Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday...

...is not a day for computers, so this post is being written late at night as the day ends...

The Maundy Mass at Pr Blood church on Holy Thursday evening was very beautiful...and as always the Blessed Sacrament was taken to the candlelit Altar of Repose at the end, and we were invited to remain for a while with the Lord ("Will you not watch one hour with me?").  We kept vigil, the silence interspersed with Scriptural meditations led by the priest. The Ordinariate is bringing beauty, solemnity and dignity, and a pastoral style which is very attractive.

The Good Friday liturgy saw a good-sized congregation. It is always so poignant  during the reading of the Passion, when we say "Crucify him!" and take the part of the crowd...during the Veneration of the Cross the Reproaches were sung, and then all joined in "When I survey..."

And now comes Holy Saturday, and then...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday...

...and the name comes from the same root as Command (Latin: Mandatum).  Which command?  The one we all break: that we should love one another...

Spent the afternoon at Premier Radio (offices and studio in Chapter Street, not far from Westmin. Cathedral), recording some talks (re the new Pope, etc). You can listen to them in the week beginning April 8th - check out the Premier website...

Still have a bad cough and cold, but it's getting a lot better, and in a moment I shall walk in the chilly but bright sunshine down Victoria Street and cross the Thames to Waterloo, catching a train to London Bridge and to the Ordinariate church there for the Holy Thursday Mass.  Somewhere along the way I'll buy some hot cross buns for tomorrow's breakfast...

Just written my feature for the MAY issue of OREMUS, the magazine of Westminster Cathedral. The magazine is read surprisingly widely: when in Somerset at Christmas a nice priest told me that he has a subscription and always enjoys the magazine...BTW the April issue is just out (feature by Auntie in it) and has a pic of Papa Francis on the front...

Scouring the Internet for various bits of information, I realised that the arrival of a new Pope, and the retirement of the previous one, had given massive scope for the doomwatchers and all those the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-is-almost-here types. The other day, perhaps because of the cold weather, I was warned "Have you heard the Prophesy of the Three Days Darkness?"  Yes, I have heard it. Enjoyed a vogue in the 1970s. Popularised in the 18th century, then again in the 1950s because a bogus German group claiming visions from Heaven started to say that Padre Pio supported it ...this was eventually denounced in rather firm terms by Cardinal Ottaviani, then head of the Holy Office. Doesn't seem to have stopped people...I got the "Padre Pio believed in..." line again the other day. I am not quite sure why people focus on the three-day bit, because the main meat of the story is that two-thirds of all humanity will be wiped out in one fell swoop, which rather makes three days without proper lighting  seem rather trivial...

I wonder what happened to all those stores of food that people were keeping in the Autumn of 1999 because they were convinced that Everything Would Stop when the calendar moved to 2000, and no food would be available? I remember a publication in the USA carrying advertisments for sacks of dehydrated foods, guaranteed to last for five years...

And here we are in 2013 with plenty to worry about, and plenty to rejoice about, and plenty of work to be done, and an urgent mission of evangelisation to fulfil...








Wednesday, March 27, 2013

...Holy Week...

...and today is known as Spy Wednesday, commemorating the traitor Judas...

Tomorrow will see the traditional Washing of Feet at churches across Britain.  I remember first watching this back in the mid-1970s at our (then brand-new and v. modern)  local church, St Elphege's, in Wallington, and being very moved and impressed. I knew what the ceremony involved, but  had not seen it done before: watching our parish priest kneeling and pouring water over the men's feet was something very powerful. He was in my mind a busy, grown-up, getting-on-with-important-things person and this act spoke of humility and service in a real way, and I have never forgotten it.

Good Friday, back then, was a quiet day across Britain. Shops were closed. The TV and radio programmes reflected the nature of the day, and there was always a film about the Passion of Christ - either a classic Hollywood one or some new drama.

An innovation in the 70s which was of importance for our family was a united service organised by all the local churches, and held at a different church each year on Good Friday morning. We always went to this.  And of course the 3pm service in our church was the most important part of the day: again, my first experiences of this were powerful. Since then, I have spent Good Fridays in various places from an Army barrack church in Berlin to Brompton Oratory with full choir, and each Good Friday still always brings it own stark poignant message...

Today: one good thing in the suburb where the Bogles now live is a local Walk of Witness. This starts at the United Reformed Church which is conveniently placed at one end of the High street and finishes at the Methodist Church which is at the other end. It attracts reasonable numbers, including lots of Catholics. The "witness" bit is rather less effective, because there are few people around in the High Street - most shoppers go to the vast supermarket about a quarter of a mile away. So we aren't witnessing to many people... but I wonder if perhaps God actually rather wants us to think and pray, rather than (??a bit smugly??) consider ourselves to be "witnessing to all those shoppers".

There is a profound and tangible reality about the 3pm service on Good Friday.  In our excellent local parish it  is always packed to capacity - people sitting/kneeling on the floor, filling up all available space in the side aisles and crowding out the porch etc.

In between  the morning Walk and the afternoon Service - well, there's always a temptation to do a bit of shopping and one SHOULDN'T.

