Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year Retreat

The New Year Retreat is going really well. We have nearly two hundred people sleeping in the school with many more coming during the day but sleeping at home or at friends' houses. The talks have been great: simple, practical and challenging. So far we've looked at the Eucharist, Confession, and prayer. Last night we had a reconciliation service with fourteen priests hearing Confessions. It began at 8.00pm and ended after 10!
This afternoon we have the Vocations Forum. We will show the 'Fishers of Men' video and follow it up with a discussion on how to discern one's vocation. It's not exclusively for people thinking about the diocesan priesthood: we have lots of male and female religious here so we couldn't ignore them! The plan is rather to simply create a space where vocations in general and the signs associated with them may be discussed.
With all this attention paid to our souls it's important to mention that a large part of the success of this year's retreat is due to the attention that is also being paid to our bodies. Whether it's attempting to unblock loos at midnight or sorting out heating systems so no one freezes to death on a school floor there's always been a smiling parishioner ready to help.
I couldn't finish this post without mentioning the food - because everyone else is talking about it endlessly. The basic theme: "It's never been so good"! Youth 2000 has been around since 1990 and today someone commented: "We've never had a cooked breakfast before". Yesterday someone said, "There's never been a choice of menu before". And the best comment of all, "This year instead of thinking, 'Oh, it's lunch time', I'm saying 'Oh great - it's lunch!". So thanks to everyone whose involved with looking after our bodies - especially all the many people and families helping with the catering. Here's a photo of just some of them.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year Retreat

Since St John's day everything in the parish has been gearing up towards the New Year Retreat which started last night. This year our parishioners are doing the catering but since I am the one with the parish credit card I found myself spending the best part of the day in Bookers with a team of people to do the shopping. Catering for anything between three and five hundred people is no joke. Those who were thinking in terms of a big shop at Sainsbury's soon realised their mistake. Two trailer loads later we were back in the parish ready waiting for the arrival of the advance party - due at 10pm!
Yesterday the first people arrived at 9am (for 6pm registration) but were soon set to work. There's lots to be prepared for a retreat and the more people to help out the better, especially if they've had some previous experience. Seeing how confidently Maxine and her team were looking after the catering, we knew we had no worries there. Indeed, we were treated to some very tasty 'Shepherds Pie' yesterday evening. The choice of food reflected the fact that the Archbishop would be joining us for supper.
I picked up the Arch at 6.00pm and we made good time getting back here so he was able to meet lots of people before and during the evening meal. He enjoyed the first talk by Brother Martin CFR and then presided at Holy Mass.

This picture was taken in the sacristy after Mass. I've had to manipulate it a bit because there was so much incense in the sacristy that it originally came out as a milky haze. Smoke rises and, having done my best to clean it up, I'm amused that the floor area is fairly clear but there's still a lot at head height! We were fourteen concelbrants at the Mass. The Archbishop preached a lovely meditation on Christian Love. He has promised to let me have copies of both that one and his St John's day sermon so we may be able to post them here.
There were over 160 people at Mass which was very good. I had been nervous that the New Year Retreat usually gets off to a slow start and didn't want the Arch preaching to an empty Church. As things were the Church looked full and we were all very happy we the whole occasion. I, of course, am already looking for people to speak to about a vocation, and tomorrow we will show 'Fishers of Men' and have our Vocations Forum.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

St John's Day with the Archbishop

The days after Christmas can be a bit quiet in a parish so we try to compensate by doing something special. For the last couple of years we've hosted a Vocations Day which has consisted of Holy Mass celebrated by the Archbishop, followed by a get-together and festal lunch. As always at the Holy Ghost we try to do things well. Here's a picture of the Archbishop before Mass with some of the forty Altar Servers who served the Mass. David organised the music and we had the Missa de Angelis with a nice selection of carols as well as the Puer Natus which sounded great.

As well as the Crib we have also have abeautiful carved image of the Infant Jesus. During the Octave of Christmas this is venerated by the people who come into the Church.
After Mass we went over to the presbytery and were able to catch up on news. We had seminarians from Wonersh and Valladolid present so we were able to hear about life in those two places. We also heard what people had been up to for Christmas. In ecclesiastical Snakes and Ladders Francis did the equivalent of landing on a snake when he told us that he went to Midnight Mass "at the Cathedral", meaning the other Cathedral. Err, Francis, that is the Archbishop of Southwark you're sitting next to... More black marks for Francis when some passing elves went up to him and asked "Are you the Bishop?" They were soon pointed in the right direction.

The Reindeer stayed outside, perched on our neighbour's scaffold, while meanwhile a distant jangling of bells gave way to a rather more immediate 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' and in came Santa. He would have come down the chimney but the Arch's chair was in the way. In case you can't read it, our Coca Cola-red Santa came in episcopal-green with envy and bearing a sign saying "Bloggo ergo sum!" (he doesn't have a Blog).

Santa proceeded to deal out presents for all present. A 'Stress Rocket' for the Archbishop was particularly well received. Here, Daniel is encouraged to exercise more by taking up basketball.

Later Tom struck a serious pose...

The Arch relaxed one...

And Daniel went in for something more seasonal...

After a glass of champagne we retired to the dining room for lunch.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Friends with Christ

Fr Richard Aladics and Fr Julian Greene recently ran a very successful retreat for young men. The theme of the retreat says it all: "Friends with Christ". You can see details of how it went by visiting the Friends with Christ Blog.

See that they are about to offer a second Friends with Christ retreat, this time for young women and I thought it might be of interest to some of the female readers of this Blog. You can get details of the timetable by clicking here.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Preparing for Christmas

In the parish we are in the final phase of our Christmas preparations. Tomorrow we have our usual Sunday morning Masses plus a baptism. Then the Church will be closed while the flowers are arranged in time for the Vigil Mass at 6.00pm and Midnight Mass at - well I'll let you figure that one out!

I've already worked out my sermon so, apart from tweaking it a bit, I don't have that to worry about. To be honest Christmas should go well. The Servers did well at their practice today, the Choir has spent a lot of time preparing the Music. Things are always done 'by the book' in this parish which is probably why we are so popular.

In many ways my mind is already looking beyond Christmas day itself. On the Feast of St John we have a special day with the Archbishop for our seminarians and those that bit closer to applying. He will celebrate Holy Mass here at 10.00am and then we will have a bit of a get-together. There will be a bit of a festal lunch followed by the chance of a film in the afternoon.

The following day the advance party arrives for the New Year Retreat. It's more complicated for us this year as we (probably foolishly) offered to do the catering. On the other hand in this parish we are blessed with Maxine, a wonderful woman for whom nothing is too difficult. Do say a prayer for her and for her children - I know she would apreciate that.

In the meantime I will keep you all in my prayers.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Vatican Football Team

You can tell it's silly season for the press when the Telegraph carries a quarter page article announcing that the Vatican was planning to get form a Vatican team, comprised of seminarians, to compete in Serie A, Italy's first division. Yesterday the new football fan Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was asked about the proposal on Vatican Radio. "It is impossible... I have other things to do than to attend to a Vatican football team".

Lest any potential vocations be put off by the clarification I'm putting up this photo which shows a rather impressive backdrop for a seminarians v Swiss Guards game. And also the tantalising news from Il Gazetto dello Sport that Cardinal Bertone is promoting a soccer championship for next year, in which religious, seminarians and priests who study or work in Rome will be invited to participate...

Servants of Mary

This afternoon I had a visit from Mother Isabel, the superior of the Servants of Mary who have a convent in a neighbouring parish. The sisters have just had a visitation from their Mother General. Mother Isabel was telling me that it went very well, except that when it came for her to return to Rome the fog at Heathrow meant that her flight was cancelled - on three consecutive days!
One of the things the General raised with the sisters was the need to promote vocations to the religious life. Mother Isabel asked me why it is that these days priests often introduce girls to contemplative communities but don't seem to introduce them to any active ones. Now this Blog is dedicated to promoting priestly vocations, but I know from the comments box that it is read by a number of young women who are considering a religious vocation. I don't want to change the nature of the Blog, but I'm happy to post on some of the orders we have in the diocese if there's an interest. So it's over to you girls, what do you say? Would you like some info on religious life?

