Tuesday, May 14, 2013
The Catholic Truth Society has been publishing more and more excellent material in recent years, culminating in the production of their outstanding Altar Missal for the new translation of the Mass. I am very proud that Southwark Vocations, had its own small part to play in the production of the Missal. A friend had given me a copy of the Missale Romanum printed by MTF in the United States which was seen by one of our applicants when he came for a Vocations Barbecue. He worked for the CTS and asked to borrow it to take back to the office. The rest, as they say, is history!
The CTS is currently seeking a new Head of Marketing and Customer Relations. It is a key post and it is very important they recruit the right person. If you know of someone who may be interested please encourage them to visit the CTS website.
Monday, May 13, 2013
When I was in St Paul's Minnesota earlier this year I noticed that every young man I met who was considering priesthood had read - and in most cases owned a copy of - Fr Brett Brannen's book "To Save a Thousand Souls" which is subtitled "A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood". I am, therefore, very pleased to publish the news that a special edition of this excellent vademecum for discerners will soon be available for readers in England and Wales as well as Scotland and Ireland.
This new international edition of the book will be available from CTS. It contains all the helpful insights of the original but omits simply those things that pertain specifically to the North American context. Unlike the original, it will contain a special appendix containing the useful text of the Melchizedek Project which breaks the book down into chunks for group reading and reflection as part of a discernment group. This makes it easier to use the book in parish, deanery and university discernment groups but also by groups of friends who want to get together to support each other much as groups have already been formed to study YouCat.
Fr Brannen, the author, has experience both as a Vocations Director and a seminary Vice-Rector which shines through every page of the book. It's publication for a British audience has been welcomed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols who commends it to readers: "Are you considering a vocation to the Catholic priesthood? If so, this book will be of immense help to you". Archbishop Bernard Longley has also endorsed it with the words: "I hope that everyone seeking to discover the Lord's will for his life will find in these pages both encouragement and inspiration".
Do make sure you order your copy!
To mark the Year of Faith the Holy Father has invited "seminarians, novices and those on a vocational journey" to make a pilgrimage to Rome this coming July. There are at least ninety people going from England and Wales, eighty-five of whom have signed up to join our Invocation Pilgrimage. We will be staying together at the Casa del Pellegrino in the Monte Mario district of Rome.
The pilgrimage will include a visit to some of the houses where saints lived in the past, including the Venerable English College, home to forty-four priest martyrs of England and Wales. We will also have a special guided tour of the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel. The highlight of the pilgrimage will, of course, be a special Mass celebrated by our Holy Father Pope Francis.
Saturday, May 04, 2013
This weekend the Vocations Centre has been able to host a group of eight Conventual Franciscans who came to us with one of their superiors from Rome. The Conventuals have undergone something of a resurgence in vocations in recent years and some of the many younger friars, as well as a postulant, are pictured in the photo above taken by the main entrance to the Vocations Centre. Please pray that they will all persevere and that other men enquiring with them will decide to go ahead and apply. The Conventuals, or Greyfriars, as we know them in England are one of those Congregations that has adapted to take older vocations and found, as a consequence, that younger ones followed on in time.
This morning I was at Amigo Hall just by St George's Cathedral to give a talk at the Family Life International Conference. It was great so see a lot of old friends there including parishioners from Balham and a great group of young people most of whom I'd met before at World Youth Days or Youth 2000 retreats.
I had been asked to talk on Evangelisation and the Year of Faith. I began explaining what we mean by Evangelisation and then spoke a little bit about the relationship between Evangelisation and Catechesis before speaking about the New Evangelisation and the qualities of an evangelist. Above all I was trying to emphasise the fact that we all have not just the right but the duty to evangelise. It was interesting, therefore, that in questions and comments afterwards a lot of people asked (or complained) about what priests and parishes are or are not doing. In my replies I kept coming back to the fact that it is the individual who must pass on the faith: "always evangelising - evangelising all ways". I found it interesting, therefore, to have a bite of lunch with some of the young people present. For them the questions revolved not around what other people are doing but what they themselves can do to pass on the faith. This is a generation that will resonate with Pope Francis and his invitation to roll up our shirtsleeves and 'take on the smell of the sheep'.
One person asked why I hadn't recommended any specific organisations that are evangelising. I think it is a fair point to make that we can be greatly encouraged in our efforts if we have the support of a group or movement that has the need to evangelise written into its DNA. I wasn't sure, however, that it was appropriate for me to mention any specific groups - I would certainly have omitted some excellent ones which wouldn't be fair. Instead I suggested that there are certain characteristics that we should look for in a group or movement: docility to the Magisterium, devotion to the Eucharist, and emphasis on Confession and devotion to Our Lady. You can't go far wrong when those four things are present!
As we headed back to the Cathedral after lunch we noticed a lot of police activity and wondered what was going on. Pretty soon we were met by the sight above: the Rosary procession from St George's Cathedral to Camberwell.
On Thursday we had the fourth session in our seminar for Religious entitled: Contemporary Developments in Vocations Ministry. The first three sessions had looked at questions of religious identity, the paradigm shift from recruitment to discernment and the challenges posed by the New Evangelisation. The fourth session was always meant to be a "from vision to action" forum and so it turned out to be.
