Monday, 30 June 2008

Ad multos annos...

The last ten days has been a busy time. In the Diocese of Northampton we have taken part in the priestly ordination of Fr Andy Richardson and Fr Simon Penhalagan. It is my prayer that God may fill their ministries with grace and joy as they work to bring others to Christ Who has called them to His service.
Here at St Martin's we also celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Fr Neville Mc Clement, a former Parish Priest here. With him (from l to r) are Fr Brendan Killeen, Mgr Tony McDermott (a native of St Martin's Parish) and my self. The Mass was attended by over 200 people, both present and past parishioners and people from other parishes in which Fr Neville has served. People came from far away as the East Anglian Coast and from Blackpool to take part.
It was a great celebration and a reminder to all of us of what the priesthood is truly about. Celebrating Priesthood is not simply about celebrating ourseles because a Sacrament is given to us both to help us to our own sanctification and to assist others likewise. To celebrate Priesthood is to celebrate the whole Church, both clerical and lay.
Since we are all good Catholics there was also a party after Mass with food and drink in a suitable abundance!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Dissent takes many forms

It is also often very subtle, lying not so much in open statements of dissent but in suggestions and associations. Sometimes it may not even be the intention of the one with whom it originates. I was reading in the Catholic Herald an article profiling Fr Daniel O'Leary and his recent book. I am not commenting here on what Fr O'Leary has written - I don't know him, and haven't read his book - but on the impression the article gives me.
Much of what is contained in it is unarguable, and the idea that we need to find ways of preaching the Gospel in ways that can communicate with people is naturally true.
But speaking of a lack of spiritual nourishment in liturgy and preaching in many churches, he says; The power is lost when relevance to life is lost, when the religion is no longer concerned with the realities, conditions and struggles of ordinary life. A little further on we read of two versions (admittedly not completely mutually exclusive) of the Roman Catholic Church - one still clerical, institutional...the other less institutional, less clerical, more human and trusting, where people rely more on the true inner authority of their baptism and on the Spirit-inspired sensus fidelium.
Leaving aside the implication here that a church which is clerical and institutional (whatever the precise meaning of those words may be) cannot also be human and trusting, there is much that is highly dubious in these words.
I may not be the world's greatest intellect, but I have never understood what people mean when they talk about the 'relevance' of the Church. If it be true that God became man, died on the cross to free us from sin, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven in order to show us the way to eternal life, then how can that not be relevant? People may accept it or reject it - but nobody can reject it on the grounds that it is not relevant. They might reject it because they don't believe it, or because ot asks too much of them, or because they're afraid to hope for something that wonderful. To try to link the faith primarily to this world is both a betrayal of faith and doomed to failure. If our faith in Christ Jesus has been for this life only then we are the most wretched of people, comments the Apostle.
If it be true, then it offers hope to the drug addict, to the single mother, to the unemployed, to the terminally ill, to the businessman, to the sports star, the musician etc. etc.
Christianity, it has been said, is based on one over-arching belief, and four practical paths of action. The belief is that God became man, died, rose again and ascended into heaven, reuiniting the earthly and the divine realms.
The actions it enjoins on us are first: to develop ourselves and our capabilities to the full, taking responsibility under God for our own lives. Second: to follow th epath of God's love - which leads us to God, and to become divine! Third: to show in our lives a real commitment to the poor and the outsider and the unloved. Fourth: to share the good news we have received with others.
This was the preaching of the early apostles - preaching not based on relevance to day to life but based rather on REJECTION of day to day life infavour of something deeper, more satisfying. Hence the preaching of the faith must not start with such vague things as 'Gospel values of trust, courage and openness' but with a firm and confident proclamation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. If we don't start here, how will anyone think that we really believe it.
People can rely on the 'true inner authority of baptism' only when they have truly accepted the authority of Christ, only when they have truly committed their lives to Him and to His love. The 'institutional' church exists, like Christ, not only for those among us who may already be saints, but for those who like Caravaggio's St Matthew desire to follow, but still have one hand on our own gold! It exists to strengthen and encourage the sinner, to remind the sinner that even if he is not followng Christ faithfully, Christ has not abandoned him. It exists to show to others the love of Christ and attract them by and through that love; to help them grow in commitment to Christ and rejection of this world's values - not always as something evil in themselves but as something less than perfect. The Church is an institution in order to be a visible sign of Christ's presence - even if at some times the organs of that institution might be less than admirably used. The Church is, after all, made up of men and women who sin in all kinds of ways. The Church is clerical not to be exclusivist but in order to throw into relief the holiness of the sacraments which she guards and administers.

