Selections from the Pastoral Writings of
Rt. Rev. Lindsay Urwin
Administrator of the Shrine of the Holy House of Our Lady of Walsingham, England

 

Letter from the Superior to the Clerics and Religious Associate of the Holy House - Walsingham - Christmastide - MMX

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I enjoy standing at the window of the Holy House looking in. It has all the comfort and reassurance of any window that emits warmth and light to the outside world, or in this case an often darkened Shrine Church. In difficult and distracting moments in our life here, that view refocuses me on what matters, why the Shrine exists, and why I am here: to proclaim and live as if true, the doctrines of the Incarnation, Atonement, and the Resurrection, the efficacy of prayer and sacraments, and the legitimacy of asking the prayers of the Saints, who are both out surefooted ancestors in the faith and contemporaries in the Body of Christ.

Called to be heralds

The stones and the symbols of the Holy House speak too of the indispensable and providential role of Mary in the drama of salvation, and in the life of the Church throughout the ages. There is an intensity about all of that here, but in reality there is nothing particularly special about the proclamation of Walsingham. All Christians are all heralds of the Word made flesh, and priests certainly so! But it will surely be something that we priests associated to a Shrine, dedicated as it is to the memory of the great charismatic movement of overshadowing, will want to be known for.

Of course, proclamation is not limited to the vocation to preach sermons and to teach. Our prayer and worship and our pastoral ministry speak. And all is interrelated. We all know there is a frightening correlation between the effectiveness of our 'pulpit speak' with both our life at the prie dieu, and the practical ways we demonstrate what we believe. However, it has long been my belief, that alongside increased devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, we need a new flowering of, and confidence in preaching; a confidence born first of all in the strong sense that the God who has called us wants us to preach, and that the act of preaching itself has a sacramental quality through which grace can enter and affect people's lives.

An enticing minimalism

Personal lack of confidence, a misplaced undervaluing of preaching in the catholic tradition over a long period of time, a lack of teaching in seminaries about the theology of preaching and in practical teaching, the demise of evensong and sermon, and a wearied giving in to a terrible minimalism about worship that makes it acceptable, even fashionable to regard it a virtue to have everything over and done within an hour, have all contributed to a collapse in the art of preaching.

The last of these may flow from an attempt to understand the busy-ness of people's lives these days, and of course some of you will know the time pressures of leading several services on a Sunday morning. However, sometimes the most vociferous clock watchers are found among the 'secretly bored with Christianity, we've all heard it all before' folk already in the pews. It is sadly the case that there is not always an exact correlation between the matriarchs and patriarchs of a congregation whose opinions hold sway and Simeons and Annas who are its praying heart. I remember well the despair of a young priest in charge of several rural parishes who was demolished at a Parish Church Council meeting by his churchwarden, for suggesting that they might have a service more often than once per month. Said churchwarden stuck the knife in even further when he suggested that if the 'padre' got himself a wife and children he might understand better the reasons why such excessive religion was a bad idea, and that short and infrequent services were to be preferred.

One of the ironies is that the largest and fastest growing congregations in England at the moment tend to have the longest services! They just don't notice the length and seem to be devoid of any secret resentment that the Lord and his Church are claiming their time. And there seems no fear in the leadership to include 'meaty' preaching.

If minimalist lay folk are a tragedy, so too is the priest who for whatever reason has lost heart and is bored with his own sermons. But it need not be so! Let the lovely words of Wesley which underline the preacher's utter dependence on God, be our prayer:

'Kindle a flame of sacred love on the mean altar of my heart. There let it for thy glory burn!'

As a young curate I served close by to the Baptist Charles Spurgeon's great Tabernacle at the Elephant and Castle. In those ignorant days I would look with disdain on that preaching shop which still drew a crowd. Yet, later, Spurgeon's instructions to young preachers inspired me and changed my whole understanding of preaching. His encouragement to seminarians to expect conversions from their preaching was something I had never really thought about. He truly believed in the possibility of a divine encounter:

'O preacher, if thou art to stand up to see what thou canst do, it will by thy wisdom to sit down speedily; but if thou standest up to prove what thine almighty Lord and Master can do through thee, then infinite possibilities lie about thee!'

He is also one who encouraged the student to go about the ordinary things of life with a preacher's eye, and this way of seeing needs to be at the forefront of the mind of the preacher as he goes about his pastoral tasks and immerses himself in a world he is not of. It is surely a wonderful thing when a preacher weaves the stuff of the contemporary culture, general and local, with the Good News. When he does this he follows the technique of his Master. And of course the motive is love. Love of God first and love of his people. In his life of Michael Ramsey, Owen Chadwick talks of a lesson +Ramsey learned as early as the school debating society, a lesson that sadly remains unlearned in many, that you cannot speak well unless you care - about your subject and about those you are speaking to. But +Ramsey also experienced the cost of preaching: 'I loved to preach, if I felt they wanted to know. If I got no reaction, I felt depressed.'

Joy and throne

George Herbert described the pulpit as the joy and the throne of the priest. He even suggests that the preacher interrupt his own sermon with prayers to God, like "Oh Lord, bless my people and teach them this point!" Worth trying brothers! Perhaps not, but it may just be that part of the recovery of the joy that I longed for in my last letter will come when we do indeed see the pulpit as a joy in our lives, as much a throne as the President's chair.

It seems appropriate to me in this 950th anniversary year of this place that exists to keep alive the memory of the joy of the message given to Mary, to make our ministry as preachers and proclaimers the theme for priests and deacons retreat pilgrimage in February. Much can distract us from the theme who gives us life as John describes the Lord in his first letter. (1 John 1:1) Your attentive and faithful preaching about the theme can renew the bearer, and renew the preacher! Just as our salvation required the humanity of God, so God requires your humanity, your voice, to deliver a message as from him today, even though you know that there is a great distance between the holiness of the Master and dustiness of the servant. It was his wisdom not to write any manifesto for himself, or anything as far as we know save for a few words in the dust to be trampled away by a departing Pharisee (John 8:6), but to entrust his message to the frail earthen vessels to whom he would send his Spirit.

I hope some of you may be able to share in the retreat pilgrimage, which will be co led with me by Father Philip North and Canon Kevin Walton from St. Albans Abbey.

That pilgrimage opportunity will come and go, but I want you to know that in our regular prayers for the Priests Associate at the Shrine during 2011, or particular intention will be for the encouragement and strengthening of your preaching and teaching, and that by God's grace and Mary's prayers you will consistently sow good seed, whatever the state of the ground may be.

In the Review which accompanies this letter you will find details of the three occasions when we shall take the image from the Holy House at Walsingham to St. Albans, to Exeter, and to York. I'd like to encourage you to come to one of these events or to the National Pilgrimage this year, and to bring folk from your parish or community. They should be wonderful celebrations and an opportunity to proclaim the centrality of Mary to the Gospel and to the life of the Church.

The Ordinariate and the Society

You will all know that five bishops, all of whom have a long association and love for the Shrine are to join the emerging Ordinariate. By the end of January or thereabouts it will be clear which of our brother associates are at this point also to make the journey into full communion with the See of Peter. You may know that three of the Sisters from the convent here have now left Walsingham intending to join the Ordinariate. No doubt a large number of the lay folk who will travel with their pastors are members of the Society of the Holy House. As they take leave of the Church of England let us remember that we all live to proclaim the same Lord, and that our baptismal unity is profound and abiding.

Then there is The Society. It is being formed to persevere with the struggle, for which many who are leaving battled long and hard, that is, the creation of an Ecclesial structure with such a measure of jurisdiction that might allow those who remain who cannot in conscience accept the ordination of women as bishops to flourish and grow. It may fail. I don't know. But as they say in my homeland, 'It's worth a go.'

Faced with all these changes and uncertainties many good people, clergy and laity, are just confused and anxious.

What to do with my catholic heart?

There has been a considerable amount of unhelpful and ill-disciplined comment from a variety of sources about both the Ordinariate and The Society. The truth is that those who involve themselves in this talk, even if they come to different conclusions about how to act, are engaged in the same struggle and they ought to see it. It's the struggle to know what to do with the catholic heart that the Lord has given to them. It's a noble, even spiritually life threatening struggle that deserves respect and understanding.

