Thursday, 24 December 2009

O what a pilgrimage

Two of us East Anglians joined a Wonersh seminarian, 5 priests and many young men discerning their vocation on a pilgrimage to southern France this past week. The pilgrimage, nicknamed the ‘O Antiphon’ pilgrimage, was a wonderful way to prepare ourselves for Christmas, away from the busy corporate activity of the UK, meditating upon the life of the Curé of Ars, at whose shrine we were based for our 4 day visit.

Ars is a tiny village about an hour away from Lyon in the Rhone valley. There is a single main street, a small collection of houses and a few shops, surrounding a church. Thus St Jean-Marie Vianney found his parish in the mid-nineteenth century.

His first day as pastor was a cold, misty one, and the Curé was unable to find it. He came across a young shepherd, and asked him the way. He was told by the boy, after which the saint exclaimed: ‘you have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to heaven.’

The site of this encounter is just on top of a windy hill, half a mile out of the village, and is commemorated by a famous statue of the scene.

Since then, Ars has become a centre of pilgrimage for those on their sojourn towards heaven, hoping the saint would show them in the right direction. During his lifetime, thousands came for confession and spiritual direction (including Birmingham’s Bishop Ullathorn), and until today, thousands more have walked in the same footsteps, seeking the will of God in their lives, to discover their vocation.

Now we are all home, from pilgrimages and our Oscott term, all the East Anglia Seminarians would like to wish you all a very blessed and peaceful Christmas, and a happy new year.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Revision breaks

There are only 4 days of exams left to go now at Oscott. There is an inkling of a festive spirit drifting through the corridors too. So far, I have counted 3 Christmas trees - although one suggests to the world it is in fact an 'Advent tree' - and one crib scene.

Last week, two of our East Anglian number were united with our Northampton brothers in traveling a mile down the road to Maryvale to hear the annual Francis Clark Memorial Lecture. Fr Julian Green, Oscott's own visiting lecturer, spoke of the Curé of Ars and his relevance as a model priests, and James Cardinal Stafford spoke of the priest of the 21st century and the new evangelisation. Speaking the previous day in Birmingham cathedral for the Maryvale graduation ceremony, his talk on Thursday morning was richly laced with grappling topics, such as the changing view of priesthood and the importance of understanding and appreciating the past. He spoke movingly of the manner many of his own beliefs have been recently reached over a lifetime of formation.

The Cardinal is Archbishop Emeritus of Denver, Major Penitentiary Emeritus and President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Franciscan Vocations Commercial

I found an amusing video on Fr Stephen Langridge's Southwark Vocations blog, which you can watch by clicking here.
...Ditto for diocesan priesthood!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Installation of the Archbishop

Well, Birmingham now has its new Archbishop, His Grace Bernard Longley, following the Installation in St Chad's cathedral yesterday. The service was very beautiful, and it was fitting that Archbishop Bernard chose the Immaculate Conception as the day of his installation, as it is also one of the patronal feasts of the diocese. He spoke eloquently of this Marian Solemnity in his homily:

[Mary's] closeness to God is the first fruit of redemption and it eventually enabled her to recognise and welcome the hand of God directing the course of her life. Yet the most important moment of grace in Mary’s life occurred when she was as yet incapable of sensing or recognising it, still less understanding its importance.

It is often the same with us. Most of us were baptised as babies: the pattern of and potential for our lives of faith was established when we could never have understood or appreciated it. Only later in life we become grateful for what our parents and god-parents did for us and actively live the life of faith we received through their commitment to Christ and to us. Moments of grace often catch us unawares and it is only when we stop and reflect that we can appreciate their significance in the pattern of our lives.

Mary was prayerful and reflected on life’s experiences: she pondered these things in her heart. No doubt, as the life of her Son unfolded before her, she looked back and understood the meaning of what she had seen and heard and felt. St Luke does not disguise the fact that our Lady, even though she was full of grace, was deeply disturbed by the angel’s words. The natural, human reaction of bewilderment and astonishment at something so powerful caused her to face it and accept it. Mary had two moments of amazement: first that she was chosen: Rejoice, so highly favoured one. And then, that her life was to be fruitful with the birth of Christ, that she was chosen to be a mother.

Mary’s experience awakens in us the recognition of an extraordinary grace: we too, each of us, have been chosen and are highly favoured. In the words of St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: In him we were claimed as God’s own, chosen from the beginning. We shall never fully understand the reason for God’s choosing until we come one day to see him face to face, yet we have been chosen, each in our own particular way and together as the Church, to bear Christ to others.

On Saturday the Archbishop will be coming to visit the seminary and celebrate Evening Prayer with us. We look forward to that as a welcome distraction from exam revision!

Monday, 30 November 2009

An Unexpected Model for Priests

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, the secretary for the Congregation for Clergy, used Rambo as an analogy for the priestly life in an interview about the Year of the Priest. Zenit reports:
ROME, NOV. 29, 2009 - A priest's soul should have "interior muscle" comparable to the physical strength of Rambo, which is nourished with "prayer, the interior life and true motivation," says the secretary for the Congregation for Clergy.
But he is also quick to warn us that the priesthood is not about pelagian self-enhancement, becoming holy through impossible feats of daring. He points to the example of the Cure d'Ars, who did only what was needed in sanctifying his people:
"What extraordinary thing did he do? Nothing. He centered everything in his vocation: pastoral works, the Eucharist and Confession."
The 65-year-old prelate noted that St. John Mary Vianney did "not have very particular gifts of intelligence," but he "was an exceptional pastor."
The archbishop added that the saint didn't "get a degree in pastoral care," and that the work of a priest is learned "with the love of God."
I can't say I've ever watched the Rambo films, and am not inclined to, but I think the Archbishop's point is a good one, that we don't automatically become holy just by being in a seminary or a parish, but that we have to be open to the grace of God changing us, and we can only do that by living a life of regular prayer and reflection. To further the Rambo analogy, he only got as fit as he is by picking up the dumbell, rather than thinking about picking it up... we seminarians need to pick up our Bible and our breviary!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Holy Cure comes through for us

Sorry to delay the football results for those of you who may have been anticipating them - we've had a silent day of recollection today, so I thought I'd wait to post about the game.

