Tag Archives: Catholic

11 October, John XXIII: I live and suffer willingly.

In 1927 then-Bishop Angelo Roncalli was Pope Pius XI’s representative in the predominantly Orthodox kingdom of Bulgaria. As there were very few Catholics in the country, it was largely his responsibility to organise and unite the Church, scattered as it was in small groups in far-flung districts, travelling often on poor roads, beset with bandits. Roncalli was often lonely and in danger; he was regarded with suspicion when he first arrived. He wrote to a priest friend:

It is not that the reasons for my troubled mind last year have ceased to exist; no, they are all still there, almost as powerful as before. But I found a reason for life and a reason for suffering; and so I live and suffer willingly…

From the outset of my episcopacy I have recited one of the prayers of the Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and I still say it. Well, one morning when I was suffering more than usual, I became aware that my state indicated precisely that my prayer had been granted.

Receive, O Lord, my whole liberty,
receive my memory, my intelligence,
and all my will.
All that I have and possess
was given to me by you,
I give it back to you entirely.
Do with it as you will.

Give me only thy love with thy grace
and I am rich enough
and ask for nothing more.

From John XXIII by Leone Algisi, Catholic Book Club 1966, p77.

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2 March: Saint Chad

St Chad, window by Christopher Whall and photo by Junho Jung. At V&A, London.

Chad, as patron, unites Lichfield Anglican Diocese and the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. He was the first Bishop of Lichfield in Mercia, the Kingdom of the English Midlands. He died on this day in 672. It is fitting to remember him more widely this year, as he died of a plague, having received a heavenly warning that his death was near.

Bishop Chad’s nature was to go everywhere on foot – again a parallel with our own times – but Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury ordered him to ride on horseback for long journeys. His diocese covered much of England so to visit all of it made a horse a tool of the Good News rather than a symbol of his status as bishop. 

We pray that the work of vaccination may go ahead safely and surely in Lichfield Cathedral, and we pray too for the discernment to know when we should walk, not ride a short journey, and so help to protect God’s earth and our home.

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9 January: Follow the Verger

Here’s another story by Eddie Gilmore from the Irish chaplaincy blog. I recall all too well the tension felt when acting as MC, master of ceremonies, at the old Latin High Mass. The priest, deacon and subdeacon – in daily life all three priests, but concelebration had not been heard of back then – would sit during the singing of the Gloria and Creed, wearing their birettas, rather odd black hats, which had to be removed at certain points as a sign of respect. And at a signal from the MC, who stood beside them, his – yes, his – hands together in prayer. Get it wrong – well, it depended on who was celebrant what might be said afterwards in the sacristy. So I appreciated Eddie’s reflection that follows!

I was spending the weekend in York with Ann and Andy, old friends from Uni. Thanks to Andy being a verger at the Minster I got to sit with Ann in a prominent position for the service, and afterwards got invited to join the vergers and their partners for a drink in one of York’s many olde worlde pubs. They were a great bunch and it was a fascinating insight into what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in a major cathedral. A verger, by the way, is the person in the Anglican tradition who leads the celebrants to their position before and during a service. They hold aloft a virge which is a kind of long rod, and they walk very slowly and solemnly, which means that the procession behind them also walks very slowly and solemnly. The tradition, I believe, is from the middle ages when cathedrals would be filled with people milling around and the verger would almost literally have to barge their way through the throngs to get the celebrants to the altar. Nowadays it’s purely ceremonial and it’s all done with almost military style precision. The vergers even have ear pieces so they can communicate with each other regarding exactly when to set off with the procession and when they need to ‘land’ in a particular place.

There were lots of good stories from the vergers about occasions when things hadn’t quite gone according to plan. Andy told of how a verger once led the procession the wrong way at the beginning of a big important service. The other vergers were looking on helplessly as their colleague (perhaps overawed by the occasion) led the motley crew of choristers, priests and bishops first one way then another until everyone finally arriving at the altar. I told in a recent blog of the day a few months back when Evensong began again in Canterbury Cathedral following the lockdown restrictions. It was in the huge nave instead of the choir and the verger hesitated on the way in, and the Dean and canons behind her came to a temporary halt. I knew straight away what had happened and sent a message to Ann later on: “Tell Andy that the verger didn’t know where to go!”

