Tuesday, 4 November 2014

2. You and I

So where is this image then? Simple - you and I. We are the place where that image may be found. Doesn't Genesis tells us in its very first pages... "Let us make man in our own image...
"God created man in the image of himself, 
in the image of God he created him, 
male and female he created them" (Gen 1:26-27).
This amazing thought underpins so much of our Christian thought and teaching. The dignity of each human being, a theme beloved by Pope St John Paul II, and much else finds a basis ultimately in this belief. Yes, things went wrong in the Garden of our world, but that image surely remains, maybe cracked, perhaps covered with cobwebs or dust and grime. But its is there in my neighbour - and in myself.  The God who made it is the same one who can heal those cracks, blow away those cobwebs and clean away the grime.

1. In His own image

On Sunday 19th October it was the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar. The Gospel was the one about giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's. Jesus asked for a denarius coin to make his point. The image of  Caesar was on it, as that of the Queen is on our own coins, stamps and elsewhere. But the thought occurred to me as to where we might find the image of God? The resulting thought has stayed with me and has developed into something of a theme in the days since then. I thought I would share it here...

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Back again

I'm back after a break from posting. It's amazing to see how many hits the blog still gets, where they come from and what they are searching for.
Needless to say, lots has been going on...
My toe problem is still not fully resolved. The ulcery thing filled up but is still sort of blistering - they're working on me getting an insole to prevent it coming back. 
I had a nice break in August staying with my brother and sister-in-law...
I became a great-uncle for the first time last week!
We are celebrating 50 years since the opening of St Brigid's church in 1964 - 21st September was the first Mass and 1st December was the official opening. We had a special Mass and Jubilee Lunch in September, and the Archbishop is coming in December...
The Synod of Bishops has been meeting in Rome - very interesting, especially as it touches on my canon law work with annulments etc...
Baptisms, weddings, funerals, meetings, visits - all as usual. 
So just to get things going again - first some nice restaurants I went to in August with family - MomentiEleven and  Rivercross - very good Italian, French and Indian food all in Leamington Spa/Warwick and the very unusual Svea in Cheltenham - a Swedish restaurant, where I had Smörgås Platter. This was a sample selection of a Swedish traditional Smörgåsbord: herring, gravad lax, meatballs, Falukorv, egg halves with kaviar, new potatoes, beetroot salad, skagen and more....
All of these are TripAdvisor and/or Michelin, for those who are into those things. 
Lastly a video too -  a gang of American marines enjoying singing a modern hymn "These are the days of Elijah"
 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Summer arrives

Been taking a little break from posting, after my series on our Holy Land pilgrimage. Not that there hasn't been anything happening!
On July 6th we had this year's 3 Churches Mass, which was centred around the Sacrament of Baptism and the theme of "Living Stones". It included the baptism of two babies, Sebastian and Mary Anne, but led all of us to reflect on the importance of the Sacrament and our living out of it.  Photos can be found here.
This was held, as always, in Corpus Christi High School (left), and a week or so later I was pleased to be asked to celebrate a special Mass there marking the leaving of no fewer than 13 staff, including the Acting Headteacher, Dave Cushion. Nine were retiring, and most of them had given long service to our school. We also had our usual end of year Masses in Christ the King, or primary school. By now the hot weather had come, and the hall, crammed with kids n mums and dads, was sweltering.
Well, when the schools finish, thing quieten down and people take their holidays. However, on the parish front we keep going - and July was something of a record for Baptisms in the 3 Churches. I'm mystified when colleague clergy talk about a dearth of baptisms - we get plenty!
However, in August things do go quiet, and I try to use the time to catch up on stuff that somehow has got left by the wayside in the busier earlier months. I also get the time to follow up connections or links that I wouldn't have been able to earlier. I discovered on another priest's blog a video of a priest called Fr Larry Richards from Erie, Pennsylvania (not to be confused with another Larry Richards, a Protestant Bible guy). Fr Larry delivers a good strong talk, many of them on Youtube, including a series addressed to priests on a retreat last year. I've listened to them all - only 30 minutes each, and both enjoyed and got a lot from them. He really makes you sit up - and also laugh! This is the one I saw on the net.

