This content is reserved for Mirfield companions
Post All Saints’ Day is an apposite time to reflect on this latest important event in the life of CR, and of our newest brother Fabian (né Shaun-Michael) Trevithick. It is not insignificant that his clothing into the novitiate should have taken place during the first evensong for St Luke’s day (17th October). Luke, as a physician, was acutely aware of humanity’s need for wellness and restoration – for newness. He evangelised a Christ whose coming would make all things new – a Christ, who would re-envision and reshape God’s world. Surely, this is what the Kingdom of heaven is like. We hear it throughout the Gospels. To be clothed with Christ as allegorised in the grey scapular, is equally to be made new; to offer up oneself to holiness, to a dedicated separation for the things of God according to his loving purposes embodied in Jesus.
It is this ‘clothing’ that the brothers CR each freely decide to put on when we begin formal training in the life and work of the Community and in the religious life at large. So the brethren CR are pleased to welcome Fabian amongst us. How will the next two years of this formation pan out for him and for ‘we band of brothers’, as we get older, maybe crosser – possibly even wiser – as the time passes and God works out his plans for us individually and in life together? We do not and cannot know. But in choosing God by this way, so we may trust Him and the promised future hope He stores for us.
The Solemn Evensong which welcomed Br. Fabian as a novice was redolent with God’s joy, and shared in by Community, College and guests alike. This joy cannot be made or destroyed; it is a perfect mystery, and it is a mystery to which Fabian nCR has chosen by the help of God to commit himself with us for roughly the next two years. We all pray with him that he may find – and be found – blessing as he does so – asking that the commitment witnessed in Fabian’s decision may bring to birth the newness of Jesus’ risen life in us all. Welcome indeed, Fabian!
Every year the College celebrates the anniversary of its foundation (going for over 100 years!) on the feast of SS Simon and Jude. Foundation day is one of those occasions which isn’t meant to interrupt a normal study day, consisting of an evening Mass presided over by the principal and followed by a formal dinner, but which ends up becoming one of those great mucking-in days of moving tables, creating weird and wonderful flower arrangements, and transforming the College into something completely magical.
It’s also a great moment of transition, after the flurry of the first couple of months; a day when new students get a chance to take on their new roles (from the flower officers, to entertainment officers, to official after party DJ), marking the moment of really being settled in, and acting as a great equaliser between those who have been here two months and those who have been here two years.
I was talking with a couple of the new students about Simon and Jude being our patrons – two saints we know almost nothing about, other than their decision to give up their lives and follow Jesus – and we all agreed there was something wonderful about following in the footsteps of two ‘unsung heroes’ (and something very Mirfield about not being the most important or most praised but plodding along and getting things done!); but the great act of celebration – of beautiful liturgy and of feasting together – gives us all a brief foretaste of things to come, and a moment to pause and give thanks for the life of this marvellous College and Community.
Steffan Mathias (Senior Student)
Since 1991 we have invited Christians in West Yorkshire to join us in an Advent preparation for Christmas. The service, originally taken from ‘The Promise of His Glory’, is based on the ‘Great Os’. These are ancient antiphons sung at the beginning and end of the Magnificat from 17th until 23rd December and are best known to us from the hymn ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’.
All are welcome to join the Community in the church from 4pm.
Two designs of specially-produced Christmas Card are available from Mirfield Bookshop. The card on the left has an image reproduced from an early C17th bible in the Community’s special collection. The image on the right shows figures from the Baroque crib which has been placed on the mantlepiece in the House of the Resurrection each Christmas since 1898.
Both cards have on the inside:
Wishing you Peace and Joy at Christmas
The cost is £3.50 for a pack of 6 cards & envelopes or £10.00 for 3 packs (plus P&P). The cards measure 105mm x 148mm.
To order, please visit the Mirfield Bookshop or call 01924 483345.
6 November, 2016 – Third Sunday before Advent – Year C
More than once in my years here we have had a local person from Mirfield start to work here and being rather nervous about it. Then as he or she gradually got used to the people and the entertaining goings-on here, that person came to love it and was reluctant to leave. I can remember one temporary nurse who said appreciatively “I never knew it was like this”.
In the centuries covered by the Old Testament we see a similar thing going on in the relationship between the people of Israel and God. There is a growing sense of God’s uniqueness and majesty; also God’s mercy, fullness and tenderness. Hand-in-hand with this there is a growing appreciation of the dignity of the human being. Jesus is the heir of a tradition which received some of its finest expression in Isaiah and in the book of Job. The more dignified that the picture of human beings becomes, the greater is the apprehension of the wonder and majesty and loving-kindness of God. With Jesus you add to that the fact of the incarnation – that this God of such majesty and of such boundless love actually became one of us – and what you end up with is a picture of every human being, rich or poor, strong or weak, as being of such great dignity that we are destined ultimately be taken by God to himself.