It was a fast and furious match, and the Dominicans kept us on our toes throughout. They had a number of quickfooted players among them (Br Nick and Fr David spring to mind), and Brs David and Mark went straight in for the challenges, but they all worked like - yes, you guessed it - dogz. We managed to slip through a goal before half time, and then got a lucky break in the last minute of the game, but their goalie Br Robert didn't reward us lightly! We were fortunate to have Robert and Michael from the permanent diaconate programme play with us - Michael really boosted our defense by literally using his head, and Robert was a sturdy winger. The Oscotians were happy to have won the battle, through the intercession of our no-nonsense Cure, but with this being the first time the Dominicans have played, their preparatory practices being the first time some of them have kicked a ball, I think they'll be carrying a blazing torch in the future!

Afterwards we had a nice time chatting in the bar, and then they had a quick tour of the chapel and museum before heading out. All of us here thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope that we'll be able to meet again, even if it's in a different pretext. Did somebody mention darts?

Have a look at the Dominicans' own post on their blog.. Oh, and below are the two mascotts for the teams, having a good laugh about the whole thing.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Last hours (cue for 'Eye of the Tiber')

No, I'm not referring to the end of the Liturgical Year, but to something Much Bigger: the long-awaited match between Oscott and the Dominicans! On their blog the Dominicans have sounded the warcry: Bring it On!

Our last video seems to have put the pressure on Oscott but we are not going to resort to mind games and just keep up our regime of prayer, practice, training and tactics. We'll do our talking on the pitch ...

Indeed, it will be a conversation of sorts. Still, judging from their latest video, they look like they could do us some damage, plus they have those powerful Dominican novenas on their side - so we'll be out for one more practice this afternoon! Our inside 'plant' tells us we need to be especially aware of this guy...

Paralysed man mistakenly thought to be in coma for 23 years

I meant to post about this story earlier in the week but didn't get round to it... Anyway, The Telegraph has an article about a man in Belgium who was midiagnosed as being in a coma, though in reality he was conscious the whole time and could not say anything to anyone. I wish the advocates of euthanasia would consider cases like this, when they presume to know when a life is no longer 'meaningful.' Here is the article:
Rom Houbens was simply paralysed and had no way to let doctors caring for him what he was suffering.

"I dreamt myself away," says Houben, now 46, who was misdiagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state after a car crash.

Doctors and nurses in Zolder deemed him a hopeless case whereby his consciousness was considered "extinct".

The former martial arts enthusiast and engineering student was paralysed after a car crash in 1983. He was finally correctly diagnosed three years ago and his case has just come to light in a scientific paper released by the man who "saved" him.

Doctors treating him regularly examined him using the worldwide Glasgow Coma Scale which judges a patient according to eye, verbal and motor responses.

During every examination he was graded incorrectly. And so he suffered in silence, unable to communicate to his parents, his carers or the friends who came to his bedside that he was awake and aware at all times what was happening in his room.

Only the re-evaluation of his case at the University of Liege brought to light that Houben was only paralysed all these years. Hi-tech scans showed his brain was still functioning almost completely normally.

Therapy has now enabled him to tap out messages on a computer screen and he has a special device above his bed enabling him to read books while lying down.

When he woke up after the accident he had lost control of his body, "I screamed, but there was nothing to hear," he says.

"I became a witness to my own suffering as doctors and nurses tried to speak with me until they gave up all hope.

"I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me – it was my second birth. All that time I just literally dreamed of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I felt."

The neurologist Steven Laureys who led the re-examination of Houben, published a study two months ago claiming vegetative state diagnosed patients are often misdiagnosed.

"Anyone who bears the stamp of 'unconscious' just one time hardly ever gets rid of it again," he said.

Laureys, who leads the Coma Science Group and Department of Neurology at Liege University Hospital, discovered how Houbens' brain was still working using state-of-the-art imaging. He now intends to use the case of Houbens to highlight what he considers may be many more similar examples of misdiagnosis around the world.

He said: "In Germany alone each year some 100,000 people suffer from severe traumatic brain injury. About 20,000 are followed by a coma of three weeks or longer. Some of them die, others regain health. But an estimated 3000 to 5000 people a year, remain trapped in an intermediate stage: they go on living without ever come back again."

Houbens remains in constant care at a facility near Brussels.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Sacred Made Real

I went to London yesterday on our free day, and went in the afternoon to see the Sacred Made Real exhibition of Spanish religious statues and paintings in the National Gallery. It was well worth the visit. The Guardian wrote this about it:

"This is the most powerful show the National Gallery is ever likely to hold. One can say that without overstatement. It is not common for people to weep at a press view, nor to fall silent with awe, but both happened this week at the National Gallery."

I recognised a few of the paintings, like Velasquez's famous 'The Immaculate Conception' and 'Christ after the flagellation,' but what impressed me most were the scenes of Christ's Passion, particularly the two Ecce Homo's (by Mena and Fernandez). The body of Christ was beatifully carved down to the veins in his arms, and the suggestion of the hairs on his legs, and the painters had applied layers on layers of paint in order to give the realistic effect of bruising on Christ's back due to scourging. The paint was removed from certain areas and painted over in such a way that it gave the effects of peeling skin and flesh wounds.

Pretty gruesome stuff. But I found that after a second, closer look I got over my natural repulsion and was transfixed by these little details that went to making up the whole statue. And of course, it is good for us as Catholics to recognise that sin is not just some human construct, but is a real evil with very real consequences, which Jesus came to defeat in His death. This would have been a wonderful exhibition for Lent, but unfortunately it finishes January 24th. Do go if you are able - you will not regret it! I think the National Gallery should also be thanked for not portraying this devotional art as a backward culture that is to be scoffed, but showing it as a beautiful tradition that is (in the words of the exhibition's short film) part of 'a living faith.'