For myself, I did not learn the catholic faith and life by pressing my nose against the windows of Roman Catholic churches. Indeed as a boy I somehow got the idea that you should run past them very quickly. That was as ridiculous as the notion I had that all R.C. priests were Labour party sympathisers who drove around in Mercedes with money they had stolen from the collection. But it was all part of the anti-Catholic feelings of middle class, conservative Melbourne where I was brought up. No, I learnt the Catholic faith from pious and good Anglicans. They taught me that one day the protestant acting Church of England would wake up and realise what it really is. And they taught me that Anglican Catholics take the measure of their beliefs and set the limits of what they can and can't do from those doctrines and practices about which the Church East and West agree. And they taught me to long for the reunion of the C of E with the rock from which it was hewn, for without Peter we were missing someone precious in the eyes of the Lord. Perhaps this is what Hope Patten was intending when, to not inconsiderable ridicule and consternation, he included the name of the reigning pontiff alongside that of the Bishop Pollock of Norwich on the foundation stone found just below the comforting window of the Holy House.

What to do though, when it seems to you almost untenable to keep hold of those hopes, or when it seems that those views, and the way of Christian living they represent is being so marginalized? In short, when the Church in which you found your catholic heart seems no longer willing or able to keep it pumping.... This is the dilemma that needs understanding.

I have no answers to my question at present. Some have come to their conclusions and are moving on. They have both my respect, prayers, and no less love than before. Some of you reading this are content, even supportive of the things that trouble them and me. Conscience is paramount, and we must surely respect one another's thoughtful and prayerful conscientious decisions, seek to understand one another before passing comment or making harsh judgements.

I found these words from a letter of Newman's to a friend recently, and I am finding them helpful. You may also:

'I have ever tried to leave my cause in the Hands of God and to be patient - and He has not forgotten me.'

Meanwhile, I will keep preaching! +Lindsay Urwin, OGS

 


 

Letter from the Superior to the Clerics and Religious Associate of the Holy House - Walsingham - Christmastide - MMXI

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During my pilgrimage 'down under' I was invited to give a series of six talks to the clergy of the diocese of Wangaratta on the rather challenging theme of 'Anglican and Catholic in conversation with...' Perhaps the most stretching from my point of view was the last, '...in conversation with the world.' In practice, it is not only a matter of distilling the content of what we Catholics take with us into such a conversation but the very difficulty of our being listened to our heard.

Even if the British Prime Minister has so recently called the Church to play its part in rebuilding the crumbling moral life of what he calls this 'Christian Country,' we know over recent months for example that Archbishop Rowan's editorship of an edition of the New Statesman and the bishops entering the public arena about the political and economic scene have met with mixed reactions. Not simply with regard to the content, disagreement about which can be good and healthy, but to the appropriateness of their attempts to speak to an audience beyond the Christian community.

Heretic or lunatic?

Words written as far back as 1934 by the lucid and entertaining lay Anglo Catholic Christian socialist Maurice Reckitt seem worth restating even today:

'If you had told any typical Christian thinker in any century from the twelfth to the sixteenth that religion had nothing to do with economics and that bishops must not intrude in these matters upon the deliberations of laymen - propositions which to many of the correspondents to our newspaper appear to be axiomatic - he would either have trembled for your faith or feared for your reason. He would have regarded you, in short, as either a heretic or lunatic.'

Still more is there criticism if they stray into questions of personal morality and the ordering of what society currently regards as legitimate for the individual to decide. While shaving recently, I listened to a Radio 4 panel called together following the November letter by the eighteen bishops that criticized the government's proposed welfare changes. Their intervention on that matter was deemed entirely appropriate by one commentator (he agreed with them), but he then went on in the next breath to say how unchristian and cruel it was for the same bishops to refuse the solemnization of civil partnerships in churches, if that's what people wanted.

On a more trivial level, I was reminded of how difficult it is to speak of the things that matter to us, when I find myself in a crowded Melbourne street on the day a large department store unveiled, as it does every year, its Christmas window displays. Each year a million people come to see them. They did not disappoint! In five windows based on 'Santa Claus is coming to town,' the technical knowhow of the world's illusion makers brought the carol to life in a mesmerizing, toe-tapping animation. Elves beavered away; reindeers galloped; a spaceship launched to take Santa to his galactic children, and the real showstopper, eighteen smiling kids from all over the world, including Africa and the Middle East, gleefully united around a present-laden tree. It was alive with manufactured joy and manufactured optimism!

But there was a sixth window too, tucked away at the end, drawing little or no attention. Nothing moved or revolved or danced or smiled or sang or seemed to breathe; just a man and a woman attending to their child. It seemed like a lifeless afterthought for those who prefer the old world fantasies to the new.

The overweight usurper

What was really irritating was that everybody around me seemed so happy, and indeed to the naked eye, the big five did seem more alive, more interesting, more attractive! Adding insult to injury, in a pair of weird Advent reversals the said carol blasted forth, bidding us to sleep rather than wake, and according to its lyrics even one of the Four Last Things, the right to judge whether I'd been bad or good seemed to have passed into Santa's hands. . .

Now I'm not one of those puritans who would cancel Christmas for the sake of a little excess, but I was taken aback by the way my heart was temporarily crushed by the evident skew wiff-ness of it all; the relegating of our God to the sixth window; the perverse idea that a tree laden with presents would somehow unite this divided and unequal world and by the seemingly impossible evangelistic task to which I, to which we, are committed. Wisely, I took refuge in a nearby church, where the Sacrament is exposed, and for a few minutes sought the protection I sorely needed in company with a smaller, yet not insignificant crowd. Following this experience I was initially rather impressed to read of a group of French priests who on Christmas Eve 1951 lined up 250 unsuspecting children outside the Cathedral at Dijon to witness the hanging, and the burning (starting with the beard!) of Father Christmas so fed up were they with the overweight usurper! Perhaps not the best way to carry on a conversation with the world. The next day, the local town hall staged his resurrection and a triumphant Santa addressed the reassembled, jubilant children. The scenario reminded me of how often things I have said in 'conversation' have been more designed to give me satisfaction than to open and extend the dialogue!

Open hearted but not empty handed

Well enough of all that! What is it that we Catholic Anglicans take with us into conversation with the world, for if we go with open hearts, as indeed we must, we dare not go empty handed. To do so would not only be unfaithful, but leave us spiritually defenseless and evangelistically neutered. Two doctrines. First, the overarching truth of the sovereignty of God. Any ownership I have of anything or power over anyone is temporary and delegated, for all are absolutely and primarily the possessions of God, the creator and preserver of all things. This I hold even in the moments of ambiguity when it seems the sovereign God has chosen to be silent or inactive, and it gives me the clue to how I am to regard material things and how I am to regard myself in my being and in my doing.

Though heaven and earth will indeed pass away, we reverence and delight in material things because we are charged with the 'shook foil' of God's glory. We ask the sovereign God to teach us, 'in all things Thee to see' so we will not be blinded to what might be termed their sacramentality. However, quite literally not the 'be all and end all,' too much must not be asked of material things or invested in them. With a realism about their temporal fragility, we acknowledge an essential unity in the diversity of the created order because all owe their existence to the generosity of the one God. Because of God's sovereignty, nothing is to be regarded as intrinsically 'secular,' (even the devil is a fallen angel!) and there can be no human activity, economic, political, educational, leisure, and so on which is outside the 'religious' sphere. This may seem blatantly obvious, but a historical survey of the wrongheaded use of the text, 'Render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and to God the things that belong to God' to justify their detachment will prove otherwise! Secularity, which Alexander Solzhenitsyn through bitter experience said leads to a 'world split apart' is regarded by us as a human invention, and entirely not the liberation that the secular humanist claims it to be. It's not a particularly new approach. This freeing things up from God is well described in the Book of Genesis when our first parents consciously decided not to look at the apple or what they did with it in terms of the Creator or his will.

