Archive for September, 2012

This week I would like to discuss  the concepts of priesthood, in particular, my understanding of the ‘Royal Priesthood’ – ‘… a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation … that you should show forth the praises of him who called you …. ’ (1 Peter 2:9), and also that of the Ordained Priesthood.  All this links closely with our new Presidential Chair in Church, of which a close up picture is shown below:

When I entered the monastic community of Ampleforth Abbey, in September 1961, I did so because I thought God was calling me to the priesthood. I soon discovered that I had entered a monastery, and that monastic life did not emphasise, primarily, the importance of priestly ordination; rather it seemed to emphasise my response to God’s call, out of his immense love for me, to give myself to him as a monk. This was formalised in the vows I took as a monk. I discovered, also, that monks who were ordained priests, did not act, necessarily, more virtuously than monks who were not ordained. We then had no ‘lay brothers’ – all trained monks at Ampleforth were ordained priests – but I met other brothers, in Religious Life, who were often more ‘rounded’ human beings than some priests. In any case, I could observe with my own eyes how people behaved, and all in our monastery are, first and foremost, men with all the good, and less good characteristics they possessed before becoming ordained. 

In January 1973 I was sent for a short ‘stint’ to St. Mary’s, Warrington, for my first parochial experience. There, for the first time, I began to see how the people of God – the ‘Royal Priesthood’ –  esteemed we ordained priests so highly in their regard; I asked myself why this should be, and to this, my conclusions are: 

  1. They love their priests, if they are kind and do their duty, because priests help them in important personal and family times.
  2. The Ordained Priest is a direct link with God because he consecrates Bread and Wine at Mass and has the power to forgive sin. He is, therefore, a channel bringing grace to the people, through the sacraments.
  3. He is not married – save to God – and so is a ‘man apart’, having time to spend in prayerful studying, and time each day, in union with the one each Christian person is meant to make the centre of their lives: God.
  4. The priest is meant to be a true shepherd and lead people to know God and his Love – a task he can only perform if, truly, he is a man of God, a man of Love.

My instinct has always been to see myself as, essentially, a member of the ‘One Body of Christ’, but with a special function as a priest. I hasten to add, however, that this special function does not mean I am ‘better’ or ‘more worthy’ or ‘more holy’ than my brothers and sisters in the Community of Faith. In fact, each baptised person is, potentially, a priest, prophet and king, as is stated in the Baptismal Rite. True, a lay person is not an ordained priest, but each Christian can be a person acting as a ‘bridge’ between God and humanity, which is exactly like the role of a priest. I have always liked to see the priest as ‘servant of all’, just like Jesus, who washed the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. 

But, to return to the subject of the newly aquired Presidential Chair, in our Church. Below, is a photograph showing it in relationship to the ambo and the altar. Those who are involved in the Art and Architecture Department of our Diocese felt that we, in Leyland, had one omission – one piece missing – in the re-ordering of our Church, that has taken place during the past few years. That essential missing piece was a ‘Presidential Chair’, designed to give due honour to the office of the priesthood.

I have to say that much careful thought was exercised over this, and it took a relatively long time for the authorities to agree a design they thought worthy of the Church; ultimately, the finished piece has been made by the ‘Mouse Man’ of Kilburn, Yorkshire – the firm that produced the benches for our Church – and other major wooden accoutrements. Just as our forefathers wanted the best for our building, so the authorities agreed that we should have the same quality for this, uniquely, important feature of the sanctuary.

 Wood Carving Detail – Back of the Presidential Chair

Since its positioning, I have found that this new Presidential Chair, now in use, has caused me to reflect a little, on a number of aspects. It is now one of the three ‘major features’ on the altar, whereas its predecessor – a much smaller chair – was somehow ‘lost’ in the scheme of things. It makes me see the importance of the ‘office’ of the ordained priest, in that he really does represent Jesus in the liturgy, for the congregation. However, it must be noted that the chair does not honour the man who is the priest; rather, it honours Jesus, who is the one who leads the liturgy. The liturgy of the Church is actually the liturgy of Christ, himself, something much more important than the sum of the individuals who make up the congregation, including the person of the ordained priest. In a very profound way, it is important that the ordained priest occupying this chair should become united, as close as is possible, to Christ, for, after all, he represents Our Lord in the liturgical assembly, together with everybody else – but in a way, differently, to the congregation. The honour is given to Jesus himself, not to the individual person of the ordained priest. 

