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All I want for Christmas….


Well, what do you want? People like me say, ‘An end to those awful Christmas songs, more ‘O come all ye faithful’, less ‘Do they know it’s Christmas…’

And that in itself is a funny thing. People like me run the risk of being a bit humbuggy when we plead loudly for a better world, less sin and all that. But perhaps the deeper crisis in our world is that we play down play down genuine goodness and when we do engage with good and virtue and charity, it is as if the latest celebrity has invented the idea!

‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’. Well yes, they do and they know about Advent and The Solemnity of Immaculate Conception too!

Against this cynical backdrop it is easier to buy a trivial and profane Christmas card than a beautiful image of the Mother of our Redeemer, Mary Immaculate.  I could give examples, but most of them are unrepeatable!

The feast and mystery of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary invites us to engage with the dogma. There is ‘popular’ confusion. This is not the virgin birth of Jesus. This is concerned with the beginnings of the life of Our Blessed Lady  - obviously her Conception. At Mary’s conception, that Immaculate moment, there is a complete absence of sin and stain; and this singular privilege of grace, in consideration of the merits of Jesus the saviour of mankind.

In propounding this teaching the Catholic Church invites us to understand that Grace is more original than sin. Goodness comes before the Fall. As our first parents come to live in deathly disobedience -they fall because they fail to listen to God and death comes about – so Jesus, the new Adam, the divine Son of God, is brought into this world through the lively obedience of Mary, the new Eve and life is restored.

Is all this simply the stuff of which nice Christmas cards are made? Certainly Catholic theology cannot understand the Immaculate Conception as simply an honour done to Mary, a nice devotional belief about her. Whilst the Immaculate Conception inspires great devotion – Bernadette at Lourdes, Catherine Laboure in Paris -the devotion is only credible because it is a part of an orthodox theology of the Incarnation and the Redemption. But it goes both ways; orthodoxy on such matters is not orthodoxy without the Immaculate Conception.

In the mystery of the Incarnation the response of Mary is crucial but so is her preparedness. She is that pure vessel in which God dwells, so she is preserved from sin because God will dwell in her womb.

So God in Christ is immersed in human existence taking His humanity from humanity but never compromised by it, never sullied by humanity’s fallen state.

He is the man like us in all things, but sin. And Mary then is the sinless vessel from which he is born, and she is only sinless because of Christ and the redemption he will bring. Just as the crucified risen ascended and glorified Christ ‘for us men and for our salvation’ was incarnate, enlfeshed so to speak to return flesh to God, so that redemption is Mary’s from her first moment of life.

This principle is established in the letter to the Ephesians: ‘God chose us in Christ…to be holy and without sin in his presence. From all eternity he destined us in love’. Mary is predestined, she who is not just highly favoured, she is ‘full of grace’ and is prepared in grace for The One who is the source of grace. Furthermore, in being thus she is more genuinely human, showing us the full potential of what the Creator intended when He created and pronounced what He had made ‘Good’.

The mysteries of Mary are never removed from humanity and those who search for the right sort of Christmas card are on the right track!

With Mary we celebrate the Good God’s choice of us. With Mary we celebrate her Son’s redeeming love. With Mary we celebrate His victory over sin and death. And in Mary we see too that grace is more original than sin.

O Mary conceived without sin,  Pray for us who have recourse to thee

Posted in The view from Wolvercote | Leave a comment

The Family at Littlemore

newmanMy computer search enticed me, not only to articles but also images of Blessed John Henry and his sister Jemima. I was intrigued. We have a photograph of Newman as a very old man here at Wolvercote, but to see him with his sister, in a picture!

In actual fact (like so much of what the computer promises) it was a huge disappointment – only pictures of Zac Goldsmith and his sister Jemima. It is a very pretty name though. I have a beautiful god daughter called Jemima, I’m fond of her – fond of the name and increasingly fond of Jemima Newman.

Whilst the fondness between Blessed John Henry and his younger sister was clear, there was undoubtedly acrimony in the air too. The reason will be no surprise: Blessed John Henry’s conversion and the events which had punctuated the journey had changed the relationship. The final straw was Blessed John Henry’s letter to Jemima displayed on the wall of the study bedroom at Littlemore. The letter stated that Fr Dominic would arrive that very night and that Newman would ask to be received into ‘the One Fold of the Redeemer’.

I have often thought of how simple it has been for whole families to make this move. The Lusted family were received altogether, at Pembury on the feast of Christ the King; my own family have made their gradual progress into the Church; many other families share this experience. Newman had no such success. His brothers had distanced themselves from Christianity. His surviving sisters Jemima and especially Harriet, were deeply suspicious and resolutely distant from Newman the Catholic.

Part of the story must surely have been the very serious way faith was approached. Nothing was left to chance, nothing was open ended or ambiguous. The processes of thought and discussion meant that a position was held with utter conviction and the consequences could be devastating for a relationship.

This is perhaps not just a Victorian complaint. Sometimes a relativist approach to things can become more entrenched than a heated divergence of religious opinion. It means that there are those who simply will not engage in the discussion: ‘I’m sorry, we don’t do God….’. This modern extreme can make the parting of friends and weeping Pusey look mild by comparison.

When I visited Littlemore recently I was struck by the simple sense of family in the community of the college of Littlemore. Blessed John Henry had discovered and formed a different sense of family. Newman’s family had never left his consciousness and care, but the family of faith had replaced it.

Despite this, I was moved most of all by that little note to Jemima and when I pray to Blessed John Henry these days I shall especially ask his prayers for Jemima and all my god daughters and god sons. And I shall say a little prayer for Jemima Newman, may she rest in peace. Who knows, she too may, by now be rejoicing with all the saints and blessed.

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Update January 2013

Following the Society’s Mass and Reception in Westminster in October 2012, we have arranged for a similar Event in Southwark on Tuesday 15th October.  Mass in the Cathedral will be at 6pm, followed by a Reception in the Amigo Hall. If you would like an invitation, please let us know. (more…)

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Update February 2012

Please pray for the repose of the soul of John Goble KCSG who died on 11th February.

Congratulations to Deacons Craig Fullard (Birmingham), Paul Inman (Northampton) and Roger Raven (Birmingham) who were ordained by the Archbishop of Birmingham on 14th February. Please pray for them as they prepares for their ordination to the priesthood.

St Barnabas Society News 2012 has now been published and is on this website. If you are on our mailing list you should have received a copy by post. If you would like us to post you a copy please let us have your address and we will do so.

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