Called to be One

Open-air Mass at the National Shrine

Open-air Mass at the National Shrine

Called to be One is an exploration day designed for people who are not currently members of the Ordinariate but who are interested in the vision for truth and unity in communion with the successor of Peter which it offers, and who wish to learn more about it.

Ordinariate groups across the country are organising activities to show those who want to know more what it means to be part of this great ecumenical project. Our programme is as follows — there are lots of other groups doing things as well. The programme here in Eastbourne has many of the elements of a pilgrimage to Walsingham.

10:00 The day starts in the hall at St Agnes
Blessing of the new Statue of Our Lady of Walsingham
10:15 Procession into church
First Visit and Intercessions
Rosary
11:15 Coffee: Refreshments are available
11:40 Presentation, questions and answers
Including a video presentation
12:40 Lunch. Please bring lunch. Drinks available
1:40 The afternoon starts in the hall at St Agnes
Sprinkling
1:55 Exposition and Sacrament of Reconciliation
2:55 Benediction
3:00 Tea: Refreshments are available
After 3:30 Evensong

We expect the day to finish around 4:15, when Confessions start before the Parish Mass at 5:00. The Ordinariate celebrates Mass on Sunday 7 September at 4:00 as usual.

Being enhanced by the Weak.

As you may have noticed, Fr Neil has recently discovered Twitter. He enjoys its format and, in the middle of writing his sermon, will often tweet. Getting his thoughts down to 140 characters helps with the process. He also likes keeping up with a selection of MotoGP riders.

However, this morning Twitter was not interesting and entertaining, for up on his feed popped up an interchange involving Richard Dawkins. As Dawkins is not Catholic nor an incredibly talented motorbike rider, this was unusual. Curiosity turned to horror as Neil read a conversation, in which this New Atheist prophet puts forward the principle that it is immoral not to abort a baby diagnosed in pre-natal tests as having Downs Syndrome. The force of his argument seemed to be around the idea that Downs Syndrome people do not enhance society. In one tweet he says that those on the Autistic spectrum are acceptable to him because they can and do ‘enhance society’ although he doesn’t specify how. I imagine he is talking about those on the ‘higher functioning’ end of the Spectrum.

This is pure eugenics, where an individual’s worth is determined by an arbitrary concept of what it is to ‘enhance’ society. This, of course, is a highly debatable concept but I’m guessing (and I might be wrong here) that Dawkins’ concept revolves round intellectual capacity and the superiority of the intellect. Whatever the prejudice underlying his views, this idea of ‘enhancement’ is highly problematic. Who defines who ‘enhances’ society? How is contribution to be defined? Once you start putting conditions on someone’s worth you stray into dangerous moral territory. Where do you draw the line? If you move away from the standpoint that all human life has utter intrinsic value, you leave the weak and vulnerable in great danger.

The Twitter conversation was in stark contrast to the writing of Henri Nouwen. Last Lent we used his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son” as our study book. It is a profound, beautifully written account of Nouwen’s own spiritual life after encountering Rembrandt’s painting of the same name.

In the Epilogue Nouwen writes about his move to a L’Arche Community. Nouwen had spent much of his life in academia, including time at both Yale and Harvard, among some of the most talented of intellectuals.

He writes:
“The L’Arche community gradually became my home. Never in my life did I dream that men and women with mental handicap would be the ones who would put their hands on me in a gesture of blessing and offer me a home. For a long time, I had sought safety and security among the wise and clever, hardly aware that the things of the Kingdom were revealed to “little children”; that God has chosen “those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise.”

But when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about, and experience a loving embrace from people who didn’t ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. The embrace of the Father became very real to me in the embraces of the mentally poor.”

