Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Holy Archangels

The huge bronze statue of St Michael surmounting the church tower of St Michel-Mont-Mercure, the highest point in the Vendée [photo: Ouest France]

Quite a week - a significant anniversary, today, a 'name day' and I'm preaching at a friend's Silver Jubilee mass in the midlands on the weekend before coming back to a harvest supper and a Sunday of harvest thanksgiving masses - the joys of rural folk religion! The exceptionally warm weather will help - autumn is making amends for the British summer which, once again this year, went missing and never returned.
Still, a few even small reasons for celebration are always welcome in the midst of what feels very much at the moment like the encircling gloom. It's a consolation sometimes to reflect that Christian hope is not the same thing as facile optimism, and that God's timing, like the weather's,  isn't always what we feel it ought to be.

'Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle...'

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Patrimony: St Vincent de Paul - Fr Lowder's inspiration in founding the Society of the Holy Cross

"On arrival at Rouen on May 22, 1854, he wrote to his mother: 'It is a great deprivation to be away from dear St. Barnabas'; however, I must bear it patiently, as it is only my own fault.' Part of his time in France was spent at Yvetot in Normandy, and at the Petit Seminaire, a school for boys, where he was the guest of the Superior, the Revd. M. 1'Abbe P .L. Labbe, to whom he had introductions and by whom he was warmly received. One day in the library of the Seminary, he took up the biography of St. Vincent de Paul, the perusal of which so fascinated him that long afterwards he wrote of the deep impressions made upon his mind by the life and work of the great French churchman, and from that moment he registered his great resolve that henceforth his life should be devoted to work for and among the virtual heathen of the London slums; but not yet had come the definite call to labour in the East End.

When the six weeks' suspension was over he returned to St. Barnabas', but with a somewhat unsettled mind, as the thought of joining some kind of community of mission priests had taken hold of him, and although he performed his parochial duties with the same thoroughness as heretofore, it was with a growing conviction that the time was not far distant when his aspirations would be realized."
from 'Charles Fuge Lowder' [ London: The Catholic Literature Association, 1933.]

"As he read Abelly's life of St. Vincent, Lowder was struck by the resemblance between aspects of the contemporary English Church and the Church in France at the end of the sixteenth century in which, Abelly wrote, the clergy were worldly and undisciplined and the people, in consequence, neither instructed nor assisted in their spiritual duties................ Persuaded that that the remedies which St Vincent adopted in seventeenth century rural France might be applied to England two hundred years later, Lowder determined to form a secular body of priests, roughly corresponding to St Vincent's Prêtres de la Congrégation de la Mission. To this end Lowder consulted five other Anglo-Catholic London clergy................ and with them, on 28 February 1855, founded the Society of the Holy Cross, or S.S.C.  as the Society was known from its Latin initials."
L.E. Ellsworth: Charles Lowder & the Ritualist Movement [DLT London 1982]

Twenty-five years ago today....

In some ways it seems like yesterday, in other ways a very long time indeed.
Kyrie eleison.........

Here's something French for St Vincent de Paul:

Monday, 26 September 2011

"Equal opportunities for all in the Church"

"For all" - really?

As you may have guessed by now, nothing is more eagerly awaited at this blog than 'Highlights' - it's not, as you might have imagined, anything to do with hairdressing (window dressing, perhaps, yet even the most ingenious of editing can't disguise the overriding impression of crisis in the province's life) - no, it's the official report of the latest meeting of the Church in Wales' Governing Body.
Ancient Briton has this critique of the September 2011 meeting here 
I can't help thinking that if these really were the highlights [see here], what on earth were the low moments like?

Unsurprisingly, I find myself largely in agreement with what 'Petros' has to say about the present theological direction of the province.
Many of us are deeply concerned about the wisdom of the Church simply holding up a mirror to our society's secular agenda without even seeing the need to offer a radical critique based upon Holy Scripture and the Christian tradition.
The strategy, by now very familiar, of always looking inward to realign the nature of the sacred ministry, our beliefs and ecclesial structures in order to make them more acceptable to contemporary western culture is so clearly a failure that one might have hoped that even the most committed of theological liberals would begin to have doubts. Evidently not. The impression given (well, haven't we got things spectacularly wrong down the centuries?) isn't an obvious aid to evangelisation.
The contrast between the words spoken in Lampeter last week and those spoken over the last few days in Germany by the chief pastor of another communion could not be more stark and more depressing.

The sickness of the West, revealed in its insatiable appetite for what is new, with its instant reactions, its lack of any historical sense or reference, and its chronic short-termism, is being echoed in some of the very places which should stand as bastions of historic faith, culture, and the tradition of centuries.
For any Christian community to fall victim to this disease is a tragedy. It is now hard to believe that the battle to re-establish what Chesterton called "the democracy of the dead" ("equal rights" for the dead in G.B. speak?) - that is, for us, the recovery of apostolicity (the essential guarantee of authenticity) in holy order and in moral theology - is other than irrevocably lost in those traditions which trace their separate ecclesial existence to the upheavals of the sixteenth century.

And the sting in the tail? We've come to expect one.......