Made for a supernatural destiny

Talk of our first parents leads to the second doctrine, our doctrine of Man. We believe a person to be a being of body and soul created by God, having a permanent individuality and made for a supernatural destiny. Possessing intellect and will, each is responsible for his or her conduct and is a social being of intrinsic worth and dignity, with both individual and social needs, rights, and responsibilities. This doesn't say anything about us of course, for it says nothing about important realities like sin, redemption, the Incarnation and the Resurrection, the Church and the Sacraments, central to our life now and with our reaching of that destiny. But it does seem to me that these two doctrines are the properly non-negotiable truths we hold as we manage our own lives, and in our dealings with others. However ridiculous some may suppose them to be, as we play our part in the debate on how the polis, the community, the social order is to be constructed they are our wisdom and armour. And I should begin with these doctrines in the discerning of what political party or economic or social policy to support, even if it leads to decisions that may be to my personal disadvantage.

The calculated to make my blood boil social commentator Matthew Parris wrote in the Times following Mr. Cameron's recent speech that he was wise indeed not to tell his audience whether he actually believed the doctrines from which the Christian moral tradition flows. But can that tradition really stand, really illicit the inevitable sacrifices called for if it is separated from the givenness of its divine provenance? Can it for example have the moral force clearly required to reorientate a financial system from one whose purpose seems to have become the production of financial profit for individuals and groups, to one that best builds and supports a fair and just society which respects the safety and welfare of human beings and conserves finite world resources? And what about the duty in that tradition to speak of the dangers to the individual soul of those who accumulate and manipulate wealth for themselves blind to its implications on the poor or even just the middle classes? Can I indeed live the moral life without God's help? Dare we call others to that life knowing our own failures to practice what we preach? Does taking leave of the doctrines of God and Man leas in the end to a take it or leave it approach to the moral tradition flowing from them?

The motivating doctrine

Of course, these doctrines and the developing moral tradition themselves owe much in their interpretation to our understanding of God as Trinity, and od the 'leaping down from the royal throne' of the Second Person who has literally become human. The implications of this are so magnificent and profound that we priests must surely stand with our bonfiring brothers in Dijon at least to the extent of being disturbed by the distractions that surround so great a Feast. The Incarnation has always been the key motivating doctrine of authentic Catholic Anglicanism. It is the Incarnation that makes talk of the Fatherhood of God more than an abstract theological idea. It becomes a concrete reality because he has a coeternal Son, whom we have 'heard and seen and touched.' (1 John 1) It teaches us that at the heart of things the principle of power is subordinated to the principle of communion. Thomas Hancock, one of the early members of the St. Matthew Guild, a Christian Socialist group unafraid to enter the political fray which included in its membership heroes like Headlam, Dolling and Frank Weston, speaks of a wonderful implication of the Incarnation with an admirable succinctness, when he says, 'We do not have to persuade God to be humane, for he is human!' It is sometimes said that by the Incarnation the visible and the unseen world were joined together for a season, as a sort of passing episode. But this is to misunderstand, placing the participation of God in our life in the past and putting us in danger of losing its contemporary implications.

Let me quote Eric Mascall, OGS, one of the great minds of our Movement:

'It is a sheer mistake to suppose that the Ascension meant that the Incarnation was over, that Jesus having done his job was leaving this world and going back to the heaven from which he has come. The precise opposite is the case: the Ascension was the final liberation of Jesus's human nature from the restraints of space and time, so that henceforth he could, through the descent of the Holy Spirit, be present in all times and places.'

Jesus unites himself with me personally, and he unites the human race in its entirety to himself. His life and ours are joined. His wounds and ours commingle. His alone are truly redemptive, and give us the measure of how we deal with one another's lives and sins and woundedness. All are made to enjoy in Christ nothing less than the life of God himself. This is our joy, our glory and our hope and must never be our embarrassment! We must of course join with others who work for the common good, of whatever creed or none. But with love we must tell them of the divine purpose for which they were made, and invite them to that belief. And to use some words of a much maligned hymn, we must 'build Jerusalem' here so that there is indeed an obvious similarity between the tent in which we now dwell, and the building we are yet to inhabit. (2 Cor. 5) Looking for him now in the faces of our brethren and serving him especially as he is manifested in the weak and vulnerable, we must love him now in all people without exception.

Thank God for the many who, despite the shallow distractions, and perhaps even seeking relief from them, flock to our Crib Services each year. But I suspect many see the safe delivery of Jesus in the comparative warmth of the stable as a sort of happy ending after a precarious journey. In truth we know it is only the beginning! I would kick myself for the missed opportunities when folk came to my parish for such things. Never did I offer them an Alpha or even a Credo course in January; never do I remember inviting them to bring their kids to Sunday school! I didn't see Advent time as Mission time, and I am sorry for it. I just moped around in disappointment that none came back in January!

'It takes a saint's heart to understand the meaning of Christmas' says the Capuchin, Raniero Cantalamessa, but the far reaching implications of this doctrine are of such import for our lives and for the shaping of our life together, that though I be on the foothills of that understanding I must devote my best powers and first love to the endeavor and make it the heart of my conversation with the world.

  +Lindsay Urwin, OGS

 


 

Letter from the Superior to the Clerics and Religious Associate of the Holy House - Walsingham - Eastertide - MMXI

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I have to admit that I don't have much of the writings of Martin Luther on my shelves, and I have a suspicion that not many of you do either. I must also admit to some preconceived ideas about him and some of the other Reformers that are not especially based on knowledge. But it is, at least in theory, always good to be surprised and challenged in one's prejudice, as I was recently when I read his reflections about the 'great things' that happened to Mary. He writes,

'The "great things" are nothing less than that she became the Mother of God, in which work so many and such great good things are bestowed on her as pass man's understanding. For on this there follows all honour, all blessedness, and her unique place in the whole of mankind, among which she has no equal, namely, that she had a child by the Father in heaven, and such a Child.'

He reflects about Mary's own inability to speak of all that has happened to her so exceedingly 'great' is it, and of our response to it, he says,

'. . . men have crowded all her glory into a single word, calling her the Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her or to her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the trees or grass in the fields or stars in the sky or sand by the sea. It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God.'

Leaping over the wall!

Not only has this given me much to think about in my own meditation and helped deepen my own love for Mary, it has served to remind me of how I must always be looking beyond, how I must be a sort of hunter gatherer, a forager for insights into the Truth. I must as the psalmist says, leap over the wall, the walls of denominationalism and of time so that I become myself a faithful store house of the holy tradition, and then perhaps be able to make a small contribution to the continuing and unfolding understanding of that tradition.

If this is true for me as an individual seeker after God, it is surely true of the Church at large, and how very important that is in a divided Church. We must surely beware of the danger of a self-confident isolationism. We must look for those we discern to be reliable witnesses, and be humble enough to accept that the experience and wisdom of the Church through the ages is immeasurably richer and more profound than our own. This age old experience helps us to discover if our own insights are not simply imagination but grace proceeding from on High. I read something recently by the Russian Archimandrite Sophrony that I had never thought of before when he present Mary as a model of this humility, of this need to, as it were, check out our insights:

'From Sacred Writ we know that the most pure Virgin Mary hurried off to her cousin Elizabeth to hear from her lips whether the revelation was true that she had received - of a son to be born to her who should be great and should be called the Son of God the Highest; and whose kingdom should have no end.'

He also reminds us that however confident Paul was of the revelation of Christ given to him, he twice went up to Jerusalem to submit to Peter and others, explaining to them what he was preaching to the Gentiles, 'to make sure that the race I had run and was running should not be in vain.' (Gal. 2:2) This strategy of Paul's, if I may call it that, gives us insights into how we are to test the spirits, and also serves as a reminder that though the individual soul can most surely be filled with love for the Lord, it can never contain him, or generate the divine will alone.

Anglican humility?

It seems to me that at her best, the Anglican tradition has had this humility about it, though I wonder if she is losing it, reflecting perhaps something of the prevailing culture which has become like the Roman Empire of old in its failure to reverence and hanker after the virtue of humility. There is perhaps plenty wrong, even lacking in humility in other denominations, but there are planks in our own eye to be getting on. To my mind there is not much more of an unattractive trait in some strands of Anglicanism than the puffed up view that it has somehow developed a sort of grown up Catholicism that has thrown off the shackles of excess and superstition, combining the best of everything in a wonderful God given synthesis. A danger is that we too easily give ourselves permission to become the leaders of new ways, the prophets and pioneers, holders of new truths or new insights that somehow have not yet been entrusted to the rest of the Church. It can too easily be used to justify further or deeper division, or desensitize us to the need to listen to those who might be wounded by our action, and blind us to, or minimize for us, some of the knock on implications our choices might have.

