Reflections on Fratelli Tutti

You would have to be living under a rock to not have heard already that Pope Francis wrote a new encyclical titled Fratelli tutti. There is a lot of commentary and thought being thrown around online from all factions within and from outside of the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve read the document once over fully and I’ve spent the past week going back and rereading certain parts and paragraphs as people have cited various sections in their own commentary.

One thing stands out for me about the encyclical itself. It is not unique or new. While the substance of the letter itself, dealing with capitalism, free markets and the broader globalization of economies around the entire world, the crux of the message and the core of the dogma remain completely in line with the existing body of catholic social teaching. Namely, that all forms of man-made political systems are flawed and are incapable of providing any “silver bullet” to save humanity and provide for all of our needs. In fact, that all fail to provide for the real needs of humans around dignity and spiritual development/growth. The encyclical focuses on the present day and our struggle with neo-liberalism largely because this political ideology remains today the dominate one in the world. But the letter can be added to the litany of letters, sermons and teachings from church fathers of the past that condemned and called out political ideologies of the past, such as socialism and communism. It is certainly not an endorsement of any man-made political ideology.

And this is where the Pope did not veer to the left or the right with his letter. The idea that Christians are apolitical but not apathetic is from Christ and is a Gospel message present within the entire body of catholic social teaching. We are called to be in this world but not of this world because His Kingdom is not of this world. And Francis acknowledges the body which his encyclical is added into at the very start of his letter.

6. The following pages do not claim to offer a complete teaching on fraternal love, but rather to consider its universal scope, its openness to every man and woman. I offer this social Encyclical as a modest contribution to continued reflection, in the hope that in the face of present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others, we may prove capable of responding with a new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain at the level of words. Although I have written it from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.

Fratelli tutti (3 Oct 2020)

I am reading a lot of commentary from very learned people about how the document is the Pope endorsing socialism (with some even going so far as to say that he endorses communism). But that misses the mark. And those people ought to have a reread of the Gospel for this past Sunday. We are all tempted to impose our own vision of the Son of David on to Christ, but He was quick to turn the tables on the leaders of the relevant political factions in Jerusalem during His time and He continues to do the same through our church fathers today.

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Matthew 22: 41-46

Fundamentally when I read the new encyclical I do not see the Pope moving to any single political ideology. I see him reminding us that capitalism, our most popular and often-touted most successful political ideology, has significant flaws that must be addressed. But his letter was not written in isolation, it is part of a large body of catholic social teaching that has condemned all forms of human political ideology. And furthermore, it is rooted in the Gospels which are clear in articulating our place in this world as followers of Jesus Christ.

Bearing the rebuke we all fear

In the Anglican Breviary, Major Doubles such as today’s Feast of the Guardian Angels, have psalms that are taken from the Sunday section of the psalter. The day Hours on Sundays are a chopping up of the largest chapter in the entire Bible, Psalm 119.

A particular line of that psalm stood out for me today during Terce.

39 Take away the rebuke I am afraid of; for thy judgements are good.

This is an incredibly powerful line from the psalms, which are never cliché and are always raw emotion directed toward God. There is also a lot to unpack in that little line.

Psalm 119 is almost universally about how great God commandments are, how great God’s wisdom is and how awesome it is to be a follower of God and to share in the wisdom of God. It is an amazing psalm and is one of my favourites in the whole psalter. But there is an underlying theme in this psalm that admits that although following God’s commandments is great because you are smarter than the older people and wiser than your teachers, it is also a burden because people rebuke and hate you because of it. And the psalmist even admits that the problem isn’t with God and the commandments themselves– they are perfect and wonderful because they are from God– but with us.

The psalmist sings, “…the rebuke I am afraid of…” because it is our own fears and our own shortcomings that cause us to bear the burden of rebuke and hatred from the world. But the sentiment is still never lost, following the commandments of God, following His word and conforming to His wisdom is not an easy path in this world. We will be hated and we will be rebuked.

We can pray for this rebuke and our fear to be removed from us. It does not mean that we will not struggle and will not feel the pain of the hate and sin in this world, but it will have been sanctified because it would have been given up to God. That is the purpose of this line in the psalm, to illuminated that idea for us and to provide us a vehicle for prayer to begin that process with God in our own relation with Him.

