Friday, 30 October 2009

Move over, JL, coz WGT is here

Well done, blog-readers! The Canon's Stall site has received more visits in October than in any previous month. Have a little something to celebrate. Make it a nice cup of tea if you wish, even...
What? A cup of tea to celebrate? Yes, why not. I helped my sister and brother-in-law to celebrate their wedding anniversary today by taking them to the place everyone in Cardiff is talking about (after they've fallen asleep talking about That Shop in town), the Waterloo Gardens Teahouse. And I'm sure the owner would like to know that - Fr M approves!
Remember that little row of shops down the bottom of the hill off Waterloo Road? Well, the butcher's has become a shrine to good tea (what's all this with the shrines, Fr M?). Huge selection of teas, scrummy cakes (I had courgettes and lime), lovely atmosphere and wooden chairs - no cushions no nothing - that are so comfy. Spotted Sian, my producer at the BBC across the room, so as regards clientele, need I say more? OK, costs a little more than your average cuppa, but, hey, it's not everyday that it's your sister's wedding anniversary.
Now what celebration is it next week?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The road to JL

So I eventually went to visit the new St Davids 2 development, including our famous shiny John Lewis (complete with its 350,000 different products) Verdict? Well, OK....
I started off at the old Queen Street entrance. The whole combined thing is now to be called just "St Davids Dewi Sant" from what I could see. Well I always used to like the main part there behind Marks and Boots, but I found the new decoration a bit drab, the floor a boring colour and the shops in that first short arcade from Queen Street a bit, well, past it. So then I turned down to the new section, where the crowds started to become more dense (it is half-term!). You can cross Hills Terrace into the ground floor of the new part or go up the escalator straight onto the upper floor, which is what I did. Strange that you can now walk from Queen Street to Bute Terrace without going outside!
I liked the upper gallery very much - very airy and a great sense of space. I like the way the arcade gently curves around, drawing you further on (as if you wouldn't, with JL beckoning you!) Loads of the units are still unoccupied, with many promising an arrival at Christmas or the Spring, but I wonder...
And so I arrived at the Promised Land of JL. Verdict? Well, like I said, OK... Four floors, all similar with a big hole in the middle with the escalators. I made my way up to the top where two blokes were betting with each other that someone would throw themselves off the top balcony into the shopping abyss...
JL stuff is very nice, and it is still early days, and it is half-term, but I have to say, JL Cardiff didn't grab me like the one in Glasgow did two years ago. Sorry! The queue for food there was huge, and I slunk off elsewhere for my lunch
And so outside to the Hayes. I see from the St Davids website that they wanted to turn the whole of the Hayes into a kind of European-style piazza. There are certainly more people around making it a lively space rather than the backwater it was once you got past the cafe on the island. I'm not sure however if it's quite the Piazza Navona in Rome, the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, or the Grand' Place in Brussels. The outside of some of the buildings especially around the bottom end towards the new library I find look a bit brutal and not very friendly. I read somewhere that out of the six or seven towers of New Luxury Apartments (aren't they always?!) only one is being done up for occupation at the moment. Sign of the times...
So... we'll see. Are there enough shoppers with enough cash to merit this huge new development? If not now, then - soon? What will the effect be on St Mary Street and the old arcades? And what about Queen Street itself? As I made my way back in that direction Queen Street was absolutely heaving in the pleasant warm autumn half-term sun. The Cardiff crowds were out, the children with their parents, the teenagers slouching around, the students trying to look cool, and everywhere chat and busy-ness... I love it. I sure hope that dear old Queen Street doesn't lose its special place to the new kid on the block.
And I couldn't help wondering what Saint David, a man of simplicity and austere but joyful spirituality, thinks about having such a temple to consumerism named after him...
ps I couldn't find any nice pics of the Hayes, so these are of the squares in Rome, Salamanca and Brussels!

