Friday, 27 November 2009

Baptismal vows

I went to a Christening ( Baptism) last weekend. It was in an Anglican Church. The thing that struck me though was when we were invited to renew our baptismal vows. The responses from the crowd of people there( 4 christenings, over a 100 people) were encouraging, considering that many probably don't give much thought to these promises, made by our parents and repeated by us at Easter. But then how many of us practicing Christians give much thought to them from one Easter to another. And yet they are fundamental to our faith, hence their use in Baptism at the beginning of our Christian life.

Anyway I gave it some thought and got out the Missal and read the promises again and was struck with the clear statement of what it means to be a Christian. The vows encapsulate the whole of our faith teaching. In fact, I have made a practice of saying them daily as an act of commitment and also to remind myself of what I profess to believe. They are a sure reminder of the choice we are faced with: to follow the path of evil or to choose Christ. For the serious Christian they provide a warning and an encouragement.

So, maybe it's worth giving it a try. Don't wait till next Easter to renew your vows. Do it daily. That way you can re-commit to God and turn from evil consciously and as an act of will. They are also useful as an examination of conscience at the end of the day. Whose path did you follow?

Here are the baptismal promises. there are two options for the first set of questions:

Do you reject satan?.....I do
And all his works?.........I do
And all his empty promises?.....I do

Option 2:
Do you reject sin so as to live in the freedom
of God's children?........I do
Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be
mastered by sin?........I do
Do you reject satan, father of sin and prince
of darkness?................I do

Do you believe in God the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth?.................I do
Do you believe in Jesus Christ his only son,our Lord
who was born of the Virgin Mary,
was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead
and is now seated at the right hand
of the Father?.................I do
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting?................I do

This is a good, positive way to start your prayer time and to end your day. Try it

Scandal in the Church

Jesus tell us that the branch that does not bear fruit is cut away and destroyed. Elsewhere we are told that by our fruits we are to be known and distinguished as followers of Christ. If we look to the word of God and apply the words we find there we can begin to get some idea of where change is needed and being called for. Sin requires repentance and the Church as an organisation when guilty of sin must repent as individual Christians. This requires , of course, much more than a simple request for forgiveness following upon an apology, however sincere these might be. It requires something much more fundamental: a hard look at the way things are and the direction being followed, and then a decision to make radical change; to seek a new direction and a new form of living. Out of the darkness of the events in Ireland good and light can emerge; if there is true repentance leading to real change. Maybe the Holy Spirit is speaking to the Church and calling for this new direction which in fact leads us away from dependence on worldly power and structures and leads us back to Christ and the journey in faith.

Throughout most of its history the Church has been a major power player in worldly affairs, at times indistinguishable from other powers in its methods, operation and values. There are many times when the Church has compromised its mission and chosen to follow the ways of the world instead of the narrow way that leads to salvation. Now there are signs in the Church that the familiar things are failing: lack of vocations, buildings closing, falling numbers in congregations, division and scandal and so on.

What to do in this situation? Do we cling to the sides of the rocking boat, as the disciples did as Jesus slept through the storm? Do we cling to the past and try to recreate things that were but have now gone? Do we seek to maintain and develop our worldly connections and influence by selling our souls as we have done in the past? No! we listen to the Spirit, we try to discern the will of God? We begin to pray from our hearts and to live the Gospel and we hear the call of Christ, get out of the boat and walk in faith on the stormy waters towards him.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Scandal in the Church

Shocking! Disgraceful! Scandalous! Shameful. You can add your own adjectives. It would be hard to overstate the feelings that any decent person would have at the revelations of abuse and cover-up in the Irish Catholic Church. The abuse itself was terrible but to conspire to cover it up, to protect the guilty and to deny the reality of the victims experience are actions which themselves are not only reprehensible but probably criminal. Now it seems that there is something about Irish society and culture which made such a cover up possible; but the fact that Christian priests behaved in such a fashion raises a question about the Church itself, the priesthood and the nature of faith and belief, which allowed such events to happen. Only one of the Archbishops is alive but it would not be an injustice were criminal charges to be brought against him.

The truth is that the behaviour of the clergy of the Irish Church, regardless of prevailing cultural norms, has nothing to do with Christianity; has absolutely nothing to do with Christ and has everything to do with the ruler of this world. The Irish Church was a major part of the establishment in Ireland; it was a worldly organisation and not a Christian community. Yes, there are, no doubt, many wonderful Irish Christians and they are victims in there own way; but
whilst they were trying to live Christian lives, the front organisation, which called itself the Catholic Church was going about its own business as an integral part of Irish society. An organisation, a business, a career option and so on. The conspiracy to cover up the crime was just a logical consequence of the conspiracy between the Church, effectively a state Church, and other elements of the establishment. In reality, it had moved an impossible distance from the vision and teaching of its founder. It was " a form of religion" but not a Spirit -filled Church.
It's a strange sort of shepherd who out-wolves the wolves; who locks the sheep outside the sheepfold and protects the wolves inside.

Irish Christianity will be badly damaged by this scandal, as will Christianity in general. This isn't just a case of giving the enemy ammunition, it's loading and aiming the guns for him. But maybe, just maybe, there is an opportunity. Maybe there is a prophetic message to be heard amongst this sin and scandal

Monday, 2 November 2009

Stand up stand up for Jesus

"Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the Cross", the first line of one of my favourite hymns when I was a lad in Bolton, standing at the back of Breightmet Congregational Church.
Well, the Church has gone now and many of those who sang with me have departed from life,
but the words of the song still sounds as rousing and still remind us of our Christian identity.
We are all soldiers, enlisted in the army of the Lord Jesus Christ. St Paul tells us to put on the armour of faith and other pieces of spiritual armour because we fight not against human enemies but against powers and principalities. We fight against evil and the seduuction and temptation to turn from God and choose the world and the devil. In this fight no quarter is given; in this fight we get our strength from the victory of Christ on the Cross. Yes, Christ has won the victory but not everyone has yet been liberated. We are called to be the army of liberation, bringing the freedom that God offers to each one through Jesus.

Satan is the enemy of God and the Cross is the sign of God's victory and the beginning of the restoration of Creation to what God intended it to be. We recognise the work of Satan when we see and hear things that are contrary to God and his plan and his revelation. We see the work of satan in the "ways of the world", in the passing values and fashions; the attitudes and opinions that contradict the teaching of Christ.

Recently we have had Halloween when we, as Christians, celebrate the wonder of the presence of the saints before the throne of God in Heaven. A promise to us and a reality to the saints who have died. And yet, in all the publicity in newspapers and on television, did you see any mention of the real meaning of Halloween? Probably not; but you would have seen the promotion of an alien and pagan ritual, glorifying the dark side. Of course it is only "fun" for children. Fun, to dress up as the devil, as a ghoul as a rotting corpse? Perhaps I have an atrophied sense of fun. Maybe there is no harm directly, though I disagree; but indirectly we are allowing the evil one to delude and deceive people into thinking he is not real and harmful.

But where is the Church in this? Any promotion of Christian teaching or counter-attack against this deceit? I didn't see anything. And how many churches colluded with this travesty of our faith by allowing their buildings to be used for Halloween parties? How many Catholic schools
had kids dressing up? You cannot fight the enemy by playing with him or denying him.
There are two sides in the fight; you can only be on one side.