One of the questions faced by Religious Communities whose profile is ageing is whether they can accept with any hope of success younger vocations. It would be easy to give an either or answer to that question: either you do or you die out. However the group came up with a much more interesting response. It was recognised that it would be very difficult for a girl in her twenties to join a community whose average age was sixty or above. But it wouldn't be so hard for someone in their forties. A twenty year gap is much more manageable than a forty year one. If someone in their forties joined a community and stayed through to final vows they would be in their fifties by then and, working on the principle that a twenty yea gap can be managed, they could then consider taking someone in their thirties so that bit by bit the age profile begins to decrease.
It is an interesting thought and I know that I occasionally get emails from people complaining that the Vocations Office is not targetting later vocations. With that in mind, we have decided to hold a Vocations Retreat for older people this coming autumn. We had hoped to have it in October but that won't be possible this year so, instead, it will take place at the Kairos Centre in Roehampton (London) from Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th November. It is good to flag it up and get it into the diary now. The retreat will be open to men and women between the ages of 35 and 50.
It will be important to provide follow up for those who join us for the retreat and that is something we will be working on over the next few months. We also would like to know which religious communities would consider taking older vocations.
Everything we do must be rooted in prayer and so we hope to organise a diocesan Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life in one or more venues across the diocese. This will be an invitation to men and women to come together to ask the Lord of the Harvest to send labourers into his harvest.
I am very grateful to the Religious who gave their time to join us for the seminar. It certainly gave me a lot to think about and will, please God, bear fruit in lots of ways over the next few months.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
We Vocations Directors are only human. Here are some tips on how to survive yours...
Don't Be too Cautious...
The Lord tells us to "launch out into deep water"! Prudence does not mean finding everything there is to know about every possible vocation before making a decision. What young man would say to his girlfriend, "I think I should marry you - but I want to check out every other girl in the world first so as not to make a mistake"? As one Vocations Director put it: "God can't drive a parked car. Move!"
Tip Two:Stop visiting vocation websites and visit a Vocations Director instead...
Websites are useful in many ways but there comes a point when you've learnt all you're going to learn from them. Besides the information on websites is necessary generic whereas your vocation is specific to you. You need help from an experienced Vocations Director.
Don't expect Champagne...
Ok, so it's your life and your giving it to God. For you it's a big deal. For your Vocations Director it might just be some spotty nosed kid whose not going to follow through. So what if he doesn't crack open the champagne? Does that mean God's not calling you? Time to get real: you're not doing God a favour - he's doing one for you!
Get Ready to Press the Reset Button...
Yeah, I know. It happens occasionally. You phoned the Vocations Director and he told you off for calling during the football. Or when you said you've been "discerning your vocation" he told you you haven't because you can only do that with him. Sorry. What more can I say? Do not take it as a sign you don't have a vocation - it's more likely to be a sign your bishop needs to appoint a new Vocations Director! If things got off to a bad start, you may need to press the Reset button and start all over again.
Learn to Obey...
If the Vocations Director invites you to an event try to be there. If he tells you to "keep in touch" make sure you do. You do want to be a priest, don't you?
Make sure you don't dig your own grave...
Never a good idea to suffocate the Vocations Director. He'll be more impressed to see you getting on with your peers, serving at table and doing the washing up, than to have you running after him with tales of how you're descended from Lord Ponsonby Ponsonby Smythe of Shuttlecock Mansion, Meeville.
As Chairman of the Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors I would like to point out that all the Vocations Directors of England and Wales are perfect in every way. Especially the one in Southwark.
This past weekend I was in Cardiff for the national retreat for the youth of Wales which was being run by Youth 2000. I was there to give a few workshops on vocations discernment and was very much impressed by the numbers who came and the enthusiasm with which they participated in the discussion. Cardiff currently has five seminarians, the highest number for a long time, and I also met a number of lads who are hoping to apply to the diocese. On the Saturday we were joined by the Welsh seminarians from Oscott and Allen Hall.
The retreat was very strongly supported by Fr Gareth Jones, the (relatively) new university chaplain in Cardiff and also by Archbishop George Stack who joined us on Sunday morning and celebrated our concluding Mass. It was clear from his sermon that Archbishop Stack understands the importance of bringing young people together so that they can encourage each other. Although the value of such events may seem obvious not everyone understands the insight of Blessed John Paul II when he started big Catholic youth gatherings such as World Youth Day. Young people need the support of their peers. Not to accept that manifests at best an affective immaturity and at worst an emotional cruelty. So I was particularly pleased to hear the Archbishop mention that he is looking into the possibility of appointing someone to develop youth activities in the diocese. It will be hard to find the right person but such a post has the potential to rejuvenate the Church in Wales.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
If you click the icon at the top of the right hand column you will be taken to the sign up page for the Invisible Monastery. From the drop down menus you can select England and Wales and then Southwark. You will immediately be taken to a page where you can sign up to pray regularly for vocations in our diocese. Currently our Invisible Monastery has five members. If you are already a member you will probably have received the first newsletter which I found really informative and encouraging. It would be good to increase the membership of the Invisible Monastery in our diocese. Why not sign up and offer to say a Hail Mary for vocations with you family prayers?
