30 November 2009

Happy Feast, Brother!

Today, of course, we celebrate the great Feast of St Andrew, the Protoclete, or first called of the Apostles. It's interesting to note in the Gospel that it is Simon Peter who is named first in Matthew's account, and yet we know from Tradition and St John's first letter, it was Andrew who led Peter to Christ: "We have found the Messiah!" I was wondering, then, if it is the role of the Successors to the Apostles (and at least one in twelve must be successor to Andrew) to lead the Pope to Christ from time to time? Perhaps a train of thought to go nowhere at this time, but I will leave it hanging.

When I was a child, I recall a wonderful tale told of how the bones of St Andrew were being transferred to Russia by boat. During their journey across the seas there was a great storm and the boat was wrecked, leaving the Martyrs bones to be washed ashore. Eventually they were found on the coast of Scotland, in Fife to be specific, before being then sent on their way to Russia where he was to be the Patron Saint. The place, of course, was St Andrew's and from this grew up the notion of the country being blessed by a visitation of the great Saint from which grew the ancient tradition that St Andrew was also the patron of Scotland. If this is a story you are familiar with, I'd love to know it's history. Isn't it funny that I should recall this from over thirty years ago! Nonetheless, my love of the Patron Saint of Scotland, from whence comes my catholicity, has always guided me. Please remember in your prayers my grandmother, without who's prayers I would never have been ordained a priest.

I've added two pictures of St Andrew, both by El Greco, simply because I think the first one, which is in Toledo, gives the Saint his due prominence on his Feast but I think it's the second, with St Francis, which is by far and away the better canvas. The second hangs in the Prado and I count it a wonderful blessing to have seen both during my year at Valladolid and can, therefore, give a personal opinion based on first hand evidence! Who says the Lord is not generous?

Update - I don't think I made it entirely clear, but for those who have asked, my Grandmother lived for many years in Fife and I recall many, many happy memories of trips to Scotland.

29 November 2009

Ordaining women to the priesthood?

I've been reading a few blogs recently about the differences between the Catholic and Anglican approach to the ordination of women to the priesthood. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been in Rome and whilst he was there talked of this difference between us and posed the question, how big an issue is this. Read the Archbishop's address at a Willebrands Symposium here. It is a fair enough question to ask if there is to be meaningful ecumenical dialogue and I found two articles, in particular, helpful.

If this is a question you are interested in, then I can recommend you take a few minutes and have a look at Jeff Steel's article on his blog, de cura animarum. This issue seems to be not so much as what a priest is, but who he is. Jeff says: Is Rowan correct that 'priesthood' really is a secondary issue and not a key point of division? I was particularly struck with the sentence: Christ did not call for a function to be carried out in the Church but a Sacrament to communicate effectively his love and redemption for the world in a real and symbolic manner, after having quoted John Paul II from Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

Reading on, Fr Dwight Longenecker has an excellent piece on his blog, Standing on My Head, about whether priesthood is a Sacrament or Ministry. Fr Longenecker has a lovely quote at the top of his blog from GK Chesterton. Any scene can be more freshly and clearly seen when it is seen upside down. This, I think, suggests why Fr Longenecker has managed to get immediately to the heart of the issue. He says: It comes down to the fact that Anglicans do not necessarily understand ordination to be a sacrament. This is the key point. Either priesthood, or more specifically Holy Order, is a Sacrament or it is not. Setting out the key issues, Fr Longenecker manages to give a very good overview of why there is difficulty for others to understand the Catholic teaching on why the Church cannot ordain women to the priesthood. It's five minutes well spent!

24 November 2009

Nativity, Passing of Empires and Vietnamese Martyrs

(a few words which I shared with the children, today)

Yesterday evening I went to the world premier of Nativity, a new film from the Director Debbie Isitt, all about, well, the title gives the game away! It was nice to see many of you there looking so good in your smart party dresses and suits. Wasn't it exciting as all the stars arrived and walked along the red carpet. There was even a camel, like in the film! It was partly filmed in your school and stars many children from our parish. It's a wonderful film which gives you a warm glow. A family movie that hits the mark. Please God, you will get to see it soon.

