Articles Written for the Bembridge Village Magazine by Members of the Catholic Community

Advent – Time for a fresh start. December 2010.

We always enjoy looking back and reminiscing on bygone days. It is important to remember the achievements of past generations. This month the parishioners of St. Michael’s Church remember their early days in Bembridge as they celebrate the 75th anniversary of their first church in the village. The former Wesleyan church in Kings Road was blessed and opened for worship on 8th December 1935. The new Methodist Church had just been built and ecumenical relations were sufficient, even in the 1930s, for the Methodists to enter into constructive and fruitful negotiations with the Catholics for the purchase of the old church that they had vacated. The little church (now a private house) can still be seen in Kings Road. It was a further thirty years before the Catholics moved to their present purpose-built church in Walls Road.

Anniversaries such as this allow us to look back and to give thanks for our past benefactors and to make an assessment of their stewardship. Often they provide welcome opportunities for a celebration. However, these anniversaries should also encourage us to look to the present and the future. Another generation will look back and assess our stewardship. One wonders what they will make of today’s secular society where the churches are almost empty. One wonders what reasons will history students give for the decline of our Christian values and the awareness of Christ in our lives?

The Season of Advent is a time for a fresh start; a time to take a look at ourselves, our relationships with others, with our families that we meet in our daily lives. It is a time for raising the awareness of God both in our hearts and among the wider community. This awareness is mentioned in the Old Testament, when the people became aware of the humanity “sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 2: 79), when the prophets, illuminated by Almighty God, announced the Redeemer; and when the hearts of men glowed with the desire for the Messiah. This darkness was illuminated on the first Christmas Day by what St John the Evangelist calls “the Light of the World”. Let us allow that light to enter our hearts as we prepare for Christmas.

Lent 2010

During the Season of LENT we are invited to spend some time reflecting on the gospels and what obstacles to God’s Word exist in our own life.

We used to think of LENT in terms of giving something up for forty days as a penance. What we are to give up more than anything else is sin, which is to say we are to give up whatever keeps us from living out our baptismal promises fully. We all need to approach the season of Lent asking ourselves what needs to change in our lives if we are to live the gospel values that Christ taught us. Our journey through these forty days should be a movement ever closer to Him and to the way of life He has exemplified for us.

In Bembridge during LENT we have traditionally reflected on our own personal life and our relationship with Almighty God, through the Bembridge Ecumenical Discussion groups (details can be found elsewhere in this magazine). In St. Michael’s, as in other Catholic churches, people meditate on the Stations of the Cross. These are paintings of Christ’s Passion and death, displayed around the walls of churches. These were painted by artists and placed initially in palaces and manor houses, before eventually finding their way into our churches. Some contemporary paintings of the “Stations” make clear the link between the sufferings of Christ in the first century and the sufferings in the world today (i.e. Haiti). Such an approach can help us to recognize and admit the ways that we have failed to live up to our baptismal mission to spread the gospel and manifest the love of Christ by responding positively to those in real need.

In Holy Trinity Parish church we have the wonderful stained glass windows depicting Faith, Hope and Charity. During Lent it is HOPE on which many of us meditate. We reflect in our hope for the future, not only for ourselves, but our families, friends and neighbours; for the people of Bembridge and our work for the community in caring for others. We reflect on our hope unity among all Christians to proclaim Christ’s message with one voice; and, when the time comes, we reflect on our hope for eternal

Lent – A time for reflection. 2011

We could be forgiven for saying; “Where is Lent this year”? A late Easter (it is the latest it can be) consequently means a late start to the Season of Lent. This Season of forty days prior to Easter originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time before the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, when the people re-dedicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism.

Today it is a season of soul-searching and repentance; a season for reflection and taking stock. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days.

