Friday, December 23, 2011

And so to...

Christmas. Carol singing in London – the money we collected will be divided between projects abroad (an orphanage in Ukraine run by Miles Jesu) and at home (a residence for the elderly). Family visits – we are off to relatives in Oxfordshire and there will be lots of talk and laughter and fun and music and happy times. There are also elderly relatives too frail to travel so there’ll be visits to them – more talk, more music, with added memories, remembrances of Christmasses past, laughter as we recall absurd family happenings of long ago, and tenderness perhaps as we think about people who have died, times that are gone...

A snippet that gives a flavour of Christmas in Britain in 2011: as we sang carols, one of our number, a student, told me that when she went singing with a college group the leader told them that they wouldn’t sing any Christian carols “as people might be offended”. So they warbled some invented songs about Frosty the Snowman – which probably offended people far more. What a lot of nonsense is being talked about all this at the moment. Watch this space as I intend to follow this up with the college.

Thank God – I mean it, Deo Gratias – for the strength of family life and solid friendships, enabling us to pray together without fear. We’ll be at a traditional Midnight Mass – strong young voices joining with older ones as the priest says “The Lord be with you” and we say “And with your spirit” and all enter into the glorious drama of the mystery of our redemption. We’ll sing carols and the Credo and Sanctus and Pater Noster with full hearts. There’ll be people packed uncomfortably into pews, and squeezing up to cram in just one or two more. There’ll be a long slow line making its way up for Communion, and people at the back patiently waiting and finding their way to join. And then outside there’ll be that confusion of greetings and “Merry Christmas” and people we haven’t seen for ages and swapping of news and much chatter, and then the journey home and hot chocolate and lingering talk before bed.

Nephews and nieces who – oh, it just doesn’t seem so long ago – were small children squeaking excitedly at gifts crammed into stockings on Christmas morning are now grown up and delightful, pouring drinks and talking about amusing things and all in the light of a shimmering Christmas tree. And there’s the next generation, too – small great-nephews and a great-niece, all ready to enjoy the thrill of parcels and noise and a crowded dinner-table.

Christmas is a time for nostalgia. Can it really be twenty years since my dear father died? How he would have loved seeing his great-grandchildren. Old traditions...watching the Queen make her annual broadcast, a crucial not-to-be-missed event after Christmas lunch. These days, you can watch it on your computer at any time that’s convenient – but somehow it isn’t the same. It ought to be watched with the pudding-plates still on the table, and people looking absurd in paper hats, and everyone flopping gratefully into armchairs only to scramble up again because of the National Anthem.

I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas. Let us pray that 2012 brings peace, and goodwill, and honour to God in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere.

In the course of.... for my Maryvale degree, I've been reading Henri de Lubac, so when I saw a title by him in a friend's bookcase I pounced. But it was something different - and I'm absolutely fascinated. It's an account of activities in defence of human rights in wartime France - heroic stuff,meetings of underground groups, secretly-distributed newsletters, crucial papers eaten and swallowed by a priest friend while in a room awaiting interrogation from the Gestapo...

Fr de Lubac was part of courageous group that wrote and distributed the secretly-printed Cahiers du Temoinage Chretien and his memoirs were published in the 1980s, by Ignatius Press, so that the events would not be forgotten: "Christian Resistance to Anti-Semitism: memories from 1940-44." What emerges is the heroism of many in the Church in France - and also the shameful reality of the Petain regime.The latter, of course, had its apologists who hailed it as supporting Traditional Catholic France, opposing Communism etc... It helps to explain the situation of the Church in France, and tensions even up to the present day.

It is interesting that de Lubac's theology, which would later have a profound influence on many priests of the rising generation and at the Vatican Council opened by Blessed John XXIII, was forged not in comfortable libraries in easy circumstances but in the more poignant atmosphere of a nation where major issues of right and wrong - on which vulnerable lives depended - were crucial realities for every day. So things like justice,truth, the value of the Church with a consistent teaching , and the essence of a personal relationship with Christ, are all explored alongside brief accounts of difficult wartime communication and the tensions of various Resistance groups.

