In my early-onset amnesia, I wrote a homily for this Sunday (28C) having wholly forgotten that we have a pastoral letter from the archbishop appointed to be read. To save myself from the feeling of utter futility I post it here so that at least it was not totally for nothing! Continue reading “From Naaman to Newman”
Whether or not Martin Luther actually uttered the words attributed to him and found in the title of this post, it certainly had become the principal rallying cry for the claims of conscience, equalled only by (the oft-decontextualized use of) Newman’s “I shall drink to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards”. Both are seen within the context of a challenge to the papacy, be it the brazen hubris of Luther or Newman’s more subtle and nuanced disquiet at the proclamation of papal infallibility at Vatican I.
Both might be seen as applicable to the case of Fr Thomas Weinandy OFMCap and his recently-released letter to Pope Francis regarding the current crisis of authority in the Church. In the preceding link one will find also Fr Weinandy’s explanatory note, which is in many ways perhaps even more arresting than the letter itself. It is important to note that Fr Weinandy is no fringe-dwelling extremist nor some rare and exotic flower in the vineyard of the Lord. He is as mainstream, in the best possible way, a theologian as one can get. Widely-read by students (including myself), 12 years teaching in Oxford and, for some of that time, as chairman of the theology faculty, former head of the US bishops’ doctrine commission. But this is barely to touch upon his eminence as a theologian. Continue reading “Here I stand; I can do no other.”
Today there was no obligatory memorial or feast day to cause us to pass over the ferial readings set down for Mass today. How apt these readings were at the end of a week in which the UK House of Commons has passed a bill to redefine marriage to include same-sex partnerships.
In the first reading (Heb 13:1-8), St Paul is winding up his letter by offering some exhortations to the community. Among them is,
Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (v.4)
In light of this week’s events, what arrests attention is not so much those who defile the marriage bed by acts of immorality and adultery, but those who effectively encourage them to do so, and indeed, facilitate it. Panderers and pimps used to be the common name for such people. The House of Commons this week sought to join them. It is one thing for a person to sin; it is quite another to encourage others to sin by telling them it is no sin at all. God’s law stands, and no parliament can revoke it. To say otherwise is to lie. Panderers, pimps – and liars…
It is not fashionable to talk today of judgement nor of hell. These last things are clearly and emphatically taught in scripture and in the consistent magisterial tradition of the Church, and we take a great risk in ignoring them or setting them aside. St Paul in the text above makes it clear that God will judge sinners, even those among the little ones of the world, though we might dare hope in his mercy. Our Lord has a word for the House of Commons too:
but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! (Matt 18:6-7)
This week Britain ceased finally to be Christian in any meaningful sense. That there is an established church and a state religion in Anglicanism is of little consequence because the Anglican communion, in its majority and official stance at least, seems intent on aiding abetting the government’s appalling attempt to re-order the divine Order. Even more frightening is the fact that not one of the three main parties stands against this legislation, Tory rebels notwithstanding. What is left – UKIP? The Monster Raving Loony Party? Mr Cameron even had the temerity to indulge in the Orwellian subterfuge of maintaining that he supports same-sex marriage because he believes marriage is so important. It is not important to him at all other than as another object of his pragmatism; there is no principle involved, just another means to an end to be manipulated according to current political priorities, chief among them the need to curry favour with the ascendant factions in society.
So how fitting it was that today’s gospel was on Herod’s murder of St John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29). Herod, admiring of the Baptist even as the Baptist opposed him, and acknowledging his obvious holiness and prophetic word, surrenders his stirring of conscience to pragmatism. Rather than lose the favour of Herodias and Salome, two fallen daughters of a fallen Eve if ever there were; and rather than be seen by his nobles to have uttered rashly, indiscreetly and venally and so lose face before them, he consents to a crime that he knows is wrong. In mitigation for Herod, we might say at least that, unlike Mr Cameron, he never attempted to label sin a virtue.
Mr Cameron has assured the churches that no clergyman will be forced to attempt to confect a same-sex marriage (attempt, mark you, because it can never be confected in God’s sight). But James Preece takes up the example of the 1994 Sunday Trading Act, citing the debate in the Lords at the time in which three Baronesses unequivocally assert that no worker would be required to work on a Sunday, and they would be protected if they refused to work on a Sunday. Just over a month ago a court ruled that Christians do not have a right to refuse to work on Sundays, which means they can be sacked if they do refuse. Moreover the reason his Honour gave for this ruling was that working on a Sunday is not a “core belief” of Christianity.
On the one hand we have a government attempting to re-define the divine institution of marriage; on the other hand we have a judiciary attempting to re-define the central tenets of Christianity. The judiciary is equally guilty of acting ultra vires as the government. So can a Catholic priest reasonably trust the Prime Minister’s assurances that no clergyman will be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage? Today it is pragmatic for him to promise this, but tomorrow it might not be.
This might sound like scaremongering to some, or an overreaction bordering on hysterical by others. But it is a fact that in the last 5 centuries Britain has a record of persecuting Catholics, and not least their priests, for keeping the Faith. The gallows may have disappeared, but we might well fear that persecution is alive and well.
There are far better expositions of the issues involved elsewhere. Some have been linked already in the text. You might also want to read Dr Joseph Shaw, who wields the sharp scalpel of logic with a slightly different focus.
Militant Islam considers the West to be decadent and enmired in immorality. While its methods are appalling and in every way deplorable, it is easy to see how there might be something in their opinion.
To end on a more hopeful note, let us look to a poem penned by Blessed John Henry Newman in 1832:
The Patient Church
BIDE thou thy time!
Watch with meek eyes the race of pride and crime,
Sit in the gate, and be the heathen’s jest,
Smiling and self-possest.
O thou, to whom is pledged a victor’s sway,
Bide thou the victor’s day!
Think on the sin *
That reap’d the unripe seed, and toil’d to win
Foul history-marks at Bethel and at Dan;
No blessing, but a ban;
Whilst the wise Shepherd** hid his heaven-told fate,
Nor reck’d a tyrant’s hate.
Such loss is gain;
Wait the bright Advent that shall loose thy chain!
E’en now the shadows break, and gleams divine
Edge the dim distant line.
When thrones are trembling, and earth’s fat ones quail,
True Seed! thou shalt prevail!
[*: Jereboam; **: David]
Blessed John Henry Newman offers a useful resolution we might make our own as we leave the Lenten season of pentitential preparation and enter into the Sacred Triduum of the Paschal Mystery which is Lent’s object:
And so, too, as regards this world, with all its enjoyments, yet disappointments. Let us not trust it; let us not give our hearts to it; let us not begin with it. Let us begin with faith; let us begin with Christ; let us begin with His Cross and the humiliation to which it leads. Let us first be drawn to Him who is lifted up, that so He may, with Himself, freely give us all things. Let us “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, and then all those things of this world “will be added to us”.
They alone are able truly to enjoy this world, who begin with the world unseen. They alone enjoy it, who have first abstained from it. They alone can truly feast, who have first fasted; they alone are able to use the world, who have learned not to abuse it; they alone inherit it, who take it as a shadow of the world to come, and who for that world to come relinquish it.
[Parochial & Plain Sermons, VI, 7]