Sunday, 25 February 2007

One last thing for today - I see that, according to 'Site Meter,' the 50,000th visitor since April 2006 came to Roman Miscellany sometime this afternoon (though my second counter - run by 'blogpatrol' and on display at the side - is a few thousand behind). In the same period, nearly 90,000 pages have been viewed. Of course, this is nothing compared to Fr Tim (who, coincidentally, received his 100,000th visitor today), but it's a milestone nevertheless!

Thanks to all of you for your continued interest and perseverance!


Where I'll Be Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow evening, after fulfilling my archival duties, I'm meeting a priest friend at Waterloo and catching the Eurostar to Paris for a 24 hour visit. Hopefully, on our arrival, we'll go to my favourite Paris restaurant, Chartier (suitably inexpensive for Lent - and, as a penance, you do have to share your table with other diners, but the atmosphere and food is absolutely fantastique):

So, no blogging til Wednesday...


Cappae and Good Friday

Often at the weekends (even in Lent) I like to provide something a little frivolous, for the amusement and edification of readers. This week it comes via The Far Sight blog, which celebrates all things to do with the cappa magna.

Apparently, every Good Friday the canons of Paterno in Sicily had the privilege of wearing a cappa during the traditional procession through the streets. Read all about it here, but here's a picture to give you an idea of this penitential practice(!):

There are also some fine cappa pictures from Vatican II - I think the ascetic looking Cardinal on the top row, second from the right, is the English/Scots Cardinal Heard (Dean of the Rota and, originally, a priest of the diocese of Southwark), but I'm not entirely sure:

On a more serious note, there is a poignant excerpt from Leo XIII's Quod Apostolici Muneris (28 December 1878), with pictures showing how his predictions have come to pass.

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St Walburga

Today is the feast of one of the great Anglo-German saints: St Walburga. I've written about her before but it's worth repeating her story. I led a band of English pilgrims to her shrine at Eichstätt just over a year ago. According to tradition, she was born in Devon around 710, the daughter of St Richard, often referred to as ‘King’ of Wessex, and ‘Queen’ Wuna. It was a family of saints, a pedigree that would serve her well in the future: her uncle was the great St Boniface (Archbishop of Mainz) and her brothers were St Winnebald and St Willibald, who would later become Abbot of Heidenheim and Bishop of Eichstätt respectively. Here is the saintly English family, as depicted at St Walburga's shrine in Eichstätt (from left to right: St Richard, St Willibald, St Walburga, St Winnebald, St Wuna):

St Walburga received a solidly Christian upbringing. The family said their daily prayers before a wooden cross that was erected on their land and, in 720, she entered the double monastery at Wimborne (Dorset). Under the direction of St Tatta, the abbey had gained a reputation of learning and holiness, and it would prepare Walburga for her missionary years in Germany. Around the same time, her father and two brothers embarked on a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land. However, her father developed a fever and died at Lucca, where he is venerated to this day as ‘St Richard the Pilgrim’ at the church of San Frediano. The brothers went on to Rome, where they split up – Winnebald joined a Benedictine monastery and Willibald travelled to the Holy Land.

During this period St Boniface was busy consolidating the Church in Germany, establishing monasteries and bishoprics. His collaborators included, by the 740s, SS Winnebald and Willibald. It is perhaps no surprise that in 750 St Walburga travelled to Germany to assist her kinsmen in this great work. It is said that, as she crossed the Channel, a terrible storm arose, which was stopped only by Walburga’s prayers - the miracle was traditionally commemorated at Eichstätt on 4th August. She may have stayed in Antwerp, where she is venerated as patroness, before going to Mainz to meet her uncle. She then settled down at Tauberbischofsheim, under St Lioba, a relative and another member of the Wimborne community, who had moved to Germany in 748.

It must have been a great joy to be near her brothers, after many years of separation, and Walburga eventually moved to Heidenheim, where Winnebald had founded a double monastery, based on the English model (as found at Wimborne). After his death in 761, Walburga’s surviving brother, Willibald, now bishop of Eichstätt, appointed her Abbess, with government over both the monks and nuns. She was also skilled in medicine and did much to look after the sick and dying.The legend contains various miracles worked during her life. One night, one of the monks refused to accompany the saint to her cell at night with a lit candle. Shortly afterwards, the nuns found the abbey illuminated by a mysterious light. The saint cried out: ‘O Lord, as a humble maid who committed my life to you since my youth, I thank you for granting this grace. You have honoured me in my unworthiness with the comfort of your light. This sign gives courage to the souls of your handmaids who are dependent on me. And you have driven out the darkness and our fear through the bright light of your mercy.’

