Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Homily on the Feast of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury

This sermon began with the reading of Archbishop Laud's biography from Lesser Feasts and Fasts. It continued thus:

If there's one thing Archbishop Laud was not, it was a political opportunist. He was not in it for sheer political power, because such people are usually shrewd with power when they get it and don't make the kind of colossal political blunders that Laud did. Opportunists and change their stripes with the whims of the people -- Laud was beheaded, in large part, because he refused to embrace the fashionable ideas of his day and persisted -- curmudgeonly, tyrannically -- in pushing his very unpopular ideas. Nor was he a pragmatist. Pragmatists do what will work, even if it goes against their ideals -- Laud persisted in his ideals even when, by all accounts, they didn't work toward peace, reconciliation, or a resolution of any of the troubles he faced. If he was not therefore an opportunist or a practical man, what was he? What makes a person so devoted in pursuit of his cause that he would, for the sake of supporting that cause, risk starting a war that ended with his own execution and that of the King he supported?

Though there are several reasons why people may devote themselves to such causes, in Laud's case, I think he had the deepest of reasons -- he was a man in love. He had caught a glimpse of the Church of God, the Body of Christ, in all its glory and beauty, in all its catholic splendor; a church both reformed -- with a vibrant gospel to preach -- and catholic -- faithful to the doctrine and leadership handed down from Christ through the apostles to the bishops. Laud was enamored of this Church for the same reason that he was enamored of his King: Laud believed that both the monarchy and the Church were divine institutions, established by his God and imbued with holiness, righteousness, and the ability to express God's nature -- indeed, the very Gospel -- in a broken and disordered human world. Laud hated disorder, especially in the church, and He saw God as the source of order and right-ness and beauty. Everyone who falls in love knows that love always contains, in some measure, an appreciation of aesthetics, of beauty. Laud loved the beauty of the church and the beauty of the divine-right monarchy.

This beauty was, to him, God's own beauty. Loving church and supporting monarch were the equivalent, to him, of loving and obeying God. That's why he was willing to sacrifice everything valuable in the world to stand up for God's beautiful church and God's beautiful monarchy. He sacrificed a normal family life when he was ordained, for at that time most English clergy maintained celibacy. Laud sacrificed his career by supporting a doomed monarch. Laud sacrificed the churches over which he had charge, in one instance by pushing the Scottish prayer book on a church that didn't want it (but needed it, in Laud's eyes, to be more like the beatific vision of Christ's Body that Laud loved). For the sake of loyalty to God and King, Laud sacrificed his parishioners and countrymen by dragging them into a war that would claim many of their lives. For the sake of his love, Laud even contributed to the downfall of the King he served, since that downfall was necessary to maintain the ideals of divine-right monarchy and traditional catholicism. And finally, but to Laud least importantly, he gave his own life as a sign that the ideals of catholicism and divine right of kings were gospel truth.

The question before us today, as we celebrate the great love of a great but flawed man for God and His church, is "What do we love?" What has enamored us? Have we caught a glimpse of God's beauty in the world, and has it captured our hearts? If the beautiful vision Laud saw of Church and monarch was real, and really remains in existance today, have we seen it? Have we seen the glory of God's church, Christ's Body, prepared as bride for her husband? Have we grasped, as Laud did, the miracle of the Church, Emmanuel, God with us, the beautiful Word made flesh and dwelling among us? Are we in love? Would we self-givingly sacrifice everything, even the thing itself that we love, to further express and obtain God's beauty? Some say beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- God's beauty is always controversial, and pursuing that beautiful vision will always lead, as our Gospel reading today says, not to unity, but to estrangement; not to peace, but to a sword. Are we willing to go there? Do we love that strongly? Are we willing to walk in the way of the cross of our Savior, who himself, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father? From that seat He beckons us to fall in love with God, as Laud did. From that seat flows the beauty that should enflame our complacency, consume our pride in paltry human dignity, and leave our sin-hardened hearts broken and weeping, overcome, choked up, repentent -- enamored of the Beauty of all Beauties. May God enflame our hearts. May the vision of His glory consume our pride. May His face inspire repentence and smile in forgiveness. May we love God and His church with all our hearts. May we be able to say, with the Psalmist, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And having you, I desire nothing upon earth. Though my flesh and my heart should waste away, God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Truly, those who forsake you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful. But it is good for me to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge."AMEN.

- Fr. John Thorp