Friday, October 31, 2008

Stephen Whittaker RIP

Could I please ask your prayers for the repose of the soul of Stephen Whittaker. Stephen was twenty five years old when he died unexpectedly of heart failure. Although originally from Stockport, Stephen applied to join the Southwark diocese four years ago while he was working in London. He was accepted and was the first Southwark student to be sent to Valladolid for the propaedeutic year, an experience he really enjoyed. Having completed his year in Spain Stephen started at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, and was currently in his third year of formation.
Because he didn't have a home in the diocese Stephen was welcomed by the parish priest and people of St Raphael's, Surbiton, as a parish base. He very much appreciated the welcome he received there and often spoke about the warmth and kindness he experienced. For some time, however, Stephen had been thinking about his family and friends back home and towards the end of last term sought the Archbishop's permission to transfer to Salford, his home diocese. Thus he started this academic year as the first Salford student to train at St John's.
Stephen went home to Manchester for the seminary half-term and died in his sleep that night. His death is a great shock to his family and friends and also to the College community at St John's. Apart from celebrating a Requiem Mass on Thursday, the College has entered a period of mourning gathering together each day to pray the midday office for the dead.
On Wednesday I spoke with Bishop Terence Brain who spoke of Stephen's joyful personality, a trait which endeared him to everyone. He also assured me of his prayers for the repose of his soul. Please join us in prayer for Stephen, and also for the consolation of his father and for the other members of his family.
The Funeral Mass will take place at 12.00 noon on Monday 3rd November at:

St Joseph's Catholic Church
23 Gorton Road
Stockport SK5 6AZ

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vocations Directors' Conference

If I seem to be piling up the posts it's because I'm going to be away from the parish again this week and probably won't have much internet access. I hate being away so much, not because I don't enjoy what I do but because parishes are unforgiving creatures: the mail piles up and more and more people leave messages wanting appointments. They will, however, have to wait until next week because in a couple of hours I leave for Ushaw College, the seminary on Ushaw Moor just outside Durham. I'm going up for the Vocations Directors' Conference. This is a very useful annual meeting that not only gives us a chance to swap ideas and experiences but also lets us discuss issues and formulate policy.
In recent years a lot of new vocations directors have been appointed in the dioceses of England and Wales and it has been interesting to see how new blood has contributed to a new enthusiasm in the work of actively promoting vocations. There are even a number of dioceses who now try to promote young vocations and it is no longer unusual to see vocations directors at prayer festivals and events organised by the New Movements. This must surely be a good thing.
I look forward to the meeting and will now switch off the computer to pack before the long drive up north!

Faith, Family and the Future Conference

On Saturday some of us drove up to London Colney for the Faith, Family and the Future Conference. I was scheduled to lead a workshop on the Saturday night and then to give a talk on Sunday morning. The conference was attended by about two hundred people, including children. A special programme of activities was laid on for them while their parents attended the talks. The girls were particularly triumphant when they beat the boys in the tug o' war!
We'd missed the morning sessions but were able to hear Fr Lauiz Ruscillo talk about passing on the faith in his inimitable style. We also heard Fr Aidan Nicholls. My talk coincided with Fr Jeremy Davies speaking on evangelising at Speakers' Corner, so we missed that one.
The workshop on Saturday was entitled 'Discerning your future spouse'. On Sunday the title I was given was 'Responding to the Call in our Secular World'. Afterwards I took some of the lads home and met up with Fr John Armitage. It was good to see him again and catch up on news.

Back from Spain

On Friday I got back from five days in Madrid. The return was a bit complicated: a suspected terrorist attack had closed City Airport so after a long delay on the ground our flight was eventually re-directed to Stansted. This was particularly unfortunate as I had some lads coming over that evening to discuss a vocations promotion project. Luckily it was half-term at the seminary and I was able to get one of our students to look after them until I eventually arrived.
The week in Madrid went well. On Wednesday we had a tour of the factory and met with a number of architects, designers and project managers. We were also able to see the progress of an impressive current project: the construction of a replica of the baldicchino in St Peter's Basilica for a new Church in America. We saw the carved wood pillars and presumed that these were then to be painted but in fact, it was explained to us, they were to be used to make molds so that they could cast bronze pillars. It was very impressive. After lunch Fr Peter explained some of the principles employed by his art andarchitecture committee and, while encouraging the company to work in England, also alerted them to some of the practical considerations that would have to be kept in mind. In the afternoon we went to visit some recent projects and I was particularly surprised to find a young lady praying in one of the chapels we visited who used to come to Mass at the Holy Ghost - as they say in Spain: 'The world is a handkerchief!'.
On Thursday we were picked up by the Architect for Toledo Cathedral and also one of Spain's foremost restorers. We drove to Toledo where we were treated to a three and a half hour tour of the Cathedral, with our guide able to summon keys at will to let us into the parts tourists don't ever get to see. Antonio, who was responsible for some of the restoration work, was a fascinating guide particularly to the wonderful works of art hanging in the Sacristy and beyond.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Where I will be this week

Hopefully a dose of 'Nightnurse' will help shake off the flu-like cold that really took hold of me yesterday because tomorrow I have to catch a flight to Madrid. A friend of mine, Fr Peter Newby, chairs the Art and Architecture committee for the Archdiocese of Westminster. He has to advise and oversee Church re-orderings. Currently he is engaged in the important project to restore St Patrick's, Soho. Fr Alexander Sherbrooke is carrying out a tremendous apostolate in one of the seediest parts of London and the plan is both to repair the delapidated Church and to provide facilities for the various activities that go on there.

Fr Newby can't impose anything on parish priests but he has produced some sensible guidelines for the priests of his diocese. These days it's not often a priest gets a chance to build a church from scratch but being an architect himself Fr Newby is very interested in the whole 'form and function' debate. We will be staying the parish of Our Lady of Cana which has a large modern Church to cope with its Sunday Mass attendance of some 15,000. If there's time we might also visit the parish of St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, another vibrant parish with a new church building.

On Wednesday we are going to visit Talleres de Arte Granda just outside Alcala de Henares. TAG has a team of architects and also a factory for both the design and production of ecclesiastical art. Many parishes in England, including my own, have vestments and chalices from TAG. Their Tabernacles are second to none and are a truly fitting place to repose the Blessed Sacrament. Our Sacristy was also designed and built by TAG. The purpose of our visit is to let Fr Newby see the quality of workmanship TAG offers because it cannot be matched here in England. Apart from a tour of the factory we also have scheduled a meeting with the architectural team which should be very interesting and we plan to visit some of their current projects in Madrid. On Thursday we are going to Toledo for a tour by Jaime Castenon, the Cathedral architect.

It will be a busy week but, since I'm acting as interpreter, I hope it doesn't involved too much technical language! On Friday I get back to the parish to discuss a film project with some members of the Quo Vadis Group before heading off to London Colney on Saturday where I'm down to give a couple of vocations talks at the Family Conference.

Friday, October 17, 2008

St John's Association

Yesterday I was at the seminaru for the St John's Association day. It began with the celebration of Mass presided over by the Rector. After Mass there were refreshments with a fine lunch at 1.00pm. There are a number of similar events in the course of the year and the one best attended is usually the AGM. It was good, however, to see priests from all over the province and I think their presence and example would have been an encouragement to the seminarians. The Student Dean and the Rector both spoke after the meal. The Rector mentioned that there are currently 36 students in the house and that a third of them come from Southwark.

I was able to chat with a couple of our seminarians both before and during the meal. After lunch I tried to get round to see everyone else. I was pleased to see how well the new men are settling in and to note a general upbeat enthusiasm amongst the Southwark men. In some ways seminaries are like schools and by this point in the term people can be quite tired so I wasn't surprised to hear that everyone is looking forward to half term next week. Some are going to spend it quietly at home and in their parishes while others are going to exotic places such as the Lake District and Wales! There's a group of seven who will be walking in the Lakes and I must say I would like to be going with them. I used to visit the Lakes a lot and always enjoyed my walking holidays up there.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Year of St Paul

To mark the Year of St Paul we have organised a series of lectures on his writings. They will take place at 8.00pm on Thursday evenings during November and everyone is welcome. The talks will be given by Fr Jerome Bertram Cong.Orat. Fr Jerome is an excellent scripture scholar as well as being a gifted and entertaining speaker. He gave an outstanding talk here as part of our 'Catholicism for the Curious' series.

The November talks will take us on a systematic journey through the Pauline texts:

6th November
First Difficulties
: The Letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians
13th November
Knotty Problems: The Letters to the Romans and the Galatians
20th November
Organising the Mission
: The Letters to Timothy, Titus and the Philippians
27th November
In Captivity
: The Letters to the Colossians, Philemon and the Ephesians

I hope you will mention the talks to your friends and join us if you are free. I am sure you won't be disappointed. The talks will take place in The Holy Ghost School, Nightingale Square, London SW12 8QN.
There's plenty of parking and we are only a few minute's walk from Balham Rail and Underground stations.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Forum Christi

We had a good turn out tonight for the first meeting of our Young Adults Group this term. We had drinks together after the evening Mass and then watched the film Bella, which I've posted on before. I was glad to have this film as part of the Culture of Life, partocularly since some of my parishioners have been telling me about the new "Brideshead" film.

If you haven't read Brideshead Revisited you really must. It is the story of grace and salvation in spite of human waywardness and it is a magnificent novel. When it was turned into a series in the early 1980's I was an undergraduate in Oxford, where a large part was filmed. I remember how the streets of Oxford would be devoid of students on a Wednesday night when it was on television. The response of the secular media at the time was fascinating. A reviewer in the Telegraph described Lord Marchmain's deathbed confession as "sickening" (presumably he preferred him to go to hell!).

Sadly the new film is the story as it would be re-told by such reviewers. It has become a shabby anti-Catholic rant. What a pity! But what do we expect if we don't encourage young Catholics to get into the mainstream and create a culture of life? Thank God for Bella and the work of Metanoia Productions!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blessed Dominic Barberi

I got back on Friday night from a very good retreat. The preacher asked us at the beginning to spend some time discerning our 'predominant fault' - a salutary exercise. Where does one begin?! We weren't a great number - only six retreatants - but since it was silent that didn't matter. During meal times we listened to tapes of Geroge Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II. I'd heard it before and have read the book but I was very pleased to have the chance to listen again. I was able to spend some time in prayer every day for the men I know considering a vocation to the priesthood, asking that the be given the grace to become dedicated and holy priests.

Knowing that there would be time to read as well as pray I took with me Alfred Wilson's biography of Bl.Dominic Barberi. I was very glad I did. Until then I just knew of Blessed Dominic as the Italian Passionist who had a burning desire to evangelise the English, was mocked for his poor grasp of the language, and ended up receiving Newman into the Church. I didn't realise that he was also a clear-thinking and perspicacious theologian and philosopher who was able to see through false ideas at a time they were being embraced by all round him. His confreres even accused him of unorthodoxy for daring to disagree with the prevalent opinions. Dominic responded with total humility, not compromising on the truth but also never attacking his accusers. He patiently waited for the judgement of the Church which inevitably went in his favour. There is a lesson there for us all.

The other thing I didn't know about Blessed Dominic was that, having grown up as an oprhaned and unlettered farm boy, he struggled with his vocation - particularly once he discovered the fairer sex! Dominic was, on the one hand, convinced of his vocation to become a Passionist and, on the other, easily smitten by a number of girls of his acquaintance. He would vacillate between a desire to serve God and a natural desire to be one with the object of his affections. In his autobiography he writes of one girl: "I had become so bemused that, if I had been given the choice between giving her up or losing God eternally, without any hesitation I would have chosen to lose God. I was firmly convinced that in her company I could have been happy, even in hell".

Although he had developed habits of prayer, Dominic found that he easily gave up mental prayer once he struck up a relationship. This should have been sufficient warning to him - if the relationship were of God he would have wanted to pray more! However, he never abandoned his practice of praying the Holy Rosary every day. In the end, of course, he realised that he had to embrace God's will. He attributed it to the maternal intercession of Our Lady and to the fact that he had always been faithful to the Rosary.

When Newman was thinking of becoming a Catholic he had already been convinced intellectually. What he looked for was the mark of holiness. In this poor Passionist he found that mark and so was received in the little chapel at Littlemore, having spent two days making his confession. It reminds me of something Pope John Paul said about Mother Theresa: the world today needs not simply the arguments of reason and logic. It needs above all the example of holiness.

Monday, October 06, 2008

On Retreat

Each year I get away from the parish and all my other activities to make my annual retreat. It's a time to withdraw and spend time with the Lord in order to take stock, renew my interior life and prepare myself for the following year with some concrete resolutions. I always look forward to the annual Retreat and my monthly Day of Recollection. Without them we could get so taken up in the work of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the work.

This aeyr I am attending the priests' retreat which will take place at Thornycroft Hall near Macclesfield. It begins this afternoon and ends on Friday so there won't be any blogging this week. Spiritual activities at Thornycroft Hall are looked after by priests of Opus Dei. There is a whole programme of such activities for men and women throughout the year and its certainly worth checking the website to see if anything suits you.

Please say a prayer for me. I will be praying for you.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Quo Vadis Group

Yesterday evening we had the inaugural meeting of our new Quo Vadis Group. There were seventeen young people who came down for the meeting and a further seven who had come over from the Cardinal Vaughan Schola to sing at the Mass.
It was a great evening. Fr Dominic, who is looking after the group for me, preached an encouraging sermon reminding us of some of our World Youth Day experiences. We then had supper together in his new presbytery amidst his boxes and his predecessor's 'remains'! Fr Dominic had only been there two days but he said the meeting had helped him already being to feel at home. After supper he spoke about the purpose of the group and its forthcoming pilgrimage to Lisieux. Then I gave a reflection on the 'defects' of St Therese! I was able to give out some Holy Land Rosaries from one of our benefactors and encourage them to take care of their devotion to Our Lady. I was also able to pass on a special blessing from Cardinal Pell. I had seen him a few days earlier and told him about the new group and that it had taken a motto from his sermon during the opening Mass at World Youth Day: one mission is worth a thousand possibilities.
After Night Prayer and Benediction we stayed for a hot chocolate and then those who had travelled furthest came back to Balham where they stayed overnight in the Vocations House. This morning we had prayer together at 8.30am and, after Mass, a day dedicated to apologetics. It was one of those 'priests on the hot seat' experiences with me trying to answer the excellent questions they came up with.
This evening Fr Marcus came back to the parish for a farewell Mass. It was good to see the Church full and I was pleased that lots came into the school hall for a reception afterwards. The cake was well laced with spirits by the ladies of the parish - I hope he didn't eat too much because he is driving back to Tunbridge Wells tonight!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Called From the Crowd

Here's a vocations video from my friends over in Melbourne. Against the background of the World Youth Day Cross we are introduced to a number of short reflections on the priesthood. 'Called from the Crowd' is the current theme of the vocations promotion in Melbourne.