Thursday, 28 February 2013

Sede vacante

Pope Benedict XVI

Almighty ever-living God, who has given your faithful servant Benedict grace to maintain his faith and hope in you amid the labours of his apostolic ministry; graciously bestow upon him, we pray, the consolations for your Holy Spirit and uphold him in serenity of life. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

St Peter, pray for us.

St Paul, pray for us.

St Ninian, pray for us.

St Benedict, pray for us.

St Gregory the Great, pray for us.

St Francis, pray for us.

St Thomas Becket, pray for us.

St Ralph Sherwin, pray for us.

Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us.

All holy men and women, pray for us.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Benedicto

With fewer than twenty-four hours remaining of the pontificate of the two hundred and sixty-fourth successor of S. Peter, our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, it seems appropriate to return to the beginning of his time as Vicar of Christ on Earth. The day before the conclave which elected him as Supreme Pontiff commenced, Cardinal Ratzinger celebrated Mass pro eligendo Romano Pontifice in S. Peter's Basilica and preached a sermon which in so many ways prefigured the eight years that have followed it, and will no doubt bear heavily on the minds of those cardinals who will gather in Rome following the Pope's abdication tomorrow evening. Let us pray, then, for our Holy Father in his final hours at the helm of Christ's Church, and for his successor who will continue the good work Benedict has begun in us, and seek to preserve faithfully the mission Cardinal Ratzinger set in his homily reproduced below.

At this moment of great responsibility, let us listen with special attention to what the Lord says to us in his own words. I would like to examine just a few passages from the three readings that concern us directly at this time.

The first one offers us a prophetic portrait of the person of the Messiah - a portrait that receives its full meaning from the moment when Jesus reads the text in the synagogue at Nazareth and says, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk 4: 21).

At the core of the prophetic text we find a word which seems contradictory, at least at first sight. The Messiah, speaking of himself, says that he was sent "to announce a year of favour from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God" (Is 61: 2). We hear with joy the news of a year of favour: divine mercy puts a limit on evil, as the Holy Father told us. Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person: encountering Christ means encountering God's mercy.

Christ's mandate has become our mandate through the priestly anointing. We are called to proclaim, not only with our words but also with our lives and with the valuable signs of the sacraments, "the year of favour from the Lord".

But what does the prophet Isaiah mean when he announces "the day of vindication by our God"? At Nazareth, Jesus omitted these words in his reading of the prophet's text; he concluded by announcing the year of favour. Might this have been the reason for the outburst of scandal after his preaching? We do not know.

In any case, the Lord offered a genuine commentary on these words by being put to death on the cross. St Peter says: "In his own body he brought your sins to the cross" (I Pt 2: 24). And St Paul writes in his Letter to the Galatians: "Christ has delivered us from the power of the law's curse by himself becoming a curse for us, as it is written, "Accursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree'. This happened so that through Christ Jesus the blessing bestowed on Abraham might descend on the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, thereby making it possible for us to receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Gal 3: 13f.).

Christ's mercy is not a grace that comes cheap, nor does it imply the trivialization of evil. Christ carries the full weight of evil and all its destructive force in his body and in his soul. He burns and transforms evil in suffering, in the fire of his suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favour converge in the Paschal Mystery, in the dead and Risen Christ. This is the vengeance of God: he himself suffers for us, in the person of his Son. The more deeply stirred we are by the Lord's mercy, the greater the solidarity we feel with his suffering - and we become willing to complete in our own flesh "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (Col 1: 24).

Let us move on to the second reading, the letter to the Ephesians. Here we see essentially three aspects: first of all, the ministries and charisms in the Church as gifts of the Lord who rose and ascended into heaven; then, the maturing of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God as the condition and content of unity in the Body of Christ; and lastly, our common participation in the growth of the Body of Christ, that is, the transformation of the world into communion with the Lord.

Let us dwell on only two points. The first is the journey towards "the maturity of Christ", as the Italian text says, simplifying it slightly. More precisely, in accordance with the Greek text, we should speak of the "measure of the fullness of Christ" that we are called to attain if we are to be true adults in the faith. We must not remain children in faith, in the condition of minors. And what does it mean to be children in faith? St Paul answers: it means being "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4: 14). This description is very timely!

How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism.

Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceipt from truth.
We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith - only faith - that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.

