24 October 2009

Frank Skinner in The Times

H/T to Ruth Gledhill for drawing my attention to this article from Frank Skinner in The Times.

In his article, My Church is not a safe haven for bigots, Frank presents the funniest lines I have read in simply ages. He is talking about atheists, and says:

I’m less keen on the glut of bandwagon atheists who’ve just unquestioningly joined in because they think the atheist label makes them sound clever and grown-up. I suspect that they see themselves in an elite senior common room with Bertrand Russell and Charles Darwin while people like me are in Julie’s Pantry with Cliff Richard.

I don't even know what Julie's Pantry is but it does sound fun! Though perhaps Cliff may not be my first choice for company. Help us if it rains and he repeats that Wimbledon affair.

In all seriousness, I thought Frank Skinner raised some interesting points in his article, but cannot agree that it's 'his' Church and nor is it helpful to use the term 'liberal Catholic' as though there is a viable alternative floating around where you can pick and choose your brand of Catholicism. We are, as most would profess every Sunday, "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church".

Frank's reminder of Küng's analogy to a road travelled with cul-de-sacs, is, I think, a helpful one. I'm not so sure the entire Church wonders off down the cul-de-sac, so much as there is the odd foray into it from a few of her members. Sometimes these members are more numerous or influential than others (think of the Bishops during the Arian years), and sometimes they are just a few bods who think themselves prophetic but are just simply misunderstanding the ancient Tradition of the Church.

In the end, we do not need bigots in the Church, but we are a Church packed with sinners, and we none of us want to throw the first stone. Perhaps we can all, from time to time, however, offer a little fraternal correction (as we used to say in seminary) and let's not be labeling ourselves!

23 October 2009

Praying for Priests

A Prayer for Priests by Sr. Breige MacKenna

Lord Jesus,

You have chosen your priests from among us and sent them out to proclaim your word and to act in your name. For so great a gift to your Church, we give you praise and thanksgiving.

We ask you to fill them with the fire of your love, that their ministry may reveal your presence in the Church. Since they are earthen vessels, we pray that your power shine out through their weakness. In their afflictions let them never be crushed; in their doubts never despair; in temptation never be destroyed; in persecution never abandoned. Inspire them through prayer to live each day the mystery of your dying and rising. In times of weakness send them your Spirit, and help them to praise your heavenly Father and pray for poor sinners.

By the same Holy Spirit put your words on their lips and your love in their hearts, to bring good news to the poor and healing to the brokenhearted. And may the gift of Mary your mother, to the disciple whom you loved, be your gift to every priest. Grant that she who formed you in her human image, may form them in your Divine image, by the power of your Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.


Thanks to Praying for Priests for this.

18 October 2009

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom

On Tuesday I will be returning to my alma mater, Oscott College. It is for the occasion of the College Feast, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom. The tradition, if it is that yet, has been to invite the Top Year (as we once were) back to celebrate with the community the Solemnity of our patron. It's a great day, and I recall writing about it in the Oscotian magazine a while ago. I'm excited to hear that the fourth year will also be at college, so it promises to be an exciting reunion of sorts. I'm only sorry that we cannot all be there (the 'top year', that is) but our turn will come the following month.

It is strange to go back; to return from whence we came. There can be a sense of not wanting to go back, but rather to be concentrating on the path ahead. It's good to question, however, can you really appreciate where you are heading if you do not see from where you have come? I'm not so sure. Nonetheless, I am filled with many thoughts about this journey. Incredibly, but perhaps understandably, I do not miss college. I don't miss the institutional nature of seminary and I do not miss the often times limiting nature of the beast. Friends, on the other hand, I miss incredibly. This is, I think, true of life. It is the people who make the place, not the bricks and mortar and still less the routine. It is the very real interaction of another human being which makes for the joy of life.

When I go back, then I can appreciate where I am going. I'm looking forward to the view of life in the rear-view mirror, as it were.

(I hope you will forgive two pictures in this post.
I just couldn't decide between them!)

17 October 2009

Prayer is...

