Friday, 24 September 2010

Praying to Blessed John Henry for the Return of "Thoughtful Apostates"

On 20th September The Very Revd Gerard Deighan preached on the subject of Blessed John Henry Newman, in Newman’s own church, the Catholic University Church in Dublin, on the occasion of a Mass in honour of Newman’s beatification.

If you have not yet been able to read this brilliant sermon, posted on 23rd September on the Rorate Caeli blog, I urge you to make the time to do so. It is absolutely wonderful.

Unfortunately Rorate Caeli doesn’t seem to have a facility to link to the specific posting. Please follow the link to the blog, and scroll down to 23rd September.

As you would expect, the sermon covers the broad range of Newman’s life and thought, including the true understanding of his writings on conscience, and his implacable opposition to liberalism in religion. It also reflects on his work as a pastor of souls, and his gift for friendship. But in my present post I would like to tell you what happened when I read the following passage from the sermon, which deals with his faithfulness, as a priest and as a friend, in praying for others:

“I have in mind that prayer for which Newman is best remembered: his prayer of intercession. As a man of prayer he had no pretensions. He was no St Teresa or St John of the Cross. When he prayed, it generally involved poring over long lists which he made out, and kept scrupulously up to date, of the people he wished to pray for. In this he is a model to us. Firstly, a model of caring for others so much as to keep them in our thoughts, and in our hearts; but also a model of bringing our loving thoughts of others before God, and asking Him to care for them, and bless them, and heal them, or forgive them, or grant them eternal rest. Newman was a faithful intercessor while here on earth; and now that he is in heaven we can be sure his power of intercession is even greater. So here is my second concrete exhortation to you this evening: Pray to Blessed John Henry! Pray for all your needs, and for those of your friends and foes!”

Isn’t that beautiful? I smiled at the reference to the long lists he used to keep; how endearingly human that sounds! But as I read this passage, I was suddenly filled with tearful thoughts of loved ones (and I am often in tears when I think of them) who have moved away from the fullness of the Church to worship elsewhere; or who have ceased to be Christian, while retaining a firm belief in God. I long so much for them to return! And as I read, I was moved to pray to Blessed Cardinal Newman, to ask his intercession for those who are in that particular category of the lapsed or gone-astray. Until I can think of a better term, I will refer to them as the “thoughtful apostates”. They have thought, they have reflected, they have seen and been dismayed at the state of the Catholic Church, at the examples of banality and casual irreverence. At this stage or that in their reflections, they have made a false step in their thinking, and have continued to apply their reasoning along the erroneous path they have unwittingly taken. And this is where they are today: absolutely sincere; reverent and even prayerful; but separated from the fullness of the Church, or from the personal consciousness that the Lord Jesus Christ, who loves them with infinite love, is waiting patiently, so very close to them.

I will pray for the intercession of Blessed John Henry Newman, whose intellectual powers are so much a feature of his sanctity, for the return of the “thoughtful apostates”.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A Conversion Opportunity for all of us, including our Bishops

Breadgirl’s recent comment has helped me to clarify my thoughts somewhat on an important aspect of the Holy Father’s visit. Specifically, it feels as if we have been offered a conversion opportunity.

I remember the reported words of one of the Polish bishops, in the early 1980s, who said “We all need conversion.” By which, of course, he meant not only those who did not believe, but everyone, whatever their position in the Church, whatever the stage they had reached in their spiritual journey. That has stuck in my mind as something simple and yet profound. None of us has yet arrived where God wants us to be.

This brings me to our bishops. Their conversion opportunity has arrived too. They are not a single, corporate entity; each of them, as a child of God, is on his own individual spiritual path, and only God knows how far they have progressed. What will they make of this moment of grace?

To state it very simply, the call to conversion is the call to repent and believe. Or, if we are already on the Christian journey, to detach ourselves more comprehensively from sin, and to believe more profoundly; and this both in our words and in our actions.

As John the Baptist said: “If you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruits.” The “Light of the World” initiative is, I believe, a simple but rather wonderful conversion-fruit. Who knows what fruits it will itself give rise to? I am sure more good things will come; but there will be resistance, there will be closed minds and amused indifference, even, dare I say it, among the hierarchy and clergy. But I very much hope not. I plan to be realistic, but optimistic. And I will be joining my prayers to those of many others, in praying for our bishops and priests in this new Benedictine era.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

"Light of the World" for Every Parish in England and Wales

Here is some very interesting news, courtesy of the Catholic Herald website. Every parish in England and Wales is to receive a framed copy of William Holman Hunt’s “Light of the World”, together with a candle. All have been blessed by the Holy Father at the Hyde Park vigil.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Three moments of tearfulness ...

... When the Pope completed his proclamation of Cardinal Newman as Blessed.

... When those fine young seminarians at Oscott sang "Ad multos annos" as their farewell to their dear Holy Father.

... When our wonderful Pope Benedict climbed the steps to the plane that would take him safely home, after his packed and exhausting visit.

And a moment of thankfulness and relief, as the plane rose into the sky and gently disappeared into the low cloud.

Happy days, so poignant, and, please God, so rich in fruit.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Construction Work at Cofton Park

Here are some pictures from BBC Midlands of the preparations at Cofton Park for Cardinal Newman’s beatification Mass.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

An Empty Husk?

I hope the Altar-cave for the Cofton Park beatification Mass turns out to be more dignified on the day than the artist’s impression suggests. Messa in Latino has come up with this rather extravagant description of it: “Like the fearsome interior of the carapace of some enormous dead grub”. Perhaps it’s not as bad as that, but we shall see! We can’t always judge from a drawing what the reality will look like. This is why I’ve held back from adding my two-penn’orth to the reactions that have appeared in the Catholic blogosphere. All I will say is: that’s an optimistically blue sky for 19th September …

However, I think MiL has hit very close to the mark with its evocation of the idea of an empty carapace. It feels to me like an uncomfortably accurate metaphor for the current condition of the Church in England and Wales. I’m sorry to say that I’ve thought for some time that our part of the Catholic Church demonstrates, in some respects, the deceptive attributes of an empty or nearly empty husk.

A great part of the illusion of health comes from our Catholic education system. School after school refers to itself as having a “Catholic ethos”. If this ethos does not express itself in the form of sound Catholic teaching, does it have any reality, or is it just a fuzzy feeling?

The post-school lapsation rate appears to be catastrophically high. This cannot all be due to adolescent rebellion against devout parents. A large percentage of the pupils must surely belong either to non-believing and non-practising families, or to church-going families who quite sincerely but misguidedly follow the Cherie Blair variety of “Catholicism”, not knowing any better.

I wonder also how many families attend Mass as a form of school fees, as the price to be paid just until their youngest child leaves school, and then they are off. Parish clergy must surely be aware of this phenomenon. However, one never knows: the good habit may be formed, at least in the parents, even if their children lapse. God takes His opportunities to find a way into the most unsuspecting hearts.

Do our parochial and diocesan schools, then, create a great illusion of health in the local Church, and indeed in parish churches? A deceptive impression of fullness, when there is, in large part, only emptiness?

While lamenting these signs of hollowness within the external appearance of the Church in E&W, I must say how much I admire those truly Catholic families, in which the parents know the Church’s teachings and are fully committed to them, in spite of our current adversities; and all credit and honour to them, and to their children who are properly taught by their parents, and who hang on to the true Faith, and come out at the end of their school years with their belief intact.

So, I’ll try not to be too bothered about the physical appearance of the Altar-hood, because there are far worse things, seriously so, swirling around in the English and Welsh Catholic scene. It may well be that a number of things are biding their time to emerge when the Holy Father is safely back in Rome. Will we then see the claws unsheathed? I have a heart-sinking feeling that this may be so.

Dear Heavenly Father, please keep Pope Benedict safe, and may his visit bear the good fruit which we so desperately need.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Mark Dowd to give a talk tonight at a Catholic church in Bath

Mark Dowd, maker of the BBC's radio and television programmes about the Holy Father, is giving a talk tonight at St John’s Parish Hall, South Parade, Bath, BA2 4AF. It is advertised on the Diocese of Clifton’s website, and has also appeared in parish newsletters.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Gregorian chant at the papal events? Over to you!

Two weeks to go. They have signed the contracts and published the programmes. It looks as though we can't do anything more to influence things, either at the Beatification Mass or at the Hyde Park vigil. I'm sure His Holiness understands the situation, and will do his very best for us all.

And yet ... there may be a pause in the music and other entertainment, now and then. Wouldn't it be good if groups of pilgrims, here and there, were to add a little Gregorian chant to the proceedings? One or two pieces from the Missa de Angelis, for example, or the Salve Regina? Go on, you know you want to ...