11 Years and Counting

On September 3, 2020, the Solemnity of St. Gregory the Great, our resident chaplain, Fr. Warren Tanghe, gave a wonderful homily to celebrate our 11th anniversary of reception into full communion with the Holy See. We think this homily is well worth sharing and hope you will agree.

St. Gregory the Great: II Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-7 / Luke 22:24-30

Over the years, I’ve owned and sold a number of different homes. And each of the Realtors I’ve worked with said the same thing to me: there are three things that matter – location, location, location.

Rome’s Via di San Gregorio runs north between the Caelian and Palatine Hills from the east end of the Circus Maximus, under the Arch of Constantine, to the Colosseum. St. Gregory’s home was on the first lot on the Caelian side: in fact, two of its buildings, now chapels, still stand, alongside the medieval church of San Gregorio Magno. But look across the street, and you will be gazing at the ruins of various imperial palaces – that’s how the Palatine Hill got its name.

That location tells us a lot about who St. Gregory was. It speaks of power. It speaks of wealth. Our saint was the son of a patrician family, one of the few which remained in Rome as the seat of the empire shifted to Byzantium. The family was wealthy, with large holdings in Sicily, Rome’s “breadbasket”. Gregory’s father, Gordian, had held civic office, and it is no surprise that the son of such a family took up the career of a public official. By 568, when the Lombards first invaded Italy and threatened Rome, Gregory held Rome’s highest civil office, as was prefect of the city.

But Gregory’s family was as pious as it was civic-minded: it had given the Roman Church two of its sixth-century popes, Felix II and Agapitus I. Gregory, too, experienced god’s call: he resigned his office, gave away his riches, and turned his ancestral home on the Caelian Hill into a monastery, St. Andrew’s. He would describe the years he spent there, in obedience to abbot Valentius, as the happiest of his life.

But the needs of the Church pulled him from his monastic seclusion. He was ordained one of the seven deacons of the Roman Church, and sent as an ambassador from the Pope to the imperial court in New Rome, Constantinople. When he was recalled to Rome by Pope Pelagius II in 586, he happily returned to his monastery, where he was soon made abbot.

It was during this time that, having encountered some fair haired slaves on sale in the market, Gregory first attempted to lead a mission from his monastery to their people – but the effort collapsed when that provoked an outcry.

For Gregory was already marked for greater things: and when Pope Pelagius died of the plague in January or 590, Gregory was unanimously elected Pope. He quickly put his administrative talents to use: he reorganized the papal household, and likewise reformed the administration of the papal patrimony, the system of farms, ships and distribution centers which was the primary source of social welfare for the Roman people. And he again faced invading Lombards, this time not only inducing them to withdraw from the walls of Rome, but going on to negotiate a peace treaty.

St. Gregory the Great never forgot about the Angli. In 596, he sent forty monks from his monastery to evangelize England, led by the prior, Augustine. When clerics in France warned against this ventureand Augustine proposed to abandon it, Gregory gave him specific directions to proceed to the territory of Ethelbert, king of Kent – an Anglo-Saxon pagan married to a Frankish Christian. A Romano-British church in his capital, St. Martin’s in Canterbury, had been reactivated for the queen and her ladies, and it became the center for the mission. Ethelbert was baptized on Pentecost in 597, and most of his subjects on Christmas that same year.

Gregory was aware that Augustine was not the first to bring the Gospel to Britain. He charged Augustine to make contact with the remnants of the Romano-British church in Cornwall and Wales, and with the churches in the north founded by such as Cuthbert ad Aidan. And in giving Augustine guidance regarding his approach to these churches, Gregory declared the principle that the important thing was not uniformity with Roman practice, but unity with the Roman See. This is what Gregory wrote:

“Things should not be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. Therefore select from each of the Churches whatever things are devout, religious, and right; and when you have bound them, as it were, into a sheaf, let the minds of the English grow accustomed to it.”

Which brings us to us. For it was the recapturing of that priority at and after the Second Vatican Council which has made this feast of St. Gregory the Great not just another feast-day, but our feast-day, the anniversary for some of us of our reception into full communion with the Holy See, and for all of us, of the erection of the Society of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor as a community within the Roman Catholic Church. It was the priority of unity over uniformity which moved Pope Paul VI to create the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, in the hope that the two ecclesial bodies could be brought into full communion. When that possibility faded, it was the priority of unity over uniformity which moved Pope St. John Paul II to issue the Pastoral Provision, which not only allowed married Episcopal priests who converted to be ordained as Catholic priests, but also gave them permission to worship according to rites based on those of the Episcopal Church, the Book of Divine Worship. And it was the priority of unity over uniformity which moved Pope Benedict XVI to extend that provision to Anglicans worldwide, and to create a distinct structure in which they might live out that very substantial part of their patrimony – liturgical, spiritual, structural and theological – which is consonant with the faith and practice of the Catholic Church.

