Archive for May, 2011

May – The Month of Mary

Whilst writing this I am mindful of the fact that it just happens to be a bit late in the day; in another sense, the ‘horse has almost bolted’, but then a very old adage points out, quite rightly, that it may be better to act late, rather than never.  Having said all that, something a week ago  ‘kick-started’ my brain into action, and the thoughts ‘raining down’ into my mind focussed on Our Lady and her month – the month of May.

Looking back over the years, often with ‘rose-tinted’ spectacles, is something older people do, and I find myself no exception.  In the ‘days of yore’, it seems to me that the month of May was always blessed with fine, warm and sunny weather, the flowers in the gardens, the fields and the hedgerows always so beautiful and we, as children, loved to play out in the month of May, not only for all that, but because it was a very happy month dedicated to Our Blessed Lady.  As Catholics, the Church, and churches through England and many parts of the world, celebrated the Month of Our Lady with prayers and devotions, with the May processions and the Crowning of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven.  I can remember, as if it were only yesterday, the (often large) congregations walking in procession, inside and, weather permitting, outside the church, carrying the statue of Our Lady about to be ‘crowned’, young girls – ladies even – dressed in white, preceding the statue carried shoulder high, strewing flower petals in her path and the singing of some the most beautiful hymns I ever heard in church, for example: 

Bring flowers of the rarest,
Bring blossoms the fairest,
From garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
Our full hearts are swelling,
Our glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest flower of the vale.

O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May,
O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

From Greek and Roman times, May was very much connected with the idea of new life – the season of new beginnings. In Greek culture, May was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of fruitfulness. In Roman culture, May was dedicated to Flora, the goddess of bloom, of blossoms. The Romans celebrated their ‘Floral Games’ at the end of April, asking the intercession of Flora for all that blooms. This is also related to the medieval practice of saying goodbye to winter.  May Day – the first day of May – remember the dancing around the’ May-Pole’ – was considered the beginning of spring-time, of new growth, and all this is reflected in the person of Mary. The month of May was – and still is – traditionally dedicated to Mary, throughout many cultures, and the reason is not hard to find.  Mary gave birth to Jesus and a new way of life for the world. 

For the early Church, we know that devotions to Our Blessed Lady go back all the way to the times of the Apostles, the first Christians and their immediate descendants.   Saint Peter Chrysologus (c.380-c.450), Bishop and Doctor, whose feast is held July 30, was convinced of the necessity of devotion to Mary.  He wrote the following powerful words almost 1,600 years ago: 

“He who is not awestruck by this Virgin’s spirit and who does not admire her soul is ignorant of how great God is. Heaven trembles, angels quake, creation cannot bear it, nature is helpless—yet a girl carries God in her womb; she receives Him into herself and offers Him a dwelling place.”  

As long ago as in medieval times, it seems that some nations of Europe made the connection between Our Lady and her month – the month of May.  In the early days, certain feasts were dedicated to Our Lady in May, and then later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the cultures of Spain, Italy and France introduced the idea of dedicating the whole month to Mary.

Daily devotions to Our Lady began, I think in Italy, in the 19 Century, and many churches held the daily recitation of the Rosary and other prayers to Mary.  The highlight of the month was the procession and the crowning of Our Lady’s statue. The important thing was that Mary should be honoured in a special way. At one time, our domestic celebrations of the month of May were widespread. In more recent times, many homes used to set up a small May altar in honour of Our Lady.  Some of our most lovely prayers are dedicated to her.  I am thinking of the Prayer for England and the ‘Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy’, and think to myself that, sadly, we do not seem to recite these, as a congregation, quite as often as once it was our joy so to do. 

So, what has happened in the intervening years?  Crowning processions – the May processions – prayers to Our Lady, the weekly praying of the Rosary before Benediction, even the singing of hymns to Our Lady – all of these devotions do not happen these days; if they do, they are a rarity!  I find myself unable to provide meaningful answers to such questions.  Nor can I understand, why it should be that our concentration appears to have shifted direction – not entirely, away from Mary, the Mother of God, but as congregations go, our devotions do not seem to include her, as once they did. In the main, she is left to our minds and hearts – as individuals – in private prayer. 