So, it pleases me, greatly, that we have been given the opportunity to receive this new chair into our Church, through the generosity of individual parishioners, who gave money for this specific, and important complement to the altar; similarly, grateful thanks go to those who belong to the ‘500 Club’, because some of the money came from that source, as well. 

It is fitting that the ‘Royal Priesthood’ has, in this way, honoured the ‘Ordained Priesthood’, and I hope that the Presidential Chair will remain a feature of our Parish community, for many, many years into the future. I hope, and pray, that, in time, there will be young men, and women, coming from our Community of Faith of the Royal Priesthood of Leyland St. Mary’s, willing to give themselves to God, as religious men or women, or indeed as ordained priests.  May God bless you all and thank you, again.

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The Passion of The Christ:

In this week’s blog, I want to put down some thoughts on the subject of Jesus’ Passion and Death – one of the most important and central tenets of our  faith.  Most of us Christians are familiar with the Crucifix – the sight of Jesus on the Cross – and, to be honest, it’s not a pretty sight.  In simple terms, it portrays a man hung on a cross to die. 

The Crucifix above the High Altar – St. Mary’s, Leyland

Even so, the crucifix does not come near describing the stark sequence of events involved in an actual Roman crucifixion.  Many people have taken the view that our accustomed modern statues and pictures of Jesus on the Cross are more realistic than the early and medieval, though still ‘watered down’ images of what took place – a bit like looking at something awful through tinted spectacles – so as to take away the worst impressions of what took place on Calvary.  It is as though public consumption could not – cannot – cope with the actual violation of that once perfect human body.

In order to portray the sufferings and death of Jesus, in a more true-to-life reality, the actor-cum-director, Mel Gibson, produced and directed the controversial film, ‘The Passion of The Christ’ in 2004.  His attempt to describe the sufferings and death of Christ Our Saviour, in real terms, proved an upsetting experience for many people – Catholics among them – and many said that the film set out the sequence of events towards the end of Jesus’ life, in the very poorest of taste.  The film was certainly not suitable for the very young, in my view, and many adults admitted that the some of the scenes were stomach-churning.  I have heard many adults say they have no wish to see the film, for whatever reasons. Having, myself, watched the film, I have to say that it was certainly not an easy experience.  It made me think very deeply about what was going on.  My conclusion was that the director had made a conscious attempt to show his audience just what the arrest, public humiliation with all its indignities, the scourging and crowning with thorns, finally, the crucifixion and death of Jesus was like – what it would have been like to have been there – the scene in all its true colours.

Jesus, Calvary and Mary – stills from the ‘Passion of the Christ’

That having been said, we must realise that despite Gibson’s attempts to bring home the true message of ‘The Passion of The Christ’, it falls short by a very wide margin.  It cannot tell us what Jesus was like, truly, as a man.  It cannot tell us, truly, what it was like for this Son of God to be treated as a criminal, worse than a murderer like Barabbas.  It cannot describe for us, adequately, the injustice done to an innocent God-made-Man. It cannot take us there to see and hear the crowd, many eager to see Jesus crucified, many horrified at the sufferings being ‘dished out’ to a man who had done no wrong, many heart-broken for Jesus, his family and those who loved him.  It cannot show us the fear and tremblings of a man about to be killed in the most brutal way – the moods of the people, the atmosphere of the scene, or that sense of dereliction, abandonment and aloneness of the figure at the centre of all this.  It cannot convey the pain and blood-loss-weakness of a man whipped and crowned with long sharp thorns, the excruciating feel of nails being driven through the the wrist and through the ankles, then to be hung on a cross of rough-hewn wood.  It never could show what it was like to hang on that cross for hours before death actually took away all that pain.  We must never forget that, though Jesus was divine, he was also a man just like us and, therefore, able to experience injustice, abandonment, humiliation, ridicule, condemnation, pain, and the fear of oncoming death, just like all human beings.

