Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Common Good

On Monday evening, Archbishop Vincent Nichols came to give a lecture about the impact of faith on society, and touched on various principles of Catholic social ethics, including subsidiarity and the common good. He proposed an analogy for the common good that I found quite helpful. That is, the common good is not an addition sum, where the rights and needs of various groups within society are added together. Rather, it is more like a multiplication sum, in that as far as any group's needs are ignored (given a value of 0), then the sum of the equation, the common good, is also in some way negated (given a value of 0).

*    *    *

We live in a society that does marvellous work in many areas. We give to charities. We have a health system that provides healthcare access for all. We pride ourselves on, and to a certain degree have, toleration for varying beliefs and cultural traditions. But the rights of certain groups are ignored, or at least questioned. The unborn are an obvious group, whose fundamental right to life is ignored. The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, themselves allegedly protecting aginst unjust discrimination, are a means by which peaceful professions of faith are limited to what is in vogue with the current government, and it impinges upon the rights of conscience. The elderly are not always seen as having intrinsic worth, but sometimes are sidelined as living "a poor quality of life" that is better terminated. These are generalisations, I know, but nonetheless discernable for all that. And they suggest a tension between various understandings of social ethics today. Pope Benedict, in his speech to politicians in Westminster Hall, challenged us to recover a sense of a common ethical foundation for the common good in society:

"What are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be solved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic proces are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy."

Our choice is the choice of the Gospel parable to build our house on sand or on rock. If society is built on the sand of social consensus, then the worst human atrocities are possible and even inevitable. If it is built on rock, then it will weather the storm of changing fashion.

Imitation 20 - The Way of Peace and Liberty

In one dialogue between Christ and the soul, Christ says that there are four ways to peace and true liberty:

"Try, my son, to do the will of another rather than your own. Always choose to have less rather than more. Always seek to take the last place, and to be subject to everyone. Always desire and pray that the will of God be perfectly fulfilled in you. Behold, a man so disposed enters within the land of peace and rest."

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Imitation 19 - Sound of Silence

"O Jesus, splendour of eternal glory, comfort of the pilgrim soul! My mouth remains speechless in your presence, but my silence speaks to you. How long will my Lord delay to come? Let him come to me, his poor servant, and make me happy."

Peter Chrysologus

Yesterday in the Offic of Readings (the first office of the day, which we say in private), there was a wonderful reading from St Peter Chrysologus, the 5th century bishop of Ravenna, about our three-fold Lenten "game plan" of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Here are some quotes:

What prayer knocks for upon a door, fasting successfully begs and mercy receives. Prayer, fasting, and mercy: these three are a unit. They give life to one another. For, fasting is the soul of prayer; and mercy is the life of fasting.

...Have this as your norm of showing mercy. Do you yourself show mercy to others in the same manner, amount, and readiness with which you desire it to be shown to yourself.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Imitation 18 - Patience

He is not truly patient who wants to suffer no more than he thinks good and only from whom it pleases him. The truly patient man does not mind by whom he is tested...

Monday, 28 March 2011

Imitation 17 - Christ, the Source of the Virtues

Christ helps Peter walk on the water

"There is no sanctity if you, Lord, withdraw your hand. Wisdom is of no avail, if you cease to govern us. Strength is of no help, if you cease to conserve it. Chastity is no longer secure, if you cease to preserve it.

A guard upon ourselves will be useless, if your holy vigilance is lacking. Because, if we are abandoned, we sink and perish; but if you visit us, we are uplifted and we live. For we are also inconstant, but through you we become strong; we are tepid, but you inflame us."

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Playing with Fire

Yesterday there was, as I was mentioning in another post, a day for Confirmation candidates in the deanery of Bury St Edmunds, called "Playing with Fire". It was a chance to learn more about the Holy Spirit - who is he, what does he do, how is he in our lives? It was also a great chance to learn about prayer, the Mass, the virtues, and to ask questions about the Catholic faith: why do we believe what we believe? Does it all make sense? What does it really mean?

