Sunday, 1 November 2015

Always look on the bright side of life . . . . . .

Loved the way when Benedict was Pope, a difference of opinion from liberals earned the cry “dissent” from any conservatives.  Now the shoe is on the other foot, conservatives absolve themselves of their own yardstick and feel free to denounce the Pope and express fear for the future of the church. 
Surely if they believe “Thou art Peter . . . . . . .  and the gates of the underworld shall never prevail against it,”  etc they have nothing to worry about and are ranting in vain.  As for us Liberals we have the doctrine of apokatastasis in our doctrinal vocabulary.
So what have we to worry about ? Everyone’s a winner !

Monday, 14 September 2015

Bede Griffiths on the Eucharist

Father Bede on the Eucharist (first published at Shantivanam  Ashram)

The Vatican Council said that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the activity of the Church.  I have always found difficulty with this.  The constitution of the Sacred Liturgy at the Vatican Council was the work of the liturgical commission.  Before the Vatican Council, for almost fifty years, there was a very strong liturgical movement in the Church, but it had certain limitations, and their horizons were somewhat limited.  They had prepared this constitution well in advance and I believe it was one of the first to be completed.  So it stood for a certain point of view at the beginning of the Vatican Council, but it did not really take into account further developments.

What I want to maintain is that the Holy Spirit is the source and summit of the activity of the Church and in the theology of St Thomas Aquinas the word sacramentum means ‘sign’ and for him, in the Eucharist, the bread and the wine are the sacramentum or the sign.  And the sign is contrasted with the ‘res’, the reality.  The reality is what is signified by the sign.  The bread and the wine are signs and they signify something.  Then he says the sacramentum et res, the sign and the thing signified, is the body and blood of Christ.  That is our ordinary understanding.  But then he says the res, the reality of the Eucharist, signified and effected by us, is the unity of the mystical body of Christ.  He maintains that the meaning and purpose of the Holy Eucharist is the unity of the mystical body of Christ.  This is a very traditional view and the Fathers actually used the words ‘mystical body’ for the body of Christ in the Eucharist.

In the Church until recently the majority of Catholics thought that the body of Christ is the Eucharist is the body on the cross.  Many people were brought up to think that at the Eucharist, as somebody once explained to me, is exactly as if a sort of a screen was taken away and Jesus is there on the cross, exactly as he was, and you are present with him on the cross.  This is not theologically correct.  We have to distinguish what constitutes the body of Christ in the Eucharist.  It is not the body on the cross but the body of the resurrection.  He is present in his spiritual body, the body of the resurrection, which is not in time and space, not conditioned in any way, and is totally one with God.

So what we experience in the Eucharist, through the gross matter of the bread and the wine, is that we open ourselves to the real presence of Jesus in his spiritual body as one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Catholics have got attached to thinking that it is only in the bread and the wine that Jesus is really present, and so the most important thing is to take communion frequently, so that you experience the real presence of Jesus.  But Jesus is really present in the Spirit everywhere.   In the whole creation Jesus is present in every grain of sand, every particle and sub-particle.  St Thomas Aquinas asked, ‘In what way is God in Creation?’ And he said, ‘First of all he is in all things by his power; he upholds all things by the word of his power.’ And then he said, ‘He is not present in his power at a distance because there is no distance in God; therefore he is in all things by his presence.  But he is not present in all things by part of himself because there are no parts in God; he is present by his essence.  So the essence of God, the Holy Trinity, Christ in his spiritual body, is wholly present in every particle of matter.  The whole universe is in Christ, in God.  We see the veil of matter, but the reality of the body of Christ is always in God and is always present everywhere.