I have organised/posted suitable Easter goodies to godchildren etc, have quantities of  choc eggs, bunnies, and so on  for the various relatives with whom I will be celebrating Easter. We won't need any extra food for Good Friday's meals and everything else can wait until Saturday...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Icy winds, flecks of snow...

...all more like Christmas than Holy Week. But no one seemed to mind...people were arriving at Westminster Cathedral for the Chrism Mass just after 10 am, and the Mass wasn't due to start till noon.  The traditional group of us gathered in the piazza with our "Thank you to our priests" sign - members of the Assn of Catholic Women, together with young people from St Patrick's, Soho Square, and various other supporters. We handed out prayer-cards bearing a thank-you message to priests as they arrived. As always, there are far, far more priests than one imagines...we hear so much about a clergy shortage, but when they arrive for a big gathering like this, you realise that there are still huge numbers, and still they kept arriving...

The priests vest in the Cathedral Hall and then walk in procession up Ambrosden Avenue, filing into the cathedral...This year it seemed even more crowded than ever.  With a friend, I squeezed in at the very back, but I was desperate to sit down, and eventually found a place in St Patrick's chapel where my feet could rest, if not actually thaw out. All of us in these side-chapels could hear all of the Mass, the beautiful prayers for the blessing of the oils, and of course the superb music, led by the Cathedral's fine choir, and we knelt and stood etc along with the rest of the congregation.

Afterwards, we hurried to the Hall to give out the remaining cards, and then finally desposited our placard in the bookshop (St Paul's, in Morpeth Terrace - bless them!) from where I will collect it early tomorrow morning in order to take it to St George's Cathedral, Southwark, for their Chrism Mass - and then went for some hot soup. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

More on that meeting...

...between Papa Francis and dear Papa Benedict...I found that this report gave some extra details that are poignant...

It is very significant that Papa F. specifically spoke of BXVI's humility...

The voices in the media currently heaping praise on Papa F are precisely those that are likely to turn on him in due course, sneering when he supports - for example - marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or the right to life of the frail and sick. At the moment they are giving him the honeymoon treatment, and are emphasising, again and again, his simplicity and enthusiasm for poverty. This is intensely annoying, and in his own gentle way, he's taken a stance by emphasising in this gift to BXVI, the latter's own genuine humility.

BTW, the icon was itself a gift from the Russian Orthodox, who are thrilled  and touched that it has been given to BXVI.  Russia - where there is currently of course a notable revival of Christianity with churches drawing significant numbers, especially of the young - will  be of importance in the next years. Benedict XVI was popular with the Orthodox, and then they sent, for the first time since the Great Schism, an official representative to Pope Francis' inaugural Mass. Benedict XVI, in a little-noticed but significant gesture, quietly announced that he would no longer use the title "patriarch of the West". The scene is set for the possibility of talks-about-talks for the healing of the schism that has lasted for more than a thousand years...and if you fold into this the actions of Bl John Paul, and the consecration that he made in 1984 in response to the message of Fatima...and the subsequent collapse of Communism...

A small but pleasing...

item of news on the website of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.  The Ladies Ordinariate Group is an enthusiastic team and this project is its first major venture...

The Chrism Mass...

...at which all the priests of a diocese gather to receive the blessed oils that will be used  for sacramental anointing during the year, is always a big event. At Westminster Cathedral it has become quite a spectacle as the long procession of priests comes up Ambrosden Avenue and into the piazza.  Shoppers in Victoria Street pause to watch, people crane through bus windows, tourists take photos...but will it all happen this year, in this bitter cold? The Westminster Chrism Mass is tomorrow (Tuesday).

I'm writing this near the Cathedral (useful coffee-shop with Internet access has become a favourite haunt to this proud possessor of a new laptop)  and London is full of well-wrapped figures, hunched across the cold. Priests in albs and vestments will feel distinctly chilly - maybe the decision will be made to abandon the outdoor walk and simply have them arrive via the sacristy.  Which will be a pity in a way,  because we in the Assn of Catholic Women will be in the piazza with our "Thank you to our priests" sign, and small holy-cards with a message of prayer and gratitude. On the other hand, we always hand out the cards to priests as they arrive beforehand and are hurrying to the Cathedral Hall for vesting before the procession...and so it's still worthwhile.

On Wednesday the Southwark diocesan Chrism Mass takes place at St George's Cathedral, where the priests walk in procession from the adjoining Amigo Hall.  I'll be there with a  fresh team and with the placard and thank-you cards...and maybe the weather will be a bit warmer!

Other Holy Week duties include the purchasing of choc eggs, bunnies etc for family, godchildren, and friends...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Wonderful scenes...

...in St Peter's Square this Palm Sunday, with Pope Francis greeting young people who gathered there for the traditional start of World Youth Day. He will be in Brazil this summer for WYD itself, and his warm enthusiasm for the celebrations is evident. He sees himself as being in the footsteps of his two great predecessors in this:  " I too am setting out on a journey with you today, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of the Cross. I look forward joyfully to this coming July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well in your communities — prepare spiritually above all — so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world.”

