Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chris Cviic RIP

- a wonderful man, a fine writer and journalist, a man of great integrity. We attended his funeral yesterday at the Sacred Heart Church in Wimbledon. Read about him here. I learned so much from him, as did so many younger people. He will be hugely missed.

The church has been recently refurbished and I was troubled by the lack of kneelers in the pews - was this a way of trying to stop people kneeling properly for Mass? Everyone was encouraged to sit instead, even for the Consecration - all wrong. However, it turns out that the problem is a temporary one, as the incomplete pews will get their kneelers shortly. All the refurbishment has been delayed, and for a long while Masses have been in the church hall, with the stage turned into a temporary sanctuary.

To Waterloo station in the evening, for a last round of carol-singing. Funds raised this time will go to LIFE, which helps mothers and babies. As we sang and sang, a friend, hurrying homer from work, saw us and came to join in. When her train was called, she said "Must rush - I'm taking the children to Reconciliation at the Sacred Heart church. We'll be home by the time you finish here. Come over for mulled wine and snacks!" So in due course I made my way to their house, and there was wine and good talk around the Christmas tree, with children drifting off sleepily, and delicious mince pies, and a happy atmosphere. The Reconciliation service had been rather impressive, with lots of priests hearing confessions, and the family joked about all being freshly shriven as we greeted them.

Just a couple of days now until the great feast: life has a feeling of Advent, and Christmas promise.

Watched...

...a DVD of the Papal visit, which I'd bought for Christmas. Really rather good - I was expecting to sneer at it, because it had a sort of "official" feel and I thought perhaps this meant it would be feeble. It isn't. It brings back memories of the joy and happiness of those days...and it includes a good viewing of the meeting between the Pope and leaders of other faiths, with a wonderful welcome from the Chief Rabbi, which was not something widely reported at the time because most attention focused on the great public Masses and the meeting in Parliament etc. Well worth watching. Order it now for a post-Christmas treat.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Out into the snow...

...for more carol-singing. A local parish gave wonderful support when I asked if people would like to come and sing carols at a local home for elderly people, and then go house-to-house in some nearby roads. I wasn't sure how many people from the parish would come - but a wonderful crowd arrived, mostly young, and the singing was magnificent! It was a joy to see all these cheerful faces in the lamplight as we stood in the extraordinary beauty of a snowy street and sang "O come, O come Emmanuel..." and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Good king wenceslas" with snowflakes softly landing on collars and hats and mittened hands...

It all goes to show that an ordinary traditional Catholic parish - this one is a big Jesuit parish in a London suburb - has wonderful people in it! And there is more...as we sang outside one big mansion-block of flats, a lady came hurrying out to invite us all in for wine and mince-pies. Turned out to be a stalwart of the parish, and had read about us in the newsletter and was so glad that we had come into her road - we had wine, and pies, and talk, and much convivilaity, and we sang "Silent Night" and were warmed and cheered...we went out again into the snow and sang to more houses and had a well-filled jar of donations when we finally called things to a close...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A parish lunch...

...on a snowy Sunday. The parish centre - a beautiful building, opened just a couple of years ago, built by the generosity of parishioners - was bright and welcoming, and the food delicious. There are over a thousand people at Mass in this parish on Sundays.

Statistics for church attendance are revealed in today's press: apparently more people are now worshipping, Sunday by Sunday, in churches of all denominations, than was the case a few years ago.

Been reading...

... Verbum Domini, the new Papal document on the importance of the Scriptures. It is, obviously, centred on the Scriptures themselves, and also on the Second Vatican Council's important document, Dei Verbum. This interests me v. much, becuse this, almost more than other documents of Vatican II, has been central to our studies at Maryvale.

Throughout the first half of my adult life, I was often told that the Second Vatican Council had produced nothing of real value, that it would one day be regarded as irrelevant, or that it had been a dreadful mistake. There had been so much post-conciliar muddle that it was easy to accepot this view (although I didn't). Wiser voices, which urged the reading and study of the Council's documents, tended to be drowned out - but when you could hear them, they gave good advice and now we are beginning to see the Council's true fruits. Chief among these has of course been the Catechism of the Catholic Church - another crucial reference-point in Maryvale studies. But we can also note a fresh approach - a logical one, given the development of the Church's doctrine in this area - to religious freedom and to the relationships between Christianity and other faiths. And the message offerred by Benedict XVI on his recent visit to Britain - which proved so attractive, and which won over so many who had thought they were going to haye him - was soaked in the Vatican II approach...

John Henry Newman knew that the Church needed an educated laity: people who could give a good account of what the Church taught and why. It is interesting to see the opportunities for achieving this increasing, not only through the New Movements in the Church with their programmes of study and action, but also through the various educational institutions, and indeed through the Internet. The women who asked for advice and help from Newman as they sought to know more about the Catholic Faith and apply it to their lives were anxious to serve the Church but were limited in the possibilities open to them. Whereas today...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Out in the snow...

...delivering leaflets giving the times of Christmas services at all the local churches of variouis denominations. The leaflets, produced jointly by the churches, wre at the back of church in by bundles, labelled road by road, and we were urged to take a couple of bundles and deliver them. I took a couple, and today was glad to have a good excuse to go out in the snow. Everyone was being friendly. I had brief snowball fights with every group of children I passed - sometimes it took a moment for them to realise that the missile that attacked them had come from the middle-aged lady in the green wellies, but they soon got the idea and swiftly retaliated. The sky had that pinkish glow that you opnly get on winter afternoons, and dusk was already falling as I got home shortly before 4pm. The only sad thing is that the carol service in our local church was cancelled - many of the roads really are impassable. But last night we sang carols at the local railway station, which was fun...after the main Rush Hour trains were over, we went to a local pub (ginger wine) and from there a final small group went on to the parish centre where we counted up the money and sat chatting...I enjoy these winter evenings and walking home through the frosted streets was rather lovely.

There's a good piece...

...about Pope Benedict XVI and the events of 2010 here. Do read it.


And this is an excellent and timely comment-piece too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh, dear...joy and shadow...

...first, the good news. A happy snowy evening of carol-singing. We went from house to house in a residential area of London, and as our voices warmed up and we sang carol after carol, in a rather bitter wind and with drifting flakes of snow, there was a joy and unity and fun that was of the essence of Christmas...."We heard you coming as you sang down the road! It's lovely!" said one young mum, as she and her children stood in the dooorway to enjoy our carols, and one of the children came forward shyly with money for our collecting-tin. We had so many lovely encounters. One chap gave us £20. Many families brought their children down to hear us, in dressing-gowns and pyjamas. One elderly lady called out us us to wait, as she was disabled and it had taken her time to get to her front door, and she wanted to greet us. Another lady came hurrying down the road with a donation...

And we finished joyfully at a cheery pub, with red wine and lots of talk, and counting up the money - a goodly sum which we will divide between a couple of different groups working with the elderly.

Then the bad news. This morning I realised that my wallet was missing - must have been taken, I realised, during an earlier stage of the evening, possibly on the Tube...

Today happens to be a busy one - I had to hurry to London to deliver some Christmas presents, as well as tackling the various writing projects that have to be completed before Christmas... The last thing I needed was an extra hassle cancelling cheque-cards etc. All done now, and everything freshly organised. I'm writing this in an internet cafe, not far from St Paul's Cathedral. London is rather magnificent in its stark wintry glory, there are delicious things on sale in the coffee-shops, it's been fun sorting out the delivery of Christmas presents to various relations for opening on Christmas Day, and I happened to run into a friend, a monk, at Cannon Street station and we had a cheery chat. So life is good. But it would be even better if Britain was a country where a wallet was reasonably safe.

PS: I wonder what the thief will make of the holy cards and picture of the Pope, the little sewing-kit and and Rosary memo that he finds in my wallet?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

While carol singing...

...some years ago at London's Victoria station, we were accosted by a man who had, I think, been to a rather good office party, and who told us that we weren't getting it right. We had spread ourselves out in a line on the concourse to try to make the sound spread, and were not doing very well at all. "No, no NO" he said. "Get together like this", and he formed us into a choir, standing together, shoulders overlapping. "Now get singing. Stomachs in, chests out, shoulders back." and he showed us to how to sing, really sing - and make the sound rise to the great arched ceiling above us, and out to the thousands of passengers teeming noisily into their trains.

And it worked! We were soon singing powerfully, and had attracted a considerable crowd, who were pouring money into our collecting-boxes and expressing delight at our performance.

Over the loudspeaker came the usual train announcements, and one of them caught the attention of our mentor "Bromley South!" he exclaimned "Bromley South! That's my train!" and off he dashed, heading for the platform...I swiftly followed him, and was just able to pant out "Who are you?" before the doors closed on him as the train made ready to take him away to the suburbs. "I run the choir at the Ministry of Defence" he called out. And then the train moved off and he was gone.

Each Christmas, as I form together a choir and get them singing, standing properly, shoulders overlapping, sound soaring upwards, I bless his memory. If he's reading this: THANK YOU!

