Saturday, 19 September 2015

Meat free Fridays

Stephen Bullivant writes a good article (here) about this simple but obligatory catholic discipline. Four years ago this week, he reminds us, that the Bishops of England and Wales re-instated the obligatory discipline of abstaining from meat on Fridays (fish excepted). It is not, of course, an heroic act of virtue but nevertheless it is a little thing that is required of all Catholics. To refuse to do it is usually a serious matter.

Yesterday at the chaplaincy stall on the university campus I was asked by a student why we Catholics abstain from meat. I said simply that it was a common act of discipline, a kind of training, that helped to improve our self-discipline and obedience to the church, and also show a certain solidarity with our catholic brothers and sisters."We all keep it together" I said. I wondered what the response would be.

The person asking was a Christian but not a Catholic. She said "oh cool; that's actually a really good idea!" I think sometimes we Catholics think our Catholic disciplines will appear not cool to others, and we end up trying to hide them. By declaring I was eating a veg pasty because Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays, lead to a brief discussion about catholicism, and the hearer's response was "oh cool - that's a good idea". A very small but nevertheless positive result.

It wasn't an instant conversion to Catholicism but in order for people to even consider the Catholic faith an option, they have to start understanding why we do what we do. If Catholics don't say why - who is going to?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The priority of truth over success

Sunday 21st per annum (B)
Holy Mother church has, over the last four weeks, brought us a crucial chapter in the gospel, that of John chapter 6. It has been an extended meditation on the Eucharist. Today the chapter comes to its conclusion with what on the face of it might seem a disaster (the falling away of many disciples) but is, I suggest to you, actually a victory, encapsulated in the words of St Peter.
So first I suggest we should reflect on the gospel today as a testament to the priority of truth over success. The world in which we live does not see it that way. And sadly the politics we know too well prefer success before truth. For many people in our society, it is much more important to be successful (whether it be in politics, in one’s career, in business). Sadly there are those in the church who can be tempted by this worldly priority – preferring to change Church teaching and appear ‘relevant’ to people, than to witness to the truth and appear a ‘failure’. But here in John chapter 6 our Lord does not bend. Here is the priority of truth. It is divine truth, and of course, it cannot be changed, even when people find it hard and threaten to leave the Church. Our Lord is single-minded and determined, and he expects the same of us.
Back in the time of Joshua the people of God were asked to make a decision. In a very striking way Joshua challenges God’s people to make a choice between serving the LORD alone, or alternatively to serve the alien gods of the surrounding nations. The point here is that they cannot have it both ways. If they are to serve the LORD there is no room for any other god – they must choose. There cannot be a little bit of one religion and a little bit of another (the technical word for this is syncretism). It makes no sense for the people to just pick out the bits of different religions that they liked and make up their own hotchpotch religion!
However it was not just in those distant times that this approach to religion was a temptation. Today many people are inclined to pick and choose over their religion. “I like this bit; but I don’t like that!” But what this syncretism does is make US into the “decider” – the one who knows what is true! But that is a very different thing to a religion which is about divine revealed truth. We human beings do not get to decide what religious truth is – first and foremost it is revealed to us by God! So there can be no syncretism, because any syncretism effectively deposes God and replaces God with ourselves. With a syncretistic approach we effectively say “I know better than God!”
And people don’t realise that they are doing something very similar over Catholic teaching. A Catholic does not pick and choose over what they like about the Catholic Faith, as if they were choosing items on a menu! No, God has revealed the truth in God the Son, and through God the Holy Spirit reveals it to us in the Church. When the Church teaches authoritatively it is transmitting divine revelation – it is not sharing human opinions! It is divine revelation.
Now, as Joshua knew, divine revelation is not always comfortable! The divinely revealed truth contains some elements that we will like and others that we will not like. Some things that God reveals to us might greatly disturb us! It was true for Israel, and it is true for us Catholic Christians. We may not like some aspect of Catholic teaching. We may find some Catholic teaching very difficult. We may find some Catholic teaching very difficult to understand. But what is crucially important is that we do not walk away when we don’t like it, or don’t understand it, or find it too disturbing. If we say “I don’t accept Church teaching on this” then we are walking away from Christ, like those many disciples in John 6 walked away. They could not accept this teaching of Christ that ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you…as the Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me…he who eats this bread will live for ever.” Our Lord revealed the truth that they needed for eternal life, but because it was too hard for them, they walked away.
Of course we are not saying that they had thus lost all chance of eternal life. But somehow they would need to repent of this ‘walking away’ and return to the truth that leads to eternal life.
So, my brothers and sisters, we too are being asked to make a decision. The gospel challenges us now, like Joshua challenged Israel. “Whom shall we serve?” Will we serve God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, and through God the Holy Spirit reveals Him in the Church? The Church which is Christus Totus, the whole Christ, will never lead us into error. That is why the Pope has the charism of infallibility when he is defining formally the doctrine of the Church. Will then we serve God and accept the truth He has revealed to us, or, will we go our own way, and decide for ourselves and make up our own religion?
Christ promises us an eternal home, and He offers us the means and way of reaching our eternal home. Can we do the same for ourselves? Of course not! If we go our own way, we are on our own until we repent. Can we save ourselves? If we could, the world would not need a saviour.
Christ does not promise that life will be easy as His disciple. He does not promise that we will like everything He will teach us. He does not promise we will understand everything He reveals to us. But what He promises is eternal life!
Let us then make St Peter’s words our own this day:
“Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Only God can save us. Our likes or dislikes, our thoughts and opinions, our feelings or limited intelligence – none of that can save us. Only the Holy God can bring us to eternal life.
IH - given at Sclerder Abbey and Buckfast Abbey

