Friday, 14 October 2011

Our Lady of Fatima, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and what we think of the Bishops

Once again, just as with our series of posts on Our Lady of Victories and Our Lady of the Rosary, which you can find here, here (including a homily from Fr John Hunwicke preached at St Mary's Bourne Street,  and here,  we have focused on one commemoration in the Church's calendar at the expense of another.  October 13 is indeed our local feast day, a celebration of St Edward the Confessor.  Yet, elsewhere in the Catholic world, millions also mark events in Fatima.  The last of the six apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima occurred on this date in 1917.  If you watch the film at the end of this post, you'll see Bishop Fulton Sheen explain, in his awe-inspiring style, the implications and remarkable nature of these events in this truly remarkable footage. 

Now there's a Bishop telling like it is without any apology.  His unique and inimitable style brought many to the Faith, and reinforced the faith of many others.  His weekly television broadcasts in the 1950s attracted audiences of up to 30 million, achieving more viewers than the most popular entertainers of the time.  Yet, Bishop Sheen, even if blessed with the same dramatic screen presence as the Pope at the time, Pope Pius XII (to whom frequent reference is made in the footage below), was no mere showman.   He rose to become an Auxiliary Bishop in the diocese of New York and eventually became Archbishop of a Titular See.  He was a convincing and eloquent speaker on world affairs, condemning the Vietnam War but also well known for his outspoken condemnation of communism, especially under Stalin (a few weeks after Bishop Sheen's famous February 1953 broadcast in which he announced that "Stalin must one day meet his judgment", Stalin had a stroke and died). He held a Doctorate in Philosophy from the Catholic University of Louvain, and was the first American to win the Cardinal Mercier prize, awarded for his doctoral thesis.  The Cardinal's name is very familiar to the former regulars of St Mary's Bourne St who make up the Marylebone Ordinariate Group of course, and another Sheen connection to Bourne St is that while teaching at St Edmund's College, Ware, he met Ronald Knox.

Warmly embraced by Pope John Paul II at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York in 1979, the Cause for his Canonisation has been open since 2002.  Let us pray that the Church will soon be able recognise its loyal son, this Servant of God, as a saint.

Do all these kind words about a Bishop seem strange when coming from a former Anglo-Catholic?  After all, Anglo-Catholics have always been well known for having a deep suspicion of their bishops, even if their respect for the office of bishop is beyond question.  Anglo-Catholic history is full of huge disputes with the bishops of the Church of England (and still is).  Anglo-Catholics were always happier with a selected group of like-minded Anglican bishops: in recent days that meant the "Flying Bishops", almost all of whom are now with us in the Ordinariate, and in days long gone that often meant those from far flung corners of Empire.  This phenomenon is referred to in a poem by Eric Mascall (another giant in the history of St Mary's Bourne St), the "Ultra-Catholic", and in John Betjeman's "Summoned by Bells".
I am an Ultra-Catholic -No 'Anglo, I beseeech you!
You'll find no trace of heresy in anything I teach you.
The clergyman across the road has whiskers and a bowler,
But I wear buckles on my shoes and sport a feriola.

My alb is edged with deepest lace, spread over rich black satin;
The Psalms of David I recite in heaven's own native Latin,
And though I don't quite understand those awkward moods and tenses,
My ordo recitandi's strict Westmonasteriensis.

I read the children in my school the Penny Catechism,
Explaining how the C. of E.'s in heresy and schism.
The truths of Trent and Vatican I bate not one iota.
I have not met the Rural Dean. I do not pay my quota.

The Bishop's put me under his 'profoundest disapproval'
And, though he cannot bring about my actual removal,
He will not come and visit me or take my confirmations.
Colonial prelates I employ from far-off mission stations.

The music we perform at Mass is Verdi and Scarlatti.
Assorted females form the choir; I wish they weren't so catty.
Two flutes, a fiddle and a harp assist them in the gallery.
The organist left years ago, and so we save his salary.

We've started a 'Sodality of John of San Fagondez,'
Consisting of five young men who serve High Mass on Sundays;
And though they simply will not come to weekday Mass at seven,
They turn out looking wonderful on Sundays at eleven.

The Holy Father I extol in fervid perorations,
The Cardinals in curia, the Sacred Congregations;
And, though I've not submitted yet, as all my friends expected,
I should have gone last Tuesday week, had not my wife objected.
And now the Betjeman extract, reflecting a different time of course, when the Church of England, in the words of Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, was happy to state openly that "The Church of England has no doctrine of its own save that of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" and when it still thought that the "greater question" as Betjeman put it, was something other than a need to create greater divides with the Church in the West and the East :
Silk-dressing-gowned, to Sunday-morning bells,
Long after breakfast had been cleared in Hall,
I wandered to my lavender-scented bath;
Then, with a loosely knotted shantung tie
And hair well soaked in Delhez' Genêt d'Or,
Strolled to the Eastgate. Oxford marmalade
And a thin volume by Lowes Dickinson
But half-engaged my thoughts till Sunday calm
Led me by crumbling walls and echoing lanes,
Past college chapels with their organ-groan
And churches stacked with bicycles outside,
To worship at High Mass in Pusey House.

Those were the days when that divine baroque
Transformed our English altars and our ways.
Fiddle-back chasuble in mid-Lent pink
Scandalized Rome and Protestants alike:
"Why do you try to ape the Holy See?"
"Why do you sojourn in a halfway house?"
And if these doubts had ever troubled me
(Praise God, they don't) I would have made the move.
What seemed to me a greater question then
Tugged, and still tugs: Is Christ the Son of God?
Despite my frequent lapses into lust,
Despite hypocrisy, revenge and hate,
I learned at Pusey House the Catholic faith.
Friends of those days, now patient parish priests,
By worldly standards you have not 'got on'
Who knelt with me as Oxford sunlight streamed
On some colonial bishop's broidered cope.
Some know for all their lives that Christ is God,
Some start upon that arduous love affair
In clouds of doubt and argument; and some
(My closest friends) seem not to want His love -
And why this is I wish to God I knew.
As at the Dragon School, so still for me
The steps to truth were made by sculptured stone,
Stained glass and vestments, holy-water stoups,
Incense and crossings of myself - the things
That hearty middle-stumpers most despise
As 'all the inessentials of the Faith'.
Those were the old days.  Now we are happy members of the Catholic Church, in the Ordinariate, there are some, such as the eminent and always interesting Damian Thompson who would tell us that we should not worry that our attitude to the episcopacy and the hierarchy needs to change.   That may or may not be right, we are too young in the Church to know : let us pray that the Bishops of England and Wales, like all of us, follow the clear message and reminder given by Cardinal Levada recently that the Ordinariate is the Holy Father's personal project and it is his will that it succeed and be encouraged to succeed.  Any loyal son or daughter of the Church will work for the success of the Ordinariate, that is beyond question.

At a more practical level, in the Ordinariate, we have as our Ordinary Monsignor Keith Newton, not the local diocesan Bishop. In that sense at least, the debate is to some extent irrelevant.  All being recent arrivals from the Church of England, we know each other's approach.  Furthermore, for us specifically, the Marylebone Ordinariate Group attends Mass in a diocesan church, where we have been made to feel extremely welcome.  The Ordinariate has much to offer the Church in England and Wales (not least many extra pairs of consecrated hands to assist where and when needed, when Ordinariate commitments permit), and the Church in England and Wales has much to offer the Ordinariate.  In a spirit of charity and positivity, and in obedience to our Holy Father, there is much we can achieve together.

There may or may not be politicking among the hierarchy, but even if there is, for as long as they are still committed to teaching the Catholic faith, for as long as they believe in the Mass, for as long as they are in communion all with each other, all with us and all with the Holy Father, there is nothing too much to worry about.  All that makes our journey worth it, with absolutely no regrets.  Our Lord prayed that all might be one, and so that must remain a priority: a lot of the matters of politicking, whether in the Catholic Church or in the Church of England do not have the same status.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

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