Monday, April 22, 2013
At the Vocations Centre from time to time we host what we call a "Discovering Priesthood Weekend". It is not the same as a retreat or weekend of recollection. The purpose of the Discovering Priesthood Weekends is to help young men reflect more deeply on the different aspects of the life and ministry of a diocesan priest. Following a suggestion from the Spiritual Director of the seminary we have taken as our starting point the different things we seen on the sanctuary in our churches. In most church sanctuaries we see the Altar, the Tabernacle, the Ambo and the Chair. Applying these to the priesthood we could consider the priest as the one who celebrate the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the priest as a man of prayer, the priest as proclaimer of God's Word, and the priest as the one who presides as father of his community.
This weekend we started with the Ambo and considered what it means to proclaim the Word of God. In particular we looked at the Year of Faith and Evangelisation as the deepest identity of the Church (to quote Paul VI). We also looked at what is meant by the concept of the "New Evangelisation". In such a short space of time we were, of course, only able to introduce the idea without going more deeply into the nature and content of specific areas of parish life such as parish catechesis. Hopefully what we achieved was to help our participants to see that proclaiming the Word is an all-embracing imperative and that they need both to be aware of the need to evangelise at all times and in all circumstances and also to use their imagination, creativity and initiative to be effective evangelisers.
Apart from the five prospective candidates who joined us for the weekend we were also able to welcome to the Vocations Centre two of our seminarians who helped look after meals, co-ordinate the liturgy and give a presentation on the elements of Christian discipleship.
Please pray for the three men interviewed by the Archbishop on Wednesday 10th April and also for a fourth interviewed a couple of weeks ago. These four men are all applying for the priesthood in Southwark and are now coming to the end of the application process. Three of them will have their psychological assessment in Manchester which will form the last piece in the jigsaw enabling the Archbishop to make a final decision about whether to accept them and, if accepted, where they should study.
There are always three possible outcomes to the selection process: a candidate might be accepted to begin training immediately, his acceptance could be deferred to some time in the future, or he might not be accepted. In ash case we should recognise the generosity of these men towards God. It takes courage to put oneself forward. A deferral or non-acceptance can be tough. So let's pray for all four men.
By the end of July we will, please God, have had seven priestly ordinations in the diocese. It will be the largest number of ordinations in the diocese for many years and we should thank God for this great blessing. Even if all four applicants are accepted, however, it will not be enough to maintain our numbers at the seminary and so next year we can expect to have fewer seminarians. This highlights the need to pray for more vocations.
On the other hand, we have had a very promising few weeks at the Vocations Centre. Since Easter we have had eight men come to visit me down here in Whitstable. They are all at quite early stages in their discernment process and so need our prayers all the more. I am hopeful that some of them at least may apply for next year.
Monday, April 15, 2013
On Tuesday we were able to welcome the members of the Canterbury Deanery to the Vocations Centre for their scheduled meeting. For most of the priests it was their first visit to the Centre and a great opportunity to see our facilities. We met in the Conference Room, prayed in the Chapel, had drinks in the lounge and ate a very enjoyable lunch in the refectory which had been prepared by our residents.
Since the agenda was a bit thin (having been a dean myself I know that feeling), I was invited to give a short presentation on the work of the Centre and on vocations ministry today.
I am very happy to welcome priests and groups of priests to to Centre either for a visit or for a meeting such as this one. By visiting the Centre they understand better the work we do here and I think it somehow becomes all the more real. If we are to have an increase in priestly vocations in our diocese we need more priests to see the importance of promoting vocations in their parishes and supporting the initiatives we offer here.
This week we will welcome our first Ministry to Priests group which we are also looking forward to very much.
We are all systems go for our Discovering Priesthood Weekend which will be this coming weekend here at the Vocations Centre. It starts on Friday night and ends with lunch on Sunday. A couple of our diocesan seminarians are going to try to come along on Saturday (their day off) to help us with some input from their perspective.
A Discovering Priesthood Weekend gives you time to reflect on priesthood and ask questions. There is also time to pray, to socialise with others, and to enjoy the fresh coastal air. If anyone is interested in coming please send me an email to book your place.
It has been a while since I've acknowledged the generosity of our benefactors in supporting the Amazon wish list on the side bar. I'll have to think of some new things to add to it!
We've recently picked up a couple of new Standing Orders. It helps us enormously to have a steady income and we now have quite a few benefactors who forgo a cup of coffee each week and send us the money saved by way of a Standing Order of £10 each month.
In July we will be taking a group of sixty five young people to Rome for a special pilgrimage to mark the Year of Faith: the Holy Father has invited "seminarians, novices and those on a vocational journey" to join him at the beginning of July. As you can imagine, it is beyond the budget of some students considering priesthood or religious life and so we are trying to subsidise them as much as possible. So if we could pick up another fifteen Standing Orders we might even be able to push that number up to eighty!
Running the Vocations Centre always brings its own challenges. We had a recurring problem with the heating system which seems finally to be fixed. In the end we went for the nuclear option of stripping down the three ancient boilers and giving everything a complete service. They've worked well since then but no sooner had they been fixed than the washing machine developed an ominous squeak which within a few days became a rattle. Declared obsolete, it soon seized up completely. I guess when the Sisters left two years ago it had settled itself down for a life of retirement only to be rudely awakened by our arrival - and constant call upon its services! After much researching on the internet we've had to buy a new one which will arrive, hopefully, next Monday. In the meantime it's trips down to our local launderette which, mercifully, is only at the end of the road!
