Sunday, 30 September 2012

Faith, Food & Fun (ie. Blessing of Beer)

I went to the baptism of the baby of some friends of mine today as the godfather, and after a beautiful ceremony we moved next door to the reception, where the the father asked me to bless the beer. Believe it or not there is such a blessing! Perhaps it seems a trivial thing to do. Of course it is not a patch on the mystical incorporation into the Trinitarian life that the baby received in baptism. But I think it highlights the truism that the Christian faith is something that engages the totality of human existence. By sanctifying the culinary dimension, the Church makes her home in our home. It reminds me of the late Bishop Michael advocating "Faith, Food, and Fun"  - perhaps we should change "Food" in this case to "Fermentation"! Moreover, I take my cue from Fiddler on the Roof. When the Rabbi is asked if there is a blessing for a new sewing machine, he says "Of course! There is a blessing for everything!"

Incidentally, the beer was East Anglian...

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Overwhleming Quality of Grace

On Wednesday, which is our free day at the seminary, I went to see Anna Karenina with a fellow seminarian. I'm ashamed to say I've never read the book, so I can't say how faithful an interpretation the new film is. While I was disappointed that there were a few unnecessary scenes, by no means fleeting (cue to close eyes!), I liked the way the public and social life of the characters was played out on a stage, but in such a way that it merged with reality. Cleverly done, and quite wonderful I thought. The selfishness of Anna, the title character, and her lover Alexei was fairly depressing. In their infantile infatuation with one another, all sense of commitment was thrown to the winds, even to the point that Anna spurned the near-heroic forgiveness and patience of her husband. They sought merely to indulge their own passions, and as a consequence, Anna began to doubt the authenticity of Alexei's love, while Alexei grew bored of Anna's emotional stranglehold on him. This doubt, resentment and disillusionment is the inevitable result of sin, even if sin presents itself to us in an attractive guise at first. God warns Adam and Eve that the illicit fruit leads to death, and this death is not just physical but spiritual. Sin makes us bored and boring.

Therefore I was moved by the contrasting story of Kitty and Levin. Kitty originally spurns Levin's suit to her in favour of the dashing Alexei, but when Alexei in turn spurns her for Anna, Kitty becomes sick and depressed. Later on in the film, Levin meets Kitty again, when she has learned of her mistake but has no hope that Levin will propose again after the initial slight. Levin is unchanged, however, and when Kitty discovers this from him she becomes tearfully overwhelmed by her happiness and gratitude for his faithful love. Call me a softy, but this was my favourite scene of the film. In contrast to the cynical, possessive love of Anna, who feels she deserves it, Kitty is the one who gratefully receives a love she knows she has not earned. The Cure of Ars said that if the priest knew what he truly was, he would die of love. I think that's the case for grace as well. If we truly realised how unmerited the grace of God is, for us human beings who have countless times spurned it, then we would be helpless with wonder and love in the face of such faithful gratuity. It would overwhelm us.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Happy Feast!

I know it's a bit late, but hope you've had a Happy Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham! I said her litany on behalf of the diocese today...

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Holy Land 2: Bethlehem

Bethlehem, as many of you will know, is one of the largest Palestinian territories, walled off from Jerusalem which it borders. I was surprised at how the suburbs of Jerusalem suddenly turned into the threshold of the town of the nativity as we drove along. The infamous wall is very imposing, and manned by young Israeli guards – all Israelis are required to do military service for a time. We usually got through the checkpoints without any fuss, though the Palestinians who have permission to come out of Bethlehem (for work, perhaps) are sometimes detained for hours before they are allowed to pass through. The Palestinian side of the wall is covered with graffiti recording the bitter tensions between Palestine and Israel. We should pray for an end to these tensions, and make an effort to support the Palestinian Christian population, which has been haemorrhaging in recent decades as many emigrate from their homeland. Most of the population seem to be Muslim, and I was awoken a few mornings by the imam’s call to prayer at 4.30 am...

As in Jerusalem, the Basilica of the Nativity is used by different ancient Christian traditions, with the Greek Orthodox once again appearing to have the biggest privileges in the original site. (The Church of St Catherine which adjoins the ancient basilica is where the Catholics worship, and it is the church in which Midnight Mass from Bethlehem is televised.) “Noble simplicity” doesn’t seem to be an architectural/ liturgical phenomenon with which the Orthodox are enamoured. I was amused at how there were gigantic Christmas baubles hanging all over the chapel! After all – unlike the White Witch’s Narnia – it’s always Christmas in Bethlehem! The site of the basilica dates back to the time of Constantine, who built a church over the cave which is believed to be the place of Jesus’ birth. This allegedly makes it the oldest continuous church in the world. But the present building is Byzantine in origin. The medieval Crusaders added to it, as they did many other churches in the Holy Land.