Historically one only has to go back as far as Michael Ramsey to discover something of the humility I am talking about in our tradition. I was, by the way, fairly heartbroken recently when giving a talk to ordinands to see their quizzical faces when I mentioned that name, so venerated by my own generation! When I was a young man I saw him preach at All Saints, Margaret Street. Through the clouds of incense came this lurching figure, cope all askew, mitre on his head, eyebrows up and down, sermon more stuttering than words. I thought God was in the midst! I felt the same thing when by chance I was in a large hall of priests in the presence of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and more disconcertingly perhaps, I knew I was in the presence of holiness and love when I spent a day with Desmond Tutu some years ago. It was disconcerting because I find myself at odds with him over various important matters of Anglican life, so it led me to wondering. Wonder at God so evidently alive in him, and wondering at how much holiness could emanate from someone I think is probably wrong!

A love melting ...

Anyway, at the Anglican Conference in Toronto in 1963 which had as its theme mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ. Michael Ramsey reminded delegates from all over the world, 'It is not for us Anglicans to speak in self-consciousness or self-commendation about our claims...' and this reticence is echoed in his sermon at the opening of the Lambeth Conference some five years later.

'So our love for Canterbury melts into our love for Christ whose shrine Canterbury is; and our love for what is Anglican is a little piece of our love for One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; the love of any of us for our heritage in country, culture, religious experience or theological insight, all subserves the supreme thing - the reality of God who draws men and women and children into union with himself in the fellowship of his Son.'

So then, a capacity for seeing the godly beyond our own system of things, and a humility about our own system. What Ramsey said echoed the advice that Gregory gave to Augustine about the sensitive way he was to deal with different but evidently Christian customs he encountered on his arrival here in the land of the 'angels.' Ramsey would have us remember that God is always bigger than our best attempts at systems, which must serve the 'supreme thing,' union and fellowship. Of course that union and fellowship is itself a matter of revealed truth, and is wholly bound up with and dependent on the great doctrines which have been taught of old and found in Scripture, and which are as the great man sys, about the 'drawing' work of God. The fellowship is dependent on being united in that Truth.

This is further reflected of course in our own formularies. So for example, our claim to be 'catholic' is tempered in the Preface read out to all of us at our ordinations and when we are licensed by the words 'part of.' It's a claim that gives both a sense of proper assurance that we are in a right place, but also places constraints upon us which must be a cause for serious reflection. It reminds us that there is something unsatisfactory about where we are at present.

The great Anglican Divines all knew this. Even though many of them had trenchant views about the papacy and the corruptions of the Roman Church, even felt a liberation from its enormities, they felt most strongly that they were not forming a new Church and longed for reunion in the Truth. They felt constrained by the love of God to restore, or to borrow some words from the later 18th century Archbishop Whately of Dublin, to weed the garden, to bring it back to its original beauty. At best, this is what all authentic renewal movements do in the life of the Church. To continue the metaphor, it is not our own garden that we planted, even if we are called to weed it, it is a gift revealed to us, a sort of secret garden, in the Corinthian sense when Paul calls us 'Christ's subordinates and stewards of the secrets of God.' (1 Cor. 4:1)

In his work 'Corpus Christi,' one of my brethren in the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, Eric Mascall, reminds the reader that the Church can do nothing else but get bigger in number, even if that pace of growth is slower at some times than others. For once a person is united to Christ, and is a member of the Body, he or she never ceases to be so. He writes,

'The membership endures as we pass from the Church militant into the Church expectant and triumphant.'

And with a refreshing humility he calls us to see the Church militant as nothing more or less than the 'lower fringe' of the whole Church. This he believes must have a profound impact on the way we conduct our business as a Church, and how we discern what might be appropriate or not to change about ourselves. This radical continuity of belonging in the Body of Christ about which he speaks means that our forebears are not only our ancestor but our contemporaries in the faith. This does not mean of course that they were none of them wrong or misguided or at times blinkered by the social mores of their time, but it does mean that I may not simply dismiss their teaching and traditions as outdated or of the past. There is a today-ness about those I cannot see and yet are alive in Him, and so are alive with me. And I must allow their views to speak with me today. This is expressed very beautifully in a famous icon of St. John Chrysostom and St. Paul together. That they lived on earth separated by three centuries becomes less important than their fraternity in Christ. John Chrysostom himself, a great interpreter of Paul, gives a lesson in both hermeneutics and the reality of life in the mystical Body of Christ, when he suggests that if a person wishes to understand Paul he must love Paul, not simply love what he wrote, not simply admire him as a figure from Church history, but love him as a living brother and apostle now. Does this make me a conservative when it comes to change? Probably. Does it make me careful to look and think beyond the assembled company when I speak of majority and minority opinions? Most certainly, yes. And yet of course I must temper my conversation with Newman's dictum that to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. Perhaps my prayer must be that the changes I make in my life, and we make in the life of our Church truly lead us from glory to glory, and will indeed be an authentic advance. I suppose it's not an exact science!

With regard to our current controversy, we must not lose sight of the humble recognition clearly stated back in 1993 by the House of Bishops that while other branches of catholic Christendom do not admit women into Holy Orders, we may not claim that we are definitively right to do so, beyond any doubt. A decision to proceed is on that basis, with that measure of humility. That is why those of us who do not believe it is right and simply hold on to a view which was normal among mainstream Anglicans until relatively recently should not be dealt with by follow on actions, in sort of post legislation mopping up operation and unfaithful to the assurance that opposition to the ordination of women is to be regarded as a theologically coherent position that should have a provision that reflects the theological position. The demand that the jurisdiction of women bishops be accepted by everybody to my mind undermines the hitherto accepted provisionality of the action itself. The words I quoted from Luther at the beginning of this epistle come from his commentary on the Magnificat. Later he reflects with wonder about how Mary responded to the unimaginably great thing that was happening to her, the glory of becoming the Mother of God.

"She is not puffed up, does not vaunt herself or proclaim with a loud voice that she is to become the Mother of God. She seeks not any glory but goes about her usual household duties, milking the cows, cooking the meals, washing pots and kettles. . .lowly and despised tasks, as though she cared nothing for such gifts and graces. . .How marvelous a human being is here! What great things are hidden here under this lowly exterior.'

Perhaps this paradoxical, seemingly contradictory co-mingling of glory and lowliness we find in Mary, and more importantly find in the Lord himself, is somehow the clue to discovering a faithful and less confused future for us all. Meanwhile, as those entrusted with a share in Christ's priesthood, we can at least get on with praying that both these divine attributes may by God's Grace be found in us!

And finally...

It is a real joy that two priests so associated with the Shrine are to be entrusted with the gift of episcopacy in June to serve as bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough. I ask you all to offer the Eucharist with special intention for Father Norman Banks and Father Jonathan Baker, perhaps when you next say a Mass of Our Lady of Walsingham. It is also good that three bishops with a deep love for the Shrine have recently been made the diocesan bishops of Southwark, Ely, and Cumberland.

Remember you are prayed for here, every day. +Lindsay Urwin, OGS

 


 

Letter from the Superior to the Clerics and Religious Associate of the Holy House - Walsingham - Ordinary Time - MMXI

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Lost youth found wanting ... Some two or three weeks ago we watched with a measure of wonder and amazement as hundreds of young people walked in a joyful and then silent candlelit procession from the Slipper Chapel into the Shrine grounds. The resident pilgrims who saw their entrance and then shared in worship with them were, I think it's fair to say astounded that young people could exhibit such discipline and devotion.

Some of those young people came from the communities where the following week with an equal measure of wondering and amazement the nation watched as hundreds of teenagers and others ran amok in chaotic processions carrying not the light of Christ but the weapons of darkness and destruction. No song in their heart. No worship. No stillness and no respect.

In the midst of all the on-going discussions about what has happened, I'd like to share just a few reflections about what might be our approach to the formation and education of young people. What might we properly hope for and encourage in them as those who dare to be an influence among then in what seems increasingly to be a battleground for their souls?

