Saturday, 31 May 2008

Holidays are good for you

While the rest of the parish was going mad cleaning and polishing and getting everything ready for the Bishop's Visitation, I took a week off to go down to Somerset. I didn't have what you might call the best weather, but then, you can't have everything - not in this life! It was, however, a relaxing and interesting stay. I was staying at the Ship Inn at Porlock, where Southey wrote a sonnet while he was bored because a rainstorm kept him from continuing his journey!

I was very far from being bored and found that the rain kept off for long enough to walk to Culbone and back, along the cliff path - quite tiring when you're out of condition - but at the end of it is what claims to be the smallest parish church in England, at some 35 feet in length, and dedicated to St Beuno. It is in fact only accessible by footpath but it's a lovely little place and in a beautiful setting. It's difficult to be sure of its age, but I would think that parts of the fabric may go back even to the 11th century.

Even older wonders may be seen in this part of the country. At Tarr Steps, on the Barle Water (they don't have Rivers down here, but Waters) is an ancient stone bridge which some would date to the 10th century, but others even to prehistoric times. You can see why bridges were needed for these streams most of which are extremely fast-flowing and violent waters not easily to be crossed by fords. The country is wild. Its roads are extreme by English standards with even the main roads having precipices, hair pin bends and frequent gradients of 1 in 4 (25%)

Here we see Tarr Steps - however old it is. In the next post we may find we have a couple of pictures taken on Exmoor itself. We'll see what happens, but this will have to do for today. As I already mentioned we have the Bishop's Visitation of our parish this weekend, so it is inevitably a busy time - not because he demands it, but because the rest of him have what I consider a natural desire for him to see the parish at its best.

In the calendar, of course, today has been the Feast of the Visitation. If I believed in omens and suchlike fooleries, I would probably say that was a good sign!

Friday, 30 May 2008

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Having just arrived back from watery Somerset, I cannot let this day go by without a word concerning the Sacred Heart. For me, this feast is one of the very greatest in the Church's year. It is the day above all days when we simply remember the love that God has shown us, the love that is shown to its perfection in the life of Jesus. The Christian faith can only ever be understood by the lover. I remember that on the day I left Oscott College to go on retreat prior to my priestly Ordination, Fr David Oakley was preaching at Mass, and he said that to be a Christian in truth meant that one had to be an incurable romantic. Following those words of his, so much of what I had prepared for my retreat went out the window! The feast of the Sacred Heart is simply (simply!) the feast of the love of God for me, for you and for every one of us. It is a marvellous day. Go away and think about it; what difference Christ's love for you makes to you rlife. If it doesn't make any difference, still think about it: what difference the love fo God might make to your life. It has made all the difference to mine. And that's all I will say. If I allowed myself, I could sit here all night talking of the Sacred Heart - but then I wouldn't be getting ready for the Bishop's Visitation!
God bless you all.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Corpus Christi

This weekend we held our 2nd Deanery Corpus Christi procession at St Martin's - combining it with our 4th May procession (we figured that Jesus wouldn't mind sharing it with His mother), which is why the picture below is of an image of Our Lady. Despite having a number of travellers coming to the Church on Thursday looking for Mass on what they thought was a Holy Day, the transferral of this particular feast to a Sunday is, I feel, a good and desirable thing enabling such events as this to take place.

In the event it wasn't a procession as such, due to the weather. Nevertheless getting on for 200 people took part in the devotions held in the Church including people from some half dozen of the neighbouring parishes - so we felt it was a success. But it's a great thing to do on a Sunday - a coming back after Mass to say 'Thank You' in this way, like the leper who returned to give thanks for his healing. Our children's choir, however, still had a Mass to do after the Devotions, so ended up being at the Church from 3.00 through until about 7.30! That was a real thanks offering to the Lord.
Our Lady's image (pictured here) was given to the parish by members of our Filipino Community, who also made the dress she wears on special occasions. When bringing her back from the Philippines they refused pointblank the demands of airline staff that our Lady should travel in the baggage compartment. She had to be in the cabin.
We value our images of the saints not always because they are works of reat art, but because of what they represent to us. A boy of round 12 years old, of a travelling family, said to me a couple of days ago that he was worried about his older sister joining with some born again Christian group and not having any time for statues. 'Father', he said to me, 'when I look at that statue I see something beautiful. I see our holy Mother, our Lady. And, father, if it weren't true, I couldn't see it.'
Our Lady's statue will remain in the church until the Visitation, which i salso the occasion of the Bishop coming on his visitation to St Martin's. The Bishop's coat of arms may be seen on the church wall behind Our Lady.

Friday, 23 May 2008

A Liturgical Mystery

Having visited the church at Compton in Surrey, just outside Guildford, I am left with unanswered questions. The bulk of the Church was built in the 10th and 11th centuries with some later additions. Foremost among these were the 12th century additions to the chancel. A low vault was built over the altar and an upper room was inserted. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner wonders about the liturgical function of such a space. Was it used, in the time before rood lofts, for the proclamation of the Gospel on major feasts? If so, then the Reader of the Gospel remained unseen from much of the church. There is evidence of such an arrangement at a number of places in England, notably at the Imperial Basilica at Melbourne in Derbyshire and at Elkstone in Gloucestershire. But only here has the upper room survived intact, still with its original 12th century wooden guard-rail - one of the oldest pieces of woodwork surviving in England.

Whatever it was intended for, it's marvellous to think of all the wonders that lie hidden away just off the main road in all parts of our country. That part of Surrey, just below the great ridge known as ;The Hog's Back' is particularly beautiful scenically. Here is a view over Compton Lake taken from just outside the church itself. It's a strange thing, but whatever county of Enlgand I am in, I end up thinking it's the most beautiful - whether it be Hertfordshire, Essex, Surrey - or perhaps next week Somerset, when I go down to spend what I like to think of as a well-earned rest in Porlock.
I think I have by now worked out what a blog is for - it is perhaps what used to be called a 'commonplace book' simply recording things that strike one as noteworthy.
Thinking of The Hog's Back, I was invited to a child's birthday party this week - a Filipino family. At the centre of the banquet was a whole roast pig, that they had been cooking on a spit on the patio for most of the day. For me it was a novel experience to go up when I wanted something to eat and slice it from the pig. The pig didn't seem too unhappy - it's right foreleg seemed to be waving - pity I didn't have my camera!
I was also moved this week to write a letter to the Tablet. Correspondents had been writing objecting to communion being given on the tongue rather than in the hand. One was concerned about the 'sexual overtones' of this practice. Another was concerned that the people were being 'infantilized' and dominated. I am glad that I don't live in the same world as these people. If we are conscious as we receive communion that we are meeting Christ, receiving His Body and Blood, then surely anything else is peripheral? What room is there here for mere human considerations, even if they were sane? There are some very sad people in the world who clearly devote great amounts of time to thinking of peculiar ways to attack the Church.
I also had a letter from a lady in Wales warning of three days and nights of total darkness during which Christians should not venture out of doors under any circumstances. And after these three days and nights then, so she told me, Lesbians and Homosexuals would find it very hard to walk because they would be CLOVEN-HOOVED! Insanity is not the sole preserve of the loony left. Anyway, I'm off to Porlock, after which we have the Bishop's visitation. Au revoir!

Sunday, 11 May 2008

On the last and greatest day of the Festival

So Eastertide ends.
Pentecost brings to an end this season which is such an emotional roller-coaster from the beginning of Lent until now. This three month period sees us make a journey with Christ's Apostles from the high point of Peter's recognition of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God through his almost immediate rejection by Jesus for thinking in man's way not God's; through the fears and bickerings along the way of the journey to Jerusalem; through the triumph of Palm Sunday; through the panic following Jesus' betrayal and arrest; through the experience of His trial and death; through the Resurrection when Jesus was beyond all hope restored to them; through the Ascension when He made it clear that He was not going to be with them (physically) for much longer; to Pentecost - the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
Take a deep breath and relax. Relax? Will the Holy Spirit let us relax, or will He carry us on and forward to the place of His power? If we let Him, who knows what He will do? If we let Him. So often all that we need to do is to stand aside from our own concerns, our own ideas, our own plans; to get out of His way and let Him work. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful: enkindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created, and You will renew the face of the earth. Alleluia, alleluia!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Luton in the month of May

It's May, so let's have a typical picture of Luton at this time of year. Luton doesn't always get a very good press, it must be admitted, but this is just outside my front door. In many parts of the town one can find tree-lined avenues - at this time of year resplendent in blossom. The many parks and open spaces moved one writer (albeit in the 1930s) to write of Luton: Here the pilgrim who comes in search of beauty will never be disappointed. It's a great place to be.
In the church grounds here is a veritable wildlife reserve among the trees and bushes - and especially when it's a while since the grass has been cut. We find squirrels, hedgehogs, cats, foxes, several different species of finch and of tit, as well as many other birds and insects. Cutting the grass can be problematic in view of the area of the grounds. It's a matter of finding a long enough slot of dry weather to do it all. I prefer to do that particular job myself. It's work that is good for me - St Benedict knew the value of manual labour. They made us do it at seminary because it was a good thing for a priest to do, not because it was good for seminarians! But keeping some kind of order in a garden is surely what Adam and Eve were doing before the Fall!
It's been a busy month so far - and set to become busier with our Corpus Christi procession in a couple of weeks, and the Bishop's Visitation the week after that. Then the 1st communions. Also in June we have the golden jubilee celebrations for Fr Neville McClement, formerly parish priest here at St Martin's and in the same month we have in the neighbouring parish of St John, the priestly ordination of Andrew Richardson. He and Simon Penhalagan are the only priests to be ordained in our Dicoese this year. We pray that more may be helped to respond to God's call - for undoubtedly He is calling them. Then there is Confirmation on 11 July - after which we can hope that things quieten down a little.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

It's a Mad World.....

A couple of mornings ago I heard the news headlines on Radio 3 as I was waking up. The first item was news of record profits announced by BP and other oil companies resulting, so it was said, from the increase in oil prices. The second was that one of Saddam Hussein's ministers, Tariq Aziz, was going on trial accused of having executed businessmen for profiteering. I would like to think this was a deliberate juxtaposition of items, but I fear probably not.

More madness - I read in this morning's paper that the people of Lesbos are objecting to 'Homosexual & Lesbian Rights groups' because they insult the good name of the people of that island. The surprising thing I suppose is that it's taken them this long to get round to it.

More seriously it does raise the problem of the things that people are determined to take offence at, whether it be Muslims who may for all I know never have heard of Denmark getting 'offended' by cartoons in that country about Mohammed or whether it be drivers on the London Underground getting 'offended' by a comedy film (which seems in rather poor taste) about suicides on the Underground. 'It's not a laughing matter' we are told. But has comedy ever been a laughing matter (in that sense)? Back in the days of the Ealing comedies, one film that I remember was 'Kind hearts and Coronets' where the leading character systematically removes all the members of his family who stand between him and a title. We could argue that the idea of a man doing such a thing is no matter for laughter - and we would be right. Yet the film is funny. Of course comedy offends - that's what it's for. It exists in order to make the pompous look foolish; to make the unthinkable something we an laugh at instead of be frightened by.

It seems that the law of our land both allows anyone to offend anyone they wish, and at the same time encourages those who feel offended to say that their rights are being overridden.

Much of this offence is not genuine, of course. It is an act on the part of people who want to be taken seriously, and it should be disregarded. The best respone to it is a raspberry.

At the risk of upsetting artists I point out that the engraver who depicted the pelican (see last post) had probably never seen one. In case pelicans might be offended at being depicted in that light I post a picture of what a real pelican looks like - and they don't feed their blood to their young either. Of course I must not upset any vampires by suggesting there is anything wrong with that either......
Have a nice day!