Saturday, 30 April 2016

Renovation 6.

On Thursday 22nd October 2015 Rob and I met again to complete the building up of the two new banks. Once satisfied that we had put enough rock and soil in place, with the right contours, and had faced it with old pieces of carpet, we put the old liner back into the pond. Here it would act as an under-liner for the new one.
You can see from this picture how clean we had managed to get the old liner before putting it back it in virtually the same orientation that it had previously occupied.
I should say that during all this time we had perfect weather for the job. Apart from some rain which fell during the weekend, we had clear, sunny days, and temperatures of about 13C.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Renovation 5.

It was the following Tuesday, 20th October 2015, when Rob and I re-convened. I should say that each day we worked on this project, we spent up to three hours working together - between five and a half and six man-hours.

By the end of Tuesday 20th the two new banks were built up. You can see in the above photo a length of red carpet which we used to maintain the bank on the near side. You can also see a length of black hose leading into the empty pond cavity. This would stay in that place under the new liner and act as a release conduit for water accumulating under the liner.
We hoped that by replacing the old liner, which had indeed been leaking, we could cure the build-up of so much water under the liner.
The old liner had been rained on a few times over the weekend and, together with some scrubbing down from Rob and I, was now more or less clear of sediment on its upper side.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Renovation 4.

Overnight on 16th October it rained quite a bit. Rob and I were glad because the old liner would get a good soaking and make it easier for us to clear all the sediment from it. Sadly, I didn't take any photos of the old liner being cleaned. But during the next day, 17th October, we set to with brushes and a hose pipe, and did our best to remove more of the mud.
We also worked again on the two new banks that we were establishing for the pond. The photo below shows the results of our work that day. The new bank on the far side of the pond is a little clearer in this pic. And you can see water still pooling in the pond cavity.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Renovation 3.

Next day,16th October 2015, Rob and I faced the hardest job of all; we decided to take the old liner out of the pond and lay it out so that we could clean it more thoroughly. We needed every ounce of strength to drag the liner out and across the grass to an open space where we could lay it out. There was still sediment on the upper side, and mud clung to the underside - it weighed a ton!
Our hope was that if it rained the upper side of the liner would get a good wash.
We were interested to see that water was already pooling in the open pond, and it soon became clear that the top soil of the garden was laid over a solid seam of clay.
We then began a new task. We had decided to make the pond a little smaller by creating two new banks. Our work would result in reducing the size of the pond from being an irregular 6m diameter circle, to being 6m in one axis, and 5m in the other.
We started on the far bank, placing first rocks and then soil to build a new bank. You can just make out, in the photo above, the new soil (and rocks) which we put in place along an eight or nine foot segment along the far side of the pond. This was another back-breaking task which ended the third day's work.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Renovation 2.

The following day, 15th October 2015, Rob and I emptied all the sludge out of the pond by hand. We used a bucket and a washing-up bowl to scoop out the knee-high sediment, which we then spread all over the garden among the plants and bushes - back-breaking work. In two and half hours we had just about cleared all the mud out.
Having revealed the liner we were able to make an inspection for puncture holes. We found a few holes, two of them on the pond sides were about an inch long - yes, there had indeed been a slow leak.
As we gazed at huge expanse of exposed liner we knew that the next day's work was already presented; we would have to clean up the old liner quite a bit more.

Friday, 22 April 2016


Here in the presbytery garden at St Ignatius' there is a wonderful pond, which was created by one of my predecessors twenty five years ago. Last year, 2015, the pond was so over-grown that I even launched an inflatable into it so that I could do some weeding.
I also suspected that the pond liner was leaking. The question then was, should I attempt a small clearing up job, or should I replace the liner. 
The pond is an irregular circle with a diameter of 6 meters, so emptying the pond and replacing the liner would not be an insignificant task. This is what I decided to do.
With the help of Rob, from the parish, the two of us began this huge work of renovation on 14th October 2015. We pumped some of the water out of the pond so that we could catch the fish. I should say, at this point, that there had been nine good-sized goldfish and one large dark fish in the pond. We retrieved only five goldfish - the herons had taken the rest. The pond is also full of frogs and common newts.
This is how the pond looked after our first day of work:
By the time we started work on the pond the newts had already migrated into the garden to overwinter; many of the frogs on the other hand, made their own escape out of the pond as we worked, others tried to conceal themselves in the deep mud, hoping that we hadn't seen them. 
Having pumped much of the water out, we discovered that there was about 16 inches of sludge and sediment right across the bottom of the pond. No wonder the weeds were so prolific! We would have to remove all of this by hand. It suddenly became became clear to us the size of the job which we had undertaken.
To be continued.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A very happy birthday ...

