TEC Bishop offers a Gospel Message

Love and Death

When love is a struggle.

POSTED ON IN MATTHEW 27:11-54

People say that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. And yet, I’ve also found that you truly love yourself only once you love others.

That may sound like a vicious circle, like a dog chasing its tail endlessly. But it’s not. That’s because love comes from a deeper place than either your heart or mine.

I say this as a person who has struggled to love himself for many years and who now, more often than not, loves his life and loves all sorts of people. The turning point for me came not from loving myself first. Instead, my life changed when I realized that I am the beloved. The bedraggled and the shopworn to be sure, and yet still the beloved. And so are you.

Loving yourself and loving others are not discrete steps that must occur in a strict sequence. You love yourself through loving others. Loving others deepens and widens the love you have for yourself.

This is because love—true love—comes from God. God’s love is always God’s completely free initiative, not God’s reaction to something you or I did. God loves us first. And to receive that love—to make it part of who we truly are— involves giving that love away.

Christian Wiman puts it like this: “But for as long as we can live in this sacred space of receiving and releasing, and can learn to speak and be love’s fluency, then the greater love that is God brings a continuous and enlarging air into our existence.” (My Bright Abyss, p. 24)

God’s love creates us every day as the beloved. We do not become the beloved as a reward for our moral rectitude, our theological orthodoxy, or the consistency of our spiritual practices. We become the beloved because God loves us. And God’s love is always a gift, not a prize for our achievements.

Paradoxically, we come increasingly to know that we are deeply, relentlessly loved when we love others. We see that a power to make someone else experience themselves as the beloved flows through us.

That’s all very lovely. But let’s face it. Being able to feel in our gut that we are the beloved can be a fierce struggle. Even a mortal struggle. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God enters that struggle with us. Jesus raises us from the death of condemning ourselves as the unlovable to the eternal life of perpetual, inexhaustible love. Jesus did that for me.

A number of my childhood experiences assaulted my sense that I was inherently lovable. In my book A Resurrection Shaped Life, I shared one that crystallized them all.

When I was nine or ten, I saw my father raging at my mother and pointing a pistol at her face. Stepping between the gun and my mother—the barrel now leveled at me—I spoke to my father with a calm that I still cannot explain.

“Don’t shoot my mother. If you kill her, you will go to prison. You will leave me an orphan.”

With a sneer, he spit out the words, “You’d be better off an orphan!”

What I heard him say—or more precisely the meaning that settled into my bones—is that the world would be better off without me in it. In a way, my father killed me that night.

He didn’t shoot me. But he fatally damaged any sense I had of myself as inherently lovable. From that point on, love was something I would have to earn and could easily lose. And the odds were stacked against me.

On the cross, Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) And in his cry I hear Jesus feeling the misery and the confusion of that soul-shattering moment personally. He entered into my grief and sorrow and death with his whole being.

Jesus knows what it is like to be so undone that “My God!” is all that you can say. No, that’s not accurate. He knows what it was like for me to be undone. For you to be undone. For each creature in this universe to be broken and wounded and buried by the sense that love is nowhere to be found.

And that is what God’s love in Christ looks like. To join each of us—at the cost of unimaginable pain and suffering—in our very bleakest hour.

Christian Wiman writes, “I hear someone say on TV that one need only think of the million innocent children killed in the Holocaust to annihilate any notion of a benevolent God. True enough, I think, but that’s a straw god, and not there real one who felt every one of those deaths as his own.” (My Bright Abyss, p. 20)

Even your strongest love for yourself ends when you die. But God’s love goes even down to the grave with you. And there is no tomb that can hold the beloved forever. Remember, resurrection is coming.

Click here to get a copy

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Bishop Jake Owensby, of the U.S. Episcopal Church, continues to inspire many people around the world with his sanctified common-sensical article on his website: ‘Jake’s Blog’. 

His thesis here is partly about learning to love one’s-self as God has loved us – to the extent of the amazing message of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter; that, this year, may be celebrated a little more quietly – though no less exultantly and enthusiastically – because of the COVID 19 lockdown of our churches.

