Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Laetare Sunday - 22 March 2020

My Friends,

Readings:1 Sam 16:1,6-7,10-13  |  Eph 5:8-14  |  John 9:1-41

There are ways and ways of seeing. In today’s Gospel, a man born blind is given sight in a doubly extraordinary way. He is given by Jesus ordinary sight, except that this gift came to him in an extraordinary way. It was by way of a miracle. Receiving sight was also for the man a sign of something else, in fact, a sign about someone else. The man who had been blind is given by way of faith to see who cured him, in all his depth. Once he has the eyes of faith he believes in Jesus, and worships him.
As the season of Lent unfolds, we are sharply aware of the clouds that gather around Jesus, how the darkness of his suffering and death increases. The increasing darkness is ominous of very dark deeds to come. ‘As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. It was night’. In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus says that the night will soon be here, yet while he is in the world he is the light of the world. Later in the same Gospel, Jesus will say that he has come into the world as light, to prevent anyone who believes in him from staying in the dark any more. Nobody who walks in the dark knows where he is going. The effects of the light, we are told by today’s second reading, are seen in complete goodness, right living and truth.

This Sunday is also called Laetare Sunday, a day of special joy. The sombre violet vestments of the celebrant at Mass can be exchanged for more radiant rose-coloured ones. This is for us an encouraging glimmer of hope, a radiant flash of light amid the encircling gloom. It is a kindly light that leads us; rather, it is a kindly light who leads us. We can rejoice, we are invited to rejoice, because our joy is constructed out of something reliable, and not mere wishful thinking, a whistling in the cosmic darkness. How the Gospel multiplies these reassurances!

‘What has come into being in him was life
 life that was the light of men;
 and light shines in darkness,
 and darkness could not overpower it’.

The vestments may be rose-coloured, but Christians do not look at the world through rose-tinted glasses in the sense of unfounded optimism. There is much, there are many people and situations, calling on us to look with truth and compassion. The One who is light is also truth. We cannot deny that there is a darkness even after Christ’s resurrection. It is a residual and lingering darkness which can dim the light for us though not extinguish it. Till Christ’s total radiance is definitively revealed, we live in a time when drifting clouds can obscure the sun. The sun is there unfailingly every day, but at times we go forward with less than clarity and with stumbling steps. Yet our hope is grounded on God’s gift to us, not on the resources of a natural optimism we may or may not have.

Not everyone rejoiced at what had happened to the blind man. He used to beg, he was a marginalised person. Once healed, he was not believed by everyone and was driven away. For some, the man who had come from the margin of disability and poverty was still to be kept at bay. Jesus took yet another initiative. When Jesus heard that they had driven away the formerly blind man, he went and found him. There was more light to be given to the man, the light of faith of which the giving of natural sight was a sign. The One who is light is also love.

The healing is done by Jesus spitting on the ground, making a paste with the spittle and daubing it on the man’s eyes. It is an extremely tactile process, described in a detailed and prolonged way. This is not love from a distance. After that, far from wanting to drive the cured man away, Jesus goes and finds him. Jesus is reconstituting our damaged humanity, our communion with God and each other. We can hear echoes of Adam’s creation in what Jesus does to the blind man; Genesis in a fallen world.

We often speak about coming to understand something we had not understood before as a 'coming to see': ‘now I see’ can mean now I understand. The cured man was brought by love to see not just the natural world, but also to see and share in the world being transformed in Jesus Christ.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston on Tasmania,

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Third Sunday in Lent - 15 March 2020