"In answer to questions about women in the episcopate, Archbishop Barry announced that discussions would take place in the GB next year, leading to legislation being prepared for a vote to make it possible for women to be bishops."
[I'll try and suppress the thought that it will take more than a vote to make 'it possible,' because that seems to be the issue which is at the root of our present difficulties, doesn't it?]

Yet one hopes - even now - that this latest statement will concentrate a few minds............ very quickly........

'Ancient Briton' also has this to say:
"Now those in Wales adhering to the traditional faith can only pray for a successful outcome when their Ordinariate Exploration Group meets on 5th November. Please pray with them."

I couldn't possibly comment, but the link to the Welsh Ordinariate Exploration Group is here

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Our Lady of Walsingham

To celebrate Our Lady of Walsingham, some beautiful images captured on a You Tube video of the (Anglican) Shrine:

More and more it seems to me that so much of the failure of a large part of the (non-Anglo-Catholic) Anglican tradition to give a proper devotion to Our Lady in its liturgical life comes about, not only for those historical reasons which have led to an almost complete ignorance, at least among the laity, of what the Church has actually said down the centuries about the Mother of God, but from an unwillingness to abandon our apparent worldly sophistication and self-reliance and, in our spiritual lives, as the Gospel asks of us, to become as  little children.
Discuss, as they say....

Continuing last weekend's Mahlerian theme (it has been the centenary this year of his death, after all) this is the last movement of the 4th Symphony, a setting of a child's view of heaven ("Das himmlische Leben")  from Das Knaben Wunderhorn - again, the performance is from the Lucerne Festival and conducted by the great Claudio Abbado; the soprano is Magdalena Kozena

O Mary, recall the solemn moment when Jesus, your divine Son,

dying on the cross confided us to your maternal care.
You are our Mother; we desire ever to remain your devout children.
Let us therefore feel the effects of your powerful intercession with Jesus Christ.
Make your name again glorious in this place, once renowned throughout our land
by your visits, favours and many miracles.
Pray, O Holy Mother of God, for the conversion of England, restoration of the sick,
consolation for the afflicted, repentance of sinners, peace to the departed.
O Blessed Mary, Mother of God, Our Lady of Walsingham intercede for us. Amen.

Friday, 23 September 2011

This doesn't happen very often..........

.......... a defence of Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales.

The Archbishop's comments and concerns about the issue of presumed consent for organ donation have come under predictable fire from some quarters as being 'unchristian.' That's always the stage in any argument when I tend to smell a rat and suspect the critics are being tempted to hit below the belt in order to  circumnavigate the real issues at stake. Our present culture is very good at doing that, and very bad indeed at examining the consequences of decisions taken for what appears - on a utilitarian level - to be for the best possible reasons.
But to return to the argument of presumed consent - to whom do our bodies and vital organs belong?
It's strange that for the real post-modernist liberal, for the purpose of some arguments, such as 'a woman's right to choose' or issues of sexual orientation, our bodies are deemed to be our own and what happens to them solely a matter of individual choice, yet  in others, where there is deemed to be an overriding 'humanitarian' concern, the matter is somewhat more, shall we say, up for debate. Freedom as we know is never an absolute, it is always a matter of the balancing of competing rights and responsibilities, but one can't help feeling that there are some advocates for change in our society who are attempting to stretch the elasticity of our philosophical, moral and ethical language to snapping point.

Well, for the Christian, our bodies, like life itself, are a gift from God and not solely ours to do with as we please. The decision whether or not to donate cannot be taken as a result of simply feeling or gut instinct but as a matter of charity (caritas, Christian love, that is) and always taken in accordance with wider moral and ethical implications and, as the Archbishop of Wales says, as a conscious, planned, free gift to help bring life to others.

But, even if we keep the argument on a purely secular level - the only level our society appears to understand - one thing is very clear, our bodies do not belong to the State. If I choose to donate my organs after death (and personally I can do nothing other than commend that course - my wife's father having had a successful heart transplant ten years ago) then it should be, in the eyes of the state at least, my decision taken in accordance with whatever tradition of faith, prayer and belief, or whatever philosophical system is the foundation of my life.
The representative, 'democratic' state can seek to persuade but not to presume, to respect our decisions not to coerce.  If organ donation is thought to be too low, then make a better case for it.
Presumption of consent may well lead us - yet again - to places where, on deeper reflection, we may not wish to go.

"......We are witnessing a growing indifference to religion in society, which considers the issue of truth as something of an obstacle in its decision-making, and instead gives priority to utilitarian considerations.

All the same, a binding basis for our coexistence is needed; otherwise people live in a purely individualistic way. Religion is one of these foundations for a successful social life. “Just as religion has need of freedom, so also freedom has need of religion.” These words of the great bishop and social reformer Wilhelm von Ketteler, the second centenary of whose birth is being celebrated this year, remain timely.

