Thursday, 30 April 2009

Fr M's 3 Generation Theory

I just finished writing about Corpus Christi High School's wonderful Inspectors' Report for the newsletter. I make the point there about never taking things for granted such as our school system. Several times recently the subject of people being handed things "on a plate" and therefore not appreciating them, has come up in conversation. For example, if parents experience difficulty in some aspect of their lives, they don't want their children to have such a bad time, so they work hard to enable that to be avoided. Then those children take whatever it is for granted, grow up taking it for granted, and this can lead to problems of one sort or another in the third generation.

Think of young couples starting off a few decades ago, and then their children and grandchildren starting off now, and what they expect to have and achieve. Young couples starting off now sometimes think something is wrong if they can't have what their grandparents or greatgrandparents had to struggle to have. I think it works sometimes with family relationships too. Parents who had difficult childhoods, through losing a parent or whatever, will often work extra hard to make sure their children are surrounded with love and security. These then grow up taking it for granted, and sometimes forget to pass it on to their children. That can lead to problems, and lo and behold, we are back where we started. Fr Matthew's Theory of the Three Generations....

Monday, 27 April 2009

More musical nostalgia

Turned on Sky during the weekend, and came across a biopic (biographical film for the uninitiated) on 60s legend Donovan. Having been instantly whisked back, I must confess to you, dear readers, that after the programme I went off to download Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow, Barabajagal (spelling??), There is a Mountain, Jennifer Juniper and, one of my favourites, Hurdy Gurdy Man. Back in the programme, it seems D is still very much around, and hasn't really changed very much.
Listening again to Hurdy Gurdy, I wondered what its weird words are really about. People have put various interpretations on them, including religious ones. Turns out that it's simply dedicated to a friend of Donovan who led a band called Hurdy Gurdy at the time. Bang goes my memories of imagining some sinister-fantastical magician from the mists of time... But it's still a good song and sounds amazingly modern for 1968!

Any other offers of nostalgia from the 6os or other decades?

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Coughs, sniffs and parish life

How kind the Lord is sometimes! I've had a few days this week feeling sorry for myself with a sore throat and a bit of a cold. Yes, ladies, I know - it's a man thing, but, well, we priests are men after all! Anyway, it coincided with a few days of a slightly less hectic diary, when I also had some Canon Law desk work to do. So God put in his diary to give me a cold when he knew it would cause least damage - sorted! Isn't He kind?

Yesterday I spent a very good evening with the Circle of Friends at Christ the King - Mass first, then an open meeting addressed by members of an organization called Beginning Experience. The Circle are a great group for the widowed, single, separated or divorced that really fulfils a pastoral need - you can find out about them here. If you feel that you'd like to find out more, you'll find contact details on the site, or just have a word with me.
Beginning Experience put on weekends for people who have lived through bereavement, separation or divorce. They too were impressive, and they too have a site with full details here.

Tomorrow I'm looking forward to 10.30 Mass at Christ the King, as I have special permission to confirm three of the youngsters who missed out on our parish celebration of the Sacrament with Archbishop Peter back in March. The catechists and Fr James told me they were a great group this year, and I'm sure they'll all turn up tomorrow to support their friends. So I get to preach to teenagers, which I always find both a challenge and a blessing. They get a bad press sometimes, but I find that if we can only find the right button to press with them, faithwise at least, then they open up to a remarkable degree. They need the Holy Spirit more than ever nowadays...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Father, is that you?

"Hello Father - are you there?" Several phonecalls today started that way because I had a sore throat yesterday, and by this evening I'd more or less lost my voice. I had to skip my mini-homily at St Paul's this morning. However, as I was feeling pretty sorry for myself by late morning, I still went off to attend my priests' gathering at Chepstow, even though I didn't have much to say... The parish priest there, Fr Barry English, is both one of my former curates and a distant relation. The subject of my former assistants came up, because the lads like to pull my leg about how many of them have left the priesthood. I always point out that none of them left when they were actually with me, as I would be down their throat. Whenever Fr James hears about my record he looks strangely anxious! Actually priests who leave is a subject of course of great seriousness, which like many such matters, you sometimes need to laugh about. Anyway I think I'll have another Strepsil.

ps Did anyone see that dreadful pants business on the Apprentice?

