Saturday 29 September 2012

Anti-Pilgrim stronghold

Before the great rains hit Yorkshire and swelled its rivers to bursting, I went over the hills to visit Skipton and its castle. As a boy I had been shown the castle but my interest on this occasion was to see the stronghold to which many of the northern gentry had retreated so as to escape becoming a part of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Here Henry Clifford, the earl of Cumberland and Lord Scrope of Bolton Castle, Wensleydale had taken refuge in September 1536. The small garrison was captained by Christopher Aske, the brother of Robert Aske, who was the leading captain of the entire rebellion. In due course, some thousands of Pilgrims from Richmondshire, North Yorkshire arrived in Skipton and endeavoured to acquire the support of the nobles who were secreted within this formidable stronghold. The Pilgrim host laid seige to the castle for about ten days during September/October 1536 and eventually succeeded in recruiting Lord Scrope to their side. In early October Robert Aske was demanding the presence of this Richmondhsire force at the central muster which was taking place at Pontefract castle, and so the Pilgrim army left Skipton and its castle to its Clifford keepers.
The castle was to become a Royalist stronghold in the Civil War and became the object of a much more serious seige and bombardment by Parliamentary forces. However, once through the south-facing outer bailey gates the castle still commands a sense of its tremendous impregnability (photo above).
The castle's northern face is built upon a towering cliff wall (photo below); it is hard to imagine Skipton Castle being assailed at all from the north. The final photo below was taken looking out of the castle and into the main market street in the centre of Skipton. I couldn't find any artefacts or reference in the castle to the Pilgrimage of Grace, but there is a story that Mary, Queen of Scots, was lodged here briefly before being moved to Tutbury Castle. If you are in the area, Skipton Castle is well worth visiting as it is one of the few remaining medieval castles in England, and is perhaps surprisingly still in very good condition.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Return to England's Nazareth

After returning from Australia I knew that I should visit Our Lady's Shrine at Walsingham. The Youth2000 Prayer Festival, towards the end of August, afforded me an opportunity. The welcome which I received there from some many young people who knew me was tremendous; a sign of a much greater welcome which I received in the Slipper Chapel itself.
I pay tribute here to the Youth2000 team for the slick way in which they ran the event, and also for the large number of new comers who they attracted to this summer's Festival. It was also very good to encounter a number of representatives of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham who were taking part in the event.
One evening during the Festival I was poking around the village and came upon Martyrs Field (photo above) for the first time. This field is just beyond the old railway track and near the Orthodox chapel in Little Walsingham Village. I have long known the story of the 'Walsingham Plot', but have never before visited the field.
The 'Walsingham Plot' took place just before the dissolution of the Augustinian Priory  and the destruction of the Holy House. The plot, which began in November 1536, eventually drew in about thirty conspiritors. They planned to raise the people of north Norfolk, in the same way that the people of Lincolnshire had risen, and in conjunction with the much greater 'Pilgrimage of Grace', and then to muster the larger part of East Anglia so as to challenge the reforming policies of Henry VIII. The conspiracy was leaked to London and within days most of the conspiritors had been arrested and taken to Norwich for trial. Twelve of these were sentenced to death, some to be hung, others to be hung, drawn and quartered. Two of them were brought back to Walsingham to be executed; Canon Nicholas Mileham, the sub-prior of Walsingham Priory, and George Guisborough, a yeoman and chorister of Walsingham village. On Wednesday 30th April 1537 both men were hung, drawn and quartered just outside the village in what is now known as 'Martyrs Field'. Their heads were then placed on the Priory Gatehouse.
Today, an altar stands in the middle of the field - just discernible in the middle of my photo. The cause and the grievances of these man were crushed, as were their lives and the great Shrine of Our Lady. Even so, the naming of the field, and the erection of a simple altar, recognise the greatness of faith in the midst of such foul tyrrany. These two men died before the wrecking of the Shrine; the remaining members of the Augustinian community accepted the dissolution of their priory in the summer of 1538, and witnessed the removal of the statue of Our Lady in July of that year. It was taken to London and, by the end of the month, together with many others, it was burnt in Chelsea in the presence of Thomas Cromwell.
Long may the memory of these men remain. The field is today a farmer's field and sheep were grazing there on the day I visited it. But you can easily find the field and peer through from the road and pathways which surround it. But keep visiting the Slipper Chapel for,according to the 'vision' of Pope Leo XIII, when England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England.

