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.


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Voice of Saruman...

Apologies for what may seem a rather crude, fundamentalist comparison, but watching Obama's much-anticipated speech to the Notre Dame Class of 2009 reminded me of the empty persuasion of Saruman's words in The Lord of the Rings:

Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard... Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves.

Obama's words were met with great adjulation by the staff, students and parents present at the graduation, and his oration was very gracious and measured, yet it was without any real content, other than that it undermined an objective notion of truth and morality. He reduced people's beliefs (for example, beliefs that embryo stem cell research is wrong) to 'admirable convictions,' which themselves are opposed by convictions equally as admirable. Instead of locating moral debate in a search for what is true, obviously done with charity and respect for the other person, he subtly shifted the arena to 'holding firm to our principles without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions.' He says that in a world of competing claims about what is true and right, we should 'have confidence in the values with which [we've] been raised and educated,' though here he assumes that the value of these values lies not so much in their being true as in them being the ones we have been raised with. He is constantly reducing truth to a subjective realm in which it is merely a dialogue between different opinions, and what we can't know with certainty we make up for by believeing strongly. He says even faith 'necessarily admits doubt,' and so 'it's beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what... [God] asks of us.' The teaching of Vatican II on Revelation in Dei Verbum (which I've got an exam on in two weeks!) says otherwise: Scripture teaches 'firmly, faithfully and without error the truth that God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.' In the Church, Tradition and the Magisterium guarantee the handing on of this truth. God does not abadon us to our own devices, but makes His saving will knowable for all. This doesn't mean we know God's will fully, but nevertheless we can really know it.

Most ironically, Obama calls for 'sound science and clear ethics' in our hospitals when talking of ways to minimize abortion, and yet this is precisely the crux of the argument against abortion - that it is unscientific and ambiguous in trying to establish its ethical validity. Obama says we should 'appeal wherever we can to universal rather than parochial principles,' but how do we do that if universal principles themselves - about what it is to be human - are labelled parochial and small-minded?

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Day of Recollection from the Bishop

Today Bishop Michael came from East Anglia (The Far East as he jokingly called it) to give us a day of recollection. In his talks he centred on the priesthood of Jesus Christ as our model for priesthood. What does this involve? Among many things Bishop Michael spoke of us being men of joyful sacrifice - in the Chrism Mass one of the questions the bishop asks his priests is: will you 'joyfully sacrifice your own pleasure and ambition to bring [Christ's] peace and love to your brothers and sisters?' At Mass we enter into the movement of Christ's sacrfice to the Father, and this also has to flow outside the liturgy in our charitable service to those in need, as John Paul II said. That means being a washer of feet as the Lord was, the bishop told us. There was a lot to reflect on in his talks, and we are grateful that he could come up!

Tying in to the last post, the bishop briefly recalled his own time seminary (including 16 years on the staff), and how on the wall in the chapel at Wonersh he read everyday the words of John 15:16 - 'You did not choose me, no, I chose you.' This reminded me of Archbishop Vincent's speech to the seminary last Sunday, when he came up to say goodbye to us and to talk of how he felt about the move. Though he had mixed emotions about going, he felt that if Christ called him to go to Westminster, it was not his place to say no. His father had always told him, 'Ask nothing of the Church, and refuse Her nothing.' Words we could all heed!

Friday, 15 May 2009

You did not choose me, no, I chose you

John 15: 16

You know how it is when you notice a word or a phrase, and all of a sudden it's cropping up all over the place? "Good (or bad) things come in threes" we sometimes hear. Well lately I've been pondering that scripture quotation from the Last Supper, in which Jesus tells the apostles, 'You did not choose me, no, I chose you.' Then I heard the passage last night at a prayer group at Birmingham Uni chaplaincy, in preparation for this Sunday's Gospel. And today it is the Gospel as well. So I think I'm supposed to take note...

