The feast of Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church, the day on which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit and the infusion by that same Spirit of the apostles, thereby continuing the mission of Christ in the world. Last Sunday as we celebrated the feast of the ascension of the Lord we heard Christ promise: “I am with you always.” This Sunday, in the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the supernatural foundation of the Church at Pentecost, we see that promise fulfilled in the first moments of the Church’s life. Jesus stays with us, teaching, governing, and sanctifying us by his ongoing presence in the Church.
Beatified at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in 1965, and canonised seven years later, Saint Charbel Makhluf represents an important figure in the life of the universal Church. Born to lowly stock in Lebanon in 1828, he became a Maronite monk and priest in his twenties, living a life of strict asceticism in the monastery. In 1875 he was permitted to become a solitary hermit and remained so for twenty-three years until his death on Christmas Eve 1898. For almost seventy-five years after his death, the monk’s body remained incorrupt, and many miracles are attributed to his intercession.
His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. (Mark 6: 34).
The Penny Catechism, which remains a sure means of learning about and passing on our faith, speaks about four defining marks of the Church in this way: “The Church of Christ has four marks by which we may know her: she is One – she is Holy – she is Catholic – she is Apostolic”. As Catholics we profess these four characteristics of the Church in the Nicene Creed when we say each Sunday: “And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” The same catechism remarks that the Church is one “because all her members agree in one Faith, have all the same Sacrifice and Sacraments, and are all united under one Head”; she is holy “because she teaches a holy doctrine, offers to all the means of holiness and is distinguished by the eminent holiness of so many thousands of her children”; she is Catholic “because she subsists in all ages, teaches all nations, and is the one Ark of Salvation for all”; she is apostolic “because she holds the doctrines and traditions of the Apostles, and because, through the unbroken succession of her Pastors, she derives her Orders and her Mission from them.” Thus we can say that only when these four marks are present can we claim to find the Church of Christ.
It is a rare privilege to celebrate the dedication of the basilica of Saint John Lateran on a Sunday, and so it is perhaps a good opportunity for us to reflect on two characteristics presented to us in the liturgical texts appointed for this feast. First, if we look at the title given to today, we see that we are here to commemorate the dedication of a building. We know that the word ‘church’ properly designates not simply an architectural edifice, but the company of believers who are incorporated into the life of Christ through the sacrament of baptism. In the Old Testament the word ekklesia is frequently used to describe a gathering of God’s chosen people above all, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, ‘for their assembly on Mount Sinai where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people’ (CCC 751). We take that word and apply it in a similar sense when we speak about ‘ecclesiastical institutions’ or ‘ecclesial communities’, and so we have the idea of the Church as a convocation of people in the service of God.
One of the most significant changes in the lives of those who have become Catholics, particularly through the gift of the ordinariates, is the beautiful realization of what it means to be fully a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ. These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, ‘indicate essential features of the Church and her mission’, and so are necessary for us to correctly identify, in order to find the authentic Christian life in all its fullness, and thus the path to our salvation. United to our Redeemer through baptism, Christians are incorporated into his mystical body, the Church, in order that we might share in his passion, death, and resurrection. Our communion with God is made a reality by this very union with him in Christ, and thus his mystical body, first through the waters of the sacred font, and then by our continuing reliance on grace in the sacramental life of the Church. Our union with the Church is a sign and instrument of our communion with God, which is why—as an example—we confess our sins to a Priest; because our reconciliation to communion with God is by and through his holy Church.
This homily was given at Old Saint John’s, Silver Spring, Maryland, at a Low Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite:
In the richness of the Church’s year, today reveals itself as a moment of particular joy and consolation. Still marked by the subdued character of the lenten season it stands out all the more as the organ opens wide her mouth in praise of God, as the flowers of the frustrated spring adorn the holy altar, and as the sacred ministers – now for seven weeks in ‘royal purple dight’ – are clad in rosy hue. The very first word of the Introit at this Mass reveals the character of our prayer: Lætare, rejoice! On this day, Holy Mother Church does not simply allow us to let up from our observance of her solemn fast but encourages it, as she consoles her ‘children of promise’. As the collect prays, ‘Grant […] that we, who are justly afflicted for our deserts, may be relieved by the comfort of thy grace’.
What is the Anglican patrimony? This is a question that has thousands of different potential answers, and yet it is also one that many find very difficult to answer at all. For the past four years suggestions have been made, serious academic papers have been written, and many people have come to their own mind about what it is that the personal ordinariates are (and are not) supposed to preserve and promote.
For the most comprehensive collection of essays on this subject we can turn to the Catholic League’s special edition of The Messenger, which is available to download here. Suggested categories there and elsewhere have tended to include the Anglican musical tradition, the liturgical texts and language, the Anglican approach to preaching, even the ‘coffee hour’ or simply the people themselves.
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.