The meeting between him and Papa BXVI yesterday was rather moving to watch - even just sitting at home, crouched over a laptop. (Auntie has been rather housebound, with a bad cough and cold).  Papa Francis gave BXVI a lovely icon of "Our Lady of Humility", and told him that this was a special gift because BXVI had taught us all so much by by example about this virtue...

Watching BXVI - who looks rather old and frail, and so kindly and dear - kneeling there next to the new Pope, was of course at one level an extraordinary thing, but at another level it all looked rather comradely and normal. Two men in the service of God, getting on with what needs to be done in the service of the Church.

Palm Sunday Mass this morning at Westminster Cathedral.  I had planned to go to the Ordinariate parish at London Bridge, for an outdoor procession etc, but the weather was so bitter that I just couldn't manage it and headed instead to the warmth of the Cathedral. The singing of the Passion narrative was immensely powerful, done from the great pulpit with three fine voices and of course the choir, up in the apse. Vast crowd attending, great stacks of palm being handed out, Archbishop coming down the aisle as Mass ended, showering blessings...

Over the next days and weeks, watch the mass media - all following, irritatingly, the same line - seeking to stir up stories about how there will be splits between followers of BXVI and followers of Pope Francis. Don't go along with it. The truth is more prosaic: recent pontificates have shown a notable unity of course and of purpose and this looks set to continue.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Looking ahead...

...this is good news...

...and by way of background to Papa Francis, this is a good read...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dr Welby...

...installed today by the C of E at Canterbury...it was good that the H. Father sent a friendly and supportive greeting, a sign of friendship and hope and goodwill.

Now: Dr W. must remain true to his Evangelical principles and stick up for the truth that marriage is the lifelong union of one man an one woman. This is an evangelical moment for Christians in the West, and he is right to give an upbeat and positive message. Christ is the answer to the muddle and hurt and sorrow in people's lives...including the lives of those who think that by angry lobbying they can make themselves feel comfortable about trying to avoid the beauty of God's plan...

I was a bit underwhelmed by Dr W's signal failure to affirm male/female marriage in his sermon at Canterbury: it is the single most crucial issue facing our poor country - and, unlike the Pope, he really does  have a very specific duty to tackle specific issues in a specific place in addition to offering some message for the wider world. .

I have hopes (but not, alas, expectations) that Dr W. may prove a useful Christian voice in our poor nation. Let's keep him in our prayers at this time...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pope Francis' inaugural Mass...

...magnificent. Read about it and see pix here.   V. significant that the Orthodox Christians were officially represented...for the first time in something like 1,000 years.  End of schism in sight? Huge surge of Christianity in Russia in recent decades... fruits of Bl John Paul's  Act of Consecration in 1984...

Bach's St John Passion...

...at Westminster Cathedral. Absolutely superb. In the hushed cathedral, as the lights dimmed, the great Crucifix cast its shadow  on the high ceiling  as the  the choir gathered  in front of the chancel. And then the chorale began...the words of Scriptures interspersed with meditative prayer, all in Bach's soaring music...unforgettable, awesome and inspiring.

Out into the  cold and raw evening...we finished with hot chocolate and sandwiches at Victoria station.

Home late, and a fat envelope awaited me. Turned out to be a package of thank-you letters from the dear, dear little girls at St Christina's School, where I gave a talk recently. I am very touched. The letters and cards are all hand-written and illustrated. One sample: "Thank you Mrs Bogle for the things we learned about Lent because of you. Your  jokes were a good idea for us to enjoy it." Several mentioned how much they enjoyed learning the origins of words (I'd explained to them about Beth-lehem, the place of bread, and so on...). There was a quiz and the winners got John Paul medals: one child has drawn a beautiful picture of her medal and written about JPII, explaining that he was the Pope before Benedict XVI, and "he made World Youth day"...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

...and...

...further comments on the start of a new pontificate here...

...and this is a very good overview of the past days and weeks...

Spent the evening...

...with young relatives recently. They produced a hearty supper, tackled problems with Auntie's computer and mobile phone, and we  talked, swapped family news...

Their four delightful children were already tucked up in bed, looking utterly adorable. One had managed to break a leg earlier in the week and is in plaster...older sibling has been cheerfully helping to carry him about ("He's not heavy - he's my brother"). New baby woke for a late-night feed, all warm and sleepy and cuddlesome.

It's easy, I know, for Auntie to get sentimental about family life. Of course I am utterly aware of its realities. But they are realities which hold the future. Communities that do not honour marriage and family life will die. Many nations have a feel of doom about them. Did you know that, in 2011, Japan bought more adult nappies that baby nappies? In Britain, we have just begun to grasp the huge problems that we face with an ageing population - a problem we share with most of Europe.

Some while back a TV programme discussed the wave of infertility that seemed to be sweeping the developed world.  Something in the water, it was suggested? Among much else, it has been discovered that fish near sewage outlets have been developing hermaphrodite features. The TV programme decided that the problem was plastic bags.  Er...no, I don't think so.  Is there perhaps a pill that people are taking that might be responsible? Is that possible?

