Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Life will often be tough, but you will find more love than you can imagine now"

The Spectator asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to write to his 14-year-old self. It is a surprisingly brief note from His (present) Grace (now also posted on the Lambeth Palace website). His (former) Grace would have an awful lot more to say to his 14-year-old self, not least about the vicious politics of all the church stuff the evil buried beneath shrouds of piety, and the long and lonely nights of consecrated darkness. Some Christians will let you down; others will be absolute bastards.

But they love you.

His (present) Grace's letter is probably copyright, but the Speccie has been known to 'lift' one or two items from His Grace's site, and if Lambeth Palace wish to sue, they are free to do so. His (present) Grace writes:
Dear Justin,

You are rarely good at anything, a fact you know well and worry about. But don’t worry — it does not measure who you are. Keep on dreaming of great things, but learn to live in the present, so that you take steps to accomplish them. Above all, more important than anything, don’t wait until you are older to find out about Jesus Christ and his love for you. He is not just a name at Chapel, but a person you can know. Christmas is not a fairy story, but the compelling opening of the greatest drama in history, with you as one of millions of players. Life will often be tough, but you will find more love than you can imagine now.

With my love to you, Justin
Neither the Palace's website nor the Archbishop's blog permit comments, which is a pity because all that His (present) Grace writes and says merits more than a little discussion.

"You are rarely good at anything."

What a window into the man's humility and youthful insecurity this opening phrase gives. He is no great theologian; no distinguished intellect. He has no impressive doctorate; no profound expression.

But neither did St Peter.

The Christian faith was preached in the first instance to poor, illiterate men – a college made up, for the most part, of an ignorant but inspired cohort of theologically undistinguished and spiritually flawed men who must have worried more than a little about their faults and failings.

But the Lord still chose them, because our inadequacies are not the measure of who we are.

If we do not dream big dreams we will reach our deathbeds and gaze back on our lives with sorrow and regret. But realising those dreams requires tenacity, discipline and commitment: we should not wait passively for Simon Cowell to discover us, or the lottery to deliver us, for fame and fortune are nothing but illusions of fulfilment. The material yearning is just a longing for the peace that passes understanding.

We need to find Jesus Christ, but when you find him don't, for God's sake, presume to believe that only you grasp the depth of his wisdom or the breadth of his salvation. The Church is universal, it is catholic, and the Holy Spirit lives in places and works through people you couldn't begin to imagine. Who are we to confine His infinite grace by the borders of our intellects and the boundaries of our structures?

"Christmas is not a fairy story, but the compelling opening of the greatest drama in history."

The world will not believe that, and no amount of shouting it or singing it will persuade them. Only by loving can we preach the truth. And that love must be selfless, or it is not love. If you have found it, share it. Yes, it will be tough. But Jesus didn't come to make our lives easy.

Perhaps, on reflection, there is not so much to write to one's 14-year-old self. His (former) Grace's missive might be even briefer that that of his (present) Grace: 
Be of good comfort, Master Cranmer, and play the man! You shall one day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.

But it will hurt, profoundly.


Blogger ardenjm said...


I think I'd want to say to 14 year old Cranmer:
Wrap up warm!

And - just to be Ecumenically Correct - I'd say to 14 year old Mary Tudor: I know the English are stopping you from seeing your dying Spanish Mother and calling you a bastard and her a whore - but don't judge them too harshly for that nor think that your salvation will come from your Mother's homeland.

But there, retrospection makes wise men of us all.
Well, nearly all of us.
Some still think that destroying 90% of England's artistic and cultural patrimony in iconoclastic fury and craziness was actually a good thing - a liberation.

But anyway - thank God the Catholic cathedrals remained standing without too much defacing. Although there is something desperately pathetic about the empty space in Canterbury Cathedral where St Thomas's shrine used to stand...

15 December 2013 at 11:04  
Blogger Johnnyrvf said...

I absolutely concour about how the Holy Ghost utilizes the most unlikely of people (and situations too) to further the Father's will, as to the brevity of the message it is the acquisition of wisdom which allows much to said with few words, that is the difference between true discourse and procastrination.

15 December 2013 at 11:43  
Blogger Nick said...

I fully agree with what the ABC has said. I think his letter, which is appropriately brief, would be a good message of personal encouragement to any young Christian.

