Sunday, 31 March 2013

Christus Surrexit! Alleluia!

It's not every day I get a text message from a friend saying, "Χριστός Ανέστη!"

That is Greek. In Latin it would be "Christus surrexit!" In our mother tongue it is, "Christ is risen!" Last night I had the great privilege of singing the Easter Exultet, in which is sung the great joy of the night when Christ rose from the dead, conquered death, and turned the sin of Adam into a "happy fault". In the Gospels, the women run from the empty tomb to the apostles in "fear and great joy".

May our Easter celebration be marked by wonder and joy at the grace which God gives to us afresh at this time. Let us run to him!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Holy Week

It was great for me to travel back to Norwich on Wednesday evening for the diocesan Chrism Mass. There was a full cathedral to welcome the Papal Nuncio who presided at the Mass. Fr David joked that since we had the Cardinal last year, and the Pope's representative this year, then if we don't have a bishop next year we should have the Pope preside! The Nuncio was very gracious and spoke about - among other things - the role of the bishop leading us in worship and contemplation of God. I enjoyed seeing parishioners from placements I've had, and the priests and deacons of the diocese. I was also privileged to bring up the Oil of Chrism with which I will be anointed on the day of my priestly ordination in July.

Now the Triduum is under way. Yesterday we celebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper in the parish where I am placed, and this afternoon I will be assisting the priest in the celebration of the Lord's Passion. That means narrating the Passion narrative, singing the introduction to the Universal Prayers of the Faithful, and bringing in the Cross for verneration, singing "Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world." The whole congregation well sing in response, "Come let us adore!"

Monday, 25 March 2013

White Palm Sunday!?

Yesterday I was in my weekly placement parish, and the parish priest had decided we were going to have a procession for the first time (recently, anyway) in the parish, come hell or highwater... or snow! We started in the school hall at 10.30, and after the introduction, blessing and sprinkling of palms, and Gospel, we processed briskly through the falling snow towards the church. The First Communion kids stood either side of the church doors, waving their palms wildly as the servers entered, and I couldn't help thinking they were waving them not only in accordance with the liturgical occassion, but also to keep warm!
I guess this isn't a scenario we had covered in Sacramental Celebration class!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Francis our Pope

Habemus Papam!

Yesterday the seminarians were flicking between Sky News, the BBC, and EWTN for coverage of the smoke at 5.30 pm. I realised that it was the first likely chance that we would have a pope, and had been saying so to the Missionaries of Charity down the road (who have to go to a neighbour's house to watch any TV!). As it got closer to 6 pm, the few seminarians in the Common Room began to think something was up, and when the smoke finally appeared there were a few suspenseful seconds until we realised it was white - then someone ran off to ring the chapel bell and alert the community!

Over the next hour, more of the seminarians and staff priests gathered in the Common Room, and the atmosphere was buzzing. Who could it be? What name would they take?

When the new Pope was announced, no one in the room seemed to know who he was! Who's Bergoglio? Where is he from? And we caught from the latin that his papal name would be Francis. A new name! How exciting!

I won't go into a biography of Pope Francis, as I still am learning, and I'm sure people know who he is from the news. First from the Americas, first Jesuit. Suffice to say that his simple, integral lifestyle is encouraging, and already a great witness to the world and a model for priests and seminarians. Authentic renewal in the Church begins with ourselves! I like what I've heard about his contravening security conventions to talk with the ordinary people of Rome and go check out of the hotel he's been staying in since he arrived in Rome!

Next week we have a silent retreat, but I'm sure things will be arranged so that we can watch the Pope's installation on Tuesday...

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Visit from the Parish

Last Sunday we had a Visitors Sunday afternoon, when the public can have a tour of the seminary and ask questions about priestly formation. It was a privilege for me to welcome my parish priest Fr Philip Shryane and some of the parishioners of my home parish of St Edmund, Bury St Edmunds. They hired a minibus and managed to make good time to be here at Oscott for tea, a tour, and Sung Evening Prayer afterwards. I enjoyed the afternoon, and they appeared to do so also! The next Visitor's Sunday is April 28th, which is already booked up, and I look forward to another East Anglia visit, from Fr Sean Connolly and the parishioners of March and Wisbech...

Sunday, 10 March 2013

House Group Mass

Laetare! Rejoice! We're halfway through Lent...

One aspect of community life at seminary is House Groups. Once a fortnight, we meet in small inter-year groups with a member of staff in order to pray, discuss issues in the community, and socialise. On Friday, we all went of for our termly House Group Masses, and my group trecked all the way to Stone, a market town in Staffordshire where Blessed Dominic Barberi ministered in the 1840's. The Italian Passionist was reviled by the townspeople initially, but eventually won them over through his gentleness, humility and perseverance, and a small chapel was built for the resident Catholic community. We were able to have Mass there, and also to sit in the chair where Blessed Dominic heard confessions!

It is well worth reading about this amazing priest who later received Newman into the Church. I recommend the CTS pamphlet by Fr Ben Lodge, or the older, very good book by Alfred Wilson.

And of course, Happy Mothers Day to all mother out there! Not long ago the Congregation for Clergy wrote a letter thanking the mothers of seminarians for forming their sons and generously giving them to the Church. Without mothers we wouldn't be here! For that reason, let's pray for the success of the Pro-Life march in Birmingham this afternoon, which is expecting great numbers of people from all over the country and beyond...

Thursday, 28 February 2013

We'll miss you Holy Father (...erm, Emeritus)!

Well, in ten minutes the Universal Church will be sede vacante. It was very surreal watching Pope Benedict leave the Vatican, with the Swiss guards, curia, and various well-wishers there to send him off with their gratitude. There were even groups of people on the rooftops of Rome to catch a glimpse of the helicopter as it circled the city on its way to Castle Gandolfo.

I was struck by his words in his last audience yesterday:

I always knew that the Lord is in the barque [Peter's boat on the sea of Galilee], that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.

Thank you once again, Holy Father, for the burden you have carried in Christ's name, and which you still carry as you pray for your successor and our new pope!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Transitional deacon, in time of transition!

Well, it's my last half-term before priestly ordination, and therefore my last half-term ever! It certainly is a week of transitions. Not only are we awaiting a new shepherd in the diocese, not only is Pope Benedict on the verge of retirement to a life of prayer and quiet, but Fr Mark, the rector of Oscott, finished his 12 year stint in seminary on Saturday, and when I come back we will have a new rector. I am grateful to Fr Mark for his care of me in these last six years, his willingness to take on new initiatives like public Sunday Evening Prayer, Corpus Christi processions and 40 hours devotion, as well as the three successful Invocation festivals that have been held at the college over the last few summers. May he enjoy his brief respite and his new parish ministry in Wolverhampton! And we welcome Fr David Oakley as the new rector, a priest already known to - and liked by - many of the seminarians. Please pray for him that he will be given the grace to be a good father and companion to the seminary community.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Ash Wednesday Life Vigil with Archbishop

On Ash Wednesday, Birmingham saw the beginning of its Lenten 40 Days for Life campaign, when men and women, young and old, pray outside the city's abortion clinic during its opening hours of 8 am - 8 pm. The movement, which is happening simultaneously in other national and international cities, aims to address this sidelined issue in our society not through aggression or even primarily debate, but through i) prayer and fasting, ii) peaceful vigil, and iii) community outreach. Archbishop Bernard Longley came to lead the peaceful prayer and witness on Wednesday at 2.30-3.30 pm, and was supported by 30 or 40 others, including some of the seminarians, and some priests of the diocese. As it so happened there was driving snow at that time, and the group of us must have been quite a sight to the passing cars!
Please pray that though this grassroots initiative, our society will wake up to the sadness that abortion brings to women, men and children, and that families and relationships may be healed.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Thank God for Pope Benedict

Yesterday's news about the Pope resigning has astounded the seminary, and by the look of things, the world.

Once again, we have seen that Pope Benedict is a man of integrity, who cannot be predicted and labeled. Some say he is "theologically conservative", but his works are full of imagination and life, and he sees everything in relation to personal friendship with the Lord. Some say he is authoritarian, yet he has been loathe to lead by force, excercising his papal ministry rather through pointing us gently in the direction of Heaven. Some say he is too shy to be a charismatic leader, yet when he came to England, his obvious warmth and delight was infectious, and people of diverse creeds responded to him in kind.

I am sure many people were thinking the Pope had nothing left to say, and a predictable end could be followed by a predictable obituary. Now once again the Pope has shown his courage and independence of mind, doing something that has not been done by a pope in 600 years. But he has not done it ostentatiously or for show - rather, he is showing as he did when he was first elected that he is merely a humble worker in the Lord's vineyard, and he is pointed us away from himself, to the Lord who gives his gifts to the Church. Like John the Baptist, he is effectively saying, "I must grow less, and he must grow greater".

Perhaps people might be confused that he has done this immediately after the papacy of Blessed John Paul II, who made a point of leading until death. Has Pope Benedict's decision undone the significance of that? I don't think so. The two decisions are complementary rather than contradictory. Each has something to say in its own context. John Paul II's suffering and death united him to the Passion and the Cross, themes that marked his public and private (penitential) life as pope. He showed that the Pope is not just a celebrity or a politician. Pope Benedict, by following the dictates of his own conscience, has emphasised the eminently pastoral nature of the papacy. What matters ultimately is not the Church saving face, but the Church saving souls. In that respect, I think his action has a noble stength and poignant beauty.

May he find, in his prayerful retirement, the consolation of the face of Christ for which he has always sought. May the Lord be praised for all he has given to us through Pope Benedict. And may the Lord raise up a worthy successor to him, who will lead with the mind and the heart of the Church.