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.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Flying to Dublin

Tomorrow, courtesy of Ryanair, I fly to Dublin to to take part in another conference for priests. This time the venue is the Lismullin Conference Centre in the Diocese of Meath. Bishop Michael Smith, bishop of Meath, will be joining us and I look forward to hearing how things are vocations-wise in his diocese. I also hope to meet Fr Eamonn Bourke, the new Vocations Director for Dublin. He has been in contact asking permission to reproduce some of the material we have published here in Southwark.
On Tuesday I will be talking of 'Promoting a Vocations Culture'. It will be interesting to speak in Ireland. Although we have much in common, we are also two very different countries facing different pastoral realities and I suspect this will be reflected in the discussion. At some time I hope to have an opportunity to show them 'Fishers of Men'. It went down well on the In-Service day for priests and will, I hope, serve to remind participants at the conference that whatever different experiences we may have, the essential task in vocations promotion is always the same: putting young people in contact with Christ.

Talking to Priests

On Friday I was in Catford for the Clergy On-Going Formation day which I had been asked to lead on the theme ov Vocations Promotion. I admit to being a little nervous. I hadn't done anything like that before and priests can be a notoriously difficult audience. Perhaps it's not that they're difficult, but that we are self-conscious addressing fellow clergy. Most of the people in the room - including three bishops - have a lot more experience than me!
I broke the day into three parts. In the first we considered why fewer men are responding to God's call today. There was a surprising amount of unanimity in our thinking. It was also clear that the problems hindering a response to a vocation, although real, are not insurmountable.
In a second session before lunch we looked at what inspired us to become priests. The reason for doing this is that research suggests that priests are often the best advert for priesthood. If we live our priesthood with joy we will attract others. It was good just to stop and remind ourselves of what is essential to the Catholic priesthood.
After lunch we had a final session on promoting vocations today. This both invited suggestions fromthe floor as to how we can encourage vocations and gave something of the rationale behind our work here in Southwark. It was interesting to see that the exceelent suggestions coming from the floor were all things that didn't need a 'Vocations Office'. In other words there are many, many things we can be getting on with in our daily parish life and school ministry that will bear vocational fruit.
It was a very worthwhile day and ,despite my initial trepidation, I've received some very kind feedback from some of the participants.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


This morning I drove down towards Deal to give a day of recollection to the lay people of the Folkestone Deanery. It took place in the parish of St. John in Mongeham. It's an old mining town (there used to be a number of coal mining villages in Kent), a fact which is commemorated by the Sanctuary Lamp of the Church fashioned after a life-saving Davey Lamp such as used to be used down the mines.

The theme of the day was 'Supporting Vocations'. There were two meditations, one on the call to holiness and the other on promoting priestly vocations in the diocese. During the Mass I preached on the Sacramental dimension of Christian life, and in pareticular how to participate more fully in the Holy Mass. We had a time for Confessions and in the afternoon Rosary and Benediction. During lunch a 'Question Box' was left out and before the afternoon mediation I sought to answer the questions that had been deposited there. They were really good questions ranging from Humanae Vitae to Christian attitudes towards wealth. Chris, the youngest person attending made some really sensible comments.
In the afternoon Benedictionwas served by the two Christophers who were present. Afterwards, in the Lady Chapel, I managed to get a photograph of them both for the Blog. I'm really grateful to Fr Roger Nesbitt for organising the day and to Fr Michael Bateman and his parishioners for their excellent hospitality.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fr Benedict's Visit

Here are a few photographs taken at yesterday's evening of recollection with Fr Benedict Groeschel. We invited Fr Benedict and the Friars to join us for supper. It was nice to have all the Friars together with their holy Founder and, apart from being a great honour for us, I hope it was also in some way a sign of our gratitude for the work of the Friars here in England.

Fr Benedict, although weakened by his accident ("Don't ever get knocked down by a car. If you're going to get knocked down do it with a truck. That way you wake up in heaven!"), was on top form. He gave an excellent meditation on the "Spirituality of Pope Benedict XVI". He had us all laughing with lots of memorable one-liners: "Scripture scholars say there were no angels at the Resurrection. How do they know? Were they there? If I was a passing angel and knew Jesus was about to rise from the dead, I know I'd be there!".
The whole event went down really well and I know his talk has inspired a lot of people.

The Church was packed. What was amazing, as you can see from the photo, is that the majority were what he called "The John Paul Generation" - i.e. young people.
Afterwards Fr Benedict patiently met and chatted with everyone before being driven home visibly exhausted. What a great man!
For readers of this blog a special treat is in store. Fr Benedict agreed to a little interview which we were able to film, just for Southwark Vocations. But because I'm away from home a lot at present, you'll have to wait for it to appear.

Thanks for the prayers for today's In-Service Training. I was very nervous and really appreciate the prayers. It seemed to go well. I post a fe pictures when I get time. Tomorrow I leave very early for Mongeham in Kent where I'm leading a Day of Recollection based on Vocation. Then Monday I'm off to Dublin for another Vocations Conference. Please God, it will quieten down after that!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hot off the Press

From time to time Vocations Directors from other dioceses contact us wanting to use some of the material we produce for vocations promotion. Help is now at hand in the form of our latest publication: Vocations Promotion for Dummies.
Reviews have been great:
"Vocations Promotion will never be the same" - Australia
"We've been waiting for this for years" - Philippines
"Why didn't we think of that?" - Westminster


Archbishop Miller

Yesterday I was in Birmingham for a meeting of the Pontifical Development Group at the Maryvale Institute. The special guest was Archbishop Michael Miller, Secretary of the Congregation for Education in Rome. The Archbishop was very appreciative of the work of Maryvale and of its fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church. He encouraged us to forge closer links with the Holy See by seeking accreditation as an Institute with one of the Pontifical Universities.
I sat at lunch with Archbishop Miller, whose congregation is also responsible for vocations and for seminaries. He was particularly interested in the number of vocations we have in the diocese, asking questions about their age, previous academic formation, and family background. He also wanted to know where we sent our students and was keen to know more about the year in Spain. He had himself visited the 'spiritual year' students in Paris and was very impressed by the fact that it was both spiritually and physically demanding... I must ask the Rector in Spain to switch off the heating in the students rooms!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Another Long Journey

When I told someone recently I had a Blog the response was a somewhat unexpected "Oh no! Not you too!", followed by an amusing account of what my interlocutor perceived to be a typical blog post: "This morning I got up. I shaved and had a shower. I went out of the house and saw a dog. It was a bit dog..." (cont. post 94!).
Well today nothing terribly exciting happened! I spent the day working on my three presentations for this Friday's in-service day on Vocations. I'm beginning to get nervous - priests are a difficult audience!

Tomorrow morning I need to leave very early in order to get to Birmingham by 9.00am. I have various connections with the Maryvale Institute and tomorrow we have a meeting with Bishop Miller from the Congregation for Education. If I can leave before the morning rush hour I should get there in good time. The Maryvale Institute specialises in catechesis and has developed a distance-learning programme that makes their courses accessible to people all over the world. One of its courses has been designed for men and women thinking of a priestly or religious vocation. It consists of a guided reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church with a useful commentary. This year Maryvale celebrates its 25th anniversary and has organised a number of important events to mark the jubilee. Cardinal Newman used to live at Maryvale, which houses the first shrine of the Sacred Heart in England. Pictured on this post is a photo of the new Jubilee Icon commissioned for the anniversary.
On Wednesday I have my monthly Day of Recollection. Then on Thursday we have the visit of Fr Benedict Groeschel. We're very much looking forward to it and are expecting a full Church. I'm hoping to persuade Fr Benedict to give us a message for this blog - something more inspiring than what he had for lunch...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Oxford Chaplaincy

The Vocations Group

Last night I arrived in Oxford in order to ensure I wouldn't be late to preach at Holy Mass this morning. It meant that I was able to get to David Howell's birthday party which took place in a function room off the High Street. What music are Oxford 20-year olds listening to these days? By the sounds of it, anything from the Sixties or Seventies. Good choice David!
This morning, before Mass, I went for a walk through Christ Church Meadow. It was a lovely bright morning and a very enjoyable stroll. On the way back I heard my name being called and was surprised to meet two girls from my parish. They had travelled up on the Oxford Tube to be present at the Mass, not to hear me preach (they are tired of that I'm sure) but to be present for the CathScoc v Former CathSoc football match this afternoon.
The Chaplaincy Mass is at 11.00am. The atmosphere at the Mass was very reverent and prayerful. It was well-prepared with the Missa de Angelis provided by the choir and a good group of servers. Afterwards it was nice to meet the students and have lunch with a good many of them. I enjoyed myself very much. Fr Jeremy Fairhead is doing a great job there. I can never have been easy to be Chaplain in Oxford. In some ways it is perhaps harder now than ever before. But Fr Jeremy works hard and has the support of a very fine body of students. It was nice to see that there is plenty of literature available for anyone who wants to know more about the faith, and also with prayers for before and after Mass, for study, and examinations of conscience to prepare for Confession.
This afternoon I was able to be present at a meeting of the Vocations Group - a group of young men who are considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. It was good to meet them and I hope that they will all one day apply to their respective dioceses. Later this year they plan to have a Vocations Retreat at Downside which seems a very good idea. The Vocations Group is an excellent initiative of Fr Jeremy and I am sure it will grow and get stronger as time goes on.

Glastonbury & Youth 2000

Readers of this blog will know that I drove down to Glastonbury to be present for one day of the recent Youth 2000 retreat there. This week there have been articles in the national press giving the impression that Christians and pagans were involved in some sort of pitched battle. So what really happened?
First of all a little context. It is some fifteen years since I was last at Glastonbury. In that time the pagan element in the town has become much more visible. It is a little disconcerting, but also rather comic to see people wandering round dressed as witches, druids and the like. Tourists on the pagan trail waving 'wands' - branches taken from trees and bushes waited patiently while we finished our prayers on Glastonbury Tor. Those attending the Youth 2000 Retreat were told by the organisers not to go into the shops. Of course you didn't have to go in to see what some of them were selling: cauldrons, spells and all sorts of parephanalia more at home at a Hogwarts set. I said it was comic, and it was, but there was also something sinister. Some people were clearly put out that we were present in such large numbers in 'their town'. When I went into a local pub for lunch (wearing my collar) I was first told that the kitchen was 'closed'. It wasn't. It still had another hour to go...
What of the young lad who was arrested? He wasn't on the Youth 2000 retreat. He is a member of the Travelling Community and had come with his wife, who is expecting their second child, to Glastonbury. It seems that while we were up on the Tor he and his wife had gone into one of the pagan shops and, surprised at what he saw, asked in a none too subtle way, why they were selling spells and weren't they evil things? This led unsurprisingly to a confrontation with the owner who wanted them to leave her shop but also took photographs of them. If I were a vendor of spells, I wouldn't take a photograph of a Traveller and his heavily pregnant wife...
The police came. He was arrested and carted off to be processed for an on-the-spot fine(£80) and his wife was taken to the Church - which is where I met her, petrified that her baby had been "cursed by a witch". I was still with her when her husband was dropped off by another policeman who didn't 'want to get involved' but said 'I wouldn't have arrested him'.
Later that evening I met the arresting officer and asked why the Traveller had been arrested when he claimed that he had been abused for being a Catholic and other youngsters had said similar things. The answer? 'I had a complaint from the owner of the shop which I investigated. I haven't had any other complaints from the Catholics. If I do receive a complaint I will investigate it'. So that's okay then...
What about the pagans complaining that they were 'pelted with blessed salt' during the Blessed Sacrament Procession. Sadly I had already gone back to the parish so I don't know what happened there. Traditionally being sprinkled with blessed salt is a sign of protection against evil. I guess whoever did it, Traveller or otherwise, couldn't have realised how utterly terrifying it must have been to the pagans.
The truth is that at one level this was a non-event. The young people got on with praying in the Church, on the Tor, and during the Blessed Sacrament procession. But at another level the Glastonbury retreat has its own significance. The presence of such a large number of exuberant, young Catholics in a town re-defining itself as the home of 'ceramic green men' and the 'Realm of Faerie' can only be an embarassment its pagan occupants would rather not have to put up with.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Where I will be tomorrow...

Father Jeremy Fairhead, the Catholic chaplain to Oxford University has invited me to preach at the Chaplaincy Mass tomorrow morning. I consider it an honour and was very happy to accept his invitation. I last preached there under his predecessor, Fr Peter Newby who is presently doing great work in the City - London's financial heart.
I was an undergraduate in Oxford from 1980-1983 and very much enjoyed my time there. I read philosophy and theology. The Oxford system probably wasn't the best preparation for Rome. In Oxford lectures are an optional extra, rather like a supplement to your reading. In Rome you are examined on what the professor says in his classes - and in some cases we were expected to churn it out more or less verbatim. On the whole I preferred Oxford, although I can also see the advantages of the Roman system.
Oxford has always been very Catholic. Not that it escaped the Reformation - it has its fair share of martyrs - but it was a place were undergraduates thought about their faith. Because of that it has traditionally been a great source of vocations. I can immediately call to mind seven students from my time who went on to apply for the priesthood. A number of girls applied to religious orders and, of course, many of our friends fell in love and eventually married, forming solid Catholic families.
I am looking forward to my visit tomorrow. I know that there are still men considering priesthood in Oxford and that they are very well cared for by Fr Jeremy. Let's keep them and his important work in our prayers.

Who am I (Part 6 - Now in the '80s)

I deceived my mother and left her to her tears when I decided to go abroad. I was tired of meetings, of demonstrations, of agitation and chaos in my classes. I wanted to find an academic environment that would be more serious.
I looked for the truth in all sorts of different ideologies, conversing with the most important minds of the day. I was looking for answers to my questions and I went from 'guru' to 'guru', from one ideology to another. But none of their ways of thinking, including the one I was myself teaching at university, filled my heart. I kept searching. I read everything that came my way.

As a professor I was a success. It was fashionable to come to listen to my classes. I was influential and would often get invitations to talk in different places. I would say what needed to be said, even lying if necessary.
I was willing to do whatever needed to be done in order to have the right contacts in my professional work and for my cultural interests. I was famous! From the viewpoint of my career these were the best times. I was always making incredible plans and thinking about my future.

But one day, as I was walking along a street with some friends, going over in my head what a success I had become, I saw a poor beggar. He was smiling. He was happy. I was working and toiling in order to achieve my aims and when I did, wasI any happier? No. I've had to keep slogging on in order to keep my position in case anyone else took it. And yet, here was this beggar as happy as Larry, without doing anything at all... To be honest, I couldn't know whether he was really content, whether he was really happy but nonetheless I was certain of one thing: the one who wasn't happy was me. It wasn't that I wanted to live his life, it was that I didn't want to live mine. I was a big cheese. I had cultural and economic status. I had it all... and so what?
My friends told me I was stupid to compare my life to his. 'He only laughs', the said, 'because he's been drinking. You have every reason to be happy - you're a success'.
It was true. I was a success. But those triumphs as a professor and as a guest speaker, didn't make me happy. They depressed me. "At least," I thought to myself, "this beggar got his drink honourably: asking for alms. But I've only achieved success but betraying myself". If the beggar had been drinking, that very night his drunkenness would leave him, but I would go to sleep with mine, and I would get up with it, and go to sleep again and get up again - day after day...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sometimes the Answer is No

One of the difficult things being a Vocations Director is that we often meet people who desperately want to be a priest. It is all they have thought about for months or even years. In some cases they believe themselves to have received 'visions' telling them that they are called to priesthood...
Initially individual has to discern whether they may have a vocation but ultimately it is up to the Church to decide. The call to priesthood is a call mediated through the Church. In the ordination Rite the ordaining Bishop asks of the priest presenting the Candidate: "Do you judge him to be worthy?" and the response is given "After enquiry among the people of God and those responsible for his formation, I testify that he has been found worthy". Only then does the Bishop 'call' the candidate to 'priesthood in the presbyteral order'.
What is difficult when someone clearly does not have a vocation is not the fact of telling them that. In fact it is a matter of justice not to lead someone along a path that has no future. What is hard is sometimes telling them in a way that they understand what you are saying (especially if they've received a 'vision') and also in way that is appropriately gentle and encouraging so that they can see that they do have a vocation to service in the family of the Church but that it doesn't lie in ordained ministry.
Why mention this seemingly negative problem? Because it brings out once again the need to allow the Church to look at the possibility you may have a vocation. Don't keep it to yourself, until you are 'absolutely certain'. Perhaps, if left to your judgement alone, that certainty will never come. At some point you have to allow the Church the possibility of confirming or otherwise the signs of a call you perceive within you. That's why it's important to contact your Vocations Director and begin chatting with him on a regular basis.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Stay in touch with your peelings...

Nothing to do with a vocation to the priesthood, but a very funny video I couldn't resist posting:

Spiritual Direction

We once had an old acoustic guitar hanging round the house. I can't remember where it came from but it sat in the corner of the lounge because there was nowhere else to store it. On the rare occasion anyone picked it up it made such an awful sound that they would soon put it down again. On one occasion, however, a young Spanish priest was visiting. He picked up the guitar and began plucking the strings, listening careully to the noise each one made and adjusting them patiently. It seemed to take him ages listening, adjusting, plucking and listening again. Eventually he came hunting us out in the kitchen (to which we had fled) with a great smile on his face. "Listen to it now", he said. He sat down, put the guitar on his knees and began to play the hauntingly beautiful Concierto de Aranzuez. I was astounded. Could this really be the same guitar? Could a little bit of tweaking here and there really bring about such a change?

That story is a good model for Spiritual Direction. The purpose of Spiritual Direction isn't to transform us into something we're not. Its purpose is to enable us to work on ourselves to bring out, with God's grace, the fulness of our potential. We have a baptismal call to holiness. That call is already planted within our nature, we don't need to be someone else to fulfil it. What we need is to grow in virtue and weed out those things that hinder the action of God's grace within our souls.

A Spiritual Director's task is to help us in this. For example, a Spiritual Director cannot tell you that you have a vocation to be a priest. He can encourage you to pray and give you advice on how to improve your prayer. Through your prayer you will begin to perceive the call more clearly which is what you can then discuss with your spiritual director. Having determined the nature of your specific vocation in the Church he can then help you embrace that call with generosity.

Experience suggests that not everyone is getting the most from Spiritual Direction. It requires effort, commitment and sincerity from the person being directed: they have to prepare themselves well and sometimes bring up things that they find hard to talk about. It also requires prudence and wisdom from the Spiritual Director. Sadly, in some cases Spiritual Direction has become an occasional cosy chat with a priest we find more or less congenial. If this happens we are really wasting out time because Spiritual Direction is no longer leading us to encounter Christ and conform our lives to Him.

I wonder would it be worth a few posts on this blog about how to benefit from Spiritual Direction? Let me know what you think by posting a comment or sending me an email.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

An Evening with Fr Benedict Groeschel

We've had a number of people asking for more details of Fr Benedict Groeschel's visit to the parish. Fr Benedict will be here next Thursday evening (9th November) and will lead us in an evening of prayer and reflection. The timetable is as follows:

7.00pm Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
Reflection on "The Spirituality of Pope Benedict XVI"
Period of quiet prayer during which Confessions will be heard
8.45pm Benediction
9.00pm Refreshments until 9.30pm

The Holy Ghost Church is in Nightingale Square, SW12. It is a short walk from Balham Station which is on the Northern Line and also only two stops from Clapham Junction.

Do come if you can.