Saturday, May 31, 2008

Dominican Resurgence?

I've noticed an increasing number of girls who talk to me about a vocation ask what I know of the Dominicans. That is great. I always find it hard when someone says: "I'd like to enter religious life but don't know where I should go". Religious life is so varied that it helps to have an idea of whether one is called to a life of solitude, of active service, of study, of teaching or of whole hearted service to the poorest of the poor. A number of young women find the Dominican life attractive because it involves community life, prayer and active service. This video about the Nashville Dominicans shows why it could be a particularly attrasctive way of life to a young woman:

Of course, Nashville would be a long way to go so I feel obliged to point out that there are a number of Dominican communities here in England. The only one I've visited is in Hampshire and many of you may know St Jacinthe OP who seems to have boundless energy for youth activities. Here's an inspiring photograph from their website which you can access by clicking here:

Do get in touch with the sisters if you are thinking about religious life. I am sure they can help you discern God's will.

Friday, May 30, 2008


On Sunday Bishop Paul Hendricks will be in the parish to confirm twenty nine of our young people. Recently I spoke to the group about the need to consider which specific path to holiness God had in mind for them. God wants to do something great with each one of us. I thought this video carries an appropriate theme. Please keep our young people in your prayers.

Vocations Forum

Yesterday I attended the Vocations Forum organised at Westminster Cathedral by the National Office for Vocation. This year to mark the tenth anniversary of In Verbo Tuo the theme was "Sowing the Seed". In the morning Fr Paul Embery and Judith Eydmann gave us an account of the work of the National Office over the last year. We then split into smaller groups and discussed a few questions posed by the National Office. I was very pleased to meet up again in my group with Fr David Foster OSB from Downside. Fr David and I studied together in Rome in the late eighties.

Having reflected on the various questions we then had to feed back to a plenary session. Judith took charge of the flip-chart and will be producing notes for the participants. It was quite interesting to hear the concerns and interests of the various participants. There seemed to be a general consensus that we need to work more to develop our ministry to young adults in the Church.

After Holy Mass in the Cathedral followed by lunch, we met again to discuss questions that had been posed by some of the participants themselves. If I'm honest, I probably found this and the feedback which followed less helpful. Personally I'm of the view that it's a mistake to complain about what others aren't doing or to expect other people to act on what we think ought to be done. Someone once said "If it's worth doing it's worth doing badly". I'd add "If it's worth doing - go ahead and do it".

I also learnt (the hard way) that people can get very touchy if you don't mention religious life and consecrated life in the same breath and also if you don't know your nun from your sister! Ah well. Anyway, here's a picture of a very pleasant Ursuline sister whom I met on the day.

I must say I found the whole day very enlightening. It was good to meet old friends and also to be given a greater insight into the problems faced by Religious Congregations and Orders - oh yes, and err Secular Institutes too. (Apologies if I've left anyone out!).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ad Multos Annos!

Yesterday a group of us got together to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Fr John Hartley, a Southwark priest who was ordained in 1958 on the Feast of the Visitation. Fr John also has two brothers who are priests in the diocese.

The celebration began with a glass of champagne followed by a festal lunch. It was good to see priests of all ages join together to celebrate with one of their brothers. After lunch we had a bit of a get-together when Fr John told us about the various parishes he had been in as a curate and spoke of the wonderful example he had received from his parish priests. We then had a period of prayer with one of the priests preaching a meditation on the dignity of the priesthood and on priestly fidelity. He began with the words "Today we thank our Lord for the wonderful way he has wanted to continue the work of our salvation and the great dignty of the priestood". He also spoke of the joy of being a priest even though it was a vocation that involved sacrifice: "We are his priests and we are called to accompany Jesus in his Passion. We are called to offer our lives with him".