The day was organised by deanery catechists and Hamish McQueen, the diocesan youth worker, and talks and testimonies were given by Fr Stephen Langridge (vocations director in Southwark archdiocese), two Franciscan sisters of the Renewal from Leeds, and Pascal, the young man who greeted the Holy Father in September outside the Westminster Cathedral, on behalf of Britain's young people. Music was provided by a team led by Edwin Fawcett, who sang and played at the Papal Vigil in Hyde Park.

It was a wonderful day, presenting young people with a vision of God who is the ultimate meaning of our existence, and in whose service we can truly become free and happy. There were about a hundred young people from the deanery and elswehere in the diocese, including Norwich cathedral, Peterborough, Dereham, Thetford, Bury and Brandon (with the two newly ordained Frs Luke and Michael present leading their groups, as was Fr John Barnes). There were also opportunities for Confession, and the day ended with a Vigil Mass for Sunday.

Many thanks to all who made the day possible. Hopefully it will not be the last such day for young people to discover and grow in their faith.

Imitation 16 - New Habits

  If we set out on the path of virtue, then...

"The old habit will resist, but it will be overcome by a better habit. The flesh will complain, but it will be held in check by the fervour of the spirit. The old serpent will tempt you and give you trouble, but he will be put to flight by prayer; furthermore, his chied approach will be closed to him by useful works."

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Imitation 15 - Water of Life

Today's reading fits in well with the Sunday readings tomorrow. Sorry to post this so late, but I've been to a day for Confirmation kids in the diocese. It went very well - I'll post about it tomorrow...

Out of me, both small and great, rich and poor, as from a living fountain, draw the water of life. And they who freely and sponatneously serve me shall receive grace upon grace. But he who would glory in himself, and delight in himself other than me, shall not be established in true joy, no shall his heart be enlarged, but he shall meet with many obstacles and anxieties.  

Friday, 25 March 2011

Happy Annunciation! (Imitation 15)

Happy Solemnity of the Annunciation... We had a dies non here at seminary, which means we didn't have any lectures this morning. Woopee!

The reflection from the imitation today encapsulates Mary's response to God's will (I changed "he" to "she" in order to make it more explicitly Marian):

The lover flies, runs and rejoices; she is free and nothing can restrain her. She gives all for all, and has all in all, because above all she rests in that one Sovereign Good from whom all goods proceed and flow. She does not regard the gifts, but she turns herself, above all other goods, to the giver. Love often knows no measure, but burns beyond all measure.

Love feels no burden, values no labours, would like to do more than it can do, without pleading impossibility, because it believes that it may and can do all things. In fact, it is ready to do anything, and it performs and effects many things, in which she who does not love faints and succumbs.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Please say a prayer for a Day for Young People which is taking place in the Bury Deanery on Saturday (for older teenagers). It's a day for learning about the Holy Spirit, with guest speakers and musicians from various diocese. Pray that it will encourage young people to grow in their faith and in their relationship with the Blessed Trinity.

Imitation 14 - What to fear

Fear nothing, fly and abhor nothing as much as your vices and sins, which ought to displease you more than any other damage.

The reason we flee from sin is not because God has made some arbitrary meaningless sanctions, not because it's some sort of social faux pas, but because sin is in fact a frustration of what it means to be human, a refusal to realise the end for which God created us, which is radical love. When we sin, it's a bit like eating spiritual cardboard, something bland, artificial, and no good for us!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Imitation 13 - Jesus the New Moses

The Transfiguration

[The prophets] can indeed utter words, but they do not confer the spirit. They say beautiful things, but if you [Jesus] are silent, they do not inflame the heart. They transmit the letter, but you reveal the meaning. They state the mysteries, but you enlighten the intelligence concerning the things hidden therein. They announce the commandments, but you help us to practise them. They show us the way, but you give us the strength to walk. They only work on the outside, but you instruct and illumine the hearts. They water the ground, but you give fruitfulness. They warn with words, but you give understanding.