Monday, 20 April 2009

And now reverse...

Searching around for youth-oriented material, partly for REFRESH, I found this very clever and very challenging little 2 minutes video. As with many of these videos, be sure to watch the whole thing... It's called Lost Generation.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

REFRESH update

Interesting phone conversation this afternoon with a family from Aberystwyth, who want to come to REFRESH in three weeks' time. It seems they attended the similar event in Carmarthen last autumn, and got a lot from it. The chat just confirmed for me one of the guiding principles of REFRESH - the need for support, the need just to meet and be with like-minded people of faith. Yes, people are prepared to come from Aberystwyth, Bristol and Hereford in order to get that blessing that comes from simply being together. As usual with any event, there are loads of people working away in the background for REFRESH. The main planning group has met every two or weeks since December, while folks involved with catering, audiovisuals, publicity, liturgy, sacristy, security, child protection, leisure activities, school liaison, site management etc etc. have been busy, busy, busy. Speaker John Pridmore is also a big draw, and quite right too, he is something very special. So please, everybody, keep up the prayers - you can use the special prayer I wrote and which you'll find in the right hand pane on this page. This is one of the biggest "leaps of faith" that I've taken...

Friday, 17 April 2009

Canon Law reaction

Today I did something I haven't done for a while. A while after a Canon Law interview lasting just under 3 hours this afternoon, I put some music on the computer very LOUD. What came to hand, courtesy of iTunes was the Who, crashing into some tracks from "Who's Next" from circa 1970. "Behind Blue Eyes" was followed by "Won't Get Fooled Again". My mind went back to the evening, around that time, when I went with some school friends to see the Who live in Bristol. Four of us went on a motorbike and scooter, with me on the back of the scooter (I was 16 or 17!). The Who were brilliant, of course, but the evening ended with our scooter breaking down on the way back - on the (old) Severn Bridge! We pushed it on to the exit pretty sharp, to avoid paying the breakdown fine, and got home at some unearthly hour, in the days when young people weren't just going OUT at midnight. Great how music can transport you back forty years! This past year what I've listened to most has been Coldplay's "Viva la Vida". Although the critics didn't give it a huge thumbs up, I liked it the first time I heard it. Any Coldplay fans out there? If you're all good, I'll tell you about going to see Blondie not long ago, or Queen in about 1972 at the Castle, or Roxy Music as a kind of "stag night" just before going off to seminary in 1974...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Dreaming a Dream

In case you didn't see Susan Boyle on 'Britain's Got Talent', catch her singing here "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Miserables", a show that I love. This 47 year old woman from Scotland wowed the audience and judges last Saturday. What a God given talent... Don't judge a book by its cover!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Counters and Convents

I was wondering today how many people visit my Stall. The Sitemeter counter (at the bottom of the page) only tells me how many come to thecanonsstall site, and not those who read it on Just to give me an idea, could everyone who is looking at this on 3churches on Wednesday this week please click also on one of the articles, which will then take you to thecanonsstall and therefore will register on my meter.

Meanwhile... parish life goes on, and Fr James and I each have a funeral tomorrow, Wednesday. I'm celebrating Peggy Daly's in Nazareth House, and Fr James's is at St Peter's. Peggy was a lovely lady, and I'm sure her Mass will be well-attended. The chapel at Naz House is much bigger than you'd think - bigger than many churches. Who remembers Nazareth House fetes and Blackweir sports? My Auntie Kitty Kearns died at Naz House a few years ago. She was the last of my parents' brothers and sisters. She wasn't married, and smoked till not long before she died, aged 96! Naz House is part of Catholic Cardiff, isn't it? Talking of which, I've done quite a lot of my family history, and I'm sure that if you go back to the 19th century most of Catholic Cardiff are related somehow. I've got Kearns, Casey, Driscoll (including Peerless Jim) Anzani, Burns etc etc. Anyone with any interesting Catholic Cardiff info?