When St Walburga died on 25th February 779, she was buried at Heidenheim. However, the double monastery did not survive long and under Willibald’s successor, Bishop Gerhoh, it was occupied by canons. Devotion to Walburga waned to such an extent that in 870, as workmen were restoring the church, the saint’s tomb was desecrated. The outraged saint appeared to the bishop, Otgar, complaining that her remains were being trampled upon ‘irreverently by the dirty feet of the builders.’ Shortly afterwards, the north wall of the church collapsed, which was widely interpreted as a sign from heaven. The body of Walburga was quickly exhumed and translated to Eichstätt on 21st September, and her cult was revived. A community of canonesses initially cared for the saint’s tomb, until a Benedictine Abbey of nuns was founded there in 1035, which survives to this day. During its long existence, the Abbey has founded many daughter-houses, including Minister Abbey in Kent and several across the Atlantic: Latrobe (Pennsylvania), Canyon City (Colorado), and Boulder (Colorado). Here's a picture of the glorious interior of her convent church in Eichstätt, next to her tomb, where I had the privilege of celebrating Mass last February:

In 893, some of St Walburga’s relics were transferred in solemn procession to the monastery at Monheim, which also became an important pilgrimage centre. The priest Wolfhard recorded 54 miracles at Monheim between 893 and 900.

The fame of St Walburga rests in the miracles claimed after her death rather than the details of her life. When the tomb was opened in 893, ‘the workmen found the venerable bones of our holy mother Walburga moistened as if with a film of spring water, so that they were able, as it were, to press droplets of dew-like liquid from them.’ This ‘oil’ (Walburgisöl) has been constantly flowing from Walburga’s shrine, between the months of October and February, for over 1,200 years, stopping only, we are told, during a period when the town was under interdict and after blood was shed in the church by armed robbers. Chemical tests have revealed that the ‘oil’ is actually natural water, although its contact with the bones of the saint justifies its use for pious purposes and is a powerful example of Church’s treasury of sacramentals – visible things that lead us to the invisible.

The ‘oil’ is collected from a shaft built under the tomb and the Abbey contains an impressive collection of glass phials used to contain the substance, some of them dating back to the sixteenth century and covered in damask and brocade. The nuns see it as their special apostolate to distribute the oil – both locally and around the world – and to deal with the many prayer requests that are sent to the Abbey. The walls of the chapel containing the saint’s tomb are covered in hundreds of ex voto paintings, depicting favours granted by the saint – especially concerning escapes from disease and accidents and successful childbirth. The baroque altarpiece in the main church, next to the shrine, depicts St Walburga in glory, with angels pouring drops of the holy oil over a group of the faithful.The life of this princess from Wessex is an important one in the annals of the German Church, but the cult that developed after her death is even more remarkable. Devotion to St Walburga is particularly strong in Germany and the Low Countries, although she is widely neglected in the land of her birth (at least, outside Preston, where there is a magnificent church dedicated to her). Her cult is well expressed in the hundreds of ex votos that are kept at her shrine, testament to her powerful intercession:
She is rightly celebrated as one of the Elaephori, or oil-yielding saints, together with the likes of St Nicholas, whose shrine at Bari (Italy) also produces a mysterious manna. Little bottles of the Walburgisöl, diluted in water, are available from the Abbey, and prayer requests can be sent to Abtei St. Walburg (e-mail:

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Thursday, 22 February 2007

A Studious Day

Today was one of those rare days when I could focus on the more 'intellectual' dimensions of priestly ministry. For most of the day our parish hosted a seminar for priests on marriage, led by our Chancellor, Bishop John Arnold, and in the presence of our 'local' auxiliary, Bishop Bernard Longley.

Priests tend to revert to 'seminarian mode' when they are gathered together en masse for such occasions, but I must say it proved to be very helpful. The numbers of marriages are at an all time low in this country, which partly explains why I haven't been personally involved in preparing couples for the sacrament for over a year now, despite working in large urban parishes. It's easy, therefore, for one's canon law to get a bit rusty, so it was useful to be taken through the various forms and procedures (once again!) and to be reminded of such things as sanations and the Pauline and Petrine Privileges. There were also issues which certainly hadn't been covered by my Roman training - such as the validity of tribal marriages and weddings involving illegal immigrants.

Then I dashed off to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, to address the Catholic Society on the Crusades and the Inquisition. I was slightly apprehensive about what sort of audience I would encounter but the small group that turned out was very friendly. The potentially more critical members of the audience may have attended the other talk being given in the SOAS buildings this evening - the speaker being George Galloway MP, leader of the Respect party and former Celebrity Big Brother contestant. My talk was organised by the Chaplain, Fr Joe Evans of Opus Dei: a great chap, who took me to a local Italian ristorante afterwards to celebrate the Chair of St Peter.

Anybody interested in my reflections on the 'Black Legend' of the Church can look at my articles on the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, courtesy of the Faith Magazine site.

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Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Feria IV Cinerum

And so we start our spiritual springtime. 'Lent' is an old English word meaning 'spring' and we hope that, through our prayer, fasting and almsgiving over the next six weeks, we will turn our back on darkness and walk towards the light.

Today is the busiest holyday that is not of obligation (with the possible exception of St Patrick!) - the churches are packed although, as I journeyed to the diocesan archives by tube and bus this morning, I only spotted one other person with an ashen forehead. Although
today's Gospel warns against parading our penances, Ash Wednesday does provide an opportunity to publicly witness to the Faith as we walk about bearing the sign of the cross on our heads.

