Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Influence of S. Bede the Venerable (c. 672-735)



'The Venerable Bede Translates John’ (1902) by James Doyle Penrose (1862-1932)

Every now and then, the Office of Readings sets before us an account of how the saint for the day died. Today is one of those days. This morning we read about the death of S. Bede.  

Bede was born near Sunderland, and lived his entire life in the north of England, yet he is often regarded one of the most learned European of his day. At the age of 7 he was sent to the Benedictine Abbey at Wearmouth for his education. At 11 he continued his education at the new monastery at Jarrow, on the Tyne, eventually becoming a monk and remaining there until his death. He lived a routine and outwardly uneventful life of prayer, devotion, study, writing, and teaching, and left his monastery only in order to preach.

Bede’s writings (over 40 books) depended on the fine libraries which S. Benet Biscop (c. 628-690) had assembled, and cover a very wide range of interests, including mathematics, poetry, timekeeping, history, orthography, chronology, and biblical translation and exposition. He translated large slabs of the Bible into Anglo-Saxon (from which English evolved). He made the Latin and Greek writings of the early Christian Fathers accessible to his fellow Anglo-Saxons. But he always considered his 25 volumes of Scripture commentary to be his most important work. 

Bede’s best-known book is his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731, and still published today in modern translation. A good deal of it is based on sources no longer in existence. Because of this work he became popularly acclaimed as the ‘Father of English History’, not only because his is the first serious history of England, but also because of the thoroughness of his historical research. Whenever friends were travelling to Rome, he would ask them to bring him copies of documents relevant to English history. Bede made careful use of oral traditions when written materials were not available.

According to his pupil Cuthbert, Bede fell ill shortly before Easter 735, when he was translating the Gospel of John into the Anglo-Saxon language. Everyone realised that the end was near, but Bede was determined to complete the translation before he died. Between Easter and Ascension Day, he persisted in the task, pushing against the boundary of his life, while continuing to teach his students at his bedside.

After a restless night, he resumed dictating the translation on the morning before Ascension Day. That afternoon he called the priests of the monastery to him to distribute his remaining earthly possessions. Seeing they were overcome with grief, he comforted them with these words:

“If it be the will of my Maker, the time has come when I shall be freed from the body and return to him who created me out of nothing when I had no being. I have had a long life, and the merciful Judge has ordered it graciously. The time of my departure is at hand, and my soul longs to see Christ my King in his beauty.”

The young man who had been writing down the translation said there was still one sentence remaining, and Bede dictated the final words.

After a short while the boy said, “Now it is finished.”

Bede replied, ‘You have spoken truly; it is well finished. Now raise my head in your hands, for it would give me great joy to sit facing the holy place where I used to pray, so that I may sit and call on my Father.’

And thus, on the floor of his cell, he sang ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit’ to its ending, and breathed his last.

When he received word of Bede’s death, S. Boniface, who had used Bede’s Scripture commentaries, said, ‘The candle of the Church, lit by the Holy Spirit, has been extinguished.’ S. Bede began to be called “Venerable”. His bones were translated from Jarrow to Durham Cathedral in the mid-11th century; in 1370 they were placed in the cathedral’s Galilee Chapel.

S. Bede is the only Englishman named in Dante’s Paradise. He is also the only English ‘Doctor of the Church’ (perhaps one day to be joined by John Henry Newman?).

It was S. Bede who wrote that a priest or bishop ‘who without an urgent reason omits to say Mass robs the Trinity of glory, the angels of joy, sinners of pardon, the just of divine assistance, the souls in purgatory of refreshment, the Church of a benefit, and himself of a healing remedy.’

COLLECT
O God, who bring light to your Church
through the learning of the Priest Saint Bede,
mercifully grant that your servants
may always be enlightened by his wisdom 
and helped by his merits.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 
Amen.


POPE BENEDICT ON S. BEDE
Here is Pope Benedict’s teaching on the significance of S. Bede, 
given at his Wednesday General Audience in Rome, 
on 18th February 2009: 

The saint on whom we reflect today is called Bede. He was born in Northeast England, in fact in Northumbria, in the year 672/673. He himself narrates that, when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the abbot of the neighboring Benedictine monastery, to be educated. “In this monastery,” he recalls, “I lived from then on, dedicating myself intensely to the study of Scripture, while observing the discipline of the Rule and the daily effort to sing in church, I always found it pleasant to learn, teach and write” (Ecclesiastical History of the English People, V, 24). 

In fact, Bede was one of the most illustrious figures of erudition of the High Middle Ages because he was able to make use of many precious manuscripts that his abbots, who went on frequent trips to the Continent and to Rome, were able to bring back to him. His teaching and the fame of his writings enabled him to have many friendships with the principal personalities of his time, who encouraged him to continue in his work, from which so many benefited. Falling ill, he did not cease to work, always having an interior joy that was expressed in prayer and song. He concluded his most important work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with this invocation: “I pray, O good Jesus, who benevolently has allowed me to draw from the sweet words of your wisdom, that I may reach you one day, source of all wisdom, and to always be before your face.” Death came to him on May 26, 735: It was Ascension day.

