Thursday 29 March 2007

Claire Short at Hinsley Hall

Hmmm. Sometimes I feel like a fish out of water. For most of this week I've been at Hinsley Hall - the pastoral centre of the Diocese of Leeds - for a meeting of the National University Chaplains group. I don't want to give a whole report on the meeting. I have to say I found it difficult. Anyone who has read this blog at all knows something of my understanding of priesthood, the Church, the mission of the Church, and key moral issues. It's easy, as a priest, to presume everyone else who calls themselves 'Catholic' more or less believes the same things, especially if you get involved in movements and organisations which are pretty well attuned to where the Church is today. Well, it was a little bit of a shock to the system to be transported back to some of the attitudes that were around when I was in seminary. Although not stated, these are some of the things I picked up (not in everyone I hasten to add):
  1. Priests not concelebrating Mass because it's not important to them to celebrate Mass every day, and moreover not wanting to offend women who were there as it would remind them that they cannot be priests.
  2. 'Spirituality' being a rather disincarnate search for another plane not really connected to the person of Christ or the spiritual tradition of the Catholic Church.
  3. The ultimate importance of counselling and psychology in the Christian life almost in place of grace.
  4. The ministry of a non-ordained 'chaplain' is much the same as that of a 'priest chaplain'.
  5. Life as continuous stress which needs to be dealt with.
  6. The centre being me rather than Christ, and my needs before those of the ones I serve.
  7. The need to pat ourselves on the back for all we have done.
Now, I say it was a shock to the system, but only because it's a different 'Catholic' world to the one I live each day. What really did affront me was a talk given by Rt Hon Claire Short MP on Wednesday afternoon. She had been asked to speak but not with a particular title. She spoke quite eloquently on the subject of climate change, living sustainably, etc. All very good really. Also very good was her presentation of her views on international aid and foreign policy. BUT, all this was overshadowed by her throw away comments in support of distribution of contraception and availability of abortion, and her views that the Church would be better (and churches fuller on Sundays) if the Catholic Church got over "its obsession with contraception and abortion" and ditched dogmas which separate it from worldly aspirations, and just became a place of simple living and justice. I was immediately reminded of the words of Bl Teresa of Calcutta "There can be no justice while there is injustice for the unborn". I sought to ask a question (or make a comment) publicly, but I was not given the opportunity. I did approach her at the end to make it known that I could not support what she had said, and she replied with some bad grace telling me that as a male I had no right to an opinion on abortion, and the arguments against it are "utter rubbish". Well, in the end we agreed to disagree - she was in no mood for a debate. Just exasperation with me. What truly affronted me was that not one other single person in that room (with about 40 members of chaplaincy staff from various Higher Ed institutions) challenged her on what she said. More to the point, there was one bishop there too who took it all on the chin. Indeed, not only that, but there was an atmosphere of near hero worship by some, and much adulation for what she had said.

Let me not be unfair. I like a maverick. I like the way she does say what she thinks. Though one has to be rather circumspect when such a person remained in a government during a war which she characterises as evil. But it offends me that such a person (who is honest enough to call herself a 'cultural catholic' and, although going to Mass with her mother each week, does not go to Communion, which is at least an honest position) is treated with near uncritical adulation by Catholic University chaplains, who should be at the cutting edge of the dialogue between faith and culture, and leading the moral intellectual crusade against the culture of death. I pray for Claire Short. I pray more for our Universities.

Archbishop Couve de Murville's Silver Jubilee of Episcopal Ordination

Fitting blogging in at the moment is quite a task. Anyway, I'm sitting down this evening to catch up with a few recent events. And the first is the Silver Jubilee of Ordination as Bishop of Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville. It was just before the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II's apostolic visit to Britain in 1982 that the successor to Archbishop George Patrick Dwyer was announced and ordained. Before being appointed Archbishop, Fr Couve, as he was known, had been University Chaplain in Sussex University, and the University of Cambridge. It was from there that he was called to become eighth bishop and seventh Archbishop of Birmingham.

One thing is certain: during Archbishop Maurice's episcopate, there were always plenty of stories connected with the Archbishop doing the rounds. It was an interesting time in the Archdiocese. Never one for holding back from saying what he was thinking, there were always gleeful - or exasperated depending on you point of view - stories being told about him and what he had said, no doubt some of them apocryphal. He had a great esteem for the history of the Catholic Midlands, and did all he could to restore and preserve the patrimony of the Church in this Diocese. He also sought to care for the spiritual and catechetical patrimony, often setting him against the other bishops. One bishop (who is now dead, but shall remain nameless) that Archbishop Maurice often found himself isolated at the Bishops' Conference, but he always stood by his decisions.

I have utmost admiration for Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville. He certainly made life interesting. He was the Archbishop who interviewed and accepted me for seminary, who sent me off to Valladolid, who ordained me first deacon, in Spain, and then Priest, in my home parish, and then sent me to do further studies in Salamanca. Yes, he had his problems in this Diocese, and sometimes quite public ones, but as a man, although he might seem insensitive or brusque at moments, I saw him as a deeply committed and caring man who looked after the Diocese in a unique but fatherly manner. At least life was always interesting!

