Surrender, do not succumb

Ecce Homo, St Albert Chmielowski (1845–1916), 1879–1888; Albertine House, Krakow

Fr Neil’s homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, 17 October 2021

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.¹

Generally in life, we understand that those who have a shared experience are more able to understand what others are going through. Hence those who have experienced the loss of a loved one understand better the landscape of bereavement. It is why there are support groups made of those with similar experience. The Parkinson’s Society, You Raise Me Up charity and cancer survivors groups are just some examples of such needed support.

The writer to the Hebrews is arguing that Christ the eternal High Priest was able to intercede for us because he shared in our humanity. He knows the temptations we face, the struggle that is ours each day, but does so without sin.

The word ‘tempted’ is a translation of the Greek word² that carries a more nuanced meaning than that which is usually understood. That meaning sees temptation in terms of trial or test. Much ink has been spilt on the translation of the Lord’s Prayer especially the line ‘lead us not into temptation.’ It would seem blatantly obvious that God does not maliciously set traps for us. The sense of the original might be ‘save us from the trial/test, but deliver us from evil.’

Indeed it might throw greater light on the words of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”³

This obviously carries more of an emphasis on the test or trial implying martyrdom, be that an actual death or a more spiritual one. However, this does not exclude — and indeed is related to — the trials and testing which we face every day to avoid sin.

Christ is the eternal High Priest even though he isn’t a son of Levi but because he is the Son of God. He is high priest even though he didn’t enter the Holy of Holies of the earthy Temple but because he entered the eternal heavenly temple. He is eternal high priest by offering his own body and blood for the atonement for sins for all humanity, not the blood of bulls and goats offered by the earthy high priest⁴.

The earthly high priest offers the sacrifices for the people and himself because he knows that he and they have, at times, failed the trial set before them and refused the chalice of self-sacrifice and martyrdom. Christ’s triumph is that he faced the same trials and yet did not turn back or refuse the path set before him, and was thus able to offer once for all the perfect sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world.

The temptation to sin, then, is understood as the refusal of the will of our Heavenly Father, who sets before us what we experience as the steep and rugged pathway; but it is a pathway that leads to life.

If we think about this for a moment then we can ask, Is there is any environment that nurtures life — causing it to flourish and grow — that doesn’t require the trial of self-sacrifice? Marriage, birth, education, friendship, jobs, care of the sick, the disabled and the dying, healthy communities and nation: all these things have to be marked by a sort of martyrdom if they are to work well.

I’d like to say that this is a self-evident truth and that pretty well any parent would understand the sacrifices that are made for the benefit of their children and loved ones. However, I am not so sure any more that this universal truth is as well known as it once was. The diminishing use of the terms of the trial of self-sacrifice and martyrdom has seen a growing refusal to accept this as necessary for a healthy life. The idea of sacrifice hasn’t disappeared but those who should make that sacrifice has. More and more it is no longer self-sacrifice and the need for internal transformation, as the problem is relocated from the internal spiritual and emotional self to its being predominantly a problem located in others — ‘them’. “They” are the unborn child, the disabled, the elderly, those with ‘unacceptable views’ which make others feel uncomfortable. These are now sacrificed so that the individual’s life might be happy, free and unencumbered of the responsibility of others. The consequences of this are the end of the Faith, our families and wider society as it crumbles into chaos.

This self-deceptive blindness is present in the request from the disciples John and James, to sit at the right and left side of Christ in his kingdom. They do not understand that Christ is referring to the “chalice” of his death upon the cross, and are motivated by selfish ambition. That ambition set the disciples at each other as they competed for the positions of power.

Christ insists to his disciples that self-surrender and not the thirst for power is the only way to life in the Kingdom:

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.⁵

Christ is the way, the truth and the life⁶. He has faced death and triumphed over it so we might not fear the call to follow him through the way of the cross and dying to self. Only then do we see his wondrous work as High Priest and perceive the gift of life he offers us in the sacrifice of the mass, which is eternal life.

