31 May 2009
30 May 2009
A braver man than I would have stayed in the pulpit and preached, but I am no Fr Newman, who sat almost exactly there in 1852, in this chapel; but I am no Fr Newman, and this is no Second Spring. According to James Doyle’s unfinished oil painting, on the landing, Newman was sat next to Fr Manning at the Synod of Westminster, the newly restored hierarchy of our lands. Sitting where I am now in front of the altar like so many bishops who grace our presence these days, Cardinal Wiseman, the first Archbishop of Westminster. Just behind him, was one Fr John Wheble, he of the stained glass window fame, and MC to the first Synod of Westminster, over there was Provost Weedall and just to my left was Bishop Ullathorne who is wearing his beloved and stunning pectoral cross now adorning the current Archbishop of Westminster. With the religious (Benedictine and Jesuit) sat by the clavinova, truly the great and the good of the Church, seemingly dead now and yet very much alive in these hallowed stones.
26 May 2009
24 May 2009
I find it hard to be lectured on sex by a celibate, but then I'm not a Catholic. Isn't it just possible that everything he does is based on self-deception? That there was no God nagging him on the terraces and his calling was just the fretting of a teenage boy overwhelmed by hormones and powerful priests? Not even this agitates the archbishop. He leans closer. "Then it is a very remarkable pattern in life, repeated millions of times over, that people give themselves to following a call in God, and live fulfilled and happy lives. Are you saying it's all a myth?"
I might be, I say. Nichols smiles again, the game show smile, as if indulging a child. "I don't think so."
23 May 2009
22 May 2009
21 May 2009
19 May 2009
Some will complain that he has been made a scapegoat for the failings of individual MPs. Others will insist that this Glaswegian sheet metal worker was the victim of class-based prejudice and snobbery. There is some truth in both those charges. However, the reason he has been driven from office is much more simple than that. At a time when the Commons desperately needed leadership, he failed to lead.
17 May 2009
16 May 2009
In her review Elizabeth compares the plot of Angels and Demons to a film made about denial of the holocaust and the hurt that this would lead to. She, rightly, asserts that no defence based on ‘it’s just fiction’ would work in this instance. Why is it, therefore, justifiable watching Angels and Demons because it’s just a movie and no one has to go and see it?
Only recently I was having a discussion on this very subject. As you may imagine, here in seminary, we are careful to consider what we watch and the impact that this has on our own well being as well as the impact upon the faith of the community at large. There are times when a film, or indeed any form of art, can lead people away from Christ, as there are times when our faith is deepened by what we watch.
Is it ever justifiable to ban a film? Should we be protesting about watching Angels and Demons? It doesn’t portray the Catholic Church in a very good light, it is true. It is, indeed, a work of fiction. If I were preaching this weekend, which I am not, would it be acceptable or even expected that I should direct people one way or the other? Can a priest tell his people not to go to the movies?
I have to confess, that I have, in the past, tended to consider films as just films. Now I am changing. They do impact on our lives and they do influence the way we think. Can I honestly say that I would watch Angels and Demons and not leave the cinema saying, “I wonder…?”
It is not appropriate for me to say you must not watch Angels and Demons; as it is not appropriate that you tell me whether to go or not. You and I must make up our own mind, having fully informed our conscience.
I tell you one thing, though, which Elizabeth Lev is absolutely spot-on with and it is this:
“Angels and Demons” offers an interesting opportunity. While viewers reel at the breathtaking art and majesty of the Eternal City, there is a golden moment for Catholics to tell Rome’s real story, which is more fascinating than any fiction.
14 May 2009
13 May 2009
12 May 2009
We are grateful for the many gifts you bring to our community:for drawing us together in worship,for visiting us in our homes,for comforting us in sickness,for showing us compassion,for blessing our marriage,for baptising our children,for confirming us in our calling,for supporting us in bereavement, for helping us to grow in faith,for encouraging us to take the initiative,for helping the whole community realise God's presence among us.
For our part, we pray that we may always be attentive to your needs and never take you for granted.You, like us, need friendship and love,welcome and a sense of belonging,kind words and acts of thoughtfulness.
We pray, also, for the priests who have wounded priesthood.May we be willing to forgive and may they be open to healing. Let us support one another during times of crisis.
God our Father, we ask you to bless our priests and confirm them in their calling.Give them the gifts they need to respond with generosity and a joyful heart.
We offer this prayer for our priest, Who is our brother and friend,
10 May 2009
Today, I want to share with you a private moment in the life of the seminary. Whilst it is true to say we live very public lives in so many ways: in seminary, occasionally, we get a glimpse of heaven on earth, and these moments are often quite private, enjoyed almost like revelation it’s very self. Today, effectively, the college said au revoir to Archbishop Vincent, before he heads south to Westminster in little over a week. We enjoyed all the formal liturgical events and shared a lovely meal, complete with other guests at the college, so it was not particularly private. There were, however, speeches made, appreciation shared and gifts given to mark the occasion. They were thoughtful and touching tokens of our appreciation.
