Friday, 30 April 2010

I didn't see this one coming

We have had a surprise announcement this morning, that Archbishop Peter has been appointed Archbishop of Southwark in London. The previous archbishop there resigned before Christmas on health grounds, and I wondered at the time whether Peter would be in the running. With everything else that has been going on, the question fell off my radar. He will be installed there on 10th June. His authority here in Cardiff ceases today.
So, an era comes to an end. Peter came to us after the events surrounding the last years of Archbishop Ward's ministry here. Southwark is his home diocese. 
Within eight days our diocesan consultors (ie the eight deans plus one or two ex officio members) have to meet to elect a diocesan administrator until we get a new archbishop. The administrator has quite wide powers, but not to make any changes that would be permanent, such as appointing parish priests etc. 
Some diocesan officers lose their position in these circumstances, such as the Vicar General, who is Mgr Bob Reardon at the moment. The VG's authority flows from the bishop's, so - no bishop, no VG. Others carry on, such as the Judicial Vicar (ie me!) as justice must always be available. I do lose one of my other hats, though, as chairman of the Council of Priests. This is a body advisory to the bishop, so - no bishop, no council.  
We congratulate Archbishop Peter, whom we shall miss, and seek the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit over the coming months.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Clearing the background

Annoying tickle in the throat, but basically back to normal! Thankyou for asking.
Now, we have been plunged into reflection and discussion about these proposals for the future of the Church in Cardiff. I'm already fed up with thinking about it really, but of course, it's completely new to parishioners.
Very quickly two areas that need clarification have emerged. Firstly, because we have been running a "cluster" here at the 3 Churches for almost six years, people naturally assume that this is the kind of thing envisaged across the city. In fact, what is planned is something much lower key, at least in the immediate future, with co-operation between independent parishes the order of the day. So we are, in fact, five years ahead of the game, you might say...
The second area where there is a lack of information is more our responsibility. It has quickly become clear that many parishioners simply are not aware of the many, many areas of parish life where our three churches are entwined, united or mutually dependent.  
We are going to tackle these gaps by putting out some fact sheets to help people come to their own conclusions.
I must say I enjoyed the point one St B parishioner made, that the laity are being given 6 weeks to reflect and discuss, whereas the clergy have already taken about a year and a half! Touche!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Quite a weekend

I'm a bit better, thanks, and have managed to put a small fortune into Lemsip's pocket.
Our Landings day I enjoyed a lot. Just over 20 people came and our visitors took us through everything we need to know, really, in order to set up the programme in our parishes. And what impressive and pleasant people they were - it's always a great pleasure to meet good, solid, ordinary Catholics doing their bit for the Church. I was sorry to see them leave, and have a feeling I'll be seeing more of them. The one staying here in the Pres, Pat, had founded a Catholic men's group - very similar to what I have had in mind, except that his meets in the evening. They regularly get about 20 men along, and I listened carefully to how it all started. Hmmm... See how the Lord gives you these little "side-blessings" when you start to move with Him!
However, it was a long day, from 10 until 4 and I was not feeling very good by the end. A quick rest and it was on to 6 o'clock Mass at St.P.  We had to read the English and Welsh Bishops' statement on child abuse. I have no problem in doing that, and very much agree with its contents, it's just that it all leaves such a bad taste in the mouth, doesn't it?
Well, with hardly a pause it was then on, at the end of Mass, to Archbishop Peter's proposals for the future of the Church in the city of Cardiff. We clergy have known about the contents of this for weeks, including its bombshell for us here at the 3 Churches - the dissolving of the cluster in favour of two new ones, namely St Brigid-St Paul-St Philip Evans, and Christ the King-St Teilo-Our Lady of Lourdes. As you can imagine, I have a lot to say about this proposal, and we have six weeks or so to talk about it, so watch this space, but one aspect is already emerging quickly as a flash-point. In the letter containing the proposal, it talks about building on current exisiting good practice. Hmm, in our case, by dismantling it! I think people are going to really let rip at that one...
So, interesting weeks ahead.  Please feel free to add your comments on this or anything else, on this blog.
One last thing - my best feel good moment this weekend, especially after the abuse letter and my feeling poorly, was the lady who came out of 10.30 Mass at St B first in order to give me a peck on the cheek  and a hug. "That's to say thankyou for being one of the good guys." Small, but what a lot it meant this weekend...