After Benediction we had tea with a rich celebratory cake that Fr John is picture cutting here:

Knowing Fr John, he would have been very pleased with a celebration that focused on priesthood rather than just on himself. He would also have been pleased that those present ranged from well over fifty years down to just a couple of years of priestly ministry. Sometimes young men worry that priesthood could be a lonely life but yesterday's celebration reminds us that a priest is never alone. He is always accompanied by Christ and his brothers in the presbyterate.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cardinal Rigali's Vocation Message

When I was a seminarian in Rome I received Candidacy in the Church of the Venerable English College at the hands of Archbishop Justin Rigali. At that time he was Rector of what used to be known as the Nobilicum, the college where those joining the Vatican Diplomatic Service completed their training. I met the Archbishop on several occasions and was pleased to hear that he had been made a Cardinal. I was always struck by his faith and his great love for the priesthood so I was especially pleased to find this message he produced for Vocations Sunday.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pyrenees 08

On Saturday evening I got back from a week in the Pyrenees. I'd gone with a few seminarians and young men considering their vocation. It was a great week even if the weather was a bit wet for this time of year. On Monday we were able to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes and were all pleased to be there in the jubilee year. On Tuesday we had a breath-taking walk in the Ordesa national park. Wednesday gave me a chance to visit some old friends in Pamplona. It was a long drive but we had lunch at the seminary and then stopped in for vespers at Lleyre an ancient Benedictine monastery. It was great to have a guided tour from one of the monks. On Thursday we went for another walk in the Vale of Aniscolo, calling in to visit the medieval town of Ainsa on the way back. There we met the parish priest who let us up the bell tower of the Church and who encouraged the smokers among up to kick the habit! Finally on Friday we visited Barbastro and Alquezar. In Barbastro we were given a very moving tour of the Claretian 'Museum of the Martyrs' - a museum dedicated to the fifty-one Claretian seminarians and their superiors who were executed during the civil war because they refused to take their cassocks off and renounce their faith. They were all in their twenties and were sustained in their agony by being able to secretly receive Holy Communion despite the order given that they be prevented from having two things: prayer and Communion. The museum preserves some of their last messages. They are very moving and manifest a tremendous love. I hope to post some of them in the future.

These trips can help confirm young men in their desire to be priests. Plese keep them in your prayers. And enjoy the photos.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Enthusiasm is Important

Last week I was away for a somewhat belated post-Easter break. I was pleased to go to the Pyrenees with some young men who are considering a vocation to the priesthood. Unfortunately my camera's battery needs to be re-charged before I can access the photographs so I'll have to wait before posting about the trip.
Meanwhile, here's my response to the penultimate question for the recent article on vocations:

Q. What more do you think priests could do to promote vocations?
R. When I first told a priest I was thinking of the priesthood I was sixteen or seventeen years old. For me it had been a hard decision: I was giving up my life, handing over my future. As priests we should think about how we would react today if a young man presented himself in similar circumstances. He may or may not have a vocation. But he should be received warmly and with encouragement. At some point, like Peter, he may be overwhelmed by the sense of his own unworthiness. Like Peter, he needs to hear the words, ‘Do not be afraid’. Sometimes as priests we do not recognise how important our response will be. It may be too soon to pop champagne corks, but we should be very, very careful not to put someone off by our indifference or lack of enthusiasm.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Newspaper Interview

In this post you can read my response to the third question posed in a recent interview for The Priest. By following the link to St Patrick's you'll be able to read some of the talks given there by various speakers as part of the enormously successful Theology of the body series.

Q. You said that we can be too ‘teachy’. Do you mean that we put too much emphasis on the Catechism with young people?
R. Not at all. In fact I think the opposite is true. Recently I gave a talk on “Sex, Condoms and the Catholic Church” in St Patrick’s, Soho. I was amazed that over sixty young adults turned up. These are the John Paul Generation. They accept the Church’s teaching but they want to understand it. If they understand it they will assimilate it and express it in their lives. That way faith will become culture. We must teach the Truth but we must also respond to the questions and challenges young people face. Pope John Paul said we have to become ‘experts in humanity’. I think that also means that we have to listen to their questions and offer answers informed by the Church’s teaching. It is interesting that I meet more and more young people with a great interest in apologetics – something that after the Council an older generation regarded as somewhat passé. If they begin to feel their questions have answers they will start asking more profound ones and that will lead to a great generosity towards God in their lives.

Promoting Vocations

It's funny how easily we succumb to national caricatures. The English are supposed to be very punctual and pragmatic. In fact I once met a Spanish priest who said the very thought of an Englishman with a timetable made his skin creep.
Perhaps our tendency to programme everything and fill every spare moment with activity of one sort or another is not such a good thing after all - as Pope John Paul so often reminded us - being comes before action. I've just come across this video on Love to Be Catholic about 'Quo Vadis Days' - a vocations promotion week for teenagers in an American diocese. It takes place in a beautiful outdoor setting and includes plenty of hikes, swimming and general fun as well as the more serious reflection on priesthood and vocation. To me at least it seems like an ideal form of vocations promotion for that age group. Message to my fellow English Vocations Promoters: we should take note!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Camino de Santiago

After the 6.45am Mass this morning we were able to give the special Pilgrim's Blessing to Gareth Thomas, who was leaving for the next stage of his walk from Worcester to Santiago de Compostella along the ancient Way of St James. Yesterday he stopped at Westminster Cathedral for a photo opportunity with Whizz Kids. Although the purpose of the pilgrimage is primarily spiritual, Gareth is also hoping that it will raise some money for this charity which provides specially adapted wheelchairs for children with disabilities.
Gareth is something of an expert on the Way of St James and has walked it a number of times before, although never all the way from England. The Camino has grown in popularity in recent years and a number of books have been published giving it a New Age interpretation. Gareth is hoping that he will have lots of opportunities to help fellow pilgrims understand its profound Christian roots and to interpret it as a journey towards heaven.
The reason Gareth started from Worcester is that the grave of a medieval pilgrim was recently unearthed in the Cathedral. The Cathedral authorities have made an exact replica of the staff placed in the pilgrim's coffin and they have entrusted it to Gareth to be carried all the way to Santiago.
Gareth won't have regular access to the internet, but you will be able to follow his progress by clicking here to visit his pilgrim's blog.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Priest's Retreat

Today I had a phone call from a friend of mine who isn't long ordained. He was assigned a busy parish in South London where he has been an enthusiastic supporter of vocations promotion. He is one of those priests who seem to be known an loved by everyone he meets and he exudes a wonderful enthusiasm for priestly ministry. He called today to ask my prayers for two things. First of all for a young lad who was tragically murdered on Saturday and whose family had come to the parish seeking a priest. He spoke of the great faith of the lads parents and the humbling experience of being called on to help a soul on its way home to God.
He also asked for prayers for himself as this evening he is beginning a retreat. Priests are encouraged to make a retreat each year. It is good to get away from the tumble of parish life in order to spend time more closely with the Lord. A retreat helps us examine our conscience in greater depth and be more open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It prompts us to greater generosity and a renewal of our initial 'Yes' to the Lord. It gives us time to put special effort and devotion into the celebration of Holy Mass each day as well as our norms of piety such as the daily Rosary.
My friend was looking forward to this opportunity. Please keep him, his fellow retreatants, as well as the retreat giver in your prayers.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How daunting can it be?

I feel for the candidates who have to go through the whole selection procedure. It's not that the process is bad. It's just daunting. Not as daunting perhaps as young Andrew's experience in this video clip. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Do they play football?

Today Bishop John interviewed our six candidates for the diocese this year. I was amused by a conversation during the week with one of the seminarians at Wonersh. St John's was beaten by the students at Scotus College in the inter-seminary football competition earlier this year, so his primary concern was that we should send a few lads to Wonersh with a certain prowess on the football field!
The Bishop's interview is the final stage in the selection process. All our candidates have spent a lot of time with me discerning their call to priesthood. They have also had a psychological assessment lasting a couple of days. We use the St Luke's Centre near Manchester for this. They've also attended a Selection Advisory Conference at the seminary. The formal interview with the Bishop comes at the end of this process. He receives all the documents a few weeks before meeting the candidates and has a chance to ask questions or clarifications from me. In this way he can develop some idea of what he would like to ask each candidate. Today the interviews seemed to go well and al the candidates came out looking happy and relaxed. They then headed off for a meal together before, if all goes according to plan, taking one of the boat trips from Westminster to Greenwich.
Meanwhile, at Archbishop's House the seminary Rector joined us for lunch which was followed by a discussion of each candidate. How did they do? That will have to wait for another post - after I've had a chance to meet with them all!
What I can say is that our selection procedure seems to be both thorough and fair. I don't think anyone could complain about it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How do we respond to a post-modern culture?

Here's the second question and response for the interview published recently in the newspaper of the NCP:

Q. We often hear it said that commitment is very difficult for young people today. Do you think that the post-modern culture makes your work harder?
R. I do think our apostolate with young people is key not just for vocations but in many ways for the future of a Christian culture. I also think that sometimes we haven’t been as agile understanding the signs of the times as we may have believed. A hallmark of post-modernism is fragmentation and constant change. A typical modern ‘soap’ will run numerous story lines and cut from one to another sometimes within a few seconds. Think of how young people flick through television channels or surf the net. At school they are taught to be ‘independent learners’. This doesn’t necessarily mean that young people have a short attention span. It means they are now more active protagonists in the information they receive. For us the challenge is to acknowledge two things. Firstly we are often too prescriptive in what we offer: we want them to be interested in the causes that matter to us as adults; the liturgical experiences we offer can often be too wordy and ‘teachy’. The second thing is to recognise that we do have traditions in the Church that young people can access at different levels and that of their nature draw them into a greater participation. Part of the success of the New Movements is that they offer experiences of prayer and Adoration that everyone can access at their own level, whatever their starting point. Perhaps some of the growth of the traditionalist movement in the Church can also be put down to the fact that with the older liturgy young people can enter into the Mystery of God at a pace and a level appropriate to their own starting point. We have to face the fact that we cannot compete with the experiences of Clubs and other activities – nor do we want to – but we can offer something different: the opportunity to rediscover that inner dimension of life where God’s still small voice may be heard. Young people respond to this.

Monday, May 05, 2008


There was an interview in the paper on Saturday with a photographer who said he always liked returning to England. He found it a bit much abroad that people celebrated every little success and looked forward to coming home to good old British churlishness!
I thought of him when I came across an email asking for a new vocations poster. The more typical experience of my friends who are vocations directors is that when they mention the need for publicity material someone always come back that posters don't make a vocation. Of course they don't. But if someone has a vocation and is running away from it a strategically placed poster can remind them. If someone feels in their heart that God is calling them to something more but they are not sure what a vocations poster might just provide them with the key. And for the many thousands of people who go to Mass every week in our parishes an attractive poster might encourage them to keep asking the Lord of the harvest for those labourers he promised to send!

Here's a poster from the Archdiocese of Birmingham. It has an arresting strap-line.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Importance of Prayer

I was recently interviewed for a publication called The Priest. It is the official paper of the National Conference of Priests and its editor is Greg Watts. Greg has written a lot on Catholic subjects and is the journalist who worked with John Pridmore on his autobiography.
To be honest, The Priest isn't the most widely read of Catholic publications but I've had a few calls from priests who have seen the interview and liked it.
It's too long to publish as a single post, but over the next week or so I'll publish the five questions and my responses to them. I'll start today with the first one.

Q. Father, one of the key elements for promoting vocations in your diocese has been the establishment of Eucharistic Adoration in the parishes. What would you say to those who question the value of praying for vocations?
R. I would say that prayer is a fundamental response to Christ’s command: ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest’. When I wrote this in a Catholic newspaper some months ago there was a follow up letter from a priest objecting that we have prayed for years without result. This, he argued, was evidence the Holy Spirit was calling for change and in particular he advocated married priests and the ordination of women. But I wouldn’t agree. Have we really offered up an insistent prayer for vocations to the priesthood? I wonder how many of us have satisfied ourselves with the occasional intercession for ‘vocations to the priesthood and religious life’? I firmly believe that our periods of Eucharistic Adoration in Southwark have born fruit in the significant increase in vocations we have seen since the campaign of prayer began.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Catholic Priesthood Today

Many of you will have seen the video Fishers of Men. I know lots of Vocations Directors who have found it a fantastic resource in their work. If you are a priest or a teacher I'd certainly recommend getting a copy. Recently someone told me of another video on the Catholic Priesthood. It's well worth checking out. You can view the video by clicking this link.