Monday, 28 February 2011

Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd

According to an internet encyclopaedia, St David, Dewi Sant, was known to encourage his brothers on his deathbed, to be joyful, and imitate the little things they had heard and seen him do in life, for in death, he would walk the path trod by our fathers; it reminds me of St Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians to follow him, as he had followed Christ. We must strive, of course, to imitate the lives of the saints, whether they be St Paul or St David (preferably both!), who themselves imitated the Lord, because they are our elder brothers and sisters in the faith, who have already won their crown, keeping 'jocund company' with the Lord in heaven.

Moreover, it is often the little things in life that we do which makes a difference. In our days, many people will say 'what is the point of doing this or that', because there is no immediate visible reward: this is because we live in a utilitarian society. Sometimes, the little things are the most important things to do: helping an old lady find the right bus on the timetable, stopping to chat to someone looking a little lonely at a social, being a discrete ear and friendly tea-maker, or even opening the front door when you'd rather just stay on your 'couch and lie in vacant or in pensive mood'.

Daffodils: the traditional flower associated with St David.
I'm no fan of Wordsworth, but I hope you enjoy the occasional hat-tip!

St David was a simple and ascetic monk. Like many holy monks, they were unwillingly called to serve the Church in a particular way, and David was called to be a bishop to defend the faith against false teaching. This great bishop and holy monk was ministering to the ancient Christian Britons in the west of our country well before the re-evangelisation of the English by St Augustine of Canterbury and others, including our own St Felix.

I don't know whether there is any link between St David and our diocese of East Anglia (probably not!), but the patron saint of my home town, St Neot, was a monk and sacristan of Glastonbury Abbey, apparently visited by David a few centuries before. Perhaps little Neot dressed the altar in the abbey, dedicated by David, with his finest linens. David is, of course, the patron of Wales, wherefrom many in East Anglia (priest, seminarian and parishioner alike) claim decent; so a happy feast to all!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

International Supper

As I posted on the Chair of Peter (when I beat Simon to the computer!), we were having an International Supper that evening. It turned out to be a wonderful occassion of fraternity, not least with everyone piling into the main kitchen to prepare their various offerings during the afternoon, and then washing up afterwards (something we don't have occassion to do very often!). It was also nice for the dometic staff to be treated to supper for a change.

The food was as diverse as the community, including Irish stew, Vietnamese spring rolls, Indian curry, and Italian tiramisu to name a few things - there were also Spanish, Czech and German dishes which were great but I can't remember what they were called! I made some Oatmeal Chocolate chip cookies as the American contingent, but they stuck to the baking trays and had to be prized off...

All in all a wonderful evening!

Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum
habitare fratres in unum:
sicut unguentum optimum in capite,
quod descendit in barbam, barbam Aaron,
quod descendit in oram vestimenti eius.

"How good and how pleasant it is
when brothers live in unity!
It is like precious oil upon the head
running down upon the beard,
running down upon Aaron's beard
upon the collar of his robes."       Psalm 132 (133)

Chewing the cud

I have, of late, been reading a book on Cistercian spirituality, and yesterday, I was reflecting on a chapter dedicated to reading the Word of God. The book itself is a little predictable and biased, in my view, but it is bursting with quotations and reflections from Cistercian saints and saints-to-be; I enjoy especially reading snippets from one of my spiritual heros, St Bernard of Clairvaux, who appears, in gimongous form, in one of our chapel windows at Oscott.

Another Cistercian, Gilbert of Hoyland, possibly a native of East Anglia, wrote of the reading of Scripture:

Hold fast to what you hold, 
hold and touch
lingeringly and lovingly
the word of life.
Unroll the scroll of life,
the scroll which Jesus unrolls,
or rather, which is Jesus.
Wrap yourself in him,
wrap yourself in that fine linen in which he was wrapped
for he was clothed as light as in a garment.
Put on your beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ.

St Bernard: maybe writing one of his sermons
Year two is starting to think about the Ministry of Lector, as we will be shortly considering applying for institution into that ministry, and be assessed for our suitability for the ministry. Last term, as a year group, we participated in lectio divina, which is, as many of you will know, is a prayerful and contemplative method of reflecting on the Word found in Sacred Scripture. Through the reading of Scripture, we seek to put on Christ afresh, as Abbot Gilbert describes above, make him known throughout the world. This is particularly relevant for the lectorate ministry, as lectors are required, not only to proclaim the Word through the Scriptures in a liturgical manner, but to teach and expound to the faithful what is contained within it. It is clear, then, why this ministry is so important on the path of priestly formation.