Lent always makes me think of the Station Churches, which I used to try to visit when I was a seminarian in Rome. Today's station is the Dominican basilica of Santa Sabina and it is here that the Holy Father celebrated Mass this evening, accompanied by the friars singing the traditional chants. The Pontifical North American College has been a great pioneer of reviving this custom and they have a wonderful set of pages describing the daily stations. It is worth following them each day of Lent.

A blessed and holy Lent to you all!


Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Britain's Last Crusader King

On Thursday evening I'm giving a talk to the students of SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) on 'Should the Church Apologise for the Crusades and the Inquisition?', organised by their redoubtable chaplain, Fr Joe Evans of Opus Dei. I spent part of today (my dies non) going through my notes and, as is always necessary, making some changes based on recent reading.

Here's a bit of crusading trivia which isn't widely known (or, at least, I didn't know it until a few days ago): who, would you say, was the last British Crusading King?

We all know about Richard I (the Lionheart), who took such a prominent part in the 'Third' Crusade, and Edward I, who joined St Louis IX on the campaign of 1269-72. But what about the crusading credentials of this eighteenth century monarch?:

George I (r.1714-27) was the first Hanoverian King of Great Britain and Ireland, gaining the throne on the death of Queen Anne by virtue of the Act of Succession (1701). He was the closest living Protestant relative of the dead Queen, although many Catholics with a superior claim were passed over. Despite being a Lutheran, he had an important role in the Holy Roman Empire as one of the Prince Electors (who elected the Emperor) and Archtreasurer (from 1710).

George I was unsurprisingly involved in imperial politics and, as a young man, was present at the Siege of Vienna in 1683 , during which absence his first son, Georg August (the future George II), was born. He went on to command the Hanoverian troops in the consequent campains against the Turks in 1684 and 1685. These wars are often seen as the last gasp of the crusading spirit and demonstrated the real threat that the Ottoman Empire still posed to Christendom. And so, the Protestant George I, the great patron of Handel, could be said to be our last crusading King!

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Sunday, 18 February 2007


Today is not only the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time but also the Sunday before Lent and the fiftieth day (quinquagesima) before Easter. Some sources refer to today as 'Shrove Sunday' - these days before Lent ('Shrovetide') were a good time to go to confession and thus begin Lent 'shriven' and in a state of grace (my parish is continuing this custom by having extra confessions on Shrove Tuesday).

Of course, it was also a time for merry-making and carnival - getting any excesses out of the system before the discipline of Lent. Venice took the idea to the extreme by having a carnival that lasted six months in total: first Sunday of October til mid-Advent; St Stephen's Day or Epiphany til Shrove Tuesday, plus a fortnight in Ascensiontide (with the famous ceremony of Venice's Marriage to the Sea). Everybody from doge to servant dressed in bautta (mask) and tabarro (long cloak), creating anonymonity, equality and endless (often immoral) possibilities (see the painting by Pietro Longhi above). Montesquieu recalled the scandal caused when someone asked for a blessing from the masked nuncio (shocked not that the Pope's representative was enjoying himself but that somebody had dared pierce the Venetian disguise). The collective party reached its peak on Shrove Tuesday and then, as the bells of Santa Francesca della Vigna struck midnight, everybody passed immediately from feasting into fasting - and their stomachs and livers were probably grateful for the respite.

It is little wonder the Church tried to attract people to more wholesome activities during the carnival, most notably the Quarant'ore - the Forty Hours adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, with splendour and music to compete with the carnival celebrations plus generous indulgences.

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Friday, 16 February 2007

The Last Days of Paul VI

A rather poignant video of the last days of Paul VI. I've often read about the 'dark night of the soul' that characterised the end of his Pontificate, but it's fascinating to see footage, much of which I hadn't seen before.

We often forget that Paul VI was the first global Pope, visiting the Holy Land, Asia, Africa, Australia, America, etc. Here is footage of the Pope's travels, including the assassination attempt at Manila:


Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Rebellious English Seminarians

I'm afraid this is not an exclusive story concerning our modern seminaries but rather the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when many of the English Colleges (all of which were 'in exile' overseas) were supporters of the Jacobite cause.

Hopefully I'll be able to tell you a bit more later because tonight I'm attending a lecture at the parish hall of the Farm Street Jesuit church, organised by the Royal Stuart Society. It's being given by Dr Jonathan Oates (hopefully not a relation of Titus) and is entitled: 'A school for sedition? Jacobitism and the English Colleges.' It begins at 7pm and is preceded by a glass of wine.

Well, it was an interesting lecture - but I misunderstood the title. Catholic historians often speak of the 'English Colleges,' like those at Douai, Rome and Valladolid, and so I assumed that this talk was about these seminaries overseas. I know for a fact that the English College, Rome, was notorious as a centre of Jacobitism.

But it just shows that we tend to live in a 'Catholic bubble': the talk was about English colleges, yes, but English universities and schools. It was interesting enough - the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Winchester College and Westminster School were all centres of Jacobite support. Indeed, in 1715 only the wardens of the Oxford Colleges of Jesus, Wadham and Merton were known to be Whig and therefore anti-Jacobite. There were various Jacobite clubs, though these eventually became little more than drinking clubs. Such are the enthusiasms of youth!

