Thursday 28 June 2007

Another era ends

Our Lady Mother of Grace House is closing down this summer. This house, where I live, is no longer required in a reorganisation of the Church in Huddersfield which is taking place; I shall be moving to Leeds. Yet for almost three years this house has been a place of prayer, light and grace for many. These images will be a reminder to a lot of people of the many formation and evangelisation events that took place here since Autumn 2004.
The chapel, where so much Adoration and grace has flowed:
The large reception room which hosted many gatherings and many unctious meals:

The atrium-lit upstairs landing with its five bedrooms which have accomodated so many different mission teams:

The homely kitchen - much loved becuase of the conversations and meals which have occasioned so many apostolic events:

The screen in the "cinema of grace" which has been enjoyed by so many groups:

This house, which was in a seriously delapidated state when I moved in, was transformed, as you can see. It enabled me, Fr Julian and other agents of the New Evangelisation to offer so many formation and evangelisation initiatives for young people; the house has been the cause of so many blessings. Is there a possiblity of establishing a new, independent, house of prayer and evangelisation for young people? I would like to do just that - but I need a lot of help. First of all prayer, then people who are committed to such a venture, then financial help, for we would need a property and the means to resource it. So, I put a serious petition before you: can you help me to open a house of prayer and evangelisation for young people?

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Gap year

Alton Castle in Staffordshire is looking for a couple more gap year volunteers. See the website for more information. Contact Giovanna at the castle or Paul on 01538 703224.
See what you think, it's the best paid Gap Year opportunity: monthly wage, food and accomodation, working in a team, evangelising and living in a real castle.

Friday 22 June 2007

Cafod and the 'new' morality

Cafod states that it does not distribute condoms and that its programme partners may not use Cafod money for condoms. Yet, the project of western-based agencies is, as we know, to supply condoms to the third world. Cafod money may not be used for condoms, but Cafod money frees us other monies to be used for the supply, dirtibution and promotion of condoms in the third world.
Furthermore, Cafod teaches the "ABC" approach to combatting AIDS. This "third way" promotes first, abstinence, then fidelity, but if these fail, then "use a condom".

In order to defend the promotion of condoms, Cafod as a Catholic Charity, is constructing a 'new' ethics, based on "solid science and good community development practices [together] with established and evolving moral theology and Catholic social teaching." (cf Cafod's website - Feature: Positive thinking on HIV)
Cafod therefore states publicly that the teaching of Humanae Vitae regarding the intrinsic connection between the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marriage act "does not seem to apply" for people who are under threat from AIDS, and that their using contraceptives is in fact therapeutic. Moreover, Cafod states that all this is based soundly on Catholic teaching - even though Cafod "does not have a catechetical role with regard to sexual ethics."
The root of this 'new' morality which Cafod is constructing is the careful work done by Cafod's moral experts and advisors who have divorced sexual ethics from social ethics - they have separated the question of combatting AIDS with condoms from the arena of universal morality. In the question of condoms, Cafod is overtly making distinctions from the Teaching of the Church.
Now first of all, sexual and social morality cannot be separated from one another - they are essentially linked in the human person and in society. Secondly, the only possible therapeutic use of condoms would occur when the sexual act is not involved. Thirdly, a pastoral situation does not create a new morality or new moral principles. The AIDS situation certainly requires a pastoral approach - however difficult that may be to bring about and to teach.
Cafod has shown itself to have bought into the new secular morality which promotes promiscuity, infidelity and the culture of death. It is a contrived and false morality in which grace and virtue are disregarded. Fr Matthias Nsamba has said that "sending condoms to South Africa is like pouring petrol on the fire of the HIV epidemic." Can we not support those agencies - such as the "Christ the Healer Project" - which do not distribute condoms and which teach behaviour change?
The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technically and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. And this aid, proudly claiming to "know better", is itself what first turned the "third world" into what we mean today by that term. (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Chap 2)
Cafod is in urgent need of renewal; other charities, such as "Mary's Meals" seem to be in that process right now!

Thursday 21 June 2007

In the frootsteps of the martyrs

The annual meeting of the Valladolid Association took place this week; both Fr Julian and myself are members of this association since we both trained for the priesthood at the English College, Valladolid in Spain. The College was founded in 1589 during penal times and, as you may know, six of the students were named as Saints in 1970 among the 40 Martyrs; many others have been named as Blessed.
Our meeting took place in Droitwich in Worcestershire; the photo shows us - about sixty priests - celebrating Mass in the beautiful church of the Sacred Heart and St Richard in Droitwich. (My namesake was born in Droitwich and, in fact, we stayed in a Hotel which stands on the site of Droitwich Manor in which he was born.)
The fraternity which we share is tangible since, most of us having spent six years of our lives at the college, have a lot in common. But since there were so many martyrs from the college there is a poignancy to our priesthood. We were all ordained to serve the mission in this country; we know that it is with humility that we must proceed and we know that holiness is our greatest calling.
There is an Englishness to this group of priests which is almost unique - our outlook and our culture have been formed in a college whose inheritance is an awareness of how to build the Kingdom on English soil.