I don't want to spoil the story, but there is one scene which, for me, was a highlight. Near the beginning we are told that all nativity plays are based on a simple fact: the birth of a child, Jesus. As the film reaches it's climax we have, as foretold, the birth of Jesus and Mary holds up the child for all to see. It's total Hollywood: and the lights are blinding, the music is amazing and we're left awestruck by the moment. A moment which I will talk about again in a few moments.

Today, as we listen to the Word of God, we hear the story of Daniel giving an interpretation of the King's dream. We learn of the passing of kingdoms and this reminds us of our history. Of the empires which have risen and then been washed away. We might have heard of the Egyptians, the Romans or might even have studied a little about the British empire and how, in recent years, it too has changed so much. Through war and destruction much as passed away.

Then in the Gospel we heard about how they were admiring the beauty of the Temple. How wonderful it was to behold. Yet Jesus tells us that it will be destroyed also. He says not one stone will sit on top of another. Try to imagine what that must be like. Everything is going to be destroyed. And we think about those Vietnamese martyrs who lost their life because they believed in Jesus and wanted to follow him in their life. They really were committed to being friends with Jesus.

It can make us sad and begin to lose hope when we think about all the terrible things that happen in our world. And yet. In the midst of those words from Jesus he said something which is the most common expression in the whole of the bible. A little phrase that it is easy to miss. In fact, I missed it when I was reading the Gospel the other day. Did you notice it? Jesus said, don't be frightened. He wants us not to be worried or frightened because he will be there for us. No matter how bad life gets, he will be there.

In a few minutes, I will lift up the host, like this, and we can see before us Jesus. Just like in the film and all those years ago when Jesus became a man and bought hope to his people, he will come amongst us to bring us hope too. Like when Mary lifts up Jesus for all to see, the priest at Mass lifts up the body of Christ for us all to see. And when the priest does this, close your eyes, bow your head and say, My Lord and My God, because that is who he is.

23 November 2009

The Sacred Made Real

The Sacred Made Real from Catholic Westminster on Vimeo.

When I was in London, recently, I was very blessed to be able to visit the National Gallery to see the exhibition of Spanish painting and sculpture from the 17th Century. It was very impressive for many reasons, but I think Archbishop Vincent, in the video above, touches on one of the most important aspects of this exhibition. That is, to share our faith, or to introduce Christianity to those who doubt.

When he talks of the stigmata of Francis of Assisi, it is true to say that any Catholic would recognise the wound of Christ in the saint's side. That said, perhaps I was rushing too much on the day, and never noticed it. Maybe it was subconsciously noticed, or maybe there was just too much stimulation going on to take everything in at the one time.

There are many other very beautiful items to see, including the head of John the Baptist, which evoke many different thoughts and feelings. For a Catholic, especially, you are drawn into the mysteries the items talk of. One of the highlights, for me, was the torso of Christ post-flagellation. The artist, using various methods, has created a sculpture that was meant to be seen up close and even, possibly, touched. As I walked around the sculpture I found myself being drawn very close to the brutality of the torture which Christ had suffered. I was moved, almost to tears, in the same way I was when I saw the scourging at the pillar in Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ. It was almost like car-crash telly. You just couldn't help but be mesmerised.

The exhibition is on until late January. If you haven't been yet; do make the effort if you can. I don't think you'll be disappointed. It isn't as dramatic or distressing as Mel Gibson's film, but it is quite brutal on the senses. It brings alive much of our faith in a way that was so 'Spanish' at the time of the 17th century.

Enjoy! If that is the right word.

22 November 2009

Sancta Caecilia ...

... ora pro nobis

Sadly, we missed the feast of St Cecilia. In our case not just because it was Sunday, but also because it was our Patronal Feast of Christ the King. Nonetheless, we remembered her during the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass and also by seeking her prayers for our Christmas Choir. Do pray for them, when you remember.

¡ Viva Cristo Rey !

