Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Our parish community


On Saturday evening and after three of the Masses today I was handing out our new leaflets to worshippers at the Oxford Oratory about the Oxford Oratory Appeal and encouraging them to attendinformation events about the plans. Following the Solemn Mass this morning there was a parish party for Fr Robert Byrne, the recently retired Provost, to thank him for his twenty years service to the Oratory and parish, and to wish him well for his six months sabbatical at the Oratory in Philadelphia.

These events encapsulate so much of what is good about the Oxford Oratory - a fine liturgical tradition, a life of prayer, genuine friendship, an expanding congregation - including not a few converts like myself, with another, Rosemary, being received on Friday - please pray for her - and positive plans for the future. Such is our parish community.

It is a community that looks beyond itself - upwards and outwards to God, outwards to the world. Too often, however, in other parishes the phrase "Our Parish Community"can imply an inward looking one. It is a tendency the Pope criticises in one of his published interviews with Peter Seewald, and given whilst he was still a Cardinal. In that he draws attention to the physical and symbolic aspects of the community gathered around the altar and looking in on itself rather than being led to look beyond it to the Infinite, and on the tendency to keep things going because that has become the purpose of the community - being community has become an end in itself.

I have seen churches where that tendency has come to predominate, and whilst not discounting the hard work and effort that goes into such parishes, it seems to me that they are rather missing the point. The readings for today's Novus Ordo Mass suggest a view that looks upwards and outwards in community - Leviticus 10:1-2, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23; Matthew 5,38-48.

Our parish community, here in Oxford or anywhere else, is not an end in itself - it is a living part of the wider Body of Christ, called to take the whole message of Christ to the world. We celebrate not our own community or ourselves, but that we are in Christ.