A fellow blogger was there, the author of Emitte lucem tuam, so we had a quick glass of organic ale (Whistable Bay) in a local hostelry before going our separate ways.

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Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Vote Now!

I've just noticed that Roman Miscellany (along with about 100 others!) has been nominated as 'Best New Blog' in the Catholic Blog Awards 2007. Thanks to the reader/s who nominated me. Voting is now open - it's very easy to register and vote.

Other British blogs to be nominated are:
Auntie Joanna Writes - Best New/Best Individual Blog
Blogging the Catholic Church in the British Isles - Best Group Blog
Godzdogz - Most Spiritual/Best Overall/Best New/Best Group/Best Designed Blog
Hermeneutic of Continuity - Best Political-Social Commentary/Best Overall/Best Clergy Blog
Joee Blogs - Best Written Blog
Lacrimarum Valle - Best Overall/Best New Blog
Laus Crucis - Best Clergy Blog
Mulier Fortis - Best Individual Blog
Orthfully Catholic - Best Group Blog
Solomon I Have Surpassed Thee - Best Clergy Blog
St Mary Magdalen, Brighton - virtually all categories (the parish must have been voting hard!)
Standing on My Head [honorary British blog] - Best Apologetic/Best Clergy Blog

...and that doesn't mean, by the way, that I'm only voting British!


A Monastic Day

I'm just back from St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, where I spent a day (and a bit) of recollection to get myself in shape for Lent. Just by being in a monastery, attending the Offices, walking around the grounds, eating in silence and rummaging in the library, one feels closer to God and fully refreshed.

Most readers will have heard by now of Farnborough Abbey - a little piece of Imperial France (it is the mausoleum of Napoleon III and his family) in the commuter land of Hampshire. The fact that it is so near to London makes it a great place for days of recollection. One of the many consolations, also, is the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the beautiful church - and Father Sacristan is often generous in allowing use of the superb contents of the sacristy.

Note also the monastic tonsure of the Roman Miscellenist!

They also have a very fine shop, with meat, eggs and honey from the monastic farm - and an excellent selection of books (including many unusual ones). You check this out on the Abbey Shop website.


Saturday, 10 February 2007

St Scholastica

Today we celebrate the memory of St Scholastica, sister of the Patriarch St Benedict and a patron of Benedictine nuns. Many of the saints had a close friendships with other men and women of God – we think of St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila, or St Francis de Sales and St Jane de Chantal – but the relationship of St Benedict with his earthly sister is especially touching. With them, the ties of flesh were united to ties of supernatural grace.

Once a year it was her custom to visit her brother and spend the day in ‘the praises of God and holy conversation.’ Then they would eat together and depart for their respective monasteries. On one occasion, St Scholastica begged her brother to stay with her the night so that they could ‘talk till morning on the joys of heaven’ but St Benedict was eager to follow the Rule and return to his house. At this, his sister prayed to God and immediately a huge storm erupted, which forced St Benedict to stay with his sister. ‘What have you done?,’ her brother exclaimed in amazement, to which she replied: ‘I asked a favour of you and you refused it. I asked it of God, and he has granted it.’ And, according to the account of St Gregory, they stayed up all night ‘delighting each other with their questions and answers about the secrets of the spiritual life.’ It was indeed providential – three days later St Scholastica died at her convent and, at the moment of her death, St Benedict saw the soul of his sister going up to heaven in the form of a dove and praised God.

For the University of Oxford, the day has less happy connotations - a riot was caused by a dispute between town and gown in the Swindlestock Tavern (on the site where Abbey National now stands) in 1355. In the fighting, 62 scholars lost their lives - click here for the full story.

Sancta virgo Scholastica, quasi hortus irriguus
Gratiarum coelestium jugi rore perfundebatur

[The holy virgin Scholastica, like a watered garden
Was enriched with the ceaseless dew of heaven's graces]

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Friday, 9 February 2007

A Bluffer's Guide to English Church History

Tonight I inaugurated a new parish group - the 'William Lockhart Circle.' It's named after our first parish priest, Fr Lockhart, who was a prominent Oxford convert, a disciple of Newman and a member of the Institute of Charity. The group's aim is to organise regular speaker meetings and help parishioners explore the Faith.

In future months, speakers will include Fr Tim Finigan and Joanna Bogle, who have agreed to venture into North London. But tonight parishioners had to put up with me, as I spoke on 'A History of Catholic England - in 45 minutes.' I first did this a couple of years ago, partly because I thought many people know a lot of historical details but miss out on the the broad sweep of the centuries. Most Catholics have heard of the principal English saints and know that Henry VIII split with Rome, but have no real general picture of the Church's history. This I attempted to provide, with the help of PowerPoint and a patient group of parishioners.

There were twelve people present as I started the talk - but, just like most parish Masses, the audience rapidly increased in the first five minutes, so that we got well over twenty - not bad for a new venture. On a cold January evening a historical talk isn't going to pull vast crowds.

