Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bloggap Coming Up

Thin sowing means thin reaping and I'm not surprised to see that our average number of visitors has decreased rapidly in recent weeks. The truth is that it has been quite a busy time in the parish and I've not had much chance to sit before the computer and think of something to write.
Things have to get worse before they can get better so tomorrow I am going away and will only have intermittent access to the internet. We leave tomorrow morning at 5.00am to catch a Ryan Air flight to Valladolid where I'm taking a group of six young men all of whom have some sense of a vocation. The idea is to relax at the wonderful English College villa and get out a bit to visit places like Valladolid, Burgos and Avila. A friend of mine has promised us a visit to his 'Bodega' which should be fun.
We will be there until 10th August after which I will stay on in Spain to visit friends. I'm then going to do a short in-service style course for priests before getting back to the parish in time for our Novena Mass in honour of Blessed Theresa of Calcutta. Please keep our trip in your prayers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Woldingham Week

Time has been flying by recently and I realise that, apart from the video, I've not posted anything about our recent Vocations Week at Woldingham. Well, what do I say? It was a fantastic week. We were very fortunate to be joined both by the Archbishop and also by Bishop Paul Hendricks. By the end of the week three of the participants decided that they would indeed like to apply for the Archdiocese. Others, as is to be expected, came to the realisation that their call lies elsewhere. Courtesy of photobucket, here's a few pictures.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fr Benedict's Visit

Blogging has been a bit slow recently what with the week away at Woldingham and this being the last week of term. Mass attendance has dropped by about a hundred and fifty over the last couple of weeks and last Sunday we were under a thousand. This weekend, with all the schools closed, I expect we will be less than nine hundred!

I wanted to post an article on Fr Benedict's visit. I've been given access to some great photos but I've not had much time to download them so you'll have to make do with this one. It was taken during Fr Benedict's talk. The Church was packed and, as you can see, once again the congregation was comprised mainly of young people. Fr Benedict spoke on how the concept of 'virtue' is making a come-back in psychology. This is really important: virtues are strengths of character that enable us to do what we know to be right. God's grace perfects this human strengths - it doesn't supplant them. So, to live a good life, it is necessary to acquire the human virtues. The implications are very important particularly for our approach to moral education in schools. It was an excellent talk and, judging by the emails I've received, many people found it very helpful.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Fr Benedict Groeschel

Don't forget that we have Fr Benedict Groeschel visiting on Monday. You are all welcome. The evening will begin with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Vespers at 7.00pm. Fr Benedict will then give his talk which will be on "The New Psychology of Virtue". After his meditation there will be Benediction and then refreshments.
I hope many of you will be able to make it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sisters of the Gospel of Life

I'm grateful to Amanda Brennan from St Andrew's University for drawing my attention to a new Blog illustrating the work of some religious sisters in Scotland. I often get asked about religious life here in Britain and I notice that there is a discussion of female religious orders in the Vocations Group on Facebook so I'm pleased to be able to advertise this site.
The Sisters of the Gospel of Life in Glasgow launched their Blog today, the Feast of St Maria Goretti (Friday 6 July). They are an excellent and dynamic young order of female religious, engaged in pro-life work.
You can visit the Blog by clicking here.

Next week Woldingham

On Tuesday I drove over to Woldingham to meet the new administrator who will be looking after us on our Vocations Get-Together next week. The Sacred Heart School is set in a lovely valley in the middle of seven hundred acres of countryside. It is an ideal venue for our annual meeting.

The purpose of the week is to bring together our seminarians with the bishops and those thinking about applying for the diocese. It's not a retreat, rather a time of 're-creation' - of prayer, friendship and relaxation. Previous years' experiences have been very good and have shown its value particularly for those who may be considering a vocation. Sometimes they - or we! - have realised that diocesan priesthood is not for them and equally often the week has provided that final confirmation of the need to respond to the call.

Please keep us in your prayers next week.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

It's official...

Last night I spoke to a local councillor about the theft of the Crucifix from the Church and the frustration of the police response, or rather lack of it. She gave me the email address of the local sergeant and so this morning I sent him a message to say that I was intending to publish the photograph of the thief in the parish newsletter where it would be seen by various judges, magistrates, politicians as well as the head of the Civil Service - who sits beside the PM each day.
Hey presto! Within an hour two 'community support' officers were sniffing round the Church. They are not police, of course, I think I'm right in saying that they can't even arrest anyone, but at least they were able to look at the photograph and confirm that the villain is wanted for questioning.
But... they couldn't take the photograph it couldn't be proved that I had his permission to snap it. Fortunately they didn't spot that we don't have a no-smoking sign outside the Church - otherwise they might have summoned half a dozen squad cars to take me in!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Short Arm of the Law

On Saturday morning we made a disagreeable discovery in the Church: a thief had visited and made off with the gold Crucifix which stands on the altar of the Lady Chapel. It's about two foot high and was commissioned specifically for this Church. Understandably the Sacristan was very upset and disturbed. As news went out other people began to express their distress as well: including the ladies who had cleaned the Church the night before and worried (without reason) that they might have been to blame for not locking up afterwards.
It's important in these circumstances not to cause further distress by getting upset or worked up. I sought to re-assure everyone and made a mental note to call the police and also to commission a new Crucifix. I also decided to lock the inner doors of the Church - they have leaded glass so people coming into the porch can still see the Tabernacle although they can't get into the main body of the Church. We do this whenever there's an incident of this nature because if the thief comes back and fins the Church locked each time he usually gets deterred.
On Saturday, however, something unusual happened. A young man started met one of our parishioners outside the school and said he new of someone who had stolen an Cross from a Church and wanted to sell it. She put him in contact with Fr Marcus who spoke to him in the porch and then she found me to let me know what was happening. I grabbed my camera and went to the porch. The young man repeated his story: he didn't steal the Cross but he knew who did. He wasn't a 'grass' but could arrange for us to buy it back. So I took his picture - and he left not best pleased.
I then telephoned the police. The response of the woman who took the call? Was it, "Well, done. You've done our work for us?" Was it heck! "Sir, did you get his permission before taking the photograph?"
So he's nicked my Crucifix but I've obviously breached his human rights! "A fair cop, guv. Come and take me away". Anyone fancy visiting me in Jug?
Yesterday afternoon I saw him again on the street (he lives nearby). "When are you going to give me back my Crucifix?" "I can't mate I can only buy it back for you".
It's a shame I'm not in one of my former parishes. There I wouldn't need to rely on the police... the Altar Boys would have sorted things out for me!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Another Barbecue...

The Barbecue on Sunday went very well. It was good because the rain held off although to be on the safe side we ate indoors. It is always enjoyable to have the priests of the deanery round. We all work hard in our different parishes and it's important to be able to step back from rock face and spend time together.

On Monday morning I had an unexpected trip to the airport to pick up two craftsmen from Madrid who were sent over to make some adjustments to our porch doors. They worked from early morning until late at night and only finished by lunchtime on Tuesday. Since they spoke no English I dropped them back at the airport before rushing back to the parish to make sure everything was prepared for yesterday's special Mass. The 26th June is the feast of St Josemaria Escriva - the founder of Opus Dei and consequently also of Kelston Boy's Club here in the parish. It was the first time we had a solemn Mass to celebrate the feast. The principal celebrant was Mgr Nicholas Morrish, the Regional Vicar of Opus Dei, who was himself born and baptised in our parish. I was very pleased to meet his parents who had travelled up for the occasion. I was especially pleased to see the Church filled with people of all ages, races and backgrounds.