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Christ Rules in Kansas City

Happy Feast Day of Christ the King. We celebrated the day by going to the local parish of Christ the King for Mass, which is a very lively and family-filled parish. I see from other blogs that Kansas City has marked the occassion with an amazing Eucharistic procession through the city, with 22,000 young people - so many that the city centre was shut down! The National Catholic Youth Conference there was appropriately entitled, 'Christ Reigns!'

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Human Experience

On Wednesday night six of us went to see the film 'The Human Experience' in Wrexham, North Wales (little bit of a journey!). I'm sure a lot of you know the film is a documentary about two brothers' search for an answer to the meaning of human existence, interviewing those they meet along the way. Their experiences consist of: sleeping homeless in New York for a week and interviewing the homeless that they meet, travelling on the Pan American highway down to Peru, where they help out in a children's orphanage, and with two other friends flying to Ghana, where they are taken into the life of the community, talk to some patients dying of AIDS (including two young mothers), and also visit a community of lepers. Along the way, the brothers and their friends have to come to terms with their own past, with its own hardships. The main character Jeff has particular difficulty coming to terms with the fact that he grew up under a violent and abusive father, and he struggles to learn forgiveness and hope through the experiences he and his brother undergo.

Made by Grassroots, the same people who did the priest promo 'Fishers of Men,' this latest film, as well as having a good message, is beautifully shot, and has a nice soundtrack. At the moment three of the guys involved are touring America and Europe showing the film in venues where they are asked. Hopefully, they said, it will be on DVD soon. I hope they continue to make films that present a Catholic understanding of the world in a professional and engaging way.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

God's Frs: the Sequel

On Tuesday evening we welcomed last year's newly ordained back to the college for Mass: Frs Paul Johnson, Paul Leonard, Dominic Coslett and Michael Smith. Fr Paul Leonard (aka Fr Lenny) celebrated the Mass, and Fr Dominic preached beautifully about the story of Zacchaeus in the tree, and how like Jesus' unexpected visit, the sacraments can bring unexpected graces to our lives. Fr Paul Johnson (aka Fr Johnno) gave a speech after dinner in which he told us that the most important thing to take away from seminary - the only thing that ultimately matters - is our relationship with Christ. Nothing else will fall into place without this, but with it - to quote St Paul - 'who can be against us?'

It was wonderful to have our alumni back, and in the morning some of us went to a 'greasy spoons' for a cooked breakfast. I love this sort of fraternity among the brethren!

Do I smell a a Challenge?

Saturday 28th is fast approaching, when we Oscotians don our football boots for a match with the Dominicans from Blackfiars, Oxford. It should be quite an event.

The Dominicans have really been hyping it up on their blog Godzdogz, and have written two posts (Nov 12th and Nov 19th), in which they lulled us into a false sense of security by making it appear they would play in their habits, and then showed a more recent slideshow of their training regime, in which they were playing in sporstwear. After this contradiction, can we afford to trust them when they say they're only playing for a bit of fun? I think not...

Moreover, we are in touch with one member of the community who we are persuading to be our spy, as we think he is really an Oscotian at heart... He will no doubt divulge all their dastardly plans!

St John Vianny, please come to our aid, as we take your name for our team: may Vianney's Army triumph as a beacon for the seminaries!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday

If you travel across many parts of East Anglia, if you look deep enough, you can see the scars of war all over the landscape. A pillbox in a field, overgrown with grass; an abandoned run-way, cracked by the weeds. We still show the effects of recent war in our daily life in parts of the diocese too. Just think of all the military and air force bases, and our local Royal Anglian Regiment, which are not relics, but a living testament to the reality of war, especially in these violent days we live in.

Today, like many others around the country and the whole world, we gathered to pray for the souls of those killed in war. During our celebration of Mass here in Oscott, we heard a list of all the Oscotians who were killed in the First World War, and laid a wreath of poppies underneath the plaque in the Chapel on which their names are engraved for posterity. Every day in our Chapel, we are reminded of the dreadful effects of war in a window dedicated to a former student of the 19th century, who died during the Crimean War as a military chaplain. All of those Oscotians, though they are long dead, are our brothers. They walked in these corridors, our rooms were once their rooms.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

All of those who died in wars, and continue to do so, are our brothers and sisters, and so we pray for their souls, who were tragically taken away in such a dreadful manner, and remember and help those left behind in grief and sorrow. Next to our window, is the XIVth Station of Cross, showing the dead Christ being laid in his tomb, his mother watching over in pain, like a sword had pierced her heart.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Mary - Sedes Sapientiae

Tuesday 2oth October was for Oscott the Solemnity of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom (sedes sapientiae). Mary was the 'seat' from which Christ the infant learned the Scriptures which was so much a part of devout Jewish practice. She was the seat by which He who is Wisdom itself 'grew in wisdom,' first as an infant, and later as an adolescent (Luke 2:52). At the end of certain prayers I often pray to Mary under the title of Seat of Wisdom and Our Lady of Walsingham, and it is fitting that as Our Lady of Walsingham, Mary is shown holding the Christ child in her lap, as in the depiction of her as Seat of Wisdom. There is for me therefore a small but appropriate connection between Oscott and the diocesan shrine! I like to pray that Mary, who treasured the experiences of her motherhood of Jesus in her heart, will grant me wisdom to discern my path here at seminary, helping me to 'do whatever Christ tells me.'

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Lots going on...

There hasn't been much posting here lately but a lot has been happening nonetheless...

As you all know, Bishop Bernard Longley from Westminster has been appointed to Birmingham as Archbishop, which will have a direct influence on the seminary here. We look forward to the years ahead under his pastoral care, and pray that he will be a good and holy shepherd for all those who train here at Oscott. His personal kindness is already much remarked on, and his background in music and the teaching of theology should mean that visiting the seminary will be for him like a duck taking to water!

