Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being gently mocked? During his homily at my first Mass, Fr Stephen quoted a little phrase I’d used to describe the journey from Anglicanism to the full communion of the Catholic Church. When I preached on the Ordinariate during my first few weeks in the parish, I described it as ‘moving from the gatehouse to the manor house’. I know…
However – despite the ribbing – I do think it’s a pretty decent analogy: moving into the fullness of Catholic Communion, away from the fringes and the partiality of that unique bond between the baptised and the Church, and coming into the full splendour of the unbroken Catholic tradition, with all the rich cultural, liturgical and theological patrimony which that involves.
Last week the Catholic League published the complete special edition of the Messenger, a journal which was released to celebrate the announcement and development of the Personal Ordinariate. It is full of great articles, all of which can now be read freely here. Copies are free to a good home, so if you want a hard copy you can still get them from the Catholic League directly.
Amongst the excellent pieces (some critical, some full of hope – this was before January 2011), is the sermon given by a good friend and mentor on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the foundation of Pusey House, Oxford. The title of the sermon is The Sinews of Behemoth, taken from Job 40:17 (The sinews of Behemoth’s testicles are tightly constricted), and I apologise to anyone who’s already familiar with the content.
With his typical amusing tone and wit (“Which leads me inexorably back to Behemoth’s testicles…”) the preacher negotiates the history of the Anglo-Catholic movement which found space to flourish to fantastically in many of those Oxford institutions: St Stephen’s House, Pusey House, the Cowley Dads, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, and Fairacres.
Read the whole piece. It is, though, the rather stark challenge of the final paragraph which I tentatively reproduce here – as much to confirm my own sense of what the whole Ordinariate-Project is about, as challenge those who might be reading from another shore:
Pope S. Gregory the Great in his great commentary on the book of Job known to us as the Moralia, took this verse [Ed: The sinews of Behemoth’s testicles are tightly constricted] as a type of the perplexed conscience – the constriction of the sinews being the sign of the entangled nature of the moral choices which confront us. You do not need me to tell you that Catholic Anglicans are in a place of acute perplexity at this time. Our mission, the mission of this House and of all those who have served the Movement since its inception, is founded on a confidence that we have an authentic ecclesial mandate grounded in Scripture and Tradition, and sacramental assurance in the ministrations which arise from that mandate. We must be frank when we admit that the great majority of the Churches who name themselves catholic in faith, order and practice have always seen this in us as more a matter of assertion than fact. But for us it has not seemed to be a house built on sand. S. Gregory tells us that if we are hemmed in and held captive, then the best rule is to jump off where the wall is lowest – the shortest fall makes for the softest landing. If we are not to be entirely strangled by our perplexity we are going to have to learn to jump, because the basis on which we have carried out our mission in recent years – the doctrine of a Church of England with two integrities – is coming to an end. Blessed Pius IX told Dr Pusey that he was like a bell summoning people to church but never entering it himself; might we not hope for a better future in a larger room for Pusey House?
Might we not hope for a better future for the whole Anglo-Catholic project? Is not the wall at an unprecedented low point? Is not the landing as soft as we could ever, really, hope? I believe so. Pope Pius IX’s analogy of Pusey is as sad as it is amusing – do we truly want that for ourselves? I suspect not. As someone said just before I was received – the future’s bright; the future’s yellow and white.
My first Sunday as a Priest without the aid of 20 servers, 2 deacons, 4 concelebrants, an assistant Priest MC, a polyphonic choir, a plainchant schola, a dulcian, 2 baroque guitars, and nearly 500 in the congregation. A little different? Yes. Downer? Certainly not.
This morning I celebrated the Solemn Mass and preached on the importance of supporting vocations work. We have such a great focus on vocations to the Sacred Priesthood in this parish that it’s difficult to know how to improve on things. My challenge was this: if we can think of something we’d rather our son/grandson/nephew did, other than be a Priest of Jesus Christ, then we need to think again about the importance of the Sacred Priesthood, and to engage more strongly with the image of Christ the Good Shepherd who willingly lays down his life for his sheep.
After Mass one mother told me I had to keep working on her sons – she clearly wants a Priest in the family: great! But it must be hard for a parent to hold an ideal which runs so contrary to what society expects. The world wants us to marry, to be successful, to earn money, to have our own house, to have independence. Christ wants more: he wants everything we have, everything we are, set apart. Set apart for what? The plebs sancta Dei, the Holy People of God, whom he calls his priests to serve without limits, searching out the lost and gathering all into the safety of sheepfold.
Sure, not everyone is called to the Ministerial Priesthood, but our baptism does call us all to give ourselves entirely the vocation Christ gives each one of us, and that supernatural fulfilment must genuinely be the desire of Christian families before we can regain a proper sense of what Scott Hahn calls ‘the glory of the priesthood’.
If you haven’t read the Holy Father’s message for the World Day of Vocations (which we celebrate today), you can read it here. You can also read his homily from the Ordination Mass he celebrated this morning in Rome and there’s a short video of the event here.