I conclude with the Prayer for England, composed by Cardinal Wiseman – one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard – and we used to say it every week without fail, many years ago: 

O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother look down in mercy upon England, thy dowry, and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee. By thee it was that Jesus, our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more.  Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the cross, O Sorrowful Mother, Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold, they may be united to the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son.  Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith, fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee in our heavenly home.  Amen. 

Perhaps, because of its connotations of ‘Oneness’ ‘Trueness’ and aspects of separatism, we no longer recite this prayer; certainly, in making this point, I applaud the massive steps that have been taken to bring the different Christian churches closer together and intend no offence, whatsoever.  But, to return to Our Lady and her Month of May, I still wonder what we have done with the devotions to Our Lady as time has gone by?

(Unfortunately, in sending out this blog by e-mail, ‘Word Press’ distorts the original formatting of the document.  Readers are, therefore, advised to visit the website should they wish to read it in its intended format).


Osama bin Laden

(1)    Introduction

I like this blog and its approach. I have thought about it a lot since it was brought to my attention. Furthermore, there is a very well written article in the ‘Tablet’, this week that is also on this theme. This explains how, in the past, the Americans have acted against their enemies, usually by capturing them and taking them alive. 

I am not an intellectual, nor necessarily good with arguments, but here some simple extra thoughts in my head. 

  1. As a child I was taught that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’, and it seems to apply in this case of ‘summary execution’ which is comparable to the American ‘cowboy’ films when the local townspeople tie up the sheriff and take the law into their own hands. That seems to be what happened to Osama Bin Laden as is implied in the blog below; it is also analogous to the actions of the Klu Klux Clan in USA. Sadly, such things could also happen in the UK!
  2. The words of Jesus are very strong: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, if a person strikes you on one cheek offer him the other”, etc. etc. That is nothing like the motives behind revenge killing.
  3. I am well aware that criminals ought to face justice – justice according to the law. Today I was with somebody who has served a short prison sentence, and being a man of honour, this man said – I deserved to be punished for what I did. Osama should have been punished. How? I do not know, and I agree that it would have been a very tricky situation had he remained alive. However…… there are all these questions in peoples’ heads about what happened.
  4. I have asked several people today about this: most of them knew who I am, and so they see me as a Catholic priest, but one conversation was striking.  The lady had no idea who I was, and we talked about this matter: I was not wearing clericals.  She said clearly: “If we summarily kill Osama Bin Laden, then we are only acting in the way he acted towards us”.

Father Jonathan

(2)    The Blog 

Now that all the excitement at the death of Osama Bin Laden has died down just a little, I have to ask the question as to whether it can ever be morally right to take pleasure at the death of another human being.  When the news of his ‘killing’ hit the news in the early part May, I actually raised the subject with a friend, and posed the question as to the moral righteousness of communities, peoples, even nations taking part in what can only be described as a furore of rejoicing in the downfall – the death – of a man.  Osama was No. 1 on the international ‘wanted’ list, a hated terrorist, thought by millions of people to be the brains behind – perhaps even involved directly in the planning – of the most despicable and diabolical attack on the American people, when hi-jacked planes were flown into New York’s Twin Towers.

There is little doubt that he was full of hate for the West and all its ideologies – that he had threatened to use his power in an effort to destroy the Western powers in some kind of retaliation for the way in which they had treated Islam – and that he was behind the formation of the terrorist group called al-Qaeda.

As to his death itself, the news items since broadcast seem to be pointing to the fact that Osama was not armed when located at his villa refuge in Pakistan, and although it is said he resisted the American Forces’ attempts to arrest him, I wonder if this act, in itself, sounds much more like an execution than a lawful killing.  I am not sure that we will ever know the full truth. 

Having gone thus far, I can now hear the vociferous voices raised against me and these few comments above.  I can almost feel the outrage than many will be shouting – feeling – at my unwarranted – and unwanted – interference.  I can hear the question being asked: “How can you be so stupid – you were not involved in the incidence of the horror and the aftermath of New York’s 9/11 – so shut up and let us get on with wiping Osama from the face of the earth, and from all living memory.”  I can hear those who were involved, and related to, those where were murdered and maimed in the London Bombings, in July 2005, asking the question: “Where were you when this mass murder occurred?”  I can then hear you say; “Grow up, get some common sense – get a taste of all that – you must be soft in the head!”  The last decade has been full of international terrorist attacks in many parts of the world, America, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Middle East, the Far East, India and Pakistan, and, although it would be hard to prove the direct connection, the International Community seems to be convinced, from the evidence it has, that the al-Qaeda Group is behind many of these attacks.  “So where will the ‘softly, softly’ legal approach to such a group and its methods likely to take us?”  The answer of the ‘mob’ would be that this is not the way to deal with terrorists and the threats they pose to the international community of nations.  I think the most popular answer is that all such evil people should be condemned to hell, forthwith, and good riddance! 

I can find nothing inside of my heart and mind that could ever be thought supportive, in any way, of terrorism or terrorists.  All of such activity is steeped in evil and I don’t care what ideological cover- name you give it. However, on reflection, it was the mob that cried out for the crucifixion of Jesus, and Jesus gave us one or two choice pointers to the right way to deal with such questions. In the first instance, he warned us not to judge others, as this was not our place, but God’s, and went on to say that those who judge will face judgement themselves.  He refused to condemn Mary Magdalene and offered the first stone to the one that was without sin. And, try as I might, I cannot picture Jesus jumping up and down for joy should the crowd have chosen Barabbas for execution – instead of himself – that was certainly not his style!  Can it ever be right for other mere humans to judge, when we cannot objectively be certain of his, or her, guilt, and even if we could, we cannot possibly know what passed through their minds and hearts, at the very instance of their deaths – what intimacy transpired between their minds and their God, as they gave up life on this mortal coil.  Did they say sorry?  Did they ask for forgiveness? Unless we were to know such things, how can we condemn?  I wonder! 

The ‘bottom line’ is, in my view, that anything to do with the perpetration of terror is wrong and unsupportable.  Any act of terror that can be proved to result from the actions of a terrorist is evil in itself, and any allegations of such evil actions against a known person, once caught, should be the subject of a fair trial according to International Law.  It follows, that, on conviction, any sentence must be one awarded in accordance with that jurisdiction.  This is what International Law demands.  It does not give licence for unlawful killing, and nor does it, in my view, applaud the rather unseemly rejoicing at the killing of a terrorist group leader – Bin Laden – et al. 


(3)    A Short Statement from the Vatican 

 The Vatican has said that a Christian ‘never rejoices’ in the face of someone’s death, even if that person has committed heinous crimes. The comment came as part of a short response to the worldwide news that Osama bin Laden, taken to be a key al-Qaida leader, had been killed by US forces in Pakistan, according to a statement made by President Barack Obama.  The Vatican described ‘bin Laden’ as a man who sowed division and hatred and who caused ‘innumerable’ deaths, and said his demise should prompt serious reflection about human responsibility before God.

A Christian ‘never rejoices’ in the face of a man’s death, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said in a brief statement this morning (2 May 2011). Peace not hatred should be what we seek in all events, he declared. An English translation of his statement was released by the Catholic Church, and reads as follows:

“Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose.   

“In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.” 

(Unfortunately, in sending out this blog by e-mail, ‘Word Press’ distorts the original formatting of the document.  Readers are, therefore, advised to visit the website should they wish to read it in its intended format).


Poems to Make Us Think and Smile

Today, I thought of a different kind of blog. Essentially, it is to do with being ‘English’, a rather esoteric, elusive and somewhat mysterious concept – something that a local Leylander thinks we may have lost – largely, because of the influx of foreigners into our country, ‘foreigners’ with their seemingly strong cultures.

By comparison, our ‘Englishness’ may seem weak and ‘wishy-washy’ when measured against the strength of the Gujurati, Hindu, Pakistani, cultures; or, for that matter, and nearer home, against the well-established Latin cultures of Italy, Spain or France.  Whether or not we have a ‘wishy-washy’ culture – and I am not at all convinced by the idea – the suggestion put forward by my ‘Leylander’ has made me think. Certainly, we ‘Englanders’ have something important to share with the rest of the world – though it may not be easy to define it – to put our finger on the essence of what that may be. 

Finding myself in a position of having to respond, to an allegation that I find a little unsettling, my first thoughts centre on an exemplary in the person of Cardinal Newman, a shy English gentleman with an acute mind, a heart as ‘big as they come’, undemonstrative in his style, but very much a leading figure, and demonstrative in what he did, when he deliberately chose to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, on 9 October 1845; yet, in his culture and thought processes, he seemed not to cut himself off, from his Anglican roots.  We parishioners in St. Mary’s, now have a focal point, in Church, putting us constantly in mind of Blessed John Henry Newman, and this is not only because of his recent beatification by Pope Benedict, but also because we are beginning, within the Parish our ‘Newman Fund’. You can read about this by going to 

But, to continue, the following sonnet was printed in the Parish Magazine of St. Austin’s Parish – one of our Ampleforth parishes, in Liverpool; to me, it seems to provide a helpful first answer to this question of ‘Englishness’. 


Come kindly light, which led John Henry on;

and shine through him to light us on our way.

Revered in death, we trust his night is gone;

disclose that triumph, Lord, for which we pray.

In dreary times as these, when seemingly

no sanctity, no wisdom has prevailed,

a saintly guide who weathered much may be

Love’s answer, to inspire; to inspire the sore assailed.

Now, Lord, we know that he who heavenward towers

extends his power of prayer; so in his name

we pray for cures, for heavenly gifts in showers.

May God permit his vicar to relay

a Father’s joy the angels’ glad acclaim;

news of his gaining everlasting day. 

Peter Ryden wrote these lines to mark the beatification of John Henry Newman, by Pope Benedict XVI, September 2010. His aunt, Isobel Ferguson, is a parishioner of St. Austin’s.  

I also think, that one of the many strands that explains our ‘Englishness’, comes from our language. It is a very hard one – difficult in fact – for foreigners to speak perfectly, because it follows no logic, and even though its rules of grammar are few, the pronunciation can be very difficult to grasp.  I wonder if not many of the absurdities we read in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ come partly from our language, which can be profoundly absurd in its pronunciation – something that leads us to enjoy that rather wonderful  sense of the ridiculous – but something that I have never come across in foreigners?  Moreover, this ‘nonsense’ within the language – and its unique humour – largely escapes those not totally conversant with the Englishman’s ‘funny’ way of expressing himself.  

Over the years, I have come across a few ‘rhymes’ that make fun of the difficulty of our pronunciation, and the one following, also printed in the St. Austin’s Parish Magazine, caused Fr. Theodore and I to burst into paroxysms of laughter. 


We’ll begin with a box and the plural is boxes;

but the plural of ox is oxen not oxes.

Then one fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,

yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice;

yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,

why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?

If I spoke of my foot and showed you my feet,

and I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,

why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beet?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,

yet hat in the plural would never be hose,

and the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,

but although we say mother, we never say methren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,

but imagine the feminine, she, shis and shim.

So English I fancy you will all agree

is the craziest language you ever did see. 

This poem was contributed by a St. Austin’s Parishioner, John Grice. He says it was written by a colleague at ICI, an American by the name of John C. Woods. Perhaps, working in ICI, is a good foundation to becoming a ‘bard’, and perhaps’ in the USA’ they feel just as crazy as we do’ about their culture. 

Pondering these questions, I am driven to ask the question as to whether it may be that our ‘English’ contribution to the cultures of the world, comes from this kind of background – a background that allows us to laugh at ourselves, yet be calm and collected in the face of danger and disaster; the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ is something that comes to mind, something to be compared with the calm of the policemen, in London, after the 7/7 Underground Bombings, or the quiet modesty of Blessed John Henry Newman. 

It would be most interesting to hear what readers of the ‘blog’ think about ‘England’, ‘Englanders’ and our ‘English’ contribution to our world. 

(Unfortunately, in sending out this blog by e-mail, ‘Word Press’ distorts the original formatting of the document.  Readers are, therefore, advised to visit the website should they wish to read it in its intended format).

Late Have I Loved You

In John’s Gospel, Chapter 14 is a special chapter. We have the phrases of Jesus ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places’; ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ and also the phrase that really struck home to me on the feast of the Apostles, Saints Philip and James, last Tuesday 3rd May: 

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.’

Jesus said to him,

‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?’ 

St. Philip, Apostle

Philip must have known Jesus for about 2½ to 3 years. I have known him for at least sixty years, and yet I felt that those words might have been: ‘Have you been with me all this time, Jonathan, and you still do not know me?’ Without wanting to exaggerate any deficiency, it does strike me that, knowing Jesus and knowing God the Father – both intimately connected – is the interest of my life, but there is always more to learn, and a sense that, when you learn more, I at least, understand that, what I knew before was not really enough. 

This ‘knowing’ is not the same as the ‘knowledge’ that one learns at school. It is much more to do with being so sure of another that, you can always, and without any hesitation, trust that person. Furthermore, it is to do with knowing the one with whom you are completely ‘in love’ – to the exclusion of anyone else. 

My own reflections, on this, centre on two things:

In the first place, we should try to remain in the presence of God in every moment of life. This is where that phrase of Jesus, to the Apostle Philip, and to me, makes sense. It is so easy for me, at least to drift along in life, and often to forget God – to my own harm and the harm of others! St. Benedict must have reflected on this, because our Abbot quoted him on this very point, quite recently.

St. Benedict and Abbot Cuthbert Madden

It occurred to me that it was interesting that a monk’s life ought always to be Lenten in character because elsewhere Benedict says, ‘You should recognise with awe that there will be a day of judgment for all of us, which should make us fear the doom of an evil life. Above all, however, you should cultivate a longing for eternal life with a desire of great spiritual intensity. Keep the reality of death always before your eyes. Have a care about how you act every hour of your life’ (RB 4.44-48). A similar idea is to be found in a number of places in the Prologue which suggests to me that this is a central part of Benedict’s understanding of the monastic life.

In the second place, God is an interesting ‘conundrum’, because God exists in everything around us, and, in particular, in the people around us. Therefore, we need to love the people around us, in order to love God, to the ultimate. There is a proviso, however. This love for others needs to be love with a detachment, and that is a long and hard lesson to learn. Most of us have a temptation to put all our love into a person, or an ambition, or an enterprise, or things of this earth (say money), rather than in the immortal, and all embracing person, who loves us more than any other; he alone is really worthy of all the love in a human heart, to the exclusion of all else. Once again this is where Jesus’ comment to St. Philip, the Apostle – in a secondary sense – comes nearer the truth of things. I wonder if it is God, himself, who is at the heart of things in my life, rather than created things, whether they be people, circumstances, or ideas….. 

St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Sienna throws light on this matter. It would have been her feast day, during the Octave of Easter, but the feast of Easter meant we did not read these beautiful lines. 

O Eternal Trinity, eternal godhead! This godhead, your divine nature, made immensely precious the blood of the only-begotten Son. Eternal Trinity, you are like a deep sea, in which the more I seek, the more I find; and the more I find, the more I seek you. You fill the soul, yet somehow without satisfying it: in the abyss which you are you so fill the soul that it ever continues to hunger and thirst for you, desiring you, eager in your light to see you, who are the light…… 

Eternal Trinity, you are the Creator, I the creature. I have come to know, in the new creation you made of me in the blood of your Son, that you are in love with beauty of your creature. 

God is in love with Catherine, and with me, and with you dear reader. This may be mind-boggling – but it is really true. The end-results, for you, and me, are to do with our behaviour. 

‘Have you been with me all this time, Jonathan, and you still do not know me?’

(Unfortunately, in sending out this blog by e-mail, ‘Word Press’ distorts the original formatting of the document.  Readers are, therefore, advised to visit the website should they wish to read it in its intended format).