The Good Samaritan: a reason for arguing the Christian response to COVID-19 was correct?

Aime-Morot-Le-bon-Samaritain Source wikimedia commons photo credit unknown no copyright
The Good Samaritan, by Aime Morot. Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo credit unknown.

Studying philosophy means trying to look at questions from every angle, and attempting to test conclusions against everything relevant.  Preferably one stops short of actually going mad, but as most of my friends will tell you, I personally didn’t succeed!  😛

In this case, particularly, when everyone else is telling me my conclusion must be wrong, and I have struggled with it myself (it’s hardly an easy answer), I have kept questioning and considering.

And I still come out with the same answer: that is, that we have got it wrong, and that in locking Churches and denying people the Sacraments, we have betrayed three times: God, the people of the Church, and the people of the world: the former in treating Him as if He was not the primary means of Life; the people of the Church in excluding their part in the work of God, and in showing a lack of reciprocal commitment to them; and the world in not bearing witness to the fact of a more fundamental life than that which a disease can destroy.

The good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) logically comes in for some real scrutiny in this context – something that could be used to argue that I have in fact got the priorities wrong – and I think it is an interesting one to examine, as it may be that it is often read at present by way of putting the second commandment before the first.  (I am referring to Matt. 22:37-40 and its analogues in reference to the first and second commandments, by the way – not to the Old Testament ten).

I should be clear that the case for using it to defend the response of shutting Churches and denying the sacraments is my own, as is my conclusion that this case should be rejected.  I haven’t yet heard anyone try to use this parable to justify what has been done, but, again, considering what might speak against your conclusions by way of testing them is part of doing philosophy well.

I do not find the Good Samaritan convincing as a argument for denying the Sacraments on the grounds that there remains some risk of infection that cannot be negated even from the perspective of receiving an intincted Host at arm’s length through a window while both parties wear a mask.

The argument for saying that it should justify this, is the argument that this indicates that a person should be willing to sacrifice even their worship to the corporeal good of others.  I think it is probably problematic, however, for several reasons – both to do with the parable, to do with what is the truest service to neighbour, and to do with its lack of real analogy to the situation (sacrificing others, as opposed to sacrificing yourself).

The position of the debate in the Gospel can be read against taking even the straightforward reading as a exultation of the second commandment over the first.  That is, both the questioner and Jesus seem to have have agreed about the first commandment “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all our mind” and are debating a particular detail of the second “and your neighbour as yourself.”

Though the subversive overturning of “who is my neighbour?” is probably straightforward in itself – “go and do likewise” – the nature of the text suggests a symbolic reading which actually points to, rather than away from the Sacraments.  The “likewise” may point beyond the original “love your neighbour as yourself” towards “love each other as I have loved you”.

The man who is set on by thieves is going from Jerusalem to Jericho: this probably has a symbolism rather like that of the prodigal son going to a far country and feeding the pigs: i.e. he has sinned, and the result of this sin is disaster.

It is not clear if we are told which direction anyone except the man is going in: however, in the translation I have here, both the man and the priest are said to be going “down” the road, which would suggest the priest would also have been going towards Jericho.  This may be significant, as it suggests that while the notion that too great an emphasis on ritual purity may be relevant (avoiding a possible corpse), the specific priority of the temple worship probably does not come into it if the priest is going towards Jericho (i.e. away from the temple).

The bandages, the oil and the wine may be sacramental images (the Baptismal garment, the oil of anointing, the Precious Blood), the ass may represent Christ’s bearing our sins and their consequences in His Body, the Inn may represent the Church in which Christ’s care (that He has paid for) is received*.

I am never sure what to make of these extremely symbolic readings; however, when it is a matter of considering a deeper meaning (a lot of powerful narratives can be meaningfully read on both a straightforward and a symbolic/allusion level: it is part of their power), and not standing outside the general tenor of the Gospel narrative, I think there is some reason to at least take them seriously.  And if so, it can actually be brought in as much to argue what I have been saying for other reasons: that is, that the Divine Life and care for the Divine Life is more fundamental, as to argue that we should sacrifice the worship of God entirely to care for neighbour (instead of regarding it as part of how we care for our neighbour, accompanied by the corporeal works of mercy.  Both can be distorted into selfishness, but neither are selfish in themselves**).

This in itself, while I think it does matter and is significant, in that it would suggest the reading of the parable may not be as simply focused only on the corporeal works of mercy as it looks at first glance***, seems to only confuse the issue.  This may be partly because I am not a theologian, and cannot write with much confidence when it comes to scriptural interpretation (there’s a lot of difference between knowing about a subject, and understanding how to apply the processes which are used in it).

