Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bishop Michael Wright RIP

From A Conservative Blog for Peace...

Born 1933, he was a military chaplain for many years, and then Director of the Anglo-Orthodox Society, until its self-dissolution in 1994 — this society was a sort of Anglo-Catholic Orthodoxophile equivalent of Anglo-Papalists — having decided in the aftermath of the 1992 Gen. Synod vote for WO that its goal of “orthodoxizing” the Church of England (cf. Hodges’ “Anglicanism and Orthodoxy” pamphlet) was incapable of realization and that in consequence the AOS’ continued existence was pointless. He eventually entered the Anglican Catholic Church (Original Province) but, with some of its strongest Orthodoxophiles, left with those who in 1997 formed the “Holy Catholic Church – Anglican Rite” and when this body divided in 1997 into a “more Anglican” HCC-AR and a “Western Orthodox” “Holy Catholic Church — Western Rite” he was part of the latter. He served as a bishop for a time in South Africa before retiring to England.
I personally had the great privilege of meeting Bishop Wright in July 1994. May he have a sweet repose and holy progress in Paradise. Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Anglicans and Assyrians

... Sadly, there seem to be few of us non-Assyrians who are much interested in the life and history of this glorious and venerable Church. The Church of the East should have a unique and dear place in the heart of every Anglo-Catholic: in the nineteenth century High Church Anglicans, authorised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, sent a mission to modern Iraq to help save the Assyrian Church and to preserve its heritage, culture and civilisation. I have loved the Assyrian Church since I first learned of its existence, for it is the oldest Eastern Church - with a direct linguistic and cultural link straight back to Our Lord and the Apostles. Thank you for your wonderful questions - here are a few thoughts on what you ask.

1. As I understand it, a number of local Synods and Councils of the Church of the East formally accepted the Christological Defintion of the Council of Chalcedon in the years immediately following AD 451, although the Church of the East has never formally accepted the canons, synodical actions or disciplinary decrees of the said Council. The liturgical texts of the Church of the East clearly assert two distinct natures in the Person of Our Lord, emphasising the Antiochene tradition of clearly distinguishing the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ. The differences of Assyrian theology with that of the wider Catholic Church is primarily semantic, and great confusion has emerged over the centuries because of the nuances and complexities of the Syriac language. The Church of the East has always held to what we would loosely translate as 'One Person' and 'Two Natures' in the Person of God the Son. The words they employ are patient of different meanings and interpretations, but it is clear that the Assyrian Church has always believed in the hypostatic union of Our Lord, a true Incarnation of the Word, and has never held to the widely-believed and falsely-presented caricature of Nestorius's teaching that Jesus Christ is merely a saint or God-possessed human being. I vividly recall both Bishop Kallistos Ware and Mar Bawai Soro asserting the fact that the Assyrian Church holds to the Definition of Saint Leo the Great in a lecture I heard on the subject in 2001, although I sadly fail to remember the exact Assyrian synod which affirmed Chalcedonian orthodoxy. The Roman-Assyrian Christological Agreement of 1994 certainly settles the question for us in a permanent way, as it directly embraces the Christology of Chalcedon.

2. The Assyrian Church still strictly refers to Our Lady as 'Mother of Christ,' Christotokos, in her liturgical texts - and employs the phase often, both in the Anaphora and in the liturgical texts for feasts and special celebrations. In theological writings, sermons and commentaries I have come across the term 'Mother of God' in a conditionalised sense. Theologically the Assyrians no longer object to the term, or at least no longer object to the theological implications of the term, although in deference to the Antiochene Fathers and especially 'Saint' Nestorius, it is not used in public worship. The Church of the East is very eager to conserve and preserve its liturgical patrimony, which is the oldest extant in Christendom. This was a point of severe contention in the now-suspended dialogue of the Assyrian Church with the Oriental Orthodox: the Oriental Churches demanded that the Assyrians remove Christotokos and replace the word with Theotokos. The Assyrians felt they could afirm Ephesine and Chalcedonian orthodoxy without the necessity of altering their ancient liturgical texts.

The Assyrians have a profound love for the Blessed Mother and a deep Marian piety which penetrates the heart of their Eucharistic liturgy. They invoke her in public prayer and ask for her intercession in the Holy Qurbana. They pray to, with and for her in the Communion of Saints. The Assyrian Church even has a tradition of Marian apparitions not unlike those of the Roman and Byzantine Churches, and a great number of parishes and shrine churches in Iraq and Iran (and in the diaspora) are dedicated to her. Assyrians cultivate a stirring filial devotion to Our Lady and frequently include her in their personal acts of prayer. The Assyrians observe annual feast days in honour of Our Lady, including her Assumption into heavenly glory. In this, the Assyrians possess the consensus fidelium of the whole Catholic Church of Christ, and in common with the Latin West and Constantinopolitan and Oriental East venerates the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mother of the Redeemer and Icon of the Church.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How Do Anglo-Catholics Practise Confession?