Also, we East Anglians were in Walsingham Tuesday and Wednesday for the visit of St Therese's relics there. We took part in a Holy Hour for young people, with readings from Therese's writings, music, and Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Our Deacon Luke preached an encouraging homily about the veneration of the relics as our way of being in touch with the communion of saints, and he also reminded us that each of us is called like St Therese to follow God in some particular vocation. On Wednesday Bishop Michael celebrated Mass with the many of the diocesan priests, deacons and parishioners present, and both the inside of the Reconciliation chapel and the outside grounds were packed.

Over the two days, there must have been at least 3 or 4 thousand people turn up, which was wonderful. Though St Therese's relics have moved on to Oxford and beyond, may she continue to have a tangible presence in England's Nazareth!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Vocation in art

I'm very much a lover of art of the counter-reformation, so I have been very pleased these past two weeks, as one of our lecturers has been talking to the first year about Caravaggio, in particular, his painting 'The Calling of St Matthew'.

It's a very famous painting, found in Rome. On the right, underneath the faint halo, we see our blessed Lord with a stern look on his face, pointing towards Levi, sat at the table. Christ's hand mirrors the hand of God in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. It is interesting to note that His body is facing the viewer, as if he is turning to walk away. He is giving one chance to Matthew to come with Him: Follow me! The gesture of the hand is very subtle, but the message is clear.

In front of our Lord, is St Peter, representing the Church on Earth. In the context of Oscott, this represents the necessity of the Church's discernment of our vocations. We as individuals have heard something, sometimes a voice like the clashing of cymbals, more often, like a gentle breeze in our souls, which has come from God. The Church, however, helps us decide whether this calling is divine. This process of formation takes place in seminary. Peter is also pointing at Matthew, so Mother Church agrees with her bridegroom in this instance!

These two figures, Christ and Peter, are the only vertical figures, representing their heavenly location.

The light of the painting is cast onto the table scene, the horizontal earth. But Matthew is not the only one. There are other people in his life, colleagues and friends, but Christ is not pointing at them.

Reclining onto Matthew's shoulder is the youngest figure, dressed in fine clothes, the cool kid on the block. He can see something is going on, but he cannot respond, the interest is not deep enough.

Opposite, we have another young man, his first reaction to Christ's presence is to draw his sword.

On the far left, one man is so busy with his money, he does not even notice the Son of God is in the room. Next to him, an old man, inspecting the coins on the table. Wearing glasses, the worldliness of his life has preventing him from seeing reality without an aid.

Finally, in the centre, we have Matthew. A Levi, he is of the historical family of priests in Israel, but time has made that function defunct. So far has he come from his deepest purpose, he is wearing a coin in his hat, representing his office as a tax collector, one of the most hated people in Israel. In humility, he points to himself, asking, 'is it me?'

The Lord is calling him. Follow me. But one last figure remains in the painting, in fact, it is the largest feature of the canvas. If we follow Jesus, we are to carry the cross with him. Discerning a vocation, as well as living it, is no easy thing, but this did not stop Matthew, and many millions after him, from standing up from our lives and entering into that mysterious relationship with God which is true freedom, true love.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Our Lady of Walsingham

Of all the places Our Lady could have chosen, she decided to come to East Anglia. Over nine centuries ago, a noble woman, living in the gently rolling hills of north Norfolk had a vision of Our Blessed Mother, who told her to build a replica of the house where the Angel Gabriel appeared to her, announcing the conception of Our Lord.

We were reminded in a commentary at Mass today, that this ancient devotion to Our Lady, which is strong here in her Dowry, that as her statue was burned during the Henrican reformation, they were not only burning Our Lady, but they were also burning Our Lord. At the foot of the cross, Christ willed that she be our mother, and we be her children. Mary leads us to Christ, for without her, He could not have been born unto us. Indeed, it is no bad thing asking her intercession, for we cannot go wrong with Christ's own mother on our side.

One cannot deny the inspirational value of Mary's 'fiat', her 'yes' to God's will. Every Christian should regularly reflect on this story, in order that they may come to a better understanding of God's will for us, and the vocation he has bestowed upon us, so that our own 'yes' may be forthcoming.

As seminarians, we regularly ask ourselves, 'is this God's will for me?' But this question is not reserved to those who feel called to a priestly or religious life, it is a question for everyone, for each of us has a divine vocation God is asking us to fulfill. Should I get married to this person? Am I called to the single life? Does God will that I be a lay missionary? Am I to offer my working life to the service of the poor? Can I use my skills to further the kingdom of God?

Here at Oscott, we are reminded of our quest to find our true vocation with our regular recitation of the Angelus. Blessed Mother, pray for us, that we, like you, may be able to echo your prayer to Our Father in heaven:

behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sydney Seminarians' Testimonies

Thanks to Friends with Christ blog for posting about the updated website of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney. Click HERE for some interesting personal testimonies about how the guys came to seminary.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Siege of Jericho

When I was in school, we often sang (unusually for secular schools nowadays) Christian songs at assemblies, one of which recounted the biblical story of the battle of Jericho. I always enjoyed this particular song, because it evoked such strong imagery in my imagination: "the walls came tumbling down."

But those words took on a new meaning for Henry and me today, along with three of our Oscott brethren, as we joined about 30 others on a walk around an abortion clinic in Birmingham. 'The Siege of Jericho', as the events of this week have been called, recalls that very battle as we circumnavigated the clinic seven times, in the obvious presence of the Blessed Sacrament, under the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is patroness of the unborn.

We prayed three mysteries of the Rosary together, a Divine Mercy chaplet, as well as singing several hymns, that the hearts of those involved in those dreadful actions would be converted, and also with the intention to renew the priesthood in the eyes of people in this Year of the Priest. At the end of our procession, we sang hymns to the Blessed Sacrament, and the priest gave us all benediction with It.