In the Eucharist there is a particular mode of the presence of Christ.  Jesus wanted to make himself near to his disciples.  People need some sign of his presence.  The Holy Spirit has no sign, but Jesus wanted to give us a sign of his presence so he took the bread and wine, common food and drink, and made himself present to the disciples under these signs.  You can keep that bread and wine in the tabernacle and you can venerate his presence there, but you must not for a moment forget that he is present everywhere.  He is present in every human being.  Every human being is made in the image of God.  Beyond our gross body there is this hidden presence of God himself in every human being.  We encounter God in each person.  So, in the Eucharist Jesus is in a particular mode of his presence, and a very humble one.  We need something to touch and to taste and to feel, so he becomes present in that particular mode for our benefit.

There is a beautiful Hindu tradition that says that the avatara, or god, is present in the image in the temple.  Lokacharya, a 14th century Tamil theologian, says, ‘God who is invisible himself, makes himself visible in the image in the temple.  God who is far beyond us, makes himself near to us.  God who cannot be seen makes himself seen.  God who cannot be touched makes himself touched.’ It is a sacramental presence.  This is deeply meaningful but God himself is not confined to the image, not confined to the Eucharist.

And that is why I say we should not centre on the Eucharist as though we cannot do without it.  In the time of St Benedict the monks may not have had mass at all, and the certainly never had it except on Sundays and feast days.  The word mass comes from missa which is found it in the ite missa est at the end of the Eucharist.  It means ‘Go you are dismissed.’ It is a dismissal but for some reason this dismissal was taken for the whole Eucharist.   In the rule of St Benedict there is a frequent mention of missa but it has been discovered that these were not the Eucharist, they were prayer ceremonies.  After the normal prayer ceremonies there was a dismissal, the missa.

St Benedict was not himself a priest, and all his monks were lay people.  The monastic movement was a lay movement.  In St Benedict’s time monks were told to avoid two people – bishops and women – because a bishop would try to make you a priest and a woman would try to get you married.  The monk was not a priest; he was a member of a lay community.  Today, more and more, the movement is growing in favour of lay communities.  We all feel our religious communities get too structured; we are bound by so many rules that they become a limitation after a time.  I have met many sisters and brothers who feel the same thing.  The community is an institution with its rules and constitutions and we are all bound by these.  We loose our inner freedom.  Thomas Merton managed to find freedom in the very rigid Cistercian system by overcoming its limitations and opening it up.  That is what we are hoping to do today – to open up these structures, because a religious community is intended to be a community of love.  You may need some rules and guidance, but spontaneous love is what we are called for, sharing in the love of God.

Today people are looking for a lay community; men and women, single and married, living together and dedicated to God and community.  The lay communities in South America are a model for this.  They keep in touch with the parish priest and the bishop, but they organise their own communities.  They reflect on their lives, read the scriptures, celebrate the Eucharist; they invite a priest but he is only there to serve them.  They live with the aim of dedicating their whole lives to God, economically, socially, and politically.  This is really the model of the church today.

That is why I say we must not emphasise the Eucharist too much.  It is very valuable; it is a sacrament, a great sign of Jesus’ presence, but he is present in so many other ways and if we bind ourselves to that we lose the openness to his presence everywhere.  Jesus is present in non-Catholics and non-Christians.  So many people think that Jesus is among us, but that all these other people are outside.  But Jesus is present in every human being who is open to Grace, open to Love.  Many Catholics and many Protestants today say you cannot be saved unless you believe in Jesus Christ.  Quite obviously it does not make sense because the vast majority of humanity always has been completely outside the Church, they have never heard of Jesus Christ.  The Australian aborigines have been 40,000 years in Australia and what was God doing with them all that time?  They never heard of Jesus Christ until about 100 years ago.

Jesus died for all humanity and the Grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit is offered to every human being from the beginning to the end of the world.  Even if you have no religion, wherever you have love, kindness, unselfishness, friendliness, these things are the effects of divine grace in you.  And if you have a religion, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim or whatever, the grace of God in Christ is coming to you in the Holy Spirit in that religion.  We are all sharing in this grace of God, and a Christian would say that it is precisely the death and resurrection of Christ, his sacrifice of total love for the world which enables that grace to be present to the whole of humanity.  But this grace can be totally invisible.

The Church is the sacrament of Christ.  A sacrament is a sign – the whole church, the hierarchy, the sacraments, the doctrines, the laws, are all signs of this divine mystery that is Christ himself.  Beyond all signs and words, that is the reality.  In fact if I were asked, ‘What is the reality of the Catholic Church?’ I would say that it the communion of the disciples of Christ sharing through the Holy Spirit, as children of the Father, in the life of the Trinity.  This is the essence of the Church, this communion of people sharing in the love of God which is revealed in Christ.  Communion in love is the ultimate meaning of the Church.  Where there is communion in love there is the church.

As Christians, and particularly as Catholics, we must value the sacraments.  They have a very important place in our lives.  The doctrines of the Church and the hierarchy all have their place.  But this is a sacramental church.  The institutional Church is a sacrament, a sign of the presence of God.  All the dogma of the Church are signs.  The divine mystery cannot be properly expressed in words or in concepts.  No words are ever adequate to describe it.  The most they can hope to do is to point towards this mystery which is beyond all human expression.

We must go beyond the sacramental signs and even beyond the sign of Christ.  Jesus himself is the sacrament of God.  The human nature of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection is the sign of God’s presence on earth.  We have to go beyond Jesus in his humanity to the divinity itself.  But God himself is beyond all such signs.  God is not confined to the Eucharist or to the Church or to Jesus in his human existence.  He transcends all words and thoughts and signs.

Meditation is an art whereby we seek to go beyond the body and the senses.  We try to calm the body, by the practice of yoga if necessary, and then to calm the senses.  We do not suppress the senses, but we learn to harmonise them so that the body is in peace.  Then we have to face the mind as it wanders all over the place, and we have to harmonise the mind.  Again we do not suppress the mind, nor do we indulge it, but we try to bring it to stillness and to oneness, often by using a mantra. In the Hindu tradition they say it becomes ekegraha, ‘one-pointed’.  From wandering about through the senses and the thoughts and the feelings, we centre on the one point. At that point we go beyond the body and beyond the mind and we encounter the divine reality.

In meditation we directly experience the divine.  Indirectly we need him in the sacraments and the world, but directly and immediately we encounter Christ as God in this inner experience of the heart.  That is contemplation.  In the Christian tradition meditation is discursive, contemplation is the point where the human person opens itself to the divine.

In contemplation we bring the mind to the point of stillness, then God can enter and take possession.  This is when we meet a total reality.  In death we face this reality.  So also in meditation we seek to enter into the silence which is like a death to oneself, and experience the hidden mystery.

That is the function of an ashram to enable people to discover the hidden mystery beyond this world.  The Church, the world, the whole of humanity is in search of God, and it is going beyond all limitations that we enter into the divine presence.  God is calling us.  God is present everywhere, drawing human beings out of their narrowness, their egoism, their limitations, into himself.  And that is the meaning and the purpose of life.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Paul Inwood : Hymn for the Year of Mercy

From the Website of the Catholic Bishops in England and Wales . . . . .

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation yesterday published on its ‘Jubilee of Mercy’ website the winning entry in an international competition for a hymn setting for the Holy Year of Mercy. The music has been written by Paul Inwood, an English Catholic liturgical composer well known on both sides of the Atlantic. A substantial number of composers from around the world were invited to submit settings to a committee whose members included Monsignor Massimo Palombella, Director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, which has recorded the new hymn with Vatican Radio.

The hymn is currently available in Italian, English and French, and the author and composer have donated all rights in it to the Pontifical Council to aid its diffusion around the world.

Paul Inwood said: “It is a great honour for me that my setting was selected for the Holy Year of Mercy. The text we were given has a Latin antiphon and Italian verses interspersed with refrains in Latin, like a kind of litany. My music is also a mixture, with elements in the style of a Taizé response and a Gelineau tone. The verses work in any language ― I provided French and English translations ― and I deliberately kept the music very simple so that even the smallest parishes can hopefully make use of it. There is also some more elaborate music: a brass prelude and interludes, and a choral coda which is included in the recording.”

The Holy Year begins with the opening of the Holy Door in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, on 8 December."

Father William Meninger OCSO

Well worth Listening to ! An interview with Father William Meninger. Not had much time for blogging lately, but discovered Carl McColman's blog "A Contemplative Faith."   Reminded me of what is so good about the blogosphere.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Life in Limerick !

Redemptorist Priest, Tony Flannery reflects on a recent conference organised in Limerick. . . . .
He writes. . . . . .

An article I wrote recently for on the Church

The Catholic Church, worldwide is in a state of flux at the moment. For those of us in the reform movement, who believe that the Church urgently needs to change, the pontificates of both John Paul and Benedict were a dark winter. Now, with Francis, there are signs of a spring growth again. But the new shoots are fragile, and like a lettuce plant newly introduced to the garden, a sharp late April or early May frost could kill them off.

The reforms we are looking for are mostly to do with structure and governance. We believe that the excessive centralisation of power and decision making has been very damaging to the Church, so we are calling for decentralisation, – a lessening of the power and control of the Vatican, and giving greater authority to the regions. We hope that the problems of ministry – the fact that only male celibates can be priests, and that for any position of real influence a person needs to be ordained, – will be honestly and openly discussed and resolved.

The four day conference of the network of reform movements, which we had in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Limerick last week, convinced me even more that the marginalisation of women in the Church is a massive sore that has to be healed before any real progress can me made. And from a personal point of view I wish to see systems put in place that provide justice for all within the Church, without which any preaching by Church people about justice in the world sound hollow, even hypocritical.

The remainder of this year will tell us a lot about the possibility of real change happening. I think that it is safe to say that Pope Francis wants the type of changes I outlined above, but the opposition to him from some Bishops (and some lay groups) is strong, both inside the Vatican and around the world. The final stage of the Synod on the Family will takes place next October, will tell a great deal.

We know that the first part gave promise of new approaches and attitudes, and then pulled back. If the final document at the end of the Synod does not signal a real change in attitude and practice towards, for instance, people in second relationships and gay people, but reinforces instead the negative message of exclusion and condemnation, we will be back in the winter of discontent, and I will greatly fear for the future of the Church. Francis is attempting to change the focus from rigid implementation of doctrine to a more person-centred approach that listens to the reality of peoples lives, and tries to support and encourage them to follow the Gospel as best they can.

The Church in Ireland is to a fair degree still experiencing the winter. With declining church attendance, priests ageing and dying, and not being replaced, the future looks bleak enough. Our leadership, with one or two possible exceptions, don’t appear to have really heard the message of Francis, and are not in any effective way echoing it to their people. It is not as if they are actively excluding people who are in second relationships, or our gay sisters and brothers who want to take an active part in the local church, but it would be very refreshing if we had a local diocesan pastoral letter which states that suchy people are welcome at the Eucharist. When Francis named himself as the Bishop of Rome there was an implication that other Bishops had authority within their own dioceses and need not look to Rome for direction on everything.

In our Catholic Faith Rome should be a focus of unity, not the centre of all government. A further problem with our Irish Bishops is their failure to create clear blue water between themselves and the more extreme conservative groups. This has been very damaging in our social debates and the current debate on Marriage Equality is yet another sad example. The message once again, as it has been for generations when anything to do with sex is up for debate, is a firm ‘NO’. To people of a gay orientation, to their parents, grandparents and families, this stance of the Church is often heard as a further layer of condemnation following on from “disordered state’ and ‘intrinsic evil’.

The real danger here is that if the referendum is defeated the usual suspects will line up to blame the Church and a further wedge will be driven between it and the young people of Ireland.

In the meantime, now that I am forbidden to minister as a priest, I have found a voice in the reform movement, and I still believe that the Catholic faith has a rich vein of wisdom for people who are open and willing to listen.