A sermon preached at Holy Rood, Oxford, by Fr Gregor Lenzen, CP, sometime Provincial of the South German-Austrian Viceprovince of the Congregation of the Passionists, 7 July, 2012.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
it is a great honour and pleasure to me that I am allowed to adress you and to speak to you this evening hoping that you will pardon my poor English.
I regard it as a sign of providence that a week ago I met Monsignor Andrew Burnham at St. Stephen`s House where I am staying during my short sabbatical here in Oxford.
Since the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established I am following with great interest its development through the newsletter and “The Portal” which I receive regularly by email.
This interest is not only a personal one but also based on a particular tradition in the Passionist Congregation to which I belong.
England in its full communion with the Catholic Church was always a deep desire of our holy founder St. Paul of the Cross (1694 – 1775). Already in 1720 he wrote in his famous Spiritual Diary at Castellazzo about England and his desire to die there as a martyr.
26 DECEMBER 1720
I experienced a special elevation of soul, especially at Holy Communion. I wanted to go to die a martyr’s death in a place where the adorable mystery of the Blessed Sacrament is denied. The Infinite Goodness has given me this wish for some time past, but today I had it in a special manner. I desired the conversion of heretics, especially those of England and the neighboring kingdoms. I offered a special prayer for this at Holy Communion.
29 DECEMBER 1720
In prayer by night I was at peace and also a little distracted. I had special recollection in offering his Most Holy Life, Death, and Passion, as also in my petitions, especially for heretics.
I had a particular impulse to pray for the conversion of England, especially because I want the standard of the holy faith to be erected so that there will be an increase of devotion and reverence, homage and love, with frequent acts of adoration for the Blessed Sacrament, the ineffable mystery of God’s most holy love, and so that his Holy Name may be glorified in a very special way. The desire to die like a martyr, especially for the Blessed Sacrament, in some place where people do not believe, does not leave me.
These quotations show very clearly that his concern about unity was profoundly rooted in his
devotion to the Eucharist.
He also had at the end of his life a vision during mass of the future presence of the Passionists in England and he exclaimed: “My sons in England, my sons in England!”
John Henry Newman refers to this in “Loss and Gain” when he writes:
“…the thought of England came into his ordinary prayers; and in his last years, after a vision during Mass, as if he had been Augustine or Mellitus, he talked of his ‘sons’ in England.”
Saint Paul of the Cross left to his sons as an inheritance the prayer for England.
Blessed Dominic Barberi (1792-1849) turned his founder’s vision into actionwhen he set off from Rome for Belgium in 1840 with three of his confrères to make preparations for founding a community in England.
Later a famous convert to the Catholic Church, George Spencer (1799–1864), who was a son of the 2nd Earl Spencer, entered our Congregation in 1847 and became Fr. Ignatius of St. Paul. He too felt a particular calling to pray for “unity in the truth” in view of his home country.
He is also known as the ‘Apostle of Prayer for England’.
He was on fire with his desire, like that of Father Dominic Barberi, to bring England back to the Catholic faith and undertook heroic labours for this purpose, preaching not only in England but throughout Europe and invoking the help of people of high and low degree in his ‘Association of Prayer and Good Works’ for the conversion of England.
His initiatives led also to the formal practice in our Congregation to pray for England by saying one Hail Mary after the prayers following the rosary.
In our province in Bavaria and Austria we still pray the rosary in common and we still keep the tradition of the one Hail Mary for England.
May this humble prayer bear good fruits also in the future! Amen.
Oxford, 7 July 2012 Fr. Gregor Lenzen CP