The Sacred Scriptures were the constant source of Bede’s theological reflection. Having made a careful critical study of the text (we have a copy of the monumental Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate, on which Bede worked), he commented on the Bible, reading it in a Christological vein, namely, re-uniting two things: On one hand, he listened to what the text was saying exactly, he really wanted to listen and understand the text itself; on the other hand, he was convinced that the key to understanding sacred Scripture as the unique Word of God is Christ and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and the New Testament as 'a' sacred Scripture.

The events of the Old and New Testament go together, they are together the path toward Christ, though expressed in different signs and institutions (it is what he calls “concordia sacramentorum”). For example, the tent of the covenant that Moses raised in the desert and the first and second temple of Jerusalem are images of the Church, new temple built on Christ and the Apostles with living stones, cemented by the charity of the Spirit. And, as was the case for the construction of the ancient temple of Jerusalem, even pagan people contributed, making available valuable materials and the technical experience of their master builders, thus apostles and masters not only from ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin stock contributed to the building of the Church, but also new peoples, among which Bede is pleased to enumerate the Iro-Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. St. Bede witnessed the universality of the Church grow, which is not restricted to a certain culture, but is made up of all the cultures of the world which must open themselves to Christ and find in him their point of arrival.

Another topic loved by Bede is the history of the Church. After having taken interest in the period described in the Acts of the Apostles, he reviewed the history of the Fathers of the Church and the councils, convinced that the work of the Holy Spirit continues in history. In the Cronica Maiora, Bede traces a chronology that would become the basis of the universal calendar “ab incarnatione Domini.” Up to then, time was calculated from the foundation of the city of Rome. Bede, seeing that the true point of reference, the center of history is the birth of Christ, gave us this calendar that reads history beginning with the Lord’s Incarnation. He registered the first six ecumenical councils and their development, presenting faithfully the Christian, Mariological and Soteriological doctrine, and denouncing the Monophysite and Monothelite, iconoclastic and neo-Pelagian heresies. Finally, he wrote with documentary rigor and literary expertise the already mentioned Ecclesiastical History of the English People, for which he is recognized as “the father of English historiography.” The characteristic traits of the Church that Bede loved to evidence are: a) its catholicity, as fidelity to tradition together with openness to historical developments, and as the pursuit of unity in multiplicity, in the diversity of history and cultures, according to the directives that Pope Gregory the Great gave to the apostle of England, Augustine of Canterbury; b) its apostolicity and Romanness: In this regard he considers of primary importance to convince the whole Iro-Celtic Churches and that of the Picts to celebrate Easter uniformly according to the Roman calendar. The calculation elaborated scientifically by him to establish the exact date of the Easter celebration, and thus of the entire cycle of the liturgical year, became the text of reference for the whole Catholic Church.

Bede was also an illustrious teacher of liturgical theology. In the homilies on the Sunday Gospels and those of feast days, he develops a true mystagogy, educating the faithful to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of the faith and to reproduce them consistently in life, while expecting their full manifestation of the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we will be admitted in offertory procession to the eternal liturgy of God in heaven. Following the “realism” of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person “not only a Christian but Christ.” In fact, every time that a faithful soul receives and guards the Word of God with love, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ again. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments, the Church is “self-generated,” or to use a still more daring expression, the Church becomes “Mother of God,” participating in the generation of her children, by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks to this way of making theology, interlacing the Bible, the liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different “states of life”:

a) For scholars (doctores ac doctrices) he recalls two essential tasks: to scrutinize the wonders of the Word of God to present it in an attractive way to the faithful; to show the dogmatic truths avoiding the heretical complications and keeping to the “Catholic simplicity,” with attention to the small and humble to whom God is pleased to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom.

b) For pastors, that for their part, must give priority to preaching, not only through the verbal or hagiographic language, but also valuing icons, processions and pilgrimages. Bede recommends to them the use of the vernacular, as he himself does, explaining in Northumbria the “Our Father,” and the “Creed” and carrying forward until the last day of his life, the commentary to John’s Gospel in the common language.

c) For consecrated people who are dedicated to the Divine Office, living in the joy of fraternal communion and progressing in the spiritual life through ascesis and contemplation, Bede recommends to take care of the apostolate -- no one has the Gospel just for himself, but must regard it as a gift also for others -- either by collaborating with the Bishops in pastoral activities of various types in favor of the young Christian communities, or being available to the evangelizing mission to the pagans, outside their own country, as “peregrini pro amore Dei.”

Placed in this perspective, in the commentary to the Canticle of Canticles, Bede presents the synagogue and the Church as collaborators in the propagation of the Word of God. Christ the Spouse desires an industrious Church, “bronzed by the fatigues of evangelization” -- clear is the reference to the word of the Canticle of Canticles (1:5), where the Bride says: “Nigra sum sed formosa” (I am brown, but beautiful) - attempts to till other fields or vines and to establish among the new populations “not a provisional bell but a stable dwelling, namely, to insert the Gospel in the social fabric and the cultural institutions. In this perspective, the saintly Doctor exhorts the lay faithful to be assiduous to the religious instruction, imitating those “insatiable evangelical multitudes who did not even give the Apostles time to eat.” He teaches them how to pray constantly, “reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy,” offering all actions as spiritual sacrifices in union with Christ. To parents he explains that also in their small domestic realm they can exercise “the priestly office of pastors and guides,” by giving Christian formation to the children and states that he knows many faithful (men and women, spouses and celibates) “capable of an irreproachable conduct that, if suitably pursued, could approach daily Eucharistic communion (“Epist. ad Ecgbertum,” ed. Plummer, p. 419).

