185 Years of Anglo-Catholicism

Many Anglican Catholics are probably already aware that this past July 14th marked the traditional commencement of the Ango-Catholic Movement within the Anglican Church with a sermon by John Keble at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford. I’ve pulled this quote from Ritual Notes via The Anglophilic Anglican concerning the event:

“Most Anglo-Catholics know that 185 years ago today, John Keble ascended the pulpit at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford to deliver the sermon at the opening of the Assize Court. If the date is not remembered, the result certainly is. John Henry Newman wrote that this sermon, easily forgotten during any other time, was the beginning of the Oxford Movement.”

I am personally a recent convert to Anglo-Catholicism from the Roman Catholic Church. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended a conservative Roman Catholic school from junior kindergarten to grade 12. The fact that I am not entirely comfortable using the word ‘convert’ when I speak of my recent membership in the Anglican Church and specifically the Catholic wing of said church, is proof of the complexities that dominate the catholic debate within the Anglican Church and indeed among many protestant flavours of Christianity.

Because I was raised Roman Catholic I spent the vast majority of my life under the impression that the Bishop of Rome and the entire Roman Church had a monopoly on the word ‘catholic.’ I’ve always believed (as per the Creeds) that the catholic church is the one, true, holy and apostolic church founded by Christ. I just, like many Roman Catholics, equated ‘catholic’ with Roman and the Pope and all that came along with that system. I was first introduced to the idea of universal catholicity (specifically the Branch Theory), or the core of the Oxford Movement– which is quiet simply that the Roman Church does not hold court over what is catholic and what is not– a few years ago after a Roman Catholic commentator who I had great respect for left the Roman Church after having an epiphany over social issues within the church. His leaving the Roman Church and taking up worship in the Anglican Catholic church piqued my interest and I began to research. I learned that what made a church catholic was not adhering to the will of Rome or speaking in Latin but rather it was a staunch devotion to the Creeds, to orthodoxy (meaning placing emphasis on the original forms of worship of the Church) and to an understanding of a truly universal church founded by Christ. I always knew that I was a catholic, if not because I do not feel like I am worshiping God in a manner that is pleasing in His sight unless there are bells and smell (as those who criticize the richness of catholic liturgy like to say). I knew I was a catholic because I believed firmly in the Creeds– never, even in the darkest and loneliest moments in my faith have I doubted the articles of the Creeds. And I knew I was catholic because I had a deep conviction that Christ did not found a fragmented and broken form of Christianity with sects fighting between each other each holding a nugget of truth, I firmly believe that the catholic church is the one Christian church founded by Christ.

But here is the kicker: catholicism can never be confined to one single sect. Catholicism is universal, it is applicable to all people, all races, all tongues because it is the Body of Christ here and present on earth. And because we are all creations of God, not matter where we come from or what we do in this life, we can all be part of and served by this catholic church.

I am an Anglican Catholic today because I do not believe that catholic is the same as being Roman. I believe that the Roman church places too much emphasis on culturally important aspects of the faith (like not eating one hour before Mass) to the point that what is dogma and a core belief and what is a cultural or best practice is often just lumped in as essential all around. I also believe that the doctrine of the Supremacy of the Pope is flawed and uncatholic– there is nothing universal about linking the movement and spirit of the universal church to one arbitrary geographical location here on earth. I also take issue with doctrine that has come out of the direct authority of the Pope such as Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception– I do not see these as core catholic concepts, but they are certainly Roman.

“The Catholic Revival in the Church of England had nothing to do with gin, lace, and backbiting, as is often caricatured. Yes, elaborate ritual and church building followed in the next generation, but this was a logical development of the belief that the Church is not the same as the Post Office. [Or, as I sometimes put it in defending the use of traditional language in worship, “The liturgy – the worship of God – is not Uncle Joe’s barbecue.”] The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives and not the same as chicken tetrazzini at the weekly Rotary Club. The development of ritual and devotion was the servant, the handmaid, to the truths Keble turned our minds to 185 years ago.”

I have never felt more catholic, more Christian than when worshiping and sharing fellowship in an Anglican Catholic church.

God be praised!

Thoughts on the Bible

Haden Clark over at Help Me Believe shared an article by Jeffrey Poor of Rethink concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testament. I wrote a comment that criticized the original article on the premise that it suggested that there was a difference in how God work in each Testament. I’ve decided to expand on that comment in this post and explore a little deeper into the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and reading and understanding the Bible in general.

I encourage you to read the original post on Rethink and I’ve posted my full comment here:

I am not sure if I agree that God seems mean in the OT because he is “operating under a different set of rules” and that “when Jesus entered the picture he changed everything.” Everything that is contained with the NT is hidden in the OT. The reason for this is because the core message of the OT the covenant between God and humanity is revealed in the NT through the Body of Christ and His sacrifice for our salvation. I think that the problem with this post is that it starts from a premise that the OT and NT are different, unique and distinct which they are not, both are a unifying force of each other. I like to think of the OT as a giant forest with trees, and rocks and small streams and uneven pathways. We walk through this forest without the NT and without Christ in the dark. Our foot hits something hard on the ground and we can reason and suppose it to be a rock. Walk into something wet, and assume it is a stream. By the end of walking through this forest we get a pretty good idea of what the whole area is like (little stream here, big tree there, hike up a hill over there) but it is not the full and complete picture because we did it in the dark. Christ is like a giant flashlight, now we know that the wet thing we walk through was a stream, but that hard thing our foot hit was actually a stump and not a rock (close before, but now we know for certain what it is). The OT is like a facet dripping slowly overnight and the NT is the sink that is filled with water at the end, and if I want to beat this analogy to death, Christ would be plug in the drain keeping the water held together.

