, though parents may feel it’s not entirely practical! It’s the coffee after they’ve left the house that allows a moment of morning offering for some of us; but read on!
The Chosen People perceiving God as Creator was not done rapidly. They moved from a view that saw God as one god among many gods, towards God as the only God, Creator of all things, even Israel’s enemies. However, the fact that God created everything is not the same as God created everything out of nothing. This came later along with belief in resurrection from the dead [2Macaabees]. The order of the world does not correspond to God’s order – since those who follow God’s ordering are persecuted in this world. God is not responsible for the ordering of the world – establishing order out of chaos is the work of human violence – creation is prior to this and not party to it.
The resurrection reveals that persecution is not the monopoly of any particular group, but the consequence of the fact that all humanity is locked into violence. That this is universally so is seen in the fact that the Chosen People suffered equally, and in no way deserved what the Church used to speak of the perfidious Jews; rather is it that the very best of nations was locked into this violence also. Jesus was working to bring about what God always desired but which had become trapped into the violent charade we have made.
Creation, therefore, is not finished until Jesus dies shouting it is accomplished – opening up creation to this new yet original way. Understand creation starting in and through Jesus. God’s bringing into existence what is from nothing, is exactly the same as Jesus’ deathless self-giving out of love, breaking through the culture of death.
It is not as if creation was a different act happening alongside the salvation worked by Jesus, but this salvation was the completion of creation – the bringing into existence and making possible of human living together which knows nothing of death. Jesus was in on this from the beginning. Such is what we have done to our world that God could only be seen as Creator by means of overcoming death.
Rather than the creation-fall-redemption-heaven model we have: The redemption reveals creation by opening its fulfilment in heaven and reveals at the same time the fall as that which we are in the process of leaving behind. All these realities were discovered only through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to tell us that God is our Father. He came to create the possibility that God be our Father; it needed someone to die to have us understand better our Father – that there is no access to him except within the process of total self-giving. Jesus says he will ask the Father to send someone other than Jesus as counsellor, and when this Spirit comes he will glorify Jesus – making clear everything he said. Jesus going deliberately to his death, opens up his way of living, his self-giving to become a gift to any who seek to live in this way.
From the moment when death has its lie revealed through Jesus living as if death were not, from that moment it becomes possible for us to be possessed by his spirit – it is accomplished means that there is now a fully human way – from birth through and including death. The Spirit makes it possible to do the same for the Father as Jesus did, to live as if death is not. There are two elements to the mission of the Spirit – as advocate, and as one who leads to truth.
The Advocate absolves from accusations, whereas the Prosecution [from persecution] representing the order of this world ruthlessly seeks out a victim; and justifies the need for murder to maintain order – all the while convinced that this truly serving God. The Advocate knows the victim is hated without cause [as was Jesus] and brings this to light by constantly recalling the real memory of what happened to Jesus and why. The Spirit pleads our cause – which means forgiveness of sin. This means that forgiveness of sin and the recreating of the actual happening of the passion in the lives of disciples are one and the same.
Much is written about St Brendan (whose day it is today) and his epic voyages across the seas to bring the Gospel to others. There is even a myth he may have reached South America. However, I wanted to write about another saint who is lesser known and whose day this is also. John Stone lived at the time of the Reformation which has become an interest of mine due to a series of novels by the historian C J Sansom. The books are about a hunchbacked lawyer called Matthew Shardlake and his adventures during tremendously unstable times for religious thinking and belief in King Henry VIII’s reign.
John Stone was a Doctor of Theology from Canterbury who opposed the King’s wish to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon. During the dissolution of the monasteries all religious were expected to sign a document which acknowledged the King as the Head of the church in England – The Act of Supremacy. John Stone refused to sign and was carted off to the Tower where, C J Sansom tells us, torture was inflicted on the prisoners. It was a brutal and grisly time – has the world improved, I wonder? John was returned to Canterbury to be tried. He was found guilty under the Treason’s Act and hung, drawn and quartered, his head and body being left on display for being a traitor.
Sansom’s novels show us the profits and land deals that were made on the back of the sale of religious houses and properties. Of course, the full truth was riddled with complexities and the changing whims of King Henry, yet those who do not follow the tenets of more dictatorial leaders, even in our times, are subject to persecution. Men of principle, such as John Stone, however, shine forth. I do recommend Mr Sansom’s books but beware, once you read one, you will want to read them all. What shall I do when I reach the end of his final book in the series? Sob!