In order faithfully to live out the full Catholic vocation in the Anglican Rite, one should receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year, preferably in Holy Week or Eastertide, in preparation for the making of one's Easter Communion. In Anglicanism, the reception of Penance is absolutely voluntary— no Anglican must receive this Sacrament in order to be considered a practising Christian. However, as we have before discovered, this Sacrament is vitally important, and should certainly be received by any person who is troubled and disturbed in conscience because of sin, or by any Christian who wishes to deepen one's spiritual life and advance in holiness. No one should approach Our Lord's Precious Body and Blood in the Holy Communion in a state of sin; for this reason, if there is any question at all about the state or health of one's soul, one should seek the spiritual counsel and advice of a Priest, and receive this Sacrament for the forgiveness of all sins— then one can approach the Holy Mysteries properly and reverently.

As the 1662 English Prayer Book reminds us in the exhortation at the Mass: 'let him (a penitent) come to me, or to some other... Minister of God's Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God's holy word he may receive the benefit of Absolution, as may tend to the quieting of the conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness.' To use a version of the old Anglican adage about Confession: All may, none must, most should. All Anglicans should use this great sacramental gift to their spiritual benefit, which gift increases grace, guarantees forgiveness of all sins, and allows the penitent carefully to examine the conscience and soul— as one faces the brutality and horror of sin and its consequences, and seeks to amend one's life from sin. Only by confessing our personal sins to the Priest, who awaits in love to offer spiritual advice and counselling, and to provide the gift of forgiveness, do we truly recognise the impact, consequences and error of sins, and the need to eliminate sin from our lives. No one should 'enjoy' the painful process of Confession, but all should rejoice in its ultimate benefits and graces for the soul.

It is most unfortunate that more traditional Anglicans do not take full opportunity to receive the gift of Absolution, and the special graces of this Sacrament. Unlike Catholics of the Roman Rite, Anglo-Catholics are not required to go to Confession at any time in order to be in good standing in the Church; however, like all branches of the Universal Church, we possess and use this glorious Sacrament. In the Anglican Rite, there are characteristically no confessionals or 'confession boxes;' rather, the penitent makes his Confession before the Priest as he kneels at the Altar rail, facing the Altar. The Priest is seated within the Sanctuary, poised to hear the Confession quietly. Holy Penance is mentioned twice in the 1928 American BCP, in the second exhortation in the Mass (page 88) and in the office of the Visitation of the Sick (page 313).

Penance clearly has an important function within the life of the Church, especially for those who are troubled in soul after having committed particular sins or who are sick or near death and wish to enter Paradise free from all stain of sin. However, we all should use this Sacrament at every opportunity for our spiritual welfare, for it is a 'school of sanctity,' a teacher of repentance and amendment: it is the divinely-appointed means by which God imparts forgiveness of sins to penitent sinners, a Sacrament of grace in which God and God alone forgives sins and communicates His life, through the instrumentality of His Priests in the Church. Always remember that Priests do not, from any individualised or personal power, forgive sins: they administer a Sacrament of forgiveness as they act in the Name and Person of Jesus Christ, representing in their ministry the Holy Catholic Church.

What three actions, again, are necessary for a penitent rightly to receive the Sacrament of Penance?

1. Repentance. True repentance from sin begins with contrition, true sorrow of heart for sins committed, for without contrition there is no desire for forgiveness and for the amendment of life. Contrition, which should arise from Faith, is the hatred of sin because of love for God. A contrite heart sees sins as a horror, an outrage against God's love for man, and perceives the Passion and Death of Our Lord as the necessary result and cure of its sin. Real repentance through contrition brings us reconciliation with God and forgiveness of sins. Our repentance should flow from our love for the Thrice-Holy God and for God's Church. Even attrition, mentioned earlier, is a grace of God, because it is a prompting of the Holy Ghost which leads a person, albeit through fear of hell or punishment for sins, to seek forgiveness of sins through the Sacrament of Absolution. However, contrition is the true source of real, life-changing, life-healing repentance.

