Holiday is over!

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Stained Glass Window, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

And so, I find myself at the end of my Easter holiday. This week saw both a trip to London to attend a High Mass of the Annunciation at my old home parish and a visit from my sister. It was, as always, lovely to be back in the parish that re-kindled my will to discern a vocation to Holy Orders back in 2014-5, and to see old friends!

My dear sister had a less-than-promising start to her visit to Oxford, as the coach broke down when I went to meet her at the airport, leading to me being 30 minutes delayed. What I didn’t think of when I updated her by texts of my adventures was that not all Swedish PAYG phones work abroad. Hers just happened to be one of those that don’t… In the end, we found each other at the airport, and had a good time together, exploring various shops, markets and museums here in Oxford (including Christ Church College and Cathedral, where the picture above was taken).

It is now Sunday in 0th week, and I have served at the parish church for the last time until June, and led Evening Prayer in the same church wearing full academic robes, for the first (and probably last – it was awfully hot!) time. Term begins in earnest here at the Domus tomorrow morning, and I am rather looking forward to the busyness of it all again – it will be very good to be back on a regular schedule!

 

 

 

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A Week Off Work

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Paper dress and mens’ suit from the exhibition Victorian Passions and Pursuits, Blenheim Palace

And so, the first week of the Easter holiday for us interns is over. This week, I have managed both a trip to London and hosting a friend. While I very much enjoy meeting up with my London friends, it was wonderful to have a day pottering around London on my own, with nothing in the diary apart from a haircut. (I usually get my hair cut at a barbering school in London – check them out!) I saw a few churches I haven’t been to before, and a museum I didn’t even know existed. I also managed to re-visit a few favourite haunts, and it was with a happy mind (and full stomach!) I returned to Oxford.

Then, my friend Monika arrived, and we have been busy since she arrived 🙂 Shopping, Oxford sightseeing, churches, Masses (both high and low), a fair few pubs, plenty of walking, and much more. The highlight of Monika’s visit has to be our visit to Blenheim Palace and the nearby town of Woodstock. Blenheim Palace remains to this day the home of the Dukes of Marlborough. It was built in the English Baroque style, and was finished in the 1720s. It is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of Winston Churchill, but other residents have included an (slightly mad) amateur scientist, an American railroad heiress, and Queen Anne’s Mistress of the Robes.

The Palace is open to the public, but the present Duke still lives there with his family. On our visit we explored the state rooms, as well as the formal gardens, park and pleasure garden with butterfly house. Being a non-driver (at least in this country) I very rarely get to see big country houses, so to have access to one nearby is a treat. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (despite the fact that we gave the merry-go-round a miss…) and I will most certainly return again!

We continued our tour to the nearby town of Woodstock, which at one point was most famous for its bell foundry, now a small and cozy country town. (The Woodstock Festival, however, was named after the Woodstock in New York State…).

By the time this is posted, Monika has returned to Sweden, and I am catching up on sleep after having walked her to the 5.15am airport coach to LGW…. I am looking forward to another visitor this week – my younger sister is coming for three nights, and after that, we face 0th week, and the start of, what looks like a busy, Trinityterm here at Pusey House.

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A Holy Week

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High Altar, St Barnabas, Jericho

A somewhat belated Happy Easter to any and all! While I have seen neither Easter Bunnies nor Easter Eggs, I had the privilege of celebrating the Sacred Triduum at St Barnabas Church, Jericho. I served every single service throughout the Triduum: Maundy Thursday gave us the Mass of the Last Supper, where the Priest Celebrant washed the feet of (some member of) the congregation. The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday allowed us to consider Christ’s death on the Cross, venerate said Cross and receive Holy Communion from the reserved Sacrament (during the Mass of the Last Supper, the Blessed Sacrament is taken to the Garden of Repose). Following this liturgy, the Altar is completely empty, and all remaining consecrated wafers are consumed – Christ is no longer present in the Church apart from on the Cross. Holy Saturday ended with the Easter Vigil, where we light the new fire (and the Paschal Candle) and celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Easter Day is also a very festive High Mass, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament ended Holy Week.

