Thursday, 30 April 2020

Getting there

Well, we spent an interesting hour or two this morning trying to set up live streaming from St Brigid's, with the help of a well-distanced parishioner. In the end we got there, so we're going to have a test go at it on Saturday, and then - who knows?

Meanwhile, parish life has to go on, like life does for everyone - bills to be paid, jobs to be done etc. We've had more funerals, and more have come in. Thornhill Cemetery has now lifted its ban on anyone other than the small group of mourners allowed at a funeral. This time it was the cremation of a popular lady, when I am sure there would have been many, many people who would like to have been present. Once more, family are talking of a memorial Mass at a later date.  And still people are so grateful for the priest being there - perhaps even more so than in more usual circumstances?  Maybe we are a note of normality in a very abnormal world at the moment. Which brings me back to streaming the Mass. So fingers crossed for going live!

 

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

To sleep, perchance to stream

Just a quick post this evening before I go to bed. We've been under some pressure from parishioners to start streaming Mass. I'm not sure what I think about it, but it seems clear that thousands are watching various parishes across the world.  So why not us?  Anyway, it's all a bit technical, so we're going to start experimenting with it tomorrow, Thursday. Say a prayer, then, that we manage to get it up and running.  Thanks.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

The greatest?


People soon discover that I love art and architecture, and so a question you get asked is "Who's your favourite artist?" Well I've got a small bunch that would include Velazquez, Titian, Cezanne, Vermeer plus one or two more I expect. But in a special place is Rembrandt. Favourite? Maybe so.  
I just watched a gem of a little 30 minutes BBC 4 documentary with Simon Scharma on "The Young Rembrandt". This is based on an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford that was cut short by the current epidemic. We are not this time distracted by Scharma's sometimes off-putting slightly twitchy face. The whole attention is on the paintings and etchings, at which we gaze as he unpacks them for us. Rembrandt has the ability to bring a tear to my eye, so astonishing and unflinching is his penetration of our human condition.
In 2013 I spent a holiday in and around Amsterdam, which I found much improved from my previous visit in the sordid 70s. They have kind of reimagined his house, but I found it a bit cold, dead. I learnt more of his story, especially about his descent into sadness at the end. Here lived and painted one of the most brilliant depictors of what it means to be alive, to be human, who has ever lived. 
I wanted to find out more. But really it's all there in the paintings. And with Scharma to guide us this evening, I was in good hands. Catch it on iPlayer. "Museums in Quarantine" Series 1: 2 Rembrandt.


 This his father






Here is Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem




 


and here The Good Samaritan




Sunday, 26 April 2020

Glorious Glorias

One of the things I love about the Easter season is the return of the 'Gloria' to Sunday Mass. It's a great hymn/prayer of praise, and I'm not at all surprised that it has inspired some wonderful musical settings. Being at university was a great time of exploration of classical music, about which I knew very little before. I would hear someone enthuse about some piece and then find out about it and then buy it if I liked it - LP, of course. One of my favourite discoveries from way back then, the early 70s, was Joseph Haydn's ' Missa in Angustiis', better known as the 'Nelson Mass'. Its 'Gloria' is one of the most thrilling I know.  Give it a try here:



Another setting of the 'Gloria' that I first heard all those years ago was the 'Misa Criolla' from Argentina, one of the first settings, with 'Misa Luba' from the Congo, to bring local music and traditions into the liturgy after Vatican II. Listen to the two wonderful soloists, singing with talent and with faith, especially in the central section: 'Senor, Hijo unico Jesus Cristo'...



Saturday, 25 April 2020

Emmaus




Again, some thoughts I shared on our newsletter...
This Sunday the Gospel is the story of the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus. We know how Jesus explained the scriptures to them, and how they recognised him in the breaking of bread, whereupon they rushed back to Jerusalem to share their experience of the Good News.  But we mustn’t forget that even before he explained the Word to them, he was already walking beside them, even though they didn’t recognise him. 
That’s surely a bit like how it is now. Sadly we cannot truly meet one another, either for the sharing of the word or the breaking of bread in the Mass. However, that should not blind us to his presence already with us. As we walk along the road, not of the streets outside but of life itself, and whether we realise it or not, Jesus walks with us. 