I’m sometimes not that keen on big solemn church services, where everything is perfectly choreographed but it’s almost too perfect to the extent that I feel like I can’t really be myself. One of the riches of my years at L’Arche was being alongside people who really knew how to be themselves (i.e. people with a learning disability), even in church settings and even if it may have invoked some feelings of discomfort in those around them. Back in the early 90s I used sometimes to go with one of the learning-disabled women in my house to her local church and sometimes during the service my friend, who was very tactile, would get up and walk towards the vicar and give him a big hug. And that memory is especially poignant now in this time when we cannot share physical touch with one another. Another woman who I accompanied occasionally to that same church would let out a big scream just as the gospel reading was coming to an end (i.e. just before the homily). I would have to take her into the hall for a cup of tea and she was happy to return for the remainder of the service. It meant I also got an early cup of tea and didn’t have to sit through a long sermon, so everyone was a winner!

When things don’t go exactly according to plan it makes it all a bit more human somehow. And who could have planned how and where, according the Christian tradition, God chose to be revealed in the world: as a tiny baby born to unmarried parents in a smelly stable in a backwater town on the fringes of the Roman empire. The kingdom of God is indeed an upside-down kingdom.

And so if occasionally the verger leads the celebrants the wrong way, then in my view we’re all the richer and all the more human for it.

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26 October: Let there be light!

Diwali is celebrated in these cold Islands, far from India where it originated. People from the Subcontinent also ended up in Trinidad and Tobago across the Atlantic where this reflection    comes from. Follow the link to an interesting Independent Catholic News article by Leela Ramdeen, who grew up a Hindu father and Catholic mother.

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Prince Charles on Newman

young newman

Prince Charles represented his mother, the Queen, and the whole United Kingdom at the Canonisation of John Henry Newman. Here is an extract from Prince Charles’s reflection on the occasion; the full text can be found at the Independent Catholic News.

Whatever our own beliefs, and no matter what our own tradition may be, we can only be grateful to Newman for the gifts, rooted in his Catholic faith, which he shared with wider society: his intense and moving spiritual autobiography and his deeply-felt poetry in ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ which, set to music by Sir Edward Elgar – another Catholic of whom all Britons can be proud – gave the musical world one of its most enduring choral masterpieces.

At the climax of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ the soul, approaching heaven, perceives something of the divine vision:

a grand mysterious harmony:

It floods me, like the deep and solemn sound

Of many waters.

Harmony requires difference. The concept rests at the very heart of Christian theology in the concept of the Trinity. In the same poem, Gerontius says:

Firmly I believe and truly

God is three, and God is One;

As such, difference is not to be feared. Newman not only proved this in his theology and illustrated it in his poetry, but he also demonstrated it in his life. Under his leadership, Catholics became fully part of the wider society, which itself thereby became all the richer as a community of communities.

 

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August 15: W is for Walsingham, Mary’s town

 

Our_lady_of_Walsingham_I

As a young man I felt ambivalent about Catholic devotion to Mary. I remembered how the Redemptorists who staffed the parish and the teachers in the primary school served up what now seems a sentimental soup of hymns which emphasised the differences between us and the ‘wicked men [who] blaspheme thee.’

rosary.rjbMy father’s well-thumbed rosary has appeared in these reflections before. His convert’s devotion was not stultifying but I had and have difficulty in seeing the Assumption, today’s feast, as central to my faith. but belief in the Assumption of Mary – he being taken up, bodily to heaven at her death – was required of anyone who sought to become a Catholic Christian. Just as well I was a cradle Catholic!

Walsingham helped reconcile me to some Marian devotion. I think it was to do with the ecumenical nature of the town, with Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches in close proximity and, by the time of my second visit with L’Arche Kent in 1976, living in harmony.

Another pilgrimage, a few years later, threw new light on the place of Mary for me. We were visiting Lichfield Cathedral from the Dominicans’ conference centre at nearby Spode House. ‘We’ were a group of children with learning difficulties, their parents and friends. We had a service in the Cathedral and afterwards looked around. I was grabbed by one boy who wanted to show me a snake, carved on a memorial tablet: ‘It’s an obsession of his’, said his father.

We then realised that little Jenny was missing. Jenny had no speech, we did not know what she might do.

We found her, curled up in the Lady Chapel. ‘I should have known!’ said her foster-mother. Jenny preached without words but with an eloquence that reached one who is liable to let his head rule his heart even when it should be the other way around.

