Friday, 30 October 2009
This weekend I am at High Leigh Christian Conference Centre, in Hertfordshire, with all the other men on the permanent diaconate formation programme, of which there are a total of five from Westminster. We will have to hand in our first 1500 word essay - I hope I've passed - and also give a 10 minute presentation comparing a passage of the Old Testament with a passage in the New Testament. I have chosen Leviticus chapter 13 and Mark chapter 1, where Jesus heals a man with leprosy. You might like to read the healing story in Mark this week, in your bible, to hear if Jesus is saying anything to you. I will share my reflection with you next week. We will also be spending time in learning how to preach - known as homiletics, and learning how to study the bible critically - know as exegesis. No doubt we will also be set another essay, and other assignments, with a ton of reading! We will be praying together the Liturgy of the Hours, and participating in a Holy Hour before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and daily Mass. I will remember all my blog readers and your intentions at prayer.
Monday, 19 October 2009
The Congregation for the Clergy has been affirming the richness of the permanent diaconate, and is urging permanent deacons to strive for holiness through meditation on God’s Word and charitable works. Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the congregation’s prefect, wrote about this topic in a letter on the feast of St. Lawrence. He reported that when bishops come to Rome for their five-yearly visits, they are generally very much pleased and full of hope in regard to Permanent Deacons. He affirmed, “At the same time, the Church would like to encourage you on the way of personal sanctification, in your prayer lives and in the spirituality of the diaconate.”
The following is extracted from the letter:
“The ministry of the Word which, in a special way for Deacons, has as its great model St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, requires of ordained ministers a constant struggle to study it and carry it out, at the same time as one proclaims it to others. Meditation, following the style of lectio divina, that is, prayerful reading, is one well travelled and much counselled way to understand and live the Word of God, and make it one’s own. At the same time, intellectual, theological and pastoral formation is a challenge which endures throughout life. A qualified and up to date ministry of the Word very much depends upon this in depth formation.
The second reflection regards the ministry of Charity, taking as a great model St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr. The diaconate has its roots in the early Church’s efforts to organize charitable works. At Rome, in the third century, during a period of great persecution of Christians, the extraordinary figure of St. Lawrence appears. He was archdeacon of Pope Sixtus II, and his trustee for the administration of the goods of the community. Our well beloved Pope Benedict XVI says regarding St. Lawrence: “His solicitude for the poor, his generous service which he rendered to the Church of Rome in the area of relief and of charity, his fidelity to the Pope, from him he was thrust forward to the point of wanting to undergo the supreme test of martyrdom and the heroic witness of his blood, rendered only a few days later. These are universally recognized facts.” (Homily Basilica of St. Lawrence, November 30, 2008). From St. Lawrence we also take note of the affirmation “the riches of the Church are the poor.” He assisted the poor with great generosity. He is thus an ever more present example to permanent deacons. We must love the poor in a preferential way, as did Jesus Christ; to be united with them, to work towards constructing a just, fraternal and peaceful society. The recent encyclical letter of Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), should be our updated guide. In this encyclical the Holy Father affirms as a fundamental principle “Charity is the royal road of the social doctrine of the Church” (n. 2). Deacons must identify themselves in a very special way with charity. The poor are part of your daily ambiance, and the object of your untiring concern. One could not understand a Deacon who did not personally involve himself in charity and solidarity toward the poor, who again today are multiplying in number.
My dear Permanent Deacons, may God bless you with all his love and make you happy in your vocation and mission! With respect and admiration, I greet the wives and children of those of you who are married. The Church thanks you for the support and multifaceted collaboration which you give to your respective spouses and fathers in their diaconal ministry. In addition, the Year for Priests invites us to manifest our appreciation for our dear priests, and to pray for them and with them.”
Vatican City, Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, August 10, 2009
Cláudio Cardinal Hummes
Archbishop Emeritus of Sao Paulo
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Archbishop Vincent Nichol's Homily, delivered at the Capitular Mass of St Edward the Confessor, in the presence of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisiuex
In the National Gallery, there is a painting which represents the highest achievements of English Mediaeval art. It is the Wilton Diptych and it stands as a reminder of a time when culture and life in this country were profoundly Catholic. But that, along with much of the art of that time, has long gone although we treasure these works which still inspire us today.
In this famous altar piece we can see St Edward the Confessor, whose feast we keep
today. He was King from 1042 to 1066, a time a change and upheaval in this land. For
300 years he was the official Patron Saint of England.
In the painting he is portrayed holding a precious ring which, legend tells us, he had given to a beggar in a characteristic act of generosity. It was miraculously returned to him and became the symbol of his holiness.
Edward was no pious puppet manipulated by ruthless barons. As King he had to steer
a path between opposing forces and serve the unity of his country, even as it was
breaking down. The foundations of his life were prayer and practical kindness, to the
extent that he was quickly recognised by the Church as a true Confessor of the faith.
In his famous sermon on St Edward, Mgr Ronnie Knox spoke of him as the builder of
Westminster Abbey, describing it as a symbol of the King’s life which was ‘built
from little acts of kindness of sacrifices of self’ just as ‘stone by stone and arch by arch rose the Abbey Church of Westminster.’