Fr O'Leary seems to verge dangerously close to pantheism when he declares 'The world is God's beloved body. Calling it Godless is a huge mistake.' Preaching a gospel that seems to comfort people where they are and leave them feeling good where they are is always a temptation. But with Bunyan's Christian, we need to remember that we are walking through the wilderness of this world, and that Jesus Himself, far from reckoning the world as God's body, spoke of the Prince of this world who was opposed to Him.
If we make a supposed 'relevance' our priority then we abandon any real spirituality based on the teaching of Jesus. We conform the church to the world rather than the other way about. Our preaching and teaching needs to come first and foremost from the depth of a lived and certain faith. It needs to begin by proclaiming to people what God has done and what tha means for us. And for all sorts of reasons we will often fail. But we will not fail as badly as we would if we changed the message - changed the Gospel.

Whose throne?

Having recently reviewed Hilariter I notice that Fr David has included a photo of Canon Udris on the throne of St Gregory. Whether Canon Udris or myself looked more apostolic beggars the real question - what has Fr David done with the photo that was taken of HIMSELF seated in that throne back in January? I think we need to be told!

Monday, 9 June 2008

There's no place like home.

Or close to it anyway. Wherever one is in England (almost!) it is possible to think that that particular county is the most beautiful in the land. But for me Buckinghamshire (as the county of my birth) must always hold that position! Wandering around the villages between Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, one finds a great beauty in the low hills that surround the Vale of Aylesbury. It's not just the historic buildings that feature in the guide books but the historic buildings tha people live in. It is true that most of these villages are not villages in the real sense, being largely inhabited by people who work somewhere else, but despite Philip Larkin's fears much of England remains. This house in the village of Quainton is an example, where people have lived for hundreds of years. It is just down the road from the almshouses, founded in the late 17th century, to provide for the poor in their old age. In our days it is considered degrading that the poor should have to rely on others for material assistance. But things have not always been seen in this light. It used to thought that one of the purposes of wealth was that some of it at least should be used for the good of others. Quite why it is thought better to rely on an impersonal 'state' than on generous-minded individuals is, I admit, a mystery. Many of the old almshouses were places of real comfort (for the age) where people could, after a lifetime of service to their community, retire in comfort ad security. In a way it wasn't even 'charity (as if that were a bad word!) but the rewards for their labour.

These almshouses, founded by a son of King James I's Chief Minister, don't look that bad a residence today. They were built close to the Church, as well, in recognition of the fact that those who lived there would wish to pray for their families and benefactors and take part in the worship of the community. There we see a real sense of what community is about, not the artificial constructs of modern social engineers but growing from the relationship between people. Until we bring to an end an excessive reliance on the anonymous state and bring to the fore once again relationships, things are unlikely to improve in our society. Anyway, that's enough of a rant for today. Let's end with a picture of Quainton church

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Romanesque Somerset

When on a short break in Somerset I discovered that I had forgotten to bring with me that indispensable guide to what to see - Nikolaus Pevsner's The Buildings of England. Well, I hadn't quite forgotten, but in my haste I had selected the volume for the wrong part of Somerset. Imagine my consternation when, on arrival in Porlock, I discovered this error. I then had to try and remember some place names that had stuck with me in my 'reconnaissance'. Among the place names I thought I remembered was Stogursey, so off I went towards that village.

Arriving, I found that I had rightly remembered it as a place to be on my 'must-see' list. The former village of Stoke Courcy had a marvellous Romanesque Church. The view here, looking west from the High Altar, shows the most wonderful liturgical space, as the floor slopes and falls away down towards the nave. The Norman arcades to the chancel merely serve to open this space out. As with many of these ancient churches it is difficult to be too exact as to the date, but I would consider it seems likely that this particular church was begun pretty soon after the Conquest, probably in the 11th century. What we see today dates from probably about a hundred years later than that.

The Church was not the only thing to see in this small village. It must have been a place of some importance, for it had a castle as well. Being directed by a local scholar towards Stogursey Castle, it was only after opening the front door and entering a small kitchen that I discovered the Castle was not in fact open to the public. It is owned by Landmark Trust, and is available for residential hire. Anyway the lady who looked after the place agreed that I might look at what there was to see if in return I took a load of empty bottles to the bottle bank at the far end of the village. It seemed like a good deal!
Stogursey castle is even today surrounded by its moat, and one has to enter by way of the old drawbridge. Not a lot remains of the fortiications themselves, and the house which was formerly the keep is the part which is available as a place for a group to stay.
All-in-all a good place to visit.