For three weeks now the Sunday lections have centered around the Bread of Life discourse found in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. This began with the miraculous feeding of the multitude near Bethsaida in Galilee, and continued with the Lord announcing himself as “the bread of life” by the lake of Capernaum. As we have seen, the Johannine description of these events is explicitly Eucharistic; the link between the feeding of the five thousand and Christ’s pronouncement point not simply to one who has come to provide natural, but supernatural sustenance. The timing of these events with the Jewish feast of Passover suggests this all the more keenly: the coming sacrifice of Calvary is to be understood alongside the Lord’s proclamation, “I am the bread of life.” Thus, in the Most Holy Eucharist we find both the action of the cross, re-presented for us on the altar, and the bread of life, who nourishes us and sustains us on our pilgrim way.
This morning and this afternoon I was at the meeting of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy at St Patrick’s, Soho Square. These meetings are always excellent chances to spend time with fellow priests, and to engage in the three aims of the Confraternity: fidelity, formation, and fraternity. We were treated to an excellent talk by Bishop Philip Egan (tick one and two), and an excellent lunch in the crypt of St Patrick’s (tick three). I walked there and back from Chelsea in the beautiful June sunshine, taking in the Mall – still decked in the Union Flags from the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Coronation this weekend.
Bishop Egan’s talk focussed on two aspects of secularisation. First, what secularisation is – including what language we might use to describe it; second, how the Priest can respond to the advent of secularisation and engage a nominally secular culture with the truth of the Catholic faith in the person of Jesus Christ.
Three points from each section remain with me as I write this. What is secularisation? First, we can say that secularisation is a Christian heresy, because it relies on Christian ideals and patrimony. It does not have an independent philosophical base, and so it is essentially a reductionist or relativist view of the Christian religion. Secondly, we can say that secularisation is a negative force in society (and we need not view this from a religious perspective to make this judgement) because, as the Bishop said, ‘it ring-fences religion from public discourse’. Secularisation refuses to allow the foundational aspects of Western society and civilisation to contribute to contemporary discourse about the state, future, and development of Western society and civilisation. Thirdly, secularisation does not create a utopian multi-cultural, multi-faith society, but a culture (and, I would argue, not a civilisation) based on increasing levels of polarisation between those of faith and the secularist agenda.
As a response to secularisation, these three ideas were put forward by the Bishop. First, that in a society where Christian practice has declined, but where (arguably) some Christian belief remains – something seen in public displays of religious sentiment – the response of the New Evangelisation is essential. We are not dealing with convinced atheists (despite the claims often made), but with people taken in by secularism, which we can understand as a Christian heresy. Secondly, the response must not simply be a programme of evangelisation, but a representation of the person of Jesus Christ. We must re-present Christ as the source and purpose of all human activity, and enable others to enter into a personal relationship with him, through the Church and through the sacraments as the vessels of God’s grace to the world. Thirdly, we must allow those who already have faith to build that experience of the person of Jesus Christ into a real and living relationship that draws others to God. Bishop Egan commended finding better ways to engage those who are already committed to the faith, and enabling them to become active practitioners and evangelists in their own particular place of work or environment.
We ended with these four practical suggestions, which can be easily adopted by the Priest and lay faithful alike:
- Daily adoration as a means of developing a relationship with Christ.
- Spiritual reading and study of contemporary culture and society.
- Fraternity as a means of aiding each other in deepening our faith.
- An attitude which reflects more visibly the joy and love of knowing Christ.
Let us pray that many will come to know Christ, and that we can be faithful to the work of evangelisation entrusted to each of us by virtue of our incorporation into Christ through baptism.
You can read a similar talk by Bishop Egan on this topic here.
To coincide with the Olympics, last week saw Nightfever once more at St Patrick’s, Soho Square. Nightfever has been running in London on a regular basis but this was the first time that an entire week was given over to street evangelisation and adoration, with the particular intention of providing outreach to tourists visiting London for the games.
The format couldn’t be simpler. Holy Mass is celebrated at 6pm, together with those who will be helping run the event, after which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration and priests set themselves to hear confessions. Until about 10pm each evening, pairs of people then set off into the local area with a lantern and an unlit candle to invite passers-by to come into the church to pray. I was there for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and each night we had around 250 people visit the church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
Nightfever is relatively new to the UK but in Germany it’s really taken off and is now held at a large number of venues. To help with the week we welcomed a group of German Catholics who stayed in the house and helped with the setting-up and running of the event, as well as the ‘home team’ and a number of recent SPES graduates who returned to help out.
St Patrick’s is in such a transient area that it’s difficult to see how ongoing catechesis or formation might work. We see people walking past once or twice, or even every day to work – but really very few residents in the parish. This sort of hard-hitting evangelistic outreach is an important part of the life of a central London parish, but it’s only any good if there’s follow-up in places where these people live. A parish like this can, and does, give people a taste of the goodness of the Lord, but they will need ongoing nourishment and food if they are to be transformed into faithful followers of the Lord we seek to serve.
I’ve posted some photos from the event here.