Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Where I will be tomorrow...

Tomorrow I am flying to Scotland for a brief visit to St Andrew's where I'll be addressing the university's Catholic Society. I hear all sorts of excellent reports about the Society so I'm looking forward to meeting the students. The title they've given me is the somewhat provocative one of "Where have all the vocations gone and how do we get them back?" I sort of feel that there will be a good few suggestions from the floor as to how to address the second part of that!
Anyway, I won't be back until Thursday evening. I've booked an afternoon flight so as not to be too rushed in the morning. Please say a prayer that the talk does some good.

Vocations News

From time to time in Southwark Vocations produces a newsletter with information about what's been happening vocationswise in the Archdiocese. It began as a newsletter for priests to encourage them to be positive and pro-active about promoting vocations. After many requests we decided to produce it also for parishes. Currently we print about ten thousand which is roughly ten percent of our Mass going population in the diocese. We've not produced a Vocations News for a while and so our latest is a 'bumper edition' running to eight pages with all sorts of interesting news articles.
If you would like a copy but aren't on our mailing list please feel free to send me an email.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Lenten Reflection on YouTube

This morning there's a report on Zenit that Cardinal Justin Rigali is posting a weekly Lenten Reflection on YouTube. I received candidacy from Archbishop Rigali when he was Rector of the Vatican's diplomatic college in Rome. Here's his reflection on fasting for the first Sunday of Lent:

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Readers of this Blog will know that I spent Wednesday and Thursday last week being filmed by EWTN for a series of Holy Week reflections. It was a fascinating experience. First of all because it took so long. Lighting is, of course, very important. The Church lights weren't used because they create a flicker on screen, so much of the time was spent setting up special filming lights in order to look as natural as possible. With extra lights shadows become an issue so lots of things in the Church had to be moved to eliminate the shadows they might cast. Then, because it's Lent, there are no flowers in the Church and the Sanctuary looks penitentially bare. On camera, however, it just looks empty so other pieces of furniture had to be moved to break up the empty spaces a bit. Finally, the Sanctuary had to look like Holy Week which is when the meditations will be broadcast. For Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it meant simply having the statues and Crucifixes covered. For Maundy Thursday, of course, the Altar Crucifix had to be veiled in white and the best vestments had to come out. For Friday everything had to be stripped bare.
We had a good group of people present to be filmed listening to the first meditation. They spent the whole morning in the Church and so we treated them to an Ash Wednesday lunch of soup and a roll. We filmed four meditations on Wednesday and one on Friday. By Wednesday evening I had a much clearer idea of what was required and more familiarity with speaking into a camera - so I re-wrote the next day's reflection: the one which will be broadcast on Maundy Thursday.

In the photo you see Paul the cameraman who had come over with Lesley and Niall - an ever patient and hard-working crew!

Vocations Retreat

Just to let you know that bookings for next weekend's retreat at Wonersh close on Tuesday evening. Please send me an email if you would like to join us.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pope Urges Youth Work as a Priority

This today from ZENIT:

Make youth a priority in your work, Benedict XVI urged priests in a question-and-answer session with the clergy of the Diocese of Rome. The Holy Father said this Thursday during an audience with the Roman clergy in the Hall of Blessings, on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. His answers to nine questions were spontaneous. Responding to a question on youth, the Pope said that "young people must truly be the priority of our pastoral work, as they live in a world removed from God." "To find room in our cultural context for the encounter with Christ, with Christian life and with the life of faith is very difficult," the Pontiff said, adding that young people are in great need of support "to really be able to find this path." Benedict XVI said that it is necessary to make young people understand that Christ is not a "great prophet." In him, he said, we see "the face of God, the face of forgiveness and love."

Back to the Blogosphere

Given that I've not posted since last Saturday, I was expecting the site meter to register a radical reduction in the number of hits this week so I was surprised to see that we are still averaging just under eighty a day. Thanks for your patience and no, I haven't given up posting for Lent.
This week was even more hectic than usual. During half-term we can usually expect a quiet 'Open House' on Monday evening but in fact it went on non-stop way beyond the two hours usually allotted for it. Tuesday I was supposed to go to Wonersh for St John's Day but in the end it became impossible: I heard on Sunday of a friend from a former parish who had been taken seriously ill and was in intensive care. I was able to anoint him and spend some time with his family. Not being at Wonersh gave me time to put the finishing touches to the Holy Week reflections for EWTN.
Wednesday and Thursday were totally given over to filming with the EWTN crew (more about that in a future post perhaps). On Friday, in between visitors, spiritual direction, and the odd sick call, I was able to prepare the talk I was to give at St Josephs, New Malden to being their Lenten Mission which they have called "Catholicism for the Curious". It was well-attended with a good mixture of ages and nationalities present. Afterwards I met a young man considering a vocation to the priesthood - please keep him in your prayers.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Lenten Resolutions

Last year on Palm Sunday we all picked up palm branches and waved them (well, held them at least!), as we welcomed the Lord singing "Hosanna! to the Son of David". Those branches represented our desire to be united with Jesus, to receive him into our hearts and into our homes, to be his followers in the midst of the world.

We know that in Jerusalem two thousand years ago those shouts of welcome and joyful expectation were soon to change. The voices would be distorted into a clamour for him to be crucified. We can marvel at how fickle the people of the time were, how easily they let themselves be influenced by the subtle insinuations of a few powerful figures.

But with Lent round the corner we might ask ourselves what has happened to our enthusiasm? How have we changed since last Palm Sunday? In our parish we carefully collect all the palms that are left over and we store them in the crypt of the Church. This weekend we take them out and burn them in a special brazier then, using a pestle and mortar, we grind down the charred remains to make the ash for distribution on Ash Wednesday.

Our ash is blacker than that produced at ultra-high temperatures in industrial kilns and it is quite coarse. It is also an eloquent expression of the way in which our good intentions can so easily turn to ash and the need for us to begin again in Lent. I find that it is best to give some thought to Lenten Resolutions in the days before Ash Wednesday because if I leave it until the last minute I usually just rely on the typical fall-backs. Last year a priest friend of mine had a very effective resolution: not to check his emails until after breakfast. By keeping the computer off until later he found he had more time to focus on God in the morning. What will yours be?

Friday, February 16, 2007


Today I met up with seven men considering their vocation. One of them is currently working his way through the Maryvale Course for Religious and Pre-Seminarians. This is a modular course that covers the whole Catechism over the course of a year. The person doing this course is considering what his precise vocation may be. In particular, he is trying to discern whether his call lies with the secular clergy or in a religious community. This can be a very difficult thing to discern and my advice is always to begin by looking at one or the other - rather than both at the same time. This particular candidate is currently looking more towards religious life but stays in contact and finds the Maryvale Course very helpful.
Later I met up with one of this year's applicants. The process of getting all the paperwork sorted can be quite drawn out and this evening we had to discuss possible references. Unfortunately he wasn't able to stay for the Seekers' Meeting that followed this evening at 7.00pm. Lent is just round the corner and so the theme tonight was "The Cross". For the period of spiritual reading or lectio we took the Papal message for Lent. It was very good to have it read aloud and we really had a chance to reflect on it.
Numbers were a bit depleted tonight - there were five Seekers present, two of whom are applying this year. There are a further two applicants who weren't present bringing the total up to five. Please keep them in your prayers.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Latest Advertising Campaign for Southwark Vocations

Actually it's nothing to do with the post - but we need a picture occasionally!

On Monday I was working on the five talks I have to give next week for EWTN. I was rather concerned on Monday evening to find that I didn't seem to have made much progress and was glad to have set aside today to work on them as well. Apart from having to attend to a mechanic who came to replace the windscreen in my car, today was a free day (Thursday is my 'day off') so I celebrated Mass quite early (7.15am) and went to a nearby parish house where I knew I was unlikely to be disturbed.

This evening I am much happier! I've now worked out the topics for the five talks, and have sufficient notes on all of them to prepare something quite decent (I hope!). Preaching at last night's Evening of Recollection was very helpful - I always work out what I'm going to say, but I don't usually write out my sermons. To preach meditations I use little cards with notes on them. I realised last night that it would probably be best to have a hard copy of what I'm going to say. Fortunately I've also set aside time on Monday so I should be able to get them typed up then.

Tomorrow I will be attending the Deans' Meeting with the Area Bishop (our dean is away and has asked me to stand in). It includes lunch which will be nice. In the afternnon I am seeing three men about a possible priestly vocation and then, in the evening we have our Seekers' Meeting.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Evening of Recollection

Tonight I will be preaching at the monthly Evening of Recollection for men in the parish. We have two recollections each month, one for men the other for women. Sometimes I'm asked why we don't combine them. The answer I give usually is sufficient explanation: these monthly mini-retreats are meant to be challenging. We hear the points that are made and seek to apply them to our own life - not to that of our spouse. It would be awful to say something when giving a meditation that then became ammunition in an argument at home! I might remind the men, for example, that they should be considerate to their wives and express that consideration in practical details - by bringing a gift home on Valentine's Day. I wouldn't want a wife to complain, "See, even the priest said you should do such and such..."
Anyway, I won't in fact be venturing into such dangerous waters tonight. The first meditation will be about the Mass and the second will look at 'unity of life' or how we live our Christian faith with integrity. There will also be a talk given by a lay man and some time for examination of conscience and spiritual reading while I hear Confessions. The evening ends with Benediction at 9.00pm.
Pope John Paul once said that our parishes should become 'schools of prayer'. It is very much at the heart of priestly ministry that we should teach people to pray. Our Evenings of Recollection are one of the ways we seek to do this in our parish.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Seekers' Meeting

On Friday we have another Seekers' Meeting. These take place here in Balham each month and are for young men interested in the priesthood. You don't need to have decided that priesthood is definitely for you - that's not the nature of a Seekers' Meeting.

What happens is that we have some input on the nature of Christian life and prayer. In that way it can be of benefit to everyone who comes - whatever their vocation may be. Of course these meetings are for those for whom priesthood may be a possibility, so there is a priestly 'slant' on what we say, but it is very much for those who are still trying to discern God's will for their lives.

The Seekers' Meetings are a good way of coming in contact with other young men who are considering the priesthood as a possible vocation. These contacts are important: sometimes they can be a great source of encouragement, especially if we feel others don't understand why we might be thinking about priesthood.

Seekers' Meetings begin here at 7.00pm. After the more formal meeting we have a very informal supper together. It's useful to know how many to cater for, so if you would like to come please let me know. There is no charge & no obligation! You can email me at Southwarkvocations.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wonersh Retreat

Each year Southwark Vocations organises a retreat at St John's Seminary, Wonersh for anyone thinking of a vocation to the priesthood. To join us for the retreat you do not have to be certain that you have a priestly vocation. It is a time of prayer and reflection, an opportunity to step back from the pressures of daily life in order to ask God what he is asking of us.

The thought of applying for the priesthood can be disconcerting and even a little frightening. By holding the retreat at Wonersh we are introduced to the seminary and have a chance to meet seminarians. The questions we ask ourselves were probably once asked by those currently preparing for priesthood.

I would like to encourage you to join us for the retreat. It begins on the evening of Friday 2nd March and ends after lunch on Sunday 4th March.

For more information, or to book a place please email me at Southwarkvocations.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


On Ash Wednesday and the day after there will be a recording crew from EWTN, Mother Angelica's Catholic television network, here in the parish. They are coming to film a series of five meditations that will be broadcast during Holy Week.
I recently had a 'phone call from EWTN asking whether there was any chance of arranging for a 'congregation' of forty or so young people who could provide a backdrop. Apparently it helps the editors to have some 'B-roll' that they can cut in and out of.
So here's the deal: We invite you to join us for Holy Mass at 9.30am on Ash Wednesday. After Mass the Church has to be prepared as for Holy Week (statues veiled etc). Then you provide the congregation until lunch time, when we treat you to an Ash Wednesday lunch of soup, rols & cheese.
For more information contact us at Southwarkvocations.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Great Silence

The Carthusians are one of the strictest orders in the Church. The monks live in silence most of the day except for the time theyspend in prayer together. It is a very specific, contemplative vocation, and not one for the faint-hearted!
Recently a documentary was made on the Grande Chartreuse near Grenoble in the French alps. It is over three hours long, but here's a little taster, courtesy of Youtube.

And here's a review of the film by Fr Tim Finigan who lectures at Parkminster, the Carthusian Abbey in southern England.

Discovering Priesthood

Bishop Paul with the Group

Today we had a great group of lads join us for the first 'Discovering Priesthood Day' of 2007. These days are for youngsters between 14 and 18 years of age and are designed to help them think about the theme of vocation and also give them an insight into the life and ministry of a diocesan priest.

Bishop Paul Hendricks joined us for the day and was amused by the morning's vocation presentation drawing on themes from the Lord of the Rings. He celebrated Mass for us at midday and spoke encouragingly about the vocation to priesthood and all that it entails.

Fifteen young people joined us for the day, a good number for a healthy game of football after lunch. This was followed by the film 'Fishers of Men', I was impressed that everyone there had already seen it, and even more that they were all keen to see it again. It led into a discussion about priesthood, including consideration of why some people might be hesitant about applying today. Interestingly, it was repeated several times that fear of what one's friends would say would put some people off. This was more of an issue that 'what a priest has to give up'. To my mind it shows the importance of vocations events such as today's.

In the afternoon we also had a great session of "Bishop on the Hot Seat". We'd invited written questions for Bishop Paul to answer which were interspersed with questions from the floor. There were some great questions: "Now that you're a bishop would you say that you've reached the height of your career or is there something left you want to do?" Bishop Paul gave thoughtful answers to each of them gently bringing out points that would make them think and encourage them in their vocational journey.
All in all it was a great day and we thank you for your prayers. Now we look forward to our next one which will be in June.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Former Anglican Clergymen

Graham Leonard
former Bishop of London who later became a Catholic and is now a Catholic priest.
This morning I had a very interesting meeting at Archbishop's House about the procedures to be followed when a married, former Anglican clergyman asks to be considered for priesthood. In recent years Southwark, along with probably all the dioceses in this country, has been greatly enriched by the presence of convert Anglican clergymen. To facilitate their ordination as Catholic priests Rome gave a special permission for a committee of English bishops to review each case and send their recommendations to the Holy See. I had no idea of what the procedures were and was very grateful to have it all explained to me by one of my predecessors as Vocations Director.

Sometimes people question the appropriateness of ordaining married men as Catholic priests. I would make three points. First of all, there is nothing new in this: Easter Rite Catholic Churches have long since ordained married men. Secondly, permission has been given in cases such as this since the days of Pius XII. Thirdly we are talking about men who entered ministry sincerely believing that they were following God's will as regards their vocation. Only later, and sometimes very painfully, have they come to the realisation that the ecclesial body in which they ministered did not enjoy the fulness of Christianity which subsists within the Catholic Church. It seems entirely apropriate therefore, that the Church in her maternal compassion, and after careful consideration, should allow some the possibility of ordination and ministry within the Catholic Church.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Discovering Priesthood Day

Today I've been catching up on emails. I've managed to get my in-box down to 66 items. It sounds a lot (I started with over 200 this morning!). The reason it builds up is that if I'm expecting a reply to my answer I leave the original in the in-tray. Anyway after a couple of solid hours I've managed to file things away and get it looking more respectable.
I've also been working on some of the content for the Saturday's 'Discovering Priesthood Day'. We are expecting about fifteen young men between the ages of 14 & 18 as well as a couple of helpers and a number of priests. These days are an important initiative in the diocese and I would like to commend them to your prayers.

6 Habits of Highly Effective Recruiting

The National Office of Vocation have just sent vocations directors this article which was published by Zenit, the Vatican news information service. It reports on an article summarising research into effective vocations promotion in the United States:

Dioceses reporting successful rates of vocational recruitment have something in common, says the National Catholic Register.
In a summary of reporter Tim Drake's article "Vocations Surge" in a recent issue, the Register compiled a list of "six habits of highly effective dioceses."
The first habit was putting the Eucharist at the center of vocational work.
In an editorial the newspaper explained: "Eucharistic adoration is especially effective because it draws sharp attention to the great gift that makes the priesthood so extraordinary and so needed -- we have the priesthood to thank for God's real presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
"And the dynamic of silent Eucharistic adoration inevitably leads to the question, 'What do you want me to do, Lord?'"
According to the newspaper, the Web site Vocation.com worked with American bishops to deliver Vatican monstrances to dioceses to promote adoration in parishes. "Program leaders like David Craig have been astounded to see parishes produce their first vocations ever after Eucharistic adoration was introduced," the editorial stated.
The second habit cited by the newspaper was the invitation. According to a U.S. bishops' survey, 78% of those being ordained began considering the priesthood after an invitation to do so from a priest.
Third, seminaries must be faithful to the magisterium in order to attract candidates. The Register editors mentioned three seminaries that are booming: St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Maryland; St. Vincent in Latrobe, Pennsylvania; and St. Gregory the Great in Seward, Nebraska.
Seminaries are not the only element that needs to be faithful. Candidates to the priesthood also come from faithful families.
The editorial cited a key role played by fathers, explaining: "There are beautiful exceptions, but the rule is that priests come from committed Catholic families in which the father is an active player in the family's faith."
Youth Day
The fifth and sixth habits reported by the Register are interaction with priests and attendance at a World Youth Day.
Youth need to meet and interact with priests or "it may never occur to many young men that the priesthood is a life that would appeal to them," the article explained.
Key among the venues for this interaction is altar serving: "For many priests, serving at the altar was the first place they first came to know men who had been called and understood what the call entailed."
And the "World Youth Day factor is very real," the editorial said. It explained that these events give young men the chance to see that they can have "a big, positive impact on the world -- one that lasts for eternity."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ministry to Priests

Yesterday I was at a 'Ministry to Priests' meeting. Some people have the mistaken impression that the life of a diocesan priest is a lonely one. I think they imagine that we celebrate Holy Mass and then have nothing to do all day long! The truth is quite different and one of the joys of priesthood is meeting up with fellow priests who are engaged in the same mission, even though they may be exercising their priesthood in different ways.
Our Ministry to Priests Group meets up about every six weeks. We have three parish priests in the group, a theology professor, a priest involved in full-time doctoral research, full-time hospital and school chaplains and a couple of priests involved in vocations work. So the conversation is always stimulating and rewarding.

Yesterday we had an excellent paper on the philosophical background to Humanae Vitae. It considered the significance of Humanae Vitae and also why the philosophical formation current in seminaries prior to, and at the time of, the document meant that some priests were inadequately prepared to receive it. It also considered the great contribution of John Paul II's personalism as well as his Theology of the Body. In a fascinating reflection at the end of the talk we were invited to consider the importance of 'reverence'. The document was published at an iconoclastic time and the interesting suggestion was made that just as we have seen a diminishing of the sense of reverence in the religious sphere so also the 'contraceptive mentality' may have led to a lack of reverence of spouses one for the other. It would be interesting to develop this further, perhaps as part of the a spirituality of marriage.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Missionaries of Charity

This morning I left early in order to get over to the Missionaries of Charity house near the Cathedral. Sr Amada, the Provincial, had asked me to celebrate Holy Mass and to give some talks on the Sacraments. The Superiors of all the Communities in this province are staying there for a study week, including one sister who has come over from Iceland.

There isn't a room large enough for a class so we have our talks in the Chapel. The photo shows a few of the sisters getting ready for the second talk on 'The Sacraments in General'. In the afternoon we have a talk on the Sacrament of Penance followed by one on the Eucharist. I'm always happy to help the sisters if I can. They do a wonderful work in whole-hearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.

I was only recently back in the diocese after my ordination when this house was opened. There was some consternation from the local authority and the Mayor of the time, who was a Catholic, tried to drum up support for the sisters at a public meeting. The sisters were asking to open a house in a run down part of London. One very pompous official peered over his glasses and asked the then Provi9ncial in a condescending tone: "Could give an account to the assembly of precisely what research you've undertaken that suggests there may be a need for your 'work' in Southwark?" "I opened my eyes", was the immediate reply. Priceless!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The First Woodpecker

I don't know when woodpeckers usually appear in England but I saw this fellow just a few feet from me this morning. I can't remember seeing once this early in the year and suppose his appearance must be due to the mild winter. I'm very lucky where I live. Not many Londoners can boast woodpeckers in their gardens! This morning was a race against time to get the newsletter completed and ready for printing. After opening the Church and spending some time in prayer I came back to the house intending to get the computer on, but instead I found myself fetching the camera!
The morning Mass took longer than usual, On the first Saturday of the month we have a servers' practice. They all serve at the Mass which inevitably adds to the length. Afterwards we had the customary 'Blessing of St Blaise', a blessing of throats which is given on his Feast Day.

This morning, unusually for a Saturday we had a baptism. Nicolas Maria, pictured here in the arms of his proud parents, today was reborn in the waters of baptism as a child of God.

After Mass we also welcomed the students currently on the Maryvale Catechists' Course. This is a two-year course that leads to a qualification as a catechist approved by the Congregation for Education.

In this photo we see some of the second year students who were having a class on the parables of St Luke.

And here we see some of the first year students at a class on Christology given by Lionel Gracey. Lionel specialises in using the traditions of Christian art to illustrate doctrinal points.
After lunch there was time for a quick trip to Thornton's bookshop on Fulham Road. Sadly this specialist supplier of second hand Catholic books is closing down. There is currently a sale on with everything at half price.
After this evening's Mass I popped round to check on the building where the new Vocations Office is going to be located. It will be in a parish house that until recently was rented out. There's quite a lot of work to be done to make it fit for purpose but I'm sure we'll get there before too long. Finally I had a meeting with a parishioner who markets website management software. We want to update the Southwark Vocations site, so watch this space...

Friday, February 02, 2007

National Office for Vocation

Fr Paul & Judith logged on to Southwarkvocations

Having only recently taken over as Vocations Director it was good to have a visit today from Fr Paul Embery and Judith Eydmann from the National Office for Vocation. Fr Paul was able to take me through the requirements of the applications process and answer some questions that have arisen about the various forms that need to be filled in. We were also able to chat informally and exchange ideas about vocations promotion and youth ministry in general. It was nice to hear that they appreciate this Blog and very much support it, and also to hear independently that it is praised by other agencies of the Bishop's Conference. Judith is the development co-ordinator of the National Office. She contacted me recently looking for photographs that could be used in promotional material. I was able to let her browse the computer was Fr Paul and I prepared lunch.

The NOV website has lots of information that might be of use to anyone considering their vocation, whatever it may be. It also looks after the site dedicated specifically to priesthood in England and Wales. They were particularly interested in the work being done in both Southwark and Leeds to promote the idea of a priestly vocation among younger men. Next week we have our first 'Discovering Priesthood Day' of the New Year (for under 18s) and I've promised to send them a report.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Joy of God's Plan

Last night I was at Westminster Cathedral Hall for the launch of "The Joy of God's Plan", a new DVD on fertility awareness produced by the Good Counsel Network in Luton and the Catholic Truth Society (CTS). I didn't get any usable photos so I've pinched this one from Fr Tim's blog.

Archbishop Kevin introduced the DVD by giving an excellent presentation on selfless love. People very much appreciated the fact that he gave a theological talk rather than simply and encouraging 'ferverino'.

The Cathedral Hall was packed with lots of people standing at the back. It was good to see people of all ages there to celebrate what one person on the DVD referred to as the Church's 'best kept secret'.

In our parish we always promote Natural fertility Awareness. There is an advert for it each week in our newsletter and we always dedicate part of our marriage preparation course to it. One of our young parishioners is now a trained NFA teacher. Nicole Parker (nee Syed) says she has a stready stream of clients from this parish.

As a priest, it is a special joy for me to see how discovering Natural Fertility Awareness has transformed the relationship many of our couples have. An element of selfishness is removed, there is a new depth of communication, of consideration. A new joy and a new, more profound love. I hope the DVD will be a source of inspiration to many more young couples in the Church.