Writers? Musicians?

You can enter for the competition to write the song for World Youth day 2011 - I came across info about this here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I've written a review...

...of the Pope's new book for Common Ground, the magazine of the Council of Christians and Jews. It will appear in the next edition.

Organised my 2011 subscription to Magnificat, the now indispensable booklet which, beautifully produced and illustrated, arrives each month with Morning and Evening Prayer, lives of saints, useful information, inspirational reading.

Been writing Christmas cards, wrapping gifts, organising goodies to take to family gatherings, and doing other Christmas preparations. Two lots of carol singing this week, two lots next week. The Crib is now erected above our fireplace, minus the Bambino...he will be taken to Mass on Sunday to be blessed, in a tradition not long established in our parish but which has firmly taken hold and I think is delightful.

Went to an evening Mass at Westminster Cathedral - candles glowing on the Advent wreath, two tall trees at either side of the sanctuary.Now that Gaudete Sunday is past, there is a sense of Christmas truly being near.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Holy Father...

...talking to Peter Seewald in the new book mentions in particular one of the New Movements in the Church : the Heralds of the Gospel. I was struck by this - because they have a London base not far from where I live, and I have had some contact with them, and they are splendid! In fact, just as I was settling down to read the book, they had been on my mind as I want to invite them to take part in one of the projects I am planning for the New Year. So it was particular delight to get their latest magazine - which came with a covering letter noting with joy the special mention given to them by the Pope in the new book!

BTW, Lefevbrists will not want to read the book, as it reveals the quiet wisdom of the Pope on significant issues where they will be at variance with him and with the Church. They will also not like an authoritative document now published: Verbum Domini, the Pope's new post-Synodical Exhortation on the Word of God. It quotes Vatican II extensively, highlights strongly the importance of the Church's friendship and dialogue with the Jews, emphasises the rich abundance of Scripture now offered to the faithful at Sunday Mass and gives good advice on how this is to be honoured in the liturgy, speaks well of ecumenical initiatives, and highlights modern saints (Teresa of Calcutta, Edith Stein, Josemaria Escriva) alongside older ones. Watch out for attempts to rubbish this document or belittle its authority. Meanwhile, get a copy and read it yourself - it's inspirational, and full of practical advice ( praying with the Scriptures, how to improve the standard of reading at Mass, importance of each family having a Bible, need to see the Scriptures as belonging to the Church, avoidence of fundamentalist interpretations.)

To anyone who is doing any sort of study of the Scriptures, this Exhortation speaks with a powerful personal message. It is somehow all shot through with prayer, and makes you realise how central, and how glorious, is the Bible that has been so faithfully handed down to us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What are the ethics...

..of a Catholic blogger using material taken from Wikileaks?

Recent spillage of confidential memos sent from the British Ambassador to the Holy See to various recipients raises this issue. Should be "Catholic blogosphere" be so gleeful about gossiping that the more important question of the immorality of using sneaked material isn't tackled?

Friday, December 10, 2010

A happy day...

...at Westminster. It began early, as I hurried to the Houses of Parliament to see that all would be well for the event I was organising for later in the day. And all was well. Men were cleaning up the filth and graffitti left by rioters. Words cannot adequately express the contempt felt by most of us for the lout who violated the Cenotaph, dishonouring our war dead and ripping down the Union Jack, so I won't try to write about it. Let's just say that the cleaning up had been done swiftly, and the policemen at St Stephen's Entrance were just as jolly and friendly as ever, and reassured me that the young people coming to recieve their prizes for the Schools Bible Project needed no special passes or anything of that kind and should just turn up and would have a happy day.

On to Westminster Cathedral where I had been invited to the celebration lunch for OREMUS, the Cathedral magazine, for which I write. It was very, very enjoyable: a delicious meal, with mulled wine and mince pies and Fr Tim, our Editor, making a most gracious speech thanking us all. We were in the Hinsley Room, the small hall built a few years ago for Cathedral parish meetings and activities, and as we talked around the table, children at the St Vincent de Paul school ran about shrieking happily in the school playground in the shadow of the great Cathedral.

And so back to Parliament. The Schools Bible Project is a nationwide event run by an ecumenical Christian group of which I am chairman. It is a priviledge to be involved and a great joy to meet our young prizewinners as they gather at Westminster. Lord Brennan, distinguished lawyer and Chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain presented the prizes, and spoke most movingly about the Bible and its beauty, its strength and its message. The young people, their parents and teachers, were a delight. We had a tour of Parliament, and together pondered its great history, its longevity, the great events that have taken place within its walls. We had tea, and the young people recieved their prizes and Bibles, and photographs were taken and out beyond the latticed windows the London lamplight fell on the Abbey and its gardens as dusk fell on one of the most famous views in all the world.

Just for the record, the winners in the 2010 Schools Bible Project are:

BOYS:
1st prize: Daniel Kelly, Dalriada School, Ballymoney, Northern Ireland
2nd prize: Ethan Evans, Afon Taf School, Troedyrhiw
3rd prize: Harry Brownfield, Chesham High School, Bucks
4th Prize: Alexander Poole-Gleed, Oaklands Catholic School, Hants

GIRLS:
1st prize: Maria Czepiel, King Edward VI High School, Edgbaston Birmingham
2nd prize: Olivia Rugeley, West Hatch High School, Chigwell, Essex
3rd prize: Claire McDonald, St Paul’s High School, Glasgow
4th prize: Rosemary Walmsley, King Edward VI High School, Edgbaston


The Christian Projects team later met to review the 2010 project and plan for next year. A good and happy day.

PS The chap who violated the Cenotaph has apologised and expressed true sorrow. See here.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Students shrieking and waving placards with obscenities...

...made it impossible to get into the Houses of Parliament today, which was irritating as I badly needed to be there to check on arrangements for a meeting tomorrow. Police with shields were out in large numbers, and a number of over-excited people with Socialist Worker placards were hurrying around while the main body of demonstrators chanted and shrieked and threatened and ranted.

Tomorrow the young winners of a nationwide education project are due to arrive to be given their prizes at the House of Lords. I've arranged a tour of Parliament, and tea, and a ceremony where they get their prizes and celebrate with their parents and teachers...I needed to make some last-minute checks to ensure everything was in order, but couldn't. We must just hope and pray...

Unable to get into Parliament Square I made my way instead up towards Westminster Cathedral - always a source of solace - and in the CTS bookshop (copies of the Pope's new book in the window, and selling rapidly)I met a nice lady who had taken a photo of Patti Fordyce and me at the glorious Hyde Park gathering for the Holy Father. She had lost my email address...and now I was able to give it to her, and she has since sent me the pic and I'll be posting it on this Blog in due course!

Also in the shop was Fr Stephen Langridge, from Holy Ghost Church, Balham - I had wanted to talk to him about a possible event in his parish and we had a useful talk over a cup of coffee.

Attempting to get to Waterloo by road was impossible. So I went to evening Mass at the Cathedral - where I met another friend and had a good chat in Ambrosden Avenue. And so home via Victoria. I wonder if the people are still shouting and ranting?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

How much do you really know....

...about the Anglican Ordinariate? There is an informative account of a recent meeting here

A website magazine, about to be launched, The Portal has Auntie among its contributors...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Today...

...a useful meeting with a team who are involved with one of the projects at World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011.

WYD is such a vast event - I don't know if the Spaniards do any panicking, I think their general approach to life is not to fret and freak out but to assume that things will work well in the end... There will be tough times ahead: in Australia there was a barrage of anti-Papal hype in the media, and all sorts of practical and political worries - but then everything worked out gloriously.

There are all sorts of plans for young people from Britain to attend. They deserve our full encouragement and support. Back in 2005 I managed a sponsored cycle ride from London to Brighton to raise funds. Not sure what I can manage in 2011. But after hearing about the Madrid event I began to think about ideas and possibilities...

Read some of the H. Father's thoughts about World Youth Day here.

Tradition rules...

...as Christmas draws near. The fields are white with frost as a train carries me down to Sussex through the dusk, to a warm welcome and mulled wine and a family meal. We were meeting to plan the 2011 programme of Catholic History Walks and Talks...lots of v. good things, including a Mass in the Undercroft chapel in Parliament, and the now annual Martyrs' Walk through London finishing with Benediction at Tyburn. We talk until late, and then it is a joy to snuggle down with a book in a lovely room with the calm of Sussex and the scent of the sea...

On train journeys, I'm reading Light of the World, and hugely, hugely recommend it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Sunday in South London...

... as I went to Mass at Holy Ghost Church, Balham. It's a very big parish, lots of young families, and I knew the Mass might be crowded so I arrived in good time...and it was simply packed, and I was lucky to find a place in a pew, as many people had to stand at the back. Turned out to be the final day of a great Parish Mission, led by the Emmanuel Community which has a Mission Team based in Rome, and the Archbishop was coming to celebrate the Mass and preach.