There is, of course, much more to St. Gregory the Great. I’ve said nothing, for instance, of his writings: his exposition of the Book of Job, the Moralia; his work on pastoral care, so foundational that for centuries every new bishop was given a copy at his consecration; his Dialogues, a collection of visions, prophecies and miracles which is, among other things, our chief source of the life of St. Benedict, and proved one of the most popular books of the middle ages. In St. Gregory the Great, God brought together the natural gifts of a born leader and the spiritual gifts fostered by the monastic life, to His glory, and the good of His Church, gifts which still keep on giving, gifts which have given good things to us.

Fr. Warren Tanghe

All Saints Priory September 3, 2020


The scene is a middle eastern religious party, boisterous, they are celebrating something, but it’s too early for anyone to be drunk.  Then this woman gets up and smashes a 8 oz. bottle of a fantastically expensive French perfume – it’s like $6,000 an oz. – and she lets it spill over the head of the man she loves.  Sounds like a bad movie.  But it happened about 2,000 year ago in a village known by some as “Bethany.”  The woman was thought to be named Mary and she poured this perfume on the head of Jesus.  It’s the Gospel reading for the Monday before Easter since time immemorial.  The scent is potent.  They’ll smell it in the house for months… The man will reek of it for weeks.  WASTE, calls out one man jumping to his feet, extravagant waste!  Others angrily, loudly join in attacking her, such waste!  The man Jesus stands up and cries out, SHUT UP!  LEAVE HER ALONE!  There is silence. And the FRAGRANCE.  And the MAN with oil dripping down his beard.  Gently he says, She has anointed me for my funeral.  The woman is sobbing quietly.  The party is almost dead.  The first angry man storms out; his name is Judas.  Six days later Jesus is dead.  Three days after that the same woman is weeping at his tomb.  She smells a familiar scent; she hear her name gently spoken, MARY.


Today is the Solemn Feast of the Annunciation of Jesus Christ’s Nativity.  It is actually a very ancient feast.  For a couple of millennia, it has been associated with late Lent – and I read somewhere that in the ancient Syrian Church this feast occurred on the Thursday of Holy Week – in the morning.  It marked the beginning of all the things Christians were about to celebrate.  Rather mercifully in modern times, Holy Thursday is not also the day of this feast!  In the first chapter of Luke we read about an angel, Gabriel, being sent to Mary of Nazareth.  There is now a modern church in that town and in the crypt a little Chapel which commemorates the event.  Don’t ask me how they know exactly where it happened – but it did happen in “this” place.  On the tiny altar in that crypt chapel certain Latin words are engraved:

‘verbum caro hic factum est’

That could be freely translated: ‘Word enfleshed HERE it was’

The “Word” is God, according to St John.  So, it’s that little word “hic” – that is not in St John.  This little word ‘hic’ is like a thunder bolt and it could thrill us or shock us, or both.  HERE.  Not “once upon a time” but HERE.  I want to mull that over, do you?


While joy is never out of season, even in Lent, it can seem at least ‘high risk’ these days.  Fear seems to be the most infectious disease around.  Covid-19 or The Virus seems the engine that drives our lives, even our Churches and other places of worship.  It is becoming obsessive.  Don’t you agree?

That said, we must never lose focus on the good or the ‘blessing’ hidden in all of life.  In life itself!  Accepting LIFE as a gift or a blessing is what transforms our daily slog.  To see the hidden wholeness in life is transformative.  There is a Jewish tradition of prayer that says we should give thanks for at least 100 things each day – a minimum number, that.  This takes the form of a prayer of blessing, a barakah.  “Blessed be Thou Lord of the Universe….” that I was able to get out of bed this morning… that I am healthy, or I am ill, but You LORD are with me in this.”  Nothing is too small to evoke an expression of gratitude or a barakah prayer.  The prayer ought to be EXPRESSED too, not just a vague thought.  Of course, an Orthodox Jew probably has a written prayer for almost any occasion – but as Gentiles, we could be forgiven for composing our own little humble versions.  Now – as for the “100” – it is obvious that if we aim only at that minimum, we will be spending a LOT of time offering barakah/blessings!!  I am working on it.  It’s harder than you think!  It could become INFECTIOUS.


Lent again!  Recently I thought this is like a season when a ship pulls into a convenient port for needed repairs and overhauls.  Yet it is so much more than that, of course.  I ran across something written by the English priest George Congreve, SSJE many years ago; because he was a great soul, his thoughts are worth sharing, even if this proves a longer read than usual.  He wrote this at a time when Lent was taken seriously by the society in general.  Nevertheless, I find it helpful.  Maybe you will too.  Here goes:

“Lent is no mere ceremonial regulation, like the Lord Chamberlain’s order for Court mourning for so many days. As if the Church should announce that on Ash Wednesday immemorial custom and ecclesiastical propriety demand that we begin to live sadly for forty days, put aside every encouraging consideration, and dwell upon past sin and the consequences of eternal sin. ….joy is out of season for six weeks. On the contrary, George Herbert writes, ‘Welcome, dear feast of Lent’; and the meaning of Lent is the spring of the soul and of the Church. It symbolizes not the despair or indifference of the dead in sin, the winter of the soul, but the spring, the stirring of mysteries hidden in the depths of our nature, the silent awaking of a desire to love God, which is new and wonderful–of a capacity of growing in likeness to Christ…”   He continues:

“The soul is setting herself in a quiet time to remember the highest and deepest thoughts she ever had, and deliberately to choose afresh the highest aim she ever caught sight of. All who intend to obey the Church, and keep Lent, mean that by the grace of God they intend to grow through these forty days in the knowledge and love of God.”