When Bishop Jake speaks of his own early sense of worthlessness, he taps into what many of us may, ourselves have felt during the years of our childhood, youth and adolescence. Being myself intrinsically ‘gay’, I laboured under the misapprehension that I was in some deep-down way, inferior to other people.
For me, it was only later, when God allowed me to sample the love and support of an Anglican Franciscan Community that I knew I was part of a Family that, despite its varied membership, was open to be a vehicle of Love of God for one another and for the world.

Love and Prayers for ALL this Holy Week and Easter,

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand   

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Diocese of London offers Eucharistic Advice in the Lockdown of Churches

The Eucharist in a time of Physical Distancing

A paper from the London College of Bishops:

Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have gathered together to bless, break and share bread and to bless and share a cup of wine in obedience to the Lord’s command, given on the night before He died, to ‘do this in remembrance of me.’ The Church of England which emerged from the upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, has maintained in its ‘historic formularies’ the centrality of the Eucharist in its account of Christian living. Along with Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, is a ‘Sacrament ordained of Christ’ (Article 25) and ‘a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death.’ (Article 28).

The Canons of the Church of England teach the importance and centrality of the Eucharist. Canon B14 requires the celebration of the Holy Communion in at least one church in every benefice on all Sundays and principal Feast days, as well as on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. Canon B15 teaches that it is the duty of all who have been confirmed to receive the Holy Communion regularly, and especially at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

What, however, of the present circumstances in which, however desirous they might be of attending Holy Communion, the faithful are prevented by the strictures of lawful authorities both secular and ecclesiastical from doing so?

Rubrics at the end of the BCP Communion office plainly declare that ‘there shall be no celebration of the Lord’s Supper except there be a convenient number to communicate,’ a number which is further defined in a parish of twenty persons or less to be ‘three at the least.’

This reflects a ‘rule,’ which is both desirable and to be enjoined in all normal circumstances, that there should be communicants other than the minister at every celebration of Holy Communion. In teaching and holding this position, the Church of England does so in common with Christian tradition reaching back to apostolic times. The Eucharist is intended, normatively, to be a corporate, not a private act, because it is given to offer the people spiritual nourishment (to “feed on the banquet of that most heavenly food”)[1], to build up the body of Christ in love and fellowship (Christ ordained the sacrament to move and stir all men to friendship, love and concord”)[2] and to “strengthen and confirm our faith in him.”[3]

In Anglican understanding, sacraments are signs that both point to and embody the things they refer to. They are both “sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace” (Article 25). They both direct our attention to the ascended body of Christ, yet they also make the ‘benefits of his passion’ available to us here and now. There are therefore two aspects of sacraments as signs – they both point to and embody the reality to which they refer – the benefits and presence of Christ given to us and received by faith.

In our current circumstances, to the extent that they embody and offer the spiritual food of the body and blood of Christ, not being able to partake of the sacrament physically is an occasion for sadness and lament, as we are denied the opportunity of this particular aspect of this ‘holy communion’. At the same time, to the extent that they signify the promises of God and the gift of Christ, they can still benefit those who observe but cannot partake.

There is a benefit to be had for those who are ‘present’ at a celebration of Holy Communion, yet unable physically to partake of the elements. Because the sacrament is “given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner” (Article 28), even if a person cannot physically receive, their faith and love can still be strengthened by seeing, even if not tasting or feeling the gifts of bread and wine that signify the body and blood of Christ. As an example, the rubrics at the end of the order for the Visitation of the Sick in the 1662 Prayer Book envisage a situation in which someone might be in such grave or advanced sickness that they are unable to receive the Sacrament at a bed-side celebration of the Holy Communion. In such circumstances (and for a number of other causes), the sick person may, by associating him or herself with the benefits of the Sacrament which is not being physically received, nevertheless receive the gifts and graces which it brings.