During the Season of Lent we are invited to spend some time reflecting on the gospels and what obstacles to God’s Word exist in our own lives. We used to think of LENT in terms of giving up something for forty days as a penance. What we are to give up more than anything else is sin, which is to say we are to give up whatever keeps us from living out our baptismal promises fully. We all need to approach the season of Lent asking ourselves what needs to change in our lives if we are to live the gospel values that Christ taught us. Our journey through these forty days should be a movement ever closer to Him and to the way of life He has exemplified for us.

In Bembridge during LENT we have traditionally reflected on our own personal lives and our relationship with Almighty God, through the Bembridge Ecumenical Discussion groups. In these days when there are so many confused souls about, and we still strive for Christian Unity, it is rewarding to see that Christians here in Bembridge and elsewhere, can come together to share and discuss their faith. Christian witness and fellowship can, and is, successfully promoted throughout the village.

On our travels we see beautiful, ornate churches throughout the world but it is important to remember that the Christian Church is the people of God, rather than buildings. Indeed the richest resource in Bembridge, as in any community, is its people. We all bring our own particular talents (our gifts from God) that will enhance the enthusiasm, vitality and creative fellowship of our Church. The unity of Christ’s Mystical Body on earth is conditional on our love and support for each other. We remember the promise made by Christ to the first ministers of the Church, the apostles: “Behold I am with you always, yes, even to the end of time”. As Lent approaches we can have confidence in the future if we seek God’s kingdom by living the Gospel message in our daily lives.

Pentecost. June 2010

The month of June is notable here on the Island, for the Isle of Wight Festival and, this year, the Island Games, which will bring athletes and sportsmen and women to our beautiful Island. The Festival weekend co-incides, this year, with the Christian celebration of Pentecost. A late Easter (such as this year) means a late Pentecost and a late Trinity Sunday. This latter feast has a prominent place in the Bembridge Village calendar, being the dedication of the parish church, but it is the Feast of Pentecost, one week earlier, which is traditionally recognised as the birthday of the Church

Coming exactly fifty days after Easter, Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. The Feast of Pentecost has also been known as Whitsunday, from “White Sunday,” in reference to the white garments worn by those being baptized on the feast day.

Historically, this feast dates back to the first century and the days of the Apostles, but it appears that early on, being so closely bound to Easter, it was not observed as much more than the end of Paschaltide, but by the third century the feast was well established.

Christ had promised His Apostles that He would sent His Holy Spirit, and, on Pentecost, they were granted the gifts of the Spirit. The bible tells us that the Apostles began to preach the Gospel in all of the languages that the Jews who were gathered there spoke, and about 3,000 people were converted and baptized that day.

That is why Pentecost is often called “the birthday of the Church.” On this day, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s mission is completed, and the New Covenant is inaugurated and the Church is made manifest to the world.

This outpouring of the Holy Spirit and manifestation of the Church are described in the readings for Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-11). A group of men and women who had been afraid and confused in the dark days following the Crucifixion of Jesus were transformed supernaturally into fearless and passionate evangelists, emboldened by the Helper without whom, St. Paul writes, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord.'” (1 Cor. 12:3).

This growth in faith and confidence as exemplified by the apostles is certainly needed in the Christian Church today, as many who profess to follow Christ and the Gospel message, often show a reluctance to speak out when faced with anti-Christian bias from those wishing to discredit any form of religion.

Let Pentecost and the gifts of the Spirit both embolden us speak up for what is right and encourage us to use our talents to promote the Christian message.

Churches working together. September 2010

This is back-to-school month; a time to return to normality after the long (hopefully) hot days of Summer. For country churches especially, Harvest Festival time approaches; a time to celebrate and give thanks to God simply for the food that we in England take so much for granted compared to poorer countries of the world.

Summer inevitably means a time for visitors and family from the mainland. One significant visitor to these shores, who will dominate this month’s news, is Pope Benedict. It will be the first papal visit to Britain since 1982, when Pope John Paul II’s six-day tour drew huge crowds.

