The undiscovered ends?

St Mary’s Church, Redenhall, Norfolk

From quiet homes and first beginning,

out to the undiscovered ends,

there’s nothing worth the wear of winning,

but laughter and the love of friends

Hilaire Belloc

One of things about retiring is that it tends to invite something which life’s busy routine denies – that is reflection.

The last eighteen months have been traumatic for so many in so many ways, that it seems almost callous to suggest that it might have had any benefits, but from my own personal point of view it has aided that process of reflection. When the first “lockdown” commenced in March 2020 it meant that after four years of living away from home for at least half the year, I was confined, as it were to barracks. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology and Zoom, it was possible to continue doing my job for St Mary’s from my own study at home. The loss of that “laughter and the love of friends” was a downside, as was not seeing the students and our beautiful campus at Strawberry Hill. I also missed my walks down the Thames path to Richmond and back to Teddington. If there is an occupational hazard to being a bibliophile academic, in my case it is the tendency to sit down and read books for as long as anyone will leave me undisturbed. When one’s children are younger that tendecy is held in check; mine flew the nest some years back. The Thames Path walks were a way of taking a bit of exercise. So I thought I’d do it while cribb’d, cabin’d and confin’d (to an hour a day).

I began to take what I called #norfolkexercise walks. Here in the far south of Norfolk that turned out to consist of a rich network of ancient footpaths, some of which the local farmers had actually left in a walkable condition. The timings were dictated by the demands of my timetable, but the weekends provided opportunties for a really long walk. I quickly found, as those familiar with my Twitter feed will confirm, that my steps tended toward the Church pictured above – St Mary’s, Redenhall. The tower is quite spectacular, built by the powerful de la Pole family in the fifteenth century as an example of their wealth, it is a local landmark much beloved, I am told, by pilots; it is a thing of beauty.

One of the things about long walks is that it gives one time to reflect – and pray. For the first part of every walk I pray my daily Rosary, which gets me in the right frame of mind to contemplate what I see all around me, which is the wonder of the created world. Psalm 8 came frequently to mind:

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

What indeed? As the Pandemic reminded all of us of the fragility of human life and our powerlessness, the Churches decided, for perfectly obvious reasons, to close their doors. We were soon able to discover the wonder of Zoom church, and watch on-line services all over the world if we had access to a computer and the internet. But we were deprived of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. The Communion of fellowship was gone, and with it the Blessed Eucharist. It was a fast which went way beyond Lent and which drove me, at least, further into the resources of prayer. I had long before adopted the practice of praying the Offices of the Church at the week-end, and I extended this into a daily routine. Anyone getting the message I like my routines will be reading me aright. But without them, at such times, I wonder how I should have managed?

It has been an interesting discipline. The easy habits are to pray when one is joyful or sorrowful, happiness and sorrow tend to remind me of God. The daily routine has been interesting. There have been times when press of business – the ever-demanding Zoom – has made it hard to find the time. There have been times when the “mood” does not seem right. Yet this is, I have discovered, the whole point of regular daily prayer. It has ceased to be about “me” and has become about “Him”. I have found in that both a discipline and a liberation. However I “felt” when I started, I have always felt better when I finished. It has been similar with the walking and the Rosary. I have surprised myself at the extent to which it is possible to pray mindfully while walking. One falls into a rythmn, and it becomes as natural as breathing.

That “destiny” of which Newman spoke, and to which I referred in my last post, may be known only to God, but increasingly I have come to realise that Cavafy had the right of it in his great poem, Ithaka when he concluded that it was the journey, and not the destination which mattered:

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

And yes, as Ithaka approaches, Cavafy was right. The ends, in this world, may remain undiscovered, but it is the journey, and what it adds to what you brought to it that matters.

Atque et vale

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When I started at St Mary’s University in Twickenham in September 2016 I more or less gave up this blog. It was clear to me that participating in the Catholic Culture wars, even inadvertently, was incompatible with my new responsibilities – and anyway, I had a chance to actually do something – that is to help make a Catholic University a strong presence in the Higher Education sector – rather than simply write about these things.

