Sunday, 23 January 2011

Back to the fort

Tower and clock, Our Lady and
the English Martyrs, Cambridge
I was very sad to leave my placement at Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge today. Alas, formation in the Seminary now needs to continue, and so all the seminarians have returned from their placements, and are gathering to celebrate Compline (night prayer) together in a short while.

Our second semester beings in earnest in the morning. For us second years, that means entering the lecture room a little before 9a.m., for an hour and a half of Greek, followed by an hour and a half of Philosophy of Religion.

I managed to say 'good-bye' to some of the community in Cambridge last night and this morning, before my return to Oscott. I was sad to leave, not just because of all the philosophy which awaited me upon my return, but because OLEM had, these past few weeks, become a home-from-home, thanks to the kindness of all the priests in the Rectory.

I'm sure I'll be making visits in the future!

And, of course, if you read this blog, which I doubt, thank you Rebus, for helping me to overcome my life-long cynophobia!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Some practical benefits of academic formation

Just a bit of trivia, and another picture from the parish. I'm starting to think I should get a camera instead of using my mobile phone...

The Nave from the Sanctuary, Epistle side
Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge

The other day in the parish, I was distributing the Precious Blood at Mass. Last week, I noticed the inscription of the chalice read pro vocationibus sacerdotalibus.

This week, I was able to use a skill I learned last term to read the inscription on another chalice, which read, Χριστε ελεησον, which, in the Latin alphabet reads, Christe eleison, Christ have mercy.

I was really happy to see this ancient language of the Church and her liturgy in daily use, even in this small way.

I'm becoming quite a fan of the Oscott Greek course...

Monday, 17 January 2011

Preaching and teaching

I was fortunate the other day to be given the opportunity to preach a sermon at a celebration of Solemn Vespers in Magdalene College, Cambridge, where I am on placement. This new year celebration first happened last year. 

It was exceptionally daunting, partly because the Chapel was full of eager listeners, both goodly parishioners and university intellectuals alike, but also because my name was enshrined in the programme, and so I couldn't chicken out at the last minute!

I decided to preach about the Crucifixion and forgiveness from the perspective of St Mary Magdalen, the patron of the college. This is quite powerful stuff for a parish fundraising social event! But it seemed to go down well.

In order that I may recycle this sermon, I shall say no more about it!

The Chapel of Magdalene College, Cambridge

The parish choir sang beautifully, as, I have discovered, they always do. As the smoke of incense rose into heaven from the sanctuary steps, we were treated to my favourite Magnificat, octavi toni, by Lassus, and other movements were covered by some fine organ playing.

Mgr Leeming was the coped celebrant, assisted by Fr Christopher and myself.

Vespers was followed by a formal dinner in the College Hall, which, I was very happy to discover, does not have electric lights, and so there was a dim, orange hue of candlelight illuminating the paintings and green panelling. 

After dinner, the President gave a very witty and amusing speech, and gladly announced the evening to be a tradition, and a worthy one too. I hope I'll be able to join in again one day in the future!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

So, what is seminary about?

Being January, Oscott is closed for business. The seminarians, except the top year, who are still on holiday, are on pastoral placement, in our home dioceses. 

Henry is still on extended pastoral placement in North Walsham, and has only two weeks left before he returns to Oscott as a shiny new fourth year, with all the responsibilities of an acolyte. 

For the rest of us, we have just a short 3-week placement to dip our toes into a parish.

Ben is up in Peterborough, in the parish of St Peter and All Souls and Our Lady of Lourdes, and I am in Cambridge, in the parish of Our Lady and the English Martyrs and Our Lady of Lourdes (funnily enough). These are two of East Anglia's largest parishes, and we are staying in presbyteries which are homes to more than a couple of priests!

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge

My parish in Cambridge has twelve Sunday Masses, including out-lying Churches served by the Rectory in the city, and so far, I have assisted at Sunday 3 Masses (still 2 more to go today!), this being our first weekend on the mission.

Today, I was privileged to speak to the parishioners about the purpose of seminaries (in addition to the preaching of the celebrant for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord). I have been discovering how hard it is to speak to all the members of the congregation at the same time! But there seem to have been a majority of attentive faces looking in my direction!