By a happy piece of Providence, I was joined in the pew by some friends - we suddenly noticed each other as Mass began and hymn-books were opened and so on, and it was so good to be there together!

The music at the Mass was simply superb, and included Mozart's Ave Verum at H. Communion...

Later - while waiting to meet Jamie - I dropped in to the Polish Church on Balham High Road. This is a former Congregational or Methodist church, and has been the Polish RC Church of Christ the King for some years. They evidently keep busy, because there was an afternoon Mass as well as the morning Masses, and families were pouring in...

I remember going to Mass in this church some years back, simply because there was an evening Mass and it happened to be convenient, and at that time there was still a conscious presence of elderly Poles, of the WW11 generation. I remember elderly chaps taking a collection for the veterans of the Armia Krajowa, the heroic Polish resistance group which fought the Nazis in the Warsaw Uporising. Today, the church has a different feel, with a great many families and young children, as a new generation of Poles has found its way to Britain. And the building has become more Polish: there are now beautiful stained glass windows, with the Ven. John Paul 11, of course, among those depicted, along with Bl. Faustina, and various other Polish figures, together with St Padre Pio, and St Therese of Lisieux, and more...and there are memorial plaques and so on that show the ongoing reality of parish life over the decades. Pleasingly, they have also retained the old panels and memorials from the church's earlier use, so as not to dishonour the Christian men and women who worshipped here long ago...

BTW, at Holy Ghost Balham, there is a big youth gathering for the New Year: info here. Pass it on.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

A Traditional Advent...

...in London has to include Westminster Cathedral. Went there for confession - you always meet friends in the confessional queue and this was no exception. Always vaguely reassurring - and the Sung Mass was beginning, with its glorious music and solemn procession. It turned out to be a special Mass of thanksgiving for the work of The Passage, the centre for the homeless run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, which has strong links with the Cathedral. Rather touchingly, The Passage's banner was carried in procession. Three big candles were lit to mark The Passage's 30th anniversary...

The Cathedral magazine, Oremus, has some lovely Advent and Christmassy things in it, including a delightful piece about homecoming, centred on that bit in The Wind in the Willows where Mole scents his home, his old home...

I dropped in to the CTS bookshop in the piazza, to get a copy of Light of the World the new book in which the H. Father is interviewed by Peter Seewald. It is a superb read.

On to St Patrick's, Soho Square, where the young team were holding an all-night vigil of prayer. The snowy Square with its wintry trees is currently dominated by the renovation work being done at St Patrick's, huge boards blocking off the church, all rather dramatic. Masses are being held in a small makeshift chapel in the presbytery, the simplicity and poverty somehow adding to the drama. You come in from the bitter cold into the hall with its sense of news and activities and then open the door with a simple paper notice "Chapel", and there is silence, and Fr Alexander at prayer, and gradually the place fills up for Mass...

There was soup in the kitchen after Mass ended, and it was good to catch up on the news. The Prayer Vigil was specifically for young people, for vocations,and for the work of the evangelisation teams in the parish. The church will be ready for use in the Spring, and a big celebration Mass is planned...meanwhile Masses are being held at the other nearby Catholic churches, including Warwick Street and Notre Dame de France off Leicester Square. The regular Masses include those for the Spanish, Cantonese, and Portguese and Brazilian communities, and there is a whole range of other activities including of course the outreach to the homeless, and an Advent Festival, and regular talks sponsored by SPES, the Evangelisation School...

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I've just been sent ...

...this, and you simply must watch it and pass it on...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

And for some background...

...on the Ordinariate, read here...

You must, MUST read...

... this moving address by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet,as he preaches his farewell sermon, and leaves his mitre and crozier at the feet of an image of Our Lady.

When you have finished reading, you will want to be silent for a moment...you have just shared in something very important in the spiritual life of our country. Pray for him and for all involved in the Ordinariate over these next days and weeks...

London in the snow...

...looks glorious, and Trafalgar Square, with Nelson staring stonily down Whitehall, and the National Gallery grey and stately with whirling flurries of showflakes, was the stuff of tourist brochures. But students were gathering for another round of shouting, and in the adjoining streets were lines of policemen. They were friendly and cheery and when I expressed the hope that the rioters wouldn't become violent as happened last week, they were tolerant and British about it "They've got a right to make their protest, that's only fair. But there's no need for them to throw things and endanger lives."

Feels odd, in a way, discussing student grants when one is a mature student. When I left school, I was excited about becoming a journalist and although there were long discussions about university, I made the decision to go for a job on a newspaper, and an apprenticeship in what was to become a lifelong career, and have never regretted it. But I never felt that I had a "right" to go to university in a sense anyway - I always felt it was a priviledge, and one that those who took up the opportunity should regard as such. So I am rather ambivalent on hearing shouts and seeing banners that announce that attendance at university should be something that is regarded as a sort of fundamental thing, like a right to water or shelter or food.

This week, busy in the evenings with essays and reading (5th century, Council of Chalcedon. Christology. Gospel of St John. And more....) I am conscious of gratitude for the chance to do some studying late in life, via a Catholic institute which charges modest fees.

Another train of thought: studying some of the dramas in the Church's long history makes you ponder more recent events rather deeply. The Councils of the Church have a sense of continuity about them: you see the Second Vatican Council as having a greater importance than I had imagined, its documents a greater richness (I had always been encouraged to think of them as rather dull - as just "pastoral" and rather unimportant, but the reality is quite different). To become familiar with this sense of the consistency of things is to see how odd and out-on-a-limb the Lefebvrists have been...something which I imagine they are coming to see too.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Catholic Union of Great Britain ...

...brings together Catholics who are concerned about the public and community life of the country. Excellent gathering for the annual general meeting at Vaughan House, Westminster,a grand attendance despite a freezing November night. Lord Brennan President, and Jamie Bogle Chairman. A lot to discuss, following the Papal Visit and the General Election, and a v. active year for the Union: among the highlights a memoral Craigmyle Memorial Lecture delivered by Dr Philip Howard on the sanctity of life.

I was able to report on the Catholic Young Writer Award, which this year for the first time was a joint project between the Catholic Writers' Guild and the Catholic Union. Having it as a joint Award has proved a real success, and we now have great plans for 2011 - I am especially indebted to Sarah de Norwall of The Bard School whose creative thinking has been extremely helpful...

Discussion about recent court decisions affecting the rights of Christians at work and in the public sphere, also on the importance of resistance to any and all plans or promoting euthanasia. After the meeting, a friendly and lively gathering over wine and snacks, many things to discuss. I had appealed for ideas for the Young Writer Award and two people approached me to offer suggestions - both at the same time and both with the same thought, and an inspired one...more on this in due course...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

To Sussex...

...on Tuesday, for a very happy day, filming in Lewes for EWTN. You won't be able to view it until late 2011 - this was just the start of a good deal of filming for a new series of programmes tackling history, traditions, feasts and seasons... Lewes is a lovely Sussex town, with the great sweep of the Downs beyond, and cheery shops,and a rich history, and pleasing streets with cobbles and Georgian frontages and sudden old cottages. The day finished with chocolate cake and tea in the presbytery at St Pancras church...Fr Richard Biggerstaff, who had been walking us round the town all day and explaining its history for EWTN viewers, a welcoming host. BTW, he has an Advent series on EWTN any day now, info here...

As dusk fell, a train back up to London to address a meeting in Chelsea: "Women, the pro-life cause and the Catholic Church". A good gathering, extra chairs brought in, more people than I had imagined would turn out on a cold November evening, everything went rather well. I enjoyed giving this talk, and there was a great and friendly atmosphere - a happy evening to conclude a happy day...

Things have been v.v. busy, so writing up this Blog often happens late at night, as now. On Sunday evening I was at St Ann's Church, Banstead, giving a talk - a wonderful welcome from a wonderful parish. This evening - Wednesday - a convivial evening with fellow committee-members of The Keys, the Catholic Writers' Guild. Fr Peter Newby at St Mary Moorfields gave us all dinner: much lively conversation as we planned the programme for 2011. We have some good speakers lined up. BTW, our Catholic Young Writer Award was presented at our recent meeting: read about it all here. This Award has now been running for several years, and was established when Antony Tyler, founder of Fisher Press, was Master of the Guild...our present Master is journalist Mary Kenny, and she presented the Award to Corinna Keefe at the Guild meeting last week, when we had our traditional dinner and a wonderful illustrated talk on the Incarnation and Art, to lead us into the Advent season...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So Auntie was on the right track...

...and the H. Father hasn't changed anything. A great pity that L'Osservatore chose to break an embargo, and effectively misquote the Pope, and cause a ghastly mess. Will the editor now be requested to retire?

The clarification given today by Fr Lombardi doesn't really add anything. To my statement on the radio programme yesterday about homosexual prostitution - ie that the Church teaches that it is sinful - we can now usefully add that the Church teaches that other forms of prostitution are sinful too. This is something already well known, and doesn't add much to the debate - but perhaps it will mean that in addition to being denounced by one set of lobbyists, I will now be denounced by the Prostitutes Collective and its allies too (has happened before).

