Thursday 30 May 2013

A special visit.

During my visit to Rome I made a special trip to the altar and tomb of Bl John Paul II in St Peter's. I also made another special visit to the tomb and shrine of St Benedict Joseph Labre. I had warmed to this saint many years ago when I heard Fr Benedict Groeschel CFR speaking about him, and also through hearing about his visit to the Vianney household in Dardilly when St John Vianney was a boy.
St Benedict Joseph Labre's tomb and shrine is just north of the Colosseum: his body lies in the church of Sta Maria dei Monti, and his shrine, the house where he died, is just round the corner, 2, Via dei Serpenti.
I spent some time by his altar and tomb; I took the above photo there. Then, ringing the doorbell of Number 2, Via dei Serpenti, I was admitted and taken up to the first floor. There, the room in which he died is preserved as a shrine. Just next to the place where he died is an altar where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. In a room next door there are cabinets which hold his few possessions: his clothes and his copy of the Imitation of Christ. It is a very moving shrine to this much loved saint and I was able to stay there for some time. I asked his prayers for Europe and the New Evangelisation. I asked for his prayers also for young people today; that they might, with grace, navigate the present era and come safely to Christ.
Outside again I walked back to the Colosseum and caught a sight of Arch 43, the arch under which the saint used to sleep during much of his time in Rome.
If you are in Rome, do try to visit this shrine.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

A jubilarian in Rome.

I first visited Rome as a first year seminarian from Valladolid in 1983. I returned as a priest for a short visit in 1993, and again for the closing of the Jubilee Year in 2001. My fourth visit, last week, was particularly lovely. 
The photo above was taken on the roof terrace of the North American College. I had gone over there one day to see the Sydney seminarians who I knew from my time spent working at the Seminary in Sydney. It was really lovely to see them again and to see them looking so well and enthusiastic about their formation. It was also very good to see the Vice-rector of the College again. I am very grateful to them for the invitation to lunch, and also for having seen something of the College on the Janiculum Hill. We had only just come out on the roof terrace when the heavens opened, so we couldn't take in the view for long.
I offered Mass this morning for the Cardinal in Sydney. He has been 'standing in the breach' alone again, acknowledging the Church's part in the paedophile scandal in Australia and defending her where necessary. He is such a great bishop of the Church; he has taken so many knocks in the public forum in Australia. May he receive grace upon grace from the Lord.

Saturday 25 May 2013

A jubilee pilgrimage.

My Silver Jubilee pilgrimage to Rome was lovely. Of my four visits to the Eternal city, this visit will stand out. I stayed just four nights, which gave me three full days to get around. I had intended to visit certain places during those days and my hopes were more than sufficiently rewarded.
I visited the altar and tomb of Bl John Paul II, the shrine of St Benedict Joseph Labre, the shrine of the apostles Philip and James, and I was able to venerate the relics of the English Martyrs at the English College. I was able to do much more than this in those three and a half days, but I would like to comment here on my visit to the chapel of the English College. I took the above photo of the restored ceiling of the chapel, which together with the columns and the mosaics of the chapel's interior, is the most marvellously adorned shrine to the English Martyrs that I have ever seen. The whole chapel is like a gilt casket to house the relics, which are themselves kept in a bronze chest under the altar.
I am very grateful to the deacon of Shrewsbury Diocese who attended to me and enabled me to venerate the relics. He initially struggled to open the relic chest with its cumbersome mechanism. However, I found this extremely moving; as though the door to the relic chest was itself aware of the greatness of what lay within. Both of us were sitting on the chapel floor by the altar as slowly the chest's door swung open. 
The deacon very carefully took out each of the reliquaries, one by one, for me to hold and venerate, until we were both surrounded by these treasures of the Church - the relics of some of the greatest saints from England. Each of the names that identified a particular relic, and which I read out, were familiar to me - Becket, Sherwin, Campion, Lockwood, Bell. And suddenly, under this glittering canopy, I was humbled and honoured by these relics of such a cloud of witnesses surrounding me on the sanctuary floor. These were they who stood with Christ in the severest storm; these are the great lights of the English Church. 
For a few moments both of us were silent amidst this array of the most precious offerings to God. I offered a prayer in that moment, in their company, for the Church in England and Wales, for her priests and for her mission. I was impacted, in a way that I had not expected, through the presence of grace in this multitude of martyrs.
After a few moments we carefully, one by one, placed the reliquaries again in the bronze chest and, as we did so, it was as if a veil fell once more and the dazzling brightness of the mystery of the martyrs' self-offering to God shone with a softer light. 
I will never forget those minutes I spent on the floor of the English College chapel with the relics of our martyrs. Thanks again to the Shrewsbury deacon who enabled me, in my silver jubilee year, to have such a tremendous encounter with these towering witnesses to grace.
More posts to come from my Roman visit.

