Archive for January, 2010

There is an interesting piece in the first of the Vatican Council Decrees called “Lumen Gentium” (The Light Of The Nations) that has indeed thrown an illuminating light on the exploration of the ‘Priesthood’ in this ‘Year Of The Priest’. (It is to be found in the Paragraphs 2 / 3 in Section 32):

“The chosen people of God is one: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). As members, they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ. They have the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection. They possess in common one salvation, one hope, and one undivided charity. Hence, there is in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus”. (Gal 3:28 cf. Col. 3:11)

If therefore everyone in the Church does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God (cf. 2 Pet: 1:1). And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, dispensers of mysteries, and shepherds on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ.”

St. Mary’s, Leyland, is fortunate in that many people in the Parish exercise initiative, and all kinds of things go on that work, precisely, towards the building up of the ‘One Body’. Joe Kealey is a one such person, in this point of view. Post-Christmas, he has organised, a series of monthly, “mini three-hour retreats”, focussed on the Priesthood in this ‘Year For The Priest. During each of the prayer times, there is to be a talk from a monk/priest or a nun, about their vocation, and it fell to me to start this process off, on Wednesday, last. There is nothing quite like having a deadline to meet, to sharpen the mind and heart and, over the past week, I have been thinking about what I was to say on the subject of “Why I became a monk – and, what has sustained me in this vocation”.  So, I am most grateful to Joe for his dogged perseverance, in setting this up, and in persuading several of us ‘religious’ to share their stories with an audience. Seeing before me the familiar faces of a few parishioners – as well as that familiar person, Sister Pauline MacDonald, who is the only Leyland girl to join the congregation of Our Lady of the Missions – I found myself thinking how similar it must be, to the vocations of those people in front of me, and therefore, how true and prophetic are those Vatican Council words, above, written some 45 years ago. We ordained priests, we religious and we lay folk are (like it or not) ‘in the same boat together, largely’.

In dwelling on all this, one or two ideas come to mind: the monastic life we lead is fascinating, absorbing and for me enjoyable.   I remember Abbot Basil Hume telling a group of us, young monks – who thought we understood the monastic way of life – that it takes at least twenty-five years to understand the monastic life. I wonder how long it takes to understand, properly, the vocation to marriage and all that that implies? My hunch would be a fair length of time – if not a life-time!  Then, in my case, my vocation came about through many twists and turns of providence, including the fact I was almost not sent to be a boy pupil, in Ampleforth College, where my vocation was nurtured. How true this must be, also, for those in other vocations! To continue, I then went on to describe many of the challenges I have faced and at the same time pose the question as to which of us does not face challenges – each in their own vocation –  including doubts, sense of loneliness, sometimes questioning the ‘absence’ of God’s love –  and then on top of all this, there are illnesses, bereavements and, in families, the challenges that children bring to their parents, and vice-versa, challenges that have never been mine?

But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – on the positive side, there are the many supports that help me, and hopefully others to persevere. A life of prayer is the ‘key’, common to all of us; good friends also; and, in my case, the supporting gifts of a loving God who helped me, through circumstances, to become involved in the life of that ‘Unity’ or ‘Communion’ – a ‘One-ness’ that has given me a sense of purpose, strengthening me to continue to believe, and begin again, even when things have been very hard. In practice, this means there are other people who sustain and support me and, reciprocally, I also sustain and support them – a common theme in the Church, which is called a “People of God”, or “The Body of Christ”, or “The temple made up of living stones”. But, that is also surely true for all of us – a truth that is borne out just as surely, in many other ways, within a parish community – a community composed, principally,of people we know, people we can call friends and all those people among whom we alive and associate?

My conclusion – the title above rings true.  In the Church we possess:

‘One Salvation, One Hope and One Undivided Charity’.

You Are Witnesses

Nothing interests me more than meeting the Living Lord Jesus. He is peace, joy, purpose in life, happiness, a sense of humour, the ability to overcome difficulties, serious sufferings, and separation. My blog today is an attempt to describe meeting Him this last week. 

In the main service of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Churches Together in Leyland met on Wednesday 20th January, at St. Ambrose Church, in Moss Lane.  We followed the service that the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland had suggested.  During that service we were given a blank postcard and asked to fill in the question “What are you looking for” in the context of our Unity Service. 