As I retire, after forty-three years in Higher Education, five of them at St Mary’s, it is time to take up the reins again, not to participate in any culture wars – as my more recent posts here should have made clear, I long ago tired of that, but rather to reflect on Christianity in the public square. But first, and here, some reflections as I say “hail and farewell”.

I entered the world of Higher Education, as it then was not generally called, in September 1979 as a lecturer in the School of English and American Studies at the University of East Anglian in Norwich. I was even more blessed than I thought at the time. I knew jobs were going to become scarce, but none of us had any idea they would become so scarce that by 1983 even Mrs Thatcher’s Government, not well-disposed to the sector, would pump some money into what were called “new blood” posts, just to stop the situation becoming impossible. So many of my contemporaries who have jobs, got them then. The Thatcher Government distrusted Universities. It distrusted our claims of professionalism and self-governance, seeing in them little more than self-interested excuses for doing what we wanted rather than what we should be doing. The problem with this was that the Government was not terribly sure what that was, a problem shared by successive administrations, whose interventions would, but for the profesisonalism and resilience of the Sector, have totally wrecked things.

As it is, what successive Governments have managed to do is to load the Sector with a regulatory system which the old USSR would have envied, where the question “quis cusodiet ipsos cusdodes?” (who guards the guardians themselves?) is answered by the creation of ever more guardians; if this was a deliberate job-creation scheme for graduates, it would almost be admirable. As it is, even the present Government (surely in an unhappy catalogue the worst in living memory?) has realised it needs to cut back on the number of guardians. But it still has no idea what Higher Education is for. It seems, if one is to believe its rhetoric (itself an interesting philosophical question, can one believe a word that the Prime Minister utters when he so obviously has no conception of the distiction between truth and whatever suits his purpose?), it would seem that it wants “value for money degrees” and “useful knowledge.” Mr Gradgrind is back; in truth her never went away.

And yet, how ignorant this view of Higher Education is, as the University from which I am retiring has shown. With an Employability rate in the 90% range, in a university which takes more than 60% of its students from backgrounds where no one in the family has been to university, no one could accuse St Mary’s of not caring about getting good career prospects for its students. My academic colleagues put in longer hours than anyone would pay them for before they believe in the real mission of the university; they know our real Mission.

It is that mission which brought me to St Mary’s and it is that mission which took me into Higher Education, and it is a mission with a heavy religious dimension. It is best expressed in St John Henry Newman’s words:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons

Newman

And that, in a nutshell, is what we do in Higher Education. Our job is simple but complex, it is to help every student who is capable of studying and wants to study, to become the best “them” they can be. It’s not our job to say how many scientists, lawyers etc. the country is going to need. No one can know that. Jobs which the Government might say are essential today, may not exist in twenty years time, and jobs no one ever thought of will exist. What is needed are people who know how to think and people who are rounded individuals. Newman got it right in his Idea of a University and it is that mission which St Mary’s has continued.

St Mary’s is a special place because embedded in its DNA is a commitment to teaching. It was founded in 1850 to provide teachers for “Catholic Poor Schools.” It was not founded by any Government, it was founded by the Catholic Church to help train teachers for the Irish immigrants and other Catholics in London. That great and much-understimated man, Cardinal Manning, would not allow the construction of a cathedral in London until every parish had a school. Education pulled men and women out of poverty – and poverty took, and takes many forms.

After the Pandemic, no one can doubt that communities in this country are still blighted by material poverty, and the Churches, Anglican and Catholic, have played a noble part in helping alleviate the suffering it causes. But there is spiritual poverty, there is cultural poverty, there is the poverty of a life lived simply for work, where the riches of family and friends take second-place to the “toad work” as Larkin put it:

Why should I let the toad work

Squat on my life?

Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork

And drive the brute off?

Philip Larkin: Toads

One of the purposes of a University education is to help each invidual find that destiny for which God has selected them, and to equip them with the wherewithal to achieve it. But that destiny has never been just to get rich. We can see what God thinks of such people not only by those to whom he gives riches, but by what he has to say about them in Scripture. Life is a gift, and teaching at any level is a privilege because we get the chance to help others become what is in them – education is about that “leading out” process.

