Sunday, May 31, 2009


Tomorrow I board a train for France in order to join about sixty priests of the diocese who will be spending the inside of a week together in prayer and reflection with the Archbishop. We will be staying in the former seminary at Merville which is now a diocesan retreat and conference centre. Do say a prayer the five days go well. In our diocese we are looking, among other things, at future pastoral provision. The temptation can be that we see this in terms of a 'shortage' of priests and falling Mass numbers necessitating structural change. What we need to do, as a presbyterate, is to see beyond structures to the mission of the Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century. These weeks can, I am sure, help us think in new ways.

A Pure Heart Create for Me

Last year, to mark the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the parish priest of St Patrick's, Soho, Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, organised a series of talks on 'Theology of the Body Today'. I gave one of the talks, shamelessly cribbing the title ('Aids, Condoms & the Catholic Church') from Fr Tim Finigan - who followed me with a talk entitled 'Challenge to the Culture'. Other contributors included Bishop Alan Hopes, Fr Anthony Doe, William Newton and James Parker.
I was very impressed by the number of people who turned up each evening, and particularly by the fact that there was no significant drop off over a series that spanned the best part of three months. Later it was suggested by some of those present that as many of the talks as possible should be collected and published to be made available to a wider audience. Robert Colquhoun was tasked with the job of assembling the material and editing it for publication. The book has now been published by Family Publications and it will be launched at St Patrick's on Thursday 18th June. It's not yet available on the Family Publications website but it will be worth looking out for.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Year for Priests - What will you do?

What could you do in your parishes to mark the year for priests? I received an email today from someone in the diocese who always encourages me in my work. He first of all told me:
"We have Eucharistic Adoration for vocations in our parish every Friday from 7am till 9pm. You will always find someone present in prayer".
And then when on to speak of the plans for the Year for Priests:
"We are going to celebrate the anniversary of the ordination of our two priests to the priesthood on Sunday 12th July. The intentions at the two masses will be “To thank almighty God for [their] vocation. I am presently organizing all the various societies in the parish to participate and so far everyone is really enthusiastic. To be honest everyone approached actually loved the idea".
Sometimes people want years such as this to be marked by big diocesan events - which have their place of course - but I can't help feeling these little local initiatives will have a more long-lasting effect. So have a think. What will you do in your parish?

Year for Priests

The Holy Father has called for a Year for Priests to begin in June which has attached to it the possibility of gaining a Plenary Indulgence. This is the Letter from the Congregation for the Clergy announcing the Year:

Dear Priests,

The Year of Priesthood, announced by our beloved Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of the saintly Curé of Ars, St. John Mary Vianney, is drawing near. It will be inaugurated by the Holy Father on the 19th June, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. The announcement of the Year of Priesthood has been very warmly received, especially amongst priests themselves. Everyone wants to commit themselves with determination, sincerity and fervour so that it may be a year amply celebrated in the whole world – in the Dioceses, parishes and in every local community – with the warm participation of our Catholic people who undoubtedly love their priests and want to see them happy, holy and joyous in their daily apostolic labours.

It must be a year that is both positive and forward looking in which the Church says to her priests above all, but also to all the Faithful and to wider society by means of the mass media, that she is proud of her priests, loves them, honours them, admires them and that she recognises with gratitude their pastoral work and the witness of the their life. Truthfully priests are important not only for what they do but also for who they are. Sadly, it is true that at the present time some priest have been shown to have been involved in gravely problematic and unfortunate situations. It is necessary to investigate these matters, pursue judicial processes and impose penalties accordingly. However, it is also important to keep in mind that these pertain to a very small portion of the clergy. The overwhelming majority of priests are people of great personal integrity, dedicated to the sacred ministry; men of prayer and of pastoral charity, who invest their entire existence in the fulfilment of their vocation and mission, often through great personal sacrifice, but always with an authentic love towards Jesus Christ, the Church and the people, in solidarity with the poor and the suffering. It is for this reason that the Church is proud of her priests wherever they may be found.

May this year be an occasion for a period of intense appreciation of the priestly identity, of the theology of the Catholic priesthood, and of the extraordinary meaning of the vocation and mission of priests within the Church and in society. This will require opportunities for study, days of recollection, spiritual exercises reflecting on the Priesthood, conferences and theological seminars in our ecclesiastical faculties, scientific research and respective publications.

The Holy Father, in announcing the Year in his allocution on the 16th March last to the Congregation for the Clergy during its Plenary Assembly, said that with this special year it is intended “to encourage priests in this striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends”. For this reason it must be, in a very special way, a year of prayer by priests, with priests and for priests, a year for the renewal of the spirituality of the presbyterate and of each priest. The Eucharist is, in this perspective, at the heart of priestly spirituality. Thus Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests and the spiritual motherhood of religious women, consecrated and lay women towards priests, as previously proposed some time ago by the Congregation for the Clergy, could be further developed and would certainly bear the fruit of sanctification.

May it also be a year in which the concrete circumstances and the material sustenance of the clergy will be considered, since they live, at times, in situations of great poverty and hardship in many parts of the world.

May it be a year as well of religious and of public celebration which will bring the people – the local Catholic community – to pray, to reflect, to celebrate, and justly to give honour to their priests. In the ecclesial community a celebration is a very cordial event which expresses and nourishes Christian joy, a joy which springs from the certainty that God loves us and celebrates with us. May it therefore be an opportunity to develop the communion and friendship between priests and the communities entrusted to their care.

Many other aspects and initiatives could be mentioned that could enrich the Year of Priesthood, but here the faithful ingenuity of the local churches is called for. Thus, it would be good for every Dioceses and each parish and local community to establish, at the earliest opportunity, an effective programme for this special year. Clearly it would be important to begin the Year with some notable event. The local Churches are invited on the 19th June next, the same day on which the Holy Father will inaugurate the Year of Priesthood in Rome, to participate in the opening of the Year, ideally by some particular liturgical act and festivity. Let those who are able most surely come to Rome for the inauguration, to manifest their own participation in this happy initiative of the Pope.

God will undoubtedly bless with great love this undertaking; and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Clergy, will pray for each of you, dear priests.

Cláudio Cardinal Hummes

Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo

Prefect, Congregation for the Clergy.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Southwark Vocations Endorsed By Holy See

His Excellency Monsignor Mauro Piacenza wrote recently to convey the compliments of the Congregation for the Clergy, of which he is Secretary, for our new diocesan Handbook for Parish Vocations Teams.

The Congregations writes that the Handbook:
"appears to have struck a healthy balance between the centrality of the universal vocation to holiness by virtue of our baptism and the indispensable vocations to priesthood and the consecrated life by which the Church worships God, proclaims the Gospel, and witnesses to the work of Grace in her members".

It particularly commends the handbook as a useful means of promoting Eucharistic Adoration and prayer for priests during the forthcoming Year of Priesthood:
"Indeed, the volume might serve as a useful resource within the apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration, fostering an awareness of the responsibility of every member of Christ's faithful to pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood, and to faithfully understand its nature and place within the Church, particularly in view of the Year of the Priesthood recently announced by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI".

I am greatful to the Archbishop for such a strong endorsement of our new initiative and also to the Apostolic Nuncio who requested a number of copies to forward to Rome.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An Unusual Wedding

Yesterday afternoon I drove down to Shaftesbury where I celebrated the wedding of some parishioners today. The parish of the Most Holy Name and St Edward is run by Fr Dylan James, a young priest whom I first met when he was an undergraduate in London. Fr Dylan studied at Oscott and later completed a doctorate in Moral Theology, a subject he now lectures part-time at Wonersh.
The wedding was unusual because both bride and groom were divorced and had teenage children. I have to admit that I was quite worried about the sermon. How could I preach about marriage and avoid the danger of giving the wrong signals to the young people present? In the end I decided the only way was to tackle the issue head on. Having used Satnav to find my way to Shaftesbury - "turn around when possible" - I spoke first about the providence of God. I then spoke about the importance of a good Catholic marriage preparation course - a couple when they marry are assenting to a Catholic understanding of marriage. If this consent isn't there we would regard the marriage as invalid - hence the possibility of an annulment. In this case one partner had the marriage annulled on grounds of lack of canonical form, and the other on grounds of an intention against an integral aspect of marriage. Having cleared the air, I was then able to speak about marriage as a path to holiness, a vocation and a sacrament, and about the meaning of love. The readings they chose made this very easy.
I was a bit nervous about how the couple would feel about me mentioning annullments but was pleased that they really appreciated the sermon. Not only that, lots of their guests also commented that I'd answered their questions - and three want to come to see me about sorting out their own marriage situation.
My prayers to the Holy Spirit for inspiration really paid off!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Federico Lombardi SJ

Last night I attended a special Mass organised by the Catholic Communications Network to mark World Communications Day. It was presided over by Bishop John Arnold and there were quite a few journalists present. Also concelebrating was Fr Federico Lombardi SJ the papal press officer who later gave a lecture on his work. The lecture took place at Allen Hall and I was impressed by the number of people who attended. In the questions that followed a number of journalists asked about controversies to which Fr Lombardi has himself referred in the course of his talk (Regensburg, Aids, Bishop Williamson). While acknowledging that these had been negative experiences, Fr Lombardi did say that they had in each case occasioned a more profound dialogue with the interested parties. The Church had, as a result of these PR 'disasters', been able to communicate its message more effectively to men of good will. As a result there was now a greater understanding between the Church and some Islamic scholars and Jewish representatives, and a more honest debate with the scientific world.
Lombardi's critique of communications seemed to be according to the 'action, reaction, synthesis' model. He clearly has been pro-active in engaging the new media, particularly setting up the You Tube channel. I was, however, left with a niggle that something was missing. It is good for us to be up to date with technology but these channels are simply tools for us to use in communicating. I wondered whether there is also a need to update our model. In secular life communication offices no longer simply kick-in reactively. They are now part of the presentation of the message. To a certain extent they make the news, or at least determine how it will be packaged. I couldn't help feeling that Navarro Valls possibly understood this better, as a lay man who is a journalist, than his charming and illustrious successor.
James Roberts, who formerly worked for the Independent, and now works for the Catholic press asked whether Lombardi's work would be facilitated if the local Church weres were more pro-active in presenting the challenge of the faith to the media. Ruth Gledhill from the Times asked whether the Holy Father had any plans to visit England. The answer, given with wonderful Italian flourish, boiled down to: not yet!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fatima Comes to Balham

On Saturday we had a 'Day with Mary' in the parish. The organisers arrived before 8am and worked hard to get everything ready in time for the first part of the day which was a May Procession round the Square. The police kindly came and stopped the traffic for five laps of the Square as the pilgrims prayed both the Joyful and the Sorrowful Mysteries.
After the Procession I celebrated Holy Mass and preached on the theme of "Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit" which I thought appropriate both given the dedication of the Church and also the fact that we are now looking towards Pentecost. At the end of the Mass I led the people in a special Consecration of the Parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
There was then a break for lunch followed by a Blessed Sacrament Procession and a period of Adoration. The remaining Mysteries of the Rosary were prayed in the afternoon and there was also a chance for anyone so wishing to be enrolled into the Scapular of Mt Carmel. Finally the day closed just in time for our evening Mass with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima being carried in procession out of the Church as the people sang "O Fatima farewell".
About two hundred and fifty joined us for the Day with Mary including some of our own parishioners. Confessions were heard throughout and I am especially grateful to the eight priests who made themselves available to help with Confessions. These pilgrimages are great opportunities for people to seek reconciliation with God and I know that the priests who hear Confessions are always impressed by the fact that the Lord uses them to crack quite a few 'hard cases'!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

From Atheist to Christian

Sometimes we need to look elsewhere for quite encouraging news. I'd missed, for example, any reports in the British press of the conversion from atheism to a belief in God by two important English writers. So I was pleased to come across this article in the Spanish publication Aceprensa. For those of you who struggle with Spanish let me give you the introduction to the article and a translation. It's quite fun:

Desde que Richard Dawkins y compañía comenzaron su particular cruzada para salvar al mundo de la creencia en Dios, las filas del ateísmo han sufrido algunas bajas importantes. Primero fue el filósofo inglés Antony Flew que, tras estudiar los recientes hallazgos científicos sobre el origen de la vida, llegó a aceptar la existencia de Dios (cfr. Aceprensa, 16-04-2009). Ahora le ha seguido Andrew Norman Wilson, un novelista, biógrafo y articulista de renombre en la prensa británica.

"Ever since Richard Dawkins and company began their particular crusade to save the world from belief in God, the ranks of atheism have suffered some notable setbacks. The first was the English philosopher Anthony Flew who, have studied recent scientific advances concerning the origin of life, has come to accept the existence of God. Now he has been followed by Andrew Norman Wilson, a renowned author, biographer and commentator in the British press".

The article goes on to say that while Flew hasn't embraced any particular religion, Wilson has returned to his Anglican roots. The article has a link to the New Stateman which carries a fuller account of Wilson's return to Christianity.


I've had an email from Glen Butterworth SJ who had read an article I wrote for a local Catholic publication. Glen was hoping to publish an extract on his own blog which promotes Jesuit vocations. As part of his preparation for priesthood Glen will be studying in London next year so perhaps we'll meet up. In the meantime do visit his blog - he has a poll for the most influential Jesuit of the twentieth century. At my suggestion he added Henri de Lubac to the list - so make sure you vote for him!

Friday, May 15, 2009

What number are you?

Tomorrow we should have our fifty thousandth visitor to this blog. Do let us know by leaving a comment in the combox if it's you!
I'll remember all our readers at Mass tomorrow as we celebrate a Day with Mary in the parish.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Grassroots - the markers of 'Fishers of Men', the phenomenally successful vocations video - have produced a simple but profoundly effective pro-life short:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rover's Return

Last week I was away from the parish for a few days break after Easter. I went first to the parish of Our Lady & St Christopher in Bredbury and Romiley where a friend has recently taken over as parish priest. Fr Philip Egan is the author of "Philosophy & Catholic Theology - A Primer". It was good to spend a few days with him on the edge of the Peak District.
After that I drove down the West coast of Wales to Cardigan and spent some time at Our Lady of the Taper, the National Shrine. I was able to enjoy the beauty of the Welsh countryside and also catch up with some friends. On Friday I drove to Newport to have lunch with a family and then into Cardiff to be present for the start of the Refresh Cardiff Retreat. I was there for the opening Mass celebrated by Archbishop Peter Smith and for part of the first evening's programme. Sadly I couldn't stay for the whole event because I had to get back for a wedding on Saturday morning.
It was good to get away for a few days.

Social Project

Each year our parish supports students from Netherhall House in their fund-raising efforts for them to spend the summer in a social project somewhere in the third world. Over the years I've got to know many of the students who have gone including, of course, some from my own parish. It has always had a tremendous impact on their lives. They have dug latrines, built orphanages and offered basic medical care. Last year they built a school. I didn't realise there was a video of last year's project on Youtube but, having discovered it, I'm pleased to post it here.
I'm also pleased that some of the students have gone on these trips in the past are now hoping to be ordained priests one day.