Saturday, 31 January 2009

Freeing the Family for it to take its leading role.

Although many do not see the truth of or the value of the family we cannot say this of the Teacher of all humanity, Benedict XVI. His witness to families at the recent International Congress of the Family has been listened to by countless families across the world. They came to listen to him and to hear his proclamation of the Gospel. At the recitation of the Rosary on 17th January he said:
"It is therefore necessary to promote a family culture and policy that the families themselves can develop in an organized manner. For this reason I encourage them to join associations that promote the identity and rights of the family, in accordance with an anthropological vision consistent with the Gospel, while I invite the said organizations to cooperate with one another to ensure that their coordinated activity may be more effective."
Why do we want the coordinated activity of the family to be more effective? Because it is the family which has a life-giving mission to humanity; many who have tried to act in the family's stead and have given us instead death! Do not listen to them.
The following day he spoke again to the Congress at the end of Mass saying: "This World Meeting of Families has aimed to encourage Christian homes so that their members may be people who are free and rich in human and Gospel values, on their way towards holiness; that is the best service that we Christians can offer contemporary society."
The proclamation of the Holy Father to families is life-giving because it engenders real freedom in those who are the architects of society - spouses and their families- so that they can embrace and reveal the mission which is theirs through marriage, a mission which both the Church and the world need to give way to. The Holy Father has been inspiring families to a new initiative and to really take the lead in embracing life, creating real human and Christian culture, forming the Church and forming society. Christian families are listening to the Gospel - the consequences of this will be remarkable for the New Evangelisation!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Seen at Bondi

Having returned to Sydney after a grace-filled Christmas break in the UK and Ars I am enjoying my first Australian summer. As you might imagine the beaches are the most popular places to be when temperatures rise. I took this photograph just by Bondi beach - a most unexpected sight. When I was a little boy in Leeds Peter Maturi could then still be seen treking round the streets with his push-bike and wheel sharpening knives door to door. I was amazed to see this skill alive and kicking at Bondi. Perhaps you might think that taking a knife to the beach is a good idea with all those sharks around; no, Bondi beach is surrounded by bars and restaurants and this young lady was offering them a very competative edge.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Coming from Lancashire again

It is wonderful that the Catholic Faith is coming out of Lancashire again - Lancashire, which has always been a home to the Faith.
One of the highpoints of my break in the UK over Christmastime was being given a copy of Bishop O'Donoghue's document "Fit for Mission? Church" which I had not previously seen. I was amazed when I discovered this CTS publication and the vision it contains. First, let me point out that I took above photo while out for a drive with my mother; it shows the River Ribble, one mid-morning in January, just by the village of Sawley whose great Abbey was destroyed in 1537 (one of the three great Abbeys of Lancashire before the "Reformation").
You open "Fit for Mission? Church" and you find that you are being addressed by a Bishop as a Pastor; he is writing to his own Diocese, but he is also addressing the whole Church in England and Wales. Bishop O'Donoghue is here presenting the Church in England and Wales with a vision for her life and mission. I have to say that I dont know when this was last done by a Bishop in England and Wales - I think that we would have to go back long before Cardinal Heenan to find such a vision. In fact, this document has stunned me somewhat - after all these long years of having lost sight of a real vision for the Church in England, suddenly and unexpectedly, Bishop Donoghue throws clear light upon the Church in England. What he has done is wonderful; this docuemnt is a great grace!
Essentially Bishop O'Donoghue begins by looking again at the four principal documents of the Second Vatican Council; he reflects upon what they actually say, he comments upon how they have been erroneously interpreted, and he teaches, in a structured and practical way, how Catholics need to respond today in order for us to truly embrace our identity and mission. Indeed, this is no heavy text - it is a working document. Bishop O'Donoghue is speaking to Bishops, to priests, to families, to groups and individuals, to whole parishes. It is a blueprint for the New Evangelisation in England and Wales.
This is a document that every family and every parish needs to internalise and work through. Thank you Bishop Patrick for the great leadership you have shown.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Grace of Ars

Over the Christmas break Fr Julian and myself gave three separate occasions to our fraternity in the SJMV. Each time we meet we will celebrate Mass and spend and hour in Adoration together, we will do a Gospel sharing and converse together at the level of our pastoral mission. I took these photos while we were walking in the Clent Hills in Worcestershire just after New Year. As you can see snow had fallen and the light of the late afternoon sun made the landscape into a wonderland.