By the way, you can click this link to visit the Servants of Mary website. They are a nursing order who care for the sick by visiting them in their homes at night and simply attending to their needs. The photograph shows some of their novices. Mother Isabel has promised to send me some more pictures so we can do a fuller post later. I've also invited them to drop in during the Retreat so if you're coming you might meet some!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Quo Vadis Groups

Yesterday I had a welcome email from Conor McDonough, a reader of this Blog who has set up a vocations discernment group at a university in the fens...
Here's a photo of the Cardinal looking at you while visiting the university chaplaincy. I hear he's still asking 'What is a Blog?'
I wholeheartedly agree with the points Conor makes about the importance of chaplaincies being characterised by an atmosphere of 'vocations discernment'.

"I've been reading your vocations blog with interest recently, and thought it worthwhile to share what's being done at Fisher House (the Catholic chaplaincy at Cambridge) concerning vocation. Last year, a friend of mine, Hannah Vaughan-Spruce, and I set up a group called 'Consider Your Call'. The aim of the group was to get students thinking about the state of life to which they are called, as well as to help them, by means of fellowship and common prayer, to say 'yes' to whatever God asks of them. In short, we try to facilitate vocational discernment and spiritual formation.

We organise meetings twice a term, on Saturday evenings. We begin with a half-hour of silent adoration, followed by an hour-long discussion, then compline, and finally the chaplaincy bar is opened! The first meeting usually covers a broad topic like 'The Universal Call to Holiness' or 'The Praying Student', and the other looking at a specific calling, such as the priesthood or marriage, for example. Our discussions are either based on texts from classic spiritual works, or led by visitors (who usually begin by giving a talk on their vocation).

Most of the people in the group know each other from other chaplaincy activities, so the style of the group is quite relaxed and informal. It's pretty amazing how honest
and upfront the students are about their spiritual lives - there is a real sense of mutual formation. We usually get about thirty people coming along to the Saturday evenings, and more to sporadic retreats we organise (Fr John Edwards SJ is coming up to give a pre-Lent day of recollection).

I'm sure you've noticed a new openness in young Catholics to the idea of having a specific calling, and a new courage to accept that calling even if it seems like a cross. JPII's witness no doubt has a lot to do with this. About a dozen of my friends at Fisher House, for example, are seriously considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

We're particularly blessed with a great sacramental life and fantastic intellectual formation (our chaplain, Fr Alban McCoy OFM Conv, is a very good apologist and catechist), but it seems to me that even those chaplaincies that are poorer in those areas could yield a rich harvest in vocations of all sorts if they were characterised by an 'atmosphere of discernment'.

Our group is only an example of the type of initiative that could encourage such an atmosphere, but it is a very successful one (after a year: one Polish Capuchin novice, a Poor Clare (Galway) postulant, a married couple, a seminarian-to-be, one lay Benedictine and many, many more who are actively discerning God's will in their lives).
God bless your work!
Pax et bonum,
Conor "

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Seekers' Meeting

Last Friday we had our monthly Seekers' Meeting. After the formal part of the evening there was a chance to go over to the Church to join our Advent Carol service then we met back at the presbytery for some 'fish n chips'. We have a very good chippy in the parish which I am happy to support because there is always a red APF Box on the counter. There was an amusing moment while I was waiting for the fish to be cooked. A young lad had obviously never heard of anyone ordering twenty portions of fish and chips before and he kept looking at me while it was being cooked. Finally he plucked up courage to ask, "Are you having a party?" His parents looked horrified, as if they'd just seen their son talking to someone from the Planet Zog. I don't suppose he's ever spoken to a priest before!

Fr James was mortified at being caught on camera in a somewhat relaxed state so we had to take this picture of him smartening up. If Kurt is looking a bit dishevelled do bear in mind that he had come hotfoot from a festal lunch at Wonersh to mark the end of term. It was all we could do to stop him breaking into a Magnificat antiphon (scroll down this Blog for a video of Kurt singing at Wonersh).

Finally Fr James is back to his usual sartorial state. Tomasz, always larger than life, manages to appear twice in this photo. If Mark looks like that after half a glass of wine just think what he was like by the end of the evening...

For more information about our monthly Seekers' Meetings send me an email by clicking this link.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Year Retreat Timetable

We are all looking forward to welcoming young people from all over the country for the Youth 2000 New Year Retreat here in Balham. We are already getting lots of questions about the Retreat we've decided to publish the basic outline of the talks here:

Friday 29th December
Feast of St Thomas a Becket

6.00pm Registration
7.00pm Evening Meal
8.15pm "Who do you say that I am?" - Talk by Br Martin de Porres CFR
9.00pm Holy Mass celebrated by Archbishop Kevin McDonald

Saturday 30th December
Christmas Octave

10.15am "He who abides in Love" - Talk by Fr Julian Green
12.00noon Holy Hour
4.00pm "Repent and believe the Good News" - Talk by Fr Stephen Wang
5.30pm Holy Mass
8.00pm Reconciliation Service

Sunday 31st December
Feast of the Holy Family

10.15am "Pray constantly" - Talk by Fr Sylvester CFR
12.15pm Holy Hour
4.00pm "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" - Talk by Niall Slattery
8.00pm Healing Service
11.00pm Holy Mass

Monday 1st January 2007
Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God
12.00noon Holy Mass

It's worth bearing in mind that these are just the bare bones of the timetable. There is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament day and night, there's also daily Rosary, workshops, Morning & Evening Prayer & much, much more....

Becoming a Priest

From time to time I get comments from people all over the world telling me that they read this blog and that it has helped them discern their vocation. I give God thanks for that and I keep them in my prayers.
I was thinking the other day about how to attract more people to this Blog - not in order to be able to compete with some of the other sites out on the blogosphere, but to respond to more people who might simply have a question about a vocation to the Catholic priesthood. I don't know much about how search engines work but their must be a way (without paying) to ensure that this Blog features when someone Googles a question about a vocation to be a priest.
I am sure someone out there can send me a comment with some advice and I would welcome it. In the meantime I reckon that if I keep repeating phrases like 'becoming a priest' or 'becoming a Catholic priest' there's a good chance that we'll appear when someone searches. What do you think?

Daily Mass

Fr Richard Aladics and Fr Julian Greene recently started the Friends with Christ blog dedicated to the New Evangelisation. It's worth clicking the link to have a read of this interesting blog. Recently Fr Julian published this post on what friendship with Christ means for a priest:

I was just re-reading the address of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to the priests of the Diocese of Rome in the Papal Basilica of St John Lateran shortly after his election to the Chair of Peter. It's very interesting that the Holy Father sums up the life of the priest as friendship with Christ, on the basis that that is what Christ called his apostles. That friendship that Christ has particularly for his priests is so filled with confidence in the gifts of grace that he gives to them that he even entrusts his Body - the Church - and his Body and Blood - the Eucharist - to their care. What a responsibility! It's more than some superficial 'pally' friendship - it's a deep trust that leads our Lord to place into feeble human hands the care of the Ecclesial Body, composed of souls precious to him, and the Eucharistic Body, where he continues his action of humbling himself to come among us. I was always impressed by the words of that great old Eucharistic hymn "Ah, see within a creature's hands the vast Creator deigns to be, reposing infantlike as though on Joseph's arm or Mary's knee." Being entrusted with such a friendship, with such a grace, with such a responsibility it means that the priest needs to do everything to stay close to Christ, and to develop that friendship with Him:

