One of the most beautiful moments during a Christian funeral is when the priest censes the coffin at the end of the service. A sign to those gathered that the person who has died was created in the image of God, and because of this they are sacred. That understanding of our lives as something God given, and thus to be cherished and protected. From the moment of a person’s conception to the moment of their death, a person’s life is something to be safeguarded as a gift from God. It is not the place of the state to legislate about taking life, and it is a Christian imperative to work to protect human life. It was, therefore, rather disturbing to read Canon Rosie Harper (Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham) calling upon the Lords Spiritual to support Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill. Baroness Meacher is the Chair of the group Dignity in Dying and she claims that her Bill has the ‘potential to transform all our lives and deaths for the better.’ Canon Harper suggests that if their Lordships had any ‘compassion’ they would support the Bill. Such support would be to betray the Christian understanding of sanctity of human life. We would urge the Lords Spiritual to continue to stand up for the rights of the most vulnerable in our society, the unborn and those approaching the end of their lives. True dignity in dying is not to be found in the cutting of life prematurely short but rather in finding ways to support those who are dying, this is most importantly done in the hospice movement which it is to be hoped we can all support.
The question of the Prime Minister’s marriage has recently been in the press, much has been written about the Canon Law relating to the marriage which need not be repeated here. There was however a concerning anti Roman Catholic rhetoric displayed in comments made by some members of the Church of England. This sort of prejudice has no place in modern Britain harking back as it does to a time when Roman Catholics could have no place in public life. There may be many questions to be asked about marriage discipline in our own Church of England as well as the Roman Catholic Church but we should not allow these questions to flow over into a rhetoric that could very easily damage ecumenical relations between our two churches. To allow this happen would be to take a step backwards in the work that has been done to further our work for unity in recent years. We need to speak with care and seek understanding in our ecumenical relationships otherwise we risk misunderstanding and strife.
It seems to be a year for anniversaries with many of our parishes celebrating significant milestones. A sign of the confidence of our Victorian forefathers in building churches and expanding the catholic mission of the Church of England. They believed that they were marching behind the Cross of Christ and on to victory – a victory that would convert England to the Catholic faith as the Church of England has received it. It is, perhaps, a legitimate question to ask whether looking at the Church of England today they would think they had indeed marched on to victory. As we look at the modern Church of England we can see how much of it has accepted the ritual practices of the Catholic faith but has failed to accept that faith which undergirds the ritual. They might also have legitimately questioned why once full churches are now empty, and where our zeal for mission has gone. In many of our parish of course that zeal is still there, we simply lack the resources (so often available to other parts of the Church of England) to put this work into practice. Our task is to engage the same zeal and determination our forefathers had, most importantly because our catholic life is undergirded by a firm faith and an understanding of the centrality of the Incarnation. Once we have again grasped this then we too can move forward in the important work of the conversion of England. Very often it can seem that the financial resources of the Church of England are not directed at the places and communities in which they are most needed. Our estate churches can be places where clergy feel unsupported and under resourced. We however must not fail in the task of ministering in these communities and ensuring that our resources are focussed on them. It is when we do this, and when we emulate those who have gone before us, that can we truly think about talking of marching to victory in the power of the Holy Cross.