There is a curious insanity about some of the discussions on this topic. The TV team found an Italian village where just one baby had been born in the previous few years. Were any more likely to arrive?  "No, no, I don't want children" one young woman announced firmly "I want to spend my life having fun, travelling, seeing new places..."

I wonder who she thinks will be piloting the aeroplane?  Why should anyone spend their time flying ageing Italians round the world, and at whose expense?

The children tumbling about today, having fun, making a noise, breaking their legs, helping one another, drawing pictures for Auntie, messing up things in the kitchen,  making their parents happy and exhausted...these are the people who will be there when we are old. No one else. Your cat or your goldfish won't look after you when you are old, nor will they be paying taxes, producing food,  running hospitals.  As the old song puts it "People...need people..."

Among many...

...features and news items about Pope Francis, I think this one is relevant and useful to read... and this gives a good report of this morning's inaugural Mass...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Brrrrh!...c-c-cold....

...just got in from the History Walk around Chelsea.   It was raw, damp and cold, but a little group of us met and actually enjoyed our Chelsea walk! We stopped at St Thomas More's statue and the church where he went to Mass every morning, and ended up at Allen Hall, the diocesan seminary which stands on land that was once More's garden...one of the seminarians was just coming out, well wrapped up against the cold, and another, in long black robe, just going in...there will be eight men ordained for the diocese of Westminster this summer, and some deacons ordained too. The mood seems to be upbeat. Interestingly, World Youth Day seems to be a factor in helping several of the men to think about the priesthood. It was strange to stand there in the rain and remember the heat of Madrid in the summer of 2011 at the last World Youth Day...

History and Tradition...

...and you can relish both at this evening's Catholic History Walk MONDAY). Starts 6.30pm outside Holy Redeemer Church, Chelsea. Promises to be cold (I'm writing this an hour or two beforehand), so dress warmly and wear shoes that will stand up to wet pavements...if it's really simply pouring, we'll do a quick tour of the church instead: it has an interesting history and some things worth seeing...

Next events include the big Day Conference on June 18th sponsored by the FAITH MOVEMENT: book your place now - see info here...and the June 23rd MARTYRS' WALK: put it in your diary, starts 1pm at the Old Bailey and goes through London, following the route taken by the English Martyrs as they were dragged to die at Tyburn...

The Chrism Mass...

...at a diocesan cathedral unites the priests of the diocese who come together to receive the holy oils that will be used through the next year for  baptisms and anointing the sick...

In what has become an annual tradition, a group of us will be at Westminster Cathedral's Chrism Mass (Tuesday 26th March, 12 noon) and at the Chrism Mass at St George's Cathedral, Southwark  (Wed March 27th, 11.30am) to greet the priests as they arrive, with a big banner saying "THANK YOU TO OUR PRIESTS" and little holy cards. This year's cards are yellow (Southwark) and cream (Westminster) and mention the Year of Faith and carry a Scriptural quotation:"Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever". 

This tradition began in Southwark as an initiative of  two Catholic ladies, and then the Association of Catholic Women took it up, and organised it for Westminster...and then the Westminster ACW team was joined by the young people from St Patrick's, Soho Square...

We always value more supporters - and the Chrism Mass is beautiful, with glorious prayers...Westminster Cathedral's choir will be in fine voice and it is an unforgettable experience to crowd into the packed Mass and hear the Archbishop blessing the oils with prayers that recall the olive branch brought back to Noah by a dove, and all echoing with centuries of unbroken tradition...

This morning I was busy getting the cards printed, and at the weekend the ACW was rallying people...do come along and join us and show our priests that we value the service they give to God and the Church...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Mass at London Bridge...

...at Precious Blood Church, and for the first time at a Sunday Mass, hearing the words "Francis, our Pope..." in the Canon. Afterwards, coffee and cake in the parish house, and then some of us watched the H. Father on EWTN...vast crowds, of course, in St Peter's Square for the Angelus, a sense of continuity with Papa JPII and Papa BXVI...

It was through EWTN that I first met Fr Christopher Pearson, now parish priest of Pr. Blood. He was still an Anglican, and was joining the Ordinariate, and EWTN's Joan Lewis came to London to interview him and others taking the same step. We met outside Westminster Cathedral and chatted...I got to know his Ordinariate group, he was duly ordained at St George's, Southwark...and now, some two years on, here we were watching Joan broadcasting to us from Rome with the latest news and discussions about the new Pope...

 TV showed Papa Francisco celebrating Mass and preaching at St Anne's Church, and greeting everyone as they left, just like a parish priest, the father-figure of a community. People crowding up to kiss his ring, to talk to him, to press his hands. He embraced small children like BXVI did, kissing the tops of their heads. It all looked rather delightful...the Romans seem to be taking him to their hearts...

A tiny bit of history...