Let not Moses speak to me, therefore, but you, O Lord my God, eternal Truth, so that I may not die and prove fruitless, as would happen if I were only outwardly admonished and not kindled within. So that the word heard and not practiced, known and not loved, believed and not observed, may not be my condemnation.

"Speak then, O Lord, for your servant is listening."

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Imitation 12 - The Sweetness of the Cross

Why then are you afraid to take up that cross, which leads to the kingdom? In the cross there is salvation; in the cross there is life; in the cross there is protection from your enemies; in the cross there is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the cross there is strength of mind; in the cross there is spiritual joy; in the cross there is the sum of virtue; in the cross there is the perfect holiness.
Pope Benedict, while still a cardinal, wrote that ever since Christ's Paschal Mystery, the whole of salvation history has been interpreted in the light of an exodus, a going out of oneself to God. We can only find ourselves by going out of ourselves (Principles of Catholic Theology). And we do this by uniting our cross to the Cross of Christ. Then it is not merely a burden, but becomes a true sacrifice ("making holy").

Monday, 21 March 2011

Imitation 11 - God's gifts

Gathering manna in the desert  (from a 13th century Bible)

Be grateful then for every little thing and you will be worthy to receive greater things. Regard the least gift as the greatest, and the most common as a special gift. If you consider the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem little or mean to you. For nothing is small which is given by God most high.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Imitation 10 - Friends with Christ

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (top right) by Velazquez

From the Imitation:

Blessed is he who understands what it is to love Jesus and to despise himself for the sake of Jesus. We must leave for this Friend every other friend, because Jesus wants us to love him above all things.
Here Thomas a Kempis gets to the heart of the matter. All discipline in the spiritual life is ordered to friendship with Christ. To "despise" oneself in this sense doesn't mean to hate oneself, but to count one's own comforts and privileges as nothing in the face of gaining the love of Christ. Such self-forgetful love is natural, say, in the case of a young couple. It is also the love that the saints are shown to have in Revelation 12: 11 - "they loved not their lives even unto death." This love is in fact that of Christ himself who "emptied himself" to become man for our sake (Phil 2 7: 7). To leave our friends for this Friend, in a similar way, doesn't mean that we have no friends besides Christ, but that we have no friends contrary to Christ, or even equal to Christ. That is, we do not keep company that will prevent us living our true Christian vocation (think of Caravaggio's painting of the Call of Matthew), and we do not depend on our friends the same we depend on Jesus, who is the Strength to whom we turn, the God who shows us love (Psalm 59: 17). Lent therefore is a great opportunity for stopping to look at this relationship, to ask ourselves if we are willing to "waste time" with Jesus.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Happy St Joseph's Day

I always love the Solemnity of St Joseph. This morning at seminary we had (semi?) solemn Morning Prayer, with deacon and servers, and Mass will also be more festive, though it's a normal lecture day for us. But it's worth making the effort!

Let me quote to you St Joseph's most important words on the spiritual life: 

" ...                                               ".

Yes, silence is the most important thing he tells us. He teaches us to be people of interior recollection, of prudence, of courage, of loyalty, and of humility in the face of the ineffable mystery of the Christ Event, in which his wife is caught up (as is he). Not only is silence Joseph's appropriate response before the Word of God, Jesus Christ born of Mary, but it is the way in which Joseph comes to understand his own role in God's plan. St Augustine says that there is in each of us a depth so profound that it is hidden even from our very selves. Silence is the means by which we unearth at least something of that profound depth in us, the soul in which the Blessed Trinity makes its home.

The reading from The Imitation of Christ today is very appropriate therefore to this Solemnity:

The interior man cares for his own soul above all other things; and he who diligently attends to himself is easily silent with regard to others. You will never be a recollected and devout man if you are not silent about others, and especially watchful over yourself. If you attend wholly to yourself and to God, you will be disturbed little by what you see around you. Where are you when you are not present to yourself?

