Thursday, 6 December 2012

Pope addresses the Venerable English College

Chapel of the Venerable English College, Rome

On Monday this week, Pope Benedict received in audience a visitation of bishops, priests and seminarians from the English College in Rome. The Venerable English College is a Seminary charged with formation of clergy for Britain, that can boast to being the oldest surviving English institution outside of England. The audience with the Holy Father was part of a year long celebration of its 650th anniversary. Here is the address which he gave:

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you today to the Apostolic Palace, the House of Peter. I greet my Venerable brother, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a former Rector of the College, and I thank Archbishop Vincent Nichols for his kind words, spoken on behalf of all present. I too look back with great thanksgiving in my heart to the days that I spent in your country in September 2010. Indeed, I was pleased to see some of you at Oscott College on that occasion, and I pray that the Lord will continue to call forth many saintly vocations to the priesthood and the religious life from your homeland.

Through God’s grace, the Catholic community of England and Wales is blessed with a long tradition of zeal for the faith and loyalty to the Apostolic See. At much the same time as your Saxon forebears were building the Schola Saxonum, establishing a presence in Rome close to the tomb of Peter, Saint Boniface was at work evangelizing the peoples of Germany. So as a former priest and Archbishop of the See of Munich and Freising, which owes its foundation to that great English missionary, I am conscious that my spiritual ancestry is linked with yours. Earlier still, of course, my predecessor Pope Gregory the Great was moved to send Augustine of Canterbury to your shores, to plant the seeds of Christian faith on Anglo-Saxon soil. The fruits of that missionary endeavour are only too evident in the six-hundred-and-fifty-year history of faith and martyrdom that distinguishes the English Hospice of Saint Thomas à Becket and the Venerable English College that grew out of it.

Potius hodie quam cras, as Saint Ralph Sherwin said when asked to take the missionary oath, “rather today than tomorrow”. These words aptly convey his burning desire to keep the flame of faith alive in England, at whatever personal cost. Those who have truly encountered Christ are unable to keep silent about him. As Saint Peter himself said to the elders and scribes of Jerusalem, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Saint Boniface, Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Saint Francis Xavier, whose feast we keep today, and so many other missionary saints show us how a deep love for the Lord calls forth a deep desire to bring others to know him. You too, as you follow in the footsteps of the College Martyrs, are the men God has chosen to spread the message of the Gospel today, in England and Wales, in Canada, in Scandinavia. Your forebears faced a real possibility of martyrdom, and it is right and just that you venerate the glorious memory of those forty-four alumni of your College who shed their blood for Christ. You are called to imitate their love for the Lord and their zeal to make him known, potius hodie quam cras. The consequences, the fruits, you may confidently entrust into God’s hands.

Archbishop Nichols addresses the Holy FatherYour first task, then, is to come to know Christ yourselves, and the time you spend in seminary provides you with a privileged opportunity to do so. Learn to pray daily, especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, listening attentively to the word of God and allowing heart to speak to heart, as Blessed John Henry Newman would say. Remember the two disciples from the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, who followed Jesus and asked to know where he was staying, and, like them, respond eagerly to his invitation to “come and see” (1:37-39). Allow the fascination of his person to capture your imagination and warm your heart. He has chosen you to be his friends, not his servants, and he invites you to share in his priestly work of bringing about the salvation of the world. Place yourselves completely at his disposal and allow him to form you for whatever task it may be that he has in mind for you.

You have heard much talk about the new evangelization, the proclamation of Christ in those parts of the world where the Gospel has already been preached, but where to a greater or lesser degree the embers of faith have grown cold and now need to be fanned once more into a flame. Your College motto speaks of Christ’s desire to bring fire to the earth, and your mission is to serve as his instruments in the work of rekindling the faith in your respective homelands. Fire in sacred Scripture frequently serves to indicate the divine presence, whether it be the burning bush from which God revealed his name to Moses, the pillar of fire that guided the people of Israel on their journey from slavery to freedom, or the tongues of fire that descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost, enabling them to go forth in the power of the Spirit to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Just as a small fire can set a whole forest ablaze (cf. Jas 3:5), so the faithful testimony of a few can release the purifying and transforming power of God’s love so that it spreads like wildfire throughout a community or a nation. Like the martyrs of England and Wales, then, let your hearts burn with love for Christ, for the Church and for the Mass.

When I visited the United Kingdom, I saw for myself that there is a great spiritual hunger among the people. Bring them the true nourishment that comes from knowing, loving and serving Christ. Speak the truth of the Gospel to them with love. Offer them the living water of the Christian faith and point them towards the bread of life, so that their hunger and thirst may be satisfied. Above all, however, let the light of Christ shine through you by living lives of holiness, following in the footsteps of the many great saints of England and Wales, the holy men and women who bore witness to God’s love, even at the cost of their lives. The College to which you belong, the neighbourhood in which you live and study, the tradition of faith and Christian witness that has formed you: all these are hallowed by the presence of many saints. Make it your aspiration to be counted among their number.