So, as you can see we really do depend on our benefactors for whom we offer Holy Mass here in the chapel twice each month.
|The beautiful St Mary's Church, Denton|
Three of us from the Vocations Centre went to Gravesend for the parish Masses. I preached the homily and found that the readings were ideally suited to preaching about vocations. At the end of the Mass one of the residents here gave a short testimony about the effects of our work here at the Centre. He spoke simply and eloquently and earned a spontaneous applause for his efforts! After the Masses we stood at the back of the Church to greet the parishioners as they left.
These parish visits are a great way to let people know about our work and to encourage them to pray for us. It also, hopefully, makes people aware of the shortage of vocations in the diocese and the need to foster them pro-actively. I'm grateful to Fr Casmir, the parish priest, for arranging a second collection to support us financially as well.
Fr Casmir and Fr Julius couldn't have been more welcoming. We were even treated to lunch at a nearby restaurant. They are both members of the Missionary Society of St Paul, a Congregation founded several decades ago in Nigeria that now sends priests from Africa to work as missionaries in these lands. I was lucky enough to have one of their priests, Fr Augustus Umanah, with me for four years in Balham.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination.
The readings of our Mass speak of God’s “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David, and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed… A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (Ps 133:2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe.
The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs of whom there are many in these times…
From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.
A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak.
We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become Pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.
A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.
Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart. Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
|Pope Francis preparing for Mass with the Vatican gardeners|
Having written a couple of posts on Evangelisation I was interested to hear today that Cardinal Jaime Ortega spoke at his Chrism Mass in Cuba about the intervention of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio during the General Congregation of the Cardinals before the Papal Conclave. The General Congregations were the opportunity for all the Cardinals, electors and non-electors, to speak for five minutes on what they perceived to be the most pressing issues for the Church. Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, later gave his handwritten intervention to the Archbishop of Havanna. In it he speaks of the importance of Evangelisation, recalling the teaching of Pope Paul that it is the reason for the Church's existence; speaking of the "sweet and comforting joy of evangelising" and recalling the fact that it is the Lord himself who impels us to go out into the world in order to pass on the faith. This is my translation of the four points made by Cardinal Bergoglio in his intervention. They effectively give us his agenda for the Church:
I. To evangelise requires apostolic zeal. To evangelise requires from the Church the confidence (1) to go out beyond her confines. The Church is called to go out of herself towards the peripheries which are to be understood not only in a geographical sense but in an existential way as well: the peripheries of the mystery of sin; those of pain and of injustice; those of religious ignorance and indifference; those of the intellectual world as well as those of all suffering.
II. When the Church does not reach beyond herself to evangelise she becomes "self-referential" (autorreferencial) and thereby grows sick (like the woman bent over herself in the Gospel). The evils which take place in ecclesial institutions in the course of time have their root in "self-referentiality", a sort of theological narcissism. In the Apocalypse Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Clearly the text is referring to the fact that he is outside knocking in order to be let in... but I am thinking about the times Jesus is knocking from inside in order for us to let him out. A self-referential Church wants to keep Jesus inside and won't allow him to go out.
III. The Church when it is self-referential, without being aware, begins to think she has her own light; she stops being the mysterium lunae (2) and gives way to the grave phenomenon of spiritual worldliness which according to De Lubac is the worst evil that can happen to the Church. It is a living in order to glorify each other. Put simply there are two images of the Church: the evangelising Church which goes out of itself, the Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidenter proclamans (3), or the worldly Church which lives in itself, of itself and for itself. This should shed light on the potential changes and reforms that need to take place for the salvation of souls.
IV. Thinking about the qualities of the next Pope: we need a man who from his contemplation of Jesus Christ and from his adoration of Jesus Christ will help the Church to go out of herself towards these existential peripheries, who will help her to be the fertile mother who draws life from the "sweet and comforting joy of evangelising".
- The word Pope Francis uses is a Greek one - parresia - used in the early Church to mean courage or boldness.
- The Fathers often referred to the Church as the mysterium lunae - the mystery of the moon - because her light is simply a reflection of Christ, the true Light from Light.
- "Devoutly listening to the Word of God and faithfully proclaiming it" - a quotation from Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.
In these four paragraphs we see set out eloquently the Holy Father's agenda for his papacy. It is a time to leave behind internal squabbles, to rediscover the face of Christ and to present him anew to our world.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
I am following up the last post on the New Evangelisation with some more considerations along similar lines. Vocations will come from those who follow the Lord as disciples. The danger of clericalisation is evident not only in those who do not respect the specific vocation of lay people in the middle of the world (and therefore want to get them to do priestly things) but also in a reduction of the priesthood to an empty activism. To be a disciple means to be a person who has been evangelised and has responded by picking up the Cross and following Christ. We have to be on our guard against the danger spoken of by Pope Francis that, "we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord".
