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.

Week of Guided Prayer 6–13 July


A week of guided prayer — a sort of “retreat at home” — is being offered to members of all the communities at St Agnes in July. We have a page of details and a form to sign up. Because arrangements have to be made with prayer guides from outside the parish, there’s a deadline of Sunday 11 May.

We need no wings to go in search of God, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.
— S Teresa of Avila

Two new Saints of the Church

The enrolment of new saints happens at the start of the Canonisation Mass, so that the newly-recognised saints are included in the Canon of the Mass and acknowledged throughout the celebration. At the Mass, the reading from 1 Peter 1:3–9 was read in Polish. The Order of Service has been published by the Vatican, and the whole celebration is available via YouTube video. This is the text of the Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis.

At the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.

Duccio, Maestà altarpiece, Siena: The Incredulity of St Thomas

He had already shown those wounds when he first appeared to the Apostles on the very evening of that day following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection. But, as we heard, Thomas was not there that evening, and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he replied that unless he himself saw and touched those wounds, he would not believe. A week later, Jesus appeared once more to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and Thomas was present; Jesus turned to him and told him to touch his wounds. Whereupon that man, so straightforward and accustomed to testing everything personally, knelt before Jesus with the words: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, cf. Is 53:5).

Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia* of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.

They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.

This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47), as we heard in the second reading. It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.

This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us. John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader, led by the Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.

In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.


Text from Vatican Radio website | Order of Service | Video of Service
* outspokenness