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Yesterday’s post covered the early years of Benedict XVI’s papacy, from 2005 to the beginning of 2010.

Today’s post will cover a few more news items from 2009 before moving on to the remainder of this good man’s time in the Vatican.

He certainly had his cross to bear between 2005 and 2013. For whatever reason, the world’s media were dead set against him from the beginning. Many bishops and priests opposed his liberation, for lack of a better word, of the Tridentine — Latin — Mass so that it could be more widely celebrated. Pope Francis shut that down, but it is still possible to attend a Latin Mass in some churches, e.g. Cannes and Nice.

Furthermore, some Catholic traditionalists did not consider Benedict to be traditional enough. To an extent, I agree. Then again, it would have been impossible for him to do away with the Novus Ordo, what my mother and I called Modern Mass, and the other ill-judged reforms of Vatican II. For those reasons, I became a Protestant in the 1980s.

I read some years ago that, near the end of his papacy, Benedict was unable to go into parts of the Vatican without feeling as if he were under spiritual attack, not because he was a bad servant of God but because he was a good one and that Satan wanted his soul. Some months after I read that article, Benedict resigned. If what I read was true, who can blame him? He deserved temporal and spiritual peace. Now he rests with the Lord for eternity.

2009 Easter address

On April 12, 2009, Pope Benedict gave his Easter message, that year’s Urbi Et Orbi. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world,

From the depths of my heart, I wish all of you a blessed Easter.  To quote Saint Augustine, “Resurrectio Domini, spes nostra – the resurrection of the Lord is our hope” (Sermon 261:1).  With these words, the great Bishop explained to the faithful that Jesus rose again so that we, though destined to die, should not despair, worrying that with death life is completely finished; Christ is risen to give us hope (cf. ibid.). 

Indeed, one of the questions that most preoccupies men and women is this: what is there after death?  To this mystery today’s solemnity allows us to respond that death does not have the last word, because Life will be victorious at the end.  This certainty of ours is based not on simple human reasoning, but on a historical fact of faith: Jesus Christ, crucified and  buried, is risen with his glorified body.  Jesus is risen so that we too, believing in him, may have eternal life. This proclamation is at the heart of the Gospel message.  As Saint Paul vigorously declares:  “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  He goes on to say: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:14,19).  Ever since the dawn of Easter a new Spring of hope has filled the world; from that day forward our resurrection has begun, because Easter does not simply signal a moment in history, but the beginning of a new condition: Jesus is risen not because his memory remains alive in the hearts of his disciples, but because he himself lives in us, and in him we can already savour the joy of eternal life.

The resurrection, then, is not a theory, but a historical reality revealed by the man Jesus Christ by means of his “Passover”, his “passage”, that has opened a “new way” between heaven and earth (cf. Heb 10:20).  It is neither a myth nor a dream, it is not a vision or a utopia, it is not a fairy tale, but it is a singular and unrepeatable event: Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, who at dusk on Friday was taken down from the Cross and buried, has victoriously left the tomb.  In fact, at dawn on the first day after the Sabbath, Peter and John found the tomb empty.  Mary Magdalene and the other women encountered the risen Jesus.  On the way to Emmaus the two disciples recognized him at the breaking of the bread.  The Risen One appeared to the Apostles that evening in the Upper Room and then to many other disciples in Galilee. 

The proclamation of the Lord’s Resurrection lightens up the dark regions of the world in which we live.  I am referring particularly to materialism and nihilism, to a vision of the world that is unable to move beyond what is scientifically verifiable, and retreats cheerlessly into a sense of emptiness which is thought to be the definitive destiny of human life.  It is a fact that if Christ had not risen, the “emptiness” would be set to prevailIf we take away Christ and his resurrection, there is no escape for man, and every one of his hopes remains an illusion Yet today is the day when the proclamation of the Lord’s resurrection vigorously bursts forth, and it is the answer to the recurring question of the sceptics, that we also find in the book of Ecclesiastes:  “Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’?” (Ec 1:10).  We answer, yes:  on Easter morning, everything was renewed.  “Mors et vita, duello conflixere mirando:  dux vitae mortuus, regnat vivus – Death and life have come face to face in a tremendous duel:  the Lord of life was dead, but now he lives triumphant.”  This is what is new!  A newness that changes the lives of those who accept it, as in the case of the saints.  This, for example, is what happened to Saint Paul …

Resurrectio Domini, spes nostra!  The resurrection of Christ is our hope!  This the Church proclaims today with joy.  She announces the hope that is now firm and invincible because God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  She communicates the hope that she carries in her heart and wishes to share with all people in every place, especially where Christians suffer persecution because of their faith and their commitment to justice and peace.  She invokes the hope that can call forth the courage to do good, even when it costs, especially when it costs Today the Church sings “the day that the Lord has made”, and she summons people to joy …  To him, our victorious King, to him who is crucified and risen, we sing out with joy our Alleluia!

Five new saints

On Sunday, April 26, 2009, Benedict canonised five new saints.

The Telegraph reported:

Speaking in a packed St Peter’s Square, the Pope praised each of the five as a model for the faithful, saying their lives and works were as relevant today as when they were alive.

The Pontiff singled out the Rev Arcangelo Tadini, who lived at the turn of the last century and founded an order of nuns to tend to factory workers – something of a scandal at the time, since factories were considered immoral and dangerous places. Tadini also created an association to provide emergency loans to workers experiencing financial difficulties.

“How prophetic was Don Tadini’s charismatic intuition, and how current his example is today, in this time of grave economic crisis!” Benedict marvelled in his homily.

The only non-Italian canonised Sunday was Nuno Alvares Pereira, who helped secure Portugal’s independence from the Spanish kingdom of Castile, leading Portuguese forces in the critical Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

After leaving the military, he entered religious life as a Carmelite and changed his name to Nuno de Santa Maria. He dedicated himself to the poor, never taking the privileges that would have been afforded to him as a former commander.

He is remembered as a national hero today in Portugal, with street signs named after him in many towns, but also as a humble man of great spirituality

Also canonised on Sunday was Bernardo Tolomei, a nearly blind monk who founded the Benedictine Congregation of Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto in the 1340s. He died in 1348 along with 82 of his monks after leaving the safety of his monastery to tend to plague victims in Siena.

The Pope praised his dedication, saying he died “as an authentic martyr of charity.”

The others canonised were Gertrude Comensoli and Caterina Volpicelli, 19th century Italian nuns who founded religious orders.

He has presided over a handful of canonisation ceremonies in his four-year pontificate, and has left it to other Vatican officials to officiate at beatification ceremonies …

Beatification is the first step to possible sainthood. The Vatican must certify one miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession for beatification, and a second miracle that occurred after beatification for the candidate to be declared a saint.

Address to the academic community in Prague

On September 27, 2009, Benedict addressed the academic community in Prague, reminding everyone of the true purpose of education — truth and reason:

Mr President,

Distinguished Rectors and Professors,

Dear Students and Friends,

The great changes which swept Czech society twenty years ago were precipitated not least by movements of reform which originated in university and student circles. That quest for freedom has continued to guide the work of scholars whose diakonia of truth is indispensable to any nation’s well-being.

I address you as one who has been a professor, solicitous of the right to academic freedom and the responsibility for the authentic use of reason, and is now the Pope who, in his role as Shepherd, is recognized as a voice for the ethical reasoning of humanity. While some argue that the questions raised by religion, faith and ethics have no place within the purview of collective reason, that view is by no means axiomatic. The freedom that underlies the exercise of reason – be it in a university or in the Church – has a purpose: it is directed to the pursuit of truth, and as such gives expression to a tenet of Christianity which in fact gave rise to the university. Indeed, man’s thirst for knowledge prompts every generation to broaden the concept of reason and to drink at the wellsprings of faith. It was precisely the rich heritage of classical wisdom, assimilated and placed at the service of the Gospel, which the first Christian missionaries brought to these lands and established as the basis of a spiritual and cultural unity which endures to this day. The same spirit led my predecessor Pope Clement VI to establish the famed Charles University in 1347, which continues to make an important contribution to wider European academic, religious and cultural circles.

The proper autonomy of a university, or indeed any educational institution, finds meaning in its accountability to the authority of truth. Nevertheless, that autonomy can be thwarted in a variety of ways. The great formative tradition, open to the transcendent, which stands at the base of universities across Europe, was in this land, and others, systematically subverted by the reductive ideology of materialism, the repression of religion and the suppression of the human spirit. In 1989, however, the world witnessed in dramatic ways the overthrow of a failed totalitarian ideology and the triumph of the human spirit. The yearning for freedom and truth is inalienably part of our common humanity. It can never be eliminated; and, as history has shown, it is denied at humanity’s own peril. It is to this yearning that religious faith, the various arts, philosophy, theology and other scientific disciplines, each with its own method, seek to respond, both on the level of disciplined reflection and on the level of a sound praxis.

From the time of Plato, education has been not merely the accumulation of knowledge or skills, but paideia, human formation in the treasures of an intellectual tradition directed to a virtuous life. While the great universities springing up throughout Europe during the middle ages aimed with confidence at the ideal of a synthesis of all knowledge, it was always in the service of an authentic humanitas, the perfection of the individual within the unity of a well-ordered society. And likewise today: once young people’s understanding of the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, they relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of how they ought to be and what they ought to do.

The idea of an integrated education, based on the unity of knowledge grounded in truth, must be regained. It serves to counteract the tendency, so evident in contemporary society, towards a fragmentation of knowledge. With the massive growth in information and technology there comes the temptation to detach reason from the pursuit of truth. Sundered from the fundamental human orientation towards truth, however, reason begins to lose direction: it withers, either under the guise of modesty, resting content with the merely partial or provisional, or under the guise of certainty, insisting on capitulation to the demands of those who indiscriminately give equal value to practically everything. The relativism that ensues provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk. While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are – subtly and not so subtly – constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals? What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded? What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots? Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good

An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs. In the end, “fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom” (Caritas in Veritate, 9). This confidence in the human ability to seek truth, to find truth and to live by the truth led to the foundation of the great European universities. Surely we must reaffirm this today in order to bring courage to the intellectual forces necessary for the development of a future of authentic human flourishing, a future truly worthy of man …

Benedict extends welcome to disaffected Anglicans

On October 21, 2009, without notifying the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Benedict extended a sincere welcome to disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church, even granting them permission to use Anglican liturgies.

The Daily Mail reported:

The Pope paved the way for tens of thousands of disaffected Anglican worshippers to join the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining parts of their Protestant heritage. 

Those who convert could even be able to keep traditions including the Church of England’s historic prayer book – a major concession …

But the Vatican offer, which would allow conservative Anglicans who do not accept women bishops or gay rights to cross to Rome under the leadership of their own bishops, deepened divisions within the Church of England last night.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said it showed that relations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics were closer than ever.

However, evangelical traditionalists accused him of a lack of leadership.

The offer of an ‘Apostolic Constitution’ applies to all 70million Anglicans across the globe.

Anglican bishops would be called ‘ordinaries’ in the Roman Catholic Church. Anglican priests can already be accepted as Roman Catholic priests, even if married, but no married Anglican is allowed to become a Catholic bishop.

In a letter to Church of England bishops and primates of the Anglican Communion, Dr Williams said he was ‘sorry’ there had been no opportunity to alert them earlier to Rome’s announcement.

Church of England authorities appear to have learned about the offer just before they offered their own concession to Anglo-Catholics earlier this month over plans for future women bishops …

The Pope’s offer follows secret talks last year with the two Church of England ‘flying bishops’ – whose job is to minister to Anglo-Catholics who do not recognise women priests. Yesterday they admitted the meeting for the first time.

Bishop of Ebbsfleet Andrew Burnham and Bishop of Richborough Keith Newton said in a statement: ‘We were becoming increasingly concerned that the various agendas of the Anglican Communion were driving Anglicans and Roman Catholics further apart. It was our task, we thought, to take the opportunity of quietly discussing these matters in Rome.’

Visit to the UK

Benedict visited the UK in 2010.

On March 17, the Mail posted his itinerary:

The Pontiff will use his visit to ‘give guidance on the great moral issues of the day’ and his itinerary includes a speech on civil society in Westminster Hall that is certain to reflect on controversies over religious freedom, different attitudes to homosexuality, and abortion …

The cost of the Pope’s travels and organising his events will be £15million, which will be shared between the Government and the Church. The taxpayer will have to pick up the cost of policing including protecting the Pontiff from hostile demonstrators. This cost is not yet known.

Benedict’s itinerary will include visiting the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, conducting the beatification service for 19th century theologian Cardinal Newman in Coventry and praying with other church leaders at Westminster Abbey.

On April 26, the Mail reported that a young civil servant sent an offensive email about the Pope’s upcoming visit stating, among other things, that he should open an abortion clinic. As this was a state visit, it nearly caused a diplomatic incident:

An Oxford graduate who sent a ‘seriously offensive’ email suggesting the Pope should open an abortion clinic ahead of the pontiff’s visit to Britain will keep his job in the civil service, it emerged today.

Steven Mulvain, 23, who once listed ‘drinking a lot’ as a hobby, emailed the document, which also included the suggestion of launching a range of ‘Benedict’ condoms, to Downing Street and three Whitehall departments.

It is believed that Mr Mulvain … escaped punishment because he was given authorisation to send the memo by a more senior civil servant, who has since been ‘transferred to other duties’.

However, the shock e-mail threatened to plunge the Pope’s state visit into jeopardy with ‘dark forces’ within the Foreign Office casting a shadow over the trip, Vatican officials declared yesterday.

A well-placed aide in the Vatican said: ‘This could have very severe repercussions and is embarrassing for the British Government – one has to question whether the action taken is enough. It is disgusting.’

However, when the Pope arrived in September, all went well. Even the media covered his visit in a respectful way. The Queen acknowledged the Holy See’s help in resolving the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

In my post, I wrote:

The Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday morning (September 18) was beautiful and dignified, with the Eucharistic Prayer and a few of the other prayers said or sung in Latin (1968 Novus Ordo), but the real highlight was when the Pope walked out of the cathedral to hundreds (probably thousands) of youngsters from every diocese in England. Wow — you would have thought they were glimpsing a rock star — screams of delight which brought real smiles to BXVI’s face. His talk to them was the most spontaneous that I have heard him give on this trip. Although he had his speech typed up, he looked up from it most of the time, making eye contact with them. The kids were so energised, and I think that he was, too. He told them how important prayer was and to discern Christ’s direction in their lives and careers. He told them how important it was to make time for daily prayer and — silence. So important.

Blessing the 2012 Olympics

On July 12, 2012, Benedict blessed the Olympic Games:

Let us pray that, according to God’s will, the London Games are a true experience of fraternity among the people of the Earth.

I send greetings to the organizers, athletes and spectators alike, and I pray that, in the spirit of the Olympic Truce, the good will generated by this international sporting event may bear fruit, promoting peace and reconciliation throughout the world. Upon all those attending the London Olympic Games, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Benedict’s resignation

On February 11, 2013, Benedict XVI announced his resignation, something a Pontiff had not done for 600 years, since Celestine V.

That evening, lightning hit the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.

On February 12, USA Today reported:

An apparent photo of a lightning bolt striking St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican Monday night (left) — the same day that Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, stunning the world — has gone viral.

Filippo Monteforte, a photographer with Agence France Press, told England’s Daily Mirror that “I took the picture from St. Peter’s Square while sheltered by the columns. It was icy cold and raining sheets. When the storm started, I thought that lightning might strike the rod, so I decided it was worth seeing whether – if it DID strike – I could get the shot at exactly the right moment.”

Monteforte waited for more than two hours and was rewarded for his patience with not one but two bolts, the Mirror reported.

But could it be fake? One expert, AccuWeather meteorologist and lightning photographer Jesse Ferrell, thinks it’s real. In addition to the account from Monteforte — a trusted and well-known photographer — Ferrell sees telltale signs of a genuine lightning strike.

“I believe the photo is plausible, and since it was taken by a professional, with potential video to back it up, I’d say that the photo is legitimate,” Ferrell writes on his blog.

Also, he notes that thunderstorms were present in Rome Monday afternoon, according to several Facebook users.