When Pope John Paul II called for a Decade of Evangelisation in preparation for the year 2000 I wondered how many Catholics knew knew what he meant. People knew what "telly-evangelists" were and the word "evangelisation" seemed somewhat contaminated by association. Even today I wonder how many Catholics know what evangelisation means. Recently I gave a talk on "Vocations and the New Evangelisation" to a group of priests and in the questions afterwards one of them asked if what I really meant was 'catechesis'. It is an understandable confusion but evangelisation and catechesis are two quite different things even if it is important for them to be linked in practice. We could explain the distinction in this way: evangelisation is the initial proclamation of Christ, whereas catechesis is the systematic explanation of that proclamation. It becomes easier to see the link between the two if we think of evangelisation as an encounter with Christ and catechesis as the process of learning about Christ. The importance of evangelisation become self-evident when we see that knowing about someone is not the same as knowing that person so catechesis without evangelisation is meaningless.
Most people know that the word evangelisation is derived from two Greek words: "eu" meaning "good" and "angelion" meaning "message". The first words of St Mark's Gospel are, "The beginning of the good news (eu-angelion) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God". What is 'good news' for one person is of course not necessarily good news for another. Recently I and some other priests were guests in a student house during a youth conference. I baited a mouse trap in the kitchen and caught a mouse (well six of them in fact). For the students that was good news. For the other priests it was more like, "We've got mice? That's gross!" St Mark, however, isn't just proclaiming any good news. His proclamation has a very specific and universally significant content: "Jesus Christ, the Son of God".
Although most people are familiar with the derivation of 'evangelisation' fewer are aware of the origin of its English equivalent "gospel" which is a shame because it is also quite enlightening. The word comes from two earlier English words "gud" (ie. good) and "spell". These days we associate "spells" with witchcraft and wizardry. It is somewhat ironic that its current pagan use can help us understand its original meaning. A spell has to be cast or proclaimed and when it is it brings about a change: a spell makes things happen. That gives us an important insight into what we mean by 'evangelisation': in the very act of proclaiming Christ we are making him present.
We can illustrate this by taking an example from the Mass. In the Liturgy of the Word we sit for the readings but stand for the Gospel because the Word of God is present in the very proclamation of that Word. Announcing the Gospel the deacon or priest does not extend his hands at the words "Dominus vobiscum - the Lord be with you" because it is not a 'wish' that the Lord may be with his people. Rather it is a statement that the Lord is already with them in the proclamation itself. For the same reason the deacon or priest does not pick up the book to show the people at the end of the Gospel and nor does he say (in the corrected translation) "This is the Gospel of the Lord" because the 'good news' is not the book, it is the person made present in the proclamation itself. The Gospel is the "glad tidings" of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, not the books that contain the account of that Good News.
God so loved the world that he sent his only Son who became obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis - obedient unto death, death upon the Cross. To evangelise is therefore not only to proclaim the good news of God's love manifest in Christ but also to make him present in that proclamation. We see this for example in the Acts of the Apostles when St Peter is asked for alms. St Peter responds, "gold and silver I have none but what I have I give thee, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth arise and walk" (Acts 3:6). The man is cured precisely because Jesus is made present in the proclamation.
The avoid this post becoming too long I ail stop with one final reflection. When we speak of evangelisation the content is the proclamation of Christ but we can also speak of two distinct things that are taking place. One is the action of the evangelist who proclaims Christ and the other is the transformation that takes place in the heart of the one who receives Him. For evangelisation to be effective both are necessary. When we evangelise we are proclaiming Christ, we are offering an encounter with him. This encounter takes place in the heart of the one who is evangelised. A useful comparison is with teaching. These days we make a distinction between 'teaching' and 'learning'. In the past they would have been considered under the one heading but now we recognise that there is only good teaching if effective learning is taking place. A successful teacher is one whose children learn. We also recognise today that people have different learning styles and so the teaching has to be delivered according to the modo recipientis - the individual's manner of learning. It is for this reason that the Church has constantly to reflect on how she evangelises to ensure that the Word proclaimed penetrates to the hearts of those who do not yet know the Lord.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Some months ago I was invited to the United States to give a talk on the New Evangelisation. It is a concept that still elicits quizzical looks in some quarters. How can there be a new Evangelisation if there is no new Gospel? The Gospel is one and the same and so, surely, its proclamation cannot change in any substantial way. With such objections in mind, I found a very helpful explanation in a recent collection of essays by Walter Kasper (unfortunately not yet available in English). Kasper develops some of the distinctions expressed by Benedict XVI in Porta Fidei, the document announcing the year of faith. Here the Pope speaks of three forms of evangelisation. There is the traditional mission ad gentes, the initial proclamation of the Gospel to pagan peoples. This missionary activity of the Church is as important and as licit today as it has ever been. Secondly, there is the need to evangelise the members of the Church herself. The Pope mentions how in the past parish retreats and missions were privileged moments for the faith to be awakened in individuals through a personal encounter with Christ. Finally there is a situation which is new in the developed world which is the reality of cultures which were once Christian but now have little more than residual vestiges. How do you proclaim Christ to a people who think they already know what you are going say and therefore either won't listen or interpret your words according to their own categories? This is the field proper to the New Evangelisation. It is not the content that is new but rather the cultural context and consequently the methods of engagement.