Consistent with this position, we offer several options for parishes as long as the current physical distancing restrictions apply:

  1. Some parish churches may wish temporarily to suspend the celebration of Holy Communion until they are able to meet together in person again. We are already having to cease the practice of public Baptism for the duration due to the restrictions placed upon us, and so a church may choose to do the same with the other dominical sacrament. As one incumbent put it recently: “We will take this opportunity to fast from the Sacrament while we feast on the Word.”
  1. To ensure congregational involvement, where a parish church wishes to continue to celebrate the eucharist within the current advice issued by the London College of Bishops, and only the priest can be present, it should, whenever possible, be livestreamed, so that others can at least (as Cranmer put it) “see with our eyes” even if they cannot “smell with our noses, touch with our hands and taste with our mouths.” This enables the kind of spiritual reception that is at the heart of the sacrament, even if physical partaking is not possible.
  1. If that is not feasible, at the very least, it should be clearly advertised in the parish and among the congregation when the Holy Communion is to be celebrated in the home of the priest, with or without the presence of another member of that household. Such public advertising is insisted on in the ‘Exhortations’ in the BCP that are inserted between the Prayer for the Church Militant and the Confession. This way, others can be invited to pray and perhaps read the Scriptures at that time, so that the service takes place within some kind of extended communal act of worship in that parish, even if dispersed, and does not become merely a private act of devotion. Some prayers that would enable people to take part in such a celebration might be prepared.

In granting permission, exceptionally, for the clergy to celebrate Holy Communion in this way, our prayer must be that this time will be short. We pray too that God will give us a hunger and a thirst for that time when once again we can gather together to lift up our hearts in praise and adoration, to be nourished by the bodily reception of this sacrament which the Lord instituted on the night before he died and which he commanded us to continue ‘until he comes again’, to do again, indeed, all that is ‘meet, right and our bounden duty’ so to do.

The London College of Bishops

[1] Exhortations in the BCP service of Holy Communion

[2] Thomas Cranmer’s Treatise on the Lord’ Supper (1550)

[3] Article 25.

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In this time of deprivation of Sacramental Participation by congregations in the current lockdown of Christian Churches, it would appear that desperate means may become necessary to maintain the “Unity of The Spirit” afforded to members of the Body of Christ currently isolated in their own homes.

Some parish clergy are offering services of prayers; bible-readings; and intercession –  ‘on-line’  (via the Internet, accessible through I-phones and computers) in which their parishioners – and any others ‘on-line’ – can avail themselves of ‘virtual’ participation in the worship being offered by and together with the Officiant and those who are tuned in to the podcast.

While not able to physically partake of the Elements of the Mass (Bread and Wine of the Eucharist offered by a priest); this on-line participation by onlookers enables an act of what has been referred to in theology as “Spiritual Communion” – an event in which the participant can mindfully and spiritually receive the Blessing of Christ.

A particular argument going on at the present time – among the theologically-gifted – is whether, or not, a priest may celebrate the Mass on their own – with no other physical participant than him/herself. Normally, in our Anglican Tradition, this would not be possible (as has been enunciated by my own Bishop Peter Carrell (Diocese of Christchurch).

However, bearing in mind that the local Bishop (the ‘Ordinary’ Authority in a Diocese) has the power to – in a situation of pastoral emergency – bend the Rules; the Bishops of the Anglican Diocese of London have opened up the way (for their own clergy in that diocese) for a parish priest to preside at a service of Holy Communion alone (but only when no other person is able to be physically present!)

The argument for such a relaxation of ‘The Rules’ for Anglican clergy is that – even in a situation where there is no physical community around the priest presiding at the Mass – there is a possibility for on-line viewers to make an act of what has been known, historically in the Church, as ‘Spiritual Communion’.

Though many of us might be theologically uneasy about such a provision, there may well be a case for a relaxation of the rules – especially if the current embargo of church-based acts of worship for congregational participation lasts much longer. Indeed, for a priest living alone in their parish, this could well become a need, if parish cohesion is threatened in the future.

GOOD NEWS!

However, despite the new situation of a lockout from our churches, there is at least one parish within our own ACANZP (New Zealand) Church that anticipated this situation. The Vicar of All Saints Anglican Church, in the University City of Dunedin, Fr. Michael Wallace – just before the embargo on public worship was announced, in a remarkable moment of pure inspiration – decided to gather together key members of his sanctuary team (together with a choral group) to record videos of vital parts of the Holy Week Liturgies in the parish church.