When this is over, let’s not find ourselves regretting not understanding the situation, saying “Did not our hearts burn within us”, as the disciples did when they understood that he had been with them all along. Rather, let’s seek him now, maybe in new ways – in the quiet, the peace, in the beauty of spring, in so many places.  And, yes, even in the pain of separation or aloneness too.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

The hidden sheep

This morning Fr Andy drove us to Thornhill for our next funeral. Of many strange aspects to the situation that we all find ourselves in at the moment, funerals have to be one of the most difficult. This time it was me taking the funeral. The funeral directors were excellent as was the attendant from the cemetery, but the humanity that I am so used to sensing at the heart of these moments is very, very difficult to express. The small number of mourners are mostly spread out, and you can feel the absence of those human touches that normally can bring such comfort - the hug, the shared tear etc. How many would have wanted to be there...


Anyway, we decided to not take the absolute quickest route back (naughty, naughty) but circled through Thornhill and Lisvane. All these roads that I now know so well - mid-morning and all practically deserted. A few people here and there, some thinking we might be two coppers I think in disguise!  Two blokes in Fishguard Road chatting out in front of their houses at a good distance that Andy told me he has seen every time he's walked along there. A nice little moment.


And then you wonder what is happening behind all those front doors. Life is going on, kids and elderly, the fit and the less fit.  You and me. Life goes on.  I couldn't help but feel a bit like a shepherd whose sheep are all hiding in the woods.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Some ads are good...

The strange thing is that one of the ways I discovered I had arthritis was watching a TV ad from Versus Arthritis, the charitty, last August.  It showed for about a month, just at the time I was realising something was wrong.
Now they have produced some new adverts in the last week or two. I find them very difficult to watch becaust they are me. One shows a man stuck in his bathroom, and that is the hardest part of my day too. I know that the pain will pass in about half an hour or so, but while it  lasts it's not nice at all.  Then the other ad shows an elderly lady struggling to get up the stairs. This, at the other end of the day, when your hips have had enough, is the other main struggle point. As my exercises have helped recently, this one has got a little easier, but I still have to pause at the bottom, build myself up and then launch myself.
The Versus Arthritis website is excellent and I have learnt a lot from it, and knowing more always helps doesn' it? As it says, it's not "just a bit of pain" or "A bit of wear and tear". If you have a minute or two, check out www.versusarthritis.org . Thanks.

Monday, 20 April 2020

The power of touch


I was asked to put the message from our newsletter on here too, so here it is.

Dear parishioners and friends of our 3 Churches

I hope you celebrated the great feast of Easter – as best we can anyway in these circumstances. Today we move on to so-called “Low Sunday”, when we see Jesus appear to the Apostles. They needed so much reassurance after Our Lord’s Death and Resurrection. Above all, Thomas needed to have his doubts dispelled. And, of course, Jesus did that by asking Thomas to do the one thing we can’t do at the moment - to touch Him. “Give me your hand” Jesus invites Thomas. We may not be able to grasp one another’s hands in the normal human way at the moment. But just take a moment and in your imagination picture the hand of the Lord being offered to you. Reassurance, presence, hope, peace, love.



Yes, I was chatting with my sister about this lack of touch. She cannot hug her grandchildren. I told her how I cannot hug a bereaved parent or spouse at the graveside. Touch is so important isn't it? We see Jesus using touch a lot in the Gospels, both him touching others, often in healing, and sometimes others touching him.  So his reaching out to the lepers would have been so shocking for the onlookers, who not only suspected that the disease was catching, but also believed that it made the sufferer, and therefore Jesus too, unclean and therefore an outcast too. Watch him almost using sign language to touch the deaf and dumb man, and lay his hands sensitively on the shoulders of the woman who is doubled up (above). Perhaps even more amazing is how he knows when the woman with a haemorrhage has touched him (left).  It says he is aware that power has gone out from him.  That's one astonishing sense of touch. So let's never be afraid of reaching out to him in prayer and touching his arm or even the hem of his cloak.  He is listening, he is feeling, he knows.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Special people, special days

