The Walsingham Assumptiontide Lecture 2016

Mary as Proto-evangelist: What does she teach the church about Mission? A Lecture given in the Parish Church of S Mary & All Saints, Little Walsingham, on 13 August 2016

Our Lady has a lot of titles. Hundreds of them. Each refers to a specific virtue, an intimacy with her Son, or indeed to the site of a place made holy by her visits. This place is among them, of course, and it is a joy and an honour to be here. Thank you to Father Andrew, and to your churchwardens for your kind invitation to give this lecture. I began with a reference to the titles of Our Lady because there is one that is either missing or certainly not in popular use. I refer to the term ‘proto-evangelist.’ She is, indeed, Queen of Evangelists, but that has an altogether different and more nuanced meaning. She is also, according to Evangelii Gaudium, Mother of Evangelisation[1], because she is ‘the Mother of the Church which evangelizes.’ Each title carries with it a specific nuance – in the course of this talk I want to explore the importance of Mary, proto-evangelist, and see what this might uncover in application to our present missionary situation.

William Abraham, in ‘The Logic of Evangelism’ defines Evangelism as

That set of intentional activities which is governed by the goal of initiating people in to the Kingdom of God[2].

Recent literature in the field of evangelism has given us a bewildering variety of definitions, but Abraham’s definition is as helpful as any. The term we are using today – Proto-evangelist – refers both to time and eminence. Mary is the first evangelist, because she is the first to receive and proclaim the definitive good news concerning the salvation of the world through the message of the angel. She is the first to discover the particular form God’s plan will take. Anything that comes before this falls into the category of prophecy. So, Isaiah’s pronouncement in Chapter 7:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel[3].

This is a revelation of another order all together. Isaiah points in prophecy to a future hope. Mary, on the other hand, is speaking from direct experience of God’s activity within her soul, her mind and her body.

Mary is also the first evangelist because her proclamation has so many facets to it, and so much fruit. Without Mary, there could be no Christ, no Gospel to proclaim. It may seem a strange claim, given that scripture records so few of Mary’s words; but that is to presuppose that evangelism is merely a verbal activity. There is certainly a verbal component to evangelism, and it is indispensible – but it is far from the whole story. Mary’s evangelism, her proclamation, her invitation to us to love her Son, is part of her very being, from the moment she assented to the message of the angel.

Mary hears the divine plan, and she accepts. She receives and internalizes the Word in the most intimate and physical way possible, through Divine overshadowing. She does things which are not understood either by casual observer or professional health visitor – not really the time to undertake a six month journey to see your cousin – and that’s before the needs of the Roman Empire fall neatly behind God’s plan and vision by directing Mary and her wonderful spouse to Bethlehem, the seat of the House of David, where the Christ was to be born. Then to Egypt. We discover that Mary isn’t just an evangelist; she is an itinerant, wandering evangelist, travelling from place to place, and from country to country, before the Holy Family is able to settle in Nazareth. And she travels with the living God inside her, for the Holy Spirit has overshadowed her. She is Word-Carrier, Word-Sustainer, Word-Protector. We are bidden here to recognize the astonishing truth that here God’s plan of reliance upon the human condition is total. Into your hands, O Mary, God commits His Spirit.

The nature of that overshadowing is mysterious and profound. It is a type of the overshadowing described in the Creation narratives in Genesis: indeed, it is a type of the reality of overshadowing by which the New Covenant is to be made real among God’s people. Here is the New Covenant’s Ark – that of which the author of Exodus describes in Chapter 4031-35 is in fact the forerunner of Mary herself.

‘When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed; as the Lord had commanded Moses. He set up the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and put up the screen at the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle’.[4]

Mary is the tabernacle filled by the glory of the Lord. In this, and in so many other ways, Mary is a walking, wandering narrative of salvation, especially and poignantly in the time between the visit from the Archangel and the Nativity of the Lord.

Mary is recorded as saying relatively little in scripture, but what she does say is dynamite. Nowhere is this clearer than in the period of her pregnancy. In the Lucan narrative she visits Elizabeth, who is also with child, and responds to Elizabeth’s greeting with the words we now know as the Magnificat[5]. It is as if the very presence of the Christ child within her womb opens up for her a dynamic revelation to rival anything said before, or since. Luke reveals the reasons why Mary praises God in such glowing terms – what he has done for her, what he is doing for all his people. And, yes, this flows across the whole human existence – what he has done for Mary he will do for us all. He will raise up the lowly, scatter the proud, dethrone the mighty and powerful. It is, as Denis McBride points out, the hymn of a Cinderella people[6]. It is a powerful statement, combining as it does evangelical testimony of what God has begun, and even now moves towards eschatological fulfillment in her own womb. And this does not merely apply to Mary herself, but to the whole of the created order of which she is part.

But Mary’s role as proto-evangelist goes way beyond her own verbal proclamation. She is at once Tabernacle, and Ark of the Covenant – a place where the mystery of all existence resides, a portal of wonder. The words of proclamation are there, for sure: Praise and magnify God, work for justice, do whatever my son tells you. Here, however, is a proclamation which goes far beyond the verbal: it proceeds to the ontological, the mystical, the supernatural, to the very heart of all existence. And wherever and whenever there is devotion to Mary, there is devotion to her son, because our love of Mary is contingent upon our adoration of Jesus. And it is in our own stillness, our own silence, mirroring Mary’s own, that we are able to comprehend the length and the breadth, the height and the depth, of God’s love shown for us both in his divine self-emptying and his human being; and in the prior impulse of God to seek the co-operation of one of his own, wonderful beings, as the lynch-pin of the economy of salvation. And because in Mary we can ponder the mystery of the divine plan, the reliance on the created and the human, we are led further and further into what it means to be invited by God to share fully in His divine life. It is not merely in the fact of the incarnation but in its processes: For in Mary we discover the astonishing miracle that God takes human flesh and associates it with divinity. It is the beginning of the scandalous process of the theosis, the deification of humanity of which both Iraeneus and Athanasius were to write in the centuries to come. Mary’s very being proclaims this to the world, and through that proclamation we are made aware of God’s intentions towards humans and indeed, the whole created order.

