Thoughts on Mothers’ Day

Thoughts on Mothers’ Day, and as we welcome into our family our beautiful, new-born, adopted twin grandchildren, Samuel and Thomas.

Some thirty-five years ago I attended a conference in Indianapolis on preaching. One of the featured speakers at that conference referred to The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Airport, and to The Poseidon Adventure – epic disaster movies that were popular at the time – as indicators of the mood of a society that had lost hope and could see no bright future.

In recent days several commentators, including Mark Steyn and William Kirkpatrick, have drawn attention to the stark reality of what this has come to mean. As Mark Steyn has said: “The future belongs to those who show up for it”. The implications are sinister, as we witness the demographic collapse of Western civilization. As William Kirkpatrick says: “It’s not a good omen when the leader of your nation doesn’t have to worry about what sort of country his or her progeny will grow up in.” To quote Mark Steyn again: “ …, with the arrival of President Macron in the charmed circle, the leaders of Europe’s biggest economies and of all the European members of the G7 are childless: Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s Theresa May, Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni …. Indeed of the six founding members of the European Union – France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg – five are led by childless prime ministers.”

Now, lest we lull ourselves into careless sleep, we need to recognize that this is not merely a European problem. The Lord God says, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God … for that means life to you and length of days …” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

How can we possibly imagine that our society has chosen the better part, life and blessing, when it has acquiesced in, and promoted, the abortion – and let’s be clear that that means the murder, slaughter, dismemberment, the “Final Solution” – of some 60 million innocent, God-given children since the 1973 death-and-curse choice of Roe v. Wade.

And there is more. Our society has acquiesced in, and celebrated, the utter barrenness and the selfishness of the homosexual lifestyle.

But the eternal and luminous fact is that, in the words of William Ross Wallace, —


BLESSINGS on the hand of women!
Angels guard its strength and grace.
In the palace, cottage, hovel,
Oh, no matter where the place;
Would that never storms assailed it,
Rainbows ever gently curled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

Infancy’s the tender fountain,
Power may with beauty flow,
Mothers first to guide the streamlets,
From them souls unresting grow—
Grow on for the good or evil,
Sunshine streamed or evil hurled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

Woman, how divine your mission,
Here upon our natal sod;
Keep—oh, keep the young heart open
Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages
Are from mother-love impearled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

Blessings on the hand of women!
Fathers, sons, and daughters cry,
And the sacred song is mingled
With the worship in the sky—
Mingles where no tempest darkens,
Rainbows evermore are hurled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

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September 8, 1966

The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, September 8. It was on this day fifty-one yenotre-dame-du-chene-de-p723i1_0ars ago today, 1966, that I first celebrated Mass at a Roman Catholic altar. I was a young priest, serving as the Anglican spiritual director of an Anglo-French, Anglican and Catholic ecumenical pilgrimage – on the first night of which we had arrived at a small Marian Shrine, Notre Dame du Chêne, in the Diocese of Le Mans. Unsure of where I might be able to celebrate a Mass for the Anglican contingent, I consulted my Catholic colleague, Père Gaudin (whose regular assignment was as chaplain to a Catholic high school in Rouen). He told me to meet him in the sacristy on the following morning. I did; and I found that everything had been prepared for me – vestments, bread and wine, and an altar in the shrine church adjacent to the altar at which Père Gaudin would himself be saying Mass for his people at exactly the same time. We could see each other, hear each other, as the mystery was unfolded and the Holy Sacrifice was offered in precise parallel. “That they may be one” as our Blessed Lord prayed. Many days of prayer and pilgrimage later, Père Gaudin and I had come to know each other well. In the great cathedral in Lyons he and I talked yet again about our longing for that unity for which Christ prayed. We had talked of the great apostle of unity, Père Paul Couturier (who is buried in Lyon), and his Anglican friend Father Geoffrey Curtis of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection. He had come to know that I had been ordained by an Anglican bishop who was himself in both the Anglican and the Old Catholic lines of succession. Taking me by the hand in Lyons Cathedral (where, incidentally, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England under King Henry II, had taken refuge in the early 12th century), he said: “You are very priest”. So I believe. That was fifty-one years ago, and so much has happened in the intervening years. As the commercial for Farmers’ Insurance puts it, “We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two”!