It was a good question, and one that follows a week in which each day we have been asked, together, to consider and converse with each other, about certain aspects of our Christian experience, in relation to the general theme of the Week of Prayer, “You are Witnesses”.  Each day during the week we have taken the Word of God from Luke, Chapter 24 – the chapter that includes striking stories of the Resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, the stories have come alive for me, this week, as I have heard them read section by section.  Incidentally, this chapter includes the famous ‘Road to Emmaus’ story. 

On a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, November 2009, the last place we visited after seven memorable days, was the site of Emmaus, some seven miles from Jerusalem.  (To be fair, this is one of four different sites for Emmaus around Jerusalem, but that did not take away the spiritual impact of the place.)  It is located in a Palestinian area, and in a village where Christians are represented , among the many Muslims, by one Christian family and two Franciscan priests, who look after the shrine. I became very friendly with Fr. Francesco, the Polish Superior, in the short time we were there; I found him full of joy.  

Fr. Francesco and I had our photographs taken together, and at the scene, there was a lovely picture of Jesus ‘breaking bread’ behind the high altar.  But, life in that place was not easy: to get there one must first negotiate several road blocks, all constructed by the Israeli authorities, but also the roads and infrastructure surrounding life in this area are very poor, and the tiny group of Christians had – not surprisingly – suffered some difficulties created by their Islamic neighbours. On balance, I suppose this could perhaps have happened, in another country, and in another context, the end result being quite the reverse – Christians making it hard work for a Muslim minority!  But, to continue and reiterate our ‘ecumenical’ theme, on that occasion we celebrated a mass in the Catholic Church there, and the Word of God was proclaimed by a Salvation Army Officer, who works at their HQ in London.  Certainly, we experienced the presence of the Risen Lord, between the pair of us – with also the Anglicans, Methodists and URC people – and those who were Catholics, for we, too, were there on pilgrimage, with the express purpose of being in the Holy Land, gathered in the name of Jesus. All these memories have added to my appreciation of Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 24, during this last week.


Tuesday 18th January marked Day 2 of the Week of Prayer, and in the Methodist Church, Leyland, at the 12 noon Service, we were asked to consider ‘how we are witnesses, through stories’, and we shared with each other the following questions: 

1.                Have you ever been drawn into the stories of others?

2.                Has there been an occasion when you were able to share a story of faith?

3.                Where can we find the “Gospel Gossiped” using modern communications? 

For me, It was enlightening to hear from an Anglican of St. James’ Parish, Slater Lane, Leyland, how he had been inspired as a prison visitor, by the story of a prisoner, on a long sentence, in Wymott Prison, Near Leyland,  and who had come to Christ after committing serious crime – the result of his addiction to alcohol. Indeed, it transpired that the parishioner felt he could identify with this prisoner, as he had also been under the ‘curse’ of alcohol addiction, for a certain period, in his own life. Significantly, the prisoner’s story had provided inspiration to my fellow Leyland Christian. 

Thus, there has been a real and serious conversation taking place all week among the Christians of Britain, during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and for me, the ‘light’ that has been ‘seen’, in Leyland, is a sure sign of the Presence of the Lord, when people gather in His Name – especially as we are all involved in the prayer services, for and because, we believe in living and working for the Unity that Jesus prayed for, when he exclaimed: “That they should all be one.” 

Below are the results of those postcards in answer to the question: “What are you looking for?”  Not everyone present actually produced a card – we must have numbered about 100 or so people. From the results, It is fascinating that so many people, quite independently, should refer to “peace and harmony” in life!  Hopefully, the answers may help those who read this ‘blog’. 

  • I am looking for the day when all people will be kind and loving to each other.
  • Hope and inner peace.
  • Eternal life.
  • A caring, sharing, loving Christian community here in Leyland.
  • To grow closer to the other Christians, in Leyland, as we walk, day by day, our journey together, witnessing to God.
  • I am searching for more faith for me.
  • For peace for all, a peace that lasts, is not transient and brings harmony and quiet to all in this noisy life.
  • Unity, working alongside each other, with love.
  • Friendship, understanding and peace across our faiths.
  • Peace.
  • A sense of fellowship with Jesus.
  • I am looking for the day when all people of whatever faith will accept each other.
  • For the gift of life, for the gift of peace and harmony around the world.
  • I pray for peace and reconciliation with our Lord, in this country and around the world.
  • Some indication of how we can stand and be proud of the fact that we are Christians in this current ‘unfashionable’ wave of indifference.
  • For all Christians. to love one another. with no divisions.
  • For all Christians to focus on Jesus and not on differences. For peace and harmony.
  • Harmony and peace and tolerance in all religions and faiths.
  • “The Peace of the Lord” for all people
  •  A way to get us all together, to respect each other, and to work together.
  • A peaceful, caring Church, Neighbourhood, Country and World.
  • Christian unity “not before time”. I hope it comes about in my time.
  • Fellowship, acceptance and tolerance.
  • The One.
  • The cross unites us, but I’m looking and praying for the Lord to help us overcome the     “human” influences that shape the different ways we worship in order to learn from one another. Better ways of enriching our walk with God in order better to glorify Him, shed His light afar, and spread the good news.
  • I would hope that as Churches in Leyland we may discover how to make “our search  for unity” more alive with new people involved.

