This week the Catholic Church, together with other Christian communities, celebrated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For those from the Anglican tradition, the origins of this week are significant, because it was the effort of Anglican ecumenists that founded what was originally known as the Church Unity Octave, and which had the express intention of the reunion of Anglicans with the Apostolic See. The involvement, in 1933, of the French priest Fr Paul Couturier saw this develop into the Week of Universal Prayer for the Unity of Christians, again, with unity with Rome at the very heart.
Yesterday I was able to attend a meeting of priests at Holy Trinity, Brompton. Really. This week the HTB Leadership Conference was held at the Royal Albert Hall, and a number of Catholics who have had some experience of using the Alpha Course were in attendance. Chief amongst these was (as widely publicised) Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who gave a lengthy interview to Nicky Gumbel. I watched some of this via the excellent video link from the RAH on Tuesday, and I was pleased to hear it being so widely acclaimed by many who were present in the hall and tweeting.
Last year, at the prompting of a few friends, I attended (somewhat reluctantly) a full day of the conference, and I must admit that many of my prejudices and concerns were compounded. Whilst I was encouraged to hear Rick Warren speak about the need all Christians have of the Church – which he warmly described as ‘the bride of Christ’ – I got an overwhelming sense that these were people with a very young faith. One friend said it is was like hearing new Christians talk – very enthusiastic, but without much depth. Warren’s exciting ecclesial rhetoric was not met with an ecclesiology that Catholics would really recognise.
Yesterday was a little different. Talking to other priests I was impressed to hear that Alpha had been used with some success in a number of parishes. Most spoke about the course in terms of pre-evangelisation (which would tie in with the comment above), and as a means of simply welcoming people through the doors of a church building, in order to introduce them to Christ for the first time. Nobody can doubt the numerical success of Alpha, and if something of that can be given a place in a Catholic context, then I am open to it. Those we heard from spoke from within a strong (do I even need to say, orthodox?) Catholic context, and with a keen sense of how methods such as Alpha can be complementary to – and even become a way of expressing – a valid part of kerygmatic catechesis, leading later to in-depth and didactic sacramental preparation.
That, though, is the point I want to make. If Catholics are going to look to Protestant Evangelicals for help in methods of, and ideas for, evangelisation, then we have to look at how these methods can be moulded for a Catholic context, and not alter the Catholic pedagogical and catechetical method to fit the material, however tempting or successful the material might seem.
We believe that at the essence of the Christian life is communion with the Church; that Catholic faith and practice, that communion with the successor of St Peter, is not the cherry on the cake, but a fundamental part of life in Christ. As such, we believe that the fullness of life in Jesus Christ is fully and entirely present in the Catholic Church, and thus all that we need to fulfil the apostolic mission of evangelisation is given us already. We need to view how methods such as this can prompt us, not to create something new, but to recover the gifts of our tradition which have fallen into disuse.
How we do this, and to what extent the material we begin with needs to be altered or reformed, is a matter for further and wider discussion. There is nothing wrong with adopting things wholesale that are good, even if they have developed outside the fullness of communion with the Church. The experience of the Ordinariates tells us that ‘a spiritual richness exists in the different Christian denominations which is an expression of the one faith and a gift to share and to seek together in the Tradition of the Church’ (BXVI to CDF Plenary, January 2012).
The new evangelisation calls us to seek a new ardour and new methods in the proclamation of the unchanging truths of the gospel. This will obviously lead us to examine the ardour and methods of others, but it should also mean a radical rediscovery of the riches and beauty of the undiluted Catholic faith, and the traditions we have of proclaiming it.
The convert in me means I wants to state over and over again that most Catholics are seemingly unaware of these great gifts that our faith has to offer, not least to this wider Christian conversation about evangelisation. If we can recover these things, then it will be possible to help others to see how they can deepen their life with Christ through communion with the Church; it will draw others to see how their good and logical conclusions are, in fact, things that the Catholic Church has been doing consistently since the earth was still warm with the blood of Christ.
We should seek out new methods, then, and draw on others’ energy for a new ardour, but we should also rediscover the treasures already in our store, not simply as a means of our evangelisation of the world, but of our evangelisation of the Church, of ourselves, and of all those who call themselves Christian but (as yet) have not found the joy of the Church.
For more information about Alpha in a Catholic context, click here.
Today’s news from Rome is that the Cardinals who are meeting for the General Congregations will no longer give interviews about the meetings and about the forthcoming conclave. As I understand it, this is in keeping with the media blackout after Pope John Paul II’s funeral in 2005, though with the difference is that this time the Holy See Press Office will continue to give a daily Press Briefing, broadcast live on www.news.va.
It’s easy to assume that a heavy-handed ‘Vatican’ has closed-down the dialogue, but this would miss an important point. Without a Pope, the Cardinals themselves are the principal authority in the Church and so it is only the Cardinals who can (self-)impose this ban, which is what they’ve done. It’s also worth noting that the reason for enforcing this ban is that the confidential nature of the General Congregations was apparently undermined this morning by an article in La Stampa, an Italian daily newspaper.
From the thirty-eight propositions of the XIIIth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, October 2012:
The worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, God’s most treasured gift to us, is the source of the highest expression of our life in Christ (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, 10). It is, therefore, the primary and most powerful expression of the new evangelization. God desires to manifest the incomparable beauty of his immeasurable and unceasing love for us through the Sacred Liturgy, and we, for our part, desire to employ what is most beautiful in our worship of God in response to his gift. In the marvelous exchange of the Sacred Liturgy, by which heaven descends to earth, salvation is at hand, calling forth repentance and conversion of heart (cf. Mt 4:17; Mk 1:15).
Evangelization in the Church calls for a liturgy that lifts the hearts of men and women to God. The liturgy is not just a human action but an encounter with God which leads to contemplation and deepening friendship with God. In this sense, the liturgy of the Church is the best school of the faith.
Read them all here.
Pope Benedict, reflecting on his first-hand experience of the second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican:
The Council Fathers neither could nor wished to create a new or different Church. They had neither the authority nor the mandate to do so. It was only in their capacity as bishops that they were now Council Fathers with a vote and decision-making powers, that is to say, on the basis of the Sacrament and in the Church of the Sacrament. For this reason they neither could nor wished to create a different faith or a new Church, but rather to understand these more deeply and hence truly to “renew them”. This is why a hermeneutic of rupture is absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the Council Fathers.
Read it all here.
Here is the recent homily of His Excellency, the Most Reverend Charles Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, at the closing Mass of the Irish National Novena, Knock. It bears close reading.
“The Future of the Church in Ireland”
[Your Excellencies… Father Richard Gibbons, Parish Priest of Knock], my fellow priests, dear men and women religious, beloved brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. It is truly an honour and a joy for me to be here with you today on the final day of the National Novena at Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock.
When Blessed John Paul II came here on September 30, 1979, to celebrate Holy Mass, he began with the words: “Here I am at the goal of my journey to Ireland: the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock” and, in a certain sense, his words are true for all of us here today, as we celebrate the conclusion of the National Novena; we too have come to the goal of our journey. We come as pilgrims to pray at the feet of Mary, the humble girl of Nazareth, the glorious Mother of God, the “Woman clothed with the sun” who appeared here in 1879 to comfort and console the Catholic people of Ireland. The passage of time tends to make us forget what things were like in Ireland when Mary appeared. Ireland was not yet a free and independent nation; close to a million people had suffered and died during the Great Famine thirty years previously, and in the year 1879 when Mary appeared, hunger had returned to the West of Ireland. Huge numbers of Irish people had been forced to leave as emigrants, never to return, so much so that the population of Ireland plummeted by something like 25 per cent.
And so it was that, in those very bad times, Mary appeared, to comfort and to console and – although she never spoke a word – to lead her people, to direct her children to the Lamb on the altar, the Lamb who was slain but who now is alive, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Yes, the times in which Mary appeared here in Knock were very bad, and yet it bears noting that the century which followed the apparition would be marked by an extraordinary flourishing of the Catholic Church in Ireland, with huge numbers of vocations to the priesthood and religious life and a deep Christianisation of all aspects of society. Such a flourishing would have seemed impossible in 1879. But the night is often darkest before the dawn.
When we reflect on Our Lady’s apparition at Knock and the historical circumstances in which it occurred, we cannot help thinking about our times and our own future. Certainly, there are reasons for discouragement. It seems as if every few months, a new survey is released showing, or purporting to show, that the Catholic faith is disappearing in Ireland. We have had two decades of scandals, crimes and failures. ‘The Church is finished!’ seems to be the cry heard everywhere.
But, my brothers and sisters, let me tell you what I have seen and heard (cf. 1 John 1:3). Two months ago, I saw the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin exceed everyone’s expectations, with tens of thousands of people coming to learn more about the central mystery of our faith – the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. One month ago today, I was in Ballyvourney in County Cork, where I had the joy of ordaining a young man to the priesthood. The small country church was filled with people young and old; the liturgy was celebrated in a beautiful way, with music and hymns in the Irish language. The sanctuary was packed with more than eighty good and faithful priests, many very young, some quite old, all of them there to welcome and to support their newest brother in the priesthood. Three weeks ago, in County Mayo, I saw thousands of pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday. Many young people. Many men. Some climbing in bare feet. I saw hundreds of people that day going to confession to the priests on the top of the mountain. Ten days ago, I was at Clonmacnoise and I saw literally hundreds of young people kneeling in adoration in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Rosary, confessing their sins, rejoicing in the liberating love of God, and sharing the joy and excitement of being Catholic with their peers.
That, my brothers and sisters, is the future of the Church in Ireland.
So what is this future going to be like? Before all else, I would say that the future needs to be authentically Catholic if there is to be a future. We need to propose the Catholic faith in its fullness, in its beauty and in its radicality, with compassion and with conviction. We need to be unafraid to affirm the elements of the Catholic way which secular society rejects and ridicules.
I believe that the Gospel for today’s Mass points the way for the future of the Church in Ireland. Jesus speaks to his disciples about priorities. He tells us not to worry about things like what we are to wear and what we are to eat, or about how much money we can amass. He says put first things first: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well” (Mt 6:33). And what is this Kingdom of God proposed by Jesus? It cannot be identified with a worldly kingdom. As Jesus says in front of Pontius Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). It is a Kingdom which only reaches its fulfilment and fruition in the life of the world to come, as described in our first reading from the Book of the Apocalypse. Only in the end, will the Kingdom be complete: “a new heaven and a new earth”, the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. That city – to paraphrase Pope John Paul II’s words about Knock – is the goal of our journey. If we seek that city, that goal, that Kingdom, then everything else will be taken care of. But that Kingdom of light and joy is not only a future reality, it is also anticipated, made real in advance, wherever Jesus Christ is truly present in our world, in the celebration and adoration of the Holy Eucharist, in the sacraments and in the love we have for one another.
As the Church in Ireland moves into the future, we need to recognise that everything the Church does is somehow related to that reality: the reality of salvation.
Pope Benedict XVI has instituted a number of initiatives designed to help the Church move into the future. He has established an office for the New Evangelisation, which means finding new ways of presenting and communicating the ancient faith, especially in those countries like Ireland which were first given the gift of Catholic faith many centuries ago. The Holy Father has called a Synod of Bishops, that is, a meeting of Bishops in Rome, which will take place in October of this year, in order to have Bishops from all over the world reflect on this most critical question. And thirdly, Pope Benedict has established a “Year of Faith”, which will also begin this October, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Benedict writes: “We want to celebrate this Year in a worthy and fruitful manner. Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified, so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing. We will have the opportunity to profess our faith in the Risen Lord in our cathedrals and in the churches of the whole world; in our homes and among our families, so that everyone may feel a strong need to know better and to transmit to future generations the faith of all times” (Porta fidei, 8).