May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you. These words, from today’s psalm, instinctively make me think of CJM and their happy approach to a ministry of music. Another favourite of mine is their ‘great Amen’: We lift our hearts and our voices to you, as we sing, Aaaamen...

This is, to quote St John Damascene, the definition of prayer: the raising of one’s mind and heart to God. St Therese of Lisieux, a source of much prayer in recent days, says: For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

Prayer is the heart of all that we are and for this reason this weekend we are presenting all those in year three, who are preparing for first confession and first communion, with a set of rosary beads. We learnt the essential prayers of the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory be when we were children ourselves. It is wrong if we, in our own time, do not share these simple and yet profound prayers with our own children. Yes, prayer both leads us to the Eucharist and prayer flows from it, too.

Prayer is, then, both deeply personal but it is also communal. We gather today for the greatest prayer of thanksgiving known and that is the Eucharist. In our opening prayer we said of God ‘our source of power and inspiration’. All prayer is inspired by God. It is from God that we are called to prayer, he moves our heart to desire him and so we can be confident that he stands ever ready to hear our prayer. God does not, however, ask of us something which is any different to that which Jesus undertook.

The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is “the supreme high priest.” He knows our needs and he presents to the Father more than we even dare to ask ourselves. All of our prayer is through Jesus and “it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us.” He knows our struggles, our hopes and our desires and he knows the temptations which may lead us from prayer. He’s been there, even if he didn’t actually buy the t-shirt like we all seem to have done. Jesus prayed at the key moments of his own life as well as regularly through his day. He learnt to prayer from his own mother, Mary, from his religious tradition, in Judaism, but also, “his prayer springs from an otherwise secret source” says the Catechism of the Church.

In Mark’s account of the Gospel, we hear of James and John asking something, through Jesus, which only the Father can answer. They ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left when in heaven. He answers them that they must drink the same cup and undergo the same baptism, which they happily agree to. Little do they know the suffering they will endure! But their prayer is answered. They seek to follow Jesus, no matter the cost, in order that they can be with him in the eternal life, in his Glory. Now whether they get, in the end, to sit on the seats next to Jesus is a moot point. He doesn’t say they will not, rather he says “they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.” Perhaps James and John followed the Lord’s teaching and learnt to be “slave to all”.

It is in being faithful to the teaching of Christ and most especially in his word and example of prayer that we, too, come to learn to be like him. Whether it is through adoration, petition, intercession, praise or, like now, through thanksgiving at Mass, we seek to be a people of prayer. We share our prayer with our children, and our children’s children and they in turn will do the same. It is, after all, our children who will pray over us in our final moments in this life.

In a few minutes we will begin our liturgy of the Eucharist, which will conclude today with the prayer “may this Eucharist help us to remain faithful. May it teach us the way to eternal life.” To this I say, Amen, so let it be.

Pray for me.

16 October 2009

Priesthood, Communion and St Therese

This evening I needed to have a look at the website for the Archdiocese of Birmingham Vocations Team and was really pleased to see that it has been updated. Not that it wasn't already impressive, but it's great to see it very user friendly and, most importantly, I found the information which I needed very quickly. Go have a look for yourself, here.

Please remember, this weekend, in your prayers, all of the children from Christ the King Junior School and St Augustine's Primary School; especially those in year three who are to make their first confession and first communion next year. All of the children will be presented, this Sunday, with a rosary to enable their year of preparation to begin with prayer. What better prayer that a decade of the rosary during October?

Finally, h/t to Jackie Parkes for the total number of pilgrims to visit the relics of St. Therese...

Portsmouth 4,500, Plymouth 3,000, Taunton 1,800, Birmingham 11,000, Coleshill 3,000, Cardiff 4,400, Filton 6,000, Liverpool 17,000, Salford 30,000, Manchester University Catholic Chaplaincy 2,000, Preston Carmel 2,000, Lancaster 8,000, Newcastle 5,000, Darlington Carmel, York Minster 10,000, Middlesbrough 15,000, Leeds 14,000, Kirk Edge Carmel (Sheffield) 3,000, Nottingham 8,000, Walsingham 5,000, Oxford 6,200, Gerrards Cross 2,000, Aylesford 17,000, Kensington Carmelite Church 10,000, Notting Hill Carmel 3,500, Wormwood Scrubs 250, Westminster Cathedral 95,000

286,650 pilgrims

14 October 2009

The Charism of Hospitality

Recently I have found myself 'entertaining' several people through hospitality of one sort or another. This brings me great joy. Don't consider me to be a saint; I'm far from this. Nor am I a particularly outgoing person, but I just love to see people happy when they're fed and watered and, of course, welcomed. We all have our strengths and weakness.

