Sunday, 5 July 2015

Going out with someone.

We used to call it dating or even courtship, but going out with someone and discovering that another person is special to me, and then beginning to discern the possibility of a communion of life and love with that person is one of the most exciting experiences in life. 
In a secular age is there a Catholic vision for dating? Yes, there is, and I'm offering an opportunity to those who are 18 and over to look with me at this vision.
Going out with someone: an evening seminar, Wednesday 15th July 2015 at 7.30pm in St Ignatius Parish centre, WF5 0DQ.
For more details, please contact me on stignatius@gmx.com 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

The house of a recusant.

Two weeks ago we kept the feast of the rebel Cardinal, John Fisher and the retired Chancellor, Thomas More, the first of England's Reformation martyrs to be canonised. Earlier this year I was in Rochester and, after visiting the Cathedral, where once John Fisher was Bishop, I glanced over to the old Bishop's House on the north side of the Cathedral. The house, now no longer the Bishop's Palace, and almost certainly altered since Tudor times, is nonetheless the house in which John Fisher lived when he was Rochester's Bishop.
The house is still small and would have been a humble Bishop's house, by medieval and renaissance standards. But within its walls there remains those spaces which nurtured the blossoming of an apostolic courage which would establish the Church in this country on new and certain footings, even if they departed from contemporary expectations. Here, and in the old house in Chelsea (Thomas More's home), were forged the beginnings of recusancy - the desire to conform always to the person of Christ, together with the desire never to conform to the prevailing culture. These two men stood out in a singular way from all their contemporaries, but many would follow them - those for whom the term 'recusant' would be applied. In our country we have no greater models and leaders than our recusant forbears, because they show us how to be recusants today. They appeal to our deepest sensibilities, the relationship that we have with Christ the Lord, and to forge in our own homes and places of work those same desires. How the Lord will use these desires of ours is His to name.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Fathers and sons.

On this day when we keep the feast of the first canonised Martyrs of the English Reformation, SS John Fisher and Thomas More, I am mindful of those other Fathers who were led out from the Tower in May 1535, passing the Bell Tower in which Fisher and More were held, awaiting their fate. The three Carthusian Priors, Houghton, Webster and Lawrence, together with Frs Reynolds and Haile, were the very first to be executed for the Faith in that era.
During a recent visit to London I discovered that I was near to the site of the former Charterhouse and enquiring at the Gatehouse chanced upon a guided tour. I accompanied the guide for the first part of the tour only, in order to visit the present chapel, pictured above. This chapel, the guide informed the tour party, had been the Chapter House of the original monastery, and therefore the place where the three Priors, together with the community of the London Charterhouse, deliberated how they should respond to the situation of the King's claim of supremacy of the Church in England. The original Chapter House has been modified over the centuries but still holds, in the far corner, the remains of a sacrarium next to where a medieval altar, in the Chapter House, had once been.
The guide then showed us the site of the original monastery Church. The Church is long gone, but its site is marked out in stone on the grass at the very front of the present Charter House buildings. It was here, and on its High Altar, that Prior John Houghton celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit, during which the entire Community discerned the way in which they were called to respond to the King.
On the wall at the side of this site, a wall which was most probably the original north wall of the Church, there is a plaque commemorating the three Priors, the other priest members, and brothers of the Community, all of whom suffered torture and death, following their decision to witness to Christ, rather than to the King.
The place where the lawn and plaque is found, is bounded by a perimeter railing and is not a public place. Nonetheless, it is good to see that such a plaque is there with the names of all the Community.
These, our Fathers, and sons of the Most High, are worthy of great veneration, and we are humbled that this memorial to their great struggle and their great faith, is here in the middle of our busy capitol city.  

Sunday, 21 June 2015

An old friend.