Monday, 13 April 2009

The Joy of Life

Some of you may have seen the striking image of the Joyful Jesus from 10.30 Mass in St Brigid's on Sunday. It may not be a traditional image, but it certainly captures the joy of Easter, don't you think?

Sunday, 12 April 2009


A very happy Easter to all who visit the Canon's Stall! Holy Week has been a tiring but extremely rewarding experience this year. As I have come to know the people of each parish community that I have served, the liturgy usually gets better. This is because worship is an expression of that community at that point in its story - or it should be! The word "Liturgy" comes from the Greek meaning "action of the people" the laos. Therefore the more that priest and people come to know each other, the more precise can be that expression.

Receiving Simon and Jo into the Church last night at the Vigil at St Brigid's was moving for us all, as they stood there before the altar of the Lord. Their search has brought them this far, and there they were, hand in hand, as they joined us. I'm sure they will make a great contribution to the parishes.

This morning 10.30 Mass at Christ the King was brilliant. I know that 10.30 is not everybody's "cup of liturgical tea" but you couldn't help catch the enthusiasm of our young people - and 434 folks can't all be wrong! From the entrance procession with their dozen or so coloured flags flying everywhere, to the scrum as they came forward to receive their Easter eggs at the end, the Mass just oozed with Easter joy. We are so blessed to have people like Marie and Pete O'Brien and Kate and Tim Congdon and all the others who work with our younger parishioners.

I was also impressed with the quality of the music in our 3 Churches this Holy Week - not achieved without hours of preparation. And the servers.... and the flowers... and the cleaners... and... and...

This picture is one of my favourite representations of the Resurrection. It's a medieval fresco in the Church of St Saviour in Chora in Istanbul, and is therefore in the Byzantine tradition.. I love it because it depicts Christ as dynamic and vibrant, descending into hell to grab Adam and Eve and all the righteous of the Old Testament. See Satan there trampled under the gates of hell. It's a very different image from our western, sometimes rather limp version of this central event in Christianity. However, because I love lots of paintings in the west, here also is one of the greatest, Piero della Francesca's fresco in San Sepolcro in Umbria, Italy. In the dawn light Jesus, serene and triumphant, steps from the sepulchre above the sleeping guards. Can you spot something rather odd about one of the soldiers? Hint - count the number of legs you can see...
God bless you all - and a very big thank you!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

A quiet Saturday morning...

What a hive of activity St Brigid's was this morning. At its peak at about 11 o'clock, after Carolyn had sorted the candles and things in the servers' sacristy, we had Karen printing off the newsletter there, and then there was a whole gang of flower arrangers in the church doing a grand job (after some others had done their part yesterday!) Then singers and musicians arrived in the church also, to set up their gear and have a run-through for the Vigil. Meanwhile another gang were hard at work in the Hall preparing it for the first part of the Easter Vigil, that we celebrate there before coming into the church via the fire... Next Simon and Jo, who are being received into the Church this evening, arrived for their First Reconciliation in the presbytery - which converts already baptised do immediately before their Reception - plus baby Caitlin. The phone continually rings in the background, with folks asking the times of Easter Masses. Thank the Lord for prerecorded messages! Finally, Joseph and Elinor rang the bell, ready for their 11.30 appointment. They're getting married here in July, and as they live in Germany, they can only come for preparation when they are home at holiday times.
Ah, yes, you know, holiday times, when everything is nice and quiet!!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Good Friday in Church and Hospital

Our Holy Week liturgies are going well. Earlier today I celebrated the Commemoration of the Passion and Death of Our Lord at Christ the King with about 350 people. As I have done now for many years off and on, I read the Passion on my own. I think that today, of all days, we can afford to develop the liturgy. Nobody is in a rush, people are there because they want to be. The servers and choir were excellent. At the Veneration of the Cross I am always touched by the two extreme age-groups - the little children and the elderly - kissing the Cross of Our Lord.
After we both got back home, Fr James and I went to visit a Polish priest friend of ours, Fr Gregory Matus, parish priest of Bargoed and Abercynon. He has had a serious operation in the Heath for lung cancer brought on by working with asbestos in his earlier days. When they opened him, they decided to remove most if not all of his lung, so he is now "running on one cylinder", and has to learn a new way of living. Gregory belongs to our Fraternity of Priests, and I felt a great closeness to him in his weakness there on his hospital bed. Indeed, we see the suffering face of Jesus all around us, don't we, if we have eyes to see...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Had enough?

