Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Witnesses in our midst.

Recently I visited Winchester for the first time and was so pleased finally to see the place where Philip II of Spain married Mary Tudor. I had imagined a walled town built on a shoulder of higher ground, whereas Winchester is built in a valley.
Of course, as you might imagine, I wanted to visit the site of the Winchester martyrdoms. Winchester has five martyrs, all of them Blesseds and, after visiting the lovely Catholic Church of St Peter's on Jewry Street, with its fine windows commemorating the martyrs I headed first to the site of the old gaol.
The old gaol no longer stands; a Weatherspoons, 'The Old Gaol House' now occupies the place. However, I found my way round to the back of the pub - photo above - where the old Tudor gaol used to stand, and here I was able to spend some time in prayer to those who had been held here before their execution.
Blessed John Slade, a school master, was hung drawn and quartered on the Market Square by the old Guildhall on 30th October 1583. This photo shows the site today:
Here he made the sign of the cross on the posts of the scaffold and, although there is no memorial to him at this place today, his memory is not forgotten.
Blessed Roger Dickenson, priest, and Blessed Ralph Milner, layman, were executed together at the Bar Ditch on 7th July 1591.
The Bar Ditch was just north of the old city Walls and gatehouse, where Jewry Street passes over North Walls to Hyde Street. The ditch was part of the old earthwork defences just outside the walls. The site is now built upon and, although there is a plaque detailing the site of the old city gate which stood here, there is no memorial to these two great men. Nonetheless, I stayed here for a while and asked for their intercession for  the new evangelisation of England and Wales.
I have not been able to discover the place of execution of the other two martyrs of Winchester. Blessed Lawrence Humphrey, layman, was executed on an unknown date in 1591, at the age of twenty. The hangman boxed his ears for making the sign of the cross as he mounted the ladder. Blessed James Bird, layman, was hung, drawn and quartered at the age of nineteen for having become a Catholic.
It is hard to pay tribute to such noble men; their constancy makes me want to stop and kneel.
If you know the place where the last two martyrs were executed I would be glad to hear from you.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The language of the Priesthood.

The Feast of St John Vianney is a great celebration for all priests. This saint expressed the Priesthood so wonderfully that he is as attractive today as he was during his incumbency at Ars.
I have just returned home after the Summer Session of the St John Vianney Society, a week of fraternity by its members, who seek, by priestly fraternity to speak the same language of the Priesthood.
The figure of St John Vianney is an icon of the Priesthood for all priests. He placed his life at the service of the Priesthood in what it was called to be in that age, and the Church gives him to us so that we priests might be what the Priesthood needs to be in the New Evangelisation.
The Diocesan Priesthood can be easily thought of in terms of administration, offering services to people, and in the fulfilment of a role. Yet, the heart of the Diocesan Priesthood, which can easily be overlooked, is the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. The essence of the Diocesan Priesthood is to allow ourselves to be modelled, formed by Him, in the way that we seek to offer ourselves to the Father through Christ Jesus; as Christ Jesus.
The interior engagement, by priests, with the heart of Christ Jesus, has never simply been an individual, personal matter, because it is much greater than an individual priest. Priestly fraternity expresses and nurtures the individual priest's interior engagement with the priestly heart of Christ Jesus as a priestly movement within the Church.
Priestly fraternity, as it is lived by the St John Vianney Society, places itself at the service of priests so that priests can better serve the Church. The language that the Society speaks is the language of the Priesthood.
This is so important today when priests tend to be isolated. In such a context the priest can easily feel that he is merely an individual fulfilling a role. Priestly fraternity, which is an essential dimension of the Priesthood, has, in a sense, been rescued by the St John Vianney Society, and placed where it belongs - at the heart of the Church.
I am very grateful to all my brothers in the Priesthood with whom I spent the past seven days, in Ars. I offered the Mass today for all of you. I remember all of you everyday in any case. I ask the Lord to build us and form us for the mission of the Priesthood in the New Evangelisation.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

A priest for all seasons.

I was sorry to learn of the death of Fr Greg Jordan SJ, of Brisbane, Australia, yesterday. I knew Fr Greg when I was in Australia. He visited me in Sydney a few times and really took me 'under his wing' and introduced me to people and places. He also welcomed me to Brisbane during a visit there and introduced me to his home and to the city. The Jacarandas were in full blossom under his windows on that day. I was extremely grateful to him for the warmth of his friendship and his solicitude towards me as a newcomer. I know that many Australian Catholics thought a great deal of him, and I know that he will be sorely missed by them.
I am grateful that I knew him, if only for a few years, and I will remember him for his youthful energy and enthusiasm. A few times I saw him run so as to catch up with someone he wished to speak to - he ran like a young man of twenty years. May he be given now an extraordinary welcome in Heaven, and may the graces he distributed in his priestly life, bear fruit in thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Twenty seven years ago today …

I was ordained to the Priesthood. I crossed a threshold that I could never have created or even thought of for myself, being given a share in the Mystery of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, by which everything is changed and made fitting for God's Plan.
I took this photo last month during the Retreat for Priests in Ars. Many of us had come out  one evening to the Basilica, where Adoration was taking place. The open door, revealing not just the interior of the old Church of Ars, but also the presence of the Lord himself, speaks loudly to me of the gift which I share. 
Human freedom always flows out of following one's vocation, whatever it may be, but the kind of freedom which the Priesthood enables is of another kind. The way in which the Priesthood has changed and shaped me goes far beyond what I could ever have expected of myself and of God's purposes for me. I desire now, much more than I did twenty seven years ago, to be nearer to the heart of the Mystery - a nearness which the priesthood makes possible in the most extraordinary way.
I was ordained on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I took great delight in this date being given to me by my bishop twenty seven years ago. My mother had, all those many years ago, given me a middle name - Simon, after St Simon Stock, who on this day in 1251 was given the Brown Scapular. We should not forget that it was also on this day in 1948 that the Bishops of England and Wales consecrated the country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the newly developing Shrine of Walsingham. This Shrine too, has always been at the heart of my life.
Please pray for me, as I make my next steps on the English Mission.

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.