This message is about the individual, and society is the sum of individuals, many of whom, as YG said, will be "bastards", both "Christian" bastards and non-Christian bastards. I find it puzzling therefore, why the ABC, on other occasions, is not more outspoken aboout the "bastards" and their effect on society. Because, when the "bastards" get too much power, they make everybody's life unnecessarily tough.

So, in my opinion, it would be interesting if His (current) Grace, also wrote such public letters to some of these "bastards" too (we all know who they are).

15 December 2013 at 11:48  
Blogger Uncle Brian said...

Mine would be strictly practical. Make sure you get your homework done in good time. Read all the set books. The purpose of going to school is to learn. Take advantage of it while you can.

15 December 2013 at 11:58  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Interesting article and makes one think.

Well if Happy Jack could pop back in time and give his young self some of this thing called 'wisdom', let me tell you, Jack wouldn't know where to begin. Jack was miserable when he was this age and a lot of trouble lay ahead.

Jack only 'knows' what he 'knows' now because of what he's seen and been through. Jack's best advice would be to try not to lose your temper when faced with all the bastards you meet as it lands you in a lot of bother. That would be difficult though because it was this temper that kept Jack going through his most difficult times. And Jesus comes to us when he has prepared us and we are ready for him so Jack's not sure what he would say about this, if anything. Young Jack wouldn't listen anyway - not even to his older Happy Jack.

Here's what Jack would say:

"Always keep your chin up. Stand your ground for what you believe in. Be sure and know things work out okay in the end. One piece of advice - leave that lady in Brazil alone. She's gonna be big, big trouble."

15 December 2013 at 14:22  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

This is yet one more variation on the theme of "If you could relive your life, what would you do differently?" But the life you have lived is what has made you. To accept advice from your future self would inevitably change your future self and thus render the advice futile. What essential experience would you avoid by taking the advice? How would that effect the outcome that is you? This question is not answerable.

We all have regrets in life. But the desire to change the outcome from the origin is really a desire to escape the Providence of God. It's a tacit denial that all things work together for good. Of course that doesn't make acceptance any easier. But it is far better to trust that God can redeem the years than it is to pine after second chances that will never happen. We are given the years that we have. And with those years we must be content.

I should rather see this letter. "Assume you will die tomorrow. What would you write to your children?"


15 December 2013 at 14:44  
Blogger john in cheshire said...

I'd say to myself - Rejoice because the Christian faith is not elitist; it's for everyone and it's so easy, all that's needed is belief in Jesus as your saviour. And because of Him, we developed the best civilisation ever to exist. The UK prospered for a long time and the USA became great because they had (if not have) as one of the fundamental principles, equal opportunity for absolutely everyone; which flows from Jesus and his teachings. I believe it is the only religion that offers that inclusiveness for all who care to take it.

15 December 2013 at 15:39  
Blogger Uncle Brian said...

Happy Jack

Reading your comment and comparing it with my own, it looks to me as though we’re both confessing to having been unduly prone to one of the seven deadly sins. In one case Wrath, in the other Sloth. Is that unfair?

15 December 2013 at 16:12  
Blogger William Lewis said...

Bravo to the ABCs present and former. Wise counsel both.

15 December 2013 at 16:30  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Well said, wise word I say, to both versions of ABC.

What would I say to my 14 years old self ?

"Chin up, be strong, seek truth, don't be scared of the knocks and doubters, and always, always press on; you'll get closer to it with oodles of time, effort and courage, and in the meanwhile life's journey is exciting. God bless !

15 December 2013 at 17:15  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

“at 14, your mind is empty, but prepare now for it will be filled eventually, not just with the most profound of wisdom, but also the words of fools. It is to you to discern what comes in as it happens, and also to audit occasionally what you hold in the former camp. For fools can and will present their foolishness as the most profound of wisdom.”

15 December 2013 at 17:39  
Blogger non mouse said...

Thanks to both, but especially to Your (former) Grace!

Methinks that, by also prophesying, each ABC offers the younger person a goal: a reason to endure despite the evils of this world.

For me the Golden Rule suffices, though I'd also add a caveat -- Quarere Verum, about motives -- of both oneself and others.

