Saturday, 30 January 2010

The greatest

How brilliant is Shakespeare... After a long day at Newport discussing the way forward for Charismatic Renewal in Wales, and a full congregation and demanding homily at St Paul's this evening, I resisted through tiredness a tempting invitation to go out for a drink, and instead got some supper and looked for something on the telly. What I found on BBC4 was the recent production of "Hamlet" with David "Dr Who" Tennant.
Well I was, as they say, rivetted. The performances were excellent, but it was the skill of Shakespeare that caught me. I did English Literature at A level, and our two Shakespeare plays were "Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Hamlet". However an 18 year old cramming for exams is not well placed to begin to grasp Shakespeare's grasp of life and the English language. Life and death, love and betrayal, madness real and feigned - the list of themes handled in this brilliant piece goes on.  Quite simply he tackled the Big Questions, as all great art does, I believe. When all the dead bodies litter the stage at the end, it's an exciting climax that is also a vivid picture of the terrible effect of our actions. We only get one shot at this life, and, as the Prince says, "The rest is silence". No more pain, hatred, hunger, anger, jealousy, or poison literal or metaphorical...

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Never again

Holocaust Memorial Day today. I caught part of a TV documentary about the persecution of French Jews this evening - little children separated from their parents and transported by train 60 hours across Europe to Auschwitz.  Our September Pilgrims will be visiting that most hellish of 20th century sites this year. I think I will have to gear myself up well before for that experience... 
In August while in the Baltic Republics I saw and heard much about the horrors of the Soviet era, and I was sorry that we missed our usual visit to Yad Vashem on September's Holy Land pilgrimage. Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem, and is a deadening experience. Sometimes I hear people say that it is time for the world to "move on" from thinking about the Shoah, the Holocaust. Yes, there have been other crimes on a huge scale, but I think that the cold, calculated nature and scale of the Final Solution has no precedent - and no future equal, I pray. I believe that our culture has maybe still not really handled what happened, not in far off Africa or Asia, but here in allegedly Christian Europe. I am not at all surprised that there should be Holocaust deniers, just as there are abuse deniers in the Church. It is all, indeed, hard to believe.
And, Lord, I am not surprised that all this, in turn, makes it hard for many to believe in You.

Monday, 25 January 2010

The Pope says Happy Birthday to The Canon's Stall - well, sort of

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of my blog. By coincidence, Pope Benedict also issued his annual Message for World Communications Day...  or was it a coincidence??...  This is the Vatican press release:
The message of Pope Benedict XVI for this year’s World Communications Day is a consideration of the evangelization of the "digital continent". The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:16) The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts. Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word.

Priests are invited to appreciate the great potential of the new technologies to make known the Good News of God’s love for all people more widely and more directly to ever greater numbers and across all types of boundaries. It is possible, using the new technologies to reach new audiences; to invite them to a consideration of the fundamental questions concerning the meaning and purpose of life and to offer to them the great wisdom of our tradition. This is a message of encouragement for all priests; not just those who are technically proficient or media specialists.
The priest is invited to be present in the digital world precisely as a priest, "as a man of God". "Priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ." If the priest is to be an effective communicator of the Gospel in the digital environment, as in any other forum, he must be a man of the Gospel. The communicative efforts of the priest must be born from his own profound listening to, and meditation on, the Word of God. Priests are to be present as "faithful witnesses to the Gospel"; their use of new media should reflect "a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord" and the task should be undertaken "with the Gospels in our hands and in our hearts".

Pope Benedict lists some of the new resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) that can be employed by priests to proclaim the Gospel and he insists they be used in a competent and appropriate way. His message takes for granted the need for the formation of priests in the skillful use of the new technologies, but his primary concern is to ensure that they are used in ways that promote the Gospel and offer hope to all... The Pope invites priests, and by implication all believers, to use the web to create a space of dialogue where Christians, believers of other religions and non-believers can encounter each other in a respectful search for truth and wisdom. If all those who partake feel free to bring their deepest convictions and beliefs to this dialogue, it will help to give a "soul" to the fabric of communications that makes up the Web.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Chilling with the lads

Spent some fun time yesterday with some men of the parish at a Scalextric lunch (yes, honestly!). Soup and pasties were followed by being re-initiated into the twists and turns of the little cars. Great fun - and you get to know the guys a lot better. So - thanks Chris!
All this brings me to one of my projects for 2010 - wait for it - a Catholic Men's Breakfast. After seeing it work in Canada, and hearing about it working in various church and non-church settings here, I think it could be  a goer. Possible scenario would be once a month on a Saturday morning sometime between 8 and 9.30, getting caterers in to do English breakfast or whatever for self-service. Chat, chat, chat, then maybe a 15 or 20 minutes talk by someone on something interesting from their experience that would be relevant for men nowadays. Short time for queations, further chat etc  - and finish.
The thing is, there is little for men in the Church, and indeed women can, er, dominate a lot of general activities that do happen, at least numbers-wise. I would have it for our 3 Churches first, and then maybe open it up for others too. Any thoughts from out there in the blogosphere??

