Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Me and St Peter

A quiet day today, not so many phone calls, preparing for three forthcoming funerals, helping families cope with no Mass possible... So a more reflective post this evening, especially in the light of tomorrow being the anniversary of my ordination.
Yes, 42 years since I was ordained. Strangely, the little altar I use when celebrating here in St Brigid's since my arthritis took over is exactly on the spot where I knelt before Archbishop Murphy on that Saturday in 1978. Little did I realise I would be parish priest here, even less that I would be celebrating on that spot, and least of all that the people are not allowed to join me here in 2020.
St John Henry Newman and many others have pointed out that we only really understand what the Lord is doing when we look back from the future.  If that's the case, I can't wait to find out what this period is all about!
Anyway, this picture is one of my favourites of myself, if that's not too self-centred. It was taken obviously in St Peter's Square, but why is it so deserted? It's because it was early in the morning, about 6.30am and I was on the way with some friends to celebrate Mass at the believed tomb of St Peter, underneath the Pope's altar underneath the dome. Masses there had to finish by 9am and we were given 7 o'clock as our slot. This was a matter of just a few weeks after ordination.  I like the pic because I look very happy, optimistic, at peace and - so young! This was one of Mum's favourite pictures of me too...
I'm glad to say that I am still happy, still optimistic and on the whole at peace. Maybe not quite so young now - or slim. There I am, on my way to celebrate the Eucharist close to the mortal remains of Peter who over the years has become one of my very best friends, in the Scriptures and through my five visits to his land , the Holy land.  There's a lot in that picture about me and my priesthood. Amen. Deo Gratias.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Thanks YouTube

Someone commented on my eclectic taste in music, and I suppose it's true.  Bangor, Mash and Freddie hear all kinds of stuff!
So here are a couple of items off my YouTube Favourites list - which is pretty long.
First - Perpetuum Jazzile. They are an a cappella group from Slovenia who include the instrumental sounds and everything. The song that made their name is a version of Toto's standard "Africa". Make sure it's up loud to get the opening sequence!

Second - Kevin Skinner.  This "country boy" from Kentucky went on to win "America's Got Talent" a year or two ago. Seems it spoiled his marriage and now he has disappeard into obscurity. But what a surprie when he begins to sing!

Lastly, if you haven't seen it, "The Veil Removed" - a short film from America about what is really going on at hte Mass.  Makes you think, specially in these ttimes...

Sunday, 29 March 2020

The Table of the Lord

Bangor, Mash and Freddie are able to learn about the Mass because for the moment I am celebrating Mass on the dining-table in the presbytery. I have absolutely no problem with this, though I expect some may. At the period in my life when I was most luke-warm in my faith, first and second years in university, the only time I was at Mass was when an American Jesuit celebrated in students' rooms with ordinary bread and wine - a lifeline at the time.
In any case, the Mass is, of course, a meal, coming from the Last Supper. And meals happen on tables, so a dining-table seems very appropriate. I am being very aware of this kind of thing regarding the Mass as we celebrate alone here. I have taken to 6pm as my preferred time, suitable especially in our 3 Churches for Saturday and Sunday. 
This evening I opened the window ajar, despite a cool breeze blowing outside. I wanted to hear the birds singing in the woods alongside us. But more important I wanted to be in a kind of direct contact with everything and everyone "out there". I don't know if we will join the parishes who are live-streaming Mass, that's a different issue. I wanted to remind myself and experience that the Mass reaches everywhere, everything, everyone - and everywhere can be brought into the Mass. There are some interesting articles on this kind of thing in this week's Tablet.
So while we are not able to celebrate together either here in our 3 Churches, or anywhere else in many countries, let's ask the Lord to teach us a little more, draw us a little more deeply into the Eucharist, famously called "|the source and summit of our faith". 
And remember that I pause to pray for all of you at the Bidding Prayer when I am at the Table of the Lord.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Unbind...Set free!



Jesus cried in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, here! Come out!' The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him, let him go free'. (John 11:43-44)
These are the last words of Sunday's Gospel, the Raising of Lazarus. Like the previous two weeks, it's a long one, so I thought I'd just offer a thought on this last bit.  (Bangor, Mash and Freddie say that's a relief, that I'm not gonna go on too long). The painting is by Rembrandt.
So what catches my attention about this dramatic moment is that while Jesus, obviously, performs the miraculous raising of Lazarus, he turns to the others to unbind Lazarus and let him go free.  It's a bit like the Feeding of the Five Thousand, where Jesus asks the apostles to distribute the bread and fish which he has miraculously multiplied. There he depended on them to kind of implement the grace of the miracle. So, here he does the raising but he asks the apostles - the Church - us, you and me - to do the unbinding and setting free. 
There are so many ways that we can and do bind one another up, with our actions and our words, even in our thoughts, directly or indirectly. We can do it with nastiness or sometimes with a deceptive warmth. Our pride may be hurt, jealousy may rise, we are offended. We have a little power, we want our own way, and so on. And so we bind someone up, or even a group of people - or even a whole country if it's mixed with power on a grander scale.
So as we join Martha and Mary in welcoming their brother back, maybe in our quiet moments - and there are probably more of them than is usual - we might ask ourselves who we need to unbind and set free...

Friday, 27 March 2020

Wonderful moment

Fr Andy and I just watched the Pope's Holy Hour from St Peter's in the Vatican. It was all in Italian, but we were able to understand, and join in the responses and Latin hymns. I found it very moving, and several things stood out for me.

First, the Holy Father was clearly struggling to walk. And, as Andy said to me "He's walking like you". This touches me somehow, as I am sure Francis was in pain, as I am some of the time, as Jesus was so much in His Passion, and as millions are across the world with this virus.
 





Second, they had brought two very significant images from Rome churches. First the Crucifix of San Marcello from the church of the same name on the main street the Corso. Dating from the 16th century, Romans have prayed before it during plagues down through the years. Francis went to that church earlier this month (see picture left). And second, the image of Our Lady known as Salus Populi Romani, brought from the great basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (right). These two images were placed either side of teh main entrance to St Peter's. 
Lastly - the Holy Hour iself. It started out in the square with the Gospel of Jesus asleep in the boat while a storm came over the Sea of Galilee. The Pope then gave an address, a meditation on the Gospel in the light of the epidemic
Then we moved into the atrium or porch of the great church, where there was an altar set up for Adoration. After a period of silence followed by intercessions, the Holy Father, slowly and alone, brought the Blessed Sacrament out to the huge main doors of St Peter's to give the Benediction to the city and the world. As the rain fell, this holy old, gentle and pained man raised the Lord in blessing over all of us. I found it painful, powerful, comforting, loving, beautiful and many other things too....

 

Thursday, 26 March 2020

The Annunciation - in action

After yesterday's post, Bangor, Mash and Freddie wanted to know more about Our Lady and the Annunciation. Many years ago I heard a talk given by the late Fr Tom Forrest CSsR, (right) one of my all-time favourite preachers.  He spoke about the Rosary as intercession, and it  worked like this.   When you come across something or somebody you want to pray for, you find a decade of the Rosary that seems to fit.

Well a few weeks later I took Holy Communion to a bed-bound lady in the parish, St Cuthbert's in Cardiff Docks, who had terminal cancer. As I walked on to my next call, I remembered this talk, so I prayed the Annunciation, asking that she too, like Our Lady, receive Good News.  About ten days later I called in again - and she answered the door! She went on to tell me how she was still very ill, but had felt better the day I had taken her Communion. About ten or fifteen minutes later in fact - the same time as I was praying the  decade of the Rosary for her.

Well, she still died some time after, but this has always stayed in my mind. Never underestimate the value of prayer, never underestimate the role of Mary, never underestimate the repercussions down through the ages of that great unique proclamation of Good News - the Annunciation.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The Annunciation

Bangor, Mash and Freddie are learning more each day about our Faith - and lots of other stuff too.  Today is the feast of the Annunciation, and so they are finding out about Our Lady and her part in the Big Story. They are also learning about something very close to my heart - pilgrimages. I have been involved in leading a group to different places every year since 1990, and actually the Annunciation links three of these pilgrimages.
On five occasions the September Pilgrims have been to the Holy Land - fantastic, and the favourite of many, including myself. One of the "musts" is, of course, Nazareth. Here is the group celebrating Mass at the Church of the Annunciation in front of the grotto, where tradition says the sacred event happened.
  
 
In 2002 we visited the shrine of Loreto in Italy, to where tradition says the Holy House of Nazareth, formerly in front of the grotto, was moved when the Moslems occupied the Holy Land. The ancient house is now encased in marble in a beautiful church. Here is Pope Francis praying inside the tiny house.

 

In 2016 we  went ro Walsingham in Norfolk, where a replica of the Holy House was built in the early Middle Ages. It became one of the great pilgrimage sites of the country, and is now the National Shrine of Our Lady for England. Here is the interior of the Holy House in the Anglican shrine, built to the same specifications as Loreto.



Lastly - a painting and some music. The painting is in Palermo in Sicily, and is by Antonello da Messina. Painted in 1476, it is one of my very favourites. It depicts Mary just after the Annunciation, and to me is a stunning depiction of the mixture of emotions that must have swept over her.



And here is a short but beautiful piece by Italian composer Pergolesi, who died aged 26. It is "Inflammatus" from his setting of the great Marian reflection, the "Stabat Mater". This performance is in the Frauenkirche or Church of Our Lady, in Dresden. Destroyed in World War II, it has been completely and immaculately rebuilt. I visited it on holiday in 2017.




Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Listen to Bruce





Bangor, Mash and Freddie soon had to learn that I like my music - all sorts of music.
A while ago Fr Andy came across a great Bruce Springsteen video. It seems that about 2006 he did a tour with a Seeger Sessions Band, with a kind of electric country sound. The song is a version of spiritual called "O Mary don't you weep no more", and the Mary is Martha and Lazarus' sister. It's a song of hope and trust that things will get better, based on what the Lord has done in the past.  Seems to have a message for us now...
                 
                               Brothers and sisters, don't you cry,
                               There'll be good times by and by.

This morning I phoned all the priests of Cardiff Deanery to see how everybody is. I was especially thinking of those who live alone.  I'm glad to report that they're in good shape, and doing their best in these strange circumstances, some streaming their Mass withe the help of techie parishioners, others keeping in touch with needy parishioners etc.
All say how strange it all is, and especially as none of us knows how long it will go on. So why not tune in to Bruce and his fantastic instrumentalists - and turn it up!

Monday, 23 March 2020

Big friend Freddie

Well. last - but certainly not least... Hi, I'm Freddie, Fr Matthew's third friend - except I really come first, but you have to humour Bangor and Mash. You see I've been here in Cardiff longer than both of 'em. I arrived about ten years ago all the way from India. I travelled with one of the Indian priests that the master used to have working with him. I used to sit on the window sill or on the book shelf here in Fr Matthew's tip - sorry, office. Then I wandered into the dining-room and discovered Bangor and Mash. We're all good friends really!

Why am I called Freddie? Ah, that's another story... I'm named after a nice priest called Fr Frederick who came here for some months, and he was from Bangla Desh. That's him in the pic.  Master always calls him Freddie, and so I am named after him.

Now you may have noticed that I'm showing you my right side in the picture. That's because - it's a bit embarrassing - I've lost my left tusk in an, um, accident, involving falling off the shelf. Ouch!



So now you've met the three of us here at the Presbytery. We see and hear a lot, you know, and so feel free to ask us about life at the Pres. Like today Master is doing a lot of writing on his computer thing. He spends a lot of time trying to help people who have had a bad time in their marriage and family life. So sometimes he has to write a decision to set them free from a bad time in their life. It's something he calls an "annulment" and it's difficult stuff to deal with.  He's not a bad old stick really you know (thanks Freddie ed.)  
I think people know very little about how these priests spend their time, so we may chat a bit about that. Anything you want to know, just ask me, because, of course - elephants never forget.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Meet Mister Mash

Hiya!  I'm Mash. You met my, er, friend Bangor yesterday. Just because the master got him the year before he got me, Bangor thinks he's the bee's knees!.  Anyway, here''s my picture with my master in his office, but I'm not Welsh - I'm English. In fact I come from the north-east, from Alnwick in Northumberland. Like Bangor, I came along when Fr Matthew was on one of these pilgrimage things in 2018. A nice lady called Linda thought that Bangor might like a friend. So here I am.. 
Now part of the problem with me 'n' Bangor is that although I'm a bull and have lovely big horns, I'm, um, a bit small, much smaller than Bangor.  And he doesn't let me forget it!  These priests go on about loving your neighbour, so we try our best, but it's not always easy is it? Especially if you're sitting on a Welsh dresser day in day out. But, you know, if we three presbytery animals can get on despite being stuck inside, I'm sure you humans can do the same.
Oh, I better go now, because I think Fr Matthew is going to do another of these Mass things with us, and I want to pay attention and learn what it's all about. We'd love it if you wanted to leave a comment at the end of these posts.  Don't worry if it doesn't appear straightaway, because Fr Matthew has to sort of approve comments before they appear.   Byeeee, and oh it's Freddie's turn tomorrow. He's an elephant, you know...
  

This is Alnwick by the way, where I come from; I'm a long way from home...