Sunday, June 16, 2013

Your Prayers Please...

Tomasz, Mark, John and Gregory outside St Paul's, Dover

This weekend we had a Vocations Appeal at the beautiful St Paul's Church in Dover. It is a lovely old Church on the wonderfully named Maison Dieu Road in that town, nesting just below the famous Castle and not far from the even more famous White Cliffs.
Of your charity please say a prayer for its parish priest, Fr Peter Madden. Fr Peter is supposed to be away on holiday but recently has been recovering from cancer and recently had a relapse. He is suffering the effects of chemotherapy and is both very unwell and in a lot of pain. Fortunately there is a couple in the parish who are helping care for him as much as they can. Please remember Fr Peter in your prayers and all the sick priests out there who have no one to look after them.

Another Update on the Chapel

We are very grateful to all our benefactors who have offered to help with the restoration of the Chapel here at the Vocations Centre. The work is progressing well and the sanctuary is almost complete. The gold paint, which was paid for by a benefactor, has arrived and is really making a difference to the chapel not only because of the lettering but also because we are using it to lift the ceiling by highlighting the decorative bars in the barrelled vault. It breaks up the ceiling and makes it much more attractive.I am especially grateful to those of you who offered to help us get a new Ambo for the Liturgy of the Word. The Ambo is being made at a workshop in Madrid and will be shipped out to us in an unfinished state - not only because this is cheaper but also because it means we can varnish it ourselves to match the Altar. I am also grateful for the gift of a new plinth for the statue of Our Lady which has already arrived and which we have now stained although we don't plan to put it up until the work on the Chapel is nearing completion.
This week we are going to restore the wooden floor on the sanctuary. If anyone wants to help us with the cost of hiring a sanding machine and the materials necessary for this job please email me.

Here is a photograph of the sanctuary now that the lettering has been finished. The inscription reads "Launch out into the deep and pay out your nets for a catch":

Click on the picture for a larger view

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Warm Welcome from St Saviour's, Lewisham

Last weekend we visited St Saviour's parish in Lewisham where the parish priest, Fr Chris Connor, had very kindly invited us to speak about the work of the Vocations Office. I preached at the Mass and took the opportunity of the Gospel passage - the widow of Naim - to encourage the parishioners to take heart because God can bring about extra-ordinary transformations. Above all it was an invitation to them to take seriously the need to pray for vocations. At the end of the Mass one of the residents here spoke about the Vocations Centre and the impact it had on his own journey of discernment.
The photograph above shows some of our helpers at the Masses ready to hand out information sheets and Gift Aid envelopes to those who wanted to support our work in practical ways.
St Saviour's is one of our bigger parishes with a thriving community from all over the world. One thing that was very noticeable was the fact that almost everyone left Mass with great smiles on their faces.

Progress on the Chapel

If you have been following the work on our chapel these photos might interest you. This one is taken from the choir loft and shows Gregory, who has just been accepted by the Archdiocese to train for priesthood, marking out the apse before applying the gold paint. You can see the stencils for the text of the inscription on the floor.

Four coats of gold paint later we have the horizontal 'tramlines' ready to take the text of the inscription. The chapel is already beginning to elicit a few "wows" from people who come to visit - and not only those who saw it before!

This picture gives you some idea of how the inscription is being applied to the apse. First of all we had to settle on a passage that would be both appropriate and also just the right length for our apse. It also had to allow for a break in the middle without detracting from the meaning of the text. Then each letter had to be printed individually and turned into a stencil. Next the stencils had to be put together to form the words with a consistent spacing between the letters. Finally they had to be fixed to the wall with just the right distance between them ready for painting.

The work isn't yet finished and you can see the stencils are still up but this picture gives you an idea of what it will look like eventually. The inscription reads: "Duc in altum et laxate retia vestra in capturam" - launch out into the deep and pay out your nets for a catch! Pope John Paul II used the phrase Duc in altum to encourage us to proclaim the faith boldly at the beginning of this third Christian millennium. The inscription seemed appropriate because it both captures the need to evangelise and to be ready to receive vocations and also ties in with the fact that Whitstable is a fishing town with its own working harbour.