Comments to this Blog have included the usual vicious ones - I've left out only the most vile and ugliest, as I think that it's useful for my readers to know how much some people loathe me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

NO. The Pope hasn't changed the teaching on contraception...

....in fact, he wasn't even talking about contraception. He was talking about a different aspect of sexual morality, relating to male prostitution and therefore to homosexual activity.

You will find this link helpful.

Today, the Jeremy Vine show, a discussion in which Auntie took part. You can listen if you like - and perhaps you will share the views of people who have already written in to this Blog to say how much they hate and despise me.

Essentially, it's like this: it's like this: the issue about which the H. Father was speaking was about homosexual activity - which is itself sinful (and of course is absolutely not open to life So we are not discussing contraception here). A parallel might be made with another sinful situation: a chap plans an armed robbery, but something makes him feel that even though he has every intention of stealing, he doesn't really want to murder anyone. So instead of a gun, he takes a replica. Now - this doesn't mean that the Church will start to distribute replica guns to criminals. It doesn't mean that the Church says that robbing a bank is OK so long as you only use a replica gun. It doesn't even mean that the intention of using a replica gun is in any way acceptable. But the decision to abandon the real gun is, in however remote a way, a faint beginning on the road towards the beginnings of moral thinking.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

For a flavour of London in November...

...you could try this blog....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Things have been v. busy...

...so I've been unable to write up everything adequately on this Blog.Brief overview: last week saw another fund-raising event for Maryvale, this time at the Sacred Heart Church in Wimbledon, another excellent talk on John Henry Newman by Dr Andrew Nash...on Friday a meeting of the Association of Catholic Women: we are running more Study Days on Art and Music for teachers in 2011 and have been given some generous funding to do so. Jeremy de Satge (The Music Makers) will teach Gregorian Chant - this is proving popular, and his recent workshop at the Towards Advent Festival was, as always, a success...

Today, after a busy afternoon, I ended up in Westminster,in time for an evening Mass at Westminster Cathedral. Because of some problem about a fire alarm, the Mass had to be transferred to the hall. It was oddly impressive, somehow, to see lots of people crowding in there, kneeling on the floor, with Mass celebrated at a makeshift altar. I was so glad I had gone. And I met a friend there, and we went on for a drink at the "Bluecoat Boy" nearby, and then walked to Waterloo, stopping at the Abbey to walk through the Field of Remembrance. The Abbey Cloisters were open, and there was some singing coming from within the Abbey itself - a choir practising, or something. Suddenly, there in the lamplight, was a sense of 1,000 years of history...

At Waterloo the papers all had front page news of Prince William's engagement.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

London...

...was looking magnificent today - the view from the train as we chugged into Cannon Street station showed the dome of St Paul's against a clear blue sky, Canaletto-like and glorious. It felt all wrong getting the Tube on such a day, so I walked down Ludgate Hill. They still run real Routemaster buses along some routes and I caught one. It felt like 1979 and was wonderful. Then I had to transfer to a no. 11 as I needed to get to Chelsea. As we went down Whitehall, all eyes turned instinctively to the Cenotaph, where the blood-red poppy wreaths lie against the whiteness of the monument in memory of our war dead, "their memory hallowed in the land they loved."

Following that solidarity that follows such the silence of such a moment, I got talking to the lady sitting next to me. We shared brief comments about Remembrance Day, and about its importance, and so on, and the talk moved from there to linked things...she mentioned the church in Wimbledon which she attends...and then came an extraordinary coincidence/piece of Providence. Read on.

Some months ago, I left my bicycle padlocked at a local station for a few days while away. On my return I found an anguished note in the front basket:"Dear Cyclist - you have padlocked your bicycle to mine! I have been unable to access my bike for several days. Please telephone..." I quickly dialled the number to offer huge apologies, and discovered that I had inadvertently padlocked my bike to that of a local Anglican clergyman! We arranged to meet and when I'd completed my heartfelt apologies, got chatting over some coffee. His church turned out to be an enthusiastically Evangelical one, already known to me through an ecumenical discussion group. I wondered...might he be prepared to get involved with the Schools Bible Project with which I am involved? We badly needed an Evangelical on our committee...

Well, to make a longish story short: he subsequently sent me the name of a lady in the congregation, and a couple of weeks ago I cycled over to her house to drop her a note. We met, got on extremely well, and she kindly agreed to help with the Bible Project.

And today, on a number 11 bus on London I meet another lady from that same church, and they are close friends! We were both so amazed to discover this - after all, there are some 12 million people in London on any given day, so it seems quite astonishing that we should meet in this way!

And in a rather lovely way, it feels as though it's a nice sign of Providence for the Schools Bible Project...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

This week...

...I was in Canterbury, speaking at the Catholic chaplaincy of the University of Kent. A good attendance for weekday Mass, the chapel full on this ordinary, dark and cold November evening. Afterwards, a wonderful welcome and a happy evening as I led a discussion on the Holy Father's visit. Lots of enthusiasm, a warm and friendly atmosphere, much swapping of anecdotes and much lively talk over a delicious and hearty supper, the chaplain, Fr Peter Geldard presiding over things and indeed cooking the (excellent) spaghetti carbonara...

It was a very interesting time to be in Canterbury, as news had just broken about the five Anglican Bishops and the new chapter opening as plans for the Ordinariate unfold. Fr Peter was a leading figure, when an Anglican, in the debates over women's ordination. It was fascinating to talk all this over with him.

The chaplaincy at UKC is a modern building, dedicated to the English Martyr, St John Stone. Fr Peter is having to expand it and showed me the new extension - which includes v. smart loos with tiles showing Chaucerian pilgrims en route to Canterbury...

I stayed overnight - still a great buzz of talk beneath me as I lay in bed upstairs - and was able to raid part of Fr P's excellent library and do some useful reading for my Maryvale studies, got deep into the Council of Chalcedon and Nestorius, and more...

The next morning I caught the train back to London, and on arrival at Victoria needed to hurry off to a bank, Post Office and other errands. I got caught behind a small group of young people led by one with a placard which simply said "NO FUTURE". That seemed a rather ghastly notion so, intrigued, I followed them down Victoria street. Turned out that they were about to join a massive demonstration which was pounding its way down from Whitehall past the Houses of Parliament. It was students, all shouting about the education budget... I needed to cross the street at this point to reach the bridge to get to Waterloo. The police suggested I simply find a gap in the crowd and slip through, and this I was able to do...but the crowd now seemed a lot more menacing. There was the beating of a great drum, and much fevered rhythmic chanting. It felt nasty, suddenly wild and slightly hysterical. As I hurried on and looked back, I felt glad to have got away.

The evening news and the next day's papers were full of scenes of mayhem as a mob from the students' demo had broken out and crashed its way into the Conservative Party HQ, breaking windows, grabbing furniture and equipment and bashing its way up on to the roof, in sheer anarchic anger. Not clear what message they were trying to send to the rest of us by doing that.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Have you heard...

the Mustard Seed communities? If you are thinking - and you should be! - of a charity to support this Christmas, this is one that has been specially recommended to me. Do look it up and give it your support.

In general - I'm not neccesarily just talking about this particular venture now - I have become v. conscious, over the past two or three years, that charity-giving is changing. In the future it's not going to be dominated by the big charities. Now, with the Internet and so on making the world shrink, links between nations are on a fresh scale. A young man or woman from a Catholic family in Britain gets involved - during a Gap Year or whatever - with some good project in India or Africa or the West Indies - and tells everyone at home about it, and they get interested and want to help. A small charity Trust can be established, and funds sent very easily - no need for anything very grand, and a smallish amount of money can go a very long way. A website, some fund-raising events, contacts with family and friends who want to help.

This also happens in Catholic parishes. Our local parish here in the London suburbs has forged a strong friendship with the people of L'Aquila in Italy, whose homes were destroyed by an earthquake. A couple from our local parish went there, got involved, and since then have done a magnificent job in taking lorry-loads of goods to assist them. The parish has raised thousands of pounds and been immensely generous. And the young people from L'Aquila have done exchange-visits with young people from our parish, to mutual benefit. Lots of good friendships, and fun, and so much goodwill...you can read all about it here, and that's another good venture for you to support this Christmas...

News breaks...

concerning the Anglican Ordinariate. You may find this website helpful. And this blog.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Magnificent searing lights, sparks and explosions...

...tore through the sky as J. and I made our way home last night: Bonfire Night, which many had feared was in danger of vanishing under the all-encompassing plastic pumpkins and ghoulish outfits of Hallowe'en, seems to be flourishing. The old days of a bonfire in the garden at home, and Daddy letting off a few fireworks as children cheered and held sparklers, have given way to the most magnificent and awesome displays run as gigantic public events. We stopped as we got off the train at the local railway station and just stood there along with others enjoying the fantastic whooshes and explosions of stars and flashing lights that ripped through the sky, from a display a couple of miles away up near the Common.

