As many of you will know, Father Frank Daly, Parish Priest of St. Peter’s, Hinckley, has refused to pay a parking ticket issued to him for parking an ambulance for the disabled, with the disabled sign displayed, in a loading bay on Good Friday. He has repeatedly said that he will go to jail rather than pay the fine, and has asked Leicestershire County Council to exercise discretion and common sense.
Why has Father Frank taken this stand over a parking ticket? There is certainly a matter of principle involved: it should be possible to enable disabled people to take part in an ecumenical Church service on a Good Friday. But I think we can see a more fundamental issue involved here: I would say that Father Frank feels called by the Holy Spirit to take this stand, and that in doing so he is witnessing to Christ, not only to his passion and death (since the incident occurred on Good Friday) but more generally to a christian way of life. Certainly, if someone who was involved – whether traffic wardens, County Council officers, or members of the adjudication panel which might be convened, or even the Magistrates if the matter gets that far – was to act in a Christian manner, then the problem would undoubtedly be resolved. That might still happen – but I have to say that I am not holding my breath over it.
Our Lord tells the disciples in today’s Gospel reading that when the Spirit of Truth comes from our heavenly Father it will be to witness to Christ, and the disciples themselves will be witnesses to him. He doesn’t say how they are to be witnesses – there are very many different ways in which the disciples were his witnesses, and there mare also many ways in which we may witness to Our Lord in our own time. But some of these ways could well bring us into conflict with the customs and practices of the people of our time, and some ways of witnessing could even bring us into conflict with the law, as Father Frank has found.
If we are truly led by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul tells us, we need not fear the law. We might be fined or imprisoned, as the St. Paul and the other apostles were, but we can be glad in the knowledge that we are following in the footsteps of Christ. For the Holy Spirit brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control – and although these may indeed fall foul of the law of the land, they cannot be in conflict with the law of God.
But it is not just that each of us as an individual follower of Our Lord is called to be his witness; the whole group of believers were inspired by the Holy Spirit in the first reading, and they were witnesses to the whole world. So what sort of witness do we wish the diocese to give in our part of England in the 21 century? What role do we think the diocese should play in ensuring that the Christian message – the message of the gospel – is heard throughout the world?
The disciples of Our Lord, as we know, proclaimed that he was Lord and Saviour, Risen from the dead, and that in him we could all look forward to eternal life. This is the kernel of the teaching of the Church. So it is really a question of how we feel the Diocese could and should proclaim the teaching of Christ – the teaching of the Catholic Church – so that the message will be heard clearly. How should the diocese offer to us all the chance to know and understand the teachings of Our Lord better? How should the Diocese be proclaiming the Gospel message of Christ to our young people? How should the Diocese be ensuring that the teaching of the Church is heard in the public arena, and that others, members of other christian communities, of other faiths, and of no faith at all, start to take notice of what the Church has to say? What is most important about the teaching of the Church which should be proclaimed most clearly and insistently? Who should the message be most aimed at?
Then there is another set of questions which we need to think about. Who is to proclaim the message? Can it just be left to the Bishop? Or to the Bishop and the priests and deacons? What can lay people do to proclaim the Gospel message of Christ? How can lay people be better formed in the teaching of the Church so that they can be confident in their witness? What can the Diocese do to help and support lay people in their witness?
These are all important questions, which all people in the Diocese do need to consider. Bishop Malcolm must make his decisions about the future of the Diocese, and he will want to know that he has the people of the Diocese withhim when he does so.
Under the psudonym ‘Neil Boyd’, many years ago, Peter de Rosa wrote books about an Irish parish priest in London – Father Duddleswell – which were also used as a sitcom on ITV under the title ‘Bless me Father’. When things were going well for him, Father Duddleswell was apt to declare that God was an Irishman; but if matters were going very badly, and he thought that the fates were against him, he would say that God must be an Englishman.
I suppoe, when we think about it, we do tend to think of God as being in some way ‘just like us’. As we know, the figure we put on the crucifix usually has a fairer skin than Our Lord himself probably had in first century Palestine.
So we do tend to try, inv arious ways, to bring God into our own culture, our own history – and there is nothing wrong with that; but at the same time perhaps we tend to think that God is not part of the culture of other peoples, part of their history – and that would certainly be a grave mistake. As Peter says in the first reading today: ‘The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites.’ This must have been a very difficult conclusion for Peter to come to: he grew up believing that the Jewish people were God’s chosen people, God’s favourites – and now he had to admit that God has no favourites! Elsewhere in the New Testament we hear of St. Paul coming to the same concluson – and it must have been just as hard for him as well. So now Peter realises that ‘Anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him’.