Friday, 18 March 2011

Imitation 9 - Humility

It is often very helfpul in keeping us in greater humility that others know and rebuke our faults. When a man humbles himself for his faults, he then pacifies others and easily satisfies those who are angry with him. God protects and delivers the humble man; he loves and comforts the humble; and to the humble he inclines himself: he bestows his grace on the humble, and after he has been brought low raises him to glory. To the humble he reveals his secrets, and sweetly draws and invited him to himself. The humble man, in the midst of reproach, remains in great peace; for he depends on God, not on the world.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Imitation 8

A certain anxious person, who was often wavering between hope and fear, being overcome with grief, had prostrated himself in prayer before an altar in the church. He thought over these things, saying to himself: 'If I did but know that I will persevere'; and soon he heard within himself this answer from God: 'And if you did know this, what would you do? Do now what you would do then, and you will be free from care.' And immediately, being consoled and fortified, he entrusted himself to the divine will, and his anxious wavering stopped. Neither was he concerned anymore to seek to know what should happen to him hereafter; but he rather studied to inquire what was the pleasure and the perfect will of God, for the beginning and the fulfilling of every good work.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Imitation 7

If you have at any time seen a man die, reflect that you must also travel the same road... How happy and prudent is the man who strives now in this life to be what he wishes death may find him.

Imitation 6

I know that technically the day is finished now, but nevertheless before I go to bed...

Happy is he who can throw aside all obstacles and distractions and recollect himself united in holy compunction. Happy is the man who separates himself from all that may burden or stain his conscience. Strive manfully; habit is overcome by habit.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Imitation 5

Today's reflection from The Imitation, though it is obviously aimed at monastic life, can be easily applied to life in the world. It speaks of being transparent in the sense that we are on the inside what we present on the outside, not "whitewashed sepulcres" like the Pharisees that Jesus criticised. Also important is the final phrase, which shows that there is no ambition (in the good sense) without discipline. This raises the question, "How much do we want to change this Lent?" By God's grace change is possible, but only with our commitment:

The life of a good religious ought to amount to all virtues, that he may be interiorly as he appears to men on the outside. And with good reason ought he to be much more in his interior than he appears on the exterior; because it is God who beholds us and we should stand in great awe of him, wherever we are, and like angels walk in purity in his sight. Every day we ought to renew our resolution and excite ourselves to fervour as if this were our first day in the monastery, and say:
   "Help me, O Lord God, in my good resolution and in your holy service, and give me grace now this day to begin truly, for what I have hitherto done is nothing."

According to our resolution, so our progress will be; and he has need of much diligence who would advance much.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Imitation 4, End of Recollection Day

We had a good day of recollection with Fr Alan, who talked about Lent as a 'spiritual itinerary' towards the horizon of grace, the horizon of the Resurrection, referring to the Ash Wednesday homily of Pope Benedict. He even said it is no bad thing to meditate on some of the Resurrection scenes in Lent to know where it is we're going, to know what the ultimate destination is. The Cross is on the way to something greater. That is not to say we shouldn't examine sin in this time, that we shouldn't do some digging into our lives, but we must do this only in the company of Christ and in the context of his grace.

Having said that, here's the daily reflection of Thomas a Kempis:

If anyone, being once or twice admonished, does not comply, do not argue with him but leave it all to God, who knows well how to turn evil into good, that his will may be done, and that he be honoured in all his servants. Endeavour to be patient in bearing the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be; because you also have many things which others must bear with.
   If you cannot make yourself what you should be, how can you expect to have someone else to your liking? We would readily have others perfect, and yet we do not amend our own faults.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Imitation 3

He who only flees temptations outwardly, and does not pluck out the root, will profit little; indeed, temptation will soon return to him, and he will find himself in a worse condition. By degrees, and by patience and long-suffering, you will, by God's grace, better overcome them than by harshness and impatience. In temptation take counsel often, and deal not roughly with one that is tempted; but comfort him as you would wish to be done to yourself.

