Monday, 30 April 2012

Talking heads

Fr Christopher Jamison OSB is in town. He is Director of the National Office for Vocation, and is spending this week in Wales. Yesterday evening he celebrated Mass at our Cathedral, and today he spoke to leaders of our Catholic secondary schools at St David's College in our parishes' area. So I went along to hear what he had to say and to encounter such an eminent gang of. er, talking heads.
I'm glad to say that, on the whole, I found him, and them, impressive. He asked the heads how they saw the Catholic ethos of their schools, and how it shows itself. Then - why do they do what they do? Next, his own talk centred around a proposal to rethink the curriculum in the light of the Catholic ethos, and not just see it as a "bolt on". It was all very stimulating, to hear a notable Catholic speaker and meet with a group of lay Catholics of huge influence for the present and future Church. Tomorrow he addresses the clergy, also, conveniently for me, at St David's College. Catch Fr Chris's project - a National Vocations Framework - here. PS I'm indebted to David  head of our local Corpus Christi High School, for my punny title!
Next - a little blog news. April has seen The Canon's Stall reach new heights in visits. According to Sitemeter, we received more than 2,000 page visits in April for the first time. This excludes my own visits and people who see the current posting on the parish website, so the real total is higher. It's been a slow and steady increase over the last three years. Thanks, surfers!
Lastly a Fr M weird video entry. Talking about schools, colleges, vocations etc, what is it about young people? I would not do what these Russian youngsters do for a zillion quid, and I don't think I would have done so at their age either. It's a strangely compelling piece, filmed by one of the participants, but comes with a health warning. It may be not a good idea to watch after a good meal!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Easter moments

Fr T and I are just coming to the end of a week when we have celebrated three Masses for the deceased. On Monday it was a Mass of the Angels for Seren, a tiny baby, yesterday it was Requiem for Maureen, a lady of 89 years, and today I celebrated a Memorial Mass for Jacques, a young man of 24. These three Masses have been completely different, in that the age range has been 89 years. But all of them have been about proclaiming Easter and its effect on each and every individual, of no matter what age.
As priests we are so privileged to be alongside both the dying and the bereaved. We are invited to be part of people's lives at even such a sensitive time. The loss of a baby, the loss of a sister who left Ireland and gave her life to nursing, the loss of a son - these are moments of pain and loss. Yet how inspiring are the People of God. Somehow, somehow, we must live through these moments, and we reach out for one another and for God. Jesus' invitation to Thomas a week after Easter - "Give me your hand" - is nowhere more poignant than at times like these.
Jacques father spoke this morning of how much his son had wanted to be like his father, whereas he, his father, so much wanted to be like his son. These and similar insights, are scattered liberally through bereavment and I try receive and treasure them with great attention and humility. 
So thankyou families, for your love, your faith and your hope. You often say kind words to us after a funeral, but it is really us who should be thanking you.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Easter through music

Two more videos I've recently come across that capture Easter as a reality now. The church is always reminding us that we are Easter people, and I believe that the Resurrection can come to us and touch us in many, many different ways.
So here first is Easter via music. Music is one of my great loves, from listening to my Mum playing the piano and my Dad whistling, via singing in the Cathedral choir, to my large collection of Cds and, more recently i-Tunes stuff. Do watch until the end, and Henry's wonderful comments on what music means to him.

Next, more Resurrection-through-music, this time a song by an American I'm afraid I haven't heard of before, Jason Gray. It's called "Remind Me Who I Am", and is illustrated by a striking video. Mary Magdalen recognised the Easter Jesus when he called her by her name. He calls all of us, and our deepest identity is to be beloved by his Father - and ours. We all need to be reminded who we are. Fr M approves these videos bigtime. Enjoy.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Celebrating Easter! Ahem...

