Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What sort of man was Fr Jacques Hamel?

As the dimensions of volence and terror increase across the world, and it is becoming clear that - humanly speaking - none of us is really safe right now, we pause to reflect on the latest Christian martyr and the impact of the sheer “ordinariness” of his godly life. What sort of man was Fr Jacques Hamel? This snapshot of a godly priest and martyr was posted by Dan Hitchens, deputy editor of the Catholic Herald, on his blog HERE.  Fr Jacques Hamel and all holy martyrs, pray for us. 

Fr Hamel told his parishioners to aim for sanctity, 
pointing to the example of the Martin family

Fr Jacques Hamel, murdered yesterday by Islamist terrorists at the age of 85, has been called the first priest-martyr of Western Europe in the 21st century.

But before his death, he insisted that holiness lay in ordinary life.

On All Saints’ Day last year, he wrote in the parish newsletter: “Do not think holiness is not for us.” He told parishioners that holiness did not necessarily mean “doing extraordinary things”, but could mean living a simple existence like that of the Martin family.

Noting that Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St Thérèse of Lisieux, had recently been beatified, Fr Hamel said: “Their life was simple, like many of our families. But their whole existence was oriented towards the Kingdom of Heaven. Their only desire was ‘to serve God first’.

“They experienced painful circumstances, but they stayed the course through their faith, which was nourished by the sacraments and prayer, the service of the poor and self-abandonment to a God who never ceases to support us.”

By our baptism, said Fr Hamel, “we are sons and daughters of God. It is by living this relationship, day by day, that we become saints.”

Fr Hamel was said to be a quiet man, a priest widely liked for his gentleness and constant availability. “He was always serving people,” one parishioner told L’Express.

Fr Hamel was born in upper Normandy, only a few miles away from where his life would end, on November 30, 1930. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1958 and spent his life in five Normandy parishes in turn.

Outside his priestly duties, he was involved in interfaith dialogue: one generous tribute came from Mohammed Karabila, a local Muslim leader, who said he was “appalled by the death of my friend”, and described the priest as “a man of peace, of religion, with a certain charisma. A person who dedicated his life and his ideas to his religion. He sacrificed his life for others.”

In an Easter reflection earlier this year, Fr Jacques said that Jesus “went to the end of love” by dying, and quoted John 15:13: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

From the tributes, a picture emerges of a warm and conscientious character, perhaps rather shy – “He was very discreet and didn’t like to draw attention to himself”, according to one local – and someone dedicated to his ministry. Fr Hamel was given the chance to retire at the usual age of 75, but decided that (partly because of the priest shortage) he ought to carry on.

Fr Hamel earned the respect of his fellow-priests. Fr Aimé-Rémi Mputu Amba, who had lunch with him every week, told Le Figaro that Fr Hamel was “a ray of sunshine” whenever he came into the room.

When Fr Amba teased him about retirement, Fr Hamel replied: “Have you seen a retired priest? I will work until my last breath.”

A diocesan official told AP that Fr Hamel “was always ready to help” and that “his desire was to spread a message for which he consecrated his life.”

Friday, July 15, 2016

A great place in London for computer repairs and upgrades

With the exception of a few bookshops and vestment suppliers, I have not used this blog for advertising. But today I have decided to be a bit blatant and let readers in and around London know about a great place to go if they need computer repairs or upgrades.

I have used my 17” MacBook Pro every day since May 2010 when I purchased it (together with some top-end publishing software) using the very generous farewell gift from parishioners in Brisbane. It has accompanied me on my travels within Australia and through a range of countries, surviving its fair share of buffeting in some of the rougher places I visited before receiving my Visa to live and minister in the UK. Indeed, it has been a huge support to my life and ministry.  

For a while I have known than it needed a clean and a check-up. On top of that, since Christmas I’ve had to remove some large files onto an external storage drive, because the internal hard drive was filling up. [Yes . . . I am looking at cloud storage back-up as well!] So I went to the local Apple Store to check out the possibility of paying off a new laptop with greater storage space. But Apple no longer make a 17” version, and that is the perfect width screen for my eyesight when two documents are open side by side - a fairly common occurrence. The young man in the Apple Store assured me that it was possible to replace my 500 gigabyte hard drive with one double the capacity, for a small fraction of the price of a new computer.

He gave me the address of Apple authorised service provider ANALOGIC COMPUTERS, not far from St Luke’s Kingston, and just near the railway station. I called in there to see the proprietor, Raj, and he confirmed what I had been told.

I was very impressed with the old fashioned friendliness of Raj and his staff, as well as his patience and skill in explaining to me exactly what was required and why. So, early yesterday I took my computer to ANALOGIC COMPUTERS. I collected it just before they closed in the afternoon. Not only had they successfully installed a 1TB hard drive in place of the 500GB one, and migrated everything from the old drive onto the new one; they also thoroughly cleaned the computer inside and out, checking to see that everything else was working well. 

The cost was very reasonable. 