If that was ever to be the end of the saga, then what a totally depressing conclusion it would bring us to imagine.  Thank God, that is not the case. Thank God it is not just about suffering and death. Thank God, that is not the way it ends, for this is not just about that kind of downward spiral that leads to complete despair.  Ultimately, it is about LOVE and HOPE.  The story tells us about love, the love of one human being, for each and every one of us – love for the whole human race.  It is about so much love contained in that one man, that he gave up his life for the rest of us, a sacrifice of divine proportions, more than sufficient to atone for the countless wrongs of humanity, thereby to save us from the threat of everlasting enmity towards God, our Father and Creator. 

However, it is not easy to make the cosmic leap from that deep depression to the realisation that all this is about hope, wrapped in a great love; the leap across that void requires a leap of faith – faith, that wonderful gift that comes from God. However, this is not likely to happen all at once, like a spark, like a flash of lightening.  Rather, it is a journey in faith that God allows us to travel more slowly, through all the experiences of our lives.  In life we see the good and the bad, the evils that surround us everyday, (and always make the headlines), and, on the ‘other side of the coin’, the millions of people who lead good lives and who are deserving of happiness – all those who try to make the world a better place.  To all of us, these are the experiences we have of life – lessons if you like – and the lessons become more and more intensified as we grow older and, hopefully, a little wiser.  God is at work in all of this, teaching us about life and about his love for all of us, about his original design in his creation of the human race, and about his wish to see all of us united with him, in eternal happiness. So, the story is also about hope, the hope we now have of reconciliation with God, who loves us all – who loved us so much – that He gave us his own Son as a sacrifice, that we may be saved from eternal darkness – if only we say ‘sorry’ for our sins, and mean it.

We began with the sufferings and death of Jesus, our Saviour, a negative note of sadness and depression.  Through faith we come to quite the opposite, all the positives of love, hope, reconciliation and forgiveness with the God who made us, who loves us, always and forever.  But, what enfolds all of this is LOVE, the Love of God and the Love of Jesus, for without that binding love, that love which drove a man to undergo an ignominious death, we would have nothing to look forward to – nothing other than that deep, dark, godless void.  Thank God for Jesus, now and always!


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Growing and Changing:

I was in Primary School at a Mass for the opening of the new school year. It was so good to hear the young pupils from 5 to 10 years of age singing their hearts out, and so much at peace with the things of God. What to say to them was a challenge? 

“How many of you have seen photographs of your parents at a young age – perhaps younger than you are now?” More than half put up their hands. “They all went to school, like you now here in school, and look how different they look now to what they were then! Who do you think this is?” One little fellow had an eager hand up straight away. “Jesus!”. “No, Jesus would not have had a tie, and looked Jewish.” Another: “You!” “Yes, you are quite right, when I was younger than anyone in this school”.

 Myself – at a much more tender age!

“But now look and see the difference; this is me with my great nephew, Owen, at a family Mass, just after he was baptised, and the other picture is with my great nieces, Lucy and Zoe, when they were about two years old”.

Myself with my great nephew and two great nieces 

“What a lot of adventures have happened in my life, and God has asked me to be a priest and a monk! So, I can come and say Mass for you here, and who knows what God will want from you!”

On a rather different tack, Pope Benedict is about to go to Lebanon this week-end. It will be a very important mission, and a risky one, as all readers will know about the human ordeal going on in neighbouring Syria. Fewer may know that a Trappist Monastery in the Holy Land, was attacked and vandalised by militant Israeli settlers, last Tuesday, 11 September. What follows is an official report from the Zenit news: 

Political and Religious leaders in Israel have conveyed outrage over last week’s desecration of a local Trappist monastery. 

Vandals struck in the early hours of last Tuesday morning, setting fire to the main entrance of the Latroun Trappist Monastery and spray-painting phrases ridiculing Jesus, along with the names of several West Bank outposts that were recently evicted by the Israeli government. Authorities believe that it was a “price tag” attack, which is the name given for vandalism or acts of violence aimed usually at Israeli security forces or Palestinians. Usually carried out by radical Israeli Jewish settlers, attackers will strike at a site, usually Christian or Muslim, as a price for being evicted from their settlements. 

