Thursday, 28 April 2011

Of sisters, monks and parishioners

Just spent a lovely day in London. Fifteen of us from our 3 Churches went up to St Dunstan's Church in Gunnersbury, just off the Chiswick Flyover, for a Mass celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Sister Margaret Watson's profession as a sister in the Little Company of Mary. These are the sisters who had a convent in the St Paul's part of our parishes, from where they started what is now the George Thomnas Hospice Care, which does such splendid work in the city. Sr Margaret served here for twenty years, until the convent shut about five years ago, and she became Provincial, based in Gunnersbury. Now she is just finishing her term of office, but there will be no time to rest as she has been named to the Council of the Congregation, ie she will be an adviser to the boss of the whole order. 
Sister was very popular here in Cardiff, so it was great to be able to help her celebrate fifty wonderful years. Concelebrated Mass was followed by a buffet lunch at a local cricket club, and a great time was had by all. Then we had a surprise - one of the sisters who had also worked in Cardiff, Sr Mary, suggested we call in to Ealing Abbey on our way out of London.
Well, what a surprise! Hidden away in this West London suburb is a huge and beautiful church, dedicated to St Benedict. Badly damaged in the war, it has been reconstructed and is one of the most tasteful Catholic churches I have seen in Britain. It is home not only to the monks, but also to one of the most populous parishes in Britain. We all thought it was magnificent, and were glad Sr Mary had encouraged us to visit. Fr M approves - defo!
Pictures show the view towards the altar and towards the entrance

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Lord and his people

It's late on Easter Sunday evening. After a very busy and demanding Holy Week, I've been chilling this evening, watching any old nonsense on telly (I've been trying to feel enthusiastic about the royal wedding, but can't quite manage it) and having one of my favourites - smoked salmon. Mmmmm...
So the Vigil here at St Brigid's went very well, and smoothly too. The fire was good this year, and it was a joy to receive Nigel into the Church. Then it was up again at 7 this morning to set off for Mass at St Paul's, where I decorated and lit their Easter Candle, then back to St Brigid's for 10.30, where there was a lovely festive atmosphere. Tomy and I were invited to parishioners' for lunch, where I tried to refrain from too much wine as it was my turn to "do" the last shift - 6 o'clock at St Brigid's. In between, a chance for a quiet hour and a phone call to my brother-in-law who was also received into the Church last night.
So, all in all, Holy Week has gone well. I hope it has been a kind of returning to our roots of our faith for the parishioners, as it has been for me. As usual, there were particular moments I shall remember, but I think what I will carry with me this year in particular will be the joy of working with so many wonderful people of our 3 Churches to make this the best possible Holy Week. I am a very lucky parish priest.
Picture shows Michelangelo's "Risen Christ" at the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome

Saturday, 23 April 2011

A divine unease

It's now Saturday, Holy Saturday. Our Good Friday liturgies went well. We had a full house at Christ the King, and as always I was moved to watch our people slowly approach the Cross of Christ to kiss it - the elderly determined to get there despite their infirmities, the children showing their love for Jesus with such spontaneity.
Now, like yesterday, it is a day without Mass - until this evening. It is an awkward day in a way, neither here nor there. We are caught between the horror of Good Friday and the glory of Easter, suspended as it were. It seems we are forced to sit down, to do nothing, to wait.
This is hard for most people in their busy lives, but God knows what He's doing! By forcing us in this way we are made to recognise that the action, when it eventually comes, is God's action and not ours. Nothing prepares us for the sovereign act of God that we call the Resurrection. It is a divine intervention, a flash from the heavens if you like. So to really capture it, grasp it, you have to be composed - and even being a little disoriented is OK. So don't worry if you don't "get" Holy Saturday, it's meant to be awkward. We are to feel the unease of our humanity, in order the better to comprehend in some small way the overwhelming power and glory of God.

Friday, 22 April 2011

From Cathedral to Gethsemane

It's the morning of Good Friday. Unusually for me, I am not celebrating Mass, which I do almost every morning of my life. It feels something is missing - which is appropriate for this precious day. But, to go back to yesterday...
In the morning Tomy and I splashed out on a taxi to go to the Chrism Mass, where Bishop David McGough presided. He had a lovely manner, and spoke very well I thought, to, and about, us priests. There was much clerical chat, of course, about our new Archbishop, George Stack, and people seem happy with the decision, Deo gratias. Then, after sharing a buffet lunch with many of the lads - and Bishop David as it happened - it was back to the ranch and on up to Corpus Christi School to see how preparations for our Mass of the Lord's Supper were going. The answer was - very well. Once again we had the altar in the middle of the hall with tables radiating out from it. Our wonderful parishioners had worked hard to get everything ready. Then, back home for a cup of tea and quiet hour to prepare for the Mass.
Our 3 Churches Masses are one of the biggest events in my year. So many hours go into their planning and also on the day. Involvement runs into many dozens of people, and, because we try to really express the themes that the Church asks us to, then when it works, it really works well. This year, I did a lot more "liturgical MCing" as we went through, enabling the congregation to understand what was happening and why. I think it helped a lot of people, where there was some confusion last year.
After starting with the Exodus reading we had a shared simple meal, leading to the Gloria. Then Fr Tomy read the Gospel of the foot-washing, and I preached, bringing us to the Vision statement, the document encapsulating the process a few weeks ago where we all shared our dreams for the parishes. We have produced one statement, and parishioners will be invited to sign up to it on Pentecost Sunday. Tomy and I then washed the parish councillors' feet, and they in turn washed the hands of the rest of the congregation. We all prayed a commitment to continue our service of one another, and then came what was a highpoint for some, when Tomy and I renewed our priestly commitment, as we had in the morning too. But, instead of the bishop asking us the questions, we had Rebecca, a teenager from St Brigid's. I must say I found it very moving. We then continued on to the Eucharist, where the people's tables become part of the altar, and the place where they receive Holy Communion.
Lastly, we processed out into the school courtyard garden, where the flower ladies had prepared a beautiful shrine for the Blessed Sacrament. All our Eucharistic Ministers made a candlelit path through the school where the lights were turned off, and on out into the candlelit garden. As I carried the Lord through this beautiful passage, I hope He didn't mind the pride I felt as parish priest of all these wonderful people doing their very best for Him on this night. We then stayed with Him for an hour and a half in silence until I led intercessions up to 10.30.
Eventually we all left the Garden, with that unique Maundy Thursday feeling - satisfaction that all had gone well, tinged with the profound unease of knowing what happened next in that first Gethsemane....

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Welcome, Archbishop George

The news about our new Archbishop has been sinking in slowly. When it eventually came, it caught some of us by surprise. Traditionally the appointment of British bishops has been announced on Thursday or Friday, so we had in our minds put it off until after Easter. People seem to be very happy with the news. Bishop George Stack has "come up through the ranks" as a curate and parish priest, so that will please many of the clergy, who hope he will therefore have a good handle on the realities of parish life.  The fact that he has not, on the whole, graced the headlines ecclesiatical or otherwise, is also probably a good thing. Above all, we are just glad that someone has been appointed!
Meanwhile Holy Week is underway. After Palm Sunday and the wonderful "Of Gods and Men" we moved on to the Passover Meal at St Brigid's Hall last night. Once again, this was an extremely enjoyable and special evening, and we are enormously grateful to the St Brigid's and St Paul's Social Group for its planning.
Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. I imagine the new Arch will be a main topic of clergy chat before and after Mass. I'll see if I can pick up any inside scoop! Then it's on to our 3 Churches Mass of the Lord's Supper in the evening at Corpus Christi High School. This will be very similar to last year's celebration, and will therefore be, once again, one of our more creative liturgies. However, any uncertainties people had last year about the earlier parts of the evening were lost in the beautiful experience of the Altar of Repose in the Courtyard Garden at the school, which was one of the high points of the year for many. And so we will be into the Sacred Triduum, carried along towards the high-point of Easter...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

New Archbishop

News is out this morning that the Pope has appointed Bishop George Stack as our new Archbishop in Cardiff. Aged 66, he is currently an auxiliary bishop in Westminster, having served all his ministry in that archdiocese. He was well-known in the 1990s as Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, and became an auxiliary bishop in 2001.
This brings to an end our long wait, and for that I'm very grateful! As for Archbishop-elect George, I'm afraid I don't know much about him other than the above. I would imagine he will be installed as archbishop in about 6 or 8 weeks, and then we can all get down to business again! Please pray for Archbishop George (how will that go down in Wales?!) as he prepares to take on this new responsibility.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

See this film

I've just come in from watching the film "Of Gods and Men" over at St Brigid's Hall. It's strong stuff, telling the story of seven monks at a monastery in Algeria in the 1990s, caught up in fighting between terrorists and government forces. It won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Fim Festival last year, and I can see why. The story is told slowly, building up our understanding of what it's like in a Cistercian monastery, and how well the monks related to the local inhabitants.
The acting is superb - several people said they thought it was real monks acting! There is no background music for a change, and the cinematography and editing is brilliant. Some moments will stay with me for a long time, I think. The monks together in the chapel when they expect to die any moment; their agonising over whether to go or stay; one monk's clinging to a painting of the suffering Christ for strength and help; their final ascent into the unknown; and above all their last supper together, with the music of "Swan Lake" on the cassette recorder, some good cheese, and a glass of red wine. Absolutely magnificent. Fr M can't approve enough.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Men good and true

Busy, busy at this time of year. As well as extra services during Lent there is lots of planning to do for Holy Week itself. We're very blessed in our 3 Churches that many people are ready and willing to be involved in the liturgy - but it can mean a multiplication of meetings! Things are also pretty busy in the Tribunal department at the moment, with a lot of annulment cases reaching the judgement phase at the same time, where I am pretty heavily involved.
One of the great delights for me in recent years in the Church has been the introduction into our diocese of the permanent diaconate by Archbishop Peter. I've been involved in the formation of the men in various ways, one of which is being part of the selection panel which advises the Archbishop (or Diocesan Administreator at the moment) on who to accept for formation. We had oen such interview on Monday, and once again I was so impressed by the faith and dedication of these men who offer themselves. They have already been through a rigorous spiritual and psychological testing before reaching the panel, and our questions are quite challenging too. This man, like so many others over the years it has been running, answered with simplicity, honesty and faith. In particular I am always touched by their love for the Church - not a sentimental one, but a warm and realistic attachment to the Lord and his people.  Very impressive - and Fr M really approves.  

Saturday, 9 April 2011


"Lazarus, here! Come out"  These are the amazing words with which Jesus brings Lazarus back to life in this Sunday's Gospel. On this last Sunday before Palm Sunday and Holy Week, the Church offers us Our Lord's most astonishing miracle or sign - the raising of a dead man, his friend Lazarus.
But I've always been taken with what Jesus says next. "Unbind him, let him go free" he says to the gathered people. It seems to me that these words are a command, a pleading from the heart of God to us - to unbind one another, to let one another go free.
Now we can apply this to ourselves first. What binds me, what constricts my spirit, what stops me being the person that God has made me to be? What kind of fears, anxieties, habits or addictions do I have that distort my spirit? Ever since the Exodus that lies behind the Passover and Maundy Thursday, and reappears in the Readings of the Easter Vigil, God has been anxious to reveal himself as one who frees. 
Then I must go on to ask myself whether I have bound up other people. Has our country bound up other peoples. Who are those in our world who are most in need of setting free? Sometimes our tying up other people can masquerade as something more attractive. How many marriages and families are wrecked by manipulation masked as love, love whose true purpose should be to set us free. The shock and horror of clerical abuse of young people is compounded by its masquerading as priestly pastoral care, and cover-up of the same has been seen as doing the right thing.
"Lazarus, here. Come out!" A clarion call for Christianity. Jesus calls us forth from the darkness, but very often we have to do the unbinding - and sometimes the one who needs unbinding may be ourselves. "Unbind him. Let her go free."
The pictures show a statue of Lazarus unbound at an Addiction Rehab Centre in the southern USA.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Twilight Retreats

During Lent I've been leading a series of "Twilight Retreats" each Wednesday. I saw this concept in Canada in the 80s. Many people feel they cannot get away for a retreat but would like something to help them in their spiritual life. Our retreats are from 7 - 9.30pm, and have been aimed principally at people involved in different ministries in our 3 Churches. This evening we had catechists, the fourth out of five groups.
The numbers have varied from seven to fifty, but the format has been the same each week. The first part looks at ministry through images from the Bible, then we look at the particular ministry of the evening. After a cup of tea or coffee we move on to reflect on how Jesus was and is the "first minister", and take a Lenten approach by thinking about Gethsemane as a place of decision. Lastly we go into the church to join those who are there for Adoration 8-9pm. After the adorers have left I give the last piece of input, and then we invite Jesus to minister to us in a very special way.
It's been a worthwhile Lenten project, as over 100 will have experienced it by the end of Lent. They have had a chance to reflect on their own spiritual life and service, and share a little with others. Hopefully, through the last part they will also have caught a glimpse of what Jesus wants for them.  I hope so...

Saturday, 2 April 2011


So, this time last week I was having a great time here at the Presbytery hosting the annual Reunion. Reunion of who? Ten of us who have been friends for 30 to 45 years, some of us going back to the first year at St Illtyd's, our grammar-now-high school. We try to have this get-together every year in February or March, and in recent years when I have been in Cardiff, I have been the host. It was brilliant, and ten is the biggest number we have ever had.
I suppose it always makes me aware of the importance of friends, too. When you're younger, well, you just have them, and that's it. It's only later, I think, especially after a few of life's experiences when you "find out who your friends are", that you begin to understand the deep menaing of friendship. If you're single, without that unique "someone" in your life, then perhaps friends take on an even greater significance. And  a great sign is if you don't only talk about the good ol' days, and don't sort of regress to the last period at which you were together, as happens sometimes in arranged reunions. It means that your friendships are still very much alive, now.
For myself, I find that most of my best friends are married. That might surprise people, who often think that priests are only friends with other priests. Of course I have priest friends, but there is something very "earthed", real or normal if you like, about married folks, and I like it a lot.  Last Saturday was a mixture of couples and singles - including me, of course. Two meals-for-four from the Chinese, several bottles of wine, and ten friends together for four or five hours. Fr M approves.  Bigtime.