This is the love of God, that St. John talks about in the second reading and in the gospel. God loves all his people, and if we love God, if we are sure that God loves us, then we must love one another and be in communion with one another. God does not have favourites, so the Church cannot have favourites either.
Of course, we all know that there are people we get on with better than others; and there are those who, no matter how hard we try, we always seem to be at loggerheads with. This is human nature. But as followers of Our Lord Jesus, we are expected to put such problems behind us: it doesn’t mean that we get on with certainpeople any better, but it does mean that we can accept them as part of the same communion fellowship, and treat them as people whom God loves, and who are responding, in their own ways, to god’s call.
I think this is one of the good reasons why we have the ‘exchange of the sign of peace’ at Mass. It is a time to acknowledge that, despite the differences which we undoubtedly do have between us, we know that these are insignificant compared with the love of God shown to us in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, who calls us all into his fellowship, to live with his life, to be his body on this earth, to do his will, and to come to salvation and eternal life in him.
The fact that God does not have favourites is also a reminder to us of the need that we all have to recognise the needs of other christian communities throughout the world. We cannot be christians and live in our own ‘coccoon’, without a care for our fellow christians in other parts of the world. How do we see the future of our own community in relation to other communities, and what role do eachof us think that we might play in these future relationships? We might think of ecumenical relationships in our own region, county, and diocese: do we pray for unity among christians? Do we work with other christian communities in our own parish? Do we even take part in such annual events as walks of christian witness on Good Friday, or the major event which is now held every year in Leicester City on Good Friday? In regard to christians in other countries, we might ask ourselves whether we contribute at all to the missionary work of the church, or to the aid agencies. Many do contribute, for example by means of the Missio ‘Red Boxes’ or by means of other contacts which have been made oer the years with missionary groups; others ensure that they do contribute to the collections which are held at least once a year for missionary endeavours (usually after a Mission Appeal); and we all do our bit, at least twice a year, to support CAFOD and other such agencies. But perhaps we still need to ask ourselves whether this is sufficient: do we really show our care for others, as we should for other members of the one Body of Christ.
Do we show our care for those who are disadvantaged or marginalised in other ways – for those who suffer from prejudice, for example, because of their colour, race, gender, upbringing, or for any other reason at all?
As we reflect on such questions, we undersatnd that the Holy Spirit is drawing us to reflect on a more fundamental question: what do we see as the future of the Church in our parish, and how do we see our own part in the future parish community of St. Pius X? Do we see it as all-embracing, welcoming, united, caring for others – as Our Lord calls us to be? And if we do see the future in that way, what are we going to do practically to be part of such a future?
19th February 2012
A couple of weeks ago, in the company of his two other godparents, I took my great nephew to the National Space Centre, which I had never been to before. I found it very interesting, and I even survived being strapped into the space flight simulator and being buffeted around as though I was being launched into space on a moonshot. It made me think of the advert for specsavers where a couple find two seats to sit down to eat their sandwiches and discover that they are on a rollercoaster ride. The gentleman blames it all on the cheese.
It did make me wonder why people thought it a good idea to go to the moon – and even might want to go further afield. And then I thought of the explorers over the past centuries, who travelled across the seas to America (north or south), or travelled through Africa; and wondered what motivated them to such dangers and hardships. Some of them would be looking for wealth, of course, and others perhaps for fame. I think a motivation for some of them was simply the need to find out ‘what is out there’.
Another question which comes to mind is: how did they react when they arrived at the far distant shores, or travelled through virgin countryside, or walked on the moon? Some of them gave glory and praise to God – as I recall one of the moonwalkers quoting the Book of Genesis; others could think only of their own fame and glory; and others went about plundering the countryside and murdering the inhabitants. Perhaps we could ask ourselves similar questions every day: have we given thanks to God for our achievements and experiences, and ensured that what we have done has been for the glory of God? Or have we been more interested in our own fame and glory? Or have we even in some ways been agents of destruction – we would certainly hope not! In today’s Gospel passage, we hear of some who gave glory to God – and others who were much more concerned in being critical and small-minded, attitudes which can only lead to destruction and death.
There are times also for us to look to ourselves, to give thanks for what we have received and the work we have done, to relax and enjoy the company of those we have come to know best, and to ensure that our own families and our own Catholic community can display the glory of God.