And today, for the first time, it feels that winter is approaching: crisp cold air as I cycled off to return toys kindly lent by friends for the Play Corner at Towards Advent, and then hurried on to Mass. We have a team of seminarians in the parish over the next weeks, helping out with Confirmation classes and so on and were all invited to meet them after Mass - impressive young men, and most cheering and interesting in conversation. Numbers at the seminary are slowly climbing too, and there is an upbeat mood...

Some happy emails re Towards Advent though as always we must discuss the future logically. Some booksellers were absent this year - the trend is away from book sales at present, which is a depressing thought. And although the hall was v. crowded during the morning, things got slack during the early afternoon. The Cathedral tours and workshops were popular and although these do take people out of the main hall and thus away from the sales area, they are a major attraction...already there have been some good suggestions for next year's speakers...

Saturday, November 06, 2010

At the Towards Advent Festival...

The choir sang a lovely version of the Londonderry Air, with these words:

I would be true, for there are those that trust me.
I would be pure, for there are those that care.
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer.
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless.
I would be giving, and forget the gift,
I would be humble, for I know my weakness,
I would look up, and laugh, and love and live.

A most successful...

...happy day as the Towards Advent Festival of Catholic Culture celebrated its 10th anniversary. We had a full hall for the opening ceremony, with Archbishop Vincent Nichols, and the beautiful singing of the choir of Coloma Convent Girls' School. The Westminster Cathedral Hall is perfect for this event: we had displays and stalls from every sort of Catholic group and guild and organisation - books and Christmas cards and Advent calendars and more, beautiful jewellery on sale in aid of various good causes, hand-crafted Nativity sets and Christmas gifts from the Holy Land, CDs and books and pamphlets,honey and beeswax candles and other monastic produce...we had the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and Youth 2000, the St Francis Leprosy Guild and the Society of Catholic Artists, the Friends of Westminster Cathedral and The Music Makers, EWTN Catholic TV, the FAITH Movement, and more, and more, and more...

Teas and sandwiches and home-made cakes were provided by the Association of Catholic Women, along with a play corner for children. The Catenians and the Knights of St Columba did sterling work handing out leaflets to everyone coming and going from Masses at Westminster Cathedral. We had a tour of the Cathedral - which attracted a large group - and a popular workshop on Gregorian chant by The Music Makers, and a splendid reprise of the glorious Papal Visit by Niamh Maloney and her young team, the group that produced those wonderful placards "We love you Papa more than beans on toast" and "Give it some welly for the Pope in the Park". Oh, it was all joy...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Read Auntie on...

The "Benedict bounce" here.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Off through the Autumn dusk...

...to Coloma Convent Girls' School, where there was a Parents' Evening for parents of girls "Eleven and upwards", ie new arrivals at the school this term. This is an initiative of a couple of parents who had the idea - drawn from Pope John Paul's Familiaris Consortio - that families should help and support each other in the task of raising Christian children. Mutual swapping of ideas, information, and encouragement...pitfalls to avoid, things that work well, and so on.

It was a lovely evening - a large group of delightful parents, an atmosphere of great cordiality, common sense, and goodwill. Much to discuss. I had been invited to speak about the mass media, especially the Internet. Wow, this is a minefield for families today - access via mobile phones and laptops mean that parents are robbed of all technical control, and the rules that could be applied even a couple of years ago can now be thwarted by adolescents: the computer in the family room, no individual computers in bedrooms etc. Today, tumbling prices of technology mean that teenagers can simply save up and buy equipment that can be used anywhere...and they are also wise to going to friends' houses, going to the local library, etc etc...so parents have to be especially vigilant, and above create a family atmosphere in which values are accepted and shared...there was a lot of good discussion, and swapping of useful ideas, and a sense of solidarity among those present. What make the evening work, however, was that the next talk, by Mrs Mary Grey, was on family prayer. This excellent talk, centred on everyday wisdom, practicalities, and the truth of what it is like raising today's teenagers, lifted hearts and showed the way ahead. A family praying together - in the car, before or after a meal, celebrating special days, etc etc - is a bastion that evil cannot smash. We really got a message of hope, and it was a grand message to take home.

Coloma is a very popular school,and doing a grand job. BTW, the choir will be singing at Towards Advent this Saturday. Come and hear them!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Thwarting the Tube strike....

...I made my way to Uxbridge, where I was giving at a talk at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael. What a lovely parish! Evening Mass for All Souls Day - a large congregation (even though this was the third Mass of the day), and it was so beautiful, somehow, on this November evening, candles glowing, people praying together...when Fr Nicholas, the parish priest, read out the names of those in the parish who had died and been buried from the church in the past year,there was a sense of quiet history...

Afterwards, a gathering in the parish hall, tea and cakes and I gave a talk on "Feasts and Seasons". A very warm and friendly atmosphere - much goodwill and lively conversation over questions. And afterwards, much cheery talk over supper in the presbytery...and the talk continued as a kindly parishioner drove me to West Drayton station - we were still chatting and laughing until the last goodbye. Home via Paddington,a bus to Victoria (Tube stations all bleak and sealed) and I bought some hot chocolate there and enjoyed it on the last lap home via Clapham Junction and Wimbledon...

Monday, November 01, 2010

Roses, and wine, and good company...

...at the launch of a new DVD, celebrated in a small party at the St Paul's Bookshop next to Westminster Cathedral.

The CD is called A Parish Rosary. It contains all twenty mysteries, accompanied by glorious music, Ave Marias by Schubert and Caccini...it has been produced by the Cathedral's Rosary Group. The group has been meeting faithfully for some 8 years at the Cathedral, and, as Canon Christopher Tuckwell, the Cathedral's Administrator, said in his speech this evening, is central to the Cathedral's spiritual life.

This is a double-CD, very attractively produced, and would make a perfect present for some one who is housebound and wants to pray but often feels alone. Its tone has a warmth that communicates a real sense of prayer - and this is because , as group leader Anna Johnston explained this evening, it was all recorded in the Cathedral.You can order it here.Anna is herself a professional singer, and the music really is a delight.

We had a very happy party, and were all given roses as we left...

I walked back down to Westminster Abbey and across Waterloo Bridge with Josephine Siedlecka of the Independent Catholic News Service. The Houses of Parliament look magnificent illuminated against the night sky. We had been talking about the H. Father's historic address in Westminster Hall, and now as we walked there, we stopped and recalled it. Our Parliamentary tradition is rooted in Christianity, is nourished by it, and is imperilled where it is marginalised or crushed...he did well to make us understand this, and the thought is a solemn one...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

At church today...

...we sang a rousing "For all the saints..." and it brought back sudden wonderful sweeping memories of singing it with thousands and thousands of others on a great hillside at the conclusion of that glorious Mass with the Holy Father...and then I thought "Why are we singing it today?" and it was because, under the silly new system we are obliged to mark All Saints Day on the nearest Sunday instead of the day itself. So today was officially the Mass for All Saints. Well, it was - as always in our parish - a most beautiful Mass, and with splendid music and so on but....PLEASE CAN WE HAVE OUR FEAST-DAYS BACK? It's so confusing muddling along like this!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Auntie has won...

...an apron, in a national poetry project!

I bought an excellent pie the other day for my lunch. It really was delicious, and it was made by a company of which I had never heard - Higgity Pies. And on the box was an invitation to send in a poem about the pie! It might get chosen for publication on the Higgity website, and one might even win an apron...So I got writing, and you can read my poem here..

This is very exciting, and is the first verse I have written for publication since I was nine years old and won ten shillings in a competition run by Princess magazine...

And Higgity pies truly are delicious! Lovely, lovely buttery pastry, and delicious fillings with mushrooms and different creamy cheeses,and all sorts of good things. And properly made by a real, independent, enterprising company run by a friendly team. Go and find some.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Number 11 bus...

...which as London readers will know, ploughs its way from Victoria along up Whitehall and down the Strand, was unbearably s...l...o...w this evening: I simply hadn't allowed for the fact of the constant bottlenecks in London traffic. As I normally cycle everywhere, or take the Tube, the crawling pace of a bus was infuriating! It was a mistake to travel this way, and I should have brought my bike as usual...however, one learns from such mistakes, and it was with huge apologies that I finally sprinted up the steps of St Paul's to greet the - rather worried - group of Catholic History Walkers gathered there awaiting my arrival. They were visibly relieved. One chap had already given up and left! Oh dear...apologies, apologies...I will not let this happen again.

However, after this bad start, the Walk went well, and we tackled St Paul's, and then the gloriously named St Vedast-alias-Foster, and thence down Gresham Street to St Laurence Jewry and the Guildhall. Then on down to St Margaret's in Lothbury and so on round to the surprise bit at the end - the birthplace of Blessed John Henry Newman, round at the back of the Bank of England! Most gratifying to see all the surprised faces when I revealed this fact, and showed them the plaque...
Next History Walk is Nov 18th, 6.30pm on the steps of Westinster Cathedral. All welcome. No need to book - just turn up. I promise, promise that I will not be late...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This week...