Today we had a retreat day for the top year in our school led by two sisters from the Marian Community of Reconciliation who had travelled down from Manchester where they are establishing a novitiate. The educational theme continued in the evening as we hosted a barbecue (in the rain!) for all the staff at our outstanding parish school. Tomorrow we have another celebration this time for our young adult's group.

I'm thinking of becomming a veggie...not!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

It's raining...

More First Holy Communions today, followed by a tasty lunch provided by one of our parishioners, then two separate baptisms. Now it's time to get ready for this evening. We've invited the priests of the deanery over for a barbecue after the evening Mass. It's good to meet up with our local priests and spend time simply socialising with them. Too often we are ploughing through an inconsequential agenda at deanery meetings and there can be little time to relax and simply learn from each other informally. A number of parishes have tried to remedy this by hosting social events most years. The summer barbecue has become a speciality here at the Holy Ghost.
This afternoon, of course, I'm keeping an eye on the weather. It's been pretty awful so far and I'm beginning to wonder what we shall do if it rains. Perhaps we should go over to the parish room for a film. Anyone fancy "Going my way?" Personally I'm more inclined towards "The Usual Suspects" which my dad has just recommended (and lent) to me....

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Discovering Priesthood Day

Today I was in the parish of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, Blackfen, for our termly Discovering Priesthood Day. Our numbers were lower than usual partly because many youngsters are still in exam mode, and partly perhaps because the parish is a little more difficult to reach than some. We try to hold these days in different parts of the diocese in order to reach as many young people as possible and I was very pleased today to meet a young lad from a parish near Blackfen whom we might not otherwise have met.

Our host for the day was Fr Tim Finigan who is parish priest in Blackfen. Fr Tim is also a part time lecturer in theology at the diocesan seminary so it was good for him to meet the youngsters. He gave an excellent talk on the building blocks of Christian life and provided a very welcome lunch.

Bishop Pat Lynch was our host bishop. Bishop Lynch preached a very warm and encouraging sermon on devotion to Our Lady. He spoke of his experience working with people from Ecuador who, unable to go to their earthly mothers in times of hardship, had a great and manifest devotion to the Mother of God. In the course of the day he took questions on all sorts of subjects from liturgy to moral theology, so much so that we spared him the 'bishop on the hotseat' slot - since he had effectively been on the hotseat all day!

The photo shows a picture of the group with Bishop Pat on the left and Fr Tim on the right. I'm very grateful to Bishop Pat and Fr Tim for their support and also to all the priests who advertised the event or mentioned it to their youngsters. Our numbers may have been down but it was nonetheless a very fruitful day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Universe promotes Vocations

I had a very welcome telephone call the other day from one of the features editors of "The Universe" one of our weekly Catholic Newspapers. It seems that the editorial board has decided to dedicate a full page spread each month to promoting vocations throughout the dioceses of England and Wales. This week's edition contains a very good article by Fr Robert King, the new Vocations Director in Clifton as well as a trstimony from one of their recently ordained priests. The page also carries adverts from various religious orders.
I think vocations personnel throughout the various dioceses in England and Wales will be very grateful to The Universe to this new initiative. It will help bring to the fore the need for priestly and religious vocations and also facilitiate contact with both the dioceses and religious orders. I'm very happy to support the project.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Summer Get Together

Each year in Southwark we have the inside of a week together for seminarians (old and new) and those who may be considering becoming diocesan priests. This year we are going back to the Sacred Heart School in Woldingham which received us so well in the past. The Archbishop will be joining us and I hope that some of the auxiliary bishops may be able to come over too.

It's not a retreat just a time to relax together and get to know each other better. It is very important to build up bonds of fraternity amongst diocesan clergy and these weeks can help us. They are an encouragement to men thinking about priesthood as they meet the seminarians and can ask all the questions they never dare ask anyone else! It is also a good opportunity for our seminarians to get involved with the work of promoting vocations in the diocese.

If you would like to join us for the week please send me an email by clicking here.

This year the summer get-together runs from the evening of Tuesday 10th July until after lunch on Friday 13th.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

First Holy Communions

Today we had the first of two First Holy Communion Masses in the parish. The next one will take place tomorrow at 11.30am To commemorate today's Mass the children at our parish school have taken to decorating plates which are then glazed and fired and can be kept as a commemoration of the day.

It's an important day for the children and also for their families. One of the nice things about being parish priest here is that I get to meet many generations of families in the course of the year - including the occasional great-great grandparent. First Holy Communion celebrations are an opportunity for everyone to come together and rejoice at the wonderful gift we receive in the Eucharist: Jesus himself.
A number of parents and guests today mentioned that the ceremony was carried out with great reverence and dignity and that tears came to their eyes as they recalled their own First Holy Communion.


Dipping my toe into Facebook has been an interesting experience. I'm already catching up with people who've attended various talks I've given on vocations. It's good to hear from some of them that they've followed up their sense of call and contacted vocations directors or attended vocations retreats.
When I first mentioned Facebook here I mentioned my concern that it appeared to mark a new stage in the de-personalisation of relationships. In reply the following has been posted on my 'wall':
A sobering thought, nevertheless facebook must be judged on its own merits. A thing that lets you check the pulse without touching the body is great thing.
Actually I concede that Facebook is an excellent way to stay in touch with friends and make contact people with similar interests. It is interesting to see who's joined the Vocations Group. However, my qualm remains. At some point we have to touch the body to check the pulse - if only to make sure that the machine is working. Facebook won't replace our Vocations events!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Discovering Priesthood Day

I'd like to enlist your help to give a little publicity to our next 'Discovering Priesthood Day' which will take place on Saturday 23rd June. Bishop Pat Lynch has agreed to be with us for the day and to take questions for the 'Bishop in the Hotseat' slot.

Discovering Priesthood Days are for 14-18 year olds - so they need the support of parents and parish priests both to advertise them and also to get the youngsters to the host parish. This time our host will be Fr Tim Finigan at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, Blackfen. We're very much looking forward to the day.
Please let us know if you are coming. You can email me by clicking this link.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


An innocent enough email from a friend of mine recently asked why I wasn't on Facebook. I've been invited in the past to join a variety of internet groups but never really felt the urge. However, when my friend insisted that it would be a good way of meeting people, advertising events and promoting vocations I had to learn more.
So this week, to the horror of some and the delight of others I joined facebook. It is amazing how quickly you become hooked. It's not so much about hearing that this person's going to a party or that one's discovered a pimple on her left nostril - it's just about being aware of what's going on. Of course there's part of me that sees it as the increasing atomisation of human relationships: in the past to keep in touch we met up and chatted; then we started telephoning each other. After that we texted. Finally we emailed. Now we've removed the need for interpersonal communication at all. As one friend put it Facebook is reality - everything else is just a dream. So like Neo in the Matrix I've joined the 'real' world.
I hope it helps me meet more people thinking of priesthood. I'll get a reputation as a cyber-chaplain :o( In the meantime can feel myself getting sucked into the vortex - I need to go to check my inbox for new 'friends'...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Seekers' Meeting

On Friday this week we have our monthly Seekers' Meeting. Please let me know if you are coming. You can email me by clicking here. The meeting is for young men considering a vocation to the priesthood. It starts at 7pm with a talk. After the talk we have a meal together. It's a simple but effective formula.