"Dear priests ... the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he entrusts himself to us, he entrusts to us his Body in the Eucharist,he entrusts to us his Church. Therefore, we must be true friends to him, we must have the same perception as he has, we must want what he wants and not what he does not want. Jesus himself tells us: "You are my friends if you do what I command you"(Jn 15:14). Let this be our common resolution: all of us together, to do his holy will, in which lies our freedom and our joy."This friendship requires an intimate knowledge of Christ, not just to know 'about' Him, but to know him Heart to heart. But the Pope warns that the friendship of the priest is not just a personal friendship, but is a relationship for the Church. It's a bit like in a family. The father and mother have a relationship, but it's not just a private love affair, it involves the whole family - children, wider family, local parish, local community. It is a relationship for others as well as for self. So the priest doesn't just have a friendship with Christ which is personal and subjective, but it is a friendship with Christ for, on behalf of, and including the Church. This is especially so as the priesthood brings about both the Eucharist, and the building up of the Church.
"Since the priesthood is rooted in Christ, it is by its nature in the Church and for the Church. Indeed, the Christian faith is not something purely spiritual and internal, nor is our relationship with Christ itself exclusively subjective and private. Rather, itis a completely concrete and ecclesial relationship. At times, the ministerial priesthood has a constitutive relationship with the Body of Christ in his dual and inseparable dimensions as Eucharist and as Church, as Eucharistic body and Ecclesial body."

For the priest, this friendship which is both personal and on behalf of the Church, finds its consummation in the celebration of the Mass. And, as the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II said of himself, "The Holy Mass is the absolute centre of my life and of every day of my life." This is the text that Pope Benedict repeats, and says that every priest should make his own. If a priest is to live this friendship even if only for himself he would want to celebrate the Mass. But even if a priest does not "want" to celebrate Mass every day for his own personal friendship with Christ, then he still should on behalf of the Church, because his friendship with Christ is within and for the Church.
It always pains me to hear priests referring to celebration of Mass as though it's a job which is tiresome. Celebrating three Masses on one day, and no Mass on a day off. Or "slaving over a hot altar" in the parish, but having a couple of weeks off celebrating Mass on holiday, or just going to Mass like a lay person. It is a completely mechanical and utilitarian understanding of the Mass and the priesthood which leads to this. Rather than being a task to be thrown off for relaxation, the Mass should be the centre of the priest's life every day, just like breathing, or eating, or drinking. You don't take a day off having friends - in fact you spend more time with friends - on a day off. So, as I remember my spiritual director say to me when in seminary, the day off is an opportunity to celebrate the Mass in a more recollected way and with more time.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Who am I? (August '86)

In August '86 I was continuing with my routine of work and giving classes. Every day that passed my desire to know God grew stronger but inside I was still divided: I wanted to know the truth... and yet I didn't want. The sins of my previous lifestyle weighed heavily upon me, because to encounter the truth would mean giving up certain habits. And, as things stood at present, I wasn't willing to.
When I dithered in deciding to serve God, which already for some time I wanted to do, I found that only I was the cause of the delay. I didn't fully want to but I wasn't able to give up the desire to serve God - I was fighting with myself, and destroying myself. Inside I would say, 'Come on, now! Now!', but when I was at the point of making a commitment I held back. It was as if the old pleasures were drawing me towards them, whispering in my ear: "What? You're leaving us? We won't ever be with you again... never? ... never? You won't be able to do this any more, nor that..." They would say, "What? You think you can live without us? You?!"
When I looked around I saw that many of my friends had changed their way of life. Why shouldn't I be able to do the same?

I began to understand that they had been able to change their lives thanks to the power of God, and that by ourselves we couldn't even stay standing upright. I had to rely on God. Only then would I be able to change... But even so I kept hearing within me the insinuating voices of base pleasures: "Are you going to be able to live without us...? You?!"

One day I was chatting with a friend in a garden. Like me he was in the process of converting. I couldn't contain myself and erupted: "Can't you see what sort of life we're living and how different it is from the Christians? And here we are just stuck in the mire, wallowing in the flesh and in every sort of spectacle. Are we never going to be like them just because we're too ashamed to say we've been wrong?"

My friend was shocked, but I was decided to resolve my situation once and for all. We left the garden, still talking about what had become of my life. I had a copy of the New Testament. I put it down and suddenly I began to cry. For the first time in my life I started to pray: "When will I come to a decision Lord? Don't hold my sins against me. Tell me, Lord, how long will I continue like this? How long will I put things off until tomorrow? Why not today? Why not right now, let me put all my miseries behind me!".

As I was praying these words I heard the voice of a little boy calling out from a nearby house: "Take it. Read it! Take it. Read it!". Take and read. God was making use of this little boy to tell me something. I picked up the book and opened it at random. In silence I read the following words:
"Don't continue with those who feast and get drunk; give up impurity; leave behind your fights and arguments. Vest yourself in our Lord Jesus Christ and no longer be consumed by the flesh and its desires".

I closed the book. This was my response. I didn't want to read any further. It wasn't necessary because it was as if my heart had been filled with an overwhelming light that overcame all the shadows of my doubts. When I came back down to earth a bit I told my friend who wanted to see what I had read. I showed him, but he fixed on the next sentence of the passage: Welcome the man whose faith is weak.

After that we went in to see my mother. We told her everything and she was filled with joy. We told her how it had all taken place and she danced for joy, singing and praising God. She said that God had granted her what she had constantly asked for over many years in her prayers and with her tears: my conversion. A few months later, at the Easter Vigil, I was baptised along with my friend and my son.

Years later, reflecting on the beauty of Truth and in love with Jesus Christ, I wrote:
"Late have I loved Thee, Beauty so ancient and yet so new.
Late have I loved Thee!
Thou wast within me but I searched for Thee without...
I threw myself like a wild beast at the beautiful things thou hast made.
Thou wert at my side, but I was far from Thee.
These things had me a slave.
Thou disdst call to me. Thou didst shout out to me.
And in the end Thou didst overcome my deafness.
Thou didst shine before me and so freed me from my blindness.
I smelt your sweet perfume and I did desire Thee.
I savouredThy presence, I consumed and drank of Thee.
Thou didst touch me and enfolded me in Thy peace".

Thanks to God my prayer and that of my mother had been heard. Seeking the truth without fear and reading the Gospels I found the great key to meaning in my life: I found Christ and, with him, peace. I was able to say to God my Father, on meeting him again, with the joy of a son who comes home having been away for many years, and from the depths of my soul, some words that you will probably recognise:

"Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee".

Saturday, December 16, 2006

New Addington

This evening I was preaching at a Holy Hour for young people in the Good Shepherd parish, New Addington. It's a year since I was last there and so I was pleased to be invited back by Fr Stephen Boyle, the parish priest. Fr Stephen mentioned that he doesn't have a Blog but that he appears on them from time to time. So here, for the Southwar Vocations Record we not only mention Fr Stephen but post a picture of him with some of his young friends (three of whom you may recognise from Vocations activities - come on lads, when are you going to apply?)...

Public Spectacles

No, not the things you wear on your nose. When I was preparing for priesthood I was given some very sensible advice. By and large, the traditional recommendation is that priests should avoid public spectacles and shows.
Before any priests reading this huff and puff with indignation - it's not an absolute rule and it certainly doesn't bind under pain of sin! It's a recommendation and, I think, a sensible one. Public spectacles require time and, usually, money. We are visible (at least if we go wearing the collar) and our presence might be the cause of some admiratio, or even discomfort (I remember a young female parishioner describing her embarassment at sitting next to an elderly priest at a West End show when topless dancing girls came on the stage).

