A fully lit Advent wreath. (RNS/Creative Commons/Steve Grant)
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St. Ignatius of Loyola in his “Spiritual Exercises” asks his readers — traditionally those on retreat — to imagine themselves on their deathbeds. He hopes this meditation will help the retreatants to look at their lives and see what is really important and what is not, to see what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.
The emotions we experience while thinking about our death tell us a lot about who we are and how much we trust God. Do we face death with hope or fear, are we going to a friend or to a judge?
In truth, this is not just an imaginary exercise, because we are all on our deathbeds. Life is a terminal disease; we are all going to die, we just don’t know when.
The church uses Advent, which started Sunday (Dec. 1), much the same way that St. Ignatius uses the meditation on death. The scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent speak to us of the second coming of Christ (not the coming of baby Jesus at Christmas). This is not an imaginary exercise, either, because Jesus is coming, we just don’t know when.
How do we feel about his coming?
Suppose Jesus visited you right now? How would you react?
My first reaction would be, “Hey Jesus, I am on deadline, can you come back later?”
Next, I would become very nervous at the thought of Jesus looking over my shoulder while I am writing.
What are the things you are doing that would make you nervous or embarrassed if Jesus were here? What are the things that would make you want to postpone the coming of Christ? How would your life change if you knew Jesus was coming at the end of this Advent?
The Gospel of Matthew tells us to be watchful, stay awake, the Son of Man is coming. To some extent Matthew is trying to scare us into doing good and avoiding sin. Sometimes we need to be scared to avoid doing something stupid or bad.
But the second coming of Christ should not just inspire fear. After all, this is Jesus coming, not the Punisher of Marvel Comics. We do not greet a friend with fear, but with a smile. Jesus comes as a friend.
In Sunday’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah sings with joy about the coming of God who will instruct us in his ways and impose terms of peace and justice on the nations. There will be no more war or want, swords will be beaten into plowshares. The coming of Christ will be a time of rejoicing, a time of peace and justice, especially for the suffering and the oppressed. This is why we pray for the coming of the Father’s kingdom in the Lord’s Prayer.
Advent wreaths have many different designs and styles, including exposed candles. (RNS/Creative Commons/Brent C.)
The coming of Jesus is viewed differently by prophets depending on whether they are optimists or pessimists. The prophets are like science fiction writers. Some sci-fi writers see the future as an apocalyptic wasteland. They think that aliens are coming to enslave us or eat us.
Other writers see the future in optimistic terms; the world is going to get better and better. They believe ET will be our friend.
Likewise, pessimistic prophets believe that humanity will mess things up so badly through war, injustice, pollution and greed that we will destroy ourselves. Jesus will have to come to save us. Only the elect will have remained faithful. The Book of Revelation takes this view.
On the other hand, the optimistic prophets believe that humanity, with the help of the Spirit, can make the world a better place, a place of justice and peace. We can build the city of God; through our actions we can build the kingdom of God. We prepare for the coming of Christ.
Pope Benedict spoke of the risen Christ as the next step in human evolution. As we become more loving, more Christ-like, we bring Christ into our world.
Which is true, the optimistic view or the pessimistic view? Both are legitimate interpretations of Scripture.
There is a lot of evidence to support the pessimistic view: nuclear weapons, pollution, drugs, poverty and ethnic, racial and religious hatreds. Even the church is in bad shape. Reading the newspaper or watching the news can easily convince us that we are headed to disaster. Today, it is global warming that is most scary. We are close to damaging our planet in a way that will take centuries to heal. Time is running out. The end truly is here unless we change our ways.
But there are also signs of hope supporting the optimistic view. Nuclear weapons are still here, but we have gone more than 70 years without using them again. Pollution is rampant, but more and more people, especially young people, are becoming environmentally conscious.
Racism and homophobia are still prevalent, but many are standing against it. The refugees, the homeless and the hungry are too prevalent, but countless people are giving their time and making sacrifices to help those in need. Our church is more sinful than holy, but we have a pope who calls us to have compassion on Mother Earth and all her children.
Will Christ come to save us because we have made a mess of it, or will we work together as the body of Christ to make the world a more welcoming place for Christ’s coming? The choice is ours. This is what it means to be free. We can choose how history will end: with a bang, with a whimper or with the coming of Christ.
As we continue through Advent, the Scriptures ask us to be watchful and wait for Christ’s coming, but we are also asked to “prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight his paths.”
Let us take the next step in human evolution and put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us reverse global warming. In the words of Isaiah, put on the armor of light. Beat your swords into plowshares. Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain; let us walk in the light of the Lord. Through love let us transform the world. The Son of Man is coming at the time you least expect.
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a columnist for Religion News Service and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.]
Hat Tip to my friend, Bert, for this ADVENT reflection from N.C.R.
The Jesuits certainly have much to give to us who follow the Way of Christ through the Seasons of the Church Calendar. Advent, particularly, reminds us of the need to take stock of where we are now,. and to reflect on where our journey is taking us.
In the USA, for instance, there is the problem of trying to reconcile the message of the Gospel with the intransigence of a President intent on negatively influencing his country’s attitude towards Climate Change; and closing its borders to the immigrants who have, until now, provided much of the infrastructure of its daily life, servicing its industries and much of the local economy.
In the U.K., there is the problem of what to do about Brexit. Will it close Britain off from its traditional European and other trade partners in a quest to ‘Go it alone?‘
We, here in Aotearoa/New Zealand have our own problems of a continuing tendency towards sexism, racism and homophobia that has seem a recent split in the Anglican Church. Where will it all end? And how can we, as individuals, help in the task of working towards a mutual striving for peace, justice and harmony in our own society?
Advent, and a looking forward to celebrating the Season of Christmas, gives us time to look at where we are now, and to calmly and confidently look forward to a renewal of our covenant with the Creator God, who became a human being in Jesus Christ – so that ALL humanity might gather around this reality of Emmanuel – God with us ALL.