So, friends, it gives me much pleasure to recommend Raj and his team to you. They are incredibly helpful; and they really care for their clients. ANALOGIC COMPUTERS are just 5 minutes walk from Kingston Railway Station (i.e. 28 minutes from Waterloo by train!). Also there is plenty of car parking on site, just near the front door. You can visit their website HERE.

(Oh . . . I forgot to say, they also repair and service most other makes and models of laptop and desktop computers.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Rightly handling the Word of Truth" (2 Timothy 2:15)

By the time priests, pastors and Christian counsellors reach their 60s, chances are that they’ve used Philippians 4:13 hundreds of times in public proclamation and private encouragement, and also as something to hang on to in their own times of stress and discouragement. I know that I have.

It was also the favourite text of the great evangelical anglo-catholic Archbishop Philip Strong who proclaimed the Gospel in Papua New Guines during wartime and peace. It is written in big letters on his gravestone in Wangaratta cemetery (in Australia)!

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (RSV) 

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (NKJV)

“There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me.” (Jerusalem Bible)

One of the most startling reflections on this text is in “The Most Misused Verses in the Bible,’ by Eric Bargerhuff, who points out that the way many preachers isolate it from the drift of St Paul’s letter twists it to say something quite different to what the apostle wrote.

The “prosperity preachers” have a lot to answer for. They have taught people - using this text and others like it - that the closer they are to Jesus the more stuff they will have . . . the richer they will be . . . with bigger houses, better cars, flamboyant lifestyles . . . and so it goes on. For everyone who is blessed by their strange doctrine, there are hundreds of casualties, spiritually, emotionally, and - quite often - financially (including people who have gone into debt to send money off to these “ministries” with the expectation of becoming financially wealthy themselves as a “reward” from God!).

There is something grotesque about an evangelist boasting of how he “believed God” for a fancy car, a personal aeroplane, or a big house at the posh end of town, implying that God so approved of his ministry as to move the hearts of supporters to increase their giving and supply those “needs.” How does that stack up against our brothers and sisters whose faith leads to persecution, poverty and even bloody martyrdom in the Middle East, Egypt, Nigeria and other places? How does it stack up against nuns who have given up everything and live in poverty themselves, trusting the Lord for his provision, and caring for the destitute in the slums of India? 

For me, the real problem with the “prosperity gospel” preachers is that they cause a lot of people to go to the opposite extreme and NEVER really trust the Lord in any meaningful way for his provision. That is a real tragedy, because we should be relying more and more on him. But the same thing happens in the area of healing. Some evangelists tell people that psychologists or medications are not necessary (and even a sign of lack of faith!), with the result that lives are destroyed, and people’s confidence in the Church’s authentic healing ministry is undermined.

Of course, Philippians 4:13 is about God’s provision. But to read it in the flow of St Paul’s letter, it’s really all about God helping him to be content, whatever the outward circumstances of his life. And St Paul says that. Sometimes he’s been really well-off; other times he has been desperately poor. But he is content. St Paul’s paragraph is about contentment with what we have and where we are, and this is something he says he has found “in Christ.” And, remember, when he wrote this passage he was in prison!

So, let’s try to be a bit careful when handling the Word of God. Let’s not twist it or water it down. Let’s not try to make it mean what we want it to mean. Let’s be in awe of the Word of God, and remember the catchy saying that “a text without a context is a pretext.” 

The image below (pinched from Facebook - the original source is lost) says it all:

(Click on the graphic to enlarge it.)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Random thoughts on Marian Valley, Czestochowa, Krakow & World Youth Day

Getting to Czestochowa on the bus from Krakow

When I arrived in Brisbane to be inducted Rector of All Saints’ Wickham Terrace on 31st May, 1995, the Churchwardens, Trustees and I had the sense that we were pretty well starting from scratch (again!). We certainly had our challenges, and it was hard work. But by the grace of God, over the next ten years we saw lots of lives touched by God - especially young people - many of whom have gone on to serve the Lord in a variety of Church communions.

Very soon after arriving in Brisbane I became aware of a fledgling Shrine of Our Lady, a short drive from the city into the bush - the hinterland above the Gold Coast. The Shrine was dedicated in that same year. It was set up by the Pauline Fathers, whose vision was more than matched by the generosity of benefactors. The Prior at the time was Father Michael Szymanski who worked so hard with his own hands. As well as praying the Divine Office and celebrating Mass he was building, cleaning, gardening, working on the tractor, chopping wood for the combustion stove, and doing all the cooking without electricity. As priest and Prior he lovingly ministered to pilgrims who made the journey to the Shrine. After a few visits to him, I realised that my task at All Saints’ was fairly straightforward compared with what he had to do there in the bush. But it was so inspiring over those years to watch “Marian Valley” develop into the amazing Shrine it is today. That really encouraged my faith as we laboured in the heart of the city! 

Father Andrew Joachim Dembicki succeeded Father Michael as Prior, and then Father Columba Macbeth-Green, who two years ago became the Roman Catholic Bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes. Father Columba was particularly sensitive to the needs of Forward-in-Faith Anglicans and Continuing Anglicans, and was enormously hospitable to us. I conducted two retreats and a number of quiet days there during his time, and whenever overseas visitors came to minister in the parish or for Forward in Faith, a drive to Marian Valley with prayer at the Shrine was par for the course.

