Ss Peter & Paul

imageSt Peter and St Paul were very different men, from very different backgrounds, united by their love of Christ and their martyrdom in Rome.

Tradition has it that Peter was arrested in Rome during a persecution of Christians under Nero and was crucified upside down, as befitted someone considered no better than a slave. There is strong archeological evidence to suggest he is buried underneath St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

imagePaul, meanwhile, was arrested at Caesarea but used his Roman citizenship to get his trial heard in Rome rather than be sent back to Jerusalem where he had many enemies. After two years of house arrest in Rome, tradition says that Paul was beheaded. The story goes that his head bounced on the ground three times, causing three springs of water to appear. This place is now called Tre Fontane (Three Fountains) and is outside the city of Rome, near the Basilica of St Paul-outside-the-Walls, where there lies a recently carbon-dated first century tomb with his inscription.

imageThese two apostles represent two aspects of the Christian church. St Peter, whom Catholics believe was the first bishop of Rome and so the first Pope, reminds us of our need for unity. St Paul, who was such a fearless preacher and great missionary, reminds us that we ought to be constantly engaging with the world in order to bring it the Good News.

Both speak of the need to be rooted in Christ and built up on him. These two apostles may well be called foundation stones of the Christian Church but it is Christ himself who is the cornerstone holding everything together.

Take Your Seat days gone by, the chair was a symbol of authority. In Roman law courts, for example, the magistrate sat to give judgement. In medieval times, nobody would sit themselves down while the king still stood; and to sit upon his throne could be viewed as treason.

On 16 July Bishop Alan Hopes will be installed as the fourth bishop of East Anglia. Since he is already a bishop there will be no Rite of Ordination. The central part of his installation ceremony will involve him sitting in a chair.

The chair in question is the cathedra from which the Cathedral takes its name. The seat reserved only for the diocesan bishop and upon which no-one else may sit, including the Papal Nuncio during this year’s Chrism Mass, or Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor the previous year.

Taking his seat is a sign that Bishop Alan is taking authority within our diocese.

However, the authority of the chair goes beyond medieval courts and Roman legal systems, with a deeper significance than merely one of power.

The chair was originally the symbol of teaching. The teacher sat with his pupils (literally, his ‘disciples’) around him, drawing on his words and example.

The authority of our new bishop, then, springs from his role as one who teaches. He is a successor to the apostles, sent to us to teach Christ.

The invitation of Bishop Alan’s installation service is to view him as a teacher rather than a manager; as one who, by his words and example, can inspire us to learn better the way of Christ.


Tears at Night, Joy at Dawn

41W9RGBFQ6L._It’s the smiling face that is so disarming about the book, Tears at Night, Joy at Dawn. Not simply the smiling face on the front cover of Andrew Robinson’s ‘journal of a dying seminarian,’ although that is arresting enough. Rather the smiling face of his character, beaming through his last days as he tries to impress upon you, the reader, that despite everything, despite suffering and loss, he is at peace with himself, with his family and friends, and with God. ‘This peace . . . is the pearl of great price,’ he writes in his diary, ‘which, in hindsight, is worth selling everything for.’

In 1997, aged 26 and with a house, a girlfriend, and a good job with good prospects, Andrew Robinson changed his life’s direction and entered St. Mary’s College, Oscott to begin training for the priesthood. Just three years later, half way through that training, his life changed again, this time with the diagnosis of an advanced case of cancer of the colon. The prognosis was not good.

Tears at Night chronicles the last four months of Andrew’s life, including a trip to Rome and to the shrine of Padre Pio at Giovanni Rotundo. Being the diary of a dying man, this book is raw in its writing rather than a polished portrayal but it is all the better for it.

Here, you realise pretty quickly, is a book filled not with pious sentiment but with the relationship of divine grace and human freedom: a relationship rooted in what might be considered unutterable tragedy and waste and yet is actually discovered to be the real stuff of genuine Christian hope.

The smiling face of Andrew’s character is nothing but a reflection of God’s own smiling face.  The pearl of great price has been discovered not despite his illness but because of it. This book is a compelling testimony to the redemptive power of suffering and to the true holiness of one young man.

Tears at Night, Joy at Dawn has recently been published in a second edition with an accompanying CD. It is available from the Archdiocese of Birmingham website.

Book Review by Sean Connolly

And a little child shall lead them

images-1As a way to unwind in my last parish, I loved to walk along a disused railway line just outside Northampton. One day coming in the opposite direction was a young family: mum, dad and young daughter, maybe five or six years old. The little girl was running ahead of her parents so, not wanting to frighten her, I left the path to let her run past. Imagine my surprise when the little girl ran straight up to me. Enjoying my obvious embarrassment she asked, ‘You don’t know who I am, do you?’ She quickly took pity on me explaining, ‘I’m a princess!’ I laughed out loud! ‘Of course, your Royal Highness, how could I have been so stupid?!’

In that chance encounter I was overtaken by what never fails to charm us about children. That little girl put me in mind of someone whose statue I caught sight of when I first walked into your lovely little church in March. The one on the right hand side of the sanctuary as you look at it. The one of my favourite saint: Thérèse.

stthereseWhenever you look at that statue I want you to think of the child I met out walking that day. Like that child, Saint Thérèse has so much to teach us: about living in the present moment; about trust; and about our royal dignity as God’s sons and daughters.

Like that child, Thérèse invites us to live in God’s own time: today. Not paralysed by what may have happened in the past. Not fretting about the future. Now is the only world little children know. Thérèse teaches us that ‘now’ is the holy ground on which God wants to meet us.

And trust is the way we tread that holy ground. I’m sure that when the child’s parents caught up with her they probably told her off for talking to strangers. But for children trust is second nature. Such trust is the trademark of Thérèse’s spirituality. Along with love, it is one of the wings of her Little Way to God.

So why do children trust so instinctively? It’s because they know they’re precious. ‘I’m a princess!’ That little girl knew she was important, significant. Not a significance based on some achievement, mind you. She was far too young to have achieved anything. Her significance was a simple fact, a given, and not earned. That’s a child’s world, the one Thérèse inhabits. The one she wants to take us by the hand and lead us into. The one where, as she loved to say, ‘All is grace.’

images-2One evening, out walking with her dad, Thérèse noticed in the night sky a constellation tracing a ‘T’. ‘Look, Papa, my name is written in heaven!’ she said. Sheer precociousness? Surely! But isn’t that precisely what delights us about children? It’s certainly what charms God about his children. A line from the Scriptures comes to mind: ‘And a little child shall lead them.’ Let this little child Thérèse, the one you look at each time you come to church in March, lead you. I promise you won’t be disappointed.