2. Confession. If we are truly repentant, truly contrite for our sins, we will naturally confess our sins, that is, we will acknowledge before God our sins and trespasses in order that we may be forgiven. Real confession is self-accusation, the truthful and honest admission of speaking, acting, and thinking wrongly. The fact that we confess our sins demonstrates that we are really sorry for our sins, we really are repentant. Confession, a sincere and sorrowful acknowledgment to God of our sins, is the proof of contrition, and of our desire to be forgiven and to be granted the grace to change. For this reason, God requires us to confess our sins to Him. 'If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins' (1 St John 1.9). In confession of sins, we are set free from slavery to sin: we take responsibility for our sins and reopen ourselves to the grace and mercy of God. In the Sacrament of Penance, one should confess all known and remembered serious sins committed since one's last Confession. We should not withhold any known sins, for 'if we, as sick persons, are unwilling to disclose every wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know' (St Jerome). Regular reception of this Sacrament helps us to develop a right conscience, and empowers us to fight temptation and evil desires. In Penance, we are healed, sanctified and transformed by Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. In the Anglican Rite, this is the traditional Confession prayer:

I confess to Almighty God, to Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, and to all the Saints, and to thee Father, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault - and especially I confess I have committed the following sins - For these and all other sins which I cannot now remember, I am heartily sorry, I firmly purpose amendment of life; I humbly ask pardon and forgiveness of God and of thee, Father, penance, counsel, and absolution: Wherefore I beg Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, and all the Saints, and thee Father, to pray for me to the LORD our God. Amen.

3. Amendment of life. We must forsake sin and change our lives— this is the ultimate test of genuine repentance; amendment is the sustained and determined resolve to sin no more and to live a better and holier life. If we have hurt others, we must make restitution for the injuries done. Real repentance demands that we do better, and change, by God's grace. In the Sacrament, before Absolution is given, the Priest may give the penitent an act to perform, such as a prayer or a reading from Scripture, as a sign of the repentant person's willingness to change: this is called a 'penance.' Doing the penance demonstrates our willingness to amend our lives and manifests our union with the Crucified Lord— it helps us to contemplate the change which is required for the health of our soul; our spiritual father gives it to us for our own good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Fate of Anglican Religious Orders

From The Church Times:

The restoration of the religious life to the Anglican Church was an enduring achievement of the Oxford Movement. Three hundred years after monasteries were swept away from this country, members of the Church of England felt again the call to serve God in communities.
The early Sisters faced hostility from clergy and laity, who regarded them as agents of popery. Today, mem­bers of the religious orders are found in many dioceses and are represented in General Synod. Countless people are deeply grateful to these Anglicans who have followed a vocation to live under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Religious have provided havens for those living their Christian vocation outside community walls; they have worked in the grimmest parishes; and they have guided individuals through spiritual direction. They have sup­ported the Church by their prayers, and borne witness to the priority of the things of the spirit. They have been both visible and invisible: seen when engaged in pastoral work, and hidden when in community.

Something is now clearly amiss with our religious communities, how­ever. Membership is rapidly declin­ing, average age is high, recruitment is desperately low, and some commun­ities have ceased to exist. Many who come to test a vocation leave before taking vows, and some of those actually in vows have also left.

In at least one community, the num­ber of formerly professed mem­bers now exceeds the number of those remaining. A community for women recently had a substantial number of professed sisters leave over a period of 18 months. In other communities, diminishing membership has led to the decision to close branch houses and pull everyone back to a mother house.

The shrinking seems to be acceler­ating. Within the next ten years, the disappearance of several more of our orders may be expected. As the chaplain to one community has said, the situation is not one of crisis, but of meltdown.

There are, of course, social and cultural factors speeding this decline. Communities suffer from the same forces that cause weakened commit­ment in the Church as a whole, and Roman Catholic orders are experi­enc­ing the same difficulties.

Equally, a Church of England pres­ently over-weighted towards the Evangelical is not fertile soil for community vocations, and the uncer­tainty and division evident among Catholic Anglicans intensifies the prob­lem. The Church also has a re­spons­ibility for the situation through her failure to encourage her members to consider this calling. When did you last hear a priest or bishop speak publicly about the importance of the religious life?

Yet our communities were founded in circumstances even less propitious for their appearance and survival than those of today. Emerging to answer a need, they were fostered by visionary leaders such as Dr Pusey, Mother Marion Hughes, Mother Lydia Sellon, Canon Carter, Fr Benson, and Dean Butler. The call to serve God has not vanished from among us; so why are pitifully few people considering the consecrated life as their response?
Although we still hear sometimes in formal intercessions a prayer “for vocations to the ordained ministry and the religious life”, there is little discussion taking place of what exactly we mean by the religious life. It was inevitable that when the Victorian founders of communities designed rules for their orders, they turned to Roman Catholic patterns, and in particular to monastic models.