It ws with this faith that I entered Higher Education forty-three years ago and as I retire from my Provostship I can say as St Paul did

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

I now hand on that torch, with confidence, to my successors. There is a very great deal of rubbish talked about what goes on in our universities most of it from people who are not in them. For sure, as we are fallen creatures, not all is Eden, but I thought, as I looked out with pride at my last graduation ceremony as Provost, that of all the ways of spending the life given to me by God, this was one of the better ones. My teachers made a difference to me they could never have imagined, and if by God’s Grace I have been able to do likewise, that is sufficient.

None Dare Call it Apostasy

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I’m not going to comment my opinions on this article, although I suspect you all know them, but I do want to bring it to your attention. It deals with the Catholic Church in the United States. I expect many Americans of other churches and other nationalities of almost all churches will see something familiar in it. By George Neumayr in The American Spectator.

The post-Vatican II Church has bred many of her own destroyers. Joe Biden is the premier example of this phenomenon. He is the anti-Catholic “Catholic” who persecutes his own church. He represents a political class of bad Catholics that grows larger with each passing year. […]

The U.S. bishops, as a whole, lack the will to withhold Communion from Biden, even though canon law says that they not only have the right but the duty to do so. Canon 915 “obliges the minister of Holy Communion to refuse the Sacrament” to those in “manifest grave sin.” If Biden’s direct facilitation of the killing of unborn children doesn’t fall into that category, what does?

For decades, dust has gathered on the unused canon law books of the bishops. We are not Eucharistic gatekeepers, they have said over the years, explaining why they don’t enforce canon law against enemies of Church teaching. Such a claim would have come as a surprise to the Church’s first bishops. Jesus Christ told the apostles that the good shepherd watches the gate, lest his flock be eaten. […]

Of course, no such dialogue ever happens. This is the so-called “pastoral” approach that has emptied out the pastures of the Church and exposed the flock to wolves. Future historians may find it perplexing that the most pro-abortion administration ever was headed up by a “Catholic,” but it is not. This scandal was a long time coming. Through laxity and heterodoxy, the bishops allowed a class of pro-abortion nominal Catholics to crop up, from Mario Cuomo to Joe Biden. And even at this late date, even as Biden takes direct aim at the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Catholics, the bishops still won’t take decisive action against him.

Do read it and comment here, this is something that matters to all orthodox Christians.

The ‘Good thief’ and us

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This was Jessica’s post on NEO on Easter Saturday in 2013. @013 was a rather incredible year for our posts both her and on NE. For much of it, we were both posting every day, and doing perhaps the best posts we ever did. Most of what I posted this week is from the two of us Holy Week 2013 on NEO. Enjoy. Here’s Jess

Only St Luke carries the account of the conversation of Our Lord on the Cross with the two thieves. We know from his prologue that Luke collected information from many eye-witnesses. He is the only Gospel which contains accounts of Our Lady’s reaction to the news that she would bear the Saviour of the World, and it does not seem too fanciful to imagine that it was from the same source that this account of the last words of the Lord came.

One of them was the voice of this world. Even in his death agonies, he could find nothing better to do than to mock. But the other thief, whom tradition calls ‘Dismas’, was another matter. Christ ends by telling him that he will be with Him in Paradise that day. Do we stop to wonder why, or ask questions? After all, as Dismas himself admits, he deserves his punishment – he was a thief, a robber, a breaker of the law, and he acknowledged his sins. There is the first place he sets an example we could all follow. He admits his sins. He fears God and makes a clean breast of it. There are no ifs and buts, no ‘well, you see, it was society’s fault’; no, none of that; just the confession of a man who fears God’s wrath.

What else does this poor man do? He confesses Christ as Lord. Jesus is, he declares, innocent, and here Dismas bears a true witness; it is a good deed, perhaps the first for many years; but he does it. He also acknowledges who Jesus is by calling Him ‘Lord’. This confession is accompanied by an outpouring of faith, as he asks Jesus to remember him when He comes into His kingdom.