But there are also times when we need to reflect on the needs of others, and of how God may be calling us to come to their aid – just as Our Lord heals the man in the gospel story – so that God’s glory may be displayed in other places and in the sight of other people. Indeed, if we can look to the needs of others, we may hope that God’s glory may also be shown to us in new and surprising ways, and pray that we may recognise God's glory, unlike the scribes in today’s gospel.
So there are times when we need to remember that the Church is much bigger than we are, to look to the needs of missionaries, of Christians in other countries, of the many people in the world who are in urgent need; or to focus a little closer to home, and think of other parishes and communities in our diocese and in our deanery and how we relate to them; being aware of their needs and aspirations as well as our own.
As we continue our diocesan consultation, I think a major threat to good reflection is becoming too inward-looking, of concentrating on what we need and how we see ourselves. We can even forget that this is a consultation of the whole diocese, and start to think that all that matters is our own situation and ensuring that our position as a parish is maintained.
I am very grateful to those who have already taken part in the consultation, and I will be summarising the views I have received so far so that all may add to them. But now perhaps we need to pause to reflect on our relationship with other people. The mass of people crowding around Our Lord were not aware of the paralysed man, so enterprising friends of his had to lower him down through the roof. There are people in our own communities, who perhaps we do not notice sufficiently. How do we relate to people in residential homes, for instance. Are there other institutions that as a parish we should care about – schools, for instance, and people in hospital (whether as patients or as healers)? Then we can look a little further afield, remembering that members of other parishes attend the schools, and are patients in hospitals, and become residents in nursing and residential homes, and that other parishes provide chaplaincy services to the hospitals.
What does it mean to us that we are part of a deanery? What do we receive from other parishes and their members, both lay people and clergy? How do we care for those who are unable to join us at our celebrations? What do we do for those who are in residential or nursing homes. What does it mean to us to be part of the Diocese of Nottingham? What is our responsibility to other parts of the diocese? What do we expect from our bishop and from his advisors
No doubt there are many other questions which we could ask ourselves, when we start to shift our focus to the world outside ourselves, our families, and our parish. Perhaps you will think of some of these important questions, and suggest some answers to them – enabling other people to reflect on these other aspects of our relationship to Christ and to his people.
As always, it is not just that I would like to hear your views; Bishop Malcolm and his advisors want to hear them, so that they can be brought together to enable the correct decisions to be made for the Church in the Diocese of Nottingham in the years ahead.
29 January 2012
In the USA the Primaries to select the Republican opponent to President Obama this November are starting to gather pace. The platforms of the main contenders will come under increasing scrutiny in the months to come. This is only right and proper: it is very important for the preservation of our relatively free society that we can scrutinize the policies and the characters of those who would like to be our political leaders. But it does remind me of a TV programme about 40 years ago when a studio audience was shown a photograph of a man, listened to the policies which he had proposed in his election bid, and were asked whether they would vote for him. The majority said ‘Yes’, whereupon the presenter changed the hairstyle on the photograph, added a moustache; and they had all voted for Adolf Hitler.
In the passage we have heard from St. Mark’s gospel, we do not hear Jesus giving an account of his policies; but we do hear an account of what he said and did, which summarise his work for the next couple of years, leading to his death for our salvation. We hear that Jesus went to the synagogue: so he begins in the traditions of his people, and in particular in a place where they would expect to meet God. We know from elsewhere in the gospels how important it was for Jesus to be at prayer. Then we hear that he taught the people; so proclaiming the Word of God was important to him. We also hear that he had authority; and his teaching with authority is mentioned again at the end of this passage. And we hear of his care for the people, as he heals a man who is suffering.
What would Our Lord offer to us now through his Church? Conditions have changed, of course, but I’m sure that Our Lord’s basic message hasn’t changed over the years – he is not like our own politicians, capable of changing his tune to fit the wishes of the electorate! So he also comes to meet us in our traditions and our history. In particular, he comes to meet us when we are gathered for prayer, whether in Church or at home or elsewhere, whether it is a formal Church liturgy or we have gathered for informal prayer. He comes to us in proclaiming the Word of God – which should not surprise us, since Our Lord is the Word of God made flesh. He comes to us with the authority of God, our heavenly Father, and he expects us to follow God’s ways. And he comes to us in caring for us, particularly for those in need.
So we should ask ourselves how we see the Church in our diocese – and particularly in our own parish – carrying out Our Lord’s programme for us. And for each of these aspects of Our Lord’s programme, we should really ask three questions:
Please try to answer these questions as well as some of the others found in the tear-off slip .
How is Our Lord’s work to be done in this part of Leicestershire?
How should this parish be doing the Lord’s work?