There was no opposition to our peaceful prayers, but many people passed by, on foot, bicycle, bus and car and saw our banners and heard our voices raised in song. Hopefully our small act of witness will encourage everybody to think about this most dark blight on our 'civilised' society.

And she who gives a baby birth brings Saviour Christ again to earth.

Therese takes Birmingham by Storm

Last night the seminary went to visit the relics of St Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face in St Chad's Cathedral. There we led sung evening prayer with a full congregation, to start the night vigil in the church. The relics arrived yesterday afternoon, and it has been estimated by the cathedral clergy that 8,000 people passed through the doors of St Chad's up to that evening. And many more no doubt will come before the relics leave on Monday! I know people travelled to Birmingham from Nottingham, Northampton and even as far afield as some Carmels in Scotland - it was great to have some Carmelite nuns praying with us, and to know that they're praying for the seminarians!

After evening prayer there was a rosary and Holy Hour led by the youth team from Soli House in the diocese, and at Midnight there was a Mass (deaconed by our very own Roger who was ordained at Oscott in the summer). Many people were there during the night, including lots of parents and children, which was very encouraging. To be in the presence of Therese's relics, this young enclosed religious who felt that she must be 'Love in the Heart of the Church,' was incredible. I must admit to having not had a notable devotion to her before, but reading about her this last month or so, and getting to know her, I can see why she is indeed a Doctor of the Church. Her Little Way is not a way of saccharine piety, but gets to the very essence of what it is to be truly human - that is, abandoning ourselves as children to God our Father. She very much teaches us what we are first told in the Letters of John: 'In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins' (2 Jn 4:10).

I hope to post more about Therese later, particularly concerning her own words and some words about her by Fr Jean Lafrance whose book 'My Vocation is Love' I am reading at the moment. Meanwhile, Therese will continue her missionary apostolate in this country, and hopefully be a source of great renewal both in and outside the Church.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Christology in 3 Minutes

I'm studying Christology in this my third year at Oscott, so I found this video posted on the Hermeneutic of Continuity both relevant and entertaining (and completely true)! The basics are all there...

Click HERE to watch it.

That's my King... Do you know Him?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Day of Recollection - St Therese

On Sunday we had a beautiful reflection from Canon John Udris of Northampton Cathedral, a priest who trained here at Oscott in the 80's. He has a great love of St Therese of Liseux, being part of the committe that organised her relics coming here, and so he gave us a day of recollection about her in preparation for the relics arriving at St Chad's cathedral on Saturday. He spoke of three themes which run throughout her 'Story of a Soul' and which can be of immense help for us. Firstly, she recognised and embraced her own weakness, realising that it was in her nothingness that God loved her. In this way she was happy to see herself imperfect, and encouraged those around her to be the same. Secondly, she had immense trust in God. The French priest Fr Jean Lafrance says that her confidence is the way to Love, and Fr John Udris said that her trust worked miracles (rather like Our Lord saying that if we only had faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move mountains). Having no trust in her own nothingness, she put it all in the God on whom she depended for Everything. Lastly, Fr John talked of her great love. Similarly perhaps to Mother Theresa of Calcutta, St Therese came to discover in her own life a 'call within a call' - more than simply being a Carmelite nun, she felt that she was called to be Love in the heart of the Church, and she burned with a desire to make God loved by others as much as she loved Him.

When she was a little girl, she and her elder sister Celine were offered a toy from a box of assorted things. Celine thought for a while and then picked something, but when it came to St Therese, she said, 'I take it all.' That is her attitude to God. She takes all the grace and mercy He has to offer, even if her way is the Little Way, unnoticed and humble. She wanted likewise to give all to God, strewing the petals of her life before him. How fitting it is that this saint, who wanted so dearly to be a missionary and a doctor of the Church, is now able to be both, so many years after her death! Let's hope and pray that the visit of her relics will awaken our hearts and the hearts of our nation to the vast ocean of love that the Father means to pour into us.

Friday, 11 September 2009


My mum sent me a link today to the website of a small Anglican parish in East Tuddenham, Norfolk, which has an early 20th century tripdych displaying an unusual combination of saints. All of the saints have some connection to East Anglia or to current events in the life of the Church. In the middle of the tripdych is Christ in majesty. On the left is St Therese, Julian of Norwich and Our Lady, and on the right are Ss Francis, John Vianney and Felix. Now Our Lady is very important to East Anglia because of Walsingham, Julian of Norwich is an obvious native, and Felix is the patron of the diocese, as the bishop who evangelised this area in the 7th century. St John Vianney, as patron of priests, is being commemorated in this Year of the Priest which marks his 150th anniversary of death, St Therese's relics are in the country this month (we are seeing them next week), and St Francis was the focus of Oscott's pilgrimage to Assissi in June, during which we made a concerted effort to pray for vocations (and now have 8 new seminarians starting). All these saints have in some way influenced us East Anglian seminarians, and here they are all together, in a right hodgepodge of holiness!

Apparently this small church of All Saints was given the tripdych as the result of another Anglican parish closing in Norwich. I'd love to go and see the piece sometime, maybe have a pseudo pilgrimage...

You can see the whole thing here...

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Cause of our joy

Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of the nativity of Our Lady: the cause of our joy. For the younglings, it also marked the end of our very first week here at Oscott College and the end of our honeymoon period, as we were launched into lectures at the start of this week.

At the moment, I'm enjoying these early starts too - something which I wasn't very much of an advocate in my previous life outside the seminary gates - but we shall see how long that lasts! Apparently, the chapel gets colder too. Eeek!

Since the Bishop kindly said he would send me here all those months ago, I've been excited about arriving and moving into my new room (which is of generous proportions!), and now I'm eagre to get going, using all the wonderful resources here at the college. There is just so much bounty to be had in the treasury of our Catholic faith, spiritually and intellectually, I can't wait to take a bite. All this around us is for our benefit, so that we may be formed into priests, praise God, to serve His people outside in the real world. Socialising, studying, making the occasional mistake, is all there to deepen our relationship with God, a portal to the mysterious depths of His love for us. How fitting, then, that the college's patroness is His holy Mother, Mary, the portal who brought Him to us and continues to lead us to Him.

