Saturday, 4 June 2011

A Final Session

As we gathered for our final session with the Abbot today, we were surprised to see him walking to us without his habit - something we had not seen before and worthy of a photograph I thought. Today the Abbot gave us a talk on the monastic and religious life in the church, followed by a grand tour. We were treated to a tour of parts of the abbey seldom seen by the hoards of visitors who visit the abbey each day. It turned out that we had only seen a fraction of the abbey until today.

Over the centuries the monastic life has flourished here, then died out, and then risen again. And on its many buildings evidence of these years has been etched. Most visitors to the abbey are familiar with the hospitality they are provided with, and the facilities made available to them. And this the monks deem to be very important. It is no coincidence that it is amongst the most visited places in the southwest. It is a place where people feel welcome.

The monks live a type of life that is a sign to the rest of the church. They show us that the Christian life is a life in community, of stability in the cross of Christ, where money is not the highest priority, where one's own opinions about things are not the most important, and where one is called to live a life of self-less love. Monks and nuns do this in a distinctive way through making vows but these are at the service of the whole church.

In order to be able to be this sign to the church, the monastic community must also guard its life, so while it treasures its ability to offer hospitality, it must also take measures to protect itself from becoming too affected by the world. So there needs to be parts of the life which is kept away from most people. Today we were privileged to walk through some of the grounds of the abbey which normally are kept private. Most visitors do not realise there is so much more to the abbey, yet perhaps this is also symbolic of the whole monastic life: only some of it can be seen.

So as we walked around the abbey and drank in the tranquillity of the place, we considered the witness of the monks over the centuries. In my thoughts I gave thanks for the privilege of being welcomed into the Catholic Church by Father Abbot and the community of Buckfast Abbey.

As we took stock and thought about all that had taken place over the last few months, in one way it has been a whirlwind, but in many ways no whirlwind at all. Now we have found peace. Thanks be to God for Father Abbot and Buckfast Abbey.

Interview by Tempi magazine of Italy

Today I was interviewed by an Italian journalist and I thought you might like to read both his questions and my answers (in bold):

1. I was particularly struck by learning that, joining the Ordinariate, any former Anglican priest gives up a yearly salary of around 20,000 £. Of course this choice economically damages his family - and it can be said to be an extreme choice in your case, considering your nine children. Did the perspective of the loss of such salary somewhat affect or delay your choice to move towards Catholicism? Of course, as a brave man of faith, you will be confident in God's help; but, more humanly, were not you worried about money when you took this decision?
The overall context in which I made my decision to become Catholic was to discern God's call. It has been a journey of placing myself more fully into the hands of our loving Father. The words of our Lord in the gospel come alive in these circumstances, for example, in Luke 11 Jesus says, "What father among you, if your son asks for fish will instead give a serpent..." So when one puts oneself into the Father's hands one has to trust that He will indeed care for you. But you are right that from a human perspective one does worry, especially when one has lots of dependent children. We were given assurances that the Catholic church would look after us and we would not be left destitute. So after praying and testing one's sense of calling, I just had to say, "Right, over to you God." In the event lots of people have been generous to us. The biggest difficulty for a Catholic bishop is housing such a large family. Many modern presbyteries are not designed for families and especially not families of eleven! But that is beginning to be sorted out thanks to the kindness of our local Bishop. I would also say that I am blessed with a wife of great faith. She is a cradle Catholic and she has said quite simply, if it is God's will, then He will provide.

2. Was there any particular reason - an episode, a person you met, some reading, a critical thought - which proved crucial in driving you towards Catholicism?
I wouldn't use the word "driven", generally I don't think the Holy Spirit drives us, it seems to me more to do with attraction. I have been attracted to the Catholic faith increasingly over the last decade. As I have been wrestling with some of the big issues of our day I have gradually come to see the truth in what the Catholic Church teaches. A big influence has been Pope Benedict, both his example and especially his writing. I feel very at home under this great teacher and pastor. But I also think we have come to the time when as Christians we must unite and work together for the evangelisation of the world. I really do not think we can do it as seperated Christians. So when the holy father published the Apostolic Constitution creating a way for us Anglicans to become full members of the Catholic Church, yet retain some of our good traditions, I felt I needed to be part of that. And Blessed John Paul's vision for the new evangelisation of the western world is also very exciting to me.

