Monday, 29 December 2008

Happy Christmas

I hope everyone is having a blessed Christmas season and that your resolutions for the New Year bring great graces! Three of the us are going to the FAITH conference at Stonyhurst, and one to the Youth 2000 New Year's retreat in London, so between us all we're covering some ground... At home I'm trying to make a crib set with my family, which can be added to year by year and which will be based in our town, so it will include some of those people who are known to the town or to our family, as well as all the biblical personages. It should be great fun! However, we've already had a schism, as different family members seem to be working from different scales, and so the crib sets are beginning to rival one another...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Vespers by Hazard Light

Well, term's finished, exams are over, and one more seminarian is ordained - please keep Fr Dominic Coslett of Birmingham diocese in your prayers. After going to the ordination on Saturday afternoon, some of us made our way back to East Anglia, only to get a flat tire on the way back, caused by a pothole! We tried to get the tire off oursleves, but it was stuck, so we had to wait for the RAC man to come. In the meantime we said evening prayer by the light of Michael's hazard lights - 'vespers by hazard light,' as he remarked. One of the challenges of being a diocesan seminarian or priest, it seems to me, is finding time and space to say the Divine Office during the day (less so for a seminarian, as we have a communal life to a large degree). But it's also quite fun that any mundane situation can become a launchpad for the consecration of one's day to God - on the bus, at home, in a park, in a waiting room... (note: I do wish Harper and Collins would make alternative smaller breviaries that can be fitted into pockets!)

Incidentally, has everyone read Pope Benedict's words on the 'ecology' of mankind from the other day, which have been taken up by the BBC? He talks brilliantly of a need to restore the understanding of human nature as male and female, and says that ignoring these distinctions in the moral sphere only leads to self-delusion and self-harm:

'That which has come to be expressed and understood with the term 'gender' [understood wrongly] effectively results in man's self-emancipation from Creation and from the Creator. Man wants to do everything by himself and to decide always and exclusively about anything that concerns him personally. But this is to live against truth, to live against the Spirit Creator.'

On the flip side, the significance of the Incarnation is that Christ chose to carry out His saving work not by himself, but with and among men; he did not have a monopoly on everything concerning Himself, but obeyed the will of the Father out of love; he did not 'liberate' himself from Creation, but chose to share in it. So Pope Bendict's remarks are quite seasonal!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

College Feast Day

Today is our college feast day: Our Lady Seat of Wisdom. The seminarians were busy all of yesterday preparing - that meant decorating the chapel, polishing the vessels for Mass, running through the liturgy and practising the music. We began this morning with sung morning prayer after meditation, and then at 11.30 Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop with over 40 guests in attendance, including many past Oscotian priests. The schola sang Elgar's beautiful setting of the Ave Maria. Then we had a splendid lunch. I must say I'm rather full now, as I'm still recovering from a Chinese buffet dinner to which four East Anglian priests treated us when they came up last night! So I worked it off by playing a gruelling match of badminton with one of my peers. A wonderful day to celebrate the life of the seminary, but also to turn to Mary as the one who leads us to her Son, who is Wisdom itself.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

A priest and a pope

Last Tuesday we had a Vietnamese priest whose charity we are supporting this year come to talk to the Justice and Peace group. I will keep his name and charity anonymous, because although he is happy to promote his charity around England, I don't want to run the risk of getting him into trouble with the Vietnamese government (assuming they would care to read English seminarians' blogs). This priest goes every year to Vietnam with money he's raised in England over the months, in his parish and through generous benefactors, and he distributes the money to needy causes in his home country. These include orphanages, leper hospitals, convents, and schools in need of basic material and educational resources. In many cases he gives the money to the parish priests, who then spend it directly as it is needed, and give a written account of how the donation is used. This priest's reasons for doing what he does are partly personal - his family itself moved from an extremely poor village in the country, and he promised to himself and his father that one day he would try to help the people from that village. But also, this priest sees that if the Vietnamese people, particularly young people, are given access to good education, they will be equipped to speak out against the injustices that are taking place in the country. (Note: If anyone wishes to support the charity, they can give me their email and I will send the details.)

The priest said that in terms of charitable action and standing up to the government, the Catholic Church is by far the strongest voice in Vietnam. This statement reminded me of other times in modern history when the Chuch has taken the side of the suffering. Only today I saw in The Tablet that there is yet another article accusing Pope Pius XII of virtually abandoning the Jews to the Nazis in World War II. Yet this is irreconcilable with much scholarship since the end of the war, and the testimonies of many during the war itself, that saw the Pope as public in his condemnation of the Holocaust, and instrumental in saving Jewish lives. The Nazis themselves said, "His [the Pope's] speech is one long attack on everything we stand for… he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews… he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals." Journalists from New York to London hailed him at the time as a public voice standing up to Hitler.

Albert Einstein, a secular Jew, had this to say:

'Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks….

Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.'