Monday, 26 October 2009

It's in the blood

After blogging about my trip to Lithuania to visit the home-town of my great-grandfather George, a few people wanted to know more about my discoveries in the family tree. Well George was my mother's mother's father, and another interesting character was my father's father's father, David Jones.
David was born in 1841 in the small town of Pontyberem in the Gwendraeth Valley of south-east Carmarthenshire, between Carmarthen itself and Llanelli. His father, John, was from a local family well-known in Calvinist Methodist circles, and numbered not one but two CM ministers among his uncles and great-uncles. Like many in the nineteenth century David headed for the industrial areas of Glamorgan, and I found him in 1861 working, like his father, as a tailor in Maesteg. However, by the mid-1860s my father recalled hearing that David was a policeman, and records show there is indeed a policeman called David Jones in Penarth at that time.
And then the Lord intervened! In 1866-1870 David Jones is studying for the ministry at the Baptist College in Pontypool (now in Cardiff) and by 1871 is living in Cardiff where he is a Baptist preacher, and where he meets his wife Jane Lewis. They are married at Tabernacl Chapel, on the Hayes in Cardiff on 13th May 1874. That same year he is ordained a minister at the village of Pontrhydyfen near Port Talbot where he was probably preaching at the time (later the birthplace of Richard Burton). In 1876 he takes up his first post at Gilgal Chapel in Porthcawl. This was only to last, however for three or four years, because by 1881 he is a minster and bookseller in Bridgend. He would never be a full-time minister again, but was ever after in great demand as a preacher and for his powerful gift of public prayer. David and Jane had six children, including my grandfather John Daniel. Somtime in the 1890s the family moved to Cardiff, perhaps after the opening of the new Market, where he opened the religious bookstall, perhaps because a relation of his was now minister at Tabernacl. From his base in the market he supplied, as he had done at Bridgend, many of the Chapels in the Cardiff area. He died in August 1921, aged 79 or 80.
So that's how the Joneses came to Cardiff, and while Baptist David was selling his books and preaching in Bridgend in 1881, with his wife who was born and brought up in Cardiff, with roots in the Vale of Glamorgan, poor old George Gudwen from Prussia was drowned in Cardiff's East Dock, leaving his young Irish and very Catholic widow Annie. An unlikely foursome, yet these two couples' grandchildren married and produced - yours truly, a Catholic priest. It's in the blood, as they say...
The pictures show Capel Ifan, old St John's Church, Pontyberem, where David's parents were married, and Cardiff Market.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

PPP - a proud parish priest

A good day spent with our Eucharistic Ministers at Llantarnam Abbey. This was our second such day, and it was a great success. Fr James started us off by celebrating Mass at St Brigid's, before everyone headed off for the Abbey. I was timetabled for the talk in the morning, but at 9.30 I still didn't have a central theme. Then, a flash of inspiration, as I thought of some of Cardinal Newman's writings. So I used two of his reflections.
After tea and coffee at the Abbey, I settled us down with a little imaginative exercise on the hands of God the Father, then offered my thoughts on the two Newman passages, giving everyone a sheet with them printed on that I'd run off during James' Mass! Then I asked everyone to go and find a quiet spot for half an hour and focus on a word, phrase or sentence that spoke to them from the two passages.
Half way through the 30 minutes the sun suddenly burst throught the grey, wet and windy morning. It was as if the Lord was telling me not to worry about the day.
After a packed lunch we gathered again. I invited James to kick off with his own thoughts and he shared about the word "shining" in Newman's prayer, telling us about a recently deceased lady who always spent an hour in our church at lunchtime, and the shine in her face. Then we opened up the discussion for other people's thoughts and - that's exactly what many did! One after another, our wonderful people spoke about their experiences and what they felt the Lord was saying to them. There were some tears and some amazement, above all at the openness of our youngest minister who talked about his being autistic. Others talked about their experience of cancer and so on, while there was also much affirming of one another. I found the whole thing moving, and a tribute to the faith of the people of our 3 Churches.
Finally we repaired to the Chapel for half an hour's Adoration, during which I commissioned two more ministers for Christ the King, to add to the eight new ones last weekend.
It may sound strange, but I was one very proud parish priest today, and I don't mind saying so.

Here are the two passages...

I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created; I have a place in God's counsels, in God's world, which no one else has; whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by my name. God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission - I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his--if indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work: I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me - still He knows what He is about.

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Your Spirit and Life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine. It will be You, shining on others through me. Let me thus praise You in the way which You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by my words but by my example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for You.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Where are you going next year Father?

As many of you know, I've been involved with leading pilgrimages for almost twenty years. This year's - to the Holy Land - was one of, if not the best ever. But what about next year? Well, Billy and Rita, the organizers, have been working hard over the last weeks to put something together. Actually it was Billy who came up with our current proposal. It's not an obvious destination, and is not as ambitious as the Holy Land. But it does have its attractions - and not only for the soul either! There's a shrine connected with Our Lord, and another one that's very "in" at the moment. And we will have to face a rather cheeky little child. Confused? Well, you'll just have to wait and see...
Meanwhile, here is one of my favourite things in the Holy Land - an icon of St Peter weeping after he denied Our Lord. It's from the church of St Peter in Gallicantu (St Peter at the Cock-crow) built on the site where it happened. Again, thanks to Paul for the pic - click on it to enlarge it.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Ordained and married

Very strange coming together of events these last two days. Wearing my Canon Law hat, one of the things I'm involved in is laicisations, that is, the process whereby a priest petitions the Pope to be returned to the lay state. Very often this involves the desire to get married in Church. On Monday I was working on one of these cases.
Now today it seems that the Vatican has announced some kind of arrangement for Anglicans who become Catholics, whereby they will be able to hang on to some aspects of their Anglican practice. And, of course, as we have been seeing for some years now, this can include their married clergy being ordained as Catholic priests.
I can see the argument behind this arrangement, and I would be the last one to deprive someone of being a priest if that is what it is felt he is called to. But being involved also with men who are "cradle Catholics", who go through great trials and tribulations and eventually leave the priesthood, sometimes because they feel a calling to both marriage and priesthood, it does seem to point to some sort of inconsistency. The Church is living with this at the moment, but for lots of people it's not a comfortable cohabitation ...

Sunday, 18 October 2009

All in a day's work - and play

A variety of special occasions these last few days. Friday evening St Brigid's Hall hosted a concert by the Wroxton Players entitled "A Night at the Musicals". This group of amateurs put on a great show that I enjoyed a lot. Our wonderful Social Group put on a supper halfway through the evening - a scrummy chicken bake. It was all in aid of the Heath Hospital Lourdes Group. Excellent.
Saturday lunch-time in St Brigid's Church we held a Memorial Service for Professor John Pathy, whose Requiem I celebrated a few months ago. The church was full of family, friends and eminent people from the medical world. All were unanimous in their praise of John, a remarkable human being and great Catholic Christian. From there Fr James and I moved on to a party at the TyMawr for a parishioner celebrating her 80th birthday. Another happy family occasion. As priests we are so privileged to be invited to share people's special moments in their lives like this.
Lastly, 10.30 Mass at Christ the King today was for the deceased members of the Catenians. I am happy to be chaplain to this group of men, many of whom come from our 3 Churches. They are a great group, sound Catholics and family men. They do a lot for charity and support the church and one another.
So you see my life is not all meetings! I am always amazed how varied a priest's life can be, and how we can be part of so many moments and aspects of the human journey - and sometimes all in one weekend!

The pic is another one from the Sea of Galilee - thanks to Paul

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Madre Teresa

Today is the Feast of St Teresa of Avila. She has been one of my special friends "up there" for many years, going back to when I studied her as Spanish literature in university. I was blown away by her powerful spirituality, joined to a profound humanity. She lived in sixteenth century Spain as a Carmelite nun, and succeeded, after many years trying, in founding a reformed version of the order. Her writings are beautiful classics of Catholic spirituality, earning her the title of Doctor of the Church. I paid two flying visits to Avila in the 1990s and love the place. In 2001 our September Pilgrimage was based there, and I was in my element! We visited some of the beautiful old towns and cities of Castile, such as Toledo, Segovia, Valladolid, Salamanca and the smaller town of Alba de Tormes, where the great lady died and is buried. I celebrated Mass there as well as in her convent in Avila.
Here is the well-known prayer usually known as "St Teresa's Book Mark", found after her death on a card in her prayer book.
Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing. God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A helpful tour guide

The relics of St Therese are finishing their visit to Britain this week. I found this helpful video from Westminster diocese, which explains her importance and message very well. Archbishop Vincent Nichols introduces it. The outpouring of faith which has accompanied the tour continues to mystify the media. I hope it also challenges the Church to ask itself about how we connect with the faith of the people.

St Therese in Westminster from Catholic Westminster on Vimeo.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

An appeal beyond money

I've been thinking a lot about the Year of the Priesthood at the moment. Last Thursday we had a meeting of the priests of Cardiff, and in some ways things are not looking good. The number of Rosminians is dwindling, some priests are resigning in the diocese, there's a kind of fatalistic atmosphere in some quarters.
In contrast, think how wonderful the visit of the relics of St Therese was. I continue to be uplifted by what was achieved on our pilgrimage. This weekend the Hereford Conference was a great success, with people so buoyant in their faith. And all these things are organised largely by the lay members of the Church. This isn't by way of criticising my brother priests - nothing could be further from my mind. Rather it is my observation that we all, the whole Church, need to get behind us priests, so that we can be the shepherds Jesus wants us to be.
This coming Thursday we have our four times yearly meeting of the diocesan Council of Priests, of which I'm chairman at the moment. This is a sort of priests' "parish council" to the archbishop. At our last meeting we looked at various ideas for the Year, but I'm concerned that those ideas don't really involve our people.
So I'm talking to lay people who have a heart for that, so that I can maybe talk about it on Thursday. I'm thinking that there is a huge love for our priests among Catholics, and that we should be tapping into that, at the very least by way of prayer. Perhaps some of you out there have ideas how we can all support our priests and especially their spiritual lives as they come under more and more pressure, by prayer and any other means you can think of. How can we mobilise the great Catholic faithful?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Mission to England!

