Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Are You at Peace?

Are you at peace?  Peace is a quality of life long sought after and too seldom found.  One of the ancient names of God is “Yahweh Shalom.”  It means “The Lord is Peace!”  Peace is not a quality that can be squeezed out of human circumstances, nor conjured up by finite and mortal minds.  Peace is not merely the absence of conflict, but rather it is a quality of life that emanates from God Himself.  Peace is not bovine placidity.  Peace is the fruit of the Victory of Christ Jesus in your life. Peace is the tranquility of spirit that rests upon the Rock the never moves.

Isaiah the prophet says, “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusts in thee” (Isaiah 26:3 RSV).  Peace comes from relationship with the God of peace.  Peace comes from resting in Him who is Peace Itself.

Several things destroy peace.  An unwillingness to forgive, or an unwillingness to love either yourself or another, and sometimes an unwillingness to stand out as peace makers.  Fear, guilt, and control issues, also block the entrance of peace.  The first step towards resting in the God Who is Peace often starts with the action of surrender, the willingness to let go, to relax, to let drop, to be still.  “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). 

Experience teaches us that such surrender is often beyond our grasp, but experience also teaches us that when we crack open the doors of our hearts and say to Him, “You know I am not willing, but I am willing to be willing”, that the miracle of peace and inner healing begins.  It is a principle of Divine grace and love, that He comes down to our level and meets us where we are, not where we think we ought to be.  That in a very real sense is why the Living God became Incarnate in the flesh of humankind.

The classic Gospel story of peace is taken from the adventure of the disciples on the sea of Galilee.
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side."  36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.  37 And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care if we perish?"  39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?"  41 And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him" [Mark 4:35-41]?  

It is the presence of Jesus, that brought peace to the disciples on the sea of Galilee despite their fears, and it is the presence of Jesus that brings peace to us today. That is to some extent a matter of both grace and discipline. To be at peace takes a conscious redirection of our minds and hearts. St. Benedict reminds us, “Let us consider then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.” [The Rule, Ch. 19:6,7].
The classic Anglican understanding of true peace, true tranquility of spirit, rests on a three-fold foundation: The Daily Offices (Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer), Habitual Recollection (The practice of the presence of God, and informal prayers), and faithful attendance at Holy Eucharist.  Peace is an acquired grace that comes from a spiritual orientation carried into action in prayer and worship.  When you are intentionally with the God of peace, peace will be yours.  Peace is a grace from God that comes as the fruit of spiritual discipline.

Our desire is often for instant results: “I want peace, and I want it right now!”  Peace doesn’t often come that way, rather it is born and nurtured in our hearts.  There is a necessary process.  We become at least willing to forgive, and willing to love, even though for the life of us we can’t artificially drum up either the willingness to forgive and love.  Both are a gift and a grace of God that come with the surrender of our circumstances to Him, and with the decision to move towards forgiveness and love.

We begin to pray and read Scripture, at least taking on ourselves one of the Daily Offices; and we persist day after day in humble, quiet discipline.  The process is much like planting a seed; once planted don’t keep pulling it up to see if roots are developing.  Plant the Offices within your soul and water with persistence, keeping your soul in the light of the Word.  Peace most often steals upon us unawares.  Looking back we say with some small surprise, “Well, well, it seems I have been at peace now for some while.  So, taking time to be quiet in the Presence of God is the herald of peace.  Would you expect it to be any other way?  

Thursday, November 3, 2016




Shell Chrysallis
I shed thee
Spreading golden wings
For him to see.

Poor pupa
Golden pain
Springing joyous
Christening me.
Death’s baptism
Into life,
Into love,
In the midst of life.

Christo sunestauromia
Shedding only shell
My being ever living.
Ever living
Lives in me.

Sanctifica me,
Salve me,
Inebria me.
Christen me
with thine own self,
For thou dost know me
for what I am.
Thou knowest I need thee.

Deep-laid in a soft red womb,
Absconde me
Ne permittas me
Separari a te,
Intra tua vulnera!
Bring to me
third birth
beyond death,
Spreading golden wings
for Him to see.

He died,
He lives,
I died.
I will die again,
I will ever live.

Deo gratia!