On this occasion however it is a State visit as opposed to a pastoral visit. Most people appear to be welcoming. The prime minister said he was delighted; “it will be a moving and momentous occasion for the whole country”. The previous government was equally as welcoming. The Archbishop of Canterbury said “I am sure I speak on behalf of Anglicans throughout Britain, in assuring him that he will be received with great warmth and joy”.

This warmth and joy that is echoed by many, would have been impossible a hundred years ago. People of different religious affiliations regarded each other with suspicion. Ministers of religion would barely acknowledge each other. The design of the Roman Catholic churches at Newport and Cowes remind of this suspicion. The exterior of these two churches resemble public halls or, it could be said, even warehouses; as when they were built, they were not permitted to have bells, towers or steeples. Priests had to be dressed in lay attire in the streets. These restrictions were gradually relaxed, so that churches like St. Mary’s in Ryde was one of the first to be built looking like a church, and surprisingly, in a more central position than the towns Anglican churches.

Today prejudices are put aside, Christians work together, they visit each other’s churches, they share their problems, they support each other and those in need. The welcome given to the Pope will emphasise the respect that Churches have for each other, for their leaders and for their shared mission and common purpose.

Christians going forth to spread the Gospel. June 2009

This time of the year is rich in Christian feasts which celebrate Christ’s mission on earth and his invitation to us to share in the work of evangelisation. After Pentecost (and just before Corpus Christi) we celebrate the Feast of the Blessed Trinity. This feast was and there are many churches throughout the world, including our own parish church here in Bembridge, with this dedication. It was Christ Himself who instituted this feast (extended to the Universal Church by Pope John XXII in 1334) when He said to his apostles: “Go forth therefore and teach all nations; baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”. There we have the perfect Trinity of Persons in the unity of a single divine substance (Almighty God).

As our parish church celebrates its patronal feast on Sunday 7th June it is a time to celebrate the work of Christians who have gone forth, as Christ told the apostles, to give witness to the faith. It is also a time to remember past benefactors and to show gratitude for their generosity. Like us today, they faced challenges in all aspects of life. At the start of the 21st century we face the challenge of increasing secularism in all walks of life. To combat this we have to find ways to make the public fabric of our society, our laws, our civic institutions, the texture and quality of the life we live together, reflect more than just the values of the global market. They must reflect wisdom and love and justice. They must defend the God-given dignity of all. They must look out, above all, for the poorest and most vulnerable, lest the strong be left to walk on them. There is much evidence that this already happens in Bembridge, with the support that is given to each other, the concern for the welfare of the elderly, sick and housebound. One of the richest resources in any community is its people. Here in Bembridge the Christian churches (despite their theological differences) show unity of Christ’s mystical body on earth by their communion with each other in Him. Everyone has their own particular talents that enhance the enthusiasm, vitality and creative fellowship of the Christian faith. We remind ourselves that true religion points us towards healing and wholeness, towards “whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious” [Philippians 4:8].

Faith and Fortune

by Madeleine Beard (Catholic writer and artist)
From Sandhurst to the Passionists
Review from the “Dowry”, The Newsletter of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter in England, Lent 2009

While the world watched the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in September 1997 only a small proportion of Roman Catholics were aware of the life and death of her saintly ancestor, the Passionist priest the Venerable Ignatius Spencer. Born two hundred years ago in December 1799 he died in a ditch in 1864, having dedicated his life to the conversion of England. He was one of the many converts from wealthy aristocratic families about whom Madeleine Beard has written in her book, Faith and Fortune. They include the ninth Duke of Marlbough, intrigued by Catholicism through the lengthy annulment proceedings twenty years after his marriage to Consuelo Venderbilt. His cousin observed that it was the mystical Duke’s need for contact with the sublime and the supernatural which had led him to the Church of Rome. His whose overriding desire was to end his days as a Lay Brother in a Benedictine monastery in Spain. Another well-known convert was the former Grand Master of the freemasons, the Marquess of Ripon, later Viceroy of India. He became a Catholic in 1874, to the horror of Queen Victoria. Yet the Queen herself welcomed the idea of celebrating her Jubilee, this papal tradition having been drawn to her attention by the convert Lord Braye, who later founded a Catholic chapel at Eton dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.

