Wednesday 31 July 2013

Cracks in the Institute.

The building which Corpus Christi Catechetical Institute occupied is quite imposing, its façade now somewhat softened by the trees. When it opened in 1965 its Principal was Fr Hubert Richards. Fr Richards was a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster who had been ordained in 1946. At the time that he was chosen by Cardinal Heenan for this post he was a member of staff at the Seminary of St Edmund in Ware, Hertfordshire, lecturing in Sacred Scripture. The Vice-Principal was Fr Peter de Rosa, also a priest of Westminster who had been ordained in 1956. He too was a member of the seminary staff in Ware, lecturing in Philosophy. Also appointed to teach at Corpus Christi were, Fr John Perry, also of Westminster, ordained in 1964, Fr Peter Wetz, a White Father, and Bro Drostan Clark FMS.  (I have been unable to determine what this abbreviation – FMS - stands for.)
After only a year, concern was raised about the Principal and his deputy. It was thought that, together with Fr Charles Davies, another staff member from Ware, these three priests had been moved out of the seminary by the Cardinal in order to break up an “avant-garde” trio on the formation staff (Catholic Herald, 4th February 1966). Fr Charles Davis, also a priest of Westminster, ordained in 1946 and later a seminary professor at Ware, took up another teaching position in 1965 at Heythrop College, then still in Oxfordshire. After just a year he left both the priesthood and the Church, and moved to Canada where he married and taught. In 1991 he returned to the UK and died in January 1999.  
By the end of the decade concern about Corpus Christi College would be widespread throughout the country.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Corpus Christi revisited.

Corpus Christi Catechetical Institute opened in Bayswater, London, in October 1965. It occupied the former Sisters of Sion Convent on the corner of Denbigh Road and Chepstow Villas in W11. Its purpose was to lead the field in developing and purveying new methods of religious education in Catholic schools throughout the country. It represented the project of the Bishops in England and Wales in harnessing the new Catechetical Movement that had developed in the early 1960s, together with new ideas associated with the Second Vatican Council.
I do not intend here to speak about the origins new Catechetical Movement – this subject would require particular treatment – but rather to highlight the influence of Corpus Christi College in the life of the Church in this country, and in particular, the damage it did to religious education in the decades that followed. It is important to note however, that the teaching document of the Second Vatican Council on Religious Education – Gravissimum Educationis – was only promulgated on 28th October 1965, just after the opening of Corpus Christi College. The association of “new ideas’ with the Second Vatican Council is a whole story in itself, one which has been at the heart of the problem for forty years, and which is now at last being overtaken by the real teaching of the Council and by a genuine Catechetical Movement.
In the summer of 1965, even before Corpus Christi had opened its doors, the Principal of the College, Fr Hubert Richards, was saying that there were already more applicants than places. Many teachers had applied to their Local Education Authority, and had been granted paid leave so as to attend the year-long course in Bayswater. (Catholic Herald, 6th August 1965)
The above photo was taken earlier this year of the main entrance to the former Corpus Christi College. The building has been converted and is now private residential apartments.

Thursday 25 July 2013

An appointment remembered.

Congratulations to Bishop Julian Porteous, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, Australia, who has been appointed by the Holy Father to the Archdiocese of Hobart, Tasmania. This bishop, who I knew when I was in Sydney, was always full of joy and so focussed on the mission of the Church. I know that he will be missed in Sydney, but his new mission as Archbishop in Tasmania will, with God's grace, bring great joy and renewal to the Church there. 
Bishop Julian is presently taking part in WYD in Rio; may this time be also a moment of preparatory grace for him before he takes up his new munus in the Church. 

Down a hole.

