Church

Revolt, Renew, Reform

I just read an article on habits, which basically noted that as we gain expertise and more advanced skills and practices, we will often end up actually regressing, because we’ve lost the “fundamentals”. The advanced stuff becomes easy, but the basic (and far more important) stuff is quietly withering.

This is something I have noticed in my prayer life. I tend to develop a set of relatively fixed prayers for regular activities, such as exercising, eating meals, reading the Bible, and going to bed. I like it this way, because I want to make sure that I always say everything that needs saying. As it goes on, these prayers naturally develop, being expanded and refined, and reworked again and again, aiming for a sense of completeness and symmetry, so that my prayer may be “perfect”. I also develop rules for what prayers to say each day, and when, and these too grow nuanced over time, including various technicalities. [I’m the kind of person who actually sort of loves rules, routines, and waking up early, and though Past-Me might have disdained that, I don’t care. The difficult thing is marrying this to my love for chaos and late nights… I oscillate in life.]

But after a while, these prayers grow old. I can say them easily, even in my head, while I’m actually thinking about God-knows-what. My prescribed and required prayers can become a duty and a burden, and get in the way of practices that might do me more good. I grow “pious”.

For this reason, every so often, I revolt against my system, seriously simplifying my prayer life. I return to the basics –just me and my God– and let everything reform from there. Many elements of the previous system are gradually reintroduced, and new ones too, and the complexity, beauty, and rigidity return, step by step, but with their centre restored to them.

 

vaticanii-image

I think this may be a near perfect analogy for what the Church was doing at Vatican II. The Church wanted to rediscover Herself, and return to Her first love. Her practices had grown elaborate and majestic and beautiful, but perhaps also comfortable and stifling. On the one hand, the religion was thoroughly encapsulated, but on the other, it was somewhat captured and contained. At least that’s the impression I’ve been given…

The Council set in motion a process of renewal, rediscovery, and reformation that’s ongoing. As Pope Francis stresses, ‘Time is greater than space.’ I think we can see this process at work both in the emergence of new practices and the re-emergence of old. The new wave of traditionalism should be seen as a fruit of the Council, to be celebrated with all the others.

On that note, I feel the need to briefly defend V2 against those who would claim it has borne bad fruit. There are those who have misinterpreted it, as being essentially a liberalising or dilution of the faith. But that would be as shallow as interpreting my personal cycles of reform and simplification, to my faith weakening, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Externally, many things were temporarily shed, but only so that we could reconnect with what is truly essential.

 

But these are just my thoughts. What do you think? God bless!

Advertisements

How do we save the Church?

How do we save the Roman Catholic Church? It doesn’t take much to see it’s having a crisis, at least in the West. Everyone seems to have an answer to this question. It was only a matter of time before I had to weigh in, so, here it is:

We don’t

We don’t save the Roman Catholic Church. I don’t have it in me to give life to the Church. Nor does any idea, any form of music or liturgy, or any programme. Jesus Christ is the life of the Church, and He alone is her saviour.

So… how do we save the Church? We don’t save the Church, the Church saves us. And this is our problem today: we don’t let the Church save us- we don’t let it give us Jesus. We’re the problem!

It’s not this silly priest, that senile Bishop, those clueless cardinals, or even our wonderful Pope Francis. It’s us–me and you–not accepting Jesus and chasing after Him with all our strength that is the problem. We’re not taking advantage of all the ways Jesus comes to us through His body, the Church, to recreate us in Him. We’re not chasing after sainthood.

‘How do we save the Church?’ Every answer is correct (well… nearly), and every answer is wrong, because in every answer we can find Jesus, and because every answer is not Jesus. It’s not what we need to do, it’s who we do it with and for.

There’s no hope in any of our reforms or programmes, or the chariots of Egypt! The people of God cannot hope in the strength of men. Not one of our clever schemes will save us. We can’t idolise the works of God.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing… As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’

[John 15:5,9-10,12]

san-damiano-cross

“Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins.”

