Sunday, 29 November 2009

Advent begins...

First Sunday of Advent today, and a new Church year begins. We're now in year C of the three year Sunday readings cycle, and this is the year of St Luke, when most of the Sunday Gospels are from St Luke.
I was involved in training new auditors (=evidence takers) for the National Tribunal yesterday, so I missed what I gather was a great afternoon at Christ the King. We're realising more and more the importance of sharing our faith, especially if we are to share it with returning Catholics or new converts. A great way to learn how to do it - and get built up in our own faith - is to hear others do it. So several parishioners gave a testimony to aspects of their faith to an audience of about 50. Apparently it went well, with a few tears here and there, and the hall was abuzz.
Then this morning I was at Christ the King for Mass. I decided to refer to the dreadful Dublin report that is in the news. 10.30 was a Family Mass, and when I came to mention the Report, and was faced with our wonderful young people with their Advent candles and excellent adults who had organized the Mass, I got emotional and lost it for a few moments. People were very kind, and thanked me for something that seems to have spoken louder than words.
With September's pilgrimage, St Therese's relics, our Eucharistic Ministers day, and now this weekend, I'm more and more convinced that the Lord is "up to something" among us. So bring it on Lord, that's what Advent is all about!
ps Three more visits tomorrow, and November will overtake October as most visits month at the Canon's Stall...

Friday, 27 November 2009


So "Gavin and Stacey" has returned to our screens. Just watched episode one of the new series on i-Player. I got hooked towards the end of the second series a year ago, and bought both series on DVD. Brilliant. I love the tragedy-comedy bit, the excellent acting, neat music, and, of course, setting half of it in Barry was just magic. And even Gavin's family home, supposedy in Essex, is actually in Dinas Powys.
Well, what's the verdict on this, the first episode of the new, and we're told, the last series. Since the last series the boys have made a rather disastrous TV show on their own, and a film that I don't know much about, but whose title was something about vampire lesbians... er, yes. The characters are still good, and there are some new ones - I don't think we met Smithy's narcoleptic/alcoholic mother before. They have all come together for the baptism of Smithy n Nessa's baby, Neil Noel Edmund, but, I don't know, it didn't seem quite the same. Whether it's just that two series were enough, or that what's happened since the second series kind of interfered with my enjoyment of this one, I don't know...
But then the whole thing was redeemed - I was just about to turn off the computer when I saw that you can watch last year's achingly painful and wonderful Christmas episode on i-Player too. Every family Christmas is wrapped up in this gem. I particularly love the embarrassing moments! It's all so accurately stolen from life for our disturbance and delight. Plenty to laugh at, loads to think about, and some to cry about. A Fr M all time great.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Fine Wild Horses

Susan Boyle returned to "The X Factor" on Sunday evening. Bloggers will know that X Factor is my weekly dose of flow-over-your-head weekend TV relaxation. Susan Boyle first hit our screens on "Britain's Got Talent" where she originally came second, but here she was back after a gap on Simon Cowell's other programme. The song she chose - or someone chose for her - was, I must say, a complete surprise, namely the Rolling Stones "Wild Horses". This was a track on the Stones classic album from about 1970 "Sticky Fingers", of which I am the proud owner of a copy. On that album Mick Jagger's raw voice tears into the actually touching words of this ballad.
When Susan Boyle sang it, it was such a different take on the song that I didn't even recognise it until the chorus came along. I have to confess I found her version very beautiful and moving. If you missed it - or even if you didn't - give it a listen... Fr M approves

Monday, 23 November 2009


The Feast of Christ the King was great. I enjoy celebrating Mass, especially on Sundays, and the Church's annual liturgical cycle is studded with beautiful feasts like yesterday's. The Gospel was Jesus before Pilate, and in my homily I talked about choices - Our Lord's decision to go ahead that he made in the Garden of Gethsemane the previous night, and then our decision. Will we choose Pilate's way of success, celebrity, glamour, money and so on, but racked by fear and suspicion, precarious and eventually forgotten, or the way of the Other Man, humble and without the trappings of human fame and glamour... I stood right in front of the altar and imagined Pilate and Jesus standing to my right and left. On Saturday evening at St Paul's I then sat down for a few moments. It came to me that at this point we stand for the Creed, but only if we believe. So, I said "If you choose Pilate and his way - stay seated. But if you choose Jesus and His Way - then stand for the Creed." There was a momentary pause, but I think everybody stood up! Sometimes it's good to remember that to follow Our Lord is a decision, that we have to continually make, again and again, whether we are "cradle Catholics" or not.
We were invited for lunch, along with four others, at the house of the family of someone whose Requiem I celebrated earlier this year. A little thankyou I suppose. As usual, I enjoyed a meal at the home of parishioners. When we do this we meet people literally on home ground, we are admitted to that sacred place, and share for a few hours in the warmth of their family life. Tasty food, good wine, great company. A lovely feast of Christ the King.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Christ the King

