Monday, 24 December 2012

A grace-filled feast

A very happy Christmas to all my readers. You can tell that the approaching feast is an important one, in fact, it is unique in its composition. The last eight days of Advent are given over to its preparation. The feast itself then lasts twelve days and these twelve days are punctuated by a small host of lesser feasts: that of St Stephen, St John, The Innocents, St Thomas Becket and then the great feast of Our Lady - all of these in their own way giving colour to the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. So, take each of the twelve days in their turn. I would recommend starting the celebration of Christmas, on its first day, quite gently and working up to the great climax of the feast on the last day, the feast of the Epiphany. I think that we need to do it this way because there is so much grace to enter into at Christmas; it is such a tremendous twelve days of thanksgiving to God.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

A sign from Sydney

Sydney has just hosted its fifth annual iWitness Conference for young people - a tremendous sign from the Church downunder.
The iWitness Conference was pioneered by young Catholics from Sydney is response to WYD08. For five years now it has brought together some hundreds of young Catholics for a four-day event. The organisers draw on some of Australia's best speakers, bishops, priests and laypeople.
The focus of the event is to deepen the relationship of young people with Christ, and this year the conferemce did this by opening up the Sacramental life of the Church. With Morning Office, Holy Mass and Eucharistic Adoration taking place each day, the opening talk was titled "The Sacraments: a grace-filled life". Following this each of the seven sacraments was presented in turn, some by a number of speakers. This input was then followed with separate input for both young men and young women, with talks on "The masculine spirit" and "The feminine genius". The final talk was titled, "Christian marriage confronts a secular society".
The days were punctuated with down-time and periods of recreation. I took part in the iWitness Conference twice and was extremely impressed by what I experienced; I wish I had been there earlier this month for this year's Conference. I took the above photo a few years ago at the event; in this picture a group is polishing up the brasswear before Mass. May the Church in Sydney grow in grace!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Another loss

Yesterday, Thursday, Fr Denis Herlihy of Shrewsbury Diocese, died at home in Cork, Ireland. Fr Denis was another great friend to Youth 2000 and supported its mission and its young people from the mid-90s till his retirement in 2009. To me he was a very dear brother priest, friend and counsellor. I will miss him. I am sorry that I never saw him again once I had left England for Australia in July 2008. I took this photo in May 2008 in Leeds. (Apologies for the poor quality of the image.) You can find more details at: May he be enjoying now the rewards of his labours, for he was always about his Master's affairs.

Could you show me the chapel?

On his second evening at Moseley Old Hall Charles asked Fr Huddleston to show him the secret chapel in the house. The chapel, which is on the second floor of the house, was in use until 1825. The painted plaster walls and ceiling date back to the 1700s, but the crucifix could have been the very one which stood on the altar when Charles II was there.
Charles told Fr Huddleston that "if it pleased God to restore him to his KIngdom, [Fr Huddleston] would never need more privicies." And indeed, those words were fulfilled, for in 1678 Parliament named Fr Huddleston and others as being free from the anti-Catholic laws of the realm.
Fr John Huddleston, born in Farington, Lancashire in 1606, died a chapalin at Somerset House in London in 1678. It was he who Charles II called to his bedside on 5th February 1684/5 as he lay dying, and who received him into the Church.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

East to the Old Hall

Eight miles east of Boscobel House is Moseley Old Hall, and just north of Wolverhampton. The Hall was built in 1600 by the Whitgreave family; Catholics and Royalists who lived at the Hall till 1925 (what a wonderful family), after which the timber-framed house was encased in brick by the new owners.
The photo above was taken inside the Hall's most famous priest hide. This hide was used by Charles II on 8th and 9th September 1651 (after the Battle of Worcester). The hide is under a closet on the first floor. It measures 5' x 4'9" x 3'6", so it is slightly larger than the hide at Boscobel.
It is interesting that the King was welcomed at the Hall by a Catholic priest, Fr Huddleston. After spending two nights in the hide the King and priest spent some of the following day sitting by the window which is directly over the front door of the house(photo below). From here they could see some of the battle-weary remnants of the Royal army making their way north. 
There are two other hides in the house. Both were most likely used for storing discrete material. The photo below was taken in the attic space on the second floor. It is certainly possible that a person could have hidden in here, although the original entrance is no longer in place.
Here again is the window over the entrance porch from which the King and the priest, looking out for pursuivants, saw soldiers of the Royal army, many of them wounded, making their way north and out of reach of the Parlimentarian army. The Hall is now owned by the National Trust and, although the brick exterior of the house is rather prosaic, the interior is wonderfully atmospheric.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A house in Staffordshire

In the early part of the seventeenth century Boscobel House was a Jesuit safe-house in Staffordshire. It was originally a farm house on the Giffard Estate of Chillington. In 1632 it was remodelled as a hunting lodge and subsequently underwent substancial changes. Priest hides were certainly incorporated into the building in the early 1600s and two of these remain to this day.
The photo above shows the entrance to the hide under the closet on the first floor. Its location is seen on the photo below; between the small door at ground level and the tiny square window in the chimney stack. The hide would be easily found today and so it is probably the remnants of a former hiding place which was more cleverly contrived, or it is the remnant of a discrete way out from the first floor to the back garden. 