O God, Who in thine unspeakable Providence hast been pleased to give thine holy Angels charge over us, to keep us, mercifully grant unto our prayers, that we be both ever fenced by their wardship here, and everlastingly blessed by their fellowship hereafter. Amen.

Featured image by Cassidy Rowell on Unsplash.

Saint Barnabas Apostolate

The Need: Fellowship, Prayer and Work

Prayer and work in the name of God should never be done in isolation. We ought to work together because Christ tells us that where two or more gather in His name, He is there among them. And when two or more agree and pray on a thing that it shall be granted by the Father in Heaven. And Christ is merely emphasizing, or rather fulfilling, a known fact of Christian life which is that the Holy Spirit spreads its gifts among the congregation of people, among the Body of Christ in the church and only together are we truly whole and united under Christ as our Headship.

I spoke in my previous post about the need for Christian fellowship and how this need is even more present in COVID times. We have a guide in the past from Saints who gather people around them and formed systems and orders of prayer and work that formed the daily devotions and contemplation of their lives. And there is no question of the material and spiritual benefit that this had for the church. And there is no question of that same material and spiritual need today within the church.

The Response: The Apostolate of Saint Barnabas

I’ve been moved by the Spirit to explore the opportunity to start a lay group at my local church focused on daily prayer and a commitment to work and serve at the church. The canonical hours will form the backbone of the group as will the leadership roles that we assume throughout the church at the service to others and our own community. This is not a religious order or an institute. No one takes formal vows privately or publicly. We do not have an order or rule and we do not wear a common garb or any marks which distinguish us from non-members. We hold our Commons to be the same among us and what unites us an brings us together as a group. Our Commons are faith, liturgy, prayer, work, and way. You can read more about the Commons of Saint Barnabas here.

While we do not have a rule or order we do have an organization system that is articulated in our Constitution. We expand on our duties and obligation which arise from our Commons and desire to be in membership together in community which is articulated in our Ordinary. The Ordinary of Saint Barnabas can be found here.

It is my hope to develop a small group of dedicated Christians who are united in Christian prayer and a commitment to serve and work at the church. It is a modern take on the tradition Benedictine model which I think is a response to the need for Christian fellowship. We tend to the spiritual needs of the church through prayer and the material needs through work. Our motto is orata et opus which means pray and work which is more of a demand and institution that a reflect on the concepts of these words. They are actions and we are a group of Christian action.

The Method: The Way of Light of Saint Barnabas

Established around the Way of Light which was articulated in a non-canonical letter traditionally attributed to Saint Barnabas. We are peacemakers and peace builders first and foremost and seek to bring together the Body of Christ; temporal and spiritual; together in the unending hymn of praise inherent in the Divine Office.

Feature photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash.

The importance of Christian fellowship

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our natural need for human interaction beyond what we get through pixelated screens and headphones. And this need is probably clearest in our churches.

When the world found itself in a similar period of upheaval and change, the Saints of our past look inward and oversaw the construction of massive structures that housed men and women of prayer who toiled in the name of Christ for the good of the church and their fellow humans on earth. A return to the monastery is probably not the best option for our church today, but the model of circling the wagons, supporting one another and our community directly around us and being united in prayer and common work is certainly within the realm of possible. And I would wager, needed more than ever in our post-COVID church.

The Mass will always be the chief prayer of the church– the sacrifice of Christ reenacted and shared again and again for the faithful who gather in His name. But when it comes to supporting the church in prayer, supporting one another in prayer and supporting our communities in prayer we also have the wonderful gift of the Divine Office. “Hours” of prayer set aside that sanctify the day that forms part of an unceasing hymn of praise that rises before God. A prayer that is done not just by the faithful on earth, but by the Saints and angels in Heaven, we enjoin our voice to them– just as at Mass– in our psalms of praise and devotion to God our Father.

This sort of structure prayer should not be done alone. Just like the Mass, the prayer is meant for the congregation of the church and should be celebrated whenever possible in a group setting. But the hours themselves are also said at set periods throughout the day, which means that even when the prayers are said alone, you are not alone in praying them. Especially if you have a group of people who have all agreed to work to pray together– to hold one another account and pray for a common purpose. We are told by Christ that when two or more agree and ask that the Father shall ensure they receive, and this prayer is a vehicle for that liturgical act with God.

