Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Odour of Sanctity?

The Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux falls on Thursday of this week, 1st October. Many people in this area are looking forward to a "visit of her relics" - part of a "nationwide tour" - to Newcastle-upon-Tyne beginning on the Eve of the Feast and continuing onto the Feast Day itself. A programme for the hours that the relics of the saint are with us is to be found here. During this time the relics will be at St. Andrew's, Worswick Street - just round the corner from the old Pilgrim Street Fire Station. It's not a huge church, and I'm wondering how they plan to cope with all the crowds.

Will I be amongst them? I've visited Lisieux myself many years ago - and the relics on view there and then were perhaps too loftily displayed. I think this is going to be a rather more intimate occasion. I'd want a visit to be more than curosity on my part - and I'd need to be asking myself just what I'm looking for? Some of my thinking is to be found in the sermon I preached in St. Cuthbert's last Sunday - click to find it. This is the way I started:

You might be puzzled by an item I’ve included in today’s pew sheet about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Why’s it there? And what on earth is it all about? In part it’s there because I had a gap to fill, and an article ready-made to fill it. In part it’s because it’s the Feast of St. Thérèse on Thursday - we’ll be observing it as we celebrate the Eucharist that morning. And in part it’s because of a rather strange happening, which you might have come across in the news. From Wednesday afternoon until Thursday morning, Newcastle is going to have a “visit of the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.” It’s part of a bigger event. Some of the physical remains of the saint (I think it’s bones from her foot and leg) have been brought from Normandy, where she lived and died, and they’re being taken round the country in a glass casket. Thérèse was a Carmelite nun who died early at the age of 24. People might have said she didn’t have much of a life: a pious childhood; education that seemed appropriate to a girl of her class in late 19th Century France; and the rest of her life in a Convent which she would never leave again. But from those narrow confines she touched the hearts of people round the world...

One thing I've recognised is that I find it hard to say merely "visit of her relics...." Much truer seems to ring: "when she comes..." Superstition or presence? Mystery or a few not-so-old bones which should be given a decent burial?

Meanwhile there's a reminder to Anglicans in our region that we're already the guardians of the mortal remains of St. Cuthbert and St. Bede, buried respectively at the east and west ends of Durham Cathedral. We don't take out their bones to put them on display (though of course there are the records of various exhumations over the centuries). But their shrines are a visible reminder of the call to holiness. What do they say to us today?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Feeling your age

I'm sitting here feeling rather sorry for myself after parting company with my upper 6 left molar this afternoon. We'd been through a lot together, but our relationship had become increasingly precarious in recent times. In the end it was the man who'd done so much of the patching up for us who decided the time had come to call it a day. So having gone to his surgery prepared for root canal work and a crown, I came away with a big hole and instuctions to steer clear of hot drinks, hard and chewy food... and alcohol - fortunately only for the rest of the day.

It's part of the aging process I suppose, though perhaps the damage was done in my teenage years when my childhood dentist used to drill anything that remotely resembled decay - thank goodness that there's a more hands-off approach now.

Thinking of how my body seems to be packing-in in various ways gave me cause for reflection as I looked at last Sunday's Gospel (Mark 9.30-37): Jesus taking a child in his arms and saying, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me..." We have to be like little children to draw close to God's kingdom. I found myself comparing this with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, who seems to consider it a virtue to have "put an end to childish ways." The childish approach for him is compared to having a knowledge which is only partial. Adulthood is about finding things "complete." But isn't that where we so often get things wrong? We want to have everything wrapped up - being adult requires that we have all the answers.

Perhaps we whizz past the implications of this when reading 1 Corinthians - much more attractive to read about Faith, Hope and Love. Maybe Paul hadn't thought it out. We need to recognise that our knowledge is only partial. That's why we need to be like children.

Anyway that's what I found myself saying when I preached at our tiny 8a.m. Eucharist a few days ago. Our Reader, Rosie Junemann, got the prime-time 10a.m. slot, and you can find out what she said here.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Still at work - discipleship and the Cross

There may recently have been a lack of activity on the blogging front - but life itself, not least in the parish, is being eventful. Quite a number of Baptisms over the last few weeks - two of them, Lucy Thomas and Ethan Junemann, in the context of the Parish Eucharist (though two weeks apart, not together). I've been hopeless in getting pictures from our various events, though did manage to pull out my mobile phone to click the cutting of the cake for Ethan's celebration - photographed with parents, Harry and Alpa. One of Ethan's Grandmothers is our Reader, Rosie Junemann, and you can read her most recent sermon on "Open Hearts, not closed minds" here (apologies that it's been waiting to be uploaded since the end of August).

In the parish Mothers' Union, our Lunch Club, the PCC, Sunday School and the round of regular activities have all sprung back into life. Last weekend saw us occupied with our Annual Art Exhibition - an opportunity to see the work of local artists (and buy it). Alongside that we had participants in the Northumbria Historic Churches Trust Steeplechase, invitations to a local Bible Society Coffee Morning, another Baptism, a Deanery Evensong (excellent sermon by the Dean of Durham) - and we had the formal opening of our Church Hall Car Park by long-standing member and long-serving local councillor Derek Hume. Derek pointed out that he's been in our choir for 75 years now. He didn't serve quite that long as Ward Councillor, but long enough to gain recognition through being made an Honorary Alderman of the County.

I finally got round to scripting a sermon as well (all the other recent ones were available only "live"). It's here and tackles the theme of Discipleship and the Cross - appropriate, I hope, for a Sunday which fell the day before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

And while I can't link you to the Dean's sermon for Sunday evening, I can point you to the address he gave at the SCP National Conference in the summer. Our local Chapter (Durham & Newcastle) met on Monday - as always an affirming occasion for priests, men and women, in the Catholic Tradition of the Anglican Church. I've just had a member on the phone, regretting that he missed it, and asking also why there wasn't press coverage of the National Conference. He's right that it really deserves to be better known. Take a look...