Wednesday 18 November 2015

The Ordinary Prayers

The other day I received a complementary copy, from the Latin Mass Society, of their new booklet, The Ordinary Prayers of the Traditional Latin Mass. This is a tremendous publication which they have clearly put a lot of work into.
The Ordinary Prayers is not so much a pocket missal as a Liturgical prayer book, which is so presented as to lead to a greater participation in the Mass. Indeed, it is a booklet which truly appreciates the Mystery which takes place in the Mass. Its simple presentation of the Prayers of the Mass, with marginal notes and accompanying icons, will do much to lead to that interior participation in the Mass, which was so desired by the Second Vatican Council.
If you can get hold of a copy, I do recommend it to you. And I hope that this small but significant publication, will lead to a much needed re-focus, within the Church today, not only of what takes place in the Mass, but of us being present to the saving Mystery, by our participation in the prayers and actions of the Mass.
I have never seen a comparable publication for the Novus Ordo, and the Latin Mass Society should be congratulated for their service to the Liturgy of the Church.

Friday 23 October 2015

A line of minor prophets.

Tolkien is part of a line of English writers who have given us an understanding of the great history; the History of Salvation, God's mighty works on our behalf.
Bede's History of the English is beyond compare; the whole history of this country is presented from the perspective of the Redemption. Indeed, before Bede there was hardly any history written down at all, since it is Christ Jesus who throws light on human affairs.
Shakespear, although a Catholic, gave us only glimpses into a deeper reality, a reality that had to be hidden because the ruling clique of that age despised it.
Christopher Dawson, perhaps more so than any other English writer in the contemporary age, wrote about human history in the light of Christian Revelation, giving us a fuller appreciation of our past and also of the times in which we live.
Tolkien, whose fantasy literature can do no more than parallel the Mystery of Christ, has kept alight those genuine images and values, because they express the Life of Grace. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings at at time when England was (perhaps sub-consciously) choosing anew the secular project. However, his work stands before us all and, whether you acknowledge its Christian references or not, that deepest of all relationships - Nature and Grace - is nonetheless expressed. A sign to us, whether we will or no, of a very great Love.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Too good to miss.

Robert Cardinal Sarah
Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Text for Synod on the Family, October 2015
Your Holiness, Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, participants of the Synod,
I propose these three thoughts:
1) More transparency and respect among us
I feel a strong need to invoke the Spirit of Truth and Love, the source of parresia in speaking and humility in listening, who alone is capable of creating true harmony in plurality.
I say frankly that in the previous Synod, on various issues one sensed the temptation to yield to the mentality of the secularized world and individualistic West. Recognizing the so-called “realities of life” as a locus theologicus means giving up hope in the transforming power of faith and the Gospel. The Gospel that once transformed cultures is now in danger of being transformed by them. Furthermore, some of the procedures used did not seem aimed at enriching discussion and communion as much as they did to promote a way of seeing typical of certain fringe groups of the wealthiest churches. This is contrary to a poor Church, a joyously evangelical and prophetic sign of contradiction to worldliness. Nor does one understand why some statements that are not shared by the qualified majority of the last Synod still ended up in the Relatio and then in the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum laboriswhen other pressing and very current issues (such as gender ideology) are instead ignored.
The first hope is therefore that, in our work, there by more freedom, transparency and objectivity. For this, it would be beneficial to publish the summaries of the interventions, to facilitate discussion and avoid any prejudice or discrimination in accepting the pronouncements of the synod Fathers.
2) Discernment of history and of spirits
A second hope: that the Synod honor its historic missionand not limit itself to speaking only about certain pastoral issues (such as the possible communion for divorced and remarried) but help the Holy Father to enunciate clearly certain truths and useful guidance on a global level. For there are new challenges with respect to the synod celebrated in 1980. A theological discernment enables us to see in our time two unexpected threats (almost like two “apocalyptic beasts”) located on opposite poles: on the one hand, the idolatry of Western freedom; on the other, Islamic fundamentalism: atheistic secularism versus religious fanaticism. To use a slogan, we find ourselves between “gender ideology and ISIS”. Islamic massacres and libertarian demands regularly contend for the front page of the newspapers. (Let us remember what happened last June 26!). From these two radicalizations arise the two major threats to the family: its subjectivist disintegration in the secularized West through quick and easy divorce, abortion, homosexual unions, euthanasia etc. (cf. Gender theory, the ‘Femen’, the LGBT lobby, IPPF …). On the other hand, the pseudo-family of ideologized Islam which legitimizes polygamy, female subservience, sexual slavery, child marriage etc. (cf. Al Qaeda, Isis, Boko Haram ...)
Several clues enable us to intuit the same demonic origin of these two movements. Unlike the Spirit of Truth that promotes communion in the distinction (perichoresis), these encourage confusion (homo-gamy) or subordination (poly-gamy). Furthermore, they demand a universal and totalitarian rule, are violently intolerant, destroyers of families, society and the Church, and are openly Christianophobic.
“We are not contending against creatures of flesh and blood ….” We need to be inclusive and welcoming to all that is human; but what comes from the Enemy cannot and must not be assimilated. You can not join Christ and Belial! What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion Ideologies and Islamic Fanaticism are today.
3) Proclaim and serve the beauty of Monogamy and the Family
Faced with these two deadly and unprecedented challenges (“homo-gamy” and “poly-gamy”) the Church must promote a true “epiphany of the Family.” To this both the Pope (as spokesman of the Church) may contribute, and individual Bishops and Pastors of the Christian flock: that is, “the Church of God, which he has obtained with his own blood” (Acts: 20:28).
We must proclaim the truth without fear, i.e. the Plan of God, which is monogamy in conjugal love open to life. Bearing in mind the historical situation just recalled, it is urgent that the Church, at its summit, definitively declare the will of the Creator for marriage. How many people of good will and common sense would join in this luminous act of courage carried out by the Church!
Together with a strong and clear Word of the Supreme Magisterium, Pastors have the mission of helping our contemporaries to discover the beauty of the Christian family. To do this, it must first promote all that represents a true Christian Initiation of adults, for the marriage crisis is essentially a crisis of God, but also a crisis of faith, and this is an infantile Christian initiation. Then we must discern those realities that the Holy Spirit is already raising up to reveal the Truth of the Family as an intimate communion in diversity (man and woman) that is generous in the gift of life. We bishops have the urgent duty to recognize andpromote the charisms, movements, and ecclesial realities in which the Family is truly revealed, this prodigy of harmony, love of life and hope in Eternity, this cradle of faith and school charity. And there are so many realities offered by Providence, together with the Second Vatican Council, in which this miracle is offered.

