Praying and blogging

My previous blog post was about my need to  pray before writing a homily.   I also pray before writing, and then separately before posting a blog.  This weekend I have seen some rather shocking blogging going on with regard to one specific matter.  Happily, to date, only one blogger has raised the matter but I fear there may be more.

I’d  noted in recent weeks a trend of referring to the Holy Spirit as ‘she’.  The reasoning behind this is the Hebrew noun ר֫וּחַ or ‘ruach’ is a feminine noun.  I have pointed out to those with whom I debate the matter that when a noun has a gender it’s the noun, and not the subject.  I always use the example from good old O’level school French of ‘la chemise’ and ‘le chemisier’ to make my point.  ‘La chemise’ is the shirt, a feminine noun for an item of clothing associated with men where ‘le chemisier’ is a blouse, an item recognised as being associated with women unless it’s prefixed by ‘big girls’.

This has always been respectfully received and debated with Christian love.  I entered into the same conversation on Friday with two priests.  What followed from others was unedifying, I was shocked to the core.

Attempts to justify poor, unchristian behaviour have resulted in no less than three blog posts (to date) condemning one of the chaps with whom I debated the matter.   So it made me think; has prayer been employed before these posts? Do I pray always before I post a blog?

I believe I do, but that’s believe, I am not one hundred per cent certain I always have in the past.  In the past I have discussed this with my spiritual director, he has underlined to me the vital importance of making sure christocentricity is not missing from anything, anything at all, that I share via this medium.

I debated this with him, I asked how writing about my garden, or my shed, would be Christocentric, he told me as long as there is not a lack of love, I am ok.  He reinforced this to me shortly after when I posted a blog, he text me and said “did you pray before writing that?”

I replied I definitely had, he responded

“well the devil’s got to your spellchecker”

There was a howlinging inappropriate misspelling in the post, thank goodness so few of you read this!

Praying before blogging is vital.  Praying before posting is equally so.  In the early days I neglected this on too many occasions and those blogs have been removed from An Idiot On Board.  Today being Trinity Sunday I have implored the whole Trinity to help me.  They sent the Holy Spirit, He helped me.

(I hope SillyPhyllis is motivated to mention this on her HCOOH feed)

Praying and preaching

Earlier this week I read someone laud their parish priest for his edifying homilies.  She had discovered his secret was to write them in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  This really made me think of my own early shocking attempts at homiletics.

My old routine was to look for a story of everyday life with which to open.  I would often throw in references to popular TV shows, which was interesting for me, as I would notice people suddenly look up, and I’d be happy I might have their attention.

I began to realise this was not a good way to proceed when one homily story was repeated back to me.  I spoke of a time I was delivering to a customer in my previous job of wholesale flower flogger.  I delivered to a Lady (yes, capital) called Barbara.  She had a gated house, the gates were open, I drove onto the drive, got the flowers out of the car, walked round the back of the house where I had delivered before and saw her in her conservatory in sports clothes following an aerobic exercise video.  She was shocked and embarrassed that I had seen her like this.  I was very apologetic and mortified I had embarrassed this delightful lady in this way.  She forgave me but said “you won’t tell anyone will you?” I assured her I would not.  But next time I saw her, she told everyone the story, laughing and showing them some of the moves she was executing at the time.

This story was repeated back to me in positive terms.  However, I had to admit to myself that while I remembered using the story, I did not remember the message of the homily.

Not long after this I was having trouble putting together my next homily.  The Gospel reading was the start of John 10 “I am the gate to the sheepfold”.  I am blessed that I get to preach once a month.  This means I get a whole month to prepare my homily and I am sure you all believe me when I tell you I spend that whole month doing just that. (my foot)  With only a couple of days to go I was having trouble getting a ‘hook’ (technical term) on the readings that I could translate without making myself sound like Elmer J Fudd.

I discussed this at dinner one evening, saying I was getting slightly desperate as to what I would say on Sunday morning.  Various humorous suggestions were made, but then my older daughter said something back to me that has become a catchphrase in the house when anything was troubling either of my girls. “Have you prayed about it daddy?” she said.  This was echoing the “have you prayed about it darling?” they have  grown up with, and the first time in ten years I had been called ‘daddy’.  But here’s the rub, praying about it was one thing I had not done.

