Saturday, 24 May 2008

I Am 5

Today I celebrate my fifth birthday as a priest - a mere drop in the ocean compared to the 77 years of Canon Fuller (who I visited on Monday) but still a personal landmark, especially since it means graduating from the diocesan 'Under 5s' meetings for priests!

It is the Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, and I'll be celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving later this morning. This evening the Young Adults group are coming for a small drinks party, so hopefully the good weather will last before the Bank Holiday downpour.

Te Deum laudamus: te Dominum confitemur!

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Thursday, 22 May 2008

Joys and Sorrows

Often a day in the life of a parish presents you with extreme highs and lows. Today has been one such day. Early this morning I celebrated a Funeral for a 28 week year-old baby who died in her mother's womb after several months of struggle. It was the first time in my five years of Priesthood that I have been asked to do this and the grief of the occasion was very tangible. It was also very moving to remind people that, despite the age of the baby and the tiny size of the coffin, this was a human person, just as precious in the eyes of God as any of us - it was doubly appropriate to do this after the anti-life legislation passed this week by Parliament. Please say a prayer for little Cristiana and her parents.

Then, on returning from Enfield Cemetery, it was time to mark the traditional Feast of Corpus Christi at our Primary School with a procession and benediction. We started in the playground, where an altar had been set up, and processed to the school hall, singing hymns. We were led there by our First Communion candidates, who wore their suits and dress - some of them scattered petals.

In the hall, we listened to a powerful sermon from Fr Albert, the Nigerian chaplain - seen here carrying the frame for the canopy to the school:

Then it was time for Benediction. This didn't quite go to plan because when I turned round to beckon the pupil who was holding the boat, I discovered that he had just vomitted all over it - so no incensation was possible during the Tantum ergo! Still, as one of the other priests pointed out, it made the occasion even more 'incarnational'!!!


Wednesday, 21 May 2008

A Priest for 77 Years

On Monday I visited Canon Reginald C. Fuller to look at some of his personal papers, which he is giving to the diocesan archive. It was a privilege to meet him for, remarkaby, he was ordained by Francis Cardinal Bourne in 1931, studied in Mussolini's Rome and remembers meeting Pius XI. He has been a priest for 77 years - and still counting. He was a noted Biblical scholar in his day (not to be confused with the late Reginald H. Fuller, a Protestant Biblicist) and co-edited the RSV version. Canon Fuller turns 100 this September, so hopefully there will be a huge party at Nazareth House!

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Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Walsingham Project

Raymond de Sousa (of EWTN-fame) has sent me some info regarding the 'Walsingham Project,' which I hadn't heard of before but which is organising a Prayer Crusade for the Conversion of England in the face of De-Christianization. This stands in continuity with the Crusade of Prayer for the Conversion of England started by the Passionist, Ven. Ignatius Spencer, nearly 170 years ago.

They have also issued a new edition of Henry VIII's Defence of the Seven Sacraments, written in his younger days with the help of St Thomas More, which earned him the title 'Defender of thre Faith.' You can buy it here.

The 'Walsingham Project' deserves to be supported. For further information, check out Raymond's website.


Saturday, 10 May 2008

A Sea Symphony

It's been a noisy evening - as I sit at my desk I can hear both the Irish singer crooning away in the parish club and the Nigerians making their novena for Pentecost (there's a lot of 'congregational participation' at the moment and this is upsetting the presbytery dogs) - and, to top it all, I've just returned from a performance of Vaughan-Williams' Sea Symphony by the Hackney Singers (of which a parishioner is a member).

They did an excellent job, as did the Essex-based Forest Philharmonic Orchestra (which is of professional quality). I had a good view of the triangle-player, who was kept surprisingly busy during the 70 minute piece. Call me a cultural philistine but I'm not really into the big choral set pieces of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although the texts used by the choir certainly contained a searching meditation on the journey through life, which are just like the storms and calm of the sea.

The concert was held at the huge 1790s church of St John-at-Hackney - built for a congregation of 2,000 but now attracting a congregation of 60 or 70 (judging from the newsletter). It replaced the medieval church (only the sixteenth century tower remains), which has always fascinated me because the nephew of John XXII, Cardinal Gauscelin Jean d'Euse, held amongst many other posts that of Rector of Hackney (1328-34) - a rather unexpected link between Hackney and papal Avignon!

In the parish newsletter there was an interesting review of a book written by a more recent Rector, describing his experiences as 'an inner city parson.' Although described as a Christian agnostic (!), the reverend author did make a good point about the Anglican clergy that is just as valid for Catholics - as the reviewer put it, 'clergy are expected now to be not so much ministers as managers of the local branches of a national chauin store, with "delivery strategies" and targets, except without the staff to order around...John [the author] deplores what he sees to be a Church of England culture "intolerant of the idiosyncratic...the bland leading the bland."'

Moreover, 'he was proud to say he belonged to a passing generation of clergy taught that mornings should be spent in your study. Books are always more important than meetings.' Hmmm, that's rather commendable.

So, the words of the 'Sea Symphony' and this rather eccentric article in an Anglican parish newsletter provided me with food for thought; appropriate since on Monday I go on my annual retreat...

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Sunday, 4 May 2008

Thoughts for Ascensiontide

The Ascension is the grand finale, when Jesus, having completed His mission of salvation, returns to the Father in Heaven. The problem is that it is very hard to imagine the circumstances of the Ascension. It is easy enough to imagine the manner of Christ’s coming into the world – His birth in the stable of Bethlehem and the adoration of the angels, shepherds and wise men – but the manner of His departure fills us with many questions.

Most paintings show the Ascending Christ being propelled up towards Heaven, rather like a rocket lifting off into space. In some churches in the past today’s Feast saw the elaborate ascension of a statue of the Risen Christ right up into the roof of the church, and sometimes a parallel descent into the ground of a figure of the devil. But we shouldn’t imagine the Lord hurtling through the stratosphere or start wondering how many light years it took Him to reach Heaven! When we talk of ‘Ascension’ we are using human language where human language doesn’t really apply. Indeed the Gospels speak of the Lord’s disappearing beneath a cloud, which in the Bible is always a sign of the mystery and majesty of God. For thirty-three years the Word was made flesh, the invisible God made visible. Now He becomes invisible once again in the cloud and God’s definitive Revelation has ended.
There is a pious tradition that the Ascension of the Lord took place at midday. The symbolism behind this is very powerful. After all, He is thought to have been born at midnight, at an hour when the world covered in darkness – for Jesus came into a world darkened by sin and showed us the way back to the Light. He ascended at midday, the hour when the sun is at its strongest – for Jesus, the ‘Sun of Justice,’ has now conquered death and given us new life.

And yet His light does not disappear with the Ascension; the disciples are not suddenly shrouded in darkness. No, Christ has given His light to the Church, to His followers, until He comes again. The Ascension passes Christ’s mission on to us: ‘Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations,’ we hear in St Matthew’s Gospel, ‘baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ We are to become His hands and feet, His eyes and ears, His lips and tongue, and we are assured of His abiding presence with us, to the end of time. Christ is with us in the words of Scripture and in the teachings and guidance of the Church; Christ is with us most particularly in the Blessed Sacrament that we find in every church; Christ is with us in our brothers and sisters and especially in those who are most vulnerable – the unborn, the sick and the needy; Christ is with us in ourselves, thanks to our Baptism and the work of the Holy Spirit, and in the everyday situations that challenge us to put our faith into action.

The Ascension, then, is not a feast of God’s absence but a feast of God’s presence. Alleluia!

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Thursday, 1 May 2008

Monastery Crawl

Earlier this week I popped over to Downside Abbey in Somerset to collect a monastic archive (as you do). A parishioner kindly agreed to provide transport and, as there was room, Cally's Kitchen also joined us. Here is the boot of the car groaning with dusty documents concerning the English Augustinian Canonesses of Paris:

En route we drove through Woolhampton (on the other side of Reading) so we made the short detour to Douai Abbey, another house of the English Benedictine Congregation. Like Downside, the Abbot there is one of our leading Catholic historians. The exterior is rather unusual, due to the modern extension:

However, I think the interior works rather well - lots of space and light:

In the monastic cemetery we paid our respects at the grave of Dom Basil Griffin, twin brother of Cardinal Bernard Griffin, sixth Archbishop of Westminster (1943-56):

Of course, arriving at Downside we were able to visit the tomb of another brother of a Cardinal - Dom Jerome Vaughan, who effectively founded Fort Augustus Abbey up in Scotland, though he later had to leave the community. He was one of the many clerical or monastic siblings of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan.

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