Friday 9 October 2015

The great story.

This is my favourite inscription. This gardening book was a gift from Tolkien to his wife in 1964. By that time The Lord of the Rings was being widely read, and The Silmarillion was yet to be put together under one cover.
I have just come back from my first visit to some of the sites of the First World War. We visited sites around Ypres and Albert. We know that Tolkien was involved in the Battle of the Somme and was certainly stationed near Albert. The week that we spent visiting these sites was one of the best trips that I have ever made; I can't believe that I have left it till now to visit these sites, and I am very grateful to the party who I travelled with for their participation in that week. A hundred years on and the sacrifice that was made on those battlefields will never be forgotten or erased - the evidence of the battles is all over that part of France and Belgium, and the memorials and graveyards are very beautiful and worthy.  
The perspective of those who took part in the First World War is now well known and celebrated, in poems, letters and biographies, and above all, in the graveyards of Flanders. Tolkien's perspective is quite different. What flowed out of his experience of the Battle of the Somme took the most extraordinary literary form. What he wrote was not simply another story or account, but a story about the triumph of goodness. The Lord of the Rings is indeed fantasy, but is embedded with Christian metaphor.
The First World War, by which the secularism of that age imploded in the most horrific way, was taken by Tolkien as the place in which to write about grace and virtue. In today's subjective age when everyone has his or her own story, many of which have to be published, Tolkien's story of The Lord of the Rings appears as anything but subjective.
In a culture which has lost its bearings, Tolkien's story has a very important place; from the darkness of war, and today's darkness of human subjectivity, seemingly remote from God, Tolkien wrote a story which goes beyond mere human subjectivity, and places everything on the platform of grace.
Many today are busy trying the recast English literature in a pagan framework, but this will in no way change God's plan.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Secularism as war.

Secularism, the movement which seeks to build the world on a new basis, one which avoids the human condition of original sin, and seeks a world where God is no longer a part. This movement, which has its roots in the Enlightenment, blossomed in that decadent era just before WWI, and took off in the most hideous way with the outbreak of war, only to blossom again in the decadence of the inter-war era, and then again in WWII. In just that time, Tolkien was preparing his 'parable' of nature and grace, the great story of The Lord of the Rings, a story which speaks about a society seeking to be built upon God.
This book (photo above), a gift from Tolkien to his wife in 1956, beautifully inscribed, is another historical record of the genuine, Catholic, plan for humanity which the secularism of the twentieth century has never had the power to overcome.
After both WWI and WWII, the societies of Europe and the West sought a merely political and social way of managing the aftermath of war and of rebuilding. Secularism since WWII has confined itself (until now) with seeking to 'iron out' all sense of nature and grace, of man and God together, and to provide a sense of life in which man is alone and entirely autonomous.
Not so for Tolkien, who returning to the roots of humanity, which are nature and grace, wrote his mythology as something which was completely counter-cultural, and into which he poured his high, linguisitic, learning. 
The Lord of the Rings is a book about nature and grace, about good and evil and their power. The Ring is the focus of evil in the story, an evil which seeks to dominate and suppress all that is good, true and beautiful in people. But crucially, Tolkien wrote about the most powerful power of all, which is mercy. In The Lord of the Rings this overriding power for good is expressed in Bilbo's and then, Frodo's pity, compassion, for Gollum and the evil which eats away at him. It is this power that ultimately overcomes the vastly evil power of the Ring.
In some way, Tolkien's writing of this book was unthinkable. After all, secularism was trying to rebuild itself in a milder way after WWII, and the last thing that it wanted people to be reminded of was their relationship with God, and His wonderful Lordship of all creation. Of course, for my part, I am delighted that The Lord of the Rings came into being and has caught the imagination of the people of this age, expressing to us, in literary form, the interplay of nature and grace, and for giving us, in a sense, a tool for navigation in this dark age that we inhabit.

Monday 21 September 2015

In a time of war.

As a fan of Tolkien, his writings and his person, some of his personally signed books, which were a gift to me many years ago, are among my few most treasured things. They are links to me of the flowering of Catholic thought and life which took place during the early and middle part of the twentieth century.
Tolkien's tale, The Lord of the Rings, stands at forefront of this flowering for me; a tale which speaks of light, hope and grace in the midst of a century which was plunged into war and destruction.
It seems to me that the emergence of Tolkien's mythology, which took place as he participated in the unspeakable horror of the First World War, and that what flowed out of that experience was precisely a tale which, in some way, parallels the horror of war, enlightened as it was by false human 'lights' (in other words, secularism), and yet seeks the true light, that of God, which no human efforts can ultimately eradicate.
The Lord of the Rings, whose dark power controls the innumerable armies of orcs and seeks to overthrow all that is good, and true, and beautiful, is an analogy for that dark force which plunged so many nations into mutual obliteration in 1914. Yet all along, the true project of goodness, which is the Mercy of God (the most powerful force in the Universe) revealed in Jesus, who seeks the true flourishing of peoples, is ever present.
Everytime that I have read The Lord of the Rings, I have been entranced by how Tolkien weaves grace into his tale. Yet, knowing that the story had its beginning during one of the darkest hours of the twentieth century, and came into being during and after the Second War, is itself a sign and icon of great hope for our times. 
Secularism is again immensely strong, yet Catholic thought and life, which picks up and mirrors that true human project (which is Christ), stands as a beacon for all humanity: God is indeed in charge, and Jesus Christ in the Lord of History.