In this context the position of the Sadducees in today’s Gospel reading can only seem pathetic. Their God can’t give us eternal life – for they don’t believe in the resurrection. Because of that their picture of human beings is less than glorious and their picture of God is quite frankly boring. Who would want to give their life for such a God? They wouldn’t be barmy anyway, if he wasn’t able to resurrect them.
One thing which human beings need to be saved from again and again is reducing our picture of God. When we reduce our picture of God, our picture of human beings is reduced as well.
Coming to this weekend, you might have seen an article has appeared in the Church Times which quotes me on prayer. A young lady had interviewed me very well on the phone and she had to prune down all I said into a short space and so the article is a bit over-simplified. What I really wanted to say – but it wouldn’t have been very polite – is that in the Church today we are in danger of living with a puny vision of what it is to be a human being and that is hand-in hand with a puny vision of God. Not in all parts of the church but it’s certainly around. It’s around not least because the church has become weak on prayer.
Many people struggle with prayer – they might say to themselves “what shall I do today? Say the Lord’s prayer perhaps – say a prayer out of my book of prayers – remember some people who need praying for but then so often I struggle for it to be real”. Many people might say this ad many don’t really manage to pray every day, or even every other day. There are many clergy who really struggle; to live a life of prayer which will actually keep them going.
I have tried quite a lot of experiments in parishes to encourage members of congregations to pray every day, praying the prayers of the Church, so that there is a sense of praying not alone but with others. I wouldn’t say the success rate has been meagre but there is no way in which my efforts have has set a fire going. I come more and more to feel that it’s not enough to encourage one another to pray every day. There’s more to it than that. It seems to me that there is a quartet of things that used to be second-nature for Christians – certainly in the Church of England – but very widely they are disappearing or have already been lost from sight. The quartet would be this:
- Worship as the absolute foundation and bedrock of our Christian life – not any old worship but the liturgy of the church.
- My personal prayer, springing out of the worship.
- A sense of the Church. When we pray we are never alone – we are praying with people all over the world, on Earth and in heaven. So it’s not so much me trying to pray, as me being taken up into the great song of the church which rises to God’s throne day and night. A sense of the church.
- A sense in our bones of the tradition, the Christian repertoire of wisdom and prayer going back 2000 years.
This might sound a bit complicated but it isn’t at all. It’s not rocket science. Throughout the ages Christians at every level have taken it for granted without thinking about it. Going right back, this quartet of things is there right through the new Testament. Think of the episode where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray and he gives them the Lord’s Prayer.
- The phrases of the Our Father all come from Jewish worship – they are traditional expressions for the worship in Temple and the synagogue and the Psalms. So that’s number 1: worship
- Jesus intends it as something to pray when you pray on your own. It is personal prayer springing out of worship.
- There is a sense of the Church. Jesus delivers it to the group of his disciples – he has been slowly forming them into a group with a strong sense of belonging. This is the Church in its earliest form. The Lord’s Prayer is in the plural – Our Father, give us this day our daily bread. It is filled with a sense of the Church, the People of God.
- Behind it stands a great tradition. Prayers like the Lord’s Prayer are there in the Jewish tradition before Jesus. This tradition is in the bones of the disciples – it’s just there.
In this little incident all those four things are unselfconsciously there – simply, innately known. You can find many other examples in the New Testament, showing the same four things, whether it’s, say, the Transfiguration, the feeding of the 5000, or the Last Supper.
If we are to be a Church which prays we need to find a way of returning to a state where these four things are simply in our bones – we don’t need to think about them. They are just sitting happily there below our conscious level and coming into operation without any effort.
Sometimes we need nudging from behind and there is a fifth consideration to add to the other four that could nudge us – it’s about this: simply to look at our world. To look at the terrible state it’s in. This is a world which needs a strong Church. If the Church were strong, it could be a great force for good. The Church will be strong when it’s a praying church. So we need to get praying.
All human beings have the immense dignity of being made in the image of God. We must beware of slipping into a picture of ourselves and of God which is banal and ineffectual, like that of the Sadducees, because all we are then is a Church that is half-dead. God is not a God of the dead but of the living. A living Church will be a praying church.
30 October, 2016 – Fourth Sunday before Advent – Year C
‘Today salvation has come to this house’
Does Zacchaeus repent?
That’s a funny question. It’s one we might not think to ask.