- Albert Einstein, Time magazine, 23rd December, 1940 p. 38

May we be able to provide such a witness to the truth in our own time!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Our Lady of Walsingham

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham - it's still got another twenty minutes to go! I had the privilege of making a pilgrimage to Walsingham today with my mum (a proper pilgrimage, with a set of Rosary mysteries on the way, during the time there, and on the way back, though as my mum pointed out, John Paul II rather threw a spanner in the works by introducing a fourth set of mysteries!). The Mass was of course a solemnity, and the Sisters of Walsingham, from Brentwood, processed the statue of Our Lady into the church to place next to the altar. There were priests from the diocese as well as from elsewhere, and the church was extremely packed. Bishop Michael gave an edifying homily about Mary's place in the work of our salvation, and held up her humility as an example to us. He also preached the same message I had heard from a different priest the last time I was in Walsingham - that is, a pilgrimage is never the end, but the beginning! Like the slipper chapel there, which is where pilgrims traditionally took off their shoes to walk the last mile to the old shrine barefoot, going on pilgrimage is an initial step which entails consequent conversion of life. Mary is not the goal, but the Mother who points us to our ultimate end, Her Son. Below is an excerpt from the litany to Our Lady of Walsingham (not the same excerpt I posted a year ago):

Woman who wondered, Remember us to God.
Woman who listened, Remember us to God.
Woman who followed Him, Remember us to God.
Woman who longed for Him, Remember us to God.
Woman who loves Him, Remember us to God.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Situation in Vietnam

Recently we have learned from our brother seminarians from Vietnam training at Oscott of the ongoing events in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, where Catholics are holding prayerful vigils outside the old nunciature, which the Communist authorities have seized and are beginning to demolish. The Catholic community has long requested the return of the building to the Church in Hanoi, but the authorities have gone back on their promise to return it, and are doing so without any justification. In a letter to both the Vietnamese President and its Prime Minister, Archbishop Kiet of Hanoi has said, 'This act is a deed that smears the legitimate aspiration of the Hanoi Catholic community, ridicules the law, and disrespects the Catholic Church in Vietnam. It is also an act of trembling morality, and mocking society’s conscience.' The authorities, says the Archbishop, have even spread false information about the protest and used interviews with mock 'priests' supporting the demolition to dissuade Catholics from challenging the demolition. As many as 5,000 people have been praying outside the fenced-off sight, under close supervision, including the seminarians and religious of Hanoi. The seminary and nearby convent, as well as cathedral and the archbishop's residence, have been blocked off while the demolition is taking place. (At the same time a Redemptorist parish in the city is protesting against the seizure of its property, and some of the protesters are being detained by the police.) Please keep the whole situation in Hanoi, and in Vietnam in general, in your prayers.

Incidentally, according to one source the Church property is to be demolished to make way for a parking lot, which ironically reminds me of the Joni Mitchell song 'Big Yellow Taxi':

'Don't it always seem to go, that we don't know what we got til it's gone,
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot!'

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Vigil for Vocations

The other night we had a Holy Hour for vocations to the diocesan priesthood, and for the conversion of England. It seems Michael had became fed up with the state of things ('Everyone's up and joining these religious orders, so we've got to be radical!'), so he advertised the Holy Hour for 2-3 am. However, most of the seminarians assumed it was meant to be 2-3 PM! Quite a few seminarians came nonetheless which was very encouraging. Please continue to pray for the diocesan priesthood in England and Wales, that young men will consider this call seriously, and that we will be true and courageous servants of the Gospel.

I have been reading Lumen Gentium for one of my courses, and it has a beautiful reference to the Church's ministries:

'[Christ] continually provides in his body, that is, in the Church, for gifts of ministries through which, by his power, we serve each other unto salvation so that, carrying out the truth in love, we may through all things grow unto him who is our head.' LG 1, 7

Monday, 8 September 2008

Facsimile of the Shroud

Happy Feast Day of Our Lady's birth! This marks the 4th day of our return to seminary. On Saturday we went to see one of four life-size facsimiles of the Shroud of Turin, which is on display in an Anglican church in Little Aston. It was bought for the vicar's wife by a friend off Ebay, of all places! I went along, fairly indifferently I must admit, as I had already seen the Shroud in Turin some years ago and was never incredibly struck by subsequent pictures I had seen of it.

But the afternoon was a very wothwhile experience, largely because of the way the presentation was laid out. On first walking in we were confronted with the negative of the Shroud, which shows up much more clearly the scars and blood stains than the actual shroud does, and accompanied with this was scientific evidence of the shroud's credibility, as well as quotes from the Scriptures that set the scene and turned the display into a meditation on the Passion. All the seminarians that came were visibly awed by what they saw and read. At the end of the display was the facsimile itself. I thought particularly poignant a piece of artwork which depicted the Cross, composed of the words of Psalm 22 ('All who see me mock at me,/ They make mouths at me, they wag their heads').

