The hottest day of the year so far, so naturally we were in heavily-embroidered red velvet to celebrate James the Great. Fr Minchew celebrates week-by-week in his magnificent Pearson church the Liturgy which is the nearest England gets to the Anglican Use of the USA. Beautiful language, lovely music, and a team of servers who move on oiled castors. Today he invited me to confirm (in Bishop John Fulham's stead) and celebrate the Mass, at which he and a retired priest were Deacon and Subdeacon. There were seven confirmation candidates, four of them adults, two young boys and one girl. It was a lovely event.
I thought I would post a few pictures, and append my sermon; that will leave a few more pictures, and some consideration of the bearing of Anglicanorum Coetibus on Croydon, for my native blog Ancient Richborough.
So here first is the sermon.
‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?' asked Jesus. James and John replied, ‘We can’.
Now isn’t that just typical of this parish? Fr Donald invited me to preach at your Michaelmas patronal, I am already booked elsewhere, so he finds a second patronal festival up his sleeve. Very crafty, to have St James in reserve.
It is a kindness, really; angels are hard to grasp, rather unearthly. Not so James the brother of John. Here he is in today’s gospel, with his pushy mother trying to get special privileges for her two boys. Sons of thunder, Jesus called them, after they wanted to call fire and brimstone on an unwelcoming village; not nice domesticated lads, but noisy and aggressive. So here they are trying to jump the queue and have the best seats reserved for them in the kingdom. You’d expect Jesus would say, Certainly not, wait your turn; instead he asks them a question: Can you drink the cup of that I shall drink? Not knowing what that involves, they say at once Yes, of course, we can do that. And Jesus, foreseeing the end, says, “You will drink my cup; but that does not give you any special rights. My Father in heaven has already allocated those seats.”
James has his place in the kingdom, though. He is the first of the twelve to suffer death. Scripture makes no big deal of it. It is almost an aside in the Acts of the Apostles: "It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread."
The martyrdom of James is just mentioned to lead into the story of the arrest, and release from prison, of Peter.
So for all his pushiness, James your patron becomes little more than a footnote. It was an extraordinary event, hundreds of years later, that put the spotlight full on him again. Muslims from North Africa invaded Christian Spain and began the forceful conversion of the inhabitants. There had been a tradition that St James had been a missionary in Spain; and in the eighth century his tomb was discovered. His mortal remains became a focus of resistance to the invaders, and his new and very un-PC title was James the Moor-Slayer. There is a great depiction of him, recognisable from his pilgrim’s hat and scallop-shell badge, leaning down from a great white horse to spear a Saracen. Now in these days when it is a crime to say anything unkind about other faiths, such a title would be unthinkable — might land you in jail, even. Perhaps we need to know more history, though, to understand better who we are and where we come from.
James was honoured in Spain as a martyr, and as the country’s chief evangeliser. There is similar honour paid in Germany to an Englishman, St Boniface. He came from Crediton in Devon, the county where I grew up, and there he was known as Winfrith. He preached to the German tribes and was murdered by them. Now he is one of their patron saints. Here in England, too, Alban was claimed as our first native martyr, and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage just as Santiago de Compostela drew pilgrims from all over Europe.
Our ancestors were far more appreciative of their Christian faith than we are; and they thanked God for the men and women who had laboured to bring that faith to their country. In the more remote parts of Britain, that led to a great swathe of place-names derived from the local saints, the men and women who had first told them about Jesus; in Cornwall, people like Enodoc and Erth and Eval and Tudy, in Wales Dewi Sant, Teilo, Teath, Gubbi and hundreds of others. If we do not value our faith, then those who taught us the faith slip from our memory. Then we become vulnerable; open to every sort of superstition and false religion. As Chesterton said, ‘when people cease to believe in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything’. So the Beatles toyed with Hinduism, some people turn an octopus into a prophet who can predict the outcome of football matches, and young women whose parents and grand-parents failed to hand on to them their Christian faith suddenly feel attracted, of all things, to Islam and wearing the Burkha.
In England, we simply don’t understand those cultures where Christianity is still valued. Take, for instance, Romania. For centuries that was at the very edge between the Christian West and the Islamic East. Their great national hero, who stood out against the invaders, was prince Vlad. In the West we have turned him into a comic book villain, Vlad the Impaler. For the Romanians he is one of the great figures of their history, who stood against the armies of the crescent and ensured the survival of the Orthodox Faith in their country.
So honour James your Patron, missionary to the far west of Europe, whose memory and prayers protected Spain when it was threatened by an alien culture and belief system. Ask though whether maybe we should be as bold as his followers were, in defending our own faith. Today we are confirming seven candidates; making them strong in their faith, which is what con-firming means, so that they can give an account to others of the faith which is in them, and stand upright against all those who would insult Jesus and the Church.
Two weeks ago I was in a parish in Birmingham. The priest there told me that down the road, as you enter that district, a black flag flies. It announces that this is Taliban territory. Next door to the Vicarage a new mosque is being built. Every pub for miles around has been turned into a mosque. You will find a similar story in Bradford and Leicester and many English Provincial Towns. If we do not value our faith, we shall lose it. Our church has been too accommodating to people of other faiths, implying that every religion is as good as every other. We have allowed Muslim cultural centres and mosques to be opened everywhere, yet we have not complained when Christians in Jordan and other Arab states are forbidden to practice the faith publicly.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why many catholic Anglicans are seriously contemplating the offer from the Holy Father. In the Church of Rome at least we shall not, for political correctness’ sake, be forbidden to wear the crucifix, or forbidden to pray with patients in hospital, or forbidden to tell others about Jesus. Maybe it was inspired of your forebears to have James as your patron; not just the first Apostle to be martyred, but also the protector of the faith against the Muslim invaders. Holy James, we need your prayers and protection now as never before. Pray for us and all who hold and teach the catholic faith.
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