I love the feast of Christ the King - it's such a positive note on which to end the Church's year this weekend. I think we need all kinds of music, worship and prayer in the Church. We have many different things that we want to say to the Lord and to one another, and an infinity of different moods. So, for this great feast here is a video that is loud, joyful and gutsy. Gospel singer Judy Jacobs leads a crowd of thousands at Anaheim , California, in singing "These are the Days of Elijah" a storming worship song. Unfortunately it can't be embedded into the blog so please follow the link here.
The picture shows the huge statue of Christ the King overlooking Lisbon from across the River Tagus.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Taking on the government

I'm a Governor of our primary and secondary schools, Christ the King and Corpus Christi. It sort of goes with the job - although many priests don't like it and some don't become governors even of their own parish primary school. I'm the only priest on both of our Governing Bodies. Personally I disagree - if only because those pupils and staff constitute a sizeable community of Catholics, deserving our involvement. But also we bring a lot to the role - knowledge of the area and its families, maybe experience of being a governor elsewhere, and so on. The responsibilities have grown a lot since I was first involved back in 1981 at St Cuthbert's and Archbishop Mostyn (as was, now Mary Immaculate). We have responsibilities for who teaches in our school (we are the employers in Catholic schools), who attends there (we control the admissions), and what gets taught (we oversee the curriculum), not forgetting what gets spent on what (we set the annual budget).
There is at least one meeting of the full Governing Body each term, twice in this first one usually. The GB comprises the headteacher, teaching and non-teaching staff rep(s), local education authority rep, and parents reps. Then in a church school the total number of those plus a few more are appointed as Foundation Governors, who have the particular responsibility to represent the Church and protect the Catholic identity of the school. In addition to the termly meeting a governor will also be appointed to one or more of the three or four committees of the Body, who handle specific issues relevant to Finance and Buildings, Curriculum, Staff and Pupils. There also smaller sub-committees to handle admissions, appeals etc etc. In addition, of course a Governor should make himself or herself familiar with the school through visits etc. So it's not an easy responsibility, and in some parishes it's hard to find folks ready to take it on. Especially burdensome is the role of Chair of Governors, who is elected every year. She or he must have an ongoing involvement and knowledge of all aspects of the school really.
We are very very fortunate in both our schools to have excellent GB's. This came through in the fine Inspectors Reports both received during the last academic year. I'm proud to be associated with them.

Monday, 16 November 2009

This year, next year

So, it's now officially out - our 2010 pilgrimage is to Krakow in Poland, and will be entitled "In the Footsteps of Pope John Paul II". We made the announcement at the reunion of our 2009 Holy Land pilgrims this evening at Christ the King Hall. After dabbling with Bavaria and Salzburg (too busy with the Oberammergau Passion Play) and Belgium, Billy and Rita and I decided two or three weeks ago to go back to a plan we had 10 years ago, when flights etc to Poland were not as developed as now. Our current idea is to fly to Krakow 6th September, where we'll be based for seven nights. We'll visit the shrines of Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Czestochowa, make trips to beautiful Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains and to Auschwitz with its shrine to St Maximilian Kolbe, and go down the famous salt mines at Wielicka. And, of course we'll celebrate Mass everywhere - including down the mine! We seem to have got a superb hotel, very modern and very convenient both for the historic centre of Krakow - and for the biggest shopping centre in this fine old city.
Anyway, no doubt I'll be posting more about pilgrimage 2010 during coming months. This evening, after making my pitch on Krakow to this year's pilgrims, who get first choice for 2010, we then had a real treat. Bernard, one of this year's pilgrims, has made an absolutely superb DVD of the trip. It is beautifully edited with soundtrack and captions, and lasts about 90 minutes. It brought back so many wonderful memories to me and the others. I don't usually like watching myself, but seeing this I was able to thank God again for the whole pilgrimage and, personally, for the inspiration He kindly gave to me. A dozen of us stayed to watch the DVD all the way through, and I detected a few tears in the audience as we remembered what for me was, I think, one of very our best pilgrimages.... Bernard and I have decided we will have a "public" showing of the DVD on Sunday 6th December at 7.30pm at St Brigid's Hall. A beautiful evening.
Pictures show Our Lady of Czestochowa, the "Black Madonna" and patroness of Poland, and me elevating the chalice during Mass at the church of Dominus Flevit, marking the spot where the Lord Wept over Jerusalem.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Looking back