The interior, minus the Christmas baubles

One interesting change over time is the gradual reduction of the size of the front entrance. Originally a huge door, it got smaller and smaller as there was more need to defend the Church from invading horsemen. But this historical incident gives way to a spiritual interpretation. We can only enter into the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation by becoming small and humble ourselves, by becoming “poor in spirit”, like Mary and Joseph, or like St Therese in more recent times...

"The Little Way"

As well as venerating the cave of the Nativity beneath the sanctuary, we got to celebrate Mass in another cave under the church very near the old burial site of St Jerome, the Scripture scholar who translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century. His body is now in St Maria Maggiore in Rome, as is the manger. So I prayed for all Scripture scholars, and for a new flourishing of the traditional four-fold sense of Scripture, not just the historical-critical method (more on that some other time).

The site of the Nativity
Here is a clip of an Armenian liturgy taking place in their side chapel in the basilica, very similar to one I witnessed there, only the one I saw was much more spendid, and the priest was wearing a blue crown while the cantors/ servers/ deacons (?) were wearing blue copes. Come to think of it, it might have been their celebration of the Assumption, which is later than ours.

More accounts of my adventures to follow!

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Holy Land: Jerusalem

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

There is an old saying about Jerusalem. When God created the earth, he distributed ten portions of beauty, nine of which were allotted to Jerusalem. And he also distributed 10 portions of sorrow, nine of which were allotted to Jerusalem.

Staying in Jerusalem was my favourite part of the pilgrimage. The city is such a melting pot of different traditions and cultures rubbing elbows together, composed as it is of the Jewish Quarter, the Palestinian Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. In its ancient history it has seen numerous wars and is still a place full of underlying tensions. Christians reverence the place where Jesus preached, healed, worshipped, was crucified, was buried and rose again. For the Jews it is the Holy City of Zion, where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac, where David and Solomon reigned, where the Temple stood, and where according to rabbinic legend Adam and Eve and the whole world were created. And it is held holy by the Muslims, who believe that Mohammed ascended into Heaven from there. Yet somehow all these groups manage to live more or less together, though perhaps more by force of circumstances than by choice!

Every day I got to visit the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. In the basilica there are three main Christian groups with the greatest privileges in terms of celebrating liturgies: the Latin rite Catholics, the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians. There are also three smaller Christians groups: the Copts, the Syriacs and the Ethiopians. One night I stayed up and observed the different liturgies that happened throughout the night, starting with the Greeks at midnight. Before that got underway though, a represenative from each of the groups went around the whole basilica incensing all the altars. I've never seen so many thuribles being swung at once, and so hastily - I had to make sure and keep out of their way!

The Holy Sepulchre

The next morning our group had our own Mass in the tomb of the Resurrection, which I had the privilege of deaconing. Golgotha, the site of the Crucifixion, is also within the Basilica, just near the Sepulchre as St John notes in his Gospel.

We saw so much of the city: the Western Wall, which is the last remaining wall of the Herodian Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD; the Cenacle where the last Supper was celebrated (until recently a mosque!); the pool of Bethsaida where the crippled man was healed; the Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed to the Father before his Passion... For me being in Jerusalem was like being at the heart of life itself, in all its nobility and in all its ignominy, without pretence. I’m sure the Incarnate Word of God would have felt quite at home walking its streets! (I mean that in an idiomatic rather than a theological sense...)

Next time I’ll say something about Bethlehem.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Prodigal Deacon Returns

Seeing as Simon has done an excellent job in saving this blog from extinction, and seeing as I am, after all, a seminarian for another 8 months, I've repented of my indolence and returned to posting!

As Simon said, I had a chance to go to the Holy Land in the summer, which was a very blessed opportunity. Our group of priests and deacons stayed in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Galilee.

Tomorrow I will start to post about it, so stay tuned!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Parish fundraising concert

You may be interested in looking at the details of a concert at Down on the Farm for 22 September, to help raise money for that church.

Click on Mozart to connect
Down on the Farm
There are many new church projects in East Anglia. St Felix in Haverhill has been recently completed, but money still needs to be raised to pay off the debt.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Pope's prayer intentions

Every month, the Pope's curia announces what his special prayer intention is every month. When we pray for the Pope, such as during the rosary, or in our acquisition of indulgences, we pray not only for his person and his well-being, but we also unite ourselves to his prayer intentions. Prayer, of course, is very powerful, and if we are adding our prayers to Peter's prayers, then they will be very effective prayers indeed.

This month, being the first day and all that, the Pope's prayer intention is:

That politicians may always act with honesty, integrity and love for the truth.

And his intention for the missions is:

That Christian communities may have a growing willingness to send missionaries, priests and lay people, along with concrete resources, to the poorest Churches.