Monday 24 September 2012

Back on the English Mission

I return to England with the convictions of the Sydney seminarians fresh in my mind: that priests should promote good Liturgy, good preaching and good Catechesis. On each of these counts there is now great potential.
Today's circumstances favour, and need, good Liturgy. The Liturgical movement, which started in the second half of the nineteenth century is essentialy good and has some truly great proponents (Dom Prosper Gueranger, Pope Pius XII, the Fathers of the 2nd V Council), but it was hijacked after the Council by rationalists, who confined it within their own banal and minimalist limits. However, Benedict XVI has today released the Liturgy from the grip of the rationalists, and so the Liturgical movement, as we can now see, is underway again. Good Liturgy is definitely back on the menu!
Today's circumstances favour, and need, good preaching. Firstly, so many seminarians today are themselves convinved of this. And secondly, the way in which the Church today appreciates and enters into Sacred Scripture is being genuinely renewed. We just have to look at the recent Apostolic Letter 'Verbum Domini', and to witness how 'Lectio Divina' is being newly engendered in the Church.
Today's circumstances favour, and need, good Catechesis. By good Catechesis I mean 'full Catechesis' of the Church's teaching. We not only have the CCC but also so many good resources, like 'Evangelium' and the various Maryvale Institute courses. Alongside this we are aware of numerous lay Catholics who are being properly trained as Catechists. Priests themselves are at the forefront of the Catechetical movement.
On my first journey north after landing at Heathrow I found myself leaving the M1 and crossing Northamptonshire in order to join the A1. On seeing a road sign indicating Fotheringhay I left the main road and headed into the country. Long have I wanted to visit the site of Fotheringhay Castle (photo above), the last prison residence and place of execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, rightful heiress to the English throne. She lived here for little over four months, from late September 1586 to 8th February 1587, when she was judicially murdered by Elizabeth I. It was a beautiful day as I walked grassy mounds where the castle had been, saying the Rosary for the conversion of England, as she must surely have done. The clear waters of the River Nene were full of fish but I had the castle grounds to myself for this visit. I remember her each year as my birthday coincides with the day of her execution, but on this day my thoughts were with all those generations of faithful Catholics who have longed for the re-embracing of the Faith in England, and who lived the life of the Church against fairly desperate odds.
Historical treasures which once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots are spread far and wide. The Archbishops of Sydney are the custodians of her brevriary (photo below), housed in a special cabinet, which I  once had the privilege to venerate.
After her execution the scafold and the block itself were burnt so that relics could not be had. The castle itself fell into disuse after that day and was eventually pulled down and its stones used elsewhere. The site of the castle is however preserved by the landowner and can be visited any time - it is in a beautiful part of the country. If you are going to be passing the area you should make a visit. The English King Richard III was born here and so it is a place of importance to the 'Richard III Society' also. 

Friday 14 September 2012

A pristine coast

One of the great attractions of Australia its its pristine coastline, and especially being able to enjoy that coastline from the seaward position. I took every opportunity, when I was in Australia, of getting out on the water. The above photo was taken about 16 months ago when nine seminarians and I took a boat out on Pittwater and crossed to the other side, where we grilled up some fabulous veal t-bones. Here we are drawing the boat up onto the beach - a very apostolic day out!
One of the counsels which I gave to successive year grouos as they prepared for ordination was that, as priests we should make our Eucharistic Lord available for Adoration in our churches, and that we should make ourselves readily available to people in our parishes; available that is for the Sacrament of Absolution and to give spiritual direction. Both these things are easily done and don't require us to do any rushing around, but rather to spend time in our church and in the parish so that people can easily find the Lord and find us. Indeed, this dual availability creates life in a church and in the parish.
Today, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, I offered the Mass for all at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd. Allow Christ's call to keep resonating in your hearts!