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Historical Discovery, maybe

Waiting for a train the other day at Poitiers Gare, sitting on a bench and sipping a bottle of chilled Evian (alas, there was no Vittel available at the Relay), I happened to see a sign as shown on this photograph.


My French is adequate but not wonderful, so I puzzled idly for a while over what “ORTIE” might mean. I had not previously encountered this word; maybe it was some sort of error for the city’s name of Poitiers. But no, that couldn’t be.

And then it dawned on me: the word was meant to be SORTIE – the French for “Way Out” – and, somehow, the first letter had faded, fallen off or been erased.

And so, again, it dawned on me. This was a relic of World War Two, when the Nazis occupied France. Obviously, the Maquis – the rural French Resistance that was active in this part of the country – used a kind of secret message system, of which this sign was an example. The letter “S” was deleted from “Sortie”, and this was an indication (for the initiated – or better, perhaps, the “uninitialed”) that secret information would be revealed by deleting the first letters of subsequent words on the sign. So there it was, obvious to those who knew: “Bus” becomes “us” and “Taxis” becomes “axis”. There you have it: go towards the left and you will find “us”, friendly people. But if you move to the right, you will run right into the Axis, the  enemy forces.

What could be simpler? But I am joking, of course.

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Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget, lest we forget …….

… words from Ruyard Kipling’s Recessional. We came to do what we had to do. We did not forget. On June 12 we were at Bailleul, in Flanders on the French-Belgian border, to be present at the grave of my uncle, for whom I am named, on the exact centenary of his death in the Great War of 1914-1918. The Commonwealth War cemetery there contains the remains of more than five thousand British and Commonwealth dead. Not far away, on the Menin Gate there are inscribed the names of some 54,000 others. And in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris there is a modest and simple tablet that records the fact that a million – yes, million: with six zeros – British and Commonwealth soldiers died in the Great War; and it also notes that the vast majority of them rest in French soil.


We do not know the exact details of Allan Jones’ death, but it is probable that he died of his battle wounds in a Bailleul military hospital – of one of such Seigfried Sassoon was later to write:

But death replied: “I choose him.” So he went,                                                                            And there was silence in the summer night.


Here is what I said (apart from some personal and family words about my mother’s inconsolable love for her only brother) at his graveside:

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Almighty and everlasting Lord, God of the spirits of all flesh: We commend to you the soul of Allan Jones, and the souls of all who rest in this place, pleading that the memory of their devotion and courage may ever be an inspiration to us, and that we too may serve you faithfully all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no more war, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no voice nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal posession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitation of your glory and dominion, ever without end. [This lovely prayer is, apart from three words that I added, the work of John Donne.]

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

God grant to the living, grace; to the departed, rest; to the Church, the Queen, and the Commonwealth, and all mankind, peace and concord; and to us and all his servants, life everlasting.

And may the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Sprit, be with us and abide with us always.

So we left, as it were, a bouquet of poppies and roses. Just two years before my uncle’s death, and very close to Bailleul, at the second battle of Ypres, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote what is surely the most famous of all war poems – In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

The song “Roses of Picardy”, with lyrics by Frederick Weatherly and music by Haydn Wood, was published in 1916 and was widely sung by British soldiers as they enlisted for the battle front on the Somme:

Roses are shining in Picardy, in the hush of the silver dew,                                                             Roses are flowering in Picardy, but there’s never a rose like you!                                                 And the roses will die with the summertime,                                                                               and our roads may be far apart,                                                                                                     But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy!                                                                                  ’tis the rose that I keep in my heart!

I think that one of the things that distinguishes the “Great” War from World War Two is indicated by the way in which the former produced so much poetry which resonates to this very day. My late brother-in-law, Dr Frank Field, whose special interest concerned the intersection between early twentieth century history and the culture of the period, wrote a book (published in 1991) entitled British and French Writers of the First World War: Comparative Studies in Cultural History.

