The Church of England, at least in terms of the issues which preoccupy it at national level, can so often appear to be riven with anxiety and nervousness. The controversy over the appointment to the See of Sheffield; the continuing debate over human sexuality, which has now precipitated an irregular consecration; money; numbers. All of these starve the Church of a gift which all Christians are called upon to manifest: the gift of joy. St Philip Neri (1515-95, whose feast day falls on the day this edition of New Directions goes to press) could be called the Apostle of Joy: he was certainly an enemy of excessive seriousness and solemnity. It was said that he imposed the penance, on one of his more self-important penitents, of carrying his cat through the streets of Rome. He made a novice who appeared to be incapable of cheerfulness laugh, by standing on his head in front of him. In this Novena of prayer which runs from Ascension Day to Pentecost under the banner of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, and indeed thereafter, it would be no bad thing for all charged with high office in the Church to reflect on whether a church which, like the novice, so often presents a joyless face to the world is going to have much evangelistic impact. Christian joy is very different from frivolity or insipidness: there was nothing insipid about Philip Neri. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote of ‘joy from beyond the walls of the world’, and in that little phrase he caught something of the necessary sense of joy as gift – not something which can be cultivated or manufactured, but which, by acquiring the habits of Christian living, we can become disposed to receive. The way the liturgical calendar falls this year means that in June we have plenty of opportunities for joyful celebration: the feasts of Corpus Christi, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, of the apostles St Peter and St Paul all fall this month. June is also the month, of course, in which many ordinations to the sacred ministry will take place. Please pray for all those listed in New Directions this month who are offering themselves for ordination as deacons and priests in the Church of God: that they may know the joy of the Gospel in their ministry, and be given grace to share that joy with others.
To write about Christian joy in the wake of the suicide bomb in Manchester might appear insensitive or even perverse; or perhaps the reverse is the case, and that to cultivate a proper sense of the joy of the Gospel might be among our better weapons in the fight against the deadly, cruel and shocking death cult of the perpetrators of this outrage. Social media in the wake of Manchester carried the message, over and over again, ‘no words’. New Directions has no wish to heap up empty words. We can only add our prayers for the murdered, the maimed and the injured to all those which have already been offered around the world, and which will continue to be offered for years to come. If we find any light breaking around the edges of this deep darkness, it is in cherishing and thanking God for the manifold acts of goodness and kindness, from the heroic to the very ordinary, which were so much in evidence in the aftermath of horror.
This issue of New Directions features a good deal of coverage of events at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, in this centenary year of the apparitions. What a remarkable place it is: and how joyful (there we are!) were the celebrations this year. Here, we must make good just one omission from the substantial reports from Fatima elsewhere in these pages. Neither of our correspondents points out that, on the very day of the canonizations and the Papal mass marking the centenary, Portugal won the Eurovision Song Contest. New Directions cannot leave that fact untold.