Mary’s proclamation is implicit, then, in her very being. She who was conceived without sin was thus prepared for the task of God-bearing. And at a time and in a place where her pregnant state could have been the cause of gossip, scandal and even execution under the law, Mary uses it as a springboard, possessed as she is by the interior knowledge and truth of her encounter with the Archangel. Mary’s evangelism is verbal – she proclaims the ultimate Good News to a people who had been waiting for centuries for the message she carried – and it is far more than verbal, but implicit in her very being through the enfleshing of God within her.

Mary is proto-evangelist, certainly, but we must contend that she also sets the bar high for evangelists in other ways. An evangelist must be, first and foremost, a disciple – a follower and pupil of the Master. We are reminded of the consequence of all this in Luke 8.21 when Jesus seems to cast a preferential familial status to discipleship rather than consanguinity – something which may seem hard for a mother to bear, but in fact reminds us that Mother is also faithful disciple.

‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’[7]

Mary is not only the first evangelist, but offers a model of evangelism which is far removed from the traditional images which mar our understanding of this important area. In his closing meditation ‘Mary the Evangelist’ in his book The Abundance of the Heart, Bishop Stephen Cottrell remarks

Sometimes evangelism is seen as either the shallow end of faith – the preserve of the mindlessly enthusiastic – or the macho branch of the church – tub-thumping proclamation and feverish activity. Mary presents another way. Her Magnificat shows that the proclamation of salvation is properly bound up with the proclamation of the Kingdom and that the two should not be separated. By her example we learn a contemplative approach to evangelism.[8]

A further aspect to Mary’s proclamation comes through the various apparitions and statements attributed to her in holy places and shrines. Indeed, the role of proclamation in places such as this lies at the heart of Shrine ministry, as it does in Fatima and Lourdes, to name but two. Those apparitions, miracles and messages granted through Our Lady in these and other places are further signs of grace, signs of proclamation and challenge. Pope Pius XII’s 1957 encyclical Le Pelerinage de Lourdes points this out:

Everything about Mary directs us to her Son, our only Saviour, in anticipation of whose merits she was immaculate and full of grace. Everything about Mary raises us to the praise of the adorable Trinity; and so it was that Bernadette, praying her rosary before the grotto, learned from the words and bearing of the Blessed Virgin how she should give glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[9]

More specifically, the encyclical goes on to quote Pope Pius X:

The unique glory of the shrine of Lourdes lies in the fact that people are drawn there from everywhere by Mary to adore Jesus Christ in the august Sacrament, so that this shrine – at once a centre of Marian devotion and a throne of the Eucharistic mystery – surpasses in glory, it seems, all others in the Catholic world.[10]

What does this have to teach the church? There are a number of specific points for us to consider. Firstly, the nature of evangelism is both verbal and non-verbal, and neither component is dispensable. The Church has been done great harm by the misquoting of St Francis of Assisi, who is alleged to have said ‘Share the Gospel at all time, and if necessary, use words.’ This has been used with glee and a certain relief for those for whom the prospect of verbal faith sharing is an unattractive one. David Hyams[11] quotes a sermon of St Francis, in which he debunks any preference for ‘silent evangelism.’

‘Once you have made a sincere confession, bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. I tell you again, if you are ungrateful for these gifts, and return to your vomit, the disasters will return, punishment will double, and even greater wrath will rage against you’. These are not the actions or comments of an evangelist hesitant to employ the spoken word.

So, the articulation of the story of our salvation is critical. We would not know of the great things God had done for Mary if she had not proclaimed them. It is vital that every Christian is able to be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.[12] Paul VI reinforced this when he wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi

‘The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed’[13]

In Mary we meet one whose own overshadowing leads directly to this proclamation of the gospel of her son. Her opening exchange of greetings with Elizabeth, as mothers and sons meet, cannot be contained. She does not have time to return Elizabeth’s personal greeting (‘Hello, cousin! How wonderful to see you…’) but cannot contain the praise of God that courses through her.

Secondly, whilst our words are important, so equally is our witness. Mary carries the child Jesus in her womb. Here at Walsingham she shows her infant son to the world. At Cana she exhorts us to obedience, and cajoles her son into a slightly untimely action which was surely his most instantly popular miracle. She stands at the foot of the cross, wordless now, immovable in the face of heart-rending grief. She waits with the apostles after the Ascension for the further overshadowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She is there. She is the silent witness. The Church has always wondered what her words might have been, but they are not recorded, perhaps because the time for words is past; only the witness of a life intimately linked to her Son and thus God’s will do. Pope Paul VI again expands on this type of witness as being the only thing which offers distinctive and effective evangelization in the contemporary world:

One can never sufficiently stress the fact that evangelization does not consist only of the preaching and teaching of a doctrine. For evangelization must touch life: the natural life to which it gives a new meaning, thanks to the evangelical perspectives that it reveals; and the supernatural life, which is not the negation but the purification and elevation of the natural life[14].

Thirdly, evangelism is borne not merely of words or conviction but of ontological reality. The church is called, in a supernatural sense, to be the outward face of Christian evangelism. In this, we are drawn to her Son by Mary, who is (as Lumen Gentium quoting St Ambrose of Milan states) herself a type of the church.

As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ[15]. For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. Through her faith and obedience she gave birth on earth to the very Son of the Father, not through the knowledge of man but by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, in the manner of a new Eve who placed her faith, not in the serpent of old but in God’s messenger without waivering in doubt. The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29), that is, the faithful, in whose generation and formation she cooperates with a mother’s love.

This passage from Lumen Gentium stresses virginity and motherhood, faith and obedience, and finally cooperation. If, however, Mary is a type of the church, it would be seemly to add her role as evangelist. If Mary is a type of the church, she is our model for inviting people to share the banquet of her son. Pope Francis acknowledges this in Evangelii Gaudium when he writes of the Church having a ‘Marian style of evangelization’[16], which encompasses both the contemplative and active virtues. The virtues traditionally ascribed to Mary are irenic, and sometimes described as passive – that isn’t a bad thing, and of course Cottrell speaks of Mary as ‘Contemplative Evangelist’ – but surely in her exemplary life of faith and witness we encounter confidence, bravery and radical Kingdom Theology.