We have something to learn from the so-called Benedictine model that can and should be applied to the post-COVID church. The importance of Christian fellowship, especially in this time of social isolation and fear, cannot be understated. A church is already a beacon for people who are isolated, alone and afraid because as a congregation we form a single body that together can and will overcome any challenge before us– this is the power of the church. When we are forced to break up, as we are now, it is even more important we lean on established prayers like the Divine Office to stay connect and inflame our Christian spirit.

O Lord, open thou my mouth that I may bless thy Holy Name. Cleanse my heart from all vain, evil, and wandering thoughts; enlighten my understanding kindle my affections, that I may pray to, and praise thee with attention and devotion; and may worthily be heard before the presence of thy Divine Majesty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Completely different worldviews

I was chatting with a Baptist friend of mine about having discussions concerning God and religion with people. My friend is very active preaching to people and is very open to discussing the big topics of God and religion. She remarked that she often feels like she is speaking a different language to people, like they simply cannot understand what she is saying not because they have rejected it but because they have no ounce or shred of understanding of what she is saying to begin with.

This made me think of a similar discussion that I had with some friends over a campfire one weekend last month. One friend remarked that she was a post-modernist which lead to a discussion about post-modernism and relative versus absolute truth. In the course of the discussion, someone pointed out that we were having a discussion about different values and that if I saw that the approach the other person was making was coming from a different value set than me than I would understand (also alluding to the need for the conversation to end). But I pointed out that such thinking was just the same basis as the one-side of the discussion and brought no resolution. And they didn’t understand. Talking about values or trying to find a consensus without any tangible resolution is the exact opposite of one whole part of the basis of the discussion and disagreement. In other words, if there is in fact one absolute truth to understand in this world, whether we come from different values or perspectives or approaches (or whatever you want to call it) there is a common place we can end and resolve the discussion. In fact, the motive for even having the discussion in the first place is a desire to get closer to this absolute truth.

We are so deep into this post-modern world that God has been reasonably declared dead. Not in the real sense, God is very much alive, will always be very much alive and will not go anywhere. But in the sense that for the lives of everyday people, for the large assumptions and motivations that shape our society and our relationships, there is no inclusion or room for God– or any higher power or truth for that matter. And we are generations past this introduction into our world, and the ideology itself is so pervasive that it has influenced every single aspect of our lives since that introduction, including within the church. We’ve all learned a new language and left the old one completely behind, and in the process of leaving the old one behind we’ve left the poetry, writings and wisdom that were gathered up in that now foreign tongue and replaced it with relativism.

Having a discussion where you not just believe but know and live your life and allow society and relationships to be formed around you with an understanding of an absolute truth, a natural order, the existence of God with a person who does not is not just a matter of believer and unbeliever. Certainly not like how we are told it was in apologetic books of the past. Today, the unbeliever is not someone who has been raised in a society that accepts God and thus has been influenced and taught all about the reality of His existence and an absolute truth only to reject it, they are rather someone who has simply never ever come into contact with any understanding or persuasion of there even being a high power, let alone the Christian God. You are speaking Latin and you’re leaning on Latin style prose and poetry to influence a Chinese (picked only because of its distance from Latin in any sense, English would not be an accurate analogy for obvious reasons) speaking man who not just has no idea what you are saying but has had absolutely no exposure to your language, prose or poetry. They not just fail to understand you, you actually sound utterly foreign and completely baseless to them.

That is the state of the world today. And more and more believers themselves are falling into the trap of post-modern thinking and are comporting lives and carrying on themselves as if there is no absolute truth in the world while still calling themselves Christians. And many “churches” encourage or outright condone such behaviours by adopting false doctrines. They speak of finding values, common ground or shut down discussions on topics that demand our attention and exploration in order to get closer to that absolute truth (and thus better, or more divine). Or they focus on matters of perceived social justice above all else which is a world entirely founded upon the principles of relative truth and post-modernism. Or, like the horrendous Gospel of Plenty, they warp and twist the very real teachings of the Bible to the perverse understandings of the world.