The Ven. David McClay, the Archdeacon of Down since 2013, has been appointed Bishop of Down & Dromore
TENSIONS between the liberal broad-church and the Evangelical wings within the Church of Ireland have been exposed by a petition to the House of Bishops urging them not to ratify the election of a new bishop because of his past connections with GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference).
The Ven. David McClay, the Archdeacon of Down since 2013, and Rector of Willowfield, east Belfast, for 18 years, has been appointed Bishop of Down & Dromore, to succeed the Rt Revd Harold Miller, who retired on 30 September.
In an open letter to the House of Bishops, 36 clergy, including four deans and 12 canons, have queried Archdeacon McClay’s appointment which was due to be ratified by the House on Wednesday, not least because of GAFCON’s opposition to the part played by women in priesthood or the episcopate, as stated in the group’s task force of June last year, in which they recommended that their provinces should only consecrate men as bishops.
Thirty-six senior Church of Ireland clergy have put their names to an open letter objecting to the appointment of the newly elected Bishop of Down & Dromore because of his involvement with a conservative Anglican group. In a letter to the Church’s House of Bishops, the signatories say that they are concerned that Archdeacon McClay may not be an appropriate choice because of his membership of the GAFCON Ireland movement.
The letter says that GAFCON principles are “antithetical” to those that a Church of Ireland bishop must pledge in the rite of consecration, including “fostering unity, care for the oppressed, and building up the people of God in all their spiritual and sexual diversity”.
“How could Archdeacon McClay possibly accept a woman as his colleague in the House of Bishops, or uphold the doctrine of the Church of Ireland on women in the episcopacy?” the signatories of the letter asked. They urged the House not to approve the Archdeacon’s consecration.
On Tuesday, Archdeacon McClay said: “I describe myself as a conservative Evangelical. GAFCON does not have a province in Ireland: it has a branch, and I am not the holder of an office in that organisation. I did attend two gatherings — in Nairobi, and, more recently, in Jerusalem — with about 50 others from Ireland.
“I am a member of the New Wine movement, which began in England, and with which Archbishop Welby is also involved.”
Archdeacon McClay rejected the suggestion that his views were incompatible with ordained women in ministry. “I have women serving in my parish . . . I voted for the ordination of women.”
Despite Archdeacon McClay’s protest that he is ‘in favour’ of women’s ordination in the Church of Ireland, his dalliance with the GAFCON organisation is seen by some of his fellow clergy in that Church as disqualifying him from becoming a bishop in the Church of Ireland. Here, from the Church Times article, is what McClay has to say:
“ On Tuesday, Archdeacon McClay said: “I describe myself as a conservative Evangelical. GAFCON does not have a province in Ireland: it has a branch, and I am not the holder of an office in that organisation. I did attend two gatherings — in Nairobi, and, more recently, in Jerusalem — with about 50 others from Ireland”.
It does seem somewhat ironical that any cleric belonging to an Anglican Church in the Global North (as opposed to those in the Global South, where GAFCON has its spiritual home) should even offer themselves for an episcopal role in an Anglican Province that is loyal to the Archbishop of Canterbury as Primus-inter-pares of the world-wide Anglican Communion (ACC).
That does not mean to say that clergy already holding office as bishops in other countries of the ACC have not been known to attend GAFCON Meetings. There were, for instance, Anglican bishops present at the recent ordination of a rival GAFCON-related schismatic church ‘bishop’ in Aotearoa/ New Zealand.
One of the complications of this occasion in New Zealand was that – although the presiding consecrator was none other than the ACNA (GAFCON) Archbishop Foley from the United States – it was a former Bishop of Nelson, N.Z. who welcomed the schismatic bishop in the name of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) that now seems to be working on behalf of both the schismatic ACCANZ(?) and the local ACANZP.
One cannot but wonder, is this the thin end of a wedge which will allow GAFCON to claim full membership of our own Anglican Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand (ACANZP) as well as that of the Anglican Church of Ireland? Also, is CMS now an integral part of the GAFCON /ACNA/FOCA Alliance?
Thanks to our Catholic friends for this article from their CATHNEWS NZ website.
This is, indeed a first for our Anglican Church in these South Pacific Islands (ACANZP) – when oue first Maori woman, Waitohiariki Quayle, was ordained Bishop in Masterton in September. This article describes her official welcome at the historic Rangiatea Anglican Church in Otaki, near N.Z.’s captial City of Wellington.
Pakeha women were ordained Bishop earlier with the consecration of Bishop Penny Jamieson, in Dunedin. However, the indigenous Maori tradition has taken its own time to agree to the understanding of the epsicopate being open to a female. In our three-tikanga (tradition) Church, there is still one more cultural strand (Pasifika) that has yet to come to this point. However, it has to be processed through the agency of its own unique culture, retaining its own identity as an integral part of ACANZP.
This situation serves to emphasize that each of our 3 cultural streams is free to choose its own traditions of determining who can attain to ordained leadership in ministry – in order to preserve our 3-Tikanga integrity; celebrating our cultural diversity within the unity of our Provincial Church.
Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce star in “The Two Popes.” (Peter Mountain)
Days after his historic election on March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, tries to book a ticket to Lampedusa to visit refugees there, but the booking agent hangs up on him because she thinks he is pretending to be the pope.
The film, “The Two Popes,” then flashes back to 2005 to the election of Francis’ predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins), following the death of the long-reigning, now canonized Pope John Paul II. It is a contested election and Ratzinger obviously wants the job. He is openly worried when Milan Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini and Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) of Buenos Aires, Argentina, receive significant support in early voting. Ratzinger does not try to hide his disdain for the liberation theology-loving Jesuit from Latin America when they walk past each other, even after he is elected and takes the name Benedict XVI.
Now, nine years later, Bergoglio, 75, has just purchased a plane ticket to go to Rome and offer his mandated resignation to Benedict when an overlapping summons calls him to Rome. Benedict is at his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, and Bergoglio is made to wait to see the pope. As he waits, he makes friends with the gardener. Benedict notices and is not impressed.
