Monday, December 6, 2010
1. Advent Retreat Programme 2010
(Retreat Conductor: The Right Reverend Martin Warner, Bishop of Whitby)
Monday (S. Nicholas, Bishop)
6pm Evening Prayer & Introductory Address
Tuesday (S Ambrose, Bishop)
9am Morning Prayer & Address
12.15 pm Said Mass with Address (Celebrant: Fr. Peter Anthony)
6pm Evening Prayer & Address
Wednesday (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)
9am Morning Prayer & Address
12.15 pm Midday Prayer and Address
6pm Sung Solemn Mass and Final Address (Celebrant and Preacher: Bishop Martin)
* Throughout this time the House will be in greater silence. This holds good for all public spaces in the House, especially the Dining Room and Common Room, until the retreat has finished.
* All students from the House are welcome to participate in the retreat if they wish.
2. Solemn Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Solemn Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with Missa Vidi Speciosam by Victoria this Wednesday at 6pm in the House Chapel. (Celebrant and Preacher: The Right Reverend Martin Warner, Bishop of Whitby) All welcome.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
image from google
This homily was given by Peter Garvie, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 29th November 2010.
We are now in Monday of week 8. Its astonishing to reflect on all that we have achieved and experienced in such a short period of time over this term. But if you are anything like me you must be feeling the strain a bit now, aware of that creaking and aching as the term edges ever more inevitably to its completion. I don’t know about you but I feel like a very tired marathon runner. I feel as though I have very little energy left for battling over the hills, I for one am weary, and I’ll be honest with you, I am beginning to beg for the finish line. The thing is though, as the term edges ever more inevitably to its completion and we feel strain a bit, we begin to become aware of what this is all about.
Advent is a good time to re-align ourselves with what after all, should be the motivation behind all that we do. And we now have an opportunity to do this as we embrace a new and invigorated spiritual life as our liturgies change. If we let our work spring out of our prayer lives we will gather the momentum to come round that back straight and execute that sprint finish we need. In the army over the summer I learnt from a sergeant that when the soldiers get exhausted on their physical training exercises and look as if they are about to collapse, they will often run along side them and put their hand gently on the small of their back. There is no physical advantage to this but it is never the less known to have the most remarkable results. I am told it more often than not – gives them that little bit of encouragement they need to push on. I wonder whether we might be able to ask ourselves how much Advent can help us push on with our work. If we are tired, if we are beginning to hear those creaks and feel those aches as we complete all the things in our busy schedules, then might Advent be that gentle encouragement we need. Might it help us feel the presence of that encouraging hand upon us, the hand of the living one, our risen lord and helper? For many of us we have reached that point in term, for others we might be able to be the one who offers that encouragement. Either way Advent is a time to dwell ever more seriously, ever more joyously on the coming of the kingdom of God and what our appropriate response should be.
Our gospel tonight talks about Jesus healing, and when people tried to get in his way, he kept on healing, when they plotted his destruction, he kept on healing. Let us not forget our work, our ministry, as we come to the end of this term. Let us be encouraged, and let us pray.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
This homily was given by Diego Galanzino, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 15th November 2010.
Common tenure, working agreements, appraisal systems, management performance reviews, employment law, retirement age, mixed mode training, practical theology separated from dogmatics, more expensive training pathways, the Institute for Works of Religion, mission statements and mission-shaped-anything-you-like, bums on seats policy...
The Church has engaged in a process of secularisation of its structures and behaviours, perhaps with the aim of making things more transparent and understandable to the outside world.
This is not a mere exercise of borrowing ideas from the secular world. No, its nature and scale tend to suggest that the actual Church has absorbed the worries of the world about money, status and serving more than one master.
“Ask, and it shall be given to you; search, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened for you.”
It is easy to say this, but in reality many of us share many concerns about our future ministry, about the future of residential training or more simply, if there will still be a Church by the time we retire, let alone a pension board.
However, deep down, we should also know that a secularised organization of the Church is perhaps not necessarily the best solution to our problems.
“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine.”
Tonight’s second reading offers another picture. The Sermon on the Mount – which our lectionary has unfolded for the past week – is coming to an end between tonight and tomorrow. It envisages another kind of community. Its wisdom sayings are rooted in the Jewish tradition; they present a type of living that is centred on God and articulated in our dealings with one another.
This should be a model for discipleship which could certainly inspire our common life here, but also it could provide a rule of life based on the concept of waiting upon God, which Graham has illustrated for us earlier in term.
“Ask, and it shall be given to you; search, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened for you.”
For the Matthean Sermon on the Mount, to follow Christ is to have a filial relationship with God; to wait upon Him and play our part without presuming that we could put the world to right with our own devices. Our part is to be the attentive recipients of these sayings.
It is not primarily a matter of what we do about the things they prescribe, but how we do them; or as famous New Testament scholar said “living in accordance to the Sermon on the Mount is a path to perfection. One should travel this path as far as possible. On the Day of Judgements the Son of Man will show just where the minimum righteousness lies”.
In this discourse, Matthew presents God as the Father, the provider of all good things and the Son of Man as the just and only judge, “before whom all lances are of equal length”, or as Luke’s Gospel puts it
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged [...]. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
So, as seen as today it’s the only feria for this week, let me encourage you to explore the life of a great saint from Piedmont, my homeland. St Luigi Orione, the founder of the Sons of Divine Providence put into practice all these sayings, his model of Church was so dependent upon God that it would seem utter foolishness to the Ministry Division as it did for the Roman Curia in his time.
However, the truth of the Gospel remains; if we follow this path to perfection – both privately and as a community – all other things will be given unto us.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Homily given by Fr Peter Anthony on Remembrance Sunday, 14th November 2010.
What is Christian Remembrance?
It sometimes seems as though the main thing that characterises academic life, is the endless attempt to remember things. Collections to be revised for; Final exams with all that cramming. So much information to be remembered. In the midst of all that it’s hardly surprising there are quite a few self-help books around designed to help you improve your memory when it comes to exams. I was reading one the other day full of cunning strategies: spider diagrams; flash cards; even the suggestion that your choice of cologne can make a difference. If you wear the same fragrance on the day of the exam as you did to revise that subject, your mind will apparently be much more able to recall the information you need.
Over the past few weeks we have in a broader sense been in a season of remembering. We have just kept All Souls’ Day, when we remembered before the Lord all the faithful departed. A few days after that was Bonfire Night: “Remember, remember, 5th November; gunpowder, treason and plot.” And now we keep Remembrance Sunday when we pray for those who have fallen in war.
All those sorts of remembering may seem quite different, but they actually have one thing in common. They all involve fear of forgetting. The fear of forgetting the horrors of war so that similar conflicts should never happen again. The fear of forgetting the cherished memories of our closest loved ones. The fear of getting into the exam room and not knowing the answer. It seems that we remember so that memories are kept alive. We remember to keep the spectre of forgetting at bay.
