Corpus Christi 2020
Posted on the 14th June 2020 in the category Resources
The Body and Blood of Christ
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’
This weekend the doors of our churches are allowed to open for the first time since late March. Only for private prayer, it’s true, but nonetheless it’s a moment pregnant with promise and hope. Why? Well, cast your minds back. It’s remarkable that the lockdown in our country, has (so far as Christians are concerned) covered almost exactly that part of the Christian year that runs from the feast of the Annunciation on 25 March (two days after the lockdown was announced) until today, the feast of Corpus Christi (when church doors can open again). Our long springtime retreat, so full of prayer for those who have suffered and died, has come to an end with what feels like precision timing.
It’s a moment, of course, when we gladly acknowledge our debt to all those who have worked throughout that time, some of them tirelessly, to serve the shared needs of our society. Only because they have borne the heat of the day can the rest of us now begin to re-emerge and play our part in rebuilding our common life.
But there it is: while church doors have been firmly locked, Christians have celebrated what the liturgical calendar simply gave us – the whole story of Jesus Christ, from the first stirrings of the Word becoming flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary through to today’s contemplation of his permanent ascended presence in and through his Church, the living Eucharist. The Word became flesh in Jesus (Jn 1.14); that flesh became bread at his command (cf. Jn 6.51), and that bread gives us eternal life (cf. Jn 6.58).
Today’s gospel passage is one of the most shocking in the New Testament. It is part of a whole chapter that St John dedicates to the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, the explanation that Jesus gives the miracle, and his answers to the questions of his listeners. It is a dense passage, because it is dominated by five words: eat or eating (which appears seven times), drinking (four times), flesh (six times), blood (four times), life or living (nine times) – all in a mere seven verses. The passage is the climax of the chapter. The whole discussion has been moving to this point; and the scene finally ends in confusion.
As the argument intensifies Jesus makes a three-part solemn revelation about himself.
These three statements from Jesus seem to his listeners to be unfathomable even scandalous. He uses raw and realistic language, which had the effect of shocking his hearers either into greater belief, or (most of them) greater disbelief. In the heated argument that follows they ask each other, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ (v.52); and ever since the world has debated Jesus’s reply, that ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’ (v.53). So perhaps we too should reflect on whether we have really understood his message.
There’s no time to go into much depth in a short homily like this. But I want to point to one line in the final part of the chapter (a bit we didn’t hear read) that gives us a clue.
It turns out that what we heard as our gospel was part of a sermon in the synagogue in Capernaum, and it’s now over. Jesus turns to his disciples and checks with them privately, ‘Have my words offended you as well?’ Well they plainly have, and so he gives them a pointer as to how they should understand his words. ‘What if’, he says, ‘you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? Would that help?’ In other words, it’s no ordinary man that can say he will give his flesh to eat. And it’s no ordinary flesh that contains and communicates God’s own life and commits itself to the limit. Jesus is the Son of Man: he is that man who belongs both to earth and heaven. He is the one that ‘comes down from heaven’, and whose home is the realm of the Spirit.
Over the years Pope Benedict has been very fond of quoting St Augustine describing an incident when, during prayer, he heard a voice saying, ‘I am the bread of the strong, eat me! But you will not transform me, and make me part of you [as happens with normal food]; rather, I will transform you, and make you part of me’ (Confessions Bk 7, 10, 16). This is the crucial point. This is the mystery, the mystery of faith that we proclaim after the words of Christ in the midst of the Eucharistic Prayer. In today’s gospel St John has put together the Resurrection and the Eucharist, which the Fathers call the ‘medicine of immortality’ (St Ignatius, Ephesians 20.2).