Finally, there is the message we receive from the cult of Marian apparition: that the call to mission is a supernatural call, and with supernatural consequences. Not merely in word, but in divine plan, the church is called from the merely temporal and temporary into the concerns of the Kingdom of Heaven. Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje and, indeed Walsingham are vibrant signs of Our Lady calling the people of God back to the first call – to hear the voice of the Lord God, to seek the restoration of original innocence, and to dwell once more in bliss.

In my introduction I mentioned the title used by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium – that of Mother of Evangelisation. This follows on more from the typology issue mentioned earlier, but also reminds us of Mary’s rather enigmatic presence with the disciples at Pentecost.[17] Accordingly the praying shared with the disciples ‘made possible the missionary outburst which took place at Pentecost.’[18] She whom the Spirit overshadowed ultimately invoked that same Spirit upon the church, just as, with the beloved disciple, she had received the Spirit at the foot of the Cross[19].

Ultimately, God is the evangelist, and it is God’s Mission in which Mary – and all of us – participate. But none, before or since, have offered themselves so completely to the plan of salvation, assisted it so miraculously, and – even though of relatively few recorded words – have proclaimed it so thoroughly. I conclude with the prayer offered by Pope Francis at the conclusion of Evangelii Gaudium, which sums up all that I have tried to say.

Mary, Virgin and Mother,

you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,

welcomes the Word of life

in the depths of your humble faith,

as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,

help us to say our own “yes”

to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,

to proclaim the good news of Jesus.


Filled with Christ’s presence,

you brought joy to John the Baptist,

making him exult in the womb of his mother.

Brimming over with joy,

you sang of the great things done by God.

standing at the foot of the cross

with unyielding faith,

you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection

and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit

so that the evangelizing Church might be born.


obtain for us a new ardour born of the resurrection,

that we may bring to all the Gospel of life

which triumphs over death.

give us a holy courage to seek new paths,

that the gift of unfading beauty may reach every man and woman.


Virgin of listening and contemplation,

Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,

pray for the church, whose pure icon you are,

that she may never be closed in on herself

or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.


Star of the new evangelization,

help us to bear radiant witness to communion,

service, ardent and generous faith,

justice and love of the poor,

that the joy of the Gospel may reach the ends of the earth,

illuminating even the fringes of our world.


Mother of the living gospel,

wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,

pray for us.


Amen. Alleluia[20]!

Damian Feeney


[1] Evangelii Gaudium 284

[2] Abraham, W. The Logic of Evangelism, Eerdmanns 1996

[3] Isaiah 7.14. All quotations from Scripture are from NRSV.

[4] Exodus 40.31-35

[5] Luke 1.46

[6] Mc Bride, D., The Gospel of Luke: A reflective commentary Dominican, 1991, p. 30

[7] Luke 8.21

[8] Cottrell, S., From the Abundance of the Heart, DLT 2006, p. 133

[9] Le Pelerinage de Lourdes, 1957, 23

[10] op.cit: quoting Brief of April 25, 1911: Arch. brev. ap., Pius X, an. 1911Div. Lib. IX, pars I, f. 337.

[11] Hyams, D. Silent Evangelism: Misunderstanding St Francis’ Exhortation at (referenced 26.07.2016)

[12] 1 Peter 3.15

[13] Evangelii Nuntiandi 22

[14] Evangelii Nuntiandi 47

[15] Lumen Gentium,, quoting S. Ambrosius, Expos. Lc. II, 7: PL 15, 1555.

[16] EG 288

[17] Acts 1.15

[18] EG 284

[19] John 19.25-30

[20] EG 288

The Spirit of the Lord God

A Homily for a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit: The First Mass of Fr Tom Wintle, Curate of the Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin and Ss Mary & John, Camp Hill, Nuneaton

Readings: Isaiah lxi.1-3, 6, 8-9; Ps. civ.1, 24, 29-30, 31, 43; 1 Corinthians xii.3-7, 12-13 John xx.19-23

‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me’. (Isaiah 61.1)

Or, more specifically tonight, on you, Father Tom, because that Spirit was invoked upon you by the bishop last night, for the office and work of a priest, that you may help us to discover further the ministry of service and abandonment to the divine will which is bestowed upon the church – that you may be a visible and demonstrable sign of that will, and church’s response to it. I know it is a great day for you, and for your family, and you have been waiting for today for many years. It is also a wonderful day for those who have been privileged to be part of your journey thus far. For priests here this evening, ordinations and first masses are great events not only because of the gift of a new priest, but because it reminds us all of our own ordinations, our own first masses. Priests are recalled to what made us respond to the call of God in our lives, to the time when we fell in love with our loving God. We ponder our own journeys of faith since those moments, and (if we are wise) resolve to capture again the great feeling of joy which you demonstrate tonight as you invoke the Holy Spirit yourself upon us, and upon bread and wine, so that Christ may be truly present, and so that we might be equipped to play our part as the children of God.

What does the Spirit enable? What is there that was not before? Isaiah give us some examples of what we might expect. The Spirit enables you to be a bringer of Good News – and how we need it in the turbulent present. You are enabled to be a healer, a binder up of wounds, one who tells us that we are no longer in slavery to sin and evil. You are to proclaim comfort for the sorrowful, and to renew the dead ashes of human endeavour with a flowering garland. Oh, yes, and you have to continue to attend your IME Training.

You may be familiar with the type of lizard known as a chameleon. A chameleon is clever. It can change colour to suit its surroundings. You may know the old joke that cruelty is best defined buy the act of placing a chameleon on a tartan rug and watching it die of over exertion.

Priests are sometimes called to change colour, to become part of their surroundings, in order to serve that place better. We are called, as Pope Francis reminded us, to ‘smell of the sheep.’ But at the same time, a priest must remain distinctive, able to speak the prophetic, and sometimes unpopular word – to his people. You are called to live your life within a community and yet be called apart from them.  This is the very essence of priesthood, and is the total preserve of our Great High Priest Jesus Christ, in whose Incarnation we rejoice. Totally human, blended in with his people, yet the colourful, sharp-edged and distinctive word of the living God among us. The part we play in receiving the grace for this is to be found in a patient and deep rooted listening – listening to our communities, listening to ourselves, but listening in a disciplined and devoted fashion to God.

