Thursday, 30 April 2009

Writer's block, and Aquinas

Maybe I'm being punished by St George, but I just haven't thought of anything to write for the last week! So I'll bore you with some philosophy:

We're back at seminary for the third term now, and deadlines are getting underway... I'm doing a social and political ethics essay for next friday, involving St Thomas Aquinas's teaching on natural law. Some people use natural law to justify anything which they say is 'natural' to us as animals (often regarding sexuality), but this is not what Thomas means by the term; rather, he means our sharing in the eternal and unchangeable truth of God, through our God-given reason, by which we can know a set of self-evident and undemonstrable principles (do good, avoid evil basically), and the principles which follow from these. These principles help us form the laws of our society, which may differ due to circumstance, but nevertheless the foundational principles cannot change - eg things like murder, theft, adultery are wrong. What is quite interesting is that this can be applied to the Church as well, so some ecclessial laws are capable of being changed, eg. holydays of obligation, the nature of fasting and abstinence on fridays - while ecclessial laws which have the force of natural law cannot change because they are part of the unchangeable truth which we can ascertain with our reason, eg. abortion is always wrong, marriage is always praiseworthy as an institution. Then there is divine law, by which God authorises certain aspects of the Church that we cannot change, eg. we use bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist because that's what Christ used. The different levels of law are quite interesting, and one feels that if they were more widely known, there would be less confusion as to what can or cannot change in the Church's tradition.

Anyway, I hope I haven't misrepresented Aquinas (I'm sure I'll soon find out if I have)!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Happy St George's Day (and a sort of gripe)

Happy Feast Day to all - I see that all the pubs are making the most of the occasion. Even if it is largely a secular celebration, it is nice that the Christian roots survive, and we well to encourage celebration of our national patron St George in our parishes. That said, I have to confess a wish that St Edmund had remained our patron saint (partly out of a selfish motive, in that I live near the ruins of his medieval shrine). An Anglo-Saxon king who was martyred for his faith by Viking invaders in 869, he is an example for us close to home, and by his death inspired the flourishing of Christianity in medieval England, as its patron before St George become so. As a king, he shows us how even political rulers can stand by their convictions of faith in Christ, and make sacrifices for that faith when need be - an encouragement that I think politicians would benefit from. Anyway, sorry for hijacking the occasion! It is not St Edmund's Day, so let's at least celebrate the patron we are honoured with, the roman soldier martyred in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. May his martyrdom similarly spur us on to a singleness of heart for Christ.

Friday, 17 April 2009

What IS the Priest?

This is a question I have been considering a lot recently, after a conversation with a priest friend. You might think it a no-brainer question, but what I am getting at is: what is it that makes an ordained priest different in vocation to a layperson who is a priest through his or her baptism? Yes he celebrates the sacraments, he does pastoral work, he preaches, and so on, but these things in themselves can be done by a priest who is not truly living out his priestly call. The priest I talked to seemed to think the essence of the priesthood lay in being an interceder, a bridge between God and men. This means having the heart of Jesus, who in John 17 prays for those whom the Father has entrusted to Him, and for all those who will believe in Him through their word. We see a beautiful example of this interceding love in the Old Testament, when Moses pleads on behalf of Israel who has abandoned God - and also later in the life of St John Vianney, who offered his whole life as a prayer for the conversion of his parish.

Pope Benedict, in his 2006 Chrism Mass (the first selection in Priests of Jesus Christ, edited by Fr Gerard Skinner), says that there is another aspect to the priesthood. "I no longer call you sevants but friends. This is the profound meaning of being a priest: becoming the friend of Jesus Christ." Of course everyone is called to be a friend of Christ, but the priest especially must have a close relationship with Jesus if he is to discern what Jesus' will is not just in his own life, but also in the life of his community.

The priest is also called to be the spouse of the Church, and a spiritual father to his people, caring for them and protecting them as Christ desired to gather Jerusalem under his arms. The fatherhood of the priest is something which is emphasised in this vocational video from Kenrick-Glennon seminary in America. Whether you like the style of the video or not (I think it's very well done), the seminarians come across as very confident in their understanding of what they are entering into, particularly their understanding of the priesthood as a giving over their lives for others. For anyone discerning the priesthood it is worth watching!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Year of the Priesthood: Old News - New Ideas?