Thus they have (being edited at this very moment) the basic ceremonies of Palm Sunday; Holy Thursday; Good Friday; and Easter Vigil; recorded videos that will be ready for viewing on the www at the parish FB and U.Tube sites. This has the explicit permission of the Bishop of Dunedin (*) and will become available for access at the appropriate times. (Those of us who are Anglo-Catholics who feel bereft at the loss of  ‘smells and bells’ type of worship, will thus be able to join with our confreres in Dunedin in the Solemnities of Palm Sunday and Holy Week). TBTG!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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St. Julian of Norwich – Relevant Today

Dr Janina Ramirez
Dr Janina Ramirez has written the book Julian of Norwich: A Very Brief History

A 14th Century mystic who spent a lifetime of prayer in isolation has never been “more relevant”, according to a historian and TV presenter.

Dr Janina Ramirez said since self-isolating because of coronavirus symptoms, she had come to have a new understanding of Mother Julian of Norwich.

Mother Julian wrote the first surviving book by a woman in English.

Dr Ramirez said Julian managed to find “calm” in a chaotic world.

Julian of NorwichImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Mother Julian was an anchorite or hermit who had been sealed into a room

Julian, who lived from 1342 to 1416, was an anchorite or hermit, which meant she lived in religious seclusion, in her case in a small cell linked to St Julian’s church in Norwich.

Following a series of visions of Christ, she wrote the book Revelations of Divine Love, which led her to be called “the greatest English theologian”.

Dr Ramirez, author of Julian of Norwich: A Very Brief History, said: “Julian was living in the wake of the Black Death, and around her repeated plagues were re-decimating an already depleted population.

“I think she was self-isolating. The other anchorites would have understood that by removing themselves from life this would not only give them a chance of preserving their own life but also of finding calm and quiet and focus in a chaotic world.

“I have never felt she was more relevant.”

Julian’s “kindness” and positive vision shone through her writings, said Dr Ramirez.

Mural of Lady Julian in Norwich painted by Antony Allen in January 2020Image copyright – EVELYN SIMAK
A mural of Julian in Norwich was painted by Antony Allen in January

Dr Ramirez has had symptoms suggesting she has coronavirus, including a fever, and has been self-isolating but like many patients in the UK has not been tested. She said she wanted to let people know about her illness to “share my experience, the mood swings, and the emotions”.

“It is a journey many of us will take, and I want to show positivity comes out the other side,” she said.

Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham Usher, said when the coronavirus restrictions began, he found himself “going back to the writings of Mother Julian of Norwich”.

“In the midst of all of that, she was self-isolating in her cell with the noise of the street going on round about her,” the bishop said.

“She was able to discern God saying: ‘All shall be well, all shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.’ In another writing, she said: ‘You will not be overcome.’

“I think we need to hang on to the hope we find in Jesus Christ and hold on to the love and sense of service – building a society together and building kindness,” he added.

St Julian's churchImage copyrightST JULIAN’S CHURCH
St Julian’s church is now a centre of pilgrimage after being rebuilt following bombing during World War Two

Cambridge University academic Prof Barry Windeatt, who edited the Oxford edition of Julian’s book Revelations of Divine Love, said her life as an anchorite, which would have seen her sealed up in a room in the church for a lifetime of prayer, was “rather drastic” compared with the self-isolation people have been undergoing because of coronavirus.

He said it would give people the space to think.

“People are not used to stopping still in modern life… anchorites were expected to be more contemplative,” he said.

Statue of Lady Julian of Norwich at the west entrance to Norwich CathedralImage copyright – EVELYN SIMAK/GEOGRAPH
A statue of Julian of Norwich stands at the west entrance to Norwich Cathedral
The Bishop of Norwich The Right Reverend Graham UsherImage copyright – TIM ROGERS
The Bishop of Norwich the Right Reverend Graham Usher is also convinced of Julian’s relevance to the world today

Father Richard Stanton, the parish priest of St John the Baptist Timberhill with St Julian’s church, said: “The restrictions that are being put on us all at the moment remind us of the importance of stability and hope and place that were part of the tradition of monastic life.”

“In one sense Julian would have been alone but she had a purpose and the memorial in the church quotes her as saying to God: ‘Thou art enough to me’.”

Memorial to Julian in St Julian's churchImage copyright – EVELYN SIMAK/GEOGRAPH
A memorial to Julian in St Julian’s church is sited near where her cell would have been

St Julian’s Church, which was rebuilt after being completely destroyed when it was bombed during World War Two, and Mother Julian’s cell remain open all day for prayer.

