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!