Saturday, February 15, 2020

Ash Wednesday at All Saints' Benhilton

Your invitation to join us for the beginning of Lent . . .


(Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Lourdes and healing love



O God, 
who in the Blessed Virgin Mary
consecrated a dwelling fit for your Son:
Grant that we, 
celebrating the appearing of Our Lady to Saint Bernadette,
may receive healing both in body and soul;
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.


Anglicans often try to compare Lourdes and Walsingham; but I think that is wrong. Each of Our Lady's shrines has its own particular charism, its own emphasis, and its unique ministry. I do believe that God has graced the shrine at Lourdes in a special way, and, through the intercession of Our Lady, millions who have prayed in that holy place over the last 162 years have experienced the healing power of Jesus and the refreshing of the Holy Spirit ("the rivers of living water"). Hebrews 11:6 says that God rewards those who seek him. To go on prayerful pilgrimage to this place that he has particularly graced (or other places like it) enables us to be open to his love, and as a result we experience a spiritual renewal or receive some other precious gift from him.

If you are ever in France, you MUST visit Lourdes. You can get there on an overnight train from Paris. As well as accommodation for the well-heeled, the town has some very basic and cheap places to stay if you are on a shoestring budget. It's good to book in for for two or three days and join in the pilgrimage devotions. Read, pray, stroll around. You will be blessed.

Scroll down, and after the photographs there is the homily preached by the then Archbishop of Canterbury at the Society of Mary Lourdes Pilgrimage in 2008.









Archbishop Rowan Williams’ Homily 
at the Society of Mary Pilgrimage 
to Lourdes, 2008

(From the archive of his speeches and sermons 
as Archbishop of Canterbury HERE.)

The babe in my womb leaped for joy.’  (Luke 1.44)

Mary comes to visit Elizabeth, carrying Jesus in her womb. The Son of God is still invisible – not yet born, not even known about by Elizabeth; yet Elizabeth recognises Mary as bearing within her the hope and desire of all nations, and life stirs in the deep places of her own body. The one who will prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist, moves as if to greet the hope that is coming, even though it cannot yet be seen.

Mary appears to us here as the first missionary, ‘the first messenger of the gospel’ as Bishop Perrier of Lourdes has called her: the first human being to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to another;   and she does it simply by carrying Christ within her. She reminds us that mission begins not in delivering a message in words but in the journey towards another person with Jesus in your heart. She testifies to the primary importance of simply carrying Jesus, even before there are words or deeds to show him and explain him. This story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is in many ways a very strange one;  it’s not about the communication of rational information from one speaker to another, but a primitive current of spiritual electricity running from the unborn Christ to the unborn Baptist.  But mission it undoubtedly is, because it evokes recognition and joy. Something happens that prepares the way for all the words that will be spoken and the deeds that will be done. The believer comes with Christ dwelling in them by faith, and God makes that current come alive, and a response begins, not yet in words or commitments, but simply in recognising that here is life.

When Mary came to Bernardette, she came at first as an anonymous figure, a beautiful lady, a mysterious ‘thing’, not yet identified as the Lord’s spotless Mother. And Bernardette – uneducated, uninstructed in doctrine – leapt with joy, recognising that here was life, here was healing.  Remember those accounts of her which speak of her graceful, gliding movements at the Lady’s bidding;  as if she, like John in Elizabeth’s womb, begins to dance to the music of the Incarnate Word who is carried by his Mother.  Only bit by bit does Bernardette find the words to let the world know;  only bit by bit, we might say, does she discover how to listen to the Lady and echo what she has to tell us.

So there is good news for all of us who seek to follow Jesus’ summons to mission in his Name; and good news too for all who find their efforts slow and apparently futile, and for all who still can’t find their way to the ‘right’ words and the open commitment. Our first and overarching task is to carry Jesus, gratefully and faithfully, with us in all our doings: like St Teresa of Avila, we might do this quite prosaically by having with us always a little picture or a cross in our pockets, so that we constantly ‘touch base’ with the Lord. We can do it by following the guidance of the Orthodox spiritual tradition and repeating silently the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner’. And if we are faithful in thus carrying Christ with us, something will happen, some current will stir and those we are with will feel, perhaps well below the conscious surface, a movement of life and joy which they may not understand at all. And we may never see it or know about it; people may not even connect it with us, yet it will be there – because Jesus speaks always to what is buried in the heart of men and women, the destiny they were made for. Whether they know it or not, there is that within them which is turned towards him. Keep on carrying Jesus and don’t despair: mission will happen, in spite of all, because God in Christ has begun his journey into the heart.

And when we encounter those who say they would ‘like to believe’ but can’t, who wonder how they will ever find their way to a commitment that seems both frightening and hard to understand, we may have something to say to them too:  ‘Don’t give up;  try and hold on to the moments of deep and mysterious joy; wait patiently for something to come to birth in you.’ It certainly isn’t for us as Christians to bully and cajole, and to try and force people into commitments they are not ready to make – but we can and should seek to be there, carrying Jesus, and letting his joy come through, waiting for the leap of recognition in someone’s heart.