...the Catholic Union held its annual Craigmyle Lecture in Parliament. This commemorates Lord Craigmyle, who was a courageous and dedicated Parliamentary spokesman for the Christian cause for many years, and a leading figure in the Catholic Union. It was he who helped to shape the Catholic Union in its present form and we all owe him a great deal. Members of his family were present for the lecture, which was held in the Boothroyd Room at Portcullis House in Westminster. Jamie is currently chairman of the Catholic Union, and chaired the meeting. There was a large attendance, reflecting well on the interest and concern felt by Catholics on issues of concern in public life.

The lecture was given by Dr Philip Howard, a consultant at St George's Hospital. His subject was "Euthanasia and the Christian Understanding of suffering" and he brought insights and much wisdom to this, speaking with great seriousness. It is not just a question of opposing legislation that seeks to introduce euthanasia - it is a matter of opposing attempts to introduce it into hospital practice now...

To a meeting...

...of the Women's Institute to give a talk on "Britain's feasts and seasons". The WI is one of Britain's great institutions, and the ladies are most welcoming and do everything in a most traditional style with minutes-of-the-previous-meeting and reports-from-the-crafts-and-handwork-section and so on. Slightly Joyce Grenfell and all rather delightful...

Travelling around on dark evenings by train means I can get a lot of reading done - am currently deep in BXVI's Jesus of Nazareth, which I have read before but am now devouring anew because of studying his Christology (see earlier posts re Maryvale...)

Golden and russet leaves...

...scatter down as I cycle through the suburbs. Mother and I enjoy a quiet walk together, chatting over family news...when I cycle back and forth between her place and mine I pass an empty house and overgrown garden where huge quantities of fallen crab-apples have created a scarlet carpet along the pavement. Gathering these I can fill my whole bicycle basket. At home, washed and checked and chopped and cooked, they can eventually be drained through muslin to create a glorious crab-apple jelly. Several jars of this are now going on sale at church bazaars and so on for various causes...you can get some if you come to the Towards Advent Festival on Nov 6th...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Auntie's latest publication...

...arrived this weekend: a small booklet on "ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS - Catholic customs and traditions". You can get a copy here. Or, if you like, you can send a Comment to this Blog, marked NOT FOR PUBLICATION and including in the text an email address to which I can reply to you. and I'll send further info...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Every time we do a weekend course at Maryvale...

...we have to write up a sort of review, showing what we have learned from the lectures and so on. This time, it was all so interesting and even exciting, tackling Christology and the Gospel of St John, that writing up the review was a matter of showing restraint and not putting in all the things I really wanted, so as to save them for the essays that we'll be doing over the next weeks and months...

Over meals and coffee-breaks and evening chats, much glowing talk of the Papal visit, which of course v. much made its mark on Birmingham. I learned that, as the crowds arrived at Cofton, local people came to their doorways to welcome them and join in the happy mood. This weekend, Maryvale still had its Papal Visit banners, featuring Newman, on display in the hall. There is a "Benedict bounce" in many aspects of the Church at present...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

If you missed....

...the really excellent presentation on "Who was John Henry Newman?" at St Joseph's, New Malden, recently, you have another chance to hear this talk. It's at the Sacred Heart Parish Centre,Edge Hill, Wimbledon London SW19, on Nov 10th at 7.30pm. Entry £3.00, proceeds to Maryvale. There will be coffee and marmalade cake: in one letter from the newly-founded Birmingham Oratory, Fr Newman wrote to thank some kind ladies for the gift of several jars of marmalade, so we are commemorating this in our refreshments! All are welcome.
(Incidentally that parish website has some nice memories of the Papal visit from parishioners - the Pope was living in Wimbledon for those four days, and everyone loved it!)

I have earlier mentioned...

...the book Fatherless, which is a gripping read. You can now get it in Britain. One reviewer has written: "A meticulously researched and brilliantly crafted story of flesh and blood characters struggling to achieve the American Dream … discovering instead a uniquely American nightmare. How each confronts the reality of ethical and moral dilemmas – while struggling to balance faith, family, and career – goes to the very heart of the Catholic experience in America in the late 20th and early 21st centuries." The author, Brian J Gail, gave the 2010 Annual Theology of the Body Lecture hosted by the Dept of Pastoral Affairs, Diocese of Westminster. The book is available from: Available from cathmacgillivray@rcdow.org.uk 020 7931 6064 price £10 plus postage. For more information about Fatherless and its author, go here.

The Monument...

...in the City of London commemorates the Great Fire of 1666 and I climbed up all its 311 steps with a young niece and enjoyed the wide views from the top...it is years since I last did this, and we also visited St Paul's Cathedral, and the church of St Clement (as in "Oranges and Lemons") and ate cakes and lemonade in a teashop, and generally enjoyed ourselves. I like half-term.

A Newman evening...

...in the local parish, with an excellent illustrated talk on John Henry Newman's life and message. Beautifully presented, and it had everyone gripped. There was a good atmosphere as people came into the parish centre after the evening Mass: the evening was planned as part of a whole series of events aimed at following up the visit of the Holy Father. Newman's life makes for a wonderful unfolding story, and there were elements I had not thought about before as we learned the drama of his working through the implications of the message of the early Fathers...

Next event to continue the follow-up is the premiere of the new film about the Papacy. Come and join us! Friday 22nd Oct - details here...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

For years and years...

...many prayed for Russia, for the Christians there who were suffering under an atheistic regime, for those in the Gulag, for those receiving the grisly attentions of the KGB in indescribable conditions in brutal prisons...

We prayed for the coversiuon of Russia. It's happening. Today, in Westminster Cathedral Hall, we heard from a priest who is now working in Siberia, helping the survivors of the brutal labour-camps, collecting together their pitiful memories, bringing people together the and building up a Christian community...in his new church a chapel is dedicated to those who suffered and died, with a icon honouring the Christian martyrs of the 20th century. You can read about some of this in his book "Martyrs of Magadan" - info here.

It was an extraordinary experience to sit in a packed, hushed hall as Fr Michael Shields spoke. He is an American priest who after a 40-day retreat felt a special call to go to Siberia.

In this very hall, some 35 years ago, I heard speakers rallying us to the cause of what we then the "Church of Silence" in the USSR. We were told then that some day we would learn of the martyrs and heroes who had perished in the grim labour-camps of the Soviet Union. We knew that in some way, somehow, under God's providence, the Church would break through. And now the old Soviet Communist era has gone...and the Church sends new missionaries, gathers the fragments, starts to bind the wounds, looks out for the poor and disposessed and confused and muddled, tackles the new and emerging problems even as she honours the sacrifices and valour of those who suffered under the old...

And while all that happens, the CHurch must also face other problems, other issues elsewhere in the world.Today's meeting also heard from the courageous Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala from Sudan. Christians in southern Sudan have been persecuted for years and the country in its present form has never known peace. He reminded us of Britain's historic commitments in Sudan - we left in the 1950s. That jolted me. Are we Catholics in Britain doing now to help Catholics there? He begged for our prayers and for our support for the work of the Church - which is the only institution offering a hope of education, decent medical care, and basic welfare for the Christian people of the south.

And there was more. We heard about the revival of the Church in Ukraine - again, once dominated by an atheistic Communist government, with crushing penalties for infringing its cruel antiu-Church laws. Now, 50 per cent of the population attends Church at Easter...

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the Church faces the new/old problems of militant Islam...

This meeting, organised by Aid to the Church in Need, was taking place on a day when various other major Catholic events were happening in London,including a popular Rosary Rally, offering attractive alternatives for a sunny October Saturday. But the Hall was packed and more people crammed in during the afternoon, filling every available chair, standing at the back, hurrying into the gallery. Over 450 tickets were sold before the day, and more people arrived seeking entrance at the door.

Much of what we heard was solemn and challenging - but the day was inspirational and hugely uplifting. What was impressive too, was the massive support and concern for the persecuted Church around the world, at a time when we seem to have plenty to think about with regard to the Church in our own country. With this sort of commitment, there is cause for hope...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Oh, just because I like it...

Papal Visit Day 3: Hyde Park Vigil from Catholic Church (England/Wales) on Vimeo.

Plans, plans...

...tomorrow (Saturday) is the annual general meeting of the Association of Catholic Women. It's been a good year, with our highly successful Schools RE Project linked to the Visit of the Holy Father (do click on to that link and read some of their letters to the Pope...), our Study Day on Art and Music for primary-school teachers, our involvement in the great Hyde Park Prayer Vigil, and more...

We have great plans for 2011...

Tomorrow I will also be at the HOPE WITHOUT FEAR event at Westminster Cathedral organised by Aid to the Church in Need. I am especially keen to hear from the young American priest who has been working in Siberia, where once the horror of the Gulag dominated the land...

Yesterday evening, a meeting of The Keys, the Catholic Writers' Guild. Mary Kenny is currently Master of the Guild and doing an excellent job. Our meetings are hugely enjoyable, talkative, lively: yesterday's guest speaker was Ed Stourton of the BBC...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I've noticed...

...that over the past couple of weeks, when Catholics in Britain met one another, the standard greeting tended not to be "Hello - how are you?" but "Wasn't it all wonderful?", meaning the Papal Visit. We are still glowing. Any speaker at any Catholic event now starts with some joyful reference to those four days, and any and every Catholic event seems touched by them. Truly, Peter did "confirm the brethren", and we now could do so much...

Still lots to read...

...concerning the Pope's visit. There is a feast of good reading in this commentary on the whole four days, written by Jean Mercier, a French journalist with whom I spent some time in London - we shared a memorable midnight soup-and-snacks with a London family after the HYde Park Vigil and before hurrying to catch a 1.20am parish bus to Birmingham...

For some reason, reading about English things in a French journal always seems hilarious, as in Jean's description of some children studying at "l'├ęcole catholique de Walthamstow, une banlieue du nord de Londres". Never thought of Walthamstow as a banlieue...

This week...

...has been a busy one, and a highlight was a visit to Lewes in Sussex. Object was to talk to the parish priest of St Pancras church, with a view to doing some TV filming re Catholic history etc...Lewes is a beautiful town, and I was made most welcome - Fr Richard Biggerstaff gave generously of his time, and it was a delight to visit his lovely church, which recently won an award for its new, beautifully designed, entrance hall...

To Epsom...

...to St Joseph's church, to speak to a gathering of the Co-workers of Mother Teresa. I wasn't sure of what to expect, but it turned out to be a good-sized gathering preceded by a well-attended Mass in this large modern church. There was Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament after Mass. The church has some beautiful Stations of the Cross. It's a busy and thriving parish, which I have had the pleasure of visiting before - memorably in 2005 when I dropped in on my sponsored Cycle Ride in aid of World Youth Day, and was given a welcome and a donation and a rest and cold drinks, and people were v.kind...

Today, a very happy gathering: the Co-workers are a lovely bunch of women and it was a very happy morning in a most wonderful and friendly atmosphere. We began by praying together the lovely prayer by John Henry Newman "Let me spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go..." which M. Teresa helped to popularise.

The mood at Catholic gatherings at present is notably upbeat and joyful, following the Holy Father's visit. Several women mentioned parish activities planned as follow-up events inspired by the wonderful days with Papa B...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A talk...

...yesterday at a gathering of local Catholics, by Mgr Stark, who worked for many years on the cause of the beatification of Cardinal Newman...at one point there were 74 boxes of Newman's letters and published writing, and officials in Rome were insisting that these all be translated into Latin or Italian before the cause could proceed...fortunately this ruling was changed in the late 1970s, and things began to go ahead...

A new DVD...

...about the Papacy, Keys of the Kingdom - Understanding the Papacy, just out from St Anthony Communications. I think this would be useful for school RE classes and also for Confirmation groups in parishes. It's a good time now to tackle this subject, in the wake of the Papal Visit. Incidentally, there's an American take on the Visit here...

A happy, golden day...

...in Sussex. A Catholic History Walk around Arundel. We met at Westminster Cathedral in bright early-morning sunshine, with knapsacks and picnics... the 8am Mass there is well-attended, and a kind London friend had put me up for the night so that I was able to be at the Cathedral on time.

Arundel was glorious in golden Autumn sunshine, and our route took us across a glorious sweep of hillside, and down to a lake and then along the Arun...the Castle and Cathedral are magnificent on the skyline as you see the town from the river...

It was a wonderful day, which ended with a Cream Tea at a proper teashop...

Jamie went to the birthday party of a small relative, and I was sorry to be missing it. "Never mind, he'll bring you back a big slice of pink cake" said one of my fellow-walkers...and when I got home, sure enough, he greeted me with a hug, and there was a lovely big wedge of pink cake, waiting to be enjoyed as we swapped stories of our happy day...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Lamplight in the Mall...

...where I walked after catching the Tube from Brixton (see below). Buckingham Palace looks splendid in the glow of an Autumn evening: it was flying the Union Flag not the R. Standard, so HM obviously still in Scotland. As I walked down the Mall with golden and russet leaves falling, I was thinking of the triumphant Papal ride along this route just a couple of weeks before...our own Union Flag intertwined with the golden and white Papal one, and a kindly white-haired grandfatherly figure bestowing blessings left and right, and scooping up babies to kiss, and responding to the cheers and joyful geetings, and the happiness of it all...

Dinner at Brooks's with an old friend, much talk until a late hour. Settled with brandies and those comfortable leather armnchairs, the men started to tackle the whole question of Al Gore's nonsense about climate change, and also the ghastliness of the European bureaucracy, and more...I left them to it, and enjoyed the excellent library, was soon deep in books. They have a superb range on modern and 19th century history. I found myself absorbed by Gen. de Gaulle's WWII memoirs, which for various reasons I have been wanting to read for some while...

Home very late, catching a last Tube trundling out of London to the suburbs...

The chapel at HM Prison, Brixton...

...is a fine building, Victorian gothic, great carved beams, hugh arched windows. A number of us were brought there - via massive security, much unlocking of doors and guiding through courtyards along walls crowned with rolls of barbed wire - for a presentation by PACT, which is seeking volunteers to help with its (excellent) scheme for assisting and befriending prisoners on completion of their sentence. There was a generous buffet lunch,and then we gathered for hymns and prayers and a talk from Archbishop Vincent Nichols. I often despair of my country, but it is something to live in a land where the governor of a prison can pray and sing "Praise to the Holiest..." and "Amazing grace" with a group of his prisoners, an Archbishop, sundry clergy from all denominations, and a wide range of people from all sorts of charitable and volunteer organisations. A team of young prisoners led prayers, and we chatted to them afterwards over tea and a good range of excellent cakes.

The chapel has been carefully adapted so that it can now be used by all denominations. From the Catholic point of view, it is really good - a great Crucifix over the main sanctuary, with Stations of the Cross on the wall behind it, and a statue of Our Lady All these could be covered with a curtain if required, but are clearly generally on view. The main part of the church is now carpeted and has soft-seated chairs and the walls are painted white, and a side wing is devoted to a music-area for choirs and bands, with a table full of Christian literature. It's all very obviously in regular use, and the prisoners to whom I chatted were part of a team of men involved in a range of Chapel-based activities. Another side wing is sectioned off with panelling and does not form part of the chapel - it is set aside for Moslem worship.

I met members of the ACW who are already active with support for prisoners and ex-prisoners and I think we should seek to expand this. A valuable and thought-provoking afternoon.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

In warm October sunshine...

...to the Thames Valley, to address a Wives Fellowship group. Topic was "Celebrating traditional feasts and seasons".Very friendly and charming women - delicious tea. General agreemnent re. the worrying trend of families no longer eating together, crucial need to revive and renew traditions, celebrations of the calendar etc. People love discovering origins of pub signs, nursery rhymes, songs etc, and enjoy swapping info on local customs and recipe idea...

The river was sparkling in the sunshine, and although the day had started wet I soon discarded - and wished I hadn't brought - my too-warm padded jacket. Gardens cool and green, late Autumn flowers blooming.

With half an hour to spare before I was due at the meeting, I nipped into a bank to make enquiries about something that has been bothering me - and bothering lots of others - re. abolition of cheques. Yes, this has indeed been threatened by all the major banks, who confidently announced the eventual demise of the cheque-book in three or four years' time. But they haven't thought it out, and there is still time for them to change their minds.

Look. When I go to local group to give a talk, people want to buy my books, and they do so by using cash or writing a cheque. They can also order books from me by post. And they pay for other things in the same way - eg money is collected for a forthcoming outing or event, with everyone making a modest contribution.

"How will this work if cheques are abolished?" I askd. The man was v. nice and trying to be helpful - I had been ushered into a formal office, given every courtesy. "Well, they could go home and make a payment transfer to your bank account by email." That sounds possible: I could write down my bank account details, and they could then also give me a note of theirs, and also of their name and address just in case the payment never reached me...um...wouldn't it be easier if the pieces of paper we exchanged could just be used on their own, without the need to go home and do things all over again via a computer? We could even give the bits of paper a name...er..."cheques" might be suitable.

Another alternative is for me to give my bank details to all and sundry, urging people to publicise them far and wide so that people could then send me money via computer without the need for me to give the information to each person individually. Maybe I should put my account details on a big website and urge people to pay me that way? That would be a great idea, wouldn't it - as I'd have to make sure the details of my account were full and accurate, name, code-number, accout number, everything...

"Well, there is still time for the big banks to have some fresh thinking and change their minds" he said. Quite. Get writing, everyone. Google for the name and address of the HQ of your bank, and write TODAY.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A wonderful party...

...at an hotel with a stunning view over the Thames, to raise funds for the Amar Jyoti trust to help care for and educate blind and visually-impaired children in India. This is all the brainchild of a lovely family, whose daughter has been to India to live and work with these children....There are some fine young people in Britain, and it was a joy to meet some of them at this party. People had been urged to "dress Bollywood" and there were young girls looking absolutely lovely in beautiful saris - some fabulous materials and the girls, wearing these beautiful gowns, were obviously enjoying the unusual feel,and carried themselves with a grace that would never be achieved in micro-minis or jeans...