I think that the first place to start when we talk about the Bible as a whole to is to understand that the Bible is not entirely a Christian object. It is a collection of books that stretch over 3000 years, through many different eras from the perspective of many different people with many different faiths and written originally in many different languages (many of which do not even exist today). There is a tendency among Christians to ascribe a singularly Christian (and I’ll even add modern western) perspective on the entire Bible which has no historical or theological support.

When we start from the premise that the Bible is in fact a collection of many books with many perspectives, interpretations, translations, understandings, themes, lessons and imagery we can automatically understand why there are entire faculties of learning dedicated to the study of this wonderful book. From viewing the Bible holistically, splitting it in two by the Old and New Testament or deep into each book and letter individually, we gain a better understanding of the deposit of faith through the Word of God present in the Bible. We can even understand why some strains of Christianity, especially those more catholic oriented, insisted upon the interpretation of the Word of God falling to a formal magestrium that brings together the whole of the Deposit of Faith. We can also gain a better understanding why some Christians reel at the thought of the Word of God being capable of being read and understood by any single person at any single point in time– I would wager that this concept is one of the great failings of the protestant wing of Christianity. It fundamentally undermines the realities of the Bible as a sacred text that spans thousands of years. It immaturely presupposes that a person brought up in a western world removed completely from the world present in the Bible can somehow pick up the book and simply “get it.” If that was honestly the case we wouldn’t need Jesus, and we wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit because from the moment the Israelites were brought out of Egypt they would have “got it” and everything would have been fine.

When we pick up the Bible there is a temptation to want to open the cover and start reading. Doing so is certainly one way to take in the Word of God but doing so will also generate confusion. Genesis was certainly not the first book written in the Bible, it actually has two creation stories and is hard to understand if read literally without an understanding of Jewish literary techniques. For example, in the OT we are told that Abraham lived to be 175. No human has actually lived to be 175. We can watch some Christian bend and twist in order to provide “reasoning” why this is the case for Abraham, but there is a simple explanation albeit one with profound implications for how to interpret the Bible as a whole. It is in fact a common Jewish literary device to ascribe a long life to being in favour with God. This comes from the Jewish understanding of sin which supposed that the cause of sin and death in general was being unfavorable with God (for whatever reason). Thus, the flip side of this is to promote the fact that a person is in favour with God by adding years on to his life in the story. A Jew living in the desert hundreds of years before Christ would not have read that part of Genesis and thought, “oh my Abraham lived for a long time” he would have thought, “Abraham had great favour with God.” It is for that reason that Abraham’s age is even mentioned in the Bible.

Another good example of the dangers of jumping into the Bible without any sort background is when we talk about dinosaurs. I have heard some pretty amazingly irrational arguments as to why the Bible never mentioned dinosaurs. We have their bones plain as day before us today. We can use technology from the brains that God gave us to even date the bones in order to better understand our world. From undermining the very legitimate science (without any reason evidence other than the Bible) to claiming that dinosaurs and man lived on earth together (insane with absolutely no science to back it up) to even claiming that Satan put the bones in the earth to make us question God (probably with the assistance of Darwin himself somehow), Christians the world over have bent over backwards to explain the dearth of something so real and so present before us today in the Bible. And yet there is a simple explanation. The Jews in the desert didn’t have time to sit around and dig up dinosaurs (especially while in exile which is when most of the best parts of the OT were written down), they never even had a concept or understanding of their existence. So of course they do not make their way into the Bible. They also have no relevance on any stories or lessons within the OT. The whole purpose of the creation stories in Genesis are not about how God made the world (we will never know that while here on earth, even with the Bible) but that He made it and it was good and pleasing to Him and even more so it is about Him creating mankind in His image and marking us uniquely among His other creations. So we have to ask ourselves, when we dive into the creation story and take the seven days literally or the listing of animals created in the process literally are we really taking away from the story what we are supposed to take away? I say no absolutely not, we miss the mark when we undermine the Biblical teaching and focus on the wrong aspects of the story.

It might seem like I have digressed a little from my point but I am going to bring it all home now. Reading the OT and NT is a lot like how we approach the Bible as a whole. The law contained with the OT makes no sense if we do not have the teachings of Christ to back it up. Just the same as reading the OT requires us to have a broad understanding of Jewish theology, culture and literacy, so too does it require us to have a deep understanding of the NT. And in typically God fashion, it all hangs together (to steal a C.S. Lewis line) and comes back full circle. We cannot understand or grasp the importance of the NT without the messages and the coding in the OT. Together each book forms the yin and the yang and each have an eye within each other. Amazing how even the composition of the Bible itself is a fingerprint of the nature of God and man here on earth!

In closing, I firmly believe that it is fallacy and a vector for Satan to do his most effective work to attempt to interpret the Bible on a personal basis. We need the Church, we need our history, we need the history of the authors and we need a broad understanding of the cultures at play. We also need the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is amazing that we are able to hold this book in our hands and that it has been compiled and bound over two thousands years plus and counting.

God be praised!