The story of Jesus and the chief tax-collector seems to turn on Zacchaeus’ change of heart. That’s how we expect the story to go.
Passing through a crowd in the busy town of Jericho, Jesus’ eye lights on the one person everyone else thinks has no business being there. The y’re trying to shun him. The tax collector. The wealthy collaborator with the Roman oppressors.
The Brethren are hearing from Maccabees at Mattins at the moment. The re was plenty of collaboration with a foreign oppressor in the days of Mattathias and Judas Maccabeus. Indignation grows verse by verse as it becomes clear how successful the foreign King is in drawing Israelites over to his rule and to his determined destruction of the worship of the God of their ancestors. First one, then another, then many fall in line. This arouses a boiling hatred in Mattathias and his sons. There’s a real danger to a Jewish sense of identity, of belonging to their God.
So the people of Jericho in Jesus’ day had this ancestral reason to despise the collaborator. It’s not surprising that Zacchaeus can’t get through the crowd; nobody is going to give way to him but being present when the prophet of Nazareth arrives – this is really matters to him. He’s resourceful and he doesn’t stand on his dignity. So he climbs a sycamore tree. He sees – yes but also he is seen. Jesus sees him, speaks to him, calls him by his name, so that now the eyes of everyone are on him, all the many people of the town who scorn him.
“Hurry. Come down” says Jesus. What’s up? Why? What’s going to happen to me? ‘What’s the prophet going to do with this traitor to the covenant?’ the townsfolk wonder. “Come down; for I must stay at your house today”.
Luke says Zacchaeus was happy to welcome Jesus. This is no idle curiosity which Zacchaeus has. He’s not there to photo-bomb the passing celebrity. The words of Jesus seem to touch a deep-set heart-longing within him.
“I must stay at your house”. The will of God is in this. This is a command of Jesus; his word of authority. In miracles of healing and in exorcisms, such a word brings permanent change. In the preceding story in Luke, set just on the outskirts of Jericho, Jesus hears a blind man shouting after him “Have mercy on me”. He responds with: “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you” and the man does receive it.
For that man, freedom is restored; he glorifies God and all the people, when they saw it, they praised God too.
“Hurry and come down for I must stay at your house today”. Jesus speaks with the same note of command; a command which restores Zacchaeus’ freedom. He, like the blind man, has lived cut off from his people but when the blind man saw again, the people rejoiced. Here when Zacchaeus is included again, the people – perhaps the same people – grumble.
So we look to Zacchaeus to show evidence of a change of heart. Perhaps our minds spool back to last Sunday’s Gospel and another tax collector – one in the Temple, who shrank back into the shadows, cast his eyes down, beat his breast and prayed “God be merciful to me, a sinner”. Surely Zacchaeus is the same? So it is with these ears that we hear his announcement: “Half my possessions I will give to the poor and anyone I have defrauded I will pay back four times as much”. It sounds like a classic instance of repentance in action; a complete turn-around in character in response to Jesus’ unearned gift to him of … well, of his presence at lunch, of himself, his time, his regard.
Yet maybe not. The two verbs in Greek, ‘give’ and ‘pay back’, are not future, not something Zacchaeus has just decided to do: they are in the present tense. The y imply these are things he habitually does. Can it be that Zacchaeus, far from repenting in an excess of remorse, is here offering a self-defence? Confounding his neighbours by reminding them he is as law-abiding as they? He may be doing the Romans’ work but he’s read the law and is more than willing to keep it. It is only Jesus who notices that he truly belongs.
Well, perhaps this is not the only way a present tense can be understood. Maybe when Zacchaeus says “I do it”, he is so caught up into the unimagined joy of that moment, so that the good intention to which his heart prompts him in response is already as sure to him as an established practice. He’s speaking in present terms of something he fully intends to do.
We don’t know.
The point is this: it doesn’t matter whether Zacchaeus is making a generous gesture for the first time or declaring an established practice.
It doesn’t matter because the salvation which comes to Zacchaeus is not what he does. It is not the superbly liberal giving of half his possessions. It is not the four-fold restitution he makes to those he has defrauded (and there is no ‘if’ about that in the original Greek – he’s certainly acted in that way). Zacchaeus doesn’t earn his salvation. He doesn’t even confirm it by this great give-away. He doesn’t fix it in place. The salvation is not a practice of the Law, even a fabulously generous interpretation of the Law. Salvation is never a sub-clause of Torah.
