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‘[Is] the full emergence of the glory of the mind of Christ.  The alternative orthodoxy begins in a view that God is not opposed to us; God is for us.  How is God served by people who fail to germinate?  God is rapturously delighted in every human being whose heart breaks open and blooms.  Then, as human beings come to their glory, the world comes to its glory.  It’s a view which is inclusive, recognizing that human beings on all paths are called to glorification, to the full emergence of the human being.  It’s evolutionary in that we are a work in progress, both individually and collectively.  Creation itself is not static but dynamic.’*

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* Cynthia Bourgeault Returning to Essentials: Teaching an Alternative Orthodoxy (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2015)

Forgiving those who sin against others

From time to time one hears people exclaim: “I can never forgive what x did to y!”  Y is often a family member, friend or associate who has hurt someone close to us.  It’s a feeling we can also experience when some atrocity is reported, especially where children or vulnerable people are concerned.  It’s said with great feeling and, in some cases, is one that stays with x for many years, unless it can be resolved.  It can become like a weight x carries and usually causes pain and bitterness when recalled.   The weight, usually, is that of anger which lies hidden within us, like some wild animal trapped in a cage which roars when approached and lashes out when released.

FORGIVE US OUR SINS
But the fact is that we cannot forgive x for the wrong they do to y.  It’s not in our power to do so for we are not subject to the wrong that has been perpetrated.  We are, in a sense, ‘collateral damage’.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray he taught them to ask that their trespasses be forgiven insofar as they were prepared to forgive the trespasses done to them, not to others:
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In Matthew the word ‘trespass’ is usually interpreted as ‘debt’ (Greek: ὀφειλήματα (opheilemata) Matthew  6: 12):
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtor”

and Jesus goes on to explain to His disciples: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14)  

Luke, however, gives us this reading:
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” (11:4)

The change from ‘debt’ to ‘trespass’ in the Our Father first appeared in the Greek versions of the prayer by the 3rd cent. writer, Origen of Alexandria and this wording made its way into important English translations such as the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.  Whatever the reason for the various interpretations it is clear that Jesus here is telling His disciples that they have the power to affect a change of heart for themselves.  He does not tell them that they can forgive someone the sin done to another.

In Luke 17:3 Jesus tells His disciples: “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.”  Jesus says we are to forgive him if he repents and admits his wrong, not regardless of whether he does so.  “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”  But this concerns how to respond to someone who repents and asks forgiveness.

At the end of John’s gospel when he recounts the appearance of Jesus to His disciples on the evening of the day of Resurrection Jesus says to them:

“Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”   (John 20: 22/23)   This verse has always been understood to give authority to grant forgiveness to those who repent and seek forgiveness for it needs to be held in the context of all other teachings about the matter which in the Scriptures.

But forgiveness does not cancel justice.  In his encyclical Dives in Misericordia John Paul II notes that the “requirement of forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. . . . In no passage of the gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence toward evil, toward scandals, toward injury or insult.  In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness” (DM 14).

PRAYER AND FORGIVENESS
Christians are called to pray that someone who has committed a grave sin will realise that they have done wrong and seek to make amends, but when the act is particularly evil then this may be almost impossible: “If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that.” (1 John 5:16)  However, when someone says: “I can never forgive x for what they did to y” they may be indicating that they cannot or will not let go of the anger they feel for what has been done and it usually concerns something that is acutely grave in character.

LOVE AND FORGIVENESS
A helpful article states:
‘St. Thomas Aquinas tells us love is “willing the good of the other” selflessly (cf. I Cor. 13:5). In a sense, this is all God can do, because “God is love” (I John 4:8). God can do nothing other than will to share the infinite good of himself with every single person ever created or conceived—even the souls who reject his love and forgiveness, because a God not loving would be a God contradicting his own essence, which is absurd.

Thus God’s love is unconditional, because in one sense it has nothing to do with the other.  It comes from within, regardless of what happens outside of the godhead. This brings profound meaning to Jesus’ words: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). In essence, Jesus is calling us to love with that same unconditional love with which he loves as the God-Man.  Regardless of varying situations and relationships in our lives, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5) empowering us to “will the good of the other” regardless of what “the other” may bring our way.

On the other hand forgiveness is not unconditional.  It’s a two-way street.  God offers his forgiveness to all out of his unconditional love and, therefore, so must all Christians.  But here’s the rub. Because forgiveness is dependent upon the other, it cannot actually take place until there are willing partners on both sides of the divide. ‘  (Tim Staples. Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at ‘Catholic Answers’)

CARRYING ANGER
It might be that when someone feels they can never forgive another they are indicating that they carry a hidden reservoir of anger that erupts whenever they recall a particular incident.  It may be that the incident concerned the abuse of someone they love or inflicted pain and suffering on innocent victims and they feel angry about the incident whenever it is recalled.  And anger, if not addressed appropriately, can have a corrosive effect on the person who carries it and those connected to them.   People who have reflected on this matter have noticed that it takes less energy to love and forgive than it does to stay angry and hold a grudge.  Forgiveness brings peace to your life.   We need to forgive someone, not for their benefit, but for our own peace of mind.  The burden of anger we can carry can be enormous and our anger often only affects the person who carries it – not the person towards whom the anger is directed.  Someone has suggested that we should “Shift the focus, feel the pain and think of the thousands of others in the world who are also feeling the same pain, then send a loving-kindness message to everyone to be relieved of this suffering.”

