Sunday, 26 February 2012

RIP Wulstan Hibberd, OSB

The death was announced last week of the oldest member of the Benedictine community in Farnborough. Fr Wulstan was 99 years old, a son of St Benedict for more than 79 years and a priest for almost 70 years.

An obituary by Abbot Cuthbert Brogan can be read here. The funeral service for Dom Wulstan is at Farnborough Abbey on Friday (2nd March) at 2pm. Please pray for the repose of his soul and for the community in Farnborough.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Jesus is condemned to death

Each Friday throughout Lent we shall be offering a meditation on the Way of the Cross taken from The Way of the Cross with the Curé of Ars, written by Mgr Keith Barltrop.

At the end of a long and fruitful ministry as a parish priest, St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, has left us no extended writings, all we have are short extracts memorised by witnesses. Mgr Barltrop uses some of these extracts to help us meditate on the Way of the Cross and, in doing so, enables us to rediscover the great gift God has given us in this marvellous saint.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Then Pilate said to Jesus, "Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?" But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly. Matthew 27:13-14

Like Pilate, we may well "wonder greatly" at the silence of Jesus, humble and majestic at the same time, as he is unjustly condemned. The Son of God, who at the last day will judge all heaven and earth, makes no attempt to defend himself before his human judge. It is as if he has already begun to take on himself all the accusations that will be made against sinners at the end of time, and so he agrees with the charges.

A petition began to circulate in Ars, requesting the bishop to rid them of this troublesome priest and listing his faults. By chance a copy fell into the Curé’s own hands. His response? To add his own signature and send it on to the bishop.

Beginning the way of the cross can be a symbol of beginning the Christian life over again, seeking out its deepest foundations. The Curé told of a certain saint who was asked what was the first of the virtues: "It’s humility," he replied. "And what is the second?" "Humility." "And the third?" "Humility."

For us, as for Jesus, the secret of humility is to stand always in the light of God our Father.

"We should pay no attention to the praises people heap on us, or to the wounds they deal out. In the eyes of God, we are what we are, no more, no less. The only thing that should concern us is to give him pleasure."  The Curé.


Lord Jesus, your humble silence speaks more powerfully
than words. Teach us the secret of your childlike trust, so
that as we begin this way of the cross we may begin again
in our Christian life on the sure foundation of humility, in
communion with you who live and reign with the Father
and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

Our Father…

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

Stabat Mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrimosa,
Dum pendebat Filius.

Picture © John Salmon, Stations of the Cross in the parish church St Silas, Kentish Town, London
Text © St Pauls Publishing

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A meditation for Ash Wednesday

It took the Church a long time to accept the physical reality of the crucifixion. Not only was it a painful death, and those who loved Jesus shrank from its full brutality, but it was also a degrading death. No Roman citizen could be crucified (that is why when St Paul and St Peter were martyred in Rome, only St Peter was crucified; St Paul as a Roman citizen had the privilege of decapitation). At first, and reluctantly, only the bare cross was shown, without any figure. But, by the 5th and 6th centuries, the memory of what crucifixion really meant faded, and the Church acknowledged the truth. But these early icons of the crucifixion show Jesus in His majesty. He triumphs over the cross, seemingly invulnerable, despite the nails and the blood. In this powerful, damaged and very early image, the Church has advanced, at least, to an image of Jesus dead. His arms may still be stretched out, straight and powerful. His feet may still seem to rest solidly on the cross bar. His body does not slump. But His eyes are closed. That strong and beautiful face is at rest in death.

Around the dead but triumphant Jesus is the full assembly of those who were witnesses of this, the greatest event of human history. Above His head angels grieve. They not only grieve, they lift their hands in astonishment and awe. The mystery of the human rejection of their Saviour leaves them breathless. On either side of the angels would have been sun and moon: the icon is not complete it has been injured by time. Below that, equally fragmented, would have been the two thieves, one of whom accepted Jesus, one of whom died blaspheming. The look of patient love on Jesus’ face leads one to hope that both these sinners came to salvation, one while he was dying and the other in death when he saw the truth of God.

