Friday, 21 November 2014

Thoughts in Adoration

I was at mass today and this evening I went to adoration and benediction. I considered on the way to adoration that I had been to mass today and this adoration was all pretty pointless. 

But Mass is offering to God the Father, and adoration is adoring God the Son. I never thought about adoration in that context before tonight. I guess I never gave it much thought at all. After my time recently before a mere image of God the Son, ( see previous post)  here I was actually not only going to be in His presence but to behold. 

We are in his presence at each and every mass, indeed in a special way every time we are before Him in the tabernacle, but this is a time for a more intimate contemplation. 

When I kneel praying in Church with my head bowed, I often picture that Jesus comes up to me and rests His hand on the back of my head. I sometimes feel in my heart as if He does.

If it were to happen I imagine He would say nothing. I know I would say nothing. Nothing would need to be said. He knows what I am. I know what He is. He knows I know. 

Benediction is close to this I suppose. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A couple of days with Christ the Pantocrator

The teachings of the Orthodox Church provided for me a half-way house to the popery of Catholicism at a certain time in my life. I would have likely found a happy home there for a time had there been a parish near me!

The wonderful sung Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom was part of that discovery, especially a certain recording by the Russian Orthodox Church of London, but I was equally smitten by the wonderful iconography from the tradition. I came across a great CS Lewis quote recently as I was beginning to rediscover this iconography, “God likes matter. He invented it!”

Icons are like the sacred word in one sense. They deserve more than a passing glance. To treat them as nice images doesn’t do the theology hidden within them justice. Orthodox see them much more deeply.

“Christ the Pantocrator” is one of these icons, and probably the most common and recognisable. 

"Pantocrator" is the Greek Septuagint translation meaning "all powerful", "Ruler of all" or "Sustainer of all.”

An example of the traditional interpretations I have come across for this Icon is that it is said that if you split Christ’s face down the middle on the centre of the nose you will get two different faces, a fact which isn’t immediately evident from the whole face. This it is said represents the two different natures of Christ within one person, God the Son.

When entering deep into an icon the inspirations aren’t limited to the recognised traditional interpretations and can be very personal. 

When I look at the Pantocrator Icon, I cannot quite make out if the image is smiling at (upon) me, or frowning sternly. Is Christ blessing me with his right hand (which is the accepted interpretation) or judging me? Where am I with Christ the Pantocrator at this moment?

As we come to the end of the Church year and the liturgy focuses on the end times and the judgement this week’s readings (Book of Revelations) seemed to sum this up, Here are two excerpts;

“I know your works, your labour, and your endurance,
and that you cannot tolerate the wicked;
you have tested those who call themselves Apostles but are not,
and discovered that they are impostors.
Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name,
and you have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you:
you have lost the love you had at first.
Realise how far you have fallen.
Repent, and do the works you did at first.”

“‘The Amen, the faithful and true witness,
the source of God’s creation, says this:
“I know your works;
I know that you are neither cold nor hot.
I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of my mouth.””

The Reading seemed to me to speak of being smiled upon and frowned upon, being judged and blessed. With all this in mind it was quite a discovery that the translation Pantocrator is found 19 times in the Greek New Testament and 18 of them in the Book of Revelations! As we move towards the Feast of Christ the King my personal interpretations of the icon, the widely accepted interpretations and the Book of Revelations in the Daily Readings were all beginning to interpret one another!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

City Parishes

I'm just back from the mainland. I had the pleasure of attending masses in St Patrick's  and the Sacred Heart in Edinburgh over the last few days. 

St Patrick's Sunday afternoon mass was well attended. I saw from the bulletin the Redemptorists were leaving the parish. The priest explained the reasons. I didn't understand. He also bemoaned Hearts FC late equalising goal earlier that afternoon against "the Hibees" as he affectionately referred to them. The formation of "the Hibees" i.e. Hibernian Football Club in the 1870's has strong links with the parish. I wasn't convinced he was a football man but he was doing his best to show affection for the club in the building where they were more or less founded. His parish church.

The Sacred Heart on the other hand is run by the Jesuits. When Pope Francis was appointed I attended  mid-day mass the following day and was a bit taken aback that  the priest saw fit to mention in welcoming his fellow Jesuit to the Chair of St Peter that "I never really took to Benedict". 

As disturbed as i was at the time I have to sympathise with him now because I can relate to it. It was another lesson in not knowing what is around the corner. Judge ye not.
It took me not a few well constructed  homilies and profoundly timed post communion silences during his midweek masses since to see things clearly. In the light of the gospel I suppose Francis would say. Who am I to judge? I keep arriving back at this a lot now. 

Two beautiful church buildings. One in the leafy quietness just of the Royal Mile and the other in close proximity to the city's lap dancing bars.  At least that is how I see them.
In a way their locations seem to mirror the differences we actually cope with so admirably over the centuries, years, weeks that pass. As dioceses, parishes and individuals.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Stormy Waters under the Bark of St Peter?

