Friday, March 25, 2011

Newsletter Issue 5

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Second Sunday of Lent: The Transfiguration of the Lord

When Jesus was baptised by John the Spirit descended upon him and we hear the words: ‘this is my Son, the Beloved, my favour rests on him.’ On that day the heavens opened, and the Spirit descended upon him like a dove.

Today he gathers Peter, James and John with him. As far as they understand, they are going off to be alone with him, for some peace, for some prayer. They got more than they were expecting!

What would my reaction have been if I were on the mountain with Jesus? How would I respond when ‘he was transfigured; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light’? I would probably respond with a mixture of awe, fear and confusion,

The presence of Moses and Elijah is wonderful, however, and Peter wants to capture it: ‘I will make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’. Peter has missed the point—this is not a moment to linger. Symbolising the whole of the Law and the Prophets, their appearance underlines the importance of this event, that Jesus is central to God’s plan for creation, everything leads to him, and what he must do cannot be delayed for long.

The disciples are given a glimpse of who Jesus really is: the power of God shining forth in his very body, a foretaste of the power that will raise him from the dead. His nature is being revealed in a way that is striking and sublime.

We have in many ways forgotten how to speak about ‘nature’, about ‘being’. We have to some extent replaced it with talk of something being ‘in my genes’. To be technical for a moment, we tend to replace metaphysics with biology, among other things—partly because we can analyse them, and even control them. The Transfiguration reminds us to look more deeply.

It is not Jesus’ genes that are revealed to Peter, James and John; nor merely his thoughts laid before them. His very essence, he is the Son of God, Light-from-Light: they are given a glimpse of eternity.

This tells us something about how God works: his action in the nature of things, creating, sustaining, renewing . He has raised Christ from the dead, and so we do not fall on our faces, overcome with fear: we know what the power of God can do and if we trust him, fix our gaze on the risen Christ and leave behind all the things that keep us from him, we will be transfigured and free—and Christ will be known. There will be no need for anyone to start building tents.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reply to "A Well Meant Lent": Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Penny Phillips-Devaney, Director of Newman House, offers a reflection on Lent in response to Andrew Duncan's post.

What will I give up for Lent this year?  Is Lent just about giving things up?  And if I give up something, is it just as a test or a trial?  Or is there a deeper purpose to the fasting, abstaining and almsgiving we are recommended to practice during the six weeks? 

This year, I have found more than ever that Ash Wednesday has set the tone for Lent:  “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” 

I am much nearer, in all probability, to the time when I shall return unto dust than Andrew, or indeed most people who are reading this!  But for everyone, Ash Wednesday can be a profound moment when we stop and remember that all our materialistic striving, ambition, drive towards pleasure and achievement, will one day come to an end, and not by our own choice.  And then what?

How do we prepare for that eventuality?  What does it mean in terms of how I see my life now while it still seems to stretch far out in front of me?  Is God waiting for me at the end or with me now?  Am I here, alive to the call of the present, or stuck in some time or setting of my own imagining?  Am I walking with God this moment, every moment, aware of the reality that is death and the gift that is life?

Lent ends, as Andrew so rightly says, in victory – the victory of the Resurrection (and also in Easter eggs!).  But before the glory of Easter Sunday - and unfeasible amounts of chocolate - there is the Cross.

This Lent has started with the terrible disaster in Japan, our televisions and newspapers filled with pictures of human suffering on a horrific scale.  We cannot escape it, the fact of death and loss, the lack of human control over natural events all too painfully evident. 

In Lent, we set ourselves personal challenges in order to focus our minds, to re-direct our thoughts, to reflect and to prepare.  But on Ash Wednesday, we are not alone as we go to receive our ashes.  Lent can also remind us that this business of life and death is not purely personal.  We are all in it together. 

How do I acknowledge that truth in my faith, in my relationship to God and to others, in my everyday living?  What helps me to do this and what in me and outside me hinders my open-ness to God, my ability to love and be loved?  

Giving things up, taking on extra spiritual practices, these are traditional ways of observing the six weeks of Lent.  But the ashes we receive at its outset are a great and humble symbol that sets it all in perspective, giving us the opportunity to look at life differently and more deeply, and to emerge at the other end transformed. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rationalism and mysticism in a world in crisis

We have been asked to advertise a talk called Rationalism and mysticism in a world in crisis, which will take place on Monday 4th April at 7 pm at St James's Church, Spanish Place.

The speakers are Dr Luis Casasus - Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at the Universidad Politecnica of Madrid. He is the Superior of the Idente Missionaries Catholic congregation.

Dr Luis Miguel Romero - ex-Chancellor and Lecturer in Biology at the University Popular de Loja in Ecuador; ex-president of the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education. Missionary of the Idente Congregation.