Although much of the history was known to me, the theological insights are sparkling in freshness. A real find.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Carol singing... London to raise money for projects at home and abroad. This was the annual carol-singing organised through the Catholic History Walks team. We went from house to house in Chelsea and sang and sang. Funds raised will go to an orphanage in Ukraine and to home for the elderly in Britain.

The History Walks programme for 2012 has now been published. Note these dates:

. 2.30pm Tour of Westminster Cathedral. Meet inside the Cathedral, by the shop entrance.

Thursday March 29th. 6.30pm (after the 5.30pm Mass) Meet on the steps of Westminster Cathedral. We'll be exploring the Westminster and Pimlico areas.

There's more - but those are the main ones to get in your diary now.

Also - not organised by the History Walks, but worth attending: Feb 3rd at the Hinsley Room,Westminster Cathedral, 6.15 pm, a film on the life of Blessed John Paul. DON'T MISS THIS! It's a longish film, so turn up on time. Coffee and snacks to keep you going. Suggested donation £5, and funds raised will go to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Mgr Keith Newton, leader of the Ordinariate, will be attending.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I've had a...

...curiously Polish day. I went to visit a friend in Ealing - which happens to be a rather Polish corner of London, though he is Irish - and we talked at some length about his visits to Poland in the 1980s when he was part of a series of seminars organised with Polish academics, in the teeth of opposition from the Communist authorities...all rather exciting stuff, police spies, plans for a speedy getaway if required, "we were on 30-second notice to disband, had to keep papers ready to stuff into a case and go..."

On the way back I did some shopping, bought rather delicious-looking Polish pastry. Back at home, washing-machine still out of action(see earlier blog), went to launderette with great bag of towels etc, plus book, plus pastry to eat. One other occupant, showed me how to work the machine,turned out he was Polish. We talked John Paul II, Krakow, Wadowice, showed him my book.He told me about Polish London - churches, shops:"You find nice Polish ladies choosing meats and things to make a very proper meal. That's about twenty per cent of the custoimers. And the rest are men with big backpacks, buying beer, six bottles on special offer for the price of five." He was washing a great stack of grubby overalls:"My work clothes, I can't do them in the machine where I live as the others complain". Back to Poland in January to finish studying law. "You will enjoy Poland. And you must eat what John Paul liked - Kremowki." And when I later checked on the internet, that was exactly the pastry I had chosen.

A Polish day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

With Christmas coming...

we all deserve some good cheer. I've come across this, about a great Archbishop who is a Bogle family friend and a man we much admire.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


this looks good...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Doing all the Christmassy things... these last days of Advent. The crib went up today - those Christmas figures were first put up in our home over 30 years ago for our first Christmas, ordered by post from the Universe newspaper. The Christ-child figure will be taken to Mass tomorrow to be blessed, and then placed in the manger on Christmas Eve. Presents have been wrapped and labelled - there are now nephews and nieces, and small great-nephews and nieces, on the list, all unknown 30 years ago...The Christmassy wreath that hangs on the front door is a bit battered now, and the trimmings have had to be renewed, but with fresh white ribbons it looks fine. Vast numbers of cards are being recieved and sent...

But there's something sad about Christmas 2011. The great feast is somehow a reminder that the first and most important freedom is religious freedom. There is a worrying sense of its being eroded, and whittled away. The new law on marriage will see Catholic churches under pressure - the sensible thing to do will be to re-register as legal places for marriage, and offer only the Church's sacrament of matrimony, thus making it absolutely clear that there can be no question of formalising same-sex unions. Thus something that was gained after the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act will be lost - but it is the most realistic way forward, relieving the Church from the pressure of legal action by campaigners.

It is delightful hearing the familiar traditional Christmas carols sung by choirs in streets and in railway stations. But we need to emphasise that it really is perfectly acceptable to sing these and that the religious nature of their words in no way means that they have to be sidelined. Perhaps that is why I've been doing a lot more carol-singing in recent years: it's important to sing out loud the glorious words about Christ and Mary, the angels, the shepherds, the star and the good, good news.

"the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."

"the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right." (Vat II, and relevant to modern Britain.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Sussex...

...earlier this week, for a meeting of the small group that runs the Catholic History Walks. You can note some dates in your diaries now if you like: June 24th will be the annual Martyrs' Walk through London,, and May 6th will see our annual Catholic History Walkers visit to Allen Hall seminary, where we join the students for a Holy Hour,aftrer a tour of the seminaryt and tea.