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Edie does it...

My attention was caught when I heard and read that they think they've discovered the bones of good Queen Eadgyth in a tomb in Germany. Eadgyth gives us modern "Edith" the name of my grandmother. Seems that folks thought a particular monument in Magdeburg Cathedral was a cenotaph, i.e. empty. But when it was opened up, lo and behold, bones wrapped up in silk. They think it might be Eadgyth, granddaughter of King Alfred the Great. This Saxon princess went off and married the Emperor Otto I in the year 929, when she was only 17 and he was 36... These are two statues thought to be of them.
Now her brother was Athelstan, a very important chap because he stayed over here and became what many see as the first king of a united England. I saw his tomb a year or two ago over in the lovely Abbey church at Malmesbury (not far from Cardiff over the Severn Bridge and turn left at the Chippenham turn-off. A Fr M approved day trip). Those so-called Dark Ages centuries between the Romans leaving and the Normans coming in 1066 are getting quite a lot of attention nowadays. What with the emergence of the Celtic countries, the incursions by Angles, Saxons, Vikings etc, the arrival of St Augustine in 597 to re-evangelise England and loads more, it was a real melting-pot time.
So Eadgyth has suddenly emergd from this darkness. She and Otto had two kids, whose descendants went on to rule the Holy Roman Empire for a few hundred years. Her blood must run through many of the royal and aristocratic families still around. If the remains are indeed hers, then these will be the oldest such remains of English royalty... Good old Edie!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Brains help

Today is the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which runs 18th-25th January every year. Relations between churches have changed enormously over the last fifty years or so, not least from the Catholic perspective. Unfortunately, however, things seem to have slowed down in recent years, at least on the "official" level of popes, bishops and theologians. One of the main reasons is the internal decisions and difficulties of various denominations. On the world level, relations between the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy are far more significant than between the Catholic Church and various Anglican and Protestant communities.
On the local level things are often going a little better, with a huge thaw in good relations between local churches and clergy. In May I come to the end of my term as Chair of our local Churches Together in Llanishen. We've rejigged the Chain of Prayer from something that happened one day a year, to a monthly hour of prayer. Last year we moved our annual event of witness to a Walk past Roath Park at Pentecost followed by a shared picnic. However, we have had some minuses too - for example, we've just heard that the Lenten discussion groups will not take place this year.
I cannot understand brother priests who feel free to opt out of this aspect of our work, in a way that they would not do in other parts of priestly duties. It's sometimes tedious, other times nothing seems to be happening, but we have come a long way - which would not have happened if we all just sat back and declared ourseves absent from the fray.
All of which is by way of saying that five of us clergy had another good lunch at the Three Arches today, as we do every other month more or less. Three of us had the All Day Breakfast (under £4 when you get it off the special menu, but more if you get it off the ordinary menu - same dish. Naughty pub!). I have to admit that one of the reasons I like these lunches is that I feel better afterwards. We Catholics can be very good whingers about the state of the Church and parish life - but... well... umm, compared to some of our brothers and sisters from other churches... 
And, oh yes, thank God for the Catholic Church in its humanity - I was the only one to have a pint!  ps Rev James, of course, since you ask...

Friday, 15 January 2010

With his people to the end

Among the thousands of victims of the earthquake this week in Haiti was the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Miot. He seems to have fallen off a balcony at the moment of the quake and died instantly. His cathedral also is now a ruin.To see the effect of this disaster, here is the cathedral before... 
And here is a video of the cathedral after - roughly the same view. 

