I preached at the First Mass of a dear friend, Fr Robbie Low – a former Anglican clergyman who was ordained a Catholic priest in October. I was just sent a link to the audio of the sermon, so if you want to listen please click here. Of course it is a very personal homily, but there are some bigger thoughts about the meaning of the priesthood and the Year of Faith that might interest others.
Posts Tagged ‘evangelisation’
Pope Benedict speaks to seminarians at the Venerable English College, and through them to the Church in Britain
Posted in Religion, tagged evangelisation, faith, fire, holiness, Holy Spirit, love, New Evangelisation, Pope Benedict, priesthood, Rome, schola saxonum, seminarians, seminary, St Boniface, Venerable English College, vocation on December 4, 2012| Leave a Comment »
Seminarians and staff from the Venerable English College in Rome had an audience with Pope Benedict on Monday. I’m sure he intends to invite Allen Hall Seminary out soon…
In case you didn’t see the wonderful address he gave, take a look at the text copied below. It’s nice to hear the Pope say that he owes his faith to the English (through St Boniface coming to evangelise Germany); but he can’t help adding that we English owe our faith to his predecessor, Pope Gregory!
Dear Brother Bishops, Monsignor Hudson,
Students and Staff of the Venerable English College,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you today to the Apostolic Palace, the House of Peter. I greet my Venerable brother, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a former Rector of the College, and I thank Archbishop Vincent Nichols for his kind words, spoken on behalf of all present. I too look back with great thanksgiving in my heart to the days that I spent in your country in September 2010. Indeed, I was pleased to see some of you at Oscott College on that occasion, and I pray that the Lord will continue to call forth many saintly vocations to the priesthood and the religious life from your homeland.
Through God’s grace, the Catholic community of England and Wales is blessed with a long tradition of zeal for the faith and loyalty to the Apostolic See. At much the same time as your Saxon forebears were building the Schola Saxonum, establishing a presence in Rome close to the tomb of Peter, Saint Boniface was at work evangelizing the peoples of Germany. So as a former priest and Archbishop of the See of Munich and Freising, which owes its foundation to that great English missionary, I am conscious that my spiritual ancestry is linked with yours.
Earlier still, of course, my predecessor Pope Gregory the Great was moved to send Augustine of Canterbury to your shores, to plant the seeds of Christian faith on Anglo-Saxon soil. The fruits of that missionary endeavour are only too evident in the six-hundred-and-fifty-year history of faith and martyrdom that distinguishes the English Hospice of Saint Thomas à Becket and the Venerable English College that grew out of it.
Potius hodie quam cras, as Saint Ralph Sherwin said when asked to take the missionary oath, “rather today than tomorrow”. These words aptly convey his burning desire to keep the flame of faith alive in England, at whatever personal cost. Those who have truly encountered Christ are unable to keep silent about him. As Saint Peter himself said to the elders and scribes of Jerusalem, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Saint Boniface, Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Saint Francis Xavier, whose feast we keep today, and so many other missionary saints show us how a deep love for the Lord calls forth a deep desire to bring others to know him. You too, as you follow in the footsteps of the College Martyrs, are the men God has chosen to spread the message of the Gospel today, in England and Wales, in Canada, in Scandinavia. Your forebears faced a real possibility of martyrdom, and it is right and just that you venerate the glorious memory of those forty-four alumni of your College who shed their blood for Christ. You are called to imitate their love for the Lord and their zeal to make him known, potius hodie quam cras. The consequences, the fruits, you may confidently entrust into God’s hands.
Your first task, then, is to come to know Christ yourselves, and the time you spend in seminary provides you with a privileged opportunity to do so. Learn to pray daily, especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, listening attentively to the word of God and allowing heart to speak to heart, as Blessed John Henry Newman would say. Remember the two disciples from the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, who followed Jesus and asked to know where he was staying, and, like them, respond eagerly to his invitation to “come and see” (1:37-39). Allow the fascination of his person to capture your imagination and warm your heart. He has chosen you to be his friends, not his servants, and he invites you to share in his priestly work of bringing about the salvation of the world. Place yourselves completely at his disposal and allow him to form you for whatever task it may be that he has in mind for you.
