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You don’t find many explanations of why Vatican II took place and, after some searching, I found this essay from 2004, ‘After the Council: Living Vatican II’ by George Sim Johnston for Crisis magazine. 

I’m still digesting what he’s saying, so I won’t offer an opinion, because I really don’t know.  It would seem, however, that this was done more for the clergy and religious than the laity, with results that helped neither.

Here’s what Johnston has to say (emphases mine):

Traditionalist Catholics who blame all the Church’s recent problems on Vatican II should ponder a few questions: If the Church was in such good shape before the council, why did things fall apart so rapidly in the 1960s? How do you account for the fact that the rebellion was the work of bishops, theologians, and priests who came out of the Tridentine system? Had all those priests and nuns who suddenly wanted to be laicized received adequate formation under the old system? Why was there so much dissatisfaction? It won’t do simply to rattle off statistics about the decline of the Church since the council. There’s no question that there were good and holy Catholics in the old days—even some saints—and that since the council we have lost much that is good. But there were also problems waiting to erupt. Might not the Magisterium have been correct in addressing them in the council’s documents? 

Called by the council to full spiritual adulthood, a significant number of priests and religious instead broke out in adolescent rebellion, a discharge of decades of narrow, rules-based formation and institutional frustration. It seemed that the preconciliar Church had produced legions of clerics who were incapable of intelligently and prayerfully studying the council’s documents. And their bishops certainly weren’t going to insist … 

The late philosopher David Stove, an acute diagnostician of the modern age, writes about how what passes for much of modern philosophy is no more than an acting out of a horror of all things Victorian. This syndrome has its counterpart in the modern Catholic Church. Among Catholics of a certain age, there is a dread of anything smacking of preconciliar Catholicism. Latin, Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, incense, gothic and baroque architecture, dogmatic definitions—all evoke a reaction well-described by Stove: ‘A sensation of darkness, stillness, enclosure, and, above all, of weight or pressure …’ And the impulse of these progressive Catholics is to do exactly what their counterparts have done in the secular culture: Knock down everything they find left standing from the old days. 

As a result, the reception of the council by ‘liberals’ amounted to no more than the commandeering of a few phrases—such as “people of God” and “signs of the times”—out of context. It was time to break the fetters. A loud ‘Non serviam!‘ erupted within the Church, along with a surrender to the secular world, which itself was going through a massive identity crisis. These dissidents conjured away the council’s demand for inner reform and apostolic zeal, substituting in its place a generic Christianity that is indistinguishable from bourgeois liberalism’s understanding of the common decencies.

At the root of all this? 

[The] problem was described by the great French Thomist Jacques Maritain who, in The Peasant of the Garonne (1966), asked why so many priests and religious took such a bad turn even before the council ended. The explanation, according to Maritain, was a malaise that had been building for half a century. In the preconciliar Church there had been a kind of “practical Manichaeism,” which involved “purely moralistic prohibitions, injunctions to flight, habits of fear, disciplines of denial in which love had no part, where science was held the enemy of religion…the almost exclusive recourse to disciplinary measures, the spiritual impoverishment of the laity, who thought the call to the perfection of charity is the exclusive concern of monks…. [A]ll this was going to build up, in the unconscious of a great many Christians, clerics and laymen, an enormous weight of frustration, disillusionment, repressed doubts, resentment, bitterness, healthy desires sacrificed….” 

“Then,” Maritain continues, “comes the aggiornamento. Why be astonished that at the very announcement of a Council…the enormous unconscious weight which I have just mentioned bursts into the open in a kind of explosion that does no honor to human intelligence?” Romano Guardini similarly noticed in German theology professors decades before the council a Catholicism that was merely liberalism kept in check by a reluctant obedience to dogma. In the very heart of many religious orders and theology faculties, the Faith was experienced as a fetter, an imposed burden, a set of rules. Do you remember the “bad” nun in the movie The Song of Bernadette? It would have been impossible to remain in this state, council or no council. A crisis was inevitable, and perhaps not entirely regrettable. If the journals of the late Alexander Schmemann, a gifted Russian Orthodox priest and theologian, are any guide, one problem with modern Eastern Orthodoxy has been the lack of a crisis, resulting in an increasingly ossified, a historical religiosity that has no idea how to engage the modern world.

Gee, I must have missed that Catholic Church. I disagree with him on the laity feeling pent up.  Some did, but the majority, in my experience, did not.

As for clergy and religious, I had two aunts who were nuns and they never complained or were miserable.  They seemed quite happy.  You know, why enter the religious life 80 years ago or even 50?  You knew it would be rough.  It depended on the order.  I don’t see it, but, what do I know?

