Monday, 26 December 2011

Venite adoremus

Phew - Christmas Day over, and chilling out on Boxing Day. 
Good attendance at Christmas Masses, especially at the Christmas Eve vigil ones. We have to have three to accommodate the crowds - one in each church. As there are only two of us, we have to "import" a priest, and this year one of the Rosminian fathers obliged at St Brigid's. I was at Christ the King, where the welcomers counted over 700 on their clicker...
After our morning Masses, it was out to parishioners for a scrummy lunch and civilised chat, then home for an hour or two gentle repose in my favourite armchair, and phonecalls to family. I spent the evening with other parishioners, where we indulged in the full two hour glory of "Downton", where you had to wait until the closing minutes to see Matthew ask Mary to marry him. Thank the Lord!!
Today I celebrated Mass at St Brigid's, and was joined by altar servers on their feast of St Stephen. Two were enrolled in their Guild, and I ordered them to finish off a pack of "Celebrations" from among a gluttonous pile of chocs and cakes given to us. With my post-Mass coffee I caught up with the Christmas episode of "Doctor Who" - a great take on "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe".
So now i'm off for a few days with my family, which I'm looking forward to. Catch up soon!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

In royal David's city...

The annual Carol Service from King's College Cambridge is now a part of Christmas tradition. It always starts with a treble singing the first verse of "Once in Royal David's City". So here is that carol, sung in what I would describe as maybe the finest single building in Britain, the chapel of King's College, Cambridge. A very happy and holy, peaceful and joyful Christmas to all out there in the blogosphere!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

In heavenly peace

We celebrated a lovely 3 Churches Carol Service yesterday evening at St Brigid's. Each of six sections had four parts. First a child brought a lamp to place in front of the relevant crib figure, then after the Gospel reading there was a reflection. Finally, of course we sang a carol. Four of the reflections were specially written for the service, while the other two were musical. Our wonderful 3 Churches choir sang the Taize "Magnificat" and young Ami sang "What child is this?" as a solo. Beautiful. Afterwards we all repaired to the Hall for mince pies and mulled wine.  The Christmas atmosphere has certainly begun...
Meanwhile, a little nostalgia. One of my 2011 highlights was our visit to Provence in September, and particularly to the Cistercian Abbey of Senanque, where we celebrated Mass. To see a beautifully edited video of Senanque accompanied by a piece written by Hildegard of Bingen (soon to be declared a Doctor of the Church apparently) please click here - and enjoy 9 minutes of peace...

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Verbum caro hic factum est

Nazareth the place is not up to much. The modern basilica sits near the middle of the, well, basically average town. The courtyard is lined with representations of Our Lady from many countries of the world, including Wales. On entering the huge church, you notice a large gap in front of the main altar, where you can look down to the level of the earlier churches that have stood on this spot. At a modern altar down there I have been privileged to celebrate Mass four times, just a few feet from the actual grotto which traditionally marks the place of the Annunciation. There you find a much smaller altar, and on the front a brief inscription in Latin:
Word for word: "The Word flesh here became" = "The Word here became flesh". That all-important litte word "hic" telling you that here, or hereabouts, the eternal Word of God became united with one human life, that God the Creator entered his own creation. Here, in this quiet backwater, then as now, Mary gave her accord...
Just think... No Annunciation would mean no Christmas. Just like no Gethsemane would mean no Calvary or Easter Tomb. These are the Places of Decision, where the "No!" of Eve and of Adam are reversed by the "Yes!" of Mary and her Son. Yes, God, yes! Yes to your plan, your desire, your way, your Word. In one word : "Amen!"

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

God reached out his hand...

Our Archbishop, George Stack, led a day of recollection for the priests of our diocese just before Advent. Among the handouts given were reflections for the Sundays of Advent. Here is an edited version of the one for the Third Sunday of Advent that I put on the front page of our newsletter this week. It seems to have touched people...
Someone is coming, a greater one than John the Baptist. If the 20th century did anything it certainly tested our hope. Sometimes we forget to tell the Good news because we feel the mud of human sin is sinking us. Advent is a time of hope. Someone is coming. He is coming into the genocide and ethnic cleansing, into our hunger and thirst. We are waiting with Hope because we trust in the promise.
More than faith or even love, I believe that it is Hope that tests our idea of God.  Hope asks “Do you trust God to be God?  Am I confident about God?  Am I sure about God’s promise? It is hope which asks me to put my hand in His hand and plunge into the night, to leave the shore, to put my face to the wind, to confront the waves and do battle with the tide... The darkness will never overcome. That is the hope of Advent.
For those who wait every hope is a great hope – we hope that the wounds of yesterday will close, that memories will heal, that the telephone will ring, that a son will come home...
Once we start hoping ourselves, we start bringing hope to others. Advent calls us out of the rut, to leave Nazareth and to follow the star to Bethlehem... God reached out his hand in the silence of the night and love entered the darkness. We put out into the silence of the night. The face of God is emerging. We feel the deep water around us. At this Advent moment we feel ourselves letting go to a higher power. This is a sacred space, an Advent space, a Hope space.
Pictures are from our 2009 Pilgrimage - sunrise ove the Sea of Galilee and Mass at the Grotto of the Annunciation, Nazareth

Sunday, 11 December 2011

MML - Modern & Medieval Languages - The Movie?

I saw a reference to this video in the newspaper yesterday. It's a kind of advert for the languages faculty at Cambridge, where I got my first degree. Produced by some students and staff, I thought at first it was a bit weird, playing up to the rather sentimentalised view of Oxbridge that lots of people have. Then, when I thought again, I remembered that in fact it was there that my vocation to the priesthood found its roots - not in the study of religion as such, but in Spanish literature, when I "discovered" St Teresa of Avila. So, yes, study, life, love and even life-long commitments can all happen among the lanes, courts and leafy Backs of Cambridge to the background of Baudelaire et al!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Wisdom and joy from across the Pond

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, who is patroness of our diocese under this title. Hot on the heels of "2 minute Advent" - 2 more videos that have come my way.
I explored a little, and found this one on today's feast. Go for it Fr Jack!

