Before moving on to seasonal matters, allow me to start with three pieces of good news.
Firstly, the initial meeting of the Catholic Mission Network was a great success, involving a large number of Society clergy from across the country and including some fascinating insights on mission from Fr James Mallon, beamed in all the way from Canada. This is not merely a theoretical exercise and the ideas generated by the regional clergy groups will be trialled in Society parishes before long. Lay participation, and indeed lay leadership in certain areas of parish life, is a key aspect of Catholic mission so we shall all have an opportunity to contribute in due course. The initiative represents an important and exciting development in the life of The Society so please lend it your full support when the moment comes.
Secondly, 25 curates gathered for The Society’s reconvened annual Initial Ministerial Education (IME) two-day conference at Walsingham. The curates benefitted from a full programme of talks, workshop and fellowship. Among the highlights of the conference were two powerful and inspiring talks on Catholic priesthood, delivered by local residents Bishop Robert Ladds and Fr Harri Williams. It is remarkable to think that, almost thirty years on from that vote, we can still stage such a conference and that it can work so well as a means of supporting our new clergy and indeed of enabling them to support one another.
Thirdly, following an unexpected vacancy arising in the See of Ebbsfleet, we are indebted to the Archbishop of Canterbury for putting in place cover arrangements for an interim period via a number of the Society bishops and for doing so at the first available opportunity. Further, the Ebbsfleet Council of Priests has wasted no time in formulating its own response to the vacancy – the Council has already met twice since the vacancy arose and has another meeting planned for the New Year at which it will set out its priorities for the next Bishop of Ebbsfleet in a submission to the Archbishop of Canterbury. A prayer for the See of Ebbsfleet is included elsewhere in this edition of New Directions.
Et incarnatus est. These words of the creed uttered each Sunday remind us of how Our Lord was made man, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary. St John’s opening chapter speaks of the Word made flesh and that He dwelt among us. We hear this Gospel every Christmas and yet we know we are challenged to cast aside its familiarity and to hear it as though we are hearing it for the first time. As T.S. Eliot put it so well in Little Gidding, we are ‘to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’.
This is God come to us and the embodiment of all that we seek to be. And so our call to mission is not for its own sake – it not meant to be some sort of labyrinthine process – or somehow to boost our sagging egos, it is because it is a gift with which we have been entrusted and which we find joy in sharing.
Similarly, we do not say farewell to our friend Bishop Glyn as though it were a self-referencing act; a private club slapping one of its own members on the back. We say farewell to Bishop Glyn mindful that he has selflessly administered the sacraments over many years, has gone out of his way to welcome new Christians, and has willingly crossed the Pennines on nights many of us would have remained at home in front of the fire.
None of this is done alone. The Christmas story is not one of isolation. The stable draws a cast of characters and an intrinsic part of Christ’s ministry on earth was to seek out others so that they may glimpse the Kingdom which lies ahead.
Our parishes remind us that we do not do this alone either. They are a particular place of religious celebration and also a focal point for each community. At this time of year, that wider importance in and for the community is often more apparent. As a result, you may wish to make a donation to the worthwhile and deserving projects we highlight elsewhere in this edition of New Directions. The incarnational nature of such projects will not be lost on us as we move through a time of expectant waiting and preparation in Advent and into a period of celebration of Our Lord’s birth.
I wish you a happy and holy Christmas.