Advent, Christmas. And the Incarnation
There has been no shortage of good copy for newspapers this year, but back in the early summer, somewhere between the General Election, and before terrorist horrors in Tunisia, there was a brief few days when not much seemed to be happening. And so a rather obscure campaigning group was able to get some headlines by announcing that God should be addressed as “she”.
The thing had a faintly '70s flavour – Daily Mail headlines sounding appropriately shocked etc – and the story, as it emerged from the layers of cliché, was not particularly impressive: something called the “Transformations Steering Group” had announced that Anglican bishops should promote more “expansive language and imagery about God”. And the Transformations Steering Group turns out to be a gathering of lobbyists from groups with 70s-style acronyms, the Cof E's website informing us that “The Steering Group comprises 2 representatives proposed by each of the constituent groupings (DARC, NADAWM, WATCH & AWESOME) plus a senior woman from the Northern Province”.
The main difference that is noticed in a modern Catholic funeral is the abundance of flowers and candles, (which have become the universal mark of condolence) and almost in inverse proportion, the scarcity of Mass cards and Mass stipends. Thirty years ago it was the other way round. We need to ask if people still believe in praying for the faithful departed and that it is “not a fond thing vainly invented.” The practice was strongly endorsed by the Council of Trent in 1563 precisely to counter the arguments of the Reformers. There is a Memento in every Eucharistic Prayer, and the 2nd November and the subsequent month is dedicated to the Holy Souls. Has it just withered away in people’s minds ?
Pious remembrance is better than nothing, but it easily slides into a certain agnosticism. We can wonder whether we wander disembodied in the next life, ‘having passed over’ or maybe dwell in some alternate universe. Perhaps we console ourselves with the thought that our dead are all with God in heaven, like the angels - which of course is an impossibility, as we are a different species. Cardinal Basil Hume visited Jennifer Patterson (of the Two Fat Ladies) in hospital, as she lay dying of cancer, and said as he was leaving, “Well, Jennifer, see you in heaven.” To which she is supposed to have replied, “No, Eminence, but I hope we meet in Purgatory.”
Since the legalising of same-sex marriage in the United States this summer, surprisingly few Catholics have voiced their dissent, either in pulpit or public square. Most have tended to murmur together in their own small groups, sharing worries for the future and disbelief at the present state of affairs. It’s understandable in the face of an aggressive cultural movement which quite frankly doesn’t “play fair” in allowing any opposition view.
But we all know in our hearts that we cannot stay silent. It’s a matter, then, of finding the right words and methods to defend the truth of marriage, without producing just another shouting match or a public smear campaign.
Perhaps a closer look at some basic elements of the recent shift may offer us a few conclusions, with which we can cut through the complexity of this debate. Then we might find practical ways to move forward.
I had hoped for a quiet Summer. From late July to early September, Parliament shuts down for Summer Recess, and MPs return to their constituencies and enjoy a holiday. This usually means that political campaigners get something of a quieter period too, and in the case of those campaigning for the right to life this would have been particularly welcome.
The last six months before the General Election saw a good deal of political activity on ‘life’ issues. A Ten Minute Rule Bill introduced by Fiona Bruce MP turned into an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, and there was much work to try to mobilise the support of right-to-lifers on that issue, as indeed on the Government regulations allowing embryo-exploitative and destructive ‘mitochondrial donation’ techniques. The votes for both of these, rather unhelpfully, happened within a day of each other. Then there was the long campaign to inform voters – at least as far as possible – about the beliefs of parliamentary candidates on life issues for the Election itself.
Universal King - because from His ‘Fiat’ the universe itself was spawned in the first microseconds of the explosive energies with which the creation itself began. King - because through Him, as Eternal Word, Intellect of the Divine, that dynamic movement of energies was ordered like an equation to its ascent of being. It was ordered says the Wisdom of Solomon, in “number, in measure, and in weight” (Wisdom 11:20). King and Son of Man, - because as the Angels were made in the sheer likeness of God’s immaterial being, so man’s kind was, from the beginning, made to the Image not of God in general, but of God to be Incarnate, in Christ. King he is as Teacher, Leader, Ruler of our lives: the Lord of History. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. King again, because victor, as becomes a King in battle hard won over the power of evil and loss placed in the nature of Man by Original Sin, and the long catalogue of personal sin. King victorious, he is called Saviour, King as our Redeemer, the one who won back his own inheritance, and rescued us from our powerlessness to overcome the realities of sin, ignorance, and death. We could not break out upwards to God. We needed Him to break down the wall of the dungeon of our servitude.