From January 2012 until last month we ran Fr Robert Barron‘s Catholicism as a series-based course of process evangelisation and catechesis at the Centre for Catholic Formation in Tooting Bec. Headed up by our parish Catechetical Co-ordinator, Hannah Vaughan-Spruce, almost 100 people attended the course, which was hosted on Thursday evenings.
At the end of the course we were thrilled that a number of people asked to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, to be baptised, and/or to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Those people will now undergo some further formation in preparation for that wonderful act of Christian Initiation, or sign of their call to continuing conversion.
Next week Fr Robert Barron will be visiting London. He’s already in the UK, having spoken in Durham this week and he will be speaking at the LACE Conference Centre in Liverpool on Tuesday evening (1 May). On Thursday he will be giving a lecture at Heythrop College, University of London, and on Friday there will be a screening of Catholicism followed by a reception and dinner at St Patrick’s, Soho Square, where my ordination was hosted last Saturday.
I will certainly be heading to Soho Square, and I hope very much to be able to make the lecture at Heythrop. If you are in or around London in the next week, then do make the effort to try and attend. You can get more details here.
Fr Barron has a particular style, and a particular approach to explaining the faith. Someone described him to me as having a “geeky enthusiasm” – and you can tell that he fervently believes in the ‘product’ he is ‘selling’. The series is beautifully produced, with broad camera angles, well-produced music with plainchant themes woven through, and snappy, memorable messages which reveal and point towards the fundamental, profound truths of Christianity.
I want to write more about the course in the future – I think there’s a great deal to say. If you have the opportunity to attend it, do, and if you want to find out more about running the course, why not come along to the Discovery Session that we are running on 26 May in Tooting Bec? In the meantime I want to offer a general thought on contemporary apologetics.
In the Acts of the Apostles, St Paul visits Athens and, specifically, the Areopagus – by that time a place used to honour an unknown pagan god. Here he engages in Christian apologetics, engaging with the world-view and presenting Christian message in a public, potentially hostile forum. That apostolic example of apologetic evangelisation has got to find roots in us if we are to similarly engage in the contemporary world, where the unseen god of consumerism is slavishly followed by so many. Fr Barron does that well through his online ministry of teaching – coming to the new Areopagus, the internet: the very place where consumerism can often reach it’s zenith.
St Paul didn’t convert the crowd when he addressed them, but we are told that “some men joined him and believed” (Acts 17:34). That’s a pretty good place to start.
Yesterday morning I was visited by a French journalist from Pèlerin, a weekly Catholic magazine. I wasn’t expecting the visit, but Gwénola de Coutard (@gdecoutard), the journaliste, is in the UK to write a feature on women clergy in the Church of England and she wanted the view of someone who had become a Catholic as a result of such developments within Anglicanism.
Two alarms bells rang in my mind – first, do I really want to get into the ins and outs of becoming a Catholic again, just to have things skewed into a frenzy of words like ‘bigot’, ‘misogynist’, and ‘defector’ and, secondly, do I really want to speak to a Catholic magazine that wants to write a feature on women priests. But all of these concerns were laid aside when we started talking, and I realised very quickly that actually what was wanted was an apologetic defence of the Church’s teaching on the Priesthood, and an explanation that the ordination of women was not – is not – in itself a reason to become a Catholic, but rather represents a symptom of a wider question of authority outside the Catholic Church. So we talked.
When I was preparing to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church just last year, I knew that it would be exhilarating to be in communion with well over a billion people. I knew that visible communion with the Successor of St Peter, with the bishops, and with those great figures of sanctity whose writings had lined my walls for years, would be immense. And I have not been disappointed. But beyond that I have experienced a profound and genuine sense of peace – a peace which comes from letting-go of individual opinion and debate, and resting in the safe assurance of the Church’s teaching.
After the election of Pope Benedict XVI, Jeremy Paxman interviewed Cristina Odone and the-then-Fr Patrick Burke on Newsnight. In the interview Mgr Burke, who was a student of Cardinal Ratzinger and now works in the CDF, paraphrased a line that is often quoted from Ratzinger’s own writings – “The Truth of Jesus Christ is not measured by public opinion”.
For those of us used to tackling the biannual wave of General Synod votes, such a line rings very true. But, more than that, it reminds us that it is not our individual decisions to assent or dissent from Church teaching – in relation to the nature of the Eucharist, or the Priesthood, or Marriage, or any other area of faith, morals, and doctrine – that makes something true or false. Rather, that relates to our own relationship with the Church. And if we believe that Christ is truly present in the Church, that the Church is the Body of Christ on earth, then those decisions impact on our relationship with the Lord also.
We can’t hold the faith in isolation, not just because we need and desire communion with the Church, but because an individualistic faith where we decide on the rights and wrongs of doctrine, isn’t one which is Holy, Catholic or Apostolic. We don’t claim to be guardians of ‘natural religious instincts’ loosely basing our lives on a man-made moral code (see Fr Stephen Wang’s post on this here), but the mystical body of Christ, living and witnessing to his truth in a world where man-made moral codes come, change, and disappear to suit the age.