And how should I be part of the parish in this enterprise?
In asking these questions and providing answers, we are continuing to follow Bishop Malcolm’s wishes in his diocesan consultation. We are looking at our parish as part of the Diocese of Nottingham, and we are asking ourselves what sort of Church we think should be in this part of the Diocese, and what we think should be its priorities. It is only by doing this, that we will be able to ask the further questions about how the resources of the diocese, and in particular its priests, should be organized so that Our Lord’s work will continue to be done.
Where do we meet Our Lord – where does he come to meet us?
Where do we find that we can recognise him most?
How does our diocese enable us to met Our Lord?
How does our parish enable us to meet Our Lord?
How do we ensure that we do meet Our Lord and help others to do so? How does the diocese help us to pray?
How does the parish pray?
How do we pray, whether in Church or at home?
Where do we pray, and receive the sacraments, and join others for worship?
Where and when do we expect to find the opportunity for baptism, confession, Holy Communion, confirmation, marriage, anointing the sick, care for the dying, funerals, memorials for the dead?
How does the Diocese proclaim the Word of God and the teaching of the Church?
How does the parish proclaim the Word of God and the teaching of the Church?
How do we listen to God’s word, and how well do we witness to it? How often do we think about the teaching of the Church and put it into practice?
How should the Diocese be organized to ensure that the teaching of God in his Church are heard in the world?
How does the Diocese care for those in need? How does the parish care for those in need?
How do we care for those in need?
Some of these questions have overlapped with those which were asked last week. This is not surprising: as we continue with this process of examination of the Church in the Diocese and in our own parish, and the way that we take part in Church life, we will expect the same themes to emerge again and again. But as we continue with this process of consultation, we will also expect to face up to these themes in different ways, and to think about different aspects, which previous weeks have brought to our attention. We know that Our Lord didn’t address the people and leave them just as they had been: in meeting with them they were challenged to change. We too are being challenged, and we must expect Our Lord to lead us in some surprising ways in the weeks ahead.
22 January 2012
For many weeks now, there seem to have been a number of programmes on TV about the second world war, and particularly about the heroic escapades of soldiers at a time when the odds against them were seemingly overwhelming. Desperate times, they say, call for desperate measures, and that certainly seems to have been true in the early 1940s for British servicemen and women and their allies.
As we listened to the passage from near the start of St. Mark’s gospel, we may be struck by a similar theme. John had been preaching a baptism of repentance, and many God-fearing people had gone to listen to him and to heed his advice; and John had baptized Jesus; but now John had been arrested – a very clear sign that the powers of evil were ready to fight against anyone who successfully proclaimed the Word of God and lead people to follow God’s ways.
It is from such episodes that we should all take heart. In the Church we may well feel that we are under threat from all sides, that all is in decline. A group of solicitors has again been attacking the Church over its past history of failure to deal properly with abuse of children and young people. There are continual threats to our system of Catholic schools. Our prayers for unity among Christians do not appear to be bearing a great deal of fruit: as we celebrate the annual week of prayer for Christian unity, we may well feel as far away from unity in faith and love as we have been for many years. And as Bishop Malcolm has reminded us, we are faced with a declining number of priests in the foreseeable future to proclaim the Word of God, to lead prayers and administer the sacraments, to gather and care for the Christian community.
So we take note of the actions of Our Lord: hearing of the death of John, he proclaimed a message of hope: the time has come; the kingdom is at hand; so repent and believe the good news. In our own time, we also stay with this same message of hope.
The time has come to reflect on the state of the Church in our country, in our diocese, in our deanery, in our parish; and to do so with the message of our Lord in the forefront of our minds: the kingdom is at hand, repent, and believe the good news. We know that our reflections are not unaided: the Holy Spirit is with us to be our courage, wisdom, inspiration. So we can reflect in hope, that although there are difficult times ahead, God has promised that he is always with us. We begin our reflections by taking stock of where we are now, and how we have come to be here. Our parish community has a history, which is briefly told on the parish website. We must not lose sight of this history. It reminds us that there was a time, not all that long ago, when the Catholic community in this part of Leicestershire celebrated Mass once a week in an upper room in a pub! Our own church was opened only 54 years ago, and as a parish we are not yet 50 years old. We can and must thank God for all the encouragement that we have received as this community has built up over the years.
On this basis, we should first of all ask ourselves; what can we say about our Catholic community now?
How could we best describe our parish?
What goes on here?
What does the parish do?
If the parish was not here, what would we miss?
What is our faith and our hope in the parish of St. Pius X in 2012?