Later Nouwen continues:

“Life in community does not keep the darkness away. To the contrary, it seems that the light that attracted me to L’Arche also made me conscious of the darkness in myself. Jealousy, anger, the feeling of being rejected or neglected, the sense of not truly belonging – all of these emerge in the context of a community striving for a life of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Community life has opened me up to the real spiritual combat: the struggle to keep moving towards the light precisely when the darkness is so real…Handicapped people have little to lose. Without guile they show me who they are. They openly express their love as well as their fear, their gentleness as well as their anguish, their generosity as well as their selfishness. By just simply being who they are, they break through my sophisticated defences and demand that I be as open with them as they are with me. Their handicap unveils my own. Their vulnerabilities show me my own. By forcing me to confront the elder son in me, L’Arche opened the way to bring him home. The same handicapped people who welcomed me home and invited me to celebrate also confronted me with my not yet converted self and made me aware that the journey was far from ended.”

As Nouwen lays bear the spiritual experience of his life at L’Arche, we see how this dynamic of welcome and challenge, changed profoundly who he was. His awareness of himself, and of his vocation, deepened because he had to face the darkest parts of his personality and embrace an uncomfortable vulnerability. Something happens to us when we look at our own weakness, our faults and our poverty. It is painful but ultimately transforming to see where we are impatient, selfish, and incompetent and where we hate. For Nouwen this gift did not come from amongst the “clever” or “gifted” at America’s top two universities. It did not happen in the closed world of academia. His life was ‘enhanced’ by those many despise, fear and ignore. The change brought about by this blessed uncomfortable life in community is profound. Through it Nouwen discovers himself. It is a gift that is seen in all its glory as he writes openly and honestly. He passes on what he has received through vulnerability from those with learning difficulties.

Nouwen shows us clearly, what lies in his heart during his own journey. With Dawkins we can only wonder at what goes on inside his heart to reveal how he despises the weak, (you have to despise or hate a group of people if you want them terminated just because they are genetically different.) Is it an engagement with weakness and vulnerability that he fears – doesn’t hatred often come from fear? Is it, like Nouwen, the reluctance to be open to that darker side of jealously, selfishness, arrogance and the fear of not belonging? We may well never know. As long as Dawkins continues to call for those who are weak and lacking ‘normal’ intellect to be aborted he can never respond to the invitation that people with learning difficulties, including those with Downs Syndrome, offer him. All the time he defines people by an arbitrary understanding of “enhancing society” those who offer a homecoming through their poverty can never bless him. We are left asking, who is the truly impoverished one here?

St Ignatius and thinking with the Church: Context and Disposition.

I was reflecting recently on St Ignatius’ ‘Rules for thinking with the Church.’ In our journey from the Anglican Communion to being part of the Catholic Church, the riches of tradition and teaching have been a rare and beautiful gain. It is a gain that is both freeing and challenging. I find St Ignatius’ rules, therefore very helpful as I learn more.

When looking at the rules there are a couple of things to remember. First, St Ignatius was living in a time that was at least as turbulent as ours. The Reformation was in full swing, religion and power often went hand in hand, with disastrous and unjust consequences across Europe. In some senses media and the Internet disseminates information, ideas and propaganda incredibly quickly and this provides a similar turbulence in our own time. Our engagement with this media can be fast and unthinking. It is tempting to take on ideas without properly thinking them through.

Secondly, the ‘Rules’ come within the context of the Spiritual Exercises. St Ignatius’ aim in the exercises is that a person would be drawn into an ever-deeper relationship with God. His main concern was the ‘orientating of the soul towards God.’ The rules for thinking (or feeling- of being of one heart) with Christ’s Church are all contributing to this aim.

The exercises begin by focusing on the goodness, generosity and mercy of God. They also look at those things that get in the way of a truly free response to our Creator. St Ignatius is very aware, from his own experience and that of his companions and friends, of the part our sinful self plays in our lives. St Ignatius saw how our sinful nature allowed our ‘self’ to take over and run amok in our spiritual lives. He also saw how we can be ‘blown this way and that’ by turbulence of our particular time. His rules for thinking with the Church are designed to free us from this in our approach to the issues of our day and to God’s revelation of himself, through the Church.

