Saturday, August 30, 2008

My speech

I haven't blogged for a while.

It has been a busy time.

It is almost 4am and I have just finished preparing my speech for my daughter's wedding which is at 12 noon tomorrow - or rather today. Much harder to do than any homily ... and probably no more memorable - unless I succeed in saying something wrong ... and that is very easy to do. Especially if you haven't slept much the night before.


I hope they find it funny.

I'm not really good at funny. I am a priest after all.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Holy Places

There has been much controversy lately surrounding the decision - to be enacted this weekend - to close a number of churches in the Diocese of Leeds. (See for example, this article in the Yorkshire Post). This is a painful process, but not one unique to Leeds, nor indeed to the UK. Throughout the western world the combination of fewer vocations and even fewer worshippers has hit all Christian groups. Throughout England and Wales (and I guess, Scotland too) there are innumerable former Methodist chapels converted into attractive dwellings, and 'The Old Rectory' hotels and nursing homes. The round of closures has come a little later, perhaps, to the Catholic Church, and our situation is a little different in many instances because so many of our churches are simple constructions, thrown up rapidly in the two decades after the Second World War, which like many buildings of the austerity 50s and iconoclastic 60s, lack the antiquity and the elegance of many redundant anglican places of worship.

So what is the best thing to do with an unneeded post war building? In many cases it is much easier to demolish and rebuild than to renovate and adapt. And that is what is happening.

We rarely regret the closure of a shop, or pub in anything like the same way (though there are notable exceptions). And even for some denominations, the use to which a building may be put after sale matters little. Catholics in England and Wales have not been used to seeing their former churches put to other uses - so in very many cases demolition has been the preferred option.

In the past couple of weeks, two events have given me occasion to reflect more widely on the nature of the holy place.

Firstly, there has been a rather devastating fire in one of the churches in the deanery. It seems that it was caused by intruders. Perhaps they didn’t mean to cause as much damage as they did - but nevertheless the church is now gutted, the interior effectively destroyed, all vestments and hangings gone. For the community who worship there it is particularly devastating.This is one of half dozen churches in the deanery which is ‘under review’, and a decision has to be taken within three years whether to close it or for it to remain open. The fire hardly helps the community as they try to keep their building open for worship – and how can it now survive? And if the diocese decide to close it, how tragic that this may be the end to a place which for decades has been a place of faith and worship.

And then, in rather stark contrast, I have, during this past weekend had the enormous privilege of conducting a wedding, then the next day celebrating mass, in a chapel 2000m above sea level on top of the mount Rigi in Switzerland. The setting could not be more breathtakingly beautiful, overlooking Lake Lucern with the snow topped alps in the further distance. I was amazed to find myself there. The groom was a young man who I had taught and known through my six years as a secondary teacher, and who now lives and works in Switzerland. To be invited to conduct these celebrations was a wonderful surprise and a great adventure, and such a privilege. It was a wonderful privilege to be in such a beautiful place, to share an occasion with these two families, and to celebrate the sacraments in such a lovely location.

These two places – the burnt out Church in North Stafforshire and the mountain-top chapel in Switzerland – so different – yet hold something so important in common. As places of prayer and worship, and for the celebration of the sacraments, they are places which share human memories, moments of joy and sorrow, celebrations of hope and commitment. The place dwells with the people just as Christ walks with us on our journeys. Of course we can worship anywhere. We may sometimes have to see churches close, and not every wedding will be on a mountain top, but for our incarnational faith, places and buildings do matter, not only as the backdrop for memories, but also as the bearers of the grace of a loving God.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Sing if you're glad to believe

I was walking my faithful dogs (Joseph Ratzinger and Benedict XVI) the other day, and on the railings by the park I saw a poster for the next 'Pride' event in the city. Now I'm not going to rail on at the iniquity of such events etc etc. There are plenty of other bloggers out there who can do that much more effectively that I.

What interests me more is how successful these events have become. From the view of this rather distant observer it seems that 'Pride' events have developed from outrageous and brash displays by unashamed militant homosexuals in a few large and anonymous conurbations into popular family days out like other fairs and festivals, which now take place in very many larger towns and smaller cities.

In fact, even the language has changed (not for the first time) so that they are not even 'Gay Pride' events anymore, just 'Pride'. Here's another word we won't be able to use again in it's original sense.

All right, I'd better get to my point.

What weare witnessing is, I think, another ironic shift. Just as we Catholics use the word 'triumphalist' to refer to a bad thing - the ostentatiuos show of religion - so the homosexual lobby has used 'pride' - the ostentatious celebration of licentious sexuality - very much to their benefit.

Now then, why can't we Christians do the same? Why can't we proudly, triumphantly, proclaim the faith that we believe. Why can't we have similar big celebrations that we take to the streets to celebrate believing.

Well, I know, we do. Sort of. There are processions still, here and there, of the Blessed Sacrament and of Our Lady. Yet sometimes - dare I say - these appear somewhat dour and joyless. (Remember, they chose the word 'gay' for a reason). Much better, we also have the large celebrations like World Youth Day, which I know very well do not get the press coverage which they deserve. And these great events are still exceptional.

Yet surely, we need to be joyfully triumphalist again - Proud of faith, believing with a true gaity, with exhuberance and abandon. In celebratilng the joy of believing it may even be that Evangelical Protestants and faithful Catholics have some important values in common. Perhaps there are even those of other faiths who might join an anti-relativist, anti-secularist alliance (but please don't call it that).

We could take to the streets in our thousands, in the cities and towns of the country and proclaim without fear of ridicule: 'Sing if you're glad to believe!'