Friday, 19 December 2014

Inspirational staging posts

In speaking about the recent Supreme Court rulling on the Scottish midwives, Bishop Keenan describes them as "inspirational staging posts". These two humble yet courageous women may wonder at this description of themselves.
For my part, I think of this description as similar to John Paul II's words at the World Youth Day Vigil in Toronto 2002, when he called on those young people present to work with God in building, brick by brick, the civilisation of love.
For anyone of us to be called "inspirational staging posts" is today an extraordinary honour. We are called to obey the State, yes. But, if the State is wrong, then we have to tell the State that it is wrong. Today, our society says that our conviction has nothing to do with reality and, to a great extent, we have accepted this judgement of us by society. Society tells us that our view of reality is actually a refuge from reality, and many of us have to some degree probably accepted this trivialisation.
No, Christian faith does not cut us off from reality, but rather it enables us to embrace the reality, dignity and destiny of every person.
Abortion is not a Catholic issue, as our society likes to think of it. Abortion is wrong, not because the Church says that it is wrong, but because abortion corrupts the reality, dignity and destiny of the human person.
There are indeed two visions here, one which is cut off from reality, and the other which refuses to set reality aside. Much of our society has a vision of life which is very far from reality, but there are many in our midst who have not capitulated to this "worn out logic of meanness and fear", and who even now are forerunners for the life and freedom of many.
God bless Connie and Mary.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Reality unveiled.

Bishop John Keenan of Paisley has spoken about the High Court ruling over the two Scottish midwives, who were seeking the protection of law from being involved indirectly with abortions in the hospitals they worked in. The High Court has ruled against them. However, Bishop Keenan's words, the text of which I include in its entirity below, distinguishes with clarity the two cultures which today stand side by side, one is a culture, the other, an anti-culture - he says: "We should be in no doubt that this was a battle between competing proposals of the kind of country we want: a project propping up a culture of death by means of oppressing any legitimate opposition to it or a vision promoting respect for the life and freedom of all peoples." His tremendous words here unveil, as it were, what is real and true in the midst of an inauthentic version of human life which we all daily jostle with. And, in so doing he points to true human culture as the only viable course for us. Indeed, he says, it "is surely only a matter of time" before the anti-culture in which we live will be overturned - as has been the case with every single ideologically led civilisation. Enjoy digesting Bishop Keenan's words.

I read with disappointment and concern the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court judgement against two Scottish midwives, Connie Wood and Mary Doogan, who have today been denied their basic human right to freedom of belief in the course of their employment in the NHS. In short they have lost their jobs because they were pro-life. At the same time the courageous and convincing witness of these two women, ready to take on the might of the establishment no matter what the personal cost, makes me and many others more certain than ever that the final victory of a free and pro-life generation is surely only a matter of time.
Years ago Connie and Mary went into the midwifery profession following a call of the heart to be there for mums giving birth to their children. They devoted themselves to this work faithfully until the NHS management decided to move an abortion provision into their unit and demanded that they made up the abortion rosters. When Connie and Mary made a request to be exempted because of their beliefs they were refused, with the ultimatum that they would be sacked if they did not comply. The NHS management pursued the case all the way to the highest court in the land at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Mary and Connie had to fund their own legal costs. Today the Supreme Court backed their NHS managers and Connie and Mary lose their jobs even though it would have meant the most minor of adjustments by NHS managers to get other nurses to see to the rosters. So let us be clear right away that this case was not about depriving women of abortion services. It was about forcing nurses who had trained to deliver babies to become involved in medically killing them. We should be in no doubt that this was a battle between competing proposals of the kind of country we want: a project propping up a culture of death by means of oppressing any legitimate opposition to it or a vision promoting respect for the life and freedom of all peoples.
When Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament last month he spoke of a once great Europe that used to have confidence in humanity not so much as citizens but as men and women whom it respected as persons endowed with transcendent dignity. This same Europe, he said, had somehow become old and haggard, less an innovator of a better world and now increasingly aloof, mistrusted and even suspect. He added, ‘What kind of dignity is there without the possibility of freely expressing your thought or professing your religious faith? What dignity can there be without laws to limit the rule of force’ over the freedoms of others.
The decision handed down today, the collaboration of supreme judges and NHS managers, is that of an old and tired establishment that has run out of ideas and vision as to how to bring about a brighter and better future for our people. Having committed itself to supporting a culture of death in the past generation it now sees that to preserve this culture into the next generation it has to become an oppressor of the basic human freedoms of ever increasing numbers of its citizens and all, with ultimate irony, in the name of being pro-choice. It has ended up in an intellectual bankruptcy plain for all to see.
Out of all of this, however, two of the most genuinely unlikely of heroes have emerged. Today Connie and Mary have lost their jobs, their livelihoods and their legal arguments but will have won the respect, good will and admiration of thousands upon thousands of their fellow citizens up and down the land who work and hope for a better world tomorrow, for a society that celebrates heroes who refuse to be silenced as a voice for the voiceless and who will stand up for human life and freedom, whatever it takes, against any reactionary forces peddling their worn out logic of meanness and fear.
As Pope Francis said; “In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe no longer fertile and vibrant. . . which once inspired but seems to have lost its attraction, having been replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions. Such an establishment has lost its right to inspire the young.’
Connie and Mary, on the other hand, will, without doubt, some day be seen as pioneers of a fresh start, as inspirational staging posts for a new generation determined that it does not have to be this way.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

