Monday, August 28, 2006
The time has come for me to pack my bags and get ready to leave the parish for a few weeks. I am taking a late holiday this year as, with so many things happening, it wasn't possible for me to get away in July or August. Now, however, my assistant priest is back and I am free to get away leaving the parish in his capable hands.
I usually spend my holidays visiting priest friends, often in Spain. The advantage is that in addition to good weather, good food and great company, I don't have any problems finding a place to celebrate Mass each day, or a Tabernacle for daily prayer. In the summer we get a month off so I also try to spend about ten days on a sort of in-service training course for priests in Spain. I call it 'fun & formation' - we look at some topic of theology and study any recent documents of the Magisterium. There is plenty of time for sports and relaxation and it's great to learn from the company of other priests.
I don't know when I'll next have access to the internet and so if there are any posts over the next few weeks they are going to be sporadic. I come back to England on the evening of Monday 25th September and look forward to catching up then.
In the meantime, please be assured of my prayers.
On Thursday I drove over to Walsingham for the annual Youth 2000 prayer festival. There were about 1400 young people present from all over the country. On Sunday the celebrant at Mass was Bishop Patrick O'Donohue of Lancaster diocese. He had arrived the day before and spent Saturday night in the big tent hearing confessions.
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal were present and doing great work. So also were four brothers and a sister from the Community of St John. There were also representatives from the Beatitudes, the Neo-Catechumenal Way, Miles Jesu, the Order of Friars Minor, the Dominicans (both Friars and sisters), as well as about twenty diocesan priests.
As always I spent my time hearing confessions, encouraging young people to acquire a plan of life, and talking about Christ's call. I was glad to meet about eight young men who are thinking about diocesan priesthood. None of them are from Southwark but I hope they were encouraged to take a further step towards responding to their vocation. Whatever diocese they belong to, if our work here helps they are, of course, welcome to keep in contact.
From time to time people comment that I seem to focus on priestly vocations to the exclusion of all others. Recently someone even accused me of not taking seriously the vocation to marriage. In answer to this, and with my parish priest's hat on, I would say that over the last ten years I have personally prepared about four hundred couples for marriage. I don't think any of them would say that I failed to present it as a vocation! But the truth is that marriage promotes itself - and I don't run a dating agency!
I am more sympathetic to the claim that I don't seem to do much to promote vocations to religious orders. Here I think it's worth making a number of points. First of all my job is explicitly to promote vocations to the diocesan priesthood. It makes sense that the little time I have should be dedicated to this task.
Secondly, I'm not a religous. The best person to advicse on a religious vocation is someone already living that vocation from the inside. Recently someone asked me about a call to Franciscan life. I could and did encourage that person to pray and be open to God's will. I also encouraged them to take the next step which is to talk to a Franciscan and try to visit their community and get involved in its apostolates.
My third comment would be that the mere fact of talking about God's call will inevitably result in some religious vocations. I would like everyone to ask God prayerfully what role he has for them. What does he want them to do with their lives? When this happens I am sure there will be many more vocations, both religious and secular, and many couples will see their married love in terms of a specific path to holiness, not just an emotional attraction.
Just in case anyone doesn't believe me when I say that I am not just trying to fill our diocesan seminary let me mention that three women from this parish have joined religious orders in the last ten years. The first photo on this post is one of my former altar servers, now a brother with the Community of St John (whose founder died a couple of days ago requiescat in pace). Sr Jacinthe OP is currently in contact with a young girl thinking of religious life whom I recently referred to her. The third photo is a sister from the Beatitudes community in France. It is a secular institute rather than a religous order - but the habit's quite impressive!
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I'll take my camera with me and hope to post a few pics when I get back. In the meantime please keep the event in your prayers. I am sure there will be plenty of potential priestly vocations there.
I come back on Monday and will then head out on Tuesday (if I can get a flight) for my summer holiday. So don't be surprised if this site goes into hibernation for a while.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Monday, August 21, 2006
They invite me to join them for a get-together this evening. The idea is that I tell them some things about the parish and then answer their questions. It went very well. Lots of questions about Anglicanism and the position of the Queen. I try to answer as fairly as possible.
Before long, however, there are questions about vocation. How did you know you were to be a priest? How old were you when you first thought about your vocation? These are lads between fifteen and seventeen years old. They go to Mass, confess their sins, and pray each day... I told them that I was sixteen when I first realised I was being called to priesthood.
I am sure a few of them will be thinking and praying hard tonight!
This year, of course, Fr Marcus was able to attend the conference and celebrate the Liturgy for them in the magnificent college Chapel. Three parishioners who attend Forum Christi, our parish young adults group were also in attendance.
I am sure everyone will have got a great deal from the conference as well as the experience of being with other young Catholics. I noticed that, rather like the Faith Summer Session, there were a lot of Scots who had travelled down for the weekend. Perhaps we will soon see some similar initiatives north of the border?
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Today's Kurt's 25th birthday. Kurt is one of the Seekers who will be starting his seminary formation at Wonersh this year. It was Kurt who smartened up this Blog by putting the picture at the top and the various links on the sidebar. Apart from being able to turn his hand to anything, Kurt is also a famous giggler! The fit of giggles so beautifully captured here was brought on by some Spanish seminarians trying to sing an English song.
William, another of our students, has sent in a comment to say that he has started a seminarian's blog. William is going to Valladolid so it will be interesting to see what they really get up to! You can access the blog by clicking: William's Blog.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
They both date back to the time of the protestant Reformation when simply being a priest was a capital offence in England. Forty-four students of the seminary in Rome were martyred on their return to England. Yet they and their colleagues returned willingly in order to bring the Mass and Confession to the Catholics of England.
These days the course in Rome takes seven years to complete: two years' philosophy, three years' theology, and a further two (sometimes three) years' specialisation leading to a 'Licence' (the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Masters degree).
In recent years the college in Spain has developed a Propadeutic Year introducing students to seminary life. It has become increasingly popular among the dioceses of England and Wales and this year Southwark will be sending three students there.
Friday, August 18, 2006
take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will.
All that I have and cherish you have given me.
I surrender it all to be guided by your will.
Your grace and your love are wealth enough for me.
Give me these, Lord Jesus,
and I ask for nothing more.
Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem.
Accipe memoriam, intellectum atque voluntatem omnem.
Quidquid habeo vel possideo, mihi largitus es:
id tibi totum restituo,
ac tuae prorsus voluntati trado gubernandum.
Amorem tui solum cum gratia tua mihi dones,
et dives sum satis,
nec aliud quidquam ultra posco.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
One of the younger lads said he would like to be a priest but "don't you think it's a bit much to give up?" I replied that God won't be outdone in generosity.
After supper Sr Tamsin Geach OP gave a splendid talk on how she came to be a Dominican nun. She had the youngsters in stitches by pulling funny faces and making foul noises! It was good to see Sr Tamsin - we overlapped in Oxford (rather embarassingly I spilled a glass of red wine over her at some chaplaincy event - but she'd forgotten that!). I also knew her mother - the wonderful Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (I recommend her essay "Modern Moral Philosophy"). I remember Elizabeth visiting me at the English College in Rome - she was very perturbed by the picture in the Tribune of the Ursuline nuns who cut their noses off to make themselves unattractive to Danish foreign invaders. Skimming the recently updated philosophy section in the library she commented: "There's an awful lot of c--p written about Wittgenstein". Sr Tamsin's father was the equally eminent Catholic philosopher Peter Geach.
After listening to Sister's talk it was a case of getting everyone in the minibuses for an evening of bowling. Exhausting!
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Today one of the themes of the meditation was 'temperance' - one of the four cardinal virtues. The preacher quoted a point from a book of spiritual considerations called The Way, by St Josemaria Escriva:
I see you, Christian gentleman - that is what you say you are - kissing an image, mumbling a vocal prayer, crying out against those who attack the Church of God..., and even frequenting the holy Sacraments.
But I don't see you making any sacrifice, or avoiding certain conversations of a 'worldly' nature (I could with justice use another term), or being generous towards those in need or towards that Church of Christ, or putting up with a failing in one of your brothers, or checking your pride for the sake of the common good, or getting rid of your tight cloak of selfishness, or ... so many things more!
I see you... I don't see you...
And yet you say you are a Christian gentleman? What a poor idea you have of Christ! 
It is good for us to examine our conscience often. Not all zeal is what it seems. Sometimes the multiplication of devotions can replace the spirit of true devotion. The recitation of prayers leaves no time for prayer: conversation with God. Sometimes we may believe ourselves to be passionate for the Truth but we allow our passion to drown the virtue of charity. Sometimes we can be hot on telling others how to behave but lukewarm when it comes to reforming our own behaviour.
St Paul uses the expression veritatem facientes in caritate - doing the truth in charity. The Gospel must challenge us. If we are truly zealous for Christ we will seek him in prayer. We will contemplate his face in the mysteries of the Rosary. We will keep a check on what we say and do. We will seek his pardon and peace in Confession.
Of course, a priest is not someone who allows "charity to do the truth in". But he is someone who has learnt to put God's love into everything he does.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
These days "Summertime" is organised by Fr Stephen Boyle and takes place at Woldingham. He is being helped by Fr James & Fr John & Fr Marcus. Fr Stephen is the diocesan chaplain to the Guild of St Stephen. Over forty servers have gathered at Woldingham for this year's "Summertime". Many of them have been in previous years and it was good to see how readily they catch up with friends from past events.
In Spain 'convivencias' for altar servers have always been a good source of priestly vocations. Talking to some of the lads at Woldingham this week I am sure Fr Stephen's efforts will bear similar fruits.
Tom, William and Kurt were the first ones to arrive. Kurt has a Spanish grandmother. Tom and William will be starting at the English College in Valladolid this year. So the evening began with people speaking macaronic Spanish. It reminded me of a sign I once saw outside a trattoria in Rome: "We speak the very good broken English"!
Later Vagner, David and Chris joined us. Vagner is going into his second year at Wonersh. Vagner is from Brazil although he has lived some years in England. London has an enormous Brazilian population many of whom are very committed Catholics. In Vagner's home city of Fortaleze 200,000 gather for a special retreat during carnival week. If the Brazilian community in London is to be integrated into the life of the Church we will need priests who help us develop an insight into the needs and problems experienced by that community.
Always a journalist, Chris was on the look out for a story. We suggested that he should do something on the Southwark Vocations Blog. It may not win him any prizes - but it would be less complicated than his last assignment: fathoming the complexities of the English Benedictine Congregation!
David was our guide on a recent trip to Oxford - see a previous post - and this week heads off to visit family in Cyprus. Hopefully he won't have too many problems at the airports.
It was good to meet up. The next time we will all have a chance to come together may not be until Christmas.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Today I preached on the 'Dictatorship of Relativism', expanding some of the ideas in Cardinal Ratzinger's sermon to the College of Cardinals just before they were to elect him as the successor to the great Pope John Paul II.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Friday, August 11, 2006
After the BBQ we went across the road to watch Fishers of Men in the parish cinema (eat your hearts out Surbiton!), pausing first for a photo-shoot for the Blog. I promised the lads I'd put an email link on this post. So if you would like to know about vocations events on Southwark send me an email by clicking here.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Thanks to David we get an excellent tour of the Catholic Chaplaincy and then the House before heading off on a Newman pilgrimage: Oriel College and the University Church. Fr Ignatius who is with us is doing the tesina for his licence on sin in the writings of Cardinal Newman.
Newman's motto was Cor ad Cor Loquitur - heart speaks to heart. It reminds me of a former Oxford Chaplain and good friend who, on seeing two somewhat lacklustre students together, commented: bore ad bore loquitur!
I am an ex-alumnus of Oxford. In my time about half a dozen of us became priests. It's a tradition which, thanks be to God, still continues. Let's pray for the work of the university's excellent chaplain, Fr Jeremy.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
We priests have to learn to work together. That way we will encourage lots of vocations. There are two ways to read this photo of the priests on Faith Summer Break. If you were that way inclined, you might think they are clearly getting in touch with their inner child ("pass the sick bag"). On the other hand you might see it as a fine example of priests working together to overcome all obstacles.
Either way, you have to admit: priesthood is fun!
Monday, August 07, 2006
Sunday, August 06, 2006
But there is another reason why I love the account of the Transfiguration: Peter. What would Peter have done if our Lord had said, "Go on, build the three tents"? We're not told that he went up the mountain with the wherewithall for tent-building. He is impetuous and his faith is strong. But not long from now, Jesus will be talking to them about his Passion. Indeed we understand the 'lifting of the veil' that takes place at the Transfiguration as a means of strengthening the apostles' faith before the impending crucifixion. What does Peter do? He remonstrates with Jesus. He will not accept God's will. He rebels against it and earns the rebuke: "Get behind me Satan!".
We often hear that Jesus builds his Church on the rock of Peter's faith. I think we shouldn't overlook the fact that Peter is also weak and sinful. That he sometimes opposes God's will. But he is humble and he repents. The Church is built on Peter's faith but also on his humility and his sorrow for his sins.
Jesus calls us to be priests. We are not worthy of that call. He knows that we are sinners. What he asks of us is humility and, when necessary, repentance. Then his grace can work upon us. Then he will take our nothingness and use it to do incredible things.
Don't let your awareness of being a sinner become an excuse for not responding to Christ's call. We might feel like echoing Peter's words, "Depart from me Lord I am a sinful man". But the Lord doesn't abandon us. He wants to do great things with us.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Although most people don't realise it World Youth Days are an annual event. Most years they take place 'in the diocese', the big international gatherings only take place every few years.
In 2006 we cvelebrated World Youth Day with a special event here in the parish on Palm Sunday weekend. The theme was: "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path". About a hundred young people took part. Next year we will host a similar event and hope to double numbers. The theme will be: "Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another" - so keep the Saturday before Palm Sunday free!
In 2008 World Youth Day will take place in Sydney, Australia. The theme is "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses". It is from Acts 1v8 - which gives rise to "Activate" the pastoral plan produced in Australia to prepare for World Youth Day 2008. You can read more about it on their website.
Friday, August 04, 2006
"Have you ever considered priesthood?" - It's a straightforward question that elicits a whole variety of replies. One of them is "Yes, I have. But it's not for me. My vocation is to get married". Now tell me, how do you know? The heavenly postcard that doesn't turn up when you're called to priesthood, did you get one saying "Wedding Bells"? Did the National Lottery finger appear over a family picnic accompanied by the words "It could be you"?
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
The family is the domestic Church. Parents are the primary educators of their children. It is within the family that the faith is passed on to us, that we learn our first prayers, and that we are schooled in virtue. But I haven't heard of any vocations promotion directed specifically at families.
A quick glance at the information provided by 'site meter' reveals that this blog is read all over the world - so a challenge to our readers. Do you know of any family based vocations promotion? I'd love to hear if you do. Let me know by clicking on the 'comment' link below.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
I went to the Faith Summer Session today. As usual it was very impressive with over 200 young people from all over Britian including a large contingent from Scotland. It was good to catch up with some old priest friends whom I hadn't seen for some time. I also had a chance to chat with some young men who have already started taking part in our diocesan vocations events. As usual I was on the look out for 'likely lads' and was able to ask quite a few young men whether they had considered priesthood. Some have and if they pursue their vocation I am sure that not just Southwark but also quite a few northern dioceses will have some excellent priests in the future.
The Faith Summer Session lasts a week and has a good variety of speakers on issues to do with faith and reason. I was able to sit in on a talk by Fr Stephen Boyle on 'Christ, the Key to the Universe' - a good, Christocentric, vision of creation. In addition to the talks there is the opportunity for daily prayer including an optional Holy Hour after lunch. Although I couldn't stay, there was a Reconciliation Service this evening.
It is important for young people to come together in this way to support each other in the faith by their example, and also to have their questions answered by a straightforward intelligent presentation of the faith. Events such as these will be good seed beds for future vocations.