What is the biggest challenge Christianity faces?
I believe it's the need to heal the schism between the supernatural truth of Christ’s reign and the reign of the evolving body of human truth in people’s minds.
A few years back we celebrated the double centenary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the sesquicentenary of his book The Origin of Species published in 1859. There was a book published entitled Creation or Evolution – do we have to choose? which posed the gravity of this split.
|Charles Darwin (1809-1882)|
Does our kneeling to Christ as King require a surrender of intellectual integrity in the face of evolutionary theory? If the truth of Christ is an anchor that holds us, has it any affinity with the forward movement of the universe? Is Christianity a brake on the world or a spur to world transformation?
Well we need fidelity to Christ which sets us in some ways against the world but we also need audacity for Christ – indeed Our Lord summons it from us!
We need more intellectual audacity to overcome the taunts of the Darwinians. It is Catholic Faith that both reason and faith lift us to God. If you want to be a Catholic Christian you can no more be a mindless fundamentalist than a Richard Dawkins rationalist!
As a former scientist I have a good investment in this collaboration of reason and faith. That’s why I’ve been meeting with a group on Wednesdays this month in the parish room to engage together in the reasoned defence of Catholic faith, so called apologetics. That’s not apologising for faith by the way, but making an ‘apologia’, a reasoned defence of faith.
My doctorate was on the forces between the chains in polythene and Teflon. I wrote it years ago. It’s won me the nickname ‘non-stick-vicar’. I wish that were true!
From that scientific work on what holds polymers together I’ve now moved forward to another concern - what holds the universe together.
We’re here this morning to celebrate the One who does just that – Jesus Christ. He holds all things in being scripture says and he’s bringing all things together in himself.
My mission now as a priest is to help people know Jesus and the truth that’s in Him, truth that’s married to the wider body of human truth that’s emerging day by day as the world evolves. As Our Lord says to Pilate in the Gospel: All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.
The gentle reign of Christ the King is over hearts and minds. Being subject to that reign, living with Jesus as Lord, entails audacity as well as fidelity. Its having confidence that the world around us is his, that his reign is there in its unfolding truth and so are his mission opportunities.
Mission is God’s business. Jesus Christ our King is there in front of us awaiting our faith in him.
All we need is the Holy Spirit to transform our fear into courage.
The Lord is ahead of us if we attend to him.
Earlier this year I did a series of posts on social media about the French priest scientist and mystic Teilhard de Chardin.
For Teilhard the Jesus whose reign today’s readings announce is the one who holds all things together and who leads us forward to a fulfilment that will coincide with his majestic return.
The whole cosmos is like a cone with the movements within it converging upon Jesus as the apex or omega point. Our individual futures, the future development of St. Bartholomew’s and of the whole church and the future of Brighton and the whole created order rests in Jesus and is to end in Jesus.
You have so filled the universe in every direction, Jesus wrote Fr. Teilhard, that from now on it is blessedly impossible for us to escape you…Neither life, whose progress reinforces the hold you have on me; nor death which throws me into your hands, nor the good or bad spiritual powers which are your living instruments; nor the energies of matter, into which you are plunged;…nor the unfathomable abysses of space, which are the measure of your greatness;…none of these things will be able to separate me from your substantial love, because they are only the veil, the “species”, under which you hold me so that I can hold you. (Le Milieu Divin 1957).
His last reference draws an analogy that as Jesus is hidden under the species of bread in the Holy Eucharist so that he can come to us and change us into himself, so Jesus is hid in the creation itself as the binding force, as joy and sorrow visible to the eye of faith.
Teilhard teaches me that when I as a priest in his name - and your name - say This is my body… over bread and This is my blood over wine, something spills out from the altar mystically across the church and its surrounds. This priestly act extends even beyond the transubstantiated host to the cosmos itself Teilhard writes.
Wondrous stuff – but Christianity and the dynamic that urges it forward are wondrous stuff!
The best encouragement I can provide for our mission here at St. Bartholomew’s is to point to Jesus before you and within you in the Blessed Sacrament, building our faith towards seizing his possibilities.
Jesus Christ holds you and I together. He holds Brighton together – or he would hold Brighton together, not overriding free will but by compelling love. St Paul says of Our Lord in Colossians ‘He…is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
As we heard in today’s first reading: I am the Alpha and the Omega...God who is, who was and is to come, the Almighty.
Mission is God’s business. Our Lord is there in front of us awaiting our faith in him.
All we need is to see Jesus mystically in all the people and things in our lives as one beckoning us forward into ever greater audacity for him.
In his book Mass on the World Teilhard addresses directly this apparent schism between Christianity and the world. Reflecting there on the Eucharist and how we seek here both purity and charity he says: The true meaning of purity is not a debilitating separation from all created reality but an impulse carrying one through all forms of created beauty…the true nature of charity is not a sterile fear of doing wrong but a vigorous determination that all of us together should break open the doors of life.
Jesus is saying the same to us today as his great purpose weaves forward incorporating our lives and those on our hearts and the whole community of Brighton to break open the doors of life as we consecrate ourselves to God in this Eucharist.
Can you see with Teilhard that when the priest lifts the paten, the holy plate with bread to offer what is offered is the whole cosmos including our little part as it is the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands? When he offers the chalice of wine to God it is a chalice containing the pressing out not just of grapes but of lives and communities under pressure to become for us the chalice of salvation?
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation…this is your body…this is your blood…this bread and wine, our lives and potentially the lives of all those linked to ours in the marvel of the created order. Open our spiritual eyes to your leading and your resourcing through this Mass!
Grant us fidelity and audacity in service of Our Lord Jesus Christ who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together…. the Alpha and the Omega...God who is, who was and is to come… to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all might, majesty dominion and power henceforth and forevermore. Amen.