An Oxymoron

My local bank in France has had a “make-over”.  The counter, with its familiar personnel, has gone; to be replaced by a “Dalek” looking work station occupied by a girl who looks as if she still ought to be at school.  The people that occupy the renovated space in their little offices change with remarkable regularity.  But the biggest change is that they do not seem to be interested in handling money!   One can only obtain cash from the ATM machine.  A bank that ceases to function with liquid money seems to me to be a contradiction: an oxymoron.

Thomas More’s Utopia was written in a similar nonsensical style.  For example, the word Utopia means “no place”, its major city had a waterless river running through it and the narrator has a name which means “speaker of nonsense”.  It was a work as much about human foolishness as anything else, and part of its enduring quality is that it is a commentary on the human condition that can be given so easily to folly.  

The book, in two parts, also drew a contrast between the foolishness of the corrupted state of western Renaissance Europe and the idealistic newly discovered island of Utopia. Nothing much has changed on that front.  We seem now to be creating two worlds: one of the oligarchic super rich who receive obscene amounts of money that then funds their foolish spending.  The other is a growing economic poverty among the majority who find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  This is socially a very dangerous situation.

Pope Francis has written the following words, which are so apposite to our present condition in the contrast that he draws.  “The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love.”  Perhaps the still, small voice of God ought to be heard more often.

Our best wishes go to Bishop Alan Hopes, who has visited us in the past, upon his translation to become the new Bishop of East Anglia.

Something to think about

For the past eleven years, I have been dutiful in trying to make sure that our Chaplaincy has a regular routine associated with our work of worship.  For the most part, this works quite well; although we appreciate that we will never be a large community numerically and support varies during the year.  On occasions, however, one can get very disappointed when our numbers drop to very low figures.  This hardly justifies the time and effort one puts into making sure that our provision is qualitative and dignified as befits the glory of God.  

Please do not treat the Church’s worship like catching a bus – if I miss a service it does not matter, there will be another one later on!    The bottom line for us all is that if we do not use the provision that is made, then we will lose what is offered.  So if you can, be present. Of course, we realise that people have legitimate reasons for being absent from time to time.

The principle is simple.  Every week God gives us seven full days of life and living; surely some time can be spared to register appreciation for that gift.  Worship offered to God, therefore, expresses our worthship.  This is particularly true at Christmas.  I hope that the forthcoming Christmas season will bring you joy and happiness, but do not forget to go to church and wish Jesus “Happy Birthday”! 

Who is the Church for..?

During the time of Pope Callistus, who was Pope for five years from 217 until 222, there was a great debate in the Christian Church about the forgiveness of sin.  Some people believed, rather restrictively, that sins could only be forgiven at Baptism, and idealistically that people really ought to abstain from sin and lead as perfect a life as possible.  Consequently, many people delayed their baptism until they approached death!  Pope Callistus took a different and more pragmatic view, and he taught that despite human fallen nature - with due repentance - people could have their sins forgiven, even after Baptism.  The Church was thus divided into two groups: one which saw the Church as a group of saints in constant conflict with the world, and another which saw the Church as a school for sinners that was there to help mankind work out its salvation; in other words, people needed encouragement precisely because they were not yet saints.

In the end, the view of Callistus thankfully triumphed; and eventually that triumph was echoed in the creeds where we claim belief in the forgiveness of our sins.  We may aspire to be saints, and some may achieve it, but at heart we know that we are really in the company of sinners.   Living in the light of Jesus’ kingdom can be demanding and challenging, but we can feel encouraged that Jesus enjoyed having a meal with sinners, and he recognised that it was their need to have a physician.  Christ does not place upon our shoulders burdens that we cannot bear, and we have to learn patience as his grace gradually gets us into shape.


Three Kings Come to Valletta...

I am writing this article in Malta.  Ann and I are here on part of our annual holidays, which we take in winter.  We are staying in a hotel in the St. Paul’s Bay area of the island, with the other elderly retired guests who take advantage of the excellent deals for winter breaks.  Despite the walking sticks and walking-frames, these people know how to live adventurously, if not dangerously: they get out and about with remarkable tenacity each day, after consuming a full and lethal English breakfast. 

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