Bearers of Wisdom

Almost twenty years ago Pope John Paul II said to a group of Catholic educators, 'To you is given to create the future and give it a direction.' His successor more recently encouraged an audience that included priests and religious involved in youth ministries to see themselves as 'bearers of wisdom.' If this be so, it is surely among the most daunting and noble of tasks. Given the personification of that wisdom in the biblical tradition we are reminded that we are bearers not simply of ideas but of a living and relational God. The last weeks in England simply underline the urgency. False shepherds beset young people all around and are in omnipresent touch with them through the global networks of the World Wide Web, a description that becomes remarkably apposite as we see its capacity to ensnare. It is not only schools and colleges that seek to educate. The young are often termed the 'connected generation' and yet the connections made are so often with hirelings and worldlings.

A former bishop of Oxford, Kenneth Kirk, once wrote that you cannot have a coherent philosophy of education so much a part of formation for life, unless you have a coherent philosophy of man, and it is probably the case that much of the confusion that surrounds education policy can be traced to confusions and disagreements about the purpose of life itself. Unless we have a fundamentally consistent view of its overall purpose, unless we have 'givens' and keep our eyes fixed on them, educational policies will too easily be influenced, even manipulated by people with political or economic power or by transient social norms.

From our perspective as Christian ministers, the purpose of life and so the key to discovering true happiness is to know and love God and show love in our life. It is surely why it is that on the two great commandments 'hang all the law and the prophets.' That the restoration of that love; of that communion with the Father and each other was the vocation of Jesus, and is the fruit of the Cross serves to remind us that it is only by Grace that such purpose can be reached; which may be why laws will never be enough to build a 'civilization of love,' important though they are. Well here is my first list of hopes for young people, a list which informs my hopes for the influence I, and as much as lies in my power, the Church may have on them. They are hopes that should underlie my actions. The list does not provide immediate answers to our current social life and is certainly not exhaustive, but sometimes the unchanging gives the clue to appropriate alteration.

Mutuality and balance

First of all, I would hope that young people would learn to live a healthy balance between self-seeking and self-sacrifice, between giving and taking. Generally speaking, save for extreme circumstances I would want to rule out self-sacrifice as the ultimate goal of life, not least for if I just give rather than take, I don't allow anyone else to be self-giving! There needs to be a balance, in biblical terms between washing the feet of others and allowing your own to be washed. It rejects a selfishness that disregards others, while also rejecting a sacrifice that disregards self entirely. We might say that our hope is that they seek to get the best out of, and for, themselves while drawing the best out of others too, and that the pursuit of their own goals is not at the expense of others. This mutuality and balance might appear self-evident, yet we do live in a society in which we are largely defined as, and encouraged to view ourselves as consumers, as takers. While there is a measure of lament about this and a realization that consumerism has a destructive side both for the individual and the planet, the economic prosperity for which we all share a measure of responsibility seems to demand that we buy more and more. 'High Street' figures become the mark of how we are doing. This tension is not new. In the 1930's the Anglican writer Dorothy Sayers spoke in an intriguing lecture on the seven deadly sins about the shift away from an economy based on the virtues of prudence and thrift, and its implications for a growth in the sins of covetousness and envy. Many of those who seek to form our young seek too over encourage them into consumership rather than citizenship, luring them into an obsession with fashion, fame, and fortune.

My second, not unrelated hope is that we can help children understand and control their capacity to influence others, and exercise such power as they have for good and with humility. Each of us has some talent for influence. Any teacher who has done playground duty knows how this talent can be used and abused from an early age. We all use our faculties, our verbal and body language to exercise influence. Just the raising of an eyebrow or a tone of voice can change another's view of what a third party is saying or doing. Nowadays, through new social mediums the capacity for disembodied influence, influence from afar, is huge; essentially good people influenced into bad behaviuor that seems even to surprise and disappoint themselves. (See Romans 7!)

The joy of an unremarkable life

While I was giving communion to a steady stream of pilgrims at our recent youth gathering I found myself moved as I wondered about their futures. Most of them will simply exercise influence at a local level for the whole of their lives - family, workplace, neighborhoods. They will never have memorials in town squares but if they learn to exercise that influence well, to handle it with care, learn to reverence others and honour them, to think beyond self, realise that to share another's life is a privilege that needs constant nurturing, see that wherever they tread is a holy ground, be responsible and loving parents, then what by some may be regarded as an unremarkable life, will have a beauty, nobility, and joy about it. Actually, is it not important that somehow we help our young people discover that most of life is routine, hard work and to some extent tedious, and that fruitfulness requires it to be so? Being 'discovered' and stardom is for the few, and its capacity for delivering happiness questionable.

It may be that some of those we influence will in the end have national or international influence. Of course this can be the fruit of hard work and talent, but increasingly it can be the fruit of the image makers and media creators who seem to dominate. All through history there have been times when the wrong people have turned heads and changed things. But the obsession with celebs and their antics in the context of global communication has marked a change. An English footballer gets a tattoo or shaves his head or has hair transplant and within hours through social networks and satellites it becomes the measure of acceptability and young men in Australia hear of it and do the same! These days the opinions of so called 'celebs' are sought on matters which are nothing to do with their expertise, and are clearly, with respect, matters 'too high for them.' Their words and deeds are counted way beyond their worth, their stories as disappointing as they are pervading.

Our message: no one to be preferred to Christ!

It is increasingly important to give the young the skills and criteria by which they can make a judgement about those who seek to exercise influence over them and what they say. They need to learn to reflect and critique, in familiar biblical language, to 'ponder.' The so called copycat element of the recent rioting and looting surely underlines this vulnerability and need. By what measure do I decide who to listen to, who I allow to influence me? We have an answer! Nothing, no one is to be preferred to Christ! We priests must model this with unashamed humility, and with a new zeal present him as the best model for living, his word and love most reliable.

Another hope is that those young people we influence will see the need for good people to reflect about and consider the problems of modern life and see that it is their responsibility to share in working for their solution. Our Gospel tells us that a problem, while not impinging directly upon my life is still 'my' problem because it belongs to a brother or sister. We had no riots or looting in Fakenham for which I thank God but I may not just heave a sigh of relief and get on with the next thing. That there have been people from Tottenham, Enfield, and Birmingham here in the last fortnight is a tangible reminder that the people of those communities are my fellow pilgrims.

An inhibited spirit of adventure

And do we not hope for young people to have a real curiosity and spirit of adventure, though with a measure of discipline about that curiosity. Inhibition is not always a bad thing! One of frequent answers my own parents gave to our 'Why?' when they refused permission for our doing something or another was, 'Because you'll have nothing to do when you grow up.' It was infuriating, but I now see the wisdom of knowing the difference between a chronos and a kairos movement! How important that is, as we watch eleven year old girls seduced by those who would want them to purchase their way into adulthood now. An article in the Sunday Telegraph some time ago began, 'He wears deodorant, likes perfumed body sprays, and uses hair gel to get the right look: meet today's seven year old boy.'

I'm now grateful for the fact that my parents were unconcerned about whether they were popular with me! When St. Augustine suggests that we first encounter our desire for friendship when we open our eyes and see our parents, he must have been thinking about Monica's loving tears. It is surely the case that we should hope that young people develop an understanding of the power of words to hurt and to heal, and of the fundamental rightness of truth over falsehood. This may seem self-evident, but the recent events in the media, and indeed among parliamentarians and in so much else must lead us to wonder whether such fundamentals have drifted away. Is this an inevitable fruit of relativism? Why should I tell the truth if it will cause me disadvantage?

I also hope that young people will learn how to deal with hormones. I suppose we must admit that the Church generally has not been good at hormones. But at very least we must be unafraid to talk about it. A friend reflecting on his Confirmation preparation at the age of 15 for whom as a pupil at an all boy school was unused to mixed company with girls in a learning situation, admitted he had spent most of the class dreaming about having sex for the first time and petrified that it might happen, while the parish priest spoke joyfully on about relationships within the Blessed Trinity! How do we speak of sexual attraction and activity positively as a gift to be reverenced, honoured, and even waited for in a culture that has 'moved on' to a more recreational view?