Christianity and Homosexuality

Author’s note: This entry was written some time ago on a blog that doesn’t really exist anymore. I spent some time today reading posts in the ‘Christian’ and ‘Christianity’ tags on WordPress and the topic of homosexuality seemed to dominate the discussion. I decided to balance some of the vitriol and outright false teaching with this entry I penned some time ago.

My frankness here is totally intentional: the Christian Bible, when we actually take the time to read and understand it as a whole, neither condemns nor permits homosexuality as we have come to understand it in modern times. For most people reading this on both sides of the argument, this is probably going to come as a great surprise. To the devout Christians, I am sorry you have been tricked into believing something that the Bible does not take very seriously and actually has nothing of any value to offer in modern times. And to the broken hearted homosexual, I am sorry for all of the pain ill-informed Christians have caused and will continue to cause into the future.

Let’s take a step back.

There are a grand total of six references to homosexuality (and even with this conclusion we are loosely using the term homosexuality) in the Bible. Surprisingly, if you were an alien who was foreign to this planet and you spent a few minutes listening to any Christian talk radio show or television programme (or read Christian tagged WordPress posts), you might be under the impression that homosexuality and sex are the focus point of the Bible. This is simply not the case. The Bible spends more time talking about why you shouldn’t wear two pieces of cloth on your body or plant two different seed types in a single field than it does about having sexual relations with a person of the same sex. It certainly talks a lot more about love and acceptance (straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself no less) than about condemning this and that person for such and such reason. Again, if you were foreign to this world and you listened to most Christians speak you might think that the whole book was littered with “condemn this” and “spite that,” which again is not the case.

The most famous reference to homosexuality, and the one that is trod out in each and every discussion on the topic by seemingly devout Christians, is the story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We all know how it goes, apparently the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah where such an abomination in the sight of the Lord that He sent angels to investigate the problem. While these angels were visiting in the form of human males, the house they were staying in was encircled by an angry mob who demanded that the owner and host, Lot, send the strangers out so that “they may come to know them.” The modern English translation describes the mob as being all of the male citizens of the town. However, the Hebrew phrase in the original text actually would more accurately describe the entire townsfolk (read: male and female) coming out and surrounding the house. Never mind the clear implications that the take-away from this story is that we should not gang rape people and we should protect our guests when they are strangers in our home (probably a great lesson for ancient civilizations where being a stranger in a foreign land was extremely dangerous). Modern Christianity instead focuses on the (false) fact that the group was male and that they demanded that other males come out to be raped. To some modern Christians there is link between modern homosexuality especially between two people who are engaged in a loving and exclusive relationship and having an angry mob demand the ability to gang rape strangers. But in reality and in Christianity there actually is not a link. We are told later on that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed by a pillar of fire because “the outcry against its people [had] become so great before the Lord.” This is of course after Lot had offered his two virgin daughters to the angry mob to “do to them as you please” (never minding the extremely immoral action here). And after Moses and the Lord had a talk which pretty much ended in the Lord wagering that he would destroy an entire city if he could not find a single good person (again, we can just gloss over the moral implications of a God who simply wipes creation off of the face of the planet at whim).

Leviticus condemns sexual relations between men. It does not mention sexual relations between women which either means it is permitted or it was simply overlooked by the framers of the Law. We also recall that the Law rejects the mixing of meat and dairy, the murder of people who do any action on the Sabbath and the permits the outright oppression of women. It is hard to overcome the specific clauses of the law today unless we gain a better understanding of where they come from, why they exist in the first place. Let’s not forget the historical perspective in Scripture and the fact that we know that the Book of Leviticus was written at a time when the Jewish population was very small and surrounded by Babylonian influence while in exile from Israel. At a time when Jewish leaders were afraid of the small group being overcome by the powers that surrounded them. It is understandable then that this Law would primarily serve to sustain the small group of people. And that is exactly what the most provocative sections of the Law seek to achieve. When we understand the historical context of Leviticus we can digest the Law in a more modern sense. We know that the Lord is Justice and there is nothing inherently just in cherry-picking law in application and yet this is exactly what happens when Christians rely on Leviticus so much to support their position on homosexuality. Ironically, they will state this position while wearing two different pieces of cloth on their body, after having just consumed a delicious meal of pork with a side of dairy and while standing before a field planted with two different strains of seed (all violations of the same Law they are smacking against a minority). Now there are rules within the Law that are still relevant for us, and we know this because Jesus actually said that they were important when He established the New Covenant (thus fulfilling the First). These are the Ten Commandments. Interestingly, the Ten Commandments represent a certain moral code that is somewhat universal across time and space in our humanity. We (the collective humanity ‘we’) have all almost always agreed that murder in cold blood is immoral. We have always looked down on stealing and cheating. These are moral codes which are written on our hearts because they belong to God and God made each and every one of us. There is nothing in the Ten Commandments about being in a loving relationship with a person of the same-sex. And I would say that this should mean the world to the Christian. It should not be a game of pick the cherry to define what is essentially a theologically weak position to support being against homosexuality and same-sex marriage as we understand them today. And certainly it is no pathway to condemning a same-sex relationship that is chaste and exclusive as any other Christian relationship ought to be.

Since we brought Him up, let’s turn to Christ.