Saturday 18 May 2013

An opportunity of grace.

Thanks to Fr Newman and the Friars of the Renewal for hosting and organising the Afternoon of Christian Life at St Joseph's, Bradford, today. Thanks also to the Friars for inviting me to speak on the Decree Gaudium et Spes. I have never heard a talk on this document, but I enjoyed putting mine together and was pleased that it was so well received by the participants.
This photo of some of the Friars and me was taken last month at St Robert's Cave in Knaresborough.
There will be a blog-gap this coming week as I will be visiting Rome, Monday to Friday. I hope to resume posts next weekend.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Faith in the afternoon.

This coming Saturday, 18th May, I am giving a talk on the Council's Decree Gaudium et Spes during an Afternoon of Christian Life at St Joseph's, Pakington Street, Bradford.
The talk will begin at 1.30pm and I will speak for 30-40 minutes. The Afternoon is organised by the Friars of the Renewal of the St Pio Friary in Bradford. Holy Mass, Adoration and the Sacrament of Absolution will also be part of the event. Please come and take part if you are able. Full details of the event are available from the Friars of the Renewal.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Cultural leadership.

Today in the UK society draws virtually all its culture from media culture, as by an umbilical cord, such that our society has virtually no culture of its own. How, on earth, did we get to this state, we should ask? 
St Margaret Clitherow is certainly present to us because she is a saint, but the National Pilgrimage in her honour is important for it keeps alive her memory and her charism. She is someone who would not conform to the prevailing culture, but nurtured another culture in which she and many others thrived and grew. What is significant about her way  of life is that all those who were part of the culture that tried, condemned and executed her were wrong. In exactly the same way that at least ninety per cent of those who were in Pilate's forecourt that Friday morning were wrong. 
St Margaret Clitherow shows herself to be a cultural leader for the ordinary person in this country. She is a witness to not following the ambient culture, and of concretely nurturing a culture which aspires to be truly human.
On the day of the Pilgrimage the building which had been the lodge of the Abbot of St Mary's Abbey in York and had become the chambers of the Council of the North, an arm of the Government in York whose purpose was to suppress Catholics in Yorkshire, was deserted and sombre.

Monday 13 May 2013

York 4th May.

Isn't this wonderful; a procession in honour of England's greatest citizen, St Margaret Clithrow, passing down through The Shambles in York and coming to stop and pray outside her shrine there.
The Procession followed Holy Mass of the English Martyrs, which was celebrated in St Wilfred's church near the Minster. It was Saturday, early afternoon, and York was thronging with locals and visitors. The event was genuinely impacting; I had a sense that many people who saw the procession and the statue of the saint thought that they were witnessing something which was entirely proper and usual in this city - which, of course, it is. On this day York really did come to life and they were there to witness it.
Thanks go to the Latin Mass Society, toThe Rudgate Singers, to the procession organisers, and to the many people who travelled to participate in this National Pilgrimage in honour of "the pearl of York".

Sunday 12 May 2013

For sale again.

I'm grateful to a reader for updating me about the status of Sawston Hall near Cambridge. It is for sale again, for the round sum of £6,000,000.
The Hall has a chapel and three hides. One of these hides is regarded as the finest hiding place in the country. This hide, and possibly all three, are work of the great saint, Nicholas Owen - the first saint whose story inspired me when I was a young boy. Unfortunately, when I visited the Hall in February 2004 I was unable to see the hides. (At that time the Hall was owned by Cambridgeshire County Council and was being used as offices.)
If you visit the website of Savills Estate Agents - - you can see photos and floor plans which will amaze you.
If anyone could let me have the asking price I would be happy to secure a deal.

Friday 10 May 2013

A good read for some deep reform.