Our Lady of Walsingham by Saracen 78.

 

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19 June: real Presence.

 

 

We visited a few churches on the L’Arche pilgrimage: here is Saint Pancras, Coldred, possibly 950 years old, a simple two-room stone-built structure, almost hidden away behind its high hedge. Christians have worshipped here since Saxon times at least; the church is set within an ancient earthen rampart which may mark the boundary of a  much earlier settlement.

God is present here in the worshipping community whose representative made us feel at home; he stood for thirty or more generations of people, gathered about the altar in the church; God is also present on the altar when the Eucharist is celebrated, and in many Anglican as well as Catholic churches, in the sacrament reserved for the sick and for visitors to focus their prayer as they kneel or sit and pray.

The icon was sent by one of our contributors – Brother Chris I think, and represents another real presence of the Lord: as a baby in the womb of Mary, but also in this world with us who witness this icon. It invites us to carry Jesus in our hearts and reveal him to the world: we are to be the image and real presence of Christ.

Tomorrow is the feast of Corpus Christi.

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Pilgrimage Day 2

 

A short walk, nearly all downhill, brings us to Barfrestone, a tiny village where L’Arche Kent began life 40-odd years ago. The village church, with its curious carvings of musical canines, is some 800 years older than that. We then tack across country to the miner’s village of Aylesham, walking over the top of the coal fields and taking a breather at St Mary’s church Nonnington.

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6 December: T is for Truro

Truro_stmarysst

I’m sorry that the A-Z Tour of Britain has got a bit lost. Yesterday’s post about the local pilgrim must have scratched at the door of my conscience! I was looking for a photo for my piece on Truro in Cornwall when I came across this in a blog called ‘Ship of Fools’. It is part of a report by a mystery worshipper, describing the sermon s/he heard at Truro cathedral, given by the composer James Macmillan on 10/10/10. Forget my effort and read on! WT.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – James Macmillan is a Roman Catholic, a lay Dominican, a musician and composer of note, not a preacher by trade, but he spoke very well and he was talking about the subject that is his passion. It was a privilege to hear him (and his music!). He had been there to deliver a lecture the previous evening, but sadly I didn’t know that. He had, incidentally, composed some of the music used at services during the recent papal visit.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel reading was Luke 17:11-19 (Jesus heals ten lepers, instructing them to show themselves to the priests). The ten lepers had to show themselves to the priests because the priest could authorise their readmission to the society from which they had been ostracised. But one (a Samaritan, no less) comes back and gives thanks and praise to Jesus on the surface a useless thing to do but Jesus lets him know that it was the right thing to do and wonders why the other nine didn’t bother. The one who gave thanks was more concerned with praising God than with following the prescribed ritual for readmission. Giving praise may baffle the contemporary world because it is perceived to be useless, but when we raise our voices in song it is not about the consequences. The parting of the Red Sea is the prime event in the Old Testament and Jewish history, and out of it comes the Song of Moses. The Song of Songs is the ultimate love song. Sometimes words are not enough. It is love that moves us to sing. The psalms were sung in Old Testament times and the psalter is the original prayer book. Pope Benedict has called music “the sober inebriation of faith”.

Image by Simon Lewis via wikipedia

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28 November: When did you start preparing for Christmas?

sloe.gin

I read recently of a Christian community that starts the count down to Christmas 100 days out. I can’t help feeling they may lose some of what we should observe and celebrate during those three months. Here in England that includes Harvest and All Saints. For Catholic Christians the discipline of the season’s readings bring us to the final feast of Christ the King.

But there are preparations that do begin in September or October.  Mrs T has made but not decorated the cake; N the pudding, while I began the sloe gin which is slowly(!) turning red and fruity.

Sloe gin essentially is foraged sloes – pierced with a fork, sugar and gin sealed in a Kilner jar which has to be shaken frequently; I’ll do it in a minute. If we were Anglicans, we would have been stirred, not shaken, on that last Sunday in November:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Plenteous fruit was stirred into many a Christmas pudding that day!

There’s plenteous fruit in our cake and our pudding, and plenty in the sloe gin. Maybe we’ll take a sip at Christmas, while the sloes themselves will make a fine marinade for the family meal.

And may we bring forth plenteous good works this Christmas, whether we are shaken or stirred as we go through Advent!

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