Rowan Williams: ‘Let God Dissolve Our Fantasies’

Retiring Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams gave a thoughtful lecture on “monastic virtues and ecumencial hopes” this week at the Monasticism and Ecumenism conference at San Gregorio Magno al Celio in Rome.

The gathering was to celebrate the millennium of the monastic community of Camaldoli. Williams was followed by Robert Hale, prior of the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California. The Camaldolese (Benedictine) monastic community invited Archbishop Williams to join their millennial celebrations in Rome in recognition of the close connection of San Gregorio Magno with the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. The ancient Roman monastery on the Caelian Hill which bears the name of Pope St Gregory the Great was the place from which Gregory (himself a monk) sent St. Augustine of Canterbury and a party of fellow Benedictine monks to Britain in the late 590s. The Camaldolese have occupied the monastery buildings at San Gregorio since 1573.

Here’s an excerpt for Lenten reflection:

“This search to hold together what seem like opposites is of course grounded in a deeply traditional Christian anthropology. Christian solitude is the way in which we allow God to challenge and overcome our individualism; in solitude, we are led to recognize the strength and resilience of our selfishness, and the need to let God dissolve the fantasies with which we protect ourselves. In the desert there is no-one to impress or persuade; there it is necessary to confront your own emptiness or be consumed by it. But such solitude is framed by the common life in which we have begun to learn the basic habits of selflessness through mutual service, and in which we are enabled to serve more radically and completely, to be more profoundly in the heart of common life in Christ’s Body, because we have had our private myths and defensive strategies stripped away by God in silence.”–Rowan Williams, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury

Rowan Williams: Bonhoeffer, Lent, and Freedom

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Anglican Archbishop of Cantebury, Rowan Williams, preached at King’s School Canterbury on the first Sunday of Lent this year. He took his text from Confessing Church theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reflections on the nature of true freedom and what it means that “the truth shall set you free.” Quiet contemplation and learning to release the “fictions” of our lives are part of the Lenten practice.

You can read Williams’ entire sermon or listen to it here. Below is the opening section:

In 1939, the young German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was in New York, exploring whether he should stay there as pastor to the German emigrants in the city and considering a string of invitations to lecture in the United States.  He had made himself deeply unpopular with the German regime, making broadcasts critical of Hitler and running a secret training institution for pastors in Germany who could not accept the way that the Nazi state was trying to control the Church.

But, after a draining inner struggle, he decided to sail back to Germany.  In July 1939, after just over a month in New York, he left – knowing that he was returning to a situation of extreme danger.  Six years later, he was dead, executed for treason in a concentration camp, leaving behind him one of the greatest treasure of modern Christianity in the shape of the letters he wrote to family and close friends from prison.  He had left behind the chance of freedom as most of us would understand it and plunged into a complex and risky world, getting involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler, living as a double agent, daily facing the prospect of arrest, torture and death.

But freedom was one of the things he most often wrote about.  In a famous poem he wrote in July 1944, he sketched out what he thought was involved in real freedom – discipline, action, suffering and death.  Not quite what we associate with the word – but with these reflections, he takes us into the heart of what it is for someone to be lastingly free.

The freedom he is interested in is the freedom to do what you know you have to do.  The society you live in will give you all sorts of messages about what you should be doing, and, far more difficult, your own longings and preferences will push you in various directions.  You have to watch your own passions and feelings and test them carefully, and then you have to have the courage to act.  When you act, you take risks.  You seemingly become less free.  But what is really happening is that you are handing over your freedom to God and saying, ‘I’ve done what I had to; now it’s over to you.’  Freedom, he says, is ‘perfected in glory’ when it’s handed over to God.  And this finds its climax in the moment of death, when we step forward to discover what has been hidden all along – the eternal freedom of God, underlying everything we have thought and done. … —Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Cantebury

Read Rowan Williams’ complete sermon.

Mary Ward: A Prophet Honored in Her Own Country

MaryWardJo Siedlecka wrote a nice piece on the Mary Ward celebration at Westminster Cathedral in Sunday’s U.K.-based Independent Catholic News. Ward, foundress of the Institute for the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) community of Catholic nuns, was a leader in social justice in 17th-century Protestant England. Her community marks it’s 400th anniversary this month.

As a side note, I was taught by IBVM sisters and was given the Mary Ward social justice award as a senior in high school. (I’m still working up to actually earning it.)

Here’s an excerpt from Siedlecka’s article:

History was made on Saturday, when a woman who risked her life to practice her  Catholic faith in 17th century Protestant England and was then imprisoned for being a heretic by the Catholic Church, was honored by Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams at a special Mass in Westminster Cathedral. …

During his homily, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said Mary Ward “was truly a woman of Europe”  equally at home in Austria, Italy and France.

Mary Ward walked to Rome three times. “Picture her shoes” Archbishop Vincent said. “You can tell a good deal about a woman from her shoes. Hers were tough and durable, in soft leather which fitted her individuality,” Archbishop Vincent said. …

Dr Rowan Williams  also paid tribute to Mary Ward. In his address, he said: “Mary Ward’s stubborn courage in following her calling through the most difficult of circumstances has, over the centuries, made a massive difference to the lives of countless people throughout the world, especially women.

“At a time when so many pressures combined to encourage the Church to retrench and to avoid risks, she kept a door open for a gospel-based vision for the renewal of religious life. Critical, loyal, brave and imaginative, she is a figure for all Christians to celebrate with gratitude.”

Read more here.