Time is an important factor, particularly when there seems to be so little of it going round these days. As priests we have to get a lot of things done in what's left of the day.On the whole, therefore, it's a sensible recommendation and one which I usually try to stick to. However... sometimes it's good to get away and so today I was at a football match. Not any old match mind, if you're going to break a norm it's worth doing it in stile. So today I was watching Liverpool (whom I support) playing Charlton (towards whom I'm indifferent). I was in the middle of the Charlton crowd, just behind the goal. Whenever Liverpool came down our end to score I found myself on my feet while all the Charlton supporters stayed seated - certainly some admiratio there!
The crowd was well-behaved although on hearing the language I though a Confessional outside the gates would have been appropriate. I did notice some interesting things. Liverpool has a chant that consists in singing 'Liverpool' ten times - we've all heard it. The Charlton chant, however, consists of a couple of taps on the chairs to make a drumming noise followed by 'Charlton' sung twice which is about the amount of time it took them to lose possession of the ball.

The other great revelation was the loyalty of their supporters many of whom gave up by about two thirds of the way through the game.
Liverpool, of course, won 3-0. A good day out that didn't cost me anything as I was treated by a parishioner who couldn't use his season tickets.

Help Oppose Abortion

Each year BBC Radio 4's Today Programme invites listeners to send in some form of 'legislative wish-list'. When they first did it the idea was to nominate a law, they even had an MP who promised to introduce a private members Bill. He ended up with egg on his face because the public voted for the right of householders to shoot intruders and in the end he refused to support it.
This year's silly season vote, however, is more serious. This time Radio 4 is asking listeners to nominate a law that they would like to have REPEALED. The producers will select the top six nominations and put them to a listeners' vote. Please take part in this poll and nominate David Steel's 1967 Abortion Act as the one to be repealed. It won't actually change the legal status of abortion in this country, but it could be a very powerful PR coup!
You can vote by clicking here.
Feel free to link or copy this post to as many blogs as you can. The more votes the better!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Meetings, meetings, meetings...

There won't be much time for blogging tomorrow as I have a whole series of meeting lined up. After the morning Mass I head off to the Cathedral for a meeting at our diocesan Child Protection Office. Before anyone is admitted to the seminary we are obliged to carry out a 'Criminal Records Bureau' check. This determines whether they have any criminal records, or anything at all on file that would call into question their suitability for work with children or vulnerable adults. I'm told that in the States you just pop in to your local FBI office and it's all done at the swish of an identity card. Here in England it's somewhat more daunting including all sorts of bits of paper that get filed in different places. I'm hoping someone will give me a staightforward flow diagram tomorrow!
After that I pop next door to see our diocesan Financial Secretary. Our students get a diocesan grant but the way it is paid varies from seminary to seminary. Sometimes they get it straight from the diocese. In other places the receive it from the seminary which is then re-imbursed by the diocese. The students often ask me about mysterious things called 'holiday grants'. I need to find out exactly what's what. I also need to speak to the Financial Secretary about one or two parish things: I have some questions about some issues to do with the employment of lay people by the parish, and I know that the FS wants to fill me in about some concerns he has about a parish club. All rivetting stuff! As secular clergy we are also stewards of the Church's inherited patrimony and we have a responsibility for the correct administration of temporal goods. Although many of us would love to be able to hand this over to deacons or lay people, it nonetheless true that as the one who presides over a community the parish priest has an ultimate responsibility to ensure that things are well-ordered.
In the afternoon we have a meeting of the diocesan Vocations Group. It seems daft to go home only in order to head back to the Cathedral again so I'm grateful for an invite to lunch at Archbishop's House. This is our first meeting since the appointment of a new Vocations Director. The group also has two new members and I am excited to hear their proposals for the deepening of vocations promotion in their areas of ministry (school chaplaincy and diocesan youth ministry). The programme of activities for next year has more or less been finalised and I will be presenting it to the group.
In the evening we have our Seekers' Meeting at 7pm, while in the Church at 8pm we have our annual parish Advent Service of Carols and Readings. Fortunately the presence of an assistant priest in this parish avoids the need for me to bi-locate.

New Year Retreat - Important Update

The New Year Retreat begins on Friday 29th December. We've just heard that the opening Mass that evening will be celebrated by Archbishop Kevin McDonald. This will be the first time the Archbishop has celebrated at a Youth 2000 event.
Traditionally the New Year Retreat has gotten off to a slow start: some people try to save a night on the floor by arriving early on the morning of the 30th. The Archbishop can only come on the Friday night as he will be away over the weekend, so it will be important to have a good turnout if he is not to get a poor impression.
Some people can't make it for the whole weekend but would, perhaps, like a 'taster' of a Youth 2000 retreat. Why not join us on Friday evening?

The timetable for Friday is:

6.00pm Registration
6.30pm Vespers
7.00pm Evening Meal
8.00pm Introduction
9.00pm Holy Mass, celebrated by the Archbishop.
10.00pm Adoration & Praise
11.00pm Hot Chocolate
All Night Adoration

You are welcome to join us just for the Mass.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

After the parish Mass today I headed off into central London to celebrate a second Mass for the Good Counsel Network. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the pro-life movement and the Good Counsel Network had invited all mothers and their babies to come to the Mass. Most people contact the Good Counsel Network because they are looking to terminate a pregnancy. The Network offers pregnancy tests and counselling services. Through its tremendous work many mothers change their minds and decide to keep their babies.

These are some of the mothers the Good Counsel Network has helped in recent months. They are all with their beautiful babies. One mother is due to give birth next week. Please keep her in your prayers. Without the help and support of the Good Counsel Network these babies might never have been born and their mothers would have been left with a terrible emptiness. It was wonderful to see how happy they were today and how proud they are of their children.

The Good Counsel Network helps mums in all sort of different ways. Today there was a practical lesson in budgeting. Helpers were given £20 each and asked to see what they could get at various shops. Needless to say the corner shop was the most expensive. Marks & Spencers fared unexpectedly well. Asda was quite good but by universal consent the best value for money was Morrisons!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Advent Service at Wonersh

Here is a short clip from the Advent Service at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, last Sunday. To mark the first Sunday of Advent the seminary organised an 'Open Day' inviting parents and friends of the students as well as anyone who may be considering a priestly vocation. After a meditation and a Holy Hour there was a service of psalms and reading in the Chapel. The students mingled with their guests while the Schola were vested in albs. This clip is of the Magnificat and gives you something of the flavour of the event.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Talking with Seminarians

Yesterday (Thursday) I was at Wonersh to give a couple of classes to the top year students (all of whom, please God, will be deacons by the end of the year). There are four students in that year: Leslie, Con, Andy & Eddie. For me talks like these are very good occasions to learn from the people I meet. Each of the four students had spent quite a long time in secular careers and this was reflected in their perception of why some men hold back from applying for the priesthood. They made a number of points I hadn't considered but whichwould certainly be factors for what are sometimes called 'late vocations'. I was grateful for the experience, and also for the chance to work in the library during the day in order to produce a draft of the next edition of Vocations News which is long overdue!

Seekers' Meeting

A quick post to remind everyone that we have another Seekers' Meeting on Friday this week (15th December). As usual we start at 7.00pm. The evening begins with an input on some aspect of our Christian life, there is then time to talk with someone from the vocations team. Finally we have a meal together.
In order to facilitate catering, it would be useful to know who's coming. You can send me an email by clicking here.