...at Westminster Cathedral this weekend, as the Ladies Ordinariate Group from Precious Blood Church, for the first time, sent a delegation to the annual Mass organised by the Westminster diocesan Union of Catholic Mothers. The Mass, celebrated by Bishop John Sherrington, drew women from various UCM branches in the diocese, and also delegates from the UCM in neighbouring dioceses (Southwark, Arundel and Brighton) - and, greeted with enthusiasm, the Ordinariate! It was lovely to be there and to be part of all this, and we were warmly welcomed to a splendid Tea afterwards in Vaughan House, where we met and chatted to all sorts of people. Good contacts established, and another small chapter in the history of the Ordinariate was written.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hurrying through a rainy suburb...

...en route to a Confirmation class where I was due to give a talk. Trying to cross a busy road, I stepped back, realising that I was being stupid and must wait for the traffic lights...a fellow pedestrian grinned and said something about not risking one's life. "It's daft, really" I admitted  "But I'm running a bit late - I'm meant to be at a Confirmation class!"  "At the church?" he asked, and offered me a lift as his car was parked not far away. Turned out to be a parishioner.  Actually, it would be just as quick to walk, so I thanked him and we parted cheerily and I hurried off...but somehow the encounter gave the evening a happy start.

Rows of  faces...prayers, with  everyone standing up and turning to a great crucifix hanging on the wall, young voices chorusing together. When you begin the talk, you watch as they slowly change and get involved: at first they don't know whether or not it's OK to smile, and no one likes to be the first to raise a hand in response to a question, and they take a while to lose that "oh-I'm-so-cool-I don't-need-to-look-interested" face - but then  things get going. It was a good session.  But later, in informal talk, it was clear that many were shocked that I had mentioned - in a passing remark - that it was dreadful that the Govt was imposing on us the idea that two people of the same sex could marry. Out came the parroted slogans "But if two people love each other - " "People are just born gay, aren't they?"  They find it hard to think in wider terms. They are very young.  It honestly all reminded me of seeing a Soviet film which showed children indoctrinated in ideology, brightly parroting slogans  "Socialism is the big answer!" "Socialism means justice!"   Fortunately, this particular crowd of young people is blessed with fine priests and good catechists, and will learn much and have doors opened to a wider spiritual and moral vision...but, oh, the sadness as one ponders the reality of the future for most young people in today's Britain...

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Mass of all time...

...and all places.  There is a great sense of unity with history when praying in an ancient church or cathedral.  I was at Mass in St Mary's church in Cracow when the news came that white smoke had appeared from the  chimney in Rome...the Mass was being celebrated in Polish, everyone around me was making the responses in Polish, and yet it didn't really feel that different from being at Mass in London (except that, in general, people in Poland are much more reverent).

Then the  priest made an announcement about the white smoke (the lady next to me whispering to me a rough translation as he was speaking), and then we all sang a Te Deum, and went out into the snow square of the Stare Miasta...and then, over supper, the full news came via mobile 'phones and texts and tweets...and so we sat talking about Pope Francisco and what he might be like and what it might all mean for the future...

...and now, here in London, reading the press and scanning the Web to get views and opinions...

And in the Catholic world all is prayerful goodwill, and thoughtful comment, and joy - except for the self-appointed "traditionalists" who have been sending out the most horrible material denouncing Papa Francisco, sneering at him, and passing on rumours and untruths. Ugh.



...and meanwhile...

...here is a good interview about Papa Francisco...

I'm beginning to tire...

...of the media trying to stir things up by seeking to stress differences in lifestyle between Popes Benedict and Francis.

Pope Francis has many admirable qualities. But to suggest that he is the first Pope in history to live a simple and austere life is a bit absurd. Pope Benedict lived in a modest flat near the bus depot before he was elected to the Papacy, and walked every day to work with his battered briefcase. People often assumed he was just an ordinary priest, and asked him the way to tourist sites, etc, only discovering afterwards that they had been talking to the famous Cardinal Ratzinger...

John Paul II lived in complete poverty, gave away everything, even a warm coat given to him in the bitter cold, and shoes...the sisters who looked after him as Pope  despaired because he wanted them to give away any new clothes and insisted on wearing old ones until they were beyond any further mending. When he died, he left almost no possessions except a photograph of his parents, and his worn old scapular...






Well, the angry tirades against the new Pope have started...

...and first off was a nasty "traditionalist Catholic" blog which published a furious rant asserting - among other things - that as a Bishop he "persecuted every single priest who made an effort to wear a cassock".

Which seems unlikely, since he wore one himself.  David Uebbing, Catholic News Service, March 13th, talked to people who knew him in Buenos Aires:

"In February 2001, Fr. Rosica was at a meeting in Buenos Aires of the bishops from throughout Latin America to promote World Youth Day in Canada. He was told that Archbishop Bergoglio was going to celebrate Mass for the people at the meeting.

“So I went in earlier, and sat and prayed in the back. And I saw this man come in with a simple black cassock and knelt in front of me and prayed for the longest time. And then when he came out in the procession, it was the archbishop.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Watching our Holy Father...

...I am struck by his prayerfulness and humour and his ability to lead a great - vast, enormous - crowd of people in prayer with dignity and deep sincerity. This is a good man. This is a holy man.

And I love his choice of name. St Francis, pray for this good man who now takes on such a burden.

Papa, we love you and are with you.

The Our Father...

