Sunday, 31 May 2020

To the ordinary?

I really enjoyed celebrating our live-streamed Mass today, and, thank God, it seemed to go well. At the last minute on Saturday one of our readers suggested doing the Intercessions in different languages as we often do in "normal" times. Thanks to techie wherewithal and quick work, we manged to get five prayers, in Welsh, Mandarin, Arabic, Italian and Sinhalese.  Great stuff!

And so the beautiful Easter season draws to a a close. It's a long journey from Ash Wednesday, dominated this year by the pandemic. But the Easter story, leading to Pentecost is one of dying and rising, of newness springing forth. No coincidence, then perhaps, that some of the easing of the lockdown is starting around now. So we return to "Ordinary Time" tomorrow in the Church's calendar, in this extra-ordinary year. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit willgive us courage  and hope to lowly rebuild, not necessarily the same as before - but better! 

You can follow our Mass via the parish website

Friday, 29 May 2020

Our trust, his act

This Sunday we will arrive at the great feast of Pentecost. It is, of coure, the feast of the Holy Spirit and, many would say, the birthday or baptism of the Church. Why not join us here at St Brigid's for Mass at 10.30 via our website

The long season from Ash Wednesday through to Pentecost has been a journey of special difficulty this year with the lockdown running alongside. It'll be a while, I think, before all these things make any sense. So let's join the apostles and Our Lady together in spirit, together in prayer, and await what God the Father and His Son Jesus want to do with us all in this year of strangeness 2020. Open up your hearts, because I suspect there is plenty that is new coming down the line, the unexpected, maybe the different. 

One of my very favourite lines from Scripture is

Commit your life to the Lord, trust in him and he will act (Psalm 37) 

This was a big theme of my colleague and great preacher in Ottawa back in the 80s Fr Bob Bedard (left). But, he used to warn, be careful, because it is a dangerous prayer!  

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Jesus prays for us

Dawn over the Sea of Galilee 2009

"Father, I pray not only for these
but for those also
who through their words will believe in me"

These words from John 17 are part of today's Gospel. I think that they are some of the most profound and encouraging in Scripture. Why? Well, think about it. What could be more important than realising that Jesus, at the Last Supper, was praying for me and for you. We, hopefully, are some of 'those will believe in me'.  To use that word of today's English - amazing!
Here was Jesus the night before he died. He is giving what our Archbishop called on Sunday here his "parting address". He teaches the apostles at some length. And then something special happens - the teaching becomes praying, as he prays for the apostles sitting around him. Finally, in the passage which begins with these words, he looks to the future - to us - and prays for all his followers in that unknown land of what was to come
When we feel down, isolated, fearful or anything else, now or at any time, let's remember that not only did he promise to be with us "till the end of time" but that on that precious night before his death, he also prayed for you and for me.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Open - when and how?


Archbishop George Stack

With the gradual loosening of lockdown regulations and the opening of more and more amenities, the question is inevitably asked “When will our churches be open?”.  As with the  many other challenges facing us in this pandemic, this is not an easy question to answer. 

The opening of parks and beaches, of garden centres and supermarkets car showrooms and other amenities is based on the concept of these being  “open spaces” of one kind or another.  Churches do not seem to be seen in the same category. I imagine this is because they are places where large groups of people come together, sit in close proximity to each other, often for one hour or more. Control of access,movement and social distancing will be part of the conditions laid down in the gradual return to  our churches whether for private prayer and public worship.

The Archbishops of England and Wales have been engaged with the relevant authorities on the necessity of opening our churches in the first instance for private prayer. Public worship will begin later. The essence of our coming together for Mass is that it is a communal gathering. We are blessed to have large congregations in many of our churches who sit very closely together. Under social distancing regulations which will undoubtedly be imposed, this will not be allowed to happen. People will need to sit apart with the consequent significant reduction in numbers being able to attend the same Mass together. Although the rate of infection has been reduced by between 60-70%, as a result of the lockdown restrictions,this does not mean it is completely eradicated. If the R number were to rise again there would likely be a second and equally dangerous wave of infection. Medical professionals are warning of this danger.