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Thoughts on the Year of Mercy Jubilee Hymn

Mr Michael Vian Clark, a seminarian for the Diocese of Plymouth, has posted his thoughts on the official "Year of Mercy" Jubilee Hymn. As Michael is extremely knowledgeable about liturgy and music, and has a very gifted liturgical voice (if I can put it so clumsily), I take his 'thoughts' to be very important, and a great help to me as I have no music to speak of!

Thoughts on Paul Inwood's 'Misericordes sicut Pater':

There were 89 entries for the official 'Year of Mercy' Jubilee hymn and this was the winning entry. Congratulations, Mr Inwood, this is a triumph. Why do I say that?
Well, first of all, it's beautiful. Both the melodies and the harmonies are instantly pleasing and expertly thought through. Wonderful stuff.
Secondly, it's simple. The melody is memorable and easy to sing, fitting comfortably within a congregational range.
Thirdly, it's versatile. This is a piece which can be executed in a number of different ways - according to resources - and sound great in any of them.
Fourthly, it's got a great libretto. It's scripturally-based, but in Litany form, which lends itself to antiphonal participation.
Fifthly, Latinity. The Latin language should be familiar to Catholics (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 and 54) and I would argue it should be comfortable as well. Latin is not a clerical language, it's a universal language which no-one owns, but at the same time everyone owns. Therefore, to have the congregational response in Latin, with the verses in the vernacular is an excellent example of what SC was aiming for.
Sixthly, and relatedly, Mr Inwood, being a Latinist, demonstrates this in his careful setting of the Latin text to coincide perfectly with the Latin stress. I bang on about this all the time - Latin is a language, not holy mumbo-jumbo. So often composers (the worst culprit being a certain W. A. Mozart) ignore the language entirely. It's unusual to see such care in composition by contemporary composwers.
Seventhly, anyone who is familiar with the Divine Office in Latin will immediately recall Ps 136 when hearing this Litany - 'quoniam in aeternum misericordia eius' - a fitting echo. 
Eighthly, the way that Mr Inwood has set the reciting verses permits easy translation into various languages. Good.
So there are my eight points, I could go on, but I think that's enough. Here are the details from the official website below:

A great short animation on Marriage

This is a great resource for teaching marriage, not only for children but us all.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

An invitation from ACTA

ACTA - A Call To Action

I have just had an invitation to an event organised by ACTA for Catholics to discuss the "opposing traditionalist and progressive positions on marriage that have been expressed recently..." It will take place in the Friends meeting house in Exeter. Dr Stewart, from Exeter University, will address the meeting.