A group of 50 rabbis and leading Jewish scholars signed a statement written by Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottsstein, director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem, condemning the vandalism. 

Dr. Goshen-Gottstein presented the message after a Sunday Mass at the Latroun monastery presided by the abbot, Fr. René Hascoët. The letter expressed disdain for the attack on the Trappist monastery. “We feel deeply sorry that you were treated with such disrespect by others who are members of our faith community,” the statement read. 

“In our understanding, the creation of humanity in God’s image is the great motif of the Torah. We believe the Torah mandates full respect for the infinite value, equality and uniqueness of every human life, for we are all created in the image of God. There is no place for hatred or bigotry towards those whose religious commitment is different from our own.”

Here is a picture of Pope Benedict as a young boy in Germany, and again as our Holy Father at the age of 85 years.

The boy who would be pope and Pope Benedict at the General Audience, Wednesday 12 September 2012 

This ‘old’ man is going to bring a message of peace and hope to the Christians, and to all people of the Middle East,  presently in the hell of aggressive war. It is a kind of miracle that he will be able to enter such a stressful situation at his age; how many men of eighty-five, of those I know in Leyland, would be up to that? It is not just the man, Joseph Ratzinger, who is involved here, good and faithful though he clearly is. Rather it is the office of the Papacy that is presented in front of everyone. The young, fresh, friendly German boy, of the photo above, had no idea of all that Providence would ask of him in his life, and with God’s grace, what good he may bring about. 

I would end by recommending a beautiful song that is a favourite of my friend, Manfred Kochinky, who is suffering from an incurable brain tumour. What has Providence brought to him, a relatively young man in the prime of life, who has dedicated himself to God, and who, in this illness sees: “The Love of God coming to him”. He told me, today, he cannot listen to this song enough. It is a modern folk song about life, and all that it entails; not only that, it’s all that Jesus, himself, means to those who remain in him. 

If you press control and click on the link it should open up immediately. 

Manfred wrote: ‘I found this song by Alison Krauss, which rings  lot of bells for me, because I think it is profoundly true.  How lucky I am to be able to go on this road together with others!!’

I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There isn’t any wonder that I fall
Why do we suffer, crossing off the years
There must be a reason for it all

I’ve trusted in You, Jesus, to save me from my sin
Heaven is the place I call my home
But I keep on getting caught up in this world I’m living in
And Your voice it sometimes fades before I know

Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, crying with my need
Depending on Your love to carry me
The love that shed His blood for all the world to see
This must be the reason for it all

Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, a fortress in the storm
When what I wrap my heart around is gone
I give my heart so easily to the ruler of this world
When the one who loves me most will give me all

In all the things that cause me pain You give me eyes to see
I do believe but help my unbelief
I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There is a reason for it all

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Below is a short report from the international press; it was headline news last weekend: 

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police say authorities have arrested an imam who had accused a Christian girl of blasphemy. Munir Jaffery, an investigating officer in the case, said Sunday that Khalid Chishti was arrested late Saturday for allegedly planting pages of a Quran in a shopping bag containing burned papers and ash that had been carried by the Christian girl.  The 14-year-old girl was later accused of burning pages of the Quran, a serious offense in Pakistan that can result in life in prison.  The about-face could lead to the girl being released from prison and defuse what has been a religiously charged case in Pakistan.  The case has been especially sensitive because of the girl’s young age and questions about her mental capacity.

Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the Imam of the Mosque in Mehrabad, being led away blind-folded and under arrest. 

With regard to the above and the blog which follows, I have been in contact with Father Jonathan via the wonders of email.  Presently, he happens to be in Gozo, giving a retreat to the Missionaries of St. Paul, founded in Malta, 1910.  We approached the subject quite independently and, it must be said, from quite different standpoints; consequently, the blog as it now stands, represents the meeting of two quite different minds, on a subject matter that has proved difficult because of the extremist positions that often come to bear on such controversial issues. 

Readers of this weekly blog will recall Father Jonathan’s often writings on the subject of unity.  Only last week he actually used the following passage: 

“Unity fascinates me and gives purpose to my life as it imparts a vision of how life should be in all its aspects; that vision is wide-ranging and includes church, state, families, factories, schools, different countries, different Christian denominations, different religions, ….. “  

He also went on to point out that, historically, the Church had experienced much disunity in centuries gone by, especially among some of the religious orders, and the problems such disunities had caused.  By simple extrapolation, the argument can be extended to cover the sorts of problems resulting in disunities between religions, communities, nations ….. et al. 