3. The great innovation of the Anglicanorum Coetibus is to allow entire groups to join Catholicism simultaneously. In my view, the choice of becoming a priest of the Ordinariate becomes thus not only an individual act of courage but, even more, the attempt to work hard to create around oneself a community of faithfuls. I was therefore curious about whether your daily "job" has changed from when you were an Anglican, to what extent and in which actual features.
Of course it is early days, but so far it has been a great time of renewal in our faith both for me and all the members of the faithful who followed me into the Ordinariate. It is a great privilege that people trust you enough to follow you even when they do not fully understand all the implications or theology of what they are doing. Really we are still finding out what it is to be in the Ordinariate, and for all of us it has been very much like a sabbatical so far. We have done a lot more studying together, and exploring the Faith much more deeply than before. We have been helped in this by our local Benedictine Abbey community, especially the Abbot, who has tried to address all our questions and problems, and most importantly he has made us feel very welcome. So day to day it is presently very different as I don't have the same responsibilities. I feel much more focused on the mission of the church to share the faith, and we are making plans to help others enter the Ordinariate. At the moment I have a small group of faithful to care for so that is not so hard. Although I will soon be helping the Catholic diocese too, so my workload will increase.

4. I appreciated that Mgr Burnham insisted that joining the Ordinariate is not a conversion in the strict sense of such word, as both Anglicans and Catholics are indeed Christians. I have been living in Britain for more than two years and I noticed that the greatest religious divide in this country lies between people who live on the basis of the existence of God and a vast majority of people who behave as if the thought of God did never even cross their mind. Would you think that the small but remarkable amount of Anglicans moving towards Catholicism are somewhat trying to find a more authentic faith to oppose to the total lack of faith of such majority? And would you believe that the conversion of Britain - from a vastly unbelieving country to a majority of people who have a full sense of God - could be better achieved through Catholicism than through the Church of England?
Yes I believe that is right. In order to dialogue with the modern culture of England we have to be sure what the Faith is we are promoting. The problem with many of the protestant churches is that answers to questions can vary from church to church depending on the vicar or pastor you ask. This prevents Christians from giving a clear witness to the world. So it has been a great relief to enter the Catholic Church and know we all sign up to a corporate faith - we can say, "This is what the Church teaches." It is only then that we can develop good apologetics, ways of explaining our faith, to the world in which we live. And I think Blessed John Henry Newman had the vision that all the laity of the church needed to have a good grasp of the Catholic Faith, not just the clergy. So in the Ordinariate we are committed to especially developing a very informed laity who are ready "to always have a reason for the hope that is in us", as St Peter put it in his letter.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Sixth Sunday of Easter

If you love me you will keep my commandments.Jn 14:15

St Paul writes, "The mystery of Jesus now all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith." (Rom 16:25-26)

It can take time to get over the word "obedience". For a long time I found our Lord's pairing of love and keep my commandments a very difficult thing. I was reluctant to give up my autonomy. I was of course far too wrapped up in myself and had far too high an opinion of my abilities. Why should I give up control to be odedient? At this point I am sure those of my father's generation would say something like, what we need is to bring back 'national service'. Men of his generation were drafted into the armed services for some years after the second world war. I imagine they learnt obedience quickly. For many of us it takes much longer, and in today's modern world 'obedience' is a dirty word so perhaps we should not be surprised if it is ignored.

In our gospel today our Lord directs us to the connection between love and obedience, and it is clear that this is no sentimental notion of love. It is not love that is about feelings; about how I am. It is rather love that conquers death because of obedience unto death. This is the love referred to in our opening hymn at the Abbey's mass today:
Love's redeeming work is done;
fought the fight, the battle won:
Lo, our Sun's eclipse is o'er!
Lo, he sets in blood no more!

What I struggled with over obedience was not just a dislike of obedience, but an underlying erroneous understanding of who I was. I had a vain optimism about human character. I did not believe I was fallen. I did not believe I needed redeeming. I did not need to give up my autonomy, my independant and self-centred life. Outwardly I worshipped Christ each Sunday at church, but inwardly I really didn't believe I needed a Saviour.

We all need to get over ourselves, and embrace obedience in the ordinary events of life. We need to do this because in persevering in humble obedience we discipline our disorderly desires that would take us from our risen Saviour. These fallen desires draw us from the obedience of faith in God, to the self. Obedience is how we say "yes" to Love's redeeming work, and "no" to self-centredness.

This obedience is lived out in all sorts of ways. It begins with our attending to the Word of God, especially at mass, and how this is applied to us through our parish priest's homily and counsel, and the particular circumstances of life in which we live. We place our trust in God's providence every time we act obediently. And if we do not pull back when it becomes costly, our obedience unites us with Christ 'who became obedient unto death'.

Despite what we might fear, this way of obedience leads us to a new freedom in Christ. Whereas following our disordely desires leads us not to freedom but slavery. May we all open ourselves more fully to obedience, and see in it the way of faith, hope and love.

Deacon Ian Hellyer

PS The most notable thing at the pond today was "oh look at all the newts."

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)