It was only right to celebrate with a solemn Mass in St Chad's Cathedral the 25th Anniversary of Archbishop Couve de Murville's Ordination as Bishop. Archbishop Vincent Nichols preached the homily (in the photos you can see that he presided from the cathedra in choir dress, while Archbishop Maurice celebrated the Mass, concelebrated by the Auxiliary Bishops) in which he spoke of the beauty of the Feast Day (the Annunciation) and the dignity of the office of bishop. It was a shame that Archbishop Maurice - who seemed a little uncertain and in need of orientation at times - did not speak at the Mass. But a Mass offered is the final word - the Incarnate Word of God made present.

For Archbishop Maurice's pedigree see here.

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Being a leader

Mhari and Niamh went to Rome recently to participate in the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life - the kind of thing that leaders do. Indeed, these two budding young medics and many others like them are earnest in their quest for light and truth - things which are not too readily available these days. You have to make a point of searching them out, and those who are doing this are setting themselves up (or allowing God to set them up) as leaders in their field; Christian leaders.
During this event the Holy Father took the opportunity to speak about the Christian conscience: how it is needed in our day, how it is being weakened today, and how it is formed. Although he was addressing the issue of the Right to Life - something which is not only under threat, but which is not recognised in many ways precisely becuase human consciences are not sufficiently alert.
He pinpoints the root of today's crisis of conscience in a "distrust for the capacity of reason to perceive the truth" and in a consequent failure to be reflective. The "modern conscience" therefore is one which is free "from references to tradition and those based on human reason."
Having said this, he paves the way for the restoration of a true and upright conscience - that which so many young Catholics are desiring today - "the desire to know authentic truth". For this to take place we cannot "be content with fleeting contact with the principal truths of faith in infancy, but a programme of accompaniment is necesssary along the various stages of life, opening the mind and heart to welcome the fundamental duties upon which the existence of the individual and the community rest."
We should not ony be aware of this, but we should support and pray for one another, and especially young people, who are actively seeking to form their consciences so that we can be more able Catholics, more able to offer leadership, more able to discern truth in moral issues and become competent in our own fields of work.
So, the Holy Father in addressing the matter of the human conscience is asking us all to be people of vision, whether that be in "science, medicine, law and politics". A real leader is a "witness", one endowed with a true and upright conscience who can defend and promote the splendour of truth and sustain the gift and mystery of life.
Lord, help us all to judge human
conduct rightly, based on the solid foundation of truth, enlighten us to know
the true value of actions and the solid criteria for evaluation. Help us to
distinguish good from evil, even where the social environment, pluralistic
culture and superimposed interests tend cloud our vision. And support with your
grace, all those who right now have engaged their consciences to live in truth.

Tuesday 27 March 2007

Reparation in Spring

Monday was the Feast of the Annunciation, a great day to honour the Mother of God and a special day to make a pilgrimage. So, a pilrimage of reparation for the crime of abortion was organised by the "Leeds People for Life" and we went Walsingham with them. It was a special joy for me to take a small group from my parish and to join in the larger group from Leeds. Golden sunlight bathed our journey down and the day of the pilgrimage also.

Our Lady welcomed the pilgrims in her little Slipper Chapel and we walked to the village for Adoration and prayers of reparation in the newly built church.
Now, as before, what was an ordinary day for the world, was a special day for the Church and this ancient village saw a sizeable group of Catholics dedicating the whole day to the Blessed Mother. The new Catholic Church in Walsingham village was dedicated on the same day as the pilgrimage, and its modern studio-styled vaulting witnessed this act of reparation for abortion in the UK immediately following its consecration by the local Bishop. Prayers for Life on its first day as a new church - many more will follow.
Walsingham is England's Nazareth and, in consequence, a Shrine to the Holy Family; a powerful place in which to ask God to repair the damage done to humanity and the Church by abortion.

Thursday 22 March 2007

E-pilgrimage on suffering

The redemptive dimension of suffering is the subject of this month's WYD e-pilgrimage. This is always a question which comes up when talking to people, and especially young people. We really need to meditate the place of suffering in God's plan of salvation if we are to be able to answer the deep questions about human existence which people have.

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Friends with Christ London Retreat

Advance notice of a third Friends with Christ Retreat this spring. For young men, 18 - 25, at the Holy Ghost Parish, Balham, south London, Friday 27th - Sunday 29th April, lead by Fr Richard. The retreat begins on Friday at 6.00pm and finishes after lunch on Sunday. Donation only. The focus of this new evangelisation retreat is the common vocation to friendship with Christ. Contact Fr Richard to book a place.

Just for fun - find out if you're in the right religion

Usually these filling in questionnaires which tell you what you are annoy me, but this is quite well constructed as they go. It's called belief-o-matic. I'm very pleased that it identified me as either Catholic or Orthodox. Though rather perturbed that, if I am neither of those, the next choice is Seventh Day Adventist?!?!