When I was young, I was always made to read out stories from books to practice my reading at home; fortunately, I quite enjoyed doing this particular activity! I was quite pleased to read in my present reading book, that a Cluniac monk, Peter the Venerable once wrote that he was distressed that he was unable to perform lectio divina in his monastery, because he was suffering from laryngitis. It is a great monastic tradition, in the middle ages, to read out Scripture communally, or read it out aloud quietly to one's self in the cloister, to allow the fullness of the written word to penetrate the other senses as well. Reading Scripture is not just about looking at the words on the page, it is about hearing them; what is the point of proclaiming the Word, if there is no-one there to listen, whether the listener is yourself, or a group, or the whole world! And to hear the Word of God, requires that it is proclaimed to you! Scripture is alive and breathing, it is a blanket, which provides security, warmth and comfort.

As part of our preparations, we, as a year group, are practicing our preaching: learning about writing homilies and proclaiming them to others. As you may have been following on here, I was fortunate enough to be given two opportunities to speak to congregations during my recent pastoral placement in Cambridge. Writing a homily for an Oscott audience, however, is a different ball-game entirely! Before we break up for half term this Saturday, another member of our group and I are preaching on the Sunday readings to our peers. Speaking to seminarians seems a lot scarier than speaking to normal people! Fortunately, being a house of formation, it is okay if we slip up, or make mistakes, bumble our lines, and fumble through our papers having lost our place or quotation, though I suspect mistakes cost rather a lot in the currency of credibility: all good when moving towards an economy of humility!

What is important is to remember that homily writing should begin and end with prayer; the preacher should first enwrap himself in the Word - to chew on the cud of the Scriptures - to allow it to penetrate his being, his intellect and his heart, to preach the Good News to others.

I'd best get ruminating...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A book, a chair, and a Cambridge curate

I have found that the main downside to having several contributors to the same blog is that someone might get to the computer before you do, and write the article you were going to write, with the same picture! Having gone all the way downstairs with my camera-telephone to take pictures of our statue of St Peter, all vested in a lovely cope, I returned to my laptop to find that my diocesan brother had the same idea sooner than I. Fortunately, however, I have realised this afternoon that I don't know how to send photographs from my telephone unto my computer (I can't remember how I did it on placement!), so I'll just have to provide the text.

The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in Oscott College Chapel
Oscott is home to the Chair of Peter!

Last year, I subscribed to a monthly publication of which you may be aware called, Magnificat. It provides the liturgical texts of the Mass for each day of the month, along with other prayers, devotions, essays and spiritual writings.

Today's spiritual reflection in the pamphlet is all about the Church, written by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson:

Treat the Catholic Church as divine only and you will stumble over her scandals, her failures, and her shortcomings. Treat her as human only and you will be silenced by her miracles, her sanctity, and her eternal resurrections.
Of course the Catholic Church is human. She consists of fallible men, and her humanity is not even safeguarded as was that of Christ against the incursions of sin. Always, therefore, there have been scandals, and always will be. Popes may betray their trust, in all human matters; priests their flocks; laymen their faith. No man is secure. And, again, since she is human it is perfectly true that she has profited by her human circumstances for the increase of her power. Undoubtedly it was the existence of the Roman Empire, with its roads, its rapid means of transit, and its organisation, that made possible the swift propagation of the Gospel in the first centuries. Undoubtedly it was the empty throne of Caesar and the prestige of Rome that developed the world's acceptance of the authority of Peter's Chair. Undoubtedly it was the divisions of Europe that cemented the Church's unity and led men to look to a Supreme Authority that might compose their differences. There is scarcely an opening in human affairs into which she has not plunged; hardly an opportunity she has missed. Human affairs, human sins, and weaknesses as well as human virtues, have all contributed to her power. So grows a tree, even in uncongenial soil. The rocks that impede the roots later become their support; the rich soil, waiting for an occupant, has been drawn up into the life of the leaves; the very winds that imperiled the young sapling have developed into its power of resistance. Yet these things do not make the tree.
For her humanity, though it is the body in which her divinity dwells, does not create that divinity. Certainly human circumstances have developed her, yet what but divine Providence ordered and developed those human circumstances? What but that same power, which indwells in the Church, dwelt without her too and caused her to take root at that time and in that place which most favoured her growth?
Monsignor Robert
Hugh Benson

Amen to that.