¹ Hebrews 4:15
² πεπειρασμενον (pepeirasmenon), “one having been tried”
³ Matthew 26:39
⁴ Cf Leviticus 16:14
⁵ Mark 10:45
⁶ John 14:6

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali is received into the Catholic Church

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali (Photo: Wilberforce Academy)The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established for Anglicans seeking full communion with the See of Peter, is pleased to announce that the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, was received into the full communion of the Catholic Church by Monsignor Keith Newton on the Feast of St Michael and All Angels. With the permission of the Holy See, he will be ordained to the Catholic priesthood for the Ordinariate in due course.

Commenting on his reception, Dr Nazir-Ali said, “I believe that the Anglican desire to adhere to apostolic, patristic and conciliar teaching can now best be maintained in the Ordinariate. Provisions there to safeguard legitimate Anglican patrimony are very encouraging and, I believe, that such patrimony in its Liturgy, approaches to biblical study, pastoral commitment to the community, methods of moral theology and much else besides has a great deal to offer the wider Church.

“I am looking forward to receiving from the riches of other parts of the Church, while perhaps making a modest contribution to the maintenance and enhancement of Anglican patrimony within the wider fellowship.

“Ministry in the Church of Pakistan, in the Middle East generally, in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion remains precious to me and I see this as a further step in the ministry of our common Lord and of his people. At this time, I ask for prayers as I continue to pray for all parts of the Church”.

Monsignor Newton, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, said, “Since its erection in 2011 Michael has always shown great interest in the development of the Ordinariate in the United Kingdom. Those of us who serve the Catholic Church within the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham are delighted at his reception into full communion and forthcoming ordination. He brings a great experience of the Anglican Communion and is in a unique place to articulate that Anglican patrimony, described by Pope Benedict XVI as a treasure to be shared, which now has an honoured place in the Universal Church.”

Michael Nazir-Ali was born in Pakistan in 1949 and has both British and Pakistani citizenship. He holds many academic awards including from the Universities of Karachi, Oxford and Cambridge, as well as a Lambeth Doctor of Divinity.He has taught and researched at a number of institutions and continues to teach and supervise research. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1976 and served in England and Pakistan before being consecrated Bishop of Raiwind in 1984. He was the General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (1989–94) before his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1994. As such, he entered the House of Lords in 1999 and was active in the areas of international relations, dialogue among people of different faiths, freedom of expression and speech and defence of human dignity at every stage of life. He resigned as Bishop of Rochester in 2009. Since then he has been Director of OXTRAD: Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy & Dialogue. OXTRAD’s mission is to prepare Christians for ministry in situations where the Church is under pressure and in danger of persecution.

He is the author of many books and his hobbies include cricket, hockey, table tennis, reading and writing poetry and reading detective fiction.

Michael has been married to Valerie since 1972 and they have two adult sons.

Let go to inherit the Kingdom

Sketch for “For he had great possessions”, G. F. Watts (1817–1904), c.1894

Fr Neil’s homily for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, 10 October 2021

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time… and in the age to come eternal life.¹

What is it that makes a person wealthy? At home we sometimes play the game, “What would we do if we won the lottery?” We talk about changes to our life and the many good projects we could support. Of course, this is a theoretical game because you have to participate in the lottery to stand the remotest chance of winning.

When we speak of wealth we often confine or limit it to material wealth, money in the bank, houses, cars and holidays etc. However, there is a deeper wealth that lies beyond material possessions. There has been many a father who has worked so hard to provide an abundance of material goods for his family but who in later life regrets the hours away from his children. He may realise one day that, while he was working so hard, they have grown up and left home. Reflective wisdom often wishes that a little less material wealth and more time spent with the children growing up would have led to an emotionally more stable and richer family life.

Material wealth is morally neutral, but it was a problem for the rich young man in today’s Gospel.² They say “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also”.³ The young man asks Christ a very important question, “What must I do to have eternal life?” He wants to know how he can be a member of the heavenly kingdom, animated by the life of God himself. Christ reveals that the way to eternal life is to put every other concern to one side and follow him. In this instance it meant the young man letting go of his wealth. Our Lord, like a master surgeon, identifies that which stops the young man from embracing the fullness of spiritual life of the kingdom. His way to freedom and full health requires radical surgery: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”⁴

The young man’s heart was captured by his riches. How easy it is for things to control our acting, thinking and desires as if they will bring us happiness and our heart’s desire. This is sinful attachment. Christ, however, wishes to speak of a greater wealth that mere material things cannot give, for those who are able to let go, trust and follow him.