We still have a long way to go so watch out for more updates!

The Investiture of Joanna Bogle into the Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great

A number of people have asked me for the text of my Homily which I am happy to publish here.

Dame Joanna from a photo by Mulier Fortis

When Joanna asked me to preach this evening on the occasion of her investiture into the Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great, I accepted gladly - I’ve known Joanna since I was little more than a child - but as I came to put pen to paper I kept remembering something I heard once after a priest’s funeral: commenting on the homily someone said, “The Bishop said such lovely things about Father in the sermon”. Then there was a pause and another person replied, “Yes. It’s a shame he never got to hear it himself”. So my dilemma is, how to do justice to an occasion such as this without sounding as if I’m preaching Joanna’s funeral oration!

I am sure that, like me, you have been very struck by some of the things our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been saying since his election. He has an ability to speak very simply and yet challenge us profoundly. We have had three remarkable Pontificates in recent years. Pope John Paul II will surely go down in history as the greatest Pope in modern times. I think some people forget - and perhaps others are too young to remember - just how confusing things were when he was elected in 1978. I was sixteen at the time and well-remember the mantra, “Oh, we don’t believe that any more”. The Religious Affairs correspondent of The Times had published an article entitled, “The Runaway Church can she be Caught?” and concluded that the momentum for change was such that there was no stopping her - seemingly oblivious to the irony that runaway vehicles usually end in carnage! I was in Rome for much of Pope John Paul’s Pontificate and for many of his great encyclicals. For me it was as if with each document we were witnessing him going back down into the quarry to hew out the great blocks that he would then use to rebuild the Church. When Pope Benedict was elected that work had already been done. For the most part people were no longer teaching that Confession was unnecessary or denying Christ’s substantial presence in the Eucharist. Pope Benedict dragged out and opened up some of the crates where treasures had been packed away for safe-keeping. He would draw things out and explain their significance to us, things that were perhaps sometimes in danger of being forgotten. He reminded us to take time to value beauty as a way to God. He embellished the Church with things both old and new including the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and the other Ordinariates that have been established to facilitate unity while embracing a legitimate diversity within the Church. How fitting it is that Mgr Keith Newton should preside at our Mass today as Joanna’s Ordinary. So now Pope Francis, who comes to the See of Peter with the Church beautifully restored and embellished, reminds us of the need to go out and evangelise because unless we invite people in, she will become a museum or, worse still, a mausoleum. He does this by challenging us all very directly. On the day after his election, speaking to the Cardinals, he cautioned against becoming a “charitable NGO but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord” and he went on to say, “we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord”. The Holy Father is calling each one of us to an examination of conscience. It is so easy to become distracted and divided by external things. We can become Church experts, bureaucrats, politicians and all sorts of other things, but are we really disciples of Jesus Christ? A disciple is more than a follower. A disciple is someone who spends time sitting at the feet of the Master, listening to him, asking him questions, being challenged by him. So the fundamental question Pope Francis puts to each one of us is “What is the quality of my discipleship, of my relationship with Jesus Christ?”

I have to admit that in the last few days I have had to fill a gap in my knowledge of  Pontifical Orders. I hope that doesn’t come as a shock to those of you who can recount their history, explain their privileges and describe their attire - both formal and informal! Even now don’t ask me to explain their various grades. Not having a head for that sort of information I am consoled by the note of caution sounded in the First Reading of today’s Mass. “The Lord”, says the author of Ecclesiastes, “is no respecter of persons”. It is not rank or title that matter to God, but what you have done. The quality of one’s discipleship is manifest in one’s deeds. 

I imagine that in an age that exalts ‘equality’ at the expense - as we see in the current ‘same sex marriage’ debate - of difference and complementarity, some people would question the very notion of conferring honours upon individuals. It is a bit like the ideological imposition that sought to abolish competitive sports in schools because not everyone could win. I find there is something scary, not truly human, about such arguments. In watching the Olympics last year we didn’t grumble that we were excluded. Rather we celebrated the athletes' achievements and all our spirits were greatly lifted. 

An honour is rightly bestowed in gratitude for services rendered. It is also a public recognition of those services and encourages others to follow a similar path. This is particularly true of the Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great which was established by Pope Gregory XVI in 1831 by the Bull Quod Summis. In it he says the honour is to be granted on account of an individual’s “praestantia generis, vel gloria rerum gestarum, vel insignum munerum procuratione, vel demum gravibus alliis ex causis” - the excellence of their background, or the glory of their achievements, or their notable generosity, or indeed any other serious reasons - such that they merit reward with “publico Pontificae dilectionis testimonio” - a public witness of the Holy Father's affection and pleasure. It is an honour which is given in public recognition of an individual’s good work, as a sign of gratitude and as a stimulus to others. In fact, unlike a funeral oration, it is not “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your rest”, but “You’re doing well! Keep it up!” and, “Would that others were doing the same!”

The motto of the Order is Pro Deo et Principe - which a quick consultation with Vinopedia reveals also to be used by a rather nice Chardonnay from 2005! It means, “For God and the Sovereign”. Gregory XVI came to the Papal throne at a time when the very existence of the Papal States were being threatened by revolution and insurrection. He established the Order, in the first place, to recognise those who came to their defence. For us his choice of Pope St Gregory the Great as patron is significant for two reasons. It was Gregory who established the patrimonium Petri, the secular sovereignty of the bishop of Rome with the dedication of the Church's goods to the needs of the poor. Later, of course, in a beautiful text he laments how the affairs of state now distract him from his former life of prayer for which he yearns. But also because St Gregory is the one who spotted the Anglian slaves in the Roman forum and having observed non sunt Angli sed angeli - they are not Angles but angels - determined that St Augustine should be sent to these shores, becoming as he did the first bishop of Canterbury,  whose feast day we celebrated yesterday and whose Catholic successor will invest Joanna into the Order at the end of this Mass.

Pro Deo et Principe. An honour bestowed not only for services pro Deo, to God, but also pro Principe - for a commitment to the reign of Christ in the realities of the secular world. In this Year of Faith, the anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, we can recall that the Conciliar decree on the apostolate of the laity did not envisage an active and engaged laity as a people doing something inside the Church and Church buildings, but rather as making a real difference to the world by transforming its structures from within so that they reflect, respect and promote the dignity of the human person. The Council taught that lay people are called to be saints and that their holiness was to be felt in their family life, in their places of work, and in their commitment to better society. Fifty years on, the questions and challenges facing us in modern Britain suggests that this is possibly the document from whose richness we still have most to learn.

And so Joanna, for all your work and especially for that over the years with Aid to the Church in Need, Pope Benedict decided that you should be honoured by being admitted as a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great. There are so many ways in which you have defended the faith and the dignity of the human person from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death in the public sphere, and contributed to the life of the Church both locally and internationally, that it is impossible to list them here. I think the Lord himself would have difficulty counting up all the couples you have helped to prepare for marriage! What I would say is that when others have given in to the easy temptation to lament or complain when things haven’t gone well for the Church, your response has been to act, to shine a light, to do something positive: from a fund-raising cake sale for Maryvale - where you will soon complete your degree in theology - , or a Pilgrimage with the Ladies’ Ordinariate Group, to a campaign to support priests and setting up the Towards Advent festivals. You have been able to rely on the support of your family and friends, and of course in a particular way on that of Jamie. You have rallied others to good causes and you have worked with Catholics and non-Catholics alike and it is a great tribute to you that many of the projects (like the Catholic Young Writer Award or the School Bible Project) you have started do not depend on you for them to continue. There is no sense of a “Joanna Bogle Show”. Sometimes perhaps it has seemed a lonely struggle but even without knowing it you have inspired other people. Just before the Papal Visit you had a particularly bruising interview with John Snow on ITV and one of the viewers was so impressed by the need to have more people willing to step forward in that work of defending the faith in the media that Catholic Voices was born and from its fledgling beginning in the UK is rapidly spreading all over the world.

All this is what the Holy Father wants recognised today in making you a Dame of St Gregory as a sign of the gratitude of the Church and as a witness to others. In the Gospel of today's Mass, our Lord promises great blessing to those who leave everything to become his disciples - although not without persecutions. He declares that “Many who are first will be last and the last first”. If it has sometimes seemed a lonely struggle, and you have experienced opposition even from good people, the Church today calls you forward to receive this honour because you have lived the demands of Christian discipleship and because you have encouraged others to do the same.  And, in doing so, she invites each one of us to examine our consciences so that we might rediscover the paramount importance of being first a true disciple of Christ.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


"Down with the Church! Thirty Centuries of religious obscurantism have poisoned the minds of the Spanish people... The priest, the monk and the Jesuit ruled in Spain - it is time to exterminate these people" - the Dictatorship of Relativism has little interest in facts...

In Southwark Archdiocese we have a Convent of "Siervas de Maria", Handmaids of Mary, for whom I would occasionally say Mass, hear confessions or preach a retreat when I was close by in Balham. The Holy Father has recently announced that he will soon beatify four of their number who were martyred during the Spanish Civil War. This Congregation looks after the sick at night to give their family a break. They don't run schools or chaplaincies. They just care for the sick. They were assassinated because hatred towards religion had been fostered in the popular mind. This is what happened:

From 1934 until 18th July 1936, the day the Spanish Civil War broke out, fifty Catholic clergy had been assassinated in Spain. The outbreak of the War coincided with a systematic and wide scale massacre of priests and religious none of whom were combatants. By 14th September that year the authorities had presided over the assassination of 3,400 priests and religious.

On 21st November 1936, the Siervas de Maria in Pozuelo de Alarcon, Madrid, decided to leave their convent, splitting up into smaller groups and take refuge in the homes of friendly families. They were subject to surveillance and were not able to stay in touch with each other. They were not allowed to wear their religious habit. One of them, Sr Aurora, after 62 years as a nun burst into tears at being made to wear lay clothes.

Eventually the militia decided to arrest them and attacked the house where four of the nuns were living. The family reported afterwards that they were terribly insulted and abused by the attackers but that Sr Daria spoke up to them: "Yes, we are indeed religious. You can do what you want with us but we ask you not to harm this family, they saw us homeless and had the authority of the Pozuelo Committee to receive us in their charity".

The youngest nun Sr Agustina wasn't caught with the other three and joined a family that fled to Las Rozas, another district near Madrid, but while she was there someone betrayed her to the authorities and she was arrested. The charge against her was that she was a religious and that she had been seen praying. She was assassinated on 5h December, the day before the martyrdom of her three sisters.

There was no political or military gain to be had in shooting four nuns, tow of whom were elderly and one of whom was paralysed. They were killed because hatred of the faith had been fostered in the hearts of the people. 

The liberal democracy had given way to a dictatorship of relativism in which there was no room for religious faith.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Two More Photos of the Chapel

As you can see from the two photographs below the work on the Chapel is continuing...

There has only been one day so far when we were unable to use the Chapel for Mass and for our periods of daily prayer. In this picture you can see that the new altar is back in place and we are already using the Chapel.

This photograph was taken after tonight's Holy Hour. The final colour scheme is beginning to become apparent. In time the panel behind the tabernacle will be painted a rich blue. To the top left you can see how we are planning to use a sky blue on the barrelled ceiling.
Yesterday I ordered the gold paint for the lettering (£108) and today I ordered the carved wooden plinth for the statue of Our Lady (£69). If anyone would like to sponsor this work please let me know. You can email me here. I am very grateful for the offers of help obtaining a new ambo.

Cardinal Piacenza sends letter to seminarians

Cardinal Piacenza sends letter to seminarians

Letter to Seminarians
on the Occasion of the Day for the Sanctification of Priests
The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
7 June 2013

Dearest Seminarians,

The Primacy of Grace in the Priestly Life

On the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we celebrate most significantly the day for the sanctification of priests and, as you are in the Seminary to respond in the most fitting way possible to your vocation, it is important for me to send you this letter, with great affection, so that you may feel involved and, as such, remember this important occasion.

We contemplate together today the origin of the divine vocation. The Holy Father has emphasised firmly the love in which those who are Priests of Christ and of the Church must participate. In his homily at his first Chrism Mass (28 March 2013), Pope Francis said "This I ask you: be shepherds, with the 'odour of the sheep'". By this striking image, the Successor of Peter invites us to have a strong and solid love for the People of God, a love which - as the same Pontiff has noted - is not fed from purely human sources, nor is it reinforced by techniques of self-persuasion. It is the personal encounter with the Lord; it is keeping alive the knowledge of having been called by Him, who gives the truly greater supernatural strength to be Priests in the image of the Good Shepherd of all, Christ Jesus. But in order to be such tomorrow, you have to prepare yourselves today. In very clear words, Pope Francis has referred to the primacy of grace in the priestly life: "It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live our priestly life going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimise the power of grace" (ibidem).

The Priestly Cross
For the disciple walking with Christ, walking in grace, means taking on with spiritual joy the weight of the priestly cross. We hear again the Holy Father teaching about this: "When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly" (Homily at the Holy Mass with the Cardinals, 14 March 2013). On the contrary, to live our ministry as a service to Christ crucified, prevents us from understanding the Church as a human organisation "a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord" (ibidem).

In the light of these first magisterial teachings of Pope Francis, I invite you to consider your life as a gift of God and, at the same time, a task which has been entrusted to you, not simply by men but - albeit by way of the necessary mediation by the Church - ultimately by the Lord himself, who has a plan for your life and for the lives of the brothers and sisters whom you will be called to serve.

The Liturgy Opens Heaven Wide Here on Earth
It is necessary to view the whole of our life in terms of a divine call, and also of a generous human response. This involves cultivating within ourselves the vocational sense, which interprets life as a continual dialogue with the Lord Jesus, risen and alive. In every age, Christ has called and continues to call men to follow him more closely by participating in his priesthood - that implies that, in every period of the history of the Church, the Lord has held a vocational dialogue with the faithful that He has chosen, so that they may be his representatives among the people of God, as well as mediators between heaven and earth, particularly in the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments. In fact, one can say that the liturgy opens heaven wide here on earth.

Never Place Limits on the Plan that God Has for Us
On this basis, you are called through ordination - without any merit of your own - to be mediators between God and his people and to make possible the salvific encounter through the celebration of the divine mysteries. Notwithstanding your own limits, you have responded to this call with generosity and joy. It is important that you always keep alive the sense of youthfulness in your hearts: "We must live the faith with a young heart, always: a young heart, even at the age of seventy or eighty. Dear young people! With Christ, the heart never grows old" (Pope Francis, Homily for Palm Sunday, 24 March 2013, no. 3).
The youthfulness of the priestly spirit, firm in its vocation, is guaranteed by prayer, that is the continually maintained attitude of interior silence which favours listening to God every day. This continual opening of the heart happens, naturally, within a stability that - once the fundamental life decisions have been taken - is capable, with the help of grace, to remain faithful to the tasks which have been solemnly accepted, right up to the end of our earthly life. However, this necessary stability does not imply closing our ear to the ongoing call of God, because the Lord, while confirming us every day in our fundamental vocation, is always at the door of our heart knocking (cf. Acts 3:30), waiting for us to open it to Him with the same generosity with which we said to him our first "fiat", imitating the availability of the Ever Virgin Mother of God (cf. Lk. 1:38). We can, therefore, never place limits on the plan that God has for us and that he will communicate to us day after day, throughout the whole of our life.

From the Heart of God into the Heart of Man
This vocational openness also represents the most certain way to live evangelical joy. It is, in fact, the Lord who will make us truly happy. Our joy does not come from mundane satisfaction, which makes us briefly happy and quickly disappears, as St. Ignatius of Loyola noted in his first spiritual discernment (cf. Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings of 31 July, II Reading). Our joy is Christ! In the daily dialogue with Him, our spirit is reassured and continually renews our passion and our zeal for the salvation of souls.

This prayerful dimension of the priestly vocation reminds us of still more very important aspects. First among them is the fact that vocations grow not principally from a pastoral strategy, but above all through prayer. As Jesus taught: "Pray... the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest" (Lk. 10:2). Commenting on these evangelical words, Pope Benedict XVI noted: "We cannot simply 'produce' vocations; they must come from God. This is not like other professions; we cannot simply recruit people by using the right kind of publicity or the correct type of strategy. The call which comes from the heart of God must always find its way into the heart of man" (Meeting with Priests and Permanent Deacons of Bavaria. 14 September 2006). 

You, dear Seminarians, have been called by the Lord, but many people spread throughout the world have supported and are supporting your response with their prayers and their sacrifices. Be grateful for this and unite yourselves to these prayers and sacrifices to support other responses to vocations. To the primacy of prayer can then be added, as a channel of this divine grace, the sound, motivated and enthusiastic vocational pastoral action on the part of the Church. With regard to this ecclesial collaboration with the divine work of giving pastors to the People of God and the Mystical Body of Christ, it is appropriate to remember briefly a few matters that mark it out, that is: respect for priestly vocations, the witness of the lives of Priests, the specific work of Seminary formators.

Nurture the Seeds of Vocations
It is first of all necessary that the Church appreciates you for your priestly vocation, considering that the Community of the disciples of Christ cannot exist without the service of the sacred ministers. From this comes the care, attention and reverence for the priesthood. Secondly, vocations are highly favoured, as can be seen from the example and the care that the priests offer them. It would be difficult for an exemplary priest not to stimulate the question in the minds of young people: could I not also be called to a wonderful and happy life like this? Particularly in this way, Priests are channels through which God makes the divine call resound in the heart of those He has chosen. Priests then will nurture the seeds of vocation that begin to spring in the souls of the young, by means of sacramental Confession, spiritual direction, preaching and pastoral enthusiasm. I am sure that many of you will be witnesses to and beneficiaries of this.

The Church Needs Priests
I would, furthermore, like to say a word about the important role of those priests to whom the Bishops entrust your formation. The Seminary formators are called to continue and to deepen the care for priestly vocations, while they provide all the required help for the necessary personal discernment of every candidate. As to this, we must remember the two principles which must guide the evaluation of vocations: the friendly welcome and the just severity. While every prejudice as well as every rigorsim should be avoided in the treatment of seminarians, on the other hand it is of the greatest importance to guard carefully against laxism and carelessness in judgment. The Church certainly needs Priests, but not any kind of Priest! The love that welcomes must therefore accompany the truth which judges with clarity whether, for a particular candidate, the signs of a vocation and the human qualities necessary for a trustworthy response to it are present. The pastoral urgency of the Church cannot be permitted to bring about haste in conferring the sacred ministry. On the contrary, where there is doubt, it is better to take the time necessary and carry out appropriate evaluations, which will not exclude the dismissal of those candidates who are not able to offer sufficient guarantees.

Keep Persevering
My dearest Seminarians, with these brief comments, I have endeavoured to redirect our spiritual attention to the immense gift and to the absolutely free mystery of our special vocation. We entrust to the intercession of our most holy Mother Mary and of St. Joseph the gifts of fidelity and of perseverance in the divine call that, by pure grace, they may be bestowed upon us and that we may seek to respond to the divine generosity, which always sends pastors for the flock with renewed apostolic zeal. Keep persevering, always remembering that we show our love in this world by our fidelity.

I remember you each day in prayer with great affection, and I implore the Lord to send down his divine benediction upon you.

Mauro Cardinal Piacenza
Congregation for the Clergy

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Chapel Update

As you can see from the photograph above the work on the Chapel is progressing. An unexpected revelation is that the colour of the apse turns out not to have been off-white but a somewhat peach colour. It only became apparent once we lost the shiny crimson on the facing walls.
You can now see clearly the plan for the finished apse: with a central panel in a rich blue - to make the tabernacle more prominent - flanked by side panels in a rich yellow.
Donations towards the restoration of the Chapel would be very welcome - every little helps! To obtain a Gift Aid form please email me here.