Whatever external work was done, the centre of life was to be the daily community offering of the Divine Office and the eucharist. Anglican reli­gious have not departed from this structure to any marked degree, and most of us who are aware of the communities tend to picture them in terms of withdrawal, formal prayer, rules of silence, and a habit either odd or picturesque. Yet this is by no means the only possible model for religious life, as the example of the Jesuits makes clear.

Among religious themselves, there appears to be a faltering sense of direction and purpose, accompanied by an increasingly inward-looking and self-referential approach to com­munity life. One detects in some communities a reluctance to face squarely the questions: “Have we a reason for continuing to exist?” and “What is our particular charism, the mark printed upon us by our founder which declares God’s special vocation for us?”

The result can be a temptation to seek a corporate identity by retreating into a rigid adherence to “our way of doing things”, or to adopt a more congenial self-perception. We see the latter when communities that were founded for apostolic work decide, in the absence of obvious work to do, that they should now become mon­astic or contemplative, even if this flies in the face of their given charism.

A further danger is that while the C of E has too little understanding of the religious life, it also tames reli­gious by drawing them into the estab­lishment. Any sense of the religious life as a vocation lived “on the edge” is emasculated by this, as is the likelihood of religious’ becoming a challenging witness to the Church.

As someone who is concerned for the future of the religious life, I ask where our communities believe they are going, how they are discerning their purpose afresh, and where they look for help with that discernment. It may be a natural historical process that many communities should be born, flourish, and die, but what will take their place?

Joan Chittister, an American Roman Catholic Benedictine, who did important work in helping her community through the days after Vatican II and its call to the renewal of religious life, writes: “What had sus­tained us, identified us, secured us for our first hundred years was gone now. Going ahead was the only possible direction left to take if we wanted to exist. . . But what was the way for­ward? By what method? And, most of all, with what effect on all our lives?”
Anglican religious need to grapple with such questions in a radical exploration of religious life’s prin­ciples and possibilities. They need to engage in serious dialogue with in­formed, sympathetic but critical out­siders, if they are not to fall into the traps of complacency or despond­ency.
Communities need to hear a prophetic voice spoken to them, if they are to recover their own prophetic voice. They must ask why those coming to try religious life do not find what they seek and so leave. They must ask why those already committed feel they can no longer stay. And, like the Church, commun­ities need to recognise that the Spirit blows where it wills, and is not restricted to established patterns.

The Church must embrace its duty towards the religious life. The Advisory Council on the Relations of Bishops and Religious Communities needs overhauling in both its mem­bership and its brief. It is not enough for it to be merely advisory. It must become the organ through which the Church exercises its ministry towards religious, and can call them to give an account of themselves to the Church. At present, communities have little sense of that accountability.
The Advisory Council must also take responsibility for helping some communities to recognise their approaching end, and must assist them to give a Christian example of preparation for a good death. (I know one community of Sisters which is an inspiring demonstration of how this can be done.)

In addition, all members of the Church of England need to ask: “Do we believe that religious communities are a vital part of our Church?” If we say yes, then we must ask how a Church that seems to have bought entirely into committees, careerism, and management techniques will find the knowledge and spiritual depth needed for it to give our religious the guidance and support that they deserve.

If our reply to this question is a frank no, it will show us starkly that the spiritual health of the Church of England is in more disturbing decline than even the most pessimistic among us dared to think.

The Revd Dr Barry A. Orford is Priest Librarian and Archivist at Pusey House, Oxford.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Catechism on the Holy Sacrament of Penance: Confession and Absolution

What is the Sacrament of Penance or Confession? Did Our Lord institute it?

The Sacrament commonly called Penance or Confession is provided by the Church in order to assure persons who have sinned after Baptism the forgiveness of all sins. In the Apostles' Creed, we Catholic Christians profess the truth of The Forgiveness of Sins. This promise, and the covenanted means of grace through which God guarantees for us forgiveness of sins after Baptism, is given to us in this Sacrament: Just as Baptism, a Sacrament, washes away all sins and makes us children of God by grace and adoption, so Confession, a Sacrament, cleanses us from all the sins we personally commit following Baptism. The Church Fathers beautifully describe Confession as the 'second plank after shipwreck,' the promised gift of forgiveness of sins for us, even after we have cut ourselves from, or chosen to reject, the grace of God given us in Baptism.