First guardian and catechist.

When I first read the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, and learned about St Juan Diego, what most struck me about him was that once the spernatural nature of the image and message of Our Lady was recognsied, Juan Diego dedicated himself to that image and message, becoming as it were, the first guardian and catechist of the new Shrine of Our Lady on Tepeyac Hill. For the rest of his life he lived in a small room behind the new chapel - effectively, in the sacristy - and gave himself to welcoming visitors to the chapel and in speaking about Our Lady to them. He became a catechist of the Mystery of Christ, being an agent of that Mystery in the first shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Yesterday, on his feast day, I asked his prayers for those who will be chosen to be the new guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Since the Marist Fathers will be departing the shrine soon, it seems to me that the prayers of this humble servant of Our Lady of Guadalupe should be sought. England's Nazareth will soon need new guardians - to welcome pilgrims, to pray with them and to lead them deeper into the Mystery of Christ.
The pattern of St Juan Diego's life after Our Lady appeared to him, is a tremedous model for any shrine's guardians to seek to follow.

Friday, 5 December 2014

What does the land say.

Fr Thomas Tunstall was born in the small village of Whinfell, which was in the countryside about four miles north east of Kendal in Cumbria. The village no longer exists and the name 'Whinfell' is now little more than the name of a part of the parish of Kendal. The photo above shows the place of Whinfell, the last village before the Pennine hills of east Cumbria. The land, now as then, is farming land and, where there was once a village, there are now only occasional farmhouses.
This territory was once very Catholic and, during the 1600s, through sequestration of lands and heavy fines, the Catholics were diminished and livelihoods changed hands. Even so, this location feels like a place of grace, a place which welcomes and is nurtured by the Gospel. The religion of this State is not Catholic, but the religion of the land is.
Not far away, a little nearer to Kendal, one of those Catholic houses still stands. This region underwent huge challenges in the 1600s, yet the house and chapel at Dodding Green are still there, testimony to the originl religion of the land.
Three hundred years ago this territory was littered with such homes, homes which welcomed the priest and the Holy Eucharist. All it takes is for us to scratch the surface a little and there we find beauty and the desire to be Catholic.
It is good to remember, not just the martyr, Blessed Thomas Tunstall, but also the many families who payed a heavy price in order to remain Catholic. The land, at least, still honours their witness.
 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A glorious Norwich story.

