Saturday, 16 April 2011

Ready for planting

New beds - dug over and ready for planting

Today in catechesis we went through the Catholic practice of making our confession.  With humour and a selection of stories we were put at our ease by Father Abbot.  Now we look forward to being shriven on Maundy Thursday.

We also looked at the liturgy of Reception and Confirmation which will take place just before the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  It is very poignant that we will be brought into full communion, ready to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, on that evening when our Lord prayed that His disciples might be one.

During the second millenia of Christianity the disciples of Christ divided themselves. First most of the Eastern patriarchates (the "Eastern Orthodox") separated themselves from the successor of Peter, then later in the West, disciples of Christ separated themselves too (the "Protestants").  It is the particular concern of Popes to keep unity amongst the disciples of Christ. Most especially Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are on record for hoping and praying that the third millenia be a time for the disciples of Christ to unite in full communion. The Ordinariate is one way in which their prayer and hope is being worked out in practice.  What a privilege it is for us to be part of this work of the Holy Spirit.

We went on to discuss why Catholics can only receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church, and how sometimes this can put Catholics in difficult situations, yet we are still called to witness to the truth.  This is particularly difficult for members of the Ordinariate as they maintain friendships with those outside the Catholic Church. It calls for firmness in our acceptance of the teaching of the church, combined with wisdom and tact in how we share this in the future. Understanding and respect is needed on both sides.  However honesty and truth is to be preferred to a certain kind of politeness that tries to paper over truth because it is making us or others feel awkward. This kind of "politeness" has plagued the Church of England and modern ecumenism, where so often real dividing issues are papered over for the sake of appearing to be united - a polite gathering.

Then as we sat in the Upper Room we realised that in just a few days twelve of us will be Received into the full communion of the Catholic Church. There will be more Receptions soon after the Ordinariate parishes have been established. Also some Catholics in the group being related to members of the Ordinariate will take up their privilege of being able to join too.  As Mgr Newton said in his Holy Week letter, currently there are about twenty members of the Ordinariate, by Easter there will be just under a thousand.

Ian Hellyer, Pastor of the Buckfast Ordinariate group

Sunday, 10 April 2011

"I am the resurrection and the life"

Flowers growing in the shadow of a large tree outside the Abbey church

Someone said to me in the week, "Not another long gospel this Sunday!"  It wasn't really a serious complaint. When one is shepherding young children through mass, a long gospel can seem a trial for children and for those near by!

Fears were misplaced, however, as we listened to the very beautiful gospel story mother Church provided for our nourishment today.  We were reminded in the homily that in St John's gospel, the raising of Lazarus was the last sign Jesus performed. It points unmistakably to Christ as the Master of Life whom is not thwarted even by death, and who comes to bring us the plenitude of life.

As I listened to the gospel I was very taken by the dialogue with Martha. Martha is usually, in my view wrongly, remembered just for the shorter episode in which she petitions our Lord to settle a dispute with her sister (and I also think wrongly characterised as the "doer" juxtaposed with Mary as the contemplative, but that's another story). I remember Martha most for her profession of faith, which surely must be valued alongside Peter's and Nathanael's? After professing her belief in the general resurrection she says, 'Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.' What a very beautiful moment, and one to treasure in our hearts. Here is griefstricken Martha confused at the delay of Jesus and yet who greets Her Lord with faith. Her heart stricken with sorrow at the loss of her brother, but also joyful at the coming of Christ. She and her sister already knew Christ as life, knowing that he could have cured Lazarus of his life-threatening sickness. Now Jesus was helping Martha, and through her sister Mary also, to come to know what this truly meant. What is it to believe that Christ is Life?

It is natural for us to think of life in the limited way we experience it. Beginning usually with joy at conception and then birth, life grows and flourishes and then withers and dies. Our days like the grass, one day we flourish and then we fade, for the place to know us no more (I think the psalmist said something like this?). That however is not what our Lord means by "Life". For He is not talking of temporary life but eternal life. Eternal life is a new quality of life different to life as we know it. It is not life that moves inexorably towards disintegration and nothingness, but life that ascends to eternal beatitude. And it is this life that is revealed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And because He is Life, He is for us Resurrection.

In St Athanasius' homily on the resurrection of Lazarus he poetically expands Jesus' words,

I am the voice of life that awakens the dead.
I am the good odour that takes away the foul odour.
I am the voice of joy that takes away sorrow and grief....
I am the comfort of those who are in grief.
Those who belong to me are given joy by me.
I am the joy of the whole world.
I gladden all my friends and rejoice with them.
I am the bread of life.

To come to know Christ as eternal Life is perhaps for most of us a life's work. Let us pray as we approach Easter that we might have some of the grace that St Martha had, and come to know Christ more deeply as Lord of Life, Life that is not temporal but eternal.

Life continues to grow and transform in the shadow of the Abbey tower. The now almost compulsory inspection of life in the shallow pond, revealed many tadpoles thriving in warm water. For a moment we could not find any newts but after a very careful search we at last found a few. Relief! However no legs on the tadpoles still. One wonders how a very barren looking pond can harbour such life, but should one wonder after today's gospel?
Ian Hellyer, Pastor of the Buckfast Group

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)