Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Time to Apply

Are you hoping to apply to start seminary in September? If you are now is the time to contact me. I had an email the other day from the secretary at St John's asking me to ensure that they have all the paperwork for the forthcoming Selection Conference by the middle of March - that's only six weeks away. It doesn't leave us much time to collect (new) copies of your baptism certificate, references, CRN checks, and the like!
If you don't want to wait another your please email me soon!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hope in the Heart of Soho

This afternoon I was in Soho Square to give a couple of classes on ethics for the St Patrick's Evangelisation School. SPES is Latin for hope and the school, together with the other activities promoted by Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, the indefatigable parish priest of St Patrick's, certainly represents a beacon of hope in the midst of cultural and moral desolation.

I had been asked to give an introduction to the Ten Commandments. My first talk sought to highlight, and demonstrate the importance of, Pope John Paul's encyclical Veritatis Splendor. In the second talk I gave some basic Catholic moral principles: absolute moral norms, natural law, the difference between subjective culpability and objective moral disorder, the distinction between mortal and venial sin, and the role of conscience.

There is a great group of students at the school and it is a very good experience for anyone considering a gap year or simply just wanting to give a year to God.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dilecti Amici

Fr Richard Aladics over at the Community of Grace website has done a tremendous service by producing an eminently readable version of Pope John Paul's first Letter to Young People, Dilecti Amici (Beloved Friends). It was written for the occasion of his first gathering of young people in 1985. It was this gathering that led to the World Youth Days - those international encounters that so contributed to his legacy of 'a more youthful Church', as Pope Benedict XVI mentioned at his inaugural Mass.
Fr Richard describes the letter as "a virtually complete panorama of life from the perspective of the young person. It is the most objective view of life for young people that we have". It is well worth visiting the site to read the letter.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Back Home

I got back to the parish last night after a wonderful week in Yorkshire. I'll probably do a few more posts on it to encourage others to visit some of the Catholic sites up there. I'm even toying with the idea of arranging a Seekers' Trip. It would be good fun.

Anyhow it was back to business in the parish today. We had over 1200 people at Mass this weekend, a good increase on our usual figure (just over 1100). I spen the afternoon catching up on the correspondence that had piled up while I was away. Tonight I've been dealing with emails - only another 160 to go but if I don't stop now I won't get a post up today.

After the evening Mass I gave a Vocations Presentation to our young adults' group, Forum Christi. We showed 'Fishers of Men' and then I spoke about the different sorts of vocation in the Church and how to go about discerning what Christ is asking of us. I think it went well. I was pleased to see that a number of people turned up specially for the talk and some have asked to come on our next 'Discovering Priesthood Day'.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Trinitarian Friars

Having visited the vikings of Jorvik, the next day we were again out on the hunt for Yorkshire's historical roots. This brought us to Knaresborough where we were looking for the St Robert's Chapel of the Holy Cross and the cave where he lived. Nearby, until the dissolution, there had been the prior of the Trinitarian Friars.

Things were looking hopeful when we found Abbey Road and only a few yards along St Robert's dwelling. This is all that's left of his Chapel today:

You can still see the piscina towards the upper left hand corner. St Robert was something of a trogladite and just in front of the Chapel there is the entrance to the cave where he dwelt:

Having visited St Robert's home we then set off down the lane to find the old priory. It had been founded in 1252 and had flourished until the King's men closed it down in 1538. Of course, having flourished on that site for nearly three hundred years it was impossible to totally eradicate all signs of its existence. We were heartened by the continual references such as the names of local houses:

However, although the reformers were unable to extinguish the memory of that great Catholic institution, its physical footprint was easier to remove. This is all remains of the monastery today:

It was rather disappointing to see how effectively the monastery had been eradicated. I wondered whether anyone walking along the path and seeing all the references to Our Lady, St Robert, the Holy Cross, the Trinitarians, abbeys and priories, is ever today tempted to stop and consider the Catholic past of this beatiful place. Again a comment of Cardinal Schonborn came to mind: people sometimes think that the canny monks went to find the most beatiful places to build their monasteries. It was not so. Like St Robert they went out into the wilderness but under their influence those wastelands flourished. It is good for us to remember that today. Our vocation is not to maintain beautiful structures (there are very few left!). It is to go out into the barren fields and sow the Word of God. Under its influence the desert will be transformed into a fertile field. This was the call of John Paul II who asked young people to have the courage to go out into the areopagi of today's world and proclaim to the people there 'that God they know not'. Do not be afraid!

Following the river along we came eventually to the pretty little town of Knaresborough where we had tea in the 'Oldest Chemist Shop in England' - but is in fact now a tea room!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

From Sun God to Suncream

This albino horse receives protection by suncream (really!)

A few weeks ago I posted on Apocalypto, the latest blockbuster from Mel Gibson. If you've seen the film you'll know that Gibson portrays the Mayan culture that went in for human sacrifice. There are disturbing scenes of human sacrifice with young men being disembowelled reminiscent of the deaths of many of our English martyrs. Tonight I had supper with a group of people that included one who is studying Medical Science. Her subject covers human embryo experimentation as well as many other activities of the culture of death.

We often hear that experiments on human embryos are necessary to further the causes of medical science and the treatment of the sick. Really? Tonight I learned that most of these embryos are sold to companies who use them to test allergies in new food products and cosmetic products such as hand and sun creams.

So the culture of death is represented by the Mayans who sacrificed human life to the Sun God. Today it is represented by scientists who sacrifice it to sun cream!


After the best coffee (Kenyan) and cake so far in Osmotherly we went on to the viking town of Jorvik, better known to us today as York. The photo above shows the oldest surviving row of houses in York. They were built in 1316 in the churchyard of the Holy Trinity to endow a chantry of the Blessed Virgin. They are on a street known as Goodramgate, which is derived from Gutherungate - a twelfth century anglicisation of the old Scandinavian name.

Passing a lot of Vikings on the way we headed off to the Shambles where St Margaret Clitherow lived. Margaret was executed for giving shelter to Catholic priests. There is now a shrine in her honour on the Shambles. Fr Richard explained that although the shrine purports to be the place where she was captured, in fact she lived in the houses opposite. Here is a photograph of numbers 10 and 11 where Margaret Clitherow actually lived and where she was caught giving shelter to a priest hidden in a priest hole:

After ptaying at St Margaret Clitherow's shrine and asking her intercession for an increase in vocations for our country, we took our time to investigate Jorvik. The city's Catholic heritage is witnessed to by the large number of pre-reformation churches. Some of them are very beautiful as you can see from this magnificent lantern. The other photo shows York in flood.

Part of the reason for waiting was to get into the Minster without having to pay! Once in we were able to have a good look round before Vespers started although photography wasn't allowed. In the Chapter House I found this beautiful carving of Our Lady with the Child Jesus which had somehow escaped the Reformers' hammerblows:

Finally we rounded off our day by visiting the old Abbot's House. St Mary's Abbey was a Benedictine community in the City. At the Reformation the Abbey was dissolved and the Abbot's house became the home of the Council of the North which was charged with the total destruction of Catholicism in Yorkshire. The House, which remains in the hands of the civil authorities, testifies to the importance of the former Abbey:

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It's Grim Up North...

On Sunday we had a gentle stroll to a local reservoir

Not the people, the countryside or even the weather! The last couple of days Fr Richard has been a wonderful host taking me round the sights of what was once Catholic Yorkshire. What's grim is to see how effectively the Reformation stamped its heavy heel on what was once a thriving Catholic population.

On Monday we went first to Osmotherley. I was intrigued by this pub sign just round the corner from where we parked the car:

Fr Richard explained that there was once a large local community of monks but that the Mount Grace monastery had been disolved at the Reformation. Queen Catherine of Aragon (whose birth place has already featured on this Blog) had endowed a local Chapel dedicated to Our Lady just outside the town and that we would visit it at the end of our walk.
It was a lovely sunny morning and we took the long route out of the town up towards the moors. I took this photopgraph because it reminded me of something I heard Cardinal Shonborn once say. Commenting on the concept of 'inculturisation' he remarked that the biblical image is quite different. In the Old Testament Yahweh goes before the people of Israel destroying towns and cities so that they could inhabit them. The monasteries all over Europe were witness to the labour of Christian communities that had made the wastelands flourish. Here it seemed to me we can see man's labour holding back the barren waste of nature:

At the end of the walk, and just after it started snowing we reached the Chapel of Our Lady of Grace at Osmotherly. It is looked after by the Benedictines from Ampleforth who run the local parish and remains a place of pilgrimage.

I was very pleased to find that the Chapel was open and that it was possible to pop in to pray and light a candle before the image of Our Lady. The Chapel looked very attractive with the winter sun playing through the windows.
The West window contains four Coats of Arms, being the Arms of those whose patronage established the shrine. These included Sir James Strangeways, Ralph Scrope, and the fourth Earl of Eldon. Presiding above them all in this little corner of Yorkshire were the Arms of Queen Catherine, the red and yellow stripes of Aragon being quite unmistakable.

Later that day we went on to York. I'll post about that on another occasion except to say that the old Viking name for York was Jorvik and, as Fr Richard pointed out, many of the locals still look like their Viking ancestors. And given this little headline, presumably behave like them as well...

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Field of Hudd

Tomorrow I am going away for a week to Huddersfield. "Where?", people keep asking me. For those of you who have the good fortune to dwell south of Harrods, Huddersfield is in the North. It also has its own very impressive coat of arms. One of the great things about Huddersfiled is that it nestles in amongst some dramatic countryside. So there will be plenty of opportunities to get out for a walk. I used to enjoy hill-walking a lot but since moving to the heart of London it's difficult to do much (the prospect of being in the car a full hour just to get out of the city manages to put me off every time!).

I'm actually going to stay on the outskirts of the city in an area known as Sheepridge, in the parish of Fr Richard Aladics of Friends with Christ fame. Huddersfield was once painted by Lowry, but I don't know if I'll find any matchstick men or matchstick cats and dogs in Sheepridge - Fr Richard's culinary expertise is well known!

Since I'll be driving up tomorrow I'm going to miss a VERY IMPORTANT milestone in the history of this Blog. Tomorrow we are going to get out 10,000th visit. Yes, that's ten thousand visits to this Blog since it started in June. Given that we're something of a 'niche market' in the Blogosphere I think that's quite good. I'd really like to know who our ten thousandth visitor may be. So - if, when you log onto this site, you see the number 10,000 appear in the side bar PLEASE send us an email or a Comment in the combox. Just click on Comment at the bottom of this post. You have three choices: 1 - reveal your identity; 2 - invent a name; or 3 - sign on as Anonymous (I'd rather you went for 1 or 2).

Sunday is my birthday. So say a prayer for me that day please :o)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bungee Jumping

Thursday is generally my day off so I thought it would be good to do something interesting today. One possibility was to go bungee jumping. It wasn't the best weather for it - 80 mile an hour winds seem to have brought down quite a few trees in this area. But I reckoned that, since there are no cliff edges in London, the cranes they use would be pretty securely anchored to the ground.

If you're going to go bungee jumping in a hurricane it's always a good idea to telephone before hand. After all, it would be a shame to get to the venue and find there was no lift. I reckoned that without a lift to the top I'd have expired about a third of the way up. Anyway, here's a photo of me launching myself off a five hundred foot tower attached to an elastic band:

... or perhaps it's one of a complete stranger I downloaded from the internet earlier. The truth is that you wouldn't get me to the top of that tower even if you offered a complete refurbishment of the seminary! Jump off the edge? Are you mad? I'd rather take my chances in a pen of poisonous snakes. There are some things in this life that are just too scary to contemplate. And for me bungee jumping is one of them!

Compared to that applying to the seminary is a cinch. So go on get in touch!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Youth Discernment

I was recently introduced to a new site that is being built in the United States for young people discerning a vocation to priesthood or religious life. You can get to the the homepage by clicking on the title of this post. Alternatively you can go straight to the Forum by clicking here.
The Forum currently has twenty-two members but I reckon that will grow exponentially as it becomes more widely known.

At present, of course, most of the members are from the US but there are two of us flying the British Flag! Why not sign up and help swell our numbers? The Forum provides a place where you can ask all your vocation questions and hear what other people have to say. It's certainly a worthwhile initiative and - even if you don't sign up - I'd encourage you to say a Memorare for its success. It looks set to become a veritable almanac of vocation information.

St Antony, Abbot

Fra Angelico's painting of St Antony being tempted by a lump of gold.

Today is the Feast of St Antony. The Office of Readings this morning had an extract from the "Life of St Antony" by St Anthanasius:
After the death of his parents, Antony was left alone with an only sister who was very young. He was about eighteen or twenty years old, and undertook the care of the household and his sister.
Less than six months had passed after the death of his parents, and he was going to the church, as was his custom, turning over in his mind the way that the apostles had left everything to follow the Saviour, and also how those people in the Acts of the Apostles had sold their possessions and had laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles for distribution among the needy. He was also thinking of the great hope stored up in heaven for these people. With these things in his mind, he went into the church. It happened that the Gospel was then being read, and he heard what the Lord had said to the rich man, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me".

As though this reminder of the saints had been sent to him by God, and as though that passage had been read specially for his sake, Antony went out immediately, and gave to the villagers the possesions he had inherited from his ancestors - they consisted of some three hundred very pleasant and fertile acres - so that they would not be an encumbrance to him and to his sister. He sold all his possessions and gave the considerable sum he raised to the poor, keeping back only a little of it for his sister.

Again when he went into church, he heard what the Lord said in the Gospel: "Do not be anxious about tomorrow". He could not wait any longer, but went out and gave away to the poor even what he had kept back. He left his sister in the care of some well-known, trustowrthy virgins, putting her in a convent to be brought up, and he devoted himself to the ascetic life not far from his home, living in recollection and practising self-denial.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Preparing for Sydney

It's not just the tax man who wants to hear from us by the end of this month. I was surprised to read on the World Youth Day website that registration for Sydney 2008 is also closing. It seems early particularly given that WYDs are supposed to be for young people. Whenwas the last time you decided on anything that wasn't at the last minute?
I remember being surprised talking to the organisers of Cologne WJT ten months before the event that they were so convinced there wouldn't be any late-comers: "No that is not possible. In Canada some people attended without paying. That cannot happen here". I didn't say anything, but I had a mental picture of them trying to repel an invasion of twenty thousand Spanish coaches. German efficiency v Spanish complacency - who would win?

On the other hand, there's probably not much chance enormous hoardes of last minute invaders from Europe. The costs are high - even by our standards - and a cool £2K is a lot of money to come up with unless you've been saving.

But even so, WYD is an experience not to be missed if you can possibly help it. And Australia is going to be awesome! I'm particlarly keen to go for another reason: my brother and his family have just emigrated out there, and I doubt I'd ever get another chance to visit them. So if you'd like to travel to WYD with Southwarkvocations let me know. You can send me an email.

In the meantime it's worth whetting your appetite at the WYD webpage. It's also worth subscribing to the WYD e-newsletter. You can download the latest edition in pdf format here. It's dedicated to the theology of the body and a Christian understanding of sex.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Catholic Youth Ministry

Yesterday I had an email drawing my attention to a number of great initiatives around the world that are helping to promote vocations. One of these is taking place in Melbourne and is organised by their diocesan Catholic Youth Ministry.

It's called Six30 and the webpage described it thus:
Each Thursday since Advent 2000, CYM has been hosting holy hours; nights when anyone can come to St Patrick's Cathedral and spend an hour in prayer and adoration of the Lord.This gathering has come to be known as six30 (since we start at 6:30pm).
Six30 is now beginning to catch on in other parishes around the diocese. During Adoration a priest is available for Confession and also to give a short reflection. Afterwards anyone present is invited to 'chill out' with coffee and pizza. It's worth visiting the CYM webpage. It's attractive and well-presented, there's a useful explanation of what Eucharistic Adoration is (and what it's
not!) and there's also a good quote from the great John Paul II. There are even some low and high resolution images like the one here to download for you to advertise your own Six30 in your local parish! How about getting together with some friends and doing something similar here in Southwark?
Oh, and if you're a priest in Melbourne, you can email CYM to offer to help out!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Who am I? - time to reveal his identity...

All that remains of Christian Hippo

A gentle comment from one of our avid readers has reminded me that it's about time I revealed the identity of our mystery person. His name, as most of you have realised by now, is Aurelius Augustine. Reading his life, isn't it true that he could have lived in our times? He faces the same difficulties that today's young people experience. He asks the same questions.

St Augustine was born in 354AD in Thagaste, North Africa. His mother, Monica, exercised a decisive influence over her son through her prayers, her example and her counsel. It was she who, when dying in Ostia on the way back to Africa, told her son to bury her there: "all I ask is that you remember me before the altar of God". What a great service a priest performs for his parents in the celebration of Holy Mass. Augustine's father, Patrick, was a pagan but he was baptised on his death bed. The whole story we've recounted on this Blog can be found in Augustine's autobiography, his Confessions.

St Augustine's encounter with Christ changed his life. From that moment all the gifts he had used to corrupt himself and to corrupt others through his disordered lifestyle, were directed towards doing good. He became a coherent Christian not a light one.

Christ changed his life. He converted in 386 and lived until 430AD. Through the grace of Christ he overcame the obstacles within his own nature which once seemed to him insuperable. He abandoned his scepticism and he began teaching wholeheartedly the Truth he had discovered. He wrote dozens of books, was ordained a priest and later became Bishop of Hippo, a city he managed to transform into a great Christian centre. He defended the truth with all his might.

Despite his unpromising beginning, St Augustine is now one of the great figures in the history of Christianity. He is a man of his time, and also a man of our time. His influence on European culture was decisive. Today he is considered one of the Fathers of the Church and the founder of the Philosophy of History.

He was a man who had great natural gifts: intelligence, sensitivity, vitality, will, style, etc. But we have seen how little they served him when he was far from God - he couldn't be happy. Only when he embraced God did he begin to live the fulness of his human life.

Aurelius Augustine was faithful to the grace of God from his conversion to the end of his life. He cooperated heroically - to the point of sanctity - with God's grace. He is a great saint of the Catholic Church and is extolled by posterity: by theologians, scientists, historians, writers, mystics, moralists, sociologists, philosophers... Thousands upon thousands of men have been called Augustine in his honour, and throughout the centuries countless women have been called Monica after his saintly mother.

You can read his life story in the Confessions. But first, let me ask you some questions...
  • Who are you? Are you happy being an inconspicuous nobody? Or will you let God do something with your life?
  • Are your really seeking the Truth?
  • Do you aspire to being a personal friend of God?
  • Would you dare pcik up the Gospels and read them?
  • Do you have the courage to look Jesus in the eyes?
  • Do you dare start chatting with God?
  • Will you start thinking for yourself (seriously - not serially!)?

Don't forget what St Augustine teaches us: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless til they rest in Thee".

Friday, January 12, 2007


Yesterday I went with some seminarians and young people of the parish to see Mel Gibson's new film Apocalypto. I hadn't read any of the reviews although, like everyone else, I'd heard it was violent. There was a strange atmosphere in Screen 13 before it began. People were talking much more loudly than we Brits usually do in public places. I got the impression many of the people there were a bit nervous about what they were going to see.
In the Anglo-Saxon world we've grown used to watching films for the spectacle rather than for any message the director might be seeking to transmit. I think that's a shame because if we reduce the screen to visual stimulation we deny its power as a language and so its relevance as an art. As we left I was disappointed that most of the comments we overheard reflected an incredibly superficial understanding of what had just watched.

I've now had a chance to read many of the reviews. The film is acclaimed for its spectacle but often slated for the violence and for its supposed 'anachronisms' - it is claimed for example that the murals in the temple reflect Mayan art of different periods and also Aztec images. I have to admit I didn't spot that!
It is certainly not a film for the squeamish but is it any more violent than 'Saving Private Ryan'? How is it that critics who rejoiced in the brutality of 'Kill Bill' are now suddenly repulsed by Apocalypto? The only answer I can come up with, given the tone of their reviews, is that they don't like Mel Gibson because they don't like what he is trying to say with the film.

Does it really matter that the art in the Temple is from different ages and cultures? Possibly it does but not because of historical inaccuracies. Rather perhaps Gibson is using the Mayans to represent something much wider: all those South American civilisations that went in for human sacrifice. It is not a film about the Mayans. It is a film about the death of civilisation.

The key to interpreting the film is given in the quotation from W. Durant words that first appear on the screen: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." These days a revisionist reading of the Spanish Conquest of South America is very much in vogue. We have gone from Spanish Conquistadores taking the great benefits civilisation and Christianity to a reading of history that exalts the previous civilisations and associates Christianity with European imperialism imposed upon a noble people. This is now so widespread that recently we were even treated to the spectacle of a newly elected South American president sacrificing to the pagan gods before taking office!

In Apocalypto Gibson is challenging this romantic and fanciful reinterpretation. The Spanish when they appear seem to carry no weapons. There is only a friar bearing a Cross. The Mayans are the ones practising human sacrifice. Gibson juxtaposes two civilisations without comment leaving us to ask whether what is symbolised by the Cross is truly worse than the cult of the Sun?

But at another level the film isn't about the Mayans and the Spanish at all. Apart from the language there is something surprisingly modern about the dialogue in the film. When we are taken to the great Mayan city we see not an ancient civilisation but a modern one: we observe a 'culture of death'. Life is valued for what it can do, old age is despised. We see debauchery, greed, selfishness, dishonesty, abuse of power. Reading the faces of the men and women of that city we recognise in them the faces of the people of our time, faces that we see everyday. Durant's words become a warning to us: "A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within".

At the end of the film the main protagonist heads back into the forest for a new beginning. Gibson's message is that our civilisation is decadent and dying. At the threshold of the new Millennium it needs to begin again, the culture of death has to give way to a culture of life.

It is a shame that when filming The Passion Gibson turned down the invitation to meet Pope John Paul. Had he done so he would have met a man with whom he has many things in common, but a man altogether more optimistic because he had taken to heart Christ's words: "Be not afraid!".

Like St Augustine, Pope John Paul was not simply a witness to a dying civilisation. He was a witness also to a new one being born. In his Letters to Young People he invited them to take part in constructing a new culture of life. That means also having the courage to respond if Christ is calling you to the priesthood.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dates for Your Diary

Every month we get together with some seminarians and young men considering a vocation to the priesthood for a Seeker's Meeting. The evening begins with a talk on some aspect of Christian life, with particular regard to diocesan priesthood, there's then time should anyone wish to talk to a priest, finally we enjoy a meal together. The meetings take place on Friday evenings and start at 7.00pm. They generally take place on the third Friday of the month, and the dates for this year are as follows:
19th January
16th February
16th March
20th April
18th May
15th June
20th July
21st September
19th October
16th November
21st December

For catering purposes we like to know how many are coming and encourage people to send us an email at Southwark Vocations. If anyone would like more information please contact us by email and we will happily answer your questions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Thought from Cardinal Newman

God has created me to do him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which he has not committed to another.
I have my mission;
I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
I have a part in a great work;
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good,
I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace,
a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments
and serve Him in my calling.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

If God should call one of your Sons…

I found today this message to parents from Pope Pius XII. It may be from 1942, but its message is as relevant today as it always was.

Dear Married Couples,

I want to speak to you today about the greatest honour your marriage and family can possibly have. I mean when God takes for himself “his part” of the family, as a friend and almost, as it were, as if begging for your help.

God has blessed your marriage and given you children. Someday, you do not know when, he may knock on the door of your home in just the same way as once he walked along the shores of Lake Tiberias and called Zebedee’s two sons to follow him. Just think, it is from faithful Catholic families such as yours that Christ and the Church will choose the ministers and apostles of his Gospel, the priests who take care of the Church, and the missionaries who cross the oceans to teach and save souls. If the Divine Master comes and asks for “his part” – one of your children, whom he has called to be a priest, a religious, or a nun – what will you do? What will become of the holy inspirations that have spoken to their hearts, and his voice whispering to them: “Do you love me? Will you follow me?” In God’s name I beg you not to stifle in their souls their openness to the Divine Call.

If some day God grants you the great honour of calling one of your children for this service, recognise the value and privilege entailed in so many graces that this call involves: graces for your child who receives the call, for yourselves, and for your entire family. This is a great gift from heaven coming into your home. You place the flower and fruit of your marriage on the altar, to live consecrated to the Lord and to souls. Just think of the number of sacrificial offerings and prayers he will offer for you and the rest of the family. Each day these prayers will accompany your steps, your actions and needs; they will be more intense and frequent in your saddest and most difficult times; they will follow and comfort you your whole life long, until your last breath and even beyond. Never think that in giving their hearts totally to our Lord they will love you with a love that is less tender or less strong; love for God does not negate or destroy nature, rather it perfects and elevates it to a higher level where the charity of Christ touches the human heart. If the dignity and the austerity of the priestly or consecrated life require giving up certain expressions of affection, have no doubt, the affection itself will never weaken or grow tepid. This sacrifice will cause their affection to burn more deeply and still more intensely, free from all self-seeking. God will share these hearts with you alone.

Do not be afraid of the gift of the holy vocation that has come down from heaven to rest upon your children. If you believe, and if love has raised you to a new level, is it not a comfort and joy to see your own son at the altar clothed with the priestly vestments, offering the sacrifice of the Mass and praying for his mother and father? Is it not a great consolation, that makes a mother’s heart beat with love for her daughter, to see her consecrated to Christ, serving him and loving him with all her being?

Think of a priest who has been close to your family or visited you, giving attention and guidance to you and your children, and bringing you happiness. What family did he come from? Where did he come from to be with you? Who sent him? Who formed in his heart such a fatherly love for you, such words of counsel and friendship? The Church sent him. Christ sent him.

How deep will your Christian spirit really be if you back away from the honour of cooperating and helping in the work of spreading the Faith and the Catholic church not merely with material help but also with the very precious gift of your children that God is asking of you?

Dear Married Couples, help the Church, the Spouse of Christ; help Christ, the Saviour of men, with the fruit of your marriage. Give God the portion of your blessing he is asking you for out of your home.

Pius XII, March 25th, 1942

Archbishop's Homily on Vocations Day

On Wednesday 27th December the Archbishop joined us here in the parish for a Vocations Day which was attended by seminarians and young men thinking about becoming a priest. This is the text of his homily in which he presents St John, an 'icon' of progressive intimacy with Christ as a model for priests and those considering priesthood:

In the Office of Readings for Advent, there is a very powerful reading from St John of the Cross in which he compares the “Old Law” with the “Law of the Gospel”. He is comparing the covenant made with the people of Israel to the covenant established in Jesus Christ. Under the Old Law, he says, it was entirely appropriate to seek visions and revelations from God. But, with the establishment of the Law of the Gospel, the need for such visions and revelations has disappeared:

“When he gave us, as he did, his Son,who is his one Word, he spoke everything to us, once and for all in that one Word. There is nothing further for him to say.”

It would be foolish and offensive, St John continued, to be putting questions to God and seeking specific answers. All we need to do is to fix our eyes on Christ but without seeking anything “new”. These are wise words containing a message that still needs to be received today. All of us, in fact, ask questions of God, whether implicitly or explicitly. Sometimes it just takes a news bulletin to make us cry out “why?” It’s not easy to learn the lesson that in Jesus Christ we have the inexhaustible source of wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

In St John the Evangelist, whose feast we celebrate today, we are presented with someone who directly encountered the fullness of life and truth that are in Jesus Christ:

“Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, that we have seen with our own eyes, that we have watched; this is our subject.”

John, like the other apostles, is the source of the Church’s “memory” of Jesus. From them flows the tradition of knowledge and understanding that is our Christian heritage.

In this Christmas season, we Christians proclaim the moment in history when things became forever different. As we heard in the Christmas liturgy: “A child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. He is Christ the Lord.” To some, the proclamation of that message means nothing. It is fanciful – a myth handed on from the ancient world. But for those who have received the gift of faith, and struggle to live by it, things are different. We cannot simply hear the message and do nothing about it. For the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ to be a source of grace, a source of wisdom and understanding, we, like the shepherds on Christmas night, must go to meet the Lord. We go to meet him in the scriptures, in silent prayer and very specially in the Eucharist which we see and touch. A life of prayer and of engagement with the sacraments of the Church takes us into a voyage of discovery in which Jesus Christ comes alive to us and we grow in personal knowledge of him.

St John the Evangelist is a kind of icon of progressive and intimate knowledge of Jesus. He laid his head on Christ’s breast at the last supper. He was present at the foot of the cross when he died. He saw blood and water flow from the side of Christ. Our journey to deeper knowledge of Jesus will take us to the cross but also to the source of living water.

All this is vital for those for whom we exercise priestly ministry. It must be pondered by those considering a vocation. All Christians bring Christ to one another but the priest,in virtue of his sacramental office makes the living Christ present in the world through the sacraments and most significantly through the Eucharist in the form of bread and wine. He makes it possible for people to “see” and “touch” the Risen Lord. He gives what no one else can, and what people most deeply need.

A vocation to the priesthood is a tough life but it is the best possible life for those who are called to it. The key to happiness and effectiveness in the priesthood is our personal, developing and growing relationship to Jesus. If that is in place, or moving into place, then we will receive the healing, the vision, and the confidence to minister to God’s people in a very special way of life – a road less travelled, marked by the cross, but full of beauty, of abundant life and of great rewards.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Discovering Priesthood Days

Each year Southwarkvocations offers a number of activities for young people under 18 years of age to discover more about the life and work of a priest. In particular we hold a termly get-together which we call a 'Discovering Priesthood Day'. The event is usually hosted or attended by one of our bishops and a number of priests are also on hand to help look after the activities.
This year there will be three 'Discovering Priesthood Days'. They will take place on the following Saturdays:

10th February - at the Holy Ghost

23rd June - venue to be confirmed

29th September - at the Hermitage, West Malling.

For more information about our Discovering Priesthood Days, to book a place as an individual or as a group, please email us by clicking this link. If you are between 14 & 18 years of age and would like to know more about priesthood we encourage you to get in touch.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Pope Benedict on Priesthood

Just before Christmas Pope Benedict spoke to members of the Roman Curia in what some people have called his annual 'state of the nation address'. The Holy Father looked back over the year and gave his reflections on many of the things that had happened. He spoke also of the priesthood and I think it's worth considering what he said about it. You can read the whole text yourself by clicking here.

The Pope speaks of the need for the priest to be immersed in God. His 'central task' is to bring God to men and women. He 'can only do this if he himself comes from God, if he lives with and by God'. The Pope warns that we need in a 'function-oriented world in which everything is based on calculable and ascertainable performance'. It is a mistake to measure the value of something by what it can do. Being precedes action. A priest centred on God can bring God to our world which the Pope calls 'the prime service that contemporary humanity needs'.

The Holy Father also speaks of the danger of a priest forgetting that God must be the centre of his life and so giving himself over to a form of activism: 'If this centrality of God in a priest's life is lost, little by little the zeal in his actions is lost. In an excess of external things the centre that gives meaning to all things and leads them back to unity is missing. There, the foundation of life, the "earth" upon which all this can stand and prosper, is missing'.
It is in this context, of valuing what we are supposed to be over what we may do, that Pope Benedict speaks about celibacy. He says it is not enough to understand celibacy simply in terms of being more available to the people and warns that such a mentality could easily lead to selfishness: 'The solely pragmatic reasons, the reference to greater availability, is not enough: such a greater availability of time could easily become also a form of egoism that saves a person from the sacrifices and efforts demanded by the reciprocal acceptance and forbearance in matrimony; thus, it could lead to a spiritual impoverishment or to hardening of the heart'.

The true meaning of celibacy is availability to God: 'It cannot mean being deprived of love, but must mean letting oneself be consumed by passion for God and subsequently, thanks to a more intimate way of being with him, to serve men and women, too. Celibacy must be a witness to faith: faith in God materializes in that form of life which only has meaning if it is based on God.
Basing one's life on him, renouncing marriage and the family, means that I accept and experience God as a reality and that I can therefore bring him to men and women'

We live in a world in which people want proof for everything, in which people are valued for what they can do and not for what they are, in which God has been reduced to a hypothesis. It is a world therefore that needs witnesses to God's love: 'For this reason, celibacy is so important today, in our contemporary world'.
The Pope also acknowledges that the circumstances of our contemporary society can make celibacy particularly difficult, he speaks of it being 'constantly threatened and questioned'. And so he speaks of the need to help those called to priesthood: 'persevering guidance on the part of the Bishop, priest friends and lay people who sustain this priestly witness together, is essential. We need prayer that invokes God without respite as the Living God and relies on him in times of confusion as well as in times of joy. Consequently, as opposed to the cultural trend that seeks to convince us that we are not capable of making such decisions, this witness can be lived and in this way, in our world, can reinstate God as reality'.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

Have you made any New Year's resolutions? Some people don't bother because they get disappointed with themselves when they don't keep them but I think that's the wrong attitude. As Fr Julian over at Friends with Christ likes to remind us we are not Pelagians: we do not believe that our salvation depends on our strength of will or upon our stoic determination. It is good to make New Year's resolutions because it shows a desire to improve and an underlying generosity.
Of course, I'm not here thinking about those typical resolutions to shed a few pounds or give up smoking. We can have all sorts of mixed motives for resolutions like that! What I've really got in mind are those resolutions that will help us in our interior life: to spend some time in prayer each day; to examine our conscience at night; to go to confession more regularly; to get to Mass during the week as well as on Sundays; to pray the Rosary each day.
It's not a god idea to adopt loads of resolutions. If you're not doing any of the above suggestions why not adopt one of them and see it through to the end of the month. By then it may well have become second nature and you could try adding something else.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Pope John Paul on his Vocation

In this great video we hear Pope John Paul speaking about his growing awareness of being called to priesthood. Fr Benedict Groeschel speaks of the 'John Paul Generation' - all over the world there young people inspired by this great Pope to commit themselves to the New Evangelisation. Many, many of them have responded to the call to priesthood or religious life.

Becoming a Priest

I've just discovered that the ploy of repeating one or two key phrases does work at pushing you up the ladder of Google results. If you Google 'becoming a priest' we appear on page two. We're still lagging after the other diocese but I think that's because of the prominence given to vocations on their diocesan website...
When the Archbishop was here we spoke about the blog and its potential importance in helping someone become a priest. The following email, which came just before Christmas, is evidence of how this Blog can help people find out about becoming a Catholic priest:

Dear Father,
I've recently completed the application process for diocesan priesthood [not Southwark, ed.]. I just wanted to say thank you.
The process has had lots of ups and downs and your blog has been really helpful. I'm currently a doctor and to say that my friends and colleagues are dead against my decision wouldn't do their vehemence justice! The blog has really helped when I've felt disheartened or 'alien' in my decision making process. It seems that I'm not on my own after all! Thanks for making it seem a lot more normal.
Thanks again

If you are considering a vocation to the priesthood and would like to talk it about it to someone send us and email at Southwark Vocations.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Youth 2000 - A Graphic Download

I've has lots of questions recently about Youth 2000. What's it all about? What's it like? Isn't it really 'right-wing'/charismatic/conservative/trendy/unorthodox...?
It offers basic Catholicism, although it's style isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea. Click here to download a sixty second taster!

Living the Mass

One of the comments that was made during our New Year Retreat was that the Youth 2000 approach to working with young people is counter-intuitive. Instead of organising activities to "attract" young people, Youth 2000 puts them in contact with Christ right from the beginning. They do this through Eucharistic Adoration which begins at the start of the Retreat and continues day and night until the closing Mass. Certainly there will be many coming who don't have a clue about Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament, but they learn to recognise his presence through the catechesis that takes place and also through their encounter with him in prayer. The testimonies given today at the end of the Retreat showed just how effective this approach is. Over the weekend many young people had clearly moved from a 'notional' to a 'real' assent to Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Second Vatican Council speaks of the Eucharist as the 'source and summit' of our Christian life which implies that it has to be at the centre of our lives. It is the source of Christian life because it makes present on our altars the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. It is the summit of our Christian life because it anticipates our union with God in heaven through our communion with Christ in Holy Communion.

We have to learn to 'live' the Mass, to take hold of our lives - our prayer, our good actions, our sacrifices - and unite them to the prayer of Jesus in the Mass as he offers himself to the Father. This is what is meant by 'active participation': not performing some action, but presenting ourselves to the Father through Christ, with him, in him and in the unity brought about within the Church by the Holy Spirit. A good moment to activate this intention of bringing our lives to the Lord is when the priest turns to us and says: "Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father".

As a consequence of this desire to identify ourselves with Christ's Sacrifice we anticipate heaven by being one with Jesus in Holy Communion, the Bread of Life, nourishment to strengthen us on our journey here on earth, and the pledge of eternal life. Sin, of course, damages our communion with God which is why - if we are conscious of grave sin - we first seek reconciliation in Confession before receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.

To 'live the Mass' means, therefore, to develop that habit of mind that discovers the supernatural importance of every single thing we do and to grow accustomed to presenting all those things to the Father whenever we particpate in the Holy Mass.