...the prayer said by millions around the world and down the centuries. The prayer said by children at night, by frightened soldiers on a battlefield, by lonely old people muddled and unhappy, by Christians of all denominations, by anyone and everyone who cherishes the spiritual realities that have shaped minds and hearts for two millenia...but apparently unknown to the young man chosen by the BBC to report the election of a new Pope. The young man stumbled and eventually gave up when trying to say this prayer. Do watch the ghastly, humiliating reality of the voice of modern Britain: the BBC can't even get some one who knows the Lord's Prayer.

We desperately - and I do mean desperately - need a New Evangelisation.

So...

...we have a new Holy Father. And he has all our prayers.  The moment when 50,000 people in St Peter's Square joined together with him in silent prayer was a beautiful one. What a challenge lies before this man, standing there in his white robe and taking on the charge first given to Peter long ago...

He has out love and our full loyalty. God bless our Holy Father Francis.

Watching it all on a computer, like millions around the world.

Prayer...

...in the church of St Florian in Krakow. There is a side altar which is a shrine to a young priest, who worked there in the 1950s. Candles, flowers, a fine portrait of him, in the background of which you can see  forested landscape and a canoe which has been turned upside down to form an altar, held up by crossed oars.

We walked through the snowy Planty - the gardens around the old city centre, ate spinach pancakes, came back to the flat to get emails and do some work...and will shortly be going out to an evening Mass. Polish TV, like TV everywhere, full of images of people standing in St Peter's Square with microphones and talking about names of cardinals and gesticulating towards the chimney.

While waiting for a new Pope...

...why not put these dates in your diary?

 LONDON  CATHOLIC HISTORY WALKS:  MONDAY March 18th, 6.30pm Meet outside Holy Redeemer Church, Cheyne Row, Chelsea. Nearest tube: Sloane Square (then bus along the Kings Road). Tuesday April 16th, 6.30pm, meet outside the Church of SS Anselm and Cecilia, Kingsway (nearest tube: Holborn). No need to book: just turn up. Wear sensible footwear: we'll be walking whatever the weather.

TUESDAY, June 18th - yes, it's a longish way ahead, but you need to get your tickets now. DAY OF FAITH, with Bishop Philip Egan and author George Weigel - not to be missed. A day conference at St Patrick's Soho Square. Come for the day, or just for the evening. Lunch and supper provided, and the Day includes Mass, opportunities for confession, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament... see that link or this one  for details. You need to get a ticket in advance: book your place now...

Saturday June 22nd: Ordinariate Pilgrimage to Walsingham: info to follow. Book the date...

July 7th-11th: John Paul II Walk for the New Evangelisation, organised by the Dominican Sisters of St Joseph...info here...

Apparently...

... the Cardinals in the Conclave have been told that if they use mobile phones or twitter or facebook or whatever, they'll be excommunicated. Sounds excellent.   Couldn't we extend this, eg to people who use mobile phones or text in church, or at mealtimes? And children in lessons?

Krakow white with snow...

...and the TV showing black smoke from the Vatican. I'm picking up some understanding of Polish  - total immersion in a language is the only answer, and I've been listening to Polish radio and buying Polish magazines and newspapers. Mass yesterday evening at the glorious St Mary church in Krakow's central square - the rhythm of the words is the same in Polish, Latin, or English. The Masses at this church are generally in Polish (for the Penitential rites, and the Liturgy of the Word) and Latin (Offertory and Canon), and often chanted. Offertory and Canon ad orientem. Strong voices singing hymns, no hymn-books apparently required. Great sense of devotion, a good mix of people of all ages...

Flying home tomorrow. On Monday: a CATHOLIC HISTORY WALK in Chelsea. Meet outside Holy Redeemer Church, Cheyne Row, Chelsea, at 6.30pm. All welcome - no need to book, just turn up!



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

As eyes are focused on Rome...

...and prayers and thoughts are with the Conclave...we will we praying in a place of peculiar significance...we are off to Wadowice, the small town not far from Krakow, where a Pope was born and baptised, where he grew up and went to school, and where today the parish church will be a place of intercession  for the next chapter of the Church's history as it unfolds...

It is so strange, this interregnum: the sense of unreality hasn't yet faded, even as Papa Benedict went by helicopter from Rome out to the hills and the lake, even as his name was omitted from the Canon of the Mass, even as we tried to get used to the words "Pope Emeritus". Here in Krakow the layers of history are the background to everyday life and you do get a sense of how things move on...the era of Communism is rarely mentioned except as history, the mobile-phone shops jostle with elegant cafes with a vaguely pre-1914 feel and with smart restaurants that definitely belong to the 21st century, Pope John Paul is honoured in statues and plaques, and the Church flourishes and goes on...

Monday, March 11, 2013

God's mercy...

...is poured out upon us in great generosity...all we need to do is seek it, claim it...