Because we have been made in the Image and Likeness of God, we always possess freedom, free-will, choice, and especially after we have been refashioned and restored to Life in God, born again by water and the Holy Ghost in Baptism. Although Baptism causes the new birth and brings us into the life of grace, it does not remove free-will, or the desire in man, redeemed but still suffering effects from the Fall, to choose his own way instead of God's will. This remaining defect is the 'tinder to sin', the desire for self-gratification or misplaced love or disordered affection, which we call concupiscence. The process of grace roots this flaw out of us as we are changed over time and eternity into the Likeness of Christ the New Man. In short, we can still sin after our Baptism. If we commit serious sins, such as pride, sloth, lust, anger, greed, gluttony, envy, we can, by our own choice, separate ourselves from the grace of God and reject God's Life and Kingdom. It is possible deliberately to sever oneself from grace and lose salvation, that is, to separate oneself from the free gift of the grace of God in His Catholic Church thus rendering the Sacraments ineffective in the soul - in such a case the soul has chosen to displace God and replace Him with self. The cure and remedy for post-baptismal sin, whatever the particular sin may be, is the Sacrament of Penance. When we do sin, we sin particularly and personally, and we sin as members of the Body of Christ, the Church. We are responsible not only to God for our personal sins, but we are responsible to the Church of which we are living members; we are part of the 'blessed company of all faithful (baptised) people,' and we must be held accountable for our sins— for our sins not only offend God's love and honour, but they offend our own human dignity as sons of God by adoption and grace, and they wound and hurt the Body of which we are a living part: 'If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all are honoured' (1 Corinthians 12).

Therefore Our Lord has provided for the Church, through this Sacrament, a promised and sacramental means by which we are individually and personally restored to the full Communion of the Faith and Sacraments which we can abandon when we commit serious sins. It reunites us with Christ in the Church, for the priest who administers it represents Christ Himself as His 'living icon,' the living instrument of Christ. It is the invisible and risen Christ, who, through the priest, hears the penitent's Confession and grants Absolution, which means 'loosening' or 'release,' the official declaration of the forgiveness of all sins. The priest, who represents the Church, has the authority to reconcile the penitent with the Church's communion. The interior means of access to this Sacrament is repentance: we must repent of our sins, which means we must turn the heart, mind, and soul back to God.

In repentance, we must be truly sorry for our sins, sorrowful in heart for having hurt God and having offended His love for us. Repentance requires an acknowledgment of our sins, a recognition that we have sinned in the sight of God. We must turn to God in sorrow for sin and love, not out of fear of God's wrath or hell or for getting caught in our sins. Repentance through fear is not contrition, genuine sorrow for sin, but attrition, fear of God's anger and judgement. Real repentance flows from a 'broken and contrite heart' (Psalm 51) which realises that God has been rejected and unloved, and not from a heart set selfishly on fleeing God's wrath for having been caught sinning. As Saint John Chrysostom says, we must have: 'Contrition on the heart, Confession on the lips, Amendment in the life.' Recognising our sins, hating them, and finding true sorrow for them, we must confess our sins to God, and in Confession we do so in the presence of His icon, the priest. Then, receiving God's great forgiveness, we must amend our lives, changing them, making them better and holier, as we determine not to sin again, fleeing from sins and abandoning them, aided by the grace we receive from God in the Sacrament of Penance. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself has appointed a sacramental means by which we can re-approach God the Holy Trinity after having committed serious sins, and can be restored to the fullness of the life and grace of God— Our Lord directly gave to the Apostles His own personal authority and power to forgive, in His Name and Person, the sins of the faithful, and bring reconciliation, a re-communion, to repentant sinners. The Apostles 'stand in Our Lord's place' as His own representatives on earth, continuing the very work and ministry of Christ the Priest, Christ the Absolver of Sins. 'Jesus said to them, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Ghost. Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whosoever sins you retain, they are retained unto them."' (St John 20.21-23). 'I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven' (St Matthew 16.19).

The successors of the Apostles, who possess the commission and authority of the Twelve to forgive sins, are the bishops in apostolic succession, who in turn share their ministry with the priests, the second order of the apostolic ministry. Together, bishops and priests, both continuing the priestly ministry of Christ, administer this Sacrament. In the Anglican Ordinal (BCP page 546), when a man is ordained to the priesthood, he is ordained with the words of Our Lord in St John 20 (above), which manifest the importance of the presbyterate as the continued ministry of Christ's very priesthood in a sacramental form. So, yes, Our Lord indeed created the Sacrament of Penance, in that He intended His Apostles and their successors in the sacerdotium to forgive the sins of His people through His very power and authority given to them: the power of the Holy Ghost.