The hope of friendship

It may seem trite to suggest that I hope the young will learn how to play both alone and with others. Here I am really talking about the capacity for making and keeping friendships, and even to see oneself as a friend. To live life as your own worst enemy is destructive indeed! This is my last hope, and increasingly important to me. It is a concern evident in the writings of the Ancients. For Plato it is friendship that directs our minds towards love of the Divinity. Aristotle says, 'Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.' Cicero doubt whether anything is better aside from wisdom, and can a man be wise without friends? Could Paul have written without Timothy or Titus, or Augustine without Alypius? But to sustain friendship requires virtue. 'It is virtue itself that sustains friendship; without virtue can friendships by any possibility exist. And it lights up a good hope for the future,' continues Cicero.

St. Augustine, speaking of his friends wrote, 'Expressions of friendship brought us together like bundled kindling, making one out of many.' His primary concept for the cultivation of friendship was 'concordia,' a sort of union of hearts, a union in the center of our being, and it required among other things reciprocity; a desire in each for the friendship, and equality, loving the other neither more or less than ourselves. It needs benevolence, the wishing well for the other including longing that he or she would discover God and the bearing of each other's burdens, and it needs truth and honest.

Augustine believed that there is nothing so social by nature as a human being and that our need for society was the outworking, the intention of the creator. That is surely why the breakdown in our Society is so tragic and destructive, and why we must be among those who help find a renewing way. We have seen young people bundled together like kindling making destructive fire recently. It can be otherwise, but not without attending to God and to one another. In that there is indeed hope, and it must be our message. There are so many lost youth. We must not be found wanting!

  +Lindsay Urwin, OGS

 


 

Letter from the Superior to the Clerics and Religious Associate of the Holy House - Walsingham - Eastertide - MMXII

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Because one of the planned speakers at the February retreat for priests and deacons was for good reasons unable to be present, I found myself at rather the last minute preparing a key note address on the theme, which was our ministry of reconciliation. In it I spoke of something I had read in Thomas Merton's 'The Silent Life' that has helped me considerably as a penitent, and I hope as a confessor. Reflecting on the catalogue of sins found in the first Chapter of the Letter to the Romans, the gist of his point and the questions he poses is about where it is in his list that Paul reaches his crescendo. He laments that the Church concentrates so heavily on what Paul says mid-sentence (v. 24 to 27) in the verses that relate to sexual behaviour, when in fact the catalogue reaches its true crescendo in verse 31. I suspect that most of you can remember the sexual sins, but do you remember the crescendo?

'They are foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, and without mercy.'

When I was training for the ministry at Cuddesdon I remember the whole passage coming up at Evensong in the cold parish church. By accident, or more likely design, at the moment the sexual sins and the consequent divine wrath were read out a loud thud was heard at the back of the church as a couple of hymn books hit the floor. A predictable wag sitting next to me said in a loud stage whisper, "I think a couple of students at the back have just fainted...." We all knew to whom he was referring. Not much can be kept secret at theological college! As we sniggered mercilessly I can remember the momentary feeling of shame at my hypocrisy. Merton goes on to reflect that for many it seems those crescendo behaviours of verse 31 to which 'God has given people up,' a frightening thought that Paul suggests three times across the whole passage, are regarded as trifling and mild and hardly worthy of attention or amendment. Yet so important are they that in his letter to the Galatians, the apostle suggests that the common life of the Church will truly be manifest in a 'harvest (maybe a crescendo!) of the Spirit,' when their very antithesis is displayed, that is in love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, and so forth.

Neither prig nor prostitute

Listen to C.S. Lewis: 'If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual. The pleasure of putting people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasure of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me competing with the human self which I must try to become: they are the animal self and the diabolical self: and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig, who goes regularly to church, may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But of course, it's better to be neither.'

The monastic life is spoken of by Merton as a school of affection, fidelity, and mercy, and that is surely to be true of the Church generally, and of her leaders. We are to be 'places' where wisdom and discipline abounds, where affection and fidelity abounds, and above all, where mercy abounds. If he is right in asserting that for Paul mercilessness is potentially among the worst of sins, why might this be so for the apostle? Surely because he has experienced the divine quality of mercy first hand, that necessary call on God's love so that Paul's sinfulness need not lead unto death. This overwhelming sense of the mercy of compassion of God revealed in Christ changed his whole understanding of righteousness. Perhaps too, Paul was faced with the terrible truth that like the publican in the parable he had developed an ungodly mercilessness even as he attempted to be faithful to God's law. As one who describes himself as the 'chief' of sinners it is, he says, only by the very mercy of God that he has been entrusted with the apostolic ministry. (2 Cor. 5:1) He has learnt that in acknowledging and confessing his weakness and wretchedness, he has found a place in the heart of the Lord.

No need for mercy in the Godhead

Of course, mercy is not a dynamic of the Love existent within the mystery of the Trinity itself, for perfect love has no need of it. If I was free of sin, there would be no need of mercy! But I must accept that I am the cause of both the Lord's pain and his mercy. In reflecting further on the cost of mercy, I find it helpful to imagine the changes the returning prodigal son might have seen in the face of his father, changes which were the fruit of his way-word heart. Think of the lines, the hollow cheeked-ness caused by weariness, woundedness, the disappointment, the sadness that accompanies God's work of Atonement. The delighted face of the father at the son's return still manifests the cost of the waywardness, as surely as the risen and ascended Christ still bears the wounds, though they be glorified. And reflect on the father's face as he meets the crescendo-ing mercilessness of the elder brother. If with Paul, we are truly ministers of this reconciliation then our faces will reflect something of the cost. It's inevitable. I picked up a book about priesthood once at a retreat house. The first words I read, to which I often refer were, 'You must understand that a priest ages more quickly than other people.'

The embrace of mercy

It is my experience alongside clergy over the years that they often struggle to allow the embrace of mercy for themselves, though they are often heroes of mercy to others. The confessional can be a place where mercy abounds, and where we literally hear what was worked out for us on Calvary and receive afresh the Spirit that was handed over at Calvary. The compassionate Spirit that animates the confessional should animate and be manifested in the whole life of the Church of course, whose great gift to the world and to its own members is to be a house of Mercy. Sadly it is not always so. People, and ordained clergy in particular, often experience the institutional insensitivities of the Church. We all need the antidote of the confessional to remind us of the reality, to help us experience and trust the embrace. Sometimes a personal, even secret, doubt in the minister about whether he or she is a recipient of the mercy of God can be the dynamic which animates their preaching and pastoral ministry. But the misplaced urgency it generates is defeating. We must learn to be merciful toward ourselves, and towards others, remembering that the most powerful reason to bring us to repentance, to reconciliation with God and each other, is his love and his ever willingness to forgive. But, the merciful heart is not the same as an indulgent heart, nor does it minimize the ugliness of sin. There is a strong theme in Scripture relating the mercy of God toward the sinner to the sinners own merciful heart. The Magnificat speaks of God's age to age mercy, a mercy not negated by the scattering of the proud hearted, of the casting of the mighty from their seat, or the sending of the merciless rich away empty. And mercy will never be just a principle, it will manifest itself in a practical outpouring, generally a costly outpouring, as when I am called to show mercy to those who have wounded me and neither asked my forgiveness nor noticed the wounds.

A confession

Of course there is confusion and often conscientious disagreement about those very things for which we might need the mercy of God. Anyone who has the privilege of directing souls in or out of the confessional knows this to be true and it is closely related to, among other things, questions of Scriptural interpretation, the primacy of conscience and the nature of the Church's authority in informing the conscience, and the listening to and critique of developments (not always advances) on our understanding of the human condition and the world around us. The reality of very diverse teachings in some matters among the Guardians of the Faith to whom we might properly look for guidance is evident!