Within the frame of the Stonyhurst picture of Blessed Thomas Tunstall is a sliding panel on which is written a short piece about the martyr. Sadly, this writing is not dated yet it must have been written after 1706 (a date mentioned in the text), and before 1828 (the year in which the painting came to Stonyhurst).
The text tells how Fr Tunstall was held for four of five years in Wisbech Castle, and after his condemnation was held in Norwich Castle (not the old city Gaol, which I had previously indicated). And that at his execution he showed more than natural courage, and prayed for his accusor and thanked him for being instrumental in his death.
After his execution his quarters were displayed at various parts of the city. These were later taken down by Catholics in the city and kept there until 1706, when they were given to a Benedictine who placed them in an altar at Bath.
These few details about a young priest, originally from Whinfell, just north of Kendal in Westmorland, who gave his life freely for Christ just outside the Magdalene Gate of the city of Norwich, where Magpie Road meets Bull Close Road, reveal an extraordinary character and a saint, who has marked this country and the city of Norwich by his commitment to the Mystery of Christ. This is a glorious story, and the more we uncover about the lives of these Blesseds, the more we too can honour Christ and by changed by His presence.
There really should be a memorial to Fr Thomas Tunstall at the Maudlin Gate. This isn't a story to be kept in the dark or in secret. It is full of virtue and of light.
Grateful thanks to Stonyhurst College for the image and permission to reproduce it here.

Monday, 17 November 2014

A curious Norwich story.

Earlier in the year I came across an old journal which had a reprint of a story which had originally been printed in 1736. The story was written by a Frederick Higbane who, in 1736, had visited Norwich from London, and had encountered a 'ghost' of the priest martyr Thomas Tunstall. Thomas Tunstall was martyred at Norwich, just outside the Magdalene Gate, in 1616 and was beatified by Puis XI in 1929.
Frederick Higbane's story is indeed curious. He was staying at an Inn (which he doesn't name) on Maudlin (Magdalene) Street, Norwich, and was struck by a portarit of a man which was hanging in his room. He didn't know who this man was. The following day, in the evening, he was near one of the old gates which lead through to the Cathedral domaign and noticed a shadowy figure who seemed to be beckoning to him. He drew near and, to his shock, saw that this figure was a man who had a terrbly bloated face, a rope around his neck and a knife sticking in his chest. The figure spoke no words and, as Mr Higbane withdrew, the figure vanished. 
When he returned to his room at the Inn he immediately recognised the image that was hanging on the wall as the man that he had just encountered. He enquired in the inn if there was a Catholic priest in Norwich. He was directed to a priest who told him about the martyr, Fr THomas Tunstall, and where the martyr had been executed. Now, Stonyhurst College in Lancashire holds an old painting of Fr Thomas Tunstall which, unlike most paintings of the English martyrs that show them robed, presents this priest in just his shirt - as he would have been at the execution.
I don't know if this painting is the same one which was hanging in 1736 in a guest room in an inn on Maudlin Street, but, as far as I know, there are no other images of this martyr. Stonyhurst acquired this image in 1828 and, I acknowledge, with grateful thanks, the photograph of the painting which I include in this post.
The image is small; approximately 5 inches by 4 inches and is enclosed by a wooden frame. The abundant black hair and the mustache, together with the shirt, indicate a contemporary, if not eye-witness of the Martyr, at the moment of his execution.
The appearance of a ghost of the martyr in 1736 is curious since Fr Tunstall is amongst the Blessed. Perhaps Frederick Higbane's story has more to do with his own state of soul. 
But let us also remember that "the saintliness of his demeanor on the scaffold produced a profound impression on the people." (Catholic Encyclopedia) Blessed Thomas Tunstall was living for Christ and gave his life as a witness to the saving Mystery of Jesus Christ. His self-offering stands forever before the Throne of grace - something that can be relied upon because it has opened up the Mercy of God; yes, to the people of Norwich, and to all of us.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Returning to the the great corpus.

The recent Synod in Rome has kept inspiring me to revisit the extraordinary teaching about the family, given by Pope John Paul II in 1981, Familiaris Consortio and, in searching for my copy of that text, my hand lighted upon another Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Europa. This was the last of the five continental Letters which John Paul II wrote; The Church in Europe was promulgated in 2003 and, since this was the text which my hand first took from my book cabinet, I decided that I would re-read this Letter first.
A great gift of understanding and of counsel was given to this Pope and, as I take up this Letter anew - the first re-reading of a 'Wojtylan' text since he was declared a saint, I can now ask for his intercession as I read, asking him to guide my heart and my mind as I enter into this Letter again.
I remember reading this Letter ten years ago and being struck by the clarity and courage with which he wrote it. I ask now that his clarity and courage will enter into me as I seek to respond to the very circumstances about which he wrote. 
I would like, in due course, to re-read all Pope John Paul's Letters and, this time, to rely on his heavenly patronage as I read.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Prophecy in our time.