Then in my email today someone sent me this charming one all the way from Quinhagak, Alaska, where they are anxious to share their seasonal joy with us. Lovely.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A snappy Advent

Mega busy these last few days. We're handling five funerals over these ten days, and four baptisms on Sunday. I had to prepare for my Advent Twilight Retreat this evening (which went well, I hope!) and for my next Wednesday Word tomorrow (Radio Wales approx 2.40pm). As well as, of course, all the usual stuff...
All of which sounds like the cue for something different. Here's a simple little video from somebody named, which turns out to be "a magazine for spiritual seekers" from American religious order the Paulists. It's called "Advent in 2 minutes", and I think it's pretty good. Enjoy.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Parish life fiction and fact

As I mentioned a few postings ago, I have become a fan of "Rev." on BBC2. Last week's, I felt, was a bit weaker. This week, however, it came back with a vengeance. Plot lines involving ecumenism, sexism, pride, jealousy and other aspects of the human and pastoral predicament, after making you wonder where they are going, suddenly come together without warning in an amazing last scene that I couldn't help watching three or four times straight off. Great acting by Tom Hollander and the whole cast, great script. If you're not offended by a few swear words, then make sure to catch it on iPlayer, but don't skip straight to the end, it's worth the 30 minutes journey. Wonderful.
Meanwhile, a few people outside our 3 Churches have been enquiring about our "Vision" process that has been going on through this year. So over the next few postings I'll share stuff about it. Things started back in the New Year when I felt that it was time for a pastoral overhaul of things 3 Churches. We had redecorated the outside of St Brigid's and extended and refurbished Christ the King Parish Centre. Time for something more pastoral! 
I recalled a "dream exercise" led by Fr Tony Nolan with our two Parish Councils some years ago. We were invited to dream our ideal parish and then note down how it would be different to the present. I tried this with our two Councils and then across all seven of our weekend Masses... This timetable takes up the story.,..
January My prayer and reflection on where our 3 churches “are at” suggest a major review of our pastoral life.
February I share these thoughts with our 2 Parish Councils, inviting them to share their “dream parishes”. This involves my leading a prayerful reflection: they fall asleep on Saturday, and dream that the parish has become their perfect one; they find that on Sunday this has become the reality, and then write down what is different from the present reality. This avoids too heady an approach, and hopefully catches a word from the Lord via his people! (acknowledgements to Tony Nolan for the exercise!) We also decide to move towards one 3 Churches Pastoral Council, supported by smaller bodies in each parish.
March  I repeat the “dream exercise” during all Sunday Masses homilies, with a very large response. The councils collate and reduce all the responses down to one Statement (attached). We decide to set up the new Pastoral Council by Easter.
Maundy Thursday At joint 3 Churches Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Corpus Christi School I speak, in the context of service, about the Vision, and commission 8 members of the 2 Parish Councils as the new 3 Churches Pastoral council. Their first task is to continue and implement the Vision process.
June All parishioners invited to sign a book in each church containing the Vision statement, in order to continue their ownership of the project. The Pastoral Council reflects on how to move from vision to reality.
September All parishioners invited to express willingness to get involved in one of the 4 main areas that had emerged in the process. Then a Forum evening held at Corpus Christi with the 4 resulting groups produces practical ideas and targets. The Pastoral Council refines them into decisions and actions, with at least one from each group for implementation by Christmas.
November  We publish and “sell” the decisions via newsletter and pulpit. First group of actions starts.
2012  Second group of decisions/actions happen, and work on “Big Ideas” begins.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

From the "already" to the "not yet"

And so, amazingly, another church year has passed, and we arrive at Advent again. It's been a bright sunny day to mark the Church's New Year - but remember late November last year? Brrrrr...
Anyway, the Church messes with time a little in Advent, especially here at the first Sunday. We start a journey towards Christmas, which is in the future, four weeks away. Christmas, however, celebrates something which happened over 2000 years ago - the birth of Christ. So we are looking forward to something which has already happened. Then - we are also reminded that we are moving toward the second coming of Christ.  So we are living between the the two Comings, the "already" and the "not yet", and we are also about to celebrate the "already", but in the future. Hmmm....
I like the image of the spiral stairs that is sometimes used to illustrate religious education in Catholic schools - every year we revisit the same spot but on a higher level each time. Maybe it's the same with the Church's year. We revisit the seasons, ascending a little higher each time, celebrating the birth of Jesus and all the things from the "already", while we slowly reach for the heights of the "not yet", the future that is ours.
The new translation of the Missal is now in full use from today throughout most of the English-speaking world. Here in our 3 Churches we started using the new version of the priest's presidential prayers (the Collect, Prayer over the Gifts and Post-Communion) last week to mark the feast of Christ the King. I'm starting to get the hang of the new version. I read a lot of comments, negative and positive, about the translation, but find a lot of it actually quite prejudiced - literally pre-judged - rather than reflecting on the practical question of "Does it work?" Some seem to be saying it can't be right, because it's from the Benedict XVI world and had such a tortuous history, others say it can't be wrong - for the same reasons. 
I'm finding much of it "works" fine. Sentences are longer, and therefore demand more expression and preparation from the clergy, but that's no bad thing. Words and phrases I still find difficult, but, well, you can't please everybody etc. A few balances have been restored, but run the risk of swinging to the other extreme. And so on. I'm just trying my best to pray it with faith and life, and most of the time, if it's not too everyday a phrase, the new translation "does its job".
Happy Advent!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Glimpses of the future

And so the annual cycle of parish life continues...
This evening we held the parents' evening that precedes the First Reconciliation and Communion programme at Christ the King. A high proportion of "first timer" parents were there, and seemed eager to cooperate with our great team of catechists and us clergy in doing the best for their children. 
Our plans for Advent are also rapidly taking shape (just as well, he says, as Advent starts on Sunday!) We will have a 3 Churches Penitential Service in week 3 and Carol Service in Week 4 - both now have their planning groups in place. Week 2 I am going to try to do something myself - yikes, that's only two weeks away!
Last night we had the reunion meeting for this year's September Pilgrimage, which also doubled, as usual, as the selling of next year's pilgrimage. 2012 will see us returning to one of our favourite haunts - Assisi, home, of course, of St Francis and St Clare. The group has visited it several times before, but not since 2002 when we twinned it with Venice. This time we will spend four nights in Spoleto, near Assisi, then four nights in Montecatini Terme in Tuscany, from where we will visit Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Viareggio. As always, we appear to have sold out. Amazing.
Picture shows the Porziuncola, the chapel built by St Francis for his first community.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Rev-erent relaxation

A long, full day yesterday - Mass with Year 6 school kids at 9.45 at Christ the King, Requiem and cremation back at St Brigid's at 11 and 12.30. After lunch, do my parts of the weekly newsletter before zipping back up to Christ the King to receive the body for another Requiem today. Cup of tea, then meeting with our 3 Churches Pastoral Council to firm up the decisions and actions flowing from this year's Vision project. Great group to work with - committed, enthusiastic and well gelled together. But... I was ready to relax. Then I remembered a review or two of "Rev." on BBC2. 
So I parked myself before my computer, went onto iPlayer and sat back to munch and watch both episodes, as it turned out, of series two. Fantastic. I did catch some of the first series and it didn't grab me, but I'm glad I gave it a second chance. In case you haven't seen it, Tom Hollander plays the vicar in a Hackney Anglican parish. It's a sitcom but a kind of gentle one. As another blogger puts it, "Rev. Smallbone is an ordinary person, an ordinary man. Not a comedy vicar like Dawn French, Ardal O’Hanlon or Derek Nimmo, but a kind and humorous man who is riddled with self doubt, who makes mistakes, and who truly cares about his parishioners and believes he can make a difference, however ill-judged some of his endeavours turn out to be" (hat-tip Wartime housewife). There's no canned laughter, very well crafted characters and great acting. And it's good to see a clergy man on the TV that doesn't conform to the usual caricatures, and who is, at the end of the day, treated sympathetically. Many of the scenes I can imagine all too well. There's a bit of "language" or what the BBC calls "adult humour", if you are offended by that.
One of my favourite scenes is in episode one - the visit to the vicar by the Bishop of London, played completely straight by Ralph Fiennes. The acting by both is superb, at the same time hilarious and cringe-making. A kind of ecclesiatical "Gavin and Stacey" in that way. Episode 1 is here and episode 2 here.

Tom Hollander (centre) with cast members

Monday, 14 November 2011

Art on ice

Somebody asked me if I had any more "flash mob" videos for The Canon's Stall. Well, there have been quite a few made, it seems, but the, er, Americans turned the concept into a TV programme and, well, that's kinda the knell of doom isn't it? If you want to see the sort of thing, take a look at "The best proposal ever" starting with a stranger throwing water in the face of a chap who is out for a quiet drink with his girl-friend, and ending up with (sob.sob) their wedding.  Another, rather more tasteful one I found is a symphony orchestra playing Ravel's "Bolero" in the station at Copenhagen. Very nice, but not a patch on the totally wonderful and one of the originals, "Doh, a deer" at Antwerp Station, that I have posted here before, and which has received over 24 million hits. 
However, the "Bolero" one did remind me of Torville and Dean's ice-dancing performances back in the early 1980's. I think that their "Bolero" is simply one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. As sport and athleticism it is magnificent, but for me it takes those things into the realms of art. So, here is their "Bolero" from the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, when they gained perfect 6's for artistic expression. Indeed, this is high art. Fr M joins the judges in giving a perfect 6.0. Video quality is not perfect - it is from 1984! Enjoy...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Can we have that every day?

As the boy joined the queue for his lunch in the hall at Christ the King School on Thursday, he looked up at me and asked “Father, can we have that every day?” But “that” was nothing to do with the lunch that he was about to eat. “That” was a period of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament that he had just experienced with his class as part of the School Mission this week.
Each of the Juniors classes came into one of the rooms in turn for just twenty minutes with Jesus. The Sion Community members who were giving the mission had prepared the space. They had pushed back and covered the tables and made an altar for the monstrance. Each group of 30 came in to gentle guitar music, and so entered a very special time and place. I was very impressed with the way the Sion Community were able to both explain what that white disc is, and establish the atmosphere so well that the children were soon fully engaged in this divine encounter.
During moments of quiet some opened their hands on their laps, some covered or rested their faces in their hands, some shut their eyes, some gazed at Jesus who was gazing at them. Afterwards, another child asked me whether when I had my eyes shut I was talking to Jesus. I said I was, and she said she was too... In one group the leader invited them to write with their finger on the palm of their other hand the name of someone for whom they were praying, and then to lift that hand up towards the monstrance, literally handing them over to the Lord. A few shed a tear, just a small, gentle one...
If ever I needed proof that children “understand” Jesus and his ways - as he does theirs - it was there in that room. When the subject of Adoration comes up with adults, we have so many questions, hesitations, and smoke-screens of sophistication. But Jesus said “Let the children come to me”. May I add gently after Thursday morning, “And let them teach the grown-ups too..”.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Talking and listening

Lots going on - as usual! On Saturday I gave a Day of Recollection on "The Saints for Today - Heroes and Friends". It went well, and I devoted part of it to one of my favourite topics, namely tracing the relationship between Jesus and Peter through the Gospels. 
At our parish primary school, Christ the King, there is a Mission this week led by the Sion Community, well-known in the UK and beyond for their parish and school work. I'm looking forward to being involved in the later stages of the mission on Thursday and Friday, though it means I will miss the annual Requiem for Deceased Clergy in the Cathedral on Thursday. As the saying goes, you can't do everything. 
Many of the clergy are vexed by another of Archbishop George Stack's innovations. He has asked us all to suggest two priests for his consideration as Vicar General for our diocese. I suspect some of the brethren have been caught out. Having expressed the wish to be consulted over various matters in the past, now that they are being consulted they don't quite know what to do! Suggestions have to be in by this Friday - and, no, I'm not going to say who I have proposed!
Then, today I had two pastoral visits, one after a sudden death and one months after another sudden one. How important it in this priesthood life to be able to listen - to listen with empathy, patience and compassion. So often it take a while to come to the place where feelings are real, truths can be voiced, tears shed.  I always maintain that two of the most important weeks in seminary all those years ago were those devoted to basic counselling skills, and especially how to listen.  What else appears to be so simple, has so many pitfalls, but can lead to such grace-filled encounters.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Passing it on

Sometimes I'll post here pieces or parts of pieces that I write for the front-page of our parish newsletter, when they seem to speak to people. So this is an extract from last week's...
"Whenever I celebrate a Requiem Mass, as I did this Wednesday, I am once again aware of the importance of symbols in our faith. As the coffin arrives at the altar, it is draped with the white pall. When we are baptised we too are wrapped in a white garment – new life, cleansing, Baptism – essentially God’s love poured out over us at our beginning and our end. On the pall are placed the Bible – the Word of God by which that person lived their life – and the Crucifix – Jesus gave his life not just for us all generally, but for each of us individually. And standing alongside the coffin burns the Paschal Candle – light in our darkness, the Light of Christ lit on Easter Night and relit at every Baptism and Funeral. As I observed at Tom Quinn’s funeral recently, our lives like candles are meant to give out light even as they slowly burn away.
Symbols are central to faith and worship as they can convey so many things that words cannot – and do it more simply. The sacraments themselves are a particular and unique kind of symbol which bring about what they symbolise. Water, oil, bread and wine, rings – these things and many others in our Catholic lives speak of the God-dimension of reality."
Meanwhile, I'm very grateful to those who are starting to send me links to videos that I might want to post here also. So, thanks Mike for sending me this rendering of "Amazing Grace" by Trinidad-born American singer and Seventh Day Adventist minister (it's OK - he has performed at the Vatican according to Wikipedia!) Wintley Phipps at Carnegie Hall. First he gives some interesting history of the hymn, suggesting that it was based on African melodies that John Newton, the composer and former slave-ship captain, heard on the horrific transatlantic voyages. Nice little line too "If the mountain were smooth, you couldn't climb it". Then Phipps sings over sounds reminiscent of ocean waves, and as the end of the hymn approaches, lifts the whole audience up with a powerful change of key and a great Alleluia and Amen. As the Americans have taught us to say "Awesome!" 

Monday, 31 October 2011

Episcopal shoes, no shoes and new shoes

Our new Archbishop, George Stack, is getting his episcopal feet under the table as it were. (picture shows, apparently, John Paul II's shoes...). We clergy had been invited to suggest nominations for the deans in our eight deaneries, and the new men were announced last week. Four are reappointees and four are new, like the scriptural "things old and new". Next, Archbishop George reconvened the Council of Priests on Friday, and asked me to chair it. Following clergy recommendation, he has opened membership to all priests, and so most of us were there on Friday. He shared with us his thoughts on a large number of issues ranging across life in our diocese. We got through the agenda in about two and a quarter hours, not bad going I thought, and our next meeting will be in February.
Meanwhile, another update on past postings here. A fortnight ago I posted about very distant relations of mine who lived in Halket Street, Canton, here in Cardiff, later renamed Avon Street. Halket Street seems to have been a tough place to live, and someone in Mass this morning recalls that its second incarnation as Avon Street was little better, as she was forbidden to walk there as a child! Another lady could remember one part of that related family who lived in Ely - and they did go to Mass, so that's something.
Tomorrow evening Fr T and I are attending the Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist of Ruby, a young Chinese lady, at the University Chaplaincy. Ruby has been lodging with a family in our parish and we have got to know here recently. She is very charming , and it should be a lovely occasion...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Behind the scenes in vocations

During a spare gap today I caught up with a few other people's blogs, and found a couple of interesting videos on vocations.
First - what's it like inside a seminary? The BBC took photographs inside Allen Hall, the diocesan seminary of Westminster, situated off the Kings Road in Chelsea. Allen Hall has experienced a very encouraging increase of seminarians each year for the last five years. Rector Mgr Mark O'Toole and two seminarians talk over the slides. Come on Wales - catch up! 
You'll find the video here; (acknowledgements to Fr Stephen Wang, who teaches at Allen Hall). The picture below shows Adoration in the seminary chapel
My second video is, er, different. It is of the profession of two enclosed Dominican nuns in the convent of St Catherine of Siena in Cusco, Peru. If you can take the soundtrack (if not, turn it down) this is a fascinating little insight into an age old and solemn ceremony, with a profuse - very profuse - use of flowers. The convent was founded in 1610 on the site of a kind of Inca religious house for women. The chapel itself looks beautiful and Baroque. In this one, click on the image below. (Acknowledgements to the Dominican novices of the English province at Godzdogz)

Monday, 24 October 2011

A hymn for Fr Bob

A few weeks ago (7th October) I posted about the death of a priest friend whom I have admired tremendously since I worked with him in the 80s, Fr Bob Bedard of Ottawa in Canada. I was delighted to find that the religious congregation that he founded, the Companions of the Cross, have put a video of the whole of his Requiem on the internet. The principal celebrant was Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa and there were hundreds of priests. Particularly indicative of Fr Bob's influence was the presence also of the Papal Nuncio to Canada. 
If I'm not mistaken, the leader of the music ministry playing and singing up in the gallery is Marcel, who was a young newly-married when I was there. I must confess to a lump in my throat when they went into the final hymn as Bob's coffin was led out of the Cathedral. "The Victory" by Bob Filorama was one of my favourite hymns that I heard over in Canada. It's a simple but moving melody with strong words, full of a Pauline hope. Dare I say it is also in some way a man's hymn - and not just because it speaks of a man's arrival at heaven. On the Requiem video it does not come out too clearly, but I found it also as the soundtrack to a lovely short video tribute to Blessed Pope John Paul II.
Catch the Requiem here and the John Paul video here

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A Tintern autumn

Just got in from our fortnightly Fraternity of Priests meeting which was held at Chepstow this time with Fr Barry English (a very, very distant relation of mine) hosting. As we left, I asked Fr T if he fancied a diversion to see Tintern Abbey, so off we went up the Wye Valley.
It was about 3.30 when we got there on this, a coldish crisp October afternoon. There were very few visitors as I whisked us past the pay-desk with my lifetime Cadw card (ahem). The abbey was all the more beautiful for the autumnal colours and light, and the stillness. As we wandered over to the remains of the infirmary there was, in fact, nobody else in sight.
What a blessing to have such a place within easy reach of Cardiff. As I explained to Fr T that, no, the ruins were the result not of a fire but of the even more fiery Dissolution of the Monasteries, the pity of it all rose up once more in my mind. The loss of the religious houses was a great scar on our history, and although the wound is certainly softened by the beauty of sites like Tintern, somewhere. deep down, a Catholic heart must mourn.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Life in Halket Street

While I was waiting for an appointment to turn up this morning, I was doodling around an obscure corner of my family tree when I came across a new connection. My great-uncle Patrick O'Brian had a sister-in-law, Margaret, with an, er, interesting history. In 1888 she was had up for selling beer illegally, and two years later charged again with selling beer illegally - this time on a Sunday! Finally a few years later she was "done" for not sending her children to school...
Fascinated by these lively details i looked for where she was living, which turned out to be Halket Street in Canton. You won't find it on a modern map, as it was later renamed Avon Street, which has in turn been reincarnated as the car-park behind the north side of Cowbridge Road East between Wyndham Crescent and Severn Road. Poor old Halket Street has well and truly been wiped off the map.
Along with parts of adjoining Wyndham Crescent, where Margaret and her sister's family had a grocer's, it was completely settled by Irish immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, a kind of Canton Newtown.  But I still wondered why Halket Street had been so thoroughly suppressed - until I found a photo from the Cardiff Library archives on the internet.
This was taken in 1892, exactly when Margaret was selling her beer and maybe trying her best with her children. Take a look at the pitiful little boy and girl on the left. Now I think I can begin to understand what life was like for that distant part of my family, and thousands like them...
p.s. (The next day) I see that a small street in the new development on the site of Lansdowne Hospital is called "Clos Halket" - a delayed resurrection?  Meanwhile, things it seems got worse for Margaret, as by the 1911 census she is in Merthyr Tydfil Workhouse. However by the time she died in 1944 she was back living more comfortably in Cardiff

Friday, 14 October 2011

Rose-gardens and stethoscopes

I've written this piece for this week's parish newsletter ( When Fr Tomy and I were driving Archbishop George around our 3 Churches area on his recent visit, from Cefn Onn to Colchester Avenue, he was of course delighted to see Roath Park, which was looking at its best that afternoon. Unfortunately, as we were only driving past, he did not have a chance to see one of the park’s highlights – the Rose Garden. Of course the roses have their season, but I was able to tell him about this beautiful feature, even though it was hidden from view.
There is another Rose Garden that seems to be hidden from many of us. We have heard about it, we know it’s there, we hear good things about it. But perhaps we don’t visit it ourselves. The word “Rosary” means “rose-garden” or “rose-garland”. Perhaps for many of us it’s an unknown feature of the landscape of our faith. We know about it, perhaps remember it from our childhood, but... but...
October is the month to pay a visit to Our Lady’s rose-garden, especially if you haven’t been there for a while. Take your time and relax. Don’t expect sudden or exciting things to happen – the attraction of a rose-garden is cumulative. Don’t worry about all the prayers or about distractions. Just join Our Blessed Mother as she takes you around, showing you the joys and sorrows, the lights and glories of her Garden – let her be your guide. Ask her to help you with the prayer. Pray a decade for somebody, such as the Annunciation for a sick person who needs good news to be announced to them. Ask the Divine Gardener to draw you into his garden, as He shows you the beauty of salvation.
As the TV advert used to say “Roses grow on you” – and so does the Rosary. 
Meanwhile another video - you may have seen it already as Tomy had - very well made, and don't forget to watch until the end...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A moonlit night in October 1962

When Fr M was a little lad in St Peter's Junior School here in Cardiff, we used to pray every day for something called the Second Vatican Council. We didn't know what it was, but we used to ask God to renew the Church "as by a new Pentecost" - because Pope John XXIII had asked us to.
Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of the opening of the first session of the Council (big year in 2012!) and 10th October was nominated by John Paul II as the feast of the now Blessed John XXIII. I'm grateful for blogger Rocco Palmo's drawing my attention to a totally impromptu little address that Pope John gave from his balcony on that night to a huge crowd with thousands of young people carrying lighted torches - flaming torches that is. I don't remember ever reading or hearing it before, although apparently it has become famous, especially in Italy, as "Il Discorso della Luna" - "The Moonlight Speech."
So here it is with a translation of some parts. It's not of the best, but you'll get the idea. It's hard to imagine the impact of a pope speaking this way almost fifty years ago. What a pope, what a saint...

"Dear children, I hear your voices. My voice is just one voice, but it represents the entire world. Please look at the moon in the sky! It rose earlier tonight to be with us
so that it might watch from above this spectacle that not even St Peter's Basilica, in its four centuries of history, has ever been seen before. This is a natural wonder...
With this speech you and I are going to conclude this day of peace - yes, a day of peace : "Glory to God and on earth peace to men of good will"...
I am not important. I am just your brother who has become a father, through the will of God...
And so, let us continue to love each other, to look out for each other along the way: to welcome whoever comes by, and set aside whatever difficulty might come along.
When you get home, find your children. Hug and kiss them, stroke their cheek and tell them:"This is the Pope's caress". Maybe at times you have to dry their tears. Please help and support them, tell them: "The Pope is with us, especially in times of sadness and bitterness."
And then, together, may we all become fully alive - to sing, to breathe, to cry - but always full of trust in Christ, who helps us and hears us. Let us then continue along our path."

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ah, Senanque...