The English Martyrs, our fellow countrymen and women, received the spiritual hurt that took place in England under successive Tudor regimes, in their deaths. The principal movement that underlay the upheavals, controversies and changes of that era, was the desire to eradicate the Catholic Church and Faith from the country. It was a State imposed movement, one which was not chosen by the people. All the martyrs then, stood for freedom of conscience at a time when consciences were being trammelled and overridden; it was an irrational movement. Putting religious and theological controversy aside, the attempt to eradicate and expunge Catholicism, became a political and social movement, initiated and propelled by the small ruling clique, and whatever else was going to take its place, Catholic Faith and practice had to go.
The English Martyrs then, are not first and foremost the partisans of a particular religious group. This is especially true of the Catholic Martyrs, but it is true also of the Protestant martyrs, in that they had only two options: be coerced into recanting or suffer death. All the martyrs then, witnessed to the dignity of conscience, and the need that the country had, to recover from the blind process of belligerent politicisation which took place then and which the country bears still.
The selfless deaths were signs of the Lord’s love for England. These martyrdoms were like sacraments of Christ’s love for a country in rebellion against Him.
So when we read in Simon Schama’s book A complete history of Britain (2003) that “Catholic England ended up down a priest hole”, we find an echo of what has been actively proposed for England by its ruling clique for hundreds of years, and which is believed by many. However, the consequence of this project was not the eradication of the Catholic Church, but the State domination of consciences, the living echo of  which persists to this day.
The Catholic martyrs awoke the consciences of many, and priest holes are signs of just how alive the consciences of many were in that era. The martyrs still have the power to awaken consciences today – which is why we need them and why we need to honour them today.
But no, Catholic England did not end up down a priest hole; it was the conscience of the English which ended up in a cul-de-sac, and England still needs a lot of help, including that of her Martyrs, in order to come to terms with Christ and His Church, and with the foundation of truth upon which all our lives are built. The martyrs insisted that this truth could still find a home in England, and this is England’s journey still.  This is a point which needs to be developed in far more ways than in a blog post.
The above photo shows the hide-under-the floor next to the fireplace in the Drawing Room at Harvington Hall.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Postgate pilgrimage.

In the week that followed my ordination to the priesthood in 1988, I went to stay in Goathland on the North Yorks Moors with my immediate family. There, we visited many of the places connected with Bl Nicholas Postgate. Each day we went down to Egton Bridge and its church, where I celebrated the Mass in the chapel dedicated to this martyr saint.
In the week following my Silver Jubilee celebration I made a return visit to this area, stopping to see Ugglebarnby, Ugthorpe and other places where Bl Nicholas had lived and celebrated the Mass. One such place was Fyling Old Hall near Robin Hoods Bay, and also The Hermitage, near Ugthorpe, where his house once had stood. The photo below shows the new farm house on this site.
I also drove over to see Red Barn Farm, where in 1678, he had been arrested (photo below).
This pilgrimage, twenty five years on, was a very powerful experience, for in seeking to renew my acquaintance with these sites and to gain the martyr's intercession, so much of the last twenty five years was set in relief. The extraordinary nature of the priesthood is that it has a life and direction which is unchanging yet always effective. Both we and our world were made for the Mystery of Christ. The Mission of Christ uniquely embraces the whole of reality. Being just a part of this is our joy and our all.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

On this day ...

 ... twenty five years ago, I was ordained priest. I have always been glad that this day is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In a world which, presently, does not look for or want God's action, her example and influence is such a tremendous grace - she waited for, and opened herself up to, the whole mystery of God's plan in Christ. And in such an age, when so many are avoiding or turning their backs on the person of Christ, I was called not only to respond to Him, but also to allow Him to transform my life with His Priesthood.
So much has taken place during the past few weeks which has acknowledged, marked and honoured my priesthood. A particular grace, this week, was to visit, for the first time, the Carmelite Priory at Aylesford and its shrine to St Simon Stock - whom I am identified with by my middle name. (I hope to post some photos of my visit, in due course.)
I am especially grateful to God that He has joined me to that mission which such a venerable host of my countrymen and women embraced in former times and, who in the darkest hour, won England for Christ, and who became signs of the Lord's love for this land. Through them, many years ago, my conscience was awakened to the fact and the presence of Christ; I rely on them still. Martyrs of England and Wales, pray for us.

16th July.