Sunday 13 September 2015

A soul for Europe.

This year in our SJMV fraternity we have been making a discursive reading of the second edition of the Directory on the life and ministry of priests. This is a very valuable document which reveals the depth of the Diocesan Priesthood, and goes some way in expressing what a magnificent vocation it is.
However, I include a short piece below which is given in the text as a sort of preface to paragraph 46 of the document. In this few words is contained the inner vision of the priesthood - it is one of the finest statements which this Directory makes. Here is expressed the very core of our lives, and I am grateful to Cardinal Piacenza for ensuring that this paragraph was included in the text. These words should be writ large, for so much depends upon their lived reality:  
The spirituality of the priest consists essentially in the profound relationship of friendship with Christ, because he is called “to go to Him” (cf. Mk 3:13). In this sense, in the life of the priest, Jesus will always have pre-eminence over everything. Each priest acts within a particular historical context with its manifold challenges and requirements. Precisely for this reason is the guarantee of the fecundity of his ministry rooted in a deep interior life. If the priest does not count on the primacy of grace he will not be able to respond to the challenges of histimes, and any pastoral programme is destined to failure, no matter how elaborate it may be.
The cord which tied St Edmund Campion to the hurdle, and the Corporal used by saints who were priests, for the celebration of the Mass in cells in the Tower of London (both relics are kept at Stonyhurst), are witnesses to a past, Golden Era of the priesthood. Today however, priests - in many parts of the world - are free, but it is in Christ that we find our greatest freedom and, although these words are used with reference to the priesthood they also speak, by analogy, of a much wider population. Europe today is called to an intimacy with Christ in which the various peoples of Europe can be established upon their true identity and vocation. These words speak about the true soul of Europe, by which it might know how to live and act, and how to build its life, for the good of many.

Thursday 3 September 2015

England's memory on-line again.

Taking part in the Youth 2000 Prayer Festival at Walsingham is wonderful. This past weekend, from Thursday through to Monday, there were about 1100 young people engaging with Christ, His person and His mission, in the fields opposite the Slipper Chapel.
I have just got back to the parish but I am full of the experience of these last few days. England's Nazareth, as it is known, is entering into the mind and soul of successive generations of young people through the annual Youth 2000 Prayer Festival at the Shrine.
Our Lady's Shrine at Walsingham is a place of extraordinary memory. Not only does it encompass the last millennia of this country's Christian personality with its Christian origins, but because the heart of the Shrine is the Holy House of Nazareth, it takes us back into the intimate experience which the Blessed Mother had, and has, of Jesus her son. That there is such a place in this country is sometimes hard to take in!
The Youth 2000 Festival breathes this memory, and the young people respond with great joy to this new life which opens up for them, especially in the main tent of the Festival. It is now for this generation to take part in the next stage of the renewal and development of the Shrine under the practiced and priestly directorship of Mgr John Armitage.
Dear Young people, you have so much to offer to England's Nazareth; may it be a part of your whole lives!

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Witnesses in our midst.

Recently I visited Winchester for the first time and was so pleased finally to see the place where Philip II of Spain married Mary Tudor. I had imagined a walled town built on a shoulder of higher ground, whereas Winchester is built in a valley.
Of course, as you might imagine, I wanted to visit the site of the Winchester martyrdoms. Winchester has five martyrs, all of them Blesseds and, after visiting the lovely Catholic Church of St Peter's on Jewry Street, with its fine windows commemorating the martyrs I headed first to the site of the old gaol.
The old gaol no longer stands; a Weatherspoons, 'The Old Gaol House' now occupies the place. However, I found my way round to the back of the pub - photo above - where the old Tudor gaol used to stand, and here I was able to spend some time in prayer to those who had been held here before their execution.
Blessed John Slade, a school master, was hung drawn and quartered on the Market Square by the old Guildhall on 30th October 1583. This photo shows the site today:
Here he made the sign of the cross on the posts of the scaffold and, although there is no memorial to him at this place today, his memory is not forgotten.
Blessed Roger Dickenson, priest, and Blessed Ralph Milner, layman, were executed together at the Bar Ditch on 7th July 1591.
The Bar Ditch was just north of the old city Walls and gatehouse, where Jewry Street passes over North Walls to Hyde Street. The ditch was part of the old earthwork defences just outside the walls. The site is now built upon and, although there is a plaque detailing the site of the old city gate which stood here, there is no memorial to these two great men. Nonetheless, I stayed here for a while and asked for their intercession for  the new evangelisation of England and Wales.
I have not been able to discover the place of execution of the other two martyrs of Winchester. Blessed Lawrence Humphrey, layman, was executed on an unknown date in 1591, at the age of twenty. The hangman boxed his ears for making the sign of the cross as he mounted the ladder. Blessed James Bird, layman, was hung, drawn and quartered at the age of nineteen for having become a Catholic.
It is hard to pay tribute to such noble men; their constancy makes me want to stop and kneel.
If you know the place where the last two martyrs were executed I would be glad to hear from you.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

The language of the Priesthood.

The Feast of St John Vianney is a great celebration for all priests. This saint expressed the Priesthood so wonderfully that he is as attractive today as he was during his incumbency at Ars.
I have just returned home after the Summer Session of the St John Vianney Society, a week of fraternity by its members, who seek, by priestly fraternity to speak the same language of the Priesthood.
The figure of St John Vianney is an icon of the Priesthood for all priests. He placed his life at the service of the Priesthood in what it was called to be in that age, and the Church gives him to us so that we priests might be what the Priesthood needs to be in the New Evangelisation.
The Diocesan Priesthood can be easily thought of in terms of administration, offering services to people, and in the fulfilment of a role. Yet, the heart of the Diocesan Priesthood, which can easily be overlooked, is the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. The essence of the Diocesan Priesthood is to allow ourselves to be modelled, formed by Him, in the way that we seek to offer ourselves to the Father through Christ Jesus; as Christ Jesus.
The interior engagement, by priests, with the heart of Christ Jesus, has never simply been an individual, personal matter, because it is much greater than an individual priest. Priestly fraternity expresses and nurtures the individual priest's interior engagement with the priestly heart of Christ Jesus as a priestly movement within the Church.
Priestly fraternity, as it is lived by the St John Vianney Society, places itself at the service of priests so that priests can better serve the Church. The language that the Society speaks is the language of the Priesthood.
This is so important today when priests tend to be isolated. In such a context the priest can easily feel that he is merely an individual fulfilling a role. Priestly fraternity, which is an essential dimension of the Priesthood, has, in a sense, been rescued by the St John Vianney Society, and placed where it belongs - at the heart of the Church.
I am very grateful to all my brothers in the Priesthood with whom I spent the past seven days, in Ars. I offered the Mass today for all of you. I remember all of you everyday in any case. I ask the Lord to build us and form us for the mission of the Priesthood in the New Evangelisation.