There are quite a few rules but they can be grouped in several categories, which I want to look at, over a couple of posts. The first rule, itself, is a stark reminder. St Ignatius writes “Laying aside all judgment of our own, we should keep our minds disposed and ready to obey in everything the true bride of Christ our Lord, which is our Holy mother the hierarchical Church. (Paragraph 353).

This underpins all that comes later. One thing that is important here is the attitude Ignatius wants us to have in relation to anything to do with the Church. This attitude can be summed up in the words ‘humility’ and ‘balance.’

When we engage with the Church, of which we are a part, we need to be prepared that we might be wrong. Today the Internet, the media and conversations are often full of entrenched opinions. It is easy to be opinionated. “I know what is right and I’m going to get it across.” It can be summed up by the cartoon of an individual on the computer, whose partner is asking them to come to bed. They refuse because “Someone is wrong on the Internet.”

St Ignatius describes this balance in his Principle and Foundation. David Fleming SJ translates one particular line as “In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance…For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.” It is this balance that allows us to “Find God in all things” including in our relationship with his Church.

First, when we engage with the Church’s teaching we need to have this open disposition. Secondly, we need to remember what the Church is. In the second part of this rule St Ignatius describes the Church as the true bride of Christ and our mother. Michael Ivens writes “The two images of spouse and mother, standing respectfully for the Church’s relationship to Christ and to ourselves, express the mystery of the Church. For Ignatius they were powerful images with strong affective overtones and together they establish the characteristic ‘filial’ quality of his ecclesial spirituality.”

Do we really believe that the Church is the Bride of Christ? Do we really believe she is our mother? If we do, then this has implications. The Church is not a human institution. It is God’s. We do not own it. Another question arises. If the Church is God’s, do we trust God to use the Church to bring about his purposes? If we don’t trust God in this maybe we need to look a whole lot closer at our relationship with him. It is a common problem, not trusting God. However, if we are prepared to trust we must not assume that the Church is wrong when we, as individuals, disagree with part of its teaching. Maybe there is something in a particular teaching that we need to investigate.

And there is another facet to this, which George Ashenbrenner SJ describes like this. “The attitude presented is that of someone fully within the Church. The preposition within catches this refinement. We, as any localised group of believers, never own the Church, because the Church is Christ’s spouse. Yet, as God’s embracing a variety of roles of service, we all constitute the Church.” There is not ‘me’ or ‘us’ and ‘The Church’ as separate entities. We cannot stand outside ‘The Church’ and pass judgement on ‘it’ as if ‘it’ were an object. In our life in Christ, we are caught up into the Church, a member of His bride, part of his body.

To sum up, in our relationship to the Church we have to make sure we are open to what God is doing. For this we need humility and balance and we need to remember that the Church belongs to God and trust that, despite what we see, He is working his purposes out. This is why St Ignatius asks us to set aside our own judgment, to let go of our own opinions. And there is also something more. Ashenbrenner again. “The intimately personal love you have for the risen Jesus spills over into a love for his spouse the Church. A similar personal love of commitment is involved in relating to the Church as a dearly beloved mother.” With this attitude we are more able to access the riches of the Churches teaching and deepen our knowledge and love of God.

The Ordinary writes on the Assisted Dying Bill

The Ordinary, the Rt Revd Msgr Keith Newton PA

The Ordinary, the Rt Revd Msgr Keith Newton PA

The Assisted Dying Bill has its Second Reading in the House of Lords on Friday 18 July. If it became law it would make incitement to suicide routine in our society, thereby putting pressure on the most vulnerable to see themselves as a burden to society. The Church’s teaching is clear: that human life, from conception to natural death, is a gift from God. Christ calls us to offer those facing serious illness care and hope, not despair and killing. The emergence of the hospice movement, which has enabled great progress in palliative care, is one of the fruits of this Christian calling common to Catholics, Anglicans and other Christians. The Assisted Dying Bill is a rejection of this Christian inheritance, and instead promotes what Pope St John Paul II called a ‘culture of death’.

