Pastoral Message: St Philip Howard 22 October 1995
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
It seems to me that we are very privileged to have Philip Howard as the co-patron of our diocese. As we celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of his martyrdom, I want to spend a few minutes reflecting with you why I think he has a great deal to say to us in the times in which we live. It is a truism that ours is an affluent society; we are among the richest nations of the world and yet, among us is another world, one of deprivation and want. Philip Howard was born in 1537 into just such a society with a position of great privilege. He began by using his great wealth to curry favour with Queen Elizabeth,, spending lavishly on entertaining her and the Court. Even so, we are told that even in those early days he had what we would call a social conscience. He told a friend who brusquely rejected a beggar, "Verily you have too much forgot yourself in abusing such a poor man. Far better had it been had you considered that before God there is no difference between the poor and the rich, between the beggar and the gentleman. Those, therefore, who are of better birth or higher degree ought not to condemn others, much less insult them, but rather help and pleasure them".
While still in his early twenties Philip was faced with the fact that to follow his conscience would mean the loss of all his property and privilege. It could even mean the forfeit of his life. After all the Queen, not long before, had had his father executed. He knew that he had everything to lose and, humanly speaking, nothing to gain. His steadfastness in the long years in prison following his decision is all the more heroic. It makes us examine our own priorities. We too live in an affluent society and one in which we see values changing very rapidly. A way of life based on Christian values can no longer be relied on to be the norm. Many have lost the sense of where they are going in life. Philip Howard was born into the upheaval we call the Reformation. He was baptised a Catholic yet brought up a Protestant in a family, some of whom clung to the old Faith, while others conformed. His home from the age of seven was a former Carthusian monastery. The situation now is different but the challenge is the same: to discern how to live an authentic Christian life holding on to our values in a confused world and a largely alien environment. Yes, St. Philip is a most appropriate patron for our society. But he is especially a good patron for our diocese as we approach the millennium, seeking what it means to be Christ in our world, a Community of love, Partners in Service and a source of hope for all. Whether we be single or married, young or old, St. Philip teaches us that it takes sacrifice to commit ourselves to Christ and His Church in the face of the spirit of the age. Yet that commitment, that witness, is as vital for the Church of today and tomorrow as ever it was four hundred years ago. Especially you who are young today need the courage and faith of Philip Howard. You need him as a Patron.
It may also be helpful for married couples to be reminded that Philip and his wife, Anne, had been estranged, particularly as a result of Philip's bad behaviour at Court. Yet Anne never lost her determination to win him back. She had been living with her grandfather. His death left her without a home and she had to come back to live with Philip. Again, divine Providence was taking a hand. Patiently, gradually, lovingly, she brought him back to her. In the process, they discovered that each of them separately was on the same journey in faith. From then on each could support the other. Reconciled to the Church as well as to each other, they faced the future with courage and, above all, with constancy through the next long eleven years.
Philip Howard is a wonderful patron for our times and for our diocese. His conversion had the effect of making him a man of deep spirituality and prayer which he maintained throughout his imprisonment. Now, in the Communion of Saints, undoubtedly he cares for us in the Church today. Our concerns in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton are still his concerns. To each one of us, whatever our circumstances, St. Philip Howard is a patron whose life speaks to us personally. As we celebrate his memory, we confidently invoke his prayers to the Lord on behalf of us all.
With an assurance of my prayers and kind wishes,
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Bishop of Arundel and Brighton