Sunday 29 August 2010

A radical work in progress

During the past fortnight I gave a series of two talks to a group in Sydney on the legacy of Pope John Paul II. The first talk was an overview of his pontificate, and the second an overview of his thirteen Encyclicals. While preparing for the talks I was moved by the sense that, at the time that John Paul II had been giving the most extraordinary message of life and salvation to a bewildered world, I at that time was not amongst those who were hearing this message, but remember all sorts of very poltry considerations which I had been concerned with during many of those years.

The group I was addressing in Sydney these past two weeks numbered about sixty people and many of them confessed to me afterwards that they too had never really heard John Paul II's teaching - a teaching which was delivered in the most public, clear and straightforward way, across the globe, during a Pontificate which lasted twenty six years.

Now, there will be many reasons why Catholics have not yet heard the message that John Paul II gave us, some admissible, others very concerning. However, it is also the case that the world, in large part, either has not heard his message, or hearing it, did not heed it. States, nations, societies and cultures, are caught up today in the spell of secularism.

Our cultures today have emerged from that short era of rebuilding which engaged most of the world after the unimaginable devastation of two world wars. During, and immediately after, the second war, there was a hope that the West would have been rebuilt upon the foundation of the Gospel. But, as we are all now aware, once the 1950s was underway the movement of secularism was embraced with great eagerness. That movement is now in such full speight that the clarity and illumination of John Paul II's teaching, which makes available such a transforming power for individuals, communities, nations and the whole planet, appears now like a tiny glowing ember on an ice-flow.

Well, now is not the time to 'drop the ball'. It may be the case that the mass media is in the hands of a tiny but dangerous minority who skillfully direct, from hidden boardrooms, the various currents of secularism; that politicians, many of whom are self-styled atheists, find themselves on the front faces of unstable glaciers; that Market forces, having been unleashed, are now unworthy mentors, but the day is young. Yes, it may also be the case that many have never picked up this ball, but the legacy of John Paul II is very much with us. So, we should pick it up, run with it and hand it on. If you have never enquired into his teaching, then enquire. If you have heard or read some of it, read it again. Open it up, break into it, break it down and make it more and more accesible. Apply it. Teach it. Witness to it. John Paul II was immensely powerful in life; his power is greater now. Turn to him, enquire of him and ask for his intercession:
O holy Trinity, we thank you for having given to the Church Pope John Paul II, and for having made him shine with your fatherly tenderness, the glory of the Cross of Christ and the splendor of the Spirit of love. He, trusting completely in your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, has show himself in the likeness of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has pointed out to us holiness as the path to reach eternal communion with you. Grant us, through his intercession, according to your will, the grace that we implore, in the hope that he will soon be numbered among your saints. Amen.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

The road to Walsingham

The twelfth Youth 2000 International Prayer Festival at Walsingham, a four-day evangelisation event, under canvas, will begin this evening at Walsingham. The ancient Shrine of Our Lady, England's Nazareth, in Norfolk, is the venue for this annual event. It is presently the largest Catholic youth event in the UK bringing together over a thousand young people from all over the British Isles. The focus of the entire event is Christ's Eucharistic presence. If I weren't in the Antipodes I would be there. The above photo was taken at the event in 2005 showing the great body of priests who regularly take part in the festival. (Both the deacons in this photo are now priests.) May God bless this year's festival and cause a new flourishing of the Christian life in many.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Discovering the Council as the vision for the New Evangelisation

The two great documents of the Council are Lumen Gentium, which addresses the question, what is the Church?, and Gaudium et Spes, which addresses the question, who is man? In Lumen Gentium, it is the Mission of the Redeemer which is extended through history - to announce Eternal Life to the whole world. In Gaudium et Spes, the way in which the Church can address humanity is presented. It is not that the Church has the answer to all problems, but that the Church knows where truth can be found. The Council offers to the world the wisdom about man revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
What is the world's view of the Church? First, the world believes that there is only an accidental collaboration between itself and the Church becuase the two have different goals. For the world, human work has no transcendental value and one's relationship with God takes place only in a private 'religious' ambit. Secondly, the world regards human development as the 'coming of the kingdom', and thinks that the Church should (keep quiet, or) put all its efforts into constructing the 'kingdom of man' on earth. The Church however, sees herself right at the heart of the world, but holds a radically different attitude. For the Church, all human actions will be fulfilled in Heaven, and the Kingdom of God is transcendent in history.
How does the Church see human development? By the acquisition of a way of living which is proper to man, in both temporal and spiritual dimensions. Human development does not happen automatically, but by the way in which we contribute to the betterment of this way of living. Not all development can be called good, but must be judged according to the truth about man.