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This timely article from the BBC in England reminds us of the absolute relevance of the 14th century English Mystic, Mother Julian of Norwich, to the desperate situation facing our world of today in this 21st century of the Christian era.

Julian was an Anchorite – a person set apart from her local Community of nuns, whose consecrated life was devoted to prayer and intercession for the world in which she lived. Her monastic isolation in her small cell may be compared to the comparative isolation that most of us are suffering today, as a response to the dangers of infection from COVID 19. Mother Julian lived in the wake of the Black Death, which was only one of the disastrous plagues that were rife in Europe in the Middle Ages. She, therefore, was quite aware of the real benefits, as well as the disadvantages of her isolation.

The author of this most recent book about the Life of St.Julian,  Dr. Janina Ramirez, (here being reviewed in the BBC article) is currently thought to be suffering from COVID 19, and, therefore, well qualified to make the comparison between the life of Saint Julian and her own life of isolation in the current circumstance of Coronavirus today.

What many of us in the Church are beginning to now realize, is that God used the isolation of Mother Julian from her Community of Nuns to enable her to communicate in writing of her own situation; wherein she found comfort in her Faith to help herself – and the others with whom she was able to communicate from her cell – so that they would grow to understand the degree of comfort that she, herself, experienced during her own trials and difficulties in isolation.

Mother Julian’s encounters of God in her visions – of which she wrote quite extensively – assured her of the comforting presence of Christ within the circumstances of her solitary confinement.

This, surely, is something we could learn for ourselves, as we too are subject to the confinement of our homes (albeit with more facilities for care that she was able to experience). Thank God for Mother Julian of Norwich.

Mother Julian, in her writing, said this: “ALL SHALL BE WELL. ALL SHALL BE WELL.

ALL MANNER OF THINGS SHALL BE WELL” (Thanks be to God!)

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

(Having once spent time in Norwich to attend the priestly ordination of a dear friend, whose parish included the Shrine of Julian of Norwich, I was able to experience the atmosphere of this holy place on a few precious occasions. The feeling of her sanctity was palpable).

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Christians not immune to Coronavirus!

One dead, dozens sick after Illinois church revival service, many confirmed with coronavirus

Life Church of Glenview
A worship service takes place at the The Life Church of Glenview in IllinoisThe Life Church of Glenview/Facebook

At least one person has died, and 43 people have fallen ill at an Illinois Pentecostal church, with at least 10 testing positive for coronavirus so far.

The more than three-dozen church congregants fell ill following a revival service held nearly two weeks ago, and many of them are now receiving treatment for severe symptoms in the hospital, or at home in self-quarantine.

Senior Pastor Anthony LoCascio’s wife, Layna, wrote on social media this week that at least 43 of the 80 church members who attended the 15 March revival service had fallen ill. The couple, who lead The Life Church in Glenview also confirmed that everyone in the group who had been tested for the coronavirus to date had been confirmed as having contracted the virus.

Layna LoCascio said on Facebook: “We have 43 infected (at minimum) from our church or connected to our church from our last service on March 15th.”

She added, “They all haven’t tested but whoever gets a test done ends up being positive, and we all have the same symptoms.”

“It’s just not easy. It’s especially not easy when you’re a leader and a pastor of a precious church and we all got infected together,” she wrote.

The church has said that the revival gathering had taken place just days before the state governor had issued a stay at home order. Prior to the service, state officials had only restricted larger public events of 1,000 or more, and for private gatherings to be less than 250.

The pastor’s wife mentioned one seriously ill congregant who has cancer: “One of the main pillars in our church, who has cancer, is in the hospital with pneumonia and a blood infection and pancreatic cancer and Covid19. He is not doing good.”

She added, “He’s in ICU and on a ventilator. My husband is tore up about it! SO torn up! He’s been so sick as well.”

Sadly since Layna LoCascio’s post, the Cook County medical examiner’s office confirmed that one of the 10 congregants who tested positive for coronavirus passed away on Friday.

William Rosado, 64, who suffered from pancreatic cancer died and his cause of death has been recorded as pneumonia due to coronavirus.

Church leaders had been weighing up whether to cancel the service or not in the days ahead of the gathering. However, the local area did not have many confirmed cases of coronavirus at that time, and they had put a lot of planning into the event, including a guest speaker from out of town, evangelist Eli Hernandez. They decided to push on with the service with a simple warning to congregants not to attend if they felt sick or had any symptoms.

