Monday, 28 February 2011

O great St David

Daffodils are coming up all over the place, Wales won again (OK against Italy) it can mean only one thing - St David's Day tomorrow!
I gave Fr T a quick run-down on our saint today, so that he's all geared up for Mass in the morning. I was trying to describe the beautiful mini-city named after St David in West Wales. Its Latin name was Menevia, giving us the name of the modern diocese covering south-west Wales today, whose cathedral and bishop are in Swansea. The little town at the end of Pembrokeshire should have a special place in the heart of all Welsh people as the place where David eventually settled and was buried. The spot is now marked by the cathedral, now of course in Anglican hands. It's situated down in a  little dell, like other Welsh Celtic churches at Llantwit Major and our own Llandaff here in Cardiff. Although often the medieval bishops lived away, at Carmarthen, there are the fine remains of the Bishop's Palace still there, with their beautiful arcading from the time of Bishop Gower.
David's mother was Non, also revered as a saint. A short walk south from St David's brings you to her chapel, perched on the top of the cliffs, and adjoining a retreat-house. St Non's lies on the wonderful Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
If you have never been to St David's, and especially if you call yourself a Welshman - or woman - get down there this year, and soak in the atmosphere of our patron. Listen and digest his famous last words - "Be joyful, keep the faith!"

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Saints near and far

It got very busy recently, especially in the bereavements part of ministry. We have three funerals coming up in the parishes, and also that of Rita, wife of Billy, my close friends who run our September Pilgrimages, that mean so much to me and to so many others. I've known them for thirty years. Rita passed away on Monday evening, and I was privileged to be present with Billy and some of his family. Lord grant her - and the others of course - eternal rest. And if you need any typing, Lord, I can recommend Rita.
I was reading the magazine of the Companions of the Cross, a religious congregation, friends of mine, based in Ottawa, Canada, and came across a link to an excellent site on saints. Now I know that the saints are not exactly the absolute centre of our faith, but I love them. The more "human" the better! And people ask  questions about them surprisingly often - who's the patron of this, what do you know about Saint that? So I can recommend Saints at SQPN.  SQPN seems to be a large site covering all kinds of Catholic stuff, much of it hosted for individuals, as is the case with this saints section. It seems to cover everything you want to know about them all! Another huge saints resource is at
Some people seem to think that interest in, or devotion to the saints is somehow old-fashioned. Rubbish! They are our friends, part of the family. Just like we keep photos of our own family, so we have images, shrines etc of the Christian family. I've got a whole list of my special buddy-saints - Peter, John, Teresa of Avila, Matthew (of course!)... Many of our September pilgrimages have centred on shrines and places associated with saints - Francis and Clare (Assisi), Benedict (Subiaco and Monte Cassino), Teresa and John of the Cross (Avila, Segovia, Alba de Tormes), Therese (Lisieux), James (Santiago de Compostela), and so on.  Love 'em all.

Friday, 18 February 2011

New Stanbrook Abbey

While I was pp at Ledbury in Herefordshire during the 1980s, I came across one of the most impressive groups of Catholic women I'd ever met. I was taken by a parishioner to visit a friend of hers who was a nun at Stanbrook Abbey near Worcester. What an amazing lady! Intelligent, spiritual, inspiring, sensible etc etc.
The story of this enclosed community dates back centuries to recusant times, and a few years ago they took the momentous decision to leave their Victorian Gothic pile and build a new sustainable abbey in Yorkshire, not too far from the men's Ampleforth Abbey, where Cardinal Hume was abbot. Also close by are the beautiful ruins of the medieval Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx.
They are now installed there, and I found this 5 minute video giving a glimpse of their new place. Listen to the wisdom of the nuns, and I liked the compliment paid them by one of the architects too... Their website tells you a lot more about these two dozen women of faith. 

Monday, 14 February 2011

An amazing young man

Friday, 11th February, was the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and Pope John Paul proclaimed it World Day of Prayer for the Sick. Ministry with the sick is a vital part of Christianity, parishes, and priests. I say "with" the sick, because almost always I end up receiving more than I give. From little ten year old Christopher whom I met on the HCPT pilgrimage in 1979, through hundreds and hundreds of people I have visited at home, to the Holm Tower cancer hospice in Penarth, to the extraordinary sensation I experienced last year during a Mass with the sick here at St Brigid's when I was aware that it was not only me that was anointing them, I know that in the sick we are very, very close to Jesus.
Over the last couple of years I have heard from time to time about Philip Johnson, a remarkable young man from North Carolina who is studying for the priesthood while suffering from an inoperable brain tumour. Today I came across a video of him recently giving a talk to high school students. If you have a spare half an hour, and want to be challenged and inspired by a young man's story, then listen to Stephen. It almost sounds redundant to say, Fr M approves.


Saturday, 12 February 2011

Serious stuff

Thursday was a very unusual day for me. After Mass at Christ the King, I was at the Law School in the University from 11 to 4. They have a project on at the moment on, er, social cohesion, religion and society. Basically my involvement is that they are studying the way that three faiths look at the role of law, and marriage and family law in particular. So as Judicial Vicar (ie boss) of the National Tribunal for Wales, I am representing Christianity (no pressure there!), while London Beth Din (the court of the Chief Rabbi) and the Shariah Court of the Central Mosque in Birmingham represent Judaism and Islam respectively.
We've already been interviewed, as have various of the other people who work with me on the Tribunal, and now the University was bringing reps together for a dialogue (should that be trialogue?). So we had two professors and two other academics from the Uni, myself for the Catholics, a woman from Birmingham for the Moslems and a very imposing chap from the Beth Din, who was unable to come down to Cardiff, and took part via  Skype video-conference. Very hi-tech...
It was a hard day, but fascinating. We hear so much for example about shariah law, some of it negative, yet here was the opportunity to hear about it from the inside. What about all those laws about which Jesus got very agitated? Here was the top man in Britain, to explain how they see God Law operating. I too got griled about some of the more obscure aspects of canon law. While there was lots of questioning, by the university and by one another, the atmosphere was very good, and there can't be many canon lawyers like me who have the visiting card of a woman member of a shariah council!
I got home about 5, belatedly did my weekly task of my contribution to the newsletter and emailed it off to Luke the editor, and the day was rounded off with St Brigid's and St Paul's Finance Committee. They feel that Christ the King should be coughing up a bit more to the running costs of  the presbytery and clergy - so that should test the warm relations of Tuesday's meeting (see last posting)!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Bright future, bright serving faces

Yesterday evening I led a joint meeting of our Parish Councils. We were discussing nothing less than the future direction of our 3 Churches, and in particular the developing relationship between them. I'll be saying much more about that in coming weeks. I'll just say here that it went very well, and the atmosphere was very optimistic and practical. Our people are wonderful, and as I often say, I am sure that the future of the Church is safe. As long as it's not left to the clergy! 
Meanwhile I had a few things to do in town today, so I took the opportunity to have a wander and see how things are doing in the city centre, something I don't do very often. Good ol' Queen Street rolls on as ever, but, oh dear, it seems to me that some other parts are sort of slipping. I cut through the Queens Arcade, for example, to find it, well, heading towards running down. Even the older part of St David's (Centre) to me doesn't look as good as it used to. I ask myself whether everything been sacrificed on the altar of the extension to St David's and devotion to the Blessed John Lewis?
I'm fascinated by customer service, spurred on by Mary what's-her-name on the telly. Treatment at the Queen Street branch of my bank, Barclays, was excellent, just the right balance of helpfulness without the gushing. St Davids eateries looked heaving, so I headed over to the Shop-formerly-known-as-Howells via Waterstones.  I discovered some old book vouchers in a drawer, and bought something on Provence, goal of our September Pilgrimage this year, with helpful assistant making the experience a good one. The restaurant at the Shop-formerly-known-as is usually quietish, and I hadn't been there for ages. Food was, er, OK, but at least lots of smiles were in evidence.  I was heading off to my next bit of business when I was distracted by the presence of an in-store Caffe Nero, whose cappuccino turned out to be the culinary highpoint of the day. The two serving were both very good - a young chap who called every male "man" in that sort of pretend-American which he pulled off well, and a girl of indeterminate European background who was also efficient and friendly. Caffe Nero also opens onto Trinity Street. Fr M approves.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Variations on a theme

A good weekend, lots going on. Here in our 3 Churches we celebrate seven Masses between Saturday evening and Sunday. So, one weekend  Fr Tomy and I do three, the next weekend four etc. I was in Christ the King this time, so I was on three... but all three were different. Now, of course, usually we preach more or less the same homily at all three (or four) Masses, but this time it had to be three very diferent versions around the same theme, the words of Jesus in the Gospel, "You are the light of the world".
Saturday evening the Confirmation candidates were with us after their day retreat at Porthcawl. For them, to be the light of the world is an amazing challenge, so amazing that we need the gift of the Holy Spirit to carry it out. At 8.30 this morning we were observing Poverty and Homelessness Week, so here we talked about specific ways that we can be a light in our world, noting that the first reading specifically mentioned those who are poor or without shelter. Then at 10.30 we had the First Holy Communion children with us, so we thought about torches lighting up the dark and how we can be like torches, bringing light into other children's and people's lives.
I found another feel-good video today, this time about bringing some fun into an otherwise tedious aspect of life.

Acknowledgements to Greg Stewart

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Good ol' Google

Hey folks, we didn't quite make it to the 1,000 visits last month!  993 - 7 short! Why couldn't a few have gone out 'n' come back in again... boo hoo.
Anyway, by way of consolation I paid a visit to Google's latest venture, Google Art Project. I like wandering around museums and galleries, I know not everybody does. I've hit lots of the greatest ones, like the Brera in Milan where I was in July.  In this project, Google allow you to wander around various rooms in some of the world's greatest museums. Then, they have filmed some masterpieces of each collection in extraordinary detail, so that you can zoom in to an amazing degree. I happened to notice that one of these is Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son" in the Hermitage, St Petersburg. This has in recent years become one of the world's best-known religious paintings, especially after Henri Nouwen wrote a book based on it. If you want to study the detail of this wonderful work by the master of painting teh humanity of human beings, then go to the new site . Click on the Hermitage, and you can then click on the image of the painting. Stunning. Fr M approves - bigtime.