Thursday 28 February 2013

Witness to love.

Benedict XVI's predecessor was known as the 'witness to hope', but I think that this Holy Father will be remembered as the 'witness to love'. From the very first moments of his papacy, when he embraced the Church so profoundly, teaching us about love, pointing to its fullness in Christ and witnessing to the humble simplicity of Christian love - in his face, his gestures and in his sheer graciousness - Benedict XVI has given of himself for the life of the Church.
I am sorry that he did not have the time to do two things: to appoint more English bishops and to write the Post-Synodal Apostolic Letter on the New Evangelisation. I say this not by way of criticism, but rather to reveal something of my own expectations. But God's plan is much better than my expectations. Benedict's successor will have the responsibility of these tasks.
But much more than my expectations of any Pope is the way in which our lives have been embraced by Benedict XVI. He has been such a tremendous father to all of us. We will miss him. I hope that God will greatly bless the rest of his life from the store of His grace

Monday 25 February 2013

The two Kingdoms.

I said in my last post that the secular world no longer wants a relationship with the Church and that this is mainly an implicit reality at present, but there is an inevitablity to it soon becoming an explicit state of affairs.
There will be pros and cons to this lack of relationship. On the "cons" side there will be a lack of common ground upon which to discuss human affairs. The two Kingdoms, that of man and that of God, have radically different understandings of who man is. Metaphysics has long been eschewed by the secular vision, but now it is clear that the way in which the two Kingdoms approach morality, anthropology and freedom are utterly distinct. Christianity has an integral vision in which these three foundational dimensions of our life are clearly understood. But along with rejecting the Christian life, these building bricks are also rejected by the secular world. This will make communication between the Church and the world difficult.
In the Kingdom of man, there is a refusal to claim any foundational basis for morality. Secular morality can be summed up in the phrase, "seek success in whatever you attempt". A very dangerous principle!
Likewise, an integral and adequate anthropology is neither present in, nor required by, the secular world, and the riches of the Christian vision of man are regarded as mere opinion. It is very reckless to abandon milennia of acquired wisdom.
When we look at freedom, the most interior and personal dimension of man's life, we find a immediate problem. Bl John Paul II spoke frequently about this, describing freedom as the great dilemma for contemporary man: is it a terrible burden or is it a great gift? We have seen in history that human beings cannot live for long with an internal division. The secular world has yet to end its wrestling with this dilemma, and in what way will it bring its wrestling to an end? 
On the "pros" side the two Kingdoms will increasingly be seen for what they are. Christianity will be seen again in its radical truth: a human life marked, transformed and living by grace, which is the person and the power of the Risen Lord Jesus. In Christianity man's most intimate possession, his freedom, is not a burden, but is his radical surrender to the person of Jesus Christ.
The radical distinction between the two Kingdoms will be a moment of great power in the new evangelisation and will give great glory to God.
The above photo was taken when I was being vested at my ordination is St Anne's Cathedral, Leeds, in 1988.

Sunday 24 February 2013

No relationship at all.

The relationship between the Church and society, or the State, has gone through many changes in its history; most notably with the Edict of Milan and then with the rise of the nation States in the modern era. Today another permutation of this relationship is taking place as the newly secular Western States come to terms with their identity. I believe that what we are seeing today is an implicit move by Western democracies away from any relationship at all with the Church. I don't think that we have woken up to this state of affairs.
I say this because of the widespread rejection of the Christian life by our societies, together with an increasingly firm adherence to a secular way of living. So many baptised people have been going along with this movement for decades. The State's involvement in this movement is explicit in its anti-life laws and, latterly, in moving to change the definition of marriage. Whether or not Western democracies move to explicitly reject the Church remains to be seen, but we can't pretend that they have not rejected the Christian life. The bases for the Christian life and for secular living are radically different and those differences will become more apparent as secular societies become more established.
All of this has taken place during the last four decades. It is a movement somewhat akin to the Renaissance - a complex and largely non-rational movement from deep within humanity which sought to bring about change by returning to an older culture. In the case of the Renaissance, societies took their Christian inheritance with them, sometimes in vastly diminished forms; but today's movement from deep within humanity seeks to free itself totally from its Christian inheritance. The relationship between Church and State is drawing to a swift close and we will soon be living in the same context as the Early Church: pockets of Christian communities within a neo-pagan culture. The Church will soon look very different indeed.
I took the above photo about three years ago during the refurbishment of Our Lady of Lourdes church in Huddersfield. I had been parish priest there. I visited one day while the work was being done and found the tabernacle had been despoiled and set aside, to be replaced by a new one.