Seminarians from Navarre

On Wednesday night we had a visit from two seminarians for the diocese of Navarre in northern Spain. Jon and Javier had been staying at St John's, Wonersh, but since they needed to get to Stansted for an early flight they asked if they could spend Wednesday night here in the parish. I had met Jon on a number of occasions in the past on my visits to Pamplona. He is now in his first year at the diocesan seminary, while Javier is in his fourth year.
Sometimes it is asked whether we should be keeping seminaries open when numbers are low. To put things into perspective, Wonersh has about forty resident students and staff in a building built for a hundred. In Navarre there are seventeen students - in a building designed for one thousand two hundred students...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Seminary Rector Kidnapped

We should all pray for the suffering Christians of Iraq. Zenit News Agency reports today that another priest, the seminary rector, has been kidnapped in Bagdad:

Seminary Rector Kidnapped in Iraq
Chaldean Bishop Criticizes World's Passivity BAGHDAD, Iraq, DEC. 5, 2006

Father Sami Al-Rais, rector of the major Chaldean Seminary in Al Dora, Baghdad, was kidnapped Monday, according to Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni. "They took him this morning around 9:30 a.m. just a few steps from the Church of Mar Khorkhis, in Baghdad Jadida," the prelate told the Italian bishops' SIR agency. "We are faced with a new abduction," he added. "We await the request for a ransom. The world sleeps; if it doesn't wake up there will be no future for Iraq or for Iraqi Christians." With the latest abduction, the number of kidnapped Chaldean priests in Baghdad now reaches five. Last October a Syro-Orthodox priest, Father Paul Iskandar, was murdered. Father Al-Rais, who is also pastor of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul near the seminary, was supposed to be present this Wednesday at the opening of the academic year of Babel College, run by the Catholic Church in Baghdad. He teaches moral theology there. Given the unstable situation, the faculty has been moved from Al Dora to the Church of Mar Khorkhis. The ceremony to open the academic year at Babel College has been postponed. Iraq's Chaldean patriarchate has launched an appeal on its Web page to the kidnappers, reported AsiaNews. "We beg you not to harm him, and to treat him well," it states. "We place Father Sami in the Lord's and Providence's hands, asking him to help us save Iraq from these kidnappings that terrify everyone, adults and children."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The First Hundred Years

Yesterday the neighbouring parish of St Mary Magdalene had a special celebration to mark its first centenary. The Archbishop was unwell but his place was taken by Bishop Paul Hendricks, our local auxiliary bishop. I did wonder whether he would collapse under the weight of the vestments procured for the occasion by the parish priest, Fr Martin Edwards. Everything went well until the end of Mass when the poor bishop almost had his head knocked off as the enormous jewelled mitre hit against the lintil of the sacristy door.

After Mass a new statue of St Mary Magdalene, carved in Roumania, was uncovered and blessed. A champagne reception followed and then the clergy present were treated to dinner at a local restuarant - whether the bishop was able to slip into something more comfortable...

New Year's Resolution@Balham

The theme for this year's New Year Retreat at Balham is "Resolution". You can view more details about the retreat by clicking this link to the relevant page on the Youth 2000 website. The retreat is an annual event in the parish organised by Youth 2000. Last year we attracted 300 young people between the ages of 16 & 35. This year the organisers are hoping to hit five hundred!

The Retreat includes talks on concrete aspects of Christian life, Holy Mass, and lots of opportunities for Confession. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the Church throughout the Retreat and there is all-night Adoration (optional!).

Balham is dead easy to get to: we are two stops from Clapham Junction. You can also get to us on the Northern Line. Interested? Check out the link above then send us an email at Southwark Vocations.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Message of Pope Benedict XVI for the 43rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The celebration of the coming World Day of Prayer for Vocations gives me the opportunity to invite the entire People of God to reflect on the theme Vocation in the mystery of the Church. The Apostle Paul writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world … He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1,3-5). Before the creation of the world, before our coming into existence, the heavenly Father chose us personally, calling us to enter into a filial relationship with Him, through Jesus, the Incarnate Word, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Dying for us, Jesus introduced us into the mystery of the Father’s love, a love which completely envelops his Son and which He offers to all of us. In this way, united with Jesus, the Head, we form a sole body, the Church.

The weight of two millennia of history makes it difficult to grasp the novelty of this captivating mystery of divine adoption, which is at the centre of St Paul’s teaching. As the Apostle reminds us, the Father “has made known to us the mystery of his will … as a plan to unite all things in him” (Eph 1,9-10). And he adds, with enthusiasm: “In everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom 8,28-29). The vision is indeed fascinating: we are called to live as brothers and sisters of Jesus, to feel that we are sons and daughters of the same Father. This is a gift that overturns every purely human idea and plan. The confession of the true faith opens wide our minds and hearts to the inexhaustible mystery of God, which permeates human existence. What should be said therefore of the temptation, which is very strong nowadays, to feel that we are self-sufficient to the point that we become closed to God’s mysterious plan for each of us? The love of the Father, which is revealed in the person of Christ, puts this question to us.

In order to respond to the call of God and start on our journey, it is not necessary to be already perfect. We know that the prodigal son’s awareness of his own sin allowed him to set out on his return journey and thus feel the joy of reconciliation with the Father. Weaknesses and human limitations do not present an obstacle, as long as they help make us more aware of the fact that we are in need of the redeeming grace of Christ. This is the experience of St Paul who confessed: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12,9). In the mystery of the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, the divine power of love changes the heart of man, making him able to communicate the love of God to his brothers and sisters. Throughout the centuries many men and women, transformed by divine love, have consecrated their lives to the cause of the Kingdom. Already on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, many allowed themselves to be won by Jesus: they were in search of healing in body or spirit, and they were touched by the power of his grace. Others were chosen personally by Him and became his apostles. We also find some, like Mary Magdalene and others, who followed him on their own initiative, simply out of love. Like the disciple John, they too found a special place in his heart. These men and women, who knew the mystery of the love of the Father through Jesus, represent the variety of vocations which have always been present in the Church. The model of one called to give witness in a particular manner to the love of God, is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who in her pilgrimage of faith is directly associated with the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption.

In Christ, the Head of the Church, which is his Body, all Christians form “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him” (1 Pt 2,9). The Church is holy, even if her members need to be purified, in order that holiness, which is a gift of God, can shine forth from them with its full splendour. The Second Vatican Council highlights the universal call to holiness, when it affirms: “The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to his own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the Baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way, they are really made holy” (Lumen Gentium, 40). Within the framework of this universal call, Christ, the High Priest, in his solicitude for the Church calls persons in every generation who are to care for his people. In particular, he calls to the ministerial priesthood men who are to exercise a fatherly role, the source of which is within the very fatherhood of God (cfr Eph 3,14). The mission of the priest in the Church is irreplaceable. Therefore, even if in some regions there is a scarcity of clergy, it should never be doubted that Christ continues to raise up men who, like the Apostles, leaving behind all other work, dedicate themselves completely to the celebration of the sacred mysteries, to the preaching of the Gospel and to pastoral ministry. In the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, my venerable Predecessor Pope John Paul II wrote in this regard: “The relation of the priest to Jesus Christ, and in him to his Church, is found in the very being of the priest by virtue of his sacramental consecration/anointing and in his activity, that is, in his mission or ministry. In particular, «the priest minister is the servant of Christ present in the Church as mystery, communion and mission. In virtue of his participation in the ‘anointing’ and ‘mission’ of Christ, the priest can continue Christ’s prayer, word, sacrifice and salvific action in the Church. In this way, the priest is a servant of the Church as mystery because he actuates the Church's sacramental signs of the presence of the risen Christ»” (no.16).

Another special vocation, which occupies a place of honour in the Church, is the call to the consecrated life. Following the example of Mary of Bethany who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Lk 10, 39), many men and women consecrate themselves to a total and exclusive following of Christ. Although they undertake various services in the field of human formation and care of the poor, in teaching or in assisting the sick, they do not consider these activities as the principal purpose of their life, since, as the Code of Canon Law well underlines, “the first and foremost duty of all religious is to be the contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer” (can. 663 §1). Moreover, in the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata Pope John Paul II noted: “In the Church's tradition religious profession is considered to be a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism, inasmuch as it is the means by which the close union with Christ already begun in Baptism develops in the gift of a fuller, more explicit and authentic configuration to him through the profession of the evangelical counsels” (no. 30).