But I wrote this note because I am curious what your own experience with this has been in the past and presently. I would say that I find myself in a very lonely place when I think about how different my worldview is from those of my peers around me. I feel exhausted in having discussions with people about religion that can only best be compared to telling a person who has never heard of veins and the heart that they are bleeding to death and need to take action. I know there are like minded people out there, I am not unique in how I see or understand the world, but we are not the default state of society, certainly not in the West. I am curious how you feel about this.

Featured image by Ben White on Unsplash.

Mass: A Protest of the World

It seems that the world has changed so much since February of this year. We’ve had a global outbreak of disease that is on the eve of killing one million people worldwide and has not shown any signs of stopping. In the US, and other Western countries, we’ve seen protesting and rallying around the Black Lives Matter movement which has brought to light in a seemingly finalized sense the brutality that black Americans face at the hands of often white police officers. Many of us who take solace in our weekly protest of the world through Mass and the Eucharist were prevented from attending because of crowd and distancing restrictions during the COVID outbreak. And this may have contributed to a spiritual dearth as we moved through the pandemic crisis and protests the world over. But the Mass and the Eucharist are the solution to the troubles and turbulence of the world and this holds true today just as much as any other age since Christ founded the Church.

Everything about Mass is an orientation away from the world and toward the Divine. From the moment we enter the narthex and cleanse ourselves with Holy Water, to when we are bold enough to approach near the Sanctuary and kneel at the altar rail to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we are purposefully turning ourselves away from the world and toward God. This is most clearly evident in the Baptismal Rite, where traditionally candidates stood facing West, toward Death and the World and as they renounced Satan and worldly ways, they turned physically toward the East, toward the altar and the Risen Christ to embrace their new Christian life. Most church buildings themselves are designed to be places of refuge from great storms. Look way up at the ceilings of most traditional catholic churches and you’ll see ribbing and trussing that resembles the spine and supports of a boat, and you’ll be reminded of the protection and safety offered in this place away from the tumult and storms of the world. You may even have a moment similar to that of the Apostles in the boat during a dangerous storm, waking Christ in fear of being swamped. He reminded them then how powerful faith can be, and we need a little of that reminder again today no doubt. Mass is fundamentally a protest of the world, and that protest is a physical and spiritual turning away of the body and thus the soul and mind away from the world and to the things of God, to God Himself and His Son and Holy Spirit.

In order for the church to be a refuge in the world, the world must be in a state of storminess and destruction which is separated from God. There are many soft theologies that seek to unite the things of the world with the things of God, but Jesus was clear that we can only have one master. And if His Church is to be a redeeming Church (and that is how He founded it), than there must be a world and state to be redeemed from. A world that tells us that power and riches are most important, and that equality and fairness are to be determined by a measure of these things. That says it is best to make goats of all people– to attempt to raise all people to a false status of wealth and fame– than to remind them that they are sheep– all broken, all die and all take nothing from this world to the next. A world that is full of suffering and loss and that constantly reminds us of that same suffering and loss to keep us disconnected from God and each other. A world tainted by the stain of original sin which cannot be part of the Resurrection and life to come. And that is certainly where we find the world today. And because of COVID restrictions, we’ve found ourselves even more lost in not having our refuge, our protest of the world near us in Mass and the Eucharist.

Mass is the protest for the catholic. It is how we protest the world and all of the sin and suffering contained within it. We orient ourselves away from the world and toward God when we attend Mass and consume the Holy Eucharist.

As churches open up and services begin to be offered again, my hope and prayer for you today is that you find the Eucharist, and you take the time to protest this broken world and turn yourself to God.

May God the Father who made us bless us.
May God the Son send his healing among us.
May God the Holy Spirit move within us and
give us eyes to see with, ears to hear with,
and hands that your work might be done.
May we walk and preach the word of
God to all.
May the angel of peace watch over us and
lead us at last by God’s grace to the Kingdom. Amen.

COVID-19 and Mass

My church diocese has officially announced that masses indoors are cancelled until the Easter season (and even then, they were clear that more direction based on how things look at that time will be provided). Many people are already feeling the pinch, myself included. However, even with churches cancelling their services in light of strong science that indicates an increase risk of spreading the virus in group settings of 50 or more people, there is a pastoral need among the faithful, arguably more so during times of crisis such as these.