One of the things people are doing at home is getting into their family tree. As some of you know, it is one of my hobbies, and my tree has over 3,000 people on it. Today I heard from one of my second cousins on my father's side, Ann in Surrey.  She was bringing me up to date, asking how I was etc.  She reminded me I'd promised to send her a tree of all the descendants of our common great-grandfather, Rev David Jones. So I've just been doing that now.
It strikes me maybe some of you would like help with your family tree, and are looking for something to do. Let me know... I know my way around some of the resources and would be happy to help. Just let me know.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking back to 1978 when I was ordained. It too was the Saturday after Easter, and my first Mass was the following morning, 9 o'clock at St Paul's. So this Sunday and its Gospel has  a special place for me.


Friday, 17 April 2020

No fisticuffs... yet

Well I was for David and Andy was for Sandy - but it was Thomas who won! What am I talking about? Yes. we've just been watching the final of Masterchef on TV. And, yes, we disagreed - and we were both wrong.

So how are you getting on with whoever you share your home with. Or, if you are on your own, how are you finding that? Like lots of other people Andy and I have slowly formed a kind of daily routine.  We have some points at which we come together, and plenty of time when we get on with our own stuff. 
So we have breakfast together at about 8, talk about the day ahead etc. I'm not the greatest at that time, because I haven't shared breakfast with anyone for about 30 years,as I've either  been on my own or other priests had different timetables first thing.   Next we get on with the day's business, Fr Andy says his Mass and I check email, mail etc. Often we'll have  a cuppa mid-morning, but our main time together is lunch, usually at 1. I've always tried to make lunchtime a kind of still centre to the day. We're having a lot of funerals at the moment, which are particularly difficult, and it's a time to relax and enjoy food and company.


In the afternoon Andy goes for a walk, I often take a rest before celebrating Mass in the early evening. We do our own suppers, him earlier than me, and perhaps watch something on TV together like tonight.  All this is of course interspersed with phone calls from us and to us - lots of them - paying bills, answering email queries etc - and, oh yes, prayer. 

The Archbishop phoned this morning to ask how we were, which was nice. He sounded OK, though he admitted how he feels lonely at times. As the government ads remind us - nobody is immune. So don't hesitate to ring us if you want someone to talk to or to enquire about us!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Of words on Wednesdays and feet on the ground

This afternoon I did my "Wednesday Word" broadcast for Radio Wales.  I was due on at about 3.45 and they told me they would phone to check a few mintes before, but in fact the phone didn't ring until 3.45 itself. There was a problem - the presenter, Eleri Sion (right), also presenting from home had lost her phoneline temporarily, so they had to play another record while they fixed it. Not good for the nerves!
Anyway, we were soon ready and I did my bit. I think it went well. In the morning my producer had phoned to check the length for the timings of the programme. It was a few words longer than usua,l so she told me to keep it moving speedwise...which I did.  It was very strange to think that talking down your phone, usually to an individual, was this time to thousands of people. So much of what is going on now is strange isn't it?  Like everybody else I'm wondering how long it will go on for...


Anyway, some good news: I'm walking a bit better than I have been for months. With hip arthritis one of the consequences is your leg muscles can get underused especially as the condition develops before you have realised it. So you have to make sure this doesn't get worse, and preferablly is reversed with exercises etc. Well the good news is my legs seem to have become stronger, and for me that's huge progress.  Thankful for small mercies .

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Get a grip Matthew

It's just as well that Bangor, Mash and Freddie live in our dining-room, as they were spared from learning some new words over the last 24 hours. Yesterday evening when I got up from my desk and took off the glasses I wear for the computer, to pick up my main ones.  I couldn't see where tehy were, then suddenly there was a crunch - I'd stepped on them as they had somehow fallen on the floor. These are my new glasses (hence the expletive) bought last September. Luckily the lenses etc were intact, just the left arm bent a bit.so they are wearable, and I'm sure the nice people at Specsavers will get 'em back into shape. Sometime.

