The Year of Faith 2012 to 2013

Year of Faith 2012 to 2013 logoReaders of my Universe column (there are a few) probably think I have nothing left to say about the Year of Faith which begins today; so forgive me if you find I am repeating myself. Like all ‘years’ and ‘days’, this one is meant to focus attention on something we tend to take for granted or notice only subliminally. Unlike others, however, the Year of Faith is meant to bring about a change within ourselves not just in society round about. It is an invitation to deepen our faith and, crucially, explore what that faith means. That is why I have been encouraging people not only to pray, receive the sacraments and read the scriptures but also to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I am sometimes troubled by the imperfect understanding of what the Church actually teaches, as distinct from what people think the Church teaches, and I’m sorry to say that Catholics are themselves often among the worst offenders! We are not all called to be theologians or scripture scholars, but Catholicism is a reasonable religion and deserves serious study by anyone who professes to be an adherent. We may envy the apparently simple faith of the peasant of history, but we are not peasants, nor are we living in times past. We are men and women of the twenty-first century and our faith must reflect that. So, if you haven’t yet done anything about setting yourself a reading programme for the year, try Matthew Warner’s Catechism Reading venture here (link opens in new window).

And what if you feel even that is beyond you? If you are tired of all these initiatives and feel rather useless in the face of all the recommendations to do this, that and the other? If your faith is already such as to move, not mountains, but maybe a few molehills of doubt and difficulty? Can I say simply: pray. Prayer is the most powerful way of opening ourselves to  the grace of the Holy Spirit and allowing him to flood both understanding and will with his grace. I liked what Archbishop Rowan Williams said in his address to the Synod of Bishops on the subject of the new evangelisation in Rome. If you haven’t yet read it, you can do so here (link opens in new window).

What shall we be doing in community? We have committed ourselves to extra prayer throughout the year, and if we can scrape together enough money, we shall be uploading a completely revised set of community websites (see links to existing sites  in sidebar) which will contain a number of ways to explore and, hopefully, deepen faith. Ultimately however, we need to remember that faith is a gift. It can be asked for, received, celebrated, but it can never be forced. Part of what we need to learn this year is to wait on the Lord, for he alone is God.

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Patrick and Rowan: a tale of two bishops

I first met Rowan Williams when, as a youthful Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, he came to tea at the monastery and three of us spent the afternoon discussing the psalter with him. It was, if truth be told, a slightly sticky occasion and only really lost all trace of self-consciousness when we moved from small talk to theology and poetry. I suspect that for many of us who are not Anglicans (and possibly for many who are) it is that ease with monasticism, theology and poetry that we first think of when we think of the archbishop. All that he has done, or tried to do, for the Anglican Communion during his tenure of Canterbury, the difficulties he has faced, the obloquy he has endured, remind me of Paul VI, with whom I think he would have had an affinity. He has done an impossible job to the best of his ability, and those of us who are less able can only be grateful. As I said on Twitter yesterday, Canterbury’s loss is Cambridge’s gain; and I am already looking forward to the books he will be writing.

St Patrick was bishop in very different times, but, mutatis mutandis, the challenges he faced bear comparison with those faced by Archbishop Rowan. To proclaim the gospel loud and clear, to help others understand subtle points of theology, to question the values of society, to retain in the midst of busyness a monastic calm and focus (though not a monk himself), these sound very contemporary, rightly so. A bishop can never be ‘popular’ in the way that a singer or movie star can be popular: he must stand up for what he believes to be right, no matter what the cost to himself. In the case of Patrick, his steadfastness led to Ireland’s becoming a missionary centre of the Church for hundreds of years, no mean achievement for an ‘outsider’.

Britain owes much to Ireland; in the person of Patrick, Ireland owes much to Britain — a reminder that, from a Christian perspective, so many of our quarrels and disagreements are unnecessary. They generate heat, as family squabbles always do, but they do not always serve to advance the message of the gospel. Today, as we pray for all who look upon St Patrick as their patron, let us also pray for Archbishop Rowan and the world-wide Anglican Communion.

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