This has also fed into my own personal spiritual development and I have been considering the 'charism of hospitality'. My reading has led me to several articles and one, in particular, has been helpful. You can read more here, from the Intentional Disciples blog. They write about the cause of St Margaret Clitheroe's ultimate imprisonment and death. They say...

It may strike us as almost unbelievable, but Margaret Clitherow was in fact martyred by the English government of her day for the exercise of a charism that we tend to think of as a thoroughly innocuous: the charism of hospitality.

The charism of hospitality empowers a Christian to be a generous channel of God's love by warmly welcoming and caring for those in need of food, shelter, and friendship. Why would any government possibly object to such a simple and inoffensive activity? Because among the guests that Margaret Clitherow warmly welcomed were Catholic priests who were risking their own lives so that lay Catholics might have access to the grace and consolation of the sacraments in the midst of persecution.
It has been, largely, priests who I have been hospitable to. Despite the clear risks, I have determined that I will carry on in this vein. It costs nothing (well, perhaps money!) to welcome another human being to share a meal, to open your home to them and to ensure their needs are met. These are basic lessons I learnt as a child. Yet why did they stay with me? Why is it that I have always enjoyed being hospitable and do not see it as any effort at all? It must be because it is a gift from God. He has put into my heart the desire to be hospitable. Perhaps I need to remind others that this is why I do it. Perhaps I need to encourage others to be hospitable, too. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

13 October 2009

Edward the Confessor

I love this picture of St Edward the Confessor, who's feast we celebrate today. It shows the ring, which tradition has it, was given by the regal saint on his way to a celebration at the church of St John the Evangelist. It is said that when stopped by a beggar on the road the king had no money about him and so gave the ring from his finger to his unfortunate countryman. The BBC tells it much better than I can...
A few years later two English pilgrims were travelling through the Holy Land and became stranded. They were helped by an old man who told them he was St John the evangelist. He was carrying the ring Edward had given to the beggar some years previously. He asked the pilgrims to return it to the king telling him that in six months he would meet St John in heaven.

St Edward the Confessor, Pray for us.

12 October 2009

St Wilfrid

In preparation for Mass I have been reading about St Wilfrid, sometimes called St Wilfrid of York. There is some dispute as to whether his See was, indeed, York, or was it the ancient area of Deira. Without doubt he was a bishop of Northumbria, but some report he saw himself as the 'metropolitan' of the North. This was at a time when York was not a metropolitan, though it's certainly possible there had been talk of it so becoming.

Wilfrid came to prominence during the Synod of Whitby as the spokesman for the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter. It is hard, today, to imagine that there was division amongst the Church in these lands as to when the greatest feast of the liturgical year should be celebrated. Harder still to imagine that whilst some where engaged in their Lenten fast others, down the road, might be feasting and celebrating the Risen Christ. It puts into context the variance within our own Church of some celebrating the ordinary form of the Roman Rite and some the extraordinary. Perhaps we read more division into this current state of affairs than there actually need be.

Wilfrid comes across, to me, as very much towing the Roman line. He was hugely influenced by Rome and the Church in Europe during his pilgrimage to the Eternal City. It is recorded that, together with Benedict Biscop, he was the first native Anglo Saxon to make the pilgrimage to Rome. It set him on a course that would spar with St Hilda, St Cedd and the then Bishop of Lindisfarne. Some serious opposition. Wilfrid, of course, won the argument and now we celebrate Easter at the same time as the rest of the Latin Church. There are no clashes of menu!

