28 June 2014

Lights out at Young Offenders Institutions

Lights out - and no reading under covers: Young offenders will be sent to bed early - just like at Eton - The Independent

It's futile to argue with Lord Chancellor Grayling, as his sport is to provoke those who know what they are talking about, so that they look ridiculous in the immature swirl of populism, name-calling and handwringing that our National Discourse has become. Never mind that his ban on sending in books is counterproductive and just an old trick of Crown Prerogative "justice" to inflict a form of torture that doesn't show the marks (cf A Man for All Seasons, Act 2, scene 7). Never mind that his "strict" and "tough" measures are known to be counterproductive and contribute nothing to reduced offending, desistance from crime, or resettlement and that the Commons Select Committee has concluded that, with crime and serious crime both falling, his repression is a waste of money better spent on (considerably cheaper) prevention, therapy and problem-solving. All I will say is that, instead of ordering the practice in minute detail of experienced governors, prison staff and professionals who know exactly what to do and what not to do, at the same time as cutting the means to do it beyond sustainability, Grayling C should run a Young Offender Institution himself, be measured on his personal and direct outcomes on their behaviours, circumstances and prospects - and see how far he gets.

23 June 2014

Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane - Homily For the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, 22 June 2014

Isn’t it typical of us that we have translated our entire liturgy into English, but despite sustained pressure to rename this feast “ The Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord”, we ordinary Catholics have doggedly maintained its proper title in Latin – Corpus Christi?

For over 800 years it has been our chance to be joyful and even exuberant about that which we see every day in silence and reverence: the Eucharistic Miracle, which we see with our very eyes when the bread beneath its outward appearance becomes the Lord himself - present in the thing, present to us, present for us. For 800 years this has been our occasion for taking the Miracle out, so that the world may see what we see - to show it something so ordinary and common place, yet something that with the eye of faith is what we love the most, are proudest of, and would serve the utmost.

This is our feast of witness, when we tell the truth about ourselves and how we are unashamed to show and call ourselves religious people. And for 800 years it has kept its name.

It is hardly remarkable, because, even in our ex-spiritual society, Corpus and Christi remain very well known words. We know what a corpus of writings, artwork or music is. It is the same as a body of writings, artwork and music. And we certainly know what Christ is. It is the most commonly used expletive for exasperation in the English language. I even heard “Christ” used in this way in the lift at Covent Garden Tube station on the way here. So Corpus Christi, translated through the thought patterns of the world around us, means every petty, ill-tempered frustration coming in one go. But to the Lord in the Host, who is the same as the Lord in the Manger and on His Cross, it is nothing new; it is to be expected and endured. As G K Chesterton once put it, “God abides in a terrible patience, unangered, unworn.”

Nevertheless, Corpus Christi’s title gives us the opportunity to give our fellow members of society a fresh translation. For the Christ of the Eucharist is the anointed One of God, His chosen, His Beloved on Whom His favour rests (anointed is what Christ and christened mean), anointed at His baptism with the Holy Spirit, anointed by Mary the sister of Lazarus whom He had raised from death in preparation for His own Death and Resurrection; anointed by Nicodemus for His burial, anointed in the love of St Peter after His Resurrection and anointed in His Ascension and exaltation to His throne as King. The Body of Christ, the Corpus Christi, is none other than One coming into the world, Who promised to remain with us always, to the end of time, waiting for us to see Him for what He is, waiting for us to realise Who He is, waiting for us to come with Him, to leave all our sin and preoccupations to fall away to one side, to grow in holiness, to long for the Kingdom to come, and to find that we live in it even now. We sing of this gift of Christ in His Body every Christmas:

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in. 

We stand in a great long line of those for whom Christ thus waited to receive Him. To Mary Magdalen He was the gardener, until she literally grasped Him as her Teacher. For St Thomas He waited, until his belief could follow his touch and he agree with the others, “We have seen the Lord.” To St Peter, confused by the Lord’s repeated questioning on whether he truly loved Him, Christ waited for the right heart and mind to see the divine purpose and meanwhile was content to ask him, as once He had asked him and Andrew on the shores of Galilee, “Follow me”… “Bear with me, walk in the steps I have trodden, become for others what I have been to you, take up your cross and follow me. Feed my sheep with My own Body; build them up to be My Body the Church. Feed them up to be Me in the world, with it always to the end of time, enduring, abiding in terrible patience, unangered, unworn. Let them be Me, waiting for all the children of My creation to see Me for what I AM, waiting for them to realise Who I AM and why I have come.” As St Augustine told his people who they were, pointing to the Lord in His Eucharistic Oblations – “There you lie on the altar”. It is we who are the Body of Christ, not just for our own fellowship and spirituality, but anointed for sacrifice, and faithfulness, and service to the end.

