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...