It falls to the leadership of churches, our ministers and pastors, to enact creative solutions to the challenges currently being presented in providing pastoral care to faithful. These solutions ought not to ignore the science before us, not only would that be irresponsible because it places individuals at risk for contracting the virus but it also becomes scandalous for the church (just see the responses from non-believers to what happened to the church in Korea when the spread was just starting). With due consideration for the science and a serious regard for one’s pastoral duties to tend to the flock, ministers and pastors can come up with creative solutions– and ought to.

One suggestion that is being considered by my Anglo-Catholic parish is celebrating mass outdoors at a local park. There is more than enough room for people to gather with enough space between them and mass can be slightly altered so that people remain in their places while a single minister distributes the Eucharist. Another option is to arrange for outdoor prayer services based on the Liturgy of the Hours. People can gather (again not too closely) and pray together knowing that they are praying prayers that are part of the whole church, the whole breath of the faithful rising before God. You can also consider learning and starting to pray the Hours yourself while you are stuck at home for long days.

I am considering putting together a video (perhaps with a live feed so people can join in) on how to organize and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. If this is something you’d be interested in helping out with or participating in to learn please let me know. You can find all of the Hours organized online here at Universalis.com and as always you can shoot me a message or email and I would be more than willing to help you out personally.

It is also Lent, we cannot lose sight of our own need for preparation, pentenance, prayer and almsgiving. You can do the Stations of the Cross without the icons that are present with the church around your own home. The prayers and reflections are easy to find online and you can move throughout your own home and conduct the stations. To add even more flavour to the prayer, find out where East is and face toward that direction while your pray.

All of this recalls photos of the past when Priests celebrated mass on whatever surface could be found around the battlefields of the World Wars. I’ll end with a few inspirational photos.

Feature photo by Diana Vargas on Unsplash.

The common cup: is it safe?

In light of the recent information being passed around about COVID-19 and our ability to stem the impact of the epidemic, I thought it would be helpful to touch on a topic that is certainly a popular question within my own church at the moment. Is it safe to take from the common communion cup, especially during seasons of sickness and flu?

The short answer is that it is somewhat complicated. It is true that statistically there has never been a reported case of any person contracting a serious illness from the communion cup. There were many rumours and claims, especially by modern historians looking back to the plagues of the middle ages. But when the data was drawn out, and the facts laid bare, it was obvious that these theories did not hold any weight. But it is important to note that just because something hasn’t happened yet does not mean that it could not happen, especially when dealing with novel viruses like COVID-19.

You might have heard your Priest or Deacon talking about how the alcohol content combined with the material used in the composition of the cup essentially sterilizes the surface and kills anything that comes into contact. That unfortunately is not entirely true. In a study published in 1988, no appreciable change was noted in the presence of micro-organisms on the surface of the cup as a result of the wine or mixture of metals of the cup itself. In fact, what was found to be the best method of ensuring a clean communion cup was the act of wiping the surface with a corporal cloth and turning the cup for the next communicant.

The solution to ensuring that the communion cup is safe is to enforce proper protocols around the wiping and turning of the cup for the next communicant and this requires that communion not be rushed. And the best way to do this in my opinion is to actually have communicants come and kneel at the altar rail to receive communion from the celebrant and only two more communion ministers. And with adequate training and a healthy dose of reverence toward the Sacrament and how it is communicated to the faithful, there is no issue with using the common cup during seasons of illness and flu.

Another important thing to note is that the act of indenture– or dipping the host into the wine and consuming both species at the same time– is actually the worst option when it comes to hygiene. Especially when it is done by communicants themselves. The problem is that the vast majority of micro-organisms that are transmitted to surfaces around us are through our hands, and there is always a risk (and I’ve witnessed it personally many times as a Eucharistic minister) that ones fingers dip in the wine throughout the process. It is extremely unhygienic and most parishes should have a policy of outright banning indenture or only permitting it to be conducted by a Eucharistic minister (with the understanding that they’ve at least washed their hands immediately prior to distributing communion).