Is that all that there is to say about Remembrance? Is it just about keeping memories alive, the recalling of past events? I think one of the things we are called to re-discover each year around this time is that for the Christian, Remembrance is much more than that.
The point is this. All too often we think of remembering as something dependent on our efforts. Our ability to recall. Our determination not to forget.
One of the things that today’s commemoration shows us afresh, however, is that when Christians remember the departed, we do so knowing that they live in Christ. When Christians remember, we participate in a living reality. In our baptism, we were incorporated into Christ, made one with him. We were a given a new identity as sons and daughters of God. Not just were we given a new identity but we were given the gift of new life, eternal life with him who triumphed over death. That bond is something which the grave cannot overcome. Even though many years may distance us from those who have died, we share a kinship with them, which is indestructible. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not just recalling past events, no, through our remembrance, we share in a deep, living, communion with the departed. This is never more evident and more effectual than when we celebrate the Eucharist together just as we did on All Souls’ Day praying particularly for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
If that is the case, then we discover something else. We discover that we no longer need to be haunted by that terror of forgetting. Christian remembrance is not just about the desperate attempt to keep the memory of our loved ones alive, for we know that in God they will never die. They will never be forgotten.
In fact, in a funny way we discover that Christian remembrance is not about us doing the remembering. Rather it is rejoicing in the fact that it is God who remembers us. He knows us and cherishes us, and remembers us in his Son. We need not fear being forgotten. It is the solemn recognition each year that it is God who remembers us, that we are part of a bigger picture, the bigger picture of life with him that we share with those who have died. When we remember, we are participating in the eternal act of endless remembering and loving which is the life of heaven, that perfect society, where war, violence, and death are no more, and men and women enjoy that eternal peace which is God’s will for us.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Readings: Daniel vii.1-3 & 15-18, Ephesians i.11-23, Luke vi.20-31
It’s a great joy to be here with you this evening. Thank you for this invitation to be with you, and to explore with you for a little while the riches of the inheritance of the saints in this wonderful setting, and on this special day.
The call of the Christian life is a call to holiness, to self-renunciation, and to the rule of love. Saints do not theorise about sanctity, but rather live it, expound upon it, proclaim it. Often the sacrifices they are called to make are as a result of doing these things well. Those who have undergone martyrdom have in some sense experienced the same consequence of gospel-centred living that Christ did – words, thoughts and actions considered too dangerous, too subversive, for the places and times in which they occurred. This was particularly so in the last century, when it was believed that more Christians were martyred than in any other.
The danger with saints is that we can lionize them to the extent that we fail to appreciate the need for saintly living in this age as well as any other. It is becoming fashionable in a lot of places to mount an attack upon what is perceived as a new and militant atheist apologetic sweeping the land. Now – I don’t doubt that such things are happening, and that humanists have much that is critical to say about people of faith. But perhaps this is a wake-up call – a call to repentance in the church, a call to all people of faith to bring the lofty ideals of faith and belief to bear in practical situations. Very often nationally broadcast criticisms of faith and the faithful frustrate because the Christian response is not all we feel it might be, and there goes up a cry for a renewed Christian apologia to counter such arguments. We know, perhaps, of local churches and faith groups doing good, wholesome and holy things for the good of the kingdom of God and for the care of his precious people – but it’s all very local, and not at all ‘newsworthy’. Still, I remain convinced that there is a lot of Good News out there, wonderful stories of human transformation brought about through the grace-filled witness of the church, and a great many people who are gently wearing the mantle of sanctity in the service of others. But if we are honest, do we sufficient attention to the virtue of humility, the joyful tasks of service, the ‘holy chores’ of grace? Can we honestly say that our lives contribute all they might to the coming of the kingdom? It’s a question we need to ask constantly, and one which our meditation upon the lives of the saints helps to bring to the surface.
It has been said that what distinguishes the saintly is not the capacity to perform the huge, Herculean task, but rather to perform the small and the mundane task with beauty and with grace – to live as in a world invested and charged with the grandeur of God, and so to reveal that grace to the less focused eye. If we would counter the arguments and criticisms of others – some of them well founded – then we must labour to ensure that change is brought about through love, prayer, word and action.
But saints do not merely perform tasks with grace. They live in ways which provide evidence of the divine in human endeavour and being. Faithfulness to the Christ of the Gospels makes clear to us that saintly living is possible in any age, including our own. To offer ourselves to God for this way of life, definite acts of will are required – acts of renunciation of the things which stand on our way, acts of ascesis and mortification, which serve to remind us that it is not we ourselves, but Christ in us, who guides, inspires and makes possible the things we undertake. To that end, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote that ‘Christian perfection has but one limit, that of having none ’.<1>
I enjoy the thought, from time to time, that Heaven will be a state of endless meetings between saints of different eras. What fun that will be! It will take an eternity to meet them all. I wonder, for example, what St. Stephen, the first martyr, will have to say to St. Paul, who assisted at his execution. I imagine that there will be quite a queue to meet St. Augustine of Hippo, for good or ill, and that one or two friendly discussions will take place between Calvinists and Catholics during the queuing. Then the apostles, of course, meeting their Episcopal successors with a mixture of joy and bewilderment – and one could go on. But one thing is for sure. There is a glorious diversity within the company of the saints – people of all shapes and sizes, some who wielded temporal power and others who shunned it, those who were passionate and argumentative, those who were serene and irenic, those of amazing and intense learning, those of pure and joyful simplicity, those of contemplation, those of action. At some point people who we think of as saints have committed every sin in the book, but their lives were transformed not by their own efforts, but through God’s wonderful and redeeming grace in their lives, so great and strong that they couldn’t help but respond in exciting and radical ways. There are those we know, and celebrate, and those we do not – those whose saintliness has been known only to God. All responded to their time, their circumstances and the events which surrounded them with the light of the gospel – well received in some times and places, rejected in others. What matters is that they sought to be vessels of God’s grace, not only for those around them but for successive generations. It is part of the deepest Christian vocation to cherish our sense of communion, not only with one another but with all who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith. May the Saints, our brothers and sisters in eternity continue to urge us on, to renewed and fervent holiness, until we are blessed to be among their number, and Christ is all in all.
Vice Principal, St. Stephen’s House
Given at Keble College, Oxford, on 31st October 2010
<1> De vita Mos.: PG 44, 300 D
A Sermon preached at Pusey House, Oxford on 10th October 2010
Ecclesiasticus xxxv.12–17 2 Timothy iv: 6-8, 16-18 Luke xviii.9-14 (NRSV)
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy iv.7"
It is a joy and a blessing to be with you this morning, in a place where the faith has been kept, taught, cherished and shared since its foundation. Thank you for inviting me to be with you.
A culturally relevant question for you. What do the film Blazing Saddles, the American rock band Bon Jovi, and Oldham Athletic Football Club have in common? While you’re puzzling round that one, let me add to the list Michael Jackson and a film starring Harry Lennox and Vanessa Williams?