Saturday 16 June 2007

81 covers

This past week I have been on full thrabber with lots of stuff going on. But Thursday was a day of exceptional thrabber! Fr Julian and myself have done a lot of cooking together since 1998, but last Thursday saw the realisation of our greatest culinary project to date. We were called upon to cook the Birmingham University CathSoc Annual Dinner; and eighty one people sat down to eat a formal four-course meal.
In the past I have cooked for gatherings of up to about forty people - but cooking for eighty is hearty endeavour! We were at it all day.
My special thanks go to Dominic, the President of CathSoc who helped me throughout the day, and who hosted the Dinner with great style, to Miriam who undertook the preparation of unctious food with great dedication, to Tomas, Paul and Marek for the hard days work which you put in, and to David (who I have cooked with before) who laboured over the hot griddle in the final moments of the cooking.
The Dinner was a great achievement and I think that Fr Julian is very blessed to have such a great host of Catholic young people working with him. You worked with me magnificently, and the Natalie and the girls who decorated the dining room are to be commended highly.
This event is a sign of the New Evangelisation in Birmingham University - may you all go from strength to strength.

Cooking for young people is a great joy for me - you show such great appreciation and there was so much grace bouncing around.

Bread of Life part 3

The third and final part of the reflection by Fr Sylvester CFR
Bread of Life…Culture of Death :

We arrive at our present time with its own unique set of problems rooted, as we said, in secularism. Our starting point was the question of whether or not Eucharistic piety, especially in its most solemn form, the Feast of Corpus Christi, is relevant for us here and now. The answer is a resounding YES! This “yes” is echoed in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Mystici Corporis, canon 944 of the 1983 Cod of Canon law; John Paul the Great’s final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia and its follow-up document, Redemptionis Sacramentum, which was written in collaboration with the future Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger). All of these strongly promote expressions of Eucharistic piety, especially the solemn celebration of Corpus Christi, as an extension of the graces of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Perhaps even more persuasive is the number of conversions and vocations emerging out of Eucharistic movements such as Youth 2000 (essentially a “Forty Hours” devotion adapted for teens and young adults) and the transformation and renewal experienced in those parishes that have started perpetual adoration. Eucharistic Congresses have also been a source of renewal in the Church. The proof is in the pudding. These grassroots Eucharistic movements reverberate a clear and convincing “yes” that Eucharistic piety is not only relevant, but more necessary and, therefore, more powerful than ever.

History teaches us why Eucharistic piety remains an essential and vital force in the clash between Christ and contemporary culture. Jesus says, “I Am the Bread of Life.” Jesus was crucified 2000 years ago, and for 2000 years His Mystical Body, the Church, has been sharing in His passion and death. Yet, the Bread of Life is our sharing in the Resurrection of Jesus, “the Living Bread come down from heaven.” There can be no better weapon to destroy the culture of death than the Bread of Life where He Who trampled down death by death is alive, truly present and all-powerful. Indeed, Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and at the same time, He no longer calls us servants but friends. Like the Christians of old, we can find peace and strength with our Friend, Jesus, in quiet, prayerful adoration. Like the Christians of old, we cannot wait to be “tolerated” before we declare the universal kingship of Jesus publicly, for instance, through Eucharistic processions of the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Jesus was never tolerated, neither will His Church be, nor us as His members. Besides, if we are aiming for mere tolerance, then we are shooting at the wrong target. Our goal is much loftier and more sublime, the conversion of sinners, the salvation of souls. This can only be accomplished through prayer and Christian witness, both privately and in public. There is no other way, and the Way is a person, Jesus Christ, forever present and powerful in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the Bread of Life. God is alive. The godless culture of death is already destroyed. Let us not be afraid to stand victorious with Jesus in a Eucharistic culture, a culture of life-giving, sacrificial and ultimately Christian love.

