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!"