The article closes with a video of the dramatic lightning strike, something to behold. With the second bolt, it looked as if the dome was going to explode.

Benedict’s last official act was to address the College of Cardinals in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall on February 28, 2013. That was the first day of his retirement. He became Pope Emeritus.

Traditionalists were appalled at the resignation and wondered what it meant for future Popes. Could they be pushed out of the way by senior clergy or by laypeople? In any event, Benedict seemed to have no regrets, and Francis clearly became flavour of the month to most people, including those in the media.

90th birthday

The Pope Emeritus celebrated his 90th birthday in Rome with fellow Bavarians.

April 16, 2017 also happened to be Easter Sunday.

Breitbart has an article and photos from the day, which shows him enjoying a stein of beer. His guests are dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing.

Benedict gave a rare speech inside the Vatican. He said:

My heart is filled with gratitude for the 90 years that the good God has given me.

There have also been trials and difficult times, but through it all He has always led me and pulled me through, so that I could continue on my path.

The article continued:

Surrounded by friends and well-wishers from his native Bavaria on his birthday, Benedict said he was full of thanks in a special way for his “beautiful homeland,” adorned with “church towers, houses with balconies filled with flowers, and good people.”

Bavaria is beautiful, Benedict reminisced, “because God is known there and people know that He has created the world and that we do well to build it up together with Him.”

“I am glad that we were able to gather together under the beautiful blue Roman sky,” he continued, “which with its white clouds also reminds us of the white and blue flag of Bavaria—it is always the same sky.”

“I wish you all God’s blessings,” he said. “Carry my greetings home, as well as my gratitude to you. How I enjoy to continue living and walking about amidst our landscapes in my heart.”

Church ‘on the verge of collapsing’

Two months after his 90th birthday, on July 16, 2017, Benedict prepared a written message to be delivered by his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, in Cologne Cathedral at the funeral Mass of his close friend, Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

Breitbart reported:

In the text, Benedict said that Cardinal Meisner “found it difficult to leave his post, especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination.”

What moved me all the more, Benedict said, was that, “in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”

This appears to have been in response to Pope Francis lack of response to Cardinal Meisner’s question, a dubio:

Notably, Cardinal Meisner was one of the four cardinals who presented a series of questions, or “dubia,” to Pope Francis last September, asking him to clarify five serious doctrinal doubts proceeding from his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) concerning Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, the indissolubility of marriage, and the proper role of conscience.

The other three prelates who submitted the questions to the Pope were Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta; Carlo Caffarra, archbishop emeritus of Bologna; and Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences.

When Pope Francis failed to respond to the dubia, the four cardinals published their questions publicly last November.

“The Holy Father has decided not to respond,” they wrote. “We have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect.”

Final visit to brother, also a priest

On August 3, 2020, Sky News reported that Benedict had travelled to Germany to see his brother, the Revd Georg Ratzinger, for the final time.

Afterwards, he had a bout of shingles, although, fortunately, they were on his face rather than around his waistline:

Sky News reported on the visit between the two priestly brothers:

The 93-year-old retired pontiff has become very frail and his voice is barely audible, author Peter Seewald told German daily Passauer Neue Presse.

However, German-born Benedict met with Mr Seewald on Saturday and appeared optimistic, adding that he might pick up writing again if he regains his strength, according to the paper.

Benedict visited his native Bavaria in June to pay his ailing brother Reverend Georg Ratzinger a final visit.

Mr Ratzinger, aged 96, died shortly afterwards.

It was Benedict’s first trip outside Italy since 2013, the year he resigned the papacy.

The retired pope has lived in a monastery in Vatican City since shortly after his retirement.

Spiritual testament

On August 29, 2006, Benedict XVI finalised his spiritual testament, which the Holy See released upon his death on December 31, 2022:

When, at this late hour of my life, I look back on the decades I have wandered through, I see first of all how much reason I have to give thanks. Above all, I thank God Himself, the giver of all good gifts, who has given me life and guided me through all kinds of confusion; who has always picked me up when I began to slip, who has always given me anew the light of his countenance. In retrospect, I see and understand that even the dark and arduous stretches of this path were for my salvation and that He guided me well in those very stretches.

I thank my parents, who gave me life in difficult times and prepared a wonderful home for me with their love, which shines through all my days as a bright light until today. My father’s clear-sighted faith taught us brothers and sisters to believe and stood firm as a guide in the midst of all my scientific knowledge; my mother’s heartfelt piety and great kindness remain a legacy for which I cannot thank her enough. My sister has served me selflessly and full of kind concern for decades; my brother has always paved the way for me with the clear-sightedness of his judgements, with his powerful determination, and with the cheerfulness of his heart; without this ever-new going ahead and going along, I would not have been able to find the right path.

I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the many friends, men and women, whom He has always placed at my side; for the co-workers at all stages of my path; for the teachers and students He has given me. I gratefully entrust them all to His goodness. And I would like to thank the Lord for my beautiful home in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, in which I was able to see the splendour of the Creator Himself shining through time and again. I thank the people of my homeland for allowing me to experience the beauty of faith time and again. I pray that our country will remain a country of faith and I ask you, dear compatriots, not to let your faith be distracted. Finally, I thank God for all the beauty I was able to experience during the various stages of my journey, but especially in Rome and in Italy, which has become my second home.

I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart from all those whom I have wronged in some way.

What I said earlier of my compatriots, I now say to all who were entrusted to my service in the Church: Stand firm in the faith! Do not be confused! Often it seems as if science – on the one hand, the natural sciences; on the other, historical research (especially the exegesis of the Holy Scriptures) – has irrefutable insights to offer that are contrary to the Catholic faith. I have witnessed from times long past the changes in natural science and have seen how apparent certainties against the faith vanished, proving themselves not to be science but philosophical interpretations only apparently belonging to science – just as, moreover, it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith has learned to understand the limits of the scope of its affirmations and thus its own specificity. For 60 years now, I have accompanied the path of theology, especially biblical studies, and have seen seemingly unshakeable theses collapse with the changing generations, which turned out to be mere hypotheses: the liberal generation (Harnack, Jülicher, etc.), the existentialist generation (Bultmann, etc.), the Marxist generation. I have seen, and see, how, out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.

Finally, I humbly ask: pray for me, so that the Lord may admit me to the eternal dwellings, despite all my sins and shortcomings. For all those entrusted to me, my heartfelt prayer goes out day after day.

Tomorrow’s post will conclude with lesser-known facts about and insights into Benedict XVI.

Eternal rest grant unto your servant, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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May Benedict XVI’s soul rest in peace with his Lord and Saviour.

Before going into little-known facts about the former Pontiff’s life and influences, below are news items about his papacy (April 19, 2005 – February 28, 2013), reflecting his thoughts and attitudes towards Christianity.

World Youth Day 2005

In August 2005, Benedict addressed the young people attending World Youth Day. He hoped for ecumenism, not through plans and programmes, but through a deeper belief in Christ through the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

We cannot “bring about” unity by our powers alone. We can only obtain unity as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, spiritual ecumenism – prayer, conversion and the sanctification of life – constitute the heart of the ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 8; Ut Unum Sint, 15ff., 21, etc.). It could be said that the best form of ecumenism consists in living in accordance with the Gospel. I see good reason for optimism in the fact that today a kind of “network” of spiritual links is developing between Catholics and Christians from the different Churches and ecclesial Communities: each individual commits himself to prayer, to the examination of his own life, to the purification of memory, to the openness of charity.

Address to young Poles

On May 27, 2006, Benedict addressed Polish youth in Krakow.

His address was excellent. It explored the notion of the family home, which can only exist in a house built upon faith in Christ. The allegories are wonderful:

Jesus is here with us. He is present among the young people of Poland, speaking to them of a house that will never collapse because it is built on the rock. This is the Gospel that we have just heard (cf. Mt 7:2427).

My friends, in the heart of every man there is the desire for a house. Even more so in the young person’s heart there is a great longing for a proper house, a stable house, one to which he can not only return with joy, but where every guest who arrives can be joyfully welcomed. There is a yearning for a house where the daily bread is love, pardon and understanding. It is a place where the truth is the source out of which flows peace of heart. There is a longing for a house you can be proud of, where you need not be ashamed and where you never fear its loss. These longings are simply the desire for a full, happy and successful life. Do not be afraid of this desire! Do not run away from this desire! Do not be discouraged at the sight of crumbling houses, frustrated desires and faded longings. God the Creator, who inspires in young hearts an immense yearning for happiness, will not abandon you in the difficult construction of the house called life.

My friends, this brings about a question: “How do we build this house?” Without doubt, this is a question that you have already faced many times and that you will face many times more. Every day you must look into your heart and ask: “How do I build that house called life?” Jesus, whose words we just heard in the passage from the evangelist Matthew, encourages us to build on the rock. In fact, it is only in this way that the house will not crumble. But what does it mean to build a house on the rock? Building on the rock means, first of all, to build on Christ and with Christ. Jesus says: “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Mt 7:24). These are not just the empty words of some person or another; these are the words of Jesus. We are not listening to any person: we are listening to Jesus. We are not asked to commit to just anything; we are asked to commit ourselves to the words of Jesus.

To build on Christ and with Christ means to build on a foundation that is called “crucified love”. It means to build with Someone who, knowing us better than we know ourselves, says to us: “You are precious in my eyes and honoured, and I love you” (Is 43:4). It means to build with Someone, who is always faithful, even when we are lacking in faith, because he cannot deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). It means to build with Someone who constantly looks down on the wounded heart of man and says: “ I do not condemn you, go and do not sin again” (cf. Jn 8:11). It means to build with Someone who, from the Cross, extends his arms and repeats for all eternity: “O man, I give my life for you because I love you.” In short, building on Christ means basing all your desires, aspirations, dreams, ambitions and plans on his will. It means saying to yourself, to your family, to your friends, to the whole world and, above all to Christ: “Lord, in life I wish to do nothing against you, because you know what is best for me. Only you have the words of eternal life” (cf. Jn 6:68). My friends, do not be afraid to lean on Christ! Long for Christ, as the foundation of your life! Enkindle within you the desire to build your life on him and for him! Because no one who depends on the crucified love of the Incarnate Word can ever lose

My friends, what does it mean to build on the rock? Building on the rock also means building on Someone who was rejected. Saint Peter speaks to the faithful of Christ as a “living stone rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious” (1 Pet 2:4). The undeniable fact of the election of Jesus by God does not conceal the mystery of evil, whereby man is able to reject Him who has loved to the very end. This rejection of Jesus by man, which Saint Peter mentions, extends throughout human history, even to our own time. One does not need great mental acuity to be aware of the many ways of rejecting Christ, even on our own doorstep

Dear friends, what does it mean to build on the rock? Building on the rock means being aware that there will be misfortunes. Christ says: “The rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house … ” (Mt 7:25). These natural phenomena are not only an image of the many misfortunes of the human lot, but they also indicate that such misfortunes are normally to be expected. Christ does not promise that a downpour will never inundate a house under construction, he does not promise that a devastating wave will never sweep away that which is most dear to us, he does not promise that strong winds will never carry away what we have built, sometimes with enormous sacrifice. Christ not only understands man’s desire for a lasting house, but he is also fully aware of all that can wreck man’s happiness. Do not be surprised therefore by misfortunes, whatever they may be! Do not be discouraged by them! An edifice built on the rock is not the same as a building removed from the forces of nature, which are inscribed in the mystery of man. To have built on rock means being able to count on the knowledge that at difficult times there is a reliable force upon which you can trust.

My friends, allow me to ask again: what does it mean to build on the rock? It means to build wisely. It is not without reason that Jesus compares those who hear his words and put them into practice to a wise man who has built his house on the rock. It is foolish, in fact, to build on sand, when you can do so on rock and therefore have a house that is capable of withstanding every storm. It is foolish to build a house on ground that that does not offer the guarantee of support during the most difficult times. Maybe it is easier to base one’s life on the shifting sands of one’s own worldview, building a future far from the word of Jesus and sometimes even opposed to it. Be assured that he who builds in this way is not prudent, because he wants to convince himself and others that in his life no storm will rage and no wave will strike his house. To be wise means to know that the solidity of a house depends on the choice of foundation. Do not be afraid to be wise; that is to say, do not be afraid to build on the rock!

Dear young friends, the fear of failure can at times frustrate even the most beautiful dreams. It can paralyze the will, making one incapable of believing that it is really possible to build a house on the rock. It can convince one that the yearning for such a house is only a childish aspiration and not a plan for life. Together with Jesus, say to this fear: “A house founded on the rock cannot collapse!” Together with Saint Peter say to the temptation to doubt: “He who believes in Christ will not be put to shame!” You are all witnesses to hope, to that hope which is not afraid to build the house of one’s own life because it is certain that it can count on the foundation that will never crumble: Jesus Christ our Lord.

No more limbo

On April 20, 2007, the Catholic Church finally did away with the teaching of limbo, where the souls of unbaptised infants notionally went instead of going directly to be with the Lord. Reuters reported:

In a long-awaited document, the Church’s International Theological Commission said limbo reflected an “unduly restrictive view of salvation”.

The 41-page document was published on Friday by Origins, the documentary service of the U.S.-based Catholic News Service, which is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Benedict, himself a top theologian who before his election in 2005 expressed doubts about limbo, authorized the publication of the document, called “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised”.

The verdict that limbo could now rest in peace had been expected for years. The document was seen as most likely the final word since limbo was never part of Church doctrine, even though it was taught to Catholics well into the 20th century.

Before that declaration, rumours had been circulating that Benedict had opposed the teaching of limbo when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Tradition in Action has the excerpt from the 1985 book, The Ratzinger Report, further excerpted as follows in his own words:

Limbo was never a defined truth of faith … Baptism has never been a side issue for faith; it is not now, nor will it ever be.

Fear from modernisers about Vatican II

In July 2007, Benedict stated that he wanted Latin Mass — the Tridentine Mass — to be more widely celebrated.

Modernisers — Vatican II supporters — were worried, as the Washington Post reported on July 21:

In making two controversial decisions this month — opening the door to wider celebration of the Latin Mass and asserting the Roman Catholic Church as the one true “church of Christ” — the Vatican insisted that no essential Catholic belief or practice had been changed.

Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials stressed their decisions’ coherence with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the international assembly that ushered in a series of reforms during the 1960s.

But the pope also made clear his conservative understanding of the council, stressing its continuity with the church’s traditions, rather than the innovative and even revolutionary spirit that many believe the council embodied.

Some observers thus view the recent decisions as an effort by Benedict to correct misunderstandings of Vatican II and its teachings — an effort some say could undermine the council’s legacy …

On July 7, Benedict issued a papal decree making it easier for priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, or Latin Mass, which had been the traditional form of the liturgy until Vatican II made Mass in local languages the norm.

In a letter to bishops accompanying his decree, Benedict dismissed any “fear that the document detracts from the authority of the Second Vatican Council.”

Rather, the pope affirmed the “spiritual richness and theological depth” of the Missal — or text that guides the Mass — approved in the council’s wake, which “obviously is and continues to be the normal form.”

But Benedict also noted that the newer Missal had been widely misunderstood as “authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear.”

Three days after that decree, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decreed — with Benedict’s approval — that the church established by Christ exists in its complete form only in the Catholic church, though other Christian denominations can be “instruments of salvation.”

“The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine,” the Vatican explained, suggesting that any understanding to the contrary was due to “erroneous interpretation” …

The article explained that Benedict was of the continuity school, which says that both the traditional Mass and the Vatican II version can co-exist:

Interpreters of Vatican II have long been divided between those who stress the continuity of its teachings with traditional Catholic doctrine and those who characterize the council as a dramatic break with the past.

Benedict, who as the Rev. Joseph Ratzinger was deeply involved in the deliberations of the council, is a longstanding member of the continuity school.

2007 Advent address

Benedict gave an address to a general audience at the Vatican on December 19, 2007 about the meaning of Advent and of Christmas.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In these days, as we come gradually closer to the great Feast of Christmas, the liturgy impels us to intensify our preparation, placing at our disposal many biblical texts of the Old and New Testaments that encourage us to focus clearly on the meaning and value of this annual feast day.

If, on the one hand, Christmas makes us commemorate the incredible miracle of the birth of the Only-Begotten Son of God from the Virgin Mary in the Bethlehem Grotto, on the other, it also urges us to wait, watching and praying, for our Redeemer himself, who on the last day “will come to judge the living and the dead”

Each one of the invocations that implores the coming of Wisdom, of the Sun of justice, of the God-with-us, contains a prayer addressed by the people to the One awaited so that he will hasten his coming. However, invoking the gift of the birth of the promised Saviour also means committing ourselves to preparing his way, to having a worthy dwelling-place ready for him, not only in the area that surrounds us but especially within our souls.

Letting ourselves be guided by the Evangelist John, let us seek in these days, therefore, to turn our minds and hearts to the eternal Word, to the Logos, to the Word that was made flesh, from whose fullness we have received grace upon grace (cf. Jn 1: 14, 16).

This faith in the Logos Creator, in the Word who created the world, in the One who came as a Child, this faith and its great hope unfortunately appear today far from the reality of life lived every day, publicly or privately. This truth seems too great.

As for us, we fend for ourselves according to the possibilities we find, or at least this is how it seems. Yet, in this way the world becomes ever more chaotic and even violent; we see it every day. And the light of God, the light of Truth, is extinguished. Life becomes dark and lacks a compass. Thus, how important it is that we really are believers and that as believers we strongly reaffirm, with our lives, the mystery of salvation that brings with it the celebration of Christ’s Birth!

In Bethlehem, the Light which brightens our lives was manifested to the world; the way that leads us to the fullness of our humanity was revealed to us. If people do not recognize that God was made man, what is the point of celebrating Christmas? The celebration becomes empty.

We Christians must first reaffirm the truth about the Birth of Christ with deep and heartfelt conviction, in order to witness to all the awareness of an unprecedented gift which is not only a treasure for us but for everyone. From this stems the duty of evangelization which is, precisely, the communication of this “eu-angelion”, this “Good News”

Reconciliation for Vatican II opponents

On January 24, 2009, Benedict reconciled four prominent Vatican II opponents to the Church, reversing a previous excommunication from years before:

In a gesture billed as an “act of peace,” but one destined both to fire intra-Catholic debate about the meaning of the Second Vatican Council and to open a new front in Jewish/Catholic tensions, the Vatican today formally lifted a twenty-year-old excommunication imposed on four bishops who broke with Rome in protest over the liberalizing reforms of Vatican II (1962-65).

Ironically, news of the move came just one day before the 50th anniversary of the announcement by Pope John XXIII of his intention to call Vatican II.

The four bishops had been ordained in defiance of the late Pope John Paul II in 1988 by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, whose Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X clung to the old Latin Mass after Vatican II and also expressed deep reservations about both ecumenism and religious freedom. Lefebvre died in 1991.

The four prelates involved are Bernard Fellay, superior of the Fraternity of St. Pius X; Alfonso de Gallareta; Tissier de Mallerais; and Richard Williamson. Their legitimacy as bishops has never been in question, since under Catholic law, Lefebvre was a legitimately ordained bishop and hence any ordination he performed is considered “valid” but “illicit.”

Advice about the 2008 economic crisis

At the end of February 2009, Benedict told Catholic clergy why the economic crisis of 2008 happened. The Cleveland Plain Dealer featured an editorial by Kevin O’Brien:

Pope Benedict XVI is soon to publish an encyclical commenting on the errors that have led the world to the current economic crisis.

In a public address last week to members of the Roman clergy, he tipped his hand, saying the church must denounce “fundamental mistakes that have been shown in the collapse of the great American banks.”

He said the current global financial crisis is a result of “human avarice and idolatry that go against the true God and the falsification of the image of God with another god — Mammon.”

Accept or reject the theological construction as you will, but few would disagree that human avarice is what started us down the progressively darkening alley that our financial institutions and our government travel today …

Regulations aren’t enough. They never will be. What’s really needed is something the government cannot compel: morality in the marketplace.

That’s the fetter that capitalism needs. Oddly enough, it’s the same fetter that government needs …

The solution to the clear problem of immorality in business is not to be found in government. The solution is in ourselves, and in moral standards that our declining culture has worked for 50 years to declare irrelevant.

The culture is wrong about that, but I’ll bet the pope gets it right.

The encyclical, Caritas in veritate (“Love in Truth” or “Charity in Truth”), was signed on 29 June 2009 (the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul) and released on 7 July 2009. The Pope criticised the economic system:

where the pernicious effects of sin are evident

and called for a renewal of personal morality and ethical responsibility.

The Church was always African

On March 19, 2009, Benedict went to Africa to address the Special Council of the Synod for Africa in Yaoundé (another copy here).

He discussed the history of the Church, which has its roots in Africa — not Europe:

Dear Cardinals,
Dear Brother Bishops,

It is with deep joy that I greet all of you here in Africa. A First Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was convoked for Africa in 1994 by my venerable predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, as a sign of his pastoral solicitude for this continent so rich both in promise and in pressing human, cultural and spiritual needs. This morning I called Africa “the continent of hope”. I recall with gratitude the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa here at the Apostolic Nunciature fourteen years ago on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 14 September 1995 …

Dear friends, at the beginning of my address, I consider it important to stress that your continent has been blessed by our Lord Jesus himself. At the dawn of his earthly life, sad circumstances led him to set foot on African soil. God chose your continent to become the dwelling-place of his Son. In Jesus, God drew near to all men and women, of course, but also, in a particular way, to the men and women of Africa. Africa is where the Son of God was weaned, where he was offered effective sanctuary. In Jesus, some two thousand years ago, God himself brought salt and light to Africa. From that time on, the seed of his presence was buried deep within the hearts of this dear continent, and it has blossomed gradually, beyond and within the vicissitudes of its human history. As a result of the coming of Christ who blessed it with his physical presence, Africa has received a particular vocation to know Christ. Let Africans be proud of this! In meditating upon, and in coming to a deeper spiritual and theological appreciation of this first stage of the kenosis, Africa will be able to find the strength needed to face its sometimes difficult daily existence, and thus it will be able to discover immense spaces of faith and hope which will help it to grow in God.

The intimate bond existing between Africa and Christianity from the beginning can be illustrated by recalling some significant moments in the Christian history of this continent.

According to the venerable patristic tradition, the Evangelist Saint Mark, who “handed down in writing the preaching of Peter” (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses III, I, 1), came to Alexandria to give new life to the seed planted by the Lord. This Evangelist bore witness in Africa to the death of the Son of God on the Cross – the final moment of the kenosis – and of his sovereign exaltation, in order that “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). The Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God spread rapidly in North Africa, where it raised up distinguished martyrs and saints, and produced outstanding theologians.

Christianity lasted for almost a millennium in the north-eastern part of your continent, after being put to the test by the vicissitudes of history …

American convert receives sacraments at Vatican

On April 6, 2009, the National Catholic Register reported on a young wife and mother from California who received multiple sacraments from Benedict at the Easter Vigil Mass that year. Hers is a fascinating conversion story, but I have included only the beginning and end:

Heidi Sierras has been selected to represent North America and be baptized, confirmed, and receive first Communion from Pope Benedict XVI at the Easter Vigil in Rome.

Sierras didn’t grow up with any particular faith background. Marriage first introduced her to the Catholic Church. Now, after 2 1/2 years of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults preparation, the Ceres, Calif., mother of four will enter the Church during the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. She recently spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake about her anticipation for the trip and what led her to the Church …

‘It’s hard to describe how I feel. I feel very honored and amazed. It’s hard to put into words how incredible this will be.

‘My husband and two older children (my son, who is 11, and daughter, who is 9) will be traveling to Rome as well, and will receive Communion from the Pope. My daughter was to receive her first Communion in May. They allowed her to receive first Communion beforehand so that she could receive from Pope Benedict, as well.

‘In addition, there will be 30 other people from our parish, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Modesto, Calif., going to Rome, and the priest, as well. Because our priest will be gone for the Easter Vigil, our bishop is coming to our parish to baptize those who are coming into the Church. There will be 35 people coming into the Church. So, in some ways, everyone is going to benefit from us traveling to Rome.’

2009 Easter Vigil sermon

This is Benedict’s sermon that Heidi Sierras heard at that Easter Vigil Mass, excerpted below:

During the Easter Vigil, the Church points out the significance of this day principally through three symbols:  light, water, and the new song – the Alleluia

At the Easter Vigil, the Church represents the mystery of the light of Christ in the sign of the Paschal candle, whose flame is both light and heat.  The symbolism of light is connected with that of fire: radiance and heat, radiance and the transforming energy contained in the fire – truth and love go together.  The Paschal candle burns, and is thereby consumed:  Cross and resurrection are inseparable.  From the Cross, from the Son’s self-giving, light is born, true radiance comes into the world.  From the Paschal candle we all light our own candles, especially the newly baptized, for whom the light of Christ enters deeply into their hearts in this Sacrament.  The early Church described Baptism as fotismos, as the Sacrament of illumination, as a communication of light, and linked it inseparably with the resurrection of Christ.  In Baptism, God says to the candidate:  “Let there be light!”  The candidate is brought into the light of Christ.  Christ now divides the light from the darkness.  In him we recognize what is true and what is false, what is radiance and what is darkness.  With him, there wells up within us the light of truth, and we begin to understand.  On one occasion when Christ looked upon the people who had come to listen to him, seeking some guidance from him, he felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mk 6:34).  Amid the contradictory messages of that time, they did not know which way to turn.  What great compassion he must feel in our own time too – on account of all the endless talk that people hide behind, while in reality they are totally confused.  Where must we go?  What are the values by which we can order our lives?  The values by which we can educate our young, without giving them norms they may be unable to resist, or demanding of them things that perhaps should not be imposed upon them?  He is the Light.  The baptismal candle is the symbol of enlightenment that is given to us in Baptism.  Thus at this hour, Saint Paul speaks to us with great immediacy In the Letter to the Philippians, he says that, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, Christians should shine as lights in the world (cf. Phil 2:15).  Let us pray to the Lord that the fragile flame of the candle he has lit in us, the delicate light of his word and his love amid the confusions of this age, will not be extinguished in us, but will become ever stronger and brighter, so that we, with him, can be people of the day, bright stars lighting up our time.

The second symbol of the Easter Vigil – the night of Baptism – is water.  It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings.  On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it.  Hence the book of Revelation says that in God’s new world, the sea will be no more (cf. 21:1).  It is the element of death.  And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus’ death on the Cross:  Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea.  Having risen from death, he gives us life.  This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth:  with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.

The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth.  According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring.  Without water there is no life.  It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture.  They are places from which life rises forth.  Beside Jacob’s well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life.  He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf. Jn 4:5-15).  Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side – from his pierced heart – there came out blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34).  The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus.  In his death, Jesus himself became the spring.  The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf. Ezek 47:1-12).  In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope.  Nascent Christianity understood:  in Christ, this vision was fulfilled.  He is the true, living Temple of God.  He is the spring of living water.  From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful;  the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile.  In a discourse during the Feast of Tabernacles, though, Jesus prophesied something still greater:  “Whoever believes in me … out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38).  In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth.  We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water  …  Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love!

The third great symbol of the Easter Vigil is something rather different;  it has to do with man himself.  It is the singing of the new song – the alleluia.  When a person experiences great joy, he cannot keep it to himself.  He has to express it, to pass it on.  But what happens when a person is touched by the light of the resurrection, and thus comes into contact with Life itself, with Truth and Love?  He cannot merely speak about it.  Speech is no longer adequate.  He has to sing.  The first reference to singing in the Bible comes after the crossing of the Red Sea.  Israel has risen out of slavery.  It has climbed up from the threatening depths of the sea.  It is as it were reborn.  It lives and it is free.  The Bible describes the people’s reaction to this great event of salvation with the verse:  “The people … believed in the Lord and in Moses his servant” (Ex 14:31).  Then comes the second reaction which, with a kind of inner necessity, follows from the first one:  “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord …”  At the Easter Vigil, year after year, we Christians intone this song after the third reading, we sing it as our song, because we too, through God’s power, have been drawn forth from the water and liberated for true life.

Catholicism ‘a positive option’

In April 2009, Benedict said that the Catholic Church was ‘a positive option’:

“Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions,” the Pope said. “It is a positive option.

“It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today.

“We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer.”

2009 survey from the US

Benedict visited the United States in 2008.

On May 17, 2009, a poll of Americans’ views of the then-Pope and moral issues was published. Despite the constant negative media coverage of his trip the previous year, a Knights of Columbus-Marist College survey showed that Americans in general and Catholics in particular had a positive view of Benedict.

By a nearly 3:1 margin — 4:1 among Catholics — Benedict was seen as being ‘good for the Church’. Americans were eager to hear him speak on not only moral issues but also, and more importantly, his message of hope and love in Jesus Christ as Saviour.

Margaret Thatcher’s 2009 visit

On May 27, 2009, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited the Vatican:

Margaret Thatcher met Pope Benedict XVI at the end of his weekly general audience today.

The 83-year-old former British prime minister, who led the country from 1979 to 1990, had earlier in the day laid flowers at the tomb of John Paul II.

An Anglican, it was Baroness Thatcher’s second visit to the Vatican in less than two years, leading some to speculate whether she is thinking of joining the Church. During her previous trip, she also visited John Paul II’s tomb to pay her respects. According to those who were with her at that time, she made it clear in her characteristically loud voice that it was thanks to John Paul that Soviet communism was brought down

Baroness Thatcher also met Paul VI back in June 1977.

Call to laity

On May 28, 2009, Benedict issued an appeal to Catholic laity for ministry:

The Pope called on the laity to become more aware of their role when he inaugurated Tuesday an ecclesial conference for the Diocese of Rome on “Church Membership and Pastoral Co-responsibility.” The conference is under way through Friday.

“There should be a renewed becoming aware of our being Church and of the pastoral co-responsibility that, in the name of Christ, all of us are called to carry out …”

John Cardinal Newman beatified

On July 2, 2009, Benedict XVI announced that John Cardinal Newman would be beatified:

Cardinal Newman, the Anglican vicar who shocked Victorian Britain by converting to Roman Catholicism, is a step closer to becoming the first English saint for 40 years …

It follows the recognition by the Vatican of the healing of an American man with a severe spinal condition as a miracle which came about as a result of praying to the Cardinal.

A second miracle is needed to recognise Newman as a saint.

The beatification took place on September 19, 2010, during Benedict’s visit to the UK.

A second miracle took place, and Pope Francis canonised John Henry Newman on October 13, 2019, in St Peter’s Square. His feast day is on October 9 in the Catholic Church and on August 11, the day of his death, in the Anglican Church.

The Taliban warn Benedict

On July 5, 2009, the Taliban sent a warning to Pope Benedict:

The Taliban on Thursday threatened “harsh reprisals” if Pope Benedict XVI does not immediately intervene to stop Christians proselytising in Afghanistan.

In a message posted on their official website, the Taliban made the threat against the pope and Christians for spreading their faith.

The message followed video footage aired on Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera earlier this week apparently showing Christian soldiers proselytising outside the Afghan capital, Kabul, and handing out copies of the bible in Pashtun.

‘One of the brightest Popes in history’

On September 25, 2009, a long-time Vatican spokesman gave his views on Benedict XVI:

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who was the Vatican’s official spokesman for 22 years, said in an interview that the Church currently has one of the brightest popes in history, and that one of the most unique aspects of Benedict XVI is his confidence in the rationality of individuals.

Navarro-Valls, who worked for almost two years with Benedict XVI, was interviewed by the Spanish daily El Mundo about his work at the Vatican and some aspects of the two Popes he served under.

Speaking about Benedict XVI, he said he considers him “the Pope with the largest and most brilliant personal bibliography in all of Church history. His conceptual wealth is fascinating. And I think people also outside the Catholic circles are aware of it. “

The former Vatican spokesman does not believe that the Holy Father is a cold person. “I would say the opposite. The manner in which he is moved—which is more frequent than believed—is to not react passionately in response to things,” he said.

He also found that the most unique aspect of his Pontificate is his “confidence in the rationality of people, in their ability to seek the truth,” and the great obstacle he faces is, “as he himself said a few days before he was elected pope, the dictatorship of relativism.”

An Anglican take on Benedict

In October 2009, the Anglican Centrist took issue with Benedict’s papacy. What seems to have rankled in particular was his creation of personal ordinariates which saw Anglican priests accepted into the Catholic Church:

The pope’s decision to allow the Tridentine mass and the reinstatement of the leading figures of anti-Vatican II Roman Catholicism back into the fold may also be seen to be theologically and ecclesiologically connected to his decision to receive disgruntled Anglican clergy and laity into the Roman Catholic Church via the creation of personal ordinariates. The connection consists of Benedict’s long-held antipathy for the conciliar/collegial vision of authority pointed to by Vatican II — and his long-held preference for the supremacy of papal authority. Benedict is the chief architect of the re-emphasis of central papal authority.

The debate between Cardinal Kasper and then Cardinal Ratzinger over the relationship between local and universal church — between local bishop and pope — which occurred some ten years ago — has clearly been decided in the election of Ratzinger to the throne. He is simply enforcing his top-down, centralized model of imperial authority for the papacy that Kasper and Vatican II opposed.

French support for Benedict’s investigation into paedophilia scandals

On March 31, 2010, a varied group of French men and women signed a letter, ‘Call to Truth’, which supported Benedict’s investigation into scandals involving priests and minors.

One would have thought that the media would have been relieved that a Pope wanted to investigate the scandals. Instead, they excoriated him for so doing.

Andrew Cusack reproduced the letter in English, available at the link, and introduced it as follows:

A number of prominent French men & women have written a ‘call to truth’ supporting Pope Benedict XVI in the current media storm and pedophilia scandal. As the Appeal’s about page says, Pope Benedict XVI “is the first pope to address head-on, without compromise, the problem. Paradoxically, he is the subject of undermining and personal attacks, attacks relayed with a certain complacency on the part of the press”.

The list of original signatories includes writers, essayists, literary critics, bloggers, professors, philosophers, businessmen, senators, members of parliament, mayors, publishers, actors, a Protestant minister, a Fields medal winner, and even a sexologist.

I will have more on Benedict XVI’s papacy tomorrow. He was a holy man and very wise. I will never understand how and why the media despised him to the extent that they did.

The Revd Giles Fraser is a past Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and former Rector at the south London church of St Mary, Newington. He also writes for UnHerd and is author of Chosen.

He will soon be taking up a new post as Vicar of St Anne’s in Kew, West London.

Fortunately, Fraser was able to stay at St Mary’s for Easter, the Church’s greatest feast, celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead:

The object hanging over the altar is a pyx. It contains a consecrated host, representing the Body of Christ, as remembered from the Last Supper in the sacrament of Holy Communion:

The congregation bought a very special bottle of wine for him to consecrate at his last Communion service there. How fitting that the winemaker’s surname is Le Moine — Monk:

These were members of St Mary’s on Easter 2019:

St Mary’s held a farewell party for him on Easter Day, April 17, 2022:

Then it was off to St Anne’s in Kew Green. How wonderful to have a cricket pitch next door:

Fraser has met the vicar of St Luke’s, also in Kew:

One wonders if they discussed Brexit:

In lighter matters, St Anne’s new vicar is planning on learning the piano. He received many supportive comments to this tweet:

Note the sheet music: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, one of the grandest of hymns.

Fraser posted his thoughts about changing parishes for UnHerd: ‘Have I abandoned my flock?’

It is a deeply moving account of faith, a church family and the challenges that ministry presents.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

He describes his final Easter at St Mary, Newington, damaged by the Germans in the Second World War:

When I celebrate Mass here for the final time, I need to remind myself that I am not abandoning people, because it’s not all about me. The only real job of a priest is to point beyond him or herself to that God who, I believe, is the only true ground of lasting hope. In a funny way, I suspect my departure has helped focus that for some of the congregation …

On Easter Sunday, as dawn breaks over South London, I will light a fire in the crumbling remains of my old church, substantially redesigned by the Luftwaffe, yet unbowed. I will take that fire into church and the first of the day’s baptisms will begin. Clouds of incense will pick up the light now streaming in through the window. The fire will be shared as everyone’s candles are lit. I will cry. Hugs will be shared. The victory over death will be proclaimed.

Later, we will feast on Jollof rice, which is a kind of sacrament of community round these parts. That seems a perfect way to say goodbye. We will always be family.

That morning, Fraser baptised two adults and two children. Easter Sunday is the traditional day for group baptisms.

He had this to say about the sacrament, which involves sprinkling of water, symbolic of full immersion:

like learning to swim, faith also involves the prospect of drowning. Baptism isn’t a little bit of genteel water sprinkling. The imagery is one of death and rebirth. It’s a simulated drowning. The old person is destroyed; the new one rises from the waters. Like Neo being unplugged from the Matrix and being reborn into a new reality. Evangelicals are not wrong when they speak of being born again. You can’t fully plan for what that involves. At some level, you just have to take the plunge.

He discussed moving out, discarding old belongings, comparing it to a type of death, rather apposite for Holy Week, the culmination of which is Good Friday:

I have been the priest at St Mary, Newington for ten years. This Sunday, I am moving on. A new parish awaits. The skip is full of stuff I remember buying with much excitement, but now looks like pointless trash; the salvation promised by advertising and the shopping centre is so short-lived. And now the removal vans have been — and trashed more of our apparently precious belongings — there are further trips to the local tip, which is rather poignantly located next to the crematorium.

This is where things come when they have stopped working: our fridges and our bodies. The tip and the crem are Good Friday places. This is the wasteland, the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps one day we should gather here, rather than in a lovely church, to experience the full existential desolation of the crucifixion. Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, was itself a rubbish dump. A place of human landfill. This is where our dreams come to die.

I have never been especially threatened by atheism. For one thing, atheism is good for business: it helps maintain the tension. Indifference is the real enemy. But also because atheism is assigned a pivotal place in the Christian narrative. The period between 3pm on Friday and dawn on Sunday symbolises my own atheistic imaginings. When He is murdered by the Romans, all the expectation and excitement of Jesus-following is shown up as a terrible, embarrassing mistake. We were conned. He wasn’t the new King after all. Might is right. Oh, I get atheism all right. It’s an essential part of the cycle of Holy Week.

Then he discusses the Resurrection:

A wander around Kew Gardens, right next to my new church, reveals the natural world coming back to glorious life after the dead of winter. It’s a wholly natural expression of deep Christian instinct: that there is life beyond death. That even death cannot keep life down.

The resurrection of Jesus is not magic. Not “a conjuring trick with bones”, as the great Bishop David Jenkins once put it.

By the way, Jenkins’s full quote was ‘Well, it’s certainly much more than just a conjuring trick with bones’.

Fraser continues:

It’s an acknowledgement that a life rooted in the eternal will not remain under the heel of perpetual nothingness. Agreed, this is not an empirical statement. I have stepped outside what can be demonstrated naturally. The God I describe is beyond time and space, the author of all things, not one thing among others.

“Blah,” go the atheists. But upon this “blah” I hang my whole life. The God who is there in the person of Jesus is the same one in whom everything moves and has their being. It’s not that physical death doesn’t happen. It’s just that it doesn’t mean what nihilists believe it means. Hope exists because God exists.

He expressed his concerns about leaving his congregation at St Mary, Newington, and remembered his arrival ten years ago. He left St Paul’s under a cloud, having run into trouble after hosting Occupy London on the Cathedral grounds:

As I leave my old parish, I feel a terrible sense of abandoning my people. It was hard to start with. Ten years ago, I was parachuted in by the Bishop who took pity on me after my resignation from St Paul’s Cathedral. Like all parishes, they wanted St Francis of Assisi with an MBA. What they got was a broken spirit, in hiding from the world. And to start with, many of them didn’t much care for what they got.

I don’t blame them really. I was a mess. Some of them left the church. But slowly we rebuilt and we bonded. Now they are my family, the water of baptism being thicker than the blood of biological relatedness. We have been through everything together: bereavements, deep disappointments, some of the happiest parties you can ever imagine, then the emotional desolation of lockdown. During my ten years here, some of the post-war estates have been demolished and new more expensive and private developments have taken their place. As gentrification spread, our congregation has become much younger and whiter …

Our new church intake looks very different. Apart from being younger and whiter, they were not raised in the faith. There were fewer infant baptisms for this generation. Here, faith is a choice not an inheritance. “I wish my parents had done this for me,” said one of the new baptismal candidates. I understand this. Becoming a Christian is much harder to do as an act of choice, more fraught with anxiety.

The generation raised under the aegis of liberalism have to bear the weight of their own choices. This is problematic because to be in a church is to be a part of a family. The idea that you choose your family, choose to be baptised, seems to introduce a strange contractual aspect to this relationship, like taking out a mobile phone contract. I wonder if those “wanting more” in baptism preparation are, on some level, asking me for the small print. Is that how they see the Bible, I wonder? I hope I have helped to disabuse them of this idea.

He says that he doesn’t have all the answers to people’s problems, however, the church is where we bring the problems we cannot solve:

I don’t have answers to many of the problems that people bring into this church. I can’t solve the deep poverty that many experience, nor the broken relationships, nor the desperate sense that the world is not responsive to everyone’s deepest needs. I am there to carry them, and they carry me. The church is where you can bring all the stuff that is impossible to solve. And there are advantages to this — it means that we are not frightened of all the stuff that cannot be remedied. We can carry failure. And we can only do this because, as I said before, hope exists because God exists.

I wish Giles Fraser well in Kew, with his ministry — and his piano lessons. I have a feeling he will really enjoy his new assignment and new pastime.

Reaction to Justin Welby’s Easter heavily politicised sermon last Sunday was strong.

We appreciate that he has no time for Boris Johnson or other Conservatives, but could he please put a sock in — sorry, stop to — it and start preaching about the Risen Christ, particularly during Eastertide?

An article in The Telegraph on Easter Monday noted:

The Archbishop’s Easter sermon is the latest in a series of interventions by him over government policy.

The Telegraph‘s report is titled ‘Stop your misguided moralising on Rwanda deal, MPs tell Archbishop of Canterbury’.

Here is the background (emphases mine below):

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been accused of “misguided moralising” after leading the Church of England’s attack on the Government’s Rwanda deal and “partygate”.

The Most Rev Justin Welby was said to have undermined the role of the Church by using his Easter Sunday address to criticise the Prime Minister’s plan to send asylum seekers to the landlocked east African nation.

On the same morning, the Archbishop of York questioned what kind of country people want Britain to be and suggested that public servants should lead by example when it comes to morality.

In what has been perceived as a veiled attack on Boris Johnson over the Downing Street parties scandal, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell asked whether the UK wants to be known for being a country where “those in public life live to the highest standards, and where we can trust those who lead us to behave with integrity and honour”.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Sunday that the policy on sending illegal immigrants to Rwanda raises “serious ethical questions” and “cannot stand the judgment of God” or “carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values” …

On Sunday night, the Archbishop was accused of hypocrisy after Whitehall sources pointed out he has warned four times about the problems of illegal immigration.

Conservative MPs were quick to react:

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, appeared to hit back, writing in The Times: “We are taking bold and innovative steps and it’s surprising that those institutions that criticise the plans, fail to offer their own solutions.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Telegraph that whilst the Church is “authoritative in all matters that pertain to God”, the same cannot be said for “day-to-day practical solutions”.

“This is not an unreasonable perspective for an Archbishop, he is completely entitled to it,” he said. “But he has missed the effect of the policy. It is an informed and important opinion, but it is not revealed truth.”

Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, and a member of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: “There is nothing ungodly about trying to come up with practical solutions to end the vile trade in human misery where criminal gangs daily put lives at risk to profit from trafficking people into the UK illegally, based on ability to pay rather the legitimacy of their claim.

“The people traffickers and those who turn a blind eye to ending this ungodly activity are the ones who should really be the target of the Archbishop’s misguided moralising.”

He went on to say that the Church of England’s failure to distinguish between good and evil is “directly linked to its greatly diminishing influence in our country”.

Ben Bradley, the Tory MP for Mansfield, said that the Archbishop is “way out of tune with public opinion”, adding that “commenting on government policy is not Justin Welby’s job”.

He said: “Given that Welby has previously raised concerns about immigration overburdening communities, and the importance of recognising concerns about immigration, it’s pretty hypocritical to now slate the Government for finding solutions to those issues.”

Good on Ben Bradley for remembering what Welby has said in the past:

The Archbishop has previously warned about the problems of small-boat Channel crossings. He described the deaths of at least 27 migrants off the coast in France last November as a “devastating loss of human life”, adding: “This cannot go on.”

At the time, he said Britain needs a “better system based on safety, compassion, justice and co-operation across frontiers”.

He also acknowledged that “we can’t overburden communities, we have to be realistic about that” and called on states, religious groups and civil society to “come together in a spirit of pragmatism and compassion” to find a solution to immigration.

The article has more of the Archbishop’s best hits.

So, we had no message about the Resurrection from him or his second in command, the Archbishop of York, who started well with this opening on BBC Radio 4:

The message of Easter is that stones are rolled away …

Yes, yes, go on:

… and barriers are broken down, and therefore it’s truly appalling and distressing. I’m appalled at what’s being proposed and I think we can do better than this.”

Oh.

He added that:

the Government was “out of tune with British people” and those arriving on small boats are in “just as much need” as Ukrainians.

Hmm. Really?

Tens of thousands of able-bodied men under the age of 40 are crossing the Channel in droves. Ukrainian women and children in need of shelter and support are coming to the UK. Goodness knows what they’ve been through since the end of February while their partners or husbands fight for their country.

A Telegraph editorial tells us what else was in Welby’s sermon:

Mr Welby’s strictures were not confined to asylum policy. He also said families were “waking up in fear” because households were facing the “greatest cost-of-living crisis we have known in our lifetimes”. They had “cold homes and empty stomachs” and the soaring cost of everyday life was the “first and overwhelming thought of the day” for most people, he added.

The paper sees an issue with Welby’s never-ending pronouncements. He, much like the Labour Party, never has a solution:

Mr Welby sees it as his duty to speak out on behalf of the poor and dispossessed, though it is never clear what he wants to see happen as an alternative. The asylum policy is certainly radical, but is it the Church’s position that anyone who makes it to the UK should be allowed to stay? What is the Church doing to look after and house them?

Mr Welby opposed the rise in National Insurance contributions to pay for more to be spent on the NHS. This newspaper also argued against it, but because we think people in general are overtaxed, whereas Mr Welby thinks the better-off should pay more. Is it really the Church’s job to conduct a running political commentary in this way?

No.

On Easter Monday evening, I tuned into Nigel Farage on GB News.

Farage is Anglican. He accused Welby of deeply damaging the Church of England’s reputation. I agree.

Here’s a bit more from his editorial:

GB News presenter Nigel described the Archbishop’s statement as a “big virtue signal”.

The former Brexit Party Leader said: “He didn’t mention anything about the criminal traffickers, he didn’t mention anything about the drownings in the Channel, he didn’t mention anything about those who come to this country and finish up effectively working in slave labour conditions.”

He added: “It is true form as a left-wing archbishop who has done more to damage the reputation of the Church of England, to decrease the numbers turning up every Sunday than almost anybody who has ever lived.”

You can watch it in full:

One of the former chaplains to the Queen, Dr Gavin Ashenden, who recently converted to Catholicism, discussed Welby’s sermon. He said that the Archbishop has a religion:

but the religion isn’t Christianity.

Ashenden said that a BBC Panorama programme warned some years ago that we would have a global problem with immigration from the equatorial countries northward:

Farage also interviewed Steve Valdez-Symonds from Amnesty International UK, who is a relatively frequent GB News guest:

This article has a partial transcript of their discussion:

Steve Valdez-Symonds, from Amnesty International UK, criticised the Home Secretary’s proposal and said “the evidence doesn’t suggest it can work.”

“People on these journeys are on the whole not in the position to assess what’s going to happen to them at the end,” added Steve Valdez-Symonds in an exclusive interview with GB News.

Nigel Farage hit back at the Refugee & Asylum Rights Director’s explanation: “Oh no, they are[;] otherwise they would stay in France. They come here because they see four-star hotels.”

They think we’re treasure island. That’s why they all want to come here, it’s obvious isn’t it?” said the GB News Presenter.

Mr Valdez-Symonds responded: “I think that’s absolutely nonsense I’m afraid. If that were the case, why is it that France continues to receive so many of more people into its asylum system than do we?”

The former Brexit Party Leader said: “It’s because they are on the Mediterranean. France isn’t choosing to have large numbers of people to come in, but they’re coming across the Med.”

The dinghies continue to arrive:

France requires an 18-month wait before benefits can begin. The UK has a much shorter waiting time.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that France puts migrants in four-star hotels. But, as our MPs so often say in the House of Commons:

We’re better than that.

Yes, we certainly are, for better or worse.

John F MacArthurIn 2017, John MacArthur preached a sermon on Galatians 4:19-20 called ‘The Primary Importance of Sanctification’.

In addition to preaching well on the text, he also gave a discourse on why today’s churches are so, well, awful, for lack of a better word.

The excerpt follows, emphases mine:

We talk a lot about the economy in America and the economy growing. You do understand, don’t you, that the economy in America grows on massive self-interest, not on altruism, not on wanting to help others; it grows on massive self-interest. The church has bought into that as a way to appeal to those people who live for their own fulfillment. Churches then look and sound and feel like the world, and they advertise God as if He was a product that would satisfy your heart’s desires. Carefully they avoid anything that condemns people, anything that convicts them, certainly anything that terrifies them, like the judgment of hell. They avoid anything that expects people to deny themselves, take up a cross, pursue with passion what is holy, pure, and good. And, again, even in churches where there’s a strong emphasis on justification, and maybe a now and then emphasis on glorification, there is a strict avoidance of sanctification. This plays out all the time.

The church is supposed to look like Christ in the world. And rarely does a day go by that there isn’t some blatant, gross sin and immorality attributed to someone in the media across the country, if not across the world, who is anything but Christlike. Faithful churches are always led by godly shepherds who lead their people away from the world, away from themselves to God, away from the fulfillment of their own desires, their own longings, to seek those things which are above, not things on the earth. The church is in a sad state.

Now, how did we get to this point? I don’t want to belabor this, but this is a little bit of helpful history. Churches for centuries were theological, theological, and biblical. The Bible was the centerpiece, and the theology that the Bible taught established the convictions, and churches were God-centered.

It was even demonstrated architecturally. You go back a few generations, and when churches were built they were built to manifest a kind of transcendent perspective. They were tall, they were high; they wanted to demonstrate something that was above the earth. Some of you have visited those kinds of places where you look up, perhaps in some cases a hundred feet or more, and you see paintings and stained glass and things like that.

There was a sense in which when you went to church you were encountering God, and transcendence was important. It was God-centered, it was Christ-centered. And they trusted in the Holy Spirit for the growth of the church. I’ll say that again. They trusted in the Holy Spirit for the growth of the church.

Churches opposed worldliness. They opposed sin categorically ... But even Protestant churches, even gospel-preaching churches had a sense of transcendence. There was a dignity about them. The music had a dignity. The way people conducted themselves had a dignity. The leadership carried themselves in a dignified fashion. One commentator I read this week said, “Modern pastors look like they buy their wardrobes at Forever 21.” There was a loftiness. There was an ascendency. You came to hear from heaven. You came for an encounter with God.

New churches are not theological, they’re not biblical; they are psychological, sociological. They have given up transcendence – a heavenly experience, for imminence – an earthly experience, to make it as much like what is familiar in the world as possible; to not make you think that you’ve stepped into any kind of different category, either in the style, the fashion, or anything else; make it as worldly, as flat as possible. It is man-centered. And though the names of Jesus and God are used, Jesus and God are like imaginary friends who give you what you want. Churches today trust in their growth techniques, not the Holy Spirit. They trust that by sucking in the world and redefining worship as a mindless musical stimulation while the people think only about their own desires, that somehow this is how you grow a church.

You can collect a crowd that way, but only the Holy Spirit can build a church. Vague spirituality has replaced sound doctrine. True holiness is not an issue, because that would be way too confrontive. You can’t talk to people about self-denial, of giving up everything they long for, everything they think satisfies them, giving it all up in total self-denial for the sake of God; can’t do that. This culture today has drunk too deeply of the wine of self-fulfillment for too long. They are drunk on it.

Attendance in a church and loyalty to a church is never related, it seems, to the love of the truth or the love of Christ, but always to the love of self: “I like what they do, it’s my style; makes me feel good about me.” You might say, “How did we get here?” We got here because ideas have consequence.

Sigmund Freud died in 1939. He was the father of psychoanalysis. His system was a system that rejected God. His system was a system that said man is the ultimate. And so he said, there is in every human being, what he called, the id. And the id is the real you, the authentic you. It’s basically the complex out of which comes all your desires. And if you want to be who you are you’ve got to let your desires go. If you want to be an authentic person, you need to be you. Whatever you is, whatever the complex of your heart’s desires are, you have to be able to fulfill them to be a healthy, authentic person. In other words, unleash your sinfulness.

Obviously, the most eager people to buy into that were young people, because young people haven’t learned lessons in life about how living like that destroys you. So they’re the fertile ground to sow those seeds. The most liberated sinners are the youngest, because they lack the restraints that come from the lessons of life, and so youth become the symbol of authenticity. Youthful, irresponsible desire is elevated to a noble level, and the perpetual adolescent is the most authentic person.

We see it in our culture. The heroes of this culture are so profoundly sinful and so proud about it, that it would be hard to track the record of their iniquitous behavior. But they’re real; they’re the real people. The church is a restrainer. The church is bondage. The church is full of hypocrites, people who dress up like we do because they’re phonies and they are not authentic.

Over the years since Freud, this youthful authenticity movement has taken over the culture. Dramatically it made strides in the 1960s when, for the first time, the selfish, self-indulgent, immoral young person, hedonistic young person became the cultural hero: the hippies – sex, drugs, rock and roll. This is played out in songs like “I’ve Got To Be Me,” “I Did It My Way.” “And so if a church doesn’t let me be me, I reject it.”

This has reached severe proportions. An illustration: same-sex marriage. Homosexual people don’t care about marriage – just mark it – they don’t care about marriage, they just care about doing what they want to do. They don’t care about marriage.

Why do they want same-sex marriage? They want it established by law for one reason: so that they can put those who are against that sin out of business. That’s all they want; LGBTQ lobbying constantly for acceptance in the culture. It isn’t that they want some kind of political acceptance, they want to make criminals out of the people who spell that out as sin. They want to criminalize Christianity. That’s the only reason any of this is happening. They’re free to do what they want, and they do it. But what bothers them is those who denounce that behavior as sin; they want to make us criminals. So we’re in a tough spot.

The culture, mostly young people, is against us. In the ‘60s after the hippie movement, when immorality just broke loose, there were some kids who supposedly came to Christ; they became the Jesus people. They came to Southern California down to Orange County. There was a guy named Lonnie Frisbee who was leading that movement, who was secretly a homosexual and died of AIDS.

But Lonnie Frisbee had decided they needed to take their kids, that were meeting on the beach and baptizing in the Pacific Ocean, to church. So they went to Calvary Chapel in Orange County where Chuck Smith was pastor. Then it was a four square church, traditional church. And they all showed up on a few Sundays barefoot, long hair, irreverent, casual, with their own kind of music; and the leaders of the church said, “We’ve got to hold onto the young people. If we don’t give them what they want they’ll leave.”

That was already being discussed a lot of places, because the hippie movement caught fire across America – the movement of rebellion against authority, responsibility, duty, expectation; rebellion against right, honor; it caught fire. So the church feared, “We’re going to lose these people if we don’t acquiesce.” So for the first time when the Jesus people came to church, first time I can find in church history, the church began to redefine its own identity and worship based upon the wishes of a rebellious subculture. That definition started then and spread; started in California, spread clear across the country.

Prior to the ‘60s, nobody expected a church service to be rock concert. Nobody expected a church service to be entertainment. Nobody expected worship to be physical stimulation, emotional feelings without engaging your mind. Nobody expected church to be a manipulation of people’s desires to fulfill their own self-styled identity. A church was a church, and it was a place where there was thoughtful, prayerful, biblical, sober-minded hearing from the Word of God, leading to conviction and edification and elevation. It was a heavenly encounter.

But to this modern generation of young peopleserious, sober, thoughtful, scriptural preaching about God, and confrontation of sin, and a call to holiness, and a call to separate from the world and from iniquity is far too absolute and far too offensive. People who want to feel good about themselves the way they are don’t want that, so the church caved in. The church caved in and gave them what they want. And now pastors continue to accommodate those same people – irresponsible, lazy, undisciplined rebels who want what they want – and the church, instead of confronting it, conforms to it. No preaching on sanctification, no preaching on holiness can be done in those environments; they’d empty the place.

This is the situation today. Strong preaching on holiness against worldliness, confronting the desires of the hearts of the “me” generation as sin from which they need to repent is a far cry from the trend.

How true.

I put this post together on Easter Day. What was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon about? The Resurrection? No. Justin Welby preached about the ungodliness of processing economic migrants crossing the English Channel from France to the UK — overwhelmingly single, young men without papers — in Rwanda. That is the Conservative government’s plan which is scheduled to start in several weeks’ time. It is an attempt to reduce the number of migrant crossings which went up from several hundred per annum a few years ago to 28,000+ in 2021.

In a further note on the Church of England, which illustrates what MacArthur is rightly condemning, a 30-something ordinand, GB News commentator Calvin Robinson, is unable to be formally ordained yet because he follows the Bible and is not conforming to the world. The C of E doesn’t like biblical preaching. The C of E is one of the worldliest denominations around. However, many of us stick around because we love the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and, where we can find it, the liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. We ignore everything and everyone else.

The channel’s article on Robinson’s struggle appeared on Holy Saturday:

When asked what reason the Church gave to him as to why they cancelled his curacy, Calvin added: “They said it would be too turbulent for me to be an ordained minister and have a public profile.

“The official line will be that there [are]n’t enough curacies in London but that is nonsense as I have had several offers for title posts, but even then the Church says no.

“It’s not about there not being enough space, it’s purely politics.”

In response to Calvin’s comments, the Diocese of London told GB News: “In the Diocese of London, we have a limited number of curacies available each year that are considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We work with and support Ordinands throughout the discernment process to establish the right path for each person.

“In this instance, it was felt that there was no suitable option available that London could offer.

“Calvin continues to be a candidate sponsored for ordination. We continue to be willing to work with him to discern the right way forward, and we keep him in our prayers.”

Last year, Calvin Robinson presented an hour-long programme, The Meaning of Christmas.

This year, he presented a similar programme on Easter, featuring classic hymns, a biblical viewpoint and interviews with clergy and laity discussing the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection as well as what it was like living in our Lord’s era under Roman rule:

I, too, will keep Calvin in my prayers for his future. He was a teacher for several years, and he would make a good priest. He’d be an ideal Archbishop of Canterbury.

One can only live in hope for the future.

John F MacArthurOne of John MacArthur’s sermons that I used for my Holy Saturday exegesis on the Epistle is ‘Breaking Sin’s Grip’ from 1992.

It might seem as if 1992 were a long time ago, but his sermon is as fresh today 30 years on as it was then.

In it, he asks, ‘Whatever happened to sin?’

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

… it struck me that the present political scene is talking a lot about values.  Have you noticed that?  Everybody wants to talk about family values, moral values, traditional values, and it strikes me as a rather a fruitless discussion since no one is willing to talk about sin.  And as long as you will not define sin then you cannot define morality; and so all the talk about values amounts to little more than some sentimentality.

In fact, I’ve been so concerned about this that I have a three-book contract with Word Publishers and I said to them, I said, “This third book that I’m going to write which hasn’t yet been done, I would like to write on the subject of sin,” thinking that I would immediately get told that that would never work.  I was amazed when they responded by saying, “We think that’s great.”  So I’m prepared in the next few months to dig into the subject of whatever happened to sin.

And it’s kind of a curious thing to me because it’s, if anything is true of our society, true that we don’t want to even acknowledge sin.  We continue down a path of improperly diagnosing man’s behavior and therefore not having any clue about how to cure it.

Several years ago Dr. Karl Menninger, of the famous Menninger Clinic, which is a psychiatric clinic and he’s a world-famous psychiatrist, wrote a book and the title of the book was just that, Whatever Happened To Sin?  Here was a renowned psychiatrist basically saying, “I operate a psychiatric clinic and if I’m going to help people with their problems, I have got to tell them about sin.”  He tried to make people face the reality of sin as the curse that creates the problems of lifeThe book was somewhat widely read but also widely rejected.

Frankly, sin isn’t as nearly as marketable as other things.  Today in our culture I think it would be fair to say that sin isn’t even an acceptable wordYou don’t hear anybody talk about sin, certainly not a politician, rarely a preacher in some casesNot only is it an unacceptable word, it is an unacceptable cause for the troubles of man.  With all this talk about values and no talk about sin, the definition of values is hopelessly vague.

Certainly sin is not an acceptable diagnosis of man’s problems.  We look at the world and what do we see?  We see evil everywhere but it’s not defined as evilWe see sin everywhere but it’s not defined as sin.  It’s not an acceptable word. It’s not an acceptable cause. It’s not an acceptable diagnosis of man’s nature.

In fact, things that we used to willingly say were sin we don’t want to call sin anymore.  There was a column in the August 29 Dallas Morning News written by columnist Anne Melvin.  She wrote this column about sin interestingly enough. This is what it says, part of it: “Most sins have gained respectability through politics or profitability.  They’re mostly all legalized, advertised, organized, supervised and taxed.  We’ve got liquor by the drink, and young girls dress like hookers just to be in fashion at their homecoming dance.  We’ve got your basic graphic sex on cable TV and an entertainment market from wind-up toys to electronic state-of-the-art based solely on violence. So, hey, is it fair to name all these little diversions sins?”

She goes on, “Sin, go figure out how you can make a fortune for Time Warner with a recording about killing cops, how you can refuse to let school children say grace for lunch and then teach them how to use a condom before recess.  Clearly we are foundering here, a society preoccupied with values yet hopelessly vague on sin,” end quote.

It isn’t just the politicians and it isn’t just the profit takers who want to market sin and sell it.  The politicians don’t want to talk about sin because they don’t want to alienate any sinning votes.  The entrepreneurs and the materialists don’t want to talk about sin because they can sell it.  The government doesn’t want to talk about sin because they can tax it.   But what is really most amazing, I guess, of all is that even the people helpers, the counselors, the psychologists, the psychiatrists, they don’t want to talk about sin either.  And again I remind you, they don’t want to talk about sin because they don’t want to deal with the sin in their own lives, and secondly, because sin doesn’t sell very wellSickness sells a lot better.   Addiction is a much nicer word than iniquity.

I read a book yesterday, the title of it is, I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional.  It’s a short book, I read it in the morning and then I thought about it in the afternoon.  It’s written by a lady by the name of Wendy Kaminer and it’s a secular book.  And in this secular book she confronts as a critic the new anthropology, the new theology, the new psychology.  That new stuff that is called abuse psychology, or codependency, all of that kind of stuff that basically is saying, “You’re really a wonderful person and everybody keeps abusing you and what’s happening outside of you is the problem because everything inside of you is so wonderful.”

She talks about the fact that this new anthropology, this new sociology, psychology, theology and she even lists…well she lists secular sociologists, secular psychiatrists, Christian psychologists into one big bag as all affirming basically the same thing.  She writes this in evaluating the movement and articulating what they believe. This isn’t her view but this is what she says they are espousing, “No matter how bad you’ve been in the narcissistic 1970s and the inquisitive 1980s, no matter how many drugs you’ve ingested, or sex acts you’ve performed, or how much corruption you’ve enjoyed, you’re still essentially innocent.  The divine child inside you is always untouched by the worst of your sins.”

And then she further says these new definers of man’s nature say, quote: “Because no one is inhabited by evil or unhealthy urges because inside every addict” that’s the new word for sinner “is a holy child yearning to be free.”  And then she goes on assessing what they say, “They say inner children are always good, innocent and pure, like the most sentimentalized Dickens characters, which means that people are essentially good and evil is merely a mask, a dysfunction.”  She says, “The therapeutic view of evil as sickness not sin is strong in codependency theory.” that’s that new kind of theory.  “Shaming children, for example, is considered a primary form of abuse.”

In other words, what she’s saying, if I can digress, is that if you make your child feel any shame about anything, any guilt about anything, that is a form of child abuseThat will wind up, you can be sure, in the courts, and it already has as child abuse.

She goes on, “Both guilt and shame are not useful, they say.”  And then she adds, “Someone should remind these people that there is a name for people who lack guilt and shame. They’re called sociopaths.”  She’s right.

But here is a secular writer looking at the face of the people-helping industry and saying these people are saying that innately inside in the deepest heart of man, he is innocent, pure, holy and good.  Boy, it’s amazing how all these people who are that way on the inside can be so rotten on the outside.

The point is this. You basically have a culture that denies the reality of sin.  And as we said in our discussions about homosexuality, if you misdiagnose the problem then you’re not going to be able to offer the proper cure.  So what happens is, if you alleviate people of the responsibility for dealing with the sin in their lives, you have, in effect, made them unredeemable.  You have damned them.

That’s the kind of culture we live in, not just minimizing sin but eliminating itAnd then coming up with the unbelievable idea that man is some kind of good, holy, pure thing inside, longing to be free from these terrible dysfunctions that have occurred on his outside because of the way he’s been abused by others, usually his parents.

Now we’re victims, to some extent, of that kind of thing in our culture.  We have as wicked, as wretched, as sinful, and as vile a culture as could be imagined.  And at the same time we have a massive campaign to remove the word “sin” from our vocabulary.  You talk about putting people in an unredeemable position. They aren’t even going to understand that they are responsible for their own offense against God. They’re not even going to be in a position to seek a deliverer from their iniquity, thus they are unredeemable.  I can’t imagine that Satan could have devised any more effective plan than to move a culture toward the most wretched, vile kind of life, and at the same time sell it wholesale the philosophy that no such thing as sin exists innately in the human heart.  Talk about damning a culture, damning a world, that’s how to do it.

Now the fallout to this…the fallout to this we feel in the church, and the church tends to minimize the reality of sin, even in its own life even among Christians.  We tend to be desensitized, don’t we, to the iniquity around us, and if we are desensitized, let me tell you this, to the iniquity around us we will be desensitized to the iniquity in us.  If I am not outraged by the sin I see outside, then I will be less likely to be outraged by the sin I see inside.  People always decry the Victorian era, periods of history where even the society itself has had a highly developed sense of sin.  But those kinds of societies at least articulated a morality that held the church accountableNow society holds the church accountable for nothing because society has no morality, no definition of sin, therefore the church can behave itself in just about any way it wants.  In fact, I imagine today that because of the way the church has behaved itself in our culture, it would be very hard for anybody in the church to do anything that would shock the world.

So the fallout of this kind of sinless definition of man and the overexposure that even Christians have to iniquity and to sin through the media, desensitizes us to our own sin.  And I’ll tell you what that can do.  Because we don’t really see the sinfulness of sin, because we don’t really see how sinful we are, it is possible to think of ourselves as more holy than we really areIf you go back, for example, and read in the writings of godly men in…in the past, you very often find them bemoaning and bemoaning and bemoaning their own sin.  And you read about their lives and they seem so holy and so pure and so devoted to Christ and yet so overwrought with sinSin was highly defined in ancient times, even in the society in many cases.  And it held even the people who were Christians up to a high standard.  Nobody was letting them off the hook in the cultureNobody was blaming their parents for the way they acted, nobody was blaming some codependency or some addiction. Everybody was dealing in the culture with sin as sin, at least to some degree.  And consequently people were confined to those definitions, saw them for what they really are and I think in some ways the sort of general human goodness in the culture, the sort of pervasive morality helped control the thinking even of ChristiansNow we don’t have that benefitWe can just about call ourselves Christians and live any way we want to live.  And if we sort of exceed the average, we tend to think of ourselves as holy.

J.I. Packer, who is a well-known theologian and a skilled thinker, writes this, “Christians often imagine themselves to be strong, healthy and holy.  But the way to health is to recognize that we are weak and sick and sinful.”

The point is, don’t let the society give you the standard.  I mean, if you’re a little better than the society you’re in, that doesn’t make you very good because they don’t have any definition of sin.

Packer goes on to say, “The first truth is that we are all invalids in God’s hospital,” all of us Christians. He’s talking about believers.  “In moral and spiritual terms we are sick and damaged, diseased and deformed, scarred and sore, lame and lopsided to a far, far greater extent than we realize.  We need,” he writes “to realize that the spiritual health we testify to is only partial and relative, a matter of being less sinful and less incapacitated than we were before.” And then here’s a great statement: “Our spiritual life is a fragile convalescence.  It is a fragile convalescence easily disrupted and we are prone to damaging delusions about it.” Profound.

I grieve because the way our culture goes does affect the churchAnd because we’re two notches above the way they live we assume that we are holyWe are engaged in a fragile convalescence from the near fatal disease of unregenerate life. Therefore we need to deal with sin and we need to deal with it strongly in our livesAnd we cannot allow the world’s standard to become ours.  The politicians can talk all they want about values, family values, traditional values, but when they talk about that they do not mean what you and I understand as biblical Christianity.  We’ve got to deal with it on biblical terms.

At that point in the sermon, MacArthur begins preaching on 1 Peter 4:1-8, on turning from sin to doing God’s will.

He discusses our Lord’s death on the Cross, taking our sins onto His body, which believers remembered on Good Friday last week:

sin was thrown upon Him in its fullness as He bore our sins.  In fact, the Bible says He was made sin on the cross and there the heavy weight of sin was placed upon HimHe suffered, as it were, in the flesh and He suffered from the attacks of sin.  Sin attacked Him in temptation, obviously from outside since He was impeccable, sinless and could not sin on the inside because He was holy God.  Sin attacked Him through the persecutions.  Sin, of course, then was even poured upon Him in its fullness by God the Father as He became the substitute.

In every case remember this, will you, sin made Christ suffer.  He battled it through temptation.  He suffered the indignities and the persecution and the blasphemy and the hatred and the hostility and the violence of evil men and women.  And He suffered until it crushed out His life when He bore sin on the cross.

So look back.  If you’re going to entertain sin in your life, says Peter, look backHe’s reminding persecuted believers here, by the way, who are undergoing some heavy, heavy persecution.  And under that kind of duress it is not unreasonable to assume that some of them may have begun to defect, maybe not wanting to take the heat, some small compromises.  And he reminds them that Christ, the very One he has just described in verses 18 to 22 of chapter 3, who gave His life for them, who when reviled reviled not again, who when He was being evil spoken of never retaliated, and who paid for their sins, that same Christ suffered extremely beyond anything they will ever know and never sinned and never fell to sin, and never stopped trusting the Father, and never yielded up His confidence, and never gave away His hope, and never defectedAnd He becomes your pattern.

Sin did everything it could to destroy ChristIt was ineffective and He was triumphantBut He endured it all and it was all painful.  Even temptation must have been some kind of an offense to His holy nature.  Certainly blasphemy was and mockery and all the rest, and to say nothing of sin bearing.  He suffered.  He suffered and naver…never gave in.  He suffered and never sinned.  And he says, does Peter, you have to arm yourself with the same purpose and you know that the one who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.  The one who goes all the way to death is relieved from sin.

Well what is that point?  The point is this, if you’re faithful like Christ was even to the place where they take your life, as bad as it sounds it’s really good because when you die you cease from what? From sin.  That’s the arm… That’s how you arm your mind.  You say, “I will be holy and I will be pure like my Lord, He is the author and the finisher of faith.  He is the model and the example and He suffered all the way to blood.  And if I go that far in my suffering, if I stand for Christ and holiness and righteousness and it cost me my life, the reward is no more sin, for death means sin has ceased.”

When Christ died on the cross He was relieved from sin.  Never again would He be tempted.  Never again would He be persecuted.  Never again would anybody spit in His face.  Never again would they mock Him to His face.  He was exalted to the right hand of the Father.  Never again would He bear in His own body our sins.  Sin was gone forever from any personal contact with Christ.

And so it is with us.  He says, look, if you’re going to deal with sin you’ve got to have the same kind of purpose, the same kind of…the word in the Greek means idea, thought, concept, the same perspective is probably the best way to say it, that Christ had.  I will endure to the very end, even if I die in the process I will then be freed from sin for good.  That’s the resoluteness of purpose that you see exemplified in Christ.  The One who was made sin, the One who came into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh, Paul says in Romans 8:3, gives us the pattern.  If we’re going to live no longer in the flesh, following the lusts of men, we have to have that kind of perspective.

And then there’s a second thought here at the end of verse 2 that strikes me.  If we are going to have this same perspective, and if we’re going to see what sin did to Christ and therefore its horror and its heinousness and realize that like He we are to endure without compromise to the very end because even that means only reward and bliss, beyond that if we’re going to live the rest of the time in the flesh we have to recognize not only how sin affected Christ, but how it affects God, how it affects God.

Look back in the past.  He says you are to live no longer in the lust of men but for the will of God.  You’ve got to realize that every time you’ve committed a sin in your past, you’ve defied God’s will, you’ve disobeyed God’s will, you’ve rejected God’s will.  In a sense, you’ve usurped the throne.  You’ve pushed God aside and said I will take command of my life; I will do whatever I want to do.  You’re not in charge, I’m in charge.  It is the ultimate act of blasphemy, really, because it questions God’s authority, it questions God’s sovereignty.  Follow this, it questions God’s wisdom.  It questions God’s goodness because sin says I’m in charge, I’ll do it if I want, I’ll make this thing work out into my life, I’ll do it because it will bring me pleasure, it will bring me satisfaction.  And all of that says, “God, You don’t really love me or You wouldn’t withhold this thing from me cause it’s going to be so good.  God, You’re not really wise or You’d really see how this thing can work in my life some way and produce some benefit.  You’re not really in charge because You can’t stop me from doing this.”

You see all of that is inherent in sinning.  When I sin I say, “God, move over, I’m in charge.”  I say, “God, You’re not as wise as You think You are because if You were You’d let me do this and understand it will all work out.  And thirdly, You’re not as good and gracious and kind as You ought to be because if You were You’d let me have what I so desperately want.”

You see, all of that attacks the character and the purpose of God and I become then a rebel.  Look back at your sin and understand what it was. It was an attack on the will of God, an attack on the authority of God, the sovereignty of God, the purpose of God.  It is flat, outright, overt disobedience to God.  And how can you, as we read this morning, say you love Him and not obey Him?  See sin for what it is.  Back in Psalm 51 David said, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned.”  All sin is against God.  It attacks Him first and foremost.  That’s why the point of confession is to God.  You may affect others with your sin but the primary point of confession is always to God.  You may need to seek forgiveness from others because you have sinned against them. The primary point of confession is still God.  He is the One most holy, He is the One most offended.

If I’m going to deal with sin in my life, then, I’ve got to look back and see what it did to Christ, how it pursued Him all through His life and brought Him only pain, only sadness, even tears, ultimately death.  That’s what sin is like, it wants to kill Christ. It wants to kill the purest who ever livedYou need to remember that.  That’s what it wants to do and that’s what it wants to do to you, kill what is pure, what is Christ-like.

And, secondly, you need to remember, too, that sin is a violation of the will of God.  And every time you have sinned in the past you have, as it were, usurped the role that God has as the authority and the leader.  Jeremiah, the prophet, wrote a couple of times the words where God said, “I have spoken to you again and again yet you haven’t listened to Me.”  How it must grieve the heart of God that His children are so rebellious.  Every time we sin it is outright rebellion, and what a long track record of rebellion.  It isn’t helpful to go back into the past and regurgitate all your specific sins. God has forgotten them.  He’s buried them in the depths of the deepest sea. They’re removed as far as the east is from the west.  He remembers them no more.  But it is good to remind yourself that every time you ever sinned you absolutely, rebelliously struck a blow against the will of God.

And there’s a third thing that I think comes out in this text and that is very vivid in verses 3 to 5.  You must remember what sin has done to lost humanity. You must remember what sin has done to lost humanity.  Or to put it more personally, remember what sin was doing in your life before you became a Christian

What a powerful meditation for Easter Week.

Let us remember the power of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection as we move forward in the Easter season. More loving acts have never been done for sinful mankind.

Therefore, let us show God and His Son Jesus Christ the reverence and devotion they so rightly and richly deserve from us.

Let us turn away from sin and lead a new life, following in their Commandments.

330px-john_donne_by_isaac_oliverJohn Donne wrote an excellent sermon which is a good meditation for Easter: ‘The Sedulity of the Devout Women’.

‘Sedulity’ means ‘diligence’. Those women were most sedulous in going to the tomb where Christ lay.

Donne takes for his text Mark 16:2:

And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.

This is Donne’s sermon, which encourages us to be as devoted and diligent towards Christ as these ladies were (emphases mine):

Consider their sedulity — sedulity that admits no intermission, no interruption, no discontinuance, no indifference in religious offices. Consider we therefore their sedulity, if we can. I say, if we can; because if a man should sit down at a beehive or an ant hill, and determine to watch such an ant or such a bee in its work, he would find that bee or that ant so sedulous, so serious, so various, so concurrent with others, so contributory to others, as that he would quickly lose his marks and his sight of that ant or that bee. So, if we fix our consideration upon these devout women, and the sedulity of their devotion, as the several evangelists present it to us, we may easily lose our sight, and hardly know which was which, or at what time she or she came to the sepulchre. “They came, in the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” says St. Matthew; “they came very early in the morning, the first day of the week, at the rising of the sun,” says St. Mark; “they prepared their spices, and rested the Sabbath, and came early the next day,” says St. Luke; “they came the first day when it was yet dark,” says St. John. From Friday evening till Sunday morning they were sedulous, busy upon this service; so sedulous, that thinks these women came four several times to the sepulchre, and that the four evangelists have relation to their four comings, and argues that this variety is no sign of untruthfulness in the evangelists, but testifies the sedulity of the women they speak of, going and coming, and unwilling to be far distant or long absent from their devout exercise. Beloved, true devotion is a serious, a sedulous, an impatient thing. He who said, “I fast twice in the week,” was but a Pharisee; he who can reckon his devout actions is no better; he who can tell how often he has thought upon God today, has not thought upon Him often enough. It is St. [unknown] ‘s holy circle, “to pray that we may hear sermons profitably, and to hear sermons that we may learn to pray acceptably.” Devotion is no marginal note, no interlineary gloss, no parenthesis that may be left out; it is no occasional thing, no conditional thing: “I will go if I like the preacher, the place, the company, the weather;” but it is of the body of the text, and lays upon us an obligation of fervour and continuance.

(John Donne, D. D.)

Donne points out the truth of our failings in our Christian walk. So often, for myself included, it has been one of occasion — and, yes, dependent on the celebrant or the weather — when it should rightly be one of constancy.

We can apply the same obligation of sedulity, or diligence, to our reading of Scripture and particularly of prayer. Donne is so right in saying that if we know how many times a day or a week we are doing these things, we haven’t done them nearly enough.

The women wanted to be near their Lord, hence their diligent devotion to Him, even as He lay in the tomb. They, like the other disciples, were not to immediately understand that Jesus would vanquish death and rise on the third day, even though on more than one occasion He said that He would. On that day, they were ‘terrified’ to find the tomb empty, according to Luke 24:5.

As the women acted towards Jesus in death, let us behave towards Him more reverently and diligently as He lives and reigns as the Risen Christ forever.

Of everything in our lives, He is the most worthy of our sedulity, so let us practice unending, diligent devotion towards Him.

