Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Father's Homily at the Chrism Mass

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination.
The readings of our Mass speak of God’s “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David, and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed… A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (Ps 133:2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe.
The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs of whom there are many in these times…
From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.
A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak.
We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. 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 by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become Pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.
A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.
Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart. Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pope Francis' Sets the Agenda for the his Papacy

Pope Francis preparing for Mass with the Vatican gardeners

Having written a couple of posts on Evangelisation I was interested to hear today that Cardinal Jaime Ortega spoke at his Chrism Mass in Cuba about the intervention of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio during the General Congregation of the Cardinals before the Papal Conclave. The General Congregations were the opportunity for all the Cardinals, electors and non-electors, to speak for five minutes on what they perceived to be the most pressing issues for the Church. Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, later gave his handwritten intervention to the Archbishop of Havanna. In it he speaks of the importance of Evangelisation, recalling the teaching of Pope Paul that it is the reason for the Church's existence; speaking of the "sweet and comforting joy of evangelising" and recalling the fact that it is the Lord himself who impels us to go out into the world in order to pass on the faith. This is my translation of the four points made by Cardinal Bergoglio in his intervention. They effectively give us his agenda for the Church:

I. To evangelise requires apostolic zeal. To evangelise requires from the Church the confidence (1) to go out beyond her confines. The Church is called to go out of herself towards the peripheries which are to be understood not only in a geographical sense but in an existential way as well: the peripheries of the mystery of sin; those of pain and of injustice; those of religious ignorance and indifference; those of the intellectual world as well as those of all suffering.

II. When the Church does not reach beyond herself to evangelise she becomes "self-referential" (autorreferencial) and thereby grows sick (like the woman bent over herself in the Gospel). The evils which take place in ecclesial institutions in the course of time have their root in "self-referentiality", a sort of theological narcissism. In the Apocalypse Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Clearly the text is referring to the fact that he is outside knocking in order to be let in... but I am thinking about the times Jesus is knocking from inside in order for us to let him out. A self-referential Church wants to keep Jesus inside and won't allow him to go out.

III. The Church when it is self-referential, without being aware, begins to think she has her own light; she stops being the mysterium lunae (2) and gives way to the grave phenomenon of spiritual worldliness which according to De Lubac is the worst evil that can happen to the Church. It is a living in order to glorify each other. Put simply there are two images of the Church: the evangelising Church which goes out of itself, the Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidenter proclamans (3),  or the worldly Church which lives in itself, of itself and for itself. This should shed light on the potential changes and reforms that need to take place for the salvation of souls.

IV.  Thinking about the qualities of the next Pope: we need a man who from his contemplation of Jesus Christ and from his adoration of Jesus Christ will help the Church to go out of herself towards these existential peripheries, who will help her to be the fertile mother who draws life from the "sweet and comforting joy of evangelising".

  1. The word Pope Francis uses is a Greek one - parresia - used in the early Church to mean courage or boldness.
  2. The Fathers often referred to the Church as the mysterium lunae - the mystery of the moon - because her light is simply a reflection of Christ, the true Light from Light.
  3. "Devoutly listening to the Word of God and faithfully proclaiming it" - a quotation from Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.

In these four paragraphs we see set out eloquently the Holy Father's agenda for his papacy. It is a time to leave behind internal squabbles, to rediscover the face of Christ and to present him anew to our world.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What is Evangelisation?

I am following up the last post on the New Evangelisation with some more considerations along similar lines. Vocations will come from those who follow the Lord as disciples. The danger of clericalisation is evident not only in those who do not respect the specific vocation of lay people in the middle of the world (and therefore want to get them to do priestly things) but also in a reduction of the priesthood to an empty activism. To be a disciple means to be a person who has been evangelised and has responded by picking up the Cross and following Christ. We have to be on our guard against the danger spoken of by Pope Francis that, "we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord".

When Pope John Paul II called for a Decade of Evangelisation in preparation for the year 2000 I wondered how many Catholics knew knew what he meant. People knew what "telly-evangelists" were and the word "evangelisation" seemed somewhat contaminated by association. Even today I wonder how many Catholics know what evangelisation means. Recently I gave a talk on "Vocations and the New Evangelisation" to a group of priests and in the questions afterwards one of them asked if what I really meant was 'catechesis'. It is an understandable confusion but evangelisation and catechesis are two quite different things even if it is important for them to be linked in practice. We could explain the distinction in this way: evangelisation is the initial proclamation of Christ, whereas catechesis is the systematic explanation of that proclamation. It becomes easier to see the link between the two if we think of evangelisation as an encounter with Christ and catechesis as the process of learning about Christ. The importance of evangelisation become self-evident when we see that knowing about someone is not the same as knowing that person so catechesis without evangelisation is meaningless.

Most people know that the word evangelisation is derived from two Greek words: "eu" meaning "good" and "angelion" meaning "message". The first words of St Mark's Gospel are, "The beginning of the good news (eu-angelion) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God". What is 'good news' for one person is of course not necessarily good news for another. Recently I and some other priests were guests in a student house during a youth conference. I baited a mouse trap in the kitchen and caught a mouse (well six of them in fact). For the students that was good news. For the other priests it was more like, "We've got mice? That's gross!" St Mark, however, isn't just proclaiming any good news. His proclamation has a very specific and universally significant content: "Jesus Christ, the Son of God".

Although most people are familiar with the derivation of 'evangelisation' fewer are aware of the origin of its English equivalent "gospel" which is a shame because it is also quite enlightening. The word comes from two earlier English words "gud" (ie. good) and "spell". These days we associate "spells" with witchcraft and wizardry. It is somewhat ironic that its current pagan use can help us understand its original meaning. A spell has to be cast or proclaimed and when it is it brings about a change: a spell makes things happen. That gives us an important insight into what we mean by 'evangelisation': in the very act of proclaiming Christ we are making him present.