Just something to contemplate next time you toss some uneaten food in the bin - a short video called "Chicken a la carte." It's only 6 minutes long - make sure you watch it right through! Interesting looking website it's from, as well... Thanks to Fr James for passing this on from a friend of his.

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Week of Holiness begins...

We've begun our Holy Week in the 3 Churches. Everything went well yesterday for Palm Sunday. I celebrated Mass Saturday 6.30 and Sunday 8.30 and 10.30 at Christ the King, then 6pm at St Brigid's, as Fr James was celebratingt the monthly Syro-Malabar Rite Mass at St Joseph's. That means I took the part of Our Lord four times during the Passion according to St Mark. What struck me particularly this year was how silent Jesus is during the last part of the Passion in St Mark's version. No words are recorded until his "Eloi. Eloi. Lama sabacthani!" from the Cross - the only words that Mark records from Our Lord during His last hours on earth. That cry seemed to pierce his silence, as if the Son of God was speechless faced with what was happening to Him. He can do no more, so now the only place He can turn is to the Father of All. The burden of our sins pushes Jesus to the limits of endurance. Yes, it IS the will of the Father for Him to go on, right to the end of this path, so the Father remains silent. We, too, must find a silence this week if we are to comprehend its saving events.
The picture is Pope Benedict celebrating Palm Sunday in Rome. How's that for decent sized palms! Tomorrow I'm looking forward to welcoming Corpus Christi High School to St Brigid's for "Born For This", their Holy Week liturgy.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

All change at Westminster

So Ruth Gledhill got it right as reported in my last posting - and Archbishop Vincent Nichols has been appointed Archbishop of Westminster. He will be installed in Westminster Cathedral on 21st May. You can catch his press conference on the Westminster diocesan website here. Have I ever met him? No, but he preached at the Requiem Mass for the late Archbishop Ward a few years ago. Now, no funeral is easy for preaching, but that must have been more difficult than most. I thought he did an excellent job. There are those who say he has been ambitious, and that he has now achieved what he set out to get. Well, he says, of course, that his ambition is for the Church, and so be it. We need a holy and humble archbishop in Westminster who can give a lead, and do it in public, and in particular when dealing with the media. Personally I think we could all do with a little more zeal in the Church, and I think he has it. Let's all get behind him - and most of all with our prayers.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Westminster settled at last?

Ruth Gledhill, the Times religion corrrespondent, is predicting in her blog that Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham will tomorrow be announced as our new archbishop in Westminster. He has been a "front-runner" all the way through this long selection process. The new archbishop, whoever it is, will become Archbishop of Westminster. "Cardinal" is a separate thing, a title particular to the individual, which may or may not be given to the new man by the Pope. Cardinal Cormac is the first Archbishop of Westminster to retire, rather than die in office. So some say that the Pope will hold back making the new man a cardinal until Cormac is "gone" a few years...
PS I beat Damian Thomson, editor of the Catholic Herald, by one minute in getting this onto my blog!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

31 Blessed Years

I celebrate 31 years of priesthood today. Yes, I know, it's April Fools Day. At the end of my ordination Mass, Archbishop Murphy urged the congregation "Would that we had more 'fools for Christ'!" Someone recently showed me a copy of our archdiocesan yearbook from 1979, complete with picture of yours truly. More on top of the head, less round the waist...
I sadly pondered the priesthood statistics. Looking back at the 30 priests ordained previous to me, I counted that 9 have left the active priesthood. I wonder if we would be having these discussions about the future of the Church in Cardiff if they and others were still around? Then I looked at the long list of 23 - yes 23 - seminarians in 1979, compared with 1 now... Has so much happened in 31 years? I can't believe all this really, and it makes me quite upset. Issues about celibacy and so on were surely not that different then - or were they? What's gone wrong? Dear readers, would you help me out on this one? Meanewhile, please watch this vocations promotion video from the American bishops, and tell me what you think. I find it inspiring.