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Soho Square sings Gospel

Tonight a group of us from the parish went over to St Patrick's, Soho Square, to take part in the 'Spirit in the City' festival of prayer and evangelisation. Any of you who have been to that part of London will know that it can be quite a sordid place. There are always a lot of unhappy people about all of them looking for happiness any many thinkings mistakenly that it can be found in a narcotic fix or quick sexual liaison.

Every day the parish priest faces pastoral problems that many of us encounter only occasionally. Every priest has to ask himself how he can best serve the people of his parish. What do they need? How can we provide it? Fr Alexander identified three needs for his transitory and broken flock. The parish needs prayer - so he has established perpetual Adoration. It needs a life-giving view of human sexuality - so he established a centre for Natural Family Planning and organises talks on the Theology of the Body. Finally, it needs to be evangelised and so he started the St Patrick Evangelisation School - SPES - to bring hope to the heart of Soho.

Spirit in the City is part of the annual programme of reaching out to the people who pass through that area each day. It's organised by the local Catholic Churches and organises events in Church and also on the streets. This evening we arrived in time for the Holy Hour led by the Franciscans of the Renewal. After the Holy Hour there was a concert of Gospel Music in the Square. During this young Catholics went round the crowd getting to know the people there, handing out leaflets to those who wanted to know more and inviting them to come back to the Church afterwards for another time of prayer. It was very effective. There were of course a few representatives of the culture of death who complained bitterly that their patch was being invaded, but apart from that everyone enjoyed the music and seemed genuinely grateful that it had been laid on.

Soho Square is a place that is always full of people. The paradox is that it is a very lonely place. Tonight they were offered a focus that brought them together and directed them towards Christ. From what I saw there were very many who were grateful for that opportunity.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Thanks for the Prayers

The Team with some of the Pupils

In the last post I asked for prayers for our Vocations day at the Sacred Heart School. Thanks for those prayers. We had a great day at the school today. We arrived there just before 8am where me met the enthusiastic head of RE, Gerry Foley (who is an 'old boy' of my parish) and had a chance to see where we would be meeting the young people. The Headteacher invited us to meet the Staff at the pre-school briefing. The school is in a Novena to the Sacred Heart and today the religious sister who leads the chaplaincy team led us in a reflection which was followed by a prayer led by Mr Foley. There was a lot of laughter in the staff room and it was a good atmosphere. We were able to introduce ourselves which was also very good.
Apart from the individual presentations (mentioned in the last post) we had a thoroughly enjoyable Q&A session in the afternoon. We were also blessed by the presence of Br John Bosco who led us in a music session in preparation for the Mass which followed.

Later we had Tea with Fr David the parish priest

I'm really grateful for the invitation to go into the school and for the opportunity of spending the day with the youngsters. I'm particularly grateful to the Friars for joining us (and to Fr Sylvester who preached at the Mass) as well as to the Little Sisters of the Poor and to Declan who took a day off work to be part of our mission team today.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Secondary School Vocation Day

This post is simply to ask your prayers for the forthcoming Vocations Day at one of our diocesan secondary schools. It's an important occasion for us as it's the first time we've put together a Vocations Day for this age group. In the past we've attended and given presentations at Careers Events but this will be more like a retreat day for the children of Year 10.
The team consists of some Friars of the Renewal who will speak on recognising God's love. One of the Friars used to be a layman in the local parish so it will be good for the youngsters to meet him. There will also be two sisters from the Little Sisters of the Poor who will speak about love in action. A married couple will talk about the commitment needed to follow Christ. I'll be with one of our seminarians for a presentation on discerning the call and, of course, a viewing of 'Fishers of Men.

In the afternoon we will have an open forum when the young people can fire questions at a panel. We will finish the day with the celebration of Holy Mass.

I'm looking forward to it - but its success will depend on how much we pray, so please keep it in your prayers.

Priest and three deacons killed in Iraq

Please pray for the repose of the souls of the priest and three deacons murdered on Sunday in Iraq. Today's Zenit carries an article on their murder:

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sent a telegram of condolence in Benedict XVI's name, remembering the priest and three deacons murdered Sunday in Iraq.

The priest was killed in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit after saying Sunday Mass. According to Reuters, police said that gunmen stopped the priest's car, dragged him and the deacons out and shot them. Iraqi sources said militants related to al-Qaida are responsible for the increasing persecution of Christians in Mosul.

The papal telegram was sent to Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul.

The telegram said: "The Holy Father was deeply saddened to learn of the senseless killing of Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and subdeacons Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid and Wadid Hanna, and he asks you kindly to convey to their families his heartfelt condolences."
It continued: "He willingly joins the Christian community in Mosul in commending their souls to the infinite mercy of God, our loving Father, and in giving thanks for their selfless witness to the Gospel.
"At the same time he prays that their costly sacrifice will inspire in the hearts of all men and women of good will a renewed resolve to reject the ways of hatred and violence, to conquer evil with good and to cooperate in hastening the dawn of reconciliation, justice and peace in Iraq."
The telegram concluded: "To the families and to all who mourn their dead in faith and in the hope which draws its certainty from the resurrection, His Holiness cordially imparts his apostolic blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in the Lord."

Monday, June 04, 2007

Parish Confirmations

Today we welcomed Bishop Paul Hendricks to the parish for our annual Confirmation ceremony.Our Confirmation programme begins in September and consists of weekly sessions during term time. We have lots of guest speakers as well as a systematic catechesis looked after by our youth minister and team of catechists. There mis also a time of prayer each week as well as opportunities for the young people to get back into the habit of regular confession if they've fallen out of it. There are also great excursions and days out.
It is always worth putting a lot of effort into the Confirmation programme. This is a transition period in the lives of our youngsters and it is important that they get to realise not just that it's good to ask questions about their faith but also that it matters where they go for the answers. By building up a rapport with the priests and catechists - and with the grace of the Holy Spirit - we hope that they will be empowered to resist empty promises of our secular society.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

What Can I do to promote Vocations?

Browsing the internet I found a diocesan webiste that has a useful ideas for individuals, schools and parishes to do to promote vocations. Here's the list for individuals:

Participate in days of prayer and Holy Hours for Vocations.
As a family pray for vocations.
Pray the Rosary and/or recite the Vocation prayer daily for the intention of Vocations.

Education and Discernment
Invite clergy and religious to visit your home and talk about Vocations.
Include specific catechesis on Vocation Awareness and Discernment during your catechetical instruction.

Promoting Vocations Be actively involved in your Parish Vocation Committee.

Directly ask/invite individuals to consider priesthood and consecrated life.

Support those in formation by letters of encouragement.

Spirit in the City

If you're in London this week do try to take part in some of the events being organised by Spirit in the City. Click on the link to see the details. Spirit in the City is a festival of Christian Faith in the heart of London. It involves times of prayer and praise in the West End Churches and also an exciting street programme to celebrate, reach out and give witness.
During the day on Saturday don't miss the Christian Festival in Leicester Square and in the evening wander over the Soho Square where, after the evening Mass and Adoration in St Patrick's there will be a concert of Gospel music from 8pm until 9pm with street evangelisation. The evening will conclude with a candlelit procession to the Church.

For more information contact Anne Marie.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fr Benedict Groeschel

Last November Fr Benedict Groeschel came to the parish to speak on the theology of Pope Benedict VVI. We had a Holy Hour and Vespers and enjoyed his very inspiring talk - which even got a mention in the Daily Telegraph.

Most impressive was the fact that there were so many young people there. There were also lots of seminarians from a number of different seminaries. Fr Benedict commented on this himself reffering to them as the John Paul Generation. Afterwards we had refreshments in the school hall and everyone had an opportunity to meet Fr Benedict personally.

If you missed the talk you'll be pleased to hear that Fr Benedict will be back in the parish for a similar event in July. He'll be here on Monday 9th July. The format will be very similar to last time which worked so well. Do please make a note of it in your diary today and mention it to your friends.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Europe for Christ

A Westminster seminarian recently sent me a link to Europe for Christ an ecumenical movement which was founded in 2005. Among other initiatives it promotes the praying of a daily 'Our Father' for the people of Europe. As an NGO it monitors the situation of Christians in Europe and draws attention to potential hostility towards Christianity.
It's worth taking a look at their website.
The Europe for Christ team is looking for an intern to work in their Vienna Office. It may be of interest to readers of this Blog, so I post the details below:

Dear friends,
'Europe for Christ!', based in Vienna (http://www.blogger.com/www.europe4christ.net), is looking for interns to support its European-wide outreach.
The intern should be between 21 and 30, actively Christian, linguistically skilled English OR German is a must; Polish, Spanish, or Croatian a plus), and IT knowledgeable. The intern will receive housing and a small stipend and work on the promotion and further development of the initiative 'Europe for Christ!'. There are openings for the months of June and July 07 and from September 07 onwards.
If interested, please contact Ms. Monika Haas at office@europe4christ.net

For a Europe built upon Christian values,

the 'Europe for Christ!' Team

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Primary School Vocations Day

Blogging has been difficult lately - more problems with the internet connection. Hopefully all resolved now (is there a 'fingers crossed' emoticon?).

Good news last week - we had a vocations day at our parish primary school, building on an initial experiment last year. This time we finished the theme of vocations by having special presentations to years five and six. I took two morning classes on priesthood and Sr Jacinthe OP took two classes on religious life. We then spent the lunch break in the playground meeting as many children as possible. With year five I focused on priesthood more in the sense of what a priest does. For year six the emphasis was more on the sense of vocations. I knew our head teacher would be interested to know what was going on, so I tried to make sure that my sessions reflected Ofsted good practice (lesson plan, differentiation, pace, vocabulary enrichment, intelligent use of props etc). It was a good day and we both had very intelligent questions from the children.

Looking after schools can be a major part of a priest's life. Eleven years ago our parish school was deemed by Ofsted to have 'serious weaknesses'. Now, after a lot of work, it is a fantastic school where each child has an opportunity to flourish. It has certainly been well worth the effort.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

St Columba's Catholic Boys' School

Today I was at St Columba's Catholic Boys' School in Bexley. I'd been invited over by the school's lay chaplain for a meeting to bring together the Head Teacher, Chaplaincy, RE Department and Southwark Vocations.
The school was very keen to find ways in which they could promote vocations amongst the boys and I was very keen to be able to offer them any assistance we can. We discussed the importance of fostering an encounter with Christ in each person - that encounter will eventually lead to a vocations discernment. We spoke about the great value of the prayer group at the school and also about the importance of encouraging service projects: contact with the less privileged can bring out great generosity in young people. We also spoke about the possibility of taking some of the youngsters to our 'Discovering Priesthood' days and about organising a day retreat for one of the year groups.

It was great for me to visit the school and meet the staff. I was impressed by the calm and orderly atmosphere, the courtesy of the boys and most especially by the fact that a large space had been made available for a Chapel at the heart of one of the new buildings.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Holy Father in Brazil

During his opening address at the fifth General Conference on Latin America and the Caribbean, the Holy Father made reference both to young people and the pastoral care of vocations and also to priestly life and ministry.

This is what he said about young people:

In Latin America the majority of the population is made up of young people. In this regard, we must remind them that their vocation is to be Christ’s friends, his disciples. Young people are not afraid of sacrifice, but of a meaningless life. They are sensitive to Christ’s call inviting them to follow him. They can respond to that call as priests, as consecrated men and women, or as fathers and mothers of families, totally dedicated to serving their brothers and sisters with all their time and capacity for dedication: with their whole lives. Young people must treat life as a continual discovery, never allowing themselves to be ensnared by current fashions or mentalities, but proceeding with a profound curiosity over the meaning of life and the mystery of God, the Creator and Father, and his Son, our Redeemer, within the human family. They must also commit themselves to a constant renewal of the world in the light of the Gospel. More still, they must oppose the facile illusions of instant happiness and the deceptive paradise offered by drugs, pleasure, and alcohol, and they must oppose every form of violence.

Here is what he said about priests:

The first promoters of discipleship and mission are those who have been called "to be with Jesus and to be sent out to preach" (cf. Mark 3:14), that is, the priests. They must receive preferential attention and paternal care from their bishops, because they are the primary instigators of authentic renewal of Christian life among the People of God. I should like to offer them a word of paternal affection, hoping that "the Lord will be their portion and cup" (cf. Psalm 16:5). If the priest has God as the foundation and centre of his life, he will experience the joy and the fruitfulness of his vocation. The priest must be above all a "man of God" (1 Timothy 6:11) who knows God directly, who has a profound personal friendship with Jesus, who shares with others the same sentiments that Christ has (cf. Philippians 2:5). Only in this way will the priest be capable of leading men to God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, and of being the representative of his love. In order to accomplish his lofty task, the
priest must have a solid spiritual formation, and the whole of his life must be imbued with faith, hope and charity. Like Jesus, he must be one who seeks, through prayer, the face and the will of God, and he must be attentive to his cultural and intellectual preparation.

Dear priests of this Continent, and those of you who have come here to work as missionaries, the Pope accompanies you in your pastoral work and wants you to be full of joy and hope; above all he prays for you.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Friday's Seekers' Meeting

I got back on Friday evening with literally just a few minutes to spare before the start of the Seekers' Meeting - which is much better than being a few minutes late! We had a good crowd including a number of 'first-timers'. In all, nine of us sat down for the meal afterwards. Over the meal we were able to hear an impression of the seminary and the selection process from one of this year's candidates. It was particularly good to hear that the Southwark seminarians who helped out over the weekend had only good things to say about the seminary :0)
The Seekers' Meetings take place on the third Friday of each month. I need to know who's coming in order to make sure there's enough food. I can be emailed by clicking this link.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Seekers' Meeting

Tomorrow (Friday) evening we have our monthly Seekers' Meeting. I've had a few telephone calls from people who've read the post about me being in Menorca and who were wondering if the meeting was cancelled. It's not! I fly into Heathrow tomorrow afternoon and will have plenty of time to get back to the parish for the meeting. It nearly wasn't so: an email from Iberia told me that my flight from Menorca to Barcelona had been changed for one that would leave me only ten minutes to change planes for Heathrow. Yesterday I had to go to airport in Mahon in order to book an earlier flight from here leaving me plenty of time for the change. Hopefully this time my luggage will make it too!
See you at the Seekers' Meeting.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Every Child´s a Blessing

I saw this video over at Fr Tim Finigan´s blog and decided to post it on our parish blogspot to encourage parents who are put under appalling pressure to terminate a pregnancy because someone in a white coat has decided their child shouldn't be allowed to live. Here´s the accompanying article:

In our parish we are blessed with very many births each year - as anyone who has attended the 10am Mass on Sunday morning will have experienced for themselves! Sometimes, sadly, the great joy of parents expecting a new addition to their family can be turned to distress and heartache when they hear that there is a possibility their baby may be unwell. Often great pressure is put upon them to terminate the pregnancy at an early stage even though, as many of our brave parents have discovered the prognosis itself lacks accuracy. We have many healthy children in the parish whose parents were recommended a termination because their child was diagnosed as having Downs Syndrome or some other disorder.
Not every diagnosis however is so shaky and sometimes the child is indeed unwell. The pressure put on parents to end the life of that child can be unbearable. One mother in our parish was accused of being `cruel´ because she refused to agree to an abortion. It is not unusual for parents to be told that the baby will live for such a short time that 'it´s not worth' continuing the pregnancy. I'm grateful to Fr Tim Finigan for drawing my attention to this short video:


On Thursday afternoon I left the parish to catch a flight to Menorca where I´m currently visiting a friend who is parish priest on the island. The plane was late taking off from Heathrow with the unfortunate consequence that while I successfully changed plane in Barcelona my luggage didn´t. On Friday we went to Ciutadela, the old capital of Menorca where the bishop still has his residence. The capital was changed to Mahon by the English when they took over the island in order to diminish the strength of the Menorquin nobility and the Church.
I met the bishop on Saturday when he came to the parish for the confirmations. Here first Communion celebrations and Confirmations usually take place in May. If there´s not sufficient time in May the Confirmations get delayed until October. School finishes in June which means that, although summer is very busy with tourists, nevertheless administratively there is a quiet season of about three months. Now that´s a thought!
I´d heard that parish priests in Menorca have to learn how to ride a horse (a proper one - not a pony!) and yesterday I found out why. Being an island Menorca was subject to constant attacks from Corsairs and, more dangerously, from the Moorish invaders. There are lookout towers all along the coastline and when the ships were seen in the distance fires would be lit to raise the alarm. The men would gather arms and ride to the beaches where the invaders could land in order to defend the island. On the way they would call in on the Church to collect the priest who would carry with him the Holy Oils in order to administer the Sacraments to the injured and fallen. This continues to be commemorated today and at least twice a year Fr Francis, with whom I am staying, has the patio in front of his house invaded by horsemen who bring with them his horse and with whom he rides off to the cheers and acclaim of the people. It´s a pity it won´t take place while I´m here - I´d love to post some photos.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Looking forward to life without Windows

I've not posted for nearly a week now for a simple reason. The Secretary's computer got infected with a virus - or possibly the operating system (Windows XP) got corrupted. Result? Pandemonium! Two trips to PC World late we thought we would be able to enjoy peace of mind thanks to the "Total Protection" offered by McAfee. Instead we've had hours of grief and intermittent internet access. Things only began to return to normal this afternoon.
I'm certainly looking forward to getting my new office up and running. It will be a Windows-free zone! I wonder what my readers think about the great PC/Mac debate? Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New Auxiliary in Melbourne

It is quite a business preparing for ordination. Apart from the canonical requirements there are also lots of practical ones such as who will vest you? Where will the first Mass be? Who will preach at that Mass?
I was ordained in 1989 in the Chapel of the John Fisher School in Purley. The next day I celebrated my first Mass in Folkestone where my old chemistry teacher was (and is) parish priest. The sermon was preached by Fr Peter Elliott (pictured) whom I had gotten to know very well when I was a student in Rome. It was an excellent sermon, engaging, humorous, rooted in the Catholic history of this country, and extolling the importance of the priestly vocation.
I was very pleased to hear on Monday the Mgr Peter Elliott, as he now is, has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to be one of two new auxiliary bishops in Melbourne. In an email today he tells me that he is to be Titular Bishop of Manaccenser (successor to the recently deceased Bishop James O'Brien of Westminster). Bishop O'Brien was a much loved bishop who served the people of Westminster for many years. Bishop elect Elliott is a great anglophile. I'm sure it is fitting that they should be linked in this way. I'm also sure that the bishop elect would be grateful for any prayers you can spare for him.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Parish Vocations Pages

I meant to publish this a long time ago. The parish in Hythe is dedicated to Our Lady under the title "The Virgin Mother of Good Counsel". It is looked after by a Religious Congregation, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT). Recently they emailed to say that they have a new parish website and have dedicated a page to Vocations. You can see the page by clicking here. I also notice that they have very kindly included a link to the Southwark Vocations site.

Do let me know if you have a Vocations Page on your parish website. I'd be very happy to advertise it here. You can email me at Southwark Vocations.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Prayers for Vocations

If we are to have an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life we need to pray more. Vocations come from God. We have to ask him for them.
Sometimes we forget to pray. Sometimes we just find it hard to come up with the right words. Sometimes we're just too pre-occupied with other things. Here's a link to a website of the US Conference of Bishops that simply lists lots of prayers for vocations. Why not download some of them? You can pick afavourite and use it each day.
If you are a parent you can scroll down to the end or simply click here for a prayer just for you.

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Yesterday was the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. You can read Pope Benedict's Message by following this link to the Vatican Website.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday (from the Gospel that is read on this day). In this sermon Fr Christopher Mahar explains the association of the Good Shepherd with prayer for vocations. He also expresses his joy at serving God's people as a priest (Fr Mahar was ordained on the Feast of St Josemaria Escriva, 2004).

I don't get Sunday papers because there's never time to read them, but I was pleased to have my attention drawn to the online Sunday Telegraph where Fr Paul Embery, director of the National Office for Vocations, was able to get this excellent little article placed. NoV have produced a website for those thinking about priesthood. You can follow this link to Called Today. Here's an appreciative post on the site from across the pond. And here's another one from a former atheist.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Help with Discernment

Those of you who have attended the New Year retreat for young adults in this parish will be familiar with Fr Stephen Wang who teaches theology at Allen Hall, the seminary for Westminster diocese. If Fr Stephen is at home talking to three hundred or so young people at New Year, a recent post on the Westminister diocesan website shows that he is equally at home talking to young men considering their vocation.
It is worth visiting the site (click here) to read Fr Stephen's four articles on discernment:

1. How do I know if God is calling me to be a priest?

2. What can I do to become clearer about my vocation?

3. Vocation: Different calls in the New Testament.

4. Things to read about priesthood and vocation.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Vocations Activities in Southwark

The last post has generated a lot of interest. I hope you find it helpful. I promised to do a follow-up on what happens here in Southwark to support vocations. In the comment box for the last post Mark expresses an interest in knowing more about the signs of a vocation. I'll try and deal with that on another occasion, today I just want to let you know what we offer.
It will be clear from the last post that early contact with the Vocations Director is really important. This Blog is also important and I know that it has helped a number of young men contact their respective dioceses. It is also a point of contact for people who have already spoken with me and, importantly, for those just dipping their toes. However, there is no substitute for personal contact with the Vocations Director. At the same time it is important to be clear that meeting the Vocations Director doesn't mean that you are somehow committed to being ordained seven years down the line. In Southwark we try to offer opportunities to meet informally the Vocations Director and other young men thinking of priesthood. In what follows I'll give an account of these opportunities.
Seekers Meetings
Seekers Meetings take place on the third Friday of each month. The first part of the evening involves some input on topics such as prayer and the interior life. This is usually given by me or another priest, although sometimes we have a guest (last Friday we had Br Martin OFR). After the talk there is time to meat informally and get to know each other. We then sit down to a meal together. At the end everyone goes home (having washed up!) hopefully inspired by what they've heard and encouraged by the people they've met. There's always an opportunity to speak with me privately should anyone wish to. The Seekers Meetings are important but I recognise that they may not suit everyone. In order to sort out the catering I need to know how many people will be turning up so it's usual to let me know.
Each term we try to offer our seminarians and those interested in priesthood a chance to come and spend some time together in the parish. On St John's Day (27th December) there is a Mass (up until now it has been celebrated by the Archbishop) in the morning. Sometimes there's a film or other activity. There's always a nice meal followed by a time when we just hear from each other about whatever interests them. On Good Friday I invite those who wish to join us for the Solemn Liturgy followed by Hot Cross buns. They are welcome to hang round as long as they like afterwards. Most stay for Stations of the Cross in the evening. In the summer we have a barbecue. The important thing about these events is that they provide a chance for men thinking about priesthood to meet each other, ask questions, and receive encouragement.
Vocations Week
The Vocations Week takes place in July and is for seminarians, seekers and those seriously considering a priestly vocation. It's not quite a week as it starts on Tuesday afternoon and ends on Friday. This year we will be going back to the Sacred Heart School in Woldingham. During the week there are various inputs on different aspects of priestly ministry and Catholic life in this country.
Vocations Retreat
The Vocations Retreat takes place in March. It takes place at St John's Seminary, Wonersh and is run jointly with the diocese of Arundel and Brighton. It is open to everyone but is best suited to those who have begun to develop a clear sense of being called to priesthood. It helps to visit the seminary, to meet the students there and ask them questions, and also to have that time out to consider the call prayerfully. The Retreat has been very helpful in the past: some participants have seen clearly that they are called to diocesan priesthood while others have soon realised that their call lies elsewhere.
Discovering Priesthood Days
DPDs are a new initiative and are designed to encourage and support vocations among the under 18s. They take place once a term and we try to have them in each of the episcopal areas. This year we plan to hold an additional one at the Seminary.
What else...?
I'm always keen to talk at university chaplaincies and schools. We're working on the format of one day events for secondary schools and hope to have it completed soon. I'm sure there's lots more that can be done and am always happy to receive suggestions. So now it's over to you...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Applying for Priesthood: Timetable

A couple of anonymous comments recently have asked about the timing of the Selection Conference. For example:
When is the cut off date for entry this this year to the seminary courses starting in September? My understanding is that there is an assessment weekend in London in April/May.
I thought it might be useful to explain the procedure for applying to the seminary.
Initial Contact
If you think you may have a vocation to the priesthood at some time you need to make contact with the Vocations Director of your diocese. If you don't know who he is you can either ask your parish priest (recommended) or get his details from the UK Priest site on the links bar (also recommended).
It is important not to delay contacting the Vocations Director. Amongst other things he has to process all your paperwork (baptism certificates, references, application forms and the like). This can take several months. He also has to get to know you sufficiently well to be able to give you a reference. All this takes time.
Formal Application
As you get to know each other better the question will arise naturally about making a formal application ormally this would be made by the end of the Christmas (Michaelmas) term. There are a number of important considerations here:
A student in his last year at university would be well-advised not to wait until after Finals before contacting the Vocations Director. If you apply too late it is unlikely that you will be able to start that same year;
Furthermore, you have to allow the Vocations Director time to get to know you;
Finally experience has led us to become more cautious about putting someone forward for the Selection Conference. If in the past there was a tendency to let a man go forward unless there were signs he didn't have a vocation, now most vocations directors would be looking for positive signs of a priestly vocation before sending someone to the Selection Conference. There are three reasons for this: 1. the Vocations Director's recommendation carries a lot of weight with the Selectors who presume he has done his job properly, 2. we would prefer to delay an application rather than have someone turned down, 3. it is not fair to admit someone to the seminary unless we are sure they show signs of a potential vocation.
The Selection Procedure
The last post was about what happens at the Selection Conference and I won't repeat that here. At Wonersh the Conference usually takes place some time in April. The paperwork has to be with the seminary several weeks, indeed about a month, beforehand. It usually takes at least a month for all the paperwork to come together (for example, references can be quite slow in coming in). Hence most Vocations Directors would like to make a start by the end of December and certainly not later than the end of January.
Apart from the Selection Conference there are various other interviews that need to be arranged. One of these is a psychological assessment. There are relatively few approved places where this can be carried out and they quickly get booked up in advance.
The Meeting with the Bishop
At the end of the process, after the Bishop has had time to receive and digest all the various reports there is in most dioceses a formal interview with the Bishop. At some point after this interview the candidate will hear whether or not he has been accepted and usually where the Bishop would like him to study. This interview may take place in May or even as late as June.
Starting Seminary
Depending on where you are sent, the term usually begins in September or October but new seminarians start early. Those who study abroad might also be expected to join the other new men for a language course in July or August.
I hope you can see from what I've said that it is very important not to delay contacting your Vocations Director. Don't leave things till the last minute. In my next post I'll let you know some of the things we offer in Southwark that give men thinking of priesthood a chance to explore without making any commitments and also give the Vocations Director and the Archbishop a chance to get to know you long before the deadline for making an application. Every diocese will be offering something but it's up to you to find out...

The Selection Conference

Over the weekend I was at St John's Seminary, Wonersh for the Selection Advisory Conference. There were sixteen candidates attending the Conference including four from Southwark. Arundel and Brighton also had four candidates and most of the other dioceses from the Province had sent one or two men along.

For the applicants the weekend begins with lunch on Friday. The best part of Friday afternoon and Saturday morning are taken up with interviews and other activities. Each candidate is interviewed by a priest who will ask him about his prayer life and his sense of vocation. The interviewer will also try to ascertain the extent to which the candidate has an understanding of the faith. A second interview tries to build up a picture of who the candidate is: his interests and hobbies, his family life and background as well as his general human maturity and understanding of celibacy. A third interview looks at the candidate's educational background. Here the question is one of his capacity to study. As well as these three key interviews they also meet with a psychiatrist who seeks to determine whether there are any relevant questions of mental health that the panel should be aware of. If so he is, of course, in a position to give an objective professional opinion. The Southwark candidates also have their medical during the weekend.

After everyone has been interviewed the panels meet to discuss their impressions before reporting back to a plenary session on Sunday morning. They then make recommendations which are forwarded to each candidate's bishop. It is of course the bishop who ultimately makes the decision whether or not to accept a candidate as a seminarian for his diocese.

I must say I found the weekend very helpful. I was glad I attended and now appreciate very much more the work of the panel members. When I got back there was a comment on another post about the timetable for admission. I'll do a separate pot in response to that.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Who is Stephen Langridge?

People sometimes comment that they rarely (if ever) see a picture of me on the internet. So I thought it about time I posted a photo of Stephen Langridge - but it does require some explanation...

On Monday I received an email from Stephen Langridge who had 'googled' his name and found various posts referring to me. Since we live practically round the corner from each other we arranged to meet for lunch on Friday. When your surname is relatively uncommon it is a bit odd to open the door to someone who introduces himself as you! It was, however, a very pleasant encounter and we found that, apart from the name, Stephen and I had a number of things in common. There is only about a year's difference between us. We are both fathers - although not in the same sense! We both have a working knowledge of German, Italian and Spanish. However, in one important respect we are very different: Stephen Langridge is a well known director of opera whereas, as any parishioner would testify, I'd be distinguished rather for my musical inability.
I was curious about 'googling' the name and Stephen explained that he keeps a check on reviews of his work and has set up a 'google alert'. Google allows you to register key words and will send you an email when they appear on websites. It sounds a useful tool and I must set one up for the vocations work. Amusingly, Stephen emailed the following day to say that he's received another alert that morning "about you of course" :o).

So this post is not about vocations at all. It is for Stephen Langridge - the consolation of a alert referring to this blog where there is finally a post about him!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Holy Father's Anniversary & Birthday Celebration

I've just come back from a reception at the Throne Room in Archbishop's House, Westminster. Some time ago I'd received an invitation from the Nuncio to attend and I was quite keen to for two reasons. The first is that the reception was given to mark both the second anniversary of Pope Benedict's election and also his eightieth birthday. The second is more mundane: the Blog started after a similar event hosted by the Nuncio last June.
This evening's reception was extremely well attended. I had the impression that there were more than at the summer one which was impressive since many of the ambassadors present had to go on to two further diplomatic events. I did have the impression once again that clergy can be quite timid on these occasions and can seem to spend most of their time at the outer edge of the room. I think it's important to dive into the centre and meet as many people as possible - not in order to 'network' but simply to try to be an encouragement to the lay people present.
It was good to see Southwark very well represented. There were a good number of lay people as well as priests. I was pleased to meet up again with Fr Jeremy Fairhead who has done such a wonderful job at the Oxford chaplaincy. I was also pleased to meet Fr Peter Wilson from the London Chaplaincy. He has quite a few Southwark students because some campuses are both sides of the river. He's invited me over to meet the Southwark men and I hope we will firm up a date soon.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Divine Mercy Sunday

Long before I came to the Holy Ghost the parish has hosted a big Divine Mercy pilgrimage on the Sunday after Easter, now known as Divine Mercy Sunday. This year we did not advertise the event as I have been having difficulty getting help with our regular Sunday Masses and also with finding priests to help with Confessions. Fortunately I happened to speak with Fr Sylvester, a Ugandan priest, this week and he was very happy to come along to help out. After the three morning Massesm and a quick lunch, the devotions began at 2.30 with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The Rosary and then the Divine Mercy Chaplet (sung) followed while the priests took up their place in the Confessional. I gave Benediction at 3.45pm and then went back to hearing Confessions while Fr Sylvester celebrated the Mass at 4.00pm. There were easily a couple of hundred people present - not bad for an event we had deliberately not advertised! It was a sung Mass which finished just after 5pm, although it took a while to clear the Church, giving the sacristan just under half an hour to prepare everything for the evening Mass.
We always have lots of Confessions in our parish. Sometimes I think it is a Sacrament more popular with young people, especially young adults, than with some older generations. Of course having two priests helps - it means we can offer the Sacrament every day and at times convenient to the people: a basic rule of marketing is that you have to go to where the punters are! It is a wonderful Sacrament and a very important part of priestly ministry. I always remember with what eloquent simplicity Mother Theresa summed up what happens when she gave us a talk at Seminary: "You enter the confessional a sinner burdened with sin and you leave it a sinner without sin".

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fresh Air

I'm thinking of buying a bike. I go into central London about once a week and with the extension of the Congestion Charge zone I now have to pay £8 for the dubious privilege. Additionally, yesterday I had to cough up an additional £12 for a couple of hour's parking. I'd soon recover the cost of a bike and get some exercise to boot.

This new found fervour for exercise is partly fuelled by a Bank Holiday walk in Surrey. I've got a rather handy book entitled "Pub Walks". The idea is that you meet at a pub for lunch and then go for a post-prandial ramble. We met at the Queen Victoria just outside Guildford and then went for a walk along the River Wye. It was very enjoyable and as you can see from the photograph above we passed some very pretty little places.
Some people don't like these guide books, preferring to use the Ordinance Survey maps. Personally I find them useful in unfamiliar territory and full of interesting information that one might otherwise miss. I doubt, for example, that I'd have seen this plaque unless the book had alerted me to its presence.
Since Monday I've been making use of the Easter lull to try to restore a certain degree of order to the house and catch up on office work. I found I had 250 unanswered emails :o( Now I'm down to forty five which is much more reasonable.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What makes you happy?

Our modest little Church was looking quite attractive this morning

I was quite happy yesterday. The Easter ceremonies all went very well and we had a massive attendance despite so many of our parishioners being away. In addition to the Reception and adult baptism at the Easter Vigil we had three more baptisms during the 11.30am Mass. After the morning Masses we tucked into a fantastic lunch prepared by one of our parishioners who also provided a very nice bottle of wine - particularly welcome since I had given up alcohol for Lent. All that followed by a quick snooze in the afternoon followed by some Office, some prayer and a trip to visit some friends whom I hadn't seen for some time and who had invited me over.

While there I was shown an article in the Sunday Times on happiness. You can read the whole article here. The reason it is interesting is that research seems to suggest that economic well-being has no effect on people's happiness. The article puts the point strongly:
Public expenditure, leisure time, crime, gender inequality, income inequality, depression — none of these is correlated with measures of happiness over time. If we believe that the data over time on recorded happiness have any real meaning, they suggest one thing very strongly: attempts to improve the human lot by social and economic policy are a monumental exercise in futility.

But that's not all. It goes on to identify two factors that positively affect people's overall happiness. What are they? The first is marriage. Married people are on the whole happier than those alone or in 'relationships'. The second is religion. People who have faith are happier than those who are not:

Marriage makes people far less likely to suffer psychological illness, and more likely to live much longer and be both healthier and happier.
The benefits are confined to those who are married rather than cohabiting. And these benefits are large. In terms of health, for example, the longevity effect of marriage may even offset the consequences of smoking. Religious faith also has a distinct positive effect on happiness.

The author of the article draws some pretty obvious conclusions but ones we rarely hear these days:

In so far as policy conclusions can be drawn at this stage of happiness research, they seem to imply increased support for marriage, reductions in incentives to single parents and the promotion of faith schools. It’s hardly the mix that is usually heard from the liberal advocates of wellbeing policies.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Easter

After a tremendous Easter Vigil I'd like to wish you all a very happy Easter. Tonight I was able to baptise a lady who has desired to become a Catholic for the last six years. I suppose in every parish there are people who desperately want to become members of the Church and yet somehow it doesn't happen immediately. It has to be in the Holy Spirit's time. It always reminds me of the priority of grace in our lives. Anyway I was particularly pleased to baptise and confirm Nichola tonight.

I also received Gavin (pictured here with his parents). Gavin is a young jazz musician. His parents baptised him Methodist and it was good to see them present at the Vigil tonight.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

Last night we had nearly three hundred people at our Mass of the Lord's Supper. It's not an enormous number - about a quarter of our Sunday Mass attendance. At the Holy Ghost we try to do things as well as we possibly can and consequently a great deal of care had gone into the Liturgy. The Servers were well-rehearsed and our Music Director ensured everything went smoothly on that front. After the Mass the Church remained open until midnight for people to come and pray at the Altar of Repose. It was good to see a steady flow of people returning to the Church throughout the night. Quite a few, young and old, stayed to spend at least an hour in prayer.

This morning there was another practice for the Altar Servers in preparation for the afternoon Liturgy. People often comment on how impressed they are by our Servers, particularly on Good Friday. Today we had thirty-six Altar Servers, all perfectly synchronised and immaculately turned out. It seemed as if the procession from the Sacristy would never terminate. I was pleased therefore when afterwards someone commented on how the care we put into things and the reverence of the Servers help them reflect on the enormity of today's celebration. The sung Passion, with the haunting ancient chants also helps people enter into the spirit of the Liturgy, as does the 'creeping to the Cross' which - with nearly six hundred people present - took the best part of an hour.

Confessions have also gone very well this week. We have Confessions every day in the parish which helps minimise the mad rush at the end of Lent that can sometimes happen. Today we were kept going for an additional two hours. I know that some priests are hesitant about offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation today because an earlier edition of the Missal speaks of an 'ancient tradition' according to which the Sacraments 'are not celebrated today'. However, the new editio typica of the Roman Missal is more explicit and adds "except Penance and the Sacrament of the Sick".

After the Celebration of the Lord's Passion any seminarians, Seekers and those interested in knowing more about the priesthood were welcomed at the presbytery where we laid on toasted Hot Cross Buns. There were then more Confessions before Stations of the Cross and the veneration of the Relic of the True Cross, before some of us settled down to watch the final installment of the EWTN Holy Week Retreat.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Chrism Mass

This morning I was at the Cathedral to concelebrate at the Chrism Mass with other priests of the diocese. I don't know how many we were but I should estimate that there were at least two hundred and fifty. The Chrism Mass is particularly significant for priests. It is not just that we come together in order to express our unity in the presbyterate (and also for a meal afterwards). It is also the annual occasion when we renew our priestly promises to serve Christ through the service of his people in prayer, Word and Sacrament.

The Cathedral was completely full which was nice to see particularly since in England Maundy Thursday is still a work day. Another nice touch is that for three years or so there has been a small group of women and young girls holding placards expressing their support for our priestly work. The placards have messages like "We love our priests" and "Thank you to our beloved priests". As we process in for the start of Mass we are presented with a little prayer card with an intercession for our ministry. The group seems to get bigger (and younger!) each year and I know from the comments as we were vesting that many of the priests are really touched by this little gesture of affection and thanks.

After the Chrism Mass we headed back to the parish where the Sacristan and servers had been preparing the Altar of Repose which looked lovely as usual.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Holy Week Retreat

I'm getting lots of very kind feedback from the Holy Week Retreat being broadcast this week by EWTN. In Britain some people have mentioned that they have switched on at the published time only in order to find a French or German programme. If you are finding a sudden increase in foreign language programmes it is probably because your receiver needs to be re-tuned to another Satellite: Hotbird is going to transmit more and more in French and German while Eurobird offers the English programmes.
Another difficulty is that there has been a timetable change. No one has said anything about the 2.00am slot, but the 2.00pm broadcast now comes on at 3pm, and the 8pm broadcast is now on at 10pm. The themes so far have been: Conversion, Ascetical Struggle & the Malice of Sin. Tomorrow (Maundy Thursday) I speak about the Holy Mass and following Christ's call (vocation).

I must say I am pleased with some lovely shots of the Church and our wonderful congregation. The Stations of the Cross come out really well and I'm thinking that it would be worth getting a professional to photograph them. It is strange seeing oneself on television - I usually preach without note and am much more relaxed. For these meditations I stick quite closely to the notes and, conscious of the need to be understood, I speak too slowly. Nevertheless I think there's plenty of doctrinal and spiritual content which is the important thing. I pray that they will be of benefit and that at least one person might be encouraged to take a further step towards the priesthood.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Holy Father Praying for Vocations

Today's Zenit has the following newspiece on the Holy Father's prayer intentions for April:

During the month of April, Benedict XVI will pray that every Christian may answer the call to sanctity. The Holy Father will ask that every Christian may answer enthusiastically and faithfully the universal call to sanctity, allowing himself to be enlightened and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Apostleship of Prayer announced the intentions chosen by the Pope. The Pontiff also prays for an apostolic intention each month. For April, his intention is: "That the number of priestly and religious vocations may grow in North America and the countries of the Pacific Ocean, in order to give an adequate answer to the pastoral and missionary needs of those populations."

Let's join him as he prays for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Selection Conference

This year we have four candidates attending the Selection Conference at Wonersh. A fifth applicant is a former Anglican Clergyman and in such cases the procedures are slightly different. The Selection Conference starts at lunch time on Friday 20th April and ends after lunch on Sunday 22nd. There are currently eighteen candidates from the various dioceses booked in to attend.
The purpose of the Selection Conference is to try to discern whether a candidate has sufficient awareness of the priesthood to begin training. At the same time, it's not a test - no one expects of someone going into seminary the insights gained through years of formation! But the Conference can make an assessment of where the candidate is starting, his openness to formation and his capacity to study. It is on this basis that the Conference can make its recommendations to the Archbishop.
I've not been on a Selection Conference panel but I think we can make a fair guess at the sort of questions our candidates can expect. I would expect, for example, that a candidate be asked about his prayer and sacramental life. Does he have a Spiritual Director? What understanding does he have of the Church? Why does he want to be a priest? What does he understand a priest to do? I imagine there will also be questions about his emotional maturity, his understanding of celibacy and his interests and hobbies.
Please keep all our applicants and those from other dioceses in your prayers.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lenten Day

Today we had great fun in the parish as we welcomed the Missionaries of Charity and some of the children from their catechism class. The Mother Theresa nuns take a fourth vow of whole-hearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. They lead tough lives in solidarity with the people they serve.
I was very impressed by the knowledge of the children who came with the sisters to the parish today. They knew well their bible stories and the basic elements of the faith. One lad wanted to know what transubstantiation means. As I spent time with the children I recalled that Mother Theresa is supposed to have said something about encountering real poverty in the developed world. These were not street children such as you might meet in Calcutta, or Rio, or Manila but their poverty was of a different order. When I spoke to them about loving our parents one of them confided that there were ten brothers and sisters at home - but no mum. Once again I learnt to appreciate the wonderful work of the Sisters who week after week bring faith and hope and joy and love into the lives of these little ones.

Today the programme was quite simple. We began with a discussion on the Passion of Jesus, the we had a period of Adoration while Confessions were heard. Before lunch we prayed the Rosary. After lunch there was time to run off sugar and 'E-numbers' before Stations of the Cross. Then we watched a cartoon about one of the Commandments. It was a great joy to welcome the children to the parish.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Eternal Word Television Network

Readers of this Blog will know that at the beginning of Lent I was tied up filming a series of meditations for EWTN, the Global Catholic Network. The five meditations, each one lasting half an hour, will be broadcast during Holy Week as EWTN's Holy Week Retreat. According to the schedule the daily meditation will be broadcast three times every day: at 2.30am; at 2.30pm and at 8.30pm. They are available on the Hotbird satellite and also on Sky Television*.
These are general spiritual conferences reflecting on Holy Week themes. For anyone interested specifically in something on priesthood and priestly vocations, I suppose the Maundy Thursday mediation will be most appropriate. Please pray that this little contribution to the apostolate of the Eternal Word Television Network will do good to some of the people who watch it. I am praying for two things: that at least one person be inspired to go back to Confession, and that for at least one young man something I say may lead him a step further along the road to priesthood.

* Eurobird 28.5' East (Digital) Frequency 11390 MHz Polarity Vertical. SKY Digital EPG#0147

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Friends with Christ Retreat

Have you made a retreat yet this year? If not it's not too late to sign up for the Friends with Christ Retreat that will take place in London from 27th - 29th April. It is for young men aged between 16 & 25. Itwill be led by Fr Richard Aladics who, along with Fr Julian Greene, developed the format of the Friends with Christ Retreats.
It is not a Vocations Retreat. Rather its purpose is to help us discern the foundation of our lives, namely friendship with Christ. Over the weekend the participants are led through the process of what it means to be a Christian: openness to Christ, overcoming the barriers to a relationship with him, what Christ gives to the relationship, what we can in turn to build the relationship.

To book a place please contact us at Southwark Vocations. There is no charge for the retreat.