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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Thursday, 21 March 2013

GOD IS IMMEASURABLE LOVE - SAINT ISAAC OF NINEVEH


With the new Pope Francis urging us to regard the whole human race as brothers and sisters in the same family, and to respect and care for the weakest among us, and to respect and care for the whole of Nature, we read here of an Eastern Father who eloquently teaches us to share in the universal love that God has for all that exists.
Who among the Eastern Fathers has written more eloquently, more profoundly about the love of God Almighty than St Isaac the Syrian? “In Isaac’s understanding,” states Met Hilarion Alfeyev, “God is, above all, immeasurable love. The conviction that God is love dominates Isaac’s thought: it is the source of his theological opinions, ascetical recommendations and mystical thought” (The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, pp. 35-36). Sadly this great doctor of the divine love remains relatively unknown in English-speaking Christendom. Only in recent decades have his discourses become available in translation. Yet despite Isaac’s relative obscurity, I believe that his writings are necessary reading for all Orthodox and Catholic preachers, pastors, and confessors. Why do I say this? Because having heard my fair share of Orthodox and Catholic sermons over the past eight years, I am convinced that most Orthodox and Catholic preachers simply do not understand what it means to speak the good news of Jesus Christ. They do not understand that preaching is, first and foremost, the proclamation of the God who is absolute love and mercy. The homilies I have heard may be characterized as exhortation. I have heard exhortations to good behavior. I have heard exhortations to imitate Christ in his care for the poor. I have heard exhortations to repentance and the acquisition of the virtues. I have heard exhortations to adhere to the dogmas and traditions of the Church. I have heard exhortations to prayer and ascetical discipline. But rarely, oh so rarely, have I heard the kerygmatic announcement of the surprising and unmerited mercy of God. Rarely have I heard the proclamation of the resurrection of Christ and the eschatological existence now freely given to us in the Church by the Spirit. Rarely have I heard of the God who leaves his flock in search for one lost sheep and upon finding it lays it on his shoulders and rejoicing takes it back to the flock. Orthodox and Catholic preachers prefer to exhort, urge, counsel, warn, and admonish their congregations; but this kind of preaching, whether moralistic or ascetical, cannot save. Only the proclamation of love communicates the abundant life that Christ came to bring us. Exhortation alone either drives away sinners or makes them into Pharisees. The prophet Amos declared, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD’” (Amos 8:11). In the Church today we are experiencing a famine of the gospel. We are told to act better, to pray better, to be better; but we are not given the only Word that can actually transform us and make us new. St Isaac the Syrian is the antidote to this woeful situation.

Isaac’s reflections on the divine love are scattered throughout his discourses–the First Part and the Second Part. I cannot point to a single homily or two in which Isaac expounds on the love of God at great length (though Homily 38 in the Second Part is a good place to begin). Fortunately Alfeyev has written a fine introduction to Isaac’s mystical thought, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, and it is readily available from Orthodox bookstores and internet booksellers. Every preacher should read and inwardly digest this book. I wish I had been acquainted with the discourses of St Isaac during my years of active ministry. Perhaps I would have been a better preacher. I know I would have been a better disciple of Jesus Christ.

For Isaac the world is a gift of the divine love. It begins in love and will be consummated in love. This love is unconquerable and irresistible, not because it coerces—God forbid!—but because of its intrinsic beauty, truth, and goodness:

What profundity of richness, what mind and exalted wisdom is God’s! What compassionate kindness and abundant goodness belongs to the Creator! With what purpose and with what love did He create this world and bring it into existence! What a mystery does the coming into being of this creation look towards! To what a state is our common nature invited! What love served to initiate the creation of the world! This same love which initiated the act of creation prepared beforehand by another dispensation the things appropriate to adorn the world’s majesty which sprung forth as a result of the might of His love.

In love did He bring the world into existence; in love does He guide it during this its temporal existence; in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised. And since in the New World the Creator’s love rules over all rational nature, the wonder at His mysteries that will be revealed then will captivate to itself the intellect of all rational beings whom He has created so that they might have delight in Him, whether they be evil or whether they be just. (II.38.1-2)

What a magnificent passage. God has created the world in love and for love. Angels and human beings alike have been brought into existence to delight in the divine mercy and to enjoy eternal communion with the God who is love. Everything that God has done, everything that he does in the present and will do in the future is an expression of love. “Among all his actions,” Isaac proclaims, “there is none which is not entirely a matter of mercy, love, and compassion: this constitutes the beginning and the end of his dealings with us” (II. 39.22). Here is the purpose of creation and the Incarnation, “to reveal his boundless love to the world” (quoted in Alfeyev, p. 36).