If there is one lesson that we should have learnt over the last two years, it is that wealth doesn’t reside in material things alone. We cannot underestimate the impact on those who have lost jobs, wages and even homes, as a result of the lockdown. The full effects haven’t been seen yet. However, many have seen their bank balances healthier than before the crisis, as they worked from home, didn’t go out eating, partying, drinking or go on holidays as usual. But the inability to meet with friends and family, to visit dying older relatives, see the new-born grandchild, has left a poverty of emotional and physical contact that has impacted so many people’s mental and spiritual health. What’s a few extra quid in the bank worth, if we cannot be with and hold our loved ones?

The writer of Hebrews uses the image of the Roman soldier’s double-edged sword — a very effective weapon that could slip between armour — to speak of the ability of the word of God to divide even soul and spirit.⁵ It is the revealed Word of God, embodied in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit that can, like the surgeon’s scalpel, free us from those unholy attachments that impede our embracing the full life of grace that Christ offers.

Most surgery is performed to remove and mend something that is affecting our physical ability and health. It is never pleasant, and can be painful and uncomfortable in our recovery, but we know it is necessary. Freeing ourselves from sinful attachments can also be painful and uncomfortable. But is necessary as those attachments stop us from embracing the fullness of life in Christ and a true desire to be united heart, mind and spirit with him who is life itself.

When we acknowledge and accept this necessity we touch the divine wisdom that allows a radical freedom from the material world so that we can seek the treasure that fulfils our deeper longing. We are all called by Christ to this freedom but it is most clearly manifested in the monastic tradition of the Church. Without knowledge of this longing for deeper wisdom that is so profoundly expressed in our first reading, the monastic life cannot be understood and will be seen as sheer madness.

I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to sceptres and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.
Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her.
I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases.⁶

It is only by letting go, and letting God act in our daily struggle, that we are able to have a foretaste of the manifold beauty of the life of the kingdom, and receive the riches promised by Christ.

¹ Mark 10:29–30
² Mark 10:17–30
³ Matthew 6:21
⁴ Mark 10:21
⁵ Hebrews 4:12
⁶ Wisdom 7:7–10

Divine Worship : Daily Office — A very short guide

<i>Divine Worship : Daily Office</i> (Commonwealth Edition), pub CTS 2021

The Catholic Truth Society has published the eagerly-awaited Divine Worship : Daily Office (Commonwealth Edition).

Divine Worship: Daily Office (Commonwealth Edition) contains Morning and Evening Prayer from the Anglican prayer book tradition, now approved for use in the Catholic Church through the Personal Ordinariates. The Commonwealth Edition is principally for use in the Ordinariates of Our Lady of Walsingham (UK) and Our Lady of the Southern Cross (Australia), although there are prayers which can be used in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter (USA and Canada).

If you’re new to the Daily Office

Use Prime in the morning (ideally before 11am) and Compline in the evening (ideally just before retiring). Use the yellow ribbon: start Prime at p397 and simply follow through the Office to the end of page 402. For Compline start at p421 and follow through the Office to p434, and then use the Anthem to Our Lady for the season.

As you finish an Office, put the yellow ribbon ready at the start of the next one you will say.

Once you have become used to the simple Offices, you may feel ready for a little variety, which we’ve described on a dedicated page.

Further details

The Fulfilment of the Law

Bride of Christ, Danny Hahlbohm (1949–  ), 2014; via <a target="_blank" style="color:white;" href="https://render.fineartamerica.com/images/rendered/social-media/12957231?domainId=1">fineartamerica.com</a>

Fr Neil’s homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, 3 October 2021

That which God has joined, let no man put asunder.¹

We see many who seem to react very strongly to those who are seen as being rigid, uptight and legalistic, who prevent people from coming to engage and experience the mercy of God in the face of Christ. A distinction is often highlighted between some traditional aspects of the institutional Church that lack mercy and the welcoming healing arms of the Messiah. These “legalistic” people are cast as the present-day pharisaical version of those that Christ encountered and challenged in the gospels.