The body and blood of the Lord are not ordinary bread or wine, which commemorate or signify something meaningful. They are not ordinary, because they really contain, communicate and commit to the world God’s own love and life! They are not ordinary, because they have been transformed by Christ, and when they are given to us they transform us, we do not transform them. They are not ordinary, because they make us missionaries of charity. That is how our individuality and uniqueness is liberated from itself, united to Christ, immersed in the life of the Trinity, and opened up to communion with brothers and sisters, whether they are near or far, whether I like them or not, or whether I am like them or not. As the Lord’s body and blood change us into him, we become members of one another. No longer divided, we are one body one spirit in Christ. The Lord’s body and blood unites me and you not only to the people whom we long to sit beside once more in church, but also to distant brothers and sisters in every part of the world.
Dear Friends, in this new moment, as our church doors begin silently to swing open again, let us (wherever we can) visit our churches, and standing, sitting or kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood, let us prepare ourselves for that day when we will be able to celebrate the Eucharist together again, and let us offer our souls and bodies to him who transforms us, and makes us able to be missionaries of his charity by giving us his soul and body.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds conceal me.
Do not be parted from me.
From the evil foe protect me.
At the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come to you,
to praise you with your saints for ever.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
A video of the sermon can be found here
Trinity Sunday 2020
Posted on the 7th June 2020 in the category Resources
Trinity Sunday 2020
On Trinity Sunday, unusually, the lectionaries of Common Worship and the Roman Missal diverge, so parishes may find themselves reading different passages.
Gospel John 3.16-20
During the night-time conversation with Nicodemus
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
The Gospel in Common Worship, which may be read instead, is Matthew 28.16-20:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Humanity reflects the love that made it
Today we are celebrating the feast of the Holy Trinity. After the Easter Season—after reliving the Ascension in which Christ establishes his heavenly presence in our hearts, and after Pentecost which renews the baptism of the Church in the Holy Spirit—we now gaze with the eyes of faith into the depths of the mystery of God. Today is the ‘feast of God’, and we adore the communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It’s a feast that preachers and congregations alike can be a bit afraid of, even a bit silly about. ‘Impatient as we are, we would like to understand [the Trinity] immediately; or rather, in our shortsighted pragmatism, if we are not shown practical applications for it right away, we declare it to be abstract, indigestible, unrealistic, an empty shell, a hollow theory’ (Henri de Lubac: The Christian Faith, 1969). Well there’s plenty of short-sighted pragmatism to go round at present. But that kind of impatient reaction shuts us up inside the limits of our own narrow thoughts and experiences. Those Christians who do not try to peer into God—that is, who don’t contemplate the kind of God that God has revealed himself to be—and do not let themselves be grasped and shaped by the experience, simply don’t realize how poor, and deprived, and insecure they have made themselves. Of course! if the God we celebrate on this feast truly is as he has revealed himself to be, then we are going to need every philosopher, every historian, scientist, poet, mystic (and many others besides) to begin to understand so immense a truth. But today the Church does not become a lecture room! The best preachers of the Trinity are not academics. (Sorry to the academics!) The best preachers are the saints, those who have taken God at his word, and not lived superficially. The Blessed Trinity is not a secret ‘reserved for the professional scholar, but is something that has a living, practical importance for every Christian.’ (Kallistos Ware The Orthodox Church 1962, 216) Any Christian who speaks of the Holy Trinity, does not, in the words of one writer, ‘speak of it as I would of some constellation in the sky, but I understand it to be the first principle and the ultimate end of my own Christian existence: faith in this supreme mystery includes me’ (Romano Guardini The Life of Faith 1961, 50). This faith includes my creation, and the creation of my brothers and sisters; my redemption, and the redemption of my brothers and sisters; my sanctification and transfiguration, and that of my brothers and sisters. I’m sure that if Christians truly resolved to believe—by which I mean trust—in their faith, it would make them, today, the soul of the world. (see Letter to Diognetus, 6). Why? Well, I don’t really want to say much more, but let me answer with one thought, in two bites:
First bite: God is personal love.