Sunday 19 July 2015

A priest for all seasons.

I was sorry to learn of the death of Fr Greg Jordan SJ, of Brisbane, Australia, yesterday. I knew Fr Greg when I was in Australia. He visited me in Sydney a few times and really took me 'under his wing' and introduced me to people and places. He also welcomed me to Brisbane during a visit there and introduced me to his home and to the city. The Jacarandas were in full blossom under his windows on that day. I was extremely grateful to him for the warmth of his friendship and his solicitude towards me as a newcomer. I know that many Australian Catholics thought a great deal of him, and I know that he will be sorely missed by them.
I am grateful that I knew him, if only for a few years, and I will remember him for his youthful energy and enthusiasm. A few times I saw him run so as to catch up with someone he wished to speak to - he ran like a young man of twenty years. May he be given now an extraordinary welcome in Heaven, and may the graces he distributed in his priestly life, bear fruit in thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Twenty seven years ago today …

I was ordained to the Priesthood. I crossed a threshold that I could never have created or even thought of for myself, being given a share in the Mystery of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, by which everything is changed and made fitting for God's Plan.
I took this photo last month during the Retreat for Priests in Ars. Many of us had come out  one evening to the Basilica, where Adoration was taking place. The open door, revealing not just the interior of the old Church of Ars, but also the presence of the Lord himself, speaks loudly to me of the gift which I share. 
Human freedom always flows out of following one's vocation, whatever it may be, but the kind of freedom which the Priesthood enables is of another kind. The way in which the Priesthood has changed and shaped me goes far beyond what I could ever have expected of myself and of God's purposes for me. I desire now, much more than I did twenty seven years ago, to be nearer to the heart of the Mystery - a nearness which the priesthood makes possible in the most extraordinary way.
I was ordained on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I took great delight in this date being given to me by my bishop twenty seven years ago. My mother had, all those many years ago, given me a middle name - Simon, after St Simon Stock, who on this day in 1251 was given the Brown Scapular. We should not forget that it was also on this day in 1948 that the Bishops of England and Wales consecrated the country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the newly developing Shrine of Walsingham. This Shrine too, has always been at the heart of my life.
Please pray for me, as I make my next steps on the English Mission.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Going out with someone.

We used to call it dating or even courtship, but going out with someone and discovering that another person is special to me, and then beginning to discern the possibility of a communion of life and love with that person is one of the most exciting experiences in life. 
In a secular age is there a Catholic vision for dating? Yes, there is, and I'm offering an opportunity to those who are 18 and over to look with me at this vision.
Going out with someone: an evening seminar, Wednesday 15th July 2015 at 7.30pm in St Ignatius Parish centre, WF5 0DQ.
For more details, please contact me on stignatius@gmx.com 

Thursday 2 July 2015

The house of a recusant.

Two weeks ago we kept the feast of the rebel Cardinal, John Fisher and the retired Chancellor, Thomas More, the first of England's Reformation martyrs to be canonised. Earlier this year I was in Rochester and, after visiting the Cathedral, where once John Fisher was Bishop, I glanced over to the old Bishop's House on the north side of the Cathedral. The house, now no longer the Bishop's Palace, and almost certainly altered since Tudor times, is nonetheless the house in which John Fisher lived when he was Rochester's Bishop.
The house is still small and would have been a humble Bishop's house, by medieval and renaissance standards. But within its walls there remains those spaces which nurtured the blossoming of an apostolic courage which would establish the Church in this country on new and certain footings, even if they departed from contemporary expectations. Here, and in the old house in Chelsea (Thomas More's home), were forged the beginnings of recusancy - the desire to conform always to the person of Christ, together with the desire never to conform to the prevailing culture. These two men stood out in a singular way from all their contemporaries, but many would follow them - those for whom the term 'recusant' would be applied. In our country we have no greater models and leaders than our recusant forbears, because they show us how to be recusants today. They appeal to our deepest sensibilities, the relationship that we have with Christ the Lord, and to forge in our own homes and places of work those same desires. How the Lord will use these desires of ours is His to name.

Monday 22 June 2015

Fathers and sons.

On this day when we keep the feast of the first canonised Martyrs of the English Reformation, SS John Fisher and Thomas More, I am mindful of those other Fathers who were led out from the Tower in May 1535, passing the Bell Tower in which Fisher and More were held, awaiting their fate. The three Carthusian Priors, Houghton, Webster and Lawrence, together with Frs Reynolds and Haile, were the very first to be executed for the Faith in that era.
During a recent visit to London I discovered that I was near to the site of the former Charterhouse and enquiring at the Gatehouse chanced upon a guided tour. I accompanied the guide for the first part of the tour only, in order to visit the present chapel, pictured above. This chapel, the guide informed the tour party, had been the Chapter House of the original monastery, and therefore the place where the three Priors, together with the community of the London Charterhouse, deliberated how they should respond to the situation of the King's claim of supremacy of the Church in England. The original Chapter House has been modified over the centuries but still holds, in the far corner, the remains of a sacrarium next to where a medieval altar, in the Chapter House, had once been.
The guide then showed us the site of the original monastery Church. The Church is long gone, but its site is marked out in stone on the grass at the very front of the present Charter House buildings. It was here, and on its High Altar, that Prior John Houghton celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit, during which the entire Community discerned the way in which they were called to respond to the King.
On the wall at the side of this site, a wall which was most probably the original north wall of the Church, there is a plaque commemorating the three Priors, the other priest members, and brothers of the Community, all of whom suffered torture and death, following their decision to witness to Christ, rather than to the King.
The place where the lawn and plaque is found, is bounded by a perimeter railing and is not a public place. Nonetheless, it is good to see that such a plaque is there with the names of all the Community.
These, our Fathers, and sons of the Most High, are worthy of great veneration, and we are humbled that this memorial to their great struggle and their great faith, is here in the middle of our busy capitol city.  