Go to the Marian Valley website for more information, and also to see photographs of the property. The main church “the Black Madonna Chapel” seats 500 people under the roof, and has a true copy of the Miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The other chapels, the monastery, the Stations of the Cross are all beautiful. And that's not to mention the special feature of Marian Valley - the individual Marian shrines set up and paid for by different ethnic groups who are now part of Australian society - shrines of Our Lady under the titles by which she is known across different cultures. So, the Vietnamese community has a shrine to Our Lady of Lo Vang, the Indian community, Our Lady of Vailankanni, the Polish community, Our Lady of Jasna Gora, and so on. These shrines come alive on national feast days.

The Pauline Fathers began as a monastic order in Hungary in 1215 under the patronage of St Paul the Hermit who had lived the solitary life in Egypt 870 years earlier. The Monastic Order of St Paul the First Hermit was founded in 1215 in Hungary. The Order drew many saintly hermits into monastic communities. It spread rapidly through Hungary and then into Croatia, Germany, Poland, Austria and Bohemia. There was a time when there were over 5000 Pauline monks in Hungary alone.

In 1382 the Order became the custodians of the Icon of Our Lady, believed to have been painted by St Luke the Evangelist. A Shrine for it was established on a hill “Jasna Gora “in the small Polish town of Czestochowa. Today this Shrine is the mother house of the Order, and is also its largest monastery, with over 100 Fathers and Brothers. More than four and a half million people from around the world go there on pilgrimage each year.

I knew about Our Lady of Czestochowa long before going to Brisbane. In the lead-up to my ordination to the Diaconate in 1979, Bishop Hazlewood introduced me to Father Kevin Joyner, a mystic, spiritual director and intercessor, who had lay people and clergy visit from far and wide, knowing that Father Kevin had the patience and wisdom to help us deepen our spiritual lives. He had visited Poland, and he once said to me that his favourite Shrine of Our Lady was Czestochowa, and that everyone should try to go there on pilgrimage before they die!

The echoes of Father Kevin’s words, together with all I had heard from the Pauline Fathers in Australia, meant that when I was in Krakow for a week during Lent 2011, I knew that I had to visit relatively nearby Czestochowa. I worked out a day trip, getting there on a very early morning bus, and returning in the evening on the last train for the day. For me it was an overwhelming experience. The Shrine was so small compared with what I had expected, and compared with, say, Lourdes. One of the English speaking brothers explained that when they have big celebrations with tens of thousands of people - or more - they use the sloping hill away from the shrine itself. The intimacy of the Shrine is part of its magic. 

As I went into the church for Mass, there was a small group of pilgrims - an ordinary parish group - singing gently and spontaneously a praise chorus to the Lord, the tune of which I knew from back in the 1960s and 70s charismatic renewal. Now, I know that every Mass takes us to Calvary as well as to heaven. But that Mass was one of the special times of my life. Everything about it imparted a real sense of the anointing of the Holy Spirit - the singing, the preaching, the prayers, and the Communion. It was VERY traditional and reverent (and all in Polish); but it was also full of spontaneous joy in the Lord. I left a great number of intercessions for family and friends at Our Lady’s feet in that holy place. And I still add my voice to those who encourage as many as possible to make a pilgrimage there.

In 1992 Pope John Paul II held his third international World Youth Day in Czestochowa, and an estimated 1.5 million people came from 80 countries. In three weeks time, 26th July, the 31st World Youth Day in Krakow will be launched. Its motto is “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). I notice that most diocesan pilgrimage groups of young people are including a visit to Czestochowa in their itinerary. I have met so many people whose faith has come alive through one of the World Youth Days. Let us join our prayers with the intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa, that the Holy Spirit will so anoint the pilgrimage that every young person who attends will return home knowing that they have encountered the risen Lord Jesus in a special way.


One of the brothers took this - just to prove I was there!

Inside the Shrine Church

The Shrine Church and its hill

Which way?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Gonville Ffrench-Beytagh on the Holy Spirit

It is good for us to remember that a Christian is someone who allows himself or herself to be drawn into the prayer of Jesus to the Father by the Holy Spirit. St Paul refers to this when he tells us not to worry when we don’t know what to say in our prayers:  

“. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit . . .”  (Romans 8:28)

Something of the adventure of the Christian life seen from this angle is captured by Father Gonville Ffrench-Beytagh in his little book A Glimpse of Glory. Father ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991) spent much of his life in South Africa. Converted as a young adult, be trained for the priesthood, eventually becoming becoming Dean of Salisbury (Harare) and later Johannesburg. In the course of his ministry he challenged apartheid, and spent time in prison. On his release he went to England, becoming well-known for his remarkable ministry of spiritual direction, which he carried out from St Vedast's Church near St Paul's Cathedral, London. He published numerous books, including Encountering Darkness, an account of his imprisonment, Facing Depression, Encountering LightTree of Glory, and A Glimpse of Glory.

Here is what he wrote about the Holy Spirit and prayer in A Glimpse of Glory::

“The Holy Spirit is pouring, cascading forth, in tumultuous torrents of love pouring out into the Son, pouring himself in torrents of love. And the Son himself is joyously, gloriously, pouring back his love into the Father. In this great procession of love pouring forth love, it is the Holy Spirit who is poured forth; it is he who is cascading forth in this glorious love affair. And that love is so unlimited, so limitless, that it spills over.

“The Holy Spirit spills over. This is not because God can’t contain himself, but because he is so longing to share his life of love and joy and glory, that he has made us as containers. That is what CAPAX DEI means - capable of containing God. Our glory and our purpose is to be filled with the reality which is God. We are designed to be filled with the love of God. We are like the great tankers, filled with petrol or milk, that go trundling along the road, marked ‘Capacity 20,000 gallons’. But you and I go about with a couple of gallons sloshing around in the bottom instead of being filled with the fullness of God. Yet that is what he made us for. That is the purpose of our existence - to be filled with God. If we think of prayer being for that, then we are expanding ourselves to receive a share of what is poured out and spilling over of the tremendous infinite power of the love of God.

“ . . . I once spent four astonished days at the Victoria Falls in Africa. I was being pounded into the ground by their deafening roar and the magnificent sight of the millions and millions of gallons every moment pouring out, cascading, thundering down into the gorge below. It seemed as if the Congo and the Zambezi had drained all the water out of Africa and there it was. For me this made a picture of the ceaseless activity within the being of God himself. It was like the cascades of infinite divine love interflowing within the Godhead between the Father and the Son. God the Father is begetting love; God the Son is begotten love; God the Holy Spirit is the ceaseless flow of love between the Father and the Son. The Spirit binds them together in the gorgeous, ceaseless torrent of love.

“And beside the Victoria Falls is the rain forest. It is a weird place where you can put on a sou’ wester, hat, oilskins, gumboots, and walk into the forest and you’re just soaked to the skin. Water gets through everything. The heavy mist comes from the spray that rises up from the great canyon into which the torrent flows. It penetrates everything and seems wetter than ordinary water. As the mist from the cascade will drench us and soak into us if we put ourselves there in the forest, so, if we put ourselves close to the Lord God, his love that overspills and overflows will soak us in the Spirit. We long to share his love in as far as it can be shared by human beings. And he has made us for that, he has made us to be CAPAX DEI, to stand, as it were, in the rain forest, to be drenched in the love of God. That is the spiritual life.

“. . . the Falls make a picture of this torrential love of God which never stops. We are caught up into God’s love in the prayer of the Spirit praying within us. And we are caught up with the prayer of all the ages and the prayers of all the saints and of our own forbears. We are in their prayers with the angels and the archangels. It is the one great paean of love, agonizing sometimes, from the great chorus of heaven of which we are a part.” 

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Tears of the Father

The father in the story of the prodigal son suffered much. He saw his younger son leave, knowing the disappointments, rejections and abuses facing him. He saw his older son become angry and bitter, and was unable to offer him affection and support. A large part of the father’s life has been waiting. He could not force his younger son to come home or his older son to let go of his resentments. Only they themselves could take the initiative to return.

During these long years of waiting the father cried many tears and died many deaths. He was emptied out by suffering. But that emptiness had created a place of welcome for his sons when the time of their return came. We are called to become like that father.

[These words are by Henri Nouwen, and come from his BREAD FOR THE JOURNEY. If you would like to receive an emailed daily reflection from the Henri Nouwen Society, go to their website HERE.]

Saturday, July 2, 2016

There is (still) power in the Precious Blood of Jesus

On the 19th November, 1875, the great tractarian Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) made his last will and testament. It begins with these words: 

“I die in the faith of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, believing explicite (as I have for many years declared) all which I know Almighty God to have revealed in her; and implicite anything which He may have revealed in her which I may not know. I give my soul into the Hands of Almighty God, humbly beseeching Him to pardon all my sins, known to me or unknown, for the sole Merits of the Blood of my Redeemer, Jesus Christ (one drop of Whose Precious Blood might cleanse the whole world), and interpose His Precious Death between me and my sins.”

Those are powerful words - especially Dr Pusey’s reference to the Precious Blood of Jesus. Do you know, there was a time - as recently as my teenage years - when both Evangelicals and Catholics would preach about the Precious Blood, sing about the Precious Blood, seek forgiveness and healing through the Precious Blood, and fight against our ancient foe and the demons of hell in the power of the Precious Blood. In those days parishes at both ends of the Anglican spectrum sang William Cowper’s hymn with great devotion:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Loose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r;
Till all the ransom’d church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply:
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

I do believe, I will believe
That Jesus died for me;
That on the Cross he shed his blood
From sin to set me free.

Cowper’s hymn is a meditation on Zechariah 13:1, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” Its graphic imagery has always produced snooty reactions in sophisticated Church circles (the kind of places where you never see realistic crucifixes!), but I have used it in each of my parishes because it is exactly what people with hearts full of love for God who have come to know they have been redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus want to sing! 

Speaking of snooty reactions, I remember how predictably liberal Christians (and - to their shame - even some trendy catholics and evangelicals) bemoaned Mel Gibson's film, The Passion, as an orgy of violence, on account of how it emphasised the shedding of Jesus’ Blood. In fact, the Cross has always been a scandal, a laughing-stock, to the enemies of the Gospel. Do you remember the professional film critics stroking their chins, shaking their heads and warning people about the potentially negative effect of Gibson’s film on teenagers and others who “might not be able to take it.” (These are the same reviewers who acclaim cult movies dripping with violence like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, as great works of art and significant advances in cinematography, and who sneer at anyone who is worried about the long term effect of such films on our culture!)

Ordinary run of the mill Christians still believe in the power of the Precious Blood, not just as an article of faith, but as a reality that touches our lives. That’s why at the very beginning of Gibson’s film, the words “By his wounds we are healed” occupy the entire screen - a moment not to be missed. It is, of course, a phrase, from the suffering servant poem in Isaiah 53, used by the early Christians to reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ death, and it is the key to understanding all that follows.

In his Angelus address on 5th July 2009, Pope Benedict reminded the crowd in St Peter’s Square of the old custom of keeping July as the “month of the Precious Blood.” He then gave a teaching on the power of the Blood. Here are some quotes:

The theme of blood linked to that of the Paschal Lamb is of primary importance in sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament the sprinkling of the blood of sacrificed animals represented and established the covenant between God and the people, as one reads in the Book of Exodus: “Then Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people saying: ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you on the basis of all these words of his’” (Exodus 24:8).

Jesus explicitly repeats this formula at the Last Supper, when, offering the chalice to his disciples, he says: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). And, from the scourging, to the piercing of his side after his death on the cross, Christ has really shed all of his blood as the true Lamb immolated for universal redemption. The salvific value of his blood is expressively affirmed in many passages of the New Testament.

. . . it is written in Genesis that the blood of Abel, killed by his brother Cain, cried out to God from the earth (cf. 4:10). And, unfortunately, today as yesterday, this cry does not cease, since human blood continues to run because of violence, injustice and hatred. When will men learn that life is sacred and belongs to God alone? When will men understand that we are all brothers? To the cry of the blood that goes up from many parts of the earth, God answers with the Blood of his Son, who gave his life for us. Christ did not answer evil with evil, but with good, with his infinite love.

The blood of Christ is the pledge of the faithful love of God for humanity. Looking upon the wounds of the Crucified, every man, even in conditions of extreme moral misery, can say: God has not abandoned me, he loves me, he gave his life for me - and in this way rediscover hope . . .

According to the Scriptures, the Precious Blood that Jesus shed on the cross out of love for you and for me cleanses us from sin (1 John 1:7), reconciles us to the Father (Colossians 1:20) purifies our consciences (Hebrews 9:14), gives us victory over the powers of evil (Revelation 12:11), and enables us to enter into the very sanctuary of heaven (Hebrews 10:19). And as Pope Benedict reminds us, Jesus said that the Mass is all about the Blood of Christ . . . “This cup is the new covenant in my Blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25). And St Paul says that “the cup of blessing which we bless, is . . . a communion (“koinonia”, “sharing”, “participation”) in the Blood of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16).  

Catholic Christians believe all that Evangelicals teach about the Precious Blood. But we also know that in the daily offering of the Lord’s Sacrifice of Love we actually gather on Calvary’s Hill where that Precious Blood flows for our forgiveness, healing and deliverance, for the blessing of those for whom we pray and for the redemption of the created order itself. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” asks the old spiritual. The answer is “yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” We have been to Mass so often. So many times we have stood with Mary and John at the foot of the Cross asking that Jesus’ Blood in all its power and grace fall upon us, to cleanse us, to liberate us, and to deepen our covenant union with the Lord. Our lips have touched the chalice so often as we have sipped that Precious Blood in Holy Communion. In the timelessness of the Mass we have also been swept up into the age to come where, with the angels, the saints, and that great multitude which no man can number, we enter the heavenly sanctuary through the same shed Blood and we worship Jesus the God-Man whose Sacrifice of Love is still the focal point of our attention, for, according to the Bible, there he is at the heart of the heavenly worship as “the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). 

The Letter to the Hebrews puts it this way:

You have already come “to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:22-24)

That is why our church in the midst of the hustle and bustle and secular business of this city has an altar for weekday Masses. Jesus’ great Sacrifice of Love is continually offered, lifting us out of time into eternity, blurring the boundary between this world and the next, and sanctifying our little corner of space and time in an action that is both intimate and awesome.

And, yet, in so much modern worship it is trivialized and there is an absence of reverence, awe, wonder and real praise. Wherever the power of the Precious Blood shed on Calvary’s hill is not understood, not preached, and not sought by the people, the Mass so easily becomes just a kind of chummy fellowship meal, completely horizontalised. I thank God every day for our wonderful Anglican-Catholic patrimony of homely but reverent and awesome worship, offered for those present, as well as for all who do not believe or cannot beflieve.. 

We need to remind ourselves, in words attributed by eastern Christians to St James the Apostle:

When the moment of Consecration is arriving, every one should be silent, and trembling with reverential awe; he should forget everything earthly, remembering that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is coming down upon the altar as a victim to be offered to God the Father, and as food to be given to the Faithful; He is preceded by the Angelic choirs, in full splendor, with their faces veiled, singing hymns of praise with great joy.

Or, as a Synod meeting at Oxford in 1408 said:

. . . the whole heavenly court is present during the Mass and if we had faith, we could see these Angelic hosts gathered around the altar in prayer during the Mass.

St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) maintained that

Man should tremble, the world should vibrate, all heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.

And that loveliest of women saints, Bridget of Sweden (1303 –1373)  even tells of a revelation she received in church:

One day, when a priest was celebrating Mass, I saw, at the moment of Consecration, how all the powers of heaven were set in motion. I heard, at the same time, a heavenly music, most harmonious, most sweet. Numberless Angels came down, the chant of whom no human understanding could conceive, nor the tongue of man describe. They surrounded and looked upon the priest, bowing towards him in reverential awe. The devils commenced to tremble, and took to flight in greatest confusion and terror.

In 1970 the American gospel singer André Crouch wrote a song about the Precious Blood. It is very moving. In those far off days when some of us were involved with “folk Masses” and even “rock Masses”, we would sometimes use it as a Communion Hymn. I still catch myself singing it in my head today:

The Blood that Jesus shed for me 
way back on Calvary, 
The Blood that gives me strength from day to day, 
It will never lose its power.

It reaches to the highest mountain; 
It flows to the lowest valley; 
the Blood that gives me strength from day to day 
It will never lose its power.

It soothes my doubt and calms my fears, 
and it dries all my tears; 
The Blood that gives me strength from day to day 
it will never lose its power. 

It reaches to the highest mountain; 
It flows to the lowest valley; 
the Blood that gives me strength from day to day 
It will never lose its power

May God give us the grace to worship the Father “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), to humble ourselves before the self-giving of the King of Glory in the Blessed Sacrament, and to share with others our testimony of the power of his Precious Blood so that they, too, might come to know hiis saving grace.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

VESTMENTS etc - Check out this website

A couple of years ago I posted on this blog a comprehensive list of links to suppliers of vestments, clergy attire and liturgical arts. Quite a few emails of appreciation came in from around the world.

Today I want to draw your attention to SANCTUS VESTMENTS, a small family business here in the UK that makes available to cash-strapped clergy and parishes (and also to those who are not cash-strapped!) really good vestments, Gothic as well as Latin, clerical clothing and other related items, far more economically than many other outlets. SANCTUS VESTMENTS deserves our full support.

A note to my American and Australian friends . . . they ship overseas!

Check out their WEBSITE


“Our family-run firm prides itself on offering quality clerical products at a fraction of the price of many of our competitors. We are able to do this from years of experience in the Church, partnerships with clerical artisans and wholesalers across the globe, and the fact that we operate almost entirely online; passing all these savings to our clients.

“Whether it’s a new alb or cotta; a bespoke latin or spanish biretta; a soutane or cassock; a saturno; a chasuble, dalmatic or stole; or simply a linen collar, Sanctus Vestments will be delighted to provide for you.

“We offer an extensive range from ‘off the peg’ to bespoke items, many of which are exclusive to us. New products are constantly being added.

“We look forward to serving you.”

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell's sermon at St Alban's South Norwood

Last Saturday (18th June) SSC and Forward in Faith clergy from around the Diocese of Southwark converged on St Alban’s, South Norwood for the First Evensong of St Alban, in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the church. It was very well attended. The officiant was the Vicar, Father Russell Lawson SSC, and the preacher was The Rt Rev’d Dr Geoffrey Rowell, retired Bishop of Europe, who is a Bishop of the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda in the Church of England. His sermon was inspiring, orthodox, and even patriarchal. Here it is:

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell preaching at St Alban's South Norwood

“God’s grace and mercy are with his elect . . . 
he watches over his holy ones.”
(Wisdom 4.15)

The late Professor Henry Chadwick, preaching at the opening of a new session of the General Synod some years ago, reminded the congregation that ‘a church which has lost its memory is in the same sad condition as a person who has lost their memory.’ What is true of the Church in general is also true of parishes and congregations, not least of this parish of St Alban’s here in South Norwood. It is good that you are remembering your history; that you are giving thanks to God for the many good things done in God’s name in this place; that you are remembering the faith and service and commitment of many who have served God here, not least Father William La Trobe Bateman, the Vicar of St John’s through whose inspiration and energy  both St John’s and St Alban’s came into being.

In the Church today there is much talk of mission – and rightly so, for, as it was once said, ‘the church exists for mission as fire exists for burning.’ But our contemporary mantras of mission sometimes sound as though mission never existed before our day; or mission is an invention of energetic Evangelicals and is something foreign to Catholics in the Church of England. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Long before the style and language of contemporary mission-speak the church grew and spread. St Alban, your patron, who gave his life for his faith, is a clear witness to that. The faith spread across Europe, and indeed across Asia and parts of Africa, before printing and before sound-bites. Monks were often missionaries. Communities of prayer pointed to God and ministered to the needy. China teetered on the verge of having a Christian emperor because of the missionary energy of the ancient Syrian church. And in the Church of England missionary agencies sprang into being at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Evangelicals followed. In the nineteenth-century the energy and commitment of the catholic movement in engaging with a changing society, and no less with mission overseas, is indisputable. Catholics pioneered ‘Missionary Bishops’. They did not use the language of ‘church-planting’, but that was what it was. The Catholic slum priests of London, were inspired by St Vincent de Paul in their preaching, devotion and social concern. 

William La Trobe Bateman was part of that, and particularly part of what has sometimes been called ‘Catholic Evangelicalism’. In his first curacy after ordination in rural Norfolk Richard Twigg, the apostle to the Black Country, whose church of St James, Wednesbury was said to be the cradle of parochial missions, asked him to share in the mission he was conducting near King’s Lynn. Moving to the very different setting of Christ Church, St Pancras, in London he learnt the importance of pastoral care. ‘Nothing’, he said, ‘can take the place of personal touch’. There was preaching the Cross in the streets on Good Friday. He learnt from William Walsham How, the author of ‘For all the saints’, a pioneer of missions, and later Bishop in the East End and then in Wakefield, who was missioner at Christ Church, St Pancras, in the great London Mission of 1874. Fr Bateman remembered how Walsham How taught him that ‘the beginning, the middle, and the end of the spiritual life is self-surrender to God,’ and how he brought all who were part of the mission at the concluding Eucharist to come to ‘the Mount of Transfiguration’, and see the Lord in his glory. The American Revivalists, Moody and Sankey, led a London mission in 1875, but that mission was in some ways an Evangelical response to the earlier twelve day Anglo-Catholic mission of 1869 and then 1874. As John Kent, the historian of Victorian Revivalism comments, ‘a convert made through the American system became an initiate of the revivalist sub-world, the network of people, prayer-meetings, conferences and Bible Colleges….the Anglo-Catholic convert found themselves grafted into the Church Catholic, or, more mundanely, into the life of an Anglo-Catholic parish.’ 

Fr Bateman moved here to Norwood after a time in Southampton with the challenge of raising money for a new ecclesiastical district, beginning in just two small rented houses. From this grew the building of a congregation and of St John’s Church. Amongst those whom he gathered round him was the ‘Brotherhood of St Alban’, for single and married men, with the objects of ‘The maintenance of the Holy Catholic Faith, the spiritual welfare of the members, and general mission work, subject to the approval of the Clergy.’ There was a rule of life; for our lives and our Christian commitment need to be shaped by a pattern of prayer, a discipline, and a devotion. As Fr Bateman’s rule puts it, ‘undertaking some definite work for the Church. It was a shaping of Christian discipleship. With the Brotherhood the name of St Alban appears for the first time, and Alban was a splendid patron – a courageous Christian and the first British martyr.  The 1880s saw the building of St John’s, and its consecration in 1887.

But, as you will know, Fr Bateman was not content with the building of St John’s, there were further needs to be met in the poor part of the parish. ‘God would not let us rest until they had their own church as well.’ And so a foundation-stone was laid in 1889, by his little daughter, Hilda. And such was the energy that the church, though not yet as large as it became , was consecrated on St Alban’s day, 1891 – 125 years ago, for which we give thanks today. And we give thanks too for Ninian Comper who in the earliest days of his work as a church architect contributed so much to the beauty of this place. He knew that a church must speak of the beauty of holiness, and draw hearts and minds to heaven. John Henry Newman once said that ‘Christians receive the Gospel literally on their knees, and in a temper altogether different from that critical and argumentative spirit from that which sitting and listening engender.’ 

Fr Bateman wrote of how the Catholic revival, had as ‘its mission from God, the clothing of personal religion with the objective beauty of external worship: and the re-assertion of the need of sacramental grace.’ ‘We have’, he said, quoting St Paul, ‘to grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ.’ St John, at the beginning of his Gospel, writes of the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, ‘and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth – and of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.’ Bishop Edward King, the saintly Bishop of Lincoln, was once told by a Lincolnshire farmer he encountered: ‘I see, sir, that yours is a yon side religion’. It was a faith shaped by the awesome grace of God. That was surely true of Fr Bateman, in all his ministry and endeavours, which drew so many to share with joy in the life of Christ. The words of a friend capture what he was like: ‘Radiant with holiness, delightful in humour, almost painfully significant of deep and utter humility, bubbling over with true and Christ-like sympathy he was – like the late Bishop King of Lincoln – the ideal of what a priest and servant of God should be.’ The laughter and the humour were certainly there as well as the discipline, not only in Fr Bateman, but in the clergy who worked with him. I was delighted to discover the story of one of his curates who had a French poodle – ‘a meritorious and affable poodle’ - who promoted the Holy Days of Obligation around the parish by streaming ribbons in the appropriate liturgical colour for the seasons or saint’s day. (We should perhaps send this as a suggestion for ‘mission-shaped Church). Bishop Gore said of Fr Bateman, ‘to visit him in his parish was a spiritual delight and an encouragement all in one.’ For such a saint of God we should indeed give thanks.

