Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vatican Webpage for the Year for Priests

Somehow I missed the fact that the Congregation for Education has established a special site for the Annus Sacerdotalis. The internet connection from which I'm working is very slow so it is quite difficult to upload any pictures from the site but here's a link to the English page. Do take a look. You can access various bits of news about the year, Papal comments and videos and a number of useful resources.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A text from Dom & Phil this morning as I was vesting reminded me to pray for our intrepid cyclists as I celebrated Holy Mass in honour of Our Lady. Readers of this blog will be aware that these two young lads are cycling from Rome to Walsingham via Medjugorje. This morning's text was to say that they had just landed in Ancora and also to alert me to the fact that they've updated their blog. Do go over to the blog to have a look at what they've been getting up to. Apart from the thrill of the adventure, Dominic and Phil are hoping to raise £2,000 towards the cost of the Youth 2000 retreat for young adults that will take place in Walsingham at the end of August. There's a donate button on the sidebar of their blog and I noticed that they've raised just under £1,500 so far. All money raised goes towards the retreat (they've already paid for the trip out of their own funds) so do please donate something if you can.
I think I'll mention it on Twitter to see if that generates a bit extra for them!

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Important Talk (IV)

In the last part of his talk to the Rectors of the Pontifical Seminaries Mgr Brugues has something to say about the selection of candidates to the priesthood. He notes that there have grwn up two different lines of interpretation of the Second Vatican Council which he characterises as 'composition' (accommodation) and 'contestation'.
By 'composition' the bishop is referring to an adaptation of the Gospel to the interests of the world: "The first leads us to observe that secularisation includes values with a strong Christian influence, like equality, freedom, solidarity, responsibility, and that it should be possible to come to terms with this current and identify areas of co-operation". The danger, however, is that of playing "the card of adaptation and co-operation with secularised society, at the cost of finding themselves forced to take a critical distance from this or that aspect of Catholic doctrine or morality". He says it is not hard to find examples of this and cites Catholic educational establishments as a particular battleground.
According to the bishop this current adaption to the world "emerged mainly during the period following the Council; it provided the ideological framework for the interpretations of Vatican II that were imposed at the end of the 196-'s and the following decade". An alternative emerged however in the 1980's "above all - but not exclusively - under the influence of John Paul II". According to this model of "contestation" there is a greater wariness in our approach to secular society and an awareness of the need to keep one's distance by recognising that, particularly in the ethical field, conflict will arise and become increasingly pronounced. According to this model factors such as the confession of the faith, identity and the importance of evangelisation dominate.
This can create problems for the selection and formation of candidates for the priesthood although in reality they reflect wider tentions within the Church: "The current of 'composition' has aged, but its proponents still hold key positions within the Church. The current of the alternative model has become much stronger but has not yet become dominant. This would explain the tensions at the moment in many of the Churches on our continent". Applying this to priesthood he says: "Candidates of the first tendency have become increasingly rare, to the great displeasure of the priests of the older generations. The candidates of the second tendency have now become more numerous than the others...". And so he poses the crunch question: "How can harmony be fostered between educators, who often belong to the first current, and the young people who identify with the second? Will the educators continue to cling to criteria of admission and selection that date back to their own time, but no longer correspond to the aspirations of the young?"
Frustratingly he doesn't offer an answer. However, by taking the problem out of the usual 'liberal versus conservative' rhetoric and situating it within a wider ecclesial model of the efficacy of the Church's prophetic role within society, he perhaps gives us an indication of how we need to look again at the 'signs of the times' and take seriously the lived experience of the young.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Important Talk (III)

In the next part of his presentation the Secretary of the Congregation for Education has some interesting observations concerning the recent history of the Church and the sort of young man currently responding to a priestly vocation. Twenty years ago, as a seminarian, I attended a talk given by the Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy. In the questions afterwards a concern was raised about the growing number of 'conservative' students for the priesthood. Amusingly the Secretary asked for a clarification and then leaning back said simply: "Oh you mean the swing of the pendulum!" Two weeks ago I was at a European vocations conference and was surprised to hear the same concerns being voiced in terms of a fear that we were 'returning to the ghetto'.
Bishop Brugues puts the matter into a different context. For him the key is recognising that the Council took place at a time of great secularisation. The Zeitgeist of secularisation led many within the Church to interpret the 'openness to the world' called for by the Council with a 'conversion to secularisation'. This has led, not so much to the Church suffering under the secularising programme of social or political interest groups, but rather from an internal malaise: "In this way, in fact, we have experienced or even fostered an extremely powerful self-secularisation in most of the Western Churches". As evidence he offers the following examples:
"Believers are ready to exert themselves in the service of peace, justice and humanitarian causes, but do they believe in eternal life? Our Churches have carried out an immense effort to renew catechesis, but does not this catechesis itself tend to overlook the ultimate realities? For the most part, our Churches have embarked on the ethical debates of the moment, at the urging of public opinion, but how much do they talk about sin, grace, and the divinised life? Our Churches have successfully deployed massive resources in order to improve the participation of the faithful in the liturgy, but has not the liturgy for the most part lost the sense of the sacred? Can anyone deny that our generation, possibly without realising it, dreamed of the 'Church of the pure', a faithful purified of any religious manifestation, warning against any manifestation of popular devotion like processions, pilgrimages, etc?"
What is most interesting is the way the bishop sees this to have changed the profile of Church membership today. He says: "We could advance the hypothesis that we have passed from a Church of 'belonging', in which the faith was determined by the community of birth, to a Church of 'conviction' in which the faith is defined as a personal and courageous choice, often in opposition with the group of origin". For him, therefore, it is not a straightforward liberal/conservative dichotomy. Seminarians and young priests of today belong to this "Church of conviction" and have come from a social environment that does support them. As a consequence "they offer better-defined profiles, stronger individuality, and more courageous temperaments. In this regard, they have the right to our full esteem". He sums up succinctly what he wants to say in the concluding paragraph of this section:
"The difficulty to which I would like to draw your attention therefore goes beyond the boundaries of a simple generational conflict. My generation, I insist, has equated openness to the world with conversion to secularisation, and has experienced a certain fascination regarding it. But although the younger men were born in secularisation as their natural environment and drank it together with their mother's milk, they still seek to distance themselves from it, and defend their identity and their differences".
In the final part of his talk the bishop will discuss two different approaches to secularisation. The official English text renders them as 'composition' and 'contestation'. It's always difficult translating from another language and I don't think the best job has been done here. For what it's worth, in my opinion, I think by 'composition' we should read 'accommodation' or 'compromise' and for 'contestation' we should read 'conflict'.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Important Talk (II)

One of the complaints we often hear from seminarians is that the seminary timetable can be so packed they have little time for personal reflection or study. Like any complaint, of course, it has to be treated cautiously - it is important to learn how to manage one's time and not waste it. However, a packed timetable can certainly lead to a certain unhealthy dissipation and in his talk the Secretary for the Congregation for Education refers to the danger of packing too much into a student's initial formation.
His second point is that the formation programmes in the pontifical seminaries should be reviewed and he calls for 'a comprehensive, organic theological formation that is focused on the essential'. He goes on to explain what he means:
"This implies, on the part of those responsible for instruction and formation, the discontinuation of an initial formation marked by a critical spirit - as was the case for my generation, for which the discovery of the Bible and doctrine was contaminated by a systematic spirit of criticism - and of the temptation of premature specialisation: precisely because these young men lack the necessary cultural background".
There are a few observations I'd like to make here. First of all I think the basic point is well made. When I was an undergraduate reading theology in Oxford I had a number of Catholic and non-Catholic friends who had chosen the same subject because they wanted to know what to believe. Rather than their starting point being a fides quaerens intellectum it would be more accurate to describe it as an intellectus quarens fidem. Sadly what generally happened was that the disection of the Bible according to the historical-critical method meant that most neverfound the faith they sought and were left with an unhealthy cynicism towards Christianity. As Goswin Habets, one of our professors at the Gregorianum later put it: "One only dissects a dead body, never a living one". Another Greg prof, Fr Becker, also put it well when he asked us to put down our pens one day and reminded us that the Scriptures "are also the revealed Word of God". I always felt that themes such as revelation and the inspiration of Scripture should precede an introduction to the historical-critical method. I am particularly pleased that these days the writings of Benedict XVI, Scott Hahn and others have enabled a new generation to thrill to the revealed of God in a way that wasn't possible even twenty or thirty years ago.
There is something slightly puzzling, however, about the Bishop's comments. He is addressing the Rectors of the Pontifical Seminaries and calling for a change in the approach to studies. But all their students would study at one of the Pontifical faculties. One must conclude that either he is talking with a wider audience in mind or he is referring to the content of an introductory year that he wishes them to establish.
He goes on to 'share a few questions' that occur to him:
"It is absolutely reasonable to want to give future priests a complete, top-level formation. Like an attentive mother, the Church wants the best for future priests. For this reason the number of courses has been multiplied, but to the point of weighing down programmes in a way that is, in my view exaggerated. You have probably perceived the risk of discouragement in many of your seminarians. I ask: is an encyclopedic perspective appropriate for these young men who have received no basic Christian formation? Has this perspective not, perhaps, provoked a fragmentation of formation, an accumulation of courses and an excessively historicising outlook? Is it truly necessary, to give young men who have never learned the catechism an in-depth formation in the human sciences, or in the techniques of communication?
I would adivse choosing depth over breadth, synthesis over dispersion in details, architecture over decoration. Similar reasons lead me to believe that learning metaphysics, as demanding as this is, represents the absolutely indispensable preliminary phase for the study of theology. Those who come to us have often received a solid scientific and technical formation - which is a good thing - but their lack of general culture does not permit them to undertake theology confidently".
Again, there is a lot packed in here. The old Roman system was that seminarians went to the faculty in the morning for lectures in Latin. In the afternoon they would go over their notes with repetitores to ensure that they fully understood what had been taught and that they began to assimilate the subject. That's no longer the case. For some individuals the afternoon period is a time for personal study. In my time for many it was a time to visit the City. While in some Roman seminaries it has been filled with extra in-house courses. The bishop seems to be calling for an emphasis on depth and assimilation of the basic studies rather than a superficial knowledge of lots of subjects. Some seminaries I know have reserved the academic term for the basic studies and introduced other more pastoral subjects during intensive study weeks before and after the relatively short academic terms.
Again, however, it should be noted that that the Bishop is not trying to criticise the seminaries. He seems rather to be stressing the importance of an introductory year to make up for the 'lack of general culture' which would prevent students from benefiting as much as they can from their theological studies. It is this 'lack of general culture' that he comment on in the next part of his talk.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Important Talk

I'm currently at the country house of the Real Colegio de los Ingleses (English College) in Valladolid. Yesterday the rector gave me a copy of a speech by the Secretary of the Congregation for Education, Mgr Jean-Louis Brugues. It was addressed to seminary rectors and published by L'Osservatore Romano on June 3rd. In his speech Bishop Brugues is addressing issues concerning seminary formation in a secularised world. He makes a number of very interesting observations and, since I've got little to write about here, I thought it might be worthwhile commenting on some of them. I'll do this over a few days, quoting the Bishop's words and then adding my own reflections.

"Regardless of the form it has taken, secularisation has provoked a collapse of Christian culture in our countries. The young men who come to our seminaries know little or nothing about Catholic doctrine, about the history and customs of the Church. This generalised lack of education forces us to carry out important revisions in the practice followed until now. I will mention two of these.

First of all, it seems indispensable to me to provide these young men with a period - a year or more - of initial formation, of 'recovery', catechetical and cultural at the same time. These programs can be designed in various ways, based on the specific needs of each country. Personally, I am thinking of an entire year dedicated to assimilating the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which presents itself as a very complete compendium".

The bishop goes on to explain what he means by a collapse of Christian culture and how in some ways people within the Church contributed to it in the post-Conciliar years. Whatever its contributory factors, those of us in vocations work will certainly have experienced its effects. It's not just that we are approached by men who are married or living in an irregular relationship. Many of the young people we meet have grown up within the refectories of the 'culture of death' and have come to Christ because they found the meat it offers to be at best unsatisfying, at worst poisonous carrion. They experience faith as a trust in Christ but its features have yet to be mapped out by the teachings of the Church. They can also lack a human formation - having never acquired the discipline of virtue, they can find themselves dragged down again and again by the pull of the 'old man'. They can experience this as profoundly disheartening.
The bishop's response is to propose as 'indispensable' a year (at least) of initial formation with both catechetical and cultural dimensions. In so many ways this is what the 'propaedeutic year' at the English College in Spain provides. Other European countries have developed different models. The seminary of Madrid, for example, requires an 'introductory year' - a year in which candidates for formation continue their study or work during the week but attend a special formation programme at the seminary every weekend. Whatever model we take, the object is the same: the prepare the young men to be able to receive and benefit fully from the formation on offer once they start their time at major seminary.
The propaedeutic year in Spain, of course, offers at lot more than remedial classes for those whose assimilation of Christian faith and life may be lacking in some aspects. In addition to a complete course in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the students are introduced to the Scriptures, Church history, liturgy and the other disciplines they will later study in more depth. It begins the important work of spiritual formation outside of the potential stresses occasioned by the round of exams and assessment at seminary. It offers and introduction to community life where people of all backgrounds and experiences can learn from one another and grow in the exercise of charity.
The bishop's second 'revision' concerns the formation programmes on offer in seminaries. Since he has some important comments to make, I'll reserve these for the next post.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Dom and Phil's Bike Trip

This week two of the pilgrims from the Quo Vadis trip to Rome flew back to the Eternal City for a pretty daunting venture. Dom and Phil spent the night with a family I know in the north of the city before heading off yesterday afternoon for the start of their mammoth sponsored cycle ride from Rome to Walsingham via Medjugorje. If all goes well we will be able to greet them in Walsingham on Thursday 27th August at the start of the Youth 2000 retreat. The retreat, which takes place over the Bank Holiday weekend promises to be particularly busy this year with a large contingent of young people coming from Germany to join those who will gather in Walsingham under Our Lady's patronage from all parts of England, Wales and Ireland.

Dom and Phil have already worked and scraped together to raise the £2,000 to pay for their trip. (Dom has been working for me in the parish for the best part of this year and the parishioners are missing him!). They hope to raise at least another £2,000 in sponsorship all of which will go towards the Waslingham retreat. As Dom says, it would be nice to think that they raise more than the trip costs otherwise they will feel they could simply have donated the money themselves!

The Youth 2000 Retreat at Walsingham attracts over a thousand young people and costs over £80,000 to stage. Participants are only asked to make a donation and very few can afford to pay the real cost of £80 per person. That's why it is so important to organise fund-raising events and to rely on the generosity of benefactors who believe in the importance of rock-face evangelisation!

Could you make a donation? It doesn't matter whether you can spare £10, £100, or £1000. The fact remains that every penny counts. To sponsor Dom & Phil go over to this link where you will also have the possibility of Gift Aiding your donation.

The two cyclists have a Blog but I doubt they will have much opportunity to post much over the next two months - so on their behalf let me thank you for any donations you send in.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Quo Vadis Rome 09

It'll take a little while to get some posts up about Rome because I'm trying to catch up on a mountain of parish work. Here, in the meantime, is a little video for your delectation and delight although for some reason the sound track only kicks in one minute from the end...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Another Welcome Link

Going through the emails I was delighted to find another link to a vocations video. This time it is for the Dominican sisters - an order for which I have great affection. Enjoy this insight into the Nashville Dominicans:

Back from Rome

Sorry! I've been in Rome for the last ten days and had no access to the internet so I wasn't able to post anything. It was a great time and very busy so there wasn't even an opportunity to go hunting for an internet cafe.
There's a lot to post about and it will take me some time to get everything up. In the meantime, thanks for your prayers. Here's a French vocations video that was waiting in my inbox when I got back.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bishop Peter Elliott

On Thursday I drove to Heathrow to pick up Bishop Peter Elliott who is spending a few days in London before going on to Rome for a meeting of the directors of the John Paul II Institutes for the Family. Bishop Peter is representing the institute in his home diocese of Melbourne.
It has been a busy time for him since arriving. On Sunday he celebrated our sung Mass and baptised two babies. He then joined us for a meal which was attended by a number of young parishioners and some of our seminarians.

Pique Nique Time

The Holy Ghost Parish is blessed with many families from all over the world. In recent years we've had the joy of welcoming a good number of young French families to the parish. It's particularly convenient for them because there's a reasonably local annexe of a French school in the area. Many of the children, however, attend either our own parish school or Oliver House a local independent Catholic school.
On Saturday, for the first time, we invited the French families to join us for a picnic in the presbytery garden. It was great for me: I got the newsletter done in the morning and was ready in time to welcome everyone who came with lots of wonderful French food. I was also able to pop over to the parish school for the summer fayre.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Indulgences attached to the Year for Priests

Yesterday I marked the start of the Year for Priests by preaching at a special Mass followed by a penitential visit to the dentist. In the afternoon I had a meeting with one of the chief organisers of adult catechesis in the parish when we discussed inter alia how we might help parents understand the Mass better. A Seekers Meeting followed an interview with one of our seminarians. I then drove into central London to be with my year group who had come together to celebrate twenty years of priesthood and to mark the beginning of this great Year.
I find some people are unaware of the indulgences attached to the Year for Priests. So here's a copy of the Decree:


Special Indulgence for the Year for Priests

As has been announced, the Holy Father Benedict XVI has decided to establish a special Year for Priests on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Mary Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars, a shining model of a Pastor totally dedicated to the service of the people of God.

During the Year for Priests which will begin on 19 June 2009 and will end on 19 June 2010, the gift of special Indulgences is granted as described in the Decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary, published on 12 May.

Shortly the day will come on which will be commemorated the 150th anniversary of the pious departure to Heaven of St John Mary Vianney, the Curé d'Ars. This Saint was a wonderful model here on earth of a true Pastor at the service of Christ's flock. Since his example is used to encourage the faithful, and especially priests, to imitate his virtues, the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI has established that for this occasion a special Year for Priests will be celebrated, from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010, in which all priests may be increasingly strengthened in fidelity to Christ with devout meditation, spiritual exercises and other appropriate actions.

This holy period will begin with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a day of priestly sanctification on which the Supreme Pontiff will celebrate Vespers in the presence of the holy relics of St John Mary Vianney, brought to Rome by the Bishop of Belley-Ars, France. The Most Holy Father will likewise preside at the conclusion of the Year for Priests in St Peter's Square, in the presence of priests from across the world who will renew their fidelity to Christ and the bond of brotherhood.

May priests commit themselves, with prayer and good works, to obtaining from Christ the Eternal High Priest, the grace to shine with Faith, Hope, Charity and the other virtues, and show by their way of life, but also with their external conduct, that they are dedicated without reserve to the spiritual good of the people something that the Church has always had at heart.

The gift of Sacred Indulgences which the Apostolic Penitentiary, with this Decree issued in conformity with the wishes of the August Pontiff, graciously grants during the Year for Priests will be of great help in achieving the desired purpose in the best possible way.

A. Truly repentant priests who, on any day, devoutly recite at least morning Lauds or Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament, exposed for public adoration or replaced in the tabernacle, and who, after the example of St John Mary Vianney, offer themselves with a ready and generous heart for the celebration of the sacraments, especially Confession, are mercifully granted in God the Plenary Indulgence which they may also apply to their deceased brethren in suffrage, if, in conformity with the current norms, they receive sacramental confession and the Eucharistic banquet and pray for the Supreme Pontiff's intentions.

Furthermore the Partial Indulgence is granted to priests who may apply it to their deceased confreres every time that they devoutly recite the prayers duly approved to lead a holy life and to carry out in a holy manner the offices entrusted to them.

B. The Plenary Indulgence is granted to all the faithful who are truly repentant who, in church or in chapel, devoutly attend the divine Sacrifice of Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest, for the priests of the Church, and any other good work which they have done on that day, so that he may sanctify them and form them in accordance with His Heart, as long as they have made expiation for their sins through sacramental confession and prayed in accordance with the Supreme Pontiff's intentions: on the days in which the Year for Priests begins and ends, on the day of the 150th anniversary of the pious passing of St John Mary Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month or on any other day established by the local Ordinaries for the benefit of the faithful.

It will be most appropriate, in cathedral and parish churches, for the same priests who are in charge of pastoral care to publicly direct these exercises of devotion, to celebrate Holy Mass and to hear the confession of the faithful.

The Plenary Indulgence will likewise be granted to the elderly, the sick and all those who for any legitimate reason are confined to their homes who, with a mind detached from any sin and with the intention of fulfilling as soon as possible the three usual conditions, at home or wherever their impediment detains them, provided that on the above-mentioned days they recite prayers for the sanctification of priests and confidently offer the illnesses and hardships of their lives to God through Mary Queen of Apostles.

Lastly, the Partial Indulgence is granted to all the faithful every time they devoutly recite five Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glorias, or another expressly approved prayer, in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to obtain that priests be preserved in purity and holiness of life.

This Decree is valid for the entire duration of the Year for Priests. Anything to the contrary notwithstanding.

Given in Rome, at the Offices of the Apostolic Penitentiary on 25 April, the Feast of St Mark the Evangelist, in the year of the Incarnation of our Lord 2009.

Cardinal James Francis Stafford
Major Penitentiary

Monday, June 15, 2009

Priesthood: A Life Open to Christ

On the subject of new publications, I should mention this new book by St Pauls. I've been invited to a book launch on Friday 19th June in the Throne Room of Archbishop's House, Westminster. Archbishop Vincent Nichols will be hosting the event but unfortunately I won't be able to get there. It is preceded by a special Mass in Westminster Cathedral at 5.30pm to celebrate the start of the Year of the Priesthood.
The book, compiled by Canon Daniel Cronin, contains 78 articles on the priesthood written by bishops and priests from around the world. It might make a nice present for your parish priest to mark the Year of the Priesthood that begins this week. You can order a copy online from St Pauls.

Discovering Your Vocation

I have been remiss in not posting about a new CTS booklet from Fr Stephen Wang. Many readers of this blog will know Fr Stephen from the constant encouragement and sensible advice they have received from him personally. Others may know him through Youth 2000 events or have read some of his other titles for young Catholics in the CTS series.
Some time ago I was sent a copy of talks Fr Stephen had given to young men discerning their vocation. He very graciously let me reproduce them and make them available to men in our diocese. I'm really pleased to see that these have now been expanded with lots of very practical advice for men and women trying to discern God's will for their lives.
You can order a copy by visiting the website of the Catholic Truth Society.

For those of you interested in a somewhat more formidable work by Fr Stephen Wang, his doctoral thesis has recently been published. Here's a link to the Amazon page.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corpus Christi Procession

Today we had the third (and last) of this year's First Communion Masses. Thanks be to God, over seventy children have now received Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion. It has been a lot of work and I am very grateful to the teachers and catechists who have dedicated so much time over the past year to preparing our First Communion candidates. During term time they have had lessons every week since September. Without our catechists and teachers it would not have been possible for them to be so well prepared.
When I first came to the parish I found the First Communion Mass (in those days we only had one) stressful. Well, to be honest, it was chaos. I remember one chap with earphones listening to the football, people wandering round, everyone talking and a great scrum at the moment of Communion. I couldn't believe it. Since then, of course, we have taken great care to ensure that everything goes smoothly and that the most important things are emphasised. No one walks around in the Church and we don't permit photos or videos except by a professional photographer. Everyone now comments on how prayerful and reverent the Mass is. I'm pleased about this because the significance of reciving Holy Communion for the first time is no longer obscured by the somewhat faddish excitement of a celebration.
Next week our children are invited to participate in the deanery Corpus Christi Procession that will take place at St Anselm's in Tooting. The parish is celebrating its centenary this year and it is nice to be able to have the Procession there - even though it will be a bit short because the roads are very busy round there. In his pastoral letter for the Feast of Corpus Christi the Archbishop spoke warmly of Corpus Christi Processions and I am glad that in our deanery they have been revived.
You've seen this before, but here once again is 'God in the Streets of New York'...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quo Vadis Trip to Rome

On 24th June a group of us will be travelling out to Rome for our first pilgrimage to the Eternal City. We're planning to visit all the important sites and to celebrate Holy Mass in the catacombs and, if possible in St Peter's as well. We will be there on for the closing of the Year of St Paul and for the Mass at which Archbishop Vincent Nichols will receive from the Holy Father his Pallium as the new Archbishop of Westminster.
Please pray for the success of our pilgrimage. We are all looking forward to it.

A Taste of Things to Come...

Are you coming to Catholic Underground UK on 4th July? As the last post mentions we have the Friars of the Renewal coming from New York. Since then I've heard that the Friars are great jazz musicians - not being a fan of Rap that's a relief to me!
Here's a Youtube video the Friars have produced. An example of news becoming vocations promotion...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Catholic Underground UK

At the beginning of July I'll be in Rome for a meeting of European Vocations Personnel. The meeting ends on Monday 6th July but I'll be flying back early to be in the parish for the next Catholic Underground session on Saturday 4th July.  It's going to be a great evening because our guest performers will be the original Catholic Underground houseband who are coming all the way from New York. The photo gives you some idea of what to expect! 
Catholic Underground starts with a Holy Hour at 7.15pm in the Church. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed and we sing vespers which is followed by a time of prayer lead by the music ministry. During Adoration priests are available to hear confessions.
After Benediction we go to the school hall for the second part of the evening: a time to chill out with refreshments and live musical entertainment. That's when the Friars will be performing. The evening ends with Compline at about 10.30pm - to give us time to clear things away before it gets too late!
Do join us for the evening. It's not often we have such a distinguished group!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mervile Day 3

Fr Peter Geldard, a bike & a plane...

Yesterday I had a upset stomach and took to my bed with strong medicine after the evening Mass. I wasn't feeling great today but not bad enough to justify staying in bed. I got up at 6.30am and made my way somewhat bleary-eyed to the chapel. The temptation to duck out of the morning's activities was strong but somehow I found myself in the room with everyone else for the presentation by Fr Paddy Sweeney from Dublin. I was glad to be there because he treated us to a very amusing exposition of what he described as 'grit in the shoe': those little things that can irritate or upset us as priests that, if ignored, can develop into serious problems. For the most part they were trivial things, delivered with great humour, but we could all see how they could build up in someone's imagination and had the potential to become real issues.

Aerial View of the Pastoral Centre

Perked up by the morning I then had to decide what to do for the free afternoon. I wasn't particularly keen to visit the local Church and monasteries, so I accepted an invitation from Fr Geldard to go for a flight in his plane.
This involved riding collapsible bikes (punctures repaired) to the airfield when the plane had been parked (free of charge). The fact the the local 'yoof' laughed at us as we cycled past on the odd-looking cycles was made acceptable by the knowledge that in a few minutes, as they continued scratching their noses, we would be taking off in a plane.

St Omer

Having made all the necessary checks and received clearance for take-off, we were soon looking down on the diocesan pastoral centre - our home for the week - and heading westwards towards St Omer where we landed to look at the RAF memorial. 
We then flew back to Merville and made our way to the pastoral centre with a good hour and a half to spare before the coaches arrived to take us to a hotel for a very pleasant evening meal.

RAF Memorial

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


I've mentioned before the blog by Glen Butterworth SJ. Glen has posted an article some of the readers of this blog might find interesting. Take a look here...


About sixty priests from all over the diocese have come together to spend a week with the Archbishop here in Merville. Most of us travelled by Eurostar from St Pancras and a few drove, catching the ferry to Calais. The prize for the most original means of transport, however, goes to Fr Peter Geldard who borrowed a friend's plane and flew here. Merville airfield is about five kilometres from where we are staying and the plan was to cycle the last bit of the trip. Unfortunately he got a puncture and ended up having to walk - on a beautiful sunny day I should add.
By last night we were all gathered and dully welcomed by the Ongoing Formation Team of the diocese who sought to anticipate all our various needs. The Archbishop gave us an introduction to the week before supper and in the evening we had a period of Adoration together followed by Compline and Benediction. 
Today has been a day of recollection with three talks given by Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP who drew on his experience, particularly as a former Master General of the Dominicans, to speak to us about our work 'between a rock and a hard place' as secular priests and the qualities of good leadership. In the photograph we see Fr Richard Whinder and Fr Marcus Holden shortly after their arrival at the former seminary.

Vocations Day with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary

On Saturday I drove over to Putney to spend some time with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who were hosting a vocations day for women. It gave me a chance to visit the fine parish church which I hadn't seen before. I was also able to drop in briefly on Canon Richard Quinlan who spent some years as assistant priest in my present parish (under my predecessor). Canon Quinlan very kindly lent me a set of vestments so that I could celebrate Mass for the group in the Convent chapel.
Five girls joined us for the day which began with a reflection on the scriptural theme "I am the potter, you are the clay". After Mass we had a light lunch together after which I had to leave while the participants had a chance to chat with the sisters individually before a period of Adoration in the afternoon.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Tomorrow I board a train for France in order to join about sixty priests of the diocese who will be spending the inside of a week together in prayer and reflection with the Archbishop. We will be staying in the former seminary at Merville which is now a diocesan retreat and conference centre. Do say a prayer the five days go well. In our diocese we are looking, among other things, at future pastoral provision. The temptation can be that we see this in terms of a 'shortage' of priests and falling Mass numbers necessitating structural change. What we need to do, as a presbyterate, is to see beyond structures to the mission of the Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century. These weeks can, I am sure, help us think in new ways.

A Pure Heart Create for Me

Last year, to mark the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the parish priest of St Patrick's, Soho, Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, organised a series of talks on 'Theology of the Body Today'. I gave one of the talks, shamelessly cribbing the title ('Aids, Condoms & the Catholic Church') from Fr Tim Finigan - who followed me with a talk entitled 'Challenge to the Culture'. Other contributors included Bishop Alan Hopes, Fr Anthony Doe, William Newton and James Parker.
I was very impressed by the number of people who turned up each evening, and particularly by the fact that there was no significant drop off over a series that spanned the best part of three months. Later it was suggested by some of those present that as many of the talks as possible should be collected and published to be made available to a wider audience. Robert Colquhoun was tasked with the job of assembling the material and editing it for publication. The book has now been published by Family Publications and it will be launched at St Patrick's on Thursday 18th June. It's not yet available on the Family Publications website but it will be worth looking out for.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Year for Priests - What will you do?

What could you do in your parishes to mark the year for priests? I received an email today from someone in the diocese who always encourages me in my work. He first of all told me:
"We have Eucharistic Adoration for vocations in our parish every Friday from 7am till 9pm. You will always find someone present in prayer".
And then when on to speak of the plans for the Year for Priests:
"We are going to celebrate the anniversary of the ordination of our two priests to the priesthood on Sunday 12th July. The intentions at the two masses will be “To thank almighty God for [their] vocation. I am presently organizing all the various societies in the parish to participate and so far everyone is really enthusiastic. To be honest everyone approached actually loved the idea".
Sometimes people want years such as this to be marked by big diocesan events - which have their place of course - but I can't help feeling these little local initiatives will have a more long-lasting effect. So have a think. What will you do in your parish?

Year for Priests

The Holy Father has called for a Year for Priests to begin in June which has attached to it the possibility of gaining a Plenary Indulgence. This is the Letter from the Congregation for the Clergy announcing the Year:

Dear Priests,

The Year of Priesthood, announced by our beloved Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of the saintly Curé of Ars, St. John Mary Vianney, is drawing near. It will be inaugurated by the Holy Father on the 19th June, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. The announcement of the Year of Priesthood has been very warmly received, especially amongst priests themselves. Everyone wants to commit themselves with determination, sincerity and fervour so that it may be a year amply celebrated in the whole world – in the Dioceses, parishes and in every local community – with the warm participation of our Catholic people who undoubtedly love their priests and want to see them happy, holy and joyous in their daily apostolic labours.

It must be a year that is both positive and forward looking in which the Church says to her priests above all, but also to all the Faithful and to wider society by means of the mass media, that she is proud of her priests, loves them, honours them, admires them and that she recognises with gratitude their pastoral work and the witness of the their life. Truthfully priests are important not only for what they do but also for who they are. Sadly, it is true that at the present time some priest have been shown to have been involved in gravely problematic and unfortunate situations. It is necessary to investigate these matters, pursue judicial processes and impose penalties accordingly. However, it is also important to keep in mind that these pertain to a very small portion of the clergy. The overwhelming majority of priests are people of great personal integrity, dedicated to the sacred ministry; men of prayer and of pastoral charity, who invest their entire existence in the fulfilment of their vocation and mission, often through great personal sacrifice, but always with an authentic love towards Jesus Christ, the Church and the people, in solidarity with the poor and the suffering. It is for this reason that the Church is proud of her priests wherever they may be found.

May this year be an occasion for a period of intense appreciation of the priestly identity, of the theology of the Catholic priesthood, and of the extraordinary meaning of the vocation and mission of priests within the Church and in society. This will require opportunities for study, days of recollection, spiritual exercises reflecting on the Priesthood, conferences and theological seminars in our ecclesiastical faculties, scientific research and respective publications.

The Holy Father, in announcing the Year in his allocution on the 16th March last to the Congregation for the Clergy during its Plenary Assembly, said that with this special year it is intended “to encourage priests in this striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends”. For this reason it must be, in a very special way, a year of prayer by priests, with priests and for priests, a year for the renewal of the spirituality of the presbyterate and of each priest. The Eucharist is, in this perspective, at the heart of priestly spirituality. Thus Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests and the spiritual motherhood of religious women, consecrated and lay women towards priests, as previously proposed some time ago by the Congregation for the Clergy, could be further developed and would certainly bear the fruit of sanctification.

May it also be a year in which the concrete circumstances and the material sustenance of the clergy will be considered, since they live, at times, in situations of great poverty and hardship in many parts of the world.

May it be a year as well of religious and of public celebration which will bring the people – the local Catholic community – to pray, to reflect, to celebrate, and justly to give honour to their priests. In the ecclesial community a celebration is a very cordial event which expresses and nourishes Christian joy, a joy which springs from the certainty that God loves us and celebrates with us. May it therefore be an opportunity to develop the communion and friendship between priests and the communities entrusted to their care.

Many other aspects and initiatives could be mentioned that could enrich the Year of Priesthood, but here the faithful ingenuity of the local churches is called for. Thus, it would be good for every Dioceses and each parish and local community to establish, at the earliest opportunity, an effective programme for this special year. Clearly it would be important to begin the Year with some notable event. The local Churches are invited on the 19th June next, the same day on which the Holy Father will inaugurate the Year of Priesthood in Rome, to participate in the opening of the Year, ideally by some particular liturgical act and festivity. Let those who are able most surely come to Rome for the inauguration, to manifest their own participation in this happy initiative of the Pope.

God will undoubtedly bless with great love this undertaking; and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Clergy, will pray for each of you, dear priests.

Cláudio Cardinal Hummes

Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo

Prefect, Congregation for the Clergy.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Southwark Vocations Endorsed By Holy See

His Excellency Monsignor Mauro Piacenza wrote recently to convey the compliments of the Congregation for the Clergy, of which he is Secretary, for our new diocesan Handbook for Parish Vocations Teams.

The Congregations writes that the Handbook:
"appears to have struck a healthy balance between the centrality of the universal vocation to holiness by virtue of our baptism and the indispensable vocations to priesthood and the consecrated life by which the Church worships God, proclaims the Gospel, and witnesses to the work of Grace in her members".

It particularly commends the handbook as a useful means of promoting Eucharistic Adoration and prayer for priests during the forthcoming Year of Priesthood:
"Indeed, the volume might serve as a useful resource within the apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration, fostering an awareness of the responsibility of every member of Christ's faithful to pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood, and to faithfully understand its nature and place within the Church, particularly in view of the Year of the Priesthood recently announced by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI".

I am greatful to the Archbishop for such a strong endorsement of our new initiative and also to the Apostolic Nuncio who requested a number of copies to forward to Rome.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An Unusual Wedding

Yesterday afternoon I drove down to Shaftesbury where I celebrated the wedding of some parishioners today. The parish of the Most Holy Name and St Edward is run by Fr Dylan James, a young priest whom I first met when he was an undergraduate in London. Fr Dylan studied at Oscott and later completed a doctorate in Moral Theology, a subject he now lectures part-time at Wonersh.
The wedding was unusual because both bride and groom were divorced and had teenage children. I have to admit that I was quite worried about the sermon. How could I preach about marriage and avoid the danger of giving the wrong signals to the young people present? In the end I decided the only way was to tackle the issue head on. Having used Satnav to find my way to Shaftesbury - "turn around when possible" - I spoke first about the providence of God. I then spoke about the importance of a good Catholic marriage preparation course - a couple when they marry are assenting to a Catholic understanding of marriage. If this consent isn't there we would regard the marriage as invalid - hence the possibility of an annulment. In this case one partner had the marriage annulled on grounds of lack of canonical form, and the other on grounds of an intention against an integral aspect of marriage. Having cleared the air, I was then able to speak about marriage as a path to holiness, a vocation and a sacrament, and about the meaning of love. The readings they chose made this very easy.
I was a bit nervous about how the couple would feel about me mentioning annullments but was pleased that they really appreciated the sermon. Not only that, lots of their guests also commented that I'd answered their questions - and three want to come to see me about sorting out their own marriage situation.
My prayers to the Holy Spirit for inspiration really paid off!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Federico Lombardi SJ

Last night I attended a special Mass organised by the Catholic Communications Network to mark World Communications Day. It was presided over by Bishop John Arnold and there were quite a few journalists present. Also concelebrating was Fr Federico Lombardi SJ the papal press officer who later gave a lecture on his work. The lecture took place at Allen Hall and I was impressed by the number of people who attended. In the questions that followed a number of journalists asked about controversies to which Fr Lombardi has himself referred in the course of his talk (Regensburg, Aids, Bishop Williamson). While acknowledging that these had been negative experiences, Fr Lombardi did say that they had in each case occasioned a more profound dialogue with the interested parties. The Church had, as a result of these PR 'disasters', been able to communicate its message more effectively to men of good will. As a result there was now a greater understanding between the Church and some Islamic scholars and Jewish representatives, and a more honest debate with the scientific world.
Lombardi's critique of communications seemed to be according to the 'action, reaction, synthesis' model. He clearly has been pro-active in engaging the new media, particularly setting up the You Tube channel. I was, however, left with a niggle that something was missing. It is good for us to be up to date with technology but these channels are simply tools for us to use in communicating. I wondered whether there is also a need to update our model. In secular life communication offices no longer simply kick-in reactively. They are now part of the presentation of the message. To a certain extent they make the news, or at least determine how it will be packaged. I couldn't help feeling that Navarro Valls possibly understood this better, as a lay man who is a journalist, than his charming and illustrious successor.
James Roberts, who formerly worked for the Independent, and now works for the Catholic press asked whether Lombardi's work would be facilitated if the local Church weres were more pro-active in presenting the challenge of the faith to the media. Ruth Gledhill from the Times asked whether the Holy Father had any plans to visit England. The answer, given with wonderful Italian flourish, boiled down to: not yet!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fatima Comes to Balham

On Saturday we had a 'Day with Mary' in the parish. The organisers arrived before 8am and worked hard to get everything ready in time for the first part of the day which was a May Procession round the Square. The police kindly came and stopped the traffic for five laps of the Square as the pilgrims prayed both the Joyful and the Sorrowful Mysteries.
After the Procession I celebrated Holy Mass and preached on the theme of "Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit" which I thought appropriate both given the dedication of the Church and also the fact that we are now looking towards Pentecost. At the end of the Mass I led the people in a special Consecration of the Parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
There was then a break for lunch followed by a Blessed Sacrament Procession and a period of Adoration. The remaining Mysteries of the Rosary were prayed in the afternoon and there was also a chance for anyone so wishing to be enrolled into the Scapular of Mt Carmel. Finally the day closed just in time for our evening Mass with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima being carried in procession out of the Church as the people sang "O Fatima farewell".
About two hundred and fifty joined us for the Day with Mary including some of our own parishioners. Confessions were heard throughout and I am especially grateful to the eight priests who made themselves available to help with Confessions. These pilgrimages are great opportunities for people to seek reconciliation with God and I know that the priests who hear Confessions are always impressed by the fact that the Lord uses them to crack quite a few 'hard cases'!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

From Atheist to Christian

Sometimes we need to look elsewhere for quite encouraging news. I'd missed, for example, any reports in the British press of the conversion from atheism to a belief in God by two important English writers. So I was pleased to come across this article in the Spanish publication Aceprensa. For those of you who struggle with Spanish let me give you the introduction to the article and a translation. It's quite fun:

Desde que Richard Dawkins y compañía comenzaron su particular cruzada para salvar al mundo de la creencia en Dios, las filas del ateísmo han sufrido algunas bajas importantes. Primero fue el filósofo inglés Antony Flew que, tras estudiar los recientes hallazgos científicos sobre el origen de la vida, llegó a aceptar la existencia de Dios (cfr. Aceprensa, 16-04-2009). Ahora le ha seguido Andrew Norman Wilson, un novelista, biógrafo y articulista de renombre en la prensa británica.

"Ever since Richard Dawkins and company began their particular crusade to save the world from belief in God, the ranks of atheism have suffered some notable setbacks. The first was the English philosopher Anthony Flew who, have studied recent scientific advances concerning the origin of life, has come to accept the existence of God. Now he has been followed by Andrew Norman Wilson, a renowned author, biographer and commentator in the British press".

The article goes on to say that while Flew hasn't embraced any particular religion, Wilson has returned to his Anglican roots. The article has a link to the New Stateman which carries a fuller account of Wilson's return to Christianity.


I've had an email from Glen Butterworth SJ who had read an article I wrote for a local Catholic publication. Glen was hoping to publish an extract on his own blog which promotes Jesuit vocations. As part of his preparation for priesthood Glen will be studying in London next year so perhaps we'll meet up. In the meantime do visit his blog - he has a poll for the most influential Jesuit of the twentieth century. At my suggestion he added Henri de Lubac to the list - so make sure you vote for him!

Friday, May 15, 2009

What number are you?

Tomorrow we should have our fifty thousandth visitor to this blog. Do let us know by leaving a comment in the combox if it's you!
I'll remember all our readers at Mass tomorrow as we celebrate a Day with Mary in the parish.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Grassroots - the markers of 'Fishers of Men', the phenomenally successful vocations video - have produced a simple but profoundly effective pro-life short:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rover's Return

Last week I was away from the parish for a few days break after Easter. I went first to the parish of Our Lady & St Christopher in Bredbury and Romiley where a friend has recently taken over as parish priest. Fr Philip Egan is the author of "Philosophy & Catholic Theology - A Primer". It was good to spend a few days with him on the edge of the Peak District.
After that I drove down the West coast of Wales to Cardigan and spent some time at Our Lady of the Taper, the National Shrine. I was able to enjoy the beauty of the Welsh countryside and also catch up with some friends. On Friday I drove to Newport to have lunch with a family and then into Cardiff to be present for the start of the Refresh Cardiff Retreat. I was there for the opening Mass celebrated by Archbishop Peter Smith and for part of the first evening's programme. Sadly I couldn't stay for the whole event because I had to get back for a wedding on Saturday morning.
It was good to get away for a few days.

Social Project

Each year our parish supports students from Netherhall House in their fund-raising efforts for them to spend the summer in a social project somewhere in the third world. Over the years I've got to know many of the students who have gone including, of course, some from my own parish. It has always had a tremendous impact on their lives. They have dug latrines, built orphanages and offered basic medical care. Last year they built a school. I didn't realise there was a video of last year's project on Youtube but, having discovered it, I'm pleased to post it here.
I'm also pleased that some of the students have gone on these trips in the past are now hoping to be ordained priests one day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Encouraging Younger Vocations

"The vocations crisis in this country will never be over until we regain the confidence to accept younger vocations". These words, spoken by a well-known former vocations director, now Vicar General of his diocese, have stuck with me.
To respond to a vocation is to give oneself in love. To be sure, many teenagers who 'fall in love' do not stay together and, indeed, that can be a good thing. We can learn a lot about ourselves and about the reality of love from these adolescent romances. But our relationship with God is quite different. For a start, it is a relationship that is supposed to start and never end no matter how young we are. Secondly, as that relationship grows we have to face up to only our own shortcomings - not God's!
As May approaches I can't help but reflect on the fact that Our Lady was very young when she responded to God's call. Her 'Yes' had dramatic consequences. It wasn't easy for her. Indeed, it led her to the Cross. The main point is that she was faithful. That's what God asks of us: fidelity.
Perhaps it was the sad exodus from the priesthood from the 1960s that led people to be hesitant about encouraging younger vocations. I hope it is a fear that can be left behind and that instead of responding nervously when a young man presents himself for the priesthood, we can rejoice at his generosity, and pray for his fidelity.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Discovering Priesthood Day

Yesterday we had another of our Discovering Priesthood Days. We try to hold these in different parts of the diocese and it was nice to be back at Lewisham where we were made so welcome last year. It was our largest Discovering Priesthood Day so far with lads from all over South East London as well as a good group from Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Once again we were looked after by the Union of Catholic Mothers - including Pearl who deserves a special mention because it was her 80th birthday.

Fr Sean O'Connor led the day which began with a testimony from Fr Marcus Holden who recently moved to Tunbridge Wells after three years in Balham. There was also a showing of the film 'Fishers of Men'. Bishop Patrick Lynch joined us for the day and spoke of his religious vocation (he is a Picpus Father). After questions I spoke about the call to holiness and the practical ways in which we live it. Holy Mass was followed by lunch and sports. Fr Chris Connor, the parish priest, treated us to a takeaway from a local Indian restaurant that apparently has a Sacred Heart statue amongst its panoply of Hindu gods.

After the lunch break I spoke more directly about the different vocations in the Church and how to discern them. We then had our usual 'Priest on the Hotseat' session with questions ranging from "Why do you wear a collar?" to "If God is spirit how can he have an image?" The day ended with Benediction in the Church.

Discovering Priesthood Days are easy to organise because the formula is straightforward. It's good to have a priest who will speak enthusiastically about his vocation and priestly life. The film 'Fishers of Men' offers a different medium for raising questions about priesthood. Mass, Confessions and a time of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament are important. So is having some outside space where youngsters can run around and shake off some energy. After all, we want them to go home feeling they've had a really enjoyable day! It is the sort of thing a Parish Vocation Team can organise inviting, perhaps, all the other parishes of the Deanery to send youngsters. Those who come need not be thinking explicitly about priesthood - altar servers and confirmation candidates would be good groups to target.

Do these days have any effect? I'm sure they do but don't take my word for it. Here's an email that arrived this morning:
The day was wonderful. Thanks for organising it. Here is my email. Please inform me of any programs going on. I will try my best to come to it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Discernment - a two-way task

Vocations directors meet lots of men who think they have a vocation to the priesthood. Unfortunately it is not so straightforward and a sizeable number of those who enquire are clearly not suited to be priests. Vocations discernment has two sides to it. The individual comes to the conclusion that there is a possibility God is calling him to priesthood. He must then subject himself to the judgement of the Church. A recent document of the Holy See reminds us that in the end it is the Church who must discern a person’s suitability. In so doing she has to bear in mind that the priestly ministry requires certain human and spiritual qualities which can be compromised or made more difficult given some personal dispositions or the social climate in which she functions.

“Some of these qualities merit particular attention: the positive and stable sense of one's masculine identity, and the capacity to form relations in a mature way with individuals and groups of people; a solid sense of belonging, which is the basis of future communion with the presbyterium and of a responsible collaboration in the ministry of the bishop; the freedom to be enthused by great ideals and a coherence in realizing them in everyday action; the courage to take decisions and to stay faithful to them; a knowledge of oneself, of one's talents and limitations, so as to integrate them within a self-esteem before God; the capacity to correct oneself; the appreciation for beauty in the sense of “splendour of the truth” as well as the art of recognizing it; the trust that is born from an esteem of the other person and that leads to acceptance; the capacity of the candidate to integrate his sexuality in accordance with the Christian vision, including in consideration of the obligation of celibacy”. [Guidelines for the use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood].

It may be true that some of those who present themselves are from the outset clearly unsuitable as candidates for the priesthood but that is not always the case. Part of the Vocations Director’s job is, therefore, to get to know the candidates well before he puts them forward for selection. There is, after all, no point putting someone forward only in order to have them rejected. If you, or someone you know, is thinking of the priesthood it would be good to contact your Vocations Director as soon as possible.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Snakes on a Plane

When I was visiting my brother, Dominic & his family, in Australia after World Youth Day he told me that they often found poisonous snakes basking in the sun on the lawn of their house, overlooking the water. I went with his family for a few days further north to the place where Captain Cook landed. The beach there had notices warning of Stone Fish. On the way back we found an enormous spider in the car. Great!
A couple of years ago a priest friend and I watched the film 'Snakes on a Plane'. It was very funny but not something you'd want to come true. So I can't resist an item from the news today - hey Dom - it's happened. Four pythons escaped on a flight from Melbourne. Good job they weren't poisonous...

Holy Week with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

I greatly admire the Friars of the Renewal and consider myself privileged to have some contact with the community in Canning Town. They get a reasonable number of vocations from England but are in no way in competition with diocesan vocations directors. The two vocations are totally different. The Friars don't seem to have any developed programme to fish for vocations. They just live the Gospel and that attracts young men.
Here's a slideshow I saw recently on the Roman Catholic Vocations Blog.

Click the photo to see the show.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Seeking Wisdom

For my homilies over the Triduum I contrasted human and divine wisdom.
This year, although we have heard a lot about Charles Darwin, I have been struck by how little attention has been paid to his personal life. In many ways he died a broken man: he wrote that he longed for the grave in Down Churchyard. Coming from a solid philanthropical background, Darwin found his 'scientific' logic to be at odds with his heart. The man who concluded that it was folly to permit the sick to breed, found that some of his own children were weak and unhealthy. Darwin's anointed successor on the continent was Ernst Haeckel thanks to whom the concept of 'unlebenswurdig' - or life unworthy of living - first enters the German dictionary. Darwin's son Leonard became chairman of the British Eugenics Society. It is as if, in doing away with the Creator, the way had been paved for the destruction also of the creature. This is contrasted with God's love which embraces every individual and gives it worth and dignity.
On Good Friday I spoke of the folly of the Cross from a human perspective and how God's wisdom can transform even human suffering.
I developed this theme further at the Vigil. The light of the Resurrection enables us to see clearly the hand of God not just in the created world but also in the whole history of salvation. I put a particular emphasis on faith as man's response, arguing that faith isn't just a matter of believing what has been revealed but is also about putting our trust in the one who is revealed.
This year, once again we had good numbers at all our services. I was particularly pleased to see a lot of young people who had made the effort to join us.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Theme: Faith in the divine initiative - the human response

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Brothers and Sisters,

On the occasion of the next World Day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life, which will be celebrated on 3 May 2009, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, I want to invite all the People of God to reflect on the theme: Faith in the divine initiative - the human response. The exhortation of Jesus to his disciples: “Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Mt 9:38) has a constant resonance in the Church. Pray! The urgent call of the Lord stresses that prayer for vocations should be continuous and trusting. The Christian community can only really “have ever greater faith and hope in God's providence” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 26) if it is enlivened by prayer.

The vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life constitutes a special gift of God which becomes part of the great plan of love and salvation that God has for every man and woman and for the whole of humanity. The Apostle Paul, whom we remember in a special way during this Pauline Year dedicated to the Two-thousandth anniversary of his birth, writing to the Ephesians says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ef 1:3-4). In the universal call to holiness, of particular relevance is God’s initiative of choosing some to follow his Son Jesus Christ more closely, and to be his privileged ministers and witnesses. The divine Master personally called the Apostles “to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (Mk 3:14-15); they, in turn, gathered other disciples around them as faithful collaborators in this mission. In this way, responding to the Lord’s call and docile to the movement of the Holy Spirit, over the centuries, countless ranks of priests and consecrated persons placed themselves totally at the service of the Gospel in the Church. Let us give thanks to God, because even today he continues to call together workers into his vineyard. While it is undoubtedly true that a worrisome shortage of priests is evident in some regions of the world, and that the Church encounters difficulties and obstacles along the way, we are sustained by the unshakable certitude that the one who firmly guides her in the pathways of time towards the definitive fulfilment of the Kingdom is he, the Lord, who freely chooses persons of every culture and of every age and invites them to follow him according to the mysterious plans of his merciful love.

Our first duty, therefore, is to keep alive in families and in parishes, in movements and in apostolic associations, in religious communities and in all the sectors of diocesan life this appeal to the divine initiative with unceasing prayer. We must pray that the whole Christian people grows in its trust in God, convinced that the “Lord of the harvest” does not cease to ask some to place their entire existence freely at his service so as to work with him more closely in the mission of salvation. What is asked of those who are called, for their part, is careful listening and prudent discernment, a generous and willing adherence to the divine plan, and a serious study of the reality that is proper to the priestly and religious vocations, so as to be able to respond responsibly and with conviction.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly reminds us that God’s free initiative requires a free response on the part of men and women; a positive response which always presupposes acceptance of and identification with the plan that God has for everyone; a response which welcomes the Lord’s loving initiative and becomes, for the one who is called, a binding moral imperative, an offering of thanksgiving to God and a total cooperation with the plan which God carries out in history (cf. n. 2062).

Contemplating the mystery of the Eucharist, which expresses in a sublime way the free gift of the Father in the Person of his Only Begotten Son for the salvation of mankind, and the full and docile readiness of Christ to drink to the dregs the “cup” of the will of God (cf. Mt 26:39), we can more readily understand how “faith in the divine initiative” models and gives value to the “human response”. In the Eucharist, that perfect gift which brings to fulfilment the plan of love for the redemption of the world, Jesus offers himself freely for the salvation of mankind. “The Church”, my beloved predecessor John Paul II wrote, “has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as a gift – however precious – among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11).

It is priests who are called to perpetuate this salvific mystery from century to century until the Lord’s glorious return, for they can contemplate, precisely in the Eucharistic Christ, the eminent model of a “vocational dialogue” between the free initiative of the Father and the faithful response of Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist it is Christ himself who acts in those whom he chooses as his ministers; he supports them so that their response develops in a dimension of trust and gratitude that removes all fear, even when they experience more acutely their own weakness (cf. Rm 8:26-28), or indeed when the experience of misunderstanding or even of persecution is most bitter (cf. Rm 8:35-39).

The awareness of being saved by the love of Christ, which every Mass nourishes in the faithful and especially in priests, cannot but arouse within them a trusting self-abandonment to Christ who gave his life for us. To believe in the Lord and to accept his gift, therefore, leads us to entrust ourselves to Him with thankful hearts, adhering to his plan of salvation. When this does happen, the one who is “called” voluntarily leaves everything and submits himself to the teaching of the divine Master; hence a fruitful dialogue between God and man begins, a mysterious encounter between the love of the Lord who calls and the freedom of man who responds in love, hearing the words of Jesus echoing in his soul, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16).

This intertwining of love between the divine initiative and the human response is present also, in a wonderful way, in the vocation to the consecrated life. The Second Vatican Council recalls, “The evangelical counsels of chastity dedicated to God, poverty and obedience are based upon the words and examples of the Lord. They were further commanded by the apostles and Fathers of the Church, as well as by the doctors and pastors of souls. The counsels are a divine gift, which the Church received from its Lord and which it always safeguards with the help of His grace” (Lumen Gentium, 43).
Once more, Jesus is the model of complete and trusting adherence to the will of the Father, to whom every consecrated person must look. Attracted by him, from the very first centuries of Christianity, many men and women have left families, possessions, material riches and all that is humanly desirable in order to follow Christ generously and live the Gospel without compromise, which had become for them a school of deeply rooted holiness. Today too, many undertake this same demanding journey of evangelical perfection and realise their vocation in the profession of the evangelical counsels. The witness of these our brothers and sisters, in contemplative monasteries, religious institutes and congregations of apostolic life, reminds the people of God of “that mystery of the Kingdom of God is already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven” (Vita Consecrata, 1).

Who can consider himself worthy to approach the priestly ministry? Who can embrace the consecrated life relying only on his or her own human powers? Once again, it is useful to reiterate that the response of men and women to the divine call, whenever they are aware that it is God who takes the initiative and brings His plan of salvation to fulfilment, is never patterned after the timid self-interest of the worthless servant who, out of fear, hid the talent entrusted to him in the ground (cf. Mt 25:14-30), but rather expresses itself in a ready adherence to the Lord’s invitation, as in the case of Peter who, trusting in the Lord’ word, did not hesitate to let down the net once more even after having toiled all night and catching nothing (cf. Lk 5:5). Without in any sense renouncing personal responsibility, the free human response to God thus becomes “co-responsibility”, responsibility in and with Christ, through the action of his Holy Spirit; it becomes communion with the One who makes it possible for us to bear much fruit (cf. Jn 15:5).

An emblematic human response, full of trust in God’s initiative, is the generous and unmitigated “Amen” of the Virgin of Nazareth, uttered with humble and decisive adherence to the plan of the Most High announced to her by God’s messenger (cf. Lk 1:38). Her prompt “Yes” allowed Her to become the Mother of God, the Mother of our Saviour. Mary, after this first “fiat”, had to repeat it many times, even up to the culminating moment of the crucifixion of Jesus, when “standing by the cross of Jesus” as the Evangelist John notes, she participated in the dreadful suffering of her innocent Son. And it was from the cross, that Jesus, while dying, gave her to us as Mother and entrusted us to her as sons and daughters (cf. Jn 19:26-27); she is especially the Mother of priests and consecrated persons. I want to entrust to her all those who are aware of God’s call to set out on the road of the ministerial priesthood or consecrated life.

Dear friends, do not become discouraged in the face of difficulties and doubts; trust in God and follow Jesus faithfully and you will be witnesses of the joy that flows from intimate union with him. Imitating the Virgin Mary whom all generations proclaim as blessed because she believed (cf. Lk 1:48), commit yourselves with every spiritual energy, to realise the heavenly Father’s plan of salvation, cultivating in your heart, like her, the ability to be astonished and to adore him who is mighty and does “great things”, for Holy is his name (cf. Lk 1:49).

From the Vatican, 20 January 2009