The Cambridge University Press said this of the book: “The First World War dealt a profound shock to European society. In this original and stimulating book, the historian Frank Field looks at the experiences of France and Britain during the war years as revealed in the work of some of their most prominent writers responding to the unfolding catastrophe. Brooke, Wells, Shaw, Kipling, Lawrence, Owen and Rosenberg are set alongside Jaurès, Barrès, Maurras, Péguy, Psichari and Rolland, as case studies of the war’s impact on intellectual life in their respective countries. The comparative perspective reveals deep differences between the French and the British experience, and yet a shared ordeal marked by the terrible ironies attendant on the shattering of common ideals. Literary images of war as a purification rite were effaced by the bloody realities of the conflict and the prophecies of writers who came to feel increasingly distanced from the essential innocence of the world before 1914 took on a new tone, grimly apocalyptic or bitterly disillusioned.”

For some reason, of which I am not aware, Frank made no reference to Siegfried Sassoon (a few of whose words I have already quoted, above). I first became aware of Sassoon, as a teenager, reading his Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man – an idyllic account of rural life in the golden Edwardian years between the death of Queen Victoria and the accession of King George V. And then came his Memoirs of an Infantry Office. Wounded several times, he had served with exceptional (and as Robert Graves described it) suicidal bravery – on one occasion capturing single-handedly a German trench in the Hindenburg Line.

At last there came “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, bringing with it (11 A.M. on November 11, 1918) the Armistice which, it was fervently prayed, would bring an end to “The War to End All Wars”. And Sassoon expressed the inexpressible relief and joy of millions, as “Everyone Sang”:

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;                                                                                             And I was filled with such delight                                                                                                    As prisoned birds must find in freedom,                                                                                 Winging wildly across the white                                                                                          Orchards and dark green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

 Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;                                                                                              And beauty came like the setting sun;                                                                                           My heart was shaken with tears; and horror                                                                                  Drifted away – O, but Everyone                                                                                                    Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

And there is a footnote. Toward the end of his life, Siegfried Sassoon became a Roman Catholic. He was received into the Church at Downside Abbey where, only a handful of years later, our local SSC Chapter would make its annual retreat. He had hoped to receive instruction from the incomparable Monsignor Ronald Knox, but Knox was by this time too ill to do it. Sassoon, who died in 1967, was buried in the churchyard of St Andrew’s, Mells, in Somerset,  very close to the mortal remains of Father Knox whom he had so much admired.

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A la recherche du temps perdu

– the title of the great seven-volume novel by Marcel Proust (1871–1922): well, that is indeed much of what we do here in France. Indeed, next week we will be on the French/Belgian border, at a place called Bailleul – to consider not only lost time, but also to grieve over the lost life of my uncle who died a hundred years ago in the killing fields, mud and poppies of the Somme. But I will have more say about that when we have been there again, for the first time in some fifty years.

There is something about France that is almost impossible to describe, especially for those who do not know her. Profoundly Catholic, notwithstanding some contemporary appearances to the contrary, she is called “the eldest daughter of the Church”. There is wistfulness, mystery and romance very close to the surface of life in la France profonde.

For me, two very different fictional works capture for fleeting moments the elusive quality of it.

The first (in terms of the order in which I encountered them) is the 1954 play by Jean Anouilh called, in French, Léocadia – but, for me more revealingly, in English as Time Remembered. It is about a prince trapped in his memories, who gradually – reluctantly, almost – falls in love with Amanda, a pretty young Parisian milliner.


Topsy Jane

(Amanda was played, in the BBC TV production, by an actress named Topsy Jane. She went on to a part in the movie The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Always on the verge of stardom, her memory has faded, illness having forced her from the footlights. She died just three years ago.)