Sunday 21 June 2015

An old friend.

I was recently in the old city of London, looking up historical sites which hold so much importance for us. I walked along the Poultry and took the above photo at the building which occupies the site of the Poutlry Compter of old. 
The Poultry Compter was once what its name suggests, but it became a prison in Tudor times and one of the many 'holding places' of Catholics. It was a very primitive place. Here in the Spring of 1594 Fr John Gerard SJ was held. This great confessor of the faith speaks about his experience here in his autobiography.
Today, the location is very different now from how it was in Tudor times; the tower block on the corner of Poultry and Old Jewry could be found in just about any modern city. The Great Fire would have scoured out, to its fetid foundations, the old Poultry Compter.
Close by is the magnificent Guildhall where, three years later in 1597, Fr John Gerard was brought for interogation.
In this enormous medieval aula Fr Gerard, before a Royal Commission, was subjected to an intense session from Richard Topcliffe, the priest hunter. It is hard to picture it now, but then a whole State was intent upon extinguishing the Catholic Church, which had been the very heart of its life and formation up till that time.
London, in spite of its secularism, is rich with Catholicism, precisely because of such great confessors. Blessed Henry Garnet SJ was tried in the Guildhall in 1606 and condemned to death here. The Guildhall somehow survived the Great Fire, and preserves its memory of the old days. 
The secular age tries its best to maintain its project, but what these confessors of old witnessed to is the fullness of human life - the saving Mystery of Jesus Christ.

Monday 25 May 2015

Doing a little weeding.

I had to launch a boat in order to tackle the couch grass that had invaded the pond!

Saturday 16 May 2015

A shrine under renewal.

The renewal of the Shrine at Walsingham is to include the provision of facilities for retreats and conferences. This will enable a tremendous development of the Shrine. Many times I have wished to take groups to Walsingham for a retreat or period of formation, but the lack of a place to meet together has always weighed against this. It will soon be possible for conferences and retreats to be envisaged.
This is particularly important when one recognises that the basic nature of England's Nazareth is that it is a shrine to the family. Christian formation at the level of the family lies at the heart of the renewal of the Church in this country.
Walsingham has an extraordinary place in this context. The many thousands of people who visit the shrine each year, whether as Diocesan, Parish or association groups, all have their family ties, and many of them come as family groups. The shrine has an organic potential to help to nurture the Christian family, having at its centre the house of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The whole sense and environment of the family is one which can easily be engendered and honoured at Walsingham, enabling particular formation to be given within the context of a visit to the shrine.
This can be done at all levels: young people considering marriage and the family, newly married spouses, young families, families with teenagers, extended families, and grandparents. In each case, there can be a particular ministry, directed to honouring the evangelisation already taking place within families, and equipping them even more in their mission.
It is particularly the case that many older people come to Walsingham, often from families that no longer practice the Christian life, yet a visit to Walsingham can be the place where a whole life-time of prayer and evangelisation on behalf of their families can be acknowledged, witnessed to and honoured.
Families themselves could be drawn into the mission of the Shrine, becoming agents of family formation in Walsingham. Other Institutes and bodies in the country could also, perhaps, feed into the mission of the Shrine, for example, the new School of the Annunciation, whose mission is already so closely identified with that of Walsingham.
Again, the renewal of the Shrine at Walsingham is something which calls for our attention and our support.

Sunday 3 May 2015

Walsingham Development.

When I was a teenager in the 1970s there was a nationwide campaign, led by the Director of the Shrine, Fr Roland Connelly, to develop the Shrine and place it more at the centre of the life of the Church in England. The most obvious consequences of this campaign were the number of parish pilgrimages that came to Walsingham, particularly from the northern half of the country, and the replacement of the open-sided hexagonal outdoor chapel with the Norfolk-barn style Chapel of Reconciliation.
Today, a new and fuller project has begun to develop the Shrine again so that it can be at the heart of the New Evangelisation of this country. I commend and applaud Mgr John Armitage for his vision for the next stage of the renewal and building up of the Shrine. The basis of this project can be seen on the new webpage: www.walsinghamdevelopment.org 
This project will involve both new buildings and a renewed schedule for pilgrims. But at its heart is a great vision for the Shrine - a vision to develop the welcome that is extended to pilgrims and their formation in the life and mission of the Church. 
I will post on this again soon.  

Sunday 26 April 2015

Also on that day.

Saturday 16th May 2015. A Walk for Life in York.
In reparation for the legalisation of Abortion.
11.30am Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at St Wilfrid's Church, York.
12 noon Holy Mass
1pm Procession to the Ouse Bridge for prayers and a flower ceremony, naming the babies.
2pm Procession to the Bar Convent for veneration of the relic of St Margaret Clitherow.
3pm Procession to the site of the gallows on the Knavesmire.
4.15pm Benediction of the English Martyrs Church, followed by refreshments.
Contact: Pat 0113 2582745

Thursday 23 April 2015

Guild Day in York

The Guild of Our Lady and St Joseph in association with the Buckfast School of the Annunciation are holding a day for parents, catechists and all those who wish to share the Gospel with joy: Saturday 16th May 2015, at The English Martyrs Church, York, 10.30am to 4.30pm. 
The day focusses on sacred art and media in Catechesis and the New Evangelisation. Cost £15. To register: guildofourladyandstjoseph@gmail.com 