This listening is the beginning of our obedience, the beginning of priestly living. Listening to God, listening to others. We must listen from the uncluttered space of the heart. It’s a very radical and subversive notion. We live in a world of background noise, of supermarket musak, of traffic noise, of the telly in the corner, endless chatter, manipulative words, the words which mask the truth, the aggressive hard sell. This noise, these wasted words, create pressure. Real silence is rare, and it’s no wonder that we can find it difficult to hear that voice within, the voice of our God, calling, guiding us home. All Christian people – not just priests – are called to carve out such spaces for silence in our lives, because it is in that silence when the ways of God become open and apparent to us. ‘Cut off from me’ Jesus said ‘you can do nothing’. And we become cut off from Jesus if we do not seek the places where he is to be found, and especially in the silence of the heart.

Father, every relationship you have ever known expands tonight, and your capacity to hold all these before God is an essential part of the life you now live. And you must hold them serenely, calmly, before God in the stillness and silence of your heart, not replicating their fear and anxiety but presenting them to God through Christ, whose priesthood you now share. Your life is now a sacramental focus of the school of excellence in loving and being loved, and enabling others whose capacity to love and trust has been damaged by the challenges of life to trust and love again. This is a great deal of what it means to heal and to reconcile. It is costly, it is God-centred, it is, Father, privilege, sacrifice and joy.

Sacraments can’t stay on the altar, just as the Word of God cannot stay in the pulpit. These are the greatest gifts of all, and they are to be shared freely, recklessly, because they spring from the heart of Love itself. And when you give your heart to people, to families, and to your community, it is that Word, those Sacraments, which will make you stand out not only as priest but as someone intimately involved with the mission of Jesus.

Brothers and Sisters, may I encourage you to be prepared for God to act in this community, in your heart and soul, at this moment, tonight, and in the days, months and years to come. Be prepared to be challenged by goodness, by grace, by forgiveness, by the Kingdom of God which turns the world upside down. For if we truly knew the power of what we do this night, Father, you would not do it lightly. We would be issuing hard hats for protection, and distress flares, not hymn books and orders of service. We come to the Mass not in the hope, but in the expectation that Jesus will change us, and we should be ready for that, and glad of it. In offering us this gift of a new priest, God bestows privilege: but with privilege comes responsibility. Fr Tom stands before us tonight as one who has heard the call of God in his life. So what of you and I? Are we listening? Are we attentive to the call of God? Is there an unattended corner in your heart which longs to respond to God? Might God be calling you, to a new and different life?

May we open our hearts to the riches of God’s grace, and open our minds to the possibility that who we are tonight is not the finished article. And may the Spirit of the Lord, so active tonight in and through Tom Wintle, priest, awaken and enliven all our hearts, that we may live as citizens of heaven.

Radiance and Intimacy

A Sermon for a Votive Mass  of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest: The First Mass of Fr Keyvan Dominic Cyrus, Curate of S Michael and All Angels, and Holy Cross, Tividale

Readings: Hebrews x:12-23 Psalm xxxix:6, 9-11 Luke xxii.14-20

Fr Keyvan Dominic Cyrus is a priest in the Church of God. How glad and grateful we are! We are twice grateful: Grateful to Fr Dominic who has responded to the call of God in his life, setting all else aside, for  he and Rashin have sought to live in the light of God, as signs of his generosity. And we are grateful to Almighty God, in whose praise we gather here this afternoon. A new priest is always Good News, not necessarily because of anything he may bring to the priestly life, but because this grace is a sign that God continues to care for his people through the ministry of the priesthood which belongs to Jesus Christ, and which we who are priests are privileged to share. And today Fr Dominic does what new priests do; he hastens to the altar, here to make present the eternal offering of the son to the Father, for the first time, with newly anointed hands and heart. It is an explosion of joy, and you may suspect that his face is even more radiant than normal! If that is so, it is no surprise. Father, since you have been called to this office by God, and so you are ever closer to the person God has called you to be – as Blessed John Henry Newman put it, closer to the ‘final me’ – the one you are called to become. A new priest is a sign and a challenge for the whole people of God, in our own vocations, because we are all called by God in particular ways: and so I take this opportunity to ask the question, of each and every one of you gathered here: What is God calling you to be, to do? Who is the ‘final me’ as far as you are concerned? It is a question each of us should face, and answer, as we journey towards Christ, and listen carefully for the answer.

Father, you have exercised with great joy and dignity, the office of a deacon, proclaiming the Word of God, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Now God calls you to a yet more intimate form of service: intimate with Christ, and with the members of his Body. The great mystery we share today underlines this intimacy, as you celebrate this Mass of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that it is the action of Christ, in offering himself freely and willingly, which makes the difference for his people. We speak of a priest’s ‘First Mass’ and yet on one level there is only one Mass, one offering – that of the Son to the Father. This Mass participates in that perfect and eternal offering. And just as this Mass participates in that offering, so you are granted a priesthood which is not your own, but which is a share in the great High Priesthood of Jesus Christ, enabling you to perform the wonderful works of God.

Father, in the course of your life as a priest you will use many words as you seek to give God glory, and for the upbuilding of God’s people. But among these words, the most critical and significant will be the words of the Mass you offer. Thomas Merton says of these most special of words

In speaking the words of the Mass, the Priest is not only ‘speaking for the people’ he also ‘speaks to God’. Critically, these words are not his own words. ‘In a few simple sentences which are the words of God’ give us by Christ, these words unite us with God. To be precise, what is pronounced when the dominical words are spoken is the ‘Word that is uttered by the Father (and so) cause the Word to be present in time, in a special state – incarnate and sacrificed.

Words are precious, and the world in which we live has become too fond of words. We are bombarded with them, and they are too often careless words, words which destroy rather than build, words which denigrate rather than encourage. The words of Fr Dominic today are the most important words a human being can ever utter, because they are words which invoke the action of God, in His world, words of astonishing power which draw God’s people into an intimate communion with Him. And if he has any sense (and he has) Fr Dominic will know the power of these words and perhaps be a little nervous; but Father, do not be afraid, for God is most surely with you, for he has called and chosen you, and so will equip you for this task. May you truly ‘have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus’.