What is the link with Birmingham, however, and why might we want to celebrate the feast of St Wilfrid. Well, it seems, he was so concerned that the current haul of bishops in the north might not be validly ordained (or consecrated as they might have understood it at that time) that he set off for France to find three legit bishops under the authority of the Pope. Seems he rather liked the lifestyle (or maybe he was prevented from returning) and stayed away for such a while that St Chad was chosen to replace him as Bishop of the area. When, in due time, the mess was sorted out by the new Archbishop of Canterbury (St Theodore of Tarsus) sent by the Pope, he was so impressed that Chad humbly returned to life in the monastery in order that Wilfrid might take up possession of his see, he later sent Chad to none other than Mercia to be Bishop. Chad, as you may know, centred his diocese in Lichfield and the rest, as they say, is history.

Wilfrid, as might have been expected, soon fell out with Theodore and when the Archbishop of Canterbury sought to bring sanctions against our miscreant Bishop of York, what do you suppose he did? He appealed to Rome, again the first to do so, and the Pope agreed with both Wilfrid and Theodore and found a via media as they say. Such, today, all of the characters in our great saga are named amongst the saints in heaven.

Is this in-house cat fighting, is this development, is this the old succumbing to the new or is it simply the pilgrim Church on earth?

10 October 2009

Conversion on the Way to Damascus

Someone asked what I had bought for my birthday recently. Well, it was this. A copy, sadly, not the original. I recall when I went on pilgrimage to Rome and there were only two things I hoped to see (apart from the usual basilica visits) and that was the two Caravaggio's: Conversion on the Way to Damascus and Crucifixion of St Peter, both hanging in Santa Maria del Popolo. Well, at least I have a copy of the Conversion hanging on my own wall now!!

Perhaps I'll wait for the Holy Father to declare a Year of St Peter and then get the other one.

St Francis Borgia

Francis Borgia, third Superior General of the Jesuits, performs an exorcism. Painting by Francisco de Goya, 1788

Francis Borgia died on September 30, 1572 in Rome. He was beatified in Madrid on November 23, 1624 by Pope Gregory XV. He was canonized nearly thirty five years later on June 20, 1670 by Pope Clement X.

More information here...

9 October 2009

The Rich Young Man

Gospel for Sunday, October 11th

If you have not come across Robert Colquhoun's blog, Love Undefiled: Building a Culture of Life, may I be so bold as to suggest you go have a look at it? It's very, very good. It is described as "This blog promotes a culture of life and the virtue of chastity. It also provides resources and a commentary on Catholic and contemporary issues."

From time to time, Robert has contributions from St Patrick's, Soho and this week he has blogged the tale of the Rich Young Man, taken as a narrative from the key player (unless you consider Jesus to be the leading man!) and it is wonderful. I found it very 'real'.

Have a read and let me know what you think...

8 October 2009

Fr Damien, Apostle of the Lepers

On Sunday, Pope Benedict will canonise Father Damien, Apostle of the Lepers, in Rome. I read the report in today's ICN report, here. It has been a while since I read about Fr Damien, so I decided to do a little research and came across the New York Times report of his imminent death. It makes for stirring reading. Now I don't know about you, but I tend to think of leprosy as a biblical disease with little relevance to us, here in the UK. In a way, I suppose, I tend to look at Jesus' cure of those with leprosy as, somehow, symbolic. A sign of something deeper. How wrong could I be.

We read, in Fr Damien's own words, just how terrible this disease is. It's not some ancient problem, but just as much relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. There can be a danger that we read scripture and look for sign and symbol where there is none. It can be taken to be a literal meaning, too.

To read more on this amazing saint, click here.

The Apostle of the Lepers

From the London Tablet

We regret to hear that the Apostle of the Lepers of Molonai is beginning to pay the penalty of his heroism. Shut away from all civilized and healthy humanity, Father Damen has for years been a willing prisoner in the island, in which are collected and confined the lepers of all the neighboring Sandwich group. For a long time, though cut off from the outward world, Father Damen continued in good health, though alone among the dead. But the stroke has fallen at last. In a letter written recently he says: “Impossible for me to go any more to Honolulu, on account of the leprosy breaking out on me. The microbes have finally settled themselves in my left leg and my ear, and one eyebrow begins to fall. I expect to have my face soon disfigured. Having no doubt myself of the true character of my disease, I feel calm, resigned, and happier among my people. Almighty God knows what is best for my sanctification, and with that conviction I say a daily good Fiat voluntas tua.” Where is the heroism which will vie with this?

© The New York Times, Published June, 12, 1886

St Damien, pray for us.

7 October 2009

Holy Rosary Sisters

It never ceases to amaze me the awesome ability of women, throughout the world, to lead heroic lives for the sake of the Kingdom. I am talking, of course, about religious sisters and today, on the feast of Our Lady of the rosary, I pay special thanks to the Holy Rosary Sisters; three of whom are in our parish. They tirelessly work in and around the City for the good of the poor. If, like I was, you are unfamiliar with their work and history, then their website explains:

The ideal that animates and energizes the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary is best expressed in the Founder's words:

“Our sole occupation and thought; God, and all God’s children. How to love Him and how to bring others to praise and love Him for all eternity.”

Bishop Joseph Shanahan was a man of intense Missionary zeal born of contemplation. His goal of evangelization was to enable people to become aware of the presence of Christ within themselves.

In speaking to the first volunteers to the Congregation in 1924, he said:

“The life you are preparing to undertake is one that makes exceptional demands: there is needed a soul of profound spirituality with a clear vision of its great purpose…. The missionary cannot sanctify others unless she herself possesses the spirit of sanctification; unless she herself is filled with the Spirit of Christ.”

Today, in fidelity to the missionary spirituality and charism of our founder we go out as prophetic women of faith and prayer, filled with missionary zeal. We witness to Gospel values in living interculturally. We allow the marginalized to challenge us to become more compassionate, so that together we create a truly human world.

At the core of our reality as Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary is missioning – the readiness to be sent, to go beyond the boundaries of our own country and culture to find, nurture, and share the Good News with those in any kind of need, especially with the poor, oppressed and exploited through the ministries of healing, education, pastoral work and community development…. always searching for new ways in which to find and nurture the seed that is Christ in every culture …the living hope of liberation.

Realising that for some it may not always be possible to go beyond geographical boundaries, we affirm that our charism is also expressed in crossing frontiers wherever we are: frontiers of faith, frontiers that relate to the dignity of the human person.

As women we are called to express the feminine way of being on mission in our world. As we go about our apostolates, we are touching God’s presence within us and within the heart of our world.

As Missionary daughters of Bishop Shanahan we try to be contemplative in our approach to life, seeing God in everyone and everything, with the eyes of love and compassion.

6 October 2009

Caravaggio, again...

This evening I read a great post from eastangliaseminarians, who have a blog, which you can follow.

They are writing about The Calling of St Matthew by Caravaggio. Interesting to see that they are now being taught about this in the first year of seminary. It may be my great age, but I don't recall anything quite so exciting whilst I was at Oscott. Perhaps age does indeed addle the mind.

It is a wonderful image, full of catechetical material. One of my favourite sessions, using the Evangelium program (which has it's own website now) for our RCIA group, whilst on placement a few years back, was the class using this very picture.

Go read all about the master's work here.

5 October 2009

Chaplet of Divine Mercy

Today is a good day to learn the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, if you do not already know it. Earlier this year I had the chance to go to Poland and to venerate the relics of St Faustina. It was a most moving experience, and we were privelleged to meet with and talk to the postulator of her cause; a most humble and yet powerful woman. Truly a woman of God. I encourage you to use the chaplet today, and regularly. So get those rosary beads to hand (unless you have the chaplet beads)!

1. Begin with the Sign of the Cross, 1 Our Father, 1 Hail Mary and The Apostles Creed.

2. Then on the Our Father Beads say the following: Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

3. On the 10 Hail Mary Beads say the following: For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

(Repeat step 2 and 3 for all five decades).

4. Conclude with (three times): Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Thanks to EWTN for this guide to the chaplet.

4 October 2009


A homily given today on the Sacrament of Marriage.