I’ve written at length already (see quite a lot of previous posts in the same categories) on the second reason: that is, that our primary service to the world should not be adopting its priorities but witnessing to the Life of God.

The final reason I’d suggest that the parable of the Good Samaritan does not justify the decisions made is impossible to put with real tact.  What I would say instead to people is simply: I write as a sinner and conscious of my own failings of faith, and I do not write to accuse, but to seek reconciliation.  That cannot be done except in acknowledging the reality of the situation and the experience as it has actually been for me.  Trying to ask people to understand why their sympathy is upsetting and does not mean much is always difficult, but it is the only way through when it is the reality.

The reason is this: the Good Samaritan sacrifices himself, not other people.  He has compassion, he puts the man on his animal, he takes him to an inn and he pays the innkeeper for his care.  The COVID-19 decisions, involving the refusal of the Sacraments to all but clergy households, has involved one group of people sacrificing another for the purported good of third parties***.  It’s more equivalent to a situation where the Samaritan was journeying with a severely wounded relative on his donkey, and assisting another wounded friend along by foot.  Upon meeting the man set on by thieves, this Samaritan pushes the wounded person off the donkey to abandon them to death and the powers of darkness in the road, puts the person set on by robbers on the donkey, and forces the other wounded person to take them to an inn and pay for their care.  He then carries on alone, missing their company, lamenting their difficulties, and praying for them, but quite confident he has done the right thing in saving the man lying by the roadside at their cost!  It is not surprising that such sympathy is not likely to make much difference to what the person left to die in the road thinks or feels about the situation…

Of course, within Catholic order, which I do still hold despite all this, it is not the priests’ fault that they cannot share the fate of the non-ordained in enforced excommunication, for even if they were to decline to celebrate the Eucharist and receive (which personally, I would not advocate), they have the choice, while we do not.  This is among my reasons for suggesting that we can only be consistent by point-blank refusing to go along with secular orders that people should be actually deprived of the Sacraments (as opposed to changing what we are doing to take a lot of extra precautions).  If the non-ordained are equally the people of God, it follows that the duty of stewardship from the clergy in taking them the Sacraments has to be fairly absolute.

So, for various different reasons, my mind on this point is not changed by the contemplation of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Having talked about the issue with regard to the clergy-laity relationship, however, I would like to finish by re-emphasising that I do believe that our primary betrayal is of God, not of the people.  That is, it is in turning from Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, to seek life chiefly in “professors’ models“.

Cherry Foster

 

*Except for the comment on ritual purity (I’ll find a reference if anyone wants to ask me for one) and the comment on possibly pointing to the New Commandment (which is my own), this all comes from The Orthodox Study Bible; St Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology 2008.

**It could be argued that we have become infected by a tendency to regard religion as a private matter: it would make more sense from the Christian tradition of thought to defend religious freedom by emphasising that all must come freely to God, than by making out that what we do in worship, we do entirely for our own benefit.

*** And our own supposed protection, which I would argue is a worse argument, because (a) the notion that someone can be done good by being denied Christ – the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the one thing necessary – is absurd, and (b) we are grown up.  It should be up to us, as individuals in conjunction with our own spiritual advisors, in our own circumstances, with our own knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses, our particular calling, and the way God works with us, to make decisions as to whether to receive the Sacraments in such a situation or not.  To systematically deny us that capacity to choose on such grounds is to deny our capacity to come to maturity in faith.

 

N.B.  If the use of “we/our” in this text, as in “our primary betrayal” is confusing, given that I am speaking primarily as someone who has suffered the situation rather than being part of doing it, this “we/our” is a collective use, which I feel to be appropriate in context.  I am not ordained.  I have to date been left completely without the Sacraments for more than 14 weeks, despite (to the best of my knowledge) repeated requests to the contrary made on my behalf, so my experience is that of a lay person who was previously a daily communicant.

However, I am part of the whole mess of faithlessness that created the situation where such decisions could be made, and there is a manner in which it is meaningful to use “we” even when there can be no personal responsibility (as in “we [the British] were involved in the slave trade in 1700”).  The question of collective/non-personal responsibility is a very complex one – some linguistic confusion is perhaps accurately reflective of this?!

The Denial

What is the Eucharist?

Rembrandt, the denial of St. Peter source wikimedia commons photo credit unknown no copyright
The denial of St. Peter, by Rembrandt.  Source:Wikimedia Commons; Photo: credit unknown.

According to Thy gracious word,

In meek humility,

This will we do, O dying Lord,

Will not remember Thee.