Christians will often try and make the debate about homosexuality and same-sex marriage “simple” by pointing to the story of Sodom and the provision in Leviticus and will say “Jesus would condemn the homosexual.” Like most things that seem simple and clear cut, there is actually more here than what meets the eye. For starters, it is dishonest from a Christian perspective to start any discussion on any topic without starting with Christ and ending with the Law He fulfilled. The Bible from a chronological perspective starts with creation and moves through Abraham, Moses and the prophets all leading up to the birth of Christ and His death and resurrection. But the Bible from a Christian perspective works backward with His Death and Resurrection as the focal point and moving back through the prophets. And there is a very important reason for this, while we stumbled through the Old Testament as humanity we were like a hiker with a poor flashlight. We got glimpses of the Lord and our position within the universe, but it was never made clear to us and this is evident in some of the wild and crazy things that happen in the Old Testament. And then comes a friend with a bright light, brighter than any star including the sun. And our path is illuminated. And just like that hiker, we can see our entire path and beyond with this new Light. That Light is Christ. So an honest Christian does not waste their time stumbling through the dark because as Saint John tells us we have the Word now among us. Why would we blindfold ourselves and hike the path when we have daylight to guide us? So let’s start with Christ.

Christ says absolutely nothing about homosexuality. Period. He does, however, say a lot about love and acceptance. And He does a lot to show this acceptance in practise. For example, He dines with a tax collector who would have been the most hated and reviled person in any ancient city of His time. There is most certainly a parallel here between the tax collector and those we have made the most hated and reviled people in society (homosexuals are pretty high up on that list by the way). If Jesus was here today, I truly believe that without question, He would attend a Pride Parade and it would piss off the Church establishment (much the same as it pissed off the Jewish establishment when He ate with the tax collector). He also says something very powerful during the Sermon on the Mount which I think has real life application today: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Ironic that most militant Christians would actually quote both of those Beatitudes to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage, but they have terribly missed the mark here. For the last Beatitude wraps up the entire Sermon perfectly, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Again, the militant Christian will attempt to claim that in modern society they are being oppressed by having to give up their beliefs in the name of the same love and acceptance that Christ directly preaches, you tell me who is bearing false evils against who in this argument? I think it is pretty clear.

Following the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the Apostle Paul writes that laying with a man is an abomination before the Lord. The only problem is that we are cherry picking to the extreme his entire letter when we confine that statement to just being about homosexuals. Let’s take a look at the entire passage:

Therefore God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

That last sentence has particular sting for the gay community. Several readers may well remember when so-called Christian leaders leached this line out of the Bible and applied it to the AIDS outbreak in the late 1980s and early 90s. Absolutely horrendous and most certainly unChristian to the highest degree. But Saint Paul is not talking about modern homosexuality. He is talking about lust and lustful sexual acts. He is talking about the trends of his own time where powerful men took boy slaves as sex toys and woman often the same with their male servants. This was seen as lavish and unholy because it is lavish and unholy. Most people today (include almost all homosexuals) would agree just the same as Saint Paul is pushing us to see. However, we have twisted this powerful message into something so small and insignificant that we have lost sight of the meaning. This line could very well to applied to same-sex relationships, in that they ought to be between two people who love one another and that we should consider promiscuous sexual acts to be immoral because they are a form of degrading the human body and spirit. This applies to opposite-sex relationships as well. And we do see what happens when a person engages in irresponsible serial sexual relationships with no end, there is often a physical and mental toll on the person over time. This is what Saint Paul is getting at, this is how this passage is supposed to be understood. It is not about homosexuals.

There is absolutely no guidance in the Bible that would offer any insight on how we should deal with same-sex relationships. Aside from the clear message of love and acceptance. This is not a carte blanche for members of the gay community to turn to sexual relationships outside of marriage and to engage in promiscuous sexual lifestyles. In fact, same-sex couples are called to the same level of fidelity, honesty, love and exclusivity as opposite-sex couples. This is the Christian way. However, because we have cast out homosexuals writ large from the Christian community we have essentially forced a life of sinfulness on to an entire group of people, we have caused a group of people to become persecuted and we have done it in the name of Christ (sound familiar). We do not permit same-sex marriage in the Christian church, so we have condemned the good gay Christians who want a life together with the same amount of Christ-like love and support as the heterosexual couple from enjoying the fruits of marriage. This is our sin and our problem to fix.

I will close on one final thought.

Blaise Pascal was a famous mathematician and part-time philosopher who, while very sick and dying in his deathbed, scribbled thoughts on scraps of paper which were posthumously complied and became known as Pensées (French for ‘thoughts’). There was a gem of logic in what we now call Pascal’s Wager. Basically, he concluded that it was better to believe in God because if you were right than you enjoyed eternal life and if you were wrong than you suffered eternal punishment. Conversely, if you didn’t believe and were wrong you were punished and if you were right you gained nothing in the after-life that didn’t exist. I’ve always had a fondness for this wager because it can be understood by the pagan without an entire introduction to the Bible and Christian thought. It can also be applied to how Christians should act as Christians. For example, in the face of an unclear moral question is it better to condemn or to accept. If we condemn and we are right we gain satisfaction in the face of the Lord. If we condemn and are wrong we face damnation. If we accept and are wrong we at least followed the example of Christ. If we accept and we are right than we gain satisfaction. I believe that acceptance over condemnation in the face of unclear moral questions is a defence which would be acceptable to God on Judgement Day. I, for one, would rather stand before God to justify why I accepted and loved so and so regardless of their actions over standing before God to justify why I cast away one of His creations.

God be praised!

Image credit.

Christ in Social Media and Current Affairs

The world is a complex and a complicated place. There is a lot going on whether we are talking about the local level, around your community, the state/provincial level, the federal or national level and right up to the international community. In our modern age, we seem to be bombarded with current events that are happening all around the world. The 24 hour/7 days a week news cycle and the instantaneous nature of the internet have collided to bring every day people reams of information and data about the world around them; not just what is happening close to home, but what is happening literally on the other side of the world. This is both a blessing and a burden in disguise. Never before in the history of our humanity have we have such readily access to such a vast and articulated amount of information. Never before has the entire human race been so connected, so close. And yet, it seems, never before have we felt so far from one another, so isolated in our own little worlds and ideologies.

Social media plays a huge role in how we see the world– certainly a larger role that I think most Christians realize. In a world where information is boundless and accessible, we have built systems that serve to filter what we see and hear and this in turn creates pockets of intense ideology and thought often with little or no dissenting opinions or ideas among the ranks of followers and collaborators. Take Twitter for example. Users are able to curate their own list of followers, they can block (and are encouraged to block) users which opinions or ideas that they do not agree– opinion and ideas that are fleshed out in 280 character snippets, leaving much to the imagination in most cases. If you are a Marxist, chances are your followers and people you follow lean along the same flavour of the political spectrum and chances are you are validated over and over by fellow Marxists, content in your own comfortable worldview without ever feeling challenged in your opinions and formulations on the activities of the world. This is not necessarily a good thing and from a Christian perspective I would like to unpack that issue a little here.

Anyone can create a social media account and begin spreading their thoughts and opinions on the internet. This is a good thing. It is wonderful to see such a broad range of opinions and diversity of those participating in the discussions. But what also comes from this is the fact that consumers of user generated content are left holding the bag to determine what is false, true and actually worth exploring more. Tweets generally do not contain enough information to dive deep into issues and explore all sides of a coin, generally they are short, snappy statements that capture a sentiment related to a larger concept or idea that is shadowed in the Tweet. This rapidly makes the fact that anyone can create an account a bad thing. Often the most retweeted and popular remarks on Twitter are not from so-called subject matter experts, but from clever users who are able to capture the perfect balance between wit and common sense in a 280 character Tweet that is relatable to the broadest group of people.

So what can Christ teach us about social media? Perhaps it seems a little silly to ask that question. Literally no one in the Bible had a Twitter or Facebook account. Jesus did not take selfies during His Sermon on the Mount to share on his Instagram account. Saint Peter didn’t create the hashtag #RealMessiah to share the Good News with his friends and family. And #HeIsRisen certainly was not trending in the aftermath of the Resurrection. But Christ does have a lot to teach us about the use of social media in our lives and the formation of our opinions on current affairs around the world. For the average Westerner, the message from Christ regarding these things may be a little hard to swallow, because in this age of social media and the internet, we’ve come to believe that as humans we are all little gods who are entitled to opinions and ideas based on the sheer fact that we are capable of cooking them up in our brains.

The first, and obvious, lesson that Christ teaches us about our use of social media as Christians is that we ought to comport ourselves online in a manner that does not permit us to surrender the fundamental aspects of our faith. Namely, our Tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook likes and Snapchats should be aimed at the glorification of the Lord. The anonymous nature of being online does not change the fact that we are held to account for our actions individually, and as much as Twitter doesn’t know who you are when you Tweet, God does. And regardless of the username and the creativity of the fake name you’ve used, God knows everything that you have said and done online. Everything. Even the “in cognitio” feature of Google Chrome cannot withstand the all seeing eye of God. The same rules of how we ought to act among real people in the world apply to how we act around virtual people in the online social media universe. So ask yourself, does your online presence bring glory and honour to God and to His Son Jesus Christ? Do you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your online footprint, or do you hide behind a false impression of anonymity and become a little less Christian when sitting behind the keyboard? If that answer is a yes, you need to rethink your use of social media and perhaps consider this warning from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:

And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)

The second lesson that Christ teaches us about social media is about the content of what we share and the opinions that we are forming while we use social media. Especially for those of us who are maybe a little more political when we are online with our social media accounts. A concept that I have been fleshing out for a long time in my head, but have been unable to fully grasp, is the idea that Christ was killed by real geo-politics that were alive and well at the time of His ministry in Jerusalem. You had a Roman governor who was already in hot water with the emperor of Rome for having some issues holding down dissent within the region. No doubt, Pilate was not a fan of his tenure in the Middle East and we know that historically the man was a careerist who most likely wanted nothing more than to end his time in the Holy City without issue so that he could move on to bigger and better things in Rome. On the flip side we have the leaders within the Temple who represent a segment of Jewish society that are affluent and are willing to work with their Roman overlords in order to keep the peace and maintain their own power over the Jewish people in the region. It was the mutual intersection of the Jesus-problem for these two worlds that the cross literally comes to bear upon the world. It would have been difficult for Jewish leaders to seek the crucifixion of Christ from the Romans had the Romans not already been troubled by any sort of dissent during the largest religious festival of the year at the time. Equally, it would have been hard for the Romans to assert their authority in the punishment and eventual killing of Christ had the Jewish authorities in power at the time in that region not wanted to work with the Roman leaders in order maintain the status quo. The death of Jesus in Jerusalem can easily be explained from a historical perspective using a cursory understanding of politics and specifically geo-politics that was present at the time of Christ. But what does that say about politics in general? I think it is a lesson of what happens when the wishes and desires of mankind (which are the driving force of all politics) do not include Christ. When we remove Christ from our political lives, we contribute to His death on the cross– and to add injury to insult, often under the guise of a well-intentioned policy or idea. Because no one would deny that keeping the peace during a large religious festival is a bad thing– unless in that process you murder the Son of God.