We are now in the Octave of Easter, and I am on my Easter Holiday. While I had one friend staying with me during the weekend of Palm Sunday, I still had to work then – I now have two weeks off. Currently, I have Monika staying with me, and when she goes back home to Stockholm, my sister comes to visit. I thoroughly enjoy lazy mornings, walking around town and popping into a pub, should it take my fancy etc. Working the Triduum was immensely rewarding and moving, but it is very nice to have some time to rest and recover! (I even got a full day in London all on my todd pottering around and visiting various churches on Tuesday – just what the doctor ordered!)

Meanwhile, most of my spare energy is being spent on thinking through the move in August (I am going to cancel my lease on my flat in Stockholm, and move permanently to the UK). Obviously I will not be able to take all of my belongings over here, not even if I at some point get a flat or house of my own, so a lot of careful weeding will have to take place. I assume there’ll be more on this blog about that later in the spring…

For now, I’ll sign off and go to bed 😉

 

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St Paul, and Mark Twain on nudity

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Preached Wednesday after the Third Sunday in Lent 2018

in the Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford

 Readings: Psalm 37, Exodus 15.27-16.35 & Ephesians 4.17-30

“But the salvation of the righteous cometh of the Lord, who is also their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall stand by them, and save them, he shall deliver them from the ungodly, and shall save them, because they put their trust in him”. (Psalm 37.40-41)

In the name of the Father + and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society”. We do not know if Mark Twain had Paul in mind when he wrote this passage, but the use of the imagery of clothes to symbolise the change from the old man to the new is certainly striking. I read somewhere that in the early Church, the candidates for baptism would take of their old clothes before the baptism, thus symbolising that they are leaving their old life behind. Once out of the watery grave in which they had been immersed, they put on new clothes, to symbolise that they had become new humans in God.

True to form, with this being Lent, there is a lot on lasciviousness, deceitful lusts and the like in the text, but I would suggest that we can actually look at the text from another angle, my KJV Bible has as the heading of the page “Exhortations to unity, holiness and love” – which somehow sounds a bit more appealing.

In the earlier parts of this letter (for those of us whose minds have wandered during Evensong over the past few days), Paul is talking about the great privileges of the new Christians, and, as is rather obvious, we are now in the part where he instructs them to walk in the way of the Lord (something that seems to be his favourite pastime….).

It is very easy for us to look at the readings from Ephesians today as a moral checklist,

  • Don’t lie
  • Don’t go to bed angry
  • Don’t steal
  • If you are inclined towards theft, work with your hands instead
  • Don’t say non-edifying things

If we do that I think that we are doing ourselves a disservice (regardless of my slightly OCD fascination with lists, and the fact that each and every thing on this list is good and commendable). I don’t think that Paul’s intention when writing this letter was to provide a tick-box exercise, a form that basically says, “Jump high for Jesus and he will love you. If you jump higher, he will love you more”.

I would like to propose that this is not a “to do”-list, but rather a description how someone who has put upon himself the new man looks like. What someone who has been transformed by Jesus looks like. What someone who truly had become a new human in God looks like.

St Augustine writes, in his De Quantitate Animae:

Therefore, although here one thing led us to another, still I do like to spend some time on a discussion which serves to teach the soul the lesson that it must not fall back on the senses any more than necessity demands; but it should rather retire into itself, away from the senses, and become a child of God again.  This is what it means to become a new man by putting off the old.  To undertake this is absolutely necessary because of the neglect of God’s law: Sacred Scripture contains no greater truth, none more profound. 

I would like to say more about this point and tie myself down while I am, as it were, laying down the law to you, so that my one and only concern might be to render an account of myself to myself, to whom I am above all responsible, and thus to become to God, as Horace says, like “a slave who is his master’s friend.”  This is an achievement that is utterly impossible unless we remake ourselves in His image, the image He committed to our care as something most precious and dear, when He gave us to ourselves so constituted that nothing can take precedence to us save He Himself.