Thy Body, broken for our sake,

But risk of death shall be,

Thy Precious Blood will we forsake,

We’ll thus remember Thee

Gethsemane we have forgot,

We’ll not that conflict face,

Thine agony is but Thy lot.

Leave faith to the nut-case.

When to the cross we turn our eyes,

We jeer at Calvary.

O Lamb of God, our sacrifice,

We won’t remember Thee.

Thee we ignore, and all Thy pains,

And love to us who hate,

For nought of Thee in us remains,

Who prize Thee at no rate.

And we shall die – who seem to think

To leave Thee is to live.

Ere we in endless waters sink,

O, turn us – and forgive.

 

Cherry Foster (Pastiche of James Montgomery)

“Fasting” from the Eucharist: from the Bread of Life… that – perishes?

Is the Eucharist the Bread of Life and Blood of the Covenant – broken and shed that the world might have Life in abundance – or merely a personal emotional indulgence to be set aside in any difficulty out of compassion for our neighbour?

Pelican iconographic picture wikimedia commons copyright to attribution
A pelican wounding its breast to feed its young on its blood: a common image of the Eucharist. Photo source Wikimedia Commons; Photo Credit: Andreas Praefcke

Someone told me today that it’s been suggested that it would be praiseworthy on the part of priests to “fast from the Eucharist in solidarity with the laity,” (who have been completely deprived of the sacraments for the last three months).

If, in this time of crisis, my neighbours’ water is cut off and they are dying of thirst, do I help them by turning my stopcock off and dying of thirst as well?  Or do I help them by filling a water carrier from my still working tap and taking it round to them so they can drink?

Probably the latter.

We have a problem as a church that is much deeper than this crisis and the way we’ve reacted.  Instead of regarding Christ as the source of Life – the one thing actually necessary – we’ve taken to regarding Him as a comforting but expendable indulgence.  Yet this does not make sense.

Labour not for the bread that perishes, we read, but for that which endures to eternal Life.  It would seem reasonable, then, to suggest that the risk we should be prepared to go to to take people the Eucharist, should actually be greater than that which we should be prepared to go to to take someone the food of physical necessity.

If compassion in such circumstances means taking people the means of Life, then the means of the Divine Life is more fundamental than that of Earthly Life, and it is more necessary to take people that, than to do anything else.  (I don’t live up to this – no-where near – but it is worth upholding the principle to aim at and commit to God’s grace and help).  Moreover, I don’t think we’d have any trouble seeing it as presumption to expect God to send angels to nurse the sick, or to sustain the hungry – both of which He could surely do – but for some reason we do not hesitate to demand that He should provide His grace, presence, and salvation by means other than that He set up*.

This is further illustrated by considering that to apply the word “fast” to the Eucharist is highly problematic in terms of the logic of fasting.  That is, we fast, in general, in order to reset our priorities.  We fast from earthly indulgences (good in their right place) in order to commit ourselves more deeply to the inbreaking of heavenly realities into our earthly lives.  We fast to train ourselves to a deeper emphasis on what actually matters.  If this concept of fasting is applied to the Eucharist, it would in practice mean turning from the love and life of God and reapplying ourselves more fully to worldly things – things which are then fallen and distorted by being placed before God.  This cannot be rightly done.  It is the wrong type of paradox.

I think we are making an idol of worldly compassion: putting our neighbour in the place of God rather than loving our neighbour as an image of God.  It seems to me that this distorts the priority of the first commandment, and the way in which the first and second commandments necessarily interact.

Reacting to those who are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use, we have become those who are so earthly minded that they are of no heavenly use**.  The issue at stake is not which way around these two concepts are put*** but the opposition of the two concepts, instead of their co-operation.  We have become Gnostic, separating the spiritual and physical in order to affirm either one or the other, and instead of correcting that separation, we have affirmed it and responded to (just) criticism of it by rejecting the Life to come instead of this one!  The precautions and success of science and human knowledge against disease are a gift of God.  We should care about earthly life; we should do what we can to protect the vulnerable (to COVID-19 or to the consequences of lockdown) from earthly death.  But true compassion for our neighbour witnesses to and serves God first, thus showing the open door to true Life to them.

What the world needs from Christians in this worldwide reminding of the fact of death is not a greater affirmation of the absolute priority of the fear of human death, not further emphasis on the comfortless hope that science and its precautions might limit this disease as a source of death, but a witness to the power and love of God who has overcome death.  This means acting to this belief in the real world, not placing it away from us in some other realm and then being “practical” and “compassionate,” where “practical” means “the right thing to do as judged by the common sense of those who do not believe” – and “compassionate” means tending to physical needs while leaving people to perish spiritually.

