Sunday, 30 October 2011

Three day retreat: Shhhhh!

I enjoy silent retreats a lot.

We start our annual three-day retreat tomorrow (we have a five-day retreat in Lent), which is led by Monsignor Roderick Strange, Rector of the Pontifical Beda College, Rome. I don't know what he is going to talk about, but I'm sure you'll find out on Thursday!

Until then, bye for now.

Let us pray for each other. 

Half term is over

Yes, we've been on holiday again. You may have seen one of us this week and wondered why we weren't in seminary!

Thomas Cardinal Wolsey,
Archbishop of York
I've spent some of my holiday in Ipswich, a place which was formerly quite unfamiliar to me! I knew that the old Hanseatic town of Ipswich, or Gippeswick in the historical vernacular, was an important place indeed, and I know lots of stories about Our Lady of Ipswich (who, unlike Our Lady of Walsingham, was spared the iconoclasm), Cardinal Wolsey, and what not, and was pleasantly surprised to see much of the town centre preserved. I'd always, mistakenly, assumed that Ipswich, being so important, must have been destroyed in the war, but the quaint street and timber-framed building survived, complemented by modern renovations around the water-front area. One could even call it the hidden gem of our diocese.

I tried to visit some of the Catholic parishes in Ipswich during my stay, and I managed to meet some parishioners at St Mark's and its quaint and friendly out-lying church, Holy Family, in Brantham. I also had a peep in St James, St Mary (which, I've since discovered, is dedicated as Jesus Christ and Saint Mary), and St Pancras in the town centre, which is a beautiful church indeed, though a little scaffolding remained from the finishing-touches of its renovation. Unfortunately, I didn't get to visit St Mary Magdalen, though I've been there before, or any of the other 'station' churches, nor Woodbridge, which is also in the Ipswich deanery.

I always enjoy visiting parishes in our diocese, not only for my penchant for architecture (surely a veritable curse cast upon all priests upon their entering seminary: one just can't help but mentally re-arrange even the most beautiful of churches!), but it is always a good thing to 'plug back in' to East Anglian life now and then, to remind ourselves of reality!

I wonder which town will await me next holiday...!

Monday, 17 October 2011

T: -1 to the College Feast!

Sedes Sapientiae window,
Glancy Library, Oscott
In Oscott tomorrow, we celebrate the internal solemnity of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom.

The College Chapel is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, whose principal feast, as we all know, is 15 August. Being in the summer holidays, it has become College tradition to celebrate an internal solemnity on the second or third Tuesday in October.

So tonight, we shall celebrate first vespers of Our Lady, and, East Anglia has a special treat this evening, for our new vocations director, Father John Warrington, is making his first visitation to the seminary.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

New blog for Oscott

A student has started a new blog for the college, which will, for the time being at least, last throughout this year. Each student shall write a post for every week in the year (hopefully!), so do follow this exciting new venture....

Friday, 7 October 2011

House groups and Our Lady

Katherine of Aragon, 1485-1536
Queen of England, 1509-1536
I'm a little annoyed with myself. The house is divided into small groups of about 8, presided over by a member of the formation staff, to meet for prayer and social activity, every other Friday night. Tonight is one of those nights, and, in our group, we are going to meet to say the Rosary together, and then each of us will share a little on a shrine in our diocese.

I was tempted to talk a little about Katherine of Aragon, who died in my parish, Buckden St Neots, and is buried in the Anglican cathedral in Peterborough, formerly St Peter's abbey, now in the parish of St Peter and All Souls and Our Lady of Lourdes. But then I remembered that it is not technically a shrine, because there is no official cause for canonisation...yet, though I'm sure there are many praying for it (I know of at least one!). You can visit Queen Katherine in Peterborough Cathedral, and there is no cost upon entry; many obviously do, and her tomb is often decorated with flowers and pomegranates placed there by holy souls.

Anyway, a while ago, I wrote a short article in a magazine about the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and, finally, the reason why I am annoyed is because I cannot find my copy of said magazine! I was hoping to read it to the group, but instead, I have a fine little publication compiled by Tim McDonald, the shrine manager, to commemorate the centenary of the shrine in 1997. It is a little souvenir, a collection of news articles and postcards, I earned while I volunteered as assistant sacristan in summer 2009, and so I'm glad it will come in handy today!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Treasures of Heaven

Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet. (2 Kings 13:20-21) 
A woman had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, "If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well." And immediately the haemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her illness. (Mark 5: 27-29; cf Luke 8: 43-48)
God did extraordinary miracles by he hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. (Acts 19: 11-12)

Reliquary containing a Holy Thorn,
and depicting the Last Judgement.
14th century French
As it is good to get far away from the seminary on our days off, yesterday, I went to London to visit the Treasures of Heaven exhibition in the British Museum, just before it closes this weekend. There displayed are a variety of reliquaries, and associated items, from the early Church to the Reformation, tracing the ancient cultic devotion of the early martyrs, to the discovery of the true Cross by St Helena in the 4th century, to the excesses of the late mediaeval period. As we can see through these three passages from scripture, however, our understanding in 'relics' goes back much further than that.

