The Rector writes…
I was struck by a phrase from Saint Basil which was used in one of the breviary readings this past week: “ineffable wholly and inexplicable are the flashes of divine beauty”. It is a central understanding of Christianity that God can be comprehended through what he has made: anyone who truly opens his or her eyes to the complexity and wonder of the creation can come to an acceptance of its First Cause. There are moments for all of us when awe is the only reaction there can be to what we perceive of the universe around us: it might be the vastness of a continent or the simplicity of the structure of a flower; it could be the dependence evident in a newly born child, or the expression on the face of a person in extreme old age.
Whatever, whenever, there are these “flashes of divine beauty” which, when discerned, illuminate our lives, and when put together offer a pattern on which we can rely ever more securely, Another Basil, this time the late Cardinal Hume, used to say that throughout the human journey God constantly provides glimpses of himself which are growing all the time into a composite picture. In our lifetime’s search for God we need to learn to trust the heart – if we want to know him, he will not disappoint us, and the smallest events can become transparent of his presence, and provide building blocks to faith.
Christianity, of course, moves a significant stage further, holding out the possibility that God may not only be accepted as having existence but may be known at the level of individual and personal relationship. Jesus could say of himself: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”, and Saint Irenaeus explains: “the Father has revealed the Son to this end that he may be displayed to all through the Son”. In the Incarnation of his Christ, God speaks the definitive Word about himself: what could be deduced from the natural order is now, quite literally, fleshed out and presented in a form which is accessible to anyone and everyone.
But unlike our apprehension of the being of God through the human senses, we can only hear his Word if we have first learned his name. As the Letter to the Romans reminds us: “They will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will not have a preacher unless one is sent … faith comes from what is preached, and what is preached comes from the word of Christ” (10:14-17). If God has said everything there is to be said about himself in the life, death and resurrection of his Son, then that message – the Gospel – has to be transmitted so that each succeeding generation will hear what God has to say and make his Word their own.
This is why Christianity is described as a missionary religion. It is not that we are interested in numbers in themselves rather that we believe that each person was created for communion with the living God and our conviction that this relationship of love is uniquely realised in and through Jesus Christ. That being so, we cannot remain silent. Clearly we need more preachers – theologians, priest, religious, teachers, catechists – men and women who will find an idiom in which to reveal Jesus to those around them – those who will speak in the name of the Church with the authority of its “magisterium”: but even more the witness is needed of those who “preach” by using the opportunities of their own daily lives to speak to their families, to friends and neighbours, to their work colleagues, from their own experience of faith.
A major task for the present is to build confidence in believers so that they feel able to express their understanding of God and his ways with them. A century and a half ago, Blessed John Henry Newman saw the need of an educated Catholic laity if England were to be effectively evangelised: that perception has even more relevance today.