What follows is an abridged version:

"When Pope Benedict returned to Rome after his visited to the United Kingdom, he wrote a letter to the world's seminarians, encouraging us to persist in pursuing our vocation. “The seminary community”, he said, “is a community journeying towards God”. We have been sent to the seminary by our bishops to partake in this journey, the end of which is to discover the vocation which God desires for us. For most of us in seminary, that is to be found in the ordained priesthood.
Seminaries, however, are much more than just ‘priest-factories’. Seminarians should become men of prayer. We are to be called, in a particular way, to make manifest the Incarnate Word. We grow in intimacy with Him through prayer, both in the liturgy, and in private. In prayer, we not only give praise to God, but we become aware of our failings, and we learn to improve ourselves, remaining in the presence of God, joyfully serving Him. 
At the heart of our relationship with God is the Eucharist.  A seminarian comes to love the liturgy with ever deepening affection, not only by learning about it, but by experiencing it in all its beautiful potential. 
Only through prayer, and the experience of living our lives to the full, can we come to maturity as human persons, becoming well-rounded people. Seminary lasts six years, not only to get to know God, but to get to know ourselves and others. It is a “school of tolerance”, in which, we experience the fullness of life and forgiveness in the Church, which we are called to serve as priests.
Ultimately of course, we have to learn. We have two thousand years of wisdom and teaching to learn before we can be expected to teach and lead others in the faith. Seminarians have quite a rigorous academic timetable: Liturgy, Scripture, Philosophy, Greek, Theology, to name a few. Suddenly, six years can seem far too short a time.
Intellectual formation finds its fulfillment in the pastoral ministry of the priest, and regular pastoral placements anchor our formation in the service of the people of God."

I went on to ask the parish to pray for me and my brother East Anglians, and all the seminarians at Oscott, during our formation.

Update: While distributing the Precious Blood at the last Solemn Mass of the day (during which the music and the preaching were particularly splendid), I noticed on the base of the chalice an inscription reading: pro vocationibus sacerdotalibus

A happy co-incidence indeed!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The world needs priests until the end of time

Pope Benedict and the seminarians of England and Wales, Oscott

A few months ago, Pope Benedict composed a letter to seminarians the world over. Interestingly, the Spanish media reported that the letter was inspired by the Pope's visit to Oscott. I, for one, am happy to accept that as fact. 

There is so much beauty in this letter, so please read it, following the link above. The Pope has written like a pastor, and for me, reading this letter when it was faxed through to Oscott in October, I felt like it had come from a parish priest, talking intimately to his seminarian, reflecting on his own experiences. 

It is so beautiful, in fact, that I have added a new tag-line to the title page of the blog, with a quotation from the introductory paragraph. 

"The world needs priests, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time."

There has also appeared on the right-hand column, a prayer for seminarians, which originates in the diocese of Corpus Christi in Texas, but I'm sure it works for East Anglia too, and, indeed, beyond:

O Lord Jesus Christ, great High Priest, I pray that You call many worthy souls to Your holy priesthood.
Enlighten the Bishop in the choice of candidates, the Spiritual Director in molding them, and the professors in instructing them.
Lead the seminarians daily in Your unerring footsteps; so that they may become priests who are models of purity, possessors of wisdom and heroes of sacrifice; steeped in humility and aflame with love for God and man; apostles of Your glory and sanctifiers of souls.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Bishop Michael's health

Bishop Michael incensing the relics of St Therese of Lisieux at Walsingham, 2009
This last weekend, parishes in East Anglia received a letter from Bishop Michael, a health statement, which informed us that he may only have weeks to live.

We were greatly saddened to hear this news, and all the seminarians (who are presently within East Anglia on placement) will, of course, be joining with the rest of the diocese in prayer for our father, the Bishop, seeking the intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham, and St Felix, the first Apostle of East Anglia.

In his own words,

Rather than resign, I would like to continue among you as your bishop and the father of our diocesan family until this stage of my life ends. I do not know how long that will be. I am most grateful for the ways you have cared for and so prayerfully supported me in recent years. You remain very much in my thoughts and care. As I am sure you understand, I am able to do very little, and will need to rely on others. Please can I ask you to limit any expressions of care to prayer for now, rather than anything else to which I cannot respond.

As I live now under the shadow of death, my prayer is very much that of St Paul that I may know something of the power of Christ’s resurrection and a share in his sufferings, trusting that the Lord is with me. I pray that even now I can joyfully witness something of the good news we are all called to proclaim.