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.

Collect – 14th Sunday after Trinity

I thought that I would share the Collect for the 14th Sunday after Trinity (the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, depending on how you count) in the Book of Common Prayer and from the Roman Missal.

From the Book of Common Prayer,

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From the Roman Missal (1962),

O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church, and because it cannot continue in safety without thy succour, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

Monday the 14th of September is also the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Holy Cross Day to most Anglicans) which has a beautiful Collect in each of the liturgical traditions as well and I would like to share them with you today in advance. The similarity leads me to believe that the Anglican Breviary may have lifted and changed the language slightly to conform to BCP language and custom because there probably isn’t a BCP Collect specifically for this Feast day.

From the BCP,

O GOD, who dost gladden us upon this day by the festival of the Exaltation of the holy Cross: grant that we who have acknowledged the mysterty of redemption here on earth, may rejoice in the everlasting fruits thereof in heaven. Though Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who liveth and reignth with thee and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever. Amen.

From the Missal,

O God, Who dost this day gladden us by the yearly Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, grant, we beseech thee, that even as we have understood the mystery thereof upon earth, so we may worthily enjoy in heaven the fruits of the redemption which was paid thereon. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

These Collects will be prayed during Mass as well as during many of the Hours in the Divine Office. You can follow along in prayer here.

Photo by Damir Spanic 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.

Collect – 13th Sunday after Trinity

Another beautiful Collect for this Sunday from the BCP that again highlights the importance of worship in the vernacular.

ALMIGHTY and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service: grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this new life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises. Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect, 13th Sunday after Trinity

This Collect from this Sunday is prayed each week for all ferial days. Integrating the Collect into my daily prayer each week is an easy way to stay focused on the liturgical season of the church in between going to Mass. Whether you pray the Divine Office or not, you can incorporate the Collect into your daily prayer as well. They can be found in your missal or prayer book and are easily searchable online.

Collect – 12th Sunday after Trinity

I’ve begun praying the canonical hours from the Anglican Breviary. It is an English translation of the version of the Roman Breviary of Pope Pius X commonly called Divino Afflatu with Collects and some other incidentals from the Book of Common Prayer vice the Roman Missal. In other words a truly and more– certainly so than the Morning and Evening Prayer in the BCP and the Liturgy of the Hours in the Roman Catholic today– catholic expression of the canonical hours.

Because of the English translation and insertion of BCP prayers, there are often delightful nuggets of extremely well-written prose. This is the advantage of worship in the vernacular and done right no less. See this example from the Collect for the 12th Sunday after Trinity (the Collect I prayed at each Hour during any feria this following week).

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we art to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Collect, 12th Sunday after Trinity

The attribution of the character of God expressed in “who art always more ready to hear that we art to pray” and “art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve” is topped only by the admission that “those things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ”. Beautiful.

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.

Why Read the Greek NT

Just before COVID broke out in my province, I happened to find by chance a Greek copy of the New Testament. It was reasonably priced (which is often not the case with translated Bible texts simply because of the amount of scholarly work that goes into producing such a book) so I decided to pick it up. Although this is my first copy of a Greek New Testament, it is not the first time that I have fallen back to the Greek text to better understand the Bible and the Word of God. Thanks to the internet the text and translations are easily accessible, in fact with a tablet or smartphone you can actually load up a Koine Greek keyboard and translate on the fly.

But why read the Greek NT in the first place? Why bother slogging through a text that is literally Greek to one’s English mind?

When we study the Word of God something that we need to keep in mind is that the phrases and words used by the writers exist within a certain place and time and more often than not a full understanding of the texts rests on grappling writing norms and practices that were common to that time. It is really easy today to pick up an English translation of the Bible and read a word or phrase in the Bible in the context of how we use that word or phrase today and the danger is that the word or phrase actually means or is intended to mean something completely different than how we use it.

A great example of this, and something that I ended up writing a few comments on in All Along the Watchtower, is the opening verses of the Holy Gospel According to Saint John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

When we read this verse it is tempting to assume that since the English translation says that “the Word” was with God that he must mean the Word of God (i.e. the Bible). And later, because John says that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (in reference to the birth of Christ), that this Word of God must be Jesus. And from there we go off on a doctrinal tangent about the Word of God existing before the world, being equal with Jesus and thus God and thus being complete, infallible, perfect and unchanging. What a profound leap from a simple understanding of the phrase “the Word.”

But John doesn’t mean word like words or text. In fact, in Greek he writes λόγος which is Logos in English. It more accurately translates into logic, reason, wisdom and specifically through speech or human expression and communication. And with that in hand we can compare it to secular Greek writing and we see that λόγος is not an isolated concept, limited to John’s Gospel, but rather is a popular Greek idea that logic and reason are scattered throughout the world and are able to be “picked up” and learned by people. John is literally linking a secular idea popular in the then-known world to the Jewish concept of the Messiah and saying that Jesus is the physical embodiment of that reason and logic and knowledge that exists in the world. And furthermore, right in the opening verse, John says that the world was created through all of this reason and logic and knowledge which is why we have laws of physics and logic and mathematics in the first place which govern our physical existence in this world.

All things are created through Him, and He is the Logos, and the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us. And His authority is not limited to the prophesies and Holy Writings of the Jewish people but rather the entire world and all that exists within it because Christ, the Messiah is not just the King of the Jews but the Logos, the reason and logic and knowledge that the entire universe was made through and by. That is some large stuff from Saint John and we do not get there unless we understand the Greek words and phrases he is using.

So why read Greek? Because with one sentence in John’s Gospel read in Greek we come away with a completely different and much more illuminated idea of what the author is getting at and what how the meaning of the text really should be understood by the reader. That is why I slog through the Greek as much as possible and why I think you should give it try yourself…

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.