As the men walk, Benedict makes comments and asks some questions. He sounds hostile and critical, and Bergoglio is mystified as to why he has been summoned. He tries to hand over his letter of resignation but Benedict refuses to take it. As they walk indoors, Benedict tells Bergoglio, “I disagree with everything you think, say and do. But I think your time has come, Bergoglio.” They spend some time together in what seems to be a papal living room. Benedict encourages Bergoglio to watch news of his favorite football team and then plays the piano briefly. Bergoglio recalls the influence of his grandmother, his youth and his vocation story, his decision not to marry and become a Jesuit priest.
Benedict is called to Rome the next morning to respond to a crisis and the two take a helicopter to the Vatican. There, over what seems like a day or two, they continue their conversations. Benedict reminds Bergoglio of his years as provincial of the Jesuit community when two of his fellow Jesuits, Fr. Orlando Yorio and Fr. Franz Jalics (Lisandro Fiks) were kidnapped by the dictatorship’s naval authorities during the 1976 “Dirty War.” Bergoglio tells his side of the story with flashbacks to his exile to a mountain parish in Córdoba afterward. It is obvious that Bergoglio feels responsibility and sorrow even though he is innocent of complicity in the kidnapping and torture of the priests and he helped many Argentinians escape during those years. He kneels and Benedict offers absolution.
The next morning, Benedict asks to meet Bergoglio in the Sistine Chapel before it opens to the public. Now it is Benedict’s turn to mention his role in the church and the papacy and his struggle to hear the voice of God. He no longer seems adversarial toward Bergoglio. As they gaze at the ceiling they speak of God’s hand in their lives. Bergoglio, who discovered a pizza restaurant near the Vatican, suggests they order in something to eat. They share a pizza and seem almost friendly, both forgetting their worries for a while. After, they talk about the clergy abuse scandal in the “Room of Tears” where newly elected popes go to vest before meeting the crowds at St. Peter’s Square. Benedict admits the burdens of the situation beginning with Vatican protections for one of the most criminal abusers, who also had mistresses and fathered children, Fr. Marcial Maciel. It is now Benedict who is the penitent.
It is clear neither one of them wants to continue in their roles. Benedict tells Bergoglio he intends to resign the papacy, that there is precedent, and Bergoglio passionately urges him not to do this, for all kinds of reasons. He also suspects that Benedict sees him as a possible successor.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, played by actor Jonathan Pryce, votes in the 2013 conclave in a scene from “The Two Popes.” (Peter Mountain)
Though the film opens with a line that says the story is based on true events, the film is a series of richlyimagined encounters between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, based on the book by New Zealand author Anthony McCarten, who also scripted the film. He choreographs their conversations in Vatican locations, especially the Sistine Chapel, that was created almost perfectly to scale (except for the ceiling that was added by CGI).
I had the opportunity to visit the set toward the end of filming in May 2018 (along with my NCR colleague, Vatican correspondent Joshua McElwee). We walked inside the “Sistine Chapel” in the sound set at Cinecittà Studioson the outskirts of Rome. We had lunch with the director, Fernando Meirelles and met Jonathan Pryce as we toured the sets. It is always an education to do a set visit during film production; you come to appreciate all the work that goes into making cinema as well deepen your understanding of how media is constructed, piece by piece, moment by moment, image by image. We saw the large sewing room (and met some of the sewers) where the costumes for the many cardinals were accurately designed and made. The many red socks (and shoes!) and other articles of clothing were donated to refugee camps in Italy after the filming.
If McCarten is interested in the clergy abuse scandals, the images of Latin America’s crowded favelas and Argentina’s civil unrest reflect the sensibilities of Brazilian director Meirelles who directed the gritty “City of God.” Music plays a significant role in the film; we get Abba and the tango with Bergoglio and more dated and classical music for Benedict.
The performances are exceptional and award worthy. Hopkins as Benedict, the pope whom we seem to know less about, is very good at externalizing dimensions that can only be imagined of a pope who dared to resign. Francis and Benedict are formidable opposites and opponents. Watching the two popes portrayed by Pryce and Hopkins as they watch the 2014 soccer match between Germany and Argentina is priceless. Humor is good for the soul and for a film about, of all things, two popes living at the same time within the same square mile; it keeps the audience grounded. After an AFI screening in Hollywood, Ben Cahlamer, a film critic who attended the reception as I did, said of the film that, “The heavens opened, and they laughed with us.” A priest at the same screening told me that “it was a lot of fun.”
Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins star in “The Two Popes.” (Peter Mountain)
I met a woman at the reception who showed me the small scapular she wears and said, “This film made me want to spend more time on my spiritual life.” Another said that she doesn’t care to go to confession very often, or at her parish where the priest knows her, but seeing the popes go to confession with one another helped her understand the sacrament and forgiveness better.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Chris Donahue told me why he’s telling people it’s a comedy. “The great thing about the film is not that it’s a theological treatise, but the story of hope and an unlikely friendship.” Donahue sees it as a modern Divine Comedy where each pope experiences inferno, purgatorio and finally, paradiso.”
Personally, I will use this film for our cinema divina retreats. I can see it in RCIA programs as well because though it is fiction, it deals with church history, the papacy, mysteries of faith and offers much to talk about. It also has something to say about the antagonistic level of public discourse in the U.S.
Along with my colleague, Pauline Sr. Nancy Usselmann, I also had the opportunity to interview McCarten who wrote the 2017 play “The Pope” and the 2019 book The Pope: Francis, Benedict and the Decision that Shook the World. He commented on how many “audience awards” the film is winning at film festivals, and that he doesn’t want to exaggerate it, but thinks this is because the film is about “a universal need for tolerance, for listening to each other, understanding, compromise, communion.”
