Wednesday 31 January 2007

A new vocabulary

I wonder if anyone could help me here. I'm looking to produce some new Pro-Life literature; leaflets, flyers and posters to be used in street witnessing, prayer vigils, and leaflet display racks. At present much of the stuff we use is out-dated and is seen by many as negative and oppressive. We have all probably seen posters with pictures of aborted foetuses, and slogans which make those who have had abortions feel like criminals.

In fact, I think that we need a new vocabulary and images for pro-life literature in order that the message for Life not be rejected but received and welcomed. The message for pro-life should express the Gospel in some way; an invitation to think and act in a better way. A message which does not appall nor condemn, but which expresses the call to love and the possibility of mercy. Nor does the pro-life message need to appear as a Catholic issue, but rather something which appeals to the hearts of all men and women, especially fathers and mothers. Do you know of any organisation, profession or its website which is producing material - images, messages, slogans, etc - which you would recommend as a source for potential Pro-life literature. Even better, you may have produced some material yourself - in either case, I would be glad to hear from you.

St John Bosco's dream

A happy feast of St John Bosco to you, especially if you are a young person, as he's your patron saint. I remember when I first heard of this famous dream of St John Bosco, it deeply impressed me. And ever since, reflecting on it, I've come to realise how the pillars of evangelisation are Our Lady and the Holy Eucharist, together with a fidelity to the teaching of the Church. With these three we cannot go wrong. Don Bosco spoke of this dream in May 1862. In the dream he saw an immense sea, with many ships getting ready for battle, and one taller and more majestic than the rest. These are St John Bosco's words:

"In the midst of this endless sea, two solid columns, a short distance apart, soar high into the sky. One is surmounted by a statue of the Immaculate Virgin, at whose feet a large inscriptions reads: 'Auxilium Christianorum' ('Help of Christians') . The other, far loftier and sturdier, supports a Host of proportionate size, and bears beneath it the inscription: 'Salus credentium' ('Salvation of believers').

"The flagship commander - the Roman Pontiff- standing at the helm, strains every muscle to steer his ship between the two columns, from whose summits hang many anchors and strong hooks linked to chains. The entire enemy fleet closes in to intercept and sink the flagship at all costs. They bombard it with everything they have: books and pamphlets, incendiary bombs, firearms, cannons. The battle rages ever more furious. Beaked prows ram the flagship again and again, but to no avail, as, unscathed and undaunted, it keeps on it course. At times, a formidable ram splinters a gaping hole in its hull, but immediately, a breeze from the two columns instantly seals the gash.

"Meanwhile, enemy cannons blow up; firearms and beaks fall to pieces; ships crack up and sink to the bottom. In blind fury, the enemy takes to hand-to-hand combat, cursing and blaspheming. Suddenly the Pope falls, seriously wounded. He is instantly helped up, but struck a second time, dies. A shout of victory rises from the enemy, and wild rejoicing seeps their ships. But no sooner is the Pope dead than another takes his place. The captains of the auxiliary ships elected him so quickly that the news of the Pope's death coincides with that of his successor's election. The enemy's self-assurance wanes.

"Breaking through all resistance, the new Pope steers his ship safely between the two columns; first, to the one surmounted by the Host, and then the other, topped by the statue of the Virgin. At this point, something unexpected happens. The enemy ships panic and disperse, colliding with and scuttling each other.

"Some auxiliary ships, which had gallantly fought alongside their flagship, are the first to tie up at the two columns. Many others, which had fearfully kept far away from the fight, stand still, cautiously waiting until the wrecked enemy ships vanish under the waves. Then they too head for the two columns, tie up at the swinging hooks and ride safe and tranquil beside their flagship. A great calm now covers the sea. "

Tuesday 30 January 2007

A rose in winter

I thought I'd share this pic with you. It is a Camelia flowering very, very early. This Camelia is right outside the front door of Our Lady Mother of Grace House, in Huddersfield, where I live. And there are a lot more flowers to blossom - just in time for the Feast of the Purification.


At the moment my time seems to be split between work at the University and going up and down the motorway to see my sister - I referred to her illness with cancer before - and the rest of the family. One of the great things has been the support of knowing that so many people are praying for her. She expects a report from me every time I go and visit telling her who is praying and where. Next time I will be able to report someone making a pilgrimage to Guadalupe on her behalf and Tyburn convent praying. For myself, I have really rediscovered the immense strength that comes from praying novenas. When I heard how ill she was, I began a novena to St Pio and the Sacred Heart. Since then I have turned to St Peregrine, Our Lady of Lourdes, St Jude and St John Vianney. I'm not a great one for saying set formula prayers, but I can testify to a huge amount of grace which I personally have received from making these novenas.

The idea of a novena is to make nine days of dedicated prayer. Why nine? Because the days between the Ascension and Pentecost when Our Lady joined with the Apostles in prayer awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit were nine. (The bishops conference, by transferring Ascension to the Sunday, have rather ruined this connection.) So, the first novena is remembered when we join in those nine days of prayer each year. This became a tradition to pray for nine days for a particular need.

I'm a bit sceptical of the "try such and such a novena - never known to fail" approach. It smacks of superstition, that a particular form of words can twist God's arm to produce the goods. What a novena does do is show a particular act of faith, and a constancy in prayer, and that faith and prayer are never rejected by God. In that way, I suppose, they are never known to fail. That's not to say that our prayers will be answered in the way we want, but God will answer for our good. If you want a great source of novena prayers have a look on the EWTN website.