Monday 18 February 2013

Hunting in Hertfordshire.

I am not a great fan of any of the Tudors (as you might imagine), but last year I drove through the village of Hunsdon in Hertfordshire, hoping to catch a glimpse of the old Tudor retreat of Henry VIII and especially of his daughter, Mary Tudor. She spent much of her teenage years at this former royal palace before becoming queen. It was from here that many a royal hunting party set out.
The house is now privately owned and I only caught the merest glimpse. The house was built in the late 1400s of brick. It has been re-modelled, in stone and brick, many times over the centuries. The photo above shows the house as it is now; the image below is a drawing of the house from (probably) the late 1700s. At the time of Mary Tudor the house is thought to have been four times its present size.
The village church stands very close to the house and there appears to be a private access between the two buildings. It was a shame that the church was locked as, no doubt, Mary Tudor would have taken part in the Mass many times here. I find that, these days, Anglican churches are more often than not locked up; even as architectural links to the age of faith, they are falling silent.
What was most intriguing to me, as I drove through Hunsdon, was the distance between the church and house, and the village itself. They are a mile apart. I can imagine that such a heavy Tudor presence in the area would have required the ordinary people to establish their dwellings some distance away. 

Friday 15 February 2013

Searched but not found.

St Edmund Campion stayed at Samlesbury Hall at Easter 1581, just a few months before he was captured at Lyford Grange. We know that the Hall was searched  on 21st November 1592 in the roof space above the great hall of the house. Another hide, which was not described at all by the searchers, was also found during this search. I am not aware of any other documentary evidence above Samlesbury's hides.
When I visited the Hall I was asked to sign a form stating that I could not publicly use any photos which I took of the hides. I did take photos of the three places which are regarded as hides, but I will not use them here.
The first hide is in the room that you first enter and pay for your admission. The hide is within the hearth and chimney, and to the left, of the open fire. It is a space which you can climb into, if you wish. I wonder if this is actually the remains of a hide. It would be very dangerous to be closeted so close to the fire and its smoke. Perhaps it was a a way into or out of the hide itself, or simply a discrete place for Catholic items.
The second hide cannot be seen. It is within the ornamented and painted fireplace in the larger chamber to the right of the entrance. The Hall is listed and, although the presence of this hide is known, it remains out of bounds in order to protect the remaining fabric. This is a shame. In fact, the most interesting part of priest holes, in my estimation, is not the hide itself but the means of access. It would be good to see something of this hide's means of access.
The third hide is on the first floor in the roof space near, but not quite over the great hall. This space is very large indeed but its entrance is, presumably, not the original, since it would easily have been discovered. 
Samlesbury, like most houses, has been adapted and refurbished over the years; 19592 is a long time ago and much has changed in the fabric of the Hall. Nevertheless, what remains is a wonderful for it takes us back into the time of our recusant forbears and their heroic witness.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Another centre of faith in Lancashire

Samlesbury Hall, near Preston, during the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, was the home of the Southworth family. In the late sixteenth century, John Southworth was a recusant. His son, Christopher, was ordained priest in 1583 but was captured in London and     imprisoned in Wisbech Castle. He managed to escape after thirteen years. 
The Hall was then a quadrangular building, but only two of the wings now remain. The old chapel and, what is regarded as three hides, still remain.
I took the above photo of the rear of the long wing. There is thought to be hides in two of the three chimney stacks in this photo; the massive one on the left and the one on the right. A third possibility is in the attic space. More in the next post.
The Hall is now owed by a Trust; it is well worth visiting, but check times of opening before you set out.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Priesthood: a long term vision.

The Holy Father's announcement yesterday has been a humbling event for me. Pope Benedict has made me more aware than ever before of the greatness of the priesthood - how great it is in itself, how far it can go, what it achieves, and to what lengths it breaks through any notional understanding of what it is. And that I am a sharer in this priesthood!
The Holy Father, in allowing the priesthood to encompass his life, has shown just how deeply Christ has marked human life and events. What we frail men, who call ourselves priests, are taking part in is something far greater than human capacity could begin to imagine. It is indeed Christ's work; it is His Priesthood, and he gives us a part in it. 
Benedict XVI's own humility in the face of the mission that he was entrusted with, is giving us a deeper glimpse Jesus Christ, Risen from the dead, right in our midst, and of His way of transforming humanity. The priesthood is about Him, not about us. This is why it is so humbling - that He has chosen all of us to be a part of what He is doing.
(I took the above photo at the Opening Mass for the "Days in the Diocese" in Barcelona, just before MADWYD.)