I'm off tomorrow to Hereford to attend the annual Hereford Catholic Conference. This is a weekend of talks, worship and sharing, running from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, and aimed at building up the Catholic community in the county of Herefordshire. It's held at St Mary's, Lugwardine, the Catholic High School for Herefordshire, and is organized by a team from several of the parishes there, especially Ledbury. Take a look at the Conference's website here.
Herefordshire is part of our diocese, although it is, of course, in England. This is a quirk of Catholic history, where Belmont Abbey outside Hereford was originally the cathedral of our diocesein its early days in the second half of the nineteenth century.
I was parish priest of Ledbury from 1981 to 1983, and it was in some ways a different world from what I was used to. I had served in the Sandfields estate in Port Talbot, in Ely and then in Cardiff Docks. Now I found myself in a very English small country town. It couldn't have been more different. The parish was small but very welcoming. In particular it was in many ways very open to moving forward, and I gained experience in some important areas of church life, especially in the ecumenical and liturgical fields. It was also where I had my first experience of broadcasting.
As with all past parishes, I have a soft spot for Herefordshire, and so I was only too glad to accept the invitation to help with this year's weekend.
ps The pic shows charming Church Lane in Ledbury.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

My biggest congregation

I spent some of yesterday and today writing my "Wednesday Word" to be broadcast tomorrow, Wednesday afternoon. I do these "God slot" talks for the BBC roughly ever other month. The routine is that the Religious Broadcasting producer assigned to the slot phones on the Monday and we talk about topics. I have to scour the paper over breakfast for something appropriate. Once we have agreed, then the main business of writing has to be done during the rest of Monday so that I can email the text to the producer, who will then phone me back on Tuesday with her comments. That's the nervy bit, but now that I've been doing it for a few years I'm not too bad at judging what kind of stuff they are looking for. So having agreed a final version, on Wednesday afternoon a taxi picks me up about 2pm and I do the broadcast live at about 2.40pm with Roy Noble. Everyone puts you at your ease, and Roy himself is great, exactly the same off the air as on.
So what's my topic this time? Well, my attention was caught by the discovery in Yorkshire of an ancient helmet. From there I get on to the way we tend to indulge ourselves in "What if?" type questions, and even "If only..." type regrets. But if you want to see how I get from helmets to "If only...", well, you'll have to tune in, won't you? Radio Wales 2.40pm or on iPlayer.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Falling for the Fall

Well autumn really is making its way in now, as the trees start to turn. I suppose New England is the most famous place for watching the Fall and the spectacular colours (or should that be colors?) that can be seen at this time of year. However, these wonderful scenes also spread into Canada, including around the capital Ottawa. This is where I spent two years back in the 80s studying Canon Law at St Paul University. It was on my very first weekend there that some second year students took a few of us up into the Gatineau Park on the outskirts of the city. I will never forget the sight of hundreds of maple trees lining the roads and lakes and the magnificent display of colour. I had been thinking that perhaps this was exaggerated in photos that we've all seen, but no, the reality was even better. I discovered that this is a speciality of maple trees. Unlike other trees which tend to turn colour together, each maple tree has its own speed, and this is what gives the beautiful variety in shades. So, don't forget to stop and look and enjoy - the wonders of creation!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Coughs, smiles and Streisand

Tis the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - and coughs and colds. After a few coughs on Monday and Tuesday, my voice took a nosedive on Wednesday evening, just in time for a Liturgy Meeting at St Brigid's. It stayed in hiding for most of Thursday, but is making a bit of a comeback this evening. Interesting thing isn't it how we all cope with these set-backs. I tend to battle my way through. When you're a priest everyone wants to tell you their own personal remedy. Tunes, Smoothers etc etc appear from all sides. I notice that those who recommend whiskey are not so quick to offer some of their remedy! So far, it doesn't seem to be developing into a cold.
Rio de Janeiro has won the Olympics for 2016, which I'm glad about. It's about time Latin America had them. And is it me or does there not seem to be much fun in the air about the London Games? As The Times pointed out this morning, at least we'll have a fun Games in Rio. So the evening news is showing lovely sunny beaches where the Brazilians are celebrating. That brings a smile to my sorry-for-myself face.
As did Barbra Streisand on Jonathan Ross this evening. I thought she came across very well, and then performed two songs, especially a moving rendering of "If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas)." Beautiful. Feeling better already.