The government in Wales has devolved responsibility in matters of health and in the control of the pandemic in this country. It has not yet announced and relaxation of the many  restrictions with which we have become so familiar in recent months. The Catholic Church in Wales, like other Christian bodies and members of the ‘Faiths Forum’, is working on a common approach to government on these matters. The next meeting of the ‘Faiths Forum’ is on 3 June.If and when permission is given for our churches to open, they will be subject to strict health and safety conditions as are all public buildings. Amongst these will be the necessity to provide in churches:

1.Social distancing measures,seating arrangements,one way system,exits and entrances,clear signage,restricted times etc.,

2.Attendance management,qeueing,ticketing,online registration,stewarding etc.,

3.Staggering of attendance by age or vulnerability

4.Infection control issues such as Holy Water stoops, leaflets,hymn books,missals,newsletters,candles, all of which can harbour the virus.

5. PPE materials, sanitiser,deep cleaning materials, surface cleaning materials etc.,

6.Liturgical issues, distribution of Holy Communion, frequency of Mass, devotions, organisation of Memorial Masses, care of the bereaved.

7.Two or three volunteers (under the age of seventy) to implement these policies in order to keep churches open  at specific times.The safeguarding if clergy over the age of 70 and those with underlying health issues will obviously be a priority.

8.In the first instance, large, strategically placed churches would be opened. Whether large or small, churches would need to ensure compliance with the above requisites.
9.The diocese is engaged with [various agencies] in order to acquire the necessary equipment outlined above at competitive prices.

10.Needless to say, all these arrangements will cost significant amounts of money at a time when parishes have been deprived of income for almost three months. Parishioners are encouraged to make a Standing Order for their offerings in order to maintain their churches during these difficult times recognising that this will not be possible for those who are struggling financially.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Crosby, Stills, Nash - and Bede

Today is the feast of St Bede, usually known as the Venerable Bede. He is one of the great saints of Britain and therefore patron of my seminary in Rome, named the Beda after his name in Latin and Italian. He lived about 672-735, and spent the whole of that life in the North-East. he became a monk in the double monastery of St Peter near present day Sunderland and St Paul in Jarrow. We visited Jarrow on our September Pilgrimage in 2018. He was a man of great holiness (therefore "vdenerable") and learning, but he is especialy celebrated for his historical writing. "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" is an absolute classic, and is indeed still our main source of knowledge about the period from the Romans to his time. Phenomenal - and all from his cell, and he never travelled further than York it seems. So, St Bede pray for Britain, for the Beda in Rome and all past students - us "Beda Boys".  This is a view of the seminary garden.

Now, how's this for contrast. This Bank Holiday weekend I found a few sites on Youtube where younger people discover and are filmed reacting to classics of popular music from the late sixties and seventies, such as the Who, Queen's early years, Yes etc. I've enjoyed seeeing their reactions to some of these great classics, and it takes me back to my enjoyment of them then and ever since. So here is one of those songs that was part of the soundtrack of the second half of my teenage years - the great Crosby, Stills and Nash and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"(1969).

Sunday, 24 May 2020

A mixed Sunday

Grrrrr  Problems problems. We're still having problems with our live streaming. First I had to get superfibre to be able to do it, Then the vision was good but the sound wishy washy. Now this morning we sort of lost the Archbishop's sound when he was at the altar. Hmmmm... Anyway, other than the sound our morning Mass went fine. Archbishop was on time. I nearly forgot to turn on the streaming 15 or 20 minutes before the start  as we were chatting (with appropriate social distanceing of course)  pre-Mass. We couldn't persuade him to have a socially-distanced cup of tea either, so off he went. 

Andy cooked a lovely chicken dinner for us, with melon before and trifle after plus "real" Italian coffee. Then this afternoon we watched a Chris Tarrant programme about travelling by train through the Baltic republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We didn't see much of the towns as it was mainly about the trains. In fact, when they showed the huge docks at Klaipeda, Lithuania's third city, where my Lithuanian great-grandfather came from, they didn't even tell you it was Klaipeda! Hmph... (old quayside right)

Tomorrow it's a Bank Holiday. Will we all notice the difference if we do not go out to work? Anyway, enjoy!