Father this is your First Mass; or, more properly, the first which you have celebrated for us, for your people. May it be the first of many hundreds, thousands, of Masses! And may you, each time you approach the altar, feel as you feel today; nervous, because of the importance and solemnity of what Christ works in you; excited, because of the privilege of standing in the footmarks of Christ; and radiant wth joy, because you know that through the actions of the priest among his people lives are transformed out of all recognition, people are healed and reconciled, and captive souls are set free. Yes, may you always feel what you feel today, and may your face from this day forward shine with a radiance which comes from the intimacy which God has ordained in you: and may you continue to give yourself with joy and abandon, until our Saviour Christ is all in all.

Mercy and Mission

An Address to priests of the Society of the Holy Cross: Milton Keynes, 15 June. 2016

“Lord Jesus Christ, you are our merciful God become Man to redeem us from our sins. Open our eyes to the debt of love that we owe you for your unspeakable merciful love for us. Open our hearts to give ourselves to you through those whom you place into our lives, so that by our mercy toward them we may win mercy from you and, dear Jesus, cooperate with you in the redemption of a sinful world. Amen.”

Thank you very much indeed for inviting me to be with you today, and for the opportunity to share with you some thoughts on the place of mercy in the mission of the church. Mercy is a characteristic of our loving God, and therefore our understanding of mercy increases as our knowing God increases. And because mercy is a characteristic of God, inseparable from God himself, we are engaged in the business of proclaiming something which is part of God’s very nature. Given the broadest possible interpretation of the word ‘Mission’ as the task which God originates and shares with his church, we should be able to recognise that if we proclaim God, we proclaim His Mercy, which is itself the archetype of all acts of mercy in the course of daily living. 
Of course, the great quasi-liturgical and spiritual motif of this Year of Mercy is that of passing through a door which has been opened for the purpose, betokening entry into a new phase of life in Christ. The message is clear: whoever you are, whatever you have done, there is always a way back to Christ. The door is always open. Mercy is in this regard a close companion of hospitality – that our doors are open to anyone, anywhere, in an infinite number of contexts. I believe it was Augustine who said that there is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future. 
As I look back over my life as a priest so far, I am both saddened and amazed by the number of times people have said to me that they felt themselves to be irrevocably cut off from God because of something they had done in their past, or because of something about them which they believed ruled them out either of entry into the church, or indeed, access to salvation, and to Christ himself. And I find myself asking ‘What have we done?’ How have we portrayed ourselves, both overtly and covertly, to make people of whatever history, walk of life, or disposition, believe that the church was not for them, that the mercy promised them by Jesus Christ was somehow not available? Either through action or inaction, words or silence, dispositions or through pure co-incidence, the church has done much that is wrong in the lives of individual people. We often have to cut through the misassumptions and misrepresentations among which people live if we are to offer people a wholly positive message – a message that they are loved by God, that God is anxious to show mercy to them, and that mercy is but one facet of the supreme and constant outpouring of grace which is the inheritance of those who seek to live close to him. Perhaps the first and most pressing connection between mercy and mission comes in our seeking of it as individual priests and as the church catholic. 
We might contend, then, that mercy is something which has to be sought, by ourselves and by others; for the dynamic of mercy and forgiveness to be fully effective, there needs to be acknowledgement of sin and the nature of the estrangement. It is indeed a two way process, and I wouldn’t want anything I say be taken to mean that I think there’s such a thing as cheap grace! Far from it. But sometimes, when a person is at the beginning of the journey towards divine mercy, they are not aware of the nature of the estrangement, nor have their lives been shaped by the moral norms and dispositions which we as a group of Catholic clergy take for granted. Indeed, the language we employ in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus is critical if we are to make any sort of headway with the estranged soul. We are well used to the stereotype of evangelism which preaches sin before it preaches mercy. There’s a reason why it doesn’t work, and that reason is that it starts from a negative assumption about the human condition. Good News, if it is to appear Good, needs to start from a far higher place, encompassing hope, optimism, love – God must love humans – he became one. It’s like the difference between First Aid and major surgery – what happens at the beginning of a process isn’t necessarily what needs to happen as the pilgrimage proceeds. Awareness of sinfulness, and the need for mercy, is generally a gradual process, an awakening, for the individual soul, and our preaching about mercy needs to touch on this simply, and to ensure that people know that support, love and mercy are present, both in the informal setting of the companionship of the community of faith and the more formal setting of the sacramental life of the church. 
The people we serve are very often people shaped by culturally malignant forces. Everywhere we are served up the rhetoric of corporations, consumption, propaganda, advertisement, and the constant and insistent white noise of social media. These in no small measure account for the swift abandonment of things that we would take to be moral norms and which have occasioned, in a generation, such a crisis of identity and confidence in the church and in western culture. Different parts of the church have answered this crisis in particular ways, either through cultural relativism, and trying to look as culturally relevant as possible, or through standing to one side, observing pharisaically the tendencies of a wayward world, and calling itself ‘counter-cultural’. Both of these paths are fraught with difficulties. Become indistinguishable from the world, and we have nothing distinctive or transformative to offer: become separate from the world, and we have no means of connection or communication with which to offer love and mercy to a world which is needy but does not know that need. There is a third way; the way of living in and being part of the world without seeing the world’s concerns as our prior claim. Rather, we are part of God’s plan of salvation for the world he loves, and longs for. We are in the world to reveal the Kingdom of God.
Our life is a joy-filled discovery of what it means to see the world through the eyes of the Living God. We as priests are called to seek that place of divine observation, of placing all our dispositions at the service of God, and to be part of the agency through which God works. This means modelling divine mercy in our lives, both as an indication of the present reality of God’s mercy and as a foretaste of the mercy to come within the realm of God’s judgement. We know and believe that God’s impulses are always prior to, and greater than, our own – the impulse of love, the impulse of joy, the impulses of mercy and forgiveness. We recall the words of the first epistle of John:
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4.10-12)
Of course, all of God’s attributes are in fact God, one and the same. To say that God is ‘merciful’ is not to subdivide God according to attribute but rather to describe yet another wonderful facet of God. So we can say with St Faustina that ‘Love is the flower, mercy the fruit’ (Diary, 948).’