In today’s first reading from Exodus 34 (4b-6, 8-9) we heard about God himself, in the cloud on Mount Sinai, passing before a terrified Moses and proclaiming his own Name: ‘The Lord, the Lord! a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in steadfast love and faithfulness’. That is what God says of himself. That helps us understand a bit better the depths of truth summed up in St John’s phrase, ‘God is love’ (I Jn 4: 8, 16 – a phrase which isn’t of course true the other way round). We do not exist because of sheer chance, or blind process, or because of an overwhelming power, but because of love, the love of the God who calls himself love, omnipotence of love.
Jesus says something more in his conversation with Nicodemus. ‘God loved the world so much that he gave’ … the most precious thing he could, his only Son (Jn 3.16). The God that the scriptures teach, and which Christians believe in, is not a mighty self-sufficient being but life that wants to communicate himself. The names God gives himself—mercy, compassion, grace, loving kindness—speak not only of mutuality and relationship but also of self-offering, of a God who fills gaps, strengthens weakness, heals wounds, transforms loss; of a God who is faithful, who constantly seeks to make a covenant, a love pact through which he can bless the whole of humanity (see Gen 12.1-3; Ex 19.3-6) and the world. And all of this is contained, fulfilled, and communicated in the life of Jesus Christ. Archbishop Michael Ramsey used to love to say ‘God is Christlike’, in other words Jesus is the image of God (Col 1.15). He reflects and reveals God’s one nature communicated in three persons: the Father Love, the Son Love, the Spirit Love.
So much for the first bite: God is personal love.
The second is that Humanity reflects God, and can’t be understood without God. We are his image and likeness. Jesus revealed that humanity is essentially a ‘son’, a child. Human beings are not self-made beings, but beings in a relationship with the divine Father. A human being is an open creature, incomplete as an individual, made for mutuality, reaching out to God, discovering in other human beings the image and likeness of their common Father, who are thus all brothers and sisters. Human dignity is constituted by love, and human society and civilization is fulfilled in love, relationship, dialogue. When we set out to privilege any human characteristic over against any other—whether of race or nation or language—well we set out on the road away from God, reducing God’s likeness in us, moving toward idolatry. But the strongest proof that human beings are made in the image and likeness of the Trinity is that love alone makes us happy, forgiving, self-less, and wise. Because of the Trinity, we live to love and to be loved. The love of the Trinity is our true human genome!
Two thoughts then, but one truth. Two sides of one coin. First, God, the trinity of love and mutual relationship; second, human beings, in God’s image and likeness, called into one in Christ.
On the Sunday after Pentecost the western churches celebrate the first. On the same day our Eastern brothers and sisters celebrate the second, the Trinity of holy love reflected in the lives of human beings, the saints. Together they remind us that Trinity Sunday must also for ever be ‘Humanity Sunday’: humanity, created, sanctified and glorified in Holy Love.
Lord Jesus, image of the unseen Father, grant us restless hearts, hearts which seek your face. Keep us from the blindness of heart which sees only the surface of things. Give us the Spirit of simplicity and purity which allow us to recognize your presence in the world. May we encounter you along the way and show forth your image in the world. Amen.
The audio file to the Gospel, homily and prayer can be found here.
Appointment of a Healthy Churches Mentor
Posted on the 1st June 2020 in the category Announcements
Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church
‘Whit Monday’ 2020
Appointment of a Healthy Churches Mentor for the parishes of the See of Ebbsfleet
On 5 March 2016 the Ebbsfleet Lay Congress at Coventry Cathedral was addressed by the then Archdeacon Missioner in the Diocese of Coventry, Morris Rodham, who talked about strategies for church growth and evangelization, and especially about the 8 Essential Qualities which underpinned a programme for Growing Healthy Churches that he had introduced, very successfully, across the Diocese of Coventry. That same day was also addressed by Bishop Rowan Williams, on the theme of ‘Growing the Catholic Community’.
Subsequently Archdeacon Morris proposed to make the programme available to parishes across the See of Ebbsfleet too. With Bishop Jonathan’s support the Diocese of Coventry included the See of Ebbsfleet in a funding bid to the Church of England’s Strategic Development Fund, which obtained funding for a full-time post to undertake the work of supporting Ebbsfleet parishes in the aspiration to grow the church using the Healthy Churches Programme.