I think that we are actually making an idol of worldly compassion: that is, we are placing love of neighbour separated from God in front of love of neighbour as an image of God.  It seems to me that this distorts the priority of the first commandment.  First we should take people Communion – within the secular rules if possible, but in breach of them if not –  and then we should do their shopping.

God is real.  He is the source of Life.  We should cling first to him – we should in the deepest compassion for our neighbour possible bear witness to His Life for their sake – and then do our best to assist those made in his image in their earthly difficulties, again for His sake.  To cast Him and His Life aside in order to affirm the world’s idea that death is absolute is not compassion; to continue to worship in witness of Him and the Life He offers is not selfishness, but true service.

I plead to my clergy as one who believes, as best I can, what they themselves have taught me.  Do not continue to cut off the water, from yourselves or any other.  Rethink, and take the Sacrament to people, and let the grief all bear be turned to joy, and the rediscovery of death become in people an assured knowledge of a truer Life which is not, cannot be, at threat.

Cherry Foster

* See this post: the original idea comes from John Donne writing on Baptism.  I’ll find the precise reference if anyone wants it.

**This is not original: but I hesitate to reference it publicly because I don’t know if the theologian who said it would want their name and work dragged into this argument.

***Though the former seems less bad to me than the latter, because though both are gnostic, at least concentrating first on God keeps the commandments the right way around.  That is, it seems to me that while it is logically a distortion, there is less distance to go to correct it.  To be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use is a failure to live the full Gospel (which tells us that part of living the love of God is to be of earthly use) but it seems closer to living it than being earthly to the exclusion of God’s power and love in human life.  :-s  The (so-called) heavenly minded has disfigured the tree by cutting off a branch that can regrow, the earthly minded is poisoning the very roots in the name of improving the fruit.

 

The Unlocked Door?

On unlocking Church doors but continuing to refuse God’s people Communion with Him

Into what was Thy house we weeping come,

To find Thee locked away from touch and sight,

As if Thou wast an angry idol form,

Who had not love, nor life, nor power but spite.

We come, where we once thought that we belonged,

To find the veil Thou hadst removed returned.

Men set asunder what God counted one,

Who come to seek Thee still away are turned.

We come to Thee, our Love, who art all Life,

And find we must Thy power and love deny,

To place our hope and trust in human ways,

We turn aside from Thee for life – and die.

Before our eyes, Thou absent art exposed,

Who may not touch, who may not Thee obey,

Replacing with Man’s thought Thy love and care,

And leaving us to pride and sin a prey.

O Thou who diedst!  Though we Thy Life forsake

To seek in frail human cares our hope,

Who cast aside Thy Flesh and Blood for fear,

Let not our sin Thy covenant revoke.

O Lord, forgive, O Lord, for love restore

Thy traitor flock to knowledge of Thy worth,

That when Thou comest again to judge in might

Thou mayest find hope and love – and faith – on earth.

Cherry Foster

Receiving Communion in an Epidemic: the practical side

I’ve written at some length in previous posts putting the view that the Church* should never refuse people the Sacraments in response to an epidemic, regardless of the situation, but that we should take a lot of precautions.  To refuse to allow people to receive is to accept a secular view of life and death, placing a risk to earthly life over the Divine Life given to the world in Christ’s Body and Blood, and is to insist that God should provide grace and deification by means other than those He chose to give us.  Not to take precautions is to put God to the test and to disregard His gift of earthly life.  I want to write now on what this might actually look like – firstly with regard to the reception of the Precious Blood, and secondly, with regard to how we might continue to receive when it is reasonable to suggest it might be preferable not to gather.

Firstly, the issue of the congregation receiving both the Broken Body of Christ and His Precious Blood.  The statement that sharing the Chalice in and of itself is dangerous puzzles me, as I’ve always thought they had done research on this point before, and found that it was not.  However, once one is into social distancing, it might be quite hard to receive it without people breathing over each other (in any case, it is probably better to offer an alternative anyway once people have serious concerns, as it is preferable that everyone feels free to receive fully and completely, as Christ Himself gave).

I do think it is preferable to share the Chalice, and I think there should be very good reasons to suppose there is a problem before we stop, but if there are real reasons not to do so, I think it would be a lot more reverent to turn to some other means of receiving in Both Kinds, than to deny the laity full participation in what is their offering as much as it is the priest’s (yes, we have defended Catholic order for certainly as long as I have been involved with the idea that the laity are as much part of the offering as the priest).

