Wednesday 27 November 2013

Encouragement from the Pope

Many documents which come from the Vatican have a certain vocabulary, a style of expression, which makes them churchy and remote. That is not so with the latest Apostolic Exhortation; though did that title came from the Pope himself? I'd  guess it might have been the work of a diligent bureaucrat, setting the document up for publication. It would be better called simply "Words of encouragement"

The same heading says it is addressed  "TO THE BISHOPS, CLERGY, CONSECRATED PERSONS AND THE LAY FAITHFUL". But that too distorts it. It is much more than that, for in his first Chapter Pope Francis writes "I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them". So it is, in the first place, for the encouragement of all Christians

Now it is a long document, and it has already been sub-edited by the Media and many bloggers. Anyone who tries to summarise it will betray his own attitudes. Risking that, though, I have made a little extract for myself of sentences which leaped off the page for me from the first part of it. I attach it here simply in the hope that it might encourage you, dear reader, to go to the source and study the whole thing for yourself.

"…evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of these are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition…. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel.
It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction” 
….we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry
Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory
Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone [20]
The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded. [23]
 Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time.[24]
(of Parishes)  the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented.[28]
Other Church institutions, basic communities and small communities, movements, and forms of association are a source of enrichment for the Church, raised up by the Spirit for evangelizing different areas and sectors. Frequently they bring a new evangelizing fervour and a new capacity for dialogue with the world whereby the Church is renewed. But it will prove beneficial for them not to lose contact with the rich reality of the local parish and to participate readily in the overall pastoral activity of the particular Church.[29]
 I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.[33]
35. Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing.
 it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching. For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results. [38]  
Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! [39]
… the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God “are very few”. Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation “so as not to burden the lives of the faithful” and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas “God’s mercy has willed that we should be free” [43]

I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security [49]

The whole document is challenging, and exciting. I hope many of those it is addressing - not just practicing Roman Catholics but men and women of good will - will find it an encouragement to connect, or re-connect, with Jesus and his good news.

Saturday 23 November 2013

The Kingdom of Heaven is ....

On Barton Beach

 Constantly Jesus tells us what the Kingdom is LIKE - never just what it IS. He finds its likeness all around. In nature - when things grow, like mustard seed or wheat and weeds. In men and women - the rejoicing housewife who has found the lost coin, the servant who will not use what he has been given but hides it away. He is telling us, surely, that we should use our eyes and ears. He who has ears to hear, let him hear ; or eyes to see, or hands to touch. If we will only expect to find him, signs of the Kingdom will leap out at us. But of course they will - for the whole of Creation is his, and reveals his working everywhere. Great poets have done this seeking. For me, one of the most exciting is Thomas Traherne, with his evocation of childhood.How we used to wonder at things we now find commmonplace: "The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world". [see ]

 The light has been wonderful these recent winter days; by the sea, especially, it is so clear and so beautifully coloured, each moment changing. There was a lone fisherman working away last evening so he stands at the top of this blog for you to look at, and wonder. Is it to do with us being called to become fishers of men? Do we have the staying power, the commitment, of that lone angler? Or shall we just marvel at the waves and the sky? Tomorrow I am trying to work at another Parable of the Kingdom; but just now perhaps sea and sky and sunset will help. -

Towards Southbourne

Friday 22 November 2013


What do you do with a long chancel? That was a very live question in the 70's; and it became important for me in my second living as an Anglican clergyman. All Saints Hessle had been remodelled in the 19th Century,the aisles being made almost as wide as the nave. With a narrow Chancel Arch it meant that only a third of those in the church had any sight of the High Altar. Accordingly, not without opposition, we planned a more visible altar, which might be used either Eastward or Westward facing. The High Altar had its big six candles restored,and the central altar could be moved (for instance for weddings) when the long chancel once more came into its own. This week we were sent a card from Hessle, with on it a picture of the church interior. It was good to see how well the alterations have stood up, indeed been further improved. A very gifted artist, Nancy Lamplugh, made a version of a mediaeval hanging rood. That has given a much needed focus to the freestanding altar. Whereas we had used a Laudian altar cloth, the new frontal encroaches less on the space on the footpace. Our friend who sent the card wrote on the back "The changes (hard-earned) made such a wonderful difference to All Saints". I learned a great deal from the experience - not least the workings of the Church of England's faculty jurisdiction and the running of a Consistory Court. It was all worth it in the end. Seeing how some Catholic churches have been rather insensitively handled since Vatican II maybe the working of Faculty law is part of the Patrimony which the Ordinariate could bring with it from Anglicanism? Certainly consultation rather than imposition is necessary when pastoral relationships are at stake.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Trust the Politicians

Today Government struck a blow at the heart of Southern England. They decided to end shipbuilding in Portsmouth and transfer all of it - even the existing work on two new aircraft carriers already being undertaken in Pompey - to Clydeside. In interview after interview on TV, Government spokesmen have been declaring that there is nothing political about this. Nothing at all to with the Independence vote in Scotland next year. All decided entirely on commercial criteria.
Naturally the BBC joins in the discussion. In one of their typically balanced pieces on Newsnight they had a Scots woman interviewer (you probably know her - she is, as a newsreader, a 'celebrity') interviewing a member of the Scottish Parliament, and the Government's Scottish Secretary. Where were the Portsmouth MPs? No doubt the Beeb tried to find them and failed. But local TV found them, and found them and everyone else they interviewed incredibly angry - angry not just at the loss of jobs, but at the cynicism of politicians who assert that these closures have no political motives. Yet after all this David Cameron is still surprised to learn that he might lose Tory seats at the next election because of the influence of UKIP! Perhaps he should move the referendum vote from the Anniversary of Bannockburn to that of Preston Pans - oh, but of course,that is not his decision, that was left to nice Mr Salmond.