Friday, 26 October 2012

Funeral of Fr Ben

Yesterday was the Funeral Mass of Fr Ben Grist in St John's Cathedral, Norwich. Fr David Bagstaff, the diocesan administrator, presided. The day before, Fr Mark Hackeson presided at the reception of the body and Evening Prayer. It was wonderful that the whole of Oscott seminary, including the domestic staff, were able to get a coach from Birmingham to attend the funeral. And there were many other people there, who knew Ben from various places along his checkered journey. It was good to see his family there, especially his dad and his brothers. Please continue to keep the family in your prayers, as well as Fr Ben himself, that he enjoys now the fulness of the Trinity's glory.  

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Requiesce in Pace, Fr Ben!

Many of you will know about the Ordination of Fr Ben Grist for the diocese on June 30th, after the discovery that he had advanced liver cancer in his third year at seminary. Some of you will also know that he passed away early this morning, peacefully and having been given the Anointing of the Sick. He will be greatly missed in the diocese and by the guys here at the seminary. As Ben himself would be the first to admit, he was always something of a "free spirit", and found it a challenge to adapt to the rules and routines of institutional life! But he was a person of deep piety, with a child-like heart, who knew how to appreciate small graces. He would often be found sitting out under the trees in the seminary grounds, reading a book and taking in the sunshine. With his outgoing personality he was also a great friend and evangeliser of the domestic staff at the college, as well as the doctors and nurses in the hospitals. I think these last months of his illness were a great blessing for him in many ways, as he came to terms with what God was doing in his life, and his new role as a priest in the diocese. When I spoke to him a fortnight ago, he said of his illness: "When you're not in control, God is, and that's a blessing. Everything is a gift".

Please pray for Fr Ben, that he go straight to God. I know I have no authority to presume his eternal state, but I have an unofficial hunch that he will be a great intercessor for our diocese, and I for one will be asking for his prayers in return.

Requiescat in Pace.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Happy Feast of the Confessor

Happy Feast of St Edward the Confessor!

When I say "Feast" I use that word as it is used in common parlance. Actually, in the English Church, today is a Memorial, which means liturgically-speaking that we don't sing the Gloria at Mass or the Te Deum at the Office of Readings as we would on a "Feast" technically so-called. We only use the prayers proper to him at Mass and the Divine Office.

Or so I thought... I've discovered (or possibly rediscovered since this time last year!) that at some point since the Breviary was published today's celebration appears to have been relegated to an Optional Memorial, meaning the priest can choose whether or not he acknowledges Edward by using his prayers in the liturgy.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems a shame that this national saint-king - the only King of England in fact to be canonised - is not observed with more ceremony! Along with our own East Anglian king St Edmund the Martyr, and Pope St Gregory the Great, St Edward was regarded as the official patron of England until St George was made so in 1351. There seems to be a lot of contention over the issue of whether St Edward was a successful monarch or not. Shortly after his death in 1066, England was conquered by the Normans. But he was apparently loved for his gentle and generous spirit. He avoided starting any wars. He did not enforce the Danegelt (a tax which Viking invaders had periodically demanded from England). He gave willingly to the poor. He loved participating in the liturgy. He built Westminster Abbey (though not as it appears today). Perhaps it was his gentleness that made him prone to pushy opportunitists like the Godwin family. Such was appropriate to his saintly gentleness, but let us not be meek on his behalf and allow him to go unnoticed!

I'm sure our historian confrere Simon could tell us more, and that more accurately, about St Edward. At any rate, let us invoke St Edward's intercession for those in government in our country, that they make decisions not based on superficial motives but out of a real love for what is true, good and beautiful. We can also pray to him, the Confessor, as a model for us in this Year of Faith. He can help us to live our faith in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, great or small.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Year of Faith

So it begins! The Year of Faith which the Holy Father has inaugurated on the anniversary of the opening of Vatican II (1962) and the publishing of the subsequent Catechism (1992). It is a year in which he invites us to enter more deeply into the faith, as through a door into our true home:

"The door of faith" (Acts 14: 27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. (Pope Benedict, Apostolic Letter "Porta Fidei", 1) 

Far from being something closed, then, faith is something that opens us to the full panorama of our human horizons, where earth and Heaven touch. For this reason, the Catechism dares to say that

faith is already the beginning of eternal life. (CCC 163)

 In this Year, we are encouraged to renew our faith in two ways:

i) we renew our fundamental act of faith, by which we place our trust in God alone, whose initiative of grace invites this response from us. In this way we imitate Mary, who offered her life to God in complete confidence, thereby loosening the knot of Eve's disobedience (see Lumen Gentium 56).

ii) We turn again to the content of our faith, the fidei depositum. What do we believe? What has God entrusted to us through his Word in Scripture and in the Church's Tradition? Who is Christ? How does God act in human history? How are we saved? What is the Church? What is the purpose of the sacraments? What is the role of the saints? We ponder these questions anew as we reflect on our Creed. Again, we imitate Mary, who pondered in her heart the mystery of her Son, who is the fulness of revelation (Lk 2: 51).

So during this year I for one will be thinking of ways I can renew my confidence in and dependence on God, as well as how I can internalise the mysteries of the faith which God reveals in the Church for our salvation.

There is a Mass in St John's cathedral Norwich today to celebrate the start of this year. Though I cannot be there, I am thinking of and praying for the diocese as we enter into this privileged time!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Popular rock group professes Tridentine anthropology

Yesterday I bought the recently released second album from the alternative, English, folk rock group Mumford & Sons. The album, styled "Babel", was released on the feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham (probably a coincidence), and is the fasting selling UK album of 2012. In their first song their singer makes clear where they stand on the Reformation shibboleth of "sola gratia" ("grace alone"). Mr Mumford sings repeatedly: "I believe in grace and choice!"    

OK, perhap he just thought it sounded nice, and it happens to rhyme with the previous line. But funnily enough, this is exactly what the Council of Trent had to say on the issue.

In response to the Lutheran claim that our human nature is completely corrupt and our good works make no difference to our salvation because we are saved through grace alone, Trent said in its Decree on Justification in 1547:

"Those who through their sin were turned away from God, awakened and assisted by his grace, are disposed to turn to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace".

This two-fold profession of God's grace and our free assent is only a recognition of what is in Scripture, to which Trent refers:

"...When it is said in Sacred Scripture: 'Return to  me and I will return to you" [Zech 1: 3], we are reminded of our freedom; but when we reply: 'Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored' [Lam : 21], we acknowledge that God's grace precedes us."

In other words, our salvation is the work of God's grace, without which we can do nothing; but we play an active part in cooperating with that grace. This is an optimistic understanding of the human person, acknowledging that our nature is good because created by God, even if it is damaged by sin. We are in the image of God because we are what Blessed John Paul II called self-determining beings, that is, on a human level we determine who we are by the way we choose to live and the habits we form. God's grace enables us to do this.

Choice, by the way, is actually a lesser, earthly type of freedom. In heaven the saints will not choose to love God, they simply will love him, because they have attained that higher freedom in which they participate effortlessly in the glory of the Trinity. 

So thank you Mr Mumford for recalling us to our Catholic anthropology.