The famous hide of Boscobel is the one under the second floor bedroom (photo below). This was the hide used by King Charles II on the night of 6th/7th September 1651. The hide is 4 x 3'9" x 5'3" - somewhat uncomfortable for a tall man, which Charles was. Yet the hide is well-concealed for there is a false wall in the room below. The hide was entered through a trap door in the top steps as one ascends into the room. At the far end of this room was the secret chapel; a bed is presently situated in that part of the space where the altar would have been. 

When I first visited Boscobel House about twenty years ago the entrance to the hide was left closed and a guide told us that there was a priest hole in the room and asked us to search for it. We searched, tapped panels and poked boards, but after an extensive investigation of the room and stairwell we gave up the search. When the guide then raised the trap-door, which comprised the upper two steps, to reveal the way into the hide, we are absolutely amazed. When I was there this Autumn, the steps were fixed in place and a glass panel had been placed in the floor of the room  to allow you to peer down into the hide; a much less exciting experience than being able to make your own search.
Nonetheless, Boscobel House is a must for priest-hole enthusiasts and those interested in promoting recusant history. Check the opening times beforehand.

Friday, 14 December 2012

A much respected priest

Remembering Fr John Edwards SJ, who died earlier this week, 12th December 2012. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
I have many very fond memories of him, but especially I remember the retreat he gave to us when I was at seminary in Valladolid, probably in 1984. In fact, of the six annual retreats which I received, the one which he gave us is the only one that I now remember.
Fr John was very committed to supporting Youth 2000 during the previous decade and I remember particularly that he came to the Youth 2000 New Year retreat in 2000/01, which took place in Harrogate while I was parish priest there. It snowed heavily but his talks at that retreat on the Mass were superb and, again, I remember them still, as I am sure will the young people who were there.
We will miss him very much.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


In Aragorn's speech before the Gates of Mordor in the film "The Lord of the Rings" he famously declares "A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day!"
David Cameron, in proposing Same-sex marriage, ushers in the very day that men fail.
Up to this point men have always been accountable. They have had to be - it is part of masculine identity. Men have had to be accountable to God; this accountability has been exercised in morality. But now such men eradicate God from their sight and they eradicate morality. Nor are such men accountable before the law, for they change the law rather than be accountable. Nor are they accountable before society because they have broken the bonds of society. And men have been accountable to their wives, but now this form of accountability is made little of, for now such men will not be accountable even before human nature.
Where is such a society can we look for real men? Certainly not in the person of David Cameron, who is no longer a credible leader.
I am less concerned about Christian men, for the man of the Church, in endeavouring to embrace all the human accountabilities which fall upon men, is also called to an explicit and systematic accountability in the Sacrament of Absolution. Not only that, but the Christian man's accountability reaches a new and radical form in the Holy Eucharist. Here, weekly, even daily, a man is called to lay down his whimsical self in order to embrace his true personality, who is Christ. In the Mass, Aragorn's speech surprisingly becomes reality.
Today is a day to seek the intercession of St Edward the Confessor, Patron of England, for he, a man and a ruler, sought to embrace the full reality of both for the good of others. We should seek also the intercession of our Martyrs who gave their lives for the full truth of human personality, masculine and feminine, a fullness which is uniquely found in Christ. They are real leaders because they are servants of truth. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

The new dark age

The English Parliament will, this week, debate Same-sex marriage; an obvious step for a secular State which does not espouse Christianity and sees no value in its foundations.
Christianity is based upon the self-revelation of God who wishes to share Himself with human beings. In this light, human beings discover that they are the image of God, and that as a consequence they are called to love one another.
At the foundation of human life and culture, in the Christian vision, is the mystery of man and woman, who meet each other to form a friendship, and from that friendship comes new life.
Secularism is a completely distinct vision of life and it seeks its own foundation for its society. What is unfortunate about the foundations of secular society is that there is no agreement about what is human. The foundations of secular society are wealth, beauty, success. But devoid of the all important ingredient - how we are to understand our humanity - secular society will inevitably lose its culture; the communication between individuals, groups and communities will scarcely be possible at all.
The Uk will become increasingly a very unpleasant place to live.
It is surprising how quickly this state of affairs has come upon us. However, once the Second World War was over, Europeans began shedding their Christian inheritance and looked instead to the secular vision. The saddest thing of all is that in our era men have let go of their responsibility for the Gospel.
Nevertheless, the sharp contrast that will increasingly be seen between culture, which is Christian, and the anti-culture of the new dark age, will give vision and strength to the new evangelisation. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

1966 and all that

The other day I came across an excellent article on-line about how problems arose at the time of the inauguration of the New Catechetics and the influence which Corpus Christi Catechetical College had.
This is the link to the article: (The first part narrates what took place in England, the second part speaks about what happened in the USA.)
I don't know who wrote the article but the author is to be commended on presenting this matter with such clarity.
The article is very helpful in enabling the reader to understand some of the circumstances which led to the collapse of the teaching of the faith in Catholic Schools in the latter part of the previous century. The author throws light on these points:
1. The social and cultural changes which affected the teaching of the Faith, and the reason why there was a need to adapt our methods.
2. The goodness of the first new resources to be presented by priests such as Canons Ripley and Drinkwater.
3. The responsibility of Cardinal Heenan for not appointing them to lead the newly founded Corpus Christi College, and his responsibility for appointing Richards and de Rosa to lead it. (Why were such wacky priests holding teaching posts in the Westminster seminary to begin with?)
4. The problem with Corpus Christi flowed out of erroneous opinions about the Sacred Scriptures held by the founding staff members. This is perhaps the most important point which this article makes: from an erroneous understanding of Scripture flowed an erroneous catechetics.
5. The way in which the teaching of the faith was affected nationally by these new ideas.
6. The need that existed then, and which still exists, to nurture skills-based learning, together with the need to catechise children in the content of the faith.
Corpus Christi College existed for only nine years, 1966-1975, but when it closed it closed finally, never to arise from the ashes like the phoenix. I recommend this article to you.

Friday, 7 December 2012

On the wagon

Right next to St Giles church on St Giles High Street, London is the pub called "The Angel". The present building dates from the late 1800s but there was an "Angel" pub on this site going back at least to Tudor times. This pub and the church next door, in those days, marked the western edge of the city where St Giles High Street led out onto Oxford Street. It was along this route that condemned felons were led out from Newgate Prison to Tyburn to be hanged.
Towards the end of the 1600s a custom began in which the execution party would stop at the pub and the condemned man/men be offered a last drink, "one for the road".
Not only that but the man who was driving the cart which held the condemned could not partake in this drinking session; he had to keep his wits about him because he was "on the wagon".
This custom post-dates the era of the martyrs and would have come to an end when Tyburn ceased to be the place of public executions towards the end of the 1700s. But the expressions have taken root.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A field for the Beatified

In the centre of the West End, London, just off Charing Cross Road, is the old church of St Giles in the Fields. In was in a plot near the north wall of the church (photo above) that the quartered remains of eleven martyrs were buried, along with the un-quartered remains of another. They were all wrongly condemned, and executed at Tyburn. The quartered remains of St Oliver Plunkett, the last victim of the Titus Oates Plot, were also buried here. His remains were later taken up and enshrined, some in Ireland, some in Downside Abbey church, England.
The mortal remains of the others, who were all beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929, lie in a now unmarked spot in this graveyard. At least the church's sign board, facing St Giles High Street, acknowledges their presence. These Blesseds are:  
Fr Thomas Whitbread SJ, 1618 - 30th June 1678.
Fr William Harcourt SJ, 1609 - 30th June 1679.
Fr John Fenwick SJ, 1628 - 30th June 1679.
Fr John Gavan SJ, 1640 - 30th June 1679.
Fr Anthony Turner SJ, 1628 - 30th June 1679.
Edward Colman, layman, 1636 - 3rd December 1678.
Richard Langhorn, 1624 - 14th July 1679.
Fr William Ireland SJ, 1636 - 24th January 1679.
John Grove, layman,    --    - 24th January 1679.
Thomas Pickering, Benedictine lay brother, 1621 - 9th May 1679.
Together with them lie the remains of one of their companions who died in custody before he could be executed: Venerable Edward Mico SJ, 1630 - 24th November 1678.
If you are in London near this place, remember their witness. In due course, a fitting public memorial would be appropriate there.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


Recently I drove across the Vale of York in order to see the tiny village of Menthorpe; what once was a village is now a couple of farms. When I got near I discovered that some of the roads were still closed due to the extensive flooding which took place last week in England. Menthorpe had become Menthorpe-by-water. I took the photo above from Menthorpe looking due east across the swollen River Derwent. The photo below I took about a mile south of Menthorpe where a another swollen beck crossed the road, making it impassable. The winter sunlight on all this silent water was very lovely.
Menthorpe is the village which my ancestors, the Freemans were from, the village where Blessed William Freeman was born. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Gallows Hill, Warwick

A claim which my own family forebears have made for a number of generations is that Blessed William Freeman, from Menthorpe, Yorkshire, is our ancestor. I have spoken about him before on this blog; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Warwick, 13th August 1595, for his priesthood. He was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.
Two others were to suffer here on 16th July 1604; Fr John Sugar from near Wolverhampton, hung, drawn and quartered, and Robert Grissold, layman from Rowington, Warwickshire, hung. Both were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.
Recently I went to find the site of the gallows and was unexpectedly helped in this endeavour by a man who lives in the area. The site of the gallows, which is presently unmarked in any way, is at Grid reference: SP298637. This ancient gallows site is south of Warwick town on the old Banbury Road, a stretch of which is still called "Gallows Hill". I took both the above photos of the site, looking north-west, towards Warwick, whose castle you can just make out in the distance. Follow Gallows Hill Road south-east, the site is on the right hand side of the road more of less on the very crest of the hill, and right opposite the drive of Heathcote Hill Farm.
There used to be processions from Warwick to this site up until the 1950s, or even into the 1960s. It would certainly be fitting for some memorial plaque to stand near the place.
These men received the wounds of England's rebellion into their flesh, so that Christ's love would still be present in this land, and so that the Faith would have a home here. What tremendous forebears we have.
Blessed William Freeman,
Blessed John Sugar,
Blessed Robert Grissold, thank you for the light of your witness and your prayers before the Throne of Grace.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Walking into a mirror

The mass media is like a mirror in which we see ouselves; it reflects to us what we are doing and what we are like. Recent issues concerning the media - the way in which the BBC has concealed in-house scandals and the state of affairs now surrounding the Press tell us that we can no longer see ourselves coherently in our media - the relationship is fractured.
The present loss of confidence in the media is really a sign of where society has got to today. We no longer know who we are. We have become so souless that neither government, nor law, nor media, is able to coherently speak for us.
Some in society want the regulation of the Press to be underpinned by law, while some in Government declare the absolute rights of free speech. Does free speech come before truth? Surely truth is the mainstay. Am I wrong?
The question about the already existing Code of Practice of the Press is very important. Should the Press observe its own Code of Practice or not? Of course it should. How else could it begin the regulate itself. However, a much more important question to ask is: upon what basis should the Code of Practice be established?
This latter question is implicit, but still unvoiced, in the current debate about this issue, for the public debate is rounding upon whether or not there should be Statutory Undepinning of the Code of Practice. If there is to be such underpinning, what concrete criteria would be used to establish it?
Here lies the problem, for there is today no agreement in society about who we are, where we should be going, or what we are meant to be doing? Our society has gone beyond itself, morally and spiritually, and the row about the media is symptomatic of this drift.
Who is there who is now in a position to help? So many dimensions of our society are either discredited, or in some way have lost that full sense of credibility which used to be afforded them. These dimensions of our society include the Church, Parliament, the Finance sector, the Media. Who then will help our souless society to underpin itself again and enable real communication between people to take place again?
I go back to an address given by Angel Suquia on 18th May 1992, the then Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, to the Spanish Bishops. He said (this is not a quote but rather my preces of some of his address, which was given in Spanish):
Today's fundamental task could be defined as the rehabilitation of what is human. In Western Society, all the basic human points of reference, the foundation of human values and behaviour, have collapsed. There is scarcely any interest in building one's own life; fulfilment is entrusted to luck and to the entertainment industry. When we try to understand ourselves within the closed secular horizon we do not even find the foundation for our democracies. The great task then, is the reconstruction of what is human, beginning with the human being and extending to all the institutions of social life. But how will this task begin without fundamental questions being raised in the public forum? The New Evangelisation then, is the Catholic response to the present condition of our society.
The Prime Minister is set against the establishment of Statutory Underpinning of the media perhaps because, as a secularist, the question of fundamental questions being raised in the public forum is a taboo. I would say that the present clash between society and its media is a good thing precisely because it points towards fundamental questions being raised. In fact, we need a totally renewed society; a renewed media will follow.