In the midst of taking all this quite overwhelming 'evidence' into account, it seems to me a priest or deacon who dares to advise others in the things of God, must wrestle hard before setting aside the traditional teachings of the Church as if it's just a matter of 'We've moved on.' For example, and forgive the crudity but occasionally I've heard a priest remark that God doesn't much care what people do with their so called 'private parts.' I'm ashamed to say I've heard those crass and unworthy words from my own lips, sometimes in the kindly but unguided hope that it will make a person feel better about themselves, and on more than one occasion in younger and more energetic days, to justify myself. While being clear about where Paul makes his crescendo, this is surely unacceptable and a justification for license. Doesn't God care? If he doesn't, what to say to the betrayed spouse, or the child who has had to face such breakdown and behaviour in those he or she trusts for stability and consistency? I was one such child. Strangely, as I reflect on my own experience I was less shocked or affected by the middle ranking sexual sin (what 14 year old wants to reflect too deeply about that side of his parents life!) than by the unthought though merciless implications of the action on a family that experienced the temporary abandonment. Paul is right. And if we would gently lead the wounded ones to forgive the perpetrator, as I was encouraged to do myself, we witness to the truth that what happened did matter and was sinful, and needs God's mercy. And even in those cases where both parties are consenting and happy with it, and so 'no harm is done,' is that necessarily enough to ensure the action is beyond the need for God's mercy? If what God thinks does matter, and the action might be part of the cause of his Passion, what have I done in advising otherwise in his Name? Confessors should surely tremble as they enter the confessional!

All this underlines the truth that this all matters very much. Think for further example, of what you might do and say to show God's mercy and your own in advising someone who wants a second marriage while the former partner is also speaking to you of his or her longing for reconciliation and in spite of all, believes that the vows made for life are binding? And what truly merciful things are we to say in the matter of loving homosexual relationships sexually expressed? I might want it to be just fine, and I will certainly celebrate every life enhancing friendship I can find, but as a Christian by definition I have accepted that I am not the sole arbiter. What if I am wrong? For all of us it is possible for our own attractions to inappropriately skew our own opinions. To have the courage myself, if I should so decide, to live contrary to the long teaching of the Church is one thing, and to listen with respect to others whose experience or conscience tells them that there are cogent reasons for the Church to reassess its teaching another. But as those entrusted with the care of souls we must surely tread carefully and prayerfully, always voicing the prayer of the publican that Cardinal Hume used to say was probably one of the few prayers we can say with total sincerity; "God be merciful to me a sinner."

Holy Ground

The pastor will always remember that when he is dealing with people sharing with costly honesty the intricacies of their lives, he treads on holy ground and is in a position of enormous privilege. Invited to enter the mystery of that person's journey at moments when they come face to face with their own foolishness and failures, he will always remember and reassure them that we are all worth more than our mess ups. The pastor will have his eyes fixed on the crucifix which displays both the price of our sin yet from which flows rivers of abundant mercy, and will remember that the Church has been raised up to 'display ... how immense are the resources of God's grace and how great His kindness to us in Christ.' (Eph. 6:1) What a purpose! To display the understanding of Christ who understands the weaknesses of men and women....

A rhetoric that won't do

Recently a small group of deanery clergy, both men and women spent some time at the Shrine, doing their own thing and sharing in as much of the rhythm of the life here as they wanted. Walsingham is a good, restorative place for that sort of thing. I happened to be at the coffee machine at the same time as one of the women priests. She told me how much she was enjoying being here, but also spoke gently of the disappointments. She said something that I have thought about quite a lot since; that somehow we all need to discover new ways of talking to and about each other. This we sadly illustrated when not long ago a senior woman priest was interviewed on the radio about the women bishop controversy. She was merciless in her attitude. Those who oppose are wrong, unjust, and can go to Rome or the Ordinariate! I hope she is never a bishop, not primarily because she is a woman, though you all know my reservations about that, but because as her voice reached its crescendo it was without mercy or any attempt to understand. To be fair, or perhaps merciful, one radio broadcast is not enough to make a judgement, and perhaps she herself had experienced harsh treatment at traditionalist hands. I suppose if a person sees the matter as a justice issue, then they can have no truck with injustice. Lovers of justice hate injustice, and fight for its removal. But that growing rhetoric of justice does not do justice to those with reservations on this issue, either to their convictions, or to them as people. Nor does it reflect the things said by the House of Bishops, and in various Reports, which, while concluding the ordination of women to be a right and godly thing to do, accepted as a measure of constraining provisionality about it given the reservations of other Churches that share the gift. I would find almost comical the fears of creating second class bishops so central to the discussions about the legislation and appropriate provision for the 'thin stream of pilgrims who walk the old way' if it did not reveal a concerning overemphasis on power dressed up in the language of jurisdiction. A bishop may have all the jurisdiction a bishop can possibly have, but if he or she has reached the crescendo of, or even more unattractive, a dissembled mercilessness toward others, he or she will surely be no more than a second class bishop and be without a catholic heart. In the history of the Walsingham revival, Bishop O'Rorke was never bishop of Walsingham, but he was certainly bishop for Walsingham; a 'jurisdiction' won by love.

The tragedy of a less merciful Church

Whatever is decided in July, I suspect we will be a less merciful Church, and so less faithful to our calling whoever is or is not able to be a bishop. Sadly, it's probably too late to discover a new way of talking to and about each other. We have been overtaken by synodical process. People trumpet our disagreements as being a sign of our honesty as a Church. Honest it may be, but the way we are dealing with them is generally no fine example of mercy and love. As a sort of double whammy, there will be less mercy too when the current Archbishop of Canterbury leaves his post, for he is surely one who has time and again demonstrated a merciful heart. Whatever his strengths and weaknesses, it seems to me there has not been enough mercy toward him from either conservatives or liberals.

But we persevere! May the knowledge of the Lord's mercy bring us to joy and may the Holy Mother who exulted in the mercy shown unto her, pray for us, and show her wayward children a new way.

  +Lindsay Urwin, OGS

 


 

Letter from the Superior to the Clerics and Religious Associate of the Holy House - Walsingham - Ordinary Time - MMXII

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

One of the blessings of ministering in Walsingham is that one begins to discover in a new way what it means to live the ordained life very close to Mary.

It's not that I haven't encouraged devotion to her throughout my ministry. However, I must admit that one of the temptations of being, in the best sense, all things to all men as a bishop in a diocese (even one like Chichester) is a tendency to downplay Our Lady somewhat, almost swallowing the ideas that the minimizing or emphasizing of her place in the Divine economy and in the devotional life of the Church is part of the legitimate diversity of a comprehensive Church, an optional extra that can be safely lived without.

In failing to speak of her in parishes where I thought it might be unacceptable or unpopular I did not play my part in the fulfillment of the prophesy that all generation would call her 'blessed,' a duty and joy for all Christians, but most surely one laid on deacons and priest. And I'm sorry that I didn't encourage my clergy to mirror the Savior by looking to her for encouragement and love.

But more than that, a right emphasis on Mary safeguards right believing about Jesus. How much is the coyness around calling her the Mother of God really to do with an inadequate theology of the Divinity of Christ? Is it a coincidence that the Church of England dribbled into Deism in the centuries after Mary began to be dishonored? Newman came to a life changing conclusion that far from being a distraction from Christ as he had perhaps at one time thought, devotion to Mary ensured right believing about Him. 'Every Church which is dedicated to her, every altar which is raised under her invocation, every image which represents her, every Litany to her praise, every Hail Mary for her continual memory, does but remind us that there was One, who, though He was all blessed from all eternity, yet for the sake of sinners, "did not shrink from the Virgin's womb."'

So I want this letter to reflect in a way on how Mary encourages me in my Christian life, and the lives of all of us whose lives have been animated by the laying on of episcopal hands.

A life given to praise ... antidote to a complaining spirit

First of all she reminds me and encourages me to live a life that gives praise to the Father and uses the gifts of speech first of all to voice that praise. It is surely the case that in the infancy narratives. Luke wants us to note the contrast between Zechariah and Mary, both of whom were visited with startling news by Gabriel. The old man is left struck dumb by his failure to believe the promise, while Mary, whose questioning is not about lack of trust but more about the logistics, hastens to the hill country to 'magnify' the Lord. I find it both lovely and intriguing that the very greeting Mary made to Elizabeth when she entered her house was enough to make the child in her womb leap. We know not exactly what she said, or the manner of the speech, but somehow even her simple words of greeting communicated something that elicited joy from the depths of her cousin.

We should note that in Mary's life praise, silence and pondering are together, and the latter does not mitigate the former. Mary simply praises God because He is who He is, and because of the great things He has done for her. Nor did it preclude times of frustration, lament or sadness, even a sword. I am reminded of St. Paul's great use of the word 'but' in his own times of trouble... 'But thanks be to God who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession....'