This great authority and gift has been entrusted to the Holy Catholic Church, and she has unwaveringly and faithfully administered this sacramental gift of Penance to all who have sought it for 2,000 years of unbroken Holy Tradition. The Sacrament of Penance, or Confession, is the singlemost important aid in the Church for maintaining a Christian life of repentance, holiness and faith. This Sacrament provides all of us the most effective means by which we may examine our lives, repent of our sins, and receive the powerful grace of God, His life and power. Through it we can live better lives and seek to continue to be more and more God-like, as we progress on the path to holiness and are transformed into the Image and Likeness of Christ.
The Outward and Visible Sign: The confession of specific sins by a baptised Christian before a priest in apostolic succession, followed by the Absolution, in which the priest grants the forgiveness of sins through the laying-on-of-hands and the Sign of the Cross whilst he says the following declaration:

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

The Inward and Spiritual Grace: The forgiveness of all sins committed after Baptism, the restoration and recovery of baptismal grace, reconciliation with the Catholic Church in Faith and Sacraments, the grace of increased contrition for sins with supernatural power to live in holiness, prayer, and good works, deepening union with Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, opportunity for increase in cooperation with the grace of Baptism, healing in the soul from the effects of sin and power to avoid sin in the future. This Sacrament quiets the conscience and brings spiritual peace and consolation as well as increase of supernatural power in the Christian life to battle for Christ.

Our Lord comes to us through this Sacrament in order to strengthen us in our resolve to flee from sin and live lives of consecration to the Love of God. It is a tremendous benefit to us, for God uses its special grace to make us more and more holy: the inward and spiritual grace given to us in Penance, in addition to the unfathomable guarantee that all sins ever committed are completely forgiven, is a deepening of our contrition, our true sorrow of heart for having offended God's great love through sin, and an empowering by God that we may be changed in our daily habits, thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, and behaviours - so that we may live more closely to Christ and be made more perfect by God's perfect grace.

God the Holy Ghost gives Himself to us through this Sacrament that we may be cleansed, forgiven, and reconciled to the communion of the Sacraments in the Church. This communion is a fellowship of life, love, grace and prayer we lose through our willful and deliberate acts of sin. The Holy Ghost gives us the supernatural life needed to continue on the path to sainthood. We are called to be holy ones transformed by grace into the sons of God. Penance is a key element in the Christian life— an essential instrument through which God calls to us to be made like God. We are becoming by grace what God is by nature, sharing God's life and entering into the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

This Sacrament should be repeated as often as needed, and, in fact, many Christians receive this Sacrament on a weekly or monthly basis in order to have a right context in which regularly to examine their spiritual lives, and receive spiritual counsel and advice by a priest of the Church in an atmosphere of absolute privacy and confidentiality. Christians should feel free to use this Sacrament as often as necessary or desired, for a priest must hear a Confession at any place, at any time, if it is requested. Many of the greatest and holiest of Saints have used Confession as the source of spiritual growth and renewal. No priest at any time may reveal anything ever stated or shared in the Sacrament of Penance— this is called the Seal of Confession. Whatever is stated by the penitent to the priest is known only to the priest and to God Himself— a priest cannot mention any information concerning the Confession, not even to the penitent himself.
The content of a past Confession can only be discussed if the penitent himself wishes to discuss it again and himself reintroduces it to the priest. Otherwise, it is considered past and never mentioned again. This Seal exists to protect the faithful from scandal or personal injury, and serves to allow the Church to minister to the healing of specific sins without fear or difficulty. If a priest reveals any information learned in the context of hearing a Confession, he is automatically to be deposed from his ministry. The penitent is absolutely safe in the context of Confession to reveal all sins and ask of God mercy, pardon, and forgiveness, and of the priest, counsel, advice and Absolution. For the Sacrament to be valid, thus communicating the grace promised, one must not intentionally withhold any sins, but must openly confess all known sins with repentance and faith in the forum of the Sacrament, trusting in God's forgiveness and mercy.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Jesus Christ in His Incarnate, Mystical and Sacramental Body

On Our Lord's Incarnate Life and Passion: Our Blessed Lord has a true and fully free human will and was truly subjected to temptation to sin from without, from outside His own consciousness in an objective manner, and yet He never succumbed to those external temptations because of His complete perfection of mind, heart and will and His holiness. We could even go a step further and say that the temptations of Christ were interiorised to the degree that they were on the spiritual and moral level and not visible to others. The temptation of Our Lord by the devil was not necessarily something we could see with our eyes, the temptations being put directly into Christ's human mind by the devil, as Saint Matthew 4 indicates. And yet, in the inner sanctuary of Our Lord's Sacred Heart no temptation was allowed to fester, to entice or take root because of His perfect union with the Father. Jesus truly endured human temptation exactly as we do, mentally, spiritually, psychically, but unlike us, He never even considered sin although He was subjected to its possibility by an outside agent. But unlike us again, Our Lord never generated His 'own temptation' as we do through our own weakness and concupiscence, because He was perfectly pure and holy in the interior life, in perfect communion with God. He lacks that concupiscence that makes sin appeal to our fallen and wounded nature, and thus He could directly overcome any temptation - which He did. We differ in that we mortals like sin, fallen man is attracted to sin through disordered passions and desires. Christ had none of that, and so could restore what we had lost in human nature through the ancestral transgression. We are saved from sin and temptation as we are inserted through Word and Sacrament into Christ's life, Christ's victory over evil and Satan.

