Thursday, 17 May 2012

Archbishop Nichols: Faith finding a Voice

Faith finding a Voice is the title of a lecture given by Archbishop Vincent Nichols on 15th May 2012. A report can be found here, and there is a link to the full text of the lecture at the foot of that report. It is a lecture that is worth reading as a whole, so I would encourage you to do that.

In the opening paragraphs, Archbishop Nichols reflects on the words of St Augustine with regard to St John the Baptist:
'John is the voice, but the Lord in the beginning was the Word. John is a voice for a time but Christ is the eternal Word from the beginning.' (eg Sermon 293 cf Office of Readings for Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist.)
Applying this to Christians today, Archbishop Nichols suggests that we should recognise that, though we are a voice today and there as a legitimate creativity that belongs to that, the One of whom we speak is the Word for eternity, and our proper attitude to that is faithfulness. He summarises:
Faithfulness to what is given is a key and essential quality of the way in which the great mystery of faith finds fresh expression. And we have clear ways of understanding that faithfulness: it is a faithfulness to Jesus, the Word of God, as expressed in the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church and safeguarded by its Teaching role, or Magisterium.  
There is much contained within that last sentence which I cannot explore now. But its meaning is not a prison, even though some would wish to suggest it is. Fidelity to a gift - whether the love of one's beloved or to the gift of how the Holy Spirit works within the Church - is not a prison, not an impeding of freedom. Rather it is a form, a shape, the result of a decision, through which freedom is tutored to explore ever more deeply that which it has accepted as lovely, true and beautiful. It is the harness of love which holds us to the task and guides us, often against our more wayward instincts, more deeply into the gift we have received. 
From this flows a second and crucially important point, already implicit in what I have said so far: the voice has to be for today if it is to be a true service of the Word. Replaying the voice of yesterday will not be enough, even if a yearning for the familiar, or even a nostalgia for the past are frequently at play within us. In order to fashion a voice for today one thing is necessary: an attentive listening to the heartbeat of the age of which we are a part. In the language of the Church this is to say that dialogue is the essential partner of proclamation.
"..the voice has to be for today ..". It is not enough to be obedient to the Magisterium, and to make great public play of that. That is why I have never felt this strapline
Contributors are loyal to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and to Pope Benedict XVI and his liturgical reforms.
has much to recommend it. I think I would "enter into dialogue", as one might say, with Archbishop Nichols account of the nature of dialogue as "attentive listening". I suspect that there is a fuller account of the nature of dialogue to be found among the documents of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. Archbishop Nichols account of the pathway of beauty, the pathway of goodness and the pathway of truth that then forms the main part of his lecture is worth reading. It provides very practical and useful suggestions for what ordinary Catholics might do to be a voice for their faith in the places where they find themselves, in their places of work etc. We can often underestimate how it is the rather ordinary in the place where we happen to be which constitutes the part we are called to play.

From this part of the lecture, I was particularly struck by what Archbishop Nichols had to say about prayer. I do not read the tabloid newspaper, and I do not see television, so the willingness of the media to talk about prayer during the time that Fabrice Muamba spent in hospital to some extent passed me by. The italics added are mine, and highlight a part that particularly struck me and which I think expresses neatly the idea that our voice needs to be a voice for the circumstances and the place in which we find ourselves:
Christian prayer is an explicit statement about the existence of God, about the gift of the Incarnate Word in Jesus Christ, and about how we live our lives in God's presence every moment, every day.

There is a great openness in much of society to the reality of prayer. It may not be fully understanding of all that is involved, it may be an unformed instinct, but there is an awareness of the reality which prayer touches. Think of the example of Fabrice Muamba, the young footballer who suffered heart failure on the pitch. There was a huge appeal for prayer. Newspapers had headlines such as 'God is in charge.' The young man and his family have never ceased to speak about the importance of prayer alongside deep appreciation of the dedication and skill of the medical professionals. In a recent interview he spoke of waking up to find his family around the bed saying psalms for his recovery. 'They were praying so loud', he laughed. 'No one could sleep through that!' Also, at a time when there is often controversy about the place of religious belief in the work place, his fiancé spoke so gratefully of 'a young African cleaner in the hospital who would come into the room every day to pray silently in the corner.' She gives us all good example not only of the importance of prayer, but also of the importance of respecting the circumstances and the needs of each particular situation. Prayer is not to be imposed.

In my experience, no one has ever rejected me when I have offered to include them in my prayers, particularly when they have told me of something burdening or troubling them. Sometimes people ask for our prayers. That is an important sign. We should be ready to offer, sensitively and even a little diffidently, to pray for others. To make such an offer is a simple, everyday way in which faith finds a voice in our lives and its truths are proclaimed. Its fruit is clear. Fabrice Muamba states it clearly. He said, and it was a newspaper headline: 'If God is with me then who can be against me?'
 H/T Independent Catholic News.

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