There are three ways I am aware of in which the Precious Blood can be reverently received without sharing the Chalice.  That is, intinction by the priest**, the use of individual cups, and the use of spoons.  There may be others.  Intinction by the priest is, I think, probably the best thing to advocate as a solution within the Church of England, but I will briefly discuss the other two methods first.

Receiving from spoons is what is done in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and I have in fact never seen it done.  I believe the Consecrated Bread is put into the Chalice, and then both are given by the priest on a spoon.  It is possible to use separate spoons, and boil them between services, but I am not sure how close it is necessary for priest and recipient to get, which may be a problem.  However, the method does have the advantage that it is not necessary for the recipient to touch anything with their hands.  I was quite paranoid, at the start of the epidemic when still in Church, over the issue of receiving the Host from my hands, thus touching my face after touching things like door-handles.  I took to slathering them with hand sanitiser a few minutes before receiving, which probably works ok***.  However, I would have been glad to avoid it if there was a better option.

I’m inclined to feel that receiving on spoons is sufficiently contrary to our tradition and what we are used to that it might be quite hard to adjust – which can disturb people’s worship and their capacity for reverence and spiritual growth.  This adjustment is potentially a concern with any alternative: I think in that case it is necessary for people to listen to each other as they go, and try to work out what people are actually saying – and to weigh the real reasons for doing something unusual with the extent of the problems it is causing – including spiritual difficulties, which should be accepted as real and important if we believe the relationship with God objective.

Receiving from separate cups is forbidden in the Church of England, for reasons that I haven’t yet been into, so I am not going to comment in theoretical terms, except to say that if it is the possibility of irreverence that worries people, it is surely more irreverent to deny people to receive fully than to receive in separate cups.  My main interest in the method is the potential it has for increasing social distancing, as it seems to me that if we used separate cups, which the priest put down on a linen covered table for people to pick up, it would be possible to put the Host down on top of each, and have each recipient drop the cup into a bowl of clean water after reception, lessening the touching of the same surfaces by different people.  On the other hand, most of this can probably be achieved by Intinction via priest as well, so if there are those who seriously disapprove of separate cups for some reason, there isn’t much reason to specifically advocate it.  (I would not, incidentally, encourage anyone to use separate cups while it is forbidden, but, if they wish to do so, to go and argue in synod etc. that it should not be disallowed).

Intinction via priest is, I think, probably the best way to try to go in the C of E.  It is something that is done in the context of hospital reservations, so it is reasonable to suppose it is allowed (though in the C of E, one never really knows)!  I have two comments about this.  The first is: if the fear with intinction by the priest is that it will result in the Precious Blood dripping all over the floor after the Host is dipped in the Chalice**** there is at least one way around this.  There are vessels which are used to give a drop of the Precious Blood to someone who cannot swallow solid food.  Using one of these would allow precise control, so no more is placed on the Host than it can absorb.  Secondly, if people still feel that receiving Communion brings people too close to each other, the Intincted Host could potentially be placed reverently down on an appropriate vessel to be picked up by the laity.  I realise this isn’t ideal, but if the option is excommunicating the vast majority of the people of God, surely it is still better?

This brings me on to the question of receiving when it is not a good idea to gather.  My feeling is that going this far is acceptable, so long as Communion is taken to everyone who requests it.  The logistics of this are obviously going to differ depending on place and what is going on.  There may, for instance, be times when, for example, celebrating Mass in gardens for less than ten people at a time would be realistic.  However, what I’m writing about here is mostly the sort of things that might be done during a more extreme lockdown, in the assumption that the lockdown has at least a reasonable medical justification in regard to infection risk, however much it may ignore other considerations both medical and otherwise.

Firstly, I would suggest that as many people as possible are employed in the task, to reduce the contact of any one person with too many others.  There are quite a few laity deployed normally to take the Sacrament to the sick.  Moreover, it should be possible to divide people into groups so, for instance, a person who goes to people who think they have the infectious illness never goes to anyone else (I believe the medical profession have done this sort of thing).

Secondly, I think the first thing that should be considered is normal home Communion using the same precautions which would be used by a carer who needs to go in to nurse and assist the sick and disabled.  That is, that the priest should do that liturgy as normal, using an Intincted Host (why not?  It matters to many of us who receive to receive the Precious Blood – that people should care about a gift He died to give us is a gain to the Church, not a loss).

However, in the case of certain services such as the Triduum, which are not really amenable to this, I would suggest streaming the service online and then sending people Communion, perhaps while broadcasting relevant music.

If normal home Communion, with the minister reading a short liturgy with the people involved is reasonably deemed a significant risk, I would suggest that people receive instead through a minimally open window or door.  Minister and recipient could both wear a mask until the window is closed.  With COVID-19, it might make sense for people to receive at arm’s length across a garden gate, as it seems to be pretty much non-transmissible outdoors, but this would mean not having the solid screen provided by reaching out to receive around a window or door.