On the Eucharist, Anglicanism and Orthodoxy: Although we sometimes tend, unfortunately, to be lax concerning our own discipline for the Blessed Sacrament, I think the Anglican discipline, the ancient, traditional and Prayer Book discipline, for communicants envisions an ecclesiology and 'eucharistology' similar to that of the Orthodox Church - in that we expect and formally require communicants to be baptised, confirmed sacramentally by a bishop in apostolic succession (BCP page 299) and in full communion with a catholic body of undoubted antiquity and orthodox substance. There is in our actual canonical and liturgical approach to Holy Communion the intention to hold together the bond of the Church Catholic as the Great Sacrament and the koinonia of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church, in which and only in which the koinonia of Christ's Sacramental Body, the Eucharist, uniquely takes place. Our actual praxis does not always live up to the theology and clear teaching of the BCP. Were we to enforce our own intrinsic discipline legislated by our own liturgy with greater determination and care, we would see, express and live out a deeper level of Church as organic communio, as integral unity of faith and sacramental life. The Anglican discipline presupposes and anticipates a real dogmatic unity in the communion of the Church and her members based in the apostolic succession and the apostolicity of the Church's order and worship, quite similar to the Orthodox view. We no more encourage 'open communion' than the Eastern Churches - at least in principle. For us the Catholic Church is the amalgamation of all those particular communions possessing the Scriptures, Creeds, Sacraments and Apostolic Ministry; those who belong to a catholic church belong to the Catholic Church.

The difference between ourselves and the Eastern Churches is that we are willing to acknowledge the 'branch fact' that the Catholic Church on earth is divided into separate jurisdictions, which, in spite of their visible or organisational disunity, possess an essential and supernatural unity in the Faith of the Undivided Church and the Seven Sacraments. We profess an underlying and overarching catholic unity of the Church located in the sacramental system which even the human sin of schism cannot sunder. The unconfirmed are not to receive the Blessed Sacrament in Anglican Churches (although they sometimes do) because they have not yet been sealed with the Holy Ghost as full members of the Church by the imposition of apostolic hands; they have not yet been fully integrated into the communion of Holy Things in the Church by the confirmational sacrament of apostolicity. This is exactly the same rule as Orthodox chrismation, which treats baptism and confirmation as inseparable. As baptism and confirmation are inseparable, so personal Christian faith and communion in Christ's ecclesial and corporate Body are inseparable. The unity of the Church is grounded in her baptismal, confirmational and eucharistic reality.

So again I think the Orthodox are fundamentally right on this point, and that, in principle, we fundamentally agree with them, although we differ to some degree as to who or what 'the Church' is. I say 'to some degree,' because the Orthodox Churches themselves recognised Anglicanism as orientated towards Orthodoxy, economically and provisionally, as being the kith and kin of the Orthodox, until the women's ordination debacle of 1976 and following. Even today some Orthodox theologians are willing to see Orthodoxy in classical Anglicanism. I recently heard the excellent dialogue between an Orthodox theologian and a protestant professor currently linked on Ancient Faith Radio, in which the Orthodox theologian stated that classical Anglicanism is close to Orthodoxy in its patristic tradition and is in fact the 'Orthodox Church of the West.' That understanding still survives amongst some Eastern Orthodox. I live in hope that we shall someday be recognised as what we truly are.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Rector of Saint Barnabas Church, Dunwoody, Georgia

Praised be Jesus Christ!

It is with the greatest delight, elation, excitement and joy that I today announce that I have accepted the call to serve as the fourth Rector of Saint Barnabas Anglican Church, Dunwoody, Georgia. Please keep my wife Megan, my sons Aidan and Owain, and me in your prayers as we make this important transition and as we prepare for a truly wonderful and challenging new parish ministry in the Diocese of the Eastern United States and the Anglican Province of America. I especially wish to offer my deepest thanks to my dear friend and brother the Reverend Canon William R. Weston and his wonderful wife Valerie, the Vestry and Wardens of Saint Barnabas, and our faithful parishioners for their unconditional love and support. My election as Rector has been one of the greatest experiences of Christian charity and friendship I have ever been graced to receive, and I shall be eternally grateful. Elected on 17 February, I formally accepted the call on 1 March, and I begin officially on 16 March. Thank you very much for your support and your prayers.