This visit grounded my own visit to Baddesley Clinton the day before, a Catholic manor in Warwickshire where Jesuit priests hid during the Reformation. On at least one occassion they were forced to use its priest holes to escape the spontaneous search of Queen Elizabeth's priest hunters. I guess the priestly vocation, lived well, will always be open to public humiliation and even persecution. It is well for us to remember that while living relatively comfortably in seminary!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Holy Oils!

Well, I've finished my pastoral placement in Peterborough and have found it a very useful experience. No two days were the same, and I was introduced to everything from prison chaplaincy to parish finances. I even had occassion to learn what happens when Holy Oils are accidentally spilled. Not the sort of things that are on the first year course at Oscott. The parishioners made me feel very welcome, as did the clergy, who make up a merry bunch in the presbytery. They were even good-humoured about the Summer Pudding I tried to make, and mercifully didn't include culinary ability in their assessment. Now I am looking forward to the 2nd year at Oscott starting on September 5th.

On top of that I'm still reading Abbe Trochu's famous biography of St Jean Vianney, which is very inspiring reading as a seminarian. To think that he was given such a small, indifferent parish, and yet worked for forty years as if he would not live another day. I have just read one of the many incidents in which he falls sick, due to the labours of his ministry and his severe personal discipline. When the doctors were crowded round his bed he had the humour to jest:

'I am keeping up a great fight at the present moment.'
'Eh?' said the doctors, 'and against whom, M. le Cure?'
'Against four doctors,' he replied, 'Should a fifth join them, I am lost!'

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Day in Walsingham

Yesterday I went to Walsingham for one of the days of the Youth 2000 retreat there. It's often a good place to replace my spiritual batteries and remember what I'm at seminary for! I took a few people from my placement parish, one of whom was a young Italian sister who does not often have a chance to meet young religious in our rural parts... In the morning we heard a talk from Abbot Christopher Jameson from Worth Abbey (of BBC 'The Monastery' fame) who gave a talk on prayer, particularly from a monastic perspective. He started off saying how many people claim to be tone deaf as an excuse for not singing, though the excuse is not at all true, as human speech relies on and is understood by tone. Similarly, many Britain claims to be 'tone deaf' to spirituality, even if they believe in some form of God. He suggested that, as with singing, we need to recover a culture of prayer which once flourished in Britain, at home, in church, in public communities, etc. I wonder if this will encourage praying in the shower?

There were much fewer people attending this retreat than in previous years, perhaps because it is post-World Youth Day. But actually, that suited the small shrine nicely. As Fr. Stephen Wang said in his homily for the Mass at the shrine, Walsingham is not about recurring apparitions, or an explicit message to the world, but a small wooden hut which was built to resemble the Holy house of Nazareth, where Mary first said 'Yes' to God's plan for humanity. It is, he said, the only shrine that points away from itself, telling pilgrims to go to their own homes and love there.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Happy Assumption

Happy Assumption to all! This has become one of my favourite Marian feasts in the last few years, though I can't really say why. I think it's because it's the ultimate recognition of Mary's great sanctity, as if God glorified her because He knew she would never presume to glorify herself. Also, when I think of the Assumption I think of Carravaggio's painting of her deathbed, which is admittedly a sad scene: the apostles gather despondently around the young but seemingly worn figure of Mary, who has undergone so much through sharing in the life of her son. it is sad for the world to relinquish the saint of saints, but equally, it is a joyful occassion, when we can put our hope in her unbroken intercession for us.

Today in my placement parish in Peterborough there was another wedding. A young parishioner gave a rendition of Schubert's 'Ave Maria' which was a welcome break from sure wedding favourites such as 'Lord of the Dance'!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Out of Great Silence. Again!

It seems ridiculous to keep restarting this thing but I'd hate for us to give it up completely!

The four of us (soon to be five with the arrival of Tony White) are fairly occupied at the moment - Padraig and Michael are in the Holy Land doing a bit of a parish placement, Luke is in Taize after having been with me and 80 kids in World Youth Day Australia, and I'm now well into my parish placement in Peterborough. All Soul's is a busy parish, with a significant number of Poles, Lithuanians, Indians, etc. Lots of baptisms, weddings and funerals here as well! I've been in both the local prison and the local district hospital, which features as a regular part of the priest's life.

A few days ago we experienced a typical call to the hospital: a woman had just died and the family asked to have her body blessed. So a nurse bleeped the priest I was with, and we went out there. When we got there, the priest asked to go to the lady's bed, and the nurse on duty asked hesitantly, 'Has the family requested you?' The priest said of course, otherwise he wouldn't be there. As we found out just afterwards, the family had already left, hence the nurse's question. The family had asked for a blessing because their mother was Catholic, but they weren't going to stick around for it, so we ended up being the only two present. That same day we had a graveside service for a Slovakian man who had died aged 44, with no family or friends in England. The only people at the cemetary were the priest and some of the parishioners who he had invited to pray at this man's grave. I begin to think that the priest must learn a lot about human loneliness in his ministry - that of others as well as his own!

World Youth Day was a great experience, and I really hope the young people will come away from it with a greater sense of the Church's universality. Also, Cardinal Pell spoke very eloquently and directly of the need for young people to make choices in their life, rather than 'sit on the fence' as our culture encourages us to do, be it intellectually, emotionally or spiritually. In particular he said we need to learn that being a disciple of Jesus requires commitment and self-discipline. In the final Mass he made the succinct observation that 'one mission is better than a thousand options.' Luke and I also went to the Pope's Mass in Sydney Cathedral, in which he spent some time in the homily addressing seminarians and young religious about staying faithful to their calling through prayer and the Scriptures. He encouraged us to become 'living altars' in which the sacrificial love of Christ is made present and gives inspiration to those around us. I took much from the time in Sydney, and I hope that Luke has recovered from having to share a room with me (tidying up the room on the last day was not a quick job)!

Please keep us in your prayers, especially Michael and Padraig, that they may have a safe trip back from the Holy Land.

Monday, 30 June 2008


For those of you who have commented on our blog, I haven't been able to respond to them for some reason (some problem with my email address), but I remember one lady, Mrs. Pea, asking how she and her family could encourage vocations. This was the topic of the homily at a First Mass I was at on Saturday (when a newly ordained priest celebrates his first Mass, and invites another priest to give the homily). The first thing I think is to foster vocational awareness in the home; make it known to your children that there are any number of vocations that God could be calling them to, and that you would be delighted to see them become a priest or religious as much as you would be to see them married. In your own parish, you could ask an individual who you think would be a good priest or religious if they have ever considered such a vocation. The thing is, they can't discern a vocation if they haven't been introduced to the possibilities, and for most people priesthood and religious life isn't even a blip on their radar screen. The other thing is, that even if they have considered it, they are not likely to do anything about it unless they receive some encouragement from outside. So it's up to us!

As for supporting priests and seminarians, the best thing is to pray constantly for them! I think it's easy to forget that they need just as many prayers as everyone else, maybe more, to stay on the straight and narrow. Also, you can encourage them just by showing that you appreciate what they do; in East Anglia priests often have to slog it out on their own and probably don't always realise the extent to which their ministry is needed and appreciated. When they meet with a kind word or a thank you I am sure they will feel that all the difficulties they undergo are worth it! I wonder if anyone else has ideas about how to effectively encourage and support vocations?

School's Out

Well, the academic year is finished now and we're well into our summer holidays, though there are still things here and there to keep us occupied. This last week and next week sees the ordinations of the five deacons who have spent the last six years at Oscott. These have taken me to Wales, Luton and Northampton, and I'm discovering that it's no short spell travelling on public transport across the country from East Anglia!

Two of us are going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and two of us are leaving this Saturday for World Youth Day in Australia - as I'm going on the latter, I'm thinking of making a cork hat as a gesture of cultural good will (well, really just for the fun of it). I'm certain we will have a wonderful experience of the worldwide Church there, as the last two WYDs in Toronto and Cologne have been a great witness of the love which young Catholics have for their faith, and also the admiration which they have for the Pope as their spiritual father. Plus Cardinal Pell and Bishop Anthony Fisher seem to have put a lot of time and thought into the preparation.

In August I will have my first pastoral placement, in All Souls, Peterborough. It is apparently a vibrant, active parish with many international parishioners. The other day I was changing trains in Peterborough, and two of my trains were cancelled, so I took the time to go find All Souls. When I got there, there was a Polish Mass taking place (at which there were about twenty to thirty people) followed by adoration. The church has some nice features, particularly the large wooden Stations of the Cross. Visiting there has given me a keen sense of anticipation, and I'm now looking forward to a busy couple of months!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Year of Discernment?

Exams are halfway over - woohoo! Just Boethius' reconciliation of free will and divine foreknowledge, Aquinas' argument of contingency, the life of St. Francis, and the development of the medieval parish to do! So I thought I'd take the opportunity to make an advertisement...

For any young Catholics that are looking for something to do for a year before Uni/ after Uni, there is a programme in Soho, London called St. Patrick's Evangelisation School, which is a great opportunity for growing in one's faith. It involves living in a small community in London, helping out in a busy city centre parish, receiving catechesis from many priests, religious and laypeople, including a degree in Religious Studies from Maryvale Institute. There are pilgrimages to places like Rome, and mini retreats throughout the year, with the aim of helping young Catholics discover the fulness of the Church and discern their Christian vocation. There is also an emphasis on evangelisation, mostly in the West End of London, whether it is doing outreach work for the homeless and lonely, or engaging with the many thousands of people who come to Soho to shop, who often have no sense of Christ's personal love for them.

The School is looking for young people who would be willing to give a year to God in such a way, ready to be formed as witnesses for the New Evangelisation which Pope John Paul II spoke of. The School's motto is, 'Always be ready to give an account of the hope that is within you' (Pet 3.15). Having done the year prior to coming to seminary, I can say it was a grace-filled experience and well worth the time! If anyone would like to find out more about St. Patrick's, they can check out the blog at, or they can go to the website at

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Singing Seminarians!

ON JUNE 7th 7.30 PM, Oscott seminary will be hosting a concert as part of our annual intiative to support two charities, one national and one international. This year we're supporting Right to Life, which stands for the rights of the unborn and vulnerable in this country, and Cenacolo, wich is an Italian-founded charity helping people to come to term with addictions (they also have houses and groups in Britain). We've been practicing hard in the seminary schola all year on music, most of it four-part harmony, and some unexpected additions, so if you are around Birmingham on June 7th, do come. There are only 200 places so there's little chance that there will be a seat if you come on the night, so book in advance! See the details on the website accompanied. Spread the word as well...

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


Please pray Michael and Luke as they receive candidacy today - the formal acceptance of them for ordination!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Paray le Monial

Sorry for delay in posts. We're back at Oscott now with a month to go before the dreaded Exams. Anyway, thought I'd say something about Paray le Monial where I also went on the Ars pilgrimage the other week.

Paray le Monial is the home of St Margaret Mary Alocoque, a nun who was apparently quite a difficult character for her community to live with, very prayerful but given to scrupulosity. She came to her Jesuit confessor, Fr. Claude de la Columbiere (also a saint), reporting apparitions of Jesus in which He told her of the love of His Sacred Heart. Claude knew that Margaret Mary was given to over-sensitivity, and to establish the credibility of her story, he asked her to ask Jesus the next time she saw Him what her greatest sin had been. When she asked Jesus, He simply said to her He could not remember - her sins had all been blotted out in sacramental Confession. When Margaret Mary told this to Claude, he knew that the apparition was real, because Margaret Mary was too scrupulous to have come up with such a reply herself. Following this, devotion to the Sacred Heart grew up, the heart by which Jesus revealed His human and divine love to a world that was suffering the effects of Jansenism, a heresy in which people refuse God's love out of a sense of their own unworth. Claude took the revelation to England, where he preached it in the streets of London and was eventually imprisoned in the Tower until the King of France demanded his release.

After visiting the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, we went to the church of St. Claude where his relics are kept (they were in England only last year). Then we had Mass in the church where St. Margaret Mary received the apparitions, a wonderful privilege. Her incorrupt body is preserved there as well, and is very beautiful. Hot on our tail was a group from the North American College who were also staying at the seminary at Ars and had come to the church in Paray to celebrate Mass after us. It was a wonderful day, and very appropriate to our time at Ars, for the Cure himself said 'the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.' I would recommend going there not just to priests, but to everyone!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Happy Easter from Ars!

Hope everyone has had a good Easter Triduum and is celebrating the Resurrection in style. A group of us (priests, seminarians and prospective seminarians) are in Ars to see the stomping ground of St. John Marie Baptiste Vianney. So far we've seen the church - with the attached basilica enshrining his body - where he catechised the villagers and eventually heard confessions for up to 16 hours a day; the presbytery where he lived in evangelical poverty, giving away the luxurious furniture which one of the benefactors of the parish gave to him; and the statue of his meeting with a boy of the village (pictured), where he said, 'Show me the way to Ars, and I'll show you the way to heaven.'

The seminary where we are staying was started after JPII visited Ars in 1986, and trains priests from all over the world. It is a great privilege to visit the home of the patron saint of priests, not least because like him it is a very humble and unostentatious place, not much bigger than it was when he was alive. I'll update you on our pilgrimage as the days go by.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday

It's been an eventful week for us, as we went down to the diocesan cathedral in Norwich on Wednesday for the diocesan Chrism Mass. It was a beautiful liturgy and we had a real sense of being a part of the Church in East Anglia, something that Bishop Michael talked about in his homily. Holding up for us the example of St. Felix who has just been given the status of a feast in the diocese, he encouraged everyone to imitate the apostles in bringing the Good News of Christ to the people of East Anglia.

Part of that good news is obviously the event which we commemorate today - the passion and death of Jesus - acknowledging with gratitude his mercy towards us, and repenting of our own sins which made him 'a worm and no man'. This morning the seminarians from Oscott joined the local community in a walk of witness through the town centre, and we sang 'Man of sorrows' and 'All for Jesus' while students from the secondary school performed a mystery play of Jesus' death. We are just about to go in to Birmingham cathedral for the reading of the Passion and the veneration of the Cross, and this evening we will watch the BBC portrayal of the Crucifixion.

I only saw the first BBC episode on the Passion, which left me with mixed feelings. Much of the script did not come from the canonical Gospels at all, and rather than being hostile to the biblical portrayal of Christ's mission it just seemed to reduce it to a generic message of 'the Kingdom of God is in your hearts.' While some people are happy that Mary is not sweet or saccharine, she also seems to have had no say in her role as Jesus' mother, and does not really have faith ('It's easy to believe when you're young,' she says wearily). Also Jesus comes across, as he often does in these things, as a bit weedy. Still, I liked some of the dramatisations, and especially think Pilate is played well.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Holy Week

A Happy Palm Sunday to everyone!

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; we've just had a week's retreat with Bishop Malcolm MacMahon of Nottingham (a Dominican, ergo a good preacher), and before that the seminary had the flu, so it's been eventful.

Today we're going to Birmingham Cathedral for Palm Sunday Mass, so a break from the ordinary. Holy Week is a wonderful time to reflect on the central truths of our faith. I was watching a 'documentary' last night which explored the Early Church's understanding of Jesus, and the commentator lamented the fact that Jesus isn't seen as more of a wisdom teacher than a miracle maker. The fact is that neither are the primary way in which we see Jesus - He is the great 'I am', the One who being in 'the form of God' took on 'the form of a servant' in order to mediated on behalf of our sins to the Father. All his miracles and all his wisdom would have done us no good unless it had flowed from a love which was ultimately ready to lay itself down for our sake. So though this is a tumultous week in terms of what happens to Jesus, we can rejoice in his love for us, through which we were restored to the Father.

Please keep in your prayers the Confirmation retreat which is taking place in my parish in Bury St. Edmunds today. Pray that the young people will be given the grace to understand and desire the sacrament for which they are preparing.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain

Just thought I’d take advantage of a surge of blogging energy to blog about the half-term trip to Valladolid, Spain which some of us went on a month ago...

Valladolid is the home of St. Alban's Seminary, an English seminary begun by St. Robert Persons in 1589 in order to train priests to come back to England and minister to the Recusant Catholics. Among the martyrs associated with the seminary are St. Hernry Garnet, St. Henry Walpole and Blessed John Plessington. The seminary, following the example of other continental operations like Douai and Rome, was a gift of the Spanish Crown, and hence reverts back to the Crown once it fails to be used any longer for the training of priests. Today, because it is no longer feasible to use it as a full-time seminary, it is used by many dioceses as a pre-seminary year for accepted applicants, where they learn the Catechism, develop a life of communal prayer and liturgy, and experience a profoundly Catholic culture. Close by are the cities of Avila and Segovia, where the two friends St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross respectively led a renewal in the Church through the newly formed discalced Carmelites.


Situated on the top of a hill and closed in by a great stone, turreted wall, the city of Avila supposedly provided Teresa with the inspiration for her mystical work, The Interior Castle, which talks of the different steps on the way to perfect union with God. She was first a nun in the Convent of the Incarnation, which lies a 10 minute walk outside the city walls. For the first half of her life in the convent she was drawn between ‘friendship with God and friendship with the world’, but in mid-life she read the Confessions of St. Augustine, and underwent a conversion of spirit, desiring to live a more fervent life in the service of God. She also received many spiritual locutions from Our Lord, in one of which she saw ‘the sorely wounded Christ,’ and these helped her to search for God more single-mindedly. She founded the convent of St. Joseph’s which resides in the city walls, where the sisters lived a more primitive observance of the Carmelite life. Seeing her cell in the Convent of the Incarnation, small and dark, with a little ledge and a small fireplace from which to cook her supper, was the most humbling thing from our visit to Avila.

I also enjoyed seeing the musical instruments which are kept there, for they indicated that St. Teresa and the nuns were accustomed to living out their faith with joy and creativity.

More about Segovia (home of St. John of the Cross) later!

Back from Ushaw

We're back from the British Seminarians' Football Tournament, which happened at Ushaw Seminary (by Durham). Thanks for the prayers, the said injured has recovered and we were all able to come back together. We beat Ushaw and lost two games, including one to the fleet-footed Scots from Dun Scotus who swept the tournament. It was a wonderful chance to talk to seminarians from other seminaries, to see how things differ for them, and how much of what we do is the same. Most importantly, it encouraged us in our vocation and helped us realise that we are not alone as future priests in Britain, while at the same time allowing us to relax in a normal setting and just have a bit of fun. Ushaw's lack of Latin, Greek and Hebrew classes had at least one Oscotian considering a transfer up north ( sed non mihi est...). All seminarians have academic study as an integral part of their formation, as is called for in Pope John Paul II's Pastores Dabo Vobis. It is important today as ever that we are able to 'give an account of the hope that is within us' through a clear and studied understanding of our faith. Another important aspect of formation is pastoral work, which Ushaw seems to have a lot of. At any rate, a good time was had by all of us at the tournament, and we thank Ushaw for putting it on, at the same time looking forward to a chance to redeem ourselves against the footie victors!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

The dangers of football

A few of the lads are currently up at Ushaw seminary because of an inter-seminary football game but please say a prayer for one of our players who we have heard is now in hospital with concussion.

I knew there was a reason why I've never felt the urge to play football!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008


I'm sat in the library, with my coat on because it's so cold, it's getting dark and I'm TRYING to write an essay on philosophy of law, and so for the sake of my mental health I would just like to say...


Sunday, 3 February 2008

Candidacy Retreat

As Henry mentioned in the last post about the football match (commiserations to Wonersh) some of us have just been away on a mini-retreat.

We've had the very pleasant experience of being able to stay overnight at Oulton Abbey, a small community of Benedictine Nuns near Stone in Staffordshire, a short drive from Oscott. They are an extremely hospitable community (I think of only two actual 'Oulton Abbey nuns') who provided us with an abundance of good food, lest we faint along the way.

The purpose of our stay was to spend time reflecting on Candidacy. By this I mean being admitted as a Candidate for Holy Orders, the prospect of which is on the very near horizon for those of us who were on the retreat. Candidacy is an official by the Church that a person has a vocation to Diaconate or Priesthood and the Church asks God's blessing on the person and admonishes him to care for his vocation so that he might be able to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

We will find out in a few weeks whether we are to be admitted as Candidates and I think the Rite will be celebrated in early April. Suddenly, the six years of seminary formation which faced us in our first year seems to be whizzing past!

Prayers please!!!

Benediction in the main Chapel at Oulton Abbey after our Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament.

Oscott vs. Wonersh

Yesterday was a long day, as we had the Wonersh seminarians over to play a football match, a rematch long anticipated! The day started with a candlelit procession and Mass at 7.15 in the morning to celebrate Our Lord's Presentation in the Temple. The cloisters echoed with the refrain, 'Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel' - Simeon's words to God on beholding the child Jesus - 'A light to enlighten the gentiles, and give glory to Israel your people.' It was a beautiful way to start the day.

The game was very competitive, and there were loud supporters on both sides. Wonersh managed to lead off 2-0, but we equalised before the second half. After a rest at half time we came back hoping to tire Wonersh out and take the lead. Both teams scored another goal. With only a few minutes to go, Wonersh took the lead 4-3, which seemed like the end of it. But our dean came back with a thundering charge down the centre and put one past the goalie to draw the game at 4-4. Both teams thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Now we have the tournament at Ushaw to think about after half-term.

Say a pray for Michael and Luke, who are on candidacy retreat this weekend.

Friday, 1 February 2008

A mother's witness

A few weeks ago this story came out about a young mother in Norfolk who gave her life for her newborn baby. Lorraine Allard, who discovered that she was in the advanced stages of cancer, refused to terminate her pregnancy at 23 weeks in order to undergo chemotherapy. Instead she waited for her baby's premature arrival at 26 weeks, saying, "If I am going to die, my baby is going to live." Her husband, already the father of three daughters, held by his wife's decision. "I can't begin to describe how brave she was. Towards the end we knew things weren't going well but she was overjoyed that she had given life to Liam." Liam was born on November 18, weighing less than 2 lbs., and his mother was put on a chemotherapy course straight away. Nevertheless she died two months later, having managed to visit her baby at the hospital four times.

It is incredible to hear of people like Lorraine and Martyn who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to give their children a chance to live. May their witness reawaken us to the gift of new life, and give us the courage to make sacrifices on its behalf. May it help break down the idea in our culture that children take away a person's freedom. On the contrary, many abortions are undergone because of pressures put upon women by the fathers, her parents or through her own low self esteem, whereas Lorraine was obviously at peace making the choice she did. May she rest in peace.

Monday, 28 January 2008

The First Deep Fat Friar

A humourous allusion on Michael's part to St. Thomas Aquinas, whose feast day is today. As the patron saint of students, he was given particular attention by one of our deacons in the homily at Mass. The deacon spoke of how St. Thomas coupled his Christian wisdom with the intellectual fruits of his own secular age in order to achieve a synthesis that could engage the world. Another Thomist, he said, did the same thing when eight centuries later he unraveled the beauty of Catholic sexual teaching in the light of an anthropological and philosophical discipline - it's called John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Heck, this blog is trying to use the good things of our own age in order to further the truths of our faith. That makes it Thomistic I guess...

St. Thomas, pray for us!

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Acolyte Mass

Congratulations to our diocesan brother Padraig, who received the ministry of acolyte today. Acolyte is a ministry that centres around the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass, in which the server brings the bread and wine to the priest at the altar, that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ. I think it also gives the candidate the privilege of being an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion anywhere in the world. Acolyte, received at Oscott in the third year, is one of the markers in the seminarian’s journey to ordination, the others being the ministry of reader in the second year, and candidacy in the fourth year, when the seminarian is formally accepted as a student for the priesthood. Luke and Michael will be coming to that soon...

Today after the homily each of the acolyte candidates knelt in front of the bishop, as he presented them with a chalice and enjoined them to be worthy vessels of Christ. Pray that Padraig will be ever conformed to Christ in his seminary formation.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Bishops, buffets and football

Happy feast of Ss Timothy and Titus.

Now that Michael and Luke are back from placement, the East Anglian presence in Oscott is notable (look out Birmingham). This was especially true of this last week when the bishop came up to visit. We got to talk to him about how seminary was going, and even have a bit of banter with him when we went out for a Chinese buffet in the evening. As if latin, greek and hebrew weren't enough, Michael and Luke were quizzed on their cambodian, which they had used last summer on placement there. I think the bishop wins in that department. He was also happy to talk about Leeds football!

Yesterday Oscott won their first football match in years, against Maryvale Institute, the Catholic college just down the road. Granted, you'd expect a seminary full of twenty and thirty year olds to beat a team that only came together for this match, but still it's a win! I wonder if it's apporopriate to pray to John Paul II that we beat our rivals from Wonersh seminary next week? It could be the miracle that makes him patron saint of footballers...

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

New colleagues

Ladies and Gents, I would very much like to introduce to you some new members of the family...

Please meet John Fisher and Thomas More...

Back in business

Incredibly it's been over a week now since we arrived back at the seminary after our Christmas break and I'm not sure I've had time to stop since because things have been pretty manic.

Luke and I of course have the added peculiarity of trying to get back into the swing of things after having been away for six months, mainly on parish placements. Now we have to face the joy of academic work once again - we have both already had to write and hand in a 3000-word essay. We have both also gained new house jobs, Luke is the Master of Ceremonies (very impressive, I hear you cry) and I am in charge of Manual Labour (perhaps not so impressive, I hear you mutter...)

It is good to be back in the company of our fellow seminarians. Padraig and his year group are receiving the ministry of Acolyte on Sunday, so please say a prayer for them. It's also good to now have the opportunity of getting to know Henry better which had been difficult until now because of our being away on placement when he started in September.

Please keep us in your prayers as we each try to discern the Lord's call for us and serve Him as best we can.

God bless.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Happy Feast of Our Lord's Baptism

He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.

(Isaiah 42)

Today is a day of recollection for us as we start the term so I'll say no more, but have a blessed day and keep us in your prayers.

Monday, 7 January 2008

WYD prep

I realise full well that I should be in bed right now, but as I can't get to sleep I thought I'd write a quick post.

First of all, a belated feast of the Epiphany to everyone. Saturday night I went to the bishop's Epiphany Vigil Mass for young people who are going to be, or have recently been, confirmed. Afterwards I got to meet some of the young people in the light of a bonfire and fireworks, a few of whom I saw the next day at the preparation afternoon for World Youth Day. Luke my senior was also there, putting sweepstake tickets into envelopes for a fundraising event, while trying to convince the youth of Doctor Who's Catholicity - see previous posts. We had an Australian come and explain all about Australian life and culture (yes, I've heard the yoghurt joke), and we learned such useful phrases as 'flat out like a lizard drinking' ('I'm busy') and 'fair dinkums' ('it's true'). Ripper! I'm stoked to learn all this...

I missed a second Epiphany Mass with the bishop to come back for a Vocations Holy Hour which was being held in my parish. As well as having initiatives to attract men and women to the priesthood and religious life, it is important to pray to Christ that he might open them to the possibility of such a discernment. As it says in 'Fishers of Men', as a baby grows in silence, so a vocation is formed through silence. Please pray for an increase of priestly and religious vocations in East Anglia, especially amongst our young people!

I promised a report on the FAITH conference - it will come. Fr. Tim has a good review on his blog as well, though I miss the fun video that usually accompanies such events!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year

Happy Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, and may you all have a blessed year of 2008! Sorry for the lapse in posts - that can be part of my New Year's resolution...

This Christmas has been my first major break since starting seminary. My first term at seminary was an enjoyable one, and I am looking forward to the coming term. We finished our first rounds of essays and exams - history, latin, Aquinas, classical philosophy, liturgy and Synoptic Gospels. Aquinas, Synoptics and latin are my favourite so far... But the fun and learning doesn't stop with the end of term; for Christmas I got Alice Hogge's 'God's Secret Agents', an account of the Jesuit priests on the English mission during Elizabeth's reign and up to the Gunpowder Plot. Hogges herself is an agnostic, but from what I've read so far she's very sympathetic to the Catholic voice in the Recusant period. What's more it is very easy to read, and relies often on the Jesuit John Gerard's autobiography (a compelling picture of the times through the eyes of a priest in hiding).

Tomorrow some of us are going to the FAITH winter conference, a couple of days of talks and prayer based on 'Hearing God's Word' in the Scripture. There will be sports in the afternoon and a bar in the evening, topped by a ceilidh dance on the last night! What more could anyone want? There is also a session in the summer for any young adults who are interested. I'll let you know how the conference goes.