Friday, 22 May 2020

Ascension II

If we think about the Ascension from the point of view of the Apostles, then one of the words that comes to mind is 'separation'.  They had already felt the pain of separation the first time on Good Friday. For Peter it was all too much as he caved in under pressure, denied he even knew Jesus, and then cried his eyes out in the streets of Jerusalem (right). This was then replaced with the joy of Easter, as they welcomed Our Lord into their midst, gave him fish to eat and enjoyed a fish breakfast that he had cooked for them on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. But now they had to handle a second separation, and this time it was more emphatic as Jesus 'was lifted up', and left their sight.

We are used to handling separations in life. We know the kids will have to go off to school, then leave home, perhaps move away, even across the world. We know that relationships sometimes fail and lead to separation. And we even know that death awaits at some point. These are all painful, but perhaps it's helped a little by the fact that that we are indeed aware, as we say, that 'these things happen'.

That's what's different about this virus problem. We are not used to this degree of separation, within families, work, leisure... church. I find those pictures of mums or dads working in vulnerable situations who cannot kiss and hug their kids very moving. The desire to establish new ways of communication, especially via the internet, is fascinating and  a real blessing. We only started streaming Sunday Mass at St Brigid this week, but already that video has been seen about 550 times.

The separation of the Ascension was difficult, but 10 days later, at Pentecost, we, the Church, would start the task of living new ways of togetherness, together with Jesus, together with one another. People are telling me how much they miss the Mass. And it's not just the sacrament of Communion with Jesus that they are missing. They are missing one another, the community, the fellowship, call it what you will. Oh yes, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing in instituting the Eucharist. Its grace and power enable us to express, to put into words and actions, our needs for God and one another, until that day when we arrive at the place where there is absolutely no separation - at all, ever     

Thursday, 21 May 2020


Today has been the feast of the Ascension. We live streamed our second Mass, celebrated beautifully by Fr Andy, with me doing the readings and intercessions. It says on YouTube that we have had over 120 views, which is great.
It always impresses me that when Jesus appeared to the Apostles on Easter evening, he showed them his hands and his side, in other words his wounds. We might have expected his wounds to have disappeared now he was risen, but no. THen if we move forward to the Ascension, we can assume that he still had those wounds, and that he has gone to heaven with them. The wounds, the signs of suffering, of pain and brokenness, of humanity, have been taken up into the divine realm, not left behind or shrugged off. 
I once distinguished between wounds and scars in a homily, suggesting that those of Our Lord are better described as scars, as they are no longer bloody. He does not take his suffering itself into heaven, but the effect on his humanity. 
This evenng I watched a difficult documentary about the comedian Tony Slattery. The wounds and pains of life were very, very evident. The source of some of the wounds emerged with hardly watchable candour. We can carry such deep wounds and scars in our lives. But the Ascension, it seems to me, has something to say about it. Change can be made, resurrection can happen, and we can rise, ascend from the place where we think we are tied down. It does not always mean that our scars will disappear any more than those of Jesus disappeared. We can ascend with him, not only into the next life, but here on earth as well.   

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Cardiff born...

To Western Cemetery this morning for a funeral.  These are very difficult with the 10 persons limit, and if anything the emotions of the families are even more exposed. Please remember the bereaved in your prayers.

Anyway - I suggested to Andy that we make our way back from the cemetery via the Llandaff route, and I have to admit we took some other diversions too.  First we dived into Ely rather than come straight down Cowbridge Road West. This was my stamping ground 1979-1981 and 1988-97, and holds many, many memories. That's St Francis church on the left. We went down Grand Avenue, up to the bullring and down Stanway Road to St Clares (so sad). Next we diverted off Western Avenue to Llandaff and over the bridge to Whitchurch. Finally we headed home via Maes-y-coed Road. 

It's unusual to be serving as a priest in your own city, let alone, as I am, in the parish where
you were ordained. However, I'm very happy about it as I must own up to being a great fan of Cardiff. Big enough to have all the facilities, it's small enough to get around so quickly and also to get out into the country so easily.  On the whole the people are lovely. It struck me as very green this morning too, with lots of treelined streets, (Heathwood Road, right) parks and riverside areas.

Yes, I enjoyed our little jaunt this morning around the city - my city.