The History Walks are sponsored by Miles Jesu, a Catholic movement which runs various projects including a retreat house in Rome, and some children's homes in Ukraine. We'll be raising money for the latter this coming WEDNESDDAY, December 21t, when we go CAROL SINGING in London . Come and join us - meet 6pm at Sloane Square tube station.

And singing...

...greeted me as I finally made it to Victoria station, much too late to fulfil my usual role of conducting the carol singers - who were anyway in fine voice and doiing a simply splendid job. When I arrived, they broke into "We wish you a merry Chrisdtmas!" as I took up my usual stance as conductor and then, even though the time-slot that had been allocated (5-7pm) was really at its end, we had "Joy to the world" and it was glorious.

The group brings together a number of volunteers, notably from St Joseph's Church at Roehampton. They re simply wonderful!

more on...

...Rabbi Sacks' excellent speech in Rome. Here...

WAITING, waiting... home for an electrician to come to tackle a problem in the kitchen. And this afternoon I am due at VICTORIA STATION to lead the carol singing! A friend organises this every year and I conduct the group, and we sing and sing, and full the station with a joyful sound, and it's glorious, and it's a great tradition, and has been a big part of my Christmas for years...and we've just spoken on the 'phone, and I'm distraught that I may not make it!

Praying that the electrician comes in time to free me to be there...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Chief Rabbi...

...of Britain, Lord Sacks, has been lecturing at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome,and saying some wise things. He asks "Has Europe lost its soul?" Read more here

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent... gathering pace, and next Sunday, in our parish, we'll have the blessing of the bambini. This tradition was established by our excellent parish priest a couple of years ago, and is something that ought to catch on everywhere: you bring the infant Jesus from your family nativity crib to Mass for a special blessing. Simple, beautiful, and memorable - and it establishes the whole point of having a crib.


...with prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, carols on the church porch, friendship, and a glorious procession through the streets...that was how Gaudete Sunday was spent at St Patrick's, Soho Square. Things began on Friday evening when the Mission Team gathered with friends and supporters at the church of Notre Dame de France in Leicester Square - prayer, singing, an inspiring and challenging talk from Father Stephen Wang from Allen Hall. Then there was street evangelisation all through Saturday - and today when I arrived at St Patrick's things were busy as delightful young Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, plus young members of the SPES team, plus other enthusiasts, gathered for prayer and action. The climax was the International Mass in the evening, followed by a great procession through Soho - we had Chinese, Brazilians,French, and British people all singing hymns, a statue of Mary carried aloft by some sturdy young men,clergy in vestments, a Cross-bearer surrounded by altar servers and we walked and people gawped, teams of young people handed them little gift-bags, each containing a Scripture verse, a medal, and some sweets.We walked from St Patrick's to Notre Dame de France, where we had some more splendid singing, and prayers, and a blessing. By then rain was falling, and by the time things were over and the statue had to go back to St P's it was torrential - undeterred, the mission team walked steadily back, saying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, water hurtling down from the heavens. All of us were soaked, but joyous, and for me the best moment of Advent 2011 was standing together at St Patrick's as Father Alexander led us in the final prayer and blessed us. An unforgettable day.

Friday, December 09, 2011

An excellent evening at...

...the Catholic Voices Academy , which is held at the London centre of the University of Notre Dame, just off Trafalgar Square. It's a splendid venue, with a large room where we all gather for the lectures which are followed by a social time and glass of wine. Then many go for a meal together nearby, and the talk goes on until late.

This evening Catholic Voices looked at the whole question of the persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, with speakers from Aid to the Church in Need.

Trafalgar Square now has its large glittering Christmas Tree, and in front of it a platform has been erected on which last night a group of singers led carols. With the familiar tunes, and Londoners gathered under a frosty sky, and the roar of London traffic all around, and gusts of chilly wind, I lingered en route to the Notre Dame building. Another Catholic Voices chap had done the same and we greeted one another and enjoyed the scene. For a while, it all felt like the Britain of old, not like therather crude and bleak one that we mostly experience in 2011.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

And... of the best things on the LOndon social scene last weekend was the Catholic Boogie Night held at Hammersmith. It was great fun, and I am glad I was able to be part of it.Huge congratulations to the organisers. Things began with Mass in St Augustine's church, followed by a talk, and then we all went into the hall beneath the church, were welcomed with mulled wine and mince pies and boogied the night away! I most warmly recommend these evenings. The initiator, Ray, is to be hugely commended - and has the grateful thanks of the huge numbers of people who came and had a simply wonderful evening! Thanks, too, to the Westminster diocesan youth chaplain who celebrated Mass and preached most beautifully about Advent, and our sense of time, and the significance of time. And to the parish clergy whoi gave the event full suppport. THis is a great way forward.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Remember that I wrote...

... few days ago about losing my purse, and people being so kind and helpful?

There's more.

I got a telephone call the other day from the Maryvale Institute. My purse had been found, and in it was my Maryvale student card, and thus they had been contacted. My purse - with cheque-card, cash, and other items all intact - had been handed in at an office in Mincing Lane, in the City. When I went there to collect it, the nice secretary was just so happy to have been of help - she explained that it had been found by a chap who happened to be on his way to a meeting there, and he had given it to her asking her to deal with it all. He had found it on the Tube.

Today I noticed, at a Tube station, an advertisment asking people to send in any stories about "acts of kindness on the Tube". So I've written to them! Check out that website from time to time and see if my little story appears on it...

Spent today... and around London. First, a visit to Oliver House, a delightful small prep school overlooking Clapham Common. Then on to central London, and a visit to St Paul's Cathedral - all surrounded with muddle and chaos because of the tented Occupation. It looks a mess. But everyone concerned - public, police, clergy, campers - are being Very Consciously Tolerant and Friendly. I was actually there because I needed to collect something from the gift shop. And in the cathedral itself musicians were tuning up for a big service involving lots of choirs and instrumentalists. It was all somehow a rather surreal experience.

By bus to Kensington for a meeting. The Number 11 goes down Ludgate Hill and along Fleet Street - we passed St Mary-le-Strand and I realised for the umptenth time that I have never bothered to cross to the traffic island on which it stands and peek in. It's said to be a masterpiece of English baroque, and there it stands reproachfully, doors open, and no one going in...

Golden leaves were scattering down as we rounded Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall past the Cenotaph, past another encampment in Parliament Square, and so up Victoria Street. Yesterday I was at the bookshop next to Westminster Cathedral and my book on Blessed John Paul is in the window. (Have you bought your copy yet? Ideal Christmas gift).

The Kensington meeting was re. the Ordinariate. Fund-raising. We gotta get serious about this. Most Catholics haven't got the remotest idea of how significant this Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is, what it means after 400 years, what promise it holds. Much talking and planning: modest but useful things organised for early 2012, more to follow.

Monday, December 05, 2011

There's a very delightful report...

...of Mgr Keith Newton's excellent talk at the recent Towards Advent Festival, on the Ordinariate Website...

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Book the date...

Friday Feb 3rd, 6.15pm at the Hinsley Room, Westminster Cathedral. Film "Pope John Paul II". Coffee and snacks, Donations (suggestion £5) for the Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

This is an event by popular request - a snippet of this film was shown at the Towards Advent Festival as part of a celebratory tribute to Blessed John Paul, and there was great enthusisam when I asked if people would like to see the whole film.

Mgr Keith Newton of the Ordinariate will be joining us.

...and you must listen... the excellent talk by Fr Gerard at Holy Ghost Church. Balham, the other day about the new Mass translation. It was most inspiring, and we finished with a beautiful Benediction, the church glowing with candlelight on the November evening...

Read Auntie...

on the media,telephone tapping,

Friday, December 02, 2011

Organising for Christmas...

...Advent wreath on the table in the main room, presents posted to family overseas, various arrangements made Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Shopping: I'm not using Tescos at the moment, as they are funding a homosexualist "Pride" activists' event in London. Correspondence with them on the subject has been polite but completely unsatisfactory. As it happens it is much more pleasant and convenient to use a couple of other local shops, so the collecting of Christmassy goodies and gifts is well under way.

London is getting into Christmas mode - read here.