The answer is that all of them have, at some time or other, found recourse to the words ‘Keep the Faith.’ They occur in film and song titles, advertising campaigns, motivational addresses, and a whole host of other places. As such, they can refer to ‘faith’ in a whole variety of contexts. In each case, it implies a stability – a standing where you have been placed, even when that place is not one of your own choosing. Paul, in this morning’s epistle, offers a summary of his own earthly life – his own sense of relief, almost, that he has done all he can to respond to his meeting with the Jesus he had encountered, those years ago, on the road to Damascus.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
As a consequence, Paul looks forward, to the reward which his keeping the faith will elicit.
From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Faith, of course, is a gift from God, and keeping the faith that we are given is an essential. Such an imperative impacts upon every aspect of our living, in both public and personal spheres. Whilst it is true that keeping the faith involves the fairly obvious virtues of perseverance and fidelity, there is another area which is perhaps less obvious – that of growth, because only by growing in faith can we hope to keep it. As you can see from my well-sculpted physique, honed over years of punishing exercise and trappist self-denial, I am a great one for the gym. Well, that’s nearly true – I am a great one for gym membership. I was in one long enough to read the sign on the door which said ‘Fitness can only be gained and maintained. It cannot be stored’. We are also told, whilst on our fitness kick, that we should have five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. No one would dream of having thirty-five portions on a Sunday, to see them through the week. The same is somewhat true of faith. We think of having a ‘repository of faith’ but the truth is, it has to be exercised, practiced, daily, if it is to be kept. Prayer, sacraments, fellowship, caritas, discipleship with Jesus rather than mere admiration of him. Keeping the faith means never standing still in our relationships with God and with one another. You want to keep the faith? Practice it, daily.
Generally, when we ‘keep’ something, there is a feeling that we are preserving and protecting it, because it is precious to us, and we don’t want it damaged or falling into the wrong hands. So, ‘keeping the faith’ carries with it overtones of retrenchment, consolidation, holding on grimly to what you have, as if we can form some kind of citadel around it. Part of the Christian paradox is that to keep the faith we must share it – striving to find ways of communicating the Catholic faith in this generation, living lives of radical and distinctive love in the face of often overwhelming indifference. That process begins here at the Mass, as we are filled with God’s grace through this moment of unspeakable holiness. It is this grace which gives us the power to live as Christ’s servants at all, and to live out that life of joy in the social, intellectual and spiritual maelstrom which Oxford can be. But in the living of that life, keeping the faith consists not simply in the living but in the sharing – the thought that what we receive here is too good, too valuable, too rich to keep it to ourselves. And if the challenges and difficulties for the Catholic faith in the present day seem too much for us, we need to recall that it is at times like this that keeping the faith actually matters, and matters not only for the sake of our own souls but fort he souls of generations as yet unborn. We here in Oxford look back to various martyrs – Ridley and Latimer, of course, just outside the front door, and Roman Catholics Nichols, Yaxley, Belson and Pritchard, and no doubt others who chose their historical period less wisely. They – and countless others – have endured far, far worse, in concentration camps and prisons, like Paul himself – murdered by soldiers and monarchs, executed by the people they were sent to serve and to whom they proclaimed the gospel. It was, in their own place and time, the consequence of keeping the faith. Their memory, as much as their prayers for us now, sustains us, reminding us that it is possible to live to the exacting words of Christ in ages of darkness and difficulty. To spend time wishing that things were different is tempting, but utterly futile. When I attempted, at the age of six, to reject the bowl of prunes put in front of me for my school dinner, Mrs. Porter the dinner lady came out with that classic northern line ‘You get what you’re given.’ It’s as true of the time in which you live, just as it was true of the unpromising and dangerous times in which Jesus lived. Our task is to witness and serve in the time we are given, not to wish for any golden ages, mythical or otherwise.
There is a bigger, wider challenge to those of us who are concerned for the mission of the church and the coming of the kingdom. To those who would live in a faithless, Godless world, faith is a dangerous thing. It challenges the assumption that humans can be self-sufficient and self-serving. The politically correct world which humanism would espouse would be a desolate and monochrome world indeed – a far cry from the life in abundance which Jesus Christ offers. It is a world warned against by (amongst others) Pope John Paul II in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995). Commenting on unwelcome developments in the field of medical ethics, he wrote
the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which, with its ubiquitous tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities themselves to the test. Those who allow themselves to be influenced by this climate easily fall into a sad vicious circle: when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life…
If we lose God, we lose our true selves. John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI spoke eloquently last month of this concern in Westminster when reminding us
not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.
It remains to be seen whether these words can inspire a confidence leading to a renewed dialogue going beyond personal gesture or statement, but impacting on the wider fabric of society. If we would keep the faith it’s important that the place of that faith is re-affirmed, and that will only happen if those of us who hold it live it, not in any pharisaic or pompous fashion but after the manner of our tax-collector – in penitence and humility, whilst firmly and courteously challenging the zeitgeist which claims that there is no place for faith in the public arena.
Keeping the faith matters – not only personally, but corporately, visibly, meaningfully. May this great gift continue to sustain, provoke and drive us onwards to the glory of the Kingdom, moving mountains and shaping hearts, minds and lives, until Christ is all in all.
Vice Principal, St. Stephen’s House
Monday, November 1, 2010
This homily was given by Chris Johnson, a second year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 1st November 2010 (All Saints).
I don’t know about you, but at this stage in term, I begin to feel rather tired. The bell that summons us daily to prayer has been summoning us for five weeks now, and I have about got to that stage where my body clock automatically wakes me up at 6:30 in the morning, whether it is a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or – much to my annoyance – a Saturday. In fact, the problem was exaggerated just yesterday morning when the good Lord gave us one extra hour in bed... and I woke up at 5:30 GMT. Tiredness, we are told, kills. The Highways Agency advises us to ‘take a break’ – but that’s not advice the seminarian, priest or tutor can easily accept, as the daily round of obligations in chapel, refectory and classroom each make their separate demand on our time and energy.
Tiredness and exhaustion are indicative of our humanity, and our fallen humanity at that. How often do we complain about this or our other failures or frailties? When we do, it should be comforting to know that the saints were made of the same mould as us. But, being sensible of their weaknesses, they were careful to ‘retrench all incentives of their passions, to shun all occasions of sin, to ground themselves in the most profound humility, and to strengthen themselves by the devout use of the sacraments, [and] prayer... [Yet] It was by the strength they received from above, not by their own, that they triumphed’.
The lives of the saints instruct all Christian people to rely on Jesus. In doing this, we must die to our own passions and deny our own will, by uprooting ‘pride, vanity, revenge and other irregular passions, and planting in the heart the most perfect spirit of humility, meekness, patience, and charity’. Such a pattern was exemplified by St. Joseph in our Gospel reading tonight: Joseph, being a righteous man, planned to dismiss Mary quietly. ‘But just when he had resolved to do this’, an angel appeared to him and commanded him otherwise. In humble submission to the will of God, which required the displacing of his own desires, Joseph obeyed the angel’s command.