What humility and what faith do we see here?  If, as the Roman Centurion said, ‘Truly this man is the Son of God, then of Dismas we might say, ‘truly this man confessed Christ, repented and followed Him.’

Is that true of us?

Good? Friday

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When I was a child, I always wondered how the day when Jesus suffered murder by the state could be called Good. As I grew up and put away childish things and thoughts, I came to understand the story. It is the ultimate story of servant leadership. It is the story of how God himself came down in the guise of a man, to show us the way. Here’s a part of the story.

And so now we come to the climax. We have seen Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we have seen the Last Supper with its echoing call “Do this in Remembrance of Me”, we have seen the arrest during prayers in the garden.

We have seen Peter, renamed Cephas (the Rock) deny the Christ 3 times. We have seen the trial before the Sanhedrin, and the passing of the buck to the Roman, Pontius Pilate who could find no fault in this man but allowed him to be condemned according to Roman practice.

We have even seen the treachery of Judas, paupers who for 30 pieces of silver betrayed his Lord, soon repented, attempted to return the reward (which ended up funding paupers cemetery), and his death as a suicide.

And so now we come to the fatal procession from Jerusalem to Golgotha.

In one way or another, we will all walk the Via Dolorosa. One of the mottoes I use to keep trying to do the right thing, “No one, not even Christ, ever got out of life alive”. For me, that about sums it up. You may as well do the right thing, you might not get the reward on earth that you were striving for, but at the judgment seat, you will be rewarded.

Here is the story according to St. Matthew:

And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross, and the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew.

And the chief priests said unto Pilate, It should be written and set up over his head, his accusation, This is he that said he was Jesus, the King of the Jews. But Pilate answered and said, What I have written, I have written; let it alone.

Then were there two thieves crucified with him; one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it again in three days save thyself. If thou be the Son of God come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now; if he will save him, let him save him; for he said, I am the Son of God.

One of the thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. But the other rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation; and this man is just, and hath not sinned; and he cried unto the Lord that he would save him. And the Lord said unto him This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli,lama sabachthani?(That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) Some of them that stood there, when they heard him, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let him be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice, saying, Father, it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and the bodies of the saints which slept, arose, who were many, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, heard the earth quake, and saw those things which were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him for his burial; among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.

Now, remember this was on Friday following the triumphant entry the prior Sunday. How the mighty had fallen, from the crowd’s hero, one might say a rock star, to an executed criminal buried in a borrowed grave in a week.

This was the man many had expected to free Israel from Rome, there would be others for that mission, it would culminate at Masada and in the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora. The next ruler of the city, after Rome, would be Islam, contested by the Crusader knights. But until our own time, Jerusalem would not be ruled again by the Jews.

And so the Messiah, the King of the Jews died. The lesson would seem to be not to upset the applecart, to go along to get along, even to sit down and shut up, wouldn’t it?

It’s a pretty sharp lesson too. One of the most cruel methods of execution ever devised by man.

And so ends the story;

or does it?

And so, to the Garden

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And so, today and tonight the story moves to the Last Supper, a Seder meal remembering that God had set the Jews free from the Eqyptian Captivity, and for us, that is not unconnected, for that tradition moved into Christianity, and has led to the unparalleled freedom we have enjoyed and defended against all others. That freedom is one of the fruits of Christianity, it has never existed except where Judaism and Christianity ruled, and it still doesn’t.

From the time when Christians were the wonder of the ancient world as they disregarded the all but universal practice of leaving unwanted infants to die of exposure to this very day as we fight against the horrors of infanticide whose proponents use the euphemism of abortion to hide their crime. It is all down to Judeao-Christians honoring God’s promise.

But tonight Jesus will go to Gethsemene to camp one last time (in the flesh) with His disciples. There Judas will find his chance to betray the Lord and will take it.

In 2013 Jessica published an excellent meditation on Judas here on her blog. It starts like this.

Even the first time he appears, Judas’ name is associated with the betrayal which makes him infamous and immortal in history. We have two accounts of how he met his end: St Matthew tells us he hanged himself in a fit of shame and remorse; in Acts, Luke tells us ‘Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.’ He has become the epitome of the false friend. Why did he do it?