Alternatively, it might be possible for each household to be provided with, or provides themselves with, a corporeal or other way of covering a table such that it is a reverent resting place for a pyx containing the Sacrament.  This table should then be put by an unfastened door or window, which the priest (or other person licensed to take Communion to people) can push open in order to place the pyx down.  The door or window can be closed, and the household can then receive from the pyx (while the minister watches, if necessary – though this might not be possible in every circumstance because it requires either an accessible window or a glazed door).

Either of these ways of doing things could be preceded by an online service or by distributing service sheets to people to use themselves prior to reception (there’s a liturgy called, I think, Communion by extension, which is quite a good one to adapt for this sort of purpose) .

Ultimately, the exact details of what people feel should be done to reverence the Sacrament in the process of unconventional reception of it, or what they feel should be done to try to avoid risk of infection, is likely to be different.  What I am really advocating is an attitude of problem-solving: that is, that instead of giving up, we should regard the worship of God and the reception of what He died to give for the life of the world, as something that should not be stopped or denied to any portion of the people of God.  We are failing in our witness to Christ, by placing earthly life before the Divine Life.  It is possible to do otherwise without resorting to an attitude of reckless disregard for human life.

Cherry Foster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Where I am (at least to the best of my knowledge) it is the Church that has been responsible.  There are (as far as I know) no police blockades outside Church doors, no spies following the clergy about watching for violations of epidemic precautions.  It is their hands that have turned the keys in the locks, they who have declined to carry out their normal ministry in response to orders and threats.  As I write, incidentally, I, having been a daily Communicant for nine years, have been left with no access at all to either Communion or Confession for more than ten weeks – and this looks like it could easily continue for a similar length of time yet.  I am in a state of spiritual agony, to say nothing of struggling with temptations against faith itself (how far the latter is a result of the extent of the spiritual distress, and how much it is to do with the fact that what has been done seems to be a complete denial of everything I have been taught, it is difficult to tell).  There seems no sign of any possibility of this changing at least until I am able to receive the Sacraments in their fullness again – if by then it is possible for me to do so.  There comes a point in starvation where it is impossible to eat again due to the effects of the starvation.  As it matters in theory, in the need to be authentic to our theology, it matters in practice, for the sake of the Life of the individual Christian in Christ, and through that, for the Life of the World.

**Intinction by individual members of the congregation seems to be thought to be more dangerous than simply having everyone drink from it – but for the priest to put a drop of the Precious Blood on the Host from a vessel designed for that purpose cannot carry the same difficulties.

*** I have no strong opinion, incidentally, on the question of whether it is possible to actually pick up infections from the Body and Blood of Christ in their physically real element.  On the whole, I would be inclined to think one probably can: it seems reasonable to suppose that if Our Lord had had a cold during His earthly life, others would have caught it from Him in the normal way, and that seems to me to be as close as one could get to the circumstance.  But it doesn’t seem to me to matter very much because (a) even if one can’t catch anything from the Consecrated elements, one could catch it from one’s unwashed hands or from liturgical vessels, (b) I think any risk that cannot be reasonably negated ought to be taken in faith, knowing God has a much longer range perspective than we do, and has given these gifts for our healing even if it doesn’t look like it in the short term, and (c) thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test.

****It would surprise me if this was in fact a problem, but it is a concern I have heard raised over the priest dipping the Host in the chalice for the laity.  It would presumably be possible to do the experiment with unconsecrated elements?!

 

O Life, art Thou become Death?

Rembrandt, the denial of St. Peter source wikimedia commons photo credit unknown no copyright
Painting by Rembrandt: source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo: credit unknown.

 

I reached my hand to the door of the church,

And found Thy people might not enter in.

At Thy desire I would receive Thy cup,

As from Thy hand, but that was counted sin.

The Bread of Life we deem a source of death;

Thy scattered sheep are perishing alone.

Our faith is not in Thee but in the earth,

For earthly life we Thy command disown.

O Lord, forgive!  O Lord, restore to Thee,

Thy people whom Thy faith turn upside-down:

Who seeking life, find death, and know it not,

And Thee as Life and Truth in shame discrown.

Cherry Foster

Champaigne_shepherd
The Good Shepherd by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

What do we believe? Questions of a Troubled Churchgoer

Resurrection_(24) Photo credit Surgun source Wikamedia Commons no copyright
Resurrection – this icon shows Christ rescuing Adam and Eve from Death. Photo credit: Surgun; source: Wikimedia Commons

Where is God now?