At last the scheme can begin, and Bishop Jonathan is delighted to announce that The Reverend Canon Gary Ecclestone SSC has been appointed to this new role available to the parishes under his oversight.
Fr Gary has been Vicar of Hanslope & Castlethorpe in the Diocese of Oxford since 2003 and is Area Dean of Newport. He is no stranger to the wider Ebbsfleet Area having been born and brought up in Lichfield diocese, came to faith as a student in Exeter diocese, completed a PGCE living in Truro diocese, trained for ordination in Oxford diocese, and served his title in Salisbury diocese: all dioceses in the area served by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet.
Fr Gary’s role will include supporting and mentoring incumbents across the Ebbsfleet area, working with PCCs and key lay people to reflect on the wider life and health of their church communities, introducing the 8 Essential Qualities and supporting parishes in surveying their church life, identifying both things to celebrate as well as areas for future development, and helping implement the Society Bishops’ agenda of ‘Forming Missionary Disciples’. He will be part of a network with others in the Catholic movement who are engaged locally in similar roles
Fr Gary says, “I am hugely excited, albeit slightly trepidatious, at being called to this new post which will take me to a hugely diverse set of parishes from the Fal Estuary in Cornwall, to the very north of Derbyshire. I hope I can bring with me a genuine enthusiasm and passion for growing the church and I am really looking forward to working with priest colleagues and committed lay people, as together we look to take stock of where we are, and discern what the Spirit might be saying to the local Church in each context.”
Bishop Jonathan says, “I am delighted that the efforts and creativity of so many colleagues in the dioceses Coventry and Oxford and the Strategic Investment Board have made this role available to those under my oversight; and I encourage parishes and clergy to embrace it with joy. I’m even more pleased that Fr Gary, who is both a faithful and creative parish priest, is to be the colleague who will share this aspect of my own ministry for and with them. This appointment could not have come at a more opportune moment as the future opens up before us in an unexpected way. It is clear now, as we contemplate life beyond the pandemic, that whatever lies ahead in the design of God for his Church, she has to be herself, serving God, living out all the Gospel reveals. For that, Christians, and Christian communities, need to grow in confidence and holiness, as well as in number from every age group. I look forward to making the most of the time we have with Fr Gary in this role, and thank him for taking it on. May the Virgin Mary, ‘mother of the Church’, accompany with her prayers the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel to the people of our time.”
Novena - Pentecost
Posted on the 31st May 2020 in the category Resources
The Coming of the Holy Spirit Acts 2.1-4
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability
10 Here thy grace and virtue send:
Grant salvation to the end,
And in heav’n felicity.
Grant Lord, that by your Holy Spirit present in us to give life and between us to give unity, we may know those things we have the power of Christ to do in our daily lives, and, knowing them, we may do them, for your glory. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.
Novena - Day Nine
Posted on the 30th May 2020 in the category Resources
DAY NINE SATURDAY 30 MAY
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
‘Close your eyes to all the noises of the world, enter into your soul, then say’:
O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me; and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will.
9 Fill thy faithful, who confide
In thy power to guard and guide,
With thy sevenfold mystery.
Hope carries us forward Romans 8.22-27
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves: we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen isn’t hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Reflection and Response
The Spirit is a generous ‘down payment’ which God himself has given us ahead of time and at the same time guarantee of our future inheritance (cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14).
R./ Renew your wonders, Lord, in the Church of today, and in each one of us, ‘as by a new Pentecost’. Lord, hear my prayer.
Pray for Ebbsfleet affiliated clergy and parishes in the Diocese of Salisbury
O Heavenly King, O Advocate, Spirit of Truth, you who are everywhere present, filling all things; Treasury of blessings, and Giver of life; come and dwell in us, cleanse us from all impurity, and, O Good One, save our souls. Amen.