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St Chad – History on the March

St Chad – History on the March

A hero of St Bede’s Ecclesiastical History exemplifies the missionary spirit that should animate the Church today.

 

Reading: Romans 12:3-13; Luke 10:1-12

The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:

 

I don’t suppose any of us here feels any great connection to St. Chad. If anyone should, it is probably me. St Bede proudly traced himself as a spiritual descendant of Chad: Chad had tutored a certain monk Trumbert, who in turn taught Bede the Scriptures. Bede writes of this link a bit like St Irenaeus boasts his acquaintance with St Polycarp, who had been a disciple of the Apostle John. What’s more, Chad had begun his religious life in the famous monastery of Lindisfarne, under the direction of St Aidan – a very important character in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, since he is credited with having evangelised the Kingdom of Northumbria, the home of Chad and Bede alike. Chad in his turn brought the Gospel south, to the Kingdom of Mercia. So, Chad and Aidan were among the first to bring the Gospel to major sections of the English-speaking peoples. They were, indeed, apostles of the English – no wonder Bede speaks of them with such pride and reverence; they were by his time already surrounded by a somewhat legendary aura, yet they were only just out of the reach of living memory. These figures were as close to Bede as Pier Giorgio Frassati or John Henry Newman is to us.

 

Much has changed in the 1400 years since the heroes of Bede’s history walked the land, and it is understandable if we feel ourselves on the periphery, only loosely associated with the national-religious story Bede told of these isles. The reason we are observing St Chad’s memory today, as a feast, no less, has to do with the geographical location of the modern Archdiocese of Birmingham in which we find ourselves. Following the conversion of the Mercian king to Christianity, Chad established a diocese in Lichfield, where he became bishop. Lichfield is in present-day Staffordshire, less than 20 miles from Birmingham. Following the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850, Catholics couldn’t simply reclaim historic sees which were now Anglican, but they wanted to demonstrate their continuity with the country’s ancient Catholic past. So, Birmingham rather than Lichfield became the centre of the new diocese, but its cathedral was named after Lichfield’s first bishop.

 

We find ourselves continuously in and out of step with the Church’s history, even with the geographical spread of the Church’s present reality. This is particularly true of us as Dominicans, living in a house whose mission is rather cut off from the life and work of the Archdiocese. We might lament this, and it is certainly true that we have to make an effort to keep up good relations with the local church just as we have to make an effort at fraternity among ourselves or an effort at getting to know our history and traditions. We can fall out of step from laziness or not caring.

 

But our Gospel today instructs us that there is a constructive way of falling out of step with the Church – and that is by stepping into places where the Church is not. Jesus sends his disciples ahead of him into every place and town where he was about to come: and the disciples are to announce, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you!’ For the kingdom, the reign of God takes the form of Jesus, and subsequently of the Church. The Church has to be constantly stepping outside of herself, beyond her boundaries, if she is to grow. Of course, that does not mean leaving behind her history or her identity. What would we be carrying, if we gave up on the faith we have received? What would we have to fall back on, if we are rejected? St Aidan received the Gospel and monasticism in Ireland, where these things had been taken by Greek missionaries; St Chad did not lose his Northumbrian roots by going to Mercia.

 

We each of us have our own history – a personal history, a history bound up with the places where we grew up and were educated, a history bound up now with the Order’s history: all those threads run back into the whole story of the Church. But we can’t rest on our laurels; we are not to weigh ourselves down with purse and haversack and sandals; there is no time for small-talk (‘salute no one on the road’). History waits to be made; the harvest is counting on labourers. For us Christians who stand at the periphery of the present, for us religious who balance on the periphery of the Church’s institutions, for us preachers at the borders of the world – greeting the harvest is our privilege, our reason to be.

 

Image: Jesus sends out his disciples in pairs. An etching by Jan Luyken from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible Illustrations, housed at Belgrave Hall, Leicester. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Br Bede was recently ordained deacon, and is completing his ordination studies at Blackfriars, Oxford. He was born in Enfield and grew up in Essex, before reading Literae Humaniores at St Hugh’s College in the University of Oxford. It was in Oxford that he first met the Dominicans, and he joined the Order in 2017 after completing his degree. The writings of Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger greatly influenced his development in the Faith. He retains a wide interest in literature; among religious authors, he particularly admires St Augustine and St John Henry Newman.
bede.mullens@english.op.org

Comments (2)

  • Mary Green

    Thank you. The Anglican parish I grew up in was dedicated to St Chad, so I’ve always had a soft spot for him. We also have churches dedicated to St Aidan and St Hugh in Leicester (and used to have a St Hilda’s) so I’ve always had a great affinity with these saints.

    reply
  • Edmund Weiner

    Greatly appreciated. The regions Chad evangelized seem to need evangelizing all over again!

    reply

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