The fame of holiness and wisdom that Bede enjoyed already in life, served to merit him the title of “Venerable.” He is thus called also by Pope Sergius I, when he wrote his abbot in 701 requesting to make him come temporarily to Rome for consultation on questions of universal interest. The great missionary of Germany, Bishop St. Boniface (d. 754), requested the archbishop of York several times and the abbot of Wearmouth to have some of his works transcribed and to send him to them so that they and their companions could also enjoy the spiritual light he emanated. A century later Notkero Galbulo, abbot of St. Gall (d. 912), being aware of the extraordinary influence of Bede, equated him with a new sun that God had made arise not in the East but in the West to illumine the world. Apart from the rhetorical emphasis, it is a fact that, with his works, Bede contributed effectively to the making of a Christian Europe, in which the different populations and cultures amalgamated among themselves, conferring on them a uniform physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith.

Let us pray that also today there be personalities of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole Continent united; let us pray so that all of us are willing to rediscover our common roots, to be builders of a profoundly human and genuinely Christian Europe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Mary's Month of May - Bishop Jonathan Baker


 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Catherine of Siena and God's grace

 

Saint Catherine of Siena receiving the stigmata between Saints Benedict and  Jerome (detail), c.1514 - c.1517 - Domenico Beccafumi - WikiArt.org

“All the way to Heaven is heaven, 
because He said, ‘I am the Way.’" 

- S. Catherine of Siena

Born in 1347, the 24th child of a wool dyer in northern Italy, Catherine was very sensitive to spiritual realities from childhood. From the age of six she could see guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected. Catherine became a Dominican tertiary when she was sixteen, and continued to have visions of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. She was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, although she had no formal education. 

At a very difficult time in the Church’s history, Catherine persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon, in 1377. She actually died endeavouring to heal the Great Western Schism. In 1375 she received the Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. Catherine’s letters, and a treatise called “a dialogue” are considered among the most brilliant writings of the saints. 

Catherine died in 1380 when she was only 33, and her body was found incorrupt in 1430. Her tomb is in the High Altar of the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome.


God created us a second time 
in giving us the life of grace

From a Letter of S. Catherine of Siena to Blessed Raymond of Capua

I know of no means of savouring the Truth and living with it, without self-knowledge. It is this knowledge which makes us really understand that we are nothing, that our being came from God when we were created in God’s image and likeness; and also that God created us a second time in giving us the life of grace through the blood of the only Son, blood which has shown us the truth of God the Father.

This is the divine truth: we were created for the glory and praise of God’s name, to enable us to participate in God’s eternal beauty and to sanctify us in God. And the proof that this is the truth? The blood of the spotless Lamb. How are we to know this Blood? By self-knowledge. ’

We were the earth where the standard of the cross was planted. We were the vessel that received the blood of the Lamb as it streamed from the cross. Why did we become that earth? Because the earth would not hold the cross upright; it would have refused such a great injustice. The nails could not have held the Lord fixed and nailed had not his love for our salvation held him there. It was love on fire with the glory of his Father and with desire for our salvation which fixed him to the cross. So, we are the earth which held the cross upright and the vessel which received the blood.

We who can recognize this and live as the spouse of this Truth will find grace in his blood, and all the richness of the life of grace; our nakedness will be the nuptial garment; we will be invested with the fire of love, because the blood and fire mingle and penetrate one another; it is love which has united the blood with the divinity and poured it out.

We must live in simplicity, with neither pretensions nor mannerisms nor servile fear. We must walk in the light of a living faith that shines in more than mere words—and always so, in adversity as well as in prosperity, in times of persecution as well as in times of consolation. Nothing will be able to change the strength or the radiance of our faith if Christ who is the Truth has given us knowledge of truth not just in desire but in living experience.


File:High altar Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The tomb of S. Catherine of Siena in the High Altar of the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Saint Gaudentius of Brescia on the Holy Sacrifice

 

Following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Gaudentius was consecrated bishop for the See of Brescia in Italy by S. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, around the year AD 387 (the same year that Ambrose baptised Augustine of Hippo). The best known of Gaudentius' sermons are those he gave to the newly baptized in the week following Easter, explaining directly and simply the real meaning of the sacraments. Gaudentius died around AD 410, the year of the sack of Rome by Alaric the Visigoth. The paragraphs below, from his exposition of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, are set to be read in today’s Office of Readings. 


The heavenly sacrifice, instituted by Christ, is the most gracious legacy of his new covenant. On the night he was delivered up to be crucified he left us this gift as a pledge of his abiding presence.


This sacrifice is our sustenance on life’s journey; by it we are nourished and supported along the road of life until we depart from this world and make our way to the Lord. For this reason he addressed these words to us: Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life in you.