And when I did, Jesus spoke to me in my heart at one thousand decibels “I am the gate to the sheepfold Tony, not the places you’ve been looking to try and entertain a crowd”.  My homily was me simply relaying this story, I needed no more than The Lord had provided.

When I was in diaconal formation it was stressed to us that we should not try to impart The Lord’s message without asking him what he wanted us to say.  I’d failed this time and I wondered how many other times I had failed.  I could not be certain I had always prayed before preparing.

I can say, hand on heart, I have never been caught like that again, nor have I struggled to find the proverbial hook.  However, I think I might take a leaf from the book of the parish priest mentioned above, perhaps preparing in front of the Blessed Sacrament might help me take my homilies up a notch.

A Graceful Letter

On 29 March I posted a blog on the letter signed by 461 priests asking those attending the next synod to uphold sound teaching on marriage and human sexuality.  In the post I agreed with the letter but voiced my concern at how the publicising of the letter had been handled.  Cardinal Nichols seems to agree with me on that too, although his words, like mine, have been taken to mean we disagree with the content of the letter.

The usual social media behaviour from the usual social media noises occurred. There were letters to The Tablet decrying the signatories for their lack of faith in the Holy Spirit (a concern I heard vocalised more than once) there were those supporting the letter decrying the Tablet letter writers for doing so, both sides got personal and my concern about the lack of grace mentioned at the end of my blog post grew.

Mgr Keith Barltrop wrote a graceful piece in the Catholic Herald here saying why he had chosen not to sign the letter, I saw not one comment from either side on his article, but then, there was nothing to say

On Thursday I had a call asking if I had seen who had signed, ‘the people’s letter’. “Eh?” said I, and was led here

This letter is outstanding.  There is nothing anyone who stands with their fellow Catholics on a Sunday and says The Creed can argue with.  One might not like the fact the letter exists, one might want to write ones own letter saying one does not support the 461 priests, one might, like me, look down the list of signatories with a wry grin at some of the names, or lack of diocese mentioned, or wondered if such a young signatory should be signing the letter or (yes, like me) admiration that some have used their real life legal names rather than the name of their anonymous Twitter feeds, but one cannot deny this letter is full of truth and grace, as is Christ’s bride, The Church.  The letter has been handled with tact and grace and the authors deserve our thanks.

The letter

Terry Wogan used to make me laugh with his exclamation “a letter has flooded in!” and this week a letter flooded in to The Catholic Herald.  However, this letter was signed by 461 priests. It urged all those taking part in the second synod to uphold the Church’s sound teaching on marriage and human sexuality.

In a casual conversation about the letter with another deacon I started to hear all sorts of individual back stories of why it was “only 461” stories of pressure put on priests to sign or not sign, various different stories relating to the signatories.

Among the signatories are five men with whom I am in regular contact, in some cases almost daily.  I asked each of them why they signed the letter, the general consensus went along the lines of  ‘because it’s true’ or ‘I saw no reason not to’ and ‘having read it I could not in all conscience have not signed’.

I spoke with each of these priests on a matter raised by a very small group of people with whom I spoke “where’s the faith in the Holy Spirit’.  One of them made me jump out of my skin when he said he did not have faith in the Holy Spirit to see that all was well.  Another told me the letter was designed to affirm to the faithful that the priests were being led by the Spirit and another pointed out, quite correctly, you cannot simply leave things to the Holy Spirit.  If it were not so we would not need the oil of Catechumens at Baptism.

The sad thing that has arisen out of it all is the hyperbole in social media and the press.  I was looking at the front page of one of the Catholic publications with one of the signatories, he was dismayed at what we saw, but he agreed with my assertion that the Catholic press is still the press.

I have looked at social media on this matter and it’s interesting what you see and the quarters from which it comes.  There’s tales of priests being warned not to sign, but one signatory told me to speak to another with whom I am reasonably friendly, I did, he told me he was told “you ought to sign this” in a manner with which one does not argue, i hear of another who has upset his mother by not signing and wishes he has for the sake of peace.

Another reason given for so few signatories is that the letter was addressed to ‘the parish priest’, but of the five I know well, only two are parish priests and there’s a lot of retired priests names on the list.    Cardinal Nichols has also been attacked (dead sheep stylie) in social media for saying that the “dialogue between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press.” and again, four out of five signatories agree with him.  Sadly the article tries to make more of his words than there were, and they named a retired priest as parish priests of the Church where I most regularly attend TLM. But I am afraid I really did laugh out loud reading at the end of one “I’ll make the bullets you fire ‘em” blog that the medium used was “the discreet forum of the Catholic Herald”

The other issue that concerns me is the letter was accompanied by a press release from ‘the co-ordinator of the letter’, no name there, or even names apparently there were twelve.  The press release finishes with “Theologians, philosophers, canon lawyers, well-known educators and evangelists are among the priests who have signed the appeal”.  Why would this add weight to the argument of what is a very good letter?   There is also theologians, philosophers, canon lawyers, well-known educators and evangelists who did not sign the letter.  461 faithful priests did, that’s all we need to know, it’s all I’d want to know, as Mother Teresa reminded us, the Lord does not ask us to be successful, he asks us to be faithful.  I pray that any further initiatives are handled with a tad more grace from both sides.

Enough to make me use the A word in Lent

It was announced today that Bishop Richard Moth is to be translated from the Bishopric of the Forces to the diocese of Arundel and Brighton and I could not be more thrilled.  Having endured the pain of losing such a much loved bishop the way they did, A&B deserved a genuine man of God.  And as ever, the Holy Spirit has coughed up.

I first encountered the newly ordained Father Moth when he was Father Salmon’s curate at St Bede’s, Clapham Park and he officiated at the wedding of a friend of ours back in 1982.  It was a wedding my wife and I looked forward to as it was the first we attended after our own.  The bride’s dad was rather negative about his daughter getting married to a ‘left footer on their turf’ but he was won over by Fr Richard’s attitude on the day.

The next time I came across him was when he was on supply at my own parish.  I can remember the homily he gave on the one occasion he said a Mass that I attended.  I cannot remember the readings but his homily told us what our faith was not.  It was not judgementality, it was not exclusive, he went on to tell us what our faith was and  finished with the words “that’s what our faith is, let’s stand and profess it”.  The words “We believe…..” nearly took the roof off.

The first time we spoke was in the autumn of 2003, it was the day of the rugby world cup final in which England beat Australia.  We were both attending the silver jubilee of priesthood of a mutual friend.  Mgr Moth, as he was by then,  was upstairs in the presbytery watching the final. when he joined the rest of downstairs he waxed lyrical on how Jonny Wilkinson had played so diligently against David Campese’s rather arrogant team.  I confessed he was speaking way over my head and he told me I was a disappointment.  Later that day when talking about horse riding (he’s an accomplished horseman) I said that although my father was a qualified horse breaker, I had never mounted, “could you be any more disappointing?” he asked, which I replied, “oh yes, you have no idea.”

We have met several times since, we have mutual friends in a family who are very active in our parish.  There is a lovely story of his tact from that quarter when, as Vicar General of Southwark, he visited my old school, which the children of said family attended.  Having been spotted by the younger daughter in the family, she walked up to him, arms outstretched to greet him in the familiar way one would a friend of the family.  The teacher with him was aghast and berated the child, he took the child’s hands and sent love to her parents and her two older sisters.  No one was embarrassed and all enjoyed what could have been a very awkward situation.

We bumped into each other in Lourdes last year and spent a jolly hour, he, I and his predecessor chatting one evening.  The last time I saw him was in January on a Diaconate Formation Day at St John’s seminary, Wonersh, where he was visiting.  I had with me some copies of the updated prayer book from a school where I work to give to two old boy priests who are on the staff at Wonersh.  He was with one of them as I handed the books over and gave him a copy also.  He said he could not take it as he was not an alumni .  As the then child I spoke of above now has a son at the school I instituted him on the spot as an honorary old boy “in spite the fact we whip your alma mater’s butt at rugger” which he enjoyed.

I believe Bishop Moth going to A&B is just what the doctor ordered.  I am glad also the appointment went to someone who is already a bishop and who understands how a Bishops’ Conference works, the last thing the diocese needs right now is an empire builder with their own tastes and sensitivities high on their personal agenda.

People have prayed hard for the next bishop for A&B, I have the diocesan prayer card in my jacket pocket and those prayers have paid off.  No doubt there will be some snidy anonymous comments but who values the anonymous?  On top of all this, Bishop Moth’s installation is during May half term, I feel as if all my Easter’s have come at once.

To serve, not to be served

Yesterday I went to the most delightful priestly ordination.  It was the ordination of a man who was previously an Anglican priest at a church within the geographical area of my deanery.  Having been received into the Catholic Church in my own parish, Fr Keith moved to a neighbouring parish where he threw himself into serving his new community.

He was soon adored by all who came across him, I can say with my hand on my heart I have heard not one bad word about him.  His self giving is noted by all who come across him.  The ordination yesterday was a triumph for the parish. It was delightful how his new community pulled together to provide the best for him, what a delight to see the children of the local primary school turn out on a Saturday, in school uniform, to sing.  He has been exceedingly supportive of the school and they were delighted to pay back something to him.

Archbishop Peter was the celebrant and his homily, as ever, was a triumph.  He reminded all the clergy there how we are to serve, not be served, and that a ‘grumpy shepherd’ is no use to anyone.  This reminded me of a priest who came to my home parish to supply when I was an altar server.  He was annoyed there were no delicious brocade chasubles to be had and he had to say Mass in a very basic vestment.  Our sacristan, who was no-nonsense personified, asked him, quite gently, “in which Gospel, canonical or apocryphal does Jesus say ‘wear finery?’”

This comment of Archbishop Peter’s also made me sit up and think on. (mea maxima culpa)

Later in the hall talking to parishioners it was clear that Fr Keith and his family, who have quietly yet effectively supported him and the parish, were all much loved by their community.  It was also very nice that in spite of having his friends and family deacon and sing at the Mass, as they should, the community were central to the celebrations, and they were out in force in not the jolliest of weathers.

It was clear from the family the parish are to be served, not serve, and the parish will relish supporting and serving where possible in return.  It was a privilege and a joy to see.

Flame2

Where to begin, there is so much good stuff.

Yesterday I attended, with a group of chaps from school, Flame2.  The original Flame happened in 2012 to reflect on the success of the papal visit while looking forward to the use of God-given gifts and talents in the London Olympics.  It had it’s detractors, many of them apparently, although the vast majority of negative commentators were anonymous (would y’ever b’lievit!).  I understand that after knocking the Church’s initiative there was not one single solitary offer of help from any of murmurers. But then, Satan would not have wanted Flame2 to be a success.

His messengers tried it again this time with comments about some of the speakers, I am afraid all I can say is ‘hah!’.

I had told the chaps in my party that one thing they’d enjoy about the day was meeting other people whom they know, but wouldn’t expect to see.  This started when we got to East Croydon Station.  There were people from their primary schools, friends who had moved away,  people they met at Confirmation classes who go to different Masses, it really was like Platform 9 ¾.

As we got off the train at Wembley Central one of the lads was surrounded by friends from the Vocations Centre in Whitstable, the day was a joy before we even got to Wembley.  When we got in, there was pre-show fun happening on stage  but then the show began in earnest.

Double Grammy winning Matt Redman started the show with a bang. Our hosts for the day were Alfie and Gilly who work for the BBC in the North East of England.  Our first speaker was Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines.  He took our breath away. At one point he had us take our phones out and text “blessed are the merciful” to two people we know.  I admit I copped out and sent it two two people in the arena, but then I received similar from others there too.

David Wells is a sublime speaker, the love of Christ oozes from him, he really is the one and only person I have ever met who has left me starstruck, he popped in and out often, each time leaving us with a reminder of Christ’s love and a smile.

Lunch was just a big party, we all had so many people there that we knew we could still be there now, 18 hours later.  After lunch we had a chat show style sofa moment, Baroness Hollins, Matt Redman and three Cafod gap year students were all interviewed by Alfie and Jilly.  But the best speakers from the sofas were Father Dan Fitzpatrick and Fr Marc Lyden Smith.  The priests spoke about their time on the programme Pointless, their Podfather podcasts and their mission taking the Church to where the ordinary folk go, to the pub.

More music was followed by a break (I’m not a Pharrell Williams fan so I shall gloss over) and more socialising but then came the important part of the day, a focus on we as Catholics are all about.  Fr Timothy Radcliffe bought us all back to our focus, Christ and his Church

I wish I had counted how many bishops processed to the stage but I can say the vast majority of the conference were there.  Cardinal Nichols presided at Adoration, there were some beautiful readings, among them one of my favourites, Newman’s Some Definite Service.

I cannot remember if it was Cardinal Tagle or David Wells but during the day we were set a task, ask ourselves at bedtime “what did God say to me today?” and “How will I respond”  God said so much to me yesterday, and he sent a few people in the arena to say it too, not least the Faith Society priest who lauded my stance on the Catholic press and pornography, and the lady who berated me for not looking where I was going and falling down the stairs.  I was lucky I didn’t hurt anyone.

On the way home I asked the boys what their highlights were, being part of a community of 8,000 people, many of whom they knew,  and adoration were the two answers.  Is that not a bit like what Church is all about?

One last thing, at lunch I heard a lad say to an adult “Maria, I want to be a cardinal” she replied “I want you to be one too Ryan.”  Ryan; remember that name.

(H/T to Kathleen for pointing out the bad punctuation)

Honestly, what’s happening in our Catholic schools

The following email was received from a colleague yesterday: –

“Just wanted to share a nice scene that happened with my year elevens recently. In the middle of a lesson I mentioned that my father had passed away and after a hushed silence, A—- O——— says, “Boys, let’s say a prayer for Mr Beckmann.” Without missing a beat, as one, the boys put their hands together, with A—- making up a prayer on the spot, asking God to look after me, my mother and the rest of my family. Wow!”

Today a lad who attended the same school was a Godfather at my church. Those who like to murmur that our Catholic schools don’t work might want to think about that.

A poignant St David’s Day 

Today I had the privilege of baptising 6 children.  It was very poignant for me to do this today for several reasons.  Firstly, 23 years ago today my youngest daughter was baptised in the same church, secondly she is the Godmother of one of the children, and thirdly, her Godmother, my eldest sister, who was also my Godmother,  died just a week ago.

It’s been noted a few times that asking your own Godmother to repeat the job must have been a great endorsement in her competence in the role, and it was.  She was 18 when I was born, an age gap where many could find such a young sibling a nuisance, but when it came to being a Godmother, she was there.

I still treasure the missal she bought me for my first communion.photo

I recall her coming straight from work one Friday evening to be at my Confirmation, she looked stunningly stylish  in a rich red jump suit and black hat at my wedding (it was the early 80s) and she did the first reading when I was ordained.  On that day I was given my dad’s rosary, she gave me a beautiful box to keep it in.

I spent a lot of time with her and her family during school holidays and she was utterly pivotal to me when we lost a teenage brother in 1971.  My daughters got similar treatment with cards from her travels to Iona, rosaries bought at Notre Dame Paris, as well as fun days out, the most memorable being the day the three of them spent in the Millennium Dome.

She died at 74 with, in spite of chemotherapy, a full head of naturally dark hair.  We will travel north on Thursday to say our goodbyes in the heart of Sherwood Forest, and then raise a small glass in her honour.  This is the second time in seven months we will gather as a family to do so, our eldest brother, who was 16 months the younger (and also my Godfather) died last July.  She helped pass on a legacy of faith to me, and to my girls, I hope we are able to do a worthy job of carrying on that legacy.