Thursday, 21 July 2011

I am the Resurrection; I am the Way, the Truth and the Life

I'm not often lost for words, but today I have a dilemma, in that nothing I can think to write seems adequate to describe yesterday's funeral Mass of our father the Bishop. 

The Mass was celebrated by the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster (East Anglia is in the province of Westminster). Most of his brother Bishops from throughout England and Wales also attended, as well as the Apostolic Nuncio, along with clergy and seminarians from East Anglia, Southwark, Wonersh, Oscott, the Holy Land, Cambodia, Taize, and beyond, as well as civic dignitaries, lay Catholics from all over the country and the world, other Christians and, of course, Bishop Michael's own family. The Cathedral, the second largest in our country, was filled as no-body has ever seen it.

During the Funeral Mass of Bishop Michael
The seminarians helped in our own small way, on the altar, and carrying the episcopal regalia as the coffin was carried to its place of rest by six priests. There were two moments during the funeral which will particularly remain in my memory. 

Carrying the insignia of Bishop Michael's pastoral office through his Christian family assembled in the Cathedral was very humbling and moving, and we were greatly privileged to assist in this way particularly. Seeing the crozier carried through the congregation without a bishop attached to it brought home to me the loss that our diocesan family has experienced, and will continue to experience until the Lord sends us a new pastor to shepherd our souls. Now we must pray for that the Holy Spirit console and guide those who will choose a new bishop for East Anglia.

As the bishop's coffin was placed in the hearse and Archbishop Nichols sprinkled it with Holy Water, the bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians sang ad hoc the Salve Regina. Clergy experience the Motherhood of Mary in a particular way, and it was fitting that we ask our blessed Mother to look after Bishop Michael, now that he has departed this vale of tears, that he experience the beatific vision, gazing upon the face of the Lord God for all eternity, and share in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. Being Christian is for this purpose, and Bishop Michael, in his example, showed us the Way. 

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual life shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

Monday, 11 July 2011

"I'd like to see more smiles"

We learned with great sadness this evening of the death of our father, the Bishop. After many years of living with cancer, and these past few months of intense suffering, by which he witnessed to Christ in such a powerful way, he has now gone to the Lord. 

A few months ago, Bishop Michael recorded an interview for our local television. At the end, the interviewer asks him what would be his message for East Anglians when the day of his death finally comes. He said his message was the Good News:

"We go through death to resurrection. If there is pain, then we go through that to something even better. And, therefore, there is a way forward. It's not about standing still or just being who we are. We are on a journey, a pilgrimage, and a joyful one. I'd like to see more smiles."

Bishop Michael's pilgrimage here on earth has ended, and we rejoice in God's love and Truth. We pray for his soul, for the diocese, and for the comforting balm and guiding wisdom of the Holy Spirit. 

A little on the priesthood

As Henry has already written, Father Pádraig is now happily the newest member of the presbyterate of our diocese. 
It is always a great joy to attend an ordination, and all the remaining East Anglia seminarians assisted in some way on the sanctuary, reading, serving and singing, along with a Birmingham seminarian, Craig. East Anglia now has only 3 seminarians, a rump of our former number. We can all pray that many more men will have the courage to listen to the Lord’s calling, and offer themselves for formation, not only for our own Church, but for other dioceses and orders. As the Church has gained a new priest, the seminary has lost a brother. We must rejoice the new priests Christ has won for his Church these past two years (Frs Pádraig, Luke and Michael), and pray that the grace and inspiration young men may have received at this time will be brought to fruition. 

It was a great privilege to assist Fr Pádraig’s first celebration of Mass in his home parish of St Philip Howard, Cambridge. The small contingent from Oscott were warmly welcomed by Monsignor Harkness and the parish, which put on a generously-portioned and deliciously-tasting feast, as well as a spectacular and occasionally outrageous variety performance. Mgr Harkness thanked the seminarians who had come to the parish, who always provide an incomparable witness and encouragement, simply by their presence. 
The Gospel of that Sunday was the parable of the sower. All priests, are called to partake in the life and ministry of Christ, the Sower, and the Church entrusts to them wonderful and powerful words to sow in the world today, as Fr McNally from Oscott reminded us in his homily.
The cosmic liturgy expresses our love of and dependence upon the Lord, and His love of and faithfulness to His people. The sacramental liturgy, then, signifies outwardly most fully our inward faith in this reality. And, so, let the liturgy speak for itself, here, in the preface for priesthood: 
[Father], by your Holy Spirit you anointed your only Son High Priest of the new and eternal covenant. With wisdom and love you have planned that this one priesthood should continue in the Church. Christ gives the dignity of a royal priesthood to the people he has made his own. From these, with a brother's love, he chooses men to share his sacred ministry by the laying on of hands. He appoints them to renew in his name the sacrifice of our redemption as they set before your family his paschal meal. He calls them to lead your holy people in love, nourish them by your word, and strengthen them through the sacraments. Father, they are to give their lives in your service and for the salvation of your people as they strive to grow in likeness of Christ and honour you by their courageous witness of faith and love.

Congratulations Fr Padraig

On Saturday in a full cathedral Padraig Hawkins was ordained priest for the diocese, the third ordination in the space of a year. Bishop Peter Doyle presided (he had in fact been asked to do it some weeks ago), but Bishop Michael was unable to attend because, as many of you know, he had a stroke and was rushed to hospital on Thursday. It is thought he will not recover consciousness. Please pray for him at this time, and for the diocese. I think it was very moving that Fr Padraig was able to go give Bishop Michael his First Blessing in the hospital straight after the ordination.

Yesterday Fr Padraig celebrated two Masses in his home parish of St Philip Howard in Cherry Hinton, Cambridge. He said Mass very reverently and gave First Blessings afterwards. Later on there was a parish "do" with culinary and cultural contributions from the parish's different ethnic communities.

Fr Padraig thanked everyone who had contributed to his formation as a Christian and as a priest, and thanked Msgr Eugene Harkness, his parish priest, for his example of priesthood. He said it is important that we have good priests as models for how to live the priesthood.

May Fr Padraig have many years in his new ministry, at the service of the Lord's Gospel in this diocese of rich and ancient Christian heritage!

Monday, 4 July 2011

A Man Can Have No Greater Love

Congratulations to Fr Craig Szmidt, ordained priest for Birmingham Archdiocese on Saturday. At the ordination in St Wulstan's parish Wolstanton, Archbishop Bernard referred to Jesus' words: "A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends." The Archbishop said to Craig that the Lord was asking him as a priest to lay down his life for his friends - not the friends of his own choosing, but those that would be given to him through his day to day ministry.

May Fr Craig have many blessings in his priestly life, and make many unexpected friends!

Friday, 1 July 2011

I call you friends

As Henry has already written, yesterday saw the celebration of East Anglia's priestly jubilarians. Wednesday was the 60th Anniversary of Pope Benedict's ordination to the sacred Priesthood, and today, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is the World Day of Prayer for Priests, which, in some places, is a culmination of 60 hours of prayer in thanksgiving for the Holy Father's priestly ministry, and for vocations to the priesthood. On Wednesday, he spoke during Mass of his diamond Jubilee:
Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice.  According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. “No longer servants, but friends”: at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture.  I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way.  In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God’s family.  But what was taking place now was something greater still.  He calls me his friend.

I have a little prayer book filled with prayers for priests, but, alas, I have left that at Oscott, but one of my favourite prayers is well-known, penned by the Little Flower:
O Jesus, eternal Priest, keep your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart, where none may touch them. 
Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch Your Sacred Body. 
Keep unsullied their lips, daily purpled with your Precious Blood. 
Keep pure and unearthly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood. 
Let Your holy love surround them and shield them from the world's contagion. 
Bless their labors with abundant fruit and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here and in heaven their beautiful and everlasting crown. Amen.