I have just finished reading George Weigel’s new book Evangelical Catholicism, and can now make some comments about it. First of all, can I say that I have long since thought of George Weigel as one of the few true journalists who are around to day, and therefore, as someone who is especially worth reading, if not following. A journalist is someone who is able to look at a state of affairs, see it’s relationship to truth, and then communicate an accessible understanding of that state of affairs to the ordinary person; you and me. George Weigel has this gift; many who call themselves journalists do not. Journalism involves knowledge and truth, it involves analysis and synthesis, but above all, it is a God-given art. We need journalists.
Evangelical Catholicism is an extraordinary book because it begins to see and propose something which most of us have not even considered: what the Church of the New Evangelisation will look like.  We have heard about the New Evangelisation and have some appreciation of what it is, and why it is here, but we have not perhaps thought about its effect upon the Church itself. The Church of the New Evangelisation is not a ‘new’ or ‘changed’ Church, but is the Church whose culture has been deeply effected, transformed, by the influence of the historical event which is the start of a new era of evangelisation. Evangelical Catholicism is the expression which describes the renewed culture of the Church as the people of the Church, newly and unaffectedly, extend their friendship with Christ to the peoples of the world today.
The expression “evangelical Catholicism” is itself new to our ears, as was the expression “new evangelisation”. When I was at seminary, the divide in the Church was between conservatives and liberals. This divide subtly mutated to one between non-conformists and conformists. This situation was very fluid and for at least a decade the polarity in the Church has been evangelical/institutional. The institutional pole of the Church is marked by two currents: cultural Catholicism and neo-Pelagianism. The evangelical current in the Church is marked by a focus on the person of Jesus Christ and grace, and a docility to the Magisterium. As Weigel says in his book, “You are a Catholic because you have met the Lord Jesus Christ and entered into mature friendship with Him – which is to say, in evangelically Catholic language, that the sacramental grace of your Baptism, should you have been baptised as an infant, has been made manifest in the pattern of your life as your have grown into human maturity.” (p34-35)
As I read Part 1 of the book, which speaks of the nature of evangelical Catholicism, I felt a certain resonance with how I have come to understand the New Evangelisation. I couldn’t understand however, why Weigel introduced the word ‘evangelism’; ‘evangelism’ is not the same as ‘evangelisation’. It was Part 2 of the book however, which really opened a new leaf for me. In Part 2 Weigel speaks about the concrete reform of the different ‘sectors’ of the Church and, in doing so, begins to show how the New Evangelisation needs the renewal of the interior culture of the institutional Church, and what that renewed institution will look like.
So, for instance, the reform of the Episcopate (something which is especially pertinent in our own context), when seen in the context of the New Evangelisation, is not simply something which will help the Church manage itself better, but is something which is essential to the very nature of the Church. What the Church today needs, says Weigel, is “twenty-first century apostles, [to lead] the Catholic Church out of the shallows of institutional maintenance and into mission amid the cultural whitewater of postmodernity”. (p122) The emphasis that Weigel goes on to lay on the reform of the Priesthood, Liturgy, Consecrated Life, and the Lay vocation, amongst others, reveals how the New Evangelisation needs a renewed Church, renewed in its structures and, above all, in its interior culture. What stands in the way of the New Evangelisation is not the “whitewater of postmodernity”, but is a Church which is not configured to Christ.
Weigel does a great service to the Church with Evangelical Catholicism in showing that the reform of the Church “is not a matter of good management practice, but so that its essential structures support the universal call to holiness and the universal call to mission.” (p259) I recommend this book to you for some deep reading and reflection.
I was a little intrigued by some of those whose help in writing the book Weigel acknowledges. He cites both a University Faculty in Argentina and the Argentinian Bishop’s Conference. Now, although Weigel had written the book by July 2012, I wonder just how much his ideas might have been shaped and shared by a certain Argentinian prelate.  And whatever influence this book might have in the Church, the Holy Father seems already to be on the brink of leading the Church through to that place where She needs to be.

Thursday 9 May 2013


Having come to the end of these posts on Christian attitude let me make these additional remarks:
Christian attitude is linked organically to Baptism - and in the mystery of Baptism the awareness or consciousness of Christ and what he has done, and does. The formation of Christian attitude then, is something which surrounds Baptism, especially in the way that individuals and families are catechised before and after Baptism, and by the culture which surrounds this catechesis. This ambient culture must be an evangelising culture, and not simply a secular one.
Secular culture does not enable the discovery of what it is to be a Christian person and to advance in Christian attitude, so the formation of Christian attitude must be a focus for the Church's life today.
This work within the Church will take place by first making explicit the nature of Christian attitude, and by a new sense, in the Church, of nurturing and cherishing a Christian attitude. Such a project should be well within the Church's reach since faith today is not a mass movement. 
Secular ascesis, on the other hand, is a mass movement today and is lived within a culture of use and being used: using other people for your gain, and being used, by the culture, for no genuine human value. In such a climate as ours, which systematically undermines human dignity, the formation of Christian attitude cannot be overlooked.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

The fifth dimension.