On this theme, St Paul offers us as a fundamental formula for Christian existence some beautiful words, in contrast to the continual vicissitudes of those who, like children, are tossed about by the waves: make truth in love. Truth and love coincide in Christ. To the extent that we draw close to Christ, in our own lives too, truth and love are blended. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like "a clanging cymbal" (I Cor 13: 1).

Let us now look at the Gospel, from whose riches I would like to draw only two small observations. The Lord addresses these wonderful words to us: "I no longer speak of you as slaves.... Instead, I call you friends" (Jn 15: 15). We so often feel, and it is true, that we are only useless servants (cf. Lk 17: 10).

Yet, in spite of this, the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he gives us his friendship. The Lord gives friendship a dual definition. There are no secrets between friends: Christ tells us all that he hears from the Father; he gives us his full trust and with trust, also knowledge. He reveals his face and his heart to us. He shows us the tenderness he feels for us, his passionate love that goes even as far as the folly of the Cross. He entrusts himself to us, he gives us the power to speak in his name: "this is my body...", "I forgive you...". He entrusts his Body, the Church, to us.

To our weak minds, to our weak hands, he entrusts his truth - the mystery of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the mystery of God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3: 16). He made us his friends - and how do we respond?

The second element Jesus uses to define friendship is the communion of wills. For the Romans "Idem velle - idem nolle" [same desires, same dislikes] was also the definition of friendship. "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (Jn 15: 14). Friendship with Christ coincides with the third request of the Our Father: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". At his hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus transformed our rebellious human will into a will conformed and united with the divine will. He suffered the whole drama of our autonomy - and precisely by placing our will in God's hands, he gives us true freedom: "Not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26: 39).

Our redemption is brought about in this communion of wills: being friends of Jesus, to become friends of God. The more we love Jesus, the more we know him, the more our true freedom develops and our joy in being redeemed flourishes. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!

The other element of the Gospel to which I wanted to refer is Jesus' teaching on bearing fruit: "It was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit. Your fruit must endure" (Jn 15: 16).

It is here that appears the dynamism of the life of a Christian, an apostle: I chose you to go forth. We must be enlivened by a holy restlessness: a restlessness to bring to everyone the gift of faith, of friendship with Christ. Truly, the love and friendship of God was given to us so that it might also be shared with others. We have received the faith to give it to others - we are priests in order to serve others. And we must bear fruit that will endure.

All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these things disappear. The only thing that lasts for ever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity.

The fruit that endures is therefore all that we have sown in human souls: love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching hearts, words that open the soul to joy in the Lord. So let us go and pray to the Lord to help us bear fruit that endures. Only in this way will the earth be changed from a valley of tears to a garden of God.

To conclude, let us return once again to the Letter to the Ephesians. The Letter says, with words from Psalm 68, that Christ, ascending into heaven, "gave gifts to men" (Eph 4: 8). The victor offers gifts. And these gifts are apostles, pro-phets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Our ministry is a gift of Christ to humankind, to build up his body - the new world. We live out our ministry in this way, as a gift of Christ to humanity!

At this time, however, let us above all pray insistently to the Lord that after his great gift of Pope John Paul II, he will once again give us a Pastor according to his own heart, a Pastor who will guide us to knowledge of Christ, to his love and to true joy. Amen.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord

The reactions around the world to the imminent abdication of our Holy Father Pope Benedict have made interesting reading during the past week. Whilst there have been a variety of slants taken on why he has made this decision to retire into seclusion, there has been an overwhelming sense of shock and sadness, but also joy at what will inevitably be a great turning point defining the course of the Church for the next decade or more. We are grateful for the submission of the guest post below from the author of Beauty and the New Evangelisation, now in full communion with the Holy Father, who shares his thoughts on Pope Benedict's papacy and resignation.

I was just shy of fifteen when the Holy Father was elected in 2005, and growing up in a strongly Anglo-Catholic environment, the events around the funeral of Blessed John Paul II and the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger fell conveniently within a family holiday to Rome. I was there on the night that Blessed John Paul II died, and flew back shortly before the funeral. At the time, my interest in the Papacy was limited to niche historical oddities, I was more focused on the characters than the office itself. Pope Benedict XVI has been the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church during my entire formative years, so it is natural that he’s had such an affect on me: if I’d turned fifteen in the late 1990s, Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate, particularly his heroic witness to the value and integrity of human life from birth to natural death, would have no doubt had the same affect.