The Christians of Rimsha’s Community protest and seek her release. 

The population of Pakistan is overwhelmingly devoted to the worship of Islam, and the Christians living there make up but a very small – even tiny – minority.  The disparity in numbers alone, may be sufficient to cause uneasiness amongst the few Christians endeavouring to keep to their faith, but I have read of problems that go much further than just pure numbers.  From some of the items I have read in the British Catholic press, I am given the distinct impression that very real persecutions, and religious intolerances exist in some areas of Pakistan, and that these are often directed at the Christian men, women and children.  This is not to say that the majority of the population – Christians and Muslims – do not get on very well together, living peaceably side by side.  At the same time, there are those with extremist views among the Muslim population, and as always with extremism, the power and influence they exercise is widely disproportionate to, and vastly outweighs, their numbers.  Small wonder then that some of the Christian communities are afraid, at times, for their safety. 

On this point, Father Jonathan, whilst on his mission abroad, has discussed some of the issues with his retreatant missionaries who have first-hand knowledge of working in Pakistan.  He asked them was it dangerous for a European, and a Christian, to be living in Pakistan?  (It may be important to note that the discussions took place before any knowledge of the imam’s reported actions towards the 14 years old girl). His words, setting out the brothers’ balanced views concerning this, are recorded as follows. 

“Firstly, they said that when they went among the ordinary people they found themselves very much accepted and loved. Almost all of them had not only lived there but built Catholic Churches for the Catholics where they had their missions. They said that when they met the local Muslim people, they found that when they explained that the building they were trying to erect would be a house of God, the Muslims were only too pleased to assist them in any way possible. After all they have a strong belief in God. They also acknowledged that it was important to be careful and not to take un-necessary risks in areas where there may be militant people. The Christians are a tiny minority in a state which has Islam as its official religion. In this state which is often reported as being “anti-Christian” there is certainly a need for Christians to be very cautious. It is also true that there are some Muslims who want to force out the Christians.”

It is very difficult for a person with no experience of Pakistan, its 190 million people, their customs and cultural heritage, to make judgements on a case such as the one in point.  If the reports are true to the allegations, and the imam did attempt to ‘frame’ this young and vulnerable girl, then it is also true, it seems, that his two associate imams were responsible for telling the truth as to his actions – actions designed, in his words, as the only way to ‘get the Christians out of Pakistan’.  We then have the situation where the illegal actions of one, are counteracted by the good and proper actions of his two ‘friends’ – and all from one Muslim community. 

The Muslim faith has the same teaching among all its doctrines as almost every other religion – ‘The Golden Rule’ – especially important;  this says, simply: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”   Clearly, the first imam was in contravention of this rule, and if it were to be proven true that he burned pages of the Koran to add to the girl’s bag, then he is also guilty of blasphemy, in the same way as allegations against the girl; such offences carry the death penalty in Pakistan – a very serious situation for both. I hope and pray  it will not come to this.

I leave the last word to Father Jonathan, who always appears to have the gift of ‘pouring oil on troubled waters’. His words come after discussions of the ‘Rimsha’ case:

“There I would leave this issue leaving the ordinary person to make up his, or her own mind about the case. Certainly, It would go against all Christian principles to behave in this way: it would also, it seems, go against Muslim principles, too. For some reason there must be Pakistani Muslim people who really cannot tolerate Christians, and that is a pity, and could lead to crime. It might be the same if the ‘boot were on the other foot’, Christians who could not tolerate Muslims in their country. There must be other Pakistani Muslims who are prepared to stand up for the law, and be ready to denounce such a fellow Muslim, acting unjustly, as happened in this case. 

So let us ask God, who is the same God for Islam, and for Christianity, to help the people of Pakistan to learn from this case, and to act justly, and thank God that this little girl’s life will indeed be spared. May the people of Pakistan live in peace with their Christian minority, and may racist and religious prejudice diminish all over the world.”


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