Thursday 10 July 2014

Priest Director's Address to the Annual General Meeting, July 2014

Let me begin by thanking Fr Graeme Rowlands for his hospitality at St Silas’, Kentish Town. It truly is a spiritual home for us in the Catholic League not only because of a constantly warm welcome here, but also because of the unshakable faith we share: whatever the obstacles and separation between the Church of England and the rock from which it was hewn, the Latin Catholic Church in communion with the Successor of Peter in his See of Rome, Christ founded only one Church, that it has no other creed but the Catholic faith, and that union is necessary because it is not in the nature of the Body of Christ to be divided and because He willed it on the night before He died.

On a number of recent home visits to North-west England, I could not help but concluding that the once confident Christianity as part of the fabric of society that I knew - Catholic, Anglican and “chapel” - had considerably collapsed in attendance, presence and confidence there. When I was growing up, Lancashire was a bastion of old recusant Catholic England still alive in the people, but it is difficult to trace its large significance in the region now in the same way it was once so obvious.  Other churches have suffered in like degree. I suspect the reason is that the churches have lost touch with the identity of whole constituencies of people, and the everyday lives of ordinary folk, especially the poor and working class. St Silas, a Catholic Anglican parish that had once been marked for closure, however tells the story of how such need not be so. The beautiful celebration of the liturgical and sacramental life, solid Catholic faith put into practice, and assiduous pastoral care by connecting practice of the faith with the life and experience of people through school, home and community makes for a vibrant worshipping community. And in truth and justice, the pattern is repeated in many places around the country, where the Church and its priests can truly present the image of the People of God as the true human society, a “still more excellent way” and alternative to what the market, the state, and “wider society” have to offer.

Instead of the Church accepting that it must conform to a pluralistic view of society and humanity, living as one choice on offer among many, with one view on morality in conduct both private and public, and giving in to the convention that religion is a private opinion, it is at its best when it presents not an exclusivist society turn in on its own preoccupations, but a reflection of the true order of the universe, and thus human society, in which Christ is king and all is to be seen in relation to that fact of existence, and paying due to Him as subject to His truth as teacher and rule as Master.

Among the objects of the Catholic League are not just concerns that we would describe nowadays as ecumenical, but that go to the heart of what human society is for and what it needs. Thus we are to promote the spread of the Catholic faith and the deepening of the spiritual life. In our day, “spiritual life” is not so much concerned with cultivating a private spirituality, as with keeping open the religious dimension in every aspect of life from which it is being progressively deleted: school, care services, public administration, social and cultural observance and, as Pope Benedict alerted us on his visit in 2010, the dialogue between faith and reason, religion and political or commercial activity without which no one receives a satisfactory answer to the deepest questions that our existence contemplates.

If public Christianity disappears in this land, largely with the accommodating acceptance of the Churches, what is to fill the vacuum? We have seen in a dozen instances in the last century what an un Churched or secular State offers us: World War I, National Socialism, the atheistic humanism of Marxist-Leninism and the resulting starvation of millions of Ukrainians and Russians; the Cultural Revolution of China; the Killing Fields of Cambodia; the emergence of states whose state economies depend on supplying the drugs trade rather than public and business virtue; the implosion of Arab secularism into false Islamism and blood-letting in the Middle East; the collapse of a common Catholic society among Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda because of the coming of greed and corruption after years of Communism. The list goes on. To all of this the only answer is not medieval theocracy, but a society where God is worshipped, His law is kept and His gospel suffuses all our values. For this to be recovered - as recovered it must be if what comes next is not to disintegrate, leaving us nothing, no value, no principle, no truth to go on - it is vital for the Churches to stand out as manifestations of the other way of being human, and of being human society. And, again as Pope Benedict insisted on his visit, we offer no credible account of the hope that lies within us unless we are one. This is why my predecessor, Fr Brooke Lunn, said time and again that English society deserves to be served and led by one Church, the Church that unites and integrates, the Church that presents the faith that is Catholic.

But this is not only an English or European concern. Fr Fynes-Clinton, the Catholic League’s principal founder, looked to the reunion of all Christians when he placed the League under the joint patronage of St Joseph (for the West) and St Nicholas (for the East). Now, Christians in the East are under severe threat, and their very continued existence is under direct and violent attack. In June this year, no Mass has been celebrated in Mosul for the first time in over 1600 years, because murderous armed robbers and abusers of young girls, posing as Islamist jihadis, have driven them out under threat of forced conversion, or death. The founder of Islam, Mohammed, insisted there was to be no compulsion in religion and famously invited the Christians to celebrate the Eucharist in his mosque. But this means nothing to the materialistic terrorists who are destroying the lives, history, culture, property and patrimony of a mature Iraqi Christian-Muslim society, which was borne of the land of Mesopotamia, known as the “cradle of civilisation”. At this time of terrible crisis - and, frankly, our own helplessness in the face of what is going on - we need to learn from the East and to consider what may happen here in the West. How resilient are our protections to liberty, the positive toleration of religion and the recognition of its indispensable value? History reveals many times when the Church has been destroyed or exterminated, only to indicate new growth and renewal elsewhere, or later on. What is our sensation of decline in England in the present age in comparison with what is happening in Syria and Iraq? Will the Church grow in strength and renew itself? Christianity has never been overcome; is it to submit now? If so; what will succeed it for our society and the Church of the future? What we can say is that, the relativisation of the Christian religion and the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel and Kingdom as one option among many in the market will ensure it is left on the shelf. If we do not believe it is the Way and practise it accordingly, who will? It does not matter, then, if we are many or few – it does not depend on our effort, but requires our faithfulness and our witness to the universe as it has been revealed to us: with Christ its King, embodied in one People of God, related to one truth that alone can bind it, and fulfilling its purpose through choosing the only objective that can be arrived at without destroying it in the process - the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

In this task, I would like to thank especially Fr Christopher Stephenson for his work as Priest Director of the Apostolate of Prayer in which he encourages many of these themes to be expressed in intercession and devotion. I also thank my fellow Trustees in the work of the League, especially in the observance of its Centenary 12013-14. The celebrations were beautiful and adorned with fine contributions from Archdeacon Luke Miller, Dr Robin Ward, Father John Hunwicke, our President Fr Michael Rear and Judge Michael Yelton. Fr Miller's addresses on Fr William Congreve SSJE and St Therese of Avila at our centenary Festa in Walsingham led to the publication of a special edition of The Messenger including a moving version of the Stations of the Cross. All this stimulated interest in the League's history and respect for our work.

Furthermore, the distinguished Church historian, Dr Michael Walsh, is considering writing a history of the League that fairly appraises the Anglo-Papalists’ initiative in laying foundations for later Anglican-Catholic dialogue and their long-term contribution to the movement for Christian unity. He and I recently offered a joint session at the Third International Receptive Ecumenism conference in Fairfield, Connecticut, examining this history, the recent development of Ordinariates for those of Anglican tradition in the Catholic Church, the nature of Anglican patrimony and the future of the Anglican-Catholic engagement towards visible, organic unity. As for its prospects, it became apparent to me that North Americans are less concerned with historic European problems, and the Ordinariates viewed as a solution to them or as a possible threat to worldwide ecumenism. Instead, they see the positive potential for the Catholic Church to embed within itself something of Anglican tradition and liturgy, just as Anglicans have taken on other traditions, not least in a structural way in the past. The phenomenon of the Ordinariates they did not see as a further delineation of difference and mutual exclusion, but as a way in which Anglicans and Catholics could understand each other, feel affinity towards each other and be drawn together. For the main purpose to this they saw as to work together on much needed efforts towards common service of the aims of the Kingdom of God in the world, sustained by a faith shared more closely - so that the world might see that unity is possible, however difficult it may seem at present, and so that the world might believe from the concerted effort of the two Churches that it was indeed the Father who sent the Son who is visible in them.

Our Centenary Year has ended with a presentation to the Catholic Church of Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane. Adoration, of a monstrance bearing the League’s emblem and objects. The Church was founded by Cardinal Manning as a place of reparation for the offences and injuries to the Eucharist, the priesthood and the unity of the Body of Christ in England in the past. He had intended for it be the National Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, where reparation could be made not through recrimination against history and the Protestantism of the English nation and constitution, but through an ever more intensified pouring out of love and devotion, towards healing, salvation and reconciliation in the one Church of Christ. Fr Alan Robinson, the parish priest, an old friend of Fr Rowland’s and mine, has been charged with the restoration of the Church and its work as a National and International shrine to the Blessed Sacrament. It had no monstrance worthy of the task for daily Exposition, Adoration and Benediction, something around which all Christians can be united regardless of the lack of fullness of communion. So the League has presented one, thanks to Fr Rowlands’ efforts, towards the church's restored role. Fr Robinson is to refound the Guild of the Blessed Sacrament, which will be an international fellowship of prayer for reparation, peace and reconciliation, sustained by the daily offering of mass and the Adoration that will be at the heart of the Church’s future work.

Since these objectives are very close to the aims of the Catholic League, and directly reflect work that we have done on ecumenical reparation and reconciliation in the past, following Pope St John Paul II’s encouragement of “the healing of memories” between the separate Church histories that still divide us as potential rivals, and mindful of Pope Francis own description of how Christians are united by martyrdom and suffering in the past through an “ecumenism of blood”, I hope that members of the League, Anglicans and Catholics alike, will be keen to enrol in the Corpus Christi Guild of the Blessed Sacrament and actively involve themselves in its future new work of prayer and reconciliation.

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