The love of God is indiscriminate, promiscuous, prodigal. It intends every rational creature. As Jesus teaches, the Father who is in heaven “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). There is no one “who is to the front of or to the back of God’s love. Rather, He has a single equal love which covers the whole extent of rational creation, all things whether visible or invisible: there is no first or last place with Him in this love for any single one of them” (II.38.2). There is no before or after, no greater or lesser. The divine love addresses and upholds all equally. St Isaac firmly rejects the Calvinist thesis that God has predestined some human beings for damnation. Such a thesis is unthinkable, indeed blasphemous. Every being created by God is loved by God. Our disobedience does not change the character of the Father; our sin does not diminish his love for us. “There is no hatred or resentment in His nature,” Isaac explains, “no greater or lesser place in His love, no before or after in His knowledge” (II.38.5). No matter how much disorder we cause in the world, no matter how grievous our sin, no matter how horrific the evil we commit, God’s salvific will for us does not change. He eternally wills our good, and in his wise providence he will accomplish this good. “There exists with Him a single love and compassion which is spread out over all creation, a love which is without alteration, timeless, and everlasting” (II.40.1).

The providence of love encompasses all material and spiritual dimensions:

Let us consider then how rich in its wealth is the ocean of His creative act, and how many created things belong to God, and how in His compassion He carries everything, acting providentially as He guides creation; and how with a love that cannot be measured He arrived at the establishment of the world and the beginning of creation; and how compassionate God is, and how patient; and how He loves creation, and how He carries it, gently enduring its importunity, the various sins and wickednesses, the terrible blasphemies of demons and evil men. Then, once someone has stood amazed, and filled his intellect with the majesty of God, amazed at all these things He has done and is doing, then he wonders in astonishment at His mercifulness, how, after all these things, God has prepared for them another world that has no end, whose glory is not even revealed to the angels, even though they are involved in His activities insofar as is possible in the life of the spirit, in accordance with the gift with which their nature has been endowed. That person wonders too at how excelling is that glory, and how exalted is the manner of existence at that time; and how insignificant is the present life compared to what is reserved for creation in the New Life; and how, in order that the soul’s life will not be deprived of that blessed state because of misusing the freewill it has received, He has devised in His mercifulness a second gift, which is repentance, so that by it the soul’s life might acquire renewal every day and thereby every time be put aright. (II.10.19)

The merciful God has provided a way for sinful creatures to avail themselves of the mercy of God—repentance. Nor is repentance something beyond our capabilities, says Isaac. God understands our weaknesses and limits. Repentance involves the whole person, mind, will, conscience, heart, “so that it might be easy for everyone to acquire benefit from it, both quickly and at any time” (II.10.19).

The infinite love of the Creator is dramatically displayed in the Incarnation of the Son. Why did God become man? Why did Jesus die on the cross? Certainly not to propitiate an angry deity. If God’s sole purpose was to achieve the remission of sins, he could have accomplished this end by another means. The cross is the perfect and compelling revelation of the divine mercy. Isaac understood that sinners would not and could not believe in the possibility of their reconciliation with their Maker without a revelation embodied in the terrible suffering and bloody death of God himself:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father? And why was he stretched out on the cross for the sake of sinners, handing over his sacred body to suffering on behalf of the world? I myself say that God did all this for no other reason than to make known to the world the love that he has, his aim being that we, as a result of our greater love arising from an awareness of this, might be captivated by his love when he provided the occasion of this manifestation of the kingdom of heaven’s mighty power—which consists in love—by means of the death of his Son. (Quoted in Alfeyev, p. 52)

God must die on the cross. Only thus can human hearts be pierced and turned away from self and sin; only thus can mankind apprehend the true identity and nature of their Creator and be converted to the path of salvation. It is the divine love, manifested in the humility and death of the Son, that transforms sinners and brings them everlasting life. St Isaac quotes the famous verse from the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (3:16).

Why do we not hear this message of the astonishing love of God every Sunday, Sunday after Sunday, in our Churches? This is the gospel. There is no other gospel worth preaching. In a world filled with wickedness, suffering, despair, and death, we desperately need to hear the proclamation of the omnipotent power of God’s love and mercy. We need to know that he treasures us, that he has a plan for us, that his good will for us, and for the world, will triumph. Only thus does it become possible for us to cooperate with him in prayer and good works. In the words of the great Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar: “Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed. This is the achievement, the ‘work’ of faith: to recognize this absolute prius, which nothing else can surpass; to believe that there is such a thing as love, absolute love, and that there is nothing higher or greater than it; to believe against all the evidence of experience (‘credere contra fidem‘ like ‘spere contra spem‘), against every ‘rational’ concept of God, which thinks of him in terms of impassibility or, at best, totally pure goodness, but not in terms of this inconceivable and senseless act of love” (Love Alone is Credible, pp. 101-102). Without the preaching of the boundless love of God enfleshed in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, the Church has no reason to exist; indeed it cannot exist, for it is the Word of love that creates the new life that is the Church. Without love, there is no theosis, no repentance, no sanctification, only Pharisaic zeal and deadly dogmatism.