I was recently in the old city of London, looking up historical sites which hold so much importance for us. I walked along the Poultry and took the above photo at the building which occupies the site of the Poutlry Compter of old. 
The Poultry Compter was once what its name suggests, but it became a prison in Tudor times and one of the many 'holding places' of Catholics. It was a very primitive place. Here in the Spring of 1594 Fr John Gerard SJ was held. This great confessor of the faith speaks about his experience here in his autobiography.
Today, the location is very different now from how it was in Tudor times; the tower block on the corner of Poultry and Old Jewry could be found in just about any modern city. The Great Fire would have scoured out, to its fetid foundations, the old Poultry Compter.
Close by is the magnificent Guildhall where, three years later in 1597, Fr John Gerard was brought for interogation.
In this enormous medieval aula Fr Gerard, before a Royal Commission, was subjected to an intense session from Richard Topcliffe, the priest hunter. It is hard to picture it now, but then a whole State was intent upon extinguishing the Catholic Church, which had been the very heart of its life and formation up till that time.
London, in spite of its secularism, is rich with Catholicism, precisely because of such great confessors. Blessed Henry Garnet SJ was tried in the Guildhall in 1606 and condemned to death here. The Guildhall somehow survived the Great Fire, and preserves its memory of the old days. 
The secular age tries its best to maintain its project, but what these confessors of old witnessed to is the fullness of human life - the saving Mystery of Jesus Christ.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Doing a little weeding.

I had to launch a boat in order to tackle the couch grass that had invaded the pond!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

A shrine under renewal.

The renewal of the Shrine at Walsingham is to include the provision of facilities for retreats and conferences. This will enable a tremendous development of the Shrine. Many times I have wished to take groups to Walsingham for a retreat or period of formation, but the lack of a place to meet together has always weighed against this. It will soon be possible for conferences and retreats to be envisaged.
This is particularly important when one recognises that the basic nature of England's Nazareth is that it is a shrine to the family. Christian formation at the level of the family lies at the heart of the renewal of the Church in this country.
Walsingham has an extraordinary place in this context. The many thousands of people who visit the shrine each year, whether as Diocesan, Parish or association groups, all have their family ties, and many of them come as family groups. The shrine has an organic potential to help to nurture the Christian family, having at its centre the house of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The whole sense and environment of the family is one which can easily be engendered and honoured at Walsingham, enabling particular formation to be given within the context of a visit to the shrine.
This can be done at all levels: young people considering marriage and the family, newly married spouses, young families, families with teenagers, extended families, and grandparents. In each case, there can be a particular ministry, directed to honouring the evangelisation already taking place within families, and equipping them even more in their mission.
It is particularly the case that many older people come to Walsingham, often from families that no longer practice the Christian life, yet a visit to Walsingham can be the place where a whole life-time of prayer and evangelisation on behalf of their families can be acknowledged, witnessed to and honoured.
Families themselves could be drawn into the mission of the Shrine, becoming agents of family formation in Walsingham. Other Institutes and bodies in the country could also, perhaps, feed into the mission of the Shrine, for example, the new School of the Annunciation, whose mission is already so closely identified with that of Walsingham.
Again, the renewal of the Shrine at Walsingham is something which calls for our attention and our support.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Walsingham Development.

When I was a teenager in the 1970s there was a nationwide campaign, led by the Director of the Shrine, Fr Roland Connelly, to develop the Shrine and place it more at the centre of the life of the Church in England. The most obvious consequences of this campaign were the number of parish pilgrimages that came to Walsingham, particularly from the northern half of the country, and the replacement of the open-sided hexagonal outdoor chapel with the Norfolk-barn style Chapel of Reconciliation.
Today, a new and fuller project has begun to develop the Shrine again so that it can be at the heart of the New Evangelisation of this country. I commend and applaud Mgr John Armitage for his vision for the next stage of the renewal and building up of the Shrine. The basis of this project can be seen on the new webpage: www.walsinghamdevelopment.org 
This project will involve both new buildings and a renewed schedule for pilgrims. But at its heart is a great vision for the Shrine - a vision to develop the welcome that is extended to pilgrims and their formation in the life and mission of the Church. 
I will post on this again soon.  

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Also on that day.

Saturday 16th May 2015. A Walk for Life in York.
In reparation for the legalisation of Abortion.
11.30am Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at St Wilfrid's Church, York.
12 noon Holy Mass
1pm Procession to the Ouse Bridge for prayers and a flower ceremony, naming the babies.
2pm Procession to the Bar Convent for veneration of the relic of St Margaret Clitherow.
3pm Procession to the site of the gallows on the Knavesmire.
4.15pm Benediction of the English Martyrs Church, followed by refreshments.
Contact: Pat 0113 2582745

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Guild Day in York

The Guild of Our Lady and St Joseph in association with the Buckfast School of the Annunciation are holding a day for parents, catechists and all those who wish to share the Gospel with joy: Saturday 16th May 2015, at The English Martyrs Church, York, 10.30am to 4.30pm. 
The day focusses on sacred art and media in Catechesis and the New Evangelisation. Cost £15. To register: guildofourladyandstjoseph@gmail.com 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