The Holy Father is insistent on this point. If we are indeed to “transmit to future generations the faith of all times,” we need to deepen our own understanding of that faith. In calling for the Year of Faith, the Holy Father has also indicated a means for deepening our understanding of the faith. The opening day of the Year of Faith (October 11, 2012) is not only the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, it is also the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a magnificent summary and synthesis of the Catholic faith. The Holy Father recommends that we study the Catechism of the Catholic Church as part of the Year of Faith. He describes the Catechism as a means of encountering the person of Christ. Remarkably, he writes “on page after page, we find that what is presented here is no theory, but an encounter with a Person who lives within the Church” (Porta fidei, 11). That Person is Jesus Christ, God made man.
Here in Ireland, the recently published National Directory for Catechesis of the Bishops of Ireland, entitled Share the Good News, also recommends that Catholics “consider setting up a [study] group to look at the Catechism over a period of time”… “like a book club taking a night to discuss a particular section read beforehand” (page 74). This is a great idea, which would have a very positive effect on the future life of the Church in Ireland.
Brothers and sisters, the future of the Church in Ireland begins now. We have all been revitalised in our faith by the unforgettable experience of the International Eucharistic Congress, which, pray God, has marked a turning point in the life of the Church in Ireland. Certainly, the road ahead is not an easy one, but the road ahead for Catholics in Ireland did not look very easy in 1879 when Our Lady appeared here on that rainy evening in August. And yet her appearance was followed by one of the most fruitful periods in the fifteen centuries of Catholicism on this Island. Yes, brothers and sisters: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well” (Matt 6:33).
As you may have picked up, I am currently living at St Patrick’s, Soho Square, where I’ll be based over the summer whilst I complete my dissertation and await news of my next move. It’s a fantastic parish to be living in – lots of people my age, daily holy hour, public Morning and Evening Prayer, meals together, and so central I can walk to almost anywhere in central London in about 20 minutes.
St Patrick’s is now well-known following a significant and impressive facelift overseen by Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, the Parish Priest. I was fortunate enough to deacon the reopening ceremonies with Archbishop Nichols, Bishop James Conley, and Cardinal Pell, last year, and it really is a pleasure to enter the church each morning and pray. There are very few churches where you can walk in and be content with where everything is – this is one of them.
The parish is also home to the St Patrick’s Evangelisation School (SPES). This provides young adults with nine months of formation in the Catholic faith, in a context where there is daily Mass, communal meals and offices, and community living in central London. It’s tough work – regular essays and daily conferences and seminars – but it’s so impressive to see the result: Catholic adults who are ready to lead catechesis in their parishes and institutions when they leave.
The parish also hosts visitors. At the moment (aside from me!) there is a Spanish seminarian here from Valencia, and during Nightfever last week (see this post) we also had a German seminarian from St Boniface’s home town of Fulda.
What has been so encouraging for me is the immediate sense of solidarity between us. The SPES graduates, the seminarians; all of us share a vision and hope for the Church which – I think we would all say – is so well articulated by Pope Benedict. It’s a confident Catholicism which looks out to the world and speaks boldly of the love and grace of the life lived in communion with the Church, and which is not afraid of proclaiming unfashionable truths firmly, but with the charity and gentleness which our Lord himself shows us when we err.
When I was an Anglican seminarian we used to joke about the termly get-togethers between the theological colleges in Oxford. So varied were they that we called them “Interfaith Worship”.
The Catholic Church is not by any means uniform – a healthy plurality which reveals a genuine unity of faith is no bad thing – but there is an immediate universality between Catholics, and it’s something which only shared communion can produce. This is what the world needs if we are to bring about a change, and particularly as the Global Village becomes a smaller and more intimate place, we need to draw closer together so the voice of Christ can be heard above the noise and bustle. Ut unum sint!
Mgr Keith Newton, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, gave this paper on the future of ecumenism at St Mary Magdalen, Brighton, last week. It forms part of a series of lectures organised by Fr Ray Blake, to celebrate 150 years of the parish’s life:
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.