During my year with the Community of St Anselm, I often jokingly asked our Prior when Tom Wright was coming. “But seriously, when is he coming? Can’t you just pull the Archbishop Justin card?” Apparently, that’s not really downward mobility. I even had another community member to swap with me if I was put on cooking while Tom spoke. I was prepared.
Skip forward to 2018, and we had our trip to London planned and booked. I wake up grumpy most mornings but on this particular day I see an invitation to a Community of St Anselm event at Lambeth Palace with Tom Wright, and it happens to be on one of the few days we are in London. The opposite of grumpy. It had to be providence.
The evening was for Community of St Anselm Alumni, but it was open for anyone aged 20-35. The purpose was to promote the non-resident aspect of the Community and over 100 young people gathered in the Great Hall at Lambeth Palace. We listened to the experiences of three alumni before Bishop Tom Wright did his talk “Why I’m Still Sold on Jesus”. A combination of jetlag and bad technology meant I didn’t have a good recording or my own notes from the main talk. But, thanks to random Hillsong guy next to me who was typing away like a court reporter, I got enough to jog my memory. Here are a few of the highlights (but you can find a 2.5-minute video of his answer to the question here).
A Powerful Story
Tom Wright told this story, which I found a copy of here.
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (archbishop of Paris from 1981 until his retirement in 2005) once told a story during his homily about a group of boys in Orleans, France, back in 1939. The boys wanted to have a bit of fun, and dared each other to go inside the church and confess a made-up list of terrible sins to the priest in the confessional. One of them, a Jewish boy named Aaron, took up the challenge.
So he marched into the confessional, but the priest, who was both wise and holy, immediately knew what he was up to. Without showing any sign of annoyance, the confessor gave him a simple penance: to go up the altar, kneel before the large image of Jesus crucified, and say three times, “Jesus, I know you died for me. But I don’t give a damn.”
“Hah! Easier than I thought,” Aaron told himself. So he went up the altar to do his penance. “Jesus, I know you died for me. But I don’t give a damn,” he shouted.
“Jesus, I know you died for me. But I don’t give a damn,” he declared a second time.
“Jesus, I know you died for me. But I don’t give …” He could not go on.
The following year, in August of 1940, Aaron was baptized and took the name “Jean-Marie.”
“And,” Cardinal Lustiger wrapped up the story, “that boy is standing here now, speaking to you.”
This quote fits from Tom is relevant. “When you’re touching the reality of who Jesus is, especially as he goes to the cross, you are touching something that the enemy doesn’t like. There’s murky stuff out there, and Jesus‘ death goes right to the heart of it.”
Tom encouraged us to read the gospels 4 to 5 times a year to really meet and know Jesus afresh. And you’ll never get to the bottom of it, even if your full-time job is to be a New Testament scholar. He suggested praying with the gospels using the Ignatian method. “Read a story from the gospels then prayerfully imagine that you are there in the scene. Imagine the sights, sounds, listen to the teachings – then at a certain point Jesus turns around and speaks to you.” Tom talked about 5 Ways Into Faith, and a prayerful reading of scripture was one of them.
History and Faith
He spoke about how studying the historicity of Jesus and having faith in Jesus go side by side. Early on when Tom’s interest turned to academic study, he was encouraged by someone to compartmentalise and have a separate time for devotional reading and for study. Tom knew this was bad advice. At the New-Monasticism conference in London we attended (Blog post coming soon on that) we had time to reflect on a passage in pairs Lectio Divina style. I noted to the guy I was paired with that I was really interested in a particular word and he said: “Let’s look it up in the Greek”. He whips out his phone and gets onto the app. I immediately thought “I didn’t know we could do that!” I had unwittingly separated the devotional from the academic! To those who say “I don’t want theology, just Jesus.” Tom says:
“We need history and we need faith and we need them both in parallel. Some go for history without faith, and try to discredit him as a fantasy. Others go for faith without anchorage in the reality of Jesus’ history – which can shipwreck a life, and turn Jesus into a fantasy.”
Unity and Holiness
In the Q&A session, Tom was asked about the importance of unity. “It’s difficult. It’s really difficult because the other thing about unity is in the New Testament the whole time it’s unity and holiness. Unity is comparatively easy if you don’t care about holiness, holiness is comparatively easy if you don’t care about unity. The trick is to get both. And this is tough.” His advice to us young folk was “work on the unity and the holiness and how they go together.”
In his talk, Tom spoke about his experience working at St Andrew’s University and how the charismatic students would encounter the liturgical students and want what they have. And the liturgical students would encounter the charismatic students and want what they have. He hoped that they would at least hi-five each other as they cross over! We were encouraged to grow from the mutual enrichment of different parts of the church. “Jesus is in the friendly chatter and in the majestic theatre of the Eucharist”.
I hope you enjoyed reading a few highlights from the talk.
Rachael is Currently…
Sleep deprived (more than normal) which is due to having a small child, construction next door and a bird nesting in the roof above my bed.
Rereading Today Matters by John C. Maxwell which was very formative in my high school years (I pendulum swung from the most disorganised child to ruthlessly organised but have lapsed a little over the years!)
Recommends you read this blog post by Anna McGahan on Performing the Role of the New Mother. It really resonated with my journey of being a mum and a creative.
Listening to on repeat We are the Reason by David Phelps on his new Christmas album. I grew up listening to David Meece (think 90’s Christian music with the synth) and I still love it and David Phelps is my favourite singer… so Phelps coverying Meece is really a match made in Rachael heaven.