The most profound part of my Christian journey has been worked out during the reign of Benedict XVI, and to say that his personal holiness and theology was a key part of my eventual conversion would not be over stating the matter.  But the key, for me, to his pontificate was not necessarily any of the large gestures, such as the Ordinariate, or the major theological works, like Jesus of Nazareth, it was the theological underpinnings of his focus on, and attachment to, Christ that made all of this possible.  Without the Holy Father’s focus on the identity of Christ, and his belief that human beings set apart from Christ cannot be understood as complete, his pontificate would not have been marked by so many extraordinary events.

To produce any kind of complete account of the Holy Father’s academic output is simply beyond this short article, but the two of most importance for me, personally, are his understandings of ecclesiology and the liturgy, and more broadly within the areas of politics and philosophy, his attacks on relativism and immoral political and economic systems.  In terms of his reform of the liturgy, his primary focus has been very simply on the beautiful: the beauty of the Church’s teachings are mirrored throughout every aspect of her life, including the liturgy.  Whilst some of his reforms have received a bad reception in some parts of the Church, these reactions seem not to gain a full sense of what these reforms have sought to bring about.  In a Church which is still trying to receive and understand the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, an attempt to enrich both forms of the Roman Rite can only be a good thing, and to more closely define the Council as a continuation with the past, not a break away from the old.

Clearly, as a former Anglican, our Holy Father's understandings of ecclesiology have been immensely important.  A clear line runs through his thought, particularly from Dominus Iesus, which defined more exactly the relationship between the Church and ecclesial communities, to Anglicanorum Coetibus, which created a specific structure to allow members of the Anglican Communion to become Catholics.  In this part of his work, the Holy Father has tried, and succeeded, in creating something tangible which goes beyond the long series of discussions which have run and run since the Second Vatican Council.  In many ways, as one person put it, he called everyone’s bluff by offering the most generous provision which was within the Church’s gift.

But underpinning all of this is the Holy Father’s focus on Christ which creates within his theology a humanism which is not simply founded on Christian principles, but which has Christ at the very centre.  He took on the concept that humanity could ever be understood as complete without being focused and centred on Christ.  He challenged the tendency of secularism and liberalism to paint humanity as beyond salvation; something which these two ideologies achieve by either portraying humanity as not needing, or as being beyond the hope of salvation.  The tendency of liberal Christianity to create a view of the human which everyone can agree on, with Christian doctrines simply being added on the end, is not acceptable to Benedict XVI. Indeed, in his analysis of Gaudium et Spes, the then Ratzinger asked, “why exactly the reasonable and perfectly free human being” described by the document “should suddenly be burdened with the story of Christ.” Without Christ, for the Holy Father, there is no proper humanity, because our whole nature and being have been so much changed by Christ.

And it is this that undergirds all of the Holy Father’s time as Supreme Pontiff.  All of humanity is called to centre their life on Christ, a call which he has lived out through his resignation.  And it was the reign of this Christ centred man who ultimately taught me the importance of the Catholic Faith and of being in communion with the Holy See.  This focus on Christ leads to the Holy Father’s teaching of the beauty of Christian unity, of the Church as the Universal Sacrament of Salvation, of the beauty of a prayerful celebration of the Liturgy of the Church, and that all hope is futile, unless it is hope in our Saviour’s Resurrection.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Let us change our garments for ashes and sackcloth

Today the Marylebone Ordinariate Group marked the beginning of Lent in the usual way by attending the Holy Sacrifice at St. James's, Spanish Place at which we received the ashes of repentance to begin the Christian war of defence with holy fasts, protected with the help of self-denial.

As ever, the choir assisted in our devotions as we enter into this great season of preparation for the coming passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord over the Triduum Sacrum. An appropriately sombre yet powerful choice of singing both propers and ordinary of the Mass to the historic chant of the Church, recalling the penance of our brethren from former generations, with whom as Catholics we now share communion.

There is something most comforting that as we approach these great forty days we are surrounded by that great crowd of witnesses who for centuries marked this most solemn day with the same notes of humility, assonant with ages of lament for our shortcomings.