Very little is known about Julian's personal life, including her birth name. Her texts indicate she was probably born around 1342-43,[2] and died in 1416, or sometime shortly thereafter.[3] She may have been from a privileged family in or around Norwich, Norfolk. After London, Norwich was the largest city in East Anglia in the 11th century. Plague epidemics were rampant during her time, and according to some scholarly debate, Julian may have become an anchoress unmarried or, having lost her husband and children in the Plague, as a widow.[1] Her becoming an anchoress could have also served as a way to quarantine her from the rest of the infected population.
At the age of 30 and a half, suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, Julian had a series of intense visions of Jesus Christ. They ended by the time she recovered from her illness on 13 May 1373.[4] She was at home during her near death experience, and gives no mention of her personal life up until that point. Julian wrote down a narration of the visions immediately following them, which is known as The Short Text. Twenty to thirty years later she wrote a theological exploration of the meaning of the visions, known as The Long Text.[5] These visions are the source of her major work, called Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love (ca. 1393). This is believed to be the first book written in the English language by a woman.[6] Julian became well known throughout England as a spiritual authority: the English mystic (and author of the first known autobiography written in England) Margery Kempe mentions going to Norwich to speak with her.[7]
[edit]History of Revelations or Showing of Love


“God, of Thy Goodness, give me Thyself;—only in Thee I have all”
IN this same time our Lord shewed me a spiritual sight of His homely loving.


I saw that He is to us everything that is good and comfortable for us: He is our clothing that for love wrappeth us, claspeth us, and all encloseth us for tender love, that He may never leave us; being to us all-thing that is good, as to mine understanding.  Also in this He   shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand;
and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall [last] for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God.

In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. But what is to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover,—I cannot tell; for till I am Substantially oned to Him, I may never have full rest nor very bliss: that is to say, till I be so fastened to Him, that there is right nought that is made betwixt my God and me.

It needeth us to have knowing of the littleness of creatures and to hold as nought all-thing that is made, for to love and have God that is unmade. For this is the cause why we be not all in ease of heart and soul: that we seek here rest in those things that are so little, wherein is no rest, and know not our God that is All-mighty, All-wise, All-good. For He is the Very Rest. God willeth to be known, and it pleaseth Him that we rest in Him; for all that is beneath Him sufficeth not us. And this is the cause why that no soul is rested till it is made nought as to all things that are made. When it is willingly made nought, for love, to have Him that is all, then is it able to receive spiritual rest.

Also our Lord God shewed that it is full great pleasance to Him that a helpless soul come to Him simply and plainly and homely. For this is the natural yearnings of the soul, by the touching
of the Holy Ghost (as by the understanding that I have in this Shewing): God, of Thy Goodness, give me Thyself: for Thou art enough to me, and I may nothing ask that is less that may be full worship to Thee; and if I ask anything that is less, ever me wanteth,—but only in Thee I have all.

And these words are full lovely to the soul, and full near touch they the will of God and His Goodness. For His Goodness comprehendeth all His creatures and all His blessed works, and
overpasseth without end. For He is the endlessness, and He hath made us only to Himself, and restored us by His blessed Passion, and keepeth us in His blessed love; and all this of His Goodness.




ABBOT PAUL'S HOMILY AT BELMONT


St Benedict’s Day, March 21st 2013

 In some manuscripts of the Holy Rule there is a short sentence, probably not going back to St Benedict himself, which reads, “It is called a rule because it regulates the lives of those who obey it.” As Benedictine monks we try each day to live as closely to the Rule as possible because we know that, by obeying it, it will keep us on the way of the Gospel that alone leads us to God. Our oblates and friends try to do the same, each in their own way. By obeying the Rule and putting nothing before Christ, we also come to love our neighbour. Who is our neighbour but all those whom God puts on our path: our brethren and our families, guests and those in need, the sick in mind and body, the young and the old, our enemies too. In learning to see Christ in others, we discover him in ourselves. Praying for others, we also pray for ourselves. These past two weeks we have witnessed the election and installation of Pope Francis, which was a big surprise for everyone. Following the example of Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI, he has begun his ministry of service to the Church by speaking to us of the deep joy we experience when we trust in God and place our lives confidently in his hands. This is the way of both St Benedict and St Francis of Assisi, a way of simplicity and austerity, a way of joy and thanksgiving, a way of love and tenderness, a way of caring for creation and all that God created, a way of obedience to God’s will. As we celebrate today the Solemnity of the Passing of Our Holy Father Benedict, we consecrate ourselves once more to God’s service in a spirit of humility and charity. We pray for patience and perseverance in living the monastic life and for a renewed spirit of obedience to Christ and the Gospel. In the tradition of the English Benedictine Congregation, we pledge our obedience to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, God’s gift to his Church. Through the intercession of St Benedict, may we find in obedience, that peace which surpasses all understanding and the perfect love that casts out fear. By sharing in the sufferings of Christ through patience, may we all deserve to share in his kingdom. Amen
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