Thursday 19 March 2015

White Rabbit

Yesterday, on the Vigil of the great feast of St Joseph, I went with a group of youth from the parish to see the Leeds performance by Rise Theatre of "White Rabbit". This very impressive production, written by the Rise Theatre, documents the lives of two young people who are confronting the challenges of contemporary living, and who, according to their own lights, are not faring well. However, the person of God, who is present in their lives throughout the drama, is ultimately recognised and welcomed by both characters, whose lives are transformed by the encounter.
"White Rabbit" is the second production of Rise Theatre which I have experienced; the first being "Soldier to Saint" (a play about St Alban), which I saw a year ago. This small Christian, and very Catholic, theatre company represents a tremendous and very welcome intervention in our culture. The four-member cast are very professional, very gifted, and inspirational actors. They are a joy to watch.
The current play "White Rabbit" conveys a very skillful anti-Pelagian message: the self-improvement project of the secular vision is doomed to failure; we were made for grace, we need grace.
I strongly recommend "White Rabbit" to you, and particularly to young people. And I hope that the Rise Theatre Company goes from strength to strength; they deserve much support. Look them up on their website and check out the remaining dates for the current show: www.risetheatre.co.uk

Thursday 12 March 2015

Emotional singing.

Each week during Lent we have sung, in the Parish, at the end of Eucharistic Exposition, the hymn "Ave Verum Corpus".
This fourteenth century hymn was written to be sung during the Elevation at Holy Mass; its final phrases are indeed quite emotional, with respect of both the words and the way in which the chant soars.
This Eucharistic hymn seems especially fit for Lent; its words, and its music encompass both Christmas and Easter, but focus on the work of Jesus and His utter dedication to the Father's plan. It is such a beautiful hymn to sing during Lent. We will sing it also throughout the Easter season, when its resonance will be transformed.
We finish with the Lenten anthem to the Blessed Mother. These prayers, and the music which lifts them, are a great grace because they are leading us still into the Mystery.

Thursday 5 March 2015

The Synod. 8.

The basic motif of modern life is social mobility; economic and cultural freedom to move within society and within the culture. This ethos means that values and structures cannot be thought of as a solid or unchanging framework. Within the secular vision, neither marriage nor the family can be thought of as solid or unchanging elements of life. This certainly puts Christian marriage and family in a position, precisely because in the Christian life marriage and the family are an essential human and Christian framework. It is the secular project and its vision (and its media), which has made life difficult today for marriages and families.
The first thing to say is that history shows that the Christian life is strong and grows when it holds fast to the Gospel and to Christian principles. Indeed, the mandate of Catholic Bishops has always been to defend the Tradition.
Secondly, we don't know where the secular project will go. Its future will be neither rational, nor scientific, nor thoughtful. What superstitions and misunderstandings about the Christian life that it will come to embrace is not yet clear. In such a context, the whole Church needs to be very discerning about contemporary culture - don't follow the culture should be the general rule.
We should also point out the following basic principles:
1. The essential ingredient for any pastoral approach is the desire for the Christian life. Without this we can easily put the cart before the horse. Fostering Christian marriages and families happens on the foundation of a desire for the life of Jesus Christ.
2. After evangelisation, the second most important ingredient is the formation of people before and after marriage, awakening their awareness of their mission. It isn't that Catholics should suddenly take a tight grip upon the mission of Christian marriage and the family (which could result in the distortion of that mission), but rather that Catholics become more aware, more conscious of the depth and greatness of the mission of marriage and the family, and its central place in God's plan. 
The Synod is a 'wake up call' for the Church to renew its appreciation of what it has taught about Marriage and the Family during the twentieth century, so that she can take a firm hand on the helm, at this time when Western Civilisation is breaking down. Marriage and the family are our greatest goods.
This post concludes what I want to say about this subject, for the time being.

Thursday 26 February 2015

The Synod. 7.

As society submits itself, more and more, to the forces of secularism, and the Christian life is evaluated, more and more, from the perspective of secular opinion, it is important for the whole Church to see Christian spouses as leaders and primary agents of the civilisation of love. The challenge for the Church then, is to proclaim the Gospel to Christian parents and families, and then to honour them by allowing them to be the primary agents of the formation of Christian life and culture in our midst. Thus, all the other agents of Christian life and culture; clergy, schools, catechists etc, must increasingly see themselves as subsidiary to spouses and parents.
In the new evangelisation, Christian spouses have a primary role; the Church is called to nurture and support them, so that their reception of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ can be at the very heart of the Church.
John Paul II was very earnest in his desire that the genuine forces within the family should be unlocked for the good of the Church and of the world. His pastoral approach, which he modelled for all of us time and time again, is something that we need to learn again and set in relief in the life of the Church today.
The most important people in the world today are Christian spouses, those who are trying to embrace their mission, and priests, those who are trying to embrace their mission to be pastors after the heart of Jesus Christ. Everyone stands in relation to these two missions, but the role of Christian spouses comes first.
This vision is so wonderfully presented by Paul VI in "Humanae Vitae", where the consciences of spouses stand at the very heart of all human affairs.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

The Synod. 6.

During this age of media culture, the family has swopped places with the media in terms of being the principal agent of formation and of the handing on of values; what was formerly done by the family is now largely done by the media. This change has been effected by the media itself. 
The mass media presents the family as an impersonal reality. By subjecting the family to the gaze of society, actual families have been made to feel self-conscious and awkward, perhaps even frightened.
The models of family life which are constantly presented by the media have been used to teach values. The family, which is a profoundly human reality, and the very source and foundation of values, is now challenged by this new form of totalitarinism. The media with its steryotypes has become the agent of modelling families and value transmission. Living one's life vicariously through media families is often a substitute for the reality of one's own family life.
The media's presentation of the family even touches upon human freedom. Truth is manipulated and misrepresented, and the family is often presented as an obstacle to personal freedom. In fact, the truth about the family leads people to exercise their freedom.
It is possible to consider the presentation of the family by the media in a genuine and formative way - presenting the family in its own truth, but this is not the place to do that. But what is important to point out is the way that roles have changed in the media age. Human formation and the transmission of values used to take place within the family; society stepped back from this privileged place. Today it is accepted that secular society and its agents are fitting places for human formation and the transmission of values. The family has lost its privileged place and, to a large degree, its unique mission. In this culture it is important for parents to be people of character and to appreciate anew the greatness of their mission. In the light of "Humanae Vitae" and "Familiaris Consortio" parents today can rediscover ad re-evaluate their role and task. The importance of the formation which the Church gives to young people, to those prepring for marriage and to young families cannot be overstated. Spouses and parents hold the first place in society, their role in interpreting the culture and of forming the next generation is the most important one. 
Don't look where the media gazes, but look at the inner truth of the family. And wherever there are parents struggling to embrace their mission, there is the foundation of human civilisation. 