Monday 23 August 2010

The great movement in the world today

The Church today senses that the Gospel has not reached modern humanity and the new structures of modern society. The Faith seems to have lost its vigour and what is needed is a new systhesis of faith and culture. The Gospel needs to enter into dialogue with culture in order to evangelise it. This is what the Second Vatican Council speaks of, laying out the broad brush strokes for the New Evangelisation.
The Council taught that dialogue between faith and culture takes place first of all in the hearts and minds of Christians, who are citizens of both the spiritual and temporal cities. But, this dialogue does not happen when Christians either do not understand the culture or do not have a sufficiently formed Christian faith. The problem today is that Western culture has been de-Christianised so much that Christians are not sufficiently evangelised themselves to be able to engage in real dialogue and to form a culture which is inspired by the Faith.
Nevertheless, the Mission of the Church is to all people, forming a communion which is a reflection of the perfect society that will exist in Heaven. The Redemption restores man's unity with God and therefore so too, the communion of the human race. Thus, catholicism declares that there is nothing in the world which is set outside the saving Mission of the Church.

Thursday 19 August 2010

An unexpected party

In 1989, the year after I was ordained, I received an invitation from the Lord Chamberlain at Buckingham Palace to attend her Majesty's Garden Party that July. For the occasion I borrowed a top hat and frock coat. The photo above was taken in the evening of that day in Feltham; sadly it is not a good photo, but it is the only photo that I have dressed in the said garb. It's not often you see a Catholic priest dressed like that, but I do have photos of my uncle who was a Jesuit walking on procession through the streets of Manchester and Preston in the 1950s wearing top hat and morning coat.

As for the Garden Party, it was tremendous; the Queen and Lady Diana were there. At one point I was quite close to the Queen, she looked my way and smiled. I doft my hat and bowed to her. She is exsquisite.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

16th July 1988

As soon as I was given a date for ordination to the Priesthood, I realised that the day was a feast of Our Lady, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I was very happy that I would be ordained on one of Our Lady's feasts. I was ordained priest in St Anne's Cathedral, Leeds, and this photo, taken a couple of days later shows something of the immense joy of the Priesthood which I was given. The photo was taken in the grounds of the Sacred Heart School in Kirkstall which I had attended as a child. But how much more marvellous it has been for me to have been brought close to, and conformed with, the Priestly Heart of the Redeemer. I am so glad that this photo was taken; it says so much about my identity and the identity of every priest.

Saturday 14 August 2010

11th April 1987

A freshly ordained deacon steps into the Castillian sunlight. This photo was taken moments after the diaconal ordination Mass at the English College, Valladolid. After nearly five years of priestly formation in the seminary, I was ordained deacon by Bishop Kevin O'Brien of Middlesborough, on 11th April 1987. Up to that time, this day was the happiest in my life. The old spanish vestments, which we borrowed from the Cathedral in Valladolid for the occasion, mirrored the wonder which I felt inside and, in some way, expressed the gift which Christ made of himself to me on that day.

Thursday 12 August 2010

A good step

At least, I hope this is a good step forward; a Catholic Radio Station for the Holy Father's visit to the UK in September. The Papal Visit Radio Station ( will be broadcasting from 14th to 20th September from 7am to midnight. A Catholic Radio station has long since been appropriate, indeed, I tried to inaugurate one in the late 90's, briefly establishing the "Catholic Broadcasting Network" through a wide range of contacts at home and abroad. Sadly, it didn't get off the ground.
The Holy Father's visit is an extraordinary grace and we should be open to the momentum which such a grace can create in the Church. And should pray earnestly that the Church will be ready for the visit and be ready to respond to the grace. A Catholic Radio Station broadcasting concurrently with the Visit is a tremendous opportunity. I do hope however, that this Station will not be another neo-pelagian project.
As an Internet Radio station it will miss some sectors of the population, sectors for whom Radio holds an important place: the elderly, drivers and prisoners. This is a reason why we could really benefit from Catholic Radio that has a territorial frequency. One step at a time ...

Wednesday 11 August 2010

En anglais

Just a quick post to point something out which happened about a year ago and which may be of interest to some readers. The St John Vianney Society added a page in English to its website; follow this link I am very pleased about this small development because I can now direct non-french-speaking enquirers to this page. I am very pleased too, that more people should know about this priestly movement at the heart of Europe, of which I am a member.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

What if ...

What if you learned that in the Church there was a group of people who were were looking, in a commissioned and dedicated way, at how the Gospel and culture can come together, and to develop a vision for the life of the Church today which is based upon that dynamic; would you not be pleased? Just such a thing is taking place right now under the direction of the Holy Father who is inaugurating the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.
So much then, for all those (Catholics) who say that it doesn't matter that people, and especially young people, have no idea who Christ is and who don't come to Mass, saying that these people will find their own route in life. And all those who say how good it is that so many, and especially so many young people, are unhindered by the Church and can give their time and energy to all sorts of social and environmental causes. Or those who applaud the new society; that instead of meeting and engaging with people in essential and apostolic ways, we can now text them and pubilcise ourselves to them on internet networks.

Is there a need for the Gospel to meet culture? Yes, there is. And it will only take place when Catholics accept this reality, and when the Gospel is presented to culture in an audible way.

How wonderful then, that the Holy Father is creating a Council to help engender and enable the Church's primary focus and mission. We should support with prayer, Archbishop Fisichella (pictured) and all those who will work with him, that the gentle, yet life or death, message of the Gospel might be the overriding message in the world today.