Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
The next few weeks are full of anticipation. For most of the world preparations are being made for “Christmas” which, whether they recognise its religious inspiration or not, is a time when goodwill is expressed through cards and presents and everyone looks forward to a break from the usual routines. Sadly, the secularisation of so much of contemporary society means that the link between the season and the birth of the universal Saviour becomes ever more tenuous. Rather than bemoaning this state of affairs, it would be better if each of us determined, as and where we can, to help others understand the significance that Christmas has for us. Perhaps, actions often speaking louder than words, we might begin by exercising a little restraint and treat the Advent season as the Church intends us to do! I realise that the office party (or its equivalents) is part of our culture and that we cannot stand apart totally from the premature jollifications of our peers and colleagues, but at least within ourselves there does need to be some space for reflection on what it is we are moving towards.
Clearly Christmas is all about the wonderful truth of the Incarnation, of the greatest of all mysteries expressed in a carol: “The Word in the bliss of the Godhead remains, yet in flesh comes to suffer the keenest of pains; he is that he was, and for ever shall be, but became what he was not, for you and for me”. The Scripture readings we hear and the hymns we sing during Advent speak of the promise of a Messiah destined to appear in Israel: the liturgy points us towards the fulfilment of the ancient prophecies in the birth of Mary’s Child at Bethlehem. But there is another theme which is never far below the surface through which the full context of Christ’s first advent is revealed: he who came into the world 2,000 years ago in a quiet, unobtrusive way, open only to the eyes of faith, will return in such an apocalyptic form that at his second coming no one alive will be left in any doubt as to his identity. The Alpha of creation will show himself also to be its Omega point.
Birthdays are important because they provide the opportunity to express our affection for one another and to say things we do not usually say in gratitude for the support of family and friends. Saint Teresa of Avila says that if we want to approach God it has to be through the humanity assumed in his Son and the annual festival of his Nativity gives us the chance to ponder that mystery and to return thanks for the graces that flow into our lives through Christ. “O wonder of wonders, which none can unfold: the Ancient of days is an hour or two old; the Maker of all things is made of the earth, Man is worshipped by angels, and God comes to earth”. It is right that the days of Advent should pass with a genuine sense of happy anticipation: Christmas and all the good things associated with this season are to be enjoyed, but we need always to keep in mind that the Incarnation was a means to an end, not an end in itself. As we kneel before the crib we should keep keep asking “why?” As Saint Paul says in writing to his disciple Timothy: “the mystery of our religion is very deep indeed: ‘he was made visible in the flesh, attested by the Spirit, proclaimed to the pagans’” (1:3,16).Christ is born to reveal the nature of the Godhead as merciful love inviting the creation and all its components to be reconciled to the Father through him. The consequence of the divine self-revelation is that the world now stands under judgement in an entirely new way. Up until Bethlehem men and women could have pleaded a certain ignorance, but from then on the truth is there to be discovered. Once the Word has become flesh the choices are more sharply defined – will we hear what is being spoken in Christ, or will we close our ears? “Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown together in the course of history. When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each according to their works, and according to their acceptance or refusal of grace” (Catechism).
“From the time that I became a Catholic, of course, I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this I do not mean that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.
Nor had I any trouble about receiving those additional articles, which are not found in the Anglican Creed. Some of them I believed already, but not any one of them was a trial to me. I made a profession of them on my reception with the greatest ease, and I have the same ease in believing them now. I am of course far from denying that every article of the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, is beset with intellectual difficulties; and it is a simple fact, that, for myself, I cannot answer those difficulties. Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of Religion; I am as sensitive of them as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending these difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate.
There are, of course, difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man cannot be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and yet borne in upon our minds with most power. People say that the doctrine of transubstantiation is difficult to believe. I did not believe the doctrine till I was a Catholic. I had no difficulty in believing it as soon as I believed that the Catholic Roman Church was the oracle of God, and that she had declared this doctrine to be part of the original revelation. It is difficult, impossible, to imagine, I grant – but how is it difficult to believe?
I believe the whole revealed dogma as taught by the Apostles, as committed by the Apostles to the Church, and as declared by the Church to me. I receive it, as it is infallibly interpreted by the authority to whom it is thus committed, and (implicitly) as it shall be, in like manner, further interpreted by the same authority till the end of time. I submit, moreover, to the universally received traditions of the Church, in which lies the matter of those new dogmatic definitions which are from time to time made, and which in all times are the clothing and the illustration of the Catholic dogma as already defined. And I submit myself to those other decisions of the Holy See, theological or not, through the organs which it has itself appointed, which, waiving the question of their infallibility, come to me with a claim to be accepted and obeyed. Also, I consider that gradually and in the course of time, Catholic inquiry has taken certain shapes, and has thrown itself into the form of a science, with a method and phraseology of its own, under the intellectual handling of great minds such as Saint Athanasius, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas; and I feel no temptation at all to break in pieces the great legacy of thought thus committed to us for these latter days”.
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