It was an emotional time. We have been blessed in having +Vincent with us these past years. I have known no other Bishop of the seminary whilst here, and do you know, if I may be brutally honest, I don’t think I appreciated just how blessed we were; I was. Today I witnessed firsthand just what a good man he is. I suspect it has not been an easy job, leading the Catholic community of Birmingham, and most certainly it is not going to be an easy task leading Westminster, effectively becoming our national spiritual leader.
Archbishop Vincent said he sought only to do his best and by golly I do declare that he means to do so. It was Saint Thomas Aquinas who said; that the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell. Not for a single moment do I suggest that Birmingham is anything like hell, indeed Archbishop Vincent makes clear that we are a most wonderful diocese, but to those who have been critical of Archbishop Vincent, I say only this: we were much blessed to have him in the Midlands, and will be twice blessed now he speaks with faith and confidence for our nation. Indeed, the Spirit has made clear his intention.
8 May 2009
Allow me, for just a moment, to wallow in self pity. I have the ordination to plan, materially as well as spiritually; I have my STB examinations looming on 26th May, and a raft of tests before this, including the first, which was this afternoon; I have to pack up my worldly belongings and get out of here. Ah, much to be done.
I am vexed as to what to take and what to leave. Already this is impinging upon my prayer life. During our weekly holy hour, earlier this week, I was reflecting in the meaning of poverty in scripture. How do we, as ordained ministers of the Church, live out the radical call to poverty? Through prayer I have determined criteria on what to keep and what to leave behind. Will I need it in the immediate future? By this, I mean in the next twelve months and to have specific need, not a ‘just in case’ need. Does it give me pleasure or have significant meaning for me, such that it would be detrimental for me to leave behind. In other words, is it life giving?
This leads me to make a decision on very simple terms and is, most significantly for me, either yes or no. I have need of it, or accept that it gives me pleasure. There is no in between.
Not a perfect solution but, nonetheless, helpful. Do you have any better criteria for what I might do with my ‘stuff’?
7 May 2009
“Look Meg! These blessed Father’s be now as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage!” So spoke Saint Thomas More on 4th May 1535 to his daughter from the window of his cell in the Tower of London.
The blessed Father’s were 3 Carthusian priors, Saint’s Augustine Webster, John Haughton, Robert Lawrence, a Brigitine priest Saint Richard Reynolds and another priest John Hale and all of them were the first martyrs of the English Reformation. They died witnessing to the truth of the Catholic faith. For all had refused to sign the oath of Supremacy naming Henry VIII as “the only supreme head of the Church in England.
The blessed Fathers, wearing their white religious habits, were tied to boards and dragged through the filthy streets of London, in full public view, to the gallows at Tyburn. There, they were hung, one by one, disembowled, dismembered and in a final humiliation their body parts were displayed throughout London. When Saint John Haughton was having his intestines drawn out he said “O Jesus, have mercy on me!” and when his heart was being cut out his last words were “Good Jesus, what will you do with my heart?”
“What will you do with my heart, good Jesus?”
Herein lies the mystery of martyrdom for the blessed Fathers and the many other Catholic martyrs of the Reformation, young and old, rich and poor, religious and lay, men and women, did not intend to be killed. Priests training in Valladolid and Rome went back to England and Wales to serve, trying to avoid capture, aided by people who themselves did their utmost to foil detection. How do their deaths serve when their intention to service is snuffed out?
The answer lies in God’s eminence and the Kingdom of Heaven.
God’s eminence is found in Jesus’ own words in the Gospel: “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full”.
In the ordinary existence of human life, it’s triumphs and defeats the Blessed Trinity’s extraordinary divine superabundant fruitfulness is permanently communicated. Jesus says “I am the gate of the sheepfold” and he means, as with his other statements “I am the Good shepherd”, “I am the true vine” that He, God, is the source of all that is life-giving for Jesus’ “I am” statements are simply statements of “God is” – “God is spirit”, “God is love”. So where there is justice there is God. And even when there is injustice, when men and women are murdered for their faith, God is there too. He fills the void – in peoples eyes they recognise what is true, loving and holy. And this is how God’s extravagant fruitfulness is communicated to the lives of others.
They come to see the Kingdom of heaven being made present now – God reigning in the lives and deaths of those who are witnessing to him. They can see the salvation of the kingdom of heaven coming in power through the martyrdom of Jesus’ disciples. They can recognise the brigands and thieves who come to steal, kill and destroy. The sheep hear the voice of the good shepherd and see the true sheepfold.
God spoke and there was life – Each and every word of God is a deed of fruitfulness – Each and every deed of God is a word of fruitfulness – Each and every martyr speaking through the deed of their death is a word and deed of God and is fruitful.
And yet the English Martrdoms ended in 1680. What of testimony, through death, in our own times?
It requires a speaking and doing in our lives which mirrors the death of the martyrs – the primary Christian witness or so-called white martyrdom whereby one dies to those things that obscure God. Things that obscure God are the empty attractions and affections of selfishness, self-aggrandisement and cynicism. Our own modern day oath of supremacy. Dying to these attractions and affections are like tiny knife cuts – they cause wounds that hurt. This dying takes a courage that is only possible for the friends of Jesus who offer, as Pope John Paul II said, “the gold of their freedom, the insence of their ardent prayer and the myrrh of their most profound affections”.
In other words it means making Saint John Haughton’s prayer ones own: “Good Jesus, what will you do with my heart?” In doing so God’s eminence floods the kingdom of heaven such that others may perhaps say of us in hope: “Look! Those blessed fathers be so cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms going to their marriage”.
6 May 2009
Oscott Action for Justice and PeaceWe are running 10km on Tuesday as a sponsored jog around our grounds. There seems no definitive distance around the seminary, but it is rumoured to be about 1mile. We are, therefore, running 7 times around ensuring we have surpassed the minimum necessary to complete 10km. I might add, incidentally, that when I say 'we', we are talking in the royal sense. If that makes any sense, at all.
Talking of 'we', royal or otherwise, I am very pleased indeed to announce my successor as Dean of Seminarians to be Michael Collis. He of eastangliaseminarians blogging fame. They have announced a secret coup of the seminary in due course! Hah, their plan has been foiled. Don't write, on a blog, what you don't wish the world to know. Come on, guys, it's not rocket science. Hats off to the chaps, though. There are four of them here, and each and every one of them is running the 10km on Tuesday. Meaning they will, of course, be too exhausted to engage in any form of coup.
On a far more serious note. I was distressed to read of further attempts by the Vietnam authorities to undermine Catholicism in the their country. They attempted to prevent people travelling to Hanoi to join in the golden anniversary celebrations of the Redemptorists. Read more about it, from Independent Catholic News, here. The authorities forced the drivers of coaches bringing Catholics into the Capital to turn around and go home, forcing those who wished to continue the journey to walk 30km into the city. It will not surprise you to hear that they marched on. Well done to them. God bless them, always.
We have three seminarians at Oscott from Vietnam, Linh, Thai and Long. Remember them in your prayers. Each of them far from home and so very committed to the Faith. It is to help with Justice and Peace in our world that we are engaging in a sponsored run. The money raised will help local and international charities, but it is not just about the money. It is also about raising awareness and encouraging others to live out the faith, and sometimes that includes doing something. It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said; when you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.
2 May 2009
It will not surprise you to know that his people loved him, not least for his pastoral strength. Described as a man of small stature, yet we are, indeed, standing on the shoulders of giants when we see the world through his eyes.
In our post Vatican II world, to be described as ‘orthodox’ is something of a pejorative term in some circles. Perhaps it is a term of ridicule only in those circles of liberalism, where anything and everything goes. Maybe to be orthodox is a badge of honour, to show that we are, indeed, in this world but not of it. I read recently, in Maryanne Confoy’s recent book that prior to the Second Vatican Council orthodoxy was measured in conformity. In other words, if you didn’t agree with us, you were accused of not being orthodox; ergo you were not following the teaching of the church, was the general gist. In a certain sense, this is the definition of orthodox. It is the “authorised or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice”.
Yet if St Athanasius teaches us anything in our modern world it is simply this – don’t follow the crowd. He heard the teaching of the Council (in his case Nicea in 325) as a brave young man, less than 30 years old, looking to make his way in the world. He then witnessed the church pull itself apart as it continued to fight over what the very Council had said, over who Jesus was. Clearly there were those who refused to accept the teaching of the Council and sought to undermine those who, like Athanasius, stood resolute in the face of adversity. I wonder, do you think they accused him of being orthodox? No they did not. They called him, or more specifically those who agreed with him, Athanasians! They missed the point. It was never about the man, it was all about the Son of Man; Jesus Christ; the Word made flesh.
Today, the gospel tells us “after hearing his doctrine, many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘this is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’” There were some “who do not believe”, those who simply couldn’t accept the Good News. If there were disciples then who struggled with Jesus’ teaching, we should not be surprised to find Catholics today who now struggle to hear the utterances of the Body of Christ, his Church, speaking in Council. The Vatican II fathers did not offer us an opinion, or a view, or even a persuasive argument. They taught the truth. The Church has spoken, my friends.
St Athanasius did not, however, hold fast because he blindly accepted what the Church teaches. No he, like Peter, says “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.” It is Peter, who speaks for the Apostles, but it is also a well informed conscience and the Holy Spirit, which directs us toward the “straight or right opinion”; the orthos doxus.
St Athanasius, Father of Orthodoxy...Pray for us.