The relationship between Christ and the law is manifold. The scriptures tell us he is the embodiment and fulfilment of all that the law and the prophets expressed and foretold. So the desire to want to encounter the perfect image and manifestation of the law and prophets found in the Messiah is a good and holy one. Indeed in Christ alone can we find the salvation and healing that the law and prophets point to and express.

We certainly need to be cautious of falling into a sort of infantile pantomime response which says “boo” at the mention of law and “hurray” at the appearance of the merciful messiah. It is too easy to see the law as a dead letter, that is blunt and insensitive in its application; and too easy to see Christ as some 1960s or 70s free-love hippy who would be singing along to the Beatles tune All You Need is Love. Both extremes are unhelpful.

If we take a moment to look at what Christ has to say about the law, it is illuminating. The law says that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a just retaliation for being wronged by an enemy as giving satisfaction.² Christ however, tells us not to take the eye or tooth but instead to love, clothe and pray for those who do us wrong.³

The law says 10% of your income should be given to the Lord’s work in the temple.⁴ Christ, however, says everything you have needs to be put at the Lord’s disposal.⁵ That might mean giving the widow’s mite or selling everything you have and giving it to the poor while you follow him. Might I just add here we do need a new roof!

The law says that if you murder a person then you forfeit your own life.⁶ Does this not motivate many who campaign for the return of the death penalty? Yet Christ says that if you are angry with your brethren you have committed murder in your heart;⁷ and if you call him ‘fool’ you will answer with hell fire.⁸ Is it getting a bit warm?

The law says if you commit adultery you are under judgment and could be stoned.⁹ Christ says that if you look at another lustfully you have committed adultery in your heart and are under judgement;¹⁰ and he goes on to say that if it is your eye causes you to sin pluck it out.¹¹ Is it getting a bit dark?

It is in this context that we see the Pharisees testing Christ. The law, they say, allows a man to divorce his wife by giving a writ of divorce.¹² However Christ’s response is to appeal to the beginning of Creation. He reveals that divorce was an allowance given by Moses for their hardness of heart.¹³ A deeper truth was instituted at the conception of Creation: a spiritual and physical union between man and woman in which each compliments and completes the other.

No wonder Adam cries out, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”¹⁴

Indeed from this moment on, in return, every man would be taken out of the woman.

This union was ordained by God and therefore a sacrament that man could not undo, as the man and woman became one flesh — the foundation of the family unit in which new life could be conceived and nurtured. The Church of course does allow annulments where that union, the becoming of one flesh, hasn’t been properly formed.

This sacrament of marriage provides one of the main models for, and language of, understanding the relationship between God and humanity in the covenantal promise, between Christ and his bride the Church, and the final consummation between heaven and earth in the renewed creation.

This revelation, the direct teaching of Christ, lends even more powerful weight and meaning to the phrase, “that which God has joined, let no man put asunder.”¹

However, it isn’t a case of whose teachings is the more demanding, the law or Christ’s, as there is no real dichotomy between the two but an extension and fulfilment of of the law in Christ. The law cannot be used as stick to punish and shame people; but neither can we use God’s merciful love as a free pass to justify any immoral behaviour. To do so reveals an immature childish approach to a profound mystery. Our Lord seeks to unveil that the law and his teachings are not arbitrary requirements of a disapproving demanding God. They are given to provide boundaries that not only keep the people of God safe but also create an environment in which our lives might be reconciled and healed, to grow and flourish in the life of God.

The sacraments, then, are a means for enabling the profound union between us and Christ which allows us to be animated, made alive in him and be a source of life to others as this divine human union overflows with his creative life for the benefit of all. In the light of this mystery we must indeed agree that, “that which God has joined, let no man put asunder.”