Pastor LoCascio said, “We didn’t know [this would happen]. No one knew.”

Layna LoCascio said, “If it was just our family, it would be so much easier to deal with but when it’s effected so so many in our church, it’s just so hard.

“Little did we all know (leaders from our church and my husband and I and Bro Hernández & his family), little did we know that we were probably infected with Covid19.”

The service was to be the final gathering before a lockdown went into effect. Reflecting on how they had approached the service, Layna said, “We had invited so many guests & members. We all knew it was the last service before the lockdown. So many beautiful things happened! People filled with the Holy Spirit and we even had miracles. He even preached about faith! (Bro Hernandez.)”

She added, “But now…now he is at the hospital with pneumonia and under sedation, not doing good. What can I say? Do I give up my faith? Do I look straight into the eyes of what appears to be the most dreaded situation that could ever come of this?”

The pastor’s wife continued, “My very own sweet precious mother (and probably father too) ended up getting infected and now Momma is home with a bad cough and in bed. I could sit and FRET and WORRY (and believe me, I’ve done my fair share of that), and I could just let my spirit within me DIE, ORRRR I could just make the choice to say, ‘I KNOW MY GOD!!!!’ And my God says ‘I will be WITH YOU’!!!

Concluding she said, “My God is MORE than enough to supply all of my needs, all of OUR needs! Even if He is as SILENT as can be right now, I KNOW I’ve heard His voice before and I KNOW I will hear His voice AFTER!!! He told US!!! HE TOLD US WERE GOING TO THE OTHER SIDE!!!! I don’t care how hard the storm seems in this “sea of Galilee.” He has PROMISED my church dynamic end-time revival! He has PROMISED us that we would be a healing place! I will not BOW! I will NOT BOW to FEAR!”

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Sadly, there are still certain Christian Leaders out there who believe that active Christians are immune to the current COVID 19 epidemic. In view of the scientific evidence available (and also from this local demonstration reported here), we are now aware that no-one – except perhaps those who have already suffered and recovered from COVID 19 – has personal immunity from this particular strain, which is wreaking havoc in many countries of the world.
      Responsible Christian Leaders are recognizing this important fact, and have advised their clergy and people to AVOID gathering together for community worship – precisely because of the harm that can come to people in close contact with one another. Also, the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist may not be shared in common – even though a priest may still Celebrate the Holy Communion in private, which may then be ‘offered’ on behalf of their parishioners, who may witness the ceremony online, participating in a ‘Spiritual Communion’, vicariously.
      Spiritual naivety is no defence against the need for Common Sense – especially in a matter so dangerously deceptive as advising congregations still to gather in their local church buildings for worship. As is demonstrated in this story today, this pastor has naively endangered his congregation – to the point where some have contracted the virus. Most civic authorities – except perhaps in the USA, where President Trump has advised to the contrary – are cognisant of the need for everyone to stay in their own safety ‘bubble’ – mostly family members – where a degree of segregation can be safely maintained. This is to avoid the probability of community infection if these rules are wilfully ignored.
      Christians now have the facility of Internet Worship, where individuals can access their own congregational solidarity, whose priest/pastor can provide a podcast of the worship carried out on their behalf in secure surroundings. One such provision, for those of us who are Anglicans, is here:

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For Roman Catholics, here is another valuable resource:

      https://www.wordonfire.org/

Prayers and Blessings to ALL

      Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Worship online – Dunedin, New Zealand

Congregations still connected

The Very Rev Dr Tony Curtis, dean of St Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin, reflects on new ways of...
Dunedin churches are using phones and some sophisticated social media initiatives to give help and share religious reflections in the fight against coronavirus, after services were suspended. The new dean of Dunedin’s St Paul’s Cathedral, the Very Rev Dr Tony Curtis, said the church was using social media, including Facebook and YouTube, to include people in worship. The ‘‘really good resources’’ on the cathedral’s website were also keeping people in touch, and spiritual reflections and services were being broadcast on social media.

 

In another ‘‘very exciting’’ development, a Christchurch firm had enabled a virtual walk through the cathedral to be provided for people who could not be physically present.