We went to the Divine Mercy shrine on the outskirts of Cracow today. Kneeling in the chapel where Sister Faustina prayed , and being led in prayer by a young nun, was all rather moving. This was my second pilgrimage here, and on a bitterly cold day the warm chapel and the glowing candles were comforting. The great - giant! - modern shrine alongside was rather too bleak and chilling on this grey day, although its tall tower like the mast of a great ship, with a statue of  dear Bl John Paul at the helm, is always impressive. From its viewing platform at the top, one can see the building works on a neighbouring hillside, where a vast conference centre dedicated to JPII is being built. It is all near the Solvay chemical plant where he worked as a labourer in WWII.  From the designs and plans and from what is now being constructed, it somehow seems very big and ambitious...one feels "nearer" to JPII in the streets of Krakow, its churches and cathedral where he served as Archbishop...

Long and fascinating discussions about philosophy with academics over coffee...thinking about Polish history as we hurry through icy but enchanting streets...TV screens with news reports where words like "Konclav" and "Kardinal" emerge from a puzzle of Polish...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday, and the Church at prayer...

...and we were in the great Ark Church in Nowa Huta on the outskirts of Cracow. We arrived early, and people were pouring out of an earlier Mass, into the grey rainswept morning and the tower blocks of what was originally built as the ultimate Soviet-style city and turned into the home of Europe's most famous modern church. The flagstones and steps were slithery in the icy rain, and it was good to enter the church. Its vast sweep and sense of strong, purposeful presence is splendid. The Stations of the Cross show Christ in solidarity with all the suffering of Europe in the 20th century, in all the horror and sorrow..

We were glad to have come early, as the church filled up...and filled, and filled...soon it was standing-room only, and still they came in, and came, and came...

I had brought my Magnificat, so could follow the Epistle, Gospel  etc. At Holy Communion, lines flocked to the altar rails, but the numbers were such that priests also came down the aisles, with altar-server and plate, to distribute the Sacrament, people receiving by mouth and with great reverence.

Many in the congregation were older women, warmly and often stylishly clad, strong faces.  Children were well-behaved, no shouting or noisy toys.

Lunch in Cracow with a professor friend, who told us about student days of the 70s with the Archbishop leading talks in the student church...and then those unforgettable days in 1979 when he returned as Pope, and everything in Poland changed in a spiritual upsurge that broke through into history...

Later, in the dark and cold, hurrying back to our warm flat, we passed the crowds at St Anne's Church - surging young people, spilling out down the steps, gathering and talking...a new generation...

...and in Rome, the Cardinals gather...

Friday, March 08, 2013

The Conclave...

...starts in Rome on March 12th, and TV news today showed the cardinals arriving in Rome...seems unreal, somehow...

Watching it all over coffee after a meal of pierogi in a cafĂ© in Krakow's magnificent main square.  Then, through icy rain, to the great church of St Mary: we had agreed to pray the Rosary for the Conclave, for the Church, for Britain, for the research work that has  brought us to Poland (a book project), for various private intentions...

Lots of people in church, voices raised in prayer... the Stations of the Cross - the familiar devotions in a strange language. Joined in for a bit, and then, as planned,  knelt in the chapel near the door and prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, the Hail Mary gently back and forth in a low murmured English.   Young people still coming in to the church as we left. Checked times of Mass for tomorrow and need not have bothered: Mass every hour from 6 am onwards...

The church is, of curse, stunning - a great  blue arched ceiling studded with stars, and so much rich decoration in gold, so many votive offerings, so much to see. At a side altar, a portrait of Bl John Paul, alongside a statue of Our Lady of Fatima...

A slightly adventurous journey here: thick mist over Krakow airport, and as we flew in and were about to land, a sudden surge and roar of engines and we took off upwards again! People shrieked, an announcement was made that the pilot was just going to do another turn in order to make a new entry because visibility was poor. "It's fine" I said to the girl next to me, who had been sleeping and woke with a cry at the terrific noise "Nothing to worry about..." We flew for a long time - a big circle around the airport presumably -  and then made a steady descent, landed safely...

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Dropped in to....

....Mass at Westmin. Cathedral. In the Canon, the priest started to say "Papa nostro, Benedicto - " and then stopped short, and said "er...." and started again, moving on swiftly to "Episcopo nostro, Vincenzo..."

As I was leaving, a friend came up to whisper a greeting, and we ended up having coffee together. She's a talented young artist, and involved with a lovely project for St Patrick's Day. It's at St Patrick's, Wapping (nearest tube: Tower Hill or Wapping) and there's a St Patrick's Market, with traditional bread, Irish Strew, Irish coffee, and more, and upstairs an Open Studio with the community of artists there, opportunities to see their work, have a portrait sketched, or get involved in other activities such as face-painting, and learn about the art classes they run and the opportunity to see something of the Christian vision of art and creativity and beauty. So make a date: Sunday March 17th, in the heart of London, by the Thames...a place of leafy beauty by the river, 5 mins walk from Tower Bridge and drenched in tradition and history...

...and so to...

...Harrow in Middlesex, where a large and crowded Confirmation class was waiting. This is a very big parish - the crowded class was only half of the Confirmation group, and I return on Thursday to repeat my talk to the other half.