The New Evangelisation is important when we consider the question of vocations. All over the world there has been an increase in vocations attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit through those groups and movements that are agents of the New Evangelisation. I heard while in the United States that a third of seminarians are in some way the fruit of the apostolic endeavours of just two groups evangelising young people. To use the analogy of fishing, we could say that the traditional fishing grounds for vocations were the family, the parish and the school. Although not exhausted, the stocks in these grounds are very much diminished. Today many of the vocations in our seminaries and religious orders have resulted from a call from God that began in the call to faith presented to them by one of those groups associated with the New Evangelisation.
When we speak of a “new evangelization” we do not mean that there is some new content to the Gospel message. What is new isn’t the message proclaimed but the situation of those receiving that message. The mission ad gentes has an inherent advantage in that there is a freshness to the proclamation and an openness on the part of the recipient. The New Evangelisation has to come to terms with the fact that it is proclaiming the Gospel to a generation who are familiar with some of the concepts and have grown cynical about its content. It is a cynicism born not just of scandal within the Church but also of a more generalized cultural ennui proper to a generation who have been the recipients of promises that have never delivered.
|John Bosco by day|
If it is true, and it certainly seems likely to be the case, that in the foreseeable future, a substantial proportion of our vocations will be the fruit of the New Evangelisation there will be specific consequences, or challenges, for the life of the Church. As the saying goes, "if we do what we've always done we will get what we've always got". This is the first challenge. If we want to see more vocations there is a need for the Church to come to terms with the New Evangelisation by reaching out an supporting those groups who are already engaged in it. I am not advocating a sort of ecclesial nationalisation of the new movements. Their very strength comes from their youthfulness and ability to think outside the usual "box" of diocesan structures. But in many cases they will benefit from the encouragement, support and wisdom that the Church can offer them. I wonder how often we listen to the new Movements, trying to understand them and to see where we can offer them support? I imagine that any bishop fortunate enough to have a contemplative community in his diocese would regard it a tragedy were they to close. Do we have a similar desire to welcome evangelising groups into our dioceses, such as NET Ministries from the USA? So the first challenge is to overcome institutional stasis and allow ourselves to be challenged.
A second, but not unrelated challenge, comes from the fact that we are talking of a generation that has grown up in a post-Christian cultural context. The 1960's and 1970's were years of stripping away and challenging authority. They were marked by a naive activism that believed progress would build the brave new world. The current generation looks instead for certainty, is cynical about the future and holds to forms and expressions of the past as a sign of continuity. The rebels of a former age now find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being themselves rebelled against by a generation that seems not to understand or show any sympathy for their struggle for 'liberation'. The second challenge is therefore directed at individuals within the Church. Are we to remain time-locked in the struggles of the past and so risk being irrelevant to the present? Or are we willing to let go of the past and its battles in order to be open to the aspirations and needs of the present?
|John Travolta by night|
The third challenge follows on from the second. Men and women who come to faith through the New Evangelisation remain people who have grown up within a particular social, family and cultural context. Their formation needs are, therefore, very specific. The men and women responding to a vocation today are more likely to have the personal history of Augustine of Hippo than Teresa of Avila. How can we be sure that the formation we offer meets the needs of this new generation unless we are willing to discern what those needs are? It is also worth recalling that we need to be aware of "false friends" - what Rome means by "human formation" is not the same as what a secular therapist understands when he or she hears those words. The challenge is to get to know those in formation by investing time in them which is not the same as observing them from afar or through the reports of others, and responding to their needs in ways that are explicitly Christian. If we are to avoid the phenomenon of men in formation who are John Bosco by day and John Travolta by night we will need to be on our guard against offering a therapeutic model of human formation based on a pagan (and therefore flawed) anthropology. I have to say that I was impressed to see in the United States an excellent programme of human formation rooted in the fundamental truth that we are sons and daughters of God. If that is not the starting point something has gone wrong.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Recent revelations afflicting the Church in these islands have shown us the truth of Pope Francis' words in his first address to the Cardinals that if we turn away from the Cross, from penance and self-denial, "we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly people - we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord".
As Holy Week approaches we might ask ourselves where such betrayal of Christ begins. I don't believe it can be a spur of the moment thing or a so-called "moment of madness" attributable to excess alcohol. I suspect the malaise takes root in an individual when he turns away from the path of discipline and self-denial and begins to follow an easy, compromised, way of life. Jesus says, "If anyone wishes to come after me let him deny himself and pick up the Cross and follow me". He does not say, "Look after yourself, the Church owes you a favour". He says, "Stay awake and pray". He does not say, "It's okay to be cool about prayer, just do it when you feel like it". Jesus says, "Do not worry about what you wear". He does not say, "Your value is determined by designer labels, elaborate vestments and the most expensive Cologne". Jesus says, "Eat what is set before you". He does not say, "You know, you're right, I wouldn't eat that either!"
We are to pick up the Cross daily and follow the Lord. Our vocation is not to build booths on Thabor and contemplate the Lord's heavenly splendour (and much less the plasma TV), it is to ascend Calvary with the Cross on our shoulders. When I was at seminary we were always being encouraged to "take care of ourselves" and "avoid burn-out". Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in his book Priests for the Third Millennium", recalls a bishop who complained to him that "the problem with priests in my diocese isn't burn out - it's bedsores!".