The story is told of a Bishop from the Southern Bible-belt United States spending Holy Week at a famous shrine of Anglo Catholicism in London (no names, no pack drill). At the gin fest which followed the High Mass on Easter Day, one of the rather nice young servers smarmed over the the Bishop on the pretext of refilling his glass, and said ‘I suppose, Father, that all of this has been a bit extreme for you?’ The Bishop didn’t skip a beat. ‘Son’ he said, ‘When I think of what ma Lord and Saviour did for me, nothing I could do for him could be too extreme.’
I tell that story because what the Bishop had done was to understand the length, the breadth, the height and the depth of God’s mercy towards him and towards the whole human race expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The side bar to it was that it was a tremendous put-down. Our own understanding of mercy depends on the same process, balancing our understanding of our sinful state against the overwhelming grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds the Romans that 
‘…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5.20-21)

So, however sinful we may be, there is, in Christ, always grace to cover it, to beat it. Accordingly, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. (Romans 8.31 foll).
 We will, as ever, assist others to recognise their own need of mercy by recognising ours: the tools given to us in the Society Rule enable us to do this. Frequent examination of conscience: frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. One thing is for sure. This generation knows that priests are sinners, for the newspapers tell us so! That place on the pedestal of parish life never was a good place to be, but was where misguided idealists – lay and ordained – placed us. We need to vacate it, fast, if we haven’t already, because only Jesus belongs there. Our stewardship of the share of priesthood granted to us is best tended by humility, and by assisting others, gently and with sensitivity, to come to an understanding of their need for mercy. This manifests itself through a preaching ethos of encouragement, and through testimonies and stories from ourselves and from others. 

Mercy, then, is rooted and grounded in love. It cannot be otherwise. Samuel Crossman’s great hymn ‘My song is love unknown’ makes this point well with the wonderful lines in the first verse ‘love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be. I remember meeting with a couple in Lancashire in the course of organising the funeral of his mother. They were delightful, and spoke in articulate fashion about Mother, her living and her dying. It transpired that they both visited her every day in the nursing home for a number of years, and had dog’s abuse from her every day in the process. She was hard-bitten, cynical, and thoroughly world weary, and he was most upset at the thought that he felt he had not, could not, love her as he should have done. I reminded him that the act of visiting, day in, day out, even in the face of an unpromising encounter, was a wonderful act of love. Had he not loved, he would have said ‘Well, stuff it’ (or similar) and not bothered. But bother they did, and visit they did. I quoted the Samuel Crossman lines to him. When we love those who are loveless, we embody divine mercy. Then we love our enemies, we embody divine mercy. When we love, and receive bile in return, but still love, that is divine mercy at work. 
This bring us back to our understanding of salvation history as being one overwhelming act of divine mercy. God did not have to create, but did so. He did not have to become human, but did so. God sis not have to send his Spirit, but does so. God pours out love, and grace, and mercy on us, his undeserving poor. The link between mercy and mission, therefore, lies in our capacity to recognise our own need for mercy, to so animate our communities with self-understanding that they might do the same, and hence for this to form the understanding in the wider community of what the church founded by Jesus Christ is about. Mercy is what happens when the Lord God makes the choice to overlook our sins, because of what his Son did, and because our sin in the end makes us love him all the more, as we become increasingly aware of the fact that ‘between our sins and their reward, we set The Passion of Thy Son our Lord.’ Mercy is what shapes and forms us in our understanding of the generosity of God – if we and our people know mercy, then we know what is the debt of love that we owe to God, and live our lives in the freedom of that love. 
Finally, I think there is a temptation when engaged in the language of business of mercy, that we must be careful with the emphasis of what we say. The Church, in proclaiming mercy, is emphasising a characteristic of God which people have not suspected. We hear tales of an angry God, a judgemental God, and tyrannical God. My experience of God, in scripture, in the Mass, and in the store of my life, is that he is merciful to a sublime degree. But how careful we must be not to sound as if this were merely some largesse which the church had decided to distribute to her people, as if we were the moral arbiters of the piece. All we can do is speak of God’s mercy, embody it in our relationships with parishioners and the wider community, and issue the invitations whereby those who see themselves as beyond mercy can in fact come and experience it for themselves. 
“Lord Jesus Christ, you are our merciful God become Man to redeem us from our sins. Open our eyes to the debt of love that we owe you for your unspeakable merciful love for us. Open our hearts to give ourselves to you through those whom you place into our lives, so that by our mercy toward them we may win mercy from you and, dear Jesus, cooperate with you in the redemption of a sinful world. Amen.”
Damian Feeney

Thee we Adore

A Homily for Corpus Christi 2016

Readings:  Genesis xiv:18-20 Psalm cix:1-4 , 1 Corinthians xi:23-26 Luke 9:11-17

Sweet Sacrament, we thee adore: O make us love thee more and more.

When you think about it, the church treats the Last Supper in a slightly odd way. The Last Supper, when Jesus took bread and wine, and said ‘This is my Body…this is my Blood’ – all this took place the night before Jesus died. And yet the gospel reading on Maundy Thursday doesn’t mention it. It focuses instead on Jesus doing the work of a slave, washing the feet of his friends. The institution of the Mass gets no coverage. To remedy this, and after a long period of lobbying, the church decreed in the fourteenth century that this feast – in honour of the Body and Blood of Christ – should be celebrated to give us the chance to ponder what it means for Jesus to be present with us, through the action of the priest with his people, in the outwards forms of bread and wine.

Every Sunday – indeed, every day the Mass is celebrated here – Jesus is made present among us, in this particular way. We do it because he told us to: ‘Do this in memory of me’. We do it because it is what we are for. The words and actions of the priest, in the presence of and on behalf of the people (and you need both).’ Send down your Holy Spirit on these gifts, and on these people. Bread and wine is transformed, for a second time. First of all, wheat and grapes are gathered from creation, and are crushed, to be turned into flour, and the juice of the grape. Bread ferments through yeast, grape juice through sugar. Bread is baked, and wine is allowed the gift of time to transform it from grape juice into glorious, delicious wine.