The safest way to receive communion and share the common cup is to approach the Eucharist with the level of reverence that many would called traditional today. We ought to be taking time between communicants, purposely moving up and away for communion, and it ought not to be a rushed affair in the hope of finishing the service within an hour window. This is probably why historically the common cup has not been an issue throughout some of the worse epidemics of our human history. I fear that might not be the case in this age of rushed Eucharistic services.

And lastly, we ought not forget that we are talking about the Blood of Christ. Through the incarnation of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity the gifts themselves still retain their earthly properties of bread and wine. This means it is entirely within the realm of acceptable dogma to expect the potential transmission of micro-organisms on these surfaces. But there is also a divine aspect to the bread and wine as well and there is certainly something to be said about the fact that since its institution the Body and Blood of Christ has not contributed to any significant health outbreak.

At the end of the day whether you decide to take from the common cup or not is a personal choice and in no way does it impact your consumption of the Body and Blood of Christ. The presence of the cup for laity is actually a relatively new practice within the history of the liturgy and the church has always maintained that when you consume one or the other species you are consuming the entire Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. So even with all of the facts that the communion cup is safe, you can decide not to consume the Blood of Christ during periods of sickness or outbreak and still get everything out of Mass that you require to go back into the world and bring the Light of Christ to all peoples.

O for a closer walk with You, Lord Jesus so that I may draw ever closer into Your arms of grace day by day. Thank You that I can commune with You Lord as I come before You in prayer and the reading of Your Word.

Help me to seek YOU more and more for Who You are and not just that which You provide. Lord that I may spend time in Your presence – not for what I can get from You but for what I can give to You. Lord that You would fill me with Your love so that my love may flow back to You as well as out to others. Lord, I pray that my life may be a life that glorifies You in thought word and deed and that with each passing day I draw ever closer into close communion with You, in Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Feature image by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash.

Reflections on Lent – Denying ourselves we open up to God

Lent in the year of Our Lord two-thousand and twenty is well-underway. And if you are like me, it caught you by surprise. It seems only yesterday that we were celebrating the birth of Jesus and ushering in the New Year. Now with all of the decorations gone away, and the snow and cold beginning to lose its grip in the world, all of creation is springing back to life after a winter of slumber.

Lent captures the dichotomy of our faith perfectly, dare I say divinely. While the world is in enthralled in a spring bloom and “love is in the air” we Christians enter into a season of denial, prayer, penance and almsgiving. While the world triumphantly celebrates the cycle of creation, we stand back in silence, preparing ourselves for the Easter season to come. This is a dichotomy. We are both overfilled with joy at the love and beauty of our Creator and we are also aware of our sin and transgressions before Him.

When I was a child Lent was about giving stuff up. I was fortunate to attend a catholic school and every year around this time we were challenged by our teachers to give up pleasures. The usual stuff would always come up: pop, candy, television. Sometimes someone would be bold and try to give up chocolate or meat for the entire 40 day period. When I was a child I thought that Lent was about giving something up and proving to God how much you loved Him and were willing to give up for Him. But as I got older and as my faith became older as well, I learned that this kind of thinking about Lent was pointless. God knows already how much I love Him (or how little at times that I do). And the price for my salvation has already been paid, so there is little that I can do to effect that at any rate. And wasn’t Jesus clear when He told us not to go around sad and moping while fasting and not to pray in public with loud, long phrases that have empty meaning. Why then are we putting ashes on our heads and going around telling everyone what we’ve given up and how hard it is to do so during this period? These are confusing because it is not what Lent is about at all, and I fear that even many mature adults still possess child-like faiths that see Lent as this today as well.

Lent is about denying ourselves that is sure. But it is about understanding that in that denial we are opening ourselves and our lives to God. Falling to our knees and acknowledging our sin is not the end of the prayer, we fall to our knees and empty ourselves so that we can be filled up by God in the manner He wants us to be.

This Lent I took a practical approach to my Lenten obligation. I have given up all frivolous things in life. No milk or sugar in my coffee, no butter for my toast and no desserts or sweets added to my meals. This is not about giving up things, it is about denying myself pleasures so that I can open myself up to God. Each extremely hot and bitter black coffee that I make in the morning, each dry toast that I choke back is not just a badge of honour because I have given it up, but a spiritual exercise that invites God to come into my life. I am serious, during Lent my daily coffee ritual and my breakfast become a spiritual exercise, a divine movement, because I remind myself why I am doing what I am doing and what is to come. That my friends is the intent of Lent; to deny ourselves and allow God to fill the void.