Where does the spirit of lukewarmness and compromise begin? It can begin at any time but, I suspect, for many it begins in the seminary. I was very pleased to hear that many seminarians in the United States have rediscovered the practice of Fraternal Correction. In a spirit of charity, having reflected in prayer, when necessary they will speak in a straightforward and manly way to their fellow students to challenge incipient worldliness. Their corrections are received with a gratitude by men who have not yet grown so cold that they have lost their initial desire to give everything to the Lord. It would be a good practice for seminarians to adopt on these shores as well.
Let us not forget that Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. The Lord's apparent friend is his greatest betrayer. Francis Caravajal gives the following reflection on this betrayal:
"What happened in Judas' soul? [...] He too was sent to preach and would have seen the abundant fruit of his apostolate. He may have performed miracles like the others. And he would have had very intimate and personal conversations with the Master, as did the other Apostles. What can have happened to his soul that he would now betray the Lord for thirty pieces of silver?
For it to be explicable, there must have been a long story behind the betrayal that night. For some time Judas would have been distant from Christ even though he was still in his company. On the surface he would have remained normal, but he must have changed inside and become distant. The split with the Master, the loss of his faith and his vocation must have taken place little by little, as he yielded in more and more important things...
He had allowed his love for the Lord to grow cold, and there remained only the mere external appearance of discipleship. His life of loving surrender to God had become a farce; more than once he would think it would have been better not to have followed the Lord at all. Now he does not remember the miracles, the cures, the happy moments with the Master, his friendship with the other Apostles. He is now a man who has lost his way, out of touch, quite capable of committing the madness which will for us be so difficult to understand.
The act now carried out has been preceded by increasing greater acts of disloyalty. It is one final outcome of a long, interior process".
How true those words are! How do you know whether it is happening to you? One way might be to ask yourself a few questions: How did you react internally when Pope Francis said, "He who does not pray worships the devil"? How many hours did you spend in front of the Tabernacle this week? How open are you to the others in your community? What voluntary acts of mortification have you done today? What should you do if you recognise the signs? Confession. A new beginning. Return to the Lord. Don't wait. Judas did not return to the Lord. He gave in to self-pity and was lost. Peter, on the other hand, wept bitterly. On that repentance the Church was built.
In his introduction to YouCat Pope Benedict told young people they need to know their faith better than their parent's generation. Seminarians and those considering the priesthood should perhaps consider that their generation needs to be outstanding in holiness if they are to undo the damage inflicted upon the Church by those who have betrayed Christ's trust.
I was recently sent this article by Rabbi Marc Gellman, one half of the "God Squad", the other being Mgr Tom Hartmann whom i had the pleasure to meet when he visited family in Balham. Rabbi Gellman is commenting on the election of Pope Francis for his weekly column:
The good news is that I did not swear an oath of secrecy. The bad news is that I don't know anything about what went on in the Sistine Chapel and I'm not Catholic. However, my best friend is a priest and I remember tenderly joking with Fr. Tom Hartman that if he was ever elected pope, he would choose as his pope-name, Pope John Paul George Ringo.
Seriously, I love the Catholic Church as a Jew, and I offer my joyous blessings to the new pontiff, Pope Francis, from Buenos Aires, with a full heart and hopeful thoughts.
My first hope is that the new pope will awaken every morning and read the Bible before he reads the newspapers. People who are not Catholic and not religious and not pro-life are now offering advice to the new pope and the old Church. That advice boils down to this: "Give up everything you believe and make what the Church thinks is true indistinguishable from what trendy secularists think is true."
Now, secularists may be right or they may be wrong, but it's not the sacred mission of the Church to replace things believed for the last 2,000 years with things that have been believed for the past week. So what I pray is that Pope Francis loves tradition not because it's old but because it's true. Old practices that are true but unpopular need to be preserved. Old practices that are just old and not true need to be let go. The only way to distinguish between them is to have a firm grasp of eternal truth. This is the hardest task. Therefore, I hope the new pope is a wise man.
I also hope he will be merciless in bringing to justice those priests who abused children. Some of this work has already been done, but the job is not finished, and what has been done came too late to save the good name of the Church. This new beginning provides the perfect opportunity to begin again the work of building trust.
I've defended the Catholic Church during this dark time of shame by pointing to the good works of the vast majority of priests. I've reminded people on many occasions that an accusation is not a conviction, and that extreme care needs to be taken so as not to ruin good names with unfounded accusations. Still, I was more than deeply saddened by revelations of child abuse; I was outraged. What I pray for most is that this new pontiff will make the Church clean once again.
I also pray that Pope Francis is a man who loves people as much as he loves God. It's easier to love God, but people need it more. I hope above all else that he's a loving man.
I pray that Pope Francis has dear friends who are not of his faith, not of his race, and not of his gender. The only way to feel the pain of those who are not exactly like you is to love someone who's not exactly like you. Loving Tommy has taught me this. There may be only one true way up the mountain to God, but there are many climbers and they all need encouragement and support. I hope the new pontiff is a climber who can see the other side of the mountain.
