And so the summer draws to its end.
In London, we’ve had the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and then the Olympics, so it’s been a time of flags and feel-good festivities. But this cannot mask the great realities: along with the rest of Europe, Britain is in a mess.
We are dying out: not enough children being born, people getting older and with no prospect of there being enough money or help in their old age. There is a feeling of bleak gloom, assisted by the fact that lots of things that were once part of people’s lives are gradually disappearing: the Church of England – at least in the form in which it has become familiar over the past couple of centuries – public services such as libraries and Post Offices (the Internet has helped to kill off good numbers of these) , and of course marriage. This last is going to be decisive in the collapse of much else: if we cannot acknowledge that family is based on a man and a woman and their children, then we have lost the plot entirely. And the Government’s plans for same-sex “marriage” will help to ensure that we lose it.
Signs of hope? Not many. We are going to need good priests and strong Catholic families over the next years. I attended the FAITH Movement annual conference for Catholic young people in August – it was, as always, vibrant, over-subscribed, intellectually lively, prayerful, and forward-looking. There were a great many young priests and seminarians, and there will be more next year as there were also a number of young men already in the process of preliminary enquiries about the priesthood. There is hope there.
The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has continued to flourish and grow. Over 80 new priests have been ordained through it over the past year, and there are more to come: September sees another round of ordinations. But the number of Anglican lay people seeking to join continues to be small. The aim of the project was to create a bridge, a way in which members of the Church of England who loved her traditions, liturgy, customs, and heritage could come into full communion with the Catholic Church and bring this patrimony with them. But many just seem content to stay put, enduring the collapse of their old traditions, watching with sighs the creation of women priests and waiting for the creation of women bishops with a sense of sad inevitability but reluctant to leave a building which has become familiar. Long-term, the Ordinariate’s prospects are good – the clergy are dedicated, the liturgy is beautiful, the mission-field is huge. But over the next couple of years growth will be slow, at least until Ordinariate parishes can acquire some churches of their own: buildings that become familiar and loved and feel like “home”, places where baptisms and weddings and feast-days and parish events get written into the community’s history.
Catholic culture can sustain and nourish the wider culture. As Autumn gets under way there are various Catholic events in London. October 20th sees the big Blessed Sacrament Procession starting at Westminster Cathedral and crossing the Thames to finish with Benediction at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. On November 24th the Towards Advent Festival takes place in Westminster Cathedral Hall, opened by Archbishop Vincent Nichols. There will be music, talks, a celebration of the anniversary of Blessed John Henry Newman’s “Second Spring”, displays and sales from a wide range of Catholic groups and organisations.
As the new school year starts, I will be busy with a team of volunteers sending out Bibles won by pupils at schools across Britain in the annual Schools Bible Project run by an ecumenical group. Christianity is still meant to be part of the curriculum in British schools, and through this Project pupils study the New Testament and write about specific events in the life of Christ: for the past twenty years it has helped a good number of schools to introduce pupils to the Scriptures.
Most of all, Britain needs prayer. Blessed John Paul called for a New Evangelisation, and that starts with prayer.