Afterwards, I had a drink in my rooms with Cally's Kitchen and we watched the Reformation episode on DVD of Simon Schama's History of Britain - which is superb, follows the Eamon Duffy line, and probably is one of the most pro-Catholic pieces of TV produced by the BBC over the last ten years (not a bad achievement for a Jewish historian!).

The central question posed by Schama is a haunting one: 'whatever did happen to Catholic England?'

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Thursday, 8 February 2007

Presbytery Snowball Fight

London is currently under a blanket of snow. Here's the view from my window at 6 this morning:

And a view taken later of the front of the church:

My next-door neighbour, Fr Albert Ofere, the National Nigerian Chaplain, had never experienced such heavy snow before.

Naturally I was eager to induct him into the art of snowballs. A match followed - Archdiocese of Westminster v Nigerian Chaplaincy - but I'm happy to say it was a draw.

I was, admittedly, rather out of practice. The last time I indulged in the sport was this time last year, when I led a pilgrim group to Bavaria in the footsteps of Pope Benedict. I remember a group of my pious pilgrims aiming a particularly large snowball at me in the monastery of Ettal! Anyhow, sadly the clerical snowballs at Kingsland this morning did not pose as impressive a sight as this famous advert from a certain 'reassuringly expensive' beer:

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Pro-Life Hip-Hop

Now, I must confess that I prefer Handel to Hip-Hop, but I'm all for using contemporary methods to transmit the timeless truths of our Faith. A friend has just alerted me to two hip-hop artists who have dealt with abortion in their work. This will be old news to their devotees - and perhaps to many American readers - but I'm sure some this side of the Atlantic will be interested to listen to the songs at this website. One piece, performed by chart-topper Nick Cannon, is particularly powerful:
Based upon his own life story, the song is sung from the prospective of a baby about to be aborted by his mother. Nick Cannon has put together powerful imagery and impassioned lyrics that add voice to the unborn pleading in the womb. As you
listen and watch you can't help but cheer as Nick's mother comes off the abortionist's table and leaves the clinic, however the most moving part is when Nick's real mom joins him at the end of the video.
The website, by the way, is called Death Roe and is for all of us in Generations X and Y (yes, that DOES include me) who are, by virtue of our existence, survivors of abortion:
On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand. The decision is called Roe vs. Wade. We call it Death Roe. About one fourth of our generation has already been wiped out, and the executions continue at the rate of over 3000 a day. If you were born after that date, you are one of the unchosen.You are a Death Roe Survivor.


Ni hao!

According to 'site meter', 4% of visitors to this blog are from China. Either (most probably) they're finding it by accident or my posts are attracting interest from the persecuted Christians out there! Also, rather curiously, 40% of readers are American and only 33 % from the UK. By the start of Lent, I should have passed the 50,000 visitor milestone.

Oremus pro invicem!


Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Faith Magazine

H/T to Fr Tim for pointing out that the latest edition of Faith Magazine is now available online, free of charge. The editor, Fr Hugh MacKenzie, is a Westminster priest, currently based at Willesden Green (next door to my former parish of Our Lady of Willesden). As always, it makes an interesting read, with a particular focus on Islam: an editorial on the Regensburg Lecture and articles on Islam, Protestantism and Divergence from Catholicism and a Muslim's journey to Christ. I suppose my effort on the truth behind the myth of the Spanish Inquisition also fits in here since moriscos (Muslim converts to Christianity) were closely monitored by the tribunal. Other topics are covered, including a practical article from Fr Mark Vickers on the Anointing of the Sick.


A Meeting with the Cardinal

The priests of the Hackney and Tower Hamlets deaneries (of which I am a member) had a meeting this morning with His Eminence the Cardinal and Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Longley (who is, apparently, an occasional visitor to this blog). This was designed to be a 'joint reflection,' with the Cardinal talking to us for half an hour about a number of issues and then an opening up for discussion to all those present.

There was a good atmosphere, thanks in large part to the Cardinal's personal warmth and the relatively small size of the group (there were about 25 priests present).

H.E. talked in particular about the need for priests to live a solidly priestly life, with space for prayer, retreats, regular confession and recreation. He also mentioned the need for appraisal, which should be located with the bishop (and spiritual director) rather than becoming another part of diocesan bureaucracy. How ghastly it would be to have parish inspections in the style of the corporate world! This is the purpose of episcopal visitations, after all.

We also discussed the needs of immigrants, the purpose of Pastoral Letters (which one priest said should address particular issues of the moment, such as the present adoption debate, rather than always being the same theme and on the same Sunday every year) and whether an Episcopal Vicar could help with Confirmations. This has been suggested since, during the post-Easter Confirmation season, some of our Auxiliaries have been doing as many as nine Confirmations a week. The consensus was that it would be best for a bishop to minister the sacrament or, failing that, in extremis, the parish priest, since the people have no understanding of who or what an epicopal vicar is. One priest advised a return to eighteenth century France, where a bishop stuck his hands out of his carriage as he passed a village and confirmed those who were waiting - a time efficient model, perhaps, for our modern age! Who, though, would pay for a new set of episcopal carriages?

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Pio Nono

Today the Roman Martyrology lists, among others:

Romae, beati Pii papa Noni, qui, veritatem Christi, cui ab imo adhaesit, plane proclamans, multas instituit sedes episcopales, cultum beatae Mariae Virginis promovit et Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum Primum ascivit.

Blessed Pius IX is remembered for his proclamation of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility, the calling of the First Vatican Council, the re-establishment of the English Catholic Hierarchy in 1850 and his sufferings during the Revolution of 1848 and the subsequent Italian Risorgimento.

At the Beatification Mass, John Paul II said:

Listening to the words of the Gospel acclamation: 'Lord, lead me on a straight road', our thoughts naturally turn to the human and religious life of Pope Pius IX, Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti. Amid the turbulent events of his time, he was an example of unconditional fidelity to the immutable deposit of revealed truths. Faithful to the duties of his ministry in every circumstance, he always knew how to give absolute primacy to God and to spiritual values. His lengthy pontificate was not at all easy and he had much to suffer in fulfilling his mission of service to the Gospel. He was much loved, but also hated and slandered.

However, it was precisely in these conflicts that the light of his virtues shone most brightly: these prolonged sufferings tempered his trust in divine Providence, whose sovereign lordship over human events he never doubted. This was the source of Pius IX's deep serenity, even amid the misunderstandings and attacks of so many hostile people. He liked to say to those close to him: 'In human affairs we must be content to do the best we can and then abandon ourselves to Providence, which will heal our human faults and shortcomings'.

Sustained by this deep conviction, he called the First Vatican Ecumenical Council, which clarified with magisterial authority certain questions disputed at the time, and confirmed the harmony of faith and reason. During his moments of trial Pius IX found support in Mary, to whom he was very devoted. In proclaiming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he reminded everyone that in the storms of human life the light of Christ shines brightly in the Blessed Virgin and is more powerful than sin and death.

Vultus Christ has a nice post on Pio Nono; there is a good Italian website on him here. It's still not too late to buy a recreated bottle of Pio Nono's aftershave, which I fully recommend. And, finally, here is a picture of his death mask:

Blessed Pius IX, pray for us!

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Tuesday, 6 February 2007

The Deathbed Conversion of King Charles II

Today is the anniversary of the death of Charles II in 1685. As is well-known, the 'Merry Monarch' personally had friendly sentiments towards Catholics although his reign saw no end to the penal laws and bloody martyrdoms of priests and their supporters. Finally, on his deathbed, he was received into the Church. Better late than never.

On the evening of 5 February 1685 a Benedictine monk, Fr John Huddleston, was smuggled into the King's apartment. They had first met many years previously in 1651 after the disastrous Battle of Worcester. The King, disguised as a peasant, encountered the priest at Moseley, near Wolverhampton, which was the home of the Catholic Whitgreave family (where Fr Huddleston was chaplain). As he hid with the priest, the King read Huddleston's manuscript of A short and Plain Way to the Faith and Church (eventually published in 1688) and had his bleeding feet bathed by the priest. The two of them even shared a hiding hole when Cromwell's troops came to search the house.

In the meantime Charles was restored to the throne (1660) and Huddleston joined the Benedictines and became a chaplain at Somerset House, under the Queen Dowager, Henrietta Maria, and Catherine of Braganza (Charles II's wife).

Then, as the King lay dying of apoplexy, Huddleston was summoned by the Catholic Duke of York (soon to become James II). According to the historian, the Anglican Bishop Gilbert Burnet

When Huddleston was told what was to be done, he was in great confusion, for he had not brought the host. He went, however, to another priest, who lived in the court, who gave him the pix, with an host in it. Everything being prepared, the Duke whispered the King in the ear; upon that the King ordered that all who were in the bedchamber should withdraw, except the Earls of Bath and Feversham; and the door was double-locked. The company was kept out half an hour; only Lord Feversham opened the door once, and called for a glass of water. Cardinal Howard told Bishop Burnet that, in the absence of the company, Huddleston, according to the account he sent to Rome, made the King go through some acts of contrition, and, after obtaining such a confession as he was then able to give, he gave him absolution. The consecrated wafer stuck in the King's throat, and that was the reason of calling for a glass of water. Charles told Huddleston that he had saved his life twice, first his body, then his soul.

When the company were admitted, they found the King had undergone a marvellous alteration. Bishop Ken [the Anglican Bishop of Bath and Wells] then vigorously applied himself to the awaking of the King's conscience, and pronounced many short ejaculations and prayers, of which, however, the King seemed to take no notice, and returned no answer. He pressed the King six or seven times to receive the sacrament; but the King always declined, saying he was very weak. But Ken pronounced over him absolution of his sins. The King suffered much inwardly, and said he was burnt up within. He said once that he hoped he should climb up to heaven's gates, which was the only word savouring of religion that he used.
The King died peacefully at noon the following day, having apologised to those around him for taking an unconscionable time dying. Incidentally, today is also the anniversary of the death of George VI and thus of Her Majesty's accession 55 years ago!

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An Orthodox Saint on E-bay

From BBC News:

The Russian Orthodox Church has expressed indignation at an attempt to sell a skull and bone allegedly belonging to Saint Philipp. The advert for the remains appeared on a Russian website.

It described the relic as "remains of an Orthodox saint, in good condition, with an inscription on the cranium confirming the saint's name". The Church has not said whether it thinks the bone and skull are real, but has described the ad as "immoral". The seller, Boris Georgiev, a retired Soviet Army colonel, told BBC News he was "acting on behalf a friend". According to Mr Georgiev, the 16th-Century relic was brought to St Petersburg at the height of the Bolshevik anti-religion campaign in the 1920s.

The remains allegedly arrived from Novgorod, an ancient city in northern Russia, and became part of the St Petersburg Atheism Museum. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union the museum was closed. The exhibit from Novgorod - along with many others - was allegedly packed in a nondescript box and stored on the top floor of St Petersburg's Kazan Cathedral.
Mr Georgiev told the BBC that the current owner of the remains had salvaged one of the boxes when the museum stock was being destroyed during the early 1990s.

"There was initially no price set for the relic," said Mr Georgiev. "But I suggested to the owner it might sell for at least 1,000 euros (£660). This isn't a lot of money - but our web page has been up for 18 months, and we've had very few callers up to now."

But after the Church authorities found out about the ad, interest soared. "My phone has been ringing all day today," Mr Georgiev said on Monday. "But I have to disappoint potential bidders: the relic is no longer on sale. This morning, the owner called me to say she'd changed her mind." So for now the bones will probably remain where they are, in a private flat in St Petersburg. The owner - whose name Mr Georgiev would not disclose - is now said to be unsure what to do with them.

The Russian Orthodox Church declined to confirm whether the remains were genuine. But its representatives described the ad as "blasphemous". "Whatever the subject of this advertisement is - a sacred relic or human remains described as remains of a saint for commercial reasons - an attempt to sell it is immoral," the Church said in a statement published on its website on Monday.

I'm not sure which 'St Philipp' this is supposed to be - the relics are stated to be sixteenth century so they could be those of 'St Philip' of Moscow (1507-69), a Metropolitan who was strangled by order of Ivan the Terrible. This report follows an earlier controversy sparked by the International Crusade for Holy Relics (ICHR), which tried to organise a boycott of e-bay until it banned outright the sale of relics. There is, apparently, a huge black market, bringing in as much as $20,000 a quarter. As the Catholic writer, Anne Ball, points out: 'the relics sold on eBay reminded me of a giant, Middle-Ages marketplace. . . . A relic is a sacramental — not a holy rabbit’s foot or good luck charm.'


The Community of Our Lady of Walsingham

Many readers will have heard of the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham, based in Abbotswick in Essex, where they run the House of Prayer for the Diocese of Brentwood. Established three years ago out of a Vocations Group for Women that met at Westminster Cathedral, they are Britain's youngest religious community. I've never visited them but have heard good reports from my brother priests. Anyway, they have just launched a new website (including a blog).

Although rooted in the Carmelite tradition, they describe their 'central charism' as 'vocational' and aim to support people in all states of life and especially diocesan clergy. With this in mind they are organising annual conferences, retreats and seminars to help people live their calling to the full - including one for priests this coming October.

They're also probably the first religious community to use the term 'chill out time' in their daily timetable!


Sunday, 4 February 2007

Get Your Nominations In!

I see that nominations can now be sent in for the Catholic Blog Awards 2007. The last twelve months have seen the emergence of many excellent blogs (Fr Tim, Mrs Bogle, Joee Blogs, Westminster Cathedral et al) - it would be nice to think that the Brits might be as successful in being nominated for these as they are with the coming Oscars! The categories are:
1. Best Overall Catholic Blog
2. Best Designed Catholic Blog
3. Best Written Catholic Blog
4. Best New Catholic Blog
5. Best Individual Catholic Blog
6. Best Group Blog
7. Best Blog by Clergy/Religious/Seminarian
8. Funniest Catholic Blog
9. Smartest Catholic Blog
10. Most Informative & Insightful Catholic Blog
11. Best Apologetic Blog
12. Best Political/Social Commentary Catholic Blog
13. Best Insider News Catholic Blog
14. Most Spiritual Blog
Hmmm, I assume you don't have to nominate for every category - it's difficult to distinguish 'most insightful' from 'smartest', and what does 'insider news Catholic blog' exactly mean? Anyway, you only have until 9 February to nominate!


An Audience with Fr Giles

It's amazing what you find on the net - here is a 53 minute 'audience' with Fr Giles, sometime Prior of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. It brings back particularly happy memories for me since he led my pre-diaconal and priestly ordination retreats. The interviewer is an anthropologist from Cambridge and seems to have a particular interest in the organisational and technological aspects of monasteries (especially clocks!). Although this is not a 'religious' interview as such, Fr Giles' wisdom shines through.

So, if you want to discover some unusual sidelights on monastic history (and if you have the time), pour yourself some whiskey, sit back and enjoy!

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Saturday, 3 February 2007

Thornton's Bookshop

John Thornton's bookshop on the Fulham Road is a veritable London Catholic icon, which has already featured in these pages. For well over 40 years it has specialised in secondhand Catholic books and Mr Thornton has had the melancholic (though for us consumers not completely unfortunate) task of buying the libraries of religious houses that are closing down.