Monday 29 January 2007

St Augustine's Tidal Wave

I mentioned in "The old and the new" posting an expression used by St Augustine - tidal wave of paganism - and have been asked where he uses this.
Actually, I don't know if he did use the words "tidal wave", but he does refer to paganism in a very expressive way. Here it is, taken from "The City of God", Book 12:

"This life of ours—if a life so full of such great ills can properly be called a life—bears witness to the fact that, from its very start, the race of mortal men has been a race condemned.
Think, first, of the dreadful abyss of ignorance from which all error flows and so engulfs the sons of Adam in a darksome pool that no one can escape without the toll of toils and tears and fears. Then, take our very love for all those things that prove so vain and poisonous and breed so many heartaches, troubles, griefs, and fears; such insane joys in discord, strife, and wars; such fraud and theft and robbery; such perfidy and pride, envy and ambition, homicide and murder, cruelty and savagery, lawlessness and lust; all the shameless passions of the impure—fornication and adultery, incest and unnatural sins, rape and countless other uncleannesses too nasty to be mentioned; the sins against religion—sacrilege and heresy, blasphemy and perjury; the iniquities against our neighbors—calumnies and cheating, lies and false witness, violence to persons and property; the injustices of the courts and the innumerable other miseries and maladies that fill the world, yet escape attention."

Quite a good definition of paganism, don't you think?

The evangelisation of the Media.

Now here's an interesting project. Surely, the Church is called not simply to suffer the impact of the media nor plot a course round it, but to transform it. What about the evangelisation of the whole empire of the mass media? After all, the Roman Empire was evangelised, although it took nearly 300 years and the blood of un-numbered martyrs to do it. The new evangelisation of the media will take place through grace.

The Holy Father has been very outgoing with the journalists he has encountered, thanking them for their work and helping them to focus on the moral basis of their work. Recently he spoke with a group of journalist reminding them to engage in a "sincere search for the truth and the safeguarding of the centrality and the dignity of the person."

On the other hand, as Cardinal Ratzinger he wrote in his book "Christian Brotherhood" that the Church "must not try to catch men with the word unawares, as it were, without their knowing it. She has no right to draw the word out of a hat like a conjuror. And she must recognise that there are places where the word would be wasted, thrown away, if it were spoken."

We must act according to the evangelical counsel: " ... shrewd as serpents, simple as doves." We have quite a lot of work to do in understanding an authentic secularity - the affairs of human beings seen from the perspective of objective truth, and in expressing that truth in both a secular and a Christian framework. Parents and young people are certainly at the forefront of this work. And we need journalists who will work with and for parents and young people, both supporting and challenging them to reach out for truth. This will require not just a change of attitude, but conversion of life on the part of journalists, presenters and media users. Will it be the media user or the media maker who will take the lead, or will they work together?

The media age has taken us all by storm. We have been unprepared for its invasion and we have allowed fallen human nature to guide its progress. As a consequence, "mass media society" is in a cul-de-sac and needs light to show the way out. I call on parents, young people and media professionals who are living in Christ to act together and become builders of a new media culture, one which is formative. One in which the truth about the human person, the truth about the family and the truth about human society are recognised and sought after. What a great media that would be!

Give the fire another prod!

No. This is not an injunction to relaunch the methods used to deal with the Oxford martyrs. But rather a recognition that it is the argument for or against television which has delivered more comments to this blog than any other. My rant against television brought on 24 comments. Well delivered in my inbox this morning, in yesterday's edition of ZENIT, is an article by an old acquaintance of mine, Fr John Flynn. He was in Valladolid doing the pre-seminary year when I was in Salamanca working on the STL.

Fr John starts off by setting the scene thus:

It's not often that junk television influences world politics, but it happened in mid-January in the case of the British program, "Celebrity Big Brother." During the course of the show one of the participants, Indian film star Shilpa Shetty, was repeatedly insulted by other members of the program, in particular by Jade Goody, a British reality-television star.

Instead of the episode just remaining another example of trashy television, Shetty's tormentors were accused of blatant racism. Subsequent polemics reached such a level that the program was brought up during a press conference held by British Treasury chief Gordon Brown while he was on a visit to India.

The Channel 4 program was the subject of tens of thousands of complaints to the British Office of Communications, the government's media authority also known as Ofcom. Ratings for the show also went up, and media commentators noted that the show's organizers may well have deliberately set the stage for confrontations in order to boost the program's flagging popularity.

In the wake of the event, commentators reflected on the implications of what the program revealed about contemporary culture. "Dumbing down is an assault upon the very concept of value," observed Howard Jacobson in the newspaper the Independent on Jan. 20. He noted that the ignorance demonstrated by Jade Goody, who emerged as a public star in a previous edition of "Big Brother," was celebrated and promoted by television.

The Irish Independent on Jan. 22 lamented the state of "hundreds of thousands of young women like Jade Goody," who have "never known standards in education, manners, decorum or speech." A culture that regards self-control as "repression," respectability as "authoritarian," and uncouthness as "honesty," has led to unprecedented levels of vulgarity, the paper said.

BBC South Asia bureau editor Paul Danahar reflected on how Britain and India compare, as the latter prepares to mark its 60th anniversary of independence. Writing on Jan. 22, he observed that "your average English-speaking Indian (most of whom have been through private schooling) is a lot better educated than your average English person."

Noting that this category of Indians probably numbers more than 100 million, he concluded that Brits who are concerned for the future should be more alarmed by the likes of Shilpa Shetty, a representative of a pool of well-educated people who will be stiff competition for Britain's native sons and daughter in the job market.

Then Fr John goes into a real critique of television and other media per se, and makes some very interesting points:

Concerns over television and its contents are not new, as evidenced by a letter signed by 110 teachers, psychologists, children's authors and other experts and published Sept. 12 by the British newspaper Telegraph.

