Sermon by the Revd David Simpson
For the Feast of the Precious Blood: 1 July, 2020
Congratulations on your special feast! The day on which we should ask what it is you (or should I say ‘we’?), as the Society of the Precious Blood, are called to do and to be.
I believe the clues are in our founding. When well-established Lay Worker Millicent Taylor adopted the Religious Life in the Parish of St Jude, Birmingham, she did so with the full support and encouragement of her Parish Priest, Fr Arnold Pinchard. On 18 October 1905, Mother Millicent made her vows:
‘In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity and in honour of the Precious Blood…’
This dedication, we believe, came to both Mother Millicent and Fr Pinchard in Prayer.
As you know, St Jude’s was a poor parish but it wasn’t ‘just’ poor - it was dangerous! The Rookeries, as the slums were called, were the poorest part of central Birmingham, described as ‘the haunt of thieves and crooks.’ Famously, it was ruled by a gang called ‘Peaky Blinders,’ youths who were a terror to the local population from the 1890s until after the First World War. Identified by their flat caps and bell-bottomed trousers, the Peaky Blinders were angry anarchists who were guilty of murdering not just local people but Officers of the Law.
In the best Catholic Tradition, Fr Pinchard saw the profound problems of his parish as an opportunity: he quickly set up a Boys’ Club for the ‘street corner loafers, who might easily be tempted down the wrong path. Games of draughts, singing round the piano and particularly Boxing were sufficient for the young men to work off their high spirits and draw them away from rioting and worse.
Alan Campbell, writing in his 1918 History of the Religious Life in the Church of England, said that it was to Fr Pinchard that ‘the Community owes its name, its distinctive habit, as well as unceasing co-operation and strong, wise support’.
Sixteen years’ later in 1934, against the background of the Oxford Movement Centenary, Fr Pinchard’s commitment to the Religious Life was undimmed: he edited and published a book to promote vocations to overcome what he saw as the widespread ignorance of ‘the inestimable value’ Religious make to the spiritual welfare of the Church at large’.
In the Birmingham of her day, Mother Millicent would have been all too familiar with the cheapness of Life. Only by the priceless Precious Blood of Jesus Christ could the men of violence and their young followers be redeemed.
In Fr Pinchard’s book an anonymous Religious (could it have been Mother Millicent?) wrote of how Contemplative vocations often come ‘straight out of the blue and often, in the world’s judgement, to the most unlikely people from the most unhelpful circumstances….like homing birds they arrive at the threshold of enclosure’ where they are called to surrender ‘self-expression’ for ‘God-expression.’ The writer says:
‘This is the law of love in the Contemplative Life: the worship of God in the sacrifice of continual praise and contemplation: the offering of all that a person is and that he/she has in a life of voluntary penance and expiation for sin and of intercession for man’s many needs’.
Central to Devotion to the Precious Blood is the call to Reparation. In the daily celebration of the Mass, we make ‘anamnesis’ of the Lord’s ‘full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world’. By elevating the chalice we are continually reminded of His blood shed for us. Blood which has, since ancient times, been acknowledged as the means of Life itself. Blood - by which Laboratory Technicians can identify our medical history and our personal lifestyle - is uniquely distinct and personal. It was by the shedding of the Saviour’s blood that he made the ‘God-expression’ that conveys God’s meaning more than any other single act, displaying His self-offering that the World might have Life in all its fulness.
The twenty first century seems to be a place where intolerance and anger typify Social Media, where contrastingly superficiality fosters a Cult of Celebrity and the judgemental are quick to ‘cast the first stone’. In this ‘virtual environment’ angry calls for compensation in the form of reparations are commonplace. The Church’s Spirituality of Reparation is so very different - rather than a response to the demands of indignant victims or bystanders, here it is the voluntary, humble offering of a forgiven sinner. As if sharing the same blood group as Our Lord and Saviour, we find ourselves called to identify with his Suffering, bound to one another in the Communion of Saints. Finding himself the victim of Injustice, St Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae:
‘I fill up in my flesh those things that are wanting in the sufferings of Christ’'. (Col 1:24)
As we ask the Lord to ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’, a blood transfusion is administered to the victims of injustice, so much so that even the perpetrators of wrong - the hated and the vilified, to whom the world shows hatred, are invited to taste of the Lord’s mercy.
In 2018, when hundreds of people stepped forward in Pennsylvania to report appalling instances of clerical abuse, a group of Catholics initiated a movement called ‘Sackcloth & Ashes’ - a united commitment to prayer and fasting for the survivors and perpetrators of abuse. As we witness the continued outworking of tragedy we are taken to the place where Christ Himself was; we are called to unite our prayer with His own Prayer of Liberation ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’.
Dear Sisters of the Society of the Precious Blood, you witness to the power of this Spirituality, the ongoing salvific work of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
I’ll give the final word to the Religious who contributed to Fr Pinchard’s book on the Religious Life and Mother Millicent:
‘There is no entrance into the mind of God save through the Gate of Humility; there is no entrance into the heart of God save through the Gate of Charity’.
+ In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity and in honour of the Precious Blood. Amen.
The Revd David Simpson, RN (Companion, SPB)