All God's people pray, or should do, but for us to have prayer and praise at the heart of our calling is of real importance. We are then continually reminded that central to our faith is a person, for it is only through Jesus that we pray aright. It is also the best antidote to a complaining spirit, which manifests itself in clergy all too often, and is not only deeply unattractive, but counterproductive to our vocations. Even if there is something to complain about, better to pick up your office book and praise! This prayer, and the offering of the liturgy with care and love, is our primary service to this world as with Mary, we seek to put God first in our lives.

A willingness to work ... wherever

The next thing was her willingness to work!

From the moment of the overshadowing, the second person of the Trinity is present in Mary. And what does she do? This Virgin Tabernacle continues to cook for Joseph while the bread of life is forming in her; to sweep the house tidy as the One who would cleanse us from sin is in fetal form; to go to the well for water bearing He who would offer living water; to converse with the other women of the village while growing the humanity of the One who is the Word, and as Luther suggests, 'milking the cows, washing pots and kettles.' To meditate on this is to marvel at Mary, yet more to marvel at God's own willingness to be carried around during these menial tasks!

No need for 'elsewhere'

And all in the nowhere town of Nazareth. She is content. I find nothing in Mary to suggest a desire to be anywhere else than where she found herself. If there were moments throughout her life when she wished things were different, as there surely were, these were subsumed in her dogged trust to the original promise made by the angel and her willful determination to live her life faithfully in the power of the Spirit.

Why would there be a need to dream of elsewhere while the Lord was with her?

Pondering this truth about my fellow pilgrim Mary draws me back to faithfulness when I have that worldly wanderlust that can occasionally overcome a minister; the thinking that it would be better somewhere else, or that I could do the Lord's work much more effectively; be of more use than the person chosen for this or that vacancy, and why, by the way, have 'they; not realized that? A terrible restlessness and so a lack of stability and joy can begin to work away at the soul. I lose sight of the great truth that can be learned in the Holy House. The Lord who is with Mary is also with me. Like Mary I too am invited to be a bearer of the Word. I have the reliable gift of the Lord's hand on my life, as you do, dear brothers and sisters. If he is with us, how really important are the particularities of place? Holy House, small as you are, here would I ever dwell! Here is enough! I praise God for the witness of brethren who are evidently just getting on with it, working away where that have been put, looking for and finding joy in the signs of the Lord's presence within them and in their people.

Of course this call to get on with it where I am does need to be set alongside the truth that ordained ministers are travelling people, and for many of us, the travelling around is one of the things that keeps us faithful to our vocation. Some clergy, in my experience relatively few, have what might be called the Benedictine spirit; they find renewal and retain freshness for faithful living in the stability of the same parish. But most in my experience are more like Franciscans. They are mendicant, who need a change of scene every so often to retain the freshness. They toll the bell at their induction signifying the taking possession of the parish and their promise to do the work of a priest, but only for a season. Thea they be called to break camp and move on at some stage is right and proper.

One of the challenges in our own day because of the circumstances of the Church at present is that some catholic priests have been in the same parish for longer than might be healthy for a mendicant because the options for moving have been so narrowed. Take for example the married priest with a family in a so-called Resolution parish. He wants and needs a move for freshness and faithfulness sake, but reasonable family needs mean it can't be too far away. Rare is the bishop willing to give a new opportunity to such a priest in a non-Resolution parish in his diocese even if he himself is willing to go there. For the unmarried priest, just being single can be enough to narrow the options. Unfortunately, there are times a priest can just feel 'left' by those in authority with no explanation as to why. But in the midst of all this, Mary's example can spur us on to keep working for his sake, 'making the action fine.' To live with her balance of praise and work, this ora et labora will mean we gently yet firmly witness to the priority of God.

Living in the shadow of Jesus

The third thing I have come to love about Mary is her contentment to be known of him. In Scripture she is rarely referred to by her own name. Does St. John's speaking of her testify to that apostle's long experience of the one he took to his own home? Does it reflect her contentment at having her own identity so bound up with her Son's that her own name could remain unused as long as her life drew attention to his? I think so.

I remember a passage in the same book about priesthood that spoke of priests ageing more quickly than other people that referred to the tradition, at least in the Catholic Church of the 50's when it was written, of simply having the words 'Parish Priest' and the address or phone number on the church notice board, rather than the priest's own name. This, the author claimed, spoke of the way in which the priest's life was absorbed into the Order and life into which he has been ordained, and of the priority and power of the transforming priesthood of Christ entrusted to him, which was the purpose of his presence there. His individuality was always to be secondary. I wish I had kept that book, though it would have entailed stealing it from the convent I was staying in!

I'm not sure I entirely agree with the practice, but it's interesting that years later I should remember this detail from an old book. Perhaps because it led me to recall my out of proportion irritation some years before when the parish to which I was licensed took months to change the name on the notice board! I well remember the churchwarden's defense, "it's OK, the phone number's still the same." Hmmmph! Or maybe it stayed with me because of the more than occasional struggle I have between my own desire to be both appreciated and remembered personally and my genuine desire to be an icon of Christ; my occasional misuse of the priesthood to draw attention to self, or to draw people to myself, wanting them to linger on me until I am ready for them to move on to Jesus! And even after all these years a secret delight at being compared favorably to other priests. . .

Of course the Lord uses our individuality, our gifts and talents for His glory if we will allow Him, but they must be truly given to Him, as truly as Mary gave herself to Him, and with the willingness for those gifts and myself to be known because of Him. I must allow myself to be conformed to the Life more significant than my own, even lose myself in it. There is an interesting moment recorded in the Acts of the Apostles when the Centurion Cornelius bows down to worship him, the horrified Saint says, "Get up, I too am a man!" He knows he has nothing to give, save in the name of Jesus.

I am talking here about the virtue of humility, and of the redeeming gift of self-knowledge. I must recognize, believe in, and give thanks for all the good that I do, yet find joy in knowing that it is the fruit of His presence in my life. And until I am perfect I need to ensure there are people around me who have permission, with love and humor, to remind me of these truths and keep me earthed. St. Augustine thought both criticism and praise! Thankfulness from others for all we do is to be welcomed, but not necessarily expected as my due. Being around Mary is great. That she is content to hear the words "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter thou the joy," helps make them enough for me.

In a wonderful discourse, 'On the fitness of the glories of Mary,' John Henry Newman speaks of this willingness in the Mother of God to live in the shadow of Jesus as he reflects about the manner of her death in comparison to his. '...she died in private. It became Him, who dies for the world, to die in the world's sight; it became the great Sacrifice to be lifted up on high, as a light that could not be hid ... Her departure made no noise in the world the Church went about her common duties, preaching, converting, suffering; there were persecutions, there was fleeing from place to place, there were martyrs, there were triumphs; at length the rumor spread through Christendom that Mary was no longer upon earth.'

Stay close to Mary and Jesus!

Mary stayed close to Jesus and we must surely seek to do the same. We know the places to find him. Above all, at the Eucharist and in the Confessional. It was the wisdom of our Anglo Catholic founders to rediscover his presence there. It was their gift to us. And in staying close we will inevitably be drawn closer together. The Church is so fractured. It can only mean we are not staying close enough.

There is a lovely human warmth in the Catholic Marian tradition that as it were takes us beyond any moralistic lessons we might learn from the biblical witness and even the great doctrines of the Church. It is the warmth that comes from taking her as our Mother. Not simply the Mother of the Lord, but our own. To look to her, ask her love, learn from her, is simply to join the Savior in doing what he did. What is His He shares with us. Perhaps Mary can be understood as part of the glory the Father gave to the Son which He in turn gives to us. (John 17:22) To accept her mothering is to accept a gift from Christ. And she above all must surely recognize his life in us, and delight in his choosing of us.

The ruins that we live with at Walsingham serve to remind us that we must not only live this ourselves but proclaim it and if necessary defend it.

In difficult days I am encouraged by these things, and thank God that in his providence and perhaps against many odds he has given me and you catholic hearts!

  +Lindsay Urwin, OGS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entire Contents Copyright © 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2016. Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church
All Rights Reserved. The Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church is a trademark.
The Anglican and Roman Catholic Shrines of Our Lady of Walsingham in England are not formally affiliated
with the Patriarchate of St. Stephen are the Servants of Our Lady of Walsingham in Italy.