McCarten was in Rome with his wife, Eva, in 2013 when they visited St. Peter’s Basilica to light a candle for a friend. But the square was filled with people for a Mass celebrated by Francis. He wondered where Benedict was now, and what was it like for there to be two popes. What made him resign? I didn’t know the answer, so we googled it, and realized that Pope Celestine I resigned in 1294. Dante included him in the Divine Comedy (completed 1320) and put him in the bottom of hell, calling him “the great refuser.”
McCarten continued, “I began wondering why Benedict resigned. It was a cataclysmic event and caused an ecclesiastical conundrum: what do you do with two popes at the same time? I always start from a state of curious ignorance. I write what I want to know.” He spoke about the scene where the two men, who have exhausted each other, sit in silence as brothers and just say nothing. “Silence,” McCarten said, “allows for tolerance, for understanding.”
“The Two Popes” might be deemed too “talky” or “churchy” and even pedantic if not for the humorous banter that breaks the gravitas of their meetings. Benedict the philosopher is balanced by Francis the pastor. The entire narrative is characterized by the juxtaposition of the two men in their diversity as much as it is a story of unity that unfolds in the images and sounds of 2,000 years of history. It presents a dynamic cycle of perspectives as one man grows to understand the other’s experience, spirituality and theology. They have to stretch their northern and southern hemispheric and ecclesial worldviews as they spar in front of the altar in a stunningly beautiful 500-year-old chapel. Dialogue and hope for humanity and the church are showcased for a 21st century audience in unexpected ways. Benedict has the upper hand as the pope but Bergoglio’s confidence in responding to the older man is rooted in humility.
Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) and Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) watch the 2014 World Cup final match in a scene from “The Two Popes.” (Peter Mountain)
In a recent interview with director Meirelles, I asked why he decided to direct the film. He explained, “When they invited me to make a film on Pope Francis, I accepted because I am a big fan of his policies and he is a person from South America as I am.”
“The original image I had was that of a good pope versus a bad pope, going with how the press described them. Then I watched some of Benedict’s homilies and I understood him. I began to see gray areas in how Benedict was described and interpreted.”
Meirelles explained that the film is about “learning to listen to others, to forgive. These are the themes I like in the film. It is a personal story about Pope Francis and his agenda: his critique of this unfair economic system and how we are consuming the planet.”
Though most of the dialogue is in English —and spurts of Latin and a little German —Meirelles explained that both men learned Italian for the film and Pryce learned Spanish for scenes in Argentina. These had to be dubbed by an Argentinian actor, however, because Argentinians would expect that Bergoglio speak Spanish with the proper accent. But it is Pryce who speaks in Italian because Francis speaks Italian with an accent, too.
As for what he hopes people will come away with, Meirelles said, “The idea of tolerance is the take-away. I hope people really relate to this idea of listening and tolerance because it gives us the hope that we don’t have to keep fighting one another forever. The film has a warmth about it because it shows it is possible to connect to the other.”
There is a scene at the very end of the film, after the credits, that is open to interpretation, so be sure to watch for it. Meirelles says it is the place where God called him. I think it could be about Francis, longing for a simpler, more contemplative life; or perhaps it is his nostalgia, or about moving on, and not giving into regrets. Or maybe it is about the past being prologue: his persistence in following God’s call in a faith honed in the wilderness, at the rugged mountaintop of life, when the rock-strewn path is anything but smooth and certain.
[Sr. Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, is the founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles.]
New Zealand’s writer, Anthony McCarten, who wrote the 2017 play “The Pope” and the 2019 book The Pope: Francis, Benedict and the Decision that Shook the World, has now obviously scored a triumph with this – his latest (albeit fictional) work on the intersecting lives of 2 Popes of our own times; Benedict XVI and Francis.
The author has obviously put in some time of research as well as a formidable power of imagination into this story – a story which has already captured the hearts and minds, not only of Catholics but also of anyone interested in the spiritual and political activities of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. I can’t wait to see it here in New Zealand.
Tomorrow, we in the United States mark a national holiday that has been in existence since Abraham Lincoln declared it such in 1863. The meaning of Thanksgiving has been the source of great contestation, confusion and development since the early 17th century when the Pilgrims (a term applied in the late 19th century to the theocratic Puritan colonists) arrived in New England in 1620 and celebrated some kind of harvest feast in 1621.
It has long been recognized that the complexity of the relationship between the English settlers and indigenous peoples has been glossed over in the standard presentations of that “first Thanksgiving.” Most notably, if there was in fact some kind of peaceful meal or celebration between the two communities, that tranquility was short-lived as the colonists eventually decimated the indigenous Wampanoag people by force and disease within a generation of that storied supper.
If the historical origins of Thanksgiving are complicated and not well-understood, things have not gotten much better in our own time. In recent decades, the holiday has become commodified and turned into a marketable event, with stores carrying an array of turkeys, gourds and pilgrim tchotchkes, and grocery stores taking advance reservations for the bird size and quality of your choice.
This capitalist takeover of the historically dubious holiday has been made worse in recent years by the growing encroachment of “Black Friday” backward into Thanksgiving day itself, which has forced those who work in the retail and service industries to abandon their own opportunity to be grateful with their loved ones in order to serve in the insatiable desires of the sale-hungry masses. (Fortunately, this trend does appear to have been curbed somewhat by increasing public outcry).
While the questions and concerns surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday past and present might give us reason to despair in the face of celebrating this annual event, I actually think there’s good cause to rehabilitate the holiday, especially from a Catholic Christian perspective.
Because Thanksgiving became identified with the last Thursday in November, it coincidentally falls just before the end of the liturgical year of our church calendar. It’s rather commonplace that the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving marks the First Sunday of Advent, which is the opening of the new liturgical year. Thanksgiving, while typically viewed as a secular holiday, actually offers Christians a liminal moment to pause between the then and now, the here and there, the old and new, the already and not yet. It is a good time to examine one’s life, to look back over the year that is about to conclude and consider what is in store for what lies ahead.
In particular, this is an opportunity to do something of a gratitude assessment. What has happened (or not happened) during the previous year for which you are grateful? While looking back over the previous months, where has God been present to you in your experience? How have you cultivated a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude for what you have received, the relationships that you have, and who you are as an embodied, living, loveable gift of God?
This last point is important. Too often any explicit articulation of gratitude on Thanksgiving takes place when the dinner host invites those gathered to share something for which you are grateful (that is, when the host typically puts guests on the spot). What generally results is a litany of superficial declarations about things thought of five minutes before dinner happens to be served. While well-intentioned, these items are usually shared under duress and without much reflection. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
A rehabilitation of Thanksgiving offers us the opportunity to renew the practice of gratitude, not as a one-time annual tradition, but as regular discipline of learning to see God in all things and open ourselves to a spirit of thankfulness for all that we are and all that we have received.
This is not a call to Pollyannaish banality, as if what it means to be grateful requires brushing aside the real pain, suffering and loss experienced to one degree or another. This is, instead, a countercultural stance that challenges us to practice seeing the good amid the bad, the gift beside the struggle, the hope that overcomes the fear, the life that prevails over death.
When I think about the potential we have to transform our understanding and practice of the Thanksgiving, I think of the insights of Benedictine Br. David Steindl-Rast, who summarized well the importance of “grateful living” in a popular TED Talk some years back. Recognizing that all people want to be happy, Steindl-Rast explains, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful; it’s gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Western cultures with their focus on commercialism sell us false promises that once we’re happy, usually after making some kind of purchase or achieving a social marker, then we will arrive at a state of gratitude and contentment. Steindl-Rast argues that this simply does not follow.
He calls instead for “grateful living,” a practice of becoming aware that every moment is a “given moment,” that every moment is a gift. Steindl-Rast does not say we ought to be grateful for everything. He acknowledges there are many, many things — like violence, suffering, infidelity, etc. — for which we should not be grateful. But he argues that we can nevertheless strive to become grateful for every given moment, even in the midst of difficult realities.
He offers a simple methodology for the practice of grateful living: Stop. Look. Go.
First, we need to learn to stop, to intentionally pause amid the chaos of a society that beckons us on with ever increasing rapidity. Just as our holidays have become commodified and commercialized, so have our lives and time. We are discouraged from resting, told that we are lazy or unproductive if we do not go above and beyond in our work. We need to learn to slow down and be still.
Next, we must train ourselves to look, not just with our eyes but also with all our senses and even our whole being. Once we’ve stopped, we can then begin to attune ourselves to the beauty, love and divine presence among and within us. But it requires practice and intentionality, and it means we cannot simply go through life on autopilot.
Finally, Steindl-Rast says that if we open our hearts to truly see what is around us with gratitude, it will lead us to action, which is where the “go” comes in. This experience may lead us to express care, concern and love for another. It may lead us to creative expression. It may lead us to simply appreciate and enjoy the moment in which we find ourselves. Whatever we are called to do or be can only occur if we have first stopped and looked.
The challenge for us this week is to see Thanksgiving as an important opportunity to renew our commitment to the ongoing discipline of gratitude. In doing so, we might shed new light on an underappreciated and misunderstood holiday.
May this year’s Thanksgiving celebration be a time for each of us to recommit ourselves to being a people of gratitude by pausing in the busyness of modern life, seeing the world anew with eyes capable of recognizing the Spirit of God present in our midst, and acting in such a way as to be evangelists of gratitude, embodying thanksgiving with our whole lives.
Today, our American cousins celebrate ‘THANKSGIVING DAY, a time of remembrance for the Founding of the Colony declared in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln to “commemorate the occasion when the Pilgrims (a term applied in the late 19th century to the theocratic Puritan colonists) arrived in New England in 1620 and celebrated some kind of harvest feast in 1621”.
Although not every native American may have cause to celebrate this colonial takeover, in the 17th century, the Thanksgiving Celebration is now generally observed by all who value the relative democratic freedom that came with the establishment of a way of life that was later to be enjoyed by generations of successive immigrants to the New World.
What this N.C.R. writer is advocating, is using this day as a time of thanksgiving and reflection before the liturgical Season of Advent, when the Church celebrates the coming of Christ, as Word of God Incarnate – opening up to all people a way of freedom from past injustice, so that ALL may find peace and hope for ther future.
To affirm the Parish Council position on inclusion of LGBTIQA+ parishioners, underpinned by our belief of the Real Presence of Christ both in sacramental forms and community of the faithful. To affirm the Anglican ethos of unity in diversity and reject rhetoric that would seek to sow division among God’s people. To express solidarity with the Diocese of Wangaratta, which has recently developed a rite of blessing for civil marriages.
The 2015 Annual Meeting of the Parish passed the following resolution without a single opposing vote, noting: (a) That Changing Attitude Australia was established to move forward the debate about human sexuality in the Anglican Church and beyond(b) That Changing Attitude Australia has invited parishes to identify themselves as’‘Welcoming Congregations’; this designation is intended to signal that the congregation is one where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people can be guaranteed a welcome; that this Annual Meeting confirms St Peter’s membership of Changing Attitude Australia and reaffirms our wish to be designated as a ‘Welcoming Congregation’
In 2017, Parish Council responded to the postal survey on marriage equality by passing a resolution that noted the contribution made by LGBTIQA+ parishioners to the parish, while deploring hateful attacks on the LGBTIQA+ community that the postal survey had enabled and expressing support for the Yes vote, recognising that the postal survey was about civil marriages only.
In October of 2019, Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Rev’d Glenn Davies, asked those within the Church who were personally in favour of marriage equality to leave the Church on grounds that their support for marriage equality fatally compromised the Church’s mission. Also in October, at the Melbourne Diocesan Synod, a motion was passed that expressed the Synod’s sorrow at the Diocese of Wangaratta’s development of a rite of blessings for civil marriages.
4. That the Parish Council of St Peter’s Eastern Hill:
(a) Embodies and proclaims the Real Presence of Christ, both in sacramental forms and in the community of the faithful;
(b) Believes that Jesus points us to a God of infinite and transformational love;
(c) Witnesses that the Jesus who is present at St Peter’s is an inclusive Jesus who welcomed those rejected by the religious authorities of the first century CE;
(d) Notes that the 2015 Annual Meeting supported the Parish being an inclusive and welcoming congregation;
(e) Notes the parish’s support for marriage equality during the 2017 postal survey;
(f) Notes the contribution made by LGBTIQA+ people to the life and witness of the parish over many years;
(g) Deplores the recent remarks by the Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, asking people to depart the Anglican church which sought to privilege a narrow and doctrinaire view of Anglicanism;
(h) Deplores a recent motion by the Synod of the Diocese of Melbourne that expressed “sorrow” with respect to Wangaratta’s recent development of a rite to bless civil marriages;
(i) Notes recent moves by the Diocese of Wangaratta to introduce a rite of blessing for civil marriages, including same-sex marriages, is theologically consistent with our support for same-sex civil marriage during the 2017 postal survey:
(j) Reaffirms our commitment to inclusion as a necessary outcome of our commitment to living the Gospel in the world;
(k) Reaffirms our support in particular of LGBTIQA+ parishioners;
(l) Reaffirms our commitment to an authentically inclusive Anglican ethos, which accommodates diverse perspectives and rejects the rhetoric of division;
(m) Rejects recent divisive comments by Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, which are at odds with a traditionally Anglican understanding of unity in diversity;
(n) Disassociates itself from the recent Melbourne Synod resolution expressing “sorrow” over the Diocese of Wangaratta’s introduction of a rite of blessing for civil marriages on the grounds that this motion is also at odds with a traditionally Anglican understanding of unity of diversity;
(o) Welcomes and expresses joy that the Diocese of Wangaratta has developed a rite for blessing civil marriages, including same-sex marriages;
(p) Expresses solidarity with the Diocese of Wangaratta, which has sought to respond sensitively and pastorally to the very rapid growth of civil marriages in Australia, alongside recent changes to the Marriage Act (1961) following the outcome of the postal survey in November 2017.
Parish Council agrees that this position should be promulgated within the Parish of St Peter’s Eastern Hill and externally via social media.
In the wake of the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney’s statement that LGBTQI people have no place in the Church and should just ‘Go Away!’, the Parish of Saint Peter’s, Eastern Hill, in Melbourne has made this Statement of Support for LGBTQI people, in the belief that ALL people are made in the Divine Image and Likeness, and ALL are loved by God whatever their Sexual or Gender identity might be.
‘Jesus holding my hand has been the most powerful force in my life’
15 FEBRUARY 2019
Two gay priests of different generations talk about the challenges that they have faced in their ministry
The Revd Marcus Green and the Revd Stanley Underhill, at Charterhouse
LAST year, two gay priests released books. The Revd Marcus Green, Rector of Steeple Aston with North Aston and Tackley, in the diocese of Oxford, wrote The Possibility of Difference, offering “a biblical affirmation of inclusivity”. The Revd Stanley Underhill, now retired after serving in parishes in Canterbury and Lichfield dioceses, and Menorca, wrote Coming out of the Black Country, a memoir that included a stark account of lifelong depression and subjection to conversion therapies (News, 12 October 2018).
Born almost 40 years apart (Marcus in 1966, Stanley in 1927), they met recently at The Charterhouse in central London.
Marcus: I’m 52. I was ordained 25 years ago this year in the Church in Wales. I recently wrote a book on the possibility of difference — and that’s as an Evangelical and as a gay man . . . seeing in the Bible a very affirming view of God: how God loves everybody and why the Bible very strongly says that.
Stanley: I’m 91. I was born and brought up as a Methodist until I was 30, but I also associated with Free Churchmen who were also Evangelical — I suppose they were fundamentalists. I didn’t know the difference in those days — as far as I was concerned they preached Christ.
[At the same time, I was made aware that there was something wrong with me, as I did not feel attracted to the opposite sex and that these feelings for my own sex were an abomination to God.]
Ultimately, I had a breakdown, precipitated by another Christian who sought to exorcise the demon from me — as he called it. That precipitated a visit to the hospital for about six weeks, where I had Electric Current Therapy. From that point onwards, I suffered periodical depression — I suppose you call it reactive depression. So I packed up my bags and came to London.
Marcus: Had you ever suffered from depression before that point?
CHURCH TIMESThe Revd Stanley Underhill
Stanley: The depression started for real after the exorcism. I mean, I was anxious and had a lack of confidence throughout the years up to that. Then I came and had two years with a Freudian analyst who didn’t do a thing — just left me like Humpty Dumpty: falling off the wall, left me in pieces. I had then testosterone treatment, recommended by the health service. They said that homosexuality was a mental illness; so they stuffed the male hormone into me. That didn’t do anything but make me feel more sexual, more and more so!
I tried anti-depressants. I had lithium treatment for a while, which made me shake. From then onwards, I had nothing to do with drugs, because they just made me feel like a zombie.
Marcus: What age were you when you stopped?
Stanley: I suppose I was 40 when I stopped all treatment. I then made a decision that I would try to live as a straight man, because life was so dangerous.
When I came here [Charterhouse], my depressions had been off and on throughout all those years. They continued even when I retired, when stress is taken away from you. I always remember the therapist said: “Stanley, the only way you will come to terms with yourself is to tell your story.” He hoped it would be a catharsis, and he was right. I haven’t been depressed, and I have certainly felt happier about myself since I wrote the book.
Marcus: I was listening to Radio 5, and it was a chap who won Big Brother last year. He’s a teenager, but he found it really difficult coming out to his best friend that he was gay. And we presume that kids today have it really easy. Just listening to that it brought me up sharp. It’s easier. The world has changed. But it is not easy.
Stanley: It has changed, but as you say there are still people who are struggling.
Marcus: I was born in a world where being gay was illegal. Although that changed not long after I was born, society didn’t. The attitudes that I grew up in were the attitudes that you grew up in. . . I didn’t need the fingers on both hands to count the number of people who knew that I was gay for most of my adult life. I came out when I was 43. My family didn’t know prior to that.
Stanley: I only told my brother a year ago. . . He’s two years younger than me. He’s 89. He was perfectly unfussed and I was quite surprised. But I never told my parents.
Marcus: Do you think they knew?
Stanley: My mother may have done. But my father was so macho-orientated. Throughout my childhood, he hardly ever spoke to me, and he thought I was a sissy. . . They had no vocabulary. They didn’t understand the emotional dilemma I was in at all.
Marcus: The depression’s an interesting thing. I have suffered from depression all my adult life. Has it been better since I came out? I think the answer is, yes, [although] I still suffer from time to time. I think when you’ve had this long-term dissociation between what’s inside and what’s outside . . . there are scars that are left there.
Stanley: Having had sex as a battleground throughout your life . . . you’ve missed out on any experience of intimacy, and the sacramental element of the union of two souls.
CHURCH TIMESThe Revd Marcus Green
Stanley: Love. I’m alone and I long for, I suppose, an experience of feeling one with another.
Marcus: That’s one of the things behind the book: I want people who are younger than me to have an understanding of God which allows them to live with that possibility of love, so that they can have that life which you haven’t had, which I haven’t had.
Stanley: I would love to have been married, loved a woman, and had kids. When you see everybody with their huge families, you feel the odd man out.
Marcus: I always wanted to be a young father, so that I would have children who would know me before I was old. And when I realised that was never going to happen, that was a loss, that was a grief. . .
Stanley: It’s a strange thing: for years I never loved myself. I didn’t think I was lovable, and now I think I’m lovable — and now I’m too old to experience it!
Marcus: I became a Christian through the school Christian Union. My family were not churchgoers, and a friend at school invited me to a lunchtime meeting. My Dad had brought me up to hear the word “Christian” and spit. . . I came away from it genuinely changed inside.
After university, I worked at a church, St Aldate’s in Oxford, and then in that time looked at ordination and went straight to Wycliffe Hall, and was ordained at 27. . .
This was the mid ’80s; so at that point we believed that [being gay] was a choice, and you could change. I knew it wasn’t a choice, because, although I could be pretty awkward, I wouldn’t have chosen that for myself. I just thought to myself, well, if this is it, I will either have to change or be single for ever; I can do it.
Stanley: My path started when I was quite a boy. I remember being bullied at school. At the time, the Home Service was broadcasting: The Man Born to be King, I think on Sundays. It’s an extraordinary rendition of the Gospels in dramatic form. It so impressed me that I said: “Well, I’m going to take Jesus as my friend, because he stuck up for the underdog.”
My next great realisation was that this Jesus whom I had befriended, or he had befriended me, was the Son of God. I started to read my scriptures in my early twenties.
CHURCH TIMESThe Revd Marcus Green and the Revd Stanley Underhill
Marcus: Has the Church damaged me as a person because of my sexuality? The answer is undoubtedly yes, because . . . when you grow up as an Evangelical, you very subtly are a second-class person. And yet, the sustaining power of Jesus — holding my hand, blessing me and carrying me, being with me, lifting me up, being with the underdog, as you say — has been the most powerful force in my life.
Stanley: That’s been my experience, too. One might ask me: “Why on earth stay with an organisation that treats you so badly?” You have to sort it out. The Church is one thing, and Jesus is another. Often, the two don’t meet. It’s always been an anomaly to me. . . Evangelicals would quote: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son,” and that Christianity was a universal phenomenon; and yet, on the other hand, they are going to exclude me because I’m gay. It is a strange phenomenon.
Marcus: The turning-point for me was a breakdown, and a really serious breakdown that took me three years to recover from. . . Yes, the Church damaged me, but people in the Church were instrumental in lifting me up, as well. My Bishop at that time, the Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, was extraordinarily kind and sent me away to quite a conservative seminary in Kentucky. They put me up, connected me to a psychotherapist who was simply brilliant, and gave me the space to understand who I was.OTHER STORIESThe feelings beneath the thoughtsThe stances people adopt are never solely governed by reason, says David Ison
It was a Tuesday afternoon in February, nine years ago, I suddenly understood for the first time that I saw myself as a second-class human being. I realised just what shockingly awful theology it was, and that God doesn’t see anybody that way.
The moment I understood that that’s how I saw myself, I understood that it was terrible and couldn’t possibly be true. That was the unlocking moment for me.
People in the Church were the gifts that freed me. So had the Church damaged me? Yes. Did the Church restore me? Yes.
Stanley: The thing that puzzled me about the Church: we had the battle with Darwin . . . yet when you look at anthropology, from the word go the human race has been anything but the binary model. If the Church recognises that God didn’t make the World in seven days, why couldn’t they recognise that sex is as variable as anything else?
There’s another thing that distresses me: the Church of England has got superb theologians, and yet we are still misled by these fundamentalists who do not even obey the rules of the Church of England: that the Bible is to be interpreted with reason and tradition. It may be the word of God, but it’s handed to people who are frail and sinful; so they need help in interpreting it. And yet they go along the line that the words cannot be altered. . .
CHURCH TIMESThe Revd Marcus Green and the Revd Stanley Underhill, at Charterhouse
Marcus: You were single as you were trained, single when you were selected. This was never an issue, and people never hinted or talked?
Stanley: It was never discussed. I was never asked about my sexuality. Bishop Runcie talked about his love life when he was a tank commander in Holland! It was quite strange. . . Lovely man, but it was hilarious.
Marcus: For me, in the selection process, I don’t recall anything. I was much younger, in my early twenties. I spent most of my time at theological college wrestling with it as an Evangelical. I remember going on a study week in my second year at Wycliffe Hall and somebody making some kind of off-colour joke. Because I was struggling at the time, I just couldn’t handle the situation and I left without telling anyone. I couldn’t have told anyone.