Monday, 18 May 2020

St John Paul II b.1920

18th May 1920 Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice Poland. He would be elected as Pope John Paul II in 1978, and is now canonised. This made me think back to September 1990 and our first September Pilgrimage. 
It all started because an elderly parishioner in my former parish of St Francis in Ely, Cardiff, said that he would like to see the Pope befofe he died. Well, he did, in the Audience Hall of the Vatican. I told the folks to line up against the rail down the middle aisle becaue I knew the Pope would walk along there, and that's what he did. The Pope saw our group and came to ask me where we were from as I took his hand. He was not as tall as I thought he would be, but strongly built with a wonderful caring and wise smile. He made you feel that the world was a little better, that God was a little closer. After I told him we were from Cardiff, Bernard, the chap who'd wanted to meet him said he was from Ely, while his mate Joe said he was from Heol-y-Castell, as if the Holy Father was familiar with the streets of Ely! Well, indeed, that's how John Paul made you feel.
St John Paul II pray for us, our Church and our world.


Saturday, 16 May 2020

The Ravensburg Madonna

For those who join us for Mass this Sunday, I will be mentioning a particular statue of Our Lady. So I thought I'd put a picture of it here, so you can see what I'm talking about.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Streaming Mass

This Sunday something special will be happening. We hope to be streaming Mass from St Brigid's at 10.30am.  As readers may know, we attempted this two weeks ago, but discovered our broadband connection was  not powerful enough. Since then I've installed the new Hub that BT sent, and they say that from their end they will switch it over to fibre tomorrow Friday. So all being well we should be Ok for Sunday.

 You will be able to access the live stream either via our parish website here or via YouTube. If the latter, you should enter in the search box the letters frmhj  When several videos appear below, if you cannot see one already showing inside St Brigid's , scroll down until you can. When you find it then click on Subscribe to make it easier next time. Meanwhile we will also stream Mass on Thursday the feast of the Ascension.

All these Masses will be at 10.30am. Say a little prayer for the Lord's blessing on this project.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Corpus Christi Catholic High School Staff Message 2020


May is the month of Our Lady, and today, the 13th is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the anniversary of her first appearance to the children in Portugal. Today Fatima is one of the greatest centres of pilgrimage in the world, a shrine that I have visited twice with our September Pilgrims group, in 1996 and 2003. Like Lourdes, Guadalupe and others of the well-known shrines, it attracts huge numbers - you can get an idea from the photo. In fact, since I was last there they have built a new enormous church to hold goodnesss knows how many.

If you look at the aerial shot, to the left of centre you can see a square building, and this is the capelhina, the little chapel marking the spot where Mary appeared to the children. It is now protected by a striking modern structure with glass walls that open out onto the square when needed. The little hut-like building inside (left) marks the position of the tree where the children saw her, and the famous statue of Our Lady of Fatima sits in front of it encased in a glass case. At the centre is the altar. In 1996 my name literally came out of the hat to preside at the main daily Mass there one day, with about twenty other priests and thousands of pilgrims. So when I stood at the altar I was standing where Our Lady was... quite  a thought, and something I can vividly fremember now. 

I know that pilgrimages, statues etc are not everyone's spiritual cup of tea, and that's OK. But, you know I have just finished reading my second Neil MacGregor book during the epidemic. I moved onto Living with the Gods after finishing the brilliant History of the World in 100 Objects. It has fascinating observations about pilgrimages, shrines and various religious gatherings as human events, gathering people, sharing identity, giving life a different dimension. And this is beside the religious meaning they may have for a particular faith group. Pilgrimages have certainly been a wonderful experience for me.
So, Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us all in this time of uncertainty, of sickness and aloneness, wrap your cloak of protection around us all. Amen.

Monday, 11 May 2020

Why has St Pancras got a station named after him?

Time for some useless information!

I noticed from the missal that today is the feast of St Pancras, and I was wondering how he ended up giving his name to a station in London - a very smart station I might add. So I turned to a very well-known internet encyclopedia beginning with a W, only to discover a fascinating piece of useless info.  You will have noticed today a drop in temperature - yes? Well apparently there has been a tradition in various parts of Northern Europe where these days in May are often colder than what's gone before, a kind of last gasp of winter. And the saints whose feasts fall around now, including Pancras are known as the "Ice Saints", zimni ogrodnicy in Polish (cold gardeners), ledovi muzi in Czech (ice men) etc.

Anyway, to get back to Pancras. He was a Roman lad (left, a statue in Barcelona) originally from Phrygia in present day Turkey, who converted to Christianity and got beheaded for it aged just 14 in the persecution under Diocletian. This happened out on the via Aurelia, one of the main Roman roads leading west out of the city. A basilica was built there around the year 500 by Pope Symmachus, and later that century Pope Gregory the Great had a devotion to St Pancras. Now it was Gregory who sent St Augustine over to England to evangelise, and Augustine brought the devotion with him. Many parishes were dedicated to him in southern England, including one in what was then out in the country outside the city of London. This is now known as "Old St Pancras" and its Victorian successor church (right) can be found in the streets of the Somerstown area. It should not be confused with the more prominent and better known New St Pancras half a mile away along Euston Road.

And, lo and behold, what stands adjacent to the ancient church site, but St Pancras Station with its fantastic Eurostar terminal and beautiful hotel. All of which owes its name to a poor lad who gave his life for the Faith way back in ancient Rome. 

Saturday, 9 May 2020

John 14

'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me'

These, the first words of this Sunday's Gospel are some of the most familiar to any priest, as the Gospel is the most frequently used at funerals. And we can see why, can't we, as we all want to be reassured in these circumstances.
It is said that the words "Do not be afraid" occur 365 times in the Bible - once for each day of the year.  It is natural to be anxious in various situations, but for a Christian there should be an underlying trust, as Jesus says, trust based on what he said and did.  
And so we can pray for all those caught up in fear at this moment, for themselves or regarding others. We remember those lying alone in their hospital bed, unable to see and touch the very people who have calmed those fears over the years.  We pray for those who are able to be with them, the NHS and care workers.  And for all of us, even as there starts to be talk of easing the restrictions, as in reality nobody can be sure where it is all going.

'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me.'

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Group portrait

I've been getting complaints from the residents in our dining room that my three friends there, Bangor, Mash and Freddie have not been getting enough attention. So I thought it would be a good idea to have a group portrait. So here we are: Bangor, on the right, is the boss as you can see, as he is the biggest (except, that is, for me, the Master). That's Mash in the middle, the cheeky one, and good old Freddie the elephant, who is old and wise.
They've certainly been learning a lot from their home in the dining room, watching us poor humans coming to terms with this extraordinary situation. Andy and I often appeal to them to supply a kind and gentle word (Bangor), a bit of fun (Mash) or some wise words on the situation (Freddie). One or two of you have mentioned your own friends at home, so the three want to say Hi or woof or growl or trumpet to all you other animals who look after us men and women in our need. If you want to add a comment to these posts you can do so below.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Of birds and children

There's quite a lot of talk of people "rediscovering" some of the simple or everyday things in life during this corona time. However, I do actually think it's true.

For example, because of not having my morning routine laid down because of the regularity of 9.30 Mass, and also because of the morning problems with arthritis in the hip, I have slowed down the whole morning routine. Part of that is opening the bedroom window when possible while I do Morning Prayer sat on my bed before going down for breakfast. And of course it means I can hear the birds singing in the trees which we are lucky to have all around us.  Now unlike my brother and sister I'm not exactly familiar with all the songs, but I do know the blackbird. Sometimes I just sit there quietly and listen. It's as if this simple and beautiful song of a creature somehow cuts through all the news and anxiety which are about us. Wonderful.

Then the other area where I'm being refreshed is the children. Some of the kids in our wonderful parish school, Christ the King, are being encouraged to write poems or do drawings for people other than their families, such as Fr Andy and me. So we have been getting lovely letters, rainbows, jokes etc galore.  Fantastic. 
So there you are - the birds of the air and the children of our parish.  Two sources of life and inspiration. Thank God for them.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Faster on line and slowing down in life

OK BT have told me now that I will be upgraded to fibre broadband on Friday 15th May, so I hope we can stream Mass on Sunday 17th.

I took part in a Zoom liturgy of the Word with some parishioners this morning which was good. Zoom extended our time together so we had a good chat and laugh which Andy and I enjoyed.

Listening to people, while most are putting a brave face on the current problems, I think I can detect under quite a lot of folks an unrest, a lack of peace. Not surprising, of course, with people separated from family, spouse, friends etc.  So here are two of the pieces of music I turn to when I need calming.  Deborak Liv Johnson sings the spiritual "There is a Balm in Gilead".  The pictures are a bit blurry...

And Chopin's first Nocturne played by the great Artur Rubinstein