You have heard much talk about the new evangelization, the proclamation of Christ in those parts of the world where the Gospel has already been preached, but where to a greater or lesser degree the embers of faith have grown cold and now need to be fanned once more into a flame. Your College motto speaks of Christ’s desire to bring fire to the earth, and your mission is to serve as his instruments in the work of rekindling the faith in your respective homelands. Fire in sacred Scripture frequently serves to indicate the divine presence, whether it be the burning bush from which God revealed his name to Moses, the pillar of fire that guided the people of Israel on their journey from slavery to freedom, or the tongues of fire that descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost, enabling them to go forth in the power of the Spirit to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Just as a small fire can set a whole forest ablaze (cf. Jas 3:5), so the faithful testimony of a few can release the purifying and transforming power of God’s love so that it spreads like wildfire throughout a community or a nation. Like the martyrs of England and Wales, then, let your hearts burn with love for Christ, for the Church and for the Mass.
When I visited the United Kingdom, I saw for myself that there is a great spiritual hunger among the people. Bring them the true nourishment that comes from knowing, loving and serving Christ. Speak the truth of the Gospel to them with love. Offer them the living water of the Christian faith and point them towards the bread of life, so that their hunger and thirst may be satisfied. Above all, however, let the light of Christ shine through you by living lives of holiness, following in the footsteps of the many great saints of England and Wales, the holy men and women who bore witness to God’s love, even at the cost of their lives. The College to which you belong, the neighbourhood in which you live and study, the tradition of faith and Christian witness that has formed you: all these are hallowed by the presence of many saints. Make it your aspiration to be counted among their number.
Please be assured of an affectionate remembrance in my prayers for yourselves and for all the alumni of the Venerable English College. I make my own the greeting so often heard on the lips of a great friend and neighbour of the College, Saint Philip Neri, Salvete, flores martyrum! Commending you, and all to whom the Lord sends you, to the loving intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you.
Posted in Morality, Politics, tagged 40 Days for Life, abortion, abortion clinics, abortion rights, babies, birth, charity, children, evangelisation, fasting, life, prayer, pregnancy, pro-choice, pro-life, unborn children, unplanned pregnancy, witness on October 26, 2012| 2 Comments »
When I was reflecting on the Year of Faith in Cardiff, I spoke about the power of witness. I gave the “40 Days for Life” movement as an example of what this can involve, and how effective it can be.
In case you haven’t heard of it before, 40 Days for Life is a peaceful prayer vigil that takes place outside a number of abortion clinics in the UK and throughout the world. At this very moment, people are keeping vigil. It’s not a protest or a political campaigning group but a form of witness.
There are three aspects to the project: prayer and fasting, education, and offering practical support and alternatives to women and men who are seeking abortion with an unplanned pregnancy.
40 Days for Life is not about trying to win an argument. There has been a feeling amongst many within the pro-life movement that the arguing, the dialogue, the political campaigning, have only taken us so far. It shows the limits of dialogue; not the futility – just the limits.
So there was a need for another strategy: witness.
First, the witness of prayer. Not just private prayer, which is hugely important, but also praying in public. With this public prayer, part of the purpose is to show that prayer matters, that there is another way of changing hearts, that we’re not alone in our struggles and sufferings – but that God is with us. This may sound a bit ‘pharisaical’. Didn’t Jesus ask us to shut the door and pray in private? Yes, but he also prayed with and for people, drawing them into his own prayer, and witnessing to the central importance of that prayer for all people.
Second, there is the witness of truth: offering information, leaflets, education, conversations, insights, etc. Sharing the simple scientific facts about human development; the physical, psychological and moral dangers of abortion; the practical alternatives. Being prepared to speak about this in public, to help those who are asking questions. And always to speak with patience, kindness and peacefulness; sometimes in the face of aggression or anger.
And third, and most importantly, there is the witness of charity, of love, in the 40 Days for Life vigil: offering real, practical support to women who are considering an abortion, very often because they have no support from anywhere else, and feel pressured into this choice by others or by circumstances. So this is not just the offer of leaflets or kind words, but very concrete assistance: helping them to find a supportive advice centre, giving them possibilities of financial help if they need it, even offering them a place to stay during the pregnancy and birth if they have been pushed out of their own home.
40 Days for Life really changes lives. I don’t just mean the number of women who decide to keep their babies because of the vigil (although, by the grace of God, there are many of these). I also mean the powerful and often unexpected effects of this witness on so many others: men and women who walk by and feel drawn into conversation, many of whom will have been touched by abortion in some way, because at last they have found someone who understands the sadness and the seriousness of it; people drawn to pray, simply through the witness and faith of those who are praying on the street corner there; people who stop to talk and enquire and even disagree – some of them having their minds changed, softened, or challenged in a non-aggressive way.