And then there is the great, hauntingly beautiful novel – the only novel, written by Alain-Fournier: Le Grand Meaulnes


published when he was just 27 years of age in 1913. Less than two months into the Great War he died in battle in September 1914. In the novel, fifteen-year-old François Seurel,son a the village school master, narrates the story of his relationship with seventeen-year-old Augustin Meaulnes as Meaulnes searches for his lost love. Impulsive, reckless and heroic, Meaulnes embodies the romantic ideal, the search for the unobtainable, and the mysterious world between childhood and adulthood. The setting of the story is as mysterious and elusive as it is idyllic.

To turn now from fiction to fact, we keep at our house here two items that our truly souvenirs des temps passés.

The first is a decorated black tile on which are painted the words: Je veille sur ma parole pour l’accomplir.


It was made for us in the early 1970s by Soeur (Sister) Paul du Christ, of the Order of Preachers. Over the years we have stayed on a number of occasions at the Monastere de Prouille, the cradle of the Domincan Order, a place of indescribable beauty and tranquility in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It was here, at the nearby village of Fanjeaux that Dominic, having crossed from Spain into France, became parish priest – and so face-to-face with the Albigensian heresy, the Cathars.



He founded the Order of Preachers to combat it, and began by opening the house at Prouille in 1206 or 1207 for women converted from the heresy – and that community has existed there continuously for more than 800 years (apart from a brief evacuation at the time of the French Revolution). It was a place of desperately-needed respite and renewal for us, and we were wonderfully welcomed and cared-for – even though still Anglicans! – by the Sisters who permitted me to celebrate the Anglican Eucharist at the monastery’s altar. In particular, we had long conversations about our exile, as Anglo-Catholics, from Full Communion in the Catholic Church, with Sister Paul du Christ and with Sister Marie de L’Assomption. They have both since gone to their rest and their mortal remains, which we have visisted, lie in the monastery cemetery – and they are still commemorated by name in our Year’s Mind. I truly believe that they prayed us, if may so put it, into the Catholic Church – and that is exactly what Sister Paul du Christ hoped for when she painted the tile with those words: Je veille sur ma parole pour l’accomplir — “I watch over my word to accomplish it.”

IMG_2250Finally, we keep here in France a silver chalice – a replica of the Hertford Chalice of 1647, one (number 411) of thirteen hundred made in London by Garrards, silversmiths by Royal Warrant, and the oldest continously functioning jewellers in the world. The chalice was presented to me by the parishioners of St George’s, Stevenage, in 1973 to mark the 10th anniversary of my pastorate there – so very long ago, temps perdu, lost but not forgotten. We have a long train journey on Sunday, so I will offer a vigil Mass here at our dining table on Saturday evening. This chalice will be used.


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Oh, one other thought: The Melchizadek Club

In my previous piece [vide infra] I wrote about the liturgical magnificence of the Irvingites – the soi disant Catholic Apostolic Church. From what little I know about it directly, and from what I have read, it would seem that those who took part in its life and worship were indeed spiritually formed and nourished. The Eucharist was at the heart of their lives.

As I look again at their liturgy, I note that the “priest” (or Apostle or Angel or Bishop) who heard confessions in the Sacrament of Penance (or Solemn Absolution, to use their term) would pray thus:

“Almighty God, the Redeemer and Saviour of mankind, who gave unto His apostles the power, that whosesoever sins they remit should be remitted, and whatsoever they shall loose on earth should be loosed in heaven; Remove from thee His wrath, and deliver thee from eternal damnation, which thou hast justly deserved; grant unto thee the forgiveness of thy sins through the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the remission of sin, and release thee from the yoke and burden of them; restore thee unto the grace of His salvation, and enable thee by His Spirit to persevere in His perfect fear and love, and in obedience to His holy will, that thou mayest be received to His everlasting kingdom in the resurrection of the just.

Then putting both his hands upon the head of the Penitent,

“The almighty and most merciful Lord God grant unto thee, through the ministry of me, His unworthy servant, full absolution and remission of all thy sins, iniquities and transgressions, and blot them out for ever. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

I have two observations, and then a question.

First, the Rite was long: the extract above amounts to perhaps less than an eighth of its total length. And second: it really “tells it like it is” – it is an elegant liturgy with no circumlocution, no evasion of spiritual reality, none of the contemporary desire to achieve brevity at all costs.

But was the penitent really absolved? After all, the confessor was not a “real” priest; he certainly would not be so regarded by the Holy See, nor, come to that, by many Anglicans. Are we to suppose that the Lord God turns His back on such charades – or laughs at them? Does His glorious Majesty reject the offerings of His misguided Irvingite supplicants as they present to Him what they mistakenly think to be the emblems of the Passion?

Of course not. And for this reason I am unwilling to deny the designation Bishop, Priest, or Deacon to those who are outside the Catholic Household of Faith. If, in all humility and honesty, they so regard themselves, and if their people believe that they receive divine grace through their ministries, then it is churlish and discourteous not so to honor them.

In my former parish we kept a “Year’s Mind” list, recording the names and dates of parishioners and their loved ones who had gone before us in the Faith, and who were prayed for at the daily Mass. (Incidentally, the term “Year’s Mind” was rejected soon after my retirement – on the surprising grounds that it was not understood, notwithstanding the fact that it had been in daily use there for more than thirty years; and even though the redoubtable Fr John Hunwicke asserts that that term is itself a part, albeit a small one, of the heritage that the Ordinariate exists to protect and promote. Ah, well.) That list contained the names and dates of a number of Anglican bishops and priests – as, for example on October 2 my own father, “Raeburn Simpson Hawkins, priest”. That style and title priest was excised, leaving only the names, as were all other such entries, soon after my departure. I still believe that such uncharitable action was triumphalist and sacrilegious, and mistaken at best.

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Fragments that remain

When I became pastor of St George’s, Stevenage, in 1963 I found in the parish community an elderly lady, Miss Adele Packer, who had been raised in the Catholic Apostolic Church – the “Irvingites” as they were called.


Adele Packer, picture in the St George’s, Stevenage parish directory of 1968

The story of the Catholic Apostolic Church is one of quixotically eccentric ecclesiology, naïve ecumenical optimism, courage and generosity. I had been intrigued by the Irvingites since the time when, in childhood, I had seen the exterior of one of their buildings. The professor of Church History at my seminary was also intrigued by them, and sometimes spoke of them with appreciative and gentle amusement. My only other encounter with the Catholic Apostolic Church was when, out of curiosity I visited their great cathedral-like Church of Christ the King in Gordon Square in London. That visit was on Good Friday 1953. The church was vast, filled with magnificence, silence and emptiness. The custodian who gave me access to it told me that, with the death years earlier of the last of the newly-elected Twelve Apostles and the consequent evisceration of the elaborate sacramental hierarchy dependant on them, there was now no life or activity left. My parishioner in Stevenage had thus been bereaved of her spiritual home; and she, like others in the same predicament, had been told to find a new ecclesiastic abode elsewhere. So she came to us. It is really a sad and moving story. If it should be of interest to you I would refer you to Wikipedia and to the limited number of books that have been written about it.

There is, however, a most interesting footnote. The ministry of the Catholic Apostolic Church was sui generis, with Apostles, Bishops, Angels, Priests, Deacons and a multiplicity of subdivisions thereof. And there was a complex and appropriately magnificent Liturgy, of which Miss Packer gave me a leather-bound copy. Published in London in 1880, the fly-leaf was inscribed by her father, Walter Packer, in 1886.

Among the thousands of the prayers that it contains is this glorious gem:Chalice_Host_Wheat_and_Grapes_001

Lord God Almighty,
we come before the Throne of thy glorious Majesty,
presenting the emblems of the Passion of Thy Son,
the Bread of Everlasting Life
and the Cup of eternal Salvation.
Have respect, O Lord, unto His Sacrifice;
remember thou His Offering;
and let His intercession on behalf of Thy Church,
and of all Thy Creatures,
ascend up before Thee,
to the glory of Thy Holy Name. Amen.

That most dear and gentle priest of the Church of England, the late Father Desmond Morse-Boycott (founder of the Saint-Mary-of-the-Angels Song School), once said: “How St Francis would have loved and echoed ‘all Thy creatures’”!

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