Alleluia: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Alleluia

This was the text of Fr Neil’s homily at the Solemn First Mass of Easter in the evening of 3 April

Christ indeed from death is risen

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Second Sunday of Easter (11 April)

Leaflet for Mass

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), c.1602; Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam“My Lord and my God!”

These are the profound words of Thomas as he encounters the risen Christ for the first time. Thomas has somewhat unfairly been labelled as ‘doubting Thomas’. He earned this name for not believing the witness of the other disciples to the risen Christ. Of course Thomas was not unique in his disbelief, as in Mark’s gospel all the apostles had refused to believe the witness of Mary Magdalene and were reproached by the Lord for ‘their incredulity and obstinacy’.

Did Thomas, in demanding signs, do anything more than what we would have done in his place? It’s all to easy to be swept along with the crowd and get caught up in wishful thinking. Perhaps it mattered too much to Thomas to allow that for which he hoped and yet daren’t believe to be decided by the thoughts of others. It’s not surprising that he should say, “Unless I…place my fingers in the marks of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas might have been using hyperbole in his rather dramatic statement to the other apostles. But with our Lord’s appearance, he is forced to make those words a reality. “Put your finger here and see my hands, and put out your hand and place it in my side.”

Thomas is left in no doubt about the physical reality of the resurrection of Christ. This is not just a nice idea, group delusion or hysteria but concrete reality. This physicality of the resurrection is fundamental. Our faith is incarnational: it cannot be reduced to a set of philosophical ideas, however good they are.

Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and social commentator who is not a Christian, uses the Judeo/Christian narrative to combat some of the extraordinary excesses of some modern-day thought and movements. However he is terrified that the narrative and the history might be one, that the narrative is true. He sees the consequences of that as being overwhelming.

Yet the Church rightly and deliberately roots the events of Christ, our salvation, in history. Pilate gets a mention in the Creeds exactly for this reason: to fix our belief in events that took place in time and space. We are not afforded the luxury of being existentialists, toying with ideas alone, but are called to live out that which we believe in our lives. It requires the conversion of our lives after the teaching and manner of Christ.

This embodying of our faith is why — however sophisticated live streaming of mass becomes — it cannot in anyway substitute being physically present at the representing of the sacrifice of the mass. The use of holy water, crossing ourselves, genuflecting before the Real Presence and the receiving of Our Lord in the sacrament are fundamental to our embodied faith.

Our reading from Acts then is not some primitive Socialist or even Communist manifesto, but a lived-out faith that responds with generosity of heart to our brother and sisters in need. It is the realisation that we must bring the internal self and our bodily existence in line with Christ. It is this that marks out the saints and is the means of our salvation. One of today’s great heresies is that the inner life and the body are separate realities often in conflict with each other. The Gospel speaks so profoundly against this. In Christ the spiritual and physical, heaven and earth, are reconciled. The inner conflict caused by the Fall has been overcome in his life, death and resurrection.

Of course some might say “…but Thomas and the apostles were privileged to walk, talk, and eat with Christ, they heard his teaching, saw the miracles and his crucifixion, burial and resurrection.” Yes, they were blessed to be witnesses to these events and as a consequence most were martyred because of it. However, our Lord offers a blessing for those who have not seen and yet believed.

Yet we also occupy a special position in that, as an Easter people, we have the whole of scripture, the Magisterium, the teachings of the Church and the witness of the apostles and saints throughout the ages that help unfold the revelation of the mystery of the resurrection. As Christ himself taught in relation to Lazarus and the rich man, “if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.”

But of course we do encounter the risen Christ — what is it that we think we are receiving in the Eucharist, if it is not the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ? That which we receive upon our tongue and take into ourselves is Christ, our life. We in turn are witnesses of these things and are called to take that which we have received unto the world that is lost without it. Let us reflect on this supernatural reality we participate in by saying to ourselves as we come to receive, that great confession, ‘My Lord and my God.’

John is at pains from the beginning of the gospel to to help us understand the physical and divine nature of Christ and that they matter — In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and was God…..and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Throughout the gospel we have the ‘I am’ sayings that refer back to the divine Name revealed to Moses at the burning bush. As if to book end the gospel, Thomas’ encounter with the physical resurrection of Christ leads to him to proclaim ‘my Lord and my God’. As John states himself ‘these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may life in his name.’

The editorial title to this article is a phrase from the Easter Sequence Victimae Paschali laudes attributed to Wipo of Burgundy (11th Century) in the customary English translation.

A new home

This year the Personal Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham celebrated ten years of its existence. In human terms the fact that we are still here after that length of time is against all the odds.

For this part of the Ordinariate, in Eastbourne, we have seen many joys and a few sorrows in the last ten years. The journey hasn’t always been easy as we have tried to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in being wholly a part of the Roman Catholic Church in this area, while also retaining the gifts and distinctive character that our Anglican heritage brings.