One of the ways that this can be done is to direct a prayer, such as this, towards the object of our anger: “May … be filled with your compassion, O Lord.  May your Mother’s love enfold them.”  The danger of holding anger have long been realised.  S. Jerome said that “Anger is the Door, by which all Vices enter the Soul” and S. James had observed that: “anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:20)  But ‘anger’ against sin is may be ‘zeal’ and zeal is not a sin but is sometimes a duty.  Zeal at its core is an expression of love; anger is an expression of hatred.  So S. Paul tells us to ‘Put away from all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.’ (Eph.4: 31)

Righteous anger – or zeal – does not consume us but enables us to seek justice and mercy for all.  As human beings we need to cultivate a forgiving spirit for the contrary spirits of anger, pride, bitterness etc… can easily find a home within us.  Yet whilst we can cultivate a forgiving spirit we cannot forgive unless someone seeks to be forgiven, promises to refrain from sin and accepts the appropriate penance.  Even then ‘Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1450)  The Catechism goes on to observe that absolution concerns the: ‘remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. (CCC 1473)

In the end it is God alone who forgives sin (CCC: 1440).  Yet the path to our sanctification requires us to practice God-like acts and to learn how to cultivate a forgiving heart:

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?   For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.   If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6: 27-38)

Fr. John-Francis Friendship SMMS

Life as Participation

After conversion, you don’t look out at reality; you look out from reality. In other words, God is not “out there”: you are in God and God is in you. You are in the middle of Reality! You’re a part of it. It’s a mystery of participation. After his conversion experience, Paul is obsessed with the idea that “I’m participating in something that’s bigger than me.” In fact, he uses the phrase “in Christ” 164 times to describe this organic unity and participation in Christ. “I live no longer, not I; but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). “In Christ” is his code phrase for this new participatory life.

This is a completely different experience of life. I don’t have to fully write my private story. It’s being written with me and in me. I am already a character on the stage. I am being used, I am being chosen, I am being led. After conversion, you will know that your life is not about you; you are about life. You are about God. You’re an instance of both the agony and the ecstasy of God that is happening inside of you, and all you can do is say yes to it. After transformation, it’s not about doing it right; it’s about being in right relationship. It’s not about being correct; it’s about being connected.

After conversion, you don’t experience self-consciousness so much as what the mystics call pure consciousness. Self-consciousness implies a dualistic split, with me over here thinking about that over there. The mind remains dualistic until you have a mystical experience. Then the subject/object split is overcome. You can’t maintain it forever, but you’ll know it once in a while, and you’ll never be satisfied with anything less. In unitive experience, you’re freed from the burden of self-consciousness; you are living in, through, and with another. That’s the same as the experience of truly being in love. Falling and being in love, like unitive experience, cannot be sustained at the ecstatic level, but it can be touched upon and then integrated within the rest of your life.

True union does not absorb distinctions, but actually intensifies them. The more one gives one’s self in creative union with another, the more one becomes one’s self. This is mirrored in the Trinity: perfect giving and perfect receiving between three who are all still completely themselves. The more one becomes one’s True Self, the more capable one is of not overprotecting the boundaries of one’s false self. You have nothing to protect after transformation, and that’s the great freedom and the great happiness we see in converted people. There’s no “little richard” here that I need to protect because it’s precisely that little richard that got in the way and has now passed away—with no noticeable losses. Or as Paul puts it, “Because of Christ, I now consider my former advantages as disadvantages . . . all of it is mere rubbish if only I can have a place in him” (Philippians 3:7-8).

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‘Gateway to Silence: I am God’s dwelling place’
(Richard Rohr: Adapted from Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation

SERMON for EASTER 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday

“I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn.10:10)
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INTRODUCTION
You can’t miss it, can you!  Well you could, but you’d need to have your head in the sand.  The Election!  And not just in this country: the people of France are voting today for a new President: will it be Le Pen or Macron (I know who I’d vote for!)?  And Germany, too, is gearing up for their Federal Elections in September.  It’s not just Spring that’s in the air – but election fever!

Of course, we don’t vote for our Head of State.  Living in a monarchy we are spared the somewhat nauseating goings on that brought Trump to the White House.  But, nonetheless, we’re getting into the thick of it – will we be drawn by ‘Stable and Secure’; ‘For the Many not the Few’, or ‘Change Britain’s Future’?  Whatever soundbite attracts us let’s just remember that today is Good Shepherd Sunday and Jesus has His own slogan that He shares with us: not at first sight very political but in His day quite radical – “I am the Gate.”  So, what on earth did He mean by that?

