Friday, 20 July 2012

Perfectly Re-Established

A thought provoking article appears in this week's parish notes from St James's.  Not only does Fr Colven remind us of St Paul's famous recognition in his letter to the Romans that he, like all of us, fails to live up to the standards he knows exist, but he also restates forcefully and clearly that the divine sacrifice, the outpouring of that Most Precious Blood, changed things for everyone.  Not for a select few, but for all (even if some do not understand it).

Some of the less well informed fall into a trap of arguing that the Catholic Church amuses itself by spending all day every day condemning people for whatever their peccadillos, or indeed peccados, might be.  As we all know, their misconception could hardly be further from the truth.

Yes, unlike some places, the Catholic Church maintains both the "Go and sin no more" approach of Our Lord in John 8 and the "Neither do I condemn you," but in that dual approach it recognises, as St Paul did of himself, that we all fall short, and provides a sure path to all of us sinners to share in the redemptive love shown so clearly in the shedding of that Precious Blood.  Those who focus only on the "Go and sin no more", often of a very protestant hue, forget the boundless saving love of Our Lord, and cast aside from their theology the Catholic teaching that we can all be saved, whoever we are and whatever our own personal blend of proclivities to sin.  Those who think only of "Neither do I condemn you" are often of an ultra-liberal bent, seeming to believe that sin doesn't really need to be forgiven, indeed they show little sign of believing it exists at all: they talk much of the Incarnation, but little of the Sacrifice of Calvary and what it achieved (other than when doing so gives them a chance to put on fancy clothes and listen to nice music).

Having the fullness of that Gospel text built into its approach, the Catholic Church remains faithful to the Jesus of the Gospel rather than to the Jesus of our preferences and selfish wishlists.  While Our Lord was certainly clear in saying we should sin no more, he was no less clear about a refusal to condemn and about unbounded compassion, understanding and forgiveness.

One of the earliest posts on this blog was entitled Shattering Stereotypes.  Those who labour under the falsehood that the Catholic Church is about condemnation would do well to read that post, to ponder the Holy Father's words in the video footage contained therein and to reflect on Fr Colven's notes below.

Before leaving you all to those notes, here are two classic hymns associated with the Precious Blood. Among the other possibilities we could have chosen (sadly there is no particularly good youtube version) is Alleluia, Sing to Jesus.  Written by the Anglican hymnwriter William Chatterton Dix in 1866 (published in his 1867 collection Altar Songs, Verses on the Eucharist), it bears the title Redemption by the Precious Blood.  Now extremely popular, probably more on account of its association with the much loved tune Hyfrydol than on account of modern Anglicanism still having the fervour for more Eucharistic hymns that drove Dix and his contemporaries to transform Anglican hymnody in the nineteenth century, this hymn was originally written for Ascensiontide but is suitable for any eucharistic celebration.  Indeed, it was sung at two Marylebone Ordinariate Group weddings (in our Anglican days) and more recently at the Ordinariate anniversary celebrations at St James's in January.

The Rector writes:
The traditional devotion for the month of July is to the Precious Blood of Jesus. As we contemplate the cost of human redemption, literally secured through the tortured body of the incarnate Lord, we are forced to take sin seriously - quite simply because God himself was prepared to take its reality so seriously. For the Christian, any reflection on the existence and power of evil cannot do other than centre on the Cross. It is our belief that the self-offering of Jesus, even to the opening of his own heart by the soldier’s spear, is the death blow to all that is not of God - we are not dualists believing in a tug of war between equally opposed forces (evil on one side and good on the other): for us the final outcome is not in doubt - the battle has already been fought and secured on Good Friday - but the consequences of alienation have still to be worked out: though these may be the "end times", the ferocity of evil will continue until the last day even if Jesus’ promise is being fulfilled: “when the Advocate comes, he will show the world how wrong it was about sin, and about who was in the right, and about judgement” (John 16:8).
A preface to a recent publication from the Catholic Truth Society says: “the struggle with the powers of evil is part of the experience of every human being. While human beings have a natural orientation towards the good we find ourselves confronting evil in various ways” - or as St Paul famously  observed in writing to the Romans, “I cannot understand my own behaviour. I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate” (7:15). It is easy to caricature evil in ways that diminish its malevolence - the Devil is often portrayed as a cartoon figure, and the razzmatazz surrounding Halloween “domesticates” and tames the whole notion of sin’s destructive power. If C S Lewis was correct in the Screwtape Letters then it is the greatest achievement of the forces of evil to have themselves treated with benign mockery.
Jesus’ life blood points us to a very different understanding, where evil has to be recognised, named and confronted for what it truly is. No one who has lived through the horrors of the 20th century - the concentration camps , the genocides, with inhumanity and cruelty exhibited on an  industrial scale - can afford to be sanguine about something which is so much more than the sum total of individual human wrong choices, “for it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers which originate in the darkness in the world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens" (Ephesians 6:12). The recognition of the forces which spoil and mar so many aspects of the creation, and the individual damage done by our personal sin, goes to the heart of the Christian dispensation: the world needs, we need, a salvation which is held out in the person of Jesus. God offers his Son as the antidote to sin. 
Our understanding is that what God has done, and continues do, in his Christ is not narrow or sectarian in any way - it is the catholic act, embracing everyone, excluding no one (whether what is on offer is understood or not). The shedding of the Precious Blood on  Calvary alters the whole cosmic balance: we can now look forward in hope to a time when “together with the human race, the universe itself, will be perfectly re-established in Christ” (Lumen Gentium). The Church’s mission remains what is has always been, the salvation of souls through the proclamation of what God is doing in Christ: this salvation is nothing less than the resolution of the dilemma expressed by St Paul (Romans 7:15) as our nature is returned to its rightful bias to choose what is good rather than evil.

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