We can illustrate this by taking an example from the Mass. In the Liturgy of the Word we sit for the readings but stand for the Gospel because the Word of God is present in the very proclamation of that Word. Announcing the Gospel the deacon or priest does not extend his hands at the words "Dominus vobiscum - the Lord be with you" because it is not a 'wish' that the Lord may be with his people. Rather it is a statement that the Lord is already with them in the proclamation itself. For the same reason the deacon or priest does not pick up the book to show the people at the end of the Gospel and nor does he say (in the corrected translation) "This is the Gospel of the Lord" because the 'good news' is not the book, it is the person made present in the proclamation itself. The Gospel is the "glad tidings" of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, not the books that contain the account of that Good News.

God so loved the world that he sent his only Son who became obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis - obedient unto death, death upon the Cross. To evangelise is therefore not only to proclaim the good news of God's love manifest in Christ but also to make him present in that proclamation. We see this for example in the Acts of the Apostles when St Peter is asked for alms. St Peter responds, "gold and silver I have none but what I have I give thee, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth arise and walk" (Acts 3:6). The man is cured precisely because Jesus is made present in the proclamation.

The avoid this post becoming too long I ail stop with one final reflection. When we speak of evangelisation the content is the proclamation of Christ but we can also speak of two distinct things that are taking place. One is the action of the evangelist who proclaims Christ and the other is the transformation that takes place in the heart of the one who receives Him. For evangelisation to be effective both are necessary. When we evangelise we are proclaiming Christ, we are offering an encounter with him. This encounter takes place in the heart of the one who is evangelised. A useful comparison is with teaching. These days we make a distinction between 'teaching' and 'learning'. In the past they would have been considered under the one heading but now we recognise that there is only good teaching if effective learning is taking place. A successful teacher is one whose children learn. We also recognise today that people have different learning styles and so the teaching has to be delivered according to the modo recipientis - the individual's manner of learning. It is for this reason that the Church has constantly to reflect on how she evangelises to ensure that the Word proclaimed penetrates to the hearts of those who do not yet know the Lord.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Vocations and the New Evangelisation

Some months ago I was invited to the United States to give a talk on the New Evangelisation. It is a concept that still elicits quizzical looks in some quarters. How can there be a new Evangelisation if there is no new Gospel? The Gospel is one and the same and so, surely, its proclamation cannot change in any substantial way. With such objections in mind, I found a very helpful explanation in a recent collection of essays by Walter Kasper (unfortunately not yet available in English). Kasper develops some of the distinctions expressed by Benedict XVI in Porta Fidei, the document announcing the year of faith. Here the Pope speaks of three forms of evangelisation. There is the traditional mission ad gentes, the initial proclamation of the Gospel to pagan peoples. This missionary activity of the Church is as important and as licit today as it has ever been. Secondly, there is the need to evangelise the members of the Church herself. The Pope mentions how in the past parish retreats and missions were privileged moments for the faith to be awakened in individuals through a personal encounter with Christ. Finally there is a situation which is new in the developed world which is the reality of cultures which were once Christian but now have little more than residual vestiges. How do you proclaim Christ to a people who think they already know what you are going say and therefore either won't listen or interpret your words according to their own categories? This is the field proper to the New Evangelisation. It is not the content that is new but rather the cultural context and consequently the methods of engagement.

The New Evangelisation is important when we consider the question of vocations. All over the world there has been an increase in vocations attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit through those groups and movements that are agents of the New Evangelisation. I heard while in the United States that a third of seminarians are in some way the fruit of the apostolic endeavours of just two groups evangelising young people. To use the analogy of fishing, we could say that the traditional fishing grounds for vocations were the family, the parish and the school. Although not exhausted, the stocks in these grounds are very much diminished. Today many of the vocations in our seminaries and religious orders have resulted from a call from God that began in the call to faith presented to them by one of those groups associated with the New Evangelisation.

When we speak of a “new evangelization” we do not mean that there is some new content to the Gospel message. What is new isn’t the message proclaimed but the situation of those receiving that message. The mission ad gentes has an inherent advantage in that there is a freshness to the proclamation and an openness on the part of the recipient. The New Evangelisation has to come to terms with the fact that it is proclaiming the Gospel to a generation who are familiar with some of the concepts and have grown cynical about its content. It is a cynicism born not just of scandal within the Church but also of a more generalized cultural ennui proper to a generation who have been the recipients of promises that have never delivered. 

John Bosco by day
If it is true, and it certainly seems likely to be the case, that in the foreseeable future, a substantial proportion of our vocations will be the fruit of the New Evangelisation there will be specific consequences, or challenges, for the life of the Church. As the saying goes, "if we do what we've always done we will get what we've always got". This is the first challenge. If we want to see more vocations there is a need for the Church to come to terms with the New Evangelisation by reaching out an supporting those groups who are already engaged in it. I am not advocating a sort of ecclesial nationalisation of the new movements. Their very strength comes from their youthfulness and ability to think outside the usual "box" of diocesan structures. But in many cases they will benefit from the encouragement, support and wisdom that the Church can offer them. I wonder how often we listen to the new Movements, trying to understand them and to see where we can offer them support? I imagine that any bishop fortunate enough to have a contemplative community in his diocese would regard it a tragedy were they to close. Do we have a similar desire to welcome evangelising groups into our dioceses, such as NET Ministries from the USA? So the first challenge is to overcome institutional stasis and allow ourselves to be challenged.

A second, but not unrelated challenge, comes from the fact that we are talking of a generation that has grown up in a post-Christian cultural context. The 1960's and 1970's were years of stripping away and challenging authority. They were marked by a naive activism that believed progress would build the brave new world. The current generation looks instead for certainty, is cynical about the future and holds to forms and expressions of the past as a sign of continuity. The rebels of a former age now find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being themselves rebelled against by a generation that seems not to understand or show any sympathy for their struggle for 'liberation'. The second challenge is therefore directed at individuals within the Church. Are we to remain time-locked in the struggles of the past and so risk being irrelevant to the present? Or are we willing to let go of the past and its battles in order to be open to the aspirations and needs of the present?