 
However, this year has been kind of dominated in a strange way by a tiny half a centimetre hole under my toe right where you press on when standing and walking. This little devil appeared in January, but had probably been there a while. My local nurses tried to get rid of it, but referred me to a podiatry clinic in March, who then referred me on to a specialist clinic for foot ulcers at the University Hospital of Wales in May. They fitted a strange contraption called a slipper cast, whose purpose is to hold in place a stout piece of felt with a hole cut around the ulcer, so that pressure is relieved, and the thing can heal. So In June my daily pain from every step eased and now, at last, the end is in sight as the hole has filled and there is just a little scar thing there. I've had this cast for seven weeks, but hopefully the end is in sight. Just amazing how a little thing like that can cause havoc... and I'm sure there a few sermons in that!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The smile of faith

As I write, the airport in Tel Aviv is shut because of the current troubles. It was to that airport we had to journey on the last day of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We were all up early as we decided to repeat something we did on our last trip there - early morning prayers by the Sea of Galilee. And so we gathered for half an hour at 7a.m on the hotel terrace by the lake (right). We sang a little, shared a little about what we had experienced during our wonderful pilgrimage, and, of course, prayed a little.
After breakfast we climbed aboard our coach for the last time, and headed south west to the Mediterranean coast. We stopped for a while at the ruins of ancient Caesarea, centre of the Roman forces at the time of Christ. Here can be seen the aqueduct bringing that precious commodity water. Here is the well-preserved theatre, and various other buildings. Then we continued south through Tel Aviv itself, the largest city in Israel. It is modern and very western. Now swamped by the modern city is what is left of Jafo, ancient Jaffa (left). We drove through the old part and on to a restaurant near the sea, for our last meal together. The last day of our pilgrimages is always a strange experience. Everyone is trying to enjoy the visits,
but we all know that soon it will end.
The flight was a little late, but not too bad. Soon we were back at Heathrow - and Cardiff. And so ended our 2014 pilgrimage. But the memories then have to be sorted out. In Jerusalem and Israel, like Rome, it all comes at you fast and thick. It takes a while to get to grips with what you have seen. Was that really where Jesus was born? Was I really standing on Calvary? Was it here that Peter and the others enjoyed breakfast on the beach? 
Luckily we have our fellow pilgrims to help us remember. And, just a few days ago we received this year's memento. We used to get a video, then we moved on to a DVD, but since last year we have gone for a photo-book. The wonderful Bernard sifted through 6,000 photos taken by members of the group, and organised about 500 into a book that we can buy. It's a wonderful idea, and everyone who has seen my copy is wowed by it. 
As I look at the pictures I notice something very simple, but something that warms my heart. In every single picture, people are smiling. To walk in Jesus' footsteps, with brothers and sisters in faith - to eat, laugh, play cards, sing along, pray and worship together indeed brings a deep joy, a profound peace. And the result is that smile of faith.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Blessed are... those who were here

Our last full day in the Holy land was spent on and around the Mount of Beatitudes, overlooking the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. We made first for the Domus Galilaeae, or House of Galilee, a sight new to us. This is a brand new spiritual centre built on top of the Mount of Beatitudes by the Neo-catechumenates.
It comprises a study centre, convention centre, library, chapel (left), seminary and much more, all housed in a building of stunning modern architecture. We had a 30 minute guided tour from an enthusiastic young Colombian seminarian. Many noticed to what a high quality finish it has been built, with many interesting features. There was a lot to talk about, some finding it extravagant, our guide finding it a bit too Jewish-influenced, but most just amazed. It was my idea to visit the Domus, to remind everyone that the Holy Land is not just about holy places from the past.
Here young men come from across the country and across the world for study and spirituality - the Church of today and tomorrow. The Neo-Catechumenate is not everybody's cup of tea, as it were, but it is present in about 40,000 communities in 900 dioceses in the world. It was a fascinating beginning to the day - and, I found, an inspiring one. Pictured right is the bronze Sermon on the Mount on top of the oratory that has been built for the local Church. Many of our group were very inspired by this group.

We now moved down to the flat area t the foot of the Mount to the spot marking the Feeding of the Five Thousand, at the Church of the Loaves and Fishes. Here in a beautiful Abbey built by German monks we can see the ancient mosaic set into the floor which gives the place its name (left). 
Lastly we went back up the slope of the Mount of Beatitudes to the place where tradition says the Sermon on the Mount was given. here we celebrated another outdoors Mass overlooking my beloved Sea of Galilee. As we heard the immortal opening words of Matthew chapter 5 we renewed our determination to follow the words of Our Lord in our daily lives. We enjoyed lunch at the cool, clean convent attached to the shrine, and returned, inspired, as we were every day, by the sights and sounds of another wonderful day. The picture shows the Church of the Beatitudes with the sea of Galilee just visible in the background.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Climb every mountain

With only two full days left of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May, we set off for two of the "high points" of our trip (sorry about that). Mount Tabor is about ten or twelve miles west of Tiberias, and rises up like a child's idea of a mountain (below). It's the traditional site of the wonderful event we know as the Transfiguration, and a church sits right on the top, where we have celebrated Mass several times before. Access to the church via about twelve hairpin bends is only via taxi minibuses, whose drivers seemed less anxious to scare the pants off us than some jokers from previous pilgrimages. This time, when we got to the top, we were invited to have Mass outside, in the shady ruins of a previous ancient church. It was beautiful, allowing us to gather at Communion time around the altar. 
The Transfiguration is an image of pilgrimage. For a short while we are perhaps lifted out of our normal life and routine, and experience a little more clearly some of the wonders of our Creator and Redeemer. The veil is pulled apart just a little... and maybe, like Peter at Tabor, we want to "freeze-frame" many of the moments. But no, we have to go back down the mountain and return to Life. Having listened to the Lord, we must now get on with living his words.
Safely grounded we continued westward towards the Mediterranean and the long ridge that is Mount Carmel. Here we made a stop where Elijah beat the priests of Baal in a my-God-is-better-than-yours contest. Here's a real children's book picture of the scene - great stuff.
Unlike on some previous pilgrimages, this time we didn't go on to Elijah's cave overlooking the Med, but headed off for lunch at a Druze restaurant that was bigger and more organized than the small, squashed but rather more charming one we visited last time. The series of dishes once again tempted and tested our palates. Yum.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Francis shakes them up down south

On Saturday evening Pope Francis celebrated Mass down in the "toe" of Italy, and during the homily caught everyone's attention with these words:
"When one does not adore the Lord, one becomes an adorer of evil, like those who live by dishonesty and violence. Your land, which so beautiful, knows the signs of the consequences of this sin. The ‘Ndrangheta (local version of the mafia) is this: adoration of evil and contempt of the common good. This evil must be fought, must be expelled. It must be told no. The Church, which is so committed to educating consciences, must always expend itself even more so that good can prevail. Our children ask this of us. Our young people ask this of us, they, who need hope. To be able to respond to this demands, faith can help us. Those who in their lives have taken this evil road, this road of evil, such as the mafiosi, they are not in communion with God, they are excommunicated!"
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, he had suddenly asked his driver to stop...

Friday, 20 June 2014

Around and on the lake


The beautiful Sea of Galilee - it forms the background to so much of Jesus's ministry. On our first full day in Tiberias we set off for Capernaum, Our Lord's base for his ministry, home to several apostles (artist's impression of the town in the time of Jesus, left). The ruins have been well excavated, and here and there reconstructed as in the Synagogue. A new church has been constructed over the supposed House of Peter, and since my last visit the whole place has been tidied up with a lovely esplanade overlooking the lake. 
Next we made the short journey to the spot known as Mensa Christi - the Table of Christ. This has been a favourite of our pilgrims - and mine too - since our first visit in 1992. Tradition places here the meeting of Jesus and his Apostles on the beach after the Resurrection. We have come to call this the "Breakfast on the Beach" incident in our churches... The Franciscans, faced with just a small stone church previously, built an out door Greek-style theatre for Mass, facing the lake through the foreground of a spreading tree and a beautiful statue of Our Lord with St Peter (below). What a memorable spot! Here we remember how Peter heard the forgiving and restoring word of the Lord, and so we pray for his successor, Francis, and for the whole Church. As always, Mensa Christi worked its magic and we left with a beautiful and powerful memory.

We now travelled further around the lake to its eastern shore, under the Golan Heights, to the area of Kursi, scene of the famous incident of the Gaderene Swine. An ancient church has been excavated here, and after a visit there, when my poor old toe took some punishment on knobbly cobbles, we repaired to the nearby kibbutz for some traditional St Peter's Fish. Suitably nourished, we embarked on the boat that would return us to our hotel in Tiberias. This trip on the lake is also always memorable, with thoughts of all those moments in the Gospel that take place on the waters. As usual, the captain obliges by turning off the engine and for some minutes we find ourselves afloat on the Sea of Galilee. We remember how the Lord calmed the waves, and of course another Peter incident, when the fisherman walked on the water, and was grabbed by Jesus. We too can walk on the waters of life, and as long as we keep our gaze on Him, the storms will not sink us. Even if we do go down, we can call out to him who held Peter - and he will hold us too.. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Get Up and Walk

The new video from Outside da Box.  A great take on the paralytic let down through the roof...

And so to Galilee

First - happy feast day of Pentecost to everybody for yesterday!  Second, Sister Cristina went on to win The Voice Italy on Thursday...
But now back to the Holy Land. After arriving on Monday, by Saturday it was now time to leave Jerusalem for Galilee. As with each time I leave the city, I wondered if I would ever be back. Who knows?..  Jerusalem is hustle and bustle, a city modern and ancient, Jewish, Moslem and Christian - everything and everybody all wrapped up into one, with the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus embedded at its centre. Galilee, on the other hand, is calm, soothing, beautiful and largely rural.
We set off along the vastly improved modern highway system, north out of Judaea, dropping down to the coastal plain and then turning north towards Nazareth. Eventually there it was rising up on its hilltop, and soon we could see the huge modern basilica of the Annunciation rising up from among the bustling town centre (left). We were expecting to celebrate Mass in the church of St Joseph in the grounds, but when we were in the Basilica, a friar told us that the main altar in the big church was available, so we had Mass there instead. Our group gathered around the altar and many other people took part from further down in the church. We thought about Mary and Joseph, and how Mary heard the Word and made herself available to the Holy Spirit, so that the Word would become flesh. We too are to listen to the Word and put flesh on it through our lives.
After Mass we strolled over to St Joseph's and found a new statue of St Joseph in a garden that I found very inspiring (not very good pic right). Then after another lovely lunch all together, we moved on towards our destination Tiberias, via Cana, of wedding feast fame. Usually we have a time of prayer here, remembering deceased husbands and wives, or those we have left at home; we pray for the separated or divorced; we recall other vocations too - single life, including those in vows or or holy orders.  Those who are on pilgrimage as a couple have the opportunity to renew their vows. When we got to the church there was an extravagant, beautiful and moving Ethiopian marriage going on, with much music, dancing and devotion. Our group loved it - a real blessing and gift. We still had our prayers, though out in a corner of the forecourt instead, but it was still a lovely moment on our journey, when we each considered how we have answered the call of the Lord.
Eventually we pulled into Tiberias on the wonderful Sea of Galilee, where we would be based for a several more days. I found my room, opened my window onto the lake and thanked God for being able to return to one of my favourite places on earth.
(Pic is someone's Google Earth off-season shot from our hotel)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Peacocks, cable cars, mines and fresh orange juice


 
On the Friday we took a trip out of the city to visit Jericho in the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. We hadn't devoted a day to Jericho before, but it is a place with a long history - possibly the longest continuous habitation of anywhere on earth!  There are many excavations in the area around the city, which is one of the main towns in the famous West Bank are of the Palestinian Territory. 
We headed to the Franciscan church in the town (left), where we were told that a bevy of bishops had arrived whom the Franciscans felt should have the church for Mass. We are banished to the garden, which turned out to be a blessing, as it was a lovely day, we were under an awning and a proud peacock strutted his way behind me through the celebration. In the Gospel, Jesus told us that he was and is the Way, the Truth and the Life. If we are to listen to the voice of the Lord, well, then, we must also act on it, making his Way, Truth and Life truly our own.
In 2000 a cable car was built to reach the Mount of Temptations which overlooks the town (above). We all went up in groups of six, swaying high above the dry land. The Monastery on the mountain was shut, but we enjoyed a relaxing interlude and cold drink gazing out over the huge vista.
Back on terra firma we headed for an open air restaurant for lunch and then drove out of the town in blistering heat to the site of the Baptism, south towards the Dead Sea. The West Bank side has only been reopened to visitors recently after being mined. It was good to visit this after several visits to the "imaginary" site way up by the Sea of Galilee, which is very attractive, but nowhere near where the event happened.  We renewed our baptismal promised, and I signed each on the forehead with Jordan water and poured some over their hands. A very hot stroll back in the 90sF to the coach and we were off to the Dead Sea.
I'm no big fan of the DS. I don't like the feel of it, and while it's good to have the experience of floating in it, on this occasion I opted for a gorgeous freshly-squeezed-in-front-of-you orange drink or two. Beautiful. And so back to the city for our last evening in Jerusalem, where the hotel put on its weekly Sultan's Banquet, where David excelled as sultan, Tania starred as his, er,.sultana, and Norbert stunned us all by his, um, exotic dancing (no pics alas!).

Saturday, 31 May 2014

To Calvary and beyond



Our Jerusalem hotel was located right opposite the city walls, so in order to follow the Via Dolorosa, the Stations of the Cross, we just crossed the road, went in through Herod's Gate and strolled through the Arab quarter to Mass at the Ecce Homo Convent (left). Here the sisters look after the remains of the palace of Pilate, possibly where the trial of Jesus took place. Underneath is the famous pavement marked with the games that the Roman soldiers played.
Here, we remembered how Pilate presented the people with the choice - Jesus or Barabbas? Here the voice of Jesus is largely silent, we look, reflect - and choose. Barabbas, the world, the easy life, or Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life?
After Mass we set off on the Way of the Cross through the streets of the Old City. Half way along we managed to obtain a cross for the group to carry - 3 people for each Station. By now my toe problem was playing up after a few days of punishment - but it all seemed tiny compared to his condition...  Soon we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the goal of countless pilgrims down through the centuries... The surprise, some might say shock, of this crowded noisy complex building is long past for me on this my fifth visit. I left the long queue of people waiting to enter the Tomb, and as I came round to the front of it (below, on a quieter day!), a man got up from one of the few seats, smiled, and disappeared into the crowd. And so I sat there, right in front of the Tomb's entrance, for about half an hour. The noise and bustle slowly melted away in my mind, and I was left face to face with the simple truth of an empty tomb. Looking back, these moments were the heart of the pilgrimage for me this time round.

After this visit we went for lunch and then on to the area known as Mount Zion with its Dormition Abbey. We gathered around the statue of the deceased Mary in the crypt, remembering our loved ones, and I asked Clare to sing a verse of the Magnificat ("My soul is filled with joy..."). It was a beautiful end to the day.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

God who cries

The second day of our p8lgrimage was centred on the Mount of Olives. We started admiring the beautiful panorama of the Old City from the top (above), then made our way down the steep path that marks the way that Jesus followed on Palm Sunday. At its bottom lies the Garden of Gethsemane, a place of tremendous spiritual power, while back at the top we visited the small Chapel of the Ascension and the church that marks the teaching by Jesus of the Our Father, where we find the prayer in so many different languages written out on ceramic tiles.
However, on the way down to Gethsemane we stopped for Mass at the famous chapel of Dominus Flevit - the Lord Wept (Luke 19). Whereas in Bethlehem we listened to the voice of Jesus as a helpless babe, now we listened again, and heard his man's tears. He weeps for his beloved Jerusalem - and maybe for us too. He weeps for our sins, the damage we do to others and to ourselves. He weeps for the wounds and scars in our lives - the damage done to us by others. But he does not stop at tears, he goes on to offer us forgiveness, healing and peace. And so here, where the Lord wept, we asked him to come to each of us and make us whole. The wall behind the altar here (right) is a window looking out, as Jesus did, over the city of Jerusalem. As we quietly reflected on where we are in our lives, a few of our tears were added to those of the Lord.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

To Jerusalem

Long gap, because I have spent a wonderful week or so in the Holy Land, where Pope Francis has now decided to follow me!  I thought I might try and give a hint of what we get up to o these pilgrimages, and what kind of thing I share with the pilgrims during our daily Mass, the heart of our pilgrimage.
We flew out on Monday 12th May and spent the first five nights at the Golden Walls Hotel, facing the ancient city walls. We stayed there on our last visit in 2009, and its location is perfect. We  set out on our first day for Bethlehem, but to reach it you have to pass through the oppressive security wall that separates much of the Palestinian Territory from Israel. 
A brief walk in the city brought us to the little church of the Milk Grotto (left), where the Holy Family traditionally stopped on their journey to Egypt, either to hide from Herod or to feed the baby - or both! We celebrated Mass in one of the newer chapels added in more recent years, dedicated to Mary, Mother of God. 
Here I introduced a theme of the pilgrimage - listening to the voice of Jesus. Here, of course, it was the voice of a baby - God calling out to us through the gurgles and cries of a helpless little one. Bring a baby into a room full of adult strife and everything changes. An innocent bay radiates love and hope for the future, and draws love from those around. So the voice of Jesus, God-made-man, first calls out to us through the most dependent and trusting of human beings - a baby.
We then visited the Church of the Nativity (right), the 6th century building that protects the Grotto marking the traditional spot of Our Lord's birth. The queue to go down was very long... so after a brief visit to St Catherine's, the Catholic church on the site, we returned to the coach and headed off to lunch. This was near the Shepherds' Field, which we visited in the afternoon before returning to the Golden Walls to reflect on our first day.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Celebrating

Great weekend at Celebrate Wales 2014 up at our local Corpus Christi High School. I particularly noticed a beautiful atmosphere - exciting yet calm. Speakers were excellent and
included Pastor Clyde Thomas (left) from the Victory Church in Cwmbran. He must have been good, because I'm going to get the CDs - which is very rare for me now, to want to listen to a talk again. I was a proud parish priest to see so many of our parishioners taking an active part in every aspect of the weekend, from making the tea to playing the cello to running the PA system to praying with people... Must be doing something right, folks!
I was asked to be main celebrant at the final Mass on Sunday afternoon, which is a great privilege. There were so many children and young people involved, it was wonderful. One of the most distinctive things about Celebrate is that it is very geared to families, with "streams" of activities for all age groups. It really shows up so many Church events where families are excluded because of time of day, lack of facilities etc. Fantastic. Loads of credit to all the organizers especially Mary and Simon on the local level, and Charles, Sue and Jenny on the national level. I nabbed Charles Whitehead - Mr Big in the charismatic world - to come and lead a Day of Renewal here at St Brigid's in November.
Well, today is Bank Holiday, and I've had a quiet day, though the phone rang all morning it
seemed, with little regard for it being a holiday. I was looking forward to a production of "Under Milk Wood" on BBC Wales this evening. This is part of the centenary celebrations of Dylan Thomas's birth in 1914. It was a radio play, so it's not easy to translate to TV. I thought they did well, with its "star-studded cast", but felt that some of the non-actors lacked a certain quality. Tom Jones can belt it out, but Captain Cat's poignant reminiscences are something different. Still, it's a great play. I visited Laugharne last year - and almost froze to death - and, rather like listening to "Myfanwy" sung by a male voice choir, if your heart isn't stirred by "Under Milk Wood" then you're not quite Welsh in my opinion.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Easter life

It's been a bit longer than usual since my last post. Which is actually a good sign - that I'm back to normal energy levels after my brush with the demon bacteria of cellulitis, and catching up with stuff that I just couldn't face during that period.
We had great Triduum services at our 3 Churches. People seemed to get a lot particularly from Good Friday at St Brigid's. What great wisdom the Church has in making sure we revisit these sacred events each year. It's much deeper than simply reminding us in case we forget...
Since Easter we have had several funerals into which to bring some of the light of the Resurrection. Also I have done some dashing around to give talks here and there - something I wouldn't have been able to do a month or two ago. This past Friday and Saturday I was at the High Leigh Christian Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, where people involved in leading the various Celebrate weeks and weekends were gathered to mark 20 years since the first Celebrate Conference in Ilfracombe. I was very honoured to be asked to give one of the three addresses. Then this Tuesday evening I shot up to Abergavenny to lead the first of the series of Life in the Spirit Seminars that are happening there.
On the subject of Celebrate and the seminars, we are all prepared now for the Celebrate Wales this coming weekend at our very own Corpus Christi High School. I'm celebrating the final Mass on Sunday afternoon and shall be popping in and out during Saturday and Sunday to fit in with parish duties. Then the following Sunday we start the Life in the Spirit seminars at our own prayer group in St Brigid's (Sundays 7.30pm May 11th). There's lots happening, and I'll try to give some flavour as we go along.
Since I have been feeling better, lots of parishioners have said how am looking better too, some adding, "Oh you looked terrible". I know what they mean, but somehow it doesn't help to know that I looked as bad as I felt!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Mass of the Lord's Supper

Here is a rough precis of my homily at the Mass of the Lord's Supper yesterday evening. I spoke briefly about the third theme of the evening - the priesthood - at the end of Mass.
The Collect or Opening Prayer of our Mass this evening used a beautiful phrase, calling the Eucharist "the banquet of love". What a wonderful description of the Sacrament whose institution we celebrate this evening. In fact, in preparing for the Triduum this week, and seeking the Lord's wisdom, I felt the Lord prompting me to simply "Tell them I love them". The Eucharist is an outpouring of that self-giving love that overwhelms us during these precious days.
As a priest - and a human being - I am so often aware of how love pursues us throughout our lives. Babies enthrall us because they exude love - and they draw love from us in return. Visiting a parishioner in Holme Tower hospice this afternoon with her husband, the love between them was quiet but unmistakably palpable. When with the bereaved, there are often tears and sometimes people apologise, but I like to remind them that those tears are a sign of love - so cry on...
So love flows through our humanity from cradle to grave - and beyond. We receive, we give - it is absolutely essential to humanity - and flows from God, who St John tells us IS love.
This evening we are also to reflect on Jesus' washing of the Apostles' feet. This astonishing scene - the Son of God washing the feet of his own creation challenges us about love. In Jesus' day everything was thrown onto the street, so people's feet were, um, rather unpleasant, so the washing of guests' feet was a job left to the lowest servant. What kind of love, then is this that our God-from -God, Light-from-Light, is on his knees before us? This scene, to be imprinted on the Apostles' memories, is firstly symbolic of Jesus' whole ministry as servant-king. Service is love-in-action, as Jesus is God-and-Man. secondly this love is an example. He is absolutely clear that we are to copy him, to wash one another's feet, in whatever way we can do that.
So - a banquet of love is what we gather for every time we come to Mass. We are fed for our own journey and the journey of the Church from the Upper Room to the Second Coming, and on that journey we are to love another as he has loved us, in humility and self-giving.
So we now proceed to the foot-washing. After I have washed twelve parishioners they will take up places around the church and you are invited to have your hands washed by them.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Pope Francis at Palm Sunday Mass