When Cardinal Manning founded this Church, he meant for it to be a great National Shrine of honour and service to the Lord in His Blessed Sacrament, so that all the indignities done to the Mass, to the priesthood and to the faithful in England could be repaid not with recrimination and resentment, but with the outpouring of love and devotion. He meant it to be at the core of witness to the truth of the Catholic Church’s Catholic belief in her Master and Teacher; and he meant it to stand as the place where all this love and duty poured out would make reparation for the greatest of sins against the Providence of our Sovereign God and loving Father – the acts in the sixteenth century that, despite a millennium and a half of unity according to the mind and prayer of Christ on the night before he died in sacrifice for the world’s salvation, ruptured the Church in two in this land and inflicted division among Christians in the one Body of Christ. Of course, no human deed or failure can take away the unity with Christ and His saints that belongs to the Church which is His spotless Bride. Still, in the world, because of our sin and wilfulness in refusing to obey the will of Christ except on our terms, Christians remain divided at the altar. Last weekend, a small charity founded 100 years ago by Church of England Christians, who saw their Church as separated from the Catholic communion from which it came and to which it truly belonged, and who wanted to work for reconciliation with the successor of St Peter in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome, donated a beautiful monstrance in keeping with the period and design of Corpus Christi Church, in support of its renewed work in the vision of Cardinal Manning. Thanks to the Ecumenical Movement, and the Catholic Church’s energetic efforts towards the fullness of unity in faith and life ever since the Second Vatican Council, that little Anglican charity, known as the Catholic League, had itself opened up and welcomed Catholics as members to pray for unity in the Body of Christ alongside each other. In what may be one of its last acts before it ends its work, it decided to mark its hundred years of patient witness with a gift to this Church of Corpus Christ on Maiden Lane as it recovers its work and purpose as a Shrine of the Presence of the Lord in and for the world in His Most Blessed Sacrament, and as a place of reparation for dishonour to the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, dishonour to the Body of Christ in His Priesthood and dishonour to the Body of Christ in the Unity of his Church. This monstrance will bear the Eucharistic Lord at the heart of the prayers and devotions to be poured out here, whenever the Sacrament is exposed for veneration and lifted over the people and the world in blessing. It is a gift to this parish in the hope of visible Christian Unity, because the Lord prayed that His disciples may be one – so that the world may believe it was the Father who sent Christ to bring it to eternal life. And nothing need divide Christians in their adoration of the Lord, after all.

So in this Feast today, which has been our great celebration for 800 years of all that the our faith means to us, of all that the Mass means to us, all that the Miracle of the Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament mean to us, whenever we stand out as the parish of Corpus Christi, Christ’s own Body, and whenever we lift up the Blessed Sacrament in the hands of the priest at Mass and in the monstrance with our hearts full of adoration, we will be saying like the disciples and St Mary Magdalen – “we have seen the Lord”. And what we will be showing to the world is the Lord who abides with us, in all his patience, unangered, unworn, waiting “in this world of sin, for meek souls to receive him still.” O Dear Christ, enter in.

21 June 2014

Homily for the Sunday of All Saints, Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London, 14 June 2014

Having taken leave of Pentecost, today we greet the Feast of All Saints. In the Latin rite, today is kept as the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. But in the Byzantine Church, we celebrate the saints, especially the martyrs who were faithful unto death.

You can understand the logic of the Latin feast of the Holy Trinity’s falling in the midst of the Christian Year – first in Advent, God the Father sends his prophets to announce the coming of God the Son. Then the archangel Gabriel comes before the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saviour becomes incarnate in her womb. After His birth at Christmas, the Latin Church contemplates His early years and then the beginning of his earthly ministry and wonderworking. At length, Lent prepares the Church for the Passion and in Holy Week the People of God follow Jesus through to his Death on the Cross and finally the resurrection of the Light of the World in the night. For eight weeks, the Latin Church lives in the glory of the Resurrection, seeing the transformation of humanity, as Christ changes the Last Supper into the Eucharistic Banquet and ascends his risen life from earth to heaven. At last, He imparts from the Father the Holy Spirit, as He promised from the moment he rose from the dead. You can understand the sequence: the work of God the Father, then God the Son and finally God the Holy Spirit. On the Octave Day of Pentecost, a week later than the feast, you can understand a great Feast of the Holy Trinity to distil the mystery of salvation, and set us fair to live within it for the rest of the Church’s year to the following Advent.

For the Byzantine Church it is different. Our Church year begins in the mystery of Pascha, in the moments as Christ Who has died upon the Cross rises from the dead, working out of us sin and death, and working into us the holiness of the Holy Spirit and His life that can never end. Throughout the time of Easter we are caught up in the resurrection of Christ; and it is the Holy Spirit Who animates our rising sense of hope throughout. Having died with Christ in baptism and risen with Him at his Resurrection, we are caught up in joy; and we too are lifted as Christ mounts to the Father. We too are translated to heaven in this same Spirit, so that whenever we worship it is not in the world that we remain, for in hearts and in temples that have been cleared on earth for heaven to exist among us, we come to be in the very presence of God, Who both comes to us and takes us up to Him. When Pentecost comes, the union of heaven and earth in Christ in the liturgy – the work of God in his people – is sealed. It is shown to be not just a matter of faith or piety, but the way in which the universe is reconstructed in Christ risen from the dead, Who is the Lord in glory of its every aspect, movement and person, by the power of the Spirit until its final consummation in the great end of all things that is to come. You can see therefore that, in the Byzantine Church’s perspective, the whole of Pascha, from the Death and Resurrection to the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, is a feast of the Holy Trinity, deep in His own mystery yet energetic in and upon the world in and through his Church. So it makes sense that today we celebrate the blessedness of heaven by contemplating the saints bathed in its glory. Indeed we are not so far distant in our thinking and worshipping from the Latin Church, because the saints are bathed in no other glory than the glory of the Holy Trinity.

