David Alton on Newman

October 31, 2009

Injohn-henry-newman 1848 John Henry Newman published his novel “Loss and Gain: The Story of a Convert.” Recently re-published in paperback by the Echo Library, its beautiful prose and moving narrative is well worth reading – especially as we prepare for Newman’s beatification. It was Newman’s first literary offering after becoming a Catholic in 1845. 

It was originally distributed by Burns and Oates, whose owner, James Burns, had issued some of the Tracts of the Oxford Movement. 

Burns disseminated several of Newman’s theological works – books which saved the company from financial ruin.  It may even be that “Loss and Gain”was written with a more popular market in mind, in order to help Burns – who became a Catholic in 1847 – to survive. It was republished eight times during Newman’s lifetime.

“Loss and Gain” is set in the early Victorian Oxford University that Newman knew so well. It is the story of a young student, Charles Reding, the son of an Anglican clergyman, and the boy’s struggle to find definition to his Christian faith.  As the narrative unfolds, we are introduced to Reding’s friends and tutors, and to the theological controversies and factions that were shaping the lives of a generation.

Newman astutely observes – and surely this is true for anyone arriving in any hall of residence at any university at any time – that “Almost everything depends at Oxford, in the matter of your acquaintance, on proximity of rooms. You choose your friend, not so much by your tastes, as by your staircase.”  In the case of Charles Reding this finds him living on the same staircase at St.Saviour’s College as William Sheffield, also a parson’s son.

The differences that Newman ascribes to Sheffield and Reding are probably the differences recalled from Newman’s own undergraduate days. While Reding is “gentle and affectionate”, Sheffield “easily picked up opinions and facts…without laying anything very much to heart.” 

Reding embarks on his studies, initially keen to take a conventional main-stream Anglican path, and not to become drawn into any of the factions. Sheffield, by contrast, will say, do and believe whatever is necessary to emerge safely with the university’s best degree. 

Reding and Sheffield’s paths diverge as Reding comes to realise that, even if he passes his examinations, ensuring graduation, he will be required to take an oath assenting to the 39 Articles of the Protestant Reformation. Gradually he comes to understand that his conscience will not permit this.

Newman now introduces us to Reding’s other compatriots and to their disputations.

We meet Freeborn, a zealous young evangelical, who is insistent that salvation will come through faith alone, without the sacraments or the panoply offered by the comforts of the Church, and certainly not by works.  Here is Bateman who is an ardent High Anglican, delighting in Gothic architecture, vestments, and all the accoutrements, from piscine to tabernacles, but who views the Pope and the Roman Catholic faith as threatening, foreign, and un-English.   And here is Willis, who abandons his studies and becomes a Catholic, and despite attempts by Bateman to “reconvert” him, is ordained as a Catholic priest.

We also meet Reding’s teachers – Mr.Upton, who lectures on the 39 Articles and reports Reding for asking questions which he regards as suspicious and revealing a leaning towards Catholicism; and then Jennings, the Vice Principal, who, after interrogating Reding about his religious beliefs, sends him home, fearing that Reding’s beliefs might corrupt other students.

Most moving of all, as we see Reding part from his College and from his friends, we see him part from his family too.

Reding’s father has died while Charles is at Oxford.  It is to his sister, Mary that he turns and reveals the nature of his troubled soul. She sees his doubt as a betrayal of his family, of their hopes for him  – and for themselves. His mother becomes cold with Charles, rejecting him as he tries to explain his spiritual dilemma and the beliefs to which his journey has led.  

Separated from family and friends, Charles now travels to London. On his train journey he encounters a Catholic priest – the first he has ever met (despite the constant accusations to which he is subjected of conspiring secretly with Jesuits).

At his London lodgings he is beset by a series of visitors who try to inveigle him into various philosophical or religious cults and sects.  Charles finally arrives at the Passionist Convent in London, where he is received into the Church, with his friend, Willis present. Now Fr.Aloysius – a Passionist priest – in his joy Willis physically lifts Charles off the ground. Reding tells Willis: “Too late have I known Thee, O Thou Ancient truth; too late have I found Thee, First and only Fair.”   