Deploying the Gospel

Another grace-filled reunion: Catherine (ex Youth2000 Mission Team), her first visit to Our Lady Mother of Grace House, Niamh and Lanie (ex Youth2000 Formation Courses), spent part of yesterday in Huddersfield. Catherine (seated), having qualified, is now working as a nurse in Leeds. Niamh will graduate in medical studies this summer. Both, like so many others, are committed to expressing the Gospel of Life in the professional world of medicine. It is a great wonder to see God placing his agents in the field, and to see such joy in their lives. Our reunion too was an expression of the extraordianry gift of friendship with Christ.

Sacramentum Caritatis I

I've held back from jumping in and commenting on Sacramentum Caritatis - the Pope's Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist. There are no doubt many things which we could bring out from the document, but I think that it's most appropriate for our blog to underline one thing before all others, and that is how Pope Benedict really underlines that the Eucharist is the foundation of our friendship with Christ.

Right at the beginning of the document, the Pope says that the Eucharist makes present Christ who "laid down his life for his friends". The Eucharist is not an impersonal presence of Christ. It is the person of Jesus Christ, whose motivation in dying for us was in order to show himself as our friend, and to bring us from being mere servants, to enjoying a true friendship with him. The Eucharist is not the dead presence of Christ. It is the dynamic loving presence of Christ made present for us. The dynamism is such that the Eucharistic presence is an active loving presence of Christ who is loving us from the Eucharist. We experience this love in our lives when we receive Christ sacramentally, or when we bow in adoration of his Eucharistic presence.

This friendship with Christ, which is caused by the Eucharistic presence, is a friendship which has the purpose not only of building us up in faith, but of spurring us on to mission. Look at number 84 of the document:

In my homily at the eucharistic celebration solemnly inaugurating my Petrine ministry, I said that "there is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with him." These words are all the more significant if we think of the mystery of the Eucharist. The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God's love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him. The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church's life, but also of her mission: "an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church." We too must be able to tell our brothers and sisters with conviction: "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (1 Jn 1:3). Truly, nothing is more beautiful than to know Christ and to make him known to others. The institution of the Eucharist, for that matter, anticipates the very heart of Jesus' mission: he is the one sent by the Father for the redemption of the world (cf. Jn 3:16-17; Rom 8:32). At the Last Supper, Jesus entrusts to his disciples the sacrament which makes present his self-sacrifice for the salvation of us all, in obedience to the Father's will. We cannot approach the eucharistic table without being drawn into the mission which, beginning in the very heart of God, is meant to reach all people. Missionary outreach is thus an essential part of the eucharistic form of the Christian life.

The friendship with Christ which we know more deeply in the Eucharist brings us to bear witness to our friendship with Christ. Mission or evangelisation isn't about telling others about some message that we've heard. It is about telling others of our friendship with Christ, and drawing others into that friendship too. It is about drawing others to a person - the divine person, Jesus Christ - not about simply propagating a message, however convincing.

More to follow on the document, as I digest it...

Communion of Saints

No I've not disappeared. Days have gone by without posting anything, but it's a mix of not having inspiration to write and being especially busy at the moment.

Just during the last couple of weeks, one thing which has impressed itself upon me is living in the communion of saints. I often look to certain saints for intercession, but it's only in looking back that one can often see the effect of trusting oneself to their intercession. I'd just like to bear witness to the particularly powerful effects that I have seen in the past few months of the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St John Mary Vianney.

When I was in Guadalupe last August, I had the opportunity to spend about an hour in prayer before the image of Our Lady. I went through a whole lot of things in my mind - doing the talking - but it was in listening that I heard like a voice speak to me in my head "Go to confession". And the more I prayed, the more I heard it. Since then I've made sure that confession isn't a hit and miss affair, but a regular and frequent element of the spiritual life and this has borne huge fruit and strength.

St John Mary Vianney has been particularly influential on me too. You only have to read the posts we've already put on here about the SJMV to know that. I attribute to the intercession of the Curé of Ars my being here at the University as chaplain, as the offer to come here came just a week after making an act of abandonment to the divine will at Ars. When I was in Ars with Fr Richard recently I had the inspiration also to open my flat and the adjoining flat up and to use the space to bring together a discernment community. I am hoping that we may have two or three young men here next year living with me at Newman House, with daily prayer and a regular life together as a support for discerning God's will. Please pray for this initiative.