White Rabbit

Yesterday, on the Vigil of the great feast of St Joseph, I went with a group of youth from the parish to see the Leeds performance by Rise Theatre of "White Rabbit". This very impressive production, written by the Rise Theatre, documents the lives of two young people who are confronting the challenges of contemporary living, and who, according to their own lights, are not faring well. However, the person of God, who is present in their lives throughout the drama, is ultimately recognised and welcomed by both characters, whose lives are transformed by the encounter.
"White Rabbit" is the second production of Rise Theatre which I have experienced; the first being "Soldier to Saint" (a play about St Alban), which I saw a year ago. This small Christian, and very Catholic, theatre company represents a tremendous and very welcome intervention in our culture. The four-member cast are very professional, very gifted, and inspirational actors. They are a joy to watch.
The current play "White Rabbit" conveys a very skillful anti-Pelagian message: the self-improvement project of the secular vision is doomed to failure; we were made for grace, we need grace.
I strongly recommend "White Rabbit" to you, and particularly to young people. And I hope that the Rise Theatre Company goes from strength to strength; they deserve much support. Look them up on their website and check out the remaining dates for the current show: www.risetheatre.co.uk

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Emotional singing.

Each week during Lent we have sung, in the Parish, at the end of Eucharistic Exposition, the hymn "Ave Verum Corpus".
This fourteenth century hymn was written to be sung during the Elevation at Holy Mass; its final phrases are indeed quite emotional, with respect of both the words and the way in which the chant soars.
This Eucharistic hymn seems especially fit for Lent; its words, and its music encompass both Christmas and Easter, but focus on the work of Jesus and His utter dedication to the Father's plan. It is such a beautiful hymn to sing during Lent. We will sing it also throughout the Easter season, when its resonance will be transformed.
We finish with the Lenten anthem to the Blessed Mother. These prayers, and the music which lifts them, are a great grace because they are leading us still into the Mystery.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Synod. 8.

The basic motif of modern life is social mobility; economic and cultural freedom to move within society and within the culture. This ethos means that values and structures cannot be thought of as a solid or unchanging framework. Within the secular vision, neither marriage nor the family can be thought of as solid or unchanging elements of life. This certainly puts Christian marriage and family in a position, precisely because in the Christian life marriage and the family are an essential human and Christian framework. It is the secular project and its vision (and its media), which has made life difficult today for marriages and families.
The first thing to say is that history shows that the Christian life is strong and grows when it holds fast to the Gospel and to Christian principles. Indeed, the mandate of Catholic Bishops has always been to defend the Tradition.
Secondly, we don't know where the secular project will go. Its future will be neither rational, nor scientific, nor thoughtful. What superstitions and misunderstandings about the Christian life that it will come to embrace is not yet clear. In such a context, the whole Church needs to be very discerning about contemporary culture - don't follow the culture should be the general rule.
We should also point out the following basic principles:
1. The essential ingredient for any pastoral approach is the desire for the Christian life. Without this we can easily put the cart before the horse. Fostering Christian marriages and families happens on the foundation of a desire for the life of Jesus Christ.
2. After evangelisation, the second most important ingredient is the formation of people before and after marriage, awakening their awareness of their mission. It isn't that Catholics should suddenly take a tight grip upon the mission of Christian marriage and the family (which could result in the distortion of that mission), but rather that Catholics become more aware, more conscious of the depth and greatness of the mission of marriage and the family, and its central place in God's plan. 
The Synod is a 'wake up call' for the Church to renew its appreciation of what it has taught about Marriage and the Family during the twentieth century, so that she can take a firm hand on the helm, at this time when Western Civilisation is breaking down. Marriage and the family are our greatest goods.
This post concludes what I want to say about this subject, for the time being.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Synod. 7.

