Saturday 30 April 2011

Discovering JPII as a young priest

So, it was five years after my priestly ordination that I was awoken to the greatness of JPII. Having been introduced to the Theology of the Body in 1993 I set about getting hold of copies of all the various Letters and Encyclicals he had written. Between 1994 and 1996, wherever I encountered a Catholic bookshop I would buy copies of those Letters I did not yet have, and I gradually put together a complete collection of all his teaching documents up to that time. And I remember setting about reading each one as I acquired it, making notes in the margins and re-reading it as I was so hungry to absorb its content. My Sunday sermons too began to be formed by JPII's teachings.

Indeed looking back, what was taking place in me was that I was discovering the whole Gospel anew through JPII. His witness to the Gospel was tangible. He was living the doctrine that he was teaching. And the Gospel he lived and taught was a Gospel which embraced the whole of humanity; that is to say, he witnessed to the Gospel is a fully human way, embracing the feelings, human affectivity, hopes, fears and sinfulness. Just about the whole world saw JPII take humanity to himself. No longer was Christianity a disembodied or cerebral spirituality. No, JPII showed me that is was safe to be both Christian and human, indeed, to be Christian is to be fully human.

Regarding the Priesthood itself, JPII gave huge encouragement to priests and renewed our confidence, but the special grace that I received from him was to appreciate how I was called to make my life over to Christ. That I no longer needed to see my life as a priest in self-important ways or evaluate myself according to human standards, but much less self-consciously to simply dispose my whole life a seed-bed for God to use.

He who stands at the forefront of the new era

If it isn't evident already, then tomorrow's Beatification will make it even clearer, what an enormous gift from God is the life and witness of Pope John Paul II.

His Pontificate accompanied me for over half my life and I know that his influence in my life is very significant. My first memories of him go back to my student years and to the TV news reports of his first apostolic visits abroad. I remember that what fascinated us all were the impromtu conversations he held with young people who had gathered, at night, outside the place when he was spending the night. He would come to the window or porch and speak with the young people, and it was often simply a question of them wishing one another a good night's sleep.

I was a student representative at the Coventry Airport Mass on Pentecost Sunday 1982 during his visit to the UK. We were totally thrilled by his presence in the country and were simply filled with wonder the the Pope had, at last, come to England.

During my seminary years in Spain, apart from the Rector's own delight in and devotion to JPII ( he took us to Rome to see the Pope in my first year; we also participated in JPII's 1982 visit to Spain, taking part in the Mass at Toledo), the Holy Father rather dwindled into the background as no one else, involved with our studies, paid much attention to him. Looking back I can see that a similar attitude was taking hold in the UK, and it is significant that no video record of JPII's historic 1982 visit was made as a souvenir.

By the time I was ordained priest in 1988 I was still totally unversed in JPII's teaching, and it was not until I was introduced to the Theology of the Body by another priest in 1993 that I was awoken to the nature and importance of what this Pope was about.


Friday 29 April 2011

Hope in the heart of Soho

Can I also alert readers to Fr Tim's recent post (The Hermeneutic of Continuity) about St Patrick's Parish, Soho, London. This excellent post describes what is taking place in that extraordinary parish. This post will be of interest to any who are given over to evangelisation or who are interested in St Patrick's Evangelisation School which is based there. I have been involved with the School in the past and know the Parish Priest, Fr Sherbrooke; may God continue to bless this work of grace.

An extinguished site

Apologies for not having posted for some weeks; yes, the past few weeks have been busy, but I have been working away from the seminary and have not had the necessary internet contact.

I wanted to alert you to the fact that my website,, has been deleted from cyberspace. The site was hosted on the Diocese of Leeds website, but I have received no communication regarding the site's removal. The site was, in any case, somewhat dormant and was rarely visited. I shall look to the re-locate some of the site's content in another context. News of this, as and when.

Saturday 16 April 2011

A fresh start

I hope that you are underway with the instructional and formative material in preparation for the introduction of the New Translation of the Roman Missal. We started using the New Translation at the Seminary in Sydney on Ash Wednesday. Five and a half weeks into the experience I can make some provisional comments.

First, I think that it will take us all some time to adapt to the new responses and get over stumbling over the old ones. For those of us who are regular participants in the Mass, the old responses are very much engraved in our being, and some attention and patience will be required by all of us. The new responses will take time to sink in.