More information was available at stpauls.net.nz/explore, he said.

The Rev Michael Wallace, of All Saints Church, said 40 people had attended a service at the Dunedin North church last Sunday morning, but a further 1700 views of the event had since been made via social media.

Services would continue to be offered via social media, and although some people were taking the lockdown in their stride, some others were thinking ‘‘Oh, gosh, this is going to be hard work’’, he said.

The Rev Ed Masters, of First Church, said the congregation was keeping in touch, partly through social media, and he had already completed two podcasts, as part of wider links within the congregation, including phone calls to keep in touch.

In one of his podcasts, he said ‘‘into our locked-down world comes a prayer’’.

The Rev Ed Masters, of First Church of Otago, at his desk where he prepares podcast messages to...

The Rev Ed Masters, of First Church of Otago, at his desk where he prepares podcast messages to send to parishioners. PHOTO: SUPPLIED.

Mr Masters, who made the recordings at a makeshift desk, said ‘‘we are embarking on an unprecedented experience together’’.

‘‘Although our building is closed, our life as God’s people continues as we look out for each other, pray for one another and the world, and read the scriptures together.’’

Although members of the congregation were scattered around the city, it was fortunate that ‘‘we have so many different tools at our fingertips to keep us connected to one another including social media’’.

Fr Gerard Aynsley, of St Patrick’s Basilica, South Dunedin, said that although the basilica would be closed tomorrow, a morning service would be livestreamed on social media and people, including musicians, would contribute via links from 12 places in the city.

‘‘It’s nice to see everyone slow down,’’ Fr Aynsley said, and added that the church’s support networks were ‘‘working pretty well’’.

Big challenges were being faced in difficult times, but parishioners were generally connecting well, and were ‘‘contacting people and helping out’’.

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The OTAGO DAILY TIMES offered this overview of Dunedin Churches that have set out to connect with parishioners this weekend.

We, in Christchurch, have our own online liturgies, too, which have been mentioned in the local media. However I, myself, was able – quite by chance while trying to log into my own parish podcast at St, Michael and All Angels, in an attempt to access the 10am Mass – to log in to a pre-recorded Mass for today (Passion Sunday, 29 March 2020) celebrated by Fr. Michael Wallace at All Saints Anglican Church, Dunedin. Considering the very few people involved, this was a very joyful service with encouragement from the preacher.

These podcast worship sessions are going to become a more important means of sharing worship with fellow Christians in the coming days and weeks of this COVID 19 lockdown

The theological concept of ‘Spiritual Communion‘ – where people are ministered to in a virtual situation, with personal access to the Sacred Elements of Holy Communion being no longer publicly available – will have to suffice for most of us. However, we can all look forward to the day when – post Coronavirus – we can all return to our Church buildings to gather in fellowship and physical Sacramental participation, in expectation of the signs from God of our Resurrection from the state of emergency that currently affects us.

Until that day, we can all pray for a speedy deliverance; being kind to each other and looking forward to a time of refreshment and renewal in our life with one another in God.

Prayers, and Blessings to ALL +

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

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Devil’s Advocates in the U.S.?

Best of Right Wing Watch – 3/27/20

Here are the top five posts from People For the American Way’s RightWingWatch.org of the past week. Click on the images or headlines for the articles.

Trump Asks Pastors to Pray for Reelection, Calls Nov. 3 ‘One of the Biggest Dates in the History of Religion’

More…

Rick Wiles Says God Is Spreading the Coronavirus in Synagogues as Punishment for Opposing Jesus

Ron Paul Suggested Coronavirus Was a ‘Big Hoax.’ Then His Son Caught It

Roy Moore Says Closing Churches Is ‘Tyranny,’ Tells Pastors They Have Duty to Assemble

Marco Rubio Says Coronavirus Stimulus Legislation Will Provide Government Grants to Churches

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Pope Francis and his ‘Urbi et Orbi’

COVID-19 is not God’s judgment, but a call to live differently, pope says

This article appears in the Coronavirus feature series. View the full series.

Pope Francis leads a prayer service in an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on March 27, 2020. At the conclusion of the service, the pope held the Eucharist as he gave an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world). The service was live-streamed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane)

 

VATICAN CITY — The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is not God’s judgment on humanity, but God’s call on people to judge what is most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on, Pope Francis said.