How many Old Etonians have been set on the course towards canonisation? The Venerable Ignatius Spencer is one, son of the second Earl Spencer. His reception into the One True Church in 1830 having resigned as Rector of St Mary the Virgin in Great Brington, close to the magnificent family residence of Althorp in Northamptonshire, was a source of profound embarrassment for his influential family. One hundred years after the saintly Spencer’s death, the current 8th Earl Spencer was born in 1964. During his short life he has followed the tradition of adultery and divorce not only of his own parents but that of the royal family into which his sister married in 1981.

Madeleine Beard’s first book, English Landed Society in the Twentieth Century, published by Routledge in London 1989, under the title Acres and Heirlooms in New York, describes the miseries of the twentieth century, with its heavy war losses, high taxation and demolition of many of its magnificent country houses before ever the idea of conservation began. All this is seen through the eyes of large landowners, who at the beginning of the century between them owned more than half the land of England. In her book Faith and Fortune, published in 1997, she turns her attention to their spiritual life during the preceding century. More specifically, she follows the spiritual course of those who risked the loss of their inheritance by becoming Catholics or who voluntarily gave up their fortunes by embracing the religious life. This was largely in the wake of the conversion of the Cardinal Newman in 1845 and more significantly for them Cardinal Manning in 1850, the old Harrovian whose extraordinary influence on society figures made him known as The Apostle of the Genteels. Today in England a figure of equivalent influence would be the late Monsignor Alfred Gilbey, who died in his 97th year in 1998. His funeral saw thousands gather in London’s Oratory church in South Kensington, the congregation largely made up of the hundreds of male undergraduates who came under his influence in Cambridge where he was Chaplain of Fisher House, the University’s Catholic Chaplaincy, from 1933 until 1965. During Monsignor Gilbey’s priestly life, throughout which by a special personal dispensation he only celebrated the Old Rite, he was instrumental in bringing thousands of converts into the Church. Many never received Instruction from him directly by were drawn towards Catholicism simply by his presence in Cambridge, where Fisher House was like a gentlemen’s Club, huddled away in a converted Public House on the other side of the central market square from the Protestant University Church of Great St Mary’s. When in 1950 when the Assumption of Our Lady was infallibly defined, a papal flag hung from the entrance of Fisher House and a candle was lit in each window, a compelling sight for any passer-by on a foggy evening in damp post-war Cambridge in November. From Cambridge Monsignor Gilbey moved to London, to take up permanent residence in the Travellers’ Club in Pall Mall, where his private chapel with its relics was reached via a precarious spiral staircase. In London he celebrated the Old Rite daily, usually early in the morning in St Wilfrid’s Chapel, to the right of the High altar in the London Oratory. In this Chapel, on 22nd August 1996, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the Old Calendar and the titular feast of the Oratory Church, a priest convert of Monsignor’s Gilbey’s and former Provost of the Oratory started to say Mass at that same altar. He suffered a heart attack. The ambulance men arrived to see to Oratorians kneeling by his side. Still in his vestments Father Michael Napier was taken to hospital where he died a few hours later. It is in the memory of this priest that Faith and Fortune is dedicated. The son of a General and from a Presbyterian family, Father Michael Napier used all his diplomatic skills to steer the course of his Oratorian community through the troubled waters that followed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Founded by St Philip Neri in Counter-Reformation Rome, the Oratorians, whose churches now grace in London, Oxford and Birmingham are better known today among Catholics in England than in Italy. Renowned for their love of the liturgy, on Sundays in London Low Mass is celebrated in the Little Oratory at 10am. Inside the main church, the vast sanctuary remains unaltered. Vespers and Benediction on Sundays at 3.30pm still take place as they always have done since the Oratorians first came to London in 1849. This was under the leadership of Father Frederick Faber, ordained an Oratorian the previous year, having been an Anglican Rector of a parish in Huntingdonshire. He was prompted no doubt by the utterance of Pope Gregory XVI during a private audience in Rome, who said to him: “May the grace of God correspond to your good wishes and deliver you from the nets of Anglicanism, and bring you to the true Holy Church.” Gradually the Oratory’s classical façade started to grace what was then a relatively unknown part of London. Later on its dome was imitated at nearby Harrods, which now houses a shrine to the Venerable Ignatius Spencer’s great-great-great-niece Diana, whose secular life reflected the sorry godless course of the latter part of the twentieth century.