Picture the scene. I’m back in seminary and standing in the choir loft with a bird’s-eye view of the chapel. It is the end of Mass and the organ strikes up to play the triumphant hymn, Majesty, worship your Majesty. As the procession departs I catch the eye of the Vice-Rector and, without thinking, make a salute. I’m caught up in the moment. The power and solemnity of the occasion, the influence of the music and the sheer force of the lyric moves me to action and I react in a way so common to the occasion, I stand to attention and give the salute! Can you imagine the trouble I was in after that? It was perceived that I was being irreverent to the occasion. I don’t think I was, but there you go. Rather, in my own way I was moved to be attentive!

If the organ were to strike up the chords of the National Anthem – how many of you would stand. How many of you would think about standing, even if you thought better of it? It is, I think, a natural reaction which is drummed into us as children to be respectful and reverent to the occasion. In the presence of the King (or in our case, the queen) even if it is but the national anthem, not the actual presence of royalty, we respond with dignity and honour. Yet how much more reverent, more dignified and more honourable should be our response when it is the King of Kings.

If standing to attention and saluting would be a recognisable sign of our earthly kingdom, what then would be an appropriate sign for the kingdom of heaven? As Jesus says: “I came into this world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” Ah, so the first thing is to listen to His voice, and then to bear witness to the truth. But the truth is what? Well, elsewhere Jesus tells us ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. This is really important for us. Everywhere we are told that the truth is this, or the truth is that, or worse still the truth is what you think it is. Your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth. No! The truth is not what, but whom: it is Jesus Christ, the King.

If we are to bear witness, then, to Jesus Christ, what must we do? How will others know that we are subjects of his Kingdom? Well, again, let’s listen to Jesus standing meek before Pilate. He says “if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews.” Given that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, then, we are looking for the antithesis of fighting, and the opposite of fighting and hatred is justice, love and peace. We salute the King of Kings not in what we do, nor indeed in what we do not do, but in who we are and how we live our lives.

So it is to love, to bear witness to love, that we make manifest the kingdom of heaven here on earth. It is both the easiest and the hardest expression we ever utter: I love you. Yet, when we even think about these three little words, we can feel inner warmth growing within us. If we allow ourselves dwell upon them, this warmth grows and eventually manifests itself in a smile; at first on the inside, but eventually it will become an inane grin. You know what I am talking about. It’s addictive. We cannot help ourselves because it is the essence of God. Franklin P Jones said “Love doesn't make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.”

Today, we celebrate the Young. Today is Youth Sunday and our second collection is for the Catholic Youth Service. We have much to thank our young people for, particularly here in Christ the King parish. We think of the schools, the wonderful witness that our children give to the parish and to those whom they meet; we think of our youth groups and the faith they share with one another but above all we think of the love they show to one another.

I want to end with another scene I want you to picture, one I witnessed in St Augustine’s school. It was a cold and rainy afternoon and one half of the year 6 pupils had returned early from Dol y Moch (the youth centre in Wales). They were housed in a spare classroom, one assumes to prevent disruption in the school. Rumours were flying amongst the other year 6 pupils that the class were back and when eventually they were reunited, they hugged each other simply because they love one another. That is the kingdom of God reigning here on earth.

Blessed Miguel Pro - Pray for us.

21 November 2009

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

In preparing for today's Mass, I was particularly struck by the words of St Augustine:

St Augustine says “The blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first hearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.”

St Augustine is commenting on the words of Christ: “Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” Hence, says Augustine, “Mary heard God’s truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb. The truth and the body were both Christ: he was kept in Mary’s mind insofar as he is truth; he was carried in her womb insofar as he is man; but what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb.”

20 November 2009

Two items of good news

Here's a couple of things for you to think about and to share with others.

First, a video I happened across from Catholics Come Home. You can visit their website here. It's very easy, it seems to me, to drift from the Church and yet it is very hard to come back. To come home. One tip, which I think works most effectively, is through personal invitation.

Secondly, the launch of the official website of World Youth Day, which you can visit here. Soon to be translated into English, too. We are hoping to get a good crowd of young people from the parish to WYD Madrid. Please pray for them as they begin their preparations and fundraising.

19 November 2009

I love a good fight

There is nothing better, in my humble opinion, than a good healthy competition to get your blood pumping (especially when I'm on the winning team) and there is a HUGE clash of the titans brewing up as we speak.