Friday, 23 April 2010

Lot of it about, Father

Woe is me! Woke up yesterday feeling yucky. Bit shivery, head spinning and a touch of the old nausea... great. To make it worse, I had a really busy day ahead, including a burial (which you can't postpone!) and appointments with parishioners (for whom I didn't have a phone number). Bit better today, helped by a lovely wedding at Christ the King at lunchtime, but still feeling wobbly...
The folks who are leading our "Landings" day tomorrow have all arrived and we all went out to the pub this evening to sort out the practicalities. All we need now are the people.
On Sunday we have two things to announce. We priests have to read out the Message from the Bishops of Wales and England on Child Abuse, and then at the end of Mass parishioners are going to tell the congregations about the archbishop's proposals for reorganizing the parishes in the city. There are a few hot potatoes there, and they directly affect us, so we'll see how it goes down!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A saintly reminder

Well, it's not every Tuesday that you get given the relic of a saint. This morning one of our regulars at Christ the King slipped me a very old looking small metal box inscribed with IHS on one side and MARIA on the other. When I eventually found my way into the container, it revealed a letter from the priest who had given it to my benefactor, saying how it had come into his possession. Then I gently unwrapped the relic itself, which is sewn into another piece of parchment that guarantees its authenticity.
St Oliver Plunkett was Catholic Archbishop of Armagh in the dark years of the seventeenth century. Devoted to his flock, he was eventually tried and executed for treason at Tyburn. He suffered the utterly inhuman death of being hanged, drawn and quartered. His severed head ended up in Drogheda, near his birthplace in Ireland, where it is enshrined in St Peter's Church (pictured right). The remains of the rest of his body were taken to the English Benedictine Abbey of Lamspringe in Germany until the situation quietened down in Britain, when they were transferred to Downside Abbey in Somerset.
While his body was in Germany, it was clothed in an alb and red girdle, and it is of a small piece of that girdle that I am now the possessor. Strangely enough I have a sort of link with St Oliver. In 2000, ten years ago, I broke my ankle very badly while on holiday in Drogheda. I did it on the feast of the Assumption (bad choice of day, Old Nick!) but the evening before, I had been to Mass at St Peter's, where I saw the amazing shrine of the head of St Oliver. I've always thought of Our Lady as the one who stopped my fall down the stairs being much, much worse. Perhaps this is St Oliver Plunkett's way of saying  "But don't forget about me too!"

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Easter hothead

Blimey - 2 lunches out in four days. Really living it up! Thursday, my sister came down for the day and we went out to the Maenllwyd in Rudry. Sun was shining and so we sat out on their patio with its lovely view. Unfortunately, the gentle breeze that was blowing made me forget how strong the sun was. Result - one sunburnt head. Owch!  Fr M has hurting head for a few days. Now don't scoff unless you are yourself short of hair up top!
Anyway, ventured farther afield today to meet up with some friends from way back in my Ledbury days. 1983-1986 I was parish priest in this very nice old English country town. Also in the parish was the smaller village of Much Marcle, and hidden down a side lane there, was our goal today, Weston's Cider. In my day this was simply where some great cider and perry was made, that you could buy at a humble shop. Nowadays there is a Visitors Centre and shops, and you can eat and drink at Scrumpy's Bar and Restaurant etc etc. 
I had some beautiful lamb in Scrumpys, the converted stables block. And very nice too. Fr M approves. And, of course, I stayed out of the sun. 
Got home and Fr David, administrator of our National Tribunal phoned to say he was stranded by this surreal ash thing that's going on. Stranded, yes - but in Tuscany.... Tough life, eh?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Easter Gold