Monday 23 February 2015

The Synod. 5.

During the twentieth century, and especially with Paul VI and then John Paul II, the Church gave an extraordinary teaching to the family; in a sense, they handed the Family its Gospel, a vision of its own inner life and mission.
But the Church gave this teaching at a time when modern culture, and especially the mass media, was trivialising the family. During my life-time the culture has lost sight of the family, and the media has done immense harm by making the family the subject of its gaze and of its own secular agenda.
Today, forming a community of persons, serving life, participating in the development of society and in the mission of the Church, are hardly reference points at all. Instead, the pursuit of relationships, rather than marriage, the pursuit of life-styles, rather than educating and forming human beings, and as for society, that is down to the welfare State and its organs to provide us with.
Yes, a huge shift took place in the Church's understanding of the family (with Humanae Vitae), but a huge shift also took place within the culture, in which the mass media took hold of the controls.
By projecting soap opera families onto our screens the media has made the family self-conscious and utterly vulnerable to manipulation by the media. The mass media insists on providing models of family living and, in so doing, has indicated the way in which families should see and understand themselves.
What was formerly the preserve of families themselves - handing on the culture - has been taken out of the hands of families, in a significant degree, by the mass media, and more recently by the virtual reality of internet and its own social media.
Never before has the family been so intensively modelled as it is today by the media. The Church has never given models for family living, except of course, the Holy Family, which of its nature, transcends all times and cultures.
In considering the themes which the Synod of Bishops has raised, it seems to me that it is important for the Church to see what the culture has done to the family today, and more importantly, for the Church to look again at its own teaching and vision of marriage and the family, and to make these as available as possible in the simplest and clearest ways, to parishes and to communities, opening them up and receiving them anew. This is the first essential step for the Church today.

Thursday 19 February 2015

The Synod. 4.

In addressing the place and mission of marriage and the family, the Church has given remarkable light and encouragement. In the secular vision of human life and activity, marriage and the family have no coherent form or place. "Humanae Vitae" situates the role and mission of spouses at the very centre of all human affairs, and by rejecting artificial contraception, seeks to protect that role and mission from the many forces of secularisation. Artificial contraception admits third-party interests into the marriage union, and by separating sexuality from procreation, seeks to secularise and diminish the dignity and mission of spouses.
Once we see that marriage and the family is the foundation of all human affairs, then we see that every one in the whole world stands in relation to marriage and the family. Yet in the changing culture of the modern world, all the many models of family life fail to convince us. The 1950s model family with the housewife at home, and the husband who comes home from work to find his wife and children well attired and waiting for him to join them at the family table, "The Waltons" (who?), or more recently the roles played out on modern soap operas, are all conditioned by the culture, and whilst being formative of the culture, are unable to reveal the truth about the family.
In the light of "Humanae Vitae" - which newly establishes spouses at the very centre of human affairs, and which sets them as the primary interpreters of culture - John Paul II gave us what can fairly be described as the greatest statement about the family ever made.
"Familiaris Consortio" of 1981 does not look at the family from the outside, but from the interior, and so it speaks of what is the essetial reality of the family; not a kitchen full of 'white goods', or having two or three smartly dressed children, nor the anguish of a teenager who feels 'hemmed in' by his or her parents. Suddenly, when one realises that the family is the centre and ground of civilisation, its mission to 'create a community of persons' is set in relief. So too is its mission to serve life, to participate in the formation of society, and to share in the mission of the Church. With these four missions, John Paul II touches the essence of the family. In a sense, it doesn't matter what a family looks like, or how the culture seeks to present the family, because now we can see what the family is. The mission of the family reveals its identity.
If "Humanae Vitae" establishes spouses in their identity, "Familiaris Consortio" establishes families in theirs. And at the root of this foundation of all human reality we find a bond; the marriage bond between a man and women; a God-given spiritual reality, whether natural marriage or sacramental, upon which the whole edifice of human civilisation rests.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

The Synod. 3.

We can't speak fully about Marriage and the Family without speaking about Paul VI's teaching on this subject.
The claim is made by many who speak about the Encyclical Letter, "Humanae Vitae", that its teaching is a matter of conscience. This is merely wordplay, because they go on the say that Paul VI's teaching here is not secure aand that everyone must decide about the matter on the basis of their own conscience.
"Humanae Vitae" is indeed a matter of conscience, the conscience of spouses, and it is a matter of conscious awareness for everyone.
With "Humanae Vitae" Paul VI enabled a huge shift to take place regarding the way in which marriage and the family are perceived. He took the mission of spouses out of the position that it was in - one of being watched and analysed by others - and placed that mission in the exclusive hands of married spouses. In Humanae Vitae, Paul VI establishes anew the mission of spouses in its greatness and uniqueness; they are the only ones who have the mission to transmit human life. It is their mission and theirs alone.
In the Council Document, "Gaudium et Spes", the Church speaks about marriage and the family as one topic among many. But in "Humanae Vitae", the role and mission of spouses is taken out of the arena and entrusted entirely to them.
It is a stunning piece of teaching, in which the Pope relegates to a poor second place all other interests which weigh in on family life in the modern age: governments, politics, medics, teachers and the media. And he elevates, in front of all these interests, the conscience and awareness of married people to the greatness of their mission.
Marriage and the family had never been spoken of before like this. Humanae Vitae paved the way for the extraordinary teaching document on the family of JPII, "Familiaris Consortio". Without "Humanae Vitae" such a lucid understanding of the family could never have come about. Spouses stand before the whole world, entrusted with the mission to transmit human life. Their consciences, before the world, matter a great deal. And so, Paul VI presents the simple basis by which spouses should evaluate their mission in real life. Importantly, he denies the 'voice' of modern contraception methods, as unworthy of the mission of spouses.
Humanae Vitae is the very basis by which spouses and parents are freed for their role in the world and in society. No one else has any rights here.
To say that "Humanae Vitae" is a matter of conscience and that spouses must make up their own mind whether to use contraception of not, is to undermind the mission of spouses, and in a certain sense, to patronise them, thinking that their consciences are not worthy of the light of truth.