I AM THE GATE
Well, to start with, this ‘I Am’ affirmation is one of seven (or, possibly, eight) in John’s gospel and, next week, will be followed by another: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ (John 14: 1-14)   Now that  prefix, ‘I Am’, should alert us to the way in which these words were understood in Judaism.  They refer back to the moment when Moses stood before the burning bush on Mount Horeb and asked God, who addressed him out of the flames, to identify Himself.  Speak His Name.  And God declared: “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex.3:14).  Enigmatic to say the least!  Or, perhaps, it prevents  us from giving a name to the One who has no name; for once you can name someone you have a certain power over them.  So Jesus gives us ‘hints and guesses’ as to His identity.  “I am the Gate.”  I am the one through whom the sheep will enter the sheepfold.  I am in process and cannot be contained.

And a few verses later Jesus will bring all this to a climax when he says: “I am the good shepherd … And I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:14/15) thereby connecting Himself with the practice at that time, and still is in some places today, for a shepherd at the end of a day to lead their sheep from pastures to the walled-in sheepfold.  And then to lie down across the entrance to protect the sheep from scavengers.

WHO IS THE GOOD SHEPHERD?
In all these statements Jesus is using metaphors to shed new light; reveal things from a different angle; open up new meaning.  One of the connections the Israelites would have made was with the powerful understanding of the king, the ruler, as the human manifestation of the Divine Shepherd of Israel.  The Good Shepherd.  So when they did not live up to their duty to protect the people, especially the weakest and most vulnerable, the Prophets were not slow to criticise them: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD” said Jeremiah to King Zedekiah (Jer. 23:1).

And those who listened to Jesus would have sensed He was alluding to Himself as the One who, if the people listened, would lead the people to good grazing.  He knows His flock and cares for them and His purpose is fullness of life for those who follow Him: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)  They might promise much and seem very appealing but they needed to be listened to with caution.  And whilst Jesus directs this allegory about the sheep and the shepherd toward the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders of his time, it’s one that is timeless.

GOOD SHEPHERD AND ELECTIONS
Now with a General Election looming there are plenty of promises being made by politicians about making life better for people.  And, of course, we all want a better, more abundant life; one where we can feel secure and of value.  And many people believe this will come, for example, once we have left the EU.  But there’s a danger when expectations have been raised, especially if these are predicated upon forces beyond our total control.

And then there are those ‘false prophets’ of whom Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. … A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. … Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matt.7)   Such an important and timeless metaphor.

MONTH OF THE SACRED HEART
Now it so happens that the General Election falls in the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Unfortunately the image of the Sacred Heart, and the devotions associated with it, are unfamiliar to many non-Catholics, although the first Franciscan community for men in the Church of England was dedicated to the Divine Compassion.  And that’s just another way of speaking of the Sacred Heart, of which the Jesuit priest and writer, Jim Martin, said: ‘(It) is nothing less than an image of the way that Jesus loves us: fully, lavishly, radically, completely, sacrificially.  It invites us to meditate on some of the most important questions in the spiritual life: In what ways did Jesus love his disciples and friends?  How did he love strangers and outcasts?  How was he able to love his enemies?  How did he show his love for humanity?  What would it mean to love like Jesus did?  What would it mean for me to have a heart like his?  How can my heart become more “sacred”?  For in the end, the Sacred Heart is about understanding Jesus’s love for us and inviting us to love others as Jesus did.’

And it’s rooted in Divine Compassion.  For our Faith tells us that it was out of God’s deep and powerful compassion for us, His lost sheep, that He came in human form to search us out and lead us home.  To His Kingdom.  In a world where hatred and resentment, hostility and fear of the other are ever present and seem to be growing, compassion is a virtue to be cultivated.  “Divine Compassion” wrote Br. Damian when he was Provincial of the Anglican Franciscans in the UK “… strikes at the very heart of the Good News.  … what Jesus has shown of the Divine nature is true of the numinous Being of the Father: He is above all compassionate, deeply caring, gentle as a Mother, and ready to heal, restore, forgive.”

COMPANIONS OF THE COMPASSIONATE HEARTS
And it is for all those reasons that a new international, ecumenical Spiritual Association, the Companions of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary, is being developed.  Its aim is to help nurture in our hearts and spread in the world this most basic of all Christian virtues.  It welcomes any Christian who, recognising they often fail to live with compassion, wants to nurture that virtue in their own heart.

COMPASSION AND LIFE ABUNDANT
One of the reasons why it came in to being was to counter the belief that an abundant life is about possessing more things.  Just recall what that early Christian community in Jerusalem did as a consequence of God’s gift of abundant life: ‘All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.’  (Acts 2: 44)

There was a generosity about those early Christians.  They discovered a joy, deep within them, because of this gift of life in all its fullness.  Listen to the rest of the description of the early Church: ‘Day by day, as they spent much time together in the Temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts. … And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2:46f)

COMPASSION AS A MARK OF HUMANITY
Now I’m not suggesting that every Christian should sell all they have and give the proceeds to the poor, although there will be some who hear this invitation and seek to do just that and, like S. Francis of Assisi, it might motivate them to enter Religious Life.  But if that is not our calling, how are we to be formed as Christians?  What are our distinguishing marks?  To what do we need to attend, for example, in seeking to make a discerned choice in the Elections to Parliament?  We aren’t choosing a leader for our country but each of us has a responsibility to make that discerned choice.  And what needs to underpin that discernment?