Well, I watched the famous TV debate last night. Brown fairly predictable, I thought, with the addition of a few spooky smiles, Dave a bit disappointing maybe, and Cleggo well yes a bit sort of charismatic, but I'm not sure about the content. It'll be interesting to see if the two others turn their guns on him more next week...  
Meanwhile tonight we had a beautiful occasion. Billy and Rita, the organizers of our September pilgrimages, celebrated their Golden Wedding during Lent, and we fellow pilgrims thought it would be a good idea to have a get-together. So I invited them simply to a Mass, then we plotted a bring-and-share supper for afterwards. B & R were quite overwhelmed, I could tell, and it was a lovely evening with about 55 or 60 there I think, many from recent pilgrimages, but also quite a few from the earlier years too.
As always, excellent organization and help from the folks in our 3 Churches.
P.S. No, that wasn't our hall tonight in the picture, left, just an amazing Asian Golden Wedding thing I found on the net!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

An Easter weekday

Mixed sort of day... Morning sunny but chilly, and off to St Paul's for 9.30 Mass. But wait, who's that lurking in the corner of St B's car park?  It's the gas man!  We started a service contract few months ago for the central heating that we installed two years ago in the presbytery. The guy who inspected the system pointed out that the main tap on the mains side of the meter was very stiff and very old and very rusty, needing replacement. A few months later, and two nice gas-men turn up unannounced for the replacement of said tap. I arrive at St P's with five minutes to spare before Mass.
When I get back the gas men are waiting for Johnny Plumber but I have only 10 minutes before I'm off to Thornhill Crem for a funeral. There's usually a Mss or service in the Church or Funeral Home before the crem or cemetery, but this time that was all there was. The deceased gentleman was one of twelve, so there were big family numbers there. Thornhill isn't my favourite place, especially not for a proper service, but they are a lovely family, and, of course, even if they weren't, they deserve the best we can do. 
Afterwards, I ask the undertakers to drop me off at St Peter's in Roath, where we are having our first post-Easter Fraternity of Priests meeting. Seven of us had a good session, with our usual hour's prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, hour soup 'n' cheese lunch and hour chat. We discussed how we had celebrated Holy Week and Easter, and the lads were interested in our wonderful Mass of the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday. Then, naturally we moved on to aspects of the current abuse crisis in the Church. Quite varied views really, but all in good spirits. We mustn't forget the good priests out there doing their best...
Back for four o'clock and the "post-mortem" meeting on the above Mass of the Lord's Supper. Great group of people in the steering group, and over a cup of tea we discussed the good stuff, and ways it could be done better in the future.
Then I relax for half an hour with another cup of tea and last slice of a Simnel cake that a kind parishioner gave us at Easter, before a meeting with a new applicant for annulment. Very pleasant chap, but it looks like we will have to pass this case over to Clifton diocese, as the other party plus almost all the evidence will be there. We have in canon law the concept of competence, which here means the ability of a tribunal to handle a case. The tribunal covering the place where a marriage happened can do it, or the one where the other party lives. The tribunal where the applicant lives or where the majority of the evidence might be, if that is somewhere different, can also do it, but only on certain conditions. I'll have a word with my colleagues in Clifton, Bristol in a day or two, to see how the land lies. While I am with the gentleman, Baptism Preparation is going on in one of the other rooms, and one of the catechists tells me the TV that they use for a DVD isn't working. "Oh dear" I respond, and get on with the problems of someone's broken marriage, by now looking forward to the end of my appointments for the day...
The picture shows the original design for St Peter's, complete with spire (Come on, Fr Myers, how is it you didn't stick one of them on top of that bare tower?)