Johnston has this to say about the laity:

Do not underestimate the role of rising affluence in the troubles since the council. The post-conciliar mischief was initiated by disaffected clergy, but during these years, an increasingly wealthy and assimilated laity was perfectly happy to follow the path of least resistance marked by dissident theologians. In 1937, the Protestant thinker H. Richard Niebuhr drew attention to a soft-core spirituality among Americans: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Was it likely that Catholics would be immune once they emerged from the ethnic ghetto, moved to the suburbs, and joined the mainstream?

He’s quite optimistic about the future — out of crises come renewals. I think this chap is a Vatican II apologist, but have a read and see what you think.

The Lord is indeed everywhere, but is he there for you? – Martin Luther

Martin Luther chaosandoldnightwordpresscomWe often think of receiving Communion — or the Lord’s Supper — these days as a self-centred affair for some.  This holiest of Sacraments seems to be the most imbued with a sense of entitlement.  How can something so profound, so beautiful be misused and misconstrued?

The Revd Naomichi Masaki of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, explores the history of these misconceptions, which are almost as old as the Sacrament itself.  In ‘It’s Not Ours but the Lord’s Supper’, he explains that St Paul was the first to observe its misuse.  Some Corinthians treated the Body and Blood of Our Lord the same way they would treat a supper in their own homes (1 Cor. 11:20-21).  Martin Luther also noted the same in his day.  He cautioned: ‘It is the Lord’s Supper, not Christians’ supper’.

The Greeks were heavily influenced by Hellenestic mystery religions which predated Christianity.  In them, performing certain ceremonial rituals was necessary to win salvation.  Some scholars of the time claimed that the early Christian liturgy, similarly, belonged to the people.  When applied to Communion, they reasoned that the greater the public participation, the ‘better’ the sacrament.  Their early rituals involved the laity more than they should have.  In the last century, this notion was revived in certain Protestant denominations with a lay apostolate replacing ordained ministers.  Later on, Vatican II gave lay Catholics an increased role with the idea of ‘liturgy as the work of the people’ — a good work intended to instil grace.

These days, we sometimes place overemphasis on the Communion Mass or service as a celebration, coming together as a congregation or receiving Communion because everyone else does.  But, is this really the way the Lord intended us to receive this most precious gift to us?  Luther warned against the tendency to ‘diminish my Lord Jesus Christ’.       

Luther believed that we must think of the Supper in the way the Lord intended us to receive it.  He believed that an ordained priest was necessary to transmit the necessary grace to the Sacrament. He stated that the means of grace and the Office of the Holy Ministry go together.  This is part of the Augsburg Confession, Article V.  Just as he did not believe it was the congregation’s supper, he also stated that it was not the pastor’s supper.  He said that when this doctrine was not observed, the confession of the means of grace was weakened or damaged, and, by association, the Office of the Holy Ministry that accompanied it. 

For Luther the words ‘This is My body … This is My blood’ were central to the approach with the Lord’s Supper.  He did not impose human limitations on Christ’s body and blood. He was careful not to let emotion, works or reason interfere with the Sacrament.   He said neither our personal reflections on it nor our actions around it increased our knowledge of it.  Nor did an attempt to reason or explain the Sacrament.  The words of Christ not only make the sacrament, but bring and give us the forgiveness of sin (Matthew 26:28).

Revd Masaki explains: 

What is said of the words is not, however, at the expense of the Lord’s body and blood. Again in the Large Catechism, Luther calls the body and blood ‘a treasure and gift’ . . . ‘through which forgiveness is obtained’ on the cross and which is ‘brought to us’ as the words say ‘given and shed for you’ (LC, V, 22, 28-31). Notice he did not say that the treasure was personalized to Christ Himself. He said it was His body and blood. Of course, the Lord’s body and blood may never be disjoined from Himself. Luther, however, stayed as close as possible to what the words of the Lord say and rejoiced in the proprium of the Lord’s Supper, not allowing any Christological considerations or “spiritualization.”

In another place Luther left us a very important word: ‘the Lord is indeed everywhere, but is he there for you?’ (AE 37:68). This echoes in his catechisms where he stresses not only that the body and blood of the Lord are there at the Lord’s Table, but that they are given out ‘for you’. The Gospel which comforts us comes from this little phrase ‘for you’ because the mere presence of the Lord can also be for our judgment.

In Greek, this ‘for you’ in the words of institution involves not only ‘for the benefit of you’ but also ‘in the place of you’. This language of vicarious satisfaction is seen also in another little phrase, ‘for many’ (Mt. 26:28; Mark 14:23; cf., Heb. 9:28), which echoes Ebed Yahweh, the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:11), the Lamb of God.

Therefore, Luther stated that Christians receive the Lord’s Supper in order to obtain the forgiveness won on the Cross.  He believed that the forgiveness of sins had to be both remembered and delivered.  The Lord delivers us this forgiveness independently through His instrument of ‘the preaching office’ — the priest. 

Revd Masaki concludes:

He and what He gives are sure. When the Lord’s Supper is reduced to our own supper or Christians’ supper, we may celebrate it as we want, but our deepest comfort is lost.

The Lord’s Supper remains His Supper when He gives His body and blood for us to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sin. Faith receives this gift which does not come from inside our hearts. Rather it comes from outside us through external means, both into the ears and upon the tongue.

He bids you come to eat and drink. He invites you in the most friendly way imaginable. All Law, works, worthiness, reason, inward movement, upward movement, ‘spiritualization’, compulsion are excluded. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28). He now serves you at the Lord’s Table by giving you His body and blood to eat and drink. Blessed are those who are at home in His liturgy, for there they receive forgiveness, life, and salvation, not through their own supper, but the Lord’s Supper!

 

The other night I had a conversation about sentient beings, namely, which was more sentient — a newborn baby or a puppy?  Back in October, I looked at Obama’s Regulatory ‘point person’ Cass Sunstein who said a human embryo was ‘only a handful of cells’ and cited the animal rights pioneer Jeremy Bentham who said that a fully grown dog is ‘more rational’ than a baby.

There seems to be a connection between dogs and babies in the abortion debate.  Would these guys care about abortion more if pet owners were taking their dogs to the vet for abortions?  My friend told me not to get tied up in the ‘emotional’ abortion debate.  Yet, you can imagine the outcry if thousands, nay, millions of dog owners were taking their female pets in for terminations, for whatever reason. 

Or, even if the dogs landed in the veterinary hospital because of illness and died as a result.

Les Femmes had another great post the other week called ‘Abortionist Admits He’s Killing’.  Sure enough, dogs turned up.  Here’s Mary Ann Kreitzer with more:

… a deathscort, Jim Lemon (now deceased, God have mercy on him) … would spend his Saturday mornings at the abortion mill next to St. James in Falls Church, VA. He claimed he wasn’t paid by the abortionist, but I never believed him.

Jim and I used to exchange letters. I’d send him little prayer notes and he would respond, usually pontificating that the “little souls” went back to God to be sent to parents who wanted them. It was a bizarre way to justify murder, but it seemed to work for Jim..

On the other hand, Jim wasn’t quite so blasé about the death of pets. He had a dog named Pumpkin who died at a veterinary hospital when he was left alone at night after surgery. After that, Jim worked tirelessly for legislation to require vet hospitals to have staff on the premises 24/7. I used to beg Jim to think of the babies as puppies. Then he might have had some compassion for them.

Why not try that sometime with a pro-choice friend?  Mention aborting cuddly puppies or elderly dogs dying and watch their reaction change.  Only 1 per cent of abortions in the US are incest- or rape-related. Only 6 per cent are health-related.  All the rest are for convenience.  Check it out here.  For worldwide abortion numbers since 2001, click here.  You will be amazed.

Watch how casual Planned Parenthood is about the subject.  Getting an abortion is safer than having a baby.  Note the careful use of terminology, too.  This undercover film comes courtesy of Live Action, a new-media movement for life:

Where to begin?  The most important item here in a serious vein is that evidence of two miracles attributed to the late Bishop Fulton J Sheen were sent to the Vatican for verification, The New York Times reported earlier this month.  If verified, the late bishop would be beatified.  A third miracle would allow him to be canonised, formally becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

Like his younger contemporary, Billy Graham, Bishop Sheen appealed to an ecumenical cross-section of the American public.  He even had his own weekly prime-time television programme, which millions watched.  Imagine doing that nowadays — it would never happen.  He wrote many books and was an inspiration to many families, Catholic and Protestant.  Just see what those commenting on the Anglican site Titus One Nine say.

Bishop Sheen was once a guest on the American version of ‘What’s My Line?’  I remember this show as being instrumental in my falling in love with New York, which was still the heart of television at the time.  (Gee, how old am I?)  That show was the most sophisticated, interesting game show (if you can call it that) ever produced.  Here is Bishop Sheen’s segment as the mystery celebrity guest:

As The Anchoress says here, watch how Bishop Sheen signs his name on the board when entering:

I was touched and a little amused to watch Sheen, in his perfect Catholic-school penmanship begin his signature with JMJ. That’s one of those odd things Catholics used to do – put a cross, or the initials of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the top of anything they were about to write. It was a small act, but one packed with meaning. It said, in essence, ‘Let my communication be worthy of Your Holy Names’.

Not only that, but watch how he puts a cross at the end of his name. 

Please watch the four-minute ‘What’s My Line?’ segment and see if you don’t wax nostalgically for the old days.  I remember the show from the early 1960s, when I would have been three.  It was the best television show ever.  I was probably the only kid on my block who knew who Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen and John Daly were.  Everyone was so polite — and they had a wide variety of people appearing from all social classes and occupations.

The Anchoress says:

My son Buster watches old movies, and sometimes he’ll send me a clip like the one above, and he’ll write something like this -which is from an old email- ‘I was born in the wrong era. I want to have lived back then, when there were manners, and men and women had expectations from each other, and people dressed up a little to travel, or to conduct business, and no adult would dream of wearing the same clothes as his 8 year old son.’

Buster wants the era of It Happened One Night and The Philadelphia Story. That sounds romantic on its surface -and like him I do tire of seeing men in their 40’s dressed like perpetual boys, down to the jeans and baseball caps- but there is no going back. There is never a going back. Not in travel, not in politics, not in life. Do-overs only exist on video tape.

It is a shame, though, that our more ‘open’ world is in some ways so very closed-minded. The tide of secularism has made it unthinkable that a Catholic bishop -or for that matter, any religious figure- would be invited to participate in such a show as What’s My Line?; outside of news programs, you won’t see a Catholic bishop on television, except on ‘Catholic’ TV.

Totally agree with her and Buster, although I rather hope she is wrong about ‘no going back’.  (At around the same time this show aired, I, too, knew a Buster.)  We’re more segregated than ever and less mannered than I could have ever imagined.

Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses centres on the last few verses of Romans 9.  Only the first five verses are in the Lectionary, so you are left to read the remainder of the chapter on your own.  This is why most of Romans 9 qualifies as a forbidden Bible verse.  Many clergy think it will be too difficult for the man in the pew to accept.  Yet, by understanding the commentary, you discover that this is not the hard-hearted chapter it appears to be at the outset.

Before reading the passage below, please read last week’s if you have not already done so.  You can find all of the Forbidden Bible Verses here.

Today’s reading comes from the New International Reader’s Version.

Romans 9:25-33

25 God says in Hosea,
   “I will call those who are not my people ‘my people.’
      I will call the one who is not my loved one ‘my loved one.’ ” —(Hosea 2:23) 26 He also says,
   “Once it was said to them,
      ‘You are not my people.’
   In that very place they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ ” —(Hosea 1:10)

 27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel. He says,
   “The number of people from Israel may be like the sand by the sea.
      But only a few of them will be saved.
 28 The Lord will carry out his sentence.
      He will be quick to carry it out on earth, once and for all.” —(Isaiah 10:22,23)

 29 Earlier Isaiah had said,
   “The Lord who rules over all
      left us children and grandchildren.
   If he hadn’t, we would have become like Sodom.
      We would have been like Gomorrah.” —(Isaiah 1:9)   

Israel Does Not Believe

 30 What should we say then? Those who aren’t Jews did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 Israel did look for a law that could make them right with God. But they didn’t find it.

 32 Why not? Because they didn’t look for it by faith. They tried to get it by working for it. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall. 33 It is written,
   “Look! In Zion I am laying a stone that causes people to trip.
      It is a rock that makes them fall.
   The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” —(Isaiah 8:14; 28:16)

———————————————-

Paul’s audience of Jews is still working through the news that the Gentiles are now included among the chosen.  How is this possible, they wonder.  Does this mean that the Jews are rejected?  Paul explains in this passage that the Old Testament has foretold that God will redeem a number of them — a remnant.  It’s not that the Jews have failed but that they stumbled.  They put too much faith in themselves instead of the Lord.

He cites several Old Testament passages which presaged that this would happen.  He wants the Jews to fully understand that Scripture is being fulfilled.  But, through the Gentiles? Paul quotes Hosea as evidence that past unworthiness has no bearing on future worthiness (verse 25).  They also do not necessarily need to be associated with the Jewish people and faith.  God’s chosen are His doing.  We cannot affect it ourselves through circumstance, such as lineage.       

Paul then quotes from Isaiah (verses 27 and 28).  In short, many are called but few are chosen.  This foretells that the Romans would conquer the Jews, destroying their temple and taking away their nation in 70 AD.  The Christian churches would then multiply throughout the region.   As Matthew Henry explained in his commentary:

Christ said, It is finished, and then the veil was rent, echoing as it were to the word that Christ said upon the cross. And he will cut it short. The work (it is logos-the word, the law) was under the Old Testament very long; a long train of institutions, ceremonies, conditions: but now it is cut short. Our duty is now, under the gospel, summed up in much less room than it was under the law; the covenant was abridged and contracted; religion is brought into a less compass. And it is in righteousness, in favour to us, in justice to his own design and counsel.     

Paul quotes Isaiah to explain to the Jews that when this destruction comes, it will be swift, yet righteous, for the Lord had commanded it.

You can imagine this was all quite astonishing to Paul’s audience.  So, Paul reminds them of another verse in Isaiah (verse 29).  In His destruction, God will preserve a seed, a remnant — a tiny few people to do His will and be blessed.  God could choose to destroy all in their sinful humanity, yet through His love, He preserves a few — the next generation.  And it is this on which Paul asks the Jews — and us — to focus upon: the preservation, not the destruction.

Paul sees that the Jews are wondering where things went wrong for them and how the Gentiles came to fit into God’s plan.  He explains that the Gentiles came to God drawn by faith not rules (verses 30 and 31).  Because the Jews believed that finding a law would save them, they stumbled in their understanding of salvation.  He elaborates by saying that because the Jews did not search for this law by means of faith (verse 32), they tripped over the fateful stone.  He backs his assertion up by citing the verse from Isaiah which says the very same.  Verse 33, continuing the verse from Isaiah, alludes to approaching God through faith instead of adherence to the law: ‘The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame’.    

We do not exalt ourselves through obedience in the law and find salvation as a result.  Rather, we must exercise humility and trust — have faith in — God’s wisdom and mercy.  That faith is what will save us.    

You can read more here.

 

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it notJohn 1:4-5 (KJV)

Happy Boxing Day to those celebrating it, and to those rushing out to the sales, please shop wisely. 

Here in the mousehole, we’re on Day 2 of Christmas. We always keep a few presents aside to unwrap whilst we prepare leftovers. Here is a little history of Boxing Day, which until the Great War (1914-1918) was a time for servants to have the day off.  Their employers boxed Christmas gifts for them as well as for the tradespeople with whom they did business.  The holiday has been celebrated since mediaeval times, not only in Britain and the Commonwealth but Germany and Greenland, too. Today is also the feast of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Today’s painting is ‘The Nativity’ by Federico Barocci (Baroccio), who was born in the first half of the 16th century and died in 1612. He painted ‘The Nativity’ in 1597. I found this thanks to The Four Mass’keteers.  Mary looks resplendent in delicate pink and gold against the humble background of the manger.  And look at the Babe, so perfect!  Note how the light plays on them both whilst Joseph eagerly points the way.    

Barocci was commissioned by Pope Pius IV to help decorate one of the Vatican properties, the Belvedere Palace in Rome.  You can read more about him here.

 

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.  John 1:14 (KJV)

May you have a very happy Christmas, wherever you are and whatever you are doing today.  God bless you!

First, a word about today’s painting.  I discovered this a few weeks ago in a random search for Christmas art that not many of us have seen before.  This is ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728 – 1779).  He was a Protestant from Bohemia who later became a Catholic.  In 1754, he was appointed Director of the Vatican school of painting.  You can read more about his life here.

Please take a moment to read more about the painting and how Mengs created it here on Zeta Woof by Gordon R Durand.  An enlightening post and a worthwhile read!

Now for the Christmas message.  I found this by accident, too.  It’s from Bishop David Bena of the Anglican District of the Northeast (US).  You can read it in its entirety here.  His childhood reminiscences of the early 1950s Christmases are great.  Here is what he says on a theological level:

… Although my parents kept Christ in Christmas, I somehow missed it. I just enjoyed the glitter. I know better now.

You see, with all the tinsel and lights, we sometimes forget WHY Jesus was born on the earth. Was it just a sentimental act by a sentimental old god? I dont think so. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians, Chapter 4, verses 4-5, sums it up quite well, ‘But in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.’ The birth of Jesus was not just some sentimental act. It was an act of redemption for us. We were slaves to sin and needed redeeming from the slavery of sin. The archangel Gabriel said to Joseph, she (Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
.  