The vestment which I wore for my Silver Jubilee Mass was my ordination vestment, reworked. That vestment, which had been given to me by my mother's two sisters, had, after twenty five years, become somewhat worn. 
The original vestment had been made and hand-embroided in Valladolid; those same panels were lifted and sewn onto a new vestment by in Dewsbury. You can see both front and back of the vestment in the photos above. I recommend F and M Church Supplies to you, if you are looking to have vestments made in the UK. 
My Spanish chalice and paten, given to me on my ordination day by my mother, is still, fortunately, in 'new' condition; I brought it with me to York for my Silver Jubilee Mass.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Grace-filled revolutions.

Receiving a vocation was the first and most unexpected revolution of my life; I was twenty years old and my expectations of life were turned completely on their head. It was however, the most wonderful time. Even though I had been studying and working towards a career in research biology, I was taken into something completely different and was sent, by Bishop Wheeler, to prepare for the priesthood in Spain.
The second revolution of my life was, once ordained in 1988, embracing the priesthood. Quite a lot of the past twenty five years has been a era in which I have continued to be formed as a priest. I think of the extraordinary impact which Pope John Paul II had on me, my Maryvale studies, the evangelising influence of Youth 2000, the powerful development which took place through my encounter with the St John Vianney Society, and then the tremendous experience of taking part in priestly formation at the Sydney Seminary of the Good Shepherd. All of these were utterly unlooked-for graces, but graces which have built me up as a priest.
The third revolution of my life is just beginning; now that I have returned from Australia and know that there is a New Evangelisation happening, the question uppermost in my mind is: what is my part in it?
I really do thank God for my Silver Jubilee; an event which I sense has marked me for the next step.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Being known as a priest.

One of the special graces of my Silver Jubilee celebration was the string of little speeches that followed Mgr David Smith's lovely words and toast, and then my response. These two speeches caused an avalanche of interventions from others. Not only were most of family family present, but there was a good representation from Youth 2000 and from some of my former parishes. Australia sadly was represented only by the gorgeous red wine we were drinking.
These speeches were a real honouring of the priesthood and made me realise just how much I am recognised as a priest - this was a great grace for me, and I am very grateful to all those who spoke.
To be frank, the past twenty five years has had its fair share of confusion and contradiction in the priesthood, but my experience has been one of being led by God, and of being supported and strengthened in the priesthood by many God-given human agents - not least, by my mother, who has supported me so tremendously.
If the priesthood is about anything, it is about Jesus Christ and His Priestly Mission; for a priest to come to know himself as a priest is a work of grace in itself. The speeches that were made on this day were a sign of just how strong that grace has been for me. At a time when so many in our culture have been avoiding and distancing themselves from the issue of Jesus Christ, I have allowed myself to be transfigured by His priesthood. May the years that remain to me, see me still being shaped by His priesthood.
Thanks to Peter Jones for the photographs on this post.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

A Silver Jubilee Mass.

Even though I have now lived overseas for just over twelve years, most of my priestly life has been lived in Yorkshire. There was something quite providential then about this celebration taking place in the historic chapel of the Bar Convent in York. The chapel not only has its very own priest hide, but is also the home of the reliquary of the hand of St Margaret Clitherow, Britain's foremost citizen and supporter of the Catholic Priesthood.
The Mass was that of the Anniversary of Ordination, and I am especially grateful to the priests who joined me at the altar in offering this sacrifice of thanksgiving. Particular thanks go to Fr Peter Bristow for preaching the homily at the Mass. His generous priestly words of evangelical truth and fraternal testimony were sincerely appreciated. The photo below shows me with Fr Peter at the celebration which followed the Mass.

Special thanks also to the Rudgate Singers ( who sang the Antiphons of the Proper (Introit, Offertory and Communion), together with the Ordinary, and the Solemn "Salve".
I will post again on this celebration, but I would also again commend the Sisters and staff of the Bar Convent for their hospitality and the service we received there. As a venue for such a celebration, the Bar Convent would be hard to match. And the food which was prepared for the lunch-time reception was really superb. I do strongly recommend the Bar Convent to you as a venue for a celebration. Not only does the Convent have such tremendous Catholic historical associations and is very well placed just by the old city walls of York, but it is very close to the train station - those who came from London had such a quick and easy journey.
Thanks to Peter Jones for the photographs in this post. 