Holy Mary, Mother of our Lord and cause of our joy, pray for seminarians, that we may be able to make the same fiat as thee.

Monday, 7 September 2009

A Year in the Heart of London, in the Heart of the Church

Once again St Patrick's Evangelisation School (SPES) is preparing for a new year starting in October, and is still open to any young people, between ages 20-30, who are interested in taking part. The year is one of discerning God's call for you, lived in community, in the life of London's busy West End but also in the heart of the Church, praying daily and studying the teachings of the Faith, but also reaching out to those without hope through evangelisation and service. It is well worth the risk, and as Fr Alex the School's founder says often, when you give to God, you receive a hundred fold! For more information, see their webpage here.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Come Along! Sunday Exposition and Evening Prayer

During the Year of the Priest, we are going to open up our Sunday Evening Prayer at Oscott to anyone who wants to join us. There will also be about 15 minutes Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament beforehand, with Benediction to finish. Please come by if you are in the area! The doors to the college chapel open at 6.15 pm, with the service starting a 6.30. The address of the college is

Chester Road (at the intersection with College Road)
Sutton Coldfield (to the north of Birmingham)
B73 5AA

We'd love to see you! By joining our prayers together we can contribute to a spiritual renewal in all priests.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Full(er) House

Well the induction week has gone fine, and our eight new seminarians have had no problems settling in. The rest of the community arrived yesterday, and we kicked off the year with a votive Mass to St John Vianney. Eveyone seems happy to be back, and even our singing in chapel is full of new gusto. It's nice to have a fuller house this year, and apparently the numbers have increased for all the English seminaries. Long may it continue!

Hope everyone has had a happy memoria of Blessed Mother Theresa.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

New seminarians!

Today is the first day of the Induction Week for the new seminarians at Oscott, and we are fortunate enough to have 8 starting this year. Two of these are from East Anglia (Simon and Ben), so please keep them in your prayers as they begin their life in Oscott. The other first years are for the dioceses of Northampton, Birmingham, Nottingham, and the Sion community and the Vocationist Fathers based in Holywell. May they all find Oscott a good place in which to discern the Lord's call for them.

Walsingham Youth 2000

At the weekend I went to the Youth 2000 pilgrimage at Walsingham, with the intention of recharging my spiritual batteries before returning to seminary. It was a wonderful couple of days, spent catching up with people, prayer, and talks. This year Eduardo Varastegui, a Mexican actor and producer of the pro-life film Bella, spoke of his conversion from an immoral Hollywood lifestyle to a life spent trying to glorify God through his talents. He said that through the constant questioning of his English teacher, he came to realise that he was not living as if he believed in God, or as if he believed that his body was a temple of the Holy Spirit. He decided then to reject all film offers that compromised his faith, his family, or his latino culture (which he said had suffered sever stereotyping in Hollywood). Because of this resolution, he had no work for four years, and it was not until his spiritual director suggested he produce his own films that he found a way of influencing the film scene. His film Bella, which won the Toronto film festival, has a strong pro-life story, and has so far caused at least one hundred women to cancel their abortion appointments and have their child. Eduardo plans to produce more films promoting the dignity of the human person, including a life of Mother Teresa.

During his testimony his humility came across particularly - he was evidently nervous addressing so many young people, and he was also choked with tears of gratitude for what had happened in his life. May his work bear great fruit, and help to build what John Paul II called the 'civilisation of love.'

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Cure d'Ars

Happy Feast Day of St John Vianney! Having let the blog slip somewhat over the summer, it seems appropriate to mark the 150th anniversary of the man who is a model for priests and seminarians everywhere. St Jean Vianney was intitally thought to be unsuited to the priesthood because of his difficulty with latin and the academic courses at the seminary, but on the merit of his evident goodness and zeal he was ordained priest and soon sent to the small village of Ars near the city of Lyon. He prayed to God that he might endure any suffering God sent him on behalf of the conversion of his parish, taking very literally his task as mediator between God and men. His frequent visits to his parishioners, his obvious devotion to the Mass and the Eucharist, and his presence in the confessional brought about a change that affected not only Ars but the surrounding towns and cities, so that even Lyons eventually had a special rail service to Ars to cater for all those who wanted to be confessed there! The words of the Gospel today, that Jesus 'felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd,' are reflected in the Cure's own life of self-giving to the Church.

I really wish someone in Hollywood would make a drama about the Cure's life - I know he would hate it, but it would be a great tool for evangelisation, and his life would make a great movie!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

New Deacons

In case you were holding your breath, the five guys from the top year were ordained on Saturday, including Michael and Luke for East Anglia, and are off now to start their summer placements. It was a really moving occasion to see them lying prostrate on the floor while the litany was sung (St Felix and Our Lady of Walsingham among the implored), but unfortunately I couldn't really see them being vested, as the we in the schola were singing the Veni Creator Spiritus at the time (Come Holy Spirit)... They really looked the part in their stoles and dalmatics! When I asked them afterwards how they felt, they said they didn't feel much different, except one guy who said he felt 'ontologically changed.' Maybe next year in seminary they'll take on the role of Deacon Payne, Seminary Formationator, seen on this link!

Term finished after Sunday, when we had a big Mass for the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul in the college grounds, with Archbishop Vincent, the Birmingham bishops, and 3,000 guests. It was a great way to finish the year, and the returning Arch preached well about what St Paul can teach us at the end of the Year of Paul. I've stayed on for a week to work in the grounds with a few others. Fortunately we're able to go to Mass every day. The work consists of weeding and pruning mainly, and is nice as I don't have to think about anything much!

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Prayers Please...

Sorry to be so rubbish about posting things on here recently... The last two weeks we've had Schools Outreach, where Year 6 students come into the seminary to learn about our life here, about the priesthood, and about their faith. It's a great opportunity to sow seeds, in the hope that the children will be encouraged to live their faith in a radical way, and who knows? Some of them might even decide to be priests or sisters.

Today our five deacons-to-be returned from their week's retreat, including East Anglia's own, Luke and Michael. They will be ordained on Saturday, so please keep them in your prayers, that they may be given the grace to be faithful to their decision and to persevere on the unique path to holiness that God had given them. Next year they will hopefully be ordained priest.

Right, I'm off to bed.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Year of the Priest!

Today, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, marks the start of the Year of the Priest, inaugurated by Pope Benedict to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Vianney, patron of parish priests (and next year all priests). This is a wonderful occassion for priests to renew their commitment to the Lord, for seminarians to be encouraged in their discernment of the priestly life, and for everyone to support those who have given themselves as priests, praying that more men will hear and answer God's loving call to provide pastors in His Church. At the seminary we are having a Holy Hour tonight to pray for priests and a renewal in priestly vocations, about the same time that the Pope will be officially opening the year with Vespers in Rome. Perhaps you all could say a prayer today for the same intentions, and pray that this year will bring many graces for the Church. Let's pray that God will even surprise His Church with the graces that come from this year!

Apologies that there's been no posting for a while - after our pilgrimage to Assisi I and the other members of Year 2 received Lectorate (the ministry of reader), and then I fell ill, so there was no chance to post about Assisi. Maybe at a later stage!

Right, I'm off to read the Pope's letter to mark the start of this new year. Exciting times...

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Pilgrimage to Assisi

In 6 hours we will be on a bus to Heathrow, where we will get a plane for the Eternal City. After spending a day there, during which we will celebrate Mass in St Paul's and St Peter's basilicas (a fitting conclusion to the Year of St Paul), we will then drive to Assisi. 2009 marks 800 years since the de facto founding of the Franciscans, when 8 men joined St Francis in his life of religious poverty and evangelisation. It should be a wonderful pilgrimage for us. During that time we will be praying specifically for an increase in seminarians at Oscott, for men who are called to the priesthood to hear God's invitation and respond. Please join us in that intention! I will also remember those that read this blog while I am there.

Since we don't come back til the 12th, I want to point out that with the Year of the Priest starting on June 19th (Feast of the Sacred Heart), it would be worth praying a Sacred Heart novena for priests and those called to priesthood, starting on the 11th. Below is a short prayer that could be used as a novena...

Novena of Confidence to the Sacred Heart

O Lord Jesus Christ, to Your most Sacred Heart I confide this intention. [State your request.] Only look upon me, then do what Your love inspires. Let Your Sacred Heart decide . . . I count on You . . . I trust in You . . . I throw myself on Your mercy. Lord Jesus, You will not fail me.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I believe in Your love for me.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, Your kingdom come.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I have asked You for many favors, but I earnestly implore this one. Take it, place it in Your open Heart. When the Eternal Father looks upon it, He will see it covered with Your Precious Blood. It will be no longer my prayer but Yours, Jesus.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in You. Let me not be disappointed. Amen.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Maintenance or Mission?

For the last two days we have been out on pastoral study excursions - an ominous title, but basically just a chance to look at the pastoral life of a priest in particular settings. Today we went to a rural parish in East Stafforshire, to see a parish church that began as a barn in the 1790's, before Catholic Emancipation. St Francis de Sale's church has two other outpost churches, built much more recently, and the whole parish spans 20 miles from east to west, though they only have an overall Sunday Mass attendance of 200. The previous parish priest spoke to us about rural chaplaincy, and as part of that he talked about the amount of time and energy it takes to maintain a number of churches within a parish. One seminarian asked the question I also was wondering: Is it worth the energy to maintain so many Mass centres when that energy could be devoted to the the spiritual apostolate and mission of the priest?

Now, the priest rightly pointed out that maintaining churches is not just about maintaining buildings, but of maintaining the place where people meet God - we are after all, body and soul, and need tangible assurances of God's presence. That seems to be the point in the Leeds parishioners' reaction over the closure of a number of churches in that diocese (without wishing to judge who is in the right in there). That said, I do feel that the upkeep of church buildings should not become the be all and end all of priestly ministry. Also, it is sad to have a church where the priest does not reside, the priest who is the father of that parish family. And for him it must be strange to be the father of what seems to be three different families! How does he give himself properly to one, without compromising his concern for the others?

These are just my gut instincts, and as many have said, there is no easy solution to this difficulty. Some will say it ties into a vocations crisis. Why is there a decline in men training for the priesthood? Fr Steven Langridge has an interesting take on that topic; we are not experiencing a crisis of vocations, so much as a crisis of saints!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Green Liturgy

I find myself actually very pleased to be in the Ordinary Time of the Liturgical Year now, with all the the altar furnishings going from white to green... Easter is a lovely season, but then I think we often underappreciate that time of the calendar which is not Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter. Ordinary time does not mean 'mundane' time, but rather, comes from the latin 'ordinal' meaning 'numbered,' referring to the numbering of its weeks. The season began after the Baptism of the Lord until Ash Wednesday, and now continues again until the start of Advent. According to the General Norms for the Liturgical Year, it 'is devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects,' whereas other seasons concentrate on particular aspects of Christ's life. So Ordinary Time is far from ordinary!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Happy Pentecost

A happy Pentecost to everyone! This morning I looked up JPII's encyclical on the Holy Spirit in the Church, Dominum et Vivificantem, and it has this to say about the first Pentecost (you can find the whole encyclical on the Vatican website):