The salvation which comes to Zacchaeus’ house is a relationship. It is given by another. It is being recognised as a son of Abraham; one to whom God gives God’s loving promise. It is being sought out and rescued from the wilderness by the good shepherd. It is being missed by the thrifty widow, so that she searches for you in every corner of the house and throws a party when she finds you.
Why did the Son of Man come? To keep us up to the mark? To judge? To condemn? No, Jesus in his brilliant, intuitive, personal recasting of the Law and the Prophets, gives a wholly different answer: the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost. Here is the divine good shepherd whom Ezekiel foresaw living among us as an Israelite villager.
What a collection he finds: an adulterous wife; an heretical leper; an importunate blind beggar; slow-witted fishermen; a man completely out of his wits; a man who can’t move a muscle and is completely dependent on his friends; a woman hiding a debilitating disease; a thief dying on a cross. All of these he seeks out and saves. The kingdom of God stretches a little further and a little further. We may not be any one of these but which of us hasn’t had a moment when we were the one who needed be rescued, our humanity restored, to be included back into the community of hope? It wasn’t our giving in the collection which did this, or the promptness with which we volunteered for a job, or even our good cooking and hospitality. It was God’s hospitable hand held out to us which drew us back in; a hand we sometimes met through another person like you or me.
As All Saints approaches it is good to be reminded who they are who are numbered among the Saints, the firstborn enrolled in heaven: the people everyone else thinks has no business being there. All Saints is a day when we remember who it is who has kindled the flame of love in their hearts.
“For the Son of man came to seek out and to save the lost”.
Sermon 23 October 2016
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
I don’t like this parable. It makes me feel uncomfortable. For a start I know I am the Pharisee. I look around and thank God I am not as other men are. I am very glad God called me unto the Community of the Resurrection because it made me different; not better, maybe but different. This is what I want to be but then if I read one of the tabloid newspapers I very quickly thank God I am not one of those who would actually spend money to read one of those awful accounts of awful people. Why do people want to read that stuff? However, they do. Why do people want to do the things celebrities do? They do! I think it is rather good that I am not as other men are. Of course I must learn to not to despise them, to feel morally superior to them. I do have failings myself of which I am not very proud. I do need to pray for them and try to understand why people want to behave like that, or read about people who behave like that. This is the condition of humankind which has been going on since men and women first came down from the trees. It is called sin. I really don’t want to be part of that.
The trouble is that when I look at the tax collector I find him equally unattractive. All that grovelling, beating of breast, not looking up to heaven, feeling rotten. The parable seems to tell us this is what we should be doing. Well, it’s not English. English people don’t go in for public displays like that. When we English people of my generation feel we should do something about penitence we get hold of the Prayer Book. There’s all that marvellous penitential stuff which Cranmer wrote: “We have erred and strayed from our ways like lost sheep; we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts…There is no health in us but thou O Lord have mercy on us, miserable offenders”. The trouble with Cranmer’s stuff is that it’s so good. It’s really lovely speaking out those beautiful rhythms, that wonderful rhetoric. It’s a bit like watching a Shakespeare tragedy. By the time we get to the end we have wept out our sins and feel quite marvellous. I’m not sure, though, whether it is real sorrow for sin, or sheer joy of the glorious language that is masquerading as repentance.
What Jesus is saying is that I must want to be like the tax collector and I can’t want to be like the tax collector without a huge amount of grace, a good kick from God and a new insight into his condition. Being penitent has to look attractive before I can want to be it. Can we make it look good? I believe we can.
I hate going to the dentist. I have always been frightened of dentists. I sit down in the chair with a sense of doom as if it were an electric chair. I am terrified he will find something wrong but if I actually have toothache then I rush to the dentist. I beg for an emergency appointment. I leap into the chair with a feeling of gratitude to this marvellous man who is going to take away the pain. When he does, I am thrilled. Do you see the point? If we don’t really think about our sin and realise how bad it is, how destructive it is, then we won’t see the point of the tax collector’s grovelling. If we do understand about sin and how bad it is for us, we will do anything to get rid of it and get back to God.
Nervous breakdowns, or burn-outs, are really horrible things. They usually come at the end of a time of great stress, overwork or too much play. Life has gone mad and there is no keeping hold of it. In the end the body revolts and collapses. Yet most people who have experienced this will say afterwards it was the best thing that ever happened to them. That was when they had to stop and consider life, work out their priorities, make a new life. That was probably the time when life began to make sense and real joy entered their lives.