The experts expressed concern over a number of issues affecting children, including the education system and junk food, but they also commented that too often children are "exposed via the electronic media to material which would have been considered unsuitable for children even in the very recent past."

"We are deeply concerned at the escalating incidence of childhood depression and children's behavioral and developmental conditions," the letter stated.

The experts also suggested that television itself could be harmful. The letter says that in order for children's brains to properly develop they need real play, instead of "sedentary, screen-based entertainment," together with "first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives."

And the spreading use of Internet by children and adolescents also means they can be exposed more easily to the type of racial and cultural intolerance typified in the "Celebrity Big Brother" program.

Brendesha Tynes, writing in the 2006 "Handbook of Children, Culture, and Violence," edited by Nancy Dowd, Dorothy Singer and Robin Wilson, warns that a "virtual culture" of racism is forming.

She explained in her article entitled "Children, Adolescents, and the Culture of Online Hate," she says that hate groups and racists deliberately target youth, creating a presence in the chat rooms and discussion boards they frequent. Racist groups build Web sites with ambiguous names, and organize their material in such a way so as to appear credible to a young student looking for information.

In turn, adds Tynes, spurred by the interactivity and anonymity of the cyberspace, children and adolescents can also give free rein to their own intolerance, without fear of any repercussions. Filter programs can eliminate some of the more extreme material, but they are only partially effective.

Not only can television produce depression and other psychological illness in children, but there is also the moral dimension of what is represented, as Fr John continues:

The Church has long warned about the media. The decree "Inter Mirifica" of the Second Vatican Council states: "Those who make use of the media of communications, especially the young, should take steps to accustom themselves to moderation and self-control in their regard."

At the time the decree appeared in 1963 nobody could imagine what the Internet and programs such as "Big Brother" would bring, but the principles set out are strikingly relevant today.

The decree explained that in defending the right to information and communication a conflict can arise between art and morality. The document, nevertheless, "proclaims that all must hold to the absolute primacy of the objective moral order" (No. 6).

The decree went on to explain that given the power of public opinionnote that narrating or portraying moral evil can even have some positive results in bringing about a deeper knowledge of humanity. "Nevertheless, such presentations ought always to be subject to moral restraint, lest they work to the harm rather than the benefit of souls," the decree warned (No. 7).

The document went on to explain that given the power of public opinion, all should strive to "fulfill the demands of justice and charity in this area."

Users of the media should choose materials noted for their goodness, knowledge or artistic merit, avoiding those that can cause spiritual harm, give bad example or promote evil, the decree continued. And in addition to suggesting that the media should be used with restraint, the decree recommended that young people should "endeavor to deepen their understanding of what they see, hear or read" (No. 10). Parents, in turn, have a serious duty to protect their children from harmful material.

Almost four decades later, in 2000, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications published its document "Ethics in Communications." It noted: "Great good and great evil come from the use people make of the media."
Which just goes to show it's all rather a mixed bag - good and evil can come from television. This means great care needs to be taken when choosing what to watch, and how much to watch. It is like having a dangerous animal come to stay in your house, and you'd have to take care what contact you allowed that animal to have say with your children. You'd certainly not allow it free rein. Fr John concludes:

The Church regards the media and the means of social communication both as products of human genius and as gifts of God. Therefore, it is not some blind force, but something we can choose to use, either for good or for evil. Those making choices -- public officials, policy-makers, executives and consumers -- should serve human dignity, the document "Ethics in Communications" exhorted.

When it comes to the question of popular culture the document noted that critics often decry the superficiality and bad taste of the media. "It is no excuse to say the media reflect popular standards; for they also powerfully influence popular standards and so have a serious duty to uplift, not degrade, them," it concluded (No. 16).

With regards to how to make media choices, the pontifical council recommended applying a number of ethical principles. The fundamental ethical principle to remember is the human person and the human community. Communication should contribute to the integral development of persons, it urged.

Another important principle is the common good. The media should not set groups against each other, bringing about conflicts of class, races, nations, or religion. And while freedom of expression is important there are other elements to take into account, such as truth, fairness, and respect for privacy.

Both producers and consumers of the media have ethical duties in the choices they make, the social council observed. A duty too often shirked.
If producers resign the responsibility for moral choices, then it is the consumer that has to make that choice. For me the best choice is still...ditch the telly.

Saturday 27 January 2007

Fr Magoo reads Redemptionis Sacramentum

Sometimes I wonder whether I'm reading the same documents as other people, or are they just ignoring them? This cartoon tickled me somewhat.

Living Simply...the Carthusian way

I've just come back from seeing the film 'Into Great Silence', the film made by the German film producer Philip Groening about the life of the monks at the Grande Chartreuse, the Carthusian monastery in the French Alps. The Carthusians are the order founded by St Bruno, where monastic life is somewhat less communitarian, but which is more ascetic than most other monasteries in western Christendom. Each monk lives in a cell where he eats and prays, except for the major offices in the Church and on meals on Sundays and Feasts which are in the refectory.

The film shows the monks about their daily duties of prayer, work, study, and even the menial daily tasks. It is mostly in silence. You hear movements, the sound of the wood stove crackling, and the singing of the monks in choir, but there is only one moment where a monk speaks directly to camera. That privilege is reserved for a monk who has gone completely blind. He speaks of the joy of Christian life, and how sorrowful that the world has lost it's sense of God, for what reason can there be for living without a relationship with Him? He says there is nothing to fear in death. The
n he mentioned a point which Fr Yanny, the Coptic priest (see below) said in his catechesis on Wednesday - we just see ourselves as we are now, with our cares and our worries, and our opinions, and our emotions. God sees the whole of our life from beginning to end as though in the present moment. The monk said we should therefore entrust our lives to God, for he knows the whole span of our life, and beyond our earthly life. The whole of it is present to him.

The film is quite repetitive. Two phrases which keep coming up on the screen from the Scriptures are "No one can follow me without forgetting himself" and "You have seduced me, O Lord, and I have let myself be seduced". These two phrases give the fundamental meaning to the monastic life of contemplation of the Carthusian. In the first place it is a life of sacrifice, and maybe looking at the way of life that's what most strikes us. But the second phrase is key also: the monk is not denying himself because of a hatred of the world nor a self-hatred, rather it is for love that he enters and perseveres in the monastic life. God is the great seducer and the monk is the one who allows himself to be seduced, and to enter into a deep friendship with God through Christ. The repetition is seen in the revolving of the times of prayer, of food, and of relaxation (there's a great scene towards the end of monks on a feast day walk in winter sliding down a snow laden hillside). The film as a whole represents the day from beginning to end. But it also shows the year in the turning of the seasons. The underlying sense is that this way of life isn't for one season, but is a true way of life, and that it is almost in the inevitability of the revolving of the seasons and the pattern of the days that this life takes its shape.

Most striking is the simplicity of life in the monastery. There are none of the complications that modern secular society place upon us. There are none of the distractions of technology and media. Their lives are so simple, lived in communion with each other and with God, lived in communion with the natural world around them, lived in an integrity which comes from a life given over to one purpose in its entirety. It's very difficult for us to contemplate how that would be. I'm sure that many people would be put off from going to see the film because of the silence for three hours. We are surrounded by constant noise. On the train, in shops on a plane, in your home you are force fed with news you don't want to hear and advertisements. The only way you can escape is to make more noise yourself, or move far away from the city. It is hard to understand what such constant perfect silence would be like. I think we thirst for it really, but on another level we fear it. It's only in true silence that we meet the real God and meet our real selves, and for most of us that can be a frightening prospect.

I had a whole pack of stuff from CAFOD the other day about their Live Simply
campaign. Indeed, Archbishop Nichols came to our chaplaincy to launch this campaign back in November. What he said to me then, and I think it is so true, is that the CAFOD campaign concentrates almost entirely on two aspects of living simply - living sustainably and living in solidarity. It completely omits living spiritually. Indeed I would go further and say that the first two are only a blind hope for most of us unless we start with the third. We will not be able to make our lives simple unless the grace comes from God first. Only once we have communion with God, friendship with Christ, which attracts to us immense grace, can we then have communion with others in solidarity and communion with the world and live sustainably. If you want to see real simplicity of life then, have a look at Into Great Silence. You'll see a way of life very divorced from our own. But these are men. Yes they are monks, but they are real men. With all the needs and temptations we have too. But they, through a particular vocation that certainly most of us don't share, can teach us something about how we should live in the secular world. Not only can they be a strength for the Church in the way they pray for the world, but also be a sign (and they insist in their conversation recorded in the film on the symbolism of their way of life) for us of how to live in the world but not of the world.

You won't see this film on at your local multiplex, so look out for it at smaller arts cinemas. It's certainly worth the almost three hours. Take a look at the website which has an English version.

The old and the new.

Fr Stephen Langridge and myself were in the city of York the other day; as you can see from the photo the river Ouse was in full flood through the city after heavy rains in the Yorkshire Dales. We went to visit the shrine of St Margaret Clitherow in the famous Shambles Street. She is York's, and perhaps the country's, greatest witness to grace. She witnessed to the culture of Life with her life, being "pressed to death" near where this flood photo was taken.

St Margaret Clitherow's shrine is a sign of the great value of visible expressions of the New Culture. However...
...mostly we see how Christianity is in retreat, abandoning our towns and cities to the flood (St Augustine called it a tidal wave) of paganism. The old culture (of death) is very evident in York today. We saw this Headline from the local newspaper advertised in a newsagents near the top of the Shambles, and thought of the city's Viking past catching up with it again. The city of York is very blessed to have St Margaret Clitherow's shrine at its heart, but let us remember the call made to us all in Denver in 1993 by John Paul II:

"Do not be afraid to go out onto the streets and into public places as the first apostles did to preach Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel."

Friday 26 January 2007

Youth 2000 - a 60 second sketch

I must be blind but I missed this before now. Lots of people have opinions about Youth 2000 but love the music or hate it, you have to admit it's brought thousands of young people face to face - and hopefully heart to heart - with the Eucharistic Jesus. Anyway, here's a 60 second sketch which does more to convey what Y2K is about than lots of words. By the way, if you're interested in Youth 2000 and you want to go on a retreat, the next retreat is in Harrogate, 23rd to 25th February.

Thursday 25 January 2007

Real life in the new evangelisation.

A group of young people who’ve struggled with the same decisions we all face on how to live our sexuality in a culture that tells us that, “anything goes” have put together a day’s conference in February...Do you…Want sensible answers to real life problems? Think the Catholic Church’s teaching about sex is stupid and wildly outdated? Convinced nobody in their right mind actually practices what the Church teaches? Considering becoming a Catholic but this area of life appears to be an obstacle? Stuck in a relationship that is going nowhere or somehow just lost your way? Are you a non-Catholic asking why do Catholics say “that”? Feeling unprepared despite a Catholic upbringing for modern day sexual moral dilemmas? A young parent or teacher looking for a method to communicate the good news about sex? If so, this conference is for you… This Conference Will...• Have a practical focus on the most challenging aspects of the Church’s teaching that confront young people• Have straightforward explanations -no previous knowledge assumed• Explore how all of this teaching about sex and relationships ties in with the God of infinite love• Include down-to-earth communicators and no complex religious language• Feature young Catholics sharing their sensible reasons for saying yes to the teaching of Jesus Christ and the Church He founded. Topics to be Explored Sex Before Marriage• OK, maybe sleeping around isn’t good, but is all sex before marriage wrong?• The language of sex – what should sex ‘say’? What’s so special about marriage anyway?• Is it possible to fancy each other and not get too physical?• How far is too far?• Blob of jelly or unborn child?!• How abortion hurts women• What’s the big deal with contraception?• Natural Family Planning: What is it? Does it work? Homosexuality• Isn’t sexual preference a private issue?• If two people love each other, isn’t that all that counts?• Are condoms OK in HIV prevention? The speakers are all young committed Catholics who are living in the real world. ‘The Church’s teaching is a goldmine; getting into it has radically changed how I experience and appreciate my sexuality.'
When & Where? Saturday 24th February 2007, Westminster Cathedral Hall, Ambrosden AvenueLondon SW1P 1QH. 5 minutes walk from Victoria Tube and Railway Station, The Conference costs just £5 which includes lunch and refreshments. To register please contact Dr Charlie O’Donnell on 020 8491 6510 (evenings only) or with any questions.

Number 10 petition to repeal the Abortion Act

I don't know what happens to these petitions on the Number 10 website, but there's no harm in signing up to them. I'm hoping it gets you on a list of subversive anti-liberal establishment people to be watched by MI5 at least. This one is as simple as you can get - a repeal of the abortion law. Thanks to John Paul Ritchie for sending this round. It doesn't have many signatures yet, so needs a bit of a boost. Sign up here.

Christian Unity - an interesting end to the week

To end the week of prayer for Christian unity we had a rather different service on the campus this week. Fr John Yanny, a Coptic Orthodox priest, led a time of prayer which included the midday office together, Gospel reading and homily, and a time of intercession with the singing of the Jesus prayer between petitions (the singing was to a coptic tune which didn't respect the western conventions of tonality, dropping semitones all over the place). The Pope affirmed in his audience yesterday that we should continue to have such services of prayer together: "The first common duty is prayer. By praying, and praying together, Christians acquire a greater awareness of their condition of brothers, even if they are still divided; and by praying we learn better to listen to the Lord, as we can only find the path to unity by listening to the Lord and following his voice."

It's very easy to get to think of ecumenism only in our restricted context, surrounded by different Protestant churches. But on a worldwide scale, the dialogue with the oriental churches like the Coptic Orthodox has borne more fruit in terms of advances and growing closer. After the service, Fr John gave a wonderful catechesis on the Epiphany, showing that the whole mystery of Christ is about epiphany - the tearing open of heaven for us to enter in. He explained the relationship between the vision to Jacob of the stairway to heaven at Bethel, the Epiphany of Christ, his Baptism, and the Crucifixion, leading our assembled company of Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists up a catechetical path less travelled.

Wednesday 24 January 2007

The First "John Paul II Evangelium Vitae Lecture" at Birmingham University

On 15th February we will be welcoming Rev Dr John Fleming to give our first 'John Paul II Evangelium Vitae' lecture at the University of Birmingham. The John Paul II lecture is an initiative of the Catholic Chaplaincy of the University. Fr Fleming is a priest of the Archdiocese of Adelaide, and Director of the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute of Adelaide, as well as being President of Campion College (Australia's first Catholic Liberal Arts College of HE). He has served on the bioethics committee of UNESCO and is on the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The title of this first lecture is "The status of the unborn child in International Human Rights Law". Fr Fleming, as well having a great academic standing, is also very engaging as a speaker. There is an open invitation for everyone to come to the lecture, so if you are in the Birmingham area please come along. Or make the journey. I'm hoping that a University pro-life society might come out of this initiative, as part of the reason for setting up the lecture was to enable us to put forward a side to the whole argument which does not often get a place on the Campus.

The lecture takes place on Thursday 15th February, in the Vaughan Jefferies Lecture Theatre in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham's main Edgbaston campus. The lecture begins at 7pm. There will be light refreshments afterwards in the foyer. For more information you can email me at It would be great if this lecture had as many people as possible attending. The lecture theatre is a big place so let's try and fill it. Please also pass on the information to people who might be interested (hint to other blogmeisters).

Tuesday 23 January 2007

The Letter to Young People revisited.

John Paul II wrote a wonderful letter to young people in 1985 in which he laid out the whole route to holiness for the young Church. This Letter has been a constant companion for me since I discovered it in 1998. Recently I have made a shortened version of the Letter in the hope that it might be discovered or revisited by many.
You can find my edition here.
The Letter to Young People is the most objective account of life for young people that we have. We are in debt to this great Pope for opening up human life to the power of the Gospel in such a gentle yet challenging way, and for giving us such great light amidst so much shadow and untruth. Please pass this link to those you know - after all it was 13 years before I discovered this Letter on my own.

Sunday 21 January 2007

A joint venture

Fr Stephen Langridge (of Southwark Vocations fame) is visiting Huddersfield at the moment. It is always good when priests spend time together and share their friendship with Christ. If you were at the Youth 2000 Festival in Walsingham last summer you may have spotted him, Fr J and myself there in common attire. We wont be wearing soutanes this week in Huddersfield as we are expecting snow on the hills. But do expect some interesting postings to follow.

Saturday 20 January 2007

No TV? No , no TV.

It's great not having a television because when your bored you can still live your life in Christ. Which means that I can't remember when I was last bored. I'm busy trying to get a new section on the Community of Grace website. I'll let you know when its done. It's looking good so far.

Friday 19 January 2007

Be Radical: Ditch the Telly

It's probably quite obvious by now that your two blogmeisters are a pair of weirdos. Yes, indeed. What proves it is that between us we do not own a single television. Fr Richard has traded his television in for having a whole cinema to himself. The white painted rectangle on the wall of the sitting room at Mother of Grace house is there because the room has been converted into the "Cinema of Grace", showing new culture films to all who take an interest, using DVD player plus projector. Meanwhile, at Newman House, yours truly has got rid of all the technophernalia which filled my old parish sitting room, and I now have no visual media intrusions.

I see that we're not alone. In the latest (online) version of Good News magazine - the in house journal of Charismatic Renewal in this country - the ubiquitous Kristina Cooper says she has ditched her telly too. Here in summary are her reasons (full version here):

  1. TV has become the faithful friend which airbrushes God out.

  2. Watching TV makes me selfish.

  3. God is not very manifest in western TV culture.

  4. Attachment to comfort - eg TV - gets in the way of getting closer to God.

  5. Giving up TV is a personal challenge.

  6. It makes space for God.

At the moment I'm spending a lot of time at home with my mother, as my sister is very ill and is a cause for concern. Being back in a house with television reminds me what I'm missing. Last night I went channel hopping, only to find 'Big Brother' was watching me. No. I had not been transported to a house full of racist loud-mouthed self-obsessives. But they - and endless commentary on them - had been transported into the living room. How could I escape it? One simple answer...the standby button. I find the fact that so many people spend so much time talking about what happens on the television to such an extent that it governs the way they think, governs the agenda for their conversations, and even takes over what they read in the newspapers, is not only nauseating, but very alarming. It's as though people's lives are so boring that they feel the need to live someone else's life - soap star, reality prog do nothing celebrity, latest X-Idol talent vacuum victim - vicariously to make their own more interesting. And if that were not enough, the media ideologues use this gogglebox to promote whatever 'values' or 'anti-values' they have in season. So, it is now impossible to have a news item on extreme weather conditions without the follow on of an indoctrinating item on climate change. Now, I accept that we our selfishness is causing the climate to change, but I find it disturbing that the 'new orthodoxy' being preached at every available opportunity disturbing. What is worse is when every scientific "advance" in, for example, embryology research is followed by heart-tugging scenes of the people with incurable illnesses who will no longer suffer once the law has been pushed even further into the culture of death. Strange that the thousands of embryonic human lives sacrificed on the altar of embryo stem cell 'harvesting' have produced no significant medical advance, except the inflation of the egos of the high priests of play God science.

Yes, it looks like I'm on a rant again...well if the cap fits... So do the decent thing. Ditch the telly. You'll find so much time for other things. Like creating your own New Evangelisation blog. I wonder how many of the saints would have achieved the establishment of new orders in the Church, the renewal of the Church in every age, and their own personal holiness if they had had television wasting their precious wakeful hours. No? Well it's hardly going to bring about your holiness either.

Thursday 18 January 2007

Let the graces flow!

Evangelisation today requires that the basic structure of the human person be researched so that the we can re-discover that there is a unique relationship us and the person and message of Jesus Christ. In other words we need to truly understand ourselves. We need a true anthropology. John Paul II gave us the "Theology of the Body", which is much more than a teaching schedule on sexuality - it is essentially a tool of evangelisation.
Contemporary culture is attacking sexuality at the level of anthroplogy. It says, let us have freedom of sexuality, let us have freedom from sexuality!

In the Theology of the Body John Paul II has re-written anthropology at a much deeper level than the contemporary culture's destructive tamperings. Ultimately, the Theology of the Body not only shows up the inadequacy of the contemporary secular/pagan view of humanity, but it describes practically how Christ reveals man to man.

There is an International event coming up. Visit . You may not be able to participate in this event, but you can always receive its insights by osmosis.

Tuesday 16 January 2007

Being friends with Him

If you desire to be a friend of Christ it is because you want your life to be fertile ground for God to use. This friendship makes our lives into a "centre of faith", a building brick for God's Kingdom. Friendship with Him is not the preserve of priests and religious or any who follow a specific calling in life. In fact there are more lay people than there are priests and religious, and the more friends of Christ there are in the secular world, the greater is the opportunity for our culture to be evangelised.
Developing your friendship with Christ, or better said, allowing Him to develop His friendship with you is the basis of what it means to be a Catholic. Our approach to the Christian Life then does not begin with vocational discernment but with getting to know Him. This is the basis of the FWC Retreats for young people which Fr Julian and myself are offering. The Holy Father speaking last October said:

"Whoever wants to be a friend of Jesus and become his authentic disciple – be it seminarian, priest, Religious or lay person – must cultivate an intimate friendship with him in meditation and prayer. The deepening of Christian truths and the study of theology and other religious disciplines presupposes an education to silence and contemplation, because one must become capable of listening to God speaking in the heart."

It is in the context of a relationship of friendship with Christ that a vocation will be discerned and embraced. Moreover, a new culture flows from our lives when they are lived in this friendship, whether you are a student, a worker, a trainee, a father, a mother, a priest, a religious, a son or a daughter. The new culture - a witness to grace!
We will continue to offer FWC Retreats and the build on the experience of friendship which we and young people share with Christ, and we will do this right under the nose of the neo-pagan culture in which we live.
St Justin, pray for all of us.

Seminarians on track

Another seminarian's blog which I enjoy reading has come up with a reflection on the New Evangelisation and on the need for the apostolate of friendship. It's good to see we have good seminarians with the sights set on the needs of the Church and on the challenge of the mission.

Go on an e-pilgrimage

Apparently it's only 545 days until World Youth Day in Sydney. That seems like an awfully long time to me. Even so, the Archdiocese of Sydney is getting geared up on the WYD website inviting young people to do an e-pilgrimage. It looks like it's going to be a monthly invitation to do a spiritual pilgrimage away from our daily lives into an area of teaching. This month the very youthful looking Dominican auxiliary bishop from Sydney, Bishop Anthony Fisher, who is organising WYD on behalf of the Archdiocese of Sydney, leads us in thought about sexuality, marriage, and the Eucharist. There is a great 'message of hope' written by the bishop, a catechesis, a Scriptural meditation, an excerpt from Deus Caritas Est, a testimony, the life of a saint, a place of pilgrimage and a news update on preparation for WYD. It looks like a good thing to use as spiritual preparation, whether you're thinking of going to WYD Sydney or not. You can find the e-pilgrimage page here.

Monday 15 January 2007

Apocalypto Now

Fr Richard and I have just been to Cineworld in Broad St to see Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. I can only recommend Fr Stephen Langridge's excellent commentary on the film which you can find here.

As Fr Stephen says, the key to understanding this film is not large amounts of bloodshed (though it has to be said Mel Gibson does seem to glory in gore), nor the violence, nor the wild animals jumping out of the screen at you. Nor is the key the evident anachronisms, including the fact that the "great" Mayan civilisation had "mysteriously" become all but extinct by the time the Spaniards arrived. The key is the quotation from the historian-philosopher Will Durant, given at the beginning of the film, "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within".

What we see clearly in the film is the way in which the city culture, caught up in the hideous decadent pagan excesses of human sacrifice, but also the prevailing culture of death which devalues the weak and the old, has already within itself the seeds of its own destruction. There is no great city here, but a wearying environment where life does not flourish. A friend of mine, just last week, who has moved from Birmingham to York, said how difficult it is for so many people to live in our cities because they are so culturally oppressive.

We are living in an oppressive culture of death. Our society may not be so crass as pagan Mayan culture, but we see around us the evidence of the culture of death, most especially in the ever increasing bloodshed of the unborn who never see the light of day, because they are inconvenient, unwanted, or have simply been created in order to have cells harvested. Equally in the way in which we treat the world around us such that it may not be fruitful for our future generations (alluded to in the film).

We need to learn the lesson of Apoclaypto. Young people are the generation that needs to stand up against the culture of death and fight and witness for life. The problem always - just like in the Mayan civilisation - a civilisation which has been great but has fallen into decadence believes that it is still great. It does not realise how close it is to self-destruction. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Our culture of death cannot last, for it is against nature.

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." (Deut 30.19-20).

Sunday 14 January 2007

Website re-launch

Anyone who knows Brother Francis CFR knows of his artistic skills. Indeed, many of the New Evangelisation events for young people that take place in the UK are enhanced by his New Evangelisation paintings. "God's Gallery" is now re-launched on the Web. Here you will find the definitive collection of his images, and you can even buy T-shirts printed with his designs on-line. Visit this site and pass the address on to your friends:

Saturday 13 January 2007

More Friends with Christ

Take a look at this blog entry on the biblical background to friendship with Christ. Good to hear this stuff from a seminarian.

Friday 12 January 2007

Umbert the Unborn

Some people accuse pro-lifers of lacking a sense of humour. Well that's all ended now. New from the culture of life from the States is Umbert the Unborn, a comic strip character that's yet to see the light of day outside his mother's womb. If you want to see Umbert each day then go to the Umbert link on the homepage of - there's a new cartoon each day. Umbert now has his own book - "A Womb with a View". Could be just the gift for friends who are not yet convinced of the pro-life Gospel. Umbert even has his own website - though there's not much there - - unless you want to publish his cartoons in a newsletter at a price ($60 to be precise). I love the cartoon that's on the webpage. I couldn't copy it but the narrative goes like this: "Who says I'm not viable? What, because I'm dependent on my parents for everything? Because I can't live outside the womb on my own? By that standard, I won't be viable 'til after College."

PS It's good to have Fr Richard back and in full flow. I can put my blogging feet up for a few days. As if...

St Aelred today

Today is the feast of St Aelred of Rievaulx. Yesterday, I visited the ruins of his old Abbey near Ampleforth with the St Patrick's School. We laid fresh flowers on the ground where his shrine used to be - behind the high altar of the Abbey church.
Fr Julian has pointed out how St Aelred is seen as a 'henchman' by some Gay communities. I would like to quote here his most famous saying taken from his "Mirror of Charity". You may see from this text why he is seen by some as an advocate of homosexuality.
"It is no small consolation in this life to have someone you can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow, to the dear breast of whose friendship, amidst the many troubles of the world, you can safely retire. ... A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart."
This very beautiful description of friendship by St Aelred comes from an era which we could describe as the "Twelfth Century Renaissance". Not only was the Church being renewed at this time by St Francis and St Dominic, but the Cistercian Monastic movement was gradually civilising and evangelising the country districts of Europe. This more autere form of Benedictine Monasticism was ennobled in Rievaulx by its great Abbot Aelred. He sought to transform the auterity of the Cistercian life and make it more human. He emphasised the ethos of friendship in his abbey, teaching his monks to make their lives one of special care and commitment to one another. You could say that he spoke of friendship as one would speak of the evangelical counsels. This is a far cry from the aggressive monopolising of friendship by Gay culture.

Indeed, so evangelical was Aelred's leadership that there were more than five hundred monks living the Christian life at Rievaulx during his time as Abbot. We know from St Aelred's writings that he loved Christ and had a profound knowledge of Scripture. It was this love and knowledge which flowed into the community which he ruled, a community which was marked with sincere joy; the joy that comes from friendship with Christ.

What a Festival it has been!

I'm back! After four, virtually back-to-back, retreats for young people since the week before Christmas. This photo was taken this morning outside Ampleforth Abbey at the end of the Soho St Patrick's Evangelisation School Retreat. There are eleven young people in the group who have begun the New Year seeking to love God. The New Evangelisation is gaining ground! You can find out more about the school here.
Never before have I had such a blessing like this at Christmas time - to be involved in the lives of so many young people and their preparation for the era that is just beginning. And, do you know, it is so easy because the Holy Spirit is leading us every step of the way.
What a grace-filled Festival it has been for me. I am very grateful to all the young people who I have encountered, prayed with and guided since mid-December. You know how to take hold of your friendship with Christ, you know how to draw upon the friendship which Christ has with a priest, and you know how to encourage priests in the New Evangelisation. Thank you.

St Aelred, love and friendship

Make a search of the internet search engines for St Aelred, you'll soon hit upon all sorts of strange things. You'd expect a 12th century English monk and saint, whose feast is today, to bring up some information about his life, his works, and maybe the odd image. But St Aelred seems to summon up all sorts of connections to websites of gay Christian groups, and of ethereal New Age spiritualities. The thing is, St Aelred wrote a work on friendship called "Spiritual Friendship". While you might expect the language he uses to be guarded - being a medieval monk - he is rather descriptive and intimate in his use of language. This has been taken by some people today, reading this in a contemporary context, to suggest that St Aelred conforms to the stereotypes of 'being gay'. Of course, St Aelred has no time for impurity of any sort, and is quite explicit about that. What is more interesting is that St Aelred is so into 'friendship' that he even suggests that 'God is love' can be understood as 'God is friendship'. I've never read the book myself, and shall certainly put it on my already overstretched reading list. Fr Richard asked that St Aelred be put in the list on the right as one of our patrons. He was previously in St Aelred's parish in Harrogate as Parish Priest, but it is also appropriate because of his interest in this favourite theme of ours of 'friendship'. It seems St Aelred would say that 'friendship with Christ' is expressed in our lives by 'spiritual friendship with others'. Anyway here's part of a review of St Aelred's book by Francis Phillips on the Coptic Orthodox website:

As a young man Aelred was very influenced by Cicero’s De amicitia and quotes from it admiringly in his own work; but he makes the distinction between Christian and pagan friendship very clear.

His book, divided in 3 parts, with a long gap during its composition, takes the form of a dialogue between himself and three monk-friends: at first Ivo, then much later,
Walter and Gratian. This device with its questions and responses enables the author to consider and refine what true spiritual friendship is about.

Daringly, he changes the statement ‘God is love’ to ‘God is friendship’, an ideal to which all human friendships should aspire. Those friendships which are self-serving or based on flattery or which do not seek the other’s greatest good, are rejected as false friendships, to be shunned or terminated. If friendships can be virtuous, for Aelred they can also be ‘vicious’. This is fighting talk, but he is nothing if not human, delighting in ‘companionship of soul’ – anam chara in Irish – and recognising that despite human defects, having once received a person in his friendship ‘I cannot do
otherwise than love him’. Only betrayal will ruin friendship - as Judas discovered.

But Aelred insists, following his divine Master, that love should remain even when the friendship is destroyed, for we must continue to will the ultimate good of our erstwhile friends, viz. their salvation. [...] Should we admonish our friends when we see them falling from grace? Quoting St Ambrose, the author believes ‘the wound inflicted by a friend is more tolerable than the kisses of flatterers’. Behind the spiritual friendship of two people there is always, for Aelred, ‘the sweetness of Christ Himself’ – the perfect friend who mediates the charm and consolation of our human companions.

Tuesday 9 January 2007

Favourite Saints

OK. OK. Some of my recent posts have been a little bit heavy. My output yesterday was a bit over the top too! Three posts in one day... I must have time on my hands. Fr Richard is this week up in Ampleforth, leading a retreat with the young people from SPES - the Evangelisation School based at St Patrick's Soho. So please pray for them and for him. In the meantime I'm holding the blog fort alone.

On the FWC retreat weekend with the girls we got round to talking about our favourite saints. You'll see that we've recently added a substantial list of patron saints for our blog. It took me some time to think of all the saints I love, and to make a list of the top ten (we didn't include Our Lady as she HAS to be everyone's favourite, so we took her as read). I'm afraid my list certainly looks like male domination, and they're quite a clerical bunch - and I think I scandalised some people by not including St Therese of Lisieux... Anyway, for better or worse, here's my top ten, in no particular order:

1. St Paul (The centrality of the mystery of Christ)
2. St Augustine of Hippo (Anti-Pelagian and anti-Donatist hero)
3. St Ignatius of Loyola (Apostle of Friendship with Christ)
4. St John Marie Vianney (Model holiness and humility for priests)
5. St Peter Julian Eymard (Apostle of the Eucharist)
6. St Charles Borromeo (A model pastor for his people)
7. St Maximilian Kolbe (Martyr to friendship with Christ and others)
8. St Anthony of Padua (simply for his ability to find lost things)
9. St John Fisher (How we need bishops like this today)
10. Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity (We are in our lives the praise of God's glory)

I'm afraid that when Ven John Henry Newman and the Servant of God Pope John Paul II are beatified a couple of these will have to drop out to make way.

Do feel free to contribute your list of favourite saints - could be interesting to compare notes!

PS Please pray for my eldest sister who has just been diagnosed with cancer - her name is Mandy. Thanks.