We always feel so helpless, don't we then these disasters strike? But we can do something - in fact, two things. We can act and we can pray. We can support the Emergencies Appeal, and lift up all our Haitian brothers and sisters to the Lord. Here is a picture of Archbishop Miot at Mass, to remind us That all these victims were and are somebody and not just statistics...
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Best snow cover of the winter this year - so here's the view from our front door of the carpark and hall here at St Brigid's taken just five minutes ago by my own fair hand (you can tell that, because the hall looks as if it's falling over!)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Life in Lilongwe

A while ago I did a posting on the Poor Clares of Lerma in Spain, where a phenomenal renewal of religious life is taking place. Today's posting is about another Poor Clare community, this time in Lilongwe, Malawi.
I subscribe to "Pastoral Renewal Exchange" where subscibers submit articles, poems etc that they think will be of interest, and PRE duplicates them, sending them out to all other subscribers. In the latest edition was a piece by Fr Padraig O Maillie about this convent, where he attended Vespers (Evening Prayer). The video shows the sisters at prayer including, I think the Magnificat, with a commentary by Fr Padraig. I love the voices, the gentle dance, expressive hands and surrounding peace. Enjoy.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

A singer and a song

I came across a video combining two of my favourites - the song "Holding Back the Years" and the singer Randy Crawford. "Holding Back" was originally done by Simply Red, of course, on their first album, and was a worldwide hit. I suppose Randy Crawford is now a little past her prime, but in the early 80s her interpretations of classics like "Rainy Night in Georgia" and "Some Day I'll Fly Away" were the soundtrack to a lot of my life at that time.
In this video these two come together in a concert recorded in 1995 for German TV.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Living our calling

I decided not to blog about the cold, as it's on every news bulletin and in everybody's conversation! Rather I thought I'd share something of the Requiem Mass we celebrated this afternoon. Pat, the deceased, had been married to Terry over 50 years, but they knew each other since he was 10 and she was 8. Pat had suffered from several serious ailments during that long period, and had lived in a Home these last three years, where Terry seemed to spend every waking hour...
What a beautiful couple - and what a wonderful example of devoted living out of the great sacrament of matrimony in our time. "In sickness and in health..." as the wedding vows say. It's so important to affirm the faithful living out of our various callings, isn't it - whether marriage, religious life, priesthood, single life, whatever. I know for sure that some of my greatest inspiration in the living out of my vocation of priesthood has come from observing lovely couples like Pat and Terry living out theirs.
Lord, grant eternal rest to Pat, be with Terry in his empty moments, and help us all to put flesh on the vocation to which you call us.

The picture is of one of my favourite sculptures, an Etruscan sarcophagus of a married couple from the Villa Giulia Museum in Rome.

Monday, 4 January 2010

A King's Birth

One of the finest buildings in Britain is the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge. Many people know it as the setting for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas, which is broadcast across the world. We even used their sequence of readings at our 3 Churches Carol Service two weeks ago.
King's was founded by Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady and St Nicholas" in 1441, and the famous chapel was added over a period from 1446 to 1531. The architecture is stunning, with the Perpendicular fan-vault roof, the largest in the world, soaring high above the radiant stained glass of the windows inserted 1515-1531. Across the centre stretches the beautiful old oak screen, one of the last adornments, and added, I believe, by Henry VIII.
As you move down the chapel, and pass through the screen you reach the chancel, with its large number of stalls for the celebrated choir and the clergy. Eventually you arrive at the altar at the east end, and there, above it, your eyes fix on Rubens' magnificent painting "The Adoration of the Magi." It's a surprise for many to find out that while this masterpiece was painted in 1634, it didn't arrive at the Chapel (as an anonymous gift or loan) until, I think, the 1960s. Its arrival made some adaptations of the altar area necessary - but I don't suppose you're going to let that get in the way of the offer of a Rubens!
So an image of the Epiphany rests at the centre of what, for me, is one of the greatest buildings in the world. I hope that the thousands who visit the Chapel pause to wonder - as those exotic travellers from the east did - and maybe to worship, before the Babe of Bethlehem.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year - Wise Men

Happy New Year to everyone - from England! Yes, I'm on a post-Christmas tour around my family, and celebrated the New Year at my sister's last night here in Hampshire. (For the benefit of some overseas readers: Wales is not part of England!) I always love spending time with my family, and although one of my sister's sons is in Washington DC at the moment, he phoned last night to wish us all a happy New Year, and I had a quick word with him too.
Tomorrow I'm back at base in Cardiff, and straight into parish routine, with evening Mass. A few years ago our beloved Bishops of England and Wales moved some Holydays onto the nearest Sunday, including the Epiphany. So, the twelfth day of Christmas this year falls on the ninth day of Christmas!! Ho-hum...
Meanwhile, a second clip from Pasolini's "Gospel according to St Matthew" - the visit of the Wise Men.