Like the fictional Reding, Newman was received into the Catholic Church by a Passionist priest, Blessed Dominic Barberi. In 1845 Fr.Dominic had visited Newman at Littlemore. In his 1864 autobiography, “Apologia Pro Vita Sua,” Newman describes how the Passionist was soaked to the skin by torrential rain and, as Fr.Dominic dried himself by the fire, Newman knelt and asked to be received into the Church. 

Although we should look to the “Apologia” rather than “Loss and Gain” for Newman’s account of his own conversion, there is no doubt that much of Reding’s story is modelled on his experiences and those of his friends. His beautifully crafted prose illuminate the religious contours of Victorian England – what Newman described, in his famous sermon as as the English Church’s“Second Spring.”

The “Second Spring” sermon began with some words from The Song of Solomon

“Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For the winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land.”

He gave emphasis to this metaphor by asking: 

Have we any right to take it strange, if, in this English land, the spring-time of the Church should turn out to be an English spring, an uncertain, anxious time of hope and fear, of joy and suffering,–of bright promise and budding hopes, yet withal, of keen blasts, and cold showers, and sudden storms?

Newman understood better than anyone that this new birth would not be without pain. In revisiting Newman’s “Loss and Gain”, we learn a lot about his personal journey but also, why, over 160 years later, men and women are still struggling with the same questions and making the same journey. 


Lecture given by Lord Alton

October 30, 2009

LordDavidAltonThe 87th Roscoe Lecture, on October 27th 2009, was given to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of William Gladstone, the lecture was given by Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool

For twenty-five years David Alton served as a City Councillor or MP in Liverpool.  He was the country’s youngest City Councillor, youngest member of the House of Commons and went on to be the youngest Life Peer. He is a former deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, served as Housing Chairman and as a Merseyside County Councillor.

David is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and, in1997 he founded the Foundation for Citizenship at theUniversity. As part of this, he established the Roscoe Lecture series and created a Good Citizens award scheme that is operating in 800 schools in the north west of England.

For more information about David, visit http://www.davidalton.com/

The LJMU Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship makes available free mp3 or ‘podcast’ downloads of its Roscoe Lecture series so that you can hear the audio. The links below when entered into Google should allow you to download a zipped mp3 file to your computer. Once downloaded, the file can be unzipped and transferred to you iPod, portable mp3 player or even burnt to a CD.

Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool – Gladstone – son of Liverpool, Scourge of Tyrants – Tuesday 2 October 2009  http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/roscoe/97603.htm

You can also download a PDF transcript of the text and slides used during the power point presentation by entering http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/MKG_Global_Docs/The_87th_Roscoe_Lecture_-_Lord_Alton_of_Liverpool.pdf


Yesterday I met a representative from the StoneWater Zen Sengha. The Sangha is part of the White Plum lineage established by Taizan Maezumi Roshi (1931-1995), one of the great pioneers of modern Zen, who opened up a unique tradition of Buddhist practice to a worldwide movement. Born into a prominent Soto Zen family, Maezumi received transmission from his father, Baian Hakujun Kuroda. Unusually, he then went on to receive transmission from two Rinzai masters, Nyogen Senzaki Roshi and Koryu Osaka Roshi. With this exceptionally rich background Maezumi was able to express the teaching of the Buddha in a very broad and colourful way. Originally sent to the USA in 1956 as a priest for the local Japanese community in Los Angeles, he went on to found Zen Center Los Angeles and Yokoji Zen Mountain Center. As well as guiding thousands of students, he gave transmission to twelve dharma successors, each of whom is an important teacher in their own right, including Genpo Merzel Roshi and Tenshin Fletcher Roshi.