God bless you!
Jesus mercy, Mary pray.


Friday, March 06, 2009

The Real Temptation of Christ

Our Blessed Lord possesses both a moral union with His Father and the Holy Ghost as well as a hypostatic union both with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and with our own humanity: He is of one substance with the Father concerning His Divinity and is of one substance with us as concerning His Manhood. Because He is perfectly one with His Father, not only morally, but ontologically, it is not possible for Our Lord to reject the Will of God, although He possesses in His human nature a full, perfect, free and totally human will. This debate led in part to the heresy of Monothelitism, 'one-will-ism,' a doctrine related to the error of Eutyches and the Monophysites, which held that Our Lord had only one will, which was Divine. The Lord Jesus has in the order of nature the only truly sinless perfect human free will, a will in human nature completely untainted and uncorrupted by sin. We become by grace what Christ is by nature. The Logos became Man in order to heal, restore, save, redeem and divinise our will injured and impaired, but not destroyed, by Original Sin. In Christ, the totality of human nature, including our will, is restored to communion with God and is made to participate in the Life of the Holy Trinity. Our wills, defective and broken as they are, are redeemed and raised because of Christ's assumption of human will. 'Only that which Christ assumed did He redeem.' And He assumed our human will to redeem it.

For this reason, for the purpose of redeeming us, Our Lord willingly and voluntarily subjected himself to temptation, in order that through His obedience to the Father in temptation he might do for us what we cannot do for ourselves; His sacrifice consists in the obedience of His will to the Father and the utter and unconditional love with which He loves the Father - all in our human flesh. He reconciles us to God through the gift of Himself, His self-donation, His self-oblation, His kenosis, His self-emptying in our flesh for the sake of the Father's will. Our Lord was truly tempted as all men are, but never sinned, because He would not and could not sever His communion with His Father through disobedience. Our Lord brings through His Incarnation into the temporal sphere and the realm of humanity that perfect communion and love, called perichoresis, that mutual indwelling of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost within the Life of the Godhead which has existed from all eternity. Jesus Christ reproduces in our human flesh, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, a perfect life of love and communion which He, the Eternal Word, has always enjoyed and has always rendered to God the Father. What happens for all eternity in God has been brought into the bosom of mankind through the hominisation of God. The heart of God is now manifested and expressed in and through our humanity.

Our Lord did not sin in His human nature because sin is contrary to the circuminsession, the personal and mutual indwelling of the Hypostases of the Blessed Trinity which is God Himself, for God is a Communion of Persons united ontologically in the Father and inseparable from one another. The Holy Trinity is a Family, the Family, a Communion of relatio, of interdependent relationship.The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father - the Persons of the Holy Trinity mutually interpenetrate and indwell each each other; they cleave together in one Essence, one Life, one Being. Sin, from this point of view, is a human and angelic activity, an act for which only a created being is capable. Our Lord possesses a true created human nature, yes, but He is not a human person - and that is the key. Being a Divine Person with a human nature, Our Lord simply does not sin, although He has experienced in His mortal life the full horror and torment of human temptation and weakness. Hebrews 4 is one of most profound and mysterious truths of divine revelation, for it declares that the God-Man has genuinely experienced the full range of all human temptation and moral suffering and yet was perfectly obedient to the Father, that is, He remained in perfect love and communion with His Father in our human nature. Our Lord's temptation was real and personal, as was His response to it - His living out the Divine Life in our flesh now means that, transformed in Him, our human flesh is the location, the arena, in which we may personally overcome temptation and enter into the Life of God.

And that is the moral basis of our salvation, as the ontological basis is the Incarnation of the Word, the union of God and Man in the Person of Jesus Christ, which translates our human nature through theosis into the mean whereby we become Trinitarian. 'God became humanised so that humanity may become divinised.'

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Bishop and Me

A more recent photograph of your blogger with his beloved bishop, the Most Reverend Walter H. Grundorf, Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Province of America...

Tu Es Sacerdos

From the family photo album I finally located this long-lost picture of my ordination to the Sacred Priesthood on Saturday 21 December 1996. Here your blogger kneels before the Most Reverend John Thayer Cahoon, Junior, Bishop Ordinary of the Mid-Atlantic States, as he imposes his hand during the final prayer of the Ordination Rite, just before the Blessing. In the foreground to the left, the server kneeling and holding the bishop's crozier is the Reverend Father Emmett Hugh Dobbs, Junior, and to the right kneels the Reverend Father William C. Crites.

May 2024 Comprovincial Newsletter

The Comprovincial Newsletter for May 2024 -