Another miracle is the effect that the vigil has had on so many of those who work in the abortion clinics. Over the years, internationally, quite a few abortion workers have had powerful conversion experiences, or small changes of heart, that have led them to leave the clinics and find work elsewhere. This isn’t because they have been pressured into this, but because through the witness of those on the vigil they have had the opportunity of seeing others who see things differently. The witness to life gives another way of looking at the world, another possibility, that awakens something deep in their hearts, and actually fits with what they secretly believed all along.
I am not putting this forward as an ideal model of what Christian witness looks like, and my purpose is not actually to open up the life issues themselves. I simply use this as one example of what witness can involve: prayer, words, and the work of practical charity and love. And I hope it gives an encouragement to all of us to see how powerful our witness can be.
Posted in Art, Religion, tagged Christ, church architecture, complacency, crucifix, evangelisation, faith, Jesus Christ, paralysed man, Pope Benedict, Porta Fidei, sacred space, sanctuary, Year of Faith on October 19, 2012| 13 Comments »
I was in Cardiff last week to give a talk about the Year of Faith. I was meditating on the words of Pope Benedict in Porta Fidei, and in particular on the need for us to ‘rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith’. These are the concluding thoughts I gave.
I work at Allen Hall, which is the seminary of the Archdiocese of Westminster in central London. Our chapel is over fifty years old, and it is in desperate need of refurbishment.
We have a huge sanctuary with a high ceiling and a beautiful sense of space, but it is sparsely furnished and what little furnishing there is looks very tired. As part of the refurbishment, we are thinking about commissioning a large Cimabue-style crucifix to hang above the altar. Last week, as an experiment, a very roughly produced crucifix was hung in the centre of the sanctuary, just to see how it ‘sits’, how it ‘feels’.
It’s about 7 feet high, made of crudely cut whitewashed wood, with just a charcoal sketch of the outline of Jesus’s crucified body, and the heads of Mary and John placed symbolically at the end of each arm.
It has utterly transformed the sanctuary. You have an immediate sense of the presence of Christ, standing there powerfully in the centre of the church. Everything within the sanctuary is suddenly seen in a new perspective. Of course he was always there before – above all in the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle – but now we really realise that he is there, visually, spatially, emotionally; with the eyes and the heart as well as with the head.
When you are looking at the altar, the priest, the ambo or the tabernacle, you are constantly aware, at the edge of your vision, of the powerful presence of Jesus who died for us and rose from the dead for our salvation. It’s as if he has crashed through the roof, and broken open our complacency and forgetfulness.
It reminds me of the gospel story about the paralysed man, only in reverse (Mk 2). You remember that his friends brought him to meet Jesus, but there were so many people gathered round that they could not get in the door. So instead of giving up, they went to the top of the house, broke through the roof, and lowered their friend down on a stretcher to where Jesus was standing.
For us, in the chapel at Allen Hall, it’s the opposite. It’s as if we are sitting in this sacred space, often distracted, sometimes lost in our own concerns or anxieties, forgetting what really matters. So Jesus breaks through the roof, lowers himself down into the centre of the sanctuary – just above the altar – and stands there before us in all his glory.
It’s as if he is saying: ‘Wake up! Remember! I’m here!’ The fact that the two strands of white rope hang there so ostentatiously reinforces the perception that he has just descended from above.
This says something to us about the Year of Faith. We need to allow Jesus to break into our lives again, so that we can rediscover his face, hear his voice more clearly, and appreciate his life-giving presence.
Our faith is real. It really matters. He is here amongst us. If only we could see him more clearly, and deepen and intensify our faith. If only we could let our hearts be broken open by his love, our minds be transformed by his truth, and our vision expand to take in the vast horizon of the gospel.
Posted in Religion, Spirituality, tagged Benediction, Catholic Church, confession, conversion, Eucharist, evangelisation, Exposition, faith, holiness, joy, Mass, music ministry, prayer, silence, Transformed in Christ, Walsingham, Youth 2000, youth festivals on August 31, 2012| 9 Comments »
I’ve just spent five days in a field a mile outside Walsingham, where the annual Youth 2000 summer festival took place last weekend. This little village, as one of the speakers said, is not just in the middle of nowhere; it’s on the very outer fringes of nowhere, and it’s a miracle that anyone gets there at all. (Apologies for this very London-centric view of North Norfolk…)
One of the young people arriving said they had got into a conversation in a shop on the way, and when they said they were going to a youth festival, the other person asked, ‘So who is headlining then?’ No-one could agree on the best answer: Jesus, the Bishop, or the Youth 2000 Music Ministry.
