Monday, 28 May 2018

Christine North

The photo comes from the Strinesdale Nature Reserve in Waterhead, Oldham.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

And will the real Jesus ...

In about 4 BC, God came to earth as a human being. He was born as a Jewish boy in an obscure province of the Roman Empire called Palestine. We know him as ‘Jesus,’ but this name is a Greek translation of his real name. While on earth, his Hebrew name was Yeshua from which we get the popular name Joshua.
       Jesus’ mother was a young Palestinian girl named Mary. She was of peasant stock and probably aged about 13 when Jesus was born (if she was older, she would have been married already) Only after the child’s birth did she marry her fiancĂ©, Joseph. Many later traditions suggest that Joseph was an old man when he married Mary. This idea is unlikely: he was probably about the same age as Mary, or maybe just slightly older.
     Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a small town where the great Jewish King David had been born 1000 years earlier. Soon after Jesus’ birth, his family fled and settled in nearby Egypt when King Herod started killing all the local baby boys. They only returned to Palestine after Herod died, and stayed in the northern region of Galilee, in a town called Nazareth.
     The Bible tells us that Jesus had half-brothers and half-sisters. Both Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 name his brothers as Simon, James, Joses and Jude (or ‘Judas’). We do not know the names of any of his sisters, or how many they were.
     Jesus worked as a carpenter for most of his adult life and never married. He was also a rabbi, which is an Aramaic word for ‘teacher.’ He taught in the Jewish Synagogue at Nazareth. There, he read the scriptures (cf. Luke 4:16–23) and preached. He also taught his few disciples.
     The Bible is always keen to demonstrate that Jesus was fully human. Like us, he grew from being a baby, became a teenager, and thence grew up as a man. The Bible also describes times when he needed sleep, food and warmth, just like us. It also shows him as having the full range of human emotions: he wept, was angry, and so on.
     And that’s the point: being fully human, this God–man had a perfect understanding of what it’s like to be human. We call this mind-boggling concept ‘the Incarnation’. 

We simply don’t know what Jesus looked like. Many people think he looked like the British actor Robert Powell, who played Jesus in Franco Zefferelli’s 1975 film, Jesus of Nazareth. Others think he had golden hair and blue eyes, like the images in many old stained-glass windows. All these ideas are wrong because Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. We can be certain:–
  • Like everyone born in the Middle East today, Jesus’ hair and eyes would also have been dark. And he would have had a fairly dark skin.
  • He was probably quite short: people malnourished from birth usually are, and Jesus was of peasant stock.
  • His hair would have been short: the ancient Jews thought it an insult for a man to have long hair, because it would make him look like a woman (see for example 1 Corinthians 11:14).
  • An ancient prophecy said the Messiah would not be attractive in any physical sense (Isaiah 53:2b), so forget any hunky images we see of him!

Love's endeavours, love's expense

Morning glory, starlit sky,
Leaves in springtime, swallows’ flight,
Autumn gales, tremendous seas,
Sounds and scents of summer night;
Soaring music, towering words,
Art’s perfection, scholar’s truth,
Joy supreme of human love,
Memory’s treasure, grace of youth;

Open, Lord, are these Thy gifts,
Gifts of love to mind and sense;
Hidden is love’s agony,
Love’s endeavour, Love’s expense.
Loves that gives gives ever more,
Gives with zeal, with eager hands,
Spares not, keeps not, all outpours,
Ventures all, its all expends.

Drained is love in making full;
Bound in setting others free;
Poor in making many rich;
Weak in giving power to be.

Therefore He who Thee reveals
Hangs, O Father, on that tree
Helpless; and the nails and thorns
Tell of what Thy love must be.
Thou art God; no monarch Thou
Throned in easy state to reign;
Thou art God, Whose arms of love
Aching, spent, the world sustain.  

      W.H. Vanstone

The writings of St Barnabas

The east window at St Barnabas Church, Oldham
St Barnabas never met or knew Jesus, but was a later convert to Christianity. The principal Christian influence in his life was the great evangelist St Paul. Barnabas learnt his faith from St Paul and, following St Paul’s martyrdom (in 64 AD), became a Christian leader in his own right.

       Like many of the early Christian leaders, Barnabas sought to transmit the faith he had inherited from his own teachers. To those ends, he wrote to other Christians.

The Letter of St Barnabas
Christians have known about and discussed the Letter of St Barnabas from the earliest years of the Christian era. It was probably written between AD 70 and 135, though some scholars think it was written earlier and maybe just a couple of decades after Jesus’ death and Resurrection, so about 55 AD.

     The letter is often referred to as the ‘Epistle’ of St Barnabas’, which is merely a Latin title. The Letter is short and its text has rarely been discussed. It says very little that adds to our knowledge of early Christianity, which may explain why the Church authorities did not choose to include it in the canon of the Bible. In other words, while useful, it should not be regarded as uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit of God.

