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.


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

My rejection of and return to church

I remember as a child, once asking why the Bible, especially the gospels, were so good, and church was so boring and lame. And I remember that my mother’s response wasn’t that I was wrong about church, but just that she didn’t know. I noticed how little the gospels were referred to, and how little the sermons sounded like something Jesus would say. I noticed that, church just seemed to a place to feel good together, with ideas to make you feel good, but not to really change your way of life.

But in the gospels, I saw a Jesus all about changing lives, and living in the Kingdom of God, and being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. I saw a Jesus who was demanding, and changed lives. Jesus was not a life coach preaching about positive thinking.

Of course, churches vary greatly. I visited a lot, and a lot were quite motivating, and even inspiring. But I didn’t feel it lasted. It seemed to me, a more or less empty entertainment, remembering how good Jesus is, and sometimes suggesting he might want to do something in you. What kind of thing wasn’t ever clear.

It seemed to me, Christianity had been made a private matter, relevant mainly to our feelings. It seemed we were told to love God, and always be feely-goody people. And tell others to do so also.

At one point, I thought Christianity was perhaps best seen as a God-given pyramid scheme, where we believe, and must then get others to believe, even though we were only really believing in believing itself. And by this scheme, we get to heaven. It seemed like the gospel we were meant to spread, was that there was a gospel to be spread.

It’s fair to say, I was very confused. But, I applied good protestant logic, and concluded that the churches had corrupted teachings, and I would be better off on my own with a bible. Which, for a good few years, I did.6660ed346e8634249b75452e7b760dc7f78763d983205a92686184eb05cf9244

[I think it’s good logic from a protestant perspective, because if the Church Jesus himself founded with the apostles could be corrupted (and to maintain protestant beliefs this would have to have happened extremely early on), then it seems inevitable that the churches founded by reformers should also be corrupted even sooner. In view of this fact, I believe the fact that protestant churches are as unified as they are, is a testament to God’s care for them]

So, I became an lone sheep, as soon as my parents stopped making me go to church. But I continued to read the Bible and other Christian books, and I think I grew a lot in those years. My understanding of the scriptures became a lot less muddled and confused. I had decided to ignore Paul at first, because I found him confusing, and I found that suspicious. But I returned to him later, and found he made perfect sense when taken in the light of the gospels I had seen.

I was especially delighted that my new church of one appreciated Jesus’ attitude toward the poor. It wasn’t skipping over Jesus words on selling all you owned and giving it to the poor in order to be perfect and follow Jesus. From early on, I had thought Jesus was talking to me when he said that. I wasn’t obeying it (I was still a child and had no idea how to), but I did look upon it as important. I also noted how Jesus spoke strongly of works when talking about salvation (“as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me”). This tendency, combined with more or less independent political thought, brought me to believe in “Christian anarchism”. [I won’t go into my beliefs in this period of time any further here, but if you like, the last year of this period is somewhat captured in the archives of the first year of this blog]

But then Christian anarchism pointed me towards Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker movement, which is brilliant, which pointed me to Catholic social teaching, which is brilliant, though I wondered about a few points, which then pointed me to Catholic theology, which is brilliant, though it took a lot of wrestling for me to understand and agree, and I just disagreed a lot at first.

It gradually dawned on me, that a Christian is not alone, and should not be alone. And however disappointing I found church, Jesus had put in a lot of effort to found his Church, so I had to go. So, I tried a couple churches on the few Sundays when I was up on time, and was disappointed. Eventually, I tried mass at my little local, Catholic Church.

It was a shocking experience. So much sudden standing, and kneeling, and everyone responding together. I tried my best to go with the flow. I was terrified: heart racing, sweating so much I hate to think how I smelt. I loved that the gospel was read. That really pleased me. In the second half of the mass, what I now know is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I strongly sensed the reverence of those around me, and learned what the word sacred really means. At the sign of peace, I was stupendously happy to be saying, “peace be with you” and shaking hands with those around me, especially the priest when he came down (I suspect they thought me very strange). I didn’t go up for communion, because I didn’t know if I was allowed, and I was unsure on transubstantiation, and whether it could make it a sin for me to take it, if I was wrong about it either way. I remember noticing, that I had a wonderful feeling throughout, after the fear passed, that I had only ever had while reading the Bible. It almost felt like I was in the Bible.

This experience really should have been enough to convince me to begin becoming Catholic. But I decided to wait, and research on my own to make up my mind. I waited far too long. It was at least six months before I asked about becoming a Catholic, and in that time I rarely came to mass or other church (sleep pattern mainly).

I find it funny to think, how the reformation is viewed as rejecting a lifeless institution with a corrupted gospel, to make a better, more biblical church, but I was led to reject what I viewed as weak institutions with a corrupted gospel, in favour of a better, more biblical Church (the one seen in the Bible), and ended up at Catholicism. Ironic.

God bless you

Apostolic Tradition, and its Logical Necessity for Christians

[This is how I came across the idea of apostolic tradition before I’d even heard of it.]
When I read Leo Tolstoy’s book on his religious, pacifist, anarchist ideas, ‘The Kingdom Of God Is Within You’, I noticed that at one point (perhaps more), he explicitly states that Peter and the apostles misunderstood Jesus’ teachings (particularly about submitting to rulers), and also added many superstitions to Jesus’ religion.
The claim that they added superstitions was interesting to me, and I didn’t take any offense from it (except, I think, for his denying Christ’s bodily resurrection). I was, however, shocked by his rejection of the apostles’ teachings.
I totally understood rejecting Paul, who often seems to focus less on important practical matters like Jesus and the twelve did, and far more on confusing matters of theology. The idea that he was the wolf who stole Christianity is appealing on many levels (mainly he’s an easy scapegoat for whatever you dislike in the religion; you don’t have to bother reading his more confusing passages; and by dismissing a nearly two thousand year history of the religion, you get to pretty much build your own).[I love Paul’s letters, but I don’t think they make much sense without the context of the Gospels and the Acts]. But to reject any of the twelve is a far more serious matter.
Firstly, Jesus Christ himself appointed the twelve, and gave them authority over his Kingdom. Or at least, that’s the story they passed on to us, which brings me to the second problem: they are the ones who gave us the whole religion. But we cannot believe the religion they gave us and believe they made up any part of it, especially something as important as their authority. And we cannot believe that Jesus gave authority to them, only for them to fail, and Jesus’ mission to fail with them.
Perhaps Tolstoy could because he didn’t believe in Jesus divinity in the orthodox way. Jesus could have made a mistake in ever suggesting they had authority. Or he could have chosen the wrong guys. Or his teachings may have been able to largely die, because someone else would come along soon and teach the same thing.
But the really strange part of Tolstoy’s suggestion, is that it suggests that the twelve, who lived and spoke with Jesus for years, misinterpreted him, while Leo Tolstoy, who had only heard of Jesus through the twelve and rejected much of that, understood Jesus’ teachings as he had meant them to be understood. It is a proud idea I am unable to accept. It is unacceptable, and it makes more sense to deny Jesus than to set myself up as an authority on his teachings even sufficient for my own beliefs.
I also noticed an interesting result of this reasoning: if I must accept the apostles because they were instituted by Jesus, and knew him better than I could; I must also accept their disciples, who knew the apostles better than I can and were instituted by them; and their disciples, and so on. Indeed this argument was used by the early Christians against the early heretics (but they didn’t need the “and so on”). It’s also used today, but in a different, more developed form, and called “apostolic tradition”.
This idea was confounding to me at the time, both because I was a protestant (though I didn’t like the word), and because I wondered if its validity would wear thin through the ages since the apostles. It seems intuitive that the more time passes, the less they will represent their founder, but on the other hand, they were still taught and instituted by those taught and instituted by… Jesus Christ himself. The need for apostolic tradition and authority (I didn’t know it was called that at the time) was awkward for my protestant beliefs, to say the least.
Now I believe in the Catholic Church’s apostolic teachings. One crucial last point in favour of still trusting the apostles’ successors and their delivery of the apostles teachings is this: at whatever point I stop trusting them, I will only interpret in my own way the works of their predecessors, who discipled and were read by their successors, so that once again they are more qualified than me.

As a side-note, ‘The Kingdom Of God Is Within You’ is an insightful and valuable book despite its many errors. I strongly recommend it. Leo Tolstoy was a count turned anarchist and a soldier turned pacifist, and he writes a lot worth reading on violence, government, exploitation and war. And from his strange (arguably distorted) perspective on religion he can still teach us a lot about Jesus. He takes Jesus and his own conscience seriously, and that’s worth a lot.

God bless you.

I just want to note, that while individuals can clearly misunderstand in this long process (that’s where heretics come from), the system holds for whole generations far stronger than individuals, especially since few have only one teacher, and heretics are regularly removed.

God bless you.

My advice to the next Archbishop of Canterbury

Justin Welby has been announced as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, to take over in March, three months after Rowan Williams steps down. He will be the spiritual leader of around 77 million Anglicans worldwide. Here’s the advice of a young, inexperienced, but enthusiastic Christian.
Firstly, please don’t “modernise“. You don’t stay true to roughly 1970 year old religion, while trying to imitate modern secular values. But don’t be rigidly traditional either. The traditions that weren’t there at the start, aren’t necessary now (and may be misleading or distracting). Look back to the early Church a lot.
Secondly, please use Bible quotes regularly, on every position you take. It’s brilliantly worded, and links whatever truth you say with the truth that has been said. And the more you appeal to the Bible, the less it’s possible to go astray.
Thirdly, please remember Jesus‘ words

‘Ye have known that the rulers of the nations do exercise lordship over them, and those great do exercise authority over them, but not so shall it be among you, but whoever may will among you to become great, let him be your ministrant; and whoever may will among you to be first, let him be your servant
Matthew 20:25-27

The COE is quite good at having humble (or humble-seeming) pastors, but be careful against pride and authority. Don’t forget to wash each other‘s feet, perhaps literally.
Please, make it clear that God is your only master. As head of a state-church, you are looked to by many as defining the relationship between Church and state, and God and the Prime Minister. You may well be expected to bless government schemes, taxes, and wars. Remember the King of kings‘ higher standards in all these areas and others too.
Please promote unity. If you consider a group as followers of Jesus, remember and don’t hide the fact, that you are one body.
Please, like Paul speak

wisdom not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age—of those becoming useless
1Corinthians 2:6

And give out lots of the pure milk of the word.
Please never forget prayer and reading the Bible.
Finally, please walk as he walked.
I‘ll be praying for you.
God bless you.

[Yes, this was a little bit of a sneak-critique; but also genuine advice (who knows what he may read?), and part of the basis for my hopeful prayers for the Church of England.
There’s much that I disagree with in the Anglican Church, but I won’t write against a denomination, and it wouldn’t be advice anyway.
God bless you.]