As society submits itself, more and more, to the forces of secularism, and the Christian life is evaluated, more and more, from the perspective of secular opinion, it is important for the whole Church to see Christian spouses as leaders and primary agents of the civilisation of love. The challenge for the Church then, is to proclaim the Gospel to Christian parents and families, and then to honour them by allowing them to be the primary agents of the formation of Christian life and culture in our midst. Thus, all the other agents of Christian life and culture; clergy, schools, catechists etc, must increasingly see themselves as subsidiary to spouses and parents.
In the new evangelisation, Christian spouses have a primary role; the Church is called to nurture and support them, so that their reception of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ can be at the very heart of the Church.
John Paul II was very earnest in his desire that the genuine forces within the family should be unlocked for the good of the Church and of the world. His pastoral approach, which he modelled for all of us time and time again, is something that we need to learn again and set in relief in the life of the Church today.
The most important people in the world today are Christian spouses, those who are trying to embrace their mission, and priests, those who are trying to embrace their mission to be pastors after the heart of Jesus Christ. Everyone stands in relation to these two missions, but the role of Christian spouses comes first.
This vision is so wonderfully presented by Paul VI in "Humanae Vitae", where the consciences of spouses stand at the very heart of all human affairs.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Synod. 6.

During this age of media culture, the family has swopped places with the media in terms of being the principal agent of formation and of the handing on of values; what was formerly done by the family is now largely done by the media. This change has been effected by the media itself. 
The mass media presents the family as an impersonal reality. By subjecting the family to the gaze of society, actual families have been made to feel self-conscious and awkward, perhaps even frightened.
The models of family life which are constantly presented by the media have been used to teach values. The family, which is a profoundly human reality, and the very source and foundation of values, is now challenged by this new form of totalitarinism. The media with its steryotypes has become the agent of modelling families and value transmission. Living one's life vicariously through media families is often a substitute for the reality of one's own family life.
The media's presentation of the family even touches upon human freedom. Truth is manipulated and misrepresented, and the family is often presented as an obstacle to personal freedom. In fact, the truth about the family leads people to exercise their freedom.
It is possible to consider the presentation of the family by the media in a genuine and formative way - presenting the family in its own truth, but this is not the place to do that. But what is important to point out is the way that roles have changed in the media age. Human formation and the transmission of values used to take place within the family; society stepped back from this privileged place. Today it is accepted that secular society and its agents are fitting places for human formation and the transmission of values. The family has lost its privileged place and, to a large degree, its unique mission. In this culture it is important for parents to be people of character and to appreciate anew the greatness of their mission. In the light of "Humanae Vitae" and "Familiaris Consortio" parents today can rediscover ad re-evaluate their role and task. The importance of the formation which the Church gives to young people, to those prepring for marriage and to young families cannot be overstated. Spouses and parents hold the first place in society, their role in interpreting the culture and of forming the next generation is the most important one. 
Don't look where the media gazes, but look at the inner truth of the family. And wherever there are parents struggling to embrace their mission, there is the foundation of human civilisation. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Synod. 5.

During the twentieth century, and especially with Paul VI and then John Paul II, the Church gave an extraordinary teaching to the family; in a sense, they handed the Family its Gospel, a vision of its own inner life and mission.
But the Church gave this teaching at a time when modern culture, and especially the mass media, was trivialising the family. During my life-time the culture has lost sight of the family, and the media has done immense harm by making the family the subject of its gaze and of its own secular agenda.
Today, forming a community of persons, serving life, participating in the development of society and in the mission of the Church, are hardly reference points at all. Instead, the pursuit of relationships, rather than marriage, the pursuit of life-styles, rather than educating and forming human beings, and as for society, that is down to the welfare State and its organs to provide us with.
Yes, a huge shift took place in the Church's understanding of the family (with Humanae Vitae), but a huge shift also took place within the culture, in which the mass media took hold of the controls.
By projecting soap opera families onto our screens the media has made the family self-conscious and utterly vulnerable to manipulation by the media. The mass media insists on providing models of family living and, in so doing, has indicated the way in which families should see and understand themselves.
What was formerly the preserve of families themselves - handing on the culture - has been taken out of the hands of families, in a significant degree, by the mass media, and more recently by the virtual reality of internet and its own social media.
Never before has the family been so intensively modelled as it is today by the media. The Church has never given models for family living, except of course, the Holy Family, which of its nature, transcends all times and cultures.
In considering the themes which the Synod of Bishops has raised, it seems to me that it is important for the Church to see what the culture has done to the family today, and more importantly, for the Church to look again at its own teaching and vision of marriage and the family, and to make these as available as possible in the simplest and clearest ways, to parishes and to communities, opening them up and receiving them anew. This is the first essential step for the Church today.