I remember considering my reasons for wanting to joing the SJMV in 2006; then, I had seen that the SJMV valued the Diocesan Priesthood in a way I had never encountered before and, because of that was seeking to renew it - this was a great draw for me. Also, I sensed a great unity with the continental (European) Church - something which I have always had through my having trained in Spain, and finally because the SJMV, like myself, was trying to respond to the call made by John Paul II. Prior to my Australian mission I had been visiting Ars three times a year and spending one and a half days monthly with Fr Julian. These occasions are now severly limited while I am in Australia, however, an important part of our fraternity has been newly enabled by Skype! Nevertheless, I am aware that the influence of this fraternity on me as a priest has been very great at the level of the interior life and also at the level of the New Evangelisation. This, I think, is a very great grace for the New Evangelisation can today be easily considered only at a notional level - as an idea. The SJMV has lead me to really begin to internalise the New Evangelisation through my own relationship with Christ and the way that I hear the Gospel.
May the grace of our fraternity continue to flourish in us, and may God use our fraternity for His purposes.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Light and darkness

"America: you cannot insist on the right to choose, without also insisting on the duty to choose well, the duty to choose the truth! Already there is much breakdown and pain in your own society because fundamental values, essential to the well-being of individuals, families and the entire nation, are being emptied of their real content." John Paul II, South Carolina, 1987

Monday, 19 January 2009

New Year

For the past twelve years I have celebrated New Year by taking part in the Youth 2000 New Year Prayer Festival, a wonderful opportunity offered to young people to come away from the empty secular and even pagan celebration of New Year and to enter the new year in the presence of Christ and to honour his Mother whose Solemnity is celebrated each 1st January.
The first Festival I took part in was near Guildford and will remain a special occasion for me because it was there that I first met John Pridmore who was to become a very great friend. Other years the Festival was held at Henley on Thames, Liverpool, Harrogate, Wapping, Winsford and Birmingham, but for the past five years the Festival has been held at the Holy Ghost Parish, Balham. And so, after Christmas in Wharfedale I headed south again to Balham. This parish is unlike many other parishes in the country, having stepped aside from the liberal neo-Pelagianism which has taken root again in the UK, and seeks to reveal instead the living Church, rich in Catholic integrity and identity and focussed on the apostolic mission of the Church today. It is not at all surprising that young people come to Balham each New Year from all over the UK, because they are welcomed by Fr Stephen, his assistant priest and parishioners with great generosity. Indeed, even though this Festival is held here only once a year, the Holy Ghost parish is now a spiritual home for many young Catholics because of the way in which this extraordinary parish helps them to hear the Gospel, to see their lives in the light of grace, to discern the call which God is making to them as individuals and the call He is making to the whole Church. This year the Festival witnessed the arrival of many mid to late teenagers, newcomers to Youth 2000 Festivals - a new generation of young people who are simply and spontaneously seeking to be built up on Christ. An atmosphere of real prayer and contemplation was evident but the highlight for me was the sermon given late at night on New Year's Eve which called the young people to a New Evangelisation. Fr Julian proclaimed a strong message which resonated in the hearts of everyone present. We know that it is the Holy Spirit now who will enable all the hearers of this proclamation to attune their lives to what God wants. And how marvellous is it for all those who come to the Youth 2000 New Year Prayer Festivals, that the message we are given and called to respond to at the start of a new year is the Gospel.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Ars revisited

Apologies for having been away from the Blog for so long but, after a tremendous break in the UK, I have finally made it back through shark-imperilled waters to Sydney and am now able to continue posting. While I was away there were, as you will have no doubt heard, five shark attacks in Australian waters, one of them fatal. So much for all the talk which I have heard about there being no danger when swimming in the sea!
After just a few days in England Fr Julian and myself took a group of lads to Ars, France - our second Friends with Christ Pilgrimage to this shrine. On this occasion Fr Stephen Langridge joined us for this pre-Christmas enterprise. It occured to all of us what a wonderful thing it was to be away from all the intense secularism that takes place just before Christmas and instead to be spending some days in the village of Ars and Paray-le-Monial in prayer and fraternity. It was a special joy for me to return again to the chapel of St John in Paray for a silent Hour of Adoration with our whole group. This image should be familiar now to all readers of this Blog.

Because we stay in the seminary at Ars we can only take lads on pilgrimage here. The essence of a Friends with Christ Pilgrimage is to visit a Shrine and to focus on our common vocation - which is to be a friend of Christ. One of the ways that we do this is to share our own friendship, as priests, with young people. In fact, the lads on this particular pilgrimage commented afterwards how important it had been for them to see the three of us priests united as friends.

The much acclaimed videos fimed during this Pilgrimage which have appeared on Facebook are a tribute to skill and inventiveness of their creators. Even though these excellent films convey almost nothing of what we actually did together during those three and a half days in France, they nevetheless reveal a variety of skills which these lads possess and which the Lord can use in the New Evangelisation. The photo above captures a moment when Matt and Kieran were filming at the monument of the "Rencontre" in Ars - sadly this segment has not yet been put on Facebook. However, I imagine that this monument and its significance will last considerably longer than Facebook. It was a wonderful Pilgrimage and we three priests were struck by the character of the young people who the Lord is forming in the Church in the UK; they are a tribute to their families also.