Information on lobbying Peers can be found here:
www.catholicchurch.org.uk/Home/Featured/Assisted-Dying-Bill/Contact-a-Peer

This conflict against the culture of death is first of all a spiritual one, and therefore I invite members of the Ordinariate and others to dedicate some time today (Thursday 17 July) or tomorrow (Friday 18 July) to pray — if possible before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament — for the upholding of the sanctity of human life.

Homily for Easter 4: Encountering Christ, preaching the Gospel.

We encounter the preaching of the Apostle Peter following his incredible encounter with the Risen Lord, the breathing of Jesus upon them with the words “Receive the Holy Spirit” and the manifestation of that Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This series of events transform the fearful disciples into Apostles, the denying Peter into the Rock on which the Church is built. As Peter preached, so the Church is called to preach the same Gospel, echoing down the centuries. The good news that God in Christ Jesus has overcome sin and death and opened the gates to Paradise. The way to that place of paradise in via the leading of the Good Shepherd through the Valley of the shadow of death as Psalm 23 says. The Valley of the Shadow of death is none other than the way of the cross- the gate to the new pastures of Paradise.

This way of conversion by repentance is no stroll in the park but often a narrow and difficult path. It comes with trials and often suffering as we seek to throw off the old Adam by dying to self and living to God. It is our own journey of the cross. The Gospel of Christ then is something that we not only in apostolic obedience, need to preach to what has become this, our own pervese generation. But it of course is a gospel by which we ourselves need to live our lives in a process of continual conversion of heart.

Then we will be able to fulfil our baptismal vocation by backing up what we preach by what we seek to do and how we seek to live our lives. Preaching in word and deed to the glory of Christ.

Homily from Easter 3: Seeing the Risen Christ at the breaking of bread.

In the Gospel we encounter the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Their journey was taking them away from Jerusalem and the temple which was a vivid sign of God’s presence in the midst of this people. Why they were travelling this road is not clear. However, there is a powerful symbolic gesture in their journeying away from God’s presence. The two are obviously still muddled with sadness about the events they witnessed around Jesus’ arrest and execution. With these events some of their own hopes and dreams had died too. This despite the rumours from the women about a vision of angels and an empty tomb. They could not get beyond Jesus’ death.

We also have hope and dreams and, at a certain points in our life, we often wake up to the realisation that we have wondered far away from where we had hoped to be- and wondered “How on earth did I end up here?” One of the great comforts in this gospel is the knowledge that no matter how far we wander away from where we’d hoped and God wants us to be, God in Christ Jesus never leaves us and is always seeking to open our eyes of understanding.

In the resurrection, the mercy seat is no longer left behind in the temple but draws along side us. Even if, like the two on the road, we don’t recognise that Jesus is with us in many different guises. Not knowing Jesus, the disciples enter into the Bible study of all Christendom! What they learn is that only in Jesus can we understand the past, make sense of the present and have true hope for the future. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega- the beginning and end of everything.

The very moment, for whatever reason, we decide to come to mass, we begin a journey, on which we will encounter the scriptures. If our desire is to know Jesus then those scriptures can start to unfold for us, our spirit quickens, as we allow the word of God to take root in our hearts. It is engagement with the unfolding of scripture, viewing the world through the lens of Jesus, that prepares and makes it possible for the two disciples to have their eyes opened to see Jesus in the actions of the priest and the sacrament of his body and blood.

The response of the disciples, to this encounter with the living Lord Jesus at the breaking of bread, was their need to go and tell someone, anyone that the Lord is risen. We, in our turn, after receiving Jesus-the one who has triumphed over sin and death and opened the gates of heaven to us- are also sent out to proclaim bear witness to someone, anyone, about Jesus our Saviour in what we say and do. The moment we leave this building the moment our mission as witnesses of Christ begins. Christ has risen! He has risen indeed.