How often do we remove Christ from our politics? In the Western world, I would wager that for most of us it happens all of the time. Indeed, the vague concept of separation of Church and State has seemed to manifest itself into a public policy process that is completely void of Christ and worse void of almost any sort of Christian inspiration or basis. Given what we unpacked earlier, this is a dangerous road to be heading down. Separating the Church and the State when it comes to having an official state religion or having civil leaders who are interchangeable with religious leaders is one thing (and something that is good and Christian actually), but separating the State from the Church when it comes to how we individually formulate our ideas and opinions on matters of current affairs is dangerous and entirely unChristian. And I go back to the sentiment that I expressed earlier in this post; never before have we had access to so much information, so many events to form opinions and ideas over. For the Christian who has removed Christ from that opinion formulating process, it can all seem very confusing and overwhelming. Which is exactly why we need Christ in our lives and in the formation of our political understanding of the world. For example, perhaps you are confused over the migrant crisis and the issue of immigration to help those around the world who are poor and in need. Perhaps you are having trouble finding a balance between welcoming these people in need and the security of your own country. And yet, Christ is clear on all fronts regarding this issue. We are to help the poor. And if our brother strikes us, we are to turn the other cheek. Very clear. A funny thing happens when we bring Christ in our political realities, things start to fall in place and the path becomes very clearly illuminated. Albeit, no easier to walk and actually put into action (which is I wager the hang up for most people). The bottom line is that Christ teaches us that in our use of social media and specifically when formulating/sharing our opinions we must include Him, otherwise we are lost and confused without a compass to guide us through these current affairs.

Lent is the perfect time to reflect on how we are using social media as Christians and how we are formulating our opinions and ideas about the world around us. Do we cut Christ out of the equation? Do we find that we are lost and confused when it comes to working how we think and feel about a particular issue of the day? Do we profess to be Christians in the pews but rapidly lose that sentiment when we are typing on our phones in the church parking lot? Perhaps it is time to invite Christ into our political lives. Perhaps it is time to ensure our social media accounts and online presence is reflective of the Christian nature of our real lives. We also focus on fasting from certain foods during Lent, and this is an old tradition. But I propose an idea, perhaps we can start to consider fasting from social media and the internet. Just as food nourishes our body and can be bad for us if we eat bad food, so too does social media nourish our brains and souls and can be bad for us if we consume bad social media. Perhaps this Lent, consider fasting from social media and the internet. You might be surprised what starts to happen with your relationship with Jesus.

God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.
Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the  government leaders around the whole world.
May they always seek
the ways of righteousness, justice and mercy.
Grant that they may be enabled by your powerful protection
to lead our country with honesty and integrity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Reflections on Lenten Sacrifice

Yesterday the whole of the Church entered into Lent, that penitential period of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. We marked the beginning of Lent with a contrasting message, one that we are very much from and in this world, “remember, from dust you came and from dust you shall return.” We marked our foreheads with one of the most ancient markings of our faith using the ashes from palms raised in the mimic of celebration from the previous year’s Easter celebrations reflecting on Christ entering the city of Jerusalem. The second message that we are not destined to remain in this world or to be in the world in the life to come. That soon, in forty days to be nearly exact, the Body will be raised and a new covenant will be established between humanity and God.

So with Lent underway, Christians the world over have no doubt began their Lenten obligations, in some cases giving up some sort of an indulgence over the period. Last night during his sermon on the subject, my Rector reflected on what people give up for Lent. He stressed that we do not need to give up something that carries with it any sort of superhuman quality to overcome. He informed us that this Lent he would be giving up the occasional glass of whiskey that he enjoys from time to time. He emphasised that although it is not a daily occurrence, or something that he found he absolutely had to do, it was something which he took immense pleasure in doing when he had the chance. For that reason, he found it a fitting indulgence to give up. And he reminded us that a funny thing will no doubt happen as Lent progresses; by the mere fact that he has make whiskey taboo over his Lenten period, he will probably start to desire and want it more, such is the nature of humans with these sort of things.

I could not agree with Father Travis more on the subject of sacrificing indulgences. Often we get distracted because we focus on what we should be giving up as if Lent is a secular time to “better oneself” or “overcome a particular bad habit.” That is not the point of the Lenten sacrifice at all. It is about giving up an indulgence, about giving up something that you enjoy doing, something that you don’t keep as a dark part of your life (those should be sought out to be eradicated at all times). There is a whole list of things that I could give up for Lent because they are sinful or keep me from God. These are things that I struggle with daily in my life to be more Christian and more holy. These are not things that are appropriate for me to give up during Lent, indeed I should be striving to give them up all of the time and always. What I give up is meant to force me into the desert of my own soul by denying me an indulgent escape that I would otherwise use to avoid being in that desert. Lent remember is a mimic of Christ’s time in the desert before His own public ministry– we too must spend our time in the desert. And Christ’s time in the desert was a further mimicking of the Jewish exile when they spent forty years with no real place to call home, to settle down and worship God.