Monday 11 February 2013

62 years as a priest.

Everything thing that I know about Joseph Ratzinger, especially from the time he  received a vocation to the priesthood as a young man, and the way in which he responded to it, speaks to me of a very great man. His greatness became particularly evident when, during the Pontificate of John Paul II, he laboured behind the scenes for the good of the Church. As Pope, Benedict XVI, he is another of those Popes who makes me think that I having been living in a time of Greatness. Even now, with his announcement that he is soon to renounce the Office of Bishop of Rome, his character is marked by greatness. 
For him, I wish that God has saved the very best wine till last.

Friday 8 February 2013

25 years of priesthood

Since this year is my Silver Jubilee year and today is my birthday, a day in which I always remember Mary, Queen of Scots and, since the year 2001, celebrate the Mass of St Josephine Bakhita, I will make here an itinerary of my priestly appointments.
September 1982 till June 1988 - preparation for priesthood at the English College, Valladolid, Spain.
11th April 1987 - ordained deacon in Valladolid.
16th July 1988 - ordained priest at St Anne's Cathedral, Leeds.
17th July 1988 - First Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes church, Headingley, Leeds.
August 1988 to September 1990 - Curate at St Anne's Cathedral, Leeds. During this time I was also chaplain at the Leeds General Infirmary.
September 1990 to August 1994 - Curate at St Gregory the Great parish, Leeds.
May 1991 to September 1998 - Part-time chaplain at HM Prison Thorpe Arch, near Wetherby.
August 1994 to September 1998 - Parish priest at St Peter's, Leeds.
October 1996 to May 1998 - MA studies through Maryvale, Birmingham.
September 1998 to June 2000 - Licentiate studies at the John Paul II Institute in Valencia, Spain. During this time I worked in the parishes of Nuestra Senora del Remedio, Valencia, San Jose in Torrente, and Nuestra Senora de Serra in Serra.
August 2000 to August 2004 - Parish Priest at St Aelred's in Harrogate. During this time I was also chaplain to the Harrogate Hospital.
September 2000 to December 2004 - Chaplain to the Youth 2000 Mission Team in East Keswick, near Wetherby.
August 2004 to September 2007 - Parish priest at Our Lady of Lourdes in Huddersfield. During this time I was also Chaplain to Huddersfield University.
September 2007 to July 2008 - Parish priest at St Briget's in Leeds.
August 2008 to August 2010 - Chaplain to Campion College, Sydney, Australia.
August 2009 to August 2012 - Assistant Spiritual Director at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, Sydney, Australia.
September 2012 to present - acting supply to St Joseph's parish in Pontefract.

As you can see I have been a Parish priest four times already and I have lived abroad for twelve years; eight years in Spain and four years in Australia. Everything that has happened to me above was chosen for me - I had no part in it! I never in my wildest dreams thought that any of the above would happen to me as a priest. God is in charge and God is very, very great indeed. Where will He send me next? 

(The above photo of me with Bishop Julian Porteous and Fr Julian Green was taken in July 2009 in the sacristy of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.)

Wednesday 6 February 2013

The ss"m" vote

Yesterday's vote in the House of Commons in support of Same-sex "marriage" has come upon us so suddenly that it has taken most of us by surprise. What strikes me most is the power within the contemporary anti-theist movement; it is like a tidal wave, an image which St Augustine used to describe paganism.
Paganism, when unleashed, has a power in it which seems almost unstoppable - a massive movement of self-seeking from deep within humanity. We live in the aftermath of such a tidal wave - the World Wars of the last century. No one now knows how the force within this present wave will wear itself out. What we do know is that Christ's victory is complete, it is present, it is unassailable.

Monday 4 February 2013

A winter's grace.

On behalf of all those who took part in events at the Vocations Centre in Whitstable during the last two weeks of January I would like to express thanks to Fr Stephen and his energetic staff for their hospitality and support. The new Vocations Centre is already a place of warmth and grace; may it go from strength to strength.
One day, at dusk, we ventured to the sea-front where a throng of locals had established a busy tobogan run. It was a great sight to see - a sight sadly not well reflected in my poor photograph.