How do we show our love for God and for one another?
How is our Catholic faith preached and proclaimed?
What Christian witness do we give to others?
How do we celebrate the sacraments?
How do we give praise and glory to God?
How do we pray, individually and in groups, formally and informally?
How do we relate to other Christian communities, members of other religions, and those of no faith? How do we look after one another?
How do we reach out to others?
How do we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, comfort the bereaved, and bury the dead?
In order to provide Bishop Malcolm with a good basis for providing pastoral care for this parish community, we need to be able to give an account of where we are as a Christian community, and of where we would like to be. For the moment, we need to concentrate on looking at ourselves as the Catholic community in Narborough and District, and then in a week or so we will start to consider where we wish to be, how we would like to think of ourselves, how we would like others to see us, and how we are going to progress to put this vision of ourselves into effect.
We are not alone in this endeavour. Bishop Malcolm has asked all parishes and all Catholic communities in the diocese to engage with him in these reflections. He will write to us all in early Lent, by which time we hope our reflections will have moved on a long way. But we are also joined with other parishes and communities in our Deanery of West Leicester, and as part of these reflections we will have the opportunity for a day of talking and discussing the themes of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life; the role of the lay person, the deacon, and the priest in our parishes and other communities; and ways in which we will all work together so that Christ may be formed in us, we may listen to his call to us just as the first disciples who left their nets and their fish and their boats to follow him, and so that God’s Kingdom, which is at hand, will be built in our parish and flourish among us.
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15 January 2012
Bishop Malcolm has asked all parishes and communities within the diocese to consider the future given that in the years to come we will probably have significantly fewer priests available to work than we have had in the past 30 years. At present we have 94 priests of the diocese who are active in ministry, and there are around 20 priests who are members of religious orders who are also working in the diocese. 20 years ago there were 130 diocesan priests on active service, and about another 60 members of religious orders. In 20 years time, there may well be many fewer even than there are today.
We immediately think that there is a shortage of priests. But if we look at the Catholic Church in other countries, we discover that in England we are in comparison still very well off for priests. So it is really that we will have to get used to life as Catholics elsewhere already experience it, rather than that we will be particularly badly off for priests.
But it is difficult to adjust to change, and there will almost inevitably be many changes to come. However, in facing up to these changes it is comforting to remember that Bishop Malcolm does not intend to close down any place of worship. We may have to get used to fewer Masses during the week, and perhaps fewer at the weekend, but there will still be celebrations of Mass at weekends, on Holydays, and on at least some weekdays each week. Secondly, the extra work I expect to begin doing in the summer – and therefore being away from the parish more than at present – will not mean that there will be no Mass at weekends, or that the parish will just be left to fend for itself. So far as I am aware Bishop Malcolm intends me to remain as parish priest; and whether I do remain or not, he will certainly make provision to ensure that this community still hears the Word of God, that the Sacraments are celebrated here, and the community is cared for.
Although the fact that there will be fewer priests is an important consideration, the focus in the consultation which Bishop Malcolm wishes us to participate in should not be on the declining numbers of priests, but rather on the mission of the Church and how we will carry it out, with our hearts and minds open to possibilities for future development. As a Christian communion, we must always look forward in hope; and we look back to the death and resurrection of Our Lord as our inspiration.
I would like the whole of the parish community to have the opportunity to be involved in this process. This means that I will try to involve everyone at the Sunday Masses, and the opportunity will be there (via the website and by means of hard copies of the material) to be involved in the process even when parishioners are unable to attend Mass for a particular weekend. In particular, those who are housebound will be able to contribute. This is the way that I introduced the explanations of the Mass last year, to prepare for the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. That seemed to go well; so I will try the same idea for the very different purpose of consulting you all in response to the Bishop’s wishes.
I don’t know how long the consultation process will last – to some extent, that depends on the way that you contribute. But it will take at least three months, and probably longer. Bishop Malcolm would like us all to have reported back to the Deanery by the summer, and for proposals to be reported to Bishop’s House in the autumn. So it could take six months! The series on the Mass lasted in fact for 20 sessions. This could take a similar length of time.
I ask for your co-operation in this consultation. This is important for the parish and for the diocese; but this way of consulting in a sustained manner is something which I have not done before. So I would ask for your forbearance if something does not work very well; and for your assistance and your full co-operation in making it work as a whole, so that this parish can reach ALL parishioners and respond to the consultation in good time.
Commenting here allows others to read what you have to say and gives an opportunity for all to respond if they wish in addition to making their own contribution. Commenting on a comment would be welcome too!