… to our dear Queen, Elizabeth II. She is our longest lived monarch. May God bless her on her ninetieth birthday, and through her, the whole nation.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Undimmed witness.

The memorial to the martyrs of Durham is by the small roundabout on Framlingate, north of the city and close to Durham City Hall. The memorial (photo above) could easily be missed, so it is better to park the car and walk over to see it. The inscription reads: "Without doubt these priests were martyrs to God."
It is good that this memorial exists, but the place where six priests and three laymen gave their greatest witness is a quarter or a mile further north, on the very crest of the hill. Here, nineteen years ago a gully named 'Dryburn' was filled in with ballast so that a new hospital, The North Durham University Hospital could be built.
On this arial photograph of the hospital, somewhere in the top part of the picture stood the ancient gallows of Dryburn, which was last used in 1805. Here on 27th May 1590, Frs Richard Hill, John Hogg, Richard Holiday and Edmund Duke were hung, drawn and quartered. These four were beatified by Pope St John Paul II in 1987.
On 4th February 1594, Mr John Speed was hung for having assisted Fr John Boste.
Then on 24th July 1594, Fr John Boste was hung, drawn and quartered. He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Then on 9th August 1600 Fr Thomas Palaser was hung, drawn and quartered, and Mr John Newton and Mr John Talbot were hung. Fr Palaser and Mr Talbot were beatified by Pope St John Paul II in 1987.
What a record! What a blessed site for healing!
All these martyrs would have been held, before execution, in the old Gaol, which was the then north Gate of the old city of Durham, part of which still exists just behind the shops near where Owengate and Saddler Street meet.
Also, we must include Fr Thomas Plumtree, who took part in the Northern Rising of 1569 and celebrated Mass in Durham Cathedral. He was captured and hung, drawn and quartered in the the Market Place at Durham on 4th January 1570. He was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.
The Market Place (photo above) is as busy as ever, but holds no memorial to Durham's first saint.
All these martyrs are commemorated in the beautiful Church of St Godric, just to the west of the old city, and where there is Eucharistic Adoration every day.

May the life and witness of these ten men be a light for many, a light that will never grow dim.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The faith of men.

I like the film "Risen", particularly because it enters into the reality of masculine faith. The encounter with the death and Resurrection of Jesus by the Tribune Clavius, played by Joseph Fiennes, presents a realistic and timely version of how men are called to become men of faith.
In the encounter with the Mystery of Christ, the film expresses really well those first uncertain steps when a man seek to rationalise and manage the situation, the struggle to respond in a mature and responsible way whilst not understanding, and the acceptance of a new way of living. Above all, it is the inner transformation of the man which "Risen" explores. We see the hard-working Clavius exercising his profession and authority diligently and prudently, with hopes of a more assured and peaceful future, only to see him achieving those hopes, not through blood and sweat but through the gift of another. His transformation becomes tangible in his personal contact with the Risen Christ. For me, the best scene is when he climbs to sit by Jesus who, at night time, is awake in prayer to his Father. Clavius readily acknowledges his faltering heart to Jesus; he doesn't know how to approach Jesus, nor what to say to him, and yet his joy and wonder at sitting beside Jesus confirms his inner conviction of faith.
This is a film about discipleship that should move most men in some way, as it traces the outlines of the same journey which all disciples of the Lord have made. Although the film ends with Clavius as a lone pilgrim setting out in his Christian life, I would have preferred to see him setting out with a group of disciples, as a part of the Church and sharing the same mission. Nonetheless, the film ends with us knowing that Clavius has been transformed, changed, in his whole person, and that that change was the work of Jesus, and that what matters most is what Jesus does, and not all the other stuff which human beings who are not connected with Jesus do. 
If you're a man - go and enjoy this film!

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Coxhoe Four.

Four young men were arrested at this village and condemned to death. We can't forget them.
Coxhoe is a village in County Durham about six miles south east of the city of Durham. One mile east of the present village is the site of old Coxhoe. The above photo shows the site of Coxhoe Hall, which was demolished in the 1950's. Most likely, somewhere near this place these four young men, Edmund Duke, Richard Hill, John Hogg and Richard Holiday, were arrested in the spring of 1590. Edmund was twenty-seven years old, the others were all twenty five years old. They had arrived from the continent only a few days earlier, disembarking at South Shields.
They were all Catholic priests and, having not found the friends they had expected to meet at South Shields, they were heading south for Yorkshire. Having been arrested they were taken to Durham, tried and condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered. Their execution took place at Dryburn, just north of the city of Durham on 27th May 1590.
I visited Coxhoe recently, both the new village and the site of the old, and as I stood looking south over the site of the old hall to the site of the old village just below, I was overwhelmed by the thought of the character of the these four young men who, not having yet been able to exercise their priesthood in this country, were so willing to give up any part in society, even a society that rejected them, in favour of the most complete exercise of their priesthood. 
The Coxhoe Four were all beatified by Pope John Paul II on 22nd November 1987.
Blessed Edmund, Richard, John and Richard, we humbly seek your prayers.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Not a one man job.

At the start of the year I was just moving one of Satan's tabernacles when my grasp slipped and it rolled over onto my foot. Well, I was limping badly for a few weeks while my toes recovered their usual stance. 
Moving a large set, like the one I had hanging around, really is a two-man job.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Ordinary Prayers

The other day I received a complementary copy, from the Latin Mass Society, of their new booklet, The Ordinary Prayers of the Traditional Latin Mass. This is a tremendous publication which they have clearly put a lot of work into.
The Ordinary Prayers is not so much a pocket missal as a Liturgical prayer book, which is so presented as to lead to a greater participation in the Mass. Indeed, it is a booklet which truly appreciates the Mystery which takes place in the Mass. Its simple presentation of the Prayers of the Mass, with marginal notes and accompanying icons, will do much to lead to that interior participation in the Mass, which was so desired by the Second Vatican Council.
If you can get hold of a copy, I do recommend it to you. And I hope that this small but significant publication, will lead to a much needed re-focus, within the Church today, not only of what takes place in the Mass, but of us being present to the saving Mystery, by our participation in the prayers and actions of the Mass.
I have never seen a comparable publication for the Novus Ordo, and the Latin Mass Society should be congratulated for their service to the Liturgy of the Church.

Friday, 23 October 2015

A line of minor prophets.

Tolkien is part of a line of English writers who have given us an understanding of the great history; the History of Salvation, God's mighty works on our behalf.
Bede's History of the English is beyond compare; the whole history of this country is presented from the perspective of the Redemption. Indeed, before Bede there was hardly any history written down at all, since it is Christ Jesus who throws light on human affairs.
Shakespear, although a Catholic, gave us only glimpses into a deeper reality, a reality that had to be hidden because the ruling clique of that age despised it.
Christopher Dawson, perhaps more so than any other English writer in the contemporary age, wrote about human history in the light of Christian Revelation, giving us a fuller appreciation of our past and also of the times in which we live.
Tolkien, whose fantasy literature can do no more than parallel the Mystery of Christ, has kept alight those genuine images and values, because they express the Life of Grace. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings at at time when England was (perhaps sub-consciously) choosing anew the secular project. However, his work stands before us all and, whether you acknowledge its Christian references or not, that deepest of all relationships - Nature and Grace - is nonetheless expressed. A sign to us, whether we will or no, of a very great Love.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Too good to miss.

Robert Cardinal Sarah
Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Text for Synod on the Family, October 2015
Your Holiness, Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, participants of the Synod,
I propose these three thoughts:
1) More transparency and respect among us
I feel a strong need to invoke the Spirit of Truth and Love, the source of parresia in speaking and humility in listening, who alone is capable of creating true harmony in plurality.
I say frankly that in the previous Synod, on various issues one sensed the temptation to yield to the mentality of the secularized world and individualistic West. Recognizing the so-called “realities of life” as a locus theologicus means giving up hope in the transforming power of faith and the Gospel. The Gospel that once transformed cultures is now in danger of being transformed by them. Furthermore, some of the procedures used did not seem aimed at enriching discussion and communion as much as they did to promote a way of seeing typical of certain fringe groups of the wealthiest churches. This is contrary to a poor Church, a joyously evangelical and prophetic sign of contradiction to worldliness. Nor does one understand why some statements that are not shared by the qualified majority of the last Synod still ended up in the Relatio and then in the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum laboriswhen other pressing and very current issues (such as gender ideology) are instead ignored.
The first hope is therefore that, in our work, there by more freedom, transparency and objectivity. For this, it would be beneficial to publish the summaries of the interventions, to facilitate discussion and avoid any prejudice or discrimination in accepting the pronouncements of the synod Fathers.
2) Discernment of history and of spirits
A second hope: that the Synod honor its historic missionand not limit itself to speaking only about certain pastoral issues (such as the possible communion for divorced and remarried) but help the Holy Father to enunciate clearly certain truths and useful guidance on a global level. For there are new challenges with respect to the synod celebrated in 1980. A theological discernment enables us to see in our time two unexpected threats (almost like two “apocalyptic beasts”) located on opposite poles: on the one hand, the idolatry of Western freedom; on the other, Islamic fundamentalism: atheistic secularism versus religious fanaticism. To use a slogan, we find ourselves between “gender ideology and ISIS”. Islamic massacres and libertarian demands regularly contend for the front page of the newspapers. (Let us remember what happened last June 26!). From these two radicalizations arise the two major threats to the family: its subjectivist disintegration in the secularized West through quick and easy divorce, abortion, homosexual unions, euthanasia etc. (cf. Gender theory, the ‘Femen’, the LGBT lobby, IPPF …). On the other hand, the pseudo-family of ideologized Islam which legitimizes polygamy, female subservience, sexual slavery, child marriage etc. (cf. Al Qaeda, Isis, Boko Haram ...)
Several clues enable us to intuit the same demonic origin of these two movements. Unlike the Spirit of Truth that promotes communion in the distinction (perichoresis), these encourage confusion (homo-gamy) or subordination (poly-gamy). Furthermore, they demand a universal and totalitarian rule, are violently intolerant, destroyers of families, society and the Church, and are openly Christianophobic.
“We are not contending against creatures of flesh and blood ….” We need to be inclusive and welcoming to all that is human; but what comes from the Enemy cannot and must not be assimilated. You can not join Christ and Belial! What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion Ideologies and Islamic Fanaticism are today.
3) Proclaim and serve the beauty of Monogamy and the Family
Faced with these two deadly and unprecedented challenges (“homo-gamy” and “poly-gamy”) the Church must promote a true “epiphany of the Family.” To this both the Pope (as spokesman of the Church) may contribute, and individual Bishops and Pastors of the Christian flock: that is, “the Church of God, which he has obtained with his own blood” (Acts: 20:28).
We must proclaim the truth without fear, i.e. the Plan of God, which is monogamy in conjugal love open to life. Bearing in mind the historical situation just recalled, it is urgent that the Church, at its summit, definitively declare the will of the Creator for marriage. How many people of good will and common sense would join in this luminous act of courage carried out by the Church!
Together with a strong and clear Word of the Supreme Magisterium, Pastors have the mission of helping our contemporaries to discover the beauty of the Christian family. To do this, it must first promote all that represents a true Christian Initiation of adults, for the marriage crisis is essentially a crisis of God, but also a crisis of faith, and this is an infantile Christian initiation. Then we must discern those realities that the Holy Spirit is already raising up to reveal the Truth of the Family as an intimate communion in diversity (man and woman) that is generous in the gift of life. We bishops have the urgent duty to recognize andpromote the charisms, movements, and ecclesial realities in which the Family is truly revealed, this prodigy of harmony, love of life and hope in Eternity, this cradle of faith and school charity. And there are so many realities offered by Providence, together with the Second Vatican Council, in which this miracle is offered.

Friday, 9 October 2015

The great story.

This is my favourite inscription. This gardening book was a gift from Tolkien to his wife in 1964. By that time The Lord of the Rings was being widely read, and The Silmarillion was yet to be put together under one cover.
I have just come back from my first visit to some of the sites of the First World War. We visited sites around Ypres and Albert. We know that Tolkien was involved in the Battle of the Somme and was certainly stationed near Albert. The week that we spent visiting these sites was one of the best trips that I have ever made; I can't believe that I have left it till now to visit these sites, and I am very grateful to the party who I travelled with for their participation in that week. A hundred years on and the sacrifice that was made on those battlefields will never be forgotten or erased - the evidence of the battles is all over that part of France and Belgium, and the memorials and graveyards are very beautiful and worthy.  
The perspective of those who took part in the First World War is now well known and celebrated, in poems, letters and biographies, and above all, in the graveyards of Flanders. Tolkien's perspective is quite different. What flowed out of his experience of the Battle of the Somme took the most extraordinary literary form. What he wrote was not simply another story or account, but a story about the triumph of goodness. The Lord of the Rings is indeed fantasy, but is embedded with Christian metaphor.
The First World War, by which the secularism of that age imploded in the most horrific way, was taken by Tolkien as the place in which to write about grace and virtue. In today's subjective age when everyone has his or her own story, many of which have to be published, Tolkien's story of The Lord of the Rings appears as anything but subjective.
In a culture which has lost its bearings, Tolkien's story has a very important place; from the darkness of war, and today's darkness of human subjectivity, seemingly remote from God, Tolkien wrote a story which goes beyond mere human subjectivity, and places everything on the platform of grace.
Many today are busy trying the recast English literature in a pagan framework, but this will in no way change God's plan.