John Travolta by night
The third challenge follows on from the second. Men and women who come to faith through the New Evangelisation remain people who have grown up within a particular social, family and cultural context. Their formation needs are, therefore, very specific. The men and women responding to a vocation today are more likely to have the personal history of Augustine of Hippo than Teresa of Avila. How can we be sure that the formation we offer meets the needs of this new generation unless we are willing to discern what those needs are? It is also worth recalling that we need to be aware of "false friends" - what Rome means by "human formation" is not the same as what a secular therapist understands when he or she hears those words. The challenge is to get to know those in formation by investing time in them which is not the same as observing them from afar or through the reports of others, and responding to their needs in ways that are explicitly Christian. If we are to avoid the phenomenon of men in formation who are John Bosco by day and John Travolta by night we will need to be on our guard against offering a therapeutic model of human formation based on a pagan (and therefore flawed) anthropology. I have to say that I was impressed to see in the United States an excellent programme of human formation rooted in the fundamental truth that we are sons and daughters of God. If that is not the starting point something has gone wrong.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Betraying Christ

Recent revelations afflicting the Church in these islands have shown us the truth of Pope Francis' words in his first address to the Cardinals that if we turn away from the Cross, from penance and self-denial, "we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly people - we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord".

As Holy Week approaches we might ask ourselves where such betrayal of Christ begins. I don't believe it can be a spur of the moment thing or a so-called "moment of madness" attributable to excess alcohol. I suspect the malaise takes root in an individual when he turns away from the path of discipline and self-denial and begins to follow an easy, compromised, way of life. Jesus says, "If anyone wishes to come after me let him deny himself and pick up the Cross and follow me". He does not say, "Look after yourself, the Church owes you a favour". He says, "Stay awake and pray". He does not say, "It's okay to be cool about prayer, just do it when you feel like it". Jesus says, "Do not worry about what you wear".  He does not say, "Your value is determined by designer labels, elaborate vestments and the most expensive Cologne". Jesus says, "Eat what is set before you". He does not say, "You know, you're right, I wouldn't eat that either!"

We are to pick up the Cross daily and follow the Lord. Our vocation is not to build booths on Thabor and contemplate the Lord's heavenly splendour (and much less the plasma TV), it is to ascend Calvary with the Cross on our shoulders.  When I was at seminary we were always being encouraged to "take care of ourselves" and "avoid burn-out". Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in his book Priests for the Third Millennium", recalls a bishop who complained to him that "the problem with priests in my diocese isn't burn out - it's bedsores!".

Where does the spirit of lukewarmness and compromise begin? It can begin at any time but, I suspect, for many it begins in the seminary. I was very pleased to hear that many seminarians in the United States have rediscovered the practice of Fraternal Correction. In a spirit of charity, having reflected in prayer, when necessary they will speak in a straightforward and manly way to their fellow students to challenge incipient worldliness. Their corrections are received with a gratitude by men who have not yet grown so cold that they have lost their initial desire to give everything to the Lord. It would be a good practice for seminarians to adopt on these shores as well. 

Let us not forget that Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. The Lord's apparent friend is his greatest betrayer. Francis Caravajal gives the following reflection on this betrayal:
"What happened in Judas' soul? [...] He too was sent to preach and would have seen the abundant fruit of his apostolate. He may have performed miracles like the others. And he would have had very intimate and personal conversations with the Master, as did the other Apostles. What can have happened to his soul that he would now betray the Lord for thirty pieces of silver? 
For it to be explicable, there must have been a long story behind the betrayal that night. For some time Judas would have been distant from Christ even though he was still in his company. On the surface he would have remained normal, but he must have changed inside and become distant. The split with the Master, the loss of his faith and his vocation must have taken place little by little, as he yielded in more and more important things...
He had allowed his love for the Lord to grow cold, and there remained only the mere external appearance of discipleship. His life of loving surrender to God had become a farce; more than once he would think it would have been better not to have followed the Lord at all. Now he does not remember the miracles, the cures, the happy moments with the Master, his friendship with the other Apostles. He is now a man who has lost his way, out of touch, quite capable of committing the madness which will for us be so difficult to understand.
The act now carried out has been preceded by increasing greater acts of disloyalty. It is one final outcome of a long, interior process".
How true those words are! How do you know whether it is happening to you? One way might be to ask yourself a few questions: How did you react internally when Pope Francis said, "He who does not pray worships the devil"?  How many hours did you spend in front of the Tabernacle this week? How open are you to the others in your community? What voluntary acts of mortification have you done today? What should you do if you recognise the signs? Confession. A new beginning. Return to the Lord. Don't wait. Judas did not return to the Lord. He gave in to self-pity and was lost. Peter, on the other hand, wept bitterly. On that repentance the Church was built.

In his introduction to YouCat Pope Benedict told young people they need to know their faith better than their parent's generation. Seminarians and those considering the priesthood should perhaps consider that their generation needs to be outstanding in holiness if they are to undo the damage inflicted upon the Church by those who have betrayed Christ's trust.

A Rabbi Welcomes the Pope

"The God Squad"

I was recently sent this article by Rabbi Marc Gellman, one half of the "God Squad", the other being Mgr Tom Hartmann whom i had the pleasure to meet when he visited family in Balham. Rabbi Gellman is commenting on the election of Pope Francis for his weekly column:

The good news is that I did not swear an oath of secrecy. The bad news is that I don't know anything about what went on in the Sistine Chapel and I'm not Catholic. However, my best friend is a priest and I remember tenderly joking with Fr. Tom Hartman that if he was ever elected pope, he would choose as his pope-name, Pope John Paul George Ringo.
Seriously, I love the Catholic Church as a Jew, and I offer my joyous blessings to the new pontiff, Pope Francis, from Buenos Aires, with a full heart and hopeful thoughts.
My first hope is that the new pope will awaken every morning and read the Bible before he reads the newspapers. People who are not Catholic and not religious and not pro-life are now offering advice to the new pope and the old Church. That advice boils down to this: "Give up everything you believe and make what the Church thinks is true indistinguishable from what trendy secularists think is true."
Now, secularists may be right or they may be wrong, but it's not the sacred mission of the Church to replace things believed for the last 2,000 years with things that have been believed for the past week. So what I pray is that Pope Francis loves tradition not because it's old but because it's true. Old practices that are true but unpopular need to be preserved. Old practices that are just old and not true need to be let go. The only way to distinguish between them is to have a firm grasp of eternal truth. This is the hardest task. Therefore, I hope the new pope is a wise man.
I also hope he will be merciless in bringing to justice those priests who abused children. Some of this work has already been done, but the job is not finished, and what has been done came too late to save the good name of the Church. This new beginning provides the perfect opportunity to begin again the work of building trust.
I've defended the Catholic Church during this dark time of shame by pointing to the good works of the vast majority of priests. I've reminded people on many occasions that an accusation is not a conviction, and that extreme care needs to be taken so as not to ruin good names with unfounded accusations. Still, I was more than deeply saddened by revelations of child abuse; I was outraged. What I pray for most is that this new pontiff will make the Church clean once again.
I also pray that Pope Francis is a man who loves people as much as he loves God. It's easier to love God, but people need it more. I hope above all else that he's a loving man.
I pray that Pope Francis has dear friends who are not of his faith, not of his race, and not of his gender. The only way to feel the pain of those who are not exactly like you is to love someone who's not exactly like you. Loving Tommy has taught me this. There may be only one true way up the mountain to God, but there are many climbers and they all need encouragement and support. I hope the new pontiff is a climber who can see the other side of the mountain.
What I believe is that God's promise to Abraham to "multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore" (Gen. 22:17) has come true, but when you add over a billion Catholics to the existing 2 billion Protestants and Muslims worldwide, that's a lot of stars and sand. What this means is that almost half of all the people on Earth believe in God's promise to Abraham. This is a promise answered in a rich fabric of spiritual blessings. The new pope is more than the leader of the Catholic Church to me; he's the inheritor and custodian of God's blessing to Abraham.
So when Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran came to the balcony and shouted, "Habemus papam!" ("We have a Pope!"), I was shouting, too. The first thing I learned was that Pope Francis is a Jesuit, not a diocesan priest. The Jesuits, like all order priests, take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. They are the intellectuals of the Church. I then heard that the new pontiff is a man of uncommon modesty and humility who rode the bus to get around in Buenos Aires.
It's time, I think, for an intellectual who rides the bus to become pope and shepherd his flock into a world in need of healing and love.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Most Important Post on this Blog

The title of this post may seem a bit dramatic but I am quite serious about it. The Southwark Vocations Blog exists simply in order to promote and support vocations to the priesthood. Over the years it has reached many young men all over the world. It's articles have been translated into German and even Slovakian. It has received emails from seminarians from other dioceses who have thanked us for the moral support it gave them as they applied for the priesthood in the face of opposition from family or friends. It is read enthusiastically by lay people as well as by priests and religious. For them sometimes it has been a source of encouragement and occasionally consolation. It has offered people a chance to get involved in our projects so that our Vocations Centre has benefitted from the generosity of our benefactors.

So what can be more important than all this? Simply this: vocations work is not a matter of technique or strategy. A vocation comes from the heart of God and is addressed to the hearts of men and women. It is an action of grace and a movement of the heart. For that our cooperation is needed but, important as is material cooperation, the most important and most effective collaboration in our work is when we take seriously the command of the Lord that we pray for labourers to be sent into his harvest. Without that prayer nothing we do will be worthwhile. Pope Francis has spoken in the strongest possible terms about the need for prayer without which, he implies, we are simply doing the devil's work. 

Prayer identifies us with the will of the Father who sent he only Son that he be obedient unto death, mortem autem crucis, death on a Cross. It identifies us with Jesus whose sacrificial death on the Cross is renewed and made present whenever the Mass is celebrated. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit who applies the saving merits of the Cross to our souls. Without prayer we are building our own constructions that the Pope has compared to castles in the sand. "When we construct things without the Cross" he says, "we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly people - we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord".

The most important help you can give us in our vocations ministry is prayer. You can pray as an individual, as a family, as part of a vocations prayer group, and in whichever way is most convenient for you. But prayer is the most important help you will give us.

So why this post? Some months ago the Vatican issued guidelines for the promotion of vocations to the ministerial priesthood. You can read them by clicking the page link at the top of this blog. Paragraph 17 of these guidelines speaks of the need to promote a real culture of prayer in our dioceses and mentions among other things the concept of an "Invisible Monastery":

In ecclesial communities it is necessary to encourage a true and real movement of prayer to ask the Lord for vocations. In fact ‘Christian prayer, nourished by the word of God, creates an ideal environment where each individual can discover the truth of his own being and the identity of the personal and unrepeatable life-project which the Father entrusts to him. It is therefore necessary to educate boys and young men so that they will become faithful to prayer and meditation on God’s word: in silence and listening, they will be able to perceive the Lord who is calling them to the priesthood, and be able to follow that call promptly and generously. Initiatives that display a harmonious community in prayer for vocations should be supported and increased. Thus it would be good for the Diocesan Office for Vocations to propose and organize an “invisible monastery” in which many persons, day and night, are committed to continuous prayer for priestly vocations. “Vocations Thursday” is a traditional moment of monthly communal prayer, centred around Eucharistic adoration, for priests and priestly vocations.
For some time now I have been talking with people about how we might get an Invisible Monastery off the ground in our diocese. The idea is to have a special connection between all those praying for vocations in our diocese. People can commit themselves to praying for vocations in the way that most suits them and receive in return news, ideas and encouragement. Today I heard from the amazing Sam Alzheimer in the United States. Sam runs Vianney Vocations which does so much to promote and encourage vocations in America. He has also been thinking about how to make an Invisible Monastery a reality in our diocese and has harnessed the power of the internet to make it a global reality. There is now a website where you can sign up to become part of a worldwide family of men and women praying for vocations. The website gives you all sorts of ideas about what you can do and lots of resources as well.

Please visit the Invisible Monastery website. To join all you need do is choose your country and then select your diocese. Please become part of the Invisible Monastery praying for vocations in our diocese.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Growing Interest in Rome Pilgrimage

There's been a lot of interest in the vocations pilgrimage to Rome. If you are a young person who is a seminarian or "on a vocational journey" and would lilt to go please contact me ASAP. There are a few places available with existing groups.
I can also help if you want to travel by yourself and join us there.
Finally, if you are a Religious who is taking a group do please get in contact as well so that I can let you know how to access the specific Invocation events. In other words, even if you are staying at your community's Generalate I have some Invocation events that may interest you.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Grassroots Welcome for the Pope

My good friends at Grassroots Films have made this great little video to celebrate the election of Pope Francis. You will enjoy it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Selection Conference

Who will offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for future generations?
This weekend fifteen men gathered at Wonersh for the annual Selection Advisory Conference. They are all applicants for the priesthood and had come to Wonersh to be interviewed by a panel who would then make a recommendation to their respective Bishops. This year the candidates were from Southwark, Arundel & Brighton, Brentwood, Portsmouth and Clifton. Plymouth and Cardiff have now pulled out of the Wonersh Conference and organise their own panels to advise their bishops.
During the weekend the Candidates are interviewed by a member of staff at the seminary who is trying to ascertain their understanding of priesthood, knowledge of the faith and the general health of the Christian life. A second interviewer, with an educational background, seeks to asses their intellectual ability and interests. This is important for the bishop because he needs to know at which seminary they would be most likely to flourish and also, at a most basic level, whether they will be able to access the level of studies required of a future priest. A third panel member interviews to try to get some idea of the background and emotional maturity of the individual.
Once the interviews are complete the panel makes a recommendation which will be forwarded to each candidate's bishop. I always recommend to Vocation Directors that they sit in on the feedback session with the Rector because it is helpful to see who says what and also to ask questions when things are not clear. An important question for the Vocations Director to consider is whether he sees his candidate reflected in the panel's observations.
The Selection Advisory Conference is just that: it gives advice. It is one piece of a jigsaw received by the bishop and it would be wrong to take its advice out of context. The other pieces are the report of a psychological assessment which each candidate is asked to undergo; the recommendation of the Vocations Director (who has usually had considerably more contact with the candidates) and the bishop's own insights gleaned through a personal interview with the candidates.
Please pray for this year's applicants from these five dioceses. Inevitably some will be disappointed with the eventual outcome of the process but each one of them has had the generosity to offer themselves to the Lord for priestly service. That generosity is an example to us all.

Come to Meet Pope Francis...

Before he announced his decision to retire Pope Benedict had invited "seminarians and those on a vocational journey" to mark the Year of Faith by way of a pilgrimage to the See of Peter which will take place from Thursday 4th until Sunday 7th July. The weekend will include a special vigil with seminarians, young religious and those thinking about their vocation from all over the world. There will be a candlelit procession in the Vatican Gardens and the whole pilgrimage will conclude with a special Mass with Pope Francis on the Sunday morning.
The organising committee in Rome has written to every diocese in the world and also to all the Religious Orders so that as many young people in formation and those considering a vocation can come together for what will be a wonderful and inspiring event.
Wherever possible the dioceses in England and Wales are organising something for their seminarians at least but it strikes me that there may be many other young people out there who would like to attend this event - particularly if they can't get to World Youth Day. I hope we can fill St Peter's Square: what a fitting tribute that would be to Pope Benedict and fantastic welcome to Pope Francis!
If you would like to go but your diocese is not organising anything please get in touch. I will be leaving by coach on the Wednesday morning, back on Monday evening. We have ten places available on the coach. The cost will be about £400.00 including registration and accommodation.

If you would like to organise your own trip with a group of friends, or are a member of a Religious Order and wish to take a group please likewise get in touch and I can send you more details.

We need to book soon so don't delay! Contact me by email here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Strong Words in the Holy Father's First Sermon

Pope Francis Checks out of the Casa del Clero on the Via della Scrofa

We have all met people in the Church, some of them seminarians, who go through the external necessities of their state in life but who do not pray. They may say the Office but they shun the Chapel at times of Eucharistic Adoration, they never go to the Tabernacle during the day to open their hearts to the Lord. They find it hard to stand in His presence. Sometimes I extol them to think again about what they are doing, sometimes I challenge them, sometimes I suggest to seminarians that they should reconsider the path they have chosen. Some people think I am harsh or too demanding. I don't agree. If anything, reading the Holy Father's first sermon, I think perhaps I should be stronger. 

Citing a phrase of Leon Bloy Pope Francis said, "He who does not pray to the Lord worships the devil" because, he explained, "when you do not express your faith in Jesus Christ, you profess your faith in the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon".
In the context of seminary formation, priesthood and religious life, I interpret this to mean that if you do not pray you will not be doing God's work but the devil's. Strong words indeed!

Later in the same sermon the Holy Father drives the point home once again. He is speaking of Peter's profession of faith as they come down from the mountain of the Transfiguration. Peter proclaims Christ as the Son of the living God, as the Messiah but he opposes the consequences of the incarnation: the impending crucifixion and death of the Lord. He earns for himself Christ's rebuke: "Get behind me, Satan!" Pope Francis says that Peter proposes following Christ on his own terms: "I will follow you... without the Cross", and he goes on to say, "When we walk without the Cross, when we construct things without the Cross, and when we profess a Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly people - we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord".

Let's hope that seminarians and those responsible for their formation, as well as bishops, priests, cardinals and popes, take seriously these words of the Holy Father. The task is not to pass exams, get ordained, or run parishes or dioceses. "Si quis vult venire post me...": the task is to pick up the Cross daily and follow the Lord. And since without Christ we cannot bear its weight, the measure of the extent to which we shoulder that Cross is the time we spend before the Tabernacle.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam!

Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, 
et beatum faciat eum in terra, 
et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.

I was still at school when Pope John Paul II was elected but I can remember clearly the excitement. For the media - and for my Polish friends - it was the excitement of novelty, that this man "from a far country" had become the first non-Italian, a Pole!, to take up that office in hundreds of years. For others it was the excitement of what this particular individual would mean for the future of the Church. A few months previously an article bearing the title "The Runaway Church - can it be caught?" was published in The Times by its Religious Affairs Correspondent. It concluded, of course, that Catholic doctrine, piety and practice had changed so much since the Council that she had now developed her own momentum for change which no Pope could halt. 

These were the days of the "hermeneutic of discontinuity" which equated everything pre-conciliar as "bad" and anything post-conciliar as "good". Pretty soon, of course, we discovered that with the election of John Paul II a Rock once again sat on the Chair of Peter. I was at university for the first few years of his Pontificate and then went to seminary where the authorities were still trying to come to terms that with this new Pope things had indeed changed. They were crazy days. I remember two of us defending the practice of regular Confession and attracting the anger of those who thought us reactionary. A few weeks later Reconciliatio et Poenitentia was published justifying every point we had defended. It was as if, block by block, John Paul II was rebuilding the Church, putting it back together.

If John Paul rebuilt, perhaps we might say that during the Pontificate of Benedict XVI we were blessed with a man who knew how to put the finishing touches, to beautify, and to bring out treasures both old and new. With Pope John Paul we had to be there in the quarry with him as he worked to hew out the blocks that were needed and to transport them to the place where they were to go. With Benedict we were invited into the finished rooms, to sit with him and allow him to show us where this piece came from, or why that colour was chosen. He let us sit at his feet while he played a wonderful instrument and drew us into the beauty of its melodies and harmonies. He revealed you a face of the Church we had not seen before. We will never forget what we learned from him. It has influenced the people we have become and the future we will construct.

So what of Pope Francis? Who know what his pontificate will bring? Personally I think he will remind us that the labour of his two predecessors, the Church, was not an end in itself. It exists to put us in contact with Christ. Knowing about Christ isn't enough. We are called to know Christ. In other words, he will complete the project, which began with the second Vatican Council and was continued through Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict, of presenting Christ's face to the world. We will be reminded that the Church is not a museum for those interested in antiquity to come to get a buzz. It is not some faded European aristocracy that exists more in adolescent imagination than in reality. It is a place of encounter with Christ, of conversion, and of love of God and neighbour that has to give birth to deeds and not sweet words. I am struck by how St Francis of Assisi won so many followers by the simplicity of his life and I am not surprised to have already received an email with the news that one young man watching the appearance of the new Pope on the balcony last night has already asked to become a Catholic!

Should we expect a discontinuity with the past? Not at all! When Pope John Paul II went to Bolivia the media focused on images of the poor miner who presented him with a miner's helmet and called him "Comrade John Paul". It didn't linger to to show peasant woman who followed and who handed him an empty food bowl. She said, "Holy Father, this bowl is empty because we have no food. But it is also full because we have our faith and our love". It is useful to be reminded that we are all called to that relationship with Christ lived out in faith and love.

God bless Pope Francis!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Another Interesting Seminar

We had our third session for members of Religious Congregations today. The topic was "Discipleship Discerns Vocation" and we began by analysing a passage about the Holy Spirit used in a GCSE Exam Board Syllabus on Catholic Christianity. The purpose was to see what young people are really being taught at school in order to better understand the level of formation in the faith we can expect young people to have today.

We went on to consider some of the other challenges facing young people, including those that could arise from life in a dysfunctional family or growing up without faith in a secular and hedonistic society. If that sounds all a bit negative, it is important to realise that before a doctor can treat a patient he has to diagnose the illness. It is also truth that if we ignore the symptoms the likelihood is that the disease will get worse and may become inoperable and even terminal.

We then looked at the building blocks of Christian Discipleship. A disciple isn't someone who says "Lord, Lord!". The word disciple finds its root in the Latin "discernere" - to learn. In other words, a disciple is someone who learns from Christ. To learn from anyone requires time and intentionality. We have to spend time learning about Christ and being with him in prayer. We have to learn to imitate him. This led us to a discussion of the universal call to sanctity and also of the importance of developing the human and theological virtues. By then it was lunch time!

After lunch I presented a plan of formation we have successfully adopted with both the Quo Vadis Group and the Frassati Society. It is a model of friendship, catechesis, prayer and service. In presenting this I tried to unpack the elements of a spiritual renewal in a young person who has come to the practice of the faith and also how we might help young people grow in virtue. It led to some interesting discussions although, before we knew it, the Cardinals were processing into the Sistine Chapel and the time had come to follow the live stream from the Vatican and be united with them in prayer.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What are the Cardinals Talking about?

Tomorrow the Cardinals will enter Conclave for the solemn task of electing a successor to St Peter. Once they enter the Sistine Chapel and all others have left the process itself takes over. There is no electioneering or wheeler dealing for votes as some delusional voices in the media would have us believe. In fact there is no discussion at all. It is a bit like being at Mass: everyone sits in their allotted place while the "liturgy" of voting and counting takes place.
Before the Conclave the Cardinals meet in Congregations where they have explained to them the regulations governing the Conclave. They also have a chance to make interventions. In short speeches of not more than four or five minutes they can talk about the issues facing the Church and the qualities they believe necessary in a new Pope.
To give you some insight into what gets discussed, here is a letter Cardinal Dolan sent to the people of his diocese in New York. Please take seriously his request for prayers:

Greetings again from Rome, the Eternal City, the See of Saints Peter and Paul!I miss you!  It’s been ten days since I left the archdiocese, and as the old song goes, “I wanna go home!”  Especially will I miss you all on Saint Patrick’s Day, the Feast of the patron of our great archdiocese and our renowned cathedral.  So far, I’ve been unable to find any Irish brown bread, corned-beef, or whiskey.  (Don’t get me wrong; I love the food and wine here in Rome!)
Heartfelt thanks for your prayers!  We need them!  We feel them!  Keep them up!  An old-timer told me that the days between the passing of one Pontiff and the election of a new one are like the days in Jerusalem after Our Lord’s Ascension to heaven.  The whole Church prayed, prayed hard, prayed long, united with the apostles and the Mother of Jesus, who were locked-up in the Cenacle, awaiting the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit!  That’s happening now, if your abundant and gracious notes and messages are any indication.
And we cardinals sure are praying a lot.  Every day we each begin with the most effective prayer of all, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In our sessions we pray from the Divine Office, begin each meeting with the ancient prayer to the third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Veni Sancte Spiritus, and we break at lunch with the beautiful words of the Angelus.  Wednesday, we cardinals made a Holy Hour of adoration before Jesus, really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, at the Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
We’re praying a lot; and, from what I hear, so are you.  Thanks!
Actually, we are back in that Upper Room with Our Lady and the apostles, and the challenges we – and the new Saint Peter – will face are, surprisingly, similar to those the first Pope, Saint Peter, confronted that first Pentecost: how most effectively to present the Person, message, and invitation of Jesus to a world that, while searching for salvation and eternal truth, are also at times doubting, skeptical, too busy, or frustrated.
So, you may be astonished to hear, we spend most of our times discussing issues such as preaching; teaching the faith; celebrating the seven sacraments; inviting back those believers who have left; serving the sick and poor, the “least of these;” sustaining our splendid schools, hospitals, and agencies of charity; encouraging our brother priests, bishops, deacons, and consecrated women and men religious; supporting our pastors – and getting more of them! – and our parishes; forming future priests well; loving our married couples and our families, and defending the dignity of marriage; protecting life where it is most in danger because of war, poverty, or abortion; and reinforcing the universal call to holiness given all in the Church.
Those are the “big issues.”  You may find that hard to believe, since the “word on the street” is that all we talk about is corruption in the Vatican, sexual abuse, money.  Do these topics come up?  Yes!  Do they dominate?  No!
A journalist – and, by the way, the reporters from home have been mostly amazingly patient, attentive, and thoughtfully curious – asked if the new Pope would bring radical change to the Church.  She seemed surprised when I replied, yes!  At least I had her full attention!  I then went on to clarify that the Church was “big-time” into change; namely, a change in the human heart, which Jesus called repentance or conversion.  The “job description” of the Bishop of Rome is to conserve the faith, the truths of which have been revealed to us by God, especially through His Son, Jesus, faithfully passed on by His Church these past 2000 years, and to renew the invitation of Jesus to a change of heart.So these days in Rome are hardly about the “board of governors” meeting to discuss changes to Church “policy,” but about how to present timeless beliefs more effectively.
Do names come up?  Sure. But the name most spoken about is the Most Holy Name of Jesus!
Would you say His Holy Name and ask Him to send us His grace and mercy?  Thanks!

Contemporary Developments in Vocations Ministry

Tomorrow we have the third module in our seminar "Contemporary Developments in Vocations Ministry" for members of Religious Congregations. This week I am hoping that we will be able to flesh out what we mean by the phrase "Discipleship Discerns Vocation". To do that we will be looking at the elements of Christian Discipleship and also the formation needed by young people many of whom will have grown up in a secular society.
It's not too late to book a place so if you would like to come drop me an email.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Vocations News

It's been a while since we published the last edition of Vocations News which began in Spring 2003 - ten years ago - as a newsletter for priests in the diocese. In time we expanded it to an A3 sheet but printing and distribution costs eventually became prohibitive. For a while we published an electronic version to subscribers but it seemed very complicated to make it look attractive. Since starting the Vocations Centre I have been thinking that it would be important to try to resurrect the newsletter - it has about three hundred subscribers which is more than those who read the blog. Getting the template right is always going to be an issue but I've decided to go for something very simple - more along the lines of an email rather than a complicated e-newsletter. Today we sent our subscribers a copy of the new Vocations News. Having seen how it appears when the email arrived I can see it still needs more work to make it attractive and readable but I am reasonably happy with it as a first effort. 
If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter simply use the subscription form in the right-hand bar. Every newsletter contains a link at the bottom where you can also unsubscribe. I am not planning to "spam" your inbox so hopefully you will be happy to receive it.

You can see a copy of the latest edition here.

I'm very happy to receive suggestions on how the format could be improved. Please leave messages in the combox.

We are not Pied Pipers...

When I was at university I had a friend, we can call him John, who was thinking about the priesthood. If I add that he wasn't considering his vocation you might think I'm contradicting myself but I'm not. He was committed to the faith, involved in the chaplaincy and sang in a choir. He often mused on the priesthood, sometimes expressing frustration with priests he knew and commenting on how he might do things differently. For a while it seemed as if, in common with a good number of our friends, he would eventually apply to go to seminary. But he wasn't considering his vocation. He thought a lot about what the priest did but he ever really tackled the fundamental - and difficult - question of what God was asking of him with his life. Priesthood was attractive but so was Mary, his girlfriend. Mary was also a friend of mine. She was very intelligent, was always cheerful and fun to be with, and had a deep serenity about her. Like John she too was very committed to her faith and involved in the life of her parish.

Eventually, to no one's real surprise, John and Mary got married. It was a great ceremony with loads of young Catholics at the wedding. They have now been married for over twenty-five years and have four wonderful children who are likewise involved in their home parish as catechists and musicians. They love each other very much and are very happy together. John has a special concern for the poor in his neighbourhood. They have coaxed many of their Catholic friends back to the faith, and sometimes helped them prepare to get married. They are an outstanding Catholic couple.

And yet, for all his contentment, there is still a question that lingers in John's heart. Many priests have enjoyed hospitality in his home but very few of them know that their very presence raises within him the question of whether he should have gone to seminary. It is as if he cannot be completely happy because that question has never been resolved.

John and Mary won't mind me relating their story (as I say I have changed their names) because it is a reality in their marriage. If you like, it is the one cloud in an otherwise sunny sky. Some people will leap to the conclusion we should abolish celibacy so that men like John could both marry and be ordained. But that is totally to miss the point of what I am saying. Fundamentally the problem for John wasn't that there was no possibility of being a married priest but that, for all his thoughts about priesthood, he never actually learned to discern his vocation. Instead of asking what God wanted he made decisions based on what seemed most powerfully attractive at the time. And who could blame him? In those days the Church was still working out of a recruitment model when it came to vocations ministry and the word "discernment", when it was used, was synonymous with "procrastination".

I would like to add at this point that neither John nor I would say that marrying Mary was a mistake or that he got it wrong. How could either of us say that? The issue is a different one. It is that there is a shadow hanging over their real happiness because a question went unanswered. For all their mutual love and joy, there is still a "What if?"

I mention this because it is still true that some people involved in different aspects of youth ministry are suspicious of Vocations Directors. If we ask to visit a school or chaplaincy they fear we are some sort of ecclesiastical Pied Piper coming to whisk their young people off to convents and monasteries. We Vocations Directors still have a lot of work to do to persuade people that we share a common purpose with school chaplains and youth ministers. That purpose is to help young people become better disciples. In fact, since most Vocations Directors have some involvement with the New Evangelisation, and since we have some role to play in the initial formation of young people seeking to live Christian discipleship, it could well be the case that chaplains and youth ministers could learn a lot from what we have ourselves learned in our ministry.

A motto of the Vocations Centre is "Discipleship Discerns Vocation". If we help young people become better disciples they will eventually want to discern God's will for their lives. It is vitally important that vocation discernment is part of their growing to Christian maturity and feeds into the decisions they make for the future. If it doesn't they won't necessarily make a mistake, but they may always be left with that "What if?" shadow. Youth personnel should welcome the work of Vocations Directors so that those young people they care for will experience a profound happiness because whatever path they choose to follow they do so with a conviction that it is what God is asking of them.

The Power of the Blogosphere

On Wednesday I published the little post entitled "A Word of Encouragement" aimed primarily at those men considering the priesthood who may have been tempted to become disheartened at recent news emanating from the Church in these isles. It was picked up by Fr Tim Finigan and through him by Fr Z with the result that within hours the post had been seen by hundreds of people.
Since then I've had all sorts of messages from people thanking me for the post. I am glad it has been helpful. Let's make sure we keep praying.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


Last week I went down to Exeter to speak to the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy who were meeting at the Catholic Chaplaincy. It was nice to be there again and to catch up if only briefly with some of the students I knew from various talks I've given there in the past. I had been asked to give a talk on modern approaches to vocations ministry. There were about fifteen priests present which struck me as a pretty good turn out - particularly in a diocese where parishes tend to be quite scattered. Plymouth is so large that some of those present had travelled nearly as far as me!
I am always happy to give these talks which are aimed at helping priests understand not only how vocations work has moved on from the days when the Vocations Director sat at home waiting for the phone to go, but also showing how important it is for them to get involved in the work as well. If we want to have more vocations to the priesthood and religious life we need to learn how to spot the signs of a vocation, to overcome our reticence about asking young people, and to begin to offer spiritual direction.
It was very nice to meet a number of Ordinariate clergy who were present and to learn that giving spiritual direction is very much part of the formation they receive in anglo-Catholic houses of formation.

A Word of Encouragement

When I got back from the Retreat on Sunday evening the first thing I heard when I switched on the radio was the news of Cardinal O'Brien. I think it has affected us all in different ways and I know I have to make an effort to focus more on praying for the Cardinals gathered in Rome to elect a successor to our beloved Pope Benedict than waste time thinking about news headlines.
However, I have also to face the reality that a number of young men considering the priesthood have been in touch - and not all from Southwark or indeed south of the border - to talk about how devastated they are by the news. As one put it, it was hard enough to be a Catholic thinking of priesthood before, how can he possibly defend himself before his friends now?
This blog is not a place for controversy and I have no intention of entering into a debate about what has been going on - comments trying to draw me will not be published. I do however want to say something to those of you who may have been shaken by the recent revelations which I hope you will find consoling and encouraging:

How would we react if we were to discover that our father was committing adultery? I am sure there would be a range of emotions including anger, confusion and great sadness. But would we blame our mother? No. We would cling to her more closely. We would try to console her by the warmth of our love. We would stick with her. When the Church has been wronged by one of her members it should evoke within us a desire for reparation and a determination to respond with greater fidelity. Our fidelity is shown in little things: in getting up on time, in doing a day's work, in looking after our prayer, in our service of our neighbour, in our determination to turn away from sin.

This isn't a time to get disheartened. It is a time to be more faithful. That is what the Lord is asking of you today. Please be assured that I am praying for you.

Vocations Retreat at St John's

Last weekend I was at St John's Seminary for our annual Vocations Retreat. In recent years this retreat has become so popular that the seminary has barely been able to accommodate all of us, even with a good number of participants sharing rooms. Now that we have established the Vocations Centre in the diocese things are a little easier as we are able to host a number of retreats here throughout the year. This means that I could decide to keep the Wonersh retreat for this year's applicants and those who seemed more fully integrated into our vocations work.
In all there were twenty of us at the seminary: seventeen participants and two priests helping me: Fr Terry Martin from Arundel and Brighton and Fr Mark Hogan from Portsmouth. Fr Terry and Fr Mark had five men each and I had six from Southwark, three of whom are applying this year. Additionally there was a candidate from Clifton diocese where the new Vocations Director is settling in and planning an exciting programme of activities for the future.
We began on Friday night with a meditation during the Holy Hour on the purpose of a retreat. I took as inspiration the words above the doorway to the seminary chapel: "Magister adest et vocat te" - the Master is here and he is calling you. On Saturday the meditations covered prayer and the Eucharist and on Sunday we focused on the need to respond and on the importance of taking part in diocesan discernment groups.
Being in the seminary we were also able to call on a number of the seminarians to speak to us after lunch about their own vocational journey. These are always very personal but can also be very moving and touch different people in different ways.
One big omission was the group photo! We forgot to take one, so instead the picture above is the Lady Chapel at the seminary where Our Lady is invoked under the title Queen of Clergy.

Dominican Study Weekend

Blessed Jordan of Saxony
A great recruiter of Vocations for the Dominicans

There will be a Dominican Study Weekend from 24-28 June. It will be led by a team of Dominican Friars and Sisters in collaboration with the Benedictine monks of Buckfast Abbey offering a systematic overview of Catholic Theology aimed at university students and young adults. 

Using the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas as a guide, talks and discussions will cover: The Trinity, Creation, The Human Person, Law and Grace, Cardinal and Theological Virtues, Incarnation, Redemption, The Church, Sacraments and more. 

The course will take place in the beautiful grounds of Buckfast Abbey (TQ11 OEE) on the edge of Dartmoor.

The programme includes: talks, discussion, prayer, time for reflection, and some walks.

For more information contact the Dominicans here.