Monday 19 March 2007

Learning to love each other

Friendship with Christ, as B16 teaches in his message for World Youth Day this year, is a "demanding apprenticeship". That is because it has its foundation in God's original plan, rather than in my plan or your plan.
It was very lovely to welcome Paul and Hermione to Our Lady Mother of Grace House again this past weekend. They are already "old friends" of this house, and our time together was punctuated with prayer, conversation, walking in the hills and unctious food. We were graced also by a visit from Bro Thomas CFR on Saturday afternoon who brought the light and warmth of his Community to our time together.
It is a special grace for me to welcome young people who are beginning the journey of learning to love each other as a couple. We know that this is one of the most important ways in which young people concretely take up the task of building "brick by brick" the Civilisation of Love.
The journey of love, B16 reminds us, is one in which we are called to "trust in a love that is true, faithful and strong; a love that generates peace and joy; a love that binds people together and allows them to feel free in respect for one another."
There is certainly a great sense of joy between Paul and Hermione, and we ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to be their light and their guide now.

Thursday 15 March 2007

Phos Hilarion

Have you heard of the "Lucenarium"? I can't tell you a great deal about it, but the Lucenarium is a Vigil of Light which is kept on the vigil of Sundays and great Feasts. The word refers to the ceremony of lighting candles while singing the ancient hymn "Phos Hilarion" (Joyful Light).
I first came across it during a visit to the Beatutudes Community in Mortain, Normandy, during 2001. It was celebrated there as a longer and very festive form of the first Vespers of Sunday. I took this up in my last parish in Harrogate and celebrated a Lucenarium there for about 18 months starting in Autumn 2001. During that time I remember looking forward to Saturday evenings and the worship of Christ in the Lucenarium - I always exposed the Blessed Sacrament. I offered these vigils in praise of Christ and for the evangelisation of young people. Each Saturday's vigil would last about one hour and twenty minutes. The consequence of 18 months of praising Christ every Saturday evening was extraordinary: evangelising events for young people took off in my church, in my presbytery and in me, without my planning them. It was a time of great grace.

Well, I going to start celebrating a Lucenarium again on Saturday evenings, and this time I don't intend to stop. I have been prompted to do so by unexpectedly coming across the "Service sheet" I used to use and because of an unexpected conversation with Fr Julian in which we spoke of the Lucenarium. I shall pray with the same intentions as before.

In the future I could see the Lucenarium being celebrated widely on Saturday evenings followed by a Mass on Sunday mornings. If you have the joy of celebrating the Liturgy of Hours you will find a version of the Lucenarium at the back - "Canticles and Gospel Readings for Vigils of Sundays and Feasts".

Here is a translation of the ancient "Phos Hilarion" hymn (which we used at a priest's retreat at Ars):

O Radiant Light, eternal joy of the
Holy and Blessed Jesus
Worthy are You at all times to be
praised by the song of all the Saints,
Son of God, who gave us life, let
the world sing forth your praise.

Monday 12 March 2007

Bad events & Moral evil

It was a great joy to welcome Fr Richard to the University chaplaincy last night to preach the homily at the evening Mass. He highlighted the difference in yesterday's Gospel reading between bad events - comparing the September 11th destruction of the twin towers to the bad events described by Jesus in the Gospel - which do not destroy human solidarity, and moral evil, which is truly destructive of all that is human.

The Holy Father also spoke on this Gospel in his Angelus address. He said that it indicated that we need constant conversion:

This is, therefore, the point to which Jesus wished to lead those who were listening to him: the need for conversion. He does not present it in moralistic, but rather in realistic terms, as the only appropriate response to events that put human certainties in crisis. In the face of certain misfortunes, he advises, it is no good to blame the victims. What is truly wise, rather, consists in allowing oneself to be questioned by the precariousness of existence and to adopt an attitude of responsibility: to do penance and improve our lives...In short, conversion overcomes evil at its root, which is sin, though it cannot always avoid its consequences.

Friday 9 March 2007

Describing the New Evangelisation

During the Jubilee Year, the then Cardinal Ratzinger gave a superb address to Catechists, in which he described the nature of the New Evangelisation. Lest this great discourse be forgotten by our readers, I have placed a PDF file of this discourse on the Community of Grace website. You kind find it by visiting the "Holy Father" page on the site.
This teaching comes from the keen vision of one who the Holy Spirit was using very powerfully. And let us recall, that during the last part of the Twentieth Century, the two pricipal forerunners, architects, of the New Evangelisation were precisely John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. And how wonderful that the Holy Spirit should have chosen Cardinal Ratzinger to lead the Church after John Paul II. We should follow his lead with great diligence.

Thursday 8 March 2007

Condom culture

Yesterday the UK Government published the Sexual Orientations Regulations; these will become law on 7th April 2007. From that time it will be illicit for any (religious) person to prejudice the provision of goods, services, premises, education and public functions to homosexual persons. It is yet to be seen what repercussions there will be.

Knowing that there will surely be repercussions for people of good faith puts us in mind of the Oath which was required of all persons in public office after the promulgation of the Act of Supremacy of 1534, which declared Henry VIII to be Head of the Church in England. On this matter both Cardinal John Fisher and Thomas More defaulted and were executed for High Treason.