When the London Oratory was first built, the English knew little of Italian Catholic churches. The first part of Faith and Fortune, “Off to Rome”, is devoted to the discovery of Catholic churches in Italy, France and Spain by men and women who travelled in order to seek solace in warmer Mediterranean climates. Some of them describe seeing Mass celebrated for the first time. Such is the mystery of Faith that while some were captivated, other shad their prejudices of what they regarded as superstition and mummery confirmed. In his very early days this included Newman. When he visited the church in the hill city of Enna in Sicily during his illness months before setting back to Oxford in 1833 his reaction as an Anglican clergyman was characteristically dismissive. But when in 1819 the Venerable Ignatius Spencer, then an undergraduate at Trinity College Cambridge viewed Mass for the first time from a distance in the cathedral in Amiens in northern France he wrote with extraordinary insite: “This is a mystery to Protestants who see Catholic rites for the first time. They are taught to look upon true worship as consisting in the meaning of some well-written sentences, pronounced with emphatic unction, and responded to some degree with fervour… But service and sermon must be heard, and listened to, and understood. With this in their minds, and accustomed to see the minister assume a manner and mien calculated to produce prayerful thoughts in his congregation, they are surprised, if not shocked, at the Catholic Mass. They find the Priest hurrying off through Latin prayers, and producing breathless attention by his own silence; they see him arrayed in unintelligible attire, moving one way and another, bowing, genuflecting, standing still or blessing… It is not our object to explain Catholic mysteries, but it may be as well to hint that if a stranger to Jerusalem happened to wander to Calvary on the great day of the Crucifixion, and believed in the divinity of the Victim who hung upon the Cross, he would find more devotion in kneeling in silence at His feet than in listening to the most eloquent declamation he could hear about it. Such is the case with the Catholic now as then; he knows the same Victim is offered up still, and when the great moment arrives in the middle of the Mass, he would have everything to be hushed and silent, except the little bell that gives him notice of the awful moment.”

Some one hundred years later, Monsignor Alfred Gilbey was also an undergraduate at Trinity College Cambridge. Never departing from the Old Mass, he attracted innumerable converts to the Church which the Venerable Ignatius Spencer, a Passionist priests dedicated hi life. The Passionists were founded by St Paul of the Cross in Italy at the end of the eighteenth century and the Order was dedicated specifically to the conversion of England. It was a Passionist Bless Dominic Barberi, who received Newman into the Church in Littlemore outside Oxford. The Traditional Roman Rite therefore must be seen as a sure stepping stone into the future of the Catholic Church in England, for which the martyrs died and which was revived with such dedication, devotion and vigour by the many converts about whom Madeleine Beard has written, many of whom never set foot in the Eternal City at all. More than thirty years after its apparent demise, the inextinguishable traditional Roman Rite was celebrated in 1998 on three occasions in the church dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the London Oratory As Our Lady said at Fatima, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” And all the stories of conversion in this book contain within them two abiding mysteries which drew such holy men and women living in a Protestant country towards the One True Church: devotion to Our Lady and devotion to the Bless Sacrament in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“Madeleine Beard focuses on the significant number of conversions among the British aristocracy, sketching first the experience of Continental travel, especially to Rome, and setting the fascination of magnificent religious ceremonies against the common Protestant prejudice that Catholic worship was a superstitious mummery.” Geoffrey Rowell, Times Literary Supplement, 18th September 1998.

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