Tonight we start our day of recollection with Fr Alan Williams, our very own director of the shrine at Walsingham. We met him briefly when he arrived this evening. Hopefully we will pass on a bit of his words of wisdom when the recollection finishes tomorrow evening!

Organ Recital for Justice and Peace

Friday, 11 March 2011

Imitation 2

A bit late but still within the day, here's the next reflection from the Imitation. (I bought Jesus of Nazareth part II yesterday and am hoping to start that soon!)

If every year we rooted out one vice, we should soon become perfect. But as it is we often find, on the contrary, that we were better and purer in the beginning of our conversion, than after many years of our religious profession. Our fervour and progress ought to be greater every day; but now it is counted an achievement if a man can retain some part of his first fervour. If we would do but a little violence to ourselves in the beginning, afterwards we should do all things with ease and joy.

It is hard to leave off our old habits, but harder still to go against our own will. But if you do not overcome things that are small and light, how will you overcome greater difficulties?
[...] Oh! If you realised how much peace you would procure for yourself and joy to others by your well doing, I think you would be more anxious for your spiritual progress.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Daily Imitation

For Lent, as my confrere has explained in a previous post, we are reading The Imitation of Christ. When he does not post about it, I'm going to make it my resolution (hopefully better kept than last year!) to post a bit of the Imitation on the blog each day. The manner in which it is written makes it very easy to do this, as it is separated into points for reflection that can be read on their own.

Here is today's reflection!

Be not ahsamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ, and to appear poor in this world. Trust not in your own resources but place your hope in God. Do what is in your power, and God will bless your good will. Trust not in your own knowledge, nor in the cleverness of any living creature but rather in the grace of God, who helps the humble and humbles the presumptuous.

One man's junk...

Last Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, saw our traditional CAFOD auction.

After our January placements, we start to hand in bits of junk which we have amassed, because, to another seminarian, they could be just the thing they were looking for.

This year was no different, and, as usual, we gathered in the common room in the evening and auctioned off all our items to each other! This year, we raised over £1,200, which is the highest result ever!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Sic transit gloria mundi

Today is Ash Wednesday, the Day of Ashes, the start of Lent.

Christ, by Heinrich Hoffman

This year, the College's Lenten reading is The Imitation of Christ, by Fr Thomas Hemerken (a.k.a. a Kempis!). Thomas was a monk in the fifteenth-century Netherlands. This humanistic period, and this part of the world, saw a great expanse of pietistic movements in the Church, counter-acting the pre-dominant scholasticism which had developed - in academic circles - in the middle ages. The Imitation of Christ became a popular devotional work, and, indeed, is said to be the second most popular book in history after the Bible. It has, for many generations, fed the spiritual hunger of the Christian people, and continues to do so today. As usual, we have a rigorous timetable of reading for the first 4 weeks of Lent, though, in an ideal situation, the book should be read quite slowly!

An excerpt from today's reading made me think of the meaning of Ash Wednesday:

Tell me, where now are all those great doctors and masters with whom you were well acquainted while they were alive and immersed in learning? Now others fill their places, and I know not whether they ever think of them. In their lifetime they seemed to be someone, and now they are not spoken of.
Oh, how quickly does the glory of the world pass away!...He is truly great who has great charity. He is truly great who is little in his own eyes and esteems all honours as naught. He is truly prudent who considers all earthly things are refuse that he may gain Christ. And he is very learned indeed who does the will of God and renounces his own will.

Last week was half-term, and a few East Anglians were in Rome for a little holiday. While walking around the Vatican Grottoes, I was struck by the reality that the vast, low-vaulted room was filled with the remains of many men, who, in their lifetimes, were some of the most powerful, important and influential people on the planet. Now, as we say, they are dust. Sic transit gloria mundi!