Monsignor Benson was once a curate in Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, a convert from Anglicanism, who served in that city for three years under Canon Scott, when our diocese was part of the Diocese of Northampton. He was a prolific writer, as he says himself, he spent a lot of his time in Cambridge 'writing books' in the morning and evening. He is a published spiritual and literary writer, but his life was cut short, and died in 1914.

Chair of St Peter (in Oscott, btw)

For today's feast we put a cope on the statue of St Peter outside the college chapel:

Incidentally, this evening we have an international meal, with an array of national dishes from various members of the community. What a practical way to celebrate this feast of our unity in charity! Pictures of the evening to follow hopefully...

What is Christ's vocation?

We receive the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano at Oscott for the student Common Room, and this last week, perusing the paper over our much-coveted coffee break between moning lectures, I saw something else the Pope said that is worth mentioning. He said this to the seminary community of the Pontifical Ethiopian College:

'Christ, the eternal Priest of the New Covenant, who with his special vocation to the priestly ministry has "conquered" our life, does not suppress the characteristic qualities of the person; on the contrary, he uplifts them, he ennobles them and, making them his own, calls them to serve his mystery and his work.'

Pope Benedict is constantly emphasising that to follow Christ is not a negation of our freedom or our humanity, but the fulfilment of both. Christ makes us more human, more free. By losing our life, we gain it. By giving much, we receive much. What is interesting as well is the mention of Christ's vocation, to "the priestly ministry." This is something that is taken up in the Letter to the Hebrews, where as a result of his Passion Christ is appointed High Priest by his Father:

'Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek." (Heb 5: 8-10)   

Because he was God and man, sharing our condition, he is the perfect mediator between us and God. Every priest today shares in the mediation, the vocation of Jesus, bringing different characteristics and personalities to the great task of reconciling all humanity to the Father, with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Priestly communities?

Pope Benedict has been saying a lot lately in his various addresses and messages that is worth pondering. One thing in particular is his reflection on priestly community to the Fraternity of St Charles Borromeo on Feb 13th. I couldn't find an English translation on the Vatican website but luckily the blog Communio has one!

The Pope says:

The Fraternity of St. Charles has underscored the value of communal life during the course of its brief but intense history. I too have spoken about it on various occasions before and after my call to the chair of Peter. "It is important for priests not to live off on their own somewhere, but to accompany one another in small communities, to support one another, and so to experience, and constantly realize afresh, their communion in service to Christ and in renunciation for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven" (Light of the World, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010, p. 149). The pressing matters of this moment are before your eyes. I think, for example, of the lack of priests. Communal life is not first of all a strategy for responding to these needs. Nor is it, in itself, only a form of help in the face of the solitude and weakness of man. All of this may certainly be true but only if it is conceived and lived as a path for immersing oneself in the reality of communion. Communal life is in fact an expression of the gift of Christ that is the Church, and it is prefigured in the apostolic community from which the priesthood arose. What the priest in fact administers does not belong to him. He rather participates with his brothers in a sacramental gift that comes directly from Jesus.

Communal life thus expresses a help that Christ provides for our life, calling us, through the presence of brothers, to an ever more profound conformity to his person. Living with others means accepting the need of my own continual conversion and above all discovering the beauty of such a journey, the joy of humility, of penance, but also of conversation, of mutual forgiveness, of mutual support. "Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum" (Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity) (Psalm 133:1).

Friday, 18 February 2011

"I made this desire my own"

At the moment, one of our lecturers who works at Maryvale is giving us some background to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (promulgated by John Paul II in 1992). Some would say the Catechism is unwieldy. Some would say it is contrary to the spirit of Vatican II. Some would say it is an imposition from the Roman Curia. But what can we learn about it if we look at John Paul II's introductory document Fidei Depositum (Deposit of the Faith) which explains its origins?

1. He says the remote preparation for the Catechism was the Second Vatican Council. This Council "was not first of all to condemn the errors of the time, but above all to strive calmly to show the strength and beauty of the doctrine of the faith."

2. At the 20th anniversary of the Council in 1985, John Paul II convoked a Synod of Bishops, which met to celebrate the fruits of the Council, to study its teaching, and to promote knowledge and application of it. At this synod, the bishops said that "Very many have expressed a desire that a catechism of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals be composed..." So the desire begins with the wider Church, not with an elite few. Such a desired catechism was to be biblical, liturgical and suited to modern life.

3. John Paul II "made this desire [his] own," and entrusted a commission of 12 Cardinals and Bishops, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, to prepare it. In other words, it was born out of the pastoral compassion of the Pope, in response to the expressed needs of his flock.

The project then took 6 years, in which there were 9 drafts sent to all the bishops of the world, as well as many theologians and catechists, for feedback and input. What other text can claim such painstaking work and broad collaboration?

Moreover, Pope John Paul II said that because this catechism satisfies the desire of the faithful for doctrinal certainty, it also ensures Church unity: "I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion." So quite a handy book for us to have!

More in another post on the structure and sources of the catechism...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Candidacy Retreat

The Fourth Year were away this weekend on Candidacy Retreat, to reflect on  the upcoming decision to apply for candidacy. Candidacy is state whereby a seminarian formally takes the step to become a student for the priesthood, to say "Yes" to this way of life. The formation staff for their part formally acknowledge signs of an authentic vocation in the seminarian, and give their own "Yes" to his more focused preparation for ordination. The shift is generally one from discernment in a basic sense (Am or am I not called to priesthood?) to more particular anticipation (how can I prepare myself to live this life that I am choosing?).

We went away to St Mary's Abbey in Colwich, which is home to a group of Benedictine sisters. We were grateful for their prayerful witness, their hospitality, and the excellent food!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Pope on the Usefulness of the Internet for Seminarians

St Isidore of Seville, patron saint of the internet

The Pope spoke yesterday to the Congregation for Catholic Education, mentioning among other things the usefulness of the internet for future priests: 
"Because of its capacity to surmount distances and put people in mutual contact, the Internet presents great possibilities also for the Church and her mission. With the necessary discernment for its intelligent and prudent use, it is an instrument that can serve not only for studies, but also for the pastoral action of future presbyters in different ecclesial fields, such as evangelization, missionary action, catechesis, educational projects, the management of institutes."
An instrument of pastoral action, of evangelisation, of catechesis!

I may write more about catechesis later, as we've been looking at the formation of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church with one of our lecturers who works at Maryvale.

Friday, 4 February 2011

About Time

Well, Simon has been keeping this blog from petering out in the last few months, and despite our 'liesurely' posting some people apparently still read it, so I thought I'd better pull myslf together and log on once again (after reacquainting myself with the new password). 

I've just been on a 5 month placement in North Walsham (where's that?) in North Norfolk (oh!). The parish priest is also vocations director and temporary vicar general, which is quite a lot of hats, considering he is also the dean, and has three Mass communites in his large rural parish. Sunday mornings were always hectic as we flew around insane bends on tiny roads to get from one Mass to another. There were no parish institutions such as schools or major hospitals, but there was still plenty to do, and I spent a large part of my time house visiting. This is something I hadn't done much of before, and I found it to be my favourite part of the placement. There was a large number of retired people in the parish, who had fascinating stories about their lives, their families, where they had lived and what they had seen. Perhaps it is the hallmark of a 'rural' community that it is particularly generous and welcoming towards newcomers. Everybody knows everybody. And I certainly found it hard to eat all the delicious goods that came the presbytery's way!

The other members of my year had good placements as well, and now we are in the midst of lectures again. I'm enjoying my courses this term: holy order, social ethics, canon law (more fun than you might think!), Reformation history, the sacraments. It is good to approach these studies after my experience in the parish, knowing that both realities need one another. Parish life must be informed by the truths we study in theology and other disciplines, and academic study must receive its life and 'colour' in the human experience of a parish. Now I'll go do some more reading of 15th century English para-liturgical life in Eamon Duffy's Stripping of the Altars!