The fifth and last dimension of Christian attitude which Karol Wojtyla speaks about in his book Sources of Renewal is 'the attitude of building up the Church as community'.
This dimension of Christian attitude is one which has been somewhat forgotten in our era. For instance, many parishes are today much more expressions of the 'institutional Church' than 'communities of faith and life'. Again, the emphasis is often placed on 'jobs or functions to be performed' than on discernment of charisms.
The attitude of building up the Church as a community is not concerned with building up structures, but is to do with that attitude without which the structures of the Church would be "suspended in the void". In his book, Karol Wojtyla speaks about a "multiplicity for unity". Later as Pope, in the Letter Tertio Milennio Ineunte, he would speak about the "spirituality of communion". The depth of Christian attitude goes far beyond any form of conformity or sameness in the Church, to nurture and embrace the variety of gifts and missions within the Church, in which every member contributes to the union through the spirit of communion.
To a certain degree the local Church today is 'managed' by control rather than by a sense of complementarity and of unity in Christ. The interior dynamic of the new evangelisation will, in time, correct this. So, in Pope John Paul II's last Encyclical Letter he showed how the Church is built upon the Eucharist. It is upon the Eucharist, rather than upon human notions of community, that your Christian life and mine are derived and formed; the real focus for the project of our lives is Christ and His mission. In this focus there is an inexhaustible richness.
There is no counterpart in secular asceticism to this dimension of Christian attitude; just looking at World Youth Days you can see that! The secular ascetic, in contrast with Christian attitude, seeks conformity and promotes unfettered ambition. These two contradictory forces are another reason why secular culture is dying. Self-destruction is written into secularism; youthfulness is written into the Church.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

The fourth dimension.

The fourth dimension of Christian attitude is apostolic attitude. This attitude represents both the apostolate and formation for apostolate. This attitude shows the link between being a Christian and witnessing to Christ.
Formation for apostolate means first of all, living in union with Christ, and secondly, ordering our lives in a way which corresponds with a particular vocation.
The apostolate itself means not simply the presence of Christians in the world, but actually proclaiming Christ.
This dimension of Christian attitude is shown in relief by the way in which the secular ascetic denies or makes inconsequential any organic link between one's 'life-style' and one's actual humanity. For secular asceticism, 'living' is simply a sequence of random experiences.
The apostolic attitude Christians speaks of the dignity of human nature and the real greatness of human life: life, presence, witness, when engaged with grace reveal a greater humanity.

Monday 6 May 2013

The third dimension.

The third dimension of Christian attitude is the oecumenical attitude. This attitude has been subject to misrepresentation and has been understood as an active seeking of relativism within Christianity rather than truth.
The oecumenical attitude, in fact, emphasises fullness. It is rooted in the Fatherhood of God, which is offered to all men and women. This attitude then, expresses love/charity for all. It is an attitude of respect for the person and his or her inner liberty, but represents a seeking to draw people to the fullness of revealed truth. 
This dimension of Christian attitude flows from a deep rooted embrace of the fullness of the Church's faith. Indeed, it is only a lived experience of Catholic truth that can feed the oecumenical attitude, first towards the members of the Catholic Church and then to all people, including those who seem furthest from a relationship with the Living God. 

Saturday 4 May 2013

Embracing a God-given role.

The second dimension of Christian attitude, one which comes back to back with the first - participation in Christ - is the attitude of 'Christian identity and responsibility'. This attitude is the embracing of one's role in the Church and in the world. It is the role that you have been given by Christ, a role by which He orients humanity towards God.
One's Christian identity and responsibility is one's life as it has been enriched by Christ.  It is not a fixed and unmoving attitude, but is rather an attitude which leads you to make life more human precisely because you are sharing in Christ's mission. The heart of this attitude is the proclamation of Christ by the person through his or her life and witness. It represents a responsibility towards humanity because Christ has transformed me. So now, I will witness to Christ so that others might be transformed by Him also. Indeed, by this attitude, I make my life a witness to Christ, a vehicle for His presence in the world.
In saying this we are aware that the problem today is that we (Catholics) have not formed baptised people in the life of Christ, and that consequently many have gone over to secular living.
It has also been, somewhat mistakenly said or implied, that the Second Vatican Council encouraged this by being over optimistic about the world. The Council, it should be said, was not over optimistic about the world; it was realistic about the world. The Council's optimism was in Christ and the Redemption, and because of this unique opportunity, human flourishing can be genuinely envisaged. 
It is from these first two dimensions of Christian attitude, namely, 'participation in Christ' and 'Christian identity and responsibility', that the new evangelisation flows.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Getting into the vision.