It was the Lord’s will that his gifts should remain with us, and that we who have been redeemed by his precious blood should constantly be sanctified according to the pattern of his own passion. And so he commanded those faithful disciples of his whom he made the first priests of his Church to enact these mysteries of eternal life continuously. All priests throughout the churches of the world must celebrate these mysteries until Christ comes again from heaven. Therefore let us all, priests and people alike, be faithful to this everlasting memorial of our redemption. Daily it is before our eyes as a representation of the passion of Christ. We hold it in our hands, we receive it in our mouths, and we accept it in our hearts.


It is appropriate that we should receive the body of Christ in the form of bread, because, as there are many grains of wheat in the flour from which bread is made by mixing it with water and baking it with fire, so also we know that many members make up the one body of Christ which is brought to maturity by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Christ was born of the Holy Spirit, and since it was fitting that he should fulfil all justice, he entered into the waters of baptism to sanctify them. When he left the Jordan he was filled with the Holy Spirit who had descended upon him in the form of a dove. As the evangelist tells us: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan.


Similarly, the wine of Christ’s blood, drawn from the many grapes of the vineyard that he had planted, is extracted in the wine-press of the cross. When men receive it with believing hearts, like capacious wineskins, it ferments within them by its own power.


And so, now that you have escaped from the power of Egypt and of Pharaoh, who is the devil, join with us, all of you, in receiving this sacrifice of the saving passover with the eagerness of dedicated hearts. Then in our inmost being we shall be wholly sanctified by the very Lord Jesus Christ whom we believe to be present in his sacraments, and whose boundless power abides for ever.



Monday, April 18, 2022

G.K. Chesterton on the Resurrection and the New Creation



G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936), philosopher, commentator and Christian apologist surmises in The Everlasting Man (1925) how news of the Lord’s resurrection might have been construed as it filtered through to Rome, then the centre of the world:


The members of some Eastern sect or secret society or other seemed to have made a scene somewhere; nobody could imagine why. One incident occurred once or twice again and began to arouse irritation out of proportion to its insignificance. It was not exactly what these provincials said; though of course it sounded queer enough. 

They seemed to be saying that God was dead and that they themselves had seen him die. This might be one of the many manias produced by the despair of the age; only they did not seem particularly despairing. They seemed quite unnaturally joyful about it, and gave the reason that the death of God had allowed them to eat him and drink his blood. 

According to other accounts God was not exactly dead after all; there trailed through the bewildered imagination some sort of fantastic procession of the funeral of God, at which the sun turned black, but which ended with the dead omnipotence breaking out of the tomb and rising again like the sun. 
pp. 295-6 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

And this, from the same book, is surely “vintage Chesterton” . . . a piece on Easter Sunday as the first day of the new creation: 

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. 

For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead. 

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.
p.345


(Chesterton's long paragraphs have been broken into shorter ones, as is sometimes said, "for the ease of the modern reader"!)

Friday, April 1, 2022

Download the Easter edition of TOGETHER


TOGETHER is published and edited by the Church Union in co-operation with the Additional Curates Society, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and Forward in Faith. Click HERE to download your copy of the Easter 2022 edition.


HOLY WEEK at All Saints' Benhilton, Sutton

 Click on the flyer to enlarge it . . .



Wednesday, February 23, 2022

St Luke's Kingston honours the beginning of HM The Queen's Platinum Jubliee



(Click on image to enlarge)

Father Martin Hislop, Vicar of St Luke’s Kington reports:  Choral Evensong on Thursday 10th February for the start of HM The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee was a splendid occasion. A well attended congregation was treated to magnificent music and singing from the Tiffin School choirs and a superb sermon by the Bishop of Fulham. The service was honoured with the presence of the Mayor of the Royal Borough and the Lord Lieutenant of Greater London who both read Lessons. 


Here is the sermon preached by the Bishop of Fulham:


I wonder, is there anybody present this evening who remembers Accession Day, 6th February 1952? If so, you have been truly blessed to have a conscious memory of such an historic date. 


Seventy years is a long time. It is, of course, the span of a human life, according to the psalmist. I found it helpful, following a prompt by the writer of an article in one of our newspapers, to think back to a time seventy years before the Queen’s accession. 6th February 1882. 1882 to 1952. If we work our way in our minds through that seventy-year period, we cannot but be struck by how much history, local, national, international, accrues across seven decades. In terms of our monarchy, that earlier seventy-year period encompasses almost twenty years of the reign of Queen Victoria, followed by those of Kings Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, and George VI. Or let us think again about the reign of our present Queen. Those now familiar rollcalls of the holders of other public offices which have passed across the stage in front of her: 14 Prime Ministers, 14 Presidents of the United States of America, 7 Archbishops of Canterbury, 7 Bishops of Rome. 


The Queen’s reign, the longest of course of any British monarch, is now the third longest properly attested reign of any monarch in the world, ever. What a gift, what a blessing. I do however call to mind, as we enter into this, Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee year, the observation which the bishop who ordained me to the diaconate (I’ll leave you to look it up) often made when being introduced to a nonagenarian or similar at a parish function. When the parishioner said, or someone said on their behalf, ‘I’m 93 you know,’ this bishop (perhaps a tad uncharitably) liked to respond, ‘Ah, but what have you done with all those years?’ I do see the point he was trying to make, in his typically provocative fashion. Longevity might be always interesting, even noteworthy; but it is not necessarily praiseworthy. What have you done with your life, the life God has given you, is a good question, whether it is addressed to a duke or a dustman or any one of us. 


Thank God – and we really do thank God – the Queen has answered the question so admirably, every day of her seventy-year reign. What she has done is lived her life and carried out her duty in unswerving fulfilment of the vocation and calling laid upon her by God Himself, embodied in her coronation vows and captured never more simply and profoundly than in that radio address delivered on her 21st birthday which we shall rightly hear quoted many times this year:


‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service, and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.’ 


Empire may have evolved into Commonwealth, but that commitment to service has never faltered once in Her Majesty’s 70 years on the throne. Her example of service before self is simply astonishing and inspirational, though I expect, were Her Majesty to be present at this service, she would be impatient with me for choosing two such adjectives. I’m going to stand by them, however. Astonishing, because to put one’s duty ahead of personal consideration or preference consistently, day by day, year by year, is to make a choice (daily) which has become rare in our society to the point of vanishing. Inspirational, because we are blessed – those of you singing in the choir this evening, your generation especially perhaps are so blessed – to have this example set before us, daily, in a world of competing and persuasive role models, very many of them unhelpful, unreliable or positively dangerous. The Queen’s recent message to all of us, her subjects, published a few days ago, was signed, movingly but accurately, ‘Your Servant, Elizabeth R.’ We give thanks to God today for the life and example of our Servant Queen which teaches us that all human authority, no matter how exalted, comes from above: it is the authority of the One who came not to be served but to serve, even Jesus Christ. 


Let me then return to that radio broadcast delivered by the Queen on her 21st birthday. After making that undertaking that her life would be one of service, she went on to make two further points in connection with that promise. The first was to ask for the support of her people. The second was to say, or to pray, ‘God help me to make good my vow.’ If, tonight, we are giving thanks for the gift of a reign of almost unparalleled duration used in the service of all, then we can only do that by recognising, celebrating and giving thanks for the rock on which the Queen’s fulfilment of her vocation to serve rests: her faith in God, more particularly, her faith in the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.


The Queen is rightly recognised, throughout her reign but perhaps more so than ever in recent years, as someone whose faith in Christ is integral to all that she is and all that she does. She is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and our established church could not be more blessed in the way she has carried out the duties of that office. What we can be so thankful for this evening is that the Queen communicates her faith in a way which goes far beyond the discharge of her formal duties in respect of the national Church. We know that the Queen’s annual Christmas broadcast is one of the very few occasions in the year when the Queen speaks in her own voice, personally, from the heart. Those Christmas broadcasts constitute a treasury of words which resonates in its witness to Jesus Christ and His teaching and the Gospel of salvation, and which reveal the mind and heart of a disciple. The Queen’s Christian faith is deep and it is profound, there can be no doubt that it is her walk with God which has strengthened her to fulfil her promise to serve all these years. But it is equally important to say that hers is a commitment to Christ which allows for a generous and spacious respect and care for all those who live and work in the United Kingdom and in all her realms - those of other Christian traditions, those of other faiths, and all people of good will.


If her Christian faith has sustained the Queen in fulfilling her duty and her calling all these years, then at the heart of that faith is the work of Jesus Christ in reconciling humanity with God through his saving death on the Cross and resurrection to eternal life. Back in 2011, the Queen conveyed this Gospel message when she said that ‘history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness and our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a saviour, with the power to forgive.’ In our second reading this evening from the Revelation of St John the Divine, we read of the heavenly Jerusalem, the Jerusalem above, where God and the Lamb are seated upon a throne. There, the servants of the Lamb worship Him. Tonight, we give thanks, and we pray God Save The Queen, and we do so in faith and trust that our servant Queen will be among those servants of the Lamb, worshipping the Lord of Lords and King of Kings for all eternity. 


Amen. 


Thursday, February 17, 2022

LENT 2022 at All Saints' Benhilton


(Click on flyer to enlarge)

 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

2022 LENT COURSE for small group or individual use

All Saints Benhilton 
All Saints' Road, Sutton, Surrey SM1 3DA U.K.


(Click on the above to enlarge the details)

To Download the Lent Course, please click on the links below:

INTRODUCTION

WEEK 1

WEEK 2

WEEK 3

WEEK 4

WEEK 5


If you would like to download the whole course as one document 

CLICK HERE


 

Friday, February 11, 2022

SEEKING AT WALSINGHAM AND LOURDES



The 11th February in the Church’s calendar is when we honour the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title, ‘Our Lady of Lourdes.’ Recently I spent an evening trying to organise past articles and essays on my computer and came across this piece I wrote in 1991 when I was Rector of S. John’s Horsham in the Diocese of Ballarat. It's about my first visit to Walsingham and then Lourdes. I put the article aside to share with you today.


PILGRIMAGE STILL HAPPENS 

While it is true that in places like Western Europe and Australia churchgoing seems to be a declining habit, the great centres of pilgrimage surprisingly draw larger crowds than ever. And not just the already converted, but people from all walks of life searching for truth and reality. 


The tiny English village of Walsingham, in a remote corner of Norfolk, 190 kilometres from London, with its narrow cobbled streets and centuries old buildings set in the most beautiful countryside imaginable is just such a place.


From April to November each year a stream of pilgrims finds its way to this village. At the end of May the 'National' (as they say) takes place. Not a horse race, but a pilgrimage attracting thousands of people from all over England.