The letter and poster give the impression that the Church's teaching on marriage is to be somehow renewed by reconciling differing opinions held within the Church. But that is not how we come to the truth in the Catholic Church - rather we have faith in the Truth that is revealed to us. So we are about revealed truth, not opinions. We all have opinions but at the end of the day they count for nothing, because opinion will never be the Good News, and will never save us.

For Catholics, the Truth is revealed to us not through opinion but through the Magisterium of the Church (Teaching authority), which we believe is Christ teaching us. Just as the faithful disciples of Christ listened to His teaching and were transformed by it, so all of His disciples today are called to do the same thing. We have to listen to the magisterial teaching of the Church and allow it to transform us, not discuss whether or not we accept it! There are not two positions on marriage in the Church! Christ teaches us the truth about marriage and there is only one truth. So in the Church there are those who accept the teaching of the Church, and there are those who reject the teaching of the Church. These latter are dissenters from the Church's teaching and their position is not a legitimate Catholic one.

So it is not up for debate. The truth is not found by contrasting opinions so "common ground" can be found. Christ teaches us by the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Tradition. The magisterial teaching of the Church is teaching with Christ's authority. It seems to me that if you do not accept that then you are essentially taking a Protestant position. It seems to me that those who dissent from the magisterial teaching of the Church should be open and honest about it and not claim to be Catholic but rather admit they have become Protestant.

What also really annoys me about ACTA publicity is the way that they keep repeating that ACTA in the southwest "seeks to develop openness and dialogue in the Catholic Church in a climate of trust and respect for all". What they clearly imply is that outside of ACTA there is no openness and dialogue within the Church. What utter bunkum!

It seems to me that the real reason Catholics harbour so many dissenting views against Catholic teaching and especially Catholic Moral teaching is because they have not been properly catechised and formed. They think the church's moral teaching are simply "rules", indeed "rules" that have been created by men and so can be changed. But this is simply not the truth. The Church's moral teaching is Good News and very beautiful, and it is entirely united and embedded within the whole Gospel: the Faith professed, the Mystery celebrated, Christian living and Christian prayer. No part of it can be just changed because everything is connected to everything else. The Catechism's cross-references demonstrate and symbolize this. The Church's teaching is a systematic whole because it comes from Christ (and has not been botched together by men!).

So it seems to me that the Catholic Faithful should steer a wide berth from ACTA for they are basically advocating that Catholics should be protestant. They say they are "in the spirit of Vat ii" but really what they are doing is setting their own opinions higher than Christ's teaching (the magisterial teaching of the Church).

Christ never said that His teaching would be easy to accept or easy to follow, so when we find the teaching of the Church difficult we should not assume that therefore it is wrong! As in John chapter 6 (which we have been listening to in the Gospel reading at Mass on Sundays recently) followers of Christ will find His teaching seemingly too difficult to bear, but that does not mean He has made an error! Christ imparts His grace as well as His truth, in order that we can bear what otherwise seems unbearable.

So of course I will not be attending this meeting, nor will I recommend it to anyone, indeed I will do the very opposite! Catholics who want to be faithful to Christ should not attend such groups because they are not about "openness and dialogue" but rather dissent from Christ's teaching!

Fr Ian Hellyer
Pastor of the Buckfast Ordinariate Mission

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Giving and receiving the Good News of Christ - A day at Christ the King, Plymouth

Ephaphatha! Be opened!
Giving and receiving the
Good News of Christ

On Saturday 19th September at Christ the King, Plymouth, there is a special day for all those who wish to share the Good News with joy, and not least for catechists and parents. Our principle speaker will be Miss Hannah Vaughan-Spruce who is author of the well respected confirmation course "Transformed in Christ". She is an experienced youth leader and catechist and now works for the Diocese of Portsmouth. She has her own personal catechesis blog, and also has articles published on Jericho Tree blog.

Transformed in Christ

The day includes Mass, lunch and Vespers with Benediction. The Rector of the School of the Annunciation, Fr Guy, will also be giving a talk on evangelisation, "It is the Lord: The Spirit and the Bride say 'Come'".

The day promises to be inspiring and also an opportunity to make new connections. It has been organised by the Guild of Our Lady and St Joseph, who support the work of the School of the Annunciation (based at Buckfast Abbey). Cost £10 (including lunch).

To book email :