15 December 2013 at 18:04  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Carl, Happy Jack agrees with your comments but instead would he would say: "Be ready to meet God tomorrow. He loves you and will take care of you if you let Him.". It has a more hopeful ring to it.

Uncle Brian, Happy Jack was certainly an angry teenager and young man. Mind, at times he had to fight and never inflicted hurt for the sake of it. In the end the anger hurt Jack more.
And Jack had "uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger", just one time.

Jack's bigger sin was probably his time in Brazil. *chuckle* But he was young.

15 December 2013 at 18:19  
Blogger Uncle Brian said...

Happy Jack

Didn't you ever come across the Brazilian saying, "South of the equator there is no sin"?

15 December 2013 at 18:26  
Blogger Martin said...

Could be that ABCs letter to his younger self is accurate even today.

But for the Christian surely it is God who both prepares and gives the good works, they are God, not ours:

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV)

To God alone be the glory.

15 December 2013 at 19:21  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

His Grace. “We need to find Jesus Christ, but when you find him don't, for God's sake, presume to believe that only you grasp the depth of his wisdom or the breadth of his salvation.”

One wonders if our man had Len in mind when he penned that...

15 December 2013 at 19:40  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Uncle Brain, Happy Jack says you try telling that to said lady's brothers!
Jack 'jumped ship' to stay with this beautiful woman and had to leave very quickly. He loved her very much but was too weak to settle down. He didn't believe he was good enough to be her husband
and to have babies. Its not really a chuckling matter and is the one big, big regret in Jack's life.

15 December 2013 at 20:30  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

.... she was not pregnant, in case anyone thinks that. Jack would have stayed if she had been.

15 December 2013 at 20:32  
Blogger Mike Stallard said...

"He is not just a name at Chapel,"

What does this mean for people who cannot afford the £10,000 a year per pupil for a school where there is even a Religious Knowledge lesson?

16 December 2013 at 07:24  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Happy Jack has been thinking about this for a few days now.

If Jack could go back in time all he would really want do is give Young Jack a big loving hug and a kiss, without Young Jack knowing anything about it. Old Jack didn't love himself much in those days.

Older Jack knows what lies ahead. He wouldn't want to give Young Jack any letter or message or tell him anything. He'd ignore it anyway. Young Jack has got to find all these things out for himself.

16 December 2013 at 23:21  
Blogger Sister Tiberia said...

If Christ had become incarnate now
and were a thirty-year-old man today,
he would be here in the cathedral
and we wouldn't know him from the rest of you —
a thirty-year-old man, a peasant from Nazareth,
here in the cathedral like any peasant
from our countryside.
The Son of God made flesh would be here
and we wouldn't know him —
one completely like us.

How shameful to think that perhaps pagans,
people with no faith in Christ,
may be better than we
and nearer to God's reign.
Remember how Christ received a pagan centurion
and told him, "I'll go and cure your servant"?
The centurion, full of humility and confidence,
said, "No, Lord, I am not worthy that you go there.
Just say a word
and my servant will be cured."
Christ marveled, says the gospel, and he said,
"Truly, I have not found such faith in Israel."
I say:
Christ will also say of this church:
outside the limits of Catholicism
perhaps there is more faith,
more holiness.
So we must not extinguish the Spirit.
The Spirit is not the monopoly of a movement,
even of a Christian movement,
of a hierarchy, or priesthood, or religious congregation.
The Spirit is free,
and he wants men and women,
wherever they are,
to realize their vocation to find Christ,
who became flesh to save all human flesh.
Yes, to save all, dear brothers and sisters.
I know that some people come to the cathedral
who have even lost the faith and are non-Christians.
Let them be welcome.
And if this message is saying something to them,
I ask them to reflect in their inner consciousness,
for, like Christ, I can tell them:
the kingdom of God is not far from you,
God's kingdom is within your heart.
Seek it, and you will find it.

The Bible has a very meaningful expression:
The Spirit makes all things new.
We are those who grow old,
and we want everyone made to our aged pattern.
The Spirit is never old,
the Spirit is always young.

Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (August 15, 1917 - March 24, 1980)
From the chapter "Evangelizer of the People"
The Violence of Love
Sermons and writings, 17 December 1978, Gaudete Sunday
pp. 108-110
Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador
Murdered while celebrating Mass at the cancer hospital where he lived.

17 December 2013 at 09:57  

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