Sunday, 29 August 2010

Dom Constantine Bosschaerts

Providence has led me to find out something about Dom Constantine Bosschaerts. I have not pieced together all the elements of what I have found out about him yet. It seems to me he has much to teach our present generation about Unity, Liturgy and Spirituality.

He lived from 1889 – 1950 was an Olivetan Benedictine who had drive and a strong vision for the renewal of Liturgy at the service of Christian Unity. He writes "The most powerful agents (for the work of reunification) is the Liturgy: The Liturgy develops into an intense internal and external prayer atmosphere, its rising to more than listening, it develops to the full richness of line and colour and sound playing, make her a true Christian family party where the wine of God's joy streaming into the soul, where the Bread of God's power strengthens the souls to life that is powerful tool for all God's people by tingling with new Christian power. "

This vision appears to have sound roots as Dom Constantine had collaborated with Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, before starting the Vita et Pax Foundation which embodied the ideal of religious unity. This vision was initially realised in the renewal of the Olivetan Benedictines at Schotenhof’s Priory of Regina Pacis. For the 1920’s his liturgical sense was extremely radical. He placed the altar of the chapel at it’s centre, away from the Eastern wall where Priest and People could face each other. His religious art was simple, modern and aesthetic. He also celebrated mass in the vernacular and encouraged concelebration.

His vision was also brought to England. In 1922, Dom Constantine Bosschaerts O.S.B. established a branch of ‘Vita et Pax’ Benedictine Sisters in Stanley House at the Sacred Heart R C Church, Eccleshall. Although they stayed only three years, Father Constantine found time to decorate the sanctuary and paint scenes from the lives of the local Saxon Martyrs on the walls of the baptistery. Remnants of his work can be still seen on the beams of the sanctuary.

In 1936 the Parish of Christ the King, in Cockfosters was founded by Dom Constantine. One of his confreres Dom Placid Meylink (1926 – 2003) appears to embody Dom Constantine’s vision. After the Second Vatican Council opened the Roman Catholic Church to modernity, Meylink with his fellow Cockfosters monks and nuns toured Britain with innovative exhibitions communicating the exciting and radical new thought spreading through the Church.

Later ecclesiastical revisionism frustrated him but, with his Dutch determination and tenacity, rarely deflected him. The monastery guesthouse, the Benedictine Centre for Spirituality, a Christian Meditation Centre and in 1995 a new monastery building were the enduring fruits of his prime years.

Meylinks ideas continued to develop. For 10 years he served on the guiding board of the World Community for Christian Meditation which teaches contemplative prayer worldwide in the Christian tradition. Meylink saw in this movement a complement to Abbot Constantine's emphasis on liturgy as a way to Christian unity.

Unity remained his keynote, but increasingly he recognised it as a unity stretching across all religions and cultures that needed a contemplative foundation.

This discovery of the life of Dom Constantine I suspect is only the beginning of a ‘spiritual friendship.’ I have long since thought that unity amongst all faiths will come about through a growth in spirituality rather than a move towards uniformity. I even wonder if elements of the search for Christian Unity have been as useful and as fruitful as Pius Xs condemnation of modernism. I’m sure others will enlighten me.

Turvey Abbey continues Bosschaerts legacy as a place of liturgy and spirituality in the service of Christian unity between churches of the East and West.

I would be interested to know more of Dom Constantine Bosschaerts and his ideas.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Teresa Helena Higginson Revisited

A chance to make something of a warm summers day, led to another encounter with Teresa Helena Higginson. Spending some time at the church in which she is buried set me thinking about her experiences and her apparent God given task of awaking hearts and minds to Jesus as seat of Divine Wisdom.

I have often thought that devotion to the Sacred heart has suffered somewhat since the 1960s. At it’s height the devotion was possibly too prescriptive and could be seen as a kind of catholic ‘magic.’ If you do this (go to mass on the first nine Fridays) you get this (heaven !)

The wider implications of God’s love for each of us, the wonderful passages of scripture relating to God’s love for us (e.g. 1Jn 4:7-21) appear to be only secondary importance. The cart seems to have been put before the horse. So a devotion that has it’s very essence within the love of God is reduced to fulfilling objective acts in order to gain the promise of a spiritual reward.

Yet, “The Love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.’ (Rom 5:5) This view of devotion serves as much use to right faith and sound spirituality as the view of God being a ‘Divine accountant’ where St Peter sits at the gates of heaven with his book in which are placed the right and wrongdoings of all who seek to enter heaven!

I suspect Teresa Higginsons ‘revelations’ have suffered the same fate as devotion to the Sacred Heart. Devotion to the Sacred Heart appears to reduce love, relationship and responsibility to undertaking 'pious' actions to gain a promise of ‘grace,’ so too does the devotion to the Sacred Head.

Again the Divine attribute ‘wisdom’ gets lost with the message. The richness of the message can be reduced to a lowest common denominator – what do I have to do ? what do I get ? Yes, I am overstating the case but I feel it needs to be overstated. Look what has happened to the Rosary ? It seems to be the role of the 'chunnering' brigade on coach trips to ‘say’ it these days rather than a reflective, prayerful meditation of the mysteries. Is a communal recitation of the rosary really in the spirit of the prayer? Again if there is a focus upon ‘doing’ the devotion the message becomes blurred. I think all the devotions mentioned above have suffered in ‘translation’ over the past 50 years.

The tradition of wisdom writings found in the bible, the scrutiny of Jesus parables in the Gospels as well as non canonical writings (e.g. Gospel of Thomas) that have been discovered have contributed to a reappraisal of wisdom in the teaching of Jesus, the logos, the wisdom of God. Much has been written about the wisdom of Jesus. Cynthia Bourgeaults book “The Wisdom of Jesus” is a wonderful introduction to this topic.

Perhaps devotion to the Sacred Head could be understood more fully in the light of new research and a reappraisal of the ‘wisdom’ teaching of Jesus. Both devotions are a reflection of the life and times in which they were ‘revealed’ and can appear ossified in the spirit of their respective centuries. The revelation of Gods love and wisdom is eternal and especially rooted in the 'now'. Perhaps the time has come to rehabilitate Teresa and her calling people to rest in the mercy of the wisdom of God.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


Just returned from a three day trip/retreat to Holy Island. The Celts speak of ‘thin’ places where the veil between this world and the next is quite translucent. This has got to be one of those places. However, my experience had other things to say. If I was looking for a spiritual place I would have missed it. If I was looking for a place to spiritual it was perfect. Through grace we can be spiritual anywhere.

The overriding personal message for me was secured to the side of the entrance to the catholic church in the picture above – “Go wherever Divine Providence calls.” There is an even more personal story through the door of this church. One that is too personal to be shared on a blog. Divine providence is calling and to some this call could be a scandal, though I must follow my conscience.

Have a look at the Island website and take in it's spiritual legacy. You may even take a visit there yourself. Who knows, you too may "go wherever Divine Providence calls."

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Talking Treason in Church

Just started reading “Talking Treason in Church” by Joseph P. Marren. It’s a must read for anyone interested in seeing signs of renewal in the Roman Catholic Church.

Don’t take my word for it though. Have a read of the Preface on Amazon. It will either whet your appetite for reform or have you singing “God Bless our Pope.” No prizes for guessing it’s effect on me !

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Mary Magdalen Apostle Catholic Community

Ever come across the joke, “Why are busses like bananas?” “Because they come in bunches !” – the universal law that when you’ve been waiting for a bus for over half an hour two usually come at once ? The same seems to be true of independent catholic communities.

Only yesterday I came across St Stephens in Minneapolis. Today a community called St Magdalen Apostle Community in San Diego has come into my radar. They have hit the headlines last week by the communities ordination of one of their members Nancy Corran. More about the ordination can be found here.

Obviously she was bravely ordained to serve their community and I wish them well. This is what the community says about themselves on their website which can be found here or by clicking on the banner above.

"Founded and convened by Rev. Dr. Jane Via, Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community, welcomes all and reaches out to those who are marginalized. We are dedicated to living the Gospel values of compassion, peace and social justice as taught and exemplified by Jesus the Christ.

We are committed to the full equality of women and men in a transformed Roman Catholic Church and world. In prophetic response to the Spirit, we are actively creating a new model of church community as a discipleship of equals through radical inclusiveness in language, worship and ministry. We seek to be mindful of our stewardship of the earth and to practice environmental responsibility for God's creation."

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

St Stephen's Minneapolis

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 2 years now and still find communities and websites that I find inspiring. People are doing exciting things in response to deeply held faith and transformative spirituality. They are beginning to live new ways of being ‘catholic,’ in response to their situation either as individuals or communities.

Just today I came across the “Spirit of St Stephen” community. Here’s what they say on their Homepage: “Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community is an independent Catholic community rooted in Vatican II and Catholic Social Teaching. We believe in the priesthood of all people of faith and center our worship on the Eucharist. We support each other in trying to follow the nonviolent Jesus who was radically inclusive. Justice and inclusion in our worship and in our community support our work for justice and peace in our world. We are living the questions, and listening for the Spirit's guidance. All are welcome.”

More and more communities like this are enriching a prophetic vision of what the church could be. Take a time to view their website or watch the videos that appear on the progressive catholic voice website.