In today's Mass the Parable of Dives and Lazarus is read. Christ rejects the rich man for his lack of compassion. Although he takes the side of the poor man he nevertheless makes reference to the poor man's desire for wealth. Christ, on the other hand, is the one who gave up all wealth in order to become poor so that he might lead us to true riches - the riches of His Father's love and mercy which are providentially given to all who hope and trust in the presence and the power of God. Christ's self-emptying was evident from the moment of his conception, but it was revealed in his utter dejection on the Cross. His self-effacing words in the parable of Dives and Lazarus challenge us to move beyond our own self-reliance and be open to the blessing of God.

Condom culture, since it's inception in the 1960s, has lead us to today's paganism. Whenever a condom is used, a person is really saying "I cannot rely on God to bless me, so I will try to bless myself." ("Trying to bless yourself" is a very good definition of paganism.) This culture is so widespread that we are just about all infected to some degree. We do not always trust that God will bless us, so we make a particular deal, we give ourselves a particular treat or we "get two for the price of one" and the Providential Love of God for us goes unrecognised.

The denial of difference bewteen the two sexes, which lies at the heart of homosexual culture, is the most agressive form that paganism takes today. If we cannot recognise the purpose for our being male and female, then we have already rejected the difference which exists between us and God. Condom culture has made homosexuality, which is a real phenomenon that should be considered with great care, into a totem of paganism.

My point is that Christ is calling us very loudly to live in the hope and the reality of God's blessings for all human lives. Will we take that "oath" or will we (be forced to) take a pagan oath of which the condom is the forerunner.

Vatican Lent Website

I've always found the Vatican website very useful, but always a little staid, just giving documentation, but in a rather raw form, and not easily digestible by passing visitors. I'm very happy to see that the Vatican website has now produced its own pastoral section for Lent. It has lots of papal teaching, but very little else yet, but at least it is trying to present it in a form that is useful for the faithful looking to be fed.

Tuesday 6 March 2007

Gestures of mercy

This year, following the presedent of the past two years, we are holding the Stations of Cross weekly in the streets. Where I live in Huddersfield the culture of death is very strong: gangs, guns, drugs, alcohol and serial sex - I didn't feel that, as a parish, we should huddle all of our prayer and spirituality inside the church. It is too late in the day for that. Our culture needs to see signs of grace and mercy. If we do not give those gestures, who will?

In fact, it is very easy and fitting to make the Stations in the street. As you can see, we have an 8ft cross which we carry. We move along the pavement stopping every 20 yards or so and very briefly reflect and pray the Stations. It takes not much more than 25 minutes to make the 14 Stations, and many people see us. Occasionally a car blasts its horn at us, but mostly we see people stopping and taking in what they see - and indeed, all who see us know what we are doing. Sometimes children, or even people out walking their dogs will come and join us. What we are doing might seem unusual to some, but in fact, it is necessary. Christ needs to be seen on the streets more than ever. The culture of death sets itself up as a wall against grace and it seems impregnable - but the mercy of God is the most powerful force in the Universe.

At present we're making the Stations in Sheepridge, Huddersfield on Saturdays at 12 noon. In you are in the vicinity come and join us. (There is a Holy Hour in Church beforehand at 11.00am.)

Perhaps you could initiate outdoor Stations in your neighbourhood.

The Gospels day by day

On our University Chaplaincy blog for Lent, I'm doing a daily reflection on the Gospel reading for the day. If anyone is interested, they can find it at this page

Sunday 4 March 2007

A late e-pilgrimage for February

The e-pilgrimage for February arrived on the World Youth Day website rather late, but it's well worth looking at. There is a part of Pope John Paul II's great letter Dilecti Amici as well as testimony, life of a saint, prayer ideas. You can find the e-pilgrimage stuff here.

Here he is

Here is Declan with his new born son Benedict. Marie is recovering well after the birth. They are both very happy new parents. Declan lived and worked with me in my last parish for thirteen months, evangelising young people. He's doing the same now in Balham. He is a great young apostle, and I am very proud of him.

Saturday 3 March 2007

Into the brotherhood

Fr Julian and myself arrived at Ars last Sunday night and walked up the pathway to the front door of the seminary where we were really well received by those who were in the entrance lounge: priests, seminarians and lay members of the Society of John Vianney. We were immediately offered supper, but we had already taken the opportunity of eating in Villefranche on our way from Lyon airport, and we were lead to our rooms where the grace and the tranquility of the house again took us in.

In the morning we were greeted by the wonderfully pastoral view of Ars from the seminary. In the early, still, quiet hours, the seminary chapel was already a haven of prayer for a host of priests who had arrived for the Colloquium.

The theme of the Colloquium was the Holiness of the Diocesan Priest. It is Christ himself who communicates his holiness to the lives of those He has chosen to be priests. Christ gives us the example of how to serve, so that we can transmit His risen life.

The priest is the minister of the new humanity to the old; the one who uniquely transforms the human heart, by crucifying the old humanity and giving new life in its place.

The presence of the St John Vianney was expressed throughout the congress: he was a genuine friend of God who could not live without God's love. Indeed, he was fascinated by God's love. He entered into the logic of self-gift, which is the logic of holiness. He was totally a priest.