Secondly, one of the comments which is offered by a number of speakers on the DVD resource "Become one Body, one Spirit in Christ" is that the priest especially, should read and interiorise the three prayers of the Mass before he proceeds to celebrate. This comment is, I think, of huge value. The only former occasions where I have done this was before celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. However, since Ash Wednesday this year I have looked over the prayers of the Mass every day. This has led me not simply to familiarise myself with the language of the prayers, but more valuably, to focus my heart and mind on the Mysteries which I am about to celebrate. I recommend this pratice to both priests and lay people; it will transform the way we approach the Mass. It is also very helpful to look over the prayer texts in Latin, and for that matter, the new English translation is very helpful for better understanding the Latin texts, precisely because they are a more formal translation of the Latin. The new translation will be a great help to both priests and lay people in the celebration of the new Mass in Latin.

Thirdy, the language of the New Translation is a huge step foward. It is much more Catholic and grace-filled than the previous. In its richness lies a whole life of faith. I think that in time its richness will transform the way we pray and live the Life of Grace. I find myself, in praying the prayers of the Mass, more consciously approaching and crossing the threshold of the Mystery of Christ and of Grace; that the prayers are introducing me more readily to the vast horizon of Grace.

It is hard to believe now that we had the previous English translation for so long. And I am particularly conscious of all those faithful people, who not wanting to lose the Old Mass, never lived to see this richer form of the new Missal.

Thursday 7 April 2011

A much-awaited history

I was very pleased today to learn that Fr Michael Rear's book on the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham has been published. The book, "Walsingham: Pilrims and Pilgrimage" is the first comprehensive history of the shrine to be written. Moreover, the Holy Father was presented with a copy of the book a few days ago. I look forward to reading this volume. Many, many thanks to Fr Rear for his work on this history.

And what a great sign it is, that the new Ordinariate is under the Patronage of Our Lady of Walsingham. Pope Leo XIII said that when England returns to Walsingham, England will return to the Faith.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

A relationship revisited.

It is three decades now since Bob Dylan sang his magnificent anti-secularist songs, "Deadman" and "Yonder comes sin", for example. It may be too much to hope that he will sing these songs in a months' time when he tours Australia. Attitudes have changed radically since the early 80s; today, the atheistic secularism of the West is very hostile to the Faith.

The relationship between the Church and the world is seen in relief in our day. Even as late at the 1970s, British Society accepted and recognised itself as basically Christian. But secular attitudes and the culture which they have generated have taken hold very strongly. Prime Minister Edward Heath used to speak about how Christianity had influenced his political beliefs. He even wrote a book on Christian values. Today in a climate where the culture has become intolerant of Christians, the Bishop of Motherwell writes to Prime Minister Cameron challenging him to explain why he says that Christians are the intolerant ones.

During the last decade we saw the emergence of politicians (for instance, Tony Blair and Barak Obama) who have tried to redefine the relationship between politics and faith, and as a consequence to re-envisage the nature and place of the Church in the world (from a secular point of view). Pope Benedict's recent visit to the UK undid much of this posturing by politicians, by the Pope expressing in a simple and gracious way, who he and the Church is. His recently published interview with Peter Seewald "Light of the World" focusses on the relationship between the Church and the world. And although the Holy Father in some way, but wisely I think, understates the difficulties which the world is presently in, he speaks in such a way as to show very clearly the nature and mission of the Church, which is set in relief precisely by the world's current atheistic ideologies. This book is another important read for Catholics today, for as the Holy Father says, "The Church is always called upon to do what God asked of Abraham, which is to see to it that there are enough righteous men to repress evil and destruction" (page 166). Perhaps Bob Dylan too has a copy of this book.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Social network

I have wanted to post on this subject ever since I read the Holy Father's message for World Communications Day which he gave at the end of January this year. My ears pricked up when I heard him liken the transformation in human relationships which is taking place through the internet to the upheaval in human relationships which was caused by the Industrial Revolution.

Although I have had a Facebook Profile since 2006, I have withdrawn from Facebook somewhat, at least in terms of the attention that I give to it. Facebook is but one network among many on the web and it is the only one that I have a part in. Direct human contact remains for me the predominant and essential medium of relating with others.

