Sunday, 25 September 2011

Two Reflections

In the first of the two reflections referred to in the title of this post, the Rector of St James's Spanish Place, Fr Christopher Colven, assesses the impact that the Holy Father's visit in September 2010 has had on Catholics in this country.  The text is taken from this week's Parish Notes.

The Rector writes :

On Saturday 1st October, beginning from Westminster Cathedral at 1.15pm, there is to be a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets to St George’s Cathedral Southwark. This act of witness to the Eucharistic Lord is part of celebrations to mark the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s visit to this country. In itself, the procession is a sign of renewed confidence among the Catholic community: the months preceding last September’s Papal visit saw increasing nervousness as to how he would be received in what was thought to be among the most secularised parts of Europe – and there had been a well orchestrated campaign in elements of the media ridiculing belief in general and Catholicism in particular. In the event, from the moment the Holy Father touched down in Edinburgh, hundreds of thousands turned out to welcome him and, more importantly, listen attentively to what he had to say. This was evident when he addressed civil society in Westminster Hall and when he spoke to ecumenical leaders in Westminster Abbey, and spectacularly in the great vigil in Hyde Park and then Cardinal Newman’s beatification in Birmingham. The Pope commented that his visit had given him “fresh breath”, and that is certainly true for the Catholics of Scotland, Wales and England.

A year on, how can we assess the events of September 2010? Since St Gregory the Great sent Augustine on his mission in 597, England had always enjoyed a close relationship with the Successors of St Peter – which accounts for the pain of the discontinuity introduced in the 16th century and the searing experience of penal times which has written loyalty to Rome deep into the British Catholic consciousness. What was re-experienced last year was a sense of cohesion around Peter: through our communion with Rome, our place within the universality of the Church is secured. The Pope is there to ensure that St Peter’s act of faith in the living Christ as Son of Man and Son of God is proclaimed in every age: it is his responsibility to guarantee the parameters of right belief (to encourage dialogue and fresh thinking but to ensure it does not lose touch with “what was first received”). In so many unexpected ways the present Papacy has proved much more radical than could ever have been imagined ( a warning against stereotyping) and it is exciting and stimulating to be a Catholic Christian with Pope Benedict at the helm of Peter’s bark!

One of the lessons that the present Pope can teach us is not to be afraid to address contemporary culture on its own terms. In the address at Westminster Hall, Benedict XVI reminded those present of Europe’s rooting in Christian Faith and gave his analysis of contemporary societies not at ease with themselves having lost contact with God: he did not preach, but he did teach, and an audience which was uncertain at first acclaimed him enthusiastically at the end. This didactic approach, wanting to engage others in genuine discussion, putting forward thoughts and ideas which have intellectual integrity – going out into the market place (like St Paul) to meet people of different beliefs, and none, on their own ground – with a clarity underpinned by humility, which offers an invitation but does not demand attention, is surely the way to reach into the hearts and minds of our own generation.” I will endow him with my spirit: he will proclaim the true faith to the nations. He will not brawl or shout … he will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smouldering wick” (Matthew 12:20).

Christopher Colven                                                              

Readers may also find a short reflection given by Fr Ed Tomlinson of the Tunbridge Wells Ordinariate Group of interest.  The theme is Our Lady of Walsingham and Christian Unity

To conclude, another Walsingham hymn :

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