Sunday 9 September 2012

Adoption for a second time

Now that I am back in England people are dissappointed that I haven't acquired an Aussie accent; even wearing the Akubra doesn't do it either! I keep telling people that the Aussie accent wasn't at all strong in Sydney. What is far more important to me is the way that I was received in Australia, and the ease with which I adjusted to my new appointment in Sydney.
Prior to moving out to Australia I had already lived for eight years in Spain. Four years in Oz now means that I have lived overseas for twelve years. My second country of adoption, Oz, was really a 'home from home'. The Aussies all loved my English accent! The photo above, in some way, represents the way in which I was received; there I am leading the Remembrance Day service in the grounds of Campion College, a ceremony which is very dear to Australians, and at which I was suddenly presiding.
Another facet of life which I appreciated very much during my time in Australia was the way in which the bishops warmly engaged with their priests. This was something I first experienced when I met the Bishop in whose Diocese I was working, and then again on so many occasions when I encountered other bishops and their priests. The fatherhood of the Australian bishops who I encountered was a special grace to me. 

Monday 3 September 2012

Priesthood down under

When I became the assistant Spiritual Director at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd my first awareness was of a renewed appreciation, in the seminary, of the Council's teaching on the priesthood in Presbyterorum Ordinis and in Lumen Gentium, and then that the vision of the seminary was firmly based on JPII's great letter Pastores Dabo Vobis. Along with the seminary's own formation document, these teaching documents were my first point of reference.
Secondly, I became aware of how the place of human formation was being engendered in the seminary, and how it was seen as the first foundation of priestly formation. With these lights I was able to begin my work at the seminary.
My work at Campion College, and prior to that, my work in Youth 2000 in England had laid basic foundation stones in me for the mission of confessor and spiritual director. Providence had been at work and I approached this new work of seminary spiritual director in a three-fold way:
Firstly, I guided the individual to appreciate how he was engaging with the concrete life of the seminary at all its different levels.
Secondly, I endeavoured to help the young man appreciate how his own vision of, and desire for, the priesthood was developing in him as he progressed through the seminary. For instance, how he was approaching poverty, chastity and obedience.
Thirdly, my aim was to enable him to recognise, and mature in, the concrete reality of his daily spiritual life, helping him interpret that reality under grace.
What a marvellous task it was, and what a great learning curve it was for me too!
I already attribute my own growth as a confessor to the many confessions of young people of Youth 2000 which I have heard. Now I must pay tribute to the seminarians of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd for enabling me to become a better confessor, one after the heart of Jesus Christ.
I must also pay tribute to them for the way that they are approaching the priesthood. They have a great love for the Church, her Liturgy and her Teaching. And not only that, but I could discern from my first months in the seminary, that there was a desire for good Liturgy, good catechesis and good preaching. Indeed, I could see that the seminarians were discerning in their search for models of diocesan priesthood. The Church in Australia will be very blest when this generation of seminarians embraces the Mission of Christ at Ordination.
For me, a very special grace was being given during all of this time: I was coming to a new awareness of and closeness to the Heart of Jesus when I celebrated the Mass! I began to realise this during my third year in Sydney and I rejoice in this unexpected grace. It seems to me that Christ has waited all this time, and that perhaps I needed to be on the other side of the world in order for me to receive this grace. I wont say more about this now; this grace is very much alive in me and I would rather be the agent of its effects than try to rationalise it.
What I have said here is just the very broad brush-strokes of my years in the Seminary; it was a very rich experience. My God bring to fruition, in Christ's priesthood, all those generous hearts who are offering themselves to Him, and to serve His Church.