Well, firstly, to desire the best for our fellow human-beings, especially the most vulnerable, and to become aware of any prejudices we may have that may interfere with that good desire and seek to set those aside.  Then to read the different political Manifesto’s and notice what they promise, and what they don’t!  Finally, as Christians, we ought to ask God to help us make the best choice we can that will accord with what He desires for us.   As our Archbishop’s have said in their Pastoral Letter concerning the Election: ’The United Kingdom, when at its best, has been represented by a sense not only of living for ourselves, but by a deeper concern for the weak, poor and marginalised, and for the common good.’  So beneath all our considerations we need to ask what most accord’s with the call of Christ – what reflects most fully God’s compassion for His creation. 

The Archbishop’s Letter goes on to note that: ‘Our Christian heritage, our current choices and our obligations to future generations and to God’s world will all play a shaping role’ and comments on how ‘Stability, an ancient and Benedictine virtue, is about living well with change. Stable communities will be skilled in reconciliation, resilient in setbacks and diligent in sustainability.’   And I would have added, if they had asked me (which I can’t for the life of me think why they didn’t!), not just ‘concern’ but compassion towards the foreigner and refugee in our midst.

CONCLUSION
The Bon Pasteur, the Good Shepherd, longs in the depths of His Sacred Heart to bring all into His sheepfold, His Kingdom.  He reaches out and asks that we, His disciples, do the same: ‘Be compassionate as your (heavenly) Father is compassionate’  (Lk.6:36)   And it is His compassion which must always inform and mould our hearts, not least in our dealings with each other and the world in which we live.  As Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic writer and pastor said: “Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian.”

May the Good Shepherd move in our hearts as we seek to live out of His Will.

Amen.

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Preached at Church of S. John the Baptist, Eltham on May 6th, 2017
Readings: Acts 2: 42-47; 1 Pet.2: 19-25 and John 10: 1-10

‘ALL MAY, NONE MUST, SOME SHOULD’: The Sacrament of Confession and Companions

For many people ‘making your confession’ is something only Roman Catholics do.  However, Anglicans have always been encouraged to ‘make their Confession’ to a priest.  The Visitation of the Sick (Book of Common Prayer 1662) contains the following note: “… the sick person shall be moved to make a special Confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter.  After which the Priest shall absolve him (if he humbly and heartily desire it)…”

The Rite then gives the formula of Absolution:
‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church
to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him,
of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences:
And by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins,
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen”

This is still the formula many priests use when pronouncing Absolution.  However, the practise of ‘making your confession’ fell out of general use after the Reformation and only returned with the 19th century Catholic Revival in the Church of England.  Many priests, who realised and sought to explain its benefit, were persecuted and even imprisoned.  Yet, gradually, the practice became more common and today is widely available.  Although every priest may hear confessions as a consequence of their ordination (see The Declaration – Ordination of Priests)not all wish to do so and  it is usually necessary for them to obtain the permission of their Bishop if they wish to offer this pastoral ministry on a regular basis.

It is clear that all of us carry the burden of unresolved issues – anger, guilt, sin, etc.  Research into human psychology has shown how important it is to be able to deal with these matters.  Whilst Confession is not the same as therapy, there are connections not least in the matter of needing to vocalise what lies deepest in the heart to another who is bound by rules of confidentiality.  It has been observed that many Christians would be helped if they realised they could unload the burdens they carry within the confidentiality of the Sacrament and it has wisely been said that the Anglican attitude to Confession is: ‘All may, none must, some should’.

Evangelicals and Confession
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

“If we’re not careful, we fall into cheap grace, we don’t pay any specific attention to a lot of the bad things we do.  A lot of people get two or three things that they struggle and those are the only sins that they only considered that they have committed.  Sin separates us from God.  It’s good to review what we are doing wrong.  If we say that we love Jesus but we want to do things that separate us from him then once again we’re lying and the truth isn’t in us.” (Prof. John Mark Reynolds: ‘The Christian Post’. Feb 2011)

Some Christians are concerned about the notion of confessing to a priest maintaining that only Christ, not the priest, has the power to absolve us.  However the priest only declares the reconciliation that Christ attains for us: it is not the priest’s absolution, nor any power s/he might have that secures forgiveness and reconciliation for us.  While it is true that the Sacrament may be celebrated only by an ordained priest its power does not belong to them.  The priest is “necessary” to the sacrament only as officiant, not as the person with the power, in and of himself, to forgive or absolve. That power is Christ’s and Christ’s only (see John 20:22/23).

