Saturday, 31 March 2012

Passing over

So regulars will know about recently made Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York - a very special bishop. I caught this teeny weeny one and a half minute video with him talking on what is Holy Week all about. Take a look, as an intro to this special time... (thanks William
I am a Governor, of course, of our parish primary school, Christ the King, and yesterday the Governing Body carried out what is probably our biggest responsibilty - the appointment of a new headteacher. It's a decision that affects hundreds of children throughout their lives, so we were delighted that everything went well, and we appointed the current deputy to "step up". With Patrick now, er, sorted, we have to start all over again to find a replacement for him! We hope that we will be as fortunate again...

Monday, 26 March 2012

Priesty days

I think that it's the variety of a priest's life that surprises people when they get to know us a bit better.
Saturday we had First Reconciliation for St Paul's and St Brigid's after Fr T had celebrated Mass and heard the "normal" Confessions. The 9 or 10 children were great, as 7 or 8 years olds always are, and mums and dads plus catechists were duly moved - again, as always.  The children are so open and honest - it's only us oldies who learn to, er, well, use a little euphemism here, a few quickly gabbled sins there, hoping Father won't notice the Big One we slipped in....
Then on to Corpus Christi High School, which was the venue for a special day celebrating Archbishop Romero, whose anniversary it was. Nice group of people, and Fr T and I stayed on for the bring 'n' share lunch - or, in our case, just share! Great to meet parishioners from former parishes. One lady was astonished that I remembered her name - but with one like Roswitha, even I would remember it!
Then home to prepare for Sunday liturgies, starting with Saturday evening when the Confirmation candidates, halfway through their programme, have a Mass of Election, while the catechumens, approaching the Easter Vigil, had one of their Scrutinies. The next day, I had an email from a young man in his 20s or 30s, like the two guys on Saturday, who had been at that Mass, and wanted to find out himself about becoming Catholic...  Unfortunately the evening was, um, affected by an uncooked (I think) samosa I stupidly ate at Corpus. I'll leave it at that!
Sunday, in addition to our normal Masses with their music, good fellowship, children's liturgy etc etc, we had a very good Youth Way of the Cross at 3pm in St Brigid's. Prepared by some of our catechists who work with our young people, the teenagers (and younger) did the whole thing themselves, three taking it in turns to lead, with 8 or 10 others adding the parts at each station. Very impressive, and so confident - wonderful young people.
Today I had what I call the "3 Arches Group". For those who don't know, the 3 Arches is our local hostelry. Every other month or so we local ecumenical clergy meet for lunch. Today we were seven, including two young youth workers from the Welsh Presbyterian church. They job-share - and are married! I was, er, interrogating them on their work, as in our 3 Churches we are going to give our youth work some serious reflection after Easter. 
And finally, I've just come in from leading a "Twilight Retreat" for the parishes here. It was intended as a lead-in to Holy Week, and people seemed to appreciate it, We started in the Hall with a look at the liturgy of the Week, then used two poems written from the point of view of Judas and Peter to stimulate  a bit of discussion.  After a break we crossed over to the church for a reflective time using two more poems and the Seven Last words of Jesus. People could come up and stand at the foot of our large crucifix - at what I call "Mary's place."

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Week of the Servant

Things are getting busier as Holy Week approaches, so I'm realising it's a whole week since my last post.
For the last six years or so it's been my privilege to help with the formation of permanent deacons for our diocese. Sometimes I have been tutor and other times spiritual director in their three year programme. After a session it's great to have a chat about the Lord, the Church and anything else that comes up. At present I'm working as tutor to one of our students, and we've taken to watching a few Chritsian videos after our session. So here is one that I have pinched from his YouTube playlist. It's "The Servant King" sung by the composer, Graham Kendrick. It's a song that has become very popular since it was written, I think in the 1990s, and here he sings it at Glastonbury Abbey in 1996 for "Songs of Praise". It makes a good introduction, perhaps, to our celebration of Holy Week, beginning next Sunday.

Friday, 16 March 2012


I came across a video I haven't seen around for ages. It's just called "Dancing", sub-titled, um, "Where the hell is Matt?" You've probably seen it already, as it came out in 2008 and has been viewed on YouTube over 42 million times. It simply features a crazy Australian now living in the USA dancing his little dance right across the world... yes, honestly.
Yet there is something charming, even moving about it. It's a gratuitous (well, not quite as he was backed by a company) few minutes of frivolity that involved thousands of people from right across the globe. It took, I think, 18 months to make. And, of course, it is a dance, and there is something about dance. Existing in all cultures, dance has often figured in our human religious expression from King David dancing before the Lord to the hymn "Lord of the Dance" written by Sydney Carter in 1963, via the older English hymn "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day", dance somehow captures freedom and a whole range of emotions. On one level it's, well, just a dance, but it seems to connect with a lot more... Watch out on the video for the Demilitarised Zone in Korea, Gurgaon in India, and many other scenes.
If you're up for some more dance, here are the immortal Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers  They're dancing to one of my favourite songs, recorded over 50 times, whether in 1930s form, or sung by Bryan Ferry in the 1970s - Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." By the way, note that this sequence is filmed all in one take, not by endless editing of different takes like in today's movies.  Enjoy.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Crazy in love

For once I managed to bring all three of the readings from today's Mass into my homily. The Ten Commandments tell us of the plan our loving Father has for us. They are not suggestions but commandments, not just someone else's opinion, but the manufacturer's intructions, his vision for the good working of his creation and of ourselves, the pinnacle of that creation. And yet... and yet, somehow, despite the psalms and the language of Isaiah and others, we feel that the God of the Old Testament is somewhat distant, dwelling on the mountain-top...
For Jesus, the doing of this Father's will is the greatest priority, and so to find the Temple, the centre of the religion and the very House of God, being abused unleashes a righteous anger in him, as he overturns the tables - and the equilibrium of the onlookers with them.
And yet... and yet... something has happened by the time of St Paul's passage from 1 Corinthians. With its talk of wisdom and foolishness, strength and weakness, we are brought to a new place, we breath a new atmosphere. Jesus who whipped the people in the Temple, does not touch those who crucify him.  
At this middle part of Lent the Church starts to lead us to the mysteries of Holy Week. The man on the cross is utter weakness and complete foolishness - unless.  Unless it was done out of love, such great love not just for the onlookers but the whole human race. A love so great that divine strength is poured into human weakness, divine wisdom transfigures human foolishness. The weakness and foolishness of Jesus are those of love.
So we can bring our weakness and stupidity and foolishness to our Father too, asking Him to flood us with his wisdonm and power and strength.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Manipulation and leadership

I've got a hang-up about manipulation and the priesthood. Not only is manipulation bad anywhere, but my experience of communities riven by abusive priests has given me an abhorrence of it wherever I see it. And it can lurk in the most unexpected of corners, as with one late priest who got people to do what he wanted by the twinkle in his eye and charming smile. But that was still a gentle form of manipulation.
I had an interesting lunchtime chat yesterday with a friend who has loads of experience in the world of work, management and all that stuff. The subject of leadership came up in the context of priesthood. I said how one of the priests who worked with me in a previous parish took exception to my saying that I thought we priests were called to be leaders. The other priest said that this kind of thinking was old hat, pre-Vatican II etc. I tried to show him that what leadership means has changed, how we are meant to lead, but that we are still leaders. The priest wasn't convinced. 
However, I am more convinced of this than ever. My lunch-time companion shed light on all this by pointing out that management is a matter of keeping things going, but leadership is about helping the community to see ahead, discern the future, and enable and empower everyone to get there. I found that very helpful. The two of us agreed that we still have too many priests that put all the emphasis on management but do not seem to have grasped leadership. While talking about Vat II, and sometimes acting in an apparently freed-up style, in practice it's do what I say, because I say it.
My experience - and especially in my present appointment - is that time and effort invested in preaching the Gospel and trying to follow a model of leadership which is the opposite of manipulation, especially when sometimes it would be "easier" or "quicker" to slip back to the do-what-I say approach, bears fruit a hundredfold. For all concerned.