Thursday, 28 February 2013

We'll miss you Holy Father (...erm, Emeritus)!

Well, in ten minutes the Universal Church will be sede vacante. It was very surreal watching Pope Benedict leave the Vatican, with the Swiss guards, curia, and various well-wishers there to send him off with their gratitude. There were even groups of people on the rooftops of Rome to catch a glimpse of the helicopter as it circled the city on its way to Castle Gandolfo.

I was struck by his words in his last audience yesterday:

I always knew that the Lord is in the barque [Peter's boat on the sea of Galilee], that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.

Thank you once again, Holy Father, for the burden you have carried in Christ's name, and which you still carry as you pray for your successor and our new pope!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Transitional deacon, in time of transition!

Well, it's my last half-term before priestly ordination, and therefore my last half-term ever! It certainly is a week of transitions. Not only are we awaiting a new shepherd in the diocese, not only is Pope Benedict on the verge of retirement to a life of prayer and quiet, but Fr Mark, the rector of Oscott, finished his 12 year stint in seminary on Saturday, and when I come back we will have a new rector. I am grateful to Fr Mark for his care of me in these last six years, his willingness to take on new initiatives like public Sunday Evening Prayer, Corpus Christi processions and 40 hours devotion, as well as the three successful Invocation festivals that have been held at the college over the last few summers. May he enjoy his brief respite and his new parish ministry in Wolverhampton! And we welcome Fr David Oakley as the new rector, a priest already known to - and liked by - many of the seminarians. Please pray for him that he will be given the grace to be a good father and companion to the seminary community.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Ash Wednesday Life Vigil with Archbishop

On Ash Wednesday, Birmingham saw the beginning of its Lenten 40 Days for Life campaign, when men and women, young and old, pray outside the city's abortion clinic during its opening hours of 8 am - 8 pm. The movement, which is happening simultaneously in other national and international cities, aims to address this sidelined issue in our society not through aggression or even primarily debate, but through i) prayer and fasting, ii) peaceful vigil, and iii) community outreach. Archbishop Bernard Longley came to lead the peaceful prayer and witness on Wednesday at 2.30-3.30 pm, and was supported by 30 or 40 others, including some of the seminarians, and some priests of the diocese. As it so happened there was driving snow at that time, and the group of us must have been quite a sight to the passing cars!
Please pray that though this grassroots initiative, our society will wake up to the sadness that abortion brings to women, men and children, and that families and relationships may be healed.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Thank God for Pope Benedict

Yesterday's news about the Pope resigning has astounded the seminary, and by the look of things, the world.

Once again, we have seen that Pope Benedict is a man of integrity, who cannot be predicted and labeled. Some say he is "theologically conservative", but his works are full of imagination and life, and he sees everything in relation to personal friendship with the Lord. Some say he is authoritarian, yet he has been loathe to lead by force, excercising his papal ministry rather through pointing us gently in the direction of Heaven. Some say he is too shy to be a charismatic leader, yet when he came to England, his obvious warmth and delight was infectious, and people of diverse creeds responded to him in kind.

I am sure many people were thinking the Pope had nothing left to say, and a predictable end could be followed by a predictable obituary. Now once again the Pope has shown his courage and independence of mind, doing something that has not been done by a pope in 600 years. But he has not done it ostentatiously or for show - rather, he is showing as he did when he was first elected that he is merely a humble worker in the Lord's vineyard, and he is pointed us away from himself, to the Lord who gives his gifts to the Church. Like John the Baptist, he is effectively saying, "I must grow less, and he must grow greater".

Perhaps people might be confused that he has done this immediately after the papacy of Blessed John Paul II, who made a point of leading until death. Has Pope Benedict's decision undone the significance of that? I don't think so. The two decisions are complementary rather than contradictory. Each has something to say in its own context. John Paul II's suffering and death united him to the Passion and the Cross, themes that marked his public and private (penitential) life as pope. He showed that the Pope is not just a celebrity or a politician. Pope Benedict, by following the dictates of his own conscience, has emphasised the eminently pastoral nature of the papacy. What matters ultimately is not the Church saving face, but the Church saving souls. In that respect, I think his action has a noble stength and poignant beauty.

May he find, in his prayerful retirement, the consolation of the face of Christ for which he has always sought. May the Lord be praised for all he has given to us through Pope Benedict. And may the Lord raise up a worthy successor to him, who will lead with the mind and the heart of the Church.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Oscott in the Snow


So today we celebrate Our Lady of Lourdes, who revealed herself to St Bernadette as the Immaculate Conception. She is the lady who came into existence free from taint of sin, and white in the burning and undimmed love of God her saviour.

How fitting then that the seminary has been prepared for the day by a flurry of snow!