Our reading from Isaiah, on the other hand, shows us that this is not always the response of humanity to God’s call. Isaiah instead paints a picture of a people to whom the Lord had spoken, but who neither knew His voice nor understood it. Yet even there, all was not lost. As the prophet said, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword’.
The virtues in which the renunciation of our selves consists – humility, meekness etc. – are styled by Christ as Beatitudes, because they not only lead to happiness, but also bring with them a present joy. The reward of the saints in the kingdom also serves to remind us that everything which is suffered here on earth is made light there. The holy ones of God show us that path from one to the other, from present trials to future glory, and this glory strongly animates our hope and excites our fervour.
In the rite for Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer, the priest reads aloud the Comfortable Words, opening with that promise of the Matthean Christ: ‘Come unto me, all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you’. These Words fit snugly between the Absolution and the Sursum Corda – and their position reminds us that following our own purging, we can look forward to meeting God Himself at that time when sacraments shall cease. Thus when we are tired and heavy laden, fallen in our humanity and weak in our service, Christ comes to us and promises us rest. He transforms the utter poverty of our nature, with all its natural limitations, by the great riches of His grace. The saints show us that that vision of God is attainable – for they now enjoy it.
At the opening of his many-versed hymn, William Walsham How wrote: ‘For all the saints, who from their labour rest; Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia! Alleluia!’ The Christian soul thus finds its rest in God, and in particular in the true worship of Him. And right now, through the grace of His sacraments, we can join with saints and angels around the throne worshipping the Lamb, though our vision is still ‘through a glass darkly’. When we are tired, burdened and heavy laden, we would therefore do well to remember another verse of For All the Saints:
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
May our toil through this life not distract us from knowing that our hope is in God, to whom is due all honour and praise, now and in all eternity; and may His holy ones pray for us as they share in that vision for which we long.
Let us pray.
Thou hast made us for Thyself
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee:
pour Thy love into our hearts and draw us to Thyself,
and so bring us at the last to Thy heavenly city
where we shall see Thee face to face;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, now and for ever.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
There aren’t many groups more in need of a public relations adviser than the Pharisees. The Pharisees are regularly vilified for their hypocrisy, or their self-importance, or their obsessive legalism which damages the consciences of others and drives them far from God. So the Pharisees become easy targets for that human, but ultimately lazy and distorting tendency to caricature and label, rather than that much harder learning to speak about other human beings in a careful, precise, and ultimately more truthful way.
Even in the New Testament, with a few notable exceptions, the Pharisees play to type, almost always the antagonists, rarely doing the right thing. Which makes it all the more difficult to listen to today’s gospel and not fall into easy caricature. We seem to be presented with a stereotypical Pharisee, and, for added measure a stereotypical tax-collector as well. It isn’t helped by the fact that neither of these two characters in Jesus’parable is given a name, because, although we still do it, it is harder to caricature and pigeonhole when people are named, when they have a name and a face and a family and a history.
But what if today’s parable is less about caricature than about turning caricature on its head, so that we are forced to re-evaluate both how we view Pharisees and how we view tax-collectors, and ultimately how we view each other?
First, the Pharisee. We might be tempted to think that he is a typical Pharisee, self-important, carried away by his own piety, despising the ‘people of the land’. After all, he seems to fit perfectly the definition of a Pharisee in the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘self-righteous person, formalist, hypocrite’! But I want you for the moment to throw away your copy of the Oxford English Dictionary (it may be helpful for your prose style, but may prove disastrous as a tool for New Testament exegesis). I want you to reach instead for your copies of the Jewish historian Josephus, or your English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. If we spend a bit more time with the first century sources, we might come to the conclusion that the Pharisee in the parable is in fact a quite untypical Pharisee. The Pharisees, Josephus tells us, were the pin-up boys of first century Judaism, highly popular among the people (of course, he was a Pharisee himself, which always helps). If we are to believe other accounts, the Pharisees were the modernisers, those attempting to re-interpret archaic laws for modern times, which is why they often provoked the ire of the Sadducees. As for their supposed obsession with the minutiae of legal interpretation, let’s not forget that the community at Qumran called the Pharisees ‘the smoothies’, the ‘seekers after smooth things’, criticizing them not for being too strict, but for being far too lax in their following of the Law.
So the Pharisee in the parable may not be a typical Pharisee at all: rather, he is a caricature of a Pharisee gone-wrong, of what even a popular, liberal, pious, God’s law-loving Pharisee might become. Jesus’ parable shockingly turns on its head the usual expectation of the Pharisee, replacing one caricature with its polar opposite, just as it does precisely the same thing with the caricature of the swindling, disreputable, ungodly tax-collector. It is meant to shock. It is meant to force us to re-evaluate the caricatures with which we ordinarily operate.
But the real point of today’s parable is less about different kinds of people – caricatures or not – than about different kinds of prayer. The pious Pharisee prays a prayer which on a superficial level sounds like a eucharistic prayer: ‘God, I thank you …’ Yet as his prayer unfolds, it comes clear that it is a highly distorted eucharistic prayer. First of all, although the prayer is addressed to God, the Pharisee stands ‘praying to himself’, so self-absorbed that no real conversation, certainly no real thanksgiving, is possible. Second, his prayer doesn’t give thanks to God for what God has done, but rather gives thanks to himself for what he has done for God: ‘I thank you that I am not like other people … I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ Nor can he resist his own attempt at caricature, dividing humanity into manageable groups with their own neat labels: ‘thieves, rogues, adulterers’ … and then ‘this tax-collector’, who belongs to a group which might be even worse than those groups already mentioned!
On the other hand, there is the prayer of the tax-collector. It is not that what the tax-collector says is any more true than what the Pharisee prays. The Pharisee probably did go beyond what was required by fasting twice a week and tithing the whole of his income. And the tax-collector may well have been the disreputable rogue that the Pharisee implies him to be. But unlike the prayer of the Pharisee, his prayer is utterly focused on the mercy of God. And his is prayer which is acceptable to God. He stands far off, beating his breast in a sign of repentance, thoroughly aware of his own unworthiness. Luke make be hinting here of another scene – not in the Temple but outside the walls of Jerusalem – where others stand far off and beat their breasts. Ironically, the disreputable tax-collector is closer to those crowds who repented as they saw the crucified Jesus than the Pharisee who sees no need for repentance.
There is a second Pharisee in today’s readings, and he does have a name: Paul of Tarsus. This Pharisee has certainly been subject to more than his fair share of caricature and pigeon-holing. Yet the glimpses which the New Testament gives us of Paul’s prayer is of a Pharisee who is both utterly aware of his own unworthiness, and of the limitless mercy of God. It is not what he has done for God, so much as what Christ has done living in him, which permeates his prayer. So, on the verge of death, the Paul of 2 Timothy prayerfully reviews his life. Yes, he has fought the good fight; he has finished the race; he has kept the faith. But only by the grace of God working in him. It is the Lord who stood by him in his defence. It is the Lord who gave him strength. It is the Lord who rescued him from the lion’s mouth, and who will save him for his heavenly kingdom. That is the invitation today, for our prayer and for our Christian vocation: to glimpse what God has done, and is doing for Paul the Pharisee; what God has done for the unnamed tax-collector; what God has done, and is doing in us.
Monday, October 25, 2010
This homily was given by Gavin Cooper, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 25th October 2010. (Readings; Ecclesiasticus 39: 1-11, John 17: 1-5)
We are now on week three of Michaelmas term, which, for us means that we have been here four weeks. I, for one, am surprised at how quickly the time has gone, already.
How many of us were told before we arrived, or even as we started at seminary how quickly the time would go- I know some of you who have just joined us have heard it, because I have said it to you- and it is true-time flows here.
We work hard in the course of our studies and all of us, whether we are on the BA, BTh, MTh, CTG all share a common occupation- what Fr. Robin would call ‘scribble, scribble, scribble’.
In the NRSV, the reading we heard from Ecclesiasticus is given the simple title- The Activity of the Scribe; and I actually think that it fits rather well our situation here as we daily ‘scribble, scribble, scribble’.
I am not for one minute suggesting that any of us are to be compared with the scribe- but this passage does sum up some of what we are about here.
The Scribe seeks out the wisdom of all the ancients and prophesies; he penetrates the subtleties of parables; he sets his heart to rise early; he gives thanks to the Lord in prayer. These are all things that we are part of in our studies here. Particularly if, like me, you think that setting your heart to rise early is to roll out of bed at 7am and wish you had got up ten minutes earlier to avoid the bell ringing whilst you are madly brushing your teeth.
We are lucky, in that we are given the time here to commit ourselves to study and prayer, and, joking aside- we do get the space to pray
He sets his heart to rise early to seek the Lord who made him, and
to petition the Most High; he opens his mouth in prayer and asks
pardon for his sins.
This evening’s second reading follows on quite nicely from this idea of prayer- for at this point in John’s gospel, we are shown Jesus at his most intimate with his Father- we are a fly on the wall in his own prayer.
His first petition Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify you. Fr. Damian, around this time last year told us that we should not wish our life away, and this evening’s readings do nothing but restate this message, for if we are to follow this example of prayer from Jesus, then we should express to God every now and again that it is His time frame we are working to and that it is His will that is being done (we hope).
Following this morning’s seminar, the inhabitants of the back row of these stalls should be able to speak at length on the danger of stress in our work without repetition, hesitation or deviation. We do, from time to time, get snowed under and our concern can be so much directed towards ‘scribble, scribble, scribble’ that we do have to learn to lean on the prayers of those around us and know that when they are troubled they can lean on our prayers- however, we should always know that in our doings here, it is God’s plan that is being carried out, and that, if we are lucky, we will share the gifts of the scribes
If the great Lord is willing, we will be filled with the spirit of
understanding; we will pour forth words of wisdom of our own and
give thanks to the Lord in prayer.
The Lord will direct our counsel and knowledge, as we meditate on
his mysteries. We will show the wisdom of what we have learned
and will glory in the law of the Lord’s covenant.
Monday, October 11, 2010
This homily was given by Imogen Black, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 11th October 2010;
Today is the feast of Ethelburga, a 7th century saint who was abbess of Barking; not to be confused with Ethelburga, a 7th century saint who was abbess of Faremoutier-en-Brie; or indeed with Ethelburga, a 7th century saint who was abbess of Lyming.
Very little is known about her, making it an interesting question as to quite why she (unlike her two namesakes) has been singled out for the contemporary Anglican calendar. Perhaps it’s not unrelated to the fact that a church under her patronage in Bishopsgate made the news a few decades ago; almost destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1983, it was rebuilt as the St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, something that may have brought the saint a little more into the public eye.
What we do know about her comes mostly from Bede, writing some 50 years after her death. Her brother Eorcenwald founded the monastery at Barking and set her over it as its first abbess. In this task, we’re told, she proved worthy of her brother in all respects, “both by her holy life and by her sound and devoted care for those under her rule”, to whom she was both “mother” and “nurse”.
That is really all Bede has to say about her character. But he is convinced as to her holiness, to which visions and miracles bore witness. Most notably, an elderly nun had a vision in which a body brighter than the sun was drawn up from the monastery into heaven; a few days later, Ethelburga died, and such was her record, Bede says, that none who knew her could doubt that the gates of heaven were opened for her. Then another nun, badly crippled, asked to be carried into church to pray at Ethelburga’s body. There she asked her to intercede on her behalf in heaven, that she might be released from her suffering; twelve days later she was indeed released, in death.
So what, then, can we learn from such a figure, given how little we know of her? Perhaps that holiness does not necessarily involve doing things that are, in the end, particularly exciting or memorable, but can be a matter of simply faithfully seeking God’s will in the place where we are set, getting on with the job that we’ve been given to do. And that how we treat those around us, those people with whom we live and work, is a significant testimony to our holiness or lack of it. Those who believed Ethelburga to be truly holy, who sought and received her intercession, were from her own monastery, the people who saw her in day-to-day life, who had to live with her, under her authority. She can hardly have been faultless, but whatever her faults, her genuine care for her community was seen as rather more significant.
Let us pray.
To those who love you, Lord,
you promise to come with your Son
and make your home within them.
Come then with your purifying grace
and, at the intercession of St Ethelburga your virgin
make our hearts a place where you can dwell.
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Homily given by Fr Damian Feeney, vice principal of St Stephen's House, on Trinity XIX, 10th October 2010.
Readings; 2 Kings v.1-3, 7-15b; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy ii: 8-15 Luke 17.11-19 (NRSV)
Lepers have become the symbol, par excellence, of those who must to be avoided. Over the summer I reached something of a milestone, watching as I did, late into the night, Ben Hur for the one thousandth time. If you don’t know it (where have you been?) part of the story concerns Judah Ben Hur’s mother and sister, who contract leprosy and are banished to the Valley of the Lepers, where they are kept apart from the rest of the community; even their food is lowered down on pallets. This doesn’t necessarily betoken or imply a lack of compassion so much as fear – fear of contagion, for to touch one who is so afflicted is a risky, even dangerous business. More than that, to touch a leper meant that you were ritually unclean. The conclusion of the tale is one of transformation – the most cursory of encounters with the crucified Christ, and his blood outpoured, cures the women of the dread and highly contagious ailment, but not before Judah himself had led them out of the imposed captivity of the Valley to which they had been condemned.
So it has been for lepers through the ages. Famously Francis of Assisi embraced a leper – a signal moment in his own understanding of what Christ-like love meant. Blessed Damien the Leper, in serving the colony at Molokai in Hawaii, where he arrived in 1873 (carrying little more than his Breviary) contracted leprosy himself some twelve years later. He wasn’t alone in this sacrifice – he was the third missionary of the Sacred Heart to contract the disease – but fear of infection led to him being ostracized by members of his own religious community, including his superior and his bishop.
It’s interesting to speculate the response of the priest to the presence of ten healed lepers, requesting a re-admittance to mainstream society as required in Leviticus 14. Only the priest could declare the leper clean, and therefore fit to belong within the mainstream of society. He would have to examine the lepers, find two living birds, some cedarwood and some crimson yarn. He would slaughter one of the birds…..actually, I’ll leave it to you to look up, but I have an image of the priest frantically looking over his shoulder at the Levitical Code to make sure he got it right, and that’s before we approach the vexed question of what he should be wearing. (It’s all a long way from First Year Formation and Ministry, where slaughter is kept to the minimum prescribed by Ministry Division.)
The priest wouldn’t be sure, because he wouldn’t have dealt with the situation that often. There was no cure for leprosy. A healed leper meant a miracle, and a miracle is something for those in authority to mistrust. Rather than focusing on the miracle, the priest might possibly have reflected on what happens when the rules in which you have come to trust have been broken by the very God who gave them. The law prescribes a course of action, a ritual, if you will – but in fact what matters is God’s action in healing through Jesus – something of itself which was profoundly threatening to the priest, and indeed to any who would think of themselves as the stewards of the tradition. When God works outside the tradition, we are challenged to think again.
Any society of humans creates lepers. That is, we create underclasses of people, people who we deem to be ‘unclean’ beyond the pail’ untouchable. There are any number of reasons, from poverty to lifestyle to crime and disorder. Migrant workers, living in a black economy in the Fens, or drowning in the waters of Morecambe Bay: Christian people whose tradition and practice is different from our own. Not for nothing did a former colleague of mine once say that the acid test of the church’s mission and ministry at this time would be its treatment and care of paedophiles. Of course we hate the sin, we hate it bitterly, but to Christ, no soul is not worth dying for.
So, who are your lepers? What are the prejudices to which we dare not admit, but which all of us carry and can affect our conduct and our treatment of people? We seem to live in a world where most, prejudices against others are roundly condemned – I say ‘most’ because it still seems acceptable to hold Stephen Fry as a national treasure, despite his prejudicial treatment of Christians, Christianity and people of faith generally. But let’s not be distracted. Who do we subconsciously condemn to a valley of lepers our own design? There are always those who we prefer, and therefore those we do not. Part of our formation as followers of Christ is about humble self-awareness, and a razor-sharp honesty before our loving, merciful and compassionate God, who knows us better than we know ourselves. to recognize such things within ourselves, and to release such people from the places of confinement which exist in our own minds. The challenge is that our preparations here are to fit us, however imperfectly, for a share and participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ – one who was asked for mercy, and whose response betokened not merely mercy, but healing, acceptance and liberation.
Vice Principal, St. Stephen’s House
Monday, October 4, 2010
This homily was given by Graham Lunn, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 5th October 2010. The readings was Ecclus. 16:17-end and Mark 15:1-15;
It seems to me, in self-reflection and in observation of others, that a vocation to the sacred ministry often comes with two unfortunate character traits in tow: a restless activism, and a not insignificant amount of control-freakery. Both of these traits are in our day doubtless formed in us from an early age. We live in an era still defined, in the ‘sophisticated’ West at least, by a strident individualism which tells us that we are the masters of our own destiny; and we live in a country which has yet to escape a spirit of messianic Pelagianism – that British pull-your-socks-up mentality which where I come from leads to a phenomenon proudly referred to as the ‘Protestant work ethic’. I am sure, however, that they are as deeply ingrained in the character of what it is to be a fallen human being as much as in what it is to be here in the West now.
These traits of activism and desire to be in total control I’ve labeled as unfortunate, and I believe them to be particularly so when it comes to considering our continuing vocational journeys, as seminarians, as tutors, as priests. Throughout the process of consultation leading up to the experience of a Bishops’ Advisory Panel, and in training here and the search for a curacy, it has been a trial for me to realise at various points that I am certainly not the one in charge. I have to wait. I have to be patient. I must recognise that I am not the only actor in this process, that there are many others involved – and not least the Lord.
But even the Lord Himself knew a time when He seemed not to be the actor, the one in total control. The passage from Mark’s gospel we heard a moment ago ended with the phrase, “[Pilate] handed him over to be crucified”. W.H. Vanstone, in his book The Stature of Waiting, points out that up to this point, that of the narrative of the Lord’s Passion, Mark portrays Jesus as the actor in every situation. In fact, it is Jesus’ very activity which gives this gospel its breathless haste – he came, he went, he spoke, he called, he had compassion, he began to teach. But from this point on, this point of being “handed over”, Jesus suddenly becomes the one to whom things happen. His action throughout His itinerant ministry sits in stark contrast to His Passion, the events leading up to and including his death and resurrection.
What does it mean then for us to be conformed to this aspect of Lord’s Passion in our seminary context? Too much to consider fully, I’m sure, in one, two, three or as many years of residential training we might be afforded. But I wish to make two points.
Firstly, that we must take this opportunity to hone the skill of waiting, to reject the notion that we must be in control, and that we must constantly be doing in order for our ministry, both now and in the future, to be of value. This is all very well to say when already the new members of our fellowship will have discovered how busy life at St Stephen’s House can be. We are, however, blessed with time specifically set apart for conscious waiting, waiting upon God. We must heed the advice of the writer of Ecclesiasticus when he tells us not to ignore the purposes of God simply because they might be too great for us to comprehend. We must take this precious time while we have it, and learn from our life here the discipline of taking time to be attentive to the voice of the Lord in prayer.
It is also good to recall at the beginning of this year that indeed there are many actors in our vocational journeys, our Bishops, our DDOs, our prospective training incumbents, our families - the Lord. But we also have each other, and I believe that in our openness to each other in this place, and at this time, we can not only wait on God as individuals, but as a fellowship seeking His purpose for our common life. In this way too we can discover more insight into what it might be to be conformed to the Lord’s Passion, and to know more fully what it is to be “crucified with Christ” as His Body.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Saturday 30th October 2010
10.00 am - 5.00 pm
St. Stephen's House
16 Marston Street
Oxford, OX4 1JX
Tel. 01865 613 500
map: click here
St. Stephen's House is an Anglican theological foundation and Permanent Private Hall in the University of Oxford, offering formation, education and training for Ordained Ministry, PGCE and a variety of qualifications.
If you are a potential student or you are thinking about your vocation or interested in learning more about ministry in the Catholic tradition of the Church of England, you are welcome to join us!
- Tea and Coffee - Available from 10.00 am
- Tours of the College - from 10.30 am
- Sung Eucharist - 12.00 noon
- Buffet Lunch - 1.oo pm
- Vocations Addresses - 2.00 pm to 3.00 pm*
- Studing in Oxford - 3.00 pm to 4.oo pm**
- Tea - 4.00 pm
- Evensong and Benediction - 4.30 pm
** Find out information about the range of courses offered by the college.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
St Stephen's House congratulates the Revd Canon Mark Oakley (SSH 1990-1993) becomes Canon Treasurer at St Paul's.
Canon Oakley was born in Shrewsbury and studied Theology in London and Oxford before taking up his first appointment as Curate of St John’s Wood Church (1993-1996). He was then asked to become the Chaplain to the Bishop of London (1996-2000) and was appointed a Deputy Priest in Ordinary to HM the Queen in 1996. He served as Chaplain at Copenhagen and Archdeacon of Germany and North Europe (2005-2008) and was Area Dean of Westminster (St Margaret), from 2004 to 2005. He was Chaplain at RADA from 2003 to 2005.
For more info: Click HERE
Friday, June 25, 2010
This homily was given by Adrian Stark-Ordishk, a second year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 20th June 2010. The readings was Romans 11:25-end;
I want to spend a few moments this evening thinking about leaving.
St Aloysius left family and wealth to become a Jesuit. He, as patron saint of youth, also provided the name for Sebastian Flyte’s teddybear in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Sebastian is in love with his youth and struggles to leave it behind.
We here are coming up to the end of term and a leaving of our own, albeit a temporary one. Some of our community have already left for the next stage; a rather more permanent leaving. I wonder whether our, temporary, leaving is an opportunity for us to prepare for when we leave for good, whether that’s in one or two year’s time.
We have to choose between St Aloysius and Aloysius the teddybear. Will our time here be such that we are enabled to leave and move on, looking with gratitude on all that God has given us during our time here? Or will we find our time here hard to leave behind, wishing that life could remain always as it is now?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that living in Christian community is not the norm; it is a blessing and must not be taken for granted. We must see our time here together in this way. We are together now, but it will not always be so. Our summer vacation is a taste of this.
How can we learn to follow the saint and not the teddybear? How can we leave energised and forward-looking rather than looking backward? We are a transient community for we are called to be ordained ministers, not seminarians. How can we prepare for this? The habits that are being formed in us here will help, but the answer will be different for each of us. However, I believe that the answer will come down to learning to love God and to love our neighbour, however these are expressed in our individuality.
This summer is an opportunity to reflect on what is ahead of us and review our preparation for it. May it be fruitful.
Let us pray…
we pray for those from our community who are to be ordained this Petertide. We pray also for ourselves as we seek to follow your call and deepen our love for you and for one another.
We ask this in the name of Jesus.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Homily given by Fr Andrew Davison, on Trinity III, 20th June 2010.
‘As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.’
In the name of the + Father and of the + Son and of the + Holy Spirit.
You may remember that I preached towards the beginning of term. It wasn’t a cheerful sermon. It revolved around a question: why is the Church of England is so lacking in charity? Why is our zeal is so faint and our commitment so thin? Why are there are so few saints?
I will come later to today’s reading from Galatians. Paul introduces this chapter with a question of his own:
‘O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?’
It’s the same question as I was asking in my sermon, put a different way. How can we be so apathetic in face of the Incarnation? Do we really believe that God came to us and went all the way to death on a cross?
before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified
Is our church art so much decoration? Does it not speak to us to see Christ extended upon the cross? We had these words of Isaiah, taken by the Fathers as a prophecy of the crucifixion:
I held out my hands all day long
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
This last week many of us shared in our apologetics summer school. Stephen Bullivant’s lecture has been in my mind as I’ve been writing this sermon.
Stephen told us about twentieth-century responses to atheism, from people who didn’t them off as ‘a perverse and adulterous generation’. Stephen’s heroes asked why the Church was not more attractive, why the children of their time were more inspired by atheist Marxism than by the Catholic faith.
It was French theologians who had the right idea: any response to atheism must take two forms, one inward and one outward. Yes, there is work to be done in mission, but there is also work to be done renewing the church herself. Yves Congar puts it perfectly: ‘since the belief or unbelief of men depended so much on us, the effort to be made was a renovation of ecclesiology.’
Those tasks remain, and they fall to us. There is the external work of presenting the faith with passion and clarity. We have thought about that, many of us, over the past week.
Then there is the internal work. It seems to me that it falls into three parts: catechesis, charity and ecclesiology. There’s preparing a church that knows its faith; there is enflaming a church that puts its faith into action; and there is inspiring a church to know and rejoice in what it means to be the church.
My penultimate sermon it revolved around a question: why does the Church of England look so little like the body of He who came to cast fire upon the Earth?
That is a ‘why?’ question. Its solution will be a ‘who?’ question. Who will burn with charity? There is a simple answer: it is to be us; it is to be you. It is you who must build the Church up: teaching it, stirring it up, inspiring it to be itself.
From those great mid-century theologians we have three tasks: to teach the faith, to live the faith and to understand the Church. In each you have such a role to play, but it is a servant’s role. The clergy of the Church of England cannot save it: you cannot put in enough hours; you cannot meet enough people to preach the Gospel; frankly, you cannot provide the money to keep the lights on.
The hours, the evangelistic contact and the finances will come from the laity or they will not come at all. As future clergy, your task is to reconnect the laity with their faith, to renew their passion: to hold out before them the incarnate God, as he was held out to us upon the cross.
We need catechesis because the problems of the Church and the world need theological answers, not general answers. The Church and the world need Christians who know the truths of their faith and live by them.
That would be a revolutionary thing. Stephen’s lecture contained an oblique quotation that I’ve been able to track down. In his introduction to Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness (the founder of the Catholic Worker movement) the peace activist Daniel Berrigan describes her as someone who lived ‘as though the truth were true’. Dorothy Day responded to the dire needs of Depression Era American. She accomplished remarkable things, and her work carries on to this day – just round the corner from us in fact. She might simply reply that she took Christian theology seriously and lived as one who believed it to be true.
We have already moved on, since catechesis and charity go together. Conversely, to life without charity may as well be life without faith. Thomas says that charity makes faith Christian. The selfish, uncharitably Christian may not really believe in God at all. The American New Atheist Daniel Dennett stopped going to church as a young man when he decided that people do not believe in Christianity; they believe in believing in Christianity.
And finally to ecclesiology, or understanding the Church. That might seem like the odd one out: catechesis, social justice and ecclesiology? It is not. As the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England put it in more confident days, ‘the church is part of her own proclamation’: we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Rarely has the Church been under such attack. In the face of terrible scandals, the church is in some places an object of scorn and everywhere the object of derision. But more corrosive than external scorn is internal apathy. The Church of England has spent so much time worrying about the problems of the Church that she has begun to see the Church as part of the problem. But it is not: the Church is God’s solution. The Church is the Body of Christ, the place of salvation. The Church is the beginning of the recreation of the world.
One of my favourite lines of twentieth century theology comes from one of those French men, de Lubac: the Church is the new universal community in embryo. In other words, the Church is already the beginning of the reconciliation of all things.
To see that, our passage from Galatians is the perfect passage:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
The Church is the first fruits of salvation. The Church is where reconciliation happens: Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – and whatever other hostilities we need to add in our own day.
Keep the theology of the Church in view, and love the Church. Salvation is the communal reconciliation of all things in the Body of Christ. As you might perhaps read for yourselves in a forthcoming book, we believe in a church-shaped salvation. But that is not abstract idea. Church-shaped salvation means that we must work and pray for a salvation-shaped church. We are all in this together. This is work and prayer we share, wherever our paths will take us.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Homily given by Fr Damian Feeney, Vice Principal of St. Stephen’s House, on Trinity II, 13th June 2010.
It is a great joy and privilege to be here today as we celebrate the mighty sacraments of the new covenant in the life of Ann Lee, born just over a month ago, the youngest (and, apart from Christopher Johnson, the smallest) member of our community here at St. Stephen’s House. We celebrate with her because of all we understand her Baptism to mean; the truth of her incorporation into church and kingdom; the fact of her dying with Christ, that she may share in his resurrection; the vocation which is part of the gift of grace in her life, the outworking of which is entrusted to her parents and godparents. Above all we pray that this moment of Baptism will be the moment of her knowing Christ, and that such a knowledge will be hers every day of her life; that Christ is not only her companion, high priest, host, and guest, but friend and brother. For today Father Andrew and Sara are not alone in celebrating a new family member; all of us, and Christians all over the world, have a new sister.
Our gospel reading points to one aspect of this miraculous liturgy, namely forgiveness. Today and every day the grace of forgiveness will be Anne’s. Jesus came, and comes still, to end the estrangement between human beings and God, to banish the sins and barriers which we have built up amongst ourselves and against God. Today all of this is washed away: as we rejoice with Anne, her parents and godparents, we are reminded of the fact of our own baptism, without which none of the journeys we have undertaken would be possible. We rejoice in the endless capacity for mercy that the Lord displays towards those who turn to him in sorrow for their sins. For this astonishing God does not merely wish to look down on us. Nor is he content with merely being one of us, and sharing our lives as Christ did. This is a God who longs for the shocking intimacy of our incorporation into him, even as he sees fit to dwell within us. For we celebrate a very particular kind of new life – not the life we ourselves live, but the life lived in us by Christ, who is able to accomplish in us far more than we can ever ask or imagine (as Paul reminds the Ephesians) as we are rooted and grounded in his love. Consequently we are able to grasp the length, the breadth, the height and the depth of God’s love in our very beings.
Let us pledge today to pray for Ann, and for all those who, in future days, we will ourselves have the privilege of baptizing in our own ministries, that she may indeed know the life of Christ welling up within her, as he draws her close to himself, and that she may know and make known his presence and joy within her.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Please contact Sr Frances Dominica from All Saints' Convent on 07762 019 357 if you wish to attend.
Jesu mercy; Mary pray.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
This homily was given by Imogen Black, a second year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 13rd June 2010. The readings was Romans 9:1-18;
This Wednesday is the feast day of St Richard of Chichester. He hasn’t made it into our House calendar, but I feel he deserves some attention, not least from those of us who are seminarians or priests. For his holiness was well-recognised in his lifetime, to the extent that he was canonized within ten years of his death, and it seems to me that he modelled virtues we would do well to emulate.
He was, when young, like many of us here, a student at Oxford. Those who feel their grants are a little small might find comfort in the fact that Richard knew student poverty all too well – he and the two friends with whom he lived were so poor that they only had one gown between them, and so had to take it in turns to attend lectures. Yet he persevered, and became well-known for his learning – he went on to study further at Paris and Bologna before returning to Oxford University as its Chancellor.
Richard was far more, however, than just a scholar. He was not afraid to stand up for the rights of the Church against the State, personally experiencing the cost of opposition to the King. Elected as Bishop of Chichester, Henry III refused to accept him, wishing a far less competent favourite to have the see instead. When he was opposed, he confiscated the see’s revenues and property, and Richard, though consecrated by the Pope, was obliged to live in penury for two years, until the King gave way. Yet in that time Richard still pursued a fruitful ministry, visiting on foot the parishes of his diocese.
He was regarded by many contemporaries, it seems, as a model bishop. It is said of him that he was hugely generous, in almsgiving and in hospitality, his charity being “as wide as the halls of his palace”, though he was austere in his own manner of living. He was always courteous and gentle, and was not so caught up in the affairs of the Church that he did not have time for other interests. In his spare time, it seems, he was a keen gardener, with a particular skill in grafting fruit trees.
Whilst said to have looked after the people of his diocese like a nurse caring for infants, he had high standards. The laity were obliged to attend Mass regularly, and to learn by heart certain common prayers. He expected worship to be conducted with order and reverence and was not afraid to defrock members of his clergy who acted immorally.
But perhaps the most important thing that can be said of him was his clear holiness, his personal devotion to Christ. This has become enshrined in his famous prayer, attributed to him on his deathbed – that he might know Christ more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly. These aspirations were very much at the heart of his life, at the heart of his ministry. As, in this month of June, we continue to reflect on Christ’s love for us, and the devotion which we ought, in turn, to offer him, we could do well to make Richard’s prayer our own.
Let us pray.
My thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesu Christ,
For all the benefits which thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for me,
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The programme will include works from the Edition HH catalogue for marimba, bass flute and electronics. Admission is free.
For more information:
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Summer Apologetics Course 2010
St Stephen's House, Oxford
15-17 June 2010
A Catholic, theological and philosophical exploration:
For the third consecutive year, St Stephen’s House is offering a course in Christian apologetics this June. The lectures and discussions will explore the subject from several angles, bringing a full range of theological resources to bear. The focus will be upon apologetics from an Anglican Catholic perspective. We will explore what it means to give a rational defence and advocacy of the Christian faith, working from a Christian understanding of reason that takes in desire and the imagination along side logic.
The lecturers and topics for 2010 are to be confirmed. In previous years, speakers and papers have included the following:
The Revd Prof Alister McGrath, Introduction to the Theory of Apologetics and , Apologetics, Science and the New Atheists
The Revd Dr Matthew Bullimore, Apologetics in the ParishÂ
The Revd Dr Andrew Davison, Philosophy, the Bible and Communication and Theological Topics for Apologetics
The Revd Prof Graham Ward, Apologetics and Contemporary Culture
Mrs Lucy Gardner, Beyond Defence: The Gospel as Good News
The Revd Dr Richard Conrad OP, The History of Apologetics with an Ecumenical Perspective
The Revd Dr John Hughes, Proofs, Arguments and Objections
The Revd Dr Canon Robin Ward, Apologetics, Catechesis and Liturgy: Some Historical Moments
The Revd Dr Alison Milbank, Apologetics and the Imagination
Dr Stephen Bullivant, Meeting Atheism in the Twentieth Century: Some Theological Responses
For more information: