Sunday, 28 October 2007

Youth Group

Phew! - the end of another Sunday. Apart from the clocks changing this morning and a man fainting at the beginning of my sermon at one Mass, it was a fairly ordinary Sunday. I've just returned from the young adults group (18-35) which I run every fortnight. We normally start with sung Compline in the semi-darkened church. Then we adjourn for either shared lectio divina, based on the Sunday readings (which the young people organise themselves), or a discussion based on a presentation from one of the members. Then we have refreshments!

At present we're tackling the theme of 'Sanctity and Sexuality'. Last time we looked at chastity; this week we tackled the issue of homosexuality; and next month we're continuing with a session on contraception. The great thing is that these were the topics suggested by the young people, and the discussions have been very fruitful. Tonight there were about 12 people, including two Czechs, an Italian and a couple of Nigerians. Every meeting seems to bring new faces.

I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to these 'youth' groups (a term which I don't particularly like) so I'd be interested to hear what activities you may provide for this age range in your parish.


Saturday, 27 October 2007

The Inquisition at Evenley

Earlier this week I returned to Jill and Brett Kelly's house in Evenley, south west Northamptonshire, to give a talk on the Spanish Inquisition. I had been there in June to talk about another strand of the anti-Catholic 'Black Legend' - the Crusades. The Kelly's organise monthly talks in their house and also run a Catholic Library. There were about 40 people present (including some non-Catholics) and I was really a warm-up for their next speaker, the eminent Fr John Saward. As I wrote in June, 'the Kellys (who have 17 grandchildren) made me think of penal times, when Catholic households and families provided such powerful centres of the Faith for the surrounding area'.

My talk was based on this article, which appeared in the Faith Magazine earlier this year. I was expecting a bit of an Inquisition when it came to question time but most people seemed convinced by the facts, that the Inquisition was not as bloody and repressive as many books make out.

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Friday, 26 October 2007

Eamon Duffy on St Gregory VII

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Eamon Duffy on St Gregory the Great

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Popes Who Shook History

Professor Eamon Duffy (author of Stripping of the Altars and Professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge) has started an interesting series for BBC Radio 4 called Ten Popes Who Shook the World - and he starts with St Peter. You can hear it here.

He'll be looking at St Leo the Great, St Gregory the Great, St Gregory VII, Innocent III, Paul III (an interesting choice), Bl Pius IX, Pius XII, Bl John XXIII and John Paul II. It will be particularly interesting to hear his analysis of more recent pontiffs. The write-up on Pius XII poses the promising question: 'struggling to remain impartial, Pius failed, in the eyes of many, to speak out strongly enough against the Holocaust. But has history judged him fairly?' However, the description of the John Paul II programme mentions the usual criticism of 'inflexible theological and moral positions,' which Duffy mentioned in his Saints and Sinners book.

The first programme, however, is encouraging, especially considering the BBC's track record of papal coverage...


Saturday, 20 October 2007

Prior Bolton's Fishpond

I have previously mentioned one of our local landmarks, Canonbury Tower (see above, partly obscured by the more recent building), which was built by William Bolton, the Prior of the Augustinian Priory of St Bartholomew's, Smithfield (1505-32). You can still see his device of a barrel (tun) pierced by a crossbow bolt on some nearby buildings. Bolton was also Master of the King's Works and was involved in many other building projects, such as Westminster Abbey's Henry VII Chapel and monument to Lady Margaret Beaufort.

Last night I visited a parishioner and passed a road called 'Prior Bolton Street'. I was then told that the remnants of a fishpond that once belonged to the good Canons occasionally 're-appears' and floods the basements of certain houses in the area. England is full of stories of ghosts who lament the destruction of the 1530s - phantom monks and nuns and all that - but it is curious to hear of a pond that serves to remind the people of twenty-first century Islington of pre-Reformation days!

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Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The Royal Penitent

On Monday I led some prayers on Trafalgar Square for the repose of the soul of our last Catholic king, James II. This happens every year, around the time of the King's birthday (14 October), and is organised by the Royal Stuart Society. At the end of the service a wreath was laid on the splendid statue outside the National Gallery by the Society's Chairman, Lord Aylmer.

I chose as my theme the final years of the exiled King's life. By the time of his death in 1701, James had gained a reputation for sanctity and the cause for his beatification was even launched. He had kept an almost monastic daily routine of morning prayer, meditation, two Masses, vespers and rosary. He also received Holy Communion twice a week (which was, at the time, very unusual), made a monthly day of recollection, said prayers for the Conversion of England every third Wednesday and undertook bodily penances. He was a living example of the teachings of St Francis de Sales, whose works he read every day and who taught that the pursuit of holiness was possible amidst the distractions and trials of the world.

The King came under a number of spiritual influences during his second period of exile. He had a Jesuit confessor and read many books of piety written by members of the Society – making it rather appropriate that he was mistaken as a Jesuit priest when he was captured at Faversham. He had a great affection for the English Benedictines in Paris, at whose church his mortal remains were eventually buried. He also visited with his wife the Visitation Convent at Chaillot, where his mother’s heart was enshrined. Mary of Modena was a frequent guest at this house and made her annual retreats there; James, on the other hand, from 1690 onwards made his retreats at the reformed Cistercian Abbey of La Trappe. He enjoyed a close relationship with the influential Abbot which, according to the historian John Callow, was ‘possibly the only lasting and entirely satisfying attachment that James made outside his family circle during his last exile.’ James admitted that it took his first visit to the austere monastery ‘to give me knowledge of myself and make me despise all that seems great in the world.’ The Abbot, likewise, was impressed by the King’s ‘tranquillity and evenness of mind’ and ‘his disengagement from worldly things and a resignation to the will of God.’

In his exile, James learnt to trust in the plan that God had for him, even though to human eyes it often seemed harsh and confusing. In his view, the loss of his Kingdom would allow him to save his soul. He came to see his own sufferings as expiation for past sins and in particular regretted his relationships with various mistresses: Lady Denham, the Countess of Dorchester, Arabella Churchill and Goditha Price. Perhaps he saw further reparation for these sins when, in 1690, his daughter by Arabella Churchill was professed as Dame Ignatia at the English Benedictine convent at Pontoise – a ceremony at which Mary of Modena was present.

Though he continued to promote his cause, the King was humble enough to walk the way of Calvary. Indeed, he had a great devotion to the cross – it was, after all, on the Feast of the Finding of the Cross that he had been crowned at Westminster Abbey; it was on Good Friday 1701 that he suffered the beginning of his final illness, and it was on a Friday at three in the afternoon – the very hour of the Lord’s death – that James passed away.

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Saturday, 13 October 2007

Spiritual Lottery

Last week I found the above 'device' in the church at Camporgiano. It comprises of a list of intentions, numbered 1 to 90, which relate to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. So, for example no. 8 would be 'for those souls who were devoted to the Seraphic St Francis', no.10 'for the souls of your father and mother' and no. 52 'for the souls of those Religious who were unfaithful to their vows.'

Attached to the board is a tray containing wooden balls with numbers on them - rather like bingo. The aim is to pick up a ball, consult the number on the chart and pray for that intention for following week or month. It seems a good idea, which children in particular would like, and could be expanded to include other intentions.


Friday, 12 October 2007

The Dangers of Clerical Dress?

You may have read in the Catholic papers that an Anglican report (Clergy Lifestyle Theory) has recommended that clerical dress should be dropped for health and safety reasons. Wearing a Roman collar apparently makes priests an 'easy target' for criminals.

It is true that almost all priests are threatened by violent behaviour or language at one time or another, and I can think of colleagues who have been kicked in the head or chased round the church. Five Anglican clerics were murdered in this country between 1996 and 2007. We do need to be more 'security conscious', being careful who we let into the presbytery (especially without an appointment), installing CCTV and exercising vigilance when locking the church or answering the door after dark. The Anglican report suggested having 'guardian angels' - and I suppose bodies like the Knights of St Columba could provide a security role, especially on a busy Sunday morning.

Attacks on clergy won't be prevented simply by donning T-shirts and jeans. In many situations I feel much safer in a Roman collar - especially when I'm visiting housing estates in the depths of Hackney, where I live and work. I frequently travel on the Underground in clericals - I often get strange looks and sometimes enter into conversations with people, but never once have I felt threatened.

And anyway, I wear the collar not for my own benefit (though it does encourage me to act in a priestly way) but as a witness to the presence of the Church in the world and as a way of making myself identifiable and therefore accessible to anybody who might want to speak to a priest. Only last week I was tucking into an ice cream on one of the squares in Lucca and a passing cyclist came over to me and asked me to bless her rosary!

There is obviously a risk, as with anybody wearing a uniform, but the chance of being assaulted is low and more dependant on being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Thursday, 11 October 2007

The Church as the Defender of Women

Josephine Robinson, Chairman of the Association of Catholic Women, will be speaking on this subject on Friday 12 October at 7pm in our parish hall (Our Lady & St Joseph's, 100a Balls Pond Rd). This is part of the on-going 'William Lockhart Circle,' a speaker meeting group founded in honour of our founding parish priest. All are welcome!


Tuesday, 9 October 2007


Apologies for the lack of posts over the last week - things have been hectic in the parish and I've also been away for my last bit of annual leave (which has been rather split up this year). Thanks to the budget airline industry, I spent a couple of days with some parishioners from my last parish, who have moved to the Tuscan village of Roggio (see picture above), north of Lucca. This is situated in the beautiful Garfagnana area and the surrounding woods are famous for mushrooms and chestnuts. There is a house in the village where, according to local tradition, the future Sixtus V (r.1585-90) was born, though it seems more likely that it was connected in some way to his family (Peretti). Most sources say that he was born in Ancona.

As with all trips to Italy, I got to say Mass in some interesting places: including the tomb of St Gemma Galgani in Lucca;

a wayside shrine in Roggio;

and the village church of St Bartholomew. There is no resident priest and an elderly priest normally has to drive around four villages saying Sunday Masses, so I stepped in to celebrate the Roggio Mass. It was the first time that I have said Mass completely in Italian. About 20% of the village were there - i.e. 30 people!


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