Salvation

The Gospel in the Altar Rail

The altar rail separates the congregation from the Sanctuary, symbolising our sin, separating us from Heaven and from God. The holy place is on that side, and we’re stuck on this side, able to look but not enter.

But the altar rail also stands for Christ Himself, who for our sake became sin. As the altar rail stands in the middle, as both sanctuary and nave, and the meeting point between them, so Christ, in becoming our sin, has made it the meeting point of heaven and earth.

And it’s at this meeting point that we come, right to the threshold of Heaven, to kneel down, receive God Himself into us, and take Him out into the world.

God bless you!

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God loves sinners

God loves sinners.

I think this is a lot easier to accept when the sinner in question isn’t myself. When I’m the sinner, I find it impossible to accept that God really loves me, and can’t help hiding from God and trying to earn my way back into His good graces. Which I also know I can’t do.

Basically, God has to batter me down with His tenderness, to accept His merciful love. It’s impossible for me, but not for Him. The most I can do is ask Him to do this.

When we sin, we are in a state of sin, and live by the logic of sin, which is entirely incapable of understanding God’s grace and mercy. We think God is like us, judging and measuring up and seeking to exploit his friends and crush his enemies. Like Adam and Eve, we hide from God, because love doesn’t make sense to us.

Somehow God breaks through. I am put in His presence, and His merciful love breaks me down. In fact, it crucifies me. The heart of stone is shattered, and I’m set free, made alive again.

But it’s not about becoming “righteous”… In fact, I think that when I’m no longer the sinner that’s being crucified by His merciful love, I’m back in the logic of sin, and will soon commit a sin that makes that clear. Christian holiness is God’s own life in an unworthy sinner, and once we’re “worthy”, we’ve kicked Him out.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen

Woman as antithesis of man

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’
Genesis 2:18

This passage got me thinking.

It cannot be that it means each woman is merely an assistant to her man, even if she is a partner. That is just obviously not the true destiny of a woman. Women are not merely there for men’s needs, on any level.

It is more true that women help men in their joint destiny. But men clearly help women also. Yet Genesis 2 has a clear asymmetry that still needs to be accounted for.

I would like to suggest that, borrowing Hegel’s dialectic, woman is the antithesis of man. That is, woman presents a contrary, and in ways contradictory, force to the thesis that is man, and yet the two are destined to come together to form a synthesis. Is the antithesis necessarily another thesis? I don’t believe so. It seems to me that in the history of thought it is more of a contrary reality.

We can consider this in procreation; how man provides a first living principle, and woman provides a second living principle that receives and transforms the first, to create a third.

We might also consider the Church, the bride of Christ. The Holy one meets the unholy, and forms the synthesis of salvation, the mystery of the Holyunholy. We must receive the mystery of Christ dynamically, with all that we are, in order to bring to birth the New Man.

Let me know what you think in the comments. God bless!

The prodigal son smells

After taking and squandering his inheritance early, his new homeland was struck with famine, and he ended up working with pigs. And in fact, he was treated worse than the pigs.

So, when he comes to his senses and returns to his father, he is very dirty and very smelly. When his father sees him in the distance, he sees first of all just a man covered in pigs muck. Then he recognises him as his son, and everything else becomes secondary.

He runs out to him, and doesn’t think twice about clasping him tight and tenderly kissing him, despite inevitably getting smelly, unclean pigs muck on himself. He takes on his sons filth, and embraces him in it. And his tears, borne of long sorrow and fresh joy, begin to cleanse the son.

And then he orders the best robe to be brought out and put on him. He is clothed in his father’s righteousness, dignity, and glory. He is his father’s son, and all the father has belongs to the son.

No doubt he will be washed first. To put on the father’s robe, he will first be stripped and washed. His shame will be removed, to make way for his glory, that is the glory of his father.

The transformation is striking, from penniless wanderer, reeking of pig, to honoured, celebrated, dignified son. He is a new creation.
God bless you!

What good is God’s love?

God doesn’t stop us suffering, and doesn’t make us happy, so what good even is He? In what way does He love us at all?

The question is expressed perfectly by Jesus’ crucifixion. God allows His Son to be tortured and brutally executed. So really, what good is it to be God’s children, if God will abandon us, at the moment we need Him most?

The answer is Jesus’ resurrection. He was never abandoned, and never alone. God didn’t numb the pain, or provide pleasant distractions. But in His love, the Father shared in that pain, and brought it, and brought Jesus, to glorious fulfillment. His suffering was not removed, but it was made fruitful and glorious and even joyful.

Jesus could give His suffering, humiliation and death, in love, because He knew that His Father loved Him no matter what, from all eternity. He could accept the loss of everything as from the Father’s love, and offer it to the Father, in the love of the Father that lives in Him (in fact, that He is). And in this way, His suffering, humiliation and death are made divine.

Love wills the good of the beloved, but not merely their happiness. It wills their fullness of being and life. This requires our self-expression, and ultimately, our self-emptying in divine love. We need to be torn apart like bread, and poured out like wine, in order to be fully alive. The best moments of life are usually born in great pain and humiliation, embraced in love.

‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ (John 12:24)

So when we suffer, we can trust that God is with us, and will bring our suffering to fruition and glory, if we’ll surrender and offer ourselves to Him, in His love.

Abba, Father, I surrender myself to Your love. Amen

God bless you

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]

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“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!

 

Looking sin in the eye

‘1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

‘1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.’
–Catechism of the Catholic Church 1849-50

I wanted to write about sin, so I looked it up, and I was not disappointed. The Catechism is a bit lofty and distant, but in that very way it has such beauty. I don’t say much about sin on this blog. It makes me uncomfortable. But I believe it is good to take a better look at sin, since it’s lent. Here, then, are my reflections:

Sin is separation from God; that is, sin is separation from the deepest Source of all things, and so is separation from all things. There is no harmless sin. Sin cuts us off from everything in existence, including ourselves. Sin is death.

Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.’ Sin blinds us to God’s love, which is in fact the truth of all things. The whole world and everyone within it look ever more dead and cold, and as such more like objects to be used for ourselves.

Sin is when our will is set against God’s will, which is Himself. God’s will is not a matter of choosing one thing over another like our wills so often are. God’s will is life and love itself. Disobeying God isn’t just proud, it’s absurd. We choose what won’t last, and wouldn’t satisfy even if it did, over life itself! We try to be “gods”, but in doing so, we make the lives we are “gods” over, as pointless and futile as our small-minded desires.

Sin is both the action of separating ourselves from God, by an act of the will, and the resulting state of being separated from Him, in our wills and our living experience. When Jesus was upon the cross, he “became sin”, by truly experiencing the separation from God that is the wages of sin. But he was also perfectly without sin, completely obedient to God, even in this separation from God. He brought righteousness to sin, and brought God to Godlessness.

 

‘1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world, the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.’
–Catechism of the Catholic Church 1851

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This lent, let us turn ever more fully from sin in all its forms, to the Lord Jesus Christ our redeemer. Amen

God bless you!