Zen is a form of Buddhism that gives central importance to meditation, to personal experience of its teachings and to the expression of the great matters of life and death – not in theological or metaphysical terms, but in practical everyday forms.

Zen’s aim is to give direct experience of life itself, free of dualistic distinctions such as I/you and true/false. This unadorned reality is known in Zen as Buddha-nature, the ‘ground of being’ or ‘authentic nature’. We may, however, substitute God, Tao or the Great Life, or another appropriate word or phrase. In this respect the Zen tradition is a universal one, sometimes called ‘the religion before religion’. Anyone may practice it, independent of creed… indeed, the idea of being a ‘Zen Buddhist’ may itself be discarded. This is not to say that Zen lacks a code of ethics. Its fundamental precepts were born out of Buddhism and at the heart of Zen teaching lies a deep compassion and respect for all beings and an appreciation of the innate wisdom of each individual once that person is unclouded by desire.

zenAlthough details may change, depending on the age, culture and circumstances of the teaching, Zen training is based on zazen meditation, the koan (enigmatic question), dokusan (private interview with the teacher) and samu (a daily period of physical work that brings the other training methods into accord with daily life). These specifically Zen essentials operate within the Buddhist fundamentals known as the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma (teachings of the Buddha) and Sangha (a Buddhist community or group of people).

Zen is universal and applicable to anyone, anywhere. One of its basic beliefs is that Buddha nature is inherent in all people and that it is perfect. This true self has compassion and love of one’s fellow creatures, but, as the Buddha said, ‘because men’s minds have become inverted through delusive thinking they fail to perceive this’. The Zen student aspires to see through the delusion and into his or her own true self and thus perceive the nature of all existence.


Now talking about seeing things as they really are … lunch took place at the World Cafe, Neal’s Yard, London. It is a wonderful cafe, delicious food and not at all expensive, well worth visiting.

The Sharing of Burdens

October 28, 2009


Not sure what happened here but it looks like someone is in trouble! I am trying to imagine the excuse that is being given, “I was just leaning against the wall when …”. I am sure that hearts are feeling troubled whatever the reason! Benedict believes that we should share our burdens. In Chapter 21 of the Rule – On the Deans of the Monastery – he outlines a very practical system for the Abbot to share his responsibilities with other monks. He has written extensively about prayer life in the community now he turns his attention to practical matters in the community. What is perhaps most interesting is that Benedict does not appoint people simply on the basis of the length of time they have been wearing the habit. Rather he asks the Abbot to make his appointments based on “worthiness of life and wisdom of doctrine.” These are the qualities he thinks a Dean, a monk responsible for a small group of monks, nuns or oblates, should possess. Often in the workplace or indeed the monastery personalities can dominate. Benedict is clear that this is not the model of leadership he desires. If there is any sign of pride – no matter who it is – they are to be demoted. Benedict wants the beauty of a life freely chosen to shine through his communities. Where we find that freedom then burdens do not exist, everything becomes the simple joy of serving and loving the person in front of you.

Conversatio Morum

October 28, 2009


Every Benedictine makes a commitment to Conversatio Morum. To try and translate the latin term St Benedict uses is fighting talk! Indeed the Abbot who clothed me in the habit has his own understanding of it. At the very least Benedict is saying that we have to change, change constantly! Here are some thoughts from Richard Rohr OFM on change:

“The story of the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22) demonstrates that the change we usually need has to be concrete, immediate, and very practical. Otherwise it’s just a heady thing. Jesus asks the rich young man to move from here to there—and here he means economically.

For all of us this at least means turning to people who are different from us. This is the only thing that can liberate us from our egocentric attitude. Maybe it means that as younger men and women we go to the elderly, or maybe as healthy persons we go to the physically or mentally handicapped, or if we’re homophobic we work with a gay person with AIDS. But we all have to move out into a world in which we’re not the reference point, and where the others whom we meet are not just an expanded version of ourselves. What else would conversion (“turning around”) mean?”