Remembering the counsel of Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Mt 9,37), we readily recognise the need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. It is not surprising that, where people pray fervently, vocations flourish. The holiness of the Church depends essentially on union with Christ and on being open to the mystery of grace that operates in the hearts of believers. Therefore, I invite all the faithful to nurture an intimate relationship with Christ, Teacher and Pastor of his people, by imitating Mary who kept the divine mysteries in her heart and pondered them constantly (cfr Lk 2,19). Together with her, who occupies a central position in the mystery of the Church, we pray:

O Father, raise up among Christians
abundant and holy vocations to the priesthood,
who keep the faith alive
and guard the blessed memory of your Son Jesus
through the preaching of his wordand the administration of the Sacraments,
with which you continually renew your faithful.

Grant us holy ministers of your altar,

who are careful and fervent guardians of the Eucharist,
the sacrament of the supreme gift of Christ
for the redemption of the world.
Call ministers of your mercy,
who, through the sacrament of Reconciliation, spread the joy of your forgiveness.

Grant, O Father, that the Church may welcome with joy

the numerous inspirations of the Spirit of your Son
and, docile to His teachings,
may she care for vocations to the ministerial priesthood
and to the consecrated life.

Sustain the Bishops, priests and deacons,

consecrated men and women, and all the baptized in Christ,
so that they may faithfully fulfil their mission at the service of the Gospel.

This we pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us.

From the Vatican, 5 March 2006.

Advent Begins at Wonersh

Today the staff and students at St John's Seminary organised a special open day to celebrate the beginning of Advent. I was invited down because part of the import of the day was to promote priestly vocations. There were various inputs, meditations and times of prayer. The video 'Fishers of Men' was also shown in the early afternoon. Later there was a time of quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament followed by Benediction. The day concluded with mulled wine and mince pies, but before that we had a service of psalms and readings in the Church. Everything was very well organised. I was very pleased to meet up with some young lads I know to be thinking of priesthood and also to meet one or two new faces. I was also pleased to see that our students there seem to be happy and continue to get along well.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Archbishop Vincent speaks out

Last Sunday Archbishop Vincent Nichols preached a powerful sermon in which he spoke of the importance of politicians working with faith communities and not trying to impose morality on them. His comments come as the Government prepares to impose new regulations (without any parliamentary debate) that would make it illegal, for example, for Catholic adoption agencies not to place children with homosexual couples.
In his sermon for the Feast of Christ the King the Archbishop said: "It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of the faith communities, whether in schools, adoption agencies, welfare programmes, halls and shelters can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not simply a legal framework but also the moral standards at present being touted by Government".
He accuses the secular agenda in this country of being "in fact engaged in an intense and at times aggressive re-shaping of our moral framework" and adds, "Those who are elected to fashion our laws are not elected to be our moral tutors. They have no mandate or competence to be so. The wise among them would not wish it either".

The Archbishop is voicing concern among Christians about the Sexual Orientation Regulations currently being forced through by the Government without debate. You can read the regulations for yourself by clicking this link.

In our Catholic schools we seek to present the ideal of marriage as a faithful, monagomous union between a man and a woman. Under the proposed regulations, as we have seen recently with Christian Unions in some universities, this could be challenged as discriminatory. For further information about how the regulations would affect what is taught in schools it is worth clicking here to download an explanatory document from the Christian Institute - you will be surprised to see what is being imposed on schools and well understand the Archbishop's concerns.

Back from Spain

I'm now back from a few days visiting our students in Spain. In many ways I think it was an ideal time to go. The autumn term is always a long one so it's good to have a distraction. But more than that, I think when you go to a place like Valladolid everything is new and exciting at first, after a while however you settle in and the reality of seminary formation can be quite challenging. I think all our students are being challenged in different ways, but also that they are doing well and making good progress.
I was impressed by the solid faith of the staff and also by their priestly witness. They have a fatherly concern for the students and want to see them all as priests one day, if that is God's will. I was also impressed by the structure of the day: I witnessed compulsory meditation in the chapel before morning prayer; Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament; Holy Rosary. These were times of community prayer - not optional extras.
The photo is of Sam, Tom & Will - our three students. Please keep them in your prayers.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bring a Jumper...

Courtesy of my brother, there will be a smart car waiting for me tomorrow morning to take me to Stansted at 6.30am. I am heading off to the Royal College of the English in Valladolid. I'm told by the rector to bring a jumper as it's cold! It can be very cold in that part of Spain as this wintery looking shot of two storks on the college roof shows!
The purpose of the trip is to see how our students are getting on, but since they'll have lectures during the day I'm also taking my laptop with me and hope to get some work done while I'm there. I don't know what access I'll have to the internet while I'm there, but certainly plan to put up some interesting photos afterI get back on Thursday.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sunday Morning Aerobics...

Another amusing post to make you smile!

Gentlemen, you have forty minutes to complete this exam...

According to American Papist, the caption to this picture should be :

"Once again, it was the written part of the "Is yours the true religion?" exam where Pope Benedict would really shine.

[photo: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi]


On Monday morning I fly out to Spain (not with BA, of course) to visit Sam, Tom and William, our three students at the English College in Valladolid. I'm also looking forward to seeing Frankie - who was a professional comedian before applying for the priesthood and stayed with me while appearing in Panto last year.

The Real Colegio de los Ingleses in Valladolid is home to an unusual image of Our Lady, invoked under the title of La Vulnerata or 'the wounded One'. It is a pre-reformation image of Our Lady that was attacked with swords in a fit of anti-Catholic bigotry. The disfigured statue was rescued and made its way to Spain where it found a home in the seminary established by the Spanish King for the training of priests to return to serve the persecuted Church in England.

I googled 'La Vulnerata' and found this picture of the statue being carried in procession by the students. It is good that the College survives and that the link with our forefathers in the faith has not been lost.

Exhortation on Vocations

The Hanc Aquam blog has recently posted an exhortation from Fr Philip Powell OP delivered after an evening Mass in Texas, USA.

Please give me five minutes to say something that must be said…

I will jump immediately to the punchline. To the men here tonight, if you know that God has called you to serve His church as a priest or even if you think he might have called you to serve, it is time to put aside your worries and your doubts and your fears and your hesitations and it is time to answer with a resounding YES!

There is no vocations crisis in this country. None. There is a crisis of courage. God has called all the men we need to serve His Church as priests. More than enough. There is never a lack of abundant blessings from our Father. There is, however, a lack of generous acceptance of His abundance. We, as a Church, can only benefit from those blessings that we accept, only those that we eagerly bring in and use and give thanks to God for! So my question is: if God is sending us all the vocations we need, why do we have such a shortage of priests?

The young men God is calling aren’t saying YES to the call. Why? The reasons are as old as the world: money, sex, prestige, or should I say the fear of not having any money sex, or prestige. Forgive me for saying this, but it needs to be said: there is a profound lack of courage among you who are called but will not say YES. What do you fear? If God has called you to the priesthood, what more do you need than His word setting you on the way? Yes, you will have to give up sex, money, and prestige. Why is this a problem for a Christian? Have you bought into the pagan ideal of the virile man? You can’t be a man if you don’t have a treasure box full of gold, an enviable career, and a little black book full of women?! No, I’m not saying that the vows of a Catholic priest are easy to live out. Far from it. It takes courage, resolve, and a lot of hard work with God’s grace to be a faithful ordained man of God. And the reward for this hard work isn’t always what we might want. But that’s what sacrifice is—giving to God the best we have and trusting that He will use it to the best possible end.