This was the unscripted homily of Pope Francis  at Mass on Sunday...
This week begins with the festive procession with olive branches: all the people welcome Jesus. The children, the young people sing, praising Jesus. But this week proceeds into the mystery of Jesus' death and his resurrection. We've heard the Passion of the Lord. So it'll do us well to ask ourselves one question: Who am I? Who am I before my Lord? Who am I before the Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid celebration? Am I able to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I keep a distance? Who am I before the Jesus who suffers?
We've heard many names, many names. The group of rulers, some priests, some Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who decided to kill him. They waited for the chance to apprehend him. Am I one of them?
We've likewise heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas? We've heard other names: the disciples who couldn't understand any of it, who fell asleep while Jesus suffered. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who didn't understand what betraying Jesus meant? Like that other disciple who wanted to settle everything with the sword: am I like them? Am I like Judas, who made a show of loving and kissing Jesus, only to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor? Am I like those rulers who rushed to hold the tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I believe that I save people with this?
Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation's tough, I wash my hands and don't know to take my responsibility and I let them condemn – or do I condemn – people?
Am I like that crowd which didn't know whether it was taking part in a religious gathering, a trial or a circus, and chooses Barabbas? For them it's all the same: it was more fun to humiliate Jesus.
Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, enjoying themselves by humiliating the Lord?
Am I like the Cyrenian who was coming home from work, was tired, but had the goodwill to help the Lord carry the cross?
Am I like those who went before the Cross and taunted Jesus: "If only he had more courage! Come down from the cross, and we'll believe in Him!" They taunted Jesus....
Am I like those courageous women, and like Jesus' Mamma, who were there, suffering in silence?
Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who carries the body of Jesus with love to give it a tomb?
Am I like the two Marys who remain before the Tomb crying, praying?
Am I like those leaders who went to Pilate the following day to say: "Be on guard – this one said he would rise, so don't let them be fooled again!" and blocked his life, blocked the tomb to defend doctrine, so that life could not come out?
Where is my heart? Which of these people am I like? May this question accompany us all through this week.
[Acknowledgement to Rocco Palmo for translation]

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Of a toe and a leg

Ho hum. I was just getting over the gradual removal of a callus under my little toe by the podiatrist's scalpel, when cellulitis struck further up the same leg! For those who don't know, this is a bacterial invasion of your body via a cut, bite, graze or similar. It goes for the limb, usually the lower leg in men, it seems. Then, if it gets the chance it heads for the blood stream to see what havoc it can cause there. I did have it once before, but this time it had bigger effect. 
As well as swollen and reddened lower leg I was really sort of out of it for a week or two. I could just about take one service in a day, and the rest of the time I had to sit in my chair. Of course, being bacterial the main weapon is antibiotics, which I was on for a fortnight, and, yes, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish the effects of the antibiotic from the symptoms of the original problem. I finished the antibiotics last Monday and am well on the way to recovery, but still have to be careful, as I am clearly not as well yet as I think/would like to be. 
Anyway, this week I'm feeling much better, and people say I'm smiling again, which they seem to think is one of my characteristics. "Oh, Father, you did look awful" they say in an encouraging voice! What has made me smile is this genuine concern from so many people, especially the first Sunday that I was ill. First I forgot to send the Children's Liturgy out to the Hall, then I had a Eucharistic Minister give out Holy Communion for me, then I went straight to the sacristy after Mass instead of taking up my usual place outside the church door. Oh my goodness, it was like the end of the world. "But you are always there to say hello, Father!!"  I quickly realised that this was a huge compliment, even if it's also a reminder of how we can take our priests for granted... So, thank you, everyone, for your kind thoughts and especially your prayers.