So: here we are in earth, by the Holy Spirit translated in this liturgy to the court of heaven, there beholding the saints. And here we are in heaven, by the power of the resurrection of Christ at work in us, able to look around us and see how our humanity is being fitted into the life of the Trinity even now in the created universe as He recreates it. For in beholding the saints, we see with our own eyes what is to become of us. We are not to be the same. We are to be changed. As St Paul says, “Dying, behold we live.” We see people that we recognise not as we are, but as we will become. The witnesses that surround us in their great cloud are not pointing back to us; they are not helping us to make sense of things with our frame of reference, nor are they staring at us from our holy icons. Instead, they are looking to Jesus, the Perfecter, pointing their gaze past us and getting us to turn and face in a new direction too. St Paul urges us not just to persevere and push on in a race towards to heaven; he is urging us to run away from what we are at the moment.

When Peter asks Jesus what we will get out of following Jesus, he has in mind some kind of consideration for all that has been endured and all that has been given up - from every human attachment at home to the demand for any livelihood to be abandoned but the carrying of the Carpenter’s own Cross – Peter clearly thinks he will get some sort of tangible reward: a better life, a settled home, a happier world. Instead Jesus, hinting at what St John will one day write in his Revelation, tells him that everything he sees around him, sets any store by, or places any value on, will dissolve – not into nothingness but the renewal of all things: “Behold I make all things new – a new heaven and a new earth, and the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, adorned as a bridge for her husband – the dwelling of God with humanity.” This is why Our Lord says those terribly demanding things about loving Him more than parents and children. He has to break our way of seeing things. Instead we have to learn to understand people, even those we love and know the most, not just through our own human closeness but in Christ. Only in loving Christ will we love best. So Peter is brought up short, as he stops thinking of houses, family and a better world for them. He realises that the old order is only the shadow cast by the approach of the new. For, all that Christ offers him is a Cross of his own. This Cross will not be a struggle for things in this world, but the only path there is to eternal life.

This is the Peter, this is the Paul, and likewise the Blessed Virgin whom we contemplate in heaven – those whose hearts have been pierced with sorrow and like the Lord himself acquainted with grief. These are those whose glory in heaven has been transfigured out of their sufferings, their trials and their endurance through this world. For us too, it is not easy to avoid sin; it is not easy to live in the world in a spiritual way; it is difficult to set our hearts on the things that are above, when we are bound to be occupied with the necessities of life and work, of family and concerns of our fellow humans in their trials. But, says the Lord, in all these things, the only way to love them best is to love Christ first. For it is only through the transforming of us, that we can hope for the Lord to transform the world He loves and gave His life for. It is only through making our lives holy and glorious that the kingdoms of this world can be seen to be the living instances of the Kingdom of God. It is only by our longing to be saints, and to live the same glorified life as theirs, their sufferings and endurance transfigured into hope for the joy that lies ahead, that we too can point the world to running a race from itself (and its fetish for destruction and selfish-absorption) toward the heaven that God’s liturgy, His work among and upon His people, constantly opens up to draw us in.

I know this looks to nearly the whole of the population as just religion, just a pious spiritual sentiment, the wording of a belief-system, while the realities of the world are all too practical and intractable to be adequately addressed by abstractions like kingdom, glory, heaven and eternal life. But think about it. It was in just such an instant of a gut reaction from St Peter that clearly he thought more or less the same. Then and now we are not so very different. Nothing has changed. To this worldliness, this instinct to be realistic, Jesus just says this.

What is the universe you live in? Is it the universe where you are the centre, where what matters most is your life, your will, your family, your future, your material and practical concerns? These are important and I understand that you love them. But where do they lead really and what are they truly for? Or is the universe you live in the one which is the Kingdom of God, the God Who says blessed are the peacemakers, the poor, the merciful, the pure in heart, the righteous, the broken-hearted? Is your universe the one where it is God who accepts the blame and blasphemy, even death on a Cross, Whom you have seen in the flesh and followed and made the Master of your life - your only hope and greatest joy, the Lord who has promised you a place in His Kingdom and a share of His own glory, if you will only take part in the renewal of all things that will cost you not less than everything?

If you think that the universe is centred on you, of course it matters nothing whether today is All Saints or the Holy Trinity, or both. But if you believe that Jesus Christ is the master of all things, then he is Master of You, and you will desire nothing more than to be His saints in the Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.