I was going to tell you what got me so riled up about this topic, but after several drafts I couldn’t find a way to tell you charitably. So rather than tell you what got me so angry, let me tell you what we need in the Church right now. We need young men—faithful, courageous, smart, eager to serve—young men who will give themselves to the tough work of leading the church through the first half of this century. Bishops all over the country are setting into place the self-fulfilling prophecy of priestless Sundays and activists are slowly preparing American Catholics for the disappearance of the priest. He is to become a relic, a rare thing seen only once or twice a year, and eventually, b/c of the terrible shortage that we all lament, of course, he is to become a luxury we can no longer afford.

We need young men who will step up and offer themselves as servant-leaders. We need young men who will battle the dissenting professors in the seminaries, who will step up and take charge in the parishes as men of God, who are not embarrassed by their vocation and who will proudly proclaim themselves religious, priests, and servants. We need young men who will patiently work with faithful lay men and women to prepare them for leadership roles proper to the lay charism. In other words, gentlemen, we need you to say YES to God’s call to you. We need young men with great big hearts to stand up, come forward, and do the job that Christ has left us to do: to teach, to preach, to celebrate his sacraments, and to show us the Way as faithful men of this century.

Tuesday night at Dinner and Discourse, Fr, Joe Koenig, the diocesan vocations director, will be here to speak. The university’s Serra Club will provide I Fratelli’s pizza for dinner and we will have dessert. Dinner starts at 5:30pm in Anselm 230. The talk begins at 6:00pm with a showing of the video, Fishers of Men. Come fill your bellies as all good Catholics should and come fill your hearts to serve.

Men, step up! There’s no time for fear.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI's Address

Pope Benedict XVI met recently with the Anglican Primate, Rowan Williams. This is the Pope's address. You will note that the Holy Father uses the phrase 'Anglican Communion' rather and 'Anglican Church', the expression that has become more or less universal in England. The reason is that in theological terms the Anglican Communion does not constitute a Church as it does not have valid Orders. Where there is no valid Eucharist we use the phrase 'ecclesial communion'.

Your Grace,
Dear friends,

Grace and peace to you in the Lord Jesus Christ! Your visit here today brings to mind the important custom established by our predecessors in recent decades. It also reminds us of the much longer history of relations between the See of Rome and the See of Canterbury which began when Pope Gregory the Great sent Saint Augustine to the land of the Anglo-Saxons over 1400 years ago. I am happy today to welcome you and the distinguished delegation accompanying you. This is not our first meeting. Indeed, I was grateful for your presence, and that of other representatives of the Anglican Communion, at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, and again at the inauguration of my pontificate a year and a half ago.

Your visit to the Holy See coincides with the fortieth anniversary of the visit of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, to Pope Paul VI. It was a visit filled with great promise, as the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church took steps towards initiating a dialogue about the questions to be addressed in the search for full visible unity.

There is much in our relations over the past forty years for which we must give thanks. The work of the theological dialogue commission has been a source of encouragement as matters of doctrine which have separated us in the past have been addressed. The friendship and good relations which exist in many places between Anglicans and Catholics have helped to create a new context in which our shared witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been nourished and advanced. The visits of Archbishops of Canterbury to the Holy See have served to strengthen those relations and have played an important role in addressing the obstacles which keep us apart. This tradition helped give rise to a constructive meeting of Anglican and Catholic bishops in Mississauga, Canada, in May 2000, when it was agreed to form a joint commission of bishops to discern appropriate ways to express in ecclesial life the progress which has already been made. For all of this, we give thanks to God.

In the present context, however, and especially in the secularized Western world, there are many negative influences and pressures which affect Christians and Christian communities. Over the last three years you have spoken openly about the strains and difficulties besetting the Anglican Communion and consequently about the uncertainty of the future of the Communion itself. Recent developments, especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings, have affected not only internal relations within the Anglican Communion but also relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. We believe that these matters, which are presently under discussion within the Anglican Communion, are of vital importance to the preaching of the Gospel in its integrity, and that your current discussions will shape the future of our relations. It is to be hoped that the work of the theological dialogue, which had registered no small degree of agreement on these and other important theological matters, will continue [to] be taken seriously in your discernment. In these deliberations we accompany you with heartfelt prayer. It is our fervent hope that the Anglican Communion will remain grounded in the Gospels and the Apostolic Tradition which form our common patrimony and are the basis of our common aspiration to work for full visible unity.

The world needs our witness and the strength which comes from an undivided proclamation of the Gospel. The immense sufferings of the human family and the forms of injustice that adversely affect the lives of so many people constitute an urgent call for our shared witness and service. Precisely for this reason, and even amidst present difficulties, it is important that we continue our theological dialogue. I hope that your visit will assist in finding constructive ways forward in the current circumstances.

May the Lord continue to bless you and your family, and may he strengthen you in your ministry to the Anglican Communion!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Simple Initiative

After the success of our 'Catholicism for the Curious' posters last Lent, in the parish we decided to try something similar for Advent and Christmas this year. In many places the stranglehold of secularism is such that the word 'Christmas' itself is studiously avoided. Some people send cards with the words "Season's Greetings", a strange sentiment given that the season in question is 'the bleak midwinter'! In other places we can hear the greeting "Happy Holidays" - which I always think is best uttered by one of those grinning, battery-operated flowers that wiggle about in reaction to noise. And of course we also hear of those dour, humourless local authorities that celebrate 'Winterval' - wasn't it Oliver Cromwell who abolished Christmas and forbade mince-pies?

Where was I? Oh yes, Advent and Christmas! Wouldn't it be great, we thought, if all our parishioners were to display the same poster from the beginning of Advent until the Feast of the Epiphany? If we all had the same poster - a simple Nativity image - in our windows, it would say to the people of Balham that Christmas means more to us than office parties and tinsel. And then we thought, why stop there? It's not just Catholics who rejoice at Christmas time. All Christians are united in celebrating our Saviour's birth. Why not invite other Christian communities to join us in giving witness? So we did. I'm very pleased to say that they were just as enthusiastic about the project as we are. It will be wonderful to get all the Christians of our parish to give this united witness.

So the posters are at the printers and we hope they will be delivered this week. This is the scene they will display. (The image at the top of this post is from Swirling Mist Press who sell a variety of Catholic goods). We can then begin distributing them on Sunday. The idea is to give a powerful, joint testimony to Christ in the two important liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Simple. Easy. Effective. Just what you would expect from the Holy Ghost!

Letter from Cardinal Arinze

Catholic World News has published the text of Cardinal Arinze's Letter to the presidents of National Episcopal Conferences mandating a more faithful translation of the phrase 'pro multis' at the words of Consecration. Since this is likely to be controversial in some circles, it is good to see exactly what the Cardinal says. We reproduce his letter here.

[To their Eminences / Excellencies, Presidents of the National Episcopal Conferences]

Congregatio de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum
Prot. N. 467/05/LRome, 17 October 2006

Your Eminence / Your Excellency,
In July 2005 this Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to all Presidents of Conferences of Bishops to ask their considered opinion regarding the translation into the various vernaculars of the expression pro multis in the formula for the consecration of the Precious Blood during the celebration of Holy Mass (ref. Prot. N. 467/05/L of 9 July 2005).

The replies received from the Bishops' Conferences were studied by the two Congregations and a report was made to the Holy Father. At his direction, this Congregation now writes to Your Eminence / Your Excellency in the following terms:

1. A text corresponding to the words pro multis, handed down by the Church, constitutes the formula that has been in use in the Roman Rite in Latin from the earliest centuries. In the past 30 years or so, some approved vernacular texts have carried the interpretive translation "for all", "per tutti", or equivalents.2. There is no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated with the use of a duly approved formula containing a formula equivalent to "for all", as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already declared (cf. Sacra Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Declaratio de sensu tribuendo adprobationi versionum formularum sacramentalium, 25 Ianuarii 1974, AAS 66 [1974], 661). Indeed, the formula "for all" would undoubtedly correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lord's intention expressed in the text. It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women (cf. John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5,14-15; Titus 2,11; 1 John 2,2).3.