It does make you think about the trials we endure, living only in the present-moment as we do, and how they will, one day, be naught. While we should strive to live well, live for Christ, in our time on earth, we must remember, in the words of Job, that as we came from our mother's womb, so we shall return to our Father in heaven.

Our desire, our love for God can be demonstrated in this holy season by prayer, fasting and alms-giving. In Lent, we often 'give something up', and in doing so, we demonstrate to ourselves and to God, that we place our trust and our love in Him alone, and do not, ultimately, wish to dwell in this, our exile.

The Church's sacred liturgy is the most perfect expression of our loving worship of God, and of our hope and faith in him:

Support us, Lord,  
as with this Lenten fast, 
we begin our Christian warfare, 
so that doing battle against the spirit of evil, 
we may be armed with the weapon of self-denial. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Feast of St Felix

East Anglia is a funny old place. It has been perched on the edge of England, watching the seasons come and go, the water-levels rise and fall, for many centuries. 

Britain was a Christian nation. The British people were Christian, and the Roman government was also Christian. In fact, Britain had already produced a notable theologian, Pelagius, who turned out to be a heretic, and whose ideas are, apparently, long-lasting. 

St Felix of Dunwich
In Rome, the Empire was beginning to crumble under its own weight, and so, the authorities deemed it necessary to consolidate its far-flung dependencies, and so, Britain, much sought after by numerous Emperors, was abandoned (that's the primary school version, anyway). The British Christians were soon overrun by marauding pagans from the east, and much of their ancient lands - in what we now call England - were transformed into German-speaking kingdoms; the British clinging to the rocks of the west-coast, staunchly defending the faith. 

One of these early Germanic kingdoms, East Engla, quickly became the richest nation, governed by the powerful Wuffing dynasty, who ruled the kingdom from 571 to 794 (St Edmund was from another dynasty).

At the turn of the seventh century, a new Wuffing king came to power in East Anglia, whose name was Sigebhert. There was something different about him, however, for he was a Christian, and a good one too, it seems. Not only did he seek to evanglise his new kingdom, but he sought to improve the conditions of his people, particularly through education (dark ages my foot!). He appealed to the Metropolitan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, at this time, was Honorius. After, I'm sure, much prayer and discernment, he summoned a Burgundian monk called Felix, who had expressed a desire to bring the Gospel to the English people of the east. [Burgundy was a powerful Frankish duchy which, at its height, stretched from Switzerland to Belgium] Felix was commanded to found a new See in East Anglia.

This bishop, who had been born and consecrated in Burgundy, came to Archbishop Honorius, to whom he expressed his longings; so the archbishop sent him to preach the word of life to this nation of the Angles. Nor were his wishes in vain, for the devoted husbandman reaped an abundant harvest of believers in this spiritual field. Indeed, as his name signified, he freed the whole of this kingdom from long-lasting evil and unhappiness, brought it to the faith and to the works of righteousness and bestowed on it the gift of everlasting felicity. He received the seat of his bishopric in the city of Dunwich; and when he had ruled over the kingdom as bishop for seventeen years, he ended his life there in peace. (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, II-15)

He worked tirelessly with King Sigebhert, and, for a period, with the Irish monk, St Fursy, to re-establish Christianity, reconciling his own Roman Christianity with the pre-existing Christianity in the kingdom, which stretched as far as the Fens. Because of the status held by the kingdom, Felix exercised much influence throughout England, and among his brother bishops and missioners.

The saintly bishop died on this day in 648, and devotion to him quickly spread through the land. His body was interred in Soham, and, later, translated to Ramsey. He is remembered today, not only as the first Bishop of East Anglia, but as a zealous missionary and defender of the faith. 

We East Anglian seminarians are unable to keep his feast today liturgically, as he is not commemorated in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, though we celebrate with you in spirit today!

Happy Feast!