Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Liverpool Cathedrals

Today a few of my year went on an outing to Liverpool, because we'd never been. It is a nice city to wander around, and the warm sunshine was a bonus! We went to Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King. I'd seen pictures of it already, so I wasn't too surprised by what I saw, but I must say I still haven't warmed to it!

Having said that there were a few things in it I did like, such as the images in the St Joseph Chapel.

From there we went to the Anglican Cathedral, which was designed by the notable Catholic architect Giles Gilbert Scott (at the age of 22!) in 1903, but wasn't finished until 1978. Ampleforth Abbey is another of Scott's achievements... The cathedral is the biggest in the UK, and is certainly an impressive space, giving the aura of a moody, continental, gothic cathedral I think...

Make of the two what you will! I know which I prefer.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Of Gods and Men

One of the nice things about Holy Week in the seminary is that there is a change of gear in the life of the community. The regular timetable gives way to a more flexible programme that centres on celebrating the major liturgies of the week and preparing ourselves spiritually for the Triduum. Yesterday we went to Palm Sunday Mass in St Chad's cathedral, celebrated by  His Grace Archbishop Bernard. We will go there again for the Chrism Mass on Wednesday, and then we're off to Ushaw for the Triduum (sorry that once again we can't all come back to East Anglia for the Chrism Mass in St John's Cathedral).

This morning we watched a beautiful film - Of Gods and Men. The French film came out around Christmas I recall, but was only in certain cinemas in this country (it was widely watched in France). It tells the true story of a group of French Cistercian monks in Algeria in the 1990's, who get caught up in a spree of Isalmist terrorism that is targeted against foreigners. The monks live a peacable existence, praying, doing manual work, and helping the Muslim population in the local village (mainly through providing medical treatment). With the new threat, they must decide whether to stay, or to flee to safety. The monks are initally very nervous, and resentful of their superior Frere Christian's principled decision to stay put. Each one of them has to wrestle with his understaning of his monastic vocation, and what it means to radically commit his life to Christ. Their existence is very much presented in the film as a love story, the seduction of the monks by Christ's call and their faithful relationship with him in prayer and service. It is very well acted, and while the monks are shown to have very real, human reactions to their unexpected predicament (fear, anxiety, reluctance, confusion), their courage and faith shine through it all.

Do see it if you are able - the DVD has come out now! 

Jesus of Nazareth - Did Jesus Celebrate the Passover?

One thing emerges from [the tradition of the Last Supper]: essentially, this farewell meal was not the old Passover, but the new one, which Jesus accomplished in this context. Even though the meal that Jesus shared with the Twelve was not a Passover meal according to the ritual prescriptions of Judaism, nevertheless, in retrospect, the inner connection of the whole event with Jesus' death and Resurrection stood out clearly. It was Jesus' Passover. And in this sense he both did and did not celebrate the Passover: the old rituals could not be carried out - when their time came, Jesus had already died. But he had given himself, and thus he had truly celebrated the Passover with them. The old was not abolished; it was simply brought to its full meaning.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Retreat over

Our 5-day retreat is now over. Blimey, that went quick! I'm sure some of the brethren felt it went slowly, however! Silence is not the easiest thing to do for so long, especially in seminary, where the natural laws of the space-time continuum do not apply, and a week seems like an hour. 

The retreat was led by Dom Christopher Jamison, as was intimated last week in the previous post. Fr Christopher, Abbot Emeritus of Worth, proved an excellent retreat-giver. Over the past week, he talked about the Eight Thoughts of the Desert Fathers - and Mothers - and their relationship with the Seven Sacraments.

I had never heard of these eight thoughts, though when they were mentioned by name, I realised that in the west, they have been transformed into the Seven Capital Sins, minus one. 

The Desert Fathers (the earliest of the Church's monks, who lived in the Egyptian desert in the early centuries; among them was, notably, St Anthony) clearly had quite a sophisticated understanding of anthropology and spirituality! They believed that the human person was vulnerable to assaults from eight demons:

  • Demons of the body
  • Demons of the heart
  • Demons of the soul

Fr Christopher juxtaposed these thoughts with the seven sacraments, and how these provide the sanctifying grace to combat these thoughts during our lives. He finished the retreat talking about the importance of praying and preparing for a happy death, and the meaning of happiness.

