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.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The beauty of conversion.

At The Youth 2000 Prayer Festival in late August in Walsingham, about 1200 young people from across the country came together and spent for and a half days in the close company of the Blessed Eucharist enthroned in their midst. 
This year's Festival marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of Youth 2000. This movement, founded in England, but represented now in many countries, has held a summer Prayer Festival for young people in England since the early 1990s. In August 1999 they first set up the Festival next to the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham, and for fifteen years now they have drawn an enormous crowd of young people to engage in time of joyful encounter and growth, awakenng them to the person of Jesus and to the new life of grace which he gives. Lives are changed, light is received, purpose is engendered and vocations are born.
For the priests who come to serve the Festival it is a time of great joy as we see young people drawing life from the Saviour and becoming established in His Church. Youth 2000 was born from World Youth Day in 1989, which that year took place in Santiago de Compostella, and mirrors those prophetic events: Christ at the centre surrounded by a community of disciples. The building up of the Church in this country lies at the heart of the mission of Youth 2000. The whole event takes place under the care of Our Lady of Walsingham, to whom we entrust the Christian formation of this generation.
And of course, when you are camping out in the open fields of Norfolk there is always space for a paella!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

A living fraternity.

At the beginning of August I was in Ars for nine days, taking part in the Summer Session of the Society of St John Vianney. This session incorporates the feast of the saint, when hundreds of priests come and join us for the solemn Mass on 4th August. The photo above shows some of us after the Mass.
The theme of our reflections this year was priestly fraternity; bringing to the fore this essential dimension of the priesthood and enabling it to be lived within the Diocesan priesthood. What a tremendous grace this Society is!
However, the Society of St John Vianney does not see priestly fraternity in the sense of a caste or privilaged status, but rather, it is the humility and weakness of the priest which is the source of our brotherhood, set in relief by the sacrament of Ordination.
When you look at St John Vianney, you know what the priesthood is. He doesn't lead to a particular priestly spirituality, and for this reason he is the model for all priests. St John Vianney was all for Christ, and so claiming him as the model is actually opening ourselves to a universal model. St John Vianney is the answer to all the critics of the priesthood over the past fifty years.
It is the missionary witness of this Society which first attracted me and drew me to become a member, for it witnesses not so much to the man who is a priest, but to the reality of priesthood itself.
Our days in Ars were divided up between celebrations, trips out and time spent together with the Lord, and in reflection. One day we even went rowing on the River Saone at Lyons. It is a mighty river and I was surprised that no one fell in. I took this photo of the river before we embarked; boats and cameras don't mix well!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Defence of the realm.

When will England be open to God's plan?
Defending itself against the truth has been been its predominant attitude for almost five hundred years. So long that you almost want to fall in line. From women bishops to guarding cyclamen against slugs, it is as though we must see ourselves, in this island, as competent in all fields, including most importantly, overriding the beauty of God's plan.
Wearing herself out across the past five centuries, and yet God's plan still shines with beauty.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Set in relief.

The New Evangelisation sets the Christian life in relief; this is becoming clear as this new era in salvation history gets underway. I became very conscious of this during Eastertide as we read the Acts of the Apostles during the Liturgy. The movement of the New Evangelisation is causing the Scriptures, the Seasons and the feasts, indeed, the Christian life itself to be set in relief.
Today's feast of St Benedict, the towering Patron of Europe, is an example of this. Monasticism, seen in the light of the identity of the Church today, was and is a gift to the Universl Church, an enabling of its mission.
Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium 262, describes "spirit-filled evangelisers" as those who "pray and work". The ora et labora of a past, golden age of evangelisation is newly seen today as the kernel of the New Evangelisation as its actually is. In the future we will look back and see the truth of the Holy Father's contemporary description of the New Evangelisation. That unity of prayer and activity, rather than mere talk (or blogging), seen again, through the prism of the New Evangeisation for its tremendous value. A Church which is unself-consciously engaged in prayer and work is a Church which will mark this age that we are living in, not through any desire to achieve self-importance, but through the transformation which grace alone acheives.
St Benedict, lead us to live under God.