Anyone who has done the Ignatian Exercises will remember the First Week experience, the week on sin. Day after day you immerse yourself in the sin of the world, the sin of people around you and of course, your own sin. It sounds grim and in many ways it is grim. You face up to just how sinful you are, and how awful is this sin in the face of a loving God. You see the consequences of sin, the way it pervades society. You see how your own sin rejects the goodness that God is trying to share with us. Can anything be worse than that? Yet as the experience goes on you find it rather wonderful, to see the truth of life, the truth of why things go wrong, the truth that this is what we choose and if we choose it we can also not choose it. There is another way of living life and we can choose that. Really understanding the causes of sin and the nature of sin makes us deeply penitent and makes us long to escape from it. We realise that we don’t have to stay there. Just a little way ahead is freedom and joy. It is wonderful if we can, like the tax collector, say “Lord, have mercy” but we don’t have to stay there, saying no more than “Lord, have mercy”. God is waiting to take us on another journey of love, of life, of light. We may never entirely escape from sin in this world but that new life is still there waiting for us when we turn around and accept it. That makes the tax collector’s role attractive, to realise that just beyond that ‘Lord, have mercy’ there is freedom and joy.
To say ‘Lord have mercy on me a sinner’ from the heart is, of course, real humility. This is admitting the truth of our life. The truth is that we are not the fantastic people we sometimes think we are, the amazing people we would like to be. We are all really quite ordinary. As long as we try to be what we are not we will be unhappy. Humility means accepting who we are and finding it is OK. Some of you will remember in the first Harry Potter story Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised, a mirror which shows you what you most deeply desire. It is a dangerous mirror because it makes you think you can acquire what you desire, that it really exists. Dumbledore tells Harry, “A completely happy person, looking into this mirror will simply see himself”. That is why properly humble people are happy and secure. They don’t have to live up to a false image or keep an untrue story about themselves going. They can simply be who they are, who God wants them to be.
That is the real source of the joy. There is no such thing actually as an ordinary person. CS Lewis, in one of the Narnia stories, has Prince Caspian complain that he comes from a lineage of thieves and pirates. He would like something more honourable. Aslan tells him, it is enough, for “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve …and that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth”. When we have the humility to face up to who we really are we will discover that the truth is far more exciting, far more wonderful than the most extravagant fantasy. We are created by God, loved by God. God’s own Son died for us because he loved us and he offers us the most glorious life with him.
The real truth of the parable we heard today comes home to us: the Pharisee is wrapped up in himself and his own virtue. He doesn’t really talk to God; or he regards God as a kind of member of the same club, he and God are kind of better class people than the ordinary run of humanity. He will never discover the glorious truth of human nature, since he doesn’t need it. The tax collector will discover it, if he moves on from his breast beating and accepts the gifts that God is longing to give him.
What was my favourite moment during this visit? Probably it was looking at Tatenda’s school report. Tatenda is a bright boy who was in a day school and doing badly. Trouble at home! So we moved him last year to a boarding school where he struggled for the first six months, unused to the standards. Suddenly this year he has got it! He is working hard, doing exceptionally well and feels really good about himself. The same story could be told of Anesu whose work has dramatically improved. In fact all our young people are doing better now than they were 6 months ago. I think this is partly because we have become more sensitive to their needs, providing them with group counselling and other kinds of support. As a reward we took them all to a small posh hotel built and owned once by the Courtaulds where they had Cokes and chips in a lovely environment. They were fascinated!
The country itself is in a dreadful state. There were demonstrations and constant rumblings while I was there. People are simply desperate with the further collapse of the economy. Everything waits on the departure of Mugabe but he is not going, or so he says. The drought has produced misery all over the country. CR managed to find £10,000 in a bank account and is spending it on providing a meal once a day for about 2,000 kids in the badly affected Shurugwi area. That not only averts hunger, but enables the kids to continue with their schooling, instead of dropping out through exhaustion. All that makes it more impressive that the schools are managing to keep going, some with quite a high standard of teaching. Our little trio at St Matthias, Tsonzo have all settled in well and are producing good results as well has being happy. Here are Rejoice, Tinotenda and Munashe. The boys have grown a lot too!
Despite our financial constraints we have taken on another girl with a traumatic background. This is Tinotenda’s sister, Nyasha, now in Sixth Form.
I could produce endless photos of our lovely children. However, our immediate challenge is to establish some of the boys who have left school without good results; they need projects that can support them in life. So Maphosa and Alban are about to start keeping 500 chickens. Gift Chigayigayi had a short placement with a motor mechanic and will start a mechanics course in January. Gift Ushe wants to get into farming projects and we are looking for ways of doing that. This is important for their self support, but also important for the country.
Those of you who are supporting us in Tariro are doing more good than you can imagine. Repairing human lives and bringing hope in a dark world.
Fr Nicolas CR