Tag Archives: preaching

September 19: The reality that is proclaimed

chris-preaching

Austin’s reflections, Constantina’s art, the Zambian Poor Clares’ dance that we saw on St Clare’s Day; these reflections too: all are intended to bear witness to – what exactly? I think we need to remind ourselves often what is the Gospel we proclaim. I was about to throw out a scrap of paper this afternoon, but held off till I’d copied this.

When preaching takes place, the ‘reality’ that is proclaimed, the crucified and risen Christ, is made present for the preacher and the hearer alike and is imparted to those who hear the preaching with faith.

Thus writes Fr Gerald O’Collins.*

He is developing an idea in Ad Gentes 9 the Vatican Council’s Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church.

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the centre and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He (God) brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker.

‘A sort of secret presence of God’ – it sounds almost like Francis Thompson! (see post on August 9th)

car-lights

Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Let’s pray for the wisdom to know how to share the many-splendoured thing, and the humility to perceive Jacob’s ladder pitched on our own pavements – and the unlikely characters shining as they ascend!

MMB.

*Vatican II and the Liturgical Presence of Christ in irish Theological Quarterly, 2/2012.

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April 23, 2017: Be Grateful to Thomas!

Last Easter – well last Low Sunday – we visited Plowden, a small country church which would have been crowded if seventy people had gathered there. It was comfortably full, and comfortably friendly.

The priest, Fr David, was a visitor as well. If his homily had been written down, I would have published it here, but he said that he prepares his homilies and then lets them flow, hoping that the Holy Spirit can get a word in edgeways.

Well, the Spirit made an impression. One thing I will share. I paraphrase, wishing I could have recorded Fr David’s every word:

Saint John wrote for us, knowing that a different sort of Faith would be needed after Jesus had gone. We should be grateful to him for showing the disciples not understanding Jesus, betraying him – except John himself who stood by the Cross to the end. And we should be grateful to Thomas for his doubts – people do not come back to life, do they? Saint John tells us what we need to hear, that the twelve, whom Jesus had trained up for three years, doubted, let him down.

But Jesus came back, smiling, with no recriminations, just ‘Peace be with you’, and ‘touch my wounds.’

+  +  +  +  +

And those are two excellent mottos for our task of spreading the Good News.

MMB.

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22 March: Wayside Pulpits

altrincham_market_cross_2-480x640Altrincham Market Cross

Early Franciscans, such as Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, our patron, often preached in the open air, maybe at a cross erected as a town’s Speakers’ Corner, like this one, reconstructed in Altrincham, Cheshire. The Reformation saw most of them demolished in England.

agnellusfullWhen we travelled to the North of England recently there were the usual old trailers, parked in fields beside the motorways and advertising  anything from the local builder to  sofas or insurance on-line. There was a cluster in West Yorkshire that reminded me of the  ‘Wayside Pulpits’ that non-conformist churches  display, with their elegant calligraphy proclaiming a Bible verse or seasonal message. ‘Prepare to meet thy God’ read one of these trailers, with a lot more text besides, too much to take in with a passing glance.

One of the firms that arrange these ads boasts that they offer 7-10 seconds of dwell time guaranteed. That’s 7-10 seconds of a driver not fully aware of the road – guaranteed.

The weather was worsening; just a few miles up the road we witnessed a collision.

I don’t suppose the church or individual who had these billboards parked there intended readers to be meeting their God so soon after reading their message, but this is irresponsible and dangerous preaching. It is also illegal. Time to stop it!

MMB.

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11 March, Human Will VII: The Will of God

 

 

What do we learn about the will of God for humanity when we ponder the sacred texts of scripture?  We find first in Genesis that we were created by God to share his life: this is his will for us.  We find that by sin we opposed God’s will and placed our will against God’s.  In consequence, we lost our closeness to God, we lost the harmony of our being, we became disordered within ourselves, and our relationships with each other became fraught and conflicted.  Our will, rather than being oriented toward God, turned in on itself.

Then began the long, long process by which God, without ever violating the freedom of our will, would lead humanity back to himself.  Scripture shows the stages in this process: the covenants with Noah and Abraham; the Exodus and journey to the Promised Land; the Law revealed to Moses; the growth of Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people, the organisation of Israel’s religious life, the building of the Temple.  In the midst of these stages, a theme emerges: God is faithful but the chosen people are wayward, contentious, fickle, heedless of God’s will, prone to idolatry.  The prophets and the psalms lament this.  Nevertheless, a new covenant is promised in which God will make possible a new depth of relationship with himself:

Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel, but not like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, a covenant which they broke….  No this is the covenant I shall make with them, Yahweh declares.  Within them I shall plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. 

(Jeremiah. 31:31-34) 

 

The other great theme that emerges in tandem with this is the prophecy of an individual man who will inaugurate this new covenant in his very person.  He will be the messiah.  He will be a king, yet he will also be a servant who will suffer.  Above all, he will be the faithful son that Israel, in her sinfulness and waywardness, had not been.  He will come for the poor and humble of God, and will himself be gentle and humble (see Isaiah 11:1-9, 42:1-9, 61:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Psalm 72; Zephaniah 2:3).

Jesus himself said that he was the fulfilment of this hope in Luke 4:16-21:

 

Jesus came to Nazara… and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did.  He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

            The spirit of the Lord is on me,

for he has anointed me

to bring the good news to the afflicted. 

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,

sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down.  And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.’

Christianity is built on the belief that what Jesus said in the synagogue that day was true, that he was the anointed one of God who would be, in his very person, the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and indeed of all the prophecies.

Christians see that the truth of Jesus’ claim is subsequently borne out in his public ministry, in everything he said and did, in his death, resurrection and ascension.  Where Israel had been a faithless and fickle son, Jesus remained faithful to the will of God, even unto death.  He, and he alone in all history, did his Father’s will.  And his own will?  It was completely united with the Father’s will, so much so that Jesus could say, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me’ (John 4.34).

Jesus, by his life and his very being, shows us the love with which he unites his will to the will of the Father.  Through his Spirit, we are able to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship written on our hearts, by which we journey to the Father.  We cannot fully fathom Jesus’ love for us in this life, but we can love him in return.  We can strive to follow him.  We can give him our will.  To do this is to do the will of God.

SJC.

 

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December 31 2016: Let it Snow! II.

snowgapcropped

Outside it was pretty cold but they did not have far to go to the snow covered slopes of the hill behind their house. They met lots of people they knew and when they arrived at the slopes it was packed so they decided to go for a walk first.

They went for a long walk and came back home hungry and cold. Tommy’s sister and brothers prepared some lunch whilst Dad lit the log fire in the lounge. Then feeling a bit drowsy, they all dozed off until Mum returned.

They had tea together and were revived. As they became more animated Tommy’s brother Ralph went outside and said it had stopped snowing and was a beautiful moonlit night. So they all decided to go tobogganing and Tommy was very excited about the prospect of hurtling down the run in the moonlight with all his family all around.

There were still quite a few people about but nothing like as many as in the morning. The run was still smooth and hard because it was beginning to freeze. Tommy watched as his brothers and sister started their runs. He heard his father, who was an engineer say to him: ‘Son, remember it’s all about using your body weight effectively,’ but he knew instinctively what to do and enjoyed his first run down and joked with his brothers and sister at the bottom of the run.

Some people had brought flasks of hot chocolate and buns which were very welcome. Then the younger folk started to organise races in which Tommy did very well. However, his Mum seemed rather anxious and asked Tommy if he had seen his Dad recently. Tommy remembered his Dad’s last remark to him before he set off on his first run. He had not seen him since so he started to ask around but none of his family or friends had seen him for at least half an hour. So they started a serious search at the bottom of the run and in the bushes on the side thinking he might have veered off course.

But there was no sign of Dad and Tommy was very worried. He kept calling, ‘Dad! Dad!’, but there was no response. Suddenly the front door of a house to the side of the run was opened and there was Tommy’s Dad, all merry and bright. Dad described what had happened, somewhat contritely for despite what he told Tommy about weight distribution, his own weight was too much on one side; consequently he slid off course and into the house at the side of the track.

The crowd which had gathered were highly amused by Dad’s account of what had transpired and thought that perhaps they should have a ‘whip round’ to buy him a proper sledge rather than allow him to go sliding on a tin tray virtually into people’s living rooms, with the obvious intention of getting a Christmas drink.

Dad took all the ribaldry in good part and to show his sportsmanship decided to go for one final slide on his tin tray.

Tommy was very proud of his Dad, though the phrase about weight distribution would always be remembered as a reminder of the old adage, ‘practise what you preach’.

DBP.

 

 

 

 

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Interruption – Art and Faith: Representations of St Richard

On Saturday 11th June a group met to discuss representations of St. Richard at Chichester Cathedral. Sussex’s saint appears a number of times in and around the Cathedral. Our main foci were the two most recent such works to be seen at the Cathedral: Philip Jackson’s exterior sculpture (2000) and Sergei Fyodorov’s icon at the shrine of St Richard (2003). We also looked at W.H. Randoll Blacking’s 1951 statue, also located at the shrine; the Chichester Cathedral banner (c.1900), designed by Ernest Gilbert and made by Miss H. Harvey, which hangs in the north aisle; the portrait in Lambert Barnard’s ‘Catalogue of Bishops’ (c.1536) in the North Transept; the statue above St. Richard’s door (in the Western arm of the cloisters, leading into the Cathedral). We also looked at an image of the St. Richard window at nearby St. Richard’s Roman Catholic parish church.

We began with a brief introduction to the life of St. Richard (1197-1253), Bishop of Chichester (1245-53). Richard is remembered for his good works and humble lifestyle. He travelled across the Diocese preaching, and it was at the end of his preaching tour, in Dover, that St. Richard died on 3rd April 1253. His body was translated to a shrine in the Cathedral on 16th June 1276 – now celebrated as St. Richard’s Day. The shrine was destroyed at the Reformation, but was restored in the twentieth century. There is a helpful summary of the life of St. Richard available from Chichester Cathedral’s website.

The various artists we looked at adopted a variety of approaches to depicting the saint. He is usually shown in episcopal dress, including a mitre. All of the pre-21st century examples include a chalice at Richard’s feet – a reference to a story that he once dropped a chalice whilst celebrating the Eucharist but not a drop was spilt.

Philip Jackson chose to strip away all the accoutrements normally associated with St. Richard to show him wearing a simple cope, with a bare head. Jackson wanted to reflect the austerity of Richard’s life, rather than the idealised depictions of the saint wearing gold and so on in some of the other examples in the Cathedral. Jackson also gave his figure a stern expression, in keeping with the saint’s character.

I have spoken to a number of people – and count myself among them – who find Jackson’s austere portrait of St. Richard somewhat spooky, even sinister. I particularly feel this when I see the sculpture lit up at night, glooming over the approach to the Cathedral, giving it an almost gothic feel. I therefore found it very refreshing that participants in the discussion responded very positively to the work, reading it as an image of the saint facing out from the Cathedral, towards the town, with a gesture of blessing in motion (thus he is not looking in the same direction as his extended arm, which others have told me they find impersonal).

The Fyodorov icon prompted a lengthy discussion about the role of icons more broadly, and their increasing presence in Anglican churches. Fyodorov trained in Russia but is now based in Britain, and adapts his style to the context for which he is working (a Moscow Times article which one of the participants brought to the session contains some helpful insights into Fyodorov’s work). Some people felt that by portraying St. Richard in a more naturalistic style than is traditional in icons, the work has less impact as a focus of meditation. However, we also noted that the inclusion of St. Richard pointing to Christ is an eloquent visual expression of the sentiments of St. Richard’s prayer:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

As in all things, different works of art will appeal more to some individuals than others, but one thing that repeatedly comes out of the discussion groups is that when a work of art does resonate for an individual, it can, like St. Richard’s prayer, redirect one’s attention to God.

There are two sessions left in the series of discussion groups; details here.

Copied from: Arts and Faith in Sussex .

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Interruption: Why I walked out.

Nobody would accuse Friar Austin, this week’s writer, of being a boring preacher. Nor Friar Tom, nor Friar Stefan. All worth listening to, or sitting under, as the Scots used to say. Having said that, this piece by a Jesuit in South Africa, Russell Pollitt, is salutory reading for preachers and hearers. The link is to his article in Independent Catholic News. Do read it! What do you think?

WT.

Why I walked out.

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by | June 6, 2016 · 20:20

January 26th – Timothy and Titus and Christ’s Ascension

ASCENSION (490x800) 

Jesus’ Ascension is described at the beginning of Acts of the Apostles, but people often suppose it was mostly a matter of returning to God to prepare for sending the Holy Spirit. These two windows together suggest exactly that. However, we can see from the letter to Timothy that it meant much more than that to the New Testament community in Corinth. That city had been a Greek achievement, a place of engineering sophistication, through which a great canal had been excavated, improving its trading capability. The Eastern Mediterranean was joined more easily to the West. The Greeks thought they appreciated and could imitate the harmony of the heavens, the spheres of planetary movement. But by Paul’s day, the Roman Empire had taken over and wrecked that notion of mechanical harmony with mechanical oppression.

The world then felt worse, claustrophobic. The spheres of the sky creaked around badly as if controlled by demons and destructive powers. But 1 Tim. 3:16 records for us the hymn, sung in Corinth, about Christ removing this stifling experience of life. Christ has ascended, breaking the obsolete spheres, overcoming the spirits of fear and threat.

“He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels,

preached among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.”

The message of hope contained here includes the gift of readiness to remove our neighbours’ fears. It is community guided by the Spirit which matters, not the trading opportunities and the economic advantages which favour a few over many others.

 CD.

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13th January – Using Images Well

ferry.skye2 (800x451)

In a thirteenth century Franciscan preacher’s guide, one of the early Christian desert monks quoted is Ammonas. He is seen as a practical guide to virtue. But research now provides us with fourteen letters written by that Egyptian Christian, containing a well-considered spirituality (Letters of Ammonas, Chitty trans., SLG Press). Perhaps images of a ship might encourage worshippers to think about Jonas, and images of a vine trellis to be aware of the Passiontide readings. However a deeper reflection can also be developed. Ammonas, in the fourth century, spoke symbolically of a ship with two rudders. One represents early fervour in conversion, peaceful and persevering. The second represents a better fervour, able to struggle in a great contest, with “patience that is unperturbed.”

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Having both these rudders will mean the conversion can travel a great distance, ignoring all passions such as our craving for flattery. Other images can fit in with this. “If any man love the Lord with all his heart and… soul… and might, he will acquire awe, and awe in him will beget weeping, and weeping joy, and joy will beget strength, and in all this the soul will bear fruit. And when God sees its fruit so fair, He will accept it as a sweet savour…. For thus the sweetness of God will provide you with the greatest possible strength.”

These desert hermits had consulting rooms too. They were not simply turning their back on human needs. The same is true of certain Franciscans, such as Giles, who lived as hermits.

CD.

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