The website of this congregation can be found here.

A Well-Meant Lent

Andrew Duncan, Parliamentary Intern and Resident of Newman House, reflects on the Season of Lent.

I don’t know where the word Lent comes from, and sparing you time (and me a Wikipedia search) I’ll forego an exploration of etymological roots here.

When I was younger (and with a poorer grasp of English) and heard the word or sound “Lent” the following images were conjured up:
  • borrowing and lending
  • leaning or being propped up against something
  • or that fluff-stuff that accumulates in the tumble-dryer (I know, I know - lint).
And funnily enough, I reckon there are tenuous links for all three as I’ll tell you later.

It’s only as I write this that I’m reflecting on what Lent is for me in practice. Up to now I’ve treated it like a game, an endurance-test where I try and give up something for 6 weeks or so. I’ve attempted to give up puddings, tea, chocolate and swearing in the past. Tea was the worst – after just 12 hours I was being struck by cranial-crunching caffeine-withdrawal headaches, guiltily reaching for the kettle with one hand and the PG Tips caddy with the other.

Reaching Easter Sunday with my Lenten promise intact, was (in my head) like winning a proverbial egg-and-spoon race – with real chocolate Easter eggs waiting on the podium. I reckon my Lenten competitive career probably is on a par with the England football team’s successes in World Cups; lots of hype, lots of promise but only making it to the quarter-finals.

But is this what Lent is all about – just giving up something for one-ninth of the year?

Just today, after a group discussion with Fr James Hanvey SJ and other Parliamentary interns, I’ve come to appreciate Lent differently. And maybe I was correct when I was younger (see above).
  • It’s a gift. We are being “lent” borrowed time to use creatively, to re-order ourselves.
  • It’s a time to gain freedom from material and non-material things we don’t really need. No more “he leant upon caffeine/cigarettes/cursing to get him through the day” – instead, “he was free, and claiming back his independence”
  • It’s a time to purify. Just as the Newman House tumble-dryer humbly requests you clear the filter, we all operate best when clean.
Now I’m looking at early Spring differently. Lent is a time to get creative and use. It’s not a game about giving something up, but a chance to carefully look at what I’m doing. And do something clever, creative or contrasting. Maybe I could commit to quiet, focused reflection, or donation of time and money to those who need it. Perhaps kick that Facebook habit and really talk with your friends.

I’m not too sure where I’m going with Lent this year, but I know I’m on a journey and steering. Aren’t we all?

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham at Newman House

Down the years a number of students have described Newman House as akin to an Oasis for them: a place of respite from the often harsh realities of the spiritual desert in which they spend most of their time.

The Archbishop has asked us at Newman House to be a welcoming community for one of the Ordinariate groups which are forming in London. These groups are part of a mechanism the Holy Father has erected by which members of the Anglican Church can come into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining some elements of their Anglican heritage – what is known as patrimony. This is a bold move by the Pope and a new approach to ecumenical relations. The Pope has indicated that those Christians who have a different religious and spiritual history from our own need not abandon that altogether, but can rejoice in it and be proud of it. As long as their traditions and beliefs are consonant with the Catholic Faith, they can find a home within the one body that is the Church. The Holy Father has judged that these particular Anglicans are one such group. A new venture is thus beginning in the Church’s long and venerable history.

I hope that the group who will be joining us will come to see Newman House as a bit of an oasis for them as they step into the wilderness. They will leave behind much: friends who do not wish to join the Catholic Church, their cherished and cared for church buildings, their familiar way of doing things. They can see the goal toward which they are travelling, but they still need to get there. As they spend this time between Ash Wednesday and Pentecost with us, we will try to make them as welcome as possible and assure them of our esteem and affection as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray that they will find among us spiritual nourishment and refreshment for their journey ahead. No doubt they will have many questions for us – as will our own students for them! This will be mutually enriching.

We have a great spiritual patron in common: the Holy Father has placed the Ordinariate under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman. He too knew the pain of separation in the “parting of friends”, he was misunderstood and had to make his famous Apologia pro vita sua, (explanation for his life); he sought wisdom, truth and holiness. His great devotion to our Lady was under her title of Sedes Sapientiae, Seat of Wisdom, with which we are so familiar. The Ordinariate is dedicated to our Lady of Walsingham – whose shrine many of our students as well as our new brothers and sisters know well and love deeply. There is already far more we have in common than we might imagine!

How delighted we are to be able to share our little oasis with our new pilgrim companions. Welcome, brothers and sisters.

Fr Peter Wilson
Senior Chaplain

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Newsletter Issue 4

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