Anyone interested in reading more of Donne’s sermons can find a selection of them at Bible Hub.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomMay I wish all my readers a joyful and blessed Easter. Our Lord Jesus is risen!

Readings for Easter Day can be found here.

There are two Gospel choices for Easter Day. The exegesis on John 20:1-18 can be found here.

Today’s post is about the second Gospel reading, Luke 24:1-12 (emphases mine):

Luke 24:1-12

24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.

24:2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,

24:3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.

24:4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.

24:5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.

24:6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,

24:7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

24:8 Then they remembered his words,

24:9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.

24:10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

24:11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

24:12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the Resurrection is another holy mystery:

The manner of the re-uniting of Christ’s soul and body in his resurrection is a mystery, one of the secret things that belong not to us; but the infallible proofs of his resurrection, that he did indeed rise from the dead, and was thereby proved to be the Son of God, are things revealed, which belong to us and to our children. Some of them we have here in these verses, which relate the same story for substance that we had in Matthew and Mark.

John MacArthur reminds us that the Resurrection was the culmination of God’s plan for our redemption. It was certainly a belief in Old Testament times:

The resurrection of Christ is the greatest event in history, as I said.  It is the main event in God’s redemptive plan It is the cornerstone and foundation of the gospel According to Romans 10:9 and 10, in order to be saved you have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ Now, we understand that the message that God has delivered to sinners throughout all of Scripture is that death does not end our existence That is the message of Scripture from the start to the finish, that death is merely the doorway into eternity And everyone goes through that doorway and everyone lives forever, some to the resurrection of life, and some to the resurrection of damnation, to borrow the words of John 5.  Every human being ever born will live forever, fully conscious either in everlasting joy or everlasting suffering.

For those who, by faith, have come into the Kingdom of God, into the realm of salvation, the promise is that they will experience a resurrection unto life, that not only will their spirits dwell forever in the presence of God in eternal bliss, but they will receive a resurrected body fit for that everlasting joy This has been the hope of God’s people throughout all redemptive history It was the hope of Abraham, as Hebrews 11 tells us.  It was the hope of Moses, as we learn in Scripture as well.  It was the hope of Job It was the hope of Isaiah It was the hope of Daniel, for example.  This has always been the hope of God’s people, whether it is the psalmist who says, “I know that someday I will wake in His likeness,” or whether it is Job who says, “Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”  The hope of resurrection has always been at the heart of believers’ faith.  It comes to crystal clarity through the resurrection of Jesus Christ who says in John 14:19, “Because I live, you will live also.”  He is the firstfruits of the resurrection He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me though he die, yet shall he live.” 

The Gospel accounts differ in detail, however, they all agree that Jesus rose from the dead.

MacArthur’s sermon gives us the whole story, not only through Luke’s version but also of the other three Gospel authors:

As we approach the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, we’re going to work our way through this account very carefully and very thoughtfully.  Since all four gospels deal with the resurrection, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all deal with the resurrection, they bring to bear upon the account of this most significant of all events in human history their own perspectives.  They all cover some of the same things and yet each of them has its own special emphasis, and details common to each writer that are not in the other accounts What this means is: we have to weave all of this together to get the full picture My hope will be that you will be able to follow this multi-faceted event as I endeavor to weave the accounts together around the main focus of Luke.

Luke opens his 24th chapter by telling us that ‘they’ — the women — went to the tomb of Jesus in the early dawn of the third day after His death; they had prepared spices for anointing Him (verse 1).

MacArthur says that Luke is picking up from the end of his 23rd chapter:

Verse 1 of Luke 24, they came to the tomb.  Who are they?  Back to verse 55, “The women who had come with Him out of Galilee,” and that’s a larger group of women So, Luke doesn’t mention Mary Magdalene in his opening section, although we’ll get to the mention of Mary Magdalene down in verse 10 in a minute.

We find out their identities in verse 10, but let us establish them now:

Matthew says Mary Magdalene didn’t start out alone Mary Magdalene was accompanied, the Scripture says, with another Mary: Mary, the mother of James and Joseph; Mary also called the wife of Clopas, another MarySo, these two women, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, also known as the wife of Clopas, they start out together in the early dawn.  Most likely, Mary Magdalene is the youngest of all There are other women, right?

Neither commentator mentioned Joanna. Women in the Bible says that she was an influential woman, the wife of Chuza, who ran the household of Herod Antipas in Galilee. It is thought that Joanna heard about Jesus early on, as the Antipas estate was near Nazareth.

Luke 8 records that Jesus cured Joanna of an infirmity, much like he did Mary Magdalene:

Luke 8:1-3

1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Mag’dalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joan’na, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

Women in the Bible says that it is possible that Joanna helped to finance the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. She also might have had some inside information as to what happened during His trial and torture on Good Friday.

Returning to Luke, the women could not have gone to the tomb the day before because it was the Sabbath, so they were eager to attend to Him as soon as they could on Sunday.

The question arises, ‘How could they get into the tomb to anoint our Lord when there was a heavy stone rolled over the door?’

Other accounts tell us that the women knew about the stone and wondered who would be able to roll it away for them.

However, when they arrived, they found the stone rolled away from the tomb (verse 2).

Furthermore, when they entered the tomb, there was no body (verse 3).

What exactly happened?

MacArthur gives us the narrative from the end of Luke 23, Good Friday:

They had come with him, these women out of Galilee.  And they followed, you remember, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who showed up They followed them to the tomb.  They were still stunned.  They were still in shock.  They had just lived through the most bizarre, horrific experience.  The one who they had put their trust in, the Lord Jesus, had been arrested, He had been beaten, He had been crucified, He’s dead, and here are these men now putting a few spices on His body, not really a few, a hundred pound weight that Nicodemus brought and they’re anointing His body and putting it in the grave And the women are still stunned, they’re not helping, they’re just looking and watching But they determined that they wanted to have a part in it.  And so it says in verse 56 that after watching His body being laid in Joseph’s tomb, they returned and prepared spices and perfume

Now to the other accounts about the women’s arrival:

Here’s what probably happened The women all go to anoint the body of Jesus.  Mary Magdalene starts out with Mary, the mother of James They’re moving faster than the rest who may have been older They’re stringing out in the darkness as they begin.  The two Marys head for the tomb together.  Matthew 28:1 says, “Those two Marys headed for the tomb,” kind of the first of the women.  But John says, “Mary Magdalene came to the tomb,” which means she outpaced the other one She gets there by herself according to John’s account.  It’s still dark at this point and it’s light enough maybe that she can discern when she gets close to the tomb that the stone is gone She spins on her sandals and head the other direction She arrives in the dusky dark side of the dawn, but clear enough to see the stone is removed.  She’s the first one there.  Her companion Mary is somewhere back progressing in that direction And the other women, perhaps near her, coming in the dark at a different pace. 

John says that Mary Magdalene saw the open entrance and immediately left, didn’t go in, bolted.  Probably didn’t go back maybe the same way the other women did, so that there’s no indication she ran into them.  She heads directly to Peter and John and the apostle, and she gives this report that the body of Jesus has been stolen That’s an assumption she didn’t check And for that moment then, when John says it was still dark, it was the darkest part of any experience that these women had because she was the first one there.  And as the others came progressively, it became light, and that’s why the other writers when the whole group comes say what Luke says, “At early dawn,” or, “The sun had risen.” 

So, the timing is so wonderful, the explicitness of Scripture.  The earliest one there is Mary.  The rest come, verse 1, to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared They found the same thing Mary had found She’s there and gone, headed for Peter and John.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb This is a shocking sight.  This is a stunning sight because, frankly, they had been having a discussion on the way, according to Mark 16.  Listen to what Mark says.  “Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen and they were saying to one another on the way, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’“ Remember now, they were there on Friday night when Jesus was laid in the tomb, and Joseph and Nicodemus rolled the stone over the entrance They knew it was there and they asked the question: who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?  “And looking up they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.”  So, on the way they’re having the discussion.  We’re going to go there, we’ve got all these spices we’ve prepared on Friday, we’re going to do our part to show our love to the Lord by putting spices, more spices on His body, but who is going to roll away the stone?

Remember that they had rolled the stone across the front.  Mark 15:46 says that he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb, did Joseph of Arimathea They had no idea how they were going to get that stone out of there. 

One aspect the women were unaware of were the Roman guards, who were gone by the time they got there because of a second earthquake that took place early on Sunday. The first earthquake took place on Friday, after Jesus breathed His last:

Furthermore, they had no idea of something else that had happened.  The day after the preparation, Matthew 27:62, “The chief priests and Pharisees gathered together with Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember that when He was still alive, that deceiver, Jesus, said after three days I’m going to rise again Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure till the third day lest the disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people He has risen from the dead and the last deception be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard.  Go.  Make it as secure as you know how.’ And they went, made the grave secure and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.” 

The women had no idea that had happened on Saturday On Saturday the Jews who were afraid that the disciples would steal the body to fabricate a phony resurrection asked Pilate for a guard.  They got a guard.  The tomb is sealed with an official Roman seal, not to be broken And a Roman guard is placed in front of the tomb They have no idea about that.  They’re going to go thinking it’s just the tomb but the only obstacle they’re going to have is the stone.  So, they would not have known about the guard.  Now, when they get there, interestingly enough, there’s no guard there.  It doesn’t say anything in any of the four gospels about the women ever meeting the Roman guard, never.  You say, “Well, where did they go?”  Well, for that you have to go back to Matthew 28.  And here in Matthew 28 verse 2, what happened on Saturday was they set a guard.  What happened in the early dark hours of Sunday, verse 2, “Behold, a severe earthquake had occurred.”  This would be the second earthquake There was one on Friday, equally severe, that split the rocks, threw open tombs “A severe earthquake had occurred, for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came, and rolled away the stone and sat upon it And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow, and the guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.”

Well, some interesting things have been going on while these ladies were away.  The guard is set on Saturday and on Sunday morning an angel comes down out of heaven, there is a massive earthquake, the angel rolls the stone away and the guards are shocked into some kind of a coma By the way, the angel did not roll the stone away to let Jesus out, he rolled the stone away to let the people in Jesus could walk through walls He did that a little later, right?  The door being shut, He appeared to the apostles.

Now, what happened?  Well I’ll tell you basically, it’s pretty obvious.  By the time the women get there, there aren’t any soldiers there.  If there were any soldiers there, they would have commented about them, they would have had a conversation with them.  They would have asked them: how did this happen?  What happened?  It is reasonable to assume that in the deep dark night of that Sunday morning when the earthquake came, and the soldiers were knocked into their coma, they eventually they came out of it and they realized what had happened The stone was gone, they had these shaken visions of a blazing angel, the reverberations of a massive earthquake They realized that the body of Jesus is gone They had therefore failed in their duty.  They understood the implications of that.  They know something powerful, if not supernatural, has happened.  They head back into the city. 

As soon as they wake up, there’s no reason to stay there anymore ‘cause Jesus is gone.  They must have gone inside in the pitch darkness and found that He was not there.  So, they have to face reality.  They have to go to the Jewish leaders to try to explain to them what happened And by the time the women get there, they’re gone.  They’re gone …

So, let’s pick up what they said Go back to Matthew 28.  When they finally got to the Jewish leaders to try to explain.  Verse 11, “While they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city, reported to the chief priests all that had happened.”  Just exactly what did they say?  Well they reported all that had happened.  What would they then say?  “Sir, there was this really, really severe earthquake, and then there was this blazing, flashing, dazzling being who rolled the stone away.  And then we were knocked out.  And when we came to, the body was gone.”  That’s what they said because that’s what happened.  Verse 12, “And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers.”  Really?  You reward them for that?  Oh, they said to them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’“ Huh, they’re not likely to say that because a Roman soldier who slept on his guard would be more than court marshaled; he could even be executed But you’re to lie And if it comes to the governor’s ears, Pilate, who was the commander in Chief of all soldiers, they knew they would be in trouble.  The Jewish leaders say, “We’ll win him over and keep you out of trouble.  We’ll save your hide.” 

And they took the money and did as they had been instructed, and this story was widely spread among the Jews and is to this day, to the day that Matthew is writing, that is still the story the disciples came and stole the body The Roman soldiers knew it was a lie; they were bribed The Jews knew it was a lie; they paid the bribe The tomb was empty.  There was no explanation other than the soldiers’ experience and they were paid off not to tell the truth.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, it would have been an easy thing for the Jews to prove Just bring out His body But they couldn’t, so they entangled themselves in this hopeless series of absurdities trying to explain away the empty tomb.  And they came up with a lie, a huge lie to cover the truth They never, no Jewish leaders, no Jewish people ever denied the tomb was empty They just invented the lie that the disciples had stolen it, a lie that is impossible because the disciples, the women, the men had no expectation that Jesus would rise.

It’s important, folks, to understand the tomb is empty There is no explanation for that on a human level The only explanation is the text of Scripture: an angel came, rolled the stone away and Christ, who promised to rise, was alive and walked out And by the way, the empty tomb alone was enough to convince John He was the only one really convinced According to John 20 verses 6 to 8, “John saw the empty tomb, saw the clothes lying there, and believed.”  Nobody else did.

Returning to Luke, the women were perplexed about the stone and the lack of a body when, suddenly, two men — angels — in dazzling clothes appeared beside them (verse 4).

Upon seeing the men, the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground; the men asked them why they sought the living among the dead, when He had risen (verse 5).

MacArthur brings in the other accounts of the angels in the Resurrection story:

the second great evidence of the resurrection is divine revelation.  They are perplexed, back to verse 4, they are perplexed, no idea what occurred.  The whole ordeal, the trial, the cross, the whole thing is surreal, if not outright bizarre.  As they stand in the dawning sunlight and shadows, they’re jolted into the most frightening scene they have ever experienced in their entire lives.  There’s no reason to assume that any of these women had seen angels, apart from the mother of our Lord.  Two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing.  John describes them as two angels Angels appear often in human form Mark describes one of them as a young man, so they are angels, spiritual beings who can take on human form and take on the form of a young man That would be a consistent thing for an angel to do because angels don’t age

Clearly there are two of them, perhaps because of Deuteronomy 19:15, two witnesses to validate anything However, Matthew and Mark speak only of one who speaks Matthew and Mark say, “An angel spoke.  An angel spoke.”  They don’t refer to two, simply identifying the fact that there were two angels but they spoke one at a time.  They spoke separately, and I am sure they probably spoke repeatedly, because you have a little bit of variation of what they say.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke give you a little variation on what they actually said which would indicate to me that it was a very somewhat supernatural conversation, that they would say something and the women would be hard pressed to process that.  And one at a time, not in unison, they would speak.  And so Matthew and Mark tell us what the individual angels said, but we know from John and Luke there were two of them.

The angels reminded the women that when Jesus was in Galilee (verse 6), He said that He would be handed over to sinners, be crucified and rise again on the third day (verse 7).

The women then remembered what Jesus had said (verse 8).

MacArthur expands on these verses:

This is a reminder This is why there’s a mild rebuke.  Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  It’s a mild rebuke He’s been saying this for a long time.  If you go back in to Luke 9 when He’s still in Galilee and verse 22, He warns them and says, “Son of Man must suffer many things.  Be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”  He told them that.  He reiterated again in chapter 9 verse 43, “They were all amazed at the greatness of God, while everyone was marveling at all that He was doing, He said to His disciples, ‘Let these words sink in to your ears, the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.’“ But they didn’t understand this statement.  It was concealed from them so they might not conceive it and they were afraid to ask Him about it Even though He said it.  And by the way, He repeats it and repeats it and repeats it.  He makes the same promise several times recorded in the book of Matthew, several times recorded in the book of Mark Another time in the 18th chapter of Luke This is what’s going to happen.  And it started all the way back in Galilee; don’t you remember that He’s going to be delivered?  He’s going to be crucified?  And He’s going to be raised?  Delivered, crucified and raised. 

