Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
“Pourquoi?” was the question scrawled on many of the tributes left to the victims of the Paris atrocities last weekend. “Why?” is the question which we are all asking. Of course, we do need to keep a sense of proportion – the death and injury meted out in such a ferocious and arbitrary way on the Friday before last can be mirrored in the trouble spots of the world in any given week, and we should never forget the untold numbers who die prematurely through lack of resource and the diseases of poverty. – but when something so terrible takes place close to our own doorstep (and is covered in such detail by the social media) the shock waves touch us and we are forced to re-examine our own reactions and beliefs. For people of faith the questions are made even more complex when, as with the killings in Paris, brutality is justified in the name of religion. If God is “all-merciful” then how can those who claim to be his followers so misunderstand and corrupt his message? Here, surely, is the absolute triumph of evil, when the face of the beneficent Creator is twisted to betray violence and cruelty?
In many ways this weekend’s celebration of Christ as Universal King raises more questions than it answers. The notion of sovereignty speaks of authority and power and our human sense of justice makes us cry out for God to intervene – we just do not understand why the forces of negativity continue to wreak havoc where and when they please. If the victory over sin and death was won on Calvary (as our faith teach us) why are its effects not apparent? “Where was God in Auschwitz?” Joseph Ratzinger once famously asked, and we might well add, “Where was God on the streets of Paris on the Friday evening of last week?” The Pope emeritus answered his own question by saying “in the end, there can only be a dread silence, the silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God”. It is this Christian "agnosticism", the “nada” so powerfully expressed in the writings of Saint John of the Cross, which is the only genuine response we can offer when, frustratingly, we just do not have the words to evacuate the mystery of its frightening depths (and our attempts to find them run the risk of cheapening the harsh reality of the sufferings of the many).
There are times when the only authentic answer we have to give is that of Mary at the foot of the cross – all we can do, to, is to stand, uncomprehendingly, and to identify as intimately as is possible with our brothers and sisters in their time of need. Clearly, there are occasions when a more active response is both possible and called for – where pain might be alleviated and justice served then we are bound in conscience to do what we can – but sometimes the only way open to us is to follow the Marian example. Christ’s Mother could not un-pin her Son from the cross, but she could offer him the assurance of an unconditional love, and, in so doing, she demonstrated something much more than mere passivity.
It is this identification with suffering which goes to the heart of all that the Father has chosen to reveal of himself in Christ: it is the insight unique to Christianity. God does not stand beyond his creation but becomes a part of it: in so doing he accepts human vulnerability and experiences it in its most extreme form. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the sites of the latest Parisian outrages all took place within a short distance of the Sacre Coeur basilica in Montmartre, and that it is from France and in particular the visions granted to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century, that modern devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with its great theme of reparation, has stemmed. The Heart of Jesus is, literally as well as iconographically, broken open, and from it, in Saint John’s record, the blood and water which flowed so copiously become symbols of the Divine mercy and love. Through the incredible abasement of the Incarnation human suffering becomes a part of the Godhead. Where was God on the streets of Paris last week? He was there in the midst of the blood and tears of his children. “There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven; and there is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgement given” (Father Faber).
“From the time that I became a Catholic, of course, I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this I do not mean that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.
Nor had I any trouble about receiving those additional articles, which are not found in the Anglican Creed. Some of them I believed already, but not any one of them was a trial to me. I made a profession of them on my reception with the greatest ease, and I have the same ease in believing them now. I am of course far from denying that every article of the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, is beset with intellectual difficulties; and it is a simple fact, that, for myself, I cannot answer those difficulties. Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of Religion; I am as sensitive of them as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending these difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate.
There are, of course, difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man cannot be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and yet borne in upon our minds with most power. People say that the doctrine of transubstantiation is difficult to believe. I did not believe the doctrine till I was a Catholic. I had no difficulty in believing it as soon as I believed that the Catholic Roman Church was the oracle of God, and that she had declared this doctrine to be part of the original revelation. It is difficult, impossible, to imagine, I grant – but how is it difficult to believe?
I believe the whole revealed dogma as taught by the Apostles, as committed by the Apostles to the Church, and as declared by the Church to me. I receive it, as it is infallibly interpreted by the authority to whom it is thus committed, and (implicitly) as it shall be, in like manner, further interpreted by the same authority till the end of time. I submit, moreover, to the universally received traditions of the Church, in which lies the matter of those new dogmatic definitions which are from time to time made, and which in all times are the clothing and the illustration of the Catholic dogma as already defined. And I submit myself to those other decisions of the Holy See, theological or not, through the organs which it has itself appointed, which, waiving the question of their infallibility, come to me with a claim to be accepted and obeyed. Also, I consider that gradually and in the course of time, Catholic inquiry has taken certain shapes, and has thrown itself into the form of a science, with a method and phraseology of its own, under the intellectual handling of great minds such as Saint Athanasius, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas; and I feel no temptation at all to break in pieces the great legacy of thought thus committed to us for these latter days”.
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