The Acts of St Barnabas
The Acts of Barnabas says its author was St Paul’s early companion ‘John Mark’.

     We do not know when the Acts of Barnabas was written, but its language and its internal ecclesiastical politics suggest it was probably written in the fifth century. If so, why was it written as though by St Barnabas? In context, the Church in Cyprus had just been granted its own independence by the First Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, but the decision was widely ignored. The island’s independence was re-affirmed by Emperor Zeno in 488 AD, but again ignored. The author of the Acts of Barnabas claimed the island was the site of St Barnabas’ grave and therefore an apostolic foundation. In this way, the author sought to promote the independence of the Church of Cyprus and protect its bishops from the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch.
The Gospel of St Barnabas
The Acts of Barnabas often refers to Barnabas preaching from the Gospels. These verses led to the idea that Barnabas wrote his own Gospel — the so-called ‘Gospel of Barnabas’— though the context clearly refutes this idea.

    A later document known as ‘The Gospel of Barnabas’ is a very different text from either the Epistle or the Acts of Barnabas. It is a very long book describing the life of Jesus, and claiming to be the work of Jesus’ disciple Barnabas who, in this work, is made one of the twelve apostles. In no other document contemporary with early Christianity is Barnabas ever described as an ‘apostle’.

Two manuscripts of the Gospel of St Barnabas are known to have existed. Both date from the late 16th century and are written in Italian and Spanish respectively. The Spanish manuscript is now lost, its text surviving only in a partial 18th-century transcript.

     The Gospel of Barnabas is about the same length as our current four gospels put together (the Italian manuscript has 222 chapters, compared with a mere 16 in Mark). The bulk of the book is devoted to an account of Jesus’ ministry, much of it harmonised from material from our four gospels. In key respects, it contradicts the New Testament teachings of Christianity.

Today, most scholars think the Gospel of Barnabas may contain remnants of an earlier, apocryphal, work but it was written in the sixteenth century as a deliberate forgery to bring it more in line with Islamic doctrine. That being said, it also contradicts the Quran in many key areas of doctrine. 

For further reading, please see:

William of Glasshampton

William Sirr was born into a well-to-do English–Irish family in 1862. Soon afterwards, a severe financial disaster changed the family fortunes when he was still very young and his parents divorced.
       William received an elementary education and then held a series of relatively menial jobs as a vintner and as a clerk for an architect. All the time, he spent his considerable energies in organising events and missions for his local Church, and leading classes for children.
     He felt the call to become a priest. The Diocese of London recognised his call, and even broke its own rules to enable him to train. For example, his poor schooling meant he was completely incapable of reading Latin.
     He spent several years as a priest in the very poorest areas of London’s East End, all the time inspiring great love and admiration.
     In the early years of the twentieth century, Father William moved from parochial life to become a friar of the Society of the Divine Compassion (SDC), based in the East End. This new life was centred on prayer and a deeper commitment to holy poverty. It was good work. He quickly rose to become the superior of the Society of the Divine Compassion which, perhaps ironically, meant he spent more time in mission and administration and less time in prayer. But it did demonstrate his abilities.
     Father William felt called by God to leave his work in the East End to begin a contemplative life of prayer in a more secluded setting. He spent several years with the Society of St John the Evangelist in Oxford— the so-called ‘Cowley Fathers’ — to test this new aspect to his vocation. All this time he felt a call to an ever-closer commitment to prayer and seclusion.
     In the winter of 1918, an elderly squire gave him the stables attached to a manor house in Glasshampton near Worcester (built in 1810 but long since ruined by fire) and with many acres of land. With great joy, he moved there. His aim was to establish the first completely enclosed religious house for men in England since the Reformation.
     For nearly 20 years Fr. William lived here, leading a life of silence, manual labour, contemplation and intercessory prayer. He renovated the building to make it habitable again. Almost single-handedly, he created an abbey of great beauty and simplicity, and gave it the dedication, ‘St Mary at the Cross’. The chapel in particular is a holy place, and is a simple room with white-washed walls and an altar of red sandstone.
     Father William’s goal was to provide a place capable of demonstrating God’s love through hospitality and prayer. He hoped to found a contemplative community at Glasshampton but, as the years passed, it became clear that no community was going to form around him. His life of stern self-discipline was not easy to follow and none of those who came stayed. Nevertheless, many people came to stay for shorter or longer periods of time, finding in him a spiritual director of great holiness.
Father William died in 1937.
     In some ways, his life seemed a failure: he attracted no ‘sons’ to take on the spiritual life he chose for himself and he created no new order of monks. But he did greatly influence a great many other great women and men to follow his example and
become giants of the spiritual life.
     And in 1947, the Anglican Society of Saint Francis — the Anglican Franciscans — were invited to live at Glasshampton. It became again a house of prayer, but of a different and maybe less austere way of life. 

For more information, go to:
William of Glasshampton: friar, monk, solitary, by Geoffrey Curtis, SPCK, 1947 and 1978.

Mother Angelica