A packed congregation saw the first canons in almost 40 years installed at Brentwood Cathedral on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Canons Patrick Sammon, Paul Bruxby, Peter Connor, John McGrath, Anthony McKentey, Martin O’Connor, Brian O’Shea, William Young and Mgr Canon Kevin Hale are parish priests in Wanstead, Barkingside, Clacton, Billericay, Colchester, Chadwell Heath, Grays, Barking and Leigh on Sea, respectively. Canon Patrick Sammon has been elected Provost of the Chapter and, following his installation by Bishop Alan, presided at the subsequent Mass. Archbishop George Stack (an old friend of Canons McKentey and O’Shea), Bishop Emeritus Thomas McMahon and Ordinary Mgr Keith Newton all attended, along with friends, relatives and parishioners of the new canons.
Prior to the ceremony, the Diocese’s sole canon was Mgr Canon Michael Corley, who was installed in 1977 by Bishop Casey, Bishop Thomas McMahon’s predecessor. Bishop Alan Williams, who succeeded Bishop Thomas in 2014, is establishing the Chapter to provide “a semi-permanent body of priestly wisdom and holiness in the Diocese”. The move is part of the collaborative approach he wishes to adopt in the Diocese.
Mgr Canon Michael Corley, now retired, said: “The Canons will work with the Bishop for the good of the Bishop and the Diocese. The great advantage of a Chapter of Canons is that they provide total confidentiality, and have a responsibility with the Bishop for the running of the Diocese. If the Bishop needs taking to task, it is the duty of the Canons to speak up. It is not seen as a lack of loyalty – they simply tell it as it is. They must be honest and frank – but always charitable. The best analogy is that they are like members of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. They meet without the Bishop initially and are hence free to express their opinions before sharing them with the Bishop when he joins the Chapter meeting.”
Mgr Canon Corley is very much in favour of Bishop Alan’s plans for a collaborative approach in the diocese. “It is very important to consult with both clergy and laity,” he said. “In my time as a parish priest, I valued the parish council highly and got great benefit from their wisdom.”
In his homily, Bishop Alan talked about decisions: “Sometimes they are difficult. How to get it right? The only thing Christian people can do is look to almighty God – what does God do? This Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, in the Year of Mercy, gives us insight into how God sorts things out, gets things right. As Pope Francis has said, mercy is best expressed in gesture and action rather than in words.”
At Lourdes, he said, there are people with all kinds of needs and difficulties but they are a full and happy part of the Church and the world. “There is no pity or judgement of the sick – just acceptance and joy at human giving in Christ.”
So how did Our Lady implement the language of mercy in Lourdes? “Cardinal Pacelli in the 30s said: ‘Our Lady came and made of Bernadette a confidante and a helper, an instrument of her motherly tenderness and her son’s merciful power. In this way she hoped to restore the world in Christ by a redemptive outpouring of love and grace’.”
We all need confidantes and helpers, continued the Bishop, and the Chapter of Canons is one way of achieving that. But the consultation will not stop there, he said. “My Pastoral Letter this Sunday will focus on how we might go forward together, how I might listen and discern and we together can decide a way forward.” Such a collaborative approach is not new, he said, but it is essential. “Saint Pope John Paul II talked of the need to develop ‘dialogue and discernment… consultation and collaboration with the lay faithful, women and men’ .”
“In other words, I will absolutely collaborate and consult with the Canons, with the clergy, but also collaborate and consult with everybody in this Diocese. All of us need to learn how to listen to each other, to look to almighty God and discern the signs of our times and ways forward, and, with great confidence, go forward together. If, like Bernadette, we put things of God first, our decisions will be mighty and our way forward sure.”