To Southend for a delightful evening organised by the ordinariate group at St Peter’s, Eastwood. Fr Jeff Woolnough has done a fine job in transforming the sanctuary of this modern church: it’s now white and gold, glittering with candles for Mass. A good attendance and a good atmosphere.
They had asked me to speak about Walsingham and I was glad of the opportunity to explore the story properly. Too many people start by saying, in a slightly sing-song voice: “In 1061 the lady of the manor, Richeldis, had a vision …” without explaining what was happening in 1061, or why it’s all important.
Islamic forces were dominating the Holy Land. Meanwhile, here at home Vikings were harrying our coasts, and no one knew whether King Edward had really promised the throne to William of Normandy and what the outcome of all that might be. These were troubled times. Militant Islam, uncertainty and concern for the future. Sound familiar? The Holy House at Walsingham is all about the glorious reality of the Incarnation: God truly coming to be with us and remain with us, a message of hope.
Fr Michael Halsall and I travelled up from London. He works at Allen Hall seminary, and had been addressing a plenary gathering of ordinariate priests, discussing vocational formation. He was an Army chaplain for some years and we enjoyed swapping Army talk. But the Army I knew in Berlin in the 1980s, and with which he served in Northern Ireland and Bosnia in the 1990s, is now something rather different. The Armed Forces, like the police, find themselves treading on eggshells to avoid giving even the appearance of political incorrectness.
I’m aware from other sources what this is like: people relish catching out someone for being “sexist” or for upholding marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or for appearing insufficiently enthusiastic about using current jargon on these issues.
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