Since the time I was a sixth former interested in learning more about the Faith (and beginning to think about the Sacred Priesthood) I have been a frequent visitor to their basement. Luckily, since most books were priced under £10 (and many under a fiver) it was even affordable as a University student and seminarian. Looking at my shelves, I owe at least 50% of my library to this shop - especially the hagiography, spirituality and Church history sections.

Alas, Thornton's is closing down in a few months time. The good news is that the entire stock (including the antiquarian books) is now selling at half price! I urge all my London readers to pay them a speedy visit - 455 Fulham Rd, SW10 9UZ (near the Servite church and the Fulham Rd entrance to Brompton Cemetery), tel: 020 7352 8810.

Happy shopping - but do leave a few items for me!

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A Roman Blog

In case you haven't noticed, Don Marco, O. Cist., the author of Vultus Christi, recently moved to the Basilica of Santa Croce, Rome, and is now posting regularly on his Roman life - including a recent pilgrimage to Manoppello (to see Veronica's Veil) and liturgico-spiritual reflections. The blog is beautifully presented and well worth a visit.


Friday, 2 February 2007

Lumen ad revelationem gentium

Christmas may seem a long time ago but, according to tradition, Christmas only really comes to an end today - Candlemas, the Feast of Mary’s Purification and Christ’s Presentation in the Temple, the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary.

The Feast reminds us of a number of mysteries. We recall how the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, came to the Temple to be purified, in obedience to the Law of Moses. A woman had to stay at home for forty days after giving birth to a son. It must have been a blessing to be obliged to stay quietly at home and care for her newborn baby in these important early days of infancy. Then, after the prescribed period was over, the parents would bring offerings to the door of the Temple: in the case of poor families, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph, two pigeons or turtle doves. And so Our Blessed Lady, the purest of virgins, came like any other mother for this ceremony of ‘purification.’ She offered her Son to God and the God-made-man entered His Temple as a helpless baby. Yet hardly anyone noticed the great event.

Hardly anyone, that is, with the exception of that just man, Simeon, and the prophetess, Anna. They symbolize for us the many generations that had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah. In them, the Old Dispensation meets the New. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Simeon tells Mary two important truths – one concerning Jesus and one concerning herself. The Child will be a ‘sign of contradiction’; He will be the cause of the fall and resurrection of many – the fall of those who reject His message and the resurrection of those who accept it. Furthermore, Mary’s own soul will be pierced by a sword – the sword first enters her at that moment and it goes ever deeper, as her Son is rejected by His own people and opposed by the Scribes and Pharisees. It eventually transfixes her soul at the foot of the cross, just as the Centurion’s lance transfixes the heart of her Son. You can see how the Feast of the Presentation brings an end to the Christmas Season and directs our gaze towards Lent and Holy Week.

In 2007, Jesus and His Church remain both a ‘light to enlighten the Gentiles’ and a ‘sign of contradiction.’ The fact that the Faith can lead to division and misunderstanding was clearly seen last week in the controversy over gay adoption. Of course, the adoption of children by homosexual couples is not the only issue here. The sanctity of the family and the sacrament of marriage (which remains the only right context for sexual relationships) are also at stake, as is the Church’s right to teach a doctrine that is from God but is at odds with the secular world view. We live amidst a clash between the faith and non-belief, between those who see religion as the answer and those who see it as the problem, between the culture of death and the culture of life. To be a Christian in the twenty-first century is not easy. It will involve rejection and unpopularity. In truth, Catholics discriminate against sin and not the sinner – no-one is ever excluded from the arms of the Church; the Church is for sinners trying to become saints. Yet, there may be a time when there are legal penalties for those who adhere to the fullness of the faith, especially under the vague rubric of political correctness and ‘discrimination’. Let us not be afraid; let us teach the Gospel with faith, hope and, above all, love! Let us accept that we are, by virtue of our baptism, signs of contradiction!

As Mary, our Mother, has gone before us, so we follow – we can expect a share in her sorrows but we hope also to eventually be with her in Heaven. Let us stay close to her Son – and stay close to His Church, which transmits and teaches the Revelation that God has given us. As we prepare to celebrate Candlemas, let us be lights to enlighten all those around us, especially the lukewarm, the lapsed, the ignorant and those who are confused about the message of Christ.

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Thursday, 1 February 2007

The Last Days of Pius XII

Following on from the recent 'Papal Footage' post, here's a film I've just discovered on the last days of Pius XII. The subtitled translation is nonsensical and the choice of music terrible - but it's worth persevering because the footage is amazing. I particularly liked Papa Pacelli rehearsing a speech in front of the cameras (he rivals Fulton Sheen in his melodramatic delivery) and the shot of one of his last appearances at Castel Gandolfo, where he gets rather confused welcoming a college group from Sidcup! There are also pictures of the mother, brothers and murderer of St Maria Goretti.

If this leaves you hungry for more Pacelli footage, here is a poor quality - but interesting - glimpse of his Coronation in 1939 (probably worth turning the sound down, if only because of the Sistine screamers!):


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