The apostles have been with the Lord for three years now, and they're getting to be Old Hands at the work of the Kingdom of Heaven, to the point where they think all the graces are coming from their own steam. They're coasting, we might say. At the same time, they are still insecure and afraid. Afraid to lose their reputation (earlier in John 13 Peter refuses to have his feet washed), afraid of storms, crises with the crowds (as in the feeding of the 5,000) lacking faith in God to work miracles (as with the demoniac), unable to believe Jesus' prophecy about his own death and resurrection. Jesus' words to them at the Last Supper are a reminder of the beginning of it all - they were just doing ordinary things, fishing, collecting taxes, making a living, when into their lives walked a Man who called them to something greater: 'Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.' These men did not reinvent themselves - Christ refashioned them according to his plan, and turned their weakness into strength. Their vocation is pure gift, as I have heard many priests say.

I think it's that time of year here in the seminary - when things are winding down, when exams are on the doorstep - when it is easy to coast, to presume we are working in our own power, yet for that reason anxious about all that we have to do. And it's easy to get discouraged when our personal hopes and plans don't turn out exactly as we had envisaged. Jesus' words 'You have not chosen me, no, I have chosen you,' remind me that my path of discernment, which has brought me to this point, only started because I felt the Lord was calling me to something else. It certainly wasn't my idea! As Archbishop Dolan of New York said (in his book Priests of the Third Millenium), each of us want to be priests primarily because that's what we think God wants. I think I can only appreciate my discernment here if I hold onto that fact. I myself am not worthy to be here, to do this. But God nevertheless calls me out of gratuitous love to follow him in this way. Glory be to Him. Deo Gratias!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Year of the Priest Blog

Coming soon is a new blog from Oscott seminary for the upcoming Year of the Priest. One of the seminarians had the idea to start it as a way of promoting a culture of vocations, and its aim will be both to have different members of the community talk about the life of the seminary, and to share their own testimonies about their path of discernment. Hopefully it will be an effective way of encouraging others who are thinking of the priesthood to step out into the deep! But it will also be a chance for everyone to share in the life of a diocesan seminary community, and an indirect way of eliciting your prayers for our growth and mission (for as St John Vianney said, man is a beggar before God, and we unashamedly beg for prayers from all quarters!).

Look out for the first post in the next few days on

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Charity 10k Run

Today we put on our running shoes in a bid for the two charities we're supporting this year, Urban Devotion and Journey of Love. 10 of us ran 7 laps around Oscott's secluded grounds, measuring up to 10k in total. All the East Anglians did it under an hour, inspired in our training by the now retired Bishop O'Donoghue's latest book, Fit for Mission: Seminarians! Those who didn't run provided an invaluable ministry of handing out water and encouraging us on the home stretch, as well as cooking the evening's well-received BBQ - nothing like a burger and some cake after a grueling workout! Even Fr Ziggy came along to support us on his Harley Davidson, decorated especially for the occassion:

The charities represent our combination of one national and one international, which we choose each year. The national one, Urban Devotion, is a Christian organisation run by young men and women working in their local communities in North Birmingham, providing activities and workshops for young people, talking at schools, running prayer groups, to give kids an opportunity to learn their dignity and their responsibility within their community, as a way of tackling antisocial behaviour and deprivation. Journey of Love is a Vietnamese charity that funds Vietnamese parishes and religious houses in their charitable work to the poor, the lepers, the deprived and uneducated. As the priest in charge of the charity told us, the poor in Vietnam are much worse off than many of the poor in our own country, yet the Church is one of the few voices speaking out for them.

Any money you can donate to these charities would be much appreciated! You can send money to Oscott Action for Justice and Peace, Oscott College, Chester Road, Sutton Coldfield, B73 5AA, West Midlands.