Then we come to those who stood faithfully by Him, His mother Mary and the disciple whom He loved, John. Both stand grieving and dignified, entering into His pain but also into its meaning. Finally, minuscule at the foot of the cross, are the Roman soldiers dicing for His garments. The indifference to the realities of proportion is typical of the 8th century and for centuries to come. Holy people were always shown as very large. As we can see here, Jesus dominates the picture, Mary and John are smaller but still significant, the thief, representing ordinary sinful humanity, is smaller still, while the soldiers are dwarfed. This expresses a spiritual truth, the importance in God’s sight of those in the icon. Although the soldiers, in worldly terms were all powerful, driving in the nails and raising the cross, in the light of eternity they were mere instruments. It is the other three humans who matter, in that they share in the passion and so have their part in the great Redemption.

The iconographer cannot bear to depict Jesus stripped. He is modestly clothed in a long tunic, and yet it is blood stained, and blood pours from His upper side and His pierced feet. Is it significant that the blood and water, which St John describes, seem mostly to be falling onto rock? This noble Jesus has given all. He still holds His hands outstretched, (and blood from the right hand is not wasted, it baptises the repentant thief). Yet those outstretched arms, it seems to us, long to embrace in love the indifferent soldiers who take no notice of the crucifixion. We could feel, even in this unemotional icon, that Jesus dies essentially of a broken heart.

Picture: The Crucifixion, 8th century icon. © St Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai, Egypt.
Text: Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy Contemplates the Iconic Jesus. © St Pauls Publishing.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Faith Matters

The second volume in the series FAITH MATTERS will be available from Thursday 16th February.

Faith Matters is a biannual lecture series organised by the Agency for Evangelisation of the Diocese of Westminster and the Mount Street Jesuit Centre, London. The lectures explore different aspects of Catholic faith and life in today's world. Held in the spring and autumn, they are open to all, whether you are enquiring about the Catholic Faith for the first time or looking to explore it in more depth. Following each lecture, there is an opportunity to continue the discussion, first with questions from the floor, and later on with an internet discussion forum.

FAITH MATTERS - Cardinal Newman: A Man for Our Time, edited by Fr Dominic Robinson SJ and Rosa Postance, contains the following lectures:
Cardinal Newman: A Man for our Time by Dr Judith Champ
Newman on Reason and Faith by Revd Dr James Pereiro
Newman on Christ and the Church by Revd Dr James McDade SJ
Newman and Friendship by Fr Daniel Seward CO

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Bishop Michael Campbell and Lourdes

11th February is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Our book Mary, Woman of Prayer is the perfect accompaniment to today’s celebrations. Bishop Michael Campbell, Bishop of Lancaster, provides thought provoking meditations on the mysteries of the rosary. The meditations are accompanied by colour photographs taken during a pilgrimage to Lourdes by priests and people from the Archdiocese of Westminster. The book also contains 13 pages of prayers and devotions, including a Litany to Our Lady.

Originally published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions, the deep spirituality of Bishop Campbell, evident in the meditations, makes this book an essential companion to praying the rosary today and any day.

This book, and others by Bishop Campbell, can be purchased here.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Saint John Southworth

Saint John Southworth: The Parish Priest of Westminster, written by Fathers Nicholas Schofield and Gerard Skinner, is an illustrated biography of one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Although one of the "Forty", Southworth is one of thousands who have given their life for the Catholic faith through the centuries. However, the story of his life, a life lived during the time of the greatest persecution the Catholic Church has faced in this country, makes him stand out as unique amongst the English martyrs. The Introduction to the book explains why.

Visitors to Westminster Cathedral can hardly fail to notice the body of St John Southworth in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs. He is dressed in priestly vestments and a silver mask covers his face. He was one of the many English Catholic priests of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who laboured secretly before being imprisoned, tried and executed, simply for being priests. In this sense he is a representative of several generations of English priests.

However, as the famous convert and writer, Mgr Ronald Knox, noted in a 1954 sermon at the Cathedral, St John Southworth also stands apart: ‘the only one of our English martyrs to suffer under a dictatorship [of Oliver Cromwell]. The only one who notoriously pleaded guilty to being a priest. The only one, so far, whose body is preserved to us entire.’ He was also the last secular priest to be put to death in England.

As with so many of the English martyrs, so much of St John Southworth’s life and work is known only to God and to those for whom he laboured. However, the story of his relics must be amongst the most intriguing and well documented accounts of any martyr of the time.

Fr Nicholas Schofield is Parish Priest of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael, Uxbridge and Archivist of the Archdiocese of Westminster. Fr Gerard Skinner is the Sub-Administrator of Westminster Cathedral. Their book, with previously unpublished photographs, will be available from 21st February from all ST PAULS and other Christian bookshops or online here.