I’ll be interested to see what Gwénola writes. I know she’s hoping to speak to the Bishop of Ebbsfleet too, but if I’m honest it won’t keep me up at night worrying, because if there’s one thing I’ve grown to know and appreciate more than anything else, it’s that there’s no ‘I’ in Catholic.
Each one of us has a vocation – a unique call given to us by the Lord. It is our duty, our honour, our privilege to respond. This year why not come along to Invocation 2012 – a national vocations discernment festival? God may be calling you to the silence of the cloister, or the beauty of family life; he may be asking you to give your life to him in the single life, or he may be summoning you to serve as a Priest of Jesus Christ. With hundreds of others, come and give yourself the space to hear his still small voice. God is calling you to some definite service: do not silence him. Listen to the latest Vocationcast, which reflects on the forthcoming Invocation 2012.
During my ordination retreat I was able to catch up on a pile of books that have been sitting on my shelves waiting to be opened. Amongst these was a short volume by the American author and former Presbyterian minister, now Catholic layman, Scott Hahn. Anglicans have had little exposure (in my experience) to Hahn’s work, but I’m surrounded by people who rate him highly, so I was keen to see what he had to say.
The first thing is that, because he himself had been in active ministry within Presbyterianism, he understands the concept of ministry. He understands that the minister (Priest, sure, but we’ll get to that) has a job to do and that he does in fact have a function to perform. The beauty of Catholic teaching regarding the ontological nature of the Sacrament of Orders allows us to talk about function as a result of being. I am a Priest, therefore I need to be priestly. We shouldn’t be afraid to speak of function, but only when it is linked to this fundamental understanding of the Priest as new creation: a consecrated being set apart to minister as a sacrificing Priest of the New Covenant.
Hahn also recognises that, in terms of apologetics, we need to rediscover the glory of the Priesthood – in fact, this is the subtitle of the work. That glory, he says, comes fundamentally from the awesome fact that the Priesthood is apostolic, but also rooted in the understanding of humanity and of priesthood in the Old Testament. When we see this, when we see that the Christian Priest is truly secundum ordinem Melchisedech, we realise the historical significance of each priestly ordination, of each sacerdotal action.
Above all, though, Hahn’s understanding of the Priesthood is drawn from his own fatherhood. Together with his wife, Kimberley, the Hahns have six children, and this enables him to see the limitless paternal imagery in the Catholic Priest. It is a masculine vocation – not just in the sense of being for men (though it is), or that it’s about what some people describe as ‘muscular Christianity’, but in the sense of it being the full realisation of the potential fatherhood which is innate in all men.
What do I mean by this? Hahn explains that ‘[i]n the priest, we come to see fatherhood that goes beyond the biological dimension’. In other words, we see a supernatural fatherhood in which the Priest embodies, in a particular way, the fullness of fatherhood which is found in the relationship of God the Father with God the Son, caught up in the mystical union of the Most Holy Trinity. The Priest is the image of God the Father to himself, as he stands in persona Christi to Christ’s faithful people in the Church.
Fr Andrew Apostoli’s book, When God asks for an undivided heart, deals with similar considerations, but it is Hahn’s language of the fatherhood of the Priest which enables us to see that, through the gift of celibacy – which each day I grow to understand and appreciate more – the Christian Priest doesn’t ‘give up’ being a father, but rather embodies a perfect fatherhood which was shown to us by the perfect father-son relationship of the Holy Trinity, and – in a human sense – shown in the gentle fostering of the Christ child by St Joseph.
Scott Hahn’s book Many Are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood is available on Amazon.
The first post on any new blog is supposed to be significant. It’s supposed to set the tone, and the scene, and the pace which readers (should there be any) can expect from the author. The first post has to mark something – an event or a thing – from which everything else that is written on the blog takes the cue.
Three days ago, on Saturday 21 April 2012, my life was changed forever in the church of St Patrick, Soho Square, when, at the hands of a successor of the apostles I was conformed in a new way to the life of Jesus Christ. In a new way, I am his servant: what Pope Benedict called “a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord”. In taking on this life, in taking on his life, it is not James Bradley that matters – no longer me, but him. I am now a Priest of Jesus Christ. In the homily at the ordination, we were reminded of a poem of George Herbert (1593-1633) – Aaron. It is a reflection on the personification of Christ in the life of the Priest, and it is that conforming to the will of the Father, through living the life of the Son, in and through the grace of the Holy Spirit, to which I now turn.
On the Thanksgiving Card distributed at my ordination and first Mass, I had some words of Blessed John Henry Newman printed. These words, like Herbert’s poem, pick up on that – what St Paul talks of as putting on the new man (Colossians 3:10), and I offer them here as a preface to everything that I undertake to do a his Priest, in his name: “Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!”.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus.
The other part of the first blog post has to be to explain the title of the blog. The words come from a nineteenth century hymn by William Bright (1824-1901), the first line of which is And now, O Father, mindful of the love. In the final verse, we find these words which, again, speak of the conformity of the Priest to the life of God the Son: In thine own service make us glad and free, and grant us never more to part with thee.
It is my hope and prayer that, in some small way, these thoughts and writings might enable that conformity to take place in my own life, and in the lives of those who read them.