Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gearing up for the Retreat

I've been busy this week preparing for the Vocations Retreat that starts at St John's Seminary tomorrow night. I popped in to St John's last Thursday to meet with some of the students who will be helping out and also to make sure everything was okay as regards accommodation. The bursdar told me he was having difficulty fitting all twenty-one lads in so I understood the look on his face when I told him there were now twenty-three! Additionally, of course, there will be myself and Fr Paul Turner from Arundel and Brighton diocese - so the college had to find room for twenty-five extra guests!
I called back there today, partly because I wanted some quiet time to go through the material for my meditations and partly because, having turned down two further applicants this week, I wanted to see how things were looking on the room front: it's a bit cold to camp out in the grounds or to sleep in a car in the carpark! It seems the domestic staff, who always do so much at the seminary, have had their work cut out bringing back into use a number of rooms that had lain dormant for some years. Even so, some of the lads will have to share, but we can cope with that.
I've now worked out the themes for muy meditation and have got them more or less planned. I never finalise them until I see how the group gels together. Fr Paul will give a talk one evening on priesthood and Fr Gerard Bradley, the Spiritual Director, will talk on discernment. Additionally a recently ordained priest will come down for lunch on Saturday to speak about his experience of priesthood.
We will join the student body for Office, Holy Mass and the college Holy Hour. We will also be with the seminarians for meal times and the students know they can join us for any of our activities. This is really important. When I first suggested having a vocations event at the seminary the concern was raised that it might put people off. I guess the priest in question couldn't have had a happy experience - who knows? Anyway, I've found the opposite to be true. The witness of young and committed seminarians is an invaluable support to the work we do.

Friday, January 23, 2009

New Vatican Channel on Youtube

Click the link above to be taken to the new Vatican channel on Youtube. It looks like an exciting site with links to Vatican Radio and Television. You can also subscribe to a news feed.
The clamour in the British press about the Holy Father's address to the College of Cardinals is evidence of how important this new channel is. You may remember the Pope was vilified for having attacked homosexuals - only when the dust settled and we had a chance to read what he said, he didn't mention them at all.
Those of us who have attended World Youth Day events are also only too aware of how they get ignored over here. This new channel is another good reason to save on a licence fee and start selecting for ourselves what we want to know about.

Catholic Press

I don't know if you read the Catholic papers but if you see them this weekend do look out for a couple of articles. The Catholic Herald has a report on the New Year retreat with an accompanying photograph of some of the participants gathered round the 'Burning Bush'.
There's also an article on vocations in the Universe. The paper contacted me a few weeks ago to say they were doing a special focus on St George's Cathedral, Southwark, and inviting me to place a vocations advert. I had to tell them we don't have a budget for vocations but that I was willing to write an article if they wanted. They seemed happy with that but asked if it could refer to the Cathedral which I was more than happy to do. As it turns out that article is the main feature on the page. It just goes to show that it's always worth offering something to the press.

Filling Up the Seminary

Yesterday I travelled down to Wonersh to have a chat with some of the students who will be helping with the Retreat next weekend. I also got to speak to the college bursar who tells me they are having difficulty finding accommodation for all the young men who have signed up. Isn't that great? I'm chuffed to think we'll have managed to fill up the seminary for the weekend.

Of course, the problem is a little more complicated than it sounds. There are some students who are part time and who have some of the better rooms and also some who have left but who haven't yet evacuated their rooms. Nevertheless, the basic fact is clear. This year's Vocations Retreat, which is the biggest one so far, is going to fill the seminary for the weekend.

Now what we need is for all the readers of this Blog to storm heaven for its success.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What Happens in Your Youth Group?

Are you on XT3 - the Catholic Facebook? If so you may have heard me last Sunday for the 180 Holy Seconds Podcast on vocations. Today I got this video courtesy of the XT3 site.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Home and Finally Resurfacing

I got home just over a week ago but still suffering the effects of a pretty ghastly flu that left me without energy until Saturday - hence the unintended silence on the Blog!
In Spain the Feast of the Epiphany is a big thing. On the night before there's a procession of the Wise Kings through the streets. They are accompanied by giant 'pages' and throw sweets and toys to the excited children.

Epiphany (rather than Christmas)is also the day on which presents are exchanged. This is sometimes done with great formality as the Wise Kings are welcomed with a song, and then proceed to read a proclamation of the merits (or otherwise) of the members of the household during the year. Why should priests miss out on the fun? Since I was there for the Feast I joined a group of priests as they welcomed the Wise Men and duly received the (temporal) reward of their labours:

I got back to find that we now have twenty three men signed up for the forthcoming Vocations Retreat. That's really great. Please keep it in your prayers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Home Tomorrow

Today is the last day of my post-Christmas break as tomorrow I catch the plane back to London from Valencia. I´d hoped to post a few more articles, but unfortunately both I and the parish priest where I am staying went down with flu! Actually I thought it was food-poisoning but the doctor came and confirmed that the symptoms were those of a flu strain currently prevalent in this part of Spain. It does mean of course that I get home having had a lot of bed rest!
At the same time, I did have a chance to go to Tarragona where I met up with the Archbishop whom I knew before he became a bishop. I was also able to enjoy the celebration of Los Reyes (Epiphany) - the day on which presents are exchanged in Spain.
Today I celebrated Mass in a local convent only to find in the congregation a man who spends every Easter in my parish. The world - as they say over here - is a handkerchief! I asked the sisters and the lay people at Mass to pray for vocations in England and especially those thinking of applying this year. I´m pretty sure they will be faithful to their promise. Nothing like stacking up treasure in heaven, eh?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Vocations Retreat

Later this month we have our annual Vocations Retreat at St John´s Seminary, Wonersh. I notice from Facebook that we already have seven people signed up. There are also a number of others who haven´t yet discovered Facebook as a way of sitting at the computer and yet being a million miles away from one´s desk!
The Retreat begins on Friday 30th January and ends on Sunday 1st February. It starts with supper on the first day and ends after lunch on the Sunday. For a good number of those currently in seminary the Vocations Retreat has been a significant moment in their journey towards priesthood. Most of the young men who attend have no more than a sense that they might possibly have a vocation. In the course of the weekend that sense is sometimes strengthened, sometimes they realise that priesthood is not for them. Always they come away with a sense of the importance of prayer in their Christian life and grateful for having had the opportunity to 'come away a while' and spend quality time in the Lord´s presence.
Although organised by Southwarkvocations, the retreat has always been a joint venture with Fr Paul Turner, the Vocations Director of Arundel and Brighton, in recent years other dioceses have also asked to send candidates.
The policy of A&B and Southwark is that we don´t make a charge for the retreat. If you´d like to join us or want more information send me an email at Southwarkvocations (I´m writing this on someone else´s computer, if that link doesn´t work, try the email address at the top of the page).


Yesterday, after the morning Mass and confessions, we took a short trip by car to Peñiscola to visit the Castle of Benedict XIII, the famous Papa Luna of the Avignon schism. The castle is home to a rather tendentious exhibition about the Knights Templar and the Crusades (fortunately, however, no mention of the Da Vinci Code!). It struck me how easily an author can influence the readers´opinion by the insertion of one or two carefully chosen adjectives into an otherwise neutral text. When it comes to history, and particularly the production of textbooks for schools, we certainly need Catholics to get involved if we are to counter the growing anti-Catholic prejudice in society.

Although generally regarded as an anti-Pope, it is clear that in Peñiscola Papa Luna is held with some degree of veneration. In the Castle we found a plaque with the following inscription which suggests the locals haven´t totally given up his claim to the Papal throne:

asks you
to pray God for
Pope Benedict XIII,
Pedro de Luna,
the Great Aragones,
who lived a
and mortified
life for the sake of duty.
will reveal the mysteries of history.
In which may Jesus Christ
and Holy Mary his mother, save us.

The expression "El Juicio Final descubrirá misterios de la historia" has become something of a popular saying here in Spain.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

They don't teach you that in Seminary...

Today we woke up to a cold house. The boiler, which had been playing up for a couple of days, had finally given out and couldn't be revived. Fortunately we have already booked an engineer to come on Monday morning so it should be fixed soon. Poor Fr Augustus, who is from Nigeria, was already suffering from the cold! I'm sure the two North American seminarians staying with us aren't terribly impressed but they are putting on a good face. When you step out of a freezing cold shower it makes a very cold room seem almost warm - for about thirty seconds.
The other unexpected problem today is that the internet connection in the parish also decided to give up the ghost this afternoon. One minute it was there - the next it had gone. So far we've not been able to figure out why. I'm sure it's something to do with the new telephone system but we won't know until Monday. I hope it is straightforward to fix. We get a lot of emails each day and there's no way of letting people know there's an internal problem.
As it happens on Monday I will be getting away for a short break. I feel as if I'm abandoning the ship because we also have work beginning on the Church drains that day - but if I don't go then I won't get a break at all. I leave quite early on Monday morning and will be away for the whole week. I'll be flying to Valencia and will spend the time visiting a priest friend in Benecassim. I'm looking forward to it - I hear the paellas are great!

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Great Way to Welcome in the New Year

Now that everyone has left the presbytery seems strangely quiet today. Since Monday it has been not just the centre of operations for the New Year Retreat but also home to anything between eleven and fifteen people kipping down on any piece of available floor space. In the middle of the retreat our boiler broke down so mornings were particularly bracing. There's nothing like stepping out of a cold shower into a freezing room to sharpen the senses even if you did only get about three hours' sleep the night before!
We had over two hundred young adults on the retreat, many of them here for the first time. It was impressive to see them praying in the Church before the Blessed Sacrament, and humbling to see how much they desired the Sacrament of Reconciliation. On New Year's Eve Fr Julian Greene, chaplain at Birmingham Univesity, gave a particulalry powerful homily in which he spoke of young people's desire for salvation. It was really well received - I know because people say we look like brothers and I kept getting youngsters coming up to me telling me how much they liked my sermon!
On New Year's Day Bishop Patrick Lynch came to celebrate the Mass at midday. By then many of the young people had already left - some had long distances to travel - but I was pleased to see that the Bishop was happy to stay around for lunch and meet many of those who remained. I know it meant a lot to the young people themselves and I am sure it was encouraging for the bishop.
By late afternoon yesterday everyone had gone and the school and Church were back in order. As they left two seminarians from the North American College in Rome turned up. They will be staying until Monday but they have their itinerary worked out and don't require any special looking after. Today therefore, after a Requiem Mass this morning, I was able to begin the task of putting some order back into the house. I could do so confident that the Retreat had been worthwhile in that it had been a moment of grace fo9r many of the participants, and happy to have a few extra names to add to my prayer list of potential vocations.
What a good way to start the year!