I think the Lord, himself, would have written some of those thoughts, had He been asked, as we were to complete this exercise – perhaps, a kind of meeting with Him, in Leyland, this week, and I feel a great joy in all of it.

Ice, and the consequential dangers of slipping and falling, prevented us from having our Parish Pastoral Council meeting last week. Our main topic of discussion was to be focussed on the question as to how we can best highlight the topic of the ‘Year of the Priest’ for our parishioners. Cancellation of the meeting effectively postpones this discussion for a month, but, in the light of ‘eternity’, that is not a long time, and the exploration about ‘priesthood’ will go on for a long time – even after this year is over. At the same time, it allows more time to reflect, ponder and let life pass quietly by, and that is, perhaps, the best way to learn and understand.

In the Baptismal ceremony, the second anointing with Holy Chrism explains that, when we have been baptised, we are given the joy and task of sharing in the role of Jesus, who is the Priest, Prophet and King. What does that mean? Unquestionably, books upon books could the written on the subject: but, here goes for a short summary:

  • A priest is a bridge-maker (pontifex in latin: pons is a bridge, facio, I make) and that is quite meaningful for ordained priests, in a specific way, and also for un-ordained laity: bridge-makers between heaven and earth of course.
  • A prophet is somebody who speaks out for the things of God – rather than simply somebody who can foretell the future. In the Old Testament, one thing Prophets were famous for was the denunciation of those who, on the surface, followed all the precepts of the law, but then cheated on their neighbours, those who did not welcome strangers and but who lived in a self-centred way, again superficially and ‘religiously’ keeping all the rules and making a show of saying their prayers so that everyone could see them. Human nature teaches us that, in some circumstances, ordained priests and un-ordained laity could be this kind of ‘prophet’, but no Christian ‘worth his salt’ should fall willingly into hypocrisy – even if that is hard to achieve, wholly, to the ultimate degree.
  • A king is somebody who reigns, and is free with ‘largesse’ and power – power to be used wisely, with mercy and justice and with caring fairness – and who is respected for such qualities. A person who loves, totally, is free like that – because they are not overburdened by self-preoccupation, and which gives them a certain authority. A notable example was Don Borelli, an Italian priest who lived among the “poorest street boys” in Naples, dressing like them, and who was, apparently, indistinguishable from them. I remember him well as he used to come and visit my parents, who lived in Naples. He told us that when he went with these Neapolitan urchins into the courtyards of the blocks of flats of the rich, they felt really free – even when chased out by the ‘warden’ – because they then simply went to another, seated themselves in the sun, and ‘accepted’ the grapes off the vines that were there and, on all such occasions, never did anyone any harm. I have noticed that some of those who are least well off, materially, in our Parish, and who are good at loving God and neighbour, can have this sense of royalty, independence, joy and respect. Ordained priests are not powerful, rich men on the whole, but they are often ‘free as birds’, as the saying goes, and that is nothing to do with being un-married, or any other such restriction. It is true that un-ordained laity can share the same gift.

The unanswerable question is whether Pope Benedict proclaimed the “Year of the Priest” because of the shortage of ordained priests, because of a crisis in the identity of the ordained priest, or for other various reasons?  We do not know for certain! However, one thing is certain: our ordained priests come from those who are lay people, and lay people are “Royal Priests”, i.e. those who share in the baptismal gifts and responsibilities. Furthermore, if all do not “live out” their Royal Priesthood well, there will be a serious crisis among the Ordained Priests. For one thing, young men (in our Catholic case) will not learn from others – family, friends or parishioners – the things of God, and secondly, the ordained priests would find a laity that is seriously deficient in living the Christian life and would get discouraged.