It seems an age ago that we visited the Cistercian Abbey of Senanque on our September Pilgrimage, but it is only just over a month. For many of our pilgrims this was their favourite location for Mass this year. The Abbey Church is open to visitors during the day outside the times of services, so we were invited to celebrate Mass in the private oratory of the 10 monks who live there, which is actually the former refectory of this beautiful twelfth century monastery.
What is it that makes places like Senanque so powerful in their presence? The Romanesque architecture, the Provencal sun, the changing colours of the stone, the surrounding hills and lavender fields. Or is it something much more intangible, something that has soaked into those stones and inspired that architecture... And might we call that vital ingredient holiness?
We were only there a few hours, but those hours will stay with me. Luckily I have  a tangible reminder, as the gift I received from the pilgrims this year - a figure of the crucified Christ - was bought there. Here for your pleasure is one of many videos on Youtube showing Senanque - so turn on your speakers, relax, enjoy. Fr M approves mightily.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Fr Bob Bedard R.I.P.

I write today's posting with a tear in my eye. I just received an email telling me that one of the best priests I have had the privilege to know died last night - Fr Bob Bedard, former parish priest of St Mary's Ottawa in Canada, and founder of the Companions of the Cross.
Although I only knew him closely for the two years I was studying in Ottawa, when I helped at St Mary's every weekend, his influence on me was enormous. He was Ottawa born and ordained for the diocese there. He taught in a local Catholic high school, becoming its principal, but then spent five years or so as a full-time evangelist, giving talks and retreats across Canada and beyond. When I met him he was two years into an appointment as parish priest in what had been a rather run-down city parish, St Mary's on Bayswater Avenue (very smart website here, where you can also hear some of Fr Bob's homilies). The attendance had rocketed, especially among the 20s and 30s, and the main Mass now attracted about 700 people.
When I was in Ottawa there were the very beginnings of a new community gathering around him, and through the 1990s this evolved into what is now a priests' Society of Apostolic Life (a type of order) called the Companions of the Cross. You can visit their website here where you will also find information about Fr Bob. Take a look at the young age of most of the 39 priest members! If you are on Facebook visit a group that has been praying for him called "Praying for Fr Bob Bedard" where you get a sense of the affection there has been for him.
I have stayed in touch with parishioners in Ottawa, and more loosely with Bob himself. He was a truly holy and inspirational pastor and human being and I am proud to put myself among the thousands he must have inspired. I am particularly proud to be able to say that I played a small part in the beginnings of the Companions when I was priest-in-residence at their first house of formation. Those who hear me speak and sometimes say nice things about what they hear - well, often you are really hearing Fr Bob Bedard...
His Requiem Mass will be celebrated next Wednesday at the Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame in Ottawa.
Eternal rest grant to him, Lord.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Be graciously patient, Lord

September 29th was the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, so in Mass I used the Preface of the Holy Angels. Reading through it, I struck a roadblock. The preface uses the word "redounds", and while it stirred something way back in my memory, possibly back to literary studies in university, I had to admit I didn't know what it meant. The internet Oxford dictionary says "(formal) contributes greatly to (a person's credit or honour)". Fine, I have no problem with the accuracy and appropriateness of the word in its reference to God, but I'm just wondering about its use in the liturgy.
I have mixed feelings about the new translation. I'm getting used to the longer sentences, especially in the Eucharistic Prayers, and the greater expression that is therefore needed in praying them out loud. There are many fine turns of phrase - I love "from the rising of the sun to its setting" and "the supper of the Lamb", for example. But praying that the deceased be experiencing "the light of your face" sounds clumsy to me, "coheirs" is not a natural phrase. I have yet myself to experience the supposed benefits of "And with your spirit" or "consubstantial". And yes I know it's not all about feelings, and I know the arguments for these changes, but language is a living dynamic reality which needs a little more than justifying arguments for it to "work".
And now that I'm getting more familiar with the translation, I agree with one commentator I read, who observed that the word "graciously" occurs a lot... So I'll just say that I'm asking the Lord to graciously hear our prayers and graciously bear with us while we try our best - graciously, of course.

Friday, 30 September 2011

A Pastor's Visit

And so the Archbishop came to visit us on Wednesday afternoon. The weather was perfect and, as he pulled up, St Brigid's was looking good in its white-washed splendour against the green lawns and trees, and blue, blue sky. After a great chat and cuppa with Fr T and myself, we took off for a tour around the territory of our parishes. 
Fr T drove and I tried to give a running commentary, while the Archbishop popped his questions as and when he liked. We visited all three of our churches and considered calling in at Christ the King School but it was 3.30 at that point - not a good time. After a tour of Llanshen, Thornhill and Lisvane by the time we got to Corpus Christi High School it was 3.45ish and the kids had gone. Nothing like a surprise visit! Headteacher David Stone gave an excellent intro as we strolled through the grounds, looking their best in the bright sun. Back at the ranch, His Grace had intended to leave at 4.30, but didn't get away until some time later as he and I got into good discussion about all kinds of things.
The Archbishop paid great attention in our visits and discussion, and was really interested in all kinds of aspects of our 3 Churches, and I was very happy to be able to share with my Bishop some of the wonderful things we all get up to here, and of course some of our problems. It's a wonderful thing that he has given such priority to getting to know his parishes and especially his priests. It all bodes well - very well - for the future.
Pic shows some of Corpus Christi's "pavilions" and part of the "lagoons". Picture of the Archbishop is in the right column...

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

3 Churches, 1 Archbishop

We held our 3 Churches Forum last night at Corpus Christi School, and I think it went well. About 70 people turned up, and there was lots of useful and lively discussion as we tried to lift the propositions of our vision statement off the page and translate them into reality and action. There was a great buzz at the wine-and-nibbles break, which is always a good sign, so we'll be watching where it all goes.
And so from yesterday to tomorrow, and the visit to us of Archbishop George Stack. He has been making his way through the diocese since July, visiting all his priests. He's almost finished now, so hopefully he's gained a good picture of his new diocese. One of the things he likes apparently is a drive round the area, so I'm working out an itinerary for him.  We'll cover all the areas - Heath, Llanishen, Lisvane, Thornhill, Cyncoed, Penylan, Roath Park, show him the schools - Christ the King Primary, Corpus Christi High and St David's College, point out the homes for the elderly and so on... It's quite a list when you put it all down. Maybe I'll interview him a little too!
Picture : Fr M gives Archbishop G something to think about...

Friday, 23 September 2011

Rhiwbina, Relativity, R.E.M.