¹ Mark 10:9
² eg Leviticus 24:19–20
³ Matthew 5:39–40
⁴ eg Leviticus 27:32
⁵ Cf Matthew 13:46; Matthew 19:21
⁶ eg Leviticus 24:17
⁷ ⁸ Matthew 5:22
⁹ eg Leviticus 20:10
¹⁰ Matthew 5:28
¹¹ Matthew 5:29
¹² Deuteronomy 24:3
¹³ Mark 10:5
¹⁴ Genesis 2:23

Prophets to transform the world

Study of an old man with clasped hands [Abraham de Graef], Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678), c.1621; National Gallery, Prague

Fr Neil’s homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, 26 September 2021

Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christian, will by no means lose his reward.¹

The world, at the moment, is gripped by anxiety and fear about whatever the latest crisis is. If it’s not the terror of Covid-19, it is the Extinction Rebellion and the death of the created world as we know it. This fear and anxiety, excuse the pun, is fuelling the panic buying of petrol and diesel at the moment which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as fuel disappears at a far quicker rate than normal.

Anger and rage are directed exclusively at the enemy out there somewhere. So many are on the alert for this enemy, which can be anyone who expresses an ‘unacceptable’ alternative opinion or even expresses a neutral or more nuanced opinion than expected. They are to be hunted down, ridiculed, condemned and destroyed as being guilty for all the problems of the world.

There are clear characteristics of the enemy that you can identify. They will not have red leathery skin, with horns, pointy tail and a pitchfork. For those who describe themselves as politically left-wing the enemy may be a person of colour who refuses to accept Critical Race theory or a person who upholds the importance of the family. For those who see themselves as on the right the enemy maybe be those who raise issues about racism, who want to see immigrants welcomed or who talk about families which differ from the traditional.

This external search for the one to blame may explain why an individual might be feeling disconnected, alone and lost. This is very dangerous, dividing and atomising society. It also gives legitimacy to those political leaders who are tempted by the power of tyranny. It has something of the French Revolution about it. Those who lead the rebellion and behead the oppressors, soon become the oppressors themselves who need beheading by a new set of liberators. “My ally and friend has become my enemy.”² It begins to consume itself.

The Church, of course, recognises that there are indeed external malignant powers. The devil and his legion of demons are evident in the spiritual realm and the conscious or unconscious actions of those who seek to undermine the family, marriage, and threaten the lives of the most vulnerable as being expendable.

However, the Church also lays great weight upon the individual’s internal struggle with evil. St Augustine of Hippo wrote:

Imagine the vanity of thinking that your enemy can do you more damage than your enmity.³

Our faith demands that we acknowledge that our own words and actions have damaged others as well as ourselves. While there may be others who seek me harm, my greatest enemy so often is myself. It is why Christ in today’s Gospel rather dramatically tells us spiritually to cut off our hand or foot and to pluck out our eye if it causes us to sin.

Perhaps instead of worrying about ‘who out there is my enemy’ we should make sure that we ourselves are leading lives worthy of our calling as disciples. Does the advice we give, or the example of our actions, give scandal — causing others to doubt or lose faith? Do we do what we do with mixed motives instead of seeking only the Father’s will? Are we living, as James in the epistle warns, for our own luxury and pleasure while neglecting our neighbours?

This recognition of death at work in us is part of our continual call to conversion. The Fall alienated us from God, which is death spiritually and emotionally. The Faith reveals the will of God that longs for us to walk the way of life, to the kingdom of Heaven in the Spirit of God.

Moses’ revealed desire in our first reading finds its fulfilment at Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit upon the apostles for the benefit of all God’s people:

But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord‘s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!⁴

To live influenced by the spirit of the age can never make us whole or satisfy our deepest desire. However, to walk in the Spirit of God is to long that, ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ It transforms the simplest of actions directed to the Father’s will, so that even the giving of a cup of water can become a spiritual blessing and means of grace rather than a stumbling block for the innocent.

The abandonment of the self to the will of God is the essential first steps to the transformation of the world. Without it we inevitably remain a part of the problem.

¹ Mark 9:41
² Psalm 41:9
³ Augustine of Hippo, Confessions Book I
⁴ Numbers 11:29