Tuesday, June 24, 2008

God in the Streets of Balham

On Sunday the Deanery Corpus Christi Procession took place here in the parish. It was very well attended although about ten minutes before we were due to start I was wandering whether there would be sufficient numbers to take to the streets. As so often happens there was a great rush of people at the last minute and we ended up with a crowd of about three hundred.

Bishop Paul Hendricks joined us for the occasion and carried the Blessed Sacrament. Our parish monstrance is too heavy for a procession so we were grateful to be able to borrow one from another deanery parish, the Sacred Heart in Battersea. I was particularly grateful to the Knights who came from various deanery parishes who helped marshall the procession, and also to a number of our Seekers and newly accepted candidates for the priesthood in Southwark who, among other things, helped carry the canopy.

No one can remember when we last had a Deanery Corpus Christi Procession but the comments afterwards showed just how important it is to revive it. A lot of people were moved to tears - and not just older people remembering their youth, also young parents who said they had never experienced a procession before.

Afterwards the priests of the Deanery and Bishop Paul came over to the house where we were able to sit in the garden and enjoy the afternoon sun. All that was missing was a glass of Pimms!

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Festive Day

We had a great day in the parish today. On Fridays the usual 6.45am Mass is replaced by one at 8.30am to enable the children and their families to attend before school. There were loads of families at Mass this morning which is always a joy to see. I particularly like the fact that, when they can, some fathers go into work later on a Friday in order to attend this Mass with their wives and children. Numbers at the 9.30am Mass were good too and as usual we had a number of confessions afterwards. Making confessions available during the week helps take pressure off us on Sundays when there are always lots of people who want to go.

After the two Masses some Spanish nuns came to see me. I help out when their chaplain is away and they were asking about the possibility of finding accommodation for some Spanish seminarians during the summer.

Bishop Patrick Lynch turned up just before 1pm. He had been at St Bernadette's school in a neighbouring parish to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary and was coming to us to bless and open a new building at our own parish school. Thanks to the generosity of parents we were able to raise an enormous sum of money to replace a dilapidated pre-fab classroom with a state of the art 'centre for the creative curriculum'. It was opened in an appropriately creative style with the whole school involved in a colourful musical and dramatic presentation. The Bishop was then invited to bless the building and cut the ribbon before blessing an icon and hanging it on one of the walls. The celebration was centred on the meaning of the school coat of arms and its motto 'Civitas firma' - from the Book of Proverbs: "The brother whi is helped by a brother is like a strong city".

Afterwards the Bishop mingled with parents, governors and parishioners as they enjoyed complimentary Pimms along with strawberries and cream. It is really amazing to see how far our school has come over the years. It is also a special delight to meet my parishioners who have so much appreciation for what we do for them. Having the school right next to the parish creates a tangible sense of a community filled with faith and joy.

The rain, thank God, held off until the Bishop left for a meeting in central London. After catching up on some prayers I went out to do some shopping for tonight's Seekers Meeting, calling in on a priest whose mother is quite unwell at the moment. Please keep her in your prayers.

The Seekers Meeting began a bit late because of some traffic problems but we were particularly pleased to have Bishop Patrick join us. He had left his car in the Square and so came back for the meeting and was able to stay for the meal. We had a good number tonight and everyone was in good spirits - even when I chucked them out at 10.30pm!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Corpus Christi Procession

I know it is a bit late, but on Sunday we are having a deanery Corpus Christi Procession in Nightingale Square. It is an historic occasion because no one remembers when the last deanery procession was held. We're keen to have good numbers so do join us if you can.

Reviving traditions is always difficult especially when there is no previous experience to call on so we've decided to keep things simple this year. Although it's an option in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, we've decided not to set up altars en route and Benediction will be given at the end back in Church. The plan is to see how things go this year and then to work on improving it in years to come.

Why revive this traditional devotion now? Partly, I suppose, to help create a wider Catholic identity in our deanery. Most of us have busy parishes and we can get so taken up with looking after our own parishes that we forget to do things together. This is a shame because it is only by doing things together that we build up confidence and friendship with each other and develop a sense of common purpose. When we have strong deanery collaboration priests will be happy to call on each other for help and support whenever needed.

Another reason for reviving the tradition is that it is important for the lay faithful to appreciate that the Church is wider than their own particular parish. Just as Word Youth Day can be an incredible boost to young people so the common witness to our faith and our Eucharistic devotion can also be a great source of inspiration.

More spiritually, our London streets have become for many places of violence and fear of violence. They need God's love. On Sunday we will carry through those streets "Love Divine all loves excelling". That can only be a blessing for the Balham deanery.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Creeping Back Up

The graph and table above show the effects of a somewhat extended Bloggap. This Blog fell silent at the end of July and the number of visitors collapsed from a peak of over two thousand a month to a quarter of that. After lots of requests we started posting again last month and, as you can see we are already beginning to recover our readership. A special word of thanks to all those who send in comments for the Blog. Let's keep praying for Southwark Vocations!

Newly Ordained Priest for Southwark

Sadly I couldn't attend because of our First Holy Communion celebrations, but on Saturday we had the great joy of ordaining another priest for the Archdiocese. Fr Cornelius Boyle was ordained by Bishop Patrick Lynch at the Virgo Fidelis parish in Upper Norwood. In the photograph you can see Fr Cornelius giving his First Blessing to the Bishop after the ordination Mass. In the background is the parish priest of Virgo Fidelis, Fr Michael O'Shea.
Fr Cornelius will serve his first appointment at St Andrew's, Thornton Heath. It is a big, multi-cultural parish with a lot going on.
Please keep Fr Cornelius in your prayers. For more photographs of the event visit the diocesan website.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

First Holy Communion Weekend

A packed Church this morning for the first of three First Holy Communion Masses. The children have been preparing all year - and were all considerably better behaved than the charming young lady pictured above! We are very fortunate in the parish in that the parish school is right next door to the Church. This means it is possible for the children to join us for Mass before school. During the lunch break each class has a chance throughout the year to come into the Church for some prayer before the Blessed Sacrament during Friday Exposition. They also have lots of opportunities to go to confession - including of course during the Sunday Mass.

Next year we will have a new class starting the First Communion programme but these children will not lose out. We run post-Communion classes for two years and then have a programme called 'Keep the Faith' to takes them through the transition to secondary school. When they complete this they join the Confirmation class.

Of course catechesis is only one aspect of the formation we try to offer in the parish. It is important that, in addition to Faith, the other two theological virtues are also addressed. Growth in Charity and in Hope - expressed in prayer - are also necesary for there to be a true Christian life.

The role of parents in passing on the faith is one which is often stressed. Here we offer a twenty-week programme called "Faith in the Family". It has proved very popular and has certainly helped many parents develop a much deeper appreciation of their Catholic faith.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

St John's Association

Today I was at the seminary for a meeting of the St John's Association. This is made up largely of former students of our diocesan seminary at Wonersh. Quite often I am asked by men thinking of the priesthood if it is a lonely life. Today it was great to see men of all ages, from the recently ordained to those enjoying fifty-four years of faithful ministry, come together as friends and colleagues. There was no loneliness there!
After the usual business at the AGM we were very fortunate to have a guest speaker in the person of Fr Gerry O'Collins SJ. Fr O'Collins taught me when I was a student in Rome and although I have attended many lectures by him in Italian this was the firsttime I had heard him give a talk in English. He is enormously well-read and has a gentle anecdotal style which was very evident today as he spoke about some of the themes of his recent book on Jesus. In particular he wanted to turn our thoughts towards the beauty of Jesus. It was an interesting presentation and was very well-received by those present.
After the talk we celebrated Holy Mass together and then enjoyed a magnificent festal meal. Before leaving I suggested it would be a good idea to get a photograph of the Rector, Mgr Jeremy Garratt with Fr O'Collins for the college archives and - of course - for the Southwark Vocations Blog!

Monday, June 09, 2008


A bit late to publish - but I just saw this videa and liked it very much....

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Call of Matthew

The Gospel at Holy Mass today begins with the Call of Matthew and continues with the account of another of Our Lord's run-ins with the Pharisees. I am sure many priests preached about the second part of the Gospel passage but it struck me that we shouldn't miss the two short sentences that introduce it: as Jesus pases by he calls Matthew who gets up and follows him. It is a wonderful account of a vocation from the Gospel. Jesus calls. Matthew responds.
Matthew could be thought an unlikely character for the Lord to call. No one would have described Matthew as holy. Surely there were many other good and faithful Jews - why does the Lord call someone who would have been regarded as something of a dodgy character? He was certainly compromised by his dealing with the Roman authorities. I think that is a very good lesson for us. We shouldn't forget that St Mark says simply, 'Jesus called those he wanted and they came to him". There is no 'profile', no list of suitable characteristics. We are called simply because that is the will of Christ not because of our personal merits or gifts.
Matthew is collecting taxes when Jesus goes past. He is not in the Temple or sniffing about the synagogue. He's not a 'Holy Joe'. He is engaged in his 'professional work' and doing it with a professional spirit. If he hadn't been there at his desk he wouldn't have seen the Lord. It is unlikely that Jesus would have come back a second time. Had Matthew not been about his duties or had he wanted time to 'discern' the Lord would have gone on and that would have been the end of it. This is a challenge to us. What sort of student would Jesus call: the diligent one or the lazy one? Certainly the diligent one: the one who is doing what he is supposed to be doing.
I very much like Carravaggio's painting of the Call of Matthew. Jesus and Peter are passing by but you would hardly recognise which one is the Lord. Jesus is identified by a very slight, almost imperceptible halo. It is as if the artist is saying that the Lord passes by indistinguishable from everyone else. There is practically nothing to identify him and therefore the vast majority of people do not recognise him. Indeed behind Matthew are two of his colleagues so taken up with the day's gathering that they don't notice the presence of these two strangers at all.
Christ points to Matthew with a gesture reminiscent of the famous creative Hand of God in the Sistine Chapel. The artist is telling us that it is God who gives the vocation not man who chooses it. That Call is written into Creation, our vocation is from eternity. To ignore our vocation is a cosmic tragedy! The task we all have is to recognise the Call and to respond.
That response does not necessarily come easily. Although Matthew follows the Lord there is nevertheless a moment of crisis and decision. Carravaggio's Matthew points to himself with one hand - "Me?" - while the other hand is stretched over the pile of money. How often an attachment to earthly treasure can lead us to forsake the only true Treasure of accompanying the Messiah! It is not only the internal attachment to material things that Matthew has to break free from. While some of his friends don't notice the drama there are two more between Matthew and the Messiah. One is leaning on Matthew's shoulder, the other leans forward - interested but without commitment - Matthew will have to overcome the opposition of his friends who would hold him back, who wouldn't understand the 'madness' of leaving everything to be with Jesus. Again, how often is that repeated today when a young person tells parents or friends that they wish to follow the Lord!
There is one final aspect of the painting we shouldn't miss. The light in the painting doesn't emanate from Jesus. It comes from outside and from above: Jesus is calling Matthew out from the shadows into the light. He may come in an unspectacular way but what he offers is not the fetid atmosphere of a darkened room. It is the freedom, joy and pure air of God's life and love.
Matthew understood all this in an instant. He got up and followed the Lord.

What will you do?

Eight New Seminarians for Southwark

Whenever I meet a Vocations Director at this time of the year the question is always the same: "How many new men do you have this year?" I feel for those Vocations Directors who have put a lot of effort into their work but in the end haven't had any applicants. It is a temporary drought: I am sure the work they are doing will bear many fruits in the long-term.
Southwark has been particularly blessed this year because in September we will have eight men begin their studies. Now that may not reach my target of twelve but it is a good number nevertheless! We ask you to keep them in your prayers.
The other question that gets asked is where they will be studying. This year we are sending two of the new men to the Beda College in Rome and one to the Venerable English College, also in Rome. Four men will go St John's, our diocesan seminary in Wonersh, Surrey. One man will be going to St Alban's in Valladolid. St Alban's is also known as the Real Colegio de los Ingleses in recognition of its founder, Philip II of Spain.
I would also like to ask your prayers for Con Boyle and Shaju Varkey, our two deacons who will be ordained as priests in the next few weeks.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

Anyone who has been to a Youth 2000 event, or who has watched Fishers of Men will be familiar with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. If you have time, here's a longer video of the friars on their home turf. I found it on the Love to be Catholic website when I was looking for some videos of seminarians.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Developing Youth Work

On Saturday we hosted a day for all those involved working with young people in the deanery. By 'young people' we meant both the post-confirmation to end of secondary education age group as well as the 18-30s. Twenty eight people turned up for what turned out to be a very fruitful day. Some were involved in catechesis, other ran youth groups, and others had experience of new movements and organisations within the Church.

During the morning session we simply introduced ourselves and explained what we were doing as individuals as well as giving some insight into the wider apostolate towards young people in our parishes. This was very illuminating and I knw from the feedback that people found it very encouraging. After this session we broke for lunch which took place in the presbytery garden. Fortunately the rain held off!

During the afternoon we had a sort of 'blue-sky thinking' session. Peple were asked to consider what they would like to see happening in their parishes and in the deanery and also what resources were needed for it. There were lots of good ideas in the feedback and I'm sure quite a few people went home with some concrete proposals for their parishes. One group fed back by drawing a tree. The roots, they said, needed to be a firm foundation in the faith, in prayer life, and in friendship. This would require formation for those involved. The branches represented the fruits of of this foundation: evangelisation, catechesis, and a variety of different groups meeting the different needs young people experienced.

Next Tuesday we will feedback to the deanery Clergy Conference. One concrete proposal is that we should have an event for altar servers both to do something for them but also to show ourselves that we can work together and do good things. To my mind the development of a ministry to young people at deanery level should be seen as an integral part of our strategy to promote vocations.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Vocations Retreats at Downside

Meeting Dom David Foster last week reminded me that Downside offers a number of Vocations Retreats over the course of the year. These are organised by Dom David who is novice master at the monastery.
The next retreat will take place later this month from Friday 20th until Sunday 22nd June. "Prayer" is the theme of the weekend and it will look into such questions as 'How can I pray better?", "How can I know Jesus in Prayer?" and "How does prayer share in the Church's work and mission?"
For more information visit the monastery's website.