Dear Friends,
Reading: Laint Luke 11 v 19
“And the last state of that man is worse than the first”
It is a terrifying picture really - a picture of the darkness of utter desolation.  It is something which our contemporary culture knows about or, at least, experiences, in one way or another.  It is the sense of hopelessness, the sense of utter futility, the sense of the empty nothingness of life.
We live, of course, in a world that is seemingly full of everything; there is a fullness of images.  We are constantly besieged and bombarded by a vast array of images which flicker and dance before our imaginations in what is presented to our senses.  The consequence is that our sensual imagination is overloaded.  What are these images?  They are the images of violence, pornography and self-indulgence; in short, the crass hedonism of consumer culture.  What is quickly discovered is that they are nothing.  There is a terrible nothingness to this fullness of images.  They are, as it were, nothing worth and quite unsatisfactory.  Yet, they consume us.  We are possessed by what beguiles us.  We find that we are strangers to ourselves.  We are alienated from ourselves.
What shall we do?  Shall we empty ourselves of these empty images through some heroic effort of will?  Perhaps, but is it really “nirvana” - a state of empty nothingness that we seek?  For in the culture of images even the emptying ourselves of the images of sensual immediacy is to find ourselves in vacuum land.  (I am reminded of the  radio personality Alan MacPhee, who used to introduce his music programme “Eclectic Circus” with the words: “Hello out there in vacuum land”).  Whether we are full of these empty images or aware of their emptiness we are nonetheless empty and lost to ourselves.  “And the last state of that man is worse than the first”.
What is missing?  The what is who.  It is God.  What is missing is our appetite for the Absolute, our desire for God.  At the very least, it is misdirected and lost in the relentless pursuit of everything and nothing.  “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee”, in God.
In the Gospel, there is the picture of the housecleaning of our souls.  At issue is two things: first, how are we going to clean up the mess? and second, for what end?  The point is that without the finger of God the housecleaning will leave us truly empty, indeed, desolate and in despair.  “And the last state of that man is worse than the first”.
The point is that the housecleaning of our souls is really about setting our houses in order so that our souls are places for God.  Then we are no longer strangers to ourselves.  We are at home with God, with ourselves and with one another - in a blessed company.  “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it”.
The Christian religion par excellence is not about a flight from the world and from the images of the world.  It is rather a flight to God in whom there is the redemption of all things - a setting in order of everything.  The Christian religion is, in this sense, full of images but only as ordered to God and as seen within the pageant of redemption.  It means that the naming of the demons of our souls is by the finger of God.  God puts his finger upon our demons.  The finger grace of God has the housecleaning touch, we might say - far better than any Mr. Clean.  But our souls are put in order by God so that our souls may be places for God.
What does this mean?  At one level, it means that our busyness - here acknowledged as a kind of empty busyness - has to give place to a restfullness in God.  Our busyness is really our restlessness for God - that is the positive in our busyness.  The negative is that without God - without our awareness of our need for God, without our desire for God - we are in danger of despair.  In a way, the point is illustrated in another Gospel story, the story of Martha and Mary.  Ultimately, the busyness of Martha has to be brought into the restfullness of Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to his word.  Such a resting is an attentiveness to Jesus – “listening to his words”.  Perhaps the point is best captured by Aelred of Rievaulx:

In this wretched and laborious life, brethren, Martha must of necessity be in our house; that is to say, our soul has to be concerned with bodily actions.  As long as we need to eat and drink, we shall need to tame our flesh with watching, fasting, and work.  This is Martha’s role.  But in our souls there ought also to be Mary, that is, spiritual activity.  For we should not always give ourselves to bodily efforts, but sometimes be still and see how lovely, how sweet the Lord is, sitting at the feet of Jesus and hearing his word.  You should in no wise neglect Mary for Martha; or again Martha for Mary.  For, if you neglect Martha, who will feed Jesus?  If you neglect Mary, what use is it for Jesus to come to your house, when you taste nothing of his sweetness?
It is wanted not that we be found empty and in despair but full of the grace of God, attentive to his word and purpose.  For only then shall we be in a better state than ever before.  Only by the finger grace of God can we avoid the terror of that picture of ourselves where “the last state of that man is worse than the first”.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Second Sunday in Lent - 8 March 2020