Congreve reflects on the ancient saints, how Lent was for them “a school of Christ.”  It should be a ‘school’ for us too – a school that awakens spiritual HOPE in us.  This is not the sort of ‘hope’ the world can offer but the theological virtue of that name.  But that for another time!

Candlemas or Presentation

This gentle feast closes the traditional Christmas “cycle.”  Because it falls on a Sunday this year perhaps more people will notice it.  If you like mystical feasts, this one is for you.  It is like a jewel – it has so many dimensions.

The young mother brings her infant Son to his House, and the Lord comes suddenly to His Temple.  It is a feast of the Mother who became the “bush which Moses saw unconsumed” as it burned – and in that image the Church acknowledges the preservation of her “glorious virginity.”  It is a feast of faith: old Simeon, the devout, takes this Child in his arms and sings of “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”  From this image comes the old antiphon: “The ancient carried the Infant, but the Infant governed the ancient…”  The old man holds the Ancient of Days, the Holy One who governs all life and time.  Elderly Anna the Prophet is there also giving her witness – loudly probably!

Is all this impossible?  To our pragmatic world, Yes, and yet it is a sweet mysterious meeting of Faith – an arrival at the intersection of the old Covenant of Mount Sinai and the new Covenant of Mount Calvary.  The world’s universal shipwreck is destined to be healed by this Child – when He returns to this same Temple in about 30 years.

(If you wish, look up Malachi 3: 1-4 and Luke 2: 22-40)

Tempus Fugit!

With a computer crash plus lots of other stuff, yes time has flown.  As the old joke goes, “One frog said to the other, “Time sure is fun when you are having flies!”

Now we need to back up to Christmastide!  On a more serious level here is something from retired Pope Benedict XVI on the subject of the praise of God at the Nativity:

‘Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song… And so from that moment, the angels’ song of praise has never gone silent… it resounds ever anew at the celebration of Jesus’ birth.’

A prayer from ancient Eastern Orthodoxy at Christmas Vespers:

‘What shall we offer you O Christ, who for our sake has appeared on earth as man?  Every creature made by you offers you thanks.  The angels offer you a hymn; the heavens a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds their wonder; the earth, it’s cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer you a virgin mother.’

From the modern Western tradition we have the Christina Rossetti poem which takes it further: there she ponders that only the Virgin Mother can offer Him a kiss.  Of our own, what can we possibly offer?  ‘My heart.’  Dare we fail our part?




A thought from a saint – “The year is worn out: spring, summer, autumn, each in turn have brought their utmost, but they are over and the end is come.  All is past and gone, all has failed…and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable.  Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future…and does it rejoice that there are new heavens and a new earth to come.  These are feelings of holy men waiting earnestly for the Advent of Christ.”

The holy man John Henry Newman penned these words.  Winter is indeed “ungrateful to the body” yet let us not fear to be cast forward and dare to wait – with holy ones who will walk with us into the Light.

“Almighty God, give us grace, that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility….”  (from the old Episcopal prayer for First Sunday of Advent)



The wise householder, the good Book says, pulls out treasures both old and new.  For this blessed Feast, here is an old treasure from the Anglican trove:

“O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son, Christ our Lord:   Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee: through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Modern spell check rejects “unfeignedly” – poor dear, well, it means in an “unfeigned” manner, no pretense, – just the real deal.  What a rich image, being “knit together” like  fractured bones!  There is hope in that one fellowship and one mysterious Body.  Love is the ticket.



This Sunday morning (13 October) the brilliant yet modest priest, John Henry Newman will become – what he always was – a SAINT.  Which is to say that the Bishop of Rome, Francis, will officially “raise” Blessed Cardinal Newman “to the Altar.”  Newman profoundly shook the English Church world by his conversion to the Roman Church in 1845.  There are some wonderful pieces (short and long) available at the You Tube channel of Bishop Robert Barron which help explain the importance of this holy man.    https://www.youtube.com/user/wordonfirevideo/videos

Here is the Jesus Prayer attributed to Newman:

“Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance wherever I go.  Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.  Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that my life may only be a radiance of Yours. / Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.  Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus! / Stay with me and then I will begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.  The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine.  It will be You, shining on others through me. / Let me praise You in the way which You love best, by shining on those around me.  Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for You. Amen.”

While hardly brief, this prayer radiates a holiness we should aspire to.  With that hanging participle, we leave you to look up the Newman link we shared above !