To be sought in leading the way in trying to preserve earthly life and our infrastructure?

Does this make sense?  What does it suggest we believe?

In the primacy and priority of earthly life, over and above all other considerations, including the Divine Life which does not notice death.  In the notion that lay-participation in the Eucharist, lay Communion, is merely a selfish indulgence and not part of the outflowing of God’s love “for the Life of the World”.

We are not witnessing to God in a crisis, but standing helpless and craven before a threat which is horrible, but which Christ has overcome, not by sparing us death and disaster, but by raising us up through them into his risen life.

This is not all or nothing – a matter of taking reckless risks or a matter of giving up altogether.  I would be inclined to advocate, for instance, within my own Church group, that people should be live-streaming services from their Churches, and then engaging everyone who can to take Communion to people in their homes to do so.  Through an open window with both minister and recipient wearing mask and gloves, if necessary.

I come from a part of the Church that makes a lot of celebrating the Eucharist daily and receiving daily.  But so far, we have been left without any sort of access to the Sacraments for almost six weeks,  during a crisis – when we need it more, and when the world needs it more.  It is an inherent part of what I was taught about the Eucharist that it is Divine inbreaking, the Real Presence.  To set it aside is to set Christ aside.  If the laity say to the clergy in normal times that they don’t need to come to Church, and that they don’t need to receive the Sacraments because God can provide in other ways, then the clergy tend to disagree quite hard.  And rightly so according to our theology and world view.  But now the church seems to be saying exactly that to us – and I’m not sure people are even aware that it wasn’t what they were apparently saying ten weeks ago.

It’s true that I would advocate straightforward disobedience to a state command to stop people participating in Christian worship, for all I would also advocate taking any precautions that don’t involve actually stopping participation.  However, under these circumstances, I do feel able to understand and respect a preference for yielding to the injunction temporarily while making an enormous fuss about being allowed to reassume as soon as possible.  (And I am talking of denying Christian ministry, not of a particular Christian deciding in all conscience that they are right not to seek to receive under particular circumstances.  That is completely different).

But who is speaking for us?  Who is clamouring to be allowed to worship?  To be allowed to return to our prayer and service to a world that is in agony?  That is rediscovering the horror and inevitability of death, and needs so much to hear the news that death won’t have the last word.

I feel that what is happening is rather like being told that 2+2=5.  If we believe in the Divine Life, then given a straight choice, it takes precedence over earthly life.  What is going on?  How is it we seem to preach one set of beliefs, and act upon another?  Why are we supposed to be serving the world by accepting its values and fears?  We speak the creed, and we act as if there was no Resurrection, as if human death was final and as if the ultimate service we can offer is to attempt to preserve it, rather than to witness that it is not, or at least does not have to be, final.

What has happened?  What is happening?  Have we been persuaded to believe, only to be persuaded not to believe if we have to take a risk in order to act in the way that belief would dictate?

Kyrie eleison – Lord, have mercy upon us all.  I do not see any way forward, personally or as a church, and I am totally bewildered.  But the faith of Christ is enough to supply our lack thereof.

Cherry Foster

How shall we seek Thee?

Champaigne_shepherd
The Good Shepherd by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

O Lord, how shall we seek Thy help who have forsaken Thee?

Thou gavest us all Thyself by bitter death and bitter grief,

Thy Body broken, Thy Blood shed for us upon the Tree,

And still, when questioned by the flame, we turn from Thy belief.

O Lord, we turn away the gift of Thine appointed aid,

Demanding that Thou shouldst provide according to our choice,

And setting now our earthly life above Thy help, we fade,

And cowering thus deny Thy Life, Thy witness with one voice.

Through the shelter of Thy faith that sustained Thine anguished death,

And through the love of Three-in-One that raised Thee from dark hell.

And by the blood of those who gave for Thee their mortal breath,

And in the courage of the One who ever with us dwells:

O turn again, and turn us, Lord, to place in Thee our trust,

Not human sin, nor mortal death, Thy covenant can shake.

Turn us to look to Thee for help and not to mortal dust,

That we may witness to the Life that all from Thee may take.

 

Cherry Foster

 

 

N.B.  Given our cultural tendency to an “all-or-nothing” attitude, I would clarify by saying that I advocate taking all possible precautions in the process of receiving the Sacraments (Thou shalt not put the Lord Thy God to the test); it is denying access entirely on the grounds of human risk that I argue against.  Also, I don’t claim to be innocent in this or anything else, and as always, I do not judge anyone else’s conscience.  That, at least, is thankfully not my problem!