Christmas – Its all about our sin and our need for freedom from the slavery of sin. Its all about a God who loves us so much that He will go to extreme lengths to win our freedom. He had to do that by assuming human flesh. And He did that, in His usual humble way, by sending His Son to be born to a young maiden and her espoused carpenter husband, in a lowly manger. And nothing has been the same since! That baby would grow to be first a carpenter, then a rabbi, then a savior-our savior. On the cross, he took our sins and paid the consequences for them.

Ah, but that comes later. For now, let us enjoy the moment. The Bambino. God Incarnate. And the understanding that He came to set us free! Freedom for you and for me. Merry Christmas.

Note that Jesus’s birth is God’s sign that we can receive adoption as the children of God.  With adoption comes redemption from the bondage of sin.  Jesus will end up accomplishing that through His crucifixion.  Whilst today we celebrate His birth, we mustn’t lose sight of what the Christ Child came to do for us.  Let us bow down before Him and adore Him, giving thanks to God for His infinite mercy.

Of course, every denomination differs, but the Church of the Holy Comforter in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, offers a grand introduction to how worship and the Christian life work in the Anglican Church.

First, a word about its mural behind the altar, which was discussed on a post at Titus One Nine. Pictured are the mural in its entirety then a detail of it, both courtesy of the church’s website.

The church’s rector, Fr Jonathan, explains here:

The mural that you see at the east end is a painting of the Communion of the Saints that was done by one of our parishioners in the 1950s. Until coming to Holy Comforter I’d never seen anything like it. The bottom portion is an ordination service for the priest who was rector at the time. Then there are several rings of saints, including many Anglican figures, such as William Temple, Samuel Seabury and William White, and Saint Hilda. It also includes a former pope and patriarch of Constantinople (all in a parish with a classical lowchurch background!). Then there is a ring of apostles and patriarchs. The top ring is, as it should be, the Holy Trinity with Christ at the center, patterned off of an ancient carving from Antioch

The detail shown is from the lower centre of the mural, showing an ordination with the customary laying on of hands by bishops.

If you are interested in going to church at Christmas — or, indeed, any other time — you couldn’t get a more comprehensive, easily understood and friendly introduction than the Church of the Holy Comforter’s website.  Kudos to Fr Jonathan and his parish for putting this together so beautifully.

First, there’s the ‘Why we worship’ page:

Worship is an act of love. The word worship literally means ‘to give worth to’ or ‘to acclaim as worthy’… God gives Himself totally for us in the person of Jesus Christ. He does this for us purely out of love for us. God doesn’t need our worship. But we offer it to Him anyway, out of love for Him …

We believe that when we celebrate the Eucharist, the line between heaven and earth thins, and the whole Church throughout the world and throughout time is joined as one with God. In our worship space this is symbolized for us in a mural above the altar that depicts the Communion of the Saints ...

Then, the ‘How we worship’ page:

… When we gather, we bless bread and wine and share them with one another, just as Jesus did with his disciples on the night before he died for us. We believe that Jesus is truly present in this celebration, that it’s more than just a symbol, that we actually receive His Body and Blood.

Our worship can sometimes seem strange or confusing to people who come in for the first time. At most of our services the whole text of the service is printed in a service bulletin. Generally, we stand or kneel to pray, stand to sing, and sit to hear readings or to be instructed …

If you get lost the first time that you come to worship with us, don’t panic. There are plenty of people around you who are more than willing to help you out. The important thing is not what you do or don’t get right. The important thing is to find and be found by God who is present in each moment of our worship …

They don’t mention a Communion policy.  Normally, it’s ‘all baptised Christians are welcome at the Lord’s table’, but it doesn’t say here — my only criticism, but perhaps I missed it.

The introduction in ‘About us’ is great:

… As Anglican Christians, we believe that the story of God’s great love is told to us through the Bible and revealed to us in Jesus, the only Son of God the Father. We also believe that God has sent his Holy Spirit to us and that the Spirit will guide us and form us. Our faith is summarized in the words of the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. We believe that God speaks to us through prayer, through scripture, and especially through the holy sacraments …

Want to know more about us? The best way to find out what we’re all about is to see what we do. We invite you to come and worship with us on a Sunday. We especially invite those of you who are searching, skeptical, or suffering from wounds that have been inflicted on you by other Christians …

That last sentence is particularly helpful. 

Finally, there is the page on the sacraments — Catholic readers, please take note.  All are described, including Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick.

While there are a number of rites that may properly be called sacraments, the Church has always recognized that Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist have a special significance. This is because these two sacraments alone were given by Jesus for the salvation of all people

An excellent site, nicely done. 