Sunday 10 June 2007

Bread of Life part 2

The second part of the reflection by Fr Sylvester Mary Mann CFR:
Bread of Life…Culture of Death

Two essential aspects of Eucharistic piety grew in the centuries following the institution of the Feast of the precious Body and Blood of Jesus. First is the devotion to Jesus truly and substantially present in the Most Blessed Sacrament as a personal friend. Christians would kneel before our Eucharistic Lord pouring their hearts out in silent adoration and supplication. They found intimacy with Our Lord and so consolation and peace. The second is the “royal progress,” more commonly called a Eucharistic Procession. Christians modeled this form of celebration on the ceremonial of earthly kings and rulers who would visit the various localities of their dominions amid great pomp and circumstance. Accordingly, the Corpus Christi procession is a royal celebration of Jesus Christ, King of king and Lord of lords. Christ’s faithful, who often were at odds with their worldly rulers, would thus show their faith and allegiance to Christ the King enthroned under an ornate canopy in a beautifully gilded and jeweled monstrance. As Jesus was proudly processed down streets duly decorated, the faithful publicly witnessed to their hope in an eternal, celestial kingdom far greater than any earthly province or power—which brings us back to the question of relevance we began with. What does this mean for us today?

To answer our question, we must first understand the relevance of Eucharistic devotion in the lives of our ancestors whose pious example comes to us across the ages. We must first appreciate that Eucharistic piety grew as the Church experienced centuries of troubled times. Consider the severe tensions between the state and the Church that resulted from the Pope’s refusal to allow secular kings to name and invest new bishops. One must also acknowledge the not infrequent cases of clergy scandal. At the same time, Christianity was under attack from Islamic invaders which led to the crusades. Certain heretical groups such as the Cathari and the Waldensians denied that the Eucharist is really Jesus. Amidst such struggles in the 14th and 15th Centuries, Eucharistic devotion was an expression of the Church’s constant faith and confidence in Jesus’ Real Presence—that He indeed “remains with us” until the end of time.

The innovations of 16th Century Protestantism denied certain points of authentic Christian teaching as revealed by Jesus. This caused the Church to reiterate the sublime truths about the Blessed Sacrament and led to the practice of Eucharistic “Forty Hours” devotions. In fact, the great Saints of the counter-reformation all practiced and promoted such devotions. All Christ’s faithful found in the Eucharist the eternal font of grace and spiritual strength in those trying times.

The 17th and 18th Centuries were a time that great churches and shrines were built where the faithful could honour and adore our Eucharistic Lord. But the 19th Century was a time of severe persecution for Catholics in Spain and in France during the French Revolution. Eucharistic piety then took on a dimension of reparation. The most striking example of this was the erection of the majestic Sacred Heart Basilica high above Paris on Montmartre where there has been perpetual adoration since the 1870’s. Even the allied bombing of Paris did not interrupt the devout prayers of the faithful at the basilica! Who would dare question the relevance of Eucharistic devotion for those prayer warriors?

Friday 8 June 2007

Direct your prayers here ...

Right now Spirit in the City is taking place - the vanguard of the evangelisation thrust in London. Pray for an outpouring of grace upon those who are witnessing to Christ and those who are being witnessed to. More info here.

Bread of Life part 1

As we approach the great Feast of Corpus Christi I include a three-part reflection by Fr Sylvester Mary Mann CFR, of the Bradford Friary. Here is the first part:
Bread of Life…Culture of Death

We live in an ever increasingly secularized culture. Tolerance is now considered sacred; the sacred no longer tolerated. Ours is a culture of death because God Himself has been pronounced dead. In this cultural context, one may wonder if the faithful’s public celebration of the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, or more simply Corpus Christi, is relevant to the men and women of this age.

Does Eucharistic piety really make a difference? Are not such public spectacles outdated popular piety—yet another manifestation of a silly, unsophisticated, Catholic, medieval mind set which, like a bad and lingering hangover, just will not go away?

True enough, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ was born of medieval piety. Blessed Juliana of Cornillon (1192-1258), orphaned at age five and raised by the Augustinian nuns she later joined, experienced mystical revelations from Our Lord. In 1223, she told her spiritual director of a vision she had received twenty-five years earlier in 1208. It was of a full moon darkened in one spot. She was told that a great celebration in honour of the Body of Christ is missing from the liturgical calendar. Then, by Divine Providence, Blessed Juliana’s elderly spiritual director, Archdeacon Jacques Pantaleon, was unexpectedly elected pope – Pope Urban IV. In his short pontificate, Pope Urban IV established the Feast of Corpus Christi and employed Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P. to compose the liturgy for the feast. Today, Saint Thomas’ composition is considered to be the masterpiece of Catholic liturgy. Pope Urban’s successor, Pope Clement V, further mandated that the Feast be celebrated throughout the whole Church. The Franciscans helped promote Corpus Christi by being the first Order to stipulate its observance in their legislation.