So this morning I staggered as usual into my bathroom for my ablutions. As I went to remove my razor from its overnight home in a glass, the aforementioned glass decided to slide off its place and crash into the basin. Another expletive.  Some pieces broke off but again, luckily, the whole thing didn't disintegrate all over the place as I feared. What else is going to break, I wondered, is it the end of the world?


And then I heard on my radio, which had been on throughout this little drama, about some real drama, as people spoke about the effect of this virus on their families.
So - shut up Matthew, eh, about your little bent glasses or your cheap smashed glass. Compared with what's going on in our world, they're tiny, tiny probs. Get a grip. So I smiled at myself, sat on my bed as I do every morning and prayed the Morning Prayer of the Church, remembering all those whose brokenness is infinitely greater.  Lord, graciously hear us.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Wednesday words


I've spent some time today writing the script for "Wednesday Word". This is the short item I do several times a year for BBC Radio Wales. I've been doing it for years now, so I sort of know the audience, and what the BBC are looking for, but the schedule is very short. The producer phones on Monday morning to agree a topic. You write it that day, email it in on Monday evening or Tuesday morning, they come back with comments during the day, and you go into Llandaff (above) to do the broadcast live on Wednesday afternoon. I was hoping to be going to the new BBC headquarters by Cardiff Central Station this time, but of course in the present circumstances, everything is being done from people's homes. So Ill be delivering the talk down the phone line.
Then there's the question of a topic. It has to be something relevant and that everyone can relate to. The news is dominated at the moment naturally by corona, and the previous three speakers have all reflected this. So it's getting a bit hard to find anything new to say. However, with the help of Lisa, the producer, I hope I've got something for people to ponder.  It goes out at about 3.45 on Radio Wales. Bangor, Mash and Freddie wil be listening. Wish me luck!
Here's me doing  a previous broadcast...

 

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Happy Easter, World!

Happy Easter everyone!  We've had a happy and relaxing day here. We both celebrated Mass in the morning and then Fr Andy cooked a beautiful lunch with roast leg of lamb as the star attraction. Well done, Andy!
After lunch we, er, relaxed for a while. I made a phone call to my brother and my sister phoned me to catch upon this happy day. All was well.
At 6 we started to watch a beautiful calming programme of the Lake District film in real time from a balloon, but after an hour I moved over to my office and decided to watch the much-advertised Andrea Bocelli performance from Milan Cathedral.  Well I'm not an enormous fan of AB, but he sang several favourites very well. There was no commentary or any other interruption - but at various points throughout the concert we were shown various cities from across the world, from Brescia to Milan, Paris, London, New York etc. And all of them were empty. At the end of the concert AB went out onto the steps of the cathedral to sing "Amazing Grace" and we saw more of the cities. I must confess I found it very moving and it brought a tear to my eyes. Our beloved world on what should be our greatest day of joy, all silenced. And, of course, then the last words of the hymn, with Andrea singing "I was blind, but now I see" and  a little smile flickered across his face.


P.S the video takes a few minutes to start   

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Run!

It's late on Saturday evening, and all is quiet.  Fr Andy and I celebrated a very peaceful and happy Easter Vigil and Mass. Andy sang the Exsultet and I spoke about our living Lord. It was all very dignified and deeply touching. Before it started I suggested we particularly remember, as the daylight faded, those whose life was fading at that moment, and those who, through fear or anxiety, felt their hope fading. Oh Risen Lord, shine your light in all our darknesses! Bring peace to the disturbed, light to those in darkness, and your risen life to us all. 
Let us all, like Peter and John, RUN to the empty tomb!

 

Friday, 10 April 2020

A Russian angle

This is something I usually watch on Good Friday. It is from Chevetogne Abbey in Belgium, where they follow our Western and also the Byzantine liturgy. Here the monks celebrate the last part of their Byzantine Good Friday liturgy - the funeral procession and Burial of Jesus. Our Lord is represented by an image that is carried, and then they stand the Bible on it - the Word. It is scattered with petals and then the people come up to venerate the image - the equivalent of our venerating the Cross. They take home a petal. 
It's different, but it's good to see how others observe these days. Sit back and take part...