The Synoptic Gospels agree that Judas was bribed. Greed then, 30 pieces of silver; was it for this that the Saviour of the World was handed over to the torturers? John goes further, telling us that Judas ‘was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.’  He objected to Mary using expensive, scented oil to anoint the feet of the Lord, giving us one of the few other insights we have into his behaviour.

I heartily recommend it, Jess does these better than almost anyone ever has. On that same day, on my blog, she was also speaking of Judas, and while you would do well to read the whole post, I’ll give you some of her conclusions.

Judas had clearly had enough. Though the Synoptic Gospels tell us he betrayed Jesus for silver, John gives us the clue that it was Mary’s use of expensive oil to anoint Jesus’ feet which pushed him over the edge. It might, of course, be, as John said, that he had been tipping into the till and helping himself to money, but his taking offence was clear enough evidence of what type of man he was.  He was a zealot, a puritan – how dare Jesus allow people to waste oil which could have been spent to help the poor. He, Judas, knew what was right, and he had lost patience with Jesus.

Simon Peter was headstrong, and didn’t always get it right. After supper, when Jesus had said He was going to wash the feet of the disciples, Peter protested and said He wouldn’t allow it. But when Jesus told him that if he didn’t, he couldn’t be with Him, Peter didn’t ask for an explanation, he told Jesus he wanted to be washed all over.

Caiaphas and Judas reasoned their way through to a conclusion based on their own insights, and they saw, as we all do, only so far. Peter also reasoned his way to what seemed to him a sensible conclusion, but the love he felt for Jesus opened his heart and he saw further than he had with his intellect. Jesus warned him that he had been handed over to Satan to be ‘sifted’. Peter declared he never would deny Jesus – but Christ knew what was coming.

As the disciples slept and the Romans and the Jewish guard came closer, the silence of that dark night was broken only by the anguish of Jesus. His time had come.

And so it was foretold, and so it happened.

Wednesday: Holy Week

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Today was a relatively quiet day in Jerusalem all those years ago – the major event we still recognize was that Judas Iscariot met with the Jewish leaders and received his 30 pieces of silver. But why? We’ll look at that tomorrow.

Today on Neo, there is a new post by Jessica, one of her series of historical fiction speculating about the life of Mary Magdalene. She wrote it last fall ane I saved it for Holy Week. It is, I think, one of the best posts she ever wrote, so I’m going to cheat a bit and post it here as well. Do reflect carefully on what she says ere, an excellent guide for us all. Here, from my dearest friend.

A Harlot’s Way: 5 The Cross

I have tried three times to write this.I can’t. I told Luke what he wanted to know. I am told Matthew and Mark have written an account of that awful day. If John would write it then maybe, in his hands, it could lift you up – of us all, he is the true mystic. But John is long gone, I heard of him last in Ephesus, and the Romans have killed so many of us. Here, where I am, on the very outskirts of Empire, we may be safe, but one never knows – and if it be His will that we should die for him, we shall. None of which helps me with what happened after I anointed the feet of Jesus.

If this is ever read it will be by people who know the story: the entry into Jerusalem; that last supper; the agony in Gethsemane; the farce of a trial; the cruel death; the blackest despair. All made bearable by what happened next. Indeed, only what happened next makes sense of it, but in that making sense, we risk losing something – that is the sacrifice Jesus made. It isn’t as though he did not have a choice. He need not have gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. He need not have done what he did in the Temple. At that last supper, he could have slipped out as Judas did. There were those at Gethsemane who would have fought to keep him safe. It is the fact that there were those options – and that he did not take them – which bear witness to his definition of love. It is easy (which is why men do it so often) to talk of love when what is really meant is a longing for something or someone to please us; but the love that took him to that awful place on Golgotha – that is something else.

It was John Mark running back to the upper room which alerted us to what had happened. Nearly naked, we could see from that, and from the horror in his voice that something awful had occurred. I gave him some wine and calmed him down. He told us what had happened in the garden. Mary of Bethany said, bless her, that they would realise there had been a mistake and he would be released; mother Mary looked as though her heart was breaking, and shook her head. She knew, I knew, we all knew in our hearts that this was that sacrifice of which he had spoken. I knew, mother Mary and others knew, that he had rebuked Peter for saying it should not be so. But not all the knowing it was his will and destiny could stop our tears and fears. We put a look-out at the window, and we were ready to decamp at a moment’s notice. We need not have worried, it was him they wanted; they had him.