Been a while since I did any Fr M reviews of eateries aroud these parts. What reminded me was I realised yesterday I had had lunch out four times in a week. So here goes...
Easter Monday I was invited by friends in the parish to join them for a daytrip to eastern Monmouthshire. It hadn't rained for several weeks, so we knew it was a Bank Holiday because it was pouring. However we set off, getting as far as the pretty village of .Grosmont, with its castle and church with an eight-sided tower. Catch the village website here.
So lunchtime comes and ye olde pub, the Angel is SHUT. It was one of the first in Britain to be bought by the villagers and prides itself on being a VILLAGE pub, so I don't know if that means it's shut on a day when OUTSIDERS are likely to visit... Anyway, an open sign outside Gentle Jane's Tearooms attracted us, and we decamped a few yards down the street there. Lovely! Opened under new management just three days previously, they were anxious to impress, and were attracting local custom as well as visitors - a good sign. I had a Ploughman's with three tasty cheeses and good helpings. Gentle Jane? Fr M approves.
We've got roof/ceiling/electrics problems in Christ the King Church, and the bishop's office suggested we check out what they have done in the similarly-dated Catholic Church in Ledbury. This was where I was parish priest 1983-1986, so I know it well. Current pp Richard was wonderfully helpful in telling myself and three parishioners all about the excellent work they have done to their buildings, and left us with loads to think about. But soon it was lunchtime, so I took a risk on suggesting to the gang that we head for one of my old 1980s haunts - the Farmers Arms at Wellington Heath. Lunching out was not yet so popular in those days, but the Farmers was always packed, and it was there I learned to love trout. But twenty-five years is a long time... Well it's still there, rather quieter, but delightfully un-tidied-up, if you know what I mean. One of our group thought it was fabulous, two were quietish, but it grew on me, and I love a bit of nostalgia. The service warmed up after a while, but I wasn't too hungry so I had a chorizo ciabatta panino. I have to say the chorizo would have been transparent if it had been sliced any thinner, but I enjoyed the old place in its village setting with lovely view of a quiet valley. Fr M approves - just.
Fr T and I often pop out for a quickie pub lunch on Saturday, yet we'd never hit one of our two nearest places, so this week we popped into the Ty Glas, and had a very respectable All Day Breakfast. The place was half empty, tables slightly sticky, furniture just a tad tired, and had piped pop music, but with the common two for £10 or so, who's arguing? Fr M approves - at a push.
And so we come to Sunday. I was baptising an adult, David, at 9 o'clock Mass at St Paul's, and was invited to the celebration lunch later, at a recent Portuguese addition to Cardiff's restaurant scene, Almada, in Canton. Now you're talking... Opened by former staff of Casanova, the popular Italian restaurant in the city centre, I really liked this place. Thirteen of us settled down to scrummy nibbles while I waited for my salted cod fritters, or as we call them pasteis de bacalhau. Just enough to get the old taste buds going, in time for my Entremeada com lomba de porco - pork belly and tenderloin with chorizo mashed potatoes etc... heaven. Some scrummy Portuguese version of pannacotta with some crazily tasty orange stuff finished it all off, and with a drop or two of Portuguese wine and liqueur, it almost finished me off too, especially as I was due to celebrate six o'clock Mass, and got back at approx. 5.10...  Almada's already in at number 9 in TripAdvisor's list of Cardiff restaurants, but who cares? What really matters is that Fr M approves - a lot.
I wouldn't want you to think that your humble blogger spends all his time out at lunch - it was a very uncharacteristic week. However, I have to say that I enjoy sharing a meal with friends, parishioners or my trusty fellow-worker here. What could be more pleasant? Thanks friends, thanks Gentle Jane's, Farmers, Ty Glas and Almada.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Dolan and the dove

Cardinal Timothy Dolan continues to hit the spot with his preaching at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York. First, here he is at the Chrism Mass on the need to anoint the Church, the "bleeding, broken, mystical Body of Christ." Next, a very impressive but very simple homily for Good Friday showing what can be done with a "formula" type sermon. Lastly - a great word for Easter itself on the Living Jesus.
Now for the more visually minded, one of my favourite Catholic rituals, the "Scoppio del Carro". It happens in Florence after Easter morning Mass, when the Cardinal at the altar ignites a burning bird that flies down the cathedral on a  wire and sets off a firework display ouitside in the square. Here is an official newscast about it, in Italian I'm afraid but you'll get the idea.

Now here is the same thing filmed I think by a mobile phone from outside the cathedral - watch out for that dove flying out of the doors low over the heads of the crowd!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

A new Creation

For Easter I wanted to find images that just spoke of everything beautiful, everything good, everything positive and resurrection-filled. I thought of this stunning picture taken at the flower market in Aix-en-Provence on our pilgrimage last September, and I thought of this happy picture of my nephew Gareth and his wife of eight months Sara. I know the pictures don't show Jesus, at least not explicitly. But St Paul says that in the Resurrection we have a new creation. Well, if the flowers of the old one are this beautiful, what must you and I, the new creation really be like? And surely the happiness of committed love is a direct reflection and expression of Easter joy.  
A very Happy Easter to everyone - and thanks for the pictures, Paul and Gareth and Sara.

Friday, 6 April 2012

O my people, what have I done to you?

Our Holy Week services are going well, thank the Lord. I was at Christ the King yesterday evening for the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Twelve feet were duly washed - actually fourteen, because two people stuck out both of their feet for me to do... Then we processed into the Parish Centre for the Watching. Our wonderful flower ladies had made a beautiful shrine for the Blessed Sacrament, and, with the lights dimmed, there was a very spiritual and reverent atmosphere. 

This afternoon I was back here at St Brigid's, for a very full church. Once again, I read the Passion myself, which people seem to appreciate. The Cross was carried by three of our teenage candidates for Confirmation. I always love the Veneration, watching our parish family venerate our crucified Lord. The old approach with such love, and often such pain too. The children approach with that mixture of simplicity and understanding which is theirs. One little boy just stood there looking at this huge lump of wood, but seemed to "get it" anyway...
So here for Good Friday is the music I used for the five minutes before the Liturgy started.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Oh, really?

Here's something I wrote for the Christ the King parish magazine "The Link" which came out on Sunday...
As I write, it’s two days into the final of “Masterchef” on the telly. Andrew, Shelina and Tom are fighting it out to win the culinary crown. Judges John Torrode and Greg Wallace put them through their kitchen paces, which this year included a trip to Thailand. “Cooking”, they tell us, “doesn’t get any harder than this.” The editing is fast and modern, and the crowning glory is the commentary of the “Narrator”, India Fisher. Her husky and luscious tones seem to elevate this cooking competition into the stratosphere of spirituality, where you can imagine her narrating the Last Judgement itself. “And now, Fr Matthew faces his greatest challenge ever...”
Reality TV has swept all before it over recent years from “Big Brother” onwards. Most of the programmes I have never seen, but I will own up to, um, one or two early series of “BB”, some episodes of “I’m a Celebrity”, and, especially for Saturday evening flopping, “X Factor” and “Britain’s Got Talent”, though both of those two have gone down the plughole I think. “The Apprentice” is still not to be missed and back soon, and I’ll be trying to catch that... and there’s “Masterchef”.
What is it with reality TV? Certainly we like to see people squirm, however manipulated they and we are by producers and editors. We scoff at contestants’ mistakes and foolishness, and maybe assume that we could do better. In one way, it is reality, but in another way it’s not – its bubble-wrapped, marketed and well-aimed at us. Andrew, Shelina and Tom rise up from being obvious amateurs to semi-stars - at least for a few weeks. We don’t always like our reality too real, do we? We like some distance between us and it, so that we can feel comfortable, or disengage, as and when we feel like.
So, welcome to Holy Week and Easter, when God-made-man takes on hatred, evil, suffering and death with sacrifice, commitment, forgiveness and love – and wins.  In the Holy week services this and much more is presented and celebrated with us, for us and by us. And just in case we try to put that little bit of distance between ourselves and these deepest parts of reality, welcome to Holy Week - with its dirty feet washed, its garden of tears, nails of pain and empty tomb. And we will partake of it with palm leaves in our hands, bread-become-body in our stomachs, its rough wood on our lips, and waxy candles lit from blazing fires and held tight.  Sight, touch, taste, sound and even smell all tell us. This really is reality, and you cannot escape from it. It did, and does, all really happen, we are all really here and we are all really saved.
A happy and really good Easter!
Fr Matthew