Freedom requires a primordial link to a higher instance. The fact that there are values which are not absolutely open to manipulation is the true guarantee of our freedom. The man who feels a duty to truth and goodness will immediately agree with this: freedom develops only in responsibility to a greater good. Such a good exists only for all of us together; therefore I must always be concerned for my neighbours.
Freedom cannot be lived in the absence of relationships. In human coexistence, freedom is impossible without solidarity. What I do at the expense of others is not freedom but a culpable way of acting which is harmful to others and also to myself. I can truly develop as a free person only by using my powers also for the welfare of others. This holds true not only in private matters but also for society as a whole...."

Pope Benedict, speaking in Berlin yesterday 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady from Ninian Comper's rood screen at St Mary the Virgin, Wellingborough

Some music for today: Vladimir Godar's Stálá Matka
(Stabat Mater)  for alto, violin and chamber orchestra

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

"The Church celebrates the sacrifice of Christ with joy and not with sorrow. It would be an outrage ever to regret that God had achieved his purpose, and if there is one thing God has certainly desired, it is that he should be sacrificed for our salvation. His sacrifice is a joyful feast, a wedding, a drinking of wine. We make merry with a bridegroom because he has obtained what he desired, and we rejoice with the Divine Son, because he has his desire also. He desired to unite his Church with him by an irreversible act, and in dying he has accomplished it. It is the overflowing act of the bridegroom's pleasure that enlivens the guests, and the Church rejoices in the overflowing of the joy of God. We cannot be as glad at what Christ has done for us, as he is glad to have done it."
Austin Farrer: 'The Crown of the Year'

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

St John Chrysostom

I've always had a great affection and devotion to St John, "the golden-mouthed," the great preacher of the Byzantine Church, as I was born on what was at the time (just) his feast day (originally the date of the transfer of his relics to Constantinople), 27th January.

Patrimonially speaking, he was known to many generations of Anglicans for the translation of the prayer which found a place in the daily offices of the 1662 Prayer Book:

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise, that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

"For Chrysostom, the ecclesial unity that is brought about in Christ is attested to in a quite special way in the Eucharist. "Called "Doctor of the Eucharist' because of the vastness and depth of his teaching on the Most Holy Sacrament." he taught that the sacramental unity of the Eucharist constitutes the basis of ecclesial unity in and for Christ." Of course, there are many things to keep us united. A table is prepared before all... all are offered the same drink, or, rather, not only the same drink but also the same cup. Our Father, desiring to lead us to tender affection, has also disposed this: that we drink from one cup, something that is befitting to an intense love." Reflecting on the words of St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" John commented: for the Apostle, therefore, "just as that body is united to Christ, so we are united to him through this bread." And even more clearly, in the light of the Apostle's subsequent words: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body." John argued: "What is bread? The Body of Christ. And what does it become when we eat it? The Body of Christ; not many bodies but one body. "Just as bread becomes one loaf although it is made of numerous grains of wheat..., so we too are united both with one another and with Christ.... Now, if we are nourished by the same loaf and all become the same thing, why do we not also show the same love, so as to become one in this dimension, too?"

 Chrysostom's faith in the mystery of love that binds believers to Christ and to one another led him to experience profound veneration for the Eucharist, a veneration which he nourished in particular in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, one of the richest forms of the Eastern Liturgy bears his name: "The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom". John understood that the Divine Liturgy places the believer spiritually between earthly life and the heavenly realities that have been promised by the Lord. "
Pope Benedict XVI

Monday, 12 September 2011

Stormy Weather?

We're back from August in the Vendée to storms here in Britain - in more ways than one.
We had no sooner arrived at the Vicarage after a delayed channel crossing than we heard the news that Kate's mother, in great pain, had been taken into hospital in West Wales where, an emergency operation later, she still remains in a critical condtion. Your prayers for Marian would be very much appreciated.

As a result it was impossible to get to any of the events in South Wales over the weekend, the Credo Cymru Festival of Faith in Cardiff or, just down the motorway in Newport, the installation at St Woolos Cathedral of the new Dean of Monmouth, Fr Jeremy Winston SSC, to whom this blog sends its warmest congratulations and prayers. Is it my imagination or does the diocese seem a friendlier place?
I still think he would have made an excellent Provincial Assistant Bishop, but........

Other storms? Well, we seem to experiencing this morning the edge of the tail of Hurricane Katia - strong winds out of a clear blue sky. And something - both parochial and perhaps of a wider theological significance - which I hope I won't have to share with you (and just keep it for the memoirs, perhaps!)

Anyway here are some photos of the Vendee, beginning with one of our garden's resident snake basking in the afternoon sunshine (there is always a snake, even in Eden,) a couleuvre verte et jaune, the western whip snake - of impressive size but, in case you were wondering, definitely non-venomous.

The grenadier has not only survived but is in flower....

Not far away in the Mervent Forest , there are signs of a definite revival at the Grotte du Pere de Monfort, the local shrine associated with St Louis Grignion de Monfort (see previous posts). There is a new statue in the cave itself, candles to light, information leaflets and the somewhat neglected pilgrimage chapel, almost on the shore of the lake, is now open on Sundays for afternoon prayer avec Jesu et Marie.

It's definitely autumn in Britain -  I will miss the wide open skies and the quality of the light - à bientôt!