Archive for June, 2011


“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12: 2) 

Over this past month, this extract from St. Paul to the Romans has grown in its meaning for me. It is taken from this month’s ‘Word of Life’, an extract taken by people, all over the world, on which to focus for the entire month; the idea, then, is to try to focus on it, especially in ‘one’s life’; the idea, also, given the chance by God’s grace, is then to share what the ‘Word of Life’ might be doing in ‘your life’ with others who might meet in a small group for this very purpose. 

The idea began with Chiara Lubich, and her companions, when they wanted to give their lives to God.  It was 1943 and in the midst of such serious bombing of their home town (Trent, North East Italy – famous for the Council of Trent in the mid-16th Century), that they feared they would not live to see another day.  So, they asked themselves, where, or what was it, that lasts in life – that does not just disappear, and their answer? They concluded, what they already knew, that the only reality that does not pass away, is God himself. The ‘Word of God’ brings ‘life’, as it has done, for me, this June. The Word of God, lived and experienced – not just studied, academically – brings us into relationship with God, who is always there for us; also, it can bring us to a state of ‘in communion’ with others, whoever they might be. 

Apart from concentrating, and letting, these Gospel words sink in to my heart and mind, on three occasions, I have been able to share the true meaning of them with others, and, in that sharing, those words, truly, became ‘life-giving’. The first occasion arose with a group of men in Religious Life, like myself, the second, in a prison, sharing with some of the unfortunate prisoners; the third was with a small group of parishioners.   What struck home was the way in which St. Paul clearly contrasts the two concepts: ‘conforming’ to this world – something to be avoided – and ‘transformation’, so that one’s mind can ‘discern’ what is good, acceptable and perfect. 

My experience of life teaches me that it is too easy, even as a priest and a monk, to conform to this world, in its attitudes, and its spirit. It is all too easy to become enclosed in a little ‘bubble’ of self-concern, without being ‘open’ to the needs of each day, and each day’s varying challenges. Even sitting alone, in front of the computer, can cut a person off from what God might really want of me. Driving in my car, alone, selfishly wanting to get the best parking place, or being determined not to ‘let the other driver in’ – that ‘so-and-so’ who is trying to turn in to my lane – is so easy.  Wanting my own way of doing things, and not being ‘in communion’, with what others around me, might want, at all; on top of such self-centred actions, are the limitations of forgetfulness, sometimes necessary hard work, which may be so absorbing that God, himself, is neglected – and never mind others! These negative realisations are the results of life experience; it is not theory, or books, that bring one to the knowledge that there is but ‘ONE REALITY’ that does not change; life, itself, is the teacher – and what we all experience – shows us that the ‘One Reality’ is God our Father; we can then respond to the gift of God’s presence in our lives; we can then allow Him to come into our lives and enlighten us. 

I rejoice that, very recently, we have, at last, been able to restore the Angelus Bell, at our Church. At 12 noon, and at 6.00 pm, the Bell faithfully rings out, and I have found myself going back to the practice we had at school – stopping everything – to focus on what really matters. 

Concentrating on what really matters takes me, at the same time, to the fact that we, in our Parish, are still mourning the death of Bishop Ambrose, and, for those interested, it may be enlightening to enter the website  set up, and linked to our Parish website, to read the truly positive impact, this good man made, on so many different people.  From that site, I very much like the tribute below, written by a Colombian priest and friend; Father Luis Fernando Carvajal got to know Father Ambrose and myself last year, as a visitor to the Parish: his writing echoes the thread of my reflections in this blog: 

“I was thinking that from heaven Ambrose will continue to help you; because if this is what he did while he was on earth, we cannot begin to imagine the things he will now do next to God; I find myself imagining the graces you will begin to receive from heaven thanks to his intercession. Graces that you will receive as parish priest, and graces that all parishioners will receive, because he knew how to look after them all as a Bishop of course, but above all because of his great humility. I am not saying this because I have read it in some book, or from some theory in my head; it comes from my experience that I also had when my dear mother died, and also since my sister recently died. In the short time that I knew him, he gave me such a good impression, for his humility, and for the “little tasks” I saw him doing for others. Now is the time not to pray for him; rather we should pray with him as he is surely before God at the heavenly liturgy.” 

(In forwarding this blog by e-mail, the programme distorts the original formatting of the document.  Readers are, therefore, advised to visit the website should they wish to read it in its original format). 

“May you always be filled with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit… ..” It was with these words that, just a few days before, Father Ambrose gave us his blessing. Then, Bishop Ambrose (he preferred Fr. Ambrose) died peacefully on Tuesday at 3pm. Somebody said that God took him at the same time as Jesus left this earth, after his agony on the cross.  Seeing my friend, Ambrose, some ten minutes after his death – my companion, Fr. Paul, and I, got the news as we were driving to the hospice, knowing that his passing was near – we were struck by the fact that in the stillness of death, he seemed to be asleep.  It was a moment of grief, for me and others present, who loved him, and yet, remember the eighth station of the cross, and Jesus’ words to the weeping ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children”. (Luke 23: 28).

 This morning’s Divine Office of Reading has the following beautiful psalm, and if Fr. Ambrose had still been alive, he would have been the first to the Chapel at Leyland, there waiting for the rest of us monks and laity, to gather and pray with him. In Psalm 89 (90), the ‘Grail’ edition of the Breviary seems to accentuate the poetry and imagery that, I imagine, describes the essence of the Hebrew original:

O Lord you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.

Before the mountains were born, or the earth or the world brought forth,

You are God, without beginning or end. 

You turn men back into dust and say: ‘Go back, sons of men.’

To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night. 

You sweep men away like a dream, like grass which springs up in the morning.

In the morning it springs up and flowers: by evening it withers and fades.

 So we are destroyed in your anger; struck with terror in your fury.

Our guilt lies open before you; our secrets in the light of your face. 

All our days pass away in your anger. Our life is over like a sigh.

Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong. 

And most of these are emptiness and pain. They pass swiftly and we are gone.

Who understands the power of your anger and fears the strength of your fury? 

Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart.

Lord relent! Is your anger for ever? Show pity to your servants. 

In the morning fill us with your love; we shall exult and rejoice all our days.

Give us joy to balance our affliction for the years when we knew misfortune. 

Show forth your work to your servants; let your glory shine on their children.

Let the favour of the Lord be upon us: give success to the work of our hands,

give success to the work of our hand. 

Last Saturday evening was the Vigil of Pentecost. The local body of monks, who come together, at this time, to pray the Divine Office of Readings, decided that we would gather in Father Ambrose’s room at the hospice, and pray together with him. This was something we had been doing, in his room, in-so- far as it was possible, while he was still with us at Leyland, for the different ‘Offices’ of the day. At the end of our prayers, someone asked Father Ambrose if he would give us his blessing; this, to all of us gathered, was a very special moment. Here was our brother monk, by God’s gift chosen to be a successor to the Apostles as the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, 1992 to 2004, gathering all his energy to bless us – we  whom he had also served – friend and contemporary, for many years, in our monastic life. 

He thought about this request, and one could see it was not easy for him to focus his mind as, by this time he was weak, physically and mentally;  then, from the depths of the silence, came these words: 

“May you always be filled with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and may he teach you to love one another always and be filled with the joy of his Love so that you become more and more united, and may God bless you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.  

It is said that the last of the apostles to die was St. John, and that at the end of his long life, in the frailty of old age, his constant prayer and blessing for the few and insignificant number of first Christians was that they “love each other” 

This experience has been one that, I hope, I never forget, that its lesson will never be lost on me. People have such different temperaments and attitudes. In fact, people have said, about Fr. Ambrose and me, that we are so different, as to be like ‘chalk and cheese’. His meticulous ways, his focus on what he was doing, his clarity of thought, and his scientific ways were simply not mine. My mind, my character is not laid out that way and, in fact, I know that I was sometimes the source of some irritation for him. Yet we ‘got on’ better and better, as time went on. His blessing came from a profoundly lived – and living – experience. 

His blessing also reminds me of St. Paul and his famous Chapter on Love, (1 Corinthians).  I am told that there are some members of our own Church, who write very critically, and with a tone of bitterness and cynicism, about what is happening in the Church, locally; some were evenly disposed to write words, in the same vein, about our deceased brother, when he was, then,  Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. I suppose it is not surprising, in our modern world, when people feel so strongly that they are right and believe they know what the Holy Spirit wants for the Church, that they pronounce in this way. In a much more positive way, the words of St. Paul, and those of Fr. Ambrose, are a help for me: 

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.       (1 Cor. 13, 4-7). 

(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).


What A Difference The Saints Make!

When you think about it, our human condition is pretty fragile. We are often troubled by vacant, empty minds and, at times, we do not know quite what to say, what to think, or what to do, in a variety of differing circumstances. We are surrounded by a world which is described in the first letter of St. John as being “….. under the power of the evil one”, (1 John, 19), and so it is not surprising that, sometimes, we are simply not able to think, speak or act, in an appropriate way; it is at times like this that we can easily be swayed to speak and act inappropriately; often, it is then that we act contrary to God’s Love and his Law.

Saints live in this very same world; not from nature, but by an act of will, they choose to be different, by the grace of God, and in their response to that grace. A friend of mine was telling me of the joy, he and his wife experienced, looking at the lives of two saints, on film, that one can view in roughly 10 minute episodes, on the Internet’s ‘Utube’.

SS. John Bosco and Padre Pio

The two are St. John Bosco and Padre Pio, and recently, I have had the chance to watch the whole of the long film on John Bosco (the founder of the Salesians), also the first two episodes on the life of Padre Pio. Both were remarkable men, and even as young boys, both were clearly marked as ‘different’; already, both felt some special relationship with God. (Anyone who wishes, should they desire, can mirror my actions and open up ‘Utube’ on the Web, and find these films in the ‘video section’. They are very professionally produced). 

As a young boy, Francesco Forgione of Pietralcina (the future Padre Pio) according to the biography in Wikipedia, is portrayed as having a close relationship with Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The article states: 

“It is claimed by his mother that Francesco was able to see and speak with Jesus, the Virgin Mary and his guardian angel, and that as a child, he assumed that all people could do so. As a youth Pio claimed to have experienced heavenly visions and ecstasies.” 

In the film, he is shown, one day, minding the sheep in the fields, when a Cappuchin Friar, Brother Casimiro, ‘stumbles’ across him and they become friends. The conversation turns to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and, in a charming scene, the little boy asks Casimiro if he had talked with these members of the Holy Family? “No, I don’t have that direct privilege” he replied. “Oh, I talk to them a lot, and I’ll ask them to make themselves known to you”, replies Francesco. Later, it becomes apparent that it was the example of Brother Casimiro that inspires the young boy to become a Cappuchin himself. 

In his Encyclical Letter ‘Spe Salvi’ (Hope of the Saved, referring to Rom. 8:24) Pope Benedict asks the important question: “What sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope, and the implication that, because it exists, we are redeemed?” 

 St. Josephine Bakhita

 He explains what this hope could be, using other texts from Scripture, together with good and easy to follow, simple arguments, but the best explanation, for me, is given by a short outline of the life of an African saint – recently canonised by Pope John Paul II – Josephine Bakhita, (1849-1947), who was a young Sudanese girl, enslaved, incredibly badly treated, flogged unmercifully and sold on five different occasions. Most people would have ‘given up on life’ with that kind of record, but not Josephine; through God’s providence, she was brought to Italy, where eventually, she became a Christian and later entered the Order of the Canossian Sisters. Recognised as having lived a long and holy life, she was canonised on 1st October 2000. 

I suspect that everyone can be lifted out of their misery, if they follow the call of God in their hearts, but, for this to happen, there needs to be a loving culture – I think of it as a ‘support mechanism’ – if one is to overcome the terrible distortions that abusive evil can practise on the mind and heart of a person.  Both John Bosco, and Padre Pio, had very difficult early lives, in that they were bullied and suffered severe poverty; they did, however, have the advantages of knowing the one true God, and of living in families, where God’s presence was recognised, lived out and shared. Even people, in our time, who have lost all sense of purpose and joy in life, can be lifted into a new existence of love, peace, joy and of ‘giving’ in order to ‘find’ the true meaning of their lives. 

We, in the Priory at Leyland, have the continuing privilege of accompanying Father Ambrose, on his last journey. He is also a living witness to that hope which is an assurance of redemption. In his company, we are surrounded by – conscious of – true witness to the presence of God.  Despite being, more or less in bed and immobile, all day – despite the long hours of waiting, hours of exhausted sleep, there are punctuating moments of ‘palpable’, conscious awareness, in which great encouragement, unbreakable hope and trust in God, and love for those who have come to see him, manifest Fr. Ambrose’s response to his condition, that of suffering from an aggressive form of leukaemia. No!  I am not attempting to ‘canonise’ Fr. Ambrose, but I am witnessing to the great things God has worked through him; there are innumerable cards and letters of appreciation from people all over Britain – from different denominations – that refer to the effect he has had on their lives. It would have been a gift – to any parish – to have had a successor of the Apostles among its people; but this, has been our situation, for the past seven years, in Leyland.  Father Ambrose’s personal dedication, to God alone, is a great witness. 

The saints, by their example, show us a different way to live. It is well worthwhile learning from them! 

(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).


We are getting ready for Pentecost. This feast is not so much the ‘coming’ of the Holy Spirit as the celebration of the fact that God, the Holy Spirit, is already with us; this is because he first came, at Pentecost, to those apostles and disciples in the ‘Upper Room’. He has remained with us ever since.

At celebrations in Church, be they weddings, baptisms or funerals, people often sing “Make me a channel of Your Peace”.  

St. Francis of Assisi was the inspiration behind this lovely hymn; it contains the wonderful words: ‘… it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, in giving that we receive, and in dying that we gain eternal life’. These phrases echo the Gospel with the words of Jesus: “… unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit” (John 12: 24); “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16: 25), “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven”. (Luke 6: 37). 

If one gives of self, one is already dying to selfishness that is inherent in each person; moreover, in return, one receives – receives a great deal more. Sometimes, perhaps, it may feel as though it is NOT worth giving of self; many first ask the question: “Why should I be a ‘doormat’ for others to wipe their feet on?” No! It ought not to be like that – and if it is – then talk about it, to someone who is an integrated and happy person, one who can advise. Above all, it isn’t for the receiving that a person does the dying to self: it is simply the consequence of the love – given freely – without thought of, or asking for, anything in return. Having made these points, it is wise for a person to take good care of him or herself, so as not to give so much that they neglect themselves and damage their future power to give. A holiday can be an act of love for others, if it recreates in them their power to give.

Very recently, I have experienced the great joy of being able to give my time to Fr. Ambrose, a sick brother and good friend, who is very ill, and may well be making the last part of his particular ‘holy journey’. This gifted experience entailed losing a lot of sleep to stay up with him, as he was so very ill, and I found this tiring. However, during the night – on two occasions, for four hours in total – it was a special blessing to feel close to those who we have been thinking about – praying to – to support Fr. Ambrose in his sickness. One such is Blessed John Paul II, recently beatified. He was the instigator of the ‘Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary’, and praying those decades, that night, in the sleeping company of Father Ambrose, somehow made Pope John Paul II seem much closer to me. It was as though he was in the room with me, and I was talking to him. What a gift that was, and with it, an enduring reassurance that all will be well, even though I will miss Ambrose, greatly, when he passes from this world to the next. But, apart from all that, it is very wonderful to witness his serenity and happiness as he approaches his meeting with the Lord. This serenity is just another joyful gift of God, among so many we receive each day – if we are receptive to them. 

Perhaps, I may add a further example? A difficult task was given to me in these recent days; this was to tell a 95 years old lady that her son was very seriously ill. In my mind, at the time of the conversation, I thought that he may never come out of hospital again; subsequently, that proved to be wrong. However, the decision to go and tackle this difficult task, getting help from others, who know both mother and son, proved to be a moment of great comfort and joy. I thought it best to pass on the sad news, in the context of giving Holy Communion to this devout, and good Catholic mother. She was very pleased to receive Jesus in Communion, and, with the support of my two caring lady companions, both of whom knew her well, she was able to face her tragic situation with surprising calmness. In fact, she said: “You had a hard task, coming to tell me this news; thank you, very much. Nothing will take away the togetherness we have, because of what you have done!” I felt so grateful, for such wisdom, from a simple and beautiful lady, coming to terms with an illness of a son who is the ‘light’ of her life. It was another very special and joyful gift of the Holy Spirit. 

We talk a lot about God being Love: it is perfectly true, but Love always involves more than one. Essentially, it indicates a relationship. Only in a relationship can we find the true meaning and goodness of life – in that relationship with God – in that relationship with others. These are the real gifts that God wants to give, when you, and I, first respond to Him by beginning to trust in Him, by knowing, loving and serving Him, in all my particular circumstances of life. These gifts are God’s reply to our initial and continuing response to Him, the effect of the relationship. When we fail to give of self, stay locked-in to our self-centred ego, we will never receive any of these gifts – gifts that He longs to pour out on us. 

(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).