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.