To establish ourselves at St Agnes, to whom we are most grateful, seemed natural given the history of the relationship between Christ Church, where most of us came from, and St Agnes. Good friendships were formed in particular through the Walsingham Cell and our annual ecumenical pilgrimage to Walsingham.

Our slot became 4pm on Sunday afternoon at St Agnes and this has served us well over the years. However, for the last couple of years I have become aware that, having embedded ourselves and parts of our liturgical life within the Catholic Church, there needs to be a second phase of development. After much deliberation and in the light of my appointment three years ago as parish priest at Christ the King with St Joachim’s, this next phase will be best served by moving our main Sunday Mass from St Agnes to Christ the King. We will start with a 4pm Mass on Easter Sunday at Christ the King. There may need to be other adjustments as we settle in to this new phase, but this change will give us greater scope in developing the life of the Ordinariate within the wider Catholic Church.

Fr Thomas to lead the Darlington Ordinariate Mission

Dear friends,

It was a little under three years ago that I was first told that I would be coming to minister to you in Eastbourne. I have to confess that at the time I had never even set foot in the town, and only had a vague sense of where it was. But trusting in God, I journeyed here and was immediately met by a very welcoming community.

As I was straight out of seminary, and had not yet gained any significant experience of parish life, I am sure that I have made many mistakes but have been privileged to try and serve Christ and you over this time. My position in Eastbourne was always to be a temporary one, the chance to learn under the guidance of a more experienced Priest before being set loose on my own parish.

The Ordinary has decided that the time has come for me to move on and to care for my own parish; therefore I will be moving to become Group Pastor of the Darlington Ordinariate Mission, and Parish Priest of Barnard Castle & Gainford (in the Diocese of Hexham & Newcastle). I will be in Eastbourne until the end of May, with precise details to be confirmed — I hope that this will provide chance to say good-bye in an appropriate fashion.

Please do keep me in your prayers as I prepare to move on, and to pray for the people of my new pastoral charge — be assured that I will keep you all in my prayers.

I am immensely grateful for the welcome which I have received ever since I first arrived, to Fr. Neil for his guidance, and shall certainly carry a part of Eastbourne with me in my heart as I leave.

Blessings,
Fr. Thomas.

The Cross shines forth

Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Passion Sunday (21 March)

Leaflet for Mass

Image via pxhere.com“I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

This subject of glory is one which permeates S. John’s account of the Gospel. It is a central part of God’s existence — that he is glorious, and therefore that his name is particularly glorious. When Moses received the Ten Commandments for the second time, he asked that be given the chance to see God’s glory; God consented to this in part, Moses couldn’t see God’s face and still live — because his humanity would be unable to cope with such majesty and glory — but he got to see his back, the traces and remnants after God had passed by. As God passed Moses, he cried out his glorious name: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious.” Even this encounter was enough that Moses’ face shone with the reflection of God’s glory.

And now, in Christ, that glory is being proclaimed again. But it is being proclaimed in a very different way. That glory is being found in what Christ does. The Father tells us that his name has been glorified in Christ’s actions — in his virgin birth, in his miracles, in his teachings, at his baptism; and that it will be glorified again in what Christ has yet to do — to be crucified and to die for us all.

When we consider these two events — the giving of the law, and the crucifixion one of them strikes us as far more glorious than the other. We have a whole scene set for glorious works — a mountain covered with clouds, booming voices, Moses having to hide in a small gap in the rock so that the glory doesn’t extinguish his entire being, and then tablets of stone having the very words of God carved into them as a gift to his people. The glory really can’t be missed.

By contrast, the scene of an execution. Some women weeping, only one of his closest followers still there, jeering crowds and vicious soldiers. It seems like the absolute opposite of glory. But yet, but yet there at the heart of it all is God, and God is doing God’s work. God’s work is glorious. Of these two events — giving the law, and the crucifixion, it is only in the outward appearance that the former is more glorious. The truth is that there has been no event in human history more full of the glory of God than that man hanging on that Cross and slowly dying. But it is only with the eyes of faith that we can see that glory.

Throughout his life on earth, Christ’s glory was kept hidden — that tiny baby presented at the Temple gave no sign of his glory. The man walking around and talking to the crowds may have had a great eloquence, but his glory was kept away from the gaze of the crowds. It was revealed in part at his Baptism as the dove descended and the voice boomed out; it was shown to his senior apostles at the Transfiguration — but otherwise it was thoroughly veiled and hidden. So too on the Cross — as Gerard Manley Hopkins translated S. Thomas Aquinas — “On the Cross thy Godhead gave no sign to men.” But yet here was the moment when God is, by his own words, glorifying his name again.

The point is that Christ is showing us what God’s glory really means. When it is encountered without any veil, it is simply too much for us as humans to see — this is why Moses could only see God’s back once he had passed. When we have booming voices and clouds descending on mountains, we can fail to hear the message at the heart of it. God’s glory, that glory which Christ had been manifesting throughout his time on earth, is deeply connected with love for others — that’s what God is all about.

God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, could have spent eternity simply sharing that love with themselves — but God wanted to have a creation on which he could lavish that love. Man having been put as the crowning pinnacle of that creation rebelled and walked away from God and into sin. But God still wanted to love him — and so Christ became man. All of this is showing the love of God, which is his glory. God the Son shows his love for the Father by submitting himself to his plans — even when this means becoming man and dying on the Cross.

The point at the heart of this is that the Cross is the ultimate symbol of God’s love; and therefore of God’s glory.

God is showing his glory to the world by allowing himself, in the Incarnate Son, to be lifted up from the earth. That lifted-up Christ is shining out to the whole world with the simple words “God is love”. Love which is willing to go to any extent, even the death of the Cross, to call us back from our sins. This is why the Cross is glorious, this is why when Christ is lifted up this glorifies God’s name, this is why by being lifted up Christ will draw all men to himself.

What of our response? This drama is not undertaken simply to satisfy God — this is calling us, calling us back to God. Calling us to consider where we have walked away from God, where we have allowed sin to reign in our hearts — where we have not reflected that glory of God. Then it calls us to repent, and to leave those sins behind because we can embrace God’s glory, we can embrace the Cross.

This embrace is far from easy — the Cross is a reality, a challenging and painful reality. But it is the only route which can take us back to God. By reflecting on what God has done, by reflecting on his glory shown to the world in the Cross, we can come to that Cross, accept our own crosses, and through them receive from God the forgiveness which we need; the healing which we need; the love which we need.

The editorial title to this article is a phrase from “The royal banners forward go” by Venantius Fortunatus (530–609), tr John Mason Neale.

Lifted to life

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Fourth Sunday in Lent (14 March)

Leaflet for Mass

The Brazen Serpent, Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), 1618–1620; Museo del Prado, Madrid“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

This verse is probably the most well known in all of scripture. I am sure I am not the only one to remember the old guy in his Union Jack top hat holding a big placard with this verse on at all England international games.

That depth of that divine love is revealed by Christ in a conversation with Nicodemus when he utters these incredible words, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.’ This lifting up indicates the depths to which humanity has fallen and from which it must be saved.

Our reading from the second Book of Chronicles illustrates this well with the unfaithfulness of the priests and people and how their actions were abominable, polluting the temple of God’s presence, rejecting the commandments and despising the prophets. The inevitable consequences are the judgement of God and the collapse of their society into disorder and self-destruction: their abandonment to sin, physically revealed by their exile into captivity in Babylon.

We should not be surprised that our own society is falling into disintegration as it in turn abandons God, the Church and her teachings. There is worse to come as the judgement of God also abandons us to the captivity of our own self-corruption: spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical suffering and death is not only accepted but applauded, and is slowly being written into the law of the land.

The image that Christ chooses at this point as an illustration is informative. He uses the well-known story from the Book of Numbers where yet again the people of God moan against God and Moses even to the point that they speak about ‘loathing this worthless food’ in reference to the heavenly manna — the bread of angels. The fiery serpents are sent among them — in Hebrew seraph, which may allude to the angel of death that passed over Egypt. Certainly these fiery serpents are a symbol of death and their bite is death itself. The people’s only salvation and healing was to look upon that which was raised up on the pole.

The image of a serpent lifted up is interesting. It is the serpent in the garden of Eden that led to man’s fall, bringing sin and death into the world. Only when death is nailed and lifted up upon the cross ‘that whoever believes in him may have eternal life,’ can Man be healed of the sting of death.

It seems that humanity has had written into our consciousness that death is somehow the answer to our problems. From the moment Cain thought that the murder of his brother Abel was an answer to his problem, we have diabolically misapplied this deeper truth. Wars and terror attacks, murder, the annihilation objectification and enslavement of others, the mutilation of our bodies, destruction of marriage, the killing of the unborn — and the euthanasia of the elderly, suffering and disabled — are all enacted and justified as if they are an answer to our deepest problems.

Only now are we beginning to grasp the depth of God’s love for us revealed in Christ. It is his death and his lifting up upon the cross that provides the answer to our alienation and desire for reconciliation.

As we heard, St Paul also refers in his epistle to God’s mercy and ‘the great love with which he loved us.’ He unfolds this mystery a little further in a letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:21) when he writes of Christ, “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The serpent is the image of death and Christ not only became sin for our sake, but as Lord of life he embraces death — and nails it to the cross so that he might put an end to death and make it the means of our salvation.

Christ had already anticipated these events when before his Passion he had told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The Lord raised up upon the Cross is the One we are to look towards to find the healing for the sting of death. We are to embrace the Cross and know that, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

It is why we cannot, as has been the modern trend, lose the language of talking about the sacrifice of the Mass, the death that was embraced so that we might receive and participate in the resurrected and divine life.

There is no true life and love experienced in our fallen world without the need for a dying to self. The divine mercy and love revealed by Christ show the depths to which God was willing to go that he might make us alive together with Christ and raise us up with him.

“For God did not send the Son into the world, to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”