[i] Notes:

Chrysos.                                             Gold              
Chrystus.                                           Christ

Christo sunestauromia                   I am co-crucified with Christ

Sanctifica me,                                   Sanctify me
Salve me,                                           Save me
Inebria me.                                       Inebriate me

Absconde me                                    Hide me
Ne permittas me                              Do not permit me
Separari a te,                                     To be separated from Thee
Intra tua vulnera!                            In your wounds!

Deo gratia!                                        Thanks be to God!

Sunday, October 2, 2016


1. One of the most significant things that is said about Jesus Christ in the Gospels is that He is a son, not just a son, but The Son, the Son of the living God.  His identity is proclaimed in His Sonship.  On the identity of the Son you might consult The Creed of St. Athanasius. In part it says,

For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood; Who, although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ. [The Creed of St. Athanasius] [i]

2. He says, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7).  So close is His relationship with the Father that he can say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and again, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). 

3. His relationship with the Father is the wellspring of all that He says and does.  When his identity is questioned, he replies, “I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him. . . I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.  And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:25-26, 28b-29).  Jesus the Son is the Lord for whom John the baptizer prepared the way.  That is His identity.  He is the Son of God.  He is the Lord of lords, and He is the King of kings.  He is Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh.

4. As a faithful and loving Son, Jesus lives in response to the will of the Father.  When challenged by John the Baptizer regarding who should be baptizing whom, Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).  Jesus has come to do His Father’s will and so He allows Himself to be baptized.  In doing so, He who is sinless descends into the waters of baptism and death to self, bearing our heritage of sin from our fathers, and our sins, upon His own shoulders.  He rises from the waters bringing us with Him.  “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

5. Jesus’ life and ministry is defined by what happens next.  As He comes up out of the waters of baptism He sees the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descending on Him “in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22).  This outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace marks forever the character of His ministry.  The event, however, is incomplete without the words of the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  It is the proclamation of Sonship that publicly establishes the identity and ministry of Jesus the Son. 

6. Where are we to find our own identity?   Can we find our identity as men and women in our relationships as sons and daughters with our fathers?  Isaiah the prophet says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1).  Our heritage has some positive value, but if, in a human fashion, we look to the quarry from which we were dug we might not find all that we need.  Instead Jesus invites us into relationship with His own Father.  “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2).  That prayer invites us to share with Him in His relationship with the Father, but even as we pray we say “our Father”; which is a tacit admission that we are all brothers and sisters of one another. In this adoption, men and women alike, become the sons of God. The old male-female ranking vanishes, and we all alike, men and women, are sons of God. This means that all the promises directed to men in Holy Scripture now apply by redemptive grace to women as well as to men through our adoption in Christ.

7. Our adoption is necessary because the starting place of our identity is quite different from the starting place of Jesus.  Paul says “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Having Adam as a father is a mixed blessing, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  The result is that none of us have ever received perfect fathering, neither do we give it.

8. We are offered adoption, men and women alike, as sons of God. John the beloved disciple says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).  The personal acceptance of Jesus as both Savior and Lord is central to our relationship with God the Father.   Jesus cries out, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.  And whoever sees me, sees him who sent me.”  Again in his first epistle John says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15).

9. In each of the four Gospels, and twice in Acts, we are given the promise that He will baptize us with the Holy Spirit.  That promise is not only the promise of the Spirit and His gifts and power, but also the promise of our own sonship, “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6, see also Romans 8:15).  There is an experiential side to this baptism of the Sprit which varies from person to person according to their ways and potential of experiencing love, for the content of that baptism is the experience of the love of God. For it is immersion in the Holy Spirit that opens for us the door of sonship.  God is our father, and by adoption and the sealing of the Spirit, we men and women alike, are His sons.

10. Paul makes the same point when he says “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15).

11. There is an important promise for the establishment of our relationship with the Father in the teaching of Jesus at the Last Supper, “Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).  The core of our experience of God is love, His love for us, and our response of love for him, and for His sake our love for each other. In, and through, Christ Jesus we have intimate access to the presence and love of God the Father.  How much time do you think you ever needed from a Father?  Your heavenly Father has all the time for you that you think that you need.  Here comes an important question.  How much of His time are you willing to enter into?  Note also the condition that Jesus gives; the promise is for those who will keep His word.