This Lent let us strive to enter the deserts of our souls, to force ourselves to feel the longing, loneliness and confusion of being part of a temporal world and yet carrying a spiritual hope for the world to come. Let us sacrifice an indulgence that we enjoy in life, that is good for us and not use this time as a secular means of overcoming a bad habit or undesirable trait. Let’s bring ourselves closer to God.

Ash Wednesday 2018

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on the Feast of Saint Valentine (otherwise known as Valentine’s Day). Christopher Hale is quoted on Millennial in a post on this very same subject as linking Valentine’s Day with Ash Wednesday as a reminder of the true nature of love. I would like to expand on that sentiment a little here.

Saint Paul provides the most clear understanding of love in his letter to the Corinthians. He explains that love is more than just words, love is an action. Indeed, as Hale points out, Paul goes so far as to say that love spoken without action is as worthless as a “clashing cymbal,” while a love that’s performed in deed “always perseveres.”

Ash Wednesday opens up the season of Lent. For forty days, Christians from all around the entire world will mimic the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert in the lead up to His own Divine Ministry, which was a further mimic of the forty years that the Jewish people– God’s chosen– spent in exile. Ash Wednesday reaches back in time to the very foundations of our faith, when the Jewish faith began to crystalize into something substantive for the world to consume and understand. The forty years of exile for the Jewish people was a time of great strife and unknown but it was also a time when some of the most beautiful and articulate aspects of the faith were explored, written down and shared among the people. It was indeed while in exile that the Jewish people found their true identity and place in the temporal world. The same can be said of Jesus during his days alone in the desert. Christ is tempted by Satan and rejects all of the Evil One’s presentations because He has a Ministry and a purpose, He has a place in this temporal world. He finds that place during his forty days in the desert and that understanding is manifested in his public ministry which follows. Just as Judaism traces its roots to the exile, Christianity can trace its roots to the temptations of Christ is the desert– that period of feeling lost, alone and in exile from the world where we don’t understand how we fit in.

To love is to sacrifice the immediate “now” for the long term “then”. Love that is served up immediately, in some impulsive manner, is not love, it is lust or at best infatuation. Real love demands an outlook toward the future, toward what is next and what is to be. For this reason, Christian weddings are celebrations about the present (two people declaring their love for one another), as it is a celebration about the future (promises of raising Christian children and growing old together). Love and sacrifice are inseparably linked and we can see the impact of a world that values one aspect over the other when we see how many failed marriages and miserable people there are in unhealthy relationships. Sacrifice demands equal respect for the future as well as the present. You cannot justify giving up something today for the betterment of tomorrow, if you have no concept, no idea of what tomorrow is, in fact it would be illogical to give up anything beneficial today if you cannot articulate an understanding of tomorrow.

Ash Wednesday is the first day when we take the time to put ourselves in our own exiles from the world, in our own deserts to be lost, lonely and confused. We do this because we sacrifice ourselves in order to be prepared and be ready for our own ministries to come. We remove ourselves from this world in order that we may more accurately find our own place within it. And we do all of this out of a spirit of love that is propped up by sacrifice and penitential acts.

Today is not about wearing a symbol of our faith proudly on our foreheads (as some secular minded people might have us believe). Today is about reminding ourselves that we are dust– we are from this world and into this world we will die again. We make this first act to remove ourselves from this world because of the immediate contrast to the message that Christ brings us. We are not meant for this world as a final destination, but we are here now and we are part of it now. We must detach ourselves in order to find our place within it– in order to craft our ministry and enter back with the confidence of a saint.

O almighty and eternal God, who hast dominion over both the living and the dead, and hast mercy on all whom Thou foreknowest shall be Thine by faith and good works: we humbly beseech Thee that all for whom we have resolved to make supplication whether the present world still holds them in the flesh or the world to come has already received them out of the body, may, through the intercession of all Thy saints, obtain of Thy goodness and clemency pardon for all their sins. Amen.

Christmas Eve-Eve

When I was younger and the lead up to Christmas had much more anticipation surrounding Santa Claus and presents, my brother and I would call the day before Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve-Eve. It was a childish joke that played on linking the night before Christmas (when we would have a big family party at the house and exchange gifts with our cousins) with the actual day of Christmas in an effort to shorten the countdown to the entire affair. As I grew older and left the house, Christmas Eve-Eve fell out of my lexicon and became a day to finish up last minute gift buying and preparations for the Christmas season. And now that I am an adult, I am enjoying reflecting back on how Christmas Eve-Eve came to be and how it still exists as a thing within my life, including my spiritual life.

Advent is all about preparation. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). These words are giving true meaning when John the Baptist speaks out in John’s Gospel, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord…” (John 1:23). In the catholic tradition, we light a set of four candles one by one each Sunday as we count down the remaining days of preparation in anticipation for the feast which celebrations the Incarnation and birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We read passages such as those from John’s Gospel that speak of preparation from John the Baptist and readings from the prophet Isaiah who spoke clearly of the coming of Christ. We also look at letters from Paul which speak of the second coming of Jesus and our requirement to always be ready and on guard because “of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36). We reflect on the three aspects of the Incarnation of Christ; in the flesh as a child, in body and blood in the Eucharist and in glory at the Second Coming.