And then the second transformation – by God’s Holy Spirit – that bread and wine become body, become blood, of Jesus Christ himself. And behind me, the tabernacle on the high altar, where the Body of Christ reposes, marked by a candle, suspended from on high, to remind us when we come into church that Jesus Christ is here, in our tabernacle, on our altars, in our hearts. Only on one day of the year is the candle extinguished – on Good Friday, when the death of Jesus leaves us bereft, pining, waiting for that same Holy Spirit to act, in raising Jesus from the dead.

And, as at every Mass, we will be fed – fed by the Body and Blood of Jesus, Corpus et Sanguis Christi. Jesus feeds us, not with bodily food like those five thousand, but with heavenly food, a food which becomes part of us, which nourishes us, with the indwelling Christ. And at the end of Mass today we will kneel, and we will adore, Jesus, on his throne of glory, and in this Holy Sacrament. This is life itself – your life, my life, fed with his life. And how right it is that we the the chance, with all of our being, to be brought to our knees by Jesus.

We use the word ‘adore’ too loosely. I adore Fiona. I adore the children. I adore seafood. I adore the dogs. (sometimes). I adore Mozart, and roast lamb, and the smell of lavender. I adore ‘Poetry please’ on Radio Four, and a really good cup of tea. But the truth is that I don’t. If I adore, I worship, I am brought low before you. I am driven to my knees because that is the only way I can show the depth of how I truly feel. (And even if you can’t kneel down any more, you can kneel down in your head, in your heart).

We kneel down to say ‘You are greater than me. You are God. I love you this much.’ Our calling as Christian people is to fall in love – to fall in love with one another, for sure, but mainly to fall in love with God. And one of the ways we show this is that take time to adore him, just because we can, and it’s wonderful. When we love someone, we long to be with them, to be close to them, to be in their presence. This applies to Jesus, only more so. Think of the words of the hymn

Sweet Sacrament, we thee adore: O make us love thee more and more.

We adore Jesus in this sacrament, and we ask that he will grant us the gift of loving him more and more. We don’t choose who we fall in love with – it happens, and it is a gift from God, because God is love. So we ask God to help us love him more.

A little while ago we sang these words.

We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.

Praise. Bless. Adore. Glorify. Thank. These are the sensations that should be on our hearts as we worship. Sometimes that is hard, and we don’t make it, and we come to church even though it’s the last thing we want to do but we know we should so we do. And this is why. Because we know we should praise, and bless, and adore, and glorify. And we know we need to be forgiven, and healed, and encouraged, and that Jesus longs us to have all these things, and more. But this is not merely something we turn up and consume. This is, in fact, who we are. A groups sinners who smile because we at least know our need of God and have been found by him. And he is here. Right here. He is always here. And he is always with you, if you will take him with you. He will be in your hearts, your homes, your places of work, if you will be good enough to take him with you. Please. Don’t just leave him here, with only a candle for company, because unless you take him from this altar, this church, into the world, he will not be able to do the same for others.

Sweet Sacrament, we thee adore. O make us love thee more and more.

The Joy of the Wounds

A Sermon for the First Mass of Fr Jamie Gater

Preached on Saturday, 28 May 2016 at the Church of St Margaret of Antioch, Ifield

in the Diocese of Chichester

Readings: Numbers 11.24-30, 1 Cor 12, John 20.19-23

‘…he showed them his hands and his side.’ (John 20.20)

It is a great joy and privilege to be here tonight. Thank you, Father, for inviting me to preach this evening. There is a temptation for a sermon at a first mass to be a bit like a best man’s speech at a wedding – but it must not be so. It was my joyful task to accompany Fr Jamie, and others, on their journey to ordination through three fun-filled, relaxing and frivolous years at Oxford. This has meant that I have had a certain amount of time to reflect upon the different types of people God calls to serve him as deacons and priests.

Quite apart from marvelling at the collection of apostates and heretics whom the Lord has called and chosen to be stewards of His mysteries, I have come to the conclusion that God calls the widest possible variety of personalities to act as the focus for the Christian ministry of the people of God. The personality is, in fact, part of the call, and I strongly believe that Fr Jamie’s ordination to serve as a priest in the Church of God is a sure sign that the gospel, the church, and the task of mission in which we all share, are not complete unless they are infused with divine joy.

And tonight we share this joy in a very particular way, because a new priest is always a sign of hope, both here in Ifield, and everywhere throughout the church. The Lord has provided. Another priest is ordained, full of zeal for the gospel, inspiration, and fresh vision. So tonight is about joy, because joy is the overwhelming reaction of his friends when Jesus appears, and we are reminded of his words before his death

your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16.22)

Priests are signs of joy, because they reveal God to us. They are signs that God has not given up on his people. That doesn’t always mean that they are signs of happiness. A good priest should be a disturbing influence on people. The things he says should nag away at us in our quiet moments, persuading us to live more and yet more in a God-centred way. And, sadly the sight of a priest is, for some, a sign of mistrust and abuse of one sort or another, and it is the task of those who are recently ordained to set about the task of healing such profound wounds, a task, which will doubtless take a generation or more. In any case, happiness and joy are two separate things, happiness being a mood which comes and goes, and joy being a state of awareness that you are living your life faithfully and in response to God’s love and call in your life. I am in awe, Father Jamie, of your capacity to live the Christian life as an outpouring of joy.  this joy comes at a cost, and at times a heavy one.

How is Jesus recognised in the gospels? In Luke, at the farthest point of the Emmaus Road, he is recognised in the breaking of bread.  As we have just heard, in John’s Gospel he is recognised by his wounds – the wounds which were the means and the consequence of his passion, the wounds by which we are healed, the wounds he carries back to the Father to become part of the very life of God. Father Jamie, you now share Jesus’ priesthood. There is no other priesthood, no greater priesthood, no more perfect priesthood than this. You are a priest – Christ’s priest, and so inevitably you will  share in his wounds also. WB Yeats once described warfare as ‘a terrible beauty’ but had he been ordained, he might well have said the same thing about priesthood.