The football giants of Oscott College have challenged the Dominicans to a game of footie at the end of this month. You can read more about it on the eastangliaseminarians blog, here, and over on the Godzdogz, here.

I'm not sure of the footballing talent of the chaps at Blackfriars, but I'm impressed with their video of their seemingly full-on training schedule.

Having just listened to the Oscott seminarians brand new CD, let's just hope their football is half as good as their singing and then I know they'll hammer those dastardly Dominicans.

Mark it up in your diary, pray for Oscott and prepare to cheer on the winners!

16 November 2009


Every now and again something comes along to tickle your day, and this is it for this Monday! I subscribe to the blog LOL Saints, and you do get a good laugh from it. Why don't you go and have a look at some of their hilarious back catalogue? You wont be disappointed.

15 November 2009

12,000 Visitors - who would have thought it?

Fr Paul Johnson
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14 November 2009

Three aspects of death.

Su Wk 33 Yr B

“As for that day or hour, nobody knows it.” Jesus is talking, today, about the end times. As we move toward the end of the Church’s liturgical year we think especially of those who have died. November is the month for praying for the Holy Souls. Jesus could, just as easily, have been talking about our own death, the end of our life on earth, and it is death which I would like to talk about this morning. Three aspects of death to be precise: euthanasia or assisted suicide and having your say, planning our own Funeral Mass and the launch of the Bereavement Group within the parish.

A central theme of our readings is the end times; they are ‘apocalyptic’ in nature. Whilst we are confident of the Resurrection, and we hope to enjoy the beatific vision in due course, we do not pray for life here on earth to be hastened to a swift end. Whilst I was at seminary and recently returned to the Faith, I would often pray for Pope John Paul II as his health began to fail him. I was heard to say we must pray to St Joseph for a ‘quick end’. Through the kind intervention of a good friend, he corrected me that we pray to St Joseph not for a ‘quick end’ but rather a happy death. There is a world of difference.

Even my terminology of a ‘quick end’ seeks to deny it is death of which I talk. Often language is used to soften the harsh reality, like when we talk of assisted suicide as an act of mercy. How can it ever be merciful to take a life? Such a notion is at odds with our understanding of the value of life. It is precisely because we value all life that we stand shoulder to shoulder with those who suffer, and most especially with those who are suffering to such an extent that they are considering killing themselves. Our hope in the Risen Lord, He who has “offered one single sacrifice”, compels us to walk along the path of darkness, the path of the suicidal, but it does not lead us to ‘assist’ them. It is our duty, in protecting the vulnerable, to cry out against those who, wrongly, consider assisted suicide to be acceptable.

Our Bishops encourage us to speak out on this issue and to contact the Director of Public Prosecution. A briefing paper is available at the back of Church. Make your voice heard. It is important we act now. I will be writing to Geoffrey Robinson, our MP, and I hope you will join me in ensuring those who are vulnerable are protected.

Thank God for the wonder of our Faith which enables us to face the challenge of death and to know that He has overcome the power of hell. It is not wrong to consider and make plans for our own Funeral Mass. It is not morbid to do this, but rather an act of charity, which will greatly aid those who love us to make the necessary arrangements when the time comes. Anyone who has been involved in planning a funeral knows just how valuable it is to know the express wishes of their relative or friend. To this end, we also have at the back of Church a form which you may find helpful in considering and recording your plans. Talk to those whom you love, let them know your wishes and record your thoughts.

Finally, I want to talk about that time after death, and talk especially to those who have felt the pain of grief. Shakespeare said “My grief lies all within, and these external manners of lament are merely shadows to the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul.” There is nothing, it seems, that can be said or done to help those who grieve. We are, nonetheless, a community of lovers and, to this end; we are beginning a Bereavement Group during Advent who will, especially, walk that lonely path of sorrow. There is a Turkish proverb which goes “he that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it.” The Bereavement Group will be, for our parish, one part of the remedy we seek.

We can, and we do, talk of death. Death has no hold over us and we are learned in its ways. The light of Christ shines out as a beacon for us, and we, in turn, hope to be the learned that “will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven.”


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