Talk on "Catholic heritage". They need to know - have a right to know, want to know, enjoy learning about - how the Faith came to Britain. They need to know  how it travelled through the routes of the Roman Empire, about the evidence of Romano-British Christianity here (St Patrick etc), about how the pagan Angles and Saxons arrived (our days of the week are named after Saxon gods) and how the Pope in Rome saw the Saxon slaves and wanted to send missionaries to their lands, and how Augustine and his monks set off but got scared when they heard about these ferocious pagans and turned back, only to be told by good Pope Gregory to set out again and not to return until they'd done the job...

We tackled the calendar: the crucial central reality of the Incarnation, centred on God's huge love for us. March 25th, and why this date is so important, and how our calendar has revolved around it for nearly two millennia...we tackled pub signs, nursery rhymes, old sayings, what Shrovetide is, and why saints' days occur when they do, and why we eat eggs at Easter...

This is a parish which is instructing its young, and they are open to it all. They all had copies of YouCat in their hands. They all joined in the prayers at the beginning and end of the session: it is so good to hear young voices praying together. They knew about World Youth Day and about the worldwide Church, about recent Popes... and now they know a bit more about the Church in their own land, and how, in these extraordinary days of 2013, they are living through an adventure in the Church's history too....

A happy day...

...at this school in London. A classroom full of cheerful little girls in bright blue uniforms, and Auntie giving a talk about Lent and Easter customs and traditions. The afternoon's began with prayers - the children in a circle, hands together, eyes closed, voices very sweetly chorusing a prayer together asking God's blessing on their lessons, their activities, their friendships. Then a cross was passed around from one child to another, and as each child held it, she made a request for prayer - for a granny who was unwell, for a Daddy travelling  home from abroad, for the cardinals in Rome meeting to choose the new Pope...

The children were a delight to teach. They already knew about Lent, and the Last Supper, and Good Friday, and Easter. They loved learning about the Royal Maundy, and the washing of feet, and about how Easter eggs have developed into the chocolate ones we know now, and more...they were reverent and thoughtful in discussing sacred things, eager and excited about answering questions in the little quiz that ended the day. I had some medals of Bl John Paul with me, and the winning team each got one.  A happy day.

Recent conversations...

...about the difficulties of boy-meets-girl today, took me to this blog post. tackling the subject.  Like other oldies, Auntie has done her share of matchmaking.  But it's getting much more complicated. Read that blog post and join the debate....

Sunday, March 03, 2013

WISDOM...

...and common sense, and kindness, at an excellent conference sponsored by the Diocese of Shrewsbury, tackling the question of  sex education, and the respective roles of parents and teachers. Main message: parents often find it hard to talk to their children and help, support and encouragement is available. Very good news: an excellent new handbook, just out, on this topic: info here...

The conference drew large numbers of teachers and parents, along with school nurses, clergy, and school governors. For the first time, here was a major conference tackling this issue not with polemics or with ghastly schemes for showing children lurid materials or exhorting them to assume immoral behaviour to be the norm. There was immense interest and enthusiasm and the mood was upbeat and positive, the discussions thoughtful and informative.

We are going to hear a great deal more on all of this...a new mood and style on sex-ed is in the air, especially among Catholics who have long been wary of the standard got-funded propaganda line on this (ie the pretence that giving children contraceptives will lower the pregnancy rate: it doesn't, and of course is immoral  and cruel anyway).

Guest speaker at the conference was Fr Jaroslaw Szymczak from the Family Support Foundation in Poland. He has worked for some years helping troubled families, and also working with young people in reformatories....his talk, focusing the needs of the young, was inspiring and illuminating. It's not rocket science: the need for families to spend time together, for parents to listen to their children, for children to know that their parents love and value them, is all very straightforward...but there are so many pressures on families today, and so many young people whose experience of family break-up means that they feel unable to trust, and so many people looking for love that they have failed to find at home and then seek in all the wrong places...

It was a privilege to be part of this conference (Auntie was there in v. humble capacity, helping with some admin.) - and extremely interesting to realise that, among much else, the Church in Poland has been getting to grips with some social problems in ways that we in the rest of Europe would do well to study and emulate...

Friday, March 01, 2013

As we approached...

...7pm on Feb 28th, and thus 8pm in Rome, we paused and prayed for our beloved  Benedict XVI and for our future Holy Father...

I was with a Catholic student group, giving a lecture, and in the rather bleak modern lecture hall, suddenly we were at one with Rome.

Spent most of the day travelling, and using my new laptop to complete an essay. It felt good when I had completed it...just a few footnotes to double-check and the details of the Bibliography to complete. On the journey home, I opened up the laptop again, and with a couple of misplaced clicks on the mouse, had lost the entire week's work.

People are kind. Even the ticket-collector on the train tried to help, and summoned another passenger who also did his best. Later, on the local train trundling back through the suburbs from London, I was offered a seat and sank into it gratefully.  "Had a tough day?" asked the chap next to me sympathetically "A bit. Lost an essay on my computer" So he tried to help too, checked my laptop and looked up various possibilities for locating a lost file... 

Actually I am resigned to the loss, and the general consesus seems to be: you haven't lost it. The second attempt will be much better, as you have done all ther basic mental work. Which is true,. So here goes...