Oscott retreats have a particular look about them. They are characterised by silence in the house all day, for the duration of the retreat. Silence not only includes not speaking to each other, but avoiding the use of telephones, internet, computers and radios. How a seminarian responds to this is entirely according to his conscience! I, for one, simply could not get up in the morning without a little Classic FM to tease me from underneath the covers! What is more important than exterior silence, however, is interior silence, which allows a space within us for God to gently speak to us. We are permitted a little half-an-hour lie in every day, and, like every other day in term-time, it begins with meditation and morning prayer. After breakfast, the retreat-giver delivers a spiritual conference for about 45 minutes, followed by free time for prayer and reflection before Mass, at which he preaches daily, and a silent lunch. In the afternoon, we have more time for prayer and reflection, or, indeed, any other appropriate pursuit we wish to engage in, until tea-time, by which time we are ready for another conference, and more time for reflection. After Vespers and supper, we gather for holy hour - one of which is a penitential service - before bed. We have opportunities, if we want, to talk to the retreat-giver. 

I quite like our retreats; after a long term, and having finished lectures and essays for the year, it is good to have a few days to charge our spiritual batteries before celebrating Holy Week and Easter together. I do find it a little difficult to 'tune back in' to planet earth after long retreats, because I can get far too used to the luxury of my own company!

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week. We are traveling, as demanded by Oscott tradition of several decades (which I believe dates back to Archbishop Dwyer), to St Chad's Cathedral to serve the Archbishop's celebration of Mass and a procession of psalms.

This Triduum, the college is traveling to Ushaw, to celebrate Easter as a single community, as will be the case in reality from September. Normally, students attend their diocesan Chrism Masses in Holy Week, but we will be remaining in Birmingham, as we are traveling to the frozen north on Wednesday. 

I'm sure you'll see lots about Holy Week, and, indeed, a few reflections of our retreat in the coming days, so keep us book-marked!

Monday, 11 April 2011


We're on a 5 day silent retreat starting tomorrow, led by Fr Christopher Jamison (the monk behind the TV programmes "The Monastery" and "The Big Silence", now working for the National Vocations Office). In order to engage properly in the retreat, there will be no posts here until Saturday.

See you on the flip side!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Jesus of Nazareth 7 - Set apart for mission

Pope Benedict's words today draw a connection between Jesus being set apart from the world, in order to serve the world, just as we as Christians are set apart from the world in the universal call to holiness, but only in order to bring the whole world to God.
The process of consecration, "sanctification", includes two apparently opposed, but in reality deeply conjoined, aspects. On the one hand, "consecrating" as "sanctifying" means setting apart from the rest of reality that pertains to man's ordinary everyday life. Something that is consecrated is raised into a new sphere that is no longer under human control. But this setting apart also includes the essential dynamic of "existing for". Precisely because it is entirely given over to God, this reality is now there for the world, for men, it speaks for them and exists for their healing. We may also say: setting apart and mission form a single whole.

The connection between the two can be seen very clearly if we consider the special vocation of Israel: on the one hand, it is set apart from all other peoples, but for a particular reason - in order to carry out a commission for all peoples, for the whole world. That is what is meant when Israel is designated a "holy people".

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Jesus of Nazareth 6 - the High Priestly Prayer

Jesus' prayer [in John 17] manifests him as the high priest of the Day of Atonement. His Cross and his exaltation is the Day of Atonement for the world, in which the whole of world history - in the face of all human sin and its destructive consequences - finds its meaning and is aligned with its true purpose and destiny...

...And is it not the case that our need to be reconciled with God - the silent, mysterious, seemingly absent, and yet omnipresent God - is the real problem of the whole of world history?

Friday, 8 April 2011

Jesus of Nazareth 5 - Creation is for the Covenant

According to rabbinic theology, the idea of the covenant - the idea of establishing a holy people to be an interlocutor for God in union with him - is prior to the idea of the creation of the world and supplies its inner motive. The cosmos was created, not that there might be manifold things in heaven and earth, but that there might be a space for the "covenant", for the loving "yes" between God and his human respondent.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Jesus of Nazareth 4 - heroism and humility

During the washing of feet, in the atmosphere of farewell that pervades the scene, Peter asks his master quite openly: "Lord, where are you going?" And again he receives a cryptic answer: "Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward". Peter understands that Jesus is speaking of his imminent death, and he now wants to emphasise his radical fidelity even unto death: "Why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you". Indeed, shortly afterward on the Mount of Olives,  he rushes in with his sword, ready to put his intention into effect. But he must learn that even martyrdom is no heroic achievement: rather, it is a grace to be able to suffer for Jesus. He must bid farewell to the heroism of personal deeds and learn the humility of the disciple.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Jesus of Nazareth 3 - The wrong kind of remorse

Pope Benedict reflects on what happens to Judas in betraying Jesus:

He has come under the dominion of another. Anyone who breaks off friendship with Jesus, casting off his "easy yoke", does not attain liberty, does not become free, but succumbs to other powers. To put it another way, he betrays this friendship because he is in the grip of another power to which he has opened himself.

True, the light shed by Jesus into Judas' soul was not completely extinguished. He does take a step toward conversion: "I have sinned", he says to those who commissioned him. He tries to save Jesus, and he gives the money back. Everything pure and great that he had received from Jesus remained inscribed on his soul - he could not forget it.

His second tragedy - after the betrayal - is that he can no longer believe in forgiveness. His remorse turns to despair. Now he sees only himself and his darkness; he no longer sees the light of Jesus, which can illumine and overcome the darkness... Genuine remorse is marked by the certainty of hope born of faith in the superior power of the light that was made flesh in Jesus.


Bishop McMahon with (L - R) Henry, Neil, Craig and Linh,
after their admission to Candidacy
As Henry mentioned in a previous post, fourth year yesterday received Candidature for Holy Order at the hands of Bishop Malcolm McMahon, OP. Congratulations Henry and all of our brothers!

It was a very beautiful occasion, and unexpectedly emotional (for me at least...but that doesn't take much!). Candidature, or, in American, Candidacy, as we call it at Oscott, is the last step before the Sacrament of Order. The Church has recognised that these four young men are now regarded as appropriate candidates to become priests. Now their formation is oriented entirely towards that end.

May God, who has begun this good work in you, bring it to fulfillment! 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Jesus of Nazareth 2 - The Washing of Feet

Maundy Thursday 2008 in the Lateran Basilica

What the Letter to the Philippians says in its great Christological hymn [chapter 2] - namely, that unlike Adam, who had tried to grasp divinity for himself, Christ moves in the opposite direction, coming down from his divinity into humanity, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient even to death on a cross - all this is rendered visible in a single gesture. Jesus represents the whole of his saving ministry in one symbolic act. He divests himself of his divine splendour; he, as it were, kneels down before us; he washes and dries our soiled feet, in order to make us fit to sit at table for God's wedding feast.


A while back I mentioned that we went on retreat to prepare for Admission as Candidates, when we make a formal resolve to continue in our formation and be spiritually and mentally formed to be faithful to Christ and His Church as deacons and priests. Tonight four of us will receive Candidacy (for the dioceses of Birmingham, Nottingham, and myself for East Anglia), celebrated by Bishop Malcom McMahon of Nottingham diocese. We are excited, and grateful to God for this occassion! Please pray for us, that we may carry out our resolve of fidelity to Christ and the Church. Thank you!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Jesus of Nazareth - The New Commandment

As mentioned yesterday, today is the first of a new series of posts taken from the Pope's second book on Jesus of Nazareth (replacing the Imitation posts). He is very concise in the way he touches on historical and critical perspectives of the Gospels and their interpretation, while at the same time presenting to us the spirit of the texts, so that ultimately we can come closer to Jesus. Here is a passage from his reflection on the Old Commandments and the meaning of the New Commandment of Christ at the Last Supper (to love one another):

...Who could possibly claim to have risen above the "average" way of the 10 Commandments, to have left them behind as self-evident, so to speak, and now to walk along the exalted paths of the "new law"? No, the newness of the new commandment cannot consist in the highest moral attainment. Here too, the essential point is not the call to supreme achievement, but the new foundation of being that is given to us. The newness can come only from the gift of being-with and being-in Christ. 

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Last Imitation? - the need to have recourse to God in troubles

Apologies for not posting an Imitation yesterday. I'm finding it hard to select bits that aren't repeating what has already been said - that's just the nature of the book it seems! So I was wondering, seeing as I've begun Pope Benedict's new book on Jesus of Nazareth, maybe I'll post something from that each day instead of the Imitation. If anyone's go any objections let me know. Otherwise, tomorrow you will find a quote from Jesus of Nazareth...

Here's today's Imitation:

"Moses always had recourse to the tabernacle in order to decide all doubts and questions, and fled to the aid of prayer for help against the dangers and wickedness of men. So must you, in like manner, take refuge in the secret of your heart, and there most earnestly implore God's help."

Happy Laetare Sunday!

Happy Laetare Sunday to everyone! It's called Laetare after the entrance antiphon for the Mass:

Laetare Ierusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam; gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis, ut exultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. 

(Rejoice Jerusalem, and make an assembly, all who love her; be glad with joy, who were mourning, so that you exult, and you will be filled from her consoling breasts.)

On this day, when the priest wears rose vestments instead of purple, there is rejoicing (of a Lenten sort!) that we are halfway through our Lenten journey.We hope everyone is having a blessed season so far. Also, Happy Mother's Day to all Mums (ours included)!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Imitation 21 - Peace (continued)

"Your peace does not depend on the tongues of men, because, whether they judge well or evil of you, you are not thereby another man. Where is true peace and true glory? Is it not in me? And he who does not desire to please men, nor fear to displease them, will enjoy much peace. All uneasiness of heart and the distraction of the senses arise from disorderly love and vain fear."