Sunday, June 13, 2010

Monday Reflection - Imogen Black

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.