But to my mind this calls for action than which is none more laborious, none that is more akin to inaction, for it is such as the soul cannot begin or complete except with the help of Him to whom it yields itself.  Hence it is that man’s reformation is dependent on the mercy of him to whose goodness and power he owes his formation.

So, then, we can see that we are dependent on the mercy of God. God, to whose goodness and power we owe our formation. God, without whom we cannot take off the old man and put on the new. God, who shall deliver us from the ungodly, and save us, because we put our trust in him, who has made us new men.

“But the salvation of the righteous cometh of the Lord, who is also their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall stand by them, and save them, he shall deliver them from the ungodly, and shall save them, because they put their trust in him”.

In the name of the Father +, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

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Christ in the Desert

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Vigil for the First Sunday of Lent, 17 February 2018

The Church of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford

Readings: Genesis 3.1-6, 2 Corinthians 6.1-10, S Matthew 4.1-11

Father: All those words and thoughts which come from thee whilst thou bless them and make them fruitful. And all those words and thoughts that come not from thee but from our own vanity wilt thou forgive. Amen

There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, (…) this time she found a little bottle on it, and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words `DRINK ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters.

It was all very well to say `Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. `No, I’ll look first,’ she said, `and see whether it’s marked “poison” or not’; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them (…) and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked `poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.

However, this bottle was not marked `poison,’ so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.

This quote, from Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, might be known to a few of us. The book itself was written by Lewis Caroll, son of an Anglo-Catholic Priest, and himself an Anglican deacon…(who, as an aside, once went to Russia with Henry Liddon, who in turn is made immortal by having the sitting room at Pusey House named after him…)

So much about the Oxford academic – but indulge me by listening to me talk about Alice herself for a while longer. “Drink Me”, said the bottle. That’s a temptation if I ever heard one – especially as the bottle wasn’t marked “Poison”. Alice gave in to the temptation and drank. (For those who want to know what happened to her after she drank from the bottle, I recommend you read the book – it celebrates its 153rd birthday this year).

Some of you might ask what this all has to do with the gospel for the first Sunday of Lent? Well, isn’t young Alice’s way of dealing with that mysterious bottled temptation the exact opposite of how Christ reacted when the devil tempted him in the wilderness?

It was a rather quick turn of events, wasn’t it? In the end of chapter 3 of the same Gospel, we hear how Jesus was baptised, and then, all of a sudden, the devil takes him out to the wilderness to tempt him.

This temptation itself came after Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights – a timeframe that might seem very topical at this very day… At Pusey House, as in many other Christian communities, we have been talking about our Lenten disciplines recently, a discipline that (ideally) should last for 40 days and 40 nights.

As someone whose general attitude towards temptations – at least those of a gastronomical nature – tends to be the same as the American novelist Rita Mae Brown – “lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself”, I can say with confidence that if someone came to tempt me after 40 days of fasting, they would find me an easy target…

HOWEVER – Christ was NOT an easy target. He did not give in to the evil one’s attempts to make him prove himself regardless what the prize would have been – regardless how much (if you’ll allow me to continue to refer back to a children’s book) the drink in the bottle tasted of pineapple, roast turkey and hot buttered toast.

But, why was Christ led into this temptation by the Spirit? Surely, the prayer is “lead us NOT into temptation”…. Could it have been a rite of passage, to show that he could withstand Satan’s temptations?

The first temptation, to turn stones into bread, is often understood as challenging Jesus to misuse his miraculous power to satisfy his own hunger because he doubts God’s provision. The challenge is not to perform a show miracle since there is not an audience in the wilderness. Rather it refers to the grumbling that Israel did in the wilderness complaining to God that they were hungry so eventually God sends manna and quail.