So, the evidence concerning the resurrection is the empty tomb, and there is no other explanation for the empty tomb than a resurrection The Jews didn’t steal His body.  The Romans didn’t steal His body.  The Apostles didn’t steal His body.  The women didn’t steal His body.  His enemies had no reason to steal His body and fabricate a resurrection.  His friends didn’t even believe in a resurrection, and nor would they steal His body, fabricate a false resurrection and then go out and die as martyrs for a phony.  The angels give the only possible explanation: He’s not here because He’s risen

The aforementioned women (verse 10) left the tomb and told the eleven remaining Apostles what had happened (verse 9).

Some astute readers might be wondering about the other Resurrection accounts concerning Mary Magdalene (verse 10).

MacArthur explains:

The last thing we heard about Mary Magdalene, she went there, saw nothing but an empty grave, came back with the wrong information Up to now, as far as we know, she hasn’t come to any conclusion except that somebody stole the body.  She’s told Peter and John her conclusion that somebody stole the body, which sent them on their way back.  How does she get into this group?  Well, Luke is condensing this story I’ll tell you how she got into this group.  Turn to John 20 – this is just so wonderful.  How can she belong to the group of eyewitnesses when she didn’t go in the empty tomb, and she didn’t hear the angels say anything?  She left before the angels spoke, or appeared.  And she had not seen the risen Christ, so how can she be one of the witnesses?

Answer: This lady went back to the tomb This lady went back to the tomb.  At some point she decides she has to go back And so in John 20, verse 11, we find her standing outside the tomb weeping She’s all alone.  “And so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she beheld two angels in white sitting” – now they’re sitting on the inside.  These are two different scenes at two different times, and this one is a private viewing for Mary And they’re sitting there, “one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.  And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’”  I mean it just seems so – like you walk in an empty tomb and an angel talks to you, and he just says, “Hey, why you crying, lady?”  It’s just such a natural conversation.  “She said, ‘Because they have taken away My Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.’”  She’s still sticking with her theory.  “And when she had said this, she turned around and behold – or beheld Jesus standing there and didn’t know that it was Jesus.”  Why?  I don’t know; maybe she couldn’t see through her tears.  But then, nobody after the resurrection of Jesus could really know who He was until He revealed Himself, right?  That was true of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

And Jesus asked the same question, “‘Woman, why are you weeping?  Why are you crying?  Whom are you seeking?’  Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You’ve laid Him, and I’ll take Him away.’”  That’s a really stupid thing, why would the gardener steal a body out of tomb?  I love this – “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’  She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher).”  And then she grabbed Him, hung on to Him, probably on His feet and ankles.  “‘Stop clinging to Me,’ He said to her, ‘I’ve not yet ascended to the Father; go to My brothers, say to them, “I ascend to My Father, Your Father, My God and Your God.”’”  “Now, Mary, you go, you tell them you saw Me.  I am alive for a while, you can’t keep Me here, I’m going to ascend to heaven, I’m going to go back to the Father, but I will meet you all in Galilee for a while.”  In fact, He met them that night, and the next Sunday night as well, and many other appearances in the 40 days before He ascended So He says to Mary, “You go,” and this is wonderful, verse 18, “Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and said that He had said these things to her.”

Returning to Luke, the Apostles did not believe the women, thinking that their account was but an idle tale (verse 11).

Henry has a stinging comment:

Their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. They thought it was only the fancy of the women, and imputed it to the power of imagination; for they also had forgotten Christ’s words, and wanted to be put in mind of them, not only what he had said to them in Galilee some time ago, but what he had said very lately, in the night wherein he was betrayed: Again a little while, and ye shall see me. I will see you again. One cannot but be amazed at the stupidity of these disciples,–who had themselves so often professed that they believed Christ to be the Son of God and the true Messiah, had been so often told that he must die and rise again, and then enter into his glory, had seen him more than once raise the dead,–that they should be so backward to believe in his raising himself. Surely it would seem the less strange to them, when hereafter this complaint would justly be taken up by them, to remember that there was a time when it might justly have been taken up against them, Who hath believed our report?

Then Peter got up and ran to the tomb, where he saw but the linen cloths; he returned home, amazed by what had happened (verse 12).

This part is a bit confusing, too, but MacArthur says:

Peter arose earlier – this is a flashback – and he had gone to the tomb, stooped, looked in, saw the linen wrappings only; went away to his home marveling at what had happened.  What do you think he was thinking?  What do you mean marveling at what had happened?  Thaumaz, he was traumatized, he – I think he was beginning to think, “This is a resurrection – this is a resurrection.”

Now, when Peter did go to the tomb, it was before Mary Magdalene came back It was before the full testimony of the women The chronology is clear in John, so let’s turn to John chapter 20 This is wonderful.  Verse 3, Peter leaves after hearing from Mary Magdalene, “and the other disciple” – that’s how John refers to himself, in his humble way – Peter goes to the tomb with John, and they’re running They’re going to verify Mary Magdalene’s story that somebody stole the body And the other disciple is faster than Peter, which knowing Peter’s personality was something to bother him.  He always wanted to be the first.  So John’s faster, younger; came to the tomb first, stooping, looking in.  He’s a little more retiring and shy.  He saw the linen wrappings lying there, he didn’t go in.  He’s trying to process this.  “Simon Peter therefore also came following him and entered the tomb.”  Of course, just blows right by John and goes in there.  And he sees “the linen wrappings lying there, and the face cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings,” like it was all jumbled up and thrown in a corner, but lying exactly where it had been when it was put on His head.

“So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also.  He saw and” – what?  “He believed.”  The empty tomb and the grave clothes was all it took Now remember, they at this point have only heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene, right?  They haven’t heard the other women.  They left when Mary told them to leave.  In the meantime, the women came to the tomb, saw Jesus, came back with the story So all they have, all John has is an empty tomb and grave clothes, and that’s enough – that’s enough.  He knew that stone couldn’t be moved from the inside by a dead Jesus.  And he had seen Him dead, he was there.  He knew.  There was no other explanation but that He rose, and he believed.  “For as yet” – or up to that time – “they didn’t understand the Scripture that He must rise again from the dead.”  But he understands it now.  “So the disciples went away again to their own homes.” 

That’s interesting, isn’t it?  I’m sure they didn’t know, “What do we do next?”  So they went home Go back to Luke, and that’s what Luke says Peter did in verse 12 After he saw the linen wrapping also, “he went away to his own home, marveling – marveling at what had happened.”  Hey, this is not a grave robber’s scene, folks.  Grave robbers, if you wanted the body, you just take the body intact, you don’t fool around in there unwrapping it, and then laying everything in perfect order.  You take the body, and you run.  It was very convincing.  John believed.  Peter – still struggling when he goes home.  Meanwhile, the women have these other nine guys on their hands, and they’re trying to convince them that this thing really happened, and they’re not buying it at all Why are they so stubborn?  Go over to verse 19 of Luke 24, this is on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus shows up later that day These two disciples are walking to Emmaus.  Jesus comes, they don’t know who He is, and He starts a conversation with them They’re looking sad.  “Why are you sad?”  Well, verse 19, “Ah, it’s about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty indeed in the Word in the sight of God and all the people, and the chief priests and rulers delivered Him up to the sentence of death and crucified Him.”  And verse 21, “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” – oh boy.  “Besides all this, it’s the third day since these things happened.”  Huh – it’s the third day, they haven’t seen Him.  The women told them He was alive, they don’t buy thatThey don’t believe that.

“It’s the third day, nothing’s happened.  We were hoping it would happen.  And also – this is the throwaway, verse 22 – “some women among us amazed us.  When they were at the tomb early in the morning, didn’t find His body, they came saying they had seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.  And some of those who were with us went to the tomb” – namely Peter and John – “and found it exactly as the women had also said.  But Him they didn’t see.”  Peter and John didn’t see Him, but they sent word back.  “Hey, we went to the tomb, and He may be alive, but we didn’t see Him.”  They’re still processing this on the side of believing it, but not fully convinced And so this is the reflection of their stubborn unwillingness to believe until they see You know, you fault Thomas because he didn’t believe Remember, he said, “If I don’t see the nails in His hands, and where the spear went into His side, I won’t believe.”  Well, they were just as bad as Thomas They didn’t want to believe the testimony of the women And Peter and John came back and said, “Well, it’s a bizarre deal.  The tomb is open, and the tomb is empty, and the grave clothes are lying there.  And, you know, He may be alive.”  But they’re not ready to fully commit However, before the day is over, He appears to all of them But the reason the Scripture lays out the unbelief of the disciples is to dispel any ridiculous theories that they invented a resurrection because they wanted one so badly That’s just not the case. 

In closing, MacArthur gives us more thoughts about Easter Day:

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not the epilogue to the story It is not the epilogue to the life of Christ.  It is the goal of His life, it is the objective of His life, it is the purpose of His life The church has always understood that.  In fact, the church understood it right from the day of the resurrection on.  For since that time, the church has chosen to meet on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose from the dead, to commemorate the most important event in His life, and the most important event in human history, His resurrection from the dead The church did not choose to meet on Friday.  The church chose to meet on Sunday, because Sunday is the interpretation of Friday.  Easter is the interpretation of Good Friday Resurrection is the divine interpretation of the death of Christ.  Resurrection is the divine vindication of the work that He did on the crossWithout the resurrection, the cross means nothing, for it has no validation, it has no vindication, it has no affirmation.  But when God raised Jesus from the dead, He was affirming, and validating, and vindicating the fact that He had indeed borne our sins in His own body on the cross, and had satisfied the justice of God with His sin-bearing Without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless, just another death.

The resurrection is everything The resurrection vindicates the great reason for the gospel, and for all redemption.  The purpose of the gospel is not just that we might experience the forgiveness of sin.  The purpose of the gospel is that we, having been forgiven of our sin, could enter into eternal life, and live in the bliss of heaven forever, in perfect holiness and perfect joy, in glorified, physical, resurrected bodies.  Bodily resurrection is peculiar to Christianity, and bodily resurrection is essential to Christianity.  The Christian gospel is not designed to deliver you from your troubles here; not at all, not even close.  The Christian gospel is not so that your spirit can float on into eternity in some nebulous way.  The Christian gospel does not promise that you will live on in influence in some way, nor is the gospel saying that Christ lives on in His influence, or Christ lives on in spiritual form.  The Christian message is that Jesus Christ rose from the grave in a glorified, physical body, in some way like the body you have now, only stripped of all that is sinful and fatal; and that we one day will receive a body like unto His glorified body, and we will live in bodily resurrected form through all the eons of eternity That is the Christian message.

That is not the message of the other religions of the world There is no resurrection in Buddhism There is no resurrection of the body in Hinduism, just a recurring, cycling, reincarnation in some different form.  Christianity teaches a bodily resurrection, and that is the goal of redemption, that we might, in glorified human bodies, live forever with our glorified Christ, and serve Him, and worship Him, in joy and peace Christianity promises a physical resurrection.  Now, your body will be different, thankfully.  It will have nothing about it that’s fatal, terminal, nothing about it that’s sinful, or wicked.  Nothing about it that’s imperfect, but it will be a physical body in a glorified form.  You say, “What’s the model for that” the glorified resurrection body of the Lord Jesus It could be seen, it could be touched It had scars He ateHe walkedHe talkedHe thoughtHe heard He acted in that body in ways familiar to those He met.

I hope that this adds to our understanding of Easter.

May we celebrate it in joy and thanksgiving, praising our Lord God for His goodness and favour towards us.

Last week, I was reading through Dr Taylor Marshall’s Twitter feed.

He featured in my Easter Monday post about the Dallas woman who was forbidden from entering her own parish church for not wearing a mask.

Over the 20th century, before my lifetime, the Catholic Church began reforms prior to Vatican II. This post will explore some of them.

The more reforms there are, the more questions the faithful have.

Chrism Mass — Maundy Thursday

In the old days of the Catholic Church, the chrism (oil) used in Baptism and, as it was then known, Extreme Unction (Anointing of the Sick and Dying) was blessed on Maundy Thursday at a daytime Mass attended by clergy and ordinands.

Now anything goes:

Holy Saturday – Easter Vigil Mass

I was too young to attend Easter Vigil Mass in Latin and wasn’t even around for pre-1955 Masses.

As such, this tweet piqued my interest at the weekend:

To know that this older rite is being celebrated around the world is heartening, indeed.

It took me a while to delve into the background and find out where the church is as well as the identity of the celebrant. Fortunately, the Easter Sunday Mass (below) has the Live Chat operating, which gave me a good start.

The YouTube channel, What Catholics Believe, is run by the priests belonging to the Society of Saint Pius V (SSPV).

The priest celebrating the Mass in the videos below is the Revd William Jenkins, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, in Norwood, Ohio, near Cleveland.

The SSPV is a group of priests whose founding members broke away from Bishop Lefebvre’s Society of St Pius X (SSPX) in 1983.

The SSPV did not think that the SSPX had returned to the traditional Latin Mass and Catholic teachings sufficiently. They formed their own group, named after the pope who developed the Tridentine Mass in the 16th century: Saint Pius V.

The SSPV is based on Long Island, in Oyster Bay Cove, New York. The Society has its own bishop, five permanent priories, and a network of chapels and churches in 14 American states. The SSPV does not have canonical standing with Rome. The SSPV considers the possibility that the Holy See is currently unoccupied, meaning that they have not fully recognised the past few popes, including the present incumbent.

Below is the video of the pre-1955 Latin Mass celebrated on Holy Saturday by the Revd William Jenkins at Immaculate Conception Church. I watched all of it. It took me back to my post-1955 Tridentine Mass childhood, which preceded the reforms of Vatican II:

Look at the number of people attending. Women were traditionally required to wear lace mantillas, although there are a few young women with no head covering. Best of all, during our era of coronavirus: no masks!

As Mass begins, the statues on the altar are covered. That is because the Triduum — period of mourning — ends with the Easter Vigil Mass. After the introductory prayers, two of the altar boys carefully remove the purple fabric from the covered statues.

There is no Paschal candle, so it must have been a later development.

This Mass has more altar attendants than usual because of its ceremonial and celebratory nature. Incense is used to great effect, borrowing early worship traditions from the Old Testament. The fragrance from the incense in the thurifer ascends heavenward in the desire to make all the aspects of worship pleasing to God.

There are only two readings: the Epistle and the Gospel. The sermon follows. The sermon was not as scriptural as I would have liked, but it was good. The only thing I disagreed with was the priest’s saying that Mary anointed her son’s body. There is no mention of that in the New Testament. Other women named Mary did the anointing and visiting the tomb on the day of the Resurrection.

The next part that is worth watching and listening to is the consecration of the bread and wine. The priest prays quietly, therefore, as was true centuries ago, the congregation needs to know when the important parts of the prayer are being read, so that they, too, may bow their heads and pray. Hence the frequent ringing of bells by one or more of the altar boys.

Everyone approaches the altar for Holy Communion. They kneel at the altar rail. The priest blesses each communicant with the Sign of the Cross and places a consecrated host on each person’s tongue. (The cup is a much more recent development.)

It is wonderfully solemn. I was struck by the presence of people of all ages, from small children, to adolescents, to university-age students as well as adults, older and younger. If there were more Latin Masses, there would be more Catholics in the pews, that’s for sure!

Easter Sunday Masses

This video has back-to-back Easter Sunday Masses with the same celebrant at the same church:

All are well attended.

Some viewers might notice red and green lights early on in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. That is a shot of the confessional: red when occupied, green when the next penitent can enter.

Again, many people attended these Masses over Easter. What does that tell us? Traditional liturgy attracts a wide cross-section of worshippers, more that a modern service. Even my fellow Protestants can figure out from this what works and what doesn’t.

Those interested in more pre-1955 Latin Masses from the SSPV can view them here. These are viewed by people all over the world.

Dominus vobiscum.

(This ends my posts on Holy Week and Easter 2021.)

Nearly ten years ago, I read a remarkable series of articles on the meaning of Easter by the Revd James A Fowler, a California pastor who founded Christ In You Ministries.

These are brilliant articles that explain the importance of the Resurrection in our lives. As such, Revd Fowler calls this approach Resurrection theology.

I wrote a post about each of his six articles, excerpting quite a lot from each one:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

Fortuitously, a Lutheran pastor wrote along the same lines:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.

May we recall the importance of Christ’s resurrection daily. Without it, we would have no promise of eternal life.

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