It was the worst attempt at a night’s sleep any of us ever made. Every step on the street outside caused alarm, and in the end, I made us a very early breakfast. It must have been towards dawn that the men began to return. John was in tears, Philip and Andrew in shock. But it was Peter whose appearance shocked me most. He looked as though he had aged ten years in as many hours. His hair seemed whiter, his eyes tired and tearful. When Andrew asked him what had happened he shook off his comforting hand, swore, and went into a corner where he muttered angrily at himself. It was dear John who brought him round. Then Matthew came and said that a crowd was gathering near the Governor’s palace. I offered to go with Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Salome the doula.

When we got there we found a huge mob. From the balcony, Pilate was talking – offering to release Jesus or Bar-Abbas, the robber. The crowd, stirred on by the Pharisees demanded the latter. Mary and I gripped each other tight as Jesus appeared on the balcony. He looked tired and drawn. When Pilate announced he would release the robber, he asked what he should do with Jesus? The cry went up: “Crucify him!” Mary clung to me and wept. A man next to us turned on us:

“Are you one of his supporters?”

I looked him in the eye with the stare I had always used on men of his sort:

“Yes, what of it? Were you not there the other say hailing him as king of the Jews?”

The man blenched and turned away. I had guessed right. How many of those blowhards who now cried for his death had celebrated him only days before?

We returned to the house.

Mother Mary asked us for news, so we gave it straight. We knew what we had to do. He would be crucified on Golgotha, we needed to get there so we could be with him at the last. Peter looked at me as though I was crazy:

“They will take you and Mary, what are you thinking, woman!”

“I am thinking, Peter, that if you want to stay here and hide, do so, I am not ashamed or afraid. They are not going to strip me naked and hang me on a tree!”

John said he would come with us.

So it was we watched that sad last walk as, battered and bruised almost beyond recognition, he tried to drag that cross up the hill. But his strength failed, and Alexander and Rufus’ father carried it for him. We got close enough for mother Mary to mop his brow. I told the soldiers who we were and the centurion, who seemed to admire my courage, allowed us to stand at the foot of the cross.

We watched as they mocked him. We heard his words. He commended mother Mary of John’s tender care – and how marvelously he fulfilled that charge. Then he gave up his spirit and we cried as though tears had no end. The sky grew black. When those soldiers came to check whether the three men on the crosses were dead, there was no doubt about him. We asked for his body; they gave it to us.

Oh, oh, oh of that I cannot write. To see that life whose entry into the world I had seen thirty-three years earlier now broken, battered and lifeless is more that I can bear. I kissed that bloody brow and washed him with the water brought by Joseph’s men. Joseph’s men told us we could use his tomb and showed us where.

As we got there, it was almost time for the Passover. We finished washing him. We anointed him with herbs. I took the winding cloth which I had brought back with me from Babylon and we wrapped him in it, with a cloth to cover that battered face. Then, we each kissed him and headed for the exit. The soldiers rolled a great stone across the entrance and stood guard. We went back home in silence. What could be said? He had gone. He had said he would return. Deep, deep inside me that small flame burned bright.

Crossposted from: Nebraska Energy Observer

Tuesday of Holy Week

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Tuesday of Holy Week is a day we don’t talk about much these days. There are no special (and memorable) services such as many of the other days of this week have. But it has a drama all its own. For it is full of advice for us and warnings for mankind. Not to mention more than a few parables.

I’m only going to repeat a small part of it, you can find these in any of the Gospels, they are part of the bedrock of Christianity, but this is a specific warning that Jesus gave to the people and his disciples, from The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 23, in the Authorized Version

23 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! 17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35 that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Audre is speaking today on my blog about a new, more masculine church arising, I agree with her, and here is the foundation of that church, in Christ’s Examination in the Temple. Here is Jesus, both man and God, and the most glorious example of masculinity, no matter the consequences ever seen on this earth or anywhere else for that matter. Take heart for the Master is always with us.