My first awareness of a Holy Father was in January 1964 when my mother bought a copy of the magazine Paris Match for its coverage of Paul VI's visit to the Holy Land. I still remember being introduced to black and white photographs in which the Pope was present at a place where Christ had once been.
Now that Paul VI is numbered amongst the blessed we should remember his greatness. He who had so many critics and not enough brothers was a great prophet of our age.
Two prophetic teachings stand out:
First, in his great Encyclical Letter of 1968, Humanae Vitae, he gave what is arguably the greatest account ever written about the nature of married love. Without this vision of truth the contraceptive mentality might have completely submerged married love. But his prophetic teaching has kept the door open.
Secondly, in his 1975 Apostolic Letter, Evangelii Nuntiandi, he proclaimed the need for a new evangelisation. And the thing is, at that time, I think that he was the only person who saw it. Without that proclamation, much of the Church might have become utterly Pelagian. Because of his prophetic vision of 1975 he enabled a great grace for many.
When all is said and done, the 1960s and 1970s is more about Pope Paul VI than anyone else. The BBC may not recognise this, but many will.

Monday, 27 October 2014

One of the great Company.

Blessed Thomas Tunstall from the Lake District, a Douay priest, ordained in 1610 was executed at Norwich on 13th July 1616. Earlier this year I went to pray at the site of his execution.
The photo above shows "The Library" - now a restaurant - just behind the Guildhall, which is the site of the old City Gaol. It would have been here that Fr Tunstall was held, after his arrest in King's Lynn, while awaiting execution. He had already spent four or five of his six years of priesthood in one or another gaol in England.
Norwich, like York, was a place of frequent execution over the centuries. But, whereas Norwich Castle, or its ditches, were a usual place for criminals to be executed, a special gallows was set up for the execution of Fr Tunstall. This was just outside the Magdalene Gate on the north side of the old city.
If you walk up Maudlin (or Magdalene) Street you come to a cross-roads just outside the old city walls. It was here, on this open space that Fr Thomas Tunstall was hung, drawn and quartered.
A part of the old city walls is still visible, but there is no memorial for this Blessed, who stands forever before the Throne, and before Norwich, pointing to the Mystery of Christ.
The Grid reference of the site is TG232096. There should be some commemoration of him here.
Blessed Thomas Tunstall, be a light for us today, and especially be a strength to your brother priests who are still on the mission.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hearty smoke.

For all you paella fans out there; leave aside the gas hob and light yourself a woodfire. The difference between a paella cooked on gas and a paella cooked on an open woodfire is massive. The insipid gas tends to create hot spots, on which the rice sticks. The woodfire gives a fuller but even heat, which together with the smoke, makes the paella rich, unctious and life-enhancing. Unless prevented, all my paellas will be cooked on an open woodfire from now. This is one of the greatest dishes ever. Viva la paella Valenciana!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Set in relief.

I have been following some of the media coverage of the Synod about the Family, as well as the occasional presentation by the Synod itself. I have been quite alarmed by the way in which the media, for instance the BBC, has referred to the Synod, showing how far detached from reality both the secular world and its media are.
The BBC recently said that it was "dissappointed" in the "vote" taken by the Synod Father's about the nature of the family. Fifty years ago, and even twenty-five years ago, the "world" would have been very glad that the Catholic Church was discussing the Family. But today's response to the Synod shows that the secular world, and its unhinged media, has really lost its points of reference, and its way-markers. The way in which the media has spoken about the Synod shows how idealogically led it is. Individualism, relativism and agnosticism, the form of this vaccuus ideology, are creating the basis for quite an unpleasant future.
The Synod of Bishops looks at reality; the secular media looks to idealogy. In fact, so much so is this the case, that I think that the secular media is the measuring stick for our culture today. If you want to see how far from reality our culture is, then just listen to the media.
Of course, all this is quite alarming, because an ideology-led society can do some very unpleasant things. We have some awful examples from the recent past. Today, it seems, the pre-born are taking the brunt of the fall-out.
However, the Church stands in reality, and Christ said that no evil would overcome it. We do not rely on ourselves, but on Him who governs all things.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Such a great guide.