My Friends,

Reading: Saint Matthew 15 v21

“O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
You get what you want sometimes, it seems. Let us hope that we really know what it is that we want. Let us hope that what we want is what is right and good for us, that what we want is, ultimately, what God wants for us.  But is that all that is required for us to get what we want, namely, a certain clarity about our desires and wishes?  No.  There is something more than mere clarity about the desires of our hearts, the collection of whims and fancies that belong to the restlessness of our hearts.
Lent seeks the clarification of our minds and the purification of our wills.  Purgation and illumination are fundamental features of the classical understanding of Christian pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that is concentrated for us in the season of Lent, but which is really the pilgrimage of our souls to God.  The third part of the classical understanding of Christian pilgrimage has to do with the perfection and unity of our wills with God.  Purgation, illumination and perfection or unity. For all three of these classical aspects of pilgrimage – the Trinitarian principles of our journeying to God – there is a necessary prerequisite.  It is the note sounded in our liturgy in what is called The Prayer of Humble Access, the note beautifully and powerfully signified in today’s gospel.
The Prayer of Humble Access is familiar to you all, I am sure.  At once poetic and theological, it speaks directly to the nature of our engagement with all things divine, especially the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
“We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord; Trusting in our own righteousness, But in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, Whose property is always to have mercy...”
We pray this as a necessary and critical part of our preparation and approach to the Sacrament of the altar.  The prayer echoes explicitly the Gospel for this day - the story of the Canaanite woman who approaches Jesus so resolutely and yet so humbly. 
There are two words which stand here in a complementary relation.  They are the words ‘humble’  and ‘access’.  Humility is the condition of our access to God.  What the prayer expresses is a fundamental attitude of Faith.  It is not our presumption - our “trusting in our own righteousness” - but our humility - our trusting in “the manifold and great mercies of God” that is altogether crucial.  Against all that is thrown at her, this woman has a hold of this one thing - the mercies of God in Jesus Christ.  To have a hold of that is humility - she presumes upon nothing else - and it is this that gains her access to the heart of Christ.  Humility gains access.
Humility is not the same thing as low self-esteem.  It is not the whinge of “I can’t do that” which really means “I won’t even try”.  It is not the whine of the “poor-me’s” which is really our grovelling for attention, in other words our self-centered pride.  Humility is not grovelling self-pity.  For such things are really our presumption.  We demand all the attention as if we were the centre of everything.  We aren’t.  Humility is the recognition that Jesus is the centre and that we can have access to him – on his conditions, not ours.
“Then came she and knelt before him, saying, Lord, help me”.  There is an encounter and an engagement with Jesus.  The dialogue is quite intense - even frighteningly so.  But her kneeling down is not manipulation.  It is not grovelling self-abasement.  It is, instead, the attitude and posture of Faith.  It says, in effect, that God is God and we are not.  Such is humility.  It is the condition of our access to God.  The woman does not presume to be the centre of attention.  For all her persistence, what is constant is her focus on Jesus.  He has her undivided attention.  She sees in him the mercies of God which she seeks.  “Lord, help me”.
It is not a plaintive cry.  It is the prayer of Faith.  The strong sense of the mercy of God is the counter to our self-presumption and self-preoccupation.
She seeks a healing mercy from Jesus not for herself but for her daughter.  A mother’s love is a strong and compelling motive.  The sickness of a child or some other crisis in our lives will often bring us to our knees.  We are rendered helpless.  “We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves”.  It would be foolish to deny this.
But the point of this Gospel really is not that we should wait for some emergency to bring us on our knees before God.  No.  The point of the Gospel is seen in its application as expressed in The Prayer of Humble Access.  “Lord, help me” is a constant prayer, a daily prayer.  It belongs to the constantly recurring theme of our liturgy: “Lord, have mercy upon us”.  It belongs, in other words, to the maturity of our faith, the faith that holds onto the mercy of God and will not let go.
Humility ever looks to Christ.  It is our openness to him as the centre of our lives.  It is the condition of our access to him.  When we are presumptuous we are full of ourselves.  There is no room for God.  We presume to be the centre which we are not.  Humility opens us out to the mercies of God in Jesus Christ. “O Saviour of the world, who by thy Cross and precious Blood hast redeemed us; Save us, and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord”.
The humility of Christ is the hope of our exaltation.  He lifts us up.  Humility is not only the condition of our access to God; it is also our exaltation.  For in our humility our wills are one with God’s will.  We are open to what he wants for us.

  “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt”.
  Father Ed Bakker,
  Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
  Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,

Saturday, February 29, 2020

First Sunday in Lent - 1 March 2020

My Friends,
The First Sunday of Lent (Lk 4:1-13) leads with the story of the temptations, marking the first stage of this journey that leads us up to the Passover of the Lord.
We emphasize some elements, which can help us enter today’s theme and, therefore, in the time that begins today.

The Evangelist Luke, like the other Synoptics, puts the story of temptations before the beginning of Jesus’ public life.

And that is to say that before starting His mission, Jesus must make a choice, must orient himself on the path, must choose which Messianic style He wants to give to His ministry.

Temptation enters the world, from the beginning, as we read in the Book of Genesis chapter 3, as the possibility of a different choice, different from God’s original design, from the way He thought and created man, in His image and likeness.
Even Jesus must choose, therefore, and the devil does not spare Him this test. But, unlike the other Synoptics, Luke concludes the periscope, saying that “after having exhausted every temptation, the devil turned away from him until the fixed time” (Lk 4:13).

Whatever this fixed time is, it is Luke himself who suggests it: while in Matthew, in fact, after the first temptation in the desert, the devil immediately brings Jesus “into the holy city” (Mt 4:5), in Luke the last two temptations are inverted, and Luke puts the climax of the trial in Jerusalem, where the devil places Jesus on the highest point of the temple (Lk 4:9).

The whole journey of Jesus in the third Gospel, as we will see several times during the year, is nothing but a journey to Jerusalem, where Jesus knows He has an appointment, He’s expecting.

Also on the Cross, like today in the desert, Jesus will be asked to save himself, not to be a man like any other man, to choose, at least this time, the way of power, the sensational and the miraculous; He will be asked to come down from the cross, and this, three times (Lk 23: 35-39), just as in the desert Jesus is tempted three times by the devil.

In Jerusalem Jesus addresses the ultimate test, and confirms that He wants what He chooses today: not a life centered on Himself, a life that is self-made, but a life that is received from the Father and entrusted to Him.

And in Jerusalem, the trial will be terrible because the price of fidelity to the original choice will be death on the cross: there Jesus will judge that this fidelity is worth more than one’s life, and will completely reverse the logic of the devil.
If, in fact, the devil, in today’s temptations, invites Jesus to use the power that comes from His being the Son of God to save Himself, to avoid the limit and fatigue of being a man, Jesus will choose in Jerusalem the path of limitation of weakness and death as a way of fully expressing His obedience to the Father, His unlimited trust in Him; to express fully the ultimate meaning of a humanity that is realized not by making itself, but in a humble and trusting relationship of sonship with the Father.
Where does this awareness come from to Jesus, which gives consistency to his choices? Luke suggests two answers to us.

The first is the mention of the Spirit, who returns twice in this passage (Lk 4:1): Jesus is not alone but is continuously addressed to the Father thanks to the Spirit Who dwells in Him. The solitude of the desert is the place where Jesus experience with greater power the presence of the Father, the strength of the relationship with Him.
The second is clearly linked to the Word: Jesus responds to the devil not in His own words, but from the Scriptures. In fact, His words are nothing more than citations of Deuteronomy. Jesus responds not with His words, but with the Word of God the Father.

The temptation that would push a person to listen and trust another voice that is not that of the Father, cannot be overcome with power, with cunning, with simple intelligence: through these only means we could only be losers, slaves yet again of trust in ourselves. The trial is undergone and overcome by remaining in humble and patient listening, to the truth of the Father, trusting Him.
Also on the cross, in the final temptation, Jesus will use these same weapons: His last words (Lk 23:45) will be the quotation of Psalm Ps 31:6, a prayer that tell once again His total trust in the relationship with the Father: “Father, in your hands I commit my spirit.”

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,

Ik spreek Nederlands

Ashwednesday - 26 February 2020

My Friends,
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. On this day, the Church gathers to remember its humanness and mortality. We are called to the observance of a Holy Lent through the teaching of Isaiah and Jesus regarding fasting. And for this reason, Ash Wednesday is really a family gathering because the people of God are reminded that our fasting is to be done not for the praise of men, but for God's sake.
One way we remember our mortality is the imposition of ashes. The clergy take ashes and make the sign of the cross on our foreheads with these words, "Remember, from dust you came and to dust you shall return." To some this action can seem morbid, but in this simple statement is the kernel of the Gospel. We are all children of Adam, made from dust, and thus also children of sin. Yet, we who are dead are made alive in Christ, and at the resurrection the perishable will be clothed with the imperishable. Ash Wednesday reminds we are fallen, but not without hope.

The Season of Lent has its origins as a season of baptismal preparation. After the peace of Constantine where Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman empire, many people began to enter the Church converting to Christianity. In those days the natural time for baptisms was on Easter, the day of resurrection. To facilitate the large number of converts, the Church developed a very thorough system of teaching called catechesis.

Each convert was required to undergo this before he or she was baptized and thus admitted into the fellowship of the saints. This intense discipleship and formation took place in the weeks before Easter and became what we observe today as Lent. It is only fitting, then, that this season of preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord and remembering our lost-ness without him should begin with a reminder that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return. Let us observe a holy Lent, listening for God's voice, walking in his ways, and following our Lord and Saviour to the cross.

Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church/Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne