Saturday, February 28, 2009

Catholic Underground Comes to London

Before you do anything else you need to fetch out your pda, mobile phone or dead tree and jot down: Saturday 28th March, 7.30pm, Holy Ghost, Catholic Underground.

Done it? OK, now you can read on...

Catholic Underground London is a direct response to a call that began with Pope John Paul II, and is continued by Pope Benedict XVI. Pope John Paul II said that because the Gospel lives in conversation with culture, we must be fearless in crossing the cultural threshold of the communication and information revolution now taking place.

The event consists of both traditional worship and modern entertainment. The first part of the evening is Eucharistic adoration and begins with vespers (Evening prayer). This is the universal prayer of the Church - prayed by the Catholics throughout the world in every time zone and in every language. After Vespers, there is a time of simple praise. The second part of the evening showcases Christian artists and aims to be a reflection of the Gospel message through contemporary culture. It includes rappers, bands, poetry, visual art, dancers, film, drama and more.

Two intrepid English lads have decided the time has come to introduce Catholic Underground to Britain. And they say on their website: Catholic Underground London takes its inspiration from the US but we aim to provide something with a distinctly English flavour.

If you can please join us for this event. It will be good to show Patrick and Trevor that we appreciate their efforts and to ensure that it does indeed develop that distinctly English flavour. Even if you can't come, you can give them a message of support at their Facebook Group.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Praying for Vocations

I'm totally convinced that the most important thing we can do to promote vocations in the diocese is to pray for them. After all, Our Lord himself instructs his disciples to "Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest". We can organise all sorts of different events, from vocations retreats to publicity campaigns, but unless these are based on the bedrock of prayer I can't see how they will be successful. Vocations are the work of God's grace not some clever marketing technique!
Every single person in the diocese who supports our work with their prayer is contributing to its success. Because we have a pragmatic side to our character, in England we tend to measure success in terms of numbers. But it's not a question of numbers - if only one person turns up for a Vocations Holy Hour, that is an hour of prayer that wouldn't otherwise have taken place.

I was very pleased recently to receive an email from Fr Julian Shurgold telling me that in his parish there will be a Holy Hour for Vocations every Sunday during Lent. Fr Shurgold is parish priest of the Holy Family parish in Sutton Green. The Hour begins at 3.00pm with Exposition, followed by silence with Vespers [Evening Prayer] & Benediction beginning about 3.40. It will be over by 4.00pm.

If you are in the area one of these days please do pop over to the Holy Family and join them for one of these important Lenten Holy Hours.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Balham Catenians

Officers and Members of Circle 350

Last night I attended a special ceremony at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon to establish the new Balham Circle of the Catenian Association. The new Circle is number 350 and is part of Province 19. Two hundred and nine Catenians from all over the country attended the event and together represented twelve provinces and fifty-five Circles. I was impressed to meet men who had travelled down from North Yorkshire in order to be present and who were planning to get home for business meetings this morning. During the meeting prayers were said for the Catenians suffering in Zimbabwe and also for those in Australia. Messages of congratulations came from all over the world, and a silver spoon was sent from Cairns - apparently this is held by the newest Circle so Circle 350 will have it until Circle 351 becomes established.
We first started talking about the possibility of establishing the Catenians in the parish several years ago and just over a year ago we were able to take the first formal step by becoming established as a 'Group'. I was particularly pleased to see that membership had increased sufficiently for us to become a fully-fledged Circle because this is the Centenary Year of the Catenian Association.
Amongst many good works, the Catenians are particularly interested in promoting vocations. In March they will be hosting a day here in the parish for the launch of our new diocesan Vocations Handbook which, we hope, will greatly assist the work of vocations promotion in Southwark.

Quo Vadis? Normandy!

Immediately after the Vocations Retreat at Lymington, we had the half-term trip of the Quo Vadis Group to Normandy. We left on Monday morning after Mass at St Osmund's Church in Barnes, travelling by minibus to Portsmouth where we took the Brittany Ferries' crossing to France. Having only travelled P&O in the past, I was very impressed by the Mont St Michel. It was very comfortable, served really great, yet inexpensive, food in its restaurant, and even had a children's entertainer who instantly gained a new, somewhat older, fan club from among our group.

Having landed in France, it was only a short trip to Caens where we were booked into a hotel. After sorting out our rooms and praying Compline together we got an early night. On Tuesday we prayed Morning Prayer and then enjoyed a plentiful French breakfast. We then travelled by minibus to Rouens, the city where Joan of Arc was martyred. Having grown up with the typical British propaganda about the Maid of Orleans, I was very pleased to learn more about this teenage saint. We were able to visit the spot where she was burnt at the stake before celebrating Mass together in the new basilica built in her honour.

It is in the old market square and incorporates some stained glass from Churches destroyed as the allies liberated France. Inside the basilica is quite pleasing. From the outside it is unusual - not disimilar to a dragon. Just opposite the basilica is a wax-work museum depicting the saint's life. It is well-worth a visit should you ever be there.

On Wednesday we travelled to Lisieux where a guide kindly showed us about for the day. Not quite catching her name, we settled on Liz and since she didn't travel with us the question was often asked: "Is Liz 'ere?".

In the morning we visited St Theresa's Convent where - although we can't get into the Carmelite monastery because of the enclosure - we were able to see the museum and also to spend some time in prayer before her relics. Later we travelled to another part of town to visit the house where the Martin Family lived after the death of their mother. It was from here that St Theresa and a number of her sisters entered religious life.

In the afternoon we went to the magnificent Basilica dedicated to the saint which now preserves also the relics of her beatified parents. We were made very welcome and were able to celebrate Mass in a side chapel. We also saw a video on St Theresa's life in the new visitors' centre.

Thursday was a gentler day. We stayed in Caens and celebrated Mass in the Church of the Men's Abbey which was founded by William the Conqueror. It's a magnificent Church with lots of interesting features - including William's tomb. Just by the tomb there's a grill with the names of former abbots including Langfranc, the great canonist who became Archbishop of Canterbury.

It is also the Church where St John Eudes began preaching devotion to the Sacred Heart and the reform of the French clergy. After Mass we went round to his house which, although currently a convent, had no one in so we had to make do with a photograph on the steps.

Caens suffered heavily during the liberation. After the D-Day landings it was largely destroyed by aerial bombardment. Most of the populace took refuge in the Abbey Church where the parish priest ensured the rooves were decked with white sheets and red crosses. The Church was spared but a shocking sight awaited the people as they emerged after several days: the city was largely flattened.

Today there are only isolated examples of its former wood-beamed architecture and many of the Churches are still left in ruins. On Thursday afternoon we went to the Memorial, the museum dedicated to the War and the post-war period.

Because all work and no play isn't good for anyone - expecially for the Quo Vadis Group, on Thursday night we went bowling!

Friday morning gave us a chance for a guided tour of the Abbey followed by a trip to the colourful Friday Market with some spare time to shop. After lunch we cllected our luggage and drove to Juno Beach where the Canadians landed on D-Day before travelling on to our ferry for the journey home. Once again the Mont St Michel was offering entertainment - only this time the fan club was able to get a photo with their idol!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

St Dominic's Priory

Tomorrow I leave with some members of the Quo Vadis Group for a week in Normandy where, amongs other things we will visit Lisieux. The Quo Vadis Group is looked after by Fr Dominic Allain and is a great initiative for young men and women who may be discerning their vocation. More about the trip when I get back.
For now, however, I want to do a quick post on what happened this weekend. On Friday I drove down to Lymington in the New Forest where we had planned a Vocations Retreat for women considering Religious Life. I got to St Dominic's Priory late because an accident on the M3 delayed us over an hour, but neverthless was able to celebrate Mass for the sisters whose chaplain is currently sick.

Nine girls joined us for what proved to be a lovely weekend. If anyone blanched at the prospect of a 5.45am start in order to be in chapel for 6.30am Meditation, they didn't show it. We joined the sisters for the singing of all the hours of the Office. I was very impressed by their chants. Not only because they sing well but also because they use some Dominican tones I am unfamiliar with.

Friday was the Feast of Bl Jordan of Saxony. It is said that when he went into a town the mothers would lock up their sons, so effective was he at winning vocations. In fact he used to travel with a collection of ready made habits for the new recruits to put on immediately. On one occasion, the twenty spare habits were not enough and the brothers had to swap bits of their own in order to make up some extras! When he went to the university of Paris or Bologne there would be a general wailing among the students as he left: some with joy at having found their vocation, the others with sadness at having lost their friends...

Whether there was wailing or not at St Dominic's I cannot say. But I hope that in time Sr Julie will have to get her sewing machine out!

My Day Off

I had hoped to get some posts up over the last few days but I've been a bit busy. On Thursday morning, after the early morning Mass here, I made my way over to St Patrick's, Soho, to give a couple of classes on 'Evangelium Vitae' to the students at SPES, the school of mission in the parish. From the point of view of doctrinal content, this document is arguably the most important of all the encyclicals written by Pope John Paul II. It is well worth reading again.
After the morning's classes I made my way over to the Edgeware Road where I celebrated a second Mass, this time for the Good Counsel Network. The people who work there contribute so effectively to promoting and defending the cause of life that I am happy to help out whenever I can.
That evening I was at Kings College chaplaincy to give a talk to the students. It's one I've given before and takes its title, 'Aids, Condoms and the Catholic Church', from a similar talk Fr Tim Finigan once gave here in the parish. Fr Tim's talk opened my eyes to the possibility of showing through published statistical evidence that promoting condom use does not stem the rise of HIV/AIDS. In fact it contributes to it. Intrigued, I did some of my own research and found that the evidence is in fact overwhelming. It's a talk I've been asked to give to the students at St Andrew's later this year.

St John's Day

On Wednesday I was at the seminary for the celebration of St John's Day. The College celebrates its feast day some time into the new term because a proper celebration just after Christmas is difficult. It is an occasion to which the Rector invites all those who support the College in various practical ways in the course of the year. I like to attend events like these and it is good to meet up with College benefactors one would not ordinarily have other contact with.
Wednesday also saw the launch of "The Evangelist" - the College Magazine which has been revamped and given a special vocations focus this year. It is a great production with lots in it both for those thinking about priesthood and also for those who simply want to know about seminary life or to pray for vocations.

After a solemn Mass and a formal meal we had a quiet afternoon. The students, of course, were angaged in clearing things away after the festivities. There was then time for prayer and Vespers before the next round of fun took place in the "Dive" - the student common room. By popular demand the evening consisted of cocktails and karaoke! Lest anyone claim it wasn't their idea... we have the evidence!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How Does a Vocation Begin?

Once again I'll be at Wonersh tomorrow for the annual celebration of St John's Day. This is always a great event when the seminary pulls out all the stops to celebrate its patron with guests who contribute in many different ways to the life of the college. I'm looking forward to seeing again all the students who helped make our recent Vocations Retreat there so successful.
The college magazine has just been produced and is being launched after Solemn Vespers tonight, so I look forward to receiving a copy tomorrow. The students have deliberately produced it with an eye to fostering vocations and eventually I shall be sending copies to all the parishes and schools in the diocese.

Somebody asked me recently how a vocation begins. At first I thought it a strange question - a vocation begins in the mind of God. But it is proper to ask how we perceive that vocation. In my experience, for many people a vocation presents itself initially as a series of little moments of a certain inner restlessness. You want to do something great with your life. You feel that God wants something more of you. You're concerned about the suffering of men and women - spiritual as well as physical. You enjoy the life you are living now, and yet you feel that there is something lacking. These feelings come and go, like waves on an inner ocean. Like distant whispers of a call that will become more clear in time.
How does a vocation begin? With these movements to love that prepare the soul to desire generosity and commitment. They could well be signs of a vocation moving us to awaken our hearts to God's will, urging us to struggle to conform our life to the dignity of a child of God, to pray, to listen attentively to what God may be trying to tell us. Our response is important. We have to try to ensure that we are not spiritually asleep when he calls - that his call doesn't fall on deaf ears.
Perhaps that is why our Vocations Retreats are so effective. They give us space to put ourselves in God's presence and to listen more attentively to his call. Next weekend we have another retreat coming up. This time it is for girls who are considering a vocation to the Religious life. No one, least of all me, can tell the participants they have that vocation. All we can do is offer them the possibility of time for a more attentive listening to those divine whispers.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Quo Vadis Group

On Friday we had our monthly meeting of the Quo Vadis Group which is for A Level and university age students. We were about ten in all and were treated by Fr Dominic Allain to an excellent sermon on faith after the example of St Paul Miki and his companions as well as an excellent catechesis after a very welcome Chinese meal.
Some of the people who attend travel quite a long way to be present at the meetings (we had one student from Leicester and two studying in Wales, so there's the option of staying overnight in the Vocations House in Balham. Those who did so were treated to the talk on "Charles Darwin and the Culture of Death" that was mentioned in last week's Times.
During half term the Quo Vadis Group will be travelling to Normandy to visit Lisieux.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

At My Service...

The Times has revived its 'At Your Service' column - a weekly piece which involves a reporter going to sample services in a different place of worship each week. Last week Bess Twiston Davies reported on her visit to the Holy Ghost parish. You can read what she thought of us by clicking here to access the article via the online version of the newspaper.
Bess mentions a talk I gave on Sunday night to the young adults' group. It was called 'Charles Darwin and the Culture of Death' and has occasioned some odd comments...

Friday, February 06, 2009


Vocations Directors often discuss the merit of advertising on London Transport.

(Thanks to Fr Tim Finigan for the tip).

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The First Snow

When I was a student in Rome the Michaelmas term ended on 29th December, the Feast of St Thomas a Becket, to whom the college church is dedicated. You could leave after the formal lunch and had to be back for Morning Prayer on the first day of lectures in the New Year. I sometimes used to go to stay with a family in Padua. After one such enjoyable break I caught the train at 11.00am the day before classes resumed in order arrive back at the Venerabile in the early evening. Of course I hadn't reckoned on the effects of snow in Italy. What should have been a straightforward trip turned into something of a nightmare. Progress was at a snail's pace, one passenger snapped and jumped off the train, another was escorted off by the police. In my compartment there was a very nice family from the US but their little daughter was freaked out by the sight of soldiers in uniform on the train (presumably returning to their barracks): "I can't stand it mommy. I keep thinking it's the Russians coming to arrest the Americans" - these were the days of the Cold War!
Eventually we got as far as Settebagni some way outside Rome and it was announced that the train would be going no further but that they had laid on buses to take us to Termini. By now it was the early hours of the morning. Eventually I got back to the College triumphant in the knowledge that I still had a couple of minutes before the start of Morning Prayer. I left my bags in the Salone and went straight to the Martyrs' Chapel. It was empty. I waited. Checked my watch. Waited. Nothing. So I went upstairs to check the noticeboard.
A large notice from the Rector announced that it was 'Prima Nix' - the First Snow and reminded us that the custom was for everything to be cancelled on the first day of snow in Rome - including Greg lectures.
When we got up at Wonersh on Monday morning there was almost a foot of snow on the ground and I asked the students about Prima Nix. 'No, it doesn't apply here', they said sadly. I thought that somewhat unexciting. Later, however, I heard that the philosophy class had been held in the snow and that, since most profs couldn't get there, classes had to be cancelled anyway.
Fortunately the seminarians were able to make good use of their time...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"Of One Heart & One Mind"

A Lenten Day of Recollection with the Dominicans
Saturday 28th February 2009

St Dominic's Convent
Montpelier Avenue
London W5 2XP

10am - 5 pm

For more information contact:
Sr Ann Catherine Swailes OP
Tel. 020 8997 8850

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Vocations Retreat

We had an excellent Vocations Retreat at St John's, the diocesan seminary, last weekend and I'd like to thank all those who remembered to keep it in their prayers. In all twenty-three young men joined the college community. I was very grateful to the seminary bursar who managed to squeeze us all in, and also to the six participants who agreed to double up and share rooms. Everything went really smoothly and the retreatants were particularly grateful for the opportunity to join the seminary community for the Liturgy of the Hours and the celebration of Holy Mass. The seminarians were very attentive to all of us and made us very welcome. I was pleased to note that many of them had themselves attended similar retreats in the past.
I am confident that the weekend was very helpful in the discernment process of those who joined us and I know that a number have been confirmed in their sense of being called to serve God's people as priests. In fact four of those present will be among the seven men applying for the Archdiocese of Southwark this year.