We heard how the Rite of Priestly ordination - the way in which the Church has always made priests - reveals at the same time the way in which Christ himself chooses and makes a priest; one who can live with the same attitude and heart as the Eternal Son.

The Eucharist, above all, expresses Christ's love for the Church, a love which finds its inclination in the heart of a priest. Priests have a special companionship with Christ and with His praying heart. Christ advances in the life of a priest precisely through his prayerfulness. This is shown not just in the Mass, but in the Liturgy of Hours by which priests also express their charity for humanity.

During the two and a half days of the Colloquium we we part of a priestly movement whose desire was that each one should live in the plan which God has for him. We were mainly priests, many of them young, but we were joined by many seminarians of the International seminary whose house was hosting our gathering.

There was a tangible sense of the priesthood, of its greatness and of its unique place in God's plan of Salvation. So too, we were absolutely aware of how Christ desires to act in the life of His priest, and of how each priest is called to make himself available to the whole person of Christ, whose Mystery we are to hold and to communicate to many. Being set apart for the work of God has never before been so wonderfully expressed to me (and all of it in French!) Every priest is a doorway to Christ and the Life of Grace. I live in the world as a man and as a priest, and because of that I am forever a gentle subject of the Kingdom which leads me first to seek the Will of the Father and to be a channel of the charity of Jesus Christ.

We definitely want to return to Ars. Come with us next time, for a genuine renewal of the Diocesan Priesthood is happening here.

Practical advice from the Holy Father for priests

On ZENIT yesterday there was a second transcription of a Q & A that the Holy Father recently had with a group of seminarians. This answer particularly stood out to me because it basically echoes the aims of the Société Jean-Marie Vianney, which I wrote about earlier.

Marco Ceccarelli: Diocese of Rome, (Deacon): Your Holiness, in the coming months my companions and I will be ordained priests. We will move from a well-regulated seminary life to the broader context of parish life. What advice can you give us to enable us to adjust as well as possible at the beginning of our priestly ministry?

Benedict XVI: Well, here at the seminary you do have a very good routine. I would say as the first point that it is also important in the life of pastors of the Church, in the daily life of the priest, to preserve as far as possible a certain order. You should never skip Mass -- a day without the Eucharist is incomplete -- and thus already at the seminary we grow up with this daily liturgy. It seems to me very important that we feel the need to be with the Lord in the Eucharist, not as a professional obligation but truly as an interiorly-felt duty, so that the Eucharist should never be missed.

Another important point is to make time for the Liturgy of the Hours and therefore, for this inner freedom: with all the burdens that exist, it frees us and helps us to be more open, to be deeply in touch with the Lord.
Of course, we must do all that is required by pastoral life, by the life of a parochial vicar or of a parish priest or by another priestly office. However, I would say, never forget these fixed points, the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, so that you have a certain order in the daily routine. As I said at the outset, we learned not to have to plan the timetable ever anew; "Serva ordinem et ordo servabit te". These are true words.

Next, it is important not to neglect communion with other priests, with one's companions on the way, and not to lose one's personal contact with the Word of God, meditation. How should this be done? I have a fairly simple recipe for it: combine the preparation of the Sunday homily with personal meditation to ensure that these words are not only spoken to others but are really words said by the Lord to me myself, and developed in a personal conversation with the Lord.
For this to be possible, my advice is to begin early on Monday, for if one begins on Saturday it is too late, the preparation is hurried and perhaps inspiration is lacking, for one has other things on one's mind. Therefore, I would say, already on Monday, simply read the Readings for the coming Sunday which perhaps seem very difficult: a little like those rocks at Massah and Meribah, where Moses said: "But how can water come from these rocks?". Then stop thinking about these Readings and allow the heart to digest them. Words are processed in the unconscious, and return a little more every day. Obviously, books should also be consulted, as far as possible. And with this interior process, day by day, one sees that a response gradually develops. These words gradually unfold, they become words for me. And since I am a contemporary, they also become words for others. I can then begin to express what I perhaps see in my own theological language in the language of others; the fundamental thought, however, remains the same for others and for myself. Thus, it is possible to have a lasting and silent encounter with the Word that does not demand a lot of time, which perhaps we do not have. But save a little time: only in this way does a Sunday homily mature for others, but my own heart is also touched by the Lord's Word. I am also in touch with a situation when perhaps I have little time available.

I would not dare now to offer too much advice, because life in the large city of Rome is a little different to what I experienced 55 years ago in our Bavaria. But I think these things are essential: the Eucharist, the Office of Readings, prayer and a conversation every day, even a brief one, with the Lord on his words which I must proclaim. And never lose either your friendship with priests, listening to the voice of the living Church, or naturally, availability to the people entrusted to me, because from these very people, with their suffering, their faith experiences, their doubts and difficulties, we too can learn, seek and find God, find our Lord Jesus Christ.