Monday, 12 April 2010

Lokomotiv Easter

One year when I was a seminarian in Rome, some of us attended a Russian Byzantine Easter Vigil. The extremely long service was interrupted every so often by the deacon proclaiming to the congregation in Russian "Christ is risen" and we had to shout back "Truly He is risen!" So this little dialogue is deeply embedded in the Russian celebration of Easter. I doubt, however, whether it's ever been used in the way it was this Easter...
I came across this amazing and strangely uplifting video. It seems that during a soccer match on Easter Sunday itself at Moscow Lokomotiv stadium, opposing soccer fans started chanting at each other. But these weren't the usual taunts you'd expect. At the beginning of the second half of the match thousands of fans of Dynamo started chanting "Christ is Risen!". Thousands of fans of Lokomotiv on the opposite side of the stadium responded "Truly He is Risen!"
In Moscow. Amazing.

Easter expert

As we have in our 3 Churches (at the moment!) seven weekend Masses, it means that on alternate Saturday/Sundays we preach four times. Now sometimes my homily evolves over the four Masses, and sometimes it comes out more or less exactly the same. This week was an evolver. By Sunday 6 o'clock I was emphasising the wonderful way in which Jesus handled the problems of the apostles (and ours too). 
Firstly, they have fear of the Jews - so he just passes through the locked door of their fears, proclaiming "Peace be with you!" He stands with us on our side of those fears - It's OK, I'm with you. 
Secondly, they feel themselves incapable of carrying out the task he is giving them - so he breathes out the Holy Spirit upon them. It's OK, I know you usually mess up left to yourselves, so here is the divine life-force, the means by which to carry out my mission which is now your mission.
Lastly, they have their doubts about him, about the Resurection, about the whole thing - so he says to Thomas "Give me your hand". It's OK, I know you don't get the whole picture yet, but that doesn't bother me, just grasp this experience of my presence, because it is on that experience that my Church will rest for ever.  
There we have it - Jesus the supreme expert on our human nature. Should we be surpised? As God He made us, as God and Man he had shared this earth with us for over thirty years. 
So don't let's hear about our fears, our lack of ability or our doubts - they're no problem for the One who counts! 

Friday, 9 April 2010

Easter sunshine

Beautiful weather this morning, as it was yesterday. It makes such a difference doesn't it? It gives a real Easter new life feeling to everything. The cherry blossom tree in front of my window is in bloom, adding its pink tone to the grounds of St B. And the daffs are late, of course, this year, so they are out at the same time.
I attended a Requiem at the Cathedral yesterday, and was delighted to meet some canon lawyer colleagues there. Eithne, the wife of the deceased, is that rare commodity in the UK, a lay canon lawyer, and is very involved in the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland, our professional body. I was particularly glad to see Fr James O'Kane, who was flying down from Glasgow and back for the funeral. James was my opposite number as Judicial Vicar (ie boss) of the Scottish National Tribunal when our Welsh one was set up three years ago. He was very helpful to me when I called in to see how their set-up worked in Glasgow, so I was happy to meet up again. He asked if I was going to Derry this year - that's the location of this year's Conference of the CLSGBI. I'd answered "Er - no" in a slightly disparaging voice, before I remembered that he is currently General Secretary, and therefore the organizer of the event! Whoops...  I went last year, but it is an expensive jaunt, and a whole Monday-Friday out of the parish. I've vaguely pencilled in Harrogate for next year...
I'm still pondering "Babette's Feast" and have read some interesting stuff about it on the net, especially about the hidden but fairly obvious Christian allusions in the film. Several commentators add that it's one of those films that definitely benefits from repeat viewing, so I'll try and watch it again, perhaps over the weekend. Also on my "getting into" list at the moment is Bach's Easter Oratorio which a kind soul gave as a present for Easter.
Meanwhile on iTunes I've been revisitiing one of my favourite bands from the 70s, the Strawbs. I've always liked some kinds of modern, electric folk music, of which they were an early example, with others like Fairport Convention. Later on I was, and am, a great fan of the Scottish band Runrig. Any fans of any of these out there?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Easter "Feast"

