Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year Retreat

The New Year Retreat is going really well. We have nearly two hundred people sleeping in the school with many more coming during the day but sleeping at home or at friends' houses. The talks have been great: simple, practical and challenging. So far we've looked at the Eucharist, Confession, and prayer. Last night we had a reconciliation service with fourteen priests hearing Confessions. It began at 8.00pm and ended after 10!
This afternoon we have the Vocations Forum. We will show the 'Fishers of Men' video and follow it up with a discussion on how to discern one's vocation. It's not exclusively for people thinking about the diocesan priesthood: we have lots of male and female religious here so we couldn't ignore them! The plan is rather to simply create a space where vocations in general and the signs associated with them may be discussed.
With all this attention paid to our souls it's important to mention that a large part of the success of this year's retreat is due to the attention that is also being paid to our bodies. Whether it's attempting to unblock loos at midnight or sorting out heating systems so no one freezes to death on a school floor there's always been a smiling parishioner ready to help.
I couldn't finish this post without mentioning the food - because everyone else is talking about it endlessly. The basic theme: "It's never been so good"! Youth 2000 has been around since 1990 and today someone commented: "We've never had a cooked breakfast before". Yesterday someone said, "There's never been a choice of menu before". And the best comment of all, "This year instead of thinking, 'Oh, it's lunch time', I'm saying 'Oh great - it's lunch!". So thanks to everyone whose involved with looking after our bodies - especially all the many people and families helping with the catering. Here's a photo of just some of them.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year Retreat

Since St John's day everything in the parish has been gearing up towards the New Year Retreat which started last night. This year our parishioners are doing the catering but since I am the one with the parish credit card I found myself spending the best part of the day in Bookers with a team of people to do the shopping. Catering for anything between three and five hundred people is no joke. Those who were thinking in terms of a big shop at Sainsbury's soon realised their mistake. Two trailer loads later we were back in the parish ready waiting for the arrival of the advance party - due at 10pm!
Yesterday the first people arrived at 9am (for 6pm registration) but were soon set to work. There's lots to be prepared for a retreat and the more people to help out the better, especially if they've had some previous experience. Seeing how confidently Maxine and her team were looking after the catering, we knew we had no worries there. Indeed, we were treated to some very tasty 'Shepherds Pie' yesterday evening. The choice of food reflected the fact that the Archbishop would be joining us for supper.
I picked up the Arch at 6.00pm and we made good time getting back here so he was able to meet lots of people before and during the evening meal. He enjoyed the first talk by Brother Martin CFR and then presided at Holy Mass.

This picture was taken in the sacristy after Mass. I've had to manipulate it a bit because there was so much incense in the sacristy that it originally came out as a milky haze. Smoke rises and, having done my best to clean it up, I'm amused that the floor area is fairly clear but there's still a lot at head height! We were fourteen concelbrants at the Mass. The Archbishop preached a lovely meditation on Christian Love. He has promised to let me have copies of both that one and his St John's day sermon so we may be able to post them here.
There were over 160 people at Mass which was very good. I had been nervous that the New Year Retreat usually gets off to a slow start and didn't want the Arch preaching to an empty Church. As things were the Church looked full and we were all very happy we the whole occasion. I, of course, am already looking for people to speak to about a vocation, and tomorrow we will show 'Fishers of Men' and have our Vocations Forum.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

St John's Day with the Archbishop

The days after Christmas can be a bit quiet in a parish so we try to compensate by doing something special. For the last couple of years we've hosted a Vocations Day which has consisted of Holy Mass celebrated by the Archbishop, followed by a get-together and festal lunch. As always at the Holy Ghost we try to do things well. Here's a picture of the Archbishop before Mass with some of the forty Altar Servers who served the Mass. David organised the music and we had the Missa de Angelis with a nice selection of carols as well as the Puer Natus which sounded great.

As well as the Crib we have also have abeautiful carved image of the Infant Jesus. During the Octave of Christmas this is venerated by the people who come into the Church.
After Mass we went over to the presbytery and were able to catch up on news. We had seminarians from Wonersh and Valladolid present so we were able to hear about life in those two places. We also heard what people had been up to for Christmas. In ecclesiastical Snakes and Ladders Francis did the equivalent of landing on a snake when he told us that he went to Midnight Mass "at the Cathedral", meaning the other Cathedral. Err, Francis, that is the Archbishop of Southwark you're sitting next to... More black marks for Francis when some passing elves went up to him and asked "Are you the Bishop?" They were soon pointed in the right direction.

The Reindeer stayed outside, perched on our neighbour's scaffold, while meanwhile a distant jangling of bells gave way to a rather more immediate 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' and in came Santa. He would have come down the chimney but the Arch's chair was in the way. In case you can't read it, our Coca Cola-red Santa came in episcopal-green with envy and bearing a sign saying "Bloggo ergo sum!" (he doesn't have a Blog).

Santa proceeded to deal out presents for all present. A 'Stress Rocket' for the Archbishop was particularly well received. Here, Daniel is encouraged to exercise more by taking up basketball.

Later Tom struck a serious pose...

The Arch relaxed one...

And Daniel went in for something more seasonal...

After a glass of champagne we retired to the dining room for lunch.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Friends with Christ

Fr Richard Aladics and Fr Julian Greene recently ran a very successful retreat for young men. The theme of the retreat says it all: "Friends with Christ". You can see details of how it went by visiting the Friends with Christ Blog.

See that they are about to offer a second Friends with Christ retreat, this time for young women and I thought it might be of interest to some of the female readers of this Blog. You can get details of the timetable by clicking here.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Preparing for Christmas

In the parish we are in the final phase of our Christmas preparations. Tomorrow we have our usual Sunday morning Masses plus a baptism. Then the Church will be closed while the flowers are arranged in time for the Vigil Mass at 6.00pm and Midnight Mass at - well I'll let you figure that one out!

I've already worked out my sermon so, apart from tweaking it a bit, I don't have that to worry about. To be honest Christmas should go well. The Servers did well at their practice today, the Choir has spent a lot of time preparing the Music. Things are always done 'by the book' in this parish which is probably why we are so popular.

In many ways my mind is already looking beyond Christmas day itself. On the Feast of St John we have a special day with the Archbishop for our seminarians and those that bit closer to applying. He will celebrate Holy Mass here at 10.00am and then we will have a bit of a get-together. There will be a bit of a festal lunch followed by the chance of a film in the afternoon.

The following day the advance party arrives for the New Year Retreat. It's more complicated for us this year as we (probably foolishly) offered to do the catering. On the other hand in this parish we are blessed with Maxine, a wonderful woman for whom nothing is too difficult. Do say a prayer for her and for her children - I know she would apreciate that.

In the meantime I will keep you all in my prayers.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Vatican Football Team

You can tell it's silly season for the press when the Telegraph carries a quarter page article announcing that the Vatican was planning to get form a Vatican team, comprised of seminarians, to compete in Serie A, Italy's first division. Yesterday the new football fan Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was asked about the proposal on Vatican Radio. "It is impossible... I have other things to do than to attend to a Vatican football team".

Lest any potential vocations be put off by the clarification I'm putting up this photo which shows a rather impressive backdrop for a seminarians v Swiss Guards game. And also the tantalising news from Il Gazetto dello Sport that Cardinal Bertone is promoting a soccer championship for next year, in which religious, seminarians and priests who study or work in Rome will be invited to participate...

Servants of Mary

This afternoon I had a visit from Mother Isabel, the superior of the Servants of Mary who have a convent in a neighbouring parish. The sisters have just had a visitation from their Mother General. Mother Isabel was telling me that it went very well, except that when it came for her to return to Rome the fog at Heathrow meant that her flight was cancelled - on three consecutive days!
One of the things the General raised with the sisters was the need to promote vocations to the religious life. Mother Isabel asked me why it is that these days priests often introduce girls to contemplative communities but don't seem to introduce them to any active ones. Now this Blog is dedicated to promoting priestly vocations, but I know from the comments box that it is read by a number of young women who are considering a religious vocation. I don't want to change the nature of the Blog, but I'm happy to post on some of the orders we have in the diocese if there's an interest. So it's over to you girls, what do you say? Would you like some info on religious life?

By the way, you can click this link to visit the Servants of Mary website. They are a nursing order who care for the sick by visiting them in their homes at night and simply attending to their needs. The photograph shows some of their novices. Mother Isabel has promised to send me some more pictures so we can do a fuller post later. I've also invited them to drop in during the Retreat so if you're coming you might meet some!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Quo Vadis Groups

Yesterday I had a welcome email from Conor McDonough, a reader of this Blog who has set up a vocations discernment group at a university in the fens...
Here's a photo of the Cardinal looking at you while visiting the university chaplaincy. I hear he's still asking 'What is a Blog?'
I wholeheartedly agree with the points Conor makes about the importance of chaplaincies being characterised by an atmosphere of 'vocations discernment'.

"I've been reading your vocations blog with interest recently, and thought it worthwhile to share what's being done at Fisher House (the Catholic chaplaincy at Cambridge) concerning vocation. Last year, a friend of mine, Hannah Vaughan-Spruce, and I set up a group called 'Consider Your Call'. The aim of the group was to get students thinking about the state of life to which they are called, as well as to help them, by means of fellowship and common prayer, to say 'yes' to whatever God asks of them. In short, we try to facilitate vocational discernment and spiritual formation.

We organise meetings twice a term, on Saturday evenings. We begin with a half-hour of silent adoration, followed by an hour-long discussion, then compline, and finally the chaplaincy bar is opened! The first meeting usually covers a broad topic like 'The Universal Call to Holiness' or 'The Praying Student', and the other looking at a specific calling, such as the priesthood or marriage, for example. Our discussions are either based on texts from classic spiritual works, or led by visitors (who usually begin by giving a talk on their vocation).

Most of the people in the group know each other from other chaplaincy activities, so the style of the group is quite relaxed and informal. It's pretty amazing how honest
and upfront the students are about their spiritual lives - there is a real sense of mutual formation. We usually get about thirty people coming along to the Saturday evenings, and more to sporadic retreats we organise (Fr John Edwards SJ is coming up to give a pre-Lent day of recollection).

I'm sure you've noticed a new openness in young Catholics to the idea of having a specific calling, and a new courage to accept that calling even if it seems like a cross. JPII's witness no doubt has a lot to do with this. About a dozen of my friends at Fisher House, for example, are seriously considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

We're particularly blessed with a great sacramental life and fantastic intellectual formation (our chaplain, Fr Alban McCoy OFM Conv, is a very good apologist and catechist), but it seems to me that even those chaplaincies that are poorer in those areas could yield a rich harvest in vocations of all sorts if they were characterised by an 'atmosphere of discernment'.

Our group is only an example of the type of initiative that could encourage such an atmosphere, but it is a very successful one (after a year: one Polish Capuchin novice, a Poor Clare (Galway) postulant, a married couple, a seminarian-to-be, one lay Benedictine and many, many more who are actively discerning God's will in their lives).
God bless your work!
Pax et bonum,
Conor "

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Seekers' Meeting

Last Friday we had our monthly Seekers' Meeting. After the formal part of the evening there was a chance to go over to the Church to join our Advent Carol service then we met back at the presbytery for some 'fish n chips'. We have a very good chippy in the parish which I am happy to support because there is always a red APF Box on the counter. There was an amusing moment while I was waiting for the fish to be cooked. A young lad had obviously never heard of anyone ordering twenty portions of fish and chips before and he kept looking at me while it was being cooked. Finally he plucked up courage to ask, "Are you having a party?" His parents looked horrified, as if they'd just seen their son talking to someone from the Planet Zog. I don't suppose he's ever spoken to a priest before!

Fr James was mortified at being caught on camera in a somewhat relaxed state so we had to take this picture of him smartening up. If Kurt is looking a bit dishevelled do bear in mind that he had come hotfoot from a festal lunch at Wonersh to mark the end of term. It was all we could do to stop him breaking into a Magnificat antiphon (scroll down this Blog for a video of Kurt singing at Wonersh).

Finally Fr James is back to his usual sartorial state. Tomasz, always larger than life, manages to appear twice in this photo. If Mark looks like that after half a glass of wine just think what he was like by the end of the evening...

For more information about our monthly Seekers' Meetings send me an email by clicking this link.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Year Retreat Timetable

We are all looking forward to welcoming young people from all over the country for the Youth 2000 New Year Retreat here in Balham. We are already getting lots of questions about the Retreat we've decided to publish the basic outline of the talks here:

Friday 29th December
Feast of St Thomas a Becket

6.00pm Registration
7.00pm Evening Meal
8.15pm "Who do you say that I am?" - Talk by Br Martin de Porres CFR
9.00pm Holy Mass celebrated by Archbishop Kevin McDonald

Saturday 30th December
Christmas Octave

10.15am "He who abides in Love" - Talk by Fr Julian Green
12.00noon Holy Hour
4.00pm "Repent and believe the Good News" - Talk by Fr Stephen Wang
5.30pm Holy Mass
8.00pm Reconciliation Service

Sunday 31st December
Feast of the Holy Family

10.15am "Pray constantly" - Talk by Fr Sylvester CFR
12.15pm Holy Hour
4.00pm "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" - Talk by Niall Slattery
8.00pm Healing Service
11.00pm Holy Mass

Monday 1st January 2007
Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God
12.00noon Holy Mass

It's worth bearing in mind that these are just the bare bones of the timetable. There is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament day and night, there's also daily Rosary, workshops, Morning & Evening Prayer & much, much more....

Becoming a Priest

From time to time I get comments from people all over the world telling me that they read this blog and that it has helped them discern their vocation. I give God thanks for that and I keep them in my prayers.
I was thinking the other day about how to attract more people to this Blog - not in order to be able to compete with some of the other sites out on the blogosphere, but to respond to more people who might simply have a question about a vocation to the Catholic priesthood. I don't know much about how search engines work but their must be a way (without paying) to ensure that this Blog features when someone Googles a question about a vocation to be a priest.
I am sure someone out there can send me a comment with some advice and I would welcome it. In the meantime I reckon that if I keep repeating phrases like 'becoming a priest' or 'becoming a Catholic priest' there's a good chance that we'll appear when someone searches. What do you think?

Daily Mass

Fr Richard Aladics and Fr Julian Greene recently started the Friends with Christ blog dedicated to the New Evangelisation. It's worth clicking the link to have a read of this interesting blog. Recently Fr Julian published this post on what friendship with Christ means for a priest:

I was just re-reading the address of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to the priests of the Diocese of Rome in the Papal Basilica of St John Lateran shortly after his election to the Chair of Peter. It's very interesting that the Holy Father sums up the life of the priest as friendship with Christ, on the basis that that is what Christ called his apostles. That friendship that Christ has particularly for his priests is so filled with confidence in the gifts of grace that he gives to them that he even entrusts his Body - the Church - and his Body and Blood - the Eucharist - to their care. What a responsibility! It's more than some superficial 'pally' friendship - it's a deep trust that leads our Lord to place into feeble human hands the care of the Ecclesial Body, composed of souls precious to him, and the Eucharistic Body, where he continues his action of humbling himself to come among us. I was always impressed by the words of that great old Eucharistic hymn "Ah, see within a creature's hands the vast Creator deigns to be, reposing infantlike as though on Joseph's arm or Mary's knee." Being entrusted with such a friendship, with such a grace, with such a responsibility it means that the priest needs to do everything to stay close to Christ, and to develop that friendship with Him:

"Dear priests ... the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he entrusts himself to us, he entrusts to us his Body in the Eucharist,he entrusts to us his Church. Therefore, we must be true friends to him, we must have the same perception as he has, we must want what he wants and not what he does not want. Jesus himself tells us: "You are my friends if you do what I command you"(Jn 15:14). Let this be our common resolution: all of us together, to do his holy will, in which lies our freedom and our joy."This friendship requires an intimate knowledge of Christ, not just to know 'about' Him, but to know him Heart to heart. But the Pope warns that the friendship of the priest is not just a personal friendship, but is a relationship for the Church. It's a bit like in a family. The father and mother have a relationship, but it's not just a private love affair, it involves the whole family - children, wider family, local parish, local community. It is a relationship for others as well as for self. So the priest doesn't just have a friendship with Christ which is personal and subjective, but it is a friendship with Christ for, on behalf of, and including the Church. This is especially so as the priesthood brings about both the Eucharist, and the building up of the Church.
"Since the priesthood is rooted in Christ, it is by its nature in the Church and for the Church. Indeed, the Christian faith is not something purely spiritual and internal, nor is our relationship with Christ itself exclusively subjective and private. Rather, itis a completely concrete and ecclesial relationship. At times, the ministerial priesthood has a constitutive relationship with the Body of Christ in his dual and inseparable dimensions as Eucharist and as Church, as Eucharistic body and Ecclesial body."

For the priest, this friendship which is both personal and on behalf of the Church, finds its consummation in the celebration of the Mass. And, as the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II said of himself, "The Holy Mass is the absolute centre of my life and of every day of my life." This is the text that Pope Benedict repeats, and says that every priest should make his own. If a priest is to live this friendship even if only for himself he would want to celebrate the Mass. But even if a priest does not "want" to celebrate Mass every day for his own personal friendship with Christ, then he still should on behalf of the Church, because his friendship with Christ is within and for the Church.
It always pains me to hear priests referring to celebration of Mass as though it's a job which is tiresome. Celebrating three Masses on one day, and no Mass on a day off. Or "slaving over a hot altar" in the parish, but having a couple of weeks off celebrating Mass on holiday, or just going to Mass like a lay person. It is a completely mechanical and utilitarian understanding of the Mass and the priesthood which leads to this. Rather than being a task to be thrown off for relaxation, the Mass should be the centre of the priest's life every day, just like breathing, or eating, or drinking. You don't take a day off having friends - in fact you spend more time with friends - on a day off. So, as I remember my spiritual director say to me when in seminary, the day off is an opportunity to celebrate the Mass in a more recollected way and with more time.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Who am I? (August '86)

In August '86 I was continuing with my routine of work and giving classes. Every day that passed my desire to know God grew stronger but inside I was still divided: I wanted to know the truth... and yet I didn't want. The sins of my previous lifestyle weighed heavily upon me, because to encounter the truth would mean giving up certain habits. And, as things stood at present, I wasn't willing to.
When I dithered in deciding to serve God, which already for some time I wanted to do, I found that only I was the cause of the delay. I didn't fully want to but I wasn't able to give up the desire to serve God - I was fighting with myself, and destroying myself. Inside I would say, 'Come on, now! Now!', but when I was at the point of making a commitment I held back. It was as if the old pleasures were drawing me towards them, whispering in my ear: "What? You're leaving us? We won't ever be with you again... never? ... never? You won't be able to do this any more, nor that..." They would say, "What? You think you can live without us? You?!"
When I looked around I saw that many of my friends had changed their way of life. Why shouldn't I be able to do the same?

I began to understand that they had been able to change their lives thanks to the power of God, and that by ourselves we couldn't even stay standing upright. I had to rely on God. Only then would I be able to change... But even so I kept hearing within me the insinuating voices of base pleasures: "Are you going to be able to live without us...? You?!"

One day I was chatting with a friend in a garden. Like me he was in the process of converting. I couldn't contain myself and erupted: "Can't you see what sort of life we're living and how different it is from the Christians? And here we are just stuck in the mire, wallowing in the flesh and in every sort of spectacle. Are we never going to be like them just because we're too ashamed to say we've been wrong?"

My friend was shocked, but I was decided to resolve my situation once and for all. We left the garden, still talking about what had become of my life. I had a copy of the New Testament. I put it down and suddenly I began to cry. For the first time in my life I started to pray: "When will I come to a decision Lord? Don't hold my sins against me. Tell me, Lord, how long will I continue like this? How long will I put things off until tomorrow? Why not today? Why not right now, let me put all my miseries behind me!".

As I was praying these words I heard the voice of a little boy calling out from a nearby house: "Take it. Read it! Take it. Read it!". Take and read. God was making use of this little boy to tell me something. I picked up the book and opened it at random. In silence I read the following words:
"Don't continue with those who feast and get drunk; give up impurity; leave behind your fights and arguments. Vest yourself in our Lord Jesus Christ and no longer be consumed by the flesh and its desires".

I closed the book. This was my response. I didn't want to read any further. It wasn't necessary because it was as if my heart had been filled with an overwhelming light that overcame all the shadows of my doubts. When I came back down to earth a bit I told my friend who wanted to see what I had read. I showed him, but he fixed on the next sentence of the passage: Welcome the man whose faith is weak.

After that we went in to see my mother. We told her everything and she was filled with joy. We told her how it had all taken place and she danced for joy, singing and praising God. She said that God had granted her what she had constantly asked for over many years in her prayers and with her tears: my conversion. A few months later, at the Easter Vigil, I was baptised along with my friend and my son.

Years later, reflecting on the beauty of Truth and in love with Jesus Christ, I wrote:
"Late have I loved Thee, Beauty so ancient and yet so new.
Late have I loved Thee!
Thou wast within me but I searched for Thee without...
I threw myself like a wild beast at the beautiful things thou hast made.
Thou wert at my side, but I was far from Thee.
These things had me a slave.
Thou disdst call to me. Thou didst shout out to me.
And in the end Thou didst overcome my deafness.
Thou didst shine before me and so freed me from my blindness.
I smelt your sweet perfume and I did desire Thee.
I savouredThy presence, I consumed and drank of Thee.
Thou didst touch me and enfolded me in Thy peace".

Thanks to God my prayer and that of my mother had been heard. Seeking the truth without fear and reading the Gospels I found the great key to meaning in my life: I found Christ and, with him, peace. I was able to say to God my Father, on meeting him again, with the joy of a son who comes home having been away for many years, and from the depths of my soul, some words that you will probably recognise:

"Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee".

Saturday, December 16, 2006

New Addington

This evening I was preaching at a Holy Hour for young people in the Good Shepherd parish, New Addington. It's a year since I was last there and so I was pleased to be invited back by Fr Stephen Boyle, the parish priest. Fr Stephen mentioned that he doesn't have a Blog but that he appears on them from time to time. So here, for the Southwar Vocations Record we not only mention Fr Stephen but post a picture of him with some of his young friends (three of whom you may recognise from Vocations activities - come on lads, when are you going to apply?)...

Public Spectacles

No, not the things you wear on your nose. When I was preparing for priesthood I was given some very sensible advice. By and large, the traditional recommendation is that priests should avoid public spectacles and shows.
Before any priests reading this huff and puff with indignation - it's not an absolute rule and it certainly doesn't bind under pain of sin! It's a recommendation and, I think, a sensible one. Public spectacles require time and, usually, money. We are visible (at least if we go wearing the collar) and our presence might be the cause of some admiratio, or even discomfort (I remember a young female parishioner describing her embarassment at sitting next to an elderly priest at a West End show when topless dancing girls came on the stage).

Time is an important factor, particularly when there seems to be so little of it going round these days. As priests we have to get a lot of things done in what's left of the day.On the whole, therefore, it's a sensible recommendation and one which I usually try to stick to. However... sometimes it's good to get away and so today I was at a football match. Not any old match mind, if you're going to break a norm it's worth doing it in stile. So today I was watching Liverpool (whom I support) playing Charlton (towards whom I'm indifferent). I was in the middle of the Charlton crowd, just behind the goal. Whenever Liverpool came down our end to score I found myself on my feet while all the Charlton supporters stayed seated - certainly some admiratio there!
The crowd was well-behaved although on hearing the language I though a Confessional outside the gates would have been appropriate. I did notice some interesting things. Liverpool has a chant that consists in singing 'Liverpool' ten times - we've all heard it. The Charlton chant, however, consists of a couple of taps on the chairs to make a drumming noise followed by 'Charlton' sung twice which is about the amount of time it took them to lose possession of the ball.

The other great revelation was the loyalty of their supporters many of whom gave up by about two thirds of the way through the game.
Liverpool, of course, won 3-0. A good day out that didn't cost me anything as I was treated by a parishioner who couldn't use his season tickets.

Help Oppose Abortion

Each year BBC Radio 4's Today Programme invites listeners to send in some form of 'legislative wish-list'. When they first did it the idea was to nominate a law, they even had an MP who promised to introduce a private members Bill. He ended up with egg on his face because the public voted for the right of householders to shoot intruders and in the end he refused to support it.
This year's silly season vote, however, is more serious. This time Radio 4 is asking listeners to nominate a law that they would like to have REPEALED. The producers will select the top six nominations and put them to a listeners' vote. Please take part in this poll and nominate David Steel's 1967 Abortion Act as the one to be repealed. It won't actually change the legal status of abortion in this country, but it could be a very powerful PR coup!
You can vote by clicking here.
Feel free to link or copy this post to as many blogs as you can. The more votes the better!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Meetings, meetings, meetings...

There won't be much time for blogging tomorrow as I have a whole series of meeting lined up. After the morning Mass I head off to the Cathedral for a meeting at our diocesan Child Protection Office. Before anyone is admitted to the seminary we are obliged to carry out a 'Criminal Records Bureau' check. This determines whether they have any criminal records, or anything at all on file that would call into question their suitability for work with children or vulnerable adults. I'm told that in the States you just pop in to your local FBI office and it's all done at the swish of an identity card. Here in England it's somewhat more daunting including all sorts of bits of paper that get filed in different places. I'm hoping someone will give me a staightforward flow diagram tomorrow!
After that I pop next door to see our diocesan Financial Secretary. Our students get a diocesan grant but the way it is paid varies from seminary to seminary. Sometimes they get it straight from the diocese. In other places the receive it from the seminary which is then re-imbursed by the diocese. The students often ask me about mysterious things called 'holiday grants'. I need to find out exactly what's what. I also need to speak to the Financial Secretary about one or two parish things: I have some questions about some issues to do with the employment of lay people by the parish, and I know that the FS wants to fill me in about some concerns he has about a parish club. All rivetting stuff! As secular clergy we are also stewards of the Church's inherited patrimony and we have a responsibility for the correct administration of temporal goods. Although many of us would love to be able to hand this over to deacons or lay people, it nonetheless true that as the one who presides over a community the parish priest has an ultimate responsibility to ensure that things are well-ordered.
In the afternoon we have a meeting of the diocesan Vocations Group. It seems daft to go home only in order to head back to the Cathedral again so I'm grateful for an invite to lunch at Archbishop's House. This is our first meeting since the appointment of a new Vocations Director. The group also has two new members and I am excited to hear their proposals for the deepening of vocations promotion in their areas of ministry (school chaplaincy and diocesan youth ministry). The programme of activities for next year has more or less been finalised and I will be presenting it to the group.
In the evening we have our Seekers' Meeting at 7pm, while in the Church at 8pm we have our annual parish Advent Service of Carols and Readings. Fortunately the presence of an assistant priest in this parish avoids the need for me to bi-locate.

New Year Retreat - Important Update

The New Year Retreat begins on Friday 29th December. We've just heard that the opening Mass that evening will be celebrated by Archbishop Kevin McDonald. This will be the first time the Archbishop has celebrated at a Youth 2000 event.
Traditionally the New Year Retreat has gotten off to a slow start: some people try to save a night on the floor by arriving early on the morning of the 30th. The Archbishop can only come on the Friday night as he will be away over the weekend, so it will be important to have a good turnout if he is not to get a poor impression.
Some people can't make it for the whole weekend but would, perhaps, like a 'taster' of a Youth 2000 retreat. Why not join us on Friday evening?

The timetable for Friday is:

6.00pm Registration
6.30pm Vespers
7.00pm Evening Meal
8.00pm Introduction
9.00pm Holy Mass, celebrated by the Archbishop.
10.00pm Adoration & Praise
11.00pm Hot Chocolate
All Night Adoration

You are welcome to join us just for the Mass.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

After the parish Mass today I headed off into central London to celebrate a second Mass for the Good Counsel Network. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the pro-life movement and the Good Counsel Network had invited all mothers and their babies to come to the Mass. Most people contact the Good Counsel Network because they are looking to terminate a pregnancy. The Network offers pregnancy tests and counselling services. Through its tremendous work many mothers change their minds and decide to keep their babies.

These are some of the mothers the Good Counsel Network has helped in recent months. They are all with their beautiful babies. One mother is due to give birth next week. Please keep her in your prayers. Without the help and support of the Good Counsel Network these babies might never have been born and their mothers would have been left with a terrible emptiness. It was wonderful to see how happy they were today and how proud they are of their children.

The Good Counsel Network helps mums in all sort of different ways. Today there was a practical lesson in budgeting. Helpers were given £20 each and asked to see what they could get at various shops. Needless to say the corner shop was the most expensive. Marks & Spencers fared unexpectedly well. Asda was quite good but by universal consent the best value for money was Morrisons!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Advent Service at Wonersh

Here is a short clip from the Advent Service at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, last Sunday. To mark the first Sunday of Advent the seminary organised an 'Open Day' inviting parents and friends of the students as well as anyone who may be considering a priestly vocation. After a meditation and a Holy Hour there was a service of psalms and reading in the Chapel. The students mingled with their guests while the Schola were vested in albs. This clip is of the Magnificat and gives you something of the flavour of the event.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Talking with Seminarians

Yesterday (Thursday) I was at Wonersh to give a couple of classes to the top year students (all of whom, please God, will be deacons by the end of the year). There are four students in that year: Leslie, Con, Andy & Eddie. For me talks like these are very good occasions to learn from the people I meet. Each of the four students had spent quite a long time in secular careers and this was reflected in their perception of why some men hold back from applying for the priesthood. They made a number of points I hadn't considered but whichwould certainly be factors for what are sometimes called 'late vocations'. I was grateful for the experience, and also for the chance to work in the library during the day in order to produce a draft of the next edition of Vocations News which is long overdue!

Seekers' Meeting

A quick post to remind everyone that we have another Seekers' Meeting on Friday this week (15th December). As usual we start at 7.00pm. The evening begins with an input on some aspect of our Christian life, there is then time to talk with someone from the vocations team. Finally we have a meal together.
In order to facilitate catering, it would be useful to know who's coming. You can send me an email by clicking here.

Seminarians from Navarre

On Wednesday night we had a visit from two seminarians for the diocese of Navarre in northern Spain. Jon and Javier had been staying at St John's, Wonersh, but since they needed to get to Stansted for an early flight they asked if they could spend Wednesday night here in the parish. I had met Jon on a number of occasions in the past on my visits to Pamplona. He is now in his first year at the diocesan seminary, while Javier is in his fourth year.
Sometimes it is asked whether we should be keeping seminaries open when numbers are low. To put things into perspective, Wonersh has about forty resident students and staff in a building built for a hundred. In Navarre there are seventeen students - in a building designed for one thousand two hundred students...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Seminary Rector Kidnapped

We should all pray for the suffering Christians of Iraq. Zenit News Agency reports today that another priest, the seminary rector, has been kidnapped in Bagdad:

Seminary Rector Kidnapped in Iraq
Chaldean Bishop Criticizes World's Passivity BAGHDAD, Iraq, DEC. 5, 2006

Father Sami Al-Rais, rector of the major Chaldean Seminary in Al Dora, Baghdad, was kidnapped Monday, according to Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni. "They took him this morning around 9:30 a.m. just a few steps from the Church of Mar Khorkhis, in Baghdad Jadida," the prelate told the Italian bishops' SIR agency. "We are faced with a new abduction," he added. "We await the request for a ransom. The world sleeps; if it doesn't wake up there will be no future for Iraq or for Iraqi Christians." With the latest abduction, the number of kidnapped Chaldean priests in Baghdad now reaches five. Last October a Syro-Orthodox priest, Father Paul Iskandar, was murdered. Father Al-Rais, who is also pastor of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul near the seminary, was supposed to be present this Wednesday at the opening of the academic year of Babel College, run by the Catholic Church in Baghdad. He teaches moral theology there. Given the unstable situation, the faculty has been moved from Al Dora to the Church of Mar Khorkhis. The ceremony to open the academic year at Babel College has been postponed. Iraq's Chaldean patriarchate has launched an appeal on its Web page to the kidnappers, reported AsiaNews. "We beg you not to harm him, and to treat him well," it states. "We place Father Sami in the Lord's and Providence's hands, asking him to help us save Iraq from these kidnappings that terrify everyone, adults and children."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The First Hundred Years

Yesterday the neighbouring parish of St Mary Magdalene had a special celebration to mark its first centenary. The Archbishop was unwell but his place was taken by Bishop Paul Hendricks, our local auxiliary bishop. I did wonder whether he would collapse under the weight of the vestments procured for the occasion by the parish priest, Fr Martin Edwards. Everything went well until the end of Mass when the poor bishop almost had his head knocked off as the enormous jewelled mitre hit against the lintil of the sacristy door.

After Mass a new statue of St Mary Magdalene, carved in Roumania, was uncovered and blessed. A champagne reception followed and then the clergy present were treated to dinner at a local restuarant - whether the bishop was able to slip into something more comfortable...

New Year's Resolution@Balham

The theme for this year's New Year Retreat at Balham is "Resolution". You can view more details about the retreat by clicking this link to the relevant page on the Youth 2000 website. The retreat is an annual event in the parish organised by Youth 2000. Last year we attracted 300 young people between the ages of 16 & 35. This year the organisers are hoping to hit five hundred!

The Retreat includes talks on concrete aspects of Christian life, Holy Mass, and lots of opportunities for Confession. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the Church throughout the Retreat and there is all-night Adoration (optional!).

Balham is dead easy to get to: we are two stops from Clapham Junction. You can also get to us on the Northern Line. Interested? Check out the link above then send us an email at Southwark Vocations.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Message of Pope Benedict XVI for the 43rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The celebration of the coming World Day of Prayer for Vocations gives me the opportunity to invite the entire People of God to reflect on the theme Vocation in the mystery of the Church. The Apostle Paul writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world … He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1,3-5). Before the creation of the world, before our coming into existence, the heavenly Father chose us personally, calling us to enter into a filial relationship with Him, through Jesus, the Incarnate Word, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Dying for us, Jesus introduced us into the mystery of the Father’s love, a love which completely envelops his Son and which He offers to all of us. In this way, united with Jesus, the Head, we form a sole body, the Church.

The weight of two millennia of history makes it difficult to grasp the novelty of this captivating mystery of divine adoption, which is at the centre of St Paul’s teaching. As the Apostle reminds us, the Father “has made known to us the mystery of his will … as a plan to unite all things in him” (Eph 1,9-10). And he adds, with enthusiasm: “In everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom 8,28-29). The vision is indeed fascinating: we are called to live as brothers and sisters of Jesus, to feel that we are sons and daughters of the same Father. This is a gift that overturns every purely human idea and plan. The confession of the true faith opens wide our minds and hearts to the inexhaustible mystery of God, which permeates human existence. What should be said therefore of the temptation, which is very strong nowadays, to feel that we are self-sufficient to the point that we become closed to God’s mysterious plan for each of us? The love of the Father, which is revealed in the person of Christ, puts this question to us.

In order to respond to the call of God and start on our journey, it is not necessary to be already perfect. We know that the prodigal son’s awareness of his own sin allowed him to set out on his return journey and thus feel the joy of reconciliation with the Father. Weaknesses and human limitations do not present an obstacle, as long as they help make us more aware of the fact that we are in need of the redeeming grace of Christ. This is the experience of St Paul who confessed: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12,9). In the mystery of the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, the divine power of love changes the heart of man, making him able to communicate the love of God to his brothers and sisters. Throughout the centuries many men and women, transformed by divine love, have consecrated their lives to the cause of the Kingdom. Already on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, many allowed themselves to be won by Jesus: they were in search of healing in body or spirit, and they were touched by the power of his grace. Others were chosen personally by Him and became his apostles. We also find some, like Mary Magdalene and others, who followed him on their own initiative, simply out of love. Like the disciple John, they too found a special place in his heart. These men and women, who knew the mystery of the love of the Father through Jesus, represent the variety of vocations which have always been present in the Church. The model of one called to give witness in a particular manner to the love of God, is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who in her pilgrimage of faith is directly associated with the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption.

In Christ, the Head of the Church, which is his Body, all Christians form “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him” (1 Pt 2,9). The Church is holy, even if her members need to be purified, in order that holiness, which is a gift of God, can shine forth from them with its full splendour. The Second Vatican Council highlights the universal call to holiness, when it affirms: “The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to his own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the Baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way, they are really made holy” (Lumen Gentium, 40). Within the framework of this universal call, Christ, the High Priest, in his solicitude for the Church calls persons in every generation who are to care for his people. In particular, he calls to the ministerial priesthood men who are to exercise a fatherly role, the source of which is within the very fatherhood of God (cfr Eph 3,14). The mission of the priest in the Church is irreplaceable. Therefore, even if in some regions there is a scarcity of clergy, it should never be doubted that Christ continues to raise up men who, like the Apostles, leaving behind all other work, dedicate themselves completely to the celebration of the sacred mysteries, to the preaching of the Gospel and to pastoral ministry. In the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, my venerable Predecessor Pope John Paul II wrote in this regard: “The relation of the priest to Jesus Christ, and in him to his Church, is found in the very being of the priest by virtue of his sacramental consecration/anointing and in his activity, that is, in his mission or ministry. In particular, «the priest minister is the servant of Christ present in the Church as mystery, communion and mission. In virtue of his participation in the ‘anointing’ and ‘mission’ of Christ, the priest can continue Christ’s prayer, word, sacrifice and salvific action in the Church. In this way, the priest is a servant of the Church as mystery because he actuates the Church's sacramental signs of the presence of the risen Christ»” (no.16).

Another special vocation, which occupies a place of honour in the Church, is the call to the consecrated life. Following the example of Mary of Bethany who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Lk 10, 39), many men and women consecrate themselves to a total and exclusive following of Christ. Although they undertake various services in the field of human formation and care of the poor, in teaching or in assisting the sick, they do not consider these activities as the principal purpose of their life, since, as the Code of Canon Law well underlines, “the first and foremost duty of all religious is to be the contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer” (can. 663 §1). Moreover, in the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata Pope John Paul II noted: “In the Church's tradition religious profession is considered to be a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism, inasmuch as it is the means by which the close union with Christ already begun in Baptism develops in the gift of a fuller, more explicit and authentic configuration to him through the profession of the evangelical counsels” (no. 30).

Remembering the counsel of Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Mt 9,37), we readily recognise the need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. It is not surprising that, where people pray fervently, vocations flourish. The holiness of the Church depends essentially on union with Christ and on being open to the mystery of grace that operates in the hearts of believers. Therefore, I invite all the faithful to nurture an intimate relationship with Christ, Teacher and Pastor of his people, by imitating Mary who kept the divine mysteries in her heart and pondered them constantly (cfr Lk 2,19). Together with her, who occupies a central position in the mystery of the Church, we pray:

O Father, raise up among Christians
abundant and holy vocations to the priesthood,
who keep the faith alive
and guard the blessed memory of your Son Jesus
through the preaching of his wordand the administration of the Sacraments,
with which you continually renew your faithful.

Grant us holy ministers of your altar,

who are careful and fervent guardians of the Eucharist,
the sacrament of the supreme gift of Christ
for the redemption of the world.
Call ministers of your mercy,
who, through the sacrament of Reconciliation, spread the joy of your forgiveness.

Grant, O Father, that the Church may welcome with joy

the numerous inspirations of the Spirit of your Son
and, docile to His teachings,
may she care for vocations to the ministerial priesthood
and to the consecrated life.

Sustain the Bishops, priests and deacons,

consecrated men and women, and all the baptized in Christ,
so that they may faithfully fulfil their mission at the service of the Gospel.

This we pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us.

From the Vatican, 5 March 2006.

Advent Begins at Wonersh

Today the staff and students at St John's Seminary organised a special open day to celebrate the beginning of Advent. I was invited down because part of the import of the day was to promote priestly vocations. There were various inputs, meditations and times of prayer. The video 'Fishers of Men' was also shown in the early afternoon. Later there was a time of quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament followed by Benediction. The day concluded with mulled wine and mince pies, but before that we had a service of psalms and readings in the Church. Everything was very well organised. I was very pleased to meet up with some young lads I know to be thinking of priesthood and also to meet one or two new faces. I was also pleased to see that our students there seem to be happy and continue to get along well.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Archbishop Vincent speaks out

Last Sunday Archbishop Vincent Nichols preached a powerful sermon in which he spoke of the importance of politicians working with faith communities and not trying to impose morality on them. His comments come as the Government prepares to impose new regulations (without any parliamentary debate) that would make it illegal, for example, for Catholic adoption agencies not to place children with homosexual couples.
In his sermon for the Feast of Christ the King the Archbishop said: "It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of the faith communities, whether in schools, adoption agencies, welfare programmes, halls and shelters can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not simply a legal framework but also the moral standards at present being touted by Government".
He accuses the secular agenda in this country of being "in fact engaged in an intense and at times aggressive re-shaping of our moral framework" and adds, "Those who are elected to fashion our laws are not elected to be our moral tutors. They have no mandate or competence to be so. The wise among them would not wish it either".

The Archbishop is voicing concern among Christians about the Sexual Orientation Regulations currently being forced through by the Government without debate. You can read the regulations for yourself by clicking this link.

In our Catholic schools we seek to present the ideal of marriage as a faithful, monagomous union between a man and a woman. Under the proposed regulations, as we have seen recently with Christian Unions in some universities, this could be challenged as discriminatory. For further information about how the regulations would affect what is taught in schools it is worth clicking here to download an explanatory document from the Christian Institute - you will be surprised to see what is being imposed on schools and well understand the Archbishop's concerns.

Back from Spain

I'm now back from a few days visiting our students in Spain. In many ways I think it was an ideal time to go. The autumn term is always a long one so it's good to have a distraction. But more than that, I think when you go to a place like Valladolid everything is new and exciting at first, after a while however you settle in and the reality of seminary formation can be quite challenging. I think all our students are being challenged in different ways, but also that they are doing well and making good progress.
I was impressed by the solid faith of the staff and also by their priestly witness. They have a fatherly concern for the students and want to see them all as priests one day, if that is God's will. I was also impressed by the structure of the day: I witnessed compulsory meditation in the chapel before morning prayer; Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament; Holy Rosary. These were times of community prayer - not optional extras.
The photo is of Sam, Tom & Will - our three students. Please keep them in your prayers.