Priests' Conference in Ars

Well we've both been back two days from Ars, but I think there are so many experiences that we've had there that it's difficult to know where to begin.

The Conference - or Colloquium to give it its proper name - had as its subject 'The Diocesan Priesthood: What sort of holiness?' The Conference itself consisted of 14 different papers on various dimensions of the theme - Biblical, Theological, Liturgical, Spiritual, Pastoral.

The Conference began with a major talk given by Cardinal Albert Vanhoye. I remember reading his book 'Priests of the Old Testament, Priest of the New Testament' in seminary - well I remember reading it, but the content is a bit rusty in my memory. He gave a talk on the Biblical dimension of the question of holiness of the priest. He went straight to the heart of the matter, saying that there is no direct reference to the ministers of the Church being priests in the New Testament, but that, because of their intimate consecration to Christ, they share in the priesthood of Christ as described in the letter to the Hebrews. This is a priesthood which is different from that of the Old Testament, where the priest is consecrated because he is separated from the people. The priesthood of Christ is such that he comes close to, and shares in the very nature of the people. The Cardinal concluded that, if we want a true understanding of the holiness of the priest, then we have to look to the image of Christ the High Priest, as presented foremost in the letter to the Hebrews. This indicates a priesthood which is not distant or removed from mankind, but sharing fully in the human reality - that doesn't mean conforming to a particular way of living, but to live fully in the culture.

Another speaker on the first day of the Conference, Fr Philippe Vallin, echoed this understanding of how the priest relates to the holiness of Christ and to the culture by referring to priesthood as 'the ministry of the New Man in the house of the Old Man'. In other words, being the New Adam - Christ - while living in the context of the Old Adam - the world. This has many different ways of being incarnate. Unlike religious life, Diocesan priesthood does not have a specific charism. Rather the Diocesan priest is open to all charisms, integrating the triple munera (to teach, to sanctify and to govern) in pastoral charity, which has as its foundation, openness to the person of Christ.

Being in Ars, it is obvious that there had to be a talk on how the Curé of Ars incarnates this figure of holiness. For many, the image of the Curé is rather remote, considering his holiness and the form of his ministry. And yet, St John Mary Vianney embodies 'pastoral charity' in a particularly radical form, and is an example (as well as intercessor) for priests. Fr Jean-Philippe Nault spoke about three aspects of the Curé's holiness. The first of these is that he shared the heart of the poor. This really sums up the way in which the Curé was personally holy: his own poverty gave him a true humility which was open to union with God. Poverty is what made him a friend with God, incarnating the mercy of God for others, and which became a personal strength for him in adversity. Secondly, the Curé was a great pastor, who gave of himself entirely, symbolised by his many hours spent reconciling sinners with God and the Church. As Pope John Paul II said of him, "He was a martyr of the confessional". The Curé was, in other words, a 'total priest' - everything about him spoke of the priesthood of Christ. Thirdly, the Curé lived the communion of saints. This is important for the holiness of all of us - to live in the communion of saints, recognising that we are not Christians alone, but in company with saints living and departed.

The clearest talk of the whole conference was given by the Rector of the SJMV seminary in Ars, Fr Sylvain Battaille. He spoke on the structure of the liturgy of ordination and the way in which it reveals the theology of Ordination to the priesthood. He showed how each of the parts of the Ordination Rite represent stages in the call and consecration of the Apostles. It was a tremendous overview of the Rite of Ordination, and something I wish I'd had when I was in seminary.

A very interesting talk was given by Fr Matthieu Rougé on the Eucharist and Love of the Church in the life of the priest. He set the celebration of the Eucharist in the framework of the triple munera (to teach, to sanctify, to govern), showing that there is an intimate relationship between all three of these functions. There can be no Eucharist without the Word - the Liturgy of the Word is not just a message from Christ, but is giving Christ himself to his People. This is why it must be presided over by the priest, and why it necessarily precedes the celebration of the Eucharist. The Word proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word is quasi(sort of) sacramental. Teaching and sanctifying give rise to the priest's role of presiding over a portion of the faithful. The priest, in the Mass, gathers all the People into the Heart of Christ: it is about drawing people into communion. This is then the role of the priest outside the Mass when he is leading his people. Finally, Fr Rougé concluded that the priest has a threefold way of drawing people into sanctification: fraternally, paternally and spousally. He is a brother to all the faithful, based on baptism. We are placed in a fraternity by Christ, and we as priests do not lose that basic baptismal sanctification. But the priest is also 'father'. There can be no brothers if there is no father. The priest represents Christ, who is the 'paterfamilias' - the head of the household of the Church. The priest also has a spousal relationship with the Church. Just as Christ is bridegroom of the Church, his bride, so the priest is drawn into that very same relationship. That demands love and total self-giving, as well as fidelity.