Wk 27, OT, Yr B

One day a bishop was visiting children before their confirmation and he asked one small boy, “What is matrimony?” The nervous young man said: “A place where souls suffer for a time for their sins!” “No, no” said the parish priest, “that is purgatory”. “Let him be” said the bishop, “he could be right, what do you and I know about it?” Indeed, what do I, a celibate man know about marriage? Well, I know what Scripture says, and I know what Jesus says in today’s Gospel and I know what the Church teaches!

The temptation to think of marriage as an outdated mode of living together that has served its purpose is roundly refuted by today’s reading from Genesis. We did not think up marriage as a convenient way of organising society. Rather it has always been God’s plan for man and woman to be together as one. The very first action of God in relation to us as a community is to create woman from the rib of Adam.

Many will point to this action of God’s and present the case to show women are, therefore, less than the totality of man, or that they are but a part of man. These people are simply wrong! There is no evidence to suggest that women are subservient to men, indeed it demonstrated that we are all made of the same flesh. We are all created in love by the one God. No marriage will succeed if there is anything less than absolute equality.

That is not to say that men and women are the same. No. They are complimentary to one another; they fit together and, as Jesus says: “they are no longer two but one flesh”. Anselm Grün, in his book: The Seven Sacraments says “husband and wife become one flesh, which terminates any kind of dualism. Our longing for unity is fulfilled in marriage. Human beings suffer from division.”

It is deep within us that we should be together and this is perfectly achieved within a happy marriage with sexual union, the fruit of which is, of course, children. How often do we describe a child as God’s blessing upon a marriage?

Walter Schubart wrote, movingly, of this human longing for unity. He says: “We can hear the distant roar of the ocean’s power in a tiny shell, and in the sound of our beloved breathing we sense nature as a whole. You are made to be freed from this loneliness, it says. Now you can leave yourself and meet the one person to whom you can say You with utter tenderness. He or she is your helpmate, and leads you to God. Ultimately, love between the sexes takes a human being into the arms of the Deity, and removes the gulf between me and you, me and the world, the world and God.”

The Compendium to the Catechism describes the goods of marriage as: “the communion and good of the couple and to the generation and education of children.” A family is, therefore, rightly described as the Domestic Church. The essence of the whole Church is present in a loving family where each family member exercises their “baptismal priesthood and contributes towards making a family a community of grace and of prayer, a school of human and Christian virtue.” This is the lived reality of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Like all the sacraments, it is the visible manifestation of the invisible reality which each partner promises on the day of their wedding.

When Jesus says “let no one separate what God has joined”, He speaks of the indissolubility of marriage. God has, if you like, created the marriage and, therefore, it is not within the power of man to dissolve that marriage. There can be no divorce, no matter how much we may want it, how much we may justify it or how often we experience it. This is why the Church has always rejected divorce, as it rejects adultery, polygamy and bigamy. It is of God which we speak.

Marriage is not, however, an ideal to which we aspire, never expecting to achieve it. It is not to say that everything in the garden is rosy; far from it. You and I come from parents who, almost as soon as they were created, were ejected from Eden because of their choices. We are a sinful people, and we are in need of God’s love and mercy and compassion, and He is a compassionate God.

Of course we go astray. Of course we live lives that are not worthy of the name Christian. Of course we are challenged by the teaching of the Church. We must, however, not heap sin upon sin by falling victim to pride and begin to write the teachings of Christ as we would have them written. It is such a temptation: to imagine that I know best. Because what I ‘feel’ is love it must be of God and, therefore, the Church’s ancient Tradition must be wrong. Not so, not so. John Henry Cardinal Newman once said that to the Pope, yes, but to my conscience first. The best guidance we can have, if not the Tradition of the Church, is a well informed conscience to which we are honest with ourselves in the light of God’s direction.

Whatever state in which we find ourselves: let in the love of God. He created us, male and female, He created us. We are his loving creation and he seeks only to love us. He is closer to us than the air we breathe. His love is unconditional and though we sometimes find the road hard, He is there to guide us and bring us to eternal life with him. We can, confidently, agree with the psalmist who says: “May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.”


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