Sunday 7 July 2013

A celebration of the grace of the priesthood.

Twenty five years ago I was ordained priest in St Anne's Cathedral, Leeds. Last week I celebrated a Mass of the Anniversary of Ordination at the Bar Convent in York.
I am grateful to the Sisters and the staff of the Convent for the warmth of their hospitality, and I am grateful to all the priests and people, including my family, who joined me for this celebration.
The next few posts will focus on my Silver Jubilee, and thereby enable me to speak about the extraordinary grace of being a priest, and pay tribute and thanks to the many who have supported me, or who have been companions along the way.
Thanks to Peter Jones for the photographs in the post.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Grace-filled connections.

Who would have thought, when Nicholas Owen was designing and building the priest hides at Mapledurham, that he would one day be a canonised saint. This most loyal servant to the priests of his land built what are, arguably, the finest hides in the country. At Mapledurham there are thought to be six hides, some still undiscovered.
The photo above shows the second hide of the run of hides in the northwest wing of the house. This hide is directly below the hide which is entered from the fireplace. The connecting trap door between these two hides is no longer there. In the photo you are looking down onto the floor of the second hide. You can see nails fastening these boards to the joists of the house. These nails are, in fact, decoys; these boards are the entrance door into a third, lower hide.
This trap door is hinged and when raised gives you access through into the basement of the house. In the above photo you can see the Owen-made latch which locked the trap door when closed. It probably had a pin, cord and wheel which was used to draw the latch aside, by those who knew how, and so enable the trap to be lifted. The whole thing could have been made twenty years ago - the latch moves to and fro quite freely, and yet it was made in the mid-1590s. This is one of the most wonderful relics that I have ever touched.
This brass, relief statue is in the church at Harvington, just outside Harvington Hall. It is the only statue of St Nicholas Owen that I know of. It shows him working on a hide; to his side a priest is already concealed in another. St Nicholas Owen died under brutal torture in the Tower of London on 2nd March 1606. What a great man he was; what a great saint he is.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

A saint's best work.

On a recent visit to Mapledurham House, just west of Reading, I was shown the priest hide which St Nicholas Owen built there. I am very grateful to the owner of the house for showing me this extraordinary hide; in fact, it is a series of connecting hides. In the photo above, which shows the back of the house, the 1800s chapel can be seen; the hides are in the chimney stack which is to the left in the photo. The 'principal' hide is  entered from the garret, the hide itself is within the chimney stack on the second floor, which connects to a hide beneath it in the first floor, which connects to a concealed exit/entrance in the ground floor or basement - whose two blue doors you can see to the left.  
The garret space, which is effectively the third floor of the house, was, in recusant days, the secret chapel. At the end of the chapel is a tudor fireplace. The altar would have been set in front of the fireplace.
The stone floor of the fireplace can be moved forward to reveal the entrance to the hide. When I saw this I was utterly amazed; I have never seen anything like it before. Although the stone base to the fireplace is new, it is hard to imagine that this entrance would ever have been discovered. The stone fits the fireplace and surround perfectly, yet moves backwards and forwards with comparative ease. The chimney itself is a real chimney and a log fire could burn away happily in the fireplace with absolutely no danger to a priest concealed below.
The next photo was taken of the hide itself looking directly upwards from the first floor towards the now closed stone entrance. You can see the wooden frame which supports the sliding stone entrance.
To the right, in the picture, you can see a plastered recess; this forms part of a breathing hole to the exterior of the chimney stack which would give necessary ventilation to the hide. This entire system of hides, including the plaster work, was the work of St Nicholas Owen - the master hide builder.
Mapledurham House was built between 1588 and 1612. These hides were most likely built during the 1590s and shown the extraordinary craftsmanship of this great saint. 
In the next photo you can see the breathing hole recess and its original plasterwork; quite breathtaking!
I don't yet know if the hides were used, or if Mapledurham was subjected to official searches. This hide is so well contrived - in some sense, it is a work of grace.