It all began in 1061 when Lady Richeldis of the manor had a vision in which the Blessed Virgin Mary said that she was to set up a shrine honouring the holy house at Nazareth, and the ‘hidden years’ of Our Lord’s life. 


Our Lady went on to say that Walsingham would become a place of special blessing where people from all over would seek God and find him.


WALSINGHAM - GOD’S BLESSING ON OUR ORDINARINESS 

Each of Our Lady’s shrines draws attention to some aspect of the Gospel. Walsingham honours the hidden years of our Lord’s family life at Nazareth. 


Walsingham stresses the truth that through the mystery of the Incarnation God lived an ordinary human life, giving us the confidence that we can seek him, find him and know him in the ordinariness of our lives, and not just in those ‘spiritual mountaintop experiences’ with which the Holy Spirit might bless us from time to time. 


Walsingham helps us to be Gospel people who expect to experience God’s grace, life, power and healing to surge right there in what we sometimes think is the meaningless hum-drum of our unspectacular existence.

 

AN ORDINARY PILGRIMAGE 

My first visit to Walsingham was in 1989. It was my first time in England, and I had tacked myself onto an ordinary parish weekend pilgrimage.


It was a blend of devotion and hilarity, penitence and joy, colourful processions, endless singing, and little children doing their own thing. The crowd, also, was spectacularly multi-racial.


The thing that surprised me most of all was that on this particular pilgrimage about one third of our party were not churchgoers, but had come with their friends for a weekend away. Some came purely as tourists. Some came out of curiosity to see if Walsingham was for real. Others had deliberately set out on a spiritual quest hoping that their deep and ancient longing for God might be satisfied.   


So many ‘ordinary people’ (that is, not just the clergy!) were sharing their experiences of the Gospel and the Faith over meals (and pints at the ‘Lion’ - the pub just across the road from the shrine). As a result of this some of us clergy had the great joy of praying with a number of non-churchgoers in our party who were opening their hearts to the Lord for the very first time.


LOURDES

A couple of weeks later, on a rather roundabout way back to Australia, I was sitting on the railway platform at Lourdes having spent three days at our Lady’s Shrine there. Lourdes is the small town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the south of France where in 1858 Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a forteen year old girl from a poor family.


Our Lady spoke of our need for true conversion of heart to the Lord, and she highlighted the importance of ministry to the poor and the sick. She asked Bernadette to get a church built on the site of the apparition and promised healing blessings to all who would go there on pilgrimage. 


I treasure the memory of that visit to Lourdes, and hope one day to return.


ENCOUNTERING GOD

While I was waiting for the train, dressed in clericals, an American back-packer in his early 20’s came up to me and told how he had stumbled upon Lourdes quite by accident a couple of months before. He had no church background at all, but out of curiosity had followed a trainload of pilgrims to the grotto where our Lady appeared to the young Bernadette.


Through the worship, the joy of the praying community, and the ‘magic’ of the place (or, as we would say, the Holy Spirit’s ‘anointing’), that young man found the Lord (or, rather, the Lord found him!). Then someone told him that he should start reading the Bible. So he got hold of a New Testament at Lourdes and had read through most of it during his two months of backpacking around Europe.


He was due to fly home to the USA from Paris, but came all the way back to Lourdes on the train, just for a couple of hours (literally), to thank God and Our Lady for the turn-around he had experienced in his life at that holy place.


He assured me that upon arriving home in the States he would seek out a priest and be baptised.


That young man is not unique. Despite the secularisation of the west there is a constant trickle of intelligent adults with no religious background responding to the Gospel of Jesus and the Catholic Faith, and coming into the worshipping life of the Church.   


SURROUNDED BY SEEKERS 

We tend to concentrate on negative developments in our ‘post-Christian’ culture to the point that we don’t notice how many genuine seekers there are. 


So, while it is true that in countries like ours people can be extremely cynical about ‘organised religion’ and understandably turned off by the Church’s sins and failures, a survey carried out recently by the Australian National University indicated that only 7 percent of Australians ‘definitely did not believe.’ It also showed that many people prayed, that many people vaguely accepted the Christian creed, leading to the conclusion - in the exact words of the report - that ‘the much-touted drift from religion was greatly exaggerated.’


In other words, there is plenty to build on. God gives us such wonderful opportunities for evangelism. Can you imagine how it would be if all practising Christians took full advantage of the opportunities God gives us to share our faith with others.


So, it ought not surprise us to hear of unlikely friends and neighbours beginning their own spiritual pilgrimage.


It ought not surprise us that they find God, for at the heart of our Faith is the confidence that God can be found, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)



Wednesday, February 2, 2022

CANDLEMAS - Mary's little Lamb the Light of the world



The beautiful chapel of the Presentation of the Lord 
at our Lady's Shrine in Lourdes, France.

Forty days after the birth of Jesus, today's Mass is often regarded as rounding off the Christmas/ Epiphany season. The readings and prayers take us back to the birth of the Lord, and they beckon us forward to his suffering and death. 

The Gospel reading (Luke 2:22-39) tells of Mary and Joseph going to the temple with the baby Jesus, that they might be purified “according to the Law,” and Jesus consecrated to the Lord. The old man Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, discerns Jesus to be God’s Messiah, “the light to enlighten the nations”. It is for this reason that the blessing and lighting of candles has long been associated with this day. Anna, the old prophetess, who had prayed and fasted every day in expectation of the "redemption of Jerusalem", saw Jesus and began to tell everyone about him.

In Anglo-Saxon times it was “. . . appointed in the ecclesiastical observances that we on this day bear our lights to church and let them be there blessed; and that we should go afterward with the light among Godʼs houses and sing the hymn that is thereto appointed. Though some men cannot sing they can, nevertheless, bear the light in their hands; for on this day was Christ, the true light, borne to the temple, Who redeemed us from darkness and bringeth us to the eternal light.” - The Ritual Reason Why, by C. Walker (1886) page 197.

In the midst of today’s joyful festival, we hear old Simeon’s enigmatic remark to our Lady - “a sword shall pierce your own soul, too” -, reminding us of her participation in all that Jesus suffered for our redemption.

Greek Orthodox Christians call today’s feast “Hypapante” (the encounter), seeing in the juxtaposition of the Child and the old man the encounter of the fading age of the Old Covenant and the new era of Jesus and his Church. 

There is more than a touch of irony in the fact that the poor, if they couldn’t afford a lamb to offer in sacrifice and thanksgiving, could bring turtle doves or even pigeons. Mary and Joseph were poor, and although - according to today’s Gospel reading - they brought turtle doves or pigeons, we know that they actually brought the only Lamb that has ever really mattered: Jesus, Mary’s little Lamb, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. 

Today is our feast of candles, with the warmth of their light pointing to Jesus, the light of the world.

Each of us is given a candle today as a reminder that having received the light of Jesus, which at the very beginning of creation pierced the darkness and which no darkness can overpower, we are to shine in the darkness of our own time that others may find him and be set free to walk in his light.

* * * * * * * * * *
May we have leave to ask, illustrious Mother,
Why thou dost turtles bring
For thy Son’s offering,
And rather giv’st not one lamb for another? 
It seems that golden shower which th’other day
The forward faithful East
Poured at thy feet, made haste
Through some devout expence to find its way. 
O precious poverty, which canst appear
Richer to holy eyes
Than any golden prize,
And sweeter art than frankincense and myrrh! 
Come then, that silver, which thy turtles wear
Upon their wings, shall make
Precious thy gift, and speak
That Son of thine, like them, all pure and fair. 
But know that heaven will not be long in debt;
No, the Eternal Dove
Down from his nest above
Shall come, and on thy son’s dear head shall sit.
Heaven will not have Him ransomed, heaven’s law
Makes no exception
For lambs, and such a one
Is He: a fairer Lamb heaven never saw. 
He must be offered, or the world is lost:
The whole world’s ransom lies
In this great sacrifice;
And He will pay its debt, whate’er it cost. 
Nor shall these turtles unrepayed be,
These turtles which today
Thy love for Him did pay:
Thou ransom’dst Him, and He will ransom thee. 
A dear and full redemption will He give
Thee and the world: this Son,
And none but this alone
By His own death can make His Mother live.

– Joseph Beaumont (1616-1699)
Thérèse, M. I Sing of a Maiden: The Mary Book of Verse. 
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Father Stanton preaching on today's Gospel - Mark 2:1-12

 


When I was a teenager I read the stories of the slum priests of the 19th century Catholic Revival in the Church of England. 

These men became my heroes. Their lives helped me in my groping after God. They still inspire me. In these days of advanced secularism in which ordinary Christian witness is difficult and the authentic evangelical/catholic vision of priestly ministry is so hard to find among Anglican clergy, the slum priests should inspire us all to persevere in proclaiming the Gospel and teaching the Faith once delivered to the Saints. 

These "ritualists" - as many called them - were not snooty "spikes" as some might say today. They were passionate evangelists, bringing many to know and love the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. The churches they built in the poorest slums of England became shrines that still evoke wonder and prayer. These priests taught and practised the full Catholic Faith in an evangelical way, leading their people to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness AND in the holiness of beauty! They inspired extravagant giving among their friends and supporters. Often persecuted by unsympathetic bishops, the slum priests gave themselves away to the Lord and his people. 

One of the most famous was Father Arthur Stanton, who remained a non-stipendiary Curate at St Alban's Holborn for fifty years (1862 to 1913 when he died). He was the archetypal Anglo-Catholic evangelist, and he truly honoured the Lord Jesus in what he said and how he said it. On Sunday 13th October, 1912, Father Stanton preached this sermon on the passage that is today's Gospel. (In fact, this is a transcript written down by a stenographer, as Father Stanton preached rather than read his sermons!)

And when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the Word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven..... That you might know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.' Mark 2:1-12

You know the story: they let him down from the roof. And what I gather from the story is this: anybody who wants to come to Christ, can. If you don't, you can easily slip away unobserved. If any of you wish to come to Mass on Sunday morning, you can - you can - although, I know, there are hundreds of excuses if you don't want to come. And then you say: "Well that is the very thing we want to do. Here we are, all of us, on purpose to get to the Master. Has not He promised to be present with us! And here we are - in order to get near the Master. That is just what we want."