Upon this Rock I will build my Church! I do not mind admitting and probably I am repeating that during the last conclave I secretly hoped the Church would be guided by the Holy Spirit to chose this man as our next Pope.

Cardinal Bagnasco
Yes, I mused Cardinal Bagnasco was the man for the job. He had credentials which seemed traditional enough. He would be like Benedict XVI I assumed - the first Pope I had seen elected on TV and seen in the flesh on Scottish soil. Yes there were others in the running for my approval but they didn't look like a cool world famous forty-something Italian composer.

Ludovico Einaudi
Quite a contradiction in my logic there I see. I think it is fair to say that since I discovered Cardinal Bagnasco I have become somewhat intrigued by him. But never-mind the Holy Spirit decided differently in any case. 

It is not that I do not love Pope Francis, or pray for him every day, but I think you can sense my concern at how things are turning out. The "Relatio" report produced from the Synod has been said to have produced an "earthquake" in the Church and maybe more profound and damaging than any pastoral one. From what I can gather this is going to remain the state of affairs until the next Synod in 2015?

Yes, I think I do appreciate all the nuances on this issue. The previous doctrinal statements, interpretation of what is meant by gradualism, the status of the document and indeed the Synod itself, but this continued uncertainty, whatever the final outcome,  I can only conclude will be very harmful for Mother Church. These are seemingly dark times and stormy waters on the bark. At least in comparison to any other time since I scrambled aboard I can not remember feeling so anxious and troubled about Church politics. 

The irony in all this is that these are the very things Pope Francis warned us against. To be fair his concentration on the simplicity of the Gospel message has helped me in many respects. Francis keeps reminding us of the difference between the Spirit and the Law. This left one of yesterday's Readings from Mass timely in that respect.

Letter to the Galatians 5:18-25. 
Brothers and sisters: If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ (Jesus) have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. 
(Sure Pope Francis' "gossipping" isn't on the list, literally at least, but what I am saying is that before Francis I might be guilty of having seen impurity, idolatry, drunkenness and sexual sins as being further from God's law than the others.)
So, I give Pope Francis partial credit for redressing the balance for me at least here. He is teaching me something - a new approach. Yet being the Rock is important too, and the spiritual health of the whole Church is more important than mine alone.  I will leave that to the Holy Spirit, and take Pope Francis' advise yet again by trying to avoid getting too embroiled in it all. I have made that mistake far too often in the past on matters far less trivial. 

Yes maybe in many respects we could do worse than take more of a lead from him? After all, I know what I think, but "Who am I to judge?"

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Crosses and Blessings

I saw this posted on Facebook. "Being myself" has been something that I have been giving some thought to recently. This message struck me as wrong and dangerous. I suppose it depends on what we truly think of ourselves. I would consider being myself as a spiritual objective. But I am being myself when I am following the path God wants for me, being fully and truly human. I am not being myself when I am following the whims and distractions which distance myself from communion with Him and reduce my humanity to following my own passions and desires.  

While travelling recently I was in a seated area behind a husband and wife who had a disabled son who also seemed to suffer from a mental condition which caused him to scream and shout at random. He needed constant care and attention. Some friends or family came to care for the son for a short while to give the parents the opportunity to go and get some dinner. I was full of admiration for all these people, The whole experience struck me. I can not quite put my finger on what it was. A realisation maybe. This disabled person was likely being truer to himself than I was. Certainly the self-giving of those around him seemed to shame me somewhat. 

I was informed today that a dear friend who has been struggling with depression for more years than I remember her not, has been admitted to hospital yet again and is very dangerously ill. Her husband works away from home, Their children are just finding their way in the world post studying. I prayed for her most mornings. For what, I could justifiably wonder? Her recent life has been a constant struggle.  

And I, for all my faults, have been greatly blessed. Sure there are things that haven't turned out my way and crosses I have had to bear. Readings such as from last night's Vespers are a stark reminder at times.

            The Lord bestows sons as an heirloom,  the fruit of the womb as a reward.Like arrows in the hand of a warrior –  so are the sons of one’s youth.Happy the man who fills his quiver thus:  when he disputes with his enemies at the gate,  he will not be the loser.
My crosses seem light at times and in any case I am not only able to bear but to share. It is obvious to me they are as nothing when I look around me.  And can our crosses not become blessings and our blessings become crosses? It seems to me to be so. 

So I am consoled in all this by knowing that God knows what I do not know. He understands what I do not. I only see dimly what He sees clearly. He giveth and He taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. 

May He bless me with the grace to be my whole (holy) self as he intended me to be.  Not a theologian, academic or mystic. Just myself. I suppose the trick is discovering what God intended and following that path and not our own.