There are so many reasons – at least here, in Leyland – defining continuing encouragement for us in our monastic/priestly community, and this is not just a case of looking at things with ‘rose-tinted spectacles’, for in human society, there is always room for improvement.  Take those who simply take the initiative and do things that are practically helpful. Recently, somebody left a note where all the mud and salt had seriously dirtied the link between the Sacristy and the Church, saying “take care, slippery floor”, at the same time, leaving it spotlessly clean. Others came on their own initiative and cleared paths through the ice, on the piazza outside our Church. Many others do unknown good deeds to many – like those people who sorted out the burst pipe in the Narthex toilet.

More recently still, a family in the Parish have lost their teen-age son in tragic circumstances. The parents, too, are sharing the things of God with me by their good attitude, in the face of a great personal loss that is so difficult – so difficult, it is almost impossible to imagine. Their lad was like the “Benjamin” of the family and so their loss is all the more poignant.

Another example and one that touched me deeply concerns Mary Mueller, a parishioner who lived in Euxton. Somebody came up to me after Mass and said: “When is Mary’s funeral?” I was surprised that this person knew her, and I could see that he was agitated, with tears in his eyes, so I explained that I thought it had already happened. The other said: “She was the most influential person in my life,” and this made me ask why? His reply was: “When we had a baby out of wedlock, we thought about having an abortion, and Mary talked to us and as a result our ‘young person’ was born”.  I was amazed, because I knew the ‘young person’ in question, and with high respect for both child and parents. Significantly, that ‘young person’ has had a good effect on others. As to this issue, I have also experienced, personally, the devastation caused to ‘mums’ and ‘dads’ that have been involved in abortion issues together with the healing ,through God’s mercy, that is available to them, and I can witness to the good such people can do for others, even after all these things have happened.

In my heart I thank God for the Royal Priesthood and for Mary Mueller and for all the others. Let us learn from them, and, for my own part, I pray each day for the vocations that God desires for us, in the Priesthood and Religious Life, each day. Certainly, this will demand sacrifices from individuals and from families, but it is also brings the greatest joy of a life well-lived, with a great purpose that ultimately gives Glory to God.

The Beauty of the Psalms

“It was not in my bow that I trusted nor yet was I saved by my sword:

It was you who saved us from our foes; it was you who put our foes to shame.

All day long our boast was in God and we praised your name without ceasing.”

(from Ps 43 or 44) 

As monks, we pray the psalms each day, and I discover that they are a reflection on my own experience of life. It has not been an ‘easy ride’ over the last 49 years of monastic life. However I wouldn’t have had it any other way, for I hope that in the crucible of life all of us begin to gain “wisdom of heart” as a psalm puts it. My “crucible” has been a monastic life with all that that implies. 

Mark you, I do wonder how many people today will learn without the ‘helps’ that certainly came my way, in my younger life. This has been borne home in my present reading of an account of a person whom I met in the late 1970’s, Igino Giordani, in a lovely place called Rocca di Papa (Rock of the Pope) in the beautiful Alban Hills outside Rome, This man, Igino Giordani, who died in 1980 at the age of 86, is in the process of being Beatified by the Church. My reading tells me how this friendly, loving, learned and cultured man was born into a poor family, his mother illiterate and filled with God’s love, his father a brick layer and also devoted to his God and his Church. Igino became a brilliant young student with a glittering career, that included almost losing his life in the Italian Army in the First World War, hiding from the Fascists in Italy when they were in power under Mussolini, author of over 100 books, and distinguished politician. Later, through circumstances, he came to have a huge influence in promoting unity and love for peoples of all faiths and cultures covering all spheres of life, and especially among families – giving a vision of holiness to ordinary men and women all over the world, young and old, and who happened not to be priests or monks or nuns. 

Continuing, my readings tell me that when Igino was a young boy, his every day background experience was one in which God, and the things of the Divine were part of the air he breathed. This makes me reflect on my younger life. It was similar and yet different. Our mother had an immense trust in God, and an appreciation of God’s Love and the importance of living out his teachings. She had learned this from her Church of England family, reinforced by her delight when she followed the logic of her ‘story’ and entered full communion with the Catholic Church. She was not a learned lady, but she knew God, loved Him and influenced us in knowing him through her life; she knew that her temperament, that included an excessive need to keep everything clean, tidy and in order was not the over-riding thing in life, and also she was quite “bossy”. Magnificently, Divine values shone through all this. My father was born a Catholic but, as a young boy in an Anglican boarding school, he and the minority of Catholic boys were teased, mercilessly, by the others. My father was quite stubborn, and this simply strengthened his Catholic faith that had been nurtured by his mother – an Italian Catholic, herself, and strong personality, whom my Father loved deeply. Like Igino, he too, wondered about “entering the Church” as a priest, and went to the Jesuits for six months. That vocation, as for Igino Giordani was not to be, but his love and devotion to God and the Church was, if anything, complimentary and stronger than that of our mother. He wrote beautiful religious poems, was a romantic at heart, and loved his children and grandchildren – even sometimes without understanding us. He had a quite different temperament to our mother, and at times, it was not easy for them to “gel” together. What kept them united was that both felt themselves complete and fulfilled within God’s love – and this love was over-riding. 

Our home was a place of the Divine: we had family prayer; we had religious pictures in every room, many crucifixes in the house, tastefully portrayed; we were sent off to be altar servers, getting up early on week-days for that ‘duty’. Our education was with nuns at an early age, and later in Catholic schools where these essential values continued, in the case of my two brothers and myself in the monastic school at Ampleforth, where again the Divine was the background atmosphere we lived and breathed. My sister attended convent school and that experience, like we three boys at Ampleforth, coloured her life deeply – in a positive way – as, of course, Ampleforth did for me, as here, today,  I remain a contented member of that monastic community. 

However, in all this, please do not think  that to “gain wisdom of heart” has been easy. The world and all its ‘values’ are not in harmony with the things of God, and for me, at least, there have been many struggles – and this against all the advantages of the background I have painted! It makes me consider how much harder it must be for people – especially the young – without the advantage of such a background. 

Like my mother and father, I have learned to be trusting in God and the future of things, even when they can seem bleak. Significantly, the words of the psalm have been those of my own experience. 

“It was not in my bow that I trusted nor yet was I saved by my sword:

It was you who saved us from our foes; it was you who put our foes to shame.

All day long our boast was in God and we praised your name without ceasing.” 

Discerning signs of “a culture of support” –  support that I enjoyed, and support for the people of today, it is good to associate with those few around us who know God, who love him and who trust in Him. The verses of the psalm are enlightening. They imply that a person needs help, for it is no good to try and save oneself. There is no ‘mileage’ in trusting in MY bow or MY sword, i.e. MY resources. They are not good enough. God can directly intervene in life, but God usually intervenes with the help of others. This is emphasised by the psalm when it says: “WE praised your name without ceasing.”  No one needs to be on their own. 

In our world, there is no doubt of our interdependence, locally, nationally and internationally, across many different spheres, and on many different levels – an interdependence controlling our very existence. If the Arabs were to cut off our oil, we would be helpless: if international terrorists were to continue to succeed in their evil deeds our world would become paralysed: if global warming were to completely take over, all of us will become seriously affected.  The list could go on … and on …  and on … 

Let me end by some examples of love (which is the implication of this short page) –  examples that come from children: What Love means to a 4-8 years old …. 

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, ‘What does love mean?’   Some of the replies are given below … … 

‘When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love. (Rebecca – aged 8) 

‘When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.’ (Billy – aged 4) 

‘Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your chips without making them give you any of theirs. (Chrissy – aged 6) 

‘Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.’ (Terri – aged 4) 

‘Love is when my mummy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.’ (Danny – aged 7) 

‘Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.’ (Bobby – aged 7) 

‘If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate,’ (Nikka – aged 6) 

‘Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.’ (Noelle – aged 7) 

‘Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.’ (Tommy – aged 6) 

‘During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.’ (Cindy – aged 8) 

‘My mummy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.’ (Clare – aged 6) 

‘Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.’ (Elaine – aged 5) 

‘Love is when Mommy sees Daddy, smelly and sweaty, and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford. (Chris – aged 7) 

And the last one, from a four years old child, whose next door neighbour was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy knocked on his neighbour’s door, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said, the little boy said, ‘Nothing, I just helped him cry’. 

When there is nothing left but God, that is when you find out that God is all you need, then you might pause for 60 seconds, put your trust in Him and perhaps say this prayer: 

“Dear God, please bless me and all my friends, in whatever it is that You know

we may be needing this day! And may our lives be full of Your peace, love and power,

as we seek to have a closer relationship with You. Amen.”