The latest issue of ....

...the Catholic Times has a feature about the Beans on Toast girl. You don't know who she is? You do, actually, if you've been following the Papal Visit. Remember that wonderful placard which said cheerily "We love U, Papa, more than beans on toast!" and the other one that said "Give it some welly for the Pope in the Park"? The media loved it...so did we. And various newspapers and TV tracked down the young lady and her chums who produced these particular placards, and found they were delightful - pick up a copy of the Cath. Times in your local RC church and read more (but hurry - new edition of the paper comes out on Friday and this is in the current one). The young people would like, they said, to go to Rome and explain to the H. Father about beans-on-toast (and, presumably wellies - he could have done with some at Cofton where it was so damp)...

Monday, October 04, 2010

There's definitely a feeling...

...of a "Benedict bounce" among Catholics in London. Lots going on, and a new mood of hope and faith. Already, there are a number of plans for follow-up events, all very much rooted in prayer...

At the weekend...

...we had a lovely walk, in gentle rain, at Hampton Court. The river is very high at the moment. The conkers are spectacularly good this year, but the horse-chestnut trees seem to have a problem - their leaves have turned rusty and odd, and started doing so in the summer,well before there was any question of these being Autumn colours. Oh dear...
Tea at Hampton Court, in the Tiltyard. Jamie buying me some lovely lavender-scented presents at the gift shop. The riverside, rain plopping on to the water, lots of swans preening themselves.Then dusk falling and the Palace glorious in the twilight.

Auntie likes the idea...

...of NOT ASHAMED Day, on December 1st, when Christians are urged to wear a Cross and witness to their commitment to their Faith.

The latest issue...

...of the Westminster Cathedral magazine OREMUS is a glorious celebration of Papa Benedict's visit...and also has a number of other articles, including Auntie's regular feature, which now includes a monthly recipe. You can get the magazine by dropping into the Cathedral and buying it from the display rack there...

...and on October 16th, the Cathedral hosts the HOPE WITHOUT FEAR event organised by Aid to the Church in Need. Come and be inspired!

I'm reading...

the new book The End and the Beginning by George Weigel. It's a good read. The first part is a fine analysis is the events leading up to the overturning of Communist rule in Eastern and central Europe in 1989.

This book was a birthday present from Jamie, and I am hugely enjoying it, carrying it around to read on the train, in supermarket queues, etc. Recommended.

I've been sent...

this link, from the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with some good insights into the recent visit of the Holy Father...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Read, digest, and note for action...

The fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

words of Pope Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall, 2010.

London in gentle rain...

...for a meeting of the Association of Catholic Women, at St James' Church,Spanish Place. MUCH to discuss. Our Schools Project this year was the bigggest ever - unsurprisingly, as it was all connected with the visit of the Holy Father. We now plan a booklet with snippets from the children's essays and messages to the Pope (sample:"Thank you, Pope Benedict, for having such lovely manners"). We will be working on the 2011 Project over the next weeks. Also on the Towards Advent Festival, at which we organise the Refreshments (come and buy some of our excellent cakes - and indeed some of Auntie's jam and Apple Jelly)...and we plan another Day of Art and Music for teachers, and then there are the events for 2011 including our annual Day of Recollection...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Auntie is busy...

...working on a new TV series for EWTN, due to be filmed in January. It involved quite a lot of research, many emails back and forth about subjects as diverse as ground oatmeal and the purchase of a haggis, and filming in a country town in Sussex, a meadow near Wimbledon, and - we hope - a house with priest-holes and an ancient Dole tradition.

And if you don't know what a Dole tradition is, you'll have to watch the series to find out, won't you?

Meantime, do read the chatty and descriptive blog from EWTN's Joan Lewis, who brilliantly caught the mood of Papa B's visit to Britain, and is also able to interpret various things for an American audience.(She's able to convey just why that reference to "beans on toast" was one of the biggest compliments that could be paid to a much-loved Papa...)

Do read...

Auntie's account, written for the Association of Catholic Women, of the great Vigil of Prayer in Hyde Park with the Holy Father...

The committee of the ACW meets tomorrow (Friday) to plan follow-up activities from the H. Father's visit...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Meanwhile, over in America...

...they seem to have heard very little about the extraordinary success and significance of the H.Father's visit to Britain...read here for an anaylsis of this.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Want to know more about Cardinal Newman?

Come along to St Joseph's Church, New Malden, on Sunday October 17th, at 6.30pm (ie after the evening Mass) to hear an illustrated talk by Newman scholar Dr Andrew Nash. Come and discover about the life and work of Newman: his childhood, his days at Oxford, the dramatic events of 1845, the foundation of the Oratory in Birmingham...

Everyone is welcome. This is a follow-up to the Papal Visit and Newman's Beatification. Come and join in the celebrations! There will be coffee and marmalade cake (among John Henry Newman's correspondence is a letter thanking some kind ladies for a gift of jars of marmalade for his small community - so we felt that this would be a suitable way to celebrate his beatification!). Donations invited for Maryvale.

St Joseph's church is easily reached by rail (New Malden station is 20 minutes from London Waterloo) and by road (follow the A3 and look for the New Malden exit). Bus 131 from Wimbledon stops outside St Joseph's church on Kingston Road.

Monday, September 27, 2010

To Oxford...

...for a wonderful celebration at Blackfriars marking the Silver Jubilee of two priests, Fr Richard Conrad, OP, and Fr Robert Letellier. Both are lecturers at Maryvale. There was a glorious concelebrated Mass, lots of Latin chant, large congregation in the Blackfriars chapel. Then a delicious buffet lunch in the Refectory, much talk and generous quantities of food and wine. Joyful atmosphere, old friends meeting and much lively talk. Most Catholic conversations over these past days have tended to open with "Wasn't it all marvellous?" as people swap stories about the Papal Visit... everyone has an anecdote, a special memory, something moving or enjoyable or hilarious or just awe-inspiring that they want to share and enjoy with others...

Yesterday, a family trip with friends to Arundel. We were planning the next Catholic History Walk, which takes place on Oct 10th - come and join us! Arundel was enchanting in Autumn sunshine - and even better, somehow, in soft misty rain as we walked by the river before a delicious Cream Tea...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What are YOU doing...

...to follow up the Papal visit and the opportunities it has opened up for bringing the Good News of Christ to Britain?

Any and every Catholic event ought to benefit. This year's TOWARDS ADVENT Festival has includes a reprise of the Visit, with Mgr Vincent Brady from the Nunciature telling us all about it and giving us an opportunity to swap joyful reflections and memories.

And come to the big event organised by Aid to the Church in Need "HOPE WITHOUT FEAR" at Westminster Cathedral on October 16th. Details here...

You might like to obtain the official souvenir of the Papal Visit, with text of all the speeches etc: available here.

And enjoy various commentaries on the visit such as this one and lengthier reflections such as those to be found here...

Friday, September 24, 2010

It is not given to everyone...

...to cycle through the London suburbs with an apple crumble wrapped in a Papal Visit commemorative knapsack in the bicycle-basket.

The apples have been so good this year, and I thought the E. Family would enjoy the crumble...and they did, which was jolly.

Life is gradually coming back to normal after the Papal Visit, but it's a slow and enjoyable process.

Much work at home on the computer: book making slow progress. Lunch at the Inner Temple, v. agreeable. The Chambers in which Jamie was in pupillage have since become famous as the chambers of Rumpole, and carries the fictional names of all conerned.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And relish this...with glorious singing from the Westminster Cathedral choir:

And this,..

And you might enjoy...

this analysis of Papa B's visit, too....

Just to enjoy again...

There are lots and lots...

...of websites with lovely pictures showing aspects of the Holy Father's visit that you may have missed.

Look at this one, for example, with a lovely pic. of the Holy Father and the Chief Rabbi, just before the start of Yom Kippur. Pope Benedict gave special greetings to the Jewish community for this holy celebration, and his words about mutual support and help and co-operation are worth repeating...

NEXT CATHOLIC HISTORY WALK....

...is on Sunday October 10th, and is at ARUNDEL in Sussex. A lovely country walk in this most beautiful part of England. Castle, Cathedral, river, Autumn, good companionship...what more could anyone want? Only some nice teashops and pubs, and you'll find those in Arundel, too...

Meet at 9.45 am on the steps of Westminster Cathedral,

OR

be on the 10.17am train from Victoria Station to Arundel

OR

join us at Arundel Cathedral at approx 12.30pm.

BRING A PACKED LUNCH!

No need to book - just turn up! Wear comfortable shoes and suitable clothing - we'll be walking whatever the weather.

Note: the Walk does not specifically include Mass, so it's best to go to Mass beforehand. There is an 8 am Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

MOre information about the Catholic History Walks: click here.