Archive for July, 2011

The Psalms:

A constant theme among the ‘Fathers of the Church’ is that the Psalms of the Old Testament contain within them, all the moods and feelings that a Christian can have, on his, or her, spiritual journey. I have often wondered about this as, day by day, we monks pray, and use the Psalms, in our Divine Office. 

Recently, this insight was reflected in my own experience, and, perhaps, it would be useful, briefly, to share what this meant, as for many years, I have not really understood the ‘Fathers of the Church’, on this topic.

St. Augustine of Hippo, died 330 AD, and wrote much on the Psalms 

The psalm in question is no 43 (44) and it begins: 

We heard with our own ears, O God, our fathers have told us the story.

of the things you did in their days, you yourself, in days long ago. 

These lines refer to the Israelites, coming out from their slavery in Egypt, and settling in the Holy Land, after so many adventures. However, they could equally be applied, I think, to the early Church and what happened after Jesus’ Resurrection, with the spread of the Church, from the Holy Land, to all the nations of the world; equally also to the great founders of the Religious Orders, St. Benedict and his adventures in the setting up of monasteries; equally to St. Francis of Assisi, and the Franciscans, St. Dominic and the Dominicans, St. Ignatius and the Jesuits and so on, right up to the present day.

SS. Benedict, Francis and Dominic 

These great founders and many others, such as St. Ignatius brought a new impulse of life and light into the Church and World.

St. Ignatius

 There are also the different modern charisms in the Church; these include the various new Charismatic Movements in the Church, and the one I know very well, is the ‘Work of Mary’ or the ‘Focolare Movement’, founded by Chiara Lubich, and her companions.

Chiara Lubich (as a Young Lady)

 Chiara died in 2007,the movement having spread all over the world, within her life time, and through this, many people have come to understand – in a new way, and with a fresh ‘Spirit’ – the person of Jesus, the Love of God the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

But, to continue with the Psalm: 

To plant them you uprooted the nations: to let them spread you laid peoples low.

No sword of their own won the land; no arm of their own brought them victory.

It was your right hand, your arm and the light of your face: for you loved them. 

The Psalmist is stating that the outcome, for the Israelites, in the Old Testament, was not because of their own power or might, but was rather the work of God himself. When one reads the accounts of what happened at the ‘founding’ of the Church, of the Religious Orders, or of the ‘Focolare’ Movement, always there is the ‘Finger of God’ at work, rather than the intelligence, wisdom or actions, of the people involved. 

This ‘feeling’ that God ordains is also reflected in my own ‘limited’ experience – something that is very ‘present’ to me, in my life. Any personal ideas that I have, about being a good Christian, spreading the Gospel, trying to do good to people, making contact with other Churches – any such actions are, nearly always – not the ideas that God wants me to follow. To get things ‘right’, I have, almost always, to lose my way of thinking, and let God take over. This includes, as far as I am able, remaining always in union with God, and, according to the ‘light’ of each present moment, always to live ‘charity’, with my neighbour. These things are not always easy, but doing one’s best enables the challenges that arise, to be faced and overcome – not so much according to my ideas – but by trying to listen to what God is saying, regarding the particular thing that I am doing. It may help to give a concrete example. Some of my readers may well have been present at, or known about, the ceremonies for the funerals of Fr. Ambrose, 29th June to 2nd July, this year. How the funerals were conducted at Leyland was my responsibility, but not mine alone: many others were involved, and gradually the right patterns emerged, taking into account the feast days, the readings chosen with the help of Fr. Ambrose, and so on. In other words, it was the ‘Finger of God’, at work, again. It was my ‘lot’, as Parish Priest, to attend the other two venues, where funerals took place – a much easier task, I might add! 

The psalm then goes in to a lament because all the good work God has done seems to be lost: after some verses it states: 

Yet now you have rejected us, disgraced us: you no longer go forth with our armies.

You make us retreat from the foe and our enemies plunder us at will. 

You make us like sheep for the slaughter and scatter us among the nations.

You sell your own people for nothing and make no profit by the sale. 

You make us the taunt of our neighbours, the laughing stock of all who are near.

Among the nations you make us a byword, among the peoples a thing of derision. 

All day long my disgrace is before me: my face is covered with shame

at the sight of the taunter, the scoffer, as the sight of the foe and avenger. 

Long before the coming of Jesus there were many times when the Israelites felt rejected by God, most especially, when their enemies triumphed over them, and they were unable to practice their religion. Today, the Church is so very ‘weak’ in the Western world, and, unfortunately this applies to Britain, in particular. Christians are often the butt of all types of ungodly humour, their views are ridiculed and often criticised as being, not politically, correct; those espousing Christianity – as well as other religions – can feel ‘put down’, persecuted, in modern Britain, by an imposed secular spirit, the secularists, all too often, claiming the high moral ground. Christians too, can feel rejected by their fellow Christians, because a large proportion of the ‘Faithful’ rarely ‘darkens the church door’.  The puzzlement is that, knowing the people who belong to our parishes – good people in the vast majority – these good people, do not see the need to worship God in Church. 

In a way, this situation may be a ‘good’ one for the Church. It means we have to learn to do nothing other than find what God wants, whilst also creating a community of people among whom God is alive – a truly ‘friendly community’ with no hidden agendas – a community of people that knows God, and responds to living the way Jesus lived, as best it can.  This community would be ready to serve the people who belong to it, and among whom it exists; it would also help, as best it can, others in the wider population. 

So the psalms are a good ‘spring-board’ for reflection. 

(By the way, should anyone wish to come, we say the Office of Readings, together, in Church, from Monday to Saturday; the time is, usually 45 minutes prior to morning Mass – 8.15 am, when Mass is at 9.00 am and 7.15 am when Mass is at 8.00 am.  Anyone would be very welcome, and, at this ‘Prayer of the Church’, you would gradually get to know the Psalms, that are such an important heritage of the Christian life.) 

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Scotland the Brave!

Scotland the brave! The remote cottage in the Perthshire countryside, where we are on holiday, is beautifully quiet: the only noise is an occasional car going by on the one-track road, and except for the birds singing and the rain falling, there is a ‘golden’ silence.  For me this is just wonderful – so different from monastic Parish life – and even the rain has not been an obstacle! I am holidaying with a priest friend, and apart from getting on well, we must have played ‘Scrabble’ at least twice each day.

 The Perthshire Countryside 

Holidays are often difficult for monks. In my case, the least I expect from a good holiday is to be able to spend time resting, properly; for me, this means praying, celebrating the Eucharist, sleeping, going for good walks, reading, talking, playing board games, watching something sensible on TV, going out for a meal at a hotel and just, generally, ‘mooching’ around! If someone was to ask me my choice, a beautiful sunny place but without agreeable company, or an unsuitable, rainy place, with a good friend, I would know, at once, the one I’d prefer! The hope is that, on return, we will not be like many holiday-makers, coming off an early flight from the USA into Manchester Airport, at 6.00 am; generally, most of these have looked tired-out, harassed and in need of a good holiday, whenever I have happened to be there, meeting friends to bring them back to Leyland! 

But, that aside, the USA and all such destinations, Scotland is another country, altogether, and, with some Scottish friends, and even a local workman, there has been much discussion – not least on the subject of Scottish independence. Visiting Scotland, and Ireland, (with a little of similar experiences in Wales) brings me to the realisation that opinions vary widely, within the people of each country, as to their view of England – and the English! 

For Scotland, ‘Scottish Independence’, in some form or other, seems a strong possibility. But, inevitably there are important questions. If it should happen, how will it take shape; what will be the effects for Scotland and for England? How the people – the ordinary people, of both countries – will manage, remains to be seen. The nicest and most sensible Scottish people support the Scottish National Party (SNP), alongside some nice and sensible people who don’t, and not all who support the SNP, want full independence, though some do. There are arguments, for and against, the ‘Scots’, and the rest of Britain, being viable, economically, each in its own right.  And this does not even begin to address the questions of a viable foreign policy, for each of the two different, independent countries.

The Battle of Culloden 

History teaches us – with evidence for all to see – of the very divisive English interference in Scotland, with these long, military, roads built to subdue the unruly Highland Clans; the very ‘bloody’ battles, like that at ‘Culloden’, are not simple to unravel, and explain, because the ‘Scots’ fought on both sides, alongside, and against, the English ‘Redcoats’. It makes for sad thoughts, at what our English forebears have done, in our own Britain. At the same time, in Perthshire, at least, there are hotels and ‘pubs’ that go under the name, ‘The Royal Hotel’, and on entering any one of them, the atmosphere is distinctly Scottish, but the pub rejoices in the English and Scottish Royal Family, whose forebears were the very ones to lead the attacks against some, long-dead, sections of Scotland’s society. The very name ‘The Royal Hotel’ seems, in my English way of seeing things, to endorse the Union of Scotland within the United Kingdom. Yet, that may not be so, for in any separation of Scotland and England, I see our Monarch as remaining monarch of both countries. It would be a rather strange twist of fate, if each country were to end up with separate governments, an independent army, navy and air force, independent foreign policies and independent economies, and yet with a common monarchy!  On another ‘tack’, in England, the Monarch is head of the Church of England; in Scotland, the Monarch is a member of the Church of Scotland, i.e. not the Anglican Church, but a church that has its teachings rooted, much more, in Calvinist teachings. The Church of Scotland is ‘Presbyterian’. For us Catholics, in England, is this not rather an ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’ way for a monarchy to behave? 

The positive side of all of this is the possible emergence of new nationhood, and a realisation that difference is not something to be rejected, but something in which to rejoice. One of the songs, heard at the ‘Mariapolis’, has great meaning for me; it is called “You are a gift for me”, and it has relevance for ‘personal’ relationships, as well as ‘national’ relationships – that is, if it is possible to speak of the latter in such terms. 

All of us are ‘gifts’ for each other, both as individuals and as nations. In my way of thinking, there is a special ‘genius’ within each nation – some esoteric thing that ‘characterises’ the society, the people – a unique quality that could be seen as service to the good of all humankind, and not just used,  selfishly, for the promotion of the particular nation’s good, to the exclusion of all else. Thus, within the ambit of our present discussion, the challenge will centre on how to develop relations between ourselves as different nations, perhaps federated within the United Kingdom, and Ireland – at the service of each other, at the service of Europe, and then, inside Europe, but at the service of the rest of the world. It would be a long-term project, and lots of steps would need to be taken to promote good relations within the peoples of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Somebody once said: “if you want to change the world, let it begin with me”, and that is something each person could take up as a challenge; being open to the goodness in others, rather than wanting others to conform to me – and my way of thinking; it would be the same for our nations. From a personal perspective, it would not be easy to live out – to fulfil this idea. But, if the attitudes, necessary, were mutual, it could lead to a revolution of love, rather than towards the accepted norm of a kind of in-built mistrust. The happy, and very successful, visit of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, to Ireland, in May of this year, may well prove to have been an evolutionary milestone, in this process. 

Scotland the brave! – a ‘romantic’ title, if you like, but one, perhaps, summarising something of the ‘spirit’ of these people, north of the border with England, and we, in England, can rejoice in it. I feel very much at home, holidaying in Scotland, and I hope that, peacefully, visiting this lovely country will continue to be possible for us Sassenachs, for many years to come!  Scottish independence is surely something to be left to God’s will for the future, but we can all surely do without any more Hadrians – and without any more Hadrians’ walls. 

In e-mailing the blog, ‘Word Press’ tends to distort the original formatting of the document.  Readers may wish to visit the website to read it in its original format.

Last week was quite an unusual one for many of us in the Parish of St. Mary’s, Leyland. On Wednesday and Thursday, we said ‘Good bye’ to Bishop Ambrose, and the services then contained moments of beautiful liturgy, with strong feelings of thankfulness to God, for our relationship with the great man, all this imbued with a sense of loss. Two further funerals for Bishop Ambrose were to follow, at Newcastle and Ampleforth, on the ensuing Friday and Saturday.  On Sunday 3rd July, there followed the Ruby Anniversary celebrations of my Priesthood.  Somebody remarked they had likened the events to those of Holy Week – passion and death, preceding resurrection.  Be that as it may, for me, it was most joyful, having many people gathered to celebrate my anniversary; my family had travelled good distances from Sussex, London and Cambridge, and they, together with other visitors from Liverpool and neighbouring parishes, very much added to the occasion.

Fr. Ambrose and Some of the Children,

First Holy Communion Enrolment Mass, 2011

 Bishop Seamus Cunningham presided at the Requiem Mass on Friday 1st July, at Newcastle. He pointed out, once again, that Bishop Ambrose had wanted his funeral to be a celebration of his life, and not a sad and mournful affair; and so it proved to be.  For those with the facility, it is well worth- while going to the Website of the Hexham and Newcastle Diocese, to see the pictures, and hear the sermon of the former Vicar General of the Diocese, Canon Alex Barrass, who preached a beautiful sermon. Two things in particular stood out for me: firstly, Bishop Ambrose’s optimism and his positive outlook about life – he often used the words ‘absolutely splendid’ and ‘marvellous’ about events or situations, though he remained shrewd enough to know what was happening around him in the Diocese. To illustrate this, Fr. Barrass recounted a story of the Bishop visiting a priest who was going blind; he uttered the very same words when he told that father’s sight was liable to be lost –  ‘absolutely splendid’, ‘marvellous’. This priest might have been somewhat disconcerted at this seemingly un-sympathetic remark: later, after losing his sight, he used to recount what Bishop Ambrose had said to him; at the same time, he remained much consoled by narrating the story! Secondly, Canon Barrass said that he had picked up from St. Mary’s Parish bulletin, how towards the end of his life, Bishop Ambrose was too weak to greet many people: “Fr. Ambrose is growing weaker but remains quite lucid. He is very happy to be here in Leyland for his last stages of his journey to the Father. He would like to greet each parishioner personally to thank you, and he sends his blessing to each person. He hopes that we will all meet merrily in heaven.” 

At Ampleforth, on Saturday 2nd July, the Funeral Mass was a simple and dignified monastic Mass.  It was striking that Fr. Abbot chose the very same readings that we had used for the Requiem, at Leyland, on Thursday 30th June.  We had asked Fr. Ambrose about his choice of readings for his funeral, and after pausing for thought, not answering for a while, he replied that he would leave the choice to me. As Parishioners will know, I chose the blessing he shared with me, from Ephesians (3.14-21), and then, the last section of St. John’s famous last prayer of Jesus, in Chapter 17 of his Gospel, (verses 20–26). Repeating the words he had used at Leyland only days before, Fr. Abbot asked the people at Ampleforth, to take those two scripture texts and ponder them, because we should all be people of unity – nothing being more important than that – and that our inner selves should thereby be strengthened and so attain the same certain faith as Bishop Ambrose; in this way, and by God’s power, we should all be filled with the utter fullness of God.

First Holy Communion Enrolment Mass, 2011

(Selected Writings from the Greetings of Some of These Children Form the Quite

Wonderful Jubilee Wishes Reproduced at the End of this Blog)

The Ruby Jubilee celebrations came as a kind of ‘resurrection’ after the sadness of parting from Bishop Ambrose. However, though different in character, it fitted in with that ‘sense of joy and thanksgiving’ that Bishop Ambrose wanted for his funeral. There was much joy and laughter. Fr. Egidio preached about the importance of mercy, a legacy given to him at his own ordination, by the future Pope John Paul I, the Bishop at that time, who ordained him. The future Pope assembled all the thirteen young candidates, together, the day before the ordination, and spoke to them in these words: “You are young and enthusiastic now. Do not be surprised if later on in your life you will feel the burden of human fragility in yourselves. Do not be surprised, depressed, unduly worried or shocked by this. We are all fragile human beings, and God will always show you his mercy to help and support you.”  Fr. Egidio then told everyone he would be giving me a book, as his present to me, for my 40th – and the book, the ‘Diaries of Saint Faustina’, who was the Polish nun, canonised by Blessed John Paul II, because she was the saintly person who promoted this aspect of God – God’s infinite mercy. Fr. Egidio obviously saw that Popes, JP I and JP II, had a spiritual awareness, both as Popes, of the importance of Divine Mercy for our world. This has been my own reflection, also. 

On Sunday, the sun was shining brightly: the celebration in Church was a ‘firework’ of joy, as was the shared lunch afterwards, in the garden, bathed in God’s sunshine. Children played, people chatted and ate and drank and the whole liturgy went on, smoothly, from Church to Garden. At this point, I want to thank, through the auspices of this blog, all who so generously gave me gifts of many different kinds – all of them so greatly appreciated – and the words on the many cards I received, not to mention the large gift of money, of over £1500!  Somebody asked how I hoped to spend it, and, at this moment in time, I am hoping to ask Fr. Abbot, his permission to go on an ecumenical pilgrimage to the Holy Land, next year in March, organised by an Anglican friend from the Focolare Movement. I have had the grace and privilege to go once to the Holy Land; if granted, I hope this second visit may be even better than the first. 

The young children gave me their presents, and these touched my heart, deeply: one was from those who attend little Church, and two others were received from St. Anne’s and St. Mary’s Primary Schools. The words the children wrote bring this blog to an end, no doubt because great wisdom comes from the hearts and minds of young children; clearly, they had not been instructed or told what to write – these thoughts came from them – from their hearts.  There are some pictures alongside the texts; some of the nicest are of me on my ‘bike’ riding around Leyland, some of me vested ready for Mass. 

“To Father Jonathan: thank you for going to be a priest”

“To Father Jonathan: thank you for helping with my holy communion, love xxx

“Dear Farther Jonathan, thank you for all your hard work in Church for 40 years”

“I love Church, Love”

“Thank you for baptising me. Thank you for being kind. Thank you for looking after my mummy. Lots of Love from  xxx”

“I am very happy that you believe in God”.

“Is it good being a priest?”  

My answer to this last is: “It is very good being a priest. Why? Because God becomes very close to you; you feel his Love and He is your best friend; you realise that God has given you a very loving family – rather a large one – because the priest becomes a part of the family of all those parishioners, and other people, he gets to know in a close way. Thus, God himself is not only close, but a priest also loves many people and many people come to love the priest.  Everyone needs to feel they are loved; correspondingly, each of us needs to love others. This Love is given to a priest, to anyone who follows Jesus, hundreds of times more than somebody who does not follow Jesus. So, it is good being a priest; but, remember, anyone can follow Jesus!” 

“God bless you!”

“Happy anniversary. I hope you have lots of fun”.  

The final one is special because it brings all glory to God, and that is as it ought to be. 

“God made this (picture of a cross). Thank you for God, dedicating your life to God. Love”

In e-mailing the blog, ‘Word Press’ tends to distort the original formatting of the document.  Readers may wish to visit the website to read it in its original format.


Fr. Ambrose’s Requiem:

Fr. Ambrose’s Requiem:

I write this from the Cathedral House in Newcastle, to share news with you about what has happened here, so far. How proud, all of us should be, for the wonderful ceremonies in the name of Father Ambrose that we have seen, for the Reception of his body into Church, Mass on the evening of the feast of Saints Peter and Pauls, and then our Requiem Mass this Thursday morning. Each one was a bright little jewel, in its own right, and a moment of God. 

These events show how God is working in, and among us, and show us how to continue to put our faith in God, as Fr. Ambrose did so confidently, right up to the last moments of his life. It was only later, I heard, that people were disposed to clap – in honour and gratitude, I imagine – as Fr. Ambrose’s body was leaving Broadfield, in the hearse: I, personally, have never known that to happen, except in St. Paul’s, outside the walls, when the very saintly Chiara Lubich, was carried out of the Basilica, and it was a great joy (and surprise) to hear that this had happened in Leyland. Certainly, he was a man close to God – and, therefore, close to people. 

At 7.00 pm yesterday, his coffin was carried into the Cathedral, here in Newcastle. I am almost sure that, in the hearse, I saw the beautiful white cross of flowers, from all the Parishioners of St. Mary’s. Mounted on a pillar at the Cathedral front, there is a huge photograph of Fr. Ambrose, for all to see, and this makes his presence felt, even more – should that be possible. In number, 40 or so, priests concelebrated with the Bishop, and the aisle of the Cathedral was full. The Abbot, Canon Tony Griffiths and myself were given places of honour, as we took our seats, typical of the graciousness of the Newcastle Church; we were among the few wearing full vestments, and were asked to pray the parts of the Eucharistic Prayer. 

The people prayed for Bishop Ambrose and his family, for the diocese he loved, but also for the parishioners at St. Mary’s, Leyland (a million miles away from the experience of people up here); not so surprising, really, since they realise that so many of us loved Fr. Ambrose, who was not just our Pastor as Parish Priest, later as retired Bishop, but also our personal friend. 

Bishop Seamus Cunningham preached a well-crafted sermon, similar in its theme to the sermon of Fr. Abbot at Leyland, emphasising Fr. Ambrose’s extraordinary humility, kindness and constant encouragement of people. What struck me was the link that Bishop Seamus made with the great saints of the north-east, St. Aidan, St. Bede, St. Cuthbert and others who are felt to be alive, still, up here; he seemed to imply that Bishop Ambrose had continued, in the same vein, as his predecessors, perhaps emphasising this because Fr. Ambrose was also a monk, and so much loved in the diocese. 

After a beautiful Mass, with excellent music – the Cathedral choir are very good indeed – we, clergy, retired for some food; people prayed quietly for 45 minutes, until ‘Compline’ which brought the day to a close. 

As I write, the people are gathering, in numbers, for the Requiem Mass that is due to begin at 12 noon. Apparently, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the Apostolic Nuncio and other bishops will be present. This evening, Friday, there will be a reception of Father’s body, at Ampleforth, and on the morrow, Saturday 2nd July, the Funeral Mass will begin at 11.00, followed by his burial in the vault, close to the Abbey Church. 

May I thank all, who did so much to get everything ready, for the three liturgies at Leyland, held for Bishop Ambrose. This includes every aspect, preparation beforehand, the ceremonies (servers, singers, flowers, cleaners of Church and candle sticks and everything, the wonderful refreshments, the publishing and printing of the booklets, readers, car park attendants and those who carried the coffin, together with the undertakers, who made it all so easy for us; all these, and anybody I may have left out!). May we all grow in our love, as we continue our journey, in faith, after this unique experience, we have lived. 


Rarely in one’s life does one experience the sort of heart-rending, heart-touching events that have occurred in Leyland in the last few days?  I have no doubt that, even now, they are being repeated in the Hexham and Newcastle Diocese.  Most surely, they will be repeated again tomorrow, Saturday, at Ampleforth.  I say ‘rarely’, and advisedly so, for perhaps that is God’s way of giving us something very precious to punctuate our lives.  If it were to be that they happened more often, then their very special meaning – and the lessons we learn from them – would lose much of their impact.

Father Ambrose was a very special kind of man – monk, priest and bishop.  The evidence from the last few weeks – the services in Leyland, Newcastle and Ampleforth, the tributes that have been paid in spoken and written form, personally, documented, and those that have found their way to the Internet – all speak of a very much beloved friend and pastor.  We shall not see his like again.

When I heard that Father Ambrose had died – quite peacefully on the afternoon of Tuesday, 14th June, this year  – my response was immediate and spontaneous, to the effect that there was now no further need to pray for him, as he was no longer suffering the long and painful good-bye to this mortal coil, but was now in heaven, with Jesus, the love of his whole life.   Father Ambrose now looks down on all of us who loved him – we are now in his thoughts and prayers, as we were when he lay on his death-bed – as we were when he said his good-bye to his Parish from his wheel-chair, on the weekend of the 4/5 June; few will ever forget his words of encouragement, of love, and of prayer for us all – and this despite his pain, his weakness and in the full knowledge of his impending death.  As I said just a little while ago, we shall not see his like again!

But, we can all be grateful to Father, (and to Almighty God), for his life, for his character and the gifts that he had in plenty; more than this, we can be grateful for the example he leaves us – one of love, unending, for the Holy Trinity, for Our Lady and for the saints he has now followed – to a life of eternal peace and happiness in heaven.  What more can one say, except perhaps, thank you, dear Father Ambrose. God bless!


In e-mailing the blog, ‘Word Press’ tends to distort the original formatting of the document.  Readers may wish to visit the website to read it in its original format.