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.