Friday, 21 March 2014

They didn't expect that!

When all four judges on "The Voice Italy" pressed their buttons and spun around, they did not expect Sister Christina, a 25 year old sister from Sicily. Regulars of The Voice UK will know that getting all four judges to turn is something. In the chat after, sister says she half expects a call from Pope Francis, but it's all to do with evangelization... Go for it Sister!!

Friday, 7 March 2014

The language of love - Pope Francis sends video message

It's not often I shed a tear in front of the computer screen, but I must own up, as this video
went on... Watch the fear and prejudices of centuries melt before your eyes. If you have yet to be convinced of the gift to the Church that is Pope Francis, and indeed his predecessors, if you do not understand the power of the Holy Spirit in our time, then giving 45 minutes to watch this conference of Pentecostal Evangelical leaders will be some of the most valuable minutes you have given this Lent - or maybe ever! While it is true that the first speaker seems to be an advocate of a Christianity that is far from the Church would accept, so you can skip four minutes over him, and I'm not sure what kind of Anglican the second speaker is, he make ssoem interesting points and, of course, you are not allowed to skip over the third speaker!

Monday, 24 February 2014

The priest, the Mass, and love


This is a piece I wrote for the newsletter this week, that some people found to be powerful.
Every so often you come across a thought or some words that remind you about what’s really going on and what’s important. We all need that grounding from time to time – to get things in perspective, and stop us taking things for granted. And that includes priests. Our most common “activity”, indeed the occasion when parishioners see us most often, is when we are celebrating the Mass. How easy it could be to think that we’ve “got it”, that we totally understand what it’s all about.
So here is the great Cistercian monk Thomas Merton offering an awesome and humbling thought about what is really going on each time we approach the altar... ...
If you are afraid to love,
never become a priest, never say Mass.
The Mass will draw down upon your soul
a torrent of interior suffering which has only one function:
to break you wide open
and let everybody in the world into your heart.
For when you begin to say Mass,
the Spirit of God awakens like a giant inside you
and bursts the locks of  your private sanctuary.
If you say Mass,
you condemn your soul to the torrent of a love
that is so vast and insatiable
that you will never be able to bear it alone.
That love is the love of the Heart of Jesus,
burning within your own heart
and bringing down upon you the huge weight
of His compassion for all the sinners of the world.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Rembrandt live in Amsterdam

Last summer I visited Amsterdam and had a great time. One of the highlights is the beautifully restored Rijksmuseum, and the highlight of the museum is their collection of Rembrandts, and the highlight of them is the great "The Night Watch". This large and beautiful painting dominates the central hall and is truly a masterpiece. 
So, how clever is this? A flash mob was organized in a shopping mall in the city to advertise the museum. Watch and enjoy...

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Why sinners go to Mass

The wisdom of Pope Francis... from his talk at this Wednesday's General Audience in St Peter's Square.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Judge carefully and humbly...

Not all things are as they appear... a clever two minute video

Acknowledgements to Mgr George Pope

Friday, 31 January 2014

The Ear of God


January has been a  gloomy month hasn't it? The wet weather has set the tone. I've had a problem with my little toe - isn't it amazing how so small a bit of our body can cause such disruption? Thank goodness we have excellent nurses at our local surgery who are taking care of Father... 
Then we have had rather a large number of deaths in our 3 Churches too. Someone else who died recently was Monsignor Ralph Brown of Westminster archdiocese. He has been what you might call the godfather of canon law in Britain for several decades, the top man in the little world which I inhabit when wearing that particular one of my hats. He asked Archbishop Stack to preach at his Requiem at Westminster Cathedral, and specifically asked him to quote a well-known passage from Cardinal Hume's book "To Be A Pilgrim". As I find it an inspiring passage too, here it is.
“Judgment is whispering into the ear of a merciful and compassionate God the story of my life which I have never been able to tell. Many of us have a story, or part of one at any rate, about which we have never been able to speak to anyone. Fear of being misunderstood. Inability to understand ourselves. Ignorance of the darker side of our hidden lives, or just shame, make it very difficult for many people. The true story of our life is not told, or only half of it is. What a relief it will be to be able to whisper freely and fully into that merciful and compassionate ear. After all, that is what he has always wanted. He receives us, His prodigal children, now contrite and humble, with an embrace. In that embrace we start to tell him our story and He begins that process of healing and preparation which we call Purgatory”