Posts

Archbishop Rowan is in Rome for three days.  Yesterday evening he addressed the Synod of Bishops. He chose as his theme the importance of contemplation as the foundation of evangelism.  The Archbishop’s springboard was the hope engendered by the Second Vatican Council and in particularly the renewal of the Christian understanding of what it means to be human (Christian anthropology).

the Council built on the greatest insights of a theology that had returned to earlier and richer sources – the theology of spiritual geniuses like Henri de Lubac, who reminded us of what it meant for early and mediaeval Christianity to speak of humanity as made in God’s image and of grace as perfecting and transfiguring that image so long overlaid by our habitual ‘inhumanity’.  In such a light, to proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that it is at last possible to be properly human:  the Catholic and Christian faith is a ‘true humanism’

A key part of being human is therefore to contemplate God’s goodness, grace and love and in that contemplation to forget our pre-occupation with ourselves and be caught up into service of God and the world.

To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly.  It is a deeply revolutionary matter.

The Archbishop drew attention to places of spiritual depth in the contemporary world – such as Taize and Bose – and to the new ecclesial movements and communities which flow from the discipline of the contemplative life.  It is a rich and inspiring address and worth reading and re-reading.  The habit of contemplation is foundational to evangelisation:

The enemy of all proclamation of the Gospel is self-consciousness, and, by definition, we cannot overcome this by being more self-conscious.

It is hard to communicate what a significant mark of respect it was for the Archbishop to be invited to address the Synod for 30 minutes and take questions for a further 30.  This is the first time such an invitation has been given to an Anglican in the 50 years of the Synod’s existence.  All contributions to the Synod by the Roman Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops are limited to just five minutes.  This was both a significant honour and an opportunity.

The address was very well received and matched the theme of the Synod exactly.  The Synod Fathers have returned again and again to the need to begin afresh from the face of Christ, to reflect more deeply on their own faith, to the need for the evangelisers to be evangelised.  The Archbishop spoke from the theologians who themselves resourced the Second Vatican Council to resource their successors in their vital task.

Archbishop Rowan is regarded here will immense respect and affection.  His legacy of a stronger link between Canterbury and Rome is seen as vital for the future.  Ecumenism and Evangelisation continue to walk hand in hand:  to be one so that the world may believe (John 17.24).

The full text of the speech is here: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2645/

Buon giorno e Roma!

People say there is less of the Bishop of Sheffield than there used to be.  It’s about a stone less to be precise (and still going down as of last Saturday).  This is partly due to Ann becoming very fierce on the matter of diets and partly to the Hairy Bikers’ recent television series.

A hazardous time then to be in Rome.  So far I’ve managed to resist the bread, the pasta and the pizza (well, almost).  However I have discovered gelati – Italian ice cream.  It’s very warm here at the moment (sorry about that!).  I have to walk through Rome four times a day in a cassock (more on that another day).  There are gelateria on every corner including one under the window of the room where I am staying.  Coconut is my favourite flavour so far but there are many still to try…..

The Synod had its first session in groups this morning.  The groups are divided according to language and I am in one of the English speaking groups but with a real spread of nationalities.  There is more of a dialogue and for deeper sharing than is possible in the plenary.

The last twenty-four hours have been a chance for me to think about the dogs which are not barking yet: the words or concepts which would feature on a discussion of this subject in the Church of England and which haven’t yet been a part of the conversation here.

There are several, as you might imagine.  Some of them I don’t miss.  But the most striking absentee so far is the idea of discipleship and of making disciples.  The concept doesn’t feature, as far as I have discovered, in the Instrumentum Laboris, the preliminary document for the Synod.  The focus is largely there on apologetics, the initial proclamation of the gospel and on catechesis (all associated with the inital passing on of faith).

But my reflection back to the Synod through the group this morning was that the conversation about Evangelisation must be joined to a conversation about discipleship: the fruits of a mature faith which is able to endure and to flourish in the midst of a secular society and culture.  The Church also needs to give careful thought to a vision of Christian discipleship and flourishing – to define the ends as another member of the group ventured so that we can then develop the means.  There have been a number of very positive references so far to small Christian communities from different places in the world which are of course immensely important as places for the forming and sustaining of disciples.

The thought connected for me with the presentation Ann Morisey gave to our Diocesan Development Day on Saturday which focussed on Methodism as a discipleship movement working for “transformation on an industrial scale”.

One of the fruits of coming away from your own situation is that you see some things more clearly.  One of the insights I will be taking back to Sheffield is that any conversation about sharing the faith needs to connected to a vision for growing disciples: Christians who will not melt in the heat of the day but endure and be sustained an grow stronger in their witness.