In the immediate decades before the advent of the Internet we saw the genesis of a form of youth culture in which teenagers came to inhabit a parallel world to that of older generations. This world had its own form of communication, one that was disconnected from the world that other generations inhabited, and which gave rise to the phenomenon of the 'generation gap'. Teenagers became disconnected from their parents and vice-versa. This culture is well expressed by such films as "Stand by me", "Paranoid Park" and "Elephant". This culture was the forerunner to today's social networks on the Internet, which have become a leading culture in our day.

However, the Holy Father is genuinely intuitive in reminding us of the era of the Industrial Revolution, during which the "human desire for relationship, communion and meaning" (B16) was profoundly altered, especially with reference to the family. Today's culture echoes that era, especially in terms of the family, which uniquely can offer the essential ingredients of life, which are human warmth, affection and belonging. Our real relationships, rather than our virtual ones must remain the main focus of our attention, and we should not be drawn away from the real meaning of our lives by the Internet. Nor should young people be lured away from their family and their real friends by 'youth culture'. The Industrial Revolution diminished our humanity, and it is clear that the Internet has the capacity to do likewise.

We are at the beginning of a new era and it behoves us to look critically at what is taking place rather than simply going along with the current. The Holy Father's message, which he titles "Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the Digital Age", asks indispensible questions about the contemporary Internet culture which "urgently demand a serious reflection":

"Who is my “neighbour” in this new world? Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world “other” than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting? It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives."

And that "the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives."

You can read the whole of the Pope's message here.

Saturday 2 April 2011

For the Pearl of York

Having led a number of pilgrimages in the past in honour of St Margaret Clitherow, I was so pleased to see that the tradition continues. And how wonderful that Mass was celebrated in York Minster for the anniversary of her martyrdom. St Margaret Clitherow never participated in Mass in the Minster since, by the time she was born the Mass was already outlawed. Yet, how fitting that the most famous citizen of York, and one of the finest persons from England ever to have lived should have the Mass celebated at the high altar of York Minster. May St Margaret bring a blessing upon York and the whole country. Thanks to Mike Forbester for these photos. You can find more here.
It is good to see that this Missa Cantata of the Extraordinary Form was celebrated by a Diocesan Priest. It is much more fitting that these Masses be celebrated by priests of the diocese as an ordinary part of the life of the Church, than that this ordinary part of the life of the Church be taken over by 'specialist' groups, who are somewhat remote from that life. And it is largely thanks to the Latin Mass Society of the Dioceses of England and Wales that this is the case. Long may it continue.

Friday 1 April 2011

Sacred Signs

It is very good to see today an interest, and a discerned interest at that, in Liturgical formation - genuine Liturgical formation. That is to say, a focus on the action of Christ in the Liturgy and how each of us, both celebrant and people actually participates in what He does in the Mass.

A few posts ago I directed readers to a number of important sources of the Reform of the Reform. I would like to recommend here the small book "Sacred Signs" which Romano Guardini published in 1927. This simple book is essential reading, I think, for today's context. It speaks about the meaning which lies behind all the gestures and movements, not so much of the priest, but of the person who goes to participate in a Mass. The liturgical culture today, which is so 'wordy' has relegated movement, action and gesture to the 'back foot'. Yet Liturgy is itself comprised of sacred signs and actions. Liturgy is a 'doing'.

Cardinal Ratzinger in his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy" speaks of how he was inspired by the book "Sacred Signs". I would recommend the book first of all to parents, since it is good if we can first learn the extraordinary value of sacred signs at an early age from our parents. However, if you have never been exposed to the richness of Liturgical gestures then this book is also for you. After that you can progress to Guardini's more elaborate book "Preparing yourself for Mass". This book would not suit children, but is essential reading for a generation who need now to pick up the pieces that were cast aside in previous decades.

When the new Mass was introduced in 1969 it was introduced as a solution to the need for Liturgical reform, but mere change was inadequate. In fact, genuine Liturgical formation was necessary but was ommitted. Participation, properly understood, not liturgical innovation, is what revolutionises the Liturgy.

I am very glad then, to see today an emerging interest, especially on the part on young people, to rediscover the vast riches of Catholic Liturgy. And how providential it is, in our day, that, arguably, the bishop with the most Liturgical understanding and vision was elected to the Papacy! Listen to what Benedict XVI teaches, to what he actually says about the Liturgy; be formed by him and the Reform of the Reform will take place through you.