Thursday, 9 April 2020

Dirty feet?

I expect many of us have settled into a routine during this strange period. Well Bangor, Mash and Freddie are wondering why suddenly our routine here changed today. Instead of Fr Andy celebrating in the morning and me in the evening, we concelebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper at 7 o'clock. So I'll have to explain Holy Week and the Triduum to the three of them tomorrow!

Our Mass was simple but beautiful, in the sacristy here at St Brigid's. Andy had brought some plants and candles from the church and house to help the celebration. We thought about everyone at the beginning and the intercessions in place of washing parishioners' feet. I shared some thoughts about the need for us, especially priests, to allow Jesus to wash our feet, otherwise "you can have nothing to do with me".

Then we had an hour Watching, and during that, at 8 o'clock, we joined in the community's clapping by ringing our sanctuary bells outside the front door. Near the end of our hour, as Archbishop Stack suggested, we renewed our priestly promises from ordination, which we normally do at the Cathedral Chrism Mass.  Here are the two central parts, which always touch me deeply, and hich, with God's help I try to keep.

I resolve to be a faithful steward of the divine mysteries in the Holy Eucharist and other liturgical rites, and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching, following Christ the head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls.
Humbly, I ask for an outpouring of the gifts and graces I need for my priestly service, so that, supported by the prayers of the people entrusted to my care, and working with my brother priests, I might remain faithful in my ministry to Christ the High Priest, and lead your people in the way of salvation.



 If you would like to spend  a short time in quiet prayer, try this Taize song "Stay Here. and Keep Watch With Me"

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Out of the mouths

Look at this wonderful rainbow. It arrived in a lovely letter to us this week, all the better as it was from two of our youngest parishioners - Xavier and Alexandra who are 2 1/2 years and 6 months old (with a bit of help from Mum and Dad maybe ). They write: "we have painted a rainbow for you to help make you smile when you might be a little sad... and look forward to seeing you both soon". Like every parish we have great families, wonderful parents and lovely kids here in our 3 Churches. It means a lot when you get letters like that one. I celebrated the wedding of Mum and Dad and baptised #1 while Andy did #2. (I shouldn't say "did" should I?). 

So we are all set now for the Sacred Triduum or Three Days starting tomorrow, Maundy Thursday. We have guidelines from the Vatican and the Bishops on how to celebrate the liturgies in private, and Andy and I discussed it all this morning. Then this evening I took part in my first Zoom shared event, a "virtual Passover". 15 of us who normally attend the Passover meal often held at St Brigid's all tuned in together, had our printed orders of service and so took part in responses etc.  I must say it was in its way very impressive, with the mix of seriousness and humour that is a good sign. It made a good beginning to the Triduum.  Fr Andy and I will be celebrating versions of the usual services on Thursday at 7.30pm, Friday at 3.00pm and Saturday at probably about 8.30. I'll continue to post in here each day (as long as I remember to press "Publish"!).  Have a blessed Holy Week.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

From Leonardo to Michelangelo

Not far from Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where Leonardos's Last Supper can be found, is the Castello Sforzesco, the Castle of the Sforzas. It now houses various museums and interesting rooms, but when I visited it in 2010, my goal was to see Michelangelo's last sculpture, the Rondanini Pieta


I suppose most of us have seen his more famous Pieta of 1499 in St Peter's, Rome, either in the flesh or in pictures. That was made when Michelangelo was a young man, flexing his artistic and sculptural muscles. It is utterly beautiful, and always has a large crowd standing in front of it. But he returned to this theme much later in his life, and sculpted several versions.  This one he worked on from 1552 until 1564, just a week before he died. He revisited  the profound theme of Mary mourning over the emaciated body of her dead Son at a time when in his old age his own sense of his own mortality was growing. 
In his dying days, Wikipedia tells us, he hacked at the marble block until only the dismembered right arm of Christ survived from the sculpture as originally conceived. When I came into the room where it is located in Milan, I found it spellbinding. I gather it has now been given a mini-museum all of its own and repositioned so that it is easier to walk all around it, though some don't approve of its new setting.