And the lesson of the Gospel is, we must take trouble about it. When people say: "We want to get near the Master- Christ," the answer is, "Well, have you taken any trouble about it? Have you taken the roof off?" The men in the Gospel were determined to get to Him, and when they could not get through the door, they went on the roof, and took it off, and placed the palsied man before Him. They saw he could not get to Jesus himself, so they brought him. They meant business; and the business was done. They were in earnest, and they got to the Saviour, and they got the man there.

And so I can say: Now, if you really want to get near the Master, and feel Him your close friend, your All in all, have you done anything out of the way? We hear that the ladies who want the vote are determined to starve themselves to death. Well, that is being in earnest. If you want to get to Christ, you must not mind doing something for the Saviour. Well, then, they could not get in at the door; the whole passage was full. They could not possibly get through the crowd round the door.

And how true that always is! And how true it is of the simple Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ! There are some people always blocking up the gangway. We cannot get to Him. There are the philosophers, the schoolmen, the logicians. There are the Catholic theologians, the Greek theologians, the Roman theologians, the Protestant theologians. They are all arguing, splitting hairs, talking against one another, proposing different theories, and then breaking them up. They choke the door full.

And if you read the reports of the Church congress, you think: "Oh, dear! What are we to believe and think? And they use such long words: there is Predestination! Transubstantiation! Immanence! Incomprehensible. And the poor simple old Gospel we used to love seems to be so difficult now. And we open our Bibles, and turn over the pages, and read this: "One thing is needful" (S. Luke x.42).

Oh, I am very glad there is only one thing - you would think from all the controversies that go on, there were about two thousand things needful! But the dear Lord says, "One thing is needful," and that is to sit at Jesus' feet, and hear His word.

Think! How is it that religion has become so difficult, with all the controversies, and the philosophies, and the old theologies, and the new theologies? You cannot-the passage to the door is full. Impossible! Oh, why have they blocked up the passage and made it so difficult, when we want Jesus Christ Himself?

Well, then, what must we do? We must do something. We must get to Him somehow, for He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (S. John xiv.6). You must get near Him. Brethren, you must do something by which you can get at Him.

Do you recollect Nicodemus? He was a man in high position in the Church and state - of unimpeachable, correct orthodoxy. And he went to the Master, and found Him. He did it secretly. He did not want anybody to know -Timid! Only Christ could help to lift up the dear soul. He was very timid at first. He went out secretly at night. And he saw the Master. And as he walked home at night, the whole heaven was full of stars, and every star trembled with glory. For had he not heard that he must be born again? And had not the Master spoken to him of heavenly things? He got near Him.

And we take another case: Here is the man who is despised - morally - we do not think much of him - Zacchaeus, a collector of taxes. And no doubt he made his riches by excessive increment. And if he was at a social disadvantage, so he was physically, for he was short of stature. But he climbed up the sycamore tree. That man would never have been the rich man he was if he had not been used to climbing! He climbed up the tree just to get a view. And the eyes of the Lord Jesus and the little man met! The Lord Jesus saw him, and said: "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house" (S. Luke xix.5)

And yet there is one more: the poor woman who said: "If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole" (S. Matt. ix.21). The poor woman! She pressed right through the crowd. In the midst of the throng she knelt down and touched the hem of His garment - just brushing it - that's all - but she became whole. And the Master noticed. And they said, "Master, you see how they throng Thee. Why dost Thou say, Who touched Me?" But the Master said, "Some finger has taken life out of Me" - "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole."

And she was made whole. You must get to the Master. You must. And if you say with the poor woman, May I? May I? I say, You must - you must. For this reason, He came down from Heaven and was Incarnate amongst us that He might get to you. You must get to Him.

Well, then, I should like to say again, of course, the process of getting to the Master may cause a good deal of disturbance. Of course, the removing of the roof from the house must have caused a lot of debris and dust, and no doubt it fell down on the people beneath. They broke up the roof. There was a great deal of disturbance. Even the getting to Him may cause a good deal of disturbance. Oh, yes - at home! The people in your village! Oh, we know it is not done quite easily, is it?

A clergyman who was talking to me of the S. Alban's clergy, said the other day: "Oh you know this, you fellows of S. Alban's, you have made such a disturbance in the Church of England." Don't you think it was necessary? Now come! In order to get the Establishment to have a Catholic and Evangelical nature, it was necessary to make a disturbance - but it was necessary. Anything to get any number of people to the Master.

You recollect that when the poor woman was sweeping up her room to find a piece of money that was lost, she must have kicked up a lot of dust in sweeping, but she found it. Now we must never make a disturbance for the sake of disturbing; but if we want to get any society - the Church - to the Master's feet, it may be necessary sometimes to do extravagant things.

And, last of all, just for ourselves, personally: it is not easy often for ourselves to get to the Master but we, too, must take some trouble. We must be in earnest about it. We must take the gates of Heaven by storm. The road up Calvary at times is a bit stiff. But it does not matter, if we get to the Master at the end, and kneel down, and kiss His feet, does it?

Along the road to Calvary is writ large, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (S. Luke ix.23). Along the road, that all may read. "In the last day that great of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." (S. John vii.37).

Why, Lord! we all thirst, and we come to Thee to drink of the water of everlasting life. I am sure you can say in your heart what I tell you this morning is true.