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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s Reflection – March 2024 – Living Out Our Faith

Dear friends,

On my recent visit to both Rome and Canterbury (reported on in more detail in the March issue of our Diocesan Magazine), I got the opportunity to see at close hand some interesting historic artefacts including two particularly significant stone chairs.

The first was in the church of San Gregorio al Celio. Here a marble chair or cathedra associated with Gregory the Great is on display. On the day I attended a service there, the Archbishop of Canterbury was also there and a photograph of him was taken with his hand resting on this chair. Why is it so significant?

Because Gregory the Great was the Pope who sent St Augustine from the church on this site to convert the Anglo Saxons to Christianity, and St Augustine is recognised as the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

A couple of days later I was attending a service in Canterbury Cathedral. If any of you have visited it you will know that behind the main altar and on top of a series of steps, the chair of St Augustine can be seen. On this occasion, Archbishop Welby sat on this cathedra and those bishops attending the summit sat on either side of him. This is unusual as normally it is only used when archbishops are enthroned or when the Lambeth Conference is meeting. This stone chair is early 13th century and so would never have been used by St Augustine, however it has huge symbolic significance. Given the worldwide nature of the Anglican Communion, the enthronement in St Augustine’s Chair has come to represent the Archbishop of Canterbury’s position as worldwide spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion. On the day an archbishop is enthroned in it, they are blessed by the senior archbishop within the Anglican Communion in terms of years in office. When Archbishop Rowan Williams was enthroned in 2002, our own Archbishop Robin Eames fulfilled this role.

These chairs or cathedras represent two things. Firstly, that a bishop is rooted in a particular place, in his or her cathedral at the heart of the Diocese among the people and clergy. Secondly it is a reminder of the teaching role of the bishop. In ancient times, students would have gathered around their teacher who would have taught them while sitting on a chair. With this in mind, I am spending every Sunday this Lent visiting one of the cathedrals. There are six Sundays in Lent and conveniently in this Diocese we have six cathedrals.

Lent is a rich and rewarding season in the church calendar. It provides us with the opportunity each year to engage in some spiritual spring cleaning.  It is also a season which should challenge us about our priorities. Do we take time to pray regularly each day? Do we seek ways to engage with the scriptures through private study? How important is the weekly attendance at worship and in particular the opportunity to receive Holy Communion with others? Do we try to use our influence to reshape our communities and wider society towards gospel values by defending the poor, marginalised and weak and by welcoming the stranger? Do we exercise our democratic rights and privileges responsibly when it comes to voting in elections and referenda?

Lent is not just about our interior spirituality and faith, vital though that is, it is about living out that faith openly in the real world. It is about proclaiming the Kingdom of God in this world and the next. In an increasingly secular society, which thinks it knows what Christianity is, and has got either bored with it or is hostile towards it, we need to be confident and authentic Christians. None of us are perfect but that is the point of Lent. The words sometimes used on Ash Wednesday are sobering, challenging and liberating at the same time. ‘Remember you are but dust and to dust you will return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’.

I hope in this mid-way point in the season of Lent, you are benefitting from what the church is offering you. May it help deepen your faith and commitment, as with patient expectation we look forward to the joy of Easter at the end of this month.

Yours in Christ,