Please be assured of an affectionate remembrance in my prayers for yourselves and for all the alumni of the Venerable English College. I make my own the greeting so often heard on the lips of a great friend and neighbour of the College, Saint Philip Neri, Salvete, flores martyrum! Commending you, and all to whom the Lord sends you, to the loving intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you.

Vatican information service 

Earlier, the Duke of Gloucester had delivered the following message from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

The Duke of Gloucester delivering the message from the QueenIn 1362, English residents in Rome established a ‘Hospice of the English’ to care for English pilgrims. The Royal Arms of King Henry IV still adorn your walls to mark the 50th anniversary of that foundation and the close relationship with the Crown. The English Hospice was the origin of what has now become the Venerable English College, following its re-foundation by Pope Gregory XIII in 1579.

The presence of the Duke of Gloucester at your Martyrs’ Day Feast in this 650th anniversary year is a sign of the strength of the relationship between the United Kingdon and the Holy See. It is also recognition of the high esteem in which the Venerable English College is held as a training ground for pastors, priests and future leaders of the Catholic Church of England and Wales. You have always served as a generous and hospitable home away from home for generations of visitors to Rome, even in the most difficult times.

My good wishes go to you all, alumni, staff and students of the Venerabile, past, present and future, for your continuing prosperity.


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Nothing like judgement to focus the mind!

Hope, Charity and Faith
Advent is the quintessential season of hope. What is hope? Hope is one of the three virtues mother Church calls 'theological virtues': the others are faith and love. Through the growth of these three virtues we grow in knowing God. Faith and love are perhaps easier to understand; so what do we mean by hope? Hope has been described as faith directed towards our future. What hope is NOT, is a vague sense of optimism – hope is very firm and a strengthening virtue, and often depicted pictorially by an anchor; in other words hope helps us to weather storms and keep us steady. Hope is faith directed to the future that is promised through Christ, our future salvation, and the promise of heaven. Through our life in Him, we know that despite adversity in the present, if we remain faithful we have a future in Christ that cannot be taken away. So because Christ's ultimate victory is assured we have an anchor hold on that future, when in the present we may be blown around by the storms of life.

So on this Advent Sunday let us turn our minds towards the future, towards the End things. Amongst the End things we need to consider is what we call Judgement – Final Judgement. What do we mean by it? How does it effect us? Does it give us any hope or indeed joy?

As Christians we do not believe that we are all inevitably going to the same place. If it were inevitable, then we would not need a saviour. But we do need salvation. Our Lord taught that there is an awful choice between two alternatives: that we are always choosing between life and death, light and darkness, and good and evil. We have freedom of will, and we can choose between these two alternatives throughout our lives.

Judgement on the evil choice is not to be considered to be an arbitrary act of God – but as the consequences of our own choices. Judgement, in the Christian sense, is as much consequences of evil choices we have made freely, as an act of God. How is this?

All of our actions can become habitual – they can become habits. We can develop good habits, and we can develop evil habits. Habits form into a settled character. If we have evil habits, then we settle in an evil character; if we have good habits, then we settle in a virtuous or good character. As time goes by, these become more and more fixed in us, until we die.

The thing to remember is that death does not take our character away – whether good or evil. If a person's character is shaped by lust, pride, hatred or falsehood then at death these remain. Death sets us naked before the presence of God's holiness. In God's presence no habit of sin, no sinful character, no vice is hidden – all is revealed for what it is. This is judgement. It is the Day of truth, where nothing is hidden.

In Scripture the experience of coming into the presence of God is expressed as fire. Not that God is causing us pain, but that all that is sinful character within us is incompatible with the holiness of God. God cannot change. God cannot accommodate that which is determined for evil, and bring it into union with Himself!

Freedom of will is a terrible thing! The consequences are that God respects our choices. Habits of sin, which is evil, breeds an evil character, and can lead us to ruin. Consequences! Judgement! So our Lord warned us over and over again to watch ourselves, to pray for strength, and to be ready to stand in righteousness before Him. St Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to:

...confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of God the Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints...

So in Advent we are exhorted to pray, to be faithful, to wait patiently, to be virtuous, and to repent. Our Lord repeated again and again, “Repent and believe”. He wasn't saying that for effect. He meant it. Our core work in this life is to “Repent and believe”. And the good news is that He has given us the means of doing this. He forgave sins, and gave His power to forgive to the Apostles and their successors. We are only to confess with a sincere heart and with remorse, for us to be forgiven – for us to be made righteous.

So in this season of Advent let us take to heart the call to be ready for our Lord's coming, to confirm our hearts in holiness, to respond to the call to repent. Going to confession in this light can be a joyful thing. For having made ourselves right with God, our hearts can have hope and the deep joy that comes from knowing that in Christ all shall be well.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)