Strange things you see considered as news in the papers. In the Times today it says that the speed camera on Rhiwbina Hill here in Cardiff only recorded one person speeding last year - it was the lowest in the South Wales Police area. This is a well-used cut-through to the M4.  But was it the northbound camera on Rhiwbina Hill or the southbound one (right)? Hmmm...
Another weird thing... scientists have discovered a particle that goes faster than the speed of light. Nothing is supposed to do that according to Einstein.
Anyway, this pales into insignificance in a week when American band R.E.M decided to call it a day. For those asleep (or not born) in the early 1990s, this band from Georgia USA provided the soundtrack for life during those years. In "Out of Time" (1991) and "Automatic for the People" (1992) they put together two absolutely classic CDs, including such tracks as "Losing my Religion", "Shiny, Happy People", "Man on the Moon" and the classic "Everybody Hurts".
The BBC write "REM have often used their music and power as a band to carry a message. 'Everybody Hurts' .... started out as a song to comfort 'younger people'. Its 'don't give up' message has most often been associated with suicide prevention but the song has also been used to mark the Dunblane massacre, Princess Diana's death and more recently the earthquake in Haiti."
Some music takes me back to a particular occasion, but R.E.M. take me back to a whole period from 1991 on. Even now, my well-worn CDs transport me to my time at St Francis Presbytery. And it's very R.E.M that it seems they have disbanded not amid acrimony and bad-feeling but calmly and together. Great style, great band, thanks R.E.M.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Missal launched

So we in the 3 Churches had to be different, and introduced the new translation of the Missal two weeks or more after everyone else. This weekend I was at St Paul's and St Brigid's, and so at homily time I took everybody through the "shiny card" as I called the material we bought for the pews. Actually, it all went fine - plenty of fumbling and "And with you"-ing, but all in good humour. 
A lady who had come for a Baptism after Mass said she had heard several priests explaining the changes, and that I was the best. Then, after the Baptism she asked could she wrap me up and take me home as my celebration of Baptism was also better than what she was used to! 
Anyway, enough modesty - you may have noticed the new format on the blog. I just thought that it could do with a makeover, and spent half an hour finding some alternatives. What do you think?
Fr Patrick left us on Friday afternoon, and within twelve hours Fr Tomy had returned, looking refreshed. He's been telling me that his family are fine, but were sad to see him leave again, especially his Mum. Priests' mums are indeed a special breed. Sometimes perhaps we forget that priests have families too - that's partly why I refer to mine from time to time in Church and here. And that's got implications for vocations promotion too. If we are going to get more priests then we have to have the families that are going to produce them. I read somewhere that one of the American dioceses that is doing well for vocations - they currently have 25 men in formation - is Madison, Wisconsin. You might want to see what can be done too  here on their website. There's a dropdown menu to look through.
These are the Madison seminarians with their Bishop. The picture above is Van Gogh's "Night Cafe" painted in Arles. Unfortunately, this cafe, which still exists, is where my camera disappeared...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Aix and no pains as summer ebbs away

We've had two lovely days weather-wise, but as my Dad used to say the evenings are drawing in. Summer is starting to drift away... Another sure sign is that our summer supply priest Fr Patrick is leaving tomorrow, and Fr Tomy is returning the next day.
Fr Patrick has brought a lively presence to the liturgy with his mixture of Nigerian and East London flavours. Fr Tomy has been back to his homeland of Kerala in India. Amazing that prior to coming here last September he had not lived or worked very far from his family home, other than for holidays. It'll be good to have him back, anyway, and our best wishes and prayers go with Patrick, who's taking a break at a retreat house and then hoping to pursue further studies in London.
Over the last years we have welcome priests from Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa/Lesotho in Africa, Poland and Ireland. All bring something different and help us to stay open to new perspectives, as well as providing them with parish experience here in the UK.
Pic shows the square in Aix-en-Provence where I had lunch last week...mmm...

Monday, 12 September 2011

A week in Provence

Hello again! We're back from our September Pilgrimage to Provence, and I'm glad to say that it all went very well. What a beautiful part of the world... Unfortunately one of the few blackspots in the week was the fact that I lost my camera on our first day - so I haven't got any of my own pics here.
We stayed at Arles, with its Greek theatre, amphitheatre and memories of Van Gogh, and went on to visit other big towns like Avignon with its Palace of the Popes, Nimes with its amphitheatre, the Maison Carre, the best-preserved temple in the whole Roman Empire, and the famous nearby Pont du Gard aqueduct, and lovely Aix-en-Provence, home of Paul Cezanne, and one of my favourite places of all. 
We also went to smaller places like St-Remy, where I tried ginger-flavoured ice-cream, Fontaine de Vaucluse, (blood orange-flavoured ice-cream), and the hilltop villages of Gordes and Roussillon. A day was devoted to the Camargue, famous for its gypies and flamingoes. We visited its towns of Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where I saw bulls being run through the streets by the local horsemen, and Aigues-Mortes, a lonely walled city founded by St Louis as port of departure for the Crusades.
Each day, of course, we celebrated Mass somewhere appropriate. Four of these were cathedrals or former cathedrals - Arles itself, Avignon, Aix and Nimes. At Les-Saintes-Maries the church and town celebrate the tradition that Martha, Mary, Lazarus and the two Marys from the crucifixion sailed across the Med and landed there. If it's true, that would make it the oldest Christian site in Europe! For many of our group their favourite celebration was at the Cistercian Abbey of Senanque, in a fold of the Luberon hills - just stunning.
It rained on our first day, but after that it got hotter each day until it was pretty scorching in Nimes on Friday. The company was great, as always, enlivened by the nightly ritual of Chase the Ace. On one of the nights that I played, I actually won a round - not to be sniffed at  when 15-20 are putting in 1 euro each...
Anyway, more of the pilgrimage in future postings... as I get back to routine. 
Pics show Senanque Abbey across its lavender-fields, Camargue horsemen and the village of Gordes.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Of Archbishops and Arles

Everything's a bit frantic this week as we're getting ready for our annual September Pilgrimage which starts on Saturday. 
For the first time in the seven years that I've been in these parishes, neither I nor the assistant priest will be here for one week. The parishes will be in the capable hands of Fr Patrick, our summer supply. So guess which Sunday Archbishop George chooses to want to come and celebrate Mass? Yes, you've guessed it, this Sunday. I suppose that's a bishop's idea of a joke.. He phoned yesterday and invited himself over.
Anyway, actually, I'm delighted he's coming. We've got nothing to hide! And it's a good sign to everyone of his wish to get to know the diocese. But then a further thought struck me. We decided long ago in our 3 Churches to not introduce the new translation of the missal until 18th September, when everybody else is doing it this weekend. That weekend will be the first that both I and Fr Tomy are back. And to make it worse, the archbishop has written a small pastoral letter about it - which he'll be able to read himself here - in a church that isn't introducing it this weekend! Well, as the kids say, "Whatever...."
So I'll be off the map again next week. We're going to visit Provence, staying at Arles, visiting all the famous sights, and celebrating Mass in all sorts of beautiful cathedrals and abbeys. Normal service at the Canon's Stall will be resumed from the 10th.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Street news

Amazing how quickly the news moves on. At the moment papers, TV and radio are dominated by events in Tripoli. Yet it's only a very short time since they were all equally dominated by the disturbances on our streets. Already politicians are pulling back from knee-jerk reactions at the time. 
The news often compared or contrasted these events on the streets with those of the 1980s, but I haven't heard any recollection of the problems on the streets of several cities, including Cardiff, that occurred in the summer of 1991. At the time I was parish priest of the area where the troubles were. In fact, the centre of the action was right outside our presbytery. I remember the atmosphere of tension and unpredictability as a few hundred young people roamed the streets, many of them from outside the area, and even from outside Cardiff.
When it all calmed down, I took part in some meetings of "community leaders" which tried to ask the question why it had all happened. There was some very useful discussion, but sadly money took over. A lot of cash was clearly going to be thrown at the area, and everybody wanted to catch some. Housing, education, social services... these and others were, and are, all deserving sectors. But those underlying questions somehow sank back into the murky depths under the floorboards of our society.
So when these troubles happened this summer I was not at all surprised to see and hear various spokesmen and women blaming this and that aspect of life in Britain. With so many interested parties, politicians and others involved, you're not going to get a consensus.
And into all this spoke bereaved father Tariq Jahan. "My son is dead. Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home." Watch again his impassioned original plea here.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Oh happy day...

Sorry folks, a longer gap between postings than I intended... but the Big Wedding came in meanwhile!  Yes the long-awaited marriage of one of Fr M's nephews happened on Friday. And what a wonderful day it was. It took place in a large Catholic church in Cambridge, and Friday was chosen mainly to fit in with my timetable. Followers will know that my family is very important to me, and this was the first family wedding that I have celebrated.
The day was simply one of the happiest that I can remember. Everything went well - and after a few damp days even the weather perked up and we had nothing but sunshine. This was particularly important as the venue for the reception had outdoor terraces and grounds ideal for spilling out onto for the pre-reception drinks and evening party.
At the end of the service it was marvellous to hear the peal of real bells, rung by real ringers, instead of the more usual digital or pre-recorded bells that you usually get, if at all, in  Catholic churches. The bride didn't stop smiling from the moment she arrived at the church, and  my nephew had a proud beaming smile too. Even the priest - myself! - couldn't stop smiling. 
It was great to see two young people radiating such love for each other, it just made you feel so good. I know I may be biased, but as a connoisseur of marrying couples - having married a few hundred - it really was an absolute cracker of a wedding, with a beautiful couple at the heart of it. It's going to keep me going, anyway, for a good while to come!
Pictures are a webpic showing the church from across the grounds of my college, Downing, at Cambridge, and two of my own, of the venue for the Reception - note the blue sky and the croquet lawn!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Swings, moves and unknown wives

Amazing, isn't it, how quickly you get back into the swing of things? It's only Wednesday and it feels like I've never... well, you know the rest.
Fr Tomy has gone back home to Kerala for his holiday. He was really excited in a Fr Tomy kind of way, so nice to see. So now it's Fr Patrick and myself for a few weeks.
Parish-wise things are a little quieter in August. Time to ponder perhaps...
The arrival of Archbishop George is giving some clergy food for pondering. There is some talk of impending clergy moves following his episcopal progress through the diocese in July, a process he intends to conclude in September. Archbishop Peter only really seemed to move priests when necessary - retirement etc. It'll be interesting to see if +George takes a more, um, proactive approach.
Family tree-wise, I discovered that a cousin of my dad who we always thought was a bachelor, actually married while working in Athens. Not only that, but I've been in touch with his wife's half-brother, who is alive and very active as a ceramic artist in Cape Town. Her two siblings bring the number of people on my family tree to 2,700 precisely!

Saturday, 13 August 2011


OK I'm back in harness, arrived back in the parish on Thursday. Buildings still standing, people still here!
I had a great break, spending one lovely half with my family and the other half off on my jaunt to Munich and Bavaria. Loved the places, but unfortunately I got hit by some very wet weather, especially on the day I decided to go into the mountains to visit the famous castles of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the so-called "mad King Ludwig". We saw Linderhof in all its sunlit beauty, but during lunch the sky darkened, and the heavens opened for three hours non-stop torrential rain with added thunder and lightning for effect. And all my day-tour group were in t-shirts n stuff, including me.
I got absolutely soaked right through, in a way I can't remember since being at university 40 years ago... After the 40 minute walk down the steep hill back to the village everyone steamed in various cafes before the joys of an hour's coach ride back to the city. Never has a hot shower been so welcome...
Munich is a very fine city, sort of Germany with a southern European twist. Lots of Baroque and Rococo architecture, some of which I found really beautiful, some rather heavy and uninspiring. So my pics show the famous Neuschwanstein Castle at about 2pm, just as the heavens were about to burst open and dump their wet contents on me and hundreds of others. The second one is only a couple of hours before, showing the lower Alps with the Zugspitze in the distance. The last pic shows the Jesuit church of St Michael in Munich - one that I did like!
More pics later, plus some thoughts on what happened on our streets while I was away.