All extraneous detail has been chipped away by the aged genius. It's as if he is struggling to come to terms with the scene, with his own mortality, with life and death. It has an intimacy of a very different kind to that of the Vatican Pieta, but at the end of the day, despite its unfinished roughness, this work of art looks, to me at least, more like reality.  Mother and Son struggle to emerge from the marble, like Michelangelo's earlier slaves. The body of Jesus crumples to the ground, held only by his mother. This is the end of the journey that began in Nazareth and Bethlehem, or so it seems. But in that embrace, that hand gently resting with both love and strength near her Son's heart, there is something eternal, pointing beyond the desolation and roughness.  Easter is not far away...

The Last Supper observed


Apologies - I wrote this Monday and forgot to post it on here
Ten years ago I visited Milan on holiday. One of the "musts" there is, of course, Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper".  I had to book a time slot beforehand, and go though security like an airport and through a kind of airlock into the climate controlled room, the former refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria ella Grazie where it is. There we had, I think fifteen minutes to stare at one of the most famous images in all of western art. 
The painting shows the reaction of each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray him. All twelve have different reactions to the news, and they were eventually using a manuscript found in the 19th century. 
From left to right:
Bartholemew, James son of Alphaeus and Andrew are all looking very surprised.
Next, Judas is in shadow, looking withdrawn and taken aback by the sudden revelation of his plan. He's holding a small bag, maybe with the silver given to him as payment to betray Jesus, or perhaps a reference to his job as treasurer. He is the only person to have his elbow on the table and his head is also the lowest down of any of them. Peter looks angry and seems to be holding a knife, maybe referring to his violent reaction at Gethsemane.   He's leaning towards John and touching him on the shoulder, because John's Gospel says  where he gets John to ask Jesus who is the betrayer. John himself, the youngest, seems overcome and leans towards Peter.
After Jesus come Thomas, who is clearly upset; the raised finger maybe foreshadowing his doubts about the Resurrection. James, the Greater, looks maybe the most stunned, his arms in the air, while Philip looks like he wants an explanation. The last group are Matthew, Jude (Thaddeus) and Simon the Zealot. Matthew and Jude look like they want some explanation from Simon, who ain't got one...

Sunday, 5 April 2020

And so Holy Week begins


And so Holy Week begins. Strange, different, but still holy.
Here are some words from the Prayer after Communion from today's Mass for Palm Sunday, as I have just celebrated it:


Nourished with these sacred gifts we humbly beseech you, O Lord,
that, just as through the death of your Son you have brought us to hope for what we believe,
so by his Resurrection you may lead us to where you call.
Through Christ our Lord.



"To hope for what we believe" and "may lead us to where you call".   I like these two phrases a lot. They are both dynamic, by which I mean they both lead us onwards in the Lord . Hope is the great virtue that enables us to move on into the future, based on what we believe. I often say how Christian faith is not wishful thinking, because it is based on what we believe to be true, namely the death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. 
This is one way of understanding what this week is about - to renew or even restore our faith and hope, or rather our hope flowing from our faith. How important this is in our present circumstances! As Pope Francis said in his wonderful meditation at his blessing of the world a week ago, we are in that boat with the Apostles, being tossed around on the waves of the Sea of Galilee. He may appear to be asleep, but He is with us - that is the important thing.
And then to be led "where you call". We have not arrived, any of us. Jesus always calls us on.
 I discovered this big time back in 1984 when I attended the 1st Worldwide Retreat for Priests in Rome with 6 or 7,000 brother priests. A life-changer for me, it challenged me in all sorts of ways, as I was getting a little complacent, a bit self-satisfied after five years in the priesthood. The retreat was entitled "The Call to Holiness" - this was to be seen not as something we had done and dusted at ordination but rather as an every day, ongoing, life-long call, to follow our Master humble and cross-bearing in obedience to and praise of the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. 
I pray that this week may stir you in whatever way the Lord wishes and you need. May it console and comfort you in these present times and in any particular situations in which you find yourself.  May we deepen our faith and hope and surrender ourselves, to be led where He calls. 
The photo is from the Second Retreat in 1990 - so somewhere down there is me...