There are, however, many arguments in favour of a more precise rendering of the traditional formula pro multis:

a. The Synoptic Gospels (Mt 26,28; Mk 14,24) make specific reference to "many" (πολλων = pollôn) for whom the Lord is offering the Sacrifice, and this wording has been emphasized by some biblical scholars in connection with the words of the prophet Isaiah (53, 11-12). It would have been entirely possible in the Gospel texts to have said "for all" (for example, cf. Luke 12,41); instead, the formula given in the institution narrative is "for many", and the words have been faithfully translated thus in most modern biblical versions.

b. The Roman Rite in Latin has always said pro multis and never pro omnibus in the consecration of the chalice.

c. The anaphoras of the various Oriental Rites, whether in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, the Slavic languages, etc., contain the verbal equivalent of the Latin pro multis in their respective languages.

d. "For many" is a faithful translation of pro multis, whereas "for all" is rather an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis.

e. The expression "for many", while remaining open to the inclusion of each human person, is reflective also of the fact that this salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one's willing or participation; rather, the believer is invited to accept in faith the gift that is being offered and to receive the supernatural life that is given to those who participate in this mystery, living it out in their lives as well so as to be numbered among the "many" to whom the text refers.

f. In line with the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, effort should be made to be more faithful to the Latin texts in the typical editions.

The Bishops' Conferences of those countries where the formula "for all" or its equivalent is currently in use are therefore requested to undertake the necessary catechesis for the faithful on this matter in the next one or two years to prepare them for the introduction of a precise vernacular translation of the formula pro multis (e.g, "for many", "per molti", etc.) in the next translation of the Roman Missal that the Bishops and the Holy See will approve for use in their country.

With the expression of my high esteem and respect,
I remain, Your Eminence/Your Excellency,
Devotedly Yours in Christ,
Francis Card. Arinze, Prefect

Monday, November 20, 2006

Advent Day of Preparation

Jason, one of our seminarians at St John's Seminary, has been in contact to say that the Seminary is holding an Advent Day of Preparation & Advent Service on Sunday 3rd December 2006. He mentions that it would be a good way for anyone considering the priesthood to meet seminarians and find out more about the life of the seminary.
The day starts with the celebration of Holy Mass at 10.00am and concludes with the Advent Service at 4.00pm.
If you would like to attend you will need to take with you a packed lunch. Details on how to get to St John's can be obtaining by visiting the seminary website.
For more information you can email Tom Dubois. Let me know if you intend to go, I might be able to offer some lifts. Click here to send me an email.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Change to the Eucharistic Prayers

Fr Tim Finigan over at the Hermeneutic of Continuity reports that the much anticipated document on the translation of the Eucharistic Prayer has now been published. In our translations of the words of Consecration the Latin words "pro multis" have been traditionally rendered as "for all". There's a problem with this because, while it can be reasonably argued that the original Aramaic and Greek phrases are inclusive, to translate them as such is to introduce a theological interpretation at the very moment when we are relating an historical narrative. The Vatican has now asked, in the interests of fidelity, that the texts be revised within the next couple of years in order to render the Latin more faithfully.
Fr Tim's source is an article on the Catholic World Network.
For more background reading he recommends a series of four articles on the subject by Fr John Zuhlsdorf, moderator of the Catholic On-line Forum.

Who am I (Part 7 - Still in the Eighties)

On one of my journies I heard tell of a Catholic bishop who was very highly regarded. I went to listen to him, still quite dismissive towards Christianity. In truth, I only went out of an intellectual curiosity but bit by bit I found myself getting imperceptibly closer to the faith and the Church. It seemed to me that the bishop had a different way of explaining the very scriptural texts that I used to make fun of in my classes. Somehow the things he preached, which were the things taught by the Church, began to seem defensible.

Nevertheless, it didn't seem to me that I should folow the Catholic way. If Catholic teaching no longer seemed defeated, nor did it appear defeating. I kept studying, comparing, questioning - in a perpetual doubt. I was walking in darkness, looking for the truth outside of me. I began to feel I would never find it, I began to depair.
What did I think about Jesus Christ? Just that he was a good man, extraordinarily wise, hard to beat, but nothing more. I couldn't begin to suspect the great mystery implied by the words: And the Word was made flesh... I didn't pray that God would help me. My mind was too preoccupied and distracted with questions and arguments.
Matters were made worse by the fact that my parents had come to live with me and were insisting that I get married. I was getting more and more miserable but, despite this, God was drawing closer and closer to me. He wanted to rescue me from the quicksands I had fallen into, although I didn't realise it at the time.

In my moral life, of course, I just kept on doing whatever I felt like. But I wasn't happy with that. I wanted to escape from that immorality, but at the same time I felt unable to. Once you let yourself be carried away by these passions, at first it becomes a habit and then it becomes a slavery. I was a slave and I knew it. In this situation I began to feel, with a growing intensity, a great longing for God. Interiorly I was looking for truth with all my strength. But I didn't feel able to end with certain customs, with my passion. I felt oppressed by the need for pleasure. Inwardly I became convinced that to live with God would make me happier than all the sexual satisfactions put together, but everytime I thought about it I would say: I'll do it soon. I'll just wait a little longer.
This 'soon' never seemed to arrive while the 'little longer' kept getting drawn out further.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Dawkins Delusion

Fr Tim Finigan gives excellent talks on the writings of Richard Dawkins who seems to dedicate more time to writing against religion than at his own field of academic study. You'd be forgiven for not knowing, but he's a biologist by profession. One of the points Fr Tim makes is that Dawkins sets up "Aunt Sallys" in order to demolish them: the God Dawkins tasks himself with 'disproving' is one Christians don't believe exists anyway.

Dawkins continues his personal crusade against religion in his latest book, the "God Delusion". Recently, however, he met his match in a debate on Irish Radio with the journalist and philosopher David Quinn. I have transcripts of the debate but they are too long to put on this blog. You can, however, hear it for yourself by clicking this link. Once there, scroll down to Monday 9th October to hear the programme in question. The debate is from minutes 8-25 or so of the 59 minute programme. It is interesting that, as Quinn scores direct hits against his opponent, Dawkins gets more and more irritated. He doesn't quite ring the bell on the apoplectic scale, but I sure wouldn't like to be in the shoes of a timid undergrad reading out a paper to him at a tutorial!

Seekers Meeting

Tonight we have our monthly Seekers Meeting. It begins at 7.00pm with an input on some aspect of the Christian life. We have a short Gospel Commentary followed by a talk. There is a revue of life and then a short period of spiritual reading. The purpose is both to inform us about Christian living and also to encourage us to focus on specific areas where we may seek to improve over the next few weeks.
After the Seekers Meeting there is an opportunity to speak to one of the priests present and then we have a meal together.

Back from Dublin

I got back Wednesday night from Dublin where we had a good conference for diocesan priests. Topics included an analysis of the current situation in Ireland by an Irish journalist, the effect of the pontificate of Pope John Paul on young people and the new movements - with particular reference to France, and the talk I gave on promoting vocations. On the Wednesday a number of speakers addressed different aspects of bio-ethics. The conference took place at Lismullin Conference Centre which is in County Meath, and we were welcomed on the first day by the local ordinary, Bishop Smith. It was interesting to hear his tales of being a secretary at all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council.

Fr Kevin Doran, formerly the head of the Irish Vocations Office, addresses the assembly on questions of moral theology.

We also had a very interesting evening with Fr Vincent Toomey, emeritus professor of Moral Theology at Maynooth (the only seminary left in southern Ireland). He had been a doctoral student in Regensburg under Professor Josef Ratzinger, and since then has kept up regular contact with his tutor.
A number of priests had travelled over from England to attend the Conference, including Fr Richard Biggerstaff who is on the Arundel & Brighton Vocations Team. There were also young priests from Northern Ireland and from Scotland.