Developing the theme of the holiness of the priest in the exercise of the three functions of teaching, sanctifying and governing the People of God, Fr Jean-Pierre Battut showed how there is an objective holiness to the priesthood. The priest is holy - that's a gift from God. It comes to the priest through his consecration in Ordination. Nobody can take it away, not even the priest himself. But the priest is human, and needs to grow in subjective holiness. And so, although we realise that sacraments are valid when celebrated by a priest who is not committed to growth in holiness, the People are certainly helped by a priest who lives in the search for holiness. The Curé again is an example of this. His personal holiness drew people to conversion. His sacraments were no more valid than anyone else's. But it was his personal holiness which was a draw to the sacraments for those who flocked to Ars.

The Moderator of the SJMV, Fr Philippe Caratgé gave a talk on prayer and the holiness of the Diocesan priest. He said that prayer was necessary for the priest so that he might meditate on the Word which he has to proclaim, find real communion with the Church, and find Christ in the poor. The first stage of knowing Christ is to be known by Him. Meditation on the Word of God is truly a lifelong task of the priest. For the priest the Eucharist is the source of his living vocation, and so a truly prayerful celebration of the Mass together with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament are indispensable for the priest. Finally, it is prayer that leads us to recognise the needs of others. The priest never prays just for himself. He has the duty to pray for the whole Church, and especially those in need. This prayer leads him to recognise the needs of others, and to have the grace to serve them in their needs.

It was a great blessing to have Mgr Guimaraes from the Congregation for the Clergy at the Conference. He spoke about the demands of the minstry and holiness. After a consideration of scenes from the life of the Curé of Ars, he spoke of the priesthood as the daily exercise of the gift given in Ordination, of acting in the person of Christ for his Church. Although the priesthood is a gift which has been given, and lived, for centuries, it is still a contemporary gift, and it will become more contemporary the more we are disposed to put into practice in the realities of life the grace received in ordination. There is no room for mediocrity. Activism (lots of activity and no prayer) is also no answer. The priesthood today - more than ever - demands the holiness of a life completely given over and consecrated. Mgr Guimaraes then made a great link to the teaching of the Holy Father, who underlines the private prayer of the priest before receiving Holy Communion: "never let me be separated from you." Christ calls us his 'friends' - if we remain faithful to Him, we will never be parted from Him.

Finally (phew!), the Bishop of Belley-Ars, Mgr Guy-Marie Bagnard, gave a final talk summing up how holiness is the call of the life dedicated to God in the Sacrament of Holy Order. He mentioned the example of Fr Max Thurian, the Taizé brother who was Protestant, but became Catholic and was ordained as a priest. He said he recognised how Protestantism has robbed the triple munera of the role of sanctification. Protestantism does not see ministry as a sacrament, but as a commission or blessing in order to preach the Word and to direct the community. But these functions end out being just functions, because they are robbed of their Heart - which is the task of sanctification through the sacraments. For Catholics, therefore, the true identity of the priest as the man consecrated to the mediatory priesthood of Christ (although all the baptised share in the priesthood of Christ, only the ordained priest shares in his priesthood of mediation) is paramount for the progress of the Church in holiness. For the priest, it means there is the task of personal sanctification.

Well that was rather exhausting. Not as exhausting as listening to these hours of talks in French however. But it was certainly worth the experience. I may post again on the Conference, about my personal experience of it, but I thought I'd do this task of summarising the talks first.

Friday 2 March 2007

Year of St Paul?

On ZENIT yesterday:
Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the Basilicia of St. Paul Outside the Walls, said this at a press conference Wednesday. In the meeting the cardinal presented the archaeological research which made it possible to rediscover what is traditionally accepted as St. Paul's sarcophagus under the basilica's main altar.

Cardinal Lanza commented that the idea to dedicate the year 2008-2009, beginning and ending on June 29, the solemnity of St. Peter and Paul, is being considered. The year would also coincide with the second millennium of the Apostle Paul's birth.

The cardinal added that he has mentioned the idea to Benedict XVI, who received it favorably.

However, "no decision has been taken," he stated.
I think this is a great idea. What better springboard for New Evangelisation than a year consecrated to studying St Paul, and to invoking his prayer for radical and courageous Catholic Evangelisation today? When I was a student at University, I always thought St Paul was more for Evangelicals. After all, ever since Luther, St Paul's letters have been the mainstay of Protestant theology. But then when I was in seminary, I systematically read the letters of St Paul as lectio divina - and it opened up a most wonderful new perspective. When I read St Paul now I see how central the person of Christ is, such that we become Christ himself. On my Ordination card I quoted St Paul's letter to the Galatians: "I have been crucified with Christ. Now it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me..."(Gal 2.19-20). Also the figure of Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity, who based her spiritual life around the identification of the Christian as being 'the praise of God's glory'. Our whole life is to be a glorification of God. That is our sole purpose and vocation - to glorify God. Maybe we could write to the Holy Father and support this project for a year of St Paul?

Thursday 1 March 2007


We wish Declan and Marie great happiness: their baby boy, Benedict, was born yesterday.
May he be a great friend of Christ. I wonder who he was named after?