Archbishop Justin Welby, whose background is as an Evangelical, has said: “It is enormously powerful and hideously painful when (Confession) is done properly … it’s really horrible when you go to see your confessor – I doubt you wake up in the morning and think, this is going to be a bunch of laughs.  It’s really uncomfortable. But through it God releases forgiveness and absolution and a sense of cleansing.” 1

Whilst many believe they don’t need to ‘make their confession’ nonetheless, we all carry a burden of sin which needs dealing with.   As John Newton observed: “We can easily manage if we will only take, each day, the burden appointed to it.  But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday’s burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it.” 

Confession and Conversion of the Heart
This Sacrament recognises our need to practice ‘continuous conversion’ of the heart.  “We have to be continuously converted all the days of our lives, continually to turn to God as children.” 2   And as God’s children the centre of our being – the heart – needs to be constantly re-focussed into Christ: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Our Faith is all about that gentle re-ordering of the whole of our being in Christ and this process will reveal our need to be freed from those influences that draw the heart of who we are from God and His Reign.  “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.18:3).  This command is less about being barred from that Kingdom as our ability to enter it.  Through the use of this Sacrament we open our hearts to the Beatitudes, ask that our failings be forgiven and acknowledge our need to be converted to the Reign of God.  To confess our sins to God is not to admit to God anything God doesn’t already know but it admits to us what we need to know and to have the slate wiped clean.  

Companions and Confession
Those seeking to live out the charism of the Association will realise their need of this ‘continuous conversion’ and seek the means whereby they can re-focus their lives.  It is not necessary for Companions to make their Confession but, in seeking to enable members (Companions) to: nurture a ‘new heart’, the heart of Christ; to enable continuous conversion in the hearts of members.’ (Purpose of the Association), the Sacrament is a traditional means of grace and of renewing the heart – re-focussing our lives.  Companions ‘look to the Sacrament of Confession (Reconciliation) as a means of cleansing and for renewing their own hearts’ (Charism of the Association).  Whilst they recognise the Sacrament as a means of Grace they are not required to use it.  But they do seek to be living with that humility which recognises and admits the truth of who we are in God’s sight – beloved sinners seeking amendment of life.  As S. Augustine said: ‘The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.” 3   And, one might add, it is the means whereby we find that peace which Christ offers his disciples.

So in our calling to be disciples of the Compassionate Heart of Jesus Companions will take seriously this call to be open with God about who they are, desiring that God might create in them clean hearts and renew the Spirit within them.

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
w
ash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
(Ps. 51:6-10)
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Notes:

1   Justin Welby: Daily Telegraph. October 9th, 2013
2   ‘Continuous Conversion’: Oswald Chambers. My Utmost for His Highest
3  S. Augustine: Tractates on the Gospel of John; tractate XII on John 3:6-21, § 13
4   ‘Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20: 21-23)

EASTER 2017

 

‘Though the dear humanity of Christ could only suffer once, his goodness would always make him do so – every day if need be.  If he were to say that for love of me he would make a new heaven and earth, this would be a comparatively simple matter; something he could do every day if he wanted, with no great effort.  But for love of me to be willing to die times without number – beyond human capacity to compute – is, to my mind, the greatest gesture our Lord God could make to the human soul.  This is his meaning: ‘How could I not, out of love for you, do all I can for you?’

(‘Revelations of Divine Love’ Ch. 22: Ninth Revelation)


 

Conversion of the heart

CONVERSIO MORUM

Conversio Morum or Conversatio Morum is one of the three Vows taken by those entering Benedictine life, one of the basic tenets of which is that searching for God which gives expression to our desire for Him.  On beginning monastic life the novice is asked what they seek and the answer given that they come to seek God.  This seeking involves a conversion, a metanoia.  Over the centuries the Vow has been translated as ‘conversion of manners’ or ‘conversion of life’, each having its own particular meaning.  Today it is understood as incorporating both meanings: to continually strive for conversion in one’s own personal behaviour and to faithfully persevere in living the monastic observance within the monastery.

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“Dramatic experiences of conversion may have their value but their meaning is in opening a new phase of life. This (monastic) vow is a commitment to be always a pilgrim, living an ongoing conversion of one’s way of life by an ever-fuller harmony with the principles of peace, tolerance, selflessness and generosity and the courage to say the truth about injustice.” (Dom Laurence Freeman OSB )

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Conversion in the Bible
‘Although the Rule of Benedict does not use the word “conversion,” the idea was prominent in ancient monasticism, which saw monastic profession as “a second baptism” and a sharing in the dying and rising of Christ. ”  Personal conversion is at the heart of every vocation, particularly the monastic calling, which is a specific form of putting of the “old man,” and being clothed with Christ.

In the Hebrew Old Testament the word for conversion was “shub” (שׁוּב) which means “to turn” and could be used in the sense of “turning one’s life around” (e.g., Is 6.10).  The same verb also can mean “turning again” or “returning,” “reversal” (Ps 51.13; Is 55.7).  God (re)turns toward his people with a new attitude when they turn to him (Ps 85.1-3; Deut 13.17; Hos 11). The word “shub” is not used frequently, but the prophets speak often o the need for a change of heart, a conversion (Is 44.21b-22; 45.22).  The heart of conversion is to turn away from sin and turn toward God.