Will Jesus the Son of God fail the test as Israel did or will Jesus persevere in trust toward God? Remember, Jesus is famished after his long fast, so Satan urges Jesus to satisfy that hunger immediately. The first temptation, then, was to be selfish, to think only of himself. To satisfy an immediate urge or need without looking at the bigger picture.

The second test is to put God to the test, to see if God is trustworthy. This second temptation is a spectacular use of spiritual power. Jesus is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple and told to throw himself down because God would send angels to rescue him. Turning from the physical needs of hunger to the spiritual realm, Satan uses this profound temptation to see if Jesus will use the divine shield to maintain his own safety.

Will Jesus seek to avoid all pain, suffering and hardship? Whenever there is trouble will he call on Daddy to save him? Will Jesus adopt the attitude that he is invincible? That he can do foolhardy things throughout his life and not have to worry about the consequences of his actions? Jesus rejects this enticement. He chooses the harder road and we know where that journey will take him on Good Friday.

The third temptation is the one that still plagues most leaders in our world today. Political power – control of vast territories, empires and resources. To be the most powerful leader in the world. Remember, that first century Jews were expecting a Messiah to be an earthly king, a strong military conqueror who would defeat the Romans and regain all of Israel’s ancestral homeland. A mighty warrior who would lay waste to Israel’s enemies and rule the entire world bringing peace and prosperity to God’s chosen people.

Jesus could have had all of this – fame, riches, power. He could have been the Messiah people wanted him to be. All he had to do was bow down and worship Satan. I find it amazing that we still use this language in our society today. We often describe people who seem to have it all as “selling their souls to the devil” in order to achieve their level of success. The temptation is real. Who will we serve? Jesus reviewed his options, made his choice and took a stand. He could have had it all, but he decided to shun the easy path. With all the energy he could muster, he emphatically cried out, “Away from me Satan, I will serve God alone”!

Like Christ, we too are tempted, but the tempter doesn’t necessarily show himself with horns and a tail, but in other, more worldly ways. Let us pray that we too, when that moment of trial comes, can muster the courage to follow our Father’s will, to cry out, like Jesus did: “Away from me Satan, I will serve God alone!”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

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Over a term in Oxford…

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Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House

I just realised that I haven’t posted anything since I moved apart from the texts to my homilies…

The last time I left you, dear readers, I was preparing for the move to the noble city of Oxford. By now, I have been here for five months, and I am completely convinced I made the right move by changing careers (again, some of you might say….)!

As you all know (who am I kidding, let’s rephrase: as I have already said on here): I am a Chapel Intern/Pastoral Assistant at an Anglo-Catholic student chaplaincy in Oxford. Pusey House was founded as a ‘House of Piety and Learning’ in memory of E B Pusey, one of the main figures within the Oxford Movement. As someone who is a major bookworm, living under the same roof as the biggest theological library in Oxford is a great blessing.

Being in the Home Counties have been a great blessing for many reasons, the foremost being that I have been able to meet up with loads of online friends, most of them I started talking to online while still living in London. Working in a place such as the Domus Puseiana has also given me lots of new friends – and I am working on introducing old friends to new friends – a post-Lenten project, maybe.

Oxford in itself is a wonderful city, especially those rare moments you find yourself being the only one wandering down a certain lane, or walking past the castle, or in the University Parks, or…… OR – when you’re all alone late at night in your House Chapel that’s all dark bar the sanctuary lights…..

Anyway, I meant for this post to be much longer, but I thought this would be better than nothing, as I am currently busy preparing for our Ash Wednesday High Mass tomorrow.

 

 

 

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Conversion of St Paul

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1st EVENSONG OF THE CONVERSION OF ST PAUL

24 January 2018

Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford

Readings: Jeremiah 1.4-10, Acts 26.1-23 

Father: all those words and thoughts which come from thee, whilst thou bless them and make them fruitful. And all those words and thoughts that come not from thee but from our own vanity wilt thou forgive. AMEN.