Addressing God, the pope said that “it is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”

Pope Francis offered his meditation on the meaning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for humanity March 27 before raising a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and giving an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

Popes usually give their blessing “urbi et orbi” only immediately after their election and on Christmas and Easter.

Pope Francis opened the service — in a rain-drenched, empty St. Peter’s Square — praying that the “almighty and merciful God” would see how people are suffering and give them comfort. He asked to care for the sick and dying, for medical workers exhausted by caring for the sick and for political leaders who bear the burden of making decisions to protect their people.

The service included the reading of the Gospel of Mark’s account of Jesus calming the stormy sea.

“Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives,” the pope said. “Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.”

Like the disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, he said, “we will experience that, with him on board, there will be no shipwreck, because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things.”

The Gospel passage began, “When evening had come,” and the pope said that with the pandemic and its sickness and death, and with the lockdowns and closures of schools and workplaces, it has felt like “for weeks now it has been evening.”

“Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void that stops everything as it passes by,” the pope said. “We feel it in the air, we notice it in people’s gestures; their glances give them away.

“We find ourselves afraid and lost,” he said. “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.”

However, the pandemic storm has made most people realize that “we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented,” the pope said. And it has shown how each person has a contribution to make, at least in comforting each other.

“On this boat are all of us,” he said.

The pandemic, the pope said, has exposed “our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities.”

In the midst of the storm, Francis said, God is calling people to faith, which is not just believing God exists, but turning to him and trusting him.

 

Pope Francis holds the monstrance as he gives his extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 27, 2020. The blessing was livestreamed because of the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Yara Nardi)

As Lent and the pandemic go on, he said, God continues to call people to “convert” and “return to me with all your heart.”

It is a time to decide to live differently, live better, love more and care for others, he said, and every community is filled with people who can be role models — individuals, “who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives.”

Francis said the Holy Spirit can use the pandemic to “redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people — often forgotten people — who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines,” but are serving others and making life possible during the pandemic.

The pope listed “doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves.”

“How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility,” he said. And “how many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer.”

“How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all,” he said. “Prayer and quiet service: These are our victorious weapons.”

In the boat, when the disciples plead with Jesus to do something, Jesus responds, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

“Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us,” the pope said. “In this world that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything.

“Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things and be lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet,” Pope Francis said.

“We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick,” he said. “Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: ‘Wake up, Lord!'”

The Lord is calling on people to “put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be foundering,” the pope said.

“The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith,” he said. “We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.”

Pope Francis told people watching around the world that he would “entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, health of the people, and star of the stormy sea.”

“May God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace,” he said. “Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak, and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.”

Introducing the formal blessing, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, announced that it would include a plenary indulgence “in the form established by the church” to everyone watching on television or internet or listening by radio.

An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. Catholics following the pope’s blessing could receive the indulgence if they had “a spirit detached from sin,” promised to go to confession and receive the Eucharist as soon as possible and said a prayer for the pope’s intentions.

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Although not, myself, a “Roman’ Catholic, I do accept that Pope Francis is the Bishop of Rome – a successor of Saint Peter – and, therefore, a figure of some authority in the Universal Christian Church.

That being so, I have no problem accepting this universal Blessing from Pope Francis, whose intention is to communicate the love and mercy of God as expressed in the life and death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ. One aspect of the Pope’s message is important for all of us – Christian or not. And this is the essence of that message:

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is not God’s judgment on humanity, but God’s call on people to judge what is most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on, Pope Francis said.”

At a time when certain Fundamentalist ‘Christians’ are citing homosexuality and same-sex marriage as the primary reason for the emergence of the COVID 19 epidemic around the world – including ‘spiritual advisors to President Trump in the U.S.A. –  this reminder by Pope Francis of a far more deeply spiritual malaise than human sexual activity, which stems from our misuse of the earth’s resources –  speaks of a matter which needs to be urgently addressed by all of its inhabitants.

Also, the Pope’s issuing of special conditions for the spiritual consolation of Catholics around the world in this time of trial is a wonderful model for other spiritual leaders to exercise. Pope Francis offers the Love and Mercy of God as a resource available to all who accept their need of it at this present time. Thanks be to God for this Message!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

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