If you live in or near Drexel Hill and are looking for a church to attend, why not give the Church of the Holy Comforter a try this Christmas?

How sad is this?  How heretical?  How blasphemous?

A progressive Anglican church from New Zealand put up a hoarding (billboard) desecrating the sacred mystery of the Incarnation.  I’ve shown you the defaced hoarding but, if you absolutely must see the original, click here.  It was then stolen from its frame but the church replaced it in full, saying it must be seen.  (See Cranmer’s commenter Knighthawk, 18 December, 09:20.) 

The Revd Matt Kennedy profiled this church in a post at Stand Firm.  His post tells you not only about Auckland’s St Matthew-in-the-City but also its archdeacon and progressive Christianity. 

The archdeacon, Glynn Cardy, implies that anyone who disagrees with St Matthew-in-the-City’s vision isn’t merely conservative or Bible-believing but ‘fundamentalist’.  Trigger word.  Knees jerking all at once.  ‘Fundamentalist’ is the no-no word for churches, and carries the same weight as the ‘r’ word does in politics. And it is used just as indiscriminately as a weapon for the ignorant. Well, you aren’t going to get Fr Kennedy or me or millions of others to back down from the Truth.

Don’t you feel sorry for the seekers stumbling on Mr Cardy’s erroneous and misguided interpretation?  I’ve highlighted the operative word for you.

Christian fundamentalism believes a supernatural male God who lived above sent his sperm into the womb of the virgin Mary. Although there were a series of miraculous events surrounding Jesus’ birth – like wandering stars and angelic choirs – the real miracle was his death and literal resurrection 33 years later. The importance of this literal resurrection is the belief that it was a cosmic transaction whereby the male God embraced humanity only after being satiated by Jesus’ innocent blood. 
 
The Christmas billboard on a local fundamentalist church sums up this thesis. It reads: ‘Jesus born 2 die 4 u!’ His birth was just an h’orderve before the main Calvary course.
 
No doubt on Christmas Eve when papers print the messages of Church leaders a few of them will serve up this fundamentalist thesis wrapped in a nice story.

Don’t read it too closely.  It isn’t worth your time. 

Now, look at the man-made promises of progressive Christianity.  Very much the emerging church type of thinking.  I won’t say it’s theology, because it’s not bright enough so to be.

What progressive interpretations try to do however is remove the supernatural obfuscation and delve into the deeper spiritual truth of this festival…

Progressive Christianity believes the Christmas stories are fictitious accounts designed to introduce the radical nature of the adult Jesus. They contrast the Lord and Saviour Caesar with the anomaly of a new ‘lord’ and ‘saviour’ born illegitimate in a squalid barn. At Bethlehem low-life shepherds and heathen travelers are welcome while the powerful and the priests aren’t. The stories introduce the topsy-turvy way of God, where the outsiders are invited in and the insiders ushered out.

Progressive Christianity doesn’t overlook Jesus’ life and rush to his death. Rather it sees the radical hospitality he offered to the poor, the despised, women, children, and the sick, and says: ‘this is the essence of God’. His death was a consequence of the offensive nature of that hospitality and his resurrection a symbolic vindication…  

Progressive Christianity however emphasizes behaviour above belief. How one treats ones neighbours, enemies, and planet is the essence of faith. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is a celebration of God in every birth and every person.

But it’s not about the work we do in this life, as if we were somehow ‘saving’ ourselves.  It’s about recognising that God so loved us (after the Fall) that He sent His only Son to die horribly for our sins. The greatest work we can do could never be perfect enough, because we are inherently depraved beings.  Our responsibility as Christians is to come to truly believe, however imperfectly, that God loves us and that He sent us a Saviour born on Christmas Day;  then, we must evangelise and spread this Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Furthermore, insiders were never ‘ushered out’. Uhh, those distinguished men, the Magi (Three Kings) visited Him. I don’t recall that they were ‘ushered out’. Jesus knew many people from all walks of society.  Don’t forget, He was a descendant of the house of David. 

We are never to exclude anyone because of social status or personal belief.  We are to love our neighbour as ourselves.  Yes, it is difficult and it is what Christ asks of us, every day.

There’s more I could say about that little excerpt.  Suffice it to say, it would be nice if a local Calvinist could pay Archdeacon Cardy a visit one afternoon and explain the Truth to him.

This Cardy chap has a chip on his shoulder, just like the other emergent types.  It’s hard to pray for his conversion, but I’ll make it a special intention of mine this Christmas. Would you kindly join me?

On December 12, 2009, the Daily Mail reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury criticised the British government ‘for treating religious believers as “oddities”‘.

Two days later, conservative columnist Melanie Phillips clarified this, thank goodness, to mean Christians specifically.  Why can’t the ABC ever come out and say it?  Heaven knows that minority religious interests are intensely protected here in the UK, as Phillips points out.

Although Ms Phillips is Jewish, she does a better job of defending Christianity than the ABC does.  Why is that?

She points out just a few examples of discrimination against Christians in the UK:

In July, Duke Amachree, a Christian who for 18 years had been a Homelessness Prevention Officer for Wandsworth Council, encouraged a client with an incurable medical condition to believe in God.

As a result, Mr Amachree was marched off the premises, suspended and then dismissed from his job. It was a similar case to the Christian nurse who was suspended after offering to pray for a patient’s recovery.

Christians are being removed from adoption panels if they refuse to endorse placing children for adoption with samesex couples. 

Similarly, a Christian counsellor was sacked by the national counselling service Relate because he refused to give sex therapy sessions to gays …

Take, for example, the case of Harry Hammond, an elderly and eccentric evangelical who was prosecuted for a public order offence after parading with a placard denouncing immorality and homosexuality – even though he was assaulted by the hostile crowd he was held to have offended.

Or look at the case of the Vogelenzangs, a hotelier couple from Merseyside, who last week were cleared of a ‘religiously aggravated’ public order offence after being prosecuted for insulting a Muslim guest.

Why is it always Christians?  I have often thought it’s the Left recoiling in fear at the truth of the Gospel, and many leftwing clergymen also fall into this category! I know some personally. But Phillips sees it slightly differently:

The root of this double standard is the unpleasant prejudice that minority faiths hail from cultures where people are less well-educated and so cannot be blamed for their beliefs. This, of course, is a deeply racist attitude, and is commonly found on the Left.

Well, quite possibly.  But to discriminate against Christians so enthusiastically yet protect other faith practices at every turn in such a conscious way suggests something more is at play.  When I know what that something is, I’ll post on it. 

It’s not just the UK, either.  It’s happening more frequently in that bulwark of Christian belief, the United States, contrary to what Phillips says.  The most recent example is of an eight-year old boy in Taunton, Massachusetts, as reported by the Taunton Gazette. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Gazette.) The lad attends a local state school.  His teacher asked the class to draw something that reminded them of Christmas.  He drew Christ on the cross.  To show that Jesus had died, the boy drew little Xs instead of eyes.  Here’s what happened:

A Taunton father is outraged after his 8-year-old son was sent home from school and required to undergo a psychological evaluation … 

The father said he got a call earlier this month from Maxham Elementary School informing him that his son, a second-grade student, had created a violent drawing…

“I think what happened is that because he put Xs in the eyes of Jesus, the teacher was alarmed and they told the parents they thought it was violent,” said Toni Saunders, an educational consultant with the Associated Advocacy Center.

Jiminy crickets, and I thought teachers were supposed to have more insight into kids than everyone else. 

“When I got that [referral] call, I was so appalled that I had to do something,” Saunders said.

“They weren’t looking at the fact that this is an 8-year-old child with special needs,” she added. “They made him leave school, and they recommended that a psychiatrist do an evaluation.”

… The boy made the drawing and was sent home from school on Dec. 2. He went for the psychological evaluation — at his parents’ expense — the next day and was cleared to return to school the following Monday after the psychological evaluation found nothing to indicate that he posed a threat to himself or others. 

The boy, however, was traumatized by the incident, which made going back to school very difficult, the father said. School administrators have approved the father’s request to have the boy transferred to another elementary school in the district.

Such a sad story, and especially involving a child at Christmas time.  What is wrong with educators?  Too much leftism in teacher training?  You know how fond lefties historically are of branding anyone with whom they disagree as having psychological challenges.  Fortunately, the folks commenting on the article are very much on the boy’s side.  I especially liked this one:

When I heard this reported on WSAR, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When I read the article and looked at the picture, I was even more alarmed with the actions of the school. In my opinion, as a pastor, I feel the boy followed the exact instructions of the teacher. It is amazing that a special needs child of 8 has the understanding that Christmas is in reality more about the cross than it is about the manger. Christ came to be crucified for our sake. Rev. Ken Scarborough, Somerset Baptist Church

The Cross is all.

Well, I hope the idiocy of the teacher and principal involved don’t ruin this boy’s Christmas or his academic career.  God bless him and his family.

You can read more here and here.

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