Many of the reliquaries were empty, but all, of course, are still holy objects, made so by their use (including a whole ancient stone altar, with little stone-carved rouched curtains to allow the faithful to venerate the relics underneath it!), but some of the reliquaries still contained their original contents, including many pieces of the True Cross, and splinters from Christ's crown of thorns, a piece of St Thomas of Canterbury's skull, and clothing taken from St Cuthbert's tomb in the 19th century. I didn't know whether I should be viewing them as museum pieces, or incensing them with a smuggled-in thurible! Needless to say, I'm glad I didn't go on the feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross, as my scruples would have required me to genuflect at every-other display-case!

The museum was quite sensitive to the reality that some of those viewing the exhibition would regard these items as sacred objects: there were conveniently placed benches in front of particularly important displays, such as a cabinet of True Crosses and the Mandylion of Christ on loan from the Vatican. I was moved to notice several people clearly spending a few moments in prayer before these precious things, and I said a few prayers myself, including asking for St Thomas' intercession for our seminary year. Just think of all those millions of holy souls who have found comfort and received graces through these items, and it continues still! The museum also gave a (brief) mention to the visit of St Therese's relics to this country in 2009; the outpouring of faith and devotion surprised many secularists, if you remember. It's important to remember that our faith, the faith of our fathers, is a living faith, not one of the history books. All these people we learn about in history are real people, like us, not fiction. We dump our heritage at a great price, a peril to our souls, just for the sake of pursing the zeitgeist; there is nothing new under the sun, after all.

Fittingly, for this blog at least, there was also an account of the life of St Edmund, 12th century, written in English, with little illustrations, though, being a book, only two pages were open at one time; I saw a little scene of a monk in prayer at his tomb in Bury St Edmunds, a shrine now lost thanks to vandals and their error. I wonder whether our descendants will think similar such things at the violence which has been committed in some of our own sacred spaces.

Unfortunately, the exhibition closes this weekend, so you may have missed it already, but those who have visited, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. As is usually my wont for such exhibitions and galleries, I bought the big picture book for my coffee-table in my cell to keep me and my lucky guests entertained for a few minutes.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

October devotions and little flowers

Like the rest of the country, Oscott's been roasting of late. I live on the front of St Bede's (the south-facing façade of the house), and the sun has been pouring in through the windows, so it is especially oven-like. If we leave the windows and doors open though, the breeze is quite cooling! Someone must have heard our complaining, though, as we didn't have any hot water this morning: cold showers all round.

Today is the first day of October, which is a month dedicated to Our Lady, particularly, our devotion to her in the holy Rosary. The Council of Trent ordered that October be given this dedication in particular for priests and seminarians (a new creature in that century!) could re-dedicate themselves to their heavenly Mother.

As is our Catholic tradition this month, as well as May, today, after lunch, Father Rector solemnly crowned the statue of Our Lady in the back cloister, outside the Northcote Hall.

The veneration of Mary is the surest and shortest way to get close to Christ in a concrete way. In meditating on her life in all its phases we learn what i means to live for and with Christ - in the everyday, in an unsentimental matter-of-factness that nonetheless enjoys perfect inner intimacy. Contemplating Mary's existence, we also submit to the darkness that is imposed on our faith, yet we learn how we must always be ready when Jesus suddenly asks something of us. (Balthasar)
Our Lady is an object of our veneration because she points us to Christ; by becoming like Him through the sacrament of baptism, we become, like him, Sons of the Father, through the grace of adoption. That requires trust, and a lot of it! Mary is our greatest model for trust, and, like her, so is St Teresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, who feast it is today.

Several of the community have been praying a novena in preparation for her feast day today. Our meditation for day seven of the novena was the spiritual fruit of trustfulness. St Therese's last words in her autobiography read, 'I lift myself to him by trust and love'. In her dark night, she says with Job, 'though He should kill me, yet will I trust in him.' We strive as Christians to abandon ourselves completely, in our own ways, to the Lord. St Therese is known as the 'Little Flower'; not a beautiful rose, or other-such glorious bloom, but a little flower in the crag of a cliff, clinging to the rock for life, lest it be blown away by the tempest.

As Pope Benedict said to the German seminarians last week:

Even for my own generation, it was not exactly easy to imagine how many decades God might assign to me, and how different the world might become. Will I be able to hold firm with him, as I have promised to do? ... It is a question that demands the testing of the vocation, but then also – the more I recognize that he does indeed want me – it demands trust: if he wants me, then he will also hold me, he will be there in the hour of temptation, in the hour of need, and he will send people to me, he will show me the path, he will hold me. And faithfulness is possible, because he is always there, because he is yesterday, today and tomorrow, because he belongs not only to this time, but he is the future and he can support us at all time.