12. The Charismatic theology of the 1970’s regarded a fresh appreciation of the person and presence of Jesus, as a significant mark of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  However, from a biblical perspective, our adoption as sons of the Father, is the fruit of our experience of the Spirit of His Son in our hearts.

13. Be careful not to banalize it.  “Abba”, on the lips of Jesus, and on our lips, is not the childish cry “Daddy”, but rather the intimate response of the adult child to a Father who is sovereign in power and awesome in majesty.  It is with that in mind that Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).  Intimacy is mingled with awe, and like Jesus, we immediately begin to learn to pray, “Your will be done”.  True sonship brings with it surrender to the will of God our Father.  That is the abiding characteristic of the ministry of Jesus who says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:19-20a).

14. Many sons have never heard their fathers say “You are my beloved son.”  We may need to be re-parented, but no re-parenting from earthly father figures can match the healing that can come to us through the anointing of the Spirit and the loving adoption of our heavenly Father.  “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Our new identity is anchored in the identity of Jesus the Son.  In this adoption, the re-parented adult sons of God can find re-formation in the parenting of their own children.  You can’t give what you don’t have, but on the other hand, you can give what you are receiving.


Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,
     neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory
     equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and
     one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by
      himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten,
      but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three
      Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be
He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the
      Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of
      God, is God and Man;
God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance
      of his Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his
Who, although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from
      whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.

At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their
      own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into
      everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Song of the Church

It is fashionable in our age to criticize the Church, but what does the Lord of the Church have to say about his own?

“Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?”[i]

Who is the Accuser who would say otherwise?

We who are the Church, the Body of Christ, are tempted to accept the Devil’s assessment of the Church and sometimes have been led with a ring through our nose into an attack on ourselves.  Immediately comes to mind the accusation that the Church is the only army that shoots its wounded.  Oh, really?

That accidentally acknowledges that the Church is an army on the front line of a battle.  The world does not take that seriously.  It would never do to admit that the Church is involved in the global warfare between good and evil.  That is so much out of favour that in some places, those called by the name of Christ, won’t even sing Onward Christian Soldiers.

What must be considered is that the world is in the Church and the Church like any human organization has within it people of divided loyalties.  The Accuser holds up the shining mirror of the Church in the radiant glory yet to come and says, “See!  You are hypocrites; you do not live up to your image.”  Of course not!  The image is for the future, it is the wrong image and the Enemy would sell us a subtle deception. 

What is the correct image?  We are not yet the glorified Church, but we are a Church in transition; an imperfect Church made up of imperfect people.  Once we were lost, but now we are found.  We are a communion of sinners in the process of transformation.  We are a blood washed band on a pilgrimage to the Promised Land.  That is what so enrages the Devil.
Are people wounded by the Church?  Yes, insofar as the world is in the Church, and the Church is in the world.  There are tremendous flaws within the Church because of the humanity of the Church.

One of the reasons the world hates the Church is because in the Church the world sees its own mirror image, and more than that, it sees its mirror image in the process of redemption.  The world is threatened by the demonstration in the Church that change is possible, that salvation and transformation can be seen in the ongoing salvation history of the Church and its individual people.

It is the image of a glorious Church in transformation from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Light, and in fury the Enemy cries out, “How dare you say that salvation and change is possible?”  From his perspective that wrecks all!  The Church in this world, already beginning to reflect the glory of God, is a serious affront to the world, the flesh, and the Devil; because it is true that even as the Church beholds the Light it is in the process of being transformed into Light.

The vision is for the future, but it is already in process now.  Therefore the Devil cannot stand it.

And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."[ii]

[i] Song of Songs, 6:10;
[ii] Revelation 21:2-4   

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Mystery Above All Mysteries

I am keenly aware that there are a variety of viewpoints on “religion,” and the following remarks might well be lost on some. Don’t worry! If you get it, fine! If you don’t that’s O.K., it probably wasn’t meant for you.

In times of stress I find it important to go back to the basics of our faith. In the 14th C. Dame Julian of Norwich wrote, “The Trinitie is God, God is the Trinitie, the Trinitie is our Maker, the Trinitie is our keeper, the Trinitie is our everlasting lover, the Trinitie is our endless joy and our blisse, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, and this was showed in the first vision and in all the others. For when Jesus appears, the Blessed Trinitie is understood and made clear to my sight.”

I had long needed a father, but I found my own earthly father so distant that it impeded my search for a relationship with our heavenly Father. But at the moment of my conversion it was God the Father who spoke audibly to me seven times commanding me to do a difficult thing; a reparation for damages done to a shopkeeper some years before.

It was then that I quickly discovered that Jesus, who died to redeem me from my sins, was alive and present with me. By grace, some weeks later, the Holy Spirit in His goodness came storming into my life. At the beginning, my experience was unreflectively Trinitarian. My understanding of the Trinity was experiential, but after much reflection, while I “know” more, the Trinity still remains a mystery.

The mystery was heightened by Jesus who proclaimed, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” John 12:44-45]. It is in Jesus, that God the Father, and the Spirit are made manifest. I do not find mystery troubling. There is a joy and wonder knowing that God is much greater and more complex than I am.

Like Julian, the “Trinitie” became my everlasting lover. The doctrine of the Trinity finds its clear expression in The Creed of St. Athanasius. “The Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.” For the full explication look up The Creed of St. Athanasius on the internet.

Among other things The Creed of St. Athanasius says delightfully, “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.” The experience of the God the Trinity precedes the understanding of the doctrine. We meet God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and discover His amazing love for us; then we spend the rest of life puzzling out His incomprehensible nature.

My reason for sharing this is no mystery. In the midst of all the current stress and conflict in the world, step aside with me and ponder greater things. Ponder the great and mysterious love of God the Trinity for you, and take time be lost for a little while in the Mystery of the Glorious Trinity.

Monday, September 12, 2016



The intricate relationship of Law, Justice, and Mercy is a constant theme on social media today; and as Oblates of the Order of St. Benedict we are faced with this issue every time we go on the internet.

At the heart of a Benedictine approach to this, is the following from The Rule of St. Benedict:

“The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. Because of the holy service they have professed, or because of dread of hell and for the glory of everlasting life, they carry out the superior’s orders as promptly as if the command came from God himself” [The Rule, Chapter 5. Obedience].

To what are we to be obedient? Holy Scripture sets the parameters for our understanding of this, in relationship to the current issues that face us in the world today. The following is a summary from The Book of Common Prayer, p .317, 

The Decalogue   
1.    I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods but me.
2.   Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them. and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee.
3.   Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4.   Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.
5.   Honor thy father and thy mother.
6.   Thou shalt do no murder.
7.   Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8.  Thou shalt not steal.
9.   Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10.     Thou shalt not covet.
Lord have mercy upon us,

Without these commandments, and without a response to the call to Obedience, society would begin to deteriorate.

To focus on Commandment 6, there is a distinction between “kill” and “murder” in Greek and in Hebrew. Both John the Baptist and Jesus, understood that distinction. John the Baptist does not tell the soldiers, not to kill, when they ask what they should do. C. S. Lewis says, “All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery, and when soldiers came to St. John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army.” [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 119].

“Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages" [Luke 3:14].  

Jesus does not tell the Centurion not to fulfill his calling as a soldier in warfare, but quite to the contrary points him out as an example of faith.

5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly."  7 And he said to him, "I will come and heal him."  8 But the centurion replied, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.  9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."  10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” [Matthew 8:5-10].   

The classic English mystery writers understand that their readers want justice to be done, and that evil must be punished. How they work it out is another matter. One of my favourite authors is Agatha Christie. She has an obvious concern that justice must be done, but she is also aware that those who administer law, do not always do justice; and when you understand that distinction we have to ask the question, how does mercy enter in? The following summary from Murder on the Orient Express will illustrate the problem. I have drawn this version of the story from the BBC Poirot series on Television.

David Suchet as Poirot on The Orient Express

In ‘Stamboul a woman is stoned in the street for adultery.
“Ma foi!” says Poirot, “Justice is often upsetting,
But she has broken the rules.”
The theme of justice and the law has been introduced,
But what of mercy? What of mercy?

On The Orient Express, Cassetti, 
the killer of baby Daisy Armstrong
Asks, “Do you believe in God, Mister Poirot?”
Cassetti smiles and continues, “I do now. I think that
God is like an extra gun, an extra piece of protection.”

But God is not a hired gun to be summoned 
at the beck and call
Of the would-be pious like a mercenary mountebank.
And so “the repulsive murderer is repulsively,
And perhaps deservedly, murdered”,
But what of mercy? What of mercy?

Cassetti and Hercule Poirot

The dilemma is owned by Dame Agatha Christies
and by David Suchet, the inimitable Hercule Poirot.
The law had failed little Daisy Armstrong; but had justice?
And what about the guilty who stabbed Cassetti to death?
How will they continue to live with the issues
Of law, of justice, and the ever illusive quality of mercy,
Which is sometimes so incredibly strained
By the complex relationship of law and justice?

Poirot swallows his pain over the failure of the law
To administer justice and he condemns not,
But walks away fingering his rosary and praying.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

That is not to say that God does not answer his faithful people’s prayers for protection. Of course he does, but a fundamentally unrepentant person like Cassetti does not have the same claim on God, even though at times, God, in His omniscient care, answers the prayers of unbelievers. That has been a mercy for many of us.

C. S. Lewis points out that, “Justice means much more than the sort of thing that goes on in law courts. It is the old name for everything we should now call ‘fairness’; it includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life.” [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p.79). Again from C. S. Lewis,

“For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self, is the worse of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.
” (Ibid.  p.103].

“Now a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment - even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I' still think so now that we are at peace”  [p. 118]

‘Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature”[p. 119-120].

“Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves - to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not” [p. 120]

            To put that in a Gospel perspective, death is not the worst thing that could happen to us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [Matthew 10:28].  There is a final moment for every man and woman when we will present ourselves to God to hear either, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or “Depart from me, I never knew you.”  [Matthew 25:21; Matthew 7:27]. In the case of Cassetti, it is not entirely clear that he is not penitent, even though he suffers the penalty of death for his terrible sins.

While The Rule of St. Benedict does not deal with the death penalty for crimes, yet it does deal with the relationship between, Law, Justice, and Mercy,

Chapter 28: On Those Who Will Not Amend after Repeated Corrections

If a brother who has been frequently corrected for some fault, and even excommunicated, does not amend, let a harsher correction be applied, that is, let the punishment of the rod be administered. But if he still does not reform or perhaps (which God forbid) even rises up in pride and wants to defend his conduct, then let the Abbot do what a wise physician would do. Having used applications, the ointments of exhortation, the medicines of the Holy Scriptures, finally the cautery of excommunication and of the strokes of the rod, if he sees that his efforts are of no avail, let him apply a still greater remedy, his own prayers and those of all the others, that the Lord, who can do all things may restore health to the brother who is sick. But if he is not healed even in this way, then let the Abbot use the knife of amputation, according to the Apostle's words, "Expel the evil one from your midst" (1 Cor. 5:13), and again, "If the faithless one departs, let him depart" (1 Cor. 7:15) lest one diseased sheep contaminate the whole flock."

            That is as far as the authority of the Abbot under The Rule extends. If the issue at hand is actually murder; then following the principle of obedience, it would be the Abbot’s responsibility to turn the murderer over to the state.

            At best the relationship between Law, Justice, and Mercy is a difficult one, and highly individual circumstances must be taken into account. How do we decide the appropriate response? That is not a matter of individual choice for we are members of the corporate Body of Christ and decisions should always be made thoughtfully, with prayer, remembering that all of us are under authority.


Murder in the night
On the Orient Express,
“Ce n’est rien, Je me suis trompé”.
“It is nothing. I am wrong.”
Or did he say,
“C’etait un cauchemaur?”
“It was a nightmare.”
The nightmare is Ratchett himself,
The baby killer Cassetti.
Mr. Beddoes says of him,
“Put a sewer rat in a suit,
It is still a sewer rat’
Just a rat in a suit.”
Cassetti is perhaps deservedly murdered.

“Bien, Monseiur!”
Sometimes justice is not simple, and
Sometimes the law is not justice,
But how does one decide, and
Just who makes the decision?
Eh bien, la vie est compliquée ,
et est donc la mort.
Ah well, life is complicated
And so is death.

Copyright © 2016 R. Penman Smith