What I’m saying is, we need to become saints! At the risk of sounding fanatical, saints are the solution to every real problem in the Church and the world, because Jesus alone is the solution. Jesus alone is the life of the world!

How can we receive God? How do we become saints? We have to encounter Jesus, and as we encounter Him, we become an encounter with Him. We need to rediscover, over and over and over, God’s love for us and our hearts response of love for Him, and we need to submit to this love of God. And submitting to the love of God, we must seek the love of God everywhere.

We have to let go of everything that is not Jesus, even the holy things which brought us Jesus in the past. When we become attached to anything, it destroys our poverty of spirit, and we become complacent, self-righteous, and closed to the Kingdom of God. We can trust our good deeds over the one who gives the grace to do them. We can trust our praying rather than Him we pray to. We can even fall by trusting in our receiving communion, rather than trusting Jesus-Host Himself.

I’m saying we must chase after the love of God with all our might, knowing that we can never pin Him down and capture Him. With all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength and all our minds, we must receive and submit to the uncontrollable love of God. We must let go of every attachment, every possession, every illusion of control we hold so dearly, so that we can give Him control.

When we do this, as individuals and as communities, then we will see the Kingdom of God coming, within and amongst us.

Pray for me, and God bless you!

 

WYD 2016: The Time of My Life (so far)

Opening mass

(The Opening Mass)

I really don’t know what to tell you about WYD 2016 in Krakow, except that it was the best time of my life. Please bear with me as I ramble a bit, about just part of what it meant to me.

Welcome

Before going to Poland, me and my friends from uni joined with a group of about 300 pilgrims from around the World for a “pre-encounter” in Hungary, organised by Verbum Dei. We listened, we talked, we prayed, we had mass, we joked and sang and danced. But in the most incredible atmosphere of love and friendship I’ve encountered. Everyone was a friend. Everyone smiled and said hello to everyone. And I felt embraced by an inexplicable love. I really experienced the joy of the gospel, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

A good example, is when in the evening, we all learned Hungarian folk dance, and had three hundred of us dancing around the hall in these great circles and lines, soaked in sweat, jumping about, and smiling like madmen. It’s an image of Heaven.

Adoration

My highlight of the pre-encounter came at adoration. Even amongst such love, I was somehow able to start feeling alone and unlovable again. It wasn’t too strong a feeling, but I did feel cut off…

Then, some of my friends began a beautiful piece of theatre/prayer, centred around mercy and removing masks to be loved. At the end of this, the Eucharist was brought out for a time of adoration. A screen blocked me from seeing Jesus as He began proceeding from the tabernacle, and as I tried to prepare myself to see and adore Him, I didn’t feel any closeness to Him. I didn’t feel like He was really present at all, and I worried what this meant.

Then He came past the screen, I saw Him, and I knew it was Him, right there, in love for me. I felt His loving gaze, and it broke me apart. I cried a lot, and didn’t wipe away the tears, because I didn’t want to lose a thing. I kept repeating ‘Jesus, you love me` and ‘Jesus, I love you`. I desired nothing but to belong entirely to Jesus, to love Him and be loved by Him, at any and all cost.

God loved Rudolf Höss

Rudolf Höss

The first thing we did in Poland was to visit Auschwitz. The above sign really struck me. The idea that there was any more blood spilled at Auschwitz after the war, filled me with sadness. The thought of any more hatred, and killing, and saying that people aren’t worthy of life; or of the blood of the innocent and the wicked being mingled, horrified me. The war was won, but where was the peace?

I remembered that God loved Rudolf Höss, and even went to the cross for him. He was incredibly inhuman to his prisoners, because he didn’t believe they were truly human. But the response to this was to see his evil deeds, and say that he wasn’t truly human, that he didn’t deserve life. But God loved and created Rudolf Höss, not for the monster he made himself, but for the human being, capable of love, that he simply was.

It was humans that perpetrated the holocaust. It was humans like you and me. It was us.

As I continued around Auschwitz II- Birkenau, the horror kept growing within me. I felt the need for us all to repent for what the Nazis, and many others, have done throughout history. I felt terrible anger, followed by sorrow and pity, for the perpetrators of all our atrocities.

The more I saw of Auschwitz and human evil, the more clearly I saw that the world desperately needs mercy. There is no other solution.

Welcome pt 2

The People of Krakow (and Wadowice, where we were staying) gave us an incredible welcome. Our host families made us feel truly at home, despite every barrier of language and culture. And our fellow pilgrims too, were all incredibly friendly and welcoming.

I didn’t understand before this trip, just how crucial being welcoming is to being merciful. But how can we ever be merciful if we don’t welcome others? And how could we welcome those who most need it, if not for mercy?

On our long march (about 14km in the heat) to Campus Misericordiae, families who lived along the way came out of the their homes, and out of the sheer kindness of their hearts, gave us cold water. And on the long way back, in the pouring rain, one family came out offering us hot coffee. It was pure grace.

Friendships

So many friends, old and new! And the new, are so close, that they really feel like old friends already. I feel incredibly close to them, because we shared our lives, and our deepest life (Jesus) for this two weeks. In each of them, I discovered incredible depths and beauty I couldn’t have imagined, and each of them showed me Jesus that much more.

I really can’t express my gratitude enough. They’re in the depths of my heart forever now.

Papa Francesco!

Seeing and hearing Papa Francesco was amazing. I think he exudes the love and mercy of God in a very special way.

His speeches and homily were very powerful, and made clear to me how greatly God loves us, and how God wants to use us. How God wants you and me to go out and change the whole world, to build a world of love, mercy, and fraternity. How God dreams of our true happiness, which is not “a good couch”, but a life of love and action!

Holy Communion

As I queued for Holy Communion at the final mass, I was overcome with God’s love for me again, and I began crying once more, desiring for every part of me, from the biggest to the very smallest, to be given to Jesus in love. I didn’t want anything held back. I wanted his light in every last crevice in the depths of my heart. I realised I’d rather God’s love and nothing, than everything except God’s love. And then I realised, that since everything is each moment created out of God’s love, apart from God’s love there is nothing, and within God’s love there is everything, and so I found myself surrounded by God’s love on every side.

The entire World Youth Day was one big Holy Communion, in which I found Jesus over and over and over again. We were all there together, being made one, by the one body, the one love, of our one Lord.

Catholicity

The Church is the unity of humanity :)

Now, the real challenge begins: to take God’s mercy home with us and out to the world…

 

God bless you and pray for us!

The Church must unite Britain

[As a postscript to my last post, ‘Britain is split in two, and we must make it one’, I wrote the below about the Church’s role in bringing unity and justice to Britain and the world. Because I expect some readers are interested in the Church more than mere politics, I’m posting this separately. Hope you enjoy.]

In this work of bringing true unity to the country and to the world, the Church should be at the forefront. The Church’s rich tradition embraces all of humanity, and listens to the voice of the poor as much as the expert. The individualist ideology of the modern world could never unite a people, and when people turn to national, ethnic, or religious identity for meaning and community, they only get the unity of a common separation; but true religion offers true meaning and true unity, that reaches out to all in love and service.

We might think Britain is too rich to hear the gospel. The truth is, Britain and the modern world suffer from extreme poverty. As Bl. Mother Teresa said,

‘There is much suffering in the world — very much. And this material suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases, but I still think the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one.’

Britain is desperate for the gospel. We are desperate to be a people, each turned towards God in our neighbour.

Catholics need to realise, above all others, it is our duty to work for love, justice, and the common good. Jesus, the light of the world (Jn 8:12), told us we are the light of the world (Mt 5:14), and we must realise this.

The sad thing is, to many people, the Church is part of the establishment. We must lower ourselves, identify with all those in need and on the margins of society, and become in practice Pope Francis’ “poor Church for the poor”.

 

God bless you!

ITALY-VATICAN-POPE-IMMIGRATION-HOLY THURSDAY

Pope Francis washing the feet of migrants

‘I prefer a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets rather that a church that is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.’
Pope Francis

‘Mercy is the prophecy of a new world, in which the goods of the earth and of work are equally distributed and no one lacks the necessary, because solidarity and sharing are the concrete result of fraternity.’
Pope Francis

The EU and Paradise

image

Tonight, the above EU poster made me finally realise just what the EU really is. By using the image of the tower of Babel (on the left is the 16th century painting it’s based upon), the EU declares its design to bring all of humanity together (which is great, by the way) and reach/create heaven by our own strength (which is very, very bad). This is shown also by the Remain camps appeal to the EU for bringing peace.

What’s so wrong with this? Every attempt to create paradise by our own power always has and always will bring nothing but slavery. The Nazis believed in, and sacrificed to, a glorious Arian future. The Soviets believed in, and sacrificed to, a glorious communist future. Revolutionaries always believe in the post-revolution world, and commit atrocities for it. Whatever we make our ultimate end, will always demand sacrifices of everything else.

What about Christianity, with its promised “Kingdom of Heaven”? The Kingdom of Heaven demands a far greater sacrifice than any other revolution: it demands our very selves. This is the meaning of the cross: the Kingdom of Heaven is giving yourself away in love of others. Do we do this by our own strength? Not at all! How could self abolish self? The Christian’s self sacrifice is not how they win the Kingdom for themselves- it is the Kingdom! Because the Kingdom of Heaven is not our creation, but a gift to receive in us, we have no work in which to sacrifice for a greater, “sacred”, good, but have only to live Heaven now.

‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’ -Jesus

The EU believes in itself, and for that reason will oppress people. It trusts in strength to achieve its goals, but strength and power can never bring true harmony, love and joy. The Church on the other hand, believes in God’s gift of Himself to us, and in this gift the whole Church is called to give itself away. It is by lowliness, humility, and love, and these alone, that Heaven is brought to Earth.

“You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

So what’s the problem with the EU? That it believes it can, through mere collective intelligence and power, force the world into unity. The Body of Christ (the Church) on the other hand, calls the world to true unity in its own self-giving sacrifice of love, in which your life is mine and mine is yours.

We are, as always, having to choose between using/forcing others, and loving/helping them, and this time, because the aim is as high as it gets (heaven), so are the stakes.

Peace and love, and God bless you!

His love first

I would like to ramble a little about the love of God, please bear with me.

The place of complete love, is the body of Christ. It is broken, bruised, bloody, naked, transfigured in light, holy, resurrected, immersed in God, humble, raised up, simple, ridiculous, shocking, terrifying, vulnerable, pierced, and spread open for all. Here is the complete, unconditional gift.

However lowly you are, Jesus is below you. Upon the cross, his arms are open wide to embrace you; his flesh is exposed and his blood pours out, so that nothing is kept from you; and there is a hole in his side, so you may enter his heart. However rejected you are, Christ is more. However far you are from God, however beaten to a pulp your soul, Christ is with you even in your spiritual destitution. For our sakes, he became sin. Don’t let that be explained away or watered down.

The Word of God was made one with humanity, with suffering, failure, sin, and death, that all of these may be resurrected in him. He gives himself perfectly, that we may receive him, and so give ourselves perfectly in him.

To receive his love, to receive him, is the first thing. Lately I’ve become so caught up in myself, trying to bring love, to give myself, to give God, that I have neglected to look to receiving his love. Not that I’ve been working hard and neglecting prayer. I was trying to “spiritually” be a servant of God, set on doing his will. But this was impossible, insofar as I neglected to look to God as my saviour, as the one who loves me truly. “By this we know love- that he laid down his life for us.” [1Jn 3:16]

I had made the mistake of looking to the cross primarily as the work I must join; that I must love and suffer for the world with Jesus. This is true, but we must be united to the cross, to the body of Christ, as our salvation first, and consequently as our vocation. By our lowliness, our sin, our death, we enter Jesus’ body, broken and given up for us in complete love. Only then, may we be the body of Christ, the place of complete love. “We love, because he first loved us.” [1Jn 4:19] Once we receive his love, once we are united to him, our very existence in him means being given up for others, united to his holy cross.

To guard against this mistake, we ought to be keenly aware, that we need salvation constantly. It is not singular events, but a continuous reliance on Christ crucified. We never move on from salvation, but live it out, work it out, in God’s grace.

God bless you

“Judas was not the one who sinned most”- Pope Francis

“As St Paul says, this Church is built on the foundations of the Apostles; he chose twelve of them. All of them sinners. Judas was not the one who sinned the most: I don’t know who sinned the most… Judas, poor man, is the one who closed himself to love and that is why he became a traitor. And they all ran away during the difficult time of the Passion and left Jesus alone. They are all sinners. But He chose.”

Here’s a link to the full thing.

God bless you

The Pharisees and the Catholics

The fault of the Pharisees was their belief that they owned their religion, that they owned God’s law and revelation, and so that they owned God. They were so sure of their religion, that when God’s own Son rebuked them, they were outraged and murdered Him.

The Pharisees’ problem was that they wanted God, but they wanted God to be theirs. Cain wanted God to be pleased with his sacrifice, but in his way, and so rather than improve his sacrifice, he murdered his brother, so that no sacrifice was better than his. He wanted God’s approval by having a monopoly over religion. The prophets were likewise murdered, because they were close to God, and their murderers wished to be. The tenants murdered the heir of the vineyard to become the heir and keep the vineyard.

It is easy to see God’s heirs, His messengers, and reject them as not from Him, because they are poor, weak, and harmless, and they simply do not resemble us. They are unpredictable, and do not follow the manual we have written for “How to obey God”. From the perspective of our religion they are the infidels and heretics.
Are Catholics pharisaical? After all, we believe in an authoritative Church, established by Jesus in the Holy Spirit to speak God’s word to the world. We believe the Church teaches infallibly on matters of faith and morals. Is this owning God’s revelation, and owning God Himself?

No. The Catholic Church is the Body of Christ, and belongs to him through and through. Jesus himself said that the authority of the Pharisees was legitimate (Mt 23:2-3), so that was not their problem.

pharisees

The trouble comes, when we consider God to be ours more than we are God’s. This is not natural to Catholicism in the slightest. The authority of the Church is because she is Christ’s spouse and mystical body: because God owns her, and uses her, and loves her. Never disobey the servant of God. The Church only teaches what she has received from Christ and the apostles, and is always subject to God’s word.

That’s not to say no Catholics commit the fault of the Pharisees. If only. Some may become so attached to certain common Catholic opinions or tendencies (rather than Church doctrines) or liturgical practices, that they refuse to listen to God, whether He speaks by the magisterium of the Church or in the cry of the oppressed. There are some today, who are so committed to being Catholic, they believe themselves more Catholic than the successor of Peter; just as two millenia ago, some Jews were so committed, they believed they were more Jewish than the Messiah.

To reverse the accusation so common against Catholics, is sola scriptura pharisaical? In itself, no. But have you never seen a protestant with an interpretation, arguing with all sorts of interpretive tools that all Christians ought to believe something they believe (often that’s convenient for them and not really in the text), and that to do otherwise is rejecting God’s word? Within the Catholic Church, we must simply receive what God has given us, but without the Church, we must ourselves formulate God’s word from the books he left us. With sola scriptura, we are left to build a religion for ourselves, judging all previous attempts by our own. Such a task definitely leaves us open to creating and owning our own religion, and so our own god.

We all must be wary, so that in all our seeking after God, we never consider Him, the Supreme Being, as our possession. We must never make ourselves the criterion of the true religion. We must always listen to God’s voice, wherever He chooses to speak, and exclude no one from the possibility of being God’s servant for this moment. We must always hold firm to the faith we have received, from the Church, from the fathers, from the apostles, from Christ, from God.

God bless you, today and forever