I wish all my readers a blessed and glorious Christmas...
Saturday, December 22, 2007
I wish all my readers a blessed and glorious Christmas...
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Things had started on a happy note even earlier. I had stayed overnight at a local hotel, as the school Assembly was at 8am. By 7.45 the taxi hadn't arrived, and I was getting anxious - and a delightful lady member of the hotel team said not to worry, her car was just outside - she'd take me...now that's the kind of thing that restores one's faith in human kindness...she was so nice, and we chatted happily on the way... her children, now grown-up had been pupils at the school...this kindly help gave a glow to the day.
Later, a walk through a city just tinged with frost, and into the glorious Cathedral, which was warm and welcoming, with a most beautiful crib scene at the entrance (Mary's arms cradled, ready - but the Baby not yet there, and clearly to be added at Midnight on Christmas Eve...). A school group was practising Christmas music, great arches soared above, and one could light a candle at the tomb of St Richard, now restored after 16th-century despoilations.. There is an excellent display telling something of the Cathedral's story, highlighting St Richard, and other characters from down the years including the famous Bishop Bell. I dropped into the Cathedral shop - through glorious cloisters - where there are lots of lovely rather Auntie-ish things, books and lavender things and stacks of jars and nicely packaged goodies...I was rather sorry when I had to leave and get back to London.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Dora Nash is my sister-in-law. Her book on Confirmation has already proved its worth and been popular with lots of parishes, families, and youth groups, and we've all been waiting for one on First Communion. This new book is beautifully presented, with lovely illustrations, all the information from Scriptures to explain about Confession and Holy Communion, prayers to learn by heart, quizzes, word-searches, even a cut-out priest to dress in different vestments! It tackles everything, from how to go to confession through to words and phrases to study and understand...all in a bright, easy-to-read style with clear print and a fresh feel. It's exactly what a Catholic child needs and will be of use in every parish - even for children unfamiliar with all sorts of basic concepts for whom First Communion is perhaps the first real contact with systematic Christian teaching...very, very highly recommended.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
We'll be at Waterloo station next Friday, Dec 21st, from 5pm to 7pm. Come along and join us!
It's the realisation that we have lost the essence of Christmas by marginalising our Christian faith.
I hurried about London today - to the Tower of London, of all places, to check on information for a group of Americans planning a trip there next summer, to an address in Earls Court to deliver a parcel, to the Post Office...and then to Westminster Cathedral. And there was the spirit of Christmas. An Advent wreath...an empty crib awaiting the figure of our baby Saviour, a tall evergreen alongside, scenting the air deliciously...extra rows of seats for a carol service...and long lines of chairs down the side aisle for the confession queue. And this last I joined, and the experience was beautiful and joyful. And then on to Victoria Station...but for that deserves its own Blog entry.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Sometimes these correspondents affirm themselves very traditional Catholics: I don't know how they can be very comfortable with this, as Christ Himself chose to be born as a Jew, one of the people they so dislike...it's as if they want a sort of Catholicism without Christ. And certainly without his commands about loving one's neighbour, and without His peace...
The Holy Father has much to say on this and I recommend these correspondents to read what he has to say about the nastiness of anti-Jewish comments, and the special bond that should exist between Christians and Jews...
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
And hurrah for the Holy Father, talking with wisdom and common sense about children and Christmas: it's so horrible to see boys and girls robbed of their joy by being turned into obedient little consumers...here in Britain, there is something of a debate taking place about childhood and its value, and it's a debate long overdue. It seems so rare, now, to see a gaggle of children in the street giggling and laughing together and just having fun. It's even more rare to see teenagers just larking about and laughing...somehow there is an air of solemn menace stalking our common life, and cheerful merriment invites not just sneers but downright hostility.
Meanwhile today the Government has announced - ugh - a Ten Year Plan for Children. Why is my immediate reaction one of horror? Is it just the Stalinist language? Or is it a realistic conviction that the thing will somehow become just another way of bashing marriage and family life? Or simply a feeling of dreariness at the realisation that it will probably mean more social workers filling in forms, and more bureacratic "initiatives" involving salaried staff talking ideological junk at the taxpayers' expense?
Sunday, December 09, 2007
It was a coincidence that brought us to the concert - Jamie's brother D. and his wife J. were both playing in it, as part of a Quartet, and contacted us, knowing this was my home patch.
When people write about the place where they grew up, the nostalgia can be mawkish. I don't think that can work with suburbia...but I realised, sitting in the Library, how the London suburbs that I knew, and the culture of which shaped me, had a "feel" and a flavour that is slipping away...clubs and committees, things now grandly called "the voluntary sector", groups and societies run with enthusiasm, for the sheer joy of things - can these survive the crush of consumerism and political correctness and inertia and health-and-safety rules and all that? The High Streets treets of the suburbs now ring more often with drunken shrieks and scuffling fights than with the chatter of people hurrying out of meetings and concerts...
Anyway, we had a happy time, met old friends, enjoyed the wonderful music, and came back to Mother's for late snacks and cheerful talk...
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
This is a lovely parish. I was made so welcome, and there was such a good atmosphere - coincidentally, I had dropped in to this church when I went through Horsham on my sponsored cycle ride to Brighton, back in the summer, when I was raising money to help send young people from my local deanery to World Youth Day. So it was lovely to be back, and to meet people and be part of the parish for the evening!
Whenever I speak at a Catholic meeting, sooner or later some one is bound to raise the question of what is happening in Catholic schools - children are not learning the Faith, they are confused, they don't know the basics, don't know about the Sacraments, don't go to Mass with any regularity. There is real anguish about this - people are frustrated and recognise that things are getting more muddled...it gets hard to find good practising Catholics as teachers, and schools seem to be confused about whether or not it is possible legally to insist that a teacher in a Catholic school should teach in accordance with the Church and live accordingly... even in a good a cheery meeting such as this, topics such as this get raised.
Home very late: a warm, wet evening, and I sat on the train writing Christmas cards.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
The young prizewinners come to the House of Lords every year to recieve their prizes - Bibles, and personal book prizes, plus cheques for their schools - from Baroness Cox, who is one of our Trustees. It was a very happy day - we all met in the Central Lobby, and I gave the group a tour of Parliament: we lingered in the Great Hall, where St Thomas More was tried, and Sir Winston Churchill lay in state, and HM the Queen Mother... the prizegiving ceremony was delightful, and we had celebration cakes and proud parents took lots of pictures...afterwards we held our Annual General Meeting, reviewing how things had gone, and making plans for 2008. This is a useful organisation with real ecumenical co-operation, and much generosity and goodwill.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
- a man who donated sperm to a lesbian to enable her to have children says he did it as a favour to her "partner" who was an ex-girlfriend of his...the two lesbians have now quarrelled and separated and it is unclear what will happen to the children
- new regulations are planned to force the destruction of "extra" embryos when in-vitro fertilisation takes place, so that a woman thus treated will not have twins or triplets but only one child
- a couple who decided not to have children are leaving their money to their pet dogs when they die
A good comment on all of these sorts of topics comes from Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail.
How prophetic was Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. How scary our culture has become.
Monday, December 03, 2007
...and in church the first candle gleams on the Advent wreath up in the chancel, giving an ordinary weekday Mass a special feel. We will go carol-singing as a parish group, round the local streets, later in Advent, and send the money we raise to Aid to the Church in Need to help the hard-pressed Christians in Sudan. And the young people of the deanery, who are now doing all sorts of good things in association with World Youth Day, will be singing at our local railway station...they still need funds to enable them to get to Australia for this great event and if you'd like to help you can contact them through this link.
The excellent Women for Faith and Family run by Helen Hitchcock has some wonderful material for Advent. Rather than whinge about the commercialisation of Christmas, let's emphasise Advent and all its rich traditions...
Sunday, December 02, 2007
London looked rather magical on a wintry Sunday morning, the Thames grey and majestic, few people about, skeleton staff at the BBC in Millbank...after the programme, I toyed with the idea of staying on in town, getting breakfast somewhere and walking up to Westminster Cathedral for High Mass, but a car was waiting and the day was beginning to look fierce, so I was taken home. Jamie was getting up and I brewed coffee and made us something to eat, then in due course set off for Mass by bike and the HEAVENS OPENED, such terrific rain that I skidded and had to shelter in a doorway. Arrived at church and peeled off soaking coat,scarf, jacket, and these dripped water into a little puddle beneath the next pew as Mass progressed...afterwards I went into the parish bookshop where I bought some really lovely things for Christmas, but I'm not telling what they are as it would spoil the secret for Mother and for various nieces etc.
Incidentally, there is an excellent DVD about Pope John Paul produced by Vatican Television, which Mother and I enjoyed on Friday, much recommended. I see from the news that there is also a new one, just out, called Santo Subito and I am tempted to get that, too.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Friday, November 30, 2007
The British section of this great international charity has flourished under the direction of Neville Kyrke-Smith and his team, and the new office is efficiently organised, with separate sections for the sales of Christmas cards (they have a range of most beautiful designs) and books and other items, the different departments such as accounts, media, publishing, and so on. We prayed specifically for the various groups of people we try to help, including those persecuted for their Catholic Faith in Sudan, China, and other countries.
From the generous gifts of people here in Britain, ACN is able to send help to hard-pressed people living in extremely difficult conditions, struggling with poverty, oppressive Government, war or its aftermath, and more...there are areas in the world where running a Christian orphanage, teaching the Faith, distributing Catholic literature, or simply gathering for Mass, mean risk of imprisonment. It all seems remote from suburban London. But the young team in the Sutton office, working with dedication and care, are part of a crucial link which does untold good.
Archbishop Kevin McDonald, Archbishop of Southwark, led us all in a most beautiful prayer, referring to work, and the fact that Christ Himself worked, daily, as a craftsman, for years. Taking holy water, the Archbishop then carefully blessed all the offices, and all of us - friends and supporters, staff from Sutton Carers who have an office in the same block and had been invited along to join the celebrations, visitors from overseas, volunteers, members of the ACN Board, and Trustees...as he went from room to room, the staff began the Rosary and we all joined in. Afterwards, there was lots of talk and quantities of wine and trays of delicious snacks, and the joy of meeting old friends and chatting away with all sorts of people...
To crown things, by coincidence, that evening ACN's John Pontifex was due to speak at The Keys, the Catholic Writers' Guild. He did a superb job, telling about his recent visit to China, and with a popwer-point presesntation with snippets of film and other items, he was able to bring alive for us the complex problems facing that huge nation, and the life of the Church withion it. A truly fascinating evening, one of the best we've had. We meet, as regular readers of this Blog will know, at St Mary Moorfields in London.,..anyone who writes for a living, whether full-time or part-time, or who works in media or in publishing, or related fields, is eligible to join. Send a Comment to this blog, giving me an email address to which I can reply...
Well, I have given my poor teddy that name, but he will only have it for as long as the poor woman remains in prison. Then I shall take pleasure in re-naming him, and will give him the name of Benedict. And he will be a reminder to pray that the grace and blessing of a good Christian name may soon be given to many of those who currently bear names associated with other religions.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The young man - he was v. pleasant - also had to ask ritual questions about my age, work, race, etc. I explained I was a Catholic journalist and gave him a couple of pictures of the Pope, which he accepted very nicely and put in his pocket. He was absolutely correct all the way through the interview, so I don't know if he found the questions as ludicrous as I did.
It all felt vaguely reminiscent of stories I heard from eastern European exiles twenty years ago, about how the official bureaucracy was always announcing the results of surveys proving the rightness of their ideological line. A major difference, however, as Mac pointed out, is that at least in Britain taking part was optional - I could simply have refused - and of course we will be free to criticise the report when it is published. Long may this freedom remain.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
...on my blog!! V. exciting. Mac has been here helping me. We ate lots of chocolate biccies. And here is the dear Holy Father, looking so reassurring. I really like just knowing that he's there in Rome, and doing us all proud.
Monday, November 26, 2007
On Sunday J. and I had a lovely walk over Wimbledon Common - we enjoyed a glorious pink and glowing sunset and then almost got lost for a bit when darkness fell (J says my sense of direction is hopeless).
I am sending J's parents a copy of the latest Universe newspaper as there is a pic of J. in it at the launch of the Catholic National Library last week. He is with Rt Hon John Gummer MP and the headline says something about Top Catholics being at the event. I think they will be amused at having a son who is a Top Catholic.
Later this week Mulier Fortis is coming round for supper to help me with technical aspects of this Blog. I have promised her chocolate cake.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Incidentally, F. is a writer and journalist, and produced a most useful report on BBC bias a while back - now you simply must read this on Fr Tim Finigan's blog, which tells the story of an appalling example of BBC reportage. Ask yourself - or, better, contact the Director-General of the BBC and ask him - whether or not the BBC is now going to apologise for the distortion made in the programme in question, in the light of the information now made public?
We also got talking about traditions and seasonal customs: the wife of an Ambassador said her impression was that Britain has retained more of these than some other European countries...I am a lot less sure...as Christmas draws near, all Western nations seem to be swamped with the same massive consumer-spending, ensuring that children will be knee-high in plastic junk toys , many of which will soon be discarded, while old customs, carols, family games, etc will be less evident. But there are lots of families - including our hosts this evening - where wonderful traditions flourish, with children singing and making music and all sorts of happy things are passed on down the generations...
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I had been invited to give my talk on Celebrating Traditional Feasts and Seasons, and this went well and led to a good and interesting discussion afterwards, as we explored all sorts of things...St Lucy's day...some London history...origins of various symbols and traditions...local Chelsea history...and more...
Patti Fordyce, a mainstay of the parish, made a delicious lunch over which a group of us lingered with pleasure, the newcomer and I now thoroughly feeling at home...
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
And then a memory of a visit to him and Kitty - the walks, the talk, and being made to laugh so much that it it was hiccuping. And that particular corner of Sussex, the fields and the rise of the hill, and coming in to tea with fresh brown bread and butter.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Members of the Cor et Lumen Christi movement have settled here, and the plan is to restore this wonderful old building - once a convent and orphanage - into a centre where families and groups will come to celebrate and learn about their Faith, pray, evangelise, and be evangelised...
And they will do it, too. There is so much faith and devotion here. The project is going to be a huge challenge because although solidly and beautifully built, the building needs a good deal of basic repair and restoration work, as it was left abandoned for over a decade after the last nuns left...but the team here is young, dedicated, joyful, hard-working and prayerful. Already, one good-sized room has been magnificently restored, with some lovely original features to enjoy - magnificent crucifix in an alcove, beautiful warm-coloured red brickwork - and a good working kitchen alongside. We gathered here for a "Family day with God", hordes of cheerful children, a talk from me about (yes, you've got it...) "Traditional Feasts and Seasons", a lovely lunch with hot sausages, and an atmosphere of prayer and goodwill. The music was...um...not to my taste (Oh please, can't we sing some decent hymns?) but everything else was simply perfect: devotion, a young priest with an attentive congregation at Mass, friendship, a sense of relief as people felt they could talk about things too often covered by grim silence such as the challenge of raising a family with good values in the face of a sordid modern culture, the tragic abandonment of the Faith in too many nominally Catholic schools...
I was given wonderful hospitality, had some great conversations, felt hugely encouraged and cheered, and learned a lot. I explored the building - there is an old chapel just waiting to be restored ("But have you seen the dreadful 1960s addition?" I was asked "That'll have to go - and we found the original stained-glasss in an outbuilding and hope to put it all back...") and there is a wealth of local history here which simply must be recorded.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I am off on travels this weekend...off to Carlisle to give a talk there. I may not be able to blog while travelling...
Friday, November 16, 2007
A warm welcome from Mr Dan Cooper, a great chorus of voices joining in the Our Father and Hail Mary as we started the session, and I enjoyed giving my talk about Pope Benedict XV1. Afterwards, a most agreeable chat with the Headmaster, himself an Old Boy of the splendid London Oratory School (of which I was once a Governor: the school choir sang for Jamie and me at our Wedding Mass in 1980 and then, a new generation of choristers, at our Silver Wedding Mass a quarter of a century later).
Cycled on to Mother's where the Coopers arrived with a splendid fish-and-chip supper - a cheery evening of talk, a get-together of old friends.
The Faith Movement is organising its Winter Session soon - a gathering for young people with daily Mass, talks on aspects of the Catholic Faith: this year's theme is "Hearing God's word", with talks on The Bible belongs to the Church, Christ, the Key to understanding the Old Testament, the Gospels - historical and true, The Bible and prayer in our lives....
Our hostess, Alexandra Eversole, will be hosting a sale of Christmas gifts and jewellry on Dec 5th, with wine and mince pies - all in aid of ALERT, the anti-euthanasia group. Find out more from 0207 730 2800.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Hurried back from Kent to London, recorded some talks for Premier Radio (they will, I think, be broadcast in the week of Nov 26th as an early-morning "Thought of the day"), then went on to relatives where I was to babysit for niece E. We had a very happy evening. I helped her with maths homework, enjoying her comments: "A boy drinks half a litre of milk a day... Ugh, that's really greedy of him. He shouldn't drink that much..." We played a game of snakes-and-ladders, and one of chess, and it was all v. agreeable.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Earlier, I had a most agreeable lunch with dear nephew - and godson - G. It's always enjoyable to see him, and there he was at St James' Park tube station as arranged, in tartan scarf and giving me a big hug, all so reassuring and joyful. We chatted very happily of big mugs of coffee.
Monday, November 12, 2007
I gave a talk on "Journalism and the Media" to a big gathering of senior pupils, and a number clustered round afterwards to talk further and ask questions. I was presented with a commemorative School Teddy Bear, very cuddly and wearing a St Edmund's jersey. It was all enormously enjoyable and I received agreeable impressions of England's oldest post-Reformation Catholic school.
Jamie has been away in Ireland for a few days so I seized the opportunity of a big cleaning-and-tidying session. Took several things to local charity shop, threw away lots of unwanted paper, etc. An old propaganda booklet from the Equal Opportunities Commission gave me pause for thought: produced in the late 70s, when all this non-sexist-let's-pretend-we-are-all-identical stuff came in, it looks terribly dated now, when the worry is about boys falling behind with basic skills like reading and writing and the realisation that they badly need good adult male role-models and that school is seen as all too "girly". And the pictures made one a bit sad: thirty years ago, the children's faces were actually different: less tense, more "open", the girls less angry, there's somehow a more innocent air ...
On Sunday, cycled to Mass - a beautiful arrangement of poppies with a flag at the side of the nave, making an understated and quietly poignant message - and then on to friends where I had been invited to lunch. A long talkative afternoon over a buffet, with quantities of children running about and shouting, hot sausages and chicken and salads and rolls on the table, babies being cuddled, adults enjoying wine and chat and laughter. The children all gathered like pins to a magnet when a box of doughnuts was brought in at the end of the afternoon, drawn as from nowhere.
Cycling home through the dark, I found Jamie, who had brought me some heavenly lavender-scented soap from Ireland and a lovely dark red candle all specially decorated which we'll use for Christmas. We had big mugs of tea and told each other all our news.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
No, I don't think so either.
In the case of the Second World War there are many surviving ex-servicemen still living, so try asking some of them.
The Queen's Speech outlining the plans of this present Government, sets out the plan for human/animal hybrids. Concerned? Get the info from this website right away and write to your Member of Parliament and also to members of the House of Lords. The Govt is rushing this through at speed, so we all need to act quickly.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Useful notes on the history of the Abbey tell us that St Elphege was Abbot here in about 980. This interests me as I grew up in the parish of St Elphege in Wallington, Surrey, was baptised and married there: Elphege was an Archbishop of Canterbury and was martyred by the Danes at Greenwich. Bath Abbey is dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul. Bath is of course a Roman city and you can visit the original Roman Baths: all part of the same Roman Empire into which Christ was born and in which Peter became the first Pope...
I gave talks to CathSoc meetings at the University of Bath and at Bath Spa University, all organised by the excellent chaplain Fr Bill. He also runs a busy parish on the city's outskirts, is hospital chaplain, active with the Ecumenical Society of the BVM, and more. The parish is dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul. He is a Servite priest and strides around in full-length traditional habit and it's really nice to see it on a modern University campus.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Father Bill OSM, chaplain to both universities, is organising a lecture about Edward Elgar and the Dream of Gerontius on Monday Nov 12th - see the Chaplaincy website.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Honestly, it's a much nicer and more interesting present than bath salts or a calendar with cats on it...
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
A crisp, fresh Autumn day with the trees in the most glorious colours.
A couple of items people have asked me to mention: a neighbour, who works at St Teresa's, our local home for the elderly, reminds me that the Friends of St Teresa's are running a Fair at the Sacred Heart Hall, Edge Hill SW19 on Saturday, from 2pm.
And the Friends of Westminster Cathedral have Clare Asquith discussing her new book on Shakespeare - about which I have written on this blog - on November 29th. Find out more about this here.
Cycled across London to St Mary Moorfields for a meeting of the Catholic Writers' Guild: Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph was the speaker. I was asked to give the vote of thanks, and was able to recall his earlier visit to the Guild, back in the mid-1990s, when he was speaking about the Catholic Church - just a few weeks later his conversion was splashed across the features section of the Telegraph under the banner headline "Why I am becoming a Catholic".
Meetings of the Guild are really terrifically enjoyable, and we have a good programme planned for 2008...any RC who works as a writer, journalist, pubsliher, on films or TV or related work, can join. Send me a comment to bthis Blog - WITH AN EMAIL ADDRESS AT WHICH I CAN REACH YOU - if you are intertested... Members can bring guests to meetings, and frequently do, and all our meetings start with Mass and then supper, and a guest speaker...
Monday, November 05, 2007
The house is owned by the Community, and four families live there, each with its own flat, and all sorts of events and retreats are organised, attended by people from the local area and also from much further afield. The roots of Cor et Lumen Christi are in the Charismatic Renewal. A priest from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal celebrated Mass - a room has been set aside as a chapel, with a most beautiful crucifix and some magnificent icons - and round the walls are pictures of saints, including icons and, in some cases, ( eg Therese of Lisieux, Padro Pio) photographs.
The Surrey countryside was a glory of golden and orange on this pleasant Autumn day, and I enjoyed my journey by train and bike.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
I woke early - as mentioned, I had been staying at an address in St Matthew Street, Westminster, near Parliament and near the Cathedral (note to correspondents - NO, that view of Big Ben ISN'T from my own home...I made it clear that I was staying overnight in Westminster!!!). I didn't have an alarm clock, but read somewhere that the Holy Souls wake you if you need it. So I said a prayer for them and asked to be woken at 6 am, and woke as Big Ben rang out its chimes for just that hour... got everything ready, grabbed a quick breakfast and was at the Cathedral Hall by 8 am.. having dropped in to the Cathedral for a quick visit first. Slight hassle about getting the hall unlocked then we got started... it is always exciting watching the Festival take shape, as groups arrive with big displays and stacks of books, all of us busy in the kitchen or the hall or greeting speakers/choir/helpers...
A happy day. Christopher Martin spoke about some of the notable Catholic churches and cathedrals in Britain, Fr Richard Whinder about Bishop Richard Challoner, Aghi Clovis about her journey to Christianity from Islam....
Browsing the bookstalls, I bordered a copy of JAMES, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, a new book just out from Fisher Press, for Christmas. When Jamie arrived in due course he looked at all the stalls too, bought various things, and when we finally met up - I spent most of the day rushing about on all sorts of errands - he said "Um..there is a new book out about James 11, but I didn't get it as I thought perhaps....." "Yes, I said. I've ordered it for you for Christmas."
After it was all over, J. and I had a quick wash-and-change and off to a birthday-and-fireworks party given by friends near Blackheath. It was a rather grand Black Tie affair, and it felt funny to be there after spending the day hectically rushing around a busy hall organising and coping with minor crises...I wore my lovely new swishy skirt and felt elegant. Urge to kick off my shoes and just flop was resisted. Wonderful fireworks on Blackheath and delicious food...home late and exhausted!
Friday, November 02, 2007
I am staying overnight near Westminster Cathedral so as to be ready for the Towards Advent Festival tomorrow morning. The chimes of Big Ben ring out through my open bedroom window. I am in St Matthew Street, just off the street-market in Strutton Ground, in a corner of Westminster which is almost like a village, but with Parliament and the Abbey ahead of us and the Cathedral just behind. This is the offices of the excellent pro-life group, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children: they will have a stall at the Festival tomorrow and material for this, along with all my items including stacks of jars of my home-made jam, wait downstairs for transportation to the Cathedral Hall.
To be in the centre of London in the middle of the night is rather exciting. I went to the Sainsbury's in Victoria Street to buy cheese for sandwiches to sell at the Festival. (The Association of Catholic Women has charge of the refreshments - all home-made by volunteers). Then, having tackled all sorts of last-minute arrangements for tomorrow, I settled here to write this blog, and relax with the Catholic Times (feature interview, by me, with Fr Peter Wilson of the University of London Catholic Chaplaincy - do read it!) and a wonderful book about the Apostles, written by the Holy Father, which I bought while in the USA...
Oh, I do hope all goes well at the Festival tomorrow...
Thursday, November 01, 2007
To the Sacred Heart Church at Wimbledon for evening Mass. Well, two Masses actually as Fr Mitchell had given me permission to hand out Towards Advent handbills so I was anxious to reach as many people as possible. LOTS of people at Mass, as yesterday for the vigil Mass. Now: our Bishops must get this message firmly:
WE VALUE OUR HOLY DAYS!
Here we are on All Saints, with people filling a big Victorian church on a November evening - because it's the feast of All Saints and we are glad to mark it!
It is one of the few Holy Days left to us, following our Bishops silly and tiresome bureacratic reasoning. If it were Ascension Day, or Corpus Christi, we'd be told we should stay at home and only celebrate on the nearest Sunday instead.
After the final Mass, I was invited to the home of the delightful E. family - oldest son Thomas is my godson - where there was mulled wine, and a candlelit room, and good conversation, and a new baby glowing with health, a perfect way to round off All Saints' Day.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Today I went to our local parish in New Malden as I needed to photocopy some things for the Festival - arrived at 12 noon and the little team at the presbytery were saying the Angelus. Somehow this gave the whole day a nice, villagey feeling. Valuable help with photocopying, and a cheery chat with the lady organising the parish Hallowe'en festivities, which celebrate a "Night of Light" with prayers in church, then a procession of all the children dressed as saints (they've been preparing their costumes over the past weeks) with home-made lanterns. They go through the local streets, and all passers-by get a little leaflet with a pumpkin picture and an explanation of Hallowe'en as the Eve of All Saints' Day. Then back to the parish hall for games (apple-bobbing and buns-on-a-string, all the traditional things) and party food.
Now that's the way to re-Christianise Hallowe'en.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Inconveniently, my bike choise today to get a puncture, so I had to walk across the river from Vauxhall to Westminster, but I didn't really mind as it was a most heavenly Autumn day with cascades of golden leaves wherever trees stood together, and the Thames looking grey and swirling and Westminster Cathedral having that gently glow from lamplight as dusk approaches...
A note from a friend tells me about a glorious CONCERT on Saturday evening - conveniently a couple of hours after TOWARDS ADVENT ends - at Brompton Oratory. Fabulous music, with wine and nibbles beforehand, starts 7pm, and funds raised will go towards LIFE (pro-life group,helps mothers and babies) and the Oratory Church. Get more info from 020 8 788 3115 or click here.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
While you are away from home, you are in a sort of bubble, living in time-out-of-time. Everything, from doing the hoovering to answering letters, is on hold - and, these days, emails ensure that the most urgent messages get tackled and news from home is guaranteed, so the bubble is a cosy one with anxieties removed but everything still at a distance.
Normally, I'd add "cooking" to the list of things left aside while away from home, but this time it wasn't the case, as my TV series involves lots of cookery demonstrations. I was producing masses of stuff every day, cakes and pies and biscuits and even some roasted lamb. Much of it had to be done twice - once to produce on the show as "here's one I've done already', and another created in stages in front of the cameras. Some items were actually produced three times. At EWTN, there is a shelf in the staff kitchen where food, books, clothing, or anything else that can usefully be passed on, is left: I found that trays of edibles left there disappeared with gratifying speed. Incidentally, this don't-waste-anything-and-let's-help-each-other atmosphere is one of EWTN's most pleasant aspects: a mix of everyday kindness and good cheer with a faint dash of ecological thrift and a large dollop of sheer generosity.
Home to a rainy London - which is the way I like it, so I wasn't complaining - a mountain of letters, and the rather endearing discovery that Jamie had been able to follow some of my domestic instructions, so laundry was drying and the fridge had food in it.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Also had time to watch some American TV...golly there are some odd things out there. EWTN is a relief after seeing some of the dippy things on some other TV channels, especially the religious ones! One showed a big religious rally with lots of people waving American flags, and at first I thought it was all rather nice - jolly wholesome and so on - but then it all went political and there was a great deal of ranting and a chap told everyone they should 'expect great blessings' for having attended the rally and started to list lots of things the President should do on foreign policy because it was all in the Bible. It was quite enjoyable to watch in an odd sort of way, an Evelyn Waugh novel come to life.
But it's impossible to visit America and not be hugely touched by the other side of all this - the huge kindness, the generosity, the largeness of people's hearts. Americans give generously to charity - huge projects of all kinds simply funded out of people's gifts, large and small. They are neighbourly - and regard all sorts of people as neighbours, not just convenient ones. They cope with things. There is a cheeriness here which is - at present anyway - missing in Britain.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
Interesting to observe trends in Religious Education. Have you heard the daft packet-of-sandwiches theory about the Feeding of the Five Thousand? It's the modernist take on this great miracle, deliberately invented to try to steer young people away from understanding the full Eucharistic significance...I heard it again today and it's clearly one of the bits of rubbish given to gullible RE trainees: the idea is that it wasn't really a miracle when Christ took the loaves and fishes and raised his eyes to Heaven...nooooo, what really happened was that when the small boy produced this simple food all the other 5,000 people who had apparently been hiding their packets of sandwiches greedily for themselves now produced them to share...
Quite apart from the racist idea of assuming selfish inability to share picnics was somehow the norm among 1st-century Palestinians...this daft theory doesn't even fit the facts. Why would it be considered remarkable if people simply enjoyed food they already had? What sense can be made of the link made in the Scriptural account with the manna in the desert - and Christ's extraordinary words about feeding people with his own flesh?
No wonder young people seem bored with their religion, finding it apparently hard to grasp its reality, or surrender to its joy, when they have it thus gutted of real meaning.
However...the school was welcoming, efficient, friendly, generous. Pupils mixed: some (a few) open, interested, capable of response to my talk about faith and ACN, and tales of derring-do in assisting Christians in various parts of the world... others with rigid body-language saying don't-come-near-me-with-all-this, shrugging, pushing away the holy cards, downcast faces hidden behind sheets of hair. It's something I always notice: among the young today some, especially the girls, have a wounded and alienated look...the pressures in today's vicious culture are so huge, and already in late teens there is a sense of violation somehow, of lost life. This makes it tough for teachers.
Interesting point made in discussion: those who believe face derision from their peers. "Persecution" isn't something far away from these young people, it can already be a reality, if you admit to being a believing Christian...yes, even in an RC school.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Wednesday's work was fun but, golly, it was exhausting, and at the day's end, when the little crew, after sorting things out and packing up and dealing with everything, met in the quiet church for Mass - said by a visiting priest from the Brothers of St John, who had come from Holland to watch our work as he works with a similar TV project in Amsterdam) - it was so good just to be there with the rhythm of the words and the bright glow of candles. I have only ever been in that church when it is teeming with families and chanted music on a Sunday morning, and having just a small group gathered (in exhaustion!) before the altar on a weekday evening with the darkening windows and the glitter of a lifted Chalice was a suddenly powerful experience.
Up early this morning to get to a committee meeting of Aid to the Church in Need. Afterwards, to a bookshop to treat myself to a new, looooong, interesting book for the flight to the USA on Sat. I do have some work to do on the flight, but there will be several hours in the air and I feel I can give myself up to the pleasure of deliciously uninterrupted reading. (I am actually planning to take some sewing to do as well - cross-stitch sampler which needs finishing and is rather fun to do - but have been warned that needles are sometimes confiscated as being potential terrorist weapons...anyone know anything about this?).
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Home extremely late, and with rain still clattering down as I hurried in the the kitchen door and shook off my wet things.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
At the big old prestbytery at St W's, the Franciscans - in traditional brown robes with knotted ropes round their waists, bare feet and sandals - run a chaplaincy for students at the University of Central Lancashire. Numbers small for this Sunday evening gathering, but a warm welcome, delicious spaghetti, international group with lovely friendly atmosphere, much enthusiasm for my talk on Pope Benedict...it would be glorious if, through prayer and dedication, this chaplaincy could grow and breathe new life into St W's, currently threatened with closure...
Sunday, October 14, 2007
On to the Rosary Rally, which starts at Westminster Cathedral and goes through the streets, with banners and statue, to Brompton Oratory. Mother and I always meet it at the Oratory, having had an agreeable trip there by bus via a visit to a teashop, making it a pleasant day out. Oratory packed, of course, lots of good hymns, and a sermon that started with a vivid description of the Battle of Lepanto and the role of the Rosary in its outcome, establishing the feast of O.L. of the Rosary which is marked each year on Oct 7th. It was all very challenging, aimed at making us think about what is happening today and to our civilisation...
Afterwards, having seen M. safely on to the train home, I went to Westmin. Cathedral for Mass. Glorious singing from the choir of Farnborough Hill school, and a group of young people coming forward to start their preparation for Confirmation. Sometimes the future of Christianity in Europe seems small...but it's there...
Cycled there for tea on Friday with a priest from a new movement based at Hampton Wick - of which more in a moment - but found the centre of the town a rather depressing experience. Crowded shops, lots of people, thronging and spending...but louts hanging around the church shouting obscenities, chucking beer cans, while other people (?? I think actually students from what is now Kingston University) also hung about, also swearing and looking glum and cross...this gave a nasty and slightly scary feel to things. I had wanted to pause to enjoy things a bit. The Regimental Colours from my father's regiment hang in the parish church - I remember going there for the ceremony when I was about eleven. Autumn sunshine and the river sparkling. But police on the alert, their radios crackling into life "Yes...could you just send along another couple of peole...no, not sure...that would be of help...thanks..." so my sense of menace was shared by others.
Later, over tea, I was told that this is normal :"And it's much worse at the weekends, when there are groups hanging about with their black teeshirts with that satan symbol on, and litter everywhere..." Oh dear.
The group I went to meet is based across the river, at Hampton Wick, and is called the Heralds of the Gospel. Evidently a new Catholic movement, fostering very traditional Marian devotions.
Friday, October 12, 2007
It's all very splendid and traditional - judges in red robes, full-bottomed wigs etc - and the Cardinal preached very well, about St Thomas More, citing him as an inspiration for lawyers today faced with laws that do not dovetail with the ethical principles of the Gospels, and urging that his courage and prudence were good examples to follow. You can read the whole of the Cardinal's sermon here, and it's recommended.
Needless to say, some ghastly Government bureaucrats have announced that Britain's traditional legal attire - wigs and gowns and so on - is to be abolished or restricted soon. (The legal profession was asked for its opinion and when this was opposed to the change - for important reasons including preserving the message of impartiality and anonymity of judges - this was of course ignored). So the Red Mass will be one of the few occasions when it can all be seen - and with it some idea of the solemnity of the idea of law based on wisdom and justice.