Yet as our minds turn from the Lord's nativity to His revelation as servant and sacrifice, we cannot but continue to ponder our Holy Father's momentous decision just days ago to abdicate the throne of Peter and instead enter his own wilderness of constant supplications for the Church for the remainder of his days. This example of prayer, modelled on Christ's own example, is a timely reminder that our hope is founded not on one man, but the Man, God from God, Light from Light, the Eternal High Priest.

Fr Irwin called us to a deeper devotion to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in his homily, charging us to grow closer to the Lord in spirit, and to put first things first, that is our eternal salvation in Christ, and last things last, the cares of the world and the Devil. Our prayer then, at this time of piety and fasting, recalls those great words of our Anglican Patrimony, beloved by our Holy Father and now reconciled to the Church of the Apostles.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Et portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam

Pope Benedict XVI has truly been our Pope.

We looked in from outside for years, but then his were the arms outstretched to welcome us into the embrace of our Holy Mother Church. His was the brilliant iniative that cut through the plethora of mealy-mouthed verbiage and foggy thinking that has characterized so much ecumenical activity in recent decades. His was the vision that found a way to make us see what was right and to allow us to bring so much of what has been good about Anglicanism with us. His was the reign in which we were at last united, by the Power of the Divine Will, into One Fold and under One Shepherd.

How better to remember him than with the footage of his arrival and departure from Mass at Westminster Cathedral. That day, as recounted before on these pages, was crucial in the process of our becoming Catholics.

Amidst the splendour of Westminster Cathedral, behind a procession of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians, and to the accompaniment of James Macmillan’s splendid Tu es Petrus, there arrived the humble figure of a shy, smiling old man: full of love for the Almighty, and full of love for all of God’s creation, even this very Kingdom.

After the Mass, and after he had met with crowds of youngsters at the West Door, Pope Benedict processed out to Bruckner’s Ecce Sacerdos Magnus. Again, amidst the brilliance of the eight-part polyphonic singing and the sounding brass, there was that same gentle figure : who can fail to be moved by the smiles at the word Deo, as the soaring tenors sound out amidst the fortissimo chord, just as the procession reached the Shrine of St David.

Even if we feel sorrow at his departure from the Chair of St Peter, we give thanks to Almighty God for all that this Servant of the Servants of God has achieved, not only for us, among the least deserving of God’s children, but for all the Church and for all mankind.

We ask God’s blessing upon Pope Benedict, and in gratitude, faith and trust, call to mind these words of Our Lord.

Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

A letter that we have come across from an FSSP priest in France sums up well the feelings of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group, and provides sound words for this extraordinary time.

Dear faithful, it falls upon us to live the upcoming days with hope. What if we trusted the Holy Spirit? True, it will be necessary that we wait, for some weeks, to view it in all its tones: as in 2005, we will hear the assembly of "experts" explain to us one more time that the Church must change, that the faith must change, that morals must change. Some will expect the election of a "modern" pope, "living according to his time", wearing a white suit and dark glasses and proposing the marriage of priests, opening the priesthood to women, favoring the remarriage of divorcees, and blessing the sacrosanct condom. We will hear, as usual, on television sets, before excited and obliging journalists, the priest who is outside the system, the defrocked one who wants to go back into service, the parishioner who is allergic to all things that recall the Church of the past, and, why not, some trendy exegetes or theologians who explain to us that everyone has been mistaken for two thousand years.

What matters, my dear friends, is to think that, after some inevitable disturbances, the Church will have a new leader, and that he will have the graces that are needed to accomplish his mission, just as his predecessor did.

He will know, as those who were before him on the chair of Peter, that nobody cares about an adulterated truth, and that the "evolutions" desired by some will fill neither our churches, nor our seminaries.

May the Lent that will begin this week move us to offer our prayers and our sacrifices for our Church, so that her future head will impart to us the love of truth and will guide us to heaven!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land

On this day it is time, more so than ever before, to get down on our knees, make reparation, and urgently plead for the intercession of Our Lady, Help of Christians, to restore her Dowry to its former grace and glory.

Be not angry, O Lord,
and remember our iniquity no more.
Behold, we are all your people.

Your holy city has become a wilderness.
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem has been made desolate.

Ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Fulfilling all righteousness

The Feast of Candlemas gave even greater cause for celebration this year than simply marking the conclusion of the Christmas cycle. Mr Harry Smith recovered the communion first enjoyed at his baptism when he was received by Fr James Bradley into Holy Mother Church. Harry has regularly worshipped with the Marylebone Ordinariate Group since first expressing his desire to return to the one true fold and pleasingly strengthens the contingent of those formerly connected to Pusey House now united in communion with Peter. We give thanks for his journey into the Church and pray that he may continue to deepen his love for Christ and His Church.

Below we include the homily from Candlemas along with a number of photographs taken of the liturgy.

"Our Saviour was born without sin. His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, need have made no offering, as requiring no purification. On the contrary, it was that very birth of the Son of God which sanctifies the whole race of woman, and turned her curse into a blessing. Nevertheless, as Christ himself was minded to ‘fulfil all righteousness’ (Mt 3:13), to obey all ordinances of the covenant under which he was born, so in like manner his Mother Mary submitted to the Law, in order to do it reverence."

These words of our patron, Blessed John Henry Newman, remind us of two points which we might usefully consider as we come to this feast today. First, we are here because of the obedience of Our Blessed Lady, both in her acceptance of the will of God in her fiat, her ‘yes’ to the Lord’s will at the annunciation, and in her obedience to the Law, laid down in the Book of Exodus and Leviticus: ‘Consecrate to me all the first-born’ (Ex. 13: 1).

Secondly, we are here because the Lord himself - although, as Newman says, he was ‘requiring no purification’ - nonetheless submits himself to the Law with humility, out of love for his heavenly Father and for those - for us! - he came to redeem. God became Man, but as if that is not enough, he submits himself to the Law prescribed for those who are in need of the very thing which he embodies.

These two traits, which are in actual fact personified in Our Lady and Our Lord - that is obedience and humility - are central not only to our understanding of this great and glorious feast of the Church’s year, but the entire Christian life, which summons us to grow in likeness of Christ through the example he gives us in himself and in the saints.

Harry: in some profound way you are embodying these traits today as you come in humble obedience to Holy Mother Church and ask for the grace to persevere in a deepening relation with the Lord. In full communion with the Church, you are placing no obstacles between yourself and God’s favour, allowing him to do what he desires above all things, to prepare you for eternal life in the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem.

When we come to the Lord in this way - by reception into the Church, and in our ongoing and continual reconciliation with the Church through the Sacrament of Confession - we open ourselves unconditionally to God’s love, in order that he might convert our hearts and our lives in an ever-more profound way, and draw us more closely to him. We should expect this to be a great joy, but also a great challenge to our human inclination to err, and so it is only with the grace which we receive in the sacraments - and particularly in the Holy Eucharist - that we can ever hope to succeed.

And if all this seems a daunting task, we should remember that the humility shown us in Christ is not an aspect of Our Lord’s divine nature, but his human nature. As St Thomas Aquinas reminds us, ‘Humility cannot befit God, who has no superior’. Christ accepted humility, and obeyed the Law as we must, and through his humanity: he shows us the way to perfect our lives. In him we are presented not only with the fullness of life in God - what we hope one day to attain in heaven - but also the fullness of human existence, which is humble before the Lord in all things, even to the point of death, death on a cross (cf. Phill. 2).

Harry: let the humility and obedience of Christ and his blessed Mother be yours today. And recognise, too, the example you are offering, to us who rejoice with you in the Church, and to those who long to do so. Let your whole life take on a new ardour and purpose - letting the bright light of Christ radiate through you, so that he may draw all men together in one, that the world may believe. 

The liturgical theologian, Romano Guardini, once said, “As one candle is lit from the flame of another, so is faith kindled by faith”. Use the grace which the Lord offers to you in abundance in your new life fully united to him, not only to grow in grace and virtue, perfecting each day the very essence of your person, but in order to bring others to the gladdening light of his pure glory. 

As the light of the Candlemas flame has been passed to you, and as the guaranteed fullness of God’s grace is passed to you in communion with the apostles, allow that flame of faith to consume your life entirely - as a holocaust, a wholly consumed offering to the Lord - that he may (through you) bring others into the life we share with him, and bring you into a closer and more profound union with him, that one day we may see face-to-face the salvation prepared for all people, the glory of Israel, even Christ the Lord. Amen.