Prayer: Five Books

Prayer is a universal marker and practice of the Christian life.  Yet it causes some of the greatest anxiety among faithful believers who feel that they do not know how to pray, do not pray “well” (whatever that means), or have ceased to be able to pray.  As a result there are probably more books on prayer than on any other aspect of the Christian life. But such books are potentially dangerous, for several reasons.

The Exsultet: the proclamation of Easter

In the weeks leading to Easter—and with terrifying memories of my diaconal year—I (with fear and trembling) practise singing the Exsultet, just in case the deacon tasked with the nine-minute solo falls ill. As scary as it is to sing this most beautiful and ancient hymn […]

Poetry and Lent: During Wind and Rain (Thomas Hardy)

I first came across this poem many years ago. I’ve never been a devotee of Hardy. As an undergraduate I tackled Tess of the d’Urbervilles; I found it utterly compulsive, emotionally exhausting, but slightly mechanical—at every key moment in the story, Tess has a decision to make, and after a while you get the idea that she’s not going to make the right one.

Poetry and Lent: Descending Theology (Mary Karr)

Mary Karr writes that ‘Poetry and prayer alike offer . . . [an] instantaneous connection—one person groping from a dark place to meet with another in an instant that strikes fire’. Poetry is akin to prayer, perhaps a form of prayer, as it turns us outward. Language itself does this, moving us beyond ourselves to connect with another. […]

Sacraments: Reconciliation

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known a Sacramental Confession or Penance) is one of the most joyful of the church’s sacraments—but it is one of the least known, at least among Anglicans. In essence it is very simple: personal confession of sin to God in the presence of a priest who then gives advice, suggests a “penance” or act of devotion which may be relevant to the matters confessed, and then in the name of Christ and His Church pronounces absolution.

St Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland

Quite unlike George, Patron Saint of England (among other places), Patrick—Pádraigwas a Briton, probably born in the latter days of Roman authority in Britain or a decade or two afterwards in the early 5th century: his exact dates are much disputed. In his own Confessio, he tells us that his father Calpornius was a deacon who possessed an estate nearby, and that his grandfather a priest called Potitus. […]

When does Lent begin and end?

The observance of a period of fasting before Easter is very ancient, though the length and character of the fast varied from place to place in the early days. Writing in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Irenaeus of Lyons and Tertullian in North Africa both mention preparatory fasts in the days leading up to Easter. By the 4th and 5th centuries, we see the fasting period elongated: both Athanasius’s and Cyril’s Festal Letters assume a 40 day fast, for example. There are, however, still debates over what counts as this “fast of forty days”…

George Herbert: Priest and Poet

When the great Tractarian leader John Keble died in 1866, he was best known as a poet. His volume, The Christian Year, received something like ninety printings in his own lifetime. The obituary published in The Times of London tackles his reputation head on, and concludes that he should probably be thought of as England’s greatest priest poet. Among those who are dismissed as less deserving of the accolade, the writer lists ‘the poet of Bemerton’, one George Herbert (1593-1633).

St Valentine: Highly Dubious

Saint Valentine is by tradition a third-century Roman saint and martyr whose cult was only established by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496 amongst those  “whose names are justly reverenced amongst men, but whose acts are known only to God”. He is included in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (460-544 CE), and the sparse information which may have some element of reliability seems to be no earlier than the fifth century. He would, in fact, seem to have been the conflation of two saints […]

Sacraments: Eucharist

The sacraments, as Fr Ken Leech put it, are not “freak events” in a world which otherwise “runs on quite different rules.” They are a foretaste of God’s new creation, showing us what the world has been made for, and what it will ultimately be. The time of the Church’s sacramental life falls between that of Christ’s decisive victory over sin and death and the time in which the whole creation will enter into the fruits of that victory - when the powers of death are finally destroyed and he is “all in all” […]

Candlemas (or the Purification or the Presentation)

“Merry Christmas!” If you haven’t been using the last 39 days to say “Merry Christmas” to friends, family and the world outside every day, you’ve been missing a trick. Whilst the world outside celebrates Christmas from early Autumn until Boxing Day, the Church celebrates the Christmas season from Midnight Mass to Candlemas. […]

Sacraments: Baptism

When was the last time someone wished you Happy Birthday? It would be a fair bet that it was on your birthday. I’m sorry to tell you that if you’re baptised they almost certainly chose the wrong day. Not because your birth certificate is mistaken, or your parents had a strange sense of humour, but as baptised people your physical birth wasn’t your gateway to life, your baptism was. […]

A Christian Vocation: Chaplaincy in the Armed Forces

For centuries the basic unit of Church life has been the parish, and parochial ministry is still today the principal focus for the work of the clergy and committed lay people. But it has been widely recognized in recent times that there are areas of life that demand a more specialized form of outreach, and this in turn has led to the development of a wide range of so-called “sector ministries” of which Chaplaincy in the Armed Forces is one, albeit of greater antiquity than most. […]

A sermon for Epiphany

Now what? What’s next? Twigs and needles from the languishing tree are scattered on the carpet. Tinsel and wrapping paper lay crinkled and crushed in some corner somewhere. Tupperware, holding on to leftovers now somewhat less than appetizing. […]