The communion of saints, and the encouragement of their transformed lives, is necessary for all of us. They are, as the poet-priest, Thomas Traherne put it, ‘our spurs, our wings, our enflamers’. And the martyrs, those who give their lives for Christ, like your patron, St Alban, are those who indeed witness to the cost of discipleship and to likeness to Christ. And we have martyrs in our own day – the Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Libya, and likewise many who perished in the prison camps of the dictatorships of the last century. They show that our Christian faith is not a theory, but a reality, a transforming reality.

The four marks or notes of the church are that it is ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic.’ Unity – our belonging-togetherness in Christ is essential for every Christian community, large or small, as it is for the Church throughout the world. Holiness – likeness to Christ – is the calling of each and every one of us. Our lives are to be ‘speaking lives’. And without our lives being ‘speaking lives’ in love and in service, our words will be nothing. As St Francis said to his friars as he sent them out on mission to touch the world with the love of Christ – ‘Use words if you have to.’ And the church is catholic – universal, open to all, but catholic also in the sense of the wholeness and richness of the Christian faith – the church is open to all that all may be transformed. And the church is apostolic – it has a mission, it is sent out by the Lord himself, as he commissioned his disciples after the resurrection – ‘Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ – plunging them into the life and reality of that communion of love which is the life of God himself. 

That is the faith we are to profess and to live. That is the wonderful and exciting mission of which you and I and St Alban’s is a part. This is the life we are to share with the people of this place, and with all whom we meet. In a world of violence and confusion; in a world of addiction and idolatries of every kind; in a world of selfishness, corruption and greed; in a fallen world, and yet in a world loved amazingly by the God who is love and who gave himself for us, and sustains us with his life day by day, we are to be on fire and set the world on fire. For indeed ‘God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones. Therefore keep the faith for there are indeed great Christian centuries to come.

St Alban's South Norwood

Friday, June 24, 2016

The homily of Blessed Guerric of Igny for the Birthday of St John the Baptist

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618 - 1682)  The Birth of John the Baptist 

Blessed Guerric of Igny was born between 1070 and 1080 in Tournai, Belgium. He was educated at the Cathedral school of Tournai, possibly also serving as headmaster there between 1121 and 1125. Feeling called by God to a more solitary life, he withdrew to a small house near the church in Turn. devoting himself to prayer, meditation and reading. In 1126 Guerric paid a visit to Clairvaux. St Bernard asked Guerric to remain there.

In 1138 Guerric became the Abbot of Igny, one of Clairvaux’s foundations in the Diocese of Rheims. He refers in some of his writings to his age and the physical ailments which prevented him from fully participating in community life. But under his direction the Abbey of Igny flourished. Guerric died in there on 19th August. 54 of his sermons have come down to us. They greatly influenced the development of Cistercian spirituality. Following the lead of St Bernard, his mentor, Guerric emphasised Mary as “the new Eve who instills new life into those who have become old by sin. Mary is the model for the Church. The Church similarly exercises her kind of maternity on our behalf.”

Guerric died in 1157  Here is what he wrote for the Birthday of St John the Baptist: 

Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest of all those who had preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John....” But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: “[Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7,28).

John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic. He began to announce the coming of the Kingdom, and to call everyone to a fundamental reformation of life. 

His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. His Baptism, he said, was for repentance. But One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John is not worthy even to carry his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3,30).

John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Messiah. “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3:14b). But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3,15b). Jesus, true and humble human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew. John thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah. But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic. 

The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people (“all Judea”) to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus.

Perhaps John’s idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not being perfectly fulfilled in the public ministry of Jesus. For whatever reason, he sent his disciples (when he was in prison) to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus’ answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias. 

“And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1,76)

Rightly, then, did the birth of this child make many rejoice then and does make many rejoice today: born in the old age of his parents he was to preach the grace of rebirth to an aging world. Rightly does the Church solemnly venerate this birth, which is wonderfully brought about by grace and at which nature wonders. To me certainly the birth of the world’s Lamp (Jn 5,35) brings fresh joy, for it enabled me to recognize the true Light shining in the darkness but not mastered by the darkness, (John 1,5.9). 

His birth brings me a joy utterly unspeakable, for so many outstanding benefits accrue to the world through it. He is the first to give the Church instruction, to initiate it by penance, to prepare it by baptism. When it is prepared he delivers it to Christ and unites it with him (Jn 3,29). He both trains it to live temperately and, by his own death, gives it the strength to die with fortitude. In all these ways he prepares for the Lord a perfect people, (Luke 1,17).

(©Cistercian publications)