Today his relics lie so nearby, in Westminster Abbey, where once they attracted great
crowds, just as today, in this Cathedral, do the relics of St Therese of Lisieux. Two
great saints, one a King, the other a young Carmelite nun, separated by 850 years, yet bearing the same testimony: that God is close to us, that Jesus is pure love and that we are invited to be close to him. They both teach us how to respond to that invitation, through daily actions done out of love, for such actions ‘are the ones that charm his heart’.
Together these saints bear a great witness in our country today. They teach us about
the faithfulness of God, who longs to embrace each one of us in our strengths and
especially in our weaknesses. They show us the importance of the things of the spirit
in our self-understanding, witnessing together to the essential spiritual character of human living, reminding us that if we pursue our hopes and dreams without a
profound openness to God, they will remain unfulfilled. And, for King Edward, as for
St Therese, this openness to God is expressed in the daily practice of prayer.
We thank God for the gift of the presence of these precious relics here today. They
help us to be close to Therese so that she can teach us her way of prayer. She calls us
to a deeper closeness to the Lord. From her we learn about intimacy with Jesus,
holding him as our first love and as our best lover.
St Therese I Page 2 of 3
She wrote: ‘For me prayer is an outburst of the heart, a simple gaze directed towards
heaven, a cry of gratitude and love in trial as well as in joy. It is something wonderful
and supernatural that expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.’
These are words we can all understand: clear, direct, heartfelt and heart-filling. These
are words we too can put into practice.
Again she teaches us in words spoken towards the end of her life: ‘I’m praying, I’m
saying nothing to him, I’m just loving him.’
The astonishing directness and simplicity of these words should not mislead us.
Therese may well have been, in her childhood, a ‘little princess’ but she grew to be a
tough and formidable young woman.
Please remember she lived in an age of the spirit of Jansenism, which overemphasised
the strictness of God’s judgement and the difficulties of getting to heaven.
This prevented many people from ever seeing God as a loving Father. Yet Therese
had the strength and the grace to develop a radically different way of viewing God: as
our Father who desires nothing more than to pour out the depths of his love on each
one of us, and who did so in Jesus.
Today this strict view of God has not entirely disappeared from our hearts. We also
face another obstacle to the intimacy with God for which we long. Today God has
become a distant reality who touches our lives, if at all, only to interfere with our
personal freedom, the most jealously guarded treasure of the individual today.
St Therese shows us that only in humility and with a boundless trust in God can we
overcome this sense of distance. Humility and trust directly oppose our pride and our
self-sufficiency. This is the key to her famous ‘Little Way of Spiritual Childhood.’
Every day is an opportunity to follow this little way. Every action, when it is done
with humility and love, becomes a step drawing us nearer to the Lord. And such
actions are supported and inspired by prayer.
She insists that this way of prayer and intimacy is not difficult. She says: ‘I have not
the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers…I do as a child who has not
learned to read, I just tell our Lord all that I want and He understands.’
Yet there were books she constantly looked at: the books of the Bible. She said: ‘In
my helplessness, Holy Scripture comes to my aid: in the Bible I discover a solid and
very pure nourishment. But it is especially the Gospels which sustain me during my
hours of prayer, for in them I find what is necessary for my poor little soul. I am
constantly discovering in them new lights, hidden and mysterious meanings.’
In this too we can follow her way for, in our day, the Gospels texts can always be in
our hands, and we can ponder them together, repeat their phrases in our hearts, as
freely as we wish. We do well to do so.
But as you all know, when Therese speaks of her helplessness she knows exactly what
she is speaking about. She suffered: loneliness, heart-breaking bereavement, long
debilitating illness, a slow painful death. She has been in the darkest of places. No
St Therese I Page 3 of 3
wonder the soldiers in the trenches of the First Word War carried her picture to
comfort and strengthen them. No wonder, throughout this pilgrimage of her relics,
people have come to her with their burdens and tragedies, not looking for any miracle
other than the strength to bear their share of the cross with a love and perseverance
like hers. What we learn from her is that it is precisely when we are torn open in
distress and pain that the love of God can fill us and transform our lives.
Her unique experience of the Lord’s unwavering, accepting love was given to her
precisely at the moments of her extreme helplessness. This is her lesson for us: that
the Lord has this same unwavering love for each of us, no matter the tattered state of
our lives or brokenness of our hearts.
This is how her holiness can be described: she could gaze on God with childlike
loving, not averting her eyes, not fleeing as we do into the theoretical, the sentimental
or the pious, but holding still before God, knowing that the gaze of the Father always
brings us love, not pain.
It has been said of Therese that she had the fragility of a child but the courage of a
warrior. In her company we can acknowledge our own fragility. And we can ask for a
share of her courage: a courage that stops us from hiding from our failures, a courage
that enables us to stand before the Lord when our eyes are full of tears, a courage to
bear our hearts and souls to Him for he alone will accept, embrace and delight us.
Listen, just once more to her words, as she repeats her message about how we are to
grow in intimacy with the Lord. This is the lesson we are to learn:
‘Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed…I have no other means of
proving my love than strewing flowers (before you), that is to say not to let one little
sacrifice escape, not one look, not one word, profiting by all the smallest things and
doing them through love.’
Only step by step is a great Abbey Church built. Only step by step can we open
ourselves daily to the love of God that he may build his goodness into us and that we
may live in intimacy with Him.
We thank God for this time of tutoring. May we learn our lessons well, and may the
prayers of St Edward our Confessor and St Therese our much loved Doctor of the
Church, help us always. Amen.