With great sadness I learn of the death of Fr Benedict Groeschel CFR; he died at 11pm on 3rd October, the eve of the feast of the founder of the Franciscan friars. May the Lord give him a special place in His Kingdom.
I first met him in Henley-on-Thames in December 1998 and was immediately struck by his integrity and his witness. I have met him on many occasions since then. He once gave me the best spiritual direction that I have ever received from another human being - that was in Leeds.
This humble friar had one of the best minds that I ever knew; he must have had a photographic memory for he could draw precise quotes from a huge range of texts, and draw out from them their meaning.
As a leader in the Christian life, he is one of the towering figures of the 20th century, particulary in the way that he guided many through the chaos of the past few decades. I will remember him very fondly for the rest of my life, especially as I regularly listen to his recorded talks. I will miss him. While I was in Sydney I had hoped to make another priest's retreat under his direction, but by the time I had returned to the UK he was no longer strong enough to give retreats. I am immensely grateful to him for all he did for us priests of the new evangelisation.
The friars of his community - the Friars of the Renewal - will be saddened at his passing, but he has given them a very good foundation.
I remember him saying, that as he was from New Jersey, going to Purgatory would be a "big step up". In fact, he said, "I'm looking forward to Purgatory!" Well, he has the prayers of many to support him in this last journey. And may he, who humbled himself before the Cross of Christ each day, be now transformed by Mercy.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Grateful thanks.

For just three years Cardinal Mauro Piacenza was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. During that time his leadership of the priests of the Church was wonderful. The way he spoke to priests, and the way he spoke about the priesthood was a great grace. He placed the identity and mission of the priest firmly in the priest's sacramental conformation to the Priest, Jesus Christ. The rather secular and soulless notions about priests being aligned with a function or with a socio-political role in the Church or in the world he set aside and, taking up the great movement, which is the New Evangelisation, Cardinal Piacenza has, in such a short time, given priests a whole vision for the renewal of our lives and mission. Cardinal Piacenza, along with all Curial Office-holders stepped down from his post when Bendict XVI retired as Pope. His last work was to give us a new edition of the 1994 Directory on the Life and Ministry of Priests. This new edition of the Directory is an inspiring and grace-filled document to guide priests in this new era. In the St John Vianney Fraternity we are presently making our way through this document, and I, for one, am extremely grateful to Cardinal Piacenza for all that he has done for the Priesthood.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The beauty of the Priesthood.

Celebrating the Mass on the site of the original Holy House of Walsingham is a great grace. To see the lawn, where once the nave and chancel of the Priory church stood, thronged with a great crowd of young people was a moment fo great joy in the Church. Bishop Mark Davies celebrated the Mass - the joy on his face was evident, and the delight of the company of priests who concelebrated with him is something that I will remember always.
When priests come together there is a coming together and strengthening of the priestly charism. I am personally honoured that my presbytery is a house which is frequented by priests, but taking part in the mission of the Church in such an event as the Youth 2000 Festival at Walsingham, is such a wonderful confirming of the identity and dignity of the priest That the priest facilitates the action of the Holy Spirit through the gift of self. At Walsingham on this day there was no hint that any of us priests had a managerial, administrative or functional role. No, the Church was alive in Christ, and we were enabling that life through our sharing in the Priesthood of Jesus.
 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The beauty of God's plan.

For the first time at the Youth 2000 Prayer Festival, one of the Masses was celebrated in the ancient Priory grounds. Twelve hundred young people walked the Holy Mile singing songs of praise to the Holy Trinity and in honour of Our Blessed Lady. This was the high point of the Festival this year; the Church on the move is a something that is both visible and attractive.
The column of young people just kept coming from the Festival site by the Slipper Chapel, following the ancient pilgrim route, some of them barefoot, as they approached the 'Holy Land of Walsingham'. The enthusiasm was tangible.
As the young pilgrims passed through the old Priory gatehouse on the High Street, to the open lawns where the original Holy House had stood, and where now an altar had been set up for this Mass, I could suddenly see how Our Lady Herself is writing the history of the New Evangelisation of this country, through these striking events at Her Shrine in Norfolk. In drawing these young people to Her simple Shrine at Walsingham, She is drawing them to Her Son, in whose gentle, but life-giving presence, we are formed into the Church.