When I first came into Chapel this evening I thought there was something wrong. We’re all in gold – the colour of celebration, and not the red for martyrs. Now, I am not accusing the Sacristan of not doing his job, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Today we are not commemorating a martyrdom as is usually the case when we have an “Apostle-Day”, but rather the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, when he, so to speak, was ‘made’ into the Apostle Paul.

While the exact details of his death are not entirely clear, most historic sources do agree that Paul was martyred by decapitation, and a large number of these sources claim that it was by the order of the emperor Nero. So, his martyrdom is celebrated on the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul on 29th June, and on the 25th January (for which we celebrate the first evensong today) we celebrate his conversion.

The Apostle Paul was, as many of you might know, a prolific letter writer, giving advice to the congregations of the early Christian Church, and he is still to this day considered one of the more prominent early theologians.

I have to admit that a stubborn person like myself can actually find Paul to be rather interfering (telling all those budding congregations what to do and how to live their lives), but in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles today we see a much more human side of him. He describes his past as someone who persecuted the earliest Christians, who then, when he saw “a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 1.13)  – eventually was converted to Christianity.

Paul wasn’t only converted to Christianity, he was called to ministry – “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (Acts 26.

As someone who is in the very initial stages of discerning a possible vocation to Holy Orders in the Church of England, I have, quite naturally, been reflecting quite a bit about both my faith and my possible vocation recently.

The calling from God to Paul, who in his former life as Saul of Tarsus, persecuted, imprisoned and even worked for the execution of Christians, seems to me as Scriptural affirmation of the twenty-sixth article of religion in the Book of Common Prayer – Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament.

Now, I can feel the Fathers looking at me with worried eyes – please do not take this as me encouraging people to go out and be “evil men”, to quote the BCP, on the contrary. What I want to do is to point out that the calling Paul had, indeed the calling we all have as Christians, come from God and is not dependant on ourselves, but that we can only do it by His Grace.

Now, many Christians believe St. Paul’s calling, his conversion is like most conversions we know of, from an immoral to a moral life. But that wasn’t Saul’s conversion at all. His was from a false notion of a holy life to a true notion. He was a zealous follower of God. He had come down from Turkey to Jerusalem to study at the feet of the greatest rabbi of the age, Gamaliel.

As a young man, he had such zeal to keep the community of Israel together that he made it his mission to try to stomp out the heretical sect that was dividing Judaism and blasphemously claiming that a carpenter from Nazareth not only was the Messiah, but the Son of God and would destroy the holy Temple. That’s why he was hunting Christians down.

In the persecution of the Church, he was the furthest thing, for example, from Herod, who hunted down the baby Jesus in order to preserve his own privileges. Paul’s conversion was, rather, from a false notion that we are saved by our external adhesion to all the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, to the true one that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We are saved by Christ’s work, not our own. The culmination of the saving life of faith he wrote about in his letter to the Galatians when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).

The true notion of holiness is to die to ourselves so that the Risen Christ truly can live within us, reign within us, sanctify and save us and make us his instruments to co-redeem the world. Holiness is union with God. Since we are saved by grace, and grace is not a thing but a participation as a creature in the life of the Creator, Christian conversion must be continual, because it’s based on a continued encounter with the Lord, as he seeks in us to form us more and more in his image with our free fiat. In St. Paul’s life we see that conversion was not a one-time thing but a continuous reality as he continued to grow in the Gospel that he was fearlessly and faithfully proclaiming.

Isn’t it apt, then, that this feast should be the finale of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? This week, or, well, octave as it was originally known, began in 1908, and was eventually blessed by Pope Pius X. This week was based on the prayers of Christ Himself: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (S John 17.20-21)”. It is rather fitting that this octave ends with the Conversion of St Paul, whom we can see in his letters condemning division and exhorting unity, for the churches in Corinth and in Rome, asking them to live this life of holiness to allow the risen Christ to truly live within them.

Let us pray:

Almighty and everlasting God who by thy holy apostle hast taught us to make prayers and supplications for all men: We humbly beseech thee to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity and concord; and grant that all they that do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity and godly love; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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