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Padraig's Candidacy and Michael's Deanship

Well, it's all been happening these last few days... Padraig, our 4th year brother in albs, along with Ben and Craig from his year, has now been instituted as a candidate for the priesthood, which is the last big step before diaconate ordination - he is thereby recognised in a more formal capacity as presenting himself for the diocesan priesthood. Congratulations to him (and prayers please)! Also, congrats to our own Michael, soon deacon-to-be, who was elected student dean the other day, and will ensure a covert East Anglian coup of the seminary I'm sure. His first words to the world? 'You've all brought it on yourselves...'

Today we officially celebrated the 50th anniversary of Bishop Philip Pargeter (auxiliary of Birmingham who lives next to the seminary) to the priesthood. 50 years and he's still going strong. We had a lovely Mass at the cathedral, and then the guests came back to Oscott for a buffet lunch which was a welcome opportunity for people to mingle. Now I'd better concentrate on that Aquinas essay I was doing!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Martyrs of England and Wales

Happy Feast Day of the Martyrs! I remember how moving it was to go to the spot where the Tyburn gallows were, now in the middle of a traffic island off Hyde Park, marked only with a circle in the pavement that reads, 'The Site of Tyburn Tree.' To think that so many men and women gave their lives for the Catholic faith on this spot, a witness that was also the catalyst for many conversions, and now the historical brutality of our nation is marked by indifferent silence - cars drive past the spot and never even know it is there. I guess this is the lot of our mission in the world - sooner or later people will forget that we were ever here. But the martyrs strove for a wreath that does not wither. Only yesterday Pope Benedict said at an ordination Mass in St Peter's, we must learn to be in the world without being of the world. In speaking of the mission of priests he said, "...we priests know this from experience: The 'world,' in the sense that John uses the word, does not understand the Christian, does not understand the ministers of the Gospel -- in part, because in fact it does not know God and in part, because it does not want to know him." Let's pray to the martyrs that we will bring God's love to the world, without ourselves giving in to the world's secular values in the process.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life, and Pope Benedict has written a beautiful letter for it entitled 'Faith in the divine initiative - the human response.' Here are some extracts from the letter:

Our first duty [...] is to keep alive in families and in parishes, in movements and in apostolic associations, in religious communities and in all the sectors of diocesan life this appeal to the divine initiative with unceasing prayer...

...In the celebration of the Eucharist it is Christ himself who acts in those whom he chooses as his ministers; he supports them so that their response develops in a dimension of trust and gratitude that removes all fear, even when they experience more acutely their own weakness (cf. Rm 8:26-28), or indeed when the experience of misunderstanding or even of persecution is most bitter (cf. Rm 8:35-39)...

...The awareness of being saved by the love of Christ, which every Mass nourishes in the faithful and especially in priests, cannot but arouse within them a trusting self-abandonment to Christ who gave his life for us. To believe in the Lord and to accept his gift, therefore, leads us to entrust ourselves to Him with thankful hearts, adhering to his plan of salvation. When this does happen, the one who is “called” voluntarily leaves everything and submits himself to the teaching of the divine Master; hence a fruitful dialogue between God and man begins, a mysterious encounter between the love of the Lord who calls and the freedom of man who responds in love, hearing the words of Jesus echoing in his soul, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16)...

...Once again, it is useful to reiterate that the response of men and women to the divine call, whenever they are aware that it is God who takes the initiative and brings His plan of salvation to fulfilment, is never patterned after the timid self-interest of the worthless servant who, out of fear, hid the talent entrusted to him in the ground (cf. Mt 25:14-30), but rather expresses itself in a ready adherence to the Lord’s invitation, as in the case of Peter who, trusting in the Lord’s word, did not hesitate to let down the net once more even after having toiled all night and catching nothing (cf. Lk 5:5)...

...Dear friends, do not become discouraged in the face of difficulties and doubts; trust in God and follow Jesus faithfully and you will be witnesses of the joy that flows from intimate union with him...

Please pray today that many young men and women will be open to Jesus's call to the religious and priestly life. Please pray for all those discerning a vocation, to do so honestly and without timidity.