It’s a time of grace, of witnessing the beauty of the Christian faith, and of real conversion. It’s also a very ordinary experience of the Church, and by that I mean there is nothing extraordinary about the content of the weekend. It’s just Catholicism pure and simple. That’s probably why it ‘works’, and why it makes such a profound impression on people. The Eucharist at the very centre; dignified and joyful worship; devotion to Our Lady; the teaching of the Catholic Church presented in a straightforward, unapologetic, inspiring and practical way; the power of conversion through the sacrament of confession; the challenge of connecting faith with everyday life, study, work, relationships; the call to vocation, witness and service; prayer, music, food, fellowship, fun.
You see young people serving other young people, and witnessing to their own personal faith. It was striking, as well, how many people were here for the first time – brought by someone who had come before and wanted to share the experience. You see a wonderful integration of the different vocations of lay people, priests, and religious and consecrated people. One of the lovely small innovations this year was creating a cafe-style atmosphere in the dining tent, so that people could relax together in the evening when the services had finished. Another innovation was the hot showers!
It’s easy to make a list of all the events and activities that take place; it’s harder to describe the almost tangible sense of faith and spiritual joy that permeates the main tent when nearly a thousand people are there worshipping the Lord in silence or in song, or listening to the Word of God opened up for them, or hearing a teenager describe the moment when they really began to believe and to see their life changing through the touch of Christ.
There are many wonderful initiatives for renewal and evangelisation taking place within the Catholic Church in our country – this is just one of them. They all point to a genuine renewal in the Church, a sense that something important is happening, that lives are really being changed. The catechetical blog “Transformed in Christ” catches something of this in these reflections on the festival:
One of the beautiful things about Youth 2000 is that it brings you right back again to the fresh experience of conversion. It brings you back to basics – being simple and humble, open and intimate with Christ. It is so beautiful to see this journey beginning in young souls. I don’t have dramatic experiences of God’s love anymore like I did when I was going to retreats at 17 and 18. God needed to get my attention back then, and now my faith has deepened and strengthened, so now it is more a daily experience of his love in my life.
But on Sunday night, we heard testimony after testimony from young people, all aged between 16 and 21, of the powerful experiences of God’s love they had received through Confession and the Eucharist. They often articulated them nervously, but an authentic, unmediated experience of joy, peace and freedom from having just been touched by Christ, radiated from each one.
I am sure that, this hidden work of the Holy Spirit and the open response of each individual, young soul is the most precious thing in the whole Church, the whole world!
When I was 17 I didn’t quite realise how precious it was, and perhaps those young people who with such courage and faith got up to give their testimony, don’t either. No one gets to see these miracles within souls. The humility of the Lord in working in such a hidden way is exquisite. But this is exactly what is beautiful about being a Catholic – the joy of being touched by Christ. If we ever lose sight of that, we are lost!
Posted in Religion, tagged Archbishop Fisichella, Bologna School, Cardinal George, Emmanuel Community, evangelisation, exposition of the blessed sacrament, Gavin D'Costa, hermeneutic of continuity, hermeneutic of discontinuity, Jon Kirwan, keynote speeches, Lefebvre, Lefebvrists, mission, New Evangelisation, Paul Watson, Pauline Danel, religious life, Second Vatican Council, secular institutes, Susan Wood, Tracey Rowland, Vatican II on June 29, 2012| 4 Comments »
I’ve been in Leeds for the last three days, for a conference entitled Vatican II, 50 Years On: The New Evangelization, at Leeds Trinity University College – one of the former teacher-training colleges that hopes to become a fully-fledged Catholic university soon.
There was a great buzz, with the event sold out and over 200 people attending as registered delegates, and many more for the public lectures in the evenings.
It was the usual conference format: keynote speeches and questions from the floor in the main hall, a huge array of shorter papers offered in the parallel sessions, good food, a running track below for when the days get a bit heavy, and lots of time to connect and chat over coffees or in the bar later in the evening (with a TV in the corner so we could watch the agonising Spain/Portugal penalty shootout). But I suppose not every academic conference has an hour’s Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament followed by Mass each morning.
There was a refreshingly diverse mix of people attending for this type of conference: highbrow academics and ecclesiastics swapping experiences and sharing ideas with ordinary ‘practitioners’ of the New Evangelisation – catechists, teachers, diocesan workers, priests, etc. And with every vocation and ‘state of life’ represented: single, married, ordained, consecrated (I even had an enlightening discussion with two members of a new community about how their promises made in a ‘society of apostolic life’ are quite distinct from religious vows and even the commitments made in a secular institute! I can fill you in later if you are interested). It was a tangible experience of the Church, made possible because everyone had such a manifest love for the Church.