Wednesday 6 June 2007

Have you seen ...

I have recently watched a South African film titled "Tsotsi" - a word which means "thug". This is a very well made film, based on a novel, which presents the contemporary drama of evil in the townships surrounding Johannesburg.

It presents the terrible struggle of a young black man for light. The film holds you between hope and despair until the very end ... I wont say what happens. The DVD of the film is now available for rental.

Although the problem of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa is absent from the film, it nevertheless expresses the brokenness of a society which bears the terrible consequences of Apartheid. It is a film which put me in mind of the "Christ the Healer Project" which works with the kind of young people we see in this film. It is a daring production because it reveals the deep scars in the black population of S.A. Our own culture in the UK is bordering on this, but I don't think that our struggle for light is quite as intense, nor our desire for Christ.

Monday 4 June 2007

Marriage's new heart

For married people, putting God first is both a blessing and a paradox. On the one hand it is God who gives us everything, on the other hand marriage is between two not three.
The human basis of marriage is the friendship which a man and a woman share; it is a unique kind of friendship because it involves the gift of one's life. So where does God fit into this? None of us have ever met two spouses who share their life with a third mysterious person!

Christian spouses mediate their own friendship with Christ to one another. A Christian man and a Christian woman have already entered into a friendship with Christ - it is this same friendship which they share with their spouse in marriage. Becoming one flesh for Christians means becoming one heart - a new heart. Indeed, this is the source and the goal of the spirituality of Christian marriage.

Speaking to the young people of Rome last April, Benedict XVI said:

"the Lord implants this new heart in us at Baptism, through faith. It is not a physical transplant, but perhaps we can make this comparison. After a transplant, the organism needs treatment, requires the necessary medicines to be able to live with the new heart, so that it becomes ones own heart and not the heart of another."

Such a process has happened with all of us who are baptised, and we are aware how God has "treated" us since then - in our renewed conversions, our awakenings, our prayer and the formation which we have received. In such a way have we progressed in friendship with Christ. For those who enter into the married vocation their hearts have already been formed for a life which is based on mediating my friendship with Christ with another person. This is how the Holy Father put it:

"Thus, by living in communion with Christ, with his Church, the new heart becomes "our own heart" and makes marriage possible. The exclusive love between a man and a woman, their life as a couple planned by the Creator, becomes possible, even if the atmosphere of our world makes it difficult to the point that it appears impossible. The Lord gives [to married people] a new heart and we must live with this new heart, using the appropriate therapies to ensure that it is really "our own". In this way we live with all that the Creator has given us and this creates a truly happy life."
The Holy Father is here addressing the new evangelisation of marriage and the family: it is the work of God, a work which we must attune our selves to. Our spiritual formation is essential, a formation which begins for young people, those preparing for marriage and for spouses by letting Christ take us by the hand and by growing in friendship with him. He alone has the key to the human heart.

Sunday 3 June 2007

Family - become what you are!

This weekend Fr Julian and myself lead the very first "FriendswithChrist for Families" event: a Day of prayer and reflection. Summer has begun, and as the Northern Catholic Conference got underway in Southport, over in eastern England we were leading a dozen or so families in what turned out to be a day of grace - with Christ at the centre we had so much to share.

Not all who took part were Catholics, but all us knew that our families are very special places which we can open up so that God can establish His Kingdom there.
On the eve of the event we had a Mass and a reflection on the Sacred Heart as the focus of Family life and, on the day itself we followed a straightfoward format. After greetings and introductions we prayed the Joyful mysteries together, this was followed by two talks - one for the adults and one for the young adults - our subject was spiritual warfare. Both groups had much to share together. Then we celebated Mass of Our Lady and had a magnificent shared lunch. In the afternoon the children were lead in an activity which introduced them to the area of spiritual warfare. This was followed by a second talk for both the adults and young adults on the theme of the New Evangelisation of the Family - again we all had much to share. And then we prayed again - this time in a lead Hour of prayer and reflection before the Blessed Sacrament. After the BBQ we made our farewells to one another.

What was especially important about the Day was that it had not been planned as an event, but rather that it had been asked for by families, and that they had likewise asked for particular themes to be focussed on during the day. Rather than us planning all sorts of events that may or may not be attractive and uselful to people, both Fr Julian and myself are very glad to be asked to lead events that are felt necessary by the participants. In this way we can try to respond to real needs and desires.

Our special thanks go to Alan and Anne and their family for hosting this Day in such a warm and grace-filled way. You have made the new evangelisation of the family not merely a priority but you have shown us that it is a task given us by God which is full of light and joy.