Christmas Eve-Eve started for me as a child trying to close the gap in the wait between the start of Advent and Christmas day itself. It was a childlike view of Christmas as a time to exchange gifts with my cousins and spent the night eating and playing around the house with them and the whole family. It meant no school for a chunk of time and spending time outside in the snow. I had very little responsibilities because I was a child and as a result the wait and preparation held little or no meaning. Today, as an adult, I do have responsibilities and there are certainly a long list of temporal duties around Christmas that add physical weight and meaning to the Advent preparation. This sort of preparation can add to stresses and anxieties that arise from the holidays, like those Anna Dimmel writes about here in A remedy for what we don’t like about Christmas. But we cannot forget, as she writes, we can find Christ and spiritual meaning in these stresses and anxieties as well. And this year in 2017 is especially unique because the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve will fall on the same day, with services occurring in the morning and late evening with two very different meanings. Linda Ryan writes about this in her post A Short Ending to Advent.

On Christmas Eve-Eve we all stand on the threshold of the whirlwind that becomes the next few days. In the temporal world we will visit with friends and family, eat a tremendous amount of food, keep warm, and expend a lot of energy being social. In the spiritual realm, hopefully a lot of us will find time to go to Church and listen to the Word of God and celebration His Incarnation and birth among us here as fully human and fully God. Indeed there is a longing to feed the unbounding joy that is within each and every one of us who acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, and joining with fellow Christians and celebrating that event is an expression of that joy and thanksgiving.

1st Sunday of Advent

And so begins a new Liturgical Year and how fitting it is that in this first season we slow down and remember the coming of Christ “in flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily and at the end of days in glory.” The beginning of the year within our cyclical readings and liturgical arrangement commences with a period of waiting and preparation. The year before having ended after a stretch in Ordinary Time, the whole Catholic Church is now waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. Just as the world, just over 2000 years ago, hoe hummed along into a period where the Word would become flesh and dwell among it. Just as it hoe hums along as Christ is born daily in our hearts through our devotion and obedience of His commandments today. And just as it will hoe hum to the last second of it’s own existence in the face of the glory of it’s Creator.

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’ (Mark 13:33-37)

The beauty and mystery in understanding the season of Advent and the coming of Christ in a threefold manner is manifested in the relevance of what Jesus is saying to each point. When we focus Advent on the coming of Christ in flesh, we see how the Word was made flesh in this world while all it stood in ignorance of His coming. Focusing how Christ in our own lives daily, we remind ourself and heed the call to “stay awake.” And it is certainly clear in this passage that Christ is speaking of the end of days here. All three understandings of Advent which are concurrent and distinct are present in Christ’s words from the Gospel of Mark.

In the part of the passage just before the readings today, we are reminded of the events that are supposed to culminate and signal the end of times. During his sermon today, Father O’Brian touched on this sensitive subject, especially with how some have come to view or articulate what Christ calls the “elect.” Indeed, all baptized Christians, who serve His Bride the Catholic Church are the elect. And what is important to note is that those who serve the Lord and His Holy Catholic Church will be separated by God at the end of time. However, the focus of today is on what Christ says in the readings, and we can look at what Christ is saying here as a quick addendum to what He spoke about earlier (but not officially captured in today’s readings), when He spoke about the end of days. We must be careful, because although the end of days will come and Christ will be glorified before all of creation once and for all (after a period of terrible events on humankind and the whole world), we do not, cannot and will not know when it will happen. It is as if the owner has left and he has not told us when he will return. We must continue to do all of the things the owner wants and likes around the house, for at any time he could return from his journey away.

There are many times in the Gospels when Christ illuminates a concept from the Old Testament (and His own jewish upbringing and teachings) and then swiftly tacks on a newer concept that is related and yet radically different than the original thought. It is what makes His explanation that He comes not to condemn the law but to fulfill it even more powerful. In this instance, Jesus speaks of the end of time, which would not have been a foreign concept to the group of Jews with whom He is presumably speaking. Indeed, the Jewish faith is enriched with the concept of God’s glory manifesting itself in totality at the end of the time. And furthermore, speaks of great retribution for God chosen people (we could say the Jewish concept of the ‘elect’) which comes alongside the coming of glory of God. I would wager that many in the crowd Jesus was addressing would have been nodding their heads in agreement as He spoke of the wars with nations against nation and kingdoms against kingdoms. It was not a foreign concept that the end of times would unfold in such a manner. But then Jesus speaks of something different. He humbles the Jews by saying very clearly that no one will know when the day of reckoning and glory will come. In one instance, He goes so far as to say that not even the Son knows of when the Father will impose His will for the end of time on humanity and the whole world. This is new and this is radical. It means that we cannot put off our requirement as the elect to serve God and His Church, to be a constant reminder and presence in this world of Himself. We cannot say that this debt shall be repaid tomorrow. We cannot say that this fight shall be ended tomorrow. We cannot say I will make amends tomorrow. For there may indeed never be a tomorrow.

Advent is about waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ in the flesh at Christmas, in our hearts daily and in glory at the end of time. May we recommit ourselves to Christ this Advent as we all wait and prepare for the coming of Christ. We do so today with an understanding that the end of days may come at any time, and without any warning, and therefore as the elect we are all called to be ready now and prepared now. Stay awake.