...the Second Vatican Council speaks of the Church's birth on the day of Pentecost. This event constitutes the definitive manifestation of what had already been accomplished in the same Upper Room on Easter Sunday. The Risen Christ came and "brought" to the Apostles the Holy Spirit. He gave him to them, saying "Receive the Holy Spirit." What had then taken place inside the Upper Room, "the doors being shut," later, on the day of Pentecost is manifested also outside, in public. The doors of the Upper Room are opened and the Apostles go to the inhabitants and the pilgrims who had gathered in Jerusalem on the occasion of the feast, in order to bear witness to Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way the prediction is fulfilled: "He will bear witness to me: and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning."93

We read in another document of the Second Vatican Council: "Doubtless, the Holy Spirit was already at work in the world before Christ was glorified. Yet on the day of Pentecost, he came down upon the disciples to remain with them for ever. On that day the Church was publicly revealed to the multitude, and the Gospel began to spread among the nations by means of preaching."94 (section 25)

Also, there is a beautiful prayer to the Holy Spirit which I find is a good way of starting each day. Perhaps you will find it helpful as well:

Holy Spirit,
Soul of my soul,
I adore thee.
Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me.
Tell me what I ought to do,
And command me to do it.
I promise to be submissive in all that thou shalt ask of me,
And to accept evertything that thou permittest to happen to me,
Only show me what is thy will.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


Congratulations to our top year Johnno, Lenny and Roger who yesterday were awarded their STBs (Baccalaureates in Sacred Theology) from the University of Leuven in Belgium, a feat for them to be proud of! They must be pretty tired now I reckon, as well as learned...

A last-minute happy memorial of St Augustine of Canterbury to you all. At the desire of Pope St Gregory the Great, who saw some English slaves in the market place and remarked how they looked like Angels rather than Angles ('non angli sed angeli'), St Augustine came to England in 597 with a small group of monks to convert the English. On the way, the monks heard that the islanders were terribly fierce, and wanted to turn back. St Augustine placated them by returning himself to Rome to lay the apprehensions before the Pope, but the Pope encouraged him and sent him back, set on bringing Christ to these pagan people. The monastic band arrived in England and met King Aethelberht at Canterbury, who eventually became so impressed by Augustine and his men that he converted to Christianity, and on Christmas Day 597, more than 10,000 of his subjects were baptised (though the King forces no one to convert).

May we have the simple and courageous heart of Augustine to evangelise in the small ways that we can!

Family's Got Talent

During exam week quite a few of us have been ending the days by watching the semi-final shows of Britain's Got Talent, perfectly timed to allay revision stress. The acts on the show, all hoping to win and get the chance to perform in front of the Queen on The Royal Variety Show, include song, dance, comedy, ventriloquism, and daring feats. Some of the acts are just plain rubbish, but some of them are very talented or very funny. Everyone knows about that good Catholic Susan Boyle, and it would be wonderful to see her win. But what I also like are the group acts where there is obviously a close family bond between those in the group; the street dance acts Diversity and Flawless are obviously made up of brothers and close friends who could not do what they do if they didn't spend a heck of a lot of time together. One of the funniest acts is Stavros Flatley, a Greek restaraunt owner and his 12 year old son, who took everyone by surprise with their bizarre Irish dancing a few weeks ago, and then won a place in Saturday's Final last night. Though their act was funny, what seems to touch the judges and the viewers is the close relationship between them. As Mr. "Flatley" said, 'family is very important' in Greek culture.

In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio of 1981, John Paul II said:

'All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building, day by day, the communion of persons, making the family "a school of deeper humanity"(59): this happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows.' (21)


'The family has vital and organic links with society, since it is its foundation and nourishes it continually through its role of service to life.' (42)

For JPII, the love which families members have for one another is ultimately:

'a real sharing in God's love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.' (17)

Though the entertainment industry is not what JPII primarily has in mind when talking about the family's service to society, I think that the family's presence in entertainment is a means of healing society's individualism, and its cynical swallowing of the Sartrean adage that 'hell is other people.' Family presence in such arenas can be a work of evangelisation (even when it's ridiculously funny!).

To watch Stavros Flatley in their first heat, click here!

Sunday, 24 May 2009


Since posting a comparison of Obama's Notre Dame speech to the words of Saruman, a number of other bloggers have done the same, independently it seems. I would just like to claim all copyright for the idea! Then, on the other hand, I guess there's no copyright on truth... I'm just happy to know it's not just me coming to these conclusions.

Saturday, 23 May 2009


Pray for us here at the seminary as we revise for exams this week and next! The top year have already done half their exams for the STB from Leuven. These exams are great catalysts in our prayer life - I saw one seminarian praying the Rosary yesterday while he waited outside the door for his turn in a grilling oral exam... You can read more about this week on The Year of the Priest Blog, in the esteemed Brother Andrew's article.

Lots of my exams are essays this year, which I think I prefer. Though obviously not for such a cynical reason as our cartoon friend Calvin:

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Archbishop Vincent's Installation

Well, we had a long but enjoyable day in London for the installation of Archbishop Vincent in Westminster. Firsty, how do you get seminarians to be ready to leave on the coach at 7? You give them a cooked breakfast beforehand! After what seemed an interminable journey, we got to Victoria, and went to the Cathedral House to pick up our tickets. Then we vested in our albs and processed in to the Cathedral at 11.15 along with the other priests. After sung midday prayer, various priests (including our rector), the bishops, the nuncio etc and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor processed in, and then the Provost and Canons of the Cathedral Chapter went to meet Archbishop at the door at 12.00, upon which there was a glorious trumpet fanfare. From my spot where I could not see anything, I could only be content with the buzz that seemed to electrify the Cathedral as the congregation beheld their incoming pastor. After various prayers, and being sat in the cathedra and given the crozier by the Cardinal, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham became Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster...

I'm too whacked after a long day to go into the details of the Mass, which was lovely, and which you've probably read about anyway. It was also nice to meet the Allen Hall seminarians and other priests from Westminster afterwards. I'll just conclude with a prayer for the new leader of the Catholic Church in England which was prayed for him by the Provost:

May he watch over the flock now committed to his care,
and by his gentle rule
bring all into your Kingdom,
where you live and reign for ever and ever.