A Modern Passion Play

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As we work our way into the second year of lockdown to flatten the curve, many of us remain more or less forcibly unchurched. Well, I was that way in college, since there was no local church of my denomination, nor did I have a car available. So it was time to improvise, adapt, and overcome, as it is now for people of faith.

Our forebearers had their passion plays to act out parts of the story of the Bible, most especially the Passion of Christ. And in fact, there is a modern one that was my mainstay in college. It’s certainly not as good as the services we normally would attend this week, but it is much better than nothing, or perhaps for some of us, even reading the words and being unable to visualize what this sacrifice the God himself made to save us was like.

I hope and yes, pray, that this will remind some of you, as it did me years ago, about how much God loves us all, no matter how we have behaved. Oh, and enjoy as well, for it came out of a burst of creativity rarely seen.

Friday Thoughts

John Chrysostom: Homily 42

I am conscious that I have not written here since last weekend. Aside from generally not being in the mood to write after a normal day’s work, I have struggled to find something to say that is appropriate. The news is continually a source of anger as we go from one controversy to another. Readers at NEO will note the bleak tone of my recent comments there.

There are trivial things I could write about, such as food, but readers of this blog typically expect something of spiritual, ethical, or political significance. Christians also disagree about our approach to the world: some say that if we ignore it, we become introverted and selfish, while others say that if we pay it attention, it is apt to distract us from Christ and the everlasting kingdom that the righteous shall inherit. In truth, there is no general answer: managing one’s mental health depends upon one’s circumstances and temperament.

I have set out below part of John Chrysostom’s homily on John 6 (taken from the Catholic site, New Advent):

“Beloved, let us not contend with violent men, but learn when the doing so brings no hurt to our virtue to give place to their evil counsels; for so all their hardihood is checked. As darts when they fall upon a firm, hard, and resisting substance, rebound with great violence on those who throw them, but when the violence of the cast has nothing to oppose it, it soon becomes weaker and ceases, so is it with insolent men; when we contend with them they become the fiercer, but when we yield and give ground, we easily abate all their madness. Wherefore the Lord when He knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, went into Galilee, to quench their envy, and to soften by His retirement the wrath which was likely to be engendered by these reports.”

There is wisdom here. There is a time for resisting, but also a time for retiring. In Ecclesiastes, it says: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…a time of war, and a time of peace” (3:1,8). Wisdom lies in knowing what time it is. Some people will not be persuaded, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes, the best thing is to retire.

God has a great day of judgment in store. Though we may not be vindicated in this life, though the war on truth may continue apace, that does not mean there is no reckoning, no rebuke. Each person must stand before God at the Last Day and answer for their words, thoughts, deeds, and omissions. Nor will God abandon this world to the god of this age. One day Christ will return and the kingdoms of this world will become His. He will reign in glory from Jerusalem and delegate the rule of the nations to His faithful saints.

Why I like traditional Anglican liturgy

I’m not really an Anglican, although I have spent many a Sunday at Anglican services (not to mention some Friday morning communion services). Traditional services provide a quiet space for reflection. They tend to avoid the excesses that I have seen in various contexts.

This is important. Sobriety and focussing on God are a necessary balm in these difficult times and form a stark contrast to certain forms of churchmanship that have a tendency distract and misplace our focus. YouTube is filled with videos of people who have left churches (whether to join other ones or to become atheist or agnostic) because of cultures and doctrines that were detrimental.

Traditional liturgy also helps the Christian to feel part of the wider church, both spatially and in terms of the chain of history. Its ancientness reminds us that Christians of times past have faced persecution and difficulties, but overcame through their faith in Christ. Its stately solemnity reminds us that the vicissitudes of this life are temporary. God’s kingdom is everlasting.

The Anglo-Catholic manner of conducting it (and even the less ornate choir-dress style) reminds us that our brethren are found in all denominations. We may disagree on various points, but we all worship the Holy Trinity and confess that Christ died for our sins and will come again to judge the living and the dead.