The ecclesiastical big-hitters included Archbishop Fisichella on the New Evangelisation, Cardinal Filoni on Mission and the Young Churches, and Cardinal George of Chicago on the Ecclesiology of Communion. Other keynote speakers included Prof Tracey Rowland, Prof Susan Wood, Prof Gavin D’Costa and Mgr Paul Watson.
I won’t even try to summarise the programme, let alone the content of the talks; and I was late so missed the first evening. Here are just one or two thoughts that stayed with me, and that I want to mull over.
Archbishop Fisichella, after a long critique of Western secularism, ducked away from the topic completely and said: the Church doesn’t evangelise because of the challenge of secularism, but simply through obedience to the command of the Lord to proclaim the Gospel to all nations. This is such an important point. You don’t share good news because you are afraid of the ‘threat’ of secularism, afraid of what it is doing to you as a Church or to your culture; you share good news because it is good news, and because the Lord has asked you to do that – in season and out of season.
Cardinal George put the Council in context and explained how one of the major concerns (certainly for Pope John XXIII) was to speak to a world that was becoming more and more fragmented and divided, and in danger of destroying itself because of these divisions. The call for the Church, in this context, was to offer a deeper communion; hence the significance of the theology of communion that emerged in Lumen Gentium.
But the context today is almost the opposite; the world is more and more united (despite serious ongoing and new geo-political conflicts), secular culture (if not secularism) is becoming more and more pervasive and universal, and there is a global consciousness emerging because of our economic, ecological, cultural and technological unity.
The danger today is not fragmentation, said Cardinal George, but a ‘united’ world that is increasingly closed in on itself and cut off from the transcendent. This echoed Archbishop Fisichella’s lovely point that one of the purposes of religions, and above all the encounter with Christ, is not to solve all human enigmas, but to give space for the enigma of human existence to be acknowledged. This acknowledgement is becoming harder and harder in a global secular culture.
It was good to hear Gavin D’Costa for the first time. He’s a very clear thinker, and was at ease stepping away from his text and engaging – joyfully – with the conference participants. He showed how easy it is to find texts in the documents of Vatican II that seem to make mission and evangelisation redundant: the possibility of salvation outside the visible confines of the Church, the seeds of truth and holiness in other religions, the need to respect people’s freedom and conscience. And the reality is that many theologians and pastoral practitioners have concluded that proclaiming the Gospel to non-believers is unnecessary, incoherent, and possibly unjust.
But D’Costa then showed how for every text that points to the work of the Holy Spirit outside the Church or the sacraments, there is another text – usually following on its heels – about the continuing importance of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and inviting people to share in the graces that come through explicit faith and participation in the life of the Church. It’s not about playing one text off against another; it’s about seeing that the Council is often holding together two truths, that are not contradictory, and that are both vitally important: our need as Catholics to be open to God’s wonderful work in people’s lives outside the Church; and the continuing need to evangelise.
Jon Kirwan, a PhD student from Oxford, gave a very helpful short paper about the historiography of Vatican II, and the three most common schools of interpretation that have grown up in the last 50 years: the Council as radical ‘event’ (in a good sense – creating a positive rupture), promoted by ‘the Bologna School’, creating an obligation to remain faithful to the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ that prompted the event; the Council as radical ‘event’ (in a bad sense – creating a disastrous rupture), promoted by the Lefebvrists and a number of Catholic thinkers still in full-communion, creating an obligation to repudiate as far as possible the work of the Council; and the Council as an important reform, but in clear continuity with the Tradition of the Church, promoted by Pope Benedict and others, creating an obligation to see how the texts and explicit teachings of Vatican II (rather than its ‘spirit’) sit within the continuous Tradition of the Church. Of course this is simplistic, as Jon would have recognised; but it’s good to have some hooks on which to hang some of the ideas you hear about the Council.
The main topic of the conference was the New Evangelisation, so let me finish with a remark from Pauline Danel, who is a member of the Emmanuel Community in France, and gave a testimony about their work in a recent city mission in Paris. She said we shouldn’t feel burdened by the call to evangelise, as if the conversion of the world or of individual souls were our problem. It’s not our problem; the burden belongs to the Holy Spirit. But we do have a responsibility. What is that? She quoted St Bernadette, testifying to the authorities about the visions she saw in Lourdes, who said: ‘I am not here to convince you, but simply to tell you’. The conference was a much-needed reaffirmation of the call to tell others, as best we can, about the love of Jesus Christ; and a reminder that the Holy Spirit will do everything else required.