And then, right at the end of my time there, the college principal, Dick France, called me in and said he wasn’t commending me for ordination because I had missed stuff. And he cited that week, and I sat there thinking, “Do I tell him?” And I decided I would.
So I said: “This is why I wasn’t there, because this person made this comment and actually it’s about me. I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that I am gay.” And Dick sat there, and said: “I had no idea. Oh, oh, oh, then it’s my turn to apologise. I should have known, and I should have been helping you, and I am really sorry. Right, scrap everything I have just said.” And he stopped being my college principal that day and he became a friend.
Though I have to say that my time at Wycliffe was hard, there were a couple of people there who privately were extraordinarily, in the end, helpful.
Stanley: Can I make one correction about the Church of England? When I joined the Society of St Francis, part of my motivation was to escape a world that was cruel to me. The Society attracted quite a considerable number of homosexuals, and in all the teaching there was no homophobia whatsoever. . . There is a part of the Church that was enlightened.
Marcus: I am going to tell you a story from 1992, in my time at Wycliffe Hall . . . We had a pastoral-studies week, which included input from an organisation that was all to do with helping people change from being gay to being straight. And I was delighted, because I didn’t want to be gay: I wanted to be straight.
The guy who came was the head of this organisation. And we could, without anyone knowing, go and see this person. . . So I went to see this chap, and I wanted to know what the secret was, and how I could become straight.
And this guy sat there, having told us about the ministry of his organisation, and basically apologised to me because it didn’t work. I was devastated. . . It was smoke and mirrors, and he had nothing to offer. I was completely devastated.
Stanley: Until the ’90s, of course, it was still a silent war. Everyone was in the closet, and you didn’t speak about it. I was aware there were three gay people in my congregation. You wanted to help them, and yet, in helping them, you would disclose your own identity, and then the cat would be out of the bag, the balloon would go up, and all hell would break loose.
One guy was in my little village church. [Later] when I came to London and I met him casually, he was working at the AIDS ward in Barts [hospital] as a nurse . . . Then he told me he’d got AIDS, and the next moment he’d died. I was absolutely shattered. It was about 2005.
His boyfriend couldn’t live without him, and booked a hotel in Bloomsbury and hanged himself. I went to both funerals. It was absolutely devastating. That was all because we were all so buttoned up, and hadn’t got the courage to reveal ourselves.
In moving her motion against conversion therapy at the General Synod in 2017, Jayne Ozanne read from a letter from Stanley. The Synod voted to call for a ban (News, 8 July 2017).
Stanley: I was delighted for the opportunity to express what I’ve suffered as the result of the Church’s attitudes towards homosexuality over the years. I am delighted that the Synod approved her motion, and it’s now gone to Parliament. . .
Marcus: I wanted conversion therapy. It took me years to accept that this is how God has made me.
Stanley: I hope that we will be raising people up, releasing them from their bonds that the Church has put then in.
Marcus: Yes, setting people free.
Marcus is on the biblical-studies working group of the Living in Love and Faith project, the House of Bishops’ programme on sexuality.
Marcus: My experience has been extraordinarily positive. They are not attempting to write another report with more recommendations, which will inevitably upset some people and delight other people, and probably upset everyone. Frankly, it’s an attempt to write a set of resources so that the whole Church can have a better conversation: “This is what the inherited position is, this is what the emerging position is. Let’s have a better conversation, with better information. Let’s appreciate we are all in Christ here.”
I think this is the first time that that has been attempted, and from where I am inside it, in my group there are people with very different opinions with very different backgrounds, but actually genuinely appreciating each other. If something of that work can infect the wider Church, that’s a better atmosphere.
I don’t mind disagreeing with people, actually; I really don’t, providing the disagreement appreciates that the person I am disagreeing with is also a human being loved by God.
I have Evangelicals writing to me, wanting to know more, wanting to engage, wanting to be part of a conversation. And I think that is a very different position from where we were.
The Possibility of Difference is published by Kevin Mayhew at £8.99 (CT Bookshop £8.10). Coming Out of the Black Country is published by Zuleika at £25 (£22.50).
I have just found a link to this most interesting article from the U.K. ‘CHURCH TIMES’ in the 15 Feb.2019 issue which concerns a priest whom I have known personally through our mutual membership of the Anglo-Catholic congregation of All Saints, Margaret Street, London. I was in London on leave from my Australasian company, managing the local travel office, and Stanley Underhill worked in the City of London. We were both part of the ‘Institution of Christian Studies’ in 1970/71 which convened at ASMS during the week, under the supervision of Fr. Michael Marshall and other clergy of All Saints – together with other qualified mentors.
The Institute was. at that time, running different Study Groups, one of which concerned Christian Ethics, where we discussed – among other subjects – that of homosexuality. Being, myself single at the time and also innately gay, I was naturally drawn to this particular series of meetings,. where I found attitudes more open to the subject than I had ever been able to imagine in the setting of a Church group.
After being called back to New Zealand, I later became an Anglican Franciscan Novice in Brisbane, Australia, before being transferred back to New Zealand near to the end of my 3-year Noviciate. In the meantime, I had written to Stanley, telling him of my love of the Franciscan life and before long, I learned that he too had joined SSF in England.
After my novitiate ended in N.Z., I felt a distinct call to the priesthood and, sadly, I had to leave SSF in order to continue studies for the ministry at St. John’s Theological College in Auckland, N.Z. After ordination, I married my wife who knew of my situation – and that there would be no children born of our marriage because of it – and she felt that this would not be an inhibition as she had 2 children of her deceased first husband, and I looked forward to ‘fathering’ these children.
I later heard that Stanley had left SSF in the U.K. and that he, too, had trained for the priesthood. My noticing this article in the Church Times on line was about my old friend at ASMS of the early 1970s came as something of a surprise. I am thrilled to learn of Stanley’s new situation and of his new book, which I’m sure will help the conversation in the Church of England to mature into real dialogue on the current hot-potato issue of gender and sexuality.