What I believe is that God's promise to Abraham to "multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore" (Gen. 22:17) has come true, but when you add over a billion Catholics to the existing 2 billion Protestants and Muslims worldwide, that's a lot of stars and sand. What this means is that almost half of all the people on Earth believe in God's promise to Abraham. This is a promise answered in a rich fabric of spiritual blessings. The new pope is more than the leader of the Catholic Church to me; he's the inheritor and custodian of God's blessing to Abraham.
So when Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran came to the balcony and shouted, "Habemus papam!" ("We have a Pope!"), I was shouting, too. The first thing I learned was that Pope Francis is a Jesuit, not a diocesan priest. The Jesuits, like all order priests, take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. They are the intellectuals of the Church. I then heard that the new pontiff is a man of uncommon modesty and humility who rode the bus to get around in Buenos Aires.
It's time, I think, for an intellectual who rides the bus to become pope and shepherd his flock into a world in need of healing and love.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
The title of this post may seem a bit dramatic but I am quite serious about it. The Southwark Vocations Blog exists simply in order to promote and support vocations to the priesthood. Over the years it has reached many young men all over the world. It's articles have been translated into German and even Slovakian. It has received emails from seminarians from other dioceses who have thanked us for the moral support it gave them as they applied for the priesthood in the face of opposition from family or friends. It is read enthusiastically by lay people as well as by priests and religious. For them sometimes it has been a source of encouragement and occasionally consolation. It has offered people a chance to get involved in our projects so that our Vocations Centre has benefitted from the generosity of our benefactors.
So what can be more important than all this? Simply this: vocations work is not a matter of technique or strategy. A vocation comes from the heart of God and is addressed to the hearts of men and women. It is an action of grace and a movement of the heart. For that our cooperation is needed but, important as is material cooperation, the most important and most effective collaboration in our work is when we take seriously the command of the Lord that we pray for labourers to be sent into his harvest. Without that prayer nothing we do will be worthwhile. Pope Francis has spoken in the strongest possible terms about the need for prayer without which, he implies, we are simply doing the devil's work.
Prayer identifies us with the will of the Father who sent he only Son that he be obedient unto death, mortem autem crucis, death on a Cross. It identifies us with Jesus whose sacrificial death on the Cross is renewed and made present whenever the Mass is celebrated. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit who applies the saving merits of the Cross to our souls. Without prayer we are building our own constructions that the Pope has compared to castles in the sand. "When we construct things without the Cross" he says, "we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly people - we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord".
The most important help you can give us in our vocations ministry is prayer. You can pray as an individual, as a family, as part of a vocations prayer group, and in whichever way is most convenient for you. But prayer is the most important help you will give us.
So why this post? Some months ago the Vatican issued guidelines for the promotion of vocations to the ministerial priesthood. You can read them by clicking the page link at the top of this blog. Paragraph 17 of these guidelines speaks of the need to promote a real culture of prayer in our dioceses and mentions among other things the concept of an "Invisible Monastery":
In ecclesial communities it is necessary to encourage a true and real movement of prayer to ask the Lord for vocations. In fact ‘Christian prayer, nourished by the word of God, creates an ideal environment where each individual can discover the truth of his own being and the identity of the personal and unrepeatable life-project which the Father entrusts to him. It is therefore necessary to educate boys and young men so that they will become faithful to prayer and meditation on God’s word: in silence and listening, they will be able to perceive the Lord who is calling them to the priesthood, and be able to follow that call promptly and generously. Initiatives that display a harmonious community in prayer for vocations should be supported and increased. Thus it would be good for the Diocesan Office for Vocations to propose and organize an “invisible monastery” in which many persons, day and night, are committed to continuous prayer for priestly vocations. “Vocations Thursday” is a traditional moment of monthly communal prayer, centred around Eucharistic adoration, for priests and priestly vocations.
For some time now I have been talking with people about how we might get an Invisible Monastery off the ground in our diocese. The idea is to have a special connection between all those praying for vocations in our diocese. People can commit themselves to praying for vocations in the way that most suits them and receive in return news, ideas and encouragement. Today I heard from the amazing Sam Alzheimer in the United States. Sam runs Vianney Vocations which does so much to promote and encourage vocations in America. He has also been thinking about how to make an Invisible Monastery a reality in our diocese and has harnessed the power of the internet to make it a global reality. There is now a website where you can sign up to become part of a worldwide family of men and women praying for vocations. The website gives you all sorts of ideas about what you can do and lots of resources as well.
Please visit the Invisible Monastery website. To join all you need do is choose your country and then select your diocese. Please become part of the Invisible Monastery praying for vocations in our diocese.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
There's been a lot of interest in the vocations pilgrimage to Rome. If you are a young person who is a seminarian or "on a vocational journey" and would lilt to go please contact me ASAP. There are a few places available with existing groups.
I can also help if you want to travel by yourself and join us there.
Finally, if you are a Religious who is taking a group do please get in contact as well so that I can let you know how to access the specific Invocation events. In other words, even if you are staying at your community's Generalate I have some Invocation events that may interest you.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
I can also help if you want to travel by yourself and join us there.
Finally, if you are a Religious who is taking a group do please get in contact as well so that I can let you know how to access the specific Invocation events. In other words, even if you are staying at your community's Generalate I have some Invocation events that may interest you.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone