Archive for August, 2013

It was late in the afternoon that I strolled that day to a neighbouring street to see a family that had suffered the loss of their son. He was young: just 34 years of age.

As usual, the parents were welcoming, offering a cup of tea, and we got talking about what had happened. Their young son’s partner was present, very quiet and demure. Quite soon the parents confessed to me: “We are not very religious, Father!” and, with that in mind, we continued our conversation, they eager to tell me about their son, and I listened quietly, saying little, but trying to support them in their sadness.  After a period of about 25 minutes, I asked them if they would like to pray; at this, the father remarked simply, “it cannot do any harm”, and we said some traditional prayers together. In all of this, I felt for these two people, mother and father, as what can only be described as good and friendly people, involved in a very sad event in their lives: in no way did I ever feel at all superior to them, and it was as though I was learning from them and their tragic experience.

I left their house pondering on what had happened, and on the statement they had made: “We are not very religious, Father!”  What can it mean when people say they are ‘not very religious’?

As I live, day by day, I do not think of, i.e. concentrate on, ‘being religious’. Rather, I struggle with being human. When I was a young and still a much ‘unformed’ person, I used to hear people saying to me: “Be yourself, Jonathan”, and in those days, I could not understand what such words of advice really meant. As I grew older and more mature, I began to realise that ‘being myself’ meant ‘giving of myself’, because by this time, I had discovered what ‘unselfish giving of love’, and the ‘unselfish receiving of love’ were all about; both terms describe actions that involve the undemanding ‘opening up’ of oneself to another; truly, I believe, they describe the essence of what makes us human. They are the basis for a right and proper human existence.  Experience teaches us that life’s troubles come the way of each and every individual, and it is at such times, that it is more important to be giving of self. It is at such times that the open heart, giving of itself, can be seen manifest in the virtues, like patience, (with me, and others), fortitude, (in enduring difficulties), mercy, (when others, or I, let down God, or my neighbour), silence, (when that is called for), and speaking, (when that is also appropriate); overall endeavouring towards being helpful, rather than an obstacle to life’s progress. For myself, however, I still feel the need to be ‘formed’ more fully, even in my older years.

With the passing of years, also, I have discovered that it is only with others that I will be able to make my journey through this life. There is no other way, and the other person is no longer a threat, but always a gift for me. As the saying goes, ‘No Man is an Island’. This is because the same spark of love – that gift of God that I perceive in myself – I can also perceive in the other, but I do not consider this to be the essence of ‘being religious’. It simply makes for being more human!

During the day I like to talk to Jesus. In such moments, I am talking to a living human / divine being who knows my innermost thoughts and all the things that make up my life.  I like to be in communion with Him, sharing with him, fully, in the joy of knowing him. He understands me and I know him as a friend who will never let me down. He rebuilds me within, when I know things have gone wrong, for whatever reason. He gives me the courage to make it up – reconcile – with others and with God. As to God the Father, it is not that he is ‘affected’ by anything I do, but I can realise that the relationship I have with him, is not right, from time to time. This is simply what it means to be human, and as humans, everyone needs relationships and help; each of us can give such help if we are so minded.  In the final analysis, we are born in the same way that others are born, we die as others die, and between the two life-changing events, we need one another. We did not ask to be born – our life is a gift – and, once living, we do need to be fulfilling life’s purpose. I see the many suicides that occur as a sign that some, perhaps many, find little or no purpose in living.

As I remarked earlier, we are not ‘islands’, and to be human involves associating with others and the building up of a commonality. To belong to a community that worships, together, the Creator and Redeemer and the Holy One who give us life, is not especially religious, but a human reality. It is a part of a ‘common good’ for all, and that ‘common good’ leads to peaceful co-existence, and, much more positively, an enjoyment of the innumerable differences between us, but in harmony with others.

Hence I am not sure what ‘being religious’ means. Perhaps someone else could enlighten me?

Father Jonathan

One of the images of Our Lady that remains in my mind from childhood, is that of a beautiful lady wearing a crown of gold, with a halo of 12 stars around her head.  She is looking down on us, her children, whilst under her foot is the serpent, its head being crushed by her purity and transcendent goodness.  Ok, so it’s a childhood fantasy – but is there not also a very serious adult message in all of this?

queen of heaven

I recall some words from Father Jonathan’s blog of last week.  After setting the scene for the Assumption of Mary into heaven, he went on to describe her vital role in the salvation of mankind, in that she was instrumental in bringing God’s Word to us.  He began with some words of reassurance regarding Our Lady:

“It is because of the Word of God – and in the Word of God – that we can be sure of victory. The role of Mary is that of total and absolute unity with the Word, and she leads us to him.”

Father’s words of reassurance were an ‘antidote’ to his words of warning just a little earlier:

“Directly opposed to this letting God’s Word live in us is, of course, the very powerful evil one, who is out to destroy all that is good, all union with God, and all communion and real love between people.”

And so, the mind of a child sets out for us – does it not – some of the very real truths we still need to live by?  On the one hand we have God in all his majesty, goodness and love for mankind – his creation.  From his ‘hands’ we have the Word of God, brought to us by Mary, his Mother, and, through the auspices of Son and Mother, we are brought redemption and the very real chance of salvation of our souls, the promise of heaven and a life of eternal happiness with God, Our Father.  Then as Father pointed out, on the other hand we have that awful and dreaded prospect of sin and death should we turn our backs to God, deny Him and His goodness, and ‘lie down’ with the serpent, and then, rather sadly, to be crushed by Mary’s heel.

Mary, we believe, was assumed body and soul into heaven, once her earthly life came to an end.  After that, we also believe that she was crowned Queen of Heaven – and all this because of her vital role in the salvation and redemption of mankind – a role that she performed, perfectly, as a life-long vocation.  Small wonder, then, that she was rewarded by God for her great contribution to the good of the human race.

our lady

All this came about, in the first instance, because of a thought that came in my head about the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’, wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony.  I was mulling over what sin was about, the really big ones and then the ones no one seems to bother about today – the smaller less serious offences that are still offensive to God.  I had another thought in mind and that concerned St. Teresa of Avila.  As a nun she had many periods of acute illness, during which she claimed that exercises in meditation took her from her lowest stage, ‘recollection’, to ‘devotions of silence’ and even to ‘devotions of ecstasy’, the last stage being one of perfect union with God.  It was at such times that the distinction between mortal and venial sin became clear to her, and on this note she said: “… she came to understand the awful terror of sin and the inherent nature of original sin. She also became conscious of her own natural impotence in confronting sin, and the necessity of absolute subjection to God”.

Going back to Father Jonathan’s earlier point, concerning evil, a fear now reinforced by St. Teresa, we have recourse to only one way out and that must be God’s way.  God’s way is followed to the ultimate degree by God’s Son, the Word of God, by Mary, his Mother, and by all the saints and martyrs down the ages.  We try to follow – I am sure – but often fail.  However, we must never give up hope, and, if we keep on trying our best, then we shall be rewarded by God’s favour, eventually; we can be sure of that.

Talk of sins and sinning is not a very popular subject these days.  Most of us would rather discuss matters of a more pleasant nature, and thus our concentration moves away from the wrongs people do themselves, and towards other people.  Our newspaper headlines are full of stories that outline all the ingredients of the Deadly Sins mentioned above, and society appears to be doing very little about it.  In fact we appear to be going from bad to worse, most of the time, and consciences no longer seem to prick, as they once did.  If they still do, then the points are not as sharp!

As a population, we may draw the line at child cruelty, torture and the killing of a child of tender years, but there is a deadly selection and plenty more of quite horrendous and heinous crimes, in the rest of the list – terrorism, murder, rape, conspiracy and corruption, to say nothing of all kinds of abuse on children, youths, young men and women – and a great deal of the latter types of offence appears to have gone on for years, without credence, without discovery, and without punishment for many years.  The other very worrying factor in all of this is that many of the most serious types of offences are being committed by people, not of the lower orders – the ‘working class’ brigade – but by people in higher authority, people in positions of trust, people in the public eye – and many have become accustomed to the use of their name, rank and position to escape the natural consequences of their actions.  It is, in my view, a rather sad reflection on the England of today.  However, it is not just our own country that is in a mess – look at the rest of the world – and then think again about the power of the evil one!

The last paragraph seems to rob this blog of all hope – but that is not the intention – not by any means!  We began with Mary and her Coronation in heaven.  She and her Son, Jesus, are enough – and more – to bring us back to God’s promise.  Crowned Queen of heaven, she is our solace, our advocate, our fount of mercy and our hope.  She will always lead us to Jesus and to God Our Father, and she is always the victor in any fight against evil.  She lived that way all her life, and should we ask for her help, she will always fight in ‘our corner’ and help us to win through.   She is, after all, our mother too, and she loves us with a mother’s love – just as she loved – still loves – Jesus.

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, Queen of Heaven and our most gentle Queen and Mother – Pray for us.


Today is our Parish patronal feast day, and a Holy Day in the Catholic Church. Why does the Church celebrate this day with such solemnity? In Catholic Countries, like Italy, Spain, Portugal or the Philippines there are great fairs, processions and joyful gatherings of the people – so why all the joyous feasting?  I have just returned from prison after celebrating Mass with a small group of prisoners. Why do we have a special Mass today? What is it all about? All such questions have been buzzing round in my brain, and I tried to explain some of the answers to them.  At the end, one said: “I enjoyed that, Father”; for him, it had made sense.



Stained glass window in the Church of the Theotokos at Loppiano Italy portraying the Assumption.

(Mary is the transparency that opens up the vision of God for us.)

In plain and simple language, today is a great feast because we celebrate the truth that Mary was taken up into heaven, not just in her ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ but in her body as well, in a wonderful and mysterious way. We bury, or cremate, people who have died. The body is the ‘container’ (or the ‘matter’), in which the person who died has lived, and loved, and suffered.  For that person, earthly life has gone, ended, so we honour the body of the dead person; this is because it is very much a part of who the person was, and is – for us,  a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’, if the person was baptised; potentially so, if the person was not.

There are no remains of Mary’s body on earth, and this is also true for Jesus.  Why is this important? To answer, it is because “we believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting”, (Apostles Creed). The promise made to Mary is also to be fulfilled in us.

The challenge, and the feast day, is one of ‘authenticity’, closely linked to the “Word who became flesh in the Virgin Mary”. Again, referring to the creed: “We believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead”.

To be truly authentic, there can be no ‘double standards’. To be painfully honest, we human beings often have double standards. Our loving (i.e. godly) words, feelings and aspirations do not live up to our actions. All of us Christians are disciples of Jesus, who lives in us by our baptism and daily union with him – something to be worked at daily – yet we fail to be authentic.

The Word is not just the Bible, but the person of Jesus, and furthermore, we have the Word of God in ourselves, as we are created in the Word; our choices, informed by our consciences, show us how and where we respond to the Word, but, when we examine ourselves carefully, we do not always follow the teachings of the Word, or of God.  We do not always let the Word of God take over in us, and we fail to become the person we are called to be, born in the Word of God before creation began.

Our task is – should always be – to start again and let Jesus light up his life in us each day.  In the present moment, we can live in full union with God (and by God’s grace, these ‘present moments’ can multiply and become a ‘way of life’ for us); how wonderful it is when this becomes the norm of our life; it is how we become fully human. Directly opposed to this letting God’s Word live in us is, of course, the very powerful evil one, who is out to destroy all that is good, all union with God, and all communion and real love between people.

Jesus is “The Word of God”, from above – from heaven – before the creation began; fully human, he suffered, was tempted, and knows what it is to be human, but did not sin. Mary is the perfect disciple: she is from below – from earth – and she, too, is fully human; she also suffered, was tempted and our Catholic Faith also teaches us that, likewise, she did not sin. The “Word of God” grew in her to perfection (if those words are the right way to express it).  Always sinless, she achieved perfection in her role as the Mother of God, and – so we believe – it would therefore have been wrong for her to face death and corruption as we ordinary humans do; consequently, she was taken up to heaven in both body and spirit.

It is because of the Word of God – and in the Word of God – that we can be sure of victory. The role of Mary is that of total and absolute unity with the Word, and she leads us to him.  She is like a ‘transparent pane of glass’ through which we can have that wonderful view of God.  If there was no transparency, we would not see anything.  So her role is ‘essential’ in the ‘salvation story’ that God has revealed to us.

We celebrate this feast day, each year, on the 15th August. It is our Parish feast day; we celebrate it joyously because it marks her victory – and our victory; for us, it is Mary’s guarantee that she is the Queen of Heaven and Earth.

Father Jonathan

St. Lawrence:

This coming Saturday, 10 August, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Lawrence, thought to be one of the truly great martyrs of the early Church. Although his life was distant, geographically and in time, from we humble Christians in Leyland, there is a much closer and rather interesting connection with the Benedictine Monks of the Ampleforth community; consequently, also, with our Parish.

The English Benedictines had been dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530′s, but one monastery was re-formed at Westminster Abbey by the Catholic Queen Mary; just a few years later, this was dissolved by Queen Elizabeth I.  So much for the to’s and fro’s of the Reformation, and so, by the early 1600’s only one of the Westminster monks was left alive – Fr Sigebert Buckley.  He professed a group of English monks in France, and so passed onto them all the traditions of the old English Benedictine Congregation. In 1608, these English monks took up residence in an abandoned church of St. Lawrence at Dieulouard, northern France.  So it came to pass that, later, when the monks were required to leave France to escape the violence leading up to the French Revolution, they were welcomed to North Yorkshire by Fr Anselm Bolton, Chaplain to the late Lady Anne Fairfax of the nearby Gilling Castle.  He was then living at Ampleforth Lodge.  In 1802, this became the monks’ new monastery.  The French connection has been, and is still maintained, today, by virtue of the adoption of St. Lawrence as the Patron Saint of the Ampleforth Community.

abbey church

 The Abbey Church of St. Lawrence, Ampleforth

St. Lawrence, it is believed, was born, (circa. 225) in Northern Spain, at Huesca, in the foohills of the Pyrenees.  Whilst still a youth and completing his studies at Zaragoza, he met the future Pope Sixtus II, who became one of his highly esteemed teachers.  At the end of his studies, Lawrence and Sixtus travelled from Spain to Rome.  Sixtus was made Pope in 257, whereupon he ordained Lawrence as a deacon of the Church – chief among seven deacons – and Archdeacon of Rome, a position of great trust, as he was given responsibility for the care of the treasury and the valuables belonging to the Church at that time.  It was also his job to look after the giving of alms to the poor.

Then in Rome, it was the norm for any denounced Christian to be executed, their goods to be seized and taken over by the imperial authorities.  Reinforcing this norm, it is recorded that, at the beginning of August, 258, the Emperor Valerian issued an order calling for the immediate execution of all bishops, priests and deacons of the Church and Pope Sixtus II was one of the first to fall foul of this order.  During his celebration of the liturgy, he was captured on August 6, 258, and beheaded.

The Prefect of Rome then ordered Lawrence to hand over the treasures of the Church, at which command, Lawrence is said to have asked for three days in which to assemble these before being able to hand them over.  In the three days, he worked tirelessly to distribute these riches to the poor, and on the appointed day, he appeared before the Prefect with the assembled  poor, the crippled, the blind, the sick and the lame behind him, saying to the Prefect that these were the ‘true’ treasures of the Church, and declaring “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your Emperor.”  This act of defiance led directly to his own martyrdom, recorded as taking place on August 10, 258.

Legend has it that Lawrence was executed by being roasted alive on a grid-iron.  However, on this point, there has been much disagreement and whilst some authorities still maintain he was killed in this way, others point out that his death was much more likely to have been by means of a sword-thrust to the throat, or by decapitation, these latter means being more in keeping with the Imperial order requiring immediate execution.


 The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence - Tintoretto

Broaching the question of this blog with Father Jonathan, he was very much in favour of such an attempt.  After a little research, I was able to put together a précis of the historical background, which found favour with Father, but he was then able to bring the whole subject much ‘closer to home’, with his more ‘personal’ knowledge of many aspects pertaining to Ampleforth’s Patron Saint.  I am, therefore, very much indebted to Father Jonathan for his following most valuable supplement, which, of course, converts this blog,  very much, into a joint enterprise.


Fr. Jonathan writes:

“Politics provides the close, and very important association, Ampleforth Abbey with St. Lawrence. The King of Spain in 1608 was Philip III. He had heard of the ‘fledgling’ English Benedictine community at Dieulouard, and he was the Catholic ‘champion’ of Europe. England was a powerful country but, religiously, did not form part of ‘Catholic Europe’, and a state of enmity still existed between the two countries; remember that the Spanish Armada – an expedition designed to overthrow Elizabeth I and her Protestant policies – had floundered twenty years previously.

However, to Dieulouard, King Philip sent a relic consisting of one of St. Lawrence’s bones, hitherto kept by him in the “Escorial”, his Royal Palace in Spain, (incidentally, also bearing the name of San Lorenzo).  The “Escorial” is built in the shape of the ‘grid iron’ on which St. Lawrence is thought, by many, to have died. This relic (with authentication from Rome), is still kept at Ampleforth to this day.


 Relic of St Lawrence at Ampleforth Abbey

On the Feast Day of St. Lawrence, the First Reading is from 2 Corinthians 9, wherein one finds the clause: “God loves a cheerful giver”. For me, as one of the monks of this “Lawrentian community”, I have often reflected that this phrase has been expressed in the lives of many of my brother monks.

Take, perhaps, its most famous son, St. Alban Roe, an Ampleforth monk, put to death in the usual most cruel fashion, on January 21 1642. He was for many years in prison and yet free to go out in London and minister to the people – a rather strange arrangement! He was always cheerful and used to play cards with the prisoners and others. That clause, from the First Reading of the Feast Day of the Patron Saint of his Abbey ‘strikes home’ with him; it must have been well known to him.

I have known many monks in my life-time, and one characteristic is their cheerfulness in the giving of self. One student at our High School, who went recently to Ampleforth, told me that what struck him – and his friends – was the goodness, kindness and the cheerfulness of the monks. St. Lawrence had the very same reputation.

Over many years now, I recall the sight of my brother monks, kneeling at this relic, which is kept at the right-hand side of the altar, and praying fervently to St. Lawrence. Such devotions continue to this day. He is a living memory for us, and on Saturday next, it will be a great feast day for our Ampleforth monks.”

Father Jonathan

Things Both New and Old:

Every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old. Mt.13: 53

What does this phrase of Jesus bring to mind? The context is Jesus speaking to the crowds about the kingdom of heaven. He compares it to a fishing-net which is thrown into the sea. In the net when it is dragged ashore there are fish good for eating and a lot of rubbish to be thrown away, fish that are inedible, weeds, ‘flotsam’ and ‘jetsam’ of all kinds. This will happen at the end of time and the angels will be involved. These angels on the last day will do the separating of the wicked and the just; and the wicked – says Jesus – will be thrown into the blazing furnace where there will be “weeping and grinding of teeth”. This sounds either harsh, in that it does not reflect the usual mercy of God, or rather far fetched. Yet it is there in the passage of Matthew’s gospel. It is best not to ignore Jesus’ words.

In a way it is like the parable of the good wheat and the rotten weeds in the field.  At harvest time the good wheat is kept and the weeds are thrown away to be burnt. He asks the people if they understand about the fishing net and the people say they do. I wonder? I was asked if I wanted to be a monk, when I made my first profession of vows, and I said I did; it wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t fully true.  Then he adds the phrase above.

Every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old. Mt.13: 53

I write these few words from mid Wales where about 500 people of all ages and all denominations or none, of all social classes, many from other countries including a fair number from Africa, are having a kind of “retreat”. As there are also non-believers among us it is best to understand that word “retreat” in a different, “new” way. There is a lot of talk about “Jesus (Love who is God) living among us”. We plan each day what kind of intentions we should use for the three different kinds of worship, Catholic Mass, Anglican Eucharist and a Free-Church prayer service. The word of God, for Thursday 1st of August, includes this passage from St Matthew.

We are experiencing both new and old. Perhaps all of us from the main stream denominations could be likened to the “Scribe” mentioned by Jesus. We are often deeply rooted in our Church ways, as the Jewish scribes were in the “Jewish ways” in Jesus’ time. Precisely the presence of such a diverse group of people is something new. Yet most people present are having an experience of the Kingdom; it is a “retreat” that is meant to bring you closer to the Word of God, Jesus, and that is happening. Who would go on a retreat with “atheists”?

We have learnt about other new things, old and new in the fields of education, politics, art, medicine, parish life and so on. Above all, many of us, and certainly myself, have learnt what it might be like to be a “new” person. Let us thank God that the Spirit of God is always alive and hope is not meaningless; there are people all over the world, maybe small in number, but united in a new vision of God, and society, quietly and without fuss, being changed and bringing about change; in God, we can be confident that it can, and will, come about.

Despite everything we can say ‘No’ to cynicism, ‘Yes’ to hope!

Father Jonathan

 The photos show some of the people at our “retreat” called Mariapolis, the City of Mary who gives birth to the Word of God.

Photo Gallery

people attending

Some of the many people attending the Mariapolis 2013

singing etc

      (1) Some young people at their singing (2) people getting to know each other                 

in wales etc

 (1) A young man shows the Welsh Connection (2) Some of the Leylanders attending

 James gave me the following poem when I told him I met a Religious Brother with his same name. Both James Hayes were interested in this fact. At the Mariapolis he got very ill and without being taken to Shrewsbury hospital he might have begun his rest in the arms of the one who loves him. I suspect his greatest friends in this world are those of the UK Focolare Movement.


This Life of Mine:

This life of mine

Will soon end

So this message

To my friends I send.

I thank you for the kind

Support you have given me

Thank you for all your support

And the love you’ve given me

You loved me from the very start

You loved me with all your heart

You loved me of your own free will

And I know that you love me still.

For a new commandment was given to you

“Love one another as I love you.”

The love God gave you was free

This is why I know you still love me.

I did the best that I could do

In the allotted time

That time is now over

Now I’ve crossed the finishing line.

The journey is now over

And so now I can rest

In the arms of the one who loves me

And who knows I did my best.

James Hayes