After entertaining brother and sister-in-law yesterday and earlier today, chilled this evening and caught up with a DVD of a film I'd been meaning to see for ages, "Babette's Feast". What a beautiful movie. Made in Denmark in 1987 it's about a remote village there and the effect of the arrival of a French housekeeper, Babette, at the house of the two daughters of the late minister. The film slowly depicts and unravels the undercurrents in the tiny, austere and claustrophic community. The second half moves us slowly towards the feast of the title, to which all the village is invited, and at which the whole village is transformed. This long scene is fantastic, and really turns into a mystical, messianic feast. I'm not surprised that some people have seen touches of religion, Christianity and indeed the Mass itself in the film, though none of that is explicit. The original story was by Karen Blixen of "Out of Africa" fame, and the film won both the Oscar and Bafta for Best Foreign Film. There's an interesting page of links about it on the Karen Blixen website here.
"Babette's Feast" is one of those films that are sort of religious in a subtle way. I found the banquet scene very moving, which shows how well the film has drawn you into the whole life of the village...  Fr M approves!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter Monday

Time to eat my words again. Took brother and sister-in-law to the Waterloo Gardens Tea House today, and "forced myself" to have bara brith, that had been scrummy-but-heavy on 22nd March. Today? Scrummy-and-light!
I've just been catching on iPlayer a programme recommended by a few folks to me - "The Private Life of an Easter Masterpiece."  What a beautiful programme! It's all about one of my very favourite paintings, Rogier van der Weyden's "Descent from the Cross" in the Prado, Madrid. This claustrophobic depiction of grief is overwhelming in the flesh. The way Mary's body echoes her Son's, and the precise depiction of tear-stained cheeks and tear-filled eyes is heart-rending. The Prado is one of the greatest galleries in the world, with its Velazquez masterpieces, Goyas, El Grecos - and "The Descent from the Cross." It was painted around 1435 for a guild in Leuven in Belgium. It's in the short list of paintings that have stopped me in my tracks, and this programme does it full justice, I'm glad to say. Its history, the life of van der Weyden, how the work was built up and why it has such impact - everything is unpacked in an easy to follow way. Well done BBC!  If you've got 45 minutes to spare and would like to be led into why a great painting is great, follow this link.
So here it is, to tempt you to watch the programme - and perhaps to help you reflect on last week...

Sunday, 4 April 2010


Happy Easter everybody!  What a beautiful day... As I left for 8.30 Mass at Christ the King this morning, the weather was perfect: a gentle sunlight, a cool crispness in the air, and a few more birds singing than usual. Easter!
We celebrated a wonderful Vigil and First Mass last night, with the reception of Michelle into the church. I sang the "Exsultet" with a bit more emotion than usual, which brought a little more emotion to not a few eyes, I'm told. And then 8.30 and 10.30 this morning. Well, what can I say about 10.30? Well over 400 people, and sooo many children taking part, all under the careful and creative eyes of Peter amd Marie and team. It was just so - so joyful!  Michelle, our new Catholic was back for more too...
These special liturgies give me a deep sense of Church, and of the presence of the Lord in his Church. After the Vigil I had a very brief word with a young man, who just kept saying "Thankyou, thankyou... for bringing me back to the Church..."
So here is a picture of what the sanctuary at C the K looked like by the end of 10.30 Mass when the children draped the altar with various symbolic colours. The brightness of the colours reflects, I hope the brightness we Christians feel in our hearts on this feast of feasts. Alleluia!
ps Note the sunlight catching the incense hanging in the air near the tabernacle...