Of course, as often as not, we ourselves are the one who need to hear the good news; we need people around us who carry Jesus, because we who call ourselves believers all have our moments of confusion and loss of direction. Others fail us or hurt us;  the Church itself may seem confused or weak or even unloving, and we don’t feel we are being nourished as we need, and directed as we should be. Yet this story of Mary and Elizabeth tells us that the Incarnate Word of God is always already on the way to us, hidden in voices and faces and bodies familiar and unfamiliar. Silently, Jesus is constantly at work, and he is seeking out what is deepest in us, to touch the heart of our joy and hope.

Perhaps when we feel lost and disillusioned, he is gently drawing us away from a joy or a hope that is only human, limited to what we can cope with or what we think on the surface of our minds that we want. Perhaps it’s part of a journey towards his truth, not just ours. We too need to look and listen for the moments of recognition and the leap of joy deep within. It may be when we encounter a person in whom we sense that the words we rather half-heartedly use about God are a living and actual reality. (That’s why the lives of the saints, ancient and modern, matter so much.) It may be when a moment of stillness or wonder suddenly overtakes us in the middle of a familiar liturgy that we think we know backwards, and we have for a second the feeling that this is the clue to everything – if only we could put it into words. It may be when we come to a holy place, soaked in the hopes and prayers of millions, and suddenly see that, whatever we as individuals may be thinking or feeling, some great reality is moving all around and beneath and within us, whether we grasp it or not. These are our ‘Elizabeth’ moments – when life stirs inside, heralding some future with Christ that we can’t yet get our minds around.

It’s very tempting to think of mission as something to be done in the same way we do – or try to do – so much else, with everything depending on planning and assessments of how we’re doing, and whether the results are coming out right. For that matter, it’s tempting to think of the Church’s whole life in these sorts of terms. Of course we need to use our intelligence, we need to be able to tell the difference between good and bad outcomes, we need to marshal all the skill and enthusiasm we can when we respond to God’s call to share his work of transforming the world through Jesus and his Spirit. But Mary’s mission tells us that there is always a deeper dimension, grounded in the Christ who is at work unknown and silent, reaching out to the deeply buried heart of each person and making the connection; living faithfully at the heart of the Church itself, in the middle of its disasters and betrayals and confusions, still giving himself without reserve.  All that we call ‘our’ mission depends on this; and if we are wise, we know that we are always going to be surprised by the echoes and connections that come to life where we are not expecting it. 

True mission is ready to be surprised by God – ‘surprised by joy’, in the lovely phrase of  C. S. Lewis. Elizabeth knew the whole history of Israel and how it was preparing the way for God to come and visit his people – but she was still surprised into newness of life and understanding when the child leapt in her womb. Bernardette’s neighbours and teachers and parish clergy knew all they thought they needed to know about the Mother of God – and they needed to be surprised by this inarticulate, powerless, marginal teenager who had leapt up in the joy of recognition to meet Mary as her mother, her sister, bearer of her Lord and Redeemer. Our prayer here must be that, renewed and surprised in this holy place, we may be given the overshadowing strength of the Spirit to carry Jesus wherever we go, in the hope that joy will leap from heart to heart in all our human encounters;  and that we may also be given courage to look and listen for that joy in our own depths when the clarity of the good news seems far away and the sky is cloudy. 


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas)

This is your invitation to join us at All Saints' Benhilton 
for the great Feast of Candlemas this coming Sunday.


Click image to enlarge


Monday, January 27, 2020

75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz



Today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, near Krakow in Poland. In 2011 I had a week in Krakow, and on the Tuesday was able to take a bus to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp and spend the day wandering around. It was bitterly cold, and - as you will see in the photos - there were very few other visitors or tourists. My visit included a pilgrimage to the cell of S. Maximilian Kolbe - one of my heroes. 

The memory of that day is still vivid in my mind - a chilling reminder that while we (rightly) celebrate the heights of love, creativity, beauty and truth to which the human spirit can soar, we dare not overlook the incredible depths of cruelty, hatred and evil to which it can sink.

Just a few days ago at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem honouring the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945, Prince Charles reminded world leaders of this truth. He spoke of the extermination of six million Jewish people during World War II as a "universal human tragedy" that has had a deep impact on all of us, and that must not be forgotten. He said the "lessons of the Holocaust are searingly relevant to this day", pointing out that "hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims." He is right.

I share with you today, on this anniversary, the photographs I took at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp (click on them to enlarge):









































Friday, January 17, 2020

Father Stanton preaching on today's Gospel (Mark 2:1-12), "To Get to Jesus"



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 maintain, 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 we 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 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.