A day for looking back... First we celebrated our annual Mass of Memories at Christ the King this morning. Over 120 people attended this year, including many who had been bereaved since last year's Mass. As is my practice, I read out the names of the 38 who had died during that time at the beginning of Mass. Each of the names brings back memories to James and myself, and reminds us of the great privilege it is to be allowed into people's lives at this most painful of times. Some funerals can be, it must be said, the most uplifting of occasions. Who can forget, for example, that of Teresa Walsh at St Paul's during the summer? After Mass today everyone enjoyed a cup of tea or coffee and a chat in the hall. I'm very grateful to the C the K bereavement group for organizing this celebration so well.
Then, still on the theme of looking back, we had a great concert in our other hall, St Brigid's, this evening. We were hugely entertained by the Siren Sisters, a 1940's style close harmong trio. They were very good, with a lovely sound, and very well rehearsed I would say. Then after a hot meatballs-and-rice supper excellently prepared as usual by our St B & St P Social Group, we all watched a DVD called "Songs that Won the War" introduced by Dame Vera Lynn, and had a good old singalong.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

1982 vintage

Ummm, a kind parishioner came across this photo in the archive pages of the Western Mail. They thought that this fine young priest looked familiar!! Actually this pic was taken at Pontcannna on that unforgettable day 2nd June 1982, the day John Paul II came. I had become parish priest of St Cuthbert's the previous autumn at the tender age of 28. For the papal visit I tried to encourage what you might call a festive spirit in the parish, and some sort of took to it big-time, especially a nice group of teenagers there. Some of them dressed up for the occasion, and so I thought I'd add a festive note too - hence the hat! I didn't expect to be on the front page of the Western Mail though...
As a city parish we had to set out walking at 3 or 4 in the morning, and the youngsters insisted on singing our way through Grangetown and Riverside. "Our God Reigns" was the favourite - but not with one irate resident who flung the window open to complain, only to be told by one, er, fervent lad "We're Catholics, we're gonna see the Pope, and we don't care!"
One priest from each deanery could join the Pope up on the podium for the Mass - and yours truly, secretary of the deanery at that time, pulled my own name out of the hat - honestly!
Any of you got memories of The Day the Pope came to Cardiff??

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Berlin Wall - my part in its fall!

Back in May 1989 I was asked by Archbishop Ward to attend a conference in Basel, Switzerland. It was the first European Ecumenical Assembly, with representatives from all the denominations and all the countries of Europe, East and West. It was historic as it was the first time this had happened. The theme was "Peace with Justice", but in fact the main achievement seemed to me to be the fact that it happened at all.
It's hard for us now 20 years later, isn't it, to recall the days of Soviet Communism. The Berlin Wall seemed to be a permanent and sad fixture. During that Assembly I was overwhelmed with a sense of the unity of Europe, but a unity that appeared to be so far beyond our grasp.
Nevertheless, we prayed together, Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants and Orthodox, from Britain and Romania, from Finland and Portugal. We prayed hard for the issues at the heart of the Assembly, but we prayed above all for Europe. I remember clearly the final great act of the Assembly, the voting for the adoption of the Final Report. The chairman invited us all to stand in silent prayer and then vote. As all the hands started to go up I was overwhelmed with a sense of a new unity. I think everyone present was aware that we had just done something extremely profound, but perhaps we didn't realise quite how profound, for as that year progressed cracks started to appear in the East-West barrier, and exactly six months later the Berlin Wall fell.
Gorbachev, Pope John Paul and many others were all credited with igniting the events of that year. But in that crucial year of 1989 in an exhibition hall in Switzerland, and for the first time ever, the Christians of Europe had prayed together. Coincidence? I don't think so...

The graphic was the logo of the Assembly

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Amazing nuns

Came across this video of an amazing convent of Poor Clares in Lerma, Spain which has 140 sisters, mostly very young. Read more about it here. Here they are with one of my favourite priests, the truly charismatic Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Papal Household. He has just given them a retreat. I have had the privilege to hear him several times. Just catch the joy in this Capuchin friar, and especially in these young women...

Friday, 6 November 2009

Not so fast

Went for a blood test yesterday. Like half the population I've got a blood pressure thing - well under control thankyou. It means a blood test every year or so, and as I hadn't looked at the envelope thing they give you to hand in, I presumed it was a fast-from-midnight one. So, no cereal and orange juice and tea on Friday morning. I get to the lovely nurse and she says "Oh, no fasting today then"! Aaaargh... and I was going straight to Mass too. Luckily someone tempted me with a cup of coffee and bickie (biccie? bicky), to keep me going.
Llanishen Court surgery is a doddle. In one of my former parishes, I had to run the gauntlet of various parishioners to get to see the doc. "You arright father?? Wassamatta with you?" would be shouted across the crowded waiting room. I'd be identified with a "Thass the vicar oo done my neighbour's kid". I was glad my baptismal ministry was appreciated. "Yeah, ee's nice innie? Better than that vicar down the other church." All ecumenical niceties were out the window as my Catholic chest swelled up in pride. In Llanishen Court it's a quiet murmuring, with the odd "How are you, Father?"

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Holey AND holy?

Phew! Just watched on iPlayer a recent programme from Horizon on Black Holes. These are those weird things at the centre of galaxies and elsewhere which are so dense that their gravity doesn't let anything escape, not even light! So we can't see 'em but we know they are there. They are such strange things that they don't obey Einstein's laws of relativity either. When scientists ask what is going on at the centre of them, they shrug their shoulders and say "Dunno!"
The scientists on the programme were comparing these infinitely small infinitely massive points with the similar phenomenon we call the Big Bang, which they say also started with what is now everything in the universe sort of contained in one tiny point. Yes, I know, it's enough to make your brain hurt.
What particularly interests me is that here we have the most advanced physicists in the world struggling to understand reality in terms that are almost spiritual. Mystery, infinity, nothingness, and so on - it's as if faith and science are sort of meeting at the far end of the garden, while up on the decking of ordinary life we are led to believe that they are totally separate and exist in different worlds. The media, in particular, will portray faith and spirituality as a kind of lifestyle option for the rather deluded or eccentric.
I don't think you could watch this edition of Horizon without having some sense of awe at, well, reality. Or as God said to Moses at the Burning Bush, "take your sandals off, laddy - you're standing on holy ground!"

Monday, 2 November 2009


I was wondering what to post for November 2nd - All Souls. Something religious... but I couldn't settle on anything. Then I thought of one of my "Desert Island Discs" - Chopin's Nocturnes. So here is Claudio Arrau playing Op 9 no 1, composed in Chopin's early 20s. Relax, reflect, remember...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Mass with the Sick

We celebrated a Mass with the Anointing of the Sick yesterday. We used to have these once a year, but the two parishes Liturgy Groups decided to increase it to twice a year, maybe in the two months of Our Lady, May and October. St Brigid and St Paul would do one and Christ the King do the other.
So this time it was held in St Brigid's, and was a moving occasion as always. A little group had planned the liturgy and printed an order of service. We repeated what we did last time it was held in St Brigid's, namely having intercessions while the Sacrament of the Sick is being administered, and then people being invited to mention out loud other people who are sick and not present.
At the end of the Mass I reminded the sick that they are very much at the centre of parish life, showing us the hidden face of Jesus, the suffering face of Jesus. I asked them to pray for the parish and especially, in this Year of the Priest, for the priests of our diocese and for Vocations.
After Mass we enjoyed a light lunch organized by our ever efficient St B & St P social group, and I was able to catch up with some of those whom we don't normally see.