Friday 13 February 2015

The Synod. 2.

Our society has largely accepted the secularisation of marriage and the family, and the voices that call for that acceptance in the Church, are being echoed in the Church. By presenting examples of many difficult situations that some Catholics are in, and by emphasising the complexity of those situations, an implicit argument is being made that the teaching of the Church about marriage and the family should change; that the Church too should be secularised.
However, both the world and the Church are indebted to all those men and women who, down through the ages, and still today, embrace and live the calling to the spousal vocation. Their lives, their witness, and the fruit of their lives, although largely unacknowledged by our contemporary culture, are honoured by the Church. The countless multitude of people who live marriage and family as both a a gift and a task, stand at the forefront of humanity.
Also, a question must be asked: why are some Catholics arguing that the complexity of human life today suggests that the Church's teaching should be re-evaluated, rather than seeking to enlighten those situations from the perspective of truth?
Why, after so much light has been shone on marriage and the family by the Church during the twentieth century, are there voices that contradict, and even seek to overturn, the clarity and beauty of that teaching?
In her teaching about marriage and the family, the Church is guarding the most fundamental patrimony of humanity. 
(To be continued.)

The Synod on Marriage and the Family. 1.

Having let some time pass, my thoughts on this subject have matured and I can make the following series of comments.
The complexity of the human situation today regarding marriage and the Christian life tells us that the secular vision has intruded heavily upon marriage and the family. Homosexual unions, the call for remarriage to be recognised in the sacramental life, and the call for free unions to be re-evaluated, and so many other issues, are being spoken of as legitimate arguments for why the teaching of the Church should be changed. What this represents is the secularisation of marriage and the family, in which scenario the Church is now seen as the one who imposes burdens.
This does indeed look like Satan's strategy; changing things around so that it seems that it is the Church, and not the secular vision, which imposes burdens upon people. And in which what is essential is made to feel marginal or obsolete.
Marriage, like the priesthood, is something which one receives, or enters into, on a particular day. Yet these sacraments are callings which change us, form us, in our whole person, for the whole of life. This is why we speak of them as vocations.
Marriage (like priesthood) is something which one enters into freely, and which then frees one for living one's vocation. It is a vocation which marks the whole of one's life, and lasts for the whole of life. Becoming a spouse is a way in which one's whole being is involved in a particular mission. This mission is to love one's spouse and, in so doing, to stand at the very heart of human society and its flourishing. Out of spousal love flows the family, and out of the family flows society. 
The vocation to marriage is God-given, and is central to all human life and activity. Everything about a spouse is called to be incorporated and fashioned by his or her vocation; heart, mind, body, work, plans and hopes, money, virtues, and the life of grace.
Since everyone of us comes from a marriage and a family, the family is the first and primary focus of our lives. All other interests are secondary to the family.
Yet today, all the other interests, including marginal and ephemeral ones have been given primary focus in the secular vision. So today, lifestyle, career, wealth and self-centeredness have been superimposed on the family, and on marriage. The consequence of this is that we no longer see marriage and the family for what they are, and seek to change them in favour of newly perceived goals in life.
The Church however, does continue to see the essential truth about marriage and the family, yet the secular clamour has entered into the Church today.
(To be continued.)

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Avoiding reality.

The British Parliament votes to allow a three-parent IVF baby to come into being. It is quite ghastly living in a country which places ideology in front of reality. It is the exclusive right and privilage of dads and mums to make babies.
Would you like to stand as a Pro-life candidate in the next election? If you would like to stand in the Wakefield Constituency, I would gladly support you. We need to live in reality - I'll always vote for that.

Monday 2 February 2015

A fraternal schedule.

Last month the members of the English section of the St John Vianney Society met for a few days of fraternity. During that time we ear-marked a date each month, at least until high summer, for our monthly fraternity sessions.
There was something very uplifting about putting these dates in our diaries, since in doing such a simple thing, the reality of our fraternity was set in relief. The SJMV is not a 'talking shop' or a nice idea, but is a real, living fraternity. I remember the Moderator of the Society saying to us, when I joined some years ago, that "when priests come together, the charisms come together." In saying this, he gave me a whole new sense of my priesthood, and in light of his encouragement I am able to invest much more of myself in this Society than I had at first sensed.
My life as a priest is now marked by these monthly fraternity sessions, when we spend 24 hours together, celebrating the Mass, in a hour's Adoration, in Gospel sharing, in life sharing, in praying together and for one another. Our sessions include a lot of relaxation together, since making time for one another is at the heart of the SJMV. 
May God bless the Society and give it increase, and may it do His will.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Another new Pastor.

Congratulations to the new bishop of Digne, France, on his episcopal consecration last Saturday in the Cathedral of Digne.
Mgr Jean-Philippe Nault is a member of the St John Vianney Society based in Ars, to which I also belong. May he have the prayerful support of all in his Diocese; he will certainly have the support of the members of our Fraternity. It is a good sign for the Society, that one of its members - the first - has been chosen as a Bishop. I am myself very grateful to God for the nurturing of the Diocesan priesthood which this Society has undertaken, and especially for the way in which it brings together its members, and forms them through fraternity.