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Holy Week : Holy Saturday

There is something uncomfortable, disturbing almost, about Holy Saturday. There should be no sacraments, churches are closed, the quietness of the sepulchre. We are suspended in mid air, as it were, between Good Friday and Easter.
And yet it is an important day, because it speaks to us of the human condition itself. I was very enlightened on this by a talk given to my priests' group, the Fraternity, a few years ago by Archbishop Pat Kelly of Liverpool. He invited us to get inside the unease of this day, because it is the unease of human life itself. We are all indeed suspended between life here, with all its crosses, and the promise of eternal life - between the already and the not yet. While we will rejoice at the great Feast that starts tonight with our wonderful Easter Vigils, deep down in our hearts we know that we are not yet fully there. "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you" as St Augustine said.
The Apostles Creed talks to us of the "descent into hell", which is also associated with today. I remember thinking that this was a weird and scary idea, and pushed it to the back of my mind until I came across the wonderful Byzantine tradition where this doctrine has taken a central part in their Easter tradition, and is often shown in their icons and mosaics. A dynamic and virile Jesus tramples on Satan crushed under the Gates of Hell, while Adam and Eve and the other Waiting Righteous are pulled out of their ages-long imprisonment.
The version in the picture is one I saw in Istanbul at the Church of St Saviour in Chora that dates back to the fifth century. It is a fresco from the fourteenth century which was whitewashed over when the building was converted into a mosque two hundred years later. The fresco decorates the apse of the parekklesion, a side chapel that was probably used to house the bodies of the deceased before funerals. I love this vibrant evil-trampling, life-giving, hope-inspiring Jesus. He is the one we must proclaim this Easter!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Holy Week : Good Friday

Good comments all day today about yesterday evening's Mass of the Lord's Supper. Several folks saying things like "I didn't know what to expect, but it was very moving." People particularly appreciated our Gethsemane in the candlelit courtyard garden at Corpus Christi School.
For this afternoon's Liturgy of the Passion I was at St Paul's, where the planning group that I met with decided to follow a simple approach. As I often do on this sacred occasion, I read the Passion alone at a stool in front of the altar. Then we listened to a recording of Purcell's beautiful eight-part anthem "Hear my prayer, O Lord." The Hebrews reading then took us into the great Intercessions, which I led, with everyone kneeling throughout. The Isaiah reading then moved us towards the Veneration of the Cross, which I always find so moving, especially when the young and old approach... And finally, of course, all approach to receive the Bread of Life. Ultimately, although focussed on a death, today - this week - Christianity is a celebration of Life, one big Easter.
The last of my four Michelangelo Pietas can be found in the Sforza Castle Museum in Milan. Unlike the other three, I haven't actually seen this Rondanini Pieta. The scene is now stripped right back. The chisel kept chipping away at the hard resisting marble. Not much is left - bits of arms from previous, discarded visualizations of this eternal scene are left suspended away from the bodies. Those two bodies, of Mother and Son, are now more or less one, like a stone tree struggling up out of the earth, Mary half supports, half clings to Him for dear life, as we all must do.  
The first Pieta dated from 1499.This one Michelangelo worked on from 1550 until his death in 1564.  Fourteen years on one statue... never satisfied, always reaching for some unattainable perfection. But we can't reach it here. We must wait... 

Holy Week : Maundy Thursday

Well, a great beginning to the Sacred Triduum 2010.
First of all, I have to eat my words from yesterday about the opening hymn from the Chrism Mass not changing for about twenty years - coz it did today!!  All of us priests were fainting with the trauma... Then - the Archbishop got applause at the end of his homily. I didn't think my heart could stand any more. Then I realised that I had left the parishes' oil stocks back at the presbytery. Fr James usually brings them to the Chrism Mass to be refilled from the newly blessed Oil of Catechumens, Oil of the Sick and Sacred Chrism. James was coughing badly this morning and decided to stay away - and I promptly forgot to take them. Whoops!
Then up to Corpus Chisti High School where preparations for our Mass of the Lord's Supper were in full swing. The celebration this evening went very well. About 250 turned up, and we moved easily through the meal, the Rite of Commitment, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and so out into the candle-lit garden for the Watching. What a beautiful atmosphere there was in our own Gethsemane...
And so to my third Michelangelo Pieta. This version of the famous scene dates from even further into the great sculptor's old age. The scene now seems to emerge from the marble. The muscular body of Jesus hangs limp in the arms of his mother, whose features are barely discernible. Here Michelngelo starts to take us, I think into new realms of sculpture, where we are painfully aware of the very act of chiselling away the hard stone to release the figures within, who seem reluctant to struggle free, so heavy their burden. Stay awhile...