I'm sure most of you know that Pope Benedict has declared this coming year, from June 19th, the Year of the Priesthood. It coincides with the 150th anniversary of St John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. At the end of the year the Pope will declare him the patron saint of all the world's priests, which I for one very readily welcome!

At the seminary we want to mark this year in some way, and I was wondering if any of you have any good ideas for things we might do, either as a seminary, or even as personal resolutions? I'm already thinking about it as well. Your thoughts would be welcome!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Running to the Tomb

Easter Exultet

This is only part of the exultet which was sung tonight at the beginning of the Easter Vigil; it is one of the Church's most beautiful hymns!

This is our passover feast,
When Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night,
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slav'ry,
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night,
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin.

This is night,
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night,
when Jesus broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

He descended into Hell

These words form the Creed are often passed over quickly, but there is much beauty and drama in them. In the the medieval mystery plays, the Harrowing of Hell was depicted in the most amazing imagery, with Christ bursting through the infernal gates that Satan's minions guard. Then the first Adam, the one through whom we inherited original sin, is redeemed by the Second Adam, the one in whom we inherit salvation. All the prophets and holy men and women of the Old Covenant meet the One who is the fulness of God's revelation to men, the One whose face they seek ('It is your face O Lord that I seek/ Hide not your face'). Let us pray as we await the joy of Easter tomorrow, that we will not lose hope in the Lord's saving presence in our lives, even when He seems most dead and absent.

Friday, 10 April 2009

11 Young Men

Well, here we are at Good Friday already, the hour when the Father will be glorified in the death of His Son. A lot has happened already this week; on Wednesday the four East Anglians went to the Chrism Mass in Norwich cathedral, where the Bishop blessed and consecrated the oils used for baptism, confirmation, ordination and anointing of the sick. The priests and deacons of the diocese renewed their promise to faithfully minister the mysteries of God and serve joyfully those who have been entrusted to them, following the example of Christ. It was wonderful to see the clergy of the diocese before and afterwards, as well as to behold a packed cathedral (hinted at when we walked down the road by the vast queue of coaches waiting there)!

This year for the Triduum we have had 11 men join us at the seminary, who are interested in the priesthood and want to know more. As well as being part of the community at seminary and taking part in our prayers, they will also accompany us to Birmingham Cathedral for the Triduum liturgy. Last night at the Mass of the Lord's Supper the Archbishop greeted them and the seminarians in his homily, reminding them that the priesthood consisted of a life of faithfully loving as Christ loved us, in humility. Please keep these 11 men in your prayers as they seek to discern the Lord's will for them!

At the end of last night some of us followed the Seven Churches tradition (going to seven different churches to pray at the altar of repose before midnight), while others just stayed in one church. It really is an encouragement for the parish priest to see people coming to watch and pray, especially if it's a small parish and the priest is left watching on his own! Today, as well as going to the Cathedral, we will take part in an ecumenical walk of witness in Sutton Coldfield.

I hope you are all having a blessed start to the Triduum, and that it will be a unique time of God's grace for you on the doorstep of the Paschal season!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Back in the loop

We've finished our retreat from last week, which for me at least was a very fruitful one - it's always nice to get away from work and be generous with our prayer! This week also is without any lectures, so that we can take part in the litugies of Holy Week, particularly at Birmingham Cathedral, and enter into the spirit of Passiontide. We were at the Cathedral yesterday for Palm Sunday, a packed Mass, and today we had a communal Stations of the Cross. The priest at our seminary Mass today spoke in his homily of our need to echo the extravagance of Mary for Jesus in today's Gospel, when she pours the precious ointment on Him. We too can use this week to show extravagant devotion to the Lord.

Congratulations and best wishes to Archbishop Vincent Nichols for his appointment to Westminster. We hope his ministry there will be extremely blessed, and we will keep him in our prayers especially. It will be nice to have him come, as usual, to celebrate the Easter morning Mass at Oscott this year, as it will be one of the last times we see him in his present capacity!