Dr. Matthew Doyle writes ...
'Rubbing sholders with the great'
A couple of weeks ago I received an unexpected email from the President of the Oxford University Newman Society, inviting me to partake in a colloquium entitled "Blogging and the Church". I had heard very little about this Catholic Society before now, but learn it is the example for other universities to follow. It was established in 1878, and has only recently (1990) been challenged with a separate "University of Oxford Catholic Society" which sought to counteract the overt conservatism of the Newman. It is with pleasure I learn that these two societies cooperate a great deal, and had jointly arranged an all-night vigil of eucharistic adoration the same evening that the colloquium finished. It was a joy to see the standard of liturgy on offer; truly obedient to the current climate in the Church (ie. lots of Latin!)
The President made sure that I was aware of such distinguished speakers who have featured in their weekly meetings: "Archbishop Michael Ramsay, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, the Patriarch of All Spain, Baroness Williams and the Duke of Norfolk." Amongst others I'm sure. And, failing to be able to provide such itinerant bloggers as Fr Tim Finigan, Damien Thompson, and Fr Nicholas Schofield, they evidently broadened their horizons to the simple 'little guys' such as myself. As a result, not only did they have the key-note appearance of Fr John Zuhlsdorf, but also a balanced account of the role of Blogging in the Church from other perspectives.
At this juncture I should note that it was only possible for me to attend such an event due to the kindness of my co-workers, who thoughtfully covered for me at the hospital so that I could leave a little early and race down the M40. Upon arrival in Oxford, I was filled with the unique atmosphere I am always pleased to encounter there: streets full of noble youngsters persuing their dream of learning and truth(?), and the general hustle and bustle that go with any university town. But coupled with the welcome life of the people, there is also the matchless and timeless beauty of the university buildings, transforming this little city into a fortress of academia. The Catholic Chaplaincy is located in The Old Palace on St Aldates, just opposite Christ Church. It is a quaint wooden Elizabethan building, which on this occasion was perishingly cold owing to a broken boiler.
I was warmly greeted on entering by the President, complete with apron, who ushered me upstairs to a holding room, where the other bloggers were gathered. It was an interesting room, clearly basking in the glory of its long history, being decorated with portraits of past chaplains. Little did we know, an eastern banquet awaited us (or certainly that is how I would class it in student terms!). An amusing touch when we sat down to dinner, was a tiny statue of St Peter (modelled on the great 'foot' in the Roman Basilica) placed in the middle of the table by the President's place. A good model for leadership, by any measure! After Fr John Zuhlsdorf's Latin table blessing a good three course curry was had by all.
The actual colloquium followed, which took place in the library around a large table. I was suddenly glad to have scribbled out a short biographic to prompt myself; looking at the other bloggers, and hearing their eloquent talks one by one, made mine an impossible act to follow. Firstly Fr John Zuhlsdorf gave an excellent history behind his courageous endeavour to engage with the potential for on-line catholic communications from the very beginning, leading to the foundation of his blog "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" in the new millennium, and its recent change of course in recent months following the publication of Summorum Pontificum. Fr Z is adamant that this is the single most important document issued in recent years, and crucial for understanding the will of the Holy Father for the direction of the Church. He described the Liturgy as the spearhead of the Faith, and something which obviously needs to be sharpened to the utmost for greatest influence in the world.
Next up was Fr John Hunwicke, who is the Anglican priest-in-charge of St Thomas the Martyr. He is also compiler of the Ordo, published by Tufton Books (a volume which he wielded, but which, alas, I have very little idea of). Amusingly, introducing himself as an Anglican in a "hotbed of Popery", he declared he felt entirely at home! He gave an interesting take on the whole liturgical discussion, since his Church is fortunate enough to have use of noble English translations by Cranmer ("heretic though he was!") He suggested that if a sad barrier to the Latin tongue is what prevents priests from using the 1962 missal, would not an entire vernacular translation be a bridge to it, and preferable to the current state of affairs?
Friar Lawrence brought a beautiful spiritual dimension to the discussion, having prepared a paper entitled "The Virtues and Vices of Blogging" which was interspersed with Thomist philosophy on our battle with the tendency to sin. This is a topic which I had hoped to pick up on, and was glad that Lawrence could do so with such precision and learning. I hope he will be able to publish his talk in its entirety. [17 April 2008 - A transcript can be found here]
In conclusion, I will quote one of the bystanders from massinformation:
What emerged, then, was a sense of renewed confidence in what the Church proposes to the World, and that that ought to be presented in as many ways as possible. The Church must beat the drum to which the World marches, because if the rhythm is handed over to the World, the Church suffers. It is the Church's experiences of engagement with the World which need to be reflected on, and assimilated or discarded as She deems appropriate, rather than the other way around. We need to balance Fr Zuhlsdorf's confidence in the rights of the laity with Br Lawrence's concern to respect the bishops and their pastoral and teaching office. We need, too, to balance this with the experiences of laymen like Matthew Doyle and parish priests like Fr Hunwicke.
The whole evening was a joy, and I was very pleased to be able to partake also in the overnight vigil afterwards. With slightly sore knees, I stumbled down the dark streets of St Aldates, grabbing a quick coffee-to-go from the "open till midnight" cafe of G & Ds, which was just enough to keep me awake on the dreaded M40 on the way back to Brum!