In Sources of Renewal, Karol Wojtyla describes five dimensions of Christian attitude, of which ‘participation in Christ’ is the first. So far, I have been speaking only about this dimension of Christian attitude and will now move on to speak briefly about the other four dimensions that he describes. But before I do, it is good to consider again how the secular ascetic, in as far as it exists in Christians, can be undone.
The first place I look is to the media, which is the secular culture’s principal agent. Secularism has been around for some centuries now, but what is radically new in today’s secularism is the media, which it seeks to monopolise. It is important that we create space within our personal culture for a true human culture to take root and grow. This involves the maginalisation of contemporary secular culture in our own lives, starting with the agents of that culture.
If we get rid of our televisions not only would we not have its de-formative presence in our homes, we wouldn’t have to contribute financially to territorial television through the TV licence fee either. That’s called ‘voting with your feet’. The more people vote this way, the more state television will struggle.
Contemporary territorial TV companies such as the BBC increasingly subject human events and affairs to their own self-focus. News programs, for instance, which used to be produced with some measure of objectivity, are now expressions of secular media’s ideological imperative – there is no such thing as objective truth, God does not exist and you must focus on the free expression of the individual – such that TV shows, like the ‘News’ for instance, are either propaganda or superficial entertainment, or both.  
We should search for media that is objective and genuinely formative, rather than accept the media which secular culture insists that we imbibe and conform to.
The virtual absence of Christian culture in our society is worrying; what have Christians been doing these past few decades! However, we should not take secular culture as our model, but envisage and build Christian culture – culture that is formative and enriching of life. For instance, parties and celebrations, which are so important in any culture, should be occasions in which the greatness of human life be honoured, enriched and enjoyed. So much ‘celebratory culture’ today is linked to the culture of death.
The media is called to be and to express true human good; a renewed media is one which is objective and therefore, formative; one which presents the full truth about the human person and human society. Would anyone like to work with me in developing an objective radio channel or newspaper?

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Attitude and vulnerability.

We have seen how Christian attitude – that interior engagement with grace in the person – takes place through an encounter with Christ and, in that encounter, an openness to Him. Christ changes the person, leading him or her from being situated in his or her own life, to being established in a relationship with Him. Christian attitude is a radical reorientation of the person away from living upon the basis of ‘self’ to living the life of grace, a life in which Christ has become the experience of life itself.
We need our subjectivity, our interiority, to come alive so that we can live as human beings; alive in all our faculties and able to receive, respond, relate. In order for this to happen we need a source of life, one which we cannot give to ourselves. Human interiority is brought into being not by self-resourcefulness, but by the mystery of grace.
Human interiority when closed to the mystery of grace remains susceptible, vulnerable, to the inclinations of fallen human nature. Human interiority when it encounters Christ becomes vulnerable to grace, which is at the same time both a good thing and a difficulty. It is good because human beings are set up to receive the gift; it is in our nature to be vulnerable, and before Christ that vulnerability is now the very stepping stone to the fullness of human life. But vulnerability is also a difficulty because it is an experience of fragility and weakness. (This is why trust lies at the heart of all relationships; growth in trust leads to the flourishing of relationship.)
A moment or period of vulnerability is experienced when human interiority encounters the person of Jesus Christ. However, this is in fact a healing of the person and a movement, within the person impelling them by love into Christian attitude as he or she freely welcomes grace. We see this taking place in Zaccheaus or in the apostles, in the Gospels. For instance, when Thomas needs to see and feel the wounds of the Risen Christ while the other apostles silently hang back, we are witnessing the hurt of the apostles being carefully tended by Christ; the way they express their vulnerability to Christ allows grace to enter them deeply. Christ leads them to respond to Him in a fully human way (rather than in a merely rationalistic way).
The experience of vulnerability, when it is exposed to Christ, however difficult it is at the time, is the moment in which Christian personality is formed and in which Christian attitude comes into being.
The secular ascetic acts as an obstacle to the person being able to mature in Christ. Secular asceticism will insist either on human pride controlling a situation, or on practical ways by which the person can avoid, repress or distract him or herself from interior vulnerability. So, drugs, alcohol, retail therapy and entertainment, amongst others, offer perceived antidotes to situations of guilt, shame, emptiness, failure and loneliness.  The ‘remedies’ of secular ascesis actually serve to deaden human interiority and life.