So ask yourself this year, regardless of what you are giving up, are you following through and allowing God to fill the void? Are you denying yourself the harvest that you work in vain in order to reap the larger and greater harvest of the Saviour?

Look with favour on your family, Lord,
and as at this time we restrain the desires of the body,
may our hearts burn with love of you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Cover photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash.

Reflections on Advent – Faith

Faith is probably one of the most used words in Christianity and also concurrently the least understood. It is also a word that is used in a completely different context and meaning within the secular world, and sometimes this different meaning bleeds into the Christian meaning. Faith, within the catholic faith, is much more than just belief in something that cannot be proven by science or our senses. Faith itself actually has two meanings within Catholicism; the body of faith (what we believe) and the act or virtue of faith (loosely, how we believe).

Faith begins with the fact that we all die, and that suffering is a part of our existence as human beings. Thomas Merton wrote that “we are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves. And we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” The answer to understanding the purpose of death and suffering within life is faith, and specifically the catholic faith as a whole.

We have faith in a God who has not abandoned us in our sinful ways but has revealed Himself as the Creator of the Universe and who, out of love, gave His only Son for our sake. We have faith in the Gospel, the good news of humankind, that God came down from Heaven and died on a cross for our salvation– in order to break the bondage of darkness and death over our houses. We have faith in the Church, founded by Jesus, as a real presence of the Body of Christ here on earth. Deep down we are all afraid of suffering, being alone, not being understood, not being loved. And because we are afraid we sin and we disconnect ourselves from God who, through faith, can bring light to where there is darkness in our lives.

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The object of faith is that which God has revealed through Divine Revelation. Together this is collected in what the Holy Church calls the Deposit of Faith. We have faith that this knowledge is sacred and has been entrusted carefully to the Church in order to bring souls to God. Through the creeds, through our works and through the liturgy we proclaim and manifest that Deposit of Faith and partake in the salvation of the world. We do not “just believe”, we believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth…

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “faith is a personal act– the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals Himself” (CCC 166). This simple definition is why we light the Second Advent Candle for faith. Mary’s response upon being visited by the angel is an act of faith that is clear and obvious which is why the story is relevant almost two thousand years later, and certainly relevant during the Advent season of preparation. Mary as a virgin is biologically incapable of giving birth to a human being. Today we often like to look back at ancients as dull beings looking to the sky for the answers to everything, but rest assured they understood the basic mechanics of how each of them came into the world– it took a woman and a man having sex with one another. And Mary simply did not meet that criteria. Let alone the fact that the angel was telling her she would birth the Son of Man! It simply was not possible for any of it to happen.

But she does not argue. She does not ask questions or ask for time to deliberate. Her answer is clear and unequivocal, “be it unto me according to thy word.” Amazing. What faith, what response to the initiative of God. Faith was not a feeling for Mary, it was not something that depended on whether or not she woke up feeling pious that particular morning of the Visitation. Faith was much more than that to Mary and indeed to all faithful Christians.

There is an old Chinese story about Fact, Faith and Feeling that is entirely descriptive of my point here. While Fact, Faith and Feeling are walking together along the top of a narrow wall, Faith can ensure him and feeling stay steady as long as he keeps his eyes on Fact, but if Faith looks away from Fact and turns to Feeling, Faith and Feeling fall off of the wall (Fact never falls). It is a fact for Mary that all things are possible with God and therefore she has faith that what the angel is telling her will come true. That is Faith keeping an eye on Fact and leaving Feeling in the backseat– the only way they all stay on the wall.

This reflection is dedicated to the amazingly beautiful collections by Alex Markovichat at Glitchy Preacher. What an amazing window into a world almost utterly unknown to the rest of us, head over to Glitchy Preacher to learn more about Russia and marvel the amazing collection of artwork they have curated. If you enjoy what’s there, give them a follow (good things happen to bloggers when they get follows).

Almighty Father,
give us the joy of your love
to prepare the way for Christ our Lord.
Help us to serve you and one another.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen

Feature image by David Beale on Unsplash.