“In solidarity” – comforting or upsetting?

Do you find people talking about suffering “in solidarity” with some other group of people comforting, or does it upset you more?

One of the mainstays of the sympathy of the clergy in regard to the fact that many of us have been deprived partly or completely of our worship and/or normal sacramental practice by COVID-19 prevention policies is to explain that our suffering is “in solidarity with X group of people who have the same problem.”

For example, someone told me that our being deprived of the capacity to receive the Precious Blood put us in solidarity with poor Churches that can’t afford enough wine for the whole congregation to receive, and today I received a letter which talked about our loss of the Sacraments being “in solidarity” with persecuted Christians similarly deprived.

Like a lot of things, I do completely appreciate that those who say it mean to comfort, and also like a lot of these things, I am actually deeply upset by it.

When such disjoints between what is meant and what is heard happen, it is very important for people to talk about them and discuss why – otherwise we are heading for a state worse than that of those on the unfinished tower of Babel!

Part of the fact that I find the “in solidarity” convention upsetting is to do with perspective, for although the clergy are undoubtedly having an extremely hard time, they are not in quite the same position as the rest of us with regard to these things.  Which means that one group of people are saying to a second that they (the second group) are suffering something that first group is not suffering “in solidarity” with some different third party.  I feel that this is an inappropriate external imposition of a spiritual and emotional response which, while it may be very worthy, can only be a personal response coming from inside, not a response one group of people can assume will come from another.

This would perhaps suggest a more tentative phrasing would be better: “some people may find it helps to think of this suffering as being in solidarity with…” rather than an apparent expectation that we should respond like this and find it comforting or useful.

Moreover, I’d comment that I personally don’t usually find the insistence that other people are suffering the same, more, or worse, comforting when I am myself suffering intense grief.  Sometimes it may be necessary to hear it for practical reasons, but often people draw attention to others’ suffering as if they suppose it to be comforting – that it will somehow lessen the burden of my own grief.  But the notion that enduring not only my own grief, but that inevitably suffered in empathy with the others I am being reminded of, will cause me to suffer less rather than more, seems odd to me.  This doesn’t just apply to the solidarity comment, but to a lot of others.  (I suspect this difference is down to personality type and the manner in which any particular person processes things).

Finally, I think it is that “in solidarity” is straightforwardly not something that helps me with this type of intense spiritual confusion.  It is the very essence of Hell that solidarity is not a possible response.  It would not have the nature it has, if it did not cut off the possibility of relating to anyone else inside it or with regard to it.  In this particular type of confusion, to appeal to solidarity is a category mistake.  This reason for not appealing to “in solidarity” would only apply to things that elicit this response in others, and I have no idea how common it is as a spiritual response to the loss of worship or the sacraments*.  That it is possible, however, should be theoretically obvious**.

What do you think?  If you talk to others of solidarity, why do you feel it could be helpful?  If you hear people saying it, do you find it comforting or upsetting, and what do you think the reason for your response is?

Cherry Foster

 

 

*I am among those who would test the soundness of spiritual responses by asking if they are consistent with the Tradition, not by asking whether or not they are normal.  That is, if someone says “I felt God called me to commit a murder,” or that He told them to worship Ashtaroth, then I would think them almost certainly deceived.  And similarly there are things I really experience spiritually that I do regard as unsound because they are contrary to theological truth – I regard them as something to be acknowledged as there, but not accepted as right or true.  But that is different from assuming something incorrect merely because it is unusual, and it seems to me there is a tendency to do that.

**Assuming that Hell is properly understood as a state of exile from God, and that the things we do in worship are real, both of which statements I would contend are correct, and would seem to me to be what my branch of the Church (traditionalist Anglo-Catholic) generally teaches (yes, people are welcome to tell me I’m wrong about that :-P.  But some of us do actually listen to what is said in Church and think about it, however much of a shock this may be to those who are not used to people taking an interest!  I’ll expand on the whole question if anyone actually wants me to).

By the way, the one helpful thing someone did say to me – in case it is of use to anyone else – was to remind me of the vision of St. Silouan: “keep your mind in Hell – and despair not“.

 

 

 

Shall we demand of God…

(As always, I know that people are doing their best in difficult circumstances and do honestly believe they are making the right decisions – but I also think that there are things being ignored which are important).

Shall we demand of God

That He sustain the hungry without food,

That none may be at risk from taking shopping to them?

Shall we demand of God

That He send angels to minister to the sick,

That no-one may be put at risk by nursing them?

And shall we demand of God,

That He sustain the Life Divine without the Sacraments

That there may be no risk to any from receiving them?

 

Cherry Foster