Priests do not minister effectively merely because they are gifted, or prayerful, or expert in time management, or skilled strategic thinkers. The wise and holy priest is one who seeks to bind the wounds of others, knowing something of their pain because he has suffered similar wounds himself. His whole life experience is poured onto the altar, and offers itself for this community. The gifts he offers are Jesus’ gifts: gifts of grace, of healing and reconciliation to others in no small measure because he knows how important they are, and how much they are needed, especially in a fractious and turbulent world like ours.  And through this divine healing we experience renewed joy, and come to the conclusion of all followers of the crucified and risen Christ – that the wounds are there to be the object of Christ’s healing, and therefore of great joy.

There are many images we might employ to explore priesthood. There is the candle, which burns with a light which can be divided but never dims, which produces light, and no little heat, and is above all a sign of hope. The candle burns, slowly until it is all gone. It wastes its energy on nothing else than the business of burning. There is the grain of incense, placed on the direct heat of the gospel of Jesus, which is consumed while issuing forth the sweetest smelling fragrance. Both of these are Christlike images because they combine both the cost of priesthood with the fruit – the act of being consumed brings forth fruit for the kingdom. But there is more, because the Jesus whose priesthood Jamie now shares told us that the very reason for his coming at all was that we should have life, and have it to the full. That’s true of all of us, but it’s easy to forget that it’s true for clergy as well. Jesus wants you for a sunbeam, not a doormat. Our new priest remains a deacon, and will always be, and priesthood is in fact another way to serve; but it is a type of service which is intended to animate all of us in the service of the whole community rather than watching others do it.

Jesus is recognised by his wounds. But that isn’t the only way we recognise him when he comes among us. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is recognised in the breaking of the bread.  More than that, at the Last Supper Jesus identified himself for ever with bread and wine, more intimately that we dare to allow ourselves to imagine; and so it is right that tonight, surrounded by family, fellow clergy, parishioners, friends, and all, he hastens to the altar to claim that promise of Jesus: ‘This is my Body: This is my Blood’ and to make those promises live in his own life and in the life of the people he serves.

My prayer for you, Father Jamie, is that from this day forward you will strive to be true to the  priestly vocation which God has lavished upon you. My prayer for you, Husband Jamie, is that you will strive to deepen and enrich your calling to be as one with the wonderful Naomi, whom God preserve and who needs our prayers. My prayer for you, Papa Jamie, is that you will continue to nurture, love and encourage the wonderful force of nature who is Jonah. My prayer for you, my brother priest, is that you will be joyfully consumed by all this, and more, as the wonders of the kingdom are revealed around you, and as the Good God uses you for his delight, and good purposes, until it is accomplished, and Christ is all in all.

Who do you think you are kidding?

Clive Dunn

Who do we believe?

If the last few month have taught the poor beleaguered citizens of the United Kingdom anything, it is that there is no such thing as objective information. The rhetoric which has characterised the debate concerning EU membership has become desperate, inflammatory and viscerally personal. Members of the same political party have taken to trading insults with all the apparent glee of children being told that, just this once, they can have a water fight in the playground. The hyperbole and double standards being adopted on each side is now exhausting, and I suspect I am not alone in being fed up with it.

So, what is going on? How does this issue manage to divide erstwhile colleagues so bitterly? As ever, it’s what you choose to care about. I begin from the business of sovereignty, and the question of how effective the democratic vote I cast is. I begin from Tony Benn’s wonderful list of questions which he could put to political officials in the quest for ensuring democracy: 

What power have you got? 

Where did you get it from? 

In whose interests do you use it? 

To whom are you accountable? 

How do we get rid of you?

Even a casual glance at the infrastructure of the EU causes us to doubt whether it is truly accountable to the desires of the people of Europe expressed at the ballot box. Indeed, the range of rhetoric designed to ensure that this is not the subject which most people are talking about has been impressive. The voices of national, international and academic economists have laid stress instead on the economic arguments, which, quite simply , revolves around whether the UK would be ‘better off’ in or out of the EU. In other words, self-interest. We have veiled warnings from the leader of the free world (and God forbid we should tell the good citizens of the United States which way they should cast their votes) about the impact of Brexit (a word I hate). There has been a sudden resurgence in the role of the expert in all of this, economics coming under the category of Things We Do Not Understand. To date I have not heard one argument in all this which says ‘staying in the EU would benefit people across the globe who we have never met, and who are in need’. No wonder the Remain camp take such delight in parodying the Brexit campaign as a manifestation of ‘little England.’ The truth is that they have succumbed to the same thing in trying to prove the opposite case, and they are not being challenged on it.

Here was an opportunity for a great national debate. Here we could talk about the effects of being run by corporations, whether based in this country or elsewhere. Here we could assess whether the increasingly influential questions raised by the global economy, and whether the best way to be represented to the rest of the world is as part of an economic, or even political union.. Immigration – as distinct from hospitality to refugees – fuels paranoia, and is wilfully exported by the right wing press. Here was a chance to talk seriously about responses to terror threats, the role of NATO, questions of policing. Here was a chance to ask what kind of a people we truly believe ourselves to be. 

And we blew it. Or rather, it was blown for us, by the way in which the debate was proposed and set up. And we have seen the forces of the elite ranged up now in harmony, now in disharmony, cajoling and persuading the people to vote, through an almost entirely negative campaign strategy. The £9m of the nation’s money spent ‘to outline the Government’s position’ was cynical manipulation. It skewed the debate, and distracted us with a process story. The use of Treasury time to come up with a series of pro-Remain fiscal projections could also be seen in this way. For George Osborne to turn to his opponents and say ‘what are your figures?’ is disingenuous and dishonest. One side of the debate has been resourced by the public purse: the other has not. 

My instinct is, after all this, the same as it has been for many years. It would be better to stay in a European Union where absolute sovereignty for Parliament was guaranteed, and that this was what it was pre-Maastricht: a common approach to trade. The reforms which David Cameron has waved front of us, Chamberlain-like, have not gone far enough to achieve this. We will be a member of a Union which fundamentally follows a different path from the one this country wants to take. I cannot say at this stage how I will vote. I can, however, say two things.

  1. The political landscape has changed, and changed for ever. It is impossible to see how relationships in the Conservative Party can be healed. 
  2. We will never, in this country, be able to have a sensible, reasoned debate again.