In the New Testament the word “conversion” (epistrophe) appears only in Acts 15.3, but more frequent is the word “change of heart/mind” (metanoia).  The Kingdom of God, announced and inaugurated by and in Jesus, requires a radical conversion.  The initial proclamation of John the Baptist and Jesus calls for a change of heart (Mk 1.8, 15 and parallels), a concept which is very akin to repentance.  The apostles’ preaching also called for such a change of heart (Acts 2.38-39), and the Acts are full of stories of conversion (2.5-47 [crowds at Pentecost]. 8.26-39 [Ethiopian eunuch], 9.1-22 [Paul], 16.27-34 [jailor at Philippi]. Those who convert hear the word, are open and accept it, their change of heart is expressed in ritual and in their transformed lives.  Conversion is, in fact, a lifelong process by which one is transformed into the image of God (2 Cor 3.18).’

 (‘Conversatio or Conversio?: Fidelity to the Monastic Life’ by Catherine Mary Magdalene Haynes, ob/OSB. And Fr. Hugh Feiss, OSB)

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‘The term conversio morum came into common use consequent to the development of the Benedictine notion of conversatio morum.  The word conversatio was used by Pliny to mean frequent use or a frequent sojourn in a place.  When combined with morum (mos, moris – from which we get our English word mores), it speaks of a way of life – what one does, if you like.  Returning to the text of the Rule and put very simply, it could be construed as the way one loves one’s life.

The word conversatio later became altered to conversio.  This gave a new understanding – that of conversion of life.  The Latin conversio means ‘turning around’, similar in meaning to the Greek word ‘metanoia’ (μετάνοιά).

This, later, term speaks to us of a process, an action.  On one level, the disciple, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recognises a need for a change in his or her way of life. S/He therefore would seek admission to the Monastery so that’s/ he may turn her/his back on her/his old ways and seek the way that leads to life

On another level conversio is not a one-off process.  Conversion is a journey in which we are engaged every day of our lives, even at every moment.  Sin, the distractions of the world (however legitimate they may be) draw us away from Christ and we must be for ever turning around to face him.  This speaks of action on our part, but action that is always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Conversio morum is one element in conversatio morum which speaks far more of a whole way of life in which continual conversion is one element, albeit a vital one.’
(adapted from a talk by Bishop Richard Moth to Oblates of Douai Abbey, 2008)

  

REFLECTION on S. TERESA BENEDICTA of the CROSS and the HEARTS of JESUS and MARY

To stand with you by the cross

Today I stood with you beneath the cross
and felt more keenly than I ever did before
that you, beneath the cross, became our mother.

Even an earthly mother’s faithful love
desires to carry out her son’s last wish.
Yet, you are the handmaid of the Lord,
and surrendered in your entire being and life
to the Being and Life of God made man.
You have taken us into your heart,
and with the heart’s blood of your bitter pains
have purchased life that’s new for every soul.
You know us all: our weakness and our wounds.
You also know the spark of heaven’s flame:
your Son’s love longs to take it
and pour it on us – an eternal blaze.
You guide our steps with care,
no price for you too high
to lead us to the goal.
But those whom you have chosen as companions here,
surrounding you one day at the eternal throne,
we now must stand, with you, beneath the cross
and purchase, with our heart’s blood’s bitter pains,
this spark of heaven for those priceless souls
whom God’s own Son bequeaths to us, his heirs.
Prayer poem of St Teresa Benedicta

Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta: 1891-1942) wrote this prayer-poem on Good Friday 1938 during a retreat before taking her life vows as a Carmelite.  She had always felt an affinity with Mary at the foot of the cross and prior to entering religious life had spent many hours each Holy Week, praying before a statue of the Pietà at the Abbey of Beuron.

When Hitler came to power early in 1933 Edith soon recognised what that might mean for the Jewish people and wrote, ‘I talked with the Saviour and told Him that I knew it was His cross that was now being placed upon the Jewish people… I would [help carry it]. He should only show me how… I was certain I had been heard. But what this carrying of the cross was to consist in, that I did not yet know.’ She entered the Carmel at Cologne later that year, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a sign of her deep sense of call to share in Christ’s Passion.  Her understanding of the vocation of enclosed contemplative life in relation to heart-deep compassion for the world deriving from the Divine Compassion, comes out clearly in these words: ‘You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief, in the power of the cross. Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart…’ and ‘Whoever enters Carmel is not lost to his own but is theirs fully for the first time; it is our vocation to stand before God for all.’

She had long seen her life as a holocaust of intercession and atonement (by which she meant the at-one-ment of reconciliation and profound intercession) and on Passion Sunday 1939, she asked the Reverend Mother of the Dutch Carmel at Echt (where she had been offered asylum) for leave ‘to offer myself to the heart of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement.’  Two months later when making her will she wrote, ‘I joyfully accept the death which God has destined for me in complete submission to his most holy will…in atonement…’  She had a sense of carrying in her heart, and offering herself for, not only the Jewish people, but also their Nazi persecutors, the Church, the concerns of Jesus and Mary, her family and ‘the salvation of Germany and world peace’.  Echoing Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, she concluded her self-offering by praying ‘for all whom God has given me: that not one of them may be lost’.  The vastness of her prayer and her love could be seen as a reflection of the love, self-giving, and complete surrender to God’s will exemplified by Jesus and Mary, her guiding inspirations and Companions.  Just as Jesus carries us in his Heart to the Heart of the Father, so Edith sought to join her life and heart to His and Mary’s.  She had written of Mary, ‘The Virgin, who kept every word sent from God in her heart, is the model for…attentive souls in whom Jesus’ high priestly prayer comes to life again and again.’

Edith had once said to a priest, ‘You don’t know what it means to me when I come into chapel in the morning and, looking at the tabernacle and the picture of Mary, say to myself, they were of our blood.’  And as the above poem shows, she so clearly felt a sense of tender affinity with Mary at the foot of the cross. Like Mary, however full of grief and pain, she remained totally focused on Jesus, and did not flinch when the Nazis came for her in 1942.  An inmate of the transit camp at Westerbork wrote afterwards of Edith’s brief sojourn there, en route to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, that as she sat and prayed she looked like ‘a Pietà without the Christ’.  That was the outward appearance; within her Christ was living his Passion – and like him, she reached out in compassion to those with her, calming and quieting children and combing their hair, and, as an official at the camp was later to testify, ‘walking, talking, and praying…like a saint.

Just as Jesus ‘gave’ Mary to John so, Edith suggests, Mary takes us into her heart and we can offer her a ‘home’ in ours, as together we journey ever deeper into the burning heart of love that is the Trinity – a heart that longs to reach out in love to a broken world.

Nicola Mason (Companion CHJM)
Lent 2017

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

How did the name of this Association come about is a question that has been asked.  Doesn’t it “smack of high church-ness or even Roman-ness”?  So why choose it?

THE SACRED, COMPASSIONATE, HEART OF JESUS
For many years I had been attracted by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, finding in that image a real sense of God’s passionate love for all people.   Shortly after my Confirmation, in 1967, I bought a small, porcelain statue of the Sacred Heart which remained with me for many years until joining the Franciscans.  I’ve never understood why such a passionate and inherently positive, emotive image has not found a home in the Church of England.   I know I’m not alone in feeling that we’ve lost a great opportunity for evangelism by ignoring the Sacred Heart, as others have pointed out.

FRANCISCANS AND DIVINE COMPASSION
But there was a time when the Sacred Heart inspired some Anglicans.  The first Franciscan community for men in the Church of England was dedicated to the Divine Compassion, which is just another way of speaking of the Sacred Heart (Society of the Divine Compassion: 1897 – 1952).  It was founded at a time when devotion to the Sacred Heart was becoming more popular (the Basilica of Sacre Couer was built from 1875-1914). One of the founding members, Fr. Andrew SDC, had a particular devotion to the Heart of Jesus as shown in this poem he wrote:

To rest a tired head upon Thy Heart,
And to be still –
To come to Thee from the whole world apart
And learn Thy Will –
And in that will, because it is Thy will, to live and die,
Knowing Thy love and will are one eternally.
that be my way of prayer –
That brings me where Thou art –
Heaven is there.

Another priest at that time who also wrote poems and meditations on the Sacred Heart was Fr. Arthur Shearly Cripps, the ‘St. Francis of the African Countryside’.  He was connected with SDC and spent most of his life in Zimbabwe where his grave is now a Shrine.   Although SDC ceased to exist in 1952 (the year of Fr. Cripp’s death) when it’s members became part of the Society of St. Francis the dedication of the local parish in Plaistow where it was based is now ‘of the Divine Compassion’, a dedication shared by one of the Provinces of the Society.

Whilst I am no longer a member of the Society, nonetheless its charism remains dear to me and using this designation connects us to the Franciscans.  In 1994, Br. Damian SSF wrote this in his introduction to my First Mass, which was a Votive of the Divine Compassion: ‘Franciscans have been around in the Anglican Communion for a full century.  We may be proud in Birmingham that we can trace those origins to St. Saviour’s, Saltley and to its prophetic priest, Fr. James Adderley, a pioneer of the Christian Socialist Movement.  He went on to found the Society of the Divine Compassion in January 1894 in the Parish of Ss. Philip and James, Plaistow.  …  Divine Compassion, the theme of Brother John-Francis’ Mass, strikes at the very heart of the Good News.  … We sense that God is worshipful and, indeed, we are sanctified by his presence and his touch as we dwell in him.  But what Jesus has shown of the Divine nature is true of the numinous Being of the Father: he is above all compassionate, deeply caring, gentle as a Mother, and ready to heal, restore, forgive.  As he comes again to dwell in us we receive that sacramental grace that is given for our wholeness.  We are gathered today as brothers and sisters within the Body of Christ to give thanks for the Divine Compassion and to receive Christ’s healing and grace at the hands of the latest Franciscan brother to be ordained priest in the Church of God.’

THE COMPASSIONATE HEART OF MARY
In a similar way I have long held a deep devotion to our Lady and regret, as do many, the lack of devotion to her in our Church, in spite of the fact that there are at least six Marian feasts recognised in Common Worship.  Most Anglican churches have a ‘Lady Chapel’ and she holds a particular place in the life of the Mother’s Union.  Her role is central to orthodox Christian theology and, as Theotokos, the ‘God-bearer’, she is the ‘defender of the Incarnation’ setting us apart from every other religion.

She was the subject of one of the official Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s (ARCIC) Joint Statements (‘Mary, Grace and Hope in Christ’; 2008) contained this statement in its final chapter: ‘Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike are drawn to the mother of Christ, as a figure of tenderness and compassion.’ (D.para.71)   During my time as a parish priest I became aware of how it was to the shrine of our Lady that many went when entering the church in order to light a candle – something that has been commented upon by other priests.  Whatever theology we might embrace concerning her it seems she offers a maternal image which draws many people.  Whilst we might speak of God as both Father and Mother it is the image of Mary that gives expression to ‘tenderness and compassion’ for many.

And it is Mary who embraced me, as she continues to do, for six months during my novitiate in SSF.  The life of another member of the SDC, the solitary Fr. William, continues to help form Franciscans at the house he founded in Worcestershire, the ‘Monastery of St. Mary at the Cross’.   And all those who make the journey to this holy place are greeted by the words: There stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother , words which speak out over the surrounding fields which Fr. William had painted at the centre of the complex.  And it was on the Feast of St. Mary at the Cross which, in the Roman Catholic Church, is known as the Feast of our Lady of Sorrows (September 15th) that I was admitted as a Postulant of the Society in 1976.  That Feast is closely connected with that of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the devotional name which reminds us of ‘her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her love for God, her maternal love for her Divine Son, and her motherly and compassionate love for her children here below.’  (New Advent)

It would, of course, have been possible to omit reference to her in the title, but including her meant that members embrace the totality of human compassion.  Including reference to Mary makes clear that the Society seeks to place itself within the great Tradition of Christian Faith, a Faith which the Theotokos, the God-bearer, guards.  It also acknowledges the important place of Mary – and Jesus – in Islam.

SIMPLY ‘COMPASSIONATE HEARTS’?
There already exist other groups whose charism involves compassion.  Amongst these are: ‘Compassionate Hearts’ (the name of various organisations in the UK and USA); the ‘Compassionate Hearts Ministry’; The ‘Society of Jesus Compassionate’;’ Missionaries of the Compassionate Heart of Jesus’, ‘Compassionate Companions’;  the ‘Compassionate Heart of Jesus’, etc …   But none which unite the compassion of Jesus and Mary – the Son and His Mother.  The male and the female.

INCLUSIVE?
The website of our online Society makes it clear that members recognise that Divine Compassion is realised by all the great world religions.  In seeking to be as inclusive as possible it would have been strange to omit reference to the way that Christians have long realised this charism in the lives of Jesus and His Mother.  It is a pity if, in seeking to be inclusive of other religions, we excluded those great traditions of our own.  Personally I have always realised there is an anti-Catholic (Roman or Anglo) strand buried deep in the heart of some Anglicans – something both sad and to be resisted.

CONCLUSION
Two years ago a young evangelical, one of those I was helping train to be a spiritual director, said that he saw the Sacred Heart becoming central in my life and ministry.  He knew nothing of my story and  I often wondered what his observation might mean.  At the same time I had been reading The Personal Vocation by the Jesuit, Herbert Alfonso.  In it he explores how God calls each of us is called by name: ‘I am not one in a crowd for God’, he writes, ‘I am unrepeatably unique, for God “calls me by name”.  This reality I may characterise as … my most profound and true “self”.  Biblically, however, I prefer to call is my “personal vocation”’  And I began to sense that my ‘personal vocation’ lies within the call to Divine Compassion.  And I also sensed a connection when I noticed I was writing a lot about the need for compassion in our world.

After a while, and with prayer, I began to realise the connection between that love for the Sacred Heart and a deep desire to find a way of encouraging others to consider nurturing this virtue.  The ‘Rule’ of CCHJM, using aspects of Ignatian and Benedictine practices, seems to offer a simple structure in which to nurture compassion.  The reference to the Sacrament of Confession reminds us of the importance of what St. Benedict called the need for conversatio morum – ‘conversion of life’.  Realising the way in which the Church of England is encouraging ‘Fresh Expressions’ in the ministry of the Church, this new initiative, founded in February 2017, might be of help in ‘growing Christians’.   That is my prayer.

John-Francis Friendship
March 12th, 2017