For further details on Conversatio Morum please click here.


October 27, 2009


Forgive me … just glad to be on holiday for a week!

The Teacher Within

October 27, 2009



“It is the indefinable silence at the heart of the mystery of Jesus which ultimately communicates his true identity to those who encounter it.”

Laurence Freeman OSB, Jesus: the Teacher Within

Living the Kingdom now …

October 27, 2009



Father Richard writes …

“My task is to live the Big Picture of God (“kingdom”) here and now in an honest and interconnected way which influences my finances, my time, my political positions, and how I use the goods of this earth. The Gospel invites us here, or Jesus is in no way “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42), but only a small scale passing figure. The father of my Order, Francis of Assisi, was fully convinced that utter simplicity had to be an essential part of the Christian lifestyle. Today this is an altogether practical and urgent matter, as we consider how many billion people live on this little planet. We either have to find very real and concrete ways to be brothers and sisters to one another, or any talk of justice, love, or community is largely an impossible dream.”

Picture shows some text from the Coptic version of the Gospel of Thomas

Greeting the leper within

October 26, 2009


In my teaching career I have always had the good fortune to work in schools with a strong sense of spiritual ethos. My own experience of being a student was also marked by being in places with a strong sense of ethos: St Clare’s Convent, Porthcawl, St David’s VI Form College, Cardiff, the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, and Downside Abbey to name a few.

St Clare’s Convent which I mentioned was a Franciscan School. I say “was”, the Sisters sold the school to a totally secular educational organisation. It baffles me why they did this. Well not really … its great real estate but I really cannot understand why a spiritual organisation would wish to retreat from working with young people. The school formed some of my earliest memories of the spiritual life. I remember clearly their very simple chapel. There was a sister, Sr Aquinas, who used to teach us how to pot plants! I remember many beautiful images of Saints Francis, Clare and the San Damiano Cross. There were the sisters who encouraged me to play the violin when frankly I really did not want to. Some of the sisters were deeply spiritual people and the chaplain was an unquestionably holy man. I remember clearly having to attend his funeral at the Cathedral in Cardiff and seeing his coffin with a Franciscan habit draped over it. As a child it made a huge impression on me. 

A sense of support from the Franciscan Order has never left me. At University some of my best friends and indeed guides were Franciscans. When I was  a student in Rome I loved going to Assisi and experiencing prayer at the source of Franciscan life. Whilst I have few Franciscan contacts these days I have discovered one great guide, Fr Richard Rohr OFM. A friend of mine, the Rev Joanna Jepson, suggested him to me and the advice was spot on. Here are some thoughts from him for today:

“God calls all of us to take the demanding and liberating path of our own inner truth (John 8:31-32)—and that means taking responsibility for everything that’s in us: for what pleases us and for what we’re ashamed of, for the rich person inside us and for the poor one too. Francis of Assisi called this forgiving the leper within us and Therese of Lisieux called it “The Little Way.” It is always the way of courage and utter trust, recognizing both light and shadow within us.

If we learn to honor and claim our inner inheritance, we will grant others the same divine donation. If we learn to love the poor one within us, we’ll discover that we have room for compassion for all “outsiders” too, because we now know that we are all the same. Human solidarity now comes naturally.

Those who have enough space within them to embrace every part of their own soul can receive the fully human and fully divine Christ. And the good news is that Christ himself will lead us on this path.”

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

October 25, 2009


Next Silence in the City talk to be given by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on the 24th of November, Westminster Cathedral.

Kallistos Ware holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Oxford where from 1966 to 2001 he was Fellow of Pembroke College and Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies. He is a monk of the monastery of St John